The Island Pharisees
by John Galsworthy
"But this is a worshipful society"
Each man born into the world is born like Shelton in this book--to go
a journey, and for the most part he is born on the high road. At
first he sits there in the dust, with his little chubby hands
reaching at nothing, and his little solemn eyes staring into space.
As soon as he can toddle, he moves, by the queer instinct we call the
love of life, straight along this road, looking neither to the right
nor left, so pleased is he to walk. And he is charmed with
everything--with the nice flat road, all broad and white, with his
own feet, and with the prospect he can see on either hand. The sun
shines, and he finds the road a little hot and dusty; the rain falls,
and he splashes through the muddy puddles. It makes no matter--all
is pleasant; his fathers went this way before him; they made this
road for him to tread, and, when they bred him, passed into his fibre
the love of doing things as they themselves had done them. So he
walks on and on, resting comfortably at nights under the roofs that
have been raised to shelter him, by those who went before.
Suddenly one day, without intending to, he notices a path or opening
in the hedge, leading to right or left, and he stands, looking at the
undiscovered. After that he stops at all the openings in the hedge;
one day, with a beating heart, he tries one.
And this is where the fun begins.
Out of ten of him that try the narrow path, nine of him come back to
the broad road, and, when they pass the next gap in the hedge, they
say: "No, no, my friend, I found you pleasant for a while, but after
that-ah! after that! The way my fathers went is good enough for me,
and it is obviously the proper one; for nine of me came back, and
that poor silly tenth--I really pity him!"
And when he comes to the next inn, and snuggles in his well-warmed,
bed, he thinks of the wild waste of heather where he might have had
to spend the night alone beneath the stars; nor does it, I think,
occur to him that the broad road he treads all day was once a
trackless heath itself.
But the poor silly tenth is faring on. It is a windy night that he
is travelling through a windy night, with all things new around, and
nothing to help him but his courage. Nine times out of ten that
courage fails, and he goes down into the bog. He has seen the
undiscovered, and--like Ferrand in this book--the undiscovered has
engulfed him; his spirit, tougher than the spirit of the nine that
burned back to sleep in inns, was yet not tough enough. The tenth
time he wins across, and on the traces he has left others follow
slowly, cautiously--a new road is opened to mankind! A true saying
goes: Whatever is, is right! And if all men from the world's
beginning had said that, the world would never have begun--at all.
Not even the protoplasmic jelly could have commenced its journey;.
there would have been no motive force to make it start.
And so, that other saying had to be devised before the world could
set up business: Whatever is, is wrong! But since the Cosmic Spirit
found that matters moved too fast if those that felt "All things that
are, are wrong" equalled in number those that felt "All things that
are, are right," It solemnly devised polygamy (all, be it said, in a
spiritual way of speaking); and to each male spirit crowing "All
things that are, are wrong" It decreed nine female spirits clucking
"All things that are, are right." The Cosmic Spirit, who was very
much an artist, knew its work, and had previously devised a quality
called courage, and divided it in three, naming the parts spiritual,
moral, physical. To all the male-bird spirits, but to no female
(spiritually, not corporeally speaking), It gave courage that was
spiritual; to nearly all, both male and female, It gave courage that
was physical; to very many hen-bird spirits It gave moral courage
too. But, because It knew that if all the male-bird spirits were
complete, the proportion of male to female--one to ten--would be too
great, and cause upheavals, It so arranged that only one in ten male-
bird spirits should have all three kinds of courage; so that the
other nine, having spiritual courage, but lacking either in moral or
in physical, should fail in their extensions of the poultry-run. And
having started them upon these lines, it left them to get along as
best they might.
Thus, in the subdivision of the poultry-run that we call England, the
proportion of the others to the complete male-bird spirit, who, of
course, is not infrequently a woman, is ninety-nine to one; and with
every Island Pharisee, when he or she starts out in life, the
interesting question ought to be, "Am I that one?" Ninety very soon
find out that they are not, and, having found it out, lest others
should discover, they say they are. Nine of the other ten, blinded
by their spiritual courage, are harder to convince; but one by one
they sink, still proclaiming their virility. The hundredth Pharisee
alone sits out the play.
Now, the journey of this young man Shelton, who is surely not the
hundredth Pharisee, is but a ragged effort to present the working of
the truth "All things that are, are wrong," upon the truth "All
things that are, are right."
The Institutions of this country, like the Institutions of all other
countries, are but half-truths; they are the working daily clothing
of the nation; no more the body's permanent dress than is a baby's
frock. Slowly but surely they wear out, or are outgrown; and in
their fashion they are always thirty years at least behind the
fashions of those spirits who are concerned with what shall take
their place. The conditions that dictate our education, the
distribution of our property, our marriage laws, amusements, worship,
prisons, and all other things, change imperceptibly from hour to
hour; the moulds containing them, being inelastic, do not change, but
hold on to the point of bursting, and then are hastily, often
clumsily, enlarged. The ninety desiring peace and comfort for their
spirit, the ninety of the well-warmed beds, will have it that the
fashions need not change, that morality is fixed, that all is ordered
and immutable, that every one will always marry, play, and worship in
the way that they themselves are marrying, playing, worshipping.
They have no speculation, and they hate with a deep hatred those who
speculate with thought. This is the function they were made for.
They are the dough, and they dislike that yeasty stuff of life which
comes and works about in them. The Yeasty Stuff--the other
ten--chafed by all things that are, desirous ever of new forms and
moulds, hate in their turn the comfortable ninety. Each party has
invented for the other the hardest names that it can think of:
Philistines, Bourgeois, Mrs. Grundy, Rebels, Anarchists, and
Ne'er-do-weels. So we go on! And so, as each of us is born to go
his journey, he finds himself in time ranged on one side or on the
other, and joins the choruses of name-slingers.
But now and then--ah! very seldom--we find ourselves so near that
thing which has no breadth, the middle line, that we can watch them
both, and positively smile to see the fun.
When this book was published first, many of its critics found that
Shelton was the only Pharisee, and a most unsatisfactory young man--
and so, no doubt, he is. Belonging to the comfortable ninety, they
felt, in fact, the need of slinging names at one who obviously was of
the ten. Others of its critics, belonging to the ten, wielded their
epithets upon Antonia, and the serried ranks behind her, and called
them Pharisees; as dull as ditch-water--and so, I fear, they are.
One of the greatest charms of authorship is the privilege it gives
the author of studying the secret springs of many unseen persons, of
analysing human nature through the criticism that his work evokes--
criticism welling out of the instinctive likings or aversions, out of
the very fibre of the human being who delivers it; criticism that
often seems to leap out against the critic's will, startled like a
fawn from some deep bed, of sympathy or of antipathy. And so, all
authors love to be abused--as any man can see.
In the little matter of the title of this book, we are all Pharisees,
whether of the ninety or the ten, and we certainly do live upon an
January 1, 1908
PART I. THE TOWN
CHAPTER I. SOCIETY
A quiet, well-dressed man named Shelton, with a brown face and a
short, fair beard, stood by the bookstall at Dover Station. He was
about to journey up to London, and had placed his bag in the corner
of a third-class carriage.
After his long travel, the flat-vowelled voice of the bookstall clerk
offering the latest novel sounded pleasant--pleasant the independent
answers of a bearded guard, and the stodgy farewell sayings of a man
and wife. The limber porters trundling their barrows, the greyness
of the station and the good stolid humour clinging to the people,
air, and voices, all brought to him the sense of home. Meanwhile he
wavered between purchasing a book called Market Hayborough, which he
had read and would ,certainly enjoy a second time, and Carlyle's
French Revolution, which he had not read and was doubtful of
enjoying; he felt that he ought to buy the latter, but he did not
relish giving up the former. While he hesitated thus, his carriage
was beginning to fill up; so, quickly buying both, he took up a
position from which he could defend his rights. "Nothing," he
thought, "shows people up like travelling."
The carriage was almost full, and, putting his bag, up in the rack,
he took his seat. At the moment of starting yet another passenger, a
girl with a pale face, scrambled in.
"I was a fool to go third," thought Shelton, taking in his neighbours
from behind his journal.
They were seven. A grizzled rustic sat in the far corner; his empty
pipe, bowl downwards, jutted like a handle from his face, all bleared
with the smear of nothingness that grows on those who pass their
lives in the current of hard facts. Next to him, a ruddy, heavy-
shouldered man was discussing with a grey-haired, hatchet-visaged
person the condition of their gardens; and Shelton watched their eyes
till it occurred to him how curious a look was in them--a watchful
friendliness, an allied distrust--and that their voices, cheerful,
even jovial, seemed to be cautious all the time. His glance strayed
off, and almost rebounded from the semi-Roman, slightly cross, and
wholly self-complacent face of a stout lady in a black-and-white
costume, who was reading the Strand Magazine, while her other, sleek,
plump hand, freed from its black glove, and ornamented with a thick
watch-bracelet, rested on her lap. A younger, bright-cheeked, and
self-conscious female was sitting next her, looking at the pale girl
who had just got in.
"There's something about that girl," thought Shelton, "they don't
like." Her brown eyes certainly looked frightened, her clothes were
of a foreign cut. Suddenly he met the glance of another pair of
eyes; these eyes, prominent and blue, stared with a sort of subtle
roguery from above a thin, lopsided nose, and were at once averted.
They gave Shelton the impression that he was being judged, and
mocked, enticed, initiated. His own gaze did not fall; this sanguine
face, with its two-day growth of reddish beard, long nose, full lips,
and irony, puzzled him. "A cynical face!" he thought, and then, "but
sensitive!" and then, "too cynical," again.
The young man who owned it sat with his legs parted at the knees, his
dusty trouser-ends and boots slanting back beneath the seat, his
yellow finger-tips crisped as if rolling cigarettes. A strange air
of detachment was about that youthful, shabby figure, and not a scrap
of luggage filled the rack above his head.
The frightened girl was sitting next this pagan personality; it was
possibly the lack of fashion in his looks that caused, her to select
him for her confidence.
"Monsieur," she asked, "do you speak French?"
"Then can you tell me where they take the tickets?
"The young man shook his head.
"No," said he, "I am a foreigner."
The girl sighed.
"But what is the matter, ma'moiselle?"
The girl did not reply, twisting her hands on an old bag in her lap.
Silence had stolen on the carriage--a silence such as steals on
animals at the first approach of danger; all eyes were turned towards
the figures of the foreigners.
"Yes," broke out the red-faced man, "he was a bit squiffy that
"Ah!" replied his neighbour, "he would be."
Something seemed to have destroyed their look of mutual distrust.
The plump, sleek hand of the lady with the Roman nose curved
convulsively; and this movement corresponded to the feeling agitating
Shelton's heart. It was almost as if hand and heart feared to be
asked for something.
"Monsieur," said the girl, with a tremble in her voice, "I am very
unhappy; can you tell me what to do? I had no money for a ticket."
The foreign youth's face flickered.
"Yes?" he said; "that might happen to anyone, of course."
"What will they do to me?" sighed the girl.
"Don't lose courage, ma'moiselle." The young man slid his eyes from
left to right, and rested them on Shelton. "Although I don't as yet
see your way out."
"Oh, monsieur!" sighed the girl, and, though it was clear that none
but Shelton understood what they were saying, there was a chilly
feeling in the carriage.
"I wish I could assist you," said the foreign youth; "unfortunately--
--" he shrugged his shoulders, and again his eyes returned to
The latter thrust his hand into his pocket.
"Can I be of any use?" he asked in English.
"Certainly, sir; you could render this young lady the greatest
possible service by lending her the money for a ticket."
Shelton produced a sovereign, which the young man took. Passing it.
to the girl, he said:
"A thousand thanks--'voila une belle action'!"
The misgivings which attend on casual charity crowded up in Shelton's
mind; he was ashamed of having them and of not having them, and he
stole covert looks at this young foreigner, who was now talking to
the girl in a language that he did not understand. Though vagabond
in essence, the fellow's face showed subtle spirit, a fortitude and
irony not found upon the face of normal man, and in turning from it
to the other passengers Shelton was conscious of revolt, contempt,
and questioning, that he could not define. Leaning back with half-
closed eyes, he tried to diagnose this new sensation. He found it
disconcerting that the faces and behaviour of his neighbours lacked
anything he could grasp and secretly abuse. They continued to
converse with admirable and slightly conscious phlegm, yet he knew,
as well as if each one had whispered to him privately, that this
shady incident had shaken them. Something unsettling to their
notions of propriety-something dangerous and destructive of
complacency--had occurred, and this was unforgivable. Each had a
different way, humorous or philosophic, contemptuous, sour, or sly,
of showing this resentment. But by a flash of insight Shelton saw
that at the bottom of their minds and of his own the feeling was the
same. Because he shared in their resentment he was enraged with them
and with himself. He looked at the plump, sleek hand of the woman
with the Roman nose. The insulation and complacency of its pale
skin, the passive righteousness about its curve, the prim separation
from the others of the fat little finger, had acquired a wholly
unaccountable importance. It embodied the verdict of his fellow-
passengers, the verdict of Society; for he knew that, whether or no
repugnant to the well-bred mind, each assemblage of eight persons,
even in a third-class carriage, contains the kernel of Society.
But being in love, and recently engaged, Shelton had a right to be
immune from discontent of any kind, and he reverted to his mental
image of the cool, fair face, quick movements, and the brilliant
smile that now in his probationary exile haunted his imagination; he
took out his fiancee's last letter, but the voice of the young
foreigner addressing him in rapid French caused him to put it back
"From what she tells me, sir," he said, bending forward to be out of
hearing of the girl, "hers is an unhappy case. I should have been
only too glad to help her, but, as you see"--and he made a gesture by
which Shelton observed that he had parted from his waistcoat--"I am
not Rothschild. She has been abandoned by the man who brought her
over to Dover under promise of marriage. Look"--and by a subtle
flicker of his eyes he marked how the two ladies had edged away from
the French girl "they take good care not to let their garments touch
her. They are virtuous women. How fine a thing is virtue, sir! and
finer to know you have it, especially when you are never likely to be
Shelton was unable to repress a smile; and when he smiled his face
"Haven't you observed," went on the youthful foreigner, "that those
who by temperament and circumstance are worst fitted to pronounce
judgment are usually the first to judge? The judgments of Society
are always childish, seeing that it's composed for the most part of
individuals who have never smelt the fire. And look at this: they
who have money run too great a risk of parting with it if they don't
accuse the penniless of being rogues and imbeciles."
Shelton was startled, and not only by an outburst of philosophy from
an utter stranger in poor clothes, but at this singular wording of
his own private thoughts. Stifling his sense of the unusual for the
queer attraction this young man inspired, he said:
"I suppose you're a stranger over here?"
"I've been in England seven months, but not yet in London," replied
the other. "I count on doing some good there--it is time!" A bitter
and pathetic smile showed for a second on his lips. "It won't be my
fault if I fail. You are English, Sir?"
"Forgive my asking; your voice lacks something I've nearly always
noticed in the English a kind of--'comment cela s'appelle'--
cocksureness, coming from your nation's greatest quality."
"And what is that?" asked Shelton with a smile.
"Complacency," replied the youthful foreigner.
"Complacency!" repeated Shelton; "do you call that a great quality?"
"I should rather say, monsieur, a great defect in what is always a
great people. You are certainly the most highly-civilised nation on
the earth; you suffer a little from the fact. If I were an English
preacher my desire would be to prick the heart of your complacency."
Shelton, leaning back, considered this impertinent suggestion.
"Hum!" he said at last, "you'd be unpopular; I don't know that we're
any cockier than other nations."
The young foreigner made a sign as though confirming this opinion.
"In effect," said he, "it is a sufficiently widespread disease. Look
at these people here"--and with a rapid glance he pointed to the
inmates of the carnage,--"very average persons! What have they done
to warrant their making a virtuous nose at those who do not walk as
they do? That old rustic, perhaps, is different--he never thinks at
all--but look at those two occupied with their stupidities about the
price of hops, the prospects of potatoes, what George is doing, a
thousand things all of that sort--look at their faces; I come of the
bourgeoisie myself--have they ever shown proof of any quality that
gives them the right to pat themselves upon the back? No fear!
Outside potatoes they know nothing, and what they do not understand
they dread and they despise--there are millions of that breed.
'Voila la Societe'! The sole quality these people have shown they
have is cowardice. I was educated by the Jesuits," he concluded; "it
has given me a way of thinking."
Under ordinary circumstances Shelton would have murmured in a well-
bred voice, "Ah! quite so," and taken refuge in the columns of the
Daily Telegraph. In place of this, for some reason that he did not
understand, he looked at the young foreigner, and asked,
"Why do you say all this to me?"
The tramp--for by his boots he could hardly have been better--
"When you've travelled like me," he said, as if resolved to speak the
truth, "you acquire an instinct in choosing to whom and how you
speak. It is necessity that makes the law; if you want to live you
must learn all that sort of thing to make face against life."
Shelton, who himself possessed a certain subtlety, could not but
observe the complimentary nature of these words. It was like saying
"I'm not afraid of you misunderstanding me, and thinking me a rascal
just because I study human nature."
"But is there nothing to be done for that poor girl?"
His new acquaintance shrugged his shoulders.
"A broken jug," said he; "--you'll never mend her. She's going to a
cousin in London to see if she can get help; you've given her the
means of getting there--it's all that you can do. One knows too well
what'll become of her."
Shelton said gravely,
"Oh! that's horrible! Could n't she be induced to go back home? I
should be glad--"
The foreign vagrant shook his head.
"Mon cher monsieur," he said, "you evidently have not yet had
occasion to know what the 'family' is like. 'The family' does not
like damaged goods; it will have nothing to say to sons whose hands
have dipped into the till or daughters no longer to be married. What
the devil would they do with her? Better put a stone about her neck
and let her drown at once. All the world is Christian, but Christian
and good Samaritan are not quite the same."
Shelton looked at the girl, who was sitting motionless, with her
hands crossed on her bag, and a revolt against the unfair ways of
life arose within him.
"Yes," said the young foreigner, as if reading all his thoughts,
"what's called virtue is nearly always only luck." He rolled his
eyes as though to say: "Ah! La, Conventions? Have them by all means
--but don't look like peacocks because you are preserving them; it is
but cowardice and luck, my friends--but cowardice and luck!"
"Look here," said Shelton, "I'll give her my address, and if she
wants to go back to her family she can write to me."
"She'll never go back; she won't have the courage."
Shelton caught the cringing glance of the girl's eyes; in the droop
of her lip there was something sensuous, and the conviction that the
young man's words were true came over him.
"I had better not give them my private address," he thought, glancing
at the faces opposite; and he wrote down the following: "Richard
Paramor Shelton, c/o Paramor and Herring, Lincoln's Inn Fields."
"You're very good, sir. My name is Louis Ferrand; no address at
present. I'll make her understand; she's half stupefied just now."
Shelton returned to the perusal of his paper, too disturbed to read;
the young vagrant's words kept sounding in his ears. He raised his
eyes. The plump hand of the lady with the Roman nose still rested on
her lap; it had been recased in its black glove with large white
stitching. Her frowning gaze was fixed on him suspiciously, as if he
had outraged her sense of decency.
"He did n't get anything from me," said the voice of the red-faced
man, ending a talk on tax-gatherers. The train whistled loudly, and
Shelton reverted to his paper. This time he crossed his legs,
determined to enjoy the latest murder; once more he found himself
looking at the vagrant's long-nosed, mocking face. "That fellow," he
thought, "has seen and felt ten times as much as I, although he must
be ten years younger."
He turned for distraction to the landscape, with its April clouds,
trim hedgerows, homely coverts. But strange ideas would come, and he
was discontented with himself; the conversation he had had, the
personality of this young foreigner, disturbed him. It was all as
though he had made a start in some fresh journey through the fields
CHAPTER II. ANTONIA
Five years before the journey just described Shelton had stood one
afternoon on the barge of his old college at the end of the summer
races. He had been "down" from Oxford for some years, but these
Olympian contests still attracted him.
The boats were passing, and in the usual rush to the barge side his
arm came in contact with a soft young shoulder. He saw close to him
a young girl with fair hair knotted in a ribbon, whose face was eager
with excitement. The pointed chin, long neck, the fluffy hair, quick
gestures, and the calm strenuousness of her grey-blue eyes, impressed
"Oh, we must bump them!" he heard her sigh.
"Do you know my people, Shelton?" said a voice behind his back; and
he was granted a touch from the girl's shy, impatient hand, the
warmer fingers of a lady with kindly eyes resembling a hare's, the
dry hand-clasp of a gentleman with a thin, arched nose, and a
quizzical brown face.
"Are you the Mr. Shelton who used to play the 'bones' at Eton?" said
the lady. "Oh; we so often heard of you from Bernard! He was your
fag, was n't he? How distressin' it is to see these poor boys in the
"Mother, they like it!" cried the girl.
"Antonia ought to be rowing, herself," said her father, whose name
Shelton went back with them to their hotel, walking beside Antonia
through the Christchurch meadows, telling her details of his college
life. He dined with them that evening, and, when he left, had a
feeling like that produced by a first glass of champagne.
The Dennants lived at Holm Oaks, within six miles of Oxford, and two
days later he drove over and paid a call. Amidst the avocations of
reading for the Bar, of cricket, racing, shooting, it but required a
whiff of some fresh scent--hay, honeysuckle, clover--to bring
Antonia's face before him, with its uncertain colour and its frank,
distant eyes. But two years passed before he again saw her. Then,
at an invitation from Bernard Dennant, he played cricket for the
Manor of Holm Oaks against a neighbouring house; in the evening there
was dancing oh the lawn. The fair hair was now turned up, but the
eyes were quite unchanged. Their steps went together, and they.
outlasted every other couple on the slippery grass. Thence, perhaps,
sprang her respect for him; he was wiry, a little taller than
herself, and seemed to talk of things that interested her. He found
out she was seventeen, and she found out that he was twenty-nine.
The following two years Shelton went to Holm Oaks whenever he was
asked; to him this was a period of enchanted games, of cub-hunting,
theatricals, and distant sounds of practised music, and during it
Antonia's eyes grew more friendly and more curious, and his own more
shy, and schooled, more furtive and more ardent. Then came his
father's death, a voyage round the world, and that peculiar hour of
mixed sensations when, one March morning, abandoning his steamer at
Marseilles, he took train for Hyeres.
He found her at one of those exclusive hostelries amongst the pines
where the best English go, in common with Americans, Russian
princesses, and Jewish families; he would not have been shocked to
find her elsewhere, but he would have been surprised. His sunburnt
face and the new beard, on which he set some undefined value,
apologetically displayed, were scanned by those blue eyes with rapid
glances, at once more friendly and less friendly. "Ah!" they seemed
to say, "here you are; how glad I am! But--what now?"
He was admitted to their sacred table at the table d'hote, a snowy
oblong in an airy alcove, where the Honourable Mrs. Dennant, Miss
Dennant, and the Honourable Charlotte Penguin, a maiden aunt with
insufficient lungs, sat twice a day in their own atmosphere. A
momentary weakness came on Shelton the first time he saw them sitting
there at lunch. What was it gave them their look of strange
detachment? Mrs. Dennant was bending above a camera.
"I'm afraid, d' you know, it's under-exposed," she said.
"What a pity! The kitten was rather nice!" The maiden aunt, placing
the knitting of a red silk tie beside her plate, turned her aspiring,
well-bred gaze on Shelton.
"Look, Auntie," said Antonia in her clear, quick voice, "there's the
funny little man again!"
"Oh," said the maiden aunt--a smile revealed her upper teeth; she
looked for the funny little man (who was not English)--"he's rather
Shelton did not look for the funny little man; he stole a glance that
barely reached Antonia's brow, where her eyebrows took their tiny
upward slant at the outer corners, and her hair was still ruffled by
a windy walk. From that moment he became her slave.
"Mr. Shelton, do you know anything about these periscopic
binoculars?" said Mrs. Dennant's voice; "they're splendid for
buildin's, but buildin's are so disappointin'. The thing is to get
human interest, isn't it?" and her glance wandered absently past
Shelton in search of human interest.
"You haven't put down what you've taken, mother."
>From a little leather bag Mrs. Dennant took a little leather book.
"It's so easy to forget what they're about," she said, "that's so
Shelton was not again visited by his uneasiness at their detachment;
he accepted them and all their works, for there was something quite
sublime about the way that they would leave the dining-room,
unconscious that they themselves were funny to all the people they
had found so funny while they had been sitting there, and he would
follow them out unnecessarily upright and feeling like a fool.
In the ensuing fortnight, chaperoned by the maiden aunt, for Mrs.
Dennant disliked driving, he sat opposite to Antonia during many
drives; he played sets of tennis with her; but it was in the evenings
after dinner--those long evenings on a parquet floor in wicker chairs
dragged as far as might be from the heating apparatus--that he seemed
so very near her. The community of isolation drew them closer. In
place of a companion he had assumed the part of friend, to whom she
could confide all her home-sick aspirations. So that, even when she
was sitting silent, a slim, long foot stretched out in front, bending
with an air of cool absorption over some pencil sketches which she
would not show him--even then, by her very attitude, by the sweet
freshness that clung about her, by her quick, offended glances at the
strange persons round, she seemed to acknowledge in some secret way
that he was necessary. He was far from realising this; his
intellectual and observant parts were hypnotised and fascinated even
by her failings. The faint freckling across her nose, the slim and
virginal severeness of her figure, with its narrow hips and arms, the
curve of her long neck-all were added charms. She had the wind and
rain look, a taste of home; and over the glaring roads, where the
palm-tree shadows lay so black, she seemed to pass like the very
image of an English day.
One afternoon he had taken her to play tennis with some friends, and
afterwards they strolled on to her favourite view. Down the Toulon
road gardens and hills were bathed in the colour of ripe apricot; an
evening crispness had stolen on the air; the blood, released from the
sun's numbing, ran gladly in the veins. On the right hand of the
road was a Frenchman playing bowls. Enormous, busy, pleased, and
upright as a soldier, pathetically trotting his vast carcass from end
to end, he delighted Shelton. But Antonia threw a single look at the
huge creature, and her face expressed disgust. She began running up
towards the ruined tower.
Shelton let her keep in front, watching her leap from stone to stone
and throw back defiant glances when he pressed behind. She stood at
the top, and he looked up at her. Over the world, gloriously spread
below, she, like a statue, seemed to rule. The colour was brilliant
in her cheeks, her young bosom heaved, her eyes shone, and the
flowing droop of her long, full sleeves gave to her poised figure the
look of one who flies. He pulled himself up and stood beside her;
his heart choked him, all the colour had left his cheeks.
"Antonia," he said, "I love you."
She started, as if his whisper had intruded on her thoughts; but his
face must have expressed his hunger, for the resentment in her eyes
They stood for several minutes without speaking, and then went home.
Shelton painfully revolved the riddle of the colour in her face. Had
he a chance then? Was it possible? That evening the instinct
vouchsafed at times to lovers in place of reason caused him to pack
his bag and go to Cannes. On returning, two days later, and
approaching the group in the centre of the Winter Garden, the voice
of the maiden aunt reading aloud an extract from the Morning Post
reached him across the room.
"Don't you think that's rather nice?" he heard her ask, and then:
"Oh, here you aye! It's very nice to see you back!"
Shelton slipped into a wicker chair. Antonia looked up quickly from
her sketch-book, put out a hand, but did not speak.
He watched her bending head, and his eagerness was changed to gloom.
With desperate vivacity he sustained the five intolerable minutes of
inquiry, where had he been, what had he been doing? Then once again
the maiden aunt commenced her extracts from the Morning Post.
A touch on his sleeve startled him. Antonia was leaning forward; her
cheeks were crimson above the pallor of her neck.
"Would you like to see my sketches?"
To Shelton, bending above those sketches, that drawl of the well-bred
maiden aunt intoning the well-bred paper was the most pleasant sound
that he had ever listened to.
"My dear Dick," Mrs. Dennant said to him a fortnight later, "we would
rather, after you leave here, that you don't see each other again
until July. Of course I know you count it an engagement and all
that, and everybody's been writin' to congratulate you. But Algie
thinks you ought to give yourselves a chance. Young people don't
always know what they're about, you know; it's not long to wait."
"Three months!" gasped Shelton.
He had to swallow down this pill with what grace he could command.
There was no alternative. Antonia had acquiesced in the condition
with a queer, grave pleasure, as if she expected it to do her good.
"It'll be something to look forward to, Dick," she said.
He postponed departure as long as possible, and it was not until the
end of April that he left for England. She came alone to see him
off. It was drizzling, but her tall, slight figure in the golf cape
looked impervious to cold and rain amongst the shivering natives.
Desperately he clutched her hand, warm through the wet glove; her
smile seemed heartless in its brilliancy. He whispered "You will
"Of course; don't be so stupid, you old Dick!"
She ran forward as the train began to move; her clear "Good-bye!"
sounded shrill and hard above the rumble of the wheels. He saw her
raise her hand, an umbrella waving, and last of all, vivid still
amongst receding shapes, the red spot of her scarlet tam-o'-shanter.
CHAPTER III. A ZOOLOGICAL GARDEN
After his journey up from Dover, Shelton was still fathering his
luggage at Charing Cross, when the foreign girl passed him, and, in
spite of his desire to say something cheering, he could get nothing
out but a shame-faced smile. Her figure vanished, wavering into the
hurly-burly; one of his bags had gone astray, and so all thought of
her soon faded from his mind. His cab, however, overtook the foreign
vagrant marching along towards Pall Mall with a curious, lengthy
stride--an observant, disillusioned figure.
The first bustle of installation over, time hung heavy on his hands.
July loomed distant, as in some future century; Antonia's eyes
beckoned him faintly, hopelessly. She would not even be coming back
to England for another month.
. . . I met a young foreigner in the train from Dover [he wrote to
her]--a curious sort of person altogether, who seems to have infected
me. Everything here has gone flat and unprofitable; the only good
things in life are your letters . . . . John Noble dined with me
yesterday; the poor fellow tried to persuade me to stand for
Parliament. Why should I think myself fit to legislate for the
unhappy wretches one sees about in the streets? If people's faces
are a fair test of their happiness, I' d rather not feel in any way
responsible . . . .
The streets, in fact, after his long absence in the East, afforded
him much food for thought: the curious smugness of the passers-by;
the utterly unending bustle; the fearful medley of miserable, over-
driven women, and full-fed men, with leering, bull-beef eyes, whom he
saw everywhere--in club windows, on their beats, on box seats, on the
steps of hotels, discharging dilatory duties; the appalling choas of
hard-eyed, capable dames with defiant clothes, and white-cheeked
hunted-looking men; of splendid creatures in their cabs, and cadging
creatures in their broken hats--the callousness and the monotony!
One afternoon in May he received this letter couched in French:
3, BLANK ROW
MY DEAR SIR,
Excuse me for recalling to your memory the offer of assistance you so
kindly made me during the journey from Dover to London, in which I
was so fortunate as to travel with a man like you. Having beaten the
whole town, ignorant of what wood to make arrows, nearly at the end
of my resources, my spirit profoundly discouraged, I venture to avail
myself of your permission, knowing your good heart. Since I saw you
I have run through all the misfortunes of the calendar, and cannot
tell what door is left at which I have not knocked. I presented
myself at the business firm with whose name you supplied me, but
being unfortunately in rags, they refused to give me your address.
Is this not very much in the English character? They told me to
write, and said they would forward the letter. I put all my hopes in
Believe me, my dear sir,
(whatever you may decide)
Shelton looked at the envelope, and saw, that it, bore date a week
ago. The face of the young vagrant rose before him, vital, mocking,
sensitive; the sound of his quick French buzzed in his ears, and,
oddly, the whole whiff of him had a power of raising more vividly
than ever his memories of Antonia. It had been at the end of the
journey from Hyeres to London that he had met him; that seemed to
give the youth a claim.
He took his hat and hurried, to Blank Row. Dismissing his cab at the
corner of Victoria Street he with difficulty found the house in
question. It was a doorless place, with stone-flagged corridor--in
other words, a "doss-house." By tapping on a sort of ticket-office
with a sliding window, he attracted the attention of a blowsy woman
with soap-suds on her arms, who informed him that the person he was
looking for had gone without leaving his address.
"But isn't there anybody," asked Shelton, "of whom I can make
"Yes; there's a Frenchman." And opening an inner door she bellowed:
"Frenchy! Wanted!" and disappeared.
A dried-up, yellow little man, cynical and weary in the face, as if a
moral steam-roller had passed over it, answered this call, and stood,
sniffing, as it were, at Shelton, on whom he made the singular
impression of some little creature in a cage.
"He left here ten days ago, in the company of a mulatto. What do you
want with him, if I may ask?" The little man's yellow cheeks were
wrinkled with suspicion.
Shelton produced the letter.
"Ah! now I know you"--a pale smile broke through the Frenchman's
crow's-feet--"he spoke of you. 'If I can only find him,' he used to
say, 'I 'm saved.' I liked that young man; he had ideas."
"Is there no way of getting at him through his consul?"
The Frenchman shook his head.
"Might as well look for diamonds at the bottom of the sea."
"Do you think he will come back here? But by that time I suppose,
you'll hardly be here yourself?"
A gleam of amusement played about the Frenchman's teeth:
"I? Oh, yes, sir! Once upon a time I cherished the hope of emerging;
I no longer have illusions. I shave these specimens for a living,
and shall shave them till the day of judgment. But leave a letter
with me by all means; he will come back. There's an overcoat of his
here on which he borrowed money--it's worth more. Oh, yes; he will
come back--a youth of principle. Leave a letter with me; I'm always
Shelton hesitated, but those last three words, "I'm always here,"
touched him in their simplicity. Nothing more dreadful could be
"Can you find me a sheet of paper, then?" he asked; "please keep the
change for the trouble I am giving you."
"Thank you," said the Frenchman simply; "he told me that your heart
was good. If you don't mind the kitchen, you could write there at
Shelton wrote his letter at the table of this stone-flagged kitchen
in company with an aged, dried-up gentleman; who was muttering to
himself; and Shelton tried to avoid attracting his attention,
suspecting that he was not sober. Just as he was about to take his
leave, however, the old fellow thus accosted him:
"Did you ever go to the dentist, mister?" he said, working at a loose
tooth with his shrivelled fingers. "I went to a dentist once, who
professed to stop teeth without giving pain, and the beggar did stop
my teeth without pain; but did they stay in, those stoppings? No, my
bhoy; they came out before you could say Jack Robinson. Now, I
shimply ask you, d'you call that dentistry?" Fixing his eyes on
Shelton's collar, which had the misfortune to be high and clean, he
resumed with drunken scorn: "Ut's the same all over this pharisaical
counthry. Talk of high morality and Anglo-Shaxon civilisation! The
world was never at such low ebb! Phwhat's all this morality? Ut
stinks of the shop. Look at the condition of Art in this counthry!
look at the fools you see upon th' stage! look at the pictures and
books that sell! I know what I'm talking about, though I am a
sandwich man. Phwhat's the secret of ut all? Shop, my bhoy! Ut
don't pay to go below a certain depth! Scratch the skin, but pierce
ut--Oh! dear, no! We hate to see the blood fly, eh?"
Shelton stood disconcerted, not knowing if he were expected to reply;
but the old gentleman, pursing up his lips, went on:
"Sir, there are no extremes in this fog-smitten land. Do ye think
blanks loike me ought to exist? Whoy don't they kill us off?
Palliatives--palliatives--and whoy? Because they object to th'
extreme course. Look at women: the streets here are a scandal to the
world. They won't recognise that they exist--their noses are so dam
high! They blink the truth in this middle-class counthry. My bhoy" -
-and he whispered confidentially--"ut pays 'em. Eh? you say, why
shouldn't they, then?" (But Shelton had not spoken.) "Well, let'em!
let 'em!. But don't tell me that'sh morality, don't tell me that'sh
civilisation! What can you expect in a counthry where the crimson,
emotions are never allowed to smell the air? And what'sh the result?
My bhoy, the result is sentiment, a yellow thing with blue spots,
like a fungus or a Stilton cheese. Go to the theatre, and see one of
these things they call plays. Tell me, are they food for men and
women? Why, they're pap for babes and shop-boys! I was a blanky
Shelton listened with mingled feelings of amusement and dismay, till
the old actor, having finished, resumed his crouching posture at the
"You don't get dhrunk, I suppose?" he said suddenly--"too much of 'n
Englishman, no doubt."
"Very seldom," said Shelton.
"Pity! Think of the pleasures of oblivion! Oi 'm dhrunk every
"How long will you last at that rate?"
"There speaks the Englishman! Why should Oi give up me only pleasure
to keep me wretched life in? If you've anything left worth the
keeping shober for, keep shober by all means; if not, the sooner you
are dhrunk the better--that stands to reason."
In the corridor Shelton asked the Frenchman where the old man came
"Oh, and Englishman! Yes, yes, from Belfast very drunken old man.
You are a drunken nation"--he made a motion with his hands "he no
longer eats--no inside left. It is unfortunate-a man of spirit. If
you have never seen one of these palaces, monsieur, I shall be happy
to show you over it."
Shelton took out his cigarette case.
"Yes, yes," said the Frenchman, making a wry nose and taking a
cigarette; "I'm accustomed to it. But you're wise to fumigate the
air; one is n't in a harem."
And Shelton felt ashamed of his fastidiousness.
"This," said the guide, leading him up-stairs and opening a door, "is
a specimen of the apartments reserved for these princes of the
blood." There were four empty beds on iron legs, and, with the air
of a showman, the Frenchman twitched away a dingy quilt. "They go
out in the mornings, earn enough to make them drunk, sleep it off,
and then begin again. That's their life. There are people who think
they ought to be reformed. 'Mon cher monsieur', one must face
reality a little, even in this country. It would be a hundred times
better for these people to spend their time reforming high Society.
Your high Society makes all these creatures; there's no harvest
without cutting stalks. 'Selon moi'," he continued, putting back the
quilt, and dribbling cigarette smoke through his nose, "there's no
grand difference between your high Society and these individuals
here; both want pleasure, both think only of themselves, which is
very natural. One lot have had the luck, the other--well, you see."
He shrugged. "A common set! I've been robbed here half a dozen
times. If you have new shoes, a good waistcoat, an overcoat, you
want eyes in the back of your head. And they are populated! Change
your bed, and you'll run all the dangers of not sleeping alone.
'V'la ma clientele'! The half of them don't pay me!" He, snapped
his yellow sticks of fingers. "A penny for a shave, twopence a cut!
'Quelle vie'! Here," he continued, standing by a bed, "is a
gentleman who owes me fivepence. Here's one who was a soldier; he's
done for! All brutalised; not one with any courage left! But,
believe me, monsieur," he went on, opening another door, "when you
come down to houses of this sort you must have a vice; it's as
necessary as breath is to the lungs. No matter what, you must have a
vice to give you a little solace--'un peu de soulagement'. Ah, yes!
before you judge these swine, reflect on life! I've been through it.
Monsieur, it is not nice never to know where to get your next meal.
Gentlemen who have food in their stomachs, money in their pockets,
and know where to get more, they never think. Why should they--'pas
de danger'! All these cages are the same. Come down, and you shall
see the pantry." He took Shelton through the kitchen, which seemed
the only sitting-room of the establishment, to an inner room
furnished with dirty cups and saucers, plates, and knives. Another
fire was burning there. "We always have hot water," said the
Frenchman, "and three times a week they make a fire down there"--he
pointed to a cellar--"for our clients to boil their vermin. Oh, yes,
we have all the luxuries."
Shelton returned to the kitchen, and directly after took leave of the
little Frenchman, who said, with a kind of moral button-holing, as if
trying to adopt him as a patron:
"Trust me, monsieur; if he comes back--that young man--he shall have
your letter without fail. My name is Carolan Jules Carolan; and I
am always at your service."
CHAPTER IV. THE PLAY
Shelton walked away; he had been indulging in a nightmare. "That old
actor was drunk," thought he, "and no doubt he was an Irishman;
still, there may be truth in what he said. I am a Pharisee, like all
the rest who are n't in the pit. My respectability is only luck.
What should I have become if I'd been born into his kind of life?"
and he stared at a stream of people coming from the Stares, trying to
pierce the mask of their serious, complacent faces. If these ladies
and gentlemen were put into that pit into which he had been looking,
would a single one of them emerge again? But the effort of picturing
them there was too much for him; it was too far--too ridiculously
One particular couple, a large; fine man and wife, who, in the midst
of all the dirt and rumbling hurry, the gloomy, ludicrous, and
desperately jovial streets, walked side by side in well-bred silence,
had evidently bought some article which pleased them. There was
nothing offensive in their manner; they seemed quite unconcerned at
the passing of the other people. The man had that fine solidity of
shoulder and of waist, the glossy self-possession that belongs to
those with horses, guns, and dressing-bags. The wife, her chin
comfortably settled in her fur, kept her grey eyes on the ground,
and, when she spoke, her even and unruffled voice reached Shelton's
ears above all the whirring of the traffic. It was leisurely
precise, as if it had never hurried, had never been exhausted, or
passionate, or afraid. Their talk, like that of many dozens of fine
couples invading London from their country places, was of where to
dine, what theatre they should go to, whom they had seen, what they
should buy. And Shelton knew that from day's end to end, and even in
their bed, these would be the subjects of their conversation. They
were the best-bred people of the sort he met in country houses and
accepted as of course, with a vague discomfort at the bottom of his
soul. Antonia's home, for instance, had been full of them. They
were the best-bred people of the sort who supported charities, knew
everybody, had clear, calm judgment, and intolerance of all such
conduct as seemed to them "impossible," all breaches of morality,
such as mistakes of etiquette, such as dishonesty, passion, sympathy
(except with a canonised class of objects--the legitimate sufferings,
for instance, of their own families and class). How healthy they
were! The memory of the doss-house worked in Shelton's mind like
poison. He was conscious that in his own groomed figure, in the
undemonstrative assurance of his walk, he bore resemblance to the
couple he apostrophised. "Ah!" he thought, "how vulgar our
refinement is!" But he hardly believed in his own outburst. These
people were so well mannered, so well conducted, and so healthy, he
could not really understand what irritated him. What was the matter
with them? They fulfilled their duties, had good appetites, clear
consciences, all the furniture of perfect citizens; they merely
lacked-feelers, a loss that, he had read, was suffered by plants and
animals which no longer had a need for using them. Some rare
national faculty of seeing only the obvious and materially useful had
destroyed their power of catching gleams or scents to right or left.
The lady looked up at her husband. The light of quiet, proprietary
affection shone in her calm grey eyes, decorously illumining her
features slightly reddened by the wind. And the husband looked back
at her, calm, practical, protecting. They were very much alike. So
doubtless he looked when he presented himself in snowy shirt-sleeves
for her to straighten the bow of his white tie; so nightly she would
look, standing before the full-length mirror, fixing his gifts upon
her bosom. Calm, proprietary, kind! He passed them and walked
behind a second less distinguished couple, who manifested a mutual
dislike as matter-of-fact and free from nonsense as the unruffled
satisfaction of the first; this dislike was just as healthy, and
produced in Shelton about the same sensation. It was like knocking
at a never-opened door, looking at a circle--couple after couple all
the same. No heads, toes, angles of their souls stuck out anywhere.
In the sea of their environments they were drowned; no leg braved the
air, no arm emerged wet and naked waving at the skies; shop-persons,
aristocrats, workmen, officials, they were all respectable. And he
himself as respectable as any.
He returned, thus moody, to his rooms and, with the impetuosity which
distinguished him when about to do an unwise thing, he seized a pen
and poured out before Antonia some of his impressions:
. . . . Mean is the word, darling; we are mean, that's what 's the
matter with us, dukes and dustmen, the whole human species--as mean
as caterpillars. To secure our own property and our own comfort, to
dole out our sympathy according to rule just so that it won't really
hurt us, is what we're all after. There's something about human
nature that is awfully repulsive, and the healthier people are, the
more repulsive they seem to me to be . . . .
He paused, biting his pen. Had he one acquaintance who would not
counsel him to see a doctor for writing in that style? How would the
world go round, how could Society exist, without common-sense,
practical ability, and the lack of sympathy?
He looked out of the open window. Down in the street a footman was
settling the rug over the knees of a lady in a carriage, and the
decorous immovability of both their faces, which were clearly visible
to him, was like a portion of some well-oiled engine.
He got up and walked up and down. His rooms, in a narrow square
skirting Belgravia, were unchanged since the death of his father had
made him a man of means. Selected for their centrality, they were
furnished in a very miscellaneous way. They were not bare, but close
inspection revealed that everything was damaged, more or less, and
there was absolutely nothing that seemed to have an interest taken in
it. His goods were accidents, presents, or the haphazard
acquisitions of a pressing need. Nothing, of course, was frowsy, but
everything was somewhat dusty, as if belonging to a man who never
rebuked a servant. Above all, there was nothing that indicated
Three days later he had her answer to his letter:
. . . I don't think I understand what you mean by "the healthier
people are, the more repulsive they seem to be"; one must be healthy
to be perfect, must n't one? I don't like unhealthy people. I had
to play on that wretched piano after reading your letter; it made me
feel unhappy. I've been having a splendid lot of tennis lately, got
the back-handed lifting stroke at last--hurrah! . . .
By the same post, too, came the following note in an autocratic
DEAR BIRD [for this was Shelton's college nickname],
My wife has gone down to her people, so I'm 'en garcon' for a few
days. If you've nothing better to do, come and dine to-night at
seven, and go to the theatre. It's ages since I saw you.
Yours as ever,
B. M. HALIDOME.
Shelton had nothing better to do, for pleasant were his friend
Halidome's well-appointed dinners. At seven, therefore, he went to
Chester Square. His friend was in his study, reading Matthew Arnold
by the light of an electric lamp. The walls of the room were hung
with costly etchings, arranged with solid and unfailing taste; from
the carving of the mantel-piece to the binding of the books, from the
miraculously-coloured meerschaums to the chased fire-irons,
everything displayed an unpretentious luxury, an order and a finish
significant of life completely under rule of thumb. Everything had
been collected. The collector rose as Shelton entered, a fine figure
of a man, clean shaven,--with dark hair, a Roman nose, good eyes, and
the rather weighty dignity of attitude which comes from the assurance
that one is in the right.
Taking Shelton by the lapel, he drew him into the radius of the lamp,
where he examined him, smiling a slow smile. "Glad to see you, old
chap. I rather like your beard," he said with genial brusqueness;
and nothing, perhaps, could better have summed up his faculty for
forming independent judgments which Shelton found so admirable. He
made no apology for the smallness of the dinner, which, consisting of
eight courses and three wines, served by a butler and one footman,
smacked of the same perfection as the furniture; in fact, he never
apologised for anything, except with a jovial brusqueness that was
worse than the offence. The suave and reasonable weight of his
dislikes and his approvals stirred Shelton up to feel ironical and
insignificant; but whether from a sense of the solid, humane, and
healthy quality of his friend's egoism, or merely from the fact that
this friendship had been long in bottle, he did not resent his mixed
"By the way, I congratulate you, old chap," said Halidome, while
driving to the theatre; there was no vulgar hurry about his
congratulations, no more than about himself. "They're awfully nice
people, the Dennants."
A sense of having had a seal put on his choice came over Shelton.
"Where are you going to live? You ought to come down and live near
us; there are some ripping houses to be had down there; it's really a
ripping neighbourhood. Have you chucked the Bar? You ought to do
something, you know; it'll be fatal for you to have nothing to do. I
tell you what, Bird: you ought to stand for the County Council."
But before Shelton had replied they reached the theatre, and their
energies were spent in sidling to their stalls. He had time to pass
his neighbours in review before the play began. Seated next to him
was a lady with large healthy shoulders, displayed with splendid
liberality; beyond her a husband, red-cheeked, with drooping, yellow-
grey moustache and a bald head; beyond him again two men whom he had
known at Eton. One of them had a clean-shaved face, dark hair, and a
weather-tanned complexion; his small mouth with its upper lip pushed
out above the lower, his eyelids a little drooped over his watchful
eyes, gave him a satirical and resolute expression. "I've got hold
of your tail, old fellow," he seemed to say, as though he were always
busy with the catching of some kind of fox. The other's goggling
eyes rested on Shelton with a chaffing smile; his thick, sleek hair,
brushed with water and parted in the middle, his neat moustache and
admirable waistcoat, suggested the sort of dandyism that despises
women. From his recognition of these old schoolfellows Shelton
turned to look at Halidome, who, having cleared his throat, was
staring straight before him at the curtain. Antonia's words kept
running in her lover's head, "I don't like unhealthy people." Well,
all these people, anyway, were healthy; they looked as if they had
defied the elements to endow them with a spark of anything but
health. Just then the curtain rose.
Slowly, unwillingly, for he was of a trustful disposition, Shelton
recognised that this play was one of those masterpieces of the modern
drama whose characters were drawn on the principle that men were made
for morals rather than morals made by men, and he watched the play
unfold with all its careful sandwiching of grave and gay.
A married woman anxious to be ridded of her husband was the pivot of
the story, and a number of scenes, ingeniously contrived, with a
hundred reasons why this desire was wrong and inexpedient, were
revealed to Shelton's eyes. These reasons issued mainly from the
mouth of a well-preserved old gentleman who seemed to play the part
of a sort of Moral Salesman. He turned to Halidome and whispered:
"Can you stand that old woman?"
His friend fixed his fine eyes on him wonderingly.
"What old woman?"
"Why, the old ass with the platitudes!"
Halidome's countenance grew cold, a little shocked, as though he had
been assailed in person.
"Do you mean Pirbright?" he said. "I think he's ripping."
Shelton turned to the play rebuffed; he felt guilty of a breach of
manners, sitting as he was in one of his friend's stalls, and he
naturally set to work to watch the play more critically than ever.
Antonia's words again recurred to him, "I don't like unhealthy
people," and they seemed to throw a sudden light upon this play. It
The scene was a drawing-room, softly lighted by electric lamps, with
a cat (Shelton could not decide whether she was real or not) asleep
upon the mat.
The husband, a thick-set, healthy man in evening dress, was drinking
off neat whisky. He put down his tumbler, and deliberately struck a
match; then with even greater deliberation he lit a gold-tipped
Shelton was no inexperienced play-goer. He shifted his elbows, for
he felt that something was about to happen; and when the match was
pitched into the fire, he leaned forward in his seat. The husband
poured more whisky out, drank it at a draught, and walked towards the
door; then, turning to the audience as if to admit them to the secret
of some tremendous resolution, he puffed at them a puff of smoke. He
left the room, returned, and once more filled his glass. A lady now
entered, pale of face and dark of eye--his wife. The husband crossed
the stage, and stood before the fire, his legs astride, in the
attitude which somehow Shelton had felt sure he would assume. He
"Come in, and shut the door."
Shelton suddenly perceived that he was face to face with one of those
dumb moments in which two people declare their inextinguishable
hatred --the hatred underlying the sexual intimacy of two ill-
assorted creatures--and he was suddenly reminded of a scene he had
once witnessed in a restaurant. He remembered with extreme
minuteness how the woman and the man had sat facing each other across
the narrow patch of white, emblazoned by a candle with cheap shades
and a thin green vase with yellow flowers. He remembered the curious
scornful anger of their voices, subdued so that only a few words
reached him. He remembered the cold loathing in their eyes. And,
above all, he remembered his impression that this sort of scene
happened between them every other day, and would continue so to
happen; and as he put on his overcoat and paid his bill he had asked
himself, "Why in the name of decency do they go on living together?"
And now he thought, as he listened to the two players wrangling on
the stage: "What 's the good of all this talk? There's something
here past words."
The curtain came down upon the act, and he looked at the lady next
him. She was shrugging her shoulders at her husband, whose face was
healthy and offended.
"I do dislike these unhealthy women," he was saying, but catching
Shelton's eye he turned square in his seat and sniffed ironically.
The face of Shelton's friend beyond, composed, satirical as ever, was
clothed with a mask of scornful curiosity, as if he had been
listening to something that had displeased him not a little. The
goggle-eyed man was yawning. Shelton turned to Halidome:
"Can you stand this sort of thing?" said he.
"No; I call that scene a bit too hot," replied his friend.
Shelton wriggled; he had meant to say it was not hot enough.
"I'll bet you anything," he said, "I know what's going to happen now.
You'll have that old ass--what's his name?--lunching off cutlets and
champagne to fortify himself--for a lecture to the wife. He'll show
her how unhealthy her feelings are--I know him--and he'll take her
hand and say, 'Dear lady, is there anything in this poor world but
the good opinion of Society?' and he'll pretend to laugh at himself
for saying it; but you'll see perfectly well that the old woman means
it. And then he'll put her into a set of circumstances that are n't
her own but his version of them, and show her the only way of
salvation is to kiss her husband"; and Shelton grinned. "Anyway,
I'll bet you anything he takes her hand and says, 'Dear lady.'"
Halidome turned on him the disapproval of his eyes, and again he
"I think Pirbright 's ripping!"
But as Shelton had predicted, so it turned out, amidst great
CHAPTER V. THE GOOD CITIZEN
Leaving the theatre, they paused a moment in the hall to don their
coats; a stream of people with spotless bosoms eddied round the
doors, as if in momentary dread of leaving this hothouse of false
morals and emotions for the wet, gusty streets, where human plants
thrive and die, human weeds flourish and fade under the fresh,
impartial skies. The lights revealed innumerable solemn faces,
gleamed innumerably on jewels, on the silk of hats, then passed to
whiten a pavement wet with newly-fallen rain, to flare on horses, on
the visages of cabmen, and stray, queer objects that do not bear the
"Shall we walk?" asked Halidome.
"Has it ever struck you," answered Shelton, "that in a play nowadays
there's always a 'Chorus of Scandalmongers' which seems to have
acquired the attitude of God?"
Halidome cleared his throat, and there was something portentous in
"You're so d---d fastidious," was his answer.
"I've a prejudice for keeping the two things separate," went on
Shelton. "That ending makes me sick."
"Why?" replied Halidome. "What other end is possible? You don't
want a play to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth."
"But this does."
Halidome increased his stride, already much too long; for in his
walk, as in all other phases of his life, he found it necessary to be
"How do you mean?" he asked urbanely; "it's better than the woman
making a fool of herself."
"I'm thinking of the man."
"What 's the matter with him? He was a bit of a bounder, certainly."
"I can't understand any man wanting to live with a woman who doesn't
Some note of battle in Shelton's voice, rather than the sentiment
itself, caused his friend to reply with dignity:
"There's a lot of nonsense talked about that sort of thing. Women
don't really care; it's only what's put into their heads."
"That's much the same as saying to a starving man: 'You don't really
want anything; it's only what's put into your head!' You are begging
the question, my friend."
But nothing was more calculated to annoy Halidome than to tell him he
was "begging the question," for he prided himself on being strong in
"That be d---d," he said.
"Not at all, old chap. Here is a case where a woman wants her
freedom, and you merely answer that she dogs n't want it."
"Women like that are impossible; better leave them out of court."
Shelton pondered this and smiled; he had recollected an acquaintance
of his own, who, when his wife had left him, invented the theory that
she was mad, and this struck him now as funny. But then he thought:
"Poor devil! he was bound to call her mad! If he didn't, it would
be confessing himself distasteful; however true, you can't expect a
man to consider himself that." But a glance at his friend's eye
warned him that he, too, might think his wife mad in such a case.
"Surely," he said, "even if she's his wife, a man's bound to behave
like a gentleman."
"Depends on whether she behaves like a lady."
"Does it? I don't see the connection."
Halidome paused in the act of turning the latch-key in his door;
there was a rather angry smile in his fine eyes.
"My dear chap," he said, "you're too sentimental altogether."
The word "sentimental" nettled Shelton. "A gentleman either is a
gentleman or he is n't; what has it to do with the way other people
Halidome turned the key in the lock and opened the door into his
hall, where the firelight fell on the decanters and huge chairs drawn
towards the blaze.
"No, Bird," he said, resuming his urbanity, and gathering his coat-
tails in his hands; "it's all very well to talk, but wait until
you're married. A man must be master, and show it, too."
An idea occurred to Shelton.
"Look here, Hal," he said: "what should you do if your wife got tired
The expression on Halidome's face was a mixture of amusement and
"I don't mean anything personal, of course, but apply the situation
Halidome took out a toothpick, used it brusquely, and responded:
"I shouldn't stand any humbug--take her travelling; shake her mind
up. She'd soon come round."
"But suppose she really loathed you?"
Halidome cleared his throat; the idea was so obviously indecent. How
could anybody loathe him? With great composure, however, regarding
Shelton as if he were a forward but amusing child, he answered:
"There are a great many things to be taken into consideration."
"It appears to me," said Shelton, "to be a question of common pride.
How can you, ask anything of a woman who doesn't want to give it.
His friend's voice became judicial.
"A man ought not to suffer," he said, poring over his whisky,
"because a woman gets hysteria. You have to think of Society, your
children, house, money arrangements, a thousand things. It's all
very well to talk. How do you like this whisky?"
"The part of the good citizen, in fact," said Shelton, "self-
"Common-sense," returned his friend; "I believe in justice before
sentiment." He drank, and callously blew smoke at Shelton.
"Besides, there are many people with religious views about it."
"It's always seemed to me," said Shelton, "to be quaint that people
should assert that marriage gives them the right to 'an eye for an
eye,' and call themselves Christians. Did you ever know anybody
stand on their rights except out of wounded pride or for the sake of
their own comfort? Let them call their reasons what they like, you
know as well as I do that it's cant."
"I don't know about that," said Halidome, more and more superior as
Shelton grew more warm; "when you stand on your rights, you do it for
the sake of Society as well as for your own. If you want to do away
with marriage, why don't you say so?"
"But I don't," said Shelton:" is it likely? Why, I'm going---" He
stopped without adding the words "to be married myself," for it
suddenly occurred to him that the reason was not the most lofty and
philosophic in the world. "All I can say is," he went on soberly,
"that you can't make a horse drink by driving him. Generosity is the
surest way of tightening the knot with people who've any sense of
decency; as to the rest, the chief thing is to prevent their
"You're a rum chap," he said.
Shelton jerked his cigarette into the fire.
"I tell you what"--for late at night a certain power of vision came
to him--"it's humbug to talk of doing things for the sake of Society;
it's nothing but the instinct to keep our own heads above the water."
But Halidome remained unruffled.
"All right," he said, "call it that. I don't see why I should go to
the wall; it wouldn't do any good."
"You admit, then," said Shelton, "that our morality is the sum total
of everybody's private instinct of self-preservation?"
Halidome stretched his splendid frame and yawned.
"I don't know," he began, "that I should quite call it that--"
But the compelling complacency of his fine eyes, the dignified
posture of his healthy body, the lofty slope of his narrow forehead,
the perfectly humane look of his cultivated brutality, struck Shelton
"Hang it, Hall" he cried, jumping from his chair, "what an old fraud
you are! I'll be off."
"No, look here!" said Halidome; the faintest shade of doubt had
appeared upon his face; he took Shelton by a lapel: "You're quite
"Very likely; good-night, old chap!"
Shelton walked home, letting the spring wind into him. It was
Saturday, and he passed many silent couples. In every little patch
of shadow he could see two forms standing or sitting close together,
and in their presence Words the Impostors seemed to hold their
tongues. The wind rustled the buds; the stars, one moment bright as
diamonds, vanished the next. In the lower streets a large part of
the world was under the influence of drink, but by this Shelton was
far from being troubled. It seemed better than Drama, than dressing-
bagged men, unruffled women, and padded points of view, better than
the immaculate solidity of his friend's possessions.
"So," he reflected, "it's right for every reason, social, religious,
and convenient, to inflict one's society where it's not desired.
There are obviously advantages about the married state; charming to
feel respectable while you're acting in a way that in any other walk
of life would bring on you contempt. If old Halidome showed that he
was tired of me, and I continued to visit him, he'd think me a bit of
a cad; but if his wife were to tell him she couldn't stand him, he'd
still consider himself a perfect gentleman if he persisted in giving
her the burden of his society; and he has the cheek to bring religion
into it--a religion that says, 'Do unto others!'"
But in this he was unjust to Halidome, forgetting how impossible it
was for him to believe that a woman could not stand him. He reached
his rooms, and, the more freely to enjoy the clear lamplight, the
soft, gusty breeze, and waning turmoil of the streets, waited a
moment before entering.
"I wonder," thought he, "if I shall turn out a cad when I marry, like
that chap in the play. It's natural. We all want our money's worth,
our pound of -flesh! Pity we use such fine words--'Society,
Religion, Morality.' Humbug!"
He went in, and, throwing his window open, remained there a long
time, his figure outlined against the lighted room for the benefit of
the dark square below, his hands in his pockets, his head down, a
reflective frown about his eyes. A half-intoxicated old ruffian, a
policeman, and a man in a straw hat had stopped below, and were
holding a palaver.
"Yus," the old ruffian said, "I'm a rackety old blank; but what I say
is, if we wus all alike, this would n't be a world!"
They went their way, and before the listener's eyes there rose
Antonia's face, with its unruffled brow; Halidome's, all health and
dignity; the forehead of the goggle-eyed man, with its line of hair
parted in the centre, and brushed across. A light seemed to illumine
the plane of their existence, as the electric lamp with the green
shade had illumined the pages of the Matthew Arnold; serene before
Shelton's vision lay that Elysium, untouched by passion or extremes
of any kind, autocratic; complacent, possessive, and well-kept as any
Midland landscape. Healthy, wealthy, wise! No room but for
perfection, self-preservation, the survival of the fittest! "The
part of the good citizen," he thought: "no, if we were all alike,
this would n't be a world!"
CHAPTER VI. MARRIAGE SETTLEMENT
My dear Richard" (wrote Shelton's uncle the next day), "I shall be
glad to see you at three o'clock to-morrow afternoon upon the
question of your marriage settlement...." At that hour accordingly
Shelton made his way to Lincoln's Inn Fields, where in fat black
letters the names "Paramor and Herring (Commissioners for Oaths)"
were written on the wall of a stone entrance. He ascended the solid
steps with nervousness, and by a small red-haired boy was introduced
to a back room on the first floor. Here, seated at a table in the
very centre, as if he thereby better controlled his universe, a pug-
featured gentleman, without a beard, was writing. He paused.
"Ow, Mr. Richard!" he said; "glad to see you, sir. Take a chair.
Your uncle will be disengaged in 'arf a minute"; and in the tone of
his allusion to his employer was the satirical approval that comes
with long and faithful service. "He will do everything himself," he
went on, screwing up his sly, greenish, honest eyes, "and he 's not a
Shelton never saw his uncle's clerk without marvelling at the
prosperity deepening upon his face. In place of the look of
harassment which on most faces begins to grow after the age of fifty,
his old friend's countenance, as though in sympathy with the nation,
had expanded--a little greasily, a little genially, a little
coarsely--every time he met it. A contemptuous tolerance for people
who were not getting on was spreading beneath its surface; it left
each time a deeper feeling that its owner could never be in the
"I hope you're well, sir," he resumed: "most important for you to
have your health now you're going-to"--and, feeling for the delicate
way to put it, he involuntarily winked--"to become a family man. We
saw it in the paper. My wife said to me the other morning at
breakfast: 'Bob, here's a Mr. Richard Paramor Shelton goin' to be
married. Is that any relative of your Mr. Shelton?' ' My dear,' I
said to her, ' it's the very man!'"
It disquieted Shelton to perceive that his old friend did not pass
the whole of his life at that table writing in the centre of the
room, but that somewhere (vistas of little grey houses rose before
his eyes) he actually lived another life where someone called him
"Bob." Bob! And this, too, was a revelation. Bob! Why, of course,
it was the only name for him! A bell rang.
"That's your uncle"; and again the head clerk's voice sounded
ironical. "Good-bye, sir."
He seemed to clip off intercourse as one clips off electric light.
Shelton left him writing, and preceded the red-haired boy to an
enormous room in the front where his uncle waited.
Edmund Paramor was a medium-sized and upright man of seventy, whose
brown face was perfectly clean-shaven. His grey, silky hair was
brushed in a cock's comb from his fine forehead, bald on the left
side. He stood before the hearth facing the room, and his figure had
the springy abruptness of men who cannot fatten. There was a certain
youthfulness, too, in his eyes, yet they had a look as though he had
been through fire; and his mouth curled at the corners in surprising
smiles. The room was like the man--morally large, void of red-tape
and almost void of furniture; no tin boxes were ranged against the
walls, no papers littered up the table; a single bookcase contained a
complete edition of the law reports, and resting on the Law Directory
was a single red rose in a glass of water. It looked the room of one
with a sober magnanimity, who went to the heart of things, despised
haggling, and before whose smiles the more immediate kinds of humbug
"Well, Dick," said he, "how's your mother?"
Shelton replied that his mother was all right.
"Tell her that I'm going to sell her Easterns after all, and put into
this Brass thing. You can say it's safe, from me."
Shelton made a face.
"Mother," said he, "always believes things are safe."
His uncle looked through him with his keen, half-suffering glance,
and up went the corners of his mouth.
"She's splendid," he said.
"Yes," said Shelton, "splendid."
The transaction, however, did not interest him; his uncle's judgment
in such matters had a breezy soundness he would never dream of
"Well, about your settlement"; and, touching a bell three times, Mr.
Paramor walked up and down the room. "Bring me the draft of Mr.
Richard's marriage settlement."
The stalwart commissionaire reappearing with a document--"Now then,
Dick," said Mr. Paramor. "She 's not bringing anything into
settlement, I understand; how 's that?"
"I did n't want it," replied Shelton, unaccountably ashamed.
Mr. Paramor's lips quivered; he drew the draft closer, took up a blue
pencil, and, squeezing Shelton's arm, began to read. The latter,
following his uncle's rapid exposition of the clauses, was relieved
when he paused suddenly.
"If you die and she marries again," said Mr. Paramor, "she forfeits
her life interest--see?"
"Oh!" said Shelton; "wait a minute, Uncle Ted."
Mr. Paramor waited, biting his pencil; a smile flickered on his
mouth, and was decorously subdued. It was Shelton's turn to walk
"If she marries again," he repeated to himself.
Mr. Paramor was a keen fisherman; he watched his nephew as he might
have watched a fish he had just landed.
"It's very usual," he remarked.
Shelton took another turn.
"She forfeits," thought he; "exactly."
When he was dead, he would have no other way of seeing that she
continued to belong to him. Exactly!
Mr. Paramor's haunting eyes were fastened on his nephew's face.
"Well, my dear," they seemed to say, "what 's the matter?"
Exactly! Why should she have his money if she married again? She
would forfeit it. There was comfort in the thought. Shelton came
back and carefully reread the clause, to put the thing on a purely
business basis, and disguise the real significance of what was
passing in his mind.
"If I die and she marries again," he repeated aloud, "she forfeits."
What wiser provision for a man passionately in love could possibly
have been devised? His uncle's eye travelled beyond him, humanely
turning from the last despairing wriggles of his fish.
"I don't want to tie her," said Shelton suddenly.
The corners of Mr. Paramour's mouth flew up.
"You want the forfeiture out?" he asked.
The blood rushed into Shelton's face; he felt he had been detected in
a piece of sentiment.
"Ye-es," he stammered.
"Quite!" The answer was a little sulky.
Her uncle's pencil descended on the clause, and he resumed the
reading of the draft, but Shelton could not follow it; he was too
much occupied in considering exactly why Mr. Paramor had been amused,
and to do this he was obliged to keep his eyes upon him. Those
features, just pleasantly rugged; the springy poise of the figure;
the hair neither straight nor curly, neither short nor long; the
haunting look of his eyes and the humorous look of his mouth; his
clothes neither shabby nor dandified; his serviceable, fine hands;
above all, the equability of the hovering blue pencil, conveyed the
impression of a perfect balance between heart and head, sensibility
and reason, theory and its opposite.
"'During coverture,'" quoted Mr. Paramor, pausing again, "you
understand, of course, if you don't get on, and separate, she goes on
If they didn't get on! Shelton smiled. Mr. Paramor did not smile,
and again Shelton had the sense of having knocked up against
something poised but firm. He remarked irritably:
"If we 're not living together, all the more reason for her having
This time his uncle smiled. It was difficult for Shelton to feel
angry at that ironic merriment, with its sudden ending; it was too
impersonal to irritate: it was too concerned with human nature.
"If--hum--it came to the other thing," said Mr. Paramor, "the
settlement's at an end as far as she 's concerned. We 're bound to
look at every case, you know, old boy."
The memory of the play and his conversation with Halidome was still
strong in Shelton. He was not one of those who could not face the
notion of transferred affections--at a safe distance.
"All right, Uncle Ted," said he. For one mad moment he was attacked
by the desire to "throw in" the case of divorce. Would it not be
common chivalry to make her independent, able to change her
affections if she wished, unhampered by monetary troubles? You only
needed to take out the words "during coverture."
Almost anxiously he looked into his uncle's face. There was no
meanness there, but neither was there encouragement in that
comprehensive brow with its wide sweep of hair. "Quixotism," it
seemed to say, "has merits, but--" The room, too, with its wide
horizon and tall windows, looking as if it dealt habitually in
common-sense, discouraged him. Innumerable men of breeding and the
soundest principles must have bought their wives in here. It was
perfumed with the atmosphere of wisdom and law-calf. The aroma of
Precedent was strong; Shelton swerved his lance, and once more
settled down to complete the purchase of his wife.
"I can't conceive what you're--in such a hurry for; you 're not going
to be married till the autumn," said Mr. Paramor, finishing at last.
Replacing the blue pencil in the rack, he took the red rose from the
glass, and sniffed at it. "Will you come with me as far as Pall
Mall? I 'm going to take an afternoon off; too cold for Lord's, I
They walked into the Strand.
"Have you seen this new play of Borogrove's?" asked Shelton, as they
passed the theatre to which he had been with Halidome.
"I never go to modern plays," replied Mr. Paramor; " too d---d
Shelton glanced at him; he wore his hat rather far back on his head,
his eyes haunted the street in front; he had shouldered his umbrella.
"Psychology 's not in your line, Uncle Ted?"
"Is that what they call putting into words things that can't be put
"The French succeed in doing it," replied Shelton, and the Russians;
why should n't we?"
Mr. Paramor stopped to look in at a fishmonger's.
"What's right for the French and Russians, Dick," he said "is wrong
for us. When we begin to be real, we only really begin to be false.
I should like to have had the catching of that fellow; let's send him
to your mother." He went in and bought a salmon:
"Now, my dear," he continued, as they went on, "do you tell me that
it's decent for men and women on the stage to writhe about like eels?
Is n't life bad enough already?"
It suddenly struck Shelton that, for all his smile, his uncle's face
had a look of crucifixion. It was, perhaps, only the stronger
sunlight in the open spaces of Trafalgar Square.
"I don't know," he said; "I think I prefer the truth."
"Bad endings and the rest," said Mr. Paramor, pausing under one of
Nelson's lions and taking Shelton by a button. "Truth 's the very
He stood there, very straight, his eyes haunting his nephew's face;
there seemed to Shelton a touching muddle in his optimism--a muddle
of tenderness and of intolerance, of truth and second-handedness.
Like the lion above him, he seemed to be defying Life to make him
look at her.
"No, my dear," he said, handing sixpence to a sweeper; "feelings are
snakes! only fit to be kept in bottles with tight corks. You won't
come to my club? Well, good-bye, old boy; my love to your mother
when you see her"; and turning up the Square, he left Shelton to go
on to his own club, feeling that he had parted, not from his uncle,
but from the nation of which they were both members by birth and
blood and education.
CHAPTER VII. THE CLUB
He went into the library of his club, and took up Burke's Peerage.
The words his uncle had said to him on hearing his engagement had
been these: "Dennant! Are those the Holm Oaks Dennants ? She was a
No one who knew Mr. Paramor connected him with snobbery, but there
had been an "Ah! that 's right; this is due to us" tone about the
Shelton hunted for the name of Baltimore: "Charles Penguin, fifth
Baron Baltimore. Issue: Alice, b. 184-, m. 186- Algernon Dennant,
Esq., of Holm Oaks, Cross Eaton, Oxfordshire." He put down the
Peerage and took up the 'Landed Gentry': "Dennant, Algernon Cuffe,
eldest son of the late Algernon Cuffe Dennant, Esq., J. P., and
Irene, 2nd daur. of the Honble. Philip and Lady Lillian March Mallow;
ed. Eton and Ch. Ch., Oxford, J. P. for Oxfordshire. Residence, Holm
Oaks," etc., etc. Dropping the 'Landed Gentry', he took up a volume
of the 'Arabian Nights', which some member had left reposing on the
book-rest of his chair, but instead of reading he kept looking round
the room. In almost every seat, reading or snoozing, were gentlemen
who, in their own estimation, might have married Penguins. For the
first time it struck him with what majestic leisureliness they turned
the pages of their books, trifled with their teacups, or lightly
snored. Yet no two were alike--a tall man-with dark moustache, thick
hair, and red, smooth cheeks; another, bald, with stooping shoulders;
a tremendous old buck, with a grey, pointed beard and large white
waistcoat; a clean-shaven dapper man past middle age, whose face was
like a bird's; a long, sallow, misanthrope; and a sanguine creature
fast asleep. Asleep or awake, reading or snoring, fat or thin, hairy
or bald, the insulation of their red or pale faces was complete.
They were all the creatures of good form. Staring at them or reading
the Arabian Nights Shelton spent the time before dinner. He had not
been long seated in the dining-room when a distant connection
strolled up and took the next table.
"Ah, Shelton! Back? Somebody told me you were goin' round the
world." He scrutinised the menu through his eyeglass. "Clear soup!
. . . Read Jellaby's speech? Amusing the way he squashes all
those fellows. Best man in the House, he really is."
Shelton paused in the assimilation of asparagus; he, too, had been in
the habit of admiring Jellaby, but now he wondered why. The red and
shaven face beside him above a broad, pure shirt-front was swollen by
good humour; his small, very usual, and hard eyes were fixed
introspectively on the successful process of his eating.
"Success!" thought Shelton, suddenly enlightened--"success is what
we admire in Jellaby. We all want success . . . . Yes," he
admitted, "a successful beast."
"Oh!" said his neighbour, "I forgot. You're in the other camp?"
"Not particularly. Where did you get that idea?"
His neighbour looked round negligently.
"Oh," said he, "I somehow thought so"; and Shelton almost heard him
adding, "There's something not quite sound about you."
"Why do you admire Jellaby?" he asked.
"Knows his own mind," replied his neighbour; "it 's more than the
others do . . . . This whitebait is n't fit for cats! Clever
fellow, Jellaby! No nonsense about him! Have you ever heard him
speak? Awful good sport to watch him sittin' on the Opposition. A
poor lot they are!" and he laughed, either from appreciation of
Jellaby sitting on a small minority, or from appreciation of the
champagne bubbles in his glass.
"Minorities are always depressing," said Shelton dryly.
"I mean," said Shelton, "it's irritating to look at people who have
n't a chance of success--fellows who make a mess of things, fanatics,
and all that."
His neighbour turned his eyes inquisitively.
"Er--yes, quite," said he; " don't you take mint sauce? It's the
best part of lamb, I always think."
The great room with its countless little tables, arranged so that
every man might have the support of the gold walls to his back, began
to regain its influence on Shelton. How many times had he not sat
there, carefully nodding to acquaintances, happy if he got the table
he was used to, a paper with the latest racing, and someone to gossip
with who was not a bounder; while the sensation of having drunk
enough stole over him. Happy! That is, happy as a horse is happy
who never leaves his stall.
"Look at poor little Bing puffin' about," said his neighbour,
pointing to a weazened, hunchy waiter. "His asthma's awf'ly bad; you
can hear him wheezin' from the street."
He seemed amused.
"There 's no such thing as moral asthma, I suppose?" said Shelton.
His neighbour dropped his eyeglass.
"Here, take this away; it's overdone;" said he. "Bring me some
Shelton pushed his table back.
"Good-night," he said; "the Stilton's excellent!"
His neighbour raised his brows, and dropped his eyes again upon his
In the hall Shelton went from force of habit to the weighing-scales
and took his weight. "Eleven stone!" he thought; "gone up!" and,
clipping a cigar, he sat down in the smoking-room with a novel.
After half an hour he dropped the book. There seemed something
rather fatuous about this story, for though it had a thrilling plot,
and was full of well-connected people, it had apparently been
contrived to throw no light on anything whatever. He looked at the
author's name; everyone was highly recommending it. He began
thinking, and staring at the fire . . . .
Looking up, he saw Antonia's second brother, a young man in the
Rifles, bending over him with sunny cheeks and lazy smile, clearly
just a little drunk.
"Congratulate you, old chap! I say, what made you grow that
"Pillbottle of the Duchess!" read young Dennant, taking up the book.
"You been reading that? Rippin', is n't it?"
"Oh, ripping!" replied Shelton.
"Rippin' plot! When you get hold of a novel you don't want any rot
about--what d'you call it?--psychology, you want to be amused."
"Rather!" murmured Shelton.
"That's an awfully good bit where the President steals her diamonds
There's old Benjy! Hallo, Benjy!"
"Hallo, Bill, old man!"
This Benjy was a young, clean-shaven creature, whose face and voice
and manner were a perfect blend of steel and geniality.
In addition to this young man who was so smooth and hard and cheery,
a grey, short-bearded gentleman, with misanthropic eyes, called
Stroud, came up; together with another man of Shelton's age, with a
moustache and a bald patch the size of a crown-piece, who might be
seen in the club any night of the year when there was no racing out
of reach of London.
"You know," began young Dennant, "that this bounder"--he slapped the
young man Benjy on the knee--"is going to be spliced to-morrow. Miss
Casserol--you know the Casserols--Muncaster Gate."
"By Jove!" said Shelton, delighted to be able to say something they
"Young Champion's the best man, and I 'm the second best. I tell you
what, old chap, you 'd better come with me and get your eye in; you
won't get such another chance of practice. Benjy 'll give you a
"Delighted!" murmured Benjy.
"Where is it?"
"St. Briabas; two-thirty. Come and see how they do the trick. I'll
call for you at one; we'll have some lunch and go together"; again he
patted Benjy's knee.
Shelton nodded his assent; the piquant callousness of the affair had
made him shiver, and furtively he eyed the steely Benjy, whose
suavity had never wavered, and who appeared to take a greater
interest in some approaching race than in his coming marriage. But
Shelton knew from his own sensations that this could not really be
the case; it was merely a question of "good form," the conceit of a
superior breeding, the duty not to give oneself away. And when in
turn he marked the eyes of Stroud fixed on Benjy, under shaggy brows,
and the curious greedy glances of the racing man, he felt somehow
sorry for him.
"Who 's that fellow with the game leg--I'm always seeing him about?"
asked the racing man.
And Shelton saw a sallow man, conspicuous for a want of parting in
his hair and a certain restlessness of attitude.
"His name is Bayes," said Stroud; "spends half his time among the
Chinese--must have a grudge against them! And now he 's got his leg
he can't go there any more."
"Chinese? What does he do to them?"
"Bibles or guns. Don't ask me! An adventurer."
"Looks a bit of a bounder," said the racing man.
Shelton gazed at the twitching eyebrows of old Stroud; he saw at once
how it must annoy a man who had a billet in the "Woods and Forests,"
and plenty of time for "bridge" and gossip at his club, to see these
people with untidy lives. A minute later the man with the "game leg"
passed close behind his chair, and Shelton perceived at once how
intelligible the resentment of his fellow-members was. He had eyes
which, not uncommon in this country, looked like fires behind steel
bars; he seemed the very kind of man to do all sorts of things that
were "bad form," a man who might even go as far as chivalry. He
looked straight at Shelton, and his uncompromising glance gave an
impression of fierce loneliness; altogether, an improper person to
belong to such. a club. Shelton remembered the words of an old
friend of his father's: "Yes, Dick, all sorts of fellows belong here,
and they come here for all sorts o' reasons, and a lot of em come
because they've nowhere else to go, poor beggars"; and, glancing from
the man with the "game leg" to Stroud, it occurred to Shelton that
even he, old Stroud, might be one of these poor beggars. One never
knew! A look at Benjy, contained and cheery, restored him. Ah, the
lucky devil! He would not have to come here any more! and the
thought of the last evening he himself would be spending before long
flooded his mind with a sweetness that was almost pain.
"Benjy, I'll play you a hundred up!" said young Bill Dennant.
Stroud and the racing man went to watch the game; Shelton was left
once more to reverie.
"Good form!" thought he; "that fellow must be made of steel. They'll
go on somewhere; stick about half the night playing poker, or some
He crossed over to the window. Rain had begun to fall; the streets
looked wild and draughty. The cabmen were putting on their coats.
Two women scurried by, huddled under one umbrella, and a thin-
clothed, dogged-looking scarecrow lounged past with a surly,
desperate step. Shelton, returning to his chair, threaded his way
amongst his fellow-members. A procession of old school and college
friends came up before his eyes. After all, what had there been in
his own education, or theirs, to give them any other standard than
this "good form"? What had there been to teach them anything of
life? Their imbecility was incredible when you came to think of it.
They had all the air of knowing everything, and really they knew
nothing--nothing of Nature, Art, or the Emotions; nothing of the
bonds that bind all men together. Why, even such words were not
"good form"; nothing outside their little circle was "good form."
They had a fixed point of view over life because they came of certain
schools, and colleges, and regiments! And they were those in charge
of the state, of laws, and science, of the army, and religion. Well,
it was their system--the system not to start too young, to form
healthy fibre, and let the after-life develop it!
"Successful!" he thought, nearly stumbling over a pair of patent-
leather boots belonging to a moon-faced, genial-looking member with
gold nose-nippers; "oh, it 's successful!"
Somebody came and picked up from the table the very volume which had
originally inspired this train of thought, and Shelton could see his
solemn pleasure as he read. In the white of his eye there was a
torpid and composed abstraction. There was nothing in that book to
startle him or make him think.
The moon-faced member with the patent boots came up and began talking
of his recent visit to the south of France. He had a scandalous
anecdote or two to tell, and his broad face beamed behind his gold
nose-nippers; he was a large man with such a store of easy, worldly
humour that it was impossible not to appreciate his gossip, he gave
so perfect an impression of enjoying life, and doing himself well.
"Well, good-night!" he murmured--" An engagement!"--and the
certainty he left behind that his engagement must be charming and
illicit was pleasant to the soul.
And, slowly taking up his glass, Shelton drank; the sense of well-
being was upon him. His superiority to these his fellow-members
soothed him. He saw through all the sham of this club life, the
meanness of this worship of success, the sham of kid-gloved
novelists, "good form," and the terrific decency of our education.
It was soothing thus to see through things, soothing thus to be
superior; and from the soft recesses of his chair he puffed out smoke
and stretched his limbs toward the fire; and the fire burned back at
him with a discreet and venerable glow.
CHAPTER VIII. THE WEDDING
Puncutal to his word, Bill Dennant called for Shelton at one o'clock.
"I bet old Benjy's feeling a bit cheap," said he, as they got out of
their cab at the church door and passed between the crowded files of
unelect, whose eyes, so curious and pitiful, devoured them from the
The ashen face of a woman, with a baby in her arms and two more by
her side, looked as eager as if she had never experienced the pangs
of ragged matrimony. Shelton went in inexplicably uneasy; the price
of his tie was their board and lodging for a week. He followed his
future brother-in-law to a pew on the bridegroom's side, for, with
intuitive perception of the sexes' endless warfare, each of the
opposing parties to this contract had its serried battalion, the
arrows of whose suspicion kept glancing across and across the central
Bill Dennant's eyes began to twinkle.
"There's old Benjy!" he whispered; and Shelton looked at the hero of
the day. A subdued pallor was traceable under the weathered
uniformity of his shaven face; but the well-bred, artificial smile he
bent upon the guests had its wonted steely suavity. About his dress
and his neat figure was that studied ease which lifts men from the
ruck of common bridegrooms. There were no holes in his armour
through which the impertinent might pry.
"Good old Benjy!" whispered young Dennant; "I say, they look a bit
short of class, those Casserols."
Shelton, who was acquainted with this family, smiled. The sensuous
sanctity all round had begun to influence him. A perfume of flowers
and dresses fought with the natural odour of the church; the rustle
of whisperings and skirts struck through the native silence of the
aisles, and Shelton idly fixed his eyes on a lady in the pew in
front; without in the least desiring to make a speculation of this
sort, he wondered whether her face was as charming as the lines of
her back in their delicate, skin-tight setting of pearl grey; his
glance wandered to the chancel with its stacks of flowers, to the
grave, business faces of the presiding priests, till the organ began
rolling out the wedding march.
"They're off!" whispered young Dermant.
Shelton was conscious of a shiver running through the audience which
reminded him of a bullfight he had seen in Spain. The bride came
slowly up the aisle. "Antonia will look like that," he thought, "and
the church will be filled with people like this . . . . She'll be
a show to them!" The bride was opposite him now, and by an instinct
of common chivalry he turned away his eyes; it seemed to him a shame
to look at that downcast head above the silver mystery of her perfect
raiment; the modest head full, doubtless, of devotion and pure
yearnings; the stately head where no such thought as "How am I
looking, this day of all days, before all London?" had ever entered;
the proud head, which no such fear as "How am I carrying it off?"
could surely be besmirching.
He saw below the surface of this drama played before his eyes, and
set his face, as a man might who found himself assisting at a
sacrifice. The words fell, unrelenting, on his ears: "For better,
for worse, for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health--" and
opening the Prayer Book he found the Marriage Service, which he had
not looked at since he was a boy, and as he read he had some very
All this would soon be happening to himself! He went on reading in a
kind of stupor, until aroused by his companion whispering, "No luck!"
All around there rose a rustling of skirts; he saw a tall figure
mount the pulpit and stand motionless. Massive and high-featured,
sunken of eye, he towered, in snowy cambric and a crimson stole,
above the blackness of his rostrum; it seemed he had been chosen for
his beauty. Shelton was still gazing at the stitching of his gloves,
when once again the organ played the Wedding March. All were
smiling, and a few were weeping, craning their heads towards the
bride. "Carnival of second-hand emotions!" thought Shelton; and he,
too, craned his head and brushed his hat. Then, smirking at his
friends, he made his way towards the door.
In the Casserols' house he found himself at last going round the
presents with the eldest Casserol surviving, a tall girl in pale
violet, who had been chief bridesmaid.
"Did n't it go off well, Mr. Shelton?" she was saying
"I always think it's so awkward for the man waiting up there for the
bride to come."
"Yes," murmured Shelton.
"Don't you think it's smart, the bridesmaids having no hats?"
Shelton had not noticed this improvement, but he agreed.
"That was my idea; I think it 's very chic. They 've had fifteen
tea-sets-so dull, is n't it?"
"By Jove!" Shelton hastened to remark.
"Oh, its fearfully useful to have a lot of things you don't want; of
course, you change them for those you do."
The whole of London seemed to have disgorged its shops into this
room; he looked at Miss Casserol's face, and was greatly struck by
the shrewd acquisitiveness of her small eyes.
"Is that your future brother-in-law?" she asked, pointing to Bill
Dennant with a little movement of her chin; "I think he's such a
bright boy. I want you both to come to dinner, and help to keep
things jolly. It's so deadly after a wedding."
And Shelton said they would.
They adjourned to the hall now, to wait for the bride's departure.
Her face as she came down the stairs was impassive, gay, with a
furtive trouble in the eyes, and once more Shelton had the odd
sensation of having sinned against his manhood. Jammed close to him
was her old nurse, whose puffy, yellow face was pouting with emotion,
while tears rolled from her eyes. She was trying to say something,
but in the hubbub her farewell was lost. There was a scamper to the
carriage, a flurry of rice and flowers; the shoe was flung against
the sharply drawn-up window. Then Benjy's shaven face was seen a
moment, bland and steely; the footman folded his arms, and with a
solemn crunch the brougham wheels rolled away. "How splendidly it
went off!" said a voice on Shelton's right. "She looked a little
pale," said a voice on Shelton's left. He put his hand up to his
forehead; behind him the old nurse sniffed.
"Dick," said young Dennant in his ear, "this isn't good enough; I
vote we bolt."
Shelton assenting, they walked towards the Park; nor could he tell
whether the slight nausea he experienced was due to afternoon
champagne or to the ceremony that had gone so well.
"What's up with you?" asked Dennant; "you look as glum as any
"Nothing," said Shelton; "I was only thinking what humbugs we all
Bill Dennant stopped in the middle of the crossing, and clapped his
future brother-in-law upon the shoulder.
"Oh," said he, "if you're going to talk shop, I 'm off."
CHAPTER IX. THE DINNER
The dinner at the Casserols' was given to those of the bride's
friends who had been conspicuous in the day's festivities. Shelton
found himself between Miss Casserol and a lady undressed to much the
same degree. Opposite sat a man with a single diamond stud, a white
waistcoat, black moustache, and hawk-like face. This was, in fact,
one of those interesting houses occupied by people of the upper
middle class who have imbibed a taste for smart society. Its
inhabitants, by nature acquisitive and cautious, economical,
tenacious, had learnt to worship the word "smart." The result was a
kind of heavy froth, an air of thoroughly domestic vice. In addition
to the conventionally fast, Shelton had met there one or two ladies,
who, having been divorced, or having yet to be, still maintained
their position in "society." Divorced ladies who did not so maintain
their place were never to be found, for the Casserols had a great
respect for marriage. He had also met there American ladies who were
"too amusing"--never, of course, American men, Mesopotamians of the
financial or the racing type, and several of those gentlemen who had
been, or were about to be, engaged in a transaction which might or
again might not, "come off," and in conduct of an order which might,
or again might not be spotted. The line he knew, was always drawn at
those in any category who were actually found out, for the value of
these ladies and these gentlemen was not their claim to pity--nothing
so sentimental--but their "smartness," clothes, jokes, racing tips,
their "bridge parties," and their motors.
In sum, the house was one whose fundamental domesticity attracted and
sheltered those who were too "smart" to keep their heads for long
above the water.
His host, a grey, clean-shaven city man, with a long upper lip, was
trying to understand a lady the audacity of whose speech came ringing
down the table. Shelton himself had given up the effort with his
neighbours, and made love to his dinner, which, surviving the
incoherence of the atmosphere, emerged as a work of art. It was with
surprise that he found Miss Casserol addressing him.
"I always say that the great thing is to be jolly. If you can't find
anything to make you laugh, pretend you do; it's so much 'smarter to
be amusin'. Now don't you agree?"
The philosophy seemed excellent.
"We can't all be geniuses, but we can all look jolly."
Shelton hastened to look jolly.
"I tell the governor, when he 's glum, that I shall put up the
shutters and leave him. What's the good of mopin' and lookin'
miserable? Are you going to the Four-in-Hand Meet? We're making a
party. Such fun; all the smart people!"
The splendour of her shoulders, her frizzy hair (clearly not two
hours out of the barber's hands), might have made him doubtful; but
the frank shrewdness in her eyes, and her carefully clipped tone of
voice, were guarantees that she was part of the element at the table
which was really quite respectable. He had never realised before how
"smart" she was, and with an effort abandoned himself to a sort of
gaiety that would have killed a Frenchman.
And when she left him, he reflected upon the expression of her eyes
when they rested on a lady opposite, who was a true bird-of-prey.
"What is it," their envious, inquisitive glance had seemed to say,
"that makes you so really ' smart'?" And while still seeking for the
reason, he noticed his host pointing out the merits of his port to
the hawk-like man, with a deferential air quite pitiful to see, for
the hawk-like man was clearly a "bad hat." What in the name of
goodness did these staid bourgeois mean by making up to vice? Was it
a craving to be thought distinguished, a dread of being dull, or
merely an effect of overfeeding? Again he looked at his host, who
had not yet enumerated all the virtues of his port, and again felt
sorry for him.
"So you're going to marry Antonia Dennant? said a voice on his
right, with that easy coarseness which is a mark of caste. "Pretty
girl! They've a nice place, the, Dennants. D' ye know, you're a
The speaker was an old baronet, with small eyes, a dusky, ruddy face,
and peculiar hail-fellow-well-met expression, at once morose and sly.
He was always hard up, but being a man of enterprise knew all the
best people, as well as all the worst, so that he dined out every
"You're a lucky feller," he repeated; "he's got some deuced good
shootin', Dennant! They come too high for me, though; never touched
a feather last time I shot there. She's a pretty girl. You 're a
"I know that," said Shelton humbly.
"Wish I were in your shoes. Who was that sittin' on the other side
of you? I'm so dashed short-sighted. Mrs. Carruther? Oh, ay!" An
expression which, if he had not been a baronet, would have been a
leer, came on his lips.
Shelton felt that he was referring to the leaf in his mental pocket-
book covered with the anecdotes, figures, and facts about that lady.
"The old ogre means," thought he, "that I'm lucky because his leaf is
blank about Antonia." But the old baronet had turned, with his
smile, and his sardonic, well-bred air, to listen to a bit of scandal
on the other side.
The two men to Shelton's left were talking.
"What! You don't collect anything? How's that? Everybody collects
something. I should be lost without my pictures."
"No, I don't collect anything. Given it up; I was too awfully had
over my Walkers."
Shelton had expected a more lofty reason; he applied himself to the
Madeira in his glass. That, had been "collected" by his host, and
its price was going up! You couldn't get it every day; worth two
guineas a bottle! How precious the idea that other people couldn't
get it, made it seem! Liquid delight; the price was going up! Soon
there would be none left; immense! Absolutely no one, then, could
"Wish I had some of this," said the old baronet, "but I have drunk
"Poor old chap!" thought Shelton; "after all, he's not a bad old
boy. I wish I had his pluck. His liver must be splendid."
The drawing-room was full of people playing a game concerned with
horses ridden by jockeys with the latest seat. And Shelton was
compelled to help in carrying on this sport till early in the
morning. At last he left, exhausted by his animation.
He thought of the wedding; he thought over his dinner and the wine
that he had drunk. His mood of satisfaction fizzled out. These
people were incapable of being real, even the smartest, even the most
respectable; they seemed to weigh their pleasures in the scales and
to get the most that could be gotten for their money.
Between the dark, safe houses stretching for miles and miles, his
thoughts were of Antonia; and as he reached his rooms he was
overtaken by the moment when the town is born again. The first new
air had stolen down; the sky was living, but not yet alight; the
trees were quivering faintly; no living creature stirred, and nothing
spoke except his heart. Suddenly the city seemed to breathe, and
Shelton saw that he was not alone; an unconsidered trifle with
inferior boots was asleep upon his doorstep.
CHAPTER X. AN ALIEN
The individual on the doorstep had fallen into slumber over his own
knees. No greater air of prosperity clung about him than is conveyed
by a rusty overcoat and wisps of cloth in place of socks. Shelton
endeavoured to pass unseen, but the sleeper woke.
"Ah, it's you, monsieur!" he said "I received your letter this
evening, and have lost no time." He looked down at himself and
tittered, as though to say, "But what a state I 'm in!"
The young foreigner's condition was indeed more desperate than on the
occasion of their first meeting, and Shelton invited him upstairs.
"You can well understand," stammered Ferrand, following his host,
"that I did n't want to miss you this time. When one is like this--"
and a spasm gripped his face.
"I 'm very glad you came," said Shelton doubtfully.
His visitor's face had a week's growth of reddish beard; the deep tan
of his cheeks gave him a robust appearance at variance with the fit
of, trembling which had seized on him as soon as he had entered.
"Sit down-sit down," said Shelton; "you 're feeling ill!"
Ferrand smiled. "It's nothing," said he; "bad nourishment."
Shelton left him seated on the edge of an armchair, and brought him
in some whisky.
"Clothes," said Ferrand, when he had drunk, "are what I want. These
are really not good enough."
The statement was correct, and Shelton, placing some garments in the
bath-room, invited his visitor to make himself at home. While the
latter, then, was doing this, Shelton enjoyed the luxuries of self-
denial, hunting up things he did not want, and laying them in two
portmanteaus. This done, he waited for his visitor's return.
The young foreigner at length emerged, unshaved indeed, and innocent
of boots, but having in other respects an air of gratifying
"This is a little different," he said. "The boots, I fear"--and,
pulling down his, or rather Shelton's, socks he exhibited sores the
size of half a crown. "One does n't sow without reaping some harvest
or another. My stomach has shrunk," he added simply. "To see things
one must suffer. 'Voyager, c'est plus fort que moi'!"
Shelton failed to perceive that this was one way of disguising the
human animal's natural dislike of work--there was a touch of pathos,
a suggestion of God-knows-what-might-have-been, about this fellow.
"I have eaten my illusions," said the young foreigner, smoking a
cigarette. "When you've starved a few times, your eyes are opened.
'Savoir, c'est mon metier; mais remarquez ceci, monsieur': It 's not
always the intellectuals who succeed."
"When you get a job," said Shelton, "you throw it away, I suppose."
"You accuse me of restlessness? Shall I explain what I think about
that? I'm restless because of ambition; I want to reconquer an
independent position. I put all my soul into my trials, but as soon
as I see there's no future for me in that line, I give it up and go
elsewhere. 'Je ne veux pas etre rond de cuir,' breaking my back to
economise sixpence a day, and save enough after forty years to drag
out the remains of an exhausted existence. That's not in my
character." This ingenious paraphrase of the words "I soon get tired
of things" he pronounced with an air of letting Shelton into a
"Yes; it must be hard," agreed the latter.
Ferrand shrugged his shoulders.
"It's not all butter," he replied; "one is obliged to do things that
are not too delicate. There's nothing I pride myself on but
Like a good chemist, however, he administered what Shelton could
stand in a judicious way. "Yes, yes," he seemed to say, "you'd like
me to think that you have a perfect knowledge of life: no morality,
no prejudices, no illusions; you'd like me to think that you feel
yourself on an equality with me, one human animal talking to another,
without any barriers of position, money, clothes, or the rest--'ca
c'est un peu trop fort'! You're as good an imitation as I 've come
across in your class, notwithstanding your unfortunate education, and
I 'm grateful to you, but to tell you everything, as it passes
through my mind would damage my prospects. You can hardly expect
In one of Shelton's old frock-coats he was impressive, with his air
of natural, almost sensitive refinement. The room looked as if it
were accustomed to him, and more amazing still was the sense of
familiarity that he inspired, as, though he were a part of Shelton's
soul. It came as a shock to realise that this young foreign vagabond
had taken such a place within his thoughts. The pose of his limbs
and head, irregular but not ungraceful; his disillusioned lips; the
rings of smoke that issued from them--all signified rebellion, and
the overthrow of law and order. His thin, lopsided nose, the rapid
glances of his goggling, prominent eyes, were subtlety itself; he
stood for discontent with the accepted.
"How do I live when I am on the tramp?" he said. "well, there are
the consuls. The system is not delicate, but when it's a question of
starving, much is permissible; besides, these gentlemen were created
for the purpose. There's a coterie of German Jews in Paris living
entirely upon consuls." He hesitated for the fraction of a second,
and resumed: "Yes, monsieur; if you have papers that fit you, you can
try six or seven consuls in a single town. You must know a language
or two; but most of these gentlemen are not too well up in the
tongues of the country they represent. Obtaining money under false
pretences? Well, it is. But what's the difference at bottom between
all this honourable crowd of directors, fashionable physicians,
employers of labour, ferry-builders, military men, country priests,
and consuls themselves perhaps, who take money and give no value for
it, and poor devils who do the same at far greater risk? Necessity
makes the law. If those gentlemen were in my position, do you think
that they would hesitate?"
Shelton's face remaining doubtful, Ferrand went on instantly: "You're
right; they would, from fear, not principle. One must be hard
pressed before committing these indelicacies. Look deep enough, and
you will see what indelicate things are daily done by the respectable
for not half so good a reason as the want of meals."
Shelton also took a cigarette--his own income was derived from
property for which he gave no value in labour.
"I can give you an instance," said Ferrand, "of what can be done by
resolution. One day in a German town, 'etant dans la misere', I
decided to try the French consul. Well, as you know, I am a Fleming,
but something had to be screwed out somewhere. He refused to see me;
I sat down to wait. After about two hours a voice bellowed: 'Has n't
the brute gone?' and my consul appears. 'I 've nothing for fellows
like you,' says he; 'clear out!'
"'Monsieur,' I answered, 'I am skin and bone; I really must have
"'Clear out,' he says, 'or the police shall throw you out!'
"I don't budge. Another hour passes, and back he comes again.
"'Still here?' says he. 'Fetch a sergeant.'
"The sergeant comes.
"'Sergeant,' says the consul, 'turn this creature out.'
"'Sergeant,' I say, 'this house is France!' Naturally, I had
calculated upon that. In Germany they're not too fond of those who
undertake the business of the French.
"'He is right,' says the sergeant; 'I can do nothing.'
"'Absolutely.' And he went away.
"'What do you think you'll get by staying?' says my consul.
"'I have nothing to eat or drink, and nowhere to sleep,' says I.
"'What will you go for?'
"'Here, then, get out!' I can tell you, monsieur, one must n't have a
thin skin if one wants to exploit consuls."
His yellow fingers slowly rolled the stump of his cigarette, his
ironical lips flickered. Shelton thought of his own ignorance of
life. He could not recollect ever having gone without a meal.
"I suppose," he said feebly, "you've often starved." For, having
always been so well fed, the idea of starvation was attractive.
"Four days is the longest," said he. "You won't believe that story.
. . . It was in Paris, and I had lost my money on the race-course.
There was some due from home which didn't come. Four days and nights
I lived on water. My clothes were excellent, and I had jewellery;
but I never even thought of pawning them. I suffered most from the
notion that people might guess my state. You don't recognise me
"How old were you then?" said Shelton.
"Seventeen; it's curious what one's like at that age.
By a flash of insight Shelton saw the well-dressed boy, with
sensitive, smooth face, always on the move about the streets of
Paris, for fear that people should observe the condition of his
stomach. The story was a valuable commentary. His thoughts were
brusquely interrupted; looking in Ferrand's face, he saw to his
dismay tears rolling down his cheeks.
"I 've suffered too much," he stammered; "what do I care now what
becomes of me?"
Shelton was disconcerted; he wished 'to say something sympathetic,
but, being an Englishman, could only turn away his eyes.
"Your turn 's coming," he said at last.
"Ah! when you've lived my life," broke out his visitor, "nothing 's
any good. My heart's in rags. Find me anything worth keeping, in
Moved though he was, Shelton wriggled in his chair, a prey to racial
instinct, to an ingrained over-tenderness, perhaps, of soul that
forbade him from exposing his emotions, and recoiled from the
revelation of other people's. He could stand it on the stage, he
could stand it in a book, but in real life he could not stand it.
When Ferrand had gone off with a portmanteau in each hand, he sat
down and told Antonia:
. . . The poor chap broke down and sat crying like a child; and
instead of making me feel sorry, it turned me into stone. The more
sympathetic I wanted to be, the gruffer I grew. Is it fear of
ridicule, independence, or consideration, for others that prevents
one from showing one's feelings?
He went on to tell her of Ferrand's starving four days sooner than
face a pawnbroker; and, reading the letter over before addressing it,
the faces of the three ladies round their snowy cloth arose before
him--Antonia's face, so fair and calm and wind-fresh; her mother's
face, a little creased by time and weather; the maiden aunt's
somewhat too thin-and they seemed to lean at him, alert and decorous,
and the words "That's rather nice!" rang in his ears. He went out to
post the letter, and buying a five-shilling order enclosed it to the
little barber, Carolan, as a reward for delivering his note to
Ferrand. He omitted to send his address with this donation, but
whether from delicacy or from caution he could not have said. Beyond
doubt, however, on receiving through Ferrand the following reply, he
felt ashamed and pleased
3, BLANK Row,
>From every well-born soul humanity is owing. A thousand thanks. I
received this morning your postal order; your heart henceforth for me
will be placed beyond all praise.
CHAPTER XI. THE VISION
A few days later he received a letter from Antonia which filled him
. . . Aunt Charlotte is ever so much better, so mother thinks we
can go home-hurrah! But she says that you and I must keep to our
arrangement not to see each other till July. There will be something
fine in being so near and having the strength to keep apart . . .
All the English are gone. I feel it so empty out here; these people
are so funny-all foreign and shallow. Oh, Dick! how splendid to
have an ideal to look up to! Write at once to Brewer's Hotel and
tell me you think the same . . . . We arrive at Charing Cross on
Sunday at half-past seven, stay at Brewer's for a couple of nights,
and go down on Tuesday to Holm Oaks.
"To-morrow!" he thought; "she's coming tomorrow!" and, leaving his
neglected breakfast, he started out to walk off his emotion. His
square ran into one of those slums that still rub shoulders with the
most distinguished situations, and in it he came upon a little crowd
assembled round a dogfight. One of the dogs was being mauled, but
the day was muddy, and Shelton, like any well-bred Englishman, had a
horror of making himself conspicuous even in a decent cause; he
looked for a policeman. One was standing by, to see fair play, and
Shelton made appeal to him. The official suggested that he should
not have brought out a fighting dog, and advised him to throw cold
water over them.
"It is n 't my dog," said Shelton.
"Then I should let 'em be," remarked the policeman with evident
Shelton appealed indefinitely to the lower orders. The lower orders,
however, were afraid of being bitten.
"I would n't meddle with that there job if I was you," said one.
"Nasty breed o' dawg is that."
He was therefore obliged to cast away respectability, spoil his
trousers and his gloves, break his umbrella, drop his hat in the mud,
and separate the dogs. At the conclusion of the "job," the lower
orders said to him in a rather shamefaced spanner:
"Well, I never thought you'd have managed that, sir"; but, like all
men of inaction, Shelton after action was more dangerous.
"D----n it!" he said, "one can't let a dog be killed"; and he
marched off, towing the injured dog with his pocket-handkerchief, and
looking scornfully at harmless passers-by. Having satisfied for once
the smouldering fires within him, he felt entitled to hold a low
opinion of these men in the street. "The brutes," he thought, "won't
stir a finger to save a poor dumb creature, and as for policemen---"
But, growing cooler, he began to see that people weighted down by
"honest toil" could not afford to tear their trousers or get a bitten
hand, and that even the policeman, though he had looked so like a
demi-god, was absolutely made of flesh and blood. He took the dog
home, and, sending for a vet., had him sewn up.
He was already tortured by the doubt whether or no he might venture
to meet Antonia at the station, and, after sending his servant with
the dog to the address marked on its collar, he formed the resolve to
go and see his mother, with some vague notion that she might help him
to decide. She lived in Kensington, and, crossing the Brompton Road,
he was soon amongst that maze of houses into the fibre of whose
structure architects have wrought the motto: " Keep what you have--
wives, money, a good address, and all the blessings of a moral
Shelton pondered as he passed house after house of such intense
respectability that even dogs were known to bark at them. His blood
was still too hot; it is amazing what incidents will promote the
loftiest philosophy. He had been reading in his favourite review an
article eulogising the freedom and expansion which had made the upper
middle class so fine a body; and with eyes wandering from side to
side he nodded his head ironically. "Expansion and freedom," ran his
thoughts: "Freedom and expansion!"
Each house-front was cold and formal, the shell of an owner with from
three to five thousand pounds a year, and each one was armoured
against the opinion of its neighbours by a sort of daring regularity.
"Conscious of my rectitude; and by the strict observance of exactly
what is necessary and no more, I am enabled to hold my head up in the
world. The person who lives in me has only four thousand two hundred
and fifty-five pounds each year, after allowing for the income tax."
Such seemed the legend of these houses.
Shelton passed ladies in ones and twos and threes going out shopping,
or to classes of drawing, cooking, ambulance. Hardly any men were
seen, and they were mostly policemen; but a few disillusioned
children were being wheeled towards the Park by fresh-cheeked nurses,
accompanied by a great army of hairy or of hairless dogs.
There was something of her brother's large liberality about Mrs.
Shelton, a tiny lady with affectionate eyes, warm cheeks, and chilly
feet; fond as a cat of a chair by the fire, and full of the sympathy
that has no insight. She kissed her son at once with rapture, and,
as usual, began to talk of his engagement. For the first time a
tremor of doubt ran through her son; his mother's view of it grated
on him like the sight of a blue-pink dress; it was too rosy. Her
splendid optimism, damped him; it had too little traffic with the
"What right," he asked himself, "has she to be so certain? It seems
to me a kind of blasphemy."
"The dear!" she cooed. "And she is coming back to-morrow? Hurrah!
how I long to see her!"
"But you know, mother, we've agreed not to meet again until July."
Mrs. Shelton rocked her foot, and, holding her head on one side like
a little bird, looked at her son with shining eyes.
"Dear old Dick!" she said, "how happy you must be!"
Half a century of sympathy with weddings of all sorts--good, bad,
indifferent--beamed from her.
"I suppose," said Shelton gloomily, "I ought not to go and see her at
"Cheer up!" replied the mother, and her son felt dreadfully
That "Cheer-up!"--the panacea which had carried her blind and bright
through every evil--was as void of meaning to him as wine without a
"And how is your sciatica?" he asked.
"Oh, pretty bad," returned his mother; "I expect it's all right,
really. Cheer up!" She stretched her little figure, canting her
head still more.
"Wonderful woman!" Shelton thought. She had, in fact, like many of
her fellow-countrymen, mislaid the darker side of things, and,
enjoying the benefits of orthodoxy with an easy conscience, had kept
as young in heart as any girl of thirty.
Shelton left her house as doubtful whether he might meet Antonia as
when he entered it. He spent a restless afternoon.
The next day--that of her arrival--was a Sunday. He had made Ferrand
a promise to go with him to hear a sermon in the slums, and, catching
at any diversion which might allay excitement, he fulfilled it. The
preacher in question--an amateur, so Ferrand told him--had an
original method of distributing the funds that he obtained. To male
sheep he gave nothing, to ugly female sheep a very little, to pretty
female sheep the rest. Ferrand hazarded an inference, but he was a
foreigner. The Englishman preferred to look upon the preacher as
guided by a purely abstract love of beauty. His eloquence, at any
rate, was unquestionable, and Shelton came out feeling sick.
It was not yet seven o'clock, so, entering an Italian restaurant to
kill the half-hour before Antonia's arrival, he ordered a bottle of
wine for his companion, a cup of coffee for himself, and, lighting a
cigarette, compressed his lips. There was a strange, sweet sinking
in his heart. His companion, ignorant of this emotion, drank his
wine, crumbled his roll, and blew smoke through his nostrils,
glancing caustically at the rows of little tables, the cheap mirrors,
the hot, red velvet, the chandeliers. His juicy lips seemed to be
murmuring, "Ah! if you only knew of the dirt behind these feathers!"
Shelton watched him with disgust. Though his clothes were now so
nice, his nails were not quite clean, and his fingertips seemed
yellow to the bone. An anaemic waiter in a shirt some four days old,
with grease-spots on his garments and a crumpled napkin on his arm,
stood leaning an elbow amongst doubtful fruits, and reading an
Italian journal. Resting his tired feet in turn, he looked like
overwork personified, and when he moved, each limb accused the sordid
smartness of the walls. In the far corner sat a lady eating, and,
mirrored opposite, her feathered hat, her short, round face, its coat
of powder, and dark eyes, gave Shelton a shiver of disgust. His
companion's gaze rested long and subtly on her.
"Excuse me, monsieur," he said at length. "I think I know that
lady!" And, leaving his host, he crossed the room, bowed, accosted
her, and sat down. With Pharisaic delicacy, Shelton refrained from
looking. But presently Ferrand came back; the lady rose and left the
restaurant; she had been crying. The young foreigner was flushed,
his face contorted; he did not touch his wine.
"I was right," he said; "she is the wife of an old friend. I used to
know her well."
He was suffering from emotion, but someone less absorbed than Shelton
might have noticed a kind of relish in his voice, as though he were
savouring life's dishes, and glad to have something new, and spiced
with tragic sauce, to set before his patron.
"You can find her story by the hundred in your streets, but nothing
hinders these paragons of virtue"--he nodded at the stream of
carriages--"from turning up their eyes when they see ladies of her
sort pass. She came to London--just three years ago. After a year
one of her little boys took fever--the shop was avoided--her husband
caught it, and died. There she was, left with two children and
everything gone to pay the debts. She tried to get work; no one
helped her. There was no money to pay anyone to stay with the
children; all the work she could get in the house was not enough to
keep them alive. She's not a strong woman. Well, she put the
children out to nurse, and went to the streets. The first week was
frightful, but now she's used to it--one gets used to anything."
"Can nothing be done?" asked Shelton, startled.
"No," returned his companion. "I know that sort; if they once take
to it all's over. They get used to luxury. One does n't part with
luxury, after tasting destitution. She tells me she does very
nicely; the children are happy; she's able to pay well and see them
sometimes. She was a girl of good family, too, who loved her
husband, and gave up much for him. What would you have? Three
quarters of your virtuous ladies placed in her position would do the
same if they had the necessary looks."
It was evident that he felt the shock of this discovery, and Shelton
understood that personal acquaintance makes a difference, even in a
"This is her beat," said the young foreigner, as they passed the
illuminated crescent, where nightly the shadows of hypocrites and
women fall; and Shelton went from these comments on Christianity to
the station of Charing Cross. There, as he stood waiting in the
shadow, his heart was in his mouth; and it struck him as odd that he
should have come to this meeting fresh from a vagabond's society.
Presently, amongst the stream of travellers, he saw Antonia. She was
close to her mother, who was parleying with a footman; behind them
were a maid carrying a bandbox and a porter with the travelling-bags.
Antonia's figure, with its throat settled in the collar of her cape,
slender, tall, severe, looked impatient and remote amongst the
bustle. Her eyes, shadowed by the journey, glanced eagerly about,
welcoming all she saw; a wisp of hair was loose above her ear, her
cheeks glowed cold and rosy. She caught sight of Shelton, and
bending her neck, stag-like, stood looking at him; a brilliant smile
parted her lips, and Shelton trembled. Here was the embodiment of
all he had desired for weeks. He could not tell what was behind that
smile of hers--passionate aching or only some ideal, some chaste and
glacial intangibility. It seemed to be shining past him into the
gloomy station. There was no trembling and uncertainty, no rage of
possession in that brilliant smile; it had the gleam of fixedness,
like the smiling of a star. What did it matter? She was there,
beautiful as a young day, and smiling at him; and she was his, only
divided from him by a space of time. He took a step; her eyes fell
at once, her face regained aloofness; he saw her, encircled by
mother, footman, maid, and porter, take her seat and drive away.
It was over; she had seen him, she had smiled, but alongside his
delight lurked another feeling, and, by a bitter freak, not her face
came up before him but the face of that lady in the restaurant--
short, round, and powdered, with black-circled eyes. What right had
we to scorn them? Had they mothers, footmen, porters, maids? He
shivered, but this time with physical disgust; the powdered face with
dark-fringed eyes had vanished; the fair, remote figure of the
railway-station came back again.
He sat long over dinner, drinking, dreaming; he sat long after,
smoking, dreaming, and when at length he drove away, wine and dreams
fumed in his brain. The dance of lamps, the cream-cheese moon, the
rays of clean wet light on his horse's harness, the jingling of the
cab bell, the whirring wheels, the night air and the branches--it was
all so good! He threw back the hansom doors to feel the touch of the
warm breeze. The crowds on the pavement gave him strange delight;
they were like shadows, in some great illusion, happy shadows,
thronging, wheeling round the single figure of his world.
CHAPTER XII. ROTTEN ROW
With a headache and a sense of restlessness, hopeful and unhappy,
Shelton mounted his hack next morning for a gallop in the Park.
In the sky was mingled all the languor and the violence of the
spring. The trees and flowers wore an awakened look in the gleams of
light that came stealing down from behind the purple of the clouds.
The air was rain-washed, and the passers by seemed to wear an air of
tranquil carelessness, as if anxiety were paralysed by their
responsibility of the firmament.
Thronged by riders, the Row was all astir.
Near to Hyde Park Corner a figure by the rails caught Shelton's eye.
Straight and thin, one shoulder humped a little, as if its owner were
reflecting, clothed in a frock-coat and a brown felt hat pinched up
in lawless fashion, this figure was so detached from its surroundings
that it would have been noticeable anywhere. It belonged to Ferrand,
obviously waiting till it was time to breakfast with his patron.
Shelton found pleasure in thus observing him unseen, and sat quietly
on his horse, hidden behind a tree.
It was just at that spot where riders, unable to get further, are for
ever wheeling their horses for another turn; and there Ferrand, the
bird of passage, with his head a little to one side, watched them
cantering, trotting, wheeling up and down.
Three men walking along the rails were snatching off their hats
before a horsewoman at exactly the same angle and with precisely the
same air, as though in the modish performance of this ancient rite
they were satisfying some instinct very dear to them.
Shelton noted the curl of Ferrand's lip as he watched this sight.
"Many thanks, gentlemen," it seemed to say; "in that charming little
action you have shown me all your souls."
What a singular gift the fellow had of divesting things and people of
their garments, of tearing away their veil of shams, and their
phylacteries! Shelton turned and cantered on; his thoughts were with
Antonia, and he did not want the glamour stripped away.
He was glancing at the sky, that every moment threatened to discharge
a violent shower of rain, when suddenly he heard his name called from
behind, and who should ride up to him on either side but Bill Dennant
They had been galloping; and she was flushed--flushed as when she
stood on the old tower at Hyeres, but with a joyful radiance
different from the calm and conquering radiance of that other moment.
To Shelton's delight they fell into line with him, and all three went
galloping along the strip between the trees and rails. The look she
gave him seemed to say, "I don't care if it is forbidden!" but she
did not speak. He could not take his eyes off her. How lovely she
looked, with the resolute curve of her figure, the glimpse of gold
under her hat, the glorious colour in her cheeks, as if she had been
"It 's so splendid to be at home! Let 's go faster, faster!" she
"Take a pull. We shall get run in," grumbled her brother, with a
They reined in round the bend and jogged more soberly down on the far
side; still not a word from her to Shelton, and Shelton in his turn
spoke only to Bill Dennant. He was afraid to speak to her, for he
knew that her mind was dwelling on this chance forbidden meeting in a
way quite different from his own.
Approaching Hyde Park Corner, where Ferrand was still standing
against the rails, Shelton, who had forgotten his existence, suffered
a shock when his eyes fell suddenly on that impassive figure. He was
about to raise his hand, when he saw that the young foreigner, noting
his instinctive feeling, had at once adapted himself to it. They
passed again without a greeting, unless that swift inquisition;
followed by unconsciousness in Ferrand's eyes, could so be called.
But the feeling of idiotic happiness left Shelton; he grew irritated
at this silence. It tantalised him more and more, for Bill Dennant
had lagged behind to chatter to a friend; Shelton and Antonia were
alone, walking their horses, without a word, not even looking at each
other. At one moment he thought of galloping ahead and leaving her,
then of breaking the vow of muteness she seemed to be imposing on
him, and he kept thinking: "It ought to be either one thing or the
other. I can't stand this." Her calmness was getting on his nerves;
she seemed to have determined just how far she meant to go, to have
fixed cold-bloodedly a limit. In her happy young beauty and radiant
coolness she summed up that sane consistent something existing in
nine out of ten of the people Shelton knew. "I can't stand it long,"
he thought, and all of a sudden spoke; but as he did so she frowned
and cantered on. When he caught her she was smiling, lifting her
face to catch the raindrops which were falling fast. She gave him
just a nod, and waved her hand as a sign for him to go; and when he
would not, she frowned. He saw Bill Dennant, posting after them,
and, seized by a sense of the ridiculous, lifted his hat, and
The rain was coming down in torrents now, and every one was scurrying
for shelter. He looked back from the bend, and could still make out
Antonia riding leisurely, her face upturned, and revelling in the
shower. Why had n't she either cut him altogether or taken the
sweets the gods had sent? It seemed wicked to have wasted such a
chance, and, ploughing back to Hyde Park Corner, he turned his head
to see if by any chance she had relented.
His irritation was soon gone, but his longing stayed. Was ever
anything so beautiful as she had looked with her face turned to the
rain? She seemed to love the rain. It suited her--suited her ever
so much better than the sunshine of the South. Yes, she was very
English! Puzzling and fretting, he reached his rooms. Ferrand had
not arrived, in fact did not turn up that day. His non-appearance
afforded Shelton another proof of the delicacy that went hand in hand
with the young vagrant's cynicism. In the afternoon he received a
. . . You see, Dick [he read], I ought to have cut you; but I felt
too crazy--everything seems so jolly at home, even this stuffy old
London. Of course, I wanted to talk to you badly--there are heaps of
things one can't say by letter--but I should have been sorry
afterwards. I told mother. She said I was quite right, but I don't
think she took it in. Don't you feel that the only thing that really
matters is to have an ideal, and to keep it so safe that you can
always look forward and feel that you have been--I can't exactly
express my meaning.
Shelton lit a cigarette and frowned. It seemed to him queer that she
should set more store by an "ideal" than by the fact that they had
met for the first and only time in many weeks.
"I suppose she 's right," he thoughts--"I suppose she 's right. I
ought not to have tried to speak to her!" As a matter of fact, he
did not at all feel that she was right.
CHAPTER XIII. AN "AT HOME"
On Tuesday morning he wandered off to Paddington, hoping for a chance
view of her on her way down to Holm Oaks; but the sense of the
ridiculous, on which he had been nurtured, was strong enough to keep
him from actually entering the station and lurking about until she
came. With a pang of disappointment he retraced his steps from Praed
Street to the Park, and once there tried no further to waylay her.
He paid a round of calls in the afternoon, mostly on her relations;
and, seeking out Aunt Charlotte, he dolorously related his encounter
in the Row. But she found it "rather nice," and on his pressing her
with his views, she murmured that it was "quite romantic, don't you
"Still, it's very hard," said Shelton; and he went away disconsolate.
As he was dressing for dinner his eye fell on a card announcing the
"at home" of one of his own cousins. Her husband was a composer, and
he had a vague idea that he would find at the house of a composer
some quite unusually free kind of atmosphere. After dining at the
club, therefore, he set out for Chelsea. The party was held in a
large room on the ground-floor, which was already crowded with people
when Shelton entered. They stood or sat about in groups with smiles
fixed on their lips, and the light from balloon-like lamps fell in
patches on their heads and hands and shoulders. Someone had just
finished rendering on the piano a composition of his own. An expert
could at once have picked out from amongst the applauding company
those who were musicians by profession, for their eyes sparkled, and
a certain acidity pervaded their enthusiasm. This freemasonry of
professional intolerance flew from one to the other like a breath of
unanimity, and the faint shrugging of shoulders was as harmonious as
though one of the high windows had been opened suddenly, admitting a
draught of chill May air.
Shelton made his way up to his cousin--a fragile, grey-haired woman
in black velvet and Venetian lace, whose starry eyes beamed at him,
until her duties, after the custom of these social gatherings,
obliged her to break off conversation just as it began to interest
him. He was passed on to another lady who was already talking to two
gentlemen, and, their volubility being greater than his own, he fell
into the position of observer. Instead of the profound questions he
had somehow expected to hear raised, everybody seemed gossiping, or
searching the heart of such topics as where to go this summer, or how
to get new servants. Trifling with coffee-cups, they dissected their
fellow artists in the same way as his society friends of the other
night had dissected the fellow--"smart"; and the varnish on the
floor, the pictures, and the piano were reflected on all the faces
around. Shelton moved from group to group disconsolate.
A tall, imposing person stood under a Japanese print holding the palm
of one hand outspread; his unwieldy trunk and thin legs wobbled in
concert to his ingratiating voice.
"War," he was saying, "is not necessary. War is not necessary. I
hope I make myself clear. War is not necessary; it depends on
nationality, but nationality is not necessary." He inclined his head
to one side, "Why do we have nationality? Let us do away with
boundaries--let us have the warfare of commerce. If I see France
looking at Brighton"--he laid his head upon one side, and beamed at
Shelton,--"what do I do? Do I say 'Hands off'? No. 'Take it,'
I say--take it!'" He archly smiled. "But do you think they would?"
And the softness of his contours fascinated Shelton.
"The soldier," the person underneath the print resumed, "is
necessarily on a lower plane--intellectually--oh, intellectually--
than the philanthropist. His sufferings are less acute; he enjoys
the compensations of advertisement--you admit that?" he breathed
persuasively. "For instance--I am quite impersonal--I suffer; but do
I talk about it?" But, someone gazing at his well-filled waistcoat,
he put his thesis in another form: "I have one acre and one cow, my
brother has one acre and one cow: do I seek to take them away from
Shelton hazarded, "Perhaps you 're weaker than your brother."
"Come, come! Take the case of women: now, I consider our marriage
laws are barbarous."
For the first time Shelton conceived respect for them; he made a
comprehensive gesture, and edged himself into the conversation of
another group, for fear of having all his prejudices overturned.
Here an Irish sculptor, standing in a curve, was saying furiously,
"Bees are not bhumpkins, d---n their sowls! "A Scotch painter, who
listened with a curly smile, seemed trying to compromise this
proposition, which appeared to have relation to the middle classes;
and though agreeing with the Irishman, Shelton felt nervous over his
discharge of electricity. Next to them two American ladies,
assembled under the tent of hair belonging to a writer of songs, were
discussing the emotions aroused in them by Wagner's operas.
"They produce a strange condition of affairs in me," said the thinner
"They 're just divine," said the fatter.
"I don't know if you can call the fleshly lusts divine," replied the
thinner, looking into the eyes of the writer of the songs.
Amidst all the hum of voices and the fumes of smoke, a sense of
formality was haunting Shelton. Sandwiched between a Dutchman and a
Prussian poet, he could understand neither of his neighbours; so,
assuming an intelligent expression, he fell to thinking that an
assemblage of free spirits is as much bound by the convention of
exchanging their ideas as commonplace people are by the convention of
having no ideas to traffic in. He could not help wondering whether,
in the bulk, they were not just as dependent on each other as the
inhabitants of Kensington; whether, like locomotives, they could run
at all without these opportunities for blowing off the steam, and
what would be left when the steam had all escaped. Somebody ceased
playing the violin, and close to him a group began discussing ethics.
Aspirations were in the air all round, like a lot of hungry ghosts.
He realised that, if tongue be given to them, the flavour vanishes
from ideas which haunt the soul.
Again the violinist played.
"Cock gracious!" said the Prussian poet, falling into English as the
fiddle ceased: "Colossal! 'Aber, wie er ist grossartig'!"
"Have you read that thing of Besom's?" asked shrill voice behind.
"Oh, my dear fellow! too horrid for words; he ought to be hanged!"
"The man's dreadful," pursued the voice, shriller than ever; "nothing
but a volcanic eruption would cure him."
Shelton turned in alarm to look at the authors of these statements.
They were two men of letters talking of a third.
"'C'est un grand naif, vous savez,'" said the second speaker.
"These fellows don't exist," resumed the first; his small eyes
gleamed with a green light, his whole face had a look as if he gnawed
himself. Though not a man of letters, Shelton could not help
recognising from those eyes what joy it was to say those words:
"These fellows don't exist!"
"Poor Besom! You know what Moulter said . . ."
Shelton turned away, as if he had been too close to one whose hair
smelt of cantharides; and, looking round the room, he frowned. With
the exception of his cousin, he seemed the only person there of
English blood. Americans, Mesopotamians, Irish, Italians, Germans,
Scotch, and Russians. He was not contemptuous of them for being
foreigners; it was simply that God and the climate had made him
different by a skin or so.
But at this point his conclusions were denied (as will sometimes
happen) by his introduction to an Englishman--a Major Somebody, who,
with smooth hair and blond moustache, neat eyes and neater clothes,
seemed a little anxious at his own presence there. Shelton took a
liking to him, partly from a fellow-feeling, and partly because of
the gentle smile with which he was looking at his wife. Almost
before he had said "How do you do?" he was plunged into a discussion
"Admitting all that," said Shelton, " what I hate is the humbug with
which we pride ourselves on benefiting the whole world by our so-
called civilising methods."
The soldier turned his reasonable eyes.
"But is it humbug?"
Shelton saw his argument in peril. If we really thought it, was it
humbug? He replied, however:
"Why should we, a small portion of the world's population, assume
that our standards are the proper ones for every kind of race? If
it 's not humbug, it 's sheer stupidity."
The soldier, without taking his hands out of his pockets, but by a
forward movement of his face showing that he was both sincere and
"Well, it must be a good sort of stupidity; it makes us the nation
that we are."
Shelton felt dazed. The conversation buzzed around him; he heard the
smiling prophet saying, "Altruism, altruism," and in his voice a
something seemed to murmur, "Oh, I do so hope I make a good
He looked at the soldier's clear-cut head with its well-opened eyes,
the tiny crow's-feet at their corners, the conventional moustache; he
envied the certainty of the convictions lying under that well-parted
"I would rather we were men first and then Englishmen," he muttered;
"I think it's all a sort of national illusion, and I can't stand
"If you come to that," said the soldier, "the world lives by
illusions. I mean, if you look at history, you'll see that the
creation of illusions has always been her business, don't you know."
This Shelton was unable to deny.
"So," continued the soldier (who was evidently a highly cultivated
man), "if you admit that movement, labour, progress, and all that
have been properly given to building up these illusions, that--er--in
fact, they're what you might call--er--the outcome of the world's
crescendo," he rushed his voice over this phrase as if ashamed of it
--"why do you want to destroy them?"
Shelton thought a moment, then, squeezing his body with his folded
"The past has made us what we are, of course, and cannot be
destroyed; but how about the future? It 's surely time to let in
air. Cathedrals are very fine, and everybody likes the smell of
incense; but when they 've been for centuries without ventilation you
know what the atmosphere gets like."
The soldier smiled.
"By your own admission," he said, "you'll only be creating a fresh
set of illusions."
"Yes," answered Shelton, "but at all events they'll be the honest
necessities of the present."
The pupils of the soldier's eyes contracted; he evidently felt the
conversation slipping into generalities; he answered:
"I can't see how thinking small beer of ourselves is going to do us
An " At Home"
Shelton felt in danger of being thought unpractical in giving vent to
"One must trust one's reason; I never can persuade myself that I
believe in what I don't."
A minute later, with a cordial handshake, the soldier left, and
Shelton watched his courteous figure shepherding his wife away.
"Dick, may I introduce you to Mr. Wilfrid Curly?" said his cousin's
voice behind, and he found his hand being diffidently shaken by a
fresh-cheeked youth with a dome-like forehead, who was saying
"How do you do? Yes, I am very well, thank you!"
He now remembered that when he had first come in he had watched this
youth, who had been standing in a corner indulging himself in private
smiles. He had an uncommon look, as though he were in love with
life--as though he regarded it as a creature to whom one could put
questions to the very end--interesting, humorous, earnest questions.
He looked diffident, and amiable, and independent, and he, too, was
"Are you good at argument?" said Shelton, at a loss for a remark.
The youth smiled, blushed, and, putting back his hair, replied:
"Yes--no--I don't know; I think my brain does n't work fast enough
for argument. You know how many motions of the brain-cells go to
each remark. It 's awfully interesting"; and, bending from the waist
in a mathematical position, he extended the palm of one hand, and
started to explain.
Shelton stared at the youth's hand, at his frowns and the taps he
gave his forehead while he found the expression of his meaning; he
was intensely interested. The youth broke off, looked at his watch,
and, blushing brightly, said:
"I 'm afraid I have to go; I have to be at the 'Den' before eleven."
"I must be off, too," said Shelton. Making their adieux together,
they sought their hats and coats.
CHAPTER XIV. THE NIGHT CLUB
"May I ask," said Shelton, as he and the youth came out into the
chilly street, "What it is you call the 'Den'?"
His companion smilingly answered:
"Oh, the night club. We take it in turns. Thursday is my night.
Would you like to come? You see a lot of types. It's only round the
Shelton digested a momentary doubt, and answered:
They reached the corner house in an angle of a, dismal street,
through the open door of which two men had just gone in. Following,
they ascended some wooden, fresh-washed stairs, and entered a large
boarded room smelling of sawdust, gas, stale coffee, and old clothes.
It was furnished with a bagatelle board, two or three wooden tables,
some wooden forms, and a wooden bookcase. Seated on these wooden
chairs, or standing up, were youths, and older men of the working
class, who seemed to Shelton to be peculiarly dejected. One was
reading, one against the wall was drinking coffee with a
disillusioned air, two were playing chess, and a group of four made a
ceaseless clatter with the bagatelle.
A little man in a dark suit, with a pale face, thin lips, and deep-
set, black-encircled eyes, who was obviously in charge, came up with
an anaemic smile.
"You 're rather late," he said to Curly, and, looking ascetically at
Shelton, asked, without waiting for an introduction: "Do you play
chess? There 's young Smith wants a game."
A youth with a wooden face, already seated before a fly-blown chess-
board, asked him drearily if he would have black or white. Shelton
took white; he was oppressed by the virtuous odour of this room.
The little man with the deep blue eyes came up, stood in an uneasy
attitude, and watched:
"Your play's improving, young Smith," he said; "I should think you'd
be able to give Banks a knight." His eyes rested on Shelton,
fanatical and dreary; his monotonous voice was suffering and nasal;
he was continually sucking in his lips, as though determined to
subdue 'the flesh. "You should come here often," he said to Shelton,
as the latter received checkmate; "you 'd get some good practice.
We've several very fair players. You're not as good as Jones or
Bartholomew," he added to Shelton's opponent, as though he felt it a
duty to put the latter in his place. "You ought to come here often,"
he repeated to Shelton; "we have a lot of very good young fellows";
and, with a touch of complacence, he glanced around the dismal room.
"There are not so many here tonight as usual. Where are Toombs and
Shelton, too, looked anxiously around. He could not help feeling
sympathy with Toombs and Body.
"They 're getting slack, I'm afraid," said the little deep-eyed man.
"Our principle is to amuse everyone. Excuse me a minute; I see that
Carpenter is doing nothing." He crossed over to the man who had been
drinking coffee, but Shelton had barely time to glance at his
opponent and try to think of a remark, before the little man was
back. "Do you know anything about astronomy?" he asked of Shelton.
"We have several very interested in astronomy; if you could talk to
them a little it would help."
Shelton made a motion of alarm.
"Please-no," said he; "I---"
"I wish you'd come sometimes on Wednesdays; we have most interesting
talks, and a service afterwards. We're always anxious to get new
blood"; and his eyes searched Shelton's brown, rather tough-looking
face, as though trying to see how much blood there was in it. "Young
Curly says you 've just been around the world; you could describe
"May I ask," said Shelton, "how your club is made up?"
Again a look of complacency, and blessed assuagement, visited the
"Oh," he said, "we take anybody, unless there 's anything against
them. The Day Society sees to that. Of course, we shouldn't take
anyone if they were to report against them. You ought to come to our
committee meetings; they're on Mondays at seven. The women's side,
"Thank you," said Shelton; "you 're very kind---"
"We should be pleased," said the little man; and his face seemed to
suffer more than ever. "They 're mostly young fellows here to-night,
but we have married men, too. Of course, we 're very careful about
that," he added hastily, as though he might have injured Shelton's
prejudices--"that, and drink, and anything criminal, you know."
"And do you give pecuniary assistance, too?"
"Oh yes," replied the little man; "if you were to come to our
committee meetings you would see for yourself. Everything is most
carefully gone into; we endeavour to sift the wheat from the chaff."
"I suppose," said Shelton, "you find a great deal of chaff?"
The little man smiled a suffering smile. The twang of his toneless
voice sounded a trifle shriller.
"I was obliged to refuse a man to-day--a man and a woman, quite young
people, with three small children. He was ill and out of work; but
on inquiry we found that they were not man and wife."
There was a slight pause; the little man's eyes were fastened on his
nails, and, with an appearance of enjoyment, he began to bite them.
Shelton's face had grown a trifle red.
"And what becomes of the woman and the children in a case like that?"
The little man's eyes began to smoulder.
"We make a point of not encouraging sin, of course. Excuse me a
minute; I see they've finished bagatelle."
He hurried off, and in a moment the clack of bagatelle began again.
He himself was playing with a cold and spurious energy, running after
the balls and exhorting the other players, upon whom a wooden
acquiescence seemed to fall.
Shelton crossed the room, and went up to young Curly. He was sitting
on a bench, smiling to himself his private smiles.
"Are you staying here much longer?" Shelton asked.
Young Curly rose with nervous haste.
"I 'm afraid," he said, " there 's nobody very interesting here to-
"Oh, not at all!" said Shelton; "on the contrary. Only I 've had a
rather tiring day, and somehow I don't feel up to the standard here."
His new acquaintance smiled.
"Oh, really! do you think--that is--"
But he had not time to finish before the clack of bagatelle balls
ceased, and the voice of the little deep-eyed man was heard saying:
"Anybody who wants a book will put his name down. There will be the
usual prayer-meeting on Wednesday next. Will you all go quietly?
I am going to turn the lights out."
One gas-jet vanished, and the remaining jet flared suddenly. By its
harder glare the wooden room looked harder too, and disenchanting.
The figures of its occupants began filing through the door. The
little man was left in the centre of the room, his deep eyes
smouldering upon the backs of the retreating members, his thumb and
finger raised to the turncock of the metre.
"Do you know this part?" asked young Curly as they emerged into the
street. "It 's really jolly; one of the darkest bits in London--it
is really. If you care, I can take you through an awfully dangerous
place where the police never go." He seemed so anxious for the
honour that Shelton was loath to disappoint him. "I come here pretty
often," he went on, as they ascended a sort of alley rambling darkly
between a wall and row of houses.
"Why?" asked Shelton; "it does n't smell too nice."
The young man threw up his nose and sniffed, as if eager to add any
new scent that might be about to his knowledge of life.
"No, that's one of the reasons, you know," he said; "one must find
out. The darkness is jolly, too; anything might happen here. Last
week there was a murder; there 's always the chance of one."
Shelton stared; but the charge of morbidness would not lie against
this fresh-cheeked stripling.
"There's a splendid drain just here," his guide resumed; "the people
are dying like flies of typhoid in those three houses"; and under the
first light he turned his grave, cherubic face to indicate the
houses. "If we were in the East End, I could show you other places
quite as good. There's a coffee-stall keeper in one that knows all
the thieves in London; he 's a splendid type, but," he added, looking
a little anxiously at Shelton, "it might n't be safe for you. With
me it's different; they 're beginning to know me. I've nothing to
take, you see."
"I'm afraid it can't be to-night," said Shelton; " I must get back."
"Do you mind if I walk with you? It's so jolly now the stars are
"Delighted," said Shelton; "do you often go to that club?"
His companion raised his hat, and ran his fingers through his hair.
"They 're rather too high-class for me," he said. "I like to go
where you can see people eat--school treats, or somewhere in the
country. It does one good to see them eat. They don't get enough,
you see, as a rule, to make bone; it's all used up for brain and
muscle. There are some places in the winter where they give them
bread and cocoa; I like to go to those."
"I went once," said Shelton, " but I felt ashamed for putting my nose
"Oh, they don't mind; most of them are half-dead with cold, you know.
You see splendid types; lots of dipsomaniacs . . . . It 's useful
to me," he went on as they passed a police-station, "to walk about at
night; one can take so much more notice. I had a jolly night last
week in Hyde Park; a chance to study human nature there."
"And do you find it interesting?" asked Shelton.
His companion smiled.
"Awfully," he replied; "I saw a fellow pick three pockets."
" What did you do?"
"I had a jolly talk with him."
Shelton thought of the little deep-eyed man; who made a point of not
"He was one of the professionals from Notting Hill, you know; told me
his life. Never had a chance, of course. The most interesting part
was telling him I 'd seen him pick three pockets--like creeping into
a cave, when you can't tell what 's inside."
"He showed me what he 'd got--only fivepence halfpenny."
"And what became of your friend?" asked Shelton.
"Oh, went off; he had a splendidly low forehead."
They had reached Shelton's rooms.
"Will you come in," said the latter, "and have a drink?"
The youth smiled, blushed, and shook his head.
"No, thank you," he said; "I have to walk to Whitechapel. I 'm
living on porridge now; splendid stuff for making bone. I generally
live on porridge for a week at the end of every month. It 's the
best diet if you're hard up"; once more blushing and smiling, he was
Shelton went upstairs and sat down on his bed. He felt a little
miserable. Sitting there, slowly pulling out the ends of his white
tie, disconsolate, he had a vision of Antonia with her gaze fixed
wonderingly on him. And this wonder of hers came as a revelation--
just as that morning, when, looking from his window, he had seen a
passer-by stop suddenly and scratch his leg; and it had come upon him
in a flash that that man had thoughts and feelings of his own. He
would never know what Antonia really felt and thought. "Till I saw
her at the station, I did n't know how much I loved her or how little
I knew her"; and, sighing deeply, he hurried into bed.
CHAPTER XV. POLE TO POLE
The waiting in London for July to come was daily more unbearable to
Shelton, and if it had not been for Ferrand, who still came to
breakfast, he would have deserted the Metropolis. On June first the
latter presented himself rather later than was his custom, and
announced that, through a friend, he had heard of a position as
interpreter to an hotel at Folkestone.
"If I had money to face the first necessities, he said, swiftly
turning over a collection of smeared papers with his yellow fingers,
as if searching for his own identity, "I 'd leave today. This London
blackens my spirit."
"Are you certain to get this place," asked Shelton.
"I think so," the young foreigner replied; "I 've got some good
Shelton could not help a dubious glance at the papers in his hand. A
hurt look passed on to Ferrand's curly lips beneath his nascent red
"You mean that to have false papers is as bad as theft. No, no; I
shall never be a thief--I 've had too many opportunities," said he,
with pride and bitterness. "That's not in my character. I never do
harm to anyone. This"--he touched the papers--"is not delicate, but
it does harm to no one. If you have no money you must have papers;
they stand between you and starvation. Society, has an excellent eye
for the helpless--it never treads on people unless they 're really
down." He looked at Shelton.
"You 've made me what I am, amongst you," he seemed to say;, "now put
up with me!"
"But there are always the workhouses," Shelton remarked at last.
"Workhouses!" returned Ferrand; "certainly there are--regular
palaces: I will tell you one thing: I've never been in places so
discouraging as your workhouses; they take one's very heart out."
"I always understood," said Shelton coldly; "that our system was
better than that of other countries."
Ferrand leaned over in his chair, an elbow on his knee, his favourite
attitude when particularly certain of his point.
"Well he replied, "it 's always permissible to think well of your own
country. But, frankly, I've come out of those places here with
little strength and no heart at all, and I can tell you why." His
lips lost their bitterness, and he became an artist expressing the
result of his experience. "You spend your money freely, you have
fine buildings, self-respecting officers, but you lack the spirit of
hospitality. The reason is plain; you have a horror of the needy.
You invite us--and when we come you treat us justly enough, but as if
we were numbers, criminals, beneath contempt--as if we had inflicted
a personal injury on you; and when we get out again, we are naturally
Shelton bit his lips.
"How much money will you want for your ticket, and to make a start?"
The nervous gesture escaping Ferrand at this juncture betrayed how
far the most independent thinkers are dependent when they have no
money in their pockets. He took the note that Shelton proffered him.
"A thousand thanks," said he; " I shall never forget what you have
done for me"; and Shelton could not help feeling that there was true
emotion behind his titter of farewell.
He stood at the window watching Ferrand start into the world again;
then looked back at his own comfortable room, with the number of
things that had accumulated somehow--the photographs of countless
friends, the old arm-chairs, the stock of coloured pipes. Into him
restlessness had passed with the farewell clasp of the foreigner's
damp hand. To wait about in London was unbearable.
He took his hat, and, heedless of direction, walked towards the
river. It was a clear, bright day, with a bleak wind driving showers
before it. During one of such Shelton found himself in Little Blank
Street. "I wonder how that little Frenchman that I saw is getting
on!" he thought. On a fine day he would probably have passed by on
the other side; he now entered and tapped upon the wicket.
No. 3 Little Blank Street had abated nothing of its stone-flagged
dreariness; the same blowsy woman answered his inquiry. Yes, Carolan
was always in; you could never catch him out--seemed afraid to go
into the street! To her call the little Frenchman made his
appearance as punctually as if he had been the rabbit of a conjurer.
His face was as yellow as a guinea.
"Ah! it's you, monsieur!" he said.
"Yes," said Shelton; "and how are you?"
"It 's five days since I came out of hospital," muttered the little
Frenchman, tapping on his chest; "a crisis of this bad atmosphere.
I live here, shut up in a box; it does me harm, being from the South.
If there's anything I can do for you, monsieur, it will give me
"Nothing," replied Shelton, "I was just passing, and thought I should
like to hear how you were getting on."
"Come into the kitchen,--monsieur, there is nobody in there. 'Brr!
Il fait un froid etonnant'!"
"What sort of customers have you just now?" asked Shelton, as they
passed into the kitchen.
"Always the same clientele," replied the little man; "not so
numerous, of course, it being summer."
"Could n't you find anything better than this to do?"
The barber's crow's-feet radiated irony.
"When I first came to London," said he, "I secured an engagement at
one of your public institutions. I thought my fortune made. _
Imagine, monsieur, in that sacred place I was obliged to shave at the
rate of ten a penny! Here, it's true, they don't pay me half the
time; but when I'm paid, I 'm paid. In this, climate, and being
'poitrinaire', one doesn't make experiments. I shall finish my days
here. Have you seen that young man who interested you? There 's
another! He has spirit, as I had once--'il fait de la philosophie',
as I do--and you will see, monsieur, it will finish him. In this
world what you want is to have no spirit. Spirit ruins you."
Shelton looked sideways at the little man with his sardonic, yellow,
half-dead face, and the incongruity of the word "spirit" in his mouth
struck him so sharply that he smiled a smile with more pity in it
than any burst of tears.
"Shall we 'sit down?" he said, offering a cigarette.
"Merci, monsieur, it is always a pleasure to smoke a good cigarette.
You remember, that old actor who gave you a Jeremiad? Well, he's
dead. I was the only one at his bedside; 'un vrai drole'. He was
another who had spirit. And you wi11 see, monsieur, that young man
in whom you take an interest, he'll die in a hospital, or in some.
hole or other, or even on the highroad; having closed his eyes once
too often some cold night; and all because he has something in him
which will not accept things as they are, believing always that they
should be better. 'Il n'y a riens de plus tragique'!"
"According to you, then," said Shelton--and the conversation seemed
to him of a sudden to have taken too personal a turn--"rebellion of
any sort is fatal."
"Ah!" replied the little man, with the eagerness of one whose ideal
it is to sit under the awning of a caf‚ and talk life upside down,
"you pose me a great problem there! If one makes rebellion; it is
always probable that one will do no good to any one and harm one's
self. The law of the majority arranges that. But I would draw your
attention to this"--and he paused; as if it were a real discovery to
blow smoke through his nose--"if you rebel it is in all likelihood
because you are forced by your nature to rebel; this is one of the
most certain things in life. In any case, it is necessary to avoid
falling between two stools--which is unpardonable," he ended with
Shelton thought he had never seen a man who looked more completely as
if he had fallen between two stools, and he had inspiration enough to
feel that the little barber's intellectual rebellion and the action
logically required by it had no more than a bowing acquaintanceship.
"By nature," went on the little man, "I am an optimist; it is in
consequence of this that I now make pessimism. I have always had
ideals; seeing myself cut off from them for ever, I must complain; to
complain, monsieur, is very sweet!"
Shelton wondered what these ideals had been, but had no answer ready;
so he nodded, and again held out his cigarettes, for, like a true
Southerner, the little man had thrown the first away, half smoked.
"The greatest pleasure in life," continued the Frenchman, with a bow,
"is to talk a little to a being who is capable of understanding you.
At present we have no one here, now that that old actor's dead. Ah!
there was a man who was rebellion incarnate! He made rebellion as
other men make money, 'c'etait son metier'; when he was no longer
capable of active revolution, he made it getting drunk. At the last
this was his only way of protesting against Society. An interesting
personality, 'je le regrette beaucoup'. But, as you see, he died in
great distress, without a soul to wave him farewell, because as you
can well understand, monsieur, I don't count myself. He died drunk.
'C'etait un homme'!"
Shelton had continued staring kindly at the little man; the barber
"It's difficult to make an end like that one has moments of
"Yes," assented Shelton, "one has indeed."
The little barber looked at him with cynical discretion.
"Oh!" he said, "it 's to the destitute that such things are
important. When one has money, all these matters---"
He shrugged his shoulders. A smile had lodged amongst his crow's-
feet; he waved his hand as though to end the subject.
A sense of having been exposed came over Shelton.
"You think, then," said he, "that discontent is peculiar to the
"Monsieur," replied the little barber, "a plutocrat knows too well
that if he mixes in that 'galere' there 's not a dog in the streets
more lost than he."
"The rain is over. I hope you 'll soon be better; perhaps you 'll
accept this in memory of that old actor," and he slipped a sovereign
into the little Frenchman's hand.
The latter bowed.
"Whenever you are passing, monsieur," he said eagerly, "I shall be
charmed to see you."
And Shelton walked away. "'Not a dog in the streets more lost,'"
thought he; "now what did he mean by that?"
Something of that "lost dog" feeling had gripped his spirit. Another
month of waiting would kill all the savour of anticipation, might
even kill his love. In the excitement of his senses and his nerves,
caused by this strain of waiting, everything seemed too vivid; all
was beyond life size; like Art--whose truths; too strong for daily
use, are thus, unpopular with healthy people. As will the, bones ;in
a worn face, the spirit underlying things had reached the surface;
the meanness and intolerable measure of hard facts, were too
apparent. Some craving for help, some instinct, drove him into
Kensington, for he found himself before his, mother's house.
Providence seemed bent on flinging him from pole to pole.
Mrs. Shelton was in town; and, though it was the first of June, sat
warming her feet before a fire; her face, with its pleasant colour,
was crow's-footed like the little barber's, but from optimism, not
rebellion. She, smiled when she saw her son; and the wrinkles round
her eyes twinkled, with vitality.
"Well, my dear boy," she said, "it's lovely to see you. And how is
that sweet girl?"
"Very well, thank you," replied Shelton.
"She must be such a dear!"
"Mother," stammered Shelton, "I must give it up."
"Give it up? My dear Dick, give what up? You look quite worried.
Come and sit down, and have a cosy chat. Cheer up!" And Mrs.
Shelton; with her head askew, gazed at her son quite irrepressibly.
Mother," said Shelton, who, confronted by her optimism, had never,
since his time of trial began, felt so wretchedly dejected, "I can't
go on waiting about like this."
"My dear boy, what is the matter?";
"Everything is wrong!
"Wrong?" cried Mrs. Shelton. "Come, tell me all, about it!"
But Shelton, shook his head.
"You surely have not had a quarrel----"
Mrs. Shelton stopped; the question seemed so vulgar--one might have
asked it of a groom.
"No," said Shelton, and his answer sounded like a groan.
"You know, my dear old Dick," murmured his mother, "it seems a little
"I know it seems mad."
"Come!" said Mrs. Shelton, taking his hand between her own; "you
never used to be like this."
"No," said Shelton, with a laugh; "I never used to be like this."
Mrs. Shelton snuggled in her Chuda shawl.
"Oh," she said, with cheery sympathy, "I know exactly how you feel!"
Shelton, holding his head, stared at the fire, which played and
bubbled like his mother's face.
"But you're so fond of each other," she began again. "Such a sweet
"You don't understand," muttered Shelton gloomily; "it 's not her--
Mrs. Shelton again seized his hand, and this time pressed it to her
soft, warm cheek, that had lost the elasticity of youth.
"Oh!" she cried again; "I understand. I know exactly what you 're
feeling." But Shelton saw from the fixed beam in her eyes that she
had not an inkling. To do him justice, he was not so foolish as to
try to give her one. Mrs. Shelton sighed. "It would be so lovely if
you could wake up
to-morrow and think differently. If I were you, my dear, I would
have a good long walk, and then a Turkish bath; and then I would just
write to her, and tell her all about it, and you'll see how
beautifully it'll all come straight"; and in the enthusiasm of advice
Mrs. Shelton rose, and, with a faint stretch of her tiny figure,
still so young, clasped her hands together. "Now do, that 's a dear
old Dick! You 'll just see how lovely it'll be!" Shelton smiled; he
had not the heart to chase away this vision. "And give her my
warmest love, and tell her I 'm longing for the wedding. Come, now,
my dear boy, promise me that's what you 'll do."
And Shelton said: " I'll think about it."
Mrs. Shelton had taken up her stand with one foot on the fender, in
spite of her sciatica,.
"Cheer up!" she cried; her eyes beamed as if intoxicated by her
Wonderful woman! The uncomplicated optimism that carried her through
good and ill had not descended to her son.
>From pole to pole he had been thrown that day, from the French
barber, whose intellect accepted nothing without carping, and whose
little fingers worked all day, to save himself from dying out, to his
own mother, whose intellect accepted anything presented with
sufficient glow, but who, until she died, would never stir a finger.
When Shelton reached his rooms, he wrote to Antonia:
I can't wait about in London any longer; I am going down to Bideford
to start a walking tour. I shall work my way to Oxford, and stay
there till I may come to Holm Oaks. I shall send you my address; do
write as usual.
He collected all the photographs he had of her--amateur groups, taken
by Mrs. Dennant--and packed them in the pocket of his shooting-
jacket. There was one where she was standing just below her little
brother, who was perched upon a wall. In her half-closed eyes, round
throat, and softly tilted chin, there was something cool and
watchful, protecting the ragamuffin up above her head. This he kept
apart to be looked at daily, as a man says his prayers.
PART II. THE COUNTRY
CHAPTER XVI. THE INDIAN CIVILIAN
One morning then, a week later, Shelton found himself at the walls of
He had seen this lugubrious stone cage before. But the magic of his
morning walk across the moor, the sight of the pagan tors, the songs
of the last cuckoo, had unprepared him for that dreary building. He
left the street, and, entering the fosse, began a circuit, scanning
the walls with morbid fascination.
This, then, was the system by which men enforced the will of the
majority, and it was suddenly borne in on him that all the ideas and
maxims which his Christian countrymen believed themselves to be
fulfilling daily were stultified in every cellule of the social
honeycomb. Such teachings as "He that is without sin amongst you"
had been pronounced unpractical by peers and judges, bishops,
statesmen, merchants, husbands--in fact, by every truly Christian
person in the country.
"Yes," thought Shelton, as if he had found out something new, "the
more Christian the nation, the less it has to do with the Christian
Society was a charitable organisation, giving nothing for nothing,
little for sixpence; and it was only fear that forced it to give at
He took a seat on a wall, and began to watch a warder who was slowly
paring a last year's apple. The expression of his face, the way he
stood with his solid legs apart, his head poked forward and his lower
jaw thrust out, all made him a perfect pillar of Society. He was
undisturbed by Shelton's scrutiny, watching the rind coil down below
the apple; until in a springing spiral it fell on the path and
collapsed like a toy snake. He took a bite; his teeth were jagged;
and his mouth immense. It was obvious that he considered himself a
most superior man. Shelton frowned, got down slowly, from the wall,
and proceeded on his way.
A little further down the hill he stopped again to watch a group of
convicts in a field. They seemed to be dancing in a slow and sad
cotillon, while behind the hedge on every side were warders armed
with guns. Just such a sight, substituting spears could have been
seen in Roman times.
While he thus stood looking, a man, walking, rapidly, stopped beside
him, and asked how many miles it was to Exeter. His round visage;
and long, brown eyes, sliding about beneath their, brows, his cropped
hair and short neck, seemed familiar.
"Your name is Crocker, i5 n't it?" .
"Why! it's the Bird!" exclaimed the traveller; putting out his
hand. "Have n't seen you since we both went down."
Shelton returned his handgrip. Crocker had lived above his head at
college, and often kept him, sleepless half the night by playing on
"Where have you sprung from?"
"India. Got my long leave. I say, are you going this way? Let's go
They went, and very fast; faster and faster every minute.
"Where are you going at this pace?" asked Shelton.
"Oh! only as far as London?"
"I 've set myself to do it in a week."
"Are you in training?"
"You 'll kill yourself."
Crocker answered with a chuckle.
Shelton noted with alarm the expression of his eye; there was a sort
of stubborn aspiration in it. "Still an idealist!" he thought;
"poor fellow!" "Well," he inquired, "what sort of a time have you
had in India?"
"Oh," said the Indian civilian absently, "I've, had the plague."
Crocker smiled, and added:
"Caught it on famine duty."
"I see," said Shelton; "plague and famine! I suppose you fellows
really think you 're doing good out there?"
His companion looked at him surprised, then answered modestly:
"We get very good screws."
"That 's the great thing," responded Shelton.
After a moment's silence, Crocker, looking straight before him,
"Don't you think we are doing good?"
"I 'm not an authority; but, as a matter of fact, I don't."
Crocker seemed disconcerted.
"Why?" he bluntly asked.
Shelton was not anxious to explain his views, and he did not reply.
His friend repeated:
"Why don't you think we're doing good in India?"
"Well," said Shelton gruffly, " how can progress be imposed on
nations from outside?"
The Indian civilian, glancing at Shelton in an affectionate and
doubtful way, replied:
"You have n't changed a bit, old chap."
"No, no," said Shelton; "you 're not going to get out of it that way.
Give me a single example of a nation, or an individual, for that
matter, who 's ever done any good without having worked up to it from
Crocker, grunting, muttered, "Evils."
"That 's it," said Shelton; "we take peoples entirely different from
our own, and stop their natural development by substituting a
civilisation grown for our own use. Suppose, looking at a tropical
fern in a hothouse, you were to say: 'This heat 's unhealthy for me;
therefore it must be bad for the fern, I 'll take it up and plant it
outside in the fresh air.'"
"Do you know that means giving up India?" said the Indian civilian
"I don't say that; but to talk about doing good to India is--h'm!"
Crocker knitted his brows, trying to see the point of view his friend
was showing him.
"Come, now! Should we go on administering India if it were dead
loss? No. Well, to talk about administering the country for the
purpose of pocketing money is cynical, and there 's generally some
truth in cynicism; but to talk about the administration of a country
by which we profit, as if it were a great and good thing, is cant.
I hit you in the wind for the benefit of myself--all right: law of
nature; but to say it does you good at the same time is beyond me."
"No, no," returned Crocker, grave and anxious; "you can't persuade me
that we 're not doing good."
"Wait a bit. It's all a question of horizons; you look at it from
too close. Put the horizon further back. You hit India in the wind,
and say it's virtuous. Well, now let's see what happens. Either the
wind never comes back, and India gasps to an untimely death, or the
wind does come back, and in the pant of reaction your blow--that's to
say your labour--is lost, morally lost labour that you might have
spent where it would n't have been lost."
"Are n't you an Imperialist?" asked Crocker, genuinely concerned.
"I may be, but I keep my mouth shut about the benefits we 're
conferring upon other people."
"Then you can't believe in abstract right, or justice?"
"What on earth have our ideas of justice or right got to do with
"If I thought as you do," sighed the unhappy Crocker, "I should be
"Quite so. We always think our standards best for the whole world.
It's a capital belief for us. Read the speeches of our public men.
Does n't it strike you as amazing how sure they are of being in the
right? It's so charming to benefit yourself and others at the same
time, though, when you come to think of it, one man's meat is usually
another's poison. Look at nature. But in England we never look at
nature--there's no necessity. Our national point of view has filled
our pockets, that's all that matters."
"I say, old chap, that's awfully bitter," said Crocker, with a sort
of wondering sadness.
"It 's enough to make any one bitter the way we Pharisees wax fat,
and at the same time give ourselves the moral airs of a balloon.
I must stick a pin in sometimes, just to hear the gas escape."
Shelton was surprised at his own heat, and for some strange reason
thought of Antonia--surely, she was not a Pharisee.
His companion strode along, and Shelton felt sorry for the signs of
trouble on his face.
"To fill your pockets," said Crocker, "is n't the main thing. One
has just got to do things without thinking of why we do them."
"Do you ever see the other side to any question?" asked Shelton.
"I suppose not. You always begin to act before you stop thinking,
"He's a Pharisee, too," thought Shelton, "without a Pharisee's pride.
Queer thing that!"
After walking some distance, as if thinking deeply, Crocker chuckled
"You 're not consistent; you ought to be in favour of giving up
Shelton smiled uneasily.
"Why should n't we fill our pockets? I only object to the humbug
that we talk."
The Indian civilian put his hand shyly through his arm.
"If I thought like you," he said, "I could n't stay another day in
And to this Shelton made no reply.
The wind had now begun to drop, and something of the morning's magic
was stealing again upon the moor. They were nearing the outskirt
fields of cultivation. It was past five when, dropping from the
level of the tors, they came into the sunny vale of Monkland.
"They say," said Crocker, reading from his guide-book--"they say this
place occupies a position of unique isolation."
The two travellers, in tranquil solitude, took their seats under an
old lime-tree on the village green. The smoke of their pipes, the
sleepy air, the warmth from the baked ground, the constant hum, made
"Do you remember," his companion asked, "those 'jaws' you used to
have with Busgate and old Halidome in my rooms on Sunday evenings?
How is old Halidome?"
"Married," replied Shelton.
Crocker sighed. "And are you?" he asked.
"Not yet," said Shelton grimly; "I 'm--engaged."
Crocker took hold of his arm above the elbow, and, squeezing it, he
grunted. Shelton had not received congratulations that pleased him
more; there was the spice of envy in them.
"I should like to get married while I 'm home," said the civilian
after a long pause. His legs were stretched apart, throwing shadows
on the green, his hands deep thrust into his pockets, his head a
little to one side. An absent-minded smile played round his mouth.
The sun had sunk behind a tor, but the warmth kept rising from the
ground, and the sweet-briar on a cottage bathed them with its spicy
perfume. From the converging lanes figures passed now and then,
lounged by, staring at the strangers, gossiping amongst themselves,
and vanished into the cottages that headed the incline. A clock
struck seven, and round the shady lime-tree a chafer or some heavy
insect commenced its booming rushes. All was marvellously sane and
slumbrous. The soft air, the drawling voices, the shapes and
murmurs, the rising smell of wood-smoke from fresh-kindled fires--
were full of the spirit of security and of home. The outside world
was far indeed. Typical of some island nation was this nest of
refuge--where men grew quietly tall, fattened, and without fuss
dropped off their perches; where contentment flourished, as
sunflowers flourished in the sun.
Crocker's cap slipped off; he was nodding, and Shelton looked at him.
>From a manor house in some such village he had issued; to one of a
thousand such homes he would find his way at last, untouched by the
struggles with famines or with plagues, uninfected in his fibre, his
prejudices, and his principles, unchanged by contact with strange
peoples, new conditions, odd feelings, or queer points of view!
The chafer buzzed against his shoulder, gathered flight again, and
boomed away. Crocker roused himself, and, turning his amiable face,
jogged Shelton's arm.
"What are you thinking about, Bird?" he asked.
CHAPTER XVII. A PARSON
Shelton continued to travel with his college friend, and on Wednesday
night, four days after joining company, they reached the village of
Dowdenhame. All day long the road had lain through pastureland, with
thick green hedges and heavily feathered elms. Once or twice they
had broken the monotony by a stretch along the towing-path of a
canal, which, choked with water-lily plants and shining weeds,
brooded sluggishly beside the fields. Nature, in one of her ironic
moods, had cast a grey and iron-hard cloak over all the country's
bland luxuriance. From dawn till darkness fell there had been no
movement in the steely distant sky; a cold wind ruffed in the hedge-
tops, and sent shivers through the branches of the elms. The cattle,
dappled, pied, or bay, or white, continued grazing with an air of
grumbling at their birthright. In a meadow close to the canal
Shelton saw five magpies, and about five o'clock the rain began, a
steady, coldly-sneering rain, which Crocker, looking at the sky,
declared was going to be over in a minute. But it was not over in a
minute; they were soon drenched. Shelton was tired, and it annoyed
him very much that his companion, who was also tired, should grow
more cheerful. His thoughts kept harping upon Ferrand: "This must be
something like what he described to me, tramping on and on when
you're dead-beat, until you can cadge up supper and a bed." And
sulkily he kept on ploughing through the mud with glances at the
exasperating Crocker, who had skinned one heel and was limping
horribly. It suddenly came home to him that life for three quarters
of the world meant physical exhaustion every day, without a
possibility of alternative, and that as soon as, for some cause
beyond control, they failed thus to exhaust themselves, they were
reduced to beg or starve. "And then we, who don't know the meaning
of the word exhaustion, call them 'idle scamps,'" he said aloud.
It was past nine and dark when they reached Dowdenhame. The street
yielded no accommodation, and while debating where to go they passed
the church, with a square tower, and next to it a house which was
certainly the parsonage.
"Suppose," said Crocker, leaning on his arms upon the gate, "we ask
him where to go"; and, without waiting for Shelton's answer, he rang
The door was opened by the parson, a bloodless and clean-shaven man,
whose hollow cheeks and bony hands suggested a perpetual struggle.
Ascetically benevolent were his grey eyes; a pale and ghostly smile
played on the curves of his thin lips.
"What can I do for you?" he asked. "Inn? yes, there's the Blue
Chequers, but I 'm afraid you 'll find it shut. They 're early
people, I 'm glad to say"; and his eyes seemed to muse over the
proper fold for these damp sheep. "Are you Oxford men, by any
chance?" he asked, as if that might throw some light upon the matter.
"Of Mary's? Really! I'm of Paul's myself. Ladyman--Billington
Ladyman; you might remember my youngest brother. I could give you a
room here if you could manage without sheets. My housekeeper has two
days' holiday; she's foolishly taken the keys."
Shelton accepted gladly, feeling that the intonation in the parson's
voice was necessary unto his calling, and that he did not want to
"You 're hungry, I expect, after your tramp. I'm very much afraid
there 's--er--nothing in the house but bread; I could boil you water;
hot lemonade is better than nothing.
Conducting them into the kitchen, he made a fire, and put a kettle on
to boil; then, after leaving them to shed their soaking clothes,
returned with ancient, greenish coats, some carpet slippers, and some
blankets. Wrapped in these, and carrying their glasses, the
travellers followed to the study, where, by doubtful lamp-light, he
seemed, from books upon the table, to have been working at his
"We 're giving you a lot of trouble," said Shelton, "it's really very
good of you."
"Not at all," the parson answered; I'm only grieved the house is
It was a truly dismal contrast to the fatness of the land they had
been passing through, and the parson's voice issuing from bloodless
lips, although complacent, was pathetic. It was peculiar, that voice
of his, seeming to indicate an intimate acquaintanceship with what
was fat and fine, to convey contempt for the vulgar need of money,
while all the time his eyes--those watery, ascetic eyes--as plain as
speech they said, "Oh, to know what it must be like to have a pound
or two to spare just once a year, or so!"
Everything in the room had been bought for cheapness; no luxuries
were there, and necessaries not enough. It was bleak and bare; the
ceiling cracked, the wall-paper discoloured, and those books--prim,
shining books, fat-backed, with arms stamped on them--glared in the
"My predecessor," said the parson, "played rather havoc with the
house. The poor fellow had a dreadful struggle, I was told. You
can, unfortunately, expect nothing else these days, when livings have
come down so terribly in value! He was a married man--large family!"
Crocker, who had drunk his steaming lemonade, was smiling and already
nodding in his chair; with his black garment buttoned closely round
his throat, his long legs rolled up in a blanket, and stretched
towards the feeble flame of the newly-lighted fire, he had a rather
patchy air. Shelton, on the other hand, had lost his feeling of
fatigue; the strangeness of the place was stimulating his brain; he
kept stealing glances at the scantiness around; the room, the parson,
the furniture, the very fire, all gave him the feeling caused by
seeing legs that have outgrown their trousers. But there was
something underlying that leanness of the landscape, something
superior and academic, which defied all sympathy. It was pure
nervousness which made him say:
"Ah! why do they have such families?"
A faint red mounted to the parson's cheeks; its appearance there was
startling, and Crocker chuckled, as a sleepy man will chuckle who
feels bound to show that he is not asleep.
"It's very unfortunate," murmured the parson, "certainly, in many
Shelton would now have changed the subject, but at this moment the
unhappy Crocker snored. Being a man of action, he had gone to sleep.
"It seems to me," said Shelton hurriedly, as he saw the parson's
eyebrows rising at the sound, "almost what you might call wrong."
"Dear me, but how can it be wrong?"
Shelton now felt that he must justify his saying somehow.
"I don't know," he said, "only one hears of such a lot of cases--
clergymen's families; I've two uncles of my own, who---"
A new expression gathered on the parson's face; his mouth had
tightened, and his chin receded slightly. " Why, he 's like a mule!"
thought Shelton. His eyes, too, had grown harder, greyer, and more
parroty. Shelton no longer liked his face.
"Perhaps you and I," the parson said, "would not understand each
other on such matters."
And Shelton felt ashamed.
"I should like to ask you a question in turn, however," the parson
said, as if desirous of meeting Shelton on his low ground: "How do
you justify marriage if it is not to follow the laws of nature?"
"I can only tell you what I personally feel."
"My dear sir, you forget that a woman's chief delight is in her
"I should have thought it a pleasure likely to pall with too much
repetition. Motherhood is motherhood, whether of one or of a dozen."
"I 'm afraid," replied the parson, with impatience, though still
keeping on his guest's low ground, "your theories are not calculated
to populate the world."
"Have you ever lived in London?" Shelton asked. "It always makes me
feel a doubt whether we have any right to have children at all."
"Surely," said the parson with wonderful restraint, and the joints of
his fingers cracked with the grip he had upon his chair, "you are
leaving out duty towards the country; national growth is paramount!"
"There are two ways of looking at that. It depends on what you want
your country to become."
"I did n't know," said the parson--fanaticism now had crept into his
smile--"there could be any doubt on such a subject."
The more Shelton felt that commands were being given him, the more
controversial he naturally became--apart from the merits of this
subject, to which he had hardly ever given thought.
"I dare say I'm wrong," he said, fastening his eyes on the blanket in
which his legs were wrapped; "but it seems to me at least an open
question whether it's better for the country to be so well populated
as to be quite incapable of supporting itself." -
"Surely," said the parson, whose face regained its pallor, "you're
not a Little Englander?"
On Shelton this phrase had a mysterious effect. Resisting an impulse
to discover what he really was, he answered hastily:
" Of course I'm not!"
The parson followed up his triumph, and, shifting the ground of the
discussion from Shelton's to his own, he gravely said:
"Surely you must see that your theory is founded in immorality. It
is, if I may say so, extravagant, even wicked."
But Shelton, suffering from irritation at his own dishonesty, replied
"Why not say at once, sir, 'hysterical, unhealthy'? Any opinion
which goes contrary to that of the majority is always called so, I
"Well," returned the parson, whose eyes seemed trying to bind Shelton
to his will, "I must say your ideas do seem to me both extravagant
and unhealthy. The propagation of children is enjoined of marriage."
Shelton bowed above his blanket, but the parson did not smile.
"We live in very dangerous times," he said, "and it grieves me when a
man of your standing panders to these notions."
"Those," said Shelton, "whom the shoe does n't pinch make this rule
of morality, and thrust it on to such as the shoe does pinch."
"The rule was never made," said the parson; "it was given us."
"Oh!" said Shelton, "I beg your pardon." He was in danger of
forgetting the delicate position he was in. "He wants to ram his
notions down my throat," he thought; and it seemed to him that the
parson's face had grown more like a mule's, his accent more superior,
his eyes more dictatorial: To be right in this argument seemed now of
great importance, whereas, in truth, it was of no importance
whatsoever. That which, however, was important was the fact that in
nothing could they ever have agreed.
But Crocker had suddenly ceased to snore; his head had fallen so that
a peculiar whistling arose instead. Both Shelton and the parson
looked at him, and the sight sobered them.
"Your friend seems very tired," said the parson.
Shelton forgot all his annoyance, for his host seemed suddenly
pathetic, with those baggy garments, hollow cheeks, and the slightly
reddened nose that comes from not imbibing quite enough. A kind
fellow, after all!
The kind fellow rose, and, putting his hands behind his back, placed
himself before the blackening fire. Whole centuries of authority
stood behind him. It was an accident that the mantelpiece was
chipped and rusty, the fire-irons bent and worn, his linen frayed
about the cuffs.
"I don't wish to dictate," said he, "but where it seems to me that
you are wholly wrong in that your ideas foster in women those lax
views of the family life that are so prevalent in Society nowadays."
Thoughts of Antonia with her candid eyes, the touch of freckling on
her pink-white skin, the fair hair gathered back, sprang up in
Shelton, and that word--"lax" seemed ridiculous. And the women he
was wont to see dragging about the streets of London with two or
three small children, Women bent beneath the weight of babies that
they could not leave, women going to work with babies still unborn,
anaemic-looking women, impecunious mothers in his own class, with
twelve or fourteen children, all the victims of the sanctity of
marriage, and again the word "lax" seemed to be ridiculous.
"We are not put into the world to exercise our wits,"--muttered
"Our wanton wills," the parson said severely.
"That, sir, may have been all right for the last generation, the
country is more crowded now. I can't see why we should n't decide it
"Such a view of morality," said the parson, looking down at Crocker
with a ghostly smile, "to me is unintelligible."
Cracker's whistling grew in tone and in variety.
"What I hate," said Shelton, "is the way we men decide what women are
to bear, and then call them immoral, decadent, or what you will, if
they don't fall in with our views."
"Mr. Shelton," said the parson, "I think we may safely leave it in
the hands of God."
Shelton was silent.
"The questions of morality," said the parson promptly, "have always
lain through God in the hands of men, not women. We are the
Shelton stubbornly replied
"We 're certainly the greater humbugs, if that 's the same."
"This is too bad," exclaimed the parson with some heat.
"I 'm sorry, sir; but how can you expect women nowadays to have the
same views as our grandmothers? We men, by our commercial
enterprise, have brought about a different state of things; yet, for
the sake of our own comfort, we try to keep women where they were.
It's always those men who are most keen about their comfort" --and in
his heat the sarcasm of using the word "comfort" in that room was
lost on him--"who are so ready to accuse women of deserting the old
The parson quivered with impatient irony.
"Old morality! new morality!" he said. "These are strange words."
"Forgive me," explained Shelton; "we 're talking of working morality,
I imagine. There's not a man in a million fit to talk of true
The eyes of his host contracted.
"I think," he said--and his voice sounded as if he had pinched it in
the endeavour to impress his listener--"that any well-educated man
who honestly tries to serve his God has the right humbly--I say
humbly--to claim morality."
Shelton was on the point of saying something bitter, but checked
himself. "Here am I," thought he, "trying to get the last word, like
an old woman."
At this moment there was heard a piteous mewing; the parson went
towards the door.
"Excuse me a moment; I 'm afraid that's one of my cats out in the
wet." He returned a minute later with a wet cat in his arms. "They
will get out," he said to Shelton, with a smile on his thin face,
suffused by stooping. And absently he stroked the dripping cat,
while a drop of wet ran off his nose. "Poor pussy, poor pussy!" The
sound of that "Poor pussy!" like nothing human in its cracked
superiority, the softness of that smile, like the smile of gentleness
itself, haunted Shelton till he fell asleep.
CHAPTER XVIII. ACADEMIC
The last sunlight was playing on the roofs when the travellers
entered that High Street grave and holy to all Oxford men. The
spirit hovering above the spires was as different from its
concretions in their caps and gowns as ever the spirit of Christ was
from church dogmas.
"Shall we go into Grinnings'?" asked Shelton, as they passed the
But each looked at his clothes, for two elegant young men in flannel
suits were coming out.
"You go," said Crocker, with a smirk.
Shelton shook his head. Never before had he felt such love for this
old city. It was gone now from out his life, but everything about it
seemed so good and fine; even its exclusive air was not ignoble.
Clothed in the calm of history, the golden web of glorious tradition,
radiant with the alchemy of memories, it bewitched him like the
perfume of a woman's dress. At the entrance of a college they
glanced in at the cool grey patch of stone beyond, and the scarlet of
a window flowerbox--secluded, mysteriously calm--a narrow vision of
the sacred past. Pale and trencher-capped, a youth with pimply face
and random nose, grabbing at his cloven gown, was gazing at the
noticeboard. The college porter--large man, fresh-faced, and small-
mouthed--stood at his lodge door in a frank and deferential attitude.
An image of routine, he looked like one engaged to give a decorous
air to multitudes of pecadilloes. His blue eyes rested on the
travellers. "I don't know you, sirs, but if you want to speak I
shall be glad to hear the observations you may have to make," they
seemed to say.
Against the wall reposed a bicycle with tennis-racquet buckled to its
handle. A bull-dog bitch, working her snout from side to side, was
snuffling horribly; the great iron-studded door to which her chain
was fastened stayed immovable. Through this narrow mouth, human
metal had been poured for centuries--poured, moulded, given back.
"Come along," said Shelton.
They now entered the Bishop's Head, and had their dinner in the room
where Shelton had given his Derby dinner to four-and-twenty well-bred
youths; here was the picture of the racehorse that the wineglass,
thrown by one of them, had missed when it hit the waiter; and there,
serving Crocker with anchovy sauce, was the very waiter. When they
had finished, Shelton felt the old desire to rise with difficulty
from the table; the old longing to patrol the streets with arm hooked
in some other arm; the old eagerness to dare and do something heroic
--and unlawful; the old sense that he was of the forest set, in the
forest college, of the forest country in the finest world. The
streets, all grave and mellow in the sunset, seemed to applaud this
after-dinner stroll; the entrance quad of his old college--spaciously
majestic, monastically modern, for years the heart of his universe,
the focus of what had gone before it in his life, casting the shadow
of its grey walls over all that had come after-brought him a sense of
rest from conflict, and trust in his own important safety. The
garden-gate, whose lofty spikes he had so often crowned with empty
water-bottles, failed to rouse him. Nor when they passed the
staircase where he had flung a leg of lamb at some indelicate
disturbing tutor, did he feel remorse. High on that staircase were
the rooms in which he had crammed for his degree, upon the system by
which the scholar simmers on the fire of cramming, boils over at the
moment of examination, and is extinct for ever after. His coach's
face recurred to him, a man with thrusting eyes, who reeled off
knowledge all the week, and disappeared to town on Sundays.
They passed their tutor's staircase.
"I wonder if little Turl would remember us?" said Crocker; "I should
like to see him. Shall we go and look him up?"
"Little Turl?" said Shelton dreamily.
Mounting, they knocked upon a solid door.
"Come in," said the voice of Sleep itself.
A little man with a pink face and large red ears was sitting in a fat
pink chair, as if he had been grown there.
"What do you want?" he asked of them, blinking.
"Don't you know me, sir?"
"God bless me! Crocker, isn't it? I didn't recognise you with a
Crocker, who had not been shaved since starting on his travels,
"You remember Shelton, sir?" he said.
"Shelton? Oh yes! How do you do, Shelton? Sit down; take a cigar";
and, crossing his fat little legs, the little gentleman looked them
up and down with drowsy interest, as who should say, "Now, after, all
you know, why come and wake me up like this?"
Shelton and Crocker took two other chairs; they too seemed thinking,
"Yes, why did we come and wake him up like this? "And Shelton, who
could not tell the reason why, took refuge in the smoke of his cigar.
The panelled walls were hung with prints of celebrated Greek remains;
the soft, thick carpet on the floor was grateful to his tired feet;
the backs of many books gleamed richly in the light of the oil lamps;
the culture and tobacco smoke stole on his senses; he but vaguely
comprehended Crocker's amiable talk, vaguely the answers of his
little host, whose face, blinking behind the bowl of his huge
meerschaum pipe, had such a queer resemblance to a moon. The door
was opened, and a tall creature, whose eyes were large and brown,
whose face was rosy and ironical, entered with a manly stride.
"Oh!" he said, looking round him with his chin a little in the air,
"am I intruding, Turl?"
The little host, blinking more than ever, murmured,
"Not at all, Berryman--take a pew!"
The visitor called Berryman sat down, and gazed up at the wall with
his fine eyes.
Shelton had a faint remembrance of this don, and bowed; but the new-
comer sat smiling, and did not notice the salute.
"Trimmer and Washer are coming round," he said, and as he spoke the
door opened to admit these gentlemen. Of the same height, but
different appearance, their manner was faintly jocular, faintly
supercilious, as if they tolerated everything. The one whose name
was Trimmer had patches of red on his large cheek-bones, and on his
cheeks a bluish tint. His lips were rather full, so that he had a
likeness to a spider. Washer, who was thin and pale, wore an
The little fat host moved the hand that held the meerschaum.
"Crocker, Shelton," he said.
An awkward silence followed. Shelton tried to rouse the cultured
portion of his wits; but the sense that nothing would be treated
seriously paralysed his faculties; he stayed silent, staring at the
glowing tip of his cigar. It seemed to him unfair to have intruded
on these gentlemen without its having been made quite clear to them
beforehand who and what he was; he rose to take his leave, but Washer
had begun to speak.
"Madame Bovary!" he said quizzically, reading the title of the book
on the little fat man's bookrest; and, holding it closer to his
boiled-looking eyes, he repeated, as though it were a joke, "Madame
"Do you mean to say, Turl, that you can stand that stuff?" said
As might have been expected, this celebrated novel's name had
galvanised him into life; he strolled over to the bookcase, took down
a book, opened it, and began to read, wandering in a desultory way
about the room.
"Ha! Berryman," said a conciliatory voice behind--it came from
Trimmer, who had set his back against the hearth, and grasped with
either hand a fistful of his gown--"the book's a classic!"
"Classic!" exclaimed Berryman, transfixing Shelton with his eyes;
"the fellow ought to have been horsewhipped for writing such
A feeling of hostility instantly sprang up in Shelton; he looked at
his little host, who, however, merely blinked.
"Berryman only means," explains Washer, a certain malice in his
smile, "that the author is n't one of his particular pets."
"For God's sake, you know, don't get Berryman on his horse!" growled
the little fat man suddenly.
Berryman returned his volume to the shelf and took another down.
There was something almost godlike in his sarcastic absent-
"Imagine a man writing that stuff," he said, "if he'd ever been at
Eton! What do we want to know about that sort of thing? A writer
should be a sportsman and a gentleman"; and again he looked down over
his chin at Shelton, as though expecting him to controvert the
"Don't you--" began the latter.
But Berryman's attention had wandered to the wall.
"I really don't care," said he, "to know what a woman feels when she
is going to the dogs; it does n't interest me."
The voice of Trimmer made things pleasant:
"Question of moral standards, that, and nothing more."
He had stretched his legs like compasses,--and the way he grasped his
gown-wings seemed to turn him to a pair of scales. His lowering
smile embraced the room, deprecating strong expressions. "After
all," he seemed to say, "we are men of the world; we know there 's
not very much in anything. This is the modern spirit; why not give
it a look in?"
"Do I understand you to say, Berryman, that you don't enjoy a spicy
book?" asked Washer with his smile; and at this question the little
fat man sniggered, blinking tempestuously, as if to say, "Nothing
pleasanter, don't you know, before a hot fire in cold weather."
Berryman paid no attention to the impertinent inquiry, continuing to
dip into his volume and walk up and down.
"I've nothing to say," he remarked, stopping before Shelton, and
looking down, as if at last aware of him, "to those who talk of being
justified through Art. I call a spade a spade."
Shelton did not answer, because he could not tell whether Berryman
was addressing him or society at large. And Berryman went on:
"Do we want to know about the feelings of a middle-class woman with a
taste for vice? Tell me the point of it. No man who was in the
habit of taking baths would choose such a subject."
"You come to the question of-ah-subjects," the voice of Trimmer
genially buzzed he had gathered his garments tight across his back-
"my dear fellow, Art, properly applied, justifies all subjects."
"For Art," squeaked Berryman, putting back his second volume and
taking down a third, "you have Homer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Ossian;
for garbage, a number of unwashed gentlemen."
There was a laugh; Shelton glanced round at all in turn. With the
exception of Crocker, who was half asleep and smiling idiotically,
they wore, one and all, a look as if by no chance could they consider
any subject fit to move their hearts; as if, one and all, they were
so profoundly anchored on the sea of life that waves could only seem
impertinent. It may have been some glimmer in this glance of
Shelton's that brought Trimmer once more to the rescue with his
"The French," said he, "have quite a different standard from
ourselves in literature, just as they have a different standard in
regard to honour. All this is purely artificial."
What he, meant, however, Shelton found it difficult to tell.
"Honour," said Washer, "'l'honneur, die Ehre' duelling, unfaithful
He was clearly going to add to this, but it was lost; for the little
fat man, taking the meerschaum with trembling fingers, and holding it
within two inches of his chin, murmured:
"You fellows, Berryman's awf'ly strong on honour."
He blinked twice, and put the meerschaum back between his lips.
Without returning the third volume to its shelf, Berryman took down a
fourth; with chest expanded, he appeared about to use the books as
"Quite so," said Trimmer; "the change from duelling to law courts is
Whether he were going to say "significant" or "insignificant," in
Shelton's estimate he did not know himself. Fortunately Berryman
"Law courts or not, when a man runs away with a wife of mine, I shall
punch his head!"
"Come, come!" said Turner, spasmodically grasping his two wings.
Shelton had a gleam of inspiration. "If your wife deceived you," he
thought, looking at Trimmer's eyes, "you 'd keep it quiet, and hold
it over her."
Washer passed his hand over his pale chaps: his smile had never
wavered; he looked like one for ever lost in the making of an
The punching theorist stretched his body, holding the books level
with his shoulders, as though to stone his hearers with his point of
view. His face grew paler, his fine eyes finer, his lips ironical.
Almost painful was this combination of the "strong" man and the
student who was bound to go to pieces if you hit him a smart blow.
"As for forgiving faithless wives," he said, "and all that sort of
thing, I don't believe in sentiment."
The words were high-pitched and sarcastic. Shelton looked hastily
around. All their faces were complacent. He grew red, and suddenly
remarked, in a soft; clear voice:
He was conscious that he had never before made an impression of this
sort, and that he never would again. The cold hostility flashing out
all round was most enlightening; it instantly gave way to the polite,
satirical indulgence peculiar to highly-cultivated men. Crocker rose
nervously; he seemed scared, and was obviously relieved when Shelton,
following his example, grasped the little fat man's hand, who said
good-night in a voice shaken by tobacco.
"Who are your unshaven friends?" he heard as the door was closed
CHAPTER XIX. AN INCIDENT
"Eleven o'clock," said Crocker, as they went out of college. "I
don't feel sleepy; shall we stroll along the 'High' a bit?"
Shelton assented; he was too busy thinking of his encounter with the
dons to heed the soreness of his feet. This, too, was the last day
of his travels, for he had not altered his intention of waiting at
Oxford till July.
"We call this place the heart of knowledge," he said, passing a great
building that presided, white and silent, over darkness; "it seems to
me as little that, as Society is the heart of true gentility."
Crocker's answer was a grunt; he was looking at the stars,
calculating possibly in how long he could walk to heaven.
"No," proceeded Shelton; "we've too much common-sense up here to
strain our minds. We know when it's time to stop. We pile up news
of Papias and all the verbs in 'ui' but as for news of life or of
oneself! Real seekers after knowledge are a different sort. They
fight in the dark--no quarter given. We don't grow that sort up
"How jolly the limes smell!" said Crocker.
He had halted opposite a garden, and taken hold of Shelton by a
button of his coat. His eyes, like a dog's, stared wistfully. It
seemed as though he wished to speak, but feared to give offence.
"They tell you," pursued Shelton, "that we learn to be gentlemen up
here. We learn that better through one incident that stirs our
hearts than we learn it here in all the time we're up."
"Hum!" muttered Crocker, twisting at the button; "those fellows who
seemed the best sorts up here have turned out the best sorts
"I hope not," said Shelton gloomily; "I was a snob when I was up
here. I believed all I was told, anything that made things pleasant;
my "set" were nothing but---"
Crocker smiled in the darkness; he had been too "cranky" to belong to
"You never were much like your 'set,' old chap," he said.
Shelton turned away, sniffing the perfume of the limes. Images were
thronging through his mind. The faces of his old friends strangely
mixed with those of people he had lately met--the girl in the train,
Ferrand, the lady with the short, round, powdered face, the little
barber; others, too, and floating, mysterious,--connected with them
all, Antonia's face. The scent of the lime-trees drifted at him with
its magic sweetness. From the street behind, the footsteps of the
passers-by sounded muffled, yet exact, and on the breeze was borne
the strain: "For he's a jolly good fellow!
For he's a jolly good fellow! For he's a jolly good fe-ellow! And
so say all of us!"
"Ah!" he said, "they were good chaps."
"I used to think," said Crocker dreamily, "that some of them had too
And Shelton laughed.
"The thing sickens me," said he, "the whole snobbish, selfish
business. The place sickens me, lined with cotton-wool-made so
Crocker shook his head.
"It's a splendid old place," he said, his eyes fastening at last on
Shelton's boots. "You know, old chap," he stammered, "I think you--
you ought to take care!"
"Take care? What of?"
Crocker pressed his arm convulsively.
"Don't be waxy, old boy," he said; "I mean that you seem somehow--to
be--to be losing yourself."
"Losing myself! Finding myself, you mean!"
Crocker did not answer; his face was disappointed. Of what exactly
was he thinking? In Shelton's heart there was a bitter pleasure in
knowing that his friend was uncomfortable on his account, a sort of
contempt, a sort of aching. Crocker broke the silence.
"I think I shall do a bit more walking to-night," he said; "I feel
very fit. Don't you really mean to come any further with me, Bird?"
And there was anxiety in his voice, as though Shelton were in danger
of missing something good. The latter's feet had instantly begun to
ache and burn.
"No!"? he said; "you know what I'm staying here for."
"She lives near here. Well, then, I'll say good-bye. I should like
to do another ten miles to-night."
"My dear fellow, you're tired and lame."
"No," he said; "I want to get on. See you in London. Good-bye!"
and, gripping Shelton's hand, he turned and limped away.
Shelton called after him: "Don't be an idiot: You 'll only knock
But the sole answer was the pale moon of Crocker's face screwed round
towards him in the darkness, and the waving of his stick.
Shelton strolled slowly on; leaning over the bridge, he watched the
oily gleam of lamps, on the dark water underneath the trees. He felt
relieved, yet sorry. His thoughts were random, curious, half
mutinous, half sweet. That afternoon five years ago, when he had
walked back from the river with Antonia across the Christchurch
meadows, was vivid to his mind; the scent of that afternoon had never
died away from him-the aroma of his love. Soon she would be his
wife--his wife! The faces of the dons sprang up before him. They
had wives, perhaps. Fat, lean, satirical, and compromising--what was
it that through diversity they had in common? Cultured intolerance!
. . . Honour! . . . A queer subject to discuss. Honour! The
honour that made a fuss, and claimed its rights! And Shelton smiled.
"As if man's honour suffered when he's injured!" And slowly he
walked along the echoing, empty street to his room at the Bishop's
Head. Next morning he received the following wire:
Thirty miles left eighteen hours heel bad but going
He passed a fortnight at the Bishop's Head, waiting for the end of
his probation, and the end seemed long in coming. To be so near
Antonia, and as far as if he lived upon another planet, was worse
than ever. Each day he took a sculling skiff, and pulled down to
near Holm Oaks, on the chance of her being on the river; but the
house was two miles off, and the chance but slender. She never came.
After spending the afternoons like this he would return, pulling hard
against the stream, with a queer feeling of relief, dine heartily,
and fall adreaming over his cigar. Each morning he awoke in an
excited mood, devoured his letter if he had one, and sat down to
write to her. These letters of his were the most amazing portion of
that fortnight. They were remarkable for failing to express any
single one of his real thoughts, but they were full of sentiments
which were not what he was truly feeling; and when he set himself to
analyse, he had such moments of delirium that he was scared, and
shocked, and quite unable to write anything. He made the discovery
that no two human beings ever tell each other what they really feel,
except, perhaps, in situations with which he could not connect
Antonia's ice-blue eyes and brilliant smile. All the world was too
engaged in planning decency.
Absorbed by longings, he but vaguely realised the turmoil of
Commemoration, which had gathered its hundreds for their annual cure
of salmon mayonnaise and cheap champagne. In preparation for his
visit to Holm Oaks he shaved his beard and had some clothes sent down
from London. With them was forwarded a letter from Ferrand, which
ran as follows:
IMPERIAL PEACOCK HOTEL,
MY DEAR SIR,
Forgive me for not having written to you before, but I have been so
bothered that I have felt no taste for writing; when I have the time,
I have some curious stories to tell you. Once again I have
encountered that demon of misfortune which dogs my footsteps. Being
occupied all day and nearly all night upon business which brings me a
heap of worries and next to no profit, I have no chance to look after
my things. Thieves have entered my room, stolen everything, and left
me an empty box. I am once again almost without clothes, and know
not where to turn to make that figure necessary for the fulfilment of
my duties. You see, I am not lucky. Since coming to your country,
the sole piece of fortune I have had was to tumble on a man like you.
Excuse me for not writing more at this moment. Hoping that you are
in good health, and in affectionately pressing your hand,
Always your devoted
Upon reading this letter Shelton had once more a sense of being
exploited, of which he was ashamed; he sat down immediately and wrote
the following reply:
BISHOPS HEAD HOTEL,
MY DEAR FERRAND,
I am grieved to hear of your misfortunes. I was much hoping that you
had made a better start. I enclose you Post Office Orders for four
pounds. Always glad to hear from you.
He posted it with the satisfaction that a man feels who nobly shakes
off his responsibilities.
Three days before July he met with one of those disturbing incidents
which befall no persons who attend quietly to their, property and
The night was unbearably hot, and he had wandered out with his cigar;
a woman came sidling up and spoke to him. He perceived her to be one
of those made by men into mediums for their pleasure, to feel
sympathy with whom was sentimental. Her face was flushed, her
whisper hoarse; she had no attractions but the curves of a tawdry
figure. Shelton was repelled by her proprietary tone, by her blowzy
face, and by the scent of patchouli. Her touch on his arm startled
him, sending a shiver through his marrow; he almost leaped aside, and
walked the faster. But her breathing as she followed sounded
laboured; it suddenly seemed pitiful that a woman should be panting
after him like that.
"The least I can do," he thought, "is to speak to her." He stopped,
and, with a mixture of hardness and compassion, said, "It 's
In spite of her smile, he saw by her disappointed eyes that she
accepted the impossibility.
"I 'm sorry," he said.
She muttered something. Shelton shook his head.
"I 'm sorry," he said once more. "Good.-night."
The woman bit her lower lip.
"Good-night," she answered dully.
At the corner of the street he turned his head. The woman was
hurrying uneasily; a policeman coming from behind had caught her by
His heart began to beat. "Heavens!" he thought, "what shall I do
now?" His first impulse was to walk away, and think no more about it
--to act, indeed, like any averagely decent man who did not care to
be concerned in such affairs.
He retraced his steps, however, and halted half a dozen paces from
"Ask the gentleman! He spoke to me,"she was saying in her brassy
voice, through the emphasis of which Shelton could detect her fear.
"That's all right," returned the policeman, "we know all about that."
"You--police!" cried the woman tearfully; "I 've got to get my
living, have n't I, the same as you?"
Shelton hesitated, then, catching the expression in her frightened
face, stepped forward. The policeman turned, and at the sight of his
pale, heavy jowl, cut by the cheek-strap, and the bullying eyes, he
felt both hate and fear, as if brought face to face with all that he
despised and loathed, yet strangely dreaded. The cold certainty of
law and order upholding the strong, treading underfoot the weak, the
smug front of meanness that only the purest spirits may attack,
seemed to be facing him. And the odd thing was, this man was only
carrying out his duty. Shelton moistened his lips.
"You're not going to charge her?"
"Aren't I?" returned the policeman.
"Look here; constable, you 're making a mistake."
The policeman took out his note-book.
"Oh, I 'm making a mistake? I 'll take your name and address,
please; we have to report these things."
"By all means," said Shelton, angrily giving it. "I spoke to her
"Perhaps you'll come up to the court tomorrow morning, and repeat
that," replied the policeman, with incivility.
Shelton looked at him with all the force at his command.
"You had better be careful, constable," he said; but in the act of
uttering these words he thought how pitiable they sounded.
"We 're not to be trifled with," returned the policeman in a
Shelton could think of nothing but to repeat:
"You had better be careful, constable."
"You're a gentleman," replied the policeman. "I'm only a policeman.
You've got the riches, I've got the power."
Grasping the woman's arm, he began to move along with her.
Shelton turned, and walked away.
He went to Grinnings' Club, and flung himself down upon a sofa. His
feeling was not one of pity for the woman, nor of peculiar anger with
the policeman, but rather of dissatisfaction with himself.
"What ought I to have done?" he thought, "the beggar was within his
He stared at the pictures on the wall, and a tide of disgust surged
up in him.
"One or other of us," he reflected, "we make these women what they
are. And when we've made them, we can't do without them; we don't
want to; but we give them no proper homes, so that they're reduced to
prowl about the streets, and then we run them in. Ha! that's good--
that's excellent! We run them in! And here we sit and carp. But
what do we do? Nothing! Our system is the most highly moral known.
We get the benefit without soiling even the hem of our phylacteries--
the women are the only ones that suffer. And why should n't they--
He lit a cigarette, and ordered the waiter to bring a drink.
"I'll go to the Court," he thought; but suddenly it occurred to him
that the case would get into the local papers. The press would
never miss so nice a little bit of scandal--"Gentleman v. Policeman!"
And he had a vision of Antonia's father, a neighbouring and
conscientious magistrate, solemnly reading this. Someone, at all
events, was bound to see his name and make a point of mentioning it
too good to be missed! And suddenly he saw with horror that to help
the woman he would have to assert again that he had spoken to her
first. "I must go to the Court!" he kept thinking, as if to assure
himself that he was not a coward.
He lay awake half the night worrying over this dilemma.
"But I did n't speak to her first," he told himself; "I shall only be
telling a lie, and they 'll make me swear it, too!"
He tried to persuade himself that this was against his principles,
but at the bottom of his heart he knew that he would not object to
telling such a lie if only guaranteed immune from consequences; it
appeared to him, indeed, but obvious humanity.
"But why should I suffer?" he thought; "I've done nothing. It's
neither reasonable nor just."
He hated the unhappy woman who was causing him these horrors of
uncertainty. Whenever he decided one way or other, the policeman's
face, with its tyrannical and muddy eyes, rose before him like a
nightmare, and forced him to an opposite conviction. He fell asleep
at last with the full determination to go and see what happened.
He woke with a sense of odd disturbance. "I can do no good by
going," he thought, remembering, aid lying very still; "they 're
certain to believe the policeman; I shall only blacken myself for
nothing;" and the combat began again within him, but with far less
fury. It was not what other people thought, not even the risk of
perjury that mattered (all this he made quite clear)--it was Antonia.
It was not fair to her to put himself in such a false position; in
fact, not decent.
He breakfasted. In the room were some Americans, and the face of one
young girl reminded him a little of Antonia. Fainter and fainter
grew the incident; it seemed to have its right proportions.
Two hours later, looking at the clock, he found that it was lunch-
time. He had not gone, had not committed perjury; but he wrote to a
daily paper, pointing out the danger run by the community from the
power which a belief in their infallibility places in the hands of
the police--how, since they are the sworn abettors of right and
justice, their word is almost necessarily taken to be gospel; how one
and all they hang together, from mingled interest and esprit de
corps. Was it not, he said, reasonable to suppose that amongst
thousands of human beings invested with such opportunities there
would be found bullies who would take advantage of them, and rise to
distinction in the service upon the helplessness of the unfortunate
and the cowardice of people with anything to lose? Those who had in
their hands the sacred duties of selecting a practically
irresponsible body of men were bound, for the sake of freedom and
humanity, to exercise those duties with the utmost care and
thoroughness . . . .
However true, none of this helped him to think any better of himself
at heart, and he was haunted by the feeling that a stout and honest
bit of perjury was worth more than a letter to a daily paper.
He never saw his letter printed, containing, as it did, the germs of
an unpalatable truth.
In the afternoon he hired a horse, and galloped on Port Meadow. The
strain of his indecision over, he felt like a man recovering from an
illness, and he carefully abstained from looking at the local papers.
There was that within him, however, which resented the worsting of
CHAPTER XX. HOLM OAKS
Holm Oaks stood back but little from the road--an old manor-house,
not set upon display, but dwelling close to its barns, stables, and
walled gardens, like a good mother; long, flat-roofed, red, it had
Queen Anne windows, on whose white-framed diamond panes the sunbeams
In front of it a fringe of elms, of all trees the tree of most
established principle, bordered the stretch of turf between the
gravel drive and road; and these elms were the homes of rooks of all
birds the most conventional. A huge aspen--impressionable creature--
shivered and shook beyond, apologising for appearance among such
imperturbable surroundings. It was frequented by a cuckoo, who came
once a year to hoot at the rules of life, but seldom made long stay;
for boys threw stones at it, exasperated by the absence of its
The village which clustered in the dip had not yet lost its dread of
motor-cars. About this group of flat-faced cottages with gabled
roofs the scent of hay, manure, and roses clung continually; just now
the odour of the limes troubled its servile sturdiness. Beyond the
dip, again, a square-towered church kept within grey walls the record
of the village flock, births, deaths, and marriages--even the births
of bastards, even the deaths of suicides--and seemed to stretch a
hand invisible above the heads of common folk to grasp the forgers of
the manor-house. Decent and discreet, the two roofs caught the eye
to the exclusion of all meaner dwellings, seeming to have joined in a
conspiracy to keep them out of sight.
The July sun had burned his face all the way from Oxford, yet pale
was Shelton when he walked up the drive and rang the bell.
"Mrs. Dennant at home, Dobson?" he asked of the grave butler, who,
old servant that he was, still wore coloured trousers (for it was not
yet twelve o'clock, and he regarded coloured trousers up to noon as a
sacred distinction between the footmen and himself).
"Mrs. Dennant," replied this personage, raising his round and
hairless face, while on his mouth appeared that apologetic pout which
comes of living with good families--"Mrs. Dennant has gone into the
village, sir; but Miss Antonia is in the morning-room."
Shelton crossed the panelled, low-roofed hall, through whose far side
the lawn was visible, a vision of serenity. He mounted six wide,
shallow steps, and stopped. From behind a closed door there came the
sound of scales, and he stood, a prey to his emotions, the notes
mingling in his ears with the beating of his heart. He softly turned
the handle, a fixed smile on his lips.
Antonia was at the piano; her head was bobbing to the movements of
her fingers, and pressing down the pedals were her slim monotonously
moving feet. She had been playing tennis, for a racquet and her tam-
o'-shanter were flung down, and she was dressed in a blue skirt and
creamy blouse, fitting collarless about her throat. Her face was
flushed, and wore a little frown; and as her fingers raced along the
keys, her neck swayed, and the silk clung and shivered on her arms.
Shelton's eyes fastened on the silent, counting lips, on the fair
hair about her forehead, the darker eyebrows slanting down towards
the nose, the undimpled cheeks with the faint finger-marks beneath
the ice-blue eyes, the softly-pouting and undimpled chin, the whole
remote, sweet, suntouched, glacial face.
She turned her head, and, springing up, cried:
"Dick! What fun!" She gave him both her hands, but her smiling face
said very plainly, "Oh; don't let us be sentimental!"
"Are n't you glad to see me?" muttered Shelton.
"Glad to see you! You are funny, Dick!--as if you did n't know!
Why, you 've shaved your beard! Mother and Sybil have gone into the
village to see old Mrs. Hopkins. Shall we go out? Thea and the boys
are playing tennis. It's so jolly that you 've come! "She caught up
the tam-o'-shanter, and pinned it to her hair. Almost as tall as
Shelton, she looked taller, with arms raised and loose sleeves
quivering like wings to the movements of her fingers. "We might have
a game before lunch; you can have my other racquet."
"I've got no things," said Shelton blankly.
Her calm glance ran over him.
"You can have some of old Bernard's; he's got any amount. I'll wait
for you." She swung her racquet, looked at Shelton, cried, "Be
quick!" and vanished.
Shelton ran up-stairs, and dressed in the undecided way of men
assuming other people's clothes. She was in the hall when he
descended, humming a tune and prodding at her shoe; her smile showed
all her pearly upper teeth. He caught hold of her sleeve and
The colour rushed into her cheeks; she looked back across her
"Come along, old Dick!" she cried; and, flinging open the glass
door, ran into the garden.
The tennis-ground was divided by tall netting from a paddock. A holm
oak tree shaded one corner, and its thick dark foliage gave an
unexpected depth to the green smoothness of the scene. As Shelton
and Antonia carne up, Bernard Dennant stopped and cordially grasped
Shelton's hand. From the far side of the net Thea, in a shortish
skirt, tossed back her straight fair hair, and, warding off the sun,
came strolling up to them. The umpire, a small boy of twelve, was
lying on his stomach, squealing and tickling a collie. Shelton bent
and pulled his hair.
"Hallo, Toddles! you young ruffian!"
One and all they stood round Shelton, and there was a frank and
pitiless inquiry in their eyes, in the angle of their noses something
chaffing and distrustful, as though about him were some subtle
poignant scent exciting curiosity and disapproval.
When the setts were over, and the girls resting in the double hammock
underneath the holm oak, Shelton went with Bernard to the paddock to
hunt for the lost balls.
"I say, old chap," said his old school-fellow, smiling dryly, "you're
in for a wigging from the Mater."
"A wigging?" murmured Shelton.
"I don't know much about it, but from something she let drop it seems
you've been saying some queer things in your letters to Antonia"; and
again he looked at Shelton with his dry smile.
"Queer things?" said the latter angrily. " What d' you mean?"
"Oh, don't ask me. The Mater thinks she's in a bad way--unsettled,
or what d' you call at. You've been telling her that things are not
what they seem. That's bad, you know"; and still smiling he shook
Shelton dropped his eyes.
"Well, they are n't!" he said.
"Oh, that's all right! But don't bring your philosophy down here,
"Philosophy!" said Shelton, puzzled.
"Leave us a sacred prejudice or two."
"Sacred! Nothing's sacred, except--" But Shelton did not finish his
remark. "I don't understand," he said.
"Ideals, that sort of thing! You've been diving down below the line
of 'practical politics,' that's about the size of it, my boy"; and,
stooping suddenly, he picked up the last ball. "There is the Mater!"
Shelton saw Mrs. Dennant coming down the lawn with her second
By the time they reached the holm oak the three girls had departed
towards the house, walking arm in arm, and Mrs. Dennant was standing
there alone, in a grey dress, talking to an undergardener. Her
hands, cased in tan gauntlets, held a basket which warded off the
bearded gardener from the severe but ample lines of her
useful-looking skirt. The collie, erect upon his haunches, looked at
their two faces, pricking his ears in his endeavour to appreciate how
one of these two bipeds differed from the other.
"Thank you; that 'll do, Bunyan. Ah, Dick! Charmin' to see you
here, at last!"
In his intercourse with Mrs. Dennant, Shelton never failed to mark
the typical nature of her personality. It always seemed to him that
he had met so many other ladies like her. He felt that her
undoubtable quality had a non-individual flavour, as if standing for
her class. She thought that standing for herself was not the thing;
yet she was full of character. Tall, with nose a trifle beaked,
long, sloping chin, and an assured, benevolent mouth, showing,
perhaps, too many teeth--though thin, she was not unsubstantial. Her
accent in speaking showed her heritage; it was a kind of drawl which
disregarded vulgar merits such as tone; leaned on some syllables, and
despised the final 'g'--the peculiar accent, in fact, of aristocracy,
adding its deliberate joys to life.
Shelton knew that she had many interests; she was never really idle,
from the time (7 A.M.) when her maid brought her a little china pot
of tea with a single biscuit and her pet dog, Tops, till eleven
o'clock at night, when she lighted a wax candle in a silver
candlestick, and with this in one hand, and in the other a new novel,
or, better still, one of those charming volumes written by great
people about the still greater people they have met, she said good-
night to her children and her guests. No! What with photography,
the presidency of a local league, visiting the rich, superintending
all the poor, gardening, reading, keeping all her ideas so tidy that
no foreign notions might stray in, she was never idle. The
information she collected from these sources was both vast and
varied, but she never let it flavour her opinions, which lacked
sauce, and were drawn from some sort of dish into which, with all her
class, she dipped her fingers.
He liked her. No one could help liking her. She was kind, and of
such good quality, with a suggestion about her of thin, excellent,
and useful china; and she was scented, too--not with verbena,
violets, or those essences which women love, but with nothing, as if
she had taken stand against all meretricity. In her intercourse with
persons not "quite the thing" (she excepted the vicar from this
category, though his father had dealt in haberdashery), her
refinement, gently, unobtrusively, and with great practical good
sense, seemed continually to murmur, "I am, and you--well, are you,
don't you know?" But there was no self-consciousness about this
attitude, for she was really not a common woman. She simply could
not help it; all her people had done this. Their nurses breathed
above them in their cradles something that, inhaled into their
systems, ever afterwards prevented them from taking good, clear
breaths. And her manner! Ah! her manner--it concealed the inner
woman so as to leave doubt of her existence!
Shelton listened to the kindly briskness with which she dwelt upon
"Poor Bunyan! he lost his wife six months ago, and was quite cheerful
just at first, but now he 's really too distressin'. I 've done all
I can to rouse him; it's so melancholy to see him mopin'. And, my
dear Dick, the way he mangles the new rose-trees! I'm afraid he's
goin' mad; I shall have to send him away; poor fellow!"
It was clear that she sympathised with Bunyan, or, rather, believed
him entitled to a modicum of wholesome grief, the loss of wives being
a canonised and legal, sorrow. But excesses! O dear, no!
"I 've told him I shall raise his wages," she sighed. "He used to be
such a splendid gardener! That reminds me, my dear Dick; I want to
have a talk with you. Shall we go in to lunch?"
Consulting the memorandum-book in which she had been noting the case
of Mrs. Hopkins, she slightly preceded Shelton to the house.
It was somewhat late that afternoon when Shelton had his "wigging";
nor did it seem to him, hypnotised by the momentary absence of
Antonia, such a very serious affair.
"Now, Dick," the Honourable Mrs. Dennant said, in her decisive drawl,
"I don't think it 's right to put ideas into Antonia's head."
"Ideas!" murmured Shelton in confusion.
"We all know," continued Mrs. Dennant, "that things are not always
what they ought to be."
Shelton looked at her; she was seated at her writing-table,
addressing in her large, free writing a dinner invitation to a
bishop. There was not the faintest trace of awkwardness about her,
yet Shelton could not help a certain sense of shock. If she--she--
did not think things were what they ought to be--in a bad way things
must be indeed!
"Things!" he muttered.
Mrs. Dennant looked at him firmly but kindly with the eyes that would
remind him of a hare's.
"She showed me some of your letters, you know. Well, it 's not a bit
of use denyin', my dear Dick, that you've been thinkin' too much
Shelton perceived that he had done her an injustice; she handled
"things" as she handled under-gardeners--put them away when they
showed signs of running to extremes.
"I can't help that, I 'm afraid," he answered.
"My dear boy! you'll never get on that way. Now, I want you to
promise me you won't talk to Antonia about those sort of things."
Shelton raised his eyebrows.
"Oh, you know what I mean!"
He saw that to press Mrs. Dennant to say what she meant by "things"
would really hurt her sense of form; it would be cruel to force her
thus below the surface!
He therefore said, "Quite so!"
To his extreme surprise, flushing the peculiar arid pathetic flush of
women past their prime, she drawled out:
"About the poor--and criminals--and marriages--there was that
wedding, don't you know?"
Shelton bowed his head. Motherhood had been too strong for her; in
her maternal flutter she had committed the solecism of touching in so
many words on "things."
"Does n't she really see the fun," he thought, "in one man dining out
of gold and another dining in the gutter; or in two married people
living on together in perfect discord 'pour encourages les autres',
or in worshipping Jesus Christ and claiming all her rights at the
same time; or in despising foreigners because they are foreigners; or
in war; or in anything that is funny?" But he did her a certain
amount of justice by recognising that this was natural, since her
whole life had been passed in trying not to see the fun in all these
But Antonia stood smiling in the doorway. Brilliant and gay she
looked, yet resentful, as if she knew they had been talking of her.
She sat down by Shelton's side, and began asking him about the
youthful foreigner whom he had spoken of; and her eyes made him doubt
whether she, too, saw the fun that lay in one human being patronising
"But I suppose he's really good," she said, "I mean, all those things
he told you about were only---"
"Good!" he answered, fidgeting; "I don't really know what the word
Her eyes clouded. "Dick, how can you?" they seemed to say.
Shelton stroked her sleeve.
"Tell us about Mr. Crocker," she said, taking no heed of his caress.
"The lunatic!" he said.
"Lunatic! Why, in your letters he was splendid."
"So he is," said Shelton, half ashamed; " he's not a bit mad, really
--that is, I only wish I were half as mad."
"Who's that mad?" queried Mrs. Dennant from behind the urn--"Tom
Crocker? Ah, yes! I knew his mother; she was a Springer."
"Did he do it in the week?" said Thea, appearing in the window with a
"I don't know," Shelton was obliged to answer.
Thea shook back her hair.
"I call it awfully slack of you not to have found out," she said.
"You were very sweet to that young foreigner, Dick," she murmured
with a smile at Shelton. "I wish that we could see him."
But Shelton shook his head.
"It seems to me," he muttered, "that I did about as little for him as
Again her face grew thoughtful, as though his words had chilled her.
"I don't see what more you could have done," she answered.
A desire to get close to her, half fear, half ache, a sense of
futility and bafflement, an inner burning, made him feel as though a
flame were licking at his heart.
CHAPTER XXI. ENGLISH
Just as Shelton was starting to walk back to Oxford he met Mr.
Dennant coming from a ride. Antonia's father was a spare man of
medium height, with yellowish face, grey moustache, ironical
eyebrows, and some tiny crow's-feet. In his old, short grey coat,
with a little slit up the middle of the back, his drab cord breeches,
ancient mahogany leggings, and carefully blacked boats, he had a dry,
threadbare quality not without distinction.
"Ah, Shelton!" he said, in his quietly festive voice; "glad to see
the pilgrim here, at last. You're not off already?" and, laying his
hand on Shelton's arm, he proposed to walk a little way with him
across the fields.
This was the first time they had met since the engagement; and
Shelton began to nerve himself to express some sentiment, however
bald, about it. He squared his shoulders, cleared his throat, and
looked askance at Mr. Dennant. That gentleman was walking stiffly,
his cord breeches faintly squeaking. He switched a yellow, jointed
cane against his leggings, and after each blow looked at his legs
satirically. He himself was rather like that yellow cane-pale, and
slim, and jointed, with features arching just a little, like the
arching of its handle.
"They say it'll be a bad year for fruit," Shelton said at last.
"My dear fellow, you don't know your farmer, I 'm afraid. We ought
to hang some farmers--do a world of good. Dear souls! I've got some
"I suppose," said Shelton, glad to postpone the evil moment, "in a
climate like this a man must grumble."
"Quite so, quite so! Look at us poor slaves of land-owners; if I
couldn't abuse the farmers I should be wretched. Did you ever see
anything finer than this pasture? And they want me to lower their
And Mr. Dennant's glance satirically wavered, rested on Shelton, and
whisked back to the ground as though he had seen something that
alarmed him. There was a pause.
"Now for it!" thought the younger man.
Mr. Dennant kept his eyes fixed on his boots.
"If they'd said, now," he remarked jocosely, "that the frost had
nipped the partridges, there 'd have been some sense in it; but what
can you expect? They've no consideration, dear souls!"
Shelton took a breath, and, with averted eyes, he hurriedly began:
"It's awfully hard, sir, to---"
Mr. Dennant switched his cane against his shin.
"Yes," he said, "it 's awfully hard to put up with, but what can a
fellow do? One must have farmers. Why, if it was n't for the
farmers, there 'd be still a hare or two about the place!"
Shelton laughed spasmodically; again he glanced askance at his future
father-in-law. What did the waggling of his head mean, the deepening
of his crow's-feet, the odd contraction of the mouth? And his eye
caught Mr. Dennant's eye; its expression was queer above the fine,
dry nose (one of the sort that reddens in a wind).
"I've never had much to do with farmers," he said at last.
"Have n't you? Lucky fellow! The most--yes, quite the most trying
portion of the human species--next to daughters."
"Well, sir, you can hardly expect me--" began Shelton.
"I don't--oh, I don't! D 'you know, I really believe we're in for a
A large black cloud had covered up the sun, and some drops were
spattering on Mr. Dennant's hard felt hat.
Shelton welcomed the shower; it appeared to him an intervention on
the part of Providence. He would have to say something, but not now,
"I 'll go on," he said; "I don't mind the rain. But you'd better get
"Dear me! I've 'a tenant in this cottage,' said Mr. Dennant in his,
leisurely, dry manner "and a beggar he is to poach, too. Least we
can do 's to ask for a little shelter; what do you think? "and
smiling sarcastically, as though deprecating his intention to keep
dry, he rapped on the door of a prosperous-looking cottage.
It was opened by a girl of Antonia's age and height.
"Ah, Phoebe! Your father in?"
"No," replied the girl, fluttering; "father's out, Mr. Dennant."
"So sorry! Will you let us bide a bit out of the rain?"
The sweet-looking Phoebe dusted them two chairs, and, curtseying,
left them in the parlour.
"What a pretty girl! " said Shelton.
"Yes, she's a pretty girl; half the young fellows are after her, but
she won't leave her father. Oh, he 's a charming rascal is that
This remark suddenly brought home to Shelton the conviction that he
was further than ever from avoiding the necessity for speaking. He
walked over to the window. The rain. was coming down with fury,
though a golden line far down the sky promised the shower's quick
end. "For goodness' sake," he thought, "let me say something,
however idiotic, and get it over!" But he did not turn; a kind of
paralysis had seized on him.
"Tremendous heavy rain!" he said at last; "coming down in
It would have been just as easy to say: "I believe your daughter to
be the sweetest thing on earth; I love her, and I 'm going to make
her happy!" Just as easy, just about the same amount of breath
required; but he couldn't say it! He watched the rain stream and
hiss against the leaves and churn the dust on the parched road with
its insistent torrent; and he noticed with precision all the details
of the process going on outside how the raindrops darted at the
leaves like spears, and how the leaves shook themselves free a
hundred times a minute, while little runnels of water, ice-clear,
rolled over their edges, soft and quick. He noticed, too, the
mournful head of a sheltering cow that was chewing at the hedge.
Mr. Dennant had not replied to his remark about the rain. So
disconcerting was this silence that Shelton turned. His future
father-in-law, upon his wooden chair, was staring at his well-blacked
boots, bending forward above his parted knees, and prodding at the
carpet; a glimpse at his face disturbed Shelton's resolution. It was
not forbidding, stern, discouraging--not in the least; it had merely
for the moment ceased to look satirical. This was so startling that
Shelton lost his chance of speaking. There seemed a heart to Mr.
Dennant's gravity; as though for once he were looking grave because
he felt so. But glancing up at Shelton, his dry jocosity reappeared
"What a day for ducks!" he said; and again there was unmistakable
alarm about the eye. Was it possible that he, too, dreaded
"I can't express---" began Shelton hurriedly.
"Yes, it's beastly to get wet," said Mr. Dennant, and he sang--
For we can wrestle and fight, my boys,
And jump out anywhere.
"You 'll be with us for that dinner-party next week, eh? Capital!
There's the Bishop of Blumenthal and old Sir Jack Buckwell; I must
get my wife to put you between them---"
For it's my delight of a starry night--
"The Bishop's a great anti-divorce man, and old Buckwell 's been in
the court at least twice---'
In the season of the year!
"Will you please to take some tea, gentlemen?" said the voice of
Phoebe in the doorway.
"No, thank you, Phoebe. That girl ought to get married," went on Mr.
Dennant, as Phoebe blushingly withdrew. A flush showed queerly on
his sallow cheeks. "A shame to keep her tied like this to her
father's apron-strings--selfish fellow, that!" He looked up sharply,
as if he had made a dangerous remark.
The keeper he was watching us,
For him we did n't care!
Shelton suddenly felt certain that Antonia's father was just as
anxious to say something expressive of his feelings, and as unable as
himself. And this was comforting.
"You know, sir---" he began.
But Mr. Dennant's eyebrows rose, his crow's-feet twinkled; his
personality seemed to shrink together.
"By Jove!" he said, "it's stopped! Now's our chance! Come along,
my dear fellow; delays are dangerous!" and with his bantering
courtesy he held the door for Shelton to pass out. "I think we'll
part here," he said--"I almost think so. Good luck to you!"
He held out his dry, yellow hand. Shelton seized it, wrung it hard,
and muttered the word:
Again Mr. Dennant's eyebrows quivered as if they had been tweaked; he
had been found out, and he disliked it. The colour in his face had
died away; it was calm, wrinkled, dead-looking under the flattened,
narrow brim of his black hat; his grey moustache drooped thinly; the
crow's-feet hardened round his eyes; his nostrils were distended by
the queerest smile.
"Gratitude!" he said; "almost a vice, is n't it? Good-night!"
Shelton's face quivered; he raised his hat, and, turning as abruptly
as his senior, proceeded on his way. He had been playing in a comedy
that could only have been played in England. He could afford to
smile now at his past discomfort, having no longer the sense of duty
unfulfilled. Everything had been said that was right and proper to
be said, in the way that we such things should say. No violence had
been done; he could afford to smile--smile at himself, at Mr.
Dennant, at to-morrow; smile at the sweet aroma of the earth, the
shy, unwilling sweetness that only rain brings forth.
CHAPTER XXII. THE COUNTRY HOUSE
The luncheon hour at Holm Oaks, was, as in many well-bred country
houses--out of the shooting season, be it understood--the soulful
hour. The ferment of the daily doings was then at its full height,
and the clamour of its conversation on the weather, and the dogs, the
horses, neighbours, cricket, golf, was mingled with a literary
murmur; for the Dennants were superior, and it was quite usual to
hear remarks like these "Have you read that charmin' thing of
Poser's?" or, "Yes, I've got the new edition of old Bablington:
delightfully bound--so light." And it was in July that Holm Oaks, as
a gathering-place of the elect, was at its best. For in July it had
become customary to welcome there many of those poor souls from
London who arrived exhausted by the season, and than whom no
seamstress in a two-pair back could better have earned a holiday.
The Dennants themselves never went to London for the season. It was
their good pleasure not to. A week or fortnight of it satisfied
them. They had a radical weakness for fresh air, and Antonia, even
after her presentation two seasons back, had insisted on returning
home, stigmatising London balls as "stuffy things."
When Shelton arrived the stream had only just begun, but every day
brought fresh, or rather jaded, people to occupy the old, dark,
sweet-smelling bedrooms. Individually, he liked his fellow-guests,
but he found himself observing them. He knew that, if a man judged
people singly, almost all were better than himself; only when judged
in bulk were they worthy of the sweeping criticisms he felt inclined
to pass on them. He knew this just as he knew that the conventions,
having been invented to prevent man following his natural desires,
were merely the disapproving sums of innumerable individual
It was in the bulk; then, that he found himself observing. But with
his amiability and dread of notoriety he remained to all appearance a
well-bred, docile creature, and he kept his judgments to himself.
In the matter of intellect he made a rough division of the guests--
those who accepted things without a murmur, those who accepted them
with carping jocularity; in the matter of morals he found they all
accepted things without the semblance of a kick. To show sign of
private moral judgment was to have lost your soul, and, worse, to be
a bit of an outsider. He gathered this by intuition rather than from
conversation; for conversation naturally tabooed such questions, and
was carried on in the loud and cheerful tones peculiar to people of
good breeding. Shelton had never been able to acquire this tone, and
he could not help feeling that the inability made him more or less an
object of suspicion. The atmosphere struck him as it never had
before, causing him to feel a doubt of his gentility. Could a man
suffer from passion, heart-searchings, or misgivings, and remain a
gentleman? It seemed improbable. One of his fellow-guests, a man
called Edgbaston, small-eyed and semi-bald, with a dark moustache and
a distinguished air of meanness, disconcerted him one day by
remarking of an unknown person, "A half-bred lookin' chap; did n't
seem to know his mind." Shelton was harassed by a horrid doubt.
Everything seemed divided into classes, carefully docketed and
valued. For instance, a Briton was of more value than a man, and
wives than women. Those things or phases of life with which people
had no personal acquaintance were regarded with a faint amusement and
a certain disapproval. The principles of the upper class, in fact,
were strictly followed.
He was in that hypersenstive and nervous state favourable for
recording currents foreign to itself. Things he had never before
noticed now had profound effect on him, such as the tone in which men
spoke of women--not precisely with hostility, nor exactly with
contempt best, perhaps, described as cultured jeering; never, of
course, when men spoke of their own wives, mothers, sisters, or
immediate friends, but merely when they spoke of any other women. He
reflected upon this, and came to the conclusion that, among the upper
classes, each man's own property was holy, while other women were
created to supply him with gossip, jests, and spice. Another thing
that struck him was the way in which the war then going on was made
into an affair of class. In their view it was a baddish business,
because poor hack Blank and Peter Blank-Blank had lost their lives,
and poor Teddy Blank had now one arm instead of two. Humanity in
general was omitted, but not the upper classes, nor, incidentally,
the country which belonged to them. For there they were, all seated
in a row, with eyes fixed on the horizon of their lawns.
Late one evening, billiards and music being over and the ladies gone,
Shelton returned from changing to his smoking-suit, and dropped into
one of the great arm-chairs that even in summer made a semicircle
round the fendered hearth. Fresh from his good-night parting with
Antonia, he sat perhaps ten minutes before he began to take in all
the figures in their parti-coloured smoking jackets, cross-legged,
with glasses in their hands, and cigars between their teeth.
The man in the next chair roused him by putting down his tumbler with
a tap, and seating himself upon the cushioned fender. Through the
mist of smoke, with shoulders hunched, elbows and knees crooked out,
cigar protruding, beak-ways, below his nose, and the crimson collar
of his smoking jacket buttoned close as plumage on his breast, he
looked a little like a gorgeous bird.
"They do you awfully well," he said.
A voice from the chair on Shelton's right replied,
"They do you better at Verado's."
"The Veau d'Or 's the best place; they give you Turkish baths for
nothing!" drawled a fat man with a tiny mouth.
The suavity of this pronouncement enfolded all as with a blessing.
And at once, as if by magic, in the old, oak-panelled room, the world
fell naturally into its three departments: that where they do you
well; that where they do you better; and that where they give you
Turkish baths for nothing.
"If you want Turkish baths," said a tall youth with clean red face,
who had come into the room, and stood, his mouth a little open, and
long feet jutting with sweet helplessness in front of him, "you
should go, you know, to Buda Pesth; most awfully rippin' there."
Shelton saw an indescribable appreciation rise on every face, as
though they had been offered truffles or something equally delicious.
"Oh no, Poodles," said the man perched on the fender. "A Johnny I
know tells me they 're nothing to Sofia." His face was transfigured
by the subtle gloating of a man enjoying vice by proxy.
"Ah!" drawled the small-mouthed man, "there 's nothing fit to hold a
candle to Baghda-ad."
Once again his utterance enfolded all as with a blessing, and once
again the world fell into its three departments: that where they do
you well; that where they do you better; and--Baghdad.
Shelton thought to himself: "Why don't I know a place that's better
He felt so insignificant. It seemed that he knew none of these
delightful spots; that he was of no use to any of his fellow-men;
though privately he was convinced that all these speakers were as.
ignorant as himself, and merely found it warming to recall such
things as they had heard, with that peculiar gloating look. Alas!
his anecdotes would never earn for him that prize of persons in
society, the label of a "good chap" and "sportsman."
"Have you ever been in Baghdad?" he feebly asked.
The fat man did not answer; he had begun an anecdote, and in his
broad expanse of face his tiny mouth writhed like a caterpillar. The
anecdote was humorous.
With the exception of Antonia, Shelton saw but little of the ladies,
for, following the well-known custom of the country house, men and
women avoided each other as much as might be. They met at meals, and
occasionally joined in tennis and in croquet; otherwise it seemed--
almost Orientally--agreed that they were better kept apart.
Chancing one day to enter the withdrawing room, while searching for
Antonia, he found that he had lighted on a feminine discussion; he
would have beaten a retreat, of course, but it seemed too obvious
that he was merely looking for his fiancee, so, sitting down, he
The Honourable Charlotte Penguin, still knitting a silk tie--the
sixth since that she had been knitting at Hyeres--sat on the low
window-seat close to a hydrangea, the petals of whose round flowers
almost kissed her sanguine cheek. Her eyes were fixed with languid
aspiration on the lady who was speaking. This was a square woman of
medium height, with grey hair brushed from her low forehead, the
expression of whose face was brisk and rather cross. She was
standing with a book, as if delivering a sermon. Had she been a man
she might have been described as a bright young man of business; for,
though grey, she never could be old, nor ever lose the power of
forming quick decisions. Her features and her eyes were prompt and
slightly hard, tinged with faith fanatical in the justice of her
judgments, and she had that fussy simpleness of dress which indicates
the right to meddle. Not red, not white, neither yellow nor quite
blue, her complexion was suffused with a certain mixture of these
colours, adapted to the climate; and her smile had a strange sour
sweetness, like nothing but the flavour of an apple on the turn.
"I don't care what they tell you," she was saying--not offensively,
though her voice seemed to imply that she had no time to waste in
pleasing--" in all my dealings with them I've found it best to treat
them quite like children."
A lady, behind the Times, smiled; her mouth--indeed, her whole hard,
handsome face--was reminiscent of dappled rocking-horses found in the
Soho Bazaar. She crossed her feet, and some rich and silk stuff
rustled. Her whole personality seemed to creak as, without looking,
she answered in harsh tones:
"I find the poor are most delightful persons."
Sybil Dennant, seated on the sofa, with a feathery laugh shot a
barking terrier dog at Shelton.
"Here's Dick," she said. "Well, Dick, what's your opinion?"
Shelton looked around him, scared. The elder ladies who had spoken
had fixed their eyes on him, and in their gaze he read his utter
"Oh, that young man!" they seemed to say. "Expect a practical remark
from him? Now, come!"
"Opinion," he stammered, "of the poor? I haven't any."
The person on her feet, whose name was Mrs. Mattock, directing her
peculiar sweet-sour smile at the distinguished lady with the Times,
"Perhaps you 've not had experience of them in London, Lady
Lady Bonington, in answer, rustled.
"Oh, do tell us about the slums, Mrs. Mattock!" cried Sybil.
"Slumming must be splendid! It's so deadly here--nothing but flannel
"The poor, my dear," began Mrs. Mattock, "are not the least bit what
you think them---"
"Oh, d' you know, I think they're rather nice!" broke in Aunt
Charlotte close to the hydrangea.
"You think so?" said Mrs. Mattock sharply. "I find they do nothing
"They don't grumble at me: they are delightful persons", and Lady
Bonington gave Shelton a grim smile.
He could not help thinking that to grumble in the presence of that
rich, despotic personality would require a superhuman courage.
"They're the most ungrateful people in the world," said Mrs. Mattock.
"Why, then," thought Shelton, "do you go amongst them?"
She continued, "One must do them good, one, must do one's duty, but
as to getting thanks---"
Lady Bonington sardonically said,
"Poor things! they have a lot to bear."
"The little children!" murmured Aunt Charlotte, with a flushing
cheek and shining eyes; "it 's rather pathetic."
"Children indeed!" said Mrs. Mattock. "It puts me out of all
patience to see the way that they neglect them. People are so
sentimental about the poor."
Lady Bonington creaked again. Her splendid shoulders were wedged
into her chair; her fine dark hair, gleaming with silver, sprang back
upon her brow; a ruby bracelet glowed on the powerful wrist that held
the journal; she rocked her copper-slippered foot. She did not
appear to be too sentimental.
"I know they often have a very easy time," said Mrs. Mattock, as if
some one had injured her severely. And Shelton saw, not without
pity, that Fate had scored her kind and squashed-up face with
wrinkles, whose tiny furrows were eloquent of good intentions
frustrated by the unpractical and discontented poor. "Do what you
will, they are never satisfied; they only resent one's help, or else
they take the help and never thank you for it!"
"Oh!" murmured Aunt Charlotte, "that's rather hard."
Shelton had been growing, more uneasy. He said abruptly:
"I should do the same if I were they."
Mrs. Mattock's brown eyes flew at him; Lady Bonington spoke to the
Times; her ruby bracelet and a bangle jingled.
"We ought to put ourselves in their places."
Shelton could not help a smile; Lady Bonington in the places of the
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Mattock, "I put myself entirely in their place.
I quite understand their feelings. But ingratitude is a repulsive
"They seem unable to put themselves in your place," murmured Shelton;
and in a fit of courage he took the room in with a sweeping glance.
Yes, that room was wonderfully consistent, with its air of perfect
second-handedness, as if each picture, and each piece of furniture,
each book, each lady present, had been made from patterns. They were
all widely different, yet all (like works of art seen in some
exhibitions) had the look of being after the designs of some original
spirit. The whole room was chaste, restrained, derived, practical,
and comfortable; neither in virtue nor in work, neither in manner,
speech, appearance, nor in theory, could it give itself away.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE STAINED-GLASS MAN
Still looking for Antonia, Shelton went up to the morning-room. Thea
Dennant and another girl were seated in the window, talking. From
the look they gave him he saw that he had better never have been
born; he hastily withdrew. Descending to the hall, he came on Mr.
Dennant crossing to his study, with a handful of official-looking
"Ah, Shelton!" said he, "you look a little lost. Is the shrine
Shelton grinned, said "Yes," and went on looking. He was not
fortunate. In the dining-room sat Mrs. Dennant, making up her list
"Do give me your opinion, Dick," she said. "Everybody 's readin'
this thing of Katherine Asterick's; I believe it's simply because
she's got a title."
"One must read a book for some reason or other," answered Shelton.
"Well," returned Mrs. Dennant, "I hate doin' things just because
other people do them, and I sha'n't get it."
Mrs. Dennant marked the catalogue.
"Here 's Linseed's last, of course; though I must say I don't care
for him, but I suppose we ought to have it in the house. And there's
Quality's 'The Splendid Diatribes': that 's sure to be good, he's
always so refined. But what am I to do about this of Arthur Baal's?
They say that he's a charlatan, but everybody reads him, don't you
know"; and over the catalogue Shelton caught the gleam of hare-like
Decision had vanished from her face, with its arched nose and
slightly sloping chin, as though some one had suddenly appealed to
her to trust her instincts. It was quite pathetic. Still, there was
always the book's circulation to form her judgment by.
"I think I 'd better mark it," she said, "don't you? Were you
lookin' for Antonia? If you come across Bunyan in the garden, Dick,
do say I want to see him; he's gettin' to be a perfect nuisance. I
can understand his feelin's, but really he 's carryin' it too far."
Primed with his message to the under-gardener, Shelton went. He took
a despairing look into the billiard-room. Antonia was not there.
Instead, a tall and fat-cheeked gentleman with a neat moustache,
called Mabbey, was practising the spot-stroke. He paused as Shelton
entered, and, pouting like a baby, asked in a sleepy voice,
"Play me a hundred up?"
Shelton shook his head, stammered out his sorrow, and was about to
The gentleman called Mabbey, plaintively feeling the places where his
moustaches joined his pink and glossy cheeks, asked with an air of
"What's your general game, then?"
"I really don't know," said Shelton.
The gentleman called Mabbey chalked his cue, and, moving his round,
knock-kneed legs in their tight trousers, took up his position for
"What price that?" he said, as he regained the perpendicular; and his
well-fed eyes followed Shelton with sleepy inquisition. "Curious
dark horse, Shelton," they seemed to say.
Shelton hurried out, and was about to run down the lower lawn, when
he was accosted by another person walking in the sunshine--a slight-
built man in a turned-down collar, with a thin and fair moustache,
and a faint bluish tint on one side of his high forehead, caused by a
network of thin veins. His face had something of the youthful,
optimistic, stained-glass look peculiar to the refined English type.
He walked elastically, yet with trim precision, as if he had a
pleasant taste in furniture and churches, and held the Spectator in
"Ah, Shelton! "he said in high-tuned tones, halting his legs in such
an easy attitude that it was impossible to interrupt it: "come to
take the air?"
Shelton's own brown face, nondescript nose, and his amiable but
dogged chin contrasted strangely with the clear-cut features of the
"I hear from Halidome that you're going to stand for Parliament," the
Shelton, recalling Halidome's autocratic manner of settling other
people's business, smiled.
"Do I look like it?" he asked.
The eyebrows quivered on the stained-glass man. It had never
occurred to him, perhaps, that to stand for Parliament a man must
look like it; he examined Shelton with some curiosity.
"Ah, well," he said, "now you mention it, perhaps not." His eyes, so
carefully ironical, although they differed from the eyes of Mabbey,
also seemed to ask of Shelton what sort of a dark horse he was.
"You 're still in the Domestic Office, then?" asked Shelton.
The stained-glass man stooped to sniff a rosebush. "Yes," he said;
"it suits me very well. I get lots of time for my art work."
"That must be very interesting," said Shelton, whose glance was
roving for Antonia; "I never managed to begin a hobby."
"Never had a hobby!" said the stained-glass man, brushing back his
hair (he was walking with no hat); "why, what the deuce d' you do?"
Shelton could not answer; the idea had never troubled him.
"I really don't know," he said, embarrassed; "there's always
something going on, as far as I can see."
The stained-glass man placed his hands within his pockets, and his
bright glance swept over his companion.
"A fellow must have a hobby to give him an interest in life," he
"An interest in life?" repeated Shelton grimly; "life itself is good
enough for me."
"Oh!" replied the stained-glass man, as though he disapproved of
regarding life itself as interesting.
"That's all very well, but you want something more than that. Why
don't you take up woodcarving?"
"The moment I get fagged with office papers and that sort of thing I
take up my wood-carving; good as a game of hockey."
"I have n't the enthusiasm."
The eyebrows of the stained-glass man twitched; he twisted his
"You 'll find not having a hobby does n't pay," he said; "you 'll get
old, then where 'll you be?"
It came as a surprise that he should use the words "it does n't pay,"
for he had a kind of partially enamelled look, like that modern
jewellery which really seems unconscious of its market value.
"You've given up the Bar? Don't you get awfully bored having nothing
to do?" pursued the stained-glass man, stopping before an ancient
Shelton felt a delicacy, as a man naturally would, in explaining that
being in love was in itself enough to do. To do nothing is unworthy
of a man! But he had never felt as yet the want of any occupation.
His silence in no way disconcerted his acquaintance.
"That's a nice old article of virtue," he said, pointing with his
chin; and, walking round the sundial, he made its acquaintance from
the other side. Its grey profile cast a thin and shortening shadow
on the turf; tongues of moss were licking at its sides; the daisies
clustered thick around its base; it had acquired a look of growing
from the soil. "I should like to get hold of that," the stained-
glass man remarked; "I don't know when I 've seen a better specimen,"
and he walked round it once again.
His eyebrows were still ironically arched, but below them his eyes
were almost calculating, and below them, again, his mouth had opened
just a little. A person with a keener eye would have said his face
looked greedy, and even Shelton was surprised, as though he had read
in the Spectator a confession of commercialism.
"You could n't uproot a thing like that," he said; "it would lose all
His companion turned impatiently, and his countenance looked
"Couldn't I?" he said. "By Jove! I thought so. 1690! The best
period." He ran his forger round the sundial's edge. "Splendid
line-clean as the day they made it. You don't seem to care much
about that sort of thing"; and once again, as though accustomed to
the indifference of Vandals, his face regained its mask.
They strolled on towards the kitchen gardens, Shelton still busy
searching every patch of shade. He wanted to say "Can't stop," and
hurry off; but there was about the stained-glass man a something
that, while stinging Shelton's feelings, made the showing of them
quite impossible. "Feelings!" that person seemed to say; "all very
well, but you want more than that. Why not take up wood-carving?
. . . . Feelings! I was born in England, and have been at
"Are you staying long?" he asked Shelton. "I go on to Halidome's
to-morrow; suppose I sha'n't see you there? Good, chap, old
Halidome! Collection of etchings very fine!"
"No; I 'm staying on," said Shelton.
"Ah!" said the stained-glass man, "charming people, the Dennants!"
Shelton, reddening slowly, turned his head away; he picked a
gooseberry, and muttered, "Yes."
"The eldest girl especially; no nonsense about her. I thought she
was a particularly nice girl."
Shelton heard this praise of Antonia with an odd sensation; it gave
him the reverse of pleasure, as though the words had cast new light
upon her. He grunted hastily,
"I suppose you know that we 're engaged?"
"Really!" said the stained-glass man, and again his bright, clear,
iron-committal glance swept over Shelton--"really! I didn't know.
It was as if he said: "You're a man of taste; I should say she would
go well in almost any drawing-room!"
"Thanks," said Shelton; "there she' is. If you'll excuse me, I want
to speak to her."
CHAPTER XXIV. PARADISE
Antonia, in a sunny angle of the old brick wall, amid the pinks and
poppies and cornflowers, was humming to herself. Shelton saw the
stained-glass man pass out of sight, then, unobserved, he watched her
smelling at the flowers, caressing her face with each in turn,
casting away spoiled blossoms, and all the time humming that soft
In two months, or three, all barriers between himself and this
inscrutable young Eve would break; she would be a part of him, and he
a part of her; he would know all her thoughts, and she all his;
together they would be as one, and all would think of them, and talk
of them, as one; and this would come about by standing half an hour
together in a church, by the passing of a ring, and the signing of
The sun was burnishing her hair--she wore no hat flushing her cheeks,
sweetening and making sensuous her limbs; it had warmed her through
and through, so that, like the flowers and bees, the sunlight and the
air, she was all motion, light, and colour.
She turned and saw Shelton standing there.
"Oh, Dick!" she said: "Lend me your hand-kerchief to put these
flowers in, there 's a good boy!"
Her candid eyes, blue as the flowers in her hands, were clear and
cool as ice, but in her smile was all the warm profusion of that
corner; the sweetness had soaked into her, and was welling forth
again. The sight of those sun-warmed cheeks, and fingers twining
round the flower-stalks, her pearly teeth, and hair all fragrant,
stole the reason out of Shelton. He stood before her, weak about the
"Found you at last!" he said.
Curving back her neck, she cried out, "Catch!" and with a sweep of
both her hands flung the flowers into Shelton's arms.
Under the rain of flowers, all warm and odorous, he dropped down on
his knees, and put them one by one together, smelling at the pinks,
to hide the violence of his feelings. Antonia went on picking
flowers, and every time her hand was full she dropped them on his
hat, his shoulder, or his arms, and went on plucking more; she
smiled, and on her lips a little devil danced, that seemed to know
what he was suffering. And Shelton felt that she did know.
"Are you tired?" she asked; "there are heaps more wanted. These are
the bedroom-flowers--fourteen lots. I can't think how people can
live without flowers, can you?" and close above his head she buried
her face in pinks.
He kept his eyes on the plucked flowers before him on the grass, and
forced himself to answer,
"I think I can hold out."
"Poor old Dick!" She had stepped back. The sun lit the clear-cut
profile of her cheek, and poured its gold over the bosom of her
blouse. "Poor old Dick! Awfully hard luck, is n't it?" Burdened
with mignonette, she came so close again that now she touched his
shoulder, but Shelton did not look; breathless, with wildly beating
heart, he went on sorting out the flowers. The seeds of mignonette
rained on his neck, and as she let the blossoms fall, their perfume
fanned his face. "You need n't sort them out!" she said.
Was she enticing him? He stole a look; but she was gone again,
swaying and sniffing at the flowers.
"I suppose I'm only hindering you," he growled; "I 'd better go."
"I like to see you on your knees, you look so funny!" and as she
spoke she flung a clove carnation at him. "Does n't it smell good?"
"Too good Oh, Antonia! why are you doing this?"
" Why am I doing what?"
"Don't you know what you are doing?"
"Why, picking flowers!" and once more she was back, bending and
sniffing at the blossoms.
"Oh no," she called; "it's not not nearly.
"Keep on putting them together, if you love me."
"You know I love you," answered Shelton, in a smothered voice.
Antonia gazed at him across her shoulder; puzzled and inquiring was
"I'm not a bit like you," she said. "What will you have for your
"Cornflowers and clove pinks. Poppies are too frivolous, and pinks
"White," said Shelton.
"And mignonette too hard and---"
"Sweet. Why cornflowers?"
Antonia stood before him with her hands against her sides; her figure
was so slim and young, her face uncertain and so grave.
"Because they're dark and deep."
"And why clove pinks?"
Antonia did not answer.
"And why clove pinks?"
"Because," she said, and, flushing, touched a bee that had settled on
her skirt, "because of something in you I don't understand."
"Ah! And what flowers shall t give YOU?"
She put her hands behind her.
"There are all the other flowers for me."
Shelton snatched from the mass in front of him an Iceland poppy with
straight stem and a curved neck, white pinks, and sprigs of hard,
sweet mignonette, and held it out to her.
"There," he said, "that's you." But Antonia did not move.
"Oh no, it is n't!" and behind her back her fingers slowly crushed
the petals of a blood-red poppy. She shook her head, smiling a
brilliant smile. The blossoms fell, he flung his arms around her,
and kissed her on the lips.
But his hands dropped; not fear exactly, nor exactly shame, had come
to him. She had not resisted, but he had kissed the smile away; had
kissed a strange, cold, frightened look, into her eyes.
"She did n't mean to tempt me, then," he thought, in surprise and
anger. "What did she mean?" and, like a scolded dog, he kept his
troubled watch upon her face.
CHAPTER XXV. THE RIDE
"Where now?" Antonia asked, wheeling her chestnut mare, as they
turned up High Street, Oxford City. "I won't go back the same way,
"We could have a gallop on Port Meadow, cross the Upper River twice,
and get home that way; but you 'll be tired."
Antonia shook her head. Aslant her cheek the brim of a straw hat
threw a curve of shade, her ear glowed transparent in the sun.
A difference had come in their relations since that kiss; outwardly
she was the same good comrade, cool and quick. But as before a
change one feels the subtle difference in the temper of the wind, so
Shelton was affected by the inner change in her. He had made a blot
upon her candour; he had tried to rub it out again, but there was
left a mark, and it was ineffaceable. Antonia belonged to the most
civilised division of the race most civilised in all the world, whose
creed is "Let us love and hate, let us work and marry, but let us
never give ourselves away; to give ourselves away is to leave a mark,
and that is past forgive ness. Let our lives be like our faces, free
from every kind of wrinkle, even those of laughter; in this way alone
can we be really civilised."
He felt that she was ruffled by a vague discomfort. That he should
give himself away was natural, perhaps, and only made her wonder, but
that he should give her the feeling that she had given herself away
was a very different thing.
"Do you mind if I just ask at the Bishop's Head for letters?" he
said, as they passed the old hotel.
A dirty and thin envelope was brought to him, addressed "Mr. Richard
Shelton, Esq.," in handwriting that was passionately clear, as though
the writer had put his soul into securing delivery of the letter. It
was dated three days back, and, as they rode away, Shelton read as
IMPERIAL PEACOCK HOTEL,
MON CHER MONSIEUR SHELTON,
This is already the third time I have taken up pen to write to you,
but, having nothing but misfortune to recount, I hesitated, awaiting
better days. Indeed, I have been so profoundly discouraged that if I
had not thought it my duty to let you know of my fortunes I know not
even now if I should have found the necessary spirit. 'Les choses
vont de mal en mal'. From what I hear there has never been so bad a
season here. Nothing going on. All the same, I am tormented by a
mob of little matters which bring me not sufficient to support my
life. I know not what to do; one thing is certain, in no case shall
I return here another year. The patron of this hotel, my good
employer, is one of those innumerable specimens who do not forge or
steal because they have no need, and if they had would lack the
courage; who observe the marriage laws because they have been brought
up to believe in them, and know that breaking them brings risk and
loss of reputation; who do not gamble because they dare not; do not
drink because it disagrees with them; go to church because their
neighbours go, and to procure an appetite for the mid-day meal;
commit no murder because, not transgressing in any other fashion,
they are not obliged. What is there to respect in persons of this
sort? Yet they are highly esteemed, and form three quarters of
Society. The rule with these good gentlemen is to shut their eyes,
never use their thinking powers, and close the door on all the dogs
of life for fear they should get bitten.
Shelton paused, conscious of Antonia's eyes fixed on him with the
inquiring look that he had come to dread. In that chilly questioning
she seemed to say: "I am waiting. I am prepared to be told things--
that is, useful things--things that help one to believe without the
risk of too much thinking."
"It's from that young foreigner," he said; and went on reading to
I have eyes, and here I am; I have a nose 'pour, flairer le humbug'.
I see that amongst the value of things nothing is the equal of "free
thought." Everything else they can take from me, 'on ne pent pas
m'oter cela'! I see no future for me here, and certainly should have
departed long ago if I had had the money, but, as I have already told
you, all that I can do barely suffices to procure me 'de quoi vivre'.
'Je me sens ecceuye'. Do not pay too much attention to my Jeremiads;
you know what a pessimist I am. 'Je ne perds pas courage'.
Hoping that you are well, and in the cordial pressing of your hand, I
Your very devoted
He rode with the letter open in his hand, frowning at the curious
turmoil which Ferrand excited in his heart. It was as though this
foreign vagrant twanged within him a neglected string, which gave
forth moans of a mutiny.
"What does he say?" Antonia asked.
Should he show it to her? If he might not, what should he do when
they were married?
"I don't quite know," he said at last; "it 's not particularly
"What is he like, Dick--I mean, to look at? Like a gentleman, or
Shelton stifled a desire to laugh.
"He looks very well in a frock-coat," he replied; "his father was a
Antonia flicked her whip against her skirt.
"Of course," she murmured, "I don't want to hear if there's anything
I ought not."
But instead of soothing Shelton, these words had just the opposite
effect. His conception of the ideal wife was not that of one from
whom the half of life must be excluded.
"It's only," he stammered again, "that it's not cheerful."
"Oh, all right!" she cried, and, touching her horse, flew off in
front. "I hate dismal things."
Shelton bit his lips. It was not his fault that half the world was
dark. He knew her words were loosed against himself, and, as always
at a sign of her displeasure, was afraid. He galloped after her on
the scorched turf.
" What is it?" he said. "You 're angry with me!"
"Darling, I can't help it if things are n't cheerful. We have eyes,"
he added, quoting from the letter.
Antonia did not look at him; but touched her horse again.
"Well, I don't want to see the gloomy side," she said, "and I can't
see why YOU should. It's wicked to be discontented"; and she
It was not his fault if there were a thousand different kinds of men,
a thousand different points of view, outside the fence of her
experience! "What business," he thought, digging in his dummy spurs,
"has our class to patronise? We 're the only people who have n't an
idea of what life really means." Chips of dried turf and dust came
flying back, stinging his face. He gained on her, drew almost within
reach, then, as though she had been playing with him, was left
She stooped under the far hedge, fanning her flushed face with dock-
"Aha, Dick! I knew you'd never catch me" and she patted the chestnut
mare, who turned her blowing muzzle with contemptuous humour towards
Shelton's steed, while her flanks heaved rapturously, gradually
darkening with sweat.
"We'd better take them steadily," grunted Shelton, getting off and
loosening his girths, "if we mean to get home at all."
"Don't be cross, Dick!"
"We oughtn't to have galloped them like this; they 're not in
condition. "We'd better go home the way we came."
Antonia dropped the reins, and straightened her back hair.
"There 's no fun in that," she said. "Out and back again; I hate a
"Very well," said Shelton; he would have her longer to himself!
The road led up and up a hill, and from the top a vision of Saxonia
lay disclosed in waves of wood and pasture. Their way branched down
a gateless glade, and Shelton sidled closer till his knee touched the
Antonia's profile conjured up visions. She was youth itself; her
eyes so brilliant, and so innocent, her cheeks so glowing, and her
brow unruffled; but in her smile and in the setting of her jaw lurked
something resolute and mischievous. Shelton put his hand out to the
"What made you promise to marry me?" he said.
"Well, what made you?"
"I?" cried Shelton.
She slipped her hand over his hand.
"Oh, Dick!" she said.
"I want," he stammered, "to be everything to you. Do you think I
Of course! The words seemed very much or very little.
She looked down at the river, gleaming below the glade in a curving
silver line. "Dick, there are such a lot of splendid things that we
Did she mean, amongst those splendid things, that they might
understand each other; or were they fated to pretend to only, in the
old time-honoured way?
They crossed the river by a ferry, and rode a long time in silence,
while the twilight slowly fell behind the aspens. And all the beauty
of the evening, with its restless leaves, its grave young moon, and
lighted campion flowers, was but a part of her; the scents, the
witchery and shadows, the quaint field noises, the yokels' whistling,
and the splash of water-fowl, each seemed to him enchanted. The
flighting bats, the forms of the dim hayricks, and sweet-brier
perfume-she summed them all up in herself. The fingermarks had
deepened underneath her eyes, a languor came upon her; it made her
the more sweet and youthful. Her shoulders seemed to bear on them
the very image of our land--grave and aspiring, eager yet contained--
before there came upon that land the grin of greed, the folds of
wealth, the simper of content. Fair, unconscious, free!
And he was silent, with a beating heart.
CHAPTER XXVI. THE BIRD 'OF PASSAGE
That night, after the ride, when Shelton was about to go to bed, his
eyes fell on Ferrand's letter, and with a sleepy sense of duty he
began to read it through a second time. In the dark, oak-panelled
bedroom, his four-post bed, with back of crimson damask and its
dainty sheets, was lighted by the candle glow; the copper pitcher of
hot water in the basin, the silver of his brushes, and the line of
his well-polished boots all shone, and Shelton's face alone was
gloomy, staring at the yellowish paper in his hand.
"The poor chap wants money, of course," he thought. But why go on
for ever helping one who had no claim on him, a hopeless case,
incurable--one whom it was his duty to let sink for the good of the
community at large? Ferrand's vagabond refinement had beguiled him
into charity that should have been bestowed on hospitals, or any
charitable work but foreign missions. To give a helping hand, a bit
of himself, a nod of fellowship to any fellow-being irrespective of a
claim, merely because he happened to be down, was sentimental
nonsense! The line must be drawn! But in the muttering of this
conclusion he experienced a twinge of honesty. "Humbug! You don't
want to part with your money, that's all!"
So, sitting down in shirt-sleeves at his writing table, he penned the
following on paper stamped with the Holm Oaks address and crest:
MY DEAR FERRAND,
I am sorry you are having such a bad spell. You seem to be dead out
of luck. I hope by the time you get this things will have changed
for the better. I should very much like to see you again and have a
talk, but shall be away for some time longer, and doubt even when I
get back whether I should be able to run down and look you up. Keep
me 'au courant' as to your movements. I enclose a cheque.
Before he had written out the cheque, a moth fluttering round the
candle distracted his attention, and by the time he had caught and
put it out he had forgotten that the cheque was not enclosed. The
letter, removed with his clothes before he was awake, was posted in
an empty state.
One morning a week later he was sitting in the smoking-room in the
company of the gentleman called Mabbey, who was telling him how many
grouse he had deprived of life on August 12 last year, and how many
he intended to deprive of life on August 12 this year, when the door
was opened, and the butler entered, carrying his head as though it
held some fatal secret.
"A young man is asking for you, sir," he said to Shelton, bending
down discreetly; "I don't know if you would wish to see him, sir."
"A young man! "repeated Shelton; "what sort of a young man?"
"I should say a sort of foreigner, sir," apologetically replied the
butler. "He's wearing a frock-coat, but he looks as if he had been
walking a good deal."
Shelton rose with haste; the description sounded to him ominous.
"Where is he?"
"I put him in the young ladies' little room, sir."
"All right," said Shelton; "I 'll come and see him. Now, what the
deuce!" he thought, running down the stairs.
It was with a queer commingling of pleasure and vexation that he
entered the little chamber sacred to the birds, beasts, racquets,
golf-clubs, and general young ladies' litter. Ferrand was standing
underneath the cage of a canary, his hands folded on his pinched-up
hat, a nervous smile upon his lips. He was dressed in Shelton's old
frock-coat, tightly buttoned, and would have cut a stylish figure but
far his look of travel. He wore a pair of pince-nez, too, which
somewhat veiled his cynical blue eyes, and clashed a little with the
pagan look of him. In the midst of the strange surroundings he still
preserved that air of knowing, and being master of, his fate, which
was his chief attraction.
"I 'm glad to see you," said Shelton, holding out his hand.
"Forgive this liberty," began Ferrand, "but I thought it due to you
after all you've done for me not to throw up my efforts to get
employment in England without letting you know first. I'm entirely
at the end of my resources."
The phrase struck Shelton as one that he had heard before.
But I wrote to you," he said; "did n't you get my letter?"
A flicker passed across the vagrant's face; he drew the letter from
his pocket and held it out.
"Here it is, monsieur."
Shelton stared at it.
"Surely," said he, "I sent a cheque?"
Ferrand did not smile; there was a look about him as though Shelton
by forgetting to enclose that cheque had done him a real injury.
Shelton could not quite hide a glance of doubt.
"Of course," he said, "I--I--meant to enclose a cheque."
Too subtle to say anything, Ferrand curled his lip., "I am capable of
much, but not of that," he seemed to say; and at once Shelton felt
the meanness of his doubt.
"Stupid of me," he said.
"I had no intention of intruding here," said Ferrand; "I hoped to see
you in the neighbourhood, but I arrive exhausted with fatigue. I've
eaten nothing since yesterday at noon, and walked thirty miles." He
shrugged his shoulders. "You see, I had no time to lose before
assuring myself whether you were here or not."
"Of course---" began Shelton, but again he stopped.
"I should very much like," the young foreigner went on, "for one of
your good legislators to find himself in these country villages with
a penny in his pocket. In other countries bakers are obliged to sell
you an equivalent of bread for a penny; here they won't sell you as
much as a crust under twopence. You don't encourage poverty."
"What is your idea now?" asked Shelton, trying to gain time.
"As I told you," replied Ferrand, "there 's nothing to be done at
Folkestone, though I should have stayed there if I had had the money
to defray certain expenses"; and again he seemed to reproach his
patron with the omission of that cheque. "They say things will
certainly be better at the end of the month. Now that I know English
well, I thought perhaps I could procure a situation for teaching
"I see," said Shelton.
As a fact, however, he was far from seeing; he literally did not know
what to do. It seemed so brutal to give Ferrand money and ask him to
clear out; besides, he chanced to have none in his pocket.
"It needs philosophy to support what I 've gone through this week,"
said Ferrand, shrugging his shoulders. "On Wednesday last, when I
received your letter, I had just eighteen-pence, and at once I made a
resolution to come and see you; on that sum I 've done the journey.
My strength is nearly at an end."
Shelton stroked his chin.
"Well," he had just begun, "we must think it over," when by Ferrand's
face he saw that some one had come in. He turned, and saw Antonia in
the doorway. "Excuse me," he stammered, and, going to Antonia, drew
her from the room.
With a smile she said at once: "It's the young foreigner; I'm
certain. Oh, what fun!"
"Yes," answered Shelton slowly; "he's come to see me about getting
some sort of tutorship or other. Do you think your mother would mind
if I took him up to have a wash? He's had a longish walk. And might
he have some breakfast? He must be hungry."
"Of course! I'll tell Dobson. Shall I speak to mother? He looks
He gave her a grateful, furtive look, and went back to his guest; an
impulse had made him hide from her the true condition of affairs.
Ferrand was standing where he had been left his face still clothed in
"Come up to my room!" said Shelton; and while his guest was washing,
brushing, and otherwise embellishing his person, he stood reflecting
that Ferrand was by no means unpresentable, and he felt quite
grateful to him.
He took an opportunity, when the young man's back was turned, of
examining his counterfoils. There was no record, naturally, of a
cheque drawn in Ferrand's favour. Shelton felt more mean than ever.
A message came from Mrs. Dennant; so he took the traveller to the
dining-room and left him there, while he himself went to the lady of
the house. He met Antonia coming down.
"How many days did you say he went without food that time--you know?"
she asked in passing.
"He does n't look a bit common, Dick."
Shelton gazed at her dubiously.
"They're surely not going to make a show of him!" he thought.
Mrs. Dennant was writing, in a dark-blue dress starred over with
white spots, whose fine lawn collar was threaded with black velvet.
"Have you seen the new hybrid Algy's brought me back from Kidstone?
Is n't it charmin'?" and she bent her face towards this perfect rose.
"They say unique; I'm awfully interested to find out if that's true.
I've told Algy I really must have some."
Shelton thought of the unique hybrid breakfasting downstairs; he
wished that Mrs. Dennant would show in him the interest she had
manifested in the rose. But this was absurd of him, he knew, for the
potent law of hobbies controlled the upper classes, forcing them to
take more interest in birds, and roses, missionaries, or limited and
highly-bound editions of old books (things, in a word, in treating
which you knew exactly where you were) than in the manifestations of
mere life that came before their eyes.
"Oh, Dick, about that young Frenchman. Antonia says he wants a
tutorship; now, can you really recommend him? There's Mrs. Robinson
at the Gateways wants someone to teach her boys languages; and, if he
were quite satisfactory, it's really time Toddles had a few lessons
in French; he goes to Eton next half."
Shelton stared at the rose; he had suddenly realised why it was that
people take more interest in roses than in human beings--one could do
it with a quiet heart.
"He's not a Frenchman, you know," he said to gain a little time.
"He's not a German, I hope," Mrs. Dennant answered, passing her
forgers round a petal, to impress its fashion on her brain; "I don't
like Germans. Is n't he the one you wrote about--come down in the
world? Such a pity with so young a fellow! His father was a
merchant, I think you told us. Antonia says he 's quite refined to
"Oh, yes," said Shelton, feeling on safe ground; "he's refined enough
to look at."
Mrs. Dennant took the rose and put it to her nose.
"Delicious perfume! That was a very touchin' story about his goin'
without food in Paris. Old Mrs. Hopkins has a room to let; I should
like to do her a good turn. I'm afraid there's a hole in the
ceilin', though. Or there's the room here in the left wing on the
ground-floor where John the footman used to sleep. It's quite nice;
perhaps he could have that."
"You 're awfully kind," said Shelton, " but---"
"I should like to do something to restore his self-respect,", went on
Mrs. Dennant, "if, as you say, he 's clever and all that. Seein' a
little refined life again might make a world of difference to him.
It's so sad when a young man loses self-respect."
Shelton was much struck by the practical way in which she looked at
things. Restore his self-respect! It seemed quite a splendid
notion! He smiled, and said,
"You're too kind. I think---"
"I don't believe in doin' things by halves," said Mrs. Dennant; "he
does n't drink, I suppose?"
"Oh, no," said Shelton. "He's rather a tobacco maniac, of course."
"Well, that's a mercy! You would n't believe the trouble I 've had
with drink, especially over cooks and coachmen. And now Bunyan's
taken to it."
"Oh, you'd have no trouble with Ferrand," returned Shelton; " you
couldn't tell him from a gentleman as far as manners go."
Mrs. Dennant smiled one of her rather sweet and kindly smiles.
"My dear Dick," she said, "there's not much comfort in that. Look at
poor Bobby Surcingle, look at Oliver Semples and Victor Medallion;
you could n't have better families. But if you 're sure he does n't
drink! Algy 'll laugh, of course; that does n't matter--he laughs at
Shelton felt guilty; being quite unprepared for so rapid an adoption
of his client.
"I really believe there's a lot of good in him," he stammered; "but,
of course, I know very little, and from what he tells me he's had a
very curious life. I shouldn't like---"
"Where was he educated?" inquired Mrs. Dennant. "They have no public
schools in France, so I 've been told; but, of course, he can't help
that, poor young fellow! Oh, and, Dick, there 's one thing--has he
relations? One has always to be so careful about that. It 's one
thing to help a young fellow, but quite another to help his family
too. One sees so many cases of that where men marry girls without
money, don't you know."
"He has told me," answered Shelton, "his only relations are some
cousins, and they are rich."
Mrs. Dennant took out her handkerchief, and, bending above the rose,
removed a tiny insect.
"These green-fly get in everywhere," she said.
"Very sad story; can't they do anything for him?" and she made
researches in the rose's heart.
"He's quarrelled with them, I believe," said Shelton; "I have n't
liked to press him, about that."
"No, of course not," assented Mrs. Dennant absently--she had found
another green-fly "I always think it's painful when a young man seems
Shelton was silent; he was thinking deeply. He had never before felt
so distrustful of the youthful foreigner.
"I think," he said at last, "the best thing would be for you to see
him for yourself."
"Very well," said Mrs. Dennant. "I should be so glad if you would
tell him to come up. I must say I do think that was a most touchin'
story about Paris. I wonder whether this light's strong enough now
for me to photograph this rose."
Shelton withdrew and went down-stairs. Ferrand was still at
breakfast. Antonia stood at the sideboard carving beef for him, and
in the window sat Thea with her Persian kitten.
Both girls were following the traveller's movements with inscrutable
blue eyes. A shiver ran down Shelton's spine. To speak truth, he
cursed the young man's coming, as though it affected his relations
CHAPTER XXVII. SUB ROSA
>From the interview, which Shelton had the mixed delight of watching,
between Ferrand and the Honourable Mrs. Dennant, certain definite
results accrued, the chief of which was the permission accorded the
young wanderer to occupy the room which had formerly been tenanted by
the footman John. Shelton was lost in admiration of Ferrand's manner
in this scene.. Its subtle combination of deference and dignity was
almost paralysing; paralysing, too, the subterranean smile upon his
"Charmin' young man, Dick," said Mrs. Dennant, when Shelton lingered
to say once more that he knew but very little of him; "I shall send a
note round to Mrs. Robinson at once. They're rather common, you
know--the Robinsons. I think they'll take anyone I recommend."
"I 'm sure they will," said Shelton; "that's why I think you ought to
But Mrs. Dennant's eyes, fervent, hare-like, were fixed on something
far away; turning, he saw the rose in a tall vase on a tall and
spindly stool. It seemed to nod towards them in the sunshine. Mrs.
Dennant dived her nose towards her camera.
"The light's perfect now," she said, in a voice muffled by the cloth.
"I feel sure that livin' with decent people will do wonders for him.
Of course, he understands that his meals will be served to him
Shelton, doubly anxious, now that his efforts had lodged his client
in a place of trust, fell, back on hoping for the best; his instinct
told him that, vagabond as Ferrand was, he had a curious self-
respect, that would save him from a mean ingratitude.
In fact, as Mrs. Dennant, who was by no means void of common-sense,
foresaw, the arrangement worked all right. Ferrand entered on his
duties as French tutor to the little Robinsons. In the Dennants'
household he kept himself to his own room, which, day and night, he
perfumed with tobacco, emerging at noon into the garden, or, if wet,
into the study, to teach young Toddles French. After a time it
became customary for him to lunch with the house-party, partly
through a mistake of Toddles, who seemed to think that it was
natural, and partly through John Noble, one of Shelton's friends, who
had come to stay, and discovered Ferrand to be a most awfully
interesting person he was always, indeed, discovering the most
awfully interesting persons. In his grave and toneless voice,
brushing his hair from off his brow, he descanted upon Ferrand with
enthusiasm, to which was joined a kind of shocked amusement, as who
should say, "Of course, I know it's very odd, but really he 's such
an awfully interesting person." For John Noble was a politician,
belonging to one of those two Peculiar parties, which, thoroughly in
earnest, of an honesty above suspicion, and always very busy, are
constitutionally averse to anything peculiar for fear of finding they
have overstepped the limit of what is practical in politics. As such
he inspired confidence, not caring for things unless he saw some
immediate benefit to be had from them, having a perfect sense of
decency, and a small imagination. He discussed all sorts of things
with Ferrand; on one occasion Shelton overheard them arguing on
"No Englishman approves of murder," Noble was saying, in the gloomy
voice that contrasted with the optimistic cast of his fine head, "but
the main principle is right. Equalisation of property is bound to
come. I sympathise with then, not with their methods."
"Forgive me," struck in Ferrand; "do you know any anarchists?"
"No," returned Noble; "I certainly do not."
"You say you sympathise with them, but the first time it comes to
"Oh, monsieur! one doesn't make anarchism with the head."
Shelton perceived that he had meant to add, "but with the heart, the
lungs, the liver." He drew a deeper meaning from the saying, and
seemed to see, curling with the smoke from Ferrand's lips, the words:
"What do you, an English gentleman, of excellent position, and all
the prejudices of your class, know about us outcasts? If you want to
understand us you must be an outcast too; we are not playing at the
This talk took place upon the lawn, at the end of one of Toddles's
French lessons, and Shelton left John Noble maintaining to the
youthful foreigner, with stubborn logic, that he, John Noble, and the
anarchists had much, in common. He was returning to the house, when
someone called his name from underneath the holm oak. There, sitting
Turkish fashion on the grass, a pipe between his teeth, he found a
man who had arrived the night before, and impressed him by his
friendly taciturnity. His name was Whyddon, and he had just returned
from Central Africa; a brown-faced, large-jawed man, with small but
good and steady eyes, and strong, spare figure.
"Oh, Mr. Shelton!" he said, "I wondered if you could tell me what
tips I ought to give the servants here; after ten years away I 've
forgotten all about that sort of thing."
Shelton sat down beside him; unconsciously assuming, too, a cross-
legged attitude, which caused him much discomfort.
"I was listening," said his new acquaintance, "to the little chap
learning his French. I've forgotten mine. One feels a hopeless
duffer knowing no, languages."
"I suppose you speak Arabic?" said Shelton.
"Oh, Arabic, and a dialect or two; they don't count. That tutor has
a curious face."
"You think so?" said Shelton, interested. "He's had a curious life."
The traveller spread his hands, palms downwards, on the grass and
looked at Shelton with, a smile.
"I should say he was a rolling stone," he said. "It 's odd, I' ve
seen white men in Central Africa with a good deal of his look about
"Your diagnosis is a good one," answered Shelton.
"I 'm always sorry for those fellows. There's generally some good in
them. They are their own enemies. A bad business to be unable to
take pride in anything one does!" And there was a look of pity on
"That's exactly it," said Shelton. "I 've often tried to put it into
words. Is it incurable?"
"I think so."
"Can you tell me why?"
"I rather think," he said at last, "it must be because they have too
strong a faculty of criticism. You can't teach a man to be proud of
his own work; that lies in his blood "; folding his arms across his
breast, he heaved a sigh. Under the dark foliage, his eyes on the
sunlight, he was the type of all those Englishmen who keep their
spirits bright and wear their bodies out in the dark places of hard
work. "You can't think," he said, showing his teeth in a smile, "how
delightful it is to be at home! You learn to love the old country
when you're away from it."
Shelton often thought, afterwards; of this diagnosis of the vagabond,
for he was always stumbling on instances of that power of subtle
criticism which was the young foreigner's prime claim to be "a most
awfully interesting" and perhaps a rather shocking person.
An old school-fellow of Shelton's and his wife were staying in the
house, who offered to the eye the picture of a perfect domesticity.
Passionless and smiling, it was impossible to imagine they could ever
have a difference. Shelton, whose bedroom was next to theirs, could
hear them in the mornings talking in exactly the tones they used at
lunch, and laughing the same laughs. Their life seemed to accord
them perfect satisfaction; they were supplied with their convictions
by Society just as, when at home, they were supplied with all the
other necessaries of life by some co-operative stores. Their fairly
handsome faces, with the fairly kind expressions, quickly and
carefully regulated by a sense of compromise, began to worry him so
much that when in the same room he would even read to avoid the need
of looking at them. And yet they were kind--that is, fairly kind--
and clean and quiet in the house, except when they laughed, which was
often, and at things which made him want to howl as a dog howls at
"Mr. Shelton," Ferrand said one day, "I 'm not an amateur of
marriage--never had the chance, as you may well suppose; but, in any
case, you have some people in the house who would make me mark time
before I went committing it. They seem the ideal young married
people--don't quarrel, have perfect health, agree with everybody, go
to church, have children--but I should like to hear what is beautiful
in their life," and he grimaced. "It seems to me so ugly that I can
only gasp. I would much rather they ill-treated each other, just to
show they had the corner of a soul between them. If that is
marriage, 'Dieu m'en garde!'"
But Shelton did not answer; he was thinking deeply.
The saying of John Noble's, "He's really a most interesting person,"
grew more and more upon his nerves; it seemed to describe the Dennant
attitude towards this stranger within their gates. They treated him
with a sort of wonder on the "don't touch" system, like an object in
an exhibition. The restoration, however, of, his self-respect
proceeded with success. For all the semblance of having grown too
big for Shelton's clothes, for all his vividly burnt face, and the
quick but guarded play of cynicism on his lips--he did much credit to
his patrons. He had subdued his terror of a razor, and looked well
in a suit of Shelton's flannels. For, after all, he had only been
eight years exiled from middle-class gentility, and he had been a
waiter half that time. But Shelton wished him at the devil. Not for
his manners' sake--he was never tired of watching how subtly the
vagabond adapted his conduct to the conduct of his hosts, while
keeping up his critical detachment--but because that critical
detachment was a constant spur to his own vision, compelling him to
analyse the life into which, he had been born and was about to marry.
This process was disturbing; and to find out when it had commenced,
he had to go back to his meeting with Ferrand on the journey up from
There was kindness in a hospitality which opened to so strange a
bird; admitting the kindness, Shelton fell to analysing it. To
himself, to people of his class, the use of kindness was a luxury,
not significant of sacrifice, but productive of a pleasant feeling in
the heart, such as massage will setup in the legs. "Everybody's
kind," he thought; "the question is, What understanding is there,
what real sympathy?" This problem gave him food for thought.
The progress, which Mrs. Dennant not unfrequently remarked upon, in
Ferrand's conquest of his strange position, seemed to Shelton but a
sign that he was getting what he could out of his sudden visit to
green pastures; under the same circumstances, Shelton thought that he
himself would do the same. He felt that the young foreigner was
making a convenient bow to property, but he had more respect for the
sarcastic smile on the lips of Ferrand's heart.
It was not long before the inevitable change came in the spirit of
the situation; more and more was Shelton conscious of a quaint
uneasiness in the very breathing of the household.
"Curious fellow you've got hold of there, Shelton," Mr. Dennant said
to him during a game of croquet; " he 'll never do any good for
himself, I'm afraid."
"In one sense I'm afraid not," admitted Shelton.
"Do you know his story? I will bet you sixpence"--and Mr. Dennant
paused to swing his mallet with a proper accuracy "that he's been in
"Prison!" ejaculated Shelton.
"I think," said Mr. Dennant, with bent knees carefully measuring his
next shot, "that you ought to make inquiries--ah! missed it!
Awkward these hoops! One must draw the line somewhere."
"I never could draw," returned Shelton, nettled and uneasy; "but I
understand--I 'll give him a hint to go."
"Don't," said Mr. Dennant, moving after his second ball, which
Shelton had smitten to the farther end, "be offended, my dear
Shelton, and by no means give him a hint; he interests me very much--
a very clever, quiet young fellow."
That this was not his private view Shelton inferred by studying Mr.
Dennant's manner in the presence of the vagabond. Underlying the
well-bred banter of the tranquil voice, the guarded quizzicality of
his pale brown face, it could be seen that Algernon Cuffe Dennant,
Esq., J.P., accustomed to laugh at other people, suspected that he
was being laughed at. What more natural than that he should grope
about to see how this could be? A vagrant alien was making himself
felt by an English Justice of the Peace--no small tribute, this, to
Ferrand's personality. The latter would sit silent through a meal,
and yet make his effect. He, the object of their kindness,
education, patronage, inspired their fear. There was no longer any
doubt; it was not of Ferrand that they were afraid, but of what they
did not understand in him; of horrid subtleties meandering in the
brain under that straight, wet-looking hair; of something bizarre
popping from the curving lips below that thin, lopsided nose.
But to Shelton in this, as in all else, Antonia was what mattered.
At first, anxious to show her lover that she trusted him, she seemed
never tired of doing things for his young protege, as though she too
had set her heart on his salvation; but, watching her eyes when they
rested on the vagabond, Shelton was perpetually reminded of her
saying on the first day of his visit to Holm Oaks, "I suppose he 's
really good--I mean all these things you told me about were only...."
Curiosity never left her glance, nor did that story of his four days'
starving leave her mind; a sentimental picturesqueness clung about
that incident more valuable by far than this mere human being with
whom she had so strangely come in contact. She watched Ferrand, and
Shelton watched her. If he had been told that he was watching her,
he would have denied it in good faith; but he was bound to watch her,
to find out with what eyes she viewed this visitor who embodied all
the rebellious under-side of life, all that was absent in herself.
"Dick," she said to him one day, "you never talk to me of Monsieur
"Do you want to talk of him?"
"Don't you think that he's improved?"
Antonia looked grave.
"No, but really?"
"I don't know," said Shelton; "I can't judge him."
Antonia turned her face away, and something in her attitude alarmed
"He was once a sort of gentleman," she said; "why shouldn't he become
Sitting on the low wall of the kitchen-garden, her head was framed by
golden plums. The sun lay barred behind the foliage of the holm oak,
but a little patch filtering through a gap had rested in the plum-
tree's heart. It crowned the girl. Her raiment, the dark leaves,
the red wall, the golden plums, were woven by the passing glow to a
block of pagan colour. And her face above it, chaste, serene, was
like the scentless summer evening. A bird amongst the currant bushes
kept a little chant vibrating; and all the plum-tree's shape and
colour seemed alive.
"Perhaps he does n't want to be a gentleman," said Shelton.
Antonia swung her foot.
"How can he help wanting to?"
"He may have a different philosophy of life."
Antonia was slow to answer.
"I know nothing about philosophies of life," she said at last.
Shelton answered coldly,
"No two people have the same."
With the falling sun-glow the charm passed off the tree. Chilled and
harder, yet less deep, it was no more a block of woven colour, warm
and impassive, like a southern goddess; it was now a northern tree,
with a grey light through its leaves.
"I don't understand you in the least," she said; "everyone wishes to
"And safe?" asked Shelton gently.
"Suppose," he said--"I don't pretend to know, I only suppose--what
Ferrand really cares for is doing things differently from other
people? If you were to load him with a character and give him money
on condition that he acted as we all act, do you think he would
"Why are n't cats dogs; or pagans Christians?"
Antonia slid down from the wall.
"You don't seem to think there 's any use in trying," she said, and
Shelton made a movement as if he would go after her, and then stood
still, watching her figure slowly pass, her head outlined above the
wall, her hands turned back across her narrow hips. She halted at
the bend, looked back, then, with an impatient gesture, disappeared.
Antonia was slipping from him!
A moment's vision from without himself would have shown him that it
was he who moved and she who was standing still, like the figure of
one watching the passage of a stream with clear, direct, and sullen
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE RIVER
One day towards the end of August Shelton took Antonia on the river--
the river that, like soft music, soothes the land; the river of the
reeds and poplars, the silver swan-sails, sun and moon, woods, and
the white slumbrous clouds; where cuckoos, and the wind, the pigeons,
and the weirs are always singing; and in the flash of naked bodies,
the play of waterlily leaves, queer goblin stumps, and the twilight
faces of the twisted tree-roots, Pan lives once more.
The reach which Shelton chose was innocent of launches, champagne
bottles and loud laughter; it was uncivilised, and seldom troubled by
these humanising influences. He paddled slowly, silent and absorbed,
watching Antonia. An unaccustomed languor clung about her; her eyes
had shadows, as though she had not slept; colour glowed softly in her
cheeks, her frock seemed all alight with golden radiance. She made
Shelton pull into the reeds, and plucked two rounded lilies sailing
like ships against slow-moving water.
"Pull into the shade, please," she said; it's too hot out here."
The brim of her linen hat kept the sun from her face, but her head
was drooping like a flower's head at noon.
Shelton saw that the heat was really harming her, as too hot a day
will dim the icy freshness of a northern plant. He dipped his
sculls, the ripples started out and swam in grave diminuendo till
they touched the banks.
He shot the boat into a cleft, and caught the branches of an
overhanging tree. The skiff rested, balancing with mutinous
vibration, like a living thing.
"I should hate to live in London," said Antonia suddenly;" the slums
must be so awful. What a pity, when there are places like this! But
it's no good thinking."
"No," answered Shelton slowly! "I suppose it is no good."
"There are some bad cottages at the lower end of Cross Eaton. I went
them one day with Miss Truecote. The people won't help themselves.
It's so discouraging to help people who won't help themselves."
She was leaning her elbows on her knees, and, with her chin resting
on her hands, gazed up at Shelton. All around them hung a tent of
soft, thick leaves, and, below, the water was deep-dyed with green
refraction. Willow boughs, swaying above the boat, caressed
Antonia's arms and shoulders; her face and hair alone were free.
"So discouraging," she said again.
A silence fell.... Antonia seemed thinking deeply.
"Doubts don't help you," she said suddenly; "how can you get any good
from doubts? The thing is to win victories."
"Victories?" said Shelton. "I 'd rather understand than conquer!"
He had risen to his feet, and grasped stunted branch, canting the
boat towards the bank.
"How can you let things slide like that, Dick? It's like Ferrand."
"Have you such a bad opinion of him, then?" asked Shelton. He felt
on the verge of some, discovery.
She buried her chin deeper in her hands.
"I liked him at first," she said; "I thought that he was different.
I thought he couldn't really be---"
"Really be what?"
Antonia did not answer.
"I don't know," she said at last. "I can't explain. I thought---"
Shelton still stood, holding to the branch, and the oscillation of
the boat freed an infinity of tiny ripples.
"You thought--what?" he said.
He ought to have seen her face grow younger, more childish, even
timid. She said in a voice smooth, round, and young:
"You know, Dick, I do think we ought to try. I know I don't try half
hard enough. It does n't do any good to think; when you think,
everything seems so mixed, as if there were nothing to lay hold of.
I do so hate to feel like that. It is n't as if we didn't know
what's right. Sometimes I think, and think, and it 's all no good,
only a waste of time, and you feel at the end as if you had been
"What has n't been through fire's no good," he said; and, letting go
the branch, sat down. Freed from restraint, the boat edged out
towards the current. "But what about Ferrand?"
"I lay awake last night wondering what makes you like him so. He's
so bitter; he makes me feel unhappy. He never seems content with
anything. And he despises"--her face hardened--"I mean, he hates us
"So should I if I were he," said Shelton.
The boat was drifting on, and gleams of sunlight chased across their
faces. Antonia spoke again.
"He seems to be always looking at dark things, or else he seems as
if--as if he could--enjoy himself too much. I thought--I thought at
first," she stammered, "that we could do him good."
"Do him good! Ha, ha!"
A startled rat went swimming for its life against the stream; and
Shelton saw that he had done a dreadful thing: he had let Antonia
with a jerk into a secret not hitherto admitted even by himself--the
secret that her eyes were not his eyes, her way of seeing things not
his nor ever would be. He quickly muffled up his laughter. Antonia
had dropped her gaze; her face regained its languor, but the bosom of
her dress was heaving. Shelton watched her, racking his brains to
find excuses for that fatal laugh; none could he find. It was a
little piece of truth. He paddled slowly on, close to the bank, in
the long silence of the river.
The breeze had died away, not a fish was rising; save for the lost
music of the larks no birds were piping; alone, a single pigeon at
brief intervals cooed from the neighbouring wood.
They did not stay much longer in the boat.
On the homeward journey in the pony-cart, rounding a corner of the
road, they came on Ferrand in his pince-nez, holding a cigarette
between his fingers and talking to a tramp, who was squatting on the
bank. The young foreigner recognised them, and at once removed his
"There he is," said Shelton, returning the salute.
"Oh!" she, cried, when they were out of hearing, "I wish he 'd go.
I can't bear to see him; it's like looking at the dark."
CHAPTER XXIX. ON THE WING
That night, having gone up to his room, Shelton filled his pipe for
his unpleasant duty. He had resolved to hint to Ferrand that he had
better go. He was still debating whether to write or go himself to
the young foreigner, when there came a knock and Ferrand himself
"I should be sorry," he said, breaking an awkward silence, "if you
were to think me ungrateful, but I see no future for me here. It
would be better for me to go. I should never be content to pass my
life in teaching languages 'ce n'est guere dans mon caractre'."
As soon as what he had been cudgelling his brains to find a way of
saying had thus been said for him, Shelton experienced a sense of
"What do you expect to get that's better?" he said, avoiding
"Thanks to your kindness," replied the latter, "I find myself
restored. I feel that I ought to make some good efforts to dominate
my social position."
"I should think it well over, if I were you!" said Shelton.
"I have, and it seems to me that I'm wasting my time. For a man with
any courage languages are no career; and, though I 've many defects,
I still have courage."
Shelton let his pipe go out, so pathetic seemed to him this young
man's faith in his career; it was no pretended faith, but neither was
it, he felt, his true motive for departure. "He's tired," he
thought; "that 's it. Tired of one place." And having the
instinctive sense that nothing would keep Ferrand, he redoubled his
"I should have thought," he said, "that you would have done better to
have held on here and saved a little before going off to God knows
"To save," said Ferrand, "is impossible for me, but, thanks to you
and your good friends, I 've enough to make front to first
necessities. I'm in correspondence with a friend; it's of great
importance for me to reach Paris before all the world returns. I 've
a chance to get, a post in one of the West African companies. One
makes fortunes out there--if one survives, and, as you know, I don't
set too much store by life."
"We have a proverb," said Shelton, "'A bird in the hand is worth two
birds in the bush!'"
"That," returned Ferrand, "like all proverbs, is just half true.
This is an affair of temperament. It 's not in my character to
dandle one when I see two waiting to be caught; 'voyager, apprendre,
c'est plus fort que moi'." He paused; then, with a nervous goggle of
the eyes and an ironic smile he said: "Besides, 'mon cher monsieur',
it is better that I go. I have never been one to hug illusions, and
I see pretty clearly that my presence is hardly acceptable in this
"What makes you say that?" asked, Shelton, feeling that the murder
was now out."
"My dear sir, all the world has not your understanding and your lack
of prejudice, and, though your friends have been extremely kind to
me, I am in a false position; I cause them embarrassment, which is
not extraordinary when you reflect what I have been, and that they
know my history."
"Not through me," said Shelton quickly, "for I don't know it myself."
"It's enough," the vagrant said, "that they feel I'm not a bird of
their feather. They cannot change, neither can I. I have never
wanted to remain where I 'm not welcome."
Shelton turned to the window, and stared into the darkness; he would
never quite understand this vagabond, so delicate, so cynical, and he
wondered if Ferrand had been swallowing down the words, "Why, even
you won't be sorry to see my back!"
"Well," he said at last, "if you must go, you must. When do you
"I 've arranged with a man to carry my things to the early train. I
think it better not to say good-bye. I 've written a letter instead;
here it is. I left it open for you to read if you should wish,"
"Then," said Shelton, with a curious mingling of relief, regret,
good-will, "I sha'n't see you again?"
Ferrand gave his hand a stealthy rub, and held it out.
"I shall never forget what you have done for me," he said.
"Mind you write," said Shelton.
"Yes, yes"--the, vagrant's face was oddly twisted--"you don't know
what a difference it makes to have a correspondent; it gives one
courage. I hope to remain a long time in correspondence with you."
"I dare say you do," thought Shelton grimly, with a certain queer
"You will do me the justice to remember that I have never asked you
for anything," said Ferrand. "Thank you a thousand times.
He again wrung his patron's hand in his damp grasp, and, going out,
left Shelton with an odd sensation in his throat. "You will do me
the justice to remember that I have never asked you for anything."
The phrase seemed strange, and his mind flew back over all this queer
acquaintanceship. It was a fact: from the beginning to the end the
youth had never really asked for anything. Shelton sat down on his
bed, and began to read the letter in his hand. It was in French.
DEAR MADAME (it ran),
It will be insupportable to me, after your kindness, if you take me
for ungrateful. Unfortunately, a crisis has arrived which plunges me
into the necessity of leaving your hospitality. In all lives, as you
are well aware, there arise occasions that one cannot govern, and I
know that you will pardon me that I enter into no explanation on an
event which gives me great chagrin, and, above all, renders me
subject to an imputation of ingratitude, which, believe me, dear
Madame, by no means lies in my character. I know well enough that it
is a breach of politeness to leave you without in person conveying
the expression of my profound reconnaissance, but if you consider how
hard it is for me to be compelled to abandon all that is so
distinguished in domestic life, you will forgive my weakness. People
like me, who have gone through existence with their eyes open, have
remarked that those who are endowed with riches have a right to look
down on such as are not by wealth and breeding fitted to occupy the
same position. I shall never dispute a right so natural and
salutary, seeing that without this distinction, this superiority,
which makes of the well-born and the well-bred a race apart, the rest
of the world would have no standard by which to rule their lives, no
anchor to throw into the depths of that vast sea of fortune and of
misfortune on which we others drive before the wind. It is because
of this, dear Madame, that I regard myself so doubly fortunate to
have been able for a few minutes in this bitter pilgrimage called
life, to sit beneath the tree of safety. To have been able, if only
for an hour, to sit and set the pilgrims pass, the pilgrims with the
blistered feet and ragged clothes, and who yet, dear Madame, guard
within their hearts a certain joy in life, illegal joy, like the
desert air which travellers will tell you fills men as with wine to
be able thus to sit an hour, and with a smile to watch them pass,
lame and blind, in all the rags of their deserved misfortunes, can
you not conceive, dear Madame, how that must be for such as I a
comfort? Whatever one may say, it is sweet, from a position of
security, to watch the sufferings of others; it gives one a good
sensation in the heart.
In writing this, I recollect that I myself once had the chance of
passing all my life in this enviable safety, and as you may suppose,
dear Madame, I curse myself that I should ever have had the courage
to step beyond the boundaries of this fine tranquil state. Yet, too,
there have been times when I have asked myself: "Do we really differ
from the wealthy--we others, birds of the fields, who have our own
philosophy, grown from the pains of needing bread--we who see that
the human heart is not always an affair of figures, or of those good
maxims that one finds in copy-books--do we really differ?" It is
with shame that I confess to have asked myself a question so
heretical. But now, when for these four weeks I have had the fortune
of this rest beneath your roof, I see how wrong I was to entertain
such doubts. It is a great happiness to have decided once for all
this point, for it is not in my character to pass through life
uncertain--mistaken, perhaps--on psychological matters such as these.
No, Madame; rest happily assured that there is a great difference,
which in the future will be sacred for me. For, believe me, Madame,
it would be calamity for high Society if by chance there should arise
amongst them any understanding of all that side of life which--vast
as the plains and bitter as the sea, black as the ashes of a corpse,
and yet more free than any wings of birds who fly away--is so justly
beyond the grasp of their philosophy. Yes, believe me, dear Madame,
there is no danger in the world so much to be avoided by all the
members of that circle, most illustrious, most respectable, called
>From what I have said you may imagine how hard it is for me to take
my flight. I shall always keep for you the most distinguished
sentiments. With the expression of my full regard for you and your
good family, and of a gratitude as sincere as it is badly worded,
Believe me, dear Madame,
Shelton's first impulse was to tear the letter up, but this he
reflected he had no right to do. Remembering, too, that Mrs.
Dennant's French was orthodox, he felt sure she would never
understand the young foreigner's subtle innuendoes. He closed the
envelope and went to bed, haunted still by Ferrand's parting look.
It was with no small feeling of embarrassment, however, that, having
sent the letter to its destination by an early footman, he made his
appearance at the breakfast-table. Behind the Austrian coffee-urn,
filled with French coffee, Mrs. Dennant, who had placed four eggs in
a German egg-boiler, said "Good-morning," with a kindly smile.
"Dick, an egg?" she asked him, holding up a fifth.
"No, thank you," replied Shelton, greeting the table and fitting
He was a little late; the buzz of conversation rose hilariously
"My dear," continued Mr. Dennant, who was talking to his youngest
daughter, "you'll have no chance whatever--not the least little bit
"Father, what nonsense! You know we shall beat your heads off!"
"Before it 's too late, then, I will eat a muffin. Shelton, pass the
muffins! "But in making this request, Mr. Dennant avoided looking in
Antonia, too, seemed to keep her eyes away from him. She was talking
to a Connoisseur on Art of supernatural appearances, and seemed in
the highest spirits. Shelton rose, and, going to the sideboard,
helped himself to grouse.
"Who was the young man I saw yesterday on the lawn?" he heard the
Connoisseur remark. "Struck me as having an--er--quite intelligent
His own intelligent physiog, raised at a slight slant so that he
might look the better through his nose-nippers, was the very pattern
of approval. "It's curious how one's always meeting with
intelligence;" it seemed to say. Mrs. Dennant paused in the act of
adding cream, and Shelton scrutinised her face; it was hare-like, and
superior as ever. Thank goodness she had smelt no rat! He felt
"You mean Monsieur Ferrand, teachin' Toddles French? Dobson, the
"I hope I shall see him again," cooed the Connoisseur; "he was quite
interesting on the subject of young German working men. It seems
they tramp from place to place to learn their trades. What
nationality was he, may I ask?"
Mr. Dennant, of whom he asked this question, lifted his brows, and
"Half Dutch, half French."
"Very interesting breed; I hope I shall see him again."
"Well, you won't," said Thea suddenly; "he's gone."
Shelton saw that their good breeding alone prevented all from adding,
"And thank goodness, too!"
"Gone? Dear me, it's very--"
"Yes," said Mr. Dennant, "very sudden."
"Now, Algie," murmured Mrs. Dennant, "it 's quite a charmin' letter.
Must have taken the poor young man an hour to write."
"Oh, mother!" cried Antonia.
And Shelton felt his face go crimson. He had suddenly remembered
that her French was better than her mother's.
"He seems to have had a singular experience," said the Connoisseur.
"Yes," echoed Mr. Dennant; "he 's had some singular experience. If
you want to know the details, ask friend Shelton; it's quite
romantic. In the meantime, my dear; another cup?"
The Connoisseur, never quite devoid of absent-minded malice, spurred
his curiosity to a further effort; and, turning his well-defended
eyes on Shelton, murmured,
"Well, Mr. Shelton, you are the historian, it seems."
"There is no history," said Shelton, without looking up.
"Ah, that's very dull," remarked the Connoisseur.
"My dear Dick," said Mrs. Dennant, "that was really a most touchin'
story about his goin' without food in Paris."
Shelton shot another look at Antonia; her face was frigid. "I hate
your d---d superiority!" he thought, staring at the Connoisseur.
"There's nothing," said that gentleman, "more enthralling than
starvation. Come, Mr Shelton."
"I can't tell stories," said Shelton; "never could."
He cared not a straw for Ferrand, his coming, going, or his history;
for, looking at Antonia, his heart was heavy.
CHAPTER XXX. THE LADY FROM BEYOND
The morning was sultry, brooding, steamy. Antonia was at her music,
and from the room where Shelton tried to fix attention on a book he
could hear her practising her scales with a cold fury that cast an
added gloom upon his spirit. He did not see her until lunch, and
then she again sat next the Connoisseur. Her cheeks were pale, but
there was something feverish in her chatter to her neighbour; she
still refused to look at Shelton. He felt very miserable. After
lunch, when most of them had left the table, the rest fell to
discussing country neighbours.
"Of course," said Mrs. Dennant, "there are the Foliots; but nobody
calls on them."
"Ah!" said the Connoisseur, "the Foliots--the Foliots--the people--
"It's really distressin'; she looks so sweet ridin' about. Many
people with worse stories get called on," continued Mrs. Dennant,
with that large frankness of intrusion upon doubtful subjects which
may be made by certain people in a certain way," but, after all, one
couldn't ask them to meet anybody."
"No," the Connoisseur assented. "I used to know Foliot. Thousand
pities. They say she was a very pretty woman."
"Oh, not pretty!" said Mrs. Dennant! "more interestin than pretty, I
Shelton, who knew the lady slightly, noticed that they spoke of her
as in the past. He did not look towards Antonia; for, though a
little troubled at her presence while such a subject was discussed,
he hated his conviction that her face, was as unruffled as though the
Foliots had been a separate species. There was, in fact, a curiosity
about her eyes, a faint impatience on her lips; she was rolling
little crumbs of bread. Suddenly yawning, she muttered some remark,
and rose. Shelton stopped her at the door.
"Where are you going?"
"For a walk."
"May n't I come?".
She shook her head.
"I 'm going to take Toddles."
Shelton held the door open, and went back to the table.
"Yes," the Connoisseur said, sipping at his sherry, "I 'm afraid it's
all over with young Foliot."
"Such a pity!" murmured Mrs. Dennant, and her kindly face looked
quite disturbed. "I've known him ever since he was a boy. Of
course, I think he made a great mistake to bring her down here. Not
even bein' able to get married makes it doubly awkward. Oh, I think
he made a great mistake!"
"Ah!" said the Connoisseur, "but d' you suppose that makes much
difference? Even if What 's--his-name gave her a divorce, I don't
think, don't you know, that--"
"Oh, it does! So many people would be inclined to look over it in
time. But as it is it's hopeless, quite. So very awkward for
people, too, meetin' them about. The Telfords and the Butterwicks--
by the way, they're comin' here to dine to-night--live near them,
don't you know."
"Did you ever meet her before-er-before the flood?" the Connoisseur
inquired; and his lips parting and unexpectedly revealing teeth gave
him a shadowy resemblance to a goat.
"Yes; I did meet her once at the Branksomes'. I thought her quite a
"Poor fellow!" said the Connoisseur; "they tell me he was going to
take the hounds."
"And there are his delightful coverts, too. Algie often used to
shoot there, and now they say he just has his brother down to shoot
with him. It's really quite too melancholy! Did you know him,
"Foliot?" replied Shelton absently. "No; I never met him: I've seen
her once or twice at Ascot."
Through the window he could see Antonia in her scarlet Tam-o'-
shanter, swinging her stick, and he got up feigning unconcern. Just
then Toddles came bounding up against his sister. They went off arm
in arm. She had seen him at the window, yet she gave no friendly
glance; Shelton felt more miserable than ever. He stepped out upon
the drive. There was a lurid, gloomy canopy above; the elm-trees
drooped their heavy blackish green, the wonted rustle of the aspen-
tree was gone, even the rooks were silent. A store of force lay
heavy on the heart of nature. He started pacing slowly up and down,
his pride forbidding him to follow her, and presently sat down on an
old stone seat that faced the road. He stayed a long time staring at
the elms, asking himself what he had done and what he ought to do.
And somehow he was frightened. A sense of loneliness was on him, so
real, so painful, that he shivered in the sweltering heat. He was
there, perhaps, an hour, alone, and saw nobody pass along the road.
Then came the sound of horse's hoofs, and at the same time he heard a
motor-car approaching from the opposite direction. The rider made
appearance first, riding a grey horse with an Arab's high set head
and tail. She was holding him with difficulty, for the whirr of the
approaching car grew every moment louder. Shelton rose; the car
flashed by. He saw the horse stagger in the gate-way, crushing its
rider up against the gatepost.
He ran, but before he reached the gate the lady was on foot, holding
the plunging horse's bridle.
"Are you hurt?" cried Shelton breathlessly, and he, too, grabbed the
bridle. "Those beastly cars!"
"I don't know," she said. "Please don't; he won't let strangers
Shelton let go, and watched her coax the horse. She was rather tall,
dressed in a grey habit, with a grey Russian cap upon her head, and
he suddenly recognised the Mrs. Foliot whom they had been talking of
"He 'll be quiet now," she said, "if you would n't mind holding him a
She gave the reins to him, and leaned against the gate. She was very
"I do hope he has n't hurt you," Shelton said. He was quite close to
her, well able to see her face--a curious face with high cheek-bones
and a flatfish moulding, enigmatic, yet strangely passionate for all
its listless pallor. Her smiling, tightened lips were pallid;
pallid, too, her grey and deep-set eyes with greenish tints; above
all, pale the ashy mass of hair coiled under her grey cap.
"Th-thanks!" she said; "I shall be all right directly. I'm sorry to
have made a fuss."
She bit her lips and smiled.
"I 'm sure you're hurt; do let me go for---" stammered Shelton.
"I can easily get help."
"Help!" she said, with a stony little laugh; "oh, no, thanks!"
She left the gate, and crossed the road to where he held the horse.
Shelton, to conceal embarrassment, looked at the horse's legs, and
noticed that the grey was resting one of them. He ran his hand down.
"I 'm afraid," he said, "your horse has knocked his off knee; it's
She smiled again.
"Then we're both cripples."
"He'll be lame when he gets cold. Would n't you like to put him in
the stable here? I 'm sure you ought to drive home."
"No, thanks; if I 'm able to ride him he can carry me. Give me a
Her voice sounded as though something had offended her. Rising from
inspection of the horse's leg, Shelton saw Antonia and Toddles
standing by. They had come through a wicketgate leading from the
The latter ran up to him at once.
"We saw it," he whispered--"jolly smash-up. Can't I help?"
"Hold his bridle," answered Shelton, and he looked from one lady to
There are moments when the expression of a face fixes itself with
painful clearness; to Shelton this was such a moment. Those two
faces close together, under their coverings of scarlet and of grey,
showed a contrast almost cruelly vivid. Antonia was flushed, her
eyes had grown deep blue; her look of startled doubt had passed and
left a question in her face.
"Would you like to come in and wait? We could send you home, in the
brougham," she said.
The lady called Mrs. Foliot stood, one arm across the crupper of her
saddle, biting her lips and smiling still her enigmatic smile, and it
was her face that stayed most vividly on Shelton's mind, its ashy
hail, its pallor, and fixed, scornful eyes.
"Oh, no, thanks! You're very kind."
Out of Antonia's face the timid, doubting friendliness had fled, and
was replaced by enmity. With a long, cold look at both of them she
turned away. Mrs. Foliot gave a little laugh, and raised her foot
for Shelton's help. He heard a hiss of pain as he swung her up, but
when he looked at her she smiled.
"Anyway," he said impatiently, "let me come and see you don't break
She shook her head. "It 's only two miles. I'm not made of sugar."
"Then I shall simply have to follow."
She shrugged her shoulders, fixing her resolute eyes on him.
"Would that boy like to come?" she asked.
Toddles left the horse's head.
"By Jove!" he cried. "Would n't I just!"
"Then," she said, "I think that will be best. You 've been so kind."
She bowed, smiled inscrutably once more, touched the Arab with her
whip, and started, Toddles trotting at her side.
Shelton was left with Antonia underneath the elms. A sudden puff of
tepid air blew in their faces, like a warning message from the heavy,
purple heat clouds; low rumbling thunder travelled slowly from afar.
"We're going to have a storm," he said.
Antonia nodded. She was pale now, and her face still wore its cold
look of offence.
"I 've got a headache," she said, "I shall go in and lie down."
Shelton tried to speak, but something kept him silent--submission to
what was coming, like the mute submission of the fields and birds to
the menace of the storm.
He watched her go, and went back to his seat. And the silence seemed
to grow; the flowers ceased to exude their fragrance, numbed by the
weighty air. All the long house behind him seemed asleep, deserted.
No noise came forth, no laughter, the echo of no music, the ringing
of no bell; the heat had wrapped it round with drowsiness. And the
silence added to the solitude within him. What an unlucky chance,
that woman's accident! Designed by Providence to put Antonia further
from him than before! Why was not the world composed of the
immaculate alone? He started pacing up and down, tortured by a
"I must get rid of this," he thought. "I 'll go for a good tramp,
and chance the storm."
Leaving the drive he ran on Toddles, returning in the highest
"I saw her home," he crowed. "I say, what a ripper, isn't she?
She 'll be as lame as a tree to-morrow; so will the gee. Jolly hot!"
This meeting showed Shelton that he had been an hour on the stone
seat; he had thought it some ten minutes, and the discovery alarmed
him. It seemed to bring the import of his miserable fear right home
to him. He started with a swinging stride, keeping his eyes fixed on
the road, the perspiration streaming down his face.
CHAPTER XXXI. THE STORM
It was seven and more when Shelton returned, from his walk; a few
heat drops had splashed the leaves, but the storm had not yet broken.
In brooding silence the world seemed pent beneath the purple
By rapid walking in the heat Shelton had got rid of his despondency.
He felt like one who is to see his mistress after long estrangement.
He, bathed, and, straightening his tie-ends, stood smiling at the
glass. His fear, unhappiness, and doubts seemed like an evil dream;
how much worse off would he not have been, had it all been true?
It was dinner-party night, and when he reached the drawing-room the
guests were there already, chattering of the coming storm. Antonia
was not yet down, and Shelton stood by the piano waiting for her
entry. Red faces, spotless shirt-fronts, white arms; and freshly-
twisted hair were all around him. Some one handed him a clove
carnation, and, as he held it to his nose, Antonia came in,
breathless, as though she had rushed down-stairs, Her cheeks were
pale no longer; her hand kept stealing to her throat. The flames of
the coming storm seemed to have caught fire within her, to be
scorching her in her white frock; she passed him close, and her
fragrance whipped his senses.
She had never seemed to him so lovely.
Never again will Shelton breathe the perfume of melons and pineapples
without a strange emotion. From where he sat at dinner he could not
see Antonia, but amidst the chattering of voices, the clink of glass
and silver, the sights and sounds and scents of feasting, he thought
how he would go to her and say that nothing mattered but her love.
He drank the frosted, pale-gold liquid of champagne as if it had been
The windows stood wide open in the heat; the garden lay in thick,
soft shadow, where the pitchy shapes of trees could be discerned.
There was not a breath of air to fan the candle-flames above the
flowers; but two large moths, fearful of the heavy dark, flew in and
wheeled between the lights over the diners' heads. One fell scorched
into a dish of fruit, and was removed; the other, eluding all the
swish of napkins and the efforts of the footmen, continued to make
soft, fluttering rushes till Shelton rose and caught it in his hand.
He took it to the window and threw it out into the darkness, and he
noticed that the air was thick and tepid to his face. At a sign from
Mr. Dennant the muslin curtains were then drawn across the windows,
and in gratitude, perhaps, for this protection, this filmy barrier
between them and the muffled threats of Nature, everyone broke out in
talk. It was such a night as comes in summer after perfect weather,
frightening in its heat, and silence, which was broken by the distant
thunder travelling low along the ground like the muttering of all
dark places on the earth--such a night as seems, by very
breathlessness, to smother life, and with its fateful threats to
justify man's cowardice.
The ladies rose at last. The circle of the rosewood dining-table,
which had no cloth, strewn with flowers and silver gilt, had a
likeness to some autumn pool whose brown depths of oily water gleam
under the sunset with red and yellow leaves; above it the smoke of
cigarettes was clinging, like a mist to water when the sun goes down.
Shelton became involved in argument with his neighbour on the English
"In England we've mislaid the recipe of life," he said. "Pleasure's
a lost art. We don't get drunk, we're ashamed of love, and as to
beauty, we've lost the eye for' it. In exchange we have got money,
but what 's the good of money when we don't know how to spend it?"
Excited by his neighbour's smile, he added: "As to thought, we think
so much of what our neighbours think that we never think at all....
Have you ever watched a foreigner when he's listening to an
Englishman? We 're in the habit of despising foreigners; the scorn
we have for them is nothing to the scorn they have for us. And they
are right! Look at our taste! What is the good of owning riches if
we don't know how to use them?"
"That's rather new to me," his neighbour said. "There may be
something in it.... Did you see that case in the papers the other
day of old Hornblower, who left the 1820 port that fetched a guinea a
bottle? When the purchaser--poor feller!--came to drink it he found
eleven bottles out of twelve completely ullaged--ha! ha! Well,
there's nothing wrong with this"; and he drained his glass.
"No," answered Shelton.
When they rose to join the ladies, he slipped out on the lawn.
At once he was enveloped in a bath of heat. A heavy odour, sensual,
sinister, was in the air, as from a sudden flowering of amorous
shrubs. He stood and drank it in with greedy nostrils. Putting his
hand down, he felt the grass; it was dry, and charged with
electricity. Then he saw, pale and candescent in the blackness,
three or four great lilies, the authors of that perfume. The
blossoms seemed to be rising at him through the darkness; as though
putting up their faces to be kissed. He straightened himself
abruptly and went in.
The guests were leaving when Shelton, who was watching; saw Antonia
slip through the drawing-room window. He could follow the white
glimmer of her frock across the lawn, but lost it in the shadow of
the trees; casting a hasty look to see that he was not observed, he
too slipped out. The blackness and the heat were stifling he took
great breaths of it as if it were the purest mountain air, and,
treading softly on the grass, stole on towards the holm oak. His
lips were dry,,his heart beat painfully. The mutter of the distant
thunder had quite ceased; waves of hot air came wheeling in his face,
and in their midst a sudden rush of cold. He thought, "The storm is
coming now!" and stole on towards the tree. She was lying in the
hammock, her figure a white blur in, the heart of the tree's shadow,
rocking gently to a little creaking of the branch. Shelton held his
breath; she had not heard him. He crept up close behind the trunk
till he stood in touch of her. "I mustn't startle her," he thought.
There was a faint stir in the hammock, but no answer. He stood over
her, but even then he could not see her face; he only, had a sense of
something breathing and alive within a yard of him--of something warm
and soft. He whispered again, "Antonia!" but again there came no
answer, and a sort of fear and frenzy seized on him. He could no
longer hear her breathe; the creaking of the branch had ceased. What
was passing in that silent, living creature there so close? And then
he heard again the sound of breathing, quick and scared, like the
fluttering of a bird; in a moment he was staring in the dark at an
He stayed beside the empty hammock till he could bear uncertainty no
longer. But as he crossed the lawn the sky was rent from end to end
by jagged lightning, rain spattered him from head to foot, and with a
deafening crack the thunder broke.
He sought the smoking-room, but, recoiling at the door, went to his
own room, and threw himself down on the bed. The thunder groaned and
sputtered in long volleys; the lightning showed him the shapes of
things within the room, with a weird distinctness that rent from them
all likeness to the purpose they were made for, bereaved them of
utility, of their matter-of-factness, presented them as skeletons,
abstractions, with indecency in their appearance, like the naked
nerves and sinews of a leg preserved in, spirit. The sound of the
rain against the house stunned his power of thinking, he rose to shut
his windows; then, returning to his bed, threw himself down again.
He stayed there till the storm was over, in a kind of stupor; but
when the boom of the retreating thunder grew every minute less
distinct, he rose. Then for the first time he saw something white
close by the door.
It was a note:
I have made a mistake. Please forgive me, and go away.--ANTONIA.
CHAPTER XXXII. WILDERNESS
When he had read this note, Shelton put it down beside his sleeve-
links on his dressing table, stared in the mirror at himself, and
laughed. But his lips soon stopped him laughing; he threw himself
upon his bed and pressed his face into the pillows. He lay there
half-dressed throughout the night, and when he rose, soon after dawn,
he had not made his mind up what to do. The only thing he knew for
certain was that he must not meet Antonia.
At last he penned the following:
I have had a sleepless night with toothache, and think it best to run
up to the dentist at once. If a tooth must come out, the sooner the
He addressed it to Mrs. Dennant, and left it on his table. After
doing this he threw himself once more upon his bed, and this time
fell into a doze.
He woke with a start, dressed, and let himself quietly out. The
likeness of his going to that of Ferrand struck him. "Both outcasts
now," he thought.
He tramped on till noon without knowing or caring where he went;
then, entering a field, threw himself down under the hedge, and fell
He was awakened by a whirr. A covey of partridges, with wings
glistening in the sun, were straggling out across the adjoining field
of mustard. They soon settled in the old-maidish way of partridges,
and began to call upon each other.
Some cattle had approached him in his sleep, and a beautiful bay cow,
with her head turned sideways, was snuffing at him gently, exhaling
her peculiar sweetness. She was as fine in legs and coat as any
race-horse. She dribbled at the corners of her black, moist lips;
her eye was soft and cynical. Breathing the vague sweetness of the
mustard-field, rubbing dry grasp-stalks in his fingers, Shelton had a
moment's happiness--the happiness of sun and sky, of the eternal
quiet, and untold movements of the fields. Why could not human
beings let their troubles be as this cow left the flies that clung
about her eyes? He dozed again, and woke up with a laugh, for this
was what he dreamed:
He fancied he was in a room, at once the hall and drawing-room of
some country house. In the centre of this room a lady stood, who was
looking in a hand-glass at her face. Beyond a door or window could
be seen a garden with a row of statues, and through this door people
passed without apparent object.
Suddenly Shelton saw his mother advancing to the lady with the hand-
glass, whom now he recognised as Mrs. Foliot. But, as he looked, his
mother changed to Mrs. Dennant, and began speaking in a voice that
was a sort of abstract of refinement. "Je fais de la philosophic,"
it said; "I take the individual for what she's worth. I do not
condemn; above all, one must have spirit!" The lady with the mirror
continued looking in the glass; and, though he could not see her
face, he could see its image-pale, with greenish eyes, and a smile
like scorn itself. Then, by a swift transition, he was walking in
the garden talking to Mrs. Dennant.
It was from this talk that he awoke with laughter. "But," she had
been saying, "Dick, I've always been accustomed to believe what I was
told. It was so unkind of her to scorn me just because I happen to
be second-hand." And her voice awakened Shelton's pity; it was like
a frightened child's. "I don't know what I shall do if I have to
form opinions for myself. I was n't brought up to it. I 've always
had them nice and secondhand. How am I to go to work? One must
believe what other people do; not that I think much of other people,
but, you do know what it is--one feels so much more comfortable," and
her skirts rustled. "But, Dick, whatever happens"--her voice
entreated--"do let Antonia get her judgments secondhand. Never mind
for me--if I must form opinions for myself, I must--but don't let
her; any old opinions so long as they are old. It 's dreadful to
have to think out new ones for oneself." And he awoke. His dream
had had in it the element called Art, for, in its gross absurdity,
Mrs. Dennant had said things that showed her soul more fully than
anything she would have said in life.
"No," said a voice quite close, behind the hedge, "not many
Frenchmen, thank the Lord! A few coveys of Hungarians over from the
Duke's. Sir James, some pie?"
Shelton raised himself with drowsy curiosity--still half asleep--and
applied his face to a gap in the high, thick osiers of the hedge.
Four men were seated on camp-stools round a folding-table, on which
was a pie and other things to eat. A game-cart, well-adorned with
birds and hares, stood at a short distance; the tails of some dogs
were seen moving humbly, and a valet opening bottles. Shelton had
forgotten that it was "the first." The host was a soldierly and
freckled man; an older man sat next him, square-jawed, with an
absent-looking eye and sharpened nose; next him, again, there was a
bearded person whom they seemed to call the Commodore; in the fourth,
to his alarm, Shelton recognised the gentleman called Mabbey. It was
really no matter for surprise to meet him miles from his own place,
for he was one of those who wander with a valet and two guns from the
twelfth of August to the end of January, and are then supposed to go
to Monte Carlo or to sleep until the twelfth of August comes again.
He was speaking.
"Did you hear what a bag we made on the twelfth, Sir James?"
"Ah! yes; what was that? Have you sold your bay horse, Glennie?"
Shelton had not decided whether or no to sneak away, when the
Commodore's thick voice began:
"My man tellsh me that Mrs. Foliot--haw--has lamed her Arab. Does
she mean to come out cubbing?"
Shelton observed the smile that came on all their faces. "Foliot 's
paying for his good time now; what a donkey to get caught!" it seemed
to say. He turned his back and shut his eyes.
"Cubbing?" replied Glennie; "hardly."
"Never could shee anything wonderful in her looks," went on the
Commodore; "so quiet, you never knew that she was in the room. I
remember sayin' to her once, "Mrs. Lutheran, now what do you like
besht in all the world? and what do you think she answered? 'Music!'
The voice of Mabbey said:
"He was always a dark horse, Foliot: It 's always the dark horses
that get let in for this kind of thing"; and there was a sound as
though he licked his lips.
"They say," said the voice of the host, "he never gives you back a
greeting now. Queer fish; they say that she's devoted to him."
Coming so closely on his meeting with this lady, and on the dream
from which he had awakened, this conversation mesmerised the listener
behind the hedge.
"If he gives up his huntin' and his shootin', I don't see what the
deuce he 'll do; he's resigned his clubs; as to his chance of
Parliament---" said the voice of Mabbey.
"Thousand pities," said Sir James; "still, he knew what to expect."
"Very queer fellows, those Foliots," said the Commodore. "There was
his father: he 'd always rather talk to any scarecrow he came across
than to you or me. Wonder what he'll do with all his horses; I
should like that chestnut of his."
"You can't tell what a fellow 'll do," said the voice of Mabbey--
"take to drink or writin' books. Old Charlie Wayne came to gazin' at
stars, and twice a week he used to go and paddle round in
Whitechapel, teachin' pothooks--"
"Glennie," said Sir James, "what 's become of Smollett, your old
"Obliged to get rid of him." Shelton tried again to close his ears,
but again he listened. "Getting a bit too old; lost me a lot of eggs
"Ah!" said the Commodore, "when they oncesh begin to lose eggsh "
"As a matter of fact, his son--you remember him, Sir James, he used
to load for you?--got a girl into trouble; when her people gave her
the chuck old Smollet took her in; beastly scandal it made, too. The
girl refused to marry Smollett, and old Smollett backed her up.
Naturally, the parson and the village cut up rough; my wife offered
to get her into one of those reformatory what-d' you-call-'ems, but
the old fellow said she should n't go if she did n't want to. Bad
business altogether; put him quite off his stroke. I only got five
hundred pheasants last year instead of eight."
There was a silence. Shelton again peeped through the hedge. All
were eating pie.
"In Warwickshire," said the Commodore, "they always marry--haw--and
live reshpectable ever after."
"Quite so," remarked the host; "it was a bit too thick, her refusing
to marry him. She said he took advantage of her."
"She's sorry by this time," said Sir James; "lucky escape for young
Smollett. Queer, the obstinacy of some of these old fellows!"
"What are we doing after lunch?" asked the Commodore.
"The next field," said the host, "is pasture. We line up along the
hedge, and drive that mustard towards the roots; there ought to be a
good few birds."
"Shelton rose, and, crouching, stole softly to the gate:
"On the twelfth, shootin' in two parties," followed the voice of
Mabbey from the distance.
Whether from his walk or from his sleepless night, Shelton seemed to
ache in every limb; but he continued his tramp along the road. He
was no nearer to deciding what to do. It was late in the afternoon
when he reached Maidenhead, and, after breaking fast, got into a
London train and went to sleep. At ten o'clock that evening he
walked into St. James's Park and there sat down.
The lamplight dappled through the tired foliage on to these benches
which have rested many vagrants. Darkness has ceased to be the
lawful cloak of the unhappy; but Mother Night was soft and moonless,
and man had not despoiled her of her comfort, quite.
Shelton was not alone upon the seat, for at the far end was sitting a
young girl with a red, round, sullen face; and beyond, and further
still, were dim benches and dim figures sitting on them, as though
life's institutions had shot them out in an endless line of rubbish.
"Ah!" thought Shelton, in the dreamy way of tired people; "the
institutions are all right; it's the spirit that's all---"
"Wrong?" said a voice behind him; "why, of course! You've taken the
wrong turn, old man."
He saw a policeman, with a red face shining through the darkness,
talking to a strange old figure like some aged and dishevelled bird.
"Thank you, constable," the old man said, "as I've come wrong I'll
take a rest." Chewing his gums, he seemed to fear to take the
liberty of sitting down.
Shelton made room, and the old fellow took the vacant place.
"You'll excuse me, sir, I'm sure," he said in shaky tones, and
snatching at his battered hat; "I see you was a gentleman"--and
lovingly he dwelt upon the word--"would n't disturb you for the
world. I'm not used to being out at night, and the seats do get so
full. Old age must lean on something; you'll excuse me, sir, I 'm
"Of course," said Shelton gently.
"I'm a respectable old man, really," said his neighbour; "I never
took a liberty in my life. But at my age, sir, you get nervous;
standin' about the streets as I been this last week, an' sleepin' in
them doss-houses--Oh, they're dreadful rough places--a dreadful rough
lot there! Yes," the old man said again, as Shelton turned to look
at him, struck by the real self-pity in his voice, "dreadful rough
A movement of his head, which grew on a lean, plucked neck like that
of an old fowl, had brought his face into the light. It was long,
and run to seed, and had a large, red nose; its thin, colourless lips
were twisted sideways and apart, showing his semi-toothless mouth;
and his eyes had that aged look of eyes in which all colour runs into
a thin rim round the iris; and over them kept coming films like the
films over parrots' eyes. He was, or should have been, clean-shaven.
His hair--for he had taken off his hat was thick and lank, of dusty
colour, as far as could be seen, without a speck of grey, and parted
very beautifully just about the middle.
"I can put up with that," he said again. "I never interferes with
nobody, and nobody don't interfere with me; but what frightens me"--
his voice grew steady, as if too terrified to shake, is never knowin'
day to day what 's to become of yer. Oh, that 'a dreadful, that is!"
"It must be," answered Shelton.
"Ah! it is," the old man said; "and the winter cumin' on. I never
was much used to open air, bein' in domestic service all my life; but
I don't mind that so long as I can see my way to earn a livin'.
Well, thank God! I've got a job at last"; and his voice grew
cheerful suddenly. "Sellin' papers is not what I been accustomed to;
but the Westminister, they tell me that's one of the most respectable
of the evenin' papers--in fact, I know it is. So now I'm sure to get
on; I try hard."
"How did you get the job?" asked Shelton.
"I 've got my character," the old fellow said, making a gesture with
a skinny hand towards his chest, as if it were there he kept his
"Thank God, nobody can't take that away! I never parts from that";
and fumbling, he produced a packet, holding first one paper to the
light, and then another, and he looked anxiously at Shelton. "In
that house where I been sleepin' they're not honest; they 've stolen
a parcel of my things--a lovely shirt an' a pair of beautiful gloves
a gentleman gave me for holdin' of his horse. Now, would n't you
prosecute 'em, sir?"
"It depends on what you can prove."
"I know they had 'em. A man must stand up for his rights; that's
only proper. I can't afford to lose beautiful things like them. I
think I ought to prosecute, now, don't you, sir?"
Shelton restrained a smile.
"There!" said the old man, smoothing out a piece of paper shakily,
"that's Sir George!" and his withered finger-tips trembled on the
middle of the page: 'Joshua Creed, in my service five years as
butler, during which time I have found him all that a servant should
be.' And this 'ere'--he fumbled with another--"this 'ere 's Lady
Glengow : 'Joshua Creed--' I thought I'd like you to read 'em since
you've been so kind."
"Will you have a pipe?"
"Thank ye, sir," replied the aged butler, filling his clay from
Shelton's pouch; then, taking a front tooth between his finger and
his thumb, he began to feel it tenderly, working it to and fro with a
sort of melancholy pride.
"My teeth's a-comin' out," he said; "but I enjoys pretty good health
for a man of my age."
"How old is that?"
"Seventy-two! Barrin' my cough, and my rupture, and this 'ere
affliction"--he passed his hand over his face--" I 've nothing to
complain of; everybody has somethink, it seems. I'm a wonder for my
age, I think."
Shelton, for all his pity, would have given much to laugh.
"Seventy-two!" he said; "yes, a great age. You remember the country
when it was very different to what it is now?"
"Ah!" said the old butler, "there was gentry then; I remember them
drivin' down to Newmarket (my native place, sir) with their own
horses. There was n't so much o' these here middle classes then.
There was more, too, what you might call the milk o' human kindness
in people then--none o' them amalgamated stores, every man keepin'
his own little shop; not so eager to cut his neighbour's throat, as
you might say. And then look at the price of bread! O dear! why,
it is n't a quarter what it was!"
"And are people happier now than they were then?" asked Shelton.
The old butler sucked his pipe.
"No," he answered, shaking his old head; "they've lost the contented
spirit. I see people runnin' here and runnin' there, readin' books,
findin' things out; they ain't not so self-contented as they were."
"Is that possible?" thought Shelton.
"No," repeated the old man, again sucking at his pipe, and this time
blowing out a lot of smoke; "I don't see as much happiness about, not
the same look on the faces. 'T isn't likely. See these 'ere motor-
cars, too; they say 'orses is goin' out"; and, as if dumbfounded at
his own conclusion, he sat silent for some time, engaged in the
lighting and relighting of his pipe.
The girl at the far end stirred, cleared her throat, and settled down
again; her movement disengaged a scent of frowsy clothes. The
policeman had approached and scrutinised these ill-assorted faces;
his glance was jovially contemptuous till he noticed Shelton, and
then was modified by curiosity.
"There's good men in the police," the aged butler said, when the
policeman had passed on--" there's good men in the police, as good
men as you can see, and there 's them that treats you like the dirt--
a dreadful low class of man. Oh dear, yes! when they see you down
in the world, they think they can speak to you as they like; I don't
give them no chance to worry me; I keeps myself to myself, and speak
civil to all the world. You have to hold the candle to them; for, oh
dear! if they 're crossed--some of them--they 're a dreadful
unscrup'lous lot of men!"
"Are you going to spend the night here?"
"It's nice and warm to-night," replied the aged butler. "I said to
the man at that low place I said: 'Don't you ever speak to me again,'
I said, 'don't you come near me!' Straightforward and honest 's been
my motto all my life; I don't want to have nothing to say to them low
fellows"--he made an annihilating gesture--"after the way they
treated me, takin' my things like that. Tomorrow I shall get a room
for three shillin's a week, don't you think so, sir? Well, then I
shall be all right. I 'm not afraid now; the mind at rest. So long
as I ran keep myself, that's all I want. I shall do first-rate, I
think"; and he stared at Shelton, but the look in his eyes and the
half-scared optimism of his voice convinced the latter that he lived
in dread. "So long as I can keep myself," he said again, "I sha'n't
need no workhouse nor lose respectability."
"No," thought Shelton; and for some time sat without a word. "When
you can;" he said at last, "come and see me; here's my card."
The aged butler became conscious with a jerk, for he was nodding.
"Thank ye, sir; I will," he said, with pitiful alacrity. "Down by
Belgravia? Oh, I know it well; I lived down in them parts with a
gentleman of the name of Bateson--perhaps you knew him; he 's dead
now--the Honourable Bateson. Thank ye, sir; I'll be sure to come";
and, snatching at his battered hat, he toilsomely secreted Shelton's
card amongst his character. A minute later he began again to nod.
The policeman passed a second time; his gaze seemed to say, "Now,
what's a toff doing on that seat with those two rotters?" And
Shelton caught his eye.
"Ah!" he thought; "exactly! You don't know what to make of me--a
man of my position sitting here! Poor devil! to spend your days in
spying on your fellow-creatures! Poor devil! But you don't know
that you 're a poor devil, and so you 're not one."
The man on the next bench sneezed--a shrill and disapproving sneeze.
The policeman passed again, and, seeing that the lower creatures were
both dozing, he spoke to Shelton:
"Not very safe on these 'ere benches, sir," he said; "you never know
who you may be sittin' next to. If I were you, sir, I should be
gettin' on--if you 're not goin' to spend the night here, that is";
and he laughed, as at an admirable joke.
Shelton looked at him, and itched to say, "Why shouldn't I?" but it
struck him that it would sound very odd. "Besides," he thought, "I
shall only catch a cold"; and, without speaking, he left the seat,
and went along towards his rooms.
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE END
He reached his rooms at midnight so exhausted that, without waiting
to light up, he dropped into a chair. The curtains and blinds had
been removed for cleaning, and the tall windows admitted the night's
staring gaze. Shelton fixed his eyes on that outside darkness, as
one lost man might fix his eyes upon another.
An unaired, dusty odour clung about the room, but, like some God-sent
whiff of grass or flowers wafted to one sometimes in the streets, a
perfume came to him, the spice from the withered clove carnation
still clinging, to his button-hole; and he suddenly awoke from his.
queer trance. There was a decision to be made. He rose to light a
candle; the dust was thick on everything he touched. "Ugh!" he
thought, "how wretched!" and the loneliness that had seized him on
the stone seat at Holm Oaks the day before returned with fearful
On his table, heaped without order, were a pile of bills and
circulars. He opened them, tearing at their covers with the random
haste of men back from their holidays. A single long envelope was
MY DEAR DICK [he read],
I enclose you herewith the revised draft of your marriage settlement.
It is now shipshape. Return it before the end of the week, and I
will have it engrossed for signature. I go to Scotland next
Wednesday for a month; shall be back in good time for your wedding.
My love to your mother when you see her.
Shelton smiled and took out the draft.
"This Indenture made the____day of 190_, between Richard Paramor
He put it down and sank back in his chair, the chair in which the
foreign vagrant had been wont to sit on mornings when he came to
He did not stay there long, but in sheer unhappiness got up, and,
taking his candle, roamed about the room, fingering things, and
gazing in the mirror at his face, which seemed to him repulsive in
its wretchedness. He went at last into the hall and opened the door,
to go downstairs again into the street; but the sudden certainty
that, in street or house, in town or country, he would have to take
his trouble with him, made him shut it to. He felt in the letter-
box, drew forth a letter, and with this he went back to the sitting-
It was from Antonia. And such was his excitement that he was forced
to take three turns between the window and the wall before he could
read; then, with a heart beating so that he could hardly hold the
paper, he began:
I was wrong to ask you to go away. I see now that it was breaking my
promise, and I did n't mean to do that. I don't know why things have
come to be so different. You never think as I do about anything.
I had better tell you that that letter of Monsieur Ferrand's to
mother was impudent. Of course you did n't know what was in it; but
when Professor Brayne was asking you about him at breakfast, I felt
that you believed that he was right and we were wrong, and I can't
understand it. And then in the afternoon, when that woman hurt her
horse, it was all as if you were on her side. How can you feel like
I must say this, because I don't think I ought to have asked you to
go away, and I want you to believe that I will keep my promise, or I
should feel that you and everybody else had a right to condemn me.
I was awake all last night, and have a bad headache this morning. I
can't write any more.
His first sensation was a sort of stupefaction of relief that had in
it an element of anger. He was reprieved! She would not break her
promise; she considered herself bound! In the midst of the
exaltation of this thought he smiled, and that smile was strange.
He read it through again, and, like a judge, began to weigh what she
had written, her thoughts when she was writing, the facts which had
led up to this.
The vagrant's farewell document had done the business. True to his
fatal gift of divesting things of clothing, Ferrand had not vanished
without showing up his patron in his proper colours; even to Shelton
those colours were made plain. Antonia had felt her lover was a
traitor. Sounding his heart even in his stress of indecision,
Shelton knew that this was true.
"Then in the afternoon, when that woman hurt her horse-" That woman!
"It was as if you were on her side!"
He saw too well her mind, its clear rigidity, its intuitive
perception of that with which it was not safe to sympathise, its
instinct for self-preservation, its spontaneous contempt for those
without that instinct. And she had written these words considering
herself bound to him--a man of sentiment, of rebellious sympathies,
of untidiness of principle! Here was the answer to the question he
had asked all day: "How have things come to such a pass?" and he
began to feel compassion for her.
Poor child! She could not jilt him; there was something vulgar in
the word! Never should it be said that Antonia Dennant had accented
him and thrown him over. No lady did these things! They were
impossible! At the bottom of his heart he had a queer, unconscious
sympathy with, this impossibility.
Once again he read the letter, which seemed now impregnated with
fresh meaning, and the anger which had mingled with his first
sensation of relief detached itself and grew in force. In that
letter there was something tyrannous, a denial of his right to have a
separate point of view. It was like a finger pointed at him as an
unsound person. In marrying her he would be marrying not only her,
but her class--his class. She would be there always to make him look
on her and on himself, and all the people that they knew and all the
things they did, complacently; she would be there to make him feel
himself superior to everyone whose life was cast in other moral
moulds. To feel himself superior, not blatantly, not consciously,
but with subconscious righteousness.
But his anger, which was like the paroxysm that two days before had
made him mutter at the Connoisseur, "I hate your d---d superiority,"
struck him all at once as impotent and ludicrous. What was the good
of being angry? He was on the point of losing her! And the anguish
of that thought, reacting on his anger, intensified it threefold.
She was so certain of herself, so superior to her emotions, to her
natural impulses--superior to her very longing to be free from him.
Of that fact, at all events, Shelton had no longer any doubt. It was
beyond argument. She did not really love him; she wanted to be free
A photograph hung in his bedroom at Holm Oaks of a group round the
hall door; the Honourable Charlotte Penguin, Mrs. Dennant, Lady
Bonington, Halidome, Mr. Dennant, and the stained-glass man--all were
there; and on the left-hand side, looking straight in front of her,
Antonia. Her face in its youthfulness, more than all those others,
expressed their point of view: Behind those calm young eyes lay a
world of safety and tradition. "I am not as others are," they seemed
And from that photograph Mr. and Mrs. Dennant singled themselves out;
he could see their faces as they talked--their faces with a peculiar
and uneasy look on them; and he could hear their voices, still
decisive, but a little acid, as if they had been quarrelling:
"He 's made a donkey of himself!"
"Ah! it's too distressin'!"
They, too, thought him unsound, and did n't want him; but to save the
situation they would be glad to keep him. She did n't want him, but
she refused to lose her right to say, "Commoner girls may break their
promises; I will not!" He sat down at the table between the candles,
covering his face. His grief and anger grew and grew within him. If
she would not free herself, the duty was on him! She was ready
without love to marry him, as a sacrifice to her ideal of what she
ought to be!
But she had n't, after all, the monopoly of pride!
As if she stood before him, he could see the shadows underneath her
eyes that he had dreamed of kissing, the eager movements of her lips.
For several minutes he remained, not moving hand or limb. Then once
more his anger blazed. She was going to sacrifice herself and--him!
All his manhood scoffed at such a senseless sacrifice. That was not
exactly what he wanted!
He went to the bureau, took a piece of paper and an envelope, and
wrote as follows:
There never was, is not, and never would have been any question of
being bound between us. I refuse to trade on any such thing. You
are absolutely free. Our engagement is at an end by mutual consent.
He sealed it, and, sitting with his hands between his knees, he let
his forehead droop lower and lower to the table, till it rested on
his marriage settlement. And he had a feeling of relief, like one
who drops exhausted at his journey's end.