Part 2 out of 5
"She left us long before the marmalade stage," said the one.
"Without a word," said the other.
"Without a glance?" asked the Duke. It was testified by the one and
the other that there had been not so much as a glance.
"Doubtless," the disingenuous Duke said, "she had a headache . . . Was
"Very pale," answered the one.
"A healthy pallor," qualified the other, who was a constant reader of
"Did she look," the Duke inquired, "as if she had spent a sleepless
That was the impression made on both.
"Yet she did not seem listless or unhappy?"
No, they would not go so far as to say that.
"Indeed, were her eyes of an almost unnatural brilliance?"
"Quite unnatural," confessed the one.
"Twin stars," interpolated the other.
"Did she, in fact, seem to be consumed by some inward rapture?"
Yes, now they came to think of it, this was exactly how she HAD
It was sweet, it was bitter, for the Duke. "I remember," Zuleika had
said to him, "nothing that happened to me this morning till I found
myself at your door." It was bitter-sweet to have that outline filled
in by these artless pencils. No, it was only bitter, to be, at his
time of life, living in the past.
"The purpose of your tattle?" he asked coldly.
The two youths hurried to the point from which he had diverted them.
"When she went by with you just now," said the one, "she evidently
didn't know us from Adam."
"And I had so hoped to ask her to luncheon," said the other.
"Well, we wondered if you would re-introduce us. And then
perhaps . . ."
There was a pause. The Duke was touched to kindness for these fellow-
lovers. He would fain preserve them from the anguish that beset
himself. So humanising is sorrow.
"You are in love with Miss Dobson?" he asked.
"Then," said he, "you will in time be thankful to me for not affording
you further traffic with that lady. To love and be scorned--does Fate
hold for us a greater inconvenience? You think I beg the question? Let
me tell you that I, too, love Miss Dobson, and that she scorns me."
To the implied question "What chance would there be for you?" the
reply was obvious.
Amazed, abashed, the two youths turned on their heels.
"Stay!" said the Duke. "Let me, in justice to myself, correct an
inference you may have drawn. It is not by reason of any defect in
myself, perceived or imagined, that Miss Dobson scorns me. She scorns
me simply because I love her. All who love her she scorns. To see her
is to love her. Therefore shut your eyes to her. Strictly exclude her
from your horizon. Ignore her. Will you do this?"
"We will try," said the one, after a pause.
"Thank you very much," added the other.
The Duke watched them out of sight. He wished he could take the good
advice he had given them . . . Suppose he did take it! Suppose he went
to the Bursar, obtained an exeat, fled straight to London! What just
humiliation for Zuleika to come down and find her captive gone! He
pictured her staring around the quadrangle, ranging the cloisters,
calling to him. He pictured her rustling to the gate of the College,
inquiring at the porter's lodge. "His Grace, Miss, he passed through a
minute ago. He's going down this afternoon."
Yet, even while his fancy luxuriated in this scheme, he well knew that
he would not accomplish anything of the kind--knew well that he would
wait here humbly, eagerly, even though Zuleika lingered over her
toilet till crack o' doom. He had no desire that was not centred in
her. Take away his love for her, and what remained? Nothing--though
only in the past twenty-four hours had this love been added to him.
Ah, why had he ever seen her? He thought of his past, its cold
splendour and insouciance. But he knew that for him there was no
returning. His boats were burnt. The Cytherean babes had set their
torches to that flotilla, and it had blazed like match-wood. On the
isle of the enchantress he was stranded for ever. For ever stranded on
the isle of an enchantress who would have nothing to do with him!
What, he wondered, should be done in so piteous a quandary? There
seemed to be two courses. One was to pine slowly and painfully away.
The other . . .
Academically, the Duke had often reasoned that a man for whom life
holds no chance of happiness cannot too quickly shake life off. Now,
of a sudden, there was for that theory a vivid application.
"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer" was not a point by which
he, "more an antique Roman than a Dane," was at all troubled. Never
had he given ear to that cackle which is called Public Opinion. The
judgment of his peers--this, he had often told himself, was the sole
arbitrage he could submit to; but then, who was to be on the bench?
Peerless, he was irresponsible--the captain of his soul, the despot of
his future. No injunction but from himself would he bow to; and his
own injunctions--so little Danish was he--had always been peremptory
and lucid. Lucid and peremptory, now, the command he issued to
"So sorry to have been so long," carolled a voice from above. The Duke
looked up. "I'm all but ready," said Zuleika at her window.
That brief apparition changed the colour of his resolve. He realised
that to die for love of this lady would be no mere measure of
precaution, or counsel of despair. It would be in itself a passionate
indulgence--a fiery rapture, not to be foregone. What better could he
ask than to die for his love? Poor indeed seemed to him now the
sacrament of marriage beside the sacrament of death. Death was
incomparably the greater, the finer soul. Death was the one true
He flung back his head, spread wide his arms, quickened his pace
almost to running speed. Ah, he would win his bride before the setting
of the sun. He knew not by what means he would win her. Enough that
even now, full-hearted, fleet-footed, he was on his way to her, and
that she heard him coming.
When Zuleika, a vision in vaporous white, came out through the
postern, she wondered why he was walking at so remarkable a pace. To
him, wildly expressing in his movement the thought within him, she
appeared as his awful bride. With a cry of joy, he bounded towards
her, and would have caught her in his arms, had she not stepped nimbly
"Forgive me!" he said, after a pause. "It was a mistake--an idiotic
mistake of identity. I thought you were . . ."
Zuleika, rigid, asked "Have I many doubles?"
"You know well that in all the world is none so blest as to be like
you. I can only say that I was over-wrought. I can only say that it
shall not occur again."
She was very angry indeed. Of his penitence there could be no doubt.
But there are outrages for which no penitence can atone. This seemed
to be one of them. Her first impulse was to dismiss the Duke forthwith
and for ever. But she wanted to show herself at the races. And she
could not go alone. And except the Duke there was no one to take her.
True, there was the concert to-night; and she could show herself there
to advantage; but she wanted ALL Oxford to see her--see her NOW.
"I am forgiven?" he asked. In her, I am afraid, self-respect
outweighed charity. "I will try," she said merely, "to forget what you
have done." Motioning him to her side, she opened her parasol, and
signified her readiness to start.
They passed together across the vast gravelled expanse of the Front
Quadrangle. In the porch of the College there were, as usual, some
chained-up dogs, patiently awaiting their masters. Zuleika, of course,
did not care for dogs. One has never known a good man to whom dogs
were not dear; but many of the best women have no such fondness. You
will find that the woman who is really kind to dogs is always one who
has failed to inspire sympathy in men. For the attractive woman, dogs
are mere dumb and restless brutes--possibly dangerous, certainly
soulless. Yet will coquetry teach her to caress any dog in the
presence of a man enslaved by her. Even Zuleika, it seems, was not
above this rather obvious device for awaking envy. Be sure she did not
at all like the look of the very big bulldog who was squatting outside
the porter's lodge. Perhaps, but for her present anger, she would not
have stooped endearingly down to him, as she did, cooing over him and
trying to pat his head. Alas, her pretty act was a failure. The
bulldog cowered away from her, horrifically grimacing. This was
strange. Like the majority of his breed, Corker (for such was his
name) had ever been wistful to be noticed by any one--effusively
grateful for every word or pat, an ever-ready wagger and nuzzler, to
none ineffable. No beggar, no burglar, had ever been rebuffed by this
catholic beast. But he drew the line at Zuleika.
Seldom is even a fierce bulldog heard to growl. Yet Corker growled at
The Duke did not try to break the stony silence in which Zuleika
walked. Her displeasure was a luxury to him, for it was so soon to be
dispelled. A little while, and she would be hating herself for her
pettiness. Here was he, going to die for her; and here was she,
blaming him for a breach of manners. Decidedly, the slave had the
whip-hand. He stole a sidelong look at her, and could not repress a
smile. His features quickly composed themselves. The Triumph of Death
must not be handled as a cheap score. He wanted to die because he
would thereby so poignantly consummate his love, express it so
completely, once and for all . . . And she--who could say that she,
knowing what he had done, might not, illogically, come to love him?
Perhaps she would devote her life to mourning him. He saw her bending
over his tomb, in beautiful humble curves, under a starless sky,
watering the violets with her tears.
Shades of Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel and other despicable
maunderers! He brushed them aside. He would be practical. The point
was, when and how to die? Time: the sooner the better. Manner: . .
less easy to determine. He must not die horribly, nor without dignity.
The manner of the Roman philosophers? But the only kind of bath which
an undergraduate can command is a hip-bath. Stay! there was the river.
Drowning (he had often heard) was a rather pleasant sensation. And to
the river he was even now on his way.
It troubled him that he could swim. Twice, indeed, from his yacht, he
had swum the Hellespont. And how about the animal instinct of self-
preservation, strong even in despair? No matter! His soul's set
purpose would subdue that. The law of gravitation that brings one to
the surface? There his very skill in swimming would help him. He would
swim under water, along the river-bed, swim till he found weeds to
cling to, weird strong weeds that he would coil round him, exulting
faintly . . .
As they turned into Radcliffe Square, the Duke's ear caught the sound
of a far-distant gun. He started, and looked up at the clock of St.
Mary's. Half-past four! The boats had started.
He had heard that whenever a woman was to blame for a disappointment,
the best way to avoid a scene was to inculpate oneself. He did not
wish Zuleika to store up yet more material for penitence. And so "I am
sorry," he said. "That gun--did you hear it? It was the signal for the
race. I shall never forgive myself."
"Then we shan't see the race at all?" cried Zuleika.
"It will be over, alas, before we are near the river. All the people
will be coming back through the meadows."
"Let us meet them."
"Meet a torrent? Let us have tea in my rooms and go down quietly for
the other Division."
"Let us go straight on."
Through the square, across the High, down Grove Street, they passed.
The Duke looked up at the tower of Merton, "os oupot authis alla nyn
paunstaton." Strange that to-night it would still be standing here, in
all its sober and solid beauty--still be gazing, over the roofs and
chimneys, at the tower of Magdalen, its rightful bride. Through untold
centuries of the future it would stand thus, gaze thus. He winced.
Oxford walls have a way of belittling us; and the Duke was loth to
regard his doom as trivial.
Aye, by all minerals we are mocked. Vegetables, yearly deciduous, are
far more sympathetic. The lilac and laburnum, making lovely now the
railed pathway to Christ Church meadow, were all a-swaying and
a-nodding to the Duke as he passed by. "Adieu, adieu, your Grace,"
they were whispering. "We are very sorry for you--very sorry indeed.
We never dared suppose you would predecease us. We think your death a
very great tragedy. Adieu! Perhaps we shall meet in another world--
that is, if the members of the animal kingdom have immortal souls, as
The Duke was little versed in their language; yet, as he passed
between these gently garrulous blooms, he caught at least the drift of
their salutation, and smiled a vague but courteous acknowledgment, to
the right and the left alternately, creating a very favourable
No doubt, the young elms lining the straight way to the barges had
seen him coming; but any whispers of their leaves were lost in the
murmur of the crowd returning from the race. Here, at length, came the
torrent of which the Duke had spoken; and Zuleika's heart rose at it.
Here was Oxford! From side to side the avenue was filled with a dense
procession of youths--youths interspersed with maidens whose parasols
were as flotsam and jetsam on a seething current of straw hats.
Zuleika neither quickened nor slackened her advance. But brightlier
and brightlier shone her eyes.
The vanguard of the procession was pausing now, swaying, breaking at
sight of her. She passed, imperial, through the way cloven for her.
All a-down the avenue, the throng parted as though some great
invisible comb were being drawn through it. The few youths who had
already seen Zuleika, and by whom her beauty had been bruited
throughout the University, were lost in a new wonder, so incomparably
fairer was she than the remembered vision. And the rest hardly
recognised her from the descriptions, so incomparably fairer was the
reality than the hope.
She passed among them. None questioned the worthiness of her escort.
Could I give you better proof the awe in which our Duke was held? Any
man is glad to be seen escorting a very pretty woman. He thinks it
adds to his prestige. Whereas, in point of fact, his fellow-men are
saying merely "Who's that appalling fellow with her?" or "Why does she
go about with that ass So-and-So?" Such cavil may in part be envy. But
it is a fact that no man, howsoever graced, can shine in juxtaposition
to a very pretty woman. The Duke himself cut a poor figure beside
Zuleika. Yet not one of all the undergraduates felt she could have
made a wiser choice.
She swept among them. Her own intrinsic radiance was not all that
flashed from her. She was a moving reflector and refractor of all the
rays of all the eyes that mankind had turned on her. Her mien told the
story of her days. Bright eyes, light feet--she trod erect from a
vista whose glare was dazzling to all beholders. She swept among them,
a miracle, overwhelming, breath-bereaving. Nothing at all like her had
ever been seen in Oxford.
Mainly architectural, the beauties of Oxford. True, the place is no
longer one-sexed. There are the virguncules of Somerville and Lady
Margaret's Hall; but beauty and the lust for learning have yet to be
allied. There are the innumerable wives and daughters around the
Parks, running in and out of their little red-brick villas; but the
indignant shade of celibacy seems to have called down on the dons a
Nemesis which precludes them from either marrying beauty or begetting
it. (From the Warden's son, that unhappy curate, Zuleika inherited no
tittle of her charm. Some of it, there is no doubt, she did inherit
from the circus-rider who was her mother.)
But the casual feminine visitors? Well, the sisters and cousins of an
undergraduate seldom seem more passable to his comrades than to
himself. Altogether, the instinct of sex is not pandered to in Oxford.
It is not, however, as it may once have been, dormant. The modern
importation of samples of femininity serves to keep it alert, though
not to gratify it. A like result is achieved by another modern
development--photography. The undergraduate may, and usually does,
surround himself with photographs of pretty ladies known to the
public. A phantom harem! Yet the houris have an effect on their
sultan. Surrounded both by plain women of flesh and blood and by
beauteous women on pasteboard, the undergraduate is the easiest victim
of living loveliness--is as a fire ever well and truly laid, amenable
to a spark. And if the spark be such a flaring torch as Zuleika?--
marvel not, reader, at the conflagration.
Not only was the whole throng of youths drawing asunder before her:
much of it, as she passed, was forming up in her wake. Thus, with the
confluence of two masses--one coming away from the river, the other
returning to it--chaos seethed around her and the Duke before they
were half-way along the avenue. Behind them, and on either side of
them, the people were crushed inextricably together, swaying and
surging this way and that. "Help!" cried many a shrill feminine voice.
"Don't push!" "Let me out!" "You brute!" "Save me, save me!" Many
ladies fainted, whilst their escorts, supporting them and protecting
them as best they could, peered over the heads of their fellows for
one glimpse of the divine Miss Dobson. Yet for her and the Duke, in
the midst of the terrific compress, there was space enough. In front
of them, as by a miracle of deference, a way still cleared itself.
They reached the end of the avenue without a pause in their measured
progress. Nor even when they turned to the left, along the rather
narrow path beside the barges, was there any obstacle to their
advance. Passing evenly forward, they alone were cool, unhustled,
The Duke was so rapt in his private thoughts that he was hardly
conscious of the strange scene. And as for Zuleika, she, as well she
might be, was in the very best of good humours.
"What a lot of house-boats!" she exclaimed. "Are you going to take me
on to one of them?"
The Duke started. Already they were alongside the Judas barge. "Here,"
he said, "is our goal."
He stepped through the gate of the railings, out upon the plank, and
offered her his hand.
She looked back. The young men in the vanguard were crushing their
shoulders against the row behind them, to stay the oncoming host. She
had half a mind to go back through the midst of them; but she really
did want her tea, and she followed the Duke on to the barge, and under
his auspices climbed the steps to the roof.
It looked very cool and gay, this roof, under its awning of red and
white stripes. Nests of red and white flowers depended along either
side of it. Zuleika moved to the side which commanded a view of the
bank. She leaned her arms on the balustrade, and gazed down.
The crowd stretched as far as she could see--a vista of faces upturned
to her. Suddenly it hove forward. Its vanguard was swept irresistibly
past the barge--swept by the desire of the rest to see her at closer
quarters. Such was the impetus that the vision for each man was but a
lightning-flash: he was whirled past, struggling, almost before his
brain took the message of his eyes.
Those who were Judas men made frantic efforts to board the barge,
trying to hurl themselves through the gate in the railings; but they
were swept vainly on.
Presently the torrent began to slacken, became a mere river, a mere
procession of youths staring up rather shyly.
Before the last stragglers had marched by, Zuleika moved away to the
other side of the roof, and, after a glance at the sunlit river, sank
into one of the wicker chairs, and asked the Duke to look less
disagreeable and to give her some tea.
Among others hovering near the little buffet were the two youths whose
parley with the Duke I have recorded.
Zuleika was aware of the special persistence of their gaze. When the
Duke came back with her cup, she asked him who they were. He replied,
truthfully enough, that their names were unknown to him.
"Then," she said, "ask them their names, and introduce them to me."
"No," said the Duke, sinking into the chair beside her. "That I shall
not do. I am your victim: not your pander. Those two men stand on the
threshold of a possibly useful and agreeable career. I am not going to
trip them up for you."
"I am not sure," said Zuleika, "that you are very polite. Certainly
you are foolish. It is natural for boys to fall in love. If these two
are in love with me, why not let them talk to me? It were an
experience on which they would always look back with romantic
pleasure. They may never see me again. Why grudge them this little
thing?" She sipped her tea. "As for tripping them up on a threshold--
that is all nonsense. What harm has unrequited love ever done to
anybody?" She laughed. "Look at ME! When I came to your rooms this
morning, thinking I loved in vain, did I seem one jot the worse for
it? Did I look different?"
"You looked, I am bound to say, nobler, more spiritual."
"More spiritual?" she exclaimed. "Do you mean I looked tired or ill?"
"No, you seemed quite fresh. But then, you are singular. You are no
"You mean you can't judge those two young men by me? Well, I am only a
woman, of course. I have heard of women, no longer young, wasting away
because no man loved them. I have often heard of a young woman
fretting because some particular young man didn't love her. But I
never heard of her wasting away. Certainly a young man doesn't waste
away for love of some particular young woman. He very soon makes love
to some other one. If his be an ardent nature, the quicker his
transition. All the most ardent of my past adorers have married. Will
you put my cup down, please?"
"Past?" echoed the Duke, as he placed her cup on the floor. "Have any
of your lovers ceased to love you?"
"Ah no, no; not in retrospect. I remain their ideal, and all that, of
course. They cherish the thought of me. They see the world in terms of
me. But I am an inspiration, not an obsession; a glow, not a blight."
"You don't believe in the love that corrodes, the love that ruins?"
"No," laughed Zuleika.
"You have never dipped into the Greek pastoral poets, nor sampled the
"No, never. You will think me lamentably crude: my experience of life
has been drawn from life itself."
"Yet often you talk as though you had read rather much. Your way of
speech has what is called 'the literary flavour'."
"Ah, that is an unfortunate trick which I caught from a writer, a Mr.
Beerbohm, who once sat next to me at dinner somewhere. I can't break
myself of it. I assure you I hardly ever open a book. Of life, though,
my experience has been very wide. Brief? But I suppose the soul of man
during the past two or three years has been much as it was in the
reign of Queen Elizabeth and of--whoever it was that reigned over the
Greek pastures. And I daresay the modern poets are making the same old
silly distortions. But forgive me," she added gently, "perhaps you
yourself are a poet?"
"Only since yesterday," answered the Duke (not less unfairly to
himself than to Roger Newdigate and Thomas Gaisford). And he felt he
was especially a dramatic poet. All the while that she had been
sitting by him here, talking so glibly, looking so straight into his
eyes, flashing at him so many pretty gestures, it was the sense of
tragic irony that prevailed in him--that sense which had stirred in
him, and been repressed, on the way from Judas. He knew that she was
making her effect consciously for the other young men by whom the roof
of the barge was now thronged. Him alone she seemed to observe. By her
manner, she might have seemed to be making love to him. He envied the
men she was so deliberately making envious--the men whom, in her
undertone to him, she was really addressing. But he did take comfort
in the irony. Though she used him as a stalking-horse, he, after all,
was playing with her as a cat plays with a mouse. While she chattered
on, without an inkling that he was no ordinary lover, and coaxing him
to present two quite ordinary young men to her, he held over her the
revelation that he for love of her was about to die.
And, while he drank in the radiance of her beauty, he heard her
chattering on. "So you see," she was saying, "it couldn't do those
young men any harm. Suppose unrequited love IS anguish: isn't the
discipline wholesome? Suppose I AM a sort of furnace: shan't I purge,
refine, temper? Those two boys are but scorched from here. That is
horrid; and what good will it do them?" She laid a hand on his arm.
"Cast them into the furnace for their own sake, dear Duke! Or cast one
of them, or," she added, glancing round at the throng, "any one of
"For their own sake?" he echoed, withdrawing his arm. "If you were
not, as the whole world knows you to be, perfectly respectable, there
might be something in what you say. But as it is, you can but be an
engine for mischief; and your sophistries leave me unmoved. I shall
certainly keep you to myself."
"I hate you," said Zuleika, with an ugly petulance that crowned the
"So long as I live," uttered the Duke, in a level voice, "you will
address no man but me."
"If your prophecy is to be fulfilled," laughed Zuleika, rising from
her chair, "your last moment is at hand."
"It is," he answered, rising too.
"What do you mean?" she asked, awed by something in his tone.
"I mean what I say: that my last moment is at hand." He withdrew his
eyes from hers, and, leaning his elbows on the balustrade, gazed
thoughtfully at the river. "When I am dead," he added, over his
shoulder, "you will find these fellows rather coy of your advances."
For the first time since his avowal of his love for her, Zuleika found
herself genuinely interested in him. A suspicion of his meaning had
flashed through her soul. --But no! surely he could not mean THAT! It
must have been a metaphor merely. And yet, something in his eyes . . .
She leaned beside him. Her shoulder touched his. She gazed
questioningly at him. He did not turn his face to her. He gazed
at the sunlit river.
The Judas Eight had just embarked for their voyage to the starting-
point. Standing on the edge of the raft that makes a floating platform
for the barge, William, the hoary bargee, was pushing them off with
his boat-hook, wishing them luck with deferential familiarity. The
raft was thronged with Old Judasians--mostly clergymen--who were
shouting hearty hortations, and evidently trying not to appear so old
as they felt--or rather, not to appear so startlingly old as their
contemporaries looked to them. It occurred to the Duke as a strange
thing, and a thing to be glad of, that he, in this world, would never
be an Old Judasian. Zuleika's shoulder pressed his. He thrilled not at
all. To all intents, he was dead already.
The enormous eight young men in the thread-like skiff--the skiff that
would scarce have seemed an adequate vehicle for the tiny "cox" who
sat facing them--were staring up at Zuleika with that uniformity of
impulse which, in another direction, had enabled them to bump a boat
on two of the previous "nights." If to-night they bumped the next
boat, Univ., then would Judas be three places "up" on the river; and
to-morrow Judas would have a Bump Supper. Furthermore, if Univ. were
bumped to-night, Magdalen might be bumped to-morrow. Then would Judas,
for the first time in history, be head of the river. Oh tremulous
hope! Yet, for the moment, these eight young men seemed to have
forgotten the awful responsibility that rested on their over-developed
shoulders. Their hearts, already strained by rowing, had been
transfixed this afternoon by Eros' darts. All of them had seen Zuleika
as she came down to the river; and now they sat gaping up at her,
fumbling with their oars. The tiny cox gaped too; but he it was who
first recalled duty. With piping adjurations he brought the giants
back to their senses. The boat moved away down stream, with a fairly
Not in a day can the traditions of Oxford be sent spinning. From all
the barges the usual punt-loads of young men were being ferried across
to the towing-path--young men naked of knee, armed with rattles,
post-horns, motor-hooters, gongs, and other instruments of clangour.
Though Zuleika filled their thoughts, they hurried along the
towing-path, as by custom, to the starting-point.
She, meanwhile, had not taken her eyes off the Duke's profile. Nor had
she dared, for fear of disappointment, to ask him just what he had
"All these men," he repeated dreamily, "will be coy of your advances."
It seemed to him a good thing that his death, his awful example, would
disinfatuate his fellow alumni. He had never been conscious of public
spirit. He had lived for himself alone. Love had come to him
yesternight, and to-day had waked in him a sympathy with mankind. It
was a fine thing to be a saviour. It was splendid to be human. He
looked quickly round to her who had wrought this change in him.
But the loveliest face in all the world will not please you if you see
it suddenly, eye to eye, at a distance of half an inch from your own.
It was thus that the Duke saw Zuleika's: a monstrous deliquium
a-glare. Only for the fraction of an instant, though. Recoiling, he
beheld the loveliness that he knew--more adorably vivid now in its
look of eager questioning. And in his every fibre he thrilled to her.
Even so had she gazed at him last night, this morning. Aye, now as
then, her soul was full of him. He had recaptured, not her love, but
his power to please her. It was enough. He bowed his head; and
"Moriturus te saluto" were the words formed silently by his lips. He
was glad that his death would be a public service to the University.
But the salutary lesson of what the newspapers would call his "rash
act" was, after all, only a side-issue. The great thing, the prospect
that flushed his cheek, was the consummation of his own love, for its
own sake, by his own death. And, as he met her gaze, the question that
had already flitted through his brain found a faltering utterance; and
"Shall you mourn me?" he asked her.
But she would have no ellipses. "What are you going to do?" she
"Do you not know?"
"Once and for all: you cannot love me?"
Slowly she shook her head. The black pearl and the pink, quivering,
gave stress to her ultimatum. But the violet of her eyes was all but
hidden by the dilation of her pupils.
"Then," whispered the Duke, "when I shall have died, deeming life a
vain thing without you, will the gods give you tears for me? Miss
Dobson, will your soul awaken? When I shall have sunk for ever beneath
these waters whose supposed purpose here this afternoon is but that
they be ploughed by the blades of these young oarsmen, will there be
struck from that flint, your heart, some late and momentary spark of
pity for me?"
"Why of course, of COURSE!" babbled Zuleika, with clasped hands and
dazzling eyes. "But," she curbed herself, "it is--it would--oh, you
mustn't THINK of it! I couldn't allow it! I--I should never forgive
"In fact, you would mourn me always?"
"Why yes! . . Y-es-always." What else could she say? But would his
answer be that he dared not condemn her to lifelong torment?
"Then," his answer was, "my joy in dying for you is made perfect."
Her muscles relaxed. Her breath escaped between her teeth. "You are
utterly resolved?" she asked. "Are you?"
"Nothing I might say could change your purpose?"
"No entreaty, howsoever piteous, could move you?"
Forthwith she urged, entreated, cajoled, commanded, with infinite
prettiness of ingenuity and of eloquence. Never was such a cascade of
dissuasion as hers. She only didn't say she could love him. She never
hinted that. Indeed, throughout her pleading rang this recurrent
motif: that he must live to take to himself as mate some good,
serious, clever woman who would be a not unworthy mother of his
She laid stress on his youth, his great position, his brilliant
attainments, the much he had already achieved, the splendid
possibilities of his future. Though of course she spoke in undertones,
not to be overheard by the throng on the barge, it was almost as
though his health were being floridly proposed at some public banquet
--say, at a Tenants' Dinner. Insomuch that, when she ceased, the Duke
half expected Jellings, his steward, to bob up uttering, with lifted
hands, a stentorian "For-or," and all the company to take up the
chant: "he's--a jolly good fellow." His brief reply, on those
occasions, seemed always to indicate that, whatever else he might be,
a jolly good fellow he was not. But by Zuleika's eulogy he really was
touched. "Thank you--thank you," he gasped; and there were tears in
his eyes. Dear the thought that she so revered him, so wished him not
to die. But this was no more than a rush-light in the austere radiance
of his joy in dying for her.
And the time was come. Now for the sacrament of his immersion in
"Good-bye," he said simply, and was about to swing himself on to the
ledge of the balustrade. Zuleika, divining his intention, made way for
him. Her bosom heaved quickly, quickly. All colour had left her face;
but her eyes shone as never before.
Already his foot was on the ledge, when hark! the sound of a distant
gun. To Zuleika, with all the chords of her soul strung to the utmost
tensity, the effect was as if she herself had been shot; and she
clutched at the Duke's arm, like a frightened child. He laughed. "It
was the signal for the race," he said, and laughed again, rather
bitterly, at the crude and trivial interruption of high matters.
"The race?" She laughed hysterically.
"Yes. 'They're off'." He mingled his laughter with hers, gently
seeking to disengage his arm. "And perhaps," he said, "I, clinging to
the weeds of the river's bed, shall see dimly the boats and the oars
pass over me, and shall be able to gurgle a cheer for Judas."
"Don't!" she shuddered, with a woman's notion that a jest means
levity. A tumult of thoughts surged in her, all confused. She only
knew that he must not die--not yet! A moment ago, his death would have
been beautiful. Not now! Her grip of his arm tightened. Only by
breaking her wrist could he have freed himself. A moment ago, she had
been in the seventh-heaven . . . Men were supposed to have died for
love of her. It had never been proved. There had always been
something--card-debts, ill-health, what not--to account for the
tragedy. No man, to the best of her recollection, had ever hinted that
he was going to die for her. Never, assuredly, had she seen the deed
done. And then came he, the first man she had loved, going to die
here, before her eyes, because she no longer loved him. But she knew
now that he must not die--not yet!
All around her was the hush that falls on Oxford when the signal for
the race has sounded. In the distance could be heard faintly the noise
of cheering--a little sing-song sound, drawing nearer.
Ah, how could she have thought of letting him die so soon? She gazed
into his face--the face she might never have seen again. Even now, but
for that gun-shot, the waters would have closed over him, and his
soul, maybe, have passed away. She had saved him, thank heaven! She
had him still with her.
Gently, vainly, he still sought to unclasp her fingers from his arm.
"Not now!" she whispered. "Not yet!"
And the noise of the cheering, and of the trumpeting and rattling, as
it drew near, was an accompaniment to her joy in having saved her
lover. She would keep him with her--for a while! Let all be done in
order. She would savour the full sweetness of his sacrifice.
Tomorrow--to-morrow, yes, let him have his heart's desire of death.
Not now! Not yet!
"To-morrow," she whispered, "to-morrow, if you will. Not yet!"
The first boat came jerking past in mid-stream; and the towing-path,
with its serried throng of runners, was like a live thing, keeping
pace. As in a dream, Zuleika saw it. And the din was in her ears. No
heroine of Wagner had ever a louder accompaniment than had ours to the
surging soul within her bosom.
And the Duke, tightly held by her, vibrated as to a powerful electric
current. He let her cling to him, and her magnetism range through him.
Ah, it was good not to have died! Fool, he had meant to drain off-
hand, at one coarse draught, the delicate wine of death. He would let
his lips caress the brim of the august goblet. He would dally with the
aroma that was there.
"So be it!" he cried into Zuleika's ear--cried loudly, for it seemed
as though all the Wagnerian orchestras of Europe, with the Straussian
ones thrown in, were here to clash in unison the full volume of right
music for the glory of the reprieve.
The fact was that the Judas boat had just bumped Univ., exactly
opposite the Judas barge. The oarsmen in either boat sat humped,
panting, some of them rocking and writhing, after their wholesome
exercise. But there was not one of them whose eyes were not upcast at
Zuleika. And the vocalisation and instrumentation of the dancers and
stampers on the towing-path had by this time ceased to mean aught of
joy in the victors or of comfort for the vanquished, and had resolved
itself into a wild wordless hymn to the glory of Miss Dobson. Behind
her and all around her on the roof of the barge, young Judasians were
venting in like manner their hearts through their lungs. She paid no
heed. It was as if she stood alone with her lover on some silent
pinnacle of the world. It was as if she were a little girl with a
brand-new and very expensive doll which had banished all the little
other old toys from her mind.
She simply could not, in her naive rapture, take her eyes off her
companion. To the dancers and stampers of the towing-path, many of
whom were now being ferried back across the river, and to the other
youths on the roof of the barge, Zuleika's air of absorption must have
seemed a little strange. For already the news that the Duke loved
Zuleika, and that she loved him not, and would stoop to no man who
loved her, had spread like wild-fire among the undergraduates. The two
youths in whom the Duke had deigned to confide had not held their
peace. And the effect that Zuleika had made as she came down to the
river was intensified by the knowledge that not the great paragon
himself did she deem worthy of her. The mere sight of her had captured
young Oxford. The news of her supernal haughtiness had riveted the
"Come!" said the Duke at length, staring around him with the eyes of
one awakened from a dream. "Come! I must take you back to Judas."
"But you won't leave me there?" pleaded Zuleika. "You will stay to
dinner? I am sure my grandfather would be delighted."
"I am sure he would," said the Duke, as he piloted her down the steps
of the barge. "But alas, I have to dine at the Junta to-night."
"The Junta? What is that?"
"A little dining-club. It meets every Tuesday."
"But--you don't mean you are going to refuse me for that?"
"To do so is misery. But I have no choice. I have asked a guest."
"Then ask another: ask me!" Zuleika's notions of Oxford life were
rather hazy. It was with difficulty that the Duke made her realise
that he could not--not even if, as she suggested, she dressed herself
up as a man--invite her to the Junta. She then fell back on the
impossibility that he would not dine with her to-night, his last night
in this world. She could not understand that admirable fidelity to
social engagements which is one of the virtues implanted in the
members of our aristocracy. Bohemian by training and by career, she
construed the Duke's refusal as either a cruel slight to herself or an
act of imbecility. The thought of being parted from her for one moment
was torture to him; but "noblesse oblige," and it was quite impossible
for him to break an engagement merely because a more charming one
offered itself: he would as soon have cheated at cards.
And so, as they went side by side up the avenue, in the mellow light
of the westering sun, preceded in their course, and pursued, and
surrounded, by the mob of hoarse infatuate youths, Zuleika's face was
as that of a little girl sulking. Vainly the Duke reasoned with her.
She could NOT see the point of view.
With that sudden softening that comes to the face of an angry woman
who has hit on a good argument, she turned to him and asked "How if I
hadn't saved your life just now? Much you thought about your guest
when you were going to dive and die!"
"I did not forget him," answered the Duke, smiling at her casuistry.
"Nor had I any scruple in disappointing him. Death cancels all
And Zuleika, worsted, resumed her sulking. But presently, as they
neared Judas, she relented. It was paltry to be cross with him who had
resolved to die for her and was going to die so on the morrow. And
after all, she would see him at the concert to-night. They would sit
together. And all to-morrow they would be together, till the time came
for parting. Hers was a naturally sunny disposition. And the evening
was such a lovely one, all bathed in gold. She was ashamed of her
"Forgive me," she said, touching his arm. "Forgive me for being
horrid." And forgiven she promptly was. "And promise you will spend
all to-morrow with me." And of course he promised.
As they stood together on the steps of the Warden's front-door,
exalted above the level of the flushed and swaying crowd that filled
the whole length and breadth of Judas Street, she implored him not to
be late for the concert.
"I am never late," he smiled.
"Ah, you're so beautifully brought up!"
The door was opened.
"And--oh, you're beautiful besides!" she whispered; and waved her hand
to him as she vanished into the hall.
A few minutes before half-past seven, the Duke, arrayed for dinner,
passed leisurely up the High. The arresting feature of his costume was
a mulberry-coloured coat, with brass buttons. This, to any one versed
in Oxford lore, betokened him a member of the Junta. It is awful to
think that a casual stranger might have mistaken him for a footman. It
does not do to think of such things.
The tradesmen, at the doors of their shops, bowed low as he passed,
rubbing their hands and smiling, hoping inwardly that they took no
liberty in sharing the cool rosy air of the evening with his Grace.
They noted that he wore in his shirt-front a black pearl and a pink.
"Daring, but becoming," they opined.
The rooms of the Junta were over a stationer's shop, next door but one
to the Mitre. They were small rooms; but as the Junta had now, besides
the Duke, only two members, and as no member might introduce more than
one guest, there was ample space.
The Duke had been elected in his second term. At that time there were
four members; but these were all leaving Oxford at the end of the
summer term, and there seemed to be in the ranks of the Bullingdon and
the Loder no one quite eligible for the Junta, that holy of holies.
Thus it was that the Duke inaugurated in solitude his second year of
membership. From time to time, he proposed and seconded a few
candidates, after "sounding" them as to whether they were willing to
join. But always, when election evening--the last Tuesday of term--
drew near, he began to have his doubts about these fellows. This one
was "rowdy"; that one was over-dressed; another did not ride quite
straight to hounds; in the pedigree of another a bar-sinister was more
than suspected. Election evening was always a rather melancholy time.
After dinner, when the two club servants had placed on the mahogany
the time-worn Candidates' Book and the ballot-box, and had noiselessly
withdrawn, the Duke, clearing his throat, read aloud to himself "Mr.
So-and-So, of Such-and-Such College, proposed by the Duke of Dorset,
seconded by the Duke of Dorset," and, in every case, when he drew out
the drawer of the ballot-box, found it was a black-ball that he had
dropped into the urn. Thus it was that at the end of the summer term
the annual photographic "group" taken by Messrs. Hills and Saunders
was a presentment of the Duke alone.
In the course of his third year he had become less exclusive. Not
because there seemed to be any one really worthy of the Junta; but
because the Junta, having thriven since the eighteenth century, must
not die. Suppose--one never knew--he were struck by lightning, the
Junta would be no more. So, not without reluctance, but unanimously,
he had elected The MacQuern, of Balliol, and Sir John Marraby, of
To-night, as he, a doomed man, went up into the familiar rooms, he was
wholly glad that he had thus relented. As yet, he was spared the
tragic knowledge that it would make no difference.*
* The Junta has been reconstituted. But the apostolic line was
broken, the thread was snapped; the old magic is fled.
The MacQuern and two other young men were already there.
"Mr. President," said The MacQuern, "I present Mr. Trent-Garby, of
"The Junta is honoured," said the Duke, bowing.
Such was the ritual of the club.
The other young man, because his host, Sir John Marraby, was not yet
on the scene, had no locus standi, and, though a friend of The
MacQuern, and well known to the Duke, had to be ignored.
A moment later, Sir John arrived. "Mr. President," he said, "I present
Lord Sayes, of Magdalen."
"The Junta is honoured," said the Duke, bowing.
Both hosts and both guests, having been prominent in the throng that
vociferated around Zuleika an hour earlier, were slightly abashed in
the Duke's presence. He, however, had not noticed any one in
particular, and, even if he had, that fine tradition of the club--"A
member of the Junta can do no wrong; a guest of the Junta cannot
err"--would have prevented him from showing his displeasure.
A Herculean figure filled the doorway.
"The Junta is honoured," said the Duke, bowing to his guest.
"Duke," said the newcomer quietly, "the honour is as much mine as that
of the interesting and ancient institution which I am this night
privileged to inspect."
Turning to Sir John and The MacQuern, the Duke said "I present Mr.
Abimelech V. Oover, of Trinity."
"The Junta," they replied, "is honoured."
"Gentlemen," said the Rhodes Scholar, "your good courtesy is just such
as I would have anticipated from members of the ancient Junta. Like
most of my countrymen, I am a man of few words. We are habituated out
there to act rather than talk. Judged from the view-point of your
beautiful old civilisation, I am aware my curtness must seem crude.
But, gentlemen, believe me, right here--"
"Dinner is served, your Grace."
Thus interrupted, Mr. Oover, with the resourcefulness of a practised
orator, brought his thanks to a quick but not abrupt conclusion. The
little company passed into the front room.
Through the window, from the High, fading daylight mingled with the
candle-light. The mulberry coats of the hosts, interspersed by the
black ones of the guests, made a fine pattern around the oval table
a-gleam with the many curious pieces of gold and silver plate that had
accrued to the Junta in course of years.
The President showed much deference to his guest. He seemed to listen
with close attention to the humorous anecdote with which, in the
American fashion, Mr. Oover inaugurated dinner.
To all Rhodes Scholars, indeed, his courtesy was invariable. He went
out of his way to cultivate them. And this he did more as a favour to
Lord Milner than of his own caprice. He found these Scholars, good
fellows though they were, rather oppressive. They had not--how could
they have?--the undergraduate's virtue of taking Oxford as a matter of
course. The Germans loved it too little, the Colonials too much. The
Americans were, to a sensitive observer, the most troublesome--as
being the most troubled--of the whole lot. The Duke was not one of
those Englishmen who fling, or care to hear flung, cheap sneers at
America. Whenever any one in his presence said that America was not
large in area, he would firmly maintain that it was. He held, too, in
his enlightened way, that Americans have a perfect right to exist. But
he did often find himself wishing Mr. Rhodes had not enabled them to
exercise that right in Oxford. They were so awfully afraid of having
their strenuous native characters undermined by their delight in the
place. They held that the future was theirs, a glorious asset, far
more glorious than the past. But a theory, as the Duke saw, is one
thing, an emotion another. It is so much easier to covet what one
hasn't than to revel in what one has. Also, it is so much easier to be
enthusiastic about what exists than about what doesn't. The future
doesn't exist. The past does. For, whereas all men can learn, the gift
of prophecy has died out. A man cannot work up in his breast any real
excitement about what possibly won't happen. He cannot very well help
being sentimentally interested in what he knows has happened. On the
other hand, he owes a duty to his country. And, if his country be
America, he ought to try to feel a vivid respect for the future, and a
cold contempt for the past. Also, if he be selected by his country as
a specimen of the best moral, physical, and intellectual type that she
can produce for the astounding of the effete foreigner, and
incidentally for the purpose of raising that foreigner's tone, he
must--mustn't he?--do his best to astound, to exalt. But then comes in
this difficulty. Young men don't like to astound and exalt their
fellows. And Americans, individually, are of all people the most
anxious to please. That they talk overmuch is often taken as a sign of
self-satisfaction. It is merely a mannerism. Rhetoric is a thing
inbred in them. They are quite unconscious of it. It is as natural to
them as breathing. And, while they talk on, they really do believe
that they are a quick, businesslike people, by whom things are "put
through" with an almost brutal abruptness. This notion of theirs is
rather confusing to the patient English auditor.
Altogether, the American Rhodes Scholars, with their splendid native
gift of oratory, and their modest desire to please, and their not less
evident feeling that they ought merely to edify, and their constant
delight in all that of Oxford their English brethren don't notice, and
their constant fear that they are being corrupted, are a noble, rather
than a comfortable, element in the social life of the University. So,
at least, they seemed to the Duke.
And to-night, but that he had invited Oover to dine with him, he could
have been dining with Zuleika. And this was his last dinner on earth.
Such thoughts made him the less able to take pleasure in his guest.
Perfect, however, the amenity of his manner.
This was the more commendable because Oover's "aura" was even more
disturbing than that of the average Rhodes Scholar. To-night, besides
the usual conflicts in this young man's bosom, raged a special one
between his desire to behave well and his jealousy of the man who had
to-day been Miss Dobson's escort. In theory he denied the Duke's right
to that honour. In sentiment he admitted it. Another conflict, you
see. And another. He longed to orate about the woman who had his
heart; yet she was the one topic that must be shirked.
The MacQuern and Mr. Trent-Garby, Sir John Marraby and Lord Sayes,
they too--though they were no orators--would fain have unpacked
their hearts in words about Zuleika. They spoke of this and that,
automatically, none listening to another--each man listening, wide-
eyed, to his own heart's solo on the Zuleika theme, and drinking
rather more champagne than was good for him. Maybe, these youths sowed
in themselves, on this night, the seeds of lifelong intemperance. We
cannot tell. They did not live long enough for us to know.
While the six dined, a seventh, invisible to them, leaned moodily
against the mantel-piece, watching them. He was not of their time. His
long brown hair was knotted in a black riband behind. He wore a pale
brocaded coat and lace ruffles, silken stockings, a sword. Privy to
their doom, he watched them. He was loth that his Junta must die. Yes,
his. Could the diners have seen him, they would have known him by his
resemblance to the mezzotint portrait that hung on the wall above him.
They would have risen to their feet in presence of Humphrey Greddon,
founder and first president of the club.
His face was not so oval, nor were his eyes so big, nor his lips so
full, nor his hands so delicate, as they appeared in the mezzotint.
Yet (bating the conventions of eighteenth-century portraiture) the
likeness was a good one. Humphrey Greddon was not less well-knit and
graceful than the painter had made him, and, hard though the lines of
the face were, there was about him a certain air of high romance that
could not be explained away by the fact that he was of a period not
our own. You could understand the great love that Nellie O'Mora had
Under the mezzotint hung Hoppner's miniature of that lovely and ill-
starred girl, with her soft dark eyes, and her curls all astray from
beneath her little blue turban. And the Duke was telling Mr. Oover her
story--how she had left her home for Humphrey Greddon when she was but
sixteen, and he an undergraduate at Christ Church; and had lived for
him in a cottage at Littlemore, whither he would ride, most days, to
be with her; and how he tired of her, broke his oath that he would
marry her, thereby broke her heart; and how she drowned herself in a
mill-pond; and how Greddon was killed in Venice, two years later,
duelling on the Riva Schiavoni with a Senator whose daughter he had
And he, Greddon, was not listening very attentively to the tale. He
had heard it told so often in this room, and he did not understand the
sentiments of the modern world. Nellie had been a monstrous pretty
creature. He had adored her, and had done with her. It was right that
she should always be toasted after dinner by the Junta, as in the days
when first he loved her--"Here's to Nellie O'Mora, the fairest witch
that ever was or will be!" He would have resented the omission of that
toast. But he was sick of the pitying, melting looks that were always
cast towards her miniature. Nellie had been beautiful, but, by God!
she was always a dunce and a simpleton. How could he have spent his
life with her? She was a fool, by God! not to marry that fool Trailby,
of Merton, whom he took to see her.
Mr. Oover's moral tone, and his sense of chivalry, were of the
American kind: far higher than ours, even, and far better expressed.
Whereas the English guests of the Junta, when they heard the tale of
Nellie O'Mora, would merely murmur "Poor girl!" or "What a shame!" Mr.
Oover said in a tone of quiet authority that compelled Greddon's ear
"Duke, I hope I am not incognisant of the laws that govern the
relations of guest and host. But, Duke, I aver deliberately that the
founder of this fine old club; at which you are so splendidly
entertaining me to-night, was an unmitigated scoundrel. I say he was
not a white man."
At the word "scoundrel," Humphrey Greddon had sprung forward, drawing
his sword, and loudly, in a voice audible to himself alone, challenged
the American to make good his words. Then, as this gentleman took no
notice, with one clean straight thrust Greddon ran him through the
heart, shouting "Die, you damned psalm-singer and traducer! And so die
all rebels against King George!"* Withdrawing the blade, he wiped it
daintily on his cambric handkerchief. There was no blood. Mr. Oover,
with unpunctured shirt-front, was repeating "I say he was not a white
man." And Greddon remembered himself--remembered he was only a ghost,
impalpable, impotent, of no account. "But I shall meet you in Hell
to-morrow," he hissed in Oover's face. And there he was wrong. It is
quite certain that Oover went to Heaven.
* As Edward VII. was at this time on the throne, it must have been
to George III. that Mr. Greddon was referring.
Unable to avenge himself, Greddon had looked to the Duke to act for
him. When he saw that this young man did but smile at Oover and make a
vague deprecatory gesture, he again, in his wrath, forgot his
disabilities. Drawing himself to his full height, he took with great
deliberation a pinch of snuff, and, bowing low to the Duke, said "I am
vastly obleeged to your Grace for the fine high Courage you have
exhibited in the behalf of your most Admiring, most Humble Servant."
Then, having brushed away a speck of snuff from his jabot, he turned
on his heel; and only in the doorway, where one of the club servants,
carrying a decanter in each hand, walked straight through him, did he
realise that he had not spoilt the Duke's evening. With a volley of
the most appalling eighteenth-century oaths, he passed back into the
To the Duke, Nellie O'Mora had never been a very vital figure. He had
often repeated the legend of her. But, having never known what love
was, he could not imagine her rapture or her anguish. Himself the
quarry of all Mayfair's wise virgins, he had always--so far as he
thought of the matter at all--suspected that Nellie's death was due to
thwarted ambition. But to-night, while he told Oover about her, he
could see into her soul. Nor did he pity her. She had loved. She had
known the one thing worth living for--and dying for. She, as she went
down to the mill-pond, had felt just that ecstasy of self-sacrifice
which he himself had felt to-day and would feel to-morrow. And for a
while, too--for a full year--she had known the joy of being loved, had
been for Greddon "the fairest witch that ever was or will be." He
could not agree with Oover's long disquisition on her sufferings. And,
glancing at her well-remembered miniature, he wondered just what it
was in her that had captivated Greddon. He was in that blest state
when a man cannot believe the earth has been trodden by any really
beautiful or desirable lady save the lady of his own heart.
The moment had come for the removal of the table-cloth. The mahogany
of the Junta was laid bare--a clear dark lake, anon to reflect in its
still and ruddy depths the candelabras and the fruit-cradles, the
slender glasses and the stout old decanters, the forfeit-box and the
snuff-box, and other paraphernalia of the dignity of dessert. Lucidly,
and unwaveringly inverted in the depths these good things stood; and,
so soon as the wine had made its circuit, the Duke rose and with
uplifted glass proposed the first of the two toasts traditional to the
Junta. "Gentlemen, I give you Church and State."
The toast having been honoured by all--and by none with a richer
reverence than by Oover, despite his passionate mental reservation in
favour of Pittsburg-Anabaptism and the Republican Ideal--the snuff-box
was handed round, and fruit was eaten.
Presently, when the wine had gone round again, the Duke rose and with
uplifted glass said "Gentlemen, I give you--" and there halted.
Silent, frowning, flushed, he stood for a few moments, and then, with
a deliberate gesture, tilted his glass and let fall the wine to the
carpet. "No," he said, looking round the table, "I cannot give you
"Why not?" gasped Sir John Marraby.
"You have a right to ask that," said the Duke, still standing. "I can
only say that my conscience is stronger than my sense of what is due
to the customs of the club. Nellie O'Mora," he said, passing his hand
over his brow, "may have been in her day the fairest witch that ever
was--so fair that our founder had good reason to suppose her the
fairest witch that ever would be. But his prediction was a false one.
So at least it seems to me. Of course I cannot both hold this view and
remain President of this club. MacQuern--Marraby--which of you is
"He is," said Marraby.
"Then, MacQuern, you are hereby President, vice myself resigned. Take
the chair and propose the toast."
"I would rather not," said The MacQuern after a pause.
"Then, Marraby, YOU must."
"Not I!" said Marraby.
"Why is this?" asked the Duke, looking from one to the other.
The MacQuern, with Scotch caution, was silent. But the impulsive
Marraby--Madcap Marraby, as they called him in B.N.C.--said "It's
because I won't lie!" and, leaping up, raised his glass aloft and
cried "I give you Zuleika Dobson, the fairest witch that ever was or
Mr. Oover, Lord Sayes, Mr. Trent-Garby, sprang to their feet; The
MacQuern rose to his. "Zuleika Dobson!" they cried, and drained their
Then, when they had resumed their seats, came an awkward pause. The
Duke, still erect beside the chair he had vacated, looked very grave
and pale. Marraby had taken an outrageous liberty. But "a member of
the Junta can do no wrong," and the liberty could not be resented. The
Duke felt that the blame was on himself, who had elected Marraby to
Mr. Oover, too, looked grave. All the antiquarian in him deplored the
sudden rupture of a fine old Oxford tradition. All the chivalrous
American in him resented the slight on that fair victim of the feudal
system, Miss O'Mora. And, at the same time, all the Abimelech V. in
him rejoiced at having honoured by word and act the one woman in the
Gazing around at the flushed faces and heaving shirt-fronts of the
diners, the Duke forgot Marraby's misdemeanour. What mattered far more
to him was that here were five young men deeply under the spell of
Zuleika. They must be saved, if possible. He knew how strong his
influence was in the University. He knew also how strong was
Zuleika's. He had not much hope of the issue. But his new-born sense
of duty to his fellows spurred him on. "Is there," he asked with a
bitter smile, "any one of you who doesn't with his whole heart love
Nobody held up a hand.
"As I feared," said the Duke, knowing not that if a hand had been held
up he would have taken it as a personal insult. No man really in love
can forgive another for not sharing his ardour. His jealousy for
himself when his beloved prefers another man is hardly a stronger
passion than his jealousy for her when she is not preferred to all
"You know her only by sight--by repute?" asked the Duke. They
signified that this was so. "I wish you would introduce me to her,"
"You are all coming to the Judas concert tonight?" the Duke asked,
ignoring Marraby. "You have all secured tickets?" They nodded. "To
hear me play, or to see Miss Dobson?" There was a murmur of "Both--
both." "And you would all of you, like Marraby, wish to be presented
to this lady?" Their eyes dilated. "That way happiness lies, think
"Oh, happiness be hanged!" said Marraby.
To the Duke this seemed a profoundly sane remark--an epitome of his
own sentiments. But what was right for himself was not right for all.
He believed in convention as the best way for average mankind. And so,
slowly, calmly, he told to his fellow-diners just what he had told a
few hours earlier to those two young men in Salt Cellar. Not knowing
that his words had already been spread throughout Oxford, he was
rather surprised that they seemed to make no sensation. Quite flat,
too, fell his appeal that the syren be shunned by all.
Mr. Oover, during his year of residence, had been sorely tried by the
quaint old English custom of not making public speeches after private
dinners. It was with a deep sigh of satisfaction that he now rose to
"Duke," he said in a low voice, which yet penetrated to every corner
of the room, "I guess I am voicing these gentlemen when I say that
your words show up your good heart, all the time. Your mentality, too,
is bully, as we all predicate. One may say without exaggeration that
your scholarly and social attainments are a by-word throughout the
solar system, and be-yond. We rightly venerate you as our boss. Sir,
we worship the ground you walk on. But we owe a duty to our own free
and independent manhood. Sir, we worship the ground Miss Z. Dobson
treads on. We have pegged out a claim right there. And from that
location we aren't to be budged--not for bob-nuts. We asseverate we
squat--where--we--squat, come--what--will. You say we have no chance
to win Miss Z. Dobson. That--we--know. We aren't worthy. We lie prone.
Let her walk over us. You say her heart is cold. We don't pro-fess we
can take the chill off. But, Sir, we can't be diverted out of loving
her--not even by you, Sir. No, Sir! We love her, and--shall, and--
will, Sir, with--our--latest breath."
This peroration evoked loud applause. "I love her, and shall, and
will," shouted each man. And again they honoured in wine her image.
Sir John Marraby uttered a cry familiar in the hunting-field. The
MacQuern contributed a few bars of a sentimental ballad in the dialect
of his country. "Hurrah, hurrah!" shouted Mr. Trent-Garby. Lord Sayes
hummed the latest waltz, waving his arms to its rhythm, while the wine
he had just spilt on his shirt-front trickled unheeded to his
waistcoat. Mr. Oover gave the Yale cheer.
The genial din was wafted down through the open window to the passers-
by. The wine-merchant across the way heard it, and smiled pensively.
"Youth, youth!" he murmured.
The genial din grew louder.
At any other time, the Duke would have been jarred by the disgrace to
the Junta. But now, as he stood with bent head, covering his face with
his hands, he thought only of the need to rid these young men, here
and now, of the influence that had befallen them. To-morrow his tragic
example might be too late, the mischief have sunk too deep, the agony
be life-long. His good breeding forbade him to cast over a dinner-
table the shadow of his death. His conscience insisted that he must.
He uncovered his face, and held up one hand for silence.
"We are all of us," he said, "old enough to remember vividly the
demonstrations made in the streets of London when war was declared
between us and the Transvaal Republic. You, Mr. Oover, doubtless heard
in America the echoes of those ebullitions. The general idea was that
the war was going to be a very brief and simple affair--what was
called 'a walk-over.' To me, though I was only a small boy, it seemed
that all this delirious pride in the prospect of crushing a trumpery
foe argued a defect in our sense of proportion. Still, I was able to
understand the demonstrators' point of view. To 'the giddy vulgar' any
sort of victory is pleasant. But defeat? If, when that war was
declared, every one had been sure that not only should we fail to
conquer the Transvaal, but that IT would conquer US--that not only
would it make good its freedom and independence, but that we should
forfeit ours--how would the cits have felt then? Would they not have
pulled long faces, spoken in whispers, wept? You must forgive me for
saying that the noise you have just made around this table was very
like to the noise made on the verge of the Boer War. And your
procedure seems to me as unaccountable as would have seemed the
antics of those mobs if England had been plainly doomed to disaster
and to vassalage. My guest here to-night, in the course of his very
eloquent and racy speech, spoke of the need that he and you should
preserve your 'free and independent manhood.' That seemed to me an
irreproachable ideal. But I confess I was somewhat taken aback by my
friend's scheme for realising it. He declared his intention of lying
prone and letting Miss Dobson 'walk over' him; and he advised you to
follow his example; and to this counsel you gave evident approval.
Gentlemen, suppose that on the verge of the aforesaid war, some orator
had said to the British people 'It is going to be a walk-over for our
enemy in the field. Mr. Kruger holds us in the hollow of his hand.
In subjection to him we shall find our long-lost freedom and
independence'--what would have been Britannia's answer? What, on
reflection, is yours to Mr. Oover? What are Mr. Oover's own second
thoughts?" The Duke paused, with a smile to his guest.
"Go right ahead, Duke," said Mr. Oover. "I'll re-ply when my turn
"And not utterly demolish me, I hope," said the Duke. His was the
Oxford manner. "Gentlemen," he continued, "is it possible that
Britannia would have thrown her helmet in the air, shrieking 'Slavery
for ever'? You, gentlemen, seem to think slavery a pleasant and an
honourable state. You have less experience of it than I. I have been
enslaved to Miss Dobson since yesterday evening; you, only since this
afternoon; I, at close quarters; you, at a respectful distance. Your
fetters have not galled you yet. MY wrists, MY ankles, are excoriated.
The iron has entered into my soul. I droop. I stumble. Blood flows
from me. I quiver and curse. I writhe. The sun mocks me. The moon
titters in my face. I can stand it no longer. I will no more of it.
Tomorrow I die."
The flushed faces of the diners grew gradually pale. Their eyes lost
lustre. Their tongues clove to the roofs of their mouths.
At length, almost inaudibly, The MacQuern asked "Do you mean you are
going to commit suicide?"
"Yes," said the Duke, "if you choose to put it in that way. Yes. And
it is only by a chance that I did not commit suicide this afternoon."
"You--don't--say," gasped Mr. Oover.
"I do indeed," said the Duke. "And I ask you all to weigh well my
"But--but does Miss Dobson know?" asked Sir John.
"Oh yes," was the reply. "Indeed, it was she who persuaded me not to
die till to-morrow."
"But--but," faltered Lord Sayes, "I saw her saying good-bye to you in
Judas Street. And--and she looked quite--as if nothing had happened."
"Nothing HAD happened," said the Duke. "And she was very much pleased
to have me still with her. But she isn't so cruel as to hinder me from
dying for her to-morrow. I don't think she exactly fixed the hour. It
shall be just after the Eights have been rowed. An earlier death would
mark in me a lack of courtesy to that contest . . . It seems strange
to you that I should do this thing? Take warning by me. Muster all
your will-power, and forget Miss Dobson. Tear up your tickets for the
concert. Stay here and play cards. Play high. Or rather, go back to
your various Colleges, and speed the news I have told you. Put all
Oxford on its guard against this woman who can love no lover. Let all
Oxford know that I, Dorset, who had so much reason to love life--I,
the nonpareil--am going to die for the love I bear this woman. And let
no man think I go unwilling. I am no lamb led to the slaughter. I am
priest as well as victim. I offer myself up with a pious joy. But
enough of this cold Hebraism! It is ill-attuned to my soul's mood.
Self-sacrifice--bah! Regard me as a voluptuary. I am that. All my
baffled ardour speeds me to the bosom of Death. She is gentle and
wanton. She knows I could never have loved her for her own sake. She
has no illusions about me. She knows well I come to her because not
otherwise may I quench my passion."
There was a long silence. The Duke, looking around at the bent heads
and drawn mouths of his auditors, saw that his words had gone home. It
was Marraby who revealed how powerfully home they had gone.
"Dorset," he said huskily, "I shall die too."
The Duke flung up his hands, staring wildly.
"I stand in with that," said Mr. Oover.
"So do I!" said Lord Sayes. "And I!" said Mr. Trent-Garby; "And I!"
The Duke found voice. "Are you mad?" he asked, clutching at his
throat. "Are you all mad?"
"No, Duke," said Mr. Oover. "Or, if we are, you have no right to be at
large. You have shown us the way. We--take it."
"Just so," said The MacQuern, stolidly.
"Listen, you fools," cried the Duke. But through the open window came
the vibrant stroke of some clock. He wheeled round, plucked out his
watch--nine!--the concert!--his promise not to be late!--Zuleika!
All other thoughts vanished. In an instant he dodged beneath the sash
of the window. From the flower-box he sprang to the road beneath. (The
facade of the house is called, to this day, Dorset's Leap.) Alighting
with the legerity of a cat, he swerved leftward in the recoil, and was
off, like a streak of mulberry-coloured lightning, down the High.
The other men had rushed to the window, fearing the worst. "No," cried
Oover. "That's all right. Saves time!" and he raised himself on to the
window-box. It splintered under his weight. He leapt heavily but well,
followed by some uprooted geraniums. Squaring his shoulders, he threw
back his head, and doubled down the slope.
There was a violent jostle between the remaining men. The MacQuern
cannily got out of it, and rushed downstairs. He emerged at the front-
door just after Marraby touched ground. The Baronet's left ankle had
twisted under him. His face was drawn with pain as he hopped down the
High on his right foot, fingering his ticket for the concert. Next
leapt Lord Sayes. And last of all leapt Mr. Trent-Garby, who, catching
his foot in the ruined flower-box, fell headlong, and was, I regret to
say, killed. Lord Sayes passed Sir John in a few paces. The MacQuern
overtook Mr. Oover at St. Mary's and outstripped him in Radcliffe
Square. The Duke came in an easy first.
Across the Front Quadrangle, heedless of the great crowd to right and
left, Dorset rushed. Up the stone steps to the Hall he bounded, and
only on the Hall's threshold was he brought to a pause. The doorway
was blocked by the backs of youths who had by hook and crook secured
standing-room. The whole scene was surprisingly unlike that of the
average College concert.
"Let me pass," said the Duke, rather breathlessly. "Thank you. Make
way please. Thanks." And with quick-pulsing heart he made his way down
the aisle to the front row. There awaited him a surprise that was like
a douche of cold water full in his face. Zuleika was not there! It had
never occurred to him that she herself might not be punctual.
The Warden was there, reading his programme with an air of great
solemnity. "Where," asked the Duke, "is your grand-daughter?" His tone
was as of a man saying "If she is dead, don't break it gently to me."
"My grand-daughter?" said the Warden. "Ah, Duke, good evening."
"She's not ill?"
"Oh no, I think not. She said something about changing the dress she
wore at dinner. She will come." And the Warden thanked his young
friend for the great kindness he had shown to Zuleika. He hoped the
Duke had not let her worry him with her artless prattle. "She seems to
be a good, amiable girl," he added, in his detached way.
Sitting beside him, the Duke looked curiously at the venerable
profile, as at a mummy's. To think that this had once been a man! To
think that his blood flowed in the veins of Zuleika! Hitherto the Duke
had seen nothing grotesque in him--had regarded him always as a
dignified specimen of priest and scholar. Such a life as the Warden's,
year following year in ornamental seclusion from the follies and
fusses of the world, had to the Duke seemed rather admirable and
enviable. Often he himself had (for a minute or so) meditated taking a
fellowship at All Souls and spending here in Oxford the greater part
of his life. He had never been young, and it never had occurred to him
that the Warden had been young once. To-night he saw the old man in a
new light--saw that he was mad. Here was a man who--for had he not
married and begotten a child?--must have known, in some degree, the
emotion of love. How, after that, could he have gone on thus, year by
year, rusting among his books, asking no favour of life, waiting for
death without a sign of impatience? Why had he not killed himself long
ago? Why cumbered he the earth?
On the dais an undergraduate was singing a song entitled "She Loves
Not Me." Such plaints are apt to leave us unharrowed. Across the
footlights of an opera-house, the despair of some Italian tenor in red
tights and a yellow wig may be convincing enough. Not so, at a
concert, the despair of a shy British amateur in evening dress. The
undergraduate on the dais, fumbling with his sheet of music while he
predicted that only when he were "laid within the church-yard cold and
grey" would his lady begin to pity him, seemed to the Duke rather
ridiculous; but not half so ridiculous as the Warden. This fictitious
love-affair was less nugatory than the actual humdrum for which Dr.
Dobson had sold his soul to the devil. Also, little as one might
suspect it, the warbler was perhaps expressing a genuine sentiment.
Zuleika herself, belike, was in his thoughts.
As he began the second stanza, predicting that when his lady died too
the angels of heaven would bear her straight to him, the audience
heard a loud murmur, or subdued roar, outside the Hall. And after a
few bars the warbler suddenly ceased, staring straight in front of him
as though he saw a vision. Automatically, all heads veered in the
direction of his gaze. From the entrance, slowly along the aisle, came
Zuleika, brilliant in black.
To the Duke, who had rapturously risen, she nodded and smiled as she
swerved down on the chair beside him. She looked to him somehow
different. He had quite forgiven her for being late: her mere presence
was a perfect excuse. And the very change in her, though he could not
define it, was somehow pleasing to him. He was about to question her,
but she shook her head and held up to her lips a black-gloved
forefinger, enjoining silence for the singer, who, with dogged British
pluck, had harked back to the beginning of the second stanza. When his
task was done and he shuffled down from the dais, he received a great
ovation. Zuleika, in the way peculiar to persons who are in the habit
of appearing before the public, held her hands well above the level of
her brow, and clapped them with a vigour demonstrative not less of her
presence than of her delight.
"And now," she asked, turning to the Duke, "do you see? do you see?"
"Something, yes. But what?"
"Isn't it plain?" Lightly she touched the lobe of her left ear.
"Aren't you flattered?"
He knew now what made the difference. It was that her little face was
flanked by two black pearls.
"Think," said she, "how deeply I must have been brooding over you
since we parted!"
"Is this really," he asked, pointing to the left ear-ring, "the pearl
you wore to-day?"
"Yes. Isn't it strange? A man ought to be pleased when a woman goes
quite unconsciously into mourning for him--goes just because she
really does mourn him."
"I am more than pleased. I am touched. When did the change come?"
"I don't know. I only noticed it after dinner, when I saw myself in
the mirror. All through dinner I had been thinking of you and of--
well, of to-morrow. And this dear sensitive pink pearl had again
expressed my soul. And there was I, in a yellow gown with green
embroideries, gay as a jacamar, jarring hideously on myself. I covered
my eyes and rushed upstairs, rang the bell and tore my things off. My
maid was very cross."
Cross! The Duke was shot through with envy of one who was in a
position to be unkind to Zuleika. "Happy maid!" he murmured. Zuleika
replied that he was stealing her thunder: hadn't she envied the girl
at his lodgings? "But I," she said, "wanted only to serve you in
meekness. The idea of ever being pert to you didn't enter into my
head. You show a side of your character as unpleasing as it was
"Perhaps then," said the Duke, "it is as well that I am going to die."
She acknowledged his rebuke with a pretty gesture of penitence. "You
may have been faultless in love," he added; "but you would not have
laid down your life for me."
"Oh," she answered, "wouldn't I though? You don't know me. That is
just the sort of thing I should have loved to do. I am much more
romantic than you are, really. I wonder," she said, glancing at his
breast, "if YOUR pink pearl would have turned black? And I wonder if
YOU would have taken the trouble to change that extraordinary coat you
In sooth, no costume could have been more beautifully Cimmerian than
Zuleika's. And yet, thought the Duke, watching her as the concert
proceeded, the effect of her was not lugubrious. Her darkness shone.
The black satin gown she wore was a stream of shifting high-lights.
Big black diamonds were around her throat and wrists, and tiny black
diamonds starred the fan she wielded. In her hair gleamed a great
raven's wing. And brighter, brighter than all these were her eyes.
Assuredly no, there was nothing morbid about her. Would one even
(wondered the Duke, for a disloyal instant) go so far as to say she
was heartless? Ah no, she was merely strong. She was one who could
tread the tragic plane without stumbling, and be resilient in the
valley of the shadow. What she had just said was no more than the
truth: she would have loved to die for him, had he not forfeited her
heart. She would have asked no tears. That she had none to shed for
him now, that she did but share his exhilaration, was the measure of
her worthiness to have the homage of his self-slaughter.
"By the way," she whispered, "I want to ask one little favour of you.
Will you, please, at the last moment to-morrow, call out my name in a
loud voice, so that every one around can hear?"
"Of course I will."
"So that no one shall ever be able to say it wasn't for me that you
died, you know."
"May I use simply your Christian name?"
"Yes, I really don't see why you shouldn't--at such a moment."
"Thank you." His face glowed.
Thus did they commune, these two, radiant without and within. And
behind them, throughout the Hall, the undergraduates craned their
necks for a glimpse. The Duke's piano solo, which was the last item in
the first half of the programme, was eagerly awaited. Already,
whispered first from the lips of Oover and the others who had come on
from the Junta, the news of his resolve had gone from ear to ear among
the men. He, for his part, had forgotten the scene at the Junta, the
baleful effect of his example. For him the Hall was a cave of solitude
--no one there but Zuleika and himself. Yet almost, like the late Mr.
John Bright, he heard in the air the beating of the wings of the
Angel of Death. Not awful wings; little wings that sprouted from the
shoulders of a rosy and blindfold child. Love and Death--for him they
were exquisitely one. And it seemed to him, when his turn came to
play, that he floated, rather than walked, to the dais.
He had not considered what he would play tonight. Nor, maybe, was he
conscious now of choosing. His fingers caressed the keyboard vaguely;
and anon this ivory had voice and language; and for its master, and
for some of his hearers, arose a vision. And it was as though in
delicate procession, very slowly, listless with weeping, certain
figures passed by, hooded, and drooping forasmuch as by the loss of
him whom they were following to his grave their own hold on life had
been loosened. He had been so beautiful and young. Lo, he was but a
burden to be carried hence, dust to be hidden out of sight. Very
slowly, very wretchedly they went by. But, as they went, another
feeling, faint at first, an all but imperceptible current, seemed to
flow through the procession; and now one, now another of the mourners
would look wanly up, with cast-back hood, as though listening; and
anon all were listening on their way, first in wonder, then in
rapture; for the soul of their friend was singing to them: they heard
his voice, but clearer and more blithe than they had ever known it--a
voice etherealised by a triumph of joy that was not yet for them to
share. But presently the voice receded, its echoes dying away into the
sphere whence it came. It ceased; and the mourners were left alone
again with their sorrow, and passed on all unsolaced, and drooping,
Soon after the Duke had begun to play, an invisible figure came and
stood by and listened; a frail man, dressed in the fashion of 1840;
the shade of none other than Frederic Chopin. Behind whom, a moment
later, came a woman of somewhat masculine aspect and dominant
demeanour, mounting guard over him, and, as it were, ready to catch
him if he fell. He bowed his head lower and lower, he looked up with
an ecstasy more and more intense, according to the procedure of his
Marche Funebre. And among the audience, too, there was a bowing and
uplifting of heads, just as among the figures of the mourners evoked.
Yet the head of the player himself was all the while erect, and his
face glad and serene. Nobly sensitive as was his playing of the
mournful passages, he smiled brilliantly through them.
And Zuleika returned his gaze with a smile not less gay. She was not
sure what he was playing. But she assumed that it was for her, and
that the music had some reference to his impending death. She was one
of the people who say "I don't know anything about music really, but I
know what I like." And she liked this; and she beat time to it with
her fan. She thought her Duke looked very handsome. She was proud of
him. Strange that this time yesterday she had been wildly in love with
him! Strange, too, that this time to-morrow he would be dead! She was
immensely glad she had saved him this afternoon. To-morrow! There came
back to her what he had told her about the omen at Tankerton, that
stately home: "On the eve of the death of a Duke of Dorset, two black
owls come always and perch on the battlements. They remain there
through the night, hooting. At dawn they fly away, none knows
whither." Perhaps, thought she, at this very moment these two birds
were on the battlements.
The music ceased. In the hush that followed it, her applause rang
sharp and notable. Not so Chopin's. Of him and his intense excitement
none but his companion was aware. "Plus fin que Pachmann!" he
reiterated, waving his arms wildly, and dancing.
"Tu auras une migraine affreuse. Rentrons, petit coeur!" said George
Sand, gently but firmly.
"Laisse-moi le saluer," cried the composer, struggling in her grasp.
"Demain soir, oui. Il sera parmi nous," said the novelist, as she
hurried him away. "Moi aussi," she added to herself, "je me promets un
beau plaisir en faisant la connaissance de ce jeune homme."
Zuleika was the first to rise as "ce jeune homme" came down from
the dais. Now was the interval between the two parts of the
programme. There was a general creaking and scraping of pushed-back
chairs as the audience rose and went forth into the night. The noise
aroused from sleep the good Warden, who, having peered at his
programme, complimented the Duke with old-world courtesy and went to
sleep again. Zuleika, thrusting her fan under one arm, shook the
player by both hands. Also, she told him that she knew nothing about
music really, but that she knew what she liked. As she passed with him
up the aisle, she said this again. People who say it are never tired
of saying it.
Outside, the crowd was greater than ever. All the undergraduates from
all the Colleges seemed now to be concentrated in the great Front
Quadrangle of Judas. Even in the glow of the Japanese lanterns that
hung around in honour of the concert, the faces of the lads looked a
little pale. For it was known by all now that the Duke was to die.
Even while the concert was in progress, the news had spread out from
the Hall, through the thronged doorway, down the thronged steps, to
the confines of the crowd. Nor had Oover and the other men from the
Junta made any secret of their own determination. And now, as the
rest saw Zuleika yet again at close quarters, and verified their
remembrance of her, the half-formed desire in them to die too was
hardened to a vow.
You cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hind-legs. But by
standing a flock of sheep in that position you can make a crowd of
men. If man were not a gregarious animal, the world might have
achieved, by this time, some real progress towards civilisation.
Segregate him, and he is no fool. But let him loose among his fellows,
and he is lost--he becomes just an unit in unreason. If any one of the
undergraduates had met Miss Dobson in the desert of Sahara, he would
have fallen in love with her; but not one in a thousand of them would
have wished to die because she did not love him. The Duke's was a
peculiar case. For him to fall in love was itself a violent peripety,
bound to produce a violent upheaval; and such was his pride that for
his love to be unrequited would naturally enamour him of death. These
other, these quite ordinary, young men were the victims less of
Zuleika than of the Duke's example, and of one another. A crowd,
proportionately to its size, magnifies all that in its units pertains
to the emotions, and diminishes all that in them pertains to thought.
It was because these undergraduates were a crowd that their passion
for Zuleika was so intense; and it was because they were a crowd that
they followed so blindly the lead given to them. To die for Miss
Dobson was "the thing to do." The Duke was going to do it. The Junta
was going to do it. It is a hateful fact, but we must face the fact,
that snobbishness was one of the springs to the tragedy here
We may set to this crowd's credit that it refrained now from following
Zuleika. Not one of the ladies present was deserted by her escort. All
the men recognised the Duke's right to be alone with Zuleika now. We
may set also to their credit that they carefully guarded the ladies
from all knowledge of what was afoot.
Side by side, the great lover and his beloved wandered away, beyond
the light of the Japanese lanterns, and came to Salt Cellar.
The moon, like a gardenia in the night's button-hole--but no! why
should a writer never be able to mention the moon without likening her
to something else--usually something to which she bears not the
faintest resemblance? . . . The moon, looking like nothing whatsoever
but herself, was engaged in her old and futile endeavour to mark the
hours correctly on the sun-dial at the centre of the lawn. Never,
except once, late one night in the eighteenth century, when the toper
who was Sub-Warden had spent an hour in trying to set his watch here,
had she received the slightest encouragement. Still she wanly
persisted. And this was the more absurd in her because Salt Cellar
offered very good scope for those legitimate effects of hers which we
one and all admire. Was it nothing to her to have cut those black
shadows across the cloisters? Was it nothing to her that she so
magically mingled her rays with the candle-light shed forth from
Zuleika's bedroom? Nothing, that she had cleansed the lawn of all its
colour, and made of it a platform of silver-grey, fit for fairies to
If Zuleika, as she paced the gravel path, had seen how transfigured--
how nobly like the Tragic Muse--she was just now, she could not have
gone on bothering the Duke for a keepsake of the tragedy that was to
She was still set on having his two studs. He was still firm in his
refusal to misappropriate those heirlooms. In vain she pointed out to
him that the pearls he meant, the white ones, no longer existed; that
the pearls he was wearing were no more "entailed" than if he had got
them yesterday. "And you actually DID get them yesterday," she said.
"And from me. And I want them back."
"You are ingenious," he admitted. "I, in my simple way, am but head of
the Tanville-Tankerton family. Had you accepted my offer of marriage,
you would have had the right to wear these two pearls during your
life-time. I am very happy to die for you. But tamper with the
property of my successor I cannot and will not. I am sorry," he added.
"Sorry!" echoed Zuleika. "Yes, and you were 'sorry' you couldn't dine
with me to-night. But any little niggling scruple is more to you than
I am. What old maids men are!" And viciously with her fan she struck
one of the cloister pillars.
Her outburst was lost on the Duke. At her taunt about his not dining
with her, he had stood still, clapping one hand to his brow. The
events of the early evening swept back to him--his speech, its
unforeseen and horrible reception. He saw again the preternaturally
solemn face of Oover, and the flushed faces of the rest. He had
thought, as he pointed down to the abyss over which he stood, these
fellows would recoil, and pull themselves together. They had recoiled,
and pulled themselves together, only in the manner of athletes about
to spring. He was responsible for them. His own life was his to lose:
others he must not squander. Besides, he had reckoned to die alone,
unique; aloft and apart . . . "There is something--something I had
forgotten," he said to Zuleika, "something that will be a great shock
to you"; and he gave her an outline of what had passed at the Junta.
"And you are sure they really MEANT it?" she asked in a voice that
"I fear so. But they were over-excited. They will recant their folly.
I shall force them to."
"They are not children. You yourself have just been calling them
'men.' Why should they obey you?"
She turned at sound of a footstep, and saw a young man approaching.
He wore a coat like the Duke's, and in his hand he dangled a
handkerchief. He bowed awkwardly, and, holding out the handkerchief,
said to her "I beg your pardon, but I think you dropped this. I have
just picked it up."
Zuleika looked at the handkerchief, which was obviously a man's, and
smilingly shook her head.
"I don't think you know The MacQuern," said the Duke, with sulky
grace. "This," he said to the intruder, "is Miss Dobson."
"And is it really true," asked Zuleika, retaining The MacQuern's hand,
"that you want to die for me?"
Well, the Scots are a self-seeking and a resolute, but a shy, race;
swift to act, when swiftness is needed, but seldom knowing quite what
to say. The MacQuern, with native reluctance to give something for
nothing, had determined to have the pleasure of knowing the young lady
for whom he was to lay down his life; and this purpose he had, by the
simple stratagem of his own handkerchief, achieved. Nevertheless, in
answer to Zuleika's question, and with the pressure of her hand to
inspire him, the only word that rose to his lips was "Ay" (which may
be roughly translated as "Yes").
"You will do nothing of the sort," interposed the Duke.
"There," said Zuleika, still retaining The MacQuern's hand, "you see,
it is forbidden. You must not defy our dear little Duke. He is not
used to it. It is not done."
"I don't know," said The MacQuern, with a stony glance at the Duke,
"that he has anything to do with the matter."
"He is older and wiser than you. More a man of the world. Regard him
as your tutor."
"Do YOU want me not to die for you?" asked the young man.
"Ah, _I_ should not dare to impose my wishes on you," said she,
dropping his hand. "Even," she added, "if I knew what my wishes were.
And I don't. I know only that I think it is very, very beautiful of
you to think of dying for me."
"Then that settles it," said The MacQuern.
"No, no! You must not let yourself be influenced by ME. Besides, I am
not in a mood to influence anybody. I am overwhelmed. Tell me," she
said, heedless of the Duke, who stood tapping his heel on the ground,
with every manifestation of disapproval and impatience, "tell me, is
it true that some of the other men love me too, and--feel as you do?"
The MacQuern said cautiously that he could answer for no one but
himself. "But," he allowed, "I saw a good many men whom I know,
outside the Hall here, just now, and they seemed to have made up their
"To die for me? To-morrow?"
"To-morrow. After the Eights, I suppose; at the same time as the Duke.
It wouldn't do to leave the races undecided."
"Of COURSE not. But the poor dears! It is too touching! I have done
nothing, nothing to deserve it."
"Nothing whatsoever," said the Duke drily.
"Oh HE," said Zuleika, "thinks me an unredeemed brute; just because I
don't love him. YOU, dear Mr. MacQuern--does one call you 'Mr.'? 'The'
would sound so odd in the vocative. And I can't very well call you
'MacQuern'--YOU don't think me unkind, do you? I simply can't bear to
think of all these young lives cut short without my having done a
thing to brighten them. What can I do?--what can I do to show my
An idea struck her. She looked up to the lit window of her room.
"Melisande!" she called.
A figure appeared at the window. "Mademoiselle desire?"
"My tricks, Melisande! Bring down the box, quick!" She turned
excitedly to the two young men. "It is all I can do in return, you
see. If I could dance for them, I would. If I could sing, I would
sing to them. I do what I can. You," she said to the Duke, "must
go on to the platform and announce it."
"Why, that I am going to do my tricks! All you need say is 'Ladies and
gentlemen, I have the pleasure to--' What is the matter now?"
"You make me feel slightly unwell," said the Duke.
"And YOU are the most d-dis-disobliging and the unkindest and the
b-beastliest person I ever met," Zuleika sobbed at him through her
hands. The MacQuern glared reproaches at him. So did Melisande, who
had just appeared through the postern, holding in her arms the great
casket of malachite. A painful scene; and the Duke gave in. He said he
would do anything--anything. Peace was restored.
The MacQuern had relieved Melisande of her burden; and to him was the
privilege of bearing it, in procession with his adored and her quelled
mentor, towards the Hall.
Zuleika babbled like a child going to a juvenile party. This was the
great night, as yet, in her life. Illustrious enough already it had
seemed to her, as eve of that ultimate flattery vowed her by the Duke.
So fine a thing had his doom seemed to her--his doom alone--that it
had sufficed to flood her pink pearl with the right hue. And now not
on him alone need she ponder. Now he was but the centre of a group--a
group that might grow and grow--a group that might with a little
encouragement be a multitude . . . With such hopes dimly whirling in
the recesses of her soul, her beautiful red lips babbled.
Sounds of a violin, drifting out through the open windows of the Hall,
suggested that the second part of the concert had begun. All the
undergraduates, however, except the few who figured in the programme,
had waited outside till their mistress should re-appear. The sisters
and cousins of the Judas men had been escorted back to their places
and hurriedly left there.
It was a hushed, tense crowd.
"The poor darlings!" murmured Zuleika, pausing to survey them. "And
oh," she exclaimed, "there won't be room for all of them in there!"
"You might give an 'overflow' performance out here afterwards,"
suggested the Duke, grimly.
This idea flashed on her a better. Why not give her performance here
and now?--now, so eager was she for contact, as it were, with this
crowd; here, by moonlight, in the pretty glow of these paper lanterns.
Yes, she said, let it be here and now; and she bade the Duke make the
"What shall I say?" he asked. "'Gentlemen, I have the pleasure to
announce that Miss Zuleika Dobson, the world-renowned She-Wizard, will
now oblige'? Or shall I call them 'Gents,' tout court?"
She could afford to laugh at his ill-humour. She had his promise of
obedience. She told him to say something graceful and simple.
The noise of the violin had ceased. There was not a breath of wind.
The crowd in the quadrangle was as still and as silent as the night
itself. Nowhere a tremour. And it was borne in on Zuleika that this
crowd had one mind as well as one heart--a common resolve, calm and
clear, as well as a common passion. No need for her to strengthen the
spell now. No waverers here. And thus it came true that gratitude was
the sole motive for her display.
She stood with eyes downcast and hands folded behind her, moonlit in
the glow of lanterns, modest to the point of pathos, while the Duke
gracefully and simply introduced her to the multitude. He was, he
said, empowered by the lady who stood beside him to say that she would
be pleased to give them an exhibition of her skill in the art to which
she had devoted her life--an art which, more potently perhaps than any
other, touched in mankind the sense of mystery and stirred the faculty
of wonder; the most truly romantic of all the arts: he referred to the
art of conjuring. It was not too much to say that by her mastery of
this art, in which hitherto, it must be confessed, women had made no
very great mark, Miss Zuleika Dobson (for such was the name of the
lady who stood beside him) had earned the esteem of the whole
civilised world. And here in Oxford, and in this College especially,
she had a peculiar claim to--might he say?--their affectionate regard,
inasmuch as she was the grand-daughter of their venerable and
As the Duke ceased, there came from his hearers a sound like the
rustling of leaves. In return for it, Zuleika performed that graceful
act of subsidence to the verge of collapse which is usually kept for
the delectation of some royal person. And indeed, in the presence of
this doomed congress, she did experience humility; for she was not
altogether without imagination. But, as she arose from her "bob," she
was her own bold self again, bright mistress of the situation.
It was impossible for her to give her entertainment in full. Some of
her tricks (notably the Secret Aquarium, and the Blazing Ball of