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Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm

Part 4 out of 5

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She stopped her ears.

With a stern joy he unfolded his arms, took some papers from his
breast-pocket, and, selecting one of them, handed it to her. It was
the telegram sent by his steward.

She read it. With a stern joy he watched her reading it.

Wild-eyed, she looked up from it to him, tried to speak, and swerved
down senseless.

He had not foreseen this. "Help!" he vaguely cried--was she not a
fellow-creature?--and rushed blindly out to his bedroom, whence he
returned, a moment later, with the water-jug. He dipped his hand, and
sprinkled the upturned face (Dew-drops on a white rose? But some
other, sharper analogy hovered to him). He dipped and sprinkled. The
water-beads broke, mingled--rivulets now. He dipped and flung, then
caught the horrible analogy and rebounded.

It was at this moment that Zuleika opened her eyes. "Where am I?" She
weakly raised herself on one elbow; and the suspension of the Duke's
hatred would have been repealed simultaneously with that of her
consciousness, had it not already been repealed by the analogy. She
put a hand to her face, then looked at the wet palm wonderingly,
looked at the Duke, saw the water-jug beside him. She, too, it seemed,
had caught the analogy; for with a wan smile she said "We are quits
now, John, aren't we?"

Her poor little jest drew to the Duke's face no answering smile, did
but make hotter the blush there. The wave of her returning memory
swept on--swept up to her with a roar the instant past. "Oh," she
cried, staggering to her feet, "the owls, the owls!"

Vengeance was his, and "Yes, there," he said, "is the ineluctable hard
fact you wake to. The owls have hooted. The gods have spoken. This day
your wish is to be fulfilled."

"The owls have hooted. The gods have spoken. This day--oh, it must not
be, John! Heaven have mercy on me!"

"The unerring owls have hooted. The dispiteous and humorous gods have
spoken. Miss Dobson, it has to be. And let me remind you," he added,
with a glance at his watch, "that you ought not to keep The MacQuern
waiting for luncheon."

"That is unworthy of you," she said. There was in her eyes a look that
made the words sound as if they had been spoken by a dumb animal.

"You have sent him an excuse?"

"No, I have forgotten him."

"That is unworthy of you. After all, he is going to die for you, like
the rest of us. I am but one of a number, you know. Use your sense of
proportion."

"If I do that," she said after a pause, "you may not be pleased by the
issue. I may find that whereas yesterday I was great in my sinfulness,
and to-day am great in my love, you, in your hate of me, are small. I
may find that what I had taken to be a great indifference is nothing
but a very small hate . . . Ah, I have wounded you? Forgive me, a weak
woman, talking at random in her wretchedness. Oh John, John, if I
thought you small, my love would but take on the crown of pity. Don't
forbid me to call you John. I looked you up in Debrett while I was
waiting for you. That seemed to bring you nearer to me. So many other
names you have, too. I remember you told me them all yesterday, here
in this room--not twenty-four hours ago. Hours? Years!" She laughed
hysterically. "John, don't you see why I won't stop talking? It's
because I dare not think."

"Yonder in Balliol," he suavely said, "you will find the matter of my
death easier to forget than here." He took her hat and gloves from the
arm-chair, and held them carefully out to her; but she did not take
them.

"I give you three minutes," he told her. "Two minutes, that is, in
which to make yourself tidy before the mirror. A third in which to say
good-bye and be outside the front-door."

"If I refuse?"

"You will not."

"If I do?"

"I shall send for a policeman."

She looked well at him. "Yes," she slowly said, "I think you would do
that."

She took her things from him, and laid them by the mirror. With a high
hand she quelled the excesses of her hair--some of the curls still
agleam with water--and knowingly poised and pinned her hat. Then,
after a few swift touches and passes at neck and waist, she took her
gloves and, wheeling round to him, "There!" she said, "I have been
quick."

"Admirably," he allowed.

"Quick in more than meets the eye, John. Spiritually quick. You saw me
putting on my hat; you did not see love taking on the crown of pity,
and me bonneting her with it, tripping her up and trampling the life
out of her. Oh, a most cold-blooded business, John! Had to be done,
though. No other way out. So I just used my sense of proportion, as
you rashly bade me, and then hardened my heart at sight of you as you
are. One of a number? Yes, and a quite unlovable unit. So I am all
right again. And now, where is Balliol? Far from here?"

"No," he answered, choking a little, as might a card-player who,
having been dealt a splendid hand, and having played it with flawless
skill, has yet--damn it!--lost the odd trick. "Balliol is quite near.
At the end of this street in fact. I can show it to you from the
front-door."

Yes, he had controlled himself. But this, he furiously felt, did not
make him look the less a fool. What ought he to have SAID? He prayed,
as he followed the victorious young woman downstairs, that l'esprit de
l'escalier might befall him. Alas, it did not.

"By the way," she said, when he had shown her where Balliol lay, "have
you told anybody that you aren't dying just for me?"

"No," he answered, "I have preferred not to."

"Then officially, as it were, and in the eyes of the world, you die
for me? Then all's well that ends well. Shall we say good-bye here? I
shall be on the Judas Barge; but I suppose there will be a crush, as
yesterday?"

"Sure to be. There always is on the last night of the Eights, you
know. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, little John--small John," she cried across her shoulder,
having the last word.

XVII

He might not have grudged her the last word, had she properly needed
it. Its utter superfluity--the perfection of her victory without it--
was what galled him. Yes, she had outflanked him, taken him unawares,
and he had fired not one shot. Esprit de l'escalier--it was as he went
upstairs that he saw how he might yet have snatched from her, if not
the victory, the palm. Of course he ought to have laughed aloud--
"Capital, capital! You really do deserve to fool me. But ah, yours is
a love that can't be dissembled. Never was man by maiden loved more
ardently than I by you, my poor girl, at this moment."

And stay!--what if she really HAD been but pretending to have killed
her love? He paused on the threshold of his room. The sudden doubt
made his lost chance the more sickening. Yet was the doubt dear to him
. . . What likelier, after all, than that she had been pretending? She
had already twitted him with his lack of intuition. He had not seen
that she loved him when she certainly did love him. He had needed the
pearls' demonstration of that.--The pearls! THEY would betray her. He
darted to the fender, and one of them he espied there instantly--
white? A rather flushed white, certainly. For the other he had to peer
down. There it lay, not very distinct on the hearth's black-leading.

He turned away. He blamed himself for not dismissing from his mind the
hussy he had dismissed from his room. Oh for an ounce of civet and a
few poppies! The water-jug stood as a reminder of the hateful visit
and of . . . He took it hastily away into his bedroom. There he washed
his hands. The fact that he had touched Zuleika gave to this ablution
a symbolism that made it the more refreshing.

Civet, poppies? Was there not, at his call, a sweeter perfume, a
stronger anodyne? He rang the bell, almost caressingly.

His heart beat at sound of the clinking and rattling of the tray borne
up the stairs. She was coming, the girl who loved him, the girl whose
heart would be broken when he died. Yet, when the tray appeared in the
doorway, and she behind it, the tray took precedence of her in his
soul not less than in his sight. Twice, after an arduous morning, had
his luncheon been postponed, and the coming of it now made intolerable
the pangs of his hunger.

Also, while the girl laid the table-cloth, it occurred to him how
flimsy, after all, was the evidence that she loved him. Suppose she
did nothing of the kind! At the Junta, he had foreseen no difficulty
in asking her. Now he found himself a prey to embarrassment. He
wondered why. He had not failed in flow of gracious words to Nellie
O'Mora. Well, a miniature by Hoppner was one thing, a landlady's live
daughter was another. At any rate, he must prime himself with food. He
wished Mrs. Batch had sent up something more calorific than cold
salmon. He asked her daughter what was to follow.

"There's a pigeon-pie, your Grace."

"Cold? Then please ask your mother to heat it in the oven--quickly.
Anything after that?"

"A custard pudding, your Grace."

"Cold? Let this, too, be heated. And bring up a bottle of champagne,
please; and--and a bottle of port."

His was a head that had always hitherto defied the grape. But he
thought that to-day, by all he had gone through, by all the shocks he
had suffered, and the strains he had steeled himself to bear, as well
as by the actual malady that gripped him, he might perchance have been
sapped enough to experience by reaction that cordial glow of which he
had now and again seen symptoms in his fellows.

Nor was he altogether disappointed of this hope. As the meal
progressed, and the last of the champagne sparkled in his glass,
certain things said to him by Zuleika--certain implied criticisms
that had rankled, yes--lost their power to discommode him. He was
able to smile at the impertinences of an angry woman, the tantrums of
a tenth-rate conjurer told to go away. He felt he had perhaps acted
harshly. With all her faults, she had adored him. Yes, he had been
arbitrary. There seemed to be a strain of brutality in his nature.
Poor Zuleika! He was glad for her that she had contrived to master her
infatuation . . . Enough for him that he was loved by this exquisite
meek girl who had served him at the feast. Anon, when he summoned her
to clear the things away, he would bid her tell him the tale of her
lowly passion. He poured a second glass of port, sipped it, quaffed
it, poured a third. The grey gloom of the weather did but, as he eyed
the bottle, heighten his sense of the rich sunshine so long ago
imprisoned by the vintner and now released to make glad his soul. Even
so to be released was the love pent for him in the heart of this sweet
girl. Would that he loved her in return! . . . Why not?

"Prius insolentem
Serva Briseis niveo colore
Movit Achillem."

Nor were it gracious to invite an avowal of love and offer none in
return. Yet, yet, expansive though his mood was, he could not pretend
to himself that he was about to feel in this girl's presence anything
but gratitude. He might pretend to her? Deception were a very poor
return indeed for all her kindness. Besides, it might turn her head.
Some small token of his gratitude--some trinket by which to remember
him--was all that he could allow himself to offer . . . What trinket?
Would she like to have one of his scarf-pins? Studs? Still more
abs-- Ah! he had it, he literally and most providentially had it,
there, in the fender: a pair of ear-rings!

He plucked the pink pearl and the black from where they lay, and rang
the bell.

His sense of dramatic propriety needed that the girl should, before he
addressed her, perform her task of clearing the table. If she had it
to perform after telling her love, and after receiving his gift and
his farewell, the bathos would be distressing for them both.

But, while he watched her at her task, he did wish she would be a
little quicker. For the glow in him seemed to be cooling momently. He
wished he had had more than three glasses from the crusted bottle
which she was putting away into the chiffonier. Down, doubt! Down,
sense of disparity! The moment was at hand. Would he let it slip? Now
she was folding up the table-cloth, now she was going.

"Stay!" he uttered. "I have something to say to you." The girl turned
to him.

He forced his eyes to meet hers. "I understand," he said in a
constrained voice, "that you regard me with sentiments of something
more than esteem.--Is this so?"

The girl had stepped quickly back, and her face was scarlet.

"Nay," he said, having to go through with it now, "there is no cause
for embarrassment. And I am sure you will acquit me of wanton
curiosity. Is it a fact that you--love me?"

She tried to speak, could not. But she nodded her head.

The Duke, much relieved, came nearer to her.

"What is your name?" he asked gently.

"Katie," she was able to gasp.

"Well, Katie, how long have you loved me?"

"Ever since," she faltered, "ever since you came to engage the rooms."

"You are not, of course, given to idolising any tenant of your
mother's?"

"No."

"May I boast myself the first possessor of your heart?"

"Yes." She had become very pale now, and was trembling painfully.

"And may I assume that your love for me has been entirely
disinterested? . . . You do not catch my meaning? I will put my
question in another way. In loving me, you never supposed me
likely to return your love?"

The girl looked up at him quickly, but at once her eyelids fluttered
down again.

"Come, come!" said the Duke. "My question is a plain one. Did you ever
for an instant suppose, Katie, that I might come to love you?"

"No," she said in a whisper; "I never dared to hope that."

"Precisely," said he. "You never imagined that you had anything to
gain by your affection. You were not contriving a trap for me. You
were upheld by no hope of becoming a young Duchess, with more frocks
than you could wear and more dross than you could scatter. I am glad.
I am touched. You are the first woman that has loved me in that way.
Or rather," he muttered, "the first but one. And she . . . Answer me,"
he said, standing over the girl, and speaking with a great intensity.
"If I were to tell you that I loved you, would you cease to love me?"

"Oh your Grace!" cried the girl. "Why no! I never dared--"

"Enough!" he said. "The catechism is ended. I have something which I
should like to give you. Are your ears pierced?"

"Yes, your Grace."

"Then, Katie, honour me by accepting this present." So saying, he
placed in the girl's hand the black pearl and the pink. The sight of
them banished for a moment all other emotions in their recipient. She
forgot herself. "Lor!" she said.

"I hope you will wear them always for my sake," said the Duke.

She had expressed herself in the monosyllable. No words came to her
lips, but to her eyes many tears, through which the pearls were
visible. They whirled in her bewildered brain as a token that she was
loved--loved by HIM, though but yesterday he had loved another. It was
all so sudden, so beautiful. You might have knocked her down (she says
so to this day) with a feather. Seeing her agitation, the Duke pointed
to a chair, bade her be seated.

Her mind was cleared by the new posture. Suspicion crept into it,
followed by alarm. She looked at the ear-rings, then up at the Duke.

"No," said he, misinterpreting the question in her eyes, "they are
real pearls."

"It isn't that," she quavered, "it is--it is--"

"That they were given to me by Miss Dobson?"

"Oh, they were, were they? Then"--Katie rose, throwing the pearls on
the floor--"I'll have nothing to do with them. I hate her."

"So do I," said the Duke, in a burst of confidence. "No, I don't," he
added hastily. "Please forget that I said that."

It occurred to Katie that Miss Dobson would be ill-pleased that the
pearls should pass to her. She picked them up.

"Only--only--" again her doubts beset her and she looked from the
pearls to the Duke.

"Speak on," he said.

"Oh you aren't playing with me, are you? You don't mean me harm, do
you? I have been well brought up. I have been warned against things.
And it seems so strange, what you have said to me. You are a Duke, and
I--I am only--"

"It is the privilege of nobility to condescend."

"Yes, yes," she cried. "I see. Oh I was wicked to doubt you. And love
levels all, doesn't it? love and the Board school. Our stations are
far apart, but I've been educated far above mine. I've learnt more
than most real ladies have. I passed the Seventh Standard when I was
only just fourteen. I was considered one of the sharpest girls in the
school. And I've gone on learning since then," she continued eagerly.
"I utilise all my spare moments. I've read twenty-seven of the Hundred
Best Books. I collect ferns. I play the piano, whenever . . ." She
broke off, for she remembered that her music was always interrupted by
the ringing of the Duke's bell and a polite request that it should
cease.

"I am glad to hear of these accomplishments. They do you great credit,
I am sure. But--well, I do not quite see why you enumerate them just
now."

"It isn't that I am vain," she pleaded. "I only mentioned them because
. . . oh, don't you see? If I'm not ignorant, I shan't disgrace you.
People won't be so able to say you've been and thrown yourself away."

"Thrown myself away? What do you mean?"

"Oh, they'll make all sorts of objections, I know. They'll all be
against me, and--"

"For heaven's sake, explain yourself."

"Your aunt, she looked a very proud lady--very high and hard. I
thought so when she came here last term. But you're of age. You're
your own master. Oh, I trust you; you'll stand by me. If you love me
really you won't listen to them."

"Love you? I? Are you mad?"

Each stared at the other, utterly bewildered.

The girl was the first to break the silence. Her voice came in a
whisper. "You've not been playing a joke on me? You meant what you
said, didn't you?"

"What have I said?"

"You said you loved me."

"You must be dreaming."

"I'm not. Here are the ear-rings you gave me." She pinched them as
material proof. "You said you loved me just before you gave me them.
You know you did. And if I thought you'd been laughing at me all the
time--I'd--I'd"--a sob choked her voice--"I'd throw them in your
face!"

"You must not speak to me in that manner," said the Duke coldly. "And
let me warn you that this attempt to trap me and intimidate me--"

The girl had flung the ear-rings at his face. She had missed her mark.
But this did not extenuate the outrageous gesture. He pointed to the
door. "Go!" he said.

"Don't try that on!" she laughed. "I shan't go--not unless you drag me
out. And if you do that, I'll raise the house. I'll have in the
neighbours. I'll tell them all what you've done, and--" But defiance
melted in the hot shame of humiliation. "Oh, you coward!" she gasped.
"You coward!" She caught her apron to her face and, swaying against
the wall, sobbed piteously.

Unaccustomed to love-affairs, the Duke could not sail lightly over a
flood of woman's tears. He was filled with pity for the poor quivering
figure against the wall. How should he soothe her? Mechanically he
picked up the two pearls from the carpet, and crossed to her side. He
touched her on the shoulder. She shuddered away from him.

"Don't," he said gently. "Don't cry. I can't bear it. I have been
stupid and thoughtless. What did you say your name was? 'Katie,' to be
sure. Well, Katie, I want to beg your pardon. I expressed myself
badly. I was unhappy and lonely, and I saw in you a means of comfort.
I snatched at you, Katie, as at a straw. And then, I suppose, I must
have said something which made you think I loved you. I almost wish I
did. I don't wonder you threw the ear-rings at me. I--I almost wish
they had hit me . . . You see, I have quite forgiven you. Now do you
forgive me. You will not refuse now to wear the ear-rings. I gave them
to you as a keepsake. Wear them always in memory of me. For you will
never see me again."

The girl had ceased from crying, and her anger had spent itself in
sobs. She was gazing at him woebegone but composed.

"Where are you going?"

"You must not ask that," said he. "Enough that my wings are spread."

"Are you going because of ME?"

"Not in the least. Indeed, your devotion is one of the things which
make bitter my departure. And yet--I am glad you love me."

"Don't go," she faltered. He came nearer to her, and this time she
did not shrink from him. "Don't you find the rooms comfortable?" she
asked, gazing up at him. "Have you ever had any complaint to make
about the attendance?"

"No," said the Duke, "the attendance has always been quite
satisfactory. I have never felt that so keenly as I do to-day."

"Then why are you leaving? Why are you breaking my heart?"

"Suffice it that I cannot do otherwise. Henceforth you will see me no
more. But I doubt not that in the cultivation of my memory you will
find some sort of lugubrious satisfaction. See! here are the ear-
rings. If you like, I will put them in with my own hands."

She held up her face side-ways. Into the lobe of her left ear he
insinuated the hook of the black pearl. On the cheek upturned to him
there were still traces of tears; the eyelashes were still spangled.
For all her blondness, they were quite dark, these glistening
eyelashes. He had an impulse, which he put from him. "Now the other
ear," he said. The girl turned her head. Soon the pink pearl was in
its place. Yet the girl did not move. She seemed to be waiting. Nor
did the Duke himself seem to be quite satisfied. He let his fingers
dally with the pearl. Anon, with a sigh, he withdrew them. The girl
looked up. Their eyes met. He looked away from her. He turned away
from her. "You may kiss my hand," he murmured, extending it towards
her. After a pause, the warm pressure of her lips was laid on it. He
sighed, but did not look round. Another pause, a longer pause, and
then the clatter and clink of the outgoing tray.

XVIII

Her actual offspring does not suffice a very motherly woman. Such a
woman was Mrs. Batch. Had she been blest with a dozen children, she
must yet have regarded herself as also a mother to whatever two young
gentlemen were lodging under her roof. Childless but for Katie and
Clarence, she had for her successive pairs of tenants a truly vast
fund of maternal feeling to draw on. Nor were the drafts made in
secret. To every gentleman, from the outset, she proclaimed the
relation in which she would stand to him. Moreover, always she needed
a strong filial sense in return: this was only fair.

Because the Duke was an orphan, even more than because he was a Duke,
her heart had with a special rush gone out to him when he and Mr.
Noaks became her tenants. But, perhaps because he had never known a
mother, he was evidently quite incapable of conceiving either Mrs.
Batch as his mother or himself as her son. Indeed, there was that
in his manner, in his look, which made her falter, for once, in
exposition of her theory--made her postpone the matter to some more
favourable time. That time never came, somehow. Still, her solicitude
for him, her pride in him, her sense that he was a great credit to
her, rather waxed than waned. He was more to her (such are the
vagaries of the maternal instinct) than Katie or Mr. Noaks: he
was as much as Clarence.

It was, therefore, a deeply agitated woman who now came heaving up
into the Duke's presence. His Grace was "giving notice"? She was sure
she begged his pardon for coming up so sudden. But the news was that
sudden. Hadn't her girl made a mistake, maybe? Girls were so vague-
like nowadays. She was sure it was most kind of him to give those
handsome ear-rings. But the thought of him going off so unexpected--
middle of term, too--with never a why or a but! Well!

In some such welter of homely phrase (how foreign to these classic
pages!) did Mrs. Batch utter her pain. The Duke answered her tersely
but kindly. He apologised for going so abruptly, and said he would be
very happy to write for her future use a testimonial to the excellence
of her rooms and of her cooking; and with it he would give her a
cheque not only for the full term's rent, and for his board since the
beginning of term, but also for such board as he would have been
likely to have in the term's remainder. He asked her to present her
accounts forthwith.

He occupied the few minutes of her absence by writing the testimonial.
It had shaped itself in his mind as a short ode in Doric Greek. But,
for the benefit of Mrs. Batch, he chose to do a rough equivalent in
English.

TO AN UNDERGRADUATE NEEDING
ROOMS IN OXFORD

(A Sonnet in Oxfordshire Dialect)

Zeek w'ere thee will in t'Univursity,
Lad, thee'll not vind nor bread nor bed that
matches
Them as thee'll vind, roight zure, at Mrs.
Batch's . . .

I do not quote the poem in extenso, because, frankly, I think it
was one of his least happily-inspired works. His was not a Muse that
could with a good grace doff the grand manner. Also, his command of
the Oxfordshire dialect seems to me based less on study than on
conjecture. In fact, I do not place the poem higher than among the
curiosities of literature. It has extrinsic value, however, as
illustrating the Duke's thoughtfulness for others in the last hours of
his life. And to Mrs. Batch the MS., framed and glazed in her hall, is
an asset beyond price (witness her recent refusal of Mr. Pierpont
Morgan's sensational bid for it).

This MS. she received together with the Duke's cheque. The
presentation was made some twenty minutes after she had laid
her accounts before him.

Lavish in giving large sums of his own accord, he was apt to be
circumspect in the matter of small payments. Such is ever the way of
opulent men. Nor do I see that we have a right to sneer at them for
it. We cannot deny that their existence is a temptation to us. It is
in our fallen nature to want to get something out of them; and, as we
think in small sums (heaven knows), it is of small sums that they are
careful. Absurd to suppose they really care about halfpence. It must,
therefore, be about us that they care; and we ought to be grateful to
them for the pains they are at to keep us guiltless. I do not suggest
that Mrs. Batch had at any point overcharged the Duke; but how was he
to know that she had not done so, except by checking the items, as was
his wont? The reductions that he made, here and there, did not in all
amount to three-and-sixpence. I do not say they were just. But I do
say that his motive for making them, and his satisfaction at having
made them, were rather beautiful than otherwise.

Having struck an average of Mrs. Batch's weekly charges, and a similar
average of his own reductions, he had a basis on which to reckon his
board for the rest of the term. This amount he added to Mrs. Batch's
amended total, plus the full term's rent, and accordingly drew a
cheque on the local bank where he had an account. Mrs. Batch said she
would bring up a stamped receipt directly; but this the Duke waived,
saying that the cashed cheque itself would be a sufficient receipt.
Accordingly, he reduced by one penny the amount written on the cheque.
Remembering to initial the correction, he remembered also, with a
melancholy smile, that to-morrow the cheque would not be negotiable.
Handing it, and the sonnet, to Mrs. Batch, he bade her cash it before
the bank closed. "And," he said, "with a glance at his watch, "you
have no time to lose. It is a quarter to four." Only two hours and a
quarter before the final races! How quickly the sands were running
out!

Mrs. Batch paused on the threshold, wanted to know if she could "help
with the packing." The Duke replied that he was taking nothing with
him: his various things would be sent for, packed, and removed, within
a few days. No, he did not want her to order a cab. He was going to
walk. And "Good-bye, Mrs. Batch," he said. "For legal reasons with
which I won't burden you, you really must cash that cheque at once."

He sat down in solitude; and there crept over him a mood of deep
depression . . . Almost two hours and a quarter before the final
races! What on earth should he do in the meantime? He seemed to have
done all that there was for him to do. His executors would do the
rest. He had no farewell-letters to write. He had no friends with whom
he was on terms of valediction. There was nothing at all for him to
do. He stared blankly out of the window, at the greyness and blackness
of the sky. What a day! What a climate! Why did any sane person live
in England? He felt positively suicidal.

His dully vagrant eye lighted on the bottle of Cold Mixture. He ought
to have dosed himself a full hour ago. Well, he didn't care.

Had Zuleika noticed the bottle? he idly wondered. Probably not. She
would have made some sprightly reference to it before she went.

Since there was nothing to do but sit and think, he wished he could
recapture that mood in which at luncheon he had been able to see
Zuleika as an object for pity. Never, till to-day, had he seen things
otherwise than they were. Nor had he ever needed to. Never, till last
night, had there been in his life anything he needed to forget. That
woman! As if it really mattered what she thought of him. He despised
himself for wishing to forget she despised him. But the wish was the
measure of the need. He eyed the chiffonier. Should he again solicit
the grape?

Reluctantly he uncorked the crusted bottle, and filled a glass. Was he
come to this? He sighed and sipped, quaffed and sighed. The spell of
the old stored sunshine seemed not to work, this time. He could not
cease from plucking at the net of ignominies in which his soul lay
enmeshed. Would that he had died yesterday, escaping how much!

Not for an instant did he flinch from the mere fact of dying to-day.
Since he was not immortal, as he had supposed, it were as well he
should die now as fifty years hence. Better, indeed. To die
"untimely," as men called it, was the timeliest of all deaths for
one who had carved his youth to greatness. What perfection could he,
Dorset, achieve beyond what was already his? Future years could but
stale, if not actually mar, that perfection. Yes, it was lucky to
perish leaving much to the imagination of posterity. Dear posterity
was of a sentimental, not a realistic, habit. She always imagined the
dead young hero prancing gloriously up to the Psalmist's limit a young
hero still; and it was the sense of her vast loss that kept his memory
green. Byron!--he would be all forgotten to-day if he had lived to be
a florid old gentleman with iron-grey whiskers, writing very long,
very able letters to "The Times" about the Repeal of the Corn Laws.
Yes, Byron would have been that. It was indicated in him. He would
have been an old gentleman exacerbated by Queen Victoria's invincible
prejudice against him, her brusque refusal to "entertain" Lord John
Russell's timid nomination of him for a post in the Government . . .
Shelley would have been a poet to the last. But how dull, how very
dull, would have been the poetry of his middle age!--a great
unreadable mass interposed between him and us . . . Did Byron, mused
the Duke, know what was to be at Missolonghi? Did he know that he was
to die in service of the Greeks whom he despised? Byron might not have
minded that. But what if the Greeks had told him, in so many words,
that they despised HIM? How would he have felt then? Would he have
been content with his potations of barley-water? . . . The Duke
replenished his glass, hoping the spell might work yet. . . . Perhaps,
had Byron not been a dandy--but ah, had he not been in his soul a
dandy there would have been no Byron worth mentioning. And it was
because he guarded not his dandyism against this and that irrelevant
passion, sexual or political, that he cut so annoyingly incomplete a
figure. He was absurd in his politics, vulgar in his loves. Only
in himself, at the times when he stood haughtily aloof, was he
impressive. Nature, fashioning him, had fashioned also a pedestal
for him to stand and brood on, to pose and sing on. Off that pedestal
he was lost. . . . "The idol has come sliding down from its pedestal"
--the Duke remembered these words spoken yesterday by Zuleika. Yes, at
the moment when he slid down, he, too, was lost. For him, master-
dandy, the common arena was no place. What had he to do with love? He
was an utter fool at it. Byron had at least had some fun out of it.
What fun had HE had? Last night, he had forgotten to kiss Zuleika when
he held her by the wrists. To-day it had been as much as he could do
to let poor little Katie kiss his hand. Better be vulgar with Byron
than a noodle with Dorset! he bitterly reflected . . . Still,
noodledom was nearer than vulgarity to dandyism. It was a less
flagrant lapse. And he had over Byron this further advantage: his
noodledom was not a matter of common knowledge; whereas Byron's
vulgarity had ever needed to be in the glare of the footlights of
Europe. The world would say of him that he laid down his life for a
woman. Deplorable somersault? But nothing evident save this in his
whole life was faulty . . . The one other thing that might be carped
at--the partisan speech he made in the Lords--had exquisitely
justified itself by its result. For it was as a Knight of the Garter
that he had set the perfect seal on his dandyism. Yes, he reflected,
it was on the day when first he donned the most grandiose of all
costumes, and wore it grandlier than ever yet in history had it been
worn, than ever would it be worn hereafter, flaunting the robes with
a grace unparalleled and inimitable, and lending, as it were, to the
very insignia a glory beyond their own, that he once and for all
fulfilled himself, doer of that which he had been sent into the world
to do.

And there floated into his mind a desire, vague at first, soon
definite, imperious, irresistible, to see himself once more, before
he died, indued in the fulness of his glory and his might.

Nothing hindered. There was yet a whole hour before he need start for
the river. His eyes dilated, somewhat as might those of a child about
to "dress up" for a charade; and already, in his impatience, he had
undone his neck-tie.

One after another, he unlocked and threw open the black tin boxes,
snatching out greedily their great good splendours of crimson and
white and royal blue and gold. You wonder he was not appalled by the
task of essaying unaided a toilet so extensive and so intricate? You
wondered even when you heard that he was wont at Oxford to make
without help his toilet of every day. Well, the true dandy is always
capable of such high independence. He is craftsman as well as artist.
And, though any unaided Knight but he with whom we are here concerned
would belike have doddered hopeless in that labyrinth of hooks and
buckles which underlies the visible glory of a Knight "arraied full
and proper," Dorset threaded his way featly and without pause. He had
mastered his first excitement. In his swiftness was no haste. His
procedure had the ease and inevitability of a natural phenomenon, and
was most like to the coming of a rainbow.

Crimson-doubleted, blue-ribanded, white-trunk-hosed, he stooped
to understrap his left knee with that strap of velvet round which
sparkles the proud gay motto of the Order. He affixed to his breast
the octoradiant star, so much larger and more lustrous than any
actual star in heaven. Round his neck he slung that long daedal
chain wherefrom St. George, slaying the Dragon, dangles. He bowed
his shoulders to assume that vast mantle of blue velvet, so
voluminous, so enveloping, that, despite the Cross of St. George
blazing on it, and the shoulder-knots like two great white tropical
flowers planted on it, we seem to know from it in what manner of
mantle Elijah prophesied. Across his breast he knotted this mantle's
two cords of gleaming bullion, one tassel a due trifle higher than
its fellow. All these things being done, he moved away from the
mirror, and drew on a pair of white kid gloves. Both of these being
buttoned, he plucked up certain folds of his mantle into the hollow
of his left arm, and with his right hand gave to his left hand that
ostrich-plumed and heron-plumed hat of black velvet in which a Knight
of the Garter is entitled to take his walks abroad. Then, with head
erect, and measured tread, he returned to the mirror.

You are thinking, I know, of Mr. Sargent's famous portrait of him.
Forget it. Tankerton Hall is open to the public on Wednesdays. Go
there, and in the dining-hall stand to study well Sir Thomas
Lawrence's portrait of the eleventh Duke. Imagine a man some twenty
years younger than he whom you there behold, but having some such
features and some such bearing, and clad in just such robes. Sublimate
the dignity of that bearing and of those features, and you will then
have seen the fourteenth Duke somewhat as he stood reflected in the
mirror of his room. Resist your impulse to pass on to the painting
which hangs next but two to Lawrence's. It deserves, I know, all that
you said about it when (at the very time of the events in this
chronicle) it was hanging in Burlington House. Marvellous, I grant
you, are those passes of the swirling brush by which the velvet of the
mantle is rendered--passes so light and seemingly so fortuitous, yet,
seen at the right distance, so absolute in their power to create an
illusion of the actual velvet. Sheen of white satin and silk, glint of
gold, glitter of diamonds--never were such things caught by surer hand
obedient to more voracious eye. Yes, all the splendid surface of
everything is there. Yet must you not look. The soul is not there.
An expensive, very new costume is there, but no evocation of the high
antique things it stands for; whereas by the Duke it was just these
things that were evoked to make an aura round him, a warm symbolic
glow sharpening the outlines of his own particular magnificence.
Reflecting him, the mirror reflected, in due subordination, the
history of England. There is nothing of that on Mr. Sargent's canvas.
Obtruded instead is the astounding slickness of Mr. Sargent's
technique: not the sitter, but the painter, is master here. Nay,
though I hate to say it, there is in the portrayal of the Duke's
attitude and expression a hint of something like mockery--
unintentional, I am sure, but to a sensitive eye discernible.
And--but it is clumsy of me to be reminding you of the very
picture I would have you forget.

Long stood the Duke gazing, immobile. One thing alone ruffled his deep
inward calm. This was the thought that he must presently put off from
him all his splendour, and be his normal self.

The shadow passed from his brow. He would go forth as he was. He would
be true to the motto he wore, and true to himself. A dandy he had
lived. In the full pomp and radiance of his dandyism he would die.

His soul rose from calm to triumph. A smile lit his face, and he held
his head higher than ever. He had brought nothing into this world and
could take nothing out of it? Well, what he loved best he could carry
with him to the very end; and in death they would not be divided.

The smile was still on his face as he passed out from his room. Down
the stairs he passed, and "Oh," every stair creaked faintly, "I ought
to have been marble!"

And it did indeed seem that Mrs. Batch and Katie, who had hurried out
into the hall, were turned to some kind of stone at sight of the
descending apparition. A moment ago, Mrs. Batch had been hoping she
might yet at the last speak motherly words. A hopeless mute now! A
moment ago, Katie's eyelids had been red with much weeping. Even from
them the colour suddenly ebbed now. Dead-white her face was between
the black pearl and the pink. "And this is the man of whom I dared
once for an instant hope that he loved me!"--it was thus that the
Duke, quite correctly, interpreted her gaze.

To her and to her mother he gave an inclusive bow as he swept slowly
by. Stone was the matron, and stone the maid.

Stone, too, the Emperors over the way; and the more poignantly thereby
was the Duke a sight to anguish them, being the very incarnation of
what themselves had erst been, or tried to be. But in this bitterness
they did not forget their sorrow at his doom. They were in a mood to
forgive him the one fault they had ever found in him--his indifference
to their Katie. And now--o mirum mirorum--even this one fault was
wiped out.

For, stung by memory of a gibe lately cast at him by himself, the Duke
had paused and, impulsively looking back into the hall, had beckoned
Katie to him; and she had come (she knew not how) to him; and there,
standing on the doorstep whose whiteness was the symbol of her love,
he--very lightly, it is true, and on the upmost confines of the brow,
but quite perceptibly--had kissed her.

XIX

And now he had passed under the little arch between the eighth and the
ninth Emperor, rounded the Sheldonian, and been lost to sight of
Katie, whom, as he was equally glad and sorry he had kissed her, he
was able to dismiss from his mind.

In the quadrangle of the Old Schools he glanced round at the familiar
labels, blue and gold, over the iron-studded doors,--Schola Theologiae
et Antiquae Philosophiae; Museum Arundelianum; Schola Musicae. And
Bibliotheca Bodleiana--he paused there, to feel for the last time the
vague thrill he had always felt at sight of the small and devious
portal that had lured to itself, and would always lure, so many
scholars from the ends of the earth, scholars famous and scholars
obscure, scholars polyglot and of the most diverse bents, but none of
them not stirred in heart somewhat on the found threshold of the
treasure-house. "How deep, how perfect, the effect made here by
refusal to make any effect whatsoever!" thought the Duke. Perhaps,
after all . . . but no: one could lay down no general rule. He flung
his mantle a little wider from his breast, and proceeded into
Radcliffe Square.

Another farewell look he gave to the old vast horse-chestnut that is
called Bishop Heber's tree. Certainly, no: there was no general rule.
With its towering and bulging masses of verdure tricked out all over
in their annual finery of catkins, Bishop Heber's tree stood for the
very type of ingenuous ostentation. And who should dare cavil? who not
be gladdened? Yet awful, more than gladdening, was the effect that the
tree made to-day. Strangely pale was the verdure against the black
sky; and the multitudinous catkins had a look almost ghostly. The Duke
remembered the legend that every one of these fair white spires of
blossom is the spirit of some dead man who, having loved Oxford much
and well, is suffered thus to revisit her, for a brief while, year by
year. And it pleased him to doubt not that on one of the topmost
branches, next Spring, his own spirit would be.

"Oh, look!" cried a young lady emerging with her brother and her aunt
through the gate of Brasenose.

"For heaven's sake, Jessie, try to behave yourself," hissed her
brother. "Aunt Mabel, for heaven's sake don't stare." He compelled the
pair to walk on with him. "Jessie, if you look round over your
shoulder . . . No, it is NOT the Vice-Chancellor. It's Dorset, of
Judas--the Duke of Dorset . . . Why on earth shouldn't he? . . . No,
it isn't odd in the least . . . No, I'm NOT losing my temper. Only,
don't call me your dear boy . . . No, we will NOT walk slowly so as to
let him pass us . . . Jessie, if you look round . . ."

Poor fellow! However fond an undergraduate be of his womenfolk, at
Oxford they keep him in a painful state of tension: at any moment they
may somehow disgrace him. And if throughout the long day he shall have
had the added strain of guarding them from the knowledge that he is
about to commit suicide, a certain measure of irritability must be
condoned.

Poor Jessie and Aunt Mabel! They were destined to remember that Harold
had been "very peculiar" all day. They had arrived in the morning,
happy and eager despite the menace of the sky, and--well, they were
destined to reproach themselves for having felt that Harold was
"really rather impossible." Oh, if he had only confided in them! They
could have reasoned with him, saved him--surely they could have saved
him! When he told them that the "First Division" of the races was
always very dull, and that they had much better let him go to it
alone,--when he told them that it was always very rowdy, and that
ladies were not supposed to be there--oh, why had they not guessed and
clung to him, and kept him away from the river?

Well, here they were, walking on Harold's either side, blind to fate,
and only longing to look back at the gorgeous personage behind them.
Aunt Mabel had inwardly calculated that the velvet of the mantle alone
could not have cost less than four guineas a yard. One good look back,
and she would be able to calculate how many yards there were . . . She
followed the example of Lot's wife; and Jessie followed hers.

"Very well," said Harold. "That settles it. I go alone." And he was
gone like an arrow, across the High, down Oriel Street.

The two women stood staring ruefully at each other.

"Pardon me," said the Duke, with a sweep of his plumed hat. "I observe
you are stranded; and, if I read your thoughts aright, you are
impugning the courtesy of that young runagate. Neither of you, I am
very sure, is as one of those ladies who in Imperial Rome took a saucy
pleasure in the spectacle of death. Neither of you can have been
warned by your escort that you were on the way to see him die, of his
own accord, in company with many hundreds of other lads, myself
included. Therefore, regard his flight from you as an act not of
unkindness, but of tardy compunction. The hint you have had from him
let me turn into a counsel. Go back, both of you, to the place whence
you came."

"Thank you SO much," said Aunt Mabel, with what she took to be great
presence of mind. "MOST kind of you. We'll do JUST what you tell us.
Come, Jessie dear," and she hurried her niece away with her.

Something in her manner of fixing him with her eye had made the Duke
suspect what was in her mind. Well, she would find out her mistake
soon enough, poor woman. He desired, however, that her mistake should
be made by no one else. He would give no more warnings.

Tragic it was for him, in Merton Street, to see among the crowd
converging to the meadows so many women, young and old, all
imprescient, troubled by nothing but the thunder that was in the
air, that was on the brows of their escorts. He knew not whether it
was for their escorts or for them that he felt the greater pity;
and an added load for his heart was the sense of his partial
responsibility for what impended. But his lips were sealed now.
Why should he not enjoy the effect he was creating?

It was with a measured tread, as yesterday with Zuleika, that he
entered the avenue of elms. The throng streamed past from behind him,
parting wide, and marvelling as it streamed. Under the pall of this
evil evening his splendour was the more inspiring. And, just as
yesterday no man had questioned his right to be with Zuleika, so
to-day there was none to deem him caparisoned too much. All the men
felt at a glance that he, coming to meet death thus, did no more than
the right homage to Zuleika--aye, and that he made them all partakers
in his own glory, casting his great mantle over all commorients.
Reverence forbade them to do more than glance. But the women with them
were impelled by wonder to stare hard, uttering sharp little cries
that mingled with the cawing of the rooks overhead. Thus did scores of
men find themselves shamed like our friend Harold. But this, you say,
was no more than a just return for their behaviour yesterday, when, in
this very avenue, so many women were almost crushed to death by them
in their insensate eagerness to see Miss Dobson.

To-day by scores of women it was calculated not only that the velvet
of the Duke's mantle could not have cost less than four guineas a
yard, but also that there must be quite twenty-five yards of it. Some
of the fair mathematicians had, in the course of the past fortnight,
visited the Royal Academy and seen there Mr. Sargent's portrait of the
wearer, so that their estimate now was but the endorsement of an
estimate already made. Yet their impression of the Duke was above all
a spiritual one. The nobility of his face and bearing was what most
thrilled them as they went by; and those of them who had heard the
rumour that he was in love with that frightfully flashy-looking
creature, Zuleika Dobson, were more than ever sure there wasn't a
word of truth in it.

As he neared the end of the avenue, the Duke was conscious of a
thinning in the procession on either side of him, and anon he was
aware that not one undergraduate was therein. And he knew at once--
did not need to look back to know--why this was. SHE was coming.

Yes, she had come into the avenue, her magnetism speeding before her,
insomuch that all along the way the men immediately ahead of her
looked round, beheld her, stood aside for her. With her walked The
MacQuern, and a little bodyguard of other blest acquaintances; and
behind her swayed the dense mass of the disorganised procession. And
now the last rank between her and the Duke was broken, and at the
revealed vision of him she faltered midway in some raillery she was
addressing to The MacQuern. Her eyes were fixed, her lips were parted,
her tread had become stealthy. With a brusque gesture of dismissal to
the men beside her, she darted forward, and lightly overtook the Duke
just as he was turning towards the barges.

"May I?" she whispered, smiling round into his face.

His shoulder-knots just perceptibly rose.

"There isn't a policeman in sight, John. You're at my mercy. No, no;
I'm at yours. Tolerate me. You really do look quite wonderful. There,
I won't be so impertinent as to praise you. Only let me be with you.
Will you?"

The shoulder-knots repeated their answer.

"You needn't listen to me; needn't look at me--unless you care to use
my eyes as mirrors. Only let me be seen with you. That's what I want.
Not that your society isn't a boon in itself, John. Oh, I've been so
bored since I left you. The MacQuern is too, too dull, and so are his
friends. Oh, that meal with them in Balliol! As soon as I grew used to
the thought that they were going to die for me, I simply couldn't
stand them. Poor boys! it was as much as I could do not to tell them I
wished them dead already. Indeed, when they brought me down for the
first races, I did suggest that they might as well die now as later.
Only they looked very solemn and said it couldn't possibly be done
till after the final races. And oh, the tea with them! What have YOU
been doing all the afternoon? Oh John, after THEM, I could almost love
you again. Why can't one fall in love with a man's clothes? To think
that all those splendid things you have on are going to be spoilt--all
for me. Nominally for me, that is. It is very wonderful, John. I do
appreciate it, really and truly, though I know you think I don't.
John, if it weren't mere spite you feel for me--but it's no good
talking about that. Come, let us be as cheerful as we may be. Is this
the Judas house-boat?"

"The Judas barge," said the Duke, irritated by a mistake which but
yesterday had rather charmed him.

As he followed his companion across the plank, there came dully from
the hills the first low growl of the pent storm. The sound struck for
him a strange contrast with the prattle he had perforce been listening
to.

"Thunder," said Zuleika over her shoulder.

"Evidently," he answered.

Half-way up the stairs to the roof, she looked round. "Aren't you
coming?" she asked.

He shook his head, and pointed to the raft in front of the barge. She
quickly descended.

"Forgive me," he said, "my gesture was not a summons. The raft is for
men."

"What do you want to do on it?"

"To wait there till the races are over."

"But--what do you mean? Aren't you coming up on to the roof at all?
Yesterday--"

"Oh, I see," said the Duke, unable to repress a smile. "But to-day I
am not dressed for a flying-leap."

Zuleika put a finger to her lips. "Don't talk so loud. Those women up
there will hear you. No one must ever know I knew what was going to
happen. What evidence should I have that I tried to prevent it? Only
my own unsupported word--and the world is always against a woman. So
do be careful. I've thought it all out. The whole thing must be SPRUNG
on me. Don't look so horribly cynical . . . What was I saying? Oh yes;
well, it doesn't really matter. I had it fixed in my mind that you--
but no, of course, in that mantle you couldn't. But why not come up on
the roof with me meanwhile, and then afterwards make some excuse
and--" The rest of her whisper was lost in another growl of thunder.

"I would rather make my excuses forthwith," said the Duke. "And, as
the races must be almost due now, I advise you to go straight up and
secure a place against the railing."

"It will look very odd, my going all alone into a crowd of people whom
I don't know. I'm an unmarried girl. I do think you might--"

"Good-bye," said the Duke.

Again Zuleika raised a warning finger.

"Good-bye, John," she whispered. "See, I am still wearing your studs.
Good-bye. Don't forget to call my name in a loud voice. You promised."

"Yes."

"And," she added, after a pause, "remember this. I have loved but
twice in my life; and none but you have I loved. This, too: if you
hadn't forced me to kill my love, I would have died with you. And you
know it is true."

"Yes." It was true enough.

Courteously he watched her up the stairs.

As she reached the roof, she cried down to him from the throng, "Then
you will wait down there to take me home afterwards?"

He bowed silently.

The raft was even more crowded than yesterday, but way was made for
him by Judasians past and present. He took his place in the centre of
the front row.

At his feet flowed the fateful river. From the various barges the last
punt-loads had been ferried across to the towing-path, and the last of
the men who were to follow the boats in their course had vanished
towards the starting-point. There remained, however, a fringe of
lesser enthusiasts. Their figures stood outlined sharply in that
strange dark clearness which immediately precedes a storm.

The thunder rumbled around the hills, and now and again there was a
faint glare on the horizon.

Would Judas bump Magdalen? Opinion on the raft seemed to be divided.
But the sanguine spirits were in a majority.

"If I were making a book on the event," said a middle-aged clergyman,
with that air of breezy emancipation which is so distressing to the
laity, "I'd bet two to one we bump."

"You demean your cloth, sir," the Duke would have said, "without
cheating its disabilities," had not his mouth been stopped by a loud
and prolonged thunder-clap.

In the hush thereafter, came the puny sound of a gunshot. The boats
were starting. Would Judas bump Magdalen? Would Judas be head of the
river?

Strange, thought the Duke, that for him, standing as he did on the
peak of dandyism, on the brink of eternity, this trivial question of
boats could have importance. And yet, and yet, for this it was that
his heart was beating. A few minutes hence, an end to victors and
vanquished alike; and yet . . .

A sudden white vertical streak slid down the sky. Then there was a
consonance to split the drums of the world's ears, followed by a
horrific rattling as of actual artillery--tens of thousands of
gun-carriages simultaneously at the gallop, colliding, crashing,
heeling over in the blackness.

Then, and yet more awful, silence; the little earth cowering voiceless
under the heavens' menace. And, audible in the hush now, a faint
sound; the sound of the runners on the towing-path cheering the crews
forward, forward.

And there was another faint sound that came to the Duke's ears. It he
understood when, a moment later, he saw the surface of the river alive
with infinitesimal fountains.

Rain!

His very mantle was aspersed. In another minute he would stand sodden,
inglorious, a mock. He didn't hesitate.

"Zuleika!" he cried in a loud voice. Then he took a deep breath, and,
burying his face in his mantle, plunged.

Full on the river lay the mantle outspread. Then it, too, went under.
A great roll of water marked the spot. The plumed hat floated.

There was a confusion of shouts from the raft, of screams from the
roof. Many youths--all the youths there--cried "Zuleika!" and leapt
emulously headlong into the water. "Brave fellows!" shouted the elder
men, supposing rescue-work. The rain pelted, the thunder pealed. Here
and there was a glimpse of a young head above water--for an instant
only.

Shouts and screams now from the infected barges on either side. A
score of fresh plunges. "Splendid fellows!"

Meanwhile, what of the Duke? I am glad to say that he was alive and
(but for the cold he had caught last night) well. Indeed, his mind had
never worked more clearly than in this swift dim underworld. His
mantle, the cords of it having come untied, had drifted off him,
leaving his arms free. With breath well-pent, he steadily swam,
scarcely less amused than annoyed that the gods had, after all,
dictated the exact time at which he should seek death.

I am loth to interrupt my narrative at this rather exciting moment--a
moment when the quick, tense style, exemplified in the last paragraph
but one, is so very desirable. But in justice to the gods I must pause
to put in a word of excuse for them. They had imagined that it was in
mere irony that the Duke had said he could not die till after the
bumping-races; and not until it seemed that he stood ready to make an
end of himself had the signal been given by Zeus for the rain to fall.
One is taught to refrain from irony, because mankind does tend to
take it literally. In the hearing of the gods, who hear all, it is
conversely unsafe to make a simple and direct statement. So what is
one to do? The dilemma needs a whole volume to itself.

But to return to the Duke. He had now been under water for a full
minute, swimming down stream; and he calculated that he had yet
another full minute of consciousness. Already the whole of his past
life had vividly presented itself to him--myriads of tiny incidents,
long forgotten, now standing out sharply in their due sequence. He had
mastered this conspectus in a flash of time, and was already tired of
it. How smooth and yielding were the weeds against his face! He
wondered if Mrs. Batch had been in time to cash the cheque. If not, of
course his executors would pay the amount, but there would be delays,
long delays, Mrs. Batch in meshes of red tape. Red tape for her, green
weeds for him--he smiled at this poor conceit, classifying it as a
fair sample of merman's wit. He swam on through the quiet cool
darkness, less quickly now. Not many more strokes now, he told
himself; a few, only a few; then sleep. How was he come here? Some
woman had sent him. Ever so many years ago, some woman. He forgave
her. There was nothing to forgive her. It was the gods who had sent
him--too soon, too soon. He let his arms rise in the water, and he
floated up. There was air in that over-world, and something he needed
to know there before he came down again to sleep.

He gasped the air into his lungs, and he remembered what it was that
he needed to know.

Had he risen in mid-stream, the keel of the Magdalen boat might have
killed him. The oars of Magdalen did all but graze his face. The eyes
of the Magdalen cox met his. The cords of the Magdalen rudder slipped
from the hands that held them; whereupon the Magdalen man who rowed
"bow" missed his stroke.

An instant later, just where the line of barges begins, Judas had
bumped Magdalen.

A crash of thunder deadened the din of the stamping and dancing crowd
on the towing-path. The rain was a deluge making land and water as
one.

And the conquered crew, and the conquering, both now had seen the face
of the Duke. A white smiling face, anon it was gone. Dorset was gone
down to his last sleep.

Victory and defeat alike forgotten, the crews staggered erect and
flung themselves into the river, the slender boats capsizing and
spinning futile around in a melley of oars.

From the towing-path--no more din there now, but great single cries of
"Zuleika!"--leapt figures innumerable through rain to river. The
arrested boats of the other crews drifted zigzag hither and thither.
The dropped oars rocked and clashed, sank and rebounded, as the men
plunged across them into the swirling stream.

And over all this confusion and concussion of men and man-made things
crashed the vaster discords of the heavens; and the waters of the
heavens fell ever denser and denser, as though to the aid of waters
that could not in themselves envelop so many hundreds of struggling
human forms.

All along the soaked towing-path lay strewn the horns, the rattles,
the motor-hooters, that the youths had flung aside before they leapt.
Here and there among these relics stood dazed elder men, staring
through the storm. There was one of them--a grey-beard--who stripped
off his blazer, plunged, grabbed at some live man, grappled him, was
dragged under. He came up again further along stream, swam choking to
the bank, clung to the grasses. He whimpered as he sought foot-hold in
the slime. It was ill to be down in that abominable sink of death.

Abominable, yes, to them who discerned there death only; but
sacramental and sweet enough to the men who were dying there for
love. Any face that rose was smiling.

The thunder receded; the rain was less vehement: the boats and the
oars had drifted against the banks. And always the patient river bore
its awful burden towards Iffley.

As on the towing-path, so on the youth-bereft rafts of the barges,
yonder, stood many stupefied elders, staring at the river, staring
back from the river into one another's faces.

Dispeopled now were the roofs of the barges. Under the first drops of
the rain most of the women had come huddling down for shelter inside;
panic had presently driven down the rest. Yet on one roof one woman
still was. A strange, drenched figure, she stood bright-eyed in the
dimness; alone, as it was well she should be in her great hour;
draining the lees of such homage as had come to no woman in history
recorded.

XX

Artistically, there is a good deal to be said for that old Greek
friend of ours, the Messenger; and I dare say you blame me for
having, as it were, made you an eye-witness of the death of the
undergraduates, when I might so easily have brought some one in to
tell you about it after it was all over . . . Some one? Whom? Are you
not begging the question? I admit there were, that evening in Oxford,
many people who, when they went home from the river, gave vivid
reports of what they had seen. But among them was none who had seen
more than a small portion of the whole affair. Certainly, I might have
pieced together a dozen of the various accounts, and put them all into
the mouth of one person. But credibility is not enough for Clio's
servant. I aim at truth. And so, as I by my Zeus-given incorporeity
was the one person who had a good view of the scene at large, you must
pardon me for having withheld the veil of indirect narration.

"Too late," you will say if I offer you a Messenger now. But it was
not thus that Mrs. Batch and Katie greeted Clarence when, lamentably
soaked with rain, that Messenger appeared on the threshold of the
kitchen. Katie was laying the table-cloth for seven o'clock supper.
Neither she nor her mother was clairvoyante. Neither of them knew
what had been happening. But, as Clarence had not come home since
afternoon-school, they had assumed that he was at the river; and
they now assumed from the look of him that something very unusual
had been happening there. As to what this was, they were not quickly
enlightened. Our old Greek friend, after a run of twenty miles, would
always reel off a round hundred of graphic verses unimpeachable in
scansion. Clarence was of degenerate mould. He collapsed on to a
chair, and sat there gasping; and his recovery was rather delayed than
hastened by his mother, who, in her solicitude, patted him vigorously
between the shoulders.

"Let him alone, mother, do," cried Katie, wringing her hands.

"The Duke, he's drowned himself," presently gasped the Messenger.

Blank verse, yes, so far as it went; but delivered without the
slightest regard for rhythm, and composed in stark defiance of those
laws which should regulate the breaking of bad news. You, please
remember, were carefully prepared by me against the shock of the
Duke's death; and yet I hear you still mumbling that I didn't let the
actual fact be told you by a Messenger. Come, do you really think your
grievance against me is for a moment comparable with that of Mrs. and
Miss Batch against Clarence? Did you feel faint at any moment in the
foregoing chapter? No. But Katie, at Clarence's first words, fainted
outright. Think a little more about this poor girl senseless on the
floor, and a little less about your own paltry discomfort.

Mrs. Batch herself did not faint, but she was too much overwhelmed to
notice that her daughter had done so.

"No! Mercy on us! Speak, boy, can't you?"

"The river," gasped Clarence. "Threw himself in. On purpose. I was on
the towing-path. Saw him do it."

Mrs. Batch gave a low moan.

"Katie's fainted," added the Messenger, not without a touch of
personal pride.

"Saw him do it," Mrs. Batch repeated dully. "Katie," she said, in the
same voice, "get up this instant." But Katie did not hear her.

The mother was loth to have been outdone in sensibility by the
daughter, and it was with some temper that she hastened to make the
necessary ministrations.

"Where am I?" asked Katie, at length, echoing the words used in this
very house, at a similar juncture, on this very day, by another lover
of the Duke.

"Ah, you may well ask that," said Mrs. Batch, with more force than
reason. "A mother's support indeed! Well! And as for you," she cried,
turning on Clarence, "sending her off like that with your--" She was
face to face again with the tragic news. Katie, remembering it
simultaneously, uttered a loud sob. Mrs. Batch capped this with a much
louder one. Clarence stood before the fire, slowly revolving on one
heel. His clothes steamed briskly.

"It isn't true," said Katie. She rose and came uncertainly towards her
brother, half threatening, half imploring.

"All right," said he, strong in his advantage. "Then I shan't tell
either of you anything more."

Mrs. Batch through her tears called Katie a bad girl, and Clarence a
bad boy.

"Where did you get THEM?" asked Clarence, pointing to the ear-rings
worn by his sister.

"HE gave me them," said Katie. Clarence curbed the brotherly intention
of telling her she looked "a sight" in them.

She stood staring into vacancy. "He didn't love HER," she murmured.
"That was all over. I'll vow he didn't love HER."

"Who d'you mean by her?" asked Clarence.

"That Miss Dobson that's been here."

"What's her other name?"

"Zuleika," Katie enunciated with bitterest abhorrence.

"Well, then, he jolly well did love her. That's the name he called out
just before he threw himself in. 'Zuleika!'--like that," added the
boy, with a most infelicitous attempt to reproduce the Duke's manner.

Katie had shut her eyes, and clenched her hands.

"He hated her. He told me so," she said.

"I was always a mother to him," sobbed Mrs. Batch, rocking to and fro
on a chair in a corner. "Why didn't he come to me in his trouble?"

"He kissed me," said Katie, as in a trance. "No other man shall ever
do that."

"He did?" exclaimed Clarence. "And you let him?"

"You wretched little whipper-snapper!" flashed Katie.

"Oh, I am, am I?" shouted Clarence, squaring up to his sister. "Say
that again, will you?"

There is no doubt that Katie would have said it again, had not her
mother closed the scene with a prolonged wail of censure.

"You ought to be thinking of ME, you wicked girl," said Mrs. Batch.
Katie went across, and laid a gentle hand on her mother's shoulder.
This, however, did but evoke a fresh flood of tears. Mrs. Batch had a
keen sense of the deportment owed to tragedy. Katie, by bickering with
Clarence, had thrown away the advantage she had gained by fainting.
Mrs. Batch was not going to let her retrieve it by shining as a
consoler. I hasten to add that this resolve was only sub-conscious in
the good woman. Her grief was perfectly sincere. And it was not the
less so because with it was mingled a certain joy in the greatness of
the calamity. She came of good sound peasant stock. Abiding in her was
the spirit of those old songs and ballads in which daisies and
daffodillies and lovers' vows and smiles are so strangely inwoven with
tombs and ghosts, with murders and all manner of grim things. She had
not had education enough to spoil her nerve. She was able to take the
rough with the smooth. She was able to take all life for her province,
and death too.

The Duke was dead. This was the stupendous outline she had grasped:
now let it be filled in. She had been stricken: now let her be racked.
Soon after her daughter had moved away, Mrs. Batch dried her eyes, and
bade Clarence tell just what had happened. She did not flinch. Modern
Katie did.

Such had ever been the Duke's magic in the household that Clarence had
at first forgotten to mention that any one else was dead. Of this
omission he was glad. It promised him a new lease of importance.
Meanwhile, he described in greater detail the Duke's plunge. Mrs.
Batch's mind, while she listened, ran ahead, dog-like, into the
immediate future, ranging around: "the family" would all be here
to-morrow, the Duke's own room must be "put straight" to-night, "I
was of speaking" . . .

Katie's mind harked back to the immediate past--to the tone of that
voice, to that hand which she had kissed, to the touch of those lips
on her brow, to the door-step she had made so white for him, day by
day . . .

The sound of the rain had long ceased. There was the noise of a
gathering wind.

"Then in went a lot of others," Clarence was saying. "And they all
shouted out 'Zuleika!' just like he did. Then a lot more went in.
First I thought it was some sort of fun. Not it!" And he told how, by
inquiries further down the river, he had learned the extent of the
disaster. "Hundreds and hundreds of them--ALL of them," he summed up.
"And all for the love of HER," he added, as with a sulky salute to
Romance.

Mrs. Batch had risen from her chair, the better to cope with such
magnitude. She stood with wide-spread arms, silent, gaping. She
seemed, by sheer force of sympathy, to be expanding to the dimensions
of a crowd.

Intensive Katie recked little of all these other deaths. "I only
know," she said, "that he hated her."

"Hundreds and hundreds--ALL," intoned Mrs. Batch, then gave a sudden
start, as having remembered something. Mr. Noaks! He, too! She
staggered to the door, leaving her actual offspring to their own
devices, and went heavily up the stairs, her mind scampering again
before her. . . . If he was safe and sound, dear young gentleman,
heaven be praised! and she would break the awful news to him, very
gradually. If not, there was another "family" to be solaced; "I'm a
mother myself, Mrs. Noaks" . . .

The sitting-room door was closed. Twice did Mrs. Batch tap on the
panel, receiving no answer. She went in, gazed around in the dimness,
sighed deeply, and struck a match. Conspicuous on the table lay a
piece of paper. She bent to examine it. A piece of lined paper, torn
from an exercise book, it was neatly inscribed with the words "What is
Life without Love?" The final word and the note of interrogation were
somewhat blurred, as by a tear. The match had burnt itself out. The
landlady lit another, and read the legend a second time, that she
might take in the full pathos of it. Then she sat down in the arm-
chair. For some minutes she wept there. Then, having no more, tears,
she went out on tip-toe, closing the door very quietly.

As she descended the last flight of stairs, her daughter had just shut
the front-door, and was coming along the hall.

"Poor Mr. Noaks--he's gone," said the mother.

"Has he?" said Katie listlessly.

"Yes he has, you heartless girl. What's that you've got in your hand?
Why, if it isn't the black-leading! And what have you been doing with
that?"

"Let me alone, mother, do," said poor Katie. She had done her lowly
task. She had expressed her mourning, as best she could, there where
she had been wont to express her love.

XXI

And Zuleika? She had done a wise thing, and was where it was best that
she should be.

Her face lay upturned on the water's surface, and round it were the
masses of her dark hair, half floating, half submerged. Her eyes were
closed, and her lips were parted. Not Ophelia in the brook could have
seemed more at peace.

"Like a creature native and indued
Unto that element,"
tranquil Zuleika lay.

Gently to and fro her tresses drifted on the water, or under the water
went ever ravelling and unravelling. Nothing else of her stirred.

What to her now the loves that she had inspired and played on? the
lives lost for her? Little thought had she now of them. Aloof she lay.

Steadily rising from the water was a thick vapour that turned to dew
on the window-pane. The air was heavy with scent of violets. These are
the flowers of mourning; but their scent here and now signified
nothing; for Eau de Violettes was the bath-essence that Zuleika always
had.

The bath-room was not of the white-gleaming kind to which she was
accustomed. The walls were papered, not tiled, and the bath itself was
of japanned tin, framed in mahogany. These things, on the evening of
her arrival at the Warden's, had rather distressed her. But she was
the better able to bear them because of that well-remembered past when
a bath-room was in itself a luxury pined for--days when a not-large
and not-full can of not-hot water, slammed down at her bedroom door by
a governess-resenting housemaid, was as much as the gods allowed her.
And there was, to dulcify for her the bath of this evening, the yet
sharper contrast with the plight she had just come home in, sopped,
shivering, clung to by her clothes. Because this bath was not a mere
luxury, but a necessary precaution, a sure means of salvation from
chill, she did the more gratefully bask in it, till Melisande came
back to her, laden with warmed towels.

A few minutes before eight o'clock she was fully ready to go down to
dinner, with even more than the usual glow of health, and hungry
beyond her wont.

Yet, as she went down, her heart somewhat misgave her. Indeed, by
force of the wide experience she had had as a governess, she never did
feel quite at her ease when she was staying in a private house: the
fear of not giving satisfaction haunted her; she was always on her
guard; the shadow of dismissal absurdly hovered. And to-night she
could not tell herself, as she usually did, not to be so silly. If her
grandfather knew already the motive by which those young men had been
actuated, dinner with him might be a rather strained affair. He might
tell her, in so many words, that he wished he had not invited her to
Oxford.

Through the open door of the drawing room she saw him, standing
majestic, draped in a voluminous black gown. Her instinct was to run
away; but this she conquered. She went straight in, remembering not to
smile.

"Ah, ah," said the Warden, shaking a forefinger at her with old-world
playfulness. "And what have you to say for yourself?"

Relieved, she was also a trifle shocked. Was it possible that he, a
responsible old man, could take things so lightly?

"Oh, grand-papa," she answered, hanging her head, "what CAN I say? It
is--it is too, too, dreadful."

"There, there, my dear. I was but jesting. If you have had an
agreeable time, you are forgiven for playing truant. Where have you
been all day?"

She saw that she had misjudged him. "I have just come from the river,"
she said gravely.

"Yes? And did the College make its fourth bump to-night?"

"I--I don't know, grand-papa. There was so much happening. It--I will
tell you all about it at dinner."

"Ah, but to-night," he said, indicating his gown, "I cannot be with
you. The bump-supper, you know. I have to preside in Hall."

Zuleika had forgotten there was to be a bump-supper, and, though she
was not very sure what a bump-supper was, she felt it would be a
mockery to-night.

"But grand-papa--" she began.

"My dear, I cannot dissociate myself from the life of the College.
And, alas," he said, looking at the clock, "I must leave you now. As
soon as you have finished dinner, you might, if you would care to,
come and peep down at us from the gallery. There is apt to be some
measure of noise and racket, but all of it good-humoured and--boys
will be boys--pardonable. Will you come?"

"Perhaps, grand-papa," she said awkwardly. Left alone, she hardly knew
whether to laugh or cry. In a moment, the butler came to her rescue,
telling her that dinner was served.

As the figure of the Warden emerged from Salt Cellar into the Front
Quadrangle, a hush fell on the group of gowned Fellows outside the
Hall. Most of them had only just been told the news, and (such is the
force of routine in an University) were still sceptical of it. And in
face of these doubts the three or four dons who had been down at the
river were now half ready to believe that there must, after all, be
some mistake, and that in this world of illusions they had to-night
been specially tricked. To rebut this theory, there was the notable
absence of undergraduates. Or was this an illusion, too? Men of
thought, agile on the plane of ideas, devils of fellows among books,
they groped feebly in this matter of actual life and death. The sight
of their Warden heartened them. After all, he was the responsible
person. He was father of the flock that had strayed, and grandfather
of the beautiful Miss Zuleika.

Like her, they remembered not to smile in greeting him.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he said. "The storm seems to have passed."

There was a murmur of "Yes, Warden."

"And how did our boat acquit itself?"

There was a shuffling pause. Every one looked at the Sub-Warden:
it was manifestly for him to break the news, or to report the
hallucination. He was nudged forward--a large man, with a large
beard at which he plucked nervously.

"Well, really, Warden," he said, "we--we hardly know,"* and he ended
with what can only be described as a giggle. He fell low in the esteem
of his fellows.

*Those of my readers who are interested in athletic sports will
remember the long controversy that raged as to whether Judas had
actually bumped Magdalen; and they will not need to be minded that
it was mainly through the evidence of Mr. E. T. A. Cook, who had
been on the towing-path at the time, that the 0. U. B. C. decided
the point in Judas' favour, and fixed the order of the boats for
the following year accordingly.

Thinking of that past Sub-Warden whose fame was linked with the
sun-dial, the Warden eyed this one keenly.

"Well, gentlemen," he presently said, "our young men seem to be
already at table. Shall we follow their example?" And he led the way
up the steps.

Already at table? The dons' dubiety toyed with this hypothesis. But
the aspect of the Hall's interior was hard to explain away. Here were
the three long tables, stretching white towards the dais, and laden
with the usual crockery and cutlery, and with pots of flowers in
honour of the occasion. And here, ranged along either wall, was the
usual array of scouts, motionless, with napkins across their arms. But
that was all.

It became clear to the Warden that some organised prank or protest
was afoot. Dignity required that he should take no heed whatsoever.
Looking neither to the right nor to the left, stately he approached
the dais, his Fellows to heel.

In Judas, as in other Colleges, grace before meat is read by the
Senior Scholar. The Judas grace (composed, they say, by Christopher
Whitrid himself) is noted for its length and for the excellence of its
Latinity. Who was to read it to-night? The Warden, having searched his
mind vainly for a precedent, was driven to create one.

"The Junior Fellow," he said, "will read grace."

Blushing to the roots of his hair, and with crablike gait, Mr. Pedby,
the Junior Fellow, went and unhooked from the wall that little shield
of wood on which the words of the grace are carven. Mr. Pedby was--Mr.
Pedby is--a mathematician. His treatise on the Higher Theory of Short
Division by Decimals had already won for him an European reputation.
Judas was--Judas is--proud of Pedby. Nor is it denied that in
undertaking the duty thrust on him he quickly controlled his nerves
and read the Latin out in ringing accents. Better for him had he not
done so. The false quantities he made were so excruciating and so many
that, while the very scouts exchanged glances, the dons at the high
table lost all command of their features, and made horrible noises in
the effort to contain themselves. The very Warden dared not look from
his plate.

In every breast around the high table, behind every shirt-front or
black silk waistcoat, glowed the recognition of a new birth. Suddenly,
unheralded, a thing of highest destiny had fallen into their academic
midst. The stock of Common Room talk had to-night been re-inforced and
enriched for all time. Summers and winters would come and go, old
faces would vanish, giving place to new, but the story of Pedby's
grace would be told always. Here was a tradition that generations of
dons yet unborn would cherish and chuckle over. Something akin to awe
mingled itself with the subsiding merriment. And the dons, having
finished their soup, sipped in silence the dry brown sherry.

Those who sat opposite to the Warden, with their backs to the void,
were oblivious of the matter that had so recently teased them. They
were conscious only of an agreeable hush, in which they peered down
the vistas of the future, watching the tradition of Pedby's grace as
it rolled brighter and ever brighter down to eternity.

The pop of a champagne cork startled them to remembrance that this was
a bump-supper, and a bump-supper of a peculiar kind. The turbot that
came after the soup, the champagne that succeeded the sherry, helped
to quicken in these men of thought the power to grapple with a
reality. The aforesaid three or four who had been down at the river
recovered their lost belief in the evidence of their eyes and ears.
In the rest was a spirit of receptivity which, as the meal went on,
mounted to conviction. The Sub-Warden made a second and more
determined attempt to enlighten the Warden; but the Warden's eye met
his with a suspicion so cruelly pointed that he again floundered and
gave in.

All adown those empty other tables gleamed the undisturbed cutlery,
and the flowers in the pots innocently bloomed. And all adown either
wall, unneeded but undisbanded, the scouts remained. Some of the elder
ones stood with closed eyes and heads sunk forward, now and again
jerking themselves erect, and blinking around, wondering, remembering.

And for a while this scene was looked down on by a not disinterested
stranger. For a while, her chin propped on her hands, Zuleika leaned
over the rail of the gallery, just as she had lately leaned over the
barge's rail, staring down and along. But there was no spark of
triumph now in her eyes; only a deep melancholy; and in her mouth a
taste as of dust and ashes. She thought of last night, and of all the
buoyant life that this Hall had held. Of the Duke she thought, and of
the whole vivid and eager throng of his fellows in love. Her will,
their will, had been done. But. there rose to her lips the old, old
question that withers victory--"To what end?" Her eyes ranged along
the tables, and an appalling sense of loneliness swept over her. She
turned away, wrapping the folds of her cloak closer across her breast.
Not in this College only, but through and through Oxford, there was no
heart that beat for her--no, not one, she told herself, with that
instinct for self-torture which comes to souls in torment. She was
utterly alone to-night in the midst of a vast indifference. She! She!
Was it possible? Were the gods so merciless? Ah no, surely . . .

Down at the high table the feast drew to its close, and very different
was the mood of the feasters from that of the young woman whose glance
had for a moment rested on their unromantic heads. Generations of
undergraduates had said that Oxford would be all very well but for the
dons. Do you suppose that the dons had had no answering sentiment?
Youth is a very good thing to possess, no doubt; but it is a tiresome
setting for maturity. Youth all around prancing, vociferating,
mocking; callow and alien youth, having to be looked after and
studied and taught, as though nothing but it mattered, term after
term--and now, all of a sudden, in mid-term, peace, ataraxy, a
profound and leisured stillness. No lectures to deliver to-morrow;
no "essays" to hear and criticise; time for the unvexed pursuit of
pure learning . . .

As the Fellows passed out on their way to Common Room, there to tackle
with a fresh appetite Pedby's grace, they paused, as was their wont,
on the steps of the Hall, looking up at the sky, envisaging the
weather. The wind had dropped. There was even a glimpse of the moon
riding behind the clouds. And now, a solemn and plangent token of
Oxford's perpetuity, the first stroke of Great Tom sounded.

XXII

Stroke by stroke, the great familiar monody of that incomparable
curfew rose and fell in the stillness.

Nothing of Oxford lingers more surely than it in the memory of Oxford
men; and to one revisiting these groves nothing is more eloquent of
that scrupulous historic economy whereby his own particular past is
utilised as the general present and future. "All's as it was, all's as
it will be," says Great Tom; and that is what he stubbornly said on
the evening I here record.

Stroke by measured and leisured stroke, the old euphonious clangour
pervaded Oxford, spreading out over the meadows, along the river,
audible in Iffley. But to the dim groups gathering and dispersing on
either bank, and to the silent workers in the boats, the bell's
message came softened, equivocal; came as a requiem for these dead.

Over the closed gates of Iffley lock, the water gushed down, eager for
the sacrament of the sea. Among the supine in the field hard by, there
was one whose breast bore a faint-gleaming star. And bending over him,
looking down at him with much love and pity in her eyes, was the shade
of Nellie O'Mora, that "fairest witch," to whose memory he had to-day
atoned.

And yonder, "sitting upon the river-bank o'ergrown," with questioning
eyes, was another shade, more habituated to these haunts--the shade
known so well to bathers "in the abandoned lasher," and to dancers
"around the Fyfield elm in May." At the bell's final stroke, the
Scholar Gipsy rose, letting fall on the water his gathered wild-
flowers, and passed towards Cumnor.

And now, duly, throughout Oxford, the gates of the Colleges were
closed, and closed were the doors of the lodging-houses. Every night,
for many years, at this hour precisely, Mrs. Batch had come out from
her kitchen, to turn the key in the front-door. The function had long
ago become automatic. To-night, however, it was the cue for further
tears. These did not cease at her return to the kitchen, where she
had gathered about her some sympathetic neighbours--women of her own
age and kind, capacious of tragedy; women who might be relied on;
founts of ejaculation, wells of surmise, downpours of remembered
premonitions.

With his elbows on the kitchen table, and his knuckles to his brow,
sat Clarence, intent on belated "prep." Even an eye-witness of
disaster may pall if he repeat his story too often. Clarence had
noted in the last recital that he was losing his hold on his
audience. So now he sat committing to memory the names of the
cantons of Switzerland, and waving aside with a harsh gesture
such questions as were still put to him by the women.

Katie had sought refuge in the need for "putting the gentlemen's rooms
straight," against the arrival of the two families to-morrow. Duster
in hand, and by the light of a single candle that barely survived the
draught from the open window, she moved to and fro about the Duke's
room, a wan and listless figure, casting queerest shadows on the
ceiling. There were other candles that she might have lit, but this
ambiguous gloom suited her sullen humour. Yes, I am sorry to say,
Katie was sullen. She had not ceased to mourn the Duke; but it was
even more anger than grief that she felt at his dying. She was as sure
as ever that he had not loved Miss Dobson; but this only made it the
more outrageous that he had died because of her. What was there in
this woman that men should so demean themselves for her? Katie, as you
know, had at first been unaffected by the death of the undergraduates
at large. But, because they too had died for Zuleika, she was bitterly
incensed against them now. What could they have admired in such a
woman? She didn't even look like a lady. Katie caught the dim
reflection of herself in the mirror. She took the candle from the
table, and examined the reflection closely. She was sure she was just
as pretty as Miss Dobson. It was only the clothes that made the
difference--the clothes and the behaviour. Katie threw back her head,
and smiled brilliantly, hand on hip. She nodded reassuringly at
herself; and the black pearl and the pink danced a duet. She put the
candle down, and undid her hair, roughly parting it on one side, and
letting it sweep down over the further eyebrow. She fixed it in that
fashion, and posed accordingly. Now! But gradually her smile relaxed,
and a mist came to her eyes. For she had to admit that even so, after
all, she hadn't just that something which somehow Miss Dobson had. She
put away from her the hasty dream she had had of a whole future
generation of undergraduates drowning themselves, every one, in honour
of her. She went wearily on with her work.

Presently, after a last look round, she went up the creaking stairs,
to do Mr. Noaks' room.

She found on the table that screed which her mother had recited so
often this evening. She put it in the waste-paper basket.

Also on the table were a lexicon, a Thucydides, and some note-books.
These she took and shelved without a tear for the closed labours they
bore witness to.

The next disorder that met her eye was one that gave her
pause--seemed, indeed, to transfix her.

Mr. Noaks had never, since he came to lodge here, possessed more than
one pair of boots. This fact had been for her a lasting source of
annoyance; for it meant that she had to polish Mr. Noaks' boots always
in the early morning, when there were so many other things to be done,
instead of choosing her own time. Her annoyance had been all the
keener because Mr. Noaks' boots more than made up in size for what
they lacked in number. Either of them singly took more time and polish
than any other pair imaginable. She would have recognised them, at a
glance, anywhere. Even so now, it was at a glance that she recognised
the toes of them protruding from beneath the window-curtain. She
dismissed the theory that Mr. Noaks might have gone utterly unshod to
the river. She scouted the hypothesis that his ghost could be shod
thus. By process of elimination she arrived at the truth. "Mr. Noaks,"
she said quietly, "come out of there."

There was a slight quiver of the curtain; no more. Katie repeated her
words. There was a pause, then a convulsion of the curtain. Noaks
stood forth.

Always, in polishing his boots, Katie had found herself thinking of
him as a man of prodigious stature, well though she knew him to be
quite tiny. Even so now, at recognition of his boots, she had fixed
her eyes to meet his, when he should emerge, a full yard too high.
With a sharp drop she focussed him.

"By what right," he asked, "do you come prying about my room?"

This was a stroke so unexpected that it left Katie mute. It equally
surprised Noaks, who had been about to throw himself on his knees and
implore this girl not to betray him. He was quick, though, to clinch
his advantage.

"This," he said, "is the first time I have caught you. Let it be the
last."

Was this the little man she had so long despised, and so
superciliously served? His very smallness gave him an air of
concentrated force. She remembered having read that all the
greatest men in history had been of less than the middle height.
And--oh, her heart leapt--here was the one man who had scorned
to die for Miss Dobson. He alone had held out against the folly
of his fellows. Sole and splendid survivor he stood, rock-footed,
before her. And impulsively she abased herself, kneeling at his
feet as at the great double altar of some dark new faith.

"You are great, sir, you are wonderful," she said, gazing up to him,
rapt. It was the first time she had ever called him "sir."

It is easier, as Michelet suggested, for a woman to change her opinion
of a man than for him to change his opinion of himself. Noaks, despite
the presence of mind he had shown a few moments ago, still saw himself
as he had seen himself during the past hours: that is, as an arrant
little coward--one who by his fear to die had put himself outside the
pale of decent manhood. He had meant to escape from the house at dead
of night and, under an assumed name, work his passage out to Australia
--a land which had always made strong appeal to his imagination. No
one, he had reflected, would suppose because his body was not
retrieved from the water that he had not perished with the rest.
And he had looked to Australia to make a man of him yet: in Encounter
Bay, perhaps, or in the Gulf of Carpentaria, he might yet end nobly.

Thus Katie's behaviour was as much an embarrassment as a relief; and
he asked her in what way he was great and wonderful.

"Modest, like all heroes!" she cried, and, still kneeling, proceeded
to sing his praises with a so infectious fervour that Noaks did begin
to feel he had done a fine thing in not dying. After all, was it not
moral cowardice as much as love that had tempted him to die? He had
wrestled with it, thrown it. "Yes," said he, when her rhapsody was
over, "perhaps I am modest."

"And that is why you hid yourself just now?"

"Yes," he gladly said. "I hid myself for the same reason," he added,
"when I heard your mother's footstep."

"But," she faltered, with a sudden doubt, "that bit of writing which
Mother found on the table--"

"That? Oh, that was only a general reflection, copied out of a book."

"Oh, won't poor Mother be glad when she knows!"

"I don't want her to know," said Noaks, with a return of nervousness.
"You mustn't tell any one. I--the fact is--"

"Ah, that is so like you!" the girl said tenderly. "I suppose it was
your modesty that all this while blinded me. Please, sir, I have a
confession to make to you. Never till to-night have I loved you."

Exquisite was the shock of these words to one who, not without reason,
had always assumed that no woman would ever love him. Before he knew
what he was doing, he had bent down and kissed the sweet upturned
face. It was the first kiss he had ever given outside his family
circle. It was an artless and a resounding kiss.

He started back, dazed. What manner of man, he wondered, was he? A
coward, piling profligacy on poltroonery? Or a hero, claiming
exemption from moral law? What was done could not be undone; but it
could be righted. He drew off from the little finger of his left hand
that iron ring which, after a twinge of rheumatism, he had to-day
resumed.

"Wear it," he said.

"You mean--?" She leapt to her feet.

"That we are engaged. I hope you don't think we have any choice?"

She clapped her hands, like the child she was, and adjusted the ring.

"It is very pretty," she said.

"It is very simple," he answered lightly. "But," he added, with a
change of tone, "it is very durable. And that is the important thing.
For I shall not be in a position to marry before I am forty."

A shadow of disappointment hovered over Katie's clear young brow, but
was instantly chased away by the thought that to be engaged was almost
as splendid as to be married.

"Recently," said her lover, "I meditated leaving Oxford for Australia.
But now that you have come into my life, I am compelled to drop that
notion, and to carve out the career I had first set for myself. A year
hence, if I get a Second in Greats--and I SHALL" he said, with a
fierce look that entranced her--"I shall have a very good chance of an
assistant-mastership in a good private school. In eighteen years, if I
am careful--and, with you waiting for me, I SHALL be careful--my
savings will enable me to start a small school of my own, and to take
a wife. Even then it would be more prudent to wait another five years,
no doubt. But there was always a streak of madness in the Noakses. I
say 'Prudence to the winds!'"

"Ah, don't say that!" exclaimed Katie, laying a hand on his sleeve.

"You are right. Never hesitate to curb me. And," he said, touching the
ring, "an idea has just occurred to me. When the time comes, let this
be the wedding-ring. Gold is gaudy--not at all the thing for a
schoolmaster's bride. It is a pity," he muttered, examining her
through his spectacles, "that your hair is so golden. A schoolmaster's
bride should--Good heavens! Those ear-rings! Where did you get THEM?"

"They were given to me to-day," Katie faltered. "The Duke gave me
them."

"Indeed?"

"Please, sir, he gave me them as a memento."

"And that memento shall immediately be handed over to his executors."

"Yes, sir."

"I should think so!" was on the tip of Noaks' tongue, but suddenly he
ceased to see the pearls as trinkets finite and inapposite--saw them,
in a flash, as things transmutable by sale hereafter into desks,
forms, black-boards, maps, lockers, cubicles, gravel soil, diet
unlimited, and special attention to backward pupils. Simultaneously,
he saw how mean had been his motive for repudiating the gift. What
more despicable than jealousy of a man deceased? What sillier than to

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