The Quest of the Golden Girl
Part 3 out of 4
"Maybe," I smiled; "however, I hope you like it."
Rosalind was very reassuring on that point, and then said
musingly, as if half to herself, "But that hill is dangerous,
you know; and young people would do well to pay attention to the
Her voice shook as she spoke the last two or three words, and I
looked at her in some surprise.
"Yes, I know it," she added, her voice quite broken; and before
I realised what was happening, there she was with her beautiful
head down upon the table, and sobbing as if her heart would
"Forgive me for being such a fool," she managed to wring out.
Now, usually I never interrupt a woman when she is crying, as it
only encourages her to continue; but there was something so
unexpected and mysterious about Rosalind's sudden outburst that
it was impossible not to be sympathetic. I endeavoured to soothe
her with such words as seemed fitting; and as she was crying
because she really couldn't help it, she didn't cry long.
These tears proved, what certain indications of manner had
already hinted to me, that Rosalind was more artless than I had
at first supposed. She was a woman of the world, in that she
lived in it, and loved its gaieties, but there was still in her
heart no little of the child, as is there not in the hearts of
all good women--or men?
And this you will realise when I tell you the funny little story
which she presently confided to me as the cause of her tears.
MARRIAGE A LA MODE
For Rosalind was no victim of the monster man, as you may have
supposed her, no illustration of his immemorial perfidies. On the
contrary, she was one half of a very happy marriage, and, in a
sense, her sufferings at the moment were merely theoretical, if
one may so describe the sufferings caused by a theory. But no
doubt the reader would prefer a little straightforward narrative.
Well, Rosalind and Orlando, as we may as well call them, are two
newly married young people who've been married, say, a year, and
who find themselves at the end of it loving each other more than
at the beginning,--for you are to suppose two of the tenderest,
most devoted hearts that ever beat as one. However, they are
young people of the introspective modern type, with a new theory
About marriage and the law of happiness in that blessed estate,
they boasted the latest philosophical patents. To them, among
other matters, the secret of unhappy marriages was as simple as
can be. It was in nothing more or less than the excessive
"familiarity" of ordinary married life, and the lack of
personal freedom allowed both parties to the contract. Thus love
grew commonplace, and the unhappy ones to weary of each other by
excessive and enforced association. This was obvious enough, and
the remedy as obvious,--separate bedrooms, and a month's holiday
in each year to be spent apart (notoriously all people of quality
had separate bedrooms, and see how happy they were!). These and
similar other safeguards of individual liberty they had in
mock-earnest drawn up and signed on their marriage eve, as a sort
of supplemental wedding service.
It would not be seemly to inquire how far certain of these
conditions had been kept,--how often, for example, Orlando's
little hermit's bed had really needed remaking during those
twelve months! Answer, ye birds of the air that lie in your snug
nests, so close, so close, through the tender summer nights, and
maybe with two or three little ones besides,--unless, indeed, ye
too have felt the influence of the Zeit-geist, and have taken to
sleeping in separate nests.
The condition with which alone we have here to concern ourselves
was one which provided that each of the two lovers, hereafter to
be called the husband of the one part and the wife of the other
part, solemnly bound themselves to spend one calendar month of
each year out of each other's society, with full and free liberty
to spend it wheresoever, with whomsoever, and howsoever they
pleased; and that this condition was rigidly to be maintained,
whatever immediate effort it might cost, as the parties thereto
believed that so would their love the more likely maintain an
enduring tenderness and an unwearied freshness. And to this did
Orlando and his Rosalind set their hands and hearts and lips.
Now, wisdom is all very well till the time comes to apply it; and
as that month of June approached in which they had designed to
give their love a holiday, they had found their courage growing
less and less. Their love didn't want a holiday; and when
Orlando had referred to the matter during the early days of May,
Rosalind had burst into tears, and begged him to reconsider a
condition which they had made before they really knew what wedded
love was. But Orlando, though in tears himself (so Rosalind
averred), had a higher sense of their duty to their ideal, and
was able, though in tears, to beg her look beyond the moment, and
realise what a little self-denial now might mean in the years to
come. They hadn't kept any other of their resolutions,--thus
Rosalind let it out!--this must be kept.
And thus it had come about that Orlando had gone off for his
month's holiday with a charming girl, who, with the cynic, will
no doubt account for his stern adherence to duty; and Rosalind
had gone off for hers with a pretty young man whom she'd liked
well enough to go to the theatre and to supper with,--a young man
who was indeed a dear friend, and a vivacious, sympathetic
companion, but whom, as a substitute for Orlando, she immediately
began to hate. Such is the female heart!
The upshot of the experiment, so far as she was concerned, was
that she had quarrelled with her companion, and had gone off in
search of her husband, on which search she was embarked at the
moment of my encountering her. The tears, therefore,--that is,
the first lot of tears by the roadside,--had not been all on
account of the injured bicycle, you see.
Now the question was, How had Orlando been getting on? I had an
intuition that in his case the experiment had proved more
enjoyable, but I am not one to break the bruised reed by making
such a suggestion. On the contrary, I expressed my firm
conviction that Orlando was probably even more miserable than she
"Do you really think so?" she asked eagerly, her poor miserable
face growing bright a moment with hope and gratitude.
"Undoubtedly," I answered sententiously. "To put the case on
the most general principles, apart from Orlando's great love for
you, it is an eternal truth of masculine sentiment that man
always longs for the absent woman."
"Are you quite sure?" asked Rosalind, with an unconvinced
"I thought," she continued, "that it was just the other way
about; that it was presence and not absence that made the heart
of man grow fonder, and that if a man's best girl, so to say, was
away, he was able to make himself very comfortable with his
"In some cases, of course, it's true," I answered, unmoved;
"but with a love like yours and Orlando's, it's quite
"Oh, do you really mean it?"
"Certainly I do; and your mistake has been in supposing that an
experiment which no few every-day married couples would be only
too glad to try, was ever meant for two such love-birds as you.
Laws and systems are meant for the unhappy and the untractable,
not for people like you, for whom Love makes its own laws."
"Yes, that is what we used to say; and indeed, we thought that
this was one of love's laws,--this experiment, as you call it."
"But it was quite a mistake," I went on in my character as
matrimonial oracle. "Love never made a law so cruel, a law that
would rob true lovers of each other's society for a whole month
in a year, stretching them on the rack of absence--" There my
period broke down, so I began another less ambitiously planned.
"A whole month in a year! Think what that would mean in a
lifetime. How long do you expect to live and love together? Say
another fifty years at the most. Well, fifty ones are fifty.
Fifty months equal--four twelves are forty-eight and two
over--four years and two months. Yes, out of the short life God
allows even for the longest love you would voluntarily throw away
four years and two months!"
This impressive calculation had a great effect on poor Rosalind;
and it is a secondary matter that it and its accompanying wisdom
may have less weight with the reader, as for the moment Rosalind
was my one concern.
"But, of course, we have perfect trust in each other," said
Rosalind presently, with charming illogicality.
"No doubt," I said; "but Love, like a good householder
(ahem!), does well not to live too much on trust."
"But surely love means perfect trust," said Rosalind.
"Theoretically, yes; practically, no. On the contrary, it means
exactly the opposite. Trust, perfect trust, with loved ones far
away! No, it is an inhuman ideal, and the more one loves the
less one lives up to it. If not, what do these tears mean?"
"Oh, no!" Rosalind retorted, with a flush, "you mustn't say
that. I trust Orlando absolutely. It isn't that; it's simply
that I can't bear to be away from him."
What women mean by "trusting" might afford a subject for an
interesting disquisition. However, I forbore to pursue the
matter, and answered Rosalind's remark in a practical spirit.
"Well, then," I said, "if that's all, the thing to do is to
find Orlando, tell him that you cannot bear it, and spend the
rest of your holiday, you and he, together."
"That's what I thought," said Rosalind.
"Unfortunately," I continued, "owing to your foolish
arrangement not to tell each other where you were going and not
to write, as being incompatible with Perfect Trust, you don't
know where Orlando is at the present moment."
"No; but I have a good guess," said Rosalind. "There's a
smart little watering- place, not so many miles from here, called
Yellowsands, a sort of secret little Monaco, which not many
people know of, a wicked-innocent gay little place, where we've
often talked of going. I think it's very likely that Orlando has
gone there; and that's just where I was going when we met."
I will tell the reader more about Yellowsands in the next
chapter. Meanwhile, let us complete Rosalind's arrangements.
The result of our conversation was that she was to proceed to
Yellowsands on the morrow, and that I was to follow as soon as
possible, so as to be available should she chance to need any
advice, and at all events to give myself the pleasure of meeting
This arranged, we said good-night, Rosalind with ever such a
brightened-up face, of which I thought for half an hour and then
fell asleep to dream of Yellowsands.
CONCERNING THE HAVEN OF YELLOWSANDS
On the morrow, at the peep of day, Rosalind was off to seek her
lord. An hour or so after I started in leisurely pursuit.
Yellowsands! I had heard in a vague way of the place, as a whim
of a certain young nobleman who combined brains with the pursuit
of pleasure. Like most ideas, it was simple enough when once
conceived. Any one possessing a mile or two of secluded seaboard,
cut off on the land side by precipitous approaches, and including
a sheltered river mouth ingeniously hidden by nature, in the form
of a jutting wall of rock, from the sea, might have made as good
use of these natural opportunities as the nobleman in question,
had they only been as wise and as rich. William Blake proposed
to rebuild Jerusalem in this green and pleasant land. My lord
proposed to erect a miniature Babylon amid similar pleasant
surroundings, a little dream-city by the sea, a home for the
innocent pleasure-seeker stifled by the puritanism of the great
towns, refugium peccatorum in this island of the saints.
"Once it was the Puritan Fathers who left our coasts," he is
recorded to have said; "nowadays it is our Prodigal Sons."
No doubt it was in further elaboration of this aphorism that the
little steamboat that sailed every other day from Yellowsands to
the beckoning shores of France was called "the Mayflower."
My lord's plan had been simple. By the aid of cunning architects
he had first blasted his harbour into shape, then built his
hotels and pleasure-palaces, and then leased them to dependants
of his who knew the right sort of people, and who knew that it
was as much as their lease was worth to find accommodation for
teetotal amateur photographers or wistful wandering Sunday-school
treats. As, unfortunately, the Queen's highway ran down in
tortuous descent to the handful of fishermen's cottages that had
clung there limpet-like for ages, there was always a chance of
such a stray visitation; but it was remote, and the whole place,
hand and heart, was in the pocket of my lord.
So much to give the reader some idea of the secret watering-place
of Yellowsands, situated at the mouth of that romantic little
torrent, the river Sly. Such further description as may be
needed may be kept till we come within sight of its gilded roofs
and marble terraces.
THE MOORLAND OF THE APOCALYPSE
I reckoned that it would take me two or three days, leisurely
walking, to reach Yellowsands. Rosalind would, of course, arrive
there long before me; but that I did not regret, as I was in a
mood to find company in my own thoughts.
Her story gave me plenty to think of. I dwelt particularly on
the careless extravagance of the happy. Here were two people to
whom life had given casually what I was compelled to go seeking
lonely and footsore through the world, and with little hope of
finding it at the end; and yet were they so little aware of their
good fortune as to risk it over a trumpery theory, a shadow of
pseudo-philosophy. Out of the deep dark ocean of life Love had
brought them his great moon-pearl, and they sat on the boat's
edge carelessly tossing it from one to the other, unmindful of
the hungry fathoms on every side. A sudden slip, and they had
lost it for ever, and might only watch its shimmering fall to the
bottom of the world. Theories! Theories are for the unknown and
the unhappy. Who will trouble to theorise about Heaven when he
has found Heaven itself? Theories are for the poor- devil
outcast,--for him who stands outside the confectioner's shop of
life without a penny in his pocket, while the radiant purchasers
pass in and out through the doors,--for him who watches with
wistful eyes this and that sugared marvel taken out of the window
by mysterious hands, to bless some happy customer inside. He is
not fool enough even to hope for one of those glistering
masterpieces of frosted sugar and silk flowers, which rise to
pinnacles of snowy sweetness, white mountains of blessedness,
rich inside, they say, with untold treasures for the tooth that
is sweet. No! he craves nothing but a simple Bath-bun of
happiness, and even that is denied him.
Would I ever find my Bath-bun? I disconsolately asked myself. I
had been seeking it now for some little time, and seemed no
nearer than when I set out. I had seen a good many Bath-buns on
my pilgrimage, it is true. Some I have not had space to confide
to the reader; but somehow or other they had not seemed the
unmistakably predestined for which I was seeking.
And oh, how I could love a girl, if she would only give me the
chance,--that is, be the right girl! Oh, Sylvia Joy! where art
thou? Why so long dost thou remain hidden "in shady leaves of
"Seest thou thy lover lowly laid,
Hear'st thou the sighs that rend his breast?"
And then, as the novelists say, "a strange thing happened."
The road I was tramping at the moment was somewhat desolate. It
ran up from a small market town through a dreary undulating
moorland, forking off here and there to unknown villages of which
the horizon gave no hint. Its cheerless hillocks were all but
naked of vegetation, for a never very flourishing growth of
heather had recently been burnt right down to the unkindly-
looking earth, leaving a dwarf black forest of charred sticks
very grim to the eye and heart; while the dull surface of a small
lifeless-looking lake added the final touch to the Dead-Sea
mournfulness of the prospect.
Suddenly I became aware of the fluttering of a grey dress a
little ahead of me. Unconsciously I had been overtaking a tall
young woman walking in the same direction as myself, with a fine
athletic carriage of her figure and a noble movement of her
She walked manfully, and as I neared her I could hear the sturdy
ring of her well-shod feet upon the road. There was an air of
expectancy about her walk, as though she looked to be met
presently by some one due from the opposite direction.
It was curious that I had not noticed her before, for she must
have been in sight for some time. No doubt my melancholy
abstraction accounted for that, and perhaps her presence there
was to be explained by a London train which I had listlessly
observed come in to the town an hour before. This surmise was
confirmed, as presently,--over the brow of a distant undulation
in the road, I descried a farmer's gig driven by another young
woman. The gig immediately hoisted a handkerchief; so did my
pedestrian. At this moment I was within a yard or two of
overtaking her. And it was then the strange thing happened.
Distance had lent no enchantment which nearness did not a hundred
times repay. The immediate impression of strength and distinction
which the first glimpse of her had made upon me was more and more
verified as I drew closer to her. The carriage of her head was
no whit less noble than the queenly carriage of her limbs, and
her glorious chestnut hair, full of warm tints of gold, was
massed in a sumptuous simplicity above a neck that would have
made an average woman's fortune. This glowing description,
however, must be lowered or heightened in tone by the association
of these characteristics with an undefinable simplicity of mien,
a certain slight rusticity of effect. The town spoke in her
well-cut gown and a few simple adornments, but the dryad still
I suppose most men, even in old age, feel a certain anxiety,
conscious or not, as they overtake a woman whose back view is in
the least attractive. I confess that I felt a more than usual,
indeed a quite irrational, perturbation of the blood, as, coming
level with her, I dared to look into her face. As I did so she
involuntarily turned to look at me--turned to look at me, did I
say? "To look" is a feeble verb indeed to express the
unexpected shock of beauty to which I was suddenly exposed. I
cannot describe her features, for somehow features always mean
little to me. They were certainly beautifully moulded, and her
skin was of a lovely pale olive, but the life of her face was in
her great violet eyes and her wonderful mouth. Thus suddenly to
look into her face was like unexpectedly to come upon moon and
stars reflected in some lonely pool. I suppose the look lasted
only a second or two; but it left me dazzled as that king in the
Eastern tale, who seemed to have lived whole dream-lives between
dipping his head into a bowl of water and taking it out again.
Similarly in that moment I seemed to have dived into this unknown
girl's eyes, to have walked through the treasure palaces of her
soul, to have stood before the flaming gates of her heart, to
have gathered silver flowers in the fairy gardens of her dreams.
I had followed her white-robed spirit across the moonlit meadows
of her fancy, and by her side had climbed the dewy ladder of the
morning star, and then suddenly I had been whirled up again to
the daylight through the magic fountains of her eyes.
I'll tell you more about that look presently! Meanwhile the gig
approached, and the two girls exchanged affectionate greetings.
"Tom hasn't come with you, then?" said the other girl, who was
evidently her sister, and who was considerably more rustic in
style and accent. She said it with a curious mixture of anxiety
"No," answered the other simply, and I thought I noticed a
slight darkening of her face. Tom was evidently her husband. So
she was married!
"Yes!" said a fussy hypocrite of reason within me, "and
what's that to do with you?"
"Everything, you fool!" answered a robuster voice in my soul,
kicking the feeble creature clean out of my head on the instant.
For, absurd as it may sound, with that look into those Arabian
Nights' eyes, had come somewhere out of space an overwhelming
intuition, nay, an unshakable conviction, that the woman who was
already being rolled away from me down the road in that Dis's car
of a farmer's gig, was now and for ever and before all worlds the
woman God had created for me, and that, unless I could be hers
and she mine, there would be no home, no peace for either of us
so long as we lived.
And yet she was being carried away further and further every
moment, while I gazed after her, aimlessly standing in the middle
of the road. Why did I not call to her, overtake her? In a few
moments she would be lost to me for ever--
Though I was unaware of it, this hesitation was no doubt owing to
a stealthy return of reason by the back-door of my mind. In
fact, he presently dared to raise his voice again. "I don't
deny," he ventured, ready any moment to flee for his life,
"that she is written yours in all the stars, and particularly do
I see it written on the face of the moon; but you mustn't forget
that many are thus meant for each other who never meet, not to
speak of marrying. It is such contradictions between the
purposes and performance of the Creator that make life--life;
you'll never see her again, so make your mind easy--"
At that moment the gig was on the point of turning a corner into
a dark pine-wood; but just ere it disappeared,--was it fancy?--I
seemed to have caught the flash of a momentarily fluttering
handkerchief. "Won't I? you fool!" I exclaimed, savagely
smiting reason on the cheek, as I sprang up wildly to wave mine;
but the road was already blank.
At this a sort of panic possessed me, and like a boy I raced down
the road after her. To lose her like this, at the very moment
that she had been revealed to me. It was more than I could bear.
Past the dreary lake, through the little pine-wood I ran, and
then I was brought to a halt, panting, by cross-roads and a
finger-post. An involuntary memory of Nicolete sang to me as I
read the quaint names of the villages to one of which the Vision
was certainly wending. Yes! I was bound on one more journey to
the moon, but alas! there was no heavenly being by my side to
point the way. Oh, agony, which was the road she had taken?
It never occurred to me till the following day that I might have
been able to track her by the wheel-marks of the gig on the dusty
summer road. Instead I desperately resorted to the time-honoured
expedient of setting up a stick and going in the direction of its
fall. Like most ancient guide-posts, it led me quite wrong, down
into a pig's-trough of a hamlet whither I felt sure she couldn't
have been bound. Then I ran back in a frenzy, and tried the
other road,--as if it could be any use, with at least three
quarters of an hour gone since I had lost sight of her. Of
course I had no luck; and finally, hot and worn out with absurd
excitement, I threw myself down in a meadow and called myself an
ass,--which I undoubtedly was.
For of all the fancies that had obsessed my moonstruck brain,
this was surely the maddest. Suppose I had overtaken the girl,
what could I have said to her? And, suppose she had listened to
me, how did I know she was the girl I imagined her to be? But
this was sheer reason again, and has no place in a fantastic
romance. So I hasten to add that the mood was one of brief
duration, and that no cold-water arguments were able to quench
the fire which those eyes had set aflame within me, no daylight
philosophy had any power to dispel the dream of a face which was
now my most precious possession, as I once more took up my stick
and listlessly pursued my way to Yellowsands.
For I had one other reason than my own infatuation, or thought I
had. Yes, brief and rapid as our glance at each other had been,
I had fancied in her eyes a momentary kindling as they met mine,
a warm summer- lightning which seemed for a second to light up
for me the inner heaven of her soul.
Of one feeling, however, I was sure,--that on my side this
apocalyptic recognition of her, as it had seemed, was no mere
passionate correspondence of sex, no mere spell of a beautiful
face (for such passion and such glamour I had made use of
opportunities to study), but was indeed the flaming up of an
elemental affinity, profounder than sex, deeper than reason, and
ages older than speech.
But it was a fancy, for all that? Yes, one of those fancies that
are fancies on earth, but facts in heaven. Perhaps you don't
believe in them. Well, I'm afraid that cannot be helped.
"COME UNTO THESE YELLOW SANDS!"
Nothing further happened to me till I reached Yellowsands, except
an exciting ride on the mail-coach, which connected it with the
nearest railway-station some twenty miles away. For the last
three or four miles the road ran along the extreme precipitous
verge of cliffs that sloped, a giant's wall of grassy mountain,
right away down to a dreamy amethystine floor of sea, miles and
miles, as it seemed, below. To ride on that coach, as it
gallantly staggered betwixt earth and heaven, was to know all the
ecstasy of flying, with an added touch of danger, which birds and
angels, and others accustomed to fly, can never experience. And
then at length the glorious mad descent down three plunging
cataracts of rocky road, the exciting rattling of the harness,
the grinding of the strong brakes, the driver's soothing calls to
his horses, and the long burnished horn trailing wild music
behind us, like invisible banners of aerial brass,--oh, it
stirred the dullest blood amongst us thus as it were to tear down
the sky towards the white roofs of Yellowsands, glittering here
and there among the clouds of trees which filled the little
valley almost to the sea's edge, while floating up to us came
soft strains of music, silken and caressing, as though the sea
itself sang us a welcome. Had you heard it from aboard the Argo,
you would have declared it to be the sirens singing, and it would
have been found necessary to lash you to the mast. But there
were no masts to lash you to in Yellowsands--and of the sirens it
is not yet time to speak.
It was the golden end of afternoon as the coach stopped in front
of the main hotel, The Golden Fortune; and for the benefit of any
with not too long purses who shall hereafter light on
Yellowsands, and be alarmed at the name and the marble
magnificence of that delightful hotel, I may say that the charges
there were surprisingly "reasonable," owing to one other wise
provision of the young lord and master of that happy place, who
had had the wit to realise that the nicest and brightest and
prettiest people were often the poorest. Yellowsands, therefore,
was carried on much like a club, to which you had only to be the
right sort of person to belong. I was relieved to find that the
hotel people evidently considered me the right sort of person,
and didn't take me for a Sunday-school treat,--for presently I
found myself in a charming little corner bedroom, whence I could
survey the whole extent of the little colony of pleasure. The
Golden Fortune was curiously situated, perched at the extreme
sea-end of a little horse-shoe bay hollowed out between two
headlands, the points of which approached each other so closely
that the river Sly had but a few yards of rocky channel through
which to pour itself into the sea. The Golden Fortune, therefore,
backed by towering woodlands, looked out to sea at one side,
across to the breakwater headland on another, and on its land
side commanded a complete view of the gay little haven, with its
white houses built terrace on terrace upon its wooded slopes,
connected by flights of zigzag steps, by which the apparently
inaccessible shelves and platforms circulated their gay life down
to the gay heart of the place,--the circular boulevard,
exquisitely leafy and cool, where one found the great casino and
the open-air theatre, the exquisite orchestra, into which only
the mellowest brass and the subtlest strings were admitted, and
the Cafe du Ciel, charmingly situated among the trees, where the
boulevard became a bridge, for a moment, at the mouth of the
river Sly. Here one might gaze up the green rocky defile through
which the Sly made pebbly music, and through which wound romantic
walks and natural galleries, where far inland you might wander
"From dewy dawn to dewy night,
And have one with you wandering,"
or where you might turn and look across the still lapping
harbour, out through the little neck of light between the
headlands to the shimmering sea beyond,--your ears filled with a
melting tide of sweet sounds, the murmur of the streams and the
gentle surging of the sea, the rippling of leaves, the soft
restless whisper of women's gowns, and the music of their
vowelled voices. It was here I found myself sitting at sunset,
alone, but so completely under the spell of the place that I
needed no companion. The place itself was companion enough. The
electric fairy lamps had popped alight; and as the sun sank
lower, Yellowsands seemed like a glowing crown of light floating
upon the water.
I had as yet failed to catch any sight of Rosalind; so I sat
alone, and so far as I had any thoughts or feelings, beyond a
consciousness of heavenly harmony with my surroundings, they were
for that haunting unknown face with the violet eyes and the heavy
Presently, close by, the notes of a guitar came like little gold
butterflies out of the twilight, and then a woman's voice rose
like a silver bird on the air. It was a gay wooing measure to
which she sang. I listened with ears and heart. "All ye," it
All ye who seek for pleasure,
Here find it without measure--
No one to say
A body nay,
And naught but love and leisure.
All ye who seek forgetting,
Leave frowns and fears and fretting,
Here by the sea
Are fair and free
To give you peace and petting.
All ye whose hearts are breaking
For somebody forsaking,
We'll count you dear,
And heal you here,
And send you home love-making."
"Bravo!" I cried involuntarily, as the song ended amid
multitudinous applause; and I thus attracted the attention of
another who sat near me as lonely as myself, but evidently quite
at home in the place.
"You haven't heard our sirens sing before?" he said, turning
to me with a pleasant smile, and thus we fell into talk of the
place and its pleasures.
"There's one feature of the place I might introduce you to if
you care for a stroll," he said presently. "Have you heard of
The Twelve Golden-Haired Bar-maids?" I hadn't, but the
fantastic name struck my fancy. It was, he explained, the name
given to a favourite buffet at the Hotel Aphrodite, which was
served by twelve wonderful girls, not one under six feet in
height, and all with the most glorious golden hair. It was a
whim of the management, he said.
So, of course, we went.
THE TWELVE GOLDEN-HAIRED BAR-MAIDS.
Now it was not without some boyish nervousness that I followed my
newly made friend, for I confess that I have ever been a poor
hand at talking to bar-maids. It is, I am convinced, an art
apart, an art like any other,--needing first the natural gift,
then the long patient training, and finally the courageous
practice. Alas for me, I possessed neither gift, training, nor
courage. Courage I lacked most of all. It was in vain that I
said to myself that it was like swimming,--all that was needed
was "confidence." That was the very thing I couldn't muster.
No doubt I am handicapped by a certain respectful homage which I
always feel involuntarily to any one in the shape of woman, for
anything savouring of respect is the last thing to win the
bar-maid heart divine. The man to win her is he who calls loudly
for his drink, without a "Please" or a "Thank you," throws
his hat at the back of his head, gulps down half his glass, and,
while drawing breath for the other half, takes a hard,
indifferent look at her, and in an off-hand voice throws her some
fatuous, mirthless jest.
Now, I've never been able to do this in the convincing grand
manner of the British male; and whatever I have said, the effect
has been the same. I've talked about theatres and music-halls,
of events of the day, I've even--Heaven help me--talked of
racing and football, but I might as well have talked of Herbert
Spencer. I suppose I didn't talk about them in the right way.
I'm sure it must be my fault somewhere, for certainly they seem
easy enough to please, poor things! However, my failure remains,
and sometimes even I find it extremely hard to attract their
attention in the ordinary way of business. I don't mind my
neighbour being preferred before me, but I do object to his being
served before me!
So, I say, I couldn't but tremble at the vision of those
golden-haired goddesses, standing with immobile faces by their
awful altars. Indeed, had I realised how superbly impressive they
were going to be, I think I must have declined the adventure
altogether,--for, robed in lustrous ivory-white linen were those
figures of undress marble, the wealth of their glorious bodies
pressing out into bosoms magnificent as magnolias (nobler lines
and curves Greece herself has never known), towering in throats
of fluted alabaster, and flowering in coiffures of imperial gold.
Nor was their temple less magnificent. To make it fair, Ruskin
had relit the seven lamps of architecture, and written the seven
labours of Hercules; for these windows through a whole youth
Burne Jones had worshipped painted glass at Oxford, and to
breathe romance into these frescos had Rossetti been born, and
Dante born again. Men had gone to prison and to death that this
temple of Whiskey-and-Soda might be fair.
Strange, in truth, are the ministrations to which Beauty is
called. Out of the high heaven is she summoned, from mystic
communion with her own perfection, from majestic labours in the
Sistine Chapel of the Stars,--yea, she must put aside her
gold-leaf and purples and leave unfinished the very panels of the
throne of God,--that Circe shall have her palace, and her
worshippers their gilded sty.
As there were at least a score of "worshippers" round each
Circe, my nervousness became unimportant, and therefore passed.
Thus, as my companion and I sat at one of the little tables, from
which we might gaze upon the sea without and Aphrodite within, my
eyes were able to fly like bees from one fair face to another.
Finally, they settled upon a Circe less besieged of the hoarse
and grunting mob. She was conspicuously less in height, her hair
was rather bright red than golden, and her face had more meanings
than the faces of her fellows.
"Why," in a flash it came to me, "it's Rosalind!" and clean
forgetting to be shy, or polite to my companion, I hastened
across to her, to be greeted instantly in a manner so exclusively
intimate that the little crowd about her presently spread itself
among the other crowds, and we were left to talk alone.
"Well," I said, "you're a nice girl! Whatever are you doing
"Yes, I'm afraid you'll have but a strange opinion of me,"
she said; "but I love all experience,--it's such fun,--and when
I heard that there was a sudden vacancy for a golden-haired
beauty in this place, I couldn't resist applying, and to my
surprise they took me--and here I am! Of course I shall only
stay till Orlando appears--which," she added mournfully--"he
hasn't done yet."
Her hours were long and late, but she had two half-days free in
the week, and for these of course I engaged myself.
Meanwhile I spent as much time as I decently could at her side;
but it was impossible to monopolise her, and the rest of my time
there was no difficulty in filling up, you may be sure, in so gay
Two or three nights after this, a little before dinner-time,
while I was standing talking to her, she suddenly went very
white, and in a fluttering voice gasped, "Look yonder!" I
looked. A rather slight dark- haired young man was entering the
bar, with a very stylish pretty woman at his side. As they sat
down and claimed the waiter, some distance away, Rosalind
whispered, "That's my husband!"
"Oh!" I said; "but that's no reason for your fainting. Pull
yourself together. Take a drop of brandy." But woman will
never take the most obvious restorative, and Rosalind presently
recovered without the brandy. She looked covertly at her husband,
with tragic eyes.
"He's much younger than I imagined him," I said,--reserving
for myself the satisfaction which this discovery had for me.
"Oh, yes, he's really quite a boy," said Rosalind; adding
under her breath, "Dear fellow! how I love him!"
"And hate him too!" she superadded, as she observed his evident
satisfaction with his present lot. Indeed the experiment
appeared to be working most successfully with him; nor, looking
at his companion, could I wonder. She was a sprightly young
woman, very smart and merry and decorously voluptuous, and of
that fascinating prettiness that wins the hearts of boys and
storms the footlights. One of her characteristics soothed the
heart of Rosalind. She had splendid red hair, almost as good as
"He's been faithful to my hair, at all events," she said,
trying to be nonchalant.
"And the eyes are not unlike," I added, meaning well.
"I'm sorry you think so," said Rosalind, evidently piqued.
"Well, never mind," I tried to make peace, "she hasn't your
hands,"--I knew that women cared more about their hands than
"How do you know?" she retorted; "you cannot see through her
"Would any gloves disguise your hands?" I persisted. "They
would shine through the mittens of an Esquimau."
"Well, enough of that! See--I know it's wickedly mean of
me--but couldn't you manage to sit somewhere near them and hear
what they are saying? Of course you needn't tell me anything it
would be mean to hear, but only what--"
"You would like to know."
But this little plot died at its birth, for that very minute the
threatened couple arose, and went out arm in arm, apparently as
absurdly happy as two young people can be.
As they passed out, one of Rosalind's fellow bar-maids turned to
her and said,--
"You know who that was?"
"Who?" said Rosalind, startled.
"That pretty woman who went out with that young Johnny just
"No; who is she?"
"Why, that's"--and readers with heart- disease had better
brace themselves up for a great shock--"that's
SYLVIA JOY, the famous dancer!"
Sylvia Joy! And I hadn't so much as looked at her petticoat for
weeks! But I would now. The violet eyes and the heavy chestnut
hair rose up in moralising vision. Yes! God knows, they were
safe in my heart, but petticoats were another matter. Sylvia Joy!
Well, did you ever? Well, I'm d----d! Sylvia Joy!
I should have been merely superhuman had I been able to control
the expression of surprise which convulsed my countenance at the
sound of that most significant name.
"The name seems familiar to you," said Rosalind, a little
surprised and a little eagerly; "do you know the lady?"
"Slightly," I prevaricated.
"How fortunate!" exclaimed Rosalind; "you'll be all the
better able to help me!"
"Yes," I said; "but since things have turned out so oddly, I
may say that our relations are of so extremely delicate a nature
that I shall have very carefully to think out what is best to be
done. Meanwhile, do you mind lending me that ring for a few
It was a large oblong opal set round with small diamonds,--a ring
of distinguished design you could hardly help noticing,
especially on a man's hand, for which it was too conspicuously
dainty. I slipped it on the little finger of my left hand, and,
begging Rosalind to remain where she was meanwhile, and to take
no steps without consulting me, I mysteriously, not to say
I left the twelfth Golden-Haired Bar-maid not too late to stalk
her husband and her under-study to their hotel, where they
evidently proposed to dine. There was, therefore, nothing left
for me but to dine also. So I dined; and when the courses of my
dining were ended, I found myself in a mellow twilight at the
Cafe du Ciel. And it was about the hour of the sirens' singing.
Presently the little golden butterflies flitted once more through
the twilight, and again the woman's voice rose like a silver bird
on the air.
As I have a partiality for her songs, I transcribe this Hymn of
the Daughters of Aphrodite, which you must try to imagine
transfigured by her voice and the sunset.
Daughters are we,
She that was born
Of the morn
And the sea;
White are our limbs
As the foam on the wave,
Wild are our hymns
And our lovers are brave!
Born of the sea,
Beautiful dutiful daughters
You who would follow,
Fear not to come,
For love is for love
As dove is for dove;
The harp of Apollo
Shall lull you to rest,
And your head find its home
On this beautiful breast.
Born of the sea,
Beautiful dutiful daughters
Born of the Ocean,
Wave-like are we!
Rising and falling
Like waves of the sea;
Changing for ever,
Yet ever the same,
Music in motion
And marble in flame.
Born of the sea,
Beautiful dutiful daughters
When I alighted once more upon the earth from the heaven of this
song, who should I find seated within a table of me but the very
couple I was at the moment so unexpectedly interested in? But
they were far too absorbed in each other to notice me, and
consequently I was able to hear all of importance that was said.
I regret that I cannot gratify the reader with a report of their
conversation, for the excuse I had for listening was one that is
not transferable. A woman's happiness was at stake. No other
consideration could have persuaded me to means so mean save an
end so noble. I didn't even tell Rosalind all I heard.
Mercifully for her, the candour of fools is not among my
superstitions. Suffice it for all third persons to know--what
Rosalind indeed has never known, and what I hope no reader will
be fool enough to tell her--that Orlando was for the moment
hopelessly and besottedly faithless to his wife, and that my
services had been bespoken in the very narrowest nick of time.
Having, as the reader has long known, a warm personal interest in
his attractive companion, and desiring, therefore, to think as
well of her as possible, I was pleased to deduce, negatively,
from their conversation, that Sylvia Joy knew nothing of
Rosalind, and believed Orlando to be a free, that is, an
unmarried man. From the point of view, therefore, of her code,
there was no earthly reason why she should not fall in with
Orlando's proposal that they should leave for Paris by the
"Mayflower" on the following morning. Orlando, I could hear,
wished to make more extended arrangements, and references to that
well-known rendezvous, "Eternity," fell on my ears from time to
time. Evidently Sylvia had no very saving belief in Eternity,
for I heard her say that they might see how they got on in Paris
for a start. Then it would be time enough to talk of Eternity.
This and other remarks of Sylvia's considerably predisposed me
towards her. Having concluded their arrangements for the heaven
of the morrow, they rose to take a stroll along the boulevards.
As they did so, I touched Orlando's shoulder and begged his
attention for a moment. Though an entire stranger to him, I had,
I said, a matter of extreme importance to communicate to him, and
I hoped, therefore, that it would suit his convenience to meet me
at the same place in an hour and a half. As I said this, I
flashed his wife's ring in the light so obviously that he was
compelled to notice it.
"Wherever did you get that?" he gasped, no little surprised and
"From your wife," I answered, rapidly moving away. "Be sure
to be here at eleven."
I slipped away into the crowd, and spent my hour and a half in
persuading Rosalind that her husband was no doubt a little
infatuated, but nevertheless the most faithful husband in the
world. If she would only leave all to me, by this time to-morrow
night, if not a good many hours before, he should be in her arms
as safe as in the Bank. It did my heart good to see how happy
this artistic adaptation of the truth made her; and I must say
that she never had a wiser friend.
When eleven came, I was back in my seat at the Cafe du Ciel.
Orlando too was excitedly punctual.
"Well, what is it?" he hurried out, almost before he had sat
"What will you do me the honour of drinking?" I asked calmly.
"Oh, drink be d----d!" he said; "what have you to tell me?"
"I'm glad to hear you rap out such a good honest oath," I
said; "but I should like a drink, for all that, and if I may say
so, you would be none the worse for a brandy and soda, late as it
When the drinks had come, I remarked to him quietly, but not
without significance: "The meaning of this ring is that your
wife is here, and very wretched. By an accident I have been
privileged with her friendship; and I may say, to save time, that
she has told me the whole story.
"What happily she has not been able to tell me, and what I need
hardly say she will never know from me, I overheard, in the
interests of your joint happiness, an hour or so ago."
The man who is telling the story has a proverbial great
advantage; but I hope the reader knows enough of me by this to
believe that I am far from meanly availing myself of it in this
narrative. I am well and gratefully aware that in this interview
with Orlando my advantages were many and fortunate. For example,
had he been bigger and older, or had he not been a gentleman, my
task had been considerably more arduous, not to say dangerous.
But, as Rosalind had said, he was really quite a boy, and I
confess I was a little ashamed for him, and a little piqued, that
he showed so little fight. The unexpectedness of my attack had,
I realised, given me the whip-hand. So I judged, at all events,
from the fact that he forbore to bluster, and sat quite still,
with his head in his hands, saying never a word for what seemed
several minutes. Then presently he said very quietly,--
"I love my wife all the same."
"Of course you do," I answered, eagerly welcoming the
significant announcement; "and if you'll allow me to say so, I
think I understand more about the whole situation than either of
you, bachelor though unfortunately I am. As a famous friend of
mine is fond of saying, lookers-on see most of the game."
Then I rapidly told him the history of my meeting with his wife,
and depicted, in harrowing pigments of phrase, the distress of
"I love my wife all the same," he repeated, as I finished;
"and," he added, "I love Sylvia too."
"But not quite in the same way?" I suggested.
"I love Sylvia very tenderly," he said.
"Yes, I know; I don't think you could do anything else. No man
worth his salt could be anything but tender to a dainty little
woman like that. But tenderness, gentleness, affection, even
self-sacrifice,--these may be parts of love; but they are merely
the crude untransformed ingredients of a love such as you feel
for your wife, and such as I know she feels for you."
"She still loves me, then," he said pitifully; "she hasn't
fallen in love with you."
"No fear," I answered; "no such luck for me. If she had, I'm
afraid I should hardly have been talking to you as I am at this
moment. If a woman like Rosalind, as I call her, gave me her
love, it would take more than a husband to rob me of it, I can
"Yes," he repeated, "on my soul, I love her. I have never
been false to her, in my heart; but--"
"I know all about it," I said; "may I tell you how it all
was,--diagnose the situation?"
"Do," he replied; "it is a relief to hear you talk."
"Well," I said, "may I ask one rather intimate question? Did
you ever before you were married sow what are known as wild
"Never," he answered indignantly, flashing for a moment.
"Well, you should have done," I said; "that's just the whole
trouble. Wild oats will get sown some time, and one of the arts
of life is to sow them at the right time,--the younger the
better. Think candidly before you answer me."
"I believe you are right," he replied, after a long pause.
"You are a believer in theories," I continued, "and so am I;
but you can take my word that on these matters not all, but some,
of the old theories are best. One of them is that the man who
does not sow his wild oats before marriage will sow them
afterwards, with a whirlwind for the reaping."
Orlando looked up at me, haggard with confession.
"You know the old story of the ring given to Venus? Well, it is
the ruin of no few men to meet Venus for the first time on their
marriage night. Their very chastity, paradoxical as it may seem,
is their destruction. No one can appreciate the peace, the holy
satisfaction of monogamy till he has passed through the wasting
distractions, the unrest of polygamy. Plunged right away into
monogamy, man, unexperienced in his good fortune, hankers after
polygamy, as the monotheistic Jew hankered after polytheism; and
thus the monogamic young man too often meets Aphrodite for the
first time, and makes future appointments with her, in the arms
of his pure young wife. If you have read Swedenborg, you will
remember his denunciation of the lust of variety. Now, that is a
lust every young man feels, but it is one to be satisfied before
marriage. Sylvia Joy has been such a variant for you; and I'm
afraid you're going to have some little trouble to get her off
your nerves. Tell me frankly," I said, "have you had your fill
of Aphrodite? It is no use your going back to your wife till you
have had that."
"I'm not quite a beast," he retorted. "After all, it was an
experiment we both agreed to try."
"Certainly," I answered, "and I hope it may have the result of
persuading you of the unwisdom of experimenting with happiness.
You have the realities of happiness; why should you trouble about
its theories? They are for unhappy people, like me, who must
learn to distil by learned patience the aurum potabile from the
husks of life, the peace which happier mortals find lying like
manna each morn upon the meadows."
"Well," I continued, "enough of the abstract; let us have
another drink, and tell me what you propose to do."
"Poor Sylvia!" sighed Orlando.
"Shall I tell you about Sylvia?" I said. "On second thoughts,
I won't. It would hardly be fair play; but this, I may say,
relying on your honour, that if you were to come to my hotel, I
could show you indisputable proof that I know at least as much
about Sylvia Joy as even such a privileged intimate as
"It is strange, then, that she never recognised you just now,"
he retorted, with forlorn alertness.
"Of course she didn't. How young you are! It is rather too
bad of a woman of Sylvia's experience."
"And I've bought our passages for to- morrow. I cannot let her
go without some sort of good-bye."
"Give the tickets to me. I can make use of them. How much are
they? Let's see."
The calculation made and the money passed across, I said
"Now supposing we go and see your wife."
"You have saved my life," he said hoarsely, pressing my hand as
"I don't know about that," I said inwardly; "but I do hope I
have saved your wife."
As I thought of that, a fear occurred to me.
"Look here," I said, as we strolled towards the Twelve
Golden-Haired, "I hope you have no silly notions about
confession, about telling the literal truth and so on. Because I
want you to promise me that you will lie stoutly to your wife
about Sylvia Joy. You must swear the whole thing has been
platonic. It's the only chance for your happiness. Your wife,
no doubt, will lure you on to confession by saying that she
doesn't mind this, that, and the other, so long as you don't keep
it from her; and no doubt she will mean it till you have
confessed. But, however good their theories, women by nature
cannot help confusing body and soul, and what to a man is a mere
fancy of the senses, to them is a spiritual tragedy. Promise me
to lie stoutly on this point. It is, I repeat, the only chance
for your future happiness. As has been wisely said, a lie in
time saves nine; and such a lie as I advise is but one of the
higher forms of truth. Such lying, indeed, is the art of telling
the truth. The truth is that you love her body, soul, and
spirit; any accidental matter which should tend to make her doubt
that would be the only real lie. Promise me, won't you?"
"Yes, I will lie," said Orlando.
"Well, there she is," I said; "and God bless you both."
IN WHICH ONCE MORE I BECOME OCCUPIED IN MY OWN AFFAIRS
During a pause in my matrimonial lecture, Orlando had written a
little farewell note to Sylvia,--a note which, of course, I
didn't read, but which it is easy to imagine "wild with all
regret." This I undertook to have delivered to her the same
night, and promised to call upon her on the morrow, further to
illuminate the situation, and to offer her every consolation in
my power. To conclude the history of Orlando and his Rosalind, I
may say that I saw them off from Yellowsands by the early morning
coach. There was a soft brightness in their faces, as though rain
had fallen in the night; but it was the warm sweet rain of joy
that brings the flowers, and is but sister to the sun. They are,
at the time of my writing, quite old friends of mine, and both
have an excessive opinion of my wisdom and good-nature.
"That lie," Orlando once said to me long after, "was the
truest thing I ever said in my life,"--a remark which may not
give the reader a very exalted idea of his general veracity.
As the coach left long before pretty young actresses even dreamed
of getting up, I had to control my impatient desire to call on
Mademoiselle Sylvia Joy till it was fully noon. And even then
she was not to be seen. I tried again in the afternoon with
Rain had been falling in the night with her too, I surmised, but
it had failed to dim her gay eyes, and had left her complexion
unimpaired. Of course her little affair with Orlando had never
been very serious on her side. She genuinely liked him. "He
was a nice kind boy," was the height of her passionate
expression, and she was, naturally, a little disappointed at
having an affectionate companion thus unexpectedly whisked off
into space. Her only approach to anger was on the subject of his
deceiving her about his wife. Little Sylvia Joy had no very long
string of principles; but one generous principle she did hold
by,--never, if she knew it, to rob another woman of her husband.
And that did make her cross with Orlando. He had not played the
There is no need to follow, step by step, the progression by
which Sylvia Joy and I, though such new acquaintances, became in
the course of a day or two even more intimate than many old
friends. We took to each other instinctively, even on our first
rather difficult interview, and very gently and imperceptibly I
bid for the vacant place in her heart.
That night we dined together.
The next day we lunched and dined together.
The next day we breakfasted, lunched, and dined together.
And on the next I determined to venture on the confession which,
as you may imagine, it had needed no little artistic control not
to make on our first meeting.
She looked particularly charming this evening, in a black silk
gown, exceedingly simple and distinguished in style, throwing up
the lovely firm whiteness of her throat and bosom, and making a
fine contrast with her lurid hair.
It was sheer delight to sit opposite her at dinner, and quietly
watch her without a word. Shall I confess that I had an
exceedingly boyish vanity in thus being granted her friendship?
It is almost too boyish to confess at my time of life. It was
simply in the fact that she was an actress,--a real, live, famous
actress, whose photographs made shop windows beautiful,--come
right out of my boy's fairyland of the theatre, actually to sit
eating and drinking, quite in a real way, at my side. This, no
doubt, will seem pathetically naive to most modern young men, who
in this respect begin where I leave off. An actress! Great
heavens! an actress is the first step to a knowledge of life.
Besides, actresses off the stage are either brainless or soulful,
and the choice of evils is a delicate one. Well, I have never
set up for a man of the world, though sometimes when I have heard
the Lovelaces of the day hinting mysteriously at their secret
sins or boasting of their florid gallantries, I have remembered
the last verse of Suckling's "Ballad of a Wedding," which, no
doubt, the reader knows as well as I, and if not, it will
increase his acquaintance with our brave old poetry to look it
"You are very beautiful to-night," I said, in one of the
meditative pauses between the courses.
"Thank you, kind sir," she said, making a mock courtesy; "but
the compliment is made a little anxious for me by your evident
implication that I didn't look so beautiful this morning. You
laid such a marked emphasis on to-night."
"Nay," I returned, " `for day and night are both alike to
thee.' I think you would even be beautiful--well, I cannot
imagine any moment or station of life you would not beautify."
"I must get you to write that down, and then I'll have it
framed. It would cheer me of a morning when I curl my hair,"
"But you are beautiful," I continued, becoming quite
"Yes, and as good as I'm beautiful."
And she was too, though perhaps the beauty occasionally
When the serious business of dining was dispatched, and we were
trifling with our coffee and liqueurs, my eyes, which of course
had seldom left her during the whole meal, once more enfolded her
little ivory and black silk body with an embrace as real as
though they had been straining passionate arms; and as I thus
nursed her in my eyes, I smiled involuntarily at a thought which
not unnaturally occurred to me.
"What is that sly smile about?" she asked. Now I had smiled to
think that underneath that stately silk, around that tight little
waist, was a dainty waistband bearing the legend "Sylvia Joy,"
No. 4, perhaps, or 5, but NOT No. 6; and a whole wonderful
underworld of lace and linen and silk stockings, the counterpart
of which wonders, my clairvoyant fancy laughed to think, were at
the moment--so entirely unsuspected of their original owner--my
Everything a woman wears or touches immediately incarnates
something of herself. A handkerchief, a glove, a flower,--with a
breath she endues them with immortal souls. How much, therefore,
of herself must inhere in a garment so confidential as a
petticoat, or so close and constant a companion as a stocking!
Now that I knew Sylvia Joy, I realised how absolutely true my
instinct had been, when on that far afternoon in that Surrey
garden I had said, "With such a petticoat and such a name,
Sylvia herself cannot be otherwise than charming."
Indeed, now I could see that the petticoat was nothing short of a
portrait of her, and that any one learned in the physiognomy of
clothes would have been able to pick Sylvia out of a thousand by
that spirited, spoilt, and petted garment.
"What is that sly smile about?" she repeated presently.
"I only chanced to think of an absurd little fairy story I read
the other day," I said, "which is quite irrelevant at the
moment. You know the idle way things come and go through one's
"I don't believe you," she replied, "but tell me the story. I
love fairy tales."
"Certainly," I said, for I wasn't likely to get a better
opportunity. "There's nothing much in it; it's merely a
variation of Cinderella's slipper. Well, once upon a time there
was an eccentric young prince who'd had his fling in his day,
but had arrived at the lonely age of thirty without having met a
woman whom he could love enough to make his wife. He was a
rather fanciful young prince, accustomed to follow his whims; and
one day, being more than usually bored with existence, he took it
into his head to ramble incognito through his kingdom in search
of his ideal wife,--`The Golden Girl,' as he called her. He had
hardly set out when in a country lane he came across a peasant
girl hanging out clothes to dry, and he fell to talk with her
while she went on with her charming occupation. Presently he
observed, pegged on the line, strangely incongruous among the
other homespun garments, a wonderful petticoat, so exquisite in
material and design that it aroused his curiosity. At the same
moment he noticed a pair of stockings, round the tops of which
one of the daintiest artists in the land had wrought an exquisite
little frieze. The prince was learned in every form of art, and
had not failed to study this among other forms of decoration. No
sooner did he see this petticoat than the whim seized him that he
would find and marry the wearer, whoever she might be--"
"Rather rash of him," interrupted Sylvia, "for it is usually
old ladies who have the prettiest petticoats. They can best
"He questioned the girl as to their owner," I continued, "and
after vainly pretending that they were her own, she confessed
that they had belonged to a young and beautiful lady who had once
lodged there and left them behind. Then the prince gave her a
purse of gold in exchange for the finery, and on the waistband of
the petticoat he read a beautiful name, and he said, `This and no
other shall be my wife, this unknown beautiful woman, and on our
marriage night she shall wear this petticoat.' And then the
prince went forth seeking--"
"There's not much point in it," interrupted Sylvia.
"No," I said, "I'm afraid I've stupidly missed the point."
"Why, what was it?"
"The name upon the petticoat!"
"Why, what name was it?" she asked, somewhat mystified.
"The inscription upon the petticoat was, to be quite accurate,
`Sylvia Joy, No. 6.' "
"Whatever are you talking about?" she said with quite a stormy
blush. "I'm afraid you've had more than your share of the
As I finished, I slipped out of my pocket a dainty little parcel
softly folded in white tissue paper. Very softly I placed it on
the table. It contained one of the precious stockings; and half
opening it, I revealed to Sylvia's astonished eyes the cunning
little frieze of Bacchus and Ariadne, followed by a troop of
Satyrs and Bacchantes, which the artist had designed to encircle
one of the white columns of that little marble temple which sat
"You know," I said, "how in fairy tales, when the wandering
hero or the maiden in distress has a guiding dream, the dream
often leaves something behind on the pillow to assure them of its
authenticity. `When you wake up,' the dream will say, `you will
find a rose or an oak-leaf or an eagle's feather, or whatever it
may be, on your pillow.' Well, I have brought this stocking--
for which, if I might but use them, I have at the moment a stock
of the most appropriately endearing adjectives--for the same
purpose. By this token you will know that the fairy tale I have
been telling you is true, and to-morrow, if you will, you shall
see your autograph petticoat."
"Why, wherever did you come across them? And what a mad
creature you must be! and what an odd thing that you should
really meet me, after all!" exclaimed Sylvia, all in a breath.
"Of course, I remember," she said frankly, and with a shade of
sadness passing over her face. "I was spending a holiday with
Jack Wentworth,--why, it must be nearly two years ago. Poor
Jack! he was killed in the Soudan," and poor Jack could have
wished no prettier resurrection than the look of tender memory
that came into her face as she spoke of him, and the soft baby
tears filled her eyes.
"I'm so sorry," I said. "Of course I didn't know. Let's
come for a little stroll. There seems to be a lovely moon."
"Of course you didn't, she said, patting my cheek with a kind
little hand. "Yes, do let us go for a stroll."
"THE HOUR FOR WHICH THE YEARS DID SIGH"
This unexpected awakening of an old tenderness naturally
prevented my speaking any more of my mind to Sylvia that evening.
No doubt the reader may be a little astonished to hear that I had
decided to offer her marriage,--not taking my serious view of a
fanciful vow. Doubtless Sylvia was not entirely suitable to me,
and to marry her was to be faithless to that vision of the
highest, that wonderful unknown woman of the apocalyptic
moorland, whose face Sylvia had not even momentarily banished
from my dreams, and whom, with an unaccountable certitude, I
still believed to be the woman God had destined for me; but, all
things considered, Sylvia was surely as pretty an answer to
prayer as a man could reasonably hope for. Many historic vows
had met with sadly less lucky fulfilment.
So, after dinner the following evening, I suggested that we
should for once take a little walk up along the river-side; and
when we were quiet in the moonlight, dappling the lovers' path we
were treading, and making sharp contrasts of ink and silver down
in the river-bed,--I spoke.
"Sylvia," I said, plagiarising a dream which will be found in
Chapter IV.,--"Sylvia, I have sought you through the world and
found you at last; and with your gracious permission, having
found you, I mean to stick to you."
"What do you mean, silly boy?" she said, as an irregularity in
the road threw her soft weight the more fondly upon my arm.
"I mean, dear, that I want you to be my wife."
"Your wife? Not for worlds!--no, forgive me, I didn't mean
that. You're an awful dear boy, and I like you very much, and I
think you're rather fond of me; but-- well, the truth is, I was
never meant to be married, and don't care about it--and when you
think of it, why should I?"
"You mean," I said, "that you are fortunate in living in a
society where, as in heaven, there is neither marrying nor giving
in marriage, where in fact nobody minds whether you're married
or not, and where morals are very properly regarded as a personal
and private matter--"
"Yes, that's what I mean," said Sylvia; "the people I care
about--dear good people--will think no more of me for having a
wedding-ring, and no less for my being without; and why should
one put a yoke round one's neck when nobody expects it? A
wedding-ring is like a top-hat,--you only wear it when you
must--But it's very sweet of you, all the same, and you can kiss
me if you like. Here's a nice sentimental patch of moonlight."
I really felt very dejected at this not of course entirely
unexpected rejection,--if one might use the word for a situation
on which had just been set the seal of so unmistakable a kiss;
but the vision in my heart seemed to smile at me in high and
happy triumph. To have won Sylvia would have been to have lost
her. My ideal had, as it were, held her breath till Sylvia
answered; now she breathed again.
"At all events, we can go on being chums, can't we?" I said.
For answer Sylvia hummed the first verse of that famous song writ
by Kit Marlowe.
"Yes!" she said presently. "I will sing for you, dance for
you, and--perhaps--flirt with you; but marry you--no! it's best
not, for both of us."
"Well, then," I said, "dance for me! You owe me some amends
for an aching heart." As I said this, the path suddenly
broadened into a little circular glade into which the moonlight
poured in a silver flood. In the centre of the space was a
boulder some three or four feet high, and with a flat slab-like
surface of some six feet or so.
"I declare I will," said Sylvia, giving me an impulsive kiss,
and springing on to the stone; "why, here is a ready-made
"And there," I said, "are the nightingale and the nightjar for
"And there is the moon," said she, "for lime-light man."
"Yes," I said; "and here is a handful of glow-worms for the
Then lifting up her heavy silk skirt about her, and revealing a
paradise of chiffons, Sylvia swayed for a moment with her face
full in the moon, and then slowly glided into the movements of a
It was thus the fountains were dancing to the moon in Arabia; it
was thus the Nixies shook their white limbs on the haunted banks
of the Rhine; it was thus the fairy women flashed their alabaster
feet on the fairy hills of Connemara; it was thus the Houris were
dancing for Mahomet on the palace floors of Paradise.
"It was over such dancing," I said, "that John the Baptist
lost his head."
"Give me a kiss," she said, nestling exhausted in my arms. "I
always want some one to kiss when I have danced with my soul as
well as my body."
"I think we always do," I said, "when we've done anything
that seems wonderful, that gives us the thrill of really
"And a poor excuse is better than none, isn't it, dear?" said
Sylvia, her face full in the cataract of the moonlight.
As a conclusion for this chapter I will copy out a little song
which I extemporised for Sylvia on our way home to Yellowsands--
too artlessly happy, it will be observed, to rhyme correctly:--
Sylvia's dancing 'neath the moon,
Like a star in water;
Sylvia's dancing to a tune
Fairy folk have taught her.
Glow-worms light her little feet
In her fairy theatre;
Oh, but Sylvia is sweet!
Tell me who is sweeter!
AT THE CAFE DE LA PAIX
As love-making in which we have no share is apt to be either
tantalising or monotonous, I propose to skip the next fortnight
and introduce myself to the reader at a moment when I am once
more alone. It is about six o'clock on a summer afternoon, I am
in Paris, and seated at one of the little marble tables of the
Cafe de la Paix, dreamily watching the glittering tide of gay
folk passing by,--
"All happy people on their way
To make a golden end of day."
Meditatively I smoke a cigarette and sip a pale greenish liquor
smelling strongly of aniseed, which isn't half so interesting as
a commonplace whiskey and soda, but which, I am told, has the
recommendation of being ten times as wicked. I sip it with a
delicious thrill of degeneration, as though I were Eve tasting
the apple for the first time,--for "such a power hath white
simplicity." Sin is for the innocent,--a truth which sinners
will be the first to regret. It was so, I said to myself, Alfred
de Musset used to sit and sip his absinthe before a fascinated
world. It is a privilege for the world to look on greatness at
any moment, even when it is drinking. So I sat, and privileged
It will readily be surmised from this exordium that--incredible
as it may seem in a man of thirty--this was my first visit to
Paris. You may remember that I had bought Orlando's tickets, and
it had occurred to Sylvia and me to use them. Sylvia was due in
London to fulfil a dancing engagement within a fortnight after
our arrival; so after a tender good-bye, which there was no
earthly necessity to make final, I had remained behind for the
purposes of study. Though, logically, my pilgrimage had ended
with the unexpected discovery of Sylvia Joy, yet there were two
famous feminine types of which, seeing that I was in Paris, I
thought I might as well make brief studies, before I returned to
London and finally resumed the bachelorhood from which I had
started. These were the grisette of fiction and the American
girl of fact. Pending these investigations, I meditated on the
great city in the midst of which I sat.
A city! How much more it was than that! Was it not the most
portentous symbol of modern history? Think what the word
"Paris" means to the emancipated intellect, to the political
government, to the humanised morals, of the world; not to speak
of the romance of its literature, the tradition of its manners,
and the immortal fame of its women. France is the brain of the
world, as England is its heart, and Russia its fist. Strange is
the power, strange are the freaks and revenges, of association,
particularly perhaps of literary association. Here pompous
official representatives may demur; but who can doubt that it is
on its literature that a country must rely for its permanent
representation? The countries that are forgotten, or are of no
importance in the councils of the world, are countries without
literature. Greece and Rome are more real in print than ever
they were in marble. Though, as we know, prophets are not
without honour save in their own countries and among their own
kindred, the time comes when their countries and kindred are
entirely without honour save by reason of those very prophets
they once despised, rejected, stoned, and crucified. Subtract its
great men from a nation, and where is its greatness?
Similarly, everything, however trifling, that has been written
about, so long as it has been written about sufficiently well,
becomes relatively enduring and representative of the country in
which it is found. To an American, for example, the significance
of a skylark is that Shelley sang it to skies where even it could
never have mounted; and any one who has heard the nightingale
must, if he be open-minded, confess its tremendous debt to Keats:
a tenth part genuine song, the rest moon, stars, silence, and
John Keats,--such is the nightingale. The real truth about a
country will never be known till every representative type and
condition in it have found their inspired literary mouthpiece.
Meanwhile one country takes its opinion of another from the
apercus of a few brilliant but often irresponsible or prejudiced
writers,--and really it is rather in what those writers leave out
than in what they put in that one must seek the more reliable
data of national character.
A quaint example of association occurs to me from the experience
of a friend of mine, "rich enough to lend to the poor." Having
met an American friend newly landed at Liverpool, and a hurried
quarter of an hour being all that was available for lunch, "Come
let us have a pork-pie and a bottle of Bass" he had suggested.
"Pork-pies!" said the American, with a delighted sense of
discovering the country,--"why, you read about them in
Dickens!" Who shall say but that this instinctive association
was an involuntary severe, but not inapplicable, criticism? A
nightingale suggests Keats; a pork-pie, Dickens.
Similarly with absinthe, grisettes, the Latin Quarter, and so on.
Why, you read about them in Murger, in Musset, in Balzac, and in
Flaubert; and the fact of your having read about them is, I may
add, their chief importance.
So rambled my after-dinner reflections as I sat that evening
smoking and sipping, sipping and smoking, at the Cafe de la Paix.
Presently in my dream I became aware of English voices near me,
one of which seemed familiar, and which I couldn't help
overhearing. The voice of the husband said,--you can never
mistake the voice of the husband,--
'T was the voice of the husband,
I heard him complain,--
the voice of the husband said: "Dora, I forbid you! I will NOT
allow my wife to be seen again in the Latin Quarter. I permitted
you to go once, as a concession, to the Cafe d'Harcourt; but once
is enough. You will please respect my wishes!"
"But," pleaded the dear little woman, whom I had an immediate
impulse, Perseus- like, to snatch from the jaws of her monster,
and turning to the other lady of the party of four,--"but Mrs.
---- has never been, and she cannot well go without a chaperone.
Surely it cannot matter for once. It isn't as if I were there
"No!" said the husband, with the absurd pomposity of his tribe.
"I'm very sorry. Mrs. ---- will, of course, act as she pleases;
but I cannot allow you to do it, Dora."
At last the little wife showed some spirit.
"Don't talk to me like that, Will," she said. "I shall go if
I please. Surely I am my own property."
"Not at all!" at once flashed out the husband, wounded in that
most vital part of him, his sense of property. "There you
mistake. You are my property, MY chattel; you promised obedience
to me; I bought you, and you do my bidding!"
"Great heavens!" I ejaculated, and, springing up, found myself
face to face with a well-known painter whom you would have
thought the most Bohemian fellow in London. And Bohemian he is;
but Bohemians are seldom Bohemians for any one save themselves.
They are terrible sticklers for convention and even etiquette in
We recognised each other with a laugh, and presently were at it,
hammer and tongs. I may say that we were all fairly intimate
friends, and thus had the advantage of entire liberty of speech.
I looked daggers at the husband; he looked daggers at me, and
occasionally looking at his wife, gave her a glance which was
like the opening of Bluebeard's closet. You could see the poor
murdered bodies dangling within the shadowy cupboard of his eye.
Of course we got no further. Additional opposition but further
enraged him. He recapitulated what he would no doubt call his
arguments,--they sounded more like threats,--and as he spoke I
saw dragons fighting for their dams in the primeval ooze, and
heard savage trumpetings of masculine monsters without a name.
I told him so.
"You are," I said,--"and you will forgive my directness of
expression,--you are the Primeval Male! You are the direct
descendant of those Romans who carried off the Sabine women.
Nay! you have a much longer genealogy. You come of those hairy
anthropoid males who hunted their mates through the tangle of
primeval forests, and who finally obtained their consent--shall
we say?--by clubbing them on the head with a stone axe. You talk
a great deal of nonsense about the New Woman, but you, Sir, are
THE OLD MALE; and," I continued, "I have only to obtain your
wife's consent to take her under my protection this instant."
Curiously enough, "The Old Male," as he is now affectionately
called, became from this moment quite a bosom friend. Nothing
would satisfy us but that we should all lodge at the same pension
together, and there many a day we fought our battles over again.
But that poor little wife never, to my knowledge, went to the
Cafe d'Harcourt again.
THE INNOCENCE OF PARIS
This meeting with William and Dora was fortunate from the point
of view of my studies; for that very night, as I dined with them
en pension, I found that providence, with his usual foresight,
had placed me next to a very charming American girl of the type
that I was particularly wishful to study. She seemed equally
wishful to be studied, and we got on amazingly from the first
moment of our acquaintance. By the middle of dinner we were
pressing each other's feet under the table, and when coffee and
cigarettes had come, we were affianced lovers. "Why should I
blush to own I love?" was evidently my quaint little companion's
motto; and indeed she didn't blush to own it to the whole table,
and publicly to announce that I was the dearest boy, and
absolutely the most lovable man she had met. There was nothing
she wouldn't do for me. Would she brave the terrors of the
Latin Quarter with me, I asked, and introduce me to the terrible
Cafe d'Harcourt, about which William and Dora had suffered such
searchings of heart? "Why, certainly; there was nothing in
that," she said. So we went.
Nothing is more absurd and unjust than those crude labels of
national character which label one country virtuous and another
vicious, one musical and another literary. Thus France has an
unjust reputation for vice, and England an equally unjust
reputation for virtue.
I had always, I confess, been brought up to think of Paris as a
sort of Sodom and Gomorrah in one. Good Americans might go to
Paris, according to the American theory of a future state; but,
certainly I had thought, no good Englishman ever went
there--except, maybe, on behalf of the Vigilance Society. Well,
it may sound an odd thing to say, but what impressed me most of
all was the absolute innocence of the place.
I mean this quite seriously. For surely one important condition
of innocence is unconsciousness of doing wrong. The poor
despised Parisian may be a very wicked and depraved person, but
certainly he goes about with an absolute unconsciousness of it
upon his gay and kindly countenance.
"Seeing the world" usually means seeing everything in it that
most decent people won't look at; but when you come to look at
these terrible things and places, what do you find? Why,
Have you ever read that most amusing book, "Baedeker on Paris"?
I know nothing more delightful than the notes to the Montmartre
and Latin Quarters. The places to which you, as a smug Briton,
may or may not take a lady! The scale of wickedness allowed to
the waxwork British lady is most charmingly graduated. I had
read that the cafe where we were sitting was one of the most
terrible places in Paris,--the Cafe d'Harcourt, where the
students of the Latin Quarter take their nice little domestic
mistresses to supper. But Baedeker was dreadfully Pecksniffian
about these poor innocent etudiantes, many of whom love their
lovers much more truly than many a British wife loves her
husband, and are much better loved in return. If you doubt it,
dare to pay attention to one of these young ladies, and you will
probably have to fight a duel for it. In fact, these romantic
relations are much more careful of honour than conventional ones;
for love, and not merely law, keeps guard.
I looked around me. Where were those terrible things I had read
of? Where was this hell which I had reasonably expected would
gape leagues of sulphur and blue flame beneath the little marble
table? I mentally resolved to bring an action against Baedeker
for false information. For what did I see? Simply pairs and
groups of young men and women chattering amiably in front of
their "bocks" or their "Americains." Here and there a
student would have his arm round a waist every one else envied
him. One student was prettily trying a pair of new gloves upon
his little woman's hand. Here and there blithe songs would
spring up, from sheer gladness of heart; and never was such a
buzz of happy young people, not even at a Sunday-school treat.
To me it seemed absolutely Arcadian, and I thought of Daphnis and
Chloe and the early world. Nothing indecorous or gross; all
perfectly pretty and seemly.
On our way home Semiramis was so sweet to me, in her innocent,
artless frankness, that I went to bed with an intoxicating
feeling that I must be irresistible indeed, to have so completely
conquered so true a heart in so few hours. I was the more
flattered because I am not a vain man, and am not, like some,
accustomed to take hearts as the Israelites took Jericho with the
blast of one's own trumpet.
But, alas! my dream of universal irresistibility was but
short-lived, for next afternoon, as William and I sat out at some
cafe together, I found myself the object of chaff.
"Well," said William, "how goes the love-affair?"
I flushed somewhat indignantly at his manner with sanctities.
"I see!" he said, "I see! You are already corded and
labelled, and will be shipped over by the next mail,--`To Miss
Semiramis Wilcox, 1001 99th St., Philadelphia, U.S.A. Man
with care.' Well, I did think you'd got an eye in your head.
Look here, don't be a fool! I suppose she said you were the
first and last. The last you certainly were. There are limits
even to the speed of American girls; but the first, my boy! You
are more like the twelfth, to my ocular knowledge. Here comes
Dubois the poet. He can tell you something about Miss Semiramis.
Eh! Dubois, you know Miss Semiramis Wilcox, don't you?"
The Frenchman smiled and shrugged.
"Un peu," he said.
"Don't be an ass and get angry," William continued; "it's all
for your own good."
"The little Semiramis has been seducing my susceptible friend
here. Like many of us, he has been captivated by her
naturalness, her naivete, her clear good eyes,--that look of
nature that is always art! May I relate the idyl of your tragic
passion, dear Dubois, as an object lesson?"
The Frenchman bowed, and signed William to proceed.
"You dined with us one evening, and you thus met for the first
time. You sat together at table. What happened with the fish?"
"She swore I was the most beautiful man she had ever seen,--and
I am not beautiful, as you perceive."
If not beautiful, the poet was certainly true.
"What happened at the entree?"
"Oh, long before that we were pressing our feet under the
"And the coffee--"
"Mon Dieu! we were Tristram and Yseult, we were all the great
lovers in the Pantheon of love."
"And what then?"
"Oh, we went to the Cafe d'Harcourt--mon ami."
"Did she wear a veil?" I asked.
"And did you say, `Why do you wear a veil,--setting a black
cloud before the eyes and gates of heaven'?"
"The very words," said the Frenchman.
"And did she say, `Yes, but the veil can be raised?' "
"She did, mon pauvre ami," said the poet.
"And did you raise it?"
"I did," said the poet.
"And so did I," I answered. And as I spoke, there was a crash
of white marble in my soul, and lo! Love had fallen from his
pedestal and been broken into a thousand pieces,--a heavy, dead
thing he lay upon the threshold of my heart.
We had appointed a secret meeting in the salon of the pension
that afternoon. I was not there! (Nor, as I afterwards learnt,
was Semiramis.) When we did meet, I was brutally cold. I evaded
all her moves; but when at last I decided to give her a hearing,
I confess it needed all my cynicism to resist her air of
innocence, of pathetic devotion.
If I couldn't love her, she said, might she go on loving me?
Might she write to me sometimes? She would be content if now and
again I would send her a little word. Perhaps in time I would
grow to believe in her love, etc.
The heart-broken abandonment with which she said this was a sore
trial to me; but though love may be deceived, vanity is ever
vigilant, and vanity saved me. Yet I left her with an aching
sense of having been a brute, and on the morning of my departure
from Paris, as I said good-bye to William and Dora, I spoke
somewhat seriously of Semiramis. Dora, Dora-like, had believed in
her all along,--not having enjoyed William's opportunities of
studying her,--and she reproached me with being rather
"Nonsense," said William, "if she really cared, wouldn't she
have been up to bid you good-bye?"
The words were hardly gone from his lips when there came a little
knock at the door. It was Semiramis; she had come to say good-
bye. Was it in nature not to be touched? "Good-bye," she said,
as we stood a moment alone in the hall. "I shall always think
of you; you shall not be to me as a ship that has passed in the
night, though to me you have behaved very like an iceberg."
We parted in tears and kisses, and I lived for some weeks with
that sense of having been a Nero, till two months after I
received a much glazed and silvered card to the usual effect.
And so I ceased to repine for the wound I had made in the heart
of Semiramis Wilcox.
Of another whom I met and loved in that brief month in Paris, I
cherish tenderer memories. Prim little Pauline Deschapelles! How
clearly I can still see the respectable brass plate on the door
of your little flat-- "Mademoiselle Deschapelles--Modes et
Robes;" and indeed the "modes et robes" were true enough. For
you were in truth a very hard-working little dressmaker, and I
well remember how impressed I was to sit beside you, as you plied
your needle on some gown that must be finished by the evening,
and meditate on the quaint contrast between your almost Puritanic
industry and your innocent love of pleasure. I don't think I
ever met a more conscientious little woman than little Pauline
There was but one drawback to our intercourse. She didn't know a
word of English, and I couldn't speak a word of French. So we
had to make shift to love without either language. But sometimes
Pauline would throw down her stitching in amused impatience, and,
going to her dainty secretaire, write me a little message in the
simplest baby French--which I would answer in French which would
knit her brows for a moment or two, and then send her off in
peals of laughter.
It WAS French! I know. Among the bric-a-brac of my heart I
still cherish some of those little slips of paper with which we
made international love--question and answer.
"Vous allez m'oublier, et ne plus penser a moi--ni me voir. Les
hommes--egoistes-- menteurs, pas dire la verite . . ." so ran
the questions, considerably devoid of auxiliary verbs and such
details of construction.
"Je serais jamais t'oublier," ran the frightful answers!
Dear Pauline! Shall I ever see her again? She was but
twenty-six. She may still live.
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