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The Quest of the Golden Girl

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So ended my pilgrimage. I had wandered far, had loved many, but
I came back to London without the Golden Girl. I had begun my
pilgrimage with a vision, and it was with a vision that I ended
it. From all my goings to and fro upon the earth, I had brought
back only the image of a woman's face,--the face of that strange
woman of the moorland, still haunting my dreams of the night and
the day.

It was autumn in my old garden, damp and forsaken, and the
mulberry-tree was hung with little yellow shields. My books
looked weary of awaiting me, and they and the whole lonely house
begged me to take them where sometimes they might be handled by
human fingers, mellowed by lamplight, cheered by friendly

The very chairs begged mutely to be sat upon, the chill white
beds to be slept in. Yes, the very furniture seemed even
lonelier than myself.

So I took heed of their dumb appeal.

"I know," I answered them tenderly,--"I too, with you, have
looked on better days, I too have been where bells have knoll'd
to church, I too have sat at many a good man's feast,--yes! I
miss human society, even as you, my books, my bedsteads, and my
side- boards,--so let it be. It is plain our little Margaret is
not coming back, our little Margaret, dear haunted rooms, will
never come back; no longer shall her little silken figure flit up
and down your quiet staircases, her hands filled with flowers,
and her heart humming with little songs. Yes, let us go, it is
very lonely; we shall die if we stay here all so lonely together;
it is time, let us go."

So thereon I wrote to a furniture-remover, and went out to walk
round the mossy old garden for the last time, and say good-bye to
the great mulberry, under whose Dodonaesque shade we had sat half
frightened on starry nights, to the apple-trees whose blossom had
seemed like fairy-land to Margaret and me, town-bred folk, to the
apricots and the peaches and the nectarines that it had seemed
almost wicked to own,--as though we had gone abroad in silk and
velvet,--to the little grassy orchard, and to the little green
corner of it, where Margaret had fallen asleep that summer
afternoon, in the great wicker-chair, and I had brought a dear
friend on tiptoe to gaze on her asleep, with her olive cheeks
delicately flushed, her great eyelids closed like the cheeks of
roses, and her gold hair tumbled about her neck . . .

Well, well, good-bye,--tears are foolish things. They will not
bring Margaret back. Good-bye, old garden, good-bye, I shall
never see you again,--good-bye.





This book is like a woman's letter. The most important part of
it is the postscript

Six years lie between the end of the last chapter and the
beginning of this. Meanwhile, I had moved to sociable chambers
within sound of the city clocks, and had lived the life of a
lonely man about town, sinking more and more into the comfortable
sloth of bachelorhood. I had long come to look back upon my
pilgrimage as a sort of Indian-summer youth, being, as the reader
can reckon for himself, just on thirty-seven. As one will, with
one's most serious experiences, hastening to laugh lest one
should weep, as the old philosopher said, I had made some fun out
of my quest, in the form of a paper for a bookish society to
which I belonged, on "Woman as a Learned Pursuit." It is
printed among the transactions of the society, and is accessible
to the curious only by loan from the members, and I regret that I
am unable to print any extracts here. Perhaps when I am dead the
society will see the criminal selfishness of reserving for itself
what was meant for mankind.

Meanwhile, however, it is fast locked and buried deep in the
archives of the club. I have two marriages to record in the
interval: one that of a young lady whom I must still think of as
`Nicolete' to Sir Marmaduke Pettigrew, Bart., of Dultowers Hall,
and the other the well-known marriage of Sylvia Joy . . .

Sylvia Joy married after all her fine protestations! Yes! but
I'm sure you will forgive her, for she was married to a lord.
When one is twenty and romantic one would scorn a woman who would
jilt us for wealth and position; at thirty, one would scorn any
woman who didn't. Ah me! how one changes! No one, I can
honestly say, was happier over these two weddings than I, and I
sent Sylvia her petticoat as a wedding present.

But it was to tell of other matters that I reopen this book and
once more take up my pen--matters so near to my heart that I
shrink from writing of them, and am half afraid that the attempt
may prove too hard for me after all, and my book end on a broken
cry of pain. Yet, at the same time, I want to write of them, for
they are beautiful and solemn, and good food for the heart.

Besides, though my pilgrimage had been ended so long, they are
really a part, yea, the part for which, though I knew it not, all
the rest has been written--for they tell how I came to find by
accident her whom so long I had sought of design.

How shall I tell of Thee who, first and last of all women, gave
and awoke in me that love which is the golden key of the world,
the mystic revelation of the holy meaning of life, love that
alone may pass through the awful gates of the stars, and gaze
unafraid into the blue abysses beyond?

Ah! Love, it seemed far away indeed from the stars, the place
where we met, and only by the light of love's eyes might we have
found each other--as only by the light of love's eyes . . . But
enough, my Heart, the world waits to hear our story,--the world
once so unloving to you, the world with a heart so hard and anon
so soft for love. When the story is ended, my love, when the
story is ended--



It was a hard winter's night four years ago, lovely and
merciless; and towards midnight I walked home from a theatre to
my rooms in St. James's Street. The Venusberg of Piccadilly
looked white as a nun with snow and moonlight, but the melancholy
music of pleasure, and the sad daughters of joy, seemed not to
heed the cold. For another hour death and pleasure would dance
there beneath the electric lights.

Through the strange women clustering at the corners I took my
way,--women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and
Hittites,--and I thought, as I looked into their poor painted
faces,--faces but half human, vampirish faces, faces already
waxen with the look of the grave,--I thought, as I often did, of
the poor little girl whom De Quincey loved, the good-hearted
little `peripatetic' as he called her, who had succoured him
during those nights, when, as a young man, he wandered homeless
about these very streets,--that good, kind little Ann whom De
Quincey had loved, then so strangely lost, and for whose face he
looked into women's faces as long as he lived. Often have I
stood at the corner of Titchfield Street, and thought how De
Quincey had stood there night after night waiting for her to
come, but all in vain, and how from the abyss of oblivion into
which some cruel chance had swept her, not one cry from her ever
reached him again.

I thought, too, as I often did, what if the face I seek should be
here among these poor outcasts,--golden face hidden behind a mask
of shame, true heart still beating true even amidst this infernal

Thus musing, I had walked my way out of the throng, and only a
figure here and there in the shadows of doorways waited and
waited in the cold.

It was something about one of these waiting figures,--some
movement, some chance posture,--that presently surprised my
attention and awakened a sudden sense of half recognition. She
stood well in the shadow, seeming rather to shrink from than to
court attention. As I walked close by her and looked keenly into
her face, she cast down her eyes and half turned away. Surely, I
had seen that tall, noble figure somewhere before, that haughty
head; and then with the apparition a thought struck me--but, no!
it couldn't be she! not HERE!

"It is," said my soul, as I turned and walked past her again;
"you missed her once, are you going to miss her again?"

"It is," said my eyes, as they swept her for the third time;
"but she had glorious chestnut hair, and the hair of this woman

"It is she," said my heart; "thank God, it is she!"

So it was that I went up to that tall, shy figure.

"It must be very cold here," I said; "will you not join me in
some supper?"

She assented, and we sought one of the many radiating centres of
festivity in the neighbourhood. She was very tired and cold,
--so tired she seemed hardly to have the spirit to eat, and
evidently the cold had taken tight clutch of her lungs, for she
had a cough that went to my heart to hear, and her face was
ghastly pale. When I had persuaded her to drink a little wine,
she grew more animated and spots of suspicious colour came into
her cheeks. So far she had seemed all but oblivious of my
presence, but now she gave me a sweet smile of gratitude, one of
those irradiating transfiguring smiles that change the whole
face, and belong to few faces, the heavenly smile of a pure soul.

Yes, it was she! The woman who sat in front of me was the woman
whom I had met so strangely that day on that solitary moorland,
and whom in prophecy still more strange my soul had declared to
be, "now and for ever and before all worlds the woman God had
created for me, and that unless I could be hers and she mine,
there could be no home, no peace, for either of us so long as we
lived--" and now so strangely met again.

Yes, it was she!

For the moment my mind had room for no other thought. I cared
not to conjecture by what devious ways God had brought her to my
side. I cared not what mire her feet had trodden. She had
carried her face pure as a lily through all the foul and sooty
air. There was a pure heart in her voice. Sin is of the soul,
and this soul had not sinned! Let him that is without sin
amongst you cast the first stone.

"Why did you dye that wonderful chestnut hair?" I asked her
presently--and was sorry next minute for the pain that shot
across her face, but I just wanted to hint at what I designed not
to reveal fully till later on, and thus to hint too that it was
not as one of the number of her defilers that I had sought her.

"Why," she said, "how do you know the colour of my hair? We
have never met before."

"Yes, we have," I said, "and that was why I spoke to you
to-night. I'll tell you where it was another time."

But after all I could not desist from telling her that night,
for, as afterwards at her lodging we sat over the fire, talking
as if we had known each other all our lives, there seemed no
reason for an arbitrary delay.

I described to her the solitary moorland road, and the
grey-gowned woman's figure in front of me, and the gig coming
along to meet her, and the salutation of the two girls, and I
told her all one look of her face had meant for me, and how I had
wildly sought her in vain, and from that day to this had held her
image in my heart.

And as I told her, she sobbed with her head against my knees and
her great hair filling my lap with gold. In broken words she
drew for me the other side of the picture of that long-past
summer day.

Yes, the girl in the gig was her sister, and they were the only
daughters of a farmer who had been rich once, but had come to
ruin by drink and misfortune. They had been brought up from
girls by an old grandmother, with whom the sister was living at
the time of my seeing them. Yes, Tom was her husband. He was a
doctor in the neighbourhood when he married her, and a man, I
surmised, of some parts and promise, but, moving to town, he had
fallen into loose ways, taken to drinking and gambling, and had
finally deserted her for another woman--at the very moment when
their first child was born. The child died "Thank God!" she
added with sudden vehemence, and "I--well, you will wonder how I
came to this, I wonder myself-- it has all happened but six
months ago, and yet I seem to have forgotten--only the broken-
hearted and the hungry would understand, if I could remember--and
yet it was not life, certainly not life I wanted--and yet I
couldn't die--"

The more I came to know Elizabeth and realise the rare delicacy
of her nature, the simplicity of her mind, and the purity of her
soul, the less was I able to comprehend the psychology of that
false step which her great misery had forced her to take. For
hers was not a sensual, pleasure-loving nature. In fact, there
was a certain curious Puritanism about her, a Puritanism which
found a startlingly incongruous and almost laughable expression
in the Scripture almanac which hung on the wall at the end of her
bed, and the Bible, and two or three Sunday-school stories which,
with a copy of "Jane Eyre," were the only books that lay upon
the circular mahogany table.

Once I ventured gently to chaff her about this religiosity of

"But surely you believe in God, dear," she had answered,
"you're not an atheist!"

I think an atheist, with all her experience of human monsters,
was for her the depth of human depravity.

"No, dear," I had answered; "if you can believe in God, surely
I can!"

I repeat that this gap in Elizabeth's psychology puzzled me, and
it puzzles me still, but it puzzled me only as the method of
working out some problem which after all had "come out right"
might puzzle one. It was only the process that was obscure. The
result was gold, whatever the dark process might be. Was it
simply that Elizabeth was one of that rare few who can touch
pitch and not be defiled?--or was it, I have sometimes wondered,
an unconscious and after all a sound casuistry that had saved
Elizabeth's soul, an instinctive philosophy that taught her, so
to say, to lay a Sigurd's sword between her soul and body, and to
argue that nothing can defile the body without the consent of the

In deep natures there is always what one might call a lover's
leap to be taken by those that would love them--something one
cannot understand to be taken on trust, something even that one
fears to be gladly adventured . . . all this, and more, I knew
that I could safely venture for Elizabeth's sake, ere I kissed
her white brow and stole away in the early hours of that winter's

As I did so I had taken one of the sumptuous strands of her hair
into my hand and kissed it too.

"Promise me to let this come back to its own beautiful colour,"
I had said, as I nodded to a little phial labelled "Peroxide of
Hydrogen" on her mantelshelf.

"Would you like to?" she had said.

"Yes, do it for me."

One day some months after I cut from her dear head one long thick
lock, one half of which was gold and the other half chestnut. I
take it out and look at it as I write, and, as when I first cut
it, it seems still a symbol of Elizabeth's life, the sun and the
shadow, only that the gold was the shadow, and the chestnut was
the sun.

The time came when the locks, from crown to tip, were all
chestnut--but when it came I would have given the world for them
to be gold again; for Elizabeth had said a curious thing when she
had given me her promise.

"All right, dear," she had said, "but something tells me that
when they are all brown again our happiness will be at an end."

"How long will that take?" I had said, trying to be gay, though
an involuntary shudder had gone through me, less at her words
than because of the strange conviction of her manner.

"About two years,--perhaps a little more," she said, answering
me quite seriously, as she gravely measured the shining tresses,
half her body's length, with her eye.



One fresh and sunny morning, some months after this night,
Elizabeth and I stood before the simple altar of a little country
church, for the news had come to us that her husband was dead,
and thus we were free to belong to each other before all the
world. The exquisite stillness in the cool old church was as the
peace in our hearts, and the rippling sound of the sunlit leaves
outside seemed like the very murmur of the stream of life down
which we dreamed of gliding together from that hour.

It was one of those moments which sometimes come and go without
any apparent cause, when life suddenly takes a mystical aspect of
completeness, all its discords are harmonised by some unseen hand
of the spirit, and all its imperfections fall away. The lover of
beauty and the lover of God alike know these strange moments, but
none know them with such a mighty satisfaction as a man and a
woman who love as loved Elizabeth and I.

Love for ever completes the world, for it is no future of higher
achievement, no expectation of greater joy. It lives for ever in
a present made perfect by itself. Love can dream of no greater
blessedness than itself, of no heaven but its own. God himself
could have added no touch of happiness to our happy hearts that
grave and sunny morning. You philosophers who go searching for
the meaning of life, thinkers reading so sadly, and let us hope
so wrongly, the riddle of the world--life has but one meaning,
the riddle but one answer--which is Love. To love is to put
yourself in harmony with the spheral music of creation, to stand
in the centre of the universe, and see it good and whole as it
appears in the eye of God.

Even Death himself, the great and terrible King of kings, though
he may break the heart of love with agonies and anguish and slow
tortures of separation, may break not his faith. No one that has
loved will dream even death too terrible a price to pay for the
revelation of love. For that revelation once made can never be
recalled. As a little sprig of lavender will perfume a queen's
wardrobe, so will a short year of love keep sweet a long life.
And love's best gifts death can never take away. Nay, indeed,
death does not so much rob as enrich the gifts of love. The dead
face that was fair grows fairer each spring, sweet memories grow
more sweet, what was silver is now gold, and as years go by, the
very death of love becomes its immortality.

I think I shall never hear Elizabeth's voice again, never look
into her eyes, never kiss her dear lips--but Elizabeth is still
mine, and I am hers, as in that morning when we kissed in that
little chancel amid the flickering light, and passed out into the
sun and down the lanes, to our little home among the

She is still as real to me as the stars,--and, alas, as far
away! I think no thought that does not fly to her, I have no
joys I do not share with her, I tell her when the spring is here,
and we sit beneath the moon and listen to the nightjar together.
Sometimes we are merry together as in the old time, and our
laughter makes nightfaring folk to cross themselves; my work, my
dreams, my loves, are all hers, and my very sins are sinned for
her sake.

Two years did Elizabeth and I know the love that passeth all
understanding, and day by day the chestnut upon her head was more
and the gold less, till the day came that she had prophesied, and
with the day a little child, whose hair had stolen all her
mother's gold, as her heart had drained away her mother's life.

Ah! reader, may it be long before you kneel at the bedside of her
you love best in the world, and know that of all your love is
left but a hundred heart-beats, while opposite sits Death, watch
in hand, and fingers upon her wrist.

"Husband," whispered Elizabeth, as we looked at each other for
the last time, "let her be your little golden girl . . ."

And then a strange sweetness stole over her face, and the dream
of Elizabeth's life was ended.

As I write I hear in the still house the running of little feet,
a fairy patter sweet and terrible to the heart.

Little feet, little feet--perhaps if I follow you I shall find
again our mother that is lost. Perhaps Elizabeth left you with me
that I should not miss the way.

Tout par soullas.

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