Part 5 out of 6
do? That way of life was in his blood; he had been bred and born
into it; had thought of nothing else since he was a boy. There was
no other occupation or interest that could hold him for a moment--he
saw very plainly that he would be cast away on the waters of
So the battle raged in his proud and twisted spirit, which took
everything so hard--his nature imperatively commanding him to keep
his work and his power for usefulness; his conscience telling him as
urgently that if he sought to wield authority, he must obey it.
He entered the beech-grove at the height of this misery, flaming with
rebellion against the dilemma which Fate had placed before him;
visited by gusts of resentment against a passion, which forced him to
pay the price, either of his career, or of his self-respect; gusts,
followed by remorse that he could so for one moment regret his love
for that tender creature. The face of Lucifer was not more dark,
more tortured, than Miltoun's face in the twilight of the grove,
above those kingdoms of the world, for which his ambition and his
conscience fought. He threw himself down among the trees; and
stretching out his arms, by chance touched a beetle trying to crawl
over the grassless soil. Some bird had maimed it. He took the
little creature up. The beetle truly could no longer work, but it
was spared the fate lying before himself. The beetle was not, as he
would be, when his power of movement was destroyed, conscious of his
own wasted life. The world would not roll away down there. He would
still see himself cumbering the ground, when his powers were taken,
from him. This thought was torture. Why had he been suffered to
meet her, to love her, and to be loved by her? What had made him so
certain from the first moment, if she were not meant for him? If he
lived to be a hundred, he would never meet another. Why, because of
his love, must he bury the will and force of a man? If there were no
more coherence in God's scheme than this, let him too be incoherent!
Let him hold authority, and live outside authority! Why stifle his
powers for the sake of a coherence which did not exist! That would
indeed be madness greater than that of a mad world!
There was no answer to his thoughts in the stillness of the grove,
unless it were the cooing of a dove, or the faint thudding of the
sheep issuing again into sunlight. But slowly that stillness stole
into Miltoun's spirit. "Is it like this in the grave?" he thought.
"Are the boughs of those trees the dark earth over me? And the sound
in them the sound the dead hear when flowers are growing, and the
wind passing through them? And is the feel of this earth how it
feels to lie looking up for ever at nothing? Is life anything but a
nightmare, a dream; and is not this the reality? And why my fury, my
insignificant flame, blowing here and there, when there is really no
wind, only a shroud of still air, and these flowers of sunlight that
have been dropped on me! Why not let my spirit sleep, instead of
eating itself away with rage; why not resign myself at once to wait
for the substance, of which this is but the shadow!"
And he lay scarcely breathing, looking up at the unmoving branches
setting with their darkness the pearls of the sky.
"Is not peace enough?" he thought. "Is not love enough? Can I not
be reconciled, like a woman? Is not that salvation, and happiness?
What is all the rest, but 'sound and fury, signifying nothing?"
And as though afraid to lose his hold of that thought, he got up and
hurried from the grove.
The whole wide landscape of field and wood, cut by the pale roads,
was glimmering under the afternoon sun, Here was no wild, wind-swept
land, gleaming red and purple, and guarded by the grey rocks; no home
of the winds, and the wild gods. It was all serene and silver-
golden. In place of the shrill wailing pipe of the hunting buzzard-
hawks half lost up in the wind, invisible larks were letting fall
hymns to tranquillity; and even the sea--no adventuring spirit
sweeping the shore with its wing--seemed to lie resting by the side
of the land.
When on the afternoon of that same day Miltoun did not come, all the
chilly doubts which his presence alone kept away, crowded thick and
fast into the mind of one only too prone to distrust her own
happiness. It could not last--how could it?
His nature and her own were so far apart! Even in that giving of
herself which had been such happiness, she had yet doubted; for there
was so much in him that was to her mysterious. All that he loved in
poetry and nature, had in it something craggy and culminating. The
soft and fiery, the subtle and harmonious, seemed to leave him cold.
He had no particular love for all those simple natural things, birds,
bees, animals, trees, and flowers, that seemed to her precious and
Though it was not yet four o'clock she was already beginning to droop
like a flower that wants water. But she sat down to her piano,
resolutely, till tea came; playing on and on with a spirit only half
present, the other half of her wandering in the Town, seeking for
Miltoun. After tea she tried first to read, then to sew, and once
more came back to her piano. The clock struck six; and as if its
last stroke had broken the armour of her mind, she felt suddenly sick
with anxiety. Why was he so long? But she kept on playing, turning
the pages without taking in the notes, haunted by the idea that he
might again have fallen ill. Should she telegraph? What good, when
she could not tell in the least where he might be? And all the
unreasoning terror of not knowing where the loved one is, beset her
so that her hands, in sheer numbness, dropped from the keys. Unable
to keep still, now, she wandered from window to door, out into the
little hall, and back hastily to the window. Over her anxiety
brooded a darkness, compounded of vague growing fears. What if it
were the end? What if he had chosen this as the most merciful way of
leaving her? But surely he would never be so cruel! Close on the
heels of this too painful thought came reaction; and she told herself
that she was a fool. He was at the House; something quite ordinary
was keeping him. It was absurd to be anxious! She would have to get
used to this now. To be a drag on him would be dreadful. Sooner
than that she would rather--yes--rather he never came back! And she
took up her book, determined to read quietly till he came. But the
moment she sat down her fears returned with redoubled force-the cold
sickly horrible feeling of uncertainty, of the knowledge that she
could do nothing but wait till she was relieved by something over
which she had no control. And in the superstition that to stay there
in the window where she could see him come, was keeping him from her,
she went into her bedroom. From there she could watch the sunset
clouds wine-dark over the river. A little talking wind shivered
along the houses; the dusk began creeping in. She would not turn on
the light, unwilling to admit that it was really getting late, but
began to change her dress, lingering desperately over every little
detail of her toilette, deriving therefrom a faint, mysterious
comfort, trying to make herself feel beautiful. From sheer dread of
going back before he came, she let her hair fall, though it was quite
smooth and tidy, and began brushing it. Suddenly she thought with
horror of her efforts at adornment--by specially preparing for him,
she must seem presumptuous to Fate. At any little sound she stopped
and stood listening--save for her hair and eyes, as white from head
to foot as a double narcissus flower in the dusk, bending towards
some faint tune played to it somewhere oft in the fields. But all
those little sounds ceased, one after another--they had meant
nothing; and each time, her spirit returning--within the pale walls
of the room, began once more to inhabit her lingering fingers.
During that hour in her bedroom she lived through years. It was dark
when she left it.
When Miltoun at last came it was past nine o'clock.
Silent, but quivering all over; she clung to him in the hall; and
this passion of emotion, without sound to give it substance, affected
him profoundly. How terribly sensitive and tender she was! She
seemed to have no armour. But though so stirred by her emotion, he
was none the less exasperated. She incarnated at that moment the
life to which he must now resign himself--a life of unending
tenderness, consideration, and passivity.
For a long time he could not bring himself to speak of his decision.
Every look of her eyes, every movement of her body, seemed pleading
with him to keep silence. But in Miltoun's character there was an
element of rigidity, which never suffered him to diverge from an
objective once determined.
When he had finished telling her, she only said:
"Why can't we go on in secret?"
And he felt with a sort of horror that he must begin his struggle
over again. He got up, and threw open the window. The sky was dark
above the river; the wind had risen. That restless murmuration, and
the width of the night with its scattered stars, seemed to come
rushing at his face. He withdrew from it, and leaning on the sill
looked down at her. What flower-like delicacy she had! There
flashed across him the memory of a drooping blossom, which, in the
Spring, he had seen her throw into the flames; with the words: "I
can't bear flowers to fade, I always want to burn them." He could
see again those waxen petals yield to the fierce clutch of the little
red creeping sparks, and the slender stalk quivering, and glowing,
and writhing to blackness like a live thing. And, distraught, he
"I can't live a lie. What right have I to lead, if I can't follow?
I'm not like our friend Courtier who believes in Liberty. I never
have, I never shall. Liberty? What is Liberty? But only those who
conform to authority have the right to wield authority. A man is a
churl who enforces laws, when he himself has not the strength to
observe them. I will not be one of whom it can be said: 'He can rule
"No one will know."
Miltoun turned away.
"I shall know," he said; but he saw clearly that she did not
understand him. Her face had a strange, brooding, shut-away look, as
though he had frightened her. And the thought that she could not
understand, angered him.
He said, stubbornly: "No, I can't remain in public life."
"But what has it to do with politics? It's such a little thing."
"If it had been a little thing to me, should I have left you at
Monkland, and spent those five weeks in purgatory before my illness?
A little thing!"
She exclaimed with sudden fire:
"Circumstances aye the little thing; it's love that's the great
Miltoun stared at her, for the first time understanding that she had
a philosophy as deep and stubborn as his own. But he answered
"Well! the great thing has conquered me!"
And then he saw her looking at him, as if, seeing into the recesses
of his soul, she had made some ghastly discovery. The look was so
mournful, so uncannily intent that he turned away from it.
"Perhaps it is a little thing," he muttered; "I don't know. I can't
see my way. I've lost my bearings; I must find them again before I
can do anything."
But as if she had not heard, or not taken in the sense of his words,
she said again:
"Oh! don't let us alter anything; I won't ever want what you can't
And this stubbornness, when he was doing the very thing that would
give him to her utterly, seemed to him unreasonable.
"I've had it out with myself," he said. "Don't let's talk about it
Again, with a sort of dry anguish, she murmured:
"No, no! Let us go on as we are!"
Feeling that he had borne all he could, Miltoun put his hands on her
shoulders, and said: "That's enough!"
Then, in sudden remorse, he lifted her, and clasped her to him.
But she stood inert in his arms, her eyes closed, not returning his
On the last day before Parliament rose, Lord Valleys, with a light
heart, mounted his horse for a gallop in the Row. Though she was a
blood mare he rode her with a plain snaffle, having the horsemanship
of one who has hunted from the age of seven, and been for twenty
years a Colonel of Yeomanry. Greeting affably everyone he knew, he
maintained a frank demeanour on all subjects, especially of
Government policy, secretly enjoying the surmises and
prognostications, so pleasantly wide of the mark, and the way
questions and hints perished before his sphinx-like candour. He
spoke cheerily too of Miltoun, who was 'all right again,' and
'burning for the fray' when the House met again in the autumn. And
he chaffed Lord Malvezin about his wife. If anything--he said--could
make Bertie take an interest in politics, it would be she. He had
two capital gallops, being well known to the police: The day was
bright, and he was sorry to turn home. Falling in with Harbinger, he
asked him to come back to lunch. There had seemed something
different lately, an almost morose look, about young Harbinger; and
his wife's disquieting words about Barbara came back to Lord Valleys
with a shock. He had seen little of the child lately, and in the
general clearing up of this time of year had forgotten all about the
Agatha, who was still staying at Valleys House with little Ann,
waiting to travel up to Scotland with her mother, was out, and there
was no one at lunch except Lady Valleys and Barbara herself.
Conversation flagged; for the young people were extremely silent,
Lady Valleys was considering the draft of a report which had to be
settled before she left, and Lord Valleys himself was rather
carefully watching his daughter. The news that Lord Miltoun was in
the study came as a surprise, and somewhat of a relief to all. To an
exhortation to luring him in to lunch; the servant replied that Lord
Miltoun had lunched, and would wait.
"Does he know there's no one here?"
"Yes, my lady."
Lady Valleys pushed back her plate, and rose:
"Oh, well!" she said, "I've finished."
Lord Valleys also got up, and they went out together, leaving
Barbara, who had risen, looking doubtfully at the door.
Lord Valleys had recently been told of the nursing episode, and had
received the news with the dubious air of one hearing something about
an eccentric person, which, heard about anyone else, could have had
but one significance. If Eustace had been a normal young man his
father would have shrugged his shoulder's, and thought: "Oh, well!
There it is!" As it was, he had literally not known what to think.
And now, crossing the saloon which intervened between the dining-room
and the study, he said to his wife uneasily:
"Is it this woman again, Gertrude--or what?"
Lady Valleys answered with a shrug:
"Goodness knows, my dear."
Miltoun was standing in the embrasure of a window above the terrace.
He looked well, and his greeting was the same as usual.
"Well, my dear fellow," said Lord Valleys, "you're all right again
evidently--what's the news?"
"Only that I've decided to resign my seat."
Lord Valleys stared.
"What on earth for?"
But Lady Valleys, with the greater quickness of women, divining
already something of the reason, had flushed a deep pink.
"Nonsense, my dear," she said; "it can't possibly be necessary, even
if----" Recovering herself, she added dryly:
"Give us some reason."
"The reason is simply that I've joined my life to Mrs. Noel's, and I
can't go on as I am, living a lie. If it were known I should
obviously have to resign at once."
"Good God!" exclaimed Lord Valleys.
Lady Valleys made a rapid movement. In the face of what she felt to
be a really serious crisis between these two utterly different
creatures of the other sex, her husband and her son, she had dropped
her mask and become a genuine woman. Unconsciously both men felt
this change, and in speaking, turned towards her.
"I can't argue it," said Miltoun; "I consider myself bound in
"And then?" she asked.
Lord Valleys, with a note of real feeling, interjected:
"By Heaven! I did think you put your country above your private
"Geoff!" said Lady Valleys.
But Lord Valleys went on:
"No, Eustace, I'm out of touch with your view of things altogether.
I don't even begin to understand it."
"That is true," said Miltoun.
"Listen to me, both of you!" said Lady Valleys: "You two are
altogether different; and you must not quarrel. I won't have that.
Now, Eustace, you are our son, and you have got to be kind and
considerate. Sit down, and let's talk it over."
And motioning her husband to a chair, she sat down in the embrasure
of a window. Miltoun remained standing. Visited by a sudden dread,
Lady Valleys said:
"Is it--you've not--there isn't going to be a scandal?"
Miltoun smiled grimly.
"I shall tell this man, of course, but you may make your minds easy,
I imagine; I understand that his view of marriage does not permit of
divorce in any case whatever."
Lady Valleys sighed with an utter and undisguised relief.
"Well, then, my dear boy," she began, "even if you do feel you must
tell him, there is surely no reason why it should not otherwise be
Lord Valleys interrupted her:
"I should be glad if you would point out the connection between your
honour and the resignation of your seat," he said stiffly.
Miltoun shook his head.
"If you don't see already, it would be useless."
"I do not see. The whole matter is--is unfortunate, but to give up
your work, so long as there is no absolute necessity, seems to me
far-fetched and absurd. How many men are, there into whose lives
there has not entered some such relation at one time or another?
This idea would disqualify half the nation." His eyes seemed in that
crisis both to consult and to avoid his wife's, as though he were at
once asking her endorsement of his point of view, and observing the
proprieties. And for a moment in the midst of her anxiety, her sense
of humour got the better of Lady Valleys. It was so funny that Geoff
should have to give himself away; she could not for the life of her
help fixing him with her eyes.
"My dear," she murmured, "you underestimate three-quarters, at the
But Lord Valleys, confronted with danger, was growing steadier.
"It passes my comprehension;" he said, "why you should want to mix up
sex and politics at all."
Miltoun's answer came very slowly, as if the confession were hurting
"There is--forgive me for using the word--such a thing as one's
religion. I don't happen to regard life as divided into public and
private departments. My vision is gone--broken--I can see no object
before me now in public life--no goal--no certainty."
Lady Valleys caught his hand:
"Oh! my dear," she said, "that's too dreadfully puritanical!" But at
Miltoun's queer smile, she added hastily: "Logical--I mean."
"Consult your common sense, Eustace, for goodness' sake," broke in
Lord Valleys. "Isn't it your simple duty to put your scruples in
your pocket, and do the best you can for your country with the powers
that have been given you?"
"I have no common sense."
"In that case, of course, it may be just as well that you should
leave public life."
"Nonsense!" cried Lady Valleys. "You don't understand, Geoffrey.
I ask you again, Eustace, what will you do afterwards?"
"I don't know."
"You will eat your heart out."
"If you can't come to a reasonable arrangement with your conscience,"
again broke in Lord Valleys, "for Heaven's sake give her up, like a
man, and cut all these knots."
"I beg your pardon, sir!" said Miltoun icily.
Lady Valleys laid her hand on his arm. "You must allow us a little
logic too, my dear. You don't seriously imagine that she would wish
you to throw away your life for her? I'm not such a bad judge of
character as that."
She stopped before the expression on Miltoun's face.
"You go too fast," he said; "I may become a free spirit yet."
To this saying, which seemed to her cryptic and sinister, Lady
Valleys did not know what to answer.
"If you feel, as you say," Lord Valleys began once more, "that the
bottom has been knocked out of things for you by this--this affair,
don't, for goodness' sake, do anything in a hurry. Wait! Go abroad!
Get your balance back! You'll find the thing settle itself in a few
months. Don't precipitate matters; you can make your health an
excuse to miss the Autumn session."
Lady Valleys chimed in eagerly
"You really are seeing the thing out of all proportion. What is a
love-affair. My dear boy, do you suppose for a moment anyone would
think the worse of you, even if they knew? And really not a soul
"It has not occurred to me to consider what they would think."
"Then," cried Lady Valleys, nettled, "it's simply your own pride."
"You have said."
Lord Valleys, who had turned away, spoke in an almost tragic voice
"I did not think that on a point of honour I should differ from my
Catching at the word honour, Lady Valleys cried suddenly:
"Eustace, promise me, before you do anything, to consult your Uncle
"This becomes comic," he said.
At that word, which indeed seemed to them quite wanton, Lord and Lady
Valleys turned on their son, and the three stood staring, perfectly
silent. A little noise from the doorway interrupted them.
Left by her father and mother to the further entertainment of
Harbinger, Barbara had said:
"Let's have coffee in here," and passed into the withdrawing room.
Except for that one evening, when together by the sea wall they stood
contemplating the populace, she had not been alone with him since he
kissed her under the shelter of the box hedge. And now, after the
first moment, she looked at him calmly, though in her breast there
was a fluttering, as if an imprisoned bird were struggling ever so
feebly against that soft and solid cage. Her last jangled talk with
Courtier had left an ache in her heart. Besides, did she not know
all that Harbinger could give her?
Like a nymph pursued by a faun who held dominion over the groves,
she, fugitive, kept looking back. There was nothing in that fair
wood of his with which she was not familiar, no thicket she had not
travelled, no stream she had not crossed, no kiss she could not
return. His was a discovered land, in which, as of right, she would
reign. She had nothing to hope from him but power, and solid
pleasure. Her eyes said: How am I to know whether I shall not want
more than you; feel suffocated in your arms; be surfeited by all that
you will bring me? Have I not already got all that?
She knew, from his downcast gloomy face, how cruel she seemed, and
was sorry. She wanted to be good to him, and said almost shyly:
"Are you angry with me, Claud?"
Harbinger looked up.
"What makes you so cruel?"
"I am not cruel."
"You are. Where is your heart?"
"Here!" said Barbara, touching her breast.
"Ah!" muttered Harbinger; "I'm not joking."
She said gently:'
"Is it as bad as that, my dear?"
But the softness of her voice seemed to fan the smouldering fires in
"There's something behind all this," he stammered, "you've no right
to make a fool of me!"
"And what is the something, please?"
"That's for you to say. But I'm not blind. What about this fellow
At that moment there was revealed to Barbara a new acquaintance--the
male proper. No, to live with him would not be quite lacking in
His face had darkened; his eyes were dilated, his whole figure seemed
to have grown. She suddenly noticed the hair which covered his
clenched fists. All his suavity had left him. He came very close.
How long that look between them lasted, and of all there was in it,
she had no clear knowledge; thought after thought, wave after wave of
feeling, rushed through her. Revolt and attraction, contempt and
admiration, queer sensations of disgust and pleasure, all mingled--as
on a May day one may see the hail fall, and the sun suddenly burn
through and steam from the grass.
Then he said hoarsely:
"Oh! Babs, you madden me so!"
Smoothing her lips, as if to regain control of them, she answered:
"Yes, I think I have had enough," and went out into her father's
The sight of Lord and Lady Valleys so intently staring at Miltoun
restored hex self-possession.
It struck her as slightly comic, not knowing that the little scene
was the outcome of that word. In truth, the contrast between Miltoun
and his parents at this moment was almost ludicrous.
Lady Valleys was the first to speak.
"Better comic than romantic. I suppose Barbara may know, considering
her contribution to this matter. Your brother is resigning his seat,
my dear; his conscience will not permit him to retain it, under
certain circumstances that have arisen."
"Oh!" cried Barbara: "but surely----"
"The matter has been argued, Babs," Lord Valleys said shortly;
"unless you have some better reason to advance than those of ordinary
common sense, public spirit, and consideration for one's family, it
will hardly be worth your while to reopen the discussion."
Barbara looked up at Miltoun, whose face, all but the eyes, was like
"Oh, Eusty!" she said, "you're not going to spoil your life like
this! Just think how I shall feel."
Miltoun answered stonily:
"You did what you thought right; as I am doing."
"Does she want you to?"
"There is, I should imagine," put in Lord Valleys, "not a solitary
creature in the whole world except your brother himself who would
wish for this consummation. But with him such a consideration does
"Oh!" sighed Barbara; "think of Granny!"
"I prefer not to think of her," murmured Lady Valleys.
"She's so wrapped up in you, Eusty. She always has believed in you
Miltoun sighed. And, encouraged by that sound, Barbara went closer.
It was plain enough that, behind his impassivity, a desperate
struggle was going on in Miltoun. He spoke at last:
"If I have not already yielded to one who is naturally more to me
than anything, when she begged and entreated, it is because I feel
this in a way you don't realize. I apologize for using the word
comic just now, I should have said tragic. I'll enlighten Uncle
Dennis, if that will comfort you; but this is not exactly a matter
for anyone, except myself." And, without another look or word, he
As the door closed, Barbara ran towards it; and, with a motion
strangely like the wringing of hands, said
"Oh, dear! Oh! dear!" Then, turning away to a bookcase, she began to
This ebullition of feeling, surpassing even their own, came as a real
shock to Lady and Lord Valleys, ignorant of how strung-up she had
been before she entered the room. They had not seen Barbara cry
since she was a tiny girl. And in face of her emotion any animus
they might have shown her for having thrown Miltoun into Mrs. Noel's
arms, now melted away. Lord Valleys, especially moved, went up to
his daughter, and stood with her in that dark corner, saying nothing,
but gently stroking her hand. Lady Valleys, who herself felt very
much inclined to cry, went out of sight into the embrasure of the
Barbara's sobbing was soon subdued.
"It's his face," she said: "And why? Why? It's so unnecessary!"
Lord Valleys, continually twisting his moustache, muttered:
"Exactly! He makes things for himself!"
"Yes," murmured Lady Valleys from the window, "he was always
uncomfortable, like that. I remember him as a baby. Bertie never
And then the silence was only broken by the little angry sounds of
Barbara blowing her nose.
"I shall go and see mother," said Lady Valleys, suddenly: "The boy's
whole life may be ruined if we can't stop this. Are you coming,
But Barbara refused.
She went to her room, instead. This crisis in Miltoun's life had
strangely shaken her. It was as if Fate had suddenly revealed all
that any step out of the beaten path might lead to, had brought her
sharply up against herself. To wing out into the blue! See what it
meant! If Miltoun kept to his resolve, and gave up public life, he
was lost! And she herself! The fascination of Courtier's chivalrous
manner, of a sort of innate gallantry, suggesting the quest of
everlasting danger--was it not rather absurd? And--was she
fascinated? Was it not simply that she liked the feeling of
fascinating him? Through the maze of these thoughts, darted the
memory of Harbinger's face close to her own, his clenched hands, the
swift revelation of his dangerous masculinity. It was all a
nightmare of scaring queer sensations, of things that could never be
settled. She was stirred for once out of all her normal conquering
philosophy. Her thoughts flew back to Miltoun. That which she had
seen in their faces, then, had come to pass! And picturing Agatha's
horror, when she came to hear of it, Barbara could not help a smile.
Poor Eustace! Why did he take things so hardly? If he really
carried out his resolve--and he never changed his mind--it would be
tragic! It would mean the end of everything for him!
Perhaps now he would get tired of Mrs. Noel. But she was not the
sort of woman a man would get tired of. Even Barbara in her
inexperience felt that. She would always be too delicately careful
never to cloy him, never to exact anything from him, or let him feel
that he was bound to her by so much as a hair. Ah! why couldn't they
go on as if nothing had happened? Could nobody persuade him? She
thought again of Courtier. If he, who knew them both, and was so
fond of Mrs. Noel, would talk to Miltoun, about the right to be
happy, the right to revolt? Eustace ought to revolt! It was his
duty. She sat down to write; then, putting on her hat, took the note
and slipped downstairs.
The flowers of summer in the great glass house at Ravensham were
keeping the last afternoon-watch when Clifton summoned Lady Casterley
with the words:
"Lady Valleys in the white room."
Since the news of Miltoun's illness, and of Mrs. Noel's nursing, the
little old lady had possessed her soul in patience; often, it is
true, afflicted with poignant misgivings as to this new influence in
the life of her favourite, affected too by a sort of jealousy, not to
be admitted, even in her prayers, which, though regular enough, were
perhaps somewhat formal. Having small liking now for leaving home,
even for Catton, her country place, she was still at Ravensham, where
Lord Dennis had come up to stay with her as soon as Miltoun had left
Sea House. But Lady Casterley was never very dependent on company.
She retained unimpaired her intense interest in politics, and still
corresponded freely with prominent men. Of late, too, a slight
revival of the June war scare had made its mark on her in a certain
rejuvenescence, which always accompanied her contemplation of
national crises, even when such were a little in the air. At blast
of trumpet her spirit still leaped forward, unsheathed its sword, and
stood at the salute. At such times, she rose earlier, went to bed
later, was far less susceptible to draughts, and refused with
asperity any food between meals. She wrote too with her own hand
letters which she would otherwise have dictated to her secretary.
Unfortunately the scare had died down again almost at once; and the
passing of danger always left her rather irritable. Lady Valleys'
visit came as a timely consolation.
She kissed her daughter critically; for there was that about her
manner which she did not like.
"Yes, of course I am well!" she said. "Why didn't you bring
"She was tired!"
"H'm! Afraid of meeting me, since she committed that piece of folly
over Eustace. You must be careful of that child, Gertrude, or she
will be doing something silly herself. I don't like the way she
keeps Claud Harbinger hanging in the wind."
Her daughter cut her short:
"There is bad news about Eustace."
Lady Casterley lost the little colour in her cheeks; lost, too, all
her superfluity of irritable energy.
"Tell me, at once!"
Having heard, she said nothing; but Lady Valleys noticed with alarm
that over her eyes had come suddenly the peculiar filminess of age.
"Well, what do you advise?" she asked.
Herself tired, and troubled, she was conscious of a quite unwonted
feeling of discouragement before this silent little figure, in the
silent white room. She had never before seen her mother look as if
she heard Defeat passing on its dark wings. And moved by sudden
tenderness for the little frail body that had borne her so long ago,
she murmured almost with surprise:
"Yes," said Lady Casterley, as if speaking to herself, "the boy saves
things up; he stores his feelings--they burst and sweep him away.
First his passion; now his conscience. There are two men in him; but
this will be the death of one of them." And suddenly turning on her
daughter, she said:
"Did you ever hear about him at Oxford, Gertrude? He broke out once,
and ate husks with the Gadarenes. You never knew. Of course--you
never have known anything of him."
Resentment rose in Lady Valleys, that anyone should knew her son
better than herself; but she lost it again looking at the little
figure, and said, sighing:
Lady Casterley murmured:
"Go away, child; I must think. You say he's to consult' Dennis? Do
you know her address? Ask Barbara when you get back and telephone it
to me. And at her daughter's kiss, she added grimly:
"I shall live to see him in the saddle yet, though I am seventy-
When the sound of her daughter's car had died away, she rang the
"If Lady Valleys rings up, Clifton, don't take the message, but call
me." And seeing that Clifton did not move she added sharply: "Well?"
"There is no bad news of his young lordship's health, I hope?"
"Forgive me, my lady, but I have had it on my mind for some time to
ask you something."
And the old man raised his hand with a peculiar dignity, seeming to
say: You will excuse me that for the moment I am a human being
speaking to a human being.
"The matter of his attachment," he went on, "is known to me; it has
given me acute anxiety, knowing his lordship as I do, and having
heard him say something singular when he was here in July. I should
be grateful if you would assure--me that there is to be no hitch in
his career, my lady."
The expression on Lady Casterley's face was strangely compounded of
surprise, kindliness, defence, and impatience as with a child.
"Not if I can prevent it, Clifton," she said shortly; "in fact, you
need not concern yourself."
"Excuse me mentioning it, my lady;" a quiver ran over his face
between its long white whiskers, "but his young lordship's career is
more to me than my own."
When he had left her, Lady Casterley sat down in a little low chair--
long she sat there by the empty hearth, till the daylight, was all
Not far from the dark-haloed indeterminate limbo where dwelt that
bugbear of Charles Courtier, the great Half-Truth Authority, he
himself had a couple of rooms at fifteen shillings a week. Their
chief attraction was that the great Half-Truth Liberty had
recommended them. They tied him to nothing, and were ever at his
disposal when he was in London; for his landlady, though not bound by
agreement so to do, let them in such a way, that she could turn
anyone else out at a week's notice. She was a gentle soul, married
to a socialistic plumber twenty years her senior. The worthy man had
given her two little boys, and the three of them kept her in such
permanent order that to be in the presence of Courtier was the
greatest pleasure she knew. When he disappeared on one of his
nomadic missions, explorations, or adventures, she enclosed the whole
of his belongings in two tin trunks and placed them in a cupboard
which smelled a little of mice. When he reappeared the trunks were
reopened, and a powerful scent of dried rose-leaves would escape.
For, recognizing the mortality of things human, she procured every
summer from her sister, the wife of a market gardener, a consignment
of this commodity, which she passionately sewed up in bags, and
continued to deposit year by year, in Courtier's trunks.
This, and the way she made his toast--very crisp--and aired his
linen--very dry, were practically the only things she could do for a
man naturally inclined to independence, and accustomed from his
manner of life to fend for himself.
At first signs of his departure she would go into some closet or
other, away from the plumber and the two marks of his affection, and
cry quietly; but never in Courtier's presence did she dream of
manifesting grief--as soon weep in the presence of death or birth, or
any other fundamental tragedy or joy. In face of the realities of
life she had known from her youth up the value of the simple verb
'sto--stare-to stand fast.'
And to her Courtier was a reality, the chief reality of life, the
focus of her aspiration, the morning and the evening star.
The request, then five days after his farewell visit to Mrs. Noel--
for the elephant-hide trunk which accompanied his rovings, produced
her habitual period of seclusion, followed by her habitual appearance
in his sitting-room bearing a note, and some bags of dried rose--
leaves on a tray. She found him in his shirt sleeves, packing.
"Well, Mrs. Benton; off again!"
Mrs. Benton, plaiting her hands, for she had not yet lost something
of the look and manner of a little girl, answered in her flat, but
"Yes, sir; and I hope you're not going anywhere very dangerous this
time. I always think you go to such dangerous places."
"To Persia, Mrs. Benton, where the carpets come from."
"Oh! yes, sir. Your washing's just come home."
Her, apparently cast-down, eyes stored up a wealth of little details;
the way his hair grew, the set of his back, the colour of his braces.
But suddenly she said in a surprising voice:
"You haven't a photograph you could spare, sir, to leave behind? Mr.
Benton was only saying to me yesterday, we've nothing to remember him
by, in case he shouldn't come back."
"Here's an old one."
Mrs. Benton took the photograph.
"Oh!" she said; "you can see who it is." And holding it perhaps too
tightly, for her fingers trembled, she added:
"A note, please, sir; and the messenger boy is waiting for--an
While he read the note she noticed with concern how packing had
brought the blood into his head....
When, in response to that note, Courtier entered the well-known
confectioner's called Gustard's, it was still not quite tea-time, and
there seemed to him at first no one in the room save three middle-
aged women packing sweets; then in the corner he saw Barbara. The
blood was no longer in his head; he was pale, walking down that
mahogany-coloured room impregnated with the scent of wedding-cake.
Barbara, too, was pale.
So close to her that he could count her every eyelash, and inhale the
scent of her hair and clothes to listen to her story of Miltoun, so
hesitatingly, so wistfully told, seemed very like being kept waiting
with the rope already round his neck, to hear about another person's
toothache. He felt this to have been unnecessary on the part of
Fate! And there came to him perversely the memory of that ride over
the sun-warmed heather, when he had paraphrased the old Sicilian
song: 'Here will I sit and sing.' He was a long way from singing
now; nor was there love in his arms. There was instead a cup of tea;
and in his nostrils the scent of cake, with now and then a whiff of
"I see," he said, when she had finished telling him: "'Liberty's a
glorious feast!' You want me to go to your brother, and quote Bums?
You know, of course, that he regards me as dangerous."
"Yes; but he respects and likes you."
"And I respect and like him," answered Courtier.
One of the middle-aged females passed, carrying a large white card-
board box; and the creaking of her stays broke the hush.
"You have been very sweet to me," said Barbara, suddenly.
Courtier's heart stirred, as if it were turning over within him; and
gazing into his teacup, he answered
"All men are decent to the evening star. I will go at once and find
your brother. When shall I bring you news?"
"To-morrow at five I'll be at home."
And repeating, "To-morrow at five," he rose.
Looking back from the door, he saw her face puzzled, rather
reproachful, and went out gloomily. The scent of cake, and orange-
flower water, the creaking of the female's stays, the colour of
mahogany, still clung to his nose and ears, and eyes; but within him
it was all dull baffled rage. Why had he not made the most of this
unexpected chance; why had he not made desperate love to her? A
conscientious ass! And yet--the whole thing was absurd! She was so
young! God knew he would be glad to be out of it. If he stayed he
was afraid that he would play the fool. But the memory of her words:
"You have been very sweet to me!" would not leave him; nor the
memory of her face, so puzzled, and reproachful. Yes, if he stayed
he would play the fool! He would be asking her to marry a man double
her age, of no position but that which he had carved for himself, and
without a rap. And he would be asking her in such a way that she
might possibly have some little difficulty in refusing. He would be
letting himself go. And she was only twenty--for all her woman-of-
the-world air, a child! No! He would be useful to her, if possible,
this once, and then clear out!
When Miltoun left Valleys House he walked in the direction of
Westminster. During the five days that he had been back in London he
had not yet entered the House of Commons. After the seclusion of his
illness, he still felt a yearning, almost painful, towards the
movement and stir of the town. Everything he heard and saw made an
intensely vivid impression. The lions in Trafalgar Square, the great
buildings of Whitehall, filled him with a sort of exultation. He was
like a man, who, after a long sea voyage, first catches sight of
land, and stands straining his eyes, hardly breathing, taking in one
by one the lost features of that face. He walked on to Westminster
Bridge, and going to an embrasure in the very centre, looked back
towards the towers.
It was said that the love of those towers passed into the blood. It
was said that he who had sat beneath them could never again be quite
the same. Miltoun knew that it was true--desperately true, of
himself. In person he had sat there but three weeks, but in soul he
seemed to have been sitting there hundreds of years. And now he
would sit there no more! An almost frantic desire to free himself
from this coil rose up within him. To be held a prisoner by that
most secret of all his instincts, the instinct for authority! To be
unable to wield authority because to wield authority was to insult
authority. God! It was hard! He turned his back on the towers; and
sought distraction in the faces of the passers-by.
Each of these, he knew, had his struggle to keep self-respect! Or
was it that they were unconscious of struggle or of self-respect, and
just let things drift? They looked like that, most of them! And all
his inherent contempt for the average or common welled up as he
watched them. Yes, they looked like that! Ironically, the sight of
those from whom he had desired the comfort of compromise, served
instead to stimulate that part of him which refused to let him
compromise. They looked soft, soggy, without pride or will, as
though they knew that life was too much for them, and had shamefully
accepted the fact. They so obviously needed to be told what they
might do, and which way they should, go; they would accept orders as
they accepted their work, or pleasures: And the thought that he was
now debarred from the right to give them orders, rankled in him
furiously. They, in their turn, glanced casually at his tall figure
leaning against the parapet, not knowing how their fate was trembling
in the balance. His thin, sallow face, and hungry eyes gave one or
two of them perhaps a feeling of interest or discomfort; but to most
he was assuredly no more than any other man or woman in the hurly-
burly. That dark figure of conscious power struggling in the fetters
of its own belief in power, was a piece of sculpture they had neither
time nor wish to understand, having no taste for tragedy--for
witnessing the human spirit driven to the wall.
It was five o'clock before Miltoun left the Bridge, and passed, like
an exile, before the gates of Church and State, on his way to his
uncle's Club. He stopped to telegraph to Audrey the time he would be
coming to-morrow afternoon; and on leaving the Post-Office, noticed
in the window of the adjoining shop some reproductions of old Italian
masterpieces, amongst them one of Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus.' He
had never seen that picture; and, remembering that she had told him
it was her favourite, he stopped to look at it. Averagely well
versed in such matters, as became one of his caste, Miltoun had not
the power of letting a work of art insidiously steal the private self
from his soul, and replace it with the self of all the world; and he
examined this far-famed presentment of the heathen goddess with
aloofness, even irritation. The drawing of the body seemed to him
crude, the whole picture a little flat and Early; he did not like the
figure of the Flora. The golden serenity, and tenderness, of which
she had spoken, left him cold. Then he found himself looking at the
face, and slowly, but with uncanny certainty, began to feel that he
was looking at the face of Audrey herself. The hair was golden and
different, the eyes grey and different, the mouth a little fuller;
yet--it was her face; the same oval shape, the same far-apart, arched
brows, the same strangely tender, elusive spirit. And, as though
offended, he turned and walked on. In the window of that little shop
was the effigy of her for whom he had bartered away his life--the
incarnation of passive and entwining love, that gentle creature, who
had given herself to him so utterly, for whom love, and the flowers,
and trees, and birds, music, the sky, and the quick-flowing streams,
were all-sufficing; and who, like the goddess in the picture, seemed
wondering at her own existence. He had a sudden glimpse of
understanding, strange indeed in one who had so little power of
seeing into others' hearts: Ought she ever to have been born into a
world like this? But the flash of insight yielded quickly to that
sickening consciousness of his own position, which never left him
now. Whatever else he did, he must get rid of that malaise! But
what could he do in that coming life? Write books? What sort of
books could he write? Only such as expressed his views of
citizenship, his political and social beliefs. As well remain
sitting and speaking beneath those towers! He could never join the
happy band of artists, those soft and indeterminate spirits, for whom
barriers had no meaning, content-to understand, interpret, and
create. What should he be doing in that galley? The thought was
inconceivable. A career at the Bar--yes, he might take that up; but
to what end? To become a judge! As well continue to sit beneath
those towers! Too late for diplomacy. Too late for the Army;
besides, he had not the faintest taste for military glory. Bury
himself in the country like Uncle Dennis, and administer one of his
father's estates? It would be death. Go amongst the poor? For a
moment he thought he had found a new vocation. But in what capacity
--to order their lives, when he himself could not order his own; or,
as a mere conduit pipe for money, when he believed that charity was
rotting the nation to its core? At the head of every avenue stood an
angel or devil with drawn sword. And then there came to him another
thought. Since he was being cast forth from Church and State, could
he not play the fallen spirit like a man--be Lucifer, and destroy!
And instinctively he at once saw himself returning to those towers,
and beneath them crossing the floor; joining the revolutionaries, the
Radicals, the freethinkers, scourging his present Party, the party of
authority and institutions. The idea struck him as supremely comic,
and he laughed out loud in the street....
The Club which Lord Dennis frequented was in St. James's untouched by
the tides of the waters of fashion--steadily swinging to its moorings
in a quiet backwater, and Miltoun found his uncle in the library. He
was reading a volume of Burton's travels, and drinking tea.
"Nobody comes here," he said, "so, in spite of that word on the door,
we shall talk. Waiter, bring some more tea, please."
Impatiently, but with a sort of pity, Miltoun watched Lord Dennis's
urbane movements, wherein old age was, pathetically, trying to make
each little thing seem important, if only to the doer. Nothing his
great-uncle could say would outweigh the warning of his picturesque
old figure! To be a bystander; to see it all go past you; to let
your sword rust in its sheath, as this poor old fellow had done! The
notion of explaining what he had come about was particularly hateful
to Miltoun; but since he had given his word, he nerved himself with
secret anger, and began:
"I promised my mother to ask you a question, Uncle Dennis. You know
of my attachment, I believe?"
Lord Dennis nodded.
"Well, I have joined my life to this lady's. There will be no
scandal, but I consider it my duty to resign my seat, and leave
public life alone. Is that right or wrong according to, your view?"
Lord Dennis looked at his nephew in silence. A faint flush coloured
his brown cheeks. He had the appearance of one travelling in mind
over the past.
"Wrong, I think," he said, at last.
"Why, if I may ask?"
"I have not the pleasure of knowing this lady, and am therefore
somewhat in the dark; but it appears to me that your decision is not
fair to her."
"That is beyond me," said Miltoun.
Lord Dennis answered firmly:
"You have asked me a frank question, expecting a frank answer, I
"Then, my dear, don't blame me if what I say is unpalatable."
"I shall not."
"Good! You say you are going to give up public life for the sake of
your conscience. I should have no criticism to make if it stopped
He paused, and for quite a minute remained silent, evidently
searching for words to express some intricate thread of thought.
"But it won't, Eustace; the public man in you is far stronger than
the other. You want leadership more than you want love. Your
sacrifice will kill your affection; what you imagine is your loss and
hurt, will prove to be this lady's in the end."
Lord Dennis continued very dryly and with a touch of malice:
"You are not listening to me; but I can see very well that the
process has begun already underneath. There's a curious streak of
the Jesuit in you, Eustace. What you don't want to see, you won't
"You advise me, then, to compromise?"
"On the contrary, I point out that you will be compromising if you
try to keep both your conscience and your love. You will be seeking
to have, it both ways."
"That is interesting."
"And you will find yourself having it neither," said Lord Dennis
Miltoun rose. "In other words, you, like the others, recommend me to
desert this lady who loves me, and whom I love. And yet, Uncle, they
say that in your own case----"
But Lord Dennis had risen, too, having lost all the appanage and
manner of old age.
"Of my own case," he said bluntly, "we won't talk. I don't advise
you to desert anyone; you quite mistake me. I advise you to know
yourself. And I tell you my opinion of you--you were cut out by
Nature for a statesman, not a lover! There's something dried-up in
you, Eustace; I'm not sure there isn't something dried-up in all our
caste. We've had to do with forms and ceremonies too long. We're
not good at taking the lyrical point of view."
"Unfortunately," said Miltoun, "I cannot, to fit in with a theory of
yours, commit a baseness."
Lord Dennis began pacing up and down. He was keeping his lips closed
"A man who gives advice," he said at last, "is always something of a
fool. For all that, you have mistaken mine. I am not so
presumptuous as to attempt to enter the inner chamber of your spirit.
I have merely told you that, in my opinion, it would be more honest
to yourself, and fairer to this lady, to compound with your
conscience, and keep both your love and your public life, than to
pretend that you were capable of sacrificing what I know is the
stronger element in you for the sake of the weaker. You remember the
saying, Democritus I think: 'each man's nature or character is his
fate or God'. I recommend it to you."
For a full minute Miltoun stood without replying, then said:
"I am sorry to have troubled you, Uncle Dennis. A middle policy is
no use to me. Good-bye!" And without shaking hands, he went out.
In the hall someone rose from a sofa, and came towards him. It was
"Run you to earth at last," he said; "I wish you'd come and dine with
me. I'm leaving England to-morrow night, and there are things I want
There passed through Miltoun's mind the rapid thought: 'Does he
know?' He assented, however, and they went out together.
"It's difficult to find a quiet place," said Courtier; "but this
The place chosen was a little hostel, frequented by racing men, and
famed for the excellence of its steaks. And as they sat down
opposite each other in the almost empty room, Miltoun thought: Yes,
he does know! Can I stand any more of this? He waited almost
savagely for the attack he felt was coming.
"So you are going to give up your seat?" said Courtier.
Miltoun looked at him for some seconds, before replying.
"From what town-crier did you hear that?"
But there was that in Courtier's face which checked his anger; its
friendliness was transparent.
"I am about her only friend," Courtier proceeded earnestly; "and this
is my last chance--to say nothing of my feeling towards you, which,
believe me, is very cordial."
"Go on, then," Miltoun muttered.
"Forgive me for putting it bluntly. Have you considered what her
position was before she met you?"
Miltoun felt the blood rushing to his face, but he sat still,
clenching his nails into the palms of his hands.
"Yes, yes," said Courtier, "but that attitude of mind--you used to
have it yourself--which decrees either living death, or spiritual
adultery to women, makes my blood boil. You can't deny that those
were the alternatives, and I say you had the right fundamentally to
protest against them, not only in words but deeds. You did protest,
I know; but this present decision of yours is a climb down, as much
as to say that your protest was wrong."
Miltoun rose from his seat. "I cannot discuss this," he said; "I
"For her sake, you must. If you give up your public work, you'll
spoil her life a second time."
Miltoun again sat down. At the word 'must' a steely feeling had come
to his aid; his eyes began to resemble the old Cardinal's. "Your
nature and mine, Courtier," he said, "are too far apart; we shall
never understand each other."
"Never mind that," answered Courtier. "Admitting those two
alternatives to be horrible, which you never would have done unless
the facts had been brought home to you personally
"That," said Miltoun icily, "I deny your right to say."
"Anyway, you do admit them--if you believe you had not the right to
rescue her, on what principle do you base that belief?"
Miltoun placed his elbow on the table, and leaning his chin on his
hand, regarded the champion of lost causes without speaking. There
was such a turmoil going on within him that with difficulty he could
force his lips to obey him.
"By what right do you ask me that?" he said at last. He saw
Courtier's face grow scarlet, and his fingers twisting furiously at
those flame-like moustaches; but his answer was as steadily ironical
"Well, I can hardly sit still, my last evening in England, without
lifting a finger, while you immolate a woman to whom I feel like a
brother. I'll tell you what your principle is: Authority, unjust or
just, desirable or undesirable, must be implicitly obeyed. To break
a law, no matter on what provocation, or for whose sake, is to break
"Don't hesitate--say, of God."
"Of an infallible fixed Power. Is that a true definition of your
"Yes," said Miltoun, between his teeth, "I think so."
"Exceptions prove the rule."
"Hard cases make bad law."
Courtier smiled: "I knew you were coming out with that. I deny that
they do with this law, which is altogether behind the times. You had
the right to rescue this woman."
"No, Courtier, if we must fight, let us fight on the naked facts.
I have not rescued anyone. I have merely stolen sooner than starve.
That is why I cannot go on pretending to be a pattern. If it were
known, I could not retain my seat an hour; I can't take advantage of
an accidental secrecy. Could you?"
Courtier was silent; and with his eyes Miltoun pressed on him, as
though he would despatch him with that glance.
"I could," said Courtier at last. "When this law, by enforcing
spiritual adultery on those who have come to hate their mates,
destroys the sanctity of the married state--the very sanctity it
professes to uphold, you must expect to have it broken by reasoning
men and women without their feeling shame, or losing self-respect."
In Miltoun there was rising that vast and subtle passion for
dialectic combat, which was of his very fibre. He had almost lost
the feeling that this was his own future being discussed. He saw
before him in this sanguine man, whose voice and eyes had such a
white-hot sound and look, the incarnation of all that he
"That," he said, "is devil's advocacy. I admit no individual as
judge in his own case."
"Ah! Now we're coming to it. By the way, shall we get out of this
They were no sooner in the cooler street, than the voice of Courtier
"Distrust of human nature, fear--it's the whole basis of action for
men of your stamp. You deny the right of the individual to judge,
because you've no faith in the essential goodness of men; at heart
you believe them bad. You give them no freedom, you allow them no
consent, because you believe that their decisions would move
downwards, and not upwards. Well, it's the whole difference between
the aristocratic and the democratic view of life. As you once told
me, you hate and fear the crowd."
Miltoun eyed that steady sanguine face askance:
"Yes," he said, "I do believe that men are raised in spite of
"You're honest. By whom?"
Again Miltoun felt rising within him a sort of fury. Once for all he
would slay this red-haired rebel; he answered with almost savage
"Strangely enough, by that Being to mention whom you object--working
through the medium of the best."
"High-Priest! Look at that girl slinking along there, with her eye
on us; suppose, instead of withdrawing your garment, you went over
and talked to her, got her to tell you what she really felt and
thought, you'd find things that would astonish you. At bottom,
mankind is splendid. And they're raised, sir, by the aspiration
that's in all of them. Haven't you ever noticed that public
sentiment is always in advance of the Law?"
"And you," said Miltoun, "are the man who is never on the side of the
The champion of lost causes uttered a short laugh.
"Not so logical as all that," he answered; "the wind still blows; and
Life's not a set of rules hung up in an office. Let's see, where are
we?" They had been brought to a stand-still by a group on the
pavement in front of the Queen's Hall: "Shall we go in, and hear some
music, and cool our tongues?"
Miltoun nodded, and they went in.
The great lighted hall, filled with the faint bluefish vapour from
hundreds of little rolls of tobacco leaf, was crowded from floor to
Taking his stand among the straw-hatted throng, Miltoun heard that
steady ironical voice behind him:
"Profanum vulgus! Come to listen to the finest piece of music ever
written! Folk whom you wouldn't trust a yard to know what was good
for them! Deplorable sight, isn't it?"
He made no answer. The first slow notes of the seventh Symphony of
Beethoven had begun to steal forth across the bank of flowers; and,
save for the steady rising of that bluefish vapour, as it were
incense burnt to the god of melody, the crowd had become deathly
still, as though one mind, one spirit, possessed each pale face
inclined towards that music rising and falling like the sighing of
the winds, that welcome from death the freed spirits of the
When the last notes had died away, he turned and walked out.
"Well," said the voice behind him, "hasn't that shown you how things
swell and grow; how splendid the world is?"
"It has shown me how beautiful the world can be made by a great man."
And suddenly, as if the music had loosened some band within him, he
began to pour forth words:
"Look at the crowd in this street, Courtier, which of all crowds in
the whole world can best afford to be left to itself; secure from
pestilence, earthquake, cyclone, drought, from extremes of heat and
cold, in the heart of the greatest and safest city in the world; and
yet-see the figure of that policeman! Running through all the good
behaviour of this crowd, however safe and free it looks, there is,
there always must be, a central force holding it together. Where
does that central force come from? From the crowd itself, you say.
I answer: No. Look back at the origin of human States. From the
beginnings of things, the best man has been the unconscious medium of
authority, of the controlling principle, of the divine force; he felt
that power within him--physical, at first--he used it to take the
lead, he has held the lead ever since, he must always hold it. All
your processes of election, your so-called democratic apparatus, are
only a blind to the inquiring, a sop to the hungry, a salve to the
pride of the rebellious. They are merely surface machinery; they
cannot prevent the best man from coming to the top; for the best man
stands nearest to the Deity, and is the first to receive the waves
that come from Him. I'm not speaking of heredity. The best man is
not necessarily born in my class, and I, at all events, do not
believe he is any more frequent there than in other classes."
He stopped as suddenly as he had begun.
"You needn't be afraid," answered Courtier, "that I take you for an
average specimen. You're at one end, and I at the other, and we
probably both miss the golden mark. But the world is not ruled by
power, and the fear which power produces, as you think, it's ruled by
love. Society is held together by the natural decency in man, by
fellow-feeling. The democratic principle, which you despise, at root
means nothing at all but that. Man left to himself is on the upward
lay. If it weren't so, do you imagine for a moment your 'boys in
blue' could keep order? A man knows unconsciously what he can and
what he can't do, without losing his self-respect. He sucks that
knowledge in with every breath. Laws and authority are not the be-
all and end-all, they are conveniences, machinery, conduit pipes,
main roads. They're not of the structure of the building--they're
Miltoun lunged out with the retort
"Without which no building could be built."
"That's rather different, my friend, from identifying them with the
building. They are things to be taken down as fast as ever they can
be cleared away, to make room for an edifice that begins on earth,
not in the sky. All the scaffolding of law is merely there to save
time, to prevent the temple, as it mounts, from losing its way, and
straying out of form."
"No," said Miltoun, "no! The scaffolding, as you call it, is the
material projection of the architect's conception, without which the
temple does not and cannot rise; and the architect is God, working
through the minds and spirits most akin to Himself."
"We are now at the bed-rock," cried Courtier, "your God is outside
this world. Mine within it."
"And never the twain shall meet!"
In the silence that followed Miltoun saw that they were in Leicester
Square, all quiet as yet before the theatres had disgorged; quiet yet
waiting, with the lights, like yellow stars low-driven from the dark
heavens, clinging to the white shapes of music-halls and cafes, and a
sort of flying glamour blanching the still foliage of the plane
"A 'whitely wanton'--this Square!" said Courtier: "Alive as a face;
no end to its queer beauty! And, by Jove, if you went deep enough,
you'd find goodness even here."
"And you'd ignore the vice," Miltoun answered.
He felt weary all of a sudden, anxious to get to his rooms, unwilling
to continue this battle of words, that brought him no nearer to
relief. It was with strange lassitude that he heard the voice still
"We must make a night of it, since to-morrow we die.... You would
curb licence from without--I from within. When I get up and when I
go to bed, when I draw a breath, see a face, or a flower, or a tree--
if I didn't feel that I was looking on the Deity, I believe I should
quit this palace of varieties, from sheer boredom. You, I
understand, can't look on your God, unless you withdraw into some
high place. Isn't it a bit lonely there?"
"There are worse things than loneliness." And they walked on, in
silence; till suddenly Miltoun broke out:
"You talk of tyranny! What tyranny could equal this tyranny of your
freedom? What tyranny in the world like that of this 'free' vulgar,
narrow street, with its hundred journals teeming like ants' nests, to
produce-what? In the entrails of that creature of your freedom,
Courtier, there is room neither for exaltation, discipline, nor
sacrifice; there is room only for commerce, and licence."
There was no answer for a moment; and from those tall houses, whose
lighted windows he had apostrophized, Miltoun turned away towards the
river. "No," said the voice beside him, "for all its faults, the
wind blows in that street, and there's a chance for everything. By
God, I would rather see a few stars struggle out in a black sky than
any of your perfect artificial lighting."
And suddenly it seemed to Miltoun that he could never free himself
from the echoes of that voice--it was not worth while to try. "We
are repeating ourselves," he said, dryly.
The river's black water was making stilly, slow recessional under a
half-moon. Beneath the cloak of night the chaos on the far bank, the
forms of cranes, high buildings, jetties, the bodies of the sleeping
barges, a--million queer dark shapes, were invested with emotion.
All was religious out there, all beautiful, all strange. And over
this great quiet friend of man, lamps--those humble flowers of night,
were throwing down the faint continual glamour of fallen petals; and
a sweet-scented wind stole along from the West, very slow as yet,
bringing in advance the tremor and perfume of the innumerable trees
and fields which the river had loved as she came by.
A murmur that was no true sound, but like the whisper of a heart to.
a heart, accompanied this voyage of the dark water.
Then a small blunt skiff--manned by two rowers came by under the
wall, with the thudding and the creak of oars.
"So 'To-morrow we die'?" said Miltoun: "You mean, I suppose, that
'public life' is the breath of my nostrils, and I must die, because I
give it up?"
"Am I right in thinking that it was my young sister who sent you on
Courtier did not answer.
"And so," Miltoun went on, looking him through and through;
"to-morrow is to be your last day, too? Well, you're right to go.
She is not an ugly duckling, who can live out of the social pond;
she'll always want her native element. And now, we'll say goodbye!
Whatever happens to us both, I shall remember this evening."
Smiling, he put out his hand 'Moriturus te saluto.'
Courtier sat in Hyde Park waiting for five o'clock. The day had
recovered somewhat from a grey morning, as though the glow of that
long hot summer were too burnt-in on the air to yield to the first
assault. The sun, piercing the crisped clouds, those breast feathers
of heavenly doves, darted its beams at the mellowed leaves, and
showered to the ground their delicate shadow stains. The first, too
early, scent from leaves about to fall, penetrated to the heart. And
sorrowful sweet birds were tuning their little autumn pipes, blowing
into them fragments of Spring odes to Liberty.
Courtier thought of Miltoun and his mistress. By what a strange fate
had those two been thrown together; to what end was their love
coming? The seeds of grief were already sown, what flowers of
darkness, or of tumult would come up? He saw her again as a little,
grave, considering child, with her soft eyes, set wide apart under
the dark arched brows, and the little tuck at the corner of her mouth
that used to come when he teased her. And to that gentle creature
who would sooner die than force anyone to anything, had been given
this queer lover; this aristocrat by birth and nature, with the dried
fervent soul, whose every fibre had been bred and trained in and to
the service of Authority; this rejecter of the Unity of Life; this
worshipper of an old God! A God that stood, whip in hand, driving
men to obedience. A God that even now Courtier could conjure up
staring at him from the walls of his nursery. The God his own father
had believed in. A God of the Old Testament, knowing neither
sympathy nor understanding. Strange that He should be alive still;
that there should still be thousands who worshipped Him. Yet, not so
very strange, if, as they said, man made God in his own image! Here
indeed was a curious mating of what the philosophers would call the
will to Love, and the will to Power!
A soldier and his girl came and sat down on a bench close by. They
looked askance at this trim and upright figure with the fighting
face; then, some subtle thing informing them that he was not of the
disturbing breed called officer, they ceased to regard him,
abandoning themselves to dumb and inexpressive felicity. Arm in arm,
touching each other, they seemed to Courtier very jolly, having that
look of living entirely in the moment, which always especially
appealed to one whose blood ran too fast to allow him to speculate
much upon the future or brood much over the past.
A leaf from the bough above him, loosened by the sun's kisses,
dropped, and fell yellow at his feet. The leaves were turning very
It was characteristic of this man, who could be so hot over the lost
causes of others, that, sitting there within half an hour of the
final loss of his own cause, he could be so calm, so almost
apathetic. This apathy was partly due to the hopelessness, which
Nature had long perceived, of trying to make him feel oppressed, but
also to the habits of a man incurably accustomed to carrying his
fortunes in his hand, and that hand open. It did not seem real to
him that he was actually going to suffer a defeat, to have to confess
that he had hankered after this girl all these past weeks, and that
to-morrow all would be wasted, and she as dead to him as if he had
never seen her. No, it was not exactly resignation, it was rather
sheer lack of commercial instinct. If only this had been the lost
cause of another person. How gallantly he would have rushed to the
assault, and taken her by storm! If only he himself could have been
that other person, how easily, how passionately could he not have
pleaded, letting forth from him all those words which had knocked at
his teeth ever since he knew her, and which would have seemed so
ridiculous and so unworthy, spoken on his own behalf. Yes, for that
other person he could have cut her out from under the guns of the
enemy; he could have taken her, that fairest prize.
And in queer, cheery-looking apathy--not far removed perhaps from
despair--he sat, watching the leaves turn over and fall, and now and
then cutting with his stick at the air, where autumn was already
riding. And, if in imagination he saw himself carrying her away into
the wilderness, and with his devotion making her happiness to grow,
it was so far a flight, that a smile crept about his lips, and once
or twice he snapped his jaws.
The soldier and his girl rose, passing in front of him down the Row.
He watched their scarlet and blue figures, moving slowly towards the
sun, and another couple close to the rails, crossing those receding
forms. Very straight and tall, there was something exhilarating in
the way this new couple swung along, holding their heads up, turning
towards each other, to exchange words or smiles. Even at that
distance they could be seen to be of high fashion; in their gait was
the almost insolent poise of those who are above doubts and cares,
certain of the world and of themselves. The girl's dress was tawny
brown, her hair and hat too of the same hue, and the pursuing
sunlight endowed her with a hazy splendour. Then, Courtier saw who
they were--that couple!
Except for an unconscious grinding of his teeth, he made no sound or
movement, so that they went by without seeing him. Her voice, though
not the words, came to him distinctly. He saw her hand slip up under
Harbinger's arm and swiftly down again. A smile, of whose existence
he was unaware, settled on his lips. He got up, shook himself, as a
dog shakes off a beating, and walked away, with his mouth set very
Left alone among the little mahogany tables of Gustard's, where the
scent of cake and of orange-flower water made happy all the air,
Barbara had sat for some minutes, her eyes cast down--as a child from
whom a toy has been taken contemplates the ground, not knowing
precisely what she is feeling. Then, paying one of the middle-aged
females, she went out into the Square. There a German band was
playing Delibes' Coppelia; and the murdered tune came haunting her, a
very ghost of incongruity.
She went straight back to Valleys House. In the room where three
hours ago she had been left alone after lunch with Harbinger, her
sister was seated in the window, looking decidedly upset. In fact,
Agatha had just spent an awkward hour. Chancing, with little Ann,
into that confectioner's where she could best obtain a particularly
gummy sweet which she believed wholesome for her children, she had
been engaged in purchasing a pound, when looking down, she perceived
Ann standing stock-still, with her sudden little nose pointed down
the shop, and her mouth opening; glancing in the direction of those
frank, enquiring eyes, Agatha saw to her amazement her sister, and a
man whom she recognized as Courtier. With a readiness which did her
complete credit, she placed a sweet in Ann's mouth, and saying to the
middle-aged female: "Then you'll send those, please. Come, Ann!"
went out. Shocks never coming singly, she had no sooner reached
home, than from her father she learned of the development of
Miltoun's love affair. When Barbara returned, she was sitting,
unfeignedly disturbed and grieved; unable to decide whether or no she
ought to divulge what she herself had seen, but withal buoyed-up by
that peculiar indignation of the essentially domestic woman, whose
ideals have been outraged.
Judging at once from the expression of her face that she must have
heard the news of Miltoun, Barbara said:
"Well, my dear Angel, any lecture for me?"
Agatha answered coldly:
"I think you were quite mad to take Mrs. Noel to him."
"The whole duty of woman," murmured Barbara, "includes a little
Agatha looked at her in silence.
"I can't make you out," she said at last; "you're not a fool!"
"Only a knave."
"You may think it right to joke over the ruin of Miltoun's life,"
murmured Agatha; "I don't."
Barbara's eyes grew bright; and in a hard voice she answered:
"The world is not your nursery, Angel!"
Agatha closed her lips very tightly, as who should imply: "Then it
ought to be!" But she only answered:
"I don't think you know that I saw you just now in Gustard's."
Barbara eyed her for a moment in amazement, and began to laugh.
"I see," she said; "monstrous depravity--poor old Gustard's!" And
still laughing that dangerous laugh, she turned on her heel and went
At dinner and afterwards that evening she was very silent, having on
her face the same look that she wore out hunting, especially when in
difficulties of any kind, or if advised to 'take a pull.' When she
got away to her own room she had a longing to relieve herself by some
kind of action that would hurt someone, if only herself. To go to
bed and toss about in a fever--for she knew herself in these thwarted
moods--was of no use! For a moment she thought of going out. That
would be fun, and hurt them, too; but it was difficult. She did not
want to be seen, and have the humiliation of an open row. Then there
came into her head the memory of the roof of the tower, where she had
once been as a little girl. She would be in the air there, she would
be able to breathe, to get rid of this feverishness. With the
unhappy pleasure of a spoiled child taking its revenge, she took care
to leave her bedroom door open, so that her maid would wonder where
she was, and perhaps be anxious, and make them anxious. Slipping
through the moonlit picture gallery on to the landing, outside her
father's sanctum, whence rose the stone staircase leading to the
roof, she began to mount. She was breathless when, after that
unending flight of stairs she emerged on to the roof at the extreme
northern end of the big house, where, below her, was a sheer drop of
a hundred feet. At first she stood, a little giddy, grasping the
rail that ran round that garden of lead, still absorbed in her
brooding, rebellious thoughts. Gradually she lost consciousness of
everything save the scene before her. High above all neighbouring
houses, she was almost appalled by the majesty of what she saw. This
night-clothed city, so remote and dark, so white-gleaming and alive,
on whose purple hills and valleys grew such myriad golden flowers of
light, from whose heart came this deep incessant murmur--could it
possibly be the same city through which she had been walking that
very day! From its sleeping body the supreme wistful spirit had
emerged in dark loveliness, and was low-flying down there, tempting
her. Barbara turned round, to take in all that amazing prospect,
from the black glades of Hyde Park, in front, to the powdery white
ghost of a church tower, away to the East. How marvellous was this
city of night! And as, in presence of that wide darkness of the sea
before dawn, her spirit had felt little and timid within her--so it
felt now, in face of this great, brooding, beautiful creature, whom
man had made. She singled out the shapes of the Piccadilly hotels,
and beyond them the palaces and towers of Westminster and Whitehall;
and everywhere the inextricable loveliness of dim blue forms and
sinuous pallid lines of light, under an indigo-dark sky. Near at
hand, she could see plainly the still-lighted windows, the motorcars
gliding by far down, even the tiny shapes of people walking; and the
thought that each of them meant someone like herself, seemed strange.
Drinking of this wonder-cup, she began to experience a queer
intoxication, and lost the sense of being little; rather she had the
feeling of power, as in her dream at Monkland. She too, as well as
this great thing below her, seemed to have shed her body, to be
emancipated from every barrier-floating deliciously identified with
air. She seemed to be one with the enfranchised spirit of the city,
drowned in perception of its beauty. Then all that feeling went, and
left her frowning, shivering, though the wind from the West was warm.
Her whole adventure of coming up here seemed bizarre, ridiculous.
Very stealthily she crept down, and had reached once more the door
into 'the picture gallery, when she heard her mother's voice say in
amazement: "That you, Babs?" And turning, saw her coming from the
doorway of the sanctum.
Of a sudden very cool, with all her faculties about her, Barbara
smiled, and stood looking at Lady Valleys, who said with hesitation:
"Come in here, dear, a minute, will you?"
In that room resorted to for comfort, Lord Valleys was standing with
his back to the hearth, and an expression on his face that wavered
between vexation and decision. The doubt in Agatha's mind whether
she should tell or no, had been terribly resolved by little Ann, who
in a pause of conversation had announced: "We saw Auntie Babs and Mr.
Courtier in Gustard's, but we didn't speak to them."
Upset by the events of the afternoon, Lady Valleys had not shown her
usual 'savoir faire'. She had told her husband. A meeting of this
sort in a shop celebrated for little save its wedding cakes was in a
sense of no importance; but, being disturbed already by the news of
Miltoun, it seemed to them both nothing less than sinister, as though
the heavens were in league for the demolition of their house. To
Lord Valleys it was peculiarly mortifying, because of his real
admiration for his daughter, and because he had paid so little
attention to his wife's warning of some weeks back. In consultation,
however, they had only succeeded in deciding that Lady Valleys should
talk with her. Though without much spiritual insight, they had, each
of them, a certain cool judgment; and were fully alive to the danger
of thwarting Barbara. This had not prevented Lord Valleys from
expressing himself strongly on the 'confounded unscrupulousness of
that fellow,' and secretly forming his own plan for dealing with this
matter. Lady Valleys, more deeply conversant with her daughter's
nature, and by reason of femininity more lenient towards the other
sex, had not tried to excuse Courtier, but had thought privately:
'Babs is rather a flirt.' For she could not altogether help
remembering herself at the same age.
Summoned thus unexpectedly, Barbara, her lips very firmly pressed
together, took her stand, coolly enough, by her father's writing-
Seeing her suddenly appear, Lord Valleys instinctively relaxed his
frown; his experience of men and things, his thousands of diplomatic
hours, served to give him an air of coolness and detachment which he
was very far from feeling. In truth he would rather have faced a
hostile mob than his favourite daughter in such circumstances. His
tanned face with its crisp grey moustache, his whole head indeed,
took on, unconsciously, a more than ordinarily soldierlike
appearance. His eyelids drooped a little, his brows rose slightly.
She was wearing a blue wrap over her evening frock, and he seized
instinctively on that indifferent trifle to begin this talk.
"Ah! Babs, have you been out?"
Alive to her very finger-nails, with every nerve tingling, but
showing no sign, Barbara answered:
"No; on the roof of the tower."
It gave her a real malicious pleasure to feel the perplexity beneath
her father's dignified exterior. And detecting that covert mockery,
Lord Valleys said dryly:
Then, with that sudden resolution peculiar to him, as though he were
bored with having to delay and temporize, he added:
"Do you know, I doubt whether it's wise to make appointments in
confectioner's shops when Ann is in London."
The dangerous little gleam in Barbara's eyes escaped his vision but
not that of Lady Valleys, who said at once:
"No doubt you had the best of reasons, my dear."
Barbara curled her lip. Had it not been for the scene they had been
through that day with Miltoun, and for their very real anxiety, both
would have seen, then, that while their daughter was in this mood,
least said was soonest mended. But their nerves were not quite
within control; and with more than a touch of impatience Lord Valleys
"It doesn't appear to you, I suppose, to require any explanation?"
"Ah!" said Lord Valleys: "I see. An explanation can be had no doubt
from the gentleman whose sense of proportion was such as to cause him
to suggest such a thing."
"He did not suggest it. I did."
Lord Valleys' eyebrows rose still higher.
"Indeed!" he said.
"Geoffrey!" murmured Lady Valleys, "I thought I was to talk to Babs."
"It would no doubt be wiser."
In Barbara, thus for the first time in her life seriously
reprimanded, there was at work the most peculiar sensation she had
ever felt, as if something were scraping her very skin--a sick, and
at the same time devilish, feeling. At that moment she could have
struck her father dead. But she showed nothing, having lowered the
lids of her eyes.
"Anything else?" she said.
Lord Valleys' jaw had become suddenly more prominent.
"As a sequel to your share in Miltoun's business, it is peculiarly
"My dear," broke in Lady Valleys very suddenly, "Babs will tell me.
It's nothing, of course."
Barbara's calm voice said again:
The repetition of this phrase in that maddening, cool voice almost
broke down her father's sorely tried control.
"Nothing from you," he said with deadly coldness. "I shall have the
honour of telling this gentleman what I think of him."
At those words Barbara drew herself together, and turned her eyes
from one face to the other.
Under that gaze, which for all its cool hardness, was so furiously
alive, neither Lord nor Lady Valleys could keep quite still. It was
as if she had stripped from them the well-bred mask of those whose
spirits, by long unquestioning acceptance of themselves, have become
inelastic, inexpansive, commoner than they knew. In fact a rather
awful moment! Then Barbara said:
"If there's nothing else, I'm going to bed. Goodnight!"
And as calmly as she had come in, she went out.
When she had regained her room, she locked the door, threw off her
cloak, and looked at herself in the glass. With pleasure she saw how
firmly her teeth were clenched, how her breast was heaving, and how
her eyes seemed to be stabbing herself. And all the time she
"Very well! My dears! Very well!"
In that mood of rebellious mortification she fell asleep. And,
curiously enough, dreamed not of him whom she had in mind been so
furiously defending, but of Harbinger. She fancied herself in
prison, lying in a cell fashioned like the drawing-room at Sea house;
and in the next cell, into which she could somehow look, Harbinger
was digging at the wall with his nails. She could distinctly see the
hair on the back of his hands, and hear him breathing. The hole he
was making grew larger and larger. Her heart began to beat
furiously; she awoke.
She rose with a new and malicious resolution to show no sign of
rebellion, to go through the day as if nothing had happened, to
deceive them all, and then--! Exactly what 'and then' meant, she did
not explain even to herself.
In accordance with this plan of action she presented an untroubled
front at breakfast, went out riding with little Ann, and shopping
with her mother afterwards. Owing to this news of Miltoun the
journey to Scotland had been postponed. She parried with cool
ingenuity each attempt made by Lady Valleys to draw her into
conversation on the subject of that meeting at Gustard's, nor would
she talk of her brother; in every other way she was her usual self.
In the afternoon she even volunteered to accompany her mother to old
Lady Harbinger's in the neighbourhood of Prince's Gate. She knew
that Harbinger would be there, and with the thought of meeting that
other at 'five o'clock,' had a cynical pleasure in thus encountering
him. It was so complete a blind to them all! Then, feeling that she
was accomplishing a masterstroke; she even told him, in her mother's