Zuleika Dobson; Or, An Oxford Love Story


ZULEIKA DOBSON



OR AN OXFORD LOVE STORY







By Max Beerbohm














           NOTE to the 1922 edition

I was in Italy when this book was first published.
A year later (1912) I visited London, and I found
that most of my friends and acquaintances spoke to
me of Zu-like-a—a name which I hardly recognised
and thoroughly disapproved. I had always thought
of the lady as Zu-leek-a. Surely it was thus that
Joseph thought of his Wife, and Selim of his Bride?
And I do hope that it is thus that any reader of
these pages will think of Miss Dobson.

M.B.
Rapallo, 1922.
















CONTENTS




ZULEIKA DOBSON





I



II



III



IV



V



VI



VII



VIII



IX



X



XI



XII



XIII



XIV



XV



XVI



XVII



XVIII



XIX



XX



XXI



XXII



XXIII



XXIV
















ILLI ALMAE MATRI























ZULEIKA DOBSON














I



That old bell, presage of a train, had just sounded through Oxford
station; and the undergraduates who were waiting there, gay figures in
tweed or flannel, moved to the margin of the platform and gazed idly up
the line. Young and careless, in the glow of the afternoon sunshine, they
struck a sharp note of incongruity with the worn boards they stood on,
with the fading signals and grey eternal walls of that antique station,
which, familiar to them and insignificant, does yet whisper to the tourist
the last enchantments of the Middle Age.



At the door of the first-class waiting-room, aloof and venerable, stood
the Warden of Judas. An ebon pillar of tradition seemed he, in his garb of
old-fashioned cleric. Aloft, between the wide brim of his silk hat and the
white extent of his shirt-front, appeared those eyes which hawks, that
nose which eagles, had often envied. He supported his years on an ebon
stick. He alone was worthy of the background.



Came a whistle from the distance. The breast of an engine was descried,
and a long train curving after it, under a flight of smoke. It grew and
grew. Louder and louder, its noise foreran it. It became a furious,
enormous monster, and, with an instinct for safety, all men receded from
the platform’s margin. (Yet came there with it, unknown to them, a danger
far more terrible than itself.) Into the station it came blustering, with
cloud and clangour. Ere it had yet stopped, the door of one carriage flew
open, and from it, in a white travelling dress, in a toque a-twinkle with
fine diamonds, a lithe and radiant creature slipped nimbly down to the
platform.



A cynosure indeed! A hundred eyes were fixed on her, and half as many
hearts lost to her. The Warden of Judas himself had mounted on his nose a
pair of black-rimmed glasses. Him espying, the nymph darted in his
direction. The throng made way for her. She was at his side.



“Grandpapa!” she cried, and kissed the old man on either cheek. (Not a
youth there but would have bartered fifty years of his future for that
salute.)



“My dear Zuleika,” he said, “welcome to Oxford! Have you no luggage?”



“Heaps!” she answered. “And a maid who will find it.”



“Then,” said the Warden, “let us drive straight to College.” He offered
her his arm, and they proceeded slowly to the entrance. She chatted gaily,
blushing not in the long avenue of eyes she passed through. All the
youths, under her spell, were now quite oblivious of the relatives they
had come to meet. Parents, sisters, cousins, ran unclaimed about the
platform. Undutiful, all the youths were forming a serried suite to their
enchantress. In silence they followed her. They saw her leap into the
Warden’s landau, they saw the Warden seat himself upon her left. Nor was
it until the landau was lost to sight that they turned—how slowly,
and with how bad a grace!—to look for their relatives.



Through those slums which connect Oxford with the world, the landau rolled
on towards Judas. Not many youths occurred, for nearly all—it was
the Monday of Eights Week—were down by the river, cheering the
crews. There did, however, come spurring by, on a polo-pony, a very
splendid youth. His straw hat was encircled with a riband of blue and
white, and he raised it to the Warden.



“That,” said the Warden, “is the Duke of Dorset, a member of my College.
He dines at my table to-night.”



Zuleika, turning to regard his Grace, saw that he had not reined in and
was not even glancing back at her over his shoulder. She gave a little
start of dismay, but scarcely had her lips pouted ere they curved to a
smile—a smile with no malice in its corners.



As the landau rolled into “the Corn,” another youth—a pedestrian,
and very different—saluted the Warden. He wore a black jacket, rusty
and amorphous. His trousers were too short, and he himself was too short:
almost a dwarf. His face was as plain as his gait was undistinguished. He
squinted behind spectacles.



“And who is that?” asked Zuleika.



A deep flush overspread the cheek of the Warden. “That,” he said, “is also
a member of Judas. His name, I believe, is Noaks.”



“Is he dining with us to-night?” asked Zuleika.



“Certainly not,” said the Warden. “Most decidedly not.”



Noaks, unlike the Duke, had stopped for an ardent retrospect. He gazed
till the landau was out of his short sight; then, sighing, resumed his
solitary walk.



The landau was rolling into “the Broad,” over that ground which had once
blackened under the fagots lit for Latimer and Ridley. It rolled past the
portals of Balliol and of Trinity, past the Ashmolean. From those
pedestals which intersperse the railing of the Sheldonian, the high grim
busts of the Roman Emperors stared down at the fair stranger in the
equipage. Zuleika returned their stare with but a casual glance. The
inanimate had little charm for her.



A moment later, a certain old don emerged from Blackwell’s, where he had
been buying books. Looking across the road, he saw, to his amazement,
great beads of perspiration glistening on the brows of those Emperors. He
trembled, and hurried away. That evening, in Common Room, he told what he
had seen; and no amount of polite scepticism would convince him that it
was but the hallucination of one who had been reading too much Mommsen. He
persisted that he had seen what he described. It was not until two days
had elapsed that some credence was accorded him.



Yes, as the landau rolled by, sweat started from the brows of the
Emperors. They, at least, foresaw the peril that was overhanging Oxford,
and they gave such warning as they could. Let that be remembered to their
credit. Let that incline us to think more gently of them. In their lives
we know, they were infamous, some of them—“nihil non commiserunt
stupri, saevitiae, impietatis.” But are they too little punished, after
all? Here in Oxford, exposed eternally and inexorably to heat and frost,
to the four winds that lash them and the rains that wear them away, they
are expiating, in effigy, the abominations of their pride and cruelty and
lust. Who were lechers, they are without bodies; who were tyrants, they
are crowned never but with crowns of snow; who made themselves even with
the gods, they are by American visitors frequently mistaken for the Twelve
Apostles. It is but a little way down the road that the two Bishops
perished for their faith, and even now we do never pass the spot without a
tear for them. Yet how quickly they died in the flames! To these Emperors,
for whom none weeps, time will give no surcease. Surely, it is sign of
some grace in them that they rejoiced not, this bright afternoon, in the
evil that was to befall the city of their penance.














II



The sun streamed through the bay-window of a “best” bedroom in the
Warden’s house, and glorified the pale crayon-portraits on the wall, the
dimity curtains, the old fresh chintz. He invaded the many trunks which—all
painted Z. D.—gaped, in various stages of excavation, around the
room. The doors of the huge wardrobe stood, like the doors of Janus’
temple in time of war, majestically open; and the sun seized this
opportunity of exploring the mahogany recesses. But the carpet, which had
faded under his immemorial visitations, was now almost ENTIRELY hidden
from him, hidden under layers of fair fine linen, layers of silk, brocade,
satin, chiffon, muslin. All the colours of the rainbow, materialised by
modistes, were there. Stacked on chairs were I know not what of sachets,
glove-cases, fan-cases. There were innumerable packages in silver-paper
and pink ribands. There was a pyramid of bandboxes. There was a virgin
forest of boot-trees. And rustling quickly hither and thither, in and out
of this profusion, with armfuls of finery, was an obviously French maid.
Alert, unerring, like a swallow she dipped and darted. Nothing escaped
her, and she never rested. She had the air of the born unpacker—swift
and firm, yet withal tender. Scarce had her arms been laden but their
loads were lying lightly between shelves or tightly in drawers. To
calculate, catch, distribute, seemed in her but a single process. She was
one of those who are born to make chaos cosmic.



Insomuch that ere the loud chapel-clock tolled another hour all the trunks
had been sent empty away. The carpet was unflecked by any scrap of
silver-paper. From the mantelpiece, photographs of Zuleika surveyed the
room with a possessive air. Zuleika’s pincushion, a-bristle with new pins,
lay on the dimity-flounced toilet-table, and round it stood a multitude of
multiform glass vessels, domed, all of them, with dull gold, on which Z.
D., in zianites and diamonds, was encrusted. On a small table stood a
great casket of malachite, initialled in like fashion. On another small
table stood Zuleika’s library. Both books were in covers of dull gold. On
the back of one cover BRADSHAW, in beryls, was encrusted; on the back of
the other, A.B.C. GUIDE, in amethysts, beryls, chrysoprases, and garnets.
And Zuleika’s great cheval-glass stood ready to reflect her. Always it
travelled with her, in a great case specially made for it. It was framed
in ivory, and of fluted ivory were the slim columns it swung between. Of
gold were its twin sconces, and four tall tapers stood in each of them.



The door opened, and the Warden, with hospitable words, left his
grand-daughter at the threshold.



Zuleika wandered to her mirror. “Undress me, Melisande,” she said. Like
all who are wont to appear by night before the public, she had the habit
of resting towards sunset.



Presently Melisande withdrew. Her mistress, in a white peignoir tied with
a blue sash, lay in a great chintz chair, gazing out of the bay-window.
The quadrangle below was very beautiful, with its walls of rugged grey,
its cloisters, its grass carpet. But to her it was of no more interest
than if it had been the rattling court-yard to one of those hotels in
which she spent her life. She saw it, but heeded it not. She seemed to be
thinking of herself, or of something she desired, or of some one she had
never met. There was ennui, and there was wistfulness, in her gaze. Yet
one would have guessed these things to be transient—to be no more
than the little shadows that sometimes pass between a bright mirror and
the brightness it reflects.



Zuleika was not strictly beautiful. Her eyes were a trifle large, and
their lashes longer than they need have been. An anarchy of small curls
was her chevelure, a dark upland of misrule, every hair asserting its
rights over a not discreditable brow. For the rest, her features were not
at all original. They seemed to have been derived rather from a
gallimaufry of familiar models. From Madame la Marquise de Saint-Ouen came
the shapely tilt of the nose. The mouth was a mere replica of Cupid’s bow,
lacquered scarlet and strung with the littlest pearls. No apple-tree, no
wall of peaches, had not been robbed, nor any Tyrian rose-garden, for the
glory of Miss Dobson’s cheeks. Her neck was imitation-marble. Her hands
and feet were of very mean proportions. She had no waist to speak of.



Yet, though a Greek would have railed at her asymmetry, and an Elizabethan
have called her “gipsy,” Miss Dobson now, in the midst of the Edwardian
Era, was the toast of two hemispheres. Late in her ‘teens she had become
an orphan and a governess. Her grandfather had refused her appeal for a
home or an allowance, on the ground that he would not be burdened with the
upshot of a marriage which he had once forbidden and not yet forgiven.
Lately, however, prompted by curiosity or by remorse, he had asked her to
spend a week or so of his declining years with him. And she, “resting”
between two engagements—one at Hammerstein’s Victoria, N.Y.C., the
other at the Folies Bergeres, Paris—and having never been in Oxford,
had so far let bygones be bygones as to come and gratify the old man’s
whim.



It may be that she still resented his indifference to those early
struggles which, even now, she shuddered to recall. For a governess’ life
she had been, indeed, notably unfit. Hard she had thought it, that penury
should force her back into the school-room she was scarce out of, there to
champion the sums and maps and conjugations she had never tried to master.
Hating her work, she had failed signally to pick up any learning from her
little pupils, and had been driven from house to house, a sullen and most
ineffectual maiden. The sequence of her situations was the swifter by
reason of her pretty face. Was there a grown-up son, always he fell in
love with her, and she would let his eyes trifle boldly with hers across
the dinner-table. When he offered her his hand, she would refuse it—not
because she “knew her place,” but because she did not love him. Even had
she been a good teacher, her presence could not have been tolerated
thereafter. Her corded trunk, heavier by another packet of billets-doux
and a month’s salary in advance, was soon carried up the stairs of some
other house.



It chanced that she came, at length, to be governess in a large family
that had Gibbs for its name and Notting Hill for its background. Edward,
the eldest son, was a clerk in the city, who spent his evenings in the
practice of amateur conjuring. He was a freckled youth, with hair that
bristled in places where it should have lain smooth, and he fell in love
with Zuleika duly, at first sight, during high-tea. In the course of the
evening, he sought to win her admiration by a display of all his tricks.
These were familiar to this household, and the children had been sent to
bed, the mother was dozing, long before the seance was at an end. But Miss
Dobson, unaccustomed to any gaieties, sat fascinated by the young man’s
sleight of hand, marvelling that a top-hat could hold so many goldfish,
and a handkerchief turn so swiftly into a silver florin. All that night,
she lay wide awake, haunted by the miracles he had wrought. Next evening,
when she asked him to repeat them, “Nay,” he whispered, “I cannot bear to
deceive the girl I love. Permit me to explain the tricks.” So he explained
them. His eyes sought hers across the bowl of gold-fish, his fingers
trembled as he taught her to manipulate the magic canister. One by one,
she mastered the paltry secrets. Her respect for him waned with every
revelation. He complimented her on her skill. “I could not do it more
neatly myself!” he said. “Oh, dear Miss Dobson, will you but accept my
hand, all these things shall be yours—the cards, the canister, the
goldfish, the demon egg-cup—all yours!” Zuleika, with ravishing
coyness, answered that if he would give her them now, she would “think it
over.” The swain consented, and at bed-time she retired with the gift
under her arm. In the light of her bedroom candle Marguerite hung not in
greater ecstasy over the jewel-casket than hung Zuleika over the box of
tricks. She clasped her hands over the tremendous possibilities it held
for her—manumission from her bondage, wealth, fame, power.
Stealthily, so soon as the house slumbered, she packed her small outfit,
embedding therein the precious gift. Noiselessly, she shut the lid of her
trunk, corded it, shouldered it, stole down the stairs with it. Outside—how
that chain had grated! and her shoulder, how it was aching!—she soon
found a cab. She took a night’s sanctuary in some railway-hotel. Next day,
she moved into a small room in a lodging-house off the Edgware Road, and
there for a whole week she was sedulous in the practice of her tricks.
Then she inscribed her name on the books of a “Juvenile Party
Entertainments Agency.”



The Christmas holidays were at hand, and before long she got an
engagement. It was a great evening for her. Her repertory was, it must be
confessed, old and obvious; but the children, in deference to their
hostess, pretended not to know how the tricks were done, and assumed their
prettiest airs of wonder and delight. One of them even pretended to be
frightened, and was led howling from the room. In fact, the whole thing
went off splendidly. The hostess was charmed, and told Zuleika that a
glass of lemonade would be served to her in the hall. Other engagements
soon followed. Zuleika was very, very happy. I cannot claim for her that
she had a genuine passion for her art. The true conjurer finds his guerdon
in the consciousness of work done perfectly and for its own sake. Lucre
and applause are not necessary to him. If he were set down, with the
materials of his art, on a desert island, he would yet be quite happy. He
would not cease to produce the barber’s-pole from his mouth. To the
indifferent winds he would still speak his patter, and even in the last
throes of starvation would not eat his live rabbit or his gold-fish.
Zuleika, on a desert island, would have spent most of her time in looking
for a man’s foot-print. She was, indeed, far too human a creature to care
much for art. I do not say that she took her work lightly. She thought she
had genius, and she liked to be told that this was so. But mainly she
loved her work as a means of mere self-display. The frank admiration
which, into whatsoever house she entered, the grown-up sons flashed on
her; their eagerness to see her to the door; their impressive way of
putting her into her omnibus—these were the things she revelled in.
She was a nymph to whom men’s admiration was the greater part of life. By
day, whenever she went into the streets, she was conscious that no man
passed her without a stare; and this consciousness gave a sharp zest to
her outings. Sometimes she was followed to her door—crude flattery
which she was too innocent to fear. Even when she went into the
haberdasher’s to make some little purchase of tape or riband, or into the
grocer’s—for she was an epicure in her humble way—to buy a tin
of potted meat for her supper, the homage of the young men behind the
counter did flatter and exhilarate her. As the homage of men became for
her, more and more, a matter of course, the more subtly necessary was it
to her happiness. The more she won of it, the more she treasured it. She
was alone in the world, and it saved her from any moment of regret that
she had neither home nor friends. For her the streets that lay around her
had no squalor, since she paced them always in the gold nimbus of her
fascinations. Her bedroom seemed not mean nor lonely to her, since the
little square of glass, nailed above the wash-stand, was ever there to
reflect her face. Thereinto, indeed, she was ever peering. She would droop
her head from side to side, she would bend it forward and see herself from
beneath her eyelashes, then tilt it back and watch herself over her
supercilious chin. And she would smile, frown, pout, languish—let
all the emotions hover upon her face; and always she seemed to herself
lovelier than she had ever been.



Yet was there nothing Narcissine in her spirit. Her love for her own image
was not cold aestheticism. She valued that image not for its own sake, but
for sake of the glory it always won for her. In the little remote
music-hall, where she was soon appearing nightly as an “early turn,” she
reaped glory in a nightly harvest. She could feel that all the
gallery-boys, because of her, were scornful of the sweethearts wedged
between them, and she knew that she had but to say “Will any gentleman in
the audience be so good as to lend me his hat?” for the stalls to rise as
one man and rush towards the platform. But greater things were in store
for her. She was engaged at two halls in the West End. Her horizon was
fast receding and expanding. Homage became nightly tangible in bouquets,
rings, brooches—things acceptable and (luckier than their donors)
accepted. Even Sunday was not barren for Zuleika: modish hostesses gave
her postprandially to their guests. Came that Sunday night, notanda
candidissimo calculo! when she received certain guttural compliments which
made absolute her vogue and enabled her to command, thenceforth, whatever
terms she asked for.



Already, indeed, she was rich. She was living at the most exorbitant hotel
in all Mayfair. She had innumerable gowns and no necessity to buy jewels;
and she also had, which pleased her most, the fine cheval-glass I have
described. At the close of the Season, Paris claimed her for a month’s
engagement. Paris saw her and was prostrate. Boldini did a portrait of
her. Jules Bloch wrote a song about her; and this, for a whole month, was
howled up and down the cobbled alleys of Montmartre. And all the little
dandies were mad for “la Zuleika.” The jewellers of the Rue de la Paix
soon had nothing left to put in their windows—everything had been
bought for “la Zuleika.” For a whole month, baccarat was not played at the
Jockey Club—every member had succumbed to a nobler passion. For a
whole month, the whole demi-monde was forgotten for one English virgin.
Never, even in Paris, had a woman triumphed so. When the day came for her
departure, the city wore such an air of sullen mourning as it had not worn
since the Prussians marched to its Elysee. Zuleika, quite untouched, would
not linger in the conquered city. Agents had come to her from every
capital in Europe, and, for a year, she ranged, in triumphal nomady, from
one capital to another. In Berlin, every night, the students escorted her
home with torches. Prince Vierfuenfsechs-Siebenachtneun offered her his
hand, and was condemned by the Kaiser to six months’ confinement in his
little castle. In Yildiz Kiosk, the tyrant who still throve there
conferred on her the Order of Chastity, and offered her the central couch
in his seraglio. She gave her performance in the Quirinal, and, from the
Vatican, the Pope launched against her a Bull which fell utterly flat. In
Petersburg, the Grand Duke Salamander Salamandrovitch fell enamoured of
her. Of every article in the apparatus of her conjuring-tricks he caused a
replica to be made in finest gold. These treasures he presented to her in
that great malachite casket which now stood on the little table in her
room; and thenceforth it was with these that she performed her wonders.
They did not mark the limit of the Grand Duke’s generosity. He was for
bestowing on Zuleika the half of his immensurable estates. The Grand
Duchess appealed to the Tzar. Zuleika was conducted across the frontier,
by an escort of love-sick Cossacks. On the Sunday before she left Madrid,
a great bull-fight was held in her honour. Fifteen bulls received the
coup-de-grace, and Alvarez, the matador of matadors, died in the arena
with her name on his lips. He had tried to kill the last bull without
taking his eyes off la divina senorita. A prettier compliment had never
been paid her, and she was immensely pleased with it. For that matter, she
was immensely pleased with everything. She moved proudly to the incessant
music of a paean, aye! of a paean that was always crescendo.



Its echoes followed her when she crossed the Atlantic, till they were lost
in the louder, deeper, more blatant paean that rose for her from the
shores beyond. All the stops of that “mighty organ, many-piped,” the New
York press, were pulled out simultaneously, as far as they could be
pulled, in Zuleika’s honour. She delighted in the din. She read every line
that was printed about her, tasting her triumph as she had never tasted it
before. And how she revelled in the Brobdingnagian drawings of her, which,
printed in nineteen colours, towered between the columns or sprawled
across them! There she was, measuring herself back to back with the Statue
of Liberty; scudding through the firmament on a comet, whilst a crowd of
tiny men in evening-dress stared up at her from the terrestrial globe;
peering through a microscope held by Cupid over a diminutive Uncle Sam;
teaching the American Eagle to stand on its head; and doing a
hundred-and-one other things—whatever suggested itself to the fancy
of native art. And through all this iridescent maze of symbolism were
scattered many little slabs of realism. At home, on the street, Zuleika
was the smiling target of all snap-shooters, and all the snap-shots were
snapped up by the press and reproduced with annotations: Zuleika Dobson
walking on Broadway in the sables gifted her by Grand Duke Salamander—she
says “You can bounce blizzards in them”; Zuleika Dobson yawning over a
love-letter from millionaire Edelweiss; relishing a cup of clam-broth—she
says “They don’t use clams out there”; ordering her maid to fix her a warm
bath; finding a split in the gloves she has just drawn on before starting
for the musicale given in her honour by Mrs. Suetonius X. Meistersinger,
the most exclusive woman in New York; chatting at the telephone to Miss
Camille Van Spook, the best-born girl in New York; laughing over the
recollection of a compliment made her by George Abimelech Post, the
best-groomed man in New York; meditating a new trick; admonishing a waiter
who has upset a cocktail over her skirt; having herself manicured;
drinking tea in bed. Thus was Zuleika enabled daily to be, as one might
say, a spectator of her own wonderful life. On her departure from New
York, the papers spoke no more than the truth when they said she had had
“a lovely time.” The further she went West—millionaire Edelweiss had
loaned her his private car—the lovelier her time was. Chicago
drowned the echoes of New York; final Frisco dwarfed the headlines of
Chicago. Like one of its own prairie-fires, she swept the country from end
to end. Then she swept back, and sailed for England. She was to return for
a second season in the coming Fall. At present, she was, as I have said,
“resting.”



As she sat here in the bay-window of her room, she was not reviewing the
splendid pageant of her past. She was a young person whose reveries never
were in retrospect. For her the past was no treasury of distinct memories,
all hoarded and classified, some brighter than others and more highly
valued. All memories were for her but as the motes in one fused radiance
that followed her and made more luminous the pathway of her future. She
was always looking forward. She was looking forward now—that shade
of ennui had passed from her face—to the week she was to spend in
Oxford. A new city was a new toy to her, and—for it was youth’s
homage that she loved best—this city of youths was a toy after her
own heart.



Aye, and it was youths who gave homage to her most freely. She was of that
high-stepping and flamboyant type that captivates youth most surely. Old
men and men of middle age admired her, but she had not that flower-like
quality of shyness and helplessness, that look of innocence, so dear to
men who carry life’s secrets in their heads. Yet Zuleika WAS very
innocent, really. She was as pure as that young shepherdess Marcella, who,
all unguarded, roved the mountains and was by all the shepherds adored.
Like Marcella, she had given her heart to no man, had preferred none.
Youths were reputed to have died for love of her, as Chrysostom died for
love of the shepherdess; and she, like the shepherdess, had shed no tear.
When Chrysostom was lying on his bier in the valley, and Marcella looked
down from the high rock, Ambrosio, the dead man’s comrade, cried out on
her, upbraiding her with bitter words—“Oh basilisk of our
mountains!” Nor do I think Ambrosio spoke too strongly. Marcella cared
nothing for men’s admiration, and yet, instead of retiring to one of those
nunneries which are founded for her kind, she chose to rove the mountains,
causing despair to all the shepherds. Zuleika, with her peculiar
temperament, would have gone mad in a nunnery. “But,” you may argue,
“ought not she to have taken the veil, even at the cost of her reason,
rather than cause so much despair in the world? If Marcella was a
basilisk, as you seem to think, how about Miss Dobson?” Ah, but Marcella
knew quite well, boasted even, that she never would or could love any man.
Zuleika, on the other hand, was a woman of really passionate fibre. She
may not have had that conscious, separate, and quite explicit desire to be
a mother with which modern playwrights credit every unmated member of her
sex. But she did know that she could love. And, surely, no woman who knows
that of herself can be rightly censured for not recluding herself from the
world: it is only women without the power to love who have no right to
provoke men’s love.



Though Zuleika had never given her heart, strong in her were the desire
and the need that it should be given. Whithersoever she had fared, she had
seen nothing but youths fatuously prostrate to her—not one upright
figure which she could respect. There were the middle-aged men, the old
men, who did not bow down to her; but from middle-age, as from eld, she
had a sanguine aversion. She could love none but a youth. Nor—though
she herself, womanly, would utterly abase herself before her ideal—could
she love one who fell prone before her. And before her all youths always
did fall prone. She was an empress, and all youths were her slaves. Their
bondage delighted her, as I have said. But no empress who has any pride
can adore one of her slaves. Whom, then, could proud Zuleika adore? It was
a question which sometimes troubled her. There were even moments when,
looking into her cheval-glass, she cried out against that arrangement in
comely lines and tints which got for her the dulia she delighted in. To be
able to love once—would not that be better than all the homage in
the world? But would she ever meet whom, looking up to him, she could love—she,
the omnisubjugant? Would she ever, ever meet him?



It was when she wondered thus, that the wistfulness came into her eyes.
Even now, as she sat by the window, that shadow returned to them. She was
wondering, shyly, had she met him at length? That young equestrian who had
not turned to look at her; whom she was to meet at dinner to-night... was
it he? The ends of her blue sash lay across her lap, and she was lazily
unravelling their fringes. “Blue and white!” she remembered. “They were
the colours he wore round his hat.” And she gave a little laugh of
coquetry. She laughed, and, long after, her lips were still parted in a
smile.



So did she sit, smiling, wondering, with the fringes of her sash between
her fingers, while the sun sank behind the opposite wall of the
quadrangle, and the shadows crept out across the grass, thirsty for the
dew.














III



The clock in the Warden’s drawing-room had just struck eight, and already
the ducal feet were beautiful on the white bearskin hearthrug. So slim and
long were they, of instep so nobly arched, that only with a pair of glazed
ox-tongues on a breakfast-table were they comparable. Incomparable quite,
the figure and face and vesture of him who ended in them.



The Warden was talking to him, with all the deference of elderly commoner
to patrician boy. The other guests—an Oriel don and his wife—were
listening with earnest smile and submissive droop, at a slight distance.
Now and again, to put themselves at their ease, they exchanged in
undertone a word or two about the weather.



“The young lady whom you may have noticed with me,” the Warden was saying,
“is my orphaned grand-daughter.” (The wife of the Oriel don discarded her
smile, and sighed, with a glance at the Duke, who was himself an orphan.)
“She has come to stay with me.” (The Duke glanced quickly round the room.)
“I cannot think why she is not down yet.” (The Oriel don fixed his eyes on
the clock, as though he suspected it of being fast.) “I must ask you to
forgive her. She appears to be a bright, pleasant young woman.”



“Married?” asked the Duke.



“No,” said the Warden; and a cloud of annoyance crossed the boy’s face.
“No; she devotes her life entirely to good works.”



“A hospital nurse?” the Duke murmured.



“No, Zuleika’s appointed task is to induce delightful wonder rather than
to alleviate pain. She performs conjuring-tricks.”



“Not—not Miss Zuleika Dobson?” cried the Duke.



“Ah yes. I forgot that she had achieved some fame in the outer world.
Perhaps she has already met you?”



“Never,” said the young man coldly. “But of course I have heard of Miss
Dobson. I did not know she was related to you.”



The Duke had an intense horror of unmarried girls. All his vacations were
spent in eluding them and their chaperons. That he should be confronted
with one of them—with such an one of them!—in Oxford, seemed
to him sheer violation of sanctuary. The tone, therefore, in which he said
“I shall be charmed,” in answer to the Warden’s request that he would take
Zuleika into dinner, was very glacial. So was his gaze when, a moment
later, the young lady made her entry.



“She did not look like an orphan,” said the wife of the Oriel don,
subsequently, on the way home. The criticism was a just one. Zuleika would
have looked singular in one of those lowly double-files of straw-bonnets
and drab cloaks which are so steadying a feature of our social system.
Tall and lissom, she was sheathed from the bosom downwards in flamingo
silk, and she was liberally festooned with emeralds. Her dark hair was not
even strained back from her forehead and behind her ears, as an orphan’s
should be. Parted somewhere at the side, it fell in an avalanche of curls
upon one eyebrow. From her right ear drooped heavily a black pearl, from
her left a pink; and their difference gave an odd, bewildering witchery to
the little face between.



Was the young Duke bewitched? Instantly, utterly. But none could have
guessed as much from his cold stare, his easy and impassive bow.
Throughout dinner, none guessed that his shirt-front was but the screen of
a fierce warfare waged between pride and passion. Zuleika, at the foot of
the table, fondly supposed him indifferent to her. Though he sat on her
right, not one word or glance would he give her. All his conversation was
addressed to the unassuming lady who sat on his other side, next to the
Warden. Her he edified and flustered beyond measure by his insistent
courtesy. Her husband, alone on the other side of the table, was mortified
by his utter failure to engage Zuleika in small-talk. Zuleika was sitting
with her profile turned to him—the profile with the pink pearl—and
was gazing full at the young Duke. She was hardly more affable than a
cameo. “Yes,” “No,” “I don’t know,” were the only answers she would
vouchsafe to his questions. A vague “Oh really?” was all he got for his
timid little offerings of information. In vain he started the topic of
modern conjuring-tricks as compared with the conjuring-tricks performed by
the ancient Egyptians. Zuleika did not even say “Oh really?” when he told
her about the metamorphosis of the bulls in the Temple of Osiris. He
primed himself with a glass of sherry, cleared his throat. “And what,” he
asked, with a note of firmness, “did you think of our cousins across the
water?” Zuleika said “Yes;” and then he gave in. Nor was she conscious
that he ceased talking to her. At intervals throughout the rest of dinner,
she murmured “Yes,” and “No,” and “Oh really?” though the poor little don
was now listening silently to the Duke and the Warden.



She was in a trance of sheer happiness. At last, she thought, her hope was
fulfilled—that hope which, although she had seldom remembered it in
the joy of her constant triumphs, had been always lurking in her, lying
near to her heart and chafing her, like the shift of sackcloth which that
young brilliant girl, loved and lost of Giacopone di Todi, wore always in
secret submission to her own soul, under the fair soft robes and the
rubies men saw on her. At last, here was the youth who would not bow down
to her; whom, looking up to him, she could adore. She ate and drank
automatically, never taking her gaze from him. She felt not one touch of
pique at his behaviour. She was tremulous with a joy that was new to her,
greater than any joy she had known. Her soul was as a flower in its
opetide. She was in love. Rapt, she studied every lineament of the pale
and perfect face—the brow from which bronze-coloured hair rose in
tiers of burnished ripples; the large steel-coloured eyes, with their
carven lids; the carven nose, and the plastic lips. She noted how long and
slim were his fingers, and how slender his wrists. She noted the glint
cast by the candles upon his shirt-front. The two large white pearls there
seemed to her symbols of his nature. They were like two moons: cold,
remote, radiant. Even when she gazed at the Duke’s face, she was aware of
them in her vision.



Nor was the Duke unconscious, as he seemed to be, of her scrutiny. Though
he kept his head averse, he knew that always her eyes were watching him.
Obliquely, he saw them; saw, too, the contour of the face, and the black
pearl and the pink; could not blind himself, try as he would. And he knew
that he was in love.



Like Zuleika herself, this young Duke was in love for the first time.
Wooed though he had been by almost as many maidens as she by youths, his
heart, like hers, had remained cold. But he had never felt, as she had,
the desire to love. He was not now rejoicing, as she was, in the sensation
of first love; nay, he was furiously mortified by it, and struggled with
all his might against it. He had always fancied himself secure against any
so vulgar peril; always fancied that by him at least, the proud old motto
of his family—“Pas si bete”—would not be belied. And I
daresay, indeed, that had he never met Zuleika, the irresistible, he would
have lived, and at a very ripe old age died, a dandy without reproach. For
in him the dandiacal temper had been absolute hitherto, quite untainted
and unruffled. He was too much concerned with his own perfection ever to
think of admiring any one else. Different from Zuleika, he cared for his
wardrobe and his toilet-table not as a means to making others admire him
the more, but merely as a means through which he could intensify, a ritual
in which to express and realise, his own idolatry. At Eton he had been
called “Peacock,” and this nick-name had followed him up to Oxford. It was
not wholly apposite, however. For, whereas the peacock is a fool even
among birds, the Duke had already taken (besides a particularly brilliant
First in Mods) the Stanhope, the Newdigate, the Lothian, and the Gaisford
Prize for Greek Verse. And these things he had achieved currente calamo,
“wielding his pen,” as Scott said of Byron, “with the easy negligence of a
nobleman.” He was now in his third year of residence, and was reading, a
little, for Literae Humaniores. There is no doubt that but for his
untimely death he would have taken a particularly brilliant First in that
school also.



For the rest, he had many accomplishments. He was adroit in the killing of
all birds and fishes, stags and foxes. He played polo, cricket, racquets,
chess, and billiards as well as such things can be played. He was fluent
in all modern languages, had a very real talent in water-colour, and was
accounted, by those who had had the privilege of hearing him, the best
amateur pianist on this side of the Tweed. Little wonder, then, that he
was idolised by the undergraduates of his day. He did not, however, honour
many of them with his friendship. He had a theoretic liking for them as a
class, as the “young barbarians all at play” in that little antique city;
but individually they jarred on him, and he saw little of them. Yet he
sympathised with them always, and, on occasion, would actively take their
part against the dons. In the middle of his second year, he had gone so
far that a College Meeting had to be held, and he was sent down for the
rest of term. The Warden placed his own landau at the disposal of the
illustrious young exile, who therein was driven to the station, followed
by a long, vociferous procession of undergraduates in cabs. Now, it
happened that this was a time of political excitement in London. The
Liberals, who were in power, had passed through the House of Commons a
measure more than usually socialistic; and this measure was down for its
second reading in the Lords on the very day that the Duke left Oxford, an
exile. It was but a few weeks since he had taken his seat in the Lords;
and this afternoon, for the want of anything better to do, he strayed in.
The Leader of the House was already droning his speech for the bill, and
the Duke found himself on one of the opposite benches. There sat his
compeers, sullenly waiting to vote for a bill which every one of them
detested. As the speaker subsided, the Duke, for the fun of the thing,
rose. He made a long speech against the bill. His gibes at the Government
were so scathing, so utterly destructive his criticism of the bill itself,
so lofty and so irresistible the flights of his eloquence, that, when he
resumed his seat, there was only one course left to the Leader of the
House. He rose and, in a few husky phrases, moved that the bill “be read
this day six months.” All England rang with the name of the young Duke. He
himself seemed to be the one person unmoved by his exploit. He did not
re-appear in the Upper Chamber, and was heard to speak in slighting terms
of its architecture, as well as of its upholstery. Nevertheless, the Prime
Minister became so nervous that he procured for him, a month later, the
Sovereign’s offer of a Garter which had just fallen vacant. The Duke
accepted it. He was, I understand, the only undergraduate on whom this
Order had ever been conferred. He was very much pleased with the insignia,
and when, on great occasions, he wore them, no one dared say that the
Prime Minister’s choice was not fully justified. But you must not imagine
that he cared for them as symbols of achievement and power. The dark blue
riband, and the star scintillating to eight points, the heavy mantle of
blue velvet, with its lining of taffeta and shoulder-knots of white satin,
the crimson surcoat, the great embullioned tassels, and the chain of
linked gold, and the plumes of ostrich and heron uprising from the black
velvet hat—these things had for him little significance save as a
fine setting, a finer setting than the most elaborate smoking-suit, for
that perfection of aspect which the gods had given him. This was indeed
the gift he valued beyond all others. He knew well, however, that women
care little for a man’s appearance, and that what they seek in a man is
strength of character, and rank, and wealth. These three gifts the Duke
had in a high degree, and he was by women much courted because of them.
Conscious that every maiden he met was eager to be his Duchess, he had
assumed always a manner of high austerity among maidens, and even if he
had wished to flirt with Zuleika he would hardly have known how to do it.
But he did not wish to flirt with her. That she had bewitched him did but
make it the more needful that he should shun all converse with her. It was
imperative that he should banish her from his mind, quickly. He must not
dilute his own soul’s essence. He must not surrender to any passion his
dandihood. The dandy must be celibate, cloistral; is, indeed, but a monk
with a mirror for beads and breviary—an anchorite, mortifying his
soul that his body may be perfect. Till he met Zuleika, the Duke had not
known the meaning of temptation. He fought now, a St. Anthony, against the
apparition. He would not look at her, and he hated her. He loved her, and
he could not help seeing her. The black pearl and the pink seemed to
dangle ever nearer and clearer to him, mocking him and beguiling.
Inexpellible was her image.



So fierce was the conflict in him that his outward nonchalance gradually
gave way. As dinner drew to its close, his conversation with the wife of
the Oriel don flagged and halted. He sank, at length, into a deep silence.
He sat with downcast eyes, utterly distracted.



Suddenly, something fell, plump! into the dark whirlpool of his thoughts.
He started. The Warden was leaning forward, had just said something to
him.



“I beg your pardon?” asked the Duke. Dessert, he noticed, was on the
table, and he was paring an apple. The Oriel don was looking at him with
sympathy, as at one who had swooned and was just “coming to.”



“Is it true, my dear Duke,” the Warden repeated, “that you have been
persuaded to play to-morrow evening at the Judas concert?”



“Ah yes, I am going to play something.”



Zuleika bent suddenly forward, addressed him. “Oh,” she cried, clasping
her hands beneath her chin, “will you let me come and turn over the leaves
for you?”



He looked her full in the face. It was like seeing suddenly at close
quarters some great bright monument that one has long known only as a
sun-caught speck in the distance. He saw the large violet eyes open to
him, and their lashes curling to him; the vivid parted lips; and the black
pearl, and the pink.



“You are very kind,” he murmured, in a voice which sounded to him quite
far away. “But I always play without notes.”



Zuleika blushed. Not with shame, but with delirious pleasure. For that
snub she would just then have bartered all the homage she had hoarded.
This, she felt, was the climax. She would not outstay it. She rose,
smiling to the wife of the Oriel don. Every one rose. The Oriel don held
open the door, and the two ladies passed out of the room.



The Duke drew out his cigarette case. As he looked down at the cigarettes,
he was vaguely conscious of some strange phenomenon somewhere between them
and his eyes. Foredone by the agitation of the past hour, he did not at
once realise what it was that he saw. His impression was of something in
bad taste, some discord in his costume ... a black pearl and a pink pearl
in his shirt-front!



Just for a moment, absurdly over-estimating poor Zuleika’s skill, he
supposed himself a victim of legerdemain. Another moment, and the import
of the studs revealed itself. He staggered up from his chair, covering his
breast with one arm, and murmured that he was faint. As he hurried from
the room, the Oriel don was pouring out a tumbler of water and suggesting
burnt feathers. The Warden, solicitous, followed him into the hall. He
snatched up his hat, gasping that he had spent a delightful evening—was
very sorry—was subject to these attacks. Once outside, he took
frankly to his heels.



At the corner of the Broad, he looked back over his shoulder. He had half
expected a scarlet figure skimming in pursuit. There was nothing. He
halted. Before him, the Broad lay empty beneath the moon. He went slowly,
mechanically, to his rooms.



The high grim busts of the Emperors stared down at him, their faces more
than ever tragically cavernous and distorted. They saw and read in that
moonlight the symbols on his breast. As he stood on his doorstep, waiting
for the door to be opened, he must have seemed to them a thing for
infinite compassion. For were they not privy to the doom that the morrow,
or the morrow’s morrow, held for him—held not indeed for him alone,
yet for him especially, as it were, and for him most lamentably?














IV



The breakfast-things were not yet cleared away. A plate streaked with fine
strains of marmalade, an empty toast-rack, a broken roll—these and
other things bore witness to a day inaugurated in the right spirit.



Away from them, reclining along his window-seat, was the Duke. Blue
spirals rose from his cigarette, nothing in the still air to trouble them.
From their railing, across the road, the Emperors gazed at him.



For a young man, sleep is a sure solvent of distress. There whirls not for
him in the night any so hideous a phantasmagoria as will not become, in
the clarity of next morning, a spruce procession for him to lead. Brief
the vague horror of his awakening; memory sweeps back to him, and he sees
nothing dreadful after all. “Why not?” is the sun’s bright message to him,
and “Why not indeed?” his answer. After hours of agony and doubt prolonged
to cock-crow, sleep had stolen to the Duke’s bed-side. He awoke late, with
a heavy sense of disaster; but lo! when he remembered, everything took on
a new aspect. He was in love. “Why not?” He mocked himself for the morbid
vigil he had spent in probing and vainly binding the wounds of his false
pride. The old life was done with. He laughed as he stepped into his bath.
Why should the disseizin of his soul have seemed shameful to him? He had
had no soul till it passed out of his keeping. His body thrilled to the
cold water, his soul as to a new sacrament. He was in love, and that was
all he wished for... There, on the dressing-table, lay the two studs,
visible symbols of his love. Dear to him, now, the colours of them! He
took them in his hand, one by one, fondling them. He wished he could wear
them in the day-time; but this, of course, was impossible. His toilet
finished, he dropped them into the left pocket of his waistcoat.



Therein, near to his heart, they were lying now, as he looked out at the
changed world—the world that had become Zuleika. “Zuleika!” his
recurrent murmur, was really an apostrophe to the whole world.



Piled against the wall were certain boxes of black japanned tin, which had
just been sent to him from London. At any other time he would certainly
not have left them unopened. For they contained his robes of the Garter.
Thursday, the day after to-morrow, was the date fixed for the investiture
of a foreign king who was now visiting England: and the full chapter of
Knights had been commanded to Windsor for the ceremony. Yesterday the Duke
had looked keenly forward to his excursion. It was only in those too
rarely required robes that he had the sense of being fully dressed. But
to-day not a thought had he of them.



Some clock clove with silver the stillness of the morning. Ere came the
second stroke, another and nearer clock was striking. And now there were
others chiming in. The air was confused with the sweet babel of its many
spires, some of them booming deep, measured sequences, some tinkling
impatiently and outwitting others which had begun before them. And when
this anthem of jealous antiphonies and uneven rhythms had dwindled quite
away and fainted in one last solitary note of silver, there started
somewhere another sequence; and this, almost at its last stroke, was
interrupted by yet another, which went on to tell the hour of noon in its
own way, quite slowly and significantly, as though none knew it.



And now Oxford was astir with footsteps and laughter—the laughter
and quick footsteps of youths released from lecture-rooms. The Duke
shifted from the window. Somehow, he did not care to be observed, though
it was usually at this hour that he showed himself for the setting of some
new fashion in costume. Many an undergraduate, looking up, missed the
picture in the window-frame.



The Duke paced to and fro, smiling ecstatically. He took the two studs
from his pocket and gazed at them. He looked in the glass, as one seeking
the sympathy of a familiar. For the first time in his life, he turned
impatiently aside. It was a new kind of sympathy he needed to-day.



The front door slammed, and the staircase creaked to the ascent of two
heavy boots. The Duke listened, waited irresolute. The boots passed his
door, were already clumping up the next flight. “Noaks!” he cried. The
boots paused, then clumped down again. The door opened and disclosed that
homely figure which Zuleika had seen on her way to Judas.



Sensitive reader, start not at the apparition! Oxford is a plexus of
anomalies. These two youths were (odd as it may seem to you) subject to
the same Statutes, affiliated to the same College, reading for the same
School; aye! and though the one had inherited half a score of noble and
castellated roofs, whose mere repairs cost him annually thousands and
thousands of pounds, and the other’s people had but one little mean square
of lead, from which the fireworks of the Crystal Palace were clearly
visible every Thursday evening, in Oxford one roof sheltered both of them.
Furthermore, there was even some measure of intimacy between them. It was
the Duke’s whim to condescend further in the direction of Noaks than in
any other. He saw in Noaks his own foil and antithesis, and made a point
of walking up the High with him at least once in every term. Noaks, for
his part, regarded the Duke with feelings mingled of idolatry and
disapproval. The Duke’s First in Mods oppressed him (who, by dint of
dogged industry, had scraped a Second) more than all the other differences
between them. But the dullard’s envy of brilliant men is always assuaged
by the suspicion that they will come to a bad end. Noaks may have regarded
the Duke as a rather pathetic figure, on the whole.



“Come in, Noaks,” said the Duke. “You have been to a lecture?”



“Aristotle’s Politics,” nodded Noaks.



“And what were they?” asked the Duke. He was eager for sympathy in his
love. But so little used was he to seeking sympathy that he could not
unburden himself. He temporised. Noaks muttered something about getting
back to work, and fumbled with the door-handle.



“Oh, my dear fellow, don’t go,” said the Duke. “Sit down. Our Schools
don’t come on for another year. A few minutes can’t make a difference in
your Class. I want to—to tell you something, Noaks. Do sit down.”



Noaks sat down on the edge of a chair. The Duke leaned against the
mantel-piece, facing him. “I suppose, Noaks,” he said, “you have never
been in love.”



“Why shouldn’t I have been in love?” asked the little man, angrily.



“I can’t imagine you in love,” said the Duke, smiling.



“And I can’t imagine YOU. You’re too pleased with yourself,” growled
Noaks.



“Spur your imagination, Noaks,” said his friend. “I AM in love.”



“So am I,” was an unexpected answer, and the Duke (whose need of sympathy
was too new to have taught him sympathy with others) laughed aloud. “Whom
do you love?” he asked, throwing himself into an arm-chair.



“I don’t know who she is,” was another unexpected answer.



“When did you meet her?” asked the Duke. “Where? What did you say to her?”



“Yesterday. In the Corn. I didn’t SAY anything to her.”



“Is she beautiful?”



“Yes. What’s that to you?”



“Dark or fair?”



“She’s dark. She looks like a foreigner. She looks like—like one of
those photographs in the shop-windows.”



“A rhapsody, Noaks! What became of her? Was she alone?”



“She was with the old Warden, in his carriage.”



Zuleika—Noaks! The Duke started, as at an affront, and glared. Next
moment, he saw the absurdity of the situation. He relapsed into his chair,
smiling. “She’s the Warden’s niece,” he said. “I dined at the Warden’s
last night.”



Noaks sat still, peering across at the Duke. For the first time in his
life, he was resentful of the Duke’s great elegance and average stature,
his high lineage and incomputable wealth. Hitherto, these things had been
too remote for envy. But now, suddenly, they seemed near to him—nearer
and more overpowering than the First in Mods had ever been. “And of course
she’s in love with you?” he snarled.



Really, this was for the Duke a new issue. So salient was his own passion
that he had not had time to wonder whether it were returned. Zuleika’s
behaviour during dinner... But that was how so many young women had
behaved. It was no sign of disinterested love. It might mean merely... Yet
no! Surely, looking into her eyes, he had seen there a radiance finer than
could have been lit by common ambition. Love, none other, must have lit in
those purple depths the torches whose clear flames had leapt out to him.
She loved him. She, the beautiful, the wonderful, had not tried to conceal
her love for him. She had shown him all—had shown all, poor darling!
only to be snubbed by a prig, driven away by a boor, fled from by a fool.
To the nethermost corner of his soul, he cursed himself for what he had
done, and for all he had left undone. He would go to her on his knees. He
would implore her to impose on him insufferable penances. There was no
penance, how bittersweet soever, could make him a little worthy of her.



“Come in!” he cried mechanically. Entered the landlady’s daughter.



“A lady downstairs,” she said, “asking to see your Grace. Says she’ll step
round again later if your Grace is busy.”



“What is her name?” asked the Duke, vacantly. He was gazing at the girl
with pain-shot eyes.



“Miss Zuleika Dobson,” pronounced the girl.



He rose.



“Show Miss Dobson up,” he said.



Noaks had darted to the looking-glass and was smoothing his hair with a
tremulous, enormous hand.



“Go!” said the Duke, pointing to the door. Noaks went, quickly. Echoes of
his boots fell from the upper stairs and met the ascending susurrus of a
silk skirt.



The lovers met. There was an interchange of ordinary greetings: from the
Duke, a comment on the weather; from Zuleika, a hope that he was well
again—they had been so sorry to lose him last night. Then came a
pause. The landlady’s daughter was clearing away the breakfast-things.
Zuleika glanced comprehensively at the room, and the Duke gazed at the
hearthrug. The landlady’s daughter clattered out with her freight. They
were alone.



“How pretty!” said Zuleika. She was looking at his star of the Garter,
which sparkled from a litter of books and papers on a small side-table.



“Yes,” he answered. “It is pretty, isn’t it?”



“Awfully pretty!” she rejoined.



This dialogue led them to another hollow pause. The Duke’s heart beat
violently within him. Why had he not asked her to take the star and keep
it as a gift? Too late now! Why could he not throw himself at her feet?
Here were two beings, lovers of each other, with none by. And yet...



She was examining a water-colour on the wall, seemed to be absorbed by it.
He watched her. She was even lovelier than he had remembered; or rather
her loveliness had been, in some subtle way, transmuted. Something had
given to her a graver, nobler beauty. Last night’s nymph had become the
Madonna of this morning. Despite her dress, which was of a tremendous
tartan, she diffused the pale authentic radiance of a spirituality most
high, most simple. The Duke wondered where lay the change in her. He could
not understand. Suddenly she turned to him, and he understood. No longer
the black pearl and the pink, but two white pearls!... He thrilled to his
heart’s core.



“I hope,” said Zuleika, “you aren’t awfully vexed with me for coming like
this?”



“Not at all,” said the Duke. “I am delighted to see you.” How inadequate
the words sounded, how formal and stupid!



“The fact is,” she continued, “I don’t know a soul in Oxford. And I
thought perhaps you’d give me luncheon, and take me to see the boat-races.
Will you?”



“I shall be charmed,” he said, pulling the bell-rope. Poor fool! he
attributed the shade of disappointment on Zuleika’s face to the coldness
of his tone. He would dispel that shade. He would avow himself. He would
leave her no longer in this false position. So soon as he had told them
about the meal, he would proclaim his passion.



The bell was answered by the landlady’s daughter.



“Miss Dobson will stay to luncheon,” said the Duke. The girl withdrew. He
wished he could have asked her not to.



He steeled himself. “Miss Dobson,” he said, “I wish to apologise to you.”



Zuleika looked at him eagerly. “You can’t give me luncheon? You’ve got
something better to do?”



“No. I wish to ask you to forgive me for my behaviour last night.”



“There is nothing to forgive.”



“There is. My manners were vile. I know well what happened. Though you,
too, cannot have forgotten, I won’t spare myself the recital. You were my
hostess, and I ignored you. Magnanimous, you paid me the prettiest
compliment woman ever paid to man, and I insulted you. I left the house in
order that I might not see you again. To the doorsteps down which he
should have kicked me, your grandfather followed me with words of
kindliest courtesy. If he had sped me with a kick so skilful that my skull
had been shattered on the kerb, neither would he have outstepped those
bounds set to the conduct of English gentlemen, nor would you have
garnered more than a trifle on account of your proper reckoning. I do not
say that you are the first person whom I have wantonly injured. But it is
a fact that I, in whom pride has ever been the topmost quality, have never
expressed sorrow to any one for anything. Thus, I might urge that my
present abjectness must be intolerably painful to me, and should incline
you to forgive. But such an argument were specious merely. I will be quite
frank with you. I will confess to you that, in this humbling of myself
before you, I take a pleasure as passionate as it is strange. A confusion
of feelings? Yet you, with a woman’s instinct, will have already caught
the clue to it. It needs no mirror to assure me that the clue is here for
you, in my eyes. It needs no dictionary of quotations to remind me that
the eyes are the windows of the soul. And I know that from two open
windows my soul has been leaning and signalling to you, in a code far more
definitive and swifter than words of mine, that I love you.”



Zuleika, listening to him, had grown gradually paler and paler. She had
raised her hands and cowered as though he were about to strike her. And
then, as he pronounced the last three words, she had clasped her hands to
her face and with a wild sob darted away from him. She was leaning now
against the window, her head bowed and her shoulders quivering.



The Duke came softly behind her. “Why should you cry? Why should you turn
away from me? Did I frighten you with the suddenness of my words? I am not
versed in the tricks of wooing. I should have been more patient. But I
love you so much that I could hardly have waited. A secret hope that you
loved me too emboldened me, compelled me. You DO love me. I know it. And,
knowing it, I do but ask you to give yourself to me, to be my wife. Why
should you cry? Why should you shrink from me? Dear, if there were
anything... any secret... if you had ever loved and been deceived, do you
think I should honour you the less deeply, should not cherish you the more
tenderly? Enough for me, that you are mine. Do you think I should ever
reproach you for anything that may have—”



Zuleika turned on him. “How dare you?” she gasped. “How dare you speak to
me like that?”



The Duke reeled back. Horror had come into his eyes. “You do not love me!”
he cried.



“LOVE you?” she retorted. “YOU?”



“You no longer love me. Why? Why?”



“What do you mean?”



“You loved me. Don’t trifle with me. You came to me loving me with all
your heart.”



“How do you know?”



“Look in the glass.” She went at his bidding. He followed her. “You see
them?” he said, after a long pause. Zuleika nodded. The two pearls
quivered to her nod.



“They were white when you came to me,” he sighed. “They were white because
you loved me. From them it was that I knew you loved me even as I loved
you. But their old colours have come back to them. That is how I know that
your love for me is dead.”



Zuleika stood gazing pensively, twitching the two pearls between her
fingers. Tears gathered in her eyes. She met the reflection of her lover’s
eyes, and her tears brimmed over. She buried her face in her hands, and
sobbed like a child.



Like a child’s, her sobbing ceased quite suddenly. She groped for her
handkerchief, angrily dried her eyes, and straightened and smoothed
herself.



“Now I’m going,” she said.



“You came here of your own accord, because you loved me,” said the Duke.
“And you shall not go till you have told me why you have left off loving
me.”



“How did you know I loved you?” she asked after a pause. “How did you know
I hadn’t simply put on another pair of ear-rings?”



The Duke, with a melancholy laugh, drew the two studs from his
waistcoat-pocket. “These are the studs I wore last night,” he said.



Zuleika gazed at them. “I see,” she said; then, looking up, “When did they
become like that?”



“It was when you left the dining-room that I saw the change in them.”



“How strange! It was when I went into the drawing-room that I noticed
mine. I was looking in the glass, and”—She started. “Then you were
in love with me last night?”



“I began to be in love with you from the moment I saw you.”



“Then how could you have behaved as you did?”



“Because I was a pedant. I tried to ignore you, as pedants always do try
to ignore any fact they cannot fit into their pet system. The basis of my
pet system was celibacy. I don’t mean the mere state of being a bachelor.
I mean celibacy of the soul—egoism, in fact. You have converted me
from that. I am now a confirmed tuist.”



“How dared you insult me?” she cried, with a stamp of her foot. “How dared
you make a fool of me before those people? Oh, it is too infamous!”



“I have already asked you to forgive me for that. You said there was
nothing to forgive.”



“I didn’t dream that you were in love with me.”



“What difference can that make?”



“All the difference! All the difference in life!”



“Sit down! You bewilder me,” said the Duke. “Explain yourself!” he
commanded.



“Isn’t that rather much for a man to ask of a woman?”



“I don’t know. I have no experience of women. In the abstract, it seems to
me that every man has a right to some explanation from the woman who has
ruined his life.”



“You are frightfully sorry for yourself,” said Zuleika, with a bitter
laugh. “Of course it doesn’t occur to you that I am at all to be
pitied. No! you are blind with selfishness. You love me—I don’t love
you: that is all you can realise. Probably you think you are the first man
who has ever fallen on such a plight.”



Said the Duke, bowing over a deprecatory hand, “If there were to pass my
window one tithe of them whose hearts have been lost to Miss Dobson, I
should win no solace from that interminable parade.”



Zuleika blushed. “Yet,” she said more gently, “be sure they would all be
not a little envious of YOU! Not one of them ever touched the surface of
my heart. You stirred my heart to its very depths. Yes, you made me love
you madly. The pearls told you no lie. You were my idol—the one
thing in the wide world to me. You were so different from any man I had
ever seen except in dreams. You did not make a fool of yourself. I admired
you. I respected you. I was all afire with adoration of you. And now,” she
passed her hand across her eyes, “now it is all over. The idol has come
sliding down its pedestal to fawn and grovel with all the other infatuates
in the dust about my feet.”



The Duke looked thoughtfully at her. “I thought,” he said, “that you
revelled in your power over men’s hearts. I had always heard that you
lived for admiration.”



“Oh,” said Zuleika, “of course I like being admired. Oh yes, I like all
that very much indeed. In a way, I suppose, I’m even pleased that YOU
admire me. But oh, what a little miserable pleasure that is in comparison
with the rapture I have forfeited! I had never known the rapture of being
in love. I had longed for it, but I had never guessed how wonderfully
wonderful it was. It came to me. I shuddered and wavered like a fountain
in the wind. I was more helpless and flew lightlier than a shred of
thistledown among the stars. All night long, I could not sleep for love of
you; nor had I any desire of sleep, save that it might take me to you in a
dream. I remember nothing that happened to me this morning before I found
myself at your door.”



“Why did you ring the bell? Why didn’t you walk away?”



“Why? I had come to see you, to be near you, to be WITH you.”



“To force yourself on me.”



“Yes.”



“You know the meaning of the term ‘effective occupation’? Having marched
in, how could you have held your position, unless”—



“Oh, a man doesn’t necessarily drive a woman away because he isn’t in love
with her.”



“Yet that was what you thought I had done to you last night.”



“Yes, but I didn’t suppose you would take the trouble to do it again. And
if you had, I should have only loved you the more. I thought you would
most likely be rather amused, rather touched, by my importunity. I thought
you would take a listless advantage, make a plaything of me—the
diversion of a few idle hours in summer, and then, when you had tired of
me, would cast me aside, forget me, break my heart. I desired nothing
better than that. That is what I must have been vaguely hoping for. But I
had no definite scheme. I wanted to be with you and I came to you. It
seems years ago, now! How my heart beat as I waited on the doorstep! ‘Is
his Grace at home?’ ‘I don’t know. I’ll inquire. What name shall I say?’ I
saw in the girl’s eyes that she, too, loved you. Have YOU seen that?”



“I have never looked at her,” said the Duke.



“No wonder, then, that she loves you,” sighed Zuleika. “She read my secret
at a glance. Women who love the same man have a kind of bitter
freemasonry. We resented each other. She envied me my beauty, my dress. I
envied the little fool her privilege of being always near to you. Loving
you, I could conceive no life sweeter than hers—to be always near
you; to black your boots, carry up your coals, scrub your doorstep; always
to be working for you, hard and humbly and without thanks. If you had
refused to see me, I would have bribed that girl with all my jewels to
cede me her position.”



The Duke made a step towards her. “You would do it still,” he said in a
low voice.



Zuleika raised her eyebrows. “I would not offer her one garnet,” she said,
“now.”



“You SHALL love me again,” he cried. “I will force you to. You said just
now that you had ceased to love me because I was just like other men. I am
not. My heart is no tablet of mere wax, from which an instant’s heat can
dissolve whatever impress it may bear, leaving it blank and soft for
another impress, and another, and another. My heart is a bright hard gem,
proof against any die. Came Cupid, with one of his arrow-points for
graver, and what he cut on the gem’s surface never can be effaced. There,
deeply and forever, your image is intagliated. No years, nor fires, nor
cataclysm of total Nature, can efface from that great gem your image.”



“My dear Duke,” said Zuleika, “don’t be so silly. Look at the matter
sensibly. I know that lovers don’t try to regulate their emotions
according to logic; but they do, nevertheless, unconsciously conform with
some sort of logical system. I left off loving you when I found that you
loved me. There is the premiss. Very well! Is it likely that I shall begin
to love you again because you can’t leave off loving me?”



The Duke groaned. There was a clatter of plates outside, and she whom
Zuleika had envied came to lay the table for luncheon.



A smile flickered across Zuleika’s lips; and “Not one garnet!” she
murmured.














V



Luncheon passed in almost unbroken silence. Both Zuleika and the Duke were
ravenously hungry, as people always are after the stress of any great
emotional crisis. Between them, they made very short work of a cold
chicken, a salad, a gooseberry-tart and a Camembert. The Duke filled his
glass again and again. The cold classicism of his face had been routed by
the new romantic movement which had swept over his soul. He looked two or
three months older than when first I showed him to my reader.



He drank his coffee at one draught, pushed back his chair, threw away the
cigarette he had just lit. “Listen!” he said.



Zuleika folded her hands on her lap.



“You do not love me. I accept as final your hint that you never will love
me. I need not say—could not, indeed, ever say—how deeply,
deeply you have pained me. As lover, I am rejected. But that rejection,”
he continued, striking the table, “is no stopper to my suit. It does but
drive me to the use of arguments. My pride shrinks from them. Love,
however, is greater than pride; and I, John, Albert, Edward, Claude, Orde,
Angus, Tankerton,* Tanville-Tankerton,** fourteenth Duke of Dorset,
Marquis of Dorset, Earl of Grove, Earl of Chastermaine, Viscount Brewsby,
Baron Grove, Baron Petstrap, and Baron Wolock, in the Peerage of England,
offer you my hand. Do not interrupt me. Do not toss your head. Consider
well what I am saying. Weigh the advantages you would gain by acceptance
of my hand. Indeed, they are manifold and tremendous. They are also
obvious: do not shut your eyes to them. You, Miss Dobson, what are you? A
conjurer, and a vagrant; without means, save such as you can earn by the
sleight of your hand; without position; without a home; all unguarded but
by your own self-respect. That you follow an honourable calling, I do not
for one moment deny. I do, however, ask you to consider how great are its
perils and hardships, its fatigues and inconveniences. From all these
evils I offer you instant refuge. I offer you, Miss Dobson, a refuge more
glorious and more augustly gilded than you, in your airiest flights of
fancy, can ever have hoped for or imagined. I own about 340,000 acres. My
town-residence is in St. James’s Square. Tankerton, of which you may have
seen photographs, is the chief of my country-seats. It is a Tudor house,
set on the ridge of a valley. The valley, its park, is halved by a stream
so narrow that the deer leap across. The gardens are estraded upon the
slope. Round the house runs a wide paven terrace. There are always two or
three peacocks trailing their sheathed feathers along the balustrade, and
stepping how stiffly! as though they had just been unharnessed from Juno’s
chariot. Two flights of shallow steps lead down to the flowers and
fountains. Oh, the gardens are wonderful. There is a Jacobean garden of
white roses. Between the ends of two pleached alleys, under a dome of
branches, is a little lake, with a Triton of black marble, and with
water-lilies. Hither and thither under the archipelago of water-lilies,
dart gold-fish—tongues of flame in the dark water. There is also a
long strait alley of clipped yew. It ends in an alcove for a pagoda of
painted porcelain which the Prince Regent—peace be to his ashes!—presented
to my great-grandfather. There are many twisting paths, and sudden
aspects, and devious, fantastic arbours. Are you fond of horses? In my
stables of pine-wood and plated-silver seventy are installed. Not all of
them together could vie in power with one of the meanest of my
motor-cars.”


   *Pronounced as Tacton.

**Pronounced as Tavvle-Tacton.



“Oh, I never go in motors,” said Zuleika. “They make one look like nothing
on earth, and like everybody else.”



“I myself,” said the Duke, “use them little for that very reason. Are you
interested in farming? At Tankerton there is a model farm which would at
any rate amuse you, with its heifers and hens and pigs that are like so
many big new toys. There is a tiny dairy, which is called ‘Her Grace’s.’
You could make, therein, real butter with your own hands, and round it
into little pats, and press every pat with a different device. The boudoir
that would be yours is a blue room. Four Watteaus hang in it. In the
dining-hall hang portraits of my forefathers—in petto, your
forefathers-in-law—by many masters. Are you fond of peasants? My
tenantry are delightful creatures, and there is not one of them who
remembers the bringing of the news of the Battle of Waterloo. When a new
Duchess is brought to Tankerton, the oldest elm in the park must be
felled. That is one of many strange old customs. As she is driven through
the village, the children of the tenantry must strew the road with
daisies. The bridal chamber must be lighted with as many candles as years
have elapsed since the creation of the Dukedom. If you came into it, there
would be”—and the youth, closing his eyes, made a rapid calculation—“exactly
three hundred and eighty-eight candles. On the eve of the death of a Duke
of Dorset, two black owls come and perch on the battlements. They remain
there through the night, hooting. At dawn they fly away, none knows
whither. On the eve of the death of any other Tanville-Tankerton, comes
(no matter what be the time of year) a cuckoo. It stays for an hour,
cooing, then flies away, none knows whither. Whenever this portent occurs,
my steward telegraphs to me, that I, as head of the family, be not
unsteeled against the shock of a bereavement, and that my authority be
sooner given for the unsealing and garnishing of the family-vault. Not
every forefather of mine rests quiet beneath his escutcheoned marble.
There are they who revisit, in their wrath or their remorse, the places
wherein erst they suffered or wrought evil. There is one who, every
Halloween, flits into the dining-hall, and hovers before the portrait
which Hans Holbein made of him, and flings his diaphanous grey form
against the canvas, hoping, maybe, to catch from it the fiery flesh-tints
and the solid limbs that were his, and so to be re-incarnate. He flies
against the painting, only to find himself t’other side of the wall it
hangs on. There are five ghosts permanently residing in the right wing of
the house, two in the left, and eleven in the park. But all are quite
noiseless and quite harmless. My servants, when they meet them in the
corridors or on the stairs, stand aside to let them pass, thus paying them
the respect due to guests of mine; but not even the rawest housemaid ever
screams or flees at sight of them. I, their host, often waylay them and
try to commune with them; but always they glide past me. And how
gracefully they glide, these ghosts! It is a pleasure to watch them. It is
a lesson in deportment. May they never be laid! Of all my household-pets,
they are the dearest to me. I am Duke of Strathsporran and Cairngorm,
Marquis of Sorby, and Earl Cairngorm, in the Peerage of Scotland. In the
glens of the hills about Strathsporran are many noble and nimble stags.
But I have never set foot in my house there, for it is carpeted throughout
with the tartan of my clan. You seem to like tartan. What tartan is it you
are wearing?”



Zuleika looked down at her skirt. “I don’t know,” she said. “I got it in
Paris.”



“Well,” said the Duke, “it is very ugly. The Dalbraith tartan is
harmonious in comparison, and has, at least, the excuse of history. If you
married me, you would have the right to wear it. You would have many
strange and fascinating rights. You would go to Court. I admit that the
Hanoverian Court is not much. Still, it is better than nothing. At your
presentation, moreover, you would be given the entree. Is that nothing to
you? You would be driven to Court in my statecoach. It is swung so high
that the streetsters can hardly see its occupant. It is lined with
rose-silk; and on its panels, and on its hammer-cloth, my arms are
emblazoned—no one has ever been able to count the quarterings. You
would be wearing the family-jewels, reluctantly surrendered to you by my
aunt. They are many and marvellous, in their antique settings. I don’t
want to brag. It humiliates me to speak to you as I am speaking. But I am
heart-set on you, and to win you there is not a precious stone I would
leave unturned. Conceive a parure all of white stones—diamonds,
white sapphires, white topazes, tourmalines. Another, of rubies and
amethysts, set in gold filigree. Rings that once were poison-combs on
Florentine fingers. Red roses for your hair—every petal a hollowed
ruby. Amulets and ape-buckles, zones and fillets. Aye! know that you would
be weeping for wonder before you had seen a tithe of these gauds. Know,
too, Miss Dobson, that in the Peerage of France I am Duc d’Etretat et de
la Roche Guillaume. Louis Napoleon gave the title to my father for not
cutting him in the Bois. I have a house in the Champs Elysees. There is a
Swiss in its courtyard. He stands six-foot-seven in his stockings, and the
chasseurs are hardly less tall than he. Wherever I go, there are two chefs
in my retinue. Both are masters in their art, and furiously jealous of
each other. When I compliment either of them on some dish, the other
challenges him. They fight with rapiers, next morning, in the garden of
whatever house I am occupying. I do not know whether you are greedy? If
so, it may interest you to learn that I have a third chef, who makes only
souffles, and an Italian pastry-cook; to say nothing of a Spaniard for
salads, an Englishwoman for roasts, and an Abyssinian for coffee. You
found no trace of their handiwork in the meal you have just had with me?
No; for in Oxford it is a whim of mine—I may say a point of honour—to
lead the ordinary life of an undergraduate. What I eat in this room is
cooked by the heavy and unaided hand of Mrs. Batch, my landlady. It is set
before me by the unaided and—or are you in error?—loving hand
of her daughter. Other ministers have I none here. I dispense with my
private secretaries. I am unattended by a single valet. So simple a way of
life repels you? You would never be called upon to share it. If you
married me, I should take my name off the books of my College. I propose
that we should spend our honeymoon at Baiae. I have a villa at Baiae. It
is there that I keep my grandfather’s collection of majolica. The sun
shines there always. A long olive-grove secretes the garden from the sea.
When you walk in the garden, you know the sea only in blue glimpses
through the vacillating leaves. White-gleaming from the bosky shade of
this grove are several goddesses. Do you care for Canova? I don’t myself.
If you do, these figures will appeal to you: they are in his best manner.
Do you love the sea? This is not the only house of mine that looks out on
it. On the coast of County Clare—am I not Earl of Enniskerry and
Baron Shandrin in the Peerage of Ireland?—I have an ancient castle.
Sheer from a rock stands it, and the sea has always raged up against its
walls. Many ships lie wrecked under that loud implacable sea. But mine is
a brave strong castle. No storm affrights it; and not the centuries,
clustering houris, with their caresses can seduce it from its hard
austerity. I have several titles which for the moment escape me. Baron
Llffthwchl am I, and... and... but you can find them for yourself in
Debrett. In me you behold a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and a Knight
of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Look well at me! I am Hereditary
Comber of the Queen’s Lap-Dogs. I am young. I am handsome. My temper is
sweet, and my character without blemish. In fine, Miss Dobson, I am a most
desirable parti.”



“But,” said Zuleika, “I don’t love you.”



The Duke stamped his foot. “I beg your pardon,” he said hastily. “I ought
not to have done that. But—you seem to have entirely missed the
point of what I was saying.”



“No, I haven’t,” said Zuleika.



“Then what,” cried the Duke, standing over her, “what is your reply?”



Said Zuleika, looking up at him, “My reply is that I think you are an
awful snob.”



The Duke turned on his heel, and strode to the other end of the room.
There he stood for some moments, his back to Zuleika.



“I think,” she resumed in a slow, meditative voice, “that you are, with
the possible exception of a Mr. Edelweiss, THE most awful snob I have ever
met.”



The Duke looked back over his shoulder. He gave Zuleika the stinging
reprimand of silence. She was sorry, and showed it in her eyes. She felt
she had gone too far. True, he was nothing to her now. But she had loved
him once. She could not forget that.



“Come!” she said. “Let us be good friends. Give me your hand!” He came to
her, slowly. “There!”



The Duke withdrew his fingers before she unclasped them. That twice-flung
taunt rankled still. It was monstrous to have been called a snob. A snob!—he,
whose readiness to form what would certainly be regarded as a shocking
misalliance ought to have stifled the charge, not merely vindicated him
from it! He had forgotten, in the blindness of his love, how shocking the
misalliance would be. Perhaps she, unloving, had not been so forgetful?
Perhaps her refusal had been made, generously, for his own sake. Nay,
rather for her own. Evidently, she had felt that the high sphere from
which he beckoned was no place for the likes of her. Evidently, she feared
she would pine away among those strange splendours, never be acclimatised,
always be unworthy. He had thought to overwhelm her, and he had done his
work too thoroughly. Now he must try to lighten the load he had imposed.



Seating himself opposite to her, “You remember,” he said, “that there is a
dairy at Tankerton?”



“A dairy? Oh yes.”



“Do you remember what it is called?”



Zuleika knit her brows.



He helped her out. “It is called ‘Her Grace’s’.”



“Oh, of course!” said Zuleika.



“Do you know WHY it is called so?”



“Well, let’s see... I know you told me.”



“Did I? I think not. I will tell you now... That cool out-house dates from
the middle of the eighteenth century. My great-great-grandfather, when he
was a very old man, married en troisiemes noces a dairy-maid on the
Tankerton estate. Meg Speedwell was her name. He had seen her walking
across a field, not many months after the interment of his second Duchess,
Maria, that great and gifted lady. I know not whether it was that her
bonny mien fanned in him some embers of his youth, or that he was loth to
be outdone in gracious eccentricity by his crony the Duke of Dewlap, who
himself had just taken a bride from a dairy. (You have read Meredith’s
account of that affair? No? You should.) Whether it was veritable love or
mere modishness that formed my ancestor’s resolve, presently the bells
were ringing out, and the oldest elm in the park was being felled, in Meg
Speedwell’s honour, and the children were strewing daisies on which Meg
Speedwell trod, a proud young hoyden of a bride, with her head in the air
and her heart in the seventh heaven. The Duke had given her already a
horde of fine gifts; but these, he had said, were nothing—trash in
comparison with the gift that was to ensure for her a perdurable felicity.
After the wedding-breakfast, when all the squires had ridden away on their
cobs, and all the squires’ ladies in their coaches, the Duke led his bride
forth from the hall, leaning on her arm, till they came to a little
edifice of new white stone, very spick and span, with two lattice-windows
and a bright green door between. This he bade her enter. A-flutter with
excitement, she turned the handle. In a moment she flounced back, red with
shame and anger—flounced forth from the fairest, whitest, dapperest
dairy, wherein was all of the best that the keenest dairy-maid might need.
The Duke bade her dry her eyes, for that it ill befitted a great lady to
be weeping on her wedding-day. ‘As for gratitude,’ he chuckled, ‘zounds!
that is a wine all the better for the keeping.’ Duchess Meg soon forgot
this unworthy wedding-gift, such was her rapture in the other, the so
august, appurtenances of her new life. What with her fine silk gowns and
farthingales, and her powder-closet, and the canopied bed she slept in—a
bed bigger far than the room she had slept in with her sisters, and
standing in a room far bigger than her father’s cottage; and what with
Betty, her maid, who had pinched and teased her at the village-school, but
now waited on her so meekly and trembled so fearfully at a scolding; and
what with the fine hot dishes that were set before her every day, and the
gallant speeches and glances of the fine young gentlemen whom the Duke
invited from London, Duchess Meg was quite the happiest Duchess in all
England. For a while, she was like a child in a hay-rick. But anon, as the
sheer delight of novelty wore away, she began to take a more serious view
of her position. She began to realise her responsibilities. She was
determined to do all that a great lady ought to do. Twice every day she
assumed the vapours. She schooled herself in the mysteries of Ombre, of
Macao. She spent hours over the tambour-frame. She rode out on horse-back,
with a riding-master. She had a music-master to teach her the spinet; a
dancing-master, too, to teach her the Minuet and the Triumph and the
Gaudy. All these accomplishments she found mighty hard. She was afraid of
her horse. All the morning, she dreaded the hour when it would be brought
round from the stables. She dreaded her dancing-lesson. Try as she would,
she could but stamp her feet flat on the parquet, as though it had been
the village-green. She dreaded her music-lesson. Her fingers, disobedient
to her ambition, clumsily thumped the keys of the spinet, and by the notes
of the score propped up before her she was as cruelly perplexed as by the
black and red pips of the cards she conned at the gaming-table, or by the
red and gold threads that were always straying and snapping on her
tambour-frame. Still she persevered. Day in, day out, sullenly, she worked
hard to be a great lady. But skill came not to her, and hope dwindled;
only the dull effort remained. One accomplishment she did master—to
wit, the vapours: they became for her a dreadful reality. She lost her
appetite for the fine hot dishes. All night long she lay awake, restless,
tearful, under the fine silk canopy, till dawn stared her into slumber.
She seldom scolded Betty. She who had been so lusty and so blooming saw in
her mirror that she was pale and thin now; and the fine young gentlemen,
seeing it too, paid more heed now to their wine and their dice than to
her. And always, when she met him, the Duke smiled the same mocking smile.
Duchess Meg was pining slowly and surely away... One morning, in
Spring-time, she altogether vanished. Betty, bringing the cup of chocolate
to the bedside, found the bed empty. She raised the alarm among her
fellows. They searched high and low. Nowhere was their mistress. The news
was broken to their master, who, without comment, rose, bade his man dress
him, and presently walked out to the place where he knew he would find
her. And there, to be sure, she was, churning, churning for dear life. Her
sleeves were rolled above her elbows, and her skirt was kilted high; and,
as she looked back over her shoulder and saw the Duke, there was the flush
of roses in her cheeks, and the light of a thousand thanks in her eyes.
‘Oh,’ she cried, ‘what a curtsey I would drop you, but that to let go the
handle were to spoil all!’ And every morning, ever after, she woke when
the birds woke, rose when they rose, and went singing through the dawn to
the dairy, there to practise for her pleasure that sweet and lowly
handicraft which she had once practised for her need. And every evening,
with her milking-stool under her arm, and her milk-pail in her hand, she
went into the field and called the cows to her, as she had been wont to
do. To those other, those so august, accomplishments she no more
pretended. She gave them the go-by. And all the old zest and joyousness of
her life came back to her. Soundlier than ever slept she, and sweetlier
dreamed, under the fine silk canopy, till the birds called her to her
work. Greater than ever was her love of the fine furbelows that were hers
to flaunt in, and sharper her appetite for the fine hot dishes, and more
tempestuous her scolding of Betty, poor maid. She was more than ever now
the cynosure, the adored, of the fine young gentlemen. And as for her
husband, she looked up to him as the wisest, kindest man in all the
world.”



“And the fine young gentlemen,” said Zuleika, “did she fall in love with
any of them?”



“You forget,” said the Duke coldly, “she was married to a member of my
family.”



“Oh, I beg your pardon. But tell me: did they ALL adore her?”



“Yes. Every one of them, wildly, madly.”



“Ah,” murmured Zuleika, with a smile of understanding. A shadow crossed
her face, “Even so,” she said, with some pique, “I don’t suppose she had
so very many adorers. She never went out into the world.”



“Tankerton,” said the Duke drily, “is a large house, and my
great-great-grandfather was the most hospitable of men. However,” he
added, marvelling that she had again missed the point so utterly, “my
purpose was not to confront you with a past rival in conquest, but to set
at rest a fear which I had, I think, roused in you by my somewhat full
description of the high majestic life to which you, as my bride, would be
translated.”



“A fear? What sort of a fear?”



“That you would not breathe freely—that you would starve (if I may
use a somewhat fantastic figure) among those strawberry-leaves. And so I
told you the story of Meg Speedwell, and how she lived happily ever after.
Nay, hear me out! The blood of Meg Speedwell’s lord flows in my veins. I
think I may boast that I have inherited something of his sagacity. In any
case, I can profit by his example. Do not fear that I, if you were to wed
me, should demand a metamorphosis of your present self. I should take you
as you are, gladly. I should encourage you to be always exactly as you are—a
radiant, irresistible member of the upper middle-class, with a certain
freedom of manner acquired through a life of peculiar liberty. Can you
guess what would be my principal wedding-gift to you? Meg Speedwell had
her dairy. For you, would be built another outhouse—a neat hall
wherein you would perform your conjuring-tricks, every evening except
Sunday, before me and my tenants and my servants, and before such of my
neighbours as might care to come. None would respect you the less, seeing
that I approved. Thus in you would the pleasant history of Meg Speedwell
repeat itself. You, practising for your pleasure—nay, hear me out!—that
sweet and lowly handicraft which—”



“I won’t listen to another word!” cried Zuleika. “You are the most
insolent person I have ever met. I happen to come of a particularly good
family. I move in the best society. My manners are absolutely perfect. If
I found myself in the shoes of twenty Duchesses simultaneously, I should
know quite well how to behave. As for the one pair you can offer me, I
kick them away—so. I kick them back at you. I tell you—”



“Hush,” said the Duke, “hush! You are over-excited. There will be a crowd
under my window. There, there! I am sorry. I thought—”



“Oh, I know what you thought,” said Zuleika, in a quieter tone. “I am sure
you meant well. I am sorry I lost my temper. Only, you might have given me
credit for meaning what I said: that I would not marry you, because I did
not love you. I daresay there would be great advantages in being your
Duchess. But the fact is, I have no worldly wisdom. To me, marriage is a
sacrament. I could no more marry a man about whom I could not make a fool
of myself than I could marry one who made a fool of himself about me. Else
had I long ceased to be a spinster. Oh my friend, do not imagine that I
have not rejected, in my day, a score of suitors quite as eligible as
you.”



“As eligible? Who were they?” frowned the Duke.



“Oh, Archduke this, and Grand Duke that, and His Serene Highness the
other. I have a wretched memory for names.”



“And my name, too, will soon escape you, perhaps?”



“No. Oh, no. I shall always remember yours. You see, I was in love with
you. You deceived me into loving you...” She sighed. “Oh, had you but been
as strong as I thought you... Still, a swain the more. That is something.”
She leaned forward, smiling archly. “Those studs—show me them
again.”



The Duke displayed them in the hollow of his hand. She touched them
lightly, reverently, as a tourist touches a sacred relic in a church.



At length, “Do give me them,” she said. “I will keep them in a little
secret partition of my jewel-case.” The Duke had closed his fist. “Do!”
she pleaded. “My other jewels—they have no separate meanings for me.
I never remember who gave me this one or that. These would be quite
different. I should always remember their history... Do!”



“Ask me for anything else,” said the Duke. “These are the one thing I
could not part with—even to you, for whose sake they are hallowed.”



Zuleika pouted. On the verge of persisting, she changed her mind, and was
silent.



“Well!” she said abruptly, “how about these races? Are you going to take
me to see them?”



“Races? What races?” murmured the Duke. “Oh yes. I had forgotten. Do you
really mean that you want to see them?”



“Why, of course! They are great fun, aren’t they?”



“And you are in a mood for great fun? Well, there is plenty of time. The
Second Division is not rowed till half-past four.”



“The Second Division? Why not take me to the First?”



“That is not rowed till six.”



“Isn’t this rather an odd arrangement?”



“No doubt. But Oxford never pretended to be strong in mathematics.”



“Why, it’s not yet three!” cried Zuleika, with a woebegone stare at the
clock. “What is to be done in the meantime?”



“Am not I sufficiently diverting?” asked the Duke bitterly.



“Quite candidly, no. Have you any friend lodging with you here?”



“One, overhead. A man named Noaks.”



“A small man, with spectacles?”



“Very small, with very large spectacles.”



“He was pointed out to me yesterday, as I was driving from the Station ...
No, I don’t think I want to meet him. What can you have in common with
him?”



“One frailty, at least: he, too, Miss Dobson, loves you.”



“But of course he does. He saw me drive past. Very few of the others,” she
said, rising and shaking herself, “have set eyes on me. Do let us go out
and look at the Colleges. I do need change of scene. If you were a doctor,
you would have prescribed that long ago. It is very bad for me to be here,
a kind of Cinderella, moping over the ashes of my love for you. Where is
your hat?”



Looking round, she caught sight of herself in the glass. “Oh,” she cried,
“what a fright I do look! I must never be seen like this!”



“You look very beautiful.”



“I don’t. That is a lover’s illusion. You yourself told me that this
tartan was perfectly hideous. There was no need to tell me that. I came
thus because I was coming to see you. I chose this frock in the deliberate
fear that you, if I made myself presentable, might succumb at second sight
of me. I would have sent out for a sack and dressed myself in that, I
would have blacked my face all over with burnt cork, only I was afraid of
being mobbed on the way to you.”



“Even so, you would but have been mobbed for your incorrigible beauty.”



“My beauty! How I hate it!” sighed Zuleika. “Still, here it is, and I must
needs make the best of it. Come! Take me to Judas. I will change my
things. Then I shall be fit for the races.”



As these two emerged, side by side, into the street, the Emperors
exchanged stony sidelong glances. For they saw the more than normal pallor
of the Duke’s face, and something very like desperation in his eyes. They
saw the tragedy progressing to its foreseen close. Unable to stay its
course, they were grimly fascinated now.














VI



“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with
their bones.” At any rate, the sinner has a better chance than the saint
of being hereafter remembered. We, in whom original sin preponderates,
find him easier to understand. He is near to us, clear to us. The saint is
remote, dim. A very great saint may, of course, be remembered through some
sheer force of originality in him; and then the very mystery that involves
him for us makes him the harder to forget: he haunts us the more surely
because we shall never understand him. But the ordinary saints grow faint
to posterity; whilst quite ordinary sinners pass vividly down the ages.



Of the disciples of Jesus, which is he that is most often remembered and
cited by us? Not the disciple whom Jesus loved; neither of the Boanerges,
nor any other of them who so steadfastly followed Him and served Him; but
the disciple who betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver. Judas Iscariot
it is who outstands, overshadowing those other fishermen. And perhaps it
was by reason of this precedence that Christopher Whitrid, Knight, in the
reign of Henry VI., gave the name of Judas to the College which he had
founded. Or perhaps it was because he felt that in a Christian community
not even the meanest and basest of men should be accounted beneath
contempt, beyond redemption.



At any rate, thus he named his foundation. And, though for Oxford men the
savour of the name itself has long evaporated through its local connexion,
many things show that for the Founder himself it was no empty vocable. In
a niche above the gate stands a rudely carved statue of Judas, holding a
money-bag in his right hand. Among the original statutes of the College is
one by which the Bursar is enjoined to distribute in Passion Week thirty
pieces of silver among the needier scholars “for saike of atonynge.” The
meadow adjoining the back of the College has been called from time
immemorial “the Potter’s Field.” And the name of Salt Cellar is not less
ancient and significant.



Salt Cellar, that grey and green quadrangle visible from the room assigned
to Zuleika, is very beautiful, as I have said. So tranquil is it as to
seem remote not merely from the world, but even from Oxford, so deeply is
it hidden away in the core of Oxford’s heart. So tranquil is it, one would
guess that nothing had ever happened in it. For five centuries these walls
have stood, and during that time have beheld, one would say, no sight less
seemly than the good work of weeding, mowing, rolling, that has made, at
length, so exemplary the lawn. These cloisters that grace the south and
east sides—five centuries have passed through them, leaving in them
no echo, leaving on them no sign, of all that the outer world, for good or
evil, has been doing so fiercely, so raucously.



And yet, if you are versed in the antiquities of Oxford, you know that
this small, still quadrangle has played its part in the rough-and-tumble
of history, and has been the background of high passions and strange
fates. The sun-dial in its midst has told the hours to more than one
bygone King. Charles I. lay for twelve nights in Judas; and it was here,
in this very quadrangle, that he heard from the lips of a breathless and
blood-stained messenger the news of Chalgrove Field. Sixty years later,
James, his son, came hither, black with threats, and from one of the
hind-windows of the Warden’s house—maybe, from the very room where
now Zuleika was changing her frock—addressed the Fellows, and
presented to them the Papist by him chosen to be their Warden, instead of
the Protestant whom they had elected. They were not of so stern a stuff as
the Fellows of Magdalen, who, despite His Majesty’s menaces, had just
rejected Bishop Farmer. The Papist was elected, there and then, al fresco,
without dissent. Cannot one see them, these Fellows of Judas, huddled
together round the sun-dial, like so many sheep in a storm? The King’s
wrath, according to a contemporary record, was so appeased by their
pliancy that he deigned to lie for two nights in Judas, and at a grand
refection in Hall “was gracious and merrie.” Perhaps it was in lingering
gratitude for such patronage that Judas remained so pious to his memory
even after smug Herrenhausen had been dumped down on us for ever.
Certainly, of all the Colleges none was more ardent than Judas for James
Stuart. Thither it was that young Sir Harry Esson led, under cover of
night, three-score recruits whom he had enlisted in the surrounding
villages. The cloisters of Salt Cellar were piled with arms and stores;
and on its grass—its sacred grass!—the squad was incessantly
drilled, against the good day when Ormond should land his men in Devon.
For a whole month Salt Cellar was a secret camp. But somehow, at length—woe
to “lost causes and impossible loyalties”—Herrenhausen had wind of
it; and one night, when the soldiers of the white cockade lay snoring
beneath the stars, stealthily the white-faced Warden unbarred his postern—that
very postern through which now Zuleika had passed on the way to her
bedroom—and stealthily through it, one by one on tip-toe, came the
King’s foot-guards. Not many shots rang out, nor many swords clashed, in
the night air, before the trick was won for law and order. Most of the
rebels were overpowered in their sleep; and those who had time to snatch
arms were too dazed to make good resistance. Sir Harry Esson himself was
the only one who did not live to be hanged. He had sprung up alert, sword
in hand, at the first alarm, setting his back to the cloisters. There he
fought calmly, ferociously, till a bullet went through his chest. “By God,
this College is well-named!” were the words he uttered as he fell forward
and died.



Comparatively tame was the scene now being enacted in this place. The
Duke, with bowed head, was pacing the path between the lawn and the
cloisters. Two other undergraduates stood watching him, whispering to each
other, under the archway that leads to the Front Quadrangle. Presently, in
a sheepish way, they approached him. He halted and looked up.



“I say,” stammered the spokesman.



“Well?” asked the Duke. Both youths were slightly acquainted with him; but
he was not used to being spoken to by those whom he had not first
addressed. Moreover, he was loth to be thus disturbed in his sombre
reverie. His manner was not encouraging.



“Isn’t it a lovely day for the Eights?” faltered the spokesman.



“I conceive,” the Duke said, “that you hold back some other question.”



The spokesman smiled weakly. Nudged by the other, he muttered “Ask him
yourself!”



The Duke diverted his gaze to the other, who, with an angry look at the
one, cleared his throat, and said “I was going to ask if you thought Miss
Dobson would come and have luncheon with me to-morrow?”



“A sister of mine will be there,” explained the one, knowing the Duke to
be a precisian.



“If you are acquainted with Miss Dobson, a direct invitation should be
sent to her,” said the Duke. “If you are not—” The aposiopesis was
icy.



“Well, you see,” said the other of the two, “that is just the difficulty.
I AM acquainted with her. But is she acquainted with ME? I met her at
breakfast this morning, at the Warden’s.”



“So did I,” added the one.



“But she—well,” continued the other, “she didn’t take much notice of
us. She seemed to be in a sort of dream.”



“Ah!” murmured the Duke, with melancholy interest.



“The only time she opened her lips,” said the other, “was when she asked
us whether we took tea or coffee.”



“She put hot milk in my tea,” volunteered the one, “and upset the cup over
my hand, and smiled vaguely.”



“And smiled vaguely,” sighed the Duke.



“She left us long before the marmalade stage,” said the one.



“Without a word,” said the other.



“Without a glance?” asked the Duke. It was testified by the one and the
other that there had been not so much as a glance.



“Doubtless,” the disingenuous Duke said, “she had a headache... Was she
pale?”



“Very pale,” answered the one.



“A healthy pallor,” qualified the other, who was a constant reader of
novels.



“Did she look,” the Duke inquired, “as if she had spent a sleepless
night?”



That was the impression made on both.



“Yet she did not seem listless or unhappy?”



No, they would not go so far as to say that.



“Indeed, were her eyes of an almost unnatural brilliance?”



“Quite unnatural,” confessed the one.



“Twin stars,” interpolated the other.



“Did she, in fact, seem to be consumed by some inward rapture?”



Yes, now they came to think of it, this was exactly how she HAD seemed.



It was sweet, it was bitter, for the Duke. “I remember,” Zuleika had said
to him, “nothing that happened to me this morning till I found myself at
your door.” It was bitter-sweet to have that outline filled in by these
artless pencils. No, it was only bitter, to be, at his time of life,
living in the past.



“The purpose of your tattle?” he asked coldly.



The two youths hurried to the point from which he had diverted them. “When
she went by with you just now,” said the one, “she evidently didn’t know
us from Adam.”



“And I had so hoped to ask her to luncheon,” said the other.



“Well?”



“Well, we wondered if you would re-introduce us. And then perhaps...”



There was a pause. The Duke was touched to kindness for these
fellow-lovers. He would fain preserve them from the anguish that beset
himself. So humanising is sorrow.



“You are in love with Miss Dobson?” he asked.



Both nodded.



“Then,” said he, “you will in time be thankful to me for not affording you
further traffic with that lady. To love and be scorned—does Fate
hold for us a greater inconvenience? You think I beg the question? Let me
tell you that I, too, love Miss Dobson, and that she scorns me.”



To the implied question “What chance would there be for you?” the reply
was obvious.



Amazed, abashed, the two youths turned on their heels.



“Stay!” said the Duke. “Let me, in justice to myself, correct an inference
you may have drawn. It is not by reason of any defect in myself, perceived
or imagined, that Miss Dobson scorns me. She scorns me simply because I
love her. All who love her she scorns. To see her is to love her.
Therefore shut your eyes to her. Strictly exclude her from your horizon.
Ignore her. Will you do this?”



“We will try,” said the one, after a pause.



“Thank you very much,” added the other.



The Duke watched them out of sight. He wished he could take the good
advice he had given them... Suppose he did take it! Suppose he went to the
Bursar, obtained an exeat, fled straight to London! What just humiliation
for Zuleika to come down and find her captive gone! He pictured her
staring around the quadrangle, ranging the cloisters, calling to him. He
pictured her rustling to the gate of the College, inquiring at the
porter’s lodge. “His Grace, Miss, he passed through a minute ago. He’s
going down this afternoon.”



Yet, even while his fancy luxuriated in this scheme, he well knew that he
would not accomplish anything of the kind—knew well that he would
wait here humbly, eagerly, even though Zuleika lingered over her toilet
till crack o’ doom. He had no desire that was not centred in her. Take
away his love for her, and what remained? Nothing—though only in the
past twenty-four hours had this love been added to him. Ah, why had he
ever seen her? He thought of his past, its cold splendour and insouciance.
But he knew that for him there was no returning. His boats were burnt. The
Cytherean babes had set their torches to that flotilla, and it had blazed
like match-wood. On the isle of the enchantress he was stranded for ever.
For ever stranded on the isle of an enchantress who would have nothing to
do with him! What, he wondered, should be done in so piteous a quandary?
There seemed to be two courses. One was to pine slowly and painfully away.
The other...



Academically, the Duke had often reasoned that a man for whom life holds
no chance of happiness cannot too quickly shake life off. Now, of a
sudden, there was for that theory a vivid application.



“Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer” was not a point by which he,
“more an antique Roman than a Dane,” was at all troubled. Never had he
given ear to that cackle which is called Public Opinion. The judgment of
his peers—this, he had often told himself, was the sole arbitrage he
could submit to; but then, who was to be on the bench? Peerless, he was
irresponsible—the captain of his soul, the despot of his future. No
injunction but from himself would he bow to; and his own injunctions—so
little Danish was he—had always been peremptory and lucid. Lucid and
peremptory, now, the command he issued to himself.



“So sorry to have been so long,” carolled a voice from above. The Duke
looked up. “I’m all but ready,” said Zuleika at her window.



That brief apparition changed the colour of his resolve. He realised that
to die for love of this lady would be no mere measure of precaution, or
counsel of despair. It would be in itself a passionate indulgence—a
fiery rapture, not to be foregone. What better could he ask than to die
for his love? Poor indeed seemed to him now the sacrament of marriage
beside the sacrament of death. Death was incomparably the greater, the
finer soul. Death was the one true bridal.



He flung back his head, spread wide his arms, quickened his pace almost to
running speed. Ah, he would win his bride before the setting of the sun.
He knew not by what means he would win her. Enough that even now,
full-hearted, fleet-footed, he was on his way to her, and that she heard
him coming.



When Zuleika, a vision in vaporous white, came out through the postern,
she wondered why he was walking at so remarkable a pace. To him, wildly
expressing in his movement the thought within him, she appeared as his
awful bride. With a cry of joy, he bounded towards her, and would have
caught her in his arms, had she not stepped nimbly aside.



“Forgive me!” he said, after a pause. “It was a mistake—an idiotic
mistake of identity. I thought you were...”



Zuleika, rigid, asked “Have I many doubles?”



“You know well that in all the world is none so blest as to be like you. I
can only say that I was over-wrought. I can only say that it shall not
occur again.”



She was very angry indeed. Of his penitence there could be no doubt. But
there are outrages for which no penitence can atone. This seemed to be one
of them. Her first impulse was to dismiss the Duke forthwith and for ever.
But she wanted to show herself at the races. And she could not go alone.
And except the Duke there was no one to take her. True, there was the
concert to-night; and she could show herself there to advantage; but she
wanted ALL Oxford to see her—see her NOW.



“I am forgiven?” he asked. In her, I am afraid, self-respect outweighed
charity. “I will try,” she said merely, “to forget what you have done.”
Motioning him to her side, she opened her parasol, and signified her
readiness to start.



They passed together across the vast gravelled expanse of the Front
Quadrangle. In the porch of the College there were, as usual, some
chained-up dogs, patiently awaiting their masters. Zuleika, of course, did
not care for dogs. One has never known a good man to whom dogs were not
dear; but many of the best women have no such fondness. You will find that
the woman who is really kind to dogs is always one who has failed to
inspire sympathy in men. For the attractive woman, dogs are mere dumb and
restless brutes—possibly dangerous, certainly soulless. Yet will
coquetry teach her to caress any dog in the presence of a man enslaved by
her. Even Zuleika, it seems, was not above this rather obvious device for
awaking envy. Be sure she did not at all like the look of the very big
bulldog who was squatting outside the porter’s lodge. Perhaps, but for her
present anger, she would not have stooped endearingly down to him, as she
did, cooing over him and trying to pat his head. Alas, her pretty act was
a failure. The bulldog cowered away from her, horrifically grimacing. This
was strange. Like the majority of his breed, Corker (for such was his
name) had ever been wistful to be noticed by any one—effusively
grateful for every word or pat, an ever-ready wagger and nuzzler, to none
ineffable. No beggar, no burglar, had ever been rebuffed by this catholic
beast. But he drew the line at Zuleika.



Seldom is even a fierce bulldog heard to growl. Yet Corker growled at
Zuleika.














VII



The Duke did not try to break the stony silence in which Zuleika walked.
Her displeasure was a luxury to him, for it was so soon to be dispelled. A
little while, and she would be hating herself for her pettiness. Here was
he, going to die for her; and here was she, blaming him for a breach of
manners. Decidedly, the slave had the whip-hand. He stole a sidelong look
at her, and could not repress a smile. His features quickly composed
themselves. The Triumph of Death must not be handled as a cheap score. He
wanted to die because he would thereby so poignantly consummate his love,
express it so completely, once and for all... And she—who could say
that she, knowing what he had done, might not, illogically, come to love
him? Perhaps she would devote her life to mourning him. He saw her bending
over his tomb, in beautiful humble curves, under a starless sky, watering
the violets with her tears.



Shades of Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel and other despicable maunderers!
He brushed them aside. He would be practical. The point was, when and how
to die? Time: the sooner the better. Manner:.. less easy to determine. He
must not die horribly, nor without dignity. The manner of the Roman
philosophers? But the only kind of bath which an undergraduate can command
is a hip-bath. Stay! there was the river. Drowning (he had often heard)
was a rather pleasant sensation. And to the river he was even now on his
way.



It troubled him that he could swim. Twice, indeed, from his yacht, he had
swum the Hellespont. And how about the animal instinct of
self-preservation, strong even in despair? No matter! His soul’s set
purpose would subdue that. The law of gravitation that brings one to the
surface? There his very skill in swimming would help him. He would swim
under water, along the river-bed, swim till he found weeds to cling to,
weird strong weeds that he would coil round him, exulting faintly...



As they turned into Radcliffe Square, the Duke’s ear caught the sound of a
far-distant gun. He started, and looked up at the clock of St. Mary’s.
Half-past four! The boats had started.



He had heard that whenever a woman was to blame for a disappointment, the
best way to avoid a scene was to inculpate oneself. He did not wish
Zuleika to store up yet more material for penitence. And so “I am sorry,”
he said. “That gun—did you hear it? It was the signal for the race.
I shall never forgive myself.”



“Then we shan’t see the race at all?” cried Zuleika.



“It will be over, alas, before we are near the river. All the people will
be coming back through the meadows.”



“Let us meet them.”



“Meet a torrent? Let us have tea in my rooms and go down quietly for the
other Division.”



“Let us go straight on.”



Through the square, across the High, down Grove Street, they passed. The
Duke looked up at the tower of Merton, “os oupot authis alla nyn
paunstaton.” Strange that to-night it would still be standing here, in all
its sober and solid beauty—still be gazing, over the roofs and
chimneys, at the tower of Magdalen, its rightful bride. Through untold
centuries of the future it would stand thus, gaze thus. He winced. Oxford
walls have a way of belittling us; and the Duke was loth to regard his
doom as trivial.



Aye, by all minerals we are mocked. Vegetables, yearly deciduous, are far
more sympathetic. The lilac and laburnum, making lovely now the railed
pathway to Christ Church meadow, were all a-swaying and a-nodding to the
Duke as he passed by. “Adieu, adieu, your Grace,” they were whispering.
“We are very sorry for you—very sorry indeed. We never dared suppose
you would predecease us. We think your death a very great tragedy. Adieu!
Perhaps we shall meet in another world—that is, if the members of
the animal kingdom have immortal souls, as we have.”



The Duke was little versed in their language; yet, as he passed between
these gently garrulous blooms, he caught at least the drift of their
salutation, and smiled a vague but courteous acknowledgment, to the right
and the left alternately, creating a very favourable impression.



No doubt, the young elms lining the straight way to the barges had seen
him coming; but any whispers of their leaves were lost in the murmur of
the crowd returning from the race. Here, at length, came the torrent of
which the Duke had spoken; and Zuleika’s heart rose at it. Here was
Oxford! From side to side the avenue was filled with a dense procession of
youths—youths interspersed with maidens whose parasols were as
flotsam and jetsam on a seething current of straw hats. Zuleika neither
quickened nor slackened her advance. But brightlier and brightlier shone
her eyes.



The vanguard of the procession was pausing now, swaying, breaking at sight
of her. She passed, imperial, through the way cloven for her. All a-down
the avenue, the throng parted as though some great invisible comb were
being drawn through it. The few youths who had already seen Zuleika, and
by whom her beauty had been bruited throughout the University, were lost
in a new wonder, so incomparably fairer was she than the remembered
vision. And the rest hardly recognised her from the descriptions, so
incomparably fairer was the reality than the hope.



She passed among them. None questioned the worthiness of her escort. Could
I give you better proof the awe in which our Duke was held? Any man is
glad to be seen escorting a very pretty woman. He thinks it adds to his
prestige. Whereas, in point of fact, his fellow-men are saying merely
“Who’s that appalling fellow with her?” or “Why does she go about with
that ass So-and-So?” Such cavil may in part be envy. But it is a fact that
no man, howsoever graced, can shine in juxtaposition to a very pretty
woman. The Duke himself cut a poor figure beside Zuleika. Yet not one of
all the undergraduates felt she could have made a wiser choice.



She swept among them. Her own intrinsic radiance was not all that flashed
from her. She was a moving reflector and refractor of all the rays of all
the eyes that mankind had turned on her. Her mien told the story of her
days. Bright eyes, light feet—she trod erect from a vista whose
glare was dazzling to all beholders. She swept among them, a miracle,
overwhelming, breath-bereaving. Nothing at all like her had ever been seen
in Oxford.



Mainly architectural, the beauties of Oxford. True, the place is no longer
one-sexed. There are the virguncules of Somerville and Lady Margaret’s
Hall; but beauty and the lust for learning have yet to be allied. There
are the innumerable wives and daughters around the Parks, running in and
out of their little red-brick villas; but the indignant shade of celibacy
seems to have called down on the dons a Nemesis which precludes them from
either marrying beauty or begetting it. (From the Warden’s son, that
unhappy curate, Zuleika inherited no tittle of her charm. Some of it,
there is no doubt, she did inherit from the circus-rider who was her
mother.)



But the casual feminine visitors? Well, the sisters and cousins of an
undergraduate seldom seem more passable to his comrades than to himself.
Altogether, the instinct of sex is not pandered to in Oxford. It is not,
however, as it may once have been, dormant. The modern importation of
samples of femininity serves to keep it alert, though not to gratify it. A
like result is achieved by another modern development—photography.
The undergraduate may, and usually does, surround himself with photographs
of pretty ladies known to the public. A phantom harem! Yet the houris have
an effect on their sultan. Surrounded both by plain women of flesh and
blood and by beauteous women on pasteboard, the undergraduate is the
easiest victim of living loveliness—is as a fire ever well and truly
laid, amenable to a spark. And if the spark be such a flaring torch as
Zuleika?—marvel not, reader, at the conflagration.



Not only was the whole throng of youths drawing asunder before her: much
of it, as she passed, was forming up in her wake. Thus, with the
confluence of two masses—one coming away from the river, the other
returning to it—chaos seethed around her and the Duke before they
were half-way along the avenue. Behind them, and on either side of them,
the people were crushed inextricably together, swaying and surging this
way and that. “Help!” cried many a shrill feminine voice. “Don’t push!”
“Let me out!” “You brute!” “Save me, save me!” Many ladies fainted, whilst
their escorts, supporting them and protecting them as best they could,
peered over the heads of their fellows for one glimpse of the divine Miss
Dobson. Yet for her and the Duke, in the midst of the terrific compress,
there was space enough. In front of them, as by a miracle of deference, a
way still cleared itself. They reached the end of the avenue without a
pause in their measured progress. Nor even when they turned to the left,
along the rather narrow path beside the barges, was there any obstacle to
their advance. Passing evenly forward, they alone were cool, unhustled,
undishevelled.



The Duke was so rapt in his private thoughts that he was hardly conscious
of the strange scene. And as for Zuleika, she, as well she might be, was
in the very best of good humours.



“What a lot of house-boats!” she exclaimed. “Are you going to take me on
to one of them?”



The Duke started. Already they were alongside the Judas barge. “Here,” he
said, “is our goal.”



He stepped through the gate of the railings, out upon the plank, and
offered her his hand.



She looked back. The young men in the vanguard were crushing their
shoulders against the row behind them, to stay the oncoming host. She had
half a mind to go back through the midst of them; but she really did want
her tea, and she followed the Duke on to the barge, and under his auspices
climbed the steps to the roof.



It looked very cool and gay, this roof, under its awning of red and white
stripes. Nests of red and white flowers depended along either side of it.
Zuleika moved to the side which commanded a view of the bank. She leaned
her arms on the balustrade, and gazed down.



The crowd stretched as far as she could see—a vista of faces
upturned to her. Suddenly it hove forward. Its vanguard was swept
irresistibly past the barge—swept by the desire of the rest to see
her at closer quarters. Such was the impetus that the vision for each man
was but a lightning-flash: he was whirled past, struggling, almost before
his brain took the message of his eyes.



Those who were Judas men made frantic efforts to board the barge, trying
to hurl themselves through the gate in the railings; but they were swept
vainly on.



Presently the torrent began to slacken, became a mere river, a mere
procession of youths staring up rather shyly.



Before the last stragglers had marched by, Zuleika moved away to the other
side of the roof, and, after a glance at the sunlit river, sank into one
of the wicker chairs, and asked the Duke to look less disagreeable and to
give her some tea.



Among others hovering near the little buffet were the two youths whose
parley with the Duke I have recorded.



Zuleika was aware of the special persistence of their gaze. When the Duke
came back with her cup, she asked him who they were. He replied,
truthfully enough, that their names were unknown to him.



“Then,” she said, “ask them their names, and introduce them to me.”



“No,” said the Duke, sinking into the chair beside her. “That I shall not
do. I am your victim: not your pander. Those two men stand on the
threshold of a possibly useful and agreeable career. I am not going to
trip them up for you.”



“I am not sure,” said Zuleika, “that you are very polite. Certainly you
are foolish. It is natural for boys to fall in love. If these two are in
love with me, why not let them talk to me? It were an experience on which
they would always look back with romantic pleasure. They may never see me
again. Why grudge them this little thing?” She sipped her tea. “As for
tripping them up on a threshold—that is all nonsense. What harm has
unrequited love ever done to anybody?” She laughed. “Look at ME! When I
came to your rooms this morning, thinking I loved in vain, did I seem one
jot the worse for it? Did I look different?”



“You looked, I am bound to say, nobler, more spiritual.”



“More spiritual?” she exclaimed. “Do you mean I looked tired or ill?”



“No, you seemed quite fresh. But then, you are singular. You are no
criterion.”



“You mean you can’t judge those two young men by me? Well, I am only a
woman, of course. I have heard of women, no longer young, wasting away
because no man loved them. I have often heard of a young woman fretting
because some particular young man didn’t love her. But I never heard of
her wasting away. Certainly a young man doesn’t waste away for love of
some particular young woman. He very soon makes love to some other one. If
his be an ardent nature, the quicker his transition. All the most ardent
of my past adorers have married. Will you put my cup down, please?”



“Past?” echoed the Duke, as he placed her cup on the floor. “Have any of
your lovers ceased to love you?”



“Ah no, no; not in retrospect. I remain their ideal, and all that, of
course. They cherish the thought of me. They see the world in terms of me.
But I am an inspiration, not an obsession; a glow, not a blight.”



“You don’t believe in the love that corrodes, the love that ruins?”



“No,” laughed Zuleika.



“You have never dipped into the Greek pastoral poets, nor sampled the
Elizabethan sonneteers?”



“No, never. You will think me lamentably crude: my experience of life has
been drawn from life itself.”



“Yet often you talk as though you had read rather much. Your way of speech
has what is called ‘the literary flavour’.”



“Ah, that is an unfortunate trick which I caught from a writer, a Mr.
Beerbohm, who once sat next to me at dinner somewhere. I can’t break
myself of it. I assure you I hardly ever open a book. Of life, though, my
experience has been very wide. Brief? But I suppose the soul of man during
the past two or three years has been much as it was in the reign of Queen
Elizabeth and of—whoever it was that reigned over the Greek
pastures. And I daresay the modern poets are making the same old silly
distortions. But forgive me,” she added gently, “perhaps you yourself are
a poet?”



“Only since yesterday,” answered the Duke (not less unfairly to himself
than to Roger Newdigate and Thomas Gaisford). And he felt he was
especially a dramatic poet. All the while that she had been sitting by him
here, talking so glibly, looking so straight into his eyes, flashing at
him so many pretty gestures, it was the sense of tragic irony that
prevailed in him—that sense which had stirred in him, and been
repressed, on the way from Judas. He knew that she was making her effect
consciously for the other young men by whom the roof of the barge was now
thronged. Him alone she seemed to observe. By her manner, she might have
seemed to be making love to him. He envied the men she was so deliberately
making envious—the men whom, in her undertone to him, she was really
addressing. But he did take comfort in the irony. Though she used him as a
stalking-horse, he, after all, was playing with her as a cat plays with a
mouse. While she chattered on, without an inkling that he was no ordinary
lover, and coaxing him to present two quite ordinary young men to her, he
held over her the revelation that he for love of her was about to die.



And, while he drank in the radiance of her beauty, he heard her chattering
on. “So you see,” she was saying, “it couldn’t do those young men any
harm. Suppose unrequited love IS anguish: isn’t the discipline wholesome?
Suppose I AM a sort of furnace: shan’t I purge, refine, temper? Those two
boys are but scorched from here. That is horrid; and what good will it do
them?” She laid a hand on his arm. “Cast them into the furnace for their
own sake, dear Duke! Or cast one of them, or,” she added, glancing round
at the throng, “any one of these others!”



“For their own sake?” he echoed, withdrawing his arm. “If you were not, as
the whole world knows you to be, perfectly respectable, there might be
something in what you say. But as it is, you can but be an engine for
mischief; and your sophistries leave me unmoved. I shall certainly keep
you to myself.”



“I hate you,” said Zuleika, with an ugly petulance that crowned the irony.



“So long as I live,” uttered the Duke, in a level voice, “you will address
no man but me.”



“If your prophecy is to be fulfilled,” laughed Zuleika, rising from her
chair, “your last moment is at hand.”



“It is,” he answered, rising too.



“What do you mean?” she asked, awed by something in his tone.



“I mean what I say: that my last moment is at hand.” He withdrew his eyes
from hers, and, leaning his elbows on the balustrade, gazed thoughtfully
at the river. “When I am dead,” he added, over his shoulder, “you will
find these fellows rather coy of your advances.”



For the first time since his avowal of his love for her, Zuleika found
herself genuinely interested in him. A suspicion of his meaning had
flashed through her soul.—But no! surely he could not mean THAT! It
must have been a metaphor merely. And yet, something in his eyes... She
leaned beside him. Her shoulder touched his. She gazed questioningly at
him. He did not turn his face to her. He gazed at the sunlit river.



The Judas Eight had just embarked for their voyage to the starting-point.
Standing on the edge of the raft that makes a floating platform for the
barge, William, the hoary bargee, was pushing them off with his boat-hook,
wishing them luck with deferential familiarity. The raft was thronged with
Old Judasians—mostly clergymen—who were shouting hearty
hortations, and evidently trying not to appear so old as they felt—or
rather, not to appear so startlingly old as their contemporaries looked to
them. It occurred to the Duke as a strange thing, and a thing to be glad
of, that he, in this world, would never be an Old Judasian. Zuleika’s
shoulder pressed his. He thrilled not at all. To all intents, he was dead
already.



The enormous eight young men in the thread-like skiff—the skiff that
would scarce have seemed an adequate vehicle for the tiny “cox” who sat
facing them—were staring up at Zuleika with that uniformity of
impulse which, in another direction, had enabled them to bump a boat on
two of the previous “nights.” If to-night they bumped the next boat,
Univ., then would Judas be three places “up” on the river; and to-morrow
Judas would have a Bump Supper. Furthermore, if Univ. were bumped
to-night, Magdalen might be bumped to-morrow. Then would Judas, for the
first time in history, be head of the river. Oh tremulous hope! Yet, for
the moment, these eight young men seemed to have forgotten the awful
responsibility that rested on their over-developed shoulders. Their
hearts, already strained by rowing, had been transfixed this afternoon by
Eros’ darts. All of them had seen Zuleika as she came down to the river;
and now they sat gaping up at her, fumbling with their oars. The tiny cox
gaped too; but he it was who first recalled duty. With piping adjurations
he brought the giants back to their senses. The boat moved away down
stream, with a fairly steady stroke.



Not in a day can the traditions of Oxford be sent spinning. From all the
barges the usual punt-loads of young men were being ferried across to the
towing-path—young men naked of knee, armed with rattles, post-horns,
motor-hooters, gongs, and other instruments of clangour. Though Zuleika
filled their thoughts, they hurried along the towing-path, as by custom,
to the starting-point.



She, meanwhile, had not taken her eyes off the Duke’s profile. Nor had she
dared, for fear of disappointment, to ask him just what he had meant.



“All these men,” he repeated dreamily, “will be coy of your advances.” It
seemed to him a good thing that his death, his awful example, would
disinfatuate his fellow alumni. He had never been conscious of public
spirit. He had lived for himself alone. Love had come to him yesternight,
and to-day had waked in him a sympathy with mankind. It was a fine thing
to be a saviour. It was splendid to be human. He looked quickly round to
her who had wrought this change in him.



But the loveliest face in all the world will not please you if you see it
suddenly, eye to eye, at a distance of half an inch from your own. It was
thus that the Duke saw Zuleika’s: a monstrous deliquium a-glare. Only for
the fraction of an instant, though. Recoiling, he beheld the loveliness
that he knew—more adorably vivid now in its look of eager
questioning. And in his every fibre he thrilled to her. Even so had she
gazed at him last night, this morning. Aye, now as then, her soul was full
of him. He had recaptured, not her love, but his power to please her. It
was enough. He bowed his head; and “Moriturus te saluto” were the words
formed silently by his lips. He was glad that his death would be a public
service to the University. But the salutary lesson of what the newspapers
would call his “rash act” was, after all, only a side-issue. The great
thing, the prospect that flushed his cheek, was the consummation of his
own love, for its own sake, by his own death. And, as he met her gaze, the
question that had already flitted through his brain found a faltering
utterance; and “Shall you mourn me?” he asked her.



But she would have no ellipses. “What are you going to do?” she whispered.



“Do you not know?”



“Tell me.”



“Once and for all: you cannot love me?”



Slowly she shook her head. The black pearl and the pink, quivering, gave
stress to her ultimatum. But the violet of her eyes was all but hidden by
the dilation of her pupils.



“Then,” whispered the Duke, “when I shall have died, deeming life a vain
thing without you, will the gods give you tears for me? Miss Dobson, will
your soul awaken? When I shall have sunk for ever beneath these waters
whose supposed purpose here this afternoon is but that they be ploughed by
the blades of these young oarsmen, will there be struck from that flint,
your heart, some late and momentary spark of pity for me?”



“Why of course, of COURSE!” babbled Zuleika, with clasped hands and
dazzling eyes. “But,” she curbed herself, “it is—it would—oh,
you mustn’t THINK of it! I couldn’t allow it! I—I should never
forgive myself!”



“In fact, you would mourn me always?”



“Why yes!.. Y-es-always.” What else could she say? But would his answer be
that he dared not condemn her to lifelong torment?



“Then,” his answer was, “my joy in dying for you is made perfect.”



Her muscles relaxed. Her breath escaped between her teeth. “You are
utterly resolved?” she asked. “Are you?”



“Utterly.”



“Nothing I might say could change your purpose?”



“Nothing.”



“No entreaty, howsoever piteous, could move you?”



“None.”



Forthwith she urged, entreated, cajoled, commanded, with infinite
prettiness of ingenuity and of eloquence. Never was such a cascade of
dissuasion as hers. She only didn’t say she could love him. She never
hinted that. Indeed, throughout her pleading rang this recurrent motif:
that he must live to take to himself as mate some good, serious, clever
woman who would be a not unworthy mother of his children.



She laid stress on his youth, his great position, his brilliant
attainments, the much he had already achieved, the splendid possibilities
of his future. Though of course she spoke in undertones, not to be
overheard by the throng on the barge, it was almost as though his health
were being floridly proposed at some public banquet—say, at a
Tenants’ Dinner. Insomuch that, when she ceased, the Duke half expected
Jellings, his steward, to bob up uttering, with lifted hands, a stentorian
“For-or,” and all the company to take up the chant: “he’s—a jolly
good fellow.” His brief reply, on those occasions, seemed always to
indicate that, whatever else he might be, a jolly good fellow he was not.
But by Zuleika’s eulogy he really was touched. “Thank you—thank
you,” he gasped; and there were tears in his eyes. Dear the thought that
she so revered him, so wished him not to die. But this was no more than a
rush-light in the austere radiance of his joy in dying for her.



And the time was come. Now for the sacrament of his immersion in infinity.



“Good-bye,” he said simply, and was about to swing himself on to the ledge
of the balustrade. Zuleika, divining his intention, made way for him. Her
bosom heaved quickly, quickly. All colour had left her face; but her eyes
shone as never before.



Already his foot was on the ledge, when hark! the sound of a distant gun.
To Zuleika, with all the chords of her soul strung to the utmost tensity,
the effect was as if she herself had been shot; and she clutched at the
Duke’s arm, like a frightened child. He laughed. “It was the signal for
the race,” he said, and laughed again, rather bitterly, at the crude and
trivial interruption of high matters.



“The race?” She laughed hysterically.



“Yes. ‘They’re off’.” He mingled his laughter with hers, gently seeking to
disengage his arm. “And perhaps,” he said, “I, clinging to the weeds of
the river’s bed, shall see dimly the boats and the oars pass over me, and
shall be able to gurgle a cheer for Judas.”



“Don’t!” she shuddered, with a woman’s notion that a jest means levity. A
tumult of thoughts surged in her, all confused. She only knew that he must
not die—not yet! A moment ago, his death would have been beautiful.
Not now! Her grip of his arm tightened. Only by breaking her wrist could
he have freed himself. A moment ago, she had been in the seventh-heaven...
Men were supposed to have died for love of her. It had never been proved.
There had always been something—card-debts, ill-health, what not—to
account for the tragedy. No man, to the best of her recollection, had ever
hinted that he was going to die for her. Never, assuredly, had she seen
the deed done. And then came he, the first man she had loved, going to die
here, before her eyes, because she no longer loved him. But she knew now
that he must not die—not yet!



All around her was the hush that falls on Oxford when the signal for the
race has sounded. In the distance could be heard faintly the noise of
cheering—a little sing-song sound, drawing nearer.



Ah, how could she have thought of letting him die so soon? She gazed into
his face—the face she might never have seen again. Even now, but for
that gun-shot, the waters would have closed over him, and his soul, maybe,
have passed away. She had saved him, thank heaven! She had him still with
her.



Gently, vainly, he still sought to unclasp her fingers from his arm.



“Not now!” she whispered. “Not yet!”



And the noise of the cheering, and of the trumpeting and rattling, as it
drew near, was an accompaniment to her joy in having saved her lover. She
would keep him with her—for a while! Let all be done in order. She
would savour the full sweetness of his sacrifice. Tomorrow—to-morrow,
yes, let him have his heart’s desire of death. Not now! Not yet!



“To-morrow,” she whispered, “to-morrow, if you will. Not yet!”



The first boat came jerking past in mid-stream; and the towing-path, with
its serried throng of runners, was like a live thing, keeping pace. As in
a dream, Zuleika saw it. And the din was in her ears. No heroine of Wagner
had ever a louder accompaniment than had ours to the surging soul within
her bosom.



And the Duke, tightly held by her, vibrated as to a powerful electric
current. He let her cling to him, and her magnetism range through him. Ah,
it was good not to have died! Fool, he had meant to drain off-hand, at one
coarse draught, the delicate wine of death. He would let his lips caress
the brim of the august goblet. He would dally with the aroma that was
there.



“So be it!” he cried into Zuleika’s ear—cried loudly, for it seemed
as though all the Wagnerian orchestras of Europe, with the Straussian ones
thrown in, were here to clash in unison the full volume of right music for
the glory of the reprieve.



The fact was that the Judas boat had just bumped Univ., exactly opposite
the Judas barge. The oarsmen in either boat sat humped, panting, some of
them rocking and writhing, after their wholesome exercise. But there was
not one of them whose eyes were not upcast at Zuleika. And the
vocalisation and instrumentation of the dancers and stampers on the
towing-path had by this time ceased to mean aught of joy in the victors or
of comfort for the vanquished, and had resolved itself into a wild
wordless hymn to the glory of Miss Dobson. Behind her and all around her
on the roof of the barge, young Judasians were venting in like manner
their hearts through their lungs. She paid no heed. It was as if she stood
alone with her lover on some silent pinnacle of the world. It was as if
she were a little girl with a brand-new and very expensive doll which had
banished all the little other old toys from her mind.



She simply could not, in her naive rapture, take her eyes off her
companion. To the dancers and stampers of the towing-path, many of whom
were now being ferried back across the river, and to the other youths on
the roof of the barge, Zuleika’s air of absorption must have seemed a
little strange. For already the news that the Duke loved Zuleika, and that
she loved him not, and would stoop to no man who loved her, had spread
like wild-fire among the undergraduates. The two youths in whom the Duke
had deigned to confide had not held their peace. And the effect that
Zuleika had made as she came down to the river was intensified by the
knowledge that not the great paragon himself did she deem worthy of her.
The mere sight of her had captured young Oxford. The news of her supernal
haughtiness had riveted the chains.



“Come!” said the Duke at length, staring around him with the eyes of one
awakened from a dream. “Come! I must take you back to Judas.”



“But you won’t leave me there?” pleaded Zuleika. “You will stay to dinner?
I am sure my grandfather would be delighted.”



“I am sure he would,” said the Duke, as he piloted her down the steps of
the barge. “But alas, I have to dine at the Junta to-night.”



“The Junta? What is that?”



“A little dining-club. It meets every Tuesday.”



“But—you don’t mean you are going to refuse me for that?”



“To do so is misery. But I have no choice. I have asked a guest.”



“Then ask another: ask me!” Zuleika’s notions of Oxford life were rather
hazy. It was with difficulty that the Duke made her realise that he could
not—not even if, as she suggested, she dressed herself up as a man—invite
her to the Junta. She then fell back on the impossibility that he would
not dine with her to-night, his last night in this world. She could not
understand that admirable fidelity to social engagements which is one of
the virtues implanted in the members of our aristocracy. Bohemian by
training and by career, she construed the Duke’s refusal as either a cruel
slight to herself or an act of imbecility. The thought of being parted
from her for one moment was torture to him; but “noblesse oblige,” and it
was quite impossible for him to break an engagement merely because a more
charming one offered itself: he would as soon have cheated at cards.



And so, as they went side by side up the avenue, in the mellow light of
the westering sun, preceded in their course, and pursued, and surrounded,
by the mob of hoarse infatuate youths, Zuleika’s face was as that of a
little girl sulking. Vainly the Duke reasoned with her. She could NOT see
the point of view.



With that sudden softening that comes to the face of an angry woman who
has hit on a good argument, she turned to him and asked “How if I hadn’t
saved your life just now? Much you thought about your guest when you were
going to dive and die!”



“I did not forget him,” answered the Duke, smiling at her casuistry. “Nor
had I any scruple in disappointing him. Death cancels all engagements.”



And Zuleika, worsted, resumed her sulking. But presently, as they neared
Judas, she relented. It was paltry to be cross with him who had resolved
to die for her and was going to die so on the morrow. And after all, she
would see him at the concert to-night. They would sit together. And all
to-morrow they would be together, till the time came for parting. Hers was
a naturally sunny disposition. And the evening was such a lovely one, all
bathed in gold. She was ashamed of her ill-humour.



“Forgive me,” she said, touching his arm. “Forgive me for being horrid.”
And forgiven she promptly was. “And promise you will spend all to-morrow
with me.” And of course he promised.



As they stood together on the steps of the Warden’s front-door, exalted
above the level of the flushed and swaying crowd that filled the whole
length and breadth of Judas Street, she implored him not to be late for
the concert.



“I am never late,” he smiled.



“Ah, you’re so beautifully brought up!”



The door was opened.



“And—oh, you’re beautiful besides!” she whispered; and waved her
hand to him as she vanished into the hall.














VIII



A few minutes before half-past seven, the Duke, arrayed for dinner, passed
leisurely up the High. The arresting feature of his costume was a
mulberry-coloured coat, with brass buttons. This, to any one versed in
Oxford lore, betokened him a member of the Junta. It is awful to think
that a casual stranger might have mistaken him for a footman. It does not
do to think of such things.



The tradesmen, at the doors of their shops, bowed low as he passed,
rubbing their hands and smiling, hoping inwardly that they took no liberty
in sharing the cool rosy air of the evening with his Grace. They noted
that he wore in his shirt-front a black pearl and a pink. “Daring, but
becoming,” they opined.



The rooms of the Junta were over a stationer’s shop, next door but one to
the Mitre. They were small rooms; but as the Junta had now, besides the
Duke, only two members, and as no member might introduce more than one
guest, there was ample space.



The Duke had been elected in his second term. At that time there were four
members; but these were all leaving Oxford at the end of the summer term,
and there seemed to be in the ranks of the Bullingdon and the Loder no one
quite eligible for the Junta, that holy of holies. Thus it was that the
Duke inaugurated in solitude his second year of membership. From time to
time, he proposed and seconded a few candidates, after “sounding” them as
to whether they were willing to join. But always, when election evening—the
last Tuesday of term—drew near, he began to have his doubts about
these fellows. This one was “rowdy”; that one was over-dressed; another
did not ride quite straight to hounds; in the pedigree of another a
bar-sinister was more than suspected. Election evening was always a rather
melancholy time. After dinner, when the two club servants had placed on
the mahogany the time-worn Candidates’ Book and the ballot-box, and had
noiselessly withdrawn, the Duke, clearing his throat, read aloud to
himself “Mr. So-and-So, of Such-and-Such College, proposed by the Duke of
Dorset, seconded by the Duke of Dorset,” and, in every case, when he drew
out the drawer of the ballot-box, found it was a black-ball that he had
dropped into the urn. Thus it was that at the end of the summer term the
annual photographic “group” taken by Messrs. Hills and Saunders was a
presentment of the Duke alone.



In the course of his third year he had become less exclusive. Not because
there seemed to be any one really worthy of the Junta; but because the
Junta, having thriven since the eighteenth century, must not die. Suppose—one
never knew—he were struck by lightning, the Junta would be no more.
So, not without reluctance, but unanimously, he had elected The MacQuern,
of Balliol, and Sir John Marraby, of Brasenose.



To-night, as he, a doomed man, went up into the familiar rooms, he was
wholly glad that he had thus relented. As yet, he was spared the tragic
knowledge that it would make no difference.*


   * The Junta has been reconstituted. But the apostolic line was
broken, the thread was snapped; the old magic is fled.


The MacQuern and two other young men were already there.



“Mr. President,” said The MacQuern, “I present Mr. Trent-Garby, of Christ
Church.”



“The Junta is honoured,” said the Duke, bowing.



Such was the ritual of the club.



The other young man, because his host, Sir John Marraby, was not yet on
the scene, had no locus standi, and, though a friend of The MacQuern, and
well known to the Duke, had to be ignored.



A moment later, Sir John arrived. “Mr. President,” he said, “I present
Lord Sayes, of Magdalen.”



“The Junta is honoured,” said the Duke, bowing.



Both hosts and both guests, having been prominent in the throng that
vociferated around Zuleika an hour earlier, were slightly abashed in the
Duke’s presence. He, however, had not noticed any one in particular, and,
even if he had, that fine tradition of the club—“A member of the
Junta can do no wrong; a guest of the Junta cannot err”—would have
prevented him from showing his displeasure.



A Herculean figure filled the doorway.



“The Junta is honoured,” said the Duke, bowing to his guest.



“Duke,” said the newcomer quietly, “the honour is as much mine as that of
the interesting and ancient institution which I am this night privileged
to inspect.”



Turning to Sir John and The MacQuern, the Duke said “I present Mr.
Abimelech V. Oover, of Trinity.”



“The Junta,” they replied, “is honoured.”



“Gentlemen,” said the Rhodes Scholar, “your good courtesy is just such as
I would have anticipated from members of the ancient Junta. Like most of
my countrymen, I am a man of few words. We are habituated out there to act
rather than talk. Judged from the view-point of your beautiful old
civilisation, I am aware my curtness must seem crude. But, gentlemen,
believe me, right here—”



“Dinner is served, your Grace.”



Thus interrupted, Mr. Oover, with the resourcefulness of a practised
orator, brought his thanks to a quick but not abrupt conclusion. The
little company passed into the front room.



Through the window, from the High, fading daylight mingled with the
candle-light. The mulberry coats of the hosts, interspersed by the black
ones of the guests, made a fine pattern around the oval table a-gleam with
the many curious pieces of gold and silver plate that had accrued to the
Junta in course of years.



The President showed much deference to his guest. He seemed to listen with
close attention to the humorous anecdote with which, in the American
fashion, Mr. Oover inaugurated dinner.



To all Rhodes Scholars, indeed, his courtesy was invariable. He went out
of his way to cultivate them. And this he did more as a favour to Lord
Milner than of his own caprice. He found these Scholars, good fellows
though they were, rather oppressive. They had not—how could they
have?—the undergraduate’s virtue of taking Oxford as a matter of
course. The Germans loved it too little, the Colonials too much. The
Americans were, to a sensitive observer, the most troublesome—as
being the most troubled—of the whole lot. The Duke was not one of
those Englishmen who fling, or care to hear flung, cheap sneers at
America. Whenever any one in his presence said that America was not large
in area, he would firmly maintain that it was. He held, too, in his
enlightened way, that Americans have a perfect right to exist. But he did
often find himself wishing Mr. Rhodes had not enabled them to exercise
that right in Oxford. They were so awfully afraid of having their
strenuous native characters undermined by their delight in the place. They
held that the future was theirs, a glorious asset, far more glorious than
the past. But a theory, as the Duke saw, is one thing, an emotion another.
It is so much easier to covet what one hasn’t than to revel in what one
has. Also, it is so much easier to be enthusiastic about what exists than
about what doesn’t. The future doesn’t exist. The past does. For, whereas
all men can learn, the gift of prophecy has died out. A man cannot work up
in his breast any real excitement about what possibly won’t happen. He
cannot very well help being sentimentally interested in what he knows has
happened. On the other hand, he owes a duty to his country. And, if his
country be America, he ought to try to feel a vivid respect for the
future, and a cold contempt for the past. Also, if he be selected by his
country as a specimen of the best moral, physical, and intellectual type
that she can produce for the astounding of the effete foreigner, and
incidentally for the purpose of raising that foreigner’s tone, he must—mustn’t
he?—do his best to astound, to exalt. But then comes in this
difficulty. Young men don’t like to astound and exalt their fellows. And
Americans, individually, are of all people the most anxious to please.
That they talk overmuch is often taken as a sign of self-satisfaction. It
is merely a mannerism. Rhetoric is a thing inbred in them. They are quite
unconscious of it. It is as natural to them as breathing. And, while they
talk on, they really do believe that they are a quick, businesslike
people, by whom things are “put through” with an almost brutal abruptness.
This notion of theirs is rather confusing to the patient English auditor.



Altogether, the American Rhodes Scholars, with their splendid native gift
of oratory, and their modest desire to please, and their not less evident
feeling that they ought merely to edify, and their constant delight in all
that of Oxford their English brethren don’t notice, and their constant
fear that they are being corrupted, are a noble, rather than a
comfortable, element in the social life of the University. So, at least,
they seemed to the Duke.



And to-night, but that he had invited Oover to dine with him, he could
have been dining with Zuleika. And this was his last dinner on earth. Such
thoughts made him the less able to take pleasure in his guest. Perfect,
however, the amenity of his manner.



This was the more commendable because Oover’s “aura” was even more
disturbing than that of the average Rhodes Scholar. To-night, besides the
usual conflicts in this young man’s bosom, raged a special one between his
desire to behave well and his jealousy of the man who had to-day been Miss
Dobson’s escort. In theory he denied the Duke’s right to that honour. In
sentiment he admitted it. Another conflict, you see. And another. He
longed to orate about the woman who had his heart; yet she was the one
topic that must be shirked.



The MacQuern and Mr. Trent-Garby, Sir John Marraby and Lord Sayes, they
too—though they were no orators—would fain have unpacked their
hearts in words about Zuleika. They spoke of this and that, automatically,
none listening to another—each man listening, wide-eyed, to his own
heart’s solo on the Zuleika theme, and drinking rather more champagne than
was good for him. Maybe, these youths sowed in themselves, on this night,
the seeds of lifelong intemperance. We cannot tell. They did not live long
enough for us to know.



While the six dined, a seventh, invisible to them, leaned moodily against
the mantel-piece, watching them. He was not of their time. His long brown
hair was knotted in a black riband behind. He wore a pale brocaded coat
and lace ruffles, silken stockings, a sword. Privy to their doom, he
watched them. He was loth that his Junta must die. Yes, his. Could the
diners have seen him, they would have known him by his resemblance to the
mezzotint portrait that hung on the wall above him. They would have risen
to their feet in presence of Humphrey Greddon, founder and first president
of the club.



His face was not so oval, nor were his eyes so big, nor his lips so full,
nor his hands so delicate, as they appeared in the mezzotint. Yet (bating
the conventions of eighteenth-century portraiture) the likeness was a good
one. Humphrey Greddon was not less well-knit and graceful than the painter
had made him, and, hard though the lines of the face were, there was about
him a certain air of high romance that could not be explained away by the
fact that he was of a period not our own. You could understand the great
love that Nellie O’Mora had borne him.



Under the mezzotint hung Hoppner’s miniature of that lovely and
ill-starred girl, with her soft dark eyes, and her curls all astray from
beneath her little blue turban. And the Duke was telling Mr. Oover her
story—how she had left her home for Humphrey Greddon when she was
but sixteen, and he an undergraduate at Christ Church; and had lived for
him in a cottage at Littlemore, whither he would ride, most days, to be
with her; and how he tired of her, broke his oath that he would marry her,
thereby broke her heart; and how she drowned herself in a mill-pond; and
how Greddon was killed in Venice, two years later, duelling on the Riva
Schiavoni with a Senator whose daughter he had seduced.



And he, Greddon, was not listening very attentively to the tale. He had
heard it told so often in this room, and he did not understand the
sentiments of the modern world. Nellie had been a monstrous pretty
creature. He had adored her, and had done with her. It was right that she
should always be toasted after dinner by the Junta, as in the days when
first he loved her—“Here’s to Nellie O’Mora, the fairest witch that
ever was or will be!” He would have resented the omission of that toast.
But he was sick of the pitying, melting looks that were always cast
towards her miniature. Nellie had been beautiful, but, by God! she was
always a dunce and a simpleton. How could he have spent his life with her?
She was a fool, by God! not to marry that fool Trailby, of Merton, whom he
took to see her.



Mr. Oover’s moral tone, and his sense of chivalry, were of the American
kind: far higher than ours, even, and far better expressed. Whereas the
English guests of the Junta, when they heard the tale of Nellie O’Mora,
would merely murmur “Poor girl!” or “What a shame!” Mr. Oover said in a
tone of quiet authority that compelled Greddon’s ear “Duke, I hope I am
not incognisant of the laws that govern the relations of guest and host.
But, Duke, I aver deliberately that the founder of this fine old club; at
which you are so splendidly entertaining me to-night, was an unmitigated
scoundrel. I say he was not a white man.”



At the word “scoundrel,” Humphrey Greddon had sprung forward, drawing his
sword, and loudly, in a voice audible to himself alone, challenged the
American to make good his words. Then, as this gentleman took no notice,
with one clean straight thrust Greddon ran him through the heart, shouting
“Die, you damned psalm-singer and traducer! And so die all rebels against
King George!”* Withdrawing the blade, he wiped it daintily on his cambric
handkerchief. There was no blood. Mr. Oover, with unpunctured shirt-front,
was repeating “I say he was not a white man.” And Greddon remembered
himself—remembered he was only a ghost, impalpable, impotent, of no
account. “But I shall meet you in Hell to-morrow,” he hissed in Oover’s
face. And there he was wrong. It is quite certain that Oover went to
Heaven.


   * As Edward VII. was at this time on the throne, it must have been
to George III. that Mr. Greddon was referring.


Unable to avenge himself, Greddon had looked to the Duke to act for him.
When he saw that this young man did but smile at Oover and make a vague
deprecatory gesture, he again, in his wrath, forgot his disabilities.
Drawing himself to his full height, he took with great deliberation a
pinch of snuff, and, bowing low to the Duke, said “I am vastly obleeged to
your Grace for the fine high Courage you have exhibited in the behalf of
your most Admiring, most Humble Servant.” Then, having brushed away a
speck of snuff from his jabot, he turned on his heel; and only in the
doorway, where one of the club servants, carrying a decanter in each hand,
walked straight through him, did he realise that he had not spoilt the
Duke’s evening. With a volley of the most appalling eighteenth-century
oaths, he passed back into the nether world.



To the Duke, Nellie O’Mora had never been a very vital figure. He had
often repeated the legend of her. But, having never known what love was,
he could not imagine her rapture or her anguish. Himself the quarry of all
Mayfair’s wise virgins, he had always—so far as he thought of the
matter at all—suspected that Nellie’s death was due to thwarted
ambition. But to-night, while he told Oover about her, he could see into
her soul. Nor did he pity her. She had loved. She had known the one thing
worth living for—and dying for. She, as she went down to the
mill-pond, had felt just that ecstasy of self-sacrifice which he himself
had felt to-day and would feel to-morrow. And for a while, too—for a
full year—she had known the joy of being loved, had been for Greddon
“the fairest witch that ever was or will be.” He could not agree with
Oover’s long disquisition on her sufferings. And, glancing at her
well-remembered miniature, he wondered just what it was in her that had
captivated Greddon. He was in that blest state when a man cannot believe
the earth has been trodden by any really beautiful or desirable lady save
the lady of his own heart.



The moment had come for the removal of the table-cloth. The mahogany of
the Junta was laid bare—a clear dark lake, anon to reflect in its
still and ruddy depths the candelabras and the fruit-cradles, the slender
glasses and the stout old decanters, the forfeit-box and the snuff-box,
and other paraphernalia of the dignity of dessert. Lucidly, and
unwaveringly inverted in the depths these good things stood; and, so soon
as the wine had made its circuit, the Duke rose and with uplifted glass
proposed the first of the two toasts traditional to the Junta. “Gentlemen,
I give you Church and State.”



The toast having been honoured by all—and by none with a richer
reverence than by Oover, despite his passionate mental reservation in
favour of Pittsburg-Anabaptism and the Republican Ideal—the
snuff-box was handed round, and fruit was eaten.



Presently, when the wine had gone round again, the Duke rose and with
uplifted glass said “Gentlemen, I give you—” and there halted.
Silent, frowning, flushed, he stood for a few moments, and then, with a
deliberate gesture, tilted his glass and let fall the wine to the carpet.
“No,” he said, looking round the table, “I cannot give you Nellie O’Mora.”



“Why not?” gasped Sir John Marraby.



“You have a right to ask that,” said the Duke, still standing. “I can only
say that my conscience is stronger than my sense of what is due to the
customs of the club. Nellie O’Mora,” he said, passing his hand over his
brow, “may have been in her day the fairest witch that ever was—so
fair that our founder had good reason to suppose her the fairest witch
that ever would be. But his prediction was a false one. So at least it
seems to me. Of course I cannot both hold this view and remain President
of this club. MacQuern—Marraby—which of you is
Vice-President?”



“He is,” said Marraby.



“Then, MacQuern, you are hereby President, vice myself resigned. Take the
chair and propose the toast.”



“I would rather not,” said The MacQuern after a pause.



“Then, Marraby, YOU must.”



“Not I!” said Marraby.



“Why is this?” asked the Duke, looking from one to the other.



The MacQuern, with Scotch caution, was silent. But the impulsive Marraby—Madcap
Marraby, as they called him in B.N.C.—said “It’s because I won’t
lie!” and, leaping up, raised his glass aloft and cried “I give you
Zuleika Dobson, the fairest witch that ever was or will be!”



Mr. Oover, Lord Sayes, Mr. Trent-Garby, sprang to their feet; The MacQuern
rose to his. “Zuleika Dobson!” they cried, and drained their glasses.



Then, when they had resumed their seats, came an awkward pause. The Duke,
still erect beside the chair he had vacated, looked very grave and pale.
Marraby had taken an outrageous liberty. But “a member of the Junta can do
no wrong,” and the liberty could not be resented. The Duke felt that the
blame was on himself, who had elected Marraby to the club.



Mr. Oover, too, looked grave. All the antiquarian in him deplored the
sudden rupture of a fine old Oxford tradition. All the chivalrous American
in him resented the slight on that fair victim of the feudal system, Miss
O’Mora. And, at the same time, all the Abimelech V. in him rejoiced at
having honoured by word and act the one woman in the world.



Gazing around at the flushed faces and heaving shirt-fronts of the diners,
the Duke forgot Marraby’s misdemeanour. What mattered far more to him was
that here were five young men deeply under the spell of Zuleika. They must
be saved, if possible. He knew how strong his influence was in the
University. He knew also how strong was Zuleika’s. He had not much hope of
the issue. But his new-born sense of duty to his fellows spurred him on.
“Is there,” he asked with a bitter smile, “any one of you who doesn’t with
his whole heart love Miss Dobson?”



Nobody held up a hand.



“As I feared,” said the Duke, knowing not that if a hand had been held up
he would have taken it as a personal insult. No man really in love can
forgive another for not sharing his ardour. His jealousy for himself when
his beloved prefers another man is hardly a stronger passion than his
jealousy for her when she is not preferred to all other women.



“You know her only by sight—by repute?” asked the Duke. They
signified that this was so. “I wish you would introduce me to her,” said
Marraby.



“You are all coming to the Judas concert tonight?” the Duke asked,
ignoring Marraby. “You have all secured tickets?” They nodded. “To hear me
play, or to see Miss Dobson?” There was a murmur of “Both—both.”
“And you would all of you, like Marraby, wish to be presented to this
lady?” Their eyes dilated. “That way happiness lies, think you?”



“Oh, happiness be hanged!” said Marraby.



To the Duke this seemed a profoundly sane remark—an epitome of his
own sentiments. But what was right for himself was not right for all. He
believed in convention as the best way for average mankind. And so,
slowly, calmly, he told to his fellow-diners just what he had told a few
hours earlier to those two young men in Salt Cellar. Not knowing that his
words had already been spread throughout Oxford, he was rather surprised
that they seemed to make no sensation. Quite flat, too, fell his appeal
that the syren be shunned by all.



Mr. Oover, during his year of residence, had been sorely tried by the
quaint old English custom of not making public speeches after private
dinners. It was with a deep sigh of satisfaction that he now rose to his
feet.



“Duke,” he said in a low voice, which yet penetrated to every corner of
the room, “I guess I am voicing these gentlemen when I say that your words
show up your good heart, all the time. Your mentality, too, is bully, as
we all predicate. One may say without exaggeration that your scholarly and
social attainments are a by-word throughout the solar system, and be-yond.
We rightly venerate you as our boss. Sir, we worship the ground you walk
on. But we owe a duty to our own free and independent manhood. Sir, we
worship the ground Miss Z. Dobson treads on. We have pegged out a claim
right there. And from that location we aren’t to be budged—not for
bob-nuts. We asseverate we squat—where—we—squat, come—what—will.
You say we have no chance to win Miss Z. Dobson. That—we—know.
We aren’t worthy. We lie prone. Let her walk over us. You say her heart is
cold. We don’t pro-fess we can take the chill off. But, Sir, we can’t be
diverted out of loving her—not even by you, Sir. No, Sir! We love
her, and—shall, and—will, Sir, with—our—latest
breath.”



This peroration evoked loud applause. “I love her, and shall, and will,”
shouted each man. And again they honoured in wine her image. Sir John
Marraby uttered a cry familiar in the hunting-field. The MacQuern
contributed a few bars of a sentimental ballad in the dialect of his
country. “Hurrah, hurrah!” shouted Mr. Trent-Garby. Lord Sayes hummed the
latest waltz, waving his arms to its rhythm, while the wine he had just
spilt on his shirt-front trickled unheeded to his waistcoat. Mr. Oover
gave the Yale cheer.



The genial din was wafted down through the open window to the passers-by.
The wine-merchant across the way heard it, and smiled pensively. “Youth,
youth!” he murmured.



The genial din grew louder.



At any other time, the Duke would have been jarred by the disgrace to the
Junta. But now, as he stood with bent head, covering his face with his
hands, he thought only of the need to rid these young men, here and now,
of the influence that had befallen them. To-morrow his tragic example
might be too late, the mischief have sunk too deep, the agony be
life-long. His good breeding forbade him to cast over a dinner-table the
shadow of his death. His conscience insisted that he must. He uncovered
his face, and held up one hand for silence.



“We are all of us,” he said, “old enough to remember vividly the
demonstrations made in the streets of London when war was declared between
us and the Transvaal Republic. You, Mr. Oover, doubtless heard in America
the echoes of those ebullitions. The general idea was that the war was
going to be a very brief and simple affair—what was called ‘a
walk-over.’ To me, though I was only a small boy, it seemed that all this
delirious pride in the prospect of crushing a trumpery foe argued a defect
in our sense of proportion. Still, I was able to understand the
demonstrators’ point of view. To ‘the giddy vulgar’ any sort of victory is
pleasant. But defeat? If, when that war was declared, every one had been
sure that not only should we fail to conquer the Transvaal, but that IT
would conquer US—that not only would it make good its freedom and
independence, but that we should forfeit ours—how would the cits
have felt then? Would they not have pulled long faces, spoken in whispers,
wept? You must forgive me for saying that the noise you have just made
around this table was very like to the noise made on the verge of the Boer
War. And your procedure seems to me as unaccountable as would have seemed
the antics of those mobs if England had been plainly doomed to disaster
and to vassalage. My guest here to-night, in the course of his very
eloquent and racy speech, spoke of the need that he and you should
preserve your ‘free and independent manhood.’ That seemed to me an
irreproachable ideal. But I confess I was somewhat taken aback by my
friend’s scheme for realising it. He declared his intention of lying prone
and letting Miss Dobson ‘walk over’ him; and he advised you to follow his
example; and to this counsel you gave evident approval. Gentlemen, suppose
that on the verge of the aforesaid war, some orator had said to the
British people ‘It is going to be a walk-over for our enemy in the field.
Mr. Kruger holds us in the hollow of his hand. In subjection to him we
shall find our long-lost freedom and independence’—what would have
been Britannia’s answer? What, on reflection, is yours to Mr. Oover? What
are Mr. Oover’s own second thoughts?” The Duke paused, with a smile to his
guest.



“Go right ahead, Duke,” said Mr. Oover. “I’ll re-ply when my turn comes.”



“And not utterly demolish me, I hope,” said the Duke. His was the Oxford
manner. “Gentlemen,” he continued, “is it possible that Britannia would
have thrown her helmet in the air, shrieking ‘Slavery for ever’? You,
gentlemen, seem to think slavery a pleasant and an honourable state. You
have less experience of it than I. I have been enslaved to Miss Dobson
since yesterday evening; you, only since this afternoon; I, at close
quarters; you, at a respectful distance. Your fetters have not galled you
yet. MY wrists, MY ankles, are excoriated. The iron has entered into my
soul. I droop. I stumble. Blood flows from me. I quiver and curse. I
writhe. The sun mocks me. The moon titters in my face. I can stand it no
longer. I will no more of it. Tomorrow I die.”



The flushed faces of the diners grew gradually pale. Their eyes lost
lustre. Their tongues clove to the roofs of their mouths.



At length, almost inaudibly, The MacQuern asked “Do you mean you are going
to commit suicide?”



“Yes,” said the Duke, “if you choose to put it in that way. Yes. And it is
only by a chance that I did not commit suicide this afternoon.”



“You—don’t—say,” gasped Mr. Oover.



“I do indeed,” said the Duke. “And I ask you all to weigh well my
message.”



“But—but does Miss Dobson know?” asked Sir John.



“Oh yes,” was the reply. “Indeed, it was she who persuaded me not to die
till to-morrow.”



“But—but,” faltered Lord Sayes, “I saw her saying good-bye to you in
Judas Street. And—and she looked quite—as if nothing had
happened.”



“Nothing HAD happened,” said the Duke. “And she was very much pleased to
have me still with her. But she isn’t so cruel as to hinder me from dying
for her to-morrow. I don’t think she exactly fixed the hour. It shall be
just after the Eights have been rowed. An earlier death would mark in me a
lack of courtesy to that contest... It seems strange to you that I should
do this thing? Take warning by me. Muster all your will-power, and forget
Miss Dobson. Tear up your tickets for the concert. Stay here and play
cards. Play high. Or rather, go back to your various Colleges, and speed
the news I have told you. Put all Oxford on its guard against this woman
who can love no lover. Let all Oxford know that I, Dorset, who had so much
reason to love life—I, the nonpareil—am going to die for the
love I bear this woman. And let no man think I go unwilling. I am no lamb
led to the slaughter. I am priest as well as victim. I offer myself up
with a pious joy. But enough of this cold Hebraism! It is ill-attuned to
my soul’s mood. Self-sacrifice—bah! Regard me as a voluptuary. I am
that. All my baffled ardour speeds me to the bosom of Death. She is gentle
and wanton. She knows I could never have loved her for her own sake. She
has no illusions about me. She knows well I come to her because not
otherwise may I quench my passion.”



There was a long silence. The Duke, looking around at the bent heads and
drawn mouths of his auditors, saw that his words had gone home. It was
Marraby who revealed how powerfully home they had gone.



“Dorset,” he said huskily, “I shall die too.”



The Duke flung up his hands, staring wildly.



“I stand in with that,” said Mr. Oover.



“So do I!” said Lord Sayes. “And I!” said Mr. Trent-Garby; “And I!” The
MacQuern.



The Duke found voice. “Are you mad?” he asked, clutching at his throat.
“Are you all mad?”



“No, Duke,” said Mr. Oover. “Or, if we are, you have no right to be at
large. You have shown us the way. We—take it.”



“Just so,” said The MacQuern, stolidly.



“Listen, you fools,” cried the Duke. But through the open window came the
vibrant stroke of some clock. He wheeled round, plucked out his watch—nine!—the
concert!—his promise not to be late!—Zuleika!



All other thoughts vanished. In an instant he dodged beneath the sash of
the window. From the flower-box he sprang to the road beneath. (The facade
of the house is called, to this day, Dorset’s Leap.) Alighting with the
legerity of a cat, he swerved leftward in the recoil, and was off, like a
streak of mulberry-coloured lightning, down the High.



The other men had rushed to the window, fearing the worst. “No,” cried
Oover. “That’s all right. Saves time!” and he raised himself on to the
window-box. It splintered under his weight. He leapt heavily but well,
followed by some uprooted geraniums. Squaring his shoulders, he threw back
his head, and doubled down the slope.



There was a violent jostle between the remaining men. The MacQuern cannily
got out of it, and rushed downstairs. He emerged at the front-door just
after Marraby touched ground. The Baronet’s left ankle had twisted under
him. His face was drawn with pain as he hopped down the High on his right
foot, fingering his ticket for the concert. Next leapt Lord Sayes. And
last of all leapt Mr. Trent-Garby, who, catching his foot in the ruined
flower-box, fell headlong, and was, I regret to say, killed. Lord Sayes
passed Sir John in a few paces. The MacQuern overtook Mr. Oover at St.
Mary’s and outstripped him in Radcliffe Square. The Duke came in an easy
first.



Youth, youth!














IX



Across the Front Quadrangle, heedless of the great crowd to right and
left, Dorset rushed. Up the stone steps to the Hall he bounded, and only
on the Hall’s threshold was he brought to a pause. The doorway was blocked
by the backs of youths who had by hook and crook secured standing-room.
The whole scene was surprisingly unlike that of the average College
concert.



“Let me pass,” said the Duke, rather breathlessly. “Thank you. Make way
please. Thanks.” And with quick-pulsing heart he made his way down the
aisle to the front row. There awaited him a surprise that was like a
douche of cold water full in his face. Zuleika was not there! It had never
occurred to him that she herself might not be punctual.



The Warden was there, reading his programme with an air of great
solemnity. “Where,” asked the Duke, “is your grand-daughter?” His tone was
as of a man saying “If she is dead, don’t break it gently to me.”



“My grand-daughter?” said the Warden. “Ah, Duke, good evening.”



“She’s not ill?”



“Oh no, I think not. She said something about changing the dress she wore
at dinner. She will come.” And the Warden thanked his young friend for the
great kindness he had shown to Zuleika. He hoped the Duke had not let her
worry him with her artless prattle. “She seems to be a good, amiable
girl,” he added, in his detached way.



Sitting beside him, the Duke looked curiously at the venerable profile, as
at a mummy’s. To think that this had once been a man! To think that his
blood flowed in the veins of Zuleika! Hitherto the Duke had seen nothing
grotesque in him—had regarded him always as a dignified specimen of
priest and scholar. Such a life as the Warden’s, year following year in
ornamental seclusion from the follies and fusses of the world, had to the
Duke seemed rather admirable and enviable. Often he himself had (for a
minute or so) meditated taking a fellowship at All Souls and spending here
in Oxford the greater part of his life. He had never been young, and it
never had occurred to him that the Warden had been young once. To-night he
saw the old man in a new light—saw that he was mad. Here was a man
who—for had he not married and begotten a child?—must have
known, in some degree, the emotion of love. How, after that, could he have
gone on thus, year by year, rusting among his books, asking no favour of
life, waiting for death without a sign of impatience? Why had he not
killed himself long ago? Why cumbered he the earth?



On the dais an undergraduate was singing a song entitled “She Loves Not
Me.” Such plaints are apt to leave us unharrowed. Across the footlights of
an opera-house, the despair of some Italian tenor in red tights and a
yellow wig may be convincing enough. Not so, at a concert, the despair of
a shy British amateur in evening dress. The undergraduate on the dais,
fumbling with his sheet of music while he predicted that only when he were
“laid within the church-yard cold and grey” would his lady begin to pity
him, seemed to the Duke rather ridiculous; but not half so ridiculous as
the Warden. This fictitious love-affair was less nugatory than the actual
humdrum for which Dr. Dobson had sold his soul to the devil. Also, little
as one might suspect it, the warbler was perhaps expressing a genuine
sentiment. Zuleika herself, belike, was in his thoughts.



As he began the second stanza, predicting that when his lady died too the
angels of heaven would bear her straight to him, the audience heard a loud
murmur, or subdued roar, outside the Hall. And after a few bars the
warbler suddenly ceased, staring straight in front of him as though he saw
a vision. Automatically, all heads veered in the direction of his gaze.
From the entrance, slowly along the aisle, came Zuleika, brilliant in
black.



To the Duke, who had rapturously risen, she nodded and smiled as she
swerved down on the chair beside him. She looked to him somehow different.
He had quite forgiven her for being late: her mere presence was a perfect
excuse. And the very change in her, though he could not define it, was
somehow pleasing to him. He was about to question her, but she shook her
head and held up to her lips a black-gloved forefinger, enjoining silence
for the singer, who, with dogged British pluck, had harked back to the
beginning of the second stanza. When his task was done and he shuffled
down from the dais, he received a great ovation. Zuleika, in the way
peculiar to persons who are in the habit of appearing before the public,
held her hands well above the level of her brow, and clapped them with a
vigour demonstrative not less of her presence than of her delight.



“And now,” she asked, turning to the Duke, “do you see? do you see?”



“Something, yes. But what?”



“Isn’t it plain?” Lightly she touched the lobe of her left ear. “Aren’t
you flattered?”



He knew now what made the difference. It was that her little face was
flanked by two black pearls.



“Think,” said she, “how deeply I must have been brooding over you since we
parted!”



“Is this really,” he asked, pointing to the left ear-ring, “the pearl you
wore to-day?”



“Yes. Isn’t it strange? A man ought to be pleased when a woman goes quite
unconsciously into mourning for him—goes just because she really
does mourn him.”



“I am more than pleased. I am touched. When did the change come?”



“I don’t know. I only noticed it after dinner, when I saw myself in the
mirror. All through dinner I had been thinking of you and of—well,
of to-morrow. And this dear sensitive pink pearl had again expressed my
soul. And there was I, in a yellow gown with green embroideries, gay as a
jacamar, jarring hideously on myself. I covered my eyes and rushed
upstairs, rang the bell and tore my things off. My maid was very cross.”



Cross! The Duke was shot through with envy of one who was in a position to
be unkind to Zuleika. “Happy maid!” he murmured. Zuleika replied that he
was stealing her thunder: hadn’t she envied the girl at his lodgings? “But
I,” she said, “wanted only to serve you in meekness. The idea of ever
being pert to you didn’t enter into my head. You show a side of your
character as unpleasing as it was unforeseen.”



“Perhaps then,” said the Duke, “it is as well that I am going to die.” She
acknowledged his rebuke with a pretty gesture of penitence. “You may have
been faultless in love,” he added; “but you would not have laid down your
life for me.”



“Oh,” she answered, “wouldn’t I though? You don’t know me. That is just
the sort of thing I should have loved to do. I am much more romantic than
you are, really. I wonder,” she said, glancing at his breast, “if YOUR
pink pearl would have turned black? And I wonder if YOU would have taken
the trouble to change that extraordinary coat you are wearing?”



In sooth, no costume could have been more beautifully Cimmerian than
Zuleika’s. And yet, thought the Duke, watching her as the concert
proceeded, the effect of her was not lugubrious. Her darkness shone. The
black satin gown she wore was a stream of shifting high-lights. Big black
diamonds were around her throat and wrists, and tiny black diamonds
starred the fan she wielded. In her hair gleamed a great raven’s wing. And
brighter, brighter than all these were her eyes. Assuredly no, there was
nothing morbid about her. Would one even (wondered the Duke, for a
disloyal instant) go so far as to say she was heartless? Ah no, she was
merely strong. She was one who could tread the tragic plane without
stumbling, and be resilient in the valley of the shadow. What she had just
said was no more than the truth: she would have loved to die for him, had
he not forfeited her heart. She would have asked no tears. That she had
none to shed for him now, that she did but share his exhilaration, was the
measure of her worthiness to have the homage of his self-slaughter.



“By the way,” she whispered, “I want to ask one little favour of you. Will
you, please, at the last moment to-morrow, call out my name in a loud
voice, so that every one around can hear?”



“Of course I will.”



“So that no one shall ever be able to say it wasn’t for me that you died,
you know.”



“May I use simply your Christian name?”



“Yes, I really don’t see why you shouldn’t—at such a moment.”



“Thank you.” His face glowed.



Thus did they commune, these two, radiant without and within. And behind
them, throughout the Hall, the undergraduates craned their necks for a
glimpse. The Duke’s piano solo, which was the last item in the first half
of the programme, was eagerly awaited. Already, whispered first from the
lips of Oover and the others who had come on from the Junta, the news of
his resolve had gone from ear to ear among the men. He, for his part, had
forgotten the scene at the Junta, the baleful effect of his example. For
him the Hall was a cave of solitude—no one there but Zuleika and
himself. Yet almost, like the late Mr. John Bright, he heard in the air
the beating of the wings of the Angel of Death. Not awful wings; little
wings that sprouted from the shoulders of a rosy and blindfold child. Love
and Death—for him they were exquisitely one. And it seemed to him,
when his turn came to play, that he floated, rather than walked, to the
dais.



He had not considered what he would play tonight. Nor, maybe, was he
conscious now of choosing. His fingers caressed the keyboard vaguely; and
anon this ivory had voice and language; and for its master, and for some
of his hearers, arose a vision. And it was as though in delicate
procession, very slowly, listless with weeping, certain figures passed by,
hooded, and drooping forasmuch as by the loss of him whom they were
following to his grave their own hold on life had been loosened. He had
been so beautiful and young. Lo, he was but a burden to be carried hence,
dust to be hidden out of sight. Very slowly, very wretchedly they went by.
But, as they went, another feeling, faint at first, an all but
imperceptible current, seemed to flow through the procession; and now one,
now another of the mourners would look wanly up, with cast-back hood, as
though listening; and anon all were listening on their way, first in
wonder, then in rapture; for the soul of their friend was singing to them:
they heard his voice, but clearer and more blithe than they had ever known
it—a voice etherealised by a triumph of joy that was not yet for
them to share. But presently the voice receded, its echoes dying away into
the sphere whence it came. It ceased; and the mourners were left alone
again with their sorrow, and passed on all unsolaced, and drooping,
weeping.



Soon after the Duke had begun to play, an invisible figure came and stood
by and listened; a frail man, dressed in the fashion of 1840; the shade of
none other than Frederic Chopin. Behind whom, a moment later, came a woman
of somewhat masculine aspect and dominant demeanour, mounting guard over
him, and, as it were, ready to catch him if he fell. He bowed his head
lower and lower, he looked up with an ecstasy more and more intense,
according to the procedure of his Marche Funebre. And among the audience,
too, there was a bowing and uplifting of heads, just as among the figures
of the mourners evoked. Yet the head of the player himself was all the
while erect, and his face glad and serene. Nobly sensitive as was his
playing of the mournful passages, he smiled brilliantly through them.



And Zuleika returned his gaze with a smile not less gay. She was not sure
what he was playing. But she assumed that it was for her, and that the
music had some reference to his impending death. She was one of the people
who say “I don’t know anything about music really, but I know what I
like.” And she liked this; and she beat time to it with her fan. She
thought her Duke looked very handsome. She was proud of him. Strange that
this time yesterday she had been wildly in love with him! Strange, too,
that this time to-morrow he would be dead! She was immensely glad she had
saved him this afternoon. To-morrow! There came back to her what he had
told her about the omen at Tankerton, that stately home: “On the eve of
the death of a Duke of Dorset, two black owls come always and perch on the
battlements. They remain there through the night, hooting. At dawn they
fly away, none knows whither.” Perhaps, thought she, at this very moment
these two birds were on the battlements.



The music ceased. In the hush that followed it, her applause rang sharp
and notable. Not so Chopin’s. Of him and his intense excitement none but
his companion was aware. “Plus fin que Pachmann!” he reiterated, waving
his arms wildly, and dancing.



“Tu auras une migraine affreuse. Rentrons, petit coeur!” said George Sand,
gently but firmly.



“Laisse-moi le saluer,” cried the composer, struggling in her grasp.



“Demain soir, oui. Il sera parmi nous,” said the novelist, as she hurried
him away. “Moi aussi,” she added to herself, “je me promets un beau
plaisir en faisant la connaissance de ce jeune homme.”



Zuleika was the first to rise as “ce jeune homme” came down from the dais.
Now was the interval between the two parts of the programme. There was a
general creaking and scraping of pushed-back chairs as the audience rose
and went forth into the night. The noise aroused from sleep the good
Warden, who, having peered at his programme, complimented the Duke with
old-world courtesy and went to sleep again. Zuleika, thrusting her fan
under one arm, shook the player by both hands. Also, she told him that she
knew nothing about music really, but that she knew what she liked. As she
passed with him up the aisle, she said this again. People who say it are
never tired of saying it.



Outside, the crowd was greater than ever. All the undergraduates from all
the Colleges seemed now to be concentrated in the great Front Quadrangle
of Judas. Even in the glow of the Japanese lanterns that hung around in
honour of the concert, the faces of the lads looked a little pale. For it
was known by all now that the Duke was to die. Even while the concert was
in progress, the news had spread out from the Hall, through the thronged
doorway, down the thronged steps, to the confines of the crowd. Nor had
Oover and the other men from the Junta made any secret of their own
determination. And now, as the rest saw Zuleika yet again at close
quarters, and verified their remembrance of her, the half-formed desire in
them to die too was hardened to a vow.



You cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hind-legs. But by
standing a flock of sheep in that position you can make a crowd of men. If
man were not a gregarious animal, the world might have achieved, by this
time, some real progress towards civilisation. Segregate him, and he is no
fool. But let him loose among his fellows, and he is lost—he becomes
just an unit in unreason. If any one of the undergraduates had met Miss
Dobson in the desert of Sahara, he would have fallen in love with her; but
not one in a thousand of them would have wished to die because she did not
love him. The Duke’s was a peculiar case. For him to fall in love was
itself a violent peripety, bound to produce a violent upheaval; and such
was his pride that for his love to be unrequited would naturally enamour
him of death. These other, these quite ordinary, young men were the
victims less of Zuleika than of the Duke’s example, and of one another. A
crowd, proportionately to its size, magnifies all that in its units
pertains to the emotions, and diminishes all that in them pertains to
thought. It was because these undergraduates were a crowd that their
passion for Zuleika was so intense; and it was because they were a crowd
that they followed so blindly the lead given to them. To die for Miss
Dobson was “the thing to do.” The Duke was going to do it. The Junta was
going to do it. It is a hateful fact, but we must face the fact, that
snobbishness was one of the springs to the tragedy here chronicled.



We may set to this crowd’s credit that it refrained now from following
Zuleika. Not one of the ladies present was deserted by her escort. All the
men recognised the Duke’s right to be alone with Zuleika now. We may set
also to their credit that they carefully guarded the ladies from all
knowledge of what was afoot.



Side by side, the great lover and his beloved wandered away, beyond the
light of the Japanese lanterns, and came to Salt Cellar.



The moon, like a gardenia in the night’s button-hole—but no! why
should a writer never be able to mention the moon without likening her to
something else—usually something to which she bears not the faintest
resemblance?... The moon, looking like nothing whatsoever but herself, was
engaged in her old and futile endeavour to mark the hours correctly on the
sun-dial at the centre of the lawn. Never, except once, late one night in
the eighteenth century, when the toper who was Sub-Warden had spent an
hour in trying to set his watch here, had she received the slightest
encouragement. Still she wanly persisted. And this was the more absurd in
her because Salt Cellar offered very good scope for those legitimate
effects of hers which we one and all admire. Was it nothing to her to have
cut those black shadows across the cloisters? Was it nothing to her that
she so magically mingled her rays with the candle-light shed forth from
Zuleika’s bedroom? Nothing, that she had cleansed the lawn of all its
colour, and made of it a platform of silver-grey, fit for fairies to dance
on?



If Zuleika, as she paced the gravel path, had seen how transfigured—how
nobly like the Tragic Muse—she was just now, she could not have gone
on bothering the Duke for a keepsake of the tragedy that was to be.



She was still set on having his two studs. He was still firm in his
refusal to misappropriate those heirlooms. In vain she pointed out to him
that the pearls he meant, the white ones, no longer existed; that the
pearls he was wearing were no more “entailed” than if he had got them
yesterday. “And you actually DID get them yesterday,” she said. “And from
me. And I want them back.”



“You are ingenious,” he admitted. “I, in my simple way, am but head of the
Tanville-Tankerton family. Had you accepted my offer of marriage, you
would have had the right to wear these two pearls during your life-time. I
am very happy to die for you. But tamper with the property of my successor
I cannot and will not. I am sorry,” he added.



“Sorry!” echoed Zuleika. “Yes, and you were ‘sorry’ you couldn’t dine with
me to-night. But any little niggling scruple is more to you than I am.
What old maids men are!” And viciously with her fan she struck one of the
cloister pillars.



Her outburst was lost on the Duke. At her taunt about his not dining with
her, he had stood still, clapping one hand to his brow. The events of the
early evening swept back to him—his speech, its unforeseen and
horrible reception. He saw again the preternaturally solemn face of Oover,
and the flushed faces of the rest. He had thought, as he pointed down to
the abyss over which he stood, these fellows would recoil, and pull
themselves together. They had recoiled, and pulled themselves together,
only in the manner of athletes about to spring. He was responsible for
them. His own life was his to lose: others he must not squander. Besides,
he had reckoned to die alone, unique; aloft and apart... “There is
something—something I had forgotten,” he said to Zuleika, “something
that will be a great shock to you”; and he gave her an outline of what had
passed at the Junta.



“And you are sure they really MEANT it?” she asked in a voice that
trembled.



“I fear so. But they were over-excited. They will recant their folly. I
shall force them to.”



“They are not children. You yourself have just been calling them ‘men.’
Why should they obey you?”



She turned at sound of a footstep, and saw a young man approaching. He
wore a coat like the Duke’s, and in his hand he dangled a handkerchief. He
bowed awkwardly, and, holding out the handkerchief, said to her “I beg
your pardon, but I think you dropped this. I have just picked it up.”



Zuleika looked at the handkerchief, which was obviously a man’s, and
smilingly shook her head.



“I don’t think you know The MacQuern,” said the Duke, with sulky grace.
“This,” he said to the intruder, “is Miss Dobson.”



“And is it really true,” asked Zuleika, retaining The MacQuern’s hand,
“that you want to die for me?”



Well, the Scots are a self-seeking and a resolute, but a shy, race; swift
to act, when swiftness is needed, but seldom knowing quite what to say.
The MacQuern, with native reluctance to give something for nothing, had
determined to have the pleasure of knowing the young lady for whom he was
to lay down his life; and this purpose he had, by the simple stratagem of
his own handkerchief, achieved. Nevertheless, in answer to Zuleika’s
question, and with the pressure of her hand to inspire him, the only word
that rose to his lips was “Ay” (which may be roughly translated as “Yes”).



“You will do nothing of the sort,” interposed the Duke.



“There,” said Zuleika, still retaining The MacQuern’s hand, “you see, it
is forbidden. You must not defy our dear little Duke. He is not used to
it. It is not done.”



“I don’t know,” said The MacQuern, with a stony glance at the Duke, “that
he has anything to do with the matter.”



“He is older and wiser than you. More a man of the world. Regard him as
your tutor.”



“Do YOU want me not to die for you?” asked the young man.



“Ah, I should not dare to impose my wishes on you,” said she,
dropping his hand. “Even,” she added, “if I knew what my wishes were. And
I don’t. I know only that I think it is very, very beautiful of you to
think of dying for me.”



“Then that settles it,” said The MacQuern.



“No, no! You must not let yourself be influenced by ME. Besides, I am not
in a mood to influence anybody. I am overwhelmed. Tell me,” she said,
heedless of the Duke, who stood tapping his heel on the ground, with every
manifestation of disapproval and impatience, “tell me, is it true that
some of the other men love me too, and—feel as you do?”



The MacQuern said cautiously that he could answer for no one but himself.
“But,” he allowed, “I saw a good many men whom I know, outside the Hall
here, just now, and they seemed to have made up their minds.”



“To die for me? To-morrow?”



“To-morrow. After the Eights, I suppose; at the same time as the Duke. It
wouldn’t do to leave the races undecided.”



“Of COURSE not. But the poor dears! It is too touching! I have done
nothing, nothing to deserve it.”



“Nothing whatsoever,” said the Duke drily.



“Oh HE,” said Zuleika, “thinks me an unredeemed brute; just because I
don’t love him. YOU, dear Mr. MacQuern—does one call you ‘Mr.’?
‘The’ would sound so odd in the vocative. And I can’t very well call you
‘MacQuern’—YOU don’t think me unkind, do you? I simply can’t bear to
think of all these young lives cut short without my having done a thing to
brighten them. What can I do?—what can I do to show my gratitude?”



An idea struck her. She looked up to the lit window of her room.
“Melisande!” she called.



A figure appeared at the window. “Mademoiselle desire?”



“My tricks, Melisande! Bring down the box, quick!” She turned excitedly to
the two young men. “It is all I can do in return, you see. If I could
dance for them, I would. If I could sing, I would sing to them. I do what
I can. You,” she said to the Duke, “must go on to the platform and
announce it.”



“Announce what?”



“Why, that I am going to do my tricks! All you need say is ‘Ladies and
gentlemen, I have the pleasure to—’ What is the matter now?”



“You make me feel slightly unwell,” said the Duke.



“And YOU are the most d-dis-disobliging and the unkindest and the
b-beastliest person I ever met,” Zuleika sobbed at him through her hands.
The MacQuern glared reproaches at him. So did Melisande, who had just
appeared through the postern, holding in her arms the great casket of
malachite. A painful scene; and the Duke gave in. He said he would do
anything—anything. Peace was restored.



The MacQuern had relieved Melisande of her burden; and to him was the
privilege of bearing it, in procession with his adored and her quelled
mentor, towards the Hall.



Zuleika babbled like a child going to a juvenile party. This was the great
night, as yet, in her life. Illustrious enough already it had seemed to
her, as eve of that ultimate flattery vowed her by the Duke. So fine a
thing had his doom seemed to her—his doom alone—that it had
sufficed to flood her pink pearl with the right hue. And now not on him
alone need she ponder. Now he was but the centre of a group—a group
that might grow and grow—a group that might with a little
encouragement be a multitude... With such hopes dimly whirling in the
recesses of her soul, her beautiful red lips babbled.














X



Sounds of a violin, drifting out through the open windows of the Hall,
suggested that the second part of the concert had begun. All the
undergraduates, however, except the few who figured in the programme, had
waited outside till their mistress should re-appear. The sisters and
cousins of the Judas men had been escorted back to their places and
hurriedly left there.



It was a hushed, tense crowd.



“The poor darlings!” murmured Zuleika, pausing to survey them. “And oh,”
she exclaimed, “there won’t be room for all of them in there!”



“You might give an ‘overflow’ performance out here afterwards,” suggested
the Duke, grimly.



This idea flashed on her a better. Why not give her performance here and
now?—now, so eager was she for contact, as it were, with this crowd;
here, by moonlight, in the pretty glow of these paper lanterns. Yes, she
said, let it be here and now; and she bade the Duke make the announcement.



“What shall I say?” he asked. “‘Gentlemen, I have the pleasure to announce
that Miss Zuleika Dobson, the world-renowned She-Wizard, will now oblige’?
Or shall I call them ‘Gents,’ tout court?”



She could afford to laugh at his ill-humour. She had his promise of
obedience. She told him to say something graceful and simple.



The noise of the violin had ceased. There was not a breath of wind. The
crowd in the quadrangle was as still and as silent as the night itself.
Nowhere a tremour. And it was borne in on Zuleika that this crowd had one
mind as well as one heart—a common resolve, calm and clear, as well
as a common passion. No need for her to strengthen the spell now. No
waverers here. And thus it came true that gratitude was the sole motive
for her display.



She stood with eyes downcast and hands folded behind her, moonlit in the
glow of lanterns, modest to the point of pathos, while the Duke gracefully
and simply introduced her to the multitude. He was, he said, empowered by
the lady who stood beside him to say that she would be pleased to give
them an exhibition of her skill in the art to which she had devoted her
life—an art which, more potently perhaps than any other, touched in
mankind the sense of mystery and stirred the faculty of wonder; the most
truly romantic of all the arts: he referred to the art of conjuring. It
was not too much to say that by her mastery of this art, in which
hitherto, it must be confessed, women had made no very great mark, Miss
Zuleika Dobson (for such was the name of the lady who stood beside him)
had earned the esteem of the whole civilised world. And here in Oxford,
and in this College especially, she had a peculiar claim to—might he
say?—their affectionate regard, inasmuch as she was the
grand-daughter of their venerable and venerated Warden.



As the Duke ceased, there came from his hearers a sound like the rustling
of leaves. In return for it, Zuleika performed that graceful act of
subsidence to the verge of collapse which is usually kept for the
delectation of some royal person. And indeed, in the presence of this
doomed congress, she did experience humility; for she was not altogether
without imagination. But, as she arose from her “bob,” she was her own
bold self again, bright mistress of the situation.



It was impossible for her to give her entertainment in full. Some of her
tricks (notably the Secret Aquarium, and the Blazing Ball of Worsted)
needed special preparation, and a table fitted with a “servante” or secret
tray. The table for to-night’s performance was an ordinary one, brought
out from the porter’s lodge. The MacQuern deposited on it the great
casket. Zuleika, retaining him as her assistant, picked nimbly out from
their places and put in array the curious appurtenances of her art—the
Magic Canister, the Demon Egg-Cup, and the sundry other vessels which,
lost property of young Edward Gibbs, had been by a Romanoff transmuted
from wood to gold, and were now by the moon reduced temporarily to silver.



In a great dense semicircle the young men disposed themselves around her.
Those who were in front squatted down on the gravel; those who were behind
knelt; the rest stood. Young Oxford! Here, in this mass of boyish faces,
all fused and obliterated, was the realisation of that phrase. Two or
three thousands of human bodies, human souls? Yet the effect of them in
the moonlight was as of one great passive monster.



So was it seen by the Duke, as he stood leaning against the wall, behind
Zuleika’s table. He saw it as a monster couchant and enchanted, a monster
that was to die; and its death was in part his own doing. But remorse in
him gave place to hostility. Zuleika had begun her performance. She was
producing the Barber’s Pole from her mouth. And it was to her that the
Duke’s heart went suddenly out in tenderness and pity. He forgot her
levity and vanity—her wickedness, as he had inwardly called it. He
thrilled with that intense anxiety which comes to a man when he sees his
beloved offering to the public an exhibition of her skill, be it in
singing, acting, dancing, or any other art. Would she acquit herself well?
The lover’s trepidation is painful enough when the beloved has genius—how
should these clods appreciate her? and who set them in judgment over her?
It must be worse when the beloved has mediocrity. And Zuleika, in
conjuring, had rather less than that. Though indeed she took herself quite
seriously as a conjurer, she brought to her art neither conscience nor
ambition, in any true sense of those words. Since her debut, she had
learned nothing and forgotten nothing. The stale and narrow repertory
which she had acquired from Edward Gibbs was all she had to offer; and
this, and her marked lack of skill, she eked out with the self-same
“patter” that had sufficed that impossible young man. It was especially
her jokes that now sent shudders up the spine of her lover, and brought
tears to his eyes, and kept him in a state of terror as to what she would
say next. “You see,” she had exclaimed lightly after the production of the
Barber’s Pole, “how easy it is to set up business as a hairdresser.” Over
the Demon Egg-Cup she said that the egg was “as good as fresh.” And her
constantly reiterated catch-phrase—“Well, this is rather queer!”—was
the most distressing thing of all.



The Duke blushed to think what these men thought of her. Would love were
blind! These her lovers were doubtless judging her. They forgave her—confound
their impudence!—because of her beauty. The banality of her
performance was an added grace. It made her piteous. Damn them, they were
sorry for her. Little Noaks was squatting in the front row, peering up at
her through his spectacles. Noaks was as sorry for her as the rest of
them. Why didn’t the earth yawn and swallow them all up?



Our hero’s unreasoning rage was fed by a not unreasonable jealousy. It was
clear to him that Zuleika had forgotten his existence. To-day, as soon as
he had killed her love, she had shown him how much less to her was his
love than the crowd’s. And now again it was only the crowd she cared for.
He followed with his eyes her long slender figure as she threaded her way
in and out of the crowd, sinuously, confidingly, producing a penny from
one lad’s elbow, a threepenny-bit from between another’s neck and collar,
half a crown from another’s hair, and always repeating in that flute-like
voice of hers “Well, this is rather queer!” Hither and thither she fared,
her neck and arms gleaming white from the luminous blackness of her dress,
in the luminous blueness of the night. At a distance, she might have been
a wraith; or a breeze made visible; a vagrom breeze, warm and delicate,
and in league with death.



Yes, that is how she might have seemed to a casual observer. But to the
Duke there was nothing weird about her: she was radiantly a woman; a
goddess; and his first and last love. Bitter his heart was, but only
against the mob she wooed, not against her for wooing it. She was cruel?
All goddesses are that. She was demeaning herself? His soul welled up anew
in pity, in passion.



Yonder, in the Hall, the concert ran its course, making a feeble
incidental music to the dark emotions of the quadrangle. It ended somewhat
before the close of Zuleika’s rival show; and then the steps from the Hall
were thronged by ladies, who, with a sprinkling of dons, stood in
attitudes of refined displeasure and vulgar curiosity. The Warden was just
awake enough to notice the sea of undergraduates. Suspecting some breach
of College discipline, he retired hastily to his own quarters, for fear
his dignity might be somehow compromised.



Was there ever, I wonder, an historian so pure as not to have wished just
once to fob off on his readers just one bright fable for effect? I find
myself sorely tempted to tell you that on Zuleika, as her entertainment
drew to a close, the spirit of the higher thaumaturgy descended like a
flame and found in her a worthy agent. Specious Apollyon whispers to me
“Where would be the harm? Tell your readers that she cast a seed on the
ground, and that therefrom presently arose a tamarind-tree which blossomed
and bore fruit and, withering, vanished. Or say she conjured from an empty
basket of osier a hissing and bridling snake. Why not? Your readers would
be excited, gratified. And you would never be found out.” But the grave
eyes of Clio are bent on me, her servant. Oh pardon, madam: I did but
waver for an instant. It is not too late to tell my readers that the
climax of Zuleika’s entertainment was only that dismal affair, the Magic
Canister.



It she took from the table, and, holding it aloft, cried “Now, before I
say good night, I want to see if I have your confidence. But you mustn’t
think this is the confidence trick!” She handed the vessel to The
MacQuern, who, looking like an overgrown acolyte, bore it after her as she
went again among the audience. Pausing before a man in the front row, she
asked him if he would trust her with his watch. He held it out to her.
“Thank you,” she said, letting her fingers touch his for a moment before
she dropped it into the Magic Canister. From another man she borrowed a
cigarette-case, from another a neck-tie, from another a pair of
sleeve-links, from Noaks a ring—one of those iron rings which are
supposed, rightly or wrongly, to alleviate rheumatism. And when she had
made an ample selection, she began her return-journey to the table.



On her way she saw in the shadow of the wall the figure of her forgotten
Duke. She saw him, the one man she had ever loved, also the first man who
had wished definitely to die for her; and she was touched by remorse. She
had said she would remember him to her dying day; and already... But had
he not refused her the wherewithal to remember him—the pearls she
needed as the clou of her dear collection, the great relic among relics?



“Would you trust me with your studs?” she asked him, in a voice that could
be heard throughout the quadrangle, with a smile that was for him alone.



There was no help for it. He quickly extricated from his shirt-front the
black pearl and the pink. Her thanks had a special emphasis.



The MacQuern placed the Magic Canister before her on the table. She
pressed the outer sheath down on it. Then she inverted it so that the
contents fell into the false lid; then she opened it, looked into it, and,
exclaiming “Well, this is rather queer!” held it up so that the audience
whose intelligence she was insulting might see there was nothing in it.



“Accidents,” she said, “will happen in the best-regulated canisters! But I
think there is just a chance that I shall be able to restore your
property. Excuse me for a moment.” She then shut the canister, released
the false lid, made several passes over it, opened it, looked into it and
said with a flourish “Now I can clear my character!” Again she went among
the crowd, attended by The MacQuern; and the loans—priceless now
because she had touched them—were in due course severally restored.
When she took the canister from her acolyte, only the two studs remained
in it.



Not since the night of her flitting from the Gibbs’ humble home had
Zuleika thieved. Was she a back-slider? Would she rob the Duke, and his
heir-presumptive, and Tanville-Tankertons yet unborn? Alas, yes. But what
she now did was proof that she had qualms. And her way of doing it showed
that for legerdemain she had after all a natural aptitude which, properly
trained, might have won for her an honourable place in at least the second
rank of contemporary prestidigitators. With a gesture of her disengaged
hand, so swift as to be scarcely visible, she unhooked her ear-rings and
“passed” them into the canister. This she did as she turned away from the
crowd, on her way to the Duke. At the same moment, in a manner technically
not less good, though morally deplorable, she withdrew the studs and
“vanished” them into her bosom.



Was it triumph, or shame, or of both a little that so flushed her cheeks
as she stood before the man she had robbed? Or was it the excitement of
giving a present to the man she had loved? Certain it is that the
nakedness of her ears gave a new look to her face—a primitive look,
open and sweetly wild. The Duke saw the difference, without noticing the
cause. She was more adorable than ever. He blenched and swayed as in
proximity to a loveliness beyond endurance. His heart cried out within
him. A sudden mist came over his eyes.



In the canister that she held out to him, the two pearls rattled like
dice.



“Keep them!” he whispered.



“I shall,” she whispered back, almost shyly. “But these, these are for
you.” And she took one of his hands, and, holding it open, tilted the
canister over it, and let drop into it the two ear-rings, and went quickly
away.



As she re-appeared at the table, the crowd gave her a long ovation of
gratitude for her performance—an ovation all the more impressive
because it was solemn and subdued. She curtseyed again and again, not
indeed with the timid simplicity of her first obeisance (so familiar
already was she with the thought of the crowd’s doom), but rather in the
manner of a prima donna—chin up, eyelids down, all teeth manifest,
and hands from the bosom flung ecstatically wide asunder.



You know how, at a concert, a prima donna who has just sung insists on
shaking hands with the accompanist, and dragging him forward, to show how
beautiful her nature is, into the applause that is for herself alone. And
your heart, like mine, has gone out to the wretched victim. Even so would
you have felt for The MacQuern when Zuleika, on the implied assumption
that half the credit was his, grasped him by the wrist, and, continuing to
curtsey, would not release him till the last echoes of the clapping had
died away.



The ladies on the steps of the Hall moved down into the quadrangle,
spreading their resentment like a miasma. The tragic passion of the crowd
was merged in mere awkwardness. There was a general movement towards the
College gate.



Zuleika was putting her tricks back into the great casket, The MacQuern
assisting her. The Scots, as I have said, are a shy race, but a resolute
and a self-seeking. This young chieftain had not yet recovered from what
his heroine had let him in for. But he did not lose the opportunity of
asking her to lunch with him to-morrow.



“Delighted,” she said, fitting the Demon Egg-Cup into its groove. Then,
looking up at him, “Are you popular?” she asked. “Have you many friends?”
He nodded. She said he must invite them all.



This was a blow to the young man, who, at once thrifty and infatuate, had
planned a luncheon a deux. “I had hoped—” he began.



“Vainly,” she cut him short.



There was a pause. “Whom shall I invite, then?”



“I don’t know any of them. How should I have preferences?” She remembered
the Duke. She looked round and saw him still standing in the shadow of the
wall. He came towards her. “Of course,” she said hastily to her host, “you
must ask HIM.”



The MacQuern complied. He turned to the Duke and told him that Miss Dobson
had very kindly promised to lunch with him to-morrow. “And,” said Zuleika,
“I simply WON’T unless you will.”



The Duke looked at her. Had it not been arranged that he and she should
spend his last day together? Did it mean nothing that she had given him
her ear-rings? Quickly drawing about him some remnants of his tattered
pride, he hid his wound, and accepted the invitation.



“It seems a shame,” said Zuleika to The MacQuern, “to ask you to bring
this great heavy box all the way back again. But—”



Those last poor rags of pride fell away now. The Duke threw a prehensile
hand on the casket, and, coldly glaring at The MacQuern, pointed with his
other hand towards the College gate. He, and he alone, was going to see
Zuleika home. It was his last night on earth, and he was not to be trifled
with. Such was the message of his eyes. The Scotsman’s flashed back a
precisely similar message.



Men had fought for Zuleika, but never in her presence. Her eyes dilated.
She had not the slightest impulse to throw herself between the two
antagonists. Indeed, she stepped back, so as not to be in the way. A short
sharp fight—how much better that is than bad blood! She hoped the
better man would win; and (do not misjudge her) she rather hoped this man
was the Duke. It occurred to her—a vague memory of some play or
picture—that she ought to be holding aloft a candelabra of lit
tapers; no, that was only done indoors, and in the eighteenth century.
Ought she to hold a sponge? Idle, these speculations of hers, and based on
complete ignorance of the manners and customs of undergraduates. The Duke
and The MacQuern would never have come to blows in the presence of a lady.
Their conflict was necessarily spiritual.



And it was the Scotsman, Scots though he was, who had to yield. Cowed by
something demoniac in the will-power pitted against his, he found himself
retreating in the direction indicated by the Duke’s forefinger.



As he disappeared into the porch, Zuleika turned to the Duke. “You were
splendid,” she said softly. He knew that very well. Does the stag in his
hour of victory need a diploma from the hind? Holding in his hands the
malachite casket that was the symbol of his triumph, the Duke smiled
dictatorially at his darling. He came near to thinking of her as a
chattel. Then with a pang he remembered his abject devotion to her. Abject
no longer though! The victory he had just won restored his manhood, his
sense of supremacy among his fellows. He loved this woman on equal terms.
She was transcendent? So was he, Dorset. To-night the world had on its
moonlit surface two great ornaments—Zuleika and himself. Neither of
the pair could be replaced. Was one of them to be shattered? Life and love
were good. He had been mad to think of dying.



No word was spoken as they went together to Salt Cellar. She expected him
to talk about her conjuring tricks. Could he have been disappointed? She
dared not inquire; for she had the sensitiveness, though no other quality
whatsoever, of the true artist. She felt herself aggrieved. She had half a
mind to ask him to give her back her ear-rings. And by the way, he hadn’t
yet thanked her for them! Well, she would make allowances for a condemned
man. And again she remembered the omen of which he had told her. She
looked at him, and then up into the sky. “This same moon,” she said to
herself, “sees the battlements of Tankerton. Does she see two black owls
there? Does she hear them hooting?”



They were in Salt Cellar now. “Melisande!” she called up to her window.



“Hush!” said the Duke, “I have something to say to you.”



“Well, you can say it all the better without that great box in your hands.
I want my maid to carry it up to my room for me.” And again she called out
for Melisande, and received no answer. “I suppose she’s in the
house-keeper’s room or somewhere. You had better put the box down inside
the door. She can bring it up later.”



She pushed open the postern; and the Duke, as he stepped across the
threshold, thrilled with a romantic awe. Re-emerging a moment later into
the moonlight, he felt that she had been right about the box: it was fatal
to self-expression; and he was glad he had not tried to speak on the way
from the Front Quad: the soul needs gesture; and the Duke’s first gesture
now was to seize Zuleika’s hands in his.



She was too startled to move. “Zuleika!” he whispered. She was too angry
to speak, but with a sudden twist she freed her wrists and darted back.



He laughed. “You are afraid of me. You are afraid to let me kiss you,
because you are afraid of loving me. This afternoon—here—I all
but kissed you. I mistook you for Death. I was enamoured of Death. I was a
fool. That is what YOU are, you incomparable darling: you are a fool. You
are afraid of life. I am not. I love life. I am going to live for you, do
you hear?”



She stood with her back to the postern. Anger in her eyes had given place
to scorn. “You mean,” she said, “that you go back on your promise?”



“You will release me from it.”



“You mean you are afraid to die?”



“You will not be guilty of my death. You love me.”



“Good night, you miserable coward.” She stepped back through the postern.



“Don’t, Zuleika! Miss Dobson, don’t! Pull yourself together! Reflect! I
implore you... You will repent...”



Slowly she closed the postern on him.



“You will repent. I shall wait here, under your window...”



He heard a bolt rasped into its socket. He heard the retreat of a light
tread on the paven hall.



And he hadn’t even kissed her! That was his first thought. He ground his
heel in the gravel.



And he had hurt her wrists! This was Zuleika’s first thought, as she came
into her bedroom. Yes, there were two red marks where he had held her. No
man had ever dared to lay hands on her. With a sense of contamination, she
proceeded to wash her hands thoroughly with soap and water. From time to
time such words as “cad” and “beast” came through her teeth.



She dried her hands and flung herself into a chair, arose and went pacing
the room. So this was the end of her great night! What had she done to
deserve it? How had he dared?



There was a sound as of rain against the window. She was glad. The night
needed cleansing.



He had told her she was afraid of life. Life!—to have herself
caressed by HIM; humbly to devote herself to being humbly doted on; to be
the slave of a slave; to swim in a private pond of treacle—ugh! If
the thought weren’t so cloying and degrading, it would be laughable.



For a moment her hands hovered over those two golden and gemmed volumes
encasing Bradshaw and the A.B.C. Guide. To leave Oxford by an early train,
leave him to drown unthanked, unlooked at... But this could not be done
without slighting all those hundreds of other men ... And besides...



Again that sound on the window-pane. This time it startled her. There
seemed to be no rain. Could it have been—little bits of gravel? She
darted noiselessly to the window, pushed it open, and looked down. She saw
the upturned face of the Duke. She stepped back, trembling with fury,
staring around her. Inspiration came.



She thrust her head out again. “Are you there?” she whispered.



“Yes, yes. I knew you would come.”



“Wait a moment, wait!”



The water-jug stood where she had left it, on the floor by the wash-stand.
It was almost full, rather heavy. She bore it steadily to the window, and
looked out.



“Come a little nearer!” she whispered.



The upturned and moonlit face obeyed her. She saw its lips forming the
word “Zuleika.” She took careful aim.



Full on the face crashed the cascade of moonlit water, shooting out on all
sides like the petals of some great silver anemone.



She laughed shrilly as she leapt back, letting the empty jug roll over on
the carpet. Then she stood tense, crouching, her hands to her mouth, her
eyes askance, as much as to say “Now I’ve done it!” She listened hard,
holding her breath. In the stillness of the night was a faint sound of
dripping water, and presently of footsteps going away. Then stillness
unbroken.














XI



I said that I was Clio’s servant. And I felt, when I said it, that you
looked at me dubiously, and murmured among yourselves.



Not that you doubted I was somewhat connected with Clio’s household. The
lady after whom I have named this book is alive, and well known to some of
you personally, to all of you by repute. Nor had you finished my first
page before you guessed my theme to be that episode in her life which
caused so great a sensation among the newspaper-reading public a few years
ago. (It all seems but yesterday, does it not? They are still vivid to us,
those head-lines. We have hardly yet ceased to be edified by the morals
pointed in those leading articles.) And yet very soon you found me
behaving just like any novelist—reporting the exact words that
passed between the protagonists at private interviews—aye, and the
exact thoughts and emotions that were in their breasts. Little wonder that
you wondered! Let me make things clear to you.



I have my mistress’ leave to do this. At first (for reasons which you will
presently understand) she demurred. But I pointed out to her that I had
been placed in a false position, and that until this were rectified
neither she nor I could reap the credit due to us.



Know, then, that for a long time Clio had been thoroughly discontented.
She was happy enough, she says, when first she left the home of Pierus,
her father, to become a Muse. On those humble beginnings she looks back
with affection. She kept only one servant, Herodotus. The romantic element
in him appealed to her. He died, and she had about her a large staff of
able and faithful servants, whose way of doing their work irritated and
depressed her. To them, apparently, life consisted of nothing but politics
and military operations—things to which she, being a woman, was
somewhat indifferent. She was jealous of Melpomene. It seemed to her that
her own servants worked from without at a mass of dry details which might
as well be forgotten. Melpomene’s worked on material that was eternally
interesting—the souls of men and women; and not from without,
either; but rather casting themselves into those souls and showing to us
the essence of them. She was particularly struck by a remark of
Aristotle’s, that tragedy was “more philosophic” than history, inasmuch as
it concerned itself with what might be, while history was concerned with
merely what had been. This summed up for her what she had often felt, but
could not have exactly formulated. She saw that the department over which
she presided was at best an inferior one. She saw that just what she had
liked—and rightly liked—in poor dear Herodotus was just what
prevented him from being a good historian. It was wrong to mix up facts
and fancies. But why should her present servants deal with only one little
special set of the variegated facts of life? It was not in her power to
interfere. The Nine, by the terms of the charter that Zeus had granted to
them, were bound to leave their servants an absolutely free hand. But Clio
could at least refrain from reading the works which, by a legal fiction,
she was supposed to inspire. Once or twice in the course of a century, she
would glance into this or that new history book, only to lay it down with
a shrug of her shoulders. Some of the mediaeval chronicles she rather
liked. But when, one day, Pallas asked her what she thought of “The
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” her only answer was “ostis toia
echei en edone echei en edone toia” (For people who like that kind of
thing, that is the kind of thing they like). This she did let slip.
Generally, throughout all the centuries, she kept up a pretence of
thinking history the greatest of all the arts. She always held her head
high among her Sisters. It was only on the sly that she was an omnivorous
reader of dramatic and lyric poetry. She watched with keen interest the
earliest developments of the prose romance in southern Europe; and after
the publication of “Clarissa Harlowe” she spent practically all her time
in reading novels. It was not until the Spring of the year 1863 that an
entirely new element forced itself into her peaceful life. Zeus fell in
love with her.



To us, for whom so quickly “time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,”
there is something strange, even a trifle ludicrous, in the thought that
Zeus, after all these years, is still at the beck and call of his
passions. And it seems anyhow lamentable that he has not yet gained
self-confidence enough to appear in his own person to the lady of his
choice, and is still at pains to transform himself into whatever object he
deems likeliest to please her. To Clio, suddenly from Olympus, he flashed
down in the semblance of Kinglake’s “Invasion of the Crimea” (four vols.,
large 8vo, half-calf). She saw through his disguise immediately, and, with
great courage and independence, bade him begone. Rebuffed, he was not
deflected. Indeed it would seem that Clio’s high spirit did but sharpen
his desire. Hardly a day passed but he appeared in what he hoped would be
the irresistible form—a recently discovered fragment of Polybius, an
advance copy of the forthcoming issue of “The Historical Review,” the
note-book of Professor Carl Voertschlaffen... One day, all-prying Hermes
told him of Clio’s secret addiction to novel-reading. Thenceforth, year
in, year out, it was in the form of fiction that Zeus wooed her. The sole
result was that she grew sick of the sight of novels, and found a perverse
pleasure in reading history. These dry details of what had actually
happened were a relief, she told herself, from all that make-believe.



One Sunday afternoon—the day before that very Monday on which this
narrative opens—it occurred to her how fine a thing history might be
if the historian had the novelist’s privileges. Suppose he could be
present at every scene which he was going to describe, a presence
invisible and inevitable, and equipped with power to see into the breasts
of all the persons whose actions he set himself to watch...



While the Muse was thus musing, Zeus (disguised as Miss Annie S. Swan’s
latest work) paid his usual visit. She let her eyes rest on him. Hither
and thither she divided her swift mind, and addressed him in winged words.
“Zeus, father of gods and men, cloud-compeller, what wouldst thou of me?
But first will I say what I would of thee”; and she besought him to extend
to the writers of history such privileges as are granted to novelists. His
whole manner had changed. He listened to her with the massive gravity of a
ruler who never yet has allowed private influence to obscure his judgment.
He was silent for some time after her appeal. Then, in a voice of thunder,
which made quake the slopes of Parnassus, he gave his answer. He admitted
the disabilities under which historians laboured. But the novelists—were
they not equally handicapped? They had to treat of persons who never
existed, events which never were. Only by the privilege of being in the
thick of those events, and in the very bowels of those persons, could they
hope to hold the reader’s attention. If similar privileges were granted to
the historian, the demand for novels would cease forthwith, and many
thousand of hard-working, deserving men and women would be thrown out of
employment. In fact, Clio had asked him an impossible favour. But he might—he
said he conceivably might—be induced to let her have her way just
once. In that event, all she would have to do was to keep her eye on the
world’s surface, and then, so soon as she had reason to think that
somewhere was impending something of great import, to choose an historian.
On him, straightway, Zeus would confer invisibility, inevitability, and
psychic penetration, with a flawless memory thrown in.



On the following afternoon, Clio’s roving eye saw Zuleika stepping from
the Paddington platform into the Oxford train. A few moments later I found
myself suddenly on Parnassus. In hurried words Clio told me how I came
there, and what I had to do. She said she had selected me because she knew
me to be honest, sober, and capable, and no stranger to Oxford. Another
moment, and I was at the throne of Zeus. With a majesty of gesture which I
shall never forget, he stretched his hand over me, and I was indued with
the promised gifts. And then, lo! I was on the platform of Oxford station.
The train was not due for another hour. But the time passed pleasantly
enough.



It was fun to float all unseen, to float all unhampered by any corporeal
nonsense, up and down the platform. It was fun to watch the inmost
thoughts of the station-master, of the porters, of the young person at the
buffet. But of course I did not let the holiday-mood master me. I realised
the seriousness of my mission. I must concentrate myself on the matter in
hand: Miss Dobson’s visit. What was going to happen? Prescience was no
part of my outfit. From what I knew about Miss Dobson, I deduced that she
would be a great success. That was all. Had I had the instinct that was
given to those Emperors in stone, and even to the dog Corker, I should
have begged Clio to send in my stead some man of stronger nerve. She had
charged me to be calmly vigilant, scrupulously fair. I could have been
neither, had I from the outset foreseen all. Only because the immediate
future was broken to me by degrees, first as a set of possibilities, then
as a set of probabilities that yet might not come off, was I able to
fulfil the trust imposed in me. Even so, it was hard. I had always
accepted the doctrine that to understand all is to forgive all. Thanks to
Zeus, I understood all about Miss Dobson, and yet there were moments when
she repelled me—moments when I wished to see her neither from
without nor from within. So soon as the Duke of Dorset met her on the
Monday night, I felt I was in duty bound to keep him under constant
surveillance. Yet there were moments when I was so sorry for him that I
deemed myself a brute for shadowing him.



Ever since I can remember, I have been beset by a recurring doubt as to
whether I be or be not quite a gentleman. I have never attempted to define
that term: I have but feverishly wondered whether in its usual acceptation
(whatever that is) it be strictly applicable to myself. Many people hold
that the qualities connoted by it are primarily moral—a kind heart,
honourable conduct, and so forth. On Clio’s mission, I found honour and
kindness tugging me in precisely opposite directions. In so far as honour
tugged the harder, was I the more or the less gentlemanly? But the test is
not a fair one. Curiosity tugged on the side of honour. This goes to prove
me a cad? Oh, set against it the fact that I did at one point betray
Clio’s trust. When Miss Dobson had done the deed recorded at the close of
the foregoing chapter, I gave the Duke of Dorset an hour’s grace.



I could have done no less. In the lives of most of us is some one thing
that we would not after the lapse of how many years soever confess to our
most understanding friend; the thing that does not bear thinking of; the
one thing to be forgotten; the unforgettable thing. Not the commission of
some great crime: this can be atoned for by great penances; and the very
enormity of it has a dark grandeur. Maybe, some little deadly act of
meanness, some hole-and-corner treachery? But what a man has once willed
to do, his will helps him to forget. The unforgettable thing in his life
is usually not a thing he has done or left undone, but a thing done to him—some
insolence or cruelty for which he could not, or did not, avenge himself.
This it is that often comes back to him, years after, in his dreams, and
thrusts itself suddenly into his waking thoughts, so that he clenches his
hands, and shakes his head, and hums a tune loudly—anything to beat
it off. In the very hour when first befell him that odious humiliation,
would you have spied on him? I gave the Duke of Dorset an hour’s grace.



What were his thoughts in that interval, what words, if any, he uttered to
the night, never will be known. For this, Clio has abused me in language
less befitting a Muse than a fishwife. I do not care. I would rather be
chidden by Clio than by my own sense of delicacy, any day.














XII



Not less averse than from dogging the Duke was I from remaining another
instant in the presence of Miss Dobson. There seemed to be no possible
excuse for her. This time she had gone too far. She was outrageous. As
soon as the Duke had had time to get clear away, I floated out into the
night.



I may have consciously reasoned that the best way to forget the present
was in the revival of memories. Or I may have been driven by a mere homing
instinct. Anyhow, it was in the direction of my old College that I went.
Midnight was tolling as I floated in through the shut grim gate at which I
had so often stood knocking for admission.



The man who now occupied my room had sported his oak—my oak. I read
the name on the visiting-card attached thereto—E. J. Craddock—and
went in.



E. J. Craddock, interloper, was sitting at my table, with elbows squared
and head on one side, in the act of literary composition. The oars and
caps on my walls betokened him a rowing-man. Indeed, I recognised his
somewhat heavy face as that of the man whom, from the Judas barge this
afternoon, I had seen rowing “stroke” in my College Eight.



He ought, therefore, to have been in bed and asleep two hours ago. And the
offence of his vigil was aggravated by a large tumbler that stood in front
of him, containing whisky and soda. From this he took a deep draught. Then
he read over what he had written. I did not care to peer over his shoulder
at MS. which, though written in my room, was not intended for my eyes. But
the writer’s brain was open to me; and he had written “I, the undersigned
Edward Joseph Craddock, do hereby leave and bequeath all my personal and
other property to Zuleika Dobson, spinster. This is my last will and
testament.”



He gnawed his pen, and presently altered the “hereby leave” to “hereby and
herewith leave.” Fool!



I thereby and therewith left him. As I emerged through the floor of the
room above—through the very carpet that had so often been steeped in
wine, and encrusted with smithereens of glass, in the brave old days of a
well-remembered occupant—I found two men, both of them evidently
reading-men. One of them was pacing round the room. “Do you know,” he was
saying, “what she reminded me of, all the time? Those words—aren’t
they in the Song of Solomon?—‘fair as the moon, clear as the sun,
and... and...’”



“‘Terrible as an army with banners,’” supplied his host—rather
testily, for he was writing a letter. It began “My dear Father. By the
time you receive this I shall have taken a step which...”



Clearly it was vain to seek distraction in my old College. I floated out
into the untenanted meadows. Over them was the usual coverlet of white
vapour, trailed from the Isis right up to Merton Wall. The scent of these
meadows’ moisture is the scent of Oxford. Even in hottest noon, one feels
that the sun has not dried THEM. Always there is moisture drifting across
them, drifting into the Colleges. It, one suspects, must have had much to
do with the evocation of what is called the Oxford spirit—that
gentlest spirit, so lingering and searching, so dear to them who as youths
were brought into ken of it, so exasperating to them who were not. Yes,
certainly, it is this mild, miasmal air, not less than the grey beauty and
gravity of the buildings, that has helped Oxford to produce, and foster
eternally, her peculiar race of artist-scholars, scholar-artists. The
undergraduate, in his brief periods of residence, is too buoyant to be
mastered by the spirit of the place. He does but salute it, and catch the
manner. It is on him who stays to spend his maturity here that the spirit
will in its fulness gradually descend. The buildings and their traditions
keep astir in his mind whatsoever is gracious; the climate, enfolding and
enfeebling him, lulling him, keeps him careless of the sharp, harsh,
exigent realities of the outer world. Careless? Not utterly. These
realities may be seen by him. He may study them, be amused or touched by
them. But they cannot fire him. Oxford is too damp for that. The
“movements” made there have been no more than protests against the
mobility of others. They have been without the dynamic quality implied in
their name. They have been no more than the sighs of men gazing at what
other men had left behind them; faint, impossible appeals to the god of
retrogression, uttered for their own sake and ritual, rather than with any
intent that they should be heard. Oxford, that lotus-land, saps the
will-power, the power of action. But, in doing so, it clarifies the mind,
makes larger the vision, gives, above all, that playful and caressing
suavity of manner which comes of a conviction that nothing matters, except
ideas, and that not even ideas are worth dying for, inasmuch as the ghosts
of them slain seem worthy of yet more piously elaborate homage than can be
given to them in their heyday. If the Colleges could be transferred to the
dry and bracing top of some hill, doubtless they would be more evidently
useful to the nation. But let us be glad there is no engineer or enchanter
to compass that task. Egomet, I would liefer have the rest of England
subside into the sea than have Oxford set on a salubrious level. For there
is nothing in England to be matched with what lurks in the vapours of
these meadows, and in the shadows of these spires—that mysterious,
inenubilable spirit, spirit of Oxford. Oxford! The very sight of the word
printed, or sound of it spoken, is fraught for me with most actual magic.



And on that moonlit night when I floated among the vapours of these
meadows, myself less than a vapour, I knew and loved Oxford as never
before, as never since. Yonder, in the Colleges, was the fume and fret of
tragedy—Love as Death’s decoy, and Youth following her. What then?
Not Oxford was menaced. Come what might, not a stone of Oxford’s walls
would be loosened, nor a wreath of her vapours be undone, nor lost a
breath of her sacred spirit.



I floated up into the higher, drier air, that I might, for once, see the
total body of that spirit.



There lay Oxford far beneath me, like a map in grey and black and silver.
All that I had known only as great single things I saw now outspread in
apposition, and tiny; tiny symbols, as it were, of themselves, greatly
symbolising their oneness. There they lay, these multitudinous and
disparate quadrangles, all their rivalries merged in the making of a great
catholic pattern. And the roofs of the buildings around them seemed level
with their lawns. No higher the roofs of the very towers. Up from their
tiny segment of the earth’s spinning surface they stood negligible beneath
infinity. And new, too, quite new, in eternity; transient upstarts. I saw
Oxford as a place that had no more past and no more future than a
mining-camp. I smiled down. O hoary and unassailable mushroom!... But if a
man carry his sense of proportion far enough, lo! he is back at the point
from which he started. He knows that eternity, as conceived by him, is but
an instant in eternity, and infinity but a speck in infinity. How should
they belittle the things near to him?... Oxford was venerable and magical,
after all, and enduring. Aye, and not because she would endure was it the
less lamentable that the young lives within her walls were like to be
taken. My equanimity was gone; and a tear fell on Oxford.



And then, as though Oxford herself were speaking up to me, the air
vibrated with a sweet noise of music. It was the hour of one; the end of
the Duke’s hour of grace. Through the silvery tangle of sounds from other
clocks I floated quickly down to the Broad.














XIII



I had on the way a horrible apprehension. What if the Duke, in his agony,
had taken the one means to forgetfulness? His room, I could see, was lit
up; but a man does not necessarily choose to die in the dark. I hovered,
afraid, over the dome of the Sheldonian. I saw that the window of the room
above the Duke’s was also lit up. And there was no reason at all to doubt
the survival of Noaks. Perhaps the sight of him would hearten me.



I was wrong. The sight of Noaks in his room was as dismal a thing as could
be. With his chin sunk on his breast, he sat there, on a rickety chair,
staring up at the mantel-piece. This he had decked out as a sort of
shrine. In the centre, aloft on an inverted tin that had contained
Abernethy biscuits, stood a blue plush frame, with an inner rim of brass,
several sizes too big for the picture-postcard installed in it. Zuleika’s
image gazed forth with a smile that was obviously not intended for the
humble worshipper at this execrable shrine. On either side of her stood a
small vase, one holding some geraniums, the other some mignonette. And
just beneath her was placed that iron ring which, rightly or wrongly,
Noaks supposed to alleviate rheumatism—that same iron ring which, by
her touch to-night, had been charged for him with a yet deeper magic,
insomuch that he dared no longer wear it, and had set it before her as an
oblation.



Yet, for all his humility, he was possessed by a spirit of egoism that
repelled me. While he sat peering over his spectacles at the beauteous
image, he said again and again to himself, in a hollow voice, “I am so
young to die.” Every time he said this, two large, pear-shaped tears
emerged from behind his spectacles, and found their way to his waistcoat.
It did not seem to strike him that quite half of the undergraduates who
contemplated death—and contemplated it in a fearless, wholesome,
manly fashion—were his juniors. It seemed to seem to him that his
own death, even though all those other far brighter and more promising
lives than his were to be sacrificed, was a thing to bother about. Well,
if he did not want to die, why could he not have, at least, the courage of
his cowardice? The world would not cease to revolve because Noaks still
clung to its surface. For me the whole tragedy was cheapened by his
participation in it. I was fain to leave him. His squint, his short legs
dangling towards the floor, his tear-sodden waistcoat, and his refrain “I
am so young to die,” were beyond measure exasperating. Yet I hesitated to
pass into the room beneath, for fear of what I might see there.



How long I might have paltered, had no sound come from that room, I know
not. But a sound came, sharp and sudden in the night, instantly
reassuring. I swept down into the presence of the Duke.



He stood with his head flung back and his arms folded, gorgeous in a
dressing-gown of crimson brocade. In animation of pride and pomp, he
looked less like a mortal man than like a figure from some great biblical
group by Paul Veronese.



And this was he whom I had presumed to pity! And this was he whom I had
half expected to find dead.



His face, usually pale, was now red; and his hair, which no eye had ever
yet seen disordered, stood up in a glistening shock. These two changes in
him intensified the effect of vitality. One of them, however, vanished as
I watched it. The Duke’s face resumed its pallor. I realised then that he
had but blushed; and I realised, simultaneously, that what had called that
blush to his cheek was what had also been the signal to me that he was
alive. His blush had been a pendant to his sneeze. And his sneeze had been
a pendant to that outrage which he had been striving to forget. He had
caught cold.



He had caught cold. In the hour of his soul’s bitter need, his body had
been suborned against him. Base! Had he not stripped his body of its wet
vesture? Had he not vigorously dried his hair, and robed himself in
crimson, and struck in solitude such attitudes as were most congruous with
his high spirit and high rank? He had set himself to crush remembrance of
that by which through his body his soul had been assailed. And well had he
known that in this conflict a giant demon was his antagonist. But that his
own body would play traitor—no, this he had not foreseen. This was
too base a thing to be foreseen.



He stood quite still, a figure orgulous and splendent. And it seemed as
though the hot night, too, stood still, to watch him, in awe, through the
open lattices of his window, breathlessly. But to me, equipped to see
beneath the surface, he was piteous, piteous in ratio to the pretension of
his aspect. Had he crouched down and sobbed, I should have been as much
relieved as he. But he stood seignorial and aquiline.



Painless, by comparison with this conflict in him, seemed the conflict
that had raged in him yesternight. Then, it had been his dandihood against
his passion for Zuleika. What mattered the issue? Whichever won, the
victory were sweet. And of this he had all the while been subconscious,
gallantly though he fought for his pride of dandihood. To-night in the
battle between pride and memory, he knew from the outset that pride’s was
but a forlorn hope, and that memory would be barbarous in her triumph. Not
winning to oblivion, he must hate with a fathomless hatred. Of all the
emotions, hatred is the most excruciating. Of all the objects of hatred, a
woman once loved is the most hateful. Of all deaths, the bitterest that
can befall a man is that he lay down his life to flatter the woman he
deems vilest of her sex.



Such was the death that the Duke of Dorset saw confronting him. Most men,
when they are at war with the past, have the future as ally. Looking
steadfastly forward, they can forget. The Duke’s future was openly in
league with his past. For him, prospect was memory. All that there was for
him of future was the death to which his honour was pledged. To envisage
that was to... no, he would NOT envisage it! With a passionate effort he
hypnotised himself to think of nothing at all. His brain, into which, by
the power Zeus gave me, I was gazing, became a perfect vacuum, insulated
by the will. It was the kind of experiment which scientists call
“beautiful.” And yes, beautiful it was.



But not in the eyes of Nature. She abhors a vacuum. Seeing the enormous
odds against which the Duke was fighting, she might well have stood aside.
But she has no sense of sport whatsoever. She stepped in.



At first I did not realise what was happening. I saw the Duke’s eyes
contract, and the muscles of his mouth drawn down, and, at the same time,
a tense upward movement of his whole body. Then, suddenly, the strain
undone: a downward dart of the head, a loud percussion. Thrice the Duke
sneezed, with a sound that was as the bursting of the dams of body and
soul together; then sneezed again.



Now was his will broken. He capitulated. In rushed shame and horror and
hatred, pell-mell, to ravage him.



What care now, what use, for deportment? He walked coweringly round and
round his room, with frantic gestures, with head bowed. He shuffled and
slunk. His dressing-gown had the look of a gabardine.



Shame and horror and hatred went slashing and hewing throughout the fallen
citadel. At length, exhausted, he flung himself down on the window-seat
and leaned out into the night, panting. The air was full of thunder. He
clutched at his throat. From the depths of the black caverns beneath their
brows the eyes of the unsleeping Emperors watched him.



He had gone through much in the day that was past. He had loved and lost.
He had striven to recapture, and had failed. In a strange resolve he had
found serenity and joy. He had been at the point of death, and had been
saved. He had seen that his beloved was worthless, and he had not cared.
He had fought for her, and conquered; and had pled with her, and—all
these memories were loathsome by reason of that final thing which had all
the while lain in wait for him.



He looked back and saw himself as he had been at a score of crucial
moments in the day—always in the shadow of that final thing. He saw
himself as he had been on the playing-fields of Eton; aye! and in the arms
of his nurse, to and fro on the terrace of Tankerton—always in the
shadow of that final thing, always piteous and ludicrous, doomed. Thank
heaven the future was unknowable? It wasn’t, now. To-morrow—to-day—he
must die for that accursed fiend of a woman—the woman with the hyena
laugh.



What to do meanwhile? Impossible to sleep. He felt in his body the strain
of his quick sequence of spiritual adventures. He was dog-tired. But his
brain was furiously out of hand: no stopping it. And the night was
stifling. And all the while, in the dead silence, as though his soul had
ears, there was a sound. It was a very faint, unearthly sound, and seemed
to come from nowhere, yet to have a meaning. He feared he was rather
over-wrought.



He must express himself. That would soothe him. Ever since childhood he
had had, from time to time, the impulse to set down in writing his
thoughts or his moods. In such exercises he had found for his
self-consciousness the vent which natures less reserved than his find in
casual talk with Tom, Dick and Harry, with Jane, Susan, and Liz. Aloof
from either of these triads, he had in his first term at Eton taken to
himself as confidant, and retained ever since, a great quarto volume,
bound in red morocco and stamped with his coronet and cypher. It was
herein, year by year, that his soul spread itself.



He wrote mostly in English prose; but other modes were not infrequent.
Whenever he was abroad, it was his courteous habit to write in the
language of the country where he was residing—French, when he was in
his house on the Champs Elysees; Italian, when he was in his villa at
Baiae; and so on. When he was in his own country he felt himself free to
deviate sometimes from the vernacular into whatever language were aptest
to his frame of mind. In his sterner moods he gravitated to Latin, and
wrought the noble iron of that language to effects that were, if anything,
a trifle over-impressive. He found for his highest flights of
contemplation a handy vehicle in Sanscrit. In hours of mere joy it was
Greek poetry that flowed likeliest from his pen; and he had a special
fondness for the metre of Alcaeus.



And now, too, in his darkest hour, it was Greek that surged in him—iambics
of thunderous wrath such as those which are volleyed by Prometheus. But as
he sat down to his writing-table, and unlocked the dear old album, and
dipped his pen in the ink, a great calm fell on him. The iambics in him
began to breathe such sweetness as is on the lips of Alcestis going to her
doom. But, just as he set pen to paper, his hand faltered, and he sprang
up, victim of another and yet more violent fit of sneezing.



Disbuskined, dangerous. The spirit of Juvenal woke in him. He would flay.
He would make Woman (as he called Zuleika) writhe. Latin hexameters, of
course. An epistle to his heir presumptive... “Vae tibi,” he began,


     “Vae tibi, vae misero, nisi circumspexeris artes
Femineas, nam nulla salus quin femina possit
Tradere, nulla fides quin”—


“Quin,” he repeated. In writing soliloquies, his trouble was to curb
inspiration. The thought that he was addressing his heir-presumptive—now
heir-only-too-apparent—gave him pause. Nor, he reflected, was he
addressing this brute only, but a huge posthumous audience. These
hexameters would be sure to appear in the “authorised” biography. “A
melancholy interest attaches to the following lines, written, it would
seem, on the very eve of”... He winced. Was it really possible, and no
dream, that he was to die to-morrow—to-day?



Even you, unassuming reader, go about with a vague notion that in your
case, somehow, the ultimate demand of nature will be waived. The Duke,
until he conceived his sudden desire to die, had deemed himself certainly
exempt. And now, as he sat staring at his window, he saw in the paling of
the night the presage of the dawn of his own last day. Sometimes (orphaned
though he was in early childhood) he had even found it hard to believe
there was no exemption for those to whom he stood in any personal
relation. He remembered how, soon after he went to Eton, he had received
almost with incredulity the news of the death of his god-father, Lord
Stackley, an octogenarian.... He took from the table his album, knowing
that on one of the earliest pages was inscribed his boyish sense of that
bereavement. Yes, here the passage was, written in a large round hand:



“Death knocks, as we know, at the door of the cottage and of the castle.
He stalks up the front-garden and the steep steps of the semi-detached
villa, and plies the ornamental knocker so imperiously that the panels of
imitation stained glass quiver in the thin front-door. Even the family
that occupies the topmost story of a building without a lift is on his
ghastly visiting-list. He rattles his fleshless knuckles against the door
of the gypsy’s caravan. Into the savage’s tent, wigwam, or wattled hut, he
darts unbidden. Even on the hermit in the cave he forces his obnoxious
presence. His is an universal beat, and he walks it with a grin. But be
sure it is at the sombre portal of the nobleman that he knocks with the
greatest gusto. It is there, where haply his visit will be commemorated
with a hatchment; it is then, when the muffled thunder of the Dead March
in ‘Saul’ will soon be rolling in cathedrals; it is then, it is there,
that the pride of his unquestioned power comes grimliest home to him. Is
there no withstanding him? Why should he be admitted always with awe, a
cravenly-honoured guest? When next he calls, let the butler send him about
his business, or tell him to step round to the servants’ entrance. If it
be made plain to him that his visits are an impertinence, he will soon be
disemboldened. Once the aristocracy make a stand against him, there need
be no more trouble about the exorbitant Duties named after him. And for
the hereditary system—that system which both offends the common
sense of the Radical, and wounds the Tory by its implied admission that
noblemen are mortal—a seemly substitute will have been found.”



Artless and crude in expression, very boyish, it seemed now to its author.
Yet, in its simple wistfulness, it had quality: it rang true. The Duke
wondered whether, with all that he had since mastered in the great art of
English prose, he had not lost something, too.



“Is there no withstanding him?” To think that the boy who uttered that
cry, and gave back so brave an answer, was within nine years to go seek
death of his own accord! How the gods must be laughing! Yes, the exquisite
point of the joke, for them, was that he CHOSE to die. But—and, as
the thought flashed through him, he started like a man shot—what if
he chose not to? Stay, surely there was some reason why he MUST die. Else,
why throughout the night had he taken his doom for granted?... Honour:
yes, he had pledged himself. Better death than dishonour. Was it, though?
was it? Ah, he, who had come so near to death, saw dishonour as a tiny
trifle. Where was the sting of it? Not he would be ridiculous to-morrow—to-day.
Every one would acclaim his splendid act of moral courage. She, she, the
hyena woman, would be the fool. No one would have thought of dying for
her, had he not set the example. Every one would follow his new example.
Yes, he would save Oxford yet. That was his duty. Duty and darling
vengeance! And life—life!



It was full dawn now. Gone was that faint, monotonous sound which had
punctuated in his soul the horrors of his vigil. But, in reminder of those
hours, his lamp was still burning. He extinguished it; and the going-out
of that tarnished light made perfect his sense of release.



He threw wide his arms in welcome of the great adorable day, and of all
the great adorable days that were to be his.



He leaned out from his window, drinking the dawn in. The gods had made
merry over him, had they? And the cry of the hyena had made night hideous.
Well, it was his turn now. He would laugh last and loudest.



And already, for what was to be, he laughed outright into the morning;
insomuch that the birds in the trees of Trinity, and still more the
Emperors over the way, marvelled greatly.














XIV



They had awaited thousands and innumerable thousands of daybreaks in the
Broad, these Emperors, counting the long slow hours till the night were
over. It is in the night especially that their fallen greatness haunts
them. Day brings some distraction. They are not incurious of the lives
around them—these little lives that succeed one another so quickly.
To them, in their immemorial old age, youth is a constant wonder. And so
is death, which to them comes not. Youth or death—which, they had
often asked themselves, was the goodlier? But it was ill that these two
things should be mated. It was ill-come, this day of days.



Long after the Duke was in bed and asleep, his peal of laughter echoed in
the ears of the Emperors. Why had he laughed?



And they said to themselves “We are very old men, and broken, and in a
land not our own. There are things that we do not understand.”



Brief was the freshness of the dawn. From all points of the compass, dark
grey clouds mounted into the sky. There, taking their places as though in
accordance to a strategic plan laid down for them, they ponderously massed
themselves, and presently, as at a given signal, drew nearer to earth, and
halted, an irresistible great army, awaiting orders.



Somewhere under cover of them the sun went his way, transmitting a
sulphurous heat. The very birds in the trees of Trinity were oppressed and
did not twitter. The very leaves did not whisper.



Out through the railings, and across the road, prowled a skimpy and dingy
cat, trying to look like a tiger.



It was all very sinister and dismal.



The hours passed. The Broad put forth, one by one, its signs of waking.



Soon after eight o’clock, as usual, the front-door of the Duke’s lodgings
was opened from within. The Emperors watched for the faint cloud of dust
that presently emerged, and for her whom it preceded. To them, this first
outcoming of the landlady’s daughter was a moment of daily interest.
Katie!—they had known her as a toddling child; and later as a little
girl scampering off to school, all legs and pinafore and streaming golden
hair. And now she was sixteen years old. Her hair, tied back at the nape
of her neck, would very soon be “up.” Her big blue eyes were as they had
always been; but she had long passed out of pinafores into aprons, had
taken on a sedateness befitting her years and her duties, and was anxious
to be regarded rather as an aunt than as a sister by her brother Clarence,
aged twelve. The Emperors had always predicted that she would be pretty.
And very pretty she was.



As she came slowly out, with eyes downcast to her broom, sweeping the dust
so seriously over the doorstep and then across the pavement, and anon when
she reappeared with pail and scrubbing-brush, and abased herself before
the doorstep, and wrought so vehemently there, what filled her little soul
was not the dignity of manual labour. The duties that Zuleika had envied
her were dear to her exactly as they would have been, yesterday morning,
to Zuleika. The Emperors had often noticed that during vacations their
little favourite’s treatment of the doorstep was languid and perfunctory.
They knew well her secret, and always (for who can be long in England
without becoming sentimental?) they cherished the hope of a romantic union
between her and “a certain young gentleman,” as they archly called the
Duke. His continued indifference to her they took almost as an affront to
themselves. Where in all England was a prettier, sweeter girl than their
Katie? The sudden irruption of Zuleika into Oxford was especially grievous
to them because they could no longer hope against hope that Katie would be
led by the Duke to the altar, and thence into the highest social circles,
and live happily ever after. Luckily it was for Katie, however, that they
had no power to fill her head with their foolish notions. It was well for
her to have never doubted she loved in vain. She had soon grown used to
her lot. Not until yesterday had there been any bitterness. Jealousy
surged in Katie at the very moment when she beheld Zuleika on the
threshold. A glance at the Duke’s face when she showed the visitor up was
enough to acquaint her with the state of his heart. And she did not, for
confirming her intuition, need the two or three opportunities she took of
listening at the keyhole. What in the course of those informal audiences
did surprise her—so much indeed that she could hardly believe her
ear—was that it was possible for a woman not to love the Duke. Her
jealousy of “that Miss Dobson” was for a while swallowed up in her pity
for him. What she had borne so cheerfully for herself she could not bear
for her hero. She wished she had not happened to listen.



And this morning, while she knelt swaying and spreading over “his”
doorstep, her blue eyes added certain tears to be scrubbed away in the
general moisture of the stone. Rising, she dried her hands in her apron,
and dried her eyes with her hands. Lest her mother should see that she had
been crying, she loitered outside the door. Suddenly, her roving glance
changed to a stare of acute hostility. She knew well that the person
wandering towards her was—no, not “that Miss Dobson,” as she had for
the fraction of an instant supposed, but the next worst thing.



It has been said that Melisande indoors was an evidently French maid. Out
of doors she was not less evidently Zuleika’s. Not that she aped her
mistress. The resemblance had come by force of propinquity and devotion.
Nature had laid no basis for it. Not one point of form or colour had the
two women in common. It has been said that Zuleika was not strictly
beautiful. Melisande, like most Frenchwomen, was strictly plain. But in
expression and port, in her whole tournure, she had become, as every good
maid does, her mistress’ replica. The poise of her head, the boldness of
her regard and brilliance of her smile, the leisurely and swinging way in
which she walked, with a hand on the hip—all these things of hers
were Zuleika’s too. She was no conqueror. None but the man to whom she was
betrothed—a waiter at the Cafe Tourtel, named Pelleas—had ever
paid court to her; nor was she covetous of other hearts. Yet she looked
victorious, and insatiable of victories, and “terrible as an army with
banners.”



In the hand that was not on her hip she carried a letter. And on her
shoulders she had to bear the full burden of the hatred that Zuleika had
inspired in Katie. But this she did not know. She came glancing boldly,
leisurely, at the numbers on the front-doors.



Katie stepped back on to the doorstep, lest the inferiority of her stature
should mar the effect of her disdain.



“Good-day. Is it here that Duke D’Orsay lives?” asked Melisande, as nearly
accurate as a Gaul may be in such matters.



“The Duke of Dorset,” said Katie with a cold and insular emphasis, “lives
here.” And “You,” she tried to convey with her eyes, “you, for all your
smart black silk, are a hireling. I am Miss Batch. I happen to have a
hobby for housework. I have not been crying.”



“Then please mount this to him at once,” said Melisande, holding out the
letter. “It is from Miss Dobson’s part. Very express. I wait response.”



“You are very ugly,” Katie signalled with her eyes. “I am very pretty. I
have the Oxfordshire complexion. And I play the piano.” With her lips she
said merely, “His Grace is not called before nine o’clock.”



“But to-day you go wake him now—quick—is it not?”



“Quite out of the question,” said Katie. “If you care to leave that letter
here, I will see that it is placed on his Grace’s breakfast-table, with
the morning’s post.” “For the rest,” added her eyes, “Down with France!”



“I find you droll, but droll, my little one!” cried Melisande.



Katie stepped back and shut the door in her face. “Like a little Empress,”
the Emperors commented.



The Frenchwoman threw up her hands and apostrophised heaven. To this day
she believes that all the bonnes of Oxford are mad, but mad, and of a
madness.



She stared at the door, at the pail and scrubbing-brush that had been shut
out with her, at the letter in her hand. She decided that she had better
drop the letter into the slit in the door and make report to Miss Dobson.



As the envelope fell through the slit to the door-mat, Katie made at
Melisande a grimace which, had not the panels been opaque, would have
astonished the Emperors. Resuming her dignity, she picked the thing up,
and, at arm’s length, examined it. It was inscribed in pencil. Katie’s
lips curled at sight of the large, audacious handwriting. But it is
probable that whatever kind of handwriting Zuleika might have had would
have been just the kind that Katie would have expected.



Fingering the envelope, she wondered what the wretched woman had to say.
It occurred to her that the kettle was simmering on the hob in the
kitchen, and that she might easily steam open the envelope and master its
contents. However, her doing this would have in no way affected the course
of the tragedy. And so the gods (being to-day in a strictly artistic mood)
prompted her to mind her own business.



Laying the Duke’s table for breakfast, she made as usual a neat
rectangular pile of the letters that had come for him by post. Zuleika’s
letter she threw down askew. That luxury she allowed herself.



And he, when he saw the letter, allowed himself the luxury of leaving it
unopened awhile. Whatever its purport, he knew it could but minister to
his happy malice. A few hours ago, with what shame and dread it would have
stricken him! Now it was a dainty to be dallied with.



His eyes rested on the black tin boxes that contained his robes of the
Garter. Hateful had been the sight of them in the watches of the night,
when he thought he had worn those robes for the last time. But now—!



He opened Zuleika’s letter. It did not disappoint him.



“DEAR DUKE,—DO, DO forgive me. I am beyond words ashamed of the
silly tomboyish thing I did last night. Of course it was no worse than
that, but an awful fear haunts me that you MAY have thought I acted in
anger at the idea of your breaking your promise to me. Well, it is quite
true I had been hurt and angry when you hinted at doing that, but the
moment I left you I saw that you had been only in fun, and I enjoyed the
joke against myself, though I thought it was rather too bad of you. And
then, as a sort of revenge, but almost before I knew what I was doing, I
played that IDIOTIC practical joke on you. I have been MISERABLE ever
since. DO come round as early as possible and tell me I am forgiven. But
before you tell me that, please lecture me till I cry—though indeed
I have been crying half through the night. And then if you want to be VERY
horrid you may tease me for being so slow to see a joke. And then you
might take me to see some of the Colleges and things before we go on to
lunch at The MacQuern’s? Forgive pencil and scrawl. Am sitting up in bed
to write.—Your sincere friend,



“Z. D.



“P.S.—Please burn this.”



At that final injunction, the Duke abandoned himself to his mirth. “Please
burn this.” Poor dear young woman, how modest she was in the glare of her
diplomacy! Why there was nothing, not one phrase, to compromise her in the
eyes of a coroner’s jury!... Seriously, she had good reason to be proud of
her letter. For the purpose in view it couldn’t have been better done.
That was what made it so touchingly absurd. He put himself in her
position. He pictured himself as her, “sitting up in bed,” pencil in hand,
to explain away, to soothe, to clinch and bind... Yes, if he had happened
to be some other man—one whom her insult might have angered without
giving love its death-blow, and one who could be frightened out of not
keeping his word—this letter would have been capital.



He helped himself to some more marmalade, and poured out another cup of
coffee. Nothing is more thrilling, thought he, than to be treated as a
cully by the person you hold in the hollow of your hand.



But within this great irony lay (to be glided over) another irony. He knew
well in what mood Zuleika had done what she had done to him last night;
yet he preferred to accept her explanation of it.



Officially, then, he acquitted her of anything worse than tomboyishness.
But this verdict for his own convenience implied no mercy to the culprit.
The sole point for him was how to administer her punishment the most
poignantly. Just how should he word his letter?



He rose from his chair, and “Dear Miss Dobson—no, MY dear Miss
Dobson,” he murmured, pacing the room, “I am so very sorry I cannot come
to see you: I have to attend two lectures this morning. By contrast with
this weariness, it will be the more delightful to meet you at The
MacQuern’s. I want to see as much as I can of you to-day, because to-night
there is the Bump Supper, and to-morrow morning, alas! I must motor to
Windsor for this wretched Investiture. Meanwhile, how can you ask to be
forgiven when there is nothing whatever to forgive? It seems to me that
mine, not yours, is the form of humour that needs explanation. My proposal
to die for you was made in as playful a spirit as my proposal to marry
you. And it is really for me to ask forgiveness of you. One thing
especially,” he murmured, fingering in his waistcoat-pocket the ear-rings
she had given him, “pricks my conscience. I do feel that I ought not to
have let you give me these two pearls—at any rate, not the one which
went into premature mourning for me. As I have no means of deciding which
of the two this one is, I enclose them both, with the hope that the pretty
difference between them will in time reappear”... Or words to that
effect... Stay! why not add to the joy of contriving that effect the
greater joy of watching it? Why send Zuleika a letter? He would obey her
summons. He would speed to her side. He snatched up a hat.



In this haste, however, he detected a certain lack of dignity. He steadied
himself, and went slowly to the mirror. There he adjusted his hat with
care, and regarded himself very seriously, very sternly, from various
angles, like a man invited to paint his own portrait for the Uffizi. He
must be worthy of himself. It was well that Zuleika should be chastened.
Great was her sin. Out of life and death she had fashioned toys for her
vanity. But his joy must be in vindication of what was noble, not in
making suffer what was vile. Yesterday he had been her puppet, her
Jumping-Jack; to-day it was as avenging angel that he would appear before
her. The gods had mocked him who was now their minister. Their minister?
Their master, as being once more master of himself. It was they who had
plotted his undoing. Because they loved him they were fain that he should
die young. The Dobson woman was but their agent, their cat’s-paw. By her
they had all but got him. Not quite! And now, to teach them, through her,
a lesson they would not soon forget, he would go forth.



Shaking with laughter, the gods leaned over the thunder-clouds to watch
him.



He went forth.



On the well-whitened doorstep he was confronted by a small boy in uniform
bearing a telegram.



“Duke of Dorset?” asked the small boy.



Opening the envelope, the Duke saw that the message, with which was a
prepaid form for reply, had been handed in at the Tankerton post-office.
It ran thus:


     Deeply regret inform your grace last night
two black owls came and perched on battlements
remained there through night hooting
at dawn flew away none knows whither
awaiting instructions Jellings


The Duke’s face, though it grew white, moved not one muscle.



Somewhat shamed now, the gods ceased from laughing.



The Duke looked from the telegram to the boy. “Have you a pencil?” he
asked.



“Yes, my Lord,” said the boy, producing a stump of pencil.



Holding the prepaid form against the door, the Duke wrote:


     Jellings Tankerton Hall
Prepare vault for funeral Monday

Dorset



His handwriting was as firmly and minutely beautiful as ever. Only in that
he forgot there was nothing to pay did he belie his calm. “Here,” he said
to the boy, “is a shilling; and you may keep the change.”



“Thank you, my Lord,” said the boy, and went his way, as happy as a
postman.














XV



Humphrey Greddon, in the Duke’s place, would have taken a pinch of snuff.
But he could not have made that gesture with a finer air than the Duke
gave to its modern equivalent. In the art of taking and lighting a
cigarette, there was one man who had no rival in Europe. This time he
outdid even himself.



“Ah,” you say, “but ‘pluck’ is one thing, endurance another. A man who
doesn’t reel on receipt of his death-warrant may yet break down when he
has had time to think it over. How did the Duke acquit himself when he
came to the end of his cigarette? And by the way, how was it that after he
had read the telegram you didn’t give him again an hour’s grace?”



In a way, you have a perfect right to ask both those questions. But their
very pertinence shows that you think I might omit things that matter.
Please don’t interrupt me again. Am I writing this history, or are
you?



Though the news that he must die was a yet sharper douche, as you have
suggested, than the douche inflicted by Zuleika, it did at least leave
unscathed the Duke’s pride. The gods can make a man ridiculous through a
woman, but they cannot make him ridiculous when they deal him a blow
direct. The very greatness of their power makes them, in that respect,
impotent. They had decreed that the Duke should die, and they had told him
so. There was nothing to demean him in that. True, he had just measured
himself against them. But there was no shame in being gravelled. The
peripety was according to the best rules of tragic art. The whole thing
was in the grand manner.



Thus I felt that there were no indelicacy, this time, in watching him.
Just as “pluck” comes of breeding, so is endurance especially an attribute
of the artist. Because he can stand outside himself, and (if there be
nothing ignoble in them) take a pleasure in his own sufferings, the artist
has a huge advantage over you and me. The Duke, so soon as Zuleika’s spell
was broken, had become himself again—a highly self-conscious artist
in life. And now, standing pensive on the doorstep, he was almost enviable
in his great affliction.



Through the wreaths of smoke which, as they came from his lips, hung in
the sultry air as they would have hung in a closed room, he gazed up at
the steadfast thunder-clouds. How nobly they had been massed for him! One
of them, a particularly large and dark one, might with advantage, he
thought, have been placed a little further to the left. He made a gesture
to that effect. Instantly the cloud rolled into position. The gods were
painfully anxious, now, to humour him in trifles. His behaviour in the
great emergency had so impressed them at a distance that they rather
dreaded meeting him anon at close quarters. They rather wished they had
not uncaged, last night, the two black owls. Too late. What they had done
they had done.



That faint monotonous sound in the stillness of the night—the Duke
remembered it now. What he had thought to be only his fancy had been his
death-knell, wafted to him along uncharted waves of ether, from the
battlements of Tankerton. It had ceased at daybreak. He wondered now that
he had not guessed its meaning. And he was glad that he had not. He was
thankful for the peace that had been granted to him, the joyous arrogance
in which he had gone to bed and got up for breakfast. He valued these
mercies the more for the great tragic irony that came of them. Aye, and he
was inclined to blame the gods for not having kept him still longer in the
dark and so made the irony still more awful. Why had they not caused the
telegram to be delayed in transmission? They ought to have let him go and
riddle Zuleika with his scorn and his indifference. They ought to have let
him hurl through her his defiance of them. Art aside, they need not have
grudged him that excursion.



He could not, he told himself, face Zuleika now. As artist, he saw that
there was irony enough left over to make the meeting a fine one. As
theologian, he did not hold her responsible for his destiny. But as a man,
after what she had done to him last night, and before what he had to do
for her to-day, he would not go out of his way to meet her. Of course, he
would not actually avoid her. To seem to run away from her were beneath
his dignity. But, if he did meet her, what in heaven’s name should he say
to her? He remembered his promise to lunch with The MacQuern, and
shuddered. She would be there. Death, as he had said, cancelled all
engagements. A very simple way out of the difficulty would be to go
straight to the river. No, that would be like running away. It couldn’t be
done.



Hardly had he rejected the notion when he had a glimpse of a female figure
coming quickly round the corner—a glimpse that sent him walking
quickly away, across the road, towards Turl Street, blushing violently.
Had she seen him? he asked himself. And had she seen that he saw her? He
heard her running after him. He did not look round, he quickened his pace.
She was gaining on him. Involuntarily, he ran—ran like a hare, and,
at the corner of Turl Street, rose like a trout, saw the pavement rise at
him, and fell, with a bang, prone.



Let it be said at once that in this matter the gods were absolutely
blameless. It is true they had decreed that a piece of orange-peel should
be thrown down this morning at the corner of Turl Street. But the Master
of Balliol, not the Duke, was the person they had destined to slip on it.
You must not imagine that they think out and appoint everything that is to
befall us, down to the smallest detail. Generally, they just draw a sort
of broad outline, and leave us to fill it in according to our taste. Thus,
in the matters of which this book is record, it was they who made the
Warden invite his grand-daughter to Oxford, and invite the Duke to meet
her on the evening of her arrival. And it was they who prompted the Duke
to die for her on the following (Tuesday) afternoon. They had intended
that he should execute his resolve after, or before, the boat-race of that
evening. But an oversight upset this plan. They had forgotten on Monday
night to uncage the two black owls; and so it was necessary that the
Duke’s death should be postponed. They accordingly prompted Zuleika to
save him. For the rest, they let the tragedy run its own course—merely
putting in a felicitous touch here and there, or vetoing a superfluity,
such as that Katie should open Zuleika’s letter. It was no part of their
scheme that the Duke should mistake Melisande for her mistress, or that he
should run away from her, and they were genuinely sorry when he, instead
of the Master of Balliol, came to grief over the orange-peel.



Them, however, the Duke cursed as he fell; them again as he raised himself
on one elbow, giddy and sore; and when he found that the woman bending
over him was not she whom he dreaded, but her innocent maid, it was
against them that he almost foamed at the mouth.



“Monsieur le Duc has done himself harm—no?” panted Melisande. “Here
is a letter from Miss Dobson’s part. She say to me ‘Give it him with your
own hand.’”



The Duke received the letter and, sitting upright, tore it to shreds, thus
confirming a suspicion which Melisande had conceived at the moment when he
took to his heels, that all English noblemen are mad, but mad, and of a
madness.



“Nom de Dieu,” she cried, wringing her hands, “what shall I tell to
Mademoiselle?”



“Tell her—” the Duke choked back a phrase of which the memory would
have shamed his last hours. “Tell her,” he substituted, “that you have
seen Marius sitting among the ruins of Carthage,” and limped quickly away
down the Turl.



Both his hands had been abraded by the fall. He tended them angrily with
his handkerchief. Mr. Druce, the chemist, had anon the privilege of
bathing and plastering them, also of balming and binding the right knee
and the left shin. “Might have been a very nasty accident, your Grace,” he
said. “It was,” said the Duke. Mr. Druce concurred.



Nevertheless, Mr. Druce’s remark sank deep. The Duke thought it quite
likely that the gods had intended the accident to be fatal, and that only
by his own skill and lightness in falling had he escaped the ignominy of
dying in full flight from a lady’s-maid. He had not, you see, lost all
sense of free-will. While Mr. Druce put the finishing touches to his shin,
“I am utterly purposed,” he said to himself, “that for this death of mine
I will choose my own manner and my own—well, not ‘time’ exactly, but
whatever moment within my brief span of life shall seem aptest to me.
Unberufen,” he added, lightly tapping Mr. Druce’s counter.



The sight of some bottles of Cold Mixture on that hospitable board
reminded him of a painful fact. In the clash of the morning’s excitements,
he had hardly felt the gross ailment that was on him. He became fully
conscious of it now, and there leapt in him a hideous doubt: had he
escaped a violent death only to succumb to “natural causes”? He had never
hitherto had anything the matter with him, and thus he belonged to the
worst, the most apprehensive, class of patients. He knew that a cold, were
it neglected, might turn malignant; and he had a vision of himself gripped
suddenly in the street by internal agonies—a sympathetic crowd, an
ambulance, his darkened bedroom; local doctor making hopelessly wrong
diagnosis; eminent specialists served up hot by special train, commending
local doctor’s treatment, but shaking their heads and refusing to say more
than “He has youth on his side”; a slight rally at sunset; the end. All
this flashed through his mind. He quailed. There was not a moment to lose.
He frankly confessed to Mr. Druce that he had a cold.



Mr. Druce, trying to insinuate by his manner that this fact had not been
obvious, suggested the Mixture—a teaspoonful every two hours. “Give
me some now, please, at once,” said the Duke.



He felt magically better for the draught. He handled the little glass
lovingly, and eyed the bottle. “Why not two teaspoonfuls every hour?” he
suggested, with an eagerness almost dipsomaniacal. But Mr. Druce was
respectfully firm against that. The Duke yielded. He fancied, indeed, that
the gods had meant him to die of an overdose.



Still, he had a craving for more. Few though his hours were, he hoped the
next two would pass quickly. And, though he knew Mr. Druce could be
trusted to send the bottle round to his rooms immediately, he preferred to
carry it away with him. He slipped it into the breast-pocket of his coat,
almost heedless of the slight extrusion it made there.



Just as he was about to cross the High again, on his way home, a butcher’s
cart dashed down the slope, recklessly driven. He stepped well back on the
pavement, and smiled a sardonic smile. He looked to right and to left,
carefully gauging the traffic. Some time elapsed before he deemed the road
clear enough for transit.



Safely across, he encountered a figure that seemed to loom up out of the
dim past. Oover! Was it but yesternight that Oover dined with him? With
the sensation of a man groping among archives, he began to apologise to
the Rhodes Scholar for having left him so abruptly at the Junta. Then,
presto!—as though those musty archives were changed to a crisp
morning paper agog with terrific head-lines—he remembered the awful
resolve of Oover, and of all young Oxford.



“Of course,” he asked, with a lightness that hardly hid his dread of the
answer, “you have dismissed the notion you were toying with when I left
you?”



Oover’s face, like his nature, was as sensitive as it was massive, and it
instantly expressed his pain at the doubt cast on his high seriousness.
“Duke,” he asked, “d’you take me for a skunk?”



“Without pretending to be quite sure what a skunk is,” said the Duke, “I
take you to be all that it isn’t. And the high esteem in which I hold you
is the measure for me of the loss that your death would be to America and
to Oxford.”



Oover blushed. “Duke” he said “that’s a bully testimonial. But don’t
worry. America can turn out millions just like me, and Oxford can have as
many of them as she can hold. On the other hand, how many of YOU can be
turned out, as per sample, in England? Yet you choose to destroy yourself.
You avail yourself of the Unwritten Law. And you’re right, Sir. Love
transcends all.”



“But does it? What if I told you I had changed my mind?”



“Then, Duke,” said Oover, slowly, “I should believe that all those yarns I
used to hear about the British aristocracy were true, after all. I should
aver that you were not a white man. Leading us on like that, and then—Say,
Duke! Are you going to die to-day, or not?”



“As a matter of fact, I am, but—”



“Shake!”



“But—”



Oover wrung the Duke’s hand, and was passing on. “Stay!” he was adjured.



“Sorry, unable. It’s just turning eleven o’clock, and I’ve a lecture.
While life lasts, I’m bound to respect Rhodes’ intentions.” The
conscientious Scholar hurried away.



The Duke wandered down the High, taking counsel with himself. He was
ashamed of having so utterly forgotten the mischief he had wrought at
large. At dawn he had vowed to undo it. Undo it he must. But the task was
not a simple one now. If he could say “Behold, I take back my word. I
spurn Miss Dobson, and embrace life,” it was possible that his example
would suffice. But now that he could only say “Behold, I spurn Miss
Dobson, and will not die for her, but I am going to commit suicide, all
the same,” it was clear that his words would carry very little force.
Also, he saw with pain that they placed him in a somewhat ludicrous
position. His end, as designed yesterday, had a large and simple grandeur.
So had his recantation of it. But this new compromise between the two
things had a fumbled, a feeble, an ignoble look. It seemed to combine all
the disadvantages of both courses. It stained his honour without
prolonging his life. Surely, this was a high price to pay for snubbing
Zuleika... Yes, he must revert without more ado to his first scheme. He
must die in the manner that he had blazoned forth. And he must do it with
a good grace, none knowing he was not glad; else the action lost all
dignity. True, this was no way to be a saviour. But only by not dying at
all could he have set a really potent example.... He remembered the look
that had come into Oover’s eyes just now at the notion of his unfaith.
Perhaps he would have been the mock, not the saviour, of Oxford. Better
dishonour than death, maybe. But, since die he must, he must die not
belittling or tarnishing the name of Tanville-Tankerton.



Within these bounds, however, he must put forth his full might to avert
the general catastrophe—and to punish Zuleika nearly well enough,
after all, by intercepting that vast nosegay from her outstretched hands
and her distended nostrils. There was no time to be lost, then. But he
wondered, as he paced the grand curve between St. Mary’s and Magdalen
Bridge, just how was he to begin?



Down the flight of steps from Queen’s came lounging an average
undergraduate.



“Mr. Smith,” said the Duke, “a word with you.”



“But my name is not Smith,” said the young man.



“Generically it is,” replied the Duke. “You are Smith to all intents and
purposes. That, indeed, is why I address you. In making your acquaintance,
I make a thousand acquaintances. You are a short cut to knowledge. Tell
me, do you seriously think of drowning yourself this afternoon?”



“Rather,” said the undergraduate.



“A meiosis in common use, equivalent to ‘Yes, assuredly,’” murmured the
Duke. “And why,” he then asked, “do you mean to do this?”



“Why? How can you ask? Why are YOU going to do it?”



“The Socratic manner is not a game at which two can play. Please answer my
question, to the best of your ability.”



“Well, because I can’t live without her. Because I want to prove my love
for her. Because—”



“One reason at a time please,” said the Duke, holding up his hand. “You
can’t live without her? Then I am to assume that you look forward to
dying?”



“Rather.”



“You are truly happy in that prospect?”



“Yes. Rather.”



“Now, suppose I showed you two pieces of equally fine amber—a big
one and a little one. Which of these would you rather possess?”



“The big one, I suppose.”



“And this because it is better to have more than to have less of a good
thing?”



“Just so.”



“Do you consider happiness a good thing or a bad one?”



“A good one.”



“So that a man would rather have more than less of happiness?”



“Undoubtedly.”



“Then does it not seem to you that you would do well to postpone your
suicide indefinitely?”



“But I have just said I can’t live without her.”



“You have still more recently declared yourself truly happy.”



“Yes, but—”



“Now, be careful, Mr. Smith. Remember, this is a matter of life and death.
Try to do yourself justice. I have asked you—”



But the undergraduate was walking away, not without a certain dignity.



The Duke felt that he had not handled his man skilfully. He remembered
that even Socrates, for all the popular charm of his mock-modesty and his
true geniality, had ceased after a while to be tolerable. Without such a
manner to grace his method, Socrates would have had a very brief time
indeed. The Duke recoiled from what he took to be another pitfall. He
almost smelt hemlock.



A party of four undergraduates abreast was approaching. How should he
address them? His choice wavered between the evangelic wistfulness of “Are
you saved?” and the breeziness of the recruiting sergeant’s “Come, you’re
fine upstanding young fellows. Isn’t it a pity,” etc. Meanwhile, the
quartet had passed by.



Two other undergraduates approached. The Duke asked them simply as a
personal favour to himself not to throw away their lives. They said they
were very sorry, but in this particular matter they must please
themselves. In vain he pled. They admitted that but for his example they
would never have thought of dying. They wished they could show him their
gratitude in any way but the one which would rob them of it.



The Duke drifted further down the High, bespeaking every undergraduate he
met, leaving untried no argument, no inducement. For one man, whose name
he happened to know, he invented an urgent personal message from Miss
Dobson imploring him not to die on her account. On another man he offered
to settle by hasty codicil a sum of money sufficient to yield an annual
income of two thousand pounds—three thousand—any sum within
reason. With another he offered to walk, arm in arm, to Carfax and back
again. All to no avail.



He found himself in the precincts of Magdalen, preaching from the little
open-air pulpit there an impassioned sermon on the sacredness of human
life, and referring to Zuleika in terms which John Knox would have
hesitated to utter. As he piled up the invective, he noticed an ominous
restiveness in the congregation—murmurs, clenching of hands, dark
looks. He saw the pulpit as yet another trap laid for him by the gods. He
had walked straight into it: another moment, and he might be dragged down,
overwhelmed by numbers, torn limb from limb. All that was in him of
quelling power he put hastily into his eyes, and manoeuvred his tongue to
gentler discourse, deprecating his right to judge “this lady,” and merely
pointing the marvel, the awful though noble folly, of his resolve. He
ended on a note of quiet pathos. “To-night I shall be among the shades.
There be not you, my brothers.”



Good though the sermon was in style and sentiment, the flaw in its
reasoning was too patent for any converts to be made. As he walked out of
the quadrangle, the Duke felt the hopelessness of his cause. Still he
battled bravely for it up the High, waylaying, cajoling, commanding,
offering vast bribes. He carried his crusade into the Loder, and thence
into Vincent’s, and out into the street again, eager, untiring,
unavailing: everywhere he found his precept checkmated by his example.



The sight of The MacQuern coming out top-speed from the Market, with a
large but inexpensive bunch of flowers, reminded him of the luncheon that
was to be. Never to throw over an engagement was for him, as we have seen,
a point of honour. But this particular engagement—hateful, when he
accepted it, by reason of his love—was now impossible for the reason
which had made him take so ignominiously to his heels this morning. He
curtly told the Scot not to expect him.



“Is SHE not coming?” gasped the Scot, with quick suspicion.



“Oh,” said the Duke, turning on his heel, “she doesn’t know that I shan’t
be there. You may count on her.” This he took to be the very truth, and he
was glad to have made of it a thrust at the man who had so uncouthly
asserted himself last night. He could not help smiling, though, at this
little resentment erect after the cataclysm that had swept away all else.
Then he smiled to think how uneasy Zuleika would be at his absence. What
agonies of suspense she must have had all this morning! He imagined her
silent at the luncheon, with a vacant gaze at the door, eating nothing at
all. And he became aware that he was rather hungry. He had done all he
could to save young Oxford. Now for some sandwiches! He went into the
Junta.



As he rang the dining-room bell, his eyes rested on the miniature of
Nellie O’Mora. And the eyes of Nellie O’Mora seemed to meet his in
reproach. Just as she may have gazed at Greddon when he cast her off, so
now did she gaze at him who a few hours ago had refused to honour her
memory.



Yes, and many other eyes than hers rebuked him. It was around the walls of
this room that hung those presentments of the Junta as focussed, year
after year, in a certain corner of Tom Quad, by Messrs. Hills and
Saunders. All around, the members of the little hierarchy, a hierarchy
ever changing in all but youth and a certain sternness of aspect that
comes at the moment of being immortalised, were gazing forth now with a
sternness beyond their wont. Not one of them but had in his day handed on
loyally the praise of Nellie O’Mora, in the form their Founder had
ordained. And the Duke’s revolt last night had so incensed them that they
would, if they could, have come down from their frames and walked straight
out of the club, in chronological order—first, the men of the
‘sixties, almost as near in time to Greddon as to the Duke, all so
gloriously be-whiskered and cravated, but how faded now, alas, by
exposure; and last of all in the procession and angrier perhaps than any
of them, the Duke himself—the Duke of a year ago, President and sole
Member.



But, as he gazed into the eyes of Nellie O’Mora now, Dorset needed not for
penitence the reproaches of his past self or of his forerunners. “Sweet
girl,” he murmured, “forgive me. I was mad. I was under the sway of a
deplorable infatuation. It is past. See,” he murmured with a delicacy of
feeling that justified the untruth, “I am come here for the express
purpose of undoing my impiety.” And, turning to the club-waiter who at
this moment answered the bell, he said “Bring me a glass of port, please,
Barrett.” Of sandwiches he said nothing.



At the word “See” he had stretched one hand towards Nellie; the other he
had laid on his heart, where it seemed to encounter some sort of hard
obstruction. This he vaguely fingered, wondering what it might be, while
he gave his order to Barrett. With a sudden cry he dipped his hand into
his breast-pocket and drew forth the bottle he had borne away from Mr.
Druce’s. He snatched out his watch: one o’clock!—fifteen minutes
overdue. Wildly he called the waiter back. “A tea-spoon, quick! No port. A
wine-glass and a tea-spoon. And—for I don’t mind telling you,
Barrett, that your mission is of an urgency beyond conjecture—take
lightning for your model. Go!”



Agitation mastered him. He tried vainly to feel his pulse, well knowing
that if he found it he could deduce nothing from its action. He saw
himself haggard in the looking-glass. Would Barrett never come? “Every two
hours”—the directions were explicit. Had he delivered himself into
the gods’ hands? The eyes of Nellie O’Mora were on him compassionately;
and all the eyes of his forerunners were on him in austere scorn: “See,”
they seemed to be saying, “the chastisement of last night’s blasphemy.”
Violently, insistently, he rang the bell.



In rushed Barrett at last. From the tea-spoon into the wine-glass the Duke
poured the draught of salvation, and then, raising it aloft, he looked
around at his fore-runners and in a firm voice cried “Gentlemen, I give
you Nellie O’Mora, the fairest witch that ever was or will be.” He drained
his glass, heaved the deep sigh of a double satisfaction, dismissed with a
glance the wondering Barrett, and sat down.



He was glad to be able to face Nellie with a clear conscience. Her eyes
were not less sad now, but it seemed to him that their sadness came of a
knowledge that she would never see him again. She seemed to be saying to
him “Had you lived in my day, it is you that I would have loved, not
Greddon.” And he made silent answer, “Had you lived in my day, I should
have been Dobson-proof.” He realised, however, that to Zuleika he owed the
tenderness he now felt for Miss O’Mora. It was Zuleika that had cured him
of his aseity. She it was that had made his heart a warm and negotiable
thing. Yes, and that was the final cruelty. To love and be loved—this,
he had come to know, was all that mattered. Yesterday, to love and die had
seemed felicity enough. Now he knew that the secret, the open secret, of
happiness was in mutual love—a state that needed not the fillip of
death. And he had to die without having ever lived. Admiration, homage,
fear, he had sown broadcast. The one woman who had loved him had turned to
stone because he loved her. Death would lose much of its sting for him if
there were somewhere in the world just one woman, however lowly, whose
heart would be broken by his dying. What a pity Nellie O’Mora was not
really extant!



Suddenly he recalled certain words lightly spoken yesterday by Zuleika.
She had told him he was loved by the girl who waited on him—the
daughter of his landlady. Was this so? He had seen no sign of it, had
received no token of it. But, after all, how should he have seen a sign of
anything in one whom he had never consciously visualised? That she had
never thrust herself on his notice might mean merely that she had been
well brought-up. What likelier than that the daughter of Mrs. Batch, that
worthy soul, had been well brought up?



Here, at any rate, was the chance of a new element in his life, or rather
in his death. Here, possibly, was a maiden to mourn him. He would lunch in
his rooms.



With a farewell look at Nellie’s miniature, he took the medicine-bottle
from the table, and went quickly out. The heavens had grown steadily
darker and darker, the air more sulphurous and baleful. And the High had a
strangely woebegone look, being all forsaken by youth, in this hour of
luncheon. Even so would its look be all to-morrow, thought the Duke, and
for many morrows. Well he had done what he could. He was free now to
brighten a little his own last hours. He hastened on, eager to see the
landlady’s daughter. He wondered what she was like, and whether she really
loved him.



As he threw open the door of his sitting-room, he was aware of a rustle, a
rush, a cry. In another instant, he was aware of Zuleika Dobson at his
feet, at his knees, clasping him to her, sobbing, laughing, sobbing.














XVI



For what happened a few moments later you must not blame him. Some measure
of force was the only way out of an impossible situation. It was in vain
that he commanded the young lady to let go: she did but cling the closer.
It was in vain that he tried to disentangle himself of her by standing
first on one foot, then on the other, and veering sharply on his heel: she
did but sway as though hinged to him. He had no choice but to grasp her by
the wrists, cast her aside, and step clear of her into the room.



Her hat, gauzily basking with a pair of long white gloves on one of his
arm-chairs, proclaimed that she had come to stay.



Nor did she rise. Propped on one elbow, with heaving bosom and parted
lips, she seemed to be trying to realise what had been done to her.
Through her undried tears her eyes shone up to him.



He asked: “To what am I indebted for this visit?”



“Ah, say that again!” she murmured. “Your voice is music.”



He repeated his question.



“Music!” she said dreamily; and such is the force of habit that “I don’t,”
she added, “know anything about music, really. But I know what I like.”



“Had you not better get up from the floor?” he said. “The door is open,
and any one who passed might see you.”



Softly she stroked the carpet with the palms of her hands. “Happy carpet!”
she crooned. “Aye, happy the very women that wove the threads that are
trod by the feet of my beloved master. But hark! he bids his slave rise
and stand before him!”



Just after she had risen, a figure appeared in the doorway.



“I beg pardon, your Grace; Mother wants to know, will you be lunching in?”



“Yes,” said the Duke. “I will ring when I am ready.” And it dawned on him
that this girl, who perhaps loved him, was, according to all known
standards, extraordinarily pretty.



“Will—” she hesitated, “will Miss Dobson be—”



“No,” he said. “I shall be alone.” And there was in the girl’s parting
half-glance at Zuleika that which told him he was truly loved, and made
him the more impatient of his offensive and accursed visitor.



“You want to be rid of me?” asked Zuleika, when the girl was gone.



“I have no wish to be rude; but—since you force me to say it—yes.”



“Then take me,” she cried, throwing back her arms, “and throw me out of
the window.”



He smiled coldly.



“You think I don’t mean it? You think I would struggle? Try me.” She let
herself droop sideways, in an attitude limp and portable. “Try me,” she
repeated.



“All this is very well conceived, no doubt,” said he, “and well executed.
But it happens to be otiose.”



“What do you mean?”



“I mean you may set your mind at rest. I am not going to back out of my
promise.”



Zuleika flushed. “You are cruel. I would give the world and all not to
have written you that hateful letter. Forget it, forget it, for pity’s
sake!”



The Duke looked searchingly at her. “You mean that you now wish to release
me from my promise?”



“Release you? As if you were ever bound! Don’t torture me!”



He wondered what deep game she was playing. Very real, though, her anguish
seemed; and, if real it was, then—he stared, he gasped—there
could be but one explanation. He put it to her. “You love me?”



“With all my soul.”



His heart leapt. If she spoke truth, then indeed vengeance was his! But
“What proof have I?” he asked her.



“Proof? Have men absolutely NO intuition? If you need proof, produce it.
Where are my ear-rings?”



“Your ear-rings? Why?”



Impatiently she pointed to two white pearls that fastened the front of her
blouse. “These are your studs. It was from them I had the great first hint
this morning.”



“Black and pink, were they not, when you took them?”



“Of course. And then I forgot that I had them. When I undressed, they must
have rolled on to the carpet. Melisande found them this morning when she
was making the room ready for me to dress. That was just after she came
back from bringing you my first letter. I was bewildered. I doubted. Might
not the pearls have gone back to their natural state simply through being
yours no more? That is why I wrote again to you, my own darling—a
frantic little questioning letter. When I heard how you had torn it up, I
knew, I knew that the pearls had not mocked me. I telescoped my toilet and
came rushing round to you. How many hours have I been waiting for you?”



The Duke had drawn her ear-rings from his waistcoat pocket, and was
contemplating them in the palm of his hand. Blanched, both of them, yes.
He laid them on the table. “Take them,” he said.



“No,” she shuddered. “I could never forget that once they were both
black.” She flung them into the fender. “Oh John,” she cried, turning to
him and falling again to her knees, “I do so want to forget what I have
been. I want to atone. You think you can drive me out of your life. You
cannot, darling—since you won’t kill me. Always I shall follow you
on my knees, thus.”



He looked down at her over his folded arms,



“I am not going to back out of my promise,” he repeated.



She stopped her ears.



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



“You have sent him an excuse?”



“No, I have forgotten him.”



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



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



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



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



“If I refuse?”



“You will not.”



“If I do?”



“I shall send for a policeman.”



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



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



“Admirably,” he allowed.



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



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



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



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



“No,” he answered, “I have preferred not to.”



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



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



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














XVII



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



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



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



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



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



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



“There’s a pigeon-pie, your Grace.”



“Cold? Then please ask your mother to heat it in the oven—quickly.
Anything after that?”



“A custard pudding, your Grace.”



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



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



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


                             “Prius insolentem
Serva Briseis niveo colore
Movit Achillem.”


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



The Duke, much relieved, came nearer to her.



“What is your name?” he asked gently.



“Katie,” she was able to gasp.



“Well, Katie, how long have you loved me?”



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



“You are not, of course, given to idolising any tenant of your mother’s?”



“No.”



“May I boast myself the first possessor of your heart?”



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



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



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



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



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



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



“Oh your Grace!” cried the girl. “Why no! I never dared—”



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



“Yes, your Grace.”



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



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



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



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



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



“It isn’t that,” she quavered, “it is—it is—”



“That they were given to me by Miss Dobson?”



“Oh, they were, were they? Then”—Katie rose, throwing the pearls on
the floor—“I’ll have nothing to do with them. I hate her.”



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



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



“Only—only—” again her doubts beset her and she looked from
the pearls to the Duke.



“Speak on,” he said.



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



“It is the privilege of nobility to condescend.”



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



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



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



“Thrown myself away? What do you mean?”



“Oh, they’ll make all sorts of objections, I know. They’ll all be against
me, and—”



“For heaven’s sake, explain yourself.”



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



“Love you? I? Are you mad?”



Each stared at the other, utterly bewildered.



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



“What have I said?”



“You said you loved me.”



“You must be dreaming.”



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



“Where are you going?”



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



“Are you going because of ME?”



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



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



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



“Then why are you leaving? Why are you breaking my heart?”



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



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














XVIII



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



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



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



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



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


     TO AN UNDERGRADUATE NEEDING
ROOMS IN OXFORD

(A Sonnet in Oxfordshire Dialect)

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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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














XIX



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



The two women stood staring ruefully at each other.



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



His shoulder-knots just perceptibly rose.



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



The shoulder-knots repeated their answer.



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



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



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



“Thunder,” said Zuleika over her shoulder.



“Evidently,” he answered.



Half-way up the stairs to the roof, she looked round. “Aren’t you coming?”
she asked.



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



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



“What do you want to do on it?”



“To wait there till the races are over.”



“But—what do you mean? Aren’t you coming up on to the roof at all?
Yesterday—”



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



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



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



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



“Good-bye,” said the Duke.



Again Zuleika raised a warning finger.



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



“Yes.”



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



“Yes.” It was true enough.



Courteously he watched her up the stairs.



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



He bowed silently.



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



Rain!



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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














XX



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



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



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



“The Duke, he’s drowned himself,” presently gasped the Messenger.



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



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



“No! Mercy on us! Speak, boy, can’t you?”



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



Mrs. Batch gave a low moan.



“Katie’s fainted,” added the Messenger, not without a touch of personal
pride.



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



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



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



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



“It isn’t true,” said Katie. She rose and came uncertainly towards her
brother, half threatening, half imploring.



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



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



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



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



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



“Who d’you mean by her?” asked Clarence.



“That Miss Dobson that’s been here.”



“What’s her other name?”



“Zuleika,” Katie enunciated with bitterest abhorrence.



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



Katie had shut her eyes, and clenched her hands.



“He hated her. He told me so,” she said.



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



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



“He did?” exclaimed Clarence. “And you let him?”



“You wretched little whipper-snapper!” flashed Katie.



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



“Poor Mr. Noaks—he’s gone,” said the mother.



“Has he?” said Katie listlessly.



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



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














XXI



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



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


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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



“I—I don’t know, grand-papa. There was so much happening. It—I
will tell you all about it at dinner.”



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



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



“But grand-papa—” she began.



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



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



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



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



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



There was a murmur of “Yes, Warden.”



“And how did our boat acquit itself?”



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



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


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


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



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



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



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



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



“The Junior Fellow,” he said, “will read grace.”



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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














XXII



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



“And that is why you hid yourself just now?”



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



“But,” she faltered, with a sudden doubt, “that bit of writing which
Mother found on the table—”



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



“Oh, won’t poor Mother be glad when she knows!”



“I don’t want her to know,” said Noaks, with a return of nervousness. “You
mustn’t tell any one. I—the fact is—”



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



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



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



“Wear it,” he said.



“You mean—?” She leapt to her feet.



“That we are engaged. I hope you don’t think we have any choice?”



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



“It is very pretty,” she said.



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



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



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



“Ah, don’t say that!” exclaimed Katie, laying a hand on his sleeve.



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



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



“Indeed?”



“Please, sir, he gave me them as a memento.”



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



“Yes, sir.”



“I should think so!” was on the tip of Noaks’ tongue, but suddenly he
ceased to see the pearls as trinkets finite and inapposite—saw them,
in a flash, as things transmutable by sale hereafter into desks, forms,
black-boards, maps, lockers, cubicles, gravel soil, diet unlimited, and
special attention to backward pupils. Simultaneously, he saw how mean had
been his motive for repudiating the gift. What more despicable than
jealousy of a man deceased? What sillier than to cast pearls before
executors? Sped by nothing but the pulse of his hot youth, he had wooed
and won this girl. Why flinch from her unsought dowry?



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



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



“You want to read NOW—TO-NIGHT?”



“I must put in a good two hours. Where are the books that were on my
table?”



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



“Good evening,” he said huskily.



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



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



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



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



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



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



“Don’t listen,” Noaks cried down. “Don’t listen to that person. I admit I
have trifled with her affections. This is her revenge—these wicked
untruths—these—these—”



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



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



“What’s that?” gasped Zuleika.



“Didn’t he tell you? He told me. And I warrant he told you, too.”



“He died for love of me: d’you hear?”



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



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



“Ah, that he did!” echoed the guests.



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



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



“Shame on you, Mr. Noaks,” said Mrs. Batch, “making believe you were dead—”



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



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



“And I a mother to him!” said Mrs. Batch, shaking her fist. “‘What is life
without love?’ indeed! Oh, the cowardly, underhand—”



“Wretch,” prompted her cronies.



“Let’s kick him out of the house!” suggested Clarence, dancing for joy.



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



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



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



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



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



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














XXIII



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



It was he who seemed a trifle nervous. In his



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



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



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



“Grand-papa, haven’t you been told YET?”



“Told? I am a Gallio for such follies. I didn’t inquire.”



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



“You speak in riddles, Zuleika.”



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



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



“Of me.”



“Of you?”



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



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



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



“There were others?” cried the Warden. “How many?”



“All. All the boys from all the Colleges.”



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



“That will depend on the rules of the convent.”



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



Anglican, she supposed.



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



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



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



“I could but try,” said Zuleika.



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



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



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



“And you liked that, grand-papa?”



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



“Your own heart was never touched?”



“Never, until I met Laura Frith.”



“Who was she?”



“She was my future wife.”



“And how was it you singled her out from the rest? Was she very
beautiful?”



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



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



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



“Was she incapable of love?”



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



“Why did she marry you?”



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



“Yet you were very happy with her?”



“While she lived, I was ideally happy.”



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



“Grand-papa dear”—but there were tears in her voice, too.



“My child, you don’t understand. If I had needed pity—”



“I do understand—so well. I wasn’t pitying you, dear, I was envying
you a little.”



“Me?—an old man with only the remembrance of happiness?”



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



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



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



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



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



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



“Glorious!” whispered Zuleika. “But ah,” she said, rising to her feet,
“tell me no more of it—poor me! You see, it isn’t a mere special
attractiveness that I have. I am irresistible.”



“A daring statement, my child—very hard to prove.”



“Hasn’t it been proved up to the hilt to-day?”



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



“He set the example.”



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



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



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



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



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



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



The Warden had risen from his chair. “My dear,” he said, “I wasn’t
laughing. I was only—trying to imagine. If you really want to retire
from—”



“I do,” moaned Zuleika.



“Then perhaps—”



“But I don’t,” she wailed.



“Of course, you don’t, my dear.”



“Why, of course?”



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



“I do believe you’re a little proud of me.”



“Heaven forgive me, I believe I am. A grandfather’s heart—But there,
good night, my dear. Let me light your candle.”



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



“To the convent?” he slyly asked.



“Ah, don’t tease me, grand-papa.”



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



“No,” she echoed, “not in term-time.”














XXIV



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



“Melisande!”



“Mademoiselle?”



“When we go to Paris, would you like to make a little present to your
fiance?”



“Je voudrais bien, mademoiselle.”



“Then you shall give him these,” said Zuleika, holding out the two studs.



“Mais jamais de la vie! Chez Tourtel tout le monde le dirait millionaire.
Un garcon de cafe qui porte au plastron des perles pareilles—merci!”



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



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



“Mademoiselle is too amiable,” she said, taking the pearls.



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



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



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



“I shan’t,” said Zuleika.



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



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



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



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



THEY knew, these two.



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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