Part 3 out of 5
and, for the rest, the presence of a world that must be deceived.
Already he had almost a hatred of that orderly, brown-faced
Colonel, with his eyes that looked so steady and saw nothing; of
that flat, kindly lady, who talked so pleasantly throughout dinner,
saying things that he had to answer without knowing what they
signified. He realized, with a sense of shock, that he was
deprived of all interests in life but one; not even his work had
any meaning apart from HER. It lit no fire within him to hear Mrs.
Ercott praise certain execrable pictures in the Royal Academy,
which she had religiously visited the day before leaving home. And
as the interminable meal wore on, he began even to feel grief and
wonder that Olive could be so smiling, so gay, and calm; so, as it
seemed to him, indifferent to this intolerable impossibility of
exchanging even one look of love. Did she really love him--could
she love him, and show not one little sign of it? And suddenly he
felt her foot touch his own. It was the faintest sidelong,
supplicating pressure, withdrawn at once, but it said: 'I know what
you are suffering; I, too, but I love you.' Characteristically, he
felt that it cost her dear to make use of that little primitive
device of common loves; the touch awoke within him only chivalry.
He would burn for ever sooner than cause her the pain of thinking
that he was not happy.
After dinner, they sat out on a balcony. The stars glowed above
the palms; a frog was croaking. He managed to draw his chair so
that he could look at her unseen. How deep, and softly dark her
eyes, when for a second they rested on his! A moth settled on her
knee--a cunning little creature, with its hooded, horned owl's
face, and tiny black slits of eyes! Would it have come so
confidingly to anyone but her? The Colonel knew its name--he had
collected it. Very common, he said. The interest in it passed;
but Lennan stayed, bent forward, gazing at that silk-covered knee.
The voice of Mrs. Ercott, sharper than its wont, said: "What day
does Robert say he wants you back, my dear?"
He managed to remain gazing at the moth, even to take it gently
from her knee, while he listened to her calm answer.
"Tuesday, I believe."
Then he got up, and let the moth fly into the darkness; his hands
and lips were trembling, and he was afraid of their being seen. He
had never known, had not dreamed, of such a violent, sick feeling.
That this man could thus hale her home at will! It was grotesque,
fantastic, awful, but--it was true! Next Tuesday she would journey
back away from him to be again at the mercy of her Fate! The pain
of this thought made him grip the railing, and grit his teeth, to
keep himself from crying out. And another thought came to him: I
shall have to go about with this feeling, day and night, and keep
They were saying good-night; and he had to smirk and smile, and
pretend--to her above all--that he was happy, and he could see that
she knew it was pretence.
Then he was alone, with the feeling that he had failed her at the
first shot; torn, too, between horror of what he suddenly saw
before him, and longing to be back in her presence at any cost. . . .
And all this on the day of that first kiss which had seemed to
him to make her so utterly his own.
He sat down on a bench facing the Casino. Neither the lights, nor
the people passing in and out, not even the gipsy bandsmen's music,
distracted his thoughts for a second. Could it be less than
twenty-four hours since he had picked up her handkerchief, not
thirty yards away? In that twenty-four hours he seemed to have
known every emotion that man could feel. And in all the world
there was now not one soul to whom he could speak his real
thoughts--not even to her, because from her, beyond all, he must
keep at any cost all knowledge of his unhappiness. So this was
illicit love--as it was called! Loneliness, and torture! Not
jealousy--for her heart was his; but amazement, outrage, fear.
Endless lonely suffering! And nobody, if they knew, would care, or
pity him one jot!
Was there really, then, as the ancients thought, a Daemon that
liked to play with men, as men liked to stir an earwig and turn it
over and put a foot on it in the end?
He got up and made his way towards the railway-station. There was
the bench where she had been sitting when he came on her that very
morning. The stars in their courses had seemed to fight for them
then; but whether for joy he no longer knew. And there on the seat
were still the pepper berries she had crushed and strewn. He broke
off another bunch and bruised them. That scent was the ghost of
sacred minutes when her hand lay against his own. The stars in
their courses--for joy or sorrow!
There was no peace now for Colonel and Mrs. Ercott. They felt
themselves conspirators, and of conspiracy they had never had the
habit. Yet how could they openly deal with anxieties which had
arisen solely from what they had chanced secretly to see? What was
not intended for one's eyes and ears did not exist; no canon of
conduct could be quite so sacred. As well defend the opening of
another person's letters as admit the possibility of making use of
adventitious knowledge. So far tradition, and indeed character,
made them feel at one, and conspire freely. But they diverged on a
deeper plane. Mrs. Ercott had SAID, indeed, that here was
something which could not be controlled; the Colonel had FELT it--a
very different thing! Less tolerant in theory, he was touched at
heart; Mrs. Ercott, in theory almost approving--she read that
dangerous authoress, George Eliot--at heart felt cold towards her
husband's niece. For these reasons they could not in fact conspire
without, in the end, saying suddenly: "Well, it's no good talking
about it!" and almost at once beginning to talk about it again.
In proposing to her that mule, the Colonel had not had time, or,
rather, not quite conviction enough as to his line of action, to
explain so immediately the new need for her to sit upon it. It was
only when, to his somewhat strange relief, she had refused the
expedition, and Olive had started without them, that he told her of
the meeting in the Gardens, of which he had been witness. She then
said at once that if she had known she would, of course, have put
up with anything in order to go; not because she approved of
interfering, but because they must think of Robert! And the
Colonel had said: "D--n the fellow!" And there the matter had
rested for the moment, for both of them were, wondering a little
which fellow it was that he had damned. That indeed was the
trouble. If the Colonel had not cared so much about his niece, and
had liked, instead of rather disliking Cramier; if Mrs. Ercott had
not found Mark Lennan a 'nice boy,' and had not secretly felt her
husband's niece rather dangerous to her peace of mind; if, in few
words, those three had been puppets made of wood and worked by law,
it would have been so much simpler for all concerned. It was the
discovery that there was a personal equation in such matters,
instead of just a simple rule of three, which disorganized the
Colonel and made him almost angry; which depressed Mrs. Ercott and
made her almost silent. . . . These two good souls had stumbled on
a problem which has divided the world from birth. Shall cases be
decided on their individual merits, or according to formal codes?
Beneath an appearance and a vocabulary more orthodox than ever, the
Colonel's allegiance to Authority and the laws of Form was really
shaken; he simply could not get out of his head the sight of those
two young people sitting side by side, nor the tone of Olive's
voice, when she had repeated his regrettable words about happiness
If only the thing had not been so human! If only she had been
someone else's niece, it would clearly have been her duty to remain
unhappy. As it was, the more he thought, the less he knew what to
think. A man who had never had any balance to speak of at his
bank, and from the nomadic condition of his life had no exaggerated
feeling for a settled social status--deeming Society in fact rather
a bore--he did not unduly exaggerate the worldly dangers of this
affair; neither did he honestly believe that she would burn in
everlasting torment if she did not succeed in remaining true to
'that great black chap,' as he secretly called Cramier. His
feeling was simply that it was an awful pity; a sort of unhappy
conviction that it was not like the women of his family to fall
upon such ways; that his dead brother would turn in his grave; in
two words that it was 'not done.' Yet he was by no means of those
who, giving latitude to women in general, fall with whips on those
of their own family who take it. On the contrary, believing that
'Woman in general' should be stainless to the world's eye, he was
inclined to make allowance for any individual woman that he knew
and loved. A suspicion he had always entertained, that Cramier was
not by breeding 'quite the clean potato' may insensibly have
influenced him just a little. He had heard indeed that he was not
even entitled to the name of Cramier, but had been adopted by a
childless man, who had brought him up and left him a lot of money.
There was something in this that went against the grain of the
childless Colonel. He had never adopted, nor been adopted by
anyone himself. There was a certain lack about a man who had been
adopted, of reasonable guarantee--he was like a non-vintage wine,
or a horse without a pedigree; you could not quite rely on what he
might do, having no tradition in his blood. His appearance, too,
and manner somehow lent colour to this distrust. A touch of the
tar-brush somewhere, and a stubborn, silent, pushing fellow. Why
on earth had Olive ever married him! But then women were such
kittle cattle, poor things! and old Lindsay, with his vestments and
his views on obedience, must have been a Tartar as a father, poor
old chap! Besides, Cramier, no doubt, was what most women would
call good-looking; more taking to the eye than such a quiet fellow
as young Lennan, whose features were rather anyhow, though pleasant
enough, and with a nice smile--the sort of young man one could not
help liking, and who certainly would never hurt a fly! And
suddenly there came the thought: Why should he not go to young
Lennan and put it to him straight? That he was in love with Olive?
Not quite--but the way to do it would come to him. He brooded long
over this idea, and spoke of it to Mrs. Ercott, while shaving, the
next morning. Her answer: "My dear John, bosh!" removed his last
Without saying where he was going, he strolled out the moment after
breakfast--and took a train to Beaulieu. At the young man's hotel
he sent in his card, and was told that this Monsieur had already
gone out for the day. His mood of marching straight up to the guns
thus checked, he was left pensive and distraught. Not having seen
Beaulieu (they spoke of it then as a coming place), he made his way
up an incline. That whole hillside was covered with rose-trees.
Thousands of these flowers were starring the lower air, and the
strewn petals of blown and fallen roses covered the light soil.
The Colonel put his nose to blossoms here and there, but they had
little scent, as if they knew that the season was already over. A
few blue-bloused peasants were still busy among them. And suddenly
he came on young Lennan himself, sitting on a stone and dabbing
away with his fingers at a lump of putty stuff. The Colonel
hesitated. Apart from obvious reasons for discomfiture, he had
that feeling towards Art common to so many of his caste. It was
not work, of course, but it was very clever--a mystery to him how
anyone could do it! On seeing him, Lennan had risen, dropping his
handkerchief over what he was modelling--but not before the Colonel
had received a dim impression of something familiar. The young man
was very red--the Colonel, too, was conscious suddenly of the heat.
He held out his hand.
"Nice quiet place this," he stammered; "never seen it before. I
called at your hotel."
Now that he had his chance, he was completely at a loss. The sight
of the face emerging from that lump of 'putty stuff' had quite
unnerved him. The notion of this young man working at it up here
all by himself, just because he was away an hour or two from the
original, touched him. How on earth to say what he had come to
say? It was altogether different from what he had thought. And it
suddenly flashed through him--Dolly was right! She's always right--
"You're busy," he said; "I mustn't interrupt you."
"Not at all, sir. It was awfully good of you to look me up."
The Colonel stared. There was something about young Lennan that he
had not noticed before; a 'Don't take liberties with me!' look that
made things difficult. But still he lingered, staring wistfully at
the young man, who stood waiting with such politeness. Then a safe
question shot into his mind:
"Ah! And when do you go back to England? We're off on Tuesday."
While he spoke, a puff of wind lifted the handkerchief from the
modelled face. Would the young fellow put it back? He did not.
And the Colonel thought:
"It would have been bad form. He knew I wouldn't take advantage.
Yes! He's a gentleman!"
Lifting his hand to the salute, he said: "Well, I must be getting
back. See you at dinner perhaps?" And turning on his heel he
The remembrance of that face in the 'putty stuff' up there by the
side of the road accompanied him home. It was bad--it was serious!
And the sense that he counted for nothing in all of it grew and
grew in him. He told no one of where he had been. . . .
When the Colonel turned with ceremony and left him, Lennan sat down
again on the flat stone, took up his 'putty stuff,' and presently
effaced that image. He sat still a long time, to all appearance
watching the little blue butterflies playing round the red and
tawny roses. Then his fingers began to work, feverishly shaping a
head; not of a man, not of a beast, but a sort of horned, heavy
mingling of the two. There was something frenetic in the movement
of those rather short, blunt-ended fingers, as though they were
strangling the thing they were creating.
In those days, such as had served their country travelled, as
befitted Spartans, in ordinary first-class carriages, and woke in
the morning at La Roche or some strange-sounding place, for paler
coffee and the pale brioche. So it was with Colonel and Mrs.
Ercott and their niece, accompanied by books they did not read,
viands they did not eat, and one somnolent Irishman returning from
the East. In the disposition of legs there was the usual
difficulty, no one quite liking to put them up, and all ultimately
doing so, save Olive. More than once during that night the
Colonel, lying on the seat opposite, awoke and saw her sitting,
withdrawn into her corner, with eyes still open. Staring at that
little head which he admired so much, upright and unmoving, in its
dark straw toque against the cushion, he would become suddenly
alert. Kicking the Irishman slightly in the effort, he would slip
his legs down, bend across to her in the darkness, and, conscious
of a faint fragrance as of violets, whisper huskily: "Anything I
can do for you, my dear?" When she had smiled and shaken her head,
he would retreat, and after holding his breath to see if Dolly were
asleep, would restore his feet, slightly kicking the Irishman.
After one such expedition, for full ten minutes he remained awake,
wondering at her tireless immobility. For indeed she was spending
this night entranced, with the feeling that Lennan was beside her,
holding her hand in his. She seemed actually to feel the touch of
his finger against the tiny patch of her bare palm where the glove
opened. It was wonderful, this uncanny communion in the dark
rushing night--she would not have slept for worlds! Never before
had she felt so close to him, not even when he had kissed her that
once under the olives; nor even when at the concert yesterday his
arm pressed hers; and his voice whispered words she heard so
thirstily. And that golden fortnight passed and passed through her
on an endless band of reminiscence. Its memories were like
flowers, such scent and warmth and colour in them; and of all, none
perhaps quite so poignant as the memory of the moment, at the door
of their carriage, when he said, so low that she just heard: "Good-
bye, my darling!"
He had never before called her that. Not even his touch on her
cheek under the olives equalled the simple treasure of that word.
And above the roar and clatter of the train, and the snoring of the
Irishman, it kept sounding in her ears, hour after dark hour. It
was perhaps not wonderful, that through all that night she never
once looked the future in the face--made no plans, took no stock of
her position; just yielded to memory, and to the half-dreamed
sensation of his presence close beside her. Whatever might come
afterwards, she was his this night. Such was the trance that gave
to her the strange, soft, tireless immobility which so moved her
Uncle whenever he woke up.
In Paris they drove from station to station in a vehicle unfit for
three--'to stretch their legs'--as the Colonel said. Since he saw
in his niece no signs of flagging, no regret, his spirits were
rising, and he confided to Mrs. Ercott in the buffet at the Gare du
Nord, when Olive had gone to wash, that he did not think there was
much in it, after all, looking at the way she'd travelled.
But Mrs. Ercott answered:
"Haven't you ever noticed that Olive never shows what she does not
want to? She has not got those eyes for nothing."
"Eyes that see everything, and seem to see nothing."
Conscious that something was hurting her, the Colonel tried to take
But Mrs. Ercott rose quickly, and went where he could not follow.
Thus suddenly deserted, the Colonel brooded, drumming on the little
table. What now! Dolly was unjust! Poor Dolly! He was as fond
of her as ever! Of course! How could he help Olive's being young--
and pretty; how could he help looking after her, and wanting to
save her from this mess! Thus he sat wondering, dismayed by the
unreasonableness of women. It did not enter his head that Mrs.
Ercott had been almost as sleepless as his niece, watching through
closed eyes every one of those little expeditions of his, and
saying to herself: "Ah! He doesn't care how I travel!"
She returned serene enough, concealing her 'grief,' and soon they
were once more whirling towards England.
But the future had begun to lay its hand on Olive; the spell of the
past was already losing power; the sense that it had all been a
dream grew stronger every minute. In a few hours she would re-
enter the little house close under the shadow of that old Wren
church, which reminded her somehow of childhood, and her austere
father with his chiselled face. The meeting with her husband! How
go through that! And to-night! But she did not care to
contemplate to-night. And all those to-morrows wherein there was
nothing she had to do of which it was reasonable to complain, yet
nothing she could do without feeling that all the friendliness and
zest and colour was out of life, and she a prisoner. Into those
to-morrows she felt she would slip back, out of her dream; lost,
with hardly perhaps an effort. To get away to the house on the
river, where her husband came only at weekends, had hitherto been a
refuge; only she would not see Mark there--unless--! Then, with
the thought that she would, must still see him sometimes, all again
grew faintly glamorous. If only she did see him, what would the
rest matter? Never again as it had before!
The Colonel was reaching down her handbag; his cheery: "Looks as if
it would be rough!" aroused her. Glad to be alone, and tired
enough now, she sought the ladies' cabin, and slept through the
crossing, till the voice of the old stewardess awakened her:
"You've had a nice sleep. We're alongside, miss." Ah! if she were
but THAT now! She had been dreaming that she was sitting in a
flowery field, and Lennan had drawn her up by the hands, with the
words: "We're here, my darling!"
On deck, the Colonel, laden with bags, was looking back for her,
and trying to keep a space between him and his wife. He signalled
with his chin. Threading her way towards him, she happened to look
up. By the rails of the pier above she saw her husband. He was
leaning there, looking intently down; his tall broad figure made
the people on each side of him seem insignificant. The clean-
shaved, square-cut face, with those almost epileptic, forceful
eyes, had a stillness and intensity beside which the neighbouring
faces seemed to disappear. She saw him very clearly, even noting
the touch of silver in his dark hair, on each side under his straw
hat; noting that he seemed too massive for his neat blue suit. His
face relaxed; he made a little movement of one hand. Suddenly it
shot through her: Suppose Mark had travelled with them, as he had
wished to do? For ever and ever now, that dark massive creature,
smiling down at her, was her enemy; from whom she must guard and
keep herself if she could; keep, at all events, each one of her
real thoughts and hopes! She could have writhed, and cried out;
instead, she tightened her grip on the handle of her bag, and
smiled. Though so skilled in knowledge of his moods, she felt, in
his greeting, his fierce grip of her shoulders, the smouldering of
some feeling the nature of which she could not quite fathom. His
voice had a grim sincerity: "Glad you're back--thought you were
never coming!" Resigned to his charge, a feeling of sheer physical
faintness so beset her that she could hardly reach the compartment
he had reserved. It seemed to her that, for all her foreboding,
she had not till this moment had the smallest inkling of what was
now before her; and at his muttered: "Must we have the old fossils
in?" she looked back to assure herself that her Uncle and Aunt were
following. To avoid having to talk, she feigned to have travelled
badly, leaning back with closed eyes, in her corner. If only she
could open them and see, not this square-jawed face with its intent
gaze of possession, but that other with its eager eyes humbly
adoring her. The interminable journey ended all too soon. She
clung quite desperately to the Colonel's hand on the platform at
Charing Cross. When his kind face vanished she would be lost
indeed! Then, in the closed cab, she heard her husband's: "Aren't
you going to kiss me?" and submitted to his embrace.
She tried so hard to think: What does it matter? It's not I, not
my soul, my spirit--only my miserable lips!
She heard him say: "You don't seem too glad to see me!" And then:
"I hear you had young Lennan out there. What was HE doing?"
She felt the turmoil of sudden fear, wondered whether she was
showing it, lost it in unnatural alertness--all in the second
before she answered: "Oh! just a holiday."
Some seconds passed, and then he said:
"You didn't mention him in your letters."
She answered coolly: "Didn't I? We saw a good deal of him."
She knew that he was looking at her--an inquisitive, half-menacing
regard. Why--oh, why!--could she not then and there cry out: "And
I love him--do you hear?--I love him!" So awful did it seem to be
denying her love with these half lies! But it was all so much more
grim and hopeless than even she had thought. How inconceivable,
now, that she had ever given herself up to this man for life! If
only she could get away from him to her room, and scheme and think!
For his eyes never left her, travelling over her with their
pathetic greed, their menacing inquiry, till he said: "Well, it's
not done you any harm. You look very fit." But his touch was too
much even for her self-command, and she recoiled as if he had
"What's the matter? Did I hurt you?"
It seemed to her that he was jeering--then realized as vividly that
he was not. And the full danger to her, perhaps to Mark himself,
of shrinking from this man, striking her with all its pitiable
force, she made a painful effort, slipped her hand under his arm,
and said: "I'm very tired. You startled me."
But he put her hand away, and turning his face, stared out of the
window. And so they reached their home.
When he had left her alone, she remained where she was standing, by
her wardrobe, without sound or movement, thinking: What am I going
to do? How am I going to live?
When Mark Lennan, travelling through from Beaulieu, reached his
rooms in Chelsea, he went at once to the little pile of his
letters, twice hunted through them, then stood very still, with a
stunned, sick feeling. Why had she not sent him that promised
note? And now he realized--though not yet to the full--what it
meant to be in love with a married woman. He must wait in this
suspense for eighteen hours at least, till he could call, and find
out what had happened to prevent her, till he could hear from her
lips that she still loved him. The chilliest of legal lovers had
access to his love, but he must possess a soul that was on fire, in
this deadly patience, for fear of doing something that might
jeopardize her. Telegraph? He dared not. Write? She would get
it by the first post; but what could he say that was not dangerous,
if Cramier chanced to see? Call? Still more impossible till three
o'clock, at very earliest, to-morrow. His gaze wandered round the
studio. Were these household gods, and all these works of his,
indeed the same he had left twenty days ago? They seemed to exist
now only in so far as she might come to see them--come and sit in
such a chair, and drink out of such a cup, and let him put this
cushion for her back, and that footstool for her feet. And so
vividly could he see her lying back in that chair looking across at
him, that he could hardly believe she had never yet sat there. It
was odd how--without any resolution taken, without admission that
their love could not remain platonic, without any change in their
relations, save one humble kiss and a few whispered words--
everything was changed. A month or so ago, if he had wanted, he
would have gone at once calmly to her house. It would have seemed
harmless, and quite natural. Now it was impossible to do openly
the least thing that strict convention did not find desirable.
Sooner or later they would find him stepping over convention, and
take him for what he was not--a real lover! A real lover! He
knelt down before the empty chair and stretched out his arms. No
substance--no warmth--no fragrance--nothing! Longing that passed
through air, as the wind through grass.
He went to the little round window, which overlooked the river.
The last evening of May; gloaming above the water, dusk resting in
the trees, and the air warm! Better to be out, and moving in the
night, out in the ebb and flow of things, among others whose hearts
were beating, than stay in this place that without her was so cold
Lamps--the passion-fruit of towns--were turning from pallor to full
orange, and the stars were coming out. Half-past nine! At ten
o'clock, and not before, he would walk past her house. To have
this something to look forward to, however furtive and barren,
helped. But on a Saturday night there would be no sitting at the
House. Cramier would be at home; or they would both be out; or
perhaps have gone down to their river cottage. Cramier! What
cruel demon had presided over that marring of her life! Why had he
never met her till after she had bound herself to this man! From a
negative contempt for one who was either not sensitive enough to
recognize that his marriage was a failure, or not chivalrous enough
to make that failure bear as little hardly as possible on his wife,
he had come already to jealous hatred as of a monster. To be face
to face with Cramier in a mortal conflict could alone have
satisfied his feeling. . . . Yet he was a young man by nature
His heart beat desperately as he approached that street--one of
those little old streets, so beautiful, that belonged to a vanished
London. It was very narrow, there was no shelter; and he thought
confusedly of what he could say, if met in this remote backwater
that led nowhere. He would tell some lie, no doubt. Lies would
now be his daily business. Lies and hatred, those violent things
of life, would come to seem quite natural, in the violence of his
He stood a moment, hesitating, by the rails of the old church.
Black, white-veined, with shadowy summits, in that half darkness,
it was like some gigantic vision. Mystery itself seemed modelled
there. He turned and walked quickly down the street close to the
houses on the further side. The windows of her house were lighted!
So, she was not away! Dim light in the dining-room, lights in the
room above--her bedroom, doubtless. Was there no way to bring her
to the window, no way his spirit could climb up there and beckon
hers out to him? Perhaps she was not there, perhaps it was but a
servant taking up hot water. He was at the end of the street by
now, but to leave without once more passing was impossible. And
this time he went slowly, his head down, feigning abstraction,
grudging every inch of pavement, and all the time furtively
searching that window with the light behind the curtains. Nothing!
Once more he was close to the railings of the church, and once more
could not bring himself to go away. In the little, close, deserted
street, not a soul was moving, not even a cat or dog; nothing alive
but many discreet, lighted windows. Like veiled faces, showing no
emotion, they seemed to watch his indecision. And he thought: "Ah,
well! I dare say there are lots like me. Lots as near, and yet as
far away! Lots who have to suffer!" But what would he not have
given for the throwing open of those curtains. Then, suddenly
scared by an approaching figure, he turned and walked away.
At three o'clock next day he called.
In the middle of her white drawing-room, whose latticed window ran
the whole length of one wall, stood a little table on which was a
silver jar full of early larkspurs, evidently from her garden by
the river. And Lennan waited, his eyes fixed on those blossoms so
like to little blue butterflies and strange-hued crickets, tethered
to the pale green stems. In this room she passed her days, guarded
from him. Once a week, at most, he would be able to come there--
once a week for an hour or two of the hundred and sixty-eight hours
that he longed to be with her.
And suddenly he was conscious of her. She had come in without
sound, and was standing by the piano, so pale, in her cream-white
dress, that her eyes looked jet black. He hardly knew that face,
like a flower closed against cold.
What had he done? What had happened in these five days to make her
like this to him? He took her hands and tried to kiss them; but
she said quickly:
At that he stood silent, looking into that face, frozen to a
dreadful composure, on the breaking up of which his very life
seemed to depend. At last he said:
"What is it? Am I nothing to you, after all?"
But as soon as he had spoken he saw that he need not have asked,
and flung his arms round her. She clung to him with desperation;
then freed herself, and said:
"No, no; let's sit down quietly!"
He obeyed, half-divining, half-refusing to admit all that lay
behind that strange coldness, and this desperate embrace; all the
self-pity, and self-loathing, shame, rage, and longing of a married
woman for the first time face to face with her lover in her
She seemed now to be trying to make him forget her strange
behaviour; to be what she had been during that fortnight in the
sunshine. But, suddenly, just moving her lips, she said:
"Quick! When can we see each other? I will come to you to tea--
to-morrow," and, following her eyes, he saw the door opening, and
Cramier coming in. Unsmiling, very big in the low room, he crossed
over to them, and offered his hand to Lennan; then drawing a low
chair forward between their two chairs, sat down.
"So you're back," he said. "Have a good time?"
"Thanks, yes; very."
"Luck for Olive you were there; those places are dull holes."
"It was luck for me."
"No doubt." And with those words he turned to his wife. His
elbows rested along the arms of his chair, so that his clenched
palms were upwards; it was as if he knew that he was holding those
two, gripped one in each hand.
"I wonder," he said slowly, "that fellows like you, with nothing in
the world to tie them, ever sit down in a place like London. I
should have thought Rome or Paris were your happy hunting-grounds."
In his voice, in those eyes of his, a little bloodshot, with their
look of power, in his whole attitude, there was a sort of muffled
menace, and contempt, as though he were thinking: "Step into my
path, and I will crush you!"
And Lennan thought:
"How long must I sit here?" Then, past that figure planted solidly
between them, he caught a look from her, swift, sure, marvellously
timed--again and again--as if she were being urged by the very
presence of this danger. One of those glances would surely--surely
be seen by Cramier. Is there need for fear that a swallow should
dash itself against the wall over which it skims? But he got up,
unable to bear it longer.
"Going?" That one suave word had an inimitable insolence.
He could hardly see his hand touching Cramier's heavy fist. Then
he realized that she was standing so that their faces when they
must say good-bye could not be seen. Her eyes were smiling, yet
imploring; her lips shaped the word: "To-morrow!" And squeezing
her hand desperately, he got away.
He had never dreamed that to see her in the presence of the man who
owned her would be so terrible. For a moment he thought that he
must give her up, give up a love that would drive him mad.
He climbed on to an omnibus travelling West. Another twenty-four
hours of starvation had begun. It did not matter at all what he
did with them. They were simply so much aching that had to be got
through somehow--so much aching; and what relief at the end? An
hour or two with her, desperately holding himself in.
Like most artists, and few Englishmen, he lived on feelings rather
than on facts; so, found no refuge in decisive resolutions. But he
made many--the resolution to give her up; to be true to the ideal
of service for no reward; to beseech her to leave Cramier and come
to him--and he made each many times.
At Hyde Park Corner he got down, and went into the Park, thinking
that to walk would help him.
A great number of people were sitting there, taking mysterious
anodyne, doing the right thing; to avoid them, he kept along the
rails, and ran almost into the arms of Colonel and Mrs. Ercott, who
were coming from the direction of Knightsbridge, slightly flushed,
having lunched and talked of 'Monte' at the house of a certain
They greeted him with the surprise of those who had said to each
other many times: "That young man will come rushing back!" It was
very nice--they said--to run across him. When did he arrive? They
had thought he was going on to Italy--he was looking rather tired.
They did not ask if he had seen her--being too kind, and perhaps
afraid that he would say 'Yes,' which would be embarrassing; or
that he would say 'No,' which would be still more embarrassing when
they found that he ought to have said 'Yes.' Would he not come and
sit with them a little--they were going presently to see how Olive
was? Lennan perceived that they were warning him. And, forcing
himself to look at them very straight, he said: "I have just been
Mrs. Ercott phrased her impressions that same evening: "He looks
quite hunted, poor young man! I'm afraid there's going to be
fearful trouble there. Did you notice how quickly he ran away from
us? He's thin, too; if it wasn't for his tan, he'd look really
ill. The boy's eyes are so pathetic; and he used to have such a
nice smile in them."
The Colonel, who was fastening her hooks, paused in an operation
that required concentration.
"It's a thousand pities," he muttered, "that he hasn't any work to
do. That puddling about with clay or whatever he does is no good
at all." And slowly fastening one hook, he unhooked several
Mrs. Ercott went on:
"And I saw Olive, when she thought I wasn't looking; it was just as
if she'd taken off a mask. But Robert Cramier will never put up
with it. He's in love with her still; I watched him. It's tragic,
The Colonel let his hands fall from the hooks.
"If I thought that," he said, "I'd do something."
"If you could, it would not be tragic."
The Colonel stared. There was always SOMETHING to be done.
"You read too many novels," he said, but without spirit.
Mrs. Ercott smiled, and made no answer to an aspersion she had
When Lennan reached his rooms again after that encounter with the
Ercotts, he found in his letterbox a visiting card: "Mrs. Doone"
"Miss Sylvia Doone," and on it pencilled the words: "Do come and
see us before we go down to Hayle--Sylvia." He stared blankly at
the round handwriting he knew so well.
Sylvia! Nothing perhaps could have made so plain to him how in
this tornado of his passion the world was drowned. Sylvia! He had
almost forgotten her existence; and yet, only last year, after he
definitely settled down in London, he had once more seen a good
deal of her; and even had soft thoughts of her again--with her
pale-gold hair, her true look, her sweetness. Then they had gone
for the winter to Algiers for her mother's health.
When they came back, he had already avoided seeing her, though that
was before Olive went to Monte Carlo, before he had even admitted
his own feeling. And since--he had not once thought of her. Not
once! The world had indeed vanished. "Do come and see us--
Sylvia." The very notion was an irritation. No rest from aching
and impatience to be had that way.
And then the idea came to him: Why not kill these hours of waiting
for to-morrow's meeting by going on the river passing by her
cottage? There was still one train that he could catch.
He reached the village after dark, and spent the night at the inn;
got up early next morning, took a boat, and pulled down-stream.
The bluffs of the opposite bank were wooded with high trees. The
sun shone softly on their leaves, and the bright stream was ruffled
by a breeze that bent all the reeds and slowly swayed the water-
flowers. One thin white line of wind streaked the blue sky. He
shipped his sculls and drifted, listening to the wood-pigeons,
watching the swallows chasing. If only she were here! To spend
one long day thus, drifting with the stream! To have but one such
rest from longing! Her cottage, he knew, lay on the same side as
the village, and just beyond an island. She had told him of a
hedge of yew-trees, and a white dovecote almost at the water's
edge. He came to the island, and let his boat slide into the
backwater. It was all overgrown with willow-trees and alders, dark
even in this early morning radiance, and marvellously still. There
was no room to row; he took the boathook and tried to punt, but the
green water was too deep and entangled with great roots, so that he
had to make his way by clawing with the hook at branches. Birds
seemed to shun this gloom, but a single magpie crossed the one
little clear patch of sky, and flew low behind the willows. The
air here had a sweetish, earthy odour of too rank foliage; all
brightness seemed entombed. He was glad to pass out again under a
huge poplar-tree into the fluttering gold and silver of the
morning. And almost at once he saw the yew-hedge at the border of
some bright green turf, and a pigeon-house, high on its pole,
painted cream-white. About it a number of ring-doves and snow-
white pigeons were perched or flying; and beyond the lawn he could
see the dark veranda of a low house, covered by wistaria just going
out of flower. A drift of scent from late lilacs, and new-mown
grass, was borne out to him, together with the sound of a mowing-
machine, and the humming of many bees. It was beautiful here, and
seemed, for all its restfulness, to have something of that flying
quality he so loved about her face, about the sweep of her hair,
the quick, soft turn of her eyes--or was that but the darkness of
the yew-trees, the whiteness of the dovecote, and the doves
He lay there a long time quietly beneath the bank, careful not to
attract the attention of the old gardener, who was methodically
pushing his machine across and across the lawn. How he wanted her
with him then! Wonderful that there could be in life such beauty
and wild softness as made the heart ache with the delight of it,
and in that same life grey rules and rigid barriers--coffins of
happiness! That doors should be closed on love and joy! There was
not so much of it in the world! She, who was the very spirit of
this flying, nymph-like summer, was untimely wintered-up in bleak
sorrow. There was a hateful unwisdom in that thought; it seemed so
grim and violent, so corpse-like, gruesome, narrow and extravagant!
What possible end could it serve that she should be unhappy! Even
if he had not loved her, he would have hated her fate just as much--
all such stories of imprisoned lives had roused his anger even as
Soft white clouds--those bright angels of the river, never very
long away--had begun now to spread their wings over the woods; and
the wind had dropped so that the slumbrous warmth and murmuring of
summer gathered full over the water. The old gardener had finished
his job of mowing, and came with a little basket of grain to feed
the doves. Lennan watched them going to him, the ring-doves, very
dainty, and capricious, keeping to themselves. In place of that
old fellow, he was really seeing HER, feeding from her hands those
birds of Cypris. What a group he could have made of her with them
perching and flying round her! If she were his, what could he not
achieve--to make her immortal--like the old Greeks and Italians,
who, in their work, had rescued their mistresses from Time! . . .
He was back in his rooms in London two hours before he dared begin
expecting her. Living alone there but for a caretaker who came
every morning for an hour or two, made dust, and departed, he had
no need for caution. And when he had procured flowers, and the
fruits and cakes which they certainly would not eat--when he had
arranged the tea-table, and made the grand tour at least twenty
times, he placed himself with a book at the little round window, to
watch for her approach. There, very still, he sat, not reading a
word, continually moistening his dry lips and sighing, to relieve
the tension of his heart. At last he saw her coming. She was
walking close to the railings of the houses, looking neither to
right nor left. She had on a lawn frock, and a hat of the palest
coffee-coloured straw, with a narrow black velvet ribbon. She
crossed the side street, stopped for a second, gave a swift look
round, then came resolutely on. What was it made him love her so?
What was the secret of her fascination? Certainly, no conscious
enticements. Never did anyone try less to fascinate. He could not
recall one single little thing that she had done to draw him to
her. Was it, perhaps, her very passivity, her native pride that
never offered or asked anything, a sort of soft stoicism in her
fibre; that and some mysterious charm, as close and intimate as
scent was to a flower?
He waited to open till he heard her footstep just outside. She
came in without a word, not even looking at him. And he, too, said
not a word till he had closed the door, and made sure of her. Then
they turned to each other. Her breast was heaving a little, under
her thin frock, but she was calmer than he, with that wonderful
composure of pretty women in all the passages of love, as who
should say: This is my native air!
They stood and looked at each other, as if they could never have
enough, till he said at last:
"I thought I should die before this moment came. There isn't a
minute that I don't long for you so terribly that I can hardly
"And do you think that I don't long for you?"
"Then come to me!"
She looked at him mournfully and shook her head.
Well, he had known that she would not. He had not earned her.
What right had he to ask her to fly against the world, to brave
everything, to have such faith in him--as yet? He had no heart to
press his words, beginning then to understand the paralyzing truth
that there was no longer any resolving this or that; with love like
his he had ceased to be a separate being with a separate will. He
was entwined with her, could act only if her will and his were one.
He would never be able to say to her: 'You must!' He loved her too
much. And she knew it. So there was nothing for it but to forget
the ache, and make the hour happy. But how about that other truth--
that in love there is no pause, no resting? . . . With any
watering, however scant, the flower will grow till its time comes
to be plucked. . . . This oasis in the desert--these few minutes
with her alone, were swept through and through with a feverish
wind. To be closer! How not try to be that? How not long for her
lips when he had but her hand to kiss? And how not be poisoned
with the thought that in a few minutes she would leave him and go
back to the presence of that other, who, even though she loathed
him, could see and touch her when he would? She was leaning back
in the very chair where in fancy he had seen her, and he only dared
sit at her feet and look up. And this, which a week ago would have
been rapture, was now almost torture, so far did it fall short of
his longing. It was torture, too, to keep his voice in tune with
the sober sweetness of her voice. And bitterly he thought: How can
she sit there, and not want me, as I want her? Then at a touch of
her fingers on his hair, he lost control, and kissed her lips. Her
surrender lasted only for a second.
"No, no--you must not!"
That mournful surprise sobered him at once.
He got up, stood away from her, begged to be forgiven.
And, when she was gone, he sat in the chair where she had sat.
That clasp of her, the kiss he had begged her to forget--to
forget!--nothing could take that from him. He had done wrong; had
startled her, had fallen short of chivalry! And yet--a smile of
utter happiness would cling about his lips. His fastidiousness,
his imagination almost made him think that this was all he wanted.
If he could close his eyes, now, and pass out, before he lost that
moment of half-fulfilment!
And, the smile still on his lips, he lay back watching the flies
wheeling and chasing round the hanging-lamp. Sixteen of them there
were, wheeling and chasing--never still!
When, walking from Lennan's studio, Olive reentered her dark little
hall, she approached its alcove and glanced first at the hat-stand.
They were all there--the silk hat, the bowler, the straw! So he
was in! And within each hat, in turn, she seemed to see her
husband's head--with the face turned away from her--so distinctly
as to note the leathery look of the skin of his cheek and neck.
And she thought: "I pray that he will die! It is wicked, but I
pray that he will die!" Then, quietly, that he might not hear, she
mounted to her bedroom. The door into his dressing-room was open,
and she went to shut it. He was standing there at the window.
"Ah! You're in! Been anywhere?"
"To the National Gallery."
It was the first direct lie she had ever told him, and she was
surprised to feel neither shame nor fear, but rather a sense of
pleasure at defeating him. He was the enemy, all the more the
enemy because she was still fighting against herself, and, so
strangely, in his behalf.
"Rather boring, wasn't it? I should have thought you'd have got
young Lennan to take you there."
By instinct she had seized on the boldest answer; and there was
nothing to be told from her face. If he were her superior in
strength, he was her inferior in quickness.
He lowered his eyes, and said:
"His line, isn't it?"
With a shrug she turned away and shut the door. She sat down on
the edge of her bed, very still. In that little passage of wits
she had won, she could win in many such; but the full hideousness
of things had come to her. Lies! lies! That was to be her life!
That; or to say farewell to all she now cared for, to cause despair
not only in herself, but in her lover, and--for what? In order
that her body might remain at the disposal of that man in the next
room--her spirit having flown from him for ever. Such were the
alternatives, unless those words: "Then come to me," were to be
more than words. Were they? Could they be? They would mean such
happiness if--if his love for her were more than a summer love?
And hers for him? Was it--were they--more than summer loves? How
know? And, without knowing, how give such pain to everyone? How
break a vow she had thought herself quite above breaking? How make
such a desperate departure from all the traditions and beliefs in
which she had been brought up! But in the very nature of passion
is that which resents the intrusion of hard and fast decisions. . . .
And suddenly she thought: If our love cannot stay what it is,
and if I cannot yet go to him for always, is there not still
She got up and began to dress for dinner. Standing before her
glass she was surprised to see that her face showed no signs of the
fears and doubts that were now her comrades. Was it because,
whatever happened, she loved and was beloved! She wondered how she
had looked when he kissed her so passionately; had she shown her
joy before she checked him?
In her garden by the river were certain flowers that, for all her
care, would grow rank and of the wrong colour--wanting a different
soil. Was she, then, like those flowers of hers? Ah! Let her but
have her true soil, and she would grow straight and true enough!
Then in the doorway she saw her husband. She had never, till to-
day, quite hated him; but now she did, with a real blind horrible
feeling. What did he want of her standing there with those eyes
fixed on her--those forceful eyes, touched with blood, that seemed
at once to threaten, covet, and beseech! She drew her wrapper
close round her shoulders. At that he came up and said:
"Look at me, Olive!"
Against instinct and will she obeyed, and he went on:
"Be careful! I say, be careful!"
Then he took her by the shoulders, and raised her up to him. And,
quite unnerved, she stood without resisting.
"I want you," he said; "I mean to keep you."
Then, suddenly letting her go, he covered his eyes with his hands.
That frightened her most--it was so unlike him. Not till now had
she understood between what terrifying forces she was balancing.
She did not speak, but her face grew white. From behind those
hands he uttered a sound, not quite like a human noise, turned
sharply, and went out. She dropped back into the chair before her
mirror, overcome by the most singular feeling she had ever known;
as if she had lost everything, even her love for Lennan, and her
longing for his love. What was it all worth, what was anything
worth in a world like this? All was loathsome, herself loathsome!
All was a void! Hateful, hateful, hateful! It was like having no
heart at all! And that same evening, when her husband had gone
down to the House, she wrote to Lennan:
"Our love must never turn to earthiness as it might have this
afternoon. Everything is black and hopeless. HE suspects. For
you to come here is impossible, and too dreadful for us both. And
I have no right to ask you to be furtive, I can't bear to think of
you like that, and I can't bear it myself. I don't know what to do
or say. Don't try to see me yet. I must have time, I must think."
Colonel Ercott was not a racing man, but he had in common with
others of his countrymen a religious feeling in the matter of the
Derby. His remembrances of it went back to early youth, for he had
been born and brought up almost within sound of the coaching-road
to Epsom. Every Derby and Oaks day he had gone out on his pony to
watch the passing of the tall hats and feathers of the great, and
the pot-hats and feathers of the lowly; and afterwards, in the
fields at home, had ridden races with old Lindsay, finishing
between a cow that judged and a clump of bulrushes representing the
But for one reason or another he had never seen the great race, and
the notion that it was his duty to see it had now come to him. He
proposed this to Mrs. Ercott with some diffidence. She read so
many books--he did not quite know whether she would approve.
Finding that she did, he added casually:
"And we might take Olive."
Mrs. Ercott answered dryly:
"You know the House of Commons has a holiday?"
The Colonel murmured:
"Oh! I don't want that chap!"
"Perhaps," said Mrs. Ercott, "you would like Mark Lennan."
The Colonel looked at her most dubiously. Dolly could talk of it
as a tragedy, and a--a grand passion, and yet make a suggestion
like that! Then his wrinkles began slowly to come alive, and he
gave her waist a squeeze.
Mrs. Ercott did not resist that treatment.
"Take Olive alone," she said. "I don't really care to go."
When the Colonel went to fetch his niece he found her ready, and
very half-heartedly he asked for Cramier. It appeared she had not
Relieved, yet somewhat disconcerted, he murmured:
"He won't mind not going, I suppose?"
"If he went, I should not."
At this quiet answer the Colonel was beset again by all his fears.
He put his white 'topper' down, and took her hand.
"My dear," he said, "I don't want to intrude upon your feelings;
but--but is there anything I can do? It's dreadful to see things
going unhappily with you!" He felt his hand being lifted, her face
pressed against it; and, suffering acutely, with his other hand,
cased in a bright new glove, he smoothed her arm. "We'll have a
jolly good day, sweetheart," he said, "and forget all about it."
She gave the hand a kiss and turned away. And the Colonel vowed to
himself that she should not be unhappy--lovely creature that she
was, so delicate, and straight, and fine in her pearly frock. And
he pulled himself together, brushing his white 'topper' vigorously
with his sleeve, forgetting that this kind of hat has no nap.
And so he was tenderness itself on the journey down, satisfying all
her wants before she had them, telling her stories of Indian life,
and consulting her carefully as to which horse they should back.
There was the Duke's, of course, but there was another animal that
appealed to him greatly. His friend Tabor had given him the tip--
Tabor, who had the best Arabs in all India--and at a nice price. A
man who practically never gambled, the Colonel liked to feel that
his fancy would bring him in something really substantial--if it
won; the idea that it could lose not really troubling him.
However, they would see it in the paddock, and judge for
themselves. The paddock was the place, away from all the dust and
racket--Olive would enjoy the paddock! Once on the course, they
neglected the first race; it was more important, the Colonel
thought, that they should lunch. He wanted to see more colour in
her cheeks, wanted to see her laugh. He had an invitation to his
old regiment's drag, where the champagne was sure to be good. And
he was so proud of her--would not have missed those young fellows'
admiration of her for the world; though to take a lady amongst them
was, in fact, against the rules. It was not, then, till the second
race was due to start that they made their way into the paddock.
Here the Derby horses were being led solemnly, attended each by a
little posse of persons, looking up their legs and down their ribs
to see whether they were worthy of support, together with a few who
liked to see a whole horse at a time. Presently they found the
animal which had been recommended to the Colonel. It was a
chestnut, with a starred forehead, parading in a far corner. The
Colonel, who really loved a horse, was deep in admiration. He
liked its head and he liked its hocks; above all, he liked its eye.
A fine creature, all sense and fire--perhaps just a little straight
in the shoulder for coming down the hill! And in the midst of his
examination he found himself staring at his niece. What breeding
the child showed, with her delicate arched brows, little ears, and
fine, close nostrils; and the way she moved--so sure and springy.
She was too pretty to suffer! A shame! If she hadn't been so
pretty that young fellow wouldn't have fallen in love with her. If
she weren't so pretty--that husband of hers wouldn't--! And the
Colonel dropped his gaze, startled by the discovery he had stumbled
on. If she hadn't been so pretty! Was that the meaning of it all?
The cynicism of his own reflection struck him between wind and
water. And yet something in himself seemed to confirm it somehow.
What then? Was he to let them tear her in two between them,
destroying her, because she was so pretty? And somehow this
discovery of his--that passion springs from worship of beauty and
warmth, of form and colour--disturbed him horribly, for he had no
habit of philosophy. The thought seemed to him strangely crude,
even immoral. That she should be thus between two ravening
desires--a bird between two hawks, a fruit between two mouths! It
was a way of looking at things that had never before occurred to
him. The idea of a husband clutching at his wife, the idea of that
young man who looked so gentle, swooping down on her; and the idea
that if she faded, lost her looks, went off, their greed, indeed,
any man's, would die away--all these horrible ideas hurt him the
more for the remarkable suddenness with which they had come to him.
A tragic business! Dolly had said so. Queer and quick--were
women! But his resolution that the day was to be jolly soon
recurred to him, and he hastily resumed inspection of his fancy.
Perhaps they ought to have a ten-pound note on it, and they had
better get back to the Stand! And as they went the Colonel saw,
standing beneath a tree at a little distance, a young man that he
could have sworn was Lennan. Not likely for an artist chap to be
down here! But it WAS undoubtedly young Lennan, brushed-up, in a
top-hat. Fortunately, however, his face was not turned in their
direction. He said nothing to Olive, not wishing--especially after
those unpleasant thoughts--to take responsibility, and he kept her
moving towards the gate, congratulating himself that his eyes had
been so sharp. In the crush there he was separated from her a
little, but she was soon beside him again; and more than ever he
congratulated himself that nothing had occurred to upset her and
spoil the day. Her cheeks were warm enough now, her dark eyes
glowing. She was excited no doubt by thoughts of the race, and of
the 'tenner' he was going to put on for her.
He recounted the matter afterwards to Mrs. Ercott. "That chestnut
Tabor put me on to finished nowhere--couldn't get down the hill--
knew it wouldn't the moment I set eyes on it. But the child
enjoyed herself. Wish you'd been there, my dear!" Of his deeper
thoughts and of that glimpse of young Lennan he did not speak, for
on the way home an ugly suspicion had attacked him. Had the young
fellow, after all, seen and managed to get close to her in the
crush at the paddock gateway?
That letter of hers fanned the flame in Lennan as nothing had yet
fanned it. Earthiness! Was it earthiness to love as he did? If
so, then not for all the world would he be otherwise than earthy.
In the shock of reading it, he crossed his Rubicon, and burned his
boats behind him. No more did the pale ghost, chivalrous devotion,
haunt him. He knew now that he could not stop short. Since she
asked him, he must not, of course, try to see her just yet. But
when he did, then he would fight for his life; the thought that she
might be meaning to slip away from him was too utterly unbearable.
But she could not be meaning that! She would never be so cruel!
Ah! she would--she must come to him in the end! The world, life
itself, would be well lost for love of her!
Thus resolved, he was even able to work again; and all that Tuesday
he modelled at a big version of the fantastic, bull-like figure he
had conceived after the Colonel left him up on the hillside at
Beaulieu. He worked at it with a sort of evil joy. Into this
creature he would put the spirit of possession that held her from
him. And while his fingers forced the clay, he felt as if he had
Cramier's neck within his grip. Yet, now that he had resolved to
take her if he could, he had not quite the same hatred. After all,
this man loved her too, could not help it that she loathed him;
could not help it that he had the disposition of her, body and
June had come in with skies of a blue that not even London glare
and dust could pale. In every square and park and patch of green
the air simmered with life and with the music of birds swaying on
little boughs. Piano organs in the streets were no longer wistful
for the South; lovers already sat in the shade of trees.
To remain indoors, when he was not working, was sheer torture; for
he could not read, and had lost all interest in the little
excitements, amusements, occupations that go to make up the normal
life of man. Every outer thing seemed to have dropped off,
shrivelled, leaving him just a condition of the spirit, a state of
Lying awake he would think of things in the past, and they would
mean nothing--all dissolved and dispersed by the heat of this
feeling in him. Indeed, his sense of isolation was so strong that
he could not even believe that he had lived through the facts which
his memory apprehended. He had become one burning mood--that, and
To be out, especially amongst trees, was the only solace.
And he sat for a long time that evening under a large lime-tree on
a knoll above the Serpentine. There was very little breeze, just
enough to keep alive a kind of whispering. What if men and women,
when they had lived their gusty lives, became trees! What if
someone who had burned and ached were now spreading over him this
leafy peace--this blue-black shadow against the stars? Or were the
stars, perhaps, the souls of men and women escaped for ever from
love and longing? He broke off a branch of the lime and drew it
across his face. It was not yet in flower, but it smelled lemony
and fresh even here in London. If only for a moment he could
desert his own heart, and rest with the trees and stars!
No further letter came from her next morning, and he soon lost his
power to work. It was Derby Day. He determined to go down.
Perhaps she would be there. Even if she were not, he might find
some little distraction in the crowd and the horses. He had seen
her in the paddock long before the Colonel's sharp eyes detected
him; and, following in the crush, managed to touch her hand in the
crowded gateway, and whisper: "To-morrow, the National Gallery, at
four o'clock--by the Bacchus and Ariadne. For God's sake!" Her
gloved hand pressed his hard; and she was gone. He stayed in the
paddock, too happy almost to breathe. . . .
Next day, while waiting before that picture, he looked at it with
wonder. For there seemed his own passion transfigured in the
darkening star-crowned sky, and the eyes of the leaping god. In
spirit, was he not always rushing to her like that? Minutes
passed, and she did not come. What should he do if she failed him?
Surely die of disappointment and despair. . . . He had little
enough experience as yet of the toughness of the human heart; how
life bruises and crushes, yet leaves it beating. . . . Then, from
an unlikely quarter, he saw her coming.
They walked in silence down to the quiet rooms where the Turner
watercolours hung. No one, save two Frenchmen and an old official,
watched them passing slowly before those little pictures, till they
came to the end wall, and, unseen, unheard by any but her, he could
The arguments he had so carefully rehearsed were all forgotten;
nothing left but an incoherent pleading. Life without her was not
life; and they had only one life for love--one summer. It was all
dark where she was not--the very sun itself was dark. Better to
die than to live such false, broken lives, apart from each other.
Better to die at once than to live wanting each other, longing and
longing, and watching each other's sorrow. And all for the sake of
what? It maddened, killed him, to think of that man touching her
when he knew she did but hate him. It shamed all manhood; it could
not be good to help such things to be. A vow when the spirit of it
was gone was only superstition; it was wicked to waste one's life
for the sake of that. Society--she knew, she must know--only cared
for the forms, the outsides of things. And what did it matter what
Society thought? It had no soul, no feeling, nothing. And if it
were said they ought to sacrifice themselves for the sake of
others, to make things happier in the world, she must know that was
only true when love was light and selfish; but not when people
loved as they did, with all their hearts and souls, so that they
would die for each other any minute, so that without each other
there was no meaning in anything. It would not help a single soul,
for them to murder their love and all the happiness of their lives;
to go on in a sort of living death. Even if it were wrong, he
would rather do that wrong, and take the consequences! But it was
not, it COULD not be wrong, when they felt like that!
And all the time that he was pouring forth those supplications, his
eyes searched and searched her face. But there only came from her:
"I don't know--I can't tell--if only I knew!" And then he was
silent, stricken to the heart; till, at a look or a touch from her,
he would break out again: "You do love me--you do; then what does
anything else matter?"
And so it went on and on that summer afternoon, in the deserted
room meant for such other things, where the two Frenchmen were too
sympathetic, and the old official too drowsy, to come. Then it all
narrowed to one fierce, insistent question:
"What is it--WHAT is it you're afraid of?"
But to that, too, he got only the one mournful answer, paralyzing
in its fateful monotony.
"I don't know--I can't tell!"
It was awful to go on thus beating against this uncanny, dark,
shadowy resistance; these unreal doubts and dreads, that by their
very dumbness were becoming real to him, too. If only she could
tell him what she feared! It could not be poverty--that was not
like her--besides, he had enough for both. It could not be loss of
a social position, which was but irksome to her! Surely it was not
fear that he would cease to love her! What was it? In God's name--
To-morrow--she had told him--she was to go down, alone, to the
river-house; would she not come now, this very minute, to him
instead? And they would start off--that night, back to the South
where their love had flowered. But again it was: "I can't! I
don't know--I must have time!" And yet her eyes had that brooding
love-light. How COULD she hold back and waver? But, utterly
exhausted, he did not plead again; did not even resist when she
said: "You must go, now; and leave me to get back! I will write.
Perhaps--soon--I shall know." He begged for, and took one kiss;
then, passing the old official, went quickly up and out.
He reached his rooms overcome by a lassitude that was not, however,
quite despair. He had made his effort, failed--but there was still
within him the unconquerable hope of the passionate lover. . . .
As well try to extinguish in full June the beating of the heart of
summer; deny to the flowers their deepening hues, or to winged life
its slumbrous buzzing, as stifle in such a lover his conviction of
fulfilment. . . .
He lay down on a couch, and there stayed a long time quite still,
his forehead pressed against the wall. His will was already
beginning to recover for a fresh attempt. It was merciful that she
was going away from Cramier, going to where he had in fancy watched
her feed her doves. No laws, no fears, not even her commands could
stop his fancy from conjuring her up by day and night. He had but
to close his eyes, and she was there.
A ring at the bell, repeated several times, roused him at last to
go to the door. His caller was Robert Cramier. And at sight of
him, all Lennan's lethargy gave place to a steely feeling. What
had brought him here? Had he been spying on his wife? The old
longing for physical combat came over him. Cramier was perhaps
fifteen years his senior, but taller, heavier, thicker. Chances,
then, were pretty equal!
"Won't you come in?" he said.
The voice had in it the same mockery as on Sunday; and it shot
through him that Cramier had thought to find his wife here. If so,
he did not betray it by any crude look round. He came in with his
deliberate step, light and well-poised for so big a man.
"So this," he said, "is where you produce your masterpieces!
Anything great since you came back?"
Lennan lifted the cloths from the half-modelled figure of his bull-
man. He felt malicious pleasure in doing that. Would Cramier
recognize himself in this creature with the horn-like ears, and
great bossed forehead? If this man who had her happiness beneath
his heel had come here to mock, he should at all events get what he
had come to give. And he waited.
"I see. You are giving the poor brute horns!"
If Cramier had seen, he had dared to add a touch of cynical humour,
which the sculptor himself had never thought of. And this even
evoked in the young man a kind of admiring compunction.
"Those are not horns," he said gently; "only ears."
Cramier lifted a hand and touched the edge of his own ear.
"Not quite like that, are they--human ears? But I suppose you
would call this symbolic. What, if I may ask, does it represent?"
All the softness in Lennan vanished.
"If you can't gather that from looking, it must be a failure."
"Not at all. If I am right, you want something for it to tread on,
don't you, to get your full effect?"
Lennan touched the base of the clay.
"The broken curve here"--then, with sudden disgust at this fencing,
was silent. What had the man come for? He must want something.
And, as if answering, Cramier said:
"To pass to another subject--you see a good deal of my wife. I
just wanted to tell you that I don't very much care that you
should. It is as well to be quite frank, I think."
"Is that not," he said, "perhaps rather a matter for HER decision?"
That heavy figure--those threatening eyes! The whole thing was
like a dream come true!
"I do not feel it so. I am not one of those who let things drift.
Please understand me. You come between us at your peril."
Lennan kept silence for a moment, then he said quietly:
"Can one come between two people who have ceased to have anything
The veins in Cramier's forehead were swollen, his face and neck had
grown crimson. And Lennan thought with strange elation: Now he's
going to hit me! He could hardly keep his hands from shooting out
and seizing in advance that great strong neck. If he could
strangle, and have done with him!
But, quite suddenly, Cramier turned on his heel. "I have warned
you," he said, and went.
Lennan took a long breath. So! That was over, and he knew where
he was. If Cramier had struck out, he would surely have seized his
neck and held on till life was gone. Nothing should have shaken
him off. In fancy he could see himself swaying, writhing, reeling,
battered about by those heavy fists, but always with his hands on
the thick neck, squeezing out its life. He could feel, absolutely
feel, the last reel and stagger of that great bulk crashing down,
dragging him with it, till it lay upturned, still. He covered his
eyes with his hands. . . . Thank God! The fellow had not hit out!
He went to the door, opened it, and stood leaning against the door-
post. All was still and drowsy out there in that quiet backwater
of a street. Not a soul in sight! How still, for London! Only
the birds. In a neighbouring studio someone was playing Chopin.
Queer! He had almost forgotten there was such a thing as Chopin.
A mazurka! Spinning like some top thing, round and round--weird
little tune! . . . Well, and what now? Only one thing certain.
Sooner give up life than give her up! Far sooner! Love her,
achieve her--or give up everything, and drown to that tune going on
and on, that little dancing dirge of summer!
At her cottage Olive stood often by the river.
What lay beneath all that bright water--what strange, deep,
swaying, life so far below the ruffling of wind, and the shadows of
the willow trees? Was love down there, too? Love between sentient
things, where it was almost dark; or had all passion climbed up to
rustle with the reeds, and float with the water-flowers in the
sunlight? Was there colour? Or had colour been drowned? No scent
and no music; but movement there would be, for all the dim groping
things bending one way to the current--movement, no less than in
the aspen-leaves, never quite still, and the winged droves of the
clouds. And if it were dark down there, it was dark, too, above
the water; and hearts ached, and eyes just as much searched for
that which did not come.
To watch it always flowing by to the sea; never looking back, never
swaying this way or that; drifting along, quiet as Fate--dark, or
glamorous with the gold and moonlight of these beautiful days and
nights, when every flower in her garden, in the fields, and along
the river banks, was full of sweet life; when dog-roses starred the
lanes, and in the wood the bracken was nearly a foot high.
She was not alone there, though she would much rather have been;
two days after she left London her Uncle and Aunt had joined her.
It was from Cramier they had received their invitation. He himself
had not yet been down.
Every night, having parted from Mrs. Ercott and gone up the wide
shallow stairs to her room, she would sit down at the window to
write to Lennan, one candle beside her--one pale flame for comrade,
as it might be his spirit. Every evening she poured out to him her
thoughts, and ended always: "Have patience!" She was still waiting
for courage to pass that dark hedge of impalpable doubts and fears
and scruples, of a dread that she could not make articulate even to
herself. Having finished, she would lean out into the night. The
Colonel, his black figure cloaked against the dew, would be pacing
up and down the lawn, with his good-night cigar, whose fiery spark
she could just discern; and, beyond, her ghostly dove-house; and,
beyond, the river--flowing. Then she would clasp herself close--
afraid to stretch out her arms, lest she should be seen.
Each morning she rose early, dressed, and slipped away to the
village to post her letter. From the woods across the river wild
pigeons would be calling--as though Love itself pleaded with her
afresh each day. She was back well before breakfast, to go up to
her room and come down again as if for the first time. The
Colonel, meeting her on the stairs, or in the hall, would say: "Ah,
my dear! just beaten you! Slept well?" And, while her lips
touched his cheek, slanted at the proper angle for uncles, he never
dreamed that she had been three miles already through the dew.
Now that she was in the throes of an indecision, whose ending, one
way or the other, must be so tremendous, now that she was in the
very swirl, she let no sign at all escape her; the Colonel and even
his wife were deceived into thinking that after all no great harm
had been done. It was grateful to them to think so, because of
that stewardship at Monte Carlo, of which they could not render too
good account. The warm sleepy days, with a little croquet and a
little paddling on the river, and much sitting out of doors, when
the Colonel would read aloud from Tennyson, were very pleasant. To
him--if not to Mrs. Ercott--it was especially jolly to be out of
Town 'this confounded crowded time of year.' And so the days of
early June went by, each finer than the last.
And then Cramier came down, without warning on a Friday evening.
It was hot in London . . . the session dull. . . . The Jubilee
turning everything upside down. . . . They were lucky to be out of
A silent dinner--that!
Mrs. Ercott noticed that he drank wine like water, and for minutes
at a time fixed his eyes, that looked heavy as if he had not been
sleeping, not on his wife's face but on her neck. If Olive really
disliked and feared him--as John would have it--she disguised her
feelings very well! For so pale a woman she was looking brilliant
that night. The sun had caught her cheeks, perhaps. That black
low-cut frock suited her, with old Milanese-point lace matching her
skin so well, and one carnation, of darkest red, at her breast.
Her eyes were really sometimes like black velvet. It suited pale
women to have those eyes, that looked so black at night! She was
talking, too, and laughing more than usual. One would have said: A
wife delighted to welcome her husband! And yet there was
something--something in the air, in the feel of things--the
lowering fixity of that man's eyes, or--thunder coming, after all
this heat! Surely the night was unnaturally still and dark, hardly
a breath of air, and so many moths out there, passing the beam of
light, like little pale spirits crossing a river! Mrs. Ercott
smiled, pleased at that image. Moths! Men were like moths; there
were women from whom they could not keep away. Yes, there was
something about Olive that drew men to her. Not meretricious--to
do her justice, not that at all; but something soft, and-fatal;
like one of these candle-flames to the poor moths. John's eyes
were never quite as she knew them when he was looking at Olive; and
Robert Cramier's--what a queer, drugged look they had! As for that
other poor young fellow--she had never forgotten his face when they
came on him in the Park!
And when after dinner they sat on the veranda, they were all more
silent still, just watching, it seemed, the smoke of their
cigarettes, rising quite straight, as though wind had been
withdrawn from the world. The Colonel twice endeavoured to speak
about the moon: It ought to be up by now! It was going to be full.
And then Cramier said: "Put on that scarf thing, Olive, and come
round the garden with me."
Mrs. Ercott admitted to herself now that what John said was true.
Just one gleam of eyes, turned quickly this way and that, as a bird
looks for escape; and then Olive had got up and quietly gone with
him down the path, till their silent figures were lost to sight.
Disturbed to the heart, Mrs. Ercott rose and went over to her
husband's chair. He was frowning, and staring at his evening shoe
balanced on a single toe. He looked up at her and put out his
hand. Mrs. Ercott gave it a squeeze; she wanted comfort.
The Colonel spoke:
"It's heavy to-night, Dolly. I don't like the feel of it."
They had passed without a single word spoken, down through the
laurels and guelder roses to the river bank; then he had turned to
the right, and gone along it under the dove-house, to the yew-
trees. There he had stopped, in the pitch darkness of that
foliage. It seemed to her dreadfully still; if only there had been
the faintest breeze, the faintest lisping of reeds on the water,
one bird to make a sound; but nothing, nothing save his breathing,
deep, irregular, with a quiver in it. What had he brought her here
for? To show her how utterly she was his? Was he never going to
speak, never going to say whatever it was he had in mind to say?
If only he would not touch her!
Then he moved, and a stone dislodged fell with a splash into the
water. She could not help a little gasp. How black the river
looked! But slowly, beyond the dim shape of the giant poplar, a
shiver of light stole outwards across the blackness from the far
bank--the moon, whose rim she could now see rising, of a thick gold
like a coin, above the woods. Her heart went out to that warm
light. At all events there was one friendly inhabitant of this
Suddenly she felt his hands on her waist. She did not move, her
heart beat too furiously; but a sort of prayer fluttered up from it
against her lips. In the grip of those heavy hands was such
His voice sounded very husky and strange: "Olive, this can't go on.
I suffer. My God! I suffer!"
A pang went through her, a sort of surprise. Suffer! She might
wish him dead, but she did not want him to suffer--God knew! And
yet, gripped by those hands, she could not say: I am sorry!
He made a sound that was almost a groan, and dropped on his knees.
Feeling herself held fast, she tried to push his forehead back from
her waist. It was fiery hot; and she heard him mutter: "Have
mercy! Love me a little!" But the clutch of his hands, never
still on the thin silk of her dress, turned her faint. She tried
to writhe away, but could not; stood still again, and at last found
"Mercy? Can I MAKE myself love? No one ever could since the world
began. Please, please get up. Let me go!"
But he was pulling her down to him so that she was forced on to her
knees on the grass, with her face close to his. A low moaning was
coming from him. It was horrible--so horrible! And he went on
pleading, the words all confused, not looking in her face. It
seemed to her that it would never end, that she would never get
free of that grip, away from that stammering, whispering voice.
She stayed by instinct utterly still, closing her eyes. Then she
felt his gaze for the first time that evening on her face, and
realized that he had not dared to look until her eyes were closed,
for fear of reading what was in them. She said very gently:
"Please let me go. I think I'm going to faint."
He relaxed the grip of his arms; she sank down and stayed unmoving
on the grass. After such utter stillness that she hardly knew
whether he were there or not, she felt his hot hand on her bare
shoulder. Was it all to begin again? She shrank down lower still,
and a little moan escaped her. He let her go suddenly, and, when
at last she looked up, was gone.
She got to her feet trembling, and moved quickly from under the
yew-trees. She tried to think--tried to understand exactly what
this portended for her, for him, for her lover. But she could not.
There was around her thoughts the same breathless darkness that
brooded over this night. Ah! but to the night had been given that
pale-gold moon-ray, to herself nothing, no faintest gleam; as well
try to pierce below the dark surface of that water!
She passed her hands over her face, and hair, and dress. How long
had it lasted? How long had they been out here? And she began
slowly moving back towards the house. Thank God! She had not
yielded to fear or pity, not uttered falsities, not pretended she
could love him, and betrayed her heart. That would have been the
one unbearable thing to have been left remembering! She stood long
looking down, as if trying to see the future in her dim flower-
beds; then, bracing herself, hurried to the house. No one was on
the veranda, no one in the drawing-room. She looked at the clock.
Nearly eleven. Ringing for the servant to shut the windows, she
stole up to her room. Had her husband gone away as he had come?
Or would she presently again be face to face with that dread, the
nerve of which never stopped aching now, dread of the night when he
was near? She determined not to go to bed, and drawing a long
chair to the window, wrapped herself in a gown, and lay back.
The flower from her dress, miraculously uncrushed in those dark
minutes on the grass, she set in water beside her at the window--
Mark's favourite flower, he had once told her; it was a comfort,
with its scent, and hue, and memory of him.
Strange that in her life, with all the faces seen, and people
known, she had not loved one till she had met Lennan! She had even
been sure that love would never come to her; had not wanted it--
very much; had thought to go on well enough, and pass out at the
end, never having known, or much cared to know, full summer. Love
had taken its revenge on her now for all slighted love offered her
in the past; for the one hated love that had to-night been on its
knees to her. They said it must always come once to every man and
woman--this witchery, this dark sweet feeling, springing up, who
knew how or why? She had not believed, but now she knew. And
whatever might be coming, she would not have this different. Since
all things changed, she must change and get old and be no longer
pretty for him to look at, but this in her heart could not change.
She felt sure of that. It was as if something said: This is for
ever, beyond life, beyond death, this is for ever! He will be
dust, and you dust, but your love will live! Somewhere--in the
woods, among the flowers, or down in the dark water, it will haunt!
For it only you have lived! . . . Then she noticed that a slender
silvery-winged thing, unlike any moth she had ever seen, had
settled on her gown, close to her neck. It seemed to be sleeping,
so delicate and drowsy, having come in from the breathless dark,
thinking, perhaps, that her whiteness was a light. What dim memory
did it rouse; something of HIM, something HE had done--in darkness,
on a night like this. Ah, yes! that evening after Gorbio, the
little owl-moth on her knee! He had touched her when he took that
cosy wan velvet-eyed thing off her!
She leaned out for air. What a night!--whose stars were hiding in
the sheer heavy warmth; whose small, round, golden moon had no
transparency! A night like a black pansy with a little gold heart.
And silent! For, of the trees, that whispered so much at night,
not even the aspens had voice. The unstirring air had a dream-
solidity against her cheeks. But in all the stillness, what
sentiency, what passion--as in her heart! Could she not draw HIM
to her from those woods, from that dark gleaming river, draw him
from the flowers and trees and the passion-mood of the sky--draw
him up to her waiting here, so that she was no more this craving
creature, but one with him and the night! And she let her head
droop down on her hands.
All night long she stayed there at the window. Sometimes dozing in
the chair; once waking with a start, fancying that her husband was
bending over her. Had he been--and stolen away? And the dawn
came; dew-grey, filmy and wistful, woven round each black tree, and
round the white dove-cot, and falling scarf-like along the river.
And the chirrupings of birds stirred among leaves as yet invisible.
She slept then.
When she awoke once more, in daylight, smiling, Cramier was
standing beside her chair. His face, all dark and bitter, had the
sodden look of a man very tired.
"So!" he said: "Sleeping this way doesn't spoil your dreams. Don't
let me disturb them. I am just going back to Town."
Like a frightened bird, she stayed, not stirring, gazing at his
back as he leaned in the window, till, turning round on her again,
"But remember this: What I can't have, no one else shall! Do you
understand? No one else!" And he bent down close, repeating: "Do
you understand--you bad wife!"
Four years' submission to a touch she shrank from; one long effort
not to shrink! Bad wife! Not if he killed her would she answer
"Do you hear?" he said once more: "Make up your mind to that. I
He had gripped the arms of her chair, till she could feel it quiver
beneath her. Would he drive his fist into her face that she
managed to keep still smiling? But there only passed into his eyes
an expression which she could not read.
"Well," he said, "you know!" and walked heavily towards the door.
The moment he had gone she sprang up: Yes, she was a bad wife! A
wife who had reached the end of her tether. A wife who hated
instead of loving. A wife in prison! Bad wife! Martyrdom, then,
for the sake of a faith in her that was lost already, could be but
folly. If she seemed bad and false to him, there was no longer
reason to pretend to be otherwise. No longer would she, in the
words of the old song:--'sit and sigh--pulling bracken, pulling
bracken.' No more would she starve for want of love, and watch the
nights throb and ache, as last night had throbbed and ached, with
the passion that she might not satisfy.
And while she was dressing she wondered why she did not look tired.
To get out quickly! To send her lover word at once to hasten to
her while it was safe--that she might tell him she was coming to
him out of prison! She would telegraph for him to come that
evening with a boat, opposite the tall poplar. She and her Aunt
and Uncle were to go to dinner at the Rectory, but she would plead
headache at the last minute. When the Ercotts had gone she would
slip out, and he and she would row over to the wood, and be
together for two hours of happiness. And they must make a clear
plan, too--for to-morrow they would begin their life together. But
it would not be safe to send that message from the village; she
must go down and over the bridge to the post-office on the other
side, where they did not know her. It was too late now before
breakfast. Better after, when she could slip away, knowing for
certain that her husband had gone. It would still not be too late
for her telegram--Lennan never left his rooms till the midday post
which brought her letters.
She finished dressing, and knowing that she must show no trace of
her excitement, sat quite still for several minutes, forcing
herself into languor. Then she went down. Her husband had
breakfasted and gone. At everything she did, and every word she
spoke, she was now smiling with a sort of wonder, as if she were
watching a self, that she had abandoned like an old garment,
perform for her amusement. It even gave her no feeling of remorse
to think she was going to do what would be so painful to the good
Colonel. He was dear to her--but it did not matter. She was past
all that. Nothing mattered--nothing in the world! It amused her
to believe that her Uncle and Aunt misread her last night's walk in
the dark garden, misread her languor and serenity. And at the
first moment possible she flew out, and slipped away under cover of
the yew-trees towards the river. Passing the spot where her
husband had dragged her down to him on her knees in the grass, she
felt a sort of surprise that she could ever have been so terrified.
What was he? The past--nothing! And she flew on. She noted
carefully the river bank opposite the tall poplar. It would be
quite easy to get down from there into a boat. But they would not
stay in that dark backwater. They would go over to the far side
into those woods from which last night the moon had risen, those
woods from which the pigeons mocked her every morning, those woods
so full of summer. Coming back, no one would see her landing; for
it would be pitch dark in the backwater. And, while she hurried,
she looked back across her shoulder, marking where the water,
entering, ceased to be bright. A dragon-fly brushed her cheek; she
saw it vanish where the sunlight failed. How suddenly its happy
flight was quenched in that dark shade, as a candle flame blown
out. The tree growth there was too thick--the queer stumps and
snags had uncanny shapes, as of monstrous creatures, whose eyes
seemed to peer out at you. She shivered. She had seen those
monsters with their peering eyes somewhere. Ah! In her dream at
Monte Carlo of that bull-face staring from the banks, while she
drifted by, unable to cry out. No! The backwater was not a happy
place--they would not stay there a single minute. And more swiftly
than ever she flew on along the path. Soon she had crossed the
bridge, sent off her message, and returned. But there were ten
hours to get through before eight o'clock, and she did not hurry
now. She wanted this day of summer to herself alone, a day of
dreaming till he came; this day for which all her life till now had
been shaping her--the day of love. Fate was very wonderful! If
she had ever loved before; if she had known joy in her marriage--
she could never have been feeling what she was feeling now, what
she well knew she would never feel again. She crossed a new-mown
hayfield, and finding a bank, threw herself down on her back among
its uncut grasses. Far away at the other end men were scything.
It was all very beautiful--the soft clouds floating, the clover-
stalks pushing themselves against her palms, and stems of the tall
couch grass cool to her cheeks; little blue butterflies; a lark,
invisible; the scent of the ripe hay; and the gold-fairy arrows of
the sun on her face and limbs. To grow and reach the hour of
summer; all must do that! That was the meaning of Life! She had
no more doubts and fears. She had no more dread, no bitterness,
and no remorse for what she was going to do. She was doing it
because she must. . . . As well might grass stay its ripening
because it shall be cut down! She had, instead, a sense of
something blessed and uplifting. Whatever Power had made her
heart, had placed within it this love. Whatever it was, whoever it
was, could not be angry with her!
A wild bee settled on her arm, and she held it up between her and
the sun, so that she might enjoy its dusky glamour. It would not
sting her--not to-day! The little blue butterflies, too, kept
alighting on her, who lay there so still. And the love-songs of
the wood-pigeons never ceased, nor the faint swish of scything.
At last she rose to make her way home. A telegram had come saying
simply: "Yes." She read it with an unmoved face, having resorted
again to her mask of languor. Toward tea-time she confessed to
headache, and said she would lie down. Up there in her room she
spent those three hours writing--writing as best she could all she
had passed through in thought and feeling, before making her
decision. It seemed to her that she owed it to herself to tell her
lover how she had come to what she had never thought to come to.
She put what she had written in an envelope and sealed it. She
would give it to him, that he might read and understand, when she
had shown him with all of her how she loved him. It would pass the
time for him, until to-morrow--until they set out on their new life
together. For to-night they would make their plans, and to-morrow
At half-past seven she sent word that her headache was too bad to
allow her to go out. This brought a visit from Mrs. Ercott: The
Colonel and she were so distressed; but perhaps Olive was wise not
to exert herself! And presently the Colonel himself spoke,
lugubriously through the door: Not well enough to come? No fun
without her! But she mustn't on any account strain herself! No,
Her heart smote her at that. He was always so good to her.
At last, watching from the corridor, she saw them sally forth down
the drive--the Colonel a little in advance, carrying his wife's
evening shoes. How nice he looked--with his brown face, and his
grey moustache; so upright, and concerned with what he had in hand!
There was no languor in her now. She had dressed in white, and now
she took a blue silk cloak with a hood, and caught up the flower
that had so miraculously survived last night's wearing and pinned
it at her breast. Then making sure no servant was about, she
slipped downstairs and out. It was just eight, and the sun still
glistened on the dove-cot. She kept away from that lest the birds
should come fluttering about her, and betray her by cooing. When
she had nearly reached the tow-path, she stopped affrighted.
Surely something had moved, something heavy, with a sound of broken
branches. Was it the memory of last night come on her again; or,
indeed, someone there? She walked back a few steps. Foolish
alarm! In the meadow beyond a cow was brushing against the hedge.
And, stealing along the grass, out on to the tow-path, she went
swiftly towards the poplar.
A hundred times in these days of her absence Lennan had been on the
point of going down, against her orders, just to pass the house,
just to feel himself within reach, to catch a glimpse of her,
perhaps, from afar. If his body haunted London, his spirit had
passed down on to that river where he had drifted once already,
reconnoitring. A hundred times--by day in fancy, and by night in
dreams--pulling himself along by the boughs, he stole down that dim
backwater, till the dark yews and the white dove-cot came into
For he thought now only of fulfilment. She was wasting cruelly
away! Why should he leave her where she was? Leave her to profane
herself and all womanhood in the arms of a man she hated?
And on that day of mid-June, when he received her telegram, it was
as if he had been handed the key of Paradise.
Would she--could she mean to come away with him that very night?
He would prepare for that at all events. He had so often in mind
faced this crisis in his affairs, that now it only meant
translating into action what had been carefully thought out. He
packed, supplied himself liberally with money, and wrote a long
letter to his guardian. It would hurt the old man--Gordy was over
seventy now--but that could not be helped. He would not post it
till he knew for certain.
After telling how it had all come about, he went on thus: "I know
that to many people, and perhaps to you, Gordy, it will seem very
wrong, but it does not to me, and that is the simple truth.
Everybody has his own views on such things, I suppose; and as I
would not--on my honour, Gordy--ever have held or wished to hold,
or ever will hold in marriage or out of marriage, any woman who
does not love me, so I do not think it is acting as I would resent
others acting towards me, to take away from such unhappiness this
lady for whom I would die at any minute. I do not mean to say that
pity has anything to do with it--I thought so at first, but I know
now that it is all swallowed up in the most mighty feeling I have
ever had or ever shall have. I am not a bit afraid of conscience.
If God is Universal Truth, He cannot look hardly upon us for being
true to ourselves. And as to people, we shall just hold up our
heads; I think that they generally take you at your own valuation.
But, anyway, Society does not much matter. We shan't want those
who don't want us--you may be sure. I hope he will divorce her
quickly--there is nobody much to be hurt by that except you and
Cis; but if he doesn't--it can't be helped. I don't think she has
anything; but with my six hundred, and what I can make, even if we
have to live abroad, we shall be all right for money. You have
been awfully good to me always, Gordy, and I am very grieved to
hurt you, and still more sorry if you think I am being ungrateful;
but when one feels as I do--body and soul and spirit--there isn't
any question; there wouldn't be if death itself stood in the way.
If you receive this, we shall be gone together; I will write to you
from wherever we pitch our tent, and, of course, I shall write to
Cicely. But will you please tell Mrs. Doone and Sylvia, and give
them my love if they still care to have it. Good-bye, dear Gordy.
I believe you would have done the same, if you had been I. Always
In all those preparations he forgot nothing, employing every minute
of the few hours in a sort of methodic exaltation. The last thing
before setting out he took the damp cloths off his 'bull-man.'
Into the face of the monster there had come of late a hungry,
yearning look. The artist in him had done his work that
unconscious justice; against his will had set down the truth. And,
wondering whether he would ever work at it again, he redamped the
cloths and wrapped it carefully.
He did not go to her village, but to one five or six miles down the
river--it was safer, and the row would steady him. Hiring a skiff,
he pulled up stream. He travelled very slowly to kill time,
keeping under the far bank. And as he pulled, his very heart
seemed parched with nervousness. Was it real that he was going to
her, or only some fantastic trick of Fate, a dream from which he
would wake to find himself alone again? He passed the dove-cot at
last, and kept on till he could round into the backwater and steal
up under cover to the poplar. He arrived a few minutes before
eight o'clock, turned the boat round, and waited close beneath the
bank, holding to a branch, and standing so that he could see the
path. If a man could die from longing and anxiety, surely Lennan
must have died then!
All wind had failed, and the day was fallen into a wonderful still
evening. Gnats were dancing in the sparse strips of sunlight that
slanted across the dark water, now that the sun was low. From the
fields, bereft of workers, came the scent of hay and the heavy
scent of meadow-sweet; the musky odour of the backwater was
confused with them into one brooding perfume. No one passed. And
sounds were few and far to that wistful listener, for birds did not
sing just there. How still and warm was the air, yet seemed to
vibrate against his cheeks as though about to break into flame.
That fancy came to him vividly while he stood waiting--a vision of
heat simmering in little pale red flames. On the thick reeds some
large, slow, dusky flies were still feeding, and now and then a
moorhen a few yards away splashed a little, or uttered a sharp,
shrill note. When she came--if she did come!--they would not stay
here, in this dark earthy backwater; he would take her over to the
other side, away to the woods! But the minutes passed, and his
heart sank. Then it leaped up. Someone was coming--in white, with
bare head, and something blue or black flung across her arm. It
was she! No one else walked like that! She came very quickly.
And he noticed that her hair looked like little wings on either
side of her brow, as if her face were a white bird with dark wings,
flying to love! Now she was close, so close that he could see her
lips parted, and her eyes love-lighted--like nothing in the world