Part 4 out of 7
Amid surrounding bravery of imperial purple, cream-colour, and gold,
Poppy St. John sat at the extreme end of the first row of balcony
stalls in the newly opened Twentieth Century Theatre. This was a calm
and secluded spot, since the partition, dividing off the boxes,
flanked it on the right. Partly on this account Poppy had selected it.
Partly, also, because it afforded an excellent view of the left of the
stage; and it was on the left--looking from the body of the house--
that the principal action of the piece, as far as Dot Parris's part
was concerned, took place. Poppy was unattended. She wanted an
evening's rest, an evening free of conversation and effort; but she
wanted something to look at, too, something affording just sufficient
emotional stimulus to keep importunate thought at bay. This the
theatre supplied. It had ceased long ago to tire her. She knew the
ways of it from both sides of the footlights uncommonly well, and
loved them indifferently much. She was a shrewd and cynical critic.
Nevertheless, to go to the play was a sort of going home to her--a
home neither very socially nor morally exalted, perhaps, but one
offering the advantages of perfect familiarity.
Huddled in a black velvet fur-lined sacque, reaching to her feet and
abundantly trimmed with jet embroidery and black lace, she settled
herself in her place. The soft fur was cosey against her bare neck.
She felt chilly. Later she might peel, thereby exhibiting the values
of the rest of her costume. But it was not worth while to do so yet.
The first piece was over, but the house was still a poor one. It might
fill up. She hoped it would for Dot's sake; for few things are more
disheartening than to play to empty benches. But, at present, the
audience was altogether too sparse for it to be worth while to
sacrifice comfort to effect. In point of fact, Poppy was cold from
sheer fatigue. For the last month, to employ her own rather variegated
phraseology, she had racketed, had persistently and pertinaciously
been "going the pace." No doubt they do these things better in France;
yet, as she reflected, provided you are unhampered by prejudice, are
fairly in funds and know the ropes, even grimy fog-bound London is, in
this particular connection, by no means to be sneezed at. And truly
Poppy's autobiography during the said month would have made extremely
merry reading, amounting in some aspects to a positive classic--though
of the kind hardly suited as a basis of instruction for the pupils of
a young ladies' school. Setting aside adventures of a more
questionable character, a positively alarming good luck had pursued
her, everything she touched turning to gold. Even in this hour of
financial depression the market favoured her both in buying and
selling. If she put money on a horse, that horse was sure to win. If
she played cards--and she had played pretty constantly--she inevitably
plundered her opponents. This last alone, of all her doubtful doings,
really troubled her; for her opponents had frequently been youthful,
and it was contrary to Poppy's principles to pluck the but
Barring this solitary deflection from her somewhat latitudinarian code
of ethics, she had, on the face of it, ample cause for self-
congratulation. Never had she been more gaily audacious in word or
deed. Never had she been better company, keeping her audience--an
almost exclusively masculine one--in a roar, all the louder perhaps
because of inward defiance of the news from over-seas, the humiliation
of which had now culminated in the disasters of the Black Week. Flame
only shows the brighter for a sombre background. And Poppy, during
this ill-starred period, had been as a flame to her admirers and
associates--a fitful, prankish flame, full of provocation and
bedevilment, the light of it inciting to all manner of wild doings
and, in the end, not infrequently scorching those pretty shrewdly who
were over-bold in warming themselves at the heat of it. For fires of
the sort lighted by Poppy are not precisely such as contribute to the
peace and security of the domestic hearth.
But now she was tired. The fun seemed fun no longer; so that,
notwithstanding her successes, she found herself a prey to
dissatisfaction, discontent, and a disposition to recall all the less
happy episodes of her varied career. She yawned quite loudly, as she
laid opera-glasses and play-bill upon the velvet cushion in front of
her, and pulled the soft fur-lined garment up closer about her
"The first act's safe to be poorish anyhow, and Dot does not come on
till just the end of it. I wonder if I dare go to sleep?" she asked
herself, gently rubbing her eyes. "It would be awfully nice to forget
the whole blooming show, past, present, and to come, for a little
while and plunge in the waters of oblivion. Oblivion with a capital O
--a dose of that's what I want. Beautiful roomy consolation-stakes
of a word, oblivion, if one could only believe in the existence of
it--which, unluckily, some-how I can't."
Here the strains of the orchestra ceased. The lights were turned low
in the body of the house. The curtain went up. As it did so a cold
draught drew from regions behind the stage, laden with that
indefinable odour of gas, glue, humanity, flagged stair and alleyways,
paint, canvas, carpentry, and underground places the sun never
penetrates, which haunts the working part of every theatre. Poppy
smiled as she snuffed it, with a queer mingling of enjoyment and
repulsion. For as is the smell of ocean to the seafarer, of mother-
earth to the peasant, of incense to the priest, so is the smell of the
theatre to the player. Nature may revolt; but the spell holds. Once an
actor always an actor. The mark of the calling is indelible. Even to
the third and fourth generation there is no rubbing it out.
"I suppose it would have been wiser if I had stuck to the profession,"
Poppy commented to herself. "I should have been a leading lady by now,
drawing my thirty to forty pounds a week. I had the root of the matter
in me. Have it still, worse luck; for it's the sort of root which
asserts its continued existence by aching at times like that of a
broken tooth. It was a wrench to give it all up. But then those rotten
plays of his, inflated impossible stuff, which would never act--
couldn't act!--and I carrying them round to manager after manager and
using all the gentle arts I knew to get them accepted. Oh! it was very
dignified, it was very pretty! And then his perpetual persecutions for
money, his jealousy and spite, and his fine feelings, his infernal
superiority--yes, that was what really did the job. Flesh and blood
couldn't stand it. To prove to a woman, at three meals daily, that she
couldn't hold a candle to you in birth, or brains, or education; and
then expect her to slave for you--and make it jolly hot for her if she
didn't, too--while you sat at home and caressed the delusion of your
own heaven-born genius in the only decently comfortable chair in the
house! No, it was not good enough--that it was not."
Poppy surveyed the stage, unseeing, her great eyes wide with unlovely
"I wonder what's become of him," she said presently. "He hasn't dunned
me for months. Has he found some other poor wretch to bleed? Must
have, I imagine, for he always declared he was on the edge of
starvation. Supposing that was true, though--supposing he has
Her thought sank away into a wordless reverie of the dreariest
description. Suddenly she roused herself, clenching her hands in her
"Well, supposing he has, what does it matter to me? If ever a man
deserved to starve, he did, vain, lazy, cowardly, self-seeking jackal
of a fellow. Why in the name of reason should I trouble about him--
specially to-night? But then why, whenever I am a bit done, does the
remembrance of him always come back?"
Poppy yawned again, staring blankly at the persons on the stage,
hearing the sound of their speech but knowing only the sense of her
"Why? Because it's like him, because it's altogether in the part. He
was always on the watch for his opportunity; wheedling or
blackguarding, directly he saw one had no fight left in one, till he
got his own way."
She leaned forward, resting her hands on the velvet cushion.
"I am confoundedly tired," she said. "All the same, it's rather
horrible. If the thing came over again, which mercifully it can't, I
should do precisely the same as I did. And yet I'm never quite sure
which of us was really in the right. And, therefore, I suppose just as
long as I live, whenever I'm dished--as I am to-night--I shall work
the whole hateful business through again, and the remembrance of him
will always come back."
She pushed the soft heavy masses of hair up from her forehead with
"In the main it was your own fault, de Courcy Smyth, and you know that
it was. Most women would not have held out nearly as long as I did. So
lie quiet. Let me be. Starve, if you've got as far on the downgrade as
that. What do I care? I owe you nothing. You never gave me a child. So
starve, if you must--yes, starve," she said.
Then she gathered herself back into her stall. Her expression changed.
"Ah, there's Dot. They're giving her a reception. Bless them--how
awfully sweet! Hurrah for poor little Dot!" Her hands went up to
applaud. And for the ensuing ten minutes her fatigue was forgotten.
She became absorbed in the action of the piece.
Dot Parris earned a recall at the end of the first act, conquering by
sheer force of personality that gloomy and half-hearted audience. And
Poppy St. John--among whose many faults lack of generosity certainly
could not be counted--standing up, leaned right out over the velvet-
cushioned barrier of the dress circle, crying "Brava!" and clapping
her hands. To achieve the latter demonstration with befitting
resonance she had stripped off her gloves. Then as the lights were
turned up and the curtain swung into the place, she proceeded to
further stripping--namely, that of her black embroidered sacque,
which she threw across the back of the empty stall beside her, thereby
revealing a startling costume. For she was clothed in rose-scarlet
from shoulder to foot; and that without ornament of any description to
break up the daring uniformity of colour, save the stiff unstanding
black aigrette in her hair, tipped with diamond points which flashed
and glittered as she moved. The soft _mousseline-de-soie_ of
which her dress was made swathed her figure, cross-wise, without
apparent fastening, moulding it to the turn of the hips. Thence the
skirt flowed down in a froth of rose-scarlet gaugings and fluted frills,
which trailed behind her far. The bodice was cut in a deep V back and
front, showing her bare neck. Her arms were bare, too, from the elbow.
Her skin, somewhat sallow by day, took on a delicate ivory whiteness
under the electric light. By accident or design she had omitted to
tinge her cheeks to-night; and the even pallor of her face emphasised
the largeness of her eyes--luminous, just now, with sympathy and
enthusiasm. For the artist in Poppy dominated all else, vibrant and
alert. The glamour of the actor's life was upon her; the seamy side of
it forgotten--its unworthy rivalries and bickerings, the slangings and
prolonged weariness of rehearsals, its many disappointments,
heart-burnings, and sordid shifts. These were as though they were not;
so that the stage called her, even as the sea calls one, and mother-earth
another, and religion a third.
"Pou-ah! aren't I just hot, though!" she said, half aloud, as she
flung off her sacque. "And what a changeling imp of a creature Dot is,
after all! An imp of genius.--well, she's every right to that, as one
knows when one looks at James Colthurst's pictures. He'd genius. He
didn't shirk living. My stars! there was a man capable of adding to
the number of one's emotions! And she's inherited his gifts on her own
lines. What a voice, what gestures! She is as clever as she can stick.
Oh! she's a real joy of a demon of a thing, bless her; and she's
nothing like come to her full strength yet."
Then growing aware that she herself and her vivid attire were
beginning to attract more attention than, in the interests of a quiet
evening, she desired, Poppy subsided languidly into her stall, and,
picking up her opera-glasses, slowly surveyed the occupants of the
There to begin with was Bobby Saville in the second row of the stalls,
flanked on either hand by a contingent of followers. His round dark
head and the set of his tremendous shoulders were unmistakable.
Saville was very far from being a model young man, yet Poppy had a
soft spot in her heart for this aristocratic bruiser and bravo. His
constancy to Dot Parris was really touching. With a dog-like
faithfulness and docility, this otherwise most turbulent of his sex
had followed the object of his affections from music-hall to comic
opera, from comic opera to the high places of legitimate drama. And
Dot meanwhile remained serenely invulnerable, tricking and mocking her
high-born heavy-weight lover, telling him cheerfully she really had no
use for him, though his intentions were strictly honourable. Twenty-
five years hence, she added, when he was an elderly peer, and she had
begun to grow broad in the beam, and the public had begun to grow
tired of her, she might perhaps contemplate the thraldom of wedlock.
But not yet awhile--no, thank you. Her art held all her love,
satisfied all her passions; she had none to waste upon mankind. Two
days hence, as Poppy knew, Bobby Saville would sail for South Africa,
to offer an extensive target to Boer bullets. He had come to bid
farewell, to-night, to the obdurate object of his affections. And his
followers--some of whom were also bound for the seat of war--had come
to support him during those pathetic proceedings.
In the boxes she recognised more than one woman whose rank of riches
had rendered her appearance common property through the medium of the
illustrated papers. But upon these social favourites she bestowed
scant scrutiny. To her they did not matter, since she had a
comfortable conviction that, given their chances, she might safely
have backed herself to beat them at their own game. One large and
gentle-looking lady did attract her, by the innocence of her mild eyes
set noticeably wide apart, and by the beauty of her small mouth. Her
light brown hair, touched with grey, rippled back from her low
forehead under a drapery of delicate lace. She was calm, yet there was
an engaging timidity in her aspect as she sheltered behind the farther
curtain of the box. Beside her sat a young girl, white-clad,
deliciously fresh in appearance, an expression of happy half-shy
expectation upon her charming face. Behind them, in the shadow,
kindly, handsome, debonnair, stood Lord Fallowfeild. His resemblance
to the large and gentle lady declared them brother and sister. Poppy
St. John watched the little party with a movement of tenderness. She
perceived that they were very fond of one another; moreover they were
so delightfully simple in bearing and manner, so excellently well-
bred. But of what was the pretty maiden so shyly expectant? Of
something, or somebody, far more immediately interesting to her than
players or play--so Poppy judged.
Turning from the contemplation of these pleasant people with a sigh
she could hardly have explained--even to herself--Poppy swept the
dress circle with her opera-glasses. Presently she paused, and with a
lift of surprise looked steadily again, then let both hands and
glasses drop upon her rose-scarlet cap. Four rows up and back, on the
far side, in a stall next the stepped gang-way, a man sat. His face
was turned away, his shoulder being towards her, as he leaned sideways
talking to the woman beside him--a slender, faded, yet elegant person
of uncertain age, dressed in fluffy black. In the seat beyond, also
leaning forward and taking part in the conversation, was another man
of so whimsical an appearance as very nearly to make Poppy laugh
aloud. She would unquestionably have done so had she been at leisure;
but she was not at leisure. Her eyes travelled back to the figure
beside the gang-way, which intrigued both her interest and her memory.
Tall, spare, faultlessly dressed, yet with an effect of something
exotic, aloof, unusual about him, he provoked her curiosity with
suggestions of times and places quite other than of the present.
"Who is it?" Poppy said to herself. "Surely I know him. Who the
Dickens is it?"
The conversation ceased. The man drew himself up, turned his head; and
Poppy gave a little choking cry, as she found herself staring Dominic
Iglesias straight in the face.
Whether he recognised her she did not know, did not want to know just
yet. For she needed a minute or two to reckon with the position. It
was so wholly unexpected. It affected her more deeply than she could
have anticipated. Not without amusement she realised that she had
never, heretofore, quite believed in him as an ordinary mortal, who
ate and drank, went to plays, had relations with human beings other
than herself, and conducted himself generally on the commonplace lines
of modern humanity. Therefore to see him under existing circumstances
was, in a sense, a shock to her. She did not like it. Absurd and
unreasonable though it undoubtedly was to feel it so, yet his presence
here struck her as in a way unseemly, derogatory. She had never
thought of him in this connection, and it took a little time to get
accustom to this aspect of him. Then she discovered, with half-
humorous annoyance, that she was called upon to get accustomed to
something else as well--namely, to her memories of the past month
since she parted from him. For it was undeniable that the said
memories took on a queer enough complexion in the light of this sudden
encounter with Dominic Iglesias. If an hour ago they had been
unsatisfactory, now they were very near odious. And that seemed hardly
fair. Poppy turned wicked.
"For what's the worry, after all?" she asked herself. "Why on earth am
I either disappointed or penitent? Is he no better than the rest of
us, or am I no worse? And with what am I quarrelling, in any case--his
being less of a saint, or I less of a sinner than I'd been pleased to
imagine? I'm sure I don't know."
Instinctively her eyes sought that kindly worlding, Lord Fallowfeild.
With him at least, as she reflected, one knew exactly where one was,
since his feet were always very much upon the floor. But here again
discomfiture, alas! awaited her. For another person, and evidently a
welcome one, had joined that pleasant little party. Standing beside
the large and gentle lady, speaking quickly, gaily, his face keen and
eager, she beheld Alaric Barking. Lord Fallowfeild, smiling, patted
the young man affectionately on the shoulder. And then, with a shudder
of pain gnawing right through her, Poppy St. John, glancing at the
graceful white-clad maiden, understood of whose coming this one had
been so sweetly and gladly expectant.
To the strong there is something exhilarating in all certainty, even
certainty of disaster. And it was very characteristic of Poppy that at
this juncture no cry came to her lips, no sob to her throat. She
shuddered that once, it is true. But then, setting her teeth, the
whole daring of her nature rose to the situation, as a high-mettled
horse rises to a heavy fence. What lay on the other side of that fence
she did not know as yet, nor did she stop to consider. Desperate
though it looked, she took it gallantly without fuss or funking.
"Well, there's no ambiguity about this affair, anyhow," she said
grimly. "Of course it had to come sooner or later, and I knew it had
to come. Well, here it is, that's all, and there's no use whining. And
that's why he's been so jumpy lately: he had a bad conscience. Poor
old chap, he must have been having a beastly bad time of it."
Poppy mused a little.
"Still, it's a facer," she added, "and a precious nasty one, too."
She stretched herself, shaking back her head, while the diamond points
of her aigrette danced and glittered. Took a deep breath, filling her
lungs; listened to herself, so to speak, noting with satisfaction that
neither heart nor pulse fluttered.
"No serious damage," she commented. "I must have the nerves of a
locomotive. Here I am perfectly sound, perfectly sober, standing at
the parting of the ways, between the dear old devil of love and the
deep sea of friendship. Poppy Smyth, my good soul, you've always been
rather fatally addicted to drama. Are you satisfied at last? For just
now, heaven knows, you've jolly well got your fill of it."
Then, for a space, she sat staring out into the house, thinking hard,
intently, yet without words. The future, as she knew, hung in the
balance, for herself and for others; but, as yet, she could not decide
into which scale to throw the determining weight. Presently she looked
steadily at Dominic Iglesias. He was again engaged in conversation,
trying, with his air of fine old-world courtesy, suitably to entertain
his strangely assorted neighbours. Poppy had an idea he found it
rather hard work. She was not in the least sorry. That faded piece of
feminine elegance, in fluffy black, bored her. She entertained a
malicious hope that the said piece of feminine elegance bored Mr.
Iglesias also. Finally, with rather bitter courage, she turned her
eyes once more upon Lord Fallowfeild and his companions.
"Poor little girl, poor little girl," she said, quite gently, "so
that's your heaven on earth, is it? I'm afraid a mighty big crop of
wild oats is on show in your Garden of Eden. Still to you, apparently,
it is a blissful place enough. Only the question is, do I intend to
relinquish my rights in that particular property and make it over to
you in fee simple, my pretty baby, or do I not? Shall I give it you,
or shall I keep it? For it is mine to give or to keep still--very much
mine, if I choose to make a fight for it, I fancy."
Yet even as she communed thus with herself, the white-clad maiden and
the other occupants of the box became indistinct and shadowy. The buzz
of conversation in the theatre had ceased; so had the strains of the
orchestra. The lights had been turned low and the curtain had risen
upon the second act.
About half-way through that act Poppy St. John got up, threw her
velvet sacque over her arm, and, slipping past the three intervening
stalls, made her way up the steps of the near gang-way to the swing-
doors opening out to the couloir. Her movements, though studiously
quiet, were, owing to the vivid hue of her attire, very perceptible
even in the penumbra of the dress circle, provoking attention and
smothered comment. The lady in fluffy black, for example, followed her
with glances of undisguised and condemnatory interest, finally calling
the attention of both her cavaliers to the progress of this glowing
The New Century Theatre is one of those enterprises of trans-Atlantic
origin, undertaken with the praiseworthy and disinterested object of
teaching the Old World "how to do it," and is built and furnished
regardless of expense. The couloirs are wide, lofty, richly carpeted;
the walls of them encrusted with pale highly polished marbles,
pilasters of which, with heavily gilded capitals, flank vast panels of
looking-glass. The moulded ceilings are studded with electric lights,
the glare of which is agreeably softened by pineapple-shaped globes of
crystal glass. The scheme of colour, ranging from imperial purple
through crimson and rose-pink to softest flesh tints, formed an
harmonious setting to the rose-scarlet of Poppy's dress, with its
froth of trailing frills and flounces, as she stood discoursing to a
smart, black-gowned, white-aproned box-keeper.
"You understand, fourth row on the left, next the gang-way? Tell him a
lady wishes particularly to speak to him between the acts. Then bring
him to me here."
"Yes, madam, I quite understand," the young person replied, with much
intelligence, scenting something in the shape of an adventure.
Poppy moved across and sat down on one of the wide divans, and so
doing began to know, once more, how very tired she was. A new
tiredness seemed, indeed, to have been added to the original one. That
first was, at worst, bored and irritable. This was of a different, a
more sad and intimate character.
"I feel as if I had been beaten all over," she said to herself. "Well,
perhaps that's just what it is. I have been beaten. I wish I could
sleep. Oh! dear, oh! dear, how I wish I could sleep."
Her thought fell away into the vague, the inarticulate, though she did
not sleep. Still there was a temporary suspension of volition, of
conscious mental activity, which, in a degree, rested her. Persons,
passing now and again, looked with curiosity at the brilliant figure,
and inscrutable eyes in the dead-white face. The smart box-keeper,
moved by some instinct of pity, came back more than once, finally
offering one of those unwholesome-looking cups of coffee and boxes of
chocolate of which so few have the requisite audacity to partake.
Poppy roused herself sufficiently to reject these terrible delicacies,
while smiling at the conveyor of them. Then she relapsed into the
vague again, and waited, just waited.
"There's the end of the act, madam," the young woman remarked at last
"All right," Poppy answered. "Go straight away and bring the gentleman
here to me. I'm in a hurry. I want to get home."
The glass doors of the exits swished back and forth, letting out the
confused stir and murmur of the house, letting out a crowd of men as
well. And the aspect the said crowd presented to Poppy's overstrained
nerves and exalted sensibility was repulsive. For it suggested to her
a flight of gigantic black locusts, strong-jawed, pink-faced, and
white-breasted, driven forth by a common hunger, rather cruelly active
and intent. Her sense of humour was in abeyance, as was her usually
triumphant common sense; so that her thought, going behind appearances
and the sane interpretation of them, declined to that fundamental
region in which the root laws of animal life become hideously bare and
distinct. Out of the deep places of her own womanhood a hatred towards
this crowd of men arose; that secular enmity which exists between the
sexes asserting itself and, for the time being, obscuring both reason
and justice. For upon what, as she asked herself bitterly, when all is
said and done, do these male human locusts pasture, save on the souls
and bodies of women, finding a garden before them, and, too often,
leaving but a desert behind? Sex as sex became abhorrent to her, its
penalties unpardonable, its pleasures as loathsome as its sins.
But from the black-coated throng the trim figure of the box-keeper
just then detached itself; and a moment later Poppy, looking up,
beheld Dominic Iglesias standing before her.
"You sent for me, so I have come," Iglesias said, for Poppy St. John,
usually so voluble, just now appeared speechless.
From the moment he had become aware of her presence in the theatre,
Dominic had been sensible that she presented herself under a new
aspect. Of the many different Poppys he had seen, this was by far the
most powerful and dramatic. She stood out from the rest of the
audience as some splendid tropic flower stands out from a thick-set
mass of foliage, conspicuous in form and colour and in promise. There
were handsome women, smart women, beautifully dressed women in plenty,
but Poppy did not shade in with all these, making but part of a
general effect. She remained unique, solitary; and this not merely on
account of her vivid raiment. The effect of her told upon the mind
quite as much as upon the sight. Yet she did not look out of place.
She looked, indeed, preeminently at home. Out of doors, in the country
sunshine, she had struck Dominic as a slight creature, unreal and
fictitious. Here, amid highly artificial and conventional
surroundings, she seemed to him the most natural and vital being
present, retaining the completeness of her individuality, the energy
and mystery of it alike, almost aggressively evident and untouched.
Iglesias ceased to consider her in relation to his and her broken
friendship, or in relation to that which he so reluctantly divined of
her private life. He contemplated her in herself, finding an element
of things primitive in her, which commanded his admiration, though it
failed, so far, to touch his heart. And if this was the impression he
received seeing her at a comparative distance, that impression was
greatly intensified seeing her now at close quarters. The contrast
between the subtle softness and the flare--as of a conflagration--of
her dress, the weariness of her attitude, and the unfathomable
melancholy of her eyes, stirred him profoundly.
"Yes," she answered quietly, almost coldly, "I know I sent. This was
about the last place I should have expected to run across you. I
flattered myself I was safe enough here. I didn't wish to meet you one
little bit. Still, when I did see you, I wanted you. You're the most
plaguey impossible person to rid oneself of somehow"--her voice and
manner softened a little--"so I sent for you. I don't know why,
because now I've got you I seem to have changed my mind. I have
nothing to say."
"I can easily go," Iglesias remarked gravely.
"No, no, no," she replied, "why should you hurry? I'm sure those two
freaks you're herding--the beetle turned hind-side before and the
withered leaf--can't be frantically interesting. And I like to look at
you. I never saw you before in evening dress, and you're more _grand
seigneur_ than ever. But something's happened to you. I can't tell
off-hand what it is, whether you've come on or gone back. But you're
"I have had an illness," Iglesias said simply; "and I have been very
"Neither of those are good enough," Poppy answered. "The alteration is
right inside you, in your soul. But you're well again now?" she added.
"Yes, I am well again now."
"And you're no longer unhappy?"
"No," he said. "I am sad, for life is sad; but I am no longer
"That's a nice distinction," Poppy put in, with a rather scornful
inflection. "What's cured your unhappiness? Not an affair of the
heart? Please don't tell me it's anything to do with a woman, for I
warn you I'm awfully off the affections to-night."
"You can make yourself quite easy on that point," Dominic said with a
lift of the head, his native pride asserting itself.
"Ah! that's more like old times!" Poppy's voice softened again, so did
the expression of her face. "Suppose you sit down, dear lunatic. This
wait is a long one, I know. Dot Parris told me it was. Let the freaks
play about together for a little. It will do them good. And I find I
wanted you rather more than I knew at first. I'm beginning to have
something to say after all. Words, only words, perhaps; still it's a
_soulagement_ to sit here with you like this." The corners of
Poppy's mouth drooped and quivered. "I'm having an infernally bad
time; and there's worse ahead."
"I am sorry. I am grieved," Iglesias said. For the charm had begun to
work again, and friendship, as he began to know, although broken-
winged, was very far from dead.
"We won't talk about that," she put in, "or I might make a fool of
myself. Dear man, I think I'd better go home. I'm awfully tired.
Still, I'm better for seeing you." She stood up. "Just help me on with
my coat. Thanks--that's right. Oh! I say, there are the freaks on the
prowl, looking for you!" Poppy's tragic eyes turned naughty,
malicious, gay even for a moment. "What sport!" she said--"unhappy
freaks! The withered leaf has intentions. I see that. She'd like to
eat me without salt. Don't marry her--promise me you won't. Ah!
heavenly, heavenly," she cried. "I need no promises, bless you. Your
face is quite enough. Wretched withered leaf! But look here," she went
on, as she gathered the soft warm garment about her, "I'm tired of
your incognito. Give me your card. I may want you again. So let me
have your name and address."
And Iglesias giving it to her as she requested, she studied it for a
minute silently. Then she turned away.
"I want nothing more. Don't come down with me. One of the boys will
get me a hansom. I'd rather be alone; so just go back to your
flabbergasted freaks, beloved and no-longer-nameless one," she said.
Thin sunshine slanted in through the lace curtains of the dining-room
window. Encouraged thereby, the parrot preened its feathers, making
little snapping and clicking noises meanwhile with its tongue and
beak. The grass of the Green, seen between the black stems of the
encircling trees, glittered with hoarfrost, while the houses on the
opposite side of it looked flat and featureless owing to the
interposing veil of bluish mist. Tradesmen's carts clattered by at a
sharp trot, the defined sound of them breaking up the all-pervading
murmur of London, and dying out into it again as they passed. At the
street corner, some twenty yards away, a German band discoursed
doubtfully sweet music, the trombone making earnest efforts to keep
the rest of the instruments up to their work by the emission of loud
and reproachful tootings. It was a pleasant and cheery morning as
December mornings go, yet constraint reigned at the Lovegrove
The day of Serena's oft-discussed departure had dawned. A few hours
hence she would remove herself and her boxes to her cousin Lady
Samuelson's residence in Ladbroke Square. This should have proved a
source of regret to her host and hostess; and they were conscience-
stricken, confessing to themselves--though not to one another, since
each accredited the other with more laudable sentiments than his or
her own--that relief rather than regret did actually possess them. A
secret from one another, and that a slightly discreditable one, was so
foreign to the experience of the excellent couple that it lay heavy
upon their hearts. Each, moreover, was aware of shame in the presence
of Serena, as in that of a person upon whom they had inflicted an
injury. Hence constraint, which the sunshine was powerless to
"May I pass you the eggs, or bacon, or both, Serena?" George Lovegrove
inquired, his childlike blue eyes meanwhile humbly imploring pardon
for his lack of sorrow at her impending departure. Serena's manner was
stiff and abstracted. This, combined with the rustling of her
petticoats, filled him with anxiety. Was it possible that she knew?
"Thank you, George, only an egg. Not that one, please, it is much too
large. I prefer the smallest. I am not feeling hungry."
"I should never call you much of a breakfast-eater, Serena," Mrs.
Lovegrove observed in her comfortable purring voice, from behind the
tea urn. She was desirous to pacify her guest. "Now I am rather hearty
myself in the morning, always have been so. I do not know whether it
is a good thing or not, as a habit. Still, I think to-day you should
force yourself a little. You should always make provision against a
journey. And then no doubt you are rather fatigued with packing and
getting home so late from the theatre. I am pleased to think you had
an outing your last night here, Serena. Georgie tells me the play was
"I dare say it was," Serena replied. "Of course George would be a much
better judge of that than I am. Mamma was always very particular what
we heard and saw when we were children, and I know I am inclined to
think things vulgar which other people only find amusing."
"I did not remark any vulgarity, and do not think Mr. Iglesias would
countenance anything of that kind in the presence of a lady. He would
ascertain beforehand the nature of the piece to which he invited any
lady"--this from George Lovegrove tentatively.
"Oh! of course I don't say there was anything vulgar. I should not
like to commit myself to an opinion. I really have been to the theatre
very seldom. Mamma never encouraged our going. And then, of course,
old Dr. Colthurst, the rector of St. Jude's at Slowby, whose church we
always attended, disapproved of the theatre. He had great influence
with mamma. And he thought it wicked."
"Indeed," Mrs. Lovegrove commented. "I should be sorry to think that,
as so many go. But he may have come across the evils of it personally.
He had a son, an artist, who was very wild, I believe. And I remember
to have heard our dear vicar speak of Dr. Colthurst as stern, but a
true Protestant and a very grand preacher."
"I dare say he was--I don't mean that his son was wild--I know nothing
about that, of course, but that Dr. Colthurst was a great preacher."
Serena spoke abstractedly, inspecting the yolk of her poached egg
meanwhile as though on the watch for unpleasant foreign bodies.
"But," she continued, "I cannot, of course, be expected to remember
his sermons, though I may have been taken to hear him. I suppose I
certainly was taken, but I was quite too much of a child to remember.
Susan remembers them, but then Susan was so very much older."
She ceased to contemplate her egg, and looked up at her hostess.
"Susan must be very nearly your age, Rhoda; or she may be a year or
eighteen months younger. Yes, judging by the difference between her
age and mine, she must be quite eighteen months younger. Of course,
now, Susan thinks going to the play wicked. I often wonder whether
that is not partly because she dislikes sitting still and listening
when other people are doing something. Susan likes to take part in
everything herself. I often wonder what she would do in church if it
was not for the responses and the singing. I am sure she would never
sit out a service where the congregation did not join in. Susan cannot
bear a choral service. She calls it un-English and Romanising. I do
not dislike it--I mean I do not dislike a choral service. But then I
do not consider the theatre wicked. I am not prejudiced against it, as
Susan is. Still, I cannot deny that I think you do hear very odd
things and see very over-dressed people at the theatre."
Serena looked severely at her host, thereby heightening the anxiety
which possessed him. For once again, as so often during the past eight
or ten hours, a picture presented itself perplexing and fascinating to
his mental vision--namely, that of his dear and honoured friend, the
grave and stately Dominic Iglesias, helping an unknown lady, of
remarkably attractive personal appearance, on with a wonderful black
velvet garment--doing so in the calmest way in the world, too, as
though it were an event of chronic occurrence--while the frills and
furbelows of her voluminous skirts flowed in rosy billows about his
feet. What did the picture portend, George Lovegrove asked himself,
and still more, what did Serena suppose it portended?
"Do you, indeed?" Mrs. Lovegrove put in, in amiable response to her
guest's last remark. She was sensible of being hurt by the allusion to
her age. But then Serena was going, and she knew that fact did not
distress her as deeply as it might have done. She therefore rose
superior to wounded feelings. "It's many years since I've been much of
a playgoer," she continued, "and people tell me it's all a good deal
changed, and not for the better. I suppose the dressing nowadays is
sadly extravagant. I am sure I don't know, and I should always be
timid of condemning anybody or their amusements. But there, as I
always do say, if you want to keep a happy mind there is so much it is
well to be ignorant of."
"I wonder if it is--I mean I wonder if it is well to be ignorant of
things," Serena said reflectively. "Of course, if people think you are
willing to be ignorant, it encourages them in deceiving you. I think
it is very wrong to be deceitful. Sooner or later it is sure to come
out, and then it is very difficult to forgive people. Indeed, I am not
sure it is right to forgive them."
With difficulty George Lovegrove restrained a groan. His food was as
ashes in his mouth; his tea as waters of bitterness.
"Oh! I should be sorry to go as far as that, Serena," Mrs. Lovegrove
remonstrated. "If you give way to unforgiving feelings you can never
tell quite where they may carry you. But as I was going to say, though
I am not much of a playgoer, I was very pleased to have Mr. Iglesias
invite me. Only, as I explained to him, I am very liable to find the
seats too narrow for comfort in places of amusement, and the
atmosphere is often so very close, too. He was most polite and
sympathising; but then that's Mr. Iglesias all over. He always is the
Serena paused, her fork arrested in mid-transit to her mouth.
"I am not sure that I agree with you, Rhoda," she said. "I am not sure
whether I think Mr. Iglesias is really polite, or whether he only
appears to be so because it suits his purpose. Of course you and
George know him far better than I do. Perhaps you understand--I cannot
pretend that I understand him. I may be wrong, but I often wonder
whether there is not a good deal which is rather insincere about Mr.
After throwing which bomb, Serena gave her whole attention to her
breakfast. Usually George Lovegrove would have waxed valiant in
defence of his friend, but a guilty conscience held him tongue-tied.
Not so Rhoda; strive as she might, those allusions to her age still
rankled. And, under cover of protest against injustice to the absent,
she paid off a little of her private score, to her warm satisfaction.
"Well, I am sure," she cried, "I never could have credited that
anybody could question Mr. Iglesias's genuineness! I would sooner
doubt Georgie, that I would, and fear him deceitful."
Again the good man came near groaning. It was as though the wife
planted a poignard in his heart.
"And after you playing the piano to him so frequently the few days Mr.
Iglesias stopped here, and seeming so comfortable together and
friendly, and his inviting us all to the theatre! Really, I must say I
do think you sadly changeable, Serena, that I do."
"No, I am not changeable, Rhoda," the other lady declared, both voice
and colour rising slightly. "Nobody ever accused me of being
changeable before, and I do not like it. I do not think you are at all
justified in making such an accusation. But I am observant. I always
have been so. Even Susan allows that I am very observant. I cannot
help being so, and I do not wish to help it. I think it is much safer.
It helps you to find out who you can really trust. And, of course, I
observed a great deal that happened last night. I felt from the first
that I owed it to myself to be particularly on my guard, because
certain insinuations had been made--you know, Rhoda, you have made
them more than once yourself--and some people might have thought that
things had gone rather far when Mr. Iglesias was stopping here. I
believe Mrs. Porcher and that dreadful Miss Hart did think it. I do
not say that things did go far; I only say that people might naturally
think that they had. On several occasions Mr. Iglesias' conduct did
seem very marked. And, of course, nothing could be more odious to me
than to be placed in a false position. One cannot be too careful,
especially with foreigners. Mamma always warned us against foreigners
when we first came out. I never had any experience of foreigners until
I met Mr. Iglesias, here at your house. But, I am sorry to say, I
believe now mamma was perfectly right."
As she ended her harangue, Serena with a petulant movement of her thin
hands pushed her plate away from the table edge, leaving a vacant
space before her. This was as a declaration of war. She scorned
further subterfuge. She announced a demonstration. A bright spot of
colour burned on either cheek, her small head, on its long stalk of
neck, was carried very erect. It was one of those pathetic moments
when--the merciless revelations of the morning sunshine
notwithstanding--this slim, faded, middle-aged spinster appeared to
recapture, and that very effectively, the charm and promise of her
vanished youth. Excited by foolish anger, animated by a sense of
insult wholly misplaced and imaginary, she became a very passably
pretty person, the immature but hopeful Serena of eighteen looking
forth from the eyes of the narrow-souled disappointed Serena of eight-
"Of course, George may have some explanation of what happened last
night," she went on, speaking rapidly. "If he has, I think it would be
only fair that he should offer it to me. I took for granted he would
do so this morning as soon as we met; or that he would send you to me,
Rhoda, to explain if he felt too awkward about speaking himself. But
as you both are determined to ignore what happened, I am forced to
speak. I dare say it would be much more convenient to you, knowing you
have made a mistake, to pass the whole thing over in silence. But I
really cannot consent to that. If Mr. Iglesias meant nothing all
along, then I think he has behaved disgracefully. If he did mean
something at first, and then"--the speaker gasped--"changed his mind,
he might at least have given some hint. He ought to have refused to
stop here, of course."
"He did refuse," George Lovegrove faltered. This was really dreadful,
far worse than anything he had anticipated--and he had not a notion
what it was safe to say. "I do wish females' minds were a little less
ingenious," he commented to himself. "They see such a lot which would
never have entered my head, for instance."
"Still, Mr. Iglesias came," cried the belligerent Serena.
"Yes, I over-persuaded him. He was very unwilling, very so indeed,
saying that staying out was altogether foreign to his practice. But I
pointed out to him that you and the wife might feel rather mortified
if he omitted to come, having taken such an interest in his illness
If you made use of my name, George, you took a great liberty."
"I am very distressed to hear you say that, Serena. Both the wife and
I certainly supposed you wished him to come."
He looked imploringly at his spouse, asking support. But for once the
large kindly countenance failed to beam responsive. A plaintive
expression overspread its surface. Then the unhappy man stared
despondently out into the misty morning sunshine, plastering down his
shiny hair with a moist and shaky hand. Even the wife turned against
him, making him feel an outcast at his own breakfast-table. He could
"I have been so very guarded throughout," Serena resumed, "that it is
impossible you should have the slightest excuse for using my name.
But, of course, if you have done so, my position is more than ever
odious. There is nothing for me to do but to go. Fortunately I am
going--and I am thankful. If I had followed my own inclinations, I
should have gone long ago. Then I should have been spared all this,
and nothing would have been said. Now all sorts of things may be said,
because, of course, it must all look very odd. It shows how foolish it
is to allow one's judgment to be overruled. I stayed entirely to
oblige Rhoda. And I cannot but see I have been trifled with."
"No, no, Serena, not that--never that," her host cried distractedly.
"If I have been in the wrong, I apologise from my heart. But trifling
never entered my thoughts. How could it do so, with all the respect I
have for you and Susan? I may have been clumsy, but I acted for the
"I am afraid I cannot agree," she retorted. "It is useless to
apologise. I am sorry to tell you so, George, for I have trusted you
until now; but I do feel, and I am afraid I always shall feel, I have
been very unkindly treated by you and Rhoda."
She rose, rustling as she spoke, the parrot, meanwhile, leaving off
preening its feathers, regarding her, its head very much on one side,
with a wicked eye.
"No, please leave me to myself," she said. "I do not want anybody to
help me, and if I do I shall ring for the maids. I want to compose
myself before I go to Lady Samuelson's. After all this unpleasantness,
it is much better for me to be alone."
"Good-bye, girlie, poor old girlie. Hi! p'liceman, bring a four-
wheeler," shrieked the parrot, as Serena opened and closed the dining-
room door, flapping wildly in the sunshine till the sand and seed
husks on the floor of its cage arose and whirled upwards in a crazy
George Lovegrove, who had risen to his feet, sank back into his chair,
resting his elbows on the table and covering Ids face with his hands.
"I would rather have forfeited my pension," he murmured. "I would
rather have lost a hundred pounds."
Then raising his head he gazed imploringly at his wife. And this time
her tender heart could not resist the appeal. He had not been open
with her, but she relented, giving him opportunity to retrieve his
error. Moreover--but that naturally was a very minor consideration--
she was bursting with curiosity.
"Georgie," she asked solemnly, "whatever did happen last night?"
"Mr. Iglesias met a lady friend. She sent for him to talk to her, in
the lobby, between the acts," he answered, the red deepening in his
clean fresh-coloured face.
"Not any of that designing Cedar Lodge lot?"
"Oh! dear no, not all," he replied, his childlike eyes full of
gratitude. He blessed the magnanimity of the wife. But speedily
embarrassment supervened. He found this subject singularly difficult
to deal with. "Not at all of their class. I confess it did surprise
me, for though I have always taken it for granted Dominic belonged to
a higher circle by birth than that in which we have known him, I had
no idea he had such aristocratic acquaintances. His looks and manner
in public, last night, made him seem fitted for any company. Still, I
"Did he not introduce you?"
"No. I cannot say he had a convenient opportunity, and the lady may
not have wished it. I could fancy she might hold herself a little
above us. But, between ourselves, I believe that was what so upset
"I am of opinion Mr. Iglesias is just as well without Serena," Mrs.
Lovegrove declared. "I suppose she cannot help it, but her temper is
sadly uncertain. I begin to fear she would be very exacting in
marriage. But was the lady young, Georgie?"
The good man blushed furiously.
"Yes, under thirty, I should suppose, and very striking to look at.
Serena had called my attention to her already. She thought her over-
dressed. I am no judge of that, but I could see she was very
"Oh! Georgie dear!" This in high protest. For the speaker belonged to
that section of the British public in which puritanism is even yet
deeply ingrained, with the dreary consequence that beauty, whether of
person or in art, is suspect. To admit its existence trenches on
immodesty; to speak of it openly is to skirt the edges of licence.
George Lovegrove, however, had developed unaccustomed boldness.
"So she was, my dear," he repeated, not squinting in the least for
once. "She was beautiful, dark and splendid, with eyes that looked
right through you, mocking and yet mournful. They made a noble couple,
she and Dominic, notwithstanding the disparity of age. As they stood
there together I felt honoured to see them both. And if Dominic
Iglesias is to have friends with whom we are unacquainted--though I
do not deny the thing hurt me a little at first--I am glad they should
be so handsome and fine. It seems to me fitting, and as if he was in
his true sphere at last."
A silence followed this profession of faith, during which Mrs.
Lovegrove's face presented a singular study. She stared at her husband
in undisguised amazement, while the corners of her mouth and her large
soft cheeks quivered.
"Well, I should never have expected to hear you talk so, Georgie," she
said huskily. "It seems unlike you somehow, almost as though you were
despising your own flesh and blood."
"No, no," he answered, "I could never do that. I could never be so
forgetful of all I owe to my own family and to yours, Rhoda. I am
under deep obligations to both. But it would be dishonest to deny that
I set a wonderfully high value on Dominic Iglesias' regard, and have
done so ever since we were boys together at school. To me Dominic has
always stood by himself, I knowing how superior he was to me in mind
and in all else, so that it has been my truest honour and privilege to
be admitted to intimacy with him. But the difference between us never
came home to me as it did when I saw him in other company last night.
He is fitted for a higher position than he has ever filled yet--we all
used to allow that in old days at the bank--or for any society we can
offer him. So, though I felt humiliated in a measure, I felt glad. For
I can grudge him nothing in the way of new friends, even though they
may be differently placed to ourselves and should come between him and
me a little, making our intercourse less frequent and easy than in the
past. From my heart I wish him the very best that is going, although
it should be rather detrimental to myself."
Mrs. Lovegrove's cheeks still quivered, but the expression of her face
was unresponsive once more, not to say obstinate. Jealousy, indeed,
possessed her. For the first time in her whole experience she realised
her husband as an individual, as a human entity independent of
herself. To contemplate him otherwise than in the marital relation was
a shock to her. She felt deserted, a potential Ariadne on Naxos. Hence
jealousy, resentment, cruel hurt.
"Well, to be sure, what a long story!" she cried, in tones approaching
sarcasm, "and all about someone who is no relation, too! Whatever
possesses you, Georgie? You aren't a bit like yourself. It seems to me
this morning everybody's bewitched." She heaved herself up out of her
chair. "I shall go and try to make it up with Serena," she continued.
"It is only Christian charity to do so; and, poor thing, I can well
understand she may have had cause enough for mortification now I have
made out what really did take place last night."
Usually, left alone in the dining-room, George Lovegrove would have
proceeded methodically to do a number of neat little odd jobs, humming
softly the while funny, shapeless little tunes to himself in the
fulness of his guileless content. He would have piled up the fire with
small coal and dust, thus keeping it alight but saving fuel till
luncheon-time, when one skilful stir with the poker would produce a
cheerful blaze. Then he would have proceeded to the little
conservatory opening off his box of a sanctum at the back of the
house--containing his roller-top desk, his papers, Borough Council and
parish reports, his magazines, his best and second-best overcoats hung
on pegs against the wall along with his silk hat. In the conservatory,
still humming, he would have smoked his morning pipe, feeding the
gold-fish in the small square glass tank--a tiny fountain in the
centre of which it pleased him to set playing--and later carefully
examining the ferns and other pot-plants in search of green-fly,
scale, or blight. But to-day the innocent routine of his life was
rudely broken up. He had no heart for his accustomed tidy potterings,
but lingered aimlessly, fingering the gold watch-chain strained across
the convex surface of his waistcoat, sand looking pitifully enough
between the lace curtains out on to the Green.
The sun had climbed the sky, burning up the hoarfrost and mist, so
that the houses opposite had become clearly discernible. Presently he
beheld a tall, upright figure emerge from the front door of Cedar
Lodge. For a moment Mr. Iglesias stood at the head of the flight of
immaculately white stone steps, rolling up his umbrella and putting on
his gloves preparatory to setting forth on his morning walk. And,
watching him, a wave of humility and self-depreciation swept over
George Lovegrove's gentle and candid soul, combined with an aching or
regret that destiny had not seen fit to deal with him rather otherwise
than it actually had. He felt a great longing that he, too, were
possessed of a stately presence, brains, breeding, and handsome looks.
There stirred in him an almost impassioned craving for romance, for
escape from the interminable respectabilities and domesticities of
English middle-class suburban life. He went a step further, rebelling
against the feminine atmosphere which surrounded him, in which
"feelings" so constantly usurped the place of actions, and
suppositions that of fact. Then, the vision of a beautiful woman with
a strange rose-scarlet dress, in whose eyes sorrow struggled with
mocking laughter, once again assailed him. Who she might be, and what
her history, he most emphatically knew not; yet that she breathed a
keener and more tonic air than that to which he was habituated, that
feelings in her case did not stand for actions, or suppositions for
fact, he was fully convinced.
"Poor old chappie, take a brandy and soda. Got the hump?"--this,
shrilly, from the parrot hanging head downwards from the roof of its
At the sound of that at once unhuman and singularly confidential voice
close beside him, George Lovegrove gave a guilty start.
"Yes, the wife is quite right," he said, half aloud. "If you want to
keep a happy mind there is very much of which it is as well to be
Then shame covered him, for in his recent meditations and
apprehensions had he not come very near turning traitor, and being, in
imagination at all events, subtly unfaithful to that same large kindly
Two months had passed, and February was about to give place to March--
two months empty of outward event for Dominic Iglesias, but big with
thought and consolidation of purpose. He had been more than ever
solitary during this period, for his acquaintance, even to the
faithful George Lovegrove, stood aloof. But Dominic hardly noticed
this. Though solitary, he had not been lonely, since his mind was
absorbed in question, in pursuit, in the consciousness of deepening
conviction. For the recognition not merely of religion, but of
Christianity, as a supreme factor in earthly existence, which had come
to him in the dreary December twilight, as, broken in health and in
spirit, he gazed upon the carven picture of Calvary, had proved no
fugitive experience. It remained by him, entracing his imagination and
satisfying both his heart and his intelligence; so that he looked back
upon the hour of his despair thankfully, seeing in it the starting-
point of a journey the prosecution of which promised not only to be
the main occupation of his remaining years here in time, but, the
river of death once crossed, to stretch onward and onward through
realms, at present inconceivable, of beauty, of knowledge, and of
love. And so, for the moment, solitude was sweet to him, leaving him
free of petty cares and anxieties--he moving forward, ignorant of the
gossip which in point of fact surrounded him, innocent of the feminine
plots and counterplots of which his blameless bachelorhood was at
once the provoking cause and the object; while in his eyes--though of
this, too, he was ignorant--dwelt increasingly reflection of that
mysterious and lovely light which, let obstinately purblind man deny
it as he may, lies forever along the far horizon, for comfort of godly
wayfarers and as beacon of the elect.
Yet it must not be supposed that the outset of Iglesias' spiritual
journey was wholly serene, free from obstacle or hesitation, from risk
of untoward selection, or rejection, of the safe way. Many roads, and
those bristling with contradictory signposts, presented themselves.
Noisy touts, each crying up his own special mode and means of
conveyance, rushed forth at every turn.
Modern Protestantism, as he encountered it in the pages of popular
newspapers and magazines, at Mrs. Porcher's dinner-table, or in the
good Lovegroves' drawing-room, had small attraction for him, since it
appeared to advance chiefly by negations stated with rather blatant
self-sufficiency and self-conceit. It might tend to the making of
respectable municipal councillors; but, in his opinion, it was idle to
pretend that it tended to the making of saints--and for the saints,
those experts in the divine science, Iglesias confessed a weakness. Of
spirituality it showed, to his seeing, as little outward evidence as
of philosophy or of art. The phrases of piety might still be upon the
lips of its votaries; but the attitude and aspirations engendered by
piety were unfortunately dead. Its system of ethics was frankly
utilitarian. Its goal, though hidden from the simple by a maze of
high-sounding sentiment, was Rationalism pure and simple. Its god was
not the creator of the visible universe, of angels and archangels,
dominions, principalities, and powers, of incalculable natural and
supernatural forces, but a jerky loose-jointed pasteboard divinity,
the exclusive possession, since it is the exclusive invention, of the
Anglo-Saxon race, through whose gaping mouth any and every self-
elected prophet was free to shout, as heaven-descended truth, in the
name of progress and liberty, whatever political or social catchword
chanced to be the fashion of the hour.
Nor did the neo-mystics, whose utterances are also sown broadcast in
contemporary literature and who are so lavish with their offers of
divine enlightenment, please Iglesias any better. For his mind, thanks
to his Latin ancestry, was of the logical order, while a business
training and long knowledge of affairs had taught him the value of
method, giving him an unalterable reverence for fact, and impressing
upon him the existence of law, absolute and immutable, in every
department of nature and of human activity--law, to break which is to
destroy the sequence of cause and effect, and so procure abortion.
Therefore this new school of thinkers--if one can dignify by the name
of thinkers persons of so vague and topsy-turvy a mental habit--
nourishing themselves upon the windy meat of secular and time-exploded
fallacies, upon the temple-sweepings of all the religions, oriental
and occidental, old and new, combined with ill-attested marvels of
modern physical and psychological experiment, were far from commending
themselves to his calm and patient judgment. Such excited persons, as
a slight acquaintance with history proves beyond all question, have
existed in every age; and, suffering from chronic mental dyspepsia,
have ever been liable to mistake the rumblings of internal flatulence
for the Witness of the Spirit. In their current pronouncements
Iglesias met with a wearisome passion for paradox, and an equally
wearisome disposition to hail all eccentricity as genius, all hysteria
as inspiration. While in their exaltation of the "sub-conscious self"
--namely, of those blind movements of instinct and foreboding common
the lower animals and to savage or degenerate man alike--as against
the intellect and the reasoned action of the will, he saw a menace to
human attainment, to civilisation--in the best meaning of that word--
to right reason and noble living, which it would be difficult to
overestimate. These good people, while pouring contempt on the body,
and even denying its existence, in point of fact thought and talked
about little else. All of which struck him as not only very tiresome
and very silly, but very dangerous. Modern Protestantism might
eventuate in Rationalism, in a limiting of human endeavour exclusively
to the end of material well-being. But this worship of the pseudo-
sciences, this tinkering at the accepted foundations and accepted
decencies of the social order, this cultivation of intellectual and
moral chaos, could, for the vast majority of its professors at all
events, eventuate only in the mad-house. And to the mad-house, whether
by twentieth-century esoteric airship or occult subway, Dominic
Iglesias had not the very smallest desire to go.
For he had no ambition to be "on time" and up-to-date, to electrify
either himself or his contemporaries by an exhibition of mental
smartness. He merely desired, earnestly yet humbly, to be given grace
to find the road--however archaic in the eyes of the modern world that
road might be--which leads to the light on the far horizon and beyond
to the presence of God. The more he meditated on these things the more
inconceivable it became to him but that this road veritably existed;
and that, not by labour of man, but by everlasting ordinance of God.
It was absurd, in face of a state of being so complex, so highly
organised, so universally subjected to law, as the one in which he
found himself, that a matter of such supreme importance as the channel
of intercourse between the soul and its Maker should have been left to
haphazard accident or blundering of lucky chance. And so, having
supplemented his researches in print, by listening to the discourses
of many teachers, from one end of London to the other in lecture-hall,
chapel, and church, having even stood among the crowds which gather
around itinerant preachers in the Park, Dominic found his thought
fixing itself with deepening assurance upon the communion in which he
had been born and baptised, which his father, in the interests of the
revolutionary propaganda, had so bitterly repudiated, and from which
his mother, broken by the tyranny of circumstance and bodily weakness,
Outside that communion he beheld only weltering seas of prejudice and
conflicting opinion, heard only the tumult of confused and acrimonious
contest. Within he beheld the calm of fearlessly wielded authority and
of loyal obedience; heard the awed silence of those who worship being
glad. For the Catholic Church, as Iglesias began to understand, is
something far greater than any triumphant example of that which can be
attained by cooperation and organisation. It is not an organisation,
but an organism; a Living Being, perfectly proportioned, with inherent
powers of development and growth; ever-existent in the Divine Mind
before Time was; recipient and guardian of the deepest secrets, the
most sacred mysteries of existence; endlessly adaptable to changing
conditions yet immutably the same. Hence it is that Catholicism
presents no questionable historic pedigree and speaks with no
uncertain voice. Claiming not only to know the road the soul must
tread would it reach the far horizon, but to be the appointed warden
of that same road and sustainer of it, she points with proud
confidence to the vast multitude which, under her guidance, has
joyfully trodden it--a multitude as diverse in gifts and estate, as in
age and race--as proof of the authenticity of her mission to the
toiling and sorrowful children of men.
Yet, since unconditional surrender must ever strike a pretty shrewd
blow at the roots both of personal pride and worldly caution, Dominic
Iglesias hesitated to take the final step and declare himself. To one
who has long lived outside the creeds, and that not ungodly, still
less bestially, it is no light matter to subject attitude of mind and
daily habit to distinct rule. Not only does the natural man rebel
against the apparent limiting of his personal freedom, but the
conventional and sophisticated man fears lest agreement should, after
all, spell weakness, while indifferentism--specially in outward
observances--argues strength. A certain shyness, moreover, withheld
Iglesias, a not unadmirable dread of being guilty of ostentation. It
was so little his custom to obtrude himself, his opinions, and his
needs upon the attention of others, that he was scrupulous and
diffident in the selection of time and place. The affair, however,
decided itself, as affairs usually do when the intention of those
undertaking them is a sincere one--and thus.
The tide of war had begun to turn. Earlier in the week had come the
news of General Cronje's surrender, after the three days' shelling of
his laager at Paardeberg. Hence satisfaction, not only of victory but
of compassion, since a sense of horror had weighed on the hearts of
even the least sentimental at thought of the stubborn thousands,
penned in that flaming rat-trap of the dry river-bed, ringed about by
sun-baked rock and sand and death-belching guns. To-day came news of
the relief of long-beleaguered Ladysmith, and London was shaken by
emotion, under the bleak moisture-laden March sky, the air thick with
the clash of joy-bells, buildings gay with riotous outbreak of many-
coloured flags, the streets vibrant with the tread and voices of
Iglesias, who early that afternoon had walked Citywards to see the
holiday aspect of the town and glean the latest war news, growing
somewhat weary on his homeward journey of the humours of his fellow-
citizens--which became beery and boisterous as the day drew on--turned
in at the open gates of the Oratory, in passing along the Brompton
Road. His purpose was to gain a little breathing space from the
jostling throng, by standing at the head of the steps under the wide
portico of the great church. Looking westward, above the wedge of mean
and ill-assorted houses that marks the junction of the Fulham and the
Cromwell Roads--the muddy pavements of which, far as the eye carried,
were black with people--the yellowish glare of a pallid sunset spread
itself across the leaden dulness of the sky. The wan and sickly light
touched the architrave and columns of the facade of the great church,
bringing this and the statue of the Blessed Virgin which surmounts it
into a strange and phantasmal relief--a building not material and of
this world, but rather of a city of dreams. To Iglesias it appeared as
though there was an element of menace in that cold and melancholy
reflection of the sunset. It produced in him a sense of insecurity and
distrust, which the roar of the traffic and horseplay of the crowd
were powerless to counteract. London, the monstrous mother, in this
hour of her rejoicing showed singularly unattractive. Her features
were grimed with soot, her dull-hued garments foul with slush, her
gestures were common, her laughter coarse. His soul revolted from the
sight and sound of her; revolted against the fate which had bound him
so closely to her in the past, and which bound him still. The spirit
of her infected even the sky above her, painting it with the sad
colours of perplexity and doubt. He stepped farther back under the
portico, moved by desire to escape from the too insistent thought and
spectacle of her. Doing so, he became aware of music reaching him
faintly from behind the closed doors of the church, fine yet sonorous
harmonies supporting the radiant clarity of a boy's voice.
Then Iglesias understood that he was presented here and immediately
with the moment of final choice. Delay was dishonourable, since it was
nothing less than a shirking of the obligations which his convictions
had created. So there, on the one hand--for so the whole matter
pictured itself to his seeing--was London, the type, as she is in fact
the capital, of the modern world--of its ambitions, material and
social, of its activities, of its amazing association of pleasure and
misery, of the rankest poverty and most plethoric wealth--at once
formless, sprawling, ugly, vicious, while magnificent in intelligence,
in vitality, in display, as in actual area and bulk. On the other
hand, and in the eyes of the majority phantasmal as a city of dreams,
was Holy Church, austere, restrictive, demanding much yet promising
little save clean hands and a pure heart, until the long and difficult
road is traversed which--as she declares--leads to the light on the
far horizon and beyond to the presence of God.
"If one could be certain of that last, then all would be simple and
easy," Iglesias said to himself, looking out over the turbulence of
the streets to the pallid menace of the western sky. "But it is in the
nature of things, that one cannot be certain. Certainty, whether for
good or evil, can only come after the event. One must take the risk.
And the risk is great, almost appallingly great."
For just then there awoke and cried in him all the repressed and
frustrated pride of a man's life--lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes,
overweening ambition of power and place, of cruelty even, of gross
licence and debauch. For the moment he ceased to be an individual,
limited by time and circumstances, and became, in desire, the
possessor of the passions and reckless curiosity of the whole human
race. So that, in imagination he suffered unexampled temptations; and,
in resisting them, flung aside unexampled allurements of grandeur and
conceivable delight. Not what actually was, or ever had been, possible
to and for him, Dominic Iglesias, bank-clerk, assailed him with
provocative vision and voice; but the whole pageant of earthly being,
and the inebriation of it. Nothing less than this did he behold, and
drink of, and, in spirit, repudiate and put away forever, as at last
he pulled open the heavy swing doors and passed into the church.
Within all was dim, mist and incense smoke obscuring the roof of the
great dome, the figures of the kneeling congregation far below showing
small and dark. Only the high altar was ablaze with many lights, in
the centre of which, high-uplifted, encircled by the golden rays of
the monstrance, pale, mysterious, pearl of incalculable price, showed
the immaculate Host.
Quietly yet fearlessly, as one who comes by long-established right,
Dominic walked the length of the nave, knelt devoutly on both knees,
prostrating himself as, long ago, in the days of early childhood his
mother had taught him to do at the Exposition of the Blessed
Sacrament. Now, after all these years--and a sob rose in his throat--
he seemed to feel her hand upon his shoulder, the gentle pressure of
which enjoined deepest reverence. Then rising, he took his place in
the second row of seats on the gospel side, and remained there,
through the concluding acts of the ceremonial, until the silent
congregation suddenly finds voice--penetrated by austere emotion--in
recitation of the Divine Praises.
Some minutes later he knelt in the confessional, laying bare the
secrets of his heart.
Thus did Dominic Iglesias cast off the bondage of that monstrous
mother, London-town, cast off the terror of those unbidden companions,
Loneliness and Old Age, using and, taking the risks, humbly reconcile
himself to Holy Church.
Good George Lovegrove wandered solitary in Kensington Gardens. He had
chosen the lower path running parallel with Kensington Gore, which
leads, between flowerborders and thickset belts of shrubbery, from the
Broad Walk to the railings enclosing the open space around the Albert
Memorial. This path, being sheltered and furnished with many green
garden seats, is specially nurse and baby haunted, and it was to see
the babies, whether sturdily on foot or seated in their little
carriages, that George Lovegrove had come hither, being sad. Thrushes
sang lustily from the treetops. The flowerborders grew resplendent
with polyanthus, crocus yellow, purple, and white, with early
daffodils, and the heaven blue of _scilla sibirica_. Above, here
and there a froth of almond or cherry blossom overspread the dark
twigs and branches, while a ruddiness of burgeoning buds flushed the
great elms. But babies of position, looking like tiny pink-faced polar
bears, still wore their long leggings and white furs, the March wind
being treacherous. They galloped, trumpeting, the clean air and merry
sunshine going to their heads in the most inebriating fashion. It was
early, moreover, so that they were full of the energy of a good
night's sleep, of breakfast, and of comfortable nursery warmth. And
George Lovegrove stepped among them carefully, watching their gambols
moist-eyed, nervously anxious lest his quaintly solid figure should
obstruct the erratic progress of toy-horse, or hoop, or ball. He
craved for notice, for even the veriest scrap of friendly recognition,
yet was too diffident to attempt any direct intercourse with these
delectable small personages, who, on their part, were royally
indifferent to his existence so long as he did not get in their way.
This he clearly perceived, yet for it bore them no ill-will,
preferring, as does every truly devout lover, to worship the beloved
from a respectful distance rather than not worship at all.
And it was thus, even as a large and dusky elephant picking its way
very gently through a flock of skippeting and lively lambs, that Mr.
Iglesias, entering the sheltered walk from the far end, first caught
sight of him. To Dominic, it must be admitted, babies, song-birds,
burgeoning buds and blossoms, alike presented themselves as but
elements in the setting of the outward scene--a scene sweet enough had
one leisure to contemplate it, touched by the genial vernal influence,
witness to nature's undying youth. But his appreciation of that
sweetness was just now cursory and indirect. His thought was absorbed
and eager, penetrated by apprehension of matters lying above and
beyond the range of ordinary human speech. For he was in that exalted
interval of a many hours' fast when the spiritual intelligence is
wholly alive and awake, the body becoming but the vesture of the soul
--a vesture without impediment or weight, a beautifully negligible
quantity in the general scheme of existence. Later reaction sets in.
The claims of the body become dominant; and the exalted moment is too
often paid for sorrowfully enough in sluggish brain and irritated
nerves. Dominic, however, had not reached that stage of the
tragi-comedy of the marriage of flesh and spirit. He was happy,
with the white unearthly happiness of those who have been admitted
to the Sacred Mysteries. And it was not without a sense of shock,
as of rough descent to common things, of pity and of regret, that he
recognised good George Lovegrove cruising thus, elephantine, among the
roystering babes. Then Iglesias checked himself sternly. To humble
themselves, remembering their own great unworthiness, to come down
from the Mount of Transfiguration to the dwellers in the plain, and be
gentle and human towards them--this surely is the primary duty of
those who have assisted at the Divine Sacrament? And so Iglesias went
forward and hailed his old school-fellow in all tenderness and
friendship, causing the latter to raise his eyes from pathetic
contemplation of those charming but wholly self-absorbed small human
animals, and look up.
"Dominic!" he cried. "Well, to be sure, you do surprise me. Who would
have expected to meet you out at this hour of the morning? I do
congratulate myself. I am pleased," he said. His honest face beamed,
his fresh colour deepened. As a girl at the unlooked-for advent of her
lover, he grew confused and shy. And Iglesias warmed towards him.
Whimsical in appearance, simple-minded, not greatly skilled in any
sort of learning, yet he had a heart of gold--about that there could
be no manner of doubt.
"Turn back then, and let us walk together," Iglesias said
affectionately. "It is a long while since we have had a quiet talk--
that is, of course, if you have no particular business which calls you
"I have no business of any description," he answered. "And between
ourselves, Dominic, since I lost my seat on the borough council, I
have had too much time on my hands, I think. It is beginning to be
quite a trouble with me."
"Is life too softly padded, too dead-level easy and comfortable?"
Iglesias inquired. "Are you beginning to quarrel a little with your
George Lovegrove became very serious.
"Yes," he said, "I am afraid you are right. As usual you have laid
your finger on the spot. I do reproach myself for unthankfulness
often. I know I have a good home, and everything decent and
respectable about me; more so, indeed, than a man in my position has
any right to expect. And yet I regret the old days in the city,
Dominic, that I do. I should enjoy to be back at my old desk at the
bank--just the little snap of anxiety in the morning as to whether
one would catch the 'bus; the long ride through the streets with one's
morning paper; the turning out with the other clerks--good fellows all
of them, on the whole, were they not?--to get a snack of lunch. And
then the coming home at night, with some trifling present or dainty to
please the wife; and a look round the greenhouse and garden afterwards
in your lounge suit; and hearing and retailing all the day's news, and
talking of the good time coming when you would retire and be quite the
independent gentleman; and the half-day on Saturday, too, taking some
nice little outing to Richmond or Kew, or an exhibition or something
of the sort, and then the Sunday's rest."
He hesitated and sighed, looking wistfully at the white-clad babies.
"If one had two or three of those little people of one's own it might
be very different--though I would never breathe a word of such a
thought to the wife. Females are so easily upset; and if it raises
regrets in us men, it must be much more trying for them, poor things,
to be childless. But where was I? Yes, well now the good time has
come--and I feel a criminal in saying so, but it appears to me to be
growing stale already, Dominic. It was better in anticipation than in
fact. I am an ungrateful fellow, that I am, I know it; but sometimes I
am inclined to ask myself whether all the things we set such fond
hopes on are not like that."
"No, not all," Iglesias answered, with a certain subdued enthusiasm.
"There are things--a few--which never grow stale. One may build on
them as on a foundation of rock. If they ever seem to fail us, to be
shaken and overthrown, it is an evil delusion, and the cause lies not
in them but in ourselves. It is we who fail, who are shaken and
overthrown through palsied will and feebleness of faith. They remain
"I suppose so," the other man said timidly. He was unused to such
vehemence of assertion on the part of his friend. He wondered to what
it could refer. His thought, carrying back to the evening at the
theatre, played around visions of distinguished amours. Then he
steadied himself to heroic resolve.
"I suppose it is," he repeated, "and that makes my conduct appear all
the more discreditable to me. My circumstances are too comfortable and
easy. It is just that. And so I take to fretting over trifles and
seeing slights and unkindness where none were intended." He looked up
at Iglesias, his squinting eyes full of apology and admiration. "Yes,
I am sadly poor-spirited and I have no excuse. I have been nursing a
sense of injury towards those to whom I have most occasion for
gratitude--the wife and you. Dominic, believe me I am heartily ashamed
"Come, come," Iglesias answered, brought very much back to earth, yet
touched and softened. "My dear friend, you of all men have small cause
for self-reproach. In every relation of life--and our knowledge of one
another dates back to early youth--I have found you perfect in loyalty
and unselfish kindness."
George Lovegrove walked on for a moment in silence. He had to clear
his throat once or twice before he could command his voice.
"Praise from you is very encouraging," he managed to say at last. "But
I am afraid I do not deserve it. I have felt mortified lately
sometimes, and I am afraid envious. I--but after your last words I am
more than ever ashamed to own it--I have fancied that you were
becoming distant and that an estrangement was growing up between us.
Of course I have always understood, though we happened to be school-
fellows and in the same employment afterward, that your position and
mine were different. And I want you to know that I would never be a
clog on you, Dominic"--he spoke with an admirably simple dignity--
"believe me, I never would be that. Lately I have been troubled by the
thought that I had extracted a promise from you to remain at Trimmer's
Green. Now I beg of you most earnestly not to let that promise, given
in a moment of generous indulgence, weigh with you in the slightest,
if circumstances have arisen which point at your residing in a more
fashionable part of the town."
"But why should I want to go to a more fashionable part of London?"
Iglesias asked, smiling.
"Well, you see," the other returned, his face growing furiously red,
"it came to my knowledge, unexpectedly, that you have acquaintances in
quite another walk of life to ours--the wife's and mine, I mean. And
it would pain me deeply, very deeply, Dominic, that any promise given
to me, regarding your place of residence, should stand between you and
mixing as freely with those acquaintances as you might otherwise do."
They had come to the place where the sheltered pathway is crossed by
the Broad Walk--the upward trend of which showed blond, in the
sunshine, against the brilliant green of the grass and the dark boles
of the great trees bordering it. Here Iglesias paused. He was not
"I do not quite follow you," he said coldly. Then looking at the
guileless and faithful being beside him, he softened once more. Was it
not only more just, but more honourable, to treat this matter with
candour? "You are alluding to the lady who was good enough to send for
me the night you and Miss Lovegrove went with me to the play?"
"Yes," the excellent George assented in a strangled voice. He wanted
to know badly. He was agonised by fear of having committed an
indiscretion offensive to his idol.
"Set your mind quite at rest on that point then, my dear friend. Her
world is not my world and never will be. In it I should be very much
out of place."
Iglesias moved forward again, crossing the Broad Walk and making
towards the small iron gate, at the lower corner of the Gardens, which
opens on to Kensington High Street. But he walked slowly, becoming
conscious that he grew tired and spent. The glory of the spirit
dominant was departing, the tyranny of the body dominant beginning to
reassert itself. His features contracted slightly. He felt
George Lovegrove walked beside him in silence, his eyes downcast, his
heart stirred by vague tumultuous sympathy, his modest nature at once
inflamed and abashed, recognising in his companion the hero of an
exalted and tragic romance.
"Well, he looks it. It suits his character and appearance," he said to
himself, adding aloud--for the very life of him he could not help it--
"But she was very beautiful, Dominic."
"Yes," Iglesias answered, "she is beautiful and very clever and--very
The good George's heart positively thumped against his ribs. "And to
think of all the plans the wife and I have been making!" he said to
"If she wants me, she will send for me," Iglesias continued quietly,
"and I shall go to her at once, as I went that evening, without
hesitation or delay, wherever she may be. But," he added, "it becomes
increasingly improbable that she will send for me. I have not seen her
or heard from her since that night. And so, my dear friend, you
perceive that your kindly fears of having circumscribed my liberty of
choice in respect of a place of residence are quite unfounded. I have
no reason for leaving Cedar Lodge or altering my accustomed habits."
Iglesias smiled affectionately, as dismissing the whole matter.
"And now," he continued, "that little misunderstanding being cleared
up, will you mind my turning into the restaurant just here, in High
Street, for a cup of coffee and a roll? I have not breakfasted yet."
Whereupon George Lovegrove pranced before him, incoherent in kindly
remonstrance and advice.
"At 11 A. M., and after your severe indisposition at Christmas, too,
out walking on an empty stomach! It is positively suicidal. Where have
you been to?" he cried.
"To Mass," Iglesias answered, still smiling, though with something of
a fighting light in his eyes and a lift of his head.
His companion stared at him in blank amazement.
"To what?" he said.
"To Mass," Iglesias repeated. "I have been waiting for a suitable
opportunity to speak to you of this, George. I, too, have felt the
weight of enforced leisure. It has not been a particularly cheerful
experience; but it has given me time to read, and still more to think,
with the consequence that I have returned to the faith of my
childhood. I have made my peace with the Church."
They continued to walk slowly onward; but George Lovegrove drew away
to the further side of the path as though contact might be dangerous,
as though infection was hanging about. He kept his eyes averted, his
"You do surprise me," he said at last. "I had not the slightest
inkling that you were contemplating such a step. I give you my word,
you have fairly taken away my breath. I do not seem to be able to
grasp it, that you, whom I have always looked up to as so mentally
superior, so independent in your thought, should have become a
Romanist--for that is your meaning, I take it, Dominic?"
"Yes, that is my meaning," Iglesias answered.
"You do surprise me," George Lovegrove said again presently, and in a
lamentable voice. "My mind refuses to grasp it. I would rather have
lost five hundred pounds than have heard this. I declare I am fairly
unmanned. I have never received a greater shock."
Iglesias remained silent. He was weary and sad. But he straightened
himself, trying to keep his gaze fixed steadily upon the far horizon
where dwells the everlasting light.
"It is presumptuous in me to criticise your action, perhaps," his
companion continued. "I never did such a thing before, having always
hesitated to set up my views against yours; but I cannot but fear you
have made a sad mistake. And if you were contemplating any change of
this kind, why did you not come into our own national English Church?"
"Very much because it is English and national, I think," he answered.
"In my opinion there is an inherent falsity of conception in
subjecting our approach to the Absolute to restrictions imposed by
country or by race, if these can, by any means, be avoided. Why hamper
yourself with a late, expurgated, and mutilated edition, when the
original, in all its splendour and historic completeness, bearing the
sign-manual of the Author, is there ready to your hand?"
Again Iglesias spoke with subdued but unmistakable enthusiasm. The two
friends had just reached the iron gate leading into High Street. Here
George Lovegrove stopped. He still kept carefully at a distance,
averting his eyes as from some distressing, even disgraceful, sight,
while his good honest face worked with emotion.
"I think if you will kindly excuse me, I will go no farther," he
faltered. "What you say may be true--I am sure I don't know. It is all
beyond me. But I should prefer not to talk any more about it until I
have accustomed myself to the thought of this change in you. Nothing
does come between people like religion," he added with unconscious
irony. "So I think, if you will kindly excuse me, I will just go away,
And, without more ado, he turned back into the Gardens.
The small polar bears, meanwhile, satiated with exercise, air, and
light, had begun to grow restive and fretty. Their stomachs cried
cupboardwards, and they were disposed to filch each other's toy horses
and hoops, and use each other's small persons as targets for balls,
thrown as bombs in a fashion far from polite. Anxious maids and nurses
hunted them homewards, not without slight asperity on the one part, on
the other occasional squealings and free fights. But upon the babies,
engaging even in naughtiness, George Lovegrove had ceased to bestow
any attention. He went forward blindly, cruising among them and their
attendants and smart little carriages, elephantine, careless where he
placed his feet, to the obstruction of traffic and heightening of
general annoyance, as sorrowful a man as any would need to meet. For
it seemed to him things had gone wrong, just then, past all hope of
setting right. His idol, light of his eyes and joy of his guileless
heart, has fallen from his high estate, discovering capacity of
playing the most discreditable and soul-harrowing pranks. Prejudice is
myriad-lived here on earth; and in George Lovegrove all the bigotry,
all the semi-superstitious, terror fostered by the accumulated
ignorance which generations of Protestant forefathers have bequeathed
to the English middle-class, reared itself, not only stubborn, but
militant. His thought travelled back to those barbarities of rougher
ages which are, in point of fact, more common to the secular than to
the religious criminal code; but which Protestant teachers, even yet,
find it convenient to put down wholly to the account of the Catholic
Church. Practically ignorant of the spoliation and persecution
practised under Henry the Eighth--of blessed domestic memory--of the
further persecution which disfigured the "spacious days of great
Elizabeth," not to mention the long and shameful history of the Penal
Laws, he fixed his mind upon lurid legends of the reign of unhappy
Mary Tudor, illustrated by prints in Fox's Book of Martyrs; upon
inquisitorial tortures, the very thought of which--even out of doors
in the pleasant spring sunshine--made him break into a heavy sweat,
and which, by some grotesque perversion of ideas, he believed to be
not only the necessary outcome of, but vitally essential to, the
practice of the Faith. Against this hideous background he set the calm
and stately figure of his beloved friend Iglesias--seeing him no
longer as the faithful comrade of more than half a lifetime, but as a
foreign being, an unknown quantity, a worshipper of graven images, a
participant in blasphemous rites, a believer, in short, in just all
that which sound, respectable, and godly British common sense cast
forth, with scorn and contumely, close on four centuries back. He was
frightened. His everyday, comfortable, jog-trot, little odd and end of
a local parochial suburban middle-class world was literally turned
upside down and inside out.
"And however will the wife take it--however will she take it?" he
mourned to himself. "To think we have been harbouring a Papist in
disguise! I dare not contemplate her feelings. She will be upset. I
must keep it from her as long as possible. And Serena, too, and Susan!
I don't know how I can face them. Females are so very eloquent when
put out. Of course I have known there was something wrong for a long
time past. I saw there was a change in him, and felt there was some
cause of coldness; but it never entered my head it could be as bad as
this. Oh! my poor, dear friend. Oh! my poor Dominic, perhaps I have
been overattached to you and this comes as a judgment. It would be
hard enough to have anything break up our friendship, but this folly,
this dreadful doting apostasy--"
He walked on blindly along the sheltered path between the flower-
borders, deaf to remonstrant nurses and scornful, beautiful babes
clothed in spotless white.
"If anything must come between us I would rather it was a woman," he
mourned, "ten thousand times rather, whoever and whatever she was,
It happened on the afternoon of that same day that Eliza Hart, in
pursuance of her domestic avocations, had occasion to go into Mr.
Farge's room on the first floor to lay out a new coverlet on his bed.
When, as thus, compelled to enter the apartments of either of the
gentlemen guests of the establishment it was her practice to leave the
door half open, as a concession to propriety in the abstract and a
testimony to her own discretion in the concrete. The handsome mahogany
doors of Cedar Lodge, unhappily painted white by some vandal of a
former inhabitant, being heavy were hung on a rising hinge. Hence,
when half open, a space of some three inches was left between the back
of the door and the jamb, through which it was easy to get a good view
of the hall or the landing unobserved. Little Mr. Farge professed a
warm predilection for gay colours, and Eliza had selected the new
bedspread with an eye to this fact. It was of bright raspberry-red
cotton twill, enriched with a broad printed border in a flowing design
of lemon-yellow tulips and bottle-green leaves. The salesman, in
exhibiting it to her, had described it as "very chaste and pleasing."
Eliza herself qualified it as "tasty"; and had just disposed it, much
to her own satisfaction, upon the young man's bed, when her attention
was arrested by the tones of an unknown feminine voice in the hall
below. Shortly afterwards she heard Frederick, the valet's large
footsteps hurtling upstairs at a double, followed by a prolonged and
leisurely whispering of silken skirts. Here, clearly, was a matter
into which, for the reputation of Cedar Lodge, it was desirable to
look without delay. Eliza, therefore, moved to the near side of the
door, and, through the three-inch aperture afforded by the rising
hinge, raked the landing with a vigilant eye.
The door of Mr. Iglesias's sitting-room immediately opposite stood
open. In the doorway Frederick indulged in explanatory gesticulation.
While, slowly ascending the last treads of the stairs, was a lady of
unmistakable elegance, arrayed in a large black hat with drooping
plumes to it, a sable cape--the price of which, Eliza felt assured,
ran easily into three figures--and a black cloth dress in the cut of
which she read the last word of contemporary fashion. Arrived at the
stair-head the intruder stood still, calmly surveying her surroundings,
presenting, as she turned her head, a pale face, very red lips, and
eyes--so at least it appeared to the vigilant orbs of Eliza--quite
immodestly large and lustrous, melancholy and somehow extremely
impertinent, too. Then Mr. Iglesias emerged from his sitting-room, an
expression upon his countenance which startled Eliza. She very
certainly had never seen it before. For a moment the lady looked up at
him, as though silently asking some question. Then she patted him
lightly upon the back, and passed into the sitting-room hand in hand
with him, while Frederick with his best flourish closed the door.
"Well, of all the things!" cried Eliza, half aloud; and, oblivious
both of discretion and of the new raspberry-red cotton twill coverlet,
she backed, and sat, plump, upon the edge of the bed. Just then, as
she asserted in subsequently recounting this remarkable incident, you
might have knocked her down with a feather.
"Of all the things!" she repeated, after an interval of breathless
amazement. "And how long has this been going on, I should like to
know? So that is the reason of a certain gentleman's iciness, and his
stand-offish high-mightiness. Well, I never! And poor darling Peachie,
so trustful and confiding all the time; not that she need fear
comparison with anybody.--Bah! the serpent."
Nevertheless she was deeply impressed, and fell into a vein of furious
speculation as to who this unlooked-for smart lady might be. Then,
suddenly remembering the highly compromising nature of her own
existing position sitting not only in the lively little Farge's bed-
chamber, but actually upon his bed, she rose with embarrassment and
haste, and made her way downstairs to the offices--treading
circumspectly in dread of creaking boards--to interview Frederick. But
from that functionary she obtained scant information.
"Zee lady she ask for Mr. Iglesias. I tell her I go to find him. I put
her in zee drawing-room."
"Quite right, Frederick,"--this encouragingly from Eliza.
"But she no stay zere. She come again out quick. She not any name, not
any visiting card give; only write somezing, very fast, on a piece of
paper and screw it togezzer. Zen she not wait till I return, but
behind me upstairs chase."
So there was nothing for it, as the great Eliza perceived, but to
retire to the drawing-room, and--Mrs. Porcher happened to be out--note
the hour and, with the door discreetly half open, await the descent of
the intruder from the floor above.
"I can just catch darling Peachie, too," she said to herself, "and
draw her aside. To meet such a person unexpectedly, on the stairs or
in the hall, would be enough to make her turn quite faint."
Poppy St. John laid her hands lightly on Mr. Iglesias' shoulders and
smiled at him. She looked very young, yet very worn; and the corners
of her mouth shook.
"If you were anybody else," she said, "I believe I should give you a
kiss. But I am not going to, so don't be nervous, dear man. I'll be
perfectly correct, I promise you--only I had to come. I have been
good, absolutely tiptop beastly good, I tell you. I have washed the
slate. It is as clean as a vacuum, as the inside of an exhausted
receiver. And I feel as dull as empty space before the creation got
Poppy shivered a little, putting one hand over her eyes, and resting
her head with its great black hat and sweeping plumes against Mr.
Iglesias' chest. And Iglesias quietly put his arm round her,
supporting her. The day had been full of experiences. This last,
though of a notably different complexion to the rest, promised to be
by no means the least searching and surprising. Iglesias steadied
himself to take it quite calmly, in his stride; yet his jaw grew rigid
and his face blanched in dread of that which might be coming.
"I have sent Alaric Barking about his business," Poppy continued
hoarsely. "Sent him back to his soldiering, helped to cart him off to
that rotten hole, South Africa. He is a smart officer, and he'll make
a name, if he don't get shot. And he won't get shot--I should feel it
in my bones if he was going to, and I don't feel it. I broke with him
more than a month ago. But I had to see him again to say good-bye,
this morning, before he sailed."
Poppy moved a step or two away, turning her back on Iglesias.
"And it hurt a jolly lot more than I expected. I don't suppose I am in
love"--she looked around inquiringly at him, as though expecting him
to solve the complicated problem of her affections. "It's not likely
at this time of day, is it? But I was fonder of Alaric than I quite
knew. He is a good sort, and we have had some ripping times together.
He had become a sort of habit, you know; and when you have knocked
about a lot, as I have, you get rather sick at the notion of any
She stood, looking down, leisurely unbuttoning and pulling off her
"I don't know that I should have made up my mind to sack him in the
end, but that I wanted to please Fallowfeild."
Mr. Iglesias became very tall. His expression was hard, his eyes
alight. This the lady noted. She returned and patted him gently on the
"There, there, don't sail off on a wrong tack, my beloved fire-eater.
Fallowfeild was quite right. The game was up, really it was; and he
wanted me to walk out, like the gentlemanlike dog, so as to avoid
being kicked out. I always knew the break was bound to come some time;
and it's a long sight pleasanter to break than to be broken with,
don't you think so?--You see, Alaric has formed a virtuous
attachment." Poppy's lips took a cynical twist. "It was time, high
time, he should, if he meant to go in for that line of business at
all. The young lady is a niece of Fallowfeild's--a pretty little
girl, really quite pretty--I saw her that night we were both at the
play--all new, and pink and white, and well-bred, and _ingenue_,
and in every respect perfectly suitable."
Poppy looked mutinously, even mischievously, at Dominic Iglesias.
"Poor, dear old Alaric," she said. "I don't quarrel with him. His
elder brother's no children, and there are pots and pots of money.
That he should want to marry, and that his people should press it on
him, is perfectly natural, and obvious, and proper."
"But," Dominic asked fiercely, "if this young man, Captain Barking,
proposes to marry, why has he not married you--always supposing you
were willing to entertain his suit?"
Poppy flung her long gloves upon the table, unhooked her sable cape
and sent it flying to join them.
"Pou-ah! I'm hot!" she exclaimed. "I think I'll sit down, if you have
no objection. Yes, that chair, thanks--it looks excellently
comfortable. By the way, you've got an uncommonly nice lot of things
in this room. I am going to make a tour of inspection presently. It
pleases me frightfully to see where you live and look at your
possessions." She stared absently at the furniture and pictures.--"But
about my marrying Alaric Barking," she continued. "Well, you see--you
see, dear man, there is an inconvenient little impediment in the shape
of a husband."
As she finished speaking Poppy folded her hands in her lap. She sat
perfectly still, her lips pressed together, watching Mr. Iglesias over
her shoulder but without turning her head. He had crossed the room and
stood at one of the tall narrow windows, looking out into the bright
For here it was in plain English, at last, that underlying secret
thing which he had known yet dreaded to know. It begot in him an
immense regret and inevitable repulsion at admitted wrongdoing. He
made no attempt to juggle with the meaning of her words. Yet, along
with them, came a feeling of gladness that Poppy St. John would remain
Poppy St. John still; and a movement of hope--intimate and very
tender--since in this tragic hour of her history she had come directly
to him, asking comfort and sympathy. Dominic, cut to the quick by the
defection of the heretofore ever-faithful George Lovegrove, hailed
with a peculiar thankfulness this mark of confidence and trust.
Sinful, greatly erring, still the Lady of the Windswept Dust had
returned to him; and thereat he soberly, yet very deeply, rejoiced. In
truth, the sharp-edged breath of persecution he had encountered this
morning, while paining him, had braced him to high endeavour. The
Catholic Church, so he argued, must indeed be a mighty and living
power since men fear her so much. And this power he felt to be behind
him, sustaining him, inciting him to noble undertakings--he strong in
virtue of her strength, fearless through the courage of her saints,
able with the energy of their accumulated merit and their prayers.
Again, as on his way home that morning from hearing Mass, the spirit
was dominant, his whole nature and outlook purified and exalted by the
Divine Indwelling. To fail any human creature calling on him for help
would be contemptible, and even dastardly, in one blessed as he
himself was. Thus his relation to Poppy St. John fell into line. He
could afford to love and serve her well, since he loved and purposed,
in all things, to serve Almighty God best.
These meditations occupied but a few moments, yet Poppy's patience ran
"Dominic Iglesias," she cried suddenly, sharply, "I am tired of
He crossed the room and stood in front of her, serious but light of
"See here, it is all right between us?" she asked imperatively.
"Yes, all is perfectly right between us," he answered. "Your coming
gives me the measure of your faith in me. I am grateful and I am very
"Ah!" Poppy said softly.
She sat forward in her chair, making herself small, patting her hands
together, palm to palm, between her knees, and swaying a little as she
"You see," she went on, "to be quite honest, I didn't break with
Alaric simply to enable him to marry and live happy ever after. Nor
did I do it exclusively to please Fallowfeild. It would take a greater
fool than I am to be as altruistic as all that. I always like to have
my run for my money. I--I did it more to get you back."
She paused and raised her head, looking full at him.
"And I have got you back?" she said.
"Yes," he answered, smiling. "I ask nothing better than to come back."
"Do you mean that you are prepared to take everything on trust--after
what I have just told you--without wanting explanations?"
"Friendship has no need of explanations," Iglesias said, with a touch
of grandeur--"that is, as I understand friendship. It accepts what is
given without question, or cavilling as to much or to little, leaving
the giver altogether free. Friendship, as I understand it, should have
honourable reticences, not only of speech but of thought; wise
economies of proffered sympathy. In its desire of service it should
never approach too near or say the word too much; since, if it is to
flourish and obtain the grace of continuance, it must be rooted in
reverence for the individuality of the person dear to it. This is my
belief." His bearing was courtly, his expression very gentle.
"Therefore rest assured that whatever confidence you repose in me is
sacred. Whatever confidence you withhold from me is sacred likewise."
Poppy mused a little, a smile on her lips and an enigmatic look in her
"You're beautiful, dear man," she murmured. "You're very beautiful.
You're worth chucking the devil over for; but you'll take a jolly lot
of living up to. So see here, you're bound to look me up pretty
constantly just at first, for I tell you life is not going to be
exactly a toy-shop for me for some little time to come. You hear? You
"I promise," Iglesias returned.
"And there's another thing," she continued rather proudly, "a thing
men too often blunder over--with the very best intentions, bless them,
only they do blunder, and that leads to ructions. Please put the
question of money out of your head once and for all. I have a certain
amount of my own, nothing princely well understood, but quite possible
to live on. It was to prevent his playing ducks and drakes with it