Part 4 out of 5
but darkness wild with dew and starlight. He reached up and lifted
her down into the boat, and the scent of some flower pressed
against his face seemed to pierce into him and reach his very
heart, awakening the memory of something past, forgotten. Then,
seizing the branches, snapping them in his haste, he dragged the
skiff along through the sluggish water, the gnats dancing in his
face. She seemed to know where he was taking her, and neither of
them spoke a single word, while he pulled out into the open, and
over to the far bank.
There was but one field between them and the wood--a field of young
wheat, with a hedge of thorn and alder. And close to that hedge
they set out, their hands clasped. They had nothing to say yet--
like children saving up. She had put on her cloak to hide her
dress, and its silk swished against the silvery blades of the
wheat. What had moved her to put on this blue cloak? Blue of the
sky, and flowers, of birds' wings, and the black-burning blue of
the night! The hue of all holy things! And how still it was in
the late gleam of the sun! Not one little sound of beast or bird
or tree; not one bee humming! And not much colour--only the starry
white hemlocks and globe-campion flowers, and the low-flying
glamour of the last warm light on the wheat.
. . . Now over wood and river the evening drew in fast. And first
the swallows, that had looked as if they would never stay their
hunting, ceased; and the light, that had seemed fastened above the
world, for all its last brightenings, slowly fell wingless and
The moon would not rise till ten! And all things waited. The
creatures of night were slow to come forth after that long bright
summer's day, watching for the shades of the trees to sink deeper
and deeper into the now chalk-white water; watching for the chalk-
white face of the sky to be masked with velvet. The very black-
plumed trees themselves seemed to wait in suspense for the grape-
bloom of night. All things stared, wan in that hour of passing
day--all things had eyes wistful and unblessed. In those moments
glamour was so dead that it was as if meaning had abandoned the
earth. But not for long. Winged with darkness, it stole back; not
the soul of meaning that had gone, but a witch-like and brooding
spirit harbouring in the black trees, in the high dark spears of
the rushes, and on the grim-snouted snags that lurked along the
river bank. Then the owls came out, and night-flying things. And
in the wood there began a cruel bird-tragedy--some dark pursuit in
the twilight above the bracken; the piercing shrieks of a creature
into whom talons have again and again gone home; and mingled with
them, hoarse raging cries of triumph. Many minutes they lasted,
those noises of the night, sound-emblems of all the cruelty in the
heart of Nature; till at last death appeased that savagery. And
any soul abroad, that pitied fugitives, might once more listen, and
not weep. . . .
Then a nightingale began to give forth its long liquid gurgling;
and a corn-crake churred in the young wheat. Again the night
brooded, in the silent tops of the trees, in the more silent depths
of the water. It sent out at long intervals a sigh or murmur, a
tiny scuttling splash, an owl's hunting cry. And its breath was
still hot and charged with heavy odour, for no dew was falling. . . .
It was past ten when they came out from the wood. She had wanted
to wait for the moon to rise; not a gold coin of a moon as last
night, but ivory pale, and with a gleaming radiance level over the
fern, and covering the lower boughs, as it were, with a drift of
Through the wicket gate they passed once more beside the moon-
coloured wheat, which seemed of a different world from that world
in which they had walked but an hour and a half ago.
And in Lennan's heart was a feeling such as a man's heart can only
know once in all his life--such humble gratitude, and praise, and
adoration of her who had given him her all. There should be
nothing for her now but joy--like the joy of this last hour. She
should never know less happiness! And kneeling down before her at
the water's edge he kissed her dress, and hands, and feet, which
to-morrow would be his forever.
Then they got into the boat.
The smile of the moonlight glided over each ripple, and reed, and
closing water-lily; over her face, where the hood had fallen back
from her loosened hair; over one hand trailing the water, and the
other touching the flower at her breast; and, just above her
breath, she said:
"Row, my dear love; it's late!"
Dipping his sculls, he shot the skiff into the darkness of the
backwater. . . .
What happened then he never knew, never clearly--in all those after
years. A vision of her white form risen to its feet, bending
forward like a creature caught, that cannot tell which way to
spring; a crashing shock, his head striking something hard!
Nothingness! And then--an awful, awful struggle with roots and
weeds and slime, a desperate agony of groping in that pitchy
blackness, among tree-stumps, in dead water that seemed to have no
bottom--he and that other, who had leaped at them in the dark with
his boat, like a murdering beast; a nightmare search more horrible
than words could tell, till in a patch of moonlight on the bank
they laid her, who for all their efforts never stirred. . . .
There she lay all white, and they two crouched at her head and
feet--like dark creatures of the woods and waters over that which
with their hunting they had slain.
How long they stayed there, not once looking at each other, not
once speaking, not once ceasing to touch with their hands that dead
thing--he never knew. How long in the summer night, with its
moonlight and its shadows quivering round them, and the night wind
talking in the reeds!
And then the most enduring of all sentient things had moved in him
again; so that he once more felt. . . . Never again to see those
eyes that had loved him with their light! Never again to kiss her
lips! Frozen--like moonlight to the earth, with the flower still
clinging at her breast. Thrown out on the bank like a plucked
water-lily! Dead? No, no! Not dead! Alive in the night--alive
to him--somewhere! Not on this dim bank, in this hideous
backwater, with that dark dumb creature who had destroyed her! Out
there on the river--in the wood of their happiness--somewhere
alive! . . . And, staggering up past Cramier, who never moved, he
got into his boat, and like one demented pulled out into the
But once there in the tide, he fell huddled forward, motionless
above his oars. . . .
And the moonlight flooded his dark skiff drifting down. And the
moonlight effaced the ripples on the water that had stolen away her
spirit. Her spirit mingled now with the white beauty and the
shadows, for ever part of the stillness and the passion of a summer
night; hovering, floating, listening to the rustle of the reeds,
and the whispering of the woods; one with the endless dream--that
spirit passing out, as all might wish to pass, in the hour of
When on that November night Lennan stole to the open door of his
dressing-room, and stood watching his wife asleep, Fate still
waited for an answer.
A low fire was burning--one of those fires that throw faint shadows
everywhere, and once and again glow so that some object shines for
a moment, some shape is clearly seen. The curtains were not quite
drawn, and a plane-tree branch with leaves still hanging, which had
kept them company all the fifteen years they had lived there, was
moving darkly in the wind, now touching the glass with a frail tap,
as though asking of him, who had been roaming in that wind so many
hours, to let it in. Unfailing comrades--London plane-trees!
He had not dared hope that Sylvia would be asleep. It was merciful
that she was, whichever way the issue went--that issue so cruel.
Her face was turned towards the fire, and one hand rested beneath
her cheek. So she often slept. Even when life seemed all at sea,
its landmarks lost, one still did what was customary. Poor tender-
hearted thing--she had not slept since he told her, forty-eight
hours, that seemed such years, ago! With her flaxen hair, and her
touching candour, even in sleep, she looked like a girl lying
there, not so greatly changed from what she had been that summer of
Cicely's marriage down at Hayle. Her face had not grown old in all
those twenty-eight years. There had been till now no special
reason why it should. Thought, strong feeling, suffering, those
were what changed faces; Sylvia had never thought very deeply,
never suffered much, till now. And was it for him, who had been
careful of her--very careful on the whole, despite man's
selfishness, despite her never having understood the depths of him--
was it for him of all people to hurt her so, to stamp her face
with sorrow, perhaps destroy her utterly?
He crept a little farther in and sat down in the arm-chair beyond
the fire. What memories a fire gathered into it, with its flaky
ashes, its little leaf-like flames, and that quiet glow and
flicker! What tale of passions! How like to a fire was a man's
heart! The first young fitful leapings, the sudden, fierce,
mastering heat, the long, steady sober burning, and then--that last
flaming-up, that clutch back at its own vanished youth, the final
eager flight of flame, before the ashes wintered it to nothing!
Visions and memories he saw down in the fire, as only can be seen
when a man's heart, by the agony of long struggle, has been
stripped of skin, and quivers at every touch. Love! A strange
haphazard thing was love--so spun between ecstacy and torture! A
thing insidious, irresponsible, desperate. A flying sweetness,
more poignant than anything on earth, more dark in origin and
destiny. A thing without reason or coherence. A man's love-life--
what say had he in the ebb and flow of it? No more than in the
flights of autumn birds, swooping down, alighting here and there,
passing on. The loves one left behind--even in a life by no means
vagabond in love, as men's lives went! The love that thought the
Tyrol skies would fall if he were not first with a certain lady.
The love whose star had caught in the hair of Sylvia, now lying
there asleep. A so-called love--that half-glamorous, yet sordid
little meal of pleasure, which youth, however sensitive, must eat,
it seems, some time or other with some young light of love--a
glimpse of life that beforehand had seemed much and had meant
little, save to leave him disillusioned with himself and sorry for
his partner. And then the love that he could not, even after
twenty years, bear to remember; that all-devouring summer passion,
which in one night had gained all and lost all terribly, leaving on
his soul a scar that could never be quite healed, leaving his
spirit always a little lonely, haunted by the sense of what might
have been. Of his share in that night of tragedy--that 'terrible
accident on the river'--no one had ever dreamed. And then the long
despair which had seemed the last death of love had slowly passed,
and yet another love had been born--or rather born again, pale,
sober, but quite real; the fresh springing-up of a feeling long
forgotten, of that protective devotion of his boyhood. He still
remembered the expression on Sylvia's face when he passed her by
chance in Oxford Street, soon after he came back from his four
years of exile in the East and Rome--that look, eager, yet
reproachful, then stoically ironic, as if saying: 'Oh, no! after
forgetting me four years and more--you can't remember me now!' And
when he spoke, the still more touching pleasure in her face. Then
uncertain months, with a feeling of what the end would be; and then
their marriage. Happy enough--gentle, not very vivid, nor
spiritually very intimate--his work always secretly as remote from
her as when she had thought to please him by putting jessamine
stars on the heads of his beasts. A quiet successful union, not
meaning, he had thought, so very much to him nor so very much to
her--until forty-eight hours ago he told her; and she had shrunk,
and wilted, and gone all to pieces. And what was it he had told
A long story--that!
Sitting there by the fire, with nothing yet decided, he could see
it all from the start, with its devilish, delicate intricacy, its
subtle slow enchantment spinning itself out of him, out of his own
state of mind and body, rather than out of the spell cast over him,
as though a sort of fatal force, long dormant, were working up
again to burst into dark flower. . . .
Yes, it had begun within him over a year ago, with a queer unhappy
restlessness, a feeling that life was slipping, ebbing away within
reach of him, and his arms never stretched out to arrest it. It
had begun with a sort of long craving, stilled only when he was
working hard--a craving for he knew not what, an ache which was
worst whenever the wind was soft.
They said that about forty-five was a perilous age for a man--
especially for an artist. All the autumn of last year he had felt
this vague misery rather badly. It had left him alone most of
December and January, while he was working so hard at his group of
lions; but the moment that was finished it had gripped him hard
again. In those last days of January he well remembered wandering
about in the parks day after day, trying to get away from it. Mild
weather, with a scent in the wind! With what avidity he had
watched children playing, the premature buds on the bushes,
anything, everything young--with what an ache, too, he had been
conscious of innumerable lives being lived round him, and loves
loved, and he outside, unable to know, to grasp, to gather them;
and all the time the sands of his hourglass running out! A most
absurd and unreasonable feeling for a man with everything he
wanted, with work that he loved, quite enough money, and a wife so
good as Sylvia--a feeling that no Englishman of forty-six, in
excellent health, ought for a moment to have been troubled with. A
feeling such as, indeed, no Englishman ever admitted having--so
that there was not even, as yet, a Society for its suppression.
For what was this disquiet feeling, but the sense that he had had
his day, would never again know the stir and fearful joy of falling
in love, but only just hanker after what was past and gone! Could
anything be more reprehensible in a married man?
It was--yes--the last day of January, when, returning from one of
those restless rambles in Hyde Park, he met Dromore. Queer to
recognize a man hardly seen since school-days. Yet unmistakably,
Johnny Dromore, sauntering along the rails of Piccadilly on the
Green Park side, with that slightly rolling gait of his thin,
horseman's legs, his dandified hat a little to one side, those
strange, chaffing, goggling eyes, that look, as if making a
perpetual bet. Yes--the very same teasing, now moody, now
reckless, always astute Johnny Dromore, with a good heart beneath
an outside that seemed ashamed of it. Truly to have shared a room
at school--to have been at College together, were links
"Mark Lennan! By gum! haven't seen you for ages. Not since you
turned out a full-blown--what d'you call it? Awfully glad to meet
you, old chap!" Here was the past indeed, long vanished in feeling
and thought and all; and Lennan's head buzzed, trying to find some
common interest with this hunting, racing man-about-town.
Johnny Dromore come to life again--he whom the Machine had stamped
with astute simplicity by the time he was twenty-two, and for ever
after left untouched in thought and feeling--Johnny Dromore, who
would never pass beyond the philosophy that all was queer and
freakish which had not to do with horses, women, wine, cigars,
jokes, good-heartedness, and that perpetual bet; Johnny Dromore,
who, somewhere in him, had a pocket of depth, a streak of hunger,
that was not just Johnny Dromore.
How queer was the sound of that jerky talk!
"You ever see old Fookes now? Been racin' at all? You live in
Town? Remember good old Blenker?" And then silence, and then
another spurt: "Ever go down to 'Bambury's?' Ever go racin'? . . .
Come on up to my 'digs.' You've got nothin' to do." No persuading
Johnny Dromore that a 'what d'you call it' could have anything to
do. "Come on, old chap. I've got the hump. It's this damned east
Well he remembered it, when they shared a room at 'Bambury's'--that
hump of Johnny Dromore's, after some reckless spree or bout of
And down that narrow bye-street of Piccadilly he had gone, and up
into those 'digs' on the first floor, with their little dark hall,
their Van Beers' drawing and Vanity Fair cartoons, and prints of
racehorses, and of the old Nightgown Steeplechase; with the big
chairs, and all the paraphernalia of Race Guides and race-glasses,
fox-masks and stags'-horns, and hunting-whips. And yet, something
that from the first moment struck him as not quite in keeping,
foreign to the picture--a little jumble of books, a vase of
flowers, a grey kitten.
"Sit down, old chap. What'll you drink?"
Sunk into the recesses of a marvellous chair, with huge arms of
tawny leather, he listened and spoke drowsily. 'Bambury's,'
Oxford, Gordy's clubs--dear old Gordy, gone now!--things long
passed by; they seemed all round him once again. And yet, always
that vague sense, threading this resurrection, threading the smoke
of their cigars, and Johnny Dromore's clipped talk--of something
that did not quite belong. Might it be, perhaps, that sepia
drawing--above the 'Tantalus' on the oak sideboard at the far end--
of a woman's face gazing out into the room? Mysteriously unlike
everything else, except the flowers, and this kitten that was
pushing its furry little head against his hand. Odd how a single
thing sometimes took possession of a room, however remote in
spirit! It seemed to reach like a shadow over Dromore's
outstretched limbs, and weathered, long-nosed face, behind his huge
cigar; over the queer, solemn, chaffing eyes, with something
brooding in the depths of them.
"Ever get the hump? Bally awful, isn't it? It's getting old.
We're bally old, you know, Lenny!" Ah! No one had called him
'Lenny' for twenty years. And it was true; they were unmentionably
"When a fellow begins to feel old, you know, it's time he went
broke--or something; doesn't bear sittin' down and lookin' at.
Come out to 'Monte' with me!"
'Monte!' That old wound, never quite healed, started throbbing at
the word, so that he could hardly speak his: "No, I don't care for
And, at once, he saw Dromore's eyes probing, questioning:
"Never thought of you as married!"
So Dromore did think of him. Queer! He never thought of Johnny
"Winter's bally awful, when you're not huntin'. You've changed a
lot; should hardly have known you. Last time I saw you, you'd just
come back from Rome or somewhere. What's it like bein' a--a
sculptor? Saw something of yours once. Ever do things of horses?"
Yes; he had done a 'relief' of ponies only last year.
"You do women, too, I s'pose?"
The eyes goggled slightly. Quaint, that unholy interest! Just
like boys, the Johnny Dromores--would never grow up, no matter how
life treated them. If Dromore spoke out his soul, as he used to
speak it out at 'Bambury's,' he would say: 'You get a pull there;
you have a bally good time, I expect.' That was the way it took
them; just a converse manifestation of the very same feeling
towards Art that the pious Philistines had, with their deploring
eyebrows and their 'peril to the soul.' Babes all! Not a
glimmering of what Art meant--of its effort, and its yearnings!
"You make money at it?"
Again that appreciative goggle, as who should say: 'Ho! there's
more in this than I thought!'
A long silence, then, in the dusk with the violet glimmer from
outside the windows, the fire flickering in front of them, the grey
kitten purring against his neck, the smoke of their cigars going
up, and such a strange, dozing sense of rest, as he had not known
for many days. And then--something, someone at the door, over by
the sideboard! And Dromore speaking in a queer voice:
"Come in, Nell! D'you know my daughter?"
A hand took Lennan's, a hand that seemed to waver between the
aplomb of a woman of the world, and a child's impulsive warmth.
And a voice, young, clipped, clear, said:
"How d'you do? She's rather sweet, isn't she--my kitten?"
Then Dromore turned the light up. A figure fairly tall, in a grey
riding-habit, stupendously well cut; a face not quite so round as a
child's nor so shaped as a woman's, blushing slightly, very calm;
crinkly light-brown hair tied back with a black ribbon under a neat
hat; and eyes like those eyes of Gainsborough's 'Perdita'--slow,
grey, mesmeric, with long lashes curling up, eyes that draw things
to them, still innocent.
And just on the point of saying: "I thought you'd stepped out of
that picture"--he saw Dromore's face, and mumbled instead:
"So it's YOUR kitten?"
"Yes; she goes to everybody. Do you like Persians? She's all fur
Entering with his fingers the recesses of the kitten, he said:
"Cats without fur are queer."
"Have you seen one without fur?"
"Oh, yes! In my profession we have to go below fur--I'm a
"That must be awfully interesting."
What a woman of the world! But what a child, too! And now he
could see that the face in the sepia drawing was older altogether--
lips not so full, look not so innocent, cheeks not so round, and
something sad and desperate about it--a face that life had rudely
touched. But the same eyes it had--and what charm, for all its
disillusionment, its air of a history! Then he noticed, fastened
to the frame, on a thin rod, a dust-coloured curtain, drawn to one
side. The self-possessed young voice was saying:
"Would you mind if I showed you my drawings? It would be awfully
good of you. You could tell me about them." And with dismay he
saw her open a portfolio. While he scrutinized those schoolgirl
drawings, he could feel her looking at him, as animals do when they
are making up their minds whether or no to like you; then she came
and stood so close that her arm pressed his. He redoubled his
efforts to find something good about the drawings. But in truth
there was nothing good. And if, in other matters, he could lie
well enough to save people's feelings, where Art was concerned he
never could; so he merely said:
"You haven't been taught, you see."
"Will you teach me?"
But before he could answer, she was already effacing that naive
question in her most grown-up manner.
"Of course I oughtn't to ask. It would bore you awfully."
After that he vaguely remembered Dromore's asking if he ever rode
in the Row; and those eyes of hers following him about; and her
hand giving his another childish squeeze. Then he was on his way
again down the dimly-lighted stairs, past an interminable array of
Vanity Fair cartoons, out into the east wind.
Crossing the Green Park on his way home, was he more, or less,
restless? Difficult to say. A little flattered, certainly, a
little warmed; yet irritated, as always when he came into contact
with people to whom the world of Art was such an amusing unreality.
The notion of trying to show that child how to draw--that feather-
pate, with her riding and her kitten; and her 'Perdita' eyes!
Quaint, how she had at once made friends with him! He was a little
different, perhaps, from what she was accustomed to. And how
daintily she spoke! A strange, attractive, almost lovely child!
Certainly not more than seventeen--and--Johnny Dromore's daughter!
The wind was bitter, the lamps bright among the naked trees.
Beautiful always--London at night, even in January, even in an east
wind, with a beauty he never tired of. Its great, dark, chiselled
shapes, its gleaming lights, like droves of flying stars come to
earth; and all warmed by the beat and stir of innumerable lives--
those lives that he ached so to know and to be part of.
He told Sylvia of his encounter. Dromore! The name struck her.
She had an old Irish song, 'The Castle of Dromore,' with a queer,
It froze hard all the week, and he began a life-size group of their
two sheep-dogs. Then a thaw set in with that first south-west
wind, which brings each February a feeling of Spring such as is
never again recaptured, and men's senses, like sleepy bees in the
sun, go roving. It awakened in him more violently than ever the
thirst to be living, knowing, loving--the craving for something
new. Not this, of course, took him back to Dromore's rooms; oh,
no! just friendliness, since he had not even told his old room-mate
where he lived, or said that his wife would be glad to make his
acquaintance, if he cared to come round. For Johnny Dromore had
assuredly not seemed too happy, under all his hard-bitten air.
Yes! it was but friendly to go again.
Dromore was seated in his long arm-chair, a cigar between his lips,
a pencil in his hand, a Ruff's Guide on his knee; beside him was a
large green book. There was a festive air about him, very
different from his spasmodic gloom of the other day; and he
murmured without rising:
"Halo, old man!--glad to see you. Take a pew. Look here!
Agapemone--which d'you think I ought to put her to--San Diavolo or
Ponte Canet?--not more than four crosses of St. Paul. Goin' to get
a real good one from her this time!"
He, who had never heard these sainted names, answered:
"Oh! Ponte Canet, without doubt. But if you're working I'll come
in another time."
"Lord! no! Have a smoke. I'll just finish lookin' out their
blood--and take a pull."
And so Lennan sat down to watch those researches, wreathed in cigar
smoke and punctuated by muttered expletives. They were as sacred
and absorbing, no doubt, as his own efforts to create in clay; for
before Dromore's inner vision was the perfect racehorse--he, too,
was creating. Here was no mere dodge for making money, but a
process hallowed by the peculiar sensation felt when one rubbed the
palms of the hands together, the sensation that accompanied all
creative achievement. Once only Dromore paused to turn his head
"Bally hard, gettin' a taproot right!"
Real Art! How well an artist knew that desperate search after the
point of balance, the central rivet that must be found before a
form would come to life. . . . And he noted that to-day there was
no kitten, no flowers, no sense at all of an extraneous presence--
even the picture was curtained. Had the girl been just a dream--a
fancy conjured up by his craving after youth?
Then he saw that Dromore had dropped the large green book, and was
standing before the fire.
"Nell took to you the other day. But you always were a lady's man.
Remember the girl at Coaster's?"
Coaster's tea-shop, where he would go every afternoon that he had
money, just for the pleasure of looking shyly at a face. Something
beautiful to look at--nothing more! Johnny Dromore would no better
understand that now than when they were at 'Bambury's.' Not the
smallest good even trying to explain! He looked up at the goggling
eyes; he heard the bantering voice:
"I say--you ARE goin' grey. We're bally old, Lenny! A fellow gets
old when he marries."
And he answered:
"By the way, I never knew that YOU had been."
From Dromore's face the chaffing look went, like a candle-flame
blown out; and a coppery flush spread over it. For some seconds he
did not speak, then, jerking his head towards the picture, he
"Never had the chance of marrying, there; Nell's 'outside.'"
A sort of anger leaped in Lennan; why should Dromore speak that
word as if he were ashamed of his own daughter? Just like his
sort--none so hidebound as men-about-town! Flotsam on the tide of
other men's opinions; poor devils adrift, without the one true
anchorage of their own real feelings! And doubtful whether Dromore
would be pleased, or think him gushing, or even distrustful of his
morality, he said:
"As for that, it would only make any decent man or woman nicer to
her. When is she going to let me teach her drawing?"
Dromore crossed the room, drew back the curtain of the picture, and
in a muffled voice, said:
"My God, Lenny! Life's unfair. Nell's coming killed her mother.
I'd rather it had been me--bar chaff! Women have no luck."
Lennan got up from his comfortable chair. For, startled out of the
past, the memory of that summer night, when yet another woman had
no luck, was flooding his heart with its black, inextinguishable
grief. He said quietly:
"The past IS past, old man."
Dromore drew the curtain again across the picture, and came back to
the fire. And for a full minute he stared into it.
"What am I to do with Nell? She's growing up."
"What have you done with her so far?"
"She's been at school. In the summer she goes to Ireland--I've got
a bit of an old place there. She'll be eighteen in July. I shall
have to introduce her to women, and all that. It's the devil!
Lennan could only murmur: "My wife, for one."
He took his leave soon after. Johnny Dromore! Bizarre guardian
for that child! Queer life she must have of it, in that bachelor's
den, surrounded by Ruff's Guides! What would become of her?
Caught up by some young spark about town; married to him, no doubt--
her father would see to the thoroughness of that, his standard of
respectability was evidently high! And after--go the way, maybe,
of her mother--that poor thing in the picture with the alluring,
desperate face. Well! It was no business of his!
No business of his! The merest sense of comradeship, then, took
him once more to Dromore's after that disclosure, to prove that the
word 'outside' had no significance save in his friend's own fancy;
to assure him again that Sylvia would be very glad to welcome the
child at any time she liked to come.
When he had told her of that little matter of Nell's birth, she had
been silent a long minute, looking in his face, and then had said:
"Poor child! I wonder if SHE knows! People are so unkind, even
nowadays!" He could not himself think of anyone who would pay
attention to such a thing, except to be kinder to the girl; but in
such matters Sylvia was the better judge, in closer touch with
general thought. She met people that he did not--and of a more
It was rather late when he got to Dromore's diggings on that third
"Mr. Dromore, sir," the man said--he had one of those strictly
confidential faces bestowed by an all-wise Providence on servants
in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly--"Mr. Dromore, sir, is not in.
But he will be almost sure to be in to dress. Miss Nell is in,
And there she was, sitting at the table, pasting photographs into
an album--lonely young creature in that abode of male middle-age!
Lennan stood, unheard, gazing at the back of her head, with its
thick crinkly-brown hair tied back on her dark-red frock. And, to
the confidential man's soft:
"Mr. Lennan, miss," he added a softer: "May I come in?"
She put her hand into his with intense composure.
"Oh, yes, do! if you don't mind the mess I'm making;" and, with a
little squeeze of the tips of his fingers, added: "Would it bore
you to see my photographs?"
And down they sat together before the photographs--snapshots of
people with guns or fishing-rods, little groups of schoolgirls,
kittens, Dromore and herself on horseback, and several of a young
man with a broad, daring, rather good-looking face. "That's
Oliver--Oliver Dromore--Dad's first cousin once removed. Rather
nice, isn't he? Do you like his expression?"
Lennan did not know. Not her second cousin; her father's first
cousin once removed! And again there leaped in him that
unreasoning flame of indignant pity.
"And how about drawing? You haven't come to be taught yet."
She went almost as red as her frock.
"I thought you were only being polite. I oughtn't to have asked.
Of course, I want to awfully--only I know it'll bore you."
"It won't at all."
She looked up at that. What peculiar languorous eyes they were!
"Shall I come to-morrow, then?"
"Any day you like, between half-past twelve and one."
He took out a card.
"Mark Lennan--yes--I like your name. I liked it the other day.
It's awfully nice!"
What was in a name that she should like him because of it? His
fame as a sculptor--such as it was--could have nothing to do with
that, for she would certainly not know of it. Ah! but there was a
lot in a name--for children. In his childhood what fascination
there had been in the words macaroon, and Spaniard, and Carinola,
and Aldebaran, and Mr. McCrae. For quite a week the whole world
had been Mr. McCrae--a most ordinary friend of Gordy's.
By whatever fascination moved, she talked freely enough now--of her
school; of riding and motoring--she seemed to love going very fast;
about Newmarket--which was 'perfect'; and theatres--plays of the
type that Johnny Dromore might be expected to approve; these
together with 'Hamlet' and 'King Lear' were all she had seen.
Never was a girl so untouched by thought, or Art--yet not stupid,
having, seemingly, a certain natural good taste; only, nothing,
evidently, had come her way. How could it--'Johnny Dromore duce,
et auspice Johnny Dromore!' She had been taken, indeed, to the
National Gallery while at school. And Lennan had a vision of eight
or ten young maidens trailing round at the skirts of one old
maiden, admiring Landseer's dogs, giggling faintly at Botticelli's
angels, gaping, rustling, chattering like young birds in a
But with all her surroundings, this child of Johnny Dromoredom was
as yet more innocent than cultured girls of the same age. If those
grey, mesmeric eyes of hers followed him about, they did so
frankly, unconsciously. There was no minx in her, so far.
An hour went by, and Dromore did not come. And the loneliness of
this young creature in her incongruous abode began telling on
What did she do in the evenings?
"Sometimes I go to the theatre with Dad, generally I stay at home."
"Oh! I just read, or talk French."
"What? To yourself?"
"Yes, or to Oliver sometimes, when he comes in."
So Oliver came in!
"How long have you known Oliver?"
"Oh! ever since I was a child."
He wanted to say: And how long is that? But managed to refrain,
and got up to go instead. She caught his sleeve and said:
"You're not to go!" Saying that she looked as a dog will, going to
bite in fun, her upper lip shortened above her small white teeth
set fast on her lower lip, and her chin thrust a little forward. A
glimpse of a wilful spirit! But as soon as he had smiled, and
"Ah! but I must, you see!" she at once regained her manners, only
saying rather mournfully: "You don't call me by my name. Don't you
"Yes. It's really Eleanor, of course. DON'T you like it?"
If he had detested the name, he could only have answered: "Very
"I'm awfully glad! Good-bye."
When he got out into the street, he felt terribly like a man who,
instead of having had his sleeve touched, has had his heart plucked
at. And that warm, bewildered feeling lasted him all the way home.
Changing for dinner, he looked at himself with unwonted attention.
Yes, his dark hair was still thick, but going distinctly grey;
there were very many lines about his eyes, too, and those eyes,
still eager when they smiled, were particularly deepset, as if life
had forced them back. His cheekbones were almost 'bopsies' now,
and his cheeks very thin and dark, and his jaw looked too set and
bony below the almost black moustache. Altogether a face that life
had worn a good deal, with nothing for a child to take a fancy to
and make friends with, that he could see.
Sylvia came in while he was thus taking stock of himself, bringing
a freshly-opened flask of eau-de-Cologne. She was always bringing
him something--never was anyone so sweet in those ways. In that
grey, low-cut frock, her white, still prettiness and pale-gold
hair, so little touched by Time, only just fell short of real
beauty for lack of a spice of depth and of incisiveness, just as
her spirit lacked he knew not what of poignancy. He would not for
the world have let her know that he ever felt that lack. If a man
could not hide little rifts in the lute from one so good and humble
and affectionate, he was not fit to live.
She sang 'The Castle of Dromore' again that night with its queer
haunting lilt. And when she had gone up, and he was smoking over
the fire, the girl in her dark-red frock seemed to come, and sit
opposite with her eyes fixed on his, just as she had been sitting
while they talked. Dark red had suited her! Suited the look on
her face when she said:
"You're not to go!" Odd, indeed, if she had not some devil in her,
with that parentage!
Next day they had summoned him from the studio to see a peculiar
phenomenon--Johnny Dromore, very well groomed, talking to Sylvia
with unnatural suavity, and carefully masking the goggle in his
eyes! Mrs. Lennan ride? Ah! Too busy, of course. Helped Mark
with his--er--No! Really! Read a lot, no doubt? Never had any
time for readin' himself--awful bore not having time to read! And
Sylvia listening and smiling, very still and soft.
What had Dromore come for? To spy out the land, discover why
Lennan and his wife thought nothing of the word 'outside'--whether,
in fact, their household was respectable. . . . A man must always
look twice at 'what-d'you-call-ems,' even if they have shared his
room at school! . . . To his credit, of course, to be so careful
of his daughter, at the expense of time owed to the creation of the
perfect racehorse! On the whole he seemed to be coming to the
conclusion that they might be useful to Nell in the uncomfortable
time at hand when she would have to go about; seemed even to be
falling under the spell of Sylvia's transparent goodness--
abandoning his habitual vigilance against being scored off in
life's perpetual bet; parting with his armour of chaff. Almost a
relief, indeed, once out of Sylvia's presence, to see that
familiar, unholy curiosity creeping back into his eyes, as though
they were hoping against parental hope to find something--er--
amusing somewhere about that mysterious Mecca of good times--a
'what-d'you-call-it's' studio. Delicious to watch the conflict
between relief and disappointment. Alas! no model--not even a
statue without clothes; nothing but portrait heads, casts of
animals, and such-like sobrieties--absolutely nothing that could
bring a blush to the cheek of the young person, or a glow to the
eyes of a Johnny Dromore.
With what curious silence he walked round and round the group of
sheep-dogs, inquiring into them with that long crinkled nose of
his! With what curious suddenness, he said: "Damned good! You
wouldn't do me one of Nell on horseback?" With what dubious
watchfulness he listened to the answer:
"I might, perhaps, do a statuette of her; if I did, you should have
Did he think that in some way he was being outmanoeuvered? For he
remained some seconds in a sort of trance before muttering, as
though clinching a bet:
"Done! And if you want to ride with her to get the hang of it, I
can always mount you."
When he had gone, Lennan remained staring at his unfinished sheep-
dogs in the gathering dusk. Again that sense of irritation at
contact with something strange, hostile, uncomprehending! Why let
these Dromores into his life like this? He shut the studio, and
went back to the drawing-room. Sylvia was sitting on the fender,
gazing at the fire, and she edged along so as to rest against his
knees. The light from a candle on her writing-table was shining on
her hair, her cheek, and chin, that years had so little altered. A
pretty picture she made, with just that candle flame, swaying
there, burning slowly, surely down the pale wax--candle flame, of
all lifeless things most living, most like a spirit, so bland and
vague, one would hardly have known it was fire at all. A drift of
wind blew it this way and that: he got up to shut the window, and
as he came back; Sylvia said:
"I like Mr. Dromore. I think he's nicer than he looks."
"He's asked me to make a statuette of his daughter on horseback."
"And will you?"
"I don't know."
"If she's really so pretty, you'd better."
"Pretty's hardly the word--but she's not ordinary."
She turned round, and looked up at him, and instinctively he felt
that something difficult to answer was coming next.
"I wanted to ask you: Are you really happy nowadays?"
"Of course. Why not?"
What else to be said? To speak of those feelings of the last few
months--those feelings so ridiculous to anyone who had them not--
would only disturb her horribly.
And having received her answer, Sylvia turned back to the fire,
resting silently against his knees. . . .
Three days later the sheep-dogs suddenly abandoned the pose into
which he had lured them with such difficulty, and made for the
studio door. There in the street was Nell Dromore, mounted on a
narrow little black horse with a white star, a white hoof, and
devilish little goat's ears, pricked, and very close together at
"Dad said I had better ride round and show you Magpie. He's not
very good at standing still. Are those your dogs? What darlings!"
She had slipped her knee already from the pummel, and slid down;
the sheep-dogs were instantly on their hind-feet, propping
themselves against her waist. Lennan held the black horse--a
bizarre little beast, all fire and whipcord, with a skin like
satin, liquid eyes, very straight hocks, and a thin bang-tail
reaching down to them. The little creature had none of those
commonplace good looks so discouraging to artists.
He had forgotten its rider, till she looked up from the dogs, and
said: "Do you like him? It IS nice of you to be going to do us."
When she had ridden away, looking back until she turned the corner,
he tried to lure the two dogs once more to their pose. But they
would sit no more, going continually to the door, listening and
sniffing; and everything felt disturbed and out of gear.
That same afternoon at Sylvia's suggestion he went with her to call
on the Dromores.
While they were being ushered in he heard a man's voice rather
high-pitched speaking in some language not his own; then the girl:
"No, no, Oliver. 'Dans l'amour il y a toujours un qui aime, et
l'autre qui se laisse aimer.'"
She was sitting in her father's chair, and on the window-sill they
saw a young man lolling, who rose and stood stock-still, with an
almost insolent expression on his broad, good-looking face. Lennan
scrutinized him with interest--about twenty-four he might be,
rather dandified, clean-shaved, with crisp dark hair and wide-set
hazel eyes, and, as in his photograph, a curious look of daring.
His voice, when he vouchsafed a greeting, was rather high and not
unpleasant, with a touch of lazy drawl.
They stayed but a few minutes, and going down those dimly lighted
stairs again, Sylvia remarked:
"How prettily she said good-bye--as if she were putting up her face
to be kissed! I think she's lovely. So does that young man. They
go well together."
Rather abruptly Lennan answered:
"Ah! I suppose they do."
She came to them often after that, sometimes alone, twice with
Johnny Dromore, sometimes with young Oliver, who, under Sylvia's
spell, soon lost his stand-off air. And the statuette was begun.
Then came Spring in earnest, and that real business of life--the
racing of horses 'on the flat,' when Johnny Dromore's genius was no
longer hampered by the illegitimate risks of 'jumpin'.' He came to
dine with them the day before the first Newmarket meeting. He had
a soft spot for Sylvia, always saying to Lennan as he went away:
"Charmin' woman--your wife!" She, too, had a soft spot for him,
having fathomed the utter helplessness of this worldling's wisdom,
and thinking him pathetic.
After he was gone that evening, she said:
"Ought we to have Nell to stay with us while you're finishing her?
She must be very lonely now her father's so much away."
It was like Sylvia to think of that; but would it be pleasure or
vexation to have in the house this child with her quaint grown-
upness, her confiding ways, and those 'Perdita' eyes? In truth he
did not know.
She came to them with touching alacrity--very like a dog, who, left
at home when the family goes for a holiday, takes at once to those
who make much of it.
And she was no trouble, too well accustomed to amuse herself; and
always quaint to watch, with her continual changes from child to
woman of the world. A new sensation, this--of a young creature in
the house. Both he and Sylvia had wanted children, without luck.
Twice illness had stood in the way. Was it, perhaps, just that
little lack in her--that lack of poignancy, which had prevented her
from becoming a mother? An only child herself, she had no nieces
or nephews; Cicely's boys had always been at school, and now were
out in the world. Yes, a new sensation, and one in which Lennan's
restless feelings seemed to merge and vanish.
Outside the hours when Nell sat to him, he purposely saw but little
of her, leaving her to nestle under Sylvia's wing; and this she
did, as if she never wanted to come out. Thus he preserved his
amusement at her quaint warmths, and quainter calmness, his
aesthetic pleasure in watching her, whose strange, half-hypnotized,
half-hypnotic gaze, had a sort of dreamy and pathetic lovingness,
as if she were brimful of affections that had no outlet.
Every morning after 'sitting' she would stay an hour bent over her
own drawing, which made practically no progress; and he would often
catch her following his movements with those great eyes of hers,
while the sheep-dogs would lie perfectly still at her feet,
blinking horribly--such was her attraction. His birds also, a
jackdaw and an owl, who had the run of the studio, tolerated her as
they tolerated no other female, save the housekeeper. The jackdaw
would perch on her and peck her dress; but the owl merely engaged
her in combats of mesmeric gazing, which never ended in victory for
Now that she was with them, Oliver Dromore began to haunt the
house, coming at all hours, on very transparent excuses. She
behaved to him with extreme capriciousness, sometimes hardly
speaking, sometimes treating him like a brother; and in spite of
all his nonchalance, the poor youth would just sit glowering, or
gazing out his adoration, according to her mood.
One of these July evenings Lennan remembered beyond all others. He
had come, after a hard day's work, out from his studio into the
courtyard garden to smoke a cigarette and feel the sun on his cheek
before it sank behind the wall. A piano-organ far away was
grinding out a waltz; and on an hydrangea tub, under the drawing-
room window, he sat down to listen. Nothing was visible from
there, save just the square patch of a quite blue sky, and one soft
plume of smoke from his own kitchen chimney; nothing audible save
that tune, and the never-ending street murmur. Twice birds flew
across--starlings. It was very peaceful, and his thoughts went
floating like the smoke of his cigarette, to meet who-knew-what
other thoughts--for thoughts, no doubt, had little swift lives of
their own; desired, found their mates, and, lightly blending, sent
forth offspring. Why not? All things were possible in this
wonder-house of a world. Even that waltz tune, floating away,
would find some melody to wed, and twine with, and produce a fresh
chord that might float in turn to catch the hum of a gnat or fly,
and breed again. Queer--how everything sought to entwine with
something else! On one of the pinkish blooms of the hydrangea he
noted a bee--of all things, in this hidden-away garden of tiles and
gravel and plants in tubs! The little furry, lonely thing was
drowsily clinging there, as if it had forgotten what it had come
for--seduced, maybe, like himself, from labour by these last rays
of the sun. Its wings, close-furled, were glistening; its eyes
seemed closed. And the piano-organ played on, a tune of yearning,
waiting, yearning. . . .
Then, through the window above his head, he heard Oliver Dromore--a
voice one could always tell, pitched high, with its slight drawl--
pleading, very softly at first, then insistent, imperious; and
suddenly Nell's answering voice:
"I won't, Oliver! I won't! I won't!"
He rose to go out of earshot. Then a door slammed, and he saw her
at the window above him, her waist on a level with his head;
flushed, with her grey eyes ominously bright, her full lips parted.
And he said:
"What is it, Nell?"
She leaned down and caught his hand; her touch was fiery hot.
"He kissed me! I won't let him--I won't kiss him!"
Through his head went a medley of sayings to soothe children that
are hurt; but he felt unsteady, unlike himself. And suddenly she
knelt, and put her hot forehead against his lips.
It was as if she had really been a little child, wanting the place
kissed to make it well.
After that strange outburst, Lennan considered long whether he
should speak to Oliver. But what could he say, from what
standpoint say it, and--with that feeling? Or should he speak to
Dromore? Not very easy to speak on such a subject to one off whose
turf all spiritual matters were so permanently warned. Nor somehow
could he bring himself to tell Sylvia; it would be like violating a
confidence to speak of the child's outburst and that quivering
moment, when she had kneeled and put her hot forehead to his lips
for comfort. Such a disclosure was for Nell herself to make, if
she so wished.
And then young Oliver solved the difficulty by coming to the studio
himself next day. He entered with 'Dromore' composure, very well
groomed, in a silk hat, a cut-away black coat and charming lemon-
coloured gloves; what, indeed, the youth did, besides belonging to
the Yeomanry and hunting all the winter, seemed known only to
himself. He made no excuse for interrupting Lennan, and for some
time sat silently smoking his cigarette, and pulling the ears of
the dogs. And Lennan worked on, waiting. There was always
something attractive to him in this young man's broad, good-looking
face, with its crisp dark hair, and half-insolent good humour, now
At last Oliver got up, and went over to the unfinished 'Girl on the
Magpie Horse.' Turning to it so that his face could not be seen,
"You and Mrs. Lennan have been awfully kind to me; I behaved rather
like a cad yesterday. I thought I'd better tell you. I want to
marry Nell, you know."
Lennan was glad that the young man's face was so religiously
averted. He let his hands come to anchor on what he was working at
before he answered: "She's only a child, Oliver;" and then,
watching his fingers making an inept movement with the clay, was
astonished at himself.
"She'll be eighteen this month," he heard Oliver say. "If she once
gets out--amongst people--I don't know what I shall do. Old
Johnny's no good to look after her."
The young man's face was very red; he was forgetting to hide it
now. Then it went white, and he said through clenched teeth: "She
sends me mad! I don't know how not to--If I don't get her, I
shall shoot myself. I shall, you know--I'm that sort. It's her
eyes. They draw you right out of yourself--and leave you--" And
from his gloved hand the smoked-out cigarette-end fell to the
floor. "They say her mother was like that. Poor old Johnny!
D'you think I've got a chance, Mr. Lennan? I don't mean now, this
minute; I know she's too young."
Lennan forced himself to answer.
"I dare say, my dear fellow, I dare say. Have you talked with my
Oliver shook his head.
"She's so good--I don't think she'd quite understand my sort of
A queer little smile came up on Lennan's lips.
"Ah, well!" he said, "you must give the child time. Perhaps when
she comes back from Ireland, after the summer."
The young man answered moodily:
"Yes. I've got the run of that, you know. And I shan't be able to
keep away." He took up his hat. "I suppose I oughtn't to have
come and bored you about this, but Nell thinks such a lot of you;
and, you being different to most people--I thought you wouldn't
mind." He turned again at the door. "It wasn't gas what I said
just now--about not getting her. Fellows say that sort of thing,
but I mean it."
He put on that shining hat and went.
And Lennan stood, staring at the statuette. So! Passion broke
down even the defences of Dromoredom. Passion! Strange hearts it
chose to bloom in!
'Being different to most people--I thought you wouldn't mind'! How
had this youth known that Sylvia would not understand passion so
out of hand as this? And what had made it clear that he (Lennan)
would? Was there, then, something in his face? There must be!
Even Johnny Dromore--most reticent of creatures--had confided to
him that one hour of his astute existence, when the wind had swept
him out to sea!
Yes! And that statuette would never be any good, try as he might.
Oliver was right--it was her eyes! How they had smoked--in their
childish anger--if eyes could be said to smoke, and how they had
drawn and pleaded when she put her face to his in her still more
childish entreaty! If they were like this now, what would they be
when the woman in her woke? Just as well not to think of her too
much! Just as well to work, and take heed that he would soon be
forty-seven! Just as well that next week she would be gone to
And the last evening before she went they took her to see "Carmen"
at the Opera. He remembered that she wore a nearly high white
frock, and a dark carnation in the ribbon tying her crinkly hair,
that still hung loose. How wonderfully entranced she sat, drunk on
that opera that he had seen a score of times; now touching his arm,
now Sylvia's, whispering questions: "Who's that?" "What's coming
now?" The Carmen roused her to adoration, but Don Jose was 'too
fat in his funny little coat,' till, in the maddened jealousy of
the last act, he rose superior. Then, quite lost in excitement,
she clutched Lennan's arm; and her gasp, when Carmen at last fell
dead, made all their neighbours jump. Her emotion was far more
moving than that on the stage; he wanted badly to stroke, and
comfort her and say: "There, there, my dear, it's only make-
believe!" And, when it was over, and the excellent murdered lady
and her poor fat little lover appeared before the curtain, finally
forgetting that she was a woman of the world, she started forward
in her seat and clapped, and clapped. Fortunate that Johnny
Dromore was not there to see! But all things coming to an end,
they had to get up and go. And, as they made their way out to the
hall, Lennan felt a hot little finger crooked into his own, as if
she simply must have something to squeeze. He really did not know
what to do with it. She seemed to feel this half-heartedness, soon
letting it go. All the way home in the cab she was silent. With
that same abstraction she ate her sandwiches and drank her
lemonade; took Sylvia's kiss, and, quite a woman of the world once
more, begged that they would not get up to see her off--for she was
to go at seven in the morning, to catch the Irish mail. Then,
holding out her hand to Lennan, she very gravely said:
"Thanks most awfully for taking me to-night. Good-bye!"
He stayed full half an hour at the window, smoking. No street lamp
shone just there, and the night was velvety black above the plane-
trees. At last, with a sigh, he shut up, and went tiptoe-ing
upstairs in darkness. Suddenly in the corridor the white wall
seemed to move at him. A warmth, a fragrance, a sound like a tiny
sigh, and something soft was squeezed into his hand. Then the wall
moved back, and he stood listening--no sound, no anything! But in
his dressing-room he looked at the soft thing in his hand. It was
the carnation from her hair. What had possessed the child to give
him that? Carmen! Ah! Carmen! And gazing at the flower, he held
it away from him with a sort of terror; but its scent arose. And
suddenly he thrust it, all fresh as it was, into a candle-flame,
and held it, burning, writhing, till it blackened to velvet. Then
his heart smote him for so cruel a deed. It was still beautiful,
but its scent was gone. And turning to the window he flung it far
out into the darkness.
Now that she was gone, it was curious how little they spoke of her,
considering how long she had been with them. And they had from her
but one letter written to Sylvia, very soon after she left, ending:
"Dad sends his best respects, please; and with my love to you and
Mr. Lennan, and all the beasts.--NELL.
"Oliver is coming here next week. We are going to some races."
It was difficult, of course, to speak of her, with that episode of
the flower, too bizarre to be told--the sort of thing Sylvia would
see out of all proportion--as, indeed, any woman might. Yet--what
had it really been, but the uncontrolled impulse of an emotional
child longing to express feelings kindled by the excitement of that
opera? What but a child's feathery warmth, one of those flying
peeps at the mystery of passion that young things take? He could
not give away that pretty foolishness. And because he would not
give it away, he was more than usually affectionate to Sylvia.
They had made no holiday plans, and he eagerly fell in with her
suggestion that they should go down to Hayle. There, if anywhere,
this curious restlessness would leave him. They had not been down
to the old place for many years; indeed, since Gordy's death it was
They left London late in August. The day was closing in when they
arrived. Honeysuckle had long been improved away from that station
paling, against which he had stood twenty-nine years ago, watching
the train carrying Anna Stormer away. In the hired fly Sylvia
pressed close to him, and held his hand beneath the ancient dust-
rug. Both felt the same excitement at seeing again this old home.
Not a single soul of the past days would be there now--only the
house and the trees, the owls and the stars; the river, park, and
logan stone! It was dark when they arrived; just their bedroom and
two sitting-rooms had been made ready, with fires burning, though
it was still high summer. The same old execrable Heatherleys
looked down from the black oak panellings. The same scent of
apples and old mice clung here and there about the dark corridors
with their unexpected stairways. It was all curiously unchanged,
as old houses are when they are let furnished.
Once in the night he woke. Through the wide-open, uncurtained
windows the night was simply alive with stars, such swarms of them
swinging and trembling up there; and, far away, rose the
melancholy, velvet-soft hooting of an owl.
Sylvia's voice, close to him, said:
"Mark, that night when your star caught in my hair? Do you
Yes, he remembered. And in his drowsy mind just roused from
dreams, there turned and turned the queer nonsensical refrain: "I
never--never--will desert Mr. Micawber. . . ."
A pleasant month that--of reading, and walking with the dogs the
country round, of lying out long hours amongst the boulders or
along the river banks, watching beasts and birds.
The little old green-house temple of his early masterpieces was
still extant, used now to protect watering pots. But no vestige of
impulse towards work came to him down there. He was marking time;
not restless, not bored, just waiting--but for what, he had no
notion. And Sylvia, at any rate, was happy, blooming in these old
haunts, losing her fairness in the sun; even taking again to a
sunbonnet, which made her look extraordinarily young. The trout
that poor old Gordy had so harried were left undisturbed. No gun
was fired; rabbits, pigeons, even the few partridges enjoyed those
first days of autumn unmolested. The bracken and leaves turned
very early, so that the park in the hazy September sunlight had an
almost golden hue. A gentle mellowness reigned over all that
holiday. And from Ireland came no further news, save one picture
postcard with the words: "This is our house.--NELL."
In the last week of September they went back to London. And at
once there began in him again that restless, unreasonable aching--
that sense of being drawn away out of himself; so that he once more
took to walking the Park for hours, over grass already strewn with
leaves, always looking--craving--and for what?
At Dromore's the confidential man did not know when his master
would be back; he had gone to Scotland with Miss Nell after the St.
Leger. Was Lennan disappointed? Not so--relieved, rather. But
his ache was there all the time, feeding on its secrecy and
loneliness, unmentionable feeling that it was. Why had he not
realized long ago that youth was over, passion done with, autumn
upon him? How never grasped the fact that 'Time steals away'?
And, as before, the only refuge was in work. The sheep--dogs and
'The Girl on the Magpie Horse' were finished. He began a fantastic
'relief'--a nymph peering from behind a rock, and a wild-eyed man
creeping, through reeds, towards her. If he could put into the
nymph's face something of this lure of Youth and Life and Love that
was dragging at him, into the man's face the state of his own
heart, it might lay that feeling to rest. Anything to get it out
of himself! And he worked furiously, laboriously, all October,
making no great progress. . . . What could he expect when Life was
all the time knocking with that muffled tapping at his door?
It was on the Tuesday, after the close of the last Newmarket
meeting, and just getting dusk, when Life opened the door and
walked in. She wore a dark-red dress, a new one, and surely her
face--her figure--were very different from what he had remembered!
They had quickened and become poignant. She was no longer a child--
that was at once plain. Cheeks, mouth, neck, waist--all seemed
fined, shaped; the crinkly, light-brown hair was coiled up now
under a velvet cap; only the great grey eyes seemed quite the same.
And at sight of her his heart gave a sort of dive and flight, as if
all its vague and wistful sensations had found their goal.
Then, in sudden agitation, he realized that his last moment with
this girl--now a child no longer--had been a secret moment of
warmth and of emotion; a moment which to her might have meant, in
her might have bred, feelings that he had no inkling of. He tried
to ignore that fighting and diving of his heart, held out his hand,
"Ah, Nell! Back at last! You've grown." Then, with a sensation
of every limb gone weak, he felt her arms round his neck, and
herself pressed against him. There was time for the thought to
flash through him: This is terrible! He gave her a little
convulsive squeeze--could a man do less?--then just managed to push
her gently away, trying with all his might to think: She's a child!
It's nothing more than after Carmen! She doesn't know what I am
feeling! But he was conscious of a mad desire to clutch her to
him. The touch of her had demolished all his vagueness, made
things only too plain, set him on fire.
He said uncertainly:
"Come to the fire, my child, and tell me all about it."
If he did not keep to the notion that she was just a child, his
head would go. Perdita--'the lost one'! A good name for her,
indeed, as she stood there, her eyes shining in the firelight--more
mesmeric than ever they had been! And, to get away from the lure
of those eyes, he bent down and raked the grate, saying:
"Have you seen Sylvia?" But he knew that she had not, even before
she gave that impatient shrug. Then he pulled himself together,
"What has happened to you, child?"
"I'm not a child."
"No, we've both grown older. I was forty-seven the other day."
She caught his hand--Heavens! how supple she was!--and murmured:
"You're not old a bit; you're quite young." At his wits' end, with
his heart thumping, but still keeping his eyes away from her, he
"Where is Oliver?"
She dropped his hand at that.
"Oliver? I hate him!"
Afraid to trust himself near her, he had begun walking up and down.
And she stood, following him with her gaze--the firelight playing
on her red frock. What extraordinary stillness! What power she
had developed in these few months! Had he let her see that he felt
that power? And had all this come of one little moment in a dark
corridor, of one flower pressed into his hand? Why had he not
spoken to her roughly then--told her she was a romantic little
fool? God knew what thoughts she had been feeding on! But who
could have supposed--who dreamed--? And again he fixed his mind
resolutely on that thought: She's a child--only a child!
"Come!" he said: "tell me all about your time in Ireland?"
"Oh! it was just dull--it's all been dull away from you."
It came out without hesitancy or shame, and he could only murmur:
"Ah! you've missed your drawing!"
"Yes. Can I come to-morrow?"
That was the moment to have said: No! You are a foolish child, and
I an elderly idiot! But he had neither courage nor clearness of
mind enough; nor--the desire. And, without answering, he went
towards the door to turn up the light.
"Oh, no! please don't! It's so nice like this!"
The shadowy room, the bluish dusk painted on all the windows, the
fitful shining of the fire, the pallor and darkness of the dim
casts and bronzes, and that one glowing figure there before the
hearth! And her voice, a little piteous, went on:
"Aren't you glad I'm back? I can't see you properly out there."
He went back into the glow, and she gave a little sigh of
satisfaction. Then her calm young voice said, ever so distinctly:
"Oliver wants me to marry him, and I won't, of course."
He dared not say: Why not? He dared not say anything. It was too
dangerous. And then followed those amazing words: "You know why,
don't you? Of course you do."
It was ridiculous, almost shameful to understand their meaning.
And he stood, staring in front of him, without a word; humility,
dismay, pride, and a sort of mad exultation, all mixed and seething
within him in the queerest pudding of emotion. But all he said
"Come, my child; we're neither of us quite ourselves to-night.
Let's go to the drawing-room."
Back in the darkness and solitude of the studio, when she was gone,
he sat down before the fire, his senses in a whirl. Why was he not
just an ordinary animal of a man that could enjoy what the gods had
sent? It was as if on a November day someone had pulled aside the
sober curtains of the sky and there in a chink had been April
standing--thick white blossom, a purple cloud, a rainbow, grass
vivid green, light flaring from one knew not where, and such a
tingling passion of life on it all as made the heart stand still!
This, then, was the marvellous, enchanting, maddening end of all
that year of restlessness and wanting! This bit of Spring suddenly
given to him in the midst of Autumn. Her lips, her eyes, her hair;
her touching confidence; above all--quite unbelievable--her love.
Not really love perhaps, just childish fancy. But on the wings of
fancy this child would fly far, too far--all wistfulness and warmth
beneath that light veneer of absurd composure.
To live again--to plunge back into youth and beauty--to feel Spring
once more--to lose the sense of all being over, save just the sober
jogtrot of domestic bliss; to know, actually to know, ecstasy
again, in the love of a girl; to rediscover all that youth yearns
for, and feels, and hopes, and dreads, and loves. It was a
prospect to turn the head even of a decent man. . . .
By just closing his eyes he could see her standing there with the
firelight glow on her red frock; could feel again that marvellous
thrill when she pressed herself against him in the half-innocent,
seducing moment when she first came in; could feel again her eyes
drawing--drawing him! She was a witch, a grey-eyed, brown-haired
witch--even unto her love of red. She had the witch's power of
lighting fever in the veins. And he simply wondered at himself,
that he had not, as she stood there in the firelight, knelt, and
put his arms round her and pressed his face against her waist. Why
had he not? But he did not want to think; the moment thought began
he knew he must be torn this way and that, tossed here and there
between reason and desire, pity and passion. Every sense struggled
to keep him wrapped in the warmth and intoxication of this
discovery that he, in the full of Autumn, had awakened love in
Spring. It was amazing that she could have this feeling; yet there
was no mistake. Her manner to Sylvia just now had been almost
dangerously changed; there had been a queer cold impatience in her
look, frightening from one who but three months ago had been so
affectionate. And, going away, she had whispered, with that old
trembling-up at him, as if offering to be kissed: "I may come,
mayn't I? And don't be angry with me, please; I can't help it." A
monstrous thing at his age to let a young girl love him--compromise
her future! A monstrous thing by all the canons of virtue and
gentility! And yet--what future?--with that nature--those eyes--
that origin--with that father, and that home? But he would not--
simply must not think!
Nevertheless, he showed the signs of thought, and badly; for after
dinner Sylvia, putting her hand on his forehead, said:
"You're working too hard, Mark. You don't go out enough."
He held those fingers fast. Sylvia! No, indeed he must not think!
But he took advantage of her words, and said that he would go out
and get some air.
He walked at a great pace--to keep thought away--till he reached
the river close to Westminster, and, moved by sudden impulse,
seeking perhaps an antidote, turned down into that little street
under the big Wren church, where he had never been since the summer
night when he lost what was then more to him than life. There SHE
had lived; there was the house--those windows which he had stolen
past and gazed at with such distress and longing. Who lived there
now? Once more he seemed to see that face out of the past, the
dark hair, and dark soft eyes, and sweet gravity; and it did not
reproach him. For this new feeling was not a love like that had
been. Only once could a man feel the love that passed all things,
the love before which the world was but a spark in a draught of
wind; the love that, whatever dishonour, grief, and unrest it might
come through, alone had in it the heart of peace and joy and
honour. Fate had torn that love from him, nipped it off as a sharp
wind nips off a perfect flower. This new feeling was but a fever,
a passionate fancy, a grasping once more at Youth and Warmth. Ah,
well! but it was real enough! And, in one of those moments when a
man stands outside himself, seems to be lifted away and see his own
life twirling, Lennan had a vision of a shadow driven here and
there; a straw going round and round; a midge in the grip of a mad
wind. Where was the home of this mighty secret feeling that sprang
so suddenly out of the dark, and caught you by the throat? Why did
it come now and not then, for this one and not that other? What
did man know of it, save that it made him spin and hover--like a
moth intoxicated by a light, or a bee by some dark sweet flower;
save that it made of him a distraught, humble, eager puppet of its
fancy? Had it not once already driven him even to the edge of
death; and must it now come on him again with its sweet madness,
its drugging scent? What was it? Why was it? Why these
passionate obsessions that could not decently be satisfied? Had
civilization so outstripped man that his nature was cramped into
shoes too small--like the feet of a Chinese woman? What was it?
Why was it?
And faster than ever he walked away.
Pall Mall brought him back to that counterfeit presentment of the
real--reality. There, in St. James's Street, was Johnny Dromore's
Club; and, again moved by impulse, he pushed open its swing door.
No need to ask; for there was Dromore in the hall, on his way from
dinner to the card-room. The glossy tan of hard exercise and good
living lay on his cheeks as thick as clouted cream. His eyes had
the peculiar shine of superabundant vigour; a certain sub-festive
air in face and voice and movements suggested that he was going to
make a night of it. And the sardonic thought flashed through
Lennan: Shall I tell him?
"Hallo, old chap! Awfully glad to see you! What you doin' with
yourself? Workin' hard? How's your wife? You been away? Been
doin' anything great?" And then the question that would have given
him his chance, if he had liked to be so cruel:
"Yes, she came round this afternoon."
"What d'you think of her? Comin' on nicely, isn't she?"
That old query, half furtive and half proud, as much as to say: 'I
know she's not in the stud-book, but, d--n it, I sired her!' And
then the old sudden gloom, which lasted but a second, and gave way
again to chaff.
Lennan stayed very few minutes. Never had he felt farther from his
No. Whatever happened, Johnny Dromore must be left out. It was a
position he had earned with his goggling eyes, and his astute
philosophy; from it he should not be disturbed.
He passed along the railings of the Green Park. On the cold air of
this last October night a thin haze hung, and the acrid fragrance
from little bonfires of fallen leaves. What was there about that
scent of burned-leaf smoke that had always moved him so? Symbol of
parting!--that most mournful thing in all the world. For what
would even death be, but for parting? Sweet, long sleep, or new
adventure. But, if a man loved others--to leave them, or be left!
Ah! and it was not death only that brought partings!
He came to the opening of the street where Dromore lived. She
would be there, sitting by the fire in the big chair, playing with
her kitten, thinking, dreaming, and--alone! He passed on at such a
pace that people stared; till, turning the last corner for home, he
ran almost into the arms of Oliver Dromore.
The young man was walking with unaccustomed indecision, his fur
coat open, his opera-hat pushed up on his crisp hair. Dark under
the eyes, he had not the proper gloss of a Dromore at this season
of the year.
"Mr. Lennan! I've just been round to you."
And Lennan answered dazedly:
"Will you come in, or shall I walk your way a bit?"
"I'd rather--out here, if you don't mind."
So in silence they went back into the Square. And Oliver said:
"Let's get over by the rails."
They crossed to the railings of the Square's dark garden, where
nobody was passing. And with every step Lennan's humiliation grew.
There was something false and undignified in walking with this
young man who had once treated him as a father confessor to his
love for Nell. And suddenly he perceived that they had made a
complete circuit of the Square garden without speaking a single
"Yes?" he said.
Oliver turned his face away.
"You remember what I told you in the summer. Well, it's worse now.
I've been going a mucker lately in all sorts of ways to try and get
rid of it. But it's all no good. She's got me!"
And Lennan thought: You're not alone in that! But he kept silence.
His chief dread was of saying something that he would remember
afterwards as the words of Judas.
Then Oliver suddenly burst out:
"Why can't she care? I suppose I'm nothing much, but she's known
me all her life, and she used to like me. There's something--I
can't make out. Could you do anything for me with her?"
Lennan pointed across the street.
"In every other one of those houses, Oliver," he said, "there's
probably some creature who can't make out why another creature
doesn't care. Passion comes when it will, goes when it will; and
we poor devils have no say in it."
"What do you advise me, then?"
Lennan had an almost overwhelming impulse to turn on his heel and
leave the young man standing there. But he forced himself to look
at his face, which even then had its attraction--perhaps more so
than ever, so pallid and desperate it was. And he said slowly,
staring mentally at every word:
"I'm not up to giving you advice. The only thing I might say is:
One does not press oneself where one isn't wanted; all the same--
who knows? So long as she feels you're there, waiting, she might
turn to you at any moment. The more chivalrous you are, Oliver,
the more patiently you wait, the better chance you have."
Oliver took those words of little comfort without flinching. "I
see," he said. "Thanks! But, my God! it's hard. I never could
wait." And with that epigram on himself, holding out his hand, he
Lennan went slowly home, trying to gauge exactly how anyone who
knew all would judge him. It was a little difficult in this affair
to keep a shred of dignity.
Sylvia had not gone up, and he saw her looking at him anxiously.
The one strange comfort in all this was that his feeling for her,
at any rate, had not changed. It seemed even to have deepened--to
be more real to him.
How could he help staying awake that night? How could he help
thinking, then? And long time he lay, staring at the dark.
As if thinking were any good for fever in the veins!
Passion never plays the game. It, at all events, is free from
self-consciousness, and pride; from dignity, nerves, scruples,
cant, moralities; from hypocrisies, and wisdom, and fears for
pocket, and position in this world and the next. Well did the old
painters limn it as an arrow or a wind! If it had not been as
swift and darting, Earth must long ago have drifted through space
untenanted--to let. . . .
After that fevered night Lennan went to his studio at the usual
hour and naturally did not do a stroke of work. He was even
obliged to send away his model. The fellow had been his
hairdresser, but, getting ill, and falling on dark days, one
morning had come to the studio, to ask with manifest shame if his
head were any good. After having tested his capacity for standing
still, and giving him some introductions, Lennan had noted him
down: "Five feet nine, good hair, lean face, something tortured and
pathetic. Give him a turn if possible." The turn had come, and
the poor man was posing in a painful attitude, talking, whenever
permitted, of the way things had treated him, and the delights of
cutting hair. This morning he took his departure with the simple
pleasure of one fully paid for services not rendered.
And so, walking up and down, up and down, the sculptor waited for
Nell's knock. What would happen now? Thinking had made nothing
clear. Here was offered what every warm-blooded man whose Spring
is past desires--youth and beauty, and in that youth a renewal of
his own; what all men save hypocrites and Englishmen would even
admit that they desired. And it was offered to one who had neither
religious nor moral scruples, as they are commonly understood. In
theory he could accept. In practice he did not as yet know what he
could do. One thing only he had discovered during the night's
reflections: That those who scouted belief in the principle of
Liberty made no greater mistake than to suppose that Liberty was
dangerous because it made a man a libertine. To those with any
decency, the creed of Freedom was--of all--the most enchaining.
Easy enough to break chains imposed by others, fling his cap over
the windmill, and cry for the moment at least: I am unfettered,
free! Hard, indeed, to say the same to his own unfettered Self!
Yes, his own Self was in the judgment-seat; by his own verdict and
decision he must abide. And though he ached for the sight of her,
and his will seemed paralyzed--many times already he had thought:
It won't do! God help me!
Then twelve o'clock had come, and she had not. Would 'The Girl on
the Magpie Horse' be all he would see of her to-day--that
unsatisfying work, so cold, and devoid of witchery? Better have
tried to paint her--with a red flower in her hair, a pout on her
lips, and her eyes fey, or languorous. Goya could have painted
And then, just as he had given her up, she came.
After taking one look at his face, she slipped in ever so quietly,
like a very good child. . . . Marvellous the instinct and finesse
of the young when they are women! . . . Not a vestige in her of
yesterday's seductive power; not a sign that there had been a
yesterday at all--just confiding, like a daughter. Sitting there,
telling him about Ireland, showing him the little batch of drawings
she had done while she was away. Had she brought them because she
knew they would make him feel sorry for her? What could have been
less dangerous, more appealing to the protective and paternal side
of him than she was that morning; as if she only wanted what her
father and her home could not give her--only wanted to be a sort of
daughter to him!
She went away demurely, as she had come, refusing to stay to lunch,
manifestly avoiding Sylvia. Only then he realized that she must
have taken alarm from the look of strain on his face, been afraid
that he would send her away; only then perceived that, with her
appeal to his protection, she had been binding him closer, making
it harder for him to break away and hurt her. And the fevered
aching began again--worse than ever--the moment he lost sight of
her. And more than ever he felt in the grip of something beyond
his power to fight against; something that, however he swerved, and
backed, and broke away, would close in on him, find means to bind
him again hand and foot.
In the afternoon Dromore's confidential man brought him a note.
The fellow, with his cast-down eyes, and his well-parted hair,
seemed to Lennan to be saying: "Yes, sir--it is quite natural that
you should take the note out of eyeshot, sir--BUT I KNOW;
fortunately, there is no necessity for alarm--I am strictly
And this was what the note contained:
"You promised to ride with me once--you DID promise, and you never
have. Do please ride with me to-morrow; then you will get what you
want for the statuette instead of being so cross with it. You can
have Dad's horse--he has gone to Newmarket again, and I'm so
lonely. Please--to-morrow, at half-past two--starting from here.
To hesitate in view of those confidential eyes was not possible; it
must be 'Yes' or 'No'; and if 'No,' it would only mean that she
would come in the morning instead. So he said:
"Just say 'All right!'"
"Very good, sir." Then from the door: "Mr. Dromore will be away
till Saturday, sir."
Now, why had the fellow said that? Curious how this desperate
secret feeling of his own made him see sinister meaning in this
servant, in Oliver's visit of last night--in everything. It was
vile--this suspiciousness! He could feel, almost see, himself
deteriorating already, with this furtive feeling in his soul. It
would soon be written on his face! But what was the use of
troubling? What would come, would--one way or the other.
And suddenly he remembered with a shock that it was the first of
November--Sylvia's birthday! He had never before forgotten it. In
the disturbance of that discovery he was very near to going and
pouring out to her the whole story of his feelings. A charming
birthday present, that would make! Taking his hat, instead, he
dashed round to the nearest flower shop. A Frenchwoman kept it.
What had she?
What did Monsieur desire? "Des oeillets rouges? J'en ai de bien
beaux ce soir."
No--not those. White flowers!
"Une belle azalee?"
Yes, that would do--to be sent at once--at once!
Next door was a jeweller's. He had never really known if Sylvia
cared for jewels, since one day he happened to remark that they
were vulgar. And feeling that he had fallen low indeed, to be
trying to atone with some miserable gewgaw for never having thought
of her all day, because he had been thinking of another, he went in
and bought the only ornament whose ingredients did not make his
gorge rise, two small pear-shaped black pearls, one at each end of
a fine platinum chain. Coming out with it, he noticed over the
street, in a clear sky fast deepening to indigo, the thinnest slip
of a new moon, like a bright swallow, with wings bent back, flying
towards the ground. That meant--fine weather! If it could only be
fine weather in his heart! And in order that the azalea might
arrive first, he walked up and down the Square which he and Oliver
had patrolled the night before.
When he went in, Sylvia was just placing the white azalea in the
window of the drawing-room; and stealing up behind her he clasped
the little necklet round her throat. She turned round and clung to
him. He could feel that she was greatly moved. And remorse
stirred and stirred in him that he was betraying her with his kiss.
But, even while he kissed her, he was hardening his heart.
Next day, still following the lead of her words about fresh air and
his tired look, he told her that he was going to ride, and did not
say with whom. After applauding his resolution, she was silent for
a little--then asked:
"Why don't you ride with Nell?"
He had already so lost his dignity, that he hardly felt disgraced
"It might bore her!"
"Oh, no; it wouldn't bore her."
Had she meant anything by that? And feeling as if he were fencing
with his own soul, he said:
"Very well, I will."
He had perceived suddenly that he did not know his wife, having
always till now believed that it was she who did not quite know
If she had not been out at lunch-time, he would have lunched out
himself--afraid of his own face. For feverishness in sick persons
mounts steadily with the approach of a certain hour. And surely
his face, to anyone who could have seen him being conveyed to
Piccadilly, would have suggested a fevered invalid rather than a
healthy, middle-aged sculptor in a cab.
The horses were before the door--the little magpie horse, and a
thoroughbred bay mare, weeded from Dromore's racing stable. Nell,
too, was standing ready, her cheeks very pink, and her eyes very
bright. She did not wait for him to mount her, but took the aid of
the confidential man. What was it that made her look so perfect on
that little horse--shape of limb, or something soft and fiery in
her spirit that the little creature knew of?
They started in silence, but as soon as the sound of hoofs died on
the tan of Rotten Row, she turned to him.
"It was lovely of you to come! I thought you'd be afraid--you ARE
afraid of me."
And Lennan thought: You're right!
"But please don't look like yesterday. To-day's too heavenly. Oh!
I love beautiful days, and I love riding, and--" She broke off and
looked at him. 'Why can't you just be nice to me'--she seemed to
be saying--'and love me as you ought!' That was her power--the
conviction that he did, and ought to love her; that she ought to
and did love him. How simple!
But riding, too, is a simple passion; and simple passions distract
each other. It was a treat to be on that bay mare. Who so to be
trusted to ride the best as Johnny Dromore?
At the far end of the Row she cried out: "Let's go on to Richmond
now," and trotted off into the road, as if she knew she could do
with him what she wished. And, following meekly, he asked himself:
Why? What was there in her to make up to him for all that he was
losing--his power of work, his dignity, his self-respect? What was
there? Just those eyes, and lips, and hair?
And as if she knew what he was thinking, she looked round and
So they jogged on over the Bridge and across Barnes Common into
But the moment they touched turf, with one look back at him, she
was off. Had she all the time meant to give him this breakneck
chase--or had the loveliness of that Autumn day gone to her head--
blue sky and coppery flames of bracken in the sun, and the beech
leaves and the oak leaves; pure Highland colouring come South for
When in the first burst he had tested the mare's wind, this chase
of her, indeed, was sheer delight. Through glades, over fallen
tree-trunks, in bracken up to the hocks, out across the open, past
a herd of amazed and solemn deer, over rotten ground all rabbit-
burrows, till just as he thought he was up to her, she slipped away
by a quick turn round trees. Mischief incarnate, but something
deeper than mischief, too! He came up with her at last, and leaned
over to seize her rein. With a cut of her whip that missed his
hand by a bare inch, and a wrench, she made him shoot past, wheeled
in her tracks, and was off again like an arrow, back amongst the
trees--lying right forward under the boughs, along the neck of her
little horse. Then out from amongst the trees she shot downhill.
Right down she went, full tilt, and after her went Lennan, lying
back, and expecting the bay mare to come down at every stride.
This was her idea of fun! She switched round at the bottom and
went galloping along the foot of the hill; and he thought: Now I've
got her! She could not break back up that hill, and there was no
other cover for fully half a mile.
Then he saw, not thirty yards in front, an old sandpit; and Great
God! she was going straight at it! And shouting frantically, he
reined his mare outwards. But she only raised her whip, cut the
magpie horse over the flank, and rode right on. He saw that little
demon gather its feet and spring--down, down, saw him pitch,
struggle, sink--and she, flung forward, roll over and lie on her
back. He felt nothing at the moment, only had that fixed vision of
a yellow patch of sand, the blue sky, a rook flying, and her face
upturned. But when he came on her she was on her feet, holding the
bridle of her dazed horse. No sooner did he touch her, than she
sank down. Her eyes were closed, but he could feel that she had
not fainted; and he just held her, and kept pressing his lips to
her eyes and forehead. Suddenly she let her head fall back, and
her lips met his. Then opening her eyes, she said: "I'm not hurt,
only--funny. Has Magpie cut his knees?"
Not quite knowing what he did, he got up to look. The little horse
was cropping at some grass, unharmed--the sand and fern had saved
his knees. And the languid voice behind him said: "It's all right--
you can leave the horses. They'll come when I call."
Now that he knew she was unhurt, he felt angry. Why had she
behaved in this mad way--given him this fearful shock? But in that
same languid voice she went on: "Don't be cross with me. I thought
at first I'd pull up, but then I thought: 'If I jump he can't help
being nice'--so I did--Don't leave off loving me because I'm not
Terribly moved, he sat down beside her, took her hands in his, and
"Nell! Nell! it's all wrong--it's madness!"
"Why? Don't think about it! I don't want you to think--only to
"My child, you don't know what love is!"
For answer she only flung her arms round his neck; then, since he
held back from kissing her, let them fall again, and jumped up.
"Very well. But I love you. You can think of THAT--you can't
prevent me!" And without waiting for help, she mounted the magpie
horse from the sand-heap where they had fallen.
Very sober that ride home! The horses, as if ashamed of their mad
chase, were edging close to each other, so that now and then his
arm would touch her shoulder. He asked her once what she had felt
while she was jumping.
"Only to be sure my foot was free. It was rather horrid coming
down, thinking of Magpie's knees;" and touching the little horse's
goat-like ears, she added softly: "Poor dear! He'll be stiff to-
She was again only the confiding, rather drowsy, child. Or was it