Part 4 out of 5
The Dennants themselves never went to London for the season. It was
their good pleasure not to. A week or fortnight of it satisfied
them. They had a radical weakness for fresh air, and Antonia, even
after her presentation two seasons back, had insisted on returning
home, stigmatising London balls as "stuffy things."
When Shelton arrived the stream had only just begun, but every day
brought fresh, or rather jaded, people to occupy the old, dark,
sweet-smelling bedrooms. Individually, he liked his fellow-guests,
but he found himself observing them. He knew that, if a man judged
people singly, almost all were better than himself; only when judged
in bulk were they worthy of the sweeping criticisms he felt inclined
to pass on them. He knew this just as he knew that the conventions,
having been invented to prevent man following his natural desires,
were merely the disapproving sums of innumerable individual
It was in the bulk; then, that he found himself observing. But with
his amiability and dread of notoriety he remained to all appearance a
well-bred, docile creature, and he kept his judgments to himself.
In the matter of intellect he made a rough division of the guests--
those who accepted things without a murmur, those who accepted them
with carping jocularity; in the matter of morals he found they all
accepted things without the semblance of a kick. To show sign of
private moral judgment was to have lost your soul, and, worse, to be
a bit of an outsider. He gathered this by intuition rather than from
conversation; for conversation naturally tabooed such questions, and
was carried on in the loud and cheerful tones peculiar to people of
good breeding. Shelton had never been able to acquire this tone, and
he could not help feeling that the inability made him more or less an
object of suspicion. The atmosphere struck him as it never had
before, causing him to feel a doubt of his gentility. Could a man
suffer from passion, heart-searchings, or misgivings, and remain a
gentleman? It seemed improbable. One of his fellow-guests, a man
called Edgbaston, small-eyed and semi-bald, with a dark moustache and
a distinguished air of meanness, disconcerted him one day by
remarking of an unknown person, "A half-bred lookin' chap; did n't
seem to know his mind." Shelton was harassed by a horrid doubt.
Everything seemed divided into classes, carefully docketed and
valued. For instance, a Briton was of more value than a man, and
wives than women. Those things or phases of life with which people
had no personal acquaintance were regarded with a faint amusement and
a certain disapproval. The principles of the upper class, in fact,
were strictly followed.
He was in that hypersenstive and nervous state favourable for
recording currents foreign to itself. Things he had never before
noticed now had profound effect on him, such as the tone in which men
spoke of women--not precisely with hostility, nor exactly with
contempt best, perhaps, described as cultured jeering; never, of
course, when men spoke of their own wives, mothers, sisters, or
immediate friends, but merely when they spoke of any other women. He
reflected upon this, and came to the conclusion that, among the upper
classes, each man's own property was holy, while other women were
created to supply him with gossip, jests, and spice. Another thing
that struck him was the way in which the war then going on was made
into an affair of class. In their view it was a baddish business,
because poor hack Blank and Peter Blank-Blank had lost their lives,
and poor Teddy Blank had now one arm instead of two. Humanity in
general was omitted, but not the upper classes, nor, incidentally,
the country which belonged to them. For there they were, all seated
in a row, with eyes fixed on the horizon of their lawns.
Late one evening, billiards and music being over and the ladies gone,
Shelton returned from changing to his smoking-suit, and dropped into
one of the great arm-chairs that even in summer made a semicircle
round the fendered hearth. Fresh from his good-night parting with
Antonia, he sat perhaps ten minutes before he began to take in all
the figures in their parti-coloured smoking jackets, cross-legged,
with glasses in their hands, and cigars between their teeth.
The man in the next chair roused him by putting down his tumbler with
a tap, and seating himself upon the cushioned fender. Through the
mist of smoke, with shoulders hunched, elbows and knees crooked out,
cigar protruding, beak-ways, below his nose, and the crimson collar
of his smoking jacket buttoned close as plumage on his breast, he
looked a little like a gorgeous bird.
"They do you awfully well," he said.
A voice from the chair on Shelton's right replied,
"They do you better at Verado's."
"The Veau d'Or 's the best place; they give you Turkish baths for
nothing!" drawled a fat man with a tiny mouth.
The suavity of this pronouncement enfolded all as with a blessing.
And at once, as if by magic, in the old, oak-panelled room, the world
fell naturally into its three departments: that where they do you
well; that where they do you better; and that where they give you
Turkish baths for nothing.
"If you want Turkish baths," said a tall youth with clean red face,
who had come into the room, and stood, his mouth a little open, and
long feet jutting with sweet helplessness in front of him, "you
should go, you know, to Buda Pesth; most awfully rippin' there."
Shelton saw an indescribable appreciation rise on every face, as
though they had been offered truffles or something equally delicious.
"Oh no, Poodles," said the man perched on the fender. "A Johnny I
know tells me they 're nothing to Sofia." His face was transfigured
by the subtle gloating of a man enjoying vice by proxy.
"Ah!" drawled the small-mouthed man, "there 's nothing fit to hold a
candle to Baghda-ad."
Once again his utterance enfolded all as with a blessing, and once
again the world fell into its three departments: that where they do
you well; that where they do you better; and--Baghdad.
Shelton thought to himself: "Why don't I know a place that's better
He felt so insignificant. It seemed that he knew none of these
delightful spots; that he was of no use to any of his fellow-men;
though privately he was convinced that all these speakers were as.
ignorant as himself, and merely found it warming to recall such
things as they had heard, with that peculiar gloating look. Alas!
his anecdotes would never earn for him that prize of persons in
society, the label of a "good chap" and "sportsman."
"Have you ever been in Baghdad?" he feebly asked.
The fat man did not answer; he had begun an anecdote, and in his
broad expanse of face his tiny mouth writhed like a caterpillar. The
anecdote was humorous.
With the exception of Antonia, Shelton saw but little of the ladies,
for, following the well-known custom of the country house, men and
women avoided each other as much as might be. They met at meals, and
occasionally joined in tennis and in croquet; otherwise it seemed--
almost Orientally--agreed that they were better kept apart.
Chancing one day to enter the withdrawing room, while searching for
Antonia, he found that he had lighted on a feminine discussion; he
would have beaten a retreat, of course, but it seemed too obvious
that he was merely looking for his fiancee, so, sitting down, he
The Honourable Charlotte Penguin, still knitting a silk tie--the
sixth since that she had been knitting at Hyeres--sat on the low
window-seat close to a hydrangea, the petals of whose round flowers
almost kissed her sanguine cheek. Her eyes were fixed with languid
aspiration on the lady who was speaking. This was a square woman of
medium height, with grey hair brushed from her low forehead, the
expression of whose face was brisk and rather cross. She was
standing with a book, as if delivering a sermon. Had she been a man
she might have been described as a bright young man of business; for,
though grey, she never could be old, nor ever lose the power of
forming quick decisions. Her features and her eyes were prompt and
slightly hard, tinged with faith fanatical in the justice of her
judgments, and she had that fussy simpleness of dress which indicates
the right to meddle. Not red, not white, neither yellow nor quite
blue, her complexion was suffused with a certain mixture of these
colours, adapted to the climate; and her smile had a strange sour
sweetness, like nothing but the flavour of an apple on the turn.
"I don't care what they tell you," she was saying--not offensively,
though her voice seemed to imply that she had no time to waste in
pleasing--" in all my dealings with them I've found it best to treat
them quite like children."
A lady, behind the Times, smiled; her mouth--indeed, her whole hard,
handsome face--was reminiscent of dappled rocking-horses found in the
Soho Bazaar. She crossed her feet, and some rich and silk stuff
rustled. Her whole personality seemed to creak as, without looking,
she answered in harsh tones:
"I find the poor are most delightful persons."
Sybil Dennant, seated on the sofa, with a feathery laugh shot a
barking terrier dog at Shelton.
"Here's Dick," she said. "Well, Dick, what's your opinion?"
Shelton looked around him, scared. The elder ladies who had spoken
had fixed their eyes on him, and in their gaze he read his utter
"Oh, that young man!" they seemed to say. "Expect a practical remark
from him? Now, come!"
"Opinion," he stammered, "of the poor? I haven't any."
The person on her feet, whose name was Mrs. Mattock, directing her
peculiar sweet-sour smile at the distinguished lady with the Times,
"Perhaps you 've not had experience of them in London, Lady
Lady Bonington, in answer, rustled.
"Oh, do tell us about the slums, Mrs. Mattock!" cried Sybil.
"Slumming must be splendid! It's so deadly here--nothing but flannel
"The poor, my dear," began Mrs. Mattock, "are not the least bit what
you think them---"
"Oh, d' you know, I think they're rather nice!" broke in Aunt
Charlotte close to the hydrangea.
"You think so?" said Mrs. Mattock sharply. "I find they do nothing
"They don't grumble at me: they are delightful persons", and Lady
Bonington gave Shelton a grim smile.
He could not help thinking that to grumble in the presence of that
rich, despotic personality would require a superhuman courage.
"They're the most ungrateful people in the world," said Mrs. Mattock.
"Why, then," thought Shelton, "do you go amongst them?"
She continued, "One must do them good, one, must do one's duty, but
as to getting thanks---"
Lady Bonington sardonically said,
"Poor things! they have a lot to bear."
"The little children!" murmured Aunt Charlotte, with a flushing
cheek and shining eyes; "it 's rather pathetic."
"Children indeed!" said Mrs. Mattock. "It puts me out of all
patience to see the way that they neglect them. People are so
sentimental about the poor."
Lady Bonington creaked again. Her splendid shoulders were wedged
into her chair; her fine dark hair, gleaming with silver, sprang back
upon her brow; a ruby bracelet glowed on the powerful wrist that held
the journal; she rocked her copper-slippered foot. She did not
appear to be too sentimental.
"I know they often have a very easy time," said Mrs. Mattock, as if
some one had injured her severely. And Shelton saw, not without
pity, that Fate had scored her kind and squashed-up face with
wrinkles, whose tiny furrows were eloquent of good intentions
frustrated by the unpractical and discontented poor. "Do what you
will, they are never satisfied; they only resent one's help, or else
they take the help and never thank you for it!"
"Oh!" murmured Aunt Charlotte, "that's rather hard."
Shelton had been growing, more uneasy. He said abruptly:
"I should do the same if I were they."
Mrs. Mattock's brown eyes flew at him; Lady Bonington spoke to the
Times; her ruby bracelet and a bangle jingled.
"We ought to put ourselves in their places."
Shelton could not help a smile; Lady Bonington in the places of the
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Mattock, "I put myself entirely in their place.
I quite understand their feelings. But ingratitude is a repulsive
"They seem unable to put themselves in your place," murmured Shelton;
and in a fit of courage he took the room in with a sweeping glance.
Yes, that room was wonderfully consistent, with its air of perfect
second-handedness, as if each picture, and each piece of furniture,
each book, each lady present, had been made from patterns. They were
all widely different, yet all (like works of art seen in some
exhibitions) had the look of being after the designs of some original
spirit. The whole room was chaste, restrained, derived, practical,
and comfortable; neither in virtue nor in work, neither in manner,
speech, appearance, nor in theory, could it give itself away.
THE STAINED-GLASS MAN
Still looking for Antonia, Shelton went up to the morning-room. Thea
Dennant and another girl were seated in the window, talking. From
the look they gave him he saw that he had better never have been
born; he hastily withdrew. Descending to the hall, he came on Mr.
Dennant crossing to his study, with a handful of official-looking
"Ah, Shelton!" said he, "you look a little lost. Is the shrine
Shelton grinned, said "Yes," and went on looking. He was not
fortunate. In the dining-room sat Mrs. Dennant, making up her list
"Do give me your opinion, Dick," she said. "Everybody 's readin'
this thing of Katherine Asterick's; I believe it's simply because
she's got a title."
"One must read a book for some reason or other," answered Shelton.
"Well," returned Mrs. Dennant, "I hate doin' things just because
other people do them, and I sha'n't get it."
Mrs. Dennant marked the catalogue.
"Here 's Linseed's last, of course; though I must say I don't care
for him, but I suppose we ought to have it in the house. And there's
Quality's 'The Splendid Diatribes': that 's sure to be good, he's
always so refined. But what am I to do about this of Arthur Baal's?
They say that he's a charlatan, but everybody reads him, don't you
know"; and over the catalogue Shelton caught the gleam of hare-like
Decision had vanished from her face, with its arched nose and
slightly sloping chin, as though some one had suddenly appealed to
her to trust her instincts. It was quite pathetic. Still, there was
always the book's circulation to form her judgment by.
"I think I 'd better mark it," she said, "don't you? Were you
lookin' for Antonia? If you come across Bunyan in the garden, Dick,
do say I want to see him; he's gettin' to be a perfect nuisance. I
can understand his feelin's, but really he 's carryin' it too far."
Primed with his message to the under-gardener, Shelton went. He took
a despairing look into the billiard-room. Antonia was not there.
Instead, a tall and fat-cheeked gentleman with a neat moustache,
called Mabbey, was practising the spot-stroke. He paused as Shelton
entered, and, pouting like a baby, asked in a sleepy voice,
"Play me a hundred up?"
Shelton shook his head, stammered out his sorrow, and was about to
The gentleman called Mabbey, plaintively feeling the places where his
moustaches joined his pink and glossy cheeks, asked with an air of
"What's your general game, then?"
"I really don't know," said Shelton.
The gentleman called Mabbey chalked his cue, and, moving his round,
knock-kneed legs in their tight trousers, took up his position for
"What price that?" he said, as he regained the perpendicular; and his
well-fed eyes followed Shelton with sleepy inquisition. "Curious
dark horse, Shelton," they seemed to say.
Shelton hurried out, and was about to run down the lower lawn, when
he was accosted by another person walking in the sunshine--a slight-
built man in a turned-down collar, with a thin and fair moustache,
and a faint bluish tint on one side of his high forehead, caused by a
network of thin veins. His face had something of the youthful,
optimistic, stained-glass look peculiar to the refined English type.
He walked elastically, yet with trim precision, as if he had a
pleasant taste in furniture and churches, and held the Spectator in
"Ah, Shelton! "he said in high-tuned tones, halting his legs in such
an easy attitude that it was impossible to interrupt it: "come to
take the air?"
Shelton's own brown face, nondescript nose, and his amiable but
dogged chin contrasted strangely with the clear-cut features of the
"I hear from Halidome that you're going to stand for Parliament," the
Shelton, recalling Halidome's autocratic manner of settling other
people's business, smiled.
"Do I look like it?" he asked.
The eyebrows quivered on the stained-glass man. It had never
occurred to him, perhaps, that to stand for Parliament a man must
look like it; he examined Shelton with some curiosity.
"Ah, well," he said, "now you mention it, perhaps not." His eyes, so
carefully ironical, although they differed from the eyes of Mabbey,
also seemed to ask of Shelton what sort of a dark horse he was.
"You 're still in the Domestic Office, then?" asked Shelton.
The stained-glass man stooped to sniff a rosebush. "Yes," he said;
"it suits me very well. I get lots of time for my art work."
"That must be very interesting," said Shelton, whose glance was
roving for Antonia; "I never managed to begin a hobby."
"Never had a hobby!" said the stained-glass man, brushing back his
hair (he was walking with no hat); "why, what the deuce d' you do?"
Shelton could not answer; the idea had never troubled him.
"I really don't know," he said, embarrassed; "there's always
something going on, as far as I can see."
The stained-glass man placed his hands within his pockets, and his
bright glance swept over his companion.
"A fellow must have a hobby to give him an interest in life," he
"An interest in life?" repeated Shelton grimly; "life itself is good
enough for me."
"Oh!" replied the stained-glass man, as though he disapproved of
regarding life itself as interesting.
"That's all very well, but you want something more than that. Why
don't you take up woodcarving?"
"The moment I get fagged with office papers and that sort of thing I
take up my wood-carving; good as a game of hockey."
"I have n't the enthusiasm."
The eyebrows of the stained-glass man twitched; he twisted his
"You 'll find not having a hobby does n't pay," he said; "you 'll get
old, then where 'll you be?"
It came as a surprise that he should use the words "it does n't pay,"
for he had a kind of partially enamelled look, like that modern
jewellery which really seems unconscious of its market value.
"You've given up the Bar? Don't you get awfully bored having nothing
to do?" pursued the stained-glass man, stopping before an ancient
Shelton felt a delicacy, as a man naturally would, in explaining that
being in love was in itself enough to do. To do nothing is unworthy
of a man! But he had never felt as yet the want of any occupation.
His silence in no way disconcerted his acquaintance.
"That's a nice old article of virtue," he said, pointing with his
chin; and, walking round the sundial, he made its acquaintance from
the other side. Its grey profile cast a thin and shortening shadow
on the turf; tongues of moss were licking at its sides; the daisies
clustered thick around its base; it had acquired a look of growing
from the soil. "I should like to get hold of that," the stained-
glass man remarked; "I don't know when I 've seen a better specimen,"
and he walked round it once again.
His eyebrows were still ironically arched, but below them his eyes
were almost calculating, and below them, again, his mouth had opened
just a little. A person with a keener eye would have said his face
looked greedy, and even Shelton was surprised, as though he had read
in the Spectator a confession of commercialism.
"You could n't uproot a thing like that," he said; "it would lose all
His companion turned impatiently, and his countenance looked
"Couldn't I?" he said. "By Jove! I thought so. 1690! The best
period." He ran his forger round the sundial's edge. "Splendid
line-clean as the day they made it. You don't seem to care much
about that sort of thing"; and once again, as though accustomed to
the indifference of Vandals, his face regained its mask.
They strolled on towards the kitchen gardens, Shelton still busy
searching every patch of shade. He wanted to say "Can't stop," and
hurry off; but there was about the stained-glass man a something
that, while stinging Shelton's feelings, made the showing of them
quite impossible. "Feelings!" that person seemed to say; "all very
well, but you want more than that. Why not take up wood-carving?
. . . . Feelings! I was born in England, and have been at
"Are you staying long?" he asked Shelton. "I go on to Halidome's
to-morrow; suppose I sha'n't see you there? Good, chap, old
Halidome! Collection of etchings very fine!"
"No; I 'm staying on," said Shelton.
"Ah!" said the stained-glass man, "charming people, the Dennants!"
Shelton, reddening slowly, turned his head away; he picked a
gooseberry, and muttered, "Yes."
"The eldest girl especially; no nonsense about her. I thought she
was a particularly nice girl."
Shelton heard this praise of Antonia with an odd sensation; it gave
him the reverse of pleasure, as though the words had cast new light
upon her. He grunted hastily,
"I suppose you know that we 're engaged?"
"Really!" said the stained-glass man, and again his bright, clear,
iron-committal glance swept over Shelton--"really! I didn't know.
It was as if he said: "You're a man of taste; I should say she would
go well in almost any drawing-room!"
"Thanks," said Shelton; "there she' is. If you'll excuse me, I want
to speak to her."
Antonia, in a sunny angle of the old brick wall, amid the pinks and
poppies and cornflowers, was humming to herself. Shelton saw the
stained-glass man pass out of sight, then, unobserved, he watched her
smelling at the flowers, caressing her face with each in turn,
casting away spoiled blossoms, and all the time humming that soft
In two months, or three, all barriers between himself and this
inscrutable young Eve would break; she would be a part of him, and he
a part of her; he would know all her thoughts, and she all his;
together they would be as one, and all would think of them, and talk
of them, as one; and this would come about by standing half an hour
together in a church, by the passing of a ring, and the signing of
The sun was burnishing her hair--she wore no hat flushing her cheeks,
sweetening and making sensuous her limbs; it had warmed her through
and through, so that, like the flowers and bees, the sunlight and the
air, she was all motion, light, and colour.
She turned and saw Shelton standing there.
"Oh, Dick!" she said: "Lend me your hand-kerchief to put these
flowers in, there 's a good boy!"
Her candid eyes, blue as the flowers in her hands, were clear and
cool as ice, but in her smile was all the warm profusion of that
corner; the sweetness had soaked into her, and was welling forth
again. The sight of those sun-warmed cheeks, and fingers twining
round the flower-stalks, her pearly teeth, and hair all fragrant,
stole the reason out of Shelton. He stood before her, weak about the
"Found you at last!" he said.
Curving back her neck, she cried out, "Catch!" and with a sweep of
both her hands flung the flowers into Shelton's arms.
Under the rain of flowers, all warm and odorous, he dropped down on
his knees, and put them one by one together, smelling at the pinks,
to hide the violence of his feelings. Antonia went on picking
flowers, and every time her hand was full she dropped them on his
hat, his shoulder, or his arms, and went on plucking more; she
smiled, and on her lips a little devil danced, that seemed to know
what he was suffering. And Shelton felt that she did know.
"Are you tired?" she asked; "there are heaps more wanted. These are
the bedroom-flowers--fourteen lots. I can't think how people can
live without flowers, can you?" and close above his head she buried
her face in pinks.
He kept his eyes on the plucked flowers before him on the grass, and
forced himself to answer,
"I think I can hold out."
"Poor old Dick!" She had stepped back. The sun lit the clear-cut
profile of her cheek, and poured its gold over the bosom of her
blouse. "Poor old Dick! Awfully hard luck, is n't it?" Burdened
with mignonette, she came so close again that now she touched his
shoulder, but Shelton did not look; breathless, with wildly beating
heart, he went on sorting out the flowers. The seeds of mignonette
rained on his neck, and as she let the blossoms fall, their perfume
fanned his face. "You need n't sort them out!" she said.
Was she enticing him? He stole a look; but she was gone again,
swaying and sniffing at the flowers.
"I suppose I'm only hindering you," he growled; "I 'd better go."
"I like to see you on your knees, you look so funny!" and as she
spoke she flung a clove carnation at him. "Does n't it smell good?"
"Too good Oh, Antonia! why are you doing this?"
" Why am I doing what?"
"Don't you know what you are doing?"
"Why, picking flowers!" and once more she was back, bending and
sniffing at the blossoms.
"Oh no," she called; "it's not not nearly.
"Keep on putting them together, if you love me."
"You know I love you," answered Shelton, in a smothered voice.
Antonia gazed at him across her shoulder; puzzled and inquiring was
"I'm not a bit like you," she said. "What will you have for your
"Cornflowers and clove pinks. Poppies are too frivolous, and pinks
"White," said Shelton.
"And mignonette too hard and---"
"Sweet. Why cornflowers?"
Antonia stood before him with her hands against her sides; her figure
was so slim and young, her face uncertain and so grave.
"Because they're dark and deep."
"And why clove pinks?"
Antonia did not answer.
"And why clove pinks?"
"Because," she said, and, flushing, touched a bee that had settled on
her skirt, "because of something in you I don't understand."
"Ah! And what flowers shall t give YOU?"
She put her hands behind her.
"There are all the other flowers for me."
Shelton snatched from the mass in front of him an Iceland poppy with
straight stem and a curved neck, white pinks, and sprigs of hard,
sweet mignonette, and held it out to her.
"There," he said, "that's you." But Antonia did not move.
"Oh no, it is n't!" and behind her back her fingers slowly crushed
the petals of a blood-red poppy. She shook her head, smiling a
brilliant smile. The blossoms fell, he flung his arms around her,
and kissed her on the lips.
But his hands dropped; not fear exactly, nor exactly shame, had come
to him. She had not resisted, but he had kissed the smile away; had
kissed a strange, cold, frightened look, into her eyes.
"She did n't mean to tempt me, then," he thought, in surprise and
anger. "What did she mean?" and, like a scolded dog, he kept his
troubled watch upon her face.
"Where now?" Antonia asked, wheeling her chestnut mare, as they
turned up High Street, Oxford City. "I won't go back the same way,
"We could have a gallop on Port Meadow, cross the Upper River twice,
and get home that way; but you 'll be tired."
Antonia shook her head. Aslant her cheek the brim of a straw hat
threw a curve of shade, her ear glowed transparent in the sun.
A difference had come in their relations since that kiss; outwardly
she was the same good comrade, cool and quick. But as before a
change one feels the subtle difference in the temper of the wind, so
Shelton was affected by the inner change in her. He had made a blot
upon her candour; he had tried to rub it out again, but there was
left a mark, and it was ineffaceable. Antonia belonged to the most
civilised division of the race most civilised in all the world, whose
creed is "Let us love and hate, let us work and marry, but let us
never give ourselves away; to give ourselves away is to leave a mark,
and that is past forgive ness. Let our lives be like our faces, free
from every kind of wrinkle, even those of laughter; in this way alone
can we be really civilised."
He felt that she was ruffled by a vague discomfort. That he should
give himself away was natural, perhaps, and only made her wonder, but
that he should give her the feeling that she had given herself away
was a very different thing.
"Do you mind if I just ask at the Bishop's Head for letters?" he
said, as they passed the old hotel.
A dirty and thin envelope was brought to him, addressed "Mr. Richard
Shelton, Esq.," in handwriting that was passionately clear, as though
the writer had put his soul into securing delivery of the letter. It
was dated three days back, and, as they rode away, Shelton read as
IMPERIAL PEACOCK HOTEL,
MON CHER MONSIEUR SHELTON,
This is already the third time I have taken up pen to write to you,
but, having nothing but misfortune to recount, I hesitated, awaiting
better days. Indeed, I have been so profoundly discouraged that if I
had not thought it my duty to let you know of my fortunes I know not
even now if I should have found the necessary spirit. 'Les choses
vont de mal en mal'. From what I hear there has never been so bad a
season here. Nothing going on. All the same, I am tormented by a
mob of little matters which bring me not sufficient to support my
life. I know not what to do; one thing is certain, in no case shall
I return here another year. The patron of this hotel, my good
employer, is one of those innumerable specimens who do not forge or
steal because they have no need, and if they had would lack the
courage; who observe the marriage laws because they have been brought
up to believe in them, and know that breaking them brings risk and
loss of reputation; who do not gamble because they dare not; do not
drink because it disagrees with them; go to church because their
neighbours go, and to procure an appetite for the mid-day meal;
commit no murder because, not transgressing in any other fashion,
they are not obliged. What is there to respect in persons of this
sort? Yet they are highly esteemed, and form three quarters of
Society. The rule with these good gentlemen is to shut their eyes,
never use their thinking powers, and close the door on all the dogs
of life for fear they should get bitten.
Shelton paused, conscious of Antonia's eyes fixed on him with the
inquiring look that he had come to dread. In that chilly questioning
she seemed to say: "I am waiting. I am prepared to be told things--
that is, useful things--things that help one to believe without the
risk of too much thinking."
"It's from that young foreigner," he said; and went on reading to
I have eyes, and here I am; I have a nose 'pour, flairer le humbug'.
I see that amongst the value of things nothing is the equal of "free
thought." Everything else they can take from me, 'on ne pent pas
m'oter cela'! I see no future for me here, and certainly should have
departed long ago if I had had the money, but, as I have already told
you, all that I can do barely suffices to procure me 'de quoi vivre'.
'Je me sens ecceuye'. Do not pay too much attention to my Jeremiads;
you know what a pessimist I am. 'Je ne perds pas courage'.
Hoping that you are well, and in the cordial pressing of your hand, I
Your very devoted
He rode with the letter open in his hand, frowning at the curious
turmoil which Ferrand excited in his heart. It was as though this
foreign vagrant twanged within him a neglected string, which gave
forth moans of a mutiny.
"What does he say?" Antonia asked.
Should he show it to her? If he might not, what should he do when
they were married?
"I don't quite know," he said at last; "it 's not particularly
"What is he like, Dick--I mean, to look at? Like a gentleman, or
Shelton stifled a desire to laugh.
"He looks very well in a frock-coat," he replied; "his father was a
Antonia flicked her whip against her skirt.
"Of course," she murmured, "I don't want to hear if there's anything
I ought not."
But instead of soothing Shelton, these words had just the opposite
effect. His conception of the ideal wife was not that of one from
whom the half of life must be excluded.
"It's only," he stammered again, "that it's not cheerful."
"Oh, all right!" she cried, and, touching her horse, flew off in
front. "I hate dismal things."
Shelton bit his lips. It was not his fault that half the world was
dark. He knew her words were loosed against himself, and, as always
at a sign of her displeasure, was afraid. He galloped after her on
the scorched turf.
" What is it?" he said. "You 're angry with me!"
"Darling, I can't help it if things are n't cheerful. We have eyes,"
he added, quoting from the letter.
Antonia did not look at him; but touched her horse again.
"Well, I don't want to see the gloomy side," she said, "and I can't
see why YOU should. It's wicked to be discontented"; and she
It was not his fault if there were a thousand different kinds of men,
a thousand different points of view, outside the fence of her
experience! "What business," he thought, digging in his dummy spurs,
"has our class to patronise? We 're the only people who have n't an
idea of what life really means." Chips of dried turf and dust came
flying back, stinging his face. He gained on her, drew almost within
reach, then, as though she had been playing with him, was left
She stooped under the far hedge, fanning her flushed face with dock-
"Aha, Dick! I knew you'd never catch me" and she patted the chestnut
mare, who turned her blowing muzzle with contemptuous humour towards
Shelton's steed, while her flanks heaved rapturously, gradually
darkening with sweat.
"We'd better take them steadily," grunted Shelton, getting off and
loosening his girths, "if we mean to get home at all."
"Don't be cross, Dick!"
"We oughtn't to have galloped them like this; they 're not in
condition. We'd better go home the way we came."
Antonia dropped the reins, and straightened her back hair.
"There 's no fun in that," she said. "Out and back again; I hate a
"Very well," said Shelton; he would have her longer to himself!
The road led up and up a hill, and from the top a vision of Saxonia
lay disclosed in waves of wood and pasture. Their way branched down
a gateless glade, and Shelton sidled closer till his knee touched the
Antonia's profile conjured up visions. She was youth itself; her
eyes so brilliant, and so innocent, her cheeks so glowing, and her
brow unruffled; but in her smile and in the setting of her jaw lurked
something resolute and mischievous. Shelton put his hand out to the
"What made you promise to marry me?" he said.
"Well, what made you?"
"I?" cried Shelton.
She slipped her hand over his hand.
"Oh, Dick!" she said.
"I want," he stammered, "to be everything to you. Do you think I
Of course! The words seemed very much or very little.
She looked down at the river, gleaming below the glade in a curving
silver line. "Dick, there are such a lot of splendid things that we
Did she mean, amongst those splendid things, that they might
understand each other; or were they fated to pretend to only, in the
old time-honoured way?
They crossed the river by a ferry, and rode a long time in silence,
while the twilight slowly fell behind the aspens. And all the beauty
of the evening, with its restless leaves, its grave young moon, and
lighted campion flowers, was but a part of her; the scents, the
witchery and shadows, the quaint field noises, the yokels' whistling,
and the splash of water-fowl, each seemed to him enchanted. The
flighting bats, the forms of the dim hayricks, and sweet-brier
perfume-she summed them all up in herself. The fingermarks had
deepened underneath her eyes, a languor came upon her; it made her
the more sweet and youthful. Her shoulders seemed to bear on them
the very image of our land--grave and aspiring, eager yet contained--
before there came upon that land the grin of greed, the folds of
wealth, the simper of content. Fair, unconscious, free!
And he was silent, with a beating heart.
THE BIRD 'OF PASSAGE
That night, after the ride, when Shelton was about to go to bed, his
eyes fell on Ferrand's letter, and with a sleepy sense of duty he
began to read it through a second time. In the dark, oak-panelled
bedroom, his four-post bed, with back of crimson damask and its
dainty sheets, was lighted by the candle glow; the copper pitcher of
hot water in the basin, the silver of his brushes, and the line of
his well-polished boots all shone, and Shelton's face alone was
gloomy, staring at the yellowish paper in his hand.
"The poor chap wants money, of course," he thought. But why go on
for ever helping one who had no claim on him, a hopeless case,
incurable--one whom it was his duty to let sink for the good of the
community at large? Ferrand's vagabond refinement had beguiled him
into charity that should have been bestowed on hospitals, or any
charitable work but foreign missions. To give a helping hand, a bit
of himself, a nod of fellowship to any fellow-being irrespective of a
claim, merely because he happened to be down, was sentimental
nonsense! The line must be drawn! But in the muttering of this
conclusion he experienced a twinge of honesty. "Humbug! You don't
want to part with your money, that's all!"
So, sitting down in shirt-sleeves at his writing table, he penned the
following on paper stamped with the Holm Oaks address and crest:
MY DEAR FERRAND,
I am sorry you are having such a bad spell. You seem to be dead out
of luck. I hope by the time you get this things will have changed
for the better. I should very much like to see you again and have a
talk, but shall be away for some time longer, and doubt even when I
get back whether I should be able to run down and look you up. Keep
me 'au courant' as to your movements. I enclose a cheque.
Before he had written out the cheque, a moth fluttering round the
candle distracted his attention, and by the time he had caught and
put it out he had forgotten that the cheque was not enclosed. The
letter, removed with his clothes before he was awake, was posted in
an empty state.
One morning a week later he was sitting in the smoking-room in the
company of the gentleman called Mabbey, who was telling him how many
grouse he had deprived of life on August 12 last year, and how many
he intended to deprive of life on August 12 this year, when the door
was opened, and the butler entered, carrying his head as though it
held some fatal secret.
"A young man is asking for you, sir," he said to Shelton, bending
down discreetly; "I don't know if you would wish to see him, sir."
"A young man! "repeated Shelton; "what sort of a young man?"
"I should say a sort of foreigner, sir," apologetically replied the
butler. "He's wearing a frock-coat, but he looks as if he had been
walking a good deal."
Shelton rose with haste; the description sounded to him ominous.
"Where is he?"
"I put him in the young ladies' little room, sir."
"All right," said Shelton; "I 'll come and see him. Now, what the
deuce!" he thought, running down the stairs.
It was with a queer commingling of pleasure and vexation that he
entered the little chamber sacred to the birds, beasts, racquets,
golf-clubs, and general young ladies' litter. Ferrand was standing
underneath the cage of a canary, his hands folded on his pinched-up
hat, a nervous smile upon his lips. He was dressed in Shelton's old
frock-coat, tightly buttoned, and would have cut a stylish figure but
far his look of travel. He wore a pair of pince-nez, too, which
somewhat veiled his cynical blue eyes, and clashed a little with the
pagan look of him. In the midst of the strange surroundings he still
preserved that air of knowing, and being master of, his fate, which
was his chief attraction.
"I 'm glad to see you," said Shelton, holding out his hand.
"Forgive this liberty," began Ferrand, "but I thought it due to you
after all you've done for me not to throw up my efforts to get
employment in England without letting you know first. I'm entirely
at the end of my resources."
The phrase struck Shelton as one that he had heard before.
"But I wrote to you," he said; "did n't you get my letter?"
A flicker passed across the vagrant's face; he drew the letter from
his pocket and held it out.
"Here it is, monsieur."
Shelton stared at it.
"Surely," said he, "I sent a cheque?"
Ferrand did not smile; there was a look about him as though Shelton
by forgetting to enclose that cheque had done him a real injury.
Shelton could not quite hide a glance of doubt.
"Of course," he said, "I--I--meant to enclose a cheque."
Too subtle to say anything, Ferrand curled his lip. "I am capable of
much, but not of that," he seemed to say; and at once Shelton felt
the meanness of his doubt.
"Stupid of me," he said.
"I had no intention of intruding here," said Ferrand; "I hoped to see
you in the neighbourhood, but I arrive exhausted with fatigue. I've
eaten nothing since yesterday at noon, and walked thirty miles." He
shrugged his shoulders. "You see, I had no time to lose before
assuring myself whether you were here or not."
"Of course---" began Shelton, but again he stopped.
"I should very much like," the young foreigner went on, "for one of
your good legislators to find himself in these country villages with
a penny in his pocket. In other countries bakers are obliged to sell
you an equivalent of bread for a penny; here they won't sell you as
much as a crust under twopence. You don't encourage poverty."
"What is your idea now?" asked Shelton, trying to gain time.
"As I told you," replied Ferrand, "there 's nothing to be done at
Folkestone, though I should have stayed there if I had had the money
to defray certain expenses"; and again he seemed to reproach his
patron with the omission of that cheque. "They say things will
certainly be better at the end of the month. Now that I know English
well, I thought perhaps I could procure a situation for teaching
"I see," said Shelton.
As a fact, however, he was far from seeing; he literally did not know
what to do. It seemed so brutal to give Ferrand money and ask him to
clear out; besides, he chanced to have none in his pocket.
"It needs philosophy to support what I 've gone through this week,"
said Ferrand, shrugging his shoulders. "On Wednesday last, when I
received your letter, I had just eighteen-pence, and at once I made a
resolution to come and see you; on that sum I 've done the journey.
My strength is nearly at an end."
Shelton stroked his chin.
"Well," he had just begun, "we must think it over," when by Ferrand's
face he saw that some one had come in. He turned, and saw Antonia in
the doorway. "Excuse me," he stammered, and, going to Antonia, drew
her from the room.
With a smile she said at once: "It's the young foreigner; I'm
certain. Oh, what fun!"
"Yes," answered Shelton slowly; "he's come to see me about getting
some sort of tutorship or other. Do you think your mother would mind
if I took him up to have a wash? He's had a longish walk. And might
he have some breakfast? He must be hungry."
"Of course! I'll tell Dobson. Shall I speak to mother? He looks
He gave her a grateful, furtive look, and went back to his guest; an
impulse had made him hide from her the true condition of affairs.
Ferrand was standing where he had been left his face still clothed in
"Come up to my room!" said Shelton; and while his guest was washing,
brushing, and otherwise embellishing his person, he stood reflecting
that Ferrand was by no means unpresentable, and he felt quite
grateful to him.
He took an opportunity, when the young man's back was turned, of
examining his counterfoils. There was no record, naturally, of a
cheque drawn in Ferrand's favour. Shelton felt more mean than ever.
A message came from Mrs. Dennant; so he took the traveller to the
dining-room and left him there, while he himself went to the lady of
the house. He met Antonia coming down.
"How many days did you say he went without food that time--you know?"
she asked in passing.
"He does n't look a bit common, Dick."
Shelton gazed at her dubiously.
"They're surely not going to make a show of him!" he thought.
Mrs. Dennant was writing, in a dark-blue dress starred over with
white spots, whose fine lawn collar was threaded with black velvet.
"Have you seen the new hybrid Algy's brought me back from Kidstone?
Is n't it charmin'?" and she bent her face towards this perfect rose.
"They say unique; I'm awfully interested to find out if that's true.
I've told Algy I really must have some."
Shelton thought of the unique hybrid breakfasting downstairs; he
wished that Mrs. Dennant would show in him the interest she had
manifested in the rose. But this was absurd of him, he knew, for the
potent law of hobbies controlled the upper classes, forcing them to
take more interest in birds, and roses, missionaries, or limited and
highly-bound editions of old books (things, in a word, in treating
which you knew exactly where you were) than in the manifestations of
mere life that came before their eyes.
"Oh, Dick, about that young Frenchman. Antonia says he wants a
tutorship; now, can you really recommend him? There's Mrs. Robinson
at the Gateways wants someone to teach her boys languages; and, if he
were quite satisfactory, it's really time Toddles had a few lessons
in French; he goes to Eton next half."
Shelton stared at the rose; he had suddenly realised why it was that
people take more interest in roses than in human beings--one could do
it with a quiet heart.
"He's not a Frenchman, you know," he said to gain a little time.
"He's not a German, I hope," Mrs. Dennant answered, passing her
forgers round a petal, to impress its fashion on her brain; "I don't
like Germans. Is n't he the one you wrote about--come down in the
world? Such a pity with so young a fellow! His father was a
merchant, I think you told us. Antonia says he 's quite refined to
"Oh, yes," said Shelton, feeling on safe ground; "he's refined enough
to look at."
Mrs. Dennant took the rose and put it to her nose.
"Delicious perfume! That was a very touchin' story about his goin'
without food in Paris. Old Mrs. Hopkins has a room to let; I should
like to do her a good turn. I'm afraid there's a hole in the
ceilin', though. Or there's the room here in the left wing on the
ground-floor where John the footman used to sleep. It's quite nice;
perhaps he could have that."
"You 're awfully kind," said Shelton, "but---"
"I should like to do something to restore his self-respect,", went on
Mrs. Dennant, "if, as you say, he 's clever and all that. Seein' a
little refined life again might make a world of difference to him.
It's so sad when a young man loses self-respect."
Shelton was much struck by the practical way in which she looked at
things. Restore his self-respect! It seemed quite a splendid
notion! He smiled, and said,
"You're too kind. I think---"
"I don't believe in doin' things by halves," said Mrs. Dennant; "he
does n't drink, I suppose?"
"Oh, no," said Shelton. "He's rather a tobacco maniac, of course."
"Well, that's a mercy! You would n't believe the trouble I 've had
with drink, especially over cooks and coachmen. And now Bunyan's
taken to it."
"Oh, you'd have no trouble with Ferrand," returned Shelton; "you
couldn't tell him from a gentleman as far as manners go."
Mrs. Dennant smiled one of her rather sweet and kindly smiles.
"My dear Dick," she said, "there's not much comfort in that. Look at
poor Bobby Surcingle, look at Oliver Semples and Victor Medallion;
you could n't have better families. But if you 're sure he does n't
drink! Algy 'll laugh, of course; that does n't matter--he laughs at
Shelton felt guilty; being quite unprepared for so rapid an adoption
of his client.
"I really believe there's a lot of good in him," he stammered; "but,
of course, I know very little, and from what he tells me he's had a
very curious life. I shouldn't like---"
"Where was he educated?" inquired Mrs. Dennant. "They have no public
schools in France, so I 've been told; but, of course, he can't help
that, poor young fellow! Oh, and, Dick, there 's one thing--has he
relations? One has always to be so careful about that. It 's one
thing to help a young fellow, but quite another to help his family
too. One sees so many cases of that where men marry girls without
money, don't you know."
"He has told me," answered Shelton, "his only relations are some
cousins, and they are rich."
Mrs. Dennant took out her handkerchief, and, bending above the rose,
removed a tiny insect.
"These green-fly get in everywhere," she said.
"Very sad story; can't they do anything for him?" and she made
researches in the rose's heart.
"He's quarrelled with them, I believe," said Shelton; "I have n't
liked to press him, about that."
"No, of course not," assented Mrs. Dennant absently--she had found
another green-fly "I always think it's painful when a young man seems
Shelton was silent; he was thinking deeply. He had never before felt
so distrustful of the youthful foreigner.
"I think," he said at last, "the best thing would be for you to see
him for yourself."
"Very well," said Mrs. Dennant. "I should be so glad if you would
tell him to come up. I must say I do think that was a most touchin'
story about Paris. I wonder whether this light's strong enough now
for me to photograph this rose."
Shelton withdrew and went down-stairs. Ferrand was still at
breakfast. Antonia stood at the sideboard carving beef for him, and
in the window sat Thea with her Persian kitten.
Both girls were following the traveller's movements with inscrutable
blue eyes. A shiver ran down Shelton's spine. To speak truth, he
cursed the young man's coming, as though it affected his relations
>From the interview, which Shelton had the mixed delight of watching,
between Ferrand and the Honourable Mrs. Dennant, certain definite
results accrued, the chief of which was the permission accorded the
young wanderer to occupy the room which had formerly been tenanted by
the footman John. Shelton was lost in admiration of Ferrand's manner
in this scene.. Its subtle combination of deference and dignity was
almost paralysing; paralysing, too, the subterranean smile upon his
"Charmin' young man, Dick," said Mrs. Dennant, when Shelton lingered
to say once more that he knew but very little of him; "I shall send a
note round to Mrs. Robinson at once. They're rather common, you
know--the Robinsons. I think they'll take anyone I recommend."
"I 'm sure they will," said Shelton; "that's why I think you ought to
But Mrs. Dennant's eyes, fervent, hare-like, were fixed on something
far away; turning, he saw the rose in a tall vase on a tall and
spindly stool. It seemed to nod towards them in the sunshine. Mrs.
Dennant dived her nose towards her camera.
"The light's perfect now," she said, in a voice muffled by the cloth.
"I feel sure that livin' with decent people will do wonders for him.
Of course, he understands that his meals will be served to him
Shelton, doubly anxious, now that his efforts had lodged his client
in a place of trust, fell, back on hoping for the best; his instinct
told him that, vagabond as Ferrand was, he had a curious self-
respect, that would save him from a mean ingratitude.
In fact, as Mrs. Dennant, who was by no means void of common-sense,
foresaw, the arrangement worked all right. Ferrand entered on his
duties as French tutor to the little Robinsons. In the Dennants'
household he kept himself to his own room, which, day and night, he
perfumed with tobacco, emerging at noon into the garden, or, if wet,
into the study, to teach young Toddles French. After a time it
became customary for him to lunch with the house-party, partly
through a mistake of Toddles, who seemed to think that it was
natural, and partly through John Noble, one of Shelton's friends, who
had come to stay, and discovered Ferrand to be a most awfully
interesting person he was always, indeed, discovering the most
awfully interesting persons. In his grave and toneless voice,
brushing his hair from off his brow, he descanted upon Ferrand with
enthusiasm, to which was joined a kind of shocked amusement, as who
should say, "Of course, I know it's very odd, but really he 's such
an awfully interesting person." For John Noble was a politician,
belonging to one of those two Peculiar parties, which, thoroughly in
earnest, of an honesty above suspicion, and always very busy, are
constitutionally averse to anything peculiar for fear of finding they
have overstepped the limit of what is practical in politics. As such
he inspired confidence, not caring for things unless he saw some
immediate benefit to be had from them, having a perfect sense of
decency, and a small imagination. He discussed all sorts of things
with Ferrand; on one occasion Shelton overheard them arguing on
"No Englishman approves of murder," Noble was saying, in the gloomy
voice that contrasted with the optimistic cast of his fine head, "but
the main principle is right. Equalisation of property is bound to
come. I sympathise with then, not with their methods."
"Forgive me," struck in Ferrand; "do you know any anarchists?"
"No," returned Noble; "I certainly do not."
"You say you sympathise with them, but the first time it comes to
"Oh, monsieur! one doesn't make anarchism with the head."
Shelton perceived that he had meant to add, "but with the heart, the
lungs, the liver." He drew a deeper meaning from the saying, and
seemed to see, curling with the smoke from Ferrand's lips, the words:
"What do you, an English gentleman, of excellent position, and all
the prejudices of your class, know about us outcasts? If you want to
understand us you must be an outcast too; we are not playing at the
This talk took place upon the lawn, at the end of one of Toddles's
French lessons, and Shelton left John Noble maintaining to the
youthful foreigner, with stubborn logic, that he, John Noble, and the
anarchists had much, in common. He was returning to the house, when
someone called his name from underneath the holm oak. There, sitting
Turkish fashion on the grass, a pipe between his teeth, he found a
man who had arrived the night before, and impressed him by his
friendly taciturnity. His name was Whyddon, and he had just returned
from Central Africa; a brown-faced, large-jawed man, with small but
good and steady eyes, and strong, spare figure.
"Oh, Mr. Shelton!" he said, "I wondered if you could tell me what
tips I ought to give the servants here; after ten years away I 've
forgotten all about that sort of thing."
Shelton sat down beside him; unconsciously assuming, too, a cross-
legged attitude, which caused him much discomfort.
"I was listening," said his new acquaintance, "to the little chap
learning his French. I've forgotten mine. One feels a hopeless
duffer knowing no, languages."
"I suppose you speak Arabic?" said Shelton.
"Oh, Arabic, and a dialect or two; they don't count. That tutor has
a curious face."
"You think so?" said Shelton, interested. "He's had a curious life."
The traveller spread his hands, palms downwards, on the grass and
looked at Shelton with, a smile.
"I should say he was a rolling stone," he said. "It 's odd, I' ve
seen white men in Central Africa with a good deal of his look about
"Your diagnosis is a good one," answered Shelton.
"I 'm always sorry for those fellows. There's generally some good in
them. They are their own enemies. A bad business to be unable to
take pride in anything one does!" And there was a look of pity on
"That's exactly it," said Shelton. "I 've often tried to put it into
words. Is it incurable?"
"I think so."
"Can you tell me why?"
"I rather think," he said at last, "it must be because they have too
strong a faculty of criticism. You can't teach a man to be proud of
his own work; that lies in his blood "; folding his arms across his
breast, he heaved a sigh. Under the dark foliage, his eyes on the
sunlight, he was the type of all those Englishmen who keep their
spirits bright and wear their bodies out in the dark places of hard
work. "You can't think," he said, showing his teeth in a smile, "how
delightful it is to be at home! You learn to love the old country
when you're away from it."
Shelton often thought, afterwards; of this diagnosis of the vagabond,
for he was always stumbling on instances of that power of subtle
criticism which was the young foreigner's prime claim to be "a most
awfully interesting" and perhaps a rather shocking person.
An old school-fellow of Shelton's and his wife were staying in the
house, who offered to the eye the picture of a perfect domesticity.
Passionless and smiling, it was impossible to imagine they could ever
have a difference. Shelton, whose bedroom was next to theirs, could
hear them in the mornings talking in exactly the tones they used at
lunch, and laughing the same laughs. Their life seemed to accord
them perfect satisfaction; they were supplied with their convictions
by Society just as, when at home, they were supplied with all the
other necessaries of life by some co-operative stores. Their fairly
handsome faces, with the fairly kind expressions, quickly and
carefully regulated by a sense of compromise, began to worry him so
much that when in the same room he would even read to avoid the need
of looking at them. And yet they were kind--that is, fairly kind--
and clean and quiet in the house, except when they laughed, which was
often, and at things which made him want to howl as a dog howls at
"Mr. Shelton," Ferrand said one day, "I 'm not an amateur of
marriage--never had the chance, as you may well suppose; but, in any
case, you have some people in the house who would make me mark time
before I went committing it. They seem the ideal young married
people--don't quarrel, have perfect health, agree with everybody, go
to church, have children--but I should like to hear what is beautiful
in their life," and he grimaced. "It seems to me so ugly that I can
only gasp. I would much rather they ill-treated each other, just to
show they had the corner of a soul between them. If that is
marriage, 'Dieu m'en garde!'"
But Shelton did not answer; he was thinking deeply.
The saying of John Noble's, "He's really a most interesting person,"
grew more and more upon his nerves; it seemed to describe the Dennant
attitude towards this stranger within their gates. They treated him
with a sort of wonder on the "don't touch" system, like an object in
an exhibition. The restoration, however, of, his self-respect
proceeded with success. For all the semblance of having grown too
big for Shelton's clothes, for all his vividly burnt face, and the
quick but guarded play of cynicism on his lips--he did much credit to
his patrons. He had subdued his terror of a razor, and looked well
in a suit of Shelton's flannels. For, after all, he had only been
eight years exiled from middle-class gentility, and he had been a
waiter half that time. But Shelton wished him at the devil. Not for
his manners' sake--he was never tired of watching how subtly the
vagabond adapted his conduct to the conduct of his hosts, while
keeping up his critical detachment--but because that critical
detachment was a constant spur to his own vision, compelling him to
analyse the life into which, he had been born and was about to marry.
This process was disturbing; and to find out when it had commenced,
he had to go back to his meeting with Ferrand on the journey up from
There was kindness in a hospitality which opened to so strange a
bird; admitting the kindness, Shelton fell to analysing it. To
himself, to people of his class, the use of kindness was a luxury,
not significant of sacrifice, but productive of a pleasant feeling in
the heart, such as massage will setup in the legs. "Everybody's
kind," he thought; "the question is, What understanding is there,
what real sympathy?" This problem gave him food for thought.
The progress, which Mrs. Dennant not unfrequently remarked upon, in
Ferrand's conquest of his strange position, seemed to Shelton but a
sign that he was getting what he could out of his sudden visit to
green pastures; under the same circumstances, Shelton thought that he
himself would do the same. He felt that the young foreigner was
making a convenient bow to property, but he had more respect for the
sarcastic smile on the lips of Ferrand's heart.
It was not long before the inevitable change came in the spirit of
the situation; more and more was Shelton conscious of a quaint
uneasiness in the very breathing of the household.
"Curious fellow you've got hold of there, Shelton," Mr. Dennant said
to him during a game of croquet; "he 'll never do any good for
himself, I'm afraid."
"In one sense I'm afraid not," admitted Shelton.
"Do you know his story? I will bet you sixpence"--and Mr. Dennant
paused to swing his mallet with a proper accuracy "that he's been in
"Prison!" ejaculated Shelton.
"I think," said Mr. Dennant, with bent knees carefully measuring his
next shot, "that you ought to make inquiries--ah! missed it!
Awkward these hoops! One must draw the line somewhere."
"I never could draw," returned Shelton, nettled and uneasy; "but I
understand--I 'll give him a hint to go."
"Don't," said Mr. Dennant, moving after his second ball, which
Shelton had smitten to the farther end, "be offended, my dear
Shelton, and by no means give him a hint; he interests me very much--
a very clever, quiet young fellow."
That this was not his private view Shelton inferred by studying Mr.
Dennant's manner in the presence of the vagabond. Underlying the
well-bred banter of the tranquil voice, the guarded quizzicality of
his pale brown face, it could be seen that Algernon Cuffe Dennant,
Esq., J.P., accustomed to laugh at other people, suspected that he
was being laughed at. What more natural than that he should grope
about to see how this could be? A vagrant alien was making himself
felt by an English Justice of the Peace--no small tribute, this, to
Ferrand's personality. The latter would sit silent through a meal,
and yet make his effect. He, the object of their kindness,
education, patronage, inspired their fear. There was no longer any
doubt; it was not of Ferrand that they were afraid, but of what they
did not understand in him; of horrid subtleties meandering in the
brain under that straight, wet-looking hair; of something bizarre
popping from the curving lips below that thin, lopsided nose.
But to Shelton in this, as in all else, Antonia was what mattered.
At first, anxious to show her lover that she trusted him, she seemed
never tired of doing things for his young protege, as though she too
had set her heart on his salvation; but, watching her eyes when they
rested on the vagabond, Shelton was perpetually reminded of her
saying on the first day of his visit to Holm Oaks, "I suppose he 's
really good--I mean all these things you told me about were only...."
Curiosity never left her glance, nor did that story of his four days'
starving leave her mind; a sentimental picturesqueness clung about
that incident more valuable by far than this mere human being with
whom she had so strangely come in contact. She watched Ferrand, and
Shelton watched her. If he had been told that he was watching her,
he would have denied it in good faith; but he was bound to watch her,
to find out with what eyes she viewed this visitor who embodied all
the rebellious under-side of life, all that was absent in herself.
"Dick," she said to him one day, "you never talk to me of Monsieur
"Do you want to talk of him?"
"Don't you think that he's improved?"
Antonia looked grave.
"No, but really?"
"I don't know," said Shelton; "I can't judge him."
Antonia turned her face away, and something in her attitude alarmed
"He was once a sort of gentleman," she said; "why shouldn't he become
Sitting on the low wall of the kitchen-garden, her head was framed by
golden plums. The sun lay barred behind the foliage of the holm oak,
but a little patch filtering through a gap had rested in the plum-
tree's heart. It crowned the girl. Her raiment, the dark leaves,
the red wall, the golden plums, were woven by the passing glow to a
block of pagan colour. And her face above it, chaste, serene, was
like the scentless summer evening. A bird amongst the currant bushes
kept a little chant vibrating; and all the plum-tree's shape and
colour seemed alive.
"Perhaps he does n't want to be a gentleman," said Shelton.
Antonia swung her foot.
"How can he help wanting to?"
"He may have a different philosophy of life."
Antonia was slow to answer.
"I know nothing about philosophies of life," she said at last.
Shelton answered coldly,
"No two people have the same."
With the falling sun-glow the charm passed off the tree. Chilled and
harder, yet less deep, it was no more a block of woven colour, warm
and impassive, like a southern goddess; it was now a northern tree,
with a grey light through its leaves.
"I don't understand you in the least," she said; "everyone wishes to
"And safe?" asked Shelton gently.
"Suppose," he said--"I don't pretend to know, I only suppose--what
Ferrand really cares for is doing things differently from other
people? If you were to load him with a character and give him money
on condition that he acted as we all act, do you think he would
"Why are n't cats dogs; or pagans Christians?"
Antonia slid down from the wall.
"You don't seem to think there 's any use in trying," she said, and
Shelton made a movement as if he would go after her, and then stood
still, watching her figure slowly pass, her head outlined above the
wall, her hands turned back across her narrow hips. She halted at
the bend, looked back, then, with an impatient gesture, disappeared.
Antonia was slipping from him!
A moment's vision from without himself would have shown him that it
was he who moved and she who was standing still, like the figure of
one watching the passage of a stream with clear, direct, and sullen
One day towards the end of August Shelton took Antonia on the river--
the river that, like soft music, soothes the land; the river of the
reeds and poplars, the silver swan-sails, sun and moon, woods, and
the white slumbrous clouds; where cuckoos, and the wind, the pigeons,
and the weirs are always singing; and in the flash of naked bodies,
the play of waterlily leaves, queer goblin stumps, and the twilight
faces of the twisted tree-roots, Pan lives once more.
The reach which Shelton chose was innocent of launches, champagne
bottles and loud laughter; it was uncivilised, and seldom troubled by
these humanising influences. He paddled slowly, silent and absorbed,
watching Antonia. An unaccustomed languor clung about her; her eyes
had shadows, as though she had not slept; colour glowed softly in her
cheeks, her frock seemed all alight with golden radiance. She made
Shelton pull into the reeds, and plucked two rounded lilies sailing
like ships against slow-moving water.
"Pull into the shade, please," she said; "it's too hot out here."
The brim of her linen hat kept the sun from her face, but her head
was drooping like a flower's head at noon.
Shelton saw that the heat was really harming her, as too hot a day
will dim the icy freshness of a northern plant. He dipped his
sculls, the ripples started out and swam in grave diminuendo till
they touched the banks.
He shot the boat into a cleft, and caught the branches of an
overhanging tree. The skiff rested, balancing with mutinous
vibration, like a living thing.
"I should hate to live in London," said Antonia suddenly;" the slums
must be so awful. What a pity, when there are places like this! But
it's no good thinking."
"No," answered Shelton slowly! "I suppose it is no good."
"There are some bad cottages at the lower end of Cross Eaton. I went
them one day with Miss Truecote. The people won't help themselves.
It's so discouraging to help people who won't help themselves."
She was leaning her elbows on her knees, and, with her chin resting
on her hands, gazed up at Shelton. All around them hung a tent of
soft, thick leaves, and, below, the water was deep-dyed with green
refraction. Willow boughs, swaying above the boat, caressed
Antonia's arms and shoulders; her face and hair alone were free.
"So discouraging," she said again.
A silence fell.... Antonia seemed thinking deeply.
"Doubts don't help you," she said suddenly; "how can you get any good
from doubts? The thing is to win victories."
"Victories?" said Shelton. "I 'd rather understand than conquer!"
He had risen to his feet, and grasped stunted branch, canting the
boat towards the bank.
"How can you let things slide like that, Dick? It's like Ferrand."
"Have you such a bad opinion of him, then?" asked Shelton. He felt
on the verge of some, discovery.
She buried her chin deeper in her hands.
"I liked him at first," she said; "I thought that he was different.
I thought he couldn't really be---"
"Really be what?"
Antonia did not answer.
"I don't know," she said at last. "I can't explain. I thought---"
Shelton still stood, holding to the branch, and the oscillation of
the boat freed an infinity of tiny ripples.
"You thought--what?" he said.
He ought to have seen her face grow younger, more childish, even
timid. She said in a voice smooth, round, and young:
"You know, Dick, I do think we ought to try. I know I don't try half
hard enough. It does n't do any good to think; when you think,
everything seems so mixed, as if there were nothing to lay hold of.
I do so hate to feel like that. It is n't as if we didn't know
what's right. Sometimes I think, and think, and it 's all no good,
only a waste of time, and you feel at the end as if you had been
"What has n't been through fire's no good," he said; and, letting go
the branch, sat down. Freed from restraint, the boat edged out
towards the current. "But what about Ferrand?"
"I lay awake last night wondering what makes you like him so. He's
so bitter; he makes me feel unhappy. He never seems content with
anything. And he despises"--her face hardened--"I mean, he hates us
"So should I if I were he," said Shelton.
The boat was drifting on, and gleams of sunlight chased across their
faces. Antonia spoke again.
"He seems to be always looking at dark things, or else he seems as
if--as if he could--enjoy himself too much. I thought--I thought at
first," she stammered, "that we could do him good."
"Do him good! Ha, ha!"
A startled rat went swimming for its life against the stream; and
Shelton saw that he had done a dreadful thing: he had let Antonia
with a jerk into a secret not hitherto admitted even by himself--the
secret that her eyes were not his eyes, her way of seeing things not
his nor ever would be. He quickly muffled up his laughter. Antonia
had dropped her gaze; her face regained its languor, but the bosom of
her dress was heaving. Shelton watched her, racking his brains to
find excuses for that fatal laugh; none could he find. It was a
little piece of truth. He paddled slowly on, close to the bank, in
the long silence of the river.
The breeze had died away, not a fish was rising; save for the lost
music of the larks no birds were piping; alone, a single pigeon at
brief intervals cooed from the neighbouring wood.
They did not stay much longer in the boat.
On the homeward journey in the pony-cart, rounding a corner of the
road, they came on Ferrand in his pince-nez, holding a cigarette
between his fingers and talking to a tramp, who was squatting on the
bank. The young foreigner recognised them, and at once removed his
"There he is," said Shelton, returning the salute.
"Oh!" she, cried, when they were out of hearing, "I wish he 'd go.
I can't bear to see him; it's like looking at the dark."
ON THE WING
That night, having gone up to his room, Shelton filled his pipe for
his unpleasant duty. He had resolved to hint to Ferrand that he had
better go. He was still debating whether to write or go himself to
the young foreigner, when there came a knock and Ferrand himself
"I should be sorry," he said, breaking an awkward silence, "if you
were to think me ungrateful, but I see no future for me here. It
would be better for me to go. I should never be content to pass my
life in teaching languages 'ce n'est guere dans mon caractre'."
As soon as what he had been cudgelling his brains to find a way of
saying had thus been said for him, Shelton experienced a sense of
"What do you expect to get that's better?" he said, avoiding
"Thanks to your kindness," replied the latter, "I find myself
restored. I feel that I ought to make some good efforts to dominate
my social position."
"I should think it well over, if I were you!" said Shelton.
"I have, and it seems to me that I'm wasting my time. For a man with
any courage languages are no career; and, though I 've many defects,
I still have courage."
Shelton let his pipe go out, so pathetic seemed to him this young
man's faith in his career; it was no pretended faith, but neither was
it, he felt, his true motive for departure. "He's tired," he
thought; "that 's it. Tired of one place." And having the
instinctive sense that nothing would keep Ferrand, he redoubled his
"I should have thought," he said, "that you would have done better to
have held on here and saved a little before going off to God knows
"To save," said Ferrand, "is impossible for me, but, thanks to you
and your good friends, I 've enough to make front to first
necessities. I'm in correspondence with a friend; it's of great
importance for me to reach Paris before all the world returns. I 've
a chance to get, a post in one of the West African companies. One
makes fortunes out there--if one survives, and, as you know, I don't
set too much store by life."
"We have a proverb," said Shelton, "'A bird in the hand is worth two
birds in the bush!'"
"That," returned Ferrand, "like all proverbs, is just half true.
This is an affair of temperament. It 's not in my character to
dandle one when I see two waiting to be caught; 'voyager, apprendre,
c'est plus fort que moi'." He paused; then, with a nervous goggle of
the eyes and an ironic smile he said: "Besides, 'mon cher monsieur',
it is better that I go. I have never been one to hug illusions, and
I see pretty clearly that my presence is hardly acceptable in this
"What makes you say that?" asked, Shelton, feeling that the murder
was now out."
"My dear sir, all the world has not your understanding and your lack
of prejudice, and, though your friends have been extremely kind to
me, I am in a false position; I cause them embarrassment, which is
not extraordinary when you reflect what I have been, and that they
know my history."
"Not through me," said Shelton quickly, "for I don't know it myself."
"It's enough," the vagrant said, "that they feel I'm not a bird of
their feather. They cannot change, neither can I. I have never
wanted to remain where I 'm not welcome."
Shelton turned to the window, and stared into the darkness; he would
never quite understand this vagabond, so delicate, so cynical, and he
wondered if Ferrand had been swallowing down the words, "Why, even
you won't be sorry to see my back!"
"Well," he said at last, "if you must go, you must. When do you
"I 've arranged with a man to carry my things to the early train. I
think it better not to say good-bye. I 've written a letter instead;
here it is. I left it open for you to read if you should wish,"
"Then," said Shelton, with a curious mingling of relief, regret,
good-will, "I sha'n't see you again?"
Ferrand gave his hand a stealthy rub, and held it out.
"I shall never forget what you have done for me," he said.
"Mind you write," said Shelton.
"Yes, yes"--the, vagrant's face was oddly twisted--"you don't know
what a difference it makes to have a correspondent; it gives one
courage. I hope to remain a long time in correspondence with you."
"I dare say you do," thought Shelton grimly, with a certain queer
"You will do me the justice to remember that I have never asked you
for anything," said Ferrand. "Thank you a thousand times.
He again wrung his patron's hand in his damp grasp, and, going out,
left Shelton with an odd sensation in his throat. "You will do me
the justice to remember that I have never asked you for anything."
The phrase seemed strange, and his mind flew back over all this queer
acquaintanceship. It was a fact: from the beginning to the end the
youth had never really asked for anything. Shelton sat down on his
bed, and began to read the letter in his hand. It was in French.
DEAR MADAME (it ran),
It will be insupportable to me, after your kindness, if you take me
for ungrateful. Unfortunately, a crisis has arrived which plunges me
into the necessity of leaving your hospitality. In all lives, as you
are well aware, there arise occasions that one cannot govern, and I
know that you will pardon me that I enter into no explanation on an
event which gives me great chagrin, and, above all, renders me
subject to an imputation of ingratitude, which, believe me, dear
Madame, by no means lies in my character. I know well enough that it
is a breach of politeness to leave you without in person conveying
the expression of my profound reconnaissance, but if you consider how
hard it is for me to be compelled to abandon all that is so
distinguished in domestic life, you will forgive my weakness. People
like me, who have gone through existence with their eyes open, have
remarked that those who are endowed with riches have a right to look
down on such as are not by wealth and breeding fitted to occupy the
same position. I shall never dispute a right so natural and
salutary, seeing that without this distinction, this superiority,
which makes of the well-born and the well-bred a race apart, the rest
of the world would have no standard by which to rule their lives, no
anchor to throw into the depths of that vast sea of fortune and of
misfortune on which we others drive before the wind. It is because
of this, dear Madame, that I regard myself so doubly fortunate to
have been able for a few minutes in this bitter pilgrimage called
life, to sit beneath the tree of safety. To have been able, if only
for an hour, to sit and set the pilgrims pass, the pilgrims with the
blistered feet and ragged clothes, and who yet, dear Madame, guard
within their hearts a certain joy in life, illegal joy, like the
desert air which travellers will tell you fills men as with wine to
be able thus to sit an hour, and with a smile to watch them pass,
lame and blind, in all the rags of their deserved misfortunes, can
you not conceive, dear Madame, how that must be for such as I a
comfort? Whatever one may say, it is sweet, from a position of
security, to watch the sufferings of others; it gives one a good
sensation in the heart.
In writing this, I recollect that I myself once had the chance of
passing all my life in this enviable safety, and as you may suppose,
dear Madame, I curse myself that I should ever have had the courage
to step beyond the boundaries of this fine tranquil state. Yet, too,
there have been times when I have asked myself: "Do we really differ
from the wealthy--we others, birds of the fields, who have our own
philosophy, grown from the pains of needing bread--we who see that
the human heart is not always an affair of figures, or of those good
maxims that one finds in copy-books--do we really differ?" It is
with shame that I confess to have asked myself a question so
heretical. But now, when for these four weeks I have had the fortune
of this rest beneath your roof, I see how wrong I was to entertain
such doubts. It is a great happiness to have decided once for all
this point, for it is not in my character to pass through life
uncertain--mistaken, perhaps--on psychological matters such as these.
No, Madame; rest happily assured that there is a great difference,
which in the future will be sacred for me. For, believe me, Madame,
it would be calamity for high Society if by chance there should arise
amongst them any understanding of all that side of life which--vast
as the plains and bitter as the sea, black as the ashes of a corpse,
and yet more free than any wings of birds who fly away--is so justly
beyond the grasp of their philosophy. Yes, believe me, dear Madame,
there is no danger in the world so much to be avoided by all the
members of that circle, most illustrious, most respectable, called
>From what I have said you may imagine how hard it is for me to take
my flight. I shall always keep for you the most distinguished
sentiments. With the expression of my full regard for you and your
good family, and of a gratitude as sincere as it is badly worded,
Believe me, dear Madame,
Shelton's first impulse was to tear the letter up, but this he
reflected he had no right to do. Remembering, too, that Mrs.
Dennant's French was orthodox, he felt sure she would never
understand the young foreigner's subtle innuendoes. He closed the
envelope and went to bed, haunted still by Ferrand's parting look.
It was with no small feeling of embarrassment, however, that, having
sent the letter to its destination by an early footman, he made his
appearance at the breakfast-table. Behind the Austrian coffee-urn,
filled with French coffee, Mrs. Dennant, who had placed four eggs in
a German egg-boiler, said "Good-morning," with a kindly smile.
"Dick, an egg?" she asked him, holding up a fifth.
"No, thank you," replied Shelton, greeting the table and fitting
He was a little late; the buzz of conversation rose hilariously
"My dear," continued Mr. Dennant, who was talking to his youngest
daughter, "you'll have no chance whatever--not the least little bit
"Father, what nonsense! You know we shall beat your heads off!"
"Before it 's too late, then, I will eat a muffin. Shelton, pass the
muffins! "But in making this request, Mr. Dennant avoided looking in
Antonia, too, seemed to keep her eyes away from him. She was talking
to a Connoisseur on Art of supernatural appearances, and seemed in
the highest spirits. Shelton rose, and, going to the sideboard,
helped himself to grouse.
"Who was the young man I saw yesterday on the lawn?" he heard the
Connoisseur remark. "Struck me as having an--er--quite intelligent
His own intelligent physiog, raised at a slight slant so that he