Part 8 out of 9
when looked at from another how extraordinary! If she had known that
Monsignor was going to ask her to go there, she would have invented a
plausible excuse, but she had had no time to think; his kind eyes were
fixed upon her, and he seemed so ready to believe all she said, that her
courage sank within her, and she could not lie to him. Perhaps all this
was by intention, by the very grace of God! The Virgin might have
interceded on her behalf, for is it not said that whoever wears the
scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel cannot lose his soul? But for the
last two years, for more than two years, she has not worn her scapular.
The strings had broken, and they had not been mended. She had intended
to buy another, but had not been able to bring herself to do so, so
hypocritical did it seem.
It might be that these dreadful nights of insomnia had been sent so that
she might have an opportunity of realising the wickedness of her life,
and the risk she incurred of losing her immortal soul. She dare not have
recourse to the sleeping draught, and must endure perhaps another
sleepless night. If they had been sent, as she thought they were, for a
purpose, she must not dare to hush, by artificial means, the sense God
had awakened in her; to do so would be like flying in the face of
Providence. She had never suffered from sleeplessness before, and could
not think that this insomnia was accidental. No, she dare not have
recourse to sleeping draughts, at least not till she had been to
confession. If afterwards she did not get to sleep, it would be
different. The fear arose in her of taking too much, of dying in her
sleep. If she were to awake in hell! And that evening, when Merat
reminded her of the draught, she said it was to be left on the table,
and that she would take it if she required it.
The darkness could not hide the slim bottle corked with a slim blond
cork, and so clear was the vision that she could read the label through
the darkness. It was only partially gummed on the bottom, and she could
read the pale writing. "To be taken before bedtime." The temptation
struck through the darkness, sweet and dreamily seductive it entered her
brain. She was tempted as by a dark, dreamless river; hushed in an
unconscious darkness she would be upon that river, floating through a
long, winding night towards a dim, very distant day. If she were to
drink, darkness would sink upon her, and all this visible world, the
continual sight of which she felt must end in lunacy, would pass from
her. So great was the temptation that she did not dare to get out of bed
and put the bottle away--if she did she must drink it, so she lay quite
still, her face turned against the wall, trying to find courage in the
thought that God had imposed the torture of these sleepless nights upon
her in order that she might be saved from the eternal sleeplessness of
Mistakes are made in the preparation of medicines, but if no mistake had
been made, a change in her health might unfit her for so large a dose,
and if through either of these chances she were to die in her sleep,
there was no question that she must awake in hell. She did not dare to
go to the draught, but lay quite still, her head close against the wall,
praying for darkness, crying for relief from this too fierce mentality;
it seemed to be eating up the very substance of her brain.
On the following evening she sat in her armchair watching the clock. It
had struck eleven--that was the time for her going to bed, but the hour
had become a redoubtable one. Bedtime filled her with fear, and the
thought of another sleepless night deprived her of all courage. She did
not dare to go upstairs. She sat in her armchair as if in terror of a
mortal enemy. She had hidden the bottle, but her maid had ordered
another. There were now two, sufficient to procure death, said her
conscience, and since dinner the temptation to commit suicide had been
growing in her brain; like a vulture perched upon a jag of mountain
rock, she could see the temptation watching her. She tried not to see,
but the thought grew blacker and larger--its beak was in her brain, and
she was drawn, as if by talons, tremblingly from her chair. She was so
weak that she could hardly cross the room; but the thought of death
seemed to give her courage, and without it she thought she never would
have had the strength to get upstairs. The attraction was extraordinary,
and her powerlessness to resist it was part of the fascination, and she
looked round the room like a victim looking for the knife. She could not
see the bottle on her dressing-table, and accepting this as a favourable
omen, she undressed and lay down.
After all, she might sleep without having recourse to death; but, lying
on the pillow, she could think of nothing but the slim bottle and the
slim blond cork, and a thick white liquid, and the dark river into
which she would sink, the winding darkness on which she would float, and
she had not strength to think whither it led. Her only thought was not
to see this world any more; her only desire not to think of Ulick or
Owen, and to be tortured no longer by doubt of what was right and what
was wrong. She was aware that she was losing possession of her
self-control, and would be soon drawn into the dreaded but much-desired
abyss; and in this delirium, produced by long insomnia, she began to
conceive her suicide as an act of defiance against God, and she rejoiced
in her hatred of God, who had afflicted her so cruelly--for it was
hatred that had come to her aid, and would enable her to secure a long,
long sleep. "Out of the sight of this world"--she muttered the words as
she sought the chloral--"I'll sleep, I'll sleep, I must sleep. Sleep or
death, one or the other, so long as I am out of the sight of this
world." But in her frenzy of desire for sleep she overlooked the slim
bottle with the slim blond cork. Yet it stood on the toilet-table amid
other bottles, right under her eyes, but over and over again she passed
it by, until, frightened at not finding it, she opened drawer after
drawer, and rushed to her wardrobe thinking it might be there. She
sought for it, throwing her things about, and, not finding it anywhere,
a cold sweat broke over her forehead. Another sleepless night and she
must go mad. If she did not find it, she must find another way out of
this agony, and the thought of cutting her throat, or throwing herself
out of the window, flashed across her mind. "Sleep I must have--sleep,
sleep, sleep!" she muttered, as with fearing fingers she emptied out the
contents of her little workbox, where odds and ends collected. It was
her scapular that came up under her hand, and at the sight of it, all
her mad revolt was hushed, and a calm settled upon her. "A miracle, a
miracle," she murmured, "the Virgin has done this; she interceded for
me;" and at the same moment, catching sight of the chloral right under
her very eyes, she could no longer doubt the miraculous interposition of
the Virgin. For how otherwise could that bottle have escaped her notice?
She had looked at the very place where it stood many times, and had not
seen it; she had moved the other bottles and she had not seen it. The
Virgin had taken it away--she was sure it was not there five minutes
ago--or else the Virgin had blinded her eyes to it. A miracle had
happened; and in a quivering peace of mind and an intense joy of the
heart, she mended the strings of her broken scapular. Then she hung it
round her neck, and kneeling by the bedside, she said the prayers that
it enjoined; and when she got into bed she saw a light shining in one
corner of the room, and, sure that it was the Virgin who had come in
person to visit her, she continued her prayers till she fell asleep.
A knock came at her door, and Merat was glad to hear that Mademoiselle
had slept. She noticed that the sleeping-draught had not been taken, and
picking up the various things that Evelyn had scattered in her search,
she wondered at the disorder of the room, making Evelyn feel
uncomfortable by her remarks. Evelyn knew it would be impossible for
Merat to guess the cause of it all. But when she hesitated about what
dress she would wear, declaring against this one and that one, her
choice all the time being fixed on a black crepon, Merat glanced
suspiciously at her mistress; and when Evelyn put aside her rings,
selecting in preference two which she did not usually wear, the maid was
convinced that some disaster had happened, and was ready to conclude
that Ulick Dean was the cause of these sleepless nights.
Evelyn had chosen this dress because she was going to St. Joseph's or
because she supposed she was going there. It did not seem to her that
she could confess to anyone but Monsignor. But why he? one priest would
do as well as another. She was too tired to think.
Her brain was like one of those autumn days when clouds hang low, and a
dimness broods between sky and earth. True that there were the events of
last night--her search for the chloral, the finding of her scapular, her
belief in a special interposition of Providence, and then her resolution
to go to confession. It was all there; she knew it all, but did not want
to think about it. She had been thinking for a week, and this was the
first respite she had had from thought, and she wished this stupor of
brain to continue till four o'clock. That was the time she would have to
be at St. Joseph's. He was generally there at that time.
She had lain down on the sofa after breakfast, hoping to sleep a little;
if she didn't, the time would be very long; but as she dozed, she began
to see the thin, worn face and the piercing eyes, and the intonation of
his voice began to ring in her ears. As she thought or as she dreamed,
the striking of the clock reminded her of the number of hours that
separated them. Only four hours and she would be kneeling at his feet!
Then she felt that she had advanced a stage, and was appreciably nearer
the inevitable end, and lay staring at the sequence of events. She saw
the hours stretching out reaching to him, and she, all the while, was
moving through the hours automatically. All kind of similes presented
themselves to her mind. She asked herself how it was that Monsignor had
come into her life. She had not sought him; she had not wanted him in
her life, but he had come! She remembered the first time she saw
him--that Sunday morning when she went to St. Joseph's to meet her
father's choir--and could recall the exact appearance of the church as
he walked across the aisle to the pulpit. It was illuminated by a sudden
ray of sunlight falling through one of the eastern windows, and she
remembered how it had lighted up the thin, narrow face, bringing a glow
of colour to the dark skin till it seemed like one of the carved saints
she had seen in Romanesque churches on the Rhine. She remembered the
shape of the small head, carried well back, and how she had been
impressed by the slow stride with which he crossed the sanctuary. Then
her thoughts passed to the moment when, standing in the pulpit, he had
looked out on the congregation, seeming to divine the presence of some
great sinner there. She had felt that he was aware of her existence, for
in that moment the thin grey eyes seemed to see her, even to think her,
and they had frightened her, they were so clear, so set on some
purpose--God's or the Church's. She had met him that evening at a
concert, and how well she remembered her father introducing him! He had
spoken to her several minutes; everyone in the room was looking at them,
and she recalled the scene--all the girls, their dresses, and the
expression of their eyes. But she could not recall what Monsignor had
said, only her impressions; the same strange fascination and fear which
she had experienced when Owen came to the concerts long ago--that loud
winter's night, harsh and hard as iron. Owen had stood talking to her
too, and she had been fascinated.... He had admired her singing, and
Monsignor had admired her singing; but she was determined not to sing
until Monsignor had asked her to sing, and when he has asked her to go
to the convent she had gone. It was very strange; she could not account
for it. It was all beyond herself, outside of her, far away like the
stars, and she felt now as she did whenever she looked at the stars. Was
her character essentially weak, and was she liable to all these
influences, these facile assimilations? Was there nothing within her, no
abiding principle, nothing that she could call her own? She walked up
the room, and tried to understand herself--what was she, bad or good,
weak or strong? If she only knew what she was, then she would know how
There were her sins against faith. She had striven to undermine her
belief in God. She had read Darwin and Huxley for this purpose, and not
in the least to obtain knowledge. As Monsignor has said, "When a
Catholic loses his faith, it is because he desires to lead a loose
life," and she hardly dared to look into her soul, knowing that she
would find confirmation of this opinion. She had not been to Mass,
because at the Elevation she believed in spite of herself; so she had
been as insincere in her unfaith as in her faith. Then there were the
sins of the flesh, and their number and their blackness terrified her.
There were sins that she strove to put out of her mind at once, sins she
was even ashamed to think of; and the thought of confessing them struck
her down, and once more it seemed that she could never raise herself out
of the slough into which she had fallen. She had all along taken it for
granted that a general admission that she had lived with Owen as his
wife would be sufficient. But now it seemed to her that she would have
to tell Monsignor how gross her life had been.
In a corner of the room her sins crowded, and covering her face with her
hands, she was convinced that she could not go to confession.
Before she went away with Owen she had had no sins to confess, or only
venial sins; that she had been late for Mass through her own fault; that
she had omitted her evening prayers. Her worst sin was the reading of a
novel which she thought she ought not to have read, but now her life was
all sin. If the priest questioned her she could not answer, she must
refuse to answer. So there seemed no hope for her. She could not confess
everything, and the conviction suddenly possessed her that God had
deserted her, and she could not hope for redemption from her present
life. For she could not confess all her sins; her heart would fail her,
she would be tempted to conceal something, and then to her other sins
she would add the sin of a bad confession.
Nervous pains began again in her arms and neck, and she experienced the
same wasting away of the very substance of her being, of the protecting
envelope of the unconscious. She was again a mere mentality, and she
looked round the room with a frightened, distracted air. On the table
was the book Monsignor had given her, _Sin and Its Consequences_. But
she turned from it with a smile. She did not need anyone to tell her
what were the consequences of sin--and the familiar proverb of bringing
coals to Newcastle rose up in her mind. At the same moment she caught
sight of the clock; it was half-past twelve, and she remembered that in
about three hours and a half it would be time to go to St. Joseph's.
Then like a flash the question came, was it Monsignor's influence that
had induced this desire of a pure life in her? She could not deny to
herself that she was attracted by his personality. So the question was,
how far his personality accounted for the change that had come over her
life? Was it the mere personal influence of the prelate, or an inherent
sense of right and wrong that compelled her to send her lovers away and
change her life? If it were the mere personal influence of Monsignor,
her desire of a pure life would not last, and to attain something that
was not natural to her she would have ruined her life to no purpose.
Owen's influence had died in her; how did she know that Monsignor's
would continue even so long? She had lived an evil life for six years;
would she lead a good one for the same time? If she knew this she would
know how to act. But not only for six years would she have to lead a
good life, but till the very end of her life. If she did not persevere
till the very end, all this present struggle and the years of
self-denial which she was was about to enter on would be useless. She
might just as well have had a good time all along. A good time! That was
just it. She could not have a good time. She dare not face the agony,
the agony which she was at present enduring, so she must go to
confession, she must have inward peace.
"So my life is over and done," she said, "and at seven-and-twenty!"
She twisted in her fingers a letter which she had received that morning
from Mademoiselle Helbrun. She was staying at the Savoy Hotel, and had
just returned from Munich. Evelyn felt she would like to hear about her
success as Frika, and how So-and-So had sung Brunnhilde, and the rest of
the little gossip about the profession. She would like to lunch with
Louise in the restaurant, at a table by the window. She would like to
see the Thames, and hear things that she might never hear again. But was
it possible that she was never going to join again in the tumult of the
Valkyrie? She remembered her war gear, the white tunic with gold
breastplates. Was it possible that she would never cry their cry from
the top of the rocks; and her favourite horse, the horse that Owen had
given her for the part, what would become of him? What would become of
her jewellery, of her house, of her fame, of everything? She attempted a
last stand against her conscience. Her scruples were imaginary. Owen had
said it could not matter to God whether she kissed him or not. But she
did not pursue this train of reasoning. She felt it to be wrong. But she
could not confess--she could not explain everything, and again she was
struck with a sort of mental paralysis. Why Monsignor--why not another
priest? No, not another. She could not say why, but not another; he was
the one. But perhaps she only wanted to tell someone, a woman--Louise,
for instance. If she were to tell Louise--she put the idea out of mind,
feeling it to be vain, and trying to think that there was no need why
she should leave the stage, and uncertain whether she should stay on the
stage if Monsignor forbade her, or if she wanted to even if he allowed
her, she put on her hat and went to lunch with Louise. It would help her
to pass the time; it would save her from thinking. She must speak to
someone. But the Savoy was on her way to St. Joseph's. It was half-way
there. A little overcome by the coincidence, she told her servant to
call a hansom, and as she drove to the hotel she wondered why she had
thought of going to see Louise.
She met her in the courtyard, and the vivacious little woman cried, "My
dear, how glad I am to see you!" and she stretched out both hands.
Evelyn was more pleased to see her friend than she expected to be, and
while listening to her she envied her for being so happy, and she
wondered why she was so happy; and while asking herself these questions
she noticed her dress. Mademoiselle Helbrun's plump figure was set off
to full advantage in a black and white check silk dress, and she wore a
wonderful arched hat with flowing plumes of the bird of paradise. She
was a prima-donna every inch of her, standing on the steps of her hotel,
whereas the operatic stage could hardly be distinguished at all in
Evelyn's dress. With the black crepon skirt she wore a heliotrope
blouse, and she stood, one foot showing beyond the skirt, in a
statue-like attitude, her pale parasol held negligently over one
"My dear," she said, "I have come to ask you to let me lunch with you."
"But I shall be enchanted, my dear. I wrote on the chance, never
thinking that you would be in town this season."
"Yes, it is strange. I don't know why I am here. There's no one in
"Where would you like to lunch? In my room or in the restaurant?"
"It will be gayer in the restaurant. I haven't seen a soul for nearly a
Louise gave her a sharp look, in which the passing thought that Evelyn
might be in want of money was dismissed as ridiculous. Louise thought of
some unhappy love affair, and when they sat down to lunch she noticed
that Evelyn avoided answering a question regarding herself, and turned
the conversation on to the Munich performance. The evident desire of
Evelyn not to talk about herself clouded Louise's pleasure in talking of
herself, and she paused in her account of the Wotan, the Brunnhilde, the
conductor and the Rhine Maidens to tell Evelyn of the inquiries that had
been made about her--all were looking forward to her Kundry next year.
Madame Wagner had said that there never had been such a Brunnhilde.
"I daresay she said so, but at the bottom of her heart she did not like
my Brunnhilde. It was against her ideas. She always thought I was too
much woman. She said that I forgot that I was a Goddess. And she was
right. I never could remember the Goddess. I never remember anything on
the stage. 'Tisn't my way. I simply live it all out. I was enthusiastic
when Siegfried came to release me, because I should have been
enthusiastic about him." Evelyn's thoughts went back to Owen, and she
remembered how he had released her from the bondage of music lessons
with a kiss.
"But when I came to tell you about the ruined Valhala and the poor
fallen Gods you were sorry?"
"Yes, I was sorry for father."
"No, my own father. That's my way. I think of what has happened to me
and I act that. But tell me about the Munich performances."
While Mademoiselle Helbrun told of the different points in which they
excelled, Evelyn thought and thought of the strange charm of the woman
who had so ably continued the Master's work. She recalled the tall,
bending figure, she saw the alley of clipped limes, she remembered the
spacious rooms, and then his study, the walls lined with bookcases,
books of legends and philosophical works, the room in which he had
written "The Dusk of the Gods" and "Parsifal." Thinking of the studious
months she had spent in that house, a vivid memory of one night shot
across her brain. It was a heavy, breathless night, without star or
moon. She had wandered into the dark garden; she had found her way to
the grave, and standing by the Master's side she had listened to the
music and seen the guests passing across the lighted windows. The warble
of the fountain had seemed to her like the pulse of Eternity. All that
was three years ago. "It is very wonderful, very wonderful," she
thought, and she awoke with a start, and Mademoiselle Helbrun saw she
had not been listening. She answered Louise's subsequent remarks, and
was glad that what had been had been. She was giving it all up, it was
true, but it was not as if she had not known life.
The sun was shining on the great brown river, and out of the
smoke-dimmed sky white creamy clouds were faintly rising. Evelyn's eyes
had wandered out there, and she seemed to see a thin face and hard, cold
eyes, and she asked Louise abruptly what the time was, for she had
forgotten her watch. It was only just three o'clock. She returned to the
Munich performances, but Louise could see that Evelyn was all the time
struggling against an overmastering fate. The only thing she could think
of was that Evelyn was being forced into a marriage or an elopement
against her will. Once or twice she thought that Evelyn was going to
confide in her. She waited, afraid to say a word lest she should check
the confidences that her friend seemed tempted to entrust her with.
Evelyn's eyes were dull and lifeless. Louise could see that they did not
see her, and it was with an effort that Evelyn said, "I am sorry I did
not see your Frika;" and once started she rattled on for some time,
hardly knowing what she was saying, arguing about the music and
expressing opinions about everything and everybody. Stopping abruptly,
she again asked her friend what time it was. Louise said that she must
not go, and then tried to induce her to come for a drive with her; but
Evelyn shook her head--she was engaged. There was no trace of colour in
her face, and when Louise asked when they should meet again, she said
she did not know, but she hoped very soon. She might be obliged to go to
Paris to-morrow, and she had to pay some visits to Scotland at the end
of the month. Louise did not like to question her, for she was sure that
some momentous event was about to happen. As she drove away Louise said,
"I should not be surprised if she did not play Kundry next year."
While wondering at the grotesque movement of the trotting horse, Evelyn
tried once more to save herself from this visit to St. Joseph's. She
thought of what it would cost her--her present life! Her lovers were
gone already, and Monsignor would tell her that she must give up the
stage. But these considerations did not alter the fact that she was
going to St. Joseph's. She was rolling thither, like a stone down a
hill. She saw the streets and people as she passed them, as a stone
might if it had eyes. All power of will had been taken from her; it was
the same as when she went to meet Owen at Berkeley Square, and in a
strange lucidity of mind, she asked herself if it were not true that we
are never more than mere machines set in motion by a master hand,
predestined to certain courses, purblind creatures who do not perceive
their own helplessness, except in rare moments of heightened
consciousness. As if to convince herself on this point, she strove to
raise her hand to open the trap in the roof of the hansom, and her fear
increased on finding that she could not. To acquire the necessary
strength, she reminded herself that she was wrecking her whole life for
an idea, for, perhaps, nothing more than a desire to confess her sins.
Again she tried to raise her hand, and she looked round, feeling that
nothing short of some extraordinary accident could save her, nothing
except an accident to the horse or carriage could save her artistic
life. Some material accident, nothing else.... Monsignor might not be at
St. Joseph's. Perhaps he had left town. Nobody stayed in town in
September, and for a moment it seemed hardly worth while to continue her
drive. Her thoughts came to a standstill, and, as in a nervous vision,
Evelyn saw that the whole of her future life depended on her seeing
Monsignor that day. She foresaw that if she were turned away from the
door of St. Joseph's, she would never come back; never would she be able
to bring herself to the point again. She would find Owen waiting for
her; wherever she went, she would meet him; sooner or later the
temptation to return to him would overcome her. Then, indeed, she would
be lost; then, indeed, her tragedy would begin.... Ah! if she could only
cease to think for a little while; only for a little while. She had
tried to escape from him once before, and had not succeeded because
there was no one to help her. Now there was Monsignor. The reflection
cheered her, and a few minutes were left to discover how much of her
conversion was owing to her original nature, and how much to Monsignor's
influence. It seemed to her that if she were certain of this point, she
would know whether she should go forward or back. But her heart gave
back no answer, and she grew more helpless, and terrified, like a bird
fallen into the fascination of a serpent. She was uncertain if she could
lead a good life. She no longer desired anything. She was conscious of
no sensation, except that she was rolling independent of her own will,
like a stone. A moment after, the gable of the church appeared against
the sky, and she recognised the poor, ridiculous creature in the
tattered black bonnet, whose stiff, crooked appearance she had known
since childhood. She had changed little in the last twenty years. She
walked with the same sidling gait her hands crossed in front of her like
a doll. Her life had been lived about St. Joseph's; the church had
always been the theatre and centre of her thoughts. Doubtless she was on
her way to Benediction, and the temptation to follow her arose, but was
easily resisted. Evelyn paid the cabman his fare, and in an increasing
tremor of nervous agitation, she crossed the gravelled space in front of
the presbytery. The attendant showed her into the same bare room, where
there was nothing to distract her thoughts from herself except the four
prints on the walls. She had recourse to them in the hope of stimulating
her religious fervour, but as she gazed at St. Monica and St. Augustine
she remembered the poor woman she had just seen. There had been scorn of
her ridiculous appearance in her heart, and pride that she, Evelyn, had
been given a more beautiful body, more perfect health, and a clearer
intelligence. So she was overcome with shame. How dare she have scorned
this holy woman. If she had been more richly gifted by Nature, to what
shameful usage had she put her body and her talents? And Evelyn thought
how much more lovely in God's eyes was this poor deformed woman. To sin
is the common lot of humanity; but she had done more than commit sins,
she had committed _the_ sin, she had striven to tear out of her heart
that sense of right and wrong which God had planted there. She had
denied the ideal as the Jews had denied Christ. Owen had not done that;
he lived up to his principles, such as they were. But she had not
thought she was acting right, she had always known that she was doing
wrong, and she had gone on doing wrong, stifling her conscience, hoping
always that it would be the last time.
That poor woman whose appearance had raised a contemptuous thought in
her heart had never sinned against her faith. She had not sought to
raise doubts in her heart concerning God and morals; she had lived in
ardent belief and love, never doubting that God watched her from his
heaven, whither he would call her in good time. Almighty God! She was
struck with fear lest she did not believe all that this poor woman
believed. Did she believe that she, Evelyn Innes, would appear at the
final judgment and be assigned a place for ever and ever in either
eternal bliss or torment? She did not know if she believed this. Last
night she was sure she believed, but to-day she did not know.... She did
not know that heaven was as this poor woman imagined it. She asked
herself if she believed in a future life of any sort? She was not sure,
she did not know; she was only sure that whether there be a future life
or none, our obligation to live according to the dictates of our
conscience remains the same. But Monsignor might not deem this
sufficient, and might refuse her absolution. She strove to convince
herself, hurriedly, aware that the moments were fleeting, that she had a
soul. That sense of right and wrong which, like a whip, had driven her
here could be nothing else but the voice of her soul; therefore there
was a soul, and if there was a soul it could not die, and if it did not
die it must go somewhere; therefore there was a heaven and a hell. But
in spite of her desire to convince herself, remembrance of Owen's
arguments whistled like a wind through her pious exhortations, and all
that she had read in Huxley and Darwin and Spencer; the very words came
back thick and distinct, and like one who finds progress impossible in
the face of the gale, she stopped thinking. "We know nothing ... we know
nothing," were the words she heard in the shriek of the wind, and
revealed religion appeared in tattered, miserable plight, a forlorn
spectre borne away on the wind. So distinct was the vision, so explicit
her hearing, that she could not pretend to herself that she was a
Christian in any but a moral sense, and this would not satisfy
Monsignor. Then question after question pealed in her ears. What should
she say when he came? Was it not better for her to leave at once? But
then? She took one step towards the door. However thin and shallow her
belief might be, she must confess her sins. She felt that she must
confess her sins even if she did not believe in confession. Her thoughts
paused, and she was terrified by the mystery which her own existence
presented to herself.
The door opened, and the priest stood looking at her. She could see that
he divined the truth. In the first glance he read that Evelyn had come
to confession, and it was for him a moment of extraordinary spiritual
Monsignor Mostyn and Sir Owen had been at school together, and though
they had not met since, they frequently heard of each other. Owen's
ideas of marriage and religion were well known to the priest. He had
heard soon after she had gone away that she had gone with Asher, his old
schoolfellow. He knew the pride that Asher would take in destroying her
faith, and this diabolic project he had determined to frustrate; and
every year when he returned from Rome, he asked if Evelyn was expected
to sing in London that season. As year after year went by, his chance of
saving her soul seemed to grow more remote; but at the bottom of his
heart he believed that he was the chosen instrument of God's grace. That
night at the concert in her father's house, the first words--something
in her manner, the expression in her eyes, had led him to think that the
conversion would be an easy one. But it had come about quicker than he
had expected. And as he stood looking at her, he was aware of an alloy
of personal vanity and strove to stifle it; he thought of himself as the
humble instrument selected to win her from this infamous, this renegade
Catholic, and the trouble so visible in her was confirmation of his
belief that there can be no peace for a Catholic outside the pale of the
"I have wanted to see you so much," she began hurriedly. "There is a
great deal I want to tell you. But perhaps you have no time now."
"My dear child, I have ample time, I am only too pleased to be of
service to you. I am afraid you are in trouble, you look quite ill."
The kindness of the voice filled her eyes with tears, and she understood
in a moment the relief it would be to tell her troubles to this kind
friend; to feel his kind advice allaying them one by one, and to know
that the sleepless solitude in which she had tried to grapple with them
was over at last. To give her time to recover herself, Monsignor spoke
of a letter he had received that morning from the Superior of the
"I will not trouble you with her repeated thanks for what you have done
for her. She begs me to tell you that she and the sisters unite in
inviting you to spend a few days with them. They suggest that you should
choose your own time."
"Oh, Monsignor, how can I go and stay with them! I thought I should have
died of shame when I went there after the concert with you. Mother
Philippa asked me if I had travelled with my father when I went abroad.
You must remember, for you came to my assistance."
"I turned the conversation, seeing that it embarrassed you."
"But you must have guessed."
"On account of your father's position at St. Joseph's, I had heard of
you.... I had heard of your intimacy with Sir Owen Asher, and the life
of an opera singer is not one to which a good Catholic can easily
As they sat on either side of the table, Evelyn was attracted, and then
absorbed, by the distinctive appearance of the priest. His mind was in
his face. The long, high forehead, with black hair growing sparely upon
it; the small, brilliant eyes, and the long, firm line of the jaw, now
distinct, for the head was turned almost in profile. The face was a
perfect symbol of the mind behind it; and the intimate concurrence of
the appearance and the thought was the reason of its attractiveness. It
was the beauty of unity; here was a man whose ideas are so deeply rooted
that they express themselves in his flesh. In him there was nothing
floating or undecided; and in the line of the thin, small mouth and the
square nostrils, Evelyn divined a perfect certainty on all points. In
this way she was attracted to his spiritual guidance, and desired the
support of his knowledge, as she had desired Ulick's knowledge when she
was studying Isolde. Ulick's technical knowledge had been useful to her;
upon it she had raised herself, through it she had attained her idea.
And in the same way Monsignor's knowledge on all points of doctrine
would free her from doubt. Then she would be able to rise above the
degradation of earthly passion to that purer and higher passion, the
love of God. Doctrine she did not love for its own sake as Monsignor
loved it. She regarded it as the musician regards crotchets and quavers,
as a means of expression; and she now felt that without doctrine she
could not acquire the love which she desired; without doctrine she could
not free herself from the bondage of the flesh, and every moment the
temptation to give her soul into his keeping grew more irresistible.
Rising from her chair, she said--
"Will you hear my confession now, Monsignor?"
"The priest looked at her, his narrow, hard face concentrated in an
"Certainly, my child, if you think you are sufficiently prepared."
"I must confess now; I could not put it off again;" and glancing round
the room, she slipped suddenly upon her knees.
The priest put on his stole and murmured a Latin prayer, making the sign
of the Cross over the head of his penitent.
"I fear I shall never remember all my sins. I have been living in mortal
sin so many years."
"I remember that you spoke to me of intellectual
difficulties--concerning faith. You see now, my dear child, that you
were deceiving yourself. Your real difficulties were quite different."
"I think that my doubts were sincere," Evelyn replied tremblingly, for
she felt that Monsignor expected her to agree with him.
"If your doubts were sincere, what has removed them? What has convinced
you of the existence of a future life? That, I believe, was one of your
chief difficulties. Have you examined the evidence?"
Evelyn murmured that that sense of right and wrong which she had never
been able to drive out of her heart implied the existence of God.
"But savages, to whom the Scriptures are unknown, have a sense of right
and wrong. Those who lived before the birth of Christ--the Greeks and
Romans--had a sense of right and wrong."
Knowing that the priest's absolution depended upon her acceptance of the
doctrine of a future life, she strove to believe as a little child. But
it was her sins of the flesh that she wanted to confess, and this
argument about the Incarnation had begun to seem out of place. Suddenly
it seemed to hear inexpressibly ludicrous that she should be kneeling
beside the priest. She could not help wondering what Owen would think of
her. She remembered his pointing out that it is stated in the Gospel
that the Messiah should be descended from David. Now, Mary was not of
royal blood, so it was through Joseph, who was not his father, that
Christ was descended from David. But these discrepancies did not matter.
She felt the Church to be necessary to her, and that its teaching
coincided with her deepest feeling seemed to her enough. But Monsignor
was insistent, and he pressed dogma after dogma upon her. All the while
the cocoa-nut matting ate into her knees, and she was perplexed by
remembrances of sexual abandonments. How to speak of them she did not
know, and she was haunted and terrified by the idea of concealing
anything which would invalidate her confession. So she hastily availed
herself of the first pause to tell him that she had lived with Owen
Asher for the last six years. The priest did not trouble to inquire
further, and she felt that she could not leave him under the impression
that she had lived with Owen the moderate, sexual life which she
believed was maintained between husband and wife.
"My life during the last six years," she said, interrupting him, "has
been so abandoned. There are few--there are no excesses of which I have
not been guilty."
"You have said enough on that point," he answered, to her great relief.
But at that moment she remembered Ulick, and she felt that she must
mention him. To do so she had again to interrupt the priest.
"But I must tell you--Sir Owen was not the only one"--she bowed her
head--"there was another." Then, yielding to the temptation to explain
herself, she told Monsignor how it was this second sin that had awakened
her conscience. She had tried to look upon Sir Owen as her husband. "But
one night at the theatre, during a performance of 'Tristan and Isolde,'
I sinned with this second man."
"And this showed you, my dear child, the impossibility of a moral life
for one who was born a Catholic except when protected by the doctrine
and the sacraments of our Holy Church. And that brings us back to the
point from which we started--the necessity of an unquestioning
acceptance of the entire doctrine, and, I may add, a general
acquiescence in Catholic belief. It seems strange to you that I am more
anxious about your sins against faith than your sins of the flesh. It
is because I know that without faith you will fall again. It is because
I know the danger, the seduction of the theory that even if there be
neither hell nor heaven, yet the obligation to lead a moral life exists.
Such theory is in essence Protestantism and a delicious flattery of the
vanity of human nature. It has been the cause of the loss of millions of
souls. You yourself are a living testimony of the untrustworthiness of
this shelter, and it is entirely contrary to the spirit of the teaching
of the Church, which is that we must lead a moral life in order to gain
heaven and avoid the pain of hell."
She leaned heavily on the table to relieve her knees from as much weight
as possible, and she thought of the possibility of getting her
handkerchief out of her pocket and placing it under her. But when her
confession turned from her sins against faith to her sins of the flesh,
she forgot the pain of her knees.
"There is one more question I must ask you. You have lived with this man
as his mistress for six years, you have spoken of the excesses to which
you abandoned yourself, but more important than these is whether you
deliberately avoided the probable consequences of your sin--I mean in
regard to children?"
"If we sin we must needs avoid the consequences of our sin. I know that
it is forbidden--but my profession--I had to think of others--my
"Your answer, my dear child, does not surprise me. It shows me into what
depths you have fallen. That you should think like this is part of the
teaching of the man whose object was to undermine your faith; it is part
of the teaching of Darwin and Huxley and Spencer. You were persuaded
that to live with a man to whom you were not married differed in no wise
from living with your husband. The result has proved how false is such
teaching. The sacrament of marriage was instituted to save the weak from
the danger of temptation, and human nature is essentially weak, and
without the protection of the Church it falls. The doctrine of the
Church is our only safeguard. But that you should have proved unfaithful
to this man--this second sin which shocked you so much, and which I am
thankful awakened in you a sense of sin, is not more important than to
thwart the design of Nature. It is important that you should understand
this, for an understanding on this point will show you how false, how
contradictory, is the teaching of the naturalistic philosophy in which
you placed your trust. These men put aside revealed religion and refer
everything to Nature, but they do not hesitate to oppose the designs of
Nature when it suits their purpose. The doctrine of the Church has
always been one wife, one husband. Polygamy and polyandry are relatively
sterile. It is the acknowledged wife and the acknowledged husband that
are fruitful; it is the husband and wife who furnish the world with men
and heaven with souls, whereas the lover and the mistress fulfil no
purpose, they merely encumber the world with their vice, they are
useless to Nature, and are hateful in God's sight; the nations that do
not cast them out soon become decrepid. If we go to the root of things,
we find that the law of the Church coincides very closely with the law
of Nature, and that the so-called natural sciences are but a nineteenth
century figment. I hope all this is quite clear to you?"
Evelyn acquiesced. Her natural instinct forbade her the original
sin--what happened after did not appeal to her; she could feel no
interest in the question he had raised. But she was determined to avoid
all falsehood--on that question her instinct was again explicit--and
when he returned again in his irritation at her insubordination to his
ideas, and questioned her regarding her belief as to a future life, her
answer was so doubtful that after a moment's hesitation he said--
"If you are not convinced on so cardinal a point of dogma, it is
impossible for me to give you absolution."
"Do not deny me your absolution. I cannot face my life without some sign
of forgiveness. I believe--I think I believe. You probe too deeply.
Sometimes it seems to me that there must be a future life, sometimes it
seems to me--that it would be too terrible if we were to live again."
"It would be too terrible indeed, my dear child, if we were to live
again unassoiled, unpurified, in all our miserable imperfections. But
these have been removed by the priest's absolution, by the sinner's
repentance in this world and by purgatory in the next. Those who have
the happiness to live in the sight of God are without stain."
"I only know that I must lead a moral life, and that religion will help
me to do so. I try to speak the truth, but the truth shifts and veers,
and in trying to tell the whole truth perhaps I leave an impression that
I believe less than I do. You must make allowance for my ignorance and
incapacity. I cannot find words as you do to express myself. Do not
refuse me absolution, for without it I shall not have strength to
persevere.... I fear what may become of me. If you knew the effort it
has cost me to come to you. I have not slept for many nights for
thinking of my sins."
"There is one promise you must make me before I give you absolution; you
must not seek either of these men again who have been to you a cause of
The pain from her knees was expressed in her voice, and it was almost
with a cry that she answered--
"But I have promised to sing his opera."
"I thought, my dear child, that you told me you intended to give up the
stage. I feel bound to tell you that I do not see how you are to remain
on the stage if you wish to lead a new life"
"I have been kneeling a long while," and a cry escaped her, so acute was
the pain. She struggled to her feet and stood leaning against the table,
waiting for the pain to die out of her limbs. "The other man is father's
friend. If I tell him or if I write to him that he may not come to the
house, father will suspect. Then I have promised to sing his opera. Oh,
"These difficulties," said Monsignor, as he rose from his chair, "appear
to you very serious. You are overcome by their importance because you
have not adequately realised the awfulness of your state in the sight of
God. If you were to die now, your soul would be lost. Once you have
grasped this central fact in its full significance, the rest will seem
easy. I will lend you a book which I think will help you."
"But, Monsignor, are you going to refuse me your absolution?"
"My dear child, you are in doubt regarding the essential doctrine of the
resurrection, and you are unable to promise me not to see one of the men
who have been to you a cause of sin."
Her clear, nervous vision met the dry, narrow vision that was the
priest, and there was a pause in the conflict of their wills. He saw
that his penitent was moved to the depth of her being, and had lost
control of herself. He feared to send her away without absolution, yet
he felt that she must be forced into submission--she must accept the
entire doctrine of the Church. He could not understand, and therefore
could not sympathise with her hesitation on points of doctrine. If the
penitent accepted the Church as the true Church, conscience was laid
aside for doctrine. The value of the Church was that it relieved the
individual of the responsibility of life. So it was by an effort of will
that he retained his patience. He was determined to reduce her to his
mind, but he was instinctively aware of the danger of refusing her
absolution; to do so might fling her back upon agnosticism. He was
contending with vast passions. An unexpected wave might carry her beyond
his reach. The stakes were high; he was playing for her soul with Owen
Asher. He had decided to yield a point if necessary, but his voice was
so kind, so irresistibly kind, that she heard nothing but it. However
she might think when she had left him, she could not withstand the
kindness of that voice; it seemed to enter into her life like some
extraordinary music or perfume. He could see the effect he was producing
on her; he watched her eyes growing bright until a slight dread crossed
his mind. She seemed like one fascinated, trembling in bonds that were
loosening, and that in the next moment would break, leaving her
free--perhaps to throw herself into his arms; he did not dare to
withdraw his eyes. An awful moment passed, and she turned slowly as if
to leave the room. But at the moment of so doing a light seemed to break
upon her brain; where there was darkness there was light. He saw her
walk suddenly forward. She threw herself upon her knees at the table,
and like one to whom speech had suddenly come back, she said--
"I believe in our holy Church and all that she teaches. Father, I
beseech you to absolve me from my sins."
So striking was the change that the priest himself was cowed by it, and
his personal pride in his conquest of her soul was drowned in a great
awe. He had first to thank God for having chosen him as the instrument
of his will, and then he spoke to Evelyn of the wonder and magnitude of
God's mercies. That at the very height of her artistic career he should
have roused her to a sense of her own exceeding sinfulness was a miracle
of his grace.
His presence by her at that moment was a balm. She heard him say that
life would not be an easy one, but that she must not be discouraged,
that she must remember that she had made her peace with God, and would
derive strength from his sacraments. An extraordinary sweetness came
over her, she seemed borne away upon a delicious sweetness; she was
conscious of an extraordinary inward presence. She did not dare to look
up, or even to think, but buried herself in prayer, experiencing all the
while the most wonderful and continuous sensation of delight. She had
been racked and torn, and had fallen at his feet a helpless mass of
suffering humanity. He had healed her, and she felt hope and life
returning to her again, and sufficient strength to get up and continue
her way. Never again would she be alone; he would be always near to
guide her. She heard him tell her that she must recite daily for penance
the hymn _veni sanctus spiritus_, and the thought of this obedience to
him refreshed her as the first draught of spring water refreshes the
wanderer who for weeks has hesitated between the tortures of thirst and
the foul water of brackish desert pools. She was conscious that he was
making the sign of the cross over her bowed head, the murmured Latin
formula sounded strangely familiar and delicious in her ears, with the
more clearly enunciated "_Ego te absolvo_" towards the close. In that
supreme moment for which she had longed, the last traces of Owen's
agnostic teaching seemed to fall from her, and she was carried back to
the days of her girlhood, to the days of her old prayer-book, a "Garden
of the Soul" bound in ivory; and she rose from her knees, weak, but
happy as a convalescent.
"I hope you will sleep well to-night," said Monsignor, kindly, noticing
the signs of physical exhaustion in Evelyn as she stood mechanically
drawing down her veil and putting on her gloves. "A good conscience is
the best of all narcotics." Evelyn smiled through her tears, but could
not trust herself to speak. "But I don't really like you living alone in
Park Lane. It is too great a strain on your nerves. Could you not go to
your father's for a time?"
"Yes, perhaps, I don't know. Dear father would like to have me."
He told her that the Mass he was to say to-morrow he would offer up for
her; and as she drove home her joy grew more intense, and in a sort of
spiritual intoxication she identified herself with the faith of her
childhood. Life again presented possibilities of infinite perfection,
and she was astonished that the difficulties which she had thought
insuperable had been so easily overcome.
All that evening she thought of God and his sacraments, and remembering
the moment when his grace had descended upon her and all had become
clear, she perforce believed in a miracle--a miracle of grace had
She looked forward to the moment when her maid would leave the room, and
she would throw herself on her knees and lose herself in prayer, as she
had lost herself when she knelt beside Monsignor, and he absolved her
from sin. But when the door closed she was incapable of prayer, she only
desired sleep. Her whole mind seemed to have veered. She had exaggerated
everything, conducted herself strangely, hysterically, and her prayers
were repeated without ardour, almost indifferently.
But the next day she could not account to herself for the extraordinary
relief she had derived from her confession. For years she had battled
with life alone, with no light to guide her, blown hither and thither by
the gusts of her own emotions. But now she was at peace, she was
reconciled to the Church; she would never be alone again. The struggle
of her life still lay before her, and yet in a sense it was a thing of
the past. She felt like a ship that has passed from the roar of the surf
into the shelter of the embaying land, and in the distance stretched the
long peacefulness of the winding harbour.
The solution of her monetary obligations to Sir Owen still perplexed
her. She regretted not having laid the matter before Monsignor, and
looked forward to doing so. She could hear his clear, explicit voice
telling her what she must do, and guidance was such a sweet thing. He
would say that to try to calculate hotel bills and railway fares was out
of the question; but if she had said that the money Sir Owen had
advanced her to pay Madame Savelli was to be considered as a debt, she
must offer to return it. She knew that Owen would not accept it. It
would be horrid of him if he did, but it would be still more horrid of
her if she did not offer to return it.
She had not really begun to make money till the last few years, and as
there had been no need for her to make money, she had sacrificed money
to her pleasure and to Owen's. She had refused profitable engagements
because Owen wanted her to go yachting, or because he wanted to go to
Riversdale to hunt, or because she did not like the conductor. So it
happened that she had very little money--about five thousand pounds, and
her jewellery would fetch about half what was paid for it.
If she were to remain on the stage another year she could perhaps treble
the amount, and to leave the stage she would have to provide herself
with an adequate income. There was the tiara which the subscribers to
the opera in New York had presented her with--that would fetch a good
deal. It didn't become her, but it recalled a time of her life that was
very dear to her, and she would be sorry to part with it. But from the
point of view of ornament, she liked better the band of diamonds which
a young Russian prince had sent to her anonymously. A few nights after,
she had been introduced to him at a ball. His eyes went at once to the
diamonds, a look of rapture had come into his face, and she had at once
suspected he was the sender. They had danced many times, and retired for
long, eager talks into distant corners. And the following evening she
had found him waiting for her at the stage door. He had begged her to
meet him in a park outside the city. He was attractive, young, and she
was alone. Owen was away. She had thought that she liked him, and it was
exciting to meet him in this distant park, their carriages waiting for
them below the hill. She could still see the grey, lowering sky and the
trees hanging in green masses; she had thought all the time it was going
to rain. She remembered his pale, interesting face and his eager,
insinuating voice. But he had had to leave St. Petersburg the next day.
It was one of those things that might have, but had not, happened. How
strange! She might have liked him. How strange; she never would see him.
And she sat dreaming a long while.
Owen had given her a clasp, composed of two large emerald bosses set
with curious antique gems, when she played Brunnhilde. The necklace of
gem intaglios, in gold Etruscan filigree settings, he had given her for
her Elsa--more than her Elsa was worth. For Elizabeth he had given her
ropes of equal-sized pearls, and the lustre of the surfaces was
considered extraordinary. For Isolde he had given her strings of black
pearls which the jewellers of Europe had been collecting for more than a
year. Every pearl had the same depth of colour, and hanging from it was
a large black brilliant set in a mass of white brilliants. He had hung
it round her neck as she went on the stage, and she had had only time to
clasp his hands and say "dearest." These presents alone, she thought,
could not be worth less than ten thousand pounds.
She kept her jewels in a small iron safe; it stood in her dressing-room
under her washhand stand, and Merat surprised her two hours later
sitting on her bed, with everything, down to the rings which she wore
daily, spread over the counterpane. The maid gave her mistress a sharp
look, remarking that she hoped Mademoiselle did not miss anything. In
her hand there was a brooch consisting of three large emeralds set with
diamonds; she often wore it at the front of her dress, it went
particularly well with a flowered silk which Owen always admired. She
calculated the price it would fetch, and at the same time was convinced
that Monsignor's permission to sing on the concert platform, and
possibly to go to Bayreuth to sing Kundry, would not affect her
decision. She wanted to leave the stage. Half-measures did not appeal to
her in the least. If she was to give up the stage, she must give it up
wholly. It must be a thing over and done with, or she must remain on
the stage and sing for the good of Art and her lovers. Since that was no
longer possible, she preferred never to sing a note again in public. The
worst wrench of all was her promise to Monsignor not to sing Grania, and
since she had made that sacrifice, she could not dally with lesser
things. Then, resuming her search among her jewellery, she selected the
few things she would like to keep. She examined a cameo brooch set in
filigree gold, ornamented with old rose diamonds, and she picked up a
strange ring which a man whom Owen knew had taken from the finger of a
mummy. It was a large emerald set in plain gold. A man who had been
present at the unswathing of this princess, dead at least three thousand
years, had managed to secure it, and Owen had paid him a large sum for
it. She put it on her finger, and decided to keep a dozen other rings,
the earrings she wore, and a few bracelets. The rest of her jewellery
she would sell, if Owen refused to have them back. Of course there would
be her teaching; she could not live in Dulwich doing nothing, and would
take up her mother's singing classes....
Her mother had lost her voice in the middle of her career, and her
daughter had abandoned the stage at the moment of her greatest triumph!
Looking at her jewels scattered all over the bed, Evelyn wondered what
was going to happen to her. Was she really going to leave the stage?
She--Evelyn Innes? When she thought of it, it seemed impossible. If
religion were only a craze. If she were to go back to Owen, or to other
lovers? How strange it was; it seemed strange to be herself, and yet it
was quite true. Remembering that on Sunday she would partake of the Body
and Blood which her Saviour had given for the salvation of sinners, her
soul suddenly hushed, and catching sight of the jewels which symbolised
the sacrifice she was making, it seemed to her that she could afford
much greater sacrifices for what she was going to receive....
She saw lights dying down in the distance, and the world which had once
seemed so desirable seemed to her strangely trivial and easily denied.
Already she could look back at the poor struggling ones, struggling for
what to-morrow will be abandoned, forgotten, passing illusions; and she
wondered how it was that she had not always thought as she thought
to-day. Her thoughts passed into reveries, and she awoke, remembering
that Monsignor had told her that he did not like her living alone in
Park Lane. But in Dulwich she would be with her father, whom she had
long neglected, and she would be near St. Joseph's and her confessor. At
the same moment she remembered that she could not write to her lovers
from Park Lane. She put her jewels back in the safe, and told Merat to
pack sufficient things for a month, and to follow her with them to
Dulwich. Merat asked for more precise instruction, but Evelyn said she
must use her good sense; she was going away at once, and Merat must
follow by a later train.
"Then Mademoiselle does not want the carriage?"
"No, I shall go by train."
* * * * *
She found her father in the workroom, and the sight of him in his cap
and apron mending an old musical instrument caused many home scenes to
flash across her mind, and she did not know whether it was from
curiosity or a desire to please him that she asked the name of the
strange little instrument he was repairing. It looked like an overgrown
concertina, and he explained that it was a tiny virginal, and pointed
out the date; it was made in 1631, in Roman notation.
"Father," she said, "I have come back to you; we shall never be
separated any more--if you'll have me back."
"Have you back, dear! What has happened now?"
He stood with a chisel in his hand, and she noticed that he dug the
point nervously into the soft deal plank. She sat down on a small wooden
stool, and kicking the shavings with her feet, she said--
"Father, a great deal has happened. I have sent Owen away ... I shall
never see him again; I'm sorry to have to speak about him to you; you
mustn't be angry; he was very good to me, and he asked me to marry him;
he did everything--I'm afraid I've broken his heart."
"You're very strange, Evelyn, and I don't know what answer to make to
you.... Why did you send him away, and why did you refuse to marry him?"
"I sent him away because I thought it wrong to live with him, and I
refused to marry him--well, I don't know, father, I don't know why I
refused to marry him. It seemed to me that if he had wished to marry me
he ought to have done so long ago."
"Is that the only reason you can give?"
"It is the only reason I know. You seem sorry for him, father, are you?
I hope you are. He has been very good to me. I've often wished to tell
you; it has often been in my heart to tell you that you should not hate
him. He was very good to me, no one could have been kinder; he was very
fond of me, you must not bear him any ill will."
"I never said that I bore him ill will. He made you a great singer, and
you say he was very kind to you and wanted to marry you."
"Yes, and he was most anxious to see you, and he went with me to St.
Joseph's the Sunday you gave the great Mass of Pope Marcellus. He was
distressed that he could not see you to tell you about the choir."
"They sang better that Sunday than the Sunday you heard the 'Missa
Brevis.' I have got two new trebles. One has an exquisite voice. I wish
I could get a few good altos. It was the altos that were wrong when you
heard the 'Missa Brevis.' But you didn't hear they were out of tune.
That piano has falsified your ear, but it will come back to you."
"Dear father, how funny you are! If nothing were more wrong than my
They glanced at each other hastily, and to change the subject he
mentioned that he had had a letter that morning from Ulick. He had
finished scoring the second act of Grania, and thinking that he was on
safe ground, Mr. Innes told her that Ulick hoped to finish his score in
the autumn. The third act would not take him long; he had a very
complete sketch of the music, etc. "I shall enjoy going through his
opera with him."
"Father, I don't know how to tell you. Will you ever forgive me or him.
Ulick must not come back here--at least not while I am here. Perhaps I
had better go."
The chisel dropped from his hand, and he stood looking at his daughter.
His look was pitiful, and she could not bear to see him shake his head
slowly from side to side.
"Poor father is wondering why I am like this;" and to interrupt his
reflections she said--
"I don't know why I am like this; that's what you're thinking, father,
but henceforth I'll be like mother and my aunts. They were all good
women ... I have often wondered why I am like this." Their eyes met, and
seized with a sudden dread lest he should think (if such were really the
case) that he was the original cause--she seemed to read something like
that in his eyes--she said, "You must forgive me, whatever I am; you
know that we've always loved each other, and we always shall. Nothing
can come between us; you must be sorry for me, and kiss me, and love me
more than ever, for I've been very unhappy. I haven't told you all I
have given up so that I might be a good woman; it is not easy to make
the sacrifices I have made, but I am happier now that I have made them.
Ulick--Ulick must not come here while I'm here, but you'll want to see
him--I had better go. Father, dear, it is hard to say all these things.
I've done nothing but bring you trouble. Now I've robbed you of your
friend. For I've promised not to see Ulick again. If I stay here,
father, he must not come--I'm ashamed to ask you this, but what am I to
do? I bring trouble. Later on, perhaps, but for a long while he and I
must not meet."
Mr. Innes stood looking at his daughter, and a peculiar puzzled
expression had begun in his eyes, and had spread over his face. He
suddenly shrugged his shoulders; the movement was like Evelyn's shrug,
it expressed the same nervous hopelessness.
"I promised Monsignor that I would not see either."
"You went to confession--to him?"
"But how about Grania?"
"I'm not going to sing Grania. I've left the stage for good."
"Left the stage?"
"Yes, father, I've left the stage, and I could not go back even if
Monsignor were to permit me. But you must not argue with me; I argued
with myself until I nearly went mad. Night after night went by
sleepless; I was mad one night, and should have poisoned myself if I had
not found my scapular. But you mustn't question me. Some day when it is
all far away I'll tell you the whole story. I cannot speak of it at
present, it is all too near. Suffice it to say that I have repented, and
have come to ask you if you'll have me back to live with you?"
"You're my daughter, and you must do as you like. You were always
different from anyone else, I cannot cope with you. So you have left the
stage, left the stage! What will people think?"
"I could not be a good woman and remain on the stage, that's what it
comes to." In spite of the gravity of the scene, a smile trickled round
Evelyn's lips, for she could not help seeing her father like a hen that
has hatched out a duckling. He stood looking at her sadly. She had come
back--but what new pond would she plunge into? "I am a very
unsatisfactory person, I know that. I can't make people happy; but there
it is, it can't be otherwise. If I don't sing on the stage, I can sing
at your concerts. Come downstairs and let's have some music. We've
"What shall we play--a Bach sonata? Ah, I remember this," she said,
catching sight of the harpsichord part of a suite by J.P. Rameau, for
the harpsichord and viola da gamba. "Where is the viola da gamba part?"
"In the bottom of that bookcase, I think; don't you remember it?"
"Well, it is some time since I've played it," she said, smiling, "but
It seemed to her that she remembered it all wonderfully well, and she
was surprised how every phrase came up correctly under her bow. But she
"I don't remember what comes next."
Mr. Innes played the phrase, she played it after him, but she broke down
a little further on, and it took some time to find the music. "No, not
in that shelf," cried Mr. Innes, "the next one; not that volume, the
"Ah, yes, I remember the volume, about the middle?" When she found the
place she said, "Oh, yes, of course," and he answered--
"Ah, it seems simple enough now," and they went on together to the end.
"I've not lost much of my playing, have I?"
"A little stiffness, perhaps, and you've lost your sense of the old
forms. Now let's play this rondeau of Marais."
When they had finished, it was dinner-time, and after dinner they had
more music. Before going upstairs, Evelyn asked Agnes if there was any
ink in her room. She had to ask her father for some writing paper, she
would have avoided doing so if she could have helped it. She feared he
would guess that she was writing to her lovers. She smiled--so odd did
her scruples seem to her--she was writing to send them away. Her
father's house was surely the right place. If it were to make
appointments, that would be different. It was long past midnight when
she read over her letter to Owen.
"Dear Owen,--A great deal has happened since we last met, and I am
convinced that it would be unwise for me to see you in three months as I
promised. My confessor is of the same opinion; he thinks three months
too soon, and I must obey him. I have taken the step which I hope you
will take some day, for you too are a Catholic. In going to confession
and resolving not to see you again, I had a long struggle with my
feelings; but God gave me grace to overcome them. You know me well
enough by this time, and can have no doubt that I could not live with
you again as your mistress, and as I do not feel that I could marry you,
no course is open to me but to beg of you not to write to me, or to try
to see me. Owen, I feel that all this is horrid, that I am horrid looked
at from your side. I cannot seem anything else. I hate it all, but it
has to be done. Perhaps one of these days you will see things as I do.
"I owe you--I do not know how much, but I owe you a great deal of money.
I remember saying that Savelli's lessons were to be considered as a
debt, also the expenses of the house in the Rue Balzac. You never would
tell me what the rent of that house was, but as well as I can calculate,
I owe you a thousand pounds for that year in Paris." (Evelyn paused. "It
must be," she thought, "much more, but it would be difficult for me to
"You have," she continued, "paid for a hundred other things besides
Savelli's lessons and the house in the Rue Balzac, but it would be
impossible to make out a correct account, I feel, too, that you gave me
the greatest part of my jewellery thinking that one day I would be your
wife; you would not have given me so much if you had not thought so.
Therefore I feel it is only just to offer you the whole of it back. I
will only ask you to allow me to keep a few trifles--the earrings you
bought for me the day we arrived in Paris, the mummy's ring, etc., not
more than half-a-dozen things in all. I should like to keep these in
memory of a time which I ought to forget, but which I am afraid I shall
never have the courage even to try to forget. Dear Owen, I cannot tell
you why I cannot marry you, I only know that I cannot. I am obeying an
instinct far stronger than I, and I cannot struggle against it any
"One day perhaps we may meet--but it may not be for years, until we are
both quite different.
The moment she had written the address, she threw the pen aside, and she
sat striving against an uncontrollable sense of misery. At last her
pent-up tears ran over her eyelids. She flung herself on her bed, and
lay weeping, shaken by short, choking sobs. All her courage of the
morning had forsaken her; she could not face her new life, she could not
send away Owen. Her inmost life rose in revolt. Why was this new
sacrifice demanded of her? Why was her life to be made so hard, so
impossible for her to endure? She felt she could not live in the life
which she foresaw awaited her. Then she felt that she was being tried
beyond the endurance of any woman. But the storm did not last, her sobs
died away. She sat up, mopping her eyes with a soaking pocket
handkerchief, and utterly exhausted by the violence of her emotions, she
began to undress. She felt the impossibility of saying her prayers, her
one longing was for sleep, oblivion; she wished herself dead, and was
too worn out to put the thought from her, though she knew it was wrong.
In the morning the first thing she saw was the letter to Owen. There it
was! And every word and letter sank into her brain. "Sir Owen Asher,
Bart., Riversdale, Northamptonshire." She would have to post it, and
never again would she see him. She questioned the right of the priest in
obtaining from her a promise not to see him, so long as she did not sin.
But Owen was an approximate cause of mortal sin....
Ashamed of her instability, and feeling herself unworthy and no longer
pure as absolution had made her, she went that afternoon to St.
Joseph's, and in confession laid the matter before Monsignor Mostyn.
Regarding the money question, he approved of what she had written to Sir
Owen, and he was far more indulgent regarding her breakdown than she had
dared to hope. He had expected some such mental crisis. It was
extraordinary the strength it gave her even to see his stern, grave
face; she was thrilled by his certainty on all points, and it no longer
seemed difficult to send the letter she had written, or to write a
similar letter to Ulick, which he advised her to send by the same post.
She began it the moment she got home, and she wrote in perfect
confidence and courage, the words coming easily to her, so easily that
there were times when she seemed to hear Monsignor speaking over her
"Dear Ulick,--A very great event has happened in my life since I saw
you. The greatest event that can happen in any life--Grace has been
vouchsafed to me. Now I understand how sinful my life has been, as much
from a human as a religious point of view. I deserted my dear father, I
left him alone to live as best he could. I was not even faithful to my
lover. From a worldly point of view I owed him everything, yet for the
sake of my passion for you I encouraged myself for a while to dwell on
his faults, to see nothing in him but the small and the mean. I strove
to degrade him in my eyes so that I might find some excuse for loving
you. You were nice, Ulick, you were kind, you were good to me, and I was
enthusiastic about your genius. One of my greatest troubles now is that
I shall not be able to sing your opera. For a long while this very thing
prevented my repentance. I said to myself, 'It is impossible, I cannot,
I have promised, I must do what I said I would do. He will think me
hateful if I do not create the part.' But these hesitations between what
is certainly right and what is certainly wrong existed in me because I
did not then perceive how very little the things of this world are,
compared with eternal things, and that nothing matters compared with the
necessity of saving our souls. All this is now quite clear to me, and it
would therefore be madness for me to remain on the stage, recognising as
I do that it is a source of grave temptation to me. You will try to
understand, dear Ulick, you will try to look at things from my point of
view. You will see that it is impossible for me to act otherwise.
"I am living now with my father, and must not see you when you return to
London. I have promised my confessor not to see you. One of these days,
in years to come, when you and I are different beings, we may meet, but
we must not see each other at present. I must beg of you not to write or
to try to see me. My resolve is unalterable, and any attempt on your
part to induce me to return to my old life will be useless. It as
already far away and inconceivable to me. I know that by asking you not
to come to Dulwich I am robbing my father of his friend. I have never
brought happiness to anyone, not to father, not to Sir Owen, not to you,
not to myself. If other proof were wanting, would not this fact be
enough to convince me that my life has been all wrong? What it will be
in the future I don't know, I have confidence in the goodness of God and
in the wisdom of my spiritual adviser.--Sincerely yours,
"_P.S._--In course of conversation with my father, I mentioned
inadvertently that you were my lover; I begged him not to be angry with
you, but I know that I should not have mentioned your name. I must ask
you to forgive me this too."
The next day and the day following were lived within herself, sometimes
viewing God far away, as if at one end of a great plain, and herself
kneeling penitent at the other. She was filled with thoughts of his
infinite goodness and mercy, and of the miraculous intercession of the
Virgin at the moment when she was about to commit a crime that would
have lost her her soul for ever. She went to Mass daily, and took
peculiar delight in reciting the hymn which Monsignor had given her for
a penance. She regretted it was not more. It seemed to her such a
trivial penance, and she reflected on the blackness of her sins, and the
penances which the saints had imposed upon themselves. But her chief
desire was to keep herself pure in thought, and she read pious books
when she was alone, and encouraged her mind to dwell on the profound
mystery in which she was going to participate, and to believe in the
marvellous change it would produce in her.
It was on Friday morning that Agnes handed her Ulick's letter. She did
not read it at once, it lay on the table while she was dressing, and she
was uncertain whether it would not be better to put off reading it until
she came back from St. Joseph's.
"Alas, from our first meeting, and before it, we were aware of the fate
which has overtaken us. We heard it in our hearts, that numb
restlessness, that vague disquietude, that prophetic echo which never
dies out of ears attuned to the music of destiny ... Love you less, you
who are the source of all joy to me? Evelyn, my heart aches and my brain
is light with grief, but the terrible certitude persists that we are
being drawn asunder. I see you like a ship that has cleared the harbour
bar, and is already amid the tumult of the ocean.... We are ships, and
the destiny of ships is the ocean, the ocean draws us both: we have
rested as long as may be, we have delayed our departure, but the tide
has lifted us from our moorings. With an agonised heart I watched the
sails of your ship go up, and now I see that mine, too, are going aloft,
hoisted by invisible hands. I look back upon the bright days and quiet
nights we have rested in this tranquil harbour. Like ships that have
rested a while in a casual harbour, blown hither by storms, we part,
drawn apart by the eternal magnetism of the sea. I would go to you,
Evelyn, if I could, and pray you not to leave me. But you would not
hear: destiny hears no prayers. In the depths of our consciousness,
below the misery of the moment, there lies a certain sense that our ways
are different ways, and that we must fare forth alone, whither we know
not, over the ocean's rim; and in this sense of destiny we must find
comfort. Will resignation, which is the highest comfort, come to us in
time? My eyes fall upon my music paper, and at the same time your eyes
turn to the crucifix. Ours is the same adventure, though a different
breeze fills the sails, though the prows are set to a different horizon.
God is our quest--you seek him in dogma, I in art.
"But, Evelyn, my heart is aching so. How awful the word never, and the
years are filled with its echoes. And the wide ocean which lies outside
the harbour is so lonely, and I have no heart for any other joy. 'May we
not meet again?' my heart cries from time to time; 'may not some
propitious storm blow us to the same anchorage again, into the same
port?' Ah, the suns and the seas we shall have sailed through would
render us unrecognisable, we should not know each other. Last night I
wandered by the quays, and, watching the constellations, I asked if we
were divided for ever, if, when the earth has become part and parcel of
the stars, our love will not reappear in some starry affinity, in some
The symbol of the ships seemed to Evelyn to express the union and the
division and the destiny that had overtaken them. She sat and pondered,
and in her vision ships hailed each other as they crossed in mid-ocean.
Ships drew together as they entered a harbour. Ships separated as they
fared forth, their prows set towards different horizons. She sat
absorbed in the mystery of destiny. Like two ships, they had rested side
by side in a casual harbour. They had loved each other as well as their
different destinies had allowed them. None can do more. She loved him
better--in a way--but he was less to her than Owen. She felt that, and
he had felt that.... As he said, if they were to meet again they would
not recognise each other, so different were the suns that would shine
upon them and the oceans they would travel through. She understood what
he meant, and a prevision of her future life seemed to nicker up in her
brain, like the sea seen through a mist; and through vistas in the haze
she saw the lonely ocean, and her bark was already putting off from the
shore. All she had known she was leaving behind. The destiny of ships is
Owen's letter she received in the evening about six o'clock. She changed
colour at the sight of it, and her hand trembled, and she tore the
envelope across as she opened it.
"You ask me to make no attempt to save you. You ask me to stand on the
bank while you struggle and are dragged down by the current. Evelyn, I
have never disobeyed your slightest wish before, but I declare my right
to use all means to save you from a terrible fate. I return to London to
do so. God only knows if I shall succeed.... In any case I hope you will
never allude again to any money questions. What I gave, I gave, and
unless you want to kill me outright, never speak again of returning my
Her eyes ran through the lines, and her heart said, "How he loves me."
But the temptation to see him quenched instantly in remembrance of her
Communion, and she tore the letter hastily into two pieces, as if by
destroying it she destroyed the difficulty it had created for her. She
must not see him. But how was she to avoid meeting him? To-morrow be
would be waiting in the street for her, and she walked about the room
too agitated to think clearly. He seemed like the devil trying to come
between her and God. She must not see him, of that she was quite sure.
She would lock herself in her room. But then she would miss Holy
Communion, and her heart was set on the Sacrament; the Sacrament alone
could give her strength to persevere. To see him and to hear him would
ruin her peace of mind, and peace of mind was essential to the reverent
reception of the Sacrament. It was lost already, or very nearly. She
stopped in her walk, she looked into her soul, she asked herself if any
thought had crossed her mind which would render her unfit for Communion
... and on the spot she resolved to go straight to Monsignor and consult
him. He would advise her, he would find some way out of the difficulty.
But it was now six; she could not get to St. Joseph's before seven. It
was late, but she did not think he would refuse to see her; he would
know that it was only a matter of the greatest moment that would bring
her to inquire for him at that hour.
It was as she expected. Monsignor did not receive anyone so late in the
"Yes, I know, but I think Monsignor Mostyn will see me. Tell him--tell
him that my business does not admit delay."
She was shown into the same waiting-room. This seemed to her a
favourable presage, and she offered up a prayer that Monsignor would not
refuse to see her; everything depended on that. She listened for his
step; twice she was mistaken; at last the door opened. It was he, and he
guessed, before she had time to speak, what had happened.
"One of those men," he said, "has come again into your life?"
She nodded, and, still unable to speak, she searched in her pocket for
"I received these letters to-day--one this morning, the other, Sir
Owen's, just now. That was why I came. I felt that I had to see you."
"Pray sit down, my child, you are agitated." He handed her a chair.
"You remember you said I might go to Communion on Sunday, and if I were
to meet him to-morrow it would--there is no temptation, I don't mean
that--but I do not wish to be reminded of things which you told me I was
to try to forget."
The priest stood reading the letters, and Evelyn sat looking into space,
absorbed in the desire to escape from Owen. All her faith was in
Monsignor, and she believed he would be able to save her from Owen's
"I don't think you need fear anything from Mr. Dean."
"No, not from him."
Monsignor continued to read Ulick's letter. Evelyn wished he would read
Owen's; Ulick's interested her not in the least.
"Mr. Dean seems a very extraordinary person. Does he believed in
astrology, the casting of horoscopes, or is it mere affectation?"
"I don't know; he always talks like that. He believes, or says he
believes, in Lir and the great Mother Dana, in the old Irish Gods. But,
Monsignor, please read Sir Owen's letter. I want to know what I am to
He walked once across the room, and when he returned to the table he
said half to himself, as if his thoughts had long out-stripped his
"I am glad I advised you to leave Park Lane, for of course he will go
"He will easily find out I'm at Dulwich, he need not even ask--he will
guess it at once."
"Yes, to be sure."
"If I am not to meet him I must go away--but where? All my friends and
acquaintances are his friends. You would approve of none of them
Monsignor," she said, smiling a little.
He did not seem to hear her. Suddenly he said, "I think you had better
go and spend a few days at the Passionist Convent. The Reverend Mother
sent you an invitation through me, you remember, so we need have no
hesitation in proposing it. Indeed, I feel confident that they will
receive you with the greatest pleasure. It will do you a great deal of
good. You will have peace and quiet, my child; you will find yourself in
an atmosphere of faith and purity which cannot but be helpful to you in
your present unsettled state."
It seemed to Evelyn that that was what she had wanted all the time, only
she had not been able to say so. Yes; to spend a week with those dear
nuns, to sit in the convent garden, to kneel before the Blessed
Sacrament in the convent church, it would be a real spiritual luxury.
"Yes, I should love to go," she said. "I feel it is just what I need. I
have so much to think out, so much to learn, and at home there are a
hundred things to distract me."
"Very well, then, that is settled. I will send the Reverend Mother word
to-morrow; but there is no necessity, you can write yourself, and say
you are coming in the afternoon; she will only have to get your room
"But, Monsignor, my Communion? I had forgotten it was from you I was to
receive Holy Communion. Of course I know it doesn't really make any
difference, but still, you heard my confession, and I would far rather
receive Communion this first time from you than from anyone else. I
don't think it could be quite the same thing--if it weren't from you."
"And I should be sorry too, my child, as by God's grace I have been the
means of bringing you thus far, not to complete your reconciliation to
him. But I think we can manage that too without much difficulty. I say
Mass to-morrow at nine o'clock, and will give you Communion then, and
you can go to the convent for your retreat early in the afternoon. Will
that suit you?"
And Evelyn could not find words to express her gratitude.
That evening she sat with her father. He was busy stringing a lute, and
they had not spoken for some time; they often spent quite long whiles
without speaking, and only occasionally they raised their eyes to see
each other. The sensation of the other's presence was sufficient for
It being Saturday, there was choir practice at St. Joseph's, and when
Evelyn returned her father had left, and she breakfasted alone. After
breakfast she sat absorbed in the mysteries of the Sacrament she had
received. But in the middle of her exaltation doubt intervened, and
Owen's arguments flashed through her mind. She strove to banish them; it
was terrible that she should think such things over again, and on the
morning of her Communion. Her spiritual joy was blighted; she could only
hope that these dreadful thoughts were temptations of the devil, and
that she was in no wise responsible. She stood in the middle of the
room, asking herself if she had not in some slight measure yielded to
them. No direct answer came to her question, but the words, "When I'm a
bad woman I believe, when I'm a good woman I doubt," sounded clear and
distinct in her brain, and she remained thinking a long while.
Her father came in after lunch. And while she spoke about his trebles
and his altos, she was thinking how she should tell him that she was
going away that afternoon.
"You're very silent."
"I was at Holy Communion this morning."
"This morning? I thought you were going to Communion on Sunday?"
"Yes, so I was, but I received a letter from Owen Asher saying he
intended to see me. I took it to Monsignor; he said it was necessary
that I should not see Owen, and he advised me to go and stay with the
Sisters at Wimbledon. That is why I went to Communion this morning; I
wanted Monsignor to give me Communion. Father, I cannot remain here, I
should be sure to meet him."
"He will not come here."
"No, but he'll be waiting in the street."
"When are you going?"
"This afternoon," she answered, and handed him Owen's letter. He glanced
at it, and said--
"He seems very fond of you."
The answer shocked her, and nothing more was said on the subject. A
little later she asked him about the trains. She did not know how she
was to get from Dulwich to Wimbledon. Neither were very apt in looking
out the trains, and eventually it was Agnes who discovered the changes
that would have to be made. She would have to go first to Victoria, and
then she would have to drive from Victoria to Waterloo, and this seemed
so complicated and roundabout that she decided to drive all the way in a
hansom. Dulwich and Wimbledon could not be more than ten miles apart.
"I must go upstairs now, father, and pack my things."
Her father followed her and stood by, while she hesitated what she
should take. Smiling, she rejected a tea-gown as unsuitable for convent
wear, and put in a black lace scarf which she thought would be useful
for wearing in church; it would look better in the convent chapel than a
hat. Instead of a flowered silk she chose a grey alpaca. Then she
remembered that she must take some books with her. It would be useless
to bring pious books with her, she would find plenty of those in the
"Have you any books, father? I must have something to read."
"There are a few books downstairs; you know them all."
"You don't read much, father?"
"Not much, except music. But Ulick brings books here, you may find
something among them."
She returned with Berlioz's _Memoirs_, Pater's _Imaginary Portraits_,
and Blake's _Songs of Innocence and Experience_.
"I suppose these books belong to Ulick. I don't know if I ought to take
"I cannot advise you; you must do as you like. I suppose you'll bring
"Oh, yes, of course I shall bring them back."
"Evelyn, dear, is it quite essential that you should go?"
"Yes, father, yes, it is quite; but I don't know how I am to get away."
"How you're to get away! What do you mean?"
"Well," she answered, laughing, "you see in his letter he says he's
coming to watch me. Father, I can see that you pity him; you're sorry
for him, aren't you?"
"Well, Evelyn, he offered to marry you, he made you a great singer, and
you say he'd do anything for you. I suppose I am sorry for him."
They stood looking out of the window.
"You know I'd like to stop with you; it can't be helped; but I shall
"Do you think you'll come back?"
"Of course I shall come back. Where should I go if I did not come back?"
At that moment Agnes drove up in a hansom; she ran up the little garden,
and carried out Evelyn's bag and placed it in the hansom.
"I must go now, father; good-bye, darling. I shan't be away more than
seven or eight days."
A moment after her dear father was behind her, and she was alone in the
hansom, driving towards the convent. About her were villas engarlanded
with reddening creeper. On one lawn a family had assembled under the
shade of a dwarf cedar, and miles of this kind of landscape lay before
her. It seemed to her like painted paper, an illusion that might pass
away at any moment. Her truth was no longer in the external world, but
in her own soul. Her soul was making for a goal which she could not
discern. She was leaving a life of wealth and fame and love for a life
of poverty, chastity and obscurity. All the joy and emulation of the
stage she was relinquishing for a dull, narrow, bare life at Dulwich,
giving singing lessons and saying prayers at St. Joseph's. Yet there was
no question which she would choose, and she marvelled at the strangeness
of her choice.
The road lay through fields and past farmhouses, but the suburban street
was never quite lost sight of. Its blue roofs and cheap porticos
appeared unexpectedly at the end of an otherwise romantic prospect, and
so on and so on, until the driver let his horse walk up Wimbledon hill.
When they reached the top she craned her neck, and was in time to catch
a glimpse of the windmill far away to the right. The inn was in front of
her, the end of a long point of houses stretching into the common, and
the hansom rolled easily on the wide, curving roads. She anticipated the
choked gardens, the decaying pear trees, the gold crowns of sunflowers;
and a moment after the hansom passed these things and she saw the old
green door, and heard the jangling peal. The eyes of the lay sister
looked through the barred loop-hole.
"How do you do, sister? I suppose you expected me?"
The cabman put the trunk inside the long passage, and Evelyn said--
"But my luggage."
"If you'll come into the parlour I'll get one of the sisters to help me
to carry it upstairs."
Evelyn was sitting at the table turning over the leaves of the
Confessions of St. Augustine, when the Reverend Mother entered. She
seemed to Evelyn even smaller than she had done on the first occasion
they had met; she seemed lost in the voluminous grey habit, and the
long, light veil floated in the wind of her quick step.
"I'm glad you were able to come so soon. All the sisters are anxious to
meet you, you who have done so much for us."
"I've done very little, Reverend Mother. Could I have done less for my
old convent? I hope that your difficulties are at an end."
"At an end, no, but you helped us over a critical moment in the fortunes
of our convent."
Her hands were leaned against the edge of the table, her white fingers,
white with age, played with the hem of her veil, her blue, anxious eyes
were fixed on Evelyn at once tenderly, expectantly, and compassionately.
Her voice was the clear, refined voice which signifies society, and
Evelyn would not have been surprised to learn that she belonged to an
old aristocratic family, Evelyn imagined her to be a woman in whom the
genius of government dominated, and who, not having found an outlet into
the world, had turned to the cloister. Was that her story? Evelyn
wondered, and suddenly seemed to forsee a day when she would hear the
story which shone behind those clear blue eyes, and obliterated age from
the white face.
They went up the circular staircase, at the top of which was a large
landing; there were two rooms at the head of the stairs, and the
Reverend Mother said--
"These are our guest chambers." Standing on a second landing, one step
higher than the first, a solid wooden partition had been erected, and
pointing to a door the nun said with a laugh, "That door leads to the
sisters' cells. You must not make a mistake."
Evelyn was pleased to see that her room had two windows overlooking the
garden. There was a table covered by a cloth at which she could write,
and she bent over the bowl of roses and wondered which kind nun had
gathered them. The Reverend Mother left her, saying that she would be
told when supper was ready, and on looking round the room she perceived
her portmanteau, which the lay sister had not unstrapped. She would have
to unstrap it herself. She remembered that she had brought very few
things with her, and yet she was surprised at the smallness of her
luggage. For she usually took half-a-dozen dresses with her, now she had
only brought one change, a grey alpaca. She thought she might have left
her dressing-case behind, a plain brush and comb would have been all she
needed. But at the last moment, she had felt that she could not do
without these bottles of scent and brushes and nicknacks; they had
seemed indispensable. The dressing-case was Owen's influence still
pursuing her. She had not known why she was compelled to bring the
dressing-case, now she knew--Owen! Never would she be able to wholly
separate herself from him. He had become part of her.
As she stood in the convent room noticing the beeswaxed floor and the
two rugs, one by the small iron bed, she remembered a hunting morning
three years ago at Riversdale. She had gone to Owen's room to see if he
were ready. A multitude of orders were being given there, the valet was
searching anxiously in the large wardrobe, piled high with many various
coats and trousers; Owen stood before the looking-glass tying a white
scarf, and two footmen watched each movement, dreading a mistake. She
remembered that she had been amused at the time, and she never recalled
the scene without smiling. But she had liked Owen better for the
innumerable superfluities, all of which were necessary to his happiness,
the breakdown of any one of which made him the most miserable man alive.
She remembered how she had secretly imitated him, and how she had
gathered about her a mass of superfluous necessities. But they had never
become necessities to her, they had always galled her. It was in a
spirit of perversity she had imitated him. She had always felt it to be
wrong to eat peaches at five francs a piece, and had always been aware
of an inward resentment against the extravagance of a reserved carriage
on the railway and private saloon on board the boat. She had always
desired a simple life; the life of these nuns was a simple life, simpler
perhaps than she cared for. There was no hot water in her room, she
wondered how she would wash her hands, and smiling at her philosophical
reflections, she thought how Owen would laugh if he could see her in her
present situation--in a convent, crying out for a constant supply of hot
water and her maid. A religious life with home comforts, that was what
She was always a subject of amusement to herself, and she was still
smiling when a knock awoke her from her whimsical reveries. She answered
"Come in," and an elderly nun told her that supper was ready in the
parlour. In this room, furnished with a table and six chairs and four
pious prints, Evelyn ate her convent meal, a sort of mixed meal, which
included soup, cold meat, coffee, jam and some unripe pears. The
porteress took the plates away, and somehow Evelyn could not help
feeling that she was giving a good deal of trouble. She could see that
the nuns did everything for themselves, and she abandoned hope of ever
finding a can of hot water in her room. She remembered that when she
made her retreat some years ago, she had not noticed these things. She
owed all her wants to Owen. Mother Philippa came in, delighted to see
her, and anxious to know if she had everything she wanted.
"I thought you would be sure to be going abroad, and that next Easter,
the time you were here before, would be the time to ask you."
"But the Reverend Mother thought that now would be a better time."
"Yes, she said that Easter was a long way off, and that a rest would do
you good after singing all the season in London."
Evelyn wondered what idea the phrase "the season in London" awoke in the
mind of the nun. A little puzzled look did pass in her eyes, and then
she resumed her friendly chatter. Evelyn listened, more interested in
Mother Philippa's kind, amicable nature than in what she said. She
imagined in different circumstances what a good wife she would have
been, and what a good mother! "But she is happier as she is." Evelyn
could not imagine any soul-rending uncertainties in Mother Philippa. At
a certain age, at seventeen or eighteen, she had felt that she would
like to be a nun; very probably she was not any more pious than her
sisters; she had merely felt that the life would suit her. That was her
story. Evelyn smiled, and looked into Mother Philippa's mild eyes, in
which there was nothing but simple kindness, and with a yes and a no she
kept the conversation going till the bell rang for Office.
"I do not know if you would care to come to church. Perhaps you are
tired after your journey?"
"Journey! I have only driven a few miles."
Evelyn ran upstairs for her hat, and she followed the nun down the
cloister which led to the church.
"That is your door, it will take you into the outer church."
The nuns' choir was still empty, but the two candles on the high altar
were already lit, ready for Matins and Lauds. Evelyn had only just taken
her place, when at that moment a door opened on the other side of the
grille, and the grey figures, their heads a little bent, came in couples
and took their place in the stalls. They were wonderfully beautiful and
impressive, and the idea they represented seemed to Evelyn
extraordinary, simple and true. For, once we are convinced that there is
a God, and that we are here to save our souls, it were surely folly to
think of anything else. Our loves and our ambitions, what are they when
we consider him? and Evelyn remembered how he waits for us in an
eternity of bliss and love, only asking for our love. These were the
wise ones, they thought of the essential and let the ephemeral and
circumstantial go by them. Even from a worldly point of view, their life
was the wiser, since it produced the greater happiness. Owen was a proof
of this. She remembered how he used to say he had the finest place, the
most beautiful pictures, and the most desirable mistress in Europe. Yet
he was always the unhappiest man she knew. His life had been an
unceasing effort to capture happiness, and he had failed because he had
sought happiness from without instead of seeking it from within. He
lived in externals, he was dependent on a multitude of things, the
breakdown of any one of which was sufficient to cause him the acutest
misery. The howl of a dog, the smell of a cigar, any trifle was
sufficient to wreck his happiness. He had taught her to live in external
things, to place her faith in the world instead of in her own
conscience. How unhappy she had been; she had been driven to the brink
of suicide. Ah, if it had not been for Monsignor. She bent her face on
her hands, and did not dare to think further.
When her prayer was finished, she listened to the high monotonous chant
of the nuns reciting Matins. It sank into her soul, soothing it, and at
the same time inspiring an ardent melancholy. The long, unbroken rhythm
flowed on and on, each side of the choir chanting an alternate verse. In
the dimness of her sensation, Evelyn lost count of time, nor did she
know of what she was thinking. She was suddenly awakened by a sound of
shuffling. The nuns had risen to their feet, and in the middle of the
floor a sister began the lessons in a shrill voice, keeping always on
the same note, never letting her voice fall at the close of the
sentences. Evelyn grew more interested; the rite was full of a
penetrating mystery. She viewed the lines of grey nuns and heard the
Latin syllables. These poor nuns whom she was just now pitying for their
ignorance of life could at all events read the Office in Latin.
When she opened her eyes and saw the convent room, she remembered how
she had come there. Her still dreaming face lighted up with a smile, and
she began to wonder what was going to happen next. Soon after, someone
knocked. It was the little porteress telling her that it was seven
o'clock. Evelyn expected her to come in, pull up the blinds and pour out
her bath. But she did not even open the door, and Evelyn lay looking
through the strange room, unable to face the discomfort of a small basin
of cold water. She would have to do her hair herself, and there was no
toilette table. The convent seemed suddenly a place to flee from; she
hadn't realised that it would be like this.... But it would never do for
her to miss Mass, and she sat on the edge of the bed, unable to think of
any solution of her difficulties. The only glass in the room was about a
foot square; it had been placed on the chest of drawers, and nothing
seemed to Evelyn more inefficient than this wretched glass. Its very
position on the top of the chest of drawers was vexatious. She could not
even get it into the proper angle, and when she removed the piece of
paper that held it in position, it swung round and its back confronted
her. That morning it seemed as if she could not dress herself. Her hair
had curled itself into many a knot; she nearly broke the comb, and her
hand dropped by her side, and then she laughed outright, having caught
sight of some part of her dejection. As she hooked on her skirt she
reflected on the necessity of not leaving bottles of scent nor too many
sponges for the observation of the nuns; and the nightgown she had
brought was certainly not a conventual garment.
She hurried downstairs, and was just in time to see the nuns coming into
church. They came in by a side door, walking two by two, and Evelyn was
again struck by the beauty and mystery of this grey procession. She had
seen on the stage the outward show of men who had renounced the
world--the pilgrims in "Tannhaeuser," the knights in "Parsifal," but this
was no outward show. The women she was now witnessing had renounced the
world; the life she was witnessing was the life they lived from hour to
hour, from day to day, from year to year. She had included lovers amid
their renunciations; such inclusion was ridiculous, for of such sins as
hers they had not even dreamed. To pass through life without knowing
life! To have renounced, to have refused love, friends, art, everything,
dinner-parties, conversations, all the distractions which we believe
make life endurable, to have refused these things from the
beginning--not even to have been tempted to taste, not even to have
desired to put life to the test of a fugitive personal experience, but
to have divined from the first, by instinct, by the grace of God, the
worthlessness of life--that was what was so wonderful. Mother Philippa,
that simple nun, had done this, instinct had led her--there was no other
explanation. She had arrived at the same conclusion as the wisest of the
philosophers and without any soul-searching, by instinct--each of the
humble lay sisters, the little porteress had done this. And Evelyn was
filled with shame when she thought of the effort it had cost her to free
herself from a life of sin.
In extraordinary beauty of grey habit and veil and solemn procession,
the nuns passed to their seats. Now they were kneeling altarwise, and
Evelyn was still occupied by the thought that this was not outward show
as she had often seen it on the stage, but the thing itself. This was
not acting, this was truth, the truth of all their lifetimes.
Suddenly began the plaint of the organ, and some half-dozen voices sang
a hymn; and these pale, etiolated voices interested her. It was not the
clear, sexless voice of boys, these were women's voices, out of which
sex had faded like colour out of flowers; and these pale, deciduous
voices wailing a poor, pathetic music, so weak and feeble that it was
almost interesting through its very feebleness, interested Evelyn. Tears
trembled in her eyes, and she listened to the poor voices rising and
falling, breaking forth spasmodically in the lamentable hymn. "Desolate"
and "forgotten" were the words that came up in her mind.
They were still kneeling altarwise; their profiles turned from her.
Outside of the choir stalls, on either side of the church, were two
special stalls, and the Reverend Mother and the sub-prioress knelt
apart. Their backs were turned to Evelyn, and she noticed the fine
delicate shoulders of the Reverend Mother, and the heavy figure of
Mother Philippa. "Even in their backs they are like themselves," she
thought. She smiled at her descriptive style, "like themselves," and
then, seeing that Mass had begun, she resolutely repressed all levity,
and began her prayers. She had not felt especially pious till that
moment, and to rouse herself she remembered Monsignor's words, "That at
the height of her artistic career she should have been awakened to a
sense of her own exceeding sinfulness was a miracle of his grace," and
she felt that the devotion of her whole life to his service would not be
a sufficient return for what he had done for her. But in spite of her
efforts she followed the sacrifice of the Mass in her normal
consciousness until the bell rang for the Elevation. When the priest
raised the Host she was conscious of the Real Presence. She raised her
eyes a little, and the bent figures of the nuns, their veils hanging
loose about them, contributed to her exaltation, and with a last effort,
holding as it were her life in her hands, she asked pardon of God for
Then the pale, etiolated voices of the nuns, the wailing of these weak
voices--there were three altos, three sopranos--began again. They were
singing an Agnus Dei, a simple little music nowise ugly, merely feeble,
touchingly commonplace; they were singing in unison thirds and fifths,
and the indifferent wailing of the voices contrasted with the firmness
of the organist's touch; and Evelyn knew that they had one musician
among them. She listened, touched by the plaintive voices, so feeble in
the ears of man, but beautiful in God's ears. God heard beyond the mere
notes; the music of the intention was what reached God's ears. The music
of these poor voices was more favourable in his ears than her voice.
Months she had spent seeking the exact rhythm of a phrase intended to
depict and to rouse a sinful desire. Though the hymns were ugly--and
they were very ugly--she would have done better to sing them; and she
sought to press herself into the admission that art which does not tend
to the glory of God is vain and harmful. Far better these hideous hymns,
if singing them conducts to everlasting life. But every time she pressed
her mind towards an inevitable conclusion, it turned off into an obscure
bypath. She brought it back like an intractable ass, but the stubborn
beast again dodged her, and she had to abandon the attempt to convince
herself that art which did not tend to the honour and glory of God
should be suppressed--should be at least avoided. Once we were convinced
that there was a God and a resurrection, this world must become as
nothing in our eyes, only it didn't become as nothing in our eyes; every
sacrifice should become easy, but every sacrifice didn't become easy.
That was the point; to these nuns, perhaps, not to her. At least not
She had fussed a great deal this morning because she had no hot water to
wash with. Seven o'clock had seemed to her somewhat early to get up. But
they had been up long before. She had heard of nuns who got up at four
in the morning to say the Office. She did not know what time these nuns
got up, but she felt that she was not capable of much greater sacrifice