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  • 1909
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And there’s no sense at all in getting cross with us about it, because we cannot help it. We are doing our best. In another hundred thousand years or so, provided all goes well, we shall be the perfect man. And seeing our early training, I flatter myself that, up to the present, we have done remarkably well.”

“Nothing like being satisfied with oneself,” said Robina.

“I’m not satisfied,” I said; “I’m only hopeful. But it irritates me when I hear people talk as though man had been born a white-souled angel and was making supernatural efforts to become a sinner. That seems to me the way to discourage him. What he wants is bucking up; somebody to say to him, ‘Bravo! why, this is splendid! Just think, my boy, what you were, and that not so very long ago–an unwashed, hairy savage; your law that of the jungle, your morals those of the rabbit-warren. Now look at yourself–dressed in your little shiny hat, your trousers neatly creased, walking with your wife to church on Sunday! Keep on–that’s all you’ve got to do. In a few more centuries your own mother Nature won’t know you.

“You women,” I continued; “why, a handful of years ago we bought and sold you, kept you in cages, took the stick to you when you were not spry in doing what you were told. Did you ever read the history of Patient Griselda?”

“Yes,” said Robina, “I have.” I gathered from her tone that the Joan of Arc expression had departed. Had Primgate wanted to paint her at that particular moment I should have suggested Katherine–during the earlier stages–listening to a curtain lecture from Petruchio. “Are you suggesting that all women should take her for a model?”

“No,” I said, “I’m not. Though were we living in Chaucer’s time I might; and you would not think it even silly. What I’m impressing upon you is that the human race has yet a little way to travel before the average man can be regarded as an up-to-date edition of King Arthur–the King Arthur of the poetical legend, I mean. Don’t be too impatient with him.”

“Thinking what a beast he has been ought to make him impatient himself with himself,” considered Robina. “He ought to be feeling so ashamed of himself as to be willing to do anything.”

The owl in the old yew screamed, whether with indignation or amusement I cannot tell.

“And woman,” I said, “had the power been hers, would she have used it to sweeter purpose? Where is your evidence? Your Cleopatras, Pompadours, Jezebels; your Catherines of Russia, late Empresses of China; your Faustines of all ages and all climes; your Mother Brownriggs; your Lucretia Borgias, Salomes–I could weary you with names. Your Roman task-mistresses; your drivers of lodging-house slaveys; your ladies who whipped their pages to death in the Middle Ages; your modern dames of fashion, decked with the plumage of the tortured grove. There have been other women also–noble women, their names like beacon-lights studding the dark waste of history. So there have been noble men–saints, martyrs, heroes. The sex-line divides us physically, not morally. Woman has been man’s accomplice in too many crimes to claim to be his judge. ‘Male and female created He them’–like and like, for good and evil.”

By good fortune I found a loose match. I lighted a fresh cigar.

“Dick, I suppose, is the average man,” said Robina.

“Most of us are,” I said, “when we are at home. Carlyle was the average man in the little front parlour in Cheyne Row, though, to hear fools talk, you might think no married couple outside literary circles had ever been known to exchange a cross look. So was Oliver Cromwell in his own palace with the door shut. Mrs. Cromwell must have thought him monstrous silly, placing sticky sweetmeats for his guests to sit on–told him so, most likely. A cheery, kindly man, notwithstanding, though given to moods. He and Mrs. Cromwell seem to have rubbed along, on the whole, pretty well together. Old Sam Johnson–great, God-fearing, lovable, cantankerous old brute! Life with him, in a small house on a limited income, must have had its ups and downs. Milton and Frederick the Great were, one hopes, a little below the average. Did their best, no doubt; lacked understanding. Not so easy as it looks, living up to the standard of the average man. Very clever people, in particular, find it tiring.”

“I shall never marry,” said Robina. “At least, I hope I sha’n’t.”

“Why ‘hope’?” I asked.

“Because I hope I shall never be idiot enough,” she answered. “I see it all so clearly. I wish I didn’t. Love! it’s only an ugly thing with a pretty name. It will not be me that he will fall in love with. He will not know me until it is too late. How can he? It will be merely with the outside of me–my pink-and-white skin, my rounded arms. I feel it sometimes when I see men looking at me, and it makes me mad. And at other times the admiration in their eyes pleases me. And that makes me madder still.”

The moon had slipped behind the wood. She had risen, and, leaning against the porch, was standing with her hands clasped. I fancy she had forgotten me. She seemed to be talking to the night.

“It’s only a trick of Nature to make fools of us,” she said. “He will tell me I am all the world to him; that his love will outlive the stars–will believe it himself at the time, poor fellow! He will call me a hundred pretty names, will kiss my feet and hands. And if I’m fool enough to listen to him, it may last”–she laughed; it was rather an ugly laugh–“six months; with luck perhaps a year, if I’m careful not to go out in the east wind and come home with a red nose, and never let him catch me in curl papers. It will not be me that he will want: only my youth, and the novelty of me, and the mystery. And when that is gone–“

She turned to me. It was a strange face I saw then in the pale light, quite a fierce little face. She laid her hands upon my shoulders, and I felt them cold. “What comes when it is dead?” she said. “What follows? You must know. Tell me. I want the truth.”

Her vehemence had arisen so suddenly. The little girl I had set out to talk with was no longer there. To my bewilderment, it was a woman that was questioning me.

I drew her down beside me. But the childish face was still stern.

“I want the truth,” she said; so that I answered very gravely:

“When the passion is passed; when the glory and the wonder of Desire- -Nature’s eternal ritual of marriage, solemnising, sanctifying it to her commands–is ended; when, sooner or later, some grey dawn finds you wandering bewildered in once familiar places, seeking vainly the lost palace of youth’s dreams; when Love’s frenzy is faded, like the fragrance of the blossom, like the splendour of the dawn; there will remain to you, just what was there before–no more, no less. If passion was all you had to give to one another, God help you. You have had your hour of madness. It is finished. If greed of praise and worship was your price–well, you have had your payment. The bargain is complete. If mere hope to be made happy was your lure, one pities you. We do not make each other happy. Happiness is the gift of the gods, not of man. The secret lies within you, not without. What remains to you will depend not upon what you THOUGHT, but upon what you ARE. If behind the lover there was the man–behind the impossible goddess of his love-sick brain some honest, human woman, then life lies not behind you, but before you.

“Life is giving, not getting. That is the mistake we most of us set out with. It is the work that is the joy, not the wages; the game, not the score. The lover’s delight is to yield, not to claim. The crown of motherhood is pain. To serve the State at cost of ease and leisure; to spend his thought and labour upon a hundred schemes, is the man’s ambition. Life is doing, not having. It is to gain the peak the climber strives, not to possess it. Fools marry thinking what they are going to get out of it: good store of joys and pleasure, opportunities for self-indulgence, eternal soft caresses– the wages of the wanton. The rewards of marriage are toil, duty, responsibility–manhood, womanhood. Love’s baby talk you will have outgrown. You will no longer be his ‘Goddess,’ ‘Angel,’ ‘Popsy Wopsy,’ ‘Queen of his heart.’ There are finer names than these: wife, mother, priestess in the temple of humanity. Marriage is renunciation, the sacrifice of Self upon the altar of the race. ‘A trick of Nature’ you call it. Perhaps. But a trick of Nature compelling you to surrender yourself to the purposes of God.”

I fancy we must have sat in silence for quite a long while; for the moon, creeping upward past the wood, had flooded the fields again with light before Robina spoke.

“Then all love is needless,” she said, “we could do better without it, choose with more discretion. If it is only something that worries us for a little while and then passes, what is the sense of it?”

“You could ask the same question of Life itself,” I said; “‘something that worries us for a little while, then passes.’ Perhaps the ‘worry,’ as you call it, has its uses. Volcanic upheavals are necessary to the making of a world. Without them the ground would remain rock-bound, unfitted for its purposes. That explosion of Youth’s pent-up forces that we term Love serves to the making of man and woman. It does not die, it takes new shape. The blossom fades as the fruit forms. The passion passes to give place to peace. The trembling lover has become the helper, the comforter, the husband.”

“But the failures,” Robina persisted; “I do not mean the silly or the wicked people; but the people who begin by really loving one another, only to end in disliking–almost hating one another. How do THEY get there?”

“Sit down,” I said, “and I will tell you a story.

“Once upon a time there was a girl, and a boy who loved her. She was a clever, brilliant girl, and she had the face of an angel. They lived near to one another, seeing each other almost daily. But the boy, awed by the difference of their social position, kept his secret, as he thought, to himself; dreaming, as youth will, of the day when fame and wealth would bridge the gulf between them. The kind look in her eyes, the occasional seeming pressure of her hand, he allowed to feed his hopes; and on the morning of his departure for London an incident occurred that changed his vague imaginings to set resolve. He had sent on his scanty baggage by the carrier, intending to walk the three miles to the station. It was early in the morning, and he had not expected to meet a soul. But a mile from the village he overtook her. She was reading a book, but she made no pretence that the meeting was accidental, leaving him to form what conclusions he would. She walked with him some distance, and he told her of his plans and hopes; and she answered him quite simply that she should always remember him, always be more glad than she could tell to hear of his success. Near the end of the lane they parted, she wishing him in that low sweet woman’s voice of hers all things good. He turned, a little farther on, and found that she had also turned. She waved her hand to him, smiling. And through the long day’s journey and through many days to come there remained with him that picture of her, bringing with it the scent of the pine-woods: her white hand waving to him, her sweet eyes smiling wistfully.

“But fame and fortune are not won so quickly as boys dream, nor is life as easy to live bravely as it looks in visions. It was nearly twenty years before they met again. Neither had married. Her people were dead and she was living alone; and to him the world at last had opened her doors. She was still beautiful. A gracious, gentle lady, she had grown; clothed with that soft sweet dignity that Time bestows upon rare women, rendering them fairer with the years.

“To the man it seemed a miracle. The dream of those early days came back to him. Surely there was nothing now to separate them. Nothing had changed but the years, bringing to them both wider sympathies, calmer, more enduring emotions. She welcomed him again with the old kind smile, a warmer pressure of the hand; and, allowing a little time to pass for courtesy’s sake, he told her what was the truth: that he had never ceased to love her, never ceased to keep the vision of her fair pure face before him, his ideal of all that man could find of help in womanhood. And her answer, until years later he read the explanation, remained a mystery to him. She told him that she loved him, that she had never loved any other man and never should; that his love, for so long as he chose to give it to her, she should always prize as the greatest gift of her life. But with that she prayed him to remain content.

“He thought perhaps it was a touch of woman’s pride, of hurt dignity that he had kept silent so long, not trusting her; that perhaps as time went by she would change her mind. But she never did; and after awhile, finding that his persistence only pained her, he accepted the situation. She was not the type of woman about whom people talk scandal, nor would it have troubled her much had they done so. Able now to work where he would, he took a house in a neighbouring village, where for the best part of the year he lived, near to her. And to the end they remained lovers.”

“I think I understand,” said Robina. “I will tell you afterwards if I am wrong.”

“I told the story to a woman many years ago,” I said, “and she also thought she understood. But she was only half right.”

“We will see,” said Robina. “Go on.”

“She left a letter, to be given to him after her death, in case he survived her; if not, to be burned unopened. In it she told him her reason, or rather her reasons, for having refused him. It was an odd letter. The ‘reasons’ sounded so pitiably insufficient. Until one took the pains to examine them in the cold light of experience. And then her letter struck one, not as foolish, but as one of the grimmest commentaries upon marriage that perhaps had ever been penned.

“It was because she had wished always to remain his ideal; to keep their love for one another to the end, untarnished; to be his true helpmeet in all things, that she had refused to marry him.

“Had he spoken that morning she had waited for him in the lane–she had half hoped, half feared it–she might have given her promise: ‘For Youth,’ so she wrote, ‘always dreams it can find a new way.’ She thanked God that he had not.

“‘Sooner or later,’ so ran the letter, ‘you would have learned, Dear, that I was neither saint nor angel; but just a woman–such a tiresome, inconsistent creature; she would have exasperated you–full of a thousand follies and irritabilities that would have marred for you all that was good in her. I wanted you to have of me only what was worthy, and this seemed the only way. Counting the hours to your coming, hating the pain of your going, I could always give to you my best. The ugly words, the whims and frets that poison speech–they could wait; it was my lover’s hour.

“‘And you, Dear, were always so tender, so gay. You brought me joy with both your hands. Would it have been the same, had you been my husband? How could it? There were times, even as it was, when you vexed me. Forgive me, Dear, I mean it was my fault–ways of thought and action that did not fit in with my ways, that I was not large- minded enough to pass over. As my lover, they were but as spots upon the sun. It was easy to control the momentary irritation that they caused me. Time was too precious for even a moment of estrangement. As my husband, the jarring note would have been continuous, would have widened into discord. You see, Dear, I was not great enough to love ALL of you. I remember, as a child, how indignant I always felt with God when my nurse told me He would not love me because I was naughty, that He only loved good children. It seemed such a poor sort of love, that. Yet that is precisely how we men and women do love; taking only what gives us pleasure, repaying the rest with anger. There would have arisen the unkind words that can never be recalled; the ugly silences; the gradual withdrawing from one another. I dared not face it.

“‘It was not all selfishness. Truthfully I can say I thought more of you than of myself. I wanted to keep the shadows of life away from you. We men and women are like the flowers. It is in sunshine that we come to our best. You were my hero. I wanted you to be great. I wanted you to be surrounded by lovely dreams. I wanted your love to be a thing holy, helpful to you.’

“It was a long letter. I have given you the gist of it.”

Again there was a silence between us.

“You think she did right?” asked Robina.

“I cannot say,” I answered; “there are no rules for Life, only for the individual.”

“I have read it somewhere,” said Robina–“where was it?–‘Love suffers all things, and rejoices.'”

“Maybe in old Thomas Kempis. I am not sure,” I said.

“It seems to me,” said Robina, “that the explanation lies in that one sentence of hers: ‘I was not great enough to love ALL of you.'”

“It seems to me,” I said, “that the whole art of marriage is the art of getting on with the other fellow. It means patience, self- control, forbearance. It means the laying aside of our self-conceit and admitting to ourselves that, judged by eyes less partial than our own, there may be much in us that is objectionable, that calls for alteration. It means toleration for views and opinions diametrically opposed to our most cherished convictions. It means, of necessity, the abandonment of many habits and indulgences that however trivial have grown to be important to us. It means the shaping of our own desires to the needs of others; the acceptance often of surroundings and conditions personally distasteful to us. It means affection deep and strong enough to bear away the ugly things of life–its quarrels, wrongs, misunderstandings–swiftly and silently into the sea of forgetfulness. It means courage, good humour, commonsense.”

“That is what I am saying,” explained Robina. “It means loving him even when he’s naughty.”

Dick came across the fields. Robina rose and slipped into the house.

“You are looking mighty solemn, Dad,” said Dick.

“Thinking of Life, Dick,” I confessed. “Of the meaning and the explanation of it.”

“Yes, it’s a problem, Life,” admitted Dick.

“A bit of a teaser,” I agreed.

We smoked in silence for awhile.

“Loving a good woman must be a tremendous help to a man,” said Dick.

He looked very handsome, very gallant, his boyish face flashing challenge to the Fates.

“Tremendous, Dick,” I agreed.

Robina called to him that his supper was ready. He knocked the ashes from his pipe, and followed her into the house. Their laughing voices came to me broken through the half-closed doors. From the night around me rose a strange low murmur. It seemed to me as though above the silence I heard the far-off music of the Mills of God.

CHAPTER XI

I fancy Veronica is going to be an authoress. Her mother thinks this may account for many things about her that have been troubling us. The story never got far. It was laid aside for the more alluring work of play-writing, and apparently forgotten. I came across the copy-book containing her “Rough Notes” the other day. There is decided flavour about them. I transcribe selections; the spelling, as before, being my own.

“The scene is laid in the Moon. But everything is just the same as down here. With one exception. The children rule. The grown-ups do not like it. But they cannot help it. Something has happened to them. They don’t know what. And the world is as it used to be. In the sweet old story-books. Before sin came. There are fairies that dance o’ nights. And Witches. That lure you. And then turn you into things. And a dragon who lives in a cave. And springs out at people. And eats them. So that you have to be careful. And all the animals talk. And there are giants. And lots of magic. And it is the children who know everything. And what to do for it. And they have to teach the grown-ups. And the grown-ups don’t believe half of it. And are far too fond of arguing. Which is a sore trial to the children. But they have patience, and are just.

“Of course the grown-ups have to go to school. They have much to learn. Poor things! And they hate it. They take no interest in fairy lore. And what would happen to them if they got wrecked on a Desert Island they don’t seem to care. And then there are languages. What they will need when they come to be children. And have to talk to all the animals. And magic. Which is deep. And they hate it. And say it is rot. They are full of tricks. One catches them reading trashy novels. Under the desk. All about love. Which is wasting their children’s money. And God knows it is hard enough to earn. But the children are not angry with them. Remembering how they felt themselves. When they were grown up. Only firm.

“The children give them plenty of holidays. Because holidays are good for everyone. They freshen you up. But the grown-ups are very stupid. And do not care for sensible games. Such as Indians. And Pirates. What would sharpen their faculties. And so fit them for the future. They only care to play with a ball. Which is of no help. To the stern realities of life. Or talk. Lord, how they talk!

“There is one grown-up. Who is very clever. He can talk about everything. But it leads to nothing. And spoils the party. So they send him to bed. And there are two grown-ups. A male and a female. And they talk love. All the time. Even on fine days. Which is maudlin. But the children are patient with them. Knowing it takes all sorts. To make a world. And trusting they will grow out of it. And of course there are grown-ups who are good. And a comfort to their children.

“And everything the children like is good. And wholesome. And everything the grown-ups like is bad for them. AND THEY MUSTN’T HAVE IT. They clamour for tea and coffee. What undermines their nervous system. And waste their money in the tuck shop. Upon chops. And turtle soup. And the children have to put them to bed. And give them pills. Till they feel better.

“There is a little girl named Prue. Who lives with a little boy named Simon. They mean well. But haven’t much sense. They have two grown-ups. A male and a female. Named Peter and Martha. Respectively. They are just the ordinary grown-ups. Neither better nor worse. And much might be done with them. By kindness. But Prue and Simon GO THE WRONG WAY TO WORK. It is blame blame all day long. But as for praise. Oh never!

“One summer’s day Prue and Simon take Peter for a walk. In the country. And they meet a cow. And they think this a good opportunity. To test Peter’s knowledge. Of languages. So they tell him to talk to the cow. And he talks to the cow. And the cow don’t understand him. And he don’t understand the cow. And they are mad with him. ‘What is the use,’ they say. ‘Of our paying expensive fees. To have you taught the language. By a first-class cow. And when you come out into the country. You can’t talk it.’ And he says he did talk it. But they will not listen to him. But go on raving. And in the end it turns out. IT WAS A JERSEY COW! What talked a dialect. So of course he couldn’t understand it. But did they apologise? Oh dear no.

“Another time. One morning at breakfast. Martha didn’t like her raspberry vinegar. So she didn’t drink it. And Simon came into the nursery. And he saw that Martha hadn’t drunk her raspberry vinegar. And he asked her why. And she said she didn’t like it. Because it was nasty. And he said it wasn’t nasty. And that she OUGHT to like it. And how it was shocking. The way grown-ups nowadays grumbled. At good wholesome food. Provided for them by their too-indulgent children. And how when HE was a grown-up. He would never have dared. And so on. All in the usual style. And to prove it wasn’t nasty. He poured himself out a cupful. And drank it off. In a gulp.

And he said it was delicious. And turned pale. And left the room.

“And Prue came into the nursery. And she saw that Martha hadn’t drunk her raspberry vinegar. And she asked her why. And Martha told her how she didn’t like it. Because it was nasty. And Prue told her she ought to be ashamed of herself. For not liking it. Because it was good for her. And really very nice. And anyhow she’d GOT to like it. And not get stuffing herself up with messy tea and coffee. Because she wouldn’t have it. And there was an end of it. And so on. And to prove it was all right. She poured herself out a cupful. And drank it off. In a gulp. And she said there was nothing wrong with it. Nothing whatever. And turned pale. And left the room.

“And it wasn’t raspberry vinegar. But just red ink. What had got put into the raspberry vinegar decanter. By an oversight. And they needn’t have been ill at all. If only they had listened. To poor old Martha. But no. That was their fixed idea. That grown-ups hadn’t any sense. At all. What is a mistake. As one perceives.”

Other characters had been sketched, some of them to be abandoned after a few bold touches: the difficulty of avoiding too close a portraiture to the living original having apparently proved irksome. Against one such, evidently an attempt to help Dick see himself in his true colours, I find this marginal, note in pencil: “Better not. Might make him ratty.” Opposite to another–obviously of Mrs. St. Leonard, and with instinct for alliteration–is scribbled; “Too terribly true. She’d twig it.”

Another character is that of a gent: “With a certain gift. For telling stories. Some of them NOT BAD.” A promising party, on the whole. Indeed, one might say, judging from description, a quite rational person: “WHEN NOT ON THE RANTAN. But inconsistent.” He is the grown-up of a little girl: “Not beautiful. But strangely attractive. Whom we will call Enid.” One gathers that if all the children had been Enids, then surely the last word in worlds had been said. She has only this one grown-up of her very own; but she makes it her business to adopt and reform all the incorrigible old folk the other children have despaired of. It is all done by kindness. “She is EVER patient. And just.” Prominent among her numerous PROTEGEES is a military man, an elderly colonel; until she took him in hand, the awful example of what a grown-up might easily become, left to the care of incompetent infants. He defies his own child, a virtuous youth, but “lacking in sympathy;” is rude to his little nephews and nieces; a holy terror to his governess. He uses wicked words, picked up from retired pirates. “Of course without understanding. Their terrible significance.” He steals the Indian’s fire-water. “What few can partake of. With impunity.” Certainly not the Colonel. “Can this be he! This gibbering wreck!” He hides cigars in a hollow tree, and smokes on the sly. He plays truant. Lures other old gentlemen away from their lessons to join him. They are discovered in the woods, in a cave, playing whist for sixpenny points.

Does Enid storm and bullyrag; threaten that if ever she catches him so much as looking at a card again she will go straight out and tell the dragon, who will in his turn be so shocked that in all probability he will decide on coming back with her to kill and eat the Colonel on the spot? No. “Such are not her methods.” Instead she smiles: “indulgently.” She says it is only natural for grown- ups to like playing cards. She is not angry with him. And there is no need for him to run away and hide in a nasty damp cave. “SHE HERSELF WILL PLAY WHIST WITH HIM.” The effect upon the Colonel is immediate: he bursts into tears. She plays whist with him in the garden: “After school hours. When he has been GOOD.” Double dummy, one presumes. One leaves the Colonel, in the end, cured of his passion for whist. Whether as the consequence of her play or her influence the “Rough Notes” give no indication.

In the play, I am inclined to think, Veronica received assistance. The house had got itself finished early in September. Young Bute has certainly done wonders. We performed it in the empty billiard-room, followed by a one-act piece of my own. The occasion did duty as a house-warming. We had quite a crowd, and ended up with a dance. Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves, except young Bertie St. Leonard, who played the Prince, and could not get out of his helmet in time for supper. It was a good helmet, but had been fastened clumsily; and inexperienced people trying to help had only succeeded in jambing all the screws. Not only wouldn’t it come off, it would not even open for a drink. All thought it an excellent joke, with the exception of young Herbert St. Leonard. Our Mayor, a cheerful little man and very popular, said that it ought to be sent to PUNCH. The local reporter reminded him that the late John Leech had already made use of precisely the same incident for a comic illustration, afterwards remembering that it was not Leech, but the late Phil May. He seemed to think this ended the matter. St. Leonard and the Vicar, who are rival authorities upon the subject, fell into an argument upon armour in general, with special reference to the fourteenth century. Each used the boy’s head to confirm his own theory, passing it triumphantly from one to the other. We had to send off young Hopkins in the donkey-cart for the blacksmith. I have found out, by the way, how it is young Hopkins makes our donkey go. Young Hopkins argues it is far less brutal than whacking him, especially after experience has proved that he evidently does not know why you are whacking him. I am not at all sure the boy is not right.

Janie played the Fairy Godmamma in a white wig and panniers. She will make a beautiful old lady. The white hair gives her the one thing that she lacks: distinction. I found myself glancing apprehensively round the room, wishing we had not invited so many eligible bachelors. Dick is making me anxious. The sense of his own unworthiness, which has come to him quite suddenly, and apparently with all the shock of a new discovery, has completely unnerved him. It is a healthy sentiment, and does him good. But I do not want it carried to the length of losing her. The thought of what he might one day bring home has been a nightmare to me ever since he left school. I suppose it is to most fathers. Especially if one thinks of the women one loved oneself when in the early twenties. A large pale-faced girl, who served in a bun-shop in the Strand, is the first I can recollect. How I trembled when by chance her hand touched mine! I cannot recall a single attraction about her except her size, yet for nearly six months I lunched off pastry and mineral waters merely to be near her. To this very day an attack of indigestion will always recreate her image in my mind. Another was a thin, sallow girl, but with magnificent eyes, I met one afternoon in the South Kensington Museum. She was a brainless, vixenish girl, but the memory of her eyes would always draw me back to her. More than two- thirds of our time together we spent in violent quarrels; and all my hopes of eternity I would have given to make her my companion for life. But for Luck, in the shape of a well-to-do cab proprietor, as great an idiot as myself I might have done it. The third was a chorus girl: on the whole, the best of the bunch. Her father was a coachman, and she had ten brothers and sisters, most of them doing well in service. And she was succeeded–if I have the order correct- -by the ex-wife of a solicitor, a sprightly lady; according to her own account the victim of complicated injustice. I daresay there were others, if I took the time to think; but not one of them can I remember without returning thanks to Providence for having lost her. What is one to do? There are days in springtime when a young man ought not to be allowed outside the house. Thank Heaven and Convention it is not the girls who propose! Few women, who would choose the right moment to put their hands upon a young man’s shoulders, and, looking into his eyes, ask him to marry them next week, would receive No for an answer. It is only our shyness that saves us. A wise friend of mine, who has observed much, would have all those marrying under five-and-twenty divorced by automatic effluxion of time at forty, leaving the few who had chosen satisfactorily to be reunited if they wished: his argument being that to condemn grown men and women to abide by the choice of inexperienced boys and girls is unjust and absurd. There were nice girls I could have fallen in love with. They never occurred to me. It would seem as if a man had to learn taste in women as in all other things, namely, by education. Here and there may exist the born connoisseur. But with most of us our first instincts are towards vulgarity. It is Barrie, I think, who says that if only there were silly women enough to go round, good women would never get a look in. It is certainly remarkable, the number of sweet old maids one meets. Almost as remarkable as the number of stupid, cross-grained wives. As I tell Dick, I have no desire for a daughter-in-law of whom he feels himself worthy. If he can’t do better than that he had best remain single. Janie and he, if I know anything of life, are just suited for one another. Helpful people take their happiness in helping. I knew just such another, once: a sweet, industrious, sensible girl. She made the mistake of marrying a thoroughly good man. There was nothing for her to do. She ended by losing all interest in him, devoting herself to a Home in the East End for the reformation of newsboys. It was a pitiful waste: so many women would have been glad of him; while to the ordinary sinful man she would have been a life-long comfort. I must have a serious talk to Dick. I shall point out what a good thing it will be for her. I can see Dick keeping her busy and contented for the rest of her days.

Veronica played the Princess,–with little boy Foy–“Sir Robert of the Curse”–as her page. Anything more dignified has, I should say, rarely been seen upon the English stage. Among her wedding presents were: Two Votes for Women, presented by the local Fire Brigade; a Flying Machine of “proved stability. Might be used as a bathing tent;” a National Theatre, “with Cold Water Douche in Basement for reception of English Dramatists;” Recipe for building a Navy, without paying for it, “Gift of that great Financial Expert, Sir Hocus Pocus;” one Conscientious Income Taxpayer, “has been driven by a Lady;” two Socialists in agreement as to what it means, “smaller one slightly damaged;” one Contented Farmer, “Babylonian Period;” and one extra-sized bottle, “Solution of the Servant Problem.”

Dick played the “Dragon without a Tail.” We had to make him without a tail owing to the smallness of the stage. He had once had a tail. But that was a long story: added to which there was not time to tell it. Little Sally St. Leonard played his wife, and Robina was his mother-in-law. So much depends upon one’s mood. What an ocean of boredom might be saved if science could but give us a barometer foretelling us our changes of temperament! How much more to our comfort we could plan our lives, knowing that on Monday, say, we should be feeling frivolous; on Saturday “dull to bad-tempered.”

I took a man once to see The Private Secretary. I began by enjoying myself, and ended by feeling ashamed of myself and vexed with the scheme of creation. That authors should write such plays, that actors should be willing to degrade our common nature by appearing in them was explainable, he supposed, by the law of supply and demand. What he could not understand was how the public could contrive to extract amusement from them. What was there funny in seeing a poor gentleman shut up in a box? Why should everybody roar with laughter when he asked for a bun? People asked for buns every day–people in railway refreshment rooms, in aerated bread shops. Where was the joke? A month later I found myself by chance occupying the seat just behind him at the pantomime. The low comedian was bathing a baby, and tears of merriment were rolling down his cheeks. To me the whole business seemed painful and revolting. We were being asked to find delight in the spectacle of a father–scouring down an infant of tender years with a scrubbing-brush. How women–many of them mothers–could remain through such an exhibition without rising in protest appeared to me an argument against female suffrage. A lady entered, the wife, so the programme informed me, of a Baron! All I can say is that a more vulgar, less prepossessing female I never wish to meet. I even doubted her sobriety. She sat down plump upon the baby. She must have been a woman rising sixteen stone, and for one minute fifteen seconds by my watch the whole house rocked with laughter. That the thing was only a stage property I felt was no excuse. The humour–heaven save the mark–lay in the supposition that what we were witnessing was the agony and death–for no child could have survived that woman’s weight–of a real baby. Had I been able to tap myself beforehand I should have learned that on that particular Saturday I was going to be “set-serious.” Instead of booking a seat for the pantomime I should have gone to a lecture on Egyptian pottery which was being given by a friend of mine at the London Library, and have had a good time.

Children could tap their parents, warn each other that father was “going down;” that mother next week was likely to be “gusty.” Children themselves might hang out their little barometers. I remember a rainy day in a country house during the Christmas holidays. We had among us a Member of Parliament: a man of sunny disposition, extremely fond of children. He said it was awfully hard lines on the little beggars cooped up in a nursery; and borrowing his host’s motor-coat, pretended he was a bear. He plodded round on his hands and knees and growled a good deal, and the children sat on the sofa and watched him. But they didn’t seem to be enjoying it, not much; and after a quarter of an hour or so he noticed this himself. He thought it was, maybe, that they were tired of bears, and fancied that a whale might rouse them. He turned the table upside down and placed the children in it on three chairs, explaining to them that they were ship-wrecked sailors on a raft, and that they must be careful the whale did not get underneath it and upset them. He draped a sheet over the towel-horse to represent an iceberg, and rolled himself up in a mackintosh and flopped about the floor on his stomach, butting his head occasionally against the table in order to suggest to them their danger. The attitude of the children still remained that of polite spectators. True, the youngest boy did make the suggestion of borrowing the kitchen toasting-fork, and employing it as a harpoon; but even this appeared to be the outcome rather of a desire to please than of any warmer interest; and, the whale objecting, the idea fell through. After that he climbed up on the dresser and announced to them that he was an ourang-outang. They watched him break a soup-tureen, and then the eldest boy, stepping out into the middle of the room, held up his arm, and the Member of Parliament, somewhat surprised, sat down on the dresser and listened.

“Please, sir,” said the eldest boy, “we’re awfully sorry. It’s awfully good of you, sir. But somehow we’re not feeling in the mood for wild beasts this afternoon.”

The Member of Parliament brought them down into the drawing-room, where we had music; and the children, at their own request, were allowed to sing hymns. The next day they came of their own accord, and asked the Member of Parliament to play at beasts with them; but it seemed he had letters to write.

There are times when jokes about mothers-in-law strike me as lacking both in taste and freshness. On this particular evening they came to me bringing with them all the fragrance of the days that are no more. The first play I ever saw dealt with the subject of the mother-in- law–the “Problem” I think it was called in those days. The occasion was an amateur performance given in aid of the local Ragged School. A cousin of mine, lately married, played the wife; and my aunt, I remember, got up and walked out in the middle of the second act. Robina, in spectacles and an early Victorian bonnet, reminded me of her. Young Bute played a comic cabman. It was at the old Haymarket, in Buckstone’s time, that I first met the cabman of art and literature. Dear bibulous, becoated creature, with ever-wrathful outstretched palm and husky “‘Ere! Wot’s this?” How good it was to see him once again! I felt I wanted to climb over the foot-lights and shake him by the hand. The twins played a couple of Young Turks, much concerned about their constitutions; and made quite a hit with a topical duet to the refrain: “And so you see The reason he Is not the Boss for us.” We all agreed it was a pun worthy of Tom Hood himself. The Vicar thought he had heard it before, but this seemed improbable. There was a unanimous call for Author, giving rise to sounds of discussion behind the curtain. Eventually the whole company appeared, with Veronica in the centre. I had noticed throughout that the centre of the stage appeared to be Veronica’s favourite spot. I can see the makings of a leading actress in Veronica.

In my own piece, which followed, Robina and Bute played a young married couple who do not know how to quarrel. It has always struck me how much more satisfactorily people quarrel on the stage than in real life. On the stage the man, having made up his mind–to have it out, enters and closes the door. He lights a cigarette; if not a teetotaller mixes himself a brandy-and-soda. His wife all this time is careful to remain silent. Quite evident it is that he is preparing for her benefit something unpleasant, and chatter might disturb him. To fill up the time she toys with a novel or touches softly the keys of the piano until he is quite comfortable and ready to begin. He glides into his subject with the studied calm of one with all the afternoon before him. She listens to him in rapt attention. She does not dream of interrupting him; would scorn the suggestion of chipping in with any little notion of her own likely to disarrange his train of thought. All she does when he pauses, as occasionally he has to for the purpose of taking breath, is to come to his assistance with short encouraging remarks, such, for instance, as: “Well.” “You think that.” “And if I did?” Her object seems to be to help him on. “Go on,” she says from time to time, bitterly. And he goes on. Towards the end, when he shows signs of easing up, she puts it to him as one sportsman to another: Is he quite finished? Is that all? Sometimes it isn’t. As often as not he has been saving the pick of the basket for the last.

“No,” he says, “that is not all. There is something else!”

That is quite enough for her. That is all she wanted to know. She merely asked in case there might be. As it appears there is, she re- settles herself in her chair and is again all ears.

When it does come–when he is quite sure there is nothing he has forgotten, no little point that he has overlooked, she rises.

“I have listened patiently,” she begins, “to all that you have said.” (The devil himself could not deny this. “Patience” hardly seems the word. “Enthusiastically” she might almost have said). “Now”–with rising inflection–“you listen to me.”

The stage husband–always the gentleman–bows;–stiffly maybe, but quite politely; and prepares in his turn to occupy the role of dumb but dignified defendant. To emphasise the coming change in their positions, the lady most probably crosses over to what has hitherto been his side of the stage; while he, starting at the same moment, and passing her about the centre, settles himself down in what must be regarded as the listener’s end of the room. We then have the whole story over again from her point of view; and this time it is the gentleman who would bite off his tongue rather than make a retort calculated to put the lady off.

In the end it is the party who is in the right that conquers. Off the stage this is more or less of a toss-up; on the stage, never. If justice be with the husband, then it is his voice that, gradually growing louder and louder, rings at last triumphant through the house. The lady sees herself that she has been to blame, and wonders why it did not occur to her before–is grateful for the revelation, and asks to be forgiven. If, on the other hand, it was the husband who was at fault, then it is the lady who will be found eventually occupying the centre of the stage; the miserable husband who, morally speaking, will be trying to get under the table.

Now, in real life things don’t happen quite like this. What the quarrel in real life suffers from is want of system. There is no order, no settled plan. There is much too much go-as-you-please about the quarrel in real life, and the result is naturally pure muddle. The man, turning things over in the morning while shaving, makes up his mind to have this matter out and have done with it. He knows exactly what he is going to say. He repeats it to himself at intervals during the day. He will first say This, and then he will go on to That; while he is about it he will perhaps mention the Other. He reckons it will take him a quarter of an hour. Which will just give him time to dress for dinner.

After it is over, and he looks at his watch, he finds it has taken him longer than that. Added to which he has said next to nothing– next to nothing, that is, of what he meant to say. It went wrong from the very start. As a matter of fact there wasn’t any start. He entered the room and closed the door. That is as far as he got. The cigarette he never even lighted. There ought to have been a box of matches on the mantelpiece behind the photo-frame. And of course there were none there. For her to fly into a temper merely because he reminded her that he had spoken about this very matter at least a hundred times before, and accuse him of going about his own house “stealing” his own matches was positively laughable. They had quarrelled for about five minutes over those wretched matches, and then for another ten because he said that women had no sense of humour, and she wanted to know how he knew. After that there had cropped up the last quarter’s gas-bill, and that by a process still mysterious to him had led them into the subject of his behaviour on the night of the Hockey Club dance. By an effort of almost supernatural self-control he had contrived at length to introduce the subject he had come home half an hour earlier than usual on purpose to discuss. It didn’t interest her in the least. What she was full of by this time was a girl named Arabella Jones. She got in quite a lot while he was vainly trying to remember where he had last seen the damned girl. He had just succeeded in getting back to his own topic when the Cuddiford girl from next door dashed in without a hat to borrow a tuning-fork. It had been quite a business finding the tuning-fork, and when she was gone they had to begin all over again. They had quarrelled about the drawing-room carpet; about her sister Florrie’s birthday present; and the way he drove the motor-car. It had taken them over an hour and a half, and rather than waste the tickets for the theatre, they had gone without their dinner. The matter of the cold chisel still remained to be thrashed out.

It had occurred to me that through the medium of the drama I might show how the domestic quarrel could so easily be improved. Adolphus Goodbody, a worthy young man deeply attached to his wife, feels nevertheless that the dinners she is inflicting upon him are threatening with permanent damage his digestive system. He determines, come what may, to insist upon a change. Elvira Goodbody, a charming girl, admiring and devoted to her husband, is notwithstanding a trifle en tete, especially when her domestic arrangements happen to be the theme of discussion. Adolphus, his courage screwed to the sticking-point, broaches the difficult subject; and for the first half of the act my aim was to picture the progress of the human quarrel, not as it should be, but as it is. They never reach the cook. The first mention of the word “dinner” reminds Elvira (quick to perceive that argument is brewing, and alive to the advantage of getting in first) that twice the month before he had dined out, not returning till the small hours of the morning. What she wants to know is where this sort of thing is going to end? If the purpose of Freemasonry is the ruin of the home and the desertion of women, then all she has to say–it turns out to be quite a good deal. Adolphus, when able to get in a word, suggests that eleven o’clock at the latest can hardly be described as the “small hours of the morning”: the fault with women is that they never will confine themselves to the simple truth. From that point onwards, as can be imagined, the scene almost wrote itself. They have passed through all the customary stages, and are planning, with exaggerated calm, arrangements for the separation which each now feels to be inevitable, when a knock comes to the front-door, and there enters a mutual friend.

Their hasty attempts to cover up the traces of mental disorder with which the atmosphere is strewed do not deceive him. There has been, let us say, a ripple on the waters of perfect agreement. Come! What was it all about?

“About!” They look from one to the other. Surely it would be simpler to tell him what it had NOT been about. It had been about the parrot, about her want of punctuality, about his using the butter-knife for the marmalade, about a pair of slippers he had lost at Christmas, about the education question, and her dressmaker’s bill, and his friend George, and the next-door dog –

The mutual friend cuts short the catalogue. Clearly there is nothing for it but to begin the quarrel all over again; and this time, if they will put themselves into his hands, he feels sure he can promise victory to whichever one is in the right.

Elvira–she has a sweet, impulsive nature–throws her arms around him: that is all she wants. If only Adolphus could be brought to see! Adolphus grips him by the hand. If only Elvira would listen to sense!

The mutual friend–he is an old stage-manager–arranges the scene: Elvira in easy-chair by fire with crochet. Enter Adolphus. He lights a cigarette; flings the match on the floor; with his hands in his pockets paces up and down the room; kicks a footstool out of his way.

“Tell me when I am to begin,” says Elvira.

The mutual friend promises to give her the right cue.

Adolphus comes to a halt in the centre of the room.

“I am sorry, my dear,” he says, “but there is something I must say to you–something that may not be altogether pleasant for you to hear.”

To which Elvira, still crocheting, replies, “Oh, indeed. And pray what may that be?”

This was not Elvira’s own idea. Springing from her chair, she had got as far as: “Look here. If you have come home early merely for the purpose of making a row–” before the mutual friend could stop her. The mutual friend was firm. Only by exacting strict obedience could he guarantee a successful issue. What she had got to say was, “Oh, indeed. Etcetera.” The mutual friend had need of all his tact to prevent its becoming a quarrel of three.

Adolphus, allowed to proceed, explained that the subject about which he wished to speak was the subject of dinner. The mutual friend this time was beforehand. Elvira’s retort to that was: “Dinner! You complain of the dinners I provide for you?” enabling him to reply, “Yes, madam, I do complain,” and to give reasons. It seemed to Elvira that the mutual friend had lost his senses. To tell her to “wait”; that “her time would come”; of what use was that! Half of what she wanted to say would be gone out of her head. Adolphus brought to a conclusion his criticism of Elvira’s kitchen; and then Elvira, incapable of restraining herself further, rose majestically.

The mutual friend was saved the trouble of suppressing Adolphus. Until Elvira had finished Adolphus never got an opening. He grumbled at their dinners. He! who can dine night after night with his precious Freemasons. Does he think she likes them any better? She, doomed to stay at home and eat them. What does he take her for? An ostrich? Whose fault is it that they keep an incompetent cook too old to learn and too obstinate to want to? Whose old family servant was she? Not Elvira’s. It has been to please Adolphus that she has suffered the woman. And this is her reward. This! She breaks down. Adolphus is astonished and troubled. Personally he never liked the woman. Faithful she may have been, but a cook never. His own idea, had he been consulted, would have been a small pension. Elvira falls upon his neck. Why did he not say so before? Adolphus presses her to his bosom. If only he had known! They promise the mutual friend never to quarrel again without his assistance.

The acting all round was quite good. Our curate, who is a bachelor, said it taught a lesson. Veronica had tears in her eyes. She whispered to me that she thought it beautiful. There is more in Veronica than people think.

CHAPTER XII

I am sorry the house is finished. There is a proverb: “Fools build houses for wise men to live in.” It depends upon what you are after. The fool gets the fun, and the wise men the bricks and mortar. I remember a whimsical story I picked up at the bookstall of the Gare de Lyon. I read it between Paris and Fontainebleau many years ago. Three friends, youthful Bohemians, smoking their pipes after the meagre dinner of a cheap restaurant in the Latin Quarter, fell to thinking of their poverty, of the long and bitter struggle that lay before them.

“My themes are so original,” sighed the Musician. “It will take me a year of fete days to teach the public to understand them, even if ever I do succeed. And meanwhile I shall live unknown, neglected; watching the men without ideals passing me by in the race, splashed with the mud from their carriage-wheels as I beat the pavements with worn shoes. It is really a most unjust world.”

“An abominable world,” agreed the Poet. “But think of me! My case is far harder than yours. Your gift lies within you. Mine is to translate what lies around me; and that, for so far ahead as I can see, will always be the shadow side of life. To develop my genius to its fullest I need the sunshine of existence. My soul is being starved for lack of the beautiful things of life. A little of the wealth that vulgar people waste would make a great poet for France. It is not only of myself that I am thinking.”

The Painter laughed. “I cannot soar to your heights,” he said. “Frankly speaking, it is myself that chiefly appeals to me. Why not? I give the world Beauty, and in return what does it give me? This dingy restaurant, where I eat ill-flavoured food off hideous platters, a foul garret giving on to chimney-pots. After long years of ill-requited labour I may–as others have before me–come into my kingdom: possess my studio in the Champs Elysees, my fine house at Neuilly; but the prospect of the intervening period, I confess, appals me.”

Absorbed in themselves, they had not noticed that a stranger, seated at a neighbouring table, had been listening with attention. He rose and, apologising with easy grace for intrusion into a conversation he could hardly have avoided overhearing, requested permission to be of service. The restaurant was dimly lighted; the three friends on entering had chosen its obscurest corner. The Stranger appeared to be well-dressed; his voice and bearing suggested the man of affairs; his face–what feeble light there was being behind him–remained in shadow.

The three friends eyed him furtively: possibly some rich but eccentric patron of the arts; not beyond the bounds of speculation that he was acquainted with their work, had read the Poet’s verses in one of the minor magazines, had stumbled upon some sketch of the Painter’s while bargain-hunting among the dealers of the Quartier St. Antoine, been struck by the beauty of the Composer’s Nocturne in F heard at some student’s concert; having made enquiries concerning their haunts, had chosen this method of introducing himself. The young men made room for him with feelings of hope mingled with curiosity. The affable Stranger called for liqueurs, and handed round his cigar-case. And almost his first words brought them joy.

“Before we go further,” said the smiling Stranger, “it is my pleasure to inform you that all three of you are destined to become great.”

The liqueurs to their unaccustomed palates were proving potent. The Stranger’s cigars were singularly aromatic. It seemed the most reasonable thing in the world that the Stranger should be thus able to foretell to them their future.

“Fame, fortune will be yours,” continued the agreeable Stranger. “All things delightful will be to your hand: the adoration of women, the honour of men, the incense of Society, joys spiritual and material, beauteous surroundings, choice foods, all luxury and ease, the world your pleasure-ground.”

The stained walls of the dingy restaurant were fading into space before the young men’s eyes. They saw themselves as gods walking in the garden of their hearts’ desires.

“But, alas,” went on the Stranger–and with the first note of his changed voice the visions vanished, the dingy walls came back–“these things take time. You will, all three, be well past middle-age before you will reap the just reward of your toil and talents. Meanwhile–” the sympathetic Stranger shrugged his shoulders–“it is the old story: genius spending its youth battling for recognition against indifference, ridicule, envy; the spirit crushed by its sordid environment, the drab monotony of narrow days. There will be winter nights when you will tramp the streets, cold, hungry, forlorn; summer days when you will hide in your attics, ashamed of the sunlight on your ragged garments; chill dawns when you will watch wild-eyed the suffering of those you love, helpless by reason of your poverty to alleviate their pain.”

The Stranger paused while the ancient waiter replenished the empty glasses. The three friends drank in silence.

“I propose,” said the Stranger, with a pleasant laugh, “that we pass over this customary period of probation–that we skip the intervening years–arrive at once at our true destination.”

The Stranger, leaning back in his chair, regarded the three friends with a smile they felt rather than saw. And something about the Stranger–they could not have told themselves what–made all things possible.

“A quite simple matter,” the Stranger assured them. “A little sleep and a forgetting, and the years lie behind us. Come, gentlemen. Have I your consent?”

It seemed a question hardly needing answer. To escape at one stride the long, weary struggle; to enter without fighting into victory! The young men looked at one another. And each one, thinking of his gain, bartered the battle for the spoil.

It seemed to them that suddenly the lights went out; and a darkness like a rushing wind swept past them, filled with many sounds. And then forgetfulness. And then the coming back of light.

They were seated at a table, glittering with silver and dainty chinaware, to which the red wine in Venetian goblets, the varied fruit and flowers, gave colour. The room, furnished too gorgeously for taste, they judged to be a private cabinet in one of the great restaurants. Of such interiors they had occasionally caught glimpses through open windows on summer nights. It was softly illuminated by shaded lamps. The Stranger’s face was still in shadow. But what surprised each of the three most was to observe opposite him two more or less bald-headed gentlemen of somewhat flabby appearance, whose features, however, in some mysterious way appeared familiar. The Stranger had his wine-glass raised in his hand.

“Our dear Paul,” the Stranger was saying, “has declined, with his customary modesty, any public recognition of his triumph. He will not refuse three old friends the privilege of offering him their heartiest congratulations. Gentlemen, I drink not only to our dear Paul, but to the French Academy, which in honouring him has honoured France.”

The Stranger, rising from his chair, turned his piercing eyes–the only part of him that could be clearly seen–upon the astonished Poet. The two elderly gentlemen opposite, evidently as bewildered as Paul himself, taking their cue from the Stranger, drained their glasses. Still following the Stranger’s lead, leant each across the table and shook him warmly by the hand.

“I beg pardon,” said the Poet, “but really I am afraid I must have been asleep. Would it sound rude to you”–he addressed himself to the Stranger: the faces of the elderly gentlemen opposite did not suggest their being of much assistance to him–“if I asked you where I was?”

Again there flickered across the Stranger’s face the smile that was felt rather than seen. “You are in a private room of the Cafe Pretali,” he answered. “We are met this evening to celebrate your recent elevation into the company of the Immortals.”

“Oh,” said the Poet, “thank you.”

“The Academy,” continued the Stranger, “is always a little late in these affairs. Myself, I could have wished your election had taken place ten years ago, when all France–all France that counts, that is–was talking of you. At fifty-three”–the Stranger touched lightly with his fingers the Poet’s fat hand–“one does not write as when the sap was running up, instead of down.”

Slowly, memory of the dingy cafe in the Rue St. Louis, of the strange happening that took place there that night when he was young, crept back into the Poet’s brain.

“Would you mind,” said the Poet, “would it be troubling you too much to tell me something of what has occurred to me?”

“Not in the least,” responded the agreeable Stranger. “Your career has been most interesting–for the first few years chiefly to yourself. You married Marguerite. You remember Marguerite?”

The Poet remembered her.

“A mad thing to do, so most people would have said,” continued the Stranger. “You had not a sou between you. But, myself, I think you were justified. Youth comes to us but once. And at twenty-five our business is to live. Undoubtedly the marriage helped you. You lived an idyllic existence, for a time, in a tumble-down cottage at Suresnes, with a garden that went down to the river. Poor, of course you were; poor as church mice. But who fears poverty when hope and love are singing on the bough! I really think quite your best work was done during those years at Suresnes. Ah, the sweetness, the tenderness of it! There has been nothing like it in French poetry. It made no mark at the time; but ten years later the public went mad about it. She was dead then. Poor child, it had been a hard struggle. And, as you may remember, she was always fragile. Yet even in her death I think she helped you. There entered a new note into your poetry, a depth that had hitherto been wanting. It was the best thing that ever came to you, your love for Marguerite.”

The Stranger refilled his glass, and passed the decanter. But the Poet left the wine unheeded.

“And then, ah, yes, then followed that excursion into politics. Those scathing articles you wrote for La Liberte! It is hardly an exaggeration to say that they altered the whole aspect of French political thought. Those wonderful speeches you made during your election campaign at Angers. How the people worshipped you! You might have carried your portfolio had you persisted. But you poets are such restless fellows. And after all, I daresay you have really accomplished more by your plays. You remember–no, of course, how could you?–the first night of La Conquette. Shall I ever forget it! I have always reckoned that the crown of your career. Your marriage with Madame Deschenelle–I do not think it was for the public good. Poor Deschenelle’s millions–is it not so? Poetry and millions interfere with one another. But a thousand pardons, my dear Paul. You have done so much. It is only right you should now be taking your ease. Your work is finished.”

The Poet does not answer. Sits staring before him with eyes turned inward. The Painter, the Musician: what did the years bring to them? The Stranger tells them also of all that they have lost: of the griefs and sorrows, of the hopes and fears they have never tasted, of their tears that ended in laughter, of the pain that gave sweetness to joy, of the triumphs that came to them in the days before triumph had lost its savour, of the loves and the longings and fervours they would never know. All was ended. The Stranger had given them what he had promised, what they had desired: the gain without the getting.

Then they break out.

“What is it to me,” cries the Painter, “that I wake to find myself wearing the gold medal of the Salon, robbed of the memory of all by which it was earned?”

The Stranger points out to him that he is illogical; such memories would have included long vistas of meagre dinners in dingy restaurants, of attic studios, of a life the chief part of which had been passed amid ugly surroundings. It was to escape from all such that he had clamoured. The Poet is silent.

“I asked but for recognition,” cries the Musician, “that men might listen to me; not for my music to be taken from me in exchange for the recompense of a successful tradesman. My inspiration is burnt out; I feel it. The music that once filled my soul is mute.”

“It was born of the strife and anguish,” the Stranger tells him, “of the loves that died, of the hopes that faded, of the beating of youth’s wings against the bars of sorrow, of the glory and madness and torment called Life, of the struggle you shrank from facing.”

The Poet takes up the tale.

“You have robbed us of Life,” he cries. “You tell us of dead lips whose kisses we have never felt, of songs of victory sung to our deaf ears. You have taken our fires, you have left us but the ashes.”

“The fires that scorch and sear,” the Stranger adds, “the lips that cried in their pain, the victory bought of wounds.”

“It is not yet too late,” the Stranger tells them. “All this can be but a troubled dream, growing fainter with each waking moment. Will you buy back your Youth at the cost of ease? Will you buy back Life at the price of tears?”

They cry with one voice, “Give us back our Youth with its burdens, and a heart to bear them! Give us back Life with its mingled bitter and sweet!”

Then suddenly the Stranger stands revealed before them. They see that he is Life–Life born of battle, Life made strong by endeavour, Life learning song from suffering.

There follows more talk; which struck me, when I read the story, as a mistake; for all that he tells them they have now learnt: that life to be enjoyed must be lived; that victory to be sweet must be won.

They awake in the dingy cafe in the Rue St. Louis. The ancient waiter is piling up the chairs preparatory to closing the shutters. The Poet draws forth his small handful of coins; asks what is to pay. “Nothing,” the waiter answers. A stranger who sat with them and talked awhile before they fell asleep has paid the bill. They look at one another, but no one speaks.

The streets are empty. A thin rain is falling. They turn up the collars of their coats; strike out into the night. And as their footsteps echo on the glistening pavement it comes to each of them that they are walking with a new, brave step.

I feel so sorry for Dick–for the tens of thousands of happy, healthy, cared-for lads of whom Dick is the type. There must be millions of youngsters in the world who have never known hunger, except as an appetiser to their dinner; who have never felt what it was to be tired, without the knowledge that a comfortable bed was awaiting them.

To the well-to-do man or woman life is one perpetual nursery. They are wakened in the morning–not too early, not till the nursery has been swept out and made ready, and the fire lighted–awakened gently with a cup of tea to give them strength and courage for this great business of getting up–awakened with whispered words, lest any sudden start should make their little heads ache–the blinds carefully arranged to exclude the naughty sun, which otherwise might shine into their little eyes and make them fretful. The water, with the nasty chill off, is put ready for them; they wash their little hands and faces, all by themselves! Then they are shaved and have their hair done; their little hands are manicured, their little corns cut for them. When they are neat and clean, they toddle into breakfast; they are shown into their little chairs, their little napkins handed to them; the nice food that is so good for them is put upon their little plates; the drink is poured out for them into their cups. If they want to play, there is the day nursery. They have only to tell kind nurse what game it is they fancy. The toys are at once brought out. The little gun is put into their hand; the little horse is dragged forth from its corner, their little feet carefully placed in the stirrups. The little ball and bat is taken from its box.

Or they will take the air, as the wise doctor has ordered. The little carriage will be ready in five minutes; the nice warm cloak is buttoned round them, the footstool placed beneath their feet, the cushion at their back.

The day is done. The games have been played; the toys have been taken from their tired hands, put back into the cupboard. The food that is so good for them, that makes them strong little men and women, has all been eaten. They have been dressed for going out into the pretty Park, undressed and dressed again for going out to tea with the little boys and girls next door; undressed and dressed again for the party. They have read their little book? have seen a little play, have looked at pretty pictures. The kind gentleman with the long hair has played the piano to them. They have danced. Their little feet are really quite tired. The footman brings them home. They are put into their little nighties. The candle is blown out, the nursery door is softly closed.

Now and again some restless little man, wearying of the smug nursery, will run out past the garden gate, and down the long white road; will find the North Pole or, failing that, the South Pole, or where the Nile rises, or how it feels to fly; will climb the Mountains of the Moon–do anything, go anywhere, to escape from Nurse Civilisation’s everlasting apron strings.

Or some queer little woman, wondering where the people come from, will run and run till she comes to the great town, watch in wonder the strange folk that sweat and groan–the peaceful nursery, with the toys, the pretty frocks never quite the same again to her.

But to the nineteen-twentieths of the well-to-do the world beyond the nursery is an unknown land. Terrible things occur out there to little men and women who have no pretty nursery to live in. People push and shove you about, will even tread on your toes if you are not careful. Out there is no kind, strong Nurse Bank-Balance to hold one’s little hand, and see that no harm comes to one. Out there, one has to fight one’s own battles. Often one is cold and hungry, out there.

One has to fend for oneself, out there; earn one’s dinner before one eats it, never quite sure of the week after next. Terrible things take place, out there: strain and contest and fierce endeavour; the ways are full of dangers and surprises; folk go up, folk go down; you have to set your teeth and fight. Well-to-do little men and women shudder. Draw down the nursery blinds.

Robina had a little dog. It led the usual dog’s life: slept in a basket on an eiderdown cushion, sheltered from any chance draught by silk curtains; its milk warmed and sweetened; its cosy chair reserved for it, in winter, near the fire; in summer, where the sun might reach it; its three meals a day that a gourmet might have eaten gladly; its very fleas taken off its hands.

And twice a year still extra care was needed, lest it should wantonly fling aside its days and nights of luxurious ease, claim its small share of the passion and pain that go to the making of dogs and men. For twice a year there came a wind, salt with the brine of earth’s ceaseless tides, whispering to it of a wondrous land whose sharpest stones are sweeter than the silken cushions of all the world without.

One winter’s night there was great commotion. Babette was nowhere to be found. We were living in the country, miles away from everywhere. “Babette, Babette,” cried poor frenzied Robina; and for answer came only the laughter of the wind, pausing in his game of romps with the snow-flakes.

Next morning an old woman from the town four miles away brought back Babette at the end of a string. Oh, such a soaked, bedraggled Babette! The old woman had found her crouching in a doorway, a bewildered little heap of palpitating femininity; and, reading the address upon her collar, and may be scenting a not impossible reward, had thought she might as well earn it for herself.

Robina was shocked, disgusted. To think that Babette–dainty, petted, spoilt Babette–should have chosen of her own accord to go down into the mud and darkness of the vulgar town; to leave her curtained eiderdown to tramp the streets like any drab! Robina, to whom Babette had hitherto been the ideal dog, moved away to hide her tears of vexation. The old dame smiled. She had borne her good man eleven, so she told us. It had been a hard struggle, and some had gone down, and some were dead; but some, thank God, were doing well.

The old dame wished us good day; but as she turned to go an impulse seized her. She crossed to where Babette, ashamed, yet half defiant, sat a wet, woeful little image on the hearthrug, stooped and lifted the little creature in her thin, worn arms.

“It’s trouble you’ve brought yourself,” said the old dame. “You couldn’t help it, could you?”

Babette’s little pink tongue stole out.

“We understand, we know–we Mothers,” they seemed to be saying to one another.

And so the two kissed.

I think the terrace will be my favourite spot. Ethelbertha thinks, too, that on sunny days she will like to sit there. From it, through an opening I have made in the trees, I can see the cottage just a mile away at the edge of the wood. Young Bute tells me it is the very place he has been looking for. Most of his time, of course, he has to pass in town, but his Fridays to Mondays he likes to spend in the country. Maybe I shall hand it over to him. St. Leonard’s chimneys we can also see above the trees. Dick tells me he has quite made up his mind to become a farmer. He thinks it would be a good plan, for a beginning, to go into partnership with St. Leonard. It is not unlikely that St. Leonard’s restless temperament may prompt him eventually to tire of farming. He has a brother in Canada doing well in the lumber business, and St. Leonard often talks of the advantages of the colonies to a man who is bringing up a large family. I shall be sorry to lose him as a neighbour; though I see the advantages, under certain possibilities, of Mrs. St. Leonard’s address being Manitoba.

Veronica also thinks the terrace may come to be her favourite resting-place.

“I suppose,” said Veronica, “that if anything was to happen to Robina, everything would fall on me.”

“It would be a change, Veronica,” I suggested. “Hitherto it is you who have done most of the falling.”

“Suppose I’ve got to see about growing up,” said Veronica.