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  • 1915
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for there was no time to enjoy the fruits of the discovery. The donkeys were advancing, and it was advisable to begin the descent immediately, for the night fell so quickly that it would be dark before they were home again.

Accordingly, remounting in order, they filed off down the hillside. Scraps of talk came floating back from one to another. There were jokes to begin with, and laughter; some walked part of the way, and picked flowers, and sent stones bounding before them.

“Who writes the best Latin verse in your college, Hirst?” Mr. Elliot called back incongruously, and Mr. Hirst returned that he had no idea.

The dusk fell as suddenly as the natives had warned them, the hollows of the mountain on either side filling up with darkness and the path becoming so dim that it was surprising to hear the donkeys’ hooves still striking on hard rock. Silence fell upon one, and then upon another, until they were all silent, their minds spilling out into the deep blue air. The way seemed shorter in the dark than in the day; and soon the lights of the town were seen on the flat far beneath them.

Suddenly some one cried, “Ah!”

In a moment the slow yellow drop rose again from the plain below; it rose, paused, opened like a flower, and fell in a shower of drops.

“Fireworks,” they cried.

Another went up more quickly; and then another; they could almost hear it twist and roar.

“Some Saint’s day, I suppose,” said a voice. The rush and embrace of the rockets as they soared up into the air seemed like the fiery way in which lovers suddenly rose and united, leaving the crowd gazing up at them with strained white faces. But Susan and Arthur, riding down the hill, never said a word to each other, and kept accurately apart.

Then the fireworks became erratic, and soon they ceased altogether, and the rest of the journey was made almost in darkness, the mountain being a great shadow behind them, and bushes and trees little shadows which threw darkness across the road. Among the plane-trees they separated, bundling into carriages and driving off, without saying good-night, or saying it only in a half-muffled way.

It was so late that there was no time for normal conversation between their arrival at the hotel and their retirement to bed. But Hirst wandered into Hewet’s room with a collar in his hand.

“Well, Hewet,” he remarked, on the crest of a gigantic yawn, “that was a great success, I consider.” He yawned. “But take care you’re not landed with that young woman. . . . I don’t really like young women. . . .”

Hewet was too much drugged by hours in the open air to make any reply. In fact every one of the party was sound asleep within ten minutes or so of each other, with the exception of Susan Warrington. She lay for a considerable time looking blankly at the wall opposite, her hands clasped above her heart, and her light burning by her side. All articulate thought had long ago deserted her; her heart seemed to have grown to the size of a sun, and to illuminate her entire body, shedding like the sun a steady tide of warmth.

“I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy,” she repeated. “I love every one. I’m happy.”

Chapter XII

When Susan’s engagement had been approved at home, and made public to any one who took an interest in it at the hotel–and by this time the society at the hotel was divided so as to point to invisible chalk-marks such as Mr. Hirst had described, the news was felt to justify some celebration–an expedition? That had been done already. A dance then. The advantage of a dance was that it abolished one of those long evenings which were apt to become tedious and lead to absurdly early hours in spite of bridge.

Two or three people standing under the erect body of the stuffed leopard in the hall very soon had the matter decided. Evelyn slid a pace or two this way and that, and pronounced that the floor was excellent. Signor Rodriguez informed them of an old Spaniard who fiddled at weddings–fiddled so as to make a tortoise waltz; and his daughter, although endowed with eyes as black as coal-scuttles, had the same power over the piano. If there were any so sick or so surly as to prefer sedentary occupations on the night in question to spinning and watching others spin, the drawing-room and billiard-room were theirs. Hewet made it his business to conciliate the outsiders as much as possible. To Hirst’s theory of the invisible chalk-marks he would pay no attention whatever. He was treated to a snub or two, but, in reward, found obscure lonely gentlemen delighted to have this opportunity of talking to their kind, and the lady of doubtful character showed every symptom of confiding her case to him in the near future. Indeed it was made quite obvious to him that the two or three hours between dinner and bed contained an amount of unhappiness, which was really pitiable, so many people had not succeeded in making friends.

It was settled that the dance was to be on Friday, one week after the engagement, and at dinner Hewet declared himself satisfied.

“They’re all coming!” he told Hirst. “Pepper!” he called, seeing William Pepper slip past in the wake of the soup with a pamphlet beneath his arm, “We’re counting on you to open the ball.”

“You will certainly put sleep out of the question,” Pepper returned.

“You are to take the floor with Miss Allan,” Hewet continued, consulting a sheet of pencilled notes.

Pepper stopped and began a discourse upon round dances, country dances, morris dances, and quadrilles, all of which are entirely superior to the bastard waltz and spurious polka which have ousted them most unjustly in contemporary popularity–when the waiters gently pushed him on to his table in the corner.

The dining-room at this moment had a certain fantastic resemblance to a farmyard scattered with grain on which bright pigeons kept descending. Almost all the ladies wore dresses which they had not yet displayed, and their hair rose in waves and scrolls so as to appear like carved wood in Gothic churches rather than hair. The dinner was shorter and less formal than usual, even the waiters seeming to be affected with the general excitement. Ten minutes before the clock struck nine the committee made a tour through the ballroom. The hall, when emptied of its furniture, brilliantly lit, adorned with flowers whose scent tinged the air, presented a wonderful appearance of ethereal gaiety.

“It’s like a starlit sky on an absolutely cloudless night,” Hewet murmured, looking about him, at the airy empty room.

“A heavenly floor, anyhow,” Evelyn added, taking a run and sliding two or three feet along.

“What about those curtains?” asked Hirst. The crimson curtains were drawn across the long windows. “It’s a perfect night outside.”

“Yes, but curtains inspire confidence,” Miss Allan decided. “When the ball is in full swing it will be time to draw them. We might even open the windows a little. . . . If we do it now elderly people will imagine there are draughts.

Her wisdom had come to be recognised, and held in respect. Meanwhile as they stood talking, the musicians were unwrapping their instruments, and the violin was repeating again and again a note struck upon the piano. Everything was ready to begin.

After a few minutes’ pause, the father, the daughter, and the son-in-law who played the horn flourished with one accord. Like the rats who followed the piper, heads instantly appeared in the doorway. There was another flourish; and then the trio dashed spontaneously into the triumphant swing of the waltz. It was as though the room were instantly flooded with water. After a moment’s hesitation first one couple, then another, leapt into mid-stream, and went round and round in the eddies. The rhythmic swish of the dancers sounded like a swirling pool. By degrees the room grew perceptibly hotter. The smell of kid gloves mingled with the strong scent of flowers. The eddies seemed to circle faster and faster, until the music wrought itself into a crash, ceased, and the circles were smashed into little separate bits. The couples struck off in different directions, leaving a thin row of elderly people stuck fast to the walls, and here and there a piece of trimming or a handkerchief or a flower lay upon the floor. There was a pause, and then the music started again, the eddies whirled, the couples circled round in them, until there was a crash, and the circles were broken up into separate pieces.

When this had happened about five times, Hirst, who leant against a window-frame, like some singular gargoyle, perceived that Helen Ambrose and Rachel stood in the doorway. The crowd was such that they could not move, but he recognised them by a piece of Helen’s shoulder and a glimpse of Rachel’s head turning round. He made his way to them; they greeted him with relief.

“We are suffering the tortures of the damned,” said Helen.

“This is my idea of hell,” said Rachel.

Her eyes were bright and she looked bewildered.

Hewet and Miss Allan, who had been waltzing somewhat laboriously, paused and greeted the newcomers.

“This _is_ nice,” said Hewet. “But where is Mr. Ambrose?”

“Pindar,” said Helen. “May a married woman who was forty in October dance? I can’t stand still.” She seemed to fade into Hewet, and they both dissolved in the crowd.

“We must follow suit,” said Hirst to Rachel, and he took her resolutely by the elbow. Rachel, without being expert, danced well, because of a good ear for rhythm, but Hirst had no taste for music, and a few dancing lessons at Cambridge had only put him into possession of the anatomy of a waltz, without imparting any of its spirit. A single turn proved to them that their methods were incompatible; instead of fitting into each other their bones seemed to jut out in angles making smooth turning an impossibility, and cutting, moreover, into the circular progress of the other dancers.

“Shall we stop?” said Hirst. Rachel gathered from his expression that he was annoyed.

They staggered to seats in the corner, from which they had a view of the room. It was still surging, in waves of blue and yellow, striped by the black evening-clothes of the gentlemen.

“An amazing spectacle,” Hirst remarked. “Do you dance much in London?” They were both breathing fast, and both a little excited, though each was determined not to show any excitement at all.

“Scarcely ever. Do you?”

“My people give a dance every Christmas.”

“This isn’t half a bad floor,” Rachel said. Hirst did not attempt to answer her platitude. He sat quite silent, staring at the dancers. After three minutes the silence became so intolerable to Rachel that she was goaded to advance another commonplace about the beauty of the night. Hirst interrupted her ruthlessly.

“Was that all nonsense what you said the other day about being a Christian and having no education?” he asked.

“It was practically true,” she replied. “But I also play the piano very well,” she said, “better, I expect than any one in this room. You are the most distinguished man in England, aren’t you?” she asked shyly.

“One of the three,” he corrected.

Helen whirling past here tossed a fan into Rachel’s lap.

“She is very beautiful,” Hirst remarked.

They were again silent. Rachel was wondering whether he thought her also nice-looking; St. John was considering the immense difficulty of talking to girls who had no experience of life. Rachel had obviously never thought or felt or seen anything, and she might be intelligent or she might be just like all the rest. But Hewet’s taunt rankled in his mind–“you don’t know how to get on with women,” and he was determined to profit by this opportunity. Her evening-clothes bestowed on her just that degree of unreality and distinction which made it romantic to speak to her, and stirred a desire to talk, which irritated him because he did not know how to begin. He glanced at her, and she seemed to him very remote and inexplicable, very young and chaste. He drew a sigh, and began.

“About books now. What have you read? Just Shakespeare and the Bible?”

“I haven’t read many classics,” Rachel stated. She was slightly annoyed by his jaunty and rather unnatural manner, while his masculine acquirements induced her to take a very modest view of her own power.

“D’you mean to tell me you’ve reached the age of twenty-four without reading Gibbon?” he demanded.

“Yes, I have,” she answered.

“Mon Dieu!” he exclaimed, throwing out his hands. “You must begin to-morrow. I shall send you my copy. What I want to know is–” he looked at her critically. “You see, the problem is, can one really talk to you? Have you got a mind, or are you like the rest of your sex? You seem to me absurdly young compared with men of your age.”

Rachel looked at him but said nothing.

“About Gibbon,” he continued. “D’you think you’ll be able to appreciate him? He’s the test, of course. It’s awfully difficult to tell about women,” he continued, “how much, I mean, is due to lack of training, and how much is native incapacity. I don’t see myself why you shouldn’t understand–only I suppose you’ve led an absurd life until now–you’ve just walked in a crocodile, I suppose, with your hair down your back.”

The music was again beginning. Hirst’s eye wandered about the room in search of Mrs. Ambrose. With the best will in the world he was conscious that they were not getting on well together.

“I’d like awfully to lend you books,” he said, buttoning his gloves, and rising from his seat. “We shall meet again. “I’m going to leave you now.”

He got up and left her.

Rachel looked round. She felt herself surrounded, like a child at a party, by the faces of strangers all hostile to her, with hooked noses and sneering, indifferent eyes. She was by a window, she pushed it open with a jerk. She stepped out into the garden. Her eyes swam with tears of rage.

“Damn that man!” she exclaimed, having acquired some of Helen’s words. “Damn his insolence!”

She stood in the middle of the pale square of light which the window she had opened threw upon the grass. The forms of great black trees rose massively in front of her. She stood still, looking at them, shivering slightly with anger and excitement. She heard the trampling and swinging of the dancers behind her, and the rhythmic sway of the waltz music.

“There are trees,” she said aloud. Would the trees make up for St. John Hirst? She would be a Persian princess far from civilisation, riding her horse upon the mountains alone, and making her women sing to her in the evening, far from all this, from the strife and men and women–a form came out of the shadow; a little red light burnt high up in its blackness.

“Miss Vinrace, is it?” said Hewet, peering at her. “You were dancing with Hirst?”

“He’s made me furious!” she cried vehemently. “No one’s any right to be insolent!”

“Insolent?” Hewet repeated, taking his cigar from his mouth in surprise. “Hirst–insolent?”

“It’s insolent to–” said Rachel, and stopped. She did not know exactly why she had been made so angry. With a great effort she pulled herself together.

“Oh, well,” she added, the vision of Helen and her mockery before her, “I dare say I’m a fool.” She made as though she were going back into the ballroom, but Hewet stopped her.

“Please explain to me,” he said. “I feel sure Hirst didn’t mean to hurt you.”

When Rachel tried to explain, she found it very difficult. She could not say that she found the vision of herself walking in a crocodile with her hair down her back peculiarly unjust and horrible, nor could she explain why Hirst’s assumption of the superiority of his nature and experience had seemed to her not only galling but terrible–as if a gate had clanged in her face. Pacing up and down the terrace beside Hewet she said bitterly:

“It’s no good; we should live separate; we cannot understand each other; we only bring out what’s worst.”

Hewet brushed aside her generalisation as to the natures of the two sexes, for such generalisations bored him and seemed to him generally untrue. But, knowing Hirst, he guessed fairly accurately what had happened, and, though secretly much amused, was determined that Rachel should not store the incident away in her mind to take its place in the view she had of life.

“Now you’ll hate him,” he said, “which is wrong. Poor old Hirst– he can’t help his method. And really, Miss Vinrace, he was doing his best; he was paying you a compliment–he was trying–he was trying–” he could not finish for the laughter that overcame him.

Rachel veered round suddenly and laughed out too. She saw that there was something ridiculous about Hirst, and perhaps about herself.

“It’s his way of making friends, I suppose,” she laughed. “Well–I shall do my part. I shall begin–‘Ugly in body, repulsive in mind as you are, Mr. Hirst–“

“Hear, hear!” cried Hewet. “That’s the way to treat him. You see, Miss Vinrace, you must make allowances for Hirst. He’s lived all his life in front of a looking-glass, so to speak, in a beautiful panelled room, hung with Japanese prints and lovely old chairs and tables, just one splash of colour, you know, in the right place,– between the windows I think it is,–and there he sits hour after hour with his toes on the fender, talking about philosophy and God and his liver and his heart and the hearts of his friends. They’re all broken. You can’t expect him to be at his best in a ballroom. He wants a cosy, smoky, masculine place, where he can stretch his legs out, and only speak when he’s got something to say. For myself, I find it rather dreary. But I do respect it. They’re all so much in earnest. They do take the serious things very seriously.”

The description of Hirst’s way of life interested Rachel so much that she almost forgot her private grudge against him, and her respect revived.

“They are really very clever then?” she asked.

“Of course they are. So far as brains go I think it’s true what he said the other day; they’re the cleverest people in England. But– you ought to take him in hand,” he added. “There’s a great deal more in him than’s ever been got at. He wants some one to laugh at him. . . . The idea of Hirst telling you that you’ve had no experiences! Poor old Hirst!”

They had been pacing up and down the terrace while they talked, and now one by one the dark windows were uncurtained by an invisible hand, and panes of light fell regularly at equal intervals upon the grass. They stopped to look in at the drawing-room, and perceived Mr. Pepper writing alone at a table.

“There’s Pepper writing to his aunt,” said Hewet. “She must be a very remarkable old lady, eighty-five he tells me, and he takes her for walking tours in the New Forest. . . . Pepper!” he cried, rapping on the window. “Go and do your duty. Miss Allan expects you.”

When they came to the windows of the ballroom, the swing of the dancers and the lilt of the music was irresistible.

“Shall we?” said Hewet, and they clasped hands and swept off magnificently into the great swirling pool. Although this was only the second time they had met, the first time they had seen a man and woman kissing each other, and the second time Mr. Hewet had found that a young woman angry is very like a child. So that when they joined hands in the dance they felt more at their ease than is usual.

It was midnight and the dance was now at its height. Servants were peeping in at the windows; the garden was sprinkled with the white shapes of couples sitting out. Mrs. Thornbury and Mrs. Elliot sat side by side under a palm tree, holding fans, handkerchiefs, and brooches deposited in their laps by flushed maidens. Occasionally they exchanged comments.

“Miss Warrington _does_ look happy,” said Mrs. Elliot; they both smiled; they both sighed.

“He has a great deal of character,” said Mrs. Thornbury, alluding to Arthur.

“And character is what one wants,” said Mrs. Elliot. “Now that young man is _clever_ enough,” she added, nodding at Hirst, who came past with Miss Allan on his arm.

“He does not look strong,” said Mrs. Thornbury. “His complexion is not good.–Shall I tear it off?” she asked, for Rachel had stopped, conscious of a long strip trailing behind her.

“I hope you are enjoying yourselves?” Hewet asked the ladies.

“This is a very familiar position for me!” smiled Mrs. Thornbury. “I have brought out five daughters–and they all loved dancing! You love it too, Miss Vinrace?” she asked, looking at Rachel with maternal eyes. “I know I did when I was your age. How I used to beg my mother to let me stay–and now I sympathise with the poor mothers– but I sympathise with the daughters too!”

She smiled sympathetically, and at the same time rather keenly, at Rachel.

“They seem to find a great deal to say to each other,” said Mrs. Elliot, looking significantly at the backs of the couple as they turned away. “Did you notice at the picnic? He was the only person who could make her utter.”

“Her father is a very interesting man,” said Mrs. Thornbury. “He has one of the largest shipping businesses in Hull. He made a very able reply, you remember, to Mr. Asquith at the last election. It is so interesting to find that a man of his experience is a strong Protectionist.”

She would have liked to discuss politics, which interested her more than personalities, but Mrs. Elliot would only talk about the Empire in a less abstract form.

“I hear there are dreadful accounts from England about the rats,” she said. “A sister-in-law, who lives at Norwich, tells me it has been quite unsafe to order poultry. The plague–you see. It attacks the rats, and through them other creatures.”

“And the local authorities are not taking proper steps?” asked Mrs. Thornbury.

“That she does not say. But she describes the attitude of the educated people–who should know better–as callous in the extreme. Of course, my sister-in-law is one of those active modern women, who always takes things up, you know–the kind of woman one admires, though one does not feel, at least I do not feel–but then she has a constitution of iron.”

Mrs. Elliot, brought back to the consideration of her own delicacy, here sighed.

“A very animated face,” said Mrs. Thornbury, looking at Evelyn M. who had stopped near them to pin tight a scarlet flower at her breast. It would not stay, and, with a spirited gesture of impatience, she thrust it into her partner’s button-hole. He was a tall melancholy youth, who received the gift as a knight might receive his lady’s token.

“Very trying to the eyes,” was Mrs. Eliot’s next remark, after watching the yellow whirl in which so few of the whirlers had either name or character for her, for a few minutes. Bursting out of the crowd, Helen approached them, and took a vacant chair.

“May I sit by you?” she said, smiling and breathing fast. “I suppose I ought to be ashamed of myself,” she went on, sitting down, “at my age.”

Her beauty, now that she was flushed and animated, was more expansive than usual, and both the ladies felt the same desire to touch her.

“I _am_ enjoying myself,” she panted. “Movement–isn’t it amazing?”

“I have always heard that nothing comes up to dancing if one is a good dancer,” said Mrs. Thornbury, looking at her with a smile.

Helen swayed slightly as if she sat on wires.

“I could dance for ever!” she said. “They ought to let themselves go more!” she exclaimed. “They ought to leap and swing. Look! How they mince!”

“Have you seen those wonderful Russian dancers?” began Mrs. Elliot. But Helen saw her partner coming and rose as the moon rises. She was half round the room before they took their eyes off her, for they could not help admiring her, although they thought it a little odd that a woman of her age should enjoy dancing.

Directly Helen was left alone for a minute she was joined by St. John Hirst, who had been watching for an opportunity.

“Should you mind sitting out with me?” he asked. “I’m quite incapable of dancing.” He piloted Helen to a corner which was supplied with two arm-chairs, and thus enjoyed the advantage of semi-privacy. They sat down, and for a few minutes Helen was too much under the influence of dancing to speak.

“Astonishing!” she exclaimed at last. “What sort of shape can she think her body is?” This remark was called forth by a lady who came past them, waddling rather than walking, and leaning on the arm of a stout man with globular green eyes set in a fat white face. Some support was necessary, for she was very stout, and so compressed that the upper part of her body hung considerably in advance of her feet, which could only trip in tiny steps, owing to the tightness of the skirt round her ankles. The dress itself consisted of a small piece of shiny yellow satin, adorned here and there indiscriminately with round shields of blue and green beads made to imitate hues of a peacock’s breast. On the summit of a frothy castle of hair a purple plume stood erect, while her short neck was encircled by a black velvet ribbon knobbed with gems, and golden bracelets were tightly wedged into the flesh of her fat gloved arms. She had the face of an impertinent but jolly little pig, mottled red under a dusting of powder.

St. John could not join in Helen’s laughter.

“It makes me sick,” he declared. “The whole thing makes me sick. . . . Consider the minds of those people–their feelings. Don’t you agree?”

“I always make a vow never to go to another party of any description,” Helen replied, “and I always break it.”

She leant back in her chair and looked laughingly at the young man. She could see that he was genuinely cross, if at the same time slightly excited.

“However,” he said, resuming his jaunty tone, “I suppose one must just make up one’s mind to it.”

“To what?”

“There never will be more than five people in the world worth talking to.”

Slowly the flush and sparkle in Helen’s face died away, and she looked as quiet and as observant as usual.

“Five people?” she remarked. “I should say there were more than five.”

“You’ve been very fortunate, then,” said Hirst. “Or perhaps I’ve been very unfortunate.” He became silent.

“Should you say I was a difficult kind of person to get on with?” he asked sharply.

“Most clever people are when they’re young,” Helen replied.

“And of course I am–immensely clever,” said Hirst. “I’m infinitely cleverer than Hewet. It’s quite possible,” he continued in his curiously impersonal manner, “that I’m going to be one of the people who really matter. That’s utterly different from being clever, though one can’t expect one’s family to see it,” he added bitterly.

Helen thought herself justified in asking, “Do you find your family difficult to get on with?”

“Intolerable. . . . They want me to be a peer and a privy councillor. I’ve come out here partly in order to settle the matter. It’s got to be settled. Either I must go to the bar, or I must stay on in Cambridge. Of course, there are obvious drawbacks to each, but the arguments certainly do seem to me in favour of Cambridge. This kind of thing!” he waved his hand at the crowded ballroom. “Repulsive. I’m conscious of great powers of affection too. I’m not susceptible, of course, in the way Hewet is. I’m very fond of a few people. I think, for example, that there’s something to be said for my mother, though she is in many ways so deplorable. . . . At Cambridge, of course, I should inevitably become the most important man in the place, but there are other reasons why I dread Cambridge–” he ceased.

“Are you finding me a dreadful bore?” he asked. He changed curiously from a friend confiding in a friend to a conventional young man at a party.

“Not in the least,” said Helen. “I like it very much.”

“You can’t think,” he exclaimed, speaking almost with emotion, “what a difference it makes finding someone to talk to! Directly I saw you I felt you might possibly understand me. I’m very fond of Hewet, but he hasn’t the remotest idea what I’m like. You’re the only woman I’ve ever met who seems to have the faintest conception of what I mean when I say a thing.”

The next dance was beginning; it was the Barcarolle out of Hoffman, which made Helen beat her toe in time to it; but she felt that after such a compliment it was impossible to get up and go, and, besides being amused, she was really flattered, and the honesty of his conceit attracted her. She suspected that he was not happy, and was sufficiently feminine to wish to receive confidences.

“I’m very old,” she sighed.

“The odd thing is that I don’t find you old at all,” he replied. “I feel as though we were exactly the same age. Moreover–” here he hesitated, but took courage from a glance at her face, “I feel as if I could talk quite plainly to you as one does to a man– about the relations between the sexes, about . . . and . . .”

In spite of his certainty a slight redness came into his face as he spoke the last two words.

She reassured him at once by the laugh with which she exclaimed, “I should hope so!”

He looked at her with real cordiality, and the lines which were drawn about his nose and lips slackened for the first time.

“Thank God!” he exclaimed. “Now we can behave like civilised human beings.”

Certainly a barrier which usually stands fast had fallen, and it was possible to speak of matters which are generally only alluded to between men and women when doctors are present, or the shadow of death. In five minutes he was telling her the history of his life. It was long, for it was full of extremely elaborate incidents, which led on to a discussion of the principles on which morality is founded, and thus to several very interesting matters, which even in this ballroom had to be discussed in a whisper, lest one of the pouter pigeon ladies or resplendent merchants should overhear them, and proceed to demand that they should leave the place. When they had come to an end, or, to speak more accurately, when Helen intimated by a slight slackening of her attention that they had sat there long enough, Hirst rose, exclaiming, “So there’s no reason whatever for all this mystery!”

“None, except that we are English people,” she answered. She took his arm and they crossed the ball-room, making their way with difficulty between the spinning couples, who were now perceptibly dishevelled, and certainly to a critical eye by no means lovely in their shapes. The excitement of undertaking a friendship and the length of their talk, made them hungry, and they went in search of food to the dining-room, which was now full of people eating at little separate tables. In the doorway they met Rachel, going up to dance again with Arthur Venning. She was flushed and looked very happy, and Helen was struck by the fact that in this mood she was certainly more attractive than the generality of young women. She had never noticed it so clearly before.

“Enjoying yourself?” she asked, as they stopped for a second.

“Miss Vinrace,” Arthur answered for her, “has just made a confession; she’d no idea that dances could be so delightful.”

“Yes!” Rachel exclaimed. “I’ve changed my view of life completely!”

“You don’t say so!” Helen mocked. They passed on.

“That’s typical of Rachel,” she said. “She changes her view of life about every other day. D’you know, I believe you’re just the person I want,” she said, as they sat down, “to help me complete her education? She’s been brought up practically in a nunnery. Her father’s too absurd. I’ve been doing what I can–but I’m too old, and I’m a woman. Why shouldn’t you talk to her–explain things to her–talk to her, I mean, as you talk to me?”

“I have made one attempt already this evening,” said St. John. “I rather doubt that it was successful. She seems to me so very young and inexperienced. I have promised to lend her Gibbon.”

“It’s not Gibbon exactly,” Helen pondered. “It’s the facts of life, I think–d’you see what I mean? What really goes on, what people feel, although they generally try to hide it? There’s nothing to be frightened of. It’s so much more beautiful than the pretences– always more interesting–always better, I should say, than _that_ kind of thing.”

She nodded her head at a table near them, where two girls and two young men were chaffing each other very loudly, and carrying on an arch insinuating dialogue, sprinkled with endearments, about, it seemed, a pair of stockings or a pair of legs. One of the girls was flirting a fan and pretending to be shocked, and the sight was very unpleasant, partly because it was obvious that the girls were secretly hostile to each other.

“In my old age, however,” Helen sighed, “I’m coming to think that it doesn’t much matter in the long run what one does: people always go their own way–nothing will ever influence them.” She nodded her head at the supper party.

But St. John did not agree. He said that he thought one could really make a great deal of difference by one’s point of view, books and so on, and added that few things at the present time mattered more than the enlightenment of women. He sometimes thought that almost everything was due to education.

In the ballroom, meanwhile, the dancers were being formed into squares for the lancers. Arthur and Rachel, Susan and Hewet, Miss Allan and Hughling Elliot found themselves together.

Miss Allan looked at her watch.

“Half-past one,” she stated. “And I have to despatch Alexander Pope to-morrow.”

“Pope!” snorted Mr. Elliot. “Who reads Pope, I should like to know? And as for reading about him–No, no, Miss Allan; be persuaded you will benefit the world much more by dancing than by writing.” It was one of Mr. Elliot’s affectations that nothing in the world could compare with the delights of dancing–nothing in the world was so tedious as literature. Thus he sought pathetically enough to ingratiate himself with the young, and to prove to them beyond a doubt that though married to a ninny of a wife, and rather pale and bent and careworn by his weight of learning, he was as much alive as the youngest of them all.

“It’s a question of bread and butter,” said Miss Allan calmly. “However, they seem to expect me.” She took up her position and pointed a square black toe.

“Mr. Hewet, you bow to me.” It was evident at once that Miss Allan was the only one of them who had a thoroughly sound knowledge of the figures of the dance.

After the lancers there was a waltz; after the waltz a polka; and then a terrible thing happened; the music, which had been sounding regularly with five-minute pauses, stopped suddenly. The lady with the great dark eyes began to swathe her violin in silk, and the gentleman placed his horn carefully in its case. They were surrounded by couples imploring them in English, in French, in Spanish, of one more dance, one only; it was still early. But the old man at the piano merely exhibited his watch and shook his head. He turned up the collar of his coat and produced a red silk muffler, which completely dashed his festive appearance. Strange as it seemed, the musicians were pale and heavy-eyed; they looked bored and prosaic, as if the summit of their desire was cold meat and beer, succeeded immediately by bed.

Rachel was one of those who had begged them to continue. When they refused she began turning over the sheets of dance music which lay upon the piano. The pieces were generally bound in coloured covers, with pictures on them of romantic scenes–gondoliers astride on the crescent of the moon, nuns peering through the bars of a convent window, or young women with their hair down pointing a gun at the stars. She remembered that the general effect of the music to which they had danced so gaily was one of passionate regret for dead love and the innocent years of youth; dreadful sorrows had always separated the dancers from their past happiness.

“No wonder they get sick of playing stuff like this,” she remarked reading a bar or two; “they’re really hymn tunes, played very fast, with bits out of Wagner and Beethoven.”

“Do you play? Would you play? Anything, so long as we can dance to it!” From all sides her gift for playing the piano was insisted upon, and she had to consent. As very soon she had played the only pieces of dance music she could remember, she went on to play an air from a sonata by Mozart.

“But that’s not a dance,” said some one pausing by the piano.

“It is,” she replied, emphatically nodding her head. “Invent the steps.” Sure of her melody she marked the rhythm boldly so as to simplify the way. Helen caught the idea; seized Miss Allan by the arm, and whirled round the room, now curtseying, now spinning round, now tripping this way and that like a child skipping through a meadow.

“This is the dance for people who don’t know how to dance!” she cried. The tune changed to a minuet; St. John hopped with incredible swiftness first on his left leg, then on his right; the tune flowed melodiously; Hewet, swaying his arms and holding out the tails of his coat, swam down the room in imitation of the voluptuous dreamy dance of an Indian maiden dancing before her Rajah. The tune marched; and Miss Allen advanced with skirts extended and bowed profoundly to the engaged pair. Once their feet fell in with the rhythm they showed a complete lack of selfconsciousness. From Mozart Rachel passed without stopping to old English hunting songs, carols, and hymn tunes, for, as she had observed, any good tune, with a little management, became a tune one could dance to. By degrees every person in the room was tripping and turning in pairs or alone. Mr. Pepper executed an ingenious pointed step derived from figure-skating, for which he once held some local championship; while Mrs. Thornbury tried to recall an old country dance which she had seen danced by her father’s tenants in Dorsetshire in the old days. As for Mr. and Mrs. Elliot, they gallopaded round and round the room with such impetuosity that the other dancers shivered at their approach. Some people were heard to criticise the performance as a romp; to others it was the most enjoyable part of the evening.

“Now for the great round dance!” Hewet shouted. Instantly a gigantic circle was formed, the dancers holding hands and shouting out, “D’you ken John Peel,” as they swung faster and faster and faster, until the strain was too great, and one link of the chain– Mrs. Thornbury–gave way, and the rest went flying across the room in all directions, to land upon the floor or the chairs or in each other’s arms as seemed most convenient.

Rising from these positions, breathless and unkempt, it struck them for the first time that the electric lights pricked the air very vainly, and instinctively a great many eyes turned to the windows. Yes–there was the dawn. While they had been dancing the night had passed, and it had come. Outside, the mountains showed very pure and remote; the dew was sparkling on the grass, and the sky was flushed with blue, save for the pale yellows and pinks in the East. The dancers came crowding to the windows, pushed them open, and here and there ventured a foot upon the grass.

“How silly the poor old lights look!” said Evelyn M. in a curiously subdued tone of voice. “And ourselves; it isn’t becoming.” It was true; the untidy hair, and the green and yellow gems, which had seemed so festive half an hour ago, now looked cheap and slovenly. The complexions of the elder ladies suffered terribly, and, as if conscious that a cold eye had been turned upon them, they began to say good-night and to make their way up to bed.

Rachel, though robbed of her audience, had gone on playing to herself. From John Peel she passed to Bach, who was at this time the subject of her intense enthusiasm, and one by one some of the younger dancers came in from the garden and sat upon the deserted gilt chairs round the piano, the room being now so clear that they turned out the lights. As they sat and listened, their nerves were quieted; the heat and soreness of their lips, the result of incessant talking and laughing, was smoothed away. They sat very still as if they saw a building with spaces and columns succeeding each other rising in the empty space. Then they began to see themselves and their lives, and the whole of human life advancing very nobly under the direction of the music. They felt themselves ennobled, and when Rachel stopped playing they desired nothing but sleep.

Susan rose. “I think this has been the happiest night of my life!” she exclaimed. “I do adore music,” she said, as she thanked Rachel. “It just seems to say all the things one can’t say oneself.” She gave a nervous little laugh and looked from one to another with great benignity, as though she would like to say something but could not find the words in which to express it. “Every one’s been so kind– so very kind,” she said. Then she too went to bed.

The party having ended in the very abrupt way in which parties do end, Helen and Rachel stood by the door with their cloaks on, looking for a carriage.

“I suppose you realise that there are no carriages left?” said St. John, who had been out to look. “You must sleep here.”

“Oh, no,” said Helen; “we shall walk.”

“May we come too?” Hewet asked. “We can’t go to bed. Imagine lying among bolsters and looking at one’s washstand on a morning like this– Is that where you live?” They had begun to walk down the avenue, and he turned and pointed at the white and green villa on the hillside, which seemed to have its eyes shut.

“That’s not a light burning, is it?” Helen asked anxiously.

“It’s the sun,” said St. John. The upper windows had each a spot of gold on them.

“I was afraid it was my husband, still reading Greek,” she said. “All this time he’s been editing _Pindar_.”

They passed through the town and turned up the steep road, which was perfectly clear, though still unbordered by shadows. Partly because they were tired, and partly because the early light subdued them, they scarcely spoke, but breathed in the delicious fresh air, which seemed to belong to a different state of life from the air at midday. When they came to the high yellow wall, where the lane turned off from the road, Helen was for dismissing the two young men.

“You’ve come far enough,” she said. “Go back to bed.”

But they seemed unwilling to move.

“Let’s sit down a moment,” said Hewet. He spread his coat on the ground. “Let’s sit down and consider.” They sat down and looked out over the bay; it was very still, the sea was rippling faintly, and lines of green and blue were beginning to stripe it. There were no sailing boats as yet, but a steamer was anchored in the bay, looking very ghostly in the mist; it gave one unearthly cry, and then all was silent.

Rachel occupied herself in collecting one grey stone after another and building them into a little cairn; she did it very quietly and carefully.

“And so you’ve changed your view of life, Rachel?” said Helen.

Rachel added another stone and yawned. “I don’t remember,” she said, “I feel like a fish at the bottom of the sea.” She yawned again. None of these people possessed any power to frighten her out here in the dawn, and she felt perfectly familiar even with Mr. Hirst.

“My brain, on the contrary,” said Hirst, “is in a condition of abnormal activity.” He sat in his favourite position with his arms binding his legs together and his chin resting on the top of his knees. “I see through everything–absolutely everything. Life has no more mysteries for me.” He spoke with conviction, but did not appear to wish for an answer. Near though they sat, and familiar though they felt, they seemed mere shadows to each other.

“And all those people down there going to sleep,” Hewet began dreamily, “thinking such different things,–Miss Warrington, I suppose, is now on her knees; the Elliots are a little startled, it’s not often _they_ get out of breath, and they want to get to sleep as quickly as possible; then there’s the poor lean young man who danced all night with Evelyn; he’s putting his flower in water and asking himself, ‘Is this love?’–and poor old Perrott, I daresay, can’t get to sleep at all, and is reading his favourite Greek book to console himself– and the others–no, Hirst,” he wound up, “I don’t find it simple at all.”

“I have a key,” said Hirst cryptically. His chin was still upon his knees and his eyes fixed in front of him.

A silence followed. Then Helen rose and bade them good-night. “But,” she said, “remember that you’ve got to come and see us.”

They waved good-night and parted, but the two young men did not go back to the hotel; they went for a walk, during which they scarcely spoke, and never mentioned the names of the two women, who were, to a considerable extent, the subject of their thoughts. They did not wish to share their impressions. They returned to the hotel in time for breakfast.

Chapter XIII

There were many rooms in the villa, but one room which possessed a character of its own because the door was always shut, and no sound of music or laughter issued from it. Every one in the house was vaguely conscious that something went on behind that door, and without in the least knowing what it was, were influenced in their own thoughts by the knowledge that if the passed it the door would be shut, and if they made a noise Mr. Ambrose inside would be disturbed. Certain acts therefore possessed merit, and others were bad, so that life became more harmonious and less disconnected than it would have been had Mr. Ambrose given up editing _Pindar_, and taken to a nomad existence, in and out of every room in the house. As it was, every one was conscious that by observing certain rules, such as punctuality and quiet, by cooking well, and performing other small duties, one ode after another was satisfactorily restored to the world, and they shared the continuity of the scholar’s life. Unfortunately, as age puts one barrier between human beings, and learning another, and sex a third, Mr. Ambrose in his study was some thousand miles distant from the nearest human being, who in this household was inevitably a woman. He sat hour after hour among white-leaved books, alone like an idol in an empty church, still except for the passage of his hand from one side of the sheet to another, silent save for an occasional choke, which drove him to extend his pipe a moment in the air. As he worked his way further and further into the heart of the poet, his chair became more and more deeply encircled by books, which lay open on the floor, and could only be crossed by a careful process of stepping, so delicate that his visitors generally stopped and addressed him from the outskirts.

On the morning after the dance, however, Rachel came into her uncle’s room and hailed him twice, “Uncle Ridley,” before he paid her any attention.

At length he looked over his spectacles.

“Well?” he asked.

“I want a book,” she replied. “Gibbon’s _History_ _of_ _the_ _Roman_ _Empire_. May I have it?”

She watched the lines on her uncle’s face gradually rearrange themselves at her question. It had been smooth as a mask before she spoke.

“Please say that again,” said her uncle, either because he had not heard or because he had not understood.

She repeated the same words and reddened slightly as she did so.

“Gibbon! What on earth d’you want him for?” he enquired.

“Somebody advised me to read it,” Rachel stammered.

“But I don’t travel about with a miscellaneous collection of eighteenth-century historians!” her uncle exclaimed. “Gibbon! Ten big volumes at least.”

Rachel said that she was sorry to interrupt, and was turning to go.

“Stop!” cried her uncle. He put down his pipe, placed his book on one side, and rose and led her slowly round the room, holding her by the arm. “Plato,” he said, laying one finger on the first of a row of small dark books, “and Jorrocks next door, which is wrong. Sophocles, Swift. You don’t care for German commentators, I presume. French, then. You read French? You should read Balzac. Then we come to Wordsworth and Coleridge, Pope, Johnson, Addison, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats. One thing leads to another. Why is Marlowe here? Mrs. Chailey, I presume. But what’s the use of reading if you don’t read Greek? After all, if you read Greek, you need never read anything else, pure waste of time–pure waste of time,” thus speaking half to himself, with quick movements of his hands; they had come round again to the circle of books on the floor, and their progress was stopped.

“Well,” he demanded, “which shall it be?”

“Balzac,” said Rachel, “or have you the _Speech_ _on_ _the_ _American_ _Revolution_, Uncle Ridley?”

“_The_ _Speech_ _on_ _the_ _American_ _Revolution_?” he asked. He looked at her very keenly again. “Another young man at the dance?”

“No. That was Mr. Dalloway,” she confessed.

“Good Lord!” he flung back his head in recollection of Mr. Dalloway.

She chose for herself a volume at random, submitted it to her uncle, who, seeing that it was _La_ _Cousine_ _bette_, bade her throw it away if she found it too horrible, and was about to leave him when he demanded whether she had enjoyed her dance?

He then wanted to know what people did at dances, seeing that he had only been to one thirty-five years ago, when nothing had seemed to him more meaningless and idiotic. Did they enjoy turning round and round to the screech of a fiddle? Did they talk, and say pretty things, and if so, why didn’t they do it, under reasonable conditions? As for himself–he sighed and pointed at the signs of industry lying all about him, which, in spite of his sigh, filled his face with such satisfaction that his niece thought good to leave. On bestowing a kiss she was allowed to go, but not until she had bound herself to learn at any rate the Greek alphabet, and to return her French novel when done with, upon which something more suitable would be found for her.

As the rooms in which people live are apt to give off something of the same shock as their faces when seen for the first time, Rachel walked very slowly downstairs, lost in wonder at her uncle, and his books, and his neglect of dances, and his queer, utterly inexplicable, but apparently satisfactory view of life, when her eye was caught by a note with her name on it lying in the hall. The address was written in a small strong hand unknown to her, and the note, which had no beginning, ran:–

I send the first volume of Gibbon as I promised. Personally I find little to be said for the moderns, but I’m going to send you Wedekind when I’ve done him. Donne? Have you read Webster and all that set? I envy you reading them for the first time. Completely exhausted after last night. And you?

The flourish of initials which she took to be St. J. A. H., wound up the letter. She was very much flattered that Mr. Hirst should have remembered her, and fulfilled his promise so quickly.

There was still an hour to luncheon, and with Gibbon in one hand, and Balzac in the other she strolled out of the gate and down the little path of beaten mud between the olive trees on the slope of the hill. It was too hot for climbing hills, but along the valley there were trees and a grass path running by the river bed. In this land where the population was centred in the towns it was possible to lose sight of civilisation in a very short time, passing only an occasional farmhouse, where the women were handling red roots in the courtyard; or a little boy lying on his elbows on the hillside surrounded by a flock of black strong-smelling goats. Save for a thread of water at the bottom, the river was merely a deep channel of dry yellow stones. On the bank grew those trees which Helen had said it was worth the voyage out merely to see. April had burst their buds, and they bore large blossoms among their glossy green leaves with petals of a thick wax-like substance coloured an exquisite cream or pink or deep crimson. But filled with one of those unreasonable exultations which start generally from an unknown cause, and sweep whole countries and skies into their embrace, she walked without seeing. The night was encroaching upon the day. Her ears hummed with the tunes she had played the night before; she sang, and the singing made her walk faster and faster. She did not see distinctly where she was going, the trees and the landscape appearing only as masses of green and blue, with an occasional space of differently coloured sky. Faces of people she had seen last night came before her; she heard their voices; she stopped singing, and began saying things over again or saying things differently, or inventing things that might have been said. The constraint of being among strangers in a long silk dress made it unusually exciting to stride thus alone. Hewet, Hirst, Mr. Venning, Miss Allan, the music, the light, the dark trees in the garden, the dawn,–as she walked they went surging round in her head, a tumultuous background from which the present moment, with its opportunity of doing exactly as she liked, sprung more wonderfully vivid even than the night before.

So she might have walked until she had lost all knowledge of her way, had it not been for the interruption of a tree, which, although it did not grow across her path, stopped her as effectively as if the branches had struck her in the face. It was an ordinary tree, but to her it appeared so strange that it might have been the only tree in the world. Dark was the trunk in the middle, and the branches sprang here and there, leaving jagged intervals of light between them as distinctly as if it had but that second risen from the ground. Having seen a sight that would last her for a lifetime, and for a lifetime would preserve that second, the tree once more sank into the ordinary ranks of trees, and she was able to seat herself in its shade and to pick the red flowers with the thin green leaves which were growing beneath it. She laid them side by side, flower to flower and stalk to stalk, caressing them for walking alone. Flowers and even pebbles in the earth had their own life and disposition, and brought back the feelings of a child to whom they were companions. Looking up, her eye was caught by the line of the mountains flying out energetically across the sky like the lash of a curling whip. She looked at the pale distant sky, and the high bare places on the mountain-tops lying exposed to the sun. When she sat down she had dropped her books on to the earth at her feet, and now she looked down on them lying there, so square in the grass, a tall stem bending over and tickling the smooth brown cover of Gibbon, while the mottled blue Balzac lay naked in the sun. With a feeling that to open and read would certainly be a surprising experience, she turned the historian’s page and read that–

His generals, in the early part of his reign, attempted the reduction of Aethiopia and Arabia Felix. They marched near a thousand miles to the south of the tropic; but the heat of the climate soon repelled the invaders and protected the unwarlike natives of those sequestered regions. . . . The northern countries of Europe scarcely deserved the expense and labour of conquest. The forests and morasses of Germany were filled with a hardy race of barbarians, who despised life when it was separated from freedom.

Never had any words been so vivid and so beautiful–Arabia Felix– Aethiopia. But those were not more noble than the others, hardy barbarians, forests, and morasses. They seemed to drive roads back to the very beginning of the world, on either side of which the populations of all times and countries stood in avenues, and by passing down them all knowledge would be hers, and the book of the world turned back to the very first page. Such was her excitement at the possibilities of knowledge now opening before her that she ceased to read, and a breeze turning the page, the covers of Gibbon gently ruffled and closed together. She then rose again and walked on. Slowly her mind became less confused and sought the origins of her exaltation, which were twofold and could be limited by an effort to the persons of Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet. Any clear analysis of them was impossible owing to the haze of wonder in which they were enveloped. She could not reason about them as about people whose feelings went by the same rule as her own did, and her mind dwelt on them with a kind of physical pleasure such as is caused by the contemplation of bright things hanging in the sun. From them all life seemed to radiate; the very words of books were steeped in radiance. She then became haunted by a suspicion which she was so reluctant to face that she welcomed a trip and stumble over the grass because thus her attention was dispersed, but in a second it had collected itself again. Unconsciously she had been walking faster and faster, her body trying to outrun her mind; but she was now on the summit of a little hillock of earth which rose above the river and displayed the valley. She was no longer able to juggle with several ideas, but must deal with the most persistent, and a kind of melancholy replaced her excitement. She sank down on to the earth clasping her knees together, and looking blankly in front of her. For some time she observed a great yellow butterfly, which was opening and closing its wings very slowly on a little flat stone.

“What is it to be in love?” she demanded, after a long silence; each word as it came into being seemed to shove itself out into an unknown sea. Hypnotised by the wings of the butterfly, and awed by the discovery of a terrible possibility in life, she sat for some time longer. When the butterfly flew away, she rose, and with her two books beneath her arm returned home again, much as a soldier prepared for battle.

Chapter XIV

The sun of that same day going down, dusk was saluted as usual at the hotel by an instantaneous sparkle of electric lights. The hours between dinner and bedtime were always difficult enough to kill, and the night after the dance they were further tarnished by the peevishness of dissipation. Certainly, in the opinion of Hirst and Hewet, who lay back in long arm-chairs in the middle of the hall, with their coffee-cups beside them, and their cigarettes in their hands, the evening was unusually dull, the women unusually badly dressed, the men unusually fatuous. Moreover, when the mail had been distributed half an hour ago there were no letters for either of the two young men. As every other person, practically, had received two or three plump letters from England, which they were now engaged in reading, this seemed hard, and prompted Hirst to make the caustic remark that the animals had been fed. Their silence, he said, reminded him of the silence in the lion-house when each beast holds a lump of raw meat in its paws. He went on, stimulated by this comparison, to liken some to hippopotamuses, some to canary birds, some to swine, some to parrots, and some to loathsome reptiles curled round the half-decayed bodies of sheep. The intermittent sounds–now a cough, now a horrible wheezing or throat-clearing, now a little patter of conversation–were just, he declared, what you hear if you stand in the lion-house when the bones are being mauled. But these comparisons did not rouse Hewet, who, after a careless glance round the room, fixed his eyes upon a thicket of native spears which were so ingeniously arranged as to run their points at you whichever way you approached them. He was clearly oblivious of his surroundings; whereupon Hirst, perceiving that Hewet’s mind was a complete blank, fixed his attention more closely upon his fellow-creatures. He was too far from them, however, to hear what they were saying, but it pleased him to construct little theories about them from their gestures and appearance.

Mrs. Thornbury had received a great many letters. She was completely engrossed in them. When she had finished a page she handed it to her husband, or gave him the sense of what she was reading in a series of short quotations linked together by a sound at the back of her throat. “Evie writes that George has gone to Glasgow. ‘He finds Mr. Chadbourne so nice to work with, and we hope to spend Christmas together, but I should not like to move Betty and Alfred any great distance (no, quite right), though it is difficult to imagine cold weather in this heat. . . . Eleanor and Roger drove over in the new trap. . . . Eleanor certainly looked more like herself than I’ve seen her since the winter. She has put Baby on three bottles now, which I’m sure is wise (I’m sure it is too), and so gets better nights. . . . My hair still falls out. I find it on the pillow! But I am cheered by hearing from Tottie Hall Green. . . . Muriel is in Torquay enjoying herself greatly at dances. She _is_ going to show her black put after all.’ . . . A line from Herbert–so busy, poor fellow! Ah! Margaret says, ‘Poor old Mrs. Fairbank died on the eighth, quite suddenly in the conservatory, only a maid in the house, who hadn’t the presence of mind to lift her up, which they think might have saved her, but the doctor says it might have come at any moment, and one can only feel thankful that it was in the house and not in the street (I should think so!). The pigeons have increased terribly, just as the rabbits did five years ago . . .'” While she read her husband kept nodding his head very slightly, but very steadily in sign of approval.

Near by, Miss Allan was reading her letters too. They were not altogether pleasant, as could be seen from the slight rigidity which came over her large fine face as she finished reading them and replaced them neatly in their envelopes. The lines of care and responsibility on her face made her resemble an elderly man rather than a woman. The letters brought her news of the failure of last year’s fruit crop in New Zealand, which was a serious matter, for Hubert, her only brother, made his living on a fruit farm, and if it failed again, of course, he would throw up his place, come back to England, and what were they to do with him this time? The journey out here, which meant the loss of a term’s work, became an extravagance and not the just and wonderful holiday due to her after fifteen years of punctual lecturing and correcting essays upon English literature. Emily, her sister, who was a teacher also, wrote: “We ought to be prepared, though I have no doubt Hubert will be more reasonable this time.” And then went on in her sensible way to say that she was enjoying a very jolly time in the Lakes. “They are looking exceedingly pretty just now. I have seldom seen the trees so forward at this time of year. We have taken our lunch out several days. Old Alice is as young as ever, and asks after every one affectionately. The days pass very quickly, and term will soon be here. Political prospects _not_ good, I think privately, but do not like to damp Ellen’s enthusiasm. Lloyd George has taken the Bill up, but so have many before now, and we are where we are; but trust to find myself mistaken. Anyhow, we have our work cut out for us. . . . Surely Meredith lacks the _human_ note one likes in W. W.?” she concluded, and went on to discuss some questions of English literature which Miss Allan had raised in her last letter.

At a little distance from Miss Allan, on a seat shaded and made semi-private by a thick clump of palm trees, Arthur and Susan were reading each other’s letters. The big slashing manuscripts of hockey-playing young women in Wiltshire lay on Arthur’s knee, while Susan deciphered tight little legal hands which rarely filled more than a page, and always conveyed the same impression of jocular and breezy goodwill.

“I do hope Mr. Hutchinson will like me, Arthur,” she said, looking up.

“Who’s your loving Flo?” asked Arthur.

“Flo Graves–the girl I told you about, who was engaged to that dreadful Mr. Vincent,” said Susan. “Is Mr. Hutchinson married?” she asked.

Already her mind was busy with benevolent plans for her friends, or rather with one magnificent plan–which was simple too– they were all to get married–at once–directly she got back. Marriage, marriage that was the right thing, the only thing, the solution required by every one she knew, and a great part of her meditations was spent in tracing every instance of discomfort, loneliness, ill-health, unsatisfied ambition, restlessness, eccentricity, taking things up and dropping them again, public speaking, and philanthropic activity on the part of men and particularly on the part of women to the fact that they wanted to marry, were trying to marry, and had not succeeded in getting married. If, as she was bound to own, these symptoms sometimes persisted after marriage, she could only ascribe them to the unhappy law of nature which decreed that there was only one Arthur Venning, and only one Susan who could marry him. Her theory, of course, had the merit of being fully supported by her own case. She had been vaguely uncomfortable at home for two or three years now, and a voyage like this with her selfish old aunt, who paid her fare but treated her as servant and companion in one, was typical of the kind of thing people expected of her. Directly she became engaged, Mrs. Paley behaved with instinctive respect, positively protested when Susan as usual knelt down to lace her shoes, and appeared really grateful for an hour of Susan’s company where she had been used to exact two or three as her right. She therefore foresaw a life of far greater comfort than she had been used to, and the change had already produced a great increase of warmth in her feelings towards other people.

It was close on twenty years now since Mrs. Paley had been able to lace her own shoes or even to see them, the disappearance of her feet having coincided more or less accurately with the death of her husband, a man of business, soon after which event Mrs. Paley began to grow stout. She was a selfish, independent old woman, possessed of a considerable income, which she spent upon the upkeep of a house that needed seven servants and a charwoman in Lancaster Gate, and another with a garden and carriage-horses in Surrey. Susan’s engagement relieved her of the one great anxiety of her life– that her son Christopher should “entangle himself” with his cousin. Now that this familiar source of interest was removed, she felt a little low and inclined to see more in Susan than she used to. She had decided to give her a very handsome wedding present, a cheque for two hundred, two hundred and fifty, or possibly, conceivably– it depended upon the under-gardener and Huths’ bill for doing up the drawing-room–three hundred pounds sterling.

She was thinking of this very question, revolving the figures, as she sat in her wheeled chair with a table spread with cards by her side. The Patience had somehow got into a muddle, and she did not like to call for Susan to help her, as Susan seemed to be busy with Arthur.

“She’s every right to expect a handsome present from me, of course,” she thought, looking vaguely at the leopard on its hind legs, “and I’ve no doubt she does! Money goes a long way with every one. The young are very selfish. If I were to die, nobody would miss me but Dakyns, and she’ll be consoled by the will! However, I’ve got no reason to complain. . . . I can still enjoy myself. I’m not a burden to any-one. . . . I like a great many things a good deal, in spite of my legs.”

Being slightly depressed, however, she went on to think of the only people she had known who had not seemed to her at all selfish or fond of money, who had seemed to her somehow rather finer than the general run; people she willingly acknowledged, who were finer than she was. There were only two of them. One was her brother, who had been drowned before her eyes, the other was a girl, her greatest friend, who had died in giving birth to her first child. These things had happened some fifty years ago.

“They ought not to have died,” she thought. “However, they did– and we selfish old creatures go on.” The tears came to her eyes; she felt a genuine regret for them, a kind of respect for their youth and beauty, and a kind of shame for herself; but the tears did not fall; and she opened one of those innumerable novels which she used to pronounce good or bad, or pretty middling, or really wonderful. “I can’t think how people come to imagine such things,” she would say, taking off her spectacles and looking up with the old faded eyes, that were becoming ringed with white.

Just behind the stuffed leopard Mr. Elliot was playing chess with Mr. Pepper. He was being defeated, naturally, for Mr. Pepper scarcely took his eyes off the board, and Mr. Elliot kept leaning back in his chair and throwing out remarks to a gentleman who had only arrived the night before, a tall handsome man, with a head resembling the head of an intellectual ram. After a few remarks of a general nature had passed, they were discovering that they knew some of the same people, as indeed had been obvious from their appearance directly they saw each other.

“Ah yes, old Truefit,” said Mr. Elliot. “He has a son at Oxford. I’ve often stayed with them. It’s a lovely old Jacobean house. Some exquisite Greuzes–one or two Dutch pictures which the old boy kept in the cellars. Then there were stacks upon stacks of prints. Oh, the dirt in that house! He was a miser, you know. The boy married a daughter of Lord Pinwells. I know them too. The collecting mania tends to run in families. This chap collects buckles–men’s shoe-buckles they must be, in use between the years 1580 and 1660; the dates mayn’t be right, but fact’s as I say. Your true collector always has some unaccountable fad of that kind. On other points he’s as level-headed as a breeder of shorthorns, which is what he happens to be. Then the Pinwells, as you probably know, have their share of eccentricity too. Lady Maud, for instance–” he was interrupted here by the necessity of considering his move,–“Lady Maud has a horror of cats and clergymen, and people with big front teeth. I’ve heard her shout across a table, ‘Keep your mouth shut, Miss Smith; they’re as yellow as carrots!’ across a table, mind you. To me she’s always been civility itself. She dabbles in literature, likes to collect a few of us in her drawing-room, but mention a clergyman, a bishop even, nay, the Archbishop himself, and she gobbles like a turkey-cock. I’ve been told it’s a family feud–something to do with an ancestor in the reign of Charles the First. Yes,” he continued, suffering check after check, “I always like to know something of the grandmothers of our fashionable young men. In my opinion they preserve all that we admire in the eighteenth century, with the advantage, in the majority of cases, that they are personally clean. Not that one would insult old Lady Barborough by calling her clean. How often d’you think, Hilda,” he called out to his wife, “her ladyship takes a bath?”

“I should hardly like to say, Hugh,” Mrs. Elliot tittered, “but wearing puce velvet, as she does even on the hottest August day, it somehow doesn’t show.”

“Pepper, you have me,” said Mr. Elliot. “My chess is even worse than I remembered.” He accepted his defeat with great equanimity, because he really wished to talk.

He drew his chair beside Mr. Wilfrid Flushing, the newcomer.

“Are these at all in your line?” he asked, pointing at a case in front of them, where highly polished crosses, jewels, and bits of embroidery, the work of the natives, were displayed to tempt visitors.

“Shams, all of them,” said Mr. Flushing briefly. “This rug, now, isn’t at all bad.” He stopped and picked up a piece of the rug at their feet. “Not old, of course, but the design is quite in the right tradition. Alice, lend me your brooch. See the difference between the old work and the new.”

A lady, who was reading with great concentration, unfastened her brooch and gave it to her husband without looking at him or acknowledging the tentative bow which Mr. Elliot was desirous of giving her. If she had listened, she might have been amused by the reference to old Lady Barborough, her great-aunt, but, oblivious of her surroundings, she went on reading.

The clock, which had been wheezing for some minutes like an old man preparing to cough, now struck nine. The sound slightly disturbed certain somnolent merchants, government officials, and men of independent means who were lying back in their chairs, chatting, smoking, ruminating about their affairs, with their eyes half shut; they raised their lids for an instant at the sound and then closed them again. They had the appearance of crocodiles so fully gorged by their last meal that the future of the world gives them no anxiety whatever. The only disturbance in the placid bright room was caused by a large moth which shot from light to light, whizzing over elaborate heads of hair, and causing several young women to raise their hands nervously and exclaim, “Some one ought to kill it!”

Absorbed in their own thoughts, Hewet and Hirst had not spoken for a long time.

When the clock struck, Hirst said:

“Ah, the creatures begin to stir. . . .” He watched them raise themselves, look about them, and settle down again. “What I abhor most of all,” he concluded, “is the female breast. Imagine being Venning and having to get into bed with Susan! But the really repulsive thing is that they feel nothing at all– about what I do when I have a hot bath. They’re gross, they’re absurd, they’re utterly intolerable!”

So saying, and drawing no reply from Hewet, he proceeded to think about himself, about science, about Cambridge, about the Bar, about Helen and what she thought of him, until, being very tired, he was nodding off to sleep.

Suddenly Hewet woke him up.

“How d’you know what you feel, Hirst?”

“Are you in love?” asked Hirst. He put in his eyeglass.

“Don’t be a fool,” said Hewet.

“Well, I’ll sit down and think about it,” said Hirst. “One really ought to. If these people would only think about things, the world would be a far better place for us all to live in. Are you trying to think?”

That was exactly what Hewet had been doing for the last half-hour, but he did not find Hirst sympathetic at the moment.

“I shall go for a walk,” he said.

“Remember we weren’t in bed last night,” said Hirst with a prodigious yawn.

Hewet rose and stretched himself.

“I want to go and get a breath of air,” he said.

An unusual feeling had been bothering him all the evening and forbidding him to settle into any one train of thought. It was precisely as if he had been in the middle of a talk which interested him profoundly when some one came up and interrupted him. He could not finish the talk, and the longer he sat there the more he wanted to finish it. As the talk that had been interrupted was a talk with Rachel, he had to ask himself why he felt this, and why he wanted to go on talking to her. Hirst would merely say that he was in love with her. But he was not in love with her. Did love begin in that way, with the wish to go on talking? No. It always began in his case with definite physical sensations, and these were now absent, he did not even find her physically attractive. There was something, of course, unusual about her–she was young, inexperienced, and inquisitive, they had been more open with each other than was usually possible. He always found girls interesting to talk to, and surely these were good reasons why he should wish to go on talking to her; and last night, what with the crowd and the confusion, he had only been able to begin to talk to her. What was she doing now? Lying on a sofa and looking at the ceiling, perhaps. He could imagine her doing that, and Helen in an arm-chair, with her hands on the arm of it, so–looking ahead of her, with her great big eyes– oh no, they’d be talking, of course, about the dance. But suppose Rachel was going away in a day or two, suppose this was the end of her visit, and her father had arrived in one of the steamers anchored in the bay,–it was intolerable to know so little. Therefore he exclaimed, “How d’you know what you feel, Hirst?” to stop himself from thinking.

But Hirst did not help him, and the other people with their aimless movements and their unknown lives were disturbing, so that he longed for the empty darkness. The first thing he looked for when he stepped out of the hall door was the light of the Ambroses’ villa. When he had definitely decided that a certain light apart from the others higher up the hill was their light, he was considerably reassured. There seemed to be at once a little stability in all this incoherence. Without any definite plan in his head, he took the turning to the right and walked through the town and came to the wall by the meeting of the roads, where he stopped. The booming of the sea was audible. The dark-blue mass of the mountains rose against the paler blue of the sky. There was no moon, but myriads of stars, and lights were anchored up and down in the dark waves of earth all round him. He had meant to go back, but the single light of the Ambroses’ villa had now become three separate lights, and he was tempted to go on. He might as well make sure that Rachel was still there. Walking fast, he soon stood by the iron gate of their garden, and pushed it open; the outline of the house suddenly appeared sharply before his eyes, and the thin column of the verandah cutting across the palely lit gravel of the terrace. He hesitated. At the back of the house some one was rattling cans. He approached the front; the light on the terrace showed him that the sitting-rooms were on that side. He stood as near the light as he could by the corner of the house, the leaves of a creeper brushing his face. After a moment he could hear a voice. The voice went on steadily; it was not talking, but from the continuity of the sound it was a voice reading aloud. He crept a little closer; he crumpled the leaves together so as to stop their rustling about his ears. It might be Rachel’s voice. He left the shadow and stepped into the radius of the light, and then heard a sentence spoken quite distinctly.

“And there we lived from the year 1860 to 1895, the happiest years of my parents’ lives, and there in 1862 my brother Maurice was born, to the delight of his parents, as he was destined to be the delight of all who knew him.”

The voice quickened, and the tone became conclusive rising slightly in pitch, as if these words were at the end of the chapter. Hewet drew back again into the shadow. There was a long silence. He could just hear chairs being moved inside. He had almost decided to go back, when suddenly two figures appeared at the window, not six feet from him.

“It was Maurice Fielding, of course, that your mother was engaged to,” said Helen’s voice. She spoke reflectively, looking out into the dark garden, and thinking evidently as much of the look of the night as of what she was saying.

“Mother?” said Rachel. Hewet’s heart leapt, and he noticed the fact. Her voice, though low, was full of surprise.

“You didn’t know that?” said Helen.

“I never knew there’d been any one else,” said Rachel. She was clearly surprised, but all they said was said low and inexpressively, because they were speaking out into the cool dark night.

“More people were in love with her than with any one I’ve ever known,” Helen stated. She had that power–she enjoyed things. She wasn’t beautiful, but–I was thinking of her last night at the dance. She got on with every kind of person, and then she made it all so amazingly–funny.”

It appeared that Helen was going back into the past, choosing her words deliberately, comparing Theresa with the people she had known since Theresa died.

“I don’t know how she did it,” she continued, and ceased, and there was a long pause, in which a little owl called first here, then there, as it moved from tree to tree in the garden.

“That’s so like Aunt Lucy and Aunt Katie,” said Rachel at last. “They always make out that she was very sad and very good.”

“Then why, for goodness’ sake, did they do nothing but criticize her when she was alive?” said Helen. Very gentle their voices sounded, as if they fell through the waves of the sea.

“If I were to die to-morrow . . .” she began.

The broken sentences had an extraordinary beauty and detachment in Hewet’s ears, and a kind of mystery too, as though they were spoken by people in their sleep.

“No, Rachel,” Helen’s voice continued, “I’m not going to walk in the garden; it’s damp–it’s sure to be damp; besides, I see at least a dozen toads.”

“Toads? Those are stones, Helen. Come out. It’s nicer out. The flowers smell,” Rachel replied.

Hewet drew still farther back. His heart was beating very quickly. Apparently Rachel tried to pull Helen out on to the terrace, and helen resisted. There was a certain amount of scuffling, entreating, resisting, and laughter from both of them. Then a man’s form appeared. Hewet could not hear what they were all saying. In a minute they had gone in; he could hear bolts grating then; there was dead silence, and all the lights went out.

He turned away, still crumpling and uncrumpling a handful of leaves which he had torn from the wall. An exquisite sense of pleasure and relief possessed him; it was all so solid and peaceful after the ball at the hotel, whether he was in love with them or not, and he was not in love with them; no, but it was good that they should be alive.

After standing still for a minute or two he turned and began to walk towards the gate. With the movement of his body, the excitement, the romance and the richness of life crowded into his brain. He shouted out a line of poetry, but the words escaped him, and he stumbled among lines and fragments of lines which had no meaning at all except for the beauty of the words. He shut the gate, and ran swinging from side to side down the hill, shouting any nonsense that came into his head. “Here am I,” he cried rhythmically, as his feet pounded to the left and to the right, “plunging along, like an elephant in the jungle, stripping the branches as I go (he snatched at the twigs of a bush at the roadside), roaring innumerable words, lovely words about innumerable things, running downhill and talking nonsense aloud to myself about roads and leaves and lights and women coming out into the darkness–about women– about Rachel, about Rachel.” He stopped and drew a deep breath. The night seemed immense and hospitable, and although so dark there seemed to be things moving down there in the harbour and movement out at sea. He gazed until the darkness numbed him, and then he walked on quickly, still murmuring to himself. “And I ought to be in bed, snoring and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming. Dreams and realities, dreams and realities, dreams and realities,” he repeated all the way up the avenue, scarcely knowing what he said, until he reached the front door. Here he paused for a second, and collected himself before he opened the door.

His eyes were dazed, his hands very cold, and his brain excited and yet half asleep. Inside the door everything was as he had left it except that the hall was now empty. There were the chairs turning in towards each other where people had sat talking, and the empty glasses on little tables, and the newspapers scattered on the floor. As he shut the door he felt as if he were enclosed in a square box, and instantly shrivelled up. It was all very bright and very small. He stopped for a minute by the long table to find a paper which he had meant to read, but he was still too much under the influence of the dark and the fresh air to consider carefully which paper it was or where he had seen it.

As he fumbled vaguely among the papers he saw a figure cross the tail of his eye, coming downstairs. He heard the swishing sound of skirts, and to his great surprise, Evelyn M. came up to him, laid her hand on the table as if to prevent him from taking up a paper, and said:

“You’re just the person I wanted to talk to.” Her voice was a little unpleasant and metallic, her eyes were very bright, and she kept them fixed upon him.

“To talk to me?” he repeated. “But I’m half asleep.”

“But I think you understand better than most people,” she answered, and sat down on a little chair placed beside a big leather chair so that Hewet had to sit down beside her.

“Well?” he said. He yawned openly, and lit a cigarette. He could not believe that this was really happening to him. “What is it?”

“Are you really sympathetic, or is it just a pose?” she demanded.

“It’s for you to say,” he replied. “I’m interested, I think.” He still felt numb all over and as if she was much too close to him.

“Any one can be interested!” she cried impatiently. “Your friend Mr. Hirst’s interested, I daresay. however, I do believe in you. You look as if you’d got a nice sister, somehow.” She paused, picking at some sequins on her knees, and then, as if she had made up her mind, she started off, “Anyhow, I’m going to ask your advice. D’you ever get into a state where you don’t know your own mind? That’s the state I’m in now. You see, last night at the dance Raymond Oliver,–he’s the tall dark boy who looks as if he had Indian blood in him, but he says he’s not really,–well, we were sitting out together, and he told me all about himself, how unhappy he is at home, and how he hates being out here. They’ve put him into some beastly mining business. He says it’s beastly–I should like it, I know, but that’s neither here nor there. And I felt awfully sorry for him, one couldn’t help being sorry for him, and when he asked me to let him kiss me, I did. I don’t see any harm in that, do you? And then this morning he said he’d thought I meant something more, and I wasn’t the sort to let any one kiss me. And we talked and talked. I daresay I was very silly, but one can’t help liking people when one’s sorry for them. I do like him most awfully–” She paused. “So I gave him half a promise, and then, you see, there’s Alfred Perrott.”

“Oh, Perrott,” said Hewet.

“We got to know each other on that picnic the other day,” she continued. “He seemed so lonely, especially as Arthur had gone off with Susan, and one couldn’t help guessing what was in his mind. So we had quite a long talk when you were looking at the ruins, and he told me all about his life, and his struggles, and how fearfully hard it had been. D’you know, he was a boy in a grocer’s shop and took parcels to people’s houses in a basket? That interested me awfully, because I always say it doesn’t matter how you’re born if you’ve got the right stuff in you. And he told me about his sister who’s paralysed, poor girl, and one can see she’s a great trial, though he’s evidently very devoted to her. I must say I do admire people like that! I don’t expect you do because you’re so clever. Well, last night we sat out in the garden together, and I couldn’t help seeing what he wanted to say, and comforting him a little, and telling him I did care–I really do–only, then, there’s Raymond Oliver. What I want you to tell me is, can one be in love with two people at once, or can’t one?”

She became silent, and sat with her chin on her hands, looking very intent, as if she were facing a real problem which had to be discussed between them.

“I think it depends what sort of person you are,” said Hewet. He looked at her. She was small and pretty, aged perhaps twenty-eight or twenty-nine, but though dashing and sharply cut, her features expressed nothing very clearly, except a great deal of spirit and good health.

“Who are you, what are you; you see, I know nothing about you,” he continued.

“Well, I was coming to that,” said Evelyn M. She continued to rest her chin on her hands and to look intently ahead of her. “I’m the daughter of a mother and no father, if that interests you,” she said. “It’s not a very nice thing to be. It’s what often happens in the country. She was a farmer’s daughter, and he was rather a swell– the young man up at the great house. He never made things straight– never married her–though he allowed us quite a lot of money. His people wouldn’t let him. Poor father! I can’t help liking him. Mother wasn’t the sort of woman who could keep him straight, anyhow. He was killed in the war. I believe his men worshipped him. They say great big troopers broke down and cried over his body on the battlefield. I wish I’d known him. Mother had all the life crushed out of her. The world–” She clenched her fist. “Oh, people can be horrid to a woman like that!” She turned upon Hewet.

“Well,” she said, “d’you want to know any more about me?”

“But you?” he asked, “Who looked after you?”

“I’ve looked after myself mostly,” she laughed. “I’ve had splendid friends. I do like people! That’s the trouble. What would you do if you liked two people, both of them tremendously, and you couldn’t tell which most?”

“I should go on liking them–I should wait and see. Why not?”

“But one has to make up one’s mind,” said Evelyn. “Or are you one of the people who doesn’t believe in marriages and all that? Look here–this isn’t fair, I do all the telling, and you tell nothing. Perhaps you’re the same as your friend”–she looked at him suspiciously; “perhaps you don’t like me?”

“I don’t know you,” said Hewet.

“I know when I like a person directly I see them! I knew I liked you the very first night at dinner. Oh dear,” she continued impatiently, “what a lot of bother would be saved if only people would say the things they think straight out! I’m made like that. I can’t help it.”

“But don’t you find it leads to difficulties?” Hewet asked.

“That’s men’s fault,” she answered. “They always drag it in-love, I mean.”

“And so you’ve gone on having one proposal after another,” said Hewet.

“I don’t suppose I’ve had more proposals than most women,” said Evelyn, but she spoke without conviction.

“Five, six, ten?” Hewet ventured.

Evelyn seemed to intimate that perhaps ten was the right figure, but that it really was not a high one.

“I believe you’re thinking me a heartless flirt,” she protested. “But I don’t care if you are. I don’t care what any one thinks of me. Just because one’s interested and likes to be friends with men, and talk to them as one talks to women, one’s called a flirt.”

“But Miss Murgatroyd–“

“I wish you’d call me Evelyn,” she interrupted.

“After ten proposals do you honestly think that men are the same as women?”

“Honestly, honestly,–how I hate that word! It’s always used by prigs,” cried Evelyn. “Honestly I think they ought to be. That’s what’s so disappointing. Every time one thinks it’s not going to happen, and every time it does.”

“The pursuit of Friendship,” said Hewet. “The title of a comedy.”

“You’re horrid,” she cried. “You don’t care a bit really. You might be Mr. Hirst.”

“Well,” said Hewet, “let’s consider. Let us consider–” He paused, because for the moment he could not remember what it was that they had to consider. He was far more interested in her than in her story, for as she went on speaking his numbness had disappeared, and he was conscious of a mixture of liking, pity, and distrust. “You’ve promised to marry both Oliver and Perrott?” he concluded.

“Not exactly promised,” said Evelyn. “I can’t make up my mind which I really like best. Oh how I detest modern life!” she flung off. “It must have been so much easier for the Elizabethans! I thought the other day on that mountain how I’d have liked to be one of those colonists, to cut down trees and make laws and all that, instead of fooling about with all these people who think one’s just a pretty young lady. Though I’m not. I really might _do_ something.” She reflected in silence for a minute. Then she said:

“I’m afraid right down in my heart that Alfred Perrot _won’t_ do. He’s not strong, is he?”

“Perhaps he couldn’t cut down a tree,” said Hewet. “Have you never cared for anybody?” he asked.

“I’ve cared for heaps of people, but not to marry them,” she said. “I suppose I’m too fastidious. All my life I’ve wanted somebody I could look up to, somebody great and big and splendid. Most men are so small.”

“What d’you mean by splendid?” Hewet asked. “People are– nothing more.”

Evelyn was puzzled.

“We don’t care for people because of their qualities,” he tried to explain. “It’s just them that we care for,”– he struck a match–“just that,” he said, pointing to the flames.

“I see what you mean,” she said, “but I don’t agree. I do know why I care for people, and I think I’m hardly ever wrong. I see at once what they’ve got in them. Now I think you must be rather splendid; but not Mr. Hirst.”

Hewlet shook his head.

“He’s not nearly so unselfish, or so sympathetic, or so big, or so understanding,” Evelyn continued.

Hewet sat silent, smoking his cigarette.

“I should hate cutting down trees,” he remarked.

“I’m not trying to flirt with you, though I suppose you think I am!” Evelyn shot out. “I’d never have come to you if I’d thought you’d merely think odious things of me!” The tears came into her eyes.

“Do you never flirt?” he asked.

“Of course I don’t,” she protested. “Haven’t I told you? I want friendship; I want to care for some one greater and nobler than I am, and if they fall in love with me it isn’t my fault; I don’t want it; I positively hate it.”

Hewet could see that there was very little use in going on with the conversation, for it was obvious that Evelyn did not wish to say anything in particular, but to impress upon him an image of herself, being, for some reason which she would not reveal, unhappy, or insecure. He was very tired, and a pale waiter kept walking ostentatiously into the middle of the room and looking at them meaningly.

“They want to shut up,” he said. “My advice is that you should tell Oliver and Perrott to-morrow that you’ve made up your mind that you don’t mean to marry either of them. I’m certain you don’t. If you change your mind you can always tell them so. They’re both sensible men; they’ll understand. And then all this bother will be over.” He got up.

But Evelyn did not move. She sat looking up at him with her bright eager eyes, in the depths of which he thought he detected some disappointment, or dissatisfaction.

“Good-night,” he said.

“There are heaps of things I want to say to you still,” she said. “And I’m going to, some time. I suppose you must go to bed now?”

“Yes,” said Hewet. “I’m half asleep.” He left her still sitting by herself in the empty hall.

“Why is it that they _won’t_ be honest?” he muttered to himself as he went upstairs. Why was it that relations between different people were so unsatisfactory, so fragmentary, so hazardous, and words so dangerous that the instinct to sympathise with another human being was an instinct to be examined carefully and probably crushed? What had Evelyn really wished to say to him? What was she feeling left alone in the empty hall? The mystery of life and the unreality even of one’s own sensations overcame him as he walked down the corridor which led to his room. It was dimly lighted, but sufficiently for him to see a figure in a bright dressing-gown pass swiftly in front of him, the figure of a woman crossing from one room to another.

Chapter XV

Whether too slight or too vague the ties that bind people casually meeting in a hotel at midnight, they possess one advantage at least over the bonds which unite the elderly, who have lived together once and so must live for ever. Slight they may be, but vivid and genuine, merely because the power to break them is within the grasp of each, and there is no reason for continuance except a true desire that continue they shall. When two people have been married for years they seem to become unconscious of each other’s bodily presence so that they move as if alone, speak aloud things which they do not expect to be answered, and in general seem to experience all the comfort of solitude without its loneliness. The joint lives of Ridley and Helen had arrived at this stage of community, and it was often necessary for one or the other to recall with an effort whether a thing had been said or only thought, shared or dreamt in private. At four o’clock in the afternoon two or three days later Mrs. Ambrose was standing brushing her hair, while her husband was in the dressing-room which opened out of her room, and occasionally, through the cascade of water–he was washing his face–she caught exclamations, “So it goes on year after year; I wish, I wish, I wish I could make an end of it,” to which she paid no attention.

“It’s white? Or only brown?” Thus she herself murmured, examining a hair which gleamed suspiciously among the brown. She pulled it out and laid it on the dressing-table. She was criticising her own appearance, or rather approving of it, standing a little way back from the glass and looking at her own face with superb pride and melancholy, when her husband appeared in the doorway in his shirt sleeves, his face half obscured by a towel.

“You often tell me I don’t notice things,” he remarked.

“Tell me if this is a white hair, then?” she replied. She laid the hair on his hand.

“There’s not a white hair on your head,” he exclaimed.

“Ah, Ridley, I begin to doubt,” she sighed; and bowed her head under his eyes so that he might judge, but the inspection produced only a kiss where the line of parting ran, and husband and wife then proceeded to move about the room, casually murmuring.

“What was that you were saying?” Helen remarked, after an interval of conversation which no third person could have understood.

“Rachel–you ought to keep an eye upon Rachel,” he observed significantly, and Helen, though she went on brushing her hair, looked at him. His observations were apt to be true.

“Young gentlemen don’t interest themselves in young women’s education without a motive,” he remarked.

“Oh, Hirst,” said Helen.

“Hirst and Hewet, they’re all the same to me–all covered with spots,” he replied. “He advises her to read Gibbon. Did you know that?”

Helen did not know that, but she would not allow herself inferior to her husband in powers of observation. She merely said:

“Nothing would surprise me. Even that dreadful flying man we met at the dance–even Mr. Dalloway–even–“