Part 3 out of 5
Worsted) needed special preparation, and a table fitted with a
"servante" or secret tray. The table for to-night's performance was
an ordinary one, brought out from the porter's lodge. The MacQuern
deposited on it the great casket. Zuleika, retaining him as her
assistant, picked nimbly out from their places and put in array the
curious appurtenances of her art--the Magic Canister, the Demon Egg-
Cup, and the sundry other vessels which, lost property of young Edward
Gibbs, had been by a Romanoff transmuted from wood to gold, and were
now by the moon reduced temporarily to silver.
In a great dense semicircle the young men disposed themselves around
her. Those who were in front squatted down on the gravel; those who
were behind knelt; the rest stood. Young Oxford! Here, in this mass of
boyish faces, all fused and obliterated, was the realisation of that
phrase. Two or three thousands of human bodies, human souls? Yet the
effect of them in the moonlight was as of one great passive monster.
So was it seen by the Duke, as he stood leaning against the wall,
behind Zuleika's table. He saw it as a monster couchant and enchanted,
a monster that was to die; and its death was in part his own doing.
But remorse in him gave place to hostility. Zuleika had begun her
performance. She was producing the Barber's Pole from her mouth. And
it was to her that the Duke's heart went suddenly out in tenderness
and pity. He forgot her levity and vanity--her wickedness, as he had
inwardly called it. He thrilled with that intense anxiety which comes
to a man when he sees his beloved offering to the public an exhibition
of her skill, be it in singing, acting, dancing, or any other art.
Would she acquit herself well? The lover's trepidation is painful
enough when the beloved has genius--how should these clods appreciate
her? and who set them in judgment over her? It must be worse when the
beloved has mediocrity. And Zuleika, in conjuring, had rather less
than that. Though indeed she took herself quite seriously as a
conjurer, she brought to her art neither conscience nor ambition, in
any true sense of those words. Since her debut, she had learned
nothing and forgotten nothing. The stale and narrow repertory which
she had acquired from Edward Gibbs was all she had to offer; and this,
and her marked lack of skill, she eked out with the self-same "patter"
that had sufficed that impossible young man. It was especially her
jokes that now sent shudders up the spine of her lover, and brought
tears to his eyes, and kept him in a state of terror as to what she
would say next. "You see," she had exclaimed lightly after the
production of the Barber's Pole, "how easy it is to set up business as
a hairdresser." Over the Demon Egg-Cup she said that the egg was "as
good as fresh." And her constantly reiterated catch-phrase--"Well,
this is rather queer!"--was the most distressing thing of all.
The Duke blushed to think what these men thought of her. Would love
were blind! These her lovers were doubtless judging her. They forgave
her--confound their impudence!--because of her beauty. The banality of
her performance was an added grace. It made her piteous. Damn them,
they were sorry for her. Little Noaks was squatting in the front row,
peering up at her through his spectacles. Noaks was as sorry for her
as the rest of them. Why didn't the earth yawn and swallow them all
Our hero's unreasoning rage was fed by a not unreasonable jealousy. It
was clear to him that Zuleika had forgotten his existence. To-day, as
soon as he had killed her love, she had shown him how much less to her
was his love than the crowd's. And now again it was only the crowd she
cared for. He followed with his eyes her long slender figure as she
threaded her way in and out of the crowd, sinuously, confidingly,
producing a penny from one lad's elbow, a threepenny-bit from between
another's neck and collar, half a crown from another's hair, and
always repeating in that flute-like voice of hers "Well, this is
rather queer!" Hither and thither she fared, her neck and arms
gleaming white from the luminous blackness of her dress, in the
luminous blueness of the night. At a distance, she might have been a
wraith; or a breeze made visible; a vagrom breeze, warm and delicate,
and in league with death.
Yes, that is how she might have seemed to a casual observer. But to
the Duke there was nothing weird about her: she was radiantly a woman;
a goddess; and his first and last love. Bitter his heart was, but only
against the mob she wooed, not against her for wooing it. She was
cruel? All goddesses are that. She was demeaning herself? His soul
welled up anew in pity, in passion.
Yonder, in the Hall, the concert ran its course, making a feeble
incidental music to the dark emotions of the quadrangle. It ended
somewhat before the close of Zuleika's rival show; and then the steps
from the Hall were thronged by ladies, who, with a sprinkling of dons,
stood in attitudes of refined displeasure and vulgar curiosity. The
Warden was just awake enough to notice the sea of undergraduates.
Suspecting some breach of College discipline, he retired hastily to
his own quarters, for fear his dignity might be somehow compromised.
Was there ever, I wonder, an historian so pure as not to have wished
just once to fob off on his readers just one bright fable for effect?
I find myself sorely tempted to tell you that on Zuleika, as her
entertainment drew to a close, the spirit of the higher thaumaturgy
descended like a flame and found in her a worthy agent. Specious
Apollyon whispers to me "Where would be the harm? Tell your readers
that she cast a seed on the ground, and that therefrom presently arose
a tamarind-tree which blossomed and bore fruit and, withering,
vanished. Or say she conjured from an empty basket of osier a hissing
and bridling snake. Why not? Your readers would be excited, gratified.
And you would never be found out." But the grave eyes of Clio are bent
on me, her servant. Oh pardon, madam: I did but waver for an instant.
It is not too late to tell my readers that the climax of Zuleika's
entertainment was only that dismal affair, the Magic Canister.
It she took from the table, and, holding it aloft, cried "Now, before
I say good night, I want to see if I have your confidence. But you
mustn't think this is the confidence trick!" She handed the vessel to
The MacQuern, who, looking like an overgrown acolyte, bore it after
her as she went again among the audience. Pausing before a man in the
front row, she asked him if he would trust her with his watch. He held
it out to her. "Thank you," she said, letting her fingers touch his
for a moment before she dropped it into the Magic Canister. From
another man she borrowed a cigarette-case, from another a neck-tie,
from another a pair of sleeve-links, from Noaks a ring--one of those
iron rings which are supposed, rightly or wrongly, to alleviate
rheumatism. And when she had made an ample selection, she began her
return-journey to the table.
On her way she saw in the shadow of the wall the figure of her
forgotten Duke. She saw him, the one man she had ever loved, also
the first man who had wished definitely to die for her; and she was
touched by remorse. She had said she would remember him to her dying
day; and already . . . But had he not refused her the wherewithal
to remember him--the pearls she needed as the clou of her dear
collection, the great relic among relics?
"Would you trust me with your studs?" she asked him, in a voice that
could be heard throughout the quadrangle, with a smile that was for
There was no help for it. He quickly extricated from his shirt-front
the black pearl and the pink. Her thanks had a special emphasis.
The MacQuern placed the Magic Canister before her on the table. She
pressed the outer sheath down on it. Then she inverted it so that the
contents fell into the false lid; then she opened it, looked into it,
and, exclaiming "Well, this is rather queer!" held it up so that the
audience whose intelligence she was insulting might see there was
nothing in it.
"Accidents," she said, "will happen in the best-regulated canisters!
But I think there is just a chance that I shall be able to restore
your property. Excuse me for a moment." She then shut the canister,
released the false lid, made several passes over it, opened it, looked
into it and said with a flourish "Now I can clear my character!" Again
she went among the crowd, attended by The MacQuern; and the loans--
priceless now because she had touched them--were in due course
severally restored. When she took the canister from her acolyte,
only the two studs remained in it.
Not since the night of her flitting from the Gibbs' humble home had
Zuleika thieved. Was she a back-slider? Would she rob the Duke, and
his heir-presumptive, and Tanville-Tankertons yet unborn? Alas, yes.
But what she now did was proof that she had qualms. And her way of
doing it showed that for legerdemain she had after all a natural
aptitude which, properly trained, might have won for her an honourable
place in at least the second rank of contemporary prestidigitators.
With a gesture of her disengaged hand, so swift as to be scarcely
visible, she unhooked her ear-rings and "passed" them into the
canister. This she did as she turned away from the crowd, on her way
to the Duke. At the same moment, in a manner technically not less
good, though morally deplorable, she withdrew the studs and "vanished"
them into her bosom.
Was it triumph, or shame, or of both a little that so flushed her
cheeks as she stood before the man she had robbed? Or was it the
excitement of giving a present to the man she had loved? Certain it is
that the nakedness of her ears gave a new look to her face--a
primitive look, open and sweetly wild. The Duke saw the difference,
without noticing the cause. She was more adorable than ever. He
blenched and swayed as in proximity to a loveliness beyond endurance.
His heart cried out within him. A sudden mist came over his eyes.
In the canister that she held out to him, the two pearls rattled like
"Keep them!" he whispered.
"I shall," she whispered back, almost shyly. "But these, these are for
you." And she took one of his hands, and, holding it open, tilted the
canister over it, and let drop into it the two ear-rings, and went
As she re-appeared at the table, the crowd gave her a long ovation of
gratitude for her performance--an ovation all the more impressive
because it was solemn and subdued. She curtseyed again and again, not
indeed with the timid simplicity of her first obeisance (so familiar
already was she with the thought of the crowd's doom), but rather in
the manner of a prima donna--chin up, eyelids down, all teeth
manifest, and hands from the bosom flung ecstatically wide asunder.
You know how, at a concert, a prima donna who has just sung insists on
shaking hands with the accompanist, and dragging him forward, to show
how beautiful her nature is, into the applause that is for herself
alone. And your heart, like mine, has gone out to the wretched victim.
Even so would you have felt for The MacQuern when Zuleika, on the
implied assumption that half the credit was his, grasped him by the
wrist, and, continuing to curtsey, would not release him till the last
echoes of the clapping had died away.
The ladies on the steps of the Hall moved down into the quadrangle,
spreading their resentment like a miasma. The tragic passion of the
crowd was merged in mere awkwardness. There was a general movement
towards the College gate.
Zuleika was putting her tricks back into the great casket, The
MacQuern assisting her. The Scots, as I have said, are a shy race,
but a resolute and a self-seeking. This young chieftain had not yet
recovered from what his heroine had let him in for. But he did not
lose the opportunity of asking her to lunch with him to-morrow.
"Delighted," she said, fitting the Demon Egg-Cup into its groove.
Then, looking up at him, "Are you popular?" she asked. "Have you many
friends?" He nodded. She said he must invite them all.
This was a blow to the young man, who, at once thrifty and infatuate,
had planned a luncheon a deux. "I had hoped--" he began.
"Vainly," she cut him short.
There was a pause. "Whom shall I invite, then?"
"I don't know any of them. How should I have preferences?" She
remembered the Duke. She looked round and saw him still standing in
the shadow of the wall. He came towards her. "Of course," she said
hastily to her host, "you must ask HIM."
The MacQuern complied. He turned to the Duke and told him that Miss
Dobson had very kindly promised to lunch with him to-morrow. "And,"
said Zuleika, "I simply WON'T unless you will."
The Duke looked at her. Had it not been arranged that he and she
should spend his last day together? Did it mean nothing that she had
given him her ear-rings? Quickly drawing about him some remnants of
his tattered pride, he hid his wound, and accepted the invitation.
"It seems a shame," said Zuleika to The MacQuern, "to ask you to bring
this great heavy box all the way back again. But--"
Those last poor rags of pride fell away now. The Duke threw a
prehensile hand on the casket, and, coldly glaring at The MacQuern,
pointed with his other hand towards the College gate. He, and he
alone, was going to see Zuleika home. It was his last night on earth,
and he was not to be trifled with. Such was the message of his eyes.
The Scotsman's flashed back a precisely similar message.
Men had fought for Zuleika, but never in her presence. Her eyes
dilated. She had not the slightest impulse to throw herself between
the two antagonists. Indeed, she stepped back, so as not to be in the
way. A short sharp fight--how much better that is than bad blood! She
hoped the better man would win; and (do not misjudge her) she rather
hoped this man was the Duke. It occurred to her--a vague memory of
some play or picture--that she ought to be holding aloft a candelabra
of lit tapers; no, that was only done indoors, and in the eighteenth
century. Ought she to hold a sponge? Idle, these speculations of hers,
and based on complete ignorance of the manners and customs of
undergraduates. The Duke and The MacQuern would never have come to
blows in the presence of a lady. Their conflict was necessarily
And it was the Scotsman, Scots though he was, who had to yield. Cowed
by something demoniac in the will-power pitted against his, he found
himself retreating in the direction indicated by the Duke's
As he disappeared into the porch, Zuleika turned to the Duke. "You
were splendid," she said softly. He knew that very well. Does the stag
in his hour of victory need a diploma from the hind? Holding in his
hands the malachite casket that was the symbol of his triumph, the
Duke smiled dictatorially at his darling. He came near to thinking of
her as a chattel. Then with a pang he remembered his abject devotion
to her. Abject no longer though! The victory he had just won restored
his manhood, his sense of supremacy among his fellows. He loved this
woman on equal terms. She was transcendent? So was he, Dorset. To-
night the world had on its moonlit surface two great ornaments--
Zuleika and himself. Neither of the pair could be replaced. Was one of
them to be shattered? Life and love were good. He had been mad to
think of dying.
No word was spoken as they went together to Salt Cellar. She
expected him to talk about her conjuring tricks. Could he have been
disappointed? She dared not inquire; for she had the sensitiveness,
though no other quality whatsoever, of the true artist. She felt
herself aggrieved. She had half a mind to ask him to give her back
her ear-rings. And by the way, he hadn't yet thanked her for them!
Well, she would make allowances for a condemned man. And again she
remembered the omen of which he had told her. She looked at him, and
then up into the sky. "This same moon," she said to herself, "sees the
battlements of Tankerton. Does she see two black owls there? Does she
hear them hooting?"
They were in Salt Cellar now. "Melisande!" she called up to her
"Hush!" said the Duke, "I have something to say to you."
"Well, you can say it all the better without that great box in your
hands. I want my maid to carry it up to my room for me." And again she
called out for Melisande, and received no answer. "I suppose she's in
the house-keeper's room or somewhere. You had better put the box down
inside the door. She can bring it up later."
She pushed open the postern; and the Duke, as he stepped across the
threshold, thrilled with a romantic awe. Re-emerging a moment later
into the moonlight, he felt that she had been right about the box: it
was fatal to self-expression; and he was glad he had not tried to
speak on the way from the Front Quad: the soul needs gesture; and the
Duke's first gesture now was to seize Zuleika's hands in his.
She was too startled to move. "Zuleika!" he whispered. She was too
angry to speak, but with a sudden twist she freed her wrists and
He laughed. "You are afraid of me. You are afraid to let me kiss you,
because you are afraid of loving me. This afternoon--here--I all but
kissed you. I mistook you for Death. I was enamoured of Death. I was a
fool. That is what YOU are, you incomparable darling: you are a fool.
You are afraid of life. I am not. I love life. I am going to live for
you, do you hear?"
She stood with her back to the postern. Anger in her eyes had given
place to scorn. "You mean," she said, "that you go back on your
"You will release me from it."
"You mean you are afraid to die?"
"You will not be guilty of my death. You love me."
"Good night, you miserable coward." She stepped back through the
"Don't, Zuleika! Miss Dobson, don't! Pull yourself together! Reflect!
I implore you . . . You will repent . . ."
Slowly she closed the postern on him.
"You will repent. I shall wait here, under your window . . ."
He heard a bolt rasped into its socket. He heard the retreat of a
light tread on the paven hall.
And he hadn't even kissed her! That was his first thought. He ground
his heel in the gravel.
And he had hurt her wrists! This was Zuleika's first thought, as she
came into her bedroom. Yes, there were two red marks where he had held
her. No man had ever dared to lay hands on her. With a sense of
contamination, she proceeded to wash her hands thoroughly with soap
and water. From time to time such words as "cad" and "beast" came
through her teeth.
She dried her hands and flung herself into a chair, arose and went
pacing the room. So this was the end of her great night! What had she
done to deserve it? How had he dared?
There was a sound as of rain against the window. She was glad. The
night needed cleansing.
He had told her she was afraid of life. Life!--to have herself
caressed by HIM; humbly to devote herself to being humbly doted on; to
be the slave of a slave; to swim in a private pond of treacle--ugh! If
the thought weren't so cloying and degrading, it would be laughable.
For a moment her hands hovered over those two golden and gemmed
volumes encasing Bradshaw and the A.B.C. Guide. To leave Oxford by an
early train, leave him to drown unthanked, unlooked at . . . But this
could not be done without slighting all those hundreds of other men
. . . And besides . . .
Again that sound on the window-pane. This time it startled her. There
seemed to be no rain. Could it have been--little bits of gravel? She
darted noiselessly to the window, pushed it open, and looked down. She
saw the upturned face of the Duke. She stepped back, trembling with
fury, staring around her. Inspiration came.
She thrust her head out again. "Are you there?" she whispered.
"Yes, yes. I knew you would come."
"Wait a moment, wait!"
The water-jug stood where she had left it, on the floor by the wash-
stand. It was almost full, rather heavy. She bore it steadily to the
window, and looked out.
"Come a little nearer!" she whispered.
The upturned and moonlit face obeyed her. She saw its lips forming the
word "Zuleika." She took careful aim.
Full on the face crashed the cascade of moonlit water, shooting out on
all sides like the petals of some great silver anemone.
She laughed shrilly as she leapt back, letting the empty jug roll
over on the carpet. Then she stood tense, crouching, her hands to her
mouth, her eyes askance, as much as to say "Now I've done it!" She
listened hard, holding her breath. In the stillness of the night was a
faint sound of dripping water, and presently of footsteps going away.
Then stillness unbroken.
I said that I was Clio's servant. And I felt, when I said it, that you
looked at me dubiously, and murmured among yourselves.
Not that you doubted I was somewhat connected with Clio's household.
The lady after whom I have named this book is alive, and well known to
some of you personally, to all of you by repute. Nor had you finished
my first page before you guessed my theme to be that episode in her
life which caused so great a sensation among the newspaper-reading
public a few years ago. (It all seems but yesterday, does it not? They
are still vivid to us, those head-lines. We have hardly yet ceased to
be edified by the morals pointed in those leading articles.) And yet
very soon you found me behaving just like any novelist--reporting the
exact words that passed between the protagonists at private interviews
--aye, and the exact thoughts and emotions that were in their breasts.
Little wonder that you wondered! Let me make things clear to you.
I have my mistress' leave to do this. At first (for reasons which you
will presently understand) she demurred. But I pointed out to her that
I had been placed in a false position, and that until this were
rectified neither she nor I could reap the credit due to us.
Know, then, that for a long time Clio had been thoroughly
discontented. She was happy enough, she says, when first she
left the home of Pierus, her father, to become a Muse. On those
humble beginnings she looks back with affection. She kept only one
servant, Herodotus. The romantic element in him appealed to her. He
died, and she had about her a large staff of able and faithful
servants, whose way of doing their work irritated and depressed her.
To them, apparently, life consisted of nothing but politics and
military operations--things to which she, being a woman, was somewhat
indifferent. She was jealous of Melpomene. It seemed to her that her
own servants worked from without at a mass of dry details which might
as well be forgotten. Melpomene's worked on material that was
eternally interesting--the souls of men and women; and not from
without, either; but rather casting themselves into those souls and
showing to us the essence of them. She was particularly struck by a
remark of Aristotle's, that tragedy was "more philosophic" than
history, inasmuch as it concerned itself with what might be, while
history was concerned with merely what had been. This summed up for
her what she had often felt, but could not have exactly formulated.
She saw that the department over which she presided was at best an
inferior one. She saw that just what she had liked--and rightly liked
--in poor dear Herodotus was just what prevented him from being a good
historian. It was wrong to mix up facts and fancies. But why should
her present servants deal with only one little special set of the
variegated facts of life? It was not in her power to interfere. The
Nine, by the terms of the charter that Zeus had granted to them, were
bound to leave their servants an absolutely free hand. But Clio could
at least refrain from reading the works which, by a legal fiction, she
was supposed to inspire. Once or twice in the course of a century, she
would glance into this or that new history book, only to lay it down
with a shrug of her shoulders. Some of the mediaeval chronicles she
rather liked. But when, one day, Pallas asked her what she thought of
"The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" her only answer was "ostis
toia echei en edone echei en edone toia" (For people who like that
kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they like). This she did let
slip. Generally, throughout all the centuries, she kept up a pretence
of thinking history the greatest of all the arts. She always held her
head high among her Sisters. It was only on the sly that she was an
omnivorous reader of dramatic and lyric poetry. She watched with keen
interest the earliest developments of the prose romance in southern
Europe; and after the publication of "Clarissa Harlowe" she spent
practically all her time in reading novels. It was not until the
Spring of the year 1863 that an entirely new element forced itself
into her peaceful life. Zeus fell in love with her.
To us, for whom so quickly "time doth transfix the flourish set on
youth," there is something strange, even a trifle ludicrous, in the
thought that Zeus, after all these years, is still at the beck and
call of his passions. And it seems anyhow lamentable that he has not
yet gained self-confidence enough to appear in his own person to the
lady of his choice, and is still at pains to transform himself into
whatever object he deems likeliest to please her. To Clio, suddenly
from Olympus, he flashed down in the semblance of Kinglake's "Invasion
of the Crimea" (four vols., large 8vo, half-calf). She saw through his
disguise immediately, and, with great courage and independence, bade
him begone. Rebuffed, he was not deflected. Indeed it would seem that
Clio's high spirit did but sharpen his desire. Hardly a day passed but
he appeared in what he hoped would be the irresistible form--a
recently discovered fragment of Polybius, an advance copy of the
forthcoming issue of "The Historical Review," the note-book of
Professor Carl Voertschlaffen . . . One day, all-prying Hermes told
him of Clio's secret addiction to novel-reading. Thenceforth, year in,
year out, it was in the form of fiction that Zeus wooed her. The sole
result was that she grew sick of the sight of novels, and found a
perverse pleasure in reading history. These dry details of what had
actually happened were a relief, she told herself, from all that
One Sunday afternoon--the day before that very Monday on which this
narrative opens--it occurred to her how fine a thing history might be
if the historian had the novelist's privileges. Suppose he could be
present at every scene which he was going to describe, a presence
invisible and inevitable, and equipped with power to see into the
breasts of all the persons whose actions he set himself to watch . . .
While the Muse was thus musing, Zeus (disguised as Miss Annie S.
Swan's latest work) paid his usual visit. She let her eyes rest on
him. Hither and thither she divided her swift mind, and addressed him
in winged words. "Zeus, father of gods and men, cloud-compeller, what
wouldst thou of me? But first will I say what I would of thee"; and
she besought him to extend to the writers of history such privileges
as are granted to novelists. His whole manner had changed. He listened
to her with the massive gravity of a ruler who never yet has allowed
private influence to obscure his judgment. He was silent for some time
after her appeal. Then, in a voice of thunder, which made quake the
slopes of Parnassus, he gave his answer. He admitted the disabilities
under which historians laboured. But the novelists--were they not
equally handicapped? They had to treat of persons who never existed,
events which never were. Only by the privilege of being in the thick
of those events, and in the very bowels of those persons, could they
hope to hold the reader's attention. If similar privileges were
granted to the historian, the demand for novels would cease forthwith,
and many thousand of hard-working, deserving men and women would be
thrown out of employment. In fact, Clio had asked him an impossible
favour. But he might--he said he conceivably might--be induced to let
her have her way just once. In that event, all she would have to do
was to keep her eye on the world's surface, and then, so soon as she
had reason to think that somewhere was impending something of great
import, to choose an historian. On him, straightway, Zeus would confer
invisibility, inevitability, and psychic penetration, with a flawless
memory thrown in.
On the following afternoon, Clio's roving eye saw Zuleika stepping
from the Paddington platform into the Oxford train. A few moments
later I found myself suddenly on Parnassus. In hurried words Clio told
me how I came there, and what I had to do. She said she had selected
me because she knew me to be honest, sober, and capable, and no
stranger to Oxford. Another moment, and I was at the throne of Zeus.
With a majesty of gesture which I shall never forget, he stretched his
hand over me, and I was indued with the promised gifts. And then, lo!
I was on the platform of Oxford station. The train was not due for
another hour. But the time passed pleasantly enough.
It was fun to float all unseen, to float all unhampered by any
corporeal nonsense, up and down the platform. It was fun to watch
the inmost thoughts of the station-master, of the porters, of the
young person at the buffet. But of course I did not let the holiday-
mood master me. I realised the seriousness of my mission. I must
concentrate myself on the matter in hand: Miss Dobson's visit. What
was going to happen? Prescience was no part of my outfit. From what I
knew about Miss Dobson, I deduced that she would be a great success.
That was all. Had I had the instinct that was given to those Emperors
in stone, and even to the dog Corker, I should have begged Clio to
send in my stead some man of stronger nerve. She had charged me to be
calmly vigilant, scrupulously fair. I could have been neither, had I
from the outset foreseen all. Only because the immediate future was
broken to me by degrees, first as a set of possibilities, then as a
set of probabilities that yet might not come off, was I able to fulfil
the trust imposed in me. Even so, it was hard. I had always accepted
the doctrine that to understand all is to forgive all. Thanks to Zeus,
I understood all about Miss Dobson, and yet there were moments when
she repelled me--moments when I wished to see her neither from without
nor from within. So soon as the Duke of Dorset met her on the Monday
night, I felt I was in duty bound to keep him under constant
surveillance. Yet there were moments when I was so sorry for
him that I deemed myself a brute for shadowing him.
Ever since I can remember, I have been beset by a recurring doubt as
to whether I be or be not quite a gentleman. I have never attempted to
define that term: I have but feverishly wondered whether in its usual
acceptation (whatever that is) it be strictly applicable to myself.
Many people hold that the qualities connoted by it are primarily
moral--a kind heart, honourable conduct, and so forth. On Clio's
mission, I found honour and kindness tugging me in precisely opposite
directions. In so far as honour tugged the harder, was I the more or
the less gentlemanly? But the test is not a fair one. Curiosity tugged
on the side of honour. This goes to prove me a cad? Oh, set against it
the fact that I did at one point betray Clio's trust. When Miss Dobson
had done the deed recorded at the close of the foregoing chapter, I
gave the Duke of Dorset an hour's grace.
I could have done no less. In the lives of most of us is some one
thing that we would not after the lapse of how many years soever
confess to our most understanding friend; the thing that does not bear
thinking of; the one thing to be forgotten; the unforgettable thing.
Not the commission of some great crime: this can be atoned for by
great penances; and the very enormity of it has a dark grandeur.
Maybe, some little deadly act of meanness, some hole-and-corner
treachery? But what a man has once willed to do, his will helps him to
forget. The unforgettable thing in his life is usually not a thing he
has done or left undone, but a thing done to him--some insolence or
cruelty for which he could not, or did not, avenge himself. This it is
that often comes back to him, years after, in his dreams, and thrusts
itself suddenly into his waking thoughts, so that he clenches his
hands, and shakes his head, and hums a tune loudly--anything to beat
it off. In the very hour when first befell him that odious
humiliation, would you have spied on him? I gave the Duke of Dorset an
What were his thoughts in that interval, what words, if any, he
uttered to the night, never will be known. For this, Clio has abused
me in language less befitting a Muse than a fishwife. I do not care. I
would rather be chidden by Clio than by my own sense of delicacy, any
Not less averse than from dogging the Duke was I from remaining
another instant in the presence of Miss Dobson. There seemed to be no
possible excuse for her. This time she had gone too far. She was
outrageous. As soon as the Duke had had time to get clear away, I
floated out into the night.
I may have consciously reasoned that the best way to forget the
present was in the revival of memories. Or I may have been driven by a
mere homing instinct. Anyhow, it was in the direction of my old
College that I went. Midnight was tolling as I floated in through the
shut grim gate at which I had so often stood knocking for admission.
The man who now occupied my room had sported his oak--my oak. I read
the name on the visiting-card attached thereto--E. J. Craddock--and
E. J. Craddock, interloper, was sitting at my table, with elbows
squared and head on one side, in the act of literary composition. The
oars and caps on my walls betokened him a rowing-man. Indeed, I
recognised his somewhat heavy face as that of the man whom, from the
Judas barge this afternoon, I had seen rowing "stroke" in my College
He ought, therefore, to have been in bed and asleep two hours ago. And
the offence of his vigil was aggravated by a large tumbler that stood
in front of him, containing whisky and soda. From this he took a deep
draught. Then he read over what he had written. I did not care to peer
over his shoulder at MS. which, though written in my room, was not
intended for my eyes. But the writer's brain was open to me; and he
had written "I, the undersigned Edward Joseph Craddock, do hereby
leave and bequeath all my personal and other property to Zuleika
Dobson, spinster. This is my last will and testament."
He gnawed his pen, and presently altered the "hereby leave" to "hereby
and herewith leave." Fool!
I thereby and therewith left him. As I emerged through the floor of
the room above--through the very carpet that had so often been steeped
in wine, and encrusted with smithereens of glass, in the brave old
days of a well-remembered occupant--I found two men, both of them
evidently reading-men. One of them was pacing round the room. "Do you
know," he was saying, "what she reminded me of, all the time? Those
words--aren't they in the Song of Solomon?--'fair as the moon, clear
as the sun, and . . . and . . .'"
"'Terrible as an army with banners,'" supplied his host--rather
testily, for he was writing a letter. It began "My dear Father. By the
time you receive this I shall have taken a step which . . ."
Clearly it was vain to seek distraction in my old College. I floated
out into the untenanted meadows. Over them was the usual coverlet of
white vapour, trailed from the Isis right up to Merton Wall. The scent
of these meadows' moisture is the scent of Oxford. Even in hottest
noon, one feels that the sun has not dried THEM. Always there is
moisture drifting across them, drifting into the Colleges. It, one
suspects, must have had much to do with the evocation of what is
called the Oxford spirit--that gentlest spirit, so lingering and
searching, so dear to them who as youths were brought into ken of
it, so exasperating to them who were not. Yes, certainly, it is this
mild, miasmal air, not less than the grey beauty and gravity of the
buildings, that has helped Oxford to produce, and foster eternally,
her peculiar race of artist-scholars, scholar-artists. The
undergraduate, in his brief periods of residence, is too buoyant to be
mastered by the spirit of the place. He does but salute it, and catch
the manner. It is on him who stays to spend his maturity here that the
spirit will in its fulness gradually descend. The buildings and their
traditions keep astir in his mind whatsoever is gracious; the climate,
enfolding and enfeebling him, lulling him, keeps him careless of the
sharp, harsh, exigent realities of the outer world. Careless? Not
utterly. These realities may be seen by him. He may study them, be
amused or touched by them. But they cannot fire him. Oxford is too
damp for that. The "movements" made there have been no more than
protests against the mobility of others. They have been without the
dynamic quality implied in their name. They have been no more than the
sighs of men gazing at what other men had left behind them; faint,
impossible appeals to the god of retrogression, uttered for their own
sake and ritual, rather than with any intent that they should be
heard. Oxford, that lotus-land, saps the will-power, the power of
action. But, in doing so, it clarifies the mind, makes larger the
vision, gives, above all, that playful and caressing suavity of manner
which comes of a conviction that nothing matters, except ideas, and
that not even ideas are worth dying for, inasmuch as the ghosts of
them slain seem worthy of yet more piously elaborate homage than can
be given to them in their heyday. If the Colleges could be transferred
to the dry and bracing top of some hill, doubtless they would be more
evidently useful to the nation. But let us be glad there is no
engineer or enchanter to compass that task. Egomet, I would liefer
have the rest of England subside into the sea than have Oxford set on
a salubrious level. For there is nothing in England to be matched with
what lurks in the vapours of these meadows, and in the shadows of
these spires--that mysterious, inenubilable spirit, spirit of Oxford.
Oxford! The very sight of the word printed, or sound of it spoken, is
fraught for me with most actual magic.
And on that moonlit night when I floated among the vapours of these
meadows, myself less than a vapour, I knew and loved Oxford as never
before, as never since. Yonder, in the Colleges, was the fume and fret
of tragedy--Love as Death's decoy, and Youth following her. What then?
Not Oxford was menaced. Come what might, not a stone of Oxford's walls
would be loosened, nor a wreath of her vapours be undone, nor lost a
breath of her sacred spirit.
I floated up into the higher, drier air, that I might, for once, see
the total body of that spirit.
There lay Oxford far beneath me, like a map in grey and black and
silver. All that I had known only as great single things I saw now
outspread in apposition, and tiny; tiny symbols, as it were, of
themselves, greatly symbolising their oneness. There they lay, these
multitudinous and disparate quadrangles, all their rivalries merged in
the making of a great catholic pattern. And the roofs of the buildings
around them seemed level with their lawns. No higher the roofs of the
very towers. Up from their tiny segment of the earth's spinning
surface they stood negligible beneath infinity. And new, too, quite
new, in eternity; transient upstarts. I saw Oxford as a place that had
no more past and no more future than a mining-camp. I smiled down. O
hoary and unassailable mushroom! . . . But if a man carry his sense of
proportion far enough, lo! he is back at the point from which he
started. He knows that eternity, as conceived by him, is but an
instant in eternity, and infinity but a speck in infinity. How should
they belittle the things near to him? . . . Oxford was venerable and
magical, after all, and enduring. Aye, and not because she would
endure was it the less lamentable that the young lives within her
walls were like to be taken. My equanimity was gone; and a tear fell
And then, as though Oxford herself were speaking up to me, the air
vibrated with a sweet noise of music. It was the hour of one; the end
of the Duke's hour of grace. Through the silvery tangle of sounds from
other clocks I floated quickly down to the Broad.
I had on the way a horrible apprehension. What if the Duke, in his
agony, had taken the one means to forgetfulness? His room, I could
see, was lit up; but a man does not necessarily choose to die in the
dark. I hovered, afraid, over the dome of the Sheldonian. I saw that
the window of the room above the Duke's was also lit up. And there was
no reason at all to doubt the survival of Noaks. Perhaps the sight of
him would hearten me.
I was wrong. The sight of Noaks in his room was as dismal a thing as
could be. With his chin sunk on his breast, he sat there, on a rickety
chair, staring up at the mantel-piece. This he had decked out as a
sort of shrine. In the centre, aloft on an inverted tin that had
contained Abernethy biscuits, stood a blue plush frame, with an inner
rim of brass, several sizes too big for the picture-postcard installed
in it. Zuleika's image gazed forth with a smile that was obviously not
intended for the humble worshipper at this execrable shrine. On either
side of her stood a small vase, one holding some geraniums, the other
some mignonette. And just beneath her was placed that iron ring which,
rightly or wrongly, Noaks supposed to alleviate rheumatism--that same
iron ring which, by her touch to-night, had been charged for him with
a yet deeper magic, insomuch that he dared no longer wear it, and had
set it before her as an oblation.
Yet, for all his humility, he was possessed by a spirit of egoism that
repelled me. While he sat peering over his spectacles at the beauteous
image, he said again and again to himself, in a hollow voice, "I am so
young to die." Every time he said this, two large, pear-shaped tears
emerged from behind his spectacles, and found their way to his
waistcoat. It did not seem to strike him that quite half of the
undergraduates who contemplated death--and contemplated it in a
fearless, wholesome, manly fashion--were his juniors. It seemed to
seem to him that his own death, even though all those other far
brighter and more promising lives than his were to be sacrificed, was
a thing to bother about. Well, if he did not want to die, why could he
not have, at least, the courage of his cowardice? The world would not
cease to revolve because Noaks still clung to its surface. For me the
whole tragedy was cheapened by his participation in it. I was fain to
leave him. His squint, his short legs dangling towards the floor, his
tear-sodden waistcoat, and his refrain "I am so young to die," were
beyond measure exasperating. Yet I hesitated to pass into the room
beneath, for fear of what I might see there.
How long I might have paltered, had no sound come from that room, I
know not. But a sound came, sharp and sudden in the night, instantly
reassuring. I swept down into the presence of the Duke.
He stood with his head flung back and his arms folded, gorgeous in a
dressing-gown of crimson brocade. In animation of pride and pomp, he
looked less like a mortal man than like a figure from some great
biblical group by Paul Veronese.
And this was he whom I had presumed to pity! And this was he whom I
had half expected to find dead.
His face, usually pale, was now red; and his hair, which no eye had
ever yet seen disordered, stood up in a glistening shock. These two
changes in him intensified the effect of vitality. One of them,
however, vanished as I watched it. The Duke's face resumed its
pallor. I realised then that he had but blushed; and I realised,
simultaneously, that what had called that blush to his cheek was what
had also been the signal to me that he was alive. His blush had been
a pendant to his sneeze. And his sneeze had been a pendant to that
outrage which he had been striving to forget. He had caught cold.
He had caught cold. In the hour of his soul's bitter need, his body
had been suborned against him. Base! Had he not stripped his body of
its wet vesture? Had he not vigorously dried his hair, and robed
himself in crimson, and struck in solitude such attitudes as were most
congruous with his high spirit and high rank? He had set himself to
crush remembrance of that by which through his body his soul had been
assailed. And well had he known that in this conflict a giant demon
was his antagonist. But that his own body would play traitor--no, this
he had not foreseen. This was too base a thing to be foreseen.
He stood quite still, a figure orgulous and splendent. And it seemed
as though the hot night, too, stood still, to watch him, in awe,
through the open lattices of his window, breathlessly. But to me,
equipped to see beneath the surface, he was piteous, piteous in ratio
to the pretension of his aspect. Had he crouched down and sobbed, I
should have been as much relieved as he. But he stood seignorial and
Painless, by comparison with this conflict in him, seemed the
conflict that had raged in him yesternight. Then, it had been his
dandihood against his passion for Zuleika. What mattered the issue?
Whichever won, the victory were sweet. And of this he had all the
while been subconscious, gallantly though he fought for his pride of
dandihood. To-night in the battle between pride and memory, he knew
from the outset that pride's was but a forlorn hope, and that memory
would be barbarous in her triumph. Not winning to oblivion, he must
hate with a fathomless hatred. Of all the emotions, hatred is the most
excruciating. Of all the objects of hatred, a woman once loved is the
most hateful. Of all deaths, the bitterest that can befall a man is
that he lay down his life to flatter the woman he deems vilest of her
Such was the death that the Duke of Dorset saw confronting him. Most
men, when they are at war with the past, have the future as ally.
Looking steadfastly forward, they can forget. The Duke's future was
openly in league with his past. For him, prospect was memory. All that
there was for him of future was the death to which his honour was
pledged. To envisage that was to . . . no, he would NOT envisage it!
With a passionate effort he hypnotised himself to think of nothing at
all. His brain, into which, by the power Zeus gave me, I was gazing,
became a perfect vacuum, insulated by the will. It was the kind of
experiment which scientists call "beautiful." And yes, beautiful it
But not in the eyes of Nature. She abhors a vacuum. Seeing the
enormous odds against which the Duke was fighting, she might well have
stood aside. But she has no sense of sport whatsoever. She stepped in.
At first I did not realise what was happening. I saw the Duke's eyes
contract, and the muscles of his mouth drawn down, and, at the same
time, a tense upward movement of his whole body. Then, suddenly, the
strain undone: a downward dart of the head, a loud percussion. Thrice
the Duke sneezed, with a sound that was as the bursting of the dams of
body and soul together; then sneezed again.
Now was his will broken. He capitulated. In rushed shame and horror
and hatred, pell-mell, to ravage him.
What care now, what use, for deportment? He walked coweringly round
and round his room, with frantic gestures, with head bowed. He
shuffled and slunk. His dressing-gown had the look of a gabardine.
Shame and horror and hatred went slashing and hewing throughout the
fallen citadel. At length, exhausted, he flung himself down on the
window-seat and leaned out into the night, panting. The air was full
of thunder. He clutched at his throat. From the depths of the black
caverns beneath their brows the eyes of the unsleeping Emperors
He had gone through much in the day that was past. He had loved and
lost. He had striven to recapture, and had failed. In a strange
resolve he had found serenity and joy. He had been at the point of
death, and had been saved. He had seen that his beloved was worthless,
and he had not cared. He had fought for her, and conquered; and had
pled with her, and--all these memories were loathsome by reason of
that final thing which had all the while lain in wait for him.
He looked back and saw himself as he had been at a score of crucial
moments in the day--always in the shadow of that final thing. He saw
himself as he had been on the playing-fields of Eton; aye! and in the
arms of his nurse, to and fro on the terrace of Tankerton--always in
the shadow of that final thing, always piteous and ludicrous, doomed.
Thank heaven the future was unknowable? It wasn't, now. To-morrow--
to-day--he must die for that accursed fiend of a woman--the woman with
the hyena laugh.
What to do meanwhile? Impossible to sleep. He felt in his body the
strain of his quick sequence of spiritual adventures. He was dog-
tired. But his brain was furiously out of hand: no stopping it. And
the night was stifling. And all the while, in the dead silence, as
though his soul had ears, there was a sound. It was a very faint,
unearthly sound, and seemed to come from nowhere, yet to have a
meaning. He feared he was rather over-wrought.
He must express himself. That would soothe him. Ever since childhood
he had had, from time to time, the impulse to set down in writing his
thoughts or his moods. In such exercises he had found for his self-
consciousness the vent which natures less reserved than his find in
casual talk with Tom, Dick and Harry, with Jane, Susan, and Liz. Aloof
from either of these triads, he had in his first term at Eton taken to
himself as confidant, and retained ever since, a great quarto volume,
bound in red morocco and stamped with his coronet and cypher. It was
herein, year by year, that his soul spread itself.
He wrote mostly in English prose; but other modes were not infrequent.
Whenever he was abroad, it was his courteous habit to write in the
language of the country where he was residing--French, when he was in
his house on the Champs Elysees; Italian, when he was in his villa at
Baiae; and so on. When he was in his own country he felt himself free
to deviate sometimes from the vernacular into whatever language were
aptest to his frame of mind. In his sterner moods he gravitated to
Latin, and wrought the noble iron of that language to effects that
were, if anything, a trifle over-impressive. He found for his highest
flights of contemplation a handy vehicle in Sanscrit. In hours of mere
joy it was Greek poetry that flowed likeliest from his pen; and he had
a special fondness for the metre of Alcaeus.
And now, too, in his darkest hour, it was Greek that surged in him--
iambics of thunderous wrath such as those which are volleyed by
Prometheus. But as he sat down to his writing-table, and unlocked the
dear old album, and dipped his pen in the ink, a great calm fell on
him. The iambics in him began to breathe such sweetness as is on the
lips of Alcestis going to her doom. But, just as he set pen to paper,
his hand faltered, and he sprang up, victim of another and yet more
violent fit of sneezing.
Disbuskined, dangerous. The spirit of Juvenal woke in him. He would
flay. He would make Woman (as he called Zuleika) writhe. Latin
hexameters, of course. An epistle to his heir presumptive . . . "Vae
tibi," he began,
"Vae tibi, vae misero, nisi circumspexeris artes
Femineas, nam nulla salus quin femina possit
Tradere, nulla fides quin"--
"Quin," he repeated. In writing soliloquies, his trouble was to curb
inspiration. The thought that he was addressing his heir-presumptive--
now heir-only-too-apparent--gave him pause. Nor, he reflected, was he
addressing this brute only, but a huge posthumous audience. These
hexameters would be sure to appear in the "authorised" biography. "A
melancholy interest attaches to the following lines, written, it would
seem, on the very eve of" . . . He winced. Was it really possible, and
no dream, that he was to die to-morrow--to-day?
Even you, unassuming reader, go about with a vague notion that in your
case, somehow, the ultimate demand of nature will be waived. The Duke,
until he conceived his sudden desire to die, had deemed himself
certainly exempt. And now, as he sat staring at his window, he saw in
the paling of the night the presage of the dawn of his own last day.
Sometimes (orphaned though he was in early childhood) he had even
found it hard to believe there was no exemption for those to whom he
stood in any personal relation. He remembered how, soon after he went
to Eton, he had received almost with incredulity the news of the death
of his god-father, Lord Stackley, an octogenarian. . . . He took from
the table his album, knowing that on one of the earliest pages was
inscribed his boyish sense of that bereavement. Yes, here the passage
was, written in a large round hand:
"Death knocks, as we know, at the door of the cottage and of the
castle. He stalks up the front-garden and the steep steps of the
semi-detached villa, and plies the ornamental knocker so imperiously
that the panels of imitation stained glass quiver in the thin front-
door. Even the family that occupies the topmost story of a building
without a lift is on his ghastly visiting-list. He rattles his
fleshless knuckles against the door of the gypsy's caravan. Into
the savage's tent, wigwam, or wattled hut, he darts unbidden. Even on
the hermit in the cave he forces his obnoxious presence. His is an
universal beat, and he walks it with a grin. But be sure it is at the
sombre portal of the nobleman that he knocks with the greatest gusto.
It is there, where haply his visit will be commemorated with a
hatchment; it is then, when the muffled thunder of the Dead March
in 'Saul' will soon be rolling in cathedrals; it is then, it is there,
that the pride of his unquestioned power comes grimliest home to him.
Is there no withstanding him? Why should he be admitted always with
awe, a cravenly-honoured guest? When next he calls, let the butler
send him about his business, or tell him to step round to the
servants' entrance. If it be made plain to him that his visits
are an impertinence, he will soon be disemboldened. Once the
aristocracy make a stand against him, there need be no more trouble
about the exorbitant Duties named after him. And for the hereditary
system--that system which both offends the common sense of the
Radical, and wounds the Tory by its implied admission that noblemen
are mortal--a seemly substitute will have been found."
Artless and crude in expression, very boyish, it seemed now to its
author. Yet, in its simple wistfulness, it had quality: it rang true.
The Duke wondered whether, with all that he had since mastered in the
great art of English prose, he had not lost something, too.
"Is there no withstanding him?" To think that the boy who uttered that
cry, and gave back so brave an answer, was within nine years to go
seek death of his own accord! How the gods must be laughing! Yes, the
exquisite point of the joke, for them, was that he CHOSE to die.
But--and, as the thought flashed through him, he started like a man
shot--what if he chose not to? Stay, surely there was some reason why
he MUST die. Else, why throughout the night had he taken his doom for
granted? . . . Honour: yes, he had pledged himself. Better death than
dishonour. Was it, though? was it? Ah, he, who had come so near to
death, saw dishonour as a tiny trifle. Where was the sting of it? Not
he would be ridiculous to-morrow--to-day. Every one would acclaim his
splendid act of moral courage. She, she, the hyena woman, would be the
fool. No one would have thought of dying for her, had he not set the
example. Every one would follow his new example. Yes, he would save
Oxford yet. That was his duty. Duty and darling vengeance! And life--
It was full dawn now. Gone was that faint, monotonous sound which had
punctuated in his soul the horrors of his vigil. But, in reminder of
those hours, his lamp was still burning. He extinguished it; and the
going-out of that tarnished light made perfect his sense of release.
He threw wide his arms in welcome of the great adorable day, and of
all the great adorable days that were to be his.
He leaned out from his window, drinking the dawn in. The gods had made
merry over him, had they? And the cry of the hyena had made night
hideous. Well, it was his turn now. He would laugh last and loudest.
And already, for what was to be, he laughed outright into the morning;
insomuch that the birds in the trees of Trinity, and still more the
Emperors over the way, marvelled greatly.
They had awaited thousands and innumerable thousands of daybreaks in
the Broad, these Emperors, counting the long slow hours till the night
were over. It is in the night especially that their fallen greatness
haunts them. Day brings some distraction. They are not incurious of
the lives around them--these little lives that succeed one another so
quickly. To them, in their immemorial old age, youth is a constant
wonder. And so is death, which to them comes not. Youth or death--
which, they had often asked themselves, was the goodlier? But it was
ill that these two things should be mated. It was ill-come, this day
Long after the Duke was in bed and asleep, his peal of laughter echoed
in the ears of the Emperors. Why had he laughed?
And they said to themselves "We are very old men, and broken, and in a
land not our own. There are things that we do not understand."
Brief was the freshness of the dawn. From all points of the compass,
dark grey clouds mounted into the sky. There, taking their places as
though in accordance to a strategic plan laid down for them, they
ponderously massed themselves, and presently, as at a given signal,
drew nearer to earth, and halted, an irresistible great army, awaiting
Somewhere under cover of them the sun went his way, transmitting a
sulphurous heat. The very birds in the trees of Trinity were oppressed
and did not twitter. The very leaves did not whisper.
Out through the railings, and across the road, prowled a skimpy and
dingy cat, trying to look like a tiger.
It was all very sinister and dismal.
The hours passed. The Broad put forth, one by one, its signs of
Soon after eight o'clock, as usual, the front-door of the Duke's
lodgings was opened from within. The Emperors watched for the faint
cloud of dust that presently emerged, and for her whom it preceded. To
them, this first outcoming of the landlady's daughter was a moment of
daily interest. Katie!--they had known her as a toddling child; and
later as a little girl scampering off to school, all legs and pinafore
and streaming golden hair. And now she was sixteen years old. Her
hair, tied back at the nape of her neck, would very soon be "up." Her
big blue eyes were as they had always been; but she had long passed
out of pinafores into aprons, had taken on a sedateness befitting her
years and her duties, and was anxious to be regarded rather as an aunt
than as a sister by her brother Clarence, aged twelve. The Emperors
had always predicted that she would be pretty. And very pretty she
As she came slowly out, with eyes downcast to her broom, sweeping the
dust so seriously over the doorstep and then across the pavement, and
anon when she reappeared with pail and scrubbing-brush, and abased
herself before the doorstep, and wrought so vehemently there, what
filled her little soul was not the dignity of manual labour. The
duties that Zuleika had envied her were dear to her exactly as they
would have been, yesterday morning, to Zuleika. The Emperors had
often noticed that during vacations their little favourite's treatment
of the doorstep was languid and perfunctory. They knew well her
secret, and always (for who can be long in England without becoming
sentimental?) they cherished the hope of a romantic union between her
and "a certain young gentleman," as they archly called the Duke. His
continued indifference to her they took almost as an affront to
themselves. Where in all England was a prettier, sweeter girl than
their Katie? The sudden irruption of Zuleika into Oxford was
especially grievous to them because they could no longer hope
against hope that Katie would be led by the Duke to the altar, and
thence into the highest social circles, and live happily ever after.
Luckily it was for Katie, however, that they had no power to fill her
head with their foolish notions. It was well for her to have never
doubted she loved in vain. She had soon grown used to her lot. Not
until yesterday had there been any bitterness. Jealousy surged in
Katie at the very moment when she beheld Zuleika on the threshold.
A glance at the Duke's face when she showed the visitor up was enough
to acquaint her with the state of his heart. And she did not, for
confirming her intuition, need the two or three opportunities she
took of listening at the keyhole. What in the course of those informal
audiences did surprise her--so much indeed that she could hardly
believe her ear--was that it was possible for a woman not to love the
Duke. Her jealousy of "that Miss Dobson" was for a while swallowed up
in her pity for him. What she had borne so cheerfully for herself she
could not bear for her hero. She wished she had not happened to
And this morning, while she knelt swaying and spreading over "his"
doorstep, her blue eyes added certain tears to be scrubbed away in the
general moisture of the stone. Rising, she dried her hands in her
apron, and dried her eyes with her hands. Lest her mother should see
that she had been crying, she loitered outside the door. Suddenly, her
roving glance changed to a stare of acute hostility. She knew well
that the person wandering towards her was--no, not "that Miss Dobson,"
as she had for the fraction of an instant supposed, but the next worst
It has been said that Melisande indoors was an evidently French maid.
Out of doors she was not less evidently Zuleika's. Not that she aped
her mistress. The resemblance had come by force of propinquity and
devotion. Nature had laid no basis for it. Not one point of form or
colour had the two women in common. It has been said that Zuleika was
not strictly beautiful. Melisande, like most Frenchwomen, was strictly
plain. But in expression and port, in her whole tournure, she had
become, as every good maid does, her mistress' replica. The poise of
her head, the boldness of her regard and brilliance of her smile,
the leisurely and swinging way in which she walked, with a hand on
the hip--all these things of hers were Zuleika's too. She was no
conqueror. None but the man to whom she was betrothed--a waiter at
the Cafe Tourtel, named Pelleas--had ever paid court to her; nor
was she covetous of other hearts. Yet she looked victorious, and
insatiable of victories, and "terrible as an army with banners."
In the hand that was not on her hip she carried a letter. And on her
shoulders she had to bear the full burden of the hatred that Zuleika
had inspired in Katie. But this she did not know. She came glancing
boldly, leisurely, at the numbers on the front-doors.
Katie stepped back on to the doorstep, lest the inferiority of her
stature should mar the effect of her disdain.
"Good-day. Is it here that Duke D'Orsay lives?" asked Melisande, as
nearly accurate as a Gaul may be in such matters.
"The Duke of Dorset," said Katie with a cold and insular emphasis,
"lives here." And "You," she tried to convey with her eyes, "you, for
all your smart black silk, are a hireling. I am Miss Batch. I happen
to have a hobby for housework. I have not been crying."
"Then please mount this to him at once," said Melisande, holding out
the letter. "It is from Miss Dobson's part. Very express. I wait
"You are very ugly," Katie signalled with her eyes. "I am very pretty.
I have the Oxfordshire complexion. And I play the piano." With her
lips she said merely, "His Grace is not called before nine o'clock."
"But to-day you go wake him now--quick--is it not?"
"Quite out of the question," said Katie. "If you care to leave that
letter here, I will see that it is placed on his Grace's breakfast-
table, with the morning's post." "For the rest," added her eyes, "Down
"I find you droll, but droll, my little one!" cried Melisande.
Katie stepped back and shut the door in her face. "Like a little
Empress," the Emperors commented.
The Frenchwoman threw up her hands and apostrophised heaven. To this
day she believes that all the bonnes of Oxford are mad, but mad, and
of a madness.
She stared at the door, at the pail and scrubbing-brush that had been
shut out with her, at the letter in her hand. She decided that she had
better drop the letter into the slit in the door and make report to
As the envelope fell through the slit to the door-mat, Katie made at
Melisande a grimace which, had not the panels been opaque, would have
astonished the Emperors. Resuming her dignity, she picked the thing
up, and, at arm's length, examined it. It was inscribed in pencil.
Katie's lips curled at sight of the large, audacious handwriting. But
it is probable that whatever kind of handwriting Zuleika might have
had would have been just the kind that Katie would have expected.
Fingering the envelope, she wondered what the wretched woman had to
say. It occurred to her that the kettle was simmering on the hob in
the kitchen, and that she might easily steam open the envelope and
master its contents. However, her doing this would have in no way
affected the course of the tragedy. And so the gods (being to-day in a
strictly artistic mood) prompted her to mind her own business.
Laying the Duke's table for breakfast, she made as usual a neat
rectangular pile of the letters that had come for him by post.
Zuleika's letter she threw down askew. That luxury she allowed
And he, when he saw the letter, allowed himself the luxury of leaving
it unopened awhile. Whatever its purport, he knew it could but
minister to his happy malice. A few hours ago, with what shame and
dread it would have stricken him! Now it was a dainty to be dallied
His eyes rested on the black tin boxes that contained his robes of the
Garter. Hateful had been the sight of them in the watches of the
night, when he thought he had worn those robes for the last time. But
He opened Zuleika's letter. It did not disappoint him.
"DEAR DUKE,--DO, DO forgive me. I am beyond words ashamed of the silly
tomboyish thing I did last night. Of course it was no worse than that,
but an awful fear haunts me that you MAY have thought I acted in anger
at the idea of your breaking your promise to me. Well, it is quite
true I had been hurt and angry when you hinted at doing that, but the
moment I left you I saw that you had been only in fun, and I enjoyed
the joke against myself, though I thought it was rather too bad of
you. And then, as a sort of revenge, but almost before I knew what I
was doing, I played that IDIOTIC practical joke on you. I have been
MISERABLE ever since. DO come round as early as possible and tell me I
am forgiven. But before you tell me that, please lecture me till I
cry--though indeed I have been crying half through the night. And then
if you want to be VERY horrid you may tease me for being so slow to
see a joke. And then you might take me to see some of the Colleges and
things before we go on to lunch at The MacQuern's? Forgive pencil and
scrawl. Am sitting up in bed to write.-- Your sincere friend,
"P.S.--Please burn this."
At that final injunction, the Duke abandoned himself to his mirth.
"Please burn this." Poor dear young woman, how modest she was in the
glare of her diplomacy! Why there was nothing, not one phrase, to
compromise her in the eyes of a coroner's jury! . . . Seriously, she
had good reason to be proud of her letter. For the purpose in view it
couldn't have been better done. That was what made it so touchingly
absurd. He put himself in her position. He pictured himself as her,
"sitting up in bed," pencil in hand, to explain away, to soothe, to
clinch and bind . . . Yes, if he had happened to be some other man--
one whom her insult might have angered without giving love its
death-blow, and one who could be frightened out of not keeping his
word--this letter would have been capital.
He helped himself to some more marmalade, and poured out another cup
of coffee. Nothing is more thrilling, thought he, than to be treated
as a cully by the person you hold in the hollow of your hand.
But within this great irony lay (to be glided over) another irony. He
knew well in what mood Zuleika had done what she had done to him last
night; yet he preferred to accept her explanation of it.
Officially, then, he acquitted her of anything worse than
tomboyishness. But this verdict for his own convenience implied
no mercy to the culprit. The sole point for him was how to administer
her punishment the most poignantly. Just how should he word his
He rose from his chair, and "Dear Miss Dobson--no, MY dear Miss
Dobson," he murmured, pacing the room, "I am so very sorry I cannot
come to see you: I have to attend two lectures this morning. By
contrast with this weariness, it will be the more delightful to meet
you at The MacQuern's. I want to see as much as I can of you to-day,
because to-night there is the Bump Supper, and to-morrow morning,
alas! I must motor to Windsor for this wretched Investiture.
Meanwhile, how can you ask to be forgiven when there is nothing
whatever to forgive? It seems to me that mine, not yours, is the form
of humour that needs explanation. My proposal to die for you was made
in as playful a spirit as my proposal to marry you. And it is really
for me to ask forgiveness of you. One thing especially," he murmured,
fingering in his waistcoat-pocket the ear-rings she had given him,
"pricks my conscience. I do feel that I ought not to have let you
give me these two pearls--at any rate, not the one which went into
premature mourning for me. As I have no means of deciding which of the
two this one is, I enclose them both, with the hope that the pretty
difference between them will in time reappear" . . . Or words to that
effect . . . Stay! why not add to the joy of contriving that effect
the greater joy of watching it? Why send Zuleika a letter? He would
obey her summons. He would speed to her side. He snatched up a hat.
In this haste, however, he detected a certain lack of dignity. He
steadied himself, and went slowly to the mirror. There he adjusted his
hat with care, and regarded himself very seriously, very sternly, from
various angles, like a man invited to paint his own portrait for the
Uffizi. He must be worthy of himself. It was well that Zuleika should
be chastened. Great was her sin. Out of life and death she had
fashioned toys for her vanity. But his joy must be in vindication of
what was noble, not in making suffer what was vile. Yesterday he had
been her puppet, her Jumping-Jack; to-day it was as avenging angel
that he would appear before her. The gods had mocked him who was now
their minister. Their minister? Their master, as being once more
master of himself. It was they who had plotted his undoing. Because
they loved him they were fain that he should die young. The Dobson
woman was but their agent, their cat's-paw. By her they had all but
got him. Not quite! And now, to teach them, through her, a lesson they
would not soon forget, he would go forth.
Shaking with laughter, the gods leaned over the thunder-clouds to
He went forth.
On the well-whitened doorstep he was confronted by a small boy in
uniform bearing a telegram.
"Duke of Dorset?" asked the small boy.
Opening the envelope, the Duke saw that the message, with which was a
prepaid form for reply, had been handed in at the Tankerton post-
office. It ran thus:
Deeply regret inform your grace last night
two black owls came and perched on battlements
remained there through night hooting
at dawn flew away none knows whither
awaiting instructions Jellings
The Duke's face, though it grew white, moved not one muscle.
Somewhat shamed now, the gods ceased from laughing.
The Duke looked from the telegram to the boy. "Have you a pencil?" he
"Yes, my Lord," said the boy, producing a stump of pencil.
Holding the prepaid form against the door, the Duke wrote:
Jellings Tankerton Hall
Prepare vault for funeral Monday
His handwriting was as firmly and minutely beautiful as ever. Only in
that he forgot there was nothing to pay did he belie his calm. "Here,"
he said to the boy, "is a shilling; and you may keep the change."
"Thank you, my Lord," said the boy, and went his way, as happy as a
Humphrey Greddon, in the Duke's place, would have taken a pinch of
snuff. But he could not have made that gesture with a finer air than
the Duke gave to its modern equivalent. In the art of taking and
lighting a cigarette, there was one man who had no rival in Europe.
This time he outdid even himself.
"Ah," you say, "but 'pluck' is one thing, endurance another. A man who
doesn't reel on receipt of his death-warrant may yet break down when
he has had time to think it over. How did the Duke acquit himself when
he came to the end of his cigarette? And by the way, how was it that
after he had read the telegram you didn't give him again an hour's
In a way, you have a perfect right to ask both those questions. But
their very pertinence shows that you think I might omit things that
matter. Please don't interrupt me again. Am _I_ writing this history,
or are you?
Though the news that he must die was a yet sharper douche, as you have
suggested, than the douche inflicted by Zuleika, it did at least leave
unscathed the Duke's pride. The gods can make a man ridiculous through
a woman, but they cannot make him ridiculous when they deal him a blow
direct. The very greatness of their power makes them, in that respect,
impotent. They had decreed that the Duke should die, and they had told
him so. There was nothing to demean him in that. True, he had just
measured himself against them. But there was no shame in being
gravelled. The peripety was according to the best rules of tragic
art. The whole thing was in the grand manner.
Thus I felt that there were no indelicacy, this time, in watching
him. Just as "pluck" comes of breeding, so is endurance especially
an attribute of the artist. Because he can stand outside himself,
and (if there be nothing ignoble in them) take a pleasure in his own
sufferings, the artist has a huge advantage over you and me. The Duke,
so soon as Zuleika's spell was broken, had become himself again--a
highly self-conscious artist in life. And now, standing pensive on the
doorstep, he was almost enviable in his great affliction.
Through the wreaths of smoke which, as they came from his lips, hung
in the sultry air as they would have hung in a closed room, he gazed
up at the steadfast thunder-clouds. How nobly they had been massed
for him! One of them, a particularly large and dark one, might with
advantage, he thought, have been placed a little further to the left.
He made a gesture to that effect. Instantly the cloud rolled into
position. The gods were painfully anxious, now, to humour him in
trifles. His behaviour in the great emergency had so impressed them
at a distance that they rather dreaded meeting him anon at close
quarters. They rather wished they had not uncaged, last night, the
two black owls. Too late. What they had done they had done.
That faint monotonous sound in the stillness of the night--the Duke
remembered it now. What he had thought to be only his fancy had been
his death-knell, wafted to him along uncharted waves of ether, from
the battlements of Tankerton. It had ceased at daybreak. He wondered
now that he had not guessed its meaning. And he was glad that he had
not. He was thankful for the peace that had been granted to him, the
joyous arrogance in which he had gone to bed and got up for breakfast.
He valued these mercies the more for the great tragic irony that came
of them. Aye, and he was inclined to blame the gods for not having
kept him still longer in the dark and so made the irony still more
awful. Why had they not caused the telegram to be delayed in
transmission? They ought to have let him go and riddle Zuleika with
his scorn and his indifference. They ought to have let him hurl
through her his defiance of them. Art aside, they need not have
grudged him that excursion.
He could not, he told himself, face Zuleika now. As artist, he saw
that there was irony enough left over to make the meeting a fine one.
As theologian, he did not hold her responsible for his destiny. But as
a man, after what she had done to him last night, and before what he
had to do for her to-day, he would not go out of his way to meet her.
Of course, he would not actually avoid her. To seem to run away from
her were beneath his dignity. But, if he did meet her, what in
heaven's name should he say to her? He remembered his promise to
lunch with The MacQuern, and shuddered. She would be there. Death,
as he had said, cancelled all engagements. A very simple way out of
the difficulty would be to go straight to the river. No, that would
be like running away. It couldn't be done.
Hardly had he rejected the notion when he had a glimpse of a female
figure coming quickly round the corner--a glimpse that sent him
walking quickly away, across the road, towards Turl Street, blushing
violently. Had she seen him? he asked himself. And had she seen that
he saw her? He heard her running after him. He did not look round, he
quickened his pace. She was gaining on him. Involuntarily, he ran--ran
like a hare, and, at the corner of Turl Street, rose like a trout, saw
the pavement rise at him, and fell, with a bang, prone.
Let it be said at once that in this matter the gods were absolutely
blameless. It is true they had decreed that a piece of orange-peel
should be thrown down this morning at the corner of Turl Street. But
the Master of Balliol, not the Duke, was the person they had destined
to slip on it. You must not imagine that they think out and appoint
everything that is to befall us, down to the smallest detail.
Generally, they just draw a sort of broad outline, and leave us to
fill it in according to our taste. Thus, in the matters of which this
book is record, it was they who made the Warden invite his grand-
daughter to Oxford, and invite the Duke to meet her on the evening of
her arrival. And it was they who prompted the Duke to die for her on
the following (Tuesday) afternoon. They had intended that he should
execute his resolve after, or before, the boat-race of that evening.
But an oversight upset this plan. They had forgotten on Monday night
to uncage the two black owls; and so it was necessary that the Duke's
death should be postponed. They accordingly prompted Zuleika to save
him. For the rest, they let the tragedy run its own course--merely
putting in a felicitous touch here and there, or vetoing a
superfluity, such as that Katie should open Zuleika's letter. It was
no part of their scheme that the Duke should mistake Melisande for her
mistress, or that he should run away from her, and they were genuinely
sorry when he, instead of the Master of Balliol, came to grief over
Them, however, the Duke cursed as he fell; them again as he raised
himself on one elbow, giddy and sore; and when he found that the woman
bending over him was not she whom he dreaded, but her innocent maid,
it was against them that he almost foamed at the mouth.
"Monsieur le Duc has done himself harm--no?" panted Melisande. "Here
is a letter from Miss Dobson's part. She say to me 'Give it him with
your own hand.'"
The Duke received the letter and, sitting upright, tore it to shreds,
thus confirming a suspicion which Melisande had conceived at the
moment when he took to his heels, that all English noblemen are mad,
but mad, and of a madness.
"Nom de Dieu," she cried, wringing her hands, "what shall I tell to
"Tell her--" the Duke choked back a phrase of which the memory would
have shamed his last hours. "Tell her," he substituted, "that you have
seen Marius sitting among the ruins of Carthage," and limped quickly
away down the Turl.
Both his hands had been abraded by the fall. He tended them angrily
with his handkerchief. Mr. Druce, the chemist, had anon the privilege
of bathing and plastering them, also of balming and binding the right
knee and the left shin. "Might have been a very nasty accident, your
Grace," he said. "It was," said the Duke. Mr. Druce concurred.
Nevertheless, Mr. Druce's remark sank deep. The Duke thought it quite
likely that the gods had intended the accident to be fatal, and that
only by his own skill and lightness in falling had he escaped the
ignominy of dying in full flight from a lady's-maid. He had not, you
see, lost all sense of free-will. While Mr. Druce put the finishing
touches to his shin, "I am utterly purposed," he said to himself,
"that for this death of mine I will choose my own manner and my own
--well, not 'time' exactly, but whatever moment within my brief span
of life shall seem aptest to me. Unberufen," he added, lightly tapping
Mr. Druce's counter.
The sight of some bottles of Cold Mixture on that hospitable board
reminded him of a painful fact. In the clash of the morning's
excitements, he had hardly felt the gross ailment that was on him. He
became fully conscious of it now, and there leapt in him a hideous
doubt: had he escaped a violent death only to succumb to "natural
causes"? He had never hitherto had anything the matter with him, and
thus he belonged to the worst, the most apprehensive, class of
patients. He knew that a cold, were it neglected, might turn
malignant; and he had a vision of himself gripped suddenly in the
street by internal agonies--a sympathetic crowd, an ambulance, his
darkened bedroom; local doctor making hopelessly wrong diagnosis;
eminent specialists served up hot by special train, commending local
doctor's treatment, but shaking their heads and refusing to say more
than "He has youth on his side"; a slight rally at sunset; the end.
All this flashed through his mind. He quailed. There was not a moment
to lose. He frankly confessed to Mr. Druce that he had a cold.
Mr. Druce, trying to insinuate by his manner that this fact had not
been obvious, suggested the Mixture--a teaspoonful every two hours.
"Give me some now, please, at once," said the Duke.
He felt magically better for the draught. He handled the little glass
lovingly, and eyed the bottle. "Why not two teaspoonfuls every hour?"
he suggested, with an eagerness almost dipsomaniacal. But Mr. Druce
was respectfully firm against that. The Duke yielded. He fancied,
indeed, that the gods had meant him to die of an overdose.
Still, he had a craving for more. Few though his hours were, he hoped
the next two would pass quickly. And, though he knew Mr. Druce could
be trusted to send the bottle round to his rooms immediately, he
preferred to carry it away with him. He slipped it into the breast-
pocket of his coat, almost heedless of the slight extrusion it made
Just as he was about to cross the High again, on his way home, a
butcher's cart dashed down the slope, recklessly driven. He stepped
well back on the pavement, and smiled a sardonic smile. He looked to
right and to left, carefully gauging the traffic. Some time elapsed
before he deemed the road clear enough for transit.
Safely across, he encountered a figure that seemed to loom up out of
the dim past. Oover! Was it but yesternight that Oover dined with him?
With the sensation of a man groping among archives, he began to
apologise to the Rhodes Scholar for having left him so abruptly at the
Junta. Then, presto!--as though those musty archives were changed to a
crisp morning paper agog with terrific head-lines--he remembered the
awful resolve of Oover, and of all young Oxford.
"Of course," he asked, with a lightness that hardly hid his dread of
the answer, "you have dismissed the notion you were toying with when I
Oover's face, like his nature, was as sensitive as it was massive, and
it instantly expressed his pain at the doubt cast on his high
seriousness. "Duke," he asked, "d'you take me for a skunk?"
"Without pretending to be quite sure what a skunk is," said the Duke,
"I take you to be all that it isn't. And the high esteem in which I
hold you is the measure for me of the loss that your death would be to
America and to Oxford."
Oover blushed. "Duke" he said "that's a bully testimonial. But don't
worry. America can turn out millions just like me, and Oxford can have
as many of them as she can hold. On the other hand, how many of YOU
can be turned out, as per sample, in England? Yet you choose to
destroy yourself. You avail yourself of the Unwritten Law. And you're
right, Sir. Love transcends all."
"But does it? What if I told you I had changed my mind?"
"Then, Duke," said Oover, slowly, "I should believe that all those
yarns I used to hear about the British aristocracy were true, after
all. I should aver that you were not a white man. Leading us on like
that, and then--Say, Duke! Are you going to die to-day, or not?"
"As a matter of fact, I am, but--"
Oover wrung the Duke's hand, and was passing on. "Stay!" he was
"Sorry, unable. It's just turning eleven o'clock, and I've a lecture.
While life lasts, I'm bound to respect Rhodes' intentions." The
conscientious Scholar hurried away.
The Duke wandered down the High, taking counsel with himself. He was
ashamed of having so utterly forgotten the mischief he had wrought at
large. At dawn he had vowed to undo it. Undo it he must. But the task
was not a simple one now. If he could say "Behold, I take back my
word. I spurn Miss Dobson, and embrace life," it was possible that his
example would suffice. But now that he could only say "Behold, I spurn
Miss Dobson, and will not die for her, but I am going to commit
suicide, all the same," it was clear that his words would carry very
little force. Also, he saw with pain that they placed him in a
somewhat ludicrous position. His end, as designed yesterday, had a
large and simple grandeur. So had his recantation of it. But this new
compromise between the two things had a fumbled, a feeble, an ignoble
look. It seemed to combine all the disadvantages of both courses. It
stained his honour without prolonging his life. Surely, this was a
high price to pay for snubbing Zuleika . . . Yes, he must revert
without more ado to his first scheme. He must die in the manner that
he had blazoned forth. And he must do it with a good grace, none
knowing he was not glad; else the action lost all dignity. True, this
was no way to be a saviour. But only by not dying at all could he have
set a really potent example. . . . He remembered the look that had
come into Oover's eyes just now at the notion of his unfaith. Perhaps
he would have been the mock, not the saviour, of Oxford. Better
dishonour than death, maybe. But, since die he must, he must die not
belittling or tarnishing the name of Tanville-Tankerton.
Within these bounds, however, he must put forth his full might to
avert the general catastrophe--and to punish Zuleika nearly well
enough, after all, by intercepting that vast nosegay from her
outstretched hands and her distended nostrils. There was no time
to be lost, then. But he wondered, as he paced the grand curve
between St. Mary's and Magdalen Bridge, just how was he to begin?
Down the flight of steps from Queen's came lounging an average
"Mr. Smith," said the Duke, "a word with you."
"But my name is not Smith," said the young man.
"Generically it is," replied the Duke. "You are Smith to all intents
and purposes. That, indeed, is why I address you. In making your
acquaintance, I make a thousand acquaintances. You are a short cut to
knowledge. Tell me, do you seriously think of drowning yourself this
"Rather," said the undergraduate.
"A meiosis in common use, equivalent to 'Yes, assuredly,'" murmured
the Duke. "And why," he then asked, "do you mean to do this?"
"Why? How can you ask? Why are YOU going to do it?"
"The Socratic manner is not a game at which two can play. Please
answer my question, to the best of your ability."
"Well, because I can't live without her. Because I want to prove my
love for her. Because--"
"One reason at a time please," said the Duke, holding up his hand.
"You can't live without her? Then I am to assume that you look forward
"You are truly happy in that prospect?"
"Now, suppose I showed you two pieces of equally fine amber--a big one
and a little one. Which of these would you rather possess?"
"The big one, I suppose."
"And this because it is better to have more than to have less of a
"Do you consider happiness a good thing or a bad one?"
"A good one."
"So that a man would rather have more than less of happiness?"
"Then does it not seem to you that you would do well to postpone your
"But I have just said I can't live without her."
"You have still more recently declared yourself truly happy."
"Now, be careful, Mr. Smith. Remember, this is a matter of life and
death. Try to do yourself justice. I have asked you--"
But the undergraduate was walking away, not without a certain dignity.
The Duke felt that he had not handled his man skilfully. He remembered
that even Socrates, for all the popular charm of his mock-modesty and
his true geniality, had ceased after a while to be tolerable. Without
such a manner to grace his method, Socrates would have had a very
brief time indeed. The Duke recoiled from what he took to be another
pitfall. He almost smelt hemlock.
A party of four undergraduates abreast was approaching. How should he
address them? His choice wavered between the evangelic wistfulness of
"Are you saved?" and the breeziness of the recruiting sergeant's
"Come, you're fine upstanding young fellows. Isn't it a pity," etc.
Meanwhile, the quartet had passed by.
Two other undergraduates approached. The Duke asked them simply as a
personal favour to himself not to throw away their lives. They said
they were very sorry, but in this particular matter they must please
themselves. In vain he pled. They admitted that but for his example
they would never have thought of dying. They wished they could show
him their gratitude in any way but the one which would rob them of it.
The Duke drifted further down the High, bespeaking every undergraduate
he met, leaving untried no argument, no inducement. For one man, whose
name he happened to know, he invented an urgent personal message from
Miss Dobson imploring him not to die on her account. On another man he
offered to settle by hasty codicil a sum of money sufficient to yield
an annual income of two thousand pounds--three thousand--any sum
within reason. With another he offered to walk, arm in arm, to Carfax
and back again. All to no avail.
He found himself in the precincts of Magdalen, preaching from the
little open-air pulpit there an impassioned sermon on the sacredness
of human life, and referring to Zuleika in terms which John Knox would
have hesitated to utter. As he piled up the invective, he noticed an
ominous restiveness in the congregation--murmurs, clenching of hands,
dark looks. He saw the pulpit as yet another trap laid for him by the
gods. He had walked straight into it: another moment, and he might be
dragged down, overwhelmed by numbers, torn limb from limb. All that
was in him of quelling power he put hastily into his eyes, and
manoeuvred his tongue to gentler discourse, deprecating his right to
judge "this lady," and merely pointing the marvel, the awful though
noble folly, of his resolve. He ended on a note of quiet pathos. "To-
night I shall be among the shades. There be not you, my brothers."
Good though the sermon was in style and sentiment, the flaw in its
reasoning was too patent for any converts to be made. As he walked
out of the quadrangle, the Duke felt the hopelessness of his cause.
Still he battled bravely for it up the High, waylaying, cajoling,
commanding, offering vast bribes. He carried his crusade into the
Loder, and thence into Vincent's, and out into the street again,
eager, untiring, unavailing: everywhere he found his precept
checkmated by his example.
The sight of The MacQuern coming out top-speed from the Market, with a
large but inexpensive bunch of flowers, reminded him of the luncheon
that was to be. Never to throw over an engagement was for him, as we
have seen, a point of honour. But this particular engagement--hateful,
when he accepted it, by reason of his love--was now impossible for the
reason which had made him take so ignominiously to his heels this
morning. He curtly told the Scot not to expect him.
"Is SHE not coming?" gasped the Scot, with quick suspicion.
"Oh," said the Duke, turning on his heel, "she doesn't know that I
shan't be there. You may count on her." This he took to be the very
truth, and he was glad to have made of it a thrust at the man who had
so uncouthly asserted himself last night. He could not help smiling,
though, at this little resentment erect after the cataclysm that had
swept away all else. Then he smiled to think how uneasy Zuleika would
be at his absence. What agonies of suspense she must have had all this
morning! He imagined her silent at the luncheon, with a vacant gaze at
the door, eating nothing at all. And he became aware that he was
rather hungry. He had done all he could to save young Oxford. Now for
some sandwiches! He went into the Junta.
As he rang the dining-room bell, his eyes rested on the miniature of
Nellie O'Mora. And the eyes of Nellie O'Mora seemed to meet his in
reproach. Just as she may have gazed at Greddon when he cast her off,
so now did she gaze at him who a few hours ago had refused to honour
Yes, and many other eyes than hers rebuked him. It was around the
walls of this room that hung those presentments of the Junta as
focussed, year after year, in a certain corner of Tom Quad, by Messrs.
Hills and Saunders. All around, the members of the little hierarchy, a
hierarchy ever changing in all but youth and a certain sternness of
aspect that comes at the moment of being immortalised, were gazing
forth now with a sternness beyond their wont. Not one of them but had
in his day handed on loyally the praise of Nellie O'Mora, in the form
their Founder had ordained. And the Duke's revolt last night had so
incensed them that they would, if they could, have come down from
their frames and walked straight out of the club, in chronological
order--first, the men of the 'sixties, almost as near in time to
Greddon as to the Duke, all so gloriously be-whiskered and cravated,
but how faded now, alas, by exposure; and last of all in the
procession and angrier perhaps than any of them, the Duke himself
--the Duke of a year ago, President and sole Member.
But, as he gazed into the eyes of Nellie O'Mora now, Dorset needed not
for penitence the reproaches of his past self or of his forerunners.
"Sweet girl," he murmured, "forgive me. I was mad. I was under the
sway of a deplorable infatuation. It is past. See," he murmured with a
delicacy of feeling that justified the untruth, "I am come here for
the express purpose of undoing my impiety." And, turning to the club-
waiter who at this moment answered the bell, he said "Bring me a glass
of port, please, Barrett." Of sandwiches he said nothing.
At the word "See" he had stretched one hand towards Nellie; the other
he had laid on his heart, where it seemed to encounter some sort of
hard obstruction. This he vaguely fingered, wondering what it might
be, while he gave his order to Barrett. With a sudden cry he dipped
his hand into his breast-pocket and drew forth the bottle he had borne
away from Mr. Druce's. He snatched out his watch: one o'clock!--
fifteen minutes overdue. Wildly he called the waiter back. "A tea-
spoon, quick! No port. A wine-glass and a tea-spoon. And--for I don't
mind telling you, Barrett, that your mission is of an urgency beyond
conjecture--take lightning for your model. Go!"
Agitation mastered him. He tried vainly to feel his pulse, well
knowing that if he found it he could deduce nothing from its action.
He saw himself haggard in the looking-glass. Would Barrett never come?
"Every two hours"--the directions were explicit. Had he delivered
himself into the gods' hands? The eyes of Nellie O'Mora were on him
compassionately; and all the eyes of his forerunners were on him in
austere scorn: "See," they seemed to be saying, "the chastisement of
last night's blasphemy." Violently, insistently, he rang the bell.
In rushed Barrett at last. From the tea-spoon into the wine-glass
the Duke poured the draught of salvation, and then, raising it
aloft, he looked around at his fore-runners and in a firm voice cried
"Gentlemen, I give you Nellie O'Mora, the fairest witch that ever was
or will be." He drained his glass, heaved the deep sigh of a double
satisfaction, dismissed with a glance the wondering Barrett, and sat
He was glad to be able to face Nellie with a clear conscience. Her
eyes were not less sad now, but it seemed to him that their sadness
came of a knowledge that she would never see him again. She seemed to
be saying to him "Had you lived in my day, it is you that I would have
loved, not Greddon." And he made silent answer, "Had you lived in my
day, I should have been Dobson-proof." He realised, however, that to
Zuleika he owed the tenderness he now felt for Miss O'Mora. It was
Zuleika that had cured him of his aseity. She it was that had made
his heart a warm and negotiable thing. Yes, and that was the final
cruelty. To love and be loved--this, he had come to know, was all that
mattered. Yesterday, to love and die had seemed felicity enough. Now
he knew that the secret, the open secret, of happiness was in mutual
love--a state that needed not the fillip of death. And he had to die
without having ever lived. Admiration, homage, fear, he had sown
broadcast. The one woman who had loved him had turned to stone because
he loved her. Death would lose much of its sting for him if there were
somewhere in the world just one woman, however lowly, whose heart
would be broken by his dying. What a pity Nellie O'Mora was not really
Suddenly he recalled certain words lightly spoken yesterday by
Zuleika. She had told him he was loved by the girl who waited on
him--the daughter of his landlady. Was this so? He had seen no sign
of it, had received no token of it. But, after all, how should he
have seen a sign of anything in one whom he had never consciously
visualised? That she had never thrust herself on his notice might mean
merely that she had been well brought-up. What likelier than that the
daughter of Mrs. Batch, that worthy soul, had been well brought up?
Here, at any rate, was the chance of a new element in his life, or
rather in his death. Here, possibly, was a maiden to mourn him. He
would lunch in his rooms.
With a farewell look at Nellie's miniature, he took the medicine-
bottle from the table, and went quickly out. The heavens had grown
steadily darker and darker, the air more sulphurous and baleful. And
the High had a strangely woebegone look, being all forsaken by youth,
in this hour of luncheon. Even so would its look be all to-morrow,
thought the Duke, and for many morrows. Well he had done what he
could. He was free now to brighten a little his own last hours. He
hastened on, eager to see the landlady's daughter. He wondered what
she was like, and whether she really loved him.
As he threw open the door of his sitting-room, he was aware of a
rustle, a rush, a cry. In another instant, he was aware of Zuleika
Dobson at his feet, at his knees, clasping him to her, sobbing,
For what happened a few moments later you must not blame him. Some
measure of force was the only way out of an impossible situation. It
was in vain that he commanded the young lady to let go: she did but
cling the closer. It was in vain that he tried to disentangle himself
of her by standing first on one foot, then on the other, and veering
sharply on his heel: she did but sway as though hinged to him. He had
no choice but to grasp her by the wrists, cast her aside, and step
clear of her into the room.
Her hat, gauzily basking with a pair of long white gloves on one of
his arm-chairs, proclaimed that she had come to stay.
Nor did she rise. Propped on one elbow, with heaving bosom and parted
lips, she seemed to be trying to realise what had been done to her.
Through her undried tears her eyes shone up to him.
He asked: "To what am I indebted for this visit?"
"Ah, say that again!" she murmured. "Your voice is music."
He repeated his question.
"Music!" she said dreamily; and such is the force of habit that "I
don't," she added, "know anything about music, really. But I know what
"Had you not better get up from the floor?" he said. "The door is
open, and any one who passed might see you."
Softly she stroked the carpet with the palms of her hands. "Happy
carpet!" she crooned. "Aye, happy the very women that wove the threads
that are trod by the feet of my beloved master. But hark! he bids his
slave rise and stand before him!"
Just after she had risen, a figure appeared in the doorway.
"I beg pardon, your Grace; Mother wants to know, will you be lunching
"Yes," said the Duke. "I will ring when I am ready." And it dawned on
him that this girl, who perhaps loved him, was, according to all known
standards, extraordinarily pretty.
"Will--" she hesitated, "will Miss Dobson be--"
"No," he said. "I shall be alone." And there was in the girl's parting
half-glance at Zuleika that which told him he was truly loved, and
made him the more impatient of his offensive and accursed visitor.
"You want to be rid of me?" asked Zuleika, when the girl was gone.
"I have no wish to be rude; but--since you force me to say it--yes."
"Then take me," she cried, throwing back her arms, "and throw me out
of the window."
He smiled coldly.
"You think I don't mean it? You think I would struggle? Try me." She
let herself droop sideways, in an attitude limp and portable. "Try
me," she repeated.
"All this is very well conceived, no doubt," said he, "and well
executed. But it happens to be otiose."
What do you mean?"
"I mean you may set your mind at rest. I am not going to back out of
Zuleika flushed. "You are cruel. I would give the world and all not to
have written you that hateful letter. Forget it, forget it, for pity's
The Duke looked searchingly at her. "You mean that you now wish to
release me from my promise?"
"Release you? As if you were ever bound! Don't torture me!"
He wondered what deep game she was playing. Very real, though, her
anguish seemed; and, if real it was, then--he stared, he gasped--there
could be but one explanation. He put it to her. "You love me?"
"With all my soul."
His heart leapt. If she spoke truth, then indeed vengeance was his!
But "What proof have I?" he asked her.
"Proof? Have men absolutely NO intuition? If you need proof, produce
it. Where are my ear-rings?"
"Your ear-rings? Why?"
Impatiently she pointed to two white pearls that fastened the front of
her blouse. "These are your studs. It was from them I had the great
first hint this morning."
"Black and pink, were they not, when you took them?"
"Of course. And then I forgot that I had them. When I undressed, they
must have rolled on to the carpet. Melisande found them this morning
when she was making the room ready for me to dress. That was just
after she came back from bringing you my first letter. I was
bewildered. I doubted. Might not the pearls have gone back to their
natural state simply through being yours no more? That is why I wrote
again to you, my own darling--a frantic little questioning letter.
When I heard how you had torn it up, I knew, I knew that the pearls
had not mocked me. I telescoped my toilet and came rushing round to
you. How many hours have I been waiting for you?"
The Duke had drawn her ear-rings from his waistcoat pocket, and was
contemplating them in the palm of his hand. Blanched, both of them,
yes. He laid them on the table. "Take them," he said.
"No," she shuddered. "I could never forget that once they were both
black." She flung them into the fender. "Oh John," she cried, turning
to him and falling again to her knees, "I do so want to forget what I
have been. I want to atone. You think you can drive me out of your
life. You cannot, darling--since you won't kill me. Always I shall
follow you on my knees, thus."
He looked down at her over his folded arms,
"I am not going to back out of my promise," he repeated.