Part 5 out of 5
might look the better through his nose-nippers, was the very pattern
of approval. "It's curious how one's always meeting with
intelligence;" it seemed to say. Mrs. Dennant paused in the act of
adding cream, and Shelton scrutinised her face; it was hare-like, and
superior as ever. Thank goodness she had smelt no rat! He felt
"You mean Monsieur Ferrand, teachin' Toddles French? Dobson, the
"I hope I shall see him again," cooed the Connoisseur; "he was quite
interesting on the subject of young German working men. It seems
they tramp from place to place to learn their trades. What
nationality was he, may I ask?"
Mr. Dennant, of whom he asked this question, lifted his brows, and
"Half Dutch, half French."
"Very interesting breed; I hope I shall see him again."
"Well, you won't," said Thea suddenly; "he's gone."
Shelton saw that their good breeding alone prevented all from adding,
"And thank goodness, too!"
"Gone? Dear me, it's very--"
"Yes," said Mr. Dennant, "very sudden."
"Now, Algie," murmured Mrs. Dennant, "it 's quite a charmin' letter.
Must have taken the poor young man an hour to write."
"Oh, mother!" cried Antonia.
And Shelton felt his face go crimson. He had suddenly remembered
that her French was better than her mother's.
"He seems to have had a singular experience," said the Connoisseur.
"Yes," echoed Mr. Dennant; "he 's had some singular experience. If
you want to know the details, ask friend Shelton; it's quite
romantic. In the meantime, my dear; another cup?"
The Connoisseur, never quite devoid of absent-minded malice, spurred
his curiosity to a further effort; and, turning his well-defended
eyes on Shelton, murmured,
"Well, Mr. Shelton, you are the historian, it seems."
"There is no history," said Shelton, without looking up.
"Ah, that's very dull," remarked the Connoisseur.
"My dear Dick," said Mrs. Dennant, "that was really a most touchin'
story about his goin' without food in Paris."
Shelton shot another look at Antonia; her face was frigid. "I hate
your d---d superiority!" he thought, staring at the Connoisseur.
"There's nothing," said that gentleman, "more enthralling than
starvation. Come, Mr Shelton."
"I can't tell stories," said Shelton; "never could."
He cared not a straw for Ferrand, his coming, going, or his history;
for, looking at Antonia, his heart was heavy.
THE LADY FROM BEYOND
The morning was sultry, brooding, steamy. Antonia was at her music,
and from the room where Shelton tried to fix attention on a book he
could hear her practising her scales with a cold fury that cast an
added gloom upon his spirit. He did not see her until lunch, and
then she again sat next the Connoisseur. Her cheeks were pale, but
there was something feverish in her chatter to her neighbour; she
still refused to look at Shelton. He felt very miserable. After
lunch, when most of them had left the table, the rest fell to
discussing country neighbours.
"Of course," said Mrs. Dennant, "there are the Foliots; but nobody
calls on them."
"Ah!" said the Connoisseur, "the Foliots--the Foliots--the people--
"It's really distressin'; she looks so sweet ridin' about. Many
people with worse stories get called on," continued Mrs. Dennant,
with that large frankness of intrusion upon doubtful subjects which
may be made by certain people in a certain way," but, after all, one
couldn't ask them to meet anybody."
"No," the Connoisseur assented. "I used to know Foliot. Thousand
pities. They say she was a very pretty woman."
"Oh, not pretty!" said Mrs. Dennant! "more interestin than pretty, I
Shelton, who knew the lady slightly, noticed that they spoke of her
as in the past. He did not look towards Antonia; for, though a
little troubled at her presence while such a subject was discussed,
he hated his conviction that her face, was as unruffled as though the
Foliots had been a separate species. There was, in fact, a curiosity
about her eyes, a faint impatience on her lips; she was rolling
little crumbs of bread. Suddenly yawning, she muttered some remark,
and rose. Shelton stopped her at the door.
"Where are you going?"
"For a walk."
"May n't I come?".
She shook her head.
"I 'm going to take Toddles."
Shelton held the door open, and went back to the table.
"Yes," the Connoisseur said, sipping at his sherry, "I 'm afraid it's
all over with young Foliot."
"Such a pity!" murmured Mrs. Dennant, and her kindly face looked
quite disturbed. "I've known him ever since he was a boy. Of
course, I think he made a great mistake to bring her down here. Not
even bein' able to get married makes it doubly awkward. Oh, I think
he made a great mistake!"
"Ah!" said the Connoisseur, "but d' you suppose that makes much
difference? Even if What 's--his-name gave her a divorce, I don't
think, don't you know, that--"
"Oh, it does! So many people would be inclined to look over it in
time. But as it is it's hopeless, quite. So very awkward for
people, too, meetin' them about. The Telfords and the Butterwicks--
by the way, they're comin' here to dine to-night--live near them,
don't you know."
"Did you ever meet her before-er-before the flood?" the Connoisseur
inquired; and his lips parting and unexpectedly revealing teeth gave
him a shadowy resemblance to a goat.
"Yes; I did meet her once at the Branksomes'. I thought her quite a
"Poor fellow!" said the Connoisseur; "they tell me he was going to
take the hounds."
"And there are his delightful coverts, too. Algie often used to
shoot there, and now they say he just has his brother down to shoot
with him. It's really quite too melancholy! Did you know him,
"Foliot?" replied Shelton absently. "No; I never met him: I've seen
her once or twice at Ascot."
Through the window he could see Antonia in her scarlet Tam-o'-
shanter, swinging her stick, and he got up feigning unconcern. Just
then Toddles came bounding up against his sister. They went off arm
in arm. She had seen him at the window, yet she gave no friendly
glance; Shelton felt more miserable than ever. He stepped out upon
the drive. There was a lurid, gloomy canopy above; the elm-trees
drooped their heavy blackish green, the wonted rustle of the aspen-
tree was gone, even the rooks were silent. A store of force lay
heavy on the heart of nature. He started pacing slowly up and down,
his pride forbidding him to follow her, and presently sat down on an
old stone seat that faced the road. He stayed a long time staring at
the elms, asking himself what he had done and what he ought to do.
And somehow he was frightened. A sense of loneliness was on him, so
real, so painful, that he shivered in the sweltering heat. He was
there, perhaps, an hour, alone, and saw nobody pass along the road.
Then came the sound of horse's hoofs, and at the same time he heard a
motor-car approaching from the opposite direction. The rider made
appearance first, riding a grey horse with an Arab's high set head
and tail. She was holding him with difficulty, for the whirr of the
approaching car grew every moment louder. Shelton rose; the car
flashed by. He saw the horse stagger in the gate-way, crushing its
rider up against the gatepost.
He ran, but before he reached the gate the lady was on foot, holding
the plunging horse's bridle.
"Are you hurt?" cried Shelton breathlessly, and he, too, grabbed the
bridle. "Those beastly cars!"
"I don't know," she said. "Please don't; he won't let strangers
Shelton let go, and watched her coax the horse. She was rather tall,
dressed in a grey habit, with a grey Russian cap upon her head, and
he suddenly recognised the Mrs. Foliot whom they had been talking of
"He 'll be quiet now," she said, "if you would n't mind holding him a
She gave the reins to him, and leaned against the gate. She was very
"I do hope he has n't hurt you," Shelton said. He was quite close to
her, well able to see her face--a curious face with high cheek-bones
and a flatfish moulding, enigmatic, yet strangely passionate for all
its listless pallor. Her smiling, tightened lips were pallid;
pallid, too, her grey and deep-set eyes with greenish tints; above
all, pale the ashy mass of hair coiled under her grey cap.
"Th-thanks!" she said; "I shall be all right directly. I'm sorry to
have made a fuss."
She bit her lips and smiled.
"I 'm sure you're hurt; do let me go for---" stammered Shelton.
"I can easily get help."
"Help!" she said, with a stony little laugh; "oh, no, thanks!"
She left the gate, and crossed the road to where he held the horse.
Shelton, to conceal embarrassment, looked at the horse's legs, and
noticed that the grey was resting one of them. He ran his hand down.
"I 'm afraid," he said, "your horse has knocked his off knee; it's
She smiled again.
"Then we're both cripples."
"He'll be lame when he gets cold. Would n't you like to put him in
the stable here? I 'm sure you ought to drive home."
"No, thanks; if I 'm able to ride him he can carry me. Give me a
Her voice sounded as though something had offended her. Rising from
inspection of the horse's leg, Shelton saw Antonia and Toddles
standing by. They had come through a wicketgate leading from the
The latter ran up to him at once.
"We saw it," he whispered--"jolly smash-up. Can't I help?"
"Hold his bridle," answered Shelton, and he looked from one lady to
There are moments when the expression of a face fixes itself with
painful clearness; to Shelton this was such a moment. Those two
faces close together, under their coverings of scarlet and of grey,
showed a contrast almost cruelly vivid. Antonia was flushed, her
eyes had grown deep blue; her look of startled doubt had passed and
left a question in her face.
"Would you like to come in and wait? We could send you home, in the
brougham," she said.
The lady called Mrs. Foliot stood, one arm across the crupper of her
saddle, biting her lips and smiling still her enigmatic smile, and it
was her face that stayed most vividly on Shelton's mind, its ashy
hail, its pallor, and fixed, scornful eyes.
"Oh, no, thanks! You're very kind."
Out of Antonia's face the timid, doubting friendliness had fled, and
was replaced by enmity. With a long, cold look at both of them she
turned away. Mrs. Foliot gave a little laugh, and raised her foot
for Shelton's help. He heard a hiss of pain as he swung her up, but
when he looked at her she smiled.
"Anyway," he said impatiently, "let me come and see you don't break
She shook her head. "It 's only two miles. I'm not made of sugar."
"Then I shall simply have to follow."
She shrugged her shoulders, fixing her resolute eyes on him.
"Would that boy like to come?" she asked.
Toddles left the horse's head.
"By Jove!" he cried. "Would n't I just!"
"Then," she said, "I think that will be best. You 've been so kind."
She bowed, smiled inscrutably once more, touched the Arab with her
whip, and started, Toddles trotting at her side.
Shelton was left with Antonia underneath the elms. A sudden puff of
tepid air blew in their faces, like a warning message from the heavy,
purple heat clouds; low rumbling thunder travelled slowly from afar.
"We're going to have a storm," he said.
Antonia nodded. She was pale now, and her face still wore its cold
look of offence.
"I 've got a headache," she said, "I shall go in and lie down."
Shelton tried to speak, but something kept him silent--submission to
what was coming, like the mute submission of the fields and birds to
the menace of the storm.
He watched her go, and went back to his seat. And the silence seemed
to grow; the flowers ceased to exude their fragrance, numbed by the
weighty air. All the long house behind him seemed asleep, deserted.
No noise came forth, no laughter, the echo of no music, the ringing
of no bell; the heat had wrapped it round with drowsiness. And the
silence added to the solitude within him. What an unlucky chance,
that woman's accident! Designed by Providence to put Antonia further
from him than before! Why was not the world composed of the
immaculate alone? He started pacing up and down, tortured by a
"I must get rid of this," he thought. "I 'll go for a good tramp,
and chance the storm."
Leaving the drive he ran on Toddles, returning in the highest
"I saw her home," he crowed. "I say, what a ripper, isn't she?
She 'll be as lame as a tree to-morrow; so will the gee. Jolly hot!"
This meeting showed Shelton that he had been an hour on the stone
seat; he had thought it some ten minutes, and the discovery alarmed
him. It seemed to bring the import of his miserable fear right home
to him. He started with a swinging stride, keeping his eyes fixed on
the road, the perspiration streaming down his face.
It was seven and more when Shelton returned, from his walk; a few
heat drops had splashed the leaves, but the storm had not yet broken.
In brooding silence the world seemed pent beneath the purple
By rapid walking in the heat Shelton had got rid of his despondency.
He felt like one who is to see his mistress after long estrangement.
He, bathed, and, straightening his tie-ends, stood smiling at the
glass. His fear, unhappiness, and doubts seemed like an evil dream;
how much worse off would he not have been, had it all been true?
It was dinner-party night, and when he reached the drawing-room the
guests were there already, chattering of the coming storm. Antonia
was not yet down, and Shelton stood by the piano waiting for her
entry. Red faces, spotless shirt-fronts, white arms; and freshly-
twisted hair were all around him. Some one handed him a clove
carnation, and, as he held it to his nose, Antonia came in,
breathless, as though she had rushed down-stairs, Her cheeks were
pale no longer; her hand kept stealing to her throat. The flames of
the coming storm seemed to have caught fire within her, to be
scorching her in her white frock; she passed him close, and her
fragrance whipped his senses.
She had never seemed to him so lovely.
Never again will Shelton breathe the perfume of melons and pineapples
without a strange emotion. From where he sat at dinner he could not
see Antonia, but amidst the chattering of voices, the clink of glass
and silver, the sights and sounds and scents of feasting, he thought
how he would go to her and say that nothing mattered but her love.
He drank the frosted, pale-gold liquid of champagne as if it had been
The windows stood wide open in the heat; the garden lay in thick,
soft shadow, where the pitchy shapes of trees could be discerned.
There was not a breath of air to fan the candle-flames above the
flowers; but two large moths, fearful of the heavy dark, flew in and
wheeled between the lights over the diners' heads. One fell scorched
into a dish of fruit, and was removed; the other, eluding all the
swish of napkins and the efforts of the footmen, continued to make
soft, fluttering rushes till Shelton rose and caught it in his hand.
He took it to the window and threw it out into the darkness, and he
noticed that the air was thick and tepid to his face. At a sign from
Mr. Dennant the muslin curtains were then drawn across the windows,
and in gratitude, perhaps, for this protection, this filmy barrier
between them and the muffled threats of Nature, everyone broke out in
talk. It was such a night as comes in summer after perfect weather,
frightening in its heat, and silence, which was broken by the distant
thunder travelling low along the ground like the muttering of all
dark places on the earth--such a night as seems, by very
breathlessness, to smother life, and with its fateful threats to
justify man's cowardice.
The ladies rose at last. The circle of the rosewood dining-table,
which had no cloth, strewn with flowers and silver gilt, had a
likeness to some autumn pool whose brown depths of oily water gleam
under the sunset with red and yellow leaves; above it the smoke of
cigarettes was clinging, like a mist to water when the sun goes down.
Shelton became involved in argument with his neighbour on the English
"In England we've mislaid the recipe of life," he said. "Pleasure's
a lost art. We don't get drunk, we're ashamed of love, and as to
beauty, we've lost the eye for' it. In exchange we have got money,
but what 's the good of money when we don't know how to spend it?"
Excited by his neighbour's smile, he added: "As to thought, we think
so much of what our neighbours think that we never think at all....
Have you ever watched a foreigner when he's listening to an
Englishman? We 're in the habit of despising foreigners; the scorn
we have for them is nothing to the scorn they have for us. And they
are right! Look at our taste! What is the good of owning riches if
we don't know how to use them?"
"That's rather new to me," his neighbour said. "There may be
something in it.... Did you see that case in the papers the other
day of old Hornblower, who left the 1820 port that fetched a guinea a
bottle? When the purchaser--poor feller!--came to drink it he found
eleven bottles out of twelve completely ullaged--ha! ha! Well,
there's nothing wrong with this"; and he drained his glass.
"No," answered Shelton.
When they rose to join the ladies, he slipped out on the lawn.
At once he was enveloped in a bath of heat. A heavy odour, sensual,
sinister, was in the air, as from a sudden flowering of amorous
shrubs. He stood and drank it in with greedy nostrils. Putting his
hand down, he felt the grass; it was dry, and charged with
electricity. Then he saw, pale and candescent in the blackness,
three or four great lilies, the authors of that perfume. The
blossoms seemed to be rising at him through the darkness; as though
putting up their faces to be kissed. He straightened himself
abruptly and went in.
The guests were leaving when Shelton, who was watching; saw Antonia
slip through the drawing-room window. He could follow the white
glimmer of her frock across the lawn, but lost it in the shadow of
the trees; casting a hasty look to see that he was not observed, he
too slipped out. The blackness and the heat were stifling he took
great breaths of it as if it were the purest mountain air, and,
treading softly on the grass, stole on towards the holm oak. His
lips were dry, his heart beat painfully. The mutter of the distant
thunder had quite ceased; waves of hot air came wheeling in his face,
and in their midst a sudden rush of cold. He thought, "The storm is
coming now!" and stole on towards the tree. She was lying in the
hammock, her figure a white blur in, the heart of the tree's shadow,
rocking gently to a little creaking of the branch. Shelton held his
breath; she had not heard him. He crept up close behind the trunk
till he stood in touch of her. "I mustn't startle her," he thought.
There was a faint stir in the hammock, but no answer. He stood over
her, but even then he could not see her face; he only, had a sense of
something breathing and alive within a yard of him--of something warm
and soft. He whispered again, "Antonia!" but again there came no
answer, and a sort of fear and frenzy seized on him. He could no
longer hear her breathe; the creaking of the branch had ceased. What
was passing in that silent, living creature there so close? And then
he heard again the sound of breathing, quick and scared, like the
fluttering of a bird; in a moment he was staring in the dark at an
He stayed beside the empty hammock till he could bear uncertainty no
longer. But as he crossed the lawn the sky was rent from end to end
by jagged lightning, rain spattered him from head to foot, and with a
deafening crack the thunder broke.
He sought the smoking-room, but, recoiling at the door, went to his
own room, and threw himself down on the bed. The thunder groaned and
sputtered in long volleys; the lightning showed him the shapes of
things within the room, with a weird distinctness that rent from them
all likeness to the purpose they were made for, bereaved them of
utility, of their matter-of-factness, presented them as skeletons,
abstractions, with indecency in their appearance, like the naked
nerves and sinews of a leg preserved in, spirit. The sound of the
rain against the house stunned his power of thinking, he rose to shut
his windows; then, returning to his bed, threw himself down again.
He stayed there till the storm was over, in a kind of stupor; but
when the boom of the retreating thunder grew every minute less
distinct, he rose. Then for the first time he saw something white
close by the door.
It was a note:
I have made a mistake. Please forgive me, and go away.--ANTONIA.
When he had read this note, Shelton put it down beside his sleeve-
links on his dressing table, stared in the mirror at himself, and
laughed. But his lips soon stopped him laughing; he threw himself
upon his bed and pressed his face into the pillows. He lay there
half-dressed throughout the night, and when he rose, soon after dawn,
he had not made his mind up what to do. The only thing he knew for
certain was that he must not meet Antonia.
At last he penned the following:
I have had a sleepless night with toothache, and think it best to run
up to the dentist at once. If a tooth must come out, the sooner the
He addressed it to Mrs. Dennant, and left it on his table. After
doing this he threw himself once more upon his bed, and this time
fell into a doze.
He woke with a start, dressed, and let himself quietly out. The
likeness of his going to that of Ferrand struck him. "Both outcasts
now," he thought.
He tramped on till noon without knowing or caring where he went;
then, entering a field, threw himself down under the hedge, and fell
He was awakened by a whirr. A covey of partridges, with wings
glistening in the sun, were straggling out across the adjoining field
of mustard. They soon settled in the old-maidish way of partridges,
and began to call upon each other.
Some cattle had approached him in his sleep, and a beautiful bay cow,
with her head turned sideways, was snuffing at him gently, exhaling
her peculiar sweetness. She was as fine in legs and coat as any
race-horse. She dribbled at the corners of her black, moist lips;
her eye was soft and cynical. Breathing the vague sweetness of the
mustard-field, rubbing dry grasp-stalks in his fingers, Shelton had a
moment's happiness--the happiness of sun and sky, of the eternal
quiet, and untold movements of the fields. Why could not human
beings let their troubles be as this cow left the flies that clung
about her eyes? He dozed again, and woke up with a laugh, for this
was what he dreamed:
He fancied he was in a room, at once the hall and drawing-room of
some country house. In the centre of this room a lady stood, who was
looking in a hand-glass at her face. Beyond a door or window could
be seen a garden with a row of statues, and through this door people
passed without apparent object.
Suddenly Shelton saw his mother advancing to the lady with the hand-
glass, whom now he recognised as Mrs. Foliot. But, as he looked, his
mother changed to Mrs. Dennant, and began speaking in a voice that
was a sort of abstract of refinement. "Je fais de la philosophic,"
it said; "I take the individual for what she's worth. I do not
condemn; above all, one must have spirit!" The lady with the mirror
continued looking in the glass; and, though he could not see her
face, he could see its image-pale, with greenish eyes, and a smile
like scorn itself. Then, by a swift transition, he was walking in
the garden talking to Mrs. Dennant.
It was from this talk that he awoke with laughter. "But," she had
been saying, "Dick, I've always been accustomed to believe what I was
told. It was so unkind of her to scorn me just because I happen to
be second-hand." And her voice awakened Shelton's pity; it was like
a frightened child's. "I don't know what I shall do if I have to
form opinions for myself. I was n't brought up to it. I 've always
had them nice and secondhand. How am I to go to work? One must
believe what other people do; not that I think much of other people,
but, you do know what it is--one feels so much more comfortable," and
her skirts rustled. "But, Dick, whatever happens"--her voice
entreated--"do let Antonia get her judgments secondhand. Never mind
for me--if I must form opinions for myself, I must--but don't let
her; any old opinions so long as they are old. It 's dreadful to
have to think out new ones for oneself." And he awoke. His dream
had had in it the element called Art, for, in its gross absurdity,
Mrs. Dennant had said things that showed her soul more fully than
anything she would have said in life.
"No," said a voice quite close, behind the hedge, "not many
Frenchmen, thank the Lord! A few coveys of Hungarians over from the
Duke's. Sir James, some pie?"
Shelton raised himself with drowsy curiosity--still half asleep--and
applied his face to a gap in the high, thick osiers of the hedge.
Four men were seated on camp-stools round a folding-table, on which
was a pie and other things to eat. A game-cart, well-adorned with
birds and hares, stood at a short distance; the tails of some dogs
were seen moving humbly, and a valet opening bottles. Shelton had
forgotten that it was "the first." The host was a soldierly and
freckled man; an older man sat next him, square-jawed, with an
absent-looking eye and sharpened nose; next him, again, there was a
bearded person whom they seemed to call the Commodore; in the fourth,
to his alarm, Shelton recognised the gentleman called Mabbey. It was
really no matter for surprise to meet him miles from his own place,
for he was one of those who wander with a valet and two guns from the
twelfth of August to the end of January, and are then supposed to go
to Monte Carlo or to sleep until the twelfth of August comes again.
He was speaking.
"Did you hear what a bag we made on the twelfth, Sir James?"
"Ah! yes; what was that? Have you sold your bay horse, Glennie?"
Shelton had not decided whether or no to sneak away, when the
Commodore's thick voice began:
"My man tellsh me that Mrs. Foliot--haw--has lamed her Arab. Does
she mean to come out cubbing?"
Shelton observed the smile that came on all their faces. "Foliot 's
paying for his good time now; what a donkey to get caught!" it seemed
to say. He turned his back and shut his eyes.
"Cubbing?" replied Glennie; "hardly."
"Never could shee anything wonderful in her looks," went on the
Commodore; "so quiet, you never knew that she was in the room. I
remember sayin' to her once, 'Mrs. Lutheran, now what do you like
besht in all the world?' and what do you think she answered? 'Music!'
The voice of Mabbey said:
"He was always a dark horse, Foliot: It 's always the dark horses
that get let in for this kind of thing"; and there was a sound as
though he licked his lips.
"They say," said the voice of the host, "he never gives you back a
greeting now. Queer fish; they say that she's devoted to him."
Coming so closely on his meeting with this lady, and on the dream
from which he had awakened, this conversation mesmerised the listener
behind the hedge.
"If he gives up his huntin' and his shootin', I don't see what the
deuce he 'll do; he's resigned his clubs; as to his chance of
Parliament---" said the voice of Mabbey.
"Thousand pities," said Sir James; "still, he knew what to expect."
"Very queer fellows, those Foliots," said the Commodore. "There was
his father: he 'd always rather talk to any scarecrow he came across
than to you or me. Wonder what he'll do with all his horses; I
should like that chestnut of his."
"You can't tell what a fellow 'll do," said the voice of Mabbey--
"take to drink or writin' books. Old Charlie Wayne came to gazin' at
stars, and twice a week he used to go and paddle round in
Whitechapel, teachin' pothooks--"
"Glennie," said Sir James, "what 's become of Smollett, your old
"Obliged to get rid of him." Shelton tried again to close his ears,
but again he listened. "Getting a bit too old; lost me a lot of eggs
"Ah!" said the Commodore, "when they oncesh begin to lose eggsh--"
"As a matter of fact, his son--you remember him, Sir James, he used
to load for you?--got a girl into trouble; when her people gave her
the chuck old Smollet took her in; beastly scandal it made, too. The
girl refused to marry Smollett, and old Smollett backed her up.
Naturally, the parson and the village cut up rough; my wife offered
to get her into one of those reformatory what-d' you-call-'ems, but
the old fellow said she should n't go if she did n't want to. Bad
business altogether; put him quite off his stroke. I only got five
hundred pheasants last year instead of eight."
There was a silence. Shelton again peeped through the hedge. All
were eating pie.
"In Warwickshire," said the Commodore, "they always marry--haw--and
live reshpectable ever after."
"Quite so," remarked the host; "it was a bit too thick, her refusing
to marry him. She said he took advantage of her."
"She's sorry by this time," said Sir James; "lucky escape for young
Smollett. Queer, the obstinacy of some of these old fellows!"
"What are we doing after lunch?" asked the Commodore.
"The next field," said the host, "is pasture. We line up along the
hedge, and drive that mustard towards the roots; there ought to be a
good few birds."
"Shelton rose, and, crouching, stole softly to the gate:
"On the twelfth, shootin' in two parties," followed the voice of
Mabbey from the distance.
Whether from his walk or from his sleepless night, Shelton seemed to
ache in every limb; but he continued his tramp along the road. He
was no nearer to deciding what to do. It was late in the afternoon
when he reached Maidenhead, and, after breaking fast, got into a
London train and went to sleep. At ten o'clock that evening he
walked into St. James's Park and there sat down.
The lamplight dappled through the tired foliage on to these benches
which have rested many vagrants. Darkness has ceased to be the
lawful cloak of the unhappy; but Mother Night was soft and moonless,
and man had not despoiled her of her comfort, quite.
Shelton was not alone upon the seat, for at the far end was sitting a
young girl with a red, round, sullen face; and beyond, and further
still, were dim benches and dim figures sitting on them, as though
life's institutions had shot them out in an endless line of rubbish.
"Ah!" thought Shelton, in the dreamy way of tired people; "the
institutions are all right; it's the spirit that's all---"
"Wrong?" said a voice behind him; "why, of course! You've taken the
wrong turn, old man."
He saw a policeman, with a red face shining through the darkness,
talking to a strange old figure like some aged and dishevelled bird.
"Thank you, constable," the old man said, "as I've come wrong I'll
take a rest." Chewing his gums, he seemed to fear to take the
liberty of sitting down.
Shelton made room, and the old fellow took the vacant place.
"You'll excuse me, sir, I'm sure," he said in shaky tones, and
snatching at his battered hat; "I see you was a gentleman"--and
lovingly he dwelt upon the word--"would n't disturb you for the
world. I'm not used to being out at night, and the seats do get so
full. Old age must lean on something; you'll excuse me, sir, I 'm
"Of course," said Shelton gently.
"I'm a respectable old man, really," said his neighbour; "I never
took a liberty in my life. But at my age, sir, you get nervous;
standin' about the streets as I been this last week, an' sleepin' in
them doss-houses--Oh, they're dreadful rough places--a dreadful rough
lot there! Yes," the old man said again, as Shelton turned to look
at him, struck by the real self-pity in his voice, "dreadful rough
A movement of his head, which grew on a lean, plucked neck like that
of an old fowl, had brought his face into the light. It was long,
and run to seed, and had a large, red nose; its thin, colourless lips
were twisted sideways and apart, showing his semi-toothless mouth;
and his eyes had that aged look of eyes in which all colour runs into
a thin rim round the iris; and over them kept coming films like the
films over parrots' eyes. He was, or should have been, clean-shaven.
His hair--for he had taken off his hat was thick and lank, of dusty
colour, as far as could be seen, without a speck of grey, and parted
very beautifully just about the middle.
"I can put up with that," he said again. "I never interferes with
nobody, and nobody don't interfere with me; but what frightens me"--
his voice grew steady, as if too terrified to shake, is never knowin'
day to day what 's to become of yer. Oh, that 'a dreadful, that is!"
"It must be," answered Shelton.
"Ah! it is," the old man said; "and the winter cumin' on. I never
was much used to open air, bein' in domestic service all my life; but
I don't mind that so long as I can see my way to earn a livin'.
Well, thank God! I've got a job at last"; and his voice grew
cheerful suddenly. "Sellin' papers is not what I been accustomed to;
but the Westminister, they tell me that's one of the most respectable
of the evenin' papers--in fact, I know it is. So now I'm sure to get
on; I try hard."
"How did you get the job?" asked Shelton.
"I 've got my character," the old fellow said, making a gesture with
a skinny hand towards his chest, as if it were there he kept his
"Thank God, nobody can't take that away! I never parts from that";
and fumbling, he produced a packet, holding first one paper to the
light, and then another, and he looked anxiously at Shelton. "In
that house where I been sleepin' they're not honest; they 've stolen
a parcel of my things--a lovely shirt an' a pair of beautiful gloves
a gentleman gave me for holdin' of his horse. Now, would n't you
prosecute 'em, sir?"
"It depends on what you can prove."
"I know they had 'em. A man must stand up for his rights; that's
only proper. I can't afford to lose beautiful things like them. I
think I ought to prosecute, now, don't you, sir?"
Shelton restrained a smile.
"There!" said the old man, smoothing out a piece of paper shakily,
"that's Sir George!" and his withered finger-tips trembled on the
middle of the page: 'Joshua Creed, in my service five years as
butler, during which time I have found him all that a servant should
be.' And this 'ere'--he fumbled with another--"this 'ere 's Lady
Glengow: 'Joshua Creed--' I thought I'd like you to read 'em since
you've been so kind."
"Will you have a pipe?"
"Thank ye, sir," replied the aged butler, filling his clay from
Shelton's pouch; then, taking a front tooth between his finger and
his thumb, he began to feel it tenderly, working it to and fro with a
sort of melancholy pride.
"My teeth's a-comin' out," he said; "but I enjoys pretty good health
for a man of my age."
"How old is that?"
"Seventy-two! Barrin' my cough, and my rupture, and this 'ere
affliction"--he passed his hand over his face--" I 've nothing to
complain of; everybody has somethink, it seems. I'm a wonder for my
age, I think."
Shelton, for all his pity, would have given much to laugh.
"Seventy-two!" he said; "yes, a great age. You remember the country
when it was very different to what it is now?"
"Ah!" said the old butler, "there was gentry then; I remember them
drivin' down to Newmarket (my native place, sir) with their own
horses. There was n't so much o' these here middle classes then.
There was more, too, what you might call the milk o' human kindness
in people then--none o' them amalgamated stores, every man keepin'
his own little shop; not so eager to cut his neighbour's throat, as
you might say. And then look at the price of bread! O dear! why,
it is n't a quarter what it was!"
"And are people happier now than they were then?" asked Shelton.
The old butler sucked his pipe.
"No," he answered, shaking his old head; "they've lost the contented
spirit. I see people runnin' here and runnin' there, readin' books,
findin' things out; they ain't not so self-contented as they were."
"Is that possible?" thought Shelton.
"No," repeated the old man, again sucking at his pipe, and this time
blowing out a lot of smoke; "I don't see as much happiness about, not
the same look on the faces. 'T isn't likely. See these 'ere motor-
cars, too; they say 'orses is goin' out"; and, as if dumbfounded at
his own conclusion, he sat silent for some time, engaged in the
lighting and relighting of his pipe.
The girl at the far end stirred, cleared her throat, and settled down
again; her movement disengaged a scent of frowsy clothes. The
policeman had approached and scrutinised these ill-assorted faces;
his glance was jovially contemptuous till he noticed Shelton, and
then was modified by curiosity.
"There's good men in the police," the aged butler said, when the
policeman had passed on--" there's good men in the police, as good
men as you can see, and there 's them that treats you like the dirt--
a dreadful low class of man. Oh dear, yes! when they see you down
in the world, they think they can speak to you as they like; I don't
give them no chance to worry me; I keeps myself to myself, and speak
civil to all the world. You have to hold the candle to them; for, oh
dear! if they 're crossed--some of them--they 're a dreadful
unscrup'lous lot of men!"
"Are you going to spend the night here?"
"It's nice and warm to-night," replied the aged butler. "I said to
the man at that low place I said: 'Don't you ever speak to me again,'
I said, 'don't you come near me!' Straightforward and honest 's been
my motto all my life; I don't want to have nothing to say to them low
fellows"--he made an annihilating gesture--"after the way they
treated me, takin' my things like that. Tomorrow I shall get a room
for three shillin's a week, don't you think so, sir? Well, then I
shall be all right. I 'm not afraid now; the mind at rest. So long
as I ran keep myself, that's all I want. I shall do first-rate, I
think"; and he stared at Shelton, but the look in his eyes and the
half-scared optimism of his voice convinced the latter that he lived
in dread. "So long as I can keep myself," he said again, "I sha'n't
need no workhouse nor lose respectability."
"No," thought Shelton; and for some time sat without a word. "When
you can;" he said at last, "come and see me; here's my card."
The aged butler became conscious with a jerk, for he was nodding.
"Thank ye, sir; I will," he said, with pitiful alacrity. "Down by
Belgravia? Oh, I know it well; I lived down in them parts with a
gentleman of the name of Bateson--perhaps you knew him; he 's dead
now--the Honourable Bateson. Thank ye, sir; I'll be sure to come";
and, snatching at his battered hat, he toilsomely secreted Shelton's
card amongst his character. A minute later he began again to nod.
The policeman passed a second time; his gaze seemed to say, "Now,
what's a toff doing on that seat with those two rotters?" And
Shelton caught his eye.
"Ah!" he thought; "exactly! You don't know what to make of me--a
man of my position sitting here! Poor devil! to spend your days in
spying on your fellow-creatures! Poor devil! But you don't know
that you 're a poor devil, and so you 're not one."
The man on the next bench sneezed--a shrill and disapproving sneeze.
The policeman passed again, and, seeing that the lower creatures were
both dozing, he spoke to Shelton:
"Not very safe on these 'ere benches, sir," he said; "you never know
who you may be sittin' next to. If I were you, sir, I should be
gettin' on--if you 're not goin' to spend the night here, that is";
and he laughed, as at an admirable joke.
Shelton looked at him, and itched to say, "Why shouldn't I?" but it
struck him that it would sound very odd. "Besides," he thought, "I
shall only catch a cold"; and, without speaking, he left the seat,
and went along towards his rooms.
He reached his rooms at midnight so exhausted that, without waiting
to light up, he dropped into a chair. The curtains and blinds had
been removed for cleaning, and the tall windows admitted the night's
staring gaze. Shelton fixed his eyes on that outside darkness, as
one lost man might fix his eyes upon another.
An unaired, dusty odour clung about the room, but, like some God-sent
whiff of grass or flowers wafted to one sometimes in the streets, a
perfume came to him, the spice from the withered clove carnation
still clinging, to his button-hole; and he suddenly awoke from his.
queer trance. There was a decision to be made. He rose to light a
candle; the dust was thick on everything he touched. "Ugh!" he
thought, "how wretched!" and the loneliness that had seized him on
the stone seat at Holm Oaks the day before returned with fearful
On his table, heaped without order, were a pile of bills and
circulars. He opened them, tearing at their covers with the random
haste of men back from their holidays. A single long envelope was
MY DEAR DICK [he read],
I enclose you herewith the revised draft of your marriage settlement.
It is now shipshape. Return it before the end of the week, and I
will have it engrossed for signature. I go to Scotland next
Wednesday for a month; shall be back in good time for your wedding.
My love to your mother when you see her.
Shelton smiled and took out the draft.
"This Indenture made the____day of 190_, between Richard Paramor
He put it down and sank back in his chair, the chair in which the
foreign vagrant had been wont to sit on mornings when he came to
He did not stay there long, but in sheer unhappiness got up, and,
taking his candle, roamed about the room, fingering things, and
gazing in the mirror at his face, which seemed to him repulsive in
its wretchedness. He went at last into the hall and opened the door,
to go downstairs again into the street; but the sudden certainty
that, in street or house, in town or country, he would have to take
his trouble with him, made him shut it to. He felt in the letter-
box, drew forth a letter, and with this he went back to the sitting-
It was from Antonia. And such was his excitement that he was forced
to take three turns between the window and the wall before he could
read; then, with a heart beating so that he could hardly hold the
paper, he began:
I was wrong to ask you to go away. I see now that it was breaking my
promise, and I did n't mean to do that. I don't know why things have
come to be so different. You never think as I do about anything.
I had better tell you that that letter of Monsieur Ferrand's to
mother was impudent. Of course you did n't know what was in it; but
when Professor Brayne was asking you about him at breakfast, I felt
that you believed that he was right and we were wrong, and I can't
understand it. And then in the afternoon, when that woman hurt her
horse, it was all as if you were on her side. How can you feel like
I must say this, because I don't think I ought to have asked you to
go away, and I want you to believe that I will keep my promise, or I
should feel that you and everybody else had a right to condemn me.
I was awake all last night, and have a bad headache this morning. I
can't write any more.
His first sensation was a sort of stupefaction of relief that had in
it an element of anger. He was reprieved! She would not break her
promise; she considered herself bound! In the midst of the
exaltation of this thought he smiled, and that smile was strange.
He read it through again, and, like a judge, began to weigh what she
had written, her thoughts when she was writing, the facts which had
led up to this.
The vagrant's farewell document had done the business. True to his
fatal gift of divesting things of clothing, Ferrand had not vanished
without showing up his patron in his proper colours; even to Shelton
those colours were made plain. Antonia had felt her lover was a
traitor. Sounding his heart even in his stress of indecision,
Shelton knew that this was true.
"Then in the afternoon, when that woman hurt her horse-" That woman!
"It was as if you were on her side!"
He saw too well her mind, its clear rigidity, its intuitive
perception of that with which it was not safe to sympathise, its
instinct for self-preservation, its spontaneous contempt for those
without that instinct. And she had written these words considering
herself bound to him--a man of sentiment, of rebellious sympathies,
of untidiness of principle! Here was the answer to the question he
had asked all day: "How have things come to such a pass?" and he
began to feel compassion for her.
Poor child! She could not jilt him; there was something vulgar in
the word! Never should it be said that Antonia Dennant had accented
him and thrown him over. No lady did these things! They were
impossible! At the bottom of his heart he had a queer, unconscious
sympathy with, this impossibility.
Once again he read the letter, which seemed now impregnated with
fresh meaning, and the anger which had mingled with his first
sensation of relief detached itself and grew in force. In that
letter there was something tyrannous, a denial of his right to have a
separate point of view. It was like a finger pointed at him as an
unsound person. In marrying her he would be marrying not only her,
but her class--his class. She would be there always to make him look
on her and on himself, and all the people that they knew and all the
things they did, complacently; she would be there to make him feel
himself superior to everyone whose life was cast in other moral
moulds. To feel himself superior, not blatantly, not consciously,
but with subconscious righteousness.
But his anger, which was like the paroxysm that two days before had
made him mutter at the Connoisseur, "I hate your d---d superiority,"
struck him all at once as impotent and ludicrous. What was the good
of being angry? He was on the point of losing her! And the anguish
of that thought, reacting on his anger, intensified it threefold.
She was so certain of herself, so superior to her emotions, to her
natural impulses--superior to her very longing to be free from him.
Of that fact, at all events, Shelton had no longer any doubt. It was
beyond argument. She did not really love him; she wanted to be free
A photograph hung in his bedroom at Holm Oaks of a group round the
hall door; the Honourable Charlotte Penguin, Mrs. Dennant, Lady
Bonington, Halidome, Mr. Dennant, and the stained-glass man--all were
there; and on the left-hand side, looking straight in front of her,
Antonia. Her face in its youthfulness, more than all those others,
expressed their point of view: Behind those calm young eyes lay a
world of safety and tradition. "I am not as others are," they seemed
And from that photograph Mr. and Mrs. Dennant singled themselves out;
he could see their faces as they talked--their faces with a peculiar
and uneasy look on them; and he could hear their voices, still
decisive, but a little acid, as if they had been quarrelling:
"He 's made a donkey of himself!"
"Ah! it's too distressin'!"
They, too, thought him unsound, and did n't want him; but to save the
situation they would be glad to keep him. She did n't want him, but
she refused to lose her right to say, "Commoner girls may break their
promises; I will not!" He sat down at the table between the candles,
covering his face. His grief and anger grew and grew within him. If
she would not free herself, the duty was on him! She was ready
without love to marry him, as a sacrifice to her ideal of what she
ought to be!
But she had n't, after all, the monopoly of pride!
As if she stood before him, he could see the shadows underneath her
eyes that he had dreamed of kissing, the eager movements of her lips.
For several minutes he remained, not moving hand or limb. Then once
more his anger blazed. She was going to sacrifice herself and--him!
All his manhood scoffed at such a senseless sacrifice. That was not
exactly what he wanted!
He went to the bureau, took a piece of paper and an envelope, and
wrote as follows:
There never was, is not, and never would have been any question of
being bound between us. I refuse to trade on any such thing. You
are absolutely free. Our engagement is at an end by mutual consent.
He sealed it, and, sitting with his hands between his knees, he let
his forehead droop lower and lower to the table, till it rested on
his marriage settlement. And he had a feeling of relief, like one
who drops exhausted at his journey's end.