Part 3 out of 7
in his power to secure his guest's material comfort; but there, in his
opinion, immediate obligation ceased. In thus remaining standing he had a
quaint sense of safeguarding the sanctities of the place. The man's tone
was curiously offensive. Involuntarily Mr. Iglesias' back stiffened a
"I took these rooms unfurnished," he said. And then added: "May I ask
what your business with me may be?"
Smyth had recourse to his tumbler again. His hand shook so that his teeth
chattered against the edge of the glass.
"I am a fool," he said sullenly. "But my nerves are all to pieces. I
cannot control myself. I have come here to ask a favour of you, and yet
some devil prompts me to insult you. I hate you because I am driven to
make use of you. And this room, in its sober luxury, emphasises the
indignity of the position, offering as it does so glaring a contrast to
my own quarters--here under the same roof, only one flight of stairs
above--that I can hardly endure it. Life is hideously unjust. For what
have you done--you, a mere Canaanite, hewer of wood and drawer of water
to some grossly Philistine firm of city bankers--to deserve this immunity
from anxiety and distress; while I, with my superior culture, my ambition
and talents, am condemned to that beastly squeaking wire-wove mattress
upstairs, and a job-lot of furniture which some previous German waiter
has ejected in disgust from his bedroom in the basement? But there--I beg
your pardon. I ought to be accustomed to injustice. I have served a long
enough apprenticeship to it. Only--partly, thanks to you, I own that--I
have seemed to see the dawning of hope again--hope of success, hope of
recognition, hope of revenge; and just on that account it becomes
intolerable to run one's head against this paralysing, stultifying dead
wall of poverty and debt."--He bowed himself together, and his voice
broke.--"I owe Mrs. Porcher money for my miserable bedsitting-room and my
board, and I am so horribly afraid she will turn me out. The place is
detestable; unworthy of me--of course it is--but I am accustomed to it.
And I am not myself. I am terrified at the prospect of any change. In
short, I am worn out. And they see that, those beasts of editors. The
_Evening Dally Bulletin_ has given me my _conge_. I have lost the last of
my hack-work. It was miserable work, wholly beneath a man of my capacity;
still it brought me in a pittance. Now it is gone. Practically I am a
pauper, and I owe money in this house."
"I am sorry, very sorry," Iglesias said. "You should have spoken sooner.
I could not force myself into your confidence; but, believe me, I have
not been unmindful of my engagement. I have merely waited for you to
His manner was gentle, yet he remained standing, still possessed by an
instinct to thus safeguard the sanctities of the place. He paused, giving
the other man time to recover a measure of composure: then he asked
kindly, anxious to conduct the conversation into a happier channel:
"Meanwhile, how is the play advancing? Well, I hope--so that you find
solace and satisfaction in the prosecution of it."
Smyth moved uneasily, looking up furtively at his questioner.
"Oh! it is grand," he said, "unquestionable it is grand. You need have no
anxiety under that head. Pray understand that anything that you may do
for me in the interim, before the play is produced, is simply an
investment. You need not be in the least alarmed. You will see all your
money back--see it doubled, certainly doubled, probably trebled."
"I was not thinking of investments," Iglesias put in quietly.
"But I am," Smyth asserted. "Naturally I am. You do not suppose that I
should accept, still less ask, you help, unless I was certain that in the
end I should prove to be conferring, rather than incurring, a favour? You
humiliate me by assuming this attitude of disinterested generosity. Let
me warn you it does not ring true. Moreover, in assuming it you do not
treat me as an equal; and that I resent. It is mean to take advantage of
my sorrows and my poverty, and exalt yourself thus at my expense. Of
course I understand your point of view. From your associations and
occupations you must inevitably worship the god of wealth. One cannot
expect anything else from a business man. You gauge every one's
intellectual capacity by his power of making money. Well, wait then--
just wait; and when that play appears, see if I do not compel you to rate
my intellectual capacity very highly. For there are thousands in that
play, I tell you--tens of thousands. It is only in the interim that I am
reduced to this detestable position of dependence. I know the worth of my
But Iglesias' patience was beginning to wear rather thin. He interposed
calmly, yet with authority.
"Pardon me," he said, "but it is irrelevant to discuss my attitude of
mind or my past occupations. It will be more agreeable for us, both now
and in the future, to treat any matters that arise between us as
impersonally as possible. Therefore, I will ask you to tell me, simply
and clearly, how much you require to clear you from immediate difficulty;
and I will tell you, in return, whether I am in a position to meet your
wishes or not."
For a moment Smyth sat silent, his hands working nervously along the arms
of the chair.
"You understand it is merely a temporary accommodation?"
"Yes," Iglesias answered. "I understand. And consequently it is
superfluous to indulge in further discussion."
"You want to get rid of me," Smyth snarled. "Everyone wants to get rid of
me; I am unwelcome. The poor and unsuccessful always are so, I suppose.
But some day the tables will be turned--if I can only last."
And Dominic Iglesias found himself called upon to rally all his humanity,
all his faith in merciful dealing and the reward which goes along with
it. For it was hard to give, hard to befriend, so thankless and
ungracious a being. Yet, having put his hand to the plough, he refused to
look back. He had inherited a strain of fanaticism which took the form of
unswerving loyalty to his own word once given. So he spoke gravely and
kindly, as one speaks to the sick who are beyond the obligation of
showing courtesy for very suffering. And truly, as he reminded himself,
this man was grievously sick; not only physically from insufficient food,
but morally from disappointment and that most fruitful source of disease,
inordinate and unsatisfied vanity.
"I do not wish to get rid of you; I merely wish to take the shortest and
simplest way to relieve you of your more pressing anxieties, and so
enable you to give yourself unreservedly to your work. Want may be a
wholesome spur to effort at times; but it is difficult to suppose any
really sane and well-proportioned work of art can be produced without a
sense of security and of leisure."
"How do you come to know that? It is not your province," Smyth said
Mr. Iglesias permitted himself to smile and raise his shoulders slightly.
"I come of a race which, in the past, has given evidence of no small
literary and artistic ability. The experience of former generations
affects the thought of their descendants, I imagine, and illuminates it,
even when these are not gifted individually with any executive talent."
For some minutes Smyth sat staring moodily in front of him. At last he
rose slowly from his chair.
"I am an ass," he said, "a jealous, suspicious, ungrateful ass. It is
more than ever hateful to me to ask a favour of you, just because you are
forbearing and generous. I wish to goodness I could do without you help;
but I can't. So let me have twenty-five pounds. Less would not be of use
to me. I should only have to draw on you again, and I do not care to do
that. Look here, can I have it in notes?"
"Yes," said Mr. Iglesias.
"I prefer it so. There might have been difficulties in cashing a cheque.
Moreover, it is unpleasant to me that your name, that any name, should
appear. It is only fair to save my self-respect as far as you can."
Then, as Dominic put the notes into his hand, he added, and his voice was
aggressive again and quarrelsome in tone: "I don't apologise. I don't
explain. I do not even thank you. Why should I, since I simply take it as
a temporary accommodation until my play is finished--my great play, which
is going--I swear before God it is going--not only to cancel this paltry
debt, but a far more important one, the debt I owe to my own genius, and
justify me once and forever in the eyes of the whole English-speaking
With that he shambled out of the room, letting the handle of the door
slip so that it banged noisily behind him.
For a while Dominic Iglesias remained standing before the fireplace. He
was sad at heart. He had given generously, lavishly, out of proportion,
as most persons reckon charitable givings, to his means. But, though the
act was in itself good, he was sensible of no responsive warmth, no glow
of satisfaction. The transaction left him cold; left him, indeed, a prey
to disgust. Not only were the man's faults evident, but they were of so
unpleasant a nature as to neutralise all gladness in relieving his
distress. Mechanically Iglesias straightened the chair which his guest
had so lately occupied, put away tumbler and spirit decanter, pulled up
the blind and opened one of the tall narrow windows, set the door giving
access to his bed-chamber wide, and opened a window there, too, so
creating a draught right through the apartment from end to end. He
desired to clean it both of a physical and a moral atmosphere which were
displeasing to him. And, in so doing, he let in, not only the roar of
London, borne in a fierce crescendo on the breath of the wind, but a
strange multitudinous rustling from the sombre foliage and stiff branches
of the lonely cedar tree. Two limbs, crossing, sawed upon one another as
the wind took them, uttering at intervals a long-drawn complaint--not
weakly, but rather with virility, as of a strong man chained and groaning
against his fetters.
The sound affected Dominic Iglesias deeply, begetting in him an almost
hopeless sense of isolation. The vapid talk at dinner, poor little Mrs.
Porcher's misplaced advances--the fact of which it appeared to him
equally idle to deny and fatuous to admit--the dreary scene with his
unhappy fellow-lodger, the good deed done which just now appeared
fruitless--all these contributed to make the complaint of the exiled
cedar's tormented branches an echo of the complaint of his own heart. For
a long while he listened to these voices of the night, the great city,
the great tree, the wind and the wet; and listening, by degrees he
rallied his patience in that he humbled himself.
"After all, I have been little else but self-seeking," he said, half
aloud. "For I gave not to the man, but to myself. I clutched at a
personal reward, if not of spoken gratitude yet of subjective content. It
has not come. I suppose I did not deserve it."
And then, somehow, his thoughts turned to that other human creature who,
though in a very different fashion to de Courcy Smyth the unsavoury, had
claimed his help. He thought not of her over-red lips, but of her wise
eyes; not of her irrepressible effervescence and patter, but of her
serious moments and of the honesty and courage which at such moments
appeared to animate her. About a fortnight ago he had called at the
little flower-bedecked house on the confines of Barnes Common, but had
obtained no response to his ringing. He supposed she was engaged, or
possibly away. With a certain proud modesty he had abstained from
renewing his visit. But now, listening to the roar of London and the
complaint of the cedar tree, he turned to the thought of her as to
something of promise, of possible comfort, of equal friendship, in which
there should be not only help given, but help received.
Dominic Iglesias stood on Hammersmith Bridge looking upstream. The
temperature was low for the time of year, the sky packed with heavy-
bosomed indigo-grey clouds in the south and west, whence came a gusty
wind chill with impending rain. The light was diffused and cold, all
objects having a certain bareness of effect, deficient in shadow. The
weather had broken in the storm of the preceding night; and, though it
was but early September, summer was gone, autumn and the melancholy of
it already present--witness the elms in Chiswick Mall splotched with
raw umber and faded yellow. The tide had still about an hour to flow.
The river was dull and leaden, save where, near Chiswick Eyot, the
wind meeting the tide lashed the surface of it into mimic waves, the
crests of which, flung upward, showed against the gloomy stretch of
water beyond, like pale hands raised heavenward in despairing protest.
Steam-tugs, taking advantage of the tide, laboured up-stream in the
teeth of the wind, towing processions of dark floats and barges. Long
banners of smoke, ragged and fleeting, swept wildly away from the
mouths of the tall chimneys of Thorneycroft's Works, which rose black
into the low, wet sky. The roadway of the huge suspension bridge
quivered under the grind of the ceaseless traffic, while the wind
cried in the massive pea-green painted iron-gearing above. There was a
sense of hardly restrained tumult, of conflict between nature and the
multiple machinery of modern civilisation, the two in opposition,
alike victims of an angry mood. And Iglesias stood watching that
conflict among the crowd of children, and loafers, and decrepit, who
to-day--as every day--thronged the foot-way of the bridge.
Poppy St. John stood on the foot-way, too. She had crossed from the
southern side. But, though by no means insensible to the spirit or the
details of the scene around her, she was less engaged in watching the
drama of the stormy afternoon than in watching Dominic Iglesias--as
yet unconscious of her presence. His tall, spare, shapely figure,
grave, clean-shaven face, and calm, self-recollected manner--which
removed him so singularly from the purposeless neutral-tinted human
beings close about him--delighted her artistic sense.
"If one had caught him young," she said to herself, "if one had only
caught him young, heavenly powers, what a time one might have had, and
yet stayed good--oh! very quite good indeed!"
Then she made her way between much undeveloped and derelict humanity.
"Look at me, dear man," she said, "look at me--really I am worth it. I
got home late last night and I was possessed by a great longing to see
you.--Excuse my shouting, but things in general are making such an
infernal clatter.--I was determined to see you. I set my whole mind to
making you come. And I felt so sure you must come that this afternoon
I have journeyed thus far to meet you. And here you are, and here I
Poppy stood before him bracing her back against the hand-rail of the
"Tell me, are you glad?" she said.
And Dominic Iglesias, surprised, yet finding the incident curiously
natural, answered simply:
"Yes, I am, very glad."
"That's all right," she rejoined; "because, after all, coming was a
pretty lively act of faith on my part. I have superstitious turns at
times; and the weather, and things that had happened, had made me feel
pretty cheap somehow. I don't mind telling you as you are here that if
you'd failed me there would have been the devil to pay. I should have
been awfully cut up."
Iglesias still smiled upon her. Poppy presented herself under a new
aspect to-day, and that aspect found favour in his sight. She was no
longer the Lady of the Windswept Dust, arrayed in fantastic flowery
hat and trailing skirts, but was clothed in trim black workman-like
garments, which revealed the delicate contours of her figure and gave
her an unexpected air of distinction. Yet, though charmed, the caution
of pride--which, in his case, was also the caution of modesty--made
him a trifle shy in addressing her. He paused before speaking, and
then said, with a certain hesitancy:
"I fancy my attitude of mind last night was the complement of your
own. I, too, had fallen on rather evil days. I wanted to see you. I
came out this afternoon to find you. If I had failed to do so, it
would have gone a little hard with me, too, I think."
Poppy looked at him questioningly, intently, for a minute, her teeth
set. Then she whirled round, leaned her elbows on the hand-rail,
pulled her handkerchief out of the breast pocket of her smartly
fitting coat and dabbed her eyes with it, finely indifferent to
possible comment or observation.
Iglesias remained immediately behind her, but a little to the right,
so as to save her from being jostled by the passers-by. He had a sense
of being only the more alone with her because of the traffic and the
crowd; a sense, moreover, of dependence on her part and protection on
his; a sense, in a way, of her belonging to him and he to her. And
this was very sweet to him, solemnly sweet, as are all things of
beauty and moment holding in them the promise of enduring result. Old
Age ceased to threaten and Loneliness to haunt. Over Iglesias' soul
passed a wave of thankful content.
Suddenly Poppy straightened herself up and faced him. Her lips
laughed, but her eyes were wet.
"I'll play fair," she said; "by the honour of the mother that bore
you, I'll play fair."
Then she laid her hand on his arm and pointed London-wards.
"Now, come along, dear man, for I have got to pull myself together
somehow. Let us walk. Take me somewhere I've never been before,
somewhere quiet--only let us walk."
Therefore, desiring to meet her wishes, a little way up the broad
straggling street Dominic Iglesias turned off to the left into the
narrow old-world lanes and alleys which lie between the river frontage
and King Street West. The district is a singular one, suggestive of
some sleepy little dead-alive seaport town rather than of London.
Quaint water-ways, crossed by foot-bridges, burrow in between small
low cottages and warehouses. Some of these have overhanging upper
stories to them, are half-timbered or yellow-washed. Some are built
wholly of wood. There is an all-pervading odour of tar and hempen
rope. Small industries abound, though without any self-advertisement
of plate-glass shop fronts. Chimney-sweeps and cobblers give notice of
their presence by swinging signs. Newsvendors make irruption of
flaring boards upon the pavement. Little ground-floor windows exhibit
attenuated stores of tinware, string, and sweets. Modest tobacconists
mount the image of a black boy scantily clothed or of a Highlander in
the fullest of tartans above their doors. Cats prowl along walls and
sparrows rise in flights from off the ill-paved roadways. But of human
occupants there appear to be but few, and those with an unusual stamp
of individuality upon them; figures a trifle strange and obsolete--as
of persons by choice hidden away, voluntarily self-removed from the
levelling rush and grind of the monster city. The small heavy-browed
houses are very secretive, seeming to shelter fallen fortunes, obscure
and furtive sins, sorrows which resist alleviation and inquiry. Seen,
as to-day, under the low-hanging sky big with rain, in the diffused
afternoon light, the place and its inhabitants conveyed an impression
low-toned, yet distinct, finished in detail, rich though mournful in
effect as some eighteenth-century Dutch picture. A linnet twittered,
flitting from perch to perch of its cage at an open window. A boy,
clad in an old mouse-brown corduroy coat, passed slowly, crying "Sweet
lavender" shrilly yet in a plaintive cadence. Occasionally the siren
of a steam-tug tore the air with a long-drawn wavering scream.
Otherwise all was very silent.
And, as they threaded their way through the maze of crooked streets,
Dominic Iglesias and Poppy St. John were silent also; but with the
silence of intimacy and good faith, rather than with that of
embarrassment or indifference. Each was very fully aware of the
presence of the other. So fully aware, indeed, that, for the moment,
speech seemed superfluous as a vehicle for interchange of thought.
Then, as they emerged on to the open gravelled space of the Upper Mall
with its low red-brick wall and stately elm trees, Poppy held out her
hand to Mr. Iglesias.
"You are beautifully clever," she said. "You give me just what I
wanted. I'm as steady as old Time now. But what a queer rabbit-warren
of a place it is! How did you find your way?"
"I came here often, in the past," he said, "at a time when I was
suffering grave anxiety. I could not leave home, after my office work
was over, for more than an hour together. And in the dusk or at night,
with its twinkling and evasive lights, the place used to please me,
leading as it does to the river bank, the mystery of the ebbing and
flowing tide, the ceaseless effort seaward of the stream, and those
low-lying spaces on the Surrey side. It was the nearest bit of nature,
unharnessed, irresponsible nature, which I could get to; and it
symbolised emancipation from monotonous labour and everlasting bricks
and mortar. I could watch the dying of the sunset, and the outcoming
of the stars, the tossing of the pale willows--there on the eyot--in
the windy dusk, undisturbed. And so I have come to entertain a great
fondness for it, since it tranquillised me and helped me to see life
calmly and to bring myself in line with fact, to endure and to
While he spoke Poppy's hand continued to rest passively in his.
"You are a poet," she said, "and you are very good."
Dominic Iglesias smiled and shook his head.
"No," he answered. "I am neither a poet nor am I very good. Far from
that. I only tried to keep faith with the one clear duty which I saw."
Poppy moved forward across the Mall and stood by the river wall,
looking out over the flowing tide. It was high now, and washed and
gurgled against the masonry.
"You did and suffered all that for some woman," she said. "A man like
you always breaks himself for some woman. I hope she was worth it--
often they aren't. Who was she? The woman you loved? Your wife?"
"The woman I loved," Iglesias answered, "but not my wife."
Poppy looked at him sharply, her eyes full of question and of fear, as
though she dreaded to hear very evil tidings.
"Not your mistress?" she said. "Don't tell me that. The Lord knows
I've no right to mind. But I should mind. It would be like switching
off all the lights. I couldn't stand it. So, if it's that, just let us
part company at once. I've no more use for you.--I know where I am
now. If I go up into St. Peter's Square I can pick up a hansom and
drive back home--I suppose I may as well call it home, as I have no
other. And as for you, if you've any mercy in you, never let me see
you again. Never come near me. I have no use for you, I tell you. So
leave me to my own devices--what those devices are is no earthly
concern of yours."
She paused breathless, her eyes blazing, her face very white. She
seemed to have grown tall, and there was a tremendous force in her of
bitterness, repudiation, and regret.
"After all," she cried, "I don't so much as know your name; and so,
thank heaven, it can't be so very difficult to forget you."
Her aspect moved Iglesias strangely, seeming as it did to embody the
very spirit of the angry sky, of the gloomy river, all the sorrow of
the dead summer and stormy autumn light. For a moment he watched her
in silence. Then he took both her hands in his and held them, smiling
at her again very gently.
"No, dear friend," he said, "the woman was not my mistress. She was my
mother." His voice shook a little. "I never talk of her. But I think
of her always. She was very perfect and very lovely. And she suffered
greatly, so greatly that it unhinged her reason. Now do you
understand? For years she was mad."
In the month of October immediately following two events took place
which, though of apparently very different magnitude and importance,
intimately and almost equally--as it proved in the sequel--affected
Dominic Iglesias' life. The first was the declaration of war by the
South African Republics. The second was the return of Miss Serena
Lovegrove to town.
Now war is, unquestionably, not a little staggering to the modern
civilised conscience; and this particular war possessed the additional
unpleasantness of having in it, at first sight, an element of the
grotesque. It is not too much to say that it struck the majority of
the British public as being of the nature of a very bad joke. For it
was as though a very small and very cheeky boy, after making offensive
signs, had spat in the nation's face. Clearly the boy deserved sharp
chastisement for his impudence. Nevertheless, the position remained an
undignified and slightly ridiculous one; and the British public
proceeded to safeguard its proper pride by treating the matter as
lightly as possible. It assured itself--and others--that, given a
reasonable parade of strength, the small boy, blubbering, his fists in
his eyes, would speedily and humbly beg pardon and promise to mind his
manners in future. A few persons, it is true, remembered Majuba Hill,
and doubted the small boy's immediate reduction to obedience. A few
others dared to suspect that English society was suffering from wealth
apoplexy and the many unlovely symptoms which, in all ages of history,
have accompanied that form of seizure, and to doubt whether blood-
letting might not prove salutary. Dominic Iglesias was among these.
His recent observations upon and excursions into the world of fashion,
stray words let drop by Poppy St. John on the one hand, and by unhappy
de Courcy Smyth on the other, had begotten in him the suspicion that
the sobering and sorrowful influences of war might be healthful for
the body politic, just as a surgical operation may be healthful for
the individual body. Next to the Jew, the Dutchman is the most
stubbornly tenacious of human creatures. He is a fighting man into the
bargain. Iglesias could not flatter himself that the campaign would
result in an easy walk-over for so much of the British army as a
supine and annoyed Government condescended to place in the field. The
whole affair lay heavy on his soul. It lay there all the heavier that
a few days subsequent to the declaration of war Mr. Iglesias' thought
was unexpectedly swept back into the arena of speculative finance.
In the portion of his morning paper allotted to business subjects, he
had lighted on a long and evidently inspired article dealing with the
flotation of a company just now in process of acquiring control over
extensive areas in Southeast Africa. The prospects held out to
investors were of the most golden sort. The land was declared to be
not only remarkably rich in precious stones and precious metals, but
also adapted for corn-growing on a vast scale--thus, both above and
below the surface, promising prodigious wealth were its resources
Iglesias did not dispute the truth of these statements. The data
quoted appeared trustworthy enough. Moreover, he was already fairly
conversant with the enterprise, since Mr. Reginald Barking--that
junior member of the great banking firm whose name has been mentioned
in connection with strenuous modern business methods--was, to his
knowledge, deeply interested in the promotion of it. That which
troubled him, striking him as unsound and misleading, was the fact
that the profits, as set forth in the newspaper article, were
calculated--so at least it was evident to Iglesias--on the results of
such development when completed, irrespective of the lapse of time
required for such development; irrespective of possible and arresting
accident; irrespective, too, of immediate and even protracted loss by
the tying-up of huge sums of money which could yield but little or no
return until the said process of development was an accomplished fact.
To Iglesias' clear-seeing and logical mind the enterprise, therefore,
presented itself as one of those gigantic modern gambles of which the
incidental risks are emphatically too heavy, since they more often
than not make rich men poor, and poor men paupers, before they come
through--if, indeed, they even come through at all.
Reginald, in virtue of his youth, his energy, and relentless
concentration of purpose, had rapidly become the ruling spirit of the
house of Barking Brothers & Barking. Iglesias had no cause to love
him, since to him he owed his dismissal. But that fact failed to
colour his present meditations. Under the influence of his cherished
and new-found charity, Dominic had little time or inclination for
personal resentment. Too, the habits of the best part of a lifetime
cannot be thrown aside in a day. Directly he touched business on the
large scale, it became to him serious and imposing. And so the future
of the firm and the issue of its operations, in face of current
events, concerned him deeply, all the more that he gauged Reginald
Barking's temper of mind and proclivities.
The young man's father--now happily deceased--had offered an
instructive example of social and religious survival--survival, to be
explicit, of the once famous Clapham Sect, and that in its least
agreeable aspect. His theology was that of obstinately narrow
misinterpretation of the Scriptures; his piety that of self-invented
obligations; his virtue that of unsparing condemnation of the sins of
others. His domestic morality was Hebraic--death kindly playing into
his hands in regard of it. He married four times--Reginald, the only
child of his fourth marriage, having the further privilege of being
his only son. The boy was delicate and of a strumous habit. This fact,
combined with his parents' ingrained conviction that a public school
is synonymous, morally speaking, with a common sewer, caused his
education to be conducted at home by a series of tutors as
undistinguished by birth as by scholarship--tentative apologetic young
men, the goal of whose ambitions was a wife and a curacy, failing
which they resigned themselves to the post of usher in some ultra-
Protestant school. Sport in all its forms, art and literature, being
alike forbidden, the boy's hungry energy had found no reasonable
outlet. He had been miserable, peevish, ailing, until at barely
eighteen--after a discreditable episode with a scullery-maid--he had
been shipped off to New York to learn business in the house of certain
brokers and bill-discounters with whom Messrs. Barking Brothers had
extensive financial relations. Life in the land of the Puritans was
not, even at that time of day, inevitably immaculate. Freedom from
parental supervision and the American climate went to the lad's head.
He passed through a phase of commonplace but secret vice, emerging
there-from with an unblemished social reputation; a blank scepticism
in matters religious, combined with bitter animosity against the Deity
whom he declared non-existent; and a fiercely driving ambition, not so
much for wealth in itself, as for that control ever the destinies of
men, and even of nations, with which wealth under modern conditions
endows its possessor. He was a pale, dry, lizard-like young man,
suggesting light without heat, and excitement without emotion. Early
in his career he recognised that the great sources of wealth and power
lie with the younger countries, in the development of their natural
and industrial resources, of their railways and other forms of
transport. The phenomenal advance of America, for example, was due to
her enormous territory and the opportunities of expansion, with the
bounds of nationality, which this afforded her people. But he also
recognised that America was essentially for the Americans, and that it
was useless for an outsider, however skilful, however even
unscrupulous, to pit his business capacity against that of the native
born. His dreams of power and speculative activity directed
themselves, consequently, to the British Colonies, and to those as yet
unappropriated spaces of the earth's surface where British influence
is still only tentatively present.
Meanwhile he had espoused Miss Nancy Van Reenan, daughter of a famous
transatlantic merchant prince, first cousin, it may be added, to the
beautiful Virginia Van Reenan whose marriage with Lawrence Rivers, of
Stoke Rivers in the county of Sussex, so fluttered the smartest
section of New York society a few years ago. He returned to England in
the spring of 1897, convinced that America had taught him,
commercially speaking, all there was to know. This knowledge he
prepared to apply to waking up the venerable establishment in
Threadneedle Street, while employing the unimpeachable respectability
and solvency of the said establishment as a lever towards the
realisation of his own far-reaching ambitions. He brought with him
from the United States, in addition to his elegant wife, two dry, pale
children, whose contours were less Raphaelesque than gnat-like, and
the acuteness of whose critical faculty was very much more in evidence
than that of their affections. These bright little results of
modernity and applied science--in the shape of the incubator--took
their place in the social movement, at the ages of three and five
respectively, with the hard and chilling assurance of a world-weary
man and woman. They never exhibited surprise. They rarely exhibited
amusement. They were radically disillusioned. They frequently referred
to their nerves and their digestions, in the interests of which they
consistently repudiated every form of excess.
With these rather terrible little gentry Dominic Iglesias was, happily
for himself, unacquainted; but with their father he was very well
acquainted, as has already been stated. Hence his fears. Folding his
newspaper together, he laid it on the table and proceeded to walk
meditatively up and down his sitting-room. The morning was keen with
sunshine, the leaves of the planes and balsam-poplars fell in brown
and yellow showers upon the Green, on the further side of which the
details of the red and yellowish grey houses stood out in high relief
of sharp-edged light and shadow. Mr. Iglesias had risen in a hopeful
frame of mind. Of late it had become his habit to call weekly on Poppy
St. John. Today was the one appointed for his visit. Since he had
spoken to her about his mother his friendship with Poppy St. John had
entered upon a new phase. It was no longer experimental, but absolute,
the more so that she had in no way presumed upon his confidence. He
felt very safe with her--safe to tell or safe to withhold as
inclination should move him. And in this there was a strange and
delicate lessening of the burden of his loneliness, without any
encroachment on his pride. He had found, moreover, that behind her
patter lay an unexpected acquaintance with public affairs and the
tendencies of current events, so that it was possible to talk on
subjects other than personal with her. He was coming to have much
faith in her judgment as well as in her sincerity of heart. And, so,
with the prospect of seeing her before him, Dominic had risen in the
happiest disposition, had so remained till the newspaper article
disturbed his mind. For what, as he asked himself, did it portend,
this extravagant puff of the company's lad and the company's
prospects, at this particular juncture? Why was it so urgently and
eloquently forced upon the market just now? Was it but another proof
of the contemptuous attitude adopted by Englishmen of all classes
towards the Boer Republics? Or did it take its origin very much
elsewhere--namely, in the fact that Reginald Barking had so deeply
involved the capital and pledged the credit of the firm that it became
necessary to make violent and doubtfully honest bid for popular
support before the position of the said firm, through difficulty and
accident induced by war, became desperate?
This last solution of the perplexing question aroused all Mr.
Iglesias' loyalty towards his old employers. He saw before them the
ugly possibility of failure and disgrace. The mere phantom of the
thing hurt him as unseemly, as a shame and dishonour to those who in
their corporate capacity had benefited him, and therefore as a shame
and dishonour, at least indirectly, to himself. The thought agitated
him. He needed to take council with someone; and so, pushed by a
necessity of immediate action uncommon to him, he laid hands on hat
and coat and set forth to talk matters over with his old friend and
former colleague, George Lovegrove.
Out of doors the air was stimulating. The voice of London had a tone
of urgency in it, as the voice of the young and strong who court the
coming of stirring events.
"The moods of the monstrous mother are inexhaustible," Iglesias said
to himself. "She is changeful as the great ocean. To-day she is
virile, and shouts for battle--. well, it may be she will get her fill
of that before many months are out!"
Then the thought of his afternoon visit returned upon him. If the air
would remain as exhilarating, the sunshine as daring as now, these
would heighten enjoyment.
Mr. Iglesias smiled to himself, an emotion of tenderness mingling with
his anxiety. He felt very much alive, very ready to meet any demand
which the future might make on him--battle for him, too, perhaps, and
at this moment he welcomed the thought of it! Thus, a little exalted
in spirit, Dominic walked on rapidly across the Green between the iron
railings, conscious of colour, of light, and of sound; but unobservant
of the details of his immediate surroundings, until a drifting female
figure barred his path, undulating uncertainly before him. He moved to
the right to let it pass. It moved to the right also. He moved to the
left, it did so, too.
"I beg your pardon," he said.
"Oh!" cried Serena Lovegrove.
"I beg your pardon," Iglesias repeated, raising his hat. "Excuse me, I
did not see who it was."
"How very odd!" Serena remarked. She stood still in the middle of the
path. Her eyes snapped. Her silk petticoat rustled. Serena was very
particular about her petticoats. It gave her great moral and social
support to hear them rustle. "How very odd!" she said again. "Did you
not know that I had come back?"
Dominic might truthfully have replied that he did not know that she
had ever gone away; but he abstained.
"It must be a great pleasure to your cousins to have you with them,"
he said courteously.
Serena looked at the falling leaves.
"I wonder whether it is--I mean I wonder whether it is a pleasure to
them, or whether they ask me out of a sense of duty." She paused,
gazing at Mr. Iglesias. "Of course, I know George has a strong regard
for me, and for Susan. It is only natural, as we are first cousins.
But I am not sure about Rhoda. Of course we never heard of Rhoda until
she married George."
"She has made him an excellent wife," Iglesias put in.
"I suppose she has," Serena said reflectively. "But I sometimes wonder
whether, if George had married somebody else, it might not have been
more satisfactory in some ways."
Serena felt very proud in making this remark. It elicited no reply,
however, from Mr. Iglesias.
"I wonder if he really sees that Rhoda is on a different level from
us, and won't admit it; or whether he doesn't see. If he doesn't see,
of course that means a good deal."
"Do you usually go out walking in the morning?" Dominic inquired. The
silence was becoming protracted. Courtesy demanded that he should
Serena looked at him with heightened intelligence.
"We were always brought up to take a walk twice a day. Mamma was very
particular about it. She believed that health had so much to do with
regular exercise. Sometimes I wonder whether she did not carry that
too far. But, of course, Susan is very strong, much stronger than I
am. I believe she would have been strong in any case, even if mamma
had not insisted on our taking so much exercise." Serena paused. "But
I did not know you went out in the morning. That is, I mean I have
never seen you go out before."
"Indeed," Iglesias exclaimed, a little startled at the close
observation of his habits implied by this remark.
"No," she said; "of course one can see Cedar Lodge very plainly from
George's house, and I often look out of window. I think it among the
pleasures of London to look out of window. I have never seen you go
out in the morning before." Again she paused, adding reflectively: "It
really seems rather odd that neither George nor Rhoda should have told
you that I had come back."
To this remark no suitable answer suggested itself. Moreover, Mr.
Iglesias was growing slightly impatient. He wished she would see fit
to move aside and let him pass.
"You will get cold standing here," he said. "You must not let me
detain you any longer."
Serena's eyes snapped. She was excited. She was also slightly
offended. "He is very abrupt," she said to herself; but she did not
move aside and let him pass. "Yes, he is abrupt," she repeated;
"still, he has a very good manner. If one didn't know that he had been
a bank clerk, I wonder if one would detect it. I don't think it would
be a thing that need be mentioned, for instance, at Slowby. Only Susan
would be sure to make a point of mentioning it. Susan has an idea she
owes it to herself to be truthful. Of course, it would be wrong to
deny that anyone had been a bank clerk; but that is different from
telling everybody. I wonder if Susan would feel obliged to tell
When she reached the near side of the Green, Serena looked back. Mr.
Iglesias was in the act of entering the Lovegroves' front door, which
the worthy George held open for him. Serena stood transfixed.
"So he was going there!" she said to herself. "How extraordinary not
to mention it to me. What could have been his object in not mentioning
it? I wonder if he has only gone to see George, or to see Rhoda as
well. If he has gone to see Rhoda, then I think he has been
exceedingly rude to me. And he has been very short-sighted, too, if he
didn't want me to know, for he might have taken it for granted that of
course I should look back. Unless he did do it on purpose, meaning to
be rude. But--"
Serena resumed her walk. She was very much excited.
"Of course he may have done it on purpose that I should see, and
understand that he meant something special--that he was going to speak
to George and Rhoda about something in particular, which he could not
say before me. He may have wanted to sound them. But then it is so
very odd that he should have said that George had never told him I had
come back. But I don't believe he ever did say that." Serena was
growing more and more excited. She drifted along the pavement, in her
rustling petticoats, with the most unusually animated expression of
"I remember--of course he did not say it. He avoided the question each
time. How very extraordinary! I think he must mean me to understand
something by that. I wonder if George will refer to it at luncheon. If
he does I must find out from Rhoda, but without letting her suspect
that I observed anything, of course."
Serena had quite ceased to be offended. Her fancy, indeed, had taken a
most wildly ingenious flight. She felt very remarkable, very acute,
quite dangerous, in short--and these sensations, however limited their
justification by fact, were highly agreeable to her.
The heavens remained clear, the air exhilarating, and Iglesias set
forth on his weekly pilgrimage in a serene frame of mind. George
Lovegrove's view had been reassuring.
"I know you are much more far-sighted than I am," he had said, his
honest face beaming with combined cleanliness and affection, "so I
always hesitate to set up my opinion against yours. It would be
presumptuous. Still, you do surprise me. I never had an inkling of
anything of the sort; and between ourselves--for I should never hint
at the subject before the wife, you know--it might upset her, females
are so sensitive--but between ourselves it would fairly unman me to
think there could be any unsoundness in Barking Brothers & Barking.
You know the phrase current in the city about them--'as safe as the
Bank of England'? And I have always believed that. I know I left
before Mr. Reginald had any active share in the business, and I never
have cared about American speculation. It is all beyond me. Still I
cannot suppose the senior partners would let him have too much his own
way. Depend upon it, Sir Abel keeps an eye on him. And then as to this
war, of course you have studied it all more deeply than I have the
power to do; still I cannot help thinking you distress yourself
unnecessarily. As I said to the wife when I first heard of it, it's
suicidal. One can only feel pity for such poor ignorant creatures,
rushing headlong on their ruin. Depend upon it, they will very soon
come to their senses and deplore their own rash action. A very few
weeks will see the finish of it all. I only hope there will not be
much bloodshed first, for of course they couldn't stand up against
English troops for an hour, poor things."
Encouraged by which cheerful optimism Dominic Iglesias began to think
his fears exaggerated, as he descended from an omnibus top at
Hammersmith Bridge that afternoon, crossed the river, and walked on
down the long suburban road. The sky was sharply blue. Multicoloured
leaves danced down from the trees in the villa gardens. Gaily clad
children, pursued by anxious mothers and nursemaids, ran and shouted,
the sunshine and fresh air having gone to their heads. Perched on the
brick pier of an entrance gate, a robin uplifted its voice in
piercingly sweet song. Autumn wore her fairest face, speaking of
promise rather than of decay. It was good to be alive. Even to Mr.
Iglesias' sober and chastened spirit horror of war, disgrace of
financial failure, seemed remote and inconsiderable things, morbid
delusions such as sane men brush aside scorning to give them
harbourage so much as of thought.
Poppy was mirthful, too, in her greeting of him.
"My dear man," she cried, "the house is out of windows! You find us in
the throes of a great domestic event. Cappadocia has done her duty by
posterity. She has been brought to bed, if you'll excuse my mentioning
it, of four puppies. Perfect little lambs, not a white hair among
them. And she shows true maternal feeling, does Cappadocia. Whenever
you go near her she tries to bite."
Poppy spoke very fast, holding his hand, looking him full in the face,
her singular eyes very gentle in expression, yet all alight.
"Ah! it's good to see you. My stars, but it is good to see you," she
And Dominic, moved beyond his wont, stood silent for a space.
"You're not offended? Surely, at this time of the day, you're not
going to stiffen up?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"No, no, dear friend," he said; "but this greeting is a little
wonderful to me. Except my mother, years ago, nobody has ever cared
whether I came or went."
"More fools they," Poppy answered, with a fine disregard of grammar.
"But all that's over now. You know it's over. All the same I can't be
altogether sorry it was so, because it gives me my chance.--Sit down;
I'll expound to you. Let us talk.--You see, my beautiful innocent,
with most men worth knowing--I am not talking about boys running about
with the shell still on their heads and more affections to place than
they can find a market for, but men. Well then, with most all of them,
when one comes to discuss matters, one finds one's had such an awful
lot of predecessors. At best one comes in a bad third--more often a
bad three-and-twentieth--I mean nothing risky. Don't be nervous. But
they have romantic memories of half-a-dozen women. And so, though they
are no end nice and kind to one, play up and give one a good time and
have a jolly good one themselves--trust 'em to take care of that--one
knows all the while, if one knows anything, that the whole show's
merely a _rechauffe_. Visions of Clara and Gladys, and dear
little Emily, and Rosina, and Beatrice, and the lovely Lucinda--
angels, every one of them, if you haven't seen them for ten years, and
wouldn't know them again if you met them in the street--haunt the
background of every man's mind by the time he's five-and-thirty, and
cut entrancing capers against the sky-line, so that--when one comes to
thrash the matter out--one finds the actually present woman, here in
the foreground, hasn't really any look-in at all."
Poppy threw her head back against the yellowish red cushions of the
settee, her teeth showing white as she laughed.
"Boys aren't worth having. They're too crude, too callow. Moreover, it
isn't playing the game. One doesn't want to make a mess of their
futures, poor little chaps. And grown men, except as I say of the very
preengaged sort, are not to be had. So don't you understand, most
delightful lunatic, how it comes to pass that you and your friendship
are precious to me beyond words? When you go I could cry. When you
come I could dance."
Her tone changed, becoming defiant, almost fierce.
"And it is all right," she said, "thank heaven, right,--right, clean,
and honest, and good for one's soul. Now I've done. Only we are very
happy in our own quaint way, aren't we? And we can leave it at that.
Oh, yes, we can very well leave it at that if"--she looked sideways at
Mr. Iglesias, her expression half-humorous, half-pathetic--"if only it
will stay at that and not play the mischief and scuttle off into
something quite else."
She got up quickly, with a little air of daring and bravado.
"I must move about. I must do something--there, I'll make up the fire.
No, sit still, dear man"--as Dominic prepared to rise also--"I like
doing little odd jobs with you here. It takes off the company feeling,
and makes it seem as if you belonged, and like the bicycle, had 'come
Poppy threw a couple of driftwood logs upon the smouldering fire.
Around them sharp tongues of flame--rose and saffron, amber, sea-
green, and heliotrope, glories as of a tropic sunset--leaped upward.
She stood watching these, her left hand resting on the edge of the
mantelpiece, her right holding up the front of her black skirt. Her
right foot rested on the fender curb, thereby displaying a discreet
interval of openwork silk stocking and a neatly cut steel-buckled
shoe. The many-hued firelight flickered over her dark figure; over the
soft lace jabot at her throat and ruffles at her wrists; over her pale
profile; and glinted in the heavy masses of her hair. The room, facing
east, was cold with shadow, which the thin fantastic colours of the
flames appeared to emphasise rather than to relieve. And Iglesias,
obedient to her entreaty, sat quietly waiting until it should again
please her to speak. For he had begun to accept her many changes of
mood as an integral element of her personality--a personality rich in
rapid and subtle contradictions. Often he had no clue to the meaning
of these many changes. But he did not mind that. Not absence of vulgar
curiosity alone, but an unwilling sub-conscious shrinking from any too
close acquaintance with the details of her life contributed to render
him passive. He had a conviction, though he had never formulated it
even in thought, that ignorance in relation to her made for security
and content. And there was a refined charm in this--namely, that each
to the other, even while friendship deepened, should remain something
of an undiscovered country. Moreover, had she not told him that he
rested her? To ask questions, however sympathetic, to volunteer
consolation, however delicately worded, is to risk being officious;
and to be officious, in however mild a degree, is to drive away the
shy and illusive spirit of rest. And so Dominic Iglesias was coming,
in the good nautical reading of that phrase, simply "to stand by" and
wait where this woman was concerned. After all, it was but the
reapplication of a lesson learned long ago for the support and solace
of another woman, by him supremely loved. To act thus was, therefore,
not only natural but poignantly sweet to him, as a new and gentle
offering laid upon the dear altar of his dead. It rejoiced him to find
that now, as of old, the demand created a supply of silent but
sustaining moral force, ready to pass into the sphere of active help
should necessity arise.
Nevertheless as the minutes passed, while daylight and firelight alike
began to fade, Dominic Iglesias grew somewhat troubled and sad. And it
was with a distinct movement of relief that he, at last, saw Poppy
draw herself up, push the soft masses of her hair back from her
forehead with a petulant gesture, and turn towards him. As she did so
she let her hands drop at her sides, as though she had finished with
and dismissed some unwelcome form of thought, while her face showed
wan, and her eyes large and vague, as though they saw beyond and
through all that which they actually looked on.
"There, there," she said harshly, with an angry lift of her head,
"what a silly fool I am, wasting time like this when you are here. But
my soul went out of my body; and I could afford to let it go, just
because you were here, and I felt safe." Her tone softened. "Sure I
don't bore you?" she asked.
Dominic shook his head, smiling.
"Very sure," he said.
"Bless you, then that's all right." Poppy strolled back and sat down
languidly. "I've gone confoundedly tired," she said. "You see, I sat
up half the night acting Gamp to Cappadocia--if you excuse my again
alluding to the domestic event.--Oh! my being tired doesn't matter. My
dear man, I'm never ill. I'm as strong as a horse. Let's talk of
something more interesting--let's review the topics of the hour--only
for the life of me I can't remember what the topics of the hour are!
Yes, I know though--the management of the Twentieth Century Theatre
has given Dot Parris a leading part. Does that leave you cold?
Impossible! Why, in theatrical circles it's a world-shaking event. I
own I'm curious to see how she does in legitimate drama, after her
career in musical comedy and at the halls, myself. I'm really very
fond of her, poor little Dot. She's going to call herself Miss
Charlotte Colthurst in the future, I understand. Did you ever hear
such cheek? But then she always had the cheek of the old gentleman
himself, and that makes for success. Cheek does go an awfully long way
towards bringing you through, don't you think so?"
"Probably," Dominic said. "My opportunities of exercising that
particular form of virtue have been so limited that I am quite
prepared to accept your ruling on the point."
Poppy laughed softly, looking at him with a great friendliness.
"Ah! but it wouldn't have been cheek in your case, anyhow. It would
merely have been that you stepped into your right place, ascended any
throne that happened to be right divine. I can see you doing it, so
statelily and yet so innocently. It would be a perfectly delicious
sight. I believe you will do it yet, some day, somehow, and make a lot
of people sit up. But that reminds me, joking apart, there is a topic
of the hour I wanted to ask you about. Tell me what you think of this
And Dominic Iglesias, once more obedient to her changing mood, replied
with quiet sincerity:
"I am told I am an alarmist. I hope I may prove to be so, for in this
matter I should much prefer the optimists to be in the right. But I
confess I do not like the outlook. Both on public and private grounds
this war makes me anxious."
Poppy's languor had vanished. She had grown very much alive again. Now
she leaned forward, pressing her hands together, palm to palm, between
her knees, and making herself small, as a child does when it is deeply
in earnest and wants to think.
"You're right," she assented. "I'm perfectly certain all this cocksure
Johnny-head-in-air business, 'sail to-day and see you again at tea
tomorrow, so it's not worth while saying good-by'--you know the
style?--is fatuous and idiotic. It is not bluff, because the English
officer-man doesn't bluff. He hasn't the brains, to begin with, and
then he is a very sound sort of an animal. He doesn't need to hide his
fright for the simple reason that he's not frightened. A friend of
mine was talking about it all yesterday. He thinks as you do, and he's
no silly, though he is a member of the House of Lords.--After all, he
can't help that, poor dear old chap," she added apologetically,
looking sideways at Mr. Iglesias. "But there, you've seen him, I
believe. You met him the first time you came here. Don't you remember,
I had to turn you out because I had to see him on business, and you
ran across him in the hall as you were going?"
"I remember meeting someone," Dominic said, rather loftily. He did not
want to hear any more. The conversation had become displeasing to him,
though he could have given no reason for his displeasure. But Poppy
suddenly turned mischievous and naughty. She patted her hands gently
together between her knees and swayed with rather impish merriment.
"Ah, of course you were much too grand to take any particular notice
of him, poor brute. But he wasn't a bit too grand to take a lot of
notice of you. He was fearfully impressed. Yes, I tell you he was.
Don't be cross. I am speaking the veracious truth. I give you my word
I'm not gassing. He was awfully keen to know who you were, and where
you came from, and how I met you. And it was the sweetest thing out to
be able to reply that I'd been introduced to you on a bench--a mighty
uncomfortable one, too, with no back to it!--on Barnes Common by
Cappadocia; and that as to your name and local habitation I hadn't the
faintest ghost of a notion what they were. Are you cross? Don't be
cross," Poppy pleaded.
"No, no, of course not," Mr. Iglesias answered, goaded from his
habitual calm and speaking almost sharply.
Poppy patted her palms together again, swaying backwards and forwards.
Her eyes were dancing.
"Oh! but you are, though," she cried. "You're just a wee bit jealous.
You are--you know you are, and I'm not a scrap sorry. On the contrary,
I'm enchanted. For it shows that you are human after all, and must
have a name and address tucked away somewhere about you. I don't want
to know what they are, but it's comfortable to be assured of their
existence. It shows you don't drop straight down from heaven--as I was
beginning to be afraid you did--once a week, into the Mortlake Road,
and then go straight up again. It shows that I could get on to you by
post, or telephone, or other means of communication common to mortals,
if I was in a tight place and really wanted you, without walking as
far as Hammersmith Bridge and waiting in the wind and the wet on the
bare chance you might take it into your august head to materialise,
and break out of paradise, and take a little stroll round our
For a moment Poppy laid her hand lightly on Mr. Iglesias' shoulder.
"Yes, be cross," she repeated. "Just as cross as ever you like, so
long as you don't keep it up too protractedly. It's the most engaging
piece of flattery I've come across for a month of Sundays. Only you
needn't worry in this particular instance, dear man, I give you my
word you needn't. It's a sheer waste of feeling. For Fallowfeild's
always been perfectly decent with me. I know people think him an
awfully risky lot, but they're noodles. He's racketed in his day--of
course he has. But if he'd been more of a hypocrite, people would have
talked less. As the man says in the play, it's not the sin but the
being found out which makes the scandal. And Fallowfeild was too
honest. He never pretended to be better than he was. He is a man of
good nature who has done wrong things, which is quite different to
being a man of bad nature who does wrong things, and still more
different to being a man of weak nature who pretends to do right
things. That last is the sort I hate most, and I speak out of beastly
She made a most expressive grimace, as though she had a remarkably
disagreeable taste in her mouth.
"No salvation for that sort, I believe," she went on, "either here or
hereafter. Now, are you better? You do believe it has always been
perfectly square and above-board between Fallowfeild and me, don't
"Unquestionably, I believe it," Dominic answered. He spoke slowly.
Poppy turned her head sharply and looked hard at him.
"Ah! but I don't quite like that," she said. "I've muddled it somehow
--I see I have. I've hurt and offended you. You're farther off than
you were ten minutes ago. In spirit you've got up and gone away. I
have muddled it. I have made you distrust me."
"No," Dominic answered, "you have not made me distrust you; but you
have perplexed me. It is the result of my own dulness, no doubt. My
imagination is not agile enough to follow you, and so--"
He hesitated. That which he had in his mind was not easy to put into
words without discourtesy. He would far rather have left it unsaid;
but to do so would have been, in truth, to stand farther off, to erect
a barrier which might prove insuperable to happy companionship in the
"Yes?" Poppy queried. Her voice shook just perceptibly. In the
deepening dusk neither could see the other distinctly, and this
contributed to Dominic's decision to speak.
"It pains me," he said at last, "if you will pardon my frankness, that
you should think it necessary to account for yourself and justify
yourself as you often appear to do."
"Yes?" Poppy queried again.
"That you should do so distresses and disturbs me."
"Yes," Poppy murmured.
"I am afraid I grow selfish," Iglesias went on gently; "but you have
been good enough to tell me that my poor friendship is of value to
you. Does it not occur to you that yours is of far greater value to
me? And that for many and obvious reasons--these among others, that
while you are young, and have a wide circle of acquaintances, and in a
future to which, brilliant as you are, you may look forward with hope
and assurance, I am absolutely alone in the world. Save for one old
school-fellow, who has been very faithful to me, there is no one to
whom it matters, except in the most superficial degree, whether I live
"Ah!" Poppy said softly.
"Do not misunderstand me, I do not complain," Iglesias added. "I
entertain no doubt but that the circumstances in which I find myself
are the right and profitable ones for me, if I only lay to heart the
lessons they teach, and use the opportunities which they afford me."
"I don't know about that--I doubt that," Poppy put in hastily.
"You doubt it because you are young," he answered, "and your
circumstances are capable of alteration and development. Except under
very exceptional conditions, resignation is no virtue in the young. It
is more often an excuse for cowardice and sloth. But at my age the
world changes its complexion. My circumstances are incapable of
alteration and development. They are final. Therefore I do well to
accept them unreservedly. The work of my life is done. I do not say
that it has been a failure, for I fulfilled the main object I had in
view. But it has certainly been obscure and inglorious. The sun will
sink dimly enough into a bank of fog. My present is meagre in interest
and activity. My future, a brief enough one in all probability, must
of necessity be meagre likewise. Therefore your friendship is of
supreme importance to me."
Iglesias paused. His voice was grave, distinct, weighted with feeling.
He did not look at his companion; he could not trust himself to do so,
for he had discovered in himself unexpected depths of emotion.
"And just on that account," he went on, "I grow childishly nervous,
childishly apprehensive if anything arises which seems to cloud or, in
however small a measure, to endanger the serenity of our intercourse."
He turned and looked at her.
"This constitutes no slight to you, dear friend."
"No," she said, "very certainly it is no slight. On the contrary, it
is very beautiful; but it's an awful responsibility, too."
She sat quite still, her head carried high, her hands clasped in her
"I've underrated the position, I see. I've only thought of myself so
far and how you pleased me. But though I'm pretty cheeky, too--almost
as cheeky as little Dot--I never had the presumption to put the affair
the other way about."
Poppy began to sway slightly again and pat the palms of her hands
together between her knees.
"It's been a game, the finest game I've ever played; and I swore by
all my gods to play fair. But, as you look at it, our friendship
amounts to a good deal more than a game. It goes very deep. And I'm
not sure--. no, I'm not--whether I'm equal to it."
She glanced at Iglesias strangely through the clinging grey of the
"Dear unknown," she said, "I give you my word I'm frightened--I who've
never been frightened at any man yet. In my own little way I've played
pitch and toss with their hearts and made footballs of them--except
that poor young fellow--I told you about him the first time we met--
who gave me the scarf, and whose people wouldn't let him marry me. But
this affair with you is different. It goes very far, it means--it
means nothing short of revolution for me, of putting away and
renouncing very much."
Poppy got up, stood pushing her hair back with both hands from her
forehead. Then she moved across to the further side of the fireplace.
Dominic had risen also. He stood on the near side of the hearth. He
was penetrated with the conviction that a crisis was upon them both,
involving all the happiness of their future relation to one another.
"You don't understand," Poppy cried passionately. "And I don't want
you to understand--that's half the trouble. I want to keep you. Your
friendship's the loveliest thing I've ever had. And yet I don't know.
For I'm not one woman--I'm half-a-dozen women, and they all pull all
sorts of ways so that I daren't trust myself. I want to keep you, I
tell you, I want horribly to keep you. Yet I'm ghastly afraid I'm not
equal to it. The price is too big."
As she spoke Poppy dashed her hand against the push of the electric
bell, and held it there, ringing a prolonged alarum, in quick response
to which Phillimore, the respectable elderly parlour maid, appeared,
bearing two rose-shaded lamps. Noiselessly and deftly--as one
accustomed to agitations, whose eyes did not see or ears hear if it
should be unadvisable to permit them to do so--she drew the curtains,
made up the fire, set out the tea-table. And with that change of scene
and shutting out of the dusk, Poppy seemed to change also; gravity and
strength of purpose departing from her, and leaving her--
notwithstanding her sober dress--unreal, fictitious, artificial, the
red-lipped carmine-tinted lady of the footlights, of the windswept
dust and embroidered dragons again. She chattered, moreover,
ceaselessly, careless of interruption, and of criticism alike.
"Here, let's hark back to the ordinary conduct of material existence,"
she said. "Tea? Won't you sit down? No--well, just as you like best.
Take it standing. Let me see, what were we discussing when we got
switched on to unexpectedly personal lines of conversation? The war--
yes, I remember. I was just going to tell you that Fallowfeild
believes it's going to be a nasty dragging unsatisfactory business.
Everyone gasses about the Boers being a simple pastoral people. But
Fallowfeild says their simplicity is just another name for guile, and
that he anyway can't conceive a more disconcerting job than fighting a
nation of farmers and huntsmen and gamekeepers in their own country,
every inch of which they know. People say they've no military science.
But so jolly much the better for them. They can be unfettered
opportunists, with nothing to think of but outwitting the enemy and
saving their property and their skins. The poor British Tommy will be
no match for them; nor will the British officer-man either, till he's
unlearned his parade-ground etiquette, and his haw-haw red-tape
methods and manner, and learned their very primitive but very cute and
foxy ones. By which time, Fallowfeild says, the mourning warehouses
here at home will have made a record turnover, and there will be
altogether too many new graveyards for comfort in South Africa."
Poppy paused in her harangue, for Dominic Iglesias had set down his
cup, its contents untasted. He was sad at heart.
"Are you going?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered. "It grows late. It's time I went, I think."
"Perhaps it is." Poppy's eyes had become inscrutable. "I really ought
to attend to my Gamping, and pass the time of day with Cappadocia. Her
snappishness has scared the maids. They refuse to go within a measured
furlong of her."
Poppy bent down over the tea-table, arranging the teacups with
"Good-by," she said. "I don't quite know when we shall meet again."
"Why?" Iglesias asked. The muscles of his throat were rigid. He had
much ado to speak plainly and naturally. "Are you leaving home?"
"Home?" she answered. "Yes, I'm leaving it. Good-by again. Don't let
me keep you. Certainly I'm leaving home. Indeed, I believe I have left
it already--for good."
And she threw back her head and laughed.
Upon the doorstep a cold rush of air met Mr. Iglesias. Above, the sky
was blue-black and very clear. The road was vacant and grey with
frost. The flame of the gaslamps quivered, giving off a sharp
brightness in the keen atmosphere. Mr. Iglesias turned up the collar
of his coat and descended the steps. Just then a hansom emerged from
the distance and drew up with a rattle and grind against the curb some
twenty paces ahead. The occupant, a young man, flung back the doors
with a thud, and stood a moment on the footboard paying the driver,
who raised himself, leaning forward with outstretched hand across the
glistening black roof of the cab. Then the young man turned round,
swung himself down on to the asphalt pavement, and came forward as
rapidly as a long motor-coat, reaching to his heels, would permit. He
was tall and fair, well-favoured, preoccupied, not to say morose. He
did not vouchsafe Mr. Iglesias so much as a glance as he brushed past
him. The road was still vacant, and in the frosty air sounds carried.
Mr. Iglesias distinctly heard him race up a neighbouring flight of
steps, heard the click and turn of a latchkey in a lock, heard the
slam of a front door pulled to violently. And so doing Dominic turned
cold and a little faint. He would not condescend to look back; but he
had recognised Alaric Barking, and was in no doubt which house he had
"Keb, sir? 'Ere yer are, sir," the cabby called cheerily. "Very cold
night. Just set one gentleman down, and 'appy to tike another up. Want
to get back to my comfy little West End shelter, so I'll tike yer for
'alf fares, sir, though we are outside the blooming radius."
But Iglesias shook his head. The horse stood limply in a cloud of
steam. Alaric Barking had evidently pushed the pace. But even had the
animal been in better condition, Iglesias had no desire to drive in
that particular cab. He would rather have walked the whole way to
Opposite the Bell Inn, where the roads fork--one turning away through
Mortlake, the other leading to Barnes Common, Roehampton, and Sheen--
the row of smart little houses degenerates into shops. By the time he
reached these Mr. Iglesias discovered that he was unaccountably tired.
The keen air oppressed his chest, making his breath come short. It was
useless to attempt to go home on foot. Then, with a sense of relief,
he saw that on the far side of the road a couple of omnibuses stood,
the horses' heads turned Londonwards. He crossed, climbed the stairway
of the leading vehicle slowly, and sank into a seat. The 'bustop was
unoccupied, yet Dominic was not by himself. Two companions had climbed
the winding stairway with him and taken their places beside him, Old
Age on his left hand, Loneliness on his right. All up the long
suburban road, while the omnibus bumped and jolted and the fallen
leaves whirled and scurried before the searching breath of the night
wind Iglesias' two companions seemed to lean across him, talking.
There were tones of mockery in their talk, while behind and through
it, as some discordant refrain, he heard the ring of a young man's
eager footsteps, the click and turn of a latchkey, and the slam of a
door as it shut. On nearing the river the cold grew intense. Crossing
the bridge, the waterside lights were reflected in the surface of the
stream, which ran full and strong from the autumn rains, swirling
seaward with an ebbing tide. To Iglesias' eyes the reflections
converted themselves into fiery dragons, writhing in the heat of
deadly conflict, as upon Poppy St. John's oriental scarf. A glare hung
over London, palpitating as with multitudinous and angry life; and
when the omnibus slowed up in Hammersmith Broadway the voice of the
streets grew loud--the monstrous city, so it seemed to Dominic
Iglesias, shouting defiance to the majestic calm and solemnity of the
"He says it is nothing serious, only a slight chill; and sends kind
regards and many thanks for kind inquiries, and hopes to be out in a
day or two, when he will call and thank you in person."
This from George Lovegrove to his wife, the latter arrayed in garments
of ceremony and seated upon the Chesterfield sofa awaiting guests. It
was her afternoon at-home.
"Well, I'm sure I hope it is no more than that, Georgie," she answered
comfortably. "Chills are always going about in November, and very
often gentlemen encourage them--especially bachelors--by not changing
into their winter vests and pants early enough. A great deal of
illness is contracted that way."
Here Serena rustled audibly. She stood by the window, holding the lace
curtain just sufficiently aside to get a narrow and attenuated view of
the fog-enshrouded Green. The outlook was far from inspiriting, and
Serena was keenly interested in the conversation going forward between
her host and hostess. But it was not in her programme to let this
appear. She, while straining her ears to listen, therefore maintained
an air of detachment. The word "pants" was, however, too much for her
fortitude, and she rustled. "Really, Rhoda does use the most
dreadfully unladylike expressions sometimes," she commented inwardly.
"She never seems to remember that everyone is not married, though even
if they were I should hope they would not mention those sort of
things. Rhoda is wanting in refinement. I wonder if George notices
that and feels it. If he does notice it, I think he ought to tell her
about it, because--"
But here she fell to listening again, since the said George took up
his parable once more.
"Still, I own I don't like his looks somehow. His face is so thin and
drawn. It reminds me of the time his mother, poor Mrs. Iglesias, died.
I told him, just jocularly, that his appearance surprised me, but he
put it all aside--you know he has a very high aristocratic manner at
times that makes you feel you have been intrusive--and then talked of
"He has lived too solitary," Mrs. Lovegrove said judicially, "too
solitary, and that tells on any one in middle life. I should never
forgive myself if we left him to mope. You must just try to coax him
over here to stay, Georgie, and I'll nurse him up and humour him, and
fortunately Serena's here, you see, for pleasant company."
Mrs. Lovegrove looked meaningly at her spouse, while the figure at the
window again rustled.
"I am sure you would exert yourself to help cheer poor Mr. Iglesias
up, if he came over to stay, would you not now, Serena?" she inquired
"Are you speaking to me, Rhoda?"
"Yes, about Mr. Iglesias coming here to stay."
Serena turned her head and answered over her shoulder.
"Of course you and George are quite at liberty to ask anyone here whom
you like. And if Mrs. Iglesias came I should be perfectly civil to
him. But I should not care, Rhoda, to bind myself to anything more
than that, because I do not find him an easy person to get on with."
She turned to her contemplation of the fog with a renewed assumption
of indifference. George Lovegrove's shiny forehead puckered into
little lines. He looked anxiously at his wife. The good lady, however,
laid a fat forefinger upon her lips and nodded her head at him in the
most archly reassuring manner.
"That's funny," she said, "because Mr. Iglesias is quite the cleverest
of all Georgie's gentlemen friends--except, of course, the dear vicar
--and so I always took for granted anyone like yourself was sure to
get on nicely with him, Serena. Even I hardly ever find him difficult
to talk with."
"I never talk easily to strangers," Serena put in loftily.
"Oh! but you'd hardly call Mr. Iglesias a stranger."
"Yes, I should," Serena declared with emphasis. "I should certainly
call him a stranger. I always call everyone a stranger till I know
them intimately. It is much safer to do so. And it would be absurd to
pretend that I know Mr. Iglesias intimately. You, of course, do, but I
do not. You and George may have seen him frequently since I have been
here, but I have really seen him very seldom, four or five times at
the outside. He has generally appeared to call when I was likely to be
out. I could not help observing that. It may be a coincidence, of
course. But I cannot pretend that I have not thought it rather
Serena had advanced into the centre of the room. She held herself
erect. She enjoyed making a demonstration. "Rhoda may think I am a
cipher," she said to herself, "but she is mistaken. She may think I
can be hoodwinked and used as a mere tool, but I will let her see that
I cannot." She felt daring and dangerous, and her eyes snapped. The
rustling of her skirts and the emphatic tones of her voice aroused the
parrot, which had been dosing on its perch, its head sunk between its
shoulders and its breast-feathers fluffed out into a little green
apron over its grey claws.
"Pollie's own pet girlie," it murmured drowsily, with dry clickings of
its tongue against its beak, the words jolting out in foolish twos and
threes. "Hi! p'liceman--murder! fire! thieves!--there's another jolly
Poor George Lovegrove gazed in bewilderment from Serena to the parrot,
from the parrot to his wife, and then back to Serena again.
"You do surprise me! And I am more mortified than I can say that you
should have the most distant reason, Serena--or Susan either--ever to
feel the least slighted in this house. You do surprise me--I can't
believe it has been the least intentional on Iglesias' part. But I
would not have had anything of the kind happen for twenty pounds."
"Pray don't apologise, George," Serena cried, "or I shall feel quite
annoyed. Of course everyone has a right to their own preferences; but
I had been led to expect something different. As I say, it may only be
a coincidence. Nothing may have really been meant. Only it has seemed
rather marked. But in any case it has not been your fault, George."
"I am very glad you allow that, Serena," the good creature said
"Oh! yes. I quite excuse you of any intentional slight, George. I
quite trust you. Still, nothing could be more unpleasant than for me
to feel that my being here put any restriction upon your friends
coming to the house. Of course I know Susan and I move in rather
different society from Rhoda and yourself."
"Yes," he assented hurriedly, agonised as to the wife's feelings--
"And so it is quite possible that I may not suit some of your
"Excuse me," he panted--"no, Serena, I cannot think that."
"I am not sure," she returned argumentatively. "Not at all sure,
George. And nothing could be more unpleasant to me than to feel I was
the least in the way. Of course, I should never have come back if I
had supposed I should be in the way; but Rhoda made such a point of
Here the parrot broke forth into prolonged and earpiercing shriekings,
flapping its wings violently and nearly tumbled backwards off its
"Throw a handkerchief over the poor bird's cage, Georgie dear," cried
Mrs. Lovegrove from the sofa. Her face was red. She had become
distressingly hot and flustered.--"And just as I was flattering myself
it was all turning out so nicely, too," she said to herself.--"No, not
your own, Georgie dear"--this aloud--"you may need it later. The red
bandana out of the right-hand corner of the top drawer of the work-
"I think it would be much simpler for me to go," Serena continued, her
voice pitched in a high key to combat the cries of the parrot and the
rattle of the table drawer, which George Lovegrove in his present
state of agitation found it impossible to shut with accuracy and
"Of course, it may inconvenience Susan to have me return sooner than
she expected. She is away speaking at a number of missionary meetings
in the North. And the maids will be on board wages, and the drawing-
room furniture will have been put into holland covers. She counted on
my staying here till I go to my cousin, Lady Samuelson, in Ladbroke
Square, the third week in December. But, of course, all that must be
arranged. I can give up my visit. Lady Samuelson will be annoyed, and
I don't know what excuse I can make to her. Still, I think I had
really much better go; and then you can have Mr. Iglesias, or any
other of your and Rhoda's friends, to stop here without my feeling
that I am in the way. Nothing could be more odious to me than feeling
I was encroaching or forcing myself upon you. Mamma would never have
countenanced such behaviour. It is the sort of thing we were always
brought up to have the greatest horror of. It is a thing I never have
done and never could do. I hope you understand that, George. Nothing
could be further from my thoughts when I accepted Rhoda's invitation
"Miss Hart, please, ma'am," the little house-parlour-maid trumpeted,
her face very pink from the exertion of attracting her mistress's
attention and making herself heard. Mrs. Lovegrove bounced up from the
sofa. Usually, it must be allowed, the great Eliza was rather at a
discount. Now she was astonishingly welcome. Her hostess's greeting,
though silent, was effusively cordial. She clutched at her guest's
hand as one in imminent risk of drowning at a lifebelt. The said guest
was in her sprightliest humour. She was also in a scarlet flannel
blouse thickly powdered with gradated black discs. This, in
conjunction with purple chrysanthemums in a black hat, her tawny hair
and freckled complexion, did not constitute a wholly delicious scheme
of colour; but to this fact Mrs. Lovegrove was supremely indifferent.
"Good-afternoon," Miss Hart said in a stage whisper, glancing towards
Serena, still bright-eyed and erect. "Don't let me interrupt, pray. My
conversation will keep. I will just sit and listen."
"Listen to what?" Serena cried, almost inarticulate with indignation.
"Why, to your recitation. Our gentlemen often treat us to a little in
that line of an evening, Mrs. Lovegrove, after dinner. I dote on
recitation. Pieces of a comic nature specially, when well delivered."
"I should never dream of reciting," Serena declared heatedly.
"No, really now," Miss Hart returned. "That seems quite a pity. It is
such a pleasant occupation for a dull afternoon like this, do you not
think so, Miss Lovegrove? I declare I was quite sure, from the moment
I came into the hall--while I was taking off my waterproof--that your
cousin was giving you a little entertainment of that kind, Mr.
Lovegrove. Her voice was running up and down in such a very telling
If glances could scorch, Miss Hart would unquestionably have been
reduced to a cinder, for rage possessed Serena. She had worked herself
up into a fine fume of anger over purely imaginary injuries. And now,
that Eliza Hart, of all people in the world, should intervene with
suggestions of comic recitations!
"Detestable person!" Serena said to herself. "Her conduct is
positively outrageous. Of course she knew perfectly well I was doing
nothing of the kind. Really, I believe anybody would feel her manner
quite insulting. I wonder how George and Rhoda can tolerate her. It
shows George has deteriorated much that he should tolerate her. I am
not so surprised at Rhoda. Of course she never had good taste. I think
I ought to go to my room. That would mark my displeasure. But then she
may have come on purpose to say something particular. I wonder if she
has done so? Of course if she has, she wants to get rid of me. That is
her object. But she is mistaken if she thinks that I shall gratify
her. I think I owe it to myself to make sure exactly what is going on.
I will certainly stay. That will show her I am on the watch."
During this protracted, though silent, colloquy, Serena had remained
standing in the middle of the room. Now she rustled back to the
window, held aside the lace curtain and resumed her contemplation of
the fog-enshrouded Green. Good George Lovegrove gazed after her in
deep dejection and perplexity. Somebody, it appeared to him, had been
extremely unreasonable and disagreeable; but who that somebody was for
the very life of him he could not tell. The wife was out of the
question; while to suppose it Serena approached high treason. Still he
was very sure it could not be that most scrupulously courteous
personage Dominic Iglesias. There remained himself--"Yet I wouldn't
knowingly vex a fly," he thought, "and as to vexing Serena! Sometimes
ones does wish females were not quite so sensitive."
Miss Hart, meanwhile, had taken the unaccustomed post of honour beside
her hostess upon the sofa. She was enjoying herself immensely. She
had a conviction of marching to victory.
"Yes," she said, "Mrs. Lovegrove, dear Peachie Porcher asked me just
to run across as she has missed your last two afternoons, lest you
should think her neglectful. I am well aware I am but a poor
substitute for Peachie--no compliments now, Mr. Lovegrove, if you
"Mrs. Porcher is in good health, I trust"--this from Rhoda.
"At present, yes, I am happy to say, thank you. But how long it will
continue," Miss Hart spoke impressively--"at this rate I am sure I
"Indeed," George Lovegrove inquired anxiously. "You don't tell me so?
Nothing wrong, I trust."
"Well, as I always tell her, her sense of duty amounts almost to a
fault--so unselfish, so conscientious, it brings tears to my eyes
often at times. I hope it is appreciated in the right quarter--I do
hope that, Mr. Lovegrove."
Here Rhoda's bosom heaved with a generous sigh.
"There is much ingratitude in the world, Miss Hart, I fear," she said
Her husband looked at her in an anguish of apology--whether for his
own sins or those of others he knew not exactly.
"So there is, Mrs. Lovegrove," Eliza responded warmly. "And nobody is
a more speaking example of that truth than Peachie Porcher. When I
think of all she went through during her married life, and yet so
unsuspicious, so trusting--it is enough to melt an iceberg, that it
is, Mrs. Lovegrove. Now, as I was saying to her only this morning,
'You must study yourself a little, get out in the air, take a peep at
the shops, and have some amusement.' But her reply is always the
same.--'No, Liz, dear,' she says, 'not at the present time, thank you.
I know the duties of my position as mistress of Cedar Lodge. When any
one of our gentlemen is ailing, my place is at home. I must remain in
the house in case of a sudden emergency. I should not have an easy
moment away from the place,' she says."
Miss Hart looked around upon her hearers demanding approbation and
"Very affecting, is it not?" she inquired.
After a moment's embarrassed silence, George Lovegrove murmured a
suitable, if timid, assent. His wife assumed a bolder attitude. Goaded
by provocations recently received, she went over--temporarily--to the
side of the enemy.
"I always have maintained Mrs. Porcher was full of heart," she
declared, throwing the assertion across the room, much as though it
was a stone, in the direction of the figure at the window.
Serena drew herself up with a rustle.
"I wonder exactly what Rhoda means by that?" she commented inwardly.
"I think it very odd. Of course, she must have some meaning, and I
wonder what it is. She seems to be changing her line. I am glad I
stayed. I am afraid Rhoda is rather deceitful. I excuse George of
deceit. I believe George to be true; but he is sadly influenced by
Rhoda. I am rather sorry for George."
"So she is, Mrs. Lovegrove," Eliza Hart resumed--"Peachie's too full
of heart, as I tell her. She is forever thinking of others and their
comforts. She grudges neither time nor money, does not Peachie. There
is nothing calculating or cheese-paring about her--not enough, I often
think. Fish, sweetbreads, game, poultry, and all of the very best--
where the profits are to come from with a bill of fare like that
passes my powers of arithmetic, and so I point out to her. I hope it
is appreciated--yes, I do hope that, Mr. Lovegrove"--there the speaker
became extremely coy and playful. "A little bird sometimes seems to
twitter to me that it is. And yet I am sure I don't know. The members
of your sex are very misleading, Mr. Lovegrove. Do not perjure
yourself now. You cannot take me in. And a certain gentleman is very
close, you know, and stand-offish. It is not easy to get at his real
sentiments, is it, now?"
Serena laid back her ears, so to speak. "I was quite right to stay,"
she reflected wrathfully.
"I think Mr. Iglesias is unusually considerate, Miss Hart," George
Lovegrove said tentatively. "He is quite sensible of Mrs. Porcher's
kind attentions. But naturally he is very tenacious of upsetting her
household arrangements and giving additional trouble."
"And then the position of a bachelor is delicate, Miss Hart, you must
admit," Mrs. Lovegrove chimed in. "That's what I always tell Georgie.
It may do all very well in their younger days to be unattached, but as
gentlemen get on in life they do need their own private
establishments. I am sure I am sorry for them in chambers, or even in
good rooms like those at Cedar Lodge. For it is not the same as a
home, Miss Hart, and never can be. There must be awkwardnesses on both
sides at times, especially when, it comes to illness."
Then the great Eliza gathered herself together, for it appeared to her
her forecast had been just and that she was indeed marching to
"Yes, there is no denying all that," she said, "and I am more than
glad you see it in that light, Mrs. Lovegrove. Between ourselves, I
have more and more ever since a certain gentleman gave up work in the
City. It would be premature to speak freely; but, just between friends
and under the rose, you being interested in one party and I in the
other, there can be no harm in dropping a hint and ascertaining how
the land lies. Of course if it came to pass, it would be to my own
disadvantage, for I do not know how I should ever bear to part with
Peachie Porcher. Still, I could put myself aside, if I felt it was for
"You do surprise me," George Lovegrove exclaimed. He was filled with
consternation, his hair nearly rising on his head. "I had no notion.
Dear me, you fairly take away my breath." He could almost have wept.
"To think of it!" he repeated. "Only to think of it! Miss Hart, you do
"Oh! you must not run away with the notion anything is really settled
yet," she replied. "And I could not say Mrs. Porcher really would,
when it came to the point, after the experiences she had in her first
marriage. She is very reserved, is Peachie. Still, she might. And very
fortunate a certain gentleman would be if she did--it does not take
more than half an eye to see that."
"Dr. Nevington, please, ma'am," announced the parlour-maid, and the
fine clerical voice and clerical presence filled all the room.
Thereupon Serena graciously joined the circle. She was unusually self-
possessed and definite. She embarked in a quite spirited conversation
with the newcomer. And when Eliza Hart, after a few pleasantries of a
parochial tendency with the said newcomer--in whose favour she had
vacated the place of honour upon the sofa--rose to depart, Serena
bowed to her in the most royally distant and superior manner. Her
amiability remained a constant quantity during the rest of the
evening; and when an opportunity occurred of speaking in private to
her cousin, she did so with the utmost cordiality.
"I do hope, George," she said, "you will not think any more of our
little unpleasantness. I can truly say I never bear malice. I own I
was annoyed, for I felt I had not been quite fairly treated by Rhoda.
But, of course, I may have been mistaken. I am quite willing to
believe so and to let bygones be bygones, and stay, as Rhoda pressed
me to do, until I go to my cousin, Lady Samuelson, in December. Of
course it would be more convenient to me in some ways. But I am not
thinking of that. I am thinking of you and Rhoda. I should not like to
disappoint her by leaving her when she wants me to help entertain your
friend, Mr. Iglesias. Of course, I cannot pretend I take easily to
strangers. Mamma was very particular whom we associated with, and so I
have always been unaccustomed to strangers, and I cannot pretend I am
partial to making new acquaintances. Still, I should be very sorry to
seem unaccommodating, or to hurt you and Rhoda by refusing to stay and
"Thank you truly, Serena; I am sure you are very kind," the good man
answered. And the best, or the worst, of it was he actually believed
he was speaking the truth!
The easterly wind blew strong and shattering, bleak and dreary,
against the windows of the bedchamber at the back of the house. The
complaint of the cedar tree, as the branches sawed upon one another,
was long-drawn and loud. These sounds reached Iglesias in the sitting-
room, where he sat, alone and unoccupied, before the fire. For more
than a week now he had been confined to the house. He had set the door
of communication between the two rooms open, so as to gain a greater
sense of space and that he might take a little exercise by walking the
whole length of them. The cry of the wind and the moan of the sawing
branches was very comfortless, yet he made no effort to shut it out.
To begin with, he was so weak that it was too much trouble to move. To
go on with, the melancholy sounds were not ill-suited to his present
humour. For a great depression was upon him, a weariness of spirit
which might be felt. Out of doors London shivered, houses and sky and
the expanse of Trimmer's Green, with its leafless trees and iron
railings, livid, a greyness upon them as of fear. Dominic had no
quarrel with this either. Indeed it gave him a certain bitter
satisfaction, as offering a not inharmonious setting to his own
Though not robust he was tough and wiry, so that illness of such a
nature as to necessitate his remaining within doors was a new and
trying experience. Crossing Hammersmith Bridge on the 'bustop ten days
previously, the chill of the river had struck through him. Yet this,
in all reasonable probability, would merely have resulted in passing
physical discomfort, but for the moral and spiritual hurt immediately
preceding it. How far the mind has power to cure the body is still an
open question. But that the mind can actively predispose the body to
sickness is indubitable. To realise and analyse, in their several
bearings, the causes and consequences of that same moral hurt
Iglesias' pride and loyalty alike refused. In respect of them he set
his jaw and sternly averted his eyes. Yet, though the will may be
steady to resist and to abstain, the tides of feeling ebb and flow,
contemptuous of control as those of some unquiet sea. They defy
volition, notably in illness when vitality is low. Refuse as he might
to go behind the fact, it remained indisputable that the Lady of the
Windswept Dust had given him his dismissal. Out of his daily life a
joy had gone, a constant object of thought and interest. Out of his
heart a living presence had gone, leaving a void more harsh than
death. And all this had happened in a connection peculiarly painful
and distasteful to him; so that it was as though a foul miasma had
arisen, and, drifting across the face of his fair friendship,
distorted its proportions, rendering all his memories of it suspect.
Further, in this discrediting of friendship his hope of the discovery
of that language of the soul which can alone effect a true adjustment
between the exterior and interior life had suffered violent eclipse.
He had been thrown back into the prison-house of the obvious and the
material. The world had lost its poetry, had grown narrow, sordid,
dim, and gross. His own life had grown more than ever barren of
opportunity and inept. In short, Dominic Iglesias had lost sight of
the far horizon which is touched by the glory of the Uncreated Light;
and, so doing, dwelt in outer darkness once again, infinitely
On the afternoon in question he had reached the nadir of disillusion
and distrust. He leaned back in the red-covered chair, his shapely
hands lying, palms downward, along the two arms of it, his vision of
the room and its familiar contents blurred by unshed tears. It was an
hour of supreme discouragement.
"Nothing is left," he said, half aloud, "nothing. The future is as
blank as the present. If this is to grow old, then indeed those whom
the gods love have need enough to die young."
For a space he listened to the shattering wind as it cried in the
window-sashes, to the branches of the cedar sawing upon one another
and moaning as in self-inflicted pain. Newsboys were calling early
specials. The coarse cockney voices, strangled by the easterly blast,
met and crossed one another, died away in a side street, to emerge
again and again encounter. Such words as were distinguishable seemed
of sinister import, agitating to the imagination. Then de Courcy
Smyth's shuffling footsteps crossed the floor of the room overhead.
The wire-wove mattress of his bed creaked as he sat on the edge of it,
kicking off his slippers and putting on walking boots, as might be
gathered from floppings followed by an equally nerveless but heavier
tread. A door opened, closed, and the footsteps descended the stairs.
On the landing without they paused for an appreciable time; but, to
Mr. Iglesias's great relief, deciding against attempt of entry,
continued their cheerless progress down to the hall below. Yet, just
now Iglesias could have found it in his heart to envy the man,
notwithstanding his unsavouriness of attitude and aspect. For in him
ambition still stirred. He had still definite work to do, and the hope
of eventual fame to support him during the doing of it; had the
triumph of the theatre, the applause of an audience in the white heat
of enthusiasm to dream of and strive after.
"But, for me, nothing," Iglesias repeated, "whether vital as of those
far-away southern battle-fields, or fictitious and close at hand as of
the stage. Not even the sting of poverty to whet appetite and give an
edge to bodily hunger. Nothing, either of fear or of hope. The measure
of my obscurity is the measure of my immunity from change of fortune,
bad or good. I am worthless even as food for powder. Danger herself
will have none of me, and passes me by."
With that he raised his hands and let them drop despairingly along the
arms of the chair again, while the unbidden tears overflowed. For a
minute or more he remained thus, weeping silently with bowed head.
Then, a movement of self-contempt taking him, he regained his calm,
sat upright, brushing away the tears.
And it was as though, in thus regaining a clearer physical vision, he
regained a clearer mental vision likewise. Purpose asserted itself as
against mere blind acquiescence. Iglesias looked up, demanding as of
right some measure of consolation, some object promising help. So
doing, his eyes sought a certain carven oak panel set in an ebony
frame. From his earliest childhood he remembered it, for it had hung
in his mother's bedchamber; and in those far-away years, while she
still had sufficient force to disregard opposition and make an open
practice of prayer, she had kneeled before it when engaged in her
devotions. Waking at night--when as a baby-child, during his father's
long absences, he slept in her room--Dominic had often seen the
delicate kneeling figure, wrapped in some loose-flowing garment, the
hands outstretched in supplication. Even then, in the first push of
conscious intelligence, the carven picture had spoken to him as
something masterful, for all its rigidity and sadness, and very strong
to help. It had given him a sense of protection and security, so that
his little soul was satisfied; and he could go to sleep again in
peace, sure that his mother was in safe keeping while--as he said--she
"talked to it." In the long interval which had elapsed since then he
had lost touch with the spirit of it, though preserving it as among
the most cherished of his family relics. His appreciation of it had
become aesthetic rather than religious. But now, as it hung on the
dimly white wall above his writing-table on the window side of the
fireplace, the dreary London afternoon light took the surface of it,
bringing all the details of the scene into prominence. Suddenly,
unexpectedly, the old power declared itself. The picture came alive as
to the intention and meaning of it. It spoke to him once again, and
that with no uncertain voice.
Three tall narrow crosses uplifted against a cloudless sky. Below, a
multitude of men, women, and horses, carved in varying degrees of
relief. Some starting into bold definiteness, some barely indicated
and as though imprisoned in the thickness of the wood; but all grave,
energetic, and, whether inspired by compassion or by mockery, fierce.
These grouped around a great web of linen--upheld by some of them at
the four corners, hammock-wise, high at the head, low at the foot--
wherein lay the corpse of a man in the very flower of his age, of
heroic proportions, spare yet muscular, long and finely angular of
limb, the articulations notably slender, the head borne proudly though
bent, the features severely beautiful, the whole virile, indomitable
even in the physical abjection of death.
In this Spanish presentment of the closing act of the Divine Tragedy
the sensuous pagan element, which mars too many otherwise admirable
works of religious art, was absent. Its appeal was to the intellect
rather than to the emotions, inculcating effort rather than inviting
any sentimental passion of pity. Its message was that of conquest, of
iron self-mastery and self-restraint. This was bracing and courage-
begetting even when viewed from the exclusively artistic standpoint.
But now not merely the presentment of the event held Iglesias'
attention, but the event presented, the thing in itself. His heart and
intelligence grasped the meaning of it, not only as a matter of
supreme historic interest in view of its astonishing influence upon
human development during the last two thousand years; but as an ever-
present reality, as an exposition of the Absolute, of that which
everlastingly has been, and everlastingly will be, and hence of
incalculable and immediate importance to himself. It spoke to him of
no vague and general truth; but of a truth intimate and individual,
coming to him as the call to enter upon a personal inheritance. Of
obedience to the dictates of natural religion, and faithful practice
of the pieties of it, Dominic Iglesias had, all his life, been a
remarkable if unconscious exponent. But this awakening of the spirit
to the actualities of supernatural religion, this crossing of that
dark immensity of space which appears to interpose between Almighty
God and the mind of man, was new to him. He had sought a language of
the soul which might effect an adjustment between the exterior and
interior life. Here, in the Word made Flesh, with reverent amazement
he found it. He had sought it through the instrumentality of the
things of time and sense; and they, though full with promise, had
proved illusory. He had fixed his hope on relation to the creature.
But here, all the while, close beside him, waiting till the scales
should fall from his eyes and he should see and understand, had stood
the Creator. Fair, very fair--while it lasted--was human friendship.
But here, had he but strength and daring to meet it, was a friendship
infinitely fairer, immutable, eternal--namely, the friendship of
The easterly wind still cried in the window-sashes, harsh and
shattering. The branches of the exiled cedar tree sawed upon one
another, uttering their long-drawn complaint. The voices of the
newsboys, hoarse and raucous, shouting their sinister message, still
came and went. The livid light of the winter afternoon grew more
dreary as it sank into, and was absorbed by, the deepening dusk. But
to Dominic Iglesias these things had ceased to matter. Dazzled,
enchanted, confounded, alike by the magnitude and the simplicity of
his discovery, he remained gazing at the carven panel; gazing through
and beyond it to that of which it was the medium and symbol, gazing,
clear-eyed and fearlessly, away to the far horizon radiant with the
surpassing glory of the Uncreated Light.
The Black Week had just ended; but the humiliation of it lay, as a
dead weight, upon the heart of London. Three crushing reverses in
eight days--Stormberg, Magersfontein, and finally Colenso! There was
no getting rid of the facts, or the meaning of them in respect of
incapacity, blundering, and reckless waste of personal valour. It was
a sorry tale, and one over which Europe at large chuckled. It has been
universally assumed that the English are a serious nation. This is an
error. They are not serious, but indifferent, a nation of
individualists, each mainly, not to say exclusively, occupied with his
own private affairs. With the vast majority unity of sentiment is
suspect, and patriotism a passive rather than an active virtue. But at
this juncture, under the stress of repeated disaster, unity of
sentiment and patriotism--that is, a sense of the national honour and
necessity for the vindication of it--became strongly evident. London
was profoundly and visibly moved. Not with excitement--that came
later, manifesting itself in hysterical outcries of relief--but with a
grim anger and sadness of astonishment that such things could indeed
be. Strangers, passing in the street, looked one another in the eyes
questioningly, a common anxiety forging unexpected bonds of kinship.
The town was curiously hushed, as though listening, always listening,
for those ugly messages rushed so perpetually by cable from overseas.
Men's faces were strained by the effort to hear, and, hearing, to
judge justly the extent and the bearings of both national and
individual damage. Already mourning struck a sensible note in women's
dress. If the Little Englander capered, he was careful to do so at
home, or in meeting-places frequented only by persons likeminded with
himself. It may be questioned whether he is not ever most courageous
when under covert thus; since shooting out of windows or from behind
hedges would appear to be his inherent, and not particularly gallant,
notion of sport. The newsboys alone openly and blatantly rejoiced,
dominating the situation--as on Derby Day or Boat-race Night--and
putting a gilded dome to the horror by yelling highly seasoned lies
when truth proved insufficiently evil to stimulate custom to the
extent of his desires. Depression, as of storm, permeated the social
atmosphere. Churches were full, places of amusement comparatively
empty. To laugh seemed an indiscretion trenching on indecency.