Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

cast pearls before executors? Sped by nothing but the pulse of his hot
youth, he had wooed and won this girl. Why flinch from her unsought

He told her his vision. Her eyes opened wide to it. "And oh," she
cried, "then we can be married as soon as you take your degree!"

He bade her not be so foolish. Who ever heard of a head-master aged
three-and-twenty? What parent or guardian would trust a stripling? The
engagement must run its course. "And," he said, fidgeting, "do you
know that I have hardly done any reading to-day?"

"You want to read NOW--TO-NIGHT?"

"I must put in a good two hours. Where are the books that were on my

Reverently--he was indeed a king of men--she took the books down from
the shelf, and placed them where she had found them. And she knew not
which thrilled her the more--the kiss he gave her at parting, or the
tone in which he told her that the one thing he could not and would
not stand was having his books disturbed.

Still less than before attuned to the lugubrious session downstairs,
she went straight up to her attic, and did a little dance there in the
dark. She threw open the lattice of the dormer-window, and leaned out,
smiling, throbbing.

The Emperors, gazing up, saw her happy, and wondered; saw Noaks' ring
on her finger, and would fain have shaken their grey heads.

Presently she was aware of a protrusion from the window beneath hers.
The head of her beloved! Fondly she watched it, wished she could reach
down to stroke it. She loved him for having, after all, left his
books. It was sweet to be his excuse. Should she call softly to him?
No, it might shame him to be caught truant. He had already chidden her
for prying. So she did but gaze down on his head silently, wondering
whether in eighteen years it would be bald, wondering whether her own
hair would still have the fault of being golden. Most of all, she
wondered whether he loved her half so much as she loved him.

This happened to be precisely what he himself was wondering. Not that
he wished himself free. He was one of those in whom the will does not,
except under very great pressure, oppose the conscience. What pressure
here? Miss Batch was a superior girl; she would grace any station in
life. He had always been rather in awe of her. It was a fine thing to
be suddenly loved by her, to be in a position to over-rule her every
whim. Plighting his troth, he had feared she would be an encumbrance,
only to find she was a lever. But--was he deeply in love with her?
How was it that he could not at this moment recall her features, or
the tone of her voice, while of deplorable Miss Dobson, every
lineament, every accent, so vividly haunted him? Try as he would to
beat off these memories, he failed, and--some very great pressure
here!--was glad he failed; glad though he found himself relapsing to
the self-contempt from which Miss Batch had raised him. He scorned
himself for being alive. And again, he scorned himself for his
infidelity. Yet he was glad he could not forget that face, that
voice--that queen. She had smiled at him when she borrowed the ring.
She had said "Thank you." Oh, and now, at this very moment, sleeping
or waking, actually she was somewhere--she! herself! This was an
incredible, an indubitable, an all-magical fact for the little fellow.

From the street below came a faint cry that was as the cry of his own
heart, uttered by her own lips. Quaking, he peered down, and dimly
saw, over the way, a cloaked woman.

She--yes, it was she herself--came gliding to the middle of the road,
gazing up at him.

"At last!" he heard her say. His instinct was to hide himself from the
queen he had not died for. Yet he could not move.

"Or," she quavered, "are you a phantom sent to mock me? Speak!"

"Good evening," he said huskily.

"I knew," she murmured, "I knew the gods were not so cruel. Oh man of
my need," she cried, stretching out her arms to him, "oh heaven-sent,
I see you only as a dark outline against the light of your room. But I
know you. Your name is Noaks, isn't it? Dobson is mine. I am your
Warden's grand-daughter. I am faint and foot-sore. I have ranged this
desert city in search of--of YOU. Let me hear from your own lips that
you love me. Tell me in your own words--" She broke off with a little
scream, and did not stand with forefinger pointed at him, gazing,

"Listen, Miss Dobson," he stammered, writhing under what he took to be
the lash of her irony. "Give me time to explain. You see me here--"

"Hush," she cried, "man of my greater, my deeper and nobler need! Oh
hush, ideal which not consciously I was out for to-night--ideal
vouchsafed to me by a crowning mercy! I sought a lover, I find a
master. I sought but a live youth, was blind to what his survival
would betoken. Oh master, you think me light and wicked. You stare
coldly down at me through your spectacles, whose glint I faintly
discern now that the moon peeps forth. You would be readier to forgive
me the havoc I have wrought if you could for the life of you
understand what charm your friends found in me. You marvel, as at the
skull of Helen of Troy. No, you don't think me hideous: you simply
think me plain. There was a time when I thought YOU plain--you whose
face, now that the moon shines full on it, is seen to be of a beauty
that is flawless without being insipid. Oh that I were a glove upon
that hand, that I might touch that cheek! You shudder at the notion of
such contact. My voice grates on you. You try to silence me with
frantic though exquisite gestures, and with noises inarticulate but
divine. I bow to your will, master. Chasten me with your tongue."

"I am not what you think me," gibbered Noaks. "I was not afraid to die
for you. I love you. I was on my way to the river this afternoon, but
I--I tripped and sprained my ankle, and--and jarred my spine. They
carried me back here. I am still very weak. I can't put my foot to the
ground. As soon as I can--"

Just then Zuleika heard a little sharp sound which, for the fraction
of an instant, before she knew it to be a clink of metal on the
pavement, she thought was the breaking of the heart within her.
Looking quickly down, she heard a shrill girlish laugh aloft. Looking
quickly up, she descried at the unlit window above her lover's a face
which she remembered as that of the land-lady's daughter.

"Find it, Miss Dobson," laughed the girl. "Crawl for it. It can't have
rolled far, and it's the only engagement-ring you'll get from HIM,"
she said, pointing to the livid face twisted painfully up at her from
the lower window. "Grovel for it, Miss Dobson. Ask him to step down
and help you. Oh, he can! That was all lies about his spine and ankle.
Afraid, that's what he was--I see it all now--afraid of the water. I
wish you'd found him as I did--skulking behind the curtain. Oh, you're
welcome to him."

"Don't listen," Noaks cried down. "Don't listen to that person. I
admit I have trifled with her affections. This is her revenge--these
wicked untruths--these--these--"

Zuleika silenced him with a gesture. "Your tone to me," she said up to
Katie, "is not without offence; but the stamp of truth is on what you
tell me. We have both been deceived in this man, and are, in some
sort, sisters."

"Sisters?" cried Katie. "Your sisters are the snake and the spider,
though neither of them wishes it known. I loathe you. And the Duke
loathed you, too."

"What's that?" gasped Zuleika.

"Didn't he tell you? He told me. And I warrant he told you, too."

"He died for love of me: d'you hear?"

"Ah, you'd like people to think so, wouldn't you? Does a man who loves
a woman give away the keepsake she gave him? Look!" Katie leaned
forward, pointing to her ear-rings. "He loved ME," she cried. He put
them in with his own hands--told me to wear them always. And he kissed
me--kissed me good-bye in the street, where every one could see. He
kissed me," she sobbed. "No other man shall ever do that."

"Ah, that he did!" said a voice level with Zuleika. It was the voice
of Mrs. Batch, who a few moments ago had opened the door for her
departing guests.

"Ah, that he did!" echoed the guests.

"Never mind them, Miss Dobson," cried Noaks, and at the sound of his
voice Mrs. Batch rushed into the middle of the road, to gaze up. "_I_
love you. Think what you will of me. I--"

"You!" flashed Zuleika. "As for you, little Sir Lily Liver, leaning
out there, and, I frankly tell you, looking like nothing so much as
a gargoyle hewn by a drunken stone-mason for the adornment of a
Methodist Chapel in one of the vilest suburbs of Leeds or Wigan, I do
but felicitate the river-god and his nymphs that their water was saved
to-day by your cowardice from the contamination of your plunge."

"Shame on you, Mr. Noaks," said Mrs. Batch, "making believe you were

"Shame!" screamed Clarence, who had darted out into the fray.

"I found him hiding behind the curtain," chimed in Katie.

"And I a mother to him!" said Mrs. Batch, shaking her fist. "'What is
life without love?' indeed! Oh, the cowardly, underhand--"

"Wretch," prompted her cronies.

"Let's kick him out of the house!" suggested Clarence, dancing for

Zuleika, smiling brilliantly down at the boy, said "Just you run up
and fight him!"

"Right you are," he answered, with a look of knightly devotion, and
darted back into the house.

"No escape!" she cried up to Noaks. "You've got to fight him now. He
and you are just about evenly matched, I fancy."

But, grimly enough, Zuleika's estimate was never put to the test. Is
it harder for a coward to fight with his fists than to kill himself?
Or again, is it easier for him to die than to endure a prolonged
cross-fire of women's wrath and scorn? This I know: that in the life
of even the least and meanest of us there is somewhere one fine
moment--one high chance not missed. I like to think it was by
operation of this law that Noaks had now clambered out upon the
window-sill, silencing, sickening, scattering like chaff the women
beneath him.

He was already not there when Clarence bounded into the room. "Come
on!" yelled the boy, first thrusting his head behind the door, then
diving beneath the table, then plucking aside either window-curtain,
vowing vengeance.

Vengeance was not his. Down on the road without, not yet looked at but
by the steadfast eyes of the Emperors, the last of the undergraduates
lay dead; and fleet-footed Zuleika, with her fingers still pressed to
her ears, had taken full toll now.


Twisting and turning in her flight, with wild eyes that fearfully
retained the image of that small man gathering himself to spring,
Zuleika found herself suddenly where she could no further go.

She was in that grim ravine by which you approach New College. At
sight of the great shut gate before her, she halted, and swerved to
the wall. She set her brow and the palms of her hands against the cold
stones. She threw back her head, and beat the stones with her fists.

It was not only what she had seen, it was what she had barely saved
herself from seeing, and what she had not quite saved herself from
hearing, that she strove so piteously to forget. She was sorrier for
herself, angrier, than she had been last night when the Duke laid
hands on her. Why should every day have a horrible ending? Last night
she had avenged herself. To-night's outrage was all the more foul and
mean because of its certain immunity. And the fact that she had in
some measure brought it on herself did but whip her rage. What a fool
she had been to taunt the man! Yet no, how could she have foreseen
that he would--do THAT? How could she have guessed that he, who had
not dared seemly death for her in the gentle river, would dare--THAT?

She shuddered the more as she now remembered that this very day, in
that very house, she had invited for her very self a similar fate.
What if the Duke had taken her word? Strange! she wouldn't have
flinched then. She had felt no horror at the notion of such a death.
And thus she now saw Noaks' conduct in a new light--saw that he
had but wished to prove his love, not at all to affront her. This
understanding quickly steadied her nerves. She did not need now to
forget what she had seen; and, not needing to forget it--thus are
our brains fashioned--she was able to forget it.

But by removal of one load her soul was but bared for a more grievous
other. Her memory harked back to what had preceded the crisis. She
recalled those moments of doomed rapture in which her heart had soared
up to the apocalyptic window--recalled how, all the while she was
speaking to the man there, she had been chafed by the inadequacy of
language. Oh, how much more she had meant than she could express! Oh,
the ecstasy of that self-surrender! And the brevity of it! the sudden
odious awakening! Thrice in this Oxford she had been duped. Thrice all
that was fine and sweet in her had leapt forth, only to be scourged
back into hiding. Poor heart inhibited! She gazed about her. The stone
alley she had come into, the terrible shut gate, were for her a
visible symbol of the destiny she had to put up with. Wringing her
hands, she hastened along the way she had come. She vowed she would
never again set foot in Oxford. She wished herself out of the hateful
little city to-night. She even wished herself dead.

She deserved to suffer, you say? Maybe. I merely state that she did

Emerging into Catherine Street, she knew whereabouts she was, and made
straight for Judas, turning away her eyes as she skirted the Broad,
that place of mocked hopes and shattered ideals.

Coming into Judas Street, she remembered the scene of yesterday--the
happy man with her, the noise of the vast happy crowd. She suffered in
a worse form what she had suffered in the gallery of the Hall. For
now--did I not say she was not without imagination?--her self-pity was
sharpened by remorse for the hundreds of homes robbed. She realised
the truth of what the poor Duke had once said to her: she was a danger
in the world . . . Aye, and all the more dire now. What if the youth
of all Europe were moved by Oxford's example? That was a horribly
possible thing. It must be reckoned with. It must be averted. She must
not show herself to men. She must find some hiding-place, and there
abide. Were this a hardship? she asked herself. Was she not sickened
for ever of men's homage? And was it not clear now that the absorbing
need in her soul, the need to love, would never--except for a brief
while, now and then, and by an unfortunate misunderstanding--be

So long ago that you may not remember, I compared her favourably with
the shepherdess Marcella, and pleaded her capacity for passion as an
excuse for her remaining at large. I hope you will now, despite your
rather evident animus against her, set this to her credit: that she
did, so soon as she realised the hopelessness of her case, make just
that decision which I blamed Marcella for not making at the outset. It
was as she stood on the Warden's door-step that she decided to take
the veil.

With something of a conventual hush in her voice, she said to the
butler, "Please tell my maid that we are leaving by a very early train
to-morrow, and that she must pack my things to-night."

"Very well, Miss," said the butler. "The Warden," he added, "is in the
study, Miss, and was asking for you."

She could face her grandfather without a tremour--now. She would hear
meekly whatever reproaches he might have for her, but their sting was
already drawn by the surprise she had in store for him.

It was he who seemed a trifle nervous. In his

"Well, did you come and peep down from the gallery?" there was a
distinct tremour.

Throwing aside her cloak, she went quickly to him, and laid a hand on
the lapel of his coat. "Poor grand-papa!" she said.

"Nonsense, my dear child," he replied, disengaging himself. "I didn't
give it a thought. If the young men chose to be so silly as to stay
away, I--I--"

"Grand-papa, haven't you been told YET?"

"Told? I am a Gallio for such follies. I didn't inquire."

"But (forgive me, grand-papa, if I seem to you, for the moment, pert)
you are Warden here. It is your duty, even your privilege, to GUARD.
Is it not? Well, I grant you the adage that it is useless to bolt the
stable door when the horse has been stolen. But what shall be said of
the ostler who doesn't know--won't even 'inquire' whether--the horse
HAS been stolen, grand-papa?"

"You speak in riddles, Zuleika."

"I wish with all my heart I need not tell you the answers. I think I
have a very real grievance against your staff--or whatever it is you
call your subordinates here. I go so far as to dub them dodderers. And
I shall the better justify that term by not shirking the duty they
have left undone. The reason why there were no undergraduates in your
Hall to-night is that they were all dead."

"Dead?" he gasped. "Dead? It is disgraceful that I was not told. What
did they die of?"

"Of me."

"Of you?"

"Yes. I am an epidemic, grand-papa, a scourge, such as the world has
not known. Those young men drowned themselves for love of me."

He came towards her. "Do you realise, girl, what this means to me? I
am an old man. For more than half a century I have known this College.
To it, when my wife died, I gave all that there was of heart left in
me. For thirty years I have been Warden; and in that charge has been
all my pride. I have had no thought but for this great College, its
honour and prosperity. More than once lately have I asked myself
whether my eyes were growing dim, my hand less steady. 'No' was my
answer, and again 'No.' And thus it is that I have lingered on to let
Judas be struck down from its high eminence, shamed in the eyes of
England--a College for ever tainted, and of evil omen." He raised his
head. "The disgrace to myself is nothing. I care not how parents shall
rage against me, and the Heads of other Colleges make merry over my
decrepitude. It is because you have wrought the downfall of Judas that
I am about to lay my undying curse on you."

"You mustn't do that!" she cried. "It would be a sort of sacrilege. I
am going to be a nun. Besides, why should you? I can quite well
understand your feeling for Judas. But how is Judas more disgraced
than any other College? If it were only the Judas undergraduates who

"There were others?" cried the Warden. "How many?"

"All. All the boys from all the Colleges."

The Warden heaved a deep sigh. "Of course," he said, "this changes the
aspect of the whole matter. I wish you had made it clear at once. You
gave me a very great shock," he said sinking into his arm-chair, "and
I have not yet recovered. You must study the art of exposition."

"That will depend on the rules of the convent."

"Ah, I forgot that you were going into a convent. Anglican, I hope?"

Anglican, she supposed.

"As a young man," he said, "I saw much of dear old Dr. Pusey. It might
have somewhat reconciled him to my marriage if he had known that my
grand-daughter would take the veil." He adjusted his glasses, and
looked at her. "Are you sure you have a vocation?"

"Yes. I want to be out of the world. I want to do no more harm."

He eyed her musingly. "That," he said, "is rather a revulsion than a
vocation. I remember that I ventured to point out to Dr. Pusey the
difference between those two things, when he was almost persuading me
to enter a Brotherhood founded by one of his friends. It may be that
the world would be well rid of you, my dear child. But it is not the
world only that we must consider. Would you grace the recesses of the

"I could but try," said Zuleika.

"'You could but try' are the very words Dr. Pusey used to me. I
ventured to say that in such a matter effort itself was a stigma of
unfitness. For all my moods of revulsion, I knew that my place was in
the world. I stayed there."

"But suppose, grand-papa"--and, seeing in fancy the vast agitated
flotilla of crinolines, she could not forbear a smile--"suppose all
the young ladies of that period had drowned themselves for love of

Her smile seemed to nettle the Warden. "I was greatly admired," he
said. "Greatly," he repeated.

"And you liked that, grand-papa?"

"Yes, my dear. Yes, I am afraid I did. But I never encouraged it."

"Your own heart was never touched?"

"Never, until I met Laura Frith."

"Who was she?"

"She was my future wife."

"And how was it you singled her out from the rest? Was she very

"No. It cannot be said that she was beautiful. Indeed, she was
accounted plain. I think it was her great dignity that attracted me.
She did not smile archly at me, nor shake her ringlets. In those days
it was the fashion for young ladies to embroider slippers for such men
in holy orders as best pleased their fancy. I received hundreds--
thousands--of such slippers. But never a pair from Laura Frith."

"She did not love you?" asked Zuleika, who had seated herself on the
floor at her grandfather's feet.

I concluded that she did not. It interested me very greatly. It fired

"Was she incapable of love?"

"No, it was notorious in her circle that she had loved often, but
loved in vain."

"Why did she marry you?"

"I think she was fatigued by my importunities. She was not very
strong. But it may be that she married me out of pique. She never
told me. I did not inquire."

"Yet you were very happy with her?"

"While she lived, I was ideally happy."

The young woman stretched out a hand, and laid it on the clasped hands
of the old man. He sat gazing into the past. She was silent for a
while; and in her eyes, still fixed intently on his face, there were

"Grand-papa dear"--but there were tears in her voice, too.

"My child, you don't understand. If I had needed pity--"

"I do understand--so well. I wasn't pitying you, dear, I was envying
you a little."

"Me?--an old man with only the remembrance of happiness?"

"You, who have had happiness granted to you. That isn't what made me
cry, though. I cried because I was glad. You and I, with all this
great span of years between us, and yet--so wonderfully alike! I had
always thought of myself as a creature utterly apart."

"Ah, that is how all young people think of themselves. It wears off.
Tell me about this wonderful resemblance of ours."

He sat attentive while she described her heart to him. But when, at
the close of her confidences, she said, "So you see it's a case of
sheer heredity, grand-papa," the word "Fiddlesticks!" would out.

"Forgive me, my dear," he said, patting her hand. "I was very much
interested. But I do believe young people are even more staggered by
themselves than they were in my day. And then, all these grand
theories they fall back on! Heredity . . . as if there were something
to baffle us in the fact of a young woman liking to be admired! And as
if it were passing strange of her to reserve her heart for a man she
can respect and look up to! And as if a man's indifference to her were
not of all things the likeliest to give her a sense of inferiority to
him! You and I, my dear, may in some respects be very queer people,
but in the matter of the affections we are ordinary enough."

"Oh grand-papa, do you really mean that?" she cried eagerly.

"At my age, a man husbands his resources. He says nothing that he
does not really mean. The indifference between you and other young
women is that which lay also between me and other young men: a
special attractiveness . . . Thousands of slippers, did I say? Tens
of thousands. I had hoarded them with a fatuous pride. On the evening
of my betrothal I made a bonfire of them, visible from three counties.
I danced round it all night." And from his old eyes darted even now
the reflections of those flames.

"Glorious!" whispered Zuleika. "But ah," she said, rising to her feet,
"tell me no more of it--poor me! You see, it isn't a mere special
attractiveness that _I_ have. _I_ am irresistible."

"A daring statement, my child--very hard to prove."

"Hasn't it been proved up to the hilt to-day?"

"To-day? . . Ah, and so they did really all drown themselves for you?
. . Dear, dear! . . The Duke--he, too?"

"He set the example."

"No! You don't say so! He was a greatly-gifted young man--a true
ornament to the College. But he always seemed to me rather--what shall
I say?--inhuman . . . I remember now that he did seem rather excited
when he came to the concert last night and you weren't yet there . . .
You are quite sure you were the cause of his death?"

"Quite," said Zuleika, marvelling at the lie--or fib, rather: he had
been GOING to die for her. But why not have told the truth? Was it
possible, she wondered, that her wretched vanity had survived her
renunciation of the world? Why had she so resented just now the doubt
cast on that irresistibility which had blighted and cranked her whole

"Well, my dear," said the Warden, "I confess that I am amazed--
astounded." Again he adjusted his glasses, and looked at her.

She found herself moving slowly around the study, with the gait of a
mannequin in a dress-maker's show-room. She tried to stop this; but
her body seemed to be quite beyond control of her mind. It had the
insolence to go ambling on its own account. "Little space you'll have
in a convent cell," snarled her mind vindictively. Her body paid no
heed whatever.

Her grandfather, leaning back in his chair, gazed at the ceiling, and
meditatively tapped the finger-tips of one hand against those of the
other. "Sister Zuleika," he presently said to the ceiling.

"Well? and what is there so--so ridiculous in"--but the rest was lost
in trill after trill of laughter; and these were then lost in sobs.

The Warden had risen from his chair. "My dear," he said, "I wasn't
laughing. I was only--trying to imagine. If you really want to retire

"I do," moaned Zuleika.

"Then perhaps--"

"But I don't," she wailed.

"Of course, you don't, my dear."

"Why, of course?"

"Come, you are tired, my poor child. That is very natural after this
wonderful, this historic day. Come dry your eyes. There, that's
better. To-morrow--"

"I do believe you're a little proud of me."

"Heaven forgive me, I believe I am. A grandfather's heart-- But there,
good night, my dear. Let me light your candle."

She took her cloak, and followed him out to the hall table. There she
mentioned that she was going away early to-morrow.

"To the convent?" he slyly asked.

"Ah, don't tease me, grand-papa."

"Well, I am sorry you are going away, my dear. But perhaps, in the
circumstances, it is best. You must come and stay here again, later
on," he said, handing her the lit candle. "Not in term-time, though,"
he added.

"No," she echoed, "not in term-time."


From the shifting gloom of the stair-case to the soft radiance cast
through the open door of her bedroom was for poor Zuleika an almost
heartening transition. She stood awhile on the threshold, watching
Melisande dart to and fro like a shuttle across a loom. Already the
main part of the packing seemed to have been accomplished. The
wardrobe was a yawning void, the carpet was here and there visible,
many of the trunks were already brimming and foaming over . . . Once
more on the road! Somewhat as, when beneath the stars the great tent
had been struck, and the lions were growling in their vans, and the
horses were pawing the stamped grass and whinnying, and the elephants
trumpeting, Zuleika's mother may often have felt within her a wan
exhilaration, so now did the heart of that mother's child rise and
flutter amidst the familiar bustle of "being off." Weary she was of
the world, and angry she was at not being, after all, good enough
for something better. And yet--well, at least, good-bye to Oxford!

She envied Melisande, so nimbly and cheerfully laborious till the day
should come when her betrothed had saved enough to start a little cafe
of his own and make her his bride and dame de comptoir. Oh, to have a
purpose, a prospect, a stake in the world, as this faithful soul had!

"Can I help you at all, Melisande?" she asked, picking her way across
the strewn floor.

Melisande, patting down a pile of chiffon, seemed to be amused at such
a notion. "Mademoiselle has her own art. Do I mix myself in that?" she
cried, waving one hand towards the great malachite casket.

Zuleika looked at the casket, and then very gratefully at the maid.
Her art--how had she forgotten that? Here was solace, purpose. She
would work as she had never worked yet. She KNEW that she had it in
her to do better than she had ever done. She confessed to herself that
she had too often been slack in the matter of practice and rehearsal,
trusting her personal magnetism to carry her through. Only last night
she had badly fumbled, more than once. Her bravura business with the
Demon Egg-Cup had been simply vile. The audience hadn't noticed
it, perhaps, but she had. Now she would perfect herself. Barely a
fortnight now before her engagement at the Folies Bergeres! What
if--no, she must not think of that! But the thought insisted. What
if she essayed for Paris that which again and again she had meant
to graft on to her repertory--the Provoking Thimble?

She flushed at the possibility. What if her whole present repertory
were but a passing phase in her art--a mere beginning--an earlier
manner? She remembered how marvellously last night she had manipulated
the ear-rings and the studs. Then lo! the light died out of her eyes,
and her face grew rigid. That memory had brought other memories in its

For her, when she fled the Broad, Noaks' window had blotted out all
else. Now she saw again that higher window, saw that girl flaunting
her ear-rings, gibing down at her. "He put them in with his own
hands!"--the words rang again in her ears, making her cheeks tingle.
Oh, he had thought it a very clever thing to do, no doubt--a splendid
little revenge, something after his own heart! "And he kissed me in
the open street"--excellent, excellent! She ground her teeth. And
these doings must have been fresh in his mind when she overtook him
and walked with him to the house-boat! Infamous! And she had then been
wearing his studs! She drew his attention to them when--

Her jewel-box stood open, to receive the jewels she wore to-night. She
went very calmly to it. There, in a corner of the topmost tray, rested
the two great white pearls--the pearls which, in one way and another,
had meant so much to her.



"When we go to Paris, would you like to make a little present to your

"Je voudrais bien, mademoiselle."

"Then you shall give him these," said Zuleika, holding out the two

"Mais jamais de la vie! Chez Tourtel tout le monde le dirait
millionaire. Un garcon de cafe qui porte au plastron des perles

Tell him he may tell every one that they were given to me by the late
Duke of Dorset, and given by me to you, and by you to him."

"Mais--" The protest died on Melisande's lips. Suddenly she had
ceased to see the pearls as trinkets finite and inapposite--saw them
as things presently transmutable into little marble tables, bocks,
dominos, absinthes au sucre, shiny black portfolios with weekly
journals in them, yellow staves with daily journals flapping from
them, vermouths secs, vermouths cassis . . .

"Mademoiselle is too amiable," she said, taking the pearls.

And certainly, just then, Zuleika was looking very amiable indeed. The
look was transient. Nothing, she reflected, could undo what the Duke
had done. That hateful, impudent girl would take good care that every
one should know. "He put them in with his own hands." HER ear-rings!
"He kissed me in the public street. He loved me" . . . Well, he had
called out "Zuleika!" and every one around had heard him. That was
something. But how glad all the old women in the world would be to
shake their heads and say "Oh, no, my dear, believe me! It wasn't
anything to do with HER. I'm told on the very best authority," and
so forth, and so on. She knew he had told any number of undergraduates
he was going to die for her. But they, poor fellows, could not bear
witness. And good heavens! If there were a doubt as to the Duke's
motive, why not doubts as to theirs? . . But many of them had called
out "Zuleika!" too. And of course any really impartial person who knew
anything at all about the matter at first hand would be sure in his
own mind that it was perfectly absurd to pretend that the whole thing
wasn't entirely and absolutely for her . . . And of course some of the
men must have left written evidence of their intention. She remembered
that at The MacQuern's to-day was a Mr. Craddock, who had made a will
in her favour and wanted to read it aloud to her in the middle of
luncheon. Oh, there would be proof positive as to many of the men. But
of the others it would be said that they died in trying to rescue
their comrades. There would be all sorts of silly far-fetched
theories, and downright lies that couldn't be disproved . . .

"Melisande, that crackling of tissue paper is driving me mad! Do leave
off! Can't you see that I am waiting to be undressed?"

The maid hastened to her side, and with quick light fingers began to
undress her. "Mademoiselle va bien dormir--ca se voit," she purred.

"I shan't," said Zuleika.

Nevertheless, it was soothing to be undressed, and yet more soothing
anon to sit merely night-gowned before the mirror, while, slowly and
gently, strongly and strand by strand, Melisande brushed her hair.

After all, it didn't so much matter what the world thought. Let the
world whisper and insinuate what it would. To slur and sully, to
belittle and drag down--that was what the world always tried to do.
But great things were still great, and fair things still fair. With no
thought for the world's opinion had these men gone down to the water
to-day. Their deed was for her and themselves alone. It had sufficed
them. Should it not suffice her? It did, oh it did. She was a wretch
to have repined.

At a gesture from her, Melisande brought to a close the rhythmical
ministrations, and--using no tissue paper this time--did what was yet
to be done among the trunks.

"WE know, you and I," Zuleika whispered to the adorable creature in
the mirror; and the adorable creature gave back her nod and smile.

THEY knew, these two.

Yet, in their happiness, rose and floated a shadow between them. It
was the ghost of that one man who--THEY knew--had died irrelevantly,
with a cold heart.

Came also the horrid little ghost of one who had died late and

And now, thick and fast, swept a whole multitude of other ghosts, the
ghosts of all them who, being dead, could not die again; the poor
ghosts of them who had done what they could, and could do no more.

No more? Was it not enough? The lady in the mirror gazed at the lady
in the room, reproachfully at first, then--for were they not sisters?
--relentingly, then pityingly. Each of the two covered her face with
her hands.

And there recurred, as by stealth, to the lady in the room a thought
that had assailed her not long ago in Judas Street . . . a thought
about the power of example . . .

And now, with pent breath and fast-beating heart, she stood staring at
the lady of the mirror, without seeing her; and now she wheeled round
and swiftly glided to that little table on which stood her two books.
She snatched Bradshaw.

We always intervene between Bradshaw and any one whom we see
consulting him. "Mademoiselle will permit me to find that which
she seeks?" asked Melisande.

"Be quiet," said Zuleika. We always repulse, at first, any one who
intervenes between us and Bradshaw.

We always end by accepting the intervention. "See if it is possible to
go direct from here to Cambridge," said Zuleika, handing the book on.
"If it isn't, then--well, see how to get there."

We never have any confidence in the intervener. Nor is the intervener,
when it comes to the point, sanguine. With mistrust mounting to
exasperation Zuleika sat watching the faint and frantic researches
of her maid.

"Stop!" she said suddenly. "I have a much better idea. Go down very
early to the station. See the station-master. Order me a special
train. For ten o'clock, say."

Rising, she stretched her arms above her head. Her lips parted in a
yawn, met in a smile. With both hands she pushed back her hair from
her shoulders, and twisted it into a loose knot. Very lightly she
slipped up into bed, and very soon she was asleep.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest