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Title:      Hans Frost (1929)
Author:     Hugh Walpole
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Hans Frost (1929)
Author:     Hugh Walpole



For ADA and JOHN GALSWORTHY
a small emphasis on the happiness of twenty years' friendship




"All the windows were broken. . . .  The sun streamed in and the
statues, the rare editions, and the cabinets of precious stones
blinked and twinkled before the splendid blaze."

--THE DUCHESS OF PARADIS




CONTENTS


Part I

SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY


I.  Nathalie Swan

II.  The House

III.  Presentation

IV.  A la Recherche du Temps Perdu

V.  Ma Marriott

VI.  Unknown Guest

VII.  Dinner

VIII.  Intimate Truths

IX.  Friends Met


Part II

JOURNEYS OF COLUMBUS


I.  Nathalie's Visit to Grandmamma

II.  Westcott Evening

III.  Soul of Ruth

IV.  The Zoo

V.  Nathalie in Russia

VI.  Blackmoor

VII.  Return

VIII.  Nathalie-at-Arms

IX.  Hans Steps Out

X.  Ruth Is Honest

XI.  Farewell to Tapestries!


Part III

TO ST. SERVIAN!


I.  A Lodging for the Night

II.  The Train

III.  Progress through Polchester

IV.  The Tawny Sand

V.  The Silver Feather

VI.  The Wave--Silence



Part I

SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY



CHAPTER I

Nathalie Swan


No one perhaps in the United Kingdom was quite so frightened as was
Nathalie Swan on the third day of November, 1924, sitting in a
third-class carriage about quarter to five of a cold, windy,
darkening afternoon.  Her train was drawing her into Paddington
Station, and how she wished that she were dead!

She sat in a corner on the hard, dusty seat, her hands clenched,
her heart beating with hot, thick, hammering throbs.  She wished
that she were dead.  She was an orphan.  No one in the world needed
her.  The Proudies whom she was abandoning had been very, very good
to her, but certainly did not need her.  The famous Mrs. Frost to
whom she was going would almost surely not be good to her--and as
to needing her . . .

Open upon her lap was a number of that shiny geographically
illustrated paper the London News, and among other portraits was
one of Hans Frost, and under it was written:


Mr. Hans Frost, whose Seventieth Birthday occurs on November 3.
His friends and admirers are marking the occasion with a suitable
presentation.


Kind Samuel Proudie had not known that the photograph was there,
when at Polchester Station he had bought illustrated papers and
flung them onto her lap.  She herself had, of course, not known it,
and it had been with a kind of shock that she had recognized the
well-known features, the square rugged face with the deep,
penetrating eyes, the round head with its short, thick, black hair,
the face austere like a priest's, the shoulders broad, the body
rather squat, the short sturdy legs, standing there in the
beautiful book-lined library--no man of seventy here surely.  Not
even a man of letters.  Rather priest plus prize-fighter plus (in
some implied kindly geniality) Father Christmas without the beard.

And then at the last something enigmatic. . . .  Or did one imagine
that because one knew how great he was?

Nathalie was nineteen years and no fool.  She had had this face in
front of her, framed in a neat black frame for the last six years,
had carried it with her everywhere, had had it always in her
bedroom wherever she might be.  For was he not her uncle, her
famous, marvellous uncle whom she had never seen but had made her
hero, her conception of God, indeed, ever since she could remember?

How tiny, but how defiant, she had been on that first morning at
the Polchester High School, when, hemmed in by tormentors, she had
boasted:  "You can do what you like, but I've got a grander uncle
than you have!"

The name, Hans Frost, had meant nothing to them until they had
enquired of fathers and mothers at home, but then, after those
enquiries, she had received her coveted glory.

"Mother says he's the most wonderful writer.  What's he like?  Does
he take you to theatres when you're in London?"

And then must come the sad confession that she had never seen him,
that he had perhaps never heard of her, that he was her uncle only
because he had married her aunt.

And yet some glory lingered.  The time had come at last when she
read his books.  Always surreptitiously.  They were forbidden.
Mrs. Proudie thought them shocking.  All except the fairy stories,
and they might also be shocking, did one understand what they
meant. . . .

Nathalie read some of the fairy stories first: The Crystal Bell,
The Duchess of Paradis, The Palace of Ice.  She did not at the time
bother about inner meanings.  She took the pictures for what they
were.  The Prince in The Crystal Bell crossing the Lake of Fire,
the Duchess of Paradis opening the casket of jade, the Dwarfs in
Green Parrots tying the tails of the monkeys together while they
slept.  Then (she was seventeen now) she came to the novels.  She
saved up her money and bought The Praddons, The Silver Tree, Joy
Has Three Faces, and The Chinese Miracle.

Of these she liked The Praddons best.  She could follow that easily
with its crowds of people, its London scene, and its definite story
of Isabel Praddon and her unhappy marriage.  She noticed that the
later in his life the books appeared the more difficult they
became.

She always cut pieces from the paper when they concerned him.  The
greatest time was when, in his fifty-ninth year, he was dangerously
ill.  The whole of London, the whole of England, even the whole of
Europe and America, waited breathlessly.

She read how groups of people lingered outside his door, how the
King and Queen sent enquiries, she remembered the newspaper
headlines on the morning after the crisis of his illness was
successfully passed.

He had never, perhaps, been quite so famous again.  The war had
immediately followed.  Uncle Hans' mother--dead many years--had
been a German.  He had lived in retirement during the war, had said
very little.  After The Chinese Miracle, which came out in the
autumn of 1914, he had published nothing in the war years save his
volume of essays, The War and the Artist.

At school during those years she had been torn between her
loyalties.  She was patriotic, of course, but Uncle Hans was as
much her god as ever.  It wasn't her fault or his that his mother
had been a German.  But she had not mentioned him when she need
not.  She had not been a coward, but perhaps--a little of a
diplomatist. . . .

She worshipped Uncle Hans, but she did not worship Aunt Ruth.  For
one thing she had never seen Uncle Hans and had seen Aunt Ruth.
Aunt Ruth had, in 1919, spent two whole nights under the Proudie
roof.  She had been visiting friends in Cornwall, and, passing
through Glebeshire, stopped for two nights in Polchester to "see
her little niece."  She had been all kindness and condescension,
lovely to look at and lovely to smell.  Very sweet to the Proudies,
who were no relation and had looked after little Nathalie all these
years, simply because Mrs. Proudie and Nathalie's mother "had been
girl friends together."

Nathalie had been only fourteen at the time.  She had been given
holiday from the high school, and Aunt Ruth had taken her for a
drive--and that drive had been for Nathalie the most terrifying of
all her life's experiences.

Aunt Ruth had been determined to be kind, and was probably
satisfied that she had been.  As they sat on the broad back seat of
the handsome motor-car Aunt Ruth had asked many questions in her
melodious, but very deciding, voice.  Was Nathalie happy at school?
What was her favourite subject in lessons?  Did she like games?
And, at the last, was she a good little girl, because she would
have to earn her living when she grew up?

There were certain things in Aunt Ruth that reminded Nathalie very
oddly of her mother, who had been Aunt Ruth's sister.  Oddly,
because the same things that were adorable in Nathalie's mother
were in some strange way terrifying in Aunt Ruth--a note in her
voice, a smile, a gesture with her hand.  These things brought back
her mother to Nathalie so desperately, because in a way they seemed
to attempt to betray her, as though now that she was gone and had
no one to defend her they were attacking her, that Nathalie to her
own surprise and chagrin burst into tears.

Here would have been an occasion for aunt and niece to come
together, and had they done so the lives of many people might have
been changed, but it happened that the motor-car was just
reëntering Polchester, and Mrs. Frost had a keen sense of public
absurdity and a wise consciousness of the necessity for self-
control.  And Nathalie hated herself for crying and hated her aunt
for seeing her cry.  So Mrs. Frost left Polchester thinking her
niece "a silly little girl," and Nathalie thought her aunt "simply
terrifying."

How astonishing then, all these years afterwards, to discover that
Aunt Ruth wanted her to live with her "for a time" in London.
There could be no question about Nathalie's acceptance.  The
Proudies were keeping her only out of kindness; she was nearly
grown up and must soon be "looking after herself"--and her aunt's
house in London would be a splendid place to jump off from!

And then there would be the famous, wonderful Uncle Hans, who must
surely sometimes be visible when you were living under the same
roof with him!  If only she were not so terribly frightened of Aunt
Ruth!  But perhaps now she wouldn't be!  It was, however, as Mrs.
Proudie had so often told her, her worst fault to be frightened.
She had never, possibly, recovered from that awful morning when,
only eight years of age, she had been with her father and mother in
a pony-cart in the lanes above Rafiel and the pony had run away,
turning over the pony-cart, throwing them all out, killing her
father at once.  Her mother had died six months later.

She had never, possibly, recovered from that, but nevertheless she
had a brave spirit.  When she was frightened of something she
strung herself up, summoning all her forces like the Princess about
to meet the dragon.  She had her aids on these occasions,
superstitions for the most part, like counting fifty and allowing
nothing to stop her, saying the Lord's Prayer, praying to her
father, and thinking of Uncle Hans.

And now, how odd, it was as though she were praying to Uncle Hans
to defend her against Aunt Ruth!  Odd and shocking too.  How she
wished that she was not trembling, how she detested and despised
her own cowardice.  Nineteen years of age and near to tears,
because she was going to stay with her aunt.

She could not think of London through whose grimy and sordid side
streets she was now entering.  She did not see the rows of windows
with flower-pots and undergarments and occasional human heads
painted onto the swaying background of checkered brick.  She did
not look down onto the strips of long snaky street let into the
sombre walls.  She saw nothing.  Only she longed for Mrs. Proudie
with her large heaving bosom, her capacity for gasping amazement at
quite ordinary things, her conviction that food and drink would
solve every problem; for Canon Proudie, Precentor of the Cathedral
in public and the husband of Mrs. Proudie in private, that meek
mild man with the beautiful voice and passion for cricket; and for
Edgar Proudie, eldest Proudie child, soon to take Holy Orders,
vowed to celibacy and the Higher Anglicanism; the very thought of
them made the tears hot behind her eyes.  The train drew into
Paddington Station blurred and wobbly with smoke and noise and
clatter, trying vainly to cover an inexhaustible loneliness.



CHAPTER II

The House


She had been told that there would be someone to meet her, and at
once after leaving her carriage she saw a plump, rosy-cheeked,
young chauffeur coming towards her.

"Miss Swan?" he asked, touching his cap.

"Yes," she said shyly.  She was comforted a little, because he
looked as though he were from the country.  Smart, though, but
strong and sturdy.  She knew that he would not smile at her luggage
for being shabby or turn up his nose at her timid air.

The luggage was found.  The car, very large, dark blue, waited
scornfully quite close to the platform, sniffing at the taxis that
were quivering with anxiety lest they should miss their fares.  The
station glittered with glass, screamed with naughty impatience,
choked in its own smoke, and was gone.  Nathalie slipped into
London.

She found that her terror did not diminish.  Argue with it, talk to
it like a mother, scold it--nothing did it any good.  It just sat
there in its dark corner, refusing to be exorcised.  It did not
make things better to observe that London was indifferent, that the
lights flashing now about the streets displayed the world with its
head up, and that what the world was wise enough to disregard
Nathalie might disregard also.  The world had not seen Aunt Ruth as
Nathalie had seen her, there was only one Aunt Ruth for one
Nathalie, and to change her into a common denominator helped not at
all.

Antagonisms are made up of personal furniture, and there is no
pincushion in one's wardrobe that has not its share in one's hatred
of Cæsar.

They rolled into silence.  The roar of London was checked as though
a hand had been laid on its bawling mouth.  Water gleamed beneath
lamplight.  As the door opened, trees rustled into the car: autumn
leaves lay underfoot.

Nathalie stood, alone and defenceless, on the steps of what seemed
in the shadowed starlight a huge house.  Yes, water was over the
way and dark spaces.  A shrill scream broke the shadows.

"Oh, what's that?" she cried.

"That's the Zoo, Miss," said the chauffeur, waiting beside her for
the opening door.

The bell of some clock struck five as the heavy door opened.  A
large, stout, and flat-faced man received her.  She disliked him at
once, because he was so ugly.  His face looked as though it had
been trodden on in childhood.  Afterwards she was to wonder whether
he had ever known that savage and innocent state.  His name was
Bigges.  Later on she would know him for the laziest man in
England.

She waited, standing, as it seemed to her, in the middle of endless
lighted space, while Bigges brought in her meagre luggage and very
officially closed the door.  The nice rosy-faced young man was shut
out.

She didn't know that Bigges was saying to himself:  "Yes, you would
be arriving just at the busiest time when everyone's got their
'ands full.  You're going to be a nuisance, you are."

Before they moved on, however, she was comforted by seeing a large,
splendid portrait of Uncle Hans hanging over the big stone
fireplace.  Head and shoulders.  Such a picture, so strong and so
kindly and so humorous!  It was as though, after all, he had been
there to greet her and wish her well. . . .

"Mrs. Frost would like to see you at once, Miss."

She followed.

The house in Polchester had been one of the small ones under the
shadow of the Cathedral--bright small crooked rooms overcrowded
with ancient treasure, garden in front and garden behind, all
colour and comfort, but tiny beside the clang and echo of the
Cathedral bells.

How vast and grand and empty, then, this House, the passages
endless, the rooms stiff and splendid, one's feet silent on the
thick carpets, no voices anywhere!  Oh! had she no pride, no self-
defence?  There was nothing of which she need be ashamed.  She was
as good as another.

But, arriving at last in the drawing-room, so huge to her country
eye, so rich in brown and gold, so stiff in its icy distance
between sofas and chairs, Nathalie lost the last remnant of her
pluck.  She looked, as she went to meet Mrs. Frost and her two lady
friends, like a beautiful, rather shabby, and sulky child.

Mrs. Frost, clad in golden armour, introduced her to the two ladies--
one sheathed in silver like a mermaid, Lady Thingumety, and the
other in black silk like a bathing dress, Mrs. Whatyoumayplease.

Mrs. Frost was very kind.  She kissed Nathalie twice.  She seemed
to be glad indeed to see her.  Nathalie, gazing at her glorious
bobbed amber-coloured hair, wondered how her aunt, who must be
fifty at least, could be bobbed and have a figure so straight and
not seem in any way absurd.  Mrs. Proudie, who was not a day more
than forty, if bobbed rather than bunned . . . !

Through her wonderment came Aunt Ruth's explanation:  "And so,
darling, if you won't mind just for a night. . . .  I really should
have wired and asked you to come on Wednesday, but I couldn't bear
to put you off. . . .  You see it's rather an occasion.  It's going
on at this very moment upstairs, and then there's the dinner-party.
Besides I expect you're as tired as anything after your journey and
would rather have something on a tray in your own room.  And then
you can go to bed as early as ever you like.  Ask Elsie for
anything you want.  We'll have SUCH a talk in the morning.  Your
kind friends quite well?  That's good.  I'm SO glad. . . .  So
goodnight and happy dreams."

Nathalie found herself moving out just as she had moved in, as
though under the command of some inexorable law.  She didn't WANT
to stay, but at the same time . . .

A thin starched woman was waiting for her in the passage.

"I'm Elsie, Miss.  If there's anything . . ."



CHAPTER III

Presentation


At this precise moment the Presentation was going on.

In the beautiful library Hans Frost was sitting and Mr. Frederick
Osmaston, standing spiritually like a stork on one leg (he was tall
and thin, untidy in odd places like a shaggy umbrella), was reading
from his document:


"We, your friends and admirers, feel that it is impossible to allow
your Seventieth Birthday to pass without a sign from us of our
affection and esteem.

"You have now for nearly forty years shown us all how Art may be
nobly served.  In an Age that offers continual evidence of the
temptations to cheapness and hurry, you have with unswerving
honesty and undoubting faith pursued the only honourable path.  You
have made it evident that the grand Art of Fiction is inexhaustible
in her resources, is for ever opening new ways of adventure for
those who follow in her train, and your wit, your gaiety of humour
have proved again and again the generosity and wisdom of your known
genius.

"But best of all, your knowledge of the human heart, your tolerance
and generosity of spirit, have created for us a world of
companions, enriching our lives with fresh and enduring characters.
So long as the English tongue may last, the earth will claim for
its noblest inhabitants the Duchess of Paradis and Hunter Clive,
Isabel Praddon, Clarissa French, the King of Wizards, Mont St.
Leger, and the Queen of the Crystal Sea, Berenice.  Whether in the
green woods and glassy lakes of your world of magic or in the
everyday streets of your earth-bound cities, the human note is
never absent and the tender love for your fellow-men makes life
happier for every one of us.

"May destiny allow you many more years in which you may add
masterpieces to the English language, and splendid hours to the
lives of your friends."


"That's pretty awful," thought Hans Frost, and then immediately
afterwards:  "Very jolly of them to take all the trouble."  Then a
little later:  "They like doing it though.  Gunter's been in the
Seventh Heaven. . . .  'Follow in her train'--that's bad. . . .
Whole thing too flowery. . . .  Nice of them to do it though. . . .
Why does Osmaston always half shave himself?  Better not do it at
all."

There was a pause.  It was time for him to reply.  He rose to his
feet.


"I must say I think it's delightful of everybody.  I don't feel
like seventy, you know.  But you make me realize that I've been an
unconscionable time at the whole thing.  It's all very well for you
to say that you'd like me to go on for years and years, but we've
got to make way for the young people, you know. . . ."  (He looked
across at the rather supercilious, thin young man in pince-nez,
Maurice Follett, who represented in the deputation the Young
Generation.)  "And yet it's hard to stop.  I can't promise you that
I will, and, as there are no reporters present, I may as well
confess to you that I'd HATE to stop.  We're like that--eh, Gunter?--
becomes a habit."  (He looked down at Martha, the notorious
dachshund, who, her head on her paws, was regarding young Follett's
thick and ugly shoes with arrogant suspicion.)  "All the same I'm
immensely touched by your taking this trouble.  I've done what I
can, but you know as well as I do that the thing's a snare and a
delusion.  I can only say at seventy what I wouldn't have said at
thirty, that it's damned difficult to write a decent sentence and
that the best things come after all by accident. . . .  But you
don't want me to preach to you.  I can only thank you and all the
friends whom you represent and to whom I hope to reply, for your
goodness, kindness, generosity."

He sat down.  Martha looked up at him sharply as though to say,
"Not so bad.  Might have been better," and settled down to the
ironical study of Follett's shoes again.  But now the real moment
had arrived.  Sir Giles Gunter, K.C.B., rose rather ponderously
from his chair and approached with grave solemnity towards a paper
parcel lying on the table close at hand.  Osmaston also gravely
approached.

Gunter, pushing up his gold-rimmed spectacles, spoke with an odd
bark that resembled nothing so much as an elderly seal at feeding-
time:

"We took much counsel together and decided at length, my dear old
friend, that the enclosed would--ahem--yes--would be more
gratifying to your artistic feelings than anything else we could
find for you."

Gunter was moved, his emotion was choking him.  He put his large
hand on the shoulder of Hans Frost, who had risen and was
approaching the parcel with the eagerness of a child.  He had, all
his life, adored presents.  He got that, perhaps, from his German
mother.  Anything with paper round it.

His heart warmed to Giles Gunter, whom he had known for thirty
years and with whom he had quarrelled a thousand times.  Gunter's
feminine nature adored quarrels, because of the reconciliations
that followed them.  And to-day Gunter really loved Hans Frost, a
little because he loved him, a little because he was a great man,
and a good deal because he, Giles Gunter, was officiating at an
important ceremony.

The other two members of the deputation stood modestly in the
background, Peter Westcott because he WAS modest, and Follett
because he was too arrogant and aloof to push himself vulgarly
forward.

Osmaston produced a pair of large scissors.  The string was cut.
Gunter, his round, red face illuminated with a kind of sacred
priestly fervour, lifted the object out of the paper and with a bow
and a triumphant smile as though he, and he alone, had just at
great personal sacrifice given birth to this lovely thing,
presented it to Frost.

And it WAS a lovely thing!  It was a very small oil painting and
the artist was Manet.

The picture had for its subject two ladies and a gentleman outside
a print shop in Paris.  One lady wore a blue crinoline and the
other a white; there was a little fuzzy white dog, the glass
windows shone in the afternoon light, and beyond the pearl-grey
wall of the old house there was a sky of broken blue and swollen
white cloud.  It was a very lovely little Manet. . . .

"Oh!" cried Hans Frost, and Martha gave a sharp short bark, because
she perceived that something exceptional was happening.

"We thought you would like it," said Sir Giles, fingering the old
gold frame with proud, possessive fingers.  "We were fortunate that
it turned up in the market when it did.  The very thing, I said
when I saw it, the very thing for my old friend."

Meanwhile Hans Frost was unconscious of Sir Giles and of everyone
present.  He saw only the picture.  He had always adored Manet, a
painter closer to his soul than any other.  He entered into the
heart of a Manet at once, as though it had been painted for himself
alone.  He could be critical about everything else in the world
(and was so), but not about Manet.  When he was depressed or
troubled by his liver he went and looked at Manet. . . .  And now
he would have a Manet all of his own, his very own--that deep and
tender beauty, that blue crinoline, that fuzzy little dog, that
white cloud against the gentle blue; these were his forever.

His eyes shone with happiness as he turned round to his friends.
He held out his hands to Gunter and Osmaston.  He smiled beyond
them to the friendly Westcott and the superior Follett.  "What am I
to say?  What CAN I say?  That you should have thought of me at all--
and then thought of this!  I'm seventy to-day, as you remind me,
and perhaps I shouldn't be thinking any longer of possessions, but
how can I help it when you thrust under my nose such a lovely
thing?  I'm an acquisitive creature, I fear.  I have always been.
I love beautiful things, and I have a fancy that they return the
affection that one gives them!  But this!  I can't say any
more. . . .  I'm overcome. . . .  I truly am.  I'm touched to
the very heart."

And he was.  He had in his eyes the look of the child that knows,
to the exclusion of everything and everyone else, that the
immediate moment is supremely good.  Generosity, ardour, unselfish
delight, all the fine emotions were there, and there was nothing to
cloud them.

Follett himself was touched.  He rubbed his large shoes the one
against the other.

"It's the least we can do--all of us--for what you have done for
us."  And yet only the night before, to a chosen gathering, in his
high falsetto voice, he had proclaimed:

"Frost! . . .  The Dark Ages. . . .  Fairy stories, I ask you."

But Hans was not yet conscious of any of them.  On his short,
sturdy legs he went about the room, holding the picture at arm's
length, propping it now against the Epstein bust on the
mantelpiece, now against the blue Chinese clock, now against the
marble lion--one of two book-rests--now against the drawing of his
wife's head by Sargent.

Then, laying it down, he turned again to them, laughing:

"But after all, my friends, from whom is this lovely thing?  Am I
not to have their names?"

Osmaston, who by his right as secretary of the Authors' Society was
the official head of the deputation, unrolled a large and handsome
parchment.

"Here they are, Mr. Frost."

And there they were, some three hundred and sixty of them, all
neatly laid out in alphabetical order--ANKER, ALFRED L.; APPLEWARD,
RICHARD; ARON, ARTHUR . . .  Yes, many of the finest names, not
only of Great Britain, but of Europe and America as well.

He took the two sheets and smiled upon them.  He would look at them
carefully in a while.  He put his hand on Sir Giles' massive
shoulder.

"This HAS been an occasion. . . .  I shall only realize it slowly.
I'm a little overcome, to tell you the truth.  Yes, just a little.
I'm seventy, you know.  You've said it yourselves.  Giles, my
wife's waiting downstairs to give you all tea.  Lady Gunter's with
her, I believe.  Will you go down?  I'll join you shortly."

He beamed upon them all.  They passed him down into the hall, where
Bigges was waiting.

He stopped Westcott for a moment.  "Mr. Westcott . . . I was
greatly pleased to see you here.  I'd like to tell you, if I may,
how immensely I enjoyed an article of yours--somewhere.  I read it
at the Club the other evening--an article on Henry Galleon."

"Yes," said Westcott, smiling.  "It was in the Westminster
Monthly."

"You knew him evidently?"

"Only very slightly, I'm afraid.  I was at school with a son of
his, and when I was a young man in London I had an evening with him--
an evening I shall never forget."

"No, he was a very remarkable man--a great man.  He was a close
friend of mine, one of my closest.  There's not a day that I don't
miss him.  I'm glad you knew him.  You got him wonderfully well in
that article."

"Thank you, sir," said Westcott.

"And I enjoyed that last book of yours, Wandering House.  I've
watched you for a long time.  A good book."

"Thank you," said Westcott again.

"Will you come and see me some time?  Come in bachelor fashion and
smoke a pipe."

"I'll be proud."

"All right, then.  I'll get hold of you."

Westcott closed the door behind him.  The library was left to Hans
and Martha.



CHAPTER IV

À la Recherche du Temps Perdu


It was a beautiful room.  The long, high windows, veiled now with
deep blue curtains, looked out across the strip of water and the
green levels of the Park.  The ceiling was dark blue; the length of
the room on the side opposite the windows was lined with unbroken
rows of bookshelves, pale ivory in colour.  The fireplace was
between the windows.

There was no room for pictures.  One etching--Rembrandt's "Three
Crosses"--hung over the fireplace.  Beneath it was an Epstein head
of a woman.  There was one long writing table and two small ones,
two armchairs of deep blue, a deep-backed chair that had once
belonged to Dickens at the writing table.  On the table itself
perfect neatness, a writing pad, an old shabby ink bottle shaped
like an owl (this had belonged to Henry Galleon), a round crystal
bowl edged with gold that held now dark amber chrysanthemums, on
his right hand a photograph of his wife, on his left a photograph
of Galleon, a small bronze (a copy of the Donatello David), a
silver paper knife, a stick of red sealing wax, a heavy blue paper
weight.

His library was evidently a working one.  In the centre there was a
square of bookshelf protected with glass; here were such rare
editions and association copies as he had: first editions of the
Essays of Elia in their green backs and pink paper labels, the copy
of Vanity Fair that Thackeray gave to Dickens, some notebooks in
manuscript kept by George Borrow while in Spain, a first edition of
Ballantrae with "To my friend Hans Frost from R. L. Stevenson"
inscribed on the front page.  Charlotte Brontë's Italian Grammar,
some Kelmscott volumes, a number of Galleon's novels, with very
affectionate greetings in that fine, rich rolling hand, and three
volumes of Proust's great and unending chronicle sent with the
homages of the author. . . .

These were the principal treasures.  For the rest, the working
library divided meticulously into its proper sections.  This labour
from the devoted hands of Miss Caparis, the entirely excellent
secretary.

Frost, holding the Manet in his hands, went over to the shelves.
This for That!  Tit for Tat!  The Manet and the Roll of Friends in
return for his own, how many volumes?  He stood before his own
collected "Burshott" Edition.  Here they were then.

Aware that some crisis--the nature of which he could only as yet
dimly perceive, but its approach was heralded by a quiver in the
spiritual air about him--was imminent, he stood, held, it seemed,
by some dominating trance, and read their names.

It was as though he were saying to the Manet:  "Here!  See at what
you are valued. . . .  Make yourself aware of the home to which you
have come."

He, who for many a day now had not glanced at their covers, read
over their names.  They had been published in Chronological Order.
(Ah yes! the Grand Edition!  How, five years ago, he had detested
the bore of it with its neat little prefaces, its photogravure
frontispieces of places associated with the books . . .  And then,
after all, no one had bought the damned thing.  A White Elephant if
ever White Elephant blew its own trumpet.)  And they were:


          1889  The Crystal Bell

          1891  The Praddons

          1892  The Blissful Place

          1893  On the Road (Poems)

          1895  The Duchess of Paradis

          1896  Queen Rosalind

          1898  The Miltonic Spirit (Essays)

          1899  The Palace of Ice

          1900  Laura Merries

          1903  Green Parrots

          1904  Friendly Places (Travel)

          1905  Goliath

          1906  The Philistines

          1907  In Israel

          1909  The Silver Tree

          1910  Troilus (Poems)

          1912  Walter Savage Landor: Critical Study

          1913  Joy Has Three Faces

          1914  The Chinese Miracle

          1916  The War and the Artist (Essays)

          1919  Eumenides (Poems)

          1922  The Scornful Sun

          1924  King Richard the Fourth


He looked at them with dispassionate eyes.  Such a number and, for
the most part, having so little to do with him!  How many of them
retained any life for him still?  The Praddons, with a certain
youthful freshness, The Duchess of Paradis for its poetry, the
Trilogy for some of the people in it, Joy Has Three Faces for its
irony, King Richard because it was the last . . . but for the most
part how thin, how touchingly shadowy, how, as they looked at him,
they seemed to beseech him not to forget them, because if he did
not remember them who in Heaven's name would?

No, what they did stand for was--not their artistic beauties, poor
withered things--but certain stages in his immortal life.

He went back to his chair, settled down in it; Martha, sighing
luxuriously, rested her head on his shoe.  What was the matter with
him?  The Manet lay on his lap, the whites and blues and pearly
greys looking up at him already with familiarity.  What was the
matter?  He was disturbed.  He looked restlessly about him.

Something was going to happen.

The deputation had unsettled him, not because it had emphasized
that he was seventy but--but what?  Was it the deputation or was it
the Manet?  Was it, perchance, the Manet that in its perfect and
rich beauty pointed so ironic a contrast with his own deformed
children?  He moved restlessly, Martha's head slipped from his
shoe, and she murmured resentfully.

He was unhappy.  He wouldn't go down to tea and listen to their
silly chatter.  He must stay there and face the thing that was
troubling him.  The Crystal Bell.  His first published work, 1889.

Thirty-five years of age.

Not an infant even then.  Fifteen years of good experience behind
him.  A clerk at the Foreign Office where, as it had seemed, he had
been settled for life--settled with a pearl pin in his tie, a cup
of tea, and a dispatch case.  He wrote by accident.  He had no
fervour, no inspiration, no heated blood, and certainly, at that
time, no genius.

He saw one sunsetty evening Nelson climb down from his column and
ride away on the back of one of the lions.  So he wrote about it.
For his own satisfaction.  Those were days at the end of the
'eighties when the New Realism and Romantic Fantasy were walking
arm-in-arm together.  Not that he had ever believed in those tea-
caddy definitions.  He detested them.  But people liked the way he
wrote and so he went on writing.  That was the way of it.  Once you
began you couldn't stop and, after the beginning, what happened to
you was neither your fault nor your merit.

What happened to him was that he caught the eye of Stevenson and
Henley, wrote for the National Observer, and had the time of his
life.  He would never have such days again of course--not THOSE
days of flaming, arrogant, abusive, triumphant, self-confident
youth.  Although he wasn't in reality young.  Forty was less young
in the 'nineties than it is to-day perhaps.

With The Praddons his bell rang and with The Duchess of Paradis he
was lifted onto a little throne.  Quite a small little throne, but
raised so that you could look down upon other people.  He didn't
look down on other people--that had never been his habit--but for a
while he was considered unique; no one else had ever written quite
HIS thing; no one else could manage the Romantic Fantasy one minute
and the Realistic the next. . . .

Oh well, it was all jargon, the kind of jargon that he detested.
All he knew about it was that he had very pleasant rooms in St.
James's Square and a cottage near Lewes, and that he wrote down
what came to him.

Then with his Trilogy he was made--for ever and for ever and a day.
Goliath in 1905, The Philistines in 1906, In Israel in 1907.

He knew that these books were good.  He knew it then and he knew it
now.  They were his especial thing; the very sweet kernel of his
very own nut.  Every gift that he had was in them, his fantasy and
his realism, his poetry and all his philosophy.  Moreover, in them
he created crowds of people, real live breathing people, a whole
world of his own, embracing town and country, the Dome of St.
Paul's, and the smallest squirrel skipping up a tree in the darkest
little wood.  The three books together were a long affair, and
there wasn't a page too many.

By then he was more than fifty years of age, and he married Ruth,
who was only twenty-five.  Too great a difference, but he was madly
in love with her--yes, as he had never been in all his life before.

He had always liked women, and twice he had been in love.  But some
fastidiousness had always been in the way, not of passion, but of
complete surrender.

But to Ruth Curnow he surrendered--yes utterly--surrendered to her,
mother and all.

She had been married before--very happily married--to Francis
Curnow, who was vastly rich, adored, oh, adored her, got pneumonia,
died, and left her every penny.

And he, Hans Frost, adored her too--adored so that he did what he
had sworn to the jealous gods he would never do, married a woman
with more money than he had himself.

With a great deal more money because, although he was on his little
throne, and had a body of work behind him, including his famous
Trilogy, he did not make very much money.  In America they liked
him as a reputation rather than a buying proposition--and in
England, of course, nobody buys books.

The question was--why did Ruth marry him?  This was a question that
he had never very honestly faced.  He loved her so desperately that
he knew that it was wiser not to ask questions.

She did not love him desperately.  She had no desperation in her,
but she accepted him very readily, without a moment's hesitation.
She was probably tired of being a widow.

She was extremely beautiful; she was like a fire at night, a
sunrise at morning, a golden flower, a goddess in amber.

She had a great deal of the goddess about her, very tall, carrying
herself superbly, her head high, looking down upon mankind.  But
she was very gracious, and she was not stupid and, if people
behaved to her rightly, she liked them very much.

She was exceedingly good to Hans.  There was nothing she wouldn't
do for him, and she made it easy for him to accept her blessings,
because it gave her so huge a pleasure to bestow them.

Oh! she was large, fine, and generous!  She was indeed!

If only she had not had her hideous old mother with her--but, then,
nothing in this Jack-in-the-box world is perfect.

Mrs. Marriott was even then a dried-up old lady.  She was, when
Hans Frost first saw her, fifty-five years of age (she was only
five years older than Hans) and fifty-five is no terrible age, but
she wore lace caps and black silk dresses, carried in her hand a
handkerchief with a thin black border, and read frequently in a
large purple book of devotion.

Her one object in life, as she told everybody, was her daughter
Ruth, the most marvellous woman in the world.

She was one of those old women who are for ever slapping the face
of the present with the dead hand of the past.  She was propriety
itself, and was so frequently shocked at the persistent coarseness
of Nature that how she had ever suffered the processes necessary
for the production of children was an eternal wonder to her son-in-
law.

It must be confessed that he disliked her from the first, but she
went with Ruth and so must be accepted.

Must be accepted, yes, but with the years an increasing nightmare.
That was really what she was, the old lady, a nightmare!

There had been a time just before he was ill in 1913, when he had
felt that he simply could not endure her any longer.  His illness,
in fact, had been a climax to many things.

In 1910, the year of his most difficult and obscure volume of
poems, Troilus, he had suddenly, obeying an impulse that he did not
understand, and that did not seem to be his, published at intervals
in the columns of the august Daily World a number of poems about
the man in the street.  They had been rather colloquial, slangy,
poems, and some of the higher critics had denied that they were
poems at all, but they had immense force and energy and were as
simple as Tennyson's "Mr. Wilkinson."

Some of them, "Miss Battle," "The Man with the Coal," "Crossing
Sweeper," had swept the country.  Everyone learnt them by heart,
lines from them crept into the language and, sure sign of universal
acceptance, his name figured in contemporary musical comedy.

He delighted a wide public, because he provided something very rare
now in England and always acceptable--literature that was
acknowledged to be fine superior literature, and that yet could be
understood by everybody.  It was expected that now he would write a
great English picaresque novel with all the energy, simplicity, and
creative genius of a Dickens, and the subtlety and beautiful prose
of a Henry Galleon.  But, of course, he did not.

In 1913 came his illness, and this, following so swiftly on his new
popularity, made him a Figure.

Figures can be made in all sorts of ways in England--by
imprisonment, by eccentricity of dress or food, by the refusal of
honours, by bad manners, by the accident of foreign birth--and the
surest way of all, have you the patience, is to wait until you are
eighty, grow a white beard, and live in the country fifty miles
from anywhere so that people must make a Pilgrimage.

Hans had no wish, of course, to become a Figure--it was the last
thing that he wanted, but it was thrust upon him, first by the
sudden unexpected twist of his genius and, secondly, by his nearly
dying in public.

He was too ill at the time to think of it and after his recovery
too lazy, but had he considered the steps of his becoming a Figure
he might have found them odd.  The time was to come when he would
consider them.

Meanwhile there followed the war and, for the time, he vanished.
His mother had been German, and German ancestry was not for some
while popular; but here again Fate worked for him a queer twist in
the pattern.

In his volume of Essays, The War and the Artist, published in 1916,
some of the finest, noblest, and sincerest utterances about the war
in any language appeared.  It was generally recognized that this
was so.  They were accepted by Patriot and Pacifist alike, because
in them the true nobility of Hans' character, its depth, width,
freedom from petty egotism, tenderness, and unpriggish passion for
humanity were openly displayed.

Then when at length the end of the war arrived, his volume of poems
Eumenides was so commanding in style and lyrical splendour that he
emerged at last as a Great Man--someone who would thenceforth be
written about as though he were already dead.

For himself, his principal sensation was that during these years he
had been incorrigibly lazy.  It had not been a mental laziness nor,
regarding the war, which he felt with the deepest poignancy, an
emotional one.  He had felt the war, he had felt and enjoyed his
intellectual passion, but in his human personal relations he had
been as lazy as a cat.

Men and women had been to him as trees walking.  Even Ruth's
horrible mother had been merely a kind of toad or baby alligator
confined to the back garden.  He had been even able to watch quite
passively her habits as, at the Zoo, one observes a tortoise
absorbing a lettuce.

So, from 1914 until now, this day, his seventieth birthday, he had
lain in the arms of Ruth--lain there because he was too sleepy to
move.

It had been a long while since he had lain there from instincts of
physical passion.  After his illness he had been aware that that
was over for him, once and for all.

A great peace had descended upon him.  The anxieties, triumphs, and
sudden ghastly disappointments of physical love were to be his no
longer.  He felt no shame and no regret.  Work and friendship and
love of his fellow-men remained, nay, could move the more nobly
forward now unimpeded by the thickets and tangled undergrowth of
that dusky wood.

Nor did Ruth offer objection.  He could have realized now, had he
investigated it, that physical passion had never been for her an
impulse towards him.  He did not examine it, but dismissed it, in
company with a multitude of husbands, by deciding that she was
sexually "cold," making his individual experience of her a general
rule.

He knew that his sexual withdrawal from her gave her no ground of
complaint, because the old woman, her mother, did not blame him for
it.

He would have heard--oh yes, he would have heard--had he in this
committed sin.

Meanwhile Ruth made him ever more comfortable.  He was lapped round
with luxury.  The house grew ever more luxurious, more tranquil,
more soft-footed.  Bigges the butler, Miss Caparis his secretary,
were ideal.  They understood his needs before he uttered them.
They were like his physical properties--his hands, his feet, his
eyes.  They were always there and they were never in the way.

Moreover, had he considered it, he would have seen that nothing but
flattery and adoration came across his path.  He did not consider
it, because he did not want flattery and adoration.  That is not to
say that he did not care for an adroit compliment.  Clever praise
makes all men happy--a reassurance against the eternal fear of the
hidden enemy--but he was at heart too simple, and by nature too
generous, and intellectually too wise, to require incense.

He grew also intellectually lazy during these years.  He ceased to
have curiosity about his fellow human beings.  Before this his
interest in them had been a peculiar mixture of irony and
tenderness, and in this same mixture he was himself involved save
that in his view of himself his irony exceeded his tenderness.

Watching those around him he saw--and of course had long before
this seen--that the only difference between one man and another was
as to whether he were a poet or no.  This difference had nothing to
do with the actual creation of poetry nor with the delighted
perception of it.  Investigating his immediate household, for
instance, it was plain that Bigges his butler was no poet and that
Crouch his chauffeur was one.  He was willing to admit that the
decisions that he made were influenced by his personal liking and
dislike.  A poet to one is no poet to another, and it might be that
to Mrs. Bigges, Bigges was Keats and Shelley pressed into one.  But
he knew what he meant.  He had only to consider Crouch's straight
and steady gaze and the sullen droop at the corner of Bigges' mouth
to be aware that one was marching to glory and the other not.

He was immensely attracted to simple and good-hearted people, but
he liked no one's company for very long.  He became dissatisfied
with himself rather than with them.  It was incredible that human
beings could be so stupid, so uninquisitive, so muddle-minded, but
it was incredible, too, that they could offer so bold a front to
undeserved misfortunes, could snatch time from their own problems
to consider others.  An ironic tenderness was the only emotion
possible.

He made during these later years no close friends, and took but
little trouble with old friendships.  He had long ago perceived
that among writers contemporary friendships were almost impossible
to sustain.  You could be paternal to a younger writer, would he
only consent to be filial.  You could, when young, yourself be
filial.  But the rivalries, jealousies, egotisms of the literary
world (no fiercer, of course, than in any other artistic world)
were disappointing, disturbing, sterile.

He had loved Henry Galleon with a deep and reverent love, but that
on the whole had been the last of his reverence for his kind.
Reverence was not the emotion that they aroused.

And so, for this reason as well as all the others, he snuggled into
the lazy comforts that Ruth provided for him.  He allowed her to
make what she would of him so long as she did not worry him.

To himself he was no sort of a Figure at all.  With the good that
there had been in his work he seemed to have but little to do.  The
mistakes, clumsinesses, stupidities, they were his, but even there
he could not worry himself very deeply, he had been born like all
other human beings a fool, and a fool he would remain.

He was dimly conscious, as one may be in a dream, that Ruth was
very happy in making a Legend of him.  Well, if it amused her, why
not?  He did not object.  He even liked some of the consequences of
it.  No one can be flattered for ever and ever and not, at last,
react to the flattery.  Not grossly and not to the grossest.  But
still the thing is there and it will be missed when it is there no
longer. . . .

English people are not clever in their flattery of artists because,
thank God, they do not care very greatly for art.  The only
countries where art really flourishes are those in which the
artists are left alone and work, in little isolated numbers, not
against hostile surroundings but indifferent ones.

Hans knew that he had won his popularity by the elements that were
least important in his work, but because the other elements were
there also, he was someone who had a longer history. . . .

So he listened to the flattery at times, despised it and liked it.
It did not change him, make him complacent or irritated by hostile
criticism, but it bound him still more closely to Ruth, because she
saw that he got just the kind of flattery that he could swallow.

He thought meanwhile increasingly in literary terms.  Methods began
greatly to interest him.  He read the newest writers with a great
deal of appreciation and sympathy.  They could do things that he
would never be able to do--and at the same time there were things
that he had done for which they were too external and brittle and
self-satisfied.

He wrote three articles on "The New Novel" for one of the
monthlies, and the house echoed:  "Wonderful to take such an
interest in the young generation"; "Marvellous modesty . . .";
"This is real genius. . . ."

He knew that it was neither marvellous nor modesty nor genius, but
only a literary vanity.  He caught echoes beyond the house of "Old
Frost trying to catch up with the young people," "Why doesn't he
lie quiet in his grave?"

He wasn't hurt by these distant voices--not at all--but he snuggled
closer to Ruth.

When he went abroad he was a Figure.  He wore a distinct sort of
uniform, a black hat that was too short for a top-hat but too
square for a bowler, with a large, curly brim.  A buff waistcoat
with gilt buttons, a broad dark blue coat, grey spats.  A heavy
black cane with a gold knob.

He was always immaculate.  He hated untidiness of any kind.
Spotless linen seemed to him next to the Grace of God.

He was a well-recognized figure in the centre of London.  As he
climbed slowly the broad steps of the "Acropolis" Club the
chauffeurs of the cars ranked in the square, the policemen on duty,
the drivers of crawling taxis, all knew him.  And often a casual
passer-by wondered who that distinguished, swell old gentleman
might be.

Yes, he was a Figure.



CHAPTER V

Ma Marriott


Martha stood up, looked in her master's face, and yawned.  Frost
started.  For how long had he been sitting there?  He shivered.  He
was still permeated with this sense that some crisis had come to
him, as yet veiled but in a moment to be revealed.

Ruth would be hurt at his not going down to her tea-party.  But he
would not go down.  He did not want to see any of them or indulge
in the silly, smirking kind of talk that would be provided with the
tea and bread and butter.

Silly?  Smirking?  Were these the words to use about Ruth's tea-
parties, those gentle, well-bred ceremonies instituted especially
for himself?  But tea-parties . . . things that no man should
attend.  And yet how many during these last years he had attended!

In his own house, of course.  Coming into the dignified, cheery,
curtained room a little late, a few chosen spirits already there,
some silly woman murmuring as she rises, "Ah, here is the Master!"
Standing there, his cup in his hand, listening to the gentle almost
whispering conversation, breaking in upon it with an occasional
remark, stupid enough, but saluted by everyone as though it were an
Olympian judgment. . . .  Ruth in the background, beautiful,
dignified, serenely pleased.  Why now did the contemplation of this
make him shiver?

He rose, stretching his arms, and yawned.  Martha yawned too.  She
looked at him cynically, wagged her tail a trifle, and examined the
carpet.

He addressed her:

"Shall we go downstairs?  What do you think?  Are you also ashamed
of society?  You are always a little ashamed of me.  Now I come to
think of it you have been ashamed for some time.  Why?  What have I
done that's disgraceful?  Or is it simply that you're bored with me
and all my works?  Well, I'm bored with them myself.  They are
beneath contempt perhaps.  And you and I are beneath contempt too.
The Manet is worth a hundred of us.  What do you say, Martha?
Shall we do away with ourselves and come out in a new incarnation?
You as a Peke, perhaps, or a bulldog, I as a great newspaper
magnate or a pimp in a small French watering place.  What does it
matter as long as we have bellies in good working order and can
have our eyebrows lifted?"

He swung round, and there was Henry Galleon surveying him from his
gold frame, the wise broad brow, the kind benignant eyes, the
slightly ironic mouth.  "Yes, you were a Master. . . .  Not the
kind of sham I am.  But didn't you think yourself a sham?  Hadn't
you moments of ironic horror at yourself?  No, you were a tranquil
man.  You liked your joke, but you were secure because you saw so
far.  But I . . . I . . . I'm myopic.  I can't see my own hand."

He stood feeling a distress and an agitation that he had not known,
he fancied, for years.  The room seemed to him overpoweringly hot.
He was stifled.  He must get out.  But where?

He thought then of his mother-in-law.  So uncomfortable was he that
he wanted to add to his discomfort.  He would rub salt into the
wound.  Despising himself as he did, he would inflict upon himself
the most intolerable company he could find--and that was most
certainly his mother-in-law's.  He would spend ten minutes in her
company, just to prove to himself how low humanity could sink!

He went into the passage, Martha following him.

How still the house was!  Not a sound anywhere.  The long, dusky
passage seemed to invite him to mysteries.  At the end of it, like
an old witch brooding over her toad-and-snake cauldron, was his
mother-in-law.  Perhaps it was she who had thrown this spell over
him.  She would love to do him any kind of harm.  He would go and
investigate.

She had for some time now decided that she was an invalid and could
move only with difficulty.  He was convinced that there was nothing
whatever the matter with her, save that she ate too much and did
not take any exercise.

She was, it was true, an old woman, but had, he was sure, a sort of
demonic good health, and the only way that she would ever disappear
would be on a broomstick swinging through the night to Satanic
revels.

How he hated her--and he was in the mood just now to spend time
with someone he hated.

He went down the passage and knocked on the door.

A soft echo came from within the room.

"Come in."

She had arranged her room according to her fancy, and her fancy was
for everything dark and dingy.  The window curtains were of some
heavy dull brown material.  The chairs and sofa were of a thick
grey padded stuff, as though hippos had spawned their young.  On
the walls hung photogravures of "Queen Victoria Receiving the News
of Her Accession," "The Charge of the Guards at Waterloo," and a
large representation of "Mr. Gladstone Addressing the House of
Commons."

She was taking her tea.  She sat in a vast armchair over which her
black silk dress billowed in multitudinous folds.  Her face was
yellow and peaked and lined, but her eyes were alive and bright.
Her grey hair, spare and thin, was pulled back tightly over her
scalp and parted in a sharp white line down the middle.

She wore black mittens and, when he came in, was peering into the
teapot, as though she expected to find a hoard of gold there.

She greeted him very briskly and with a kind of coy amiability.
She pretended always that she was devoted to him and that they were
the best of friends.

She hated Martha and was offended when he brought her with him.  So
he always brought her.

"Well, Hans!  Not having tea with Ruth?"

Her eyes were the only part of her that she could not control, and
she gave him a bright, hostile glance before she again investigated
the teapot.

He stood looking at her.  "No.  It's my seventieth birthday, and I
think that so important an occasion should be spent in monastic
seclusion."

She never knew whether he were laughing at her or no, which was one
reason why she disliked him.  "Leaving poor Ruth to entertain all
those gentlemen alone?  Naughty, naughty!"

She waggled a finger at him and then poked a teaspoon into the
teapot.

"Oh, they'd had enough of me.  They've been making me speeches."

"Speeches?" she echoed, her voice muffled by the teapot.

"Yes.  Telling me I'm a wonder.  Which of course I'm not, as you
very well know, but they must have their little bit of fun."

She poured herself out some more tea, drank it thirstily, shrugged
her old shoulders.

"Ruth thinks you're a wonder," she said at last.  "And what have
you come to pay me a visit for?"

He smiled.

"I like a word with you once and again."

"What can you see in a stupid old woman like me?"

"I see all sorts of things."

"Not nice things, I'll be bound.  Oh, I know what you think of me.
You needn't pretend."

"And what do you think of me?" he asked her, laughing.

"I don't think of you--except in relation to Ruth.  When an
ordinary old woman like me has got an extraordinary daughter, a
wonderful, marvellous daughter, who is always so good and kind to
her, the most unselfish creature in the world, why, then, the old
mother wants only her happiness.  So long as you make Ruth happy
I'm content."

"And don't I?" he asked her.

"It isn't you that makes Ruth happy.  It's her character.  She's so
noble and fine that she's bound to be happy."

There was something genuine here.  He hadn't reached his seventy
years without knowing that there was fineness in the worst of human
beings, and this old woman, nasty though she was, was not the worst
by any means.

At that moment there came to him something that Coleridge had said
about Sterne:  "There always is in a genuine humour an acknowledgment
of the hollowness and farce of the world and its disproportion to
the godlike in us," or something of the kind.

Well, there was a scrap of the godlike in old Mrs. Marriott, only a
scrap, but still something.

"But still I don't make her unhappy."

"Nobody could make her that.  She's got too complete a command of
herself.  She's proud of you.  That makes her happy."

He looked at Martha.

"She's proud of the position she's made for me.  But do you think
she's proud of what I've done?"

There was a new note here.  The old lady pricked up her ears.  This
sounded strangely like a criticism of her dear daughter.

Her voice rang sharp as she answered.  "Well I never. . . .  What a
thing to say!  Of course she's proud of what you've done."

"I wasn't sure," he answered, smiling.  "I'm not very sure of
anything this evening.  My seventieth birthday has upset me.
Didn't you feel that a little on YOUR seventieth birthday?"

She eyed him sharply.  Again she didn't know whether he were
laughing at her or no.  Her eye, in its suspicious whirl, caught
the dog.  She was sure that Martha was laughing at her.

"I can't think what you want to bring that dog around with you
everywhere for.  Dogs are messy things, in my opinion. . . .  No, I
don't think my seventieth birthday upset me.  One birthday's like
another."

"That's just where you're wrong.  One birthday isn't like another.
Every birthday's one nearer the end."

She eyed him with hatred.  He knew how deeply she resented to be
reminded of her dissolution.  It was an insult to her egotism.
"You must trust in God more," she said.

He leant forward, resting on the back of a chair and staring at
Victoria in her nightdress.

"He, too, has changed with my birthdays," he answered.  "Seventy is
a lot for Him to take an interest in."

She recovered her pretended amiability.  "You're a very clever man,
Hans, far too clever for me.  I've never been clever.  I'm an old
woman, as you say, and should be preparing for my end.  It will
come soon doubtless, and no loss to anybody."

She fished in his eyes for a contradiction (she had a very
determined vanity), but she caught nothing.  He wasn't for the
moment thinking of her.

"I don't feel old," he said.  "That's the devil of it.  I feel as
though I were just beginning life, which is absurd.  I want to be
taken out of myself.  I'm as sick of myself as any young man of
twenty can be.  Books . . . silly, futile things, unless you're not
a writer of them.  And then anything can do the trick.  The Family
Herald just as well as Adonais, if you're in the proper receptive
mood.

"Well, well, I'll have a bath and dress at my leisure.  There's
nothing pleasanter."

He could see that she was uneasy.  There was something unusual
about him to-night, and this something unusual might threaten her
daughter.  She sniffed peril to Ruth, as the native sniffs the
tiger.  There was something in this old man's eye that boded ill.
And, in any case, what was he doing up here instead of entertaining
Ruth's guests downstairs?  Why hadn't he gone down?

She hated him.  He made her restless.  Always thinking of himself.
But she smiled at him, her dry, wintry, withered smile.

"Ruth's waiting for you all this time downstairs.  You should go
down and help her."

"They've gone, or at least I hope so.  I'll send Martha down to
see."  Martha, at the sound of her name, looked up hopefully.  She
detested this room.  She knew that no one loved her here.

"Martha!  Really, the way you go on about that dog!  One would
think that she was a human being."

"A human being!  She's far finer.  Devoted and wise.  She's elegant
and humorous and knows what she wants.  She doesn't change with
every wind.  My seventieth birthday is neither good nor bad news to
her.  I'm a fixed object to her.  Were my face all boils she'd love
me just as much.  Of how many humans can that be said?"

Mrs. Marriott shook her black silk.

"You never say what you mean.  I think it's a pity myself."

He shook his head at her laughing.

"Perhaps I do--more than you think.  Good-night.  Sleep well."

He went.



CHAPTER VI

Unknown Guest


Outside in the passage again he looked at his watch--half-past six.
He must have stayed there thinking in the library a long time.
Slept perhaps?  That's what old men were for ever doing, sleeping
when they didn't know it.  Maybe, just as Alice bounded across
the brook or Cæsar crossed the Rubicon, so he, on receiving the
Manet . . .  Anyway he felt devilish queer.  Death perhaps.  The
beginning of an illness, the instant change from a fine, taut body
to a trembling, helpless, aching mass of flesh and bones,
disintegrated, fading.

He peered down the passage as though he expected to see his own
ghost at the end of it.  Then, with a little smiling sneer at his
own folly, he pinched his arm.  Solid firm flesh.  He stroked his
chin.  HE was all right.  He saw suddenly breaking into the tissue-
paper of the passage all the world's old men taking exercises, clad
only in their vests, on the floors of their bedrooms, rising slowly
on their hams and sinking again.  Faces purple, arms mottled,
stomachs protruding.  At the sight of that disgusting vision he
turned tail and sought refuge in the things of the spirit, the Holy
Grail, and the last agonizing leap up the dark mountain side until
the summit is grasped!  That was better.  He had shaken the old
lady off his shoulders.  Let her weave her spells under the shadow
of "Gladstone Addressing the House of Commons."  He defied her.

Eight o'clock dinner.  Nearly an hour and a half to bathe and
change.  Something within him snuggled together at the anticipation
of the pleasure.  Water, hot as hot, bath salts, softly scented
soap, the slow, tranquil, half-sleepy comfort of the relaxing body,
thoughts like indifferent, glittering, tail-flicking goldfish
slipping along his brain, silence everywhere, the soft glow of the
electric light on the white tiles.  There, now that you are
seventy, is your principal sensuous pleasure.  A warm bath and
silence.  A warm bath and silence.  Better than all the glories of
the arts and the tender intimacies of any woman's embrace--now that
you are seventy.

He padded along, Martha sniffing as though she scented the
possibilities of a rat, a little ahead of him.  His bedroom was on
the next floor.  Ruth had hers on this one, down the passage beyond
the library.  He had chosen his because it was almost an attic, the
roof sloping a little, and a wonderful view over the Park.  The
servants' rooms were only just beyond his, and one of the guest
rooms, the guest room for the quite unimportant guest.

His only discomfort was that he felt sometimes as though he were
spying on the servants, on Bigges, and Mrs. Carlyon the cook, and
the maids.  Or that they might think he were.  Servants were so
odd.  You meant them to be just like yourself, they doing their job
and you doing yours.  No servant and master any more, but only
human beings performing services each in his or her own way.

But they wouldn't have it so.  They talked among themselves and
watered the private gardens of their own private souls, growing
their own spiritual cabbages and turnips.  Very indignant if you
asked them for one of their own special lettuces.  Nor would they
exchange.  Bigges, for instance.  What did he know about Bigges?
Nothing, except that he was an efficient servant and very
unpleasant.  He would love to rid himself of Bigges.  He would love
to say:  "Now, Bigges, you go this very minute."  And Bigges would
say:  "Why?"  And he would say:  "Because you are so efficient.
Because you never make a mistake.  Because I hate the neatness of
your hair and the breadth of your chest and the way you swing your
hams when you walk.  Reason enough.  Now go."

But Bigges wouldn't go because Ruth liked him and thought him an
excellent servant, and were Hans to say:  "Bigges must go, because
of the way that he swings his hams," Ruth would think him mad, and
also indecent.

He walked slowly upstairs to his room.  Yes, something was
certainly wrong with him.  He had never actively wanted to get rid
of Bigges before.

Entering his room he was at once dissatisfied with it.  It was too
luxurious and comfortable.  On the pale cream-coloured walls were
four beautiful pictures: a painting of a French street, by Utrillo;
a faintly coloured drawing of two long-legged nude women, by
Augustus John; a flower piece of peonies, by Bracque; and a blue
hill behind dark fields, by Duncan Grant.  The carpet was dark wine-
purple and very soft.  Everything was soft, the bed, the electric
light, the deep armchair, the dark blue curtains at the window.
The only hard thing was the electric horse in the corner, on whose
back he took his morning exercises, and even that had a soft seat.
Hanging over the foot of the bed was a thick-padded orange dressing
gown and below it two deep brown wool-lined bedroom slippers.
Everything was soft.

He took off his coat and waistcoat, his collar and tie.  He looked
at himself in the glass--funny old man with his bare neck and the
grey hairs on his chest curling between the ends of his open shirt.
Funny old man nearly dead in this soft electric-lighted room.
Nearly dead and nothing to show save a few ill-written, childlike
books.  No warmth anywhere, no real friend, no real wife, no real
butler even.

No real life anywhere--only the silly reflection in this looking-
glass and the padded dressing gown waiting to fold itself about his
naked body.

He had left his door half open.  He turned to close it before he
stripped.  He heard a sound.  He stood by the door listening.  Yes,
there could be no mistake.  Someone, near at hand, was sobbing.

The sudden reality of the sound breaking on the empty unreality
both of his room and himself startled him profoundly.  Who was it?
One of the maids perhaps.  But no, not at this hour.

He thought then of the guest room.  The guest room!  Could there be
anyone there?

He remembered then that he had heard something--Ruth had told him--
something about a niece.  The daughter of her sister, an orphan.
He had been told weeks ago; he had scarcely noticed.  Could this be
she?  But no.  Modern girls didn't cry.  Tears were no weapon in
THEIR armoury.

But the sobbing went on, broken, half checked, desperately unhappy.
He could not endure it.  He went hastily back into the room,
slipped on the dressing gown, went down the passage.

Yes, it was from the guest room; the door had not been completely
closed.  He pushed it softly open and looked in.

Lying on her face on the bed, her head in her arms, was a girl.
She lay there almost without movement.

He could not spy upon her.  At once he said:

"Hullo!  Anything the matter?"

She sprang up and kneeling on the bed turned to him a face
childish, stained with tears, and flushed with surprise.

She sprang off the bed and, standing like a young animal at bay,
said fiercely:

"What is it? . . .  I thought the door was closed."

"Well, it wasn't. . . ."  Then he added, smiling:  "I beg your
pardon for coming in."

She had hated to be caught.  She looked at him with hostility.
Then she blew her nose on a very small and, as he could see, very
damp handkerchief.

"You're Uncle Hans?"

"Yes," he said.

"I'm Nathalie Swan, and I was crying because I was homesick.  I
never did anything so silly before in my life and I never will
again."

"Oh, there's no harm in crying," Hans said.  "I often wish that I
could.  It's a great relief.  One always feels better after it.
Men aren't supposed to--I'm sure I don't know why.  But I like
women to.  It shows they're human."

She gave her nose a final blow.

"I haven't been away from home before.  I went to the high school
in Polchester.  This house is so big and silent.  But it was
dreadfully silly of me. . . .  How do you do?"

She came towards him, her hand outstretched.  They shook hands.

"I suppose it isn't very proper," he said, "to come into a lady's
room in a dressing gown, but it's my seventieth birthday and after
seventy one may do anything."

"Yes, I know it is," she answered.  "I read about it in the paper."

"Well then, because I'm seventy, and because I'm your uncle, and
because you're my guest, I may go further.  Tell me what I can do
to make you happy and comfortable."

"You've done everything," she answered timidly, "by our meeting.  I
saw your picture in the hall when I arrived, but I felt somehow as
though that was as far as I was going to get."

"When did you arrive?"

"Late this afternoon."

He was going to say something about his wife.  He checked himself.

"But how foolish to think that you weren't going to get further
than that very indifferent picture.  We're under the same roof.
We'll be meeting every day."

Her eyes shone with pleasure.  "Oh, shall we?"

"But of course--why shouldn't we?"

"You're a great man.  And you won't have time--"

He shook his head impatiently.  "What nonsense!  In the first place
there aren't any great men.  In the second I've all the time in the
world.  I've nothing to do."

"Writing books must take a great deal of time."

"I don't expect I shall ever write another.  There are far too many
in the world already.  If you can stop my writing them I shall be
deeply grateful."

"Other people won't.  They'd murder me."

She was sitting on the bed.  She looked tired and dishevelled.

"Dinner's at eight," he said.

"I'm not coming down to-night," she answered.  "There's a grand
dinner-party because of your birthday.  And I'm going to have what
I like better than anything in the world--dinner in bed."

He was about to speak.  Again he checked himself.

"Perhaps that's best to-night.  You must be tired.  But it isn't a
grand dinner-party, only a stupid one, when no one will say what
they mean."

"It would be awful if they did, wouldn't it," she answered him.  "I
don't mean at your dinner-party especially, but always.  Mrs.
Proudie has a brother who comes to stay sometimes and he always
says exactly what he means.  The results are frightful."

"Mrs. Proudie?"

"The Proudies are the people I've been living with.  They have been
so wonderfully kind to me--always.  I think that is why I was
crying.  They spoilt me.  I couldn't help thinking of them.  I love
them terribly."

"We'll try and be kind, too," he said.  "It will do us all good
here."

She was brightening.  He saw how young she was by the way that the
colour was stealing back into her face and all her form returning,
her curly bobbed hair resuming its order although she had not
touched it, the traces of the tears vanishing from her cheeks
although, after the first surprise, she had not wiped them, faint
rose like soft reflected light shadowing the face under the dark
eyes and the dark hair.

She was adorably young.  She might be his beloved grandchild.

"You might be my grandchild," he said, not knowing why he said it.

"I could easily, couldn't I?" she answered, smiling with all her
body.

He saw that she was adoring him, gazing at him as though in five
minutes from now he would be wrenched from her sight never to be
seen again.

"My father and mother were killed in a carriage accident when I was
very young," she went on, very serious again, not seeing him now,
only her father and mother.  "So that I've never had any real
relations.  The times I missed having them most was always in the
summer when we went to Buquay.  Everyone was part of a family.  So
was I of course.  The Proudies were the same to me as to their own
children--only, of course, I knew the difference."

He saw her as a very little girl, her dress pinned up round her
waist, in striped little bathing drawers, with a bucket and spade.
Very serious.  In the bucket, floating in sandy sea water, were an
amorphous jellyfish and a pale yellow starfish.

She was looking for shells.  Very seriously.  And in his nostrils
was the tang of the fresh biting salt, and glittering fragments of
sand stuck to his hands, and there was sand inside his canvas
shoes.  Boom, boom went the waves.  There was some surf to-day, a
bright sunshining breeze, and gulls were clustered over some
glorious fragment there where the wet sand shone in reflected
light.  Behind them the lodgings stood, and in front of each
window, heavy and wet, hung towels and bathing costumes.  She was
looking for shells.  She found several beauties and brought them to
him to look at.  One was indeed lovely, faintly rose and fading to
cream at the edges of the rim.  He looked from the shell to her
round chubby serious face; on her cheeks were glistening fragments
of sand, and coiled round her spade like the spoils of a hunter's
chase a clinging fragment of red-gold seaweed.

"Yes.  That's a beauty . . ." he said.  "Don't you lose it."

"Don't I lose what?" she asked, looking across at him from the bed
where she was again sitting.

"I was thinking of you as a little girl on the sea shore looking
for shells.  I was with you.  You showed me a beauty."

"I wish you had been," she answered.  "I'd have brought you all my
spoils."

"A jellyfish, a starfish, a piece of golden seaweed . . ." he
thought, looking back to his own childhood, so long, so very long
ago.

"The seaside I knew when I was young wasn't so romantic.  A place
called Seascale in Cumberland.  It's a fashionable watering-place
now, I believe.  Then it was nothing but a row or two of houses and
a long wet beach.  It was my first sea, though, and it was
marvellous in my eyes.  We stayed in a village called Gosforth
three miles inland.  I was about eighteen and I used to bicycle
over--one of those bicycles, you know, with a seat as high as the
stars and a huge wheel in front and a little one behind.  I went
over every Thursday, because just above the beach at Seascale was a
little stationer's shop with bottles of sweets, balls of string,
buckets, and spades.  And they sold a weekly called, I think, the
Weekly Telegraph, or some such name.  It was printed on rough
yellow-looking paper, and it had rough smudgy pictures and--the
most marvellous serial stories in the world.  Stories like Miss
Braddon's and Mrs. Henry Wood's--and a page of correspondence at
the end.  I was in touch with all the world through that paper.
And I would buy rock cakes and toffee and my Weekly Telegraph, then
go and bathe, and then sit on the sand eating my toffee and reading
my serial . . .  Now isn't that odd?  I've never told anyone before
about those times.  And now they're all around me.  I can hear the
long wave curling over, dragging back the sand, and the sea-gulls
calling, and I can feel the rough paper under my hand. . . ."

"And have you never gone back?" she asked.

"No, never.  I'd be afraid to go."

She caught her breath in a little gasp.  "Now if we never have
another talk it will be worth while having come to London just for
this one."

He discovered that he was excited.  "You've made me a present--a
jellyfish, a starfish, a rosy shell, and a piece of seaweed.  Now
what shall I give you?"

"Nothing--except that we'll talk sometimes."

He shook his head.  "My dear, you'll soon get very tired of me.
I'm an old, old man.  Martha's the only one who can stand my
company for long."

"Martha?  Who's Martha?"

"My dog.  She knows me precisely and has no illusions."

"Who else is there in the house?"

"My secretary, Miss Caparis, the cook, Mrs. Carlyon, the maids,
Bigges, whom you know--and your grandmother."

"Oh, what's she like?  I've never seen her."

"You won't see her often.  She's an invalid."

"I AM sorry.  Does she suffer terribly?"

"Not so much as you might imagine.  No.  You won't see her very
often.  She stays in her room."

Then the girl's voice sank into a whisper.  "What shall I do if
Aunt Ruth doesn't like me?"

"Of course she'll like you."

"No, but if she doesn't."

"Well--what then?"

"You see I can't go back to the Proudies.  At least I'm determined
not to.  They've been so good to me for so long.  Of course they'd
HAVE me back, but it wouldn't be right.  They're not well off, and
although they say that it doesn't make any difference, my being
there, of course it does.  I eat such a lot."

"There's plenty of food in THIS house."

"Yes, but I must find a job.  I'm sure that I could learn typing
and shorthand in no time.  I must look around."

She said this in a very grown-up fashion.

"You mustn't look around yet anyway.  You'll be a splendid
companion for my wife."

"Do you think so?  I know so little.  I'll seem to her terribly
stupid."

"Oh, you'll soon pick up the London jargon.  You'll find out who
are the writers and painters, and then in two months when they all
change you'll change too, almost without knowing it.  It's in the
air.  My wife has a bookcase downstairs with the newest writers,
French and English--only the very latest.  Study that for half an
hour and you'll be all right.  Now I must go or I shall be late for
the birthday party."

They looked at one another.  He wanted to go across to her and kiss
her.  He did not.  He said, "See you later," and vanished.



He lay in his bath thinking about her.  He was still excited--as
though he had been given some wonderful, unexpected present--but
because in his life he had always found that things were less good
than they ought to be, so now he refused to consider this affair.

He would expect nothing.  He would demand nothing.  He knew nothing
about her.  She was very young.  She thought him wonderful.  He
detested anyone who thought him wonderful.

He considered his round pink belly, his ugly toes, his bumpy knees.
Anyone who thought him wonderful was a fool.

He lay luxuriously despising himself and with himself all the
universe.  Ridiculous, preposterous, noisy, aimless, imbecile
universe.  And after despising it, he loved it and felt deeply
tender towards it.  Touching, aspiring, courageous, enterprising,
adventurous universe.  He looked at his body and gave it a pat on
the back, because here he was at seventy and hardly an ache.  He
considered then its ugliness, its absurd protuberances, its rag-tag
and bobtail odds and ends.  He pinched his thigh and, holding his
nose, dropped his head under the water.  There was a great roaring
in his ears.  He rose again.  He kicked his legs like a baby in the
water.  He sat up and soaped his face.  He felt clean, wrapped
about with beautiful odours.  He was content.

Standing on the bath-mat rubbing himself, he thought again about
this child.  What had his wife invited her here for?  The answer
came at once, as though whispered in his ear by a dark enemy.  To
increase her own glory.

For an instant his heart seemed to stop beating.  What was he
about?  What had happened to him?  He had never been disloyal to
his wife before.  This was disloyalty, nay worse, treason.  How
ridiculous!  How could the coming of this child increase Ruth's
glory?

She wants to show off, you know--to have someone to show off to.
She always wants that.  No, no, she does not!  He flung down the
towel and rushed naked into the bedroom.  He saw himself in the
long glass, a ridiculous naked old man, betraying and traducing his
dear wife, who had done everything for him.

Then, very quietly, slipping on his vest, he said out loud:  "It's
true.  I know it's true."

He felt again a great tenderness for Ruth.  He wanted to put his
arm around her and protect her against a hostile, critical world.
Then he saw her as she would be to-night in her beautiful clothes,
her head high, afraid of nothing and nobody.  How absurd that he,
clad only in his shirt, his hair on end, should want to protect
this glorious creature.  She needed no protection.  That was the
trouble.  She had never needed any.

But this child needed protection.  Poor little thing, flung
helpless into this hard London world, with no friends, no parents,
and her ridiculous confidence in himself.  He would have to change
that, show her that he was of no use as a protector, that he was
too old, too selfish, too lazy.  Much too selfish!

At the mere suggestion that he must change his habits, his
comforts, his indulgences, his heart shivered.  He at seventy!
What was the value of being seventy if you were not safe at last,
safe from emotions, duties, new influences?  Of course he was safe.
He drove his studs fiercely into his shirt.  He slipped on his silk
socks, his trousers.

He went to the glass to brush his hair.

He loved to brush his hair.  It was wonderful that at seventy he
should still have such stiff, strong hair, and so much of it.

But she was charming.  What a child she had been as he had first
seen her stretched on her bed crying!  How adorably she had trusted
him, confidence shining from her eyes; how quickly, when she had
seen that it was he, she had been happy, as though all that she
wanted was that he should be there.

And he was sure that she would not invade his privacy nor trespass
on his daily life.  She would have great tact and discretion.  A
word from him would always be enough.  And how pleasant to have
someone to whom he could show things, his books, the Manet, his
favourite things in London, like the Aquarium at the Zoo, the odds
and ends in the London Museum, the pictures at Dulwich, the
Caledonian Market, and the rooms at Hampton Court.  She would be
excited and interested, but not too much so.  She had, he fancied,
a little irony, and she would be grateful without being
sentimental. . . .

There was a knock on the door.  Bigges was there.

"The guests have arrived, sir."  Damn the guests!

"All right."  He frowned at Bigges.  He would love one day to pull
Bigges' hair and see what he would do.

"Bigges, suppose I don't come down to dinner?"

"Are you unwell, sir?"

"Not in the least.  But it's my seventieth birthday.  I ought to be
able to do what I like to-day."

"Yes, sir.  Of course, sir."

"I would like to have dinner in bed, and read a bad novel."

"Yes, sir."

"Don't you ever feel that way yourself?"

Bigges coughed, but didn't answer.

"No, I see that you don't.  You keep me in my place."

Bigges coughed again.

"All right, I'll be down in a minute."  Silly fool.  If you threw
Bigges out from the top floor, when he bumped on the pavement he
would rise immaculate, unhurt, every hair in its place.

He sighed.  He must take the greatest care or he would be rude to
someone to-night.  He must take the greatest care or his seventieth
birthday would be marked by a scandal.  In the passage Martha
awaited him.  They went down in solemn state together.



CHAPTER VII

Dinner


There they all were waiting for him.  The drawing-room gleamed and
shone about them.  Ruth was magnificent in a dress of old gold, and
the guests were all talking with the amiability that comes from
having reached the right house at the right time, and the prospect
of a good dinner.

How well he knew them, how terribly well!  Stout and cynical Carl
Reynolds, eager and active Mary Malpas, shining and polished Horace
Clay, and--Jane Rose.

Carl Reynolds was his contemporary, two years older than he.
Casual, careless, cynically contemptuous, omniscient, the best and
greatest critic in England, who had read more than anyone else,
remembered more than anyone else, written more living, twisted, and
ungrammatical prose than anyone else, the greatest authority in the
world on Early Nineteenth-Century English Literature, so that he
knew just what De Quincey had for tea on August 5, 1808, what books
Southey was reviewing in November, 1810, and exactly how far
Coleridge went in his love-making with dear Dorothy Wordsworth.  He
was married to an old woman who was so impossible that no one ever
asked her out anywhere, dropped food on his clothes, had hair in
his ears, and a very red nose.  Ruth, Hans knew, detested him, but
asked him, because he was important.

Hans loved him.

Against him, was Horace Clay, whom Ruth loved and Hans detested.
Well, to say that Ruth loved him was perhaps too strong, but he
stood for everything that seemed to her good.  He was fifty, and
slim, with a beautiful profile, small eyes like marbles, and an
eyeglass on a thick black cord.  In the season he dined at other
people's houses, and out of the season he stayed with whom he
might.  He had, before the Revolution, had something to do with the
Russian Embassy.  He had now something to do with the City,
whither, however, he never turned his steps.

He cackled like a hen when he laughed, smiled with all his teeth
when he saw a friend, and left other gentlemen to pay taxis and
supper bills.  He gossiped among his familiars like three women
alone at bedtime, and was very popular in his own world.

Then there was Mary Malpas.  She was a tall bony woman with blonde
hair.  She was a widow, and not very rich, but entertained artistic
celebrities.

She gave amusing parties in her little house in Charles Street.
Everyone went to these, laughed at her afterwards, and then said
how much they liked her, because they wanted to go to more parties.

In absolute fact she was an exceedingly kind woman, loyal to her
friends, intelligent and amusing.  Her great problem was how to
have room in her very small house for the new artistic celebrities,
and still to retain the old ones.  They WOULD increase so fast.

Hans did not dislike her, but she WOULD call him the Master.

Jane Rose was quite another pair of shoes.  Ruth didn't like her,
but had asked her because the new generation in London thought her
important.

She looked like the wife of a Pre-Raphaelite painter, her dark hair
brushed back in waves from her forehead, her grey dress cut in
simple fashion, her thin pale face quiet and remote.  She was, Hans
thought, the best living novelist in England.  She wrote the most
beautiful prose in the most beautiful way.  Her three novels, The
Haycock, Garlands Passage, and The Cattle Boat, were lovely,
wonderful things.  Oh! if he could write like that, if he could
observe and remember like that, if he could translate onto the page
pity and irony and tenderness and humour like that! . . .  But he
could not.  Here was a gulf between her generation and his fixed!
Never, never, try as he might, could he win her lovely revelation
of human nature, unwitting that it should be revealed.

Her London street and park and summer sun, her sea and sand and
distant hill, her triumphant evocation of the drama of little
things, her seemingly casual assembling of tiny significances that
were the waving flags and beating drums of life's procession!

She had in her last novel spoken of the beam from a lighthouse
"stroking the floor of a lodging-house bedroom"--so her art
illumined, gently and tenderly, the world that he knew.  The debt
that he owed her could never be paid.

Ruth didn't like her, because she looked odd and always in
conversation (with Ruth at least) answered the last sentence but
one.  There was something terrifying in her gentle remoteness.

Ruth could not understand her novels, all about nothing, with a
chair here and a duster there, and someone talking about cheese one
moment and life and death the next.

However, people like Mary Malpas who "knew" thought her "dreadfully
clever," so Ruth asked her.  And Jane Rose came, because she liked
and respected Hans.

There they all were and, as he came in, he knew that although he
had been cross and rebellious coming downstairs his official
"charm" was, at sight of them, poking up its head.  He couldn't but
be "charming."  He was expected to be.  He was expected to smile
that jolly, humorous, semi-sarcastic smile.  He was expected to
employ that easy, friendly voice, he was expected to be his public
self.  Hans Frost, the great (if slightly embalmed) writer, who had
a lovely house and a lovely wife and a lovely position, whose books
were already classics, although no one any more very much read
them.

He heard himself saying:  "I'm so sorry I'm late.  I do hope that
you haven't been waiting.  How are you, Carl?  Good evening, Mrs.
Malpas.  How do you do, Miss Rose?  Well, Clay, how are you?"

Everyone was very well.

They all went in to dinner.

Hans had on his right Mary Malpas, and on his left Jane Rose.

He was not hungry: he was excited and could not think why.
Something had happened to him upstairs.  What?  He would not open
the door and look, lest what he saw should be disappointing.  So he
remained sensationally in a mist, holding in one hand a jellyfish
and in the other a piece of golden seaweed--and in the meanwhile,
from a long way off, Mary Malpas was saying:

"But truly, cher maître, I think she would amuse you.  If one day
you'd honour my poor roof. . . .  She's so young that her
impertinences aren't offensive.  Si jeunesse savait."  (Mary
Malpas's French accent was a poor one.)  "Why not try her?  Really
her poetry is remarkable.  Everyone is agreed. . . ."

He looked at his soup, which was a clear translucent brown, and in
it floated tiny lozenges of vegetable.  It was one of those soups
in perfect taste but without vitality--well bred and fin de siècle.
He sighed.  Martha, whose head was resting on his shoe under the
table, sighed also.

"I'd like her, would I?" he asked, wondering whether it were true,
as he'd read somewhere, that in Teheran the famous Persian gardens
contained only trees and running water.  No flowers at all.  Very
disappointing if that were so, after all the fuss the Persian poets
had been making. . . .

"Tell me about her," he said.

"There isn't very much to tell.  She's taken everyone by surprise.
No one DREAMT that she had Fly-by-Nights in her.  In fact some
people say . . ."

Carl Reynolds was in trouble.  He had spilt some soup onto his
waistcoat, and he wouldn't have cared--oh, not in the least--had
Horace Clay not been sitting opposite to him.  Horace Clay made him
feel as though he had been discovered in Piccadilly Circus with no
clothes on--not that he would have minded that in the least had
Piccadilly Circus not minded, but as soon as the Circus minded
(which of course it did) he was unhappy.

He was a violent, abusive, ironical old man, but absurdly enough he
could not bear that other people should be unhappy or that he
himself should be laughed at.  Now his hostess was unhappy, and
Horace Clay was laughing at him.

He had spilt his soup--and a good deal of it--because he had become
deeply interested in explaining to Ruth about an article only this
very day completed on the Ettrick Shepherd and the virtues of his
story The Brownie of Bodsbeck.  When he talked of James Hogg he saw
at once the Edinburgh of that day, the fine folk riding down
Princes Street, and Burke and Hare skulking in their holes, and
Scott coming out of the Court House and . . .  So he spilt his
soup.

He wiped it with his napkin.  Ruth ever so faintly flushed.  Carl
saw his ancient mother--two years deceased--and his two ugly
sisters, whom he loved, and his plain brown-faced wife (who was
never asked anywhere and preferred not to be asked, but Carl felt
always a traitor because he left her at home), all of them
insulted, all of them contemned through the eyeglass of Horace
Clay.

He stammered, trying to return once more to the "wynds" and windy
places of Edinburgh, but he could not.  He had been cast out from
them, because he had spilt his soup.

Hans, glancing over the brilliant shimmer of the round table, over
the blue bowl on whose surface floated the heads of pale yellow
roses, saw it all.

And at once when he saw it he felt everything within him rise to
champion Carl.  Carl was his friend and Horace Clay his enemy.
Carl he understood and sympathized with and loved, as though they
had leapt together from the same womb and had never from that
moment been separated.  He loved neatness and cleanliness, but he
felt as though he himself had spilt Carl's soup and Carl, in a
spirit of wonderful generosity, had taken the crime upon himself.

And he hated Horace Clay: he hated his eyeglass and his hen's
cackle and his beautiful profile.  Clay should have been a
procuress in Dieppe or Ostend.  Clay . . .  But he must rush to
champion Carl.  So he raised his glass and cried:

"Your health, Carl.  It's splendid to have you here again."

But, alas, this was most unwise, because it was Carl's only failing
that he was inclined to drink too much when under the roof of a
friend who knew what good wine was like, and Carl knew that and
would do his utmost, on a fine occasion, to drink only lemonade or
beastly barley-water.

It was tacitly understood that he must not be encouraged, but now
Hans had encouraged him, and Carl turned and said to Bigges:  "I
think, after all, I will have a little sherry"; and after that
there would be champagne and after that port . . . and the end of
the evening would be perhaps disgraceful.

Hans knew at once that he should not have done this, and he knew
that Ruth was angry with him, and so he, in return, was angry with
Ruth.

"We must all drink your health soon, cher maître," said Mary
Malpas.  "Ruth tells us that they have given you a Manet.  To be
given a Manet, what bliss!  We are pining to see it . . . and,
indeed, it is no more than you deserve."

So the Manet was to be insulted too.  He resolved instantly that
they should not see the Manet--none of them, not even Jane Rose.

Not to-night at least.  She should come by herself to tea and he
would show it to her then.

He turned to her.

"On my seventh birthday," he said, "I was given a Noah's Ark with a
red roof.  I've never liked any present so much since."

"I was lost on my seventh birthday.  The nurse went off with a
soldier and I followed the man with the balloons.  I was lost for a
whole afternoon.  I sat in the police-station for an hour.  I've
loved policemen ever since.  They were so very kind to me and gave
me a piece of seed cake.  But don't you think," she added, "that
possessions are a pity?  Don't you feel sorry for your Manet, that
it isn't free dancing about on its own--a little like the tigers at
the Zoo?"

"It shall be free," he said.  "It shall do whatever it likes.  I
won't complain if it flies out of the window."

"No, you wouldn't," she said, smiling at him.  "You know what
freedom means."

But did he?  Or, if he knew, had he got it?

No, he had not got it.  He had had it possibly once, but now it had
been stolen from him--stolen from him by Bigges, who was pouring
out champagne, stolen by the beautiful saddle of mutton, the
currant jelly, the crackling brown potatoes--stolen from him by the
cheque-book in his dressing-room table, the roses in the flower
bowl, and the electric wires that ran behind the boarding--in any
case they should not see his Manet.

But Horace Clay who thought he knew about pictures (he took his
ground mainly on the Russians, saying that no one could judge
Tchekov unless they'd seen Stanislavsky and Knipper in The Three
Sisters, which, of course, no one had.  He had also drunk tea with
Kuprin and vodka with the author of Sanine) took the Manet under
his wing.

"Of course we must see the Manet.  Of course we must see the
Manet."  He was just like a hen scratching in a dust-heap.

"I'm afraid you won't see the Manet."  Hans, as though he were
observing himself from the outside, was surprised at the tremor of
excitement in his voice.  "Nobody's going to see it to-night."

His voice was almost harsh.  Certainly peremptory, rude, on the
edge of violence.  He knew that they were all surprised, as though
he had taken up one of the plates in both hands and flung it to the
ground.  He knew also that Ruth was offended, deeply offended.  He
knew it still more surely when she laughed--her gay social laugh
that was like a little gilt nail that you drove in somewhere with a
sharp little tap to prevent a catastrophe.

"Why, Hans, what DO you mean?  Of course we're going to see the
Manet.  Why, _I_ haven't seen it yet!"

He tried to laugh it off.

"I'm afraid not.  It doesn't want to be seen to-night.  It's shy
after so much public exposure.  I felt quite sorry for it this
afternoon."

"Oh, but when _I_ ask you--"

"No, darling.  Anything else to the half of my kingdom--"
(Everyone was aware that husband and wife were in conflict.)

"Now come, Hans, I never heard anything so absurd.  He WILL have
these ridiculous ideas, you know."  (This to Horace Clay.)  "I
insist on seeing it."

"So you shall, my dear, to-morrow."

"No, to-night.  We must ALL see it."

"Greatly distressed. . . .  Manet invisible."

"But really, Hans, this is too bad--"

Just that note too much in her voice--note of personal vexation,
true irritation, rising anger.  Horace Clay recognized it and--was
it because he wanted to save her or to accentuate the trouble?--he
raised his glass.  "Never mind the Manet," he cried in his shrill
and slightly effeminate, shop-walking, gently foreign, accentuated
voice (as though he were an assistant in a very smart shop selling
only the best Russian fabrics).  "We must drink to our host.  The
Master and his glorious works!  May there be seventy more birthdays
and seventy more masterpieces!"

"The Master!" called Mary Malpas shrilly.  Jane Rose looked at him,
smiling quietly and drinking in silence.

But Carl Reynolds rose to his feet.  "My friend!  My friend!" he
shouted huskily, his voice thick with champagne and great feeling.

Everyone saw that he had drunk too much.  He sat down again and
began peeling in a crazy way an apple while he related to them all
how at one of George Eliot's famous afternoons George Henry Lewes
had stood on his head to show them something he had observed in the
country, and had looked exactly like a little performing dog, while
George Eliot, seated in her chair, had been like a performing horse
snorting through her nostrils and talking about Kant to Herbert
Spencer.  He might have his details wrong, he said.  It was a
considerable long time ago, but that was exactly what Lewes had
done--stood on his head and waved his little legs in the air.

Everyone was greatly distressed.  No one knew what Carl Reynolds'
next gesture would be.  Ruth rose in dignity and, followed by Mary
Malpas and Jane Rose, moved off towards the drawing-room.

But Hans didn't care.  It might be true that Carl had drunk too
much, but Carl was his friend.  He got up and moved to the chair
next to Carl and put his hand on Carl's shoulder.  He knew that he
should have said something pleasant to Horace Clay, who was sitting
now all by himself in a débris of fruit skins, wine glasses, and
crumbled bread, but he could not.  He was damned if he would. . . .

"It IS jolly to have you here again," he said to Carl.

That was enough for Carl, who, with another glass of port, would be
in a vinous heaven, but had reached, without the extra glass, only
the outer portals.  His eyes were filled with tears, and he waved
his hand in the air.

"You understand me, Hans," he said.  "We understand one another.
There's hardly anyone but ourselves left.  Everyone dead, and a
damnable new generation that doesn't know good writing when it sees
it.  A cold-blooded, whoring, ignorant generation.  Why, there's
that fool Mortlake despising the classics just because he never
went to a university.  University all wrong because HE never went
there.  Latin and Greek all wrong because no one ever smacked his
behind when he didn't do his Greek verses.  Greek verses . . .
Greek verses. . . .  My God! . . ."  He choked over a piece of
apple, and a tear, moved by his choking, stole down his cheek.
"All this nonsense . . ."

Horace Clay, smiling only too courteously, leant across the table.
"Well now--Greek verses--do you really think they've ever done any
good to anybody?"

Carl's chest heaved.  "Good!  Good!"  Then, like Parsifal, he asked
violently, "What is good? . . .  Good to whom?  Good to what?  Good
to your stomach?  Good to your pocket?  No.  But good to your soul.
But perhaps you don't care about your soul.  Souls are old-
fashioned.  I'm old.  And you'll be old one day and wonder what the
world's coming to.  Each to his taste. . . ."

He was angry, his voice shook, not only because he had drunk too
much, but because he saw the Athenian streets screaming with motor-
cars and Mount Olympus trodden by the gilt shoes of cinema ladies--
also he hated Horace Clay.  He didn't know who he was, he didn't
care.  He was to him like a dirty street boy cocking a snook at
Sappho.

It was Horace Clay's art to allow nothing to ruffle him.  He saw
before him only a drunken old man who had spilt soup down his
waistcoat, so he said, still smiling:

"I'm sure you're right.  I never had any education.  I think our
modern world's absurd, of course, but as we belong to it we may as
well make the best of it."

"I don't belong to it!  I don't belong to it!" Carl shouted.  "I'm
better dead and buried, of course, but it isn't a question of you
or me.  Greek art and Greek literature are greater than either of
us, and if we don't take what they offer, what do they care?  The
sun will shine whether we sneeze at it or no.  Yes, it will, thank
God.  We don't matter a damn."

He was becoming rhetorical and on the verge of great personal
rudeness, so Hans pressed his shoulder and said:  "Let's join the
others."

But as they walked into the drawing-room he was greatly, greatly
excited.  What did it matter whether Carl were drunk or no?  With
his clumsy fist he was pushing this door ever wider and wider.
What door?  The door that he had discovered only this afternoon,
whose knob he had turned, and now a thin line of light was showing,
and soon . . .

He had himself perhaps drunk a little too much champagne.  But it
didn't matter.  He would drink more if only, by so doing, he could
open the door more widely.

And then--would you believe it?--in the drawing-room Mary Malpas
began once again about the Manet.  She came to him with that air
she had (she practised it only with the acknowledged great) of
being on intimate and unique relations.  She looked him in the eyes
and said:

"Dear Master, won't you allow us just a teeny, teeny peep at the
Manet?  I know what you feel.  We won't tell a soul that we've seen
it. . . ."

Know what he felt?  Indeed she did not.  He answered:

"Dear Mrs. Malpas, take it as an absurd whim of mine.  I hate to
refuse you anything, but there it is.  I'd rather it were left to
itself."

Then Ruth's voice broke in.  "Don't be ridiculous, Hans.  Go and
get it.  I never knew you so absurd."

He bowed.

"I am absurd.  It's my seventieth birthday, the one day in one's
lifetime when one's allowed to be absurd.  The Manet is gone,
vanished.  It isn't there any longer, so how can I go and get it?
To-morrow morning it may return.  Who knows?  As Miss Rose says,
we've got to leave it its freedom.  We can't capture it just
because it's passed through the hands of some literary gentlemen.
I'm sorry.  When it returns I'll let you know."

He was laughing, and Ruth was laughing too.  How beautiful she
looked in her dress of old gold, and the lovely carriage of her
head, how beautiful and how remote!  She looked at him as though
she loved him.  Why was he so sure to-night that she did not?

"Have it your own way.  It's your picture."  And she turned, still
smiling, to barricade herself off with Horace Clay, who sat down on
the sofa beside her as though they had a special code of their own,
something that was nearly Russian, but because Ruth had never seen
Stanislavsky in The Three Sisters couldn't be quite.

Poor Carl had reached the stage when he was ashamed of himself and
wanted to go home.  He had been rude, had he not?  But to whom?  To
that man with the eyeglass who didn't like Greek verses?  Shame
upon him for an untidy, worthless, old man.  He was very near tears
indeed, and Jane Rose, seeing this, because, having both heart and
brain in equal splendour, she was able to understand the simplest
distresses, took him under her wing.  How tenderly and with what
loving care she did it, Hans thought, making the old man sit down
beside her, praising his book on De Quincey and his Critical
Essays, 1770-1830, asking him exactly about Godwin and the novels
of Bage. . . .  Yes, out of goodness of heart all the splendours of
life must come!

He himself stayed with Martha and Mary Malpas.  Mary wasn't so bad,
would have been very good indeed had she not been bitten by this
curious social bug.  But he could attend to her only slightly.  He
was listening--listening--for what?  Was somebody sobbing
somewhere? or was it laughter--very faint?  Was somebody having
dinner in bed and reading a bad novel, the book propped up against
the coffee pot?

Martha seemed to know.  She was listening, her head on her paws,
her beady eyes fixed upon the door.

They were going.  They were saying good-night.  They were all happy
now, all wishing to be twice as friendly now that they wouldn't
have to be friendly any longer.

"You will come, won't you?  I'm in almost every afternoon at
five. . . ."

Jane Rose had asked Carl to come and see her.  He was radiant.
Bigges handed him his large woollen muffler.  He was grasping Hans'
hand.

And now they were all gone.  Hans turned back from the door to see
what it was that Ruth would have to say.



CHAPTER VIII

Intimate Truths


He went straight back into the drawing-room.  Ruth was waiting for
him.  But he would not have it out here.

He stood in the doorway.

"I'm going up.  I'll come in and see you for a moment."

The words were of vast importance and they both knew it.  For many
years--ever since his illness indeed--he had not been near her
room.

She said "All right" and then, as she passed him, rested for a
moment her hand on his shoulder.  She said, smiling, "You WERE
funny to-night."  She kissed his cheek lightly.  Then added
reflectively, "It's the last time Carl Reynolds dines here."

From the second step of the stairs she called back to him:  "You
won't be long?  I'm tired."

"No.  I won't be long."

He waited in the drawing-room.  Out of the silence Bigges appeared.
"All right, Bigges.  I'll turn the lights out."

He was tired and sat down, alone with Martha.

He called after Bigges:  "You can take Martha."

Bigges appeared again as though Hans had been some magician
summoning figures from the vasty deep.  He bent down to pick Martha
up and his huge back stretched and stretched.  Martha, superior and
scornful under his arm, yawned.  She was thoroughly aware of all
that was occurring.

Yes, he was tired, but tired with this anxiously pressing
excitement.  It wasn't good for anyone of his age to be excited.
He seemed to be suddenly contemporary with himself as a very young
man in Weimar looking at the relics in Goethe's house, where he had
a rendezvous with a young flaxen-haired German woman.  At that time
he was virgin of sexual experience, and he knew that in another
hour he would no longer be so.  He had looked, he remembered, at
Goethe's bed and had thought that it would be astonishingly fine to
obtain the use of it, just for one evening, for the young flaxen-
haired woman.

"I was a literary prig of the first order.  That at least I am no
longer.  Or am I not?  Perhaps I mislead myself.  She had teeth
like a rabbit, the young woman in Weimar.  But fair-haired women
were always my danger.  That, at any rate, is over.  Thank God! . . .
or thank my years.  But love--real love . . .  Is there no one in
the world any longer whom I love?"

He got up and walked in great agitation about the room.  Was he
already a corpse then, or at best a body without soul?  This soul
that Carl talked about.  And a sentence from Henry Galleon rang in
his brain:  "The only desire left to him was that he should have
watercress for tea."

The little gold clock on the mantelpiece rang the half hour, and he
decided that it was time to visit Ruth.

What would he say to her?  He didn't know.  "Watercress for
tea. . . ."  But it would be something momentous.

He found her sitting in front of her mirror, brushing her short red-
gold hair.  The room was beautiful.  Ivory and silver, and the
floor, after the fashion of a year or two ago, was in lozenges of
black and white.

She attacked him at once, without losing a moment, gazing into her
mirror, putting down the brush, pinching her cheeks.

"Hans darling.  HOW odd you were to-night!  What WAS the matter
with you?"

He sat down on the sofa at the foot of the bed and looked into the
fire, one deep cavern of amber glow.

"WAS I odd?"

"You know you were.  It was the most tiresome dinner-party we've
ever had, and I'd arranged it so carefully."

He looked at her lovely body, her white arms raised above her
silver peignoir.

"And all I really want," he thought, "is watercress for tea."

"That horrid old Reynolds man.  What DID you ask him to have wine
for?  You know he isn't to be trusted."

"No.  You're right.  He isn't to be trusted."

There was something so odd in his voice that she abandoned pinching
her cheeks and turned round to look at him.

There was something so odd in his face that she said:  "Poor Hans.
I forgive you.  You're terribly tired.  Trot off to bed."

"And I forgive you," he said solemnly.

"You forgive ME?  Whatever have you to forgive me for?"

He shook his head.  "Oh, I don't know.  We have all to forgive each
other all sorts of things."

Then she knew that he wasn't well and, really alarmed, came over
and sat beside him on the sofa.  "Certainly on tonight's score
you're my debtor.  You hated the whole affair and showed it.  Was
that being a good host?"

She spoke to him with tenderness, and gently, as though he had been
her little boy who had gone to the circus when he had promised--oh!
most solemnly promised--never to go unless Mother took him.

This quite suddenly infuriated him.

He jumped up.  "I'm NOT nineteen!  I'm NOT nineteen!  Oh yes, you
think that I am.  You can't deny it.  You know you do.  You'd
arranged a nice dinner-party for me, so, of course, I ought to like
it.  I'm an old man now and must do what I'm told, and be fed
through a spoon.  Well, I'm not old.  I'm younger to-night than
I've been for years, and I won't be called cher maître by Mary
Malpas, and what does it matter if Carl does spill his soup on his
waistcoat?  Carl's worth all of us put together, and then a lot
more. . . ."

He paused for breath.  He hadn't shown anger with anyone or
anything for ten years.  It was delightful, invigorating.  He hoped
that he would be able to go on being angry.  He wasn't at all sure.

Ruth laughed.

"Dear Hans--so that was what annoyed you?  Mary Malpas is a fool,
of course, but one has to ask her.  And why shouldn't she call you
cher maître?  It's a little affected, but men like Anatole France
and Rodin didn't mind, so why should you?  And to-day especially,
when you've been honoured by the whole of literary England.  And
then again--don't you think that it was a little absurd of you to
make that fuss about that picture?  Now, that WAS affectation if
you like--and quite unlike you . . . you're generally so simple
about those things."

His anger was gone, alas, alas!  He couldn't simulate it.  He must
be gentle while waiting for its possible happy return.

"Yes.  I don't defend myself.  If Horace Clay didn't wear that
eyeglass, things would be different.  You're very patient with me,
Ruth--and I wish you wouldn't be.  Lose your temper.  Let's have a
scene.  We haven't had one for years."

She smiled.  He was his old self again, which meant perhaps that
she had got him just where she wanted him to be.

"Dear Hans--what one forgets is that a day like this must be
exhausting for you.  After all, it's been one of the days of your
life--"

"One of the days of my life!" he interrupted her.  "And what do you
think the days of my life have been if this has been one of them?
I haven't had a real day, what you can call a day, for years. . . .
Listen . . ."  He sat down beside her.  "That's what I want to talk
about.  I want to go away for a bit.  I want to go right away from
everybody and everything.  The South Seas or--no, they've become
artistic--well, Greenland or Manchester or Buenos Ayres.  I want to
shake everything off.  Yes, to shake everything off.  My ridiculous
clothes and my reputation.  I'll start again.  I'll write under
another name, John Jones or Horace Clay.  Anything will do.  And
I'll catch fish in a cloudy stream and sit in the gallery of a
provincial music-hall.  Would you mind?  For a little while?  I
would send you post cards signed Jones, 'Hoping all's well as it
leaves me at present.'"

He felt her agitation.  The room of ivory and silver was suddenly
filled with real emotion, waves of it running up and down the walls
and across the floor.

"Hans, you're mad.  At your age.  To go away.  Of course it isn't
possible for a moment."  He realized then, in a flash of dazzling
intuition, that this was THE dread, THE peril that had for years
haunted her life.  Not because she loved him, not because she
wanted him with her, but because her whole married life had been
given in its body and soul to this one purpose--to make herself a
glorious position through her grand elevation of himself.  HE was
her position, he was her achievement, her splendour, her throne.
Let him go, even for a week, and evil tongues--because, of course,
like all of us, she had her enemies--would say that he had left
her, that he was tired of her, that she was nothing to him and--
worse than any of these things--that he had made, and could
continue to make, his position himself, that she was nothing but
Hans Frost's wife whom now no longer anyone wanted.

Yes, this was it, or if this wasn't exactly it, if there were many
other elements yet to be discovered, this was the shape of the
animal, the colour and form of the lurking tiger.

He looked at her curiously, as though he were seeing her for the
very first time in his life.

"Wouldn't you like," he said gently, "to be rid of me for a very
little while?  I must sometimes be a nuisance.  I know that I am.
You've had such a lot of me for so long."

She had recovered from the first shock.  She was prepared--and with
amazing quickness--to fight her battle.

"The thing's absurd.  Go away by yourself?  Why, you know you
couldn't.  You would be wanting a thousand things.  Of course you
don't realize how dependent you are.  With many men it would be
easy enough, but with you--I flatter myself that I've managed all
these years so that you don't know how dependent you are.  I
wouldn't like you to know.  You'd be sending for me after the first
hour."

"Isn't that rather humiliating for me?  Just because you've made me
so comfortable all these years that I can't get on by myself.
Everyone is independent now.  After all, seventy is nothing
nowadays.  A holiday apart from one another might be good for both
of us--"

Her hands were raised for a moment and then fell again onto her
lap.

"And THIS is all I get!  All I get for everything, for our years
together, our friendship. . . .  You want to go away, you're tired
of everything that I've done for you. . . ."

She broke off, and really it seemed that there was despair in her
voice.  But there was not.  He knew well that there was not.

And, oddly, he caught in the timbre of this last sentence the echo
of countless others.

In a further flash of revelation he saw her building up with
endless little social strokes the public story of his helplessness.

"I'd love to come to-morrow night, but I mustn't.  Hans doesn't
like me to go without him, and nothing would induce him to come,
I'm afraid."

"Of course I'd be with you if I could but I can't leave Hans.  He
isn't QUITE the thing.  Oh no, nothing serious, but he'll have to
stay in, and I must stay in with him."

Or again:

"Ah well, when one has a famous husband, you see, one has one's
duties.  Hans PRETENDS he doesn't mind, but in fact . . ."

And then the dark shadow of Ma Marriott behind:

"If there's a devoted wife in this world my daughter--"

Summed up in that one final sentence:  "I'm sorry, I don't like to
leave Hans."

The illumination, now flooding for him the past years, showed him
also how easily he had succumbed to all this, preferring again and
again out of the most idle laziness to stay in of an evening, to
have a cozy dinner, a long read in the library, with Ruth and her
mother scarcely figuring in the scene at all.

His genius!  His genius!  Damn his genius!

"You can't defend the position," he said, "that it's going to ruin
our lives if I go away for a week by myself."

"Of course not," she answered him easily.  "Go when you like IF
you're determined.  I only say you'll be back in an hour.  But why
this sudden passion to be rid of ME?  Is it all because I confessed
to an irritation that old Carl Reynolds would drink too much at my
dinner table?"

She had made it personal.  As soon as she uttered the word "ME" she
vanished from his sight.  Here, a moment ago, had been someone whom
he was supposed to love and did not.  Now, at her dominating
personal challenge, he saw nothing there at all except a trap.
That alarm that each sex is for ever feeling before the possessive
tactics of the other--so that marriage is often enough nothing but
guerilla warfare among mountains impassable and filled with echoes--
seized him.  He felt as though, in another moment, she would put
out her hand and grasp his arm.  If she did that they would both,
in an instant of time, become fighting, snarling animals.  He would
slap her face, perhaps, although his courtesy to ladies had always
been proverbial.

Awful things would occur because she wanted to hold him when he
wanted to go.

However she only said:  "What about our going to Blackmoor for a
week?"

That was her next move then!

Blackmoor with its laurels, its bound sets of the classics, and
three grandfather clocks. . . .  Blackmoor. . . .

"But don't you see," he said to her very gently, "that Blackmoor
can't settle it?  I want to go away by myself somewhere.  It isn't
that I don't want you.  I don't want anybody.  I tell you what it
is.  I'm emptied of life.  I'm nothing.  I've lost myself, my
emotions, my desires, my heart. . . .  Why, damn it!" he sprang up
from the sofa.  "You're living with a corpse; it isn't decent.
Everyone would be shocked if they knew.  Horace Clay would never
dine with you again.  Old Carl to-night saw what the matter was.
That's why he drank so much.  The discovery shocked him.  And so it
should."

She had, he saw, in the last few minutes come to some secret and,
for herself, most satisfactory solution.  She was, once more,
perfectly serene.

She smiled up at him.

"You're tired.  You can say you're not, but you are.  And so, as a
matter of fact, am I.  We'll talk it over to-morrow."

She got up, put her hand on his shoulder, bent forward, and lightly
kissed his cheek.

"Good-night, Hans dear, and sleep well."

He looked at her and then drew back.  "You're a mysterious woman,"
he said.  "Now why didn't you tell me that you had a niece staying
under our roof?"

The question was unexpected.  She coloured very slightly as she
answered:

"A niece?  Oh--Nathalie?  Little Nathalie Swan.  I never thought to
tell you.  I didn't think you'd be in the least interested.  Poor
little Nathalie.  She's always had such a miserable time.  She's an
orphan, you know, and has been stuck away in the depths of
Glebeshire.  I saw her down there and thought her an attractive,
pleasant child.  I thought it would be agreeable to bring a little
fun into her life, so I asked her up here."

"Always thinking of others," he said.

"Not at all.  Thinking of myself too."

"How long will she be here?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know.  A week or two perhaps."

"And then?"

"I suppose she'll go back to Polchester again."

"I see."

"But I promise you, Hans, that she shall be kept entirely out of
your way.  You shan't be bothered with her."

"Thanks."  He moved to the door.  "Good-night then."

"Good-night, dear Hans."



CHAPTER IX

Friends Met


Alone once more in his room he realized that sleep would not for a
long while come to him.  To that he was now well accustomed, for,
as the years advanced, they had taken from him one hour after
another.  He did not complain of that: he even liked to lie knowing
that beyond the windows the day was breaking, hearing the twitter
of the sparrows, the faint early rustle of the trees, seeing in his
mind all the Park stir under the faint grey shadows of the first
light.

But to-night it was something different; his restlessness was other
than physical.  He stood listening, as though expecting to be
confronted by some ferocious event, as though the house were to be
broken in upon, or he suddenly to be summoned by frightened
servants to some awful discovery.

He went to the door and listened.  Everything was still.  No one
was sobbing now.

Then, impelled by a force that he could not deny, he stole a little
way down the passage and listened again.

Someone was snoring--Bigges it might be--and behind the snoring was
the skirmish and rattle of a motor-car in the road outside.

His hand was on the handle of the door and, as though he were
somnambulistic, he had turned it and slipped inside the dark cool
room.

An instant later a voice came, quiet and gentle and not at all
alarmed.  "Who is it?"

He switched on the light.  She was sitting up in bed, and at once
when she saw him she smiled.

"Hush!  Hush!" he whispered.  "I thought you'd be sleeping . . .
only came to make sure that everything was all right."

"I heard your step in the passage," she whispered.  "I knew that it
was you."

"Well, that's enough," he answered sternly.  "You know that you
should be asleep."

"I couldn't sleep.  At least I was asleep for a little--but now I'm
terribly awake."

He closed the door behind him so that he should not rouse anybody.

"Disgraceful . . . stealing into a lady's bedroom at this hour."
He was smiling because she looked so charming.  Had he had a
grandchild she would have been just like this.

"Oh, stay, now that you're here," she said eagerly.  "A little
while.  I promise you that I can't sleep.  Are you terribly tired
yourself?"

"No, I'm not.  Old men are never tired.  But I'm not going to stay.
You'll be worn out if I do, and to-morrow you've got to see all the
sights.  You'll have to be at your freshest."

"Here--come here."  She patted the bed.  "Come and tell me about
the dinner-party."

He came across slowly, then, after a moment's hesitation, sat down
on the edge of the bed.

"You've no right to tempt me like this.  I'm doing wrong to stay.
What would Bigges say if he found us?"

"Oh, Bigges is fast asleep.  I've been listening to his snoring."

They both listened, and the snore came, steadily, monotonously,
through the wall paper.

"Well--only five minutes then."  She settled down luxuriously into
the bedclothes.

"Was it a good dinner-party?"

"No, a very bad one."

"Why?"

"Nearly all dinner-parties are bad, unless you can speak your mind
without fear or favour.  It's only when you're young and expect to
meet a miracle round every corner that dinner-parties are amusing.
But I forgot.  Young people nowadays don't believe in miracles."

"No, I suppose they don't.  They rely on themselves, which is much
better.  You can't be let down then."  She touched the back of his
hand for a moment with hers--then very quickly took hers away
again.  "Do you believe in miracles?" she asked.

"I didn't--until to-night.  But now--it seems to me anything might
happen."

"Why to-night?"

She let her hand lie now very lightly on his thigh.

"I don't know.  What does one know about anything?  Things come and
go as they please.  One's helpless."

"I don't agree at all," she answered indignantly.  "I'm sure one
can make of life what one wants to.  I'm going to have just the
life I want."

"Are you?  Perhaps you are.  Perhaps you're one of the lucky ones."

"And fancy your talking like that," she went on.  "You who've had
everything--who've got to the very top, written books that will
last for ever--"

"Last for ever?  Why, already most of them are dead.  Nobody opens
them any more.  Only one or two still stir a little.  And if they
do live--one or two--for say fifty, even a hundred years?  A
hundred years!  A moment of time!  And myself unaware . . ."  He
put his hand down on hers.

"No, my dear, that's not the prize.  I'm damned if I know what the
prize is.  But don't you listen to me.  I have my good times or I
used to fancy that I had--"

"You've made things," she broke in eagerly, "beautiful things that
have helped people to see how many beautiful things there are."

"Yes, I've tried."  He broke off.  He took her hand firmly in his.
"So we're going to be friends?  You're going to take me out for
walks and show me the world?  You won't do it for long.  You'll
find ever so many more entertaining people.  And don't you pretend,
mind, when at last you find it boring, that you don't.  Say quite
frankly:  'Uncle Hans, I'm bored to death with you.  Go back to
your library and let me alone.'  And I'll go.  Without a grudge.
Perhaps I'll be rather relieved, because it's a strain, you know,
coming out of your grave when you've been buried for so long and
blinking your eyes and buying a new ear-trumpet. . . ."

"Buried?" she said.

"Oh, well, I suppose it's how you look at it."  And he saw, staring
into the bright glittering room, the way that HE looked at it--
putting aches in the legs and a passion for Steak Minute and the
Manet and the ironic disappointment of fixing pretty sentences
together, all, humble-jumble, on the table of his mind:  "There you
are.  That's what life has brought you.  How do you like it?"

And Nathalie, staring at him with all her eyes, saw none of these
things.  She saw a splendidly distinguished old man, exceedingly
smart in his evening clothes, broad of chest, with his white shirt
gleaming, his face so alive, the kindly wrinkles creeping out of
the corners of his eyes, his cheeks with their healthy colour like
a child's, his strong wiry black hair, the bright intensity of the
eyes themselves--surely not seventy, this old man!

His grasp of her hand was firm and strong, his thighs thick and
sturdy, his back upright and challenging--surely not seventy, this
old man!

And above all, something in him that she had not seen in anyone
before.  A light, a fire, an eager, devouring spirit!  Was it his
genius?  She had heard that so many geniuses looked nothing at all,
that you would not think of them as anyone especial did you see
them and not know who they were.

But of course she had never seen a genius before.  Above all what
he expressed was energy.  Perhaps that WAS genius?  Genius was
vitality strongly directed towards one special aim.  But no--it was
something stranger than that.  A drop of magic transforming the
ordinary clay.

But the thing that she principally felt, as she realized the beat
of the pulse of her hand within his, was that she must have him for
her own.  She had got him--she knew that she had, as she saw his
eyes shining into hers--and she must never lose him again--no,
never, never, never!

"Buried--?" she said again.

"A lot you know about it," he said, smiling at her.

"I know enough about it," she answered defiantly, "to tell you that
if you think you're buried, I'm going to dig you up.  Anyway," and
she drew a little closer to him, "we're friends now, aren't we--and
for ever?"

"Friends--and for ever?  What a little you know--but of course you
don't know.  How could you at your age?  Friends--and for ever?  I
said it once--just like that.  And now, looking back, how many
friends do you think I've ever really had?"

"As many as you've wanted."

"One--exactly one.  Friendship is the hardest thing, keeping it up,
standing the shocks, making allowances, keeping your temper,
remembering to put stamps on envelopes, not snorting at meals,
dividing fairly the eggs and bacon, seeing the good points in
objectionable intruders, forgetting geographical distances, getting
up when the alarm clock strikes, surrendering your independence and
keeping it at the same time, being critical without personal
satisfaction, praising without jealousy. . . ."  He broke off.  He
saw Henry Galleon, Galleon lying back in his chair asleep, Galleon
with that odd, sudden twist of arrogance and supremacy, Galleon
putting on his grey tie with the red spots, Galleon laughing, his
head back, his body bent, Galleon suddenly tender, his hand
pressing one's shoulder, Galleon lost in dark distant worlds
whither no one might follow him.

His eyes misted.  Unconsciously his hand withdrew from hers, he was
gone from her miles and miles away.  She could not touch him.  She
was frightened and lonely, just as she had been that afternoon when
she had first come to the house.  She had been presumptuous.  She
had been going too fast.  She hadn't realized what the difference
in their generations must mean.

At last she said shyly:

"I didn't mean, of course, that I could be a friend like any of
your real friends.  But perhaps no one can be that to you now.  I
only meant that if you'll let me be with you sometimes, I'll be
glad and proud.  Of course I know how much you must be by yourself
sometimes."

She broke off.

He was back.  He was right with her there.  He took her hand again.

"My dear child, that's beautiful of you.  I didn't mean that WE
couldn't be friends.  Of course we are, now and always.  I was
thinking of something else, friendship with someone of your own age
when you're young and vigorous, and think you can do anything with
the world if you try, and that you'll stand side by side always and
never need another.  That's over for me--has been for years, and
I'm lucky to have had even one friendship of that kind--"

He shook off the sentiment:  "You'll have to tell me so much about
yourself.  I know nothing yet.  What you like and don't like.  What
you want to do, where you want to go.  I want to know everything."

"I want," she answered, "to make a fine career for myself as women
do nowadays.  Not to be dependent on anyone for anything.  Not to
owe anybody a penny.  I want to work and work and have a fine time.
And now that you've come, I know that I can."

That touched him terribly: it was really terrible the pain that
shot through him as he felt her confidence and courage and
innocence.  Depending on him!  Poor child, poor child!  And loving
him with such complete trust, without a doubt, a hesitation.

He knew that in that moment something fresh, strong, and wonderful
had come to him.  His life was going to be disturbed, his peace
threatened, all his composure gone.

He would love this child and go into new worlds that had been, he
had thought, closed to him for ever.  He saw, in a flash of
revelation, that the old life was not going to give up without a
struggle.  Ruth would be there.  There would be battle and
conflict, not only with the outside world, but with himself.

But now he realized only that this new delight had come to him.  He
put his arm round her, felt her draw as close to him as she could,
her hair brushed his cheek.

Holding her tightly, he bent down and kissed her.

"My darling. . . .  I'll look after you with all the strength that
I have left.  I'll love you as well as I know how."


END OF PART I




Part II

JOURNEYS OF COLUMBUS



CHAPTER I

Nathalie's Visit to Grandmamma


Nathalie was several days in the house before she saw her
grandmother.  It didn't matter; she could manage without seeing
her; she didn't suppose that she would be so terribly attractive.
And, in any case, there wasn't, in Nathalie's excited feelings,
room for anyone MORE to be especially attractive, so entirely
adorable and lovely were Aunt Ruth and Uncle Hans.

Very different, of course.  Nathalie, looking out of her bedroom
window at a taxi-man arguing with a thin stick of a woman about her
fare, considered how AMAZINGLY different they were.

Auntie Ruth was all sweetness and light--the thin stick of a woman
was feeling in her pocket for more money; the taxi-man, from the
height of Nathalie's observation, looked like a gigantic squashed
marrow; he had on closer observation red moustaches and a fiery
nose--while Uncle Hans was--well, what was Uncle Hans?  Certainly
NOT altogether sweetness and light.

He sometimes lost his temper.  He was sometimes young and gay like
a young pony--and here a very lively, brown, shaggy young pony went
dashing across Nathalie's bedroom, kicking his heels over the pink
sofa with the brown flowers, coming to a stop before the bed,
leaping it and whirling, a happy ghost, through the closed
door. . . .

And sometimes he was exceedingly aged.  One morning Nathalie had
peeped into the library, and there in his vast armchair Uncle Hans
was sitting in a black alpaca jacket, bright crimson leather shoes,
and on his head a black skull cap.  Moreover, on the end of his
nose was a pair of thick tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles.  In his
hand he held an immense silver paper knife, and he was reading out
of a big book spread open on a reading desk at his side.

Seen thus in his skull cap with his brown lined face and his
intense absorption he looked nine hundred and ninety-nine at least.
So absorbed was he that Nathalie hadn't dared to make a sound, but
after observing him for an instant had hurried, frightened, away.
Yes, frightened, because although he hadn't moved or stirred she
was nevertheless convinced that he had seen her, and she had been
to him less than a gnat or a wandering tickling fly.

The thin stick-like woman was standing now looking about her, as
though she were lost entirely.  She gazed at the water and the
trees of the Park passionately.  She was like someone who had just
woken up.

There was a third Uncle Hans quite distinct from the other two.
This was the Public one.

Nathalie had met him first on her second morning in London when he
had taken her on an expedition to the Tate Gallery.  Coming down
the broad steps, her mind a small, very confused cupboard where
Blake sat upon Turner, and Watts hung a vast naked angel on a gold
nail in the wall, they were confronted with two gentlemen and a
lady.  These two gentlemen and lady became at once a Public
Meeting, and Uncle Hans, on a vast platform, accompanied by nothing
but a glass of water and a small deal table, was receiving
ovations.

Nathalie did not listen to the remarks made by the Public Meeting.
Her sharp (and for her age penetrating) glance was concentrated on
Uncle Hans.

He stood, isolated on the broad steps, the River Thames bowing in
front of him and all the pictures in the Tate clapping their hands
behind him, looking very sweet in his square black hat (that was
only half a top-hat and not quite a bowler), in his waistcoat with
the gilt buttons, and his beautiful spats, and he was one of
England's well-known Celebrities.  It was not that he was
consciously celebrated or that he appeared to be especially pleased
with the oration of the Public Meeting (the female part of which
was smart, gushing, and tender) but that in his smile, his reserved
gravity, the set of his thick stocky body and the kindly intonation
of his gracious words, he found and held his transformation.

Nathalie was both excited and distressed.  She realized that she
had perhaps forgotten in the delightful intimacy of the last two
days how truly celebrated a man he was.  She had taken it all too
easily and too readily for granted.  She saw in the devoted glances
and reverent attention of the Public Meeting that this was, for the
P. M., a very great and never-to-be-forgotten occasion.

The P. M. would speak of it with bated breath in the sanctity of
its several homes--"WHO do you think we met just as we were going
into the Tate? . . ." and it wasn't the P. M.'s fault that, at
that exact moment, two gulls, rising angry from their wasted
investigations in the river mud, should shriek derisively and
contemptuously "Who?"

The P. M. moved on, and Uncle Hans was at once his own darling and
private self.  But there it was.  That was what, on certain
occasions, he undoubtedly became.

And when he was cross!  Here Bigges figured.  Bigges most certainly
was just now exasperating to Uncle Hans.  On this occasion he had
not, Nathalie must reluctantly confess (because of course she hated
Bigges), done anything very terrible.  He had only, as Uncle Hans,
dressed and ready for going out, had reached the bottom of the
staircase, said:  "The car is at the door, sir," and Uncle Hans had
replied:  "Well, it can wait, can't it?" But he had looked at
Bigges as though he would love above all things to crash him on the
head with his gold-headed cane.  There was something very
especially irritating in the top of Bigges' head.  It was sleek and
shiny and--yes, stagnant.  It was in a mysterious fashion immensely
pleased with itself as though it said:  "I use a hair oil that is
facile princeps, I am treated only with the best brush and comb,
and my parting is superb."

Nevertheless, there was no reason here for ill-temper, and Uncle
Hans had, for a moment, looked like a very wicked, malevolent, and
murderous old man.

He had continued, too, to mutter as they passed into the car:
"Idiot!  Crass imbecile, self-satisfied idiot! . . ."  There were
other expressions that Nathalie did not catch.

So that Uncle Hans was not altogether that lovable, endearing human
being that he had appeared to be on the first never-to-be-forgotten
night when he had sat on her bed, put his arms around her, kissed
her, and called her his darling.

But how could he be?  Uncle Hans was a great man, and everyone knew
that great men were peculiar, must be shown every kind of
indulgence and be yielded full room for the play of their genius.

Aunt Ruth, then, was much simpler.  Aunt Ruth was a darling.

At this moment the thin-as-a-stick woman drew herself together, as
though she had come at last to some very important resolve and,
astonishing mystery, hailed another taxi that happened to be
passing.  She spoke to the taxi-man with deep impressiveness.  He
nodded as though he were proud to be trusted with her secret and
would, on his life, tell no one.

The thin-as-a-stick woman vanished, leaving some trees, an expanse
of grass, two dogs, and a noise of chattering birds.

Aunt Ruth was so beautiful.  Her appearance was a perpetual joy and
glory to Nathalie, who passionately loved beauty.  Her slim,
graceful body, her exquisite clothes, the carriage of her superb
head, her red-gold hair, the colours she wore, her mingling of
daintiness and strength, her queenly aspect, indifferent and yet
participating, above and beyond you and yet sharing also in your
little affairs.  Oh! she was a queen indeed!

Moreover, she had been exceedingly kind to Nathalie, and Nathalie
at this stage in her growth was like a puppy who could believe no
wrong of any kindly person.

After that first evening she took Nathalie right into her arms.
There was the dressmaker's where Nathalie was given some exquisite
frocks, there was a morning's shopping in Bond Street (how Bond
Street shone in retrospect with its silver--George III sugar
castors and teapots--its picture shops, its dog shop, and its
window filled with the richest, most glorious of motor-cars, all
with their heads to the street as though, once the magic word was
passed, out and away they would go!).

There had been the evening, too, when Aunt Ruth had taken her to
the theatre (Uncle Hans staying at home to read in his library).
How wonderful that had been!  A musical comedy all smiles and
music, with a hero whose hair was crimped like the waves of the
sea, and a funny man who slid UP-stairs with all the ease in the
world.

But best of all had been Aunt Ruth's confidences--confidences
sitting together in front of the fire in the drawing-room,
Nathalie's hand in Aunt Ruth's and Aunt Ruth confessing that she
needed someone to love her, that Uncle Hans was a darling, but that
he was, of course, a genius and couldn't be expected to have the
time for the domestic affections that more ordinary people would
have.

Nathalie's heart rushed out and threw itself at the tips of Aunt
Ruth's gold shoes.  Anything, anything she could do; and she saw
herself rushing from the burning building into the cold night air,
learning from the excited cries of the multitude that Aunt Ruth was
yet within, darting back again (although the multitude did
everything it could to prevent her), and then . . .  Or better
still, perhaps, Aunt Ruth walking in the very path of a mad bull
(mad bulls had always been to Nathalie the very Last Word in
Terror), and Nathalie darting forward, catching the bull by the
horns . . . and the fire spurted in little tongues of amber flame
and the sandwiches faded on the lovely dark blue plate, and the
gold clock on the mantelpiece chimed the flying quarters.

Nathalie lay awake thinking what she might do for Aunt Ruth.  Aunt
Ruth had everything, including the most superb pearl necklace that
you ever saw in your life.  There wasn't much you could give her
except your love.  That she should have, pressed down and running
over, for ever and ever.

Behind Uncle Hans and Aunt Ruth there was Grandmamma.

Nathalie had never seen either of her grandmothers.  One had died
years and years ago, and erected herself for ever in Nathalie as a
bright green bottle standing up in the sun.  That was because when
Nathalie had heard of her death she had been a small girl nursing a
nigger doll and gazing at a bright green bottle that stood on the
window ledge.

"Your grannie's dead, darling," and it had meant nothing at all
except that, because of the sad gravity in Mother's voice, a cloud
came down and tried to hide the glittering light that leapt in
sparks of fire at the very centre of the bottle.  But the cloud
could not.  It was not powerful enough.  And the heart of Pongo
Jane, the black doll, leapt with joy when she saw that it was not
able.

This other grandmother had been alive all the time and had done
nothing about Nathalie.  She had not sent her presents at Christmas
or at birthdays, nor even written a letter.

She was, in Mrs. Proudie's opinion, "a wicked shame."

But Nathalie had, even at this early time, a strong conviction that
"people should be allowed to do what they wanted to do," and if
Grandmamma didn't wish to be bothered with her granddaughter, then
that was her right.

Nevertheless, the picture of this grandmother was unattractive.
She was an invalid, and Uncle Hans didn't like her.  Nathalie knew
that he didn't like her, although he had never said so.

Honestly Nathalie was frightened at this coming interview,
frightened because the old lady seemed to threaten something.  To
threaten what?  Nathalie didn't know.  Some change.  A change for
the worse.

She saw from her watch that it was four o'clock, so she washed her
face and hands, stood for a moment hesitating, then went
downstairs.  She hoped that it would soon be over.

Aunt Ruth was waiting for her in the little silver room beyond the
drawing room.  She was dressed in dove-grey, and the lovely rope of
pearls was round her neck.  If not the real pearls then imitation
ones, so fine that you couldn't tell the difference.  (Why, then,
ever have real ones?)

Aunt Ruth was a little vexed.  Nathalie noticed this at once.  She
was sitting at a lovely little desk writing a letter.  She said:
"Wait a moment, dear.  I must finish this," quite sharply, and
Nathalie at once sat down on a chair of gilt and dark red brocade
and felt shabby.  She felt as she used to do years ago when,
because she was very hungry, she came down to breakfast in a hurry,
not having brushed her teeth.  She hoped, as she took the top off
her boiled egg, that no one would discover the fact.  Now, in
exactly the same way, she hoped that Aunt Ruth wasn't really cross.

She was not, it seemed.  She had, as she rose from her chair, a
shining protecting smile.

"That's right, darling.  We're going up to see Grandmamma, aren't
we?  Grandmamma will love to see you."  Then she looked vexed
again.  "It's too tiresome," she said.  "Ruggins ought to have
known better than that."  Ruggins (whoever he might be) instantly
swung down from the ceiling and stood like a great bear with
protruding teeth all over the little sitting room.

"Ready, dear?" said Aunt Ruth.  "Shall we go up?"

They went up, Nathalie's heart beating in spite of her modern
determination to be frightened at nothing; but it seemed that
Ruggins (whoever he might be) accompanied them up the staircase,
lolloping behind them and breathing stertorously.  "You've never
met your grandmother, have you?  Of course she's been an invalid
for a long time, scarcely going out at all.  She's been so brave,
never complaining, taking cheerfully everything that comes."
(Nathalie saw her grandmother as a dear old lady in a white cap and
mittens, smiling bravely although racked with pain.)  "She has
often spoken of you."  (How did Nathalie know that this was
untrue?)  "It will be delightful for her if you can go in and see
her sometimes.  She has a pretty dull life, I am afraid."

All this time Nathalie knew that her aunt was not thinking about
her at all, but was preoccupied with something else, Ruggins in all
probability.

They were at the door.  Aunt Ruth knocked, and then, in a very
sweet voice indeed, asked:  "May we come in?"

They went in.  What an ugly room and what a grim old woman sitting
reading a book!  The room was shadowy, so that at first it was hard
to see anything very clearly.  Then the pictures came out one by
one, "Queen Victoria Receiving the News of Her Accession" and "Mr.
Gladstone Addressing the House of Commons."

Then a strange, dreary, little smell stole out, a smell of
medicine, straw, sweet biscuits, and window curtains.  Then at last
a voice, very old, very dry, and a little peevish:

"So this is my granddaughter.  Come here and let me have a look at
you."

Nathalie approached.  She was aware of an old yellow face, two thin
white hands blue-veined, and billowing cascades of rather faded
black silk that spread over the chair.  "So you've come to see your
grandmother at last?  Thank you, Ruth, dear.  Just a little
farther.  Thank you, my dear.

"You're a pretty girl, I must say.  And are you happy to be in
London?"

"Yes," said Nathalie.

"You ought to be, I'm sure.  It's very kind of your aunt."

"Nathalie," said Aunt Ruth cheerfully, "is going to be a great
companion to me.  It will be delightful for all of us having her."

But Nathalie's thought was:  "Shall I be like that one day, so old
and ugly and helpless?  Is that what old age is?  Must one . . . ?"
But no, one need not.  This old woman was more ancient by only a
few years than Uncle Hans, and how lively and fresh and healthy he
was.  And why wasn't she filled with pity and tenderness?  Why
didn't she want to do something for this poor helpless old woman?
She did not.  She wanted only to slip away as soon as decency
permitted.

"Now then sit down, my dear, and tell me everything.  Yes, that
chair will do nicely."

Nathalie saw that the meeting was to be staged like something dark
in a melodrama.  Aunt Ruth had withdrawn to the dusky end of the
room where, near the bed, she stayed with her dove-grey dress and
her red-gold hair, a coloured shadow.

"So it's all this time that you've taken before coming to London to
see your grandmother.  Times change.  It's long since I've had even
a photograph of you.  And I must say that you're prettier than I
had expected.  Now tell me everything."

How could Nathalie tell her everything?  This awful old woman. . . .
How COULD she be Nathalie's mother's mother--Nathalie's mother
who stayed always a lovely ghost seen in candlelight, laughing, and
through the window the sky powdered with stars?  Or Aunt Ruth's
mother, Aunt Ruth with her lovely body, her coloured freshness, her
strength?  Was THIS again to what all youth and loveliness must
come?

Everything?  Tell her everything?  The Polchester streets on a
summer evening when the sunlight shone through the little gardens
in the Precincts; about the Proudie dogs, Boomer and Sand; the teas
in the Proudie schoolroom with saffron cake, strawberry jam, and
muffins; the market place on market day when the dark cavernous
arches were filled with life, piles of tomatoes, and bottles of
sweets, and cabbages as large as your head, and farmers, and sheep,
and calves so funny that they brought tears to your eyes; about
making cowslip balls in the lanes above Orange Street, and early in
the morning hunting for mushrooms in the fields beyond Bodger's
Street; about reading The Chaplet of Pearls in front of the fire on
Sunday evenings and a chocolate all round between the chapters;
about the expeditions in jingles to Rafiel and St. Mary's Moor, and
picnics on the beach with sand getting into the jam sandwiches and
the waves licking up the trenched castles; about that first ball in
the Assembly Rooms and the new dress, and the little gold chain
Mrs. Proudie gave her; about the time when the massed choirs sang
"The Messiah" in the Cathedral, and the tennis on summer evenings
in the Dean's garden; about the present-giving on Christmas evening
and waking up in the middle of the night to hear the waits singing
"Good King Wenceslas" under your windows when the moon was shining
and the air glittered with frost--

Tell this old woman? . . .

So Nathalie said:  "It's been very nice in Polchester, thank you,
Grandmamma.  The Proudies have been awfully good. . . ."

She was aware that her grandmother wasn't listening to her and was
thinking of something else.  It was soon plain of what she was
thinking.

"Ruth, darling," the voice was querulously sharp, "why are you
sitting where I can't see you?  I'm sure you want to hear about
everything too."

"Yes, Mother dear."

So that was it.  At once Nathalie's heart was filled with
tenderness and compunction.  This old woman was very human after
all.  She loved Aunt Ruth, she ADORED her.  It was evident enough
now in the way that she moved in her chair, her trembling hands
trying to arrange something, her body jerking forward.  She leaned
to the side and dragged a chair.  She seemed to be suddenly filled
with energy, and Nathalie saw that she was neither old nor feeble
but pulsating with life and vigour.

"That's all right, Mother.  I'll sit here.  I thought you'd like to
talk a little alone with Nathalie."

"Oh, you must come too.  You must come too.  Your aunt's so
unselfish, she'd do herself out of anything.  Copy your aunt and
you won't go wrong. . . .  Well, that's all very interesting what
you've been telling me.  And now what are you going to do with
yourself in London--see all the sights, eh?  Are you sure you're
comfortable, Ruth?  Are you quite all right, dear?"

"Quite, Mother, thank you."

The old woman was uneasy.  Her thin, glassy-white hands beat the
arms of the chair.

"What's Hans doing?" she rapped out like a challenge.

"Working in the library, I expect," Aunt Ruth answered.

"Always thinking of himself.  Never was such a selfish man."

"Oh no, Mother dear.  He has important work to do, and many people
to see."

"People! people!" the old woman broke in.  "Just to feed his
vanity.  He doesn't think of you half as much as he ought to, and
well you know it.  You spoil him, and that's the truth."

The old woman gave her head a vigorous shake.  Nathalie was
forgotten.  Her grandmother had no interest in her, no interest at
all.  This visit had been a form, and now that it had been made
there need never be another.  But Nathalie was excited now by a
deeper drama than her own.  There was something going on here that
was as yet hidden from her.  But she could catch glimpses, flashes
of it.  Grandmother loved Aunt Ruth and hated Uncle Hans.  That was
part of it.  And Aunt Ruth didn't mind that Uncle Hans should be
criticized.  That was another part of it.  And Uncle Hans?  How
much had he to do with this?  What part did he play?

The room was growing ever stuffier and closer, and the smell of
stale biscuit and straw was ever bolder.  Ruggins, the stertorous
bear?  Was he not here hiding in the dark, waiting for his moment
to spring?  Was there not some sort of incantation here, spell-
whispering?  Why had Nathalie so sleepy a headache, why was Queen
Victoria in her nightdress moving out of the picture, her finger to
her lip?  "Hush, there, hush.  Hush, there, hush," and from a great
distance came Aunt Ruth's voice:

"And then, Mother, I told him that three pounds was just thirty
shillings too much.  Why, Whiteley's would--"

And the brown curtains moved, fattening as though a breeze blew
them, and the hands of Grandmamma, glassy white, swelled above the
arms of the chair, and Nathalie's head nodded.

The door quietly opened, and Uncle Hans (oh, dear beloved Uncle
Hans!) was standing there.

"May I come in?" he asked, poking his head into the half-light.
You could see that he was smiling.

"Is that you, Hans?" said his mother-in-law.  "I was just asking
where you were."

He came in amongst them.  He was wearing his alpaca jacket and his
crimson slippers, but he didn't look old at all.  He was bubbling
with vitality; also he was wicked--wicked and foreign, as though he
belonged to some other country.  Again Nathalie felt his
remoteness.

He looked at her, he looked at his wife, he took them all in.  His
legs were planted wide, his head a little on one side, his hands
behind his broad, sturdy back.

Aunt Ruth got up from her chair.  She spoke to Nathalie.

"I expect your grandmother's tired."  She bent forward and kissed
her mother.

"Now that's too bad," said Uncle Hans, "to get up and go just when
I come in.  It's a little marked, I fancy."

Aunt Ruth laughed.

"Nonsense, Hans.  We've been here a long time."  (They had not, and
Nathalie was aware that Uncle Hans knew just how long.)

"Nathalie dear, I have a nice invitation for you tomorrow night--
and you too, Hans.  Mother darling, are you all right?--nothing I
can get you?--the Heskeths'--a musical evening.  Prokolonotay is
going to play the fiddle.  They are especially anxious that you
should come, Hans."

Nathalie had risen.  She had distinctly seen Victoria, her finger
still to her lip, retire into her picture, pat her nightdress, and
listen once more with girlish dignity to Lord Conyngham's
interesting announcement.

She also saw Uncle Hans make a little bow.

"Dear Ruth," he said, "that's charming of the Heskeths, and I am
delighted to realize that so many people will have the pleasure of
hearing M.  Prokoli-something-or-other.  I, alas, shall not be one
of them."

"Oh, but, Hans, you must."  Ruth's voice was sharp.  "I've promised
for you."

The old lady's dress rustled.  It might have been the stir of some
dangerous animal hiding in the thicket.

Hans smiled.  Then drew Nathalie towards him, putting his hand
through her arm.

"Nathalie and I are already promised."

"Nathalie?"

"Alas, yes."

Ruth was angry.  Even Ruggins was frightened.

"But Hans, how absurd!  You've promised for me without a word to
me?"

"Well--but you had promised for me."

"That's different.  You like me to make social engagements for
you."

"Do I?  Perhaps I do.  But not this time."

Ruth laughed.

Grandmamma from her chair remarked:  "I'm sure that's very nice for
you, Hans.  To go with Ruth to an evening party."

"Nothing I like better," Hans assented cheerfully.  "But this time
I've given my word."

"Well, you can just ungive it again," said Ruth cheerfully, moving
towards the door.  (How did Nathalie know that Ruth disliked that
Hans should have his hand through her arm?)  "We are going to the
Heskeths'."

"We are not," said Hans, also cheerfully.

"Nathalie and I are, in any case.  There are some people there that
I especially wish her to meet.  Anyway who are these people into
whose company you wish to drag me?"

"I don't wish to drag you."  He hesitated a moment, then went on:
"To tell the truth, I wasn't intending to drag you.  You weren't in
fact asked."

There was a silence into whose thunderous depths the curtains, the
pictures, the old lady's white hands dipped and quivered.

"Not asked?"

"No.  People you don't know."

"Who are they, then?"

"He's a writer--Westcott.  He was here last night smoking a pipe
with me.  He invited me then.  I asked if I might bring Nathalie
with me.  He was delighted.  You'd be bored.  No one there who
would interest you."

The old lady was indignant.  "Ruth bored?  Why, she's never bored.
Everyone interests her."  Ruth laughed, and if ever an irritated
temper used a laugh for its manifestation . . .

"You see what Hans thinks of me, Mother.  But really, Hans, it's
ridiculous to drag Nathalie off to a crowd of second-rate people,
not one of whom means anything to her."

She pulled herself together.  She patted Hans on the shoulder.
"Have your old party, and much good may it do you.  Now really
we've tired Mother to death.  I'll come in for a moment before you
go to bed, Mother."

She bent down and kissed her.

Mrs. Marriott settled herself back in her chair.  "Never mind,
dear," she said.  "I'm sure the Heskeths will love to see you, even
though you're alone.  Anyone would."

Hans, at the door, looked back.

"Good-night.  Sleep well."

Then, with his hand through Nathalie's arm, he went out.



CHAPTER II

Westcott Evening


A mirror rimmed with gold hung on the wall opposite the door; the
side walls were covered with books, save where the fireplace framed
a gold-pressed cavernous glow of light and colour.

Into and out of the mirror everything had entered and faded--now it
was still, because the dancing was over and they were quiet,
scattered in little gentle groups about the room.  The mirror
caught the door, the shining floor, and a broken pattern of colour,
the silver tissue of a fragment of dress, shoe buckles, arms and
legs, the body of a young man leaning up against a chair, the
corner of the bookcase with the covers of the books shining in the
firelight.

It was Millie, Peter Westcott's wife, who had insisted on the
mirror.  They had had one, she said, in her family when she was a
girl in the old London house, a mirror that had reflected all the
room and especially the green carpet.  Then one day her brother
Henry had thrown a book at the mirror and broken it.  Then someone
said that you couldn't break a mirror by hitting it with a book,
however hard you tried, and someone had wanted to try--poor Willie
Payne with the crooked nose; he had been killed a year later in a
motor accident.

So they had had new glass in the mirror, and Peter had grown very
fond of it because it had held in its embrace, one time or another,
all the happiness that he had ever known, his married life, the
antics, questionings, and beautiful submissions of his two
children, friends and parties and, better than anything save Millie
and the children, long hours with books and books and books. . . .

He was waiting now for Hans Frost, and he was happy to know that
that figure, too, would be soon the mirror's property.  The white
door that the mirror held would open and there would be drawn on
the mirror's surface that sturdy person, that humorous genius whom
Westcott admired as he had admired no one since Henry Galleon.

Looking round the room--he was supposed to be talking to Millie's
friend, Frances Laike, but she went on and on and there was no
necessity to listen--he wondered how the others there would strike
the old man.  He had not yet recovered from the shock that he had
received when the old man had consented to come, because it was
well known that Frost went out nowhere save on official occasions
and then always with Mrs. Frost exceedingly in attendance.  But
like a flash, Frost had agreed.  "Of course I'll come.  One evening
soon.  What about Friday?" and afterwards, with a sort of chuckle
as though he were pursuing some secret plan that he had in his
head:  "And I'll bring my niece too.  She's pretty.  She'll enjoy
it."

Not a word about Mrs. Frost.

Westcott would have liked to get together a truly splendid
assemblage--all the people whom he thought wise and noble and
beautiful.  There weren't--he must confess--very many.  But how
could you at so short a notice?  "Of course," Frances Laike was
saying, "that's his character.  It all comes from some deep
conceit.  He pretends to be as modest as anything, but he just
doesn't listen to you.  All the time you're talking he's thinking
how fine he is."

So there was someone else who doesn't listen to Frances?  Of course
there were thousands--almost everyone.  She was one of those thin,
eager, flushed, excited people, who would never be listened to,
because they had so much to say that wasn't interesting.

A vague wash of melancholy that would often sweep in, like a long
level rush of water unexpectedly and as though with a sudden secret
purpose invading the shore, attacked him.

Here he was in middle life with a wife (a splendid wife), two
children (two splendid children), ten published works (not, alas,
so splendid), a reputation (middle class), high and dry on a wet
and slippery rock with a drab seashore, a beautiful yellow sky, and
three sea-gulls-and nothing very much ahead of him.

What had he done with that exciting surprise packet Life?  Where
had he mislaid it?  "And I said to him," Frances was going on,
"that it's all very well to think one book of poems and a play
produced on one wet Sunday evening are fine things to have done,
but there are such a lot of people who have had the same
experience.  Dozens.  It's like the Heath on a Bank Holiday."

But you couldn't expect that life should go on for ever with its
surprises.  His early years had been surprising enough--and he saw
in the mirror the dark fierce anger of his father, the high broad
shoulders of Stephen his friend, round fat Zanti, Clare's fair
hair, the agony of loneliness, the pain of betrayal, and the way
that once, on his uppers in London, a man down at the Docks had
treated him to a ham-and-eggs supper, the finest meal of his
life. . . .  Well, but didn't he love Millie?  Indeed he did.  And
Bobby and Norah, the children?  Indeed, indeed he did.  And his
work?  Wasn't he for ever hoping that this time it was going to be
a masterpiece?  Indeed he was.  And didn't he love all the daily
things--the London trees and the tulips in the Park and Grock and
an exhibition of French pictures and boxing at the Ring, and
suddenly finding that your cold was gone when you thought you'd got
it for another week at least?  Indeed, indeed he did.  And wasn't
his stomach all right and his eyesight fine, and didn't he sleep as
long in the morning as the children would let him, and weren't his
hours with Millie more jolly even than they had been in the first
married year?

Yes, yes.  Well then--

"Peter," said Frances indignantly, "I don't believe you've heard a
single word I've been saying. . . ."

He reassured her and looked around at the others.  There were not
very many.  He had thought that Frost would not care for a crowd.

Millie, and Katherine, Millie's sister, and Philip, Katherine's
husband, and Henry, Millie's brother, and Lady Poole, Katherine's
friend, and on his side Rops and Beckett, two of his friends, and
Nancy Beckett, Beckett's daughter.

And then the Russians.

He hadn't really intended that they should be there--Andrey Shapkin
and his sister Sofya, and his nephew Vladimir and their friend
Mihail Klimov--a queer group bringing into the mirror another
world, a world of vodka and executions without trial, and the plays
of Tchekhov, and Tolstoi wandering off to die by himself, and the
Labour Party's desire for a new world without any idea of how to
make one, and poetry that no one, try as they might, could take any
of the strange glory away from.

He was, after all, glad of the Russians.  Frost would be
interested.  They would be something to show to Frost.

It was Klimov who was really his, Westcott's, friend.

Klimov had been young Henry Trenchard's friend first.  (It was the
habit to go on speaking of him as young Henry, although he was no
longer young, in reality being forty if he was a day.)  Henry had
found Klimov at one of those strange, very unwashed Communist
parties to which he went, had loved him at sight, and supported him
in his flat for weeks.  Klimov had not been supported because he
was penniless or hungry or for any such reason, but only because,
being a traditional Russian, he was absent-minded.  He had quite a
proper home of his own, and the Shapkins were only too ready to
look after him if he hadn't, but he stayed in Henry Trenchard's
flat and was fed by him simply as he stayed anywhere that Fate
placed him.  Henry, loving him very much, would have kept him there
for ever, but Millie and Philip, who were the stern and practical
ones of the Trenchard-Westcott family (Katherine and Peter being
the soft and romantic ones), told him not to be a fool, so Klimov
was sent back to the Shapkins.

Millie had said that he was exactly like Alice's White Knight, not
physically, because he was round and fat and as bald as an ostrich
egg, but in every other way.  He was traditional Russian, Philip
declared, and Philip, because he had lived in Russia when he was
young (you would never think it nowadays), must know.  Peter was
not so sure.  In any case, he was very lovable, although not at all
tidy and (at any moment) capable of stripping himself naked to
emphasize some idea.  He had all the Russian's passion for ideas.
The Shapkins said that he had been once on a day a practical
serious man of business, but his sufferings in Russia in '18 and
'19, when his wife and child had died of starvation, had affected
his character.

The Shapkins themselves were very practical indeed.  Andrey was a
tall thin man with a black beard, and Sofya was tall and stout with
pince-nez.  Andrey had quite a good position in some shipping firm.

The nephew Vladimir was the handsomest young man in the world.
Peter Westcott did not like beautiful young men, beauty only too
seldom going with brains, but he was compelled to admit that
Vladimir was clever, amiable, and amusing.  He was slim, dark, with
splendid eyes and features, so aristocratic that he must be the son
of a prince.  Millie had a romantic legend about him.

He refused, however, to consider himself romantic.  He was twenty-
three years of age, writing plays and making love whenever the
opportunity offered.  He loved life, worked all day in an office in
the City, thought himself a prodigious cynic, the English too naïve
and agreeable for words, and life, because he loved it, something
to drop at any instant.

Behind all this was a profound unchanging pessimism.  At the final
count he believed in nothing and nobody.

There the Russians were, then, and it was odd how, even in this
very friendly evening, they remained apart although showing great
friendliness and a readiness to talk to anybody.

At this moment Andrey Shapkin was engaged in a very violent
argument with Millie and Henry, while Katherine, Janet Poole, and
Beckett listened, smiling and amused.

A moment later Hans Frost was in the room.

It was incredible to Peter that he should be actually there.

Peter had little reverence left for other writers.  Writers were
nothing--AS writers.  They might be good married men, or adulterous
swine, or kind ladies with ink in their hair, or little boys with
inquisitive noses, or young men with reminiscences, or old men fond
of their food, or girls with liaisons, or old maids with psycho-
analysis--anything you pleased, just as coal-heavers, actor-
managers, politicians, or farmers were.  The fact that they were
writers meant just nothing at all.

But it did mean something with Hans Frost.

Hans Frost was a swell, not because he had written some good books
(although he had), nor because he had known great men in his time
(although that made him interesting), nor because he was now a
Figure.  He was a swell because he stood by himself, gave himself
away to nobody, compromised in nothing and, for so many years, had
Kept It Up.

This Keeping It Up was, Peter knew by now, in any of the Arts, the
hardest possible thing.  Easy enough at the beginning to do a thing
or two.  Easy enough to be acclaimed as a Future, harder to be
acknowledged a Present, the Devil and all to be admitted a Stayer.

And Hans Frost had stayed.  He had written poor books in his time,
of course, but he stood out now in the great country of Modern
Letters in a little city of his own.  He had made his world; it
resembled no other.  It had its own laws and customs, its own
history, its peculiar geography, towns and villages, mountains,
plains and rivers, its own uncharted seas.

He was a creator.  Like him or no, that was not to be denied.  His
faults, lacks, limitations, of themselves gave shape and colour to
his world.

He was Hans Frost, independent, free.  There had never been a Hans
Frost before; there would never be one again.

So Peter was proud to have him in his house and to offer him his
bread and salt.  But he would not flatter nor fuss him.  He
realized that he had come here to-night because he knew that he was
safe.  A refuge.  A refuge from what?  Westcott did not know, but
he would see that he was secure.

"Certainly," Hans was thinking, "this is very unusual for me"--
unusual just as it would have been to have muffins for tea.  He
would LIKE muffins, but he simply for years hadn't had them
because, once long ago, he had been told that they were
indigestible.

Just as Daisy Ashwin, that friend of Ruth's, had heard, so she
informed everybody, that there was a little place in Greenland, a
village of some five hundred souls, where you could be "made over"
by a local doctor so that you were thirty years younger.  But you
just didn't go to Greenland.  It was outside the daily "run."

And then he had always felt about literary parties that they
shouldn't occur--just as he felt that Roman Catholic priests would
be much better not writing would-be funny articles in the
newspapers, or that famous actresses should refrain from publishing
works about Plato.  There was nothing against any of these things;
he had simply considered himself on the other side of the wall.

He had jumped the wall.  He had broken through the Looking-glass.
What would he find?  He was conscious at once that he was going to
enjoy himself.  He liked the room, the mirror with the gold rim,
the piled-high books, the coziness, the friendliness, and his own
physical well-being, so that to-night he wasn't tired, no part of
him anywhere was aching, not that tooth one from the last on the
lower left jaw, nor that odd sharp needle pain that came sometimes
in the calf of his left leg, nor the general weariness that for the
last two years had chosen to send him suddenly to sleep in the most
unlikely places.

And then he had with him Nathalie.  He was terribly proud of her.
This was the first time that, publicly, he had been in charge of
her.  Not only pride.  Something deeper, more heated, more
vulnerable.  Let them not be nice to her and he would show them!

But everyone was finding it very easy to be nice.

Hans was introduced, quickly, with no ceremony.  He was one of them
immediately.  It seemed to him that he had seen them all before,
that pretty, slender, gay one (Millie Westcott), and that rather
stout, motherly one (Katherine Mark) and the loose-limbed,
excitable, untidy one (Henry Trenchard), and the severe, handsome,
cocksure one (Philip Mark), and the large fat one like an elephant
(Beckett)--and then the Russians.

He was greatly pleased to meet the Russians.  He had met, in his
time, one or two distinguished Russians.  He had even years ago had
tea in Paris with Turgenev, a kindly, ironic tea, with the pale
Paris sunshine, the dark ironwork in front of the dove-grey
buildings opposite their window, the great jar of pink carnations,
and Turgenev sucking his tea through his slice of lemon, suggesting
in his soft melancholy French that Dostoevsky was a demon.

But these were post-Revolutionary Russians, and all his tenderness--
most easily stirred now when he was warm and comfortable and happy--
went out to them.  WHAT a good-looking young man!  His eyes--his
marvellous eyes, the finest Hans had ever seen (save Galleon's)--
were at once on Nathalie.  He hadn't wasted a moment.  He was
talking to her in his excitable foreign way.  Well, they were the
handsomest creatures in the room.  It was splendid to see them
together.

"Sir," said (in the softest of voices) the fat round Russian with
the very bald head, "I am honoured extremely to be speaking to you
and you must forgive me if my ideas are tangled, untidy, in a nasty
mess.  I am suffering to-night from a toothache, and I have always
noticed that a toothache is the most unintellectual pain in one's
body, just as, in all probability, a stomach-ache is the most
intellectual.  Have you ever noticed, sir, how bright and clear
one's brain becomes between the spasms of indigestion?  But perhaps
that is my own especial personal experience."

"I'm sorry you have a toothache," said Hans.

"I'm sorry also," said M. Klimov, "and I am a great coward about
the dentist.  I fancy that I am a coward about everything, but I
don't know myself with any certainty.  I am continually surprising
myself.  But what I really wanted to say, one among very many
things, is that I would like you to tell me why the English (whom I
immensely admire) have never, with all their excellent arrangements,
learnt how to cook vegetables?"

"I know," said Hans, "that that is one of the most constant
criticisms levelled against us."

"And with justice.  I am myself a vegetarian--partly, I admit, from
principle, although I consider that for a human being to bind
himself to any kind of principles is a weakening limitation of
experience, and partly from preference.  I dislike meat, although
that fact cannot be of the slightest interest to you.  But the fact
is that, search England as I may, I cannot in any restaurant, or
English home, discover vegetables that are fit to be eaten.  The
English vegetable is of itself a fine thing; one sees it growing
magnificently in English gardens, but by the time it reaches the
table it has passed through some process that has drained from it
all its life, energy, and personality.  Even the potato--"  He
broke off, nervously rubbing the buttons of his waistcoat with his
fingers.  Then he looked in Hans' face with a gentle, appealing
smile.

"I hope that you are not angry at my criticizing this feature of
English life.  I assure you that England is the only part of the
world that I would care to live in, now that I am unable to return
to my country."

"There are," said Hans, smiling, "a number of restaurants in London
where you can find foreign cooking and, I should imagine,
excellently cooked vegetables.  Soho, for instance."

"Yes, yes," said M. Klimov eagerly.  "I have been to them.  But
when I am in England I like to be in the English atmosphere.  And I
am a great deal, thanks to your wonderful English hospitality, in
English homes.  I live myself under the care of the kindest of
landladies, a warm-hearted, generous-natured woman if ever there
was one, but her cabbage is a horror and her potatoes little
better." He broke off again, looking about him as though he had
just awoken from a dream.  "I must tell you," he went on, "what a
pleasure it is to me to meet you.  I read a great many English
books, and though some of them, I must confess, seem to me
sentimental, and written for the entertainment of children, I find
something very noble and honest in the best of English literature."
He stopped.  Put his fingers into his mouth like a distressed
child.  "My tooth is disagreeing with every word that I say.  It is
a Bolshevik tooth," he ended, smiling.

And at once everyone else seemed to break in.  They had not heard a
word of what he, Klimov, was saying.  They were intent on their own
affairs--and the main question to be immediately settled was
whether this wasn't the best possible time to be alive in.  Of
course it wasn't.  Of course it was.  What about the Eighteenth
Century, which Millie knew was adorable?  It was as though she had
been living then and perhaps she had.  Mr. Pope, Horace Walpole,
and the Miss Berrys, Ranelagh, and Fanny Burney.  The coach
staggering along the highroad under the full moon. . . .  But
Katherine who was more romantic at heart than Millie, but also more
practical, thought of the smallpox and ill-treatment of children,
Press Gangs, and Public Executions.

"The Renaissance for me!" cried Henry, and then a moment later
wondered why he had said the Renaissance, because truly he didn't
care a bit about it, knew nothing either, his Renaissance mind a
sort of paste of Romola, The Ring and the Book, and M. Merezhkovsky.
But he was excited because Frost was here, Frost whom when he was
with the younger heretics he affected to despise, whom secretly he
both loved and envied.  Oh! to be such another and, because he was a
dreadful egoist (with nice unselfish moments), he saw himself an
accepted classic, old and revered and given Seventieth offerings.
To be immortal!  That was all that he wanted.  Only to know beyond
question that one small work (bound preferably in dark blue with a
white paper label) would go down the ages, and that the homeliest
meal that he, Henry Trenchard, had ever eaten, would be of thrilling
interest to ladies and gentlemen a thousand years hence.

Fancy, if we should know exactly what Shakespeare ate and drank on
the evening, say, of September 3, 1610!

"The Elizabethan for me!" he cried loudly, and then blushed and was
ashamed, because Hans Frost was talking.

Frost was saying that it all depended on what you wanted; that in
all probability more people were moderately happy now than ever
before in the world's history, that there was less difference in
comfort between one and another, that more was known about the
human body than ever before, more diseases curable, more operations
successful, more . . .

He caught himself talking on and didn't care.  What did it matter
if it was all nonsense that he was saying?  He felt to-night a
quite extraordinary absence of caution and decorum.  Once as a
young man staying with a friend near Derwentwater, suddenly, in the
woods that bordered the lake, he had felt that he must have a swim
or die.  He had flung off his clothes and dived in.  It had been a
morning of unparalleled splendour.  With strong firm strokes he had
cleft the blue water, speeding out towards the purple hills and the
faint line of sun-drenched yellow shore.

Afterwards his friend had said what about it if anyone had seen him
naked.  Everyone wore a costume.  And they had returned to a
cottage sunk in flowers, and there had been eggs and honey for
breakfast.

So now he didn't care.  No one else cared either.  In half an hour
they were all talking as though God never intended that they should
part from one another again.  And perhaps He did not.  He was
pleased, sitting on his large fluffy cloud, pleased with all of
them, as they drank their coffee and ate their plum cake.  Hans,
who had not for many a moon eaten plum cake, had to-night three
pieces.

And Nathalie?  He looked around him and found her.  She was sitting
on a table near the mirror swinging her legs, and beside her,
eating her with his beautiful eyes, was the lovely young Russian.

She was happy.  She was radiant.  She was in the Ninth Heaven.

Hans' heart as he saw her was carried away as a pigeon carries a
fragment of golden corn.  What was this joy that he felt for her,
this deep tenderness of love, this divine protective care?

He who knew so well what life must be, its ironies and bitter
partings, its pains (but thank heaven to-night the sharp needle
pain in his left calf was leaving him entirely alone), its
disastrous ebbing of satiated passion, its bills and empty purses,
its dusty cupboards and wind-blown floors, did he dare to sing
Triumph once again at the absurd pathos of a happy, contented
child?

He should run to her, should warn her, should snatch her swiftly
from the lovely young man, should pack her in a box and carry her
home and never let her loose again.

But, he thought, sucking his finger (because the cake had been
sticky.  It was, thank heaven, one of those cakes that are damp
inside), there had been the lady in Munich who, wanting to know
when she could get a ticket for Offenbach's Schöne Helene, had
taken him for a drive (he was twenty-four at the time) and had
given him a week of utter bliss and her photograph; didn't he
remember how, as she spoke to him in the hall of the hotel, at that
very first instant happiness had swept down upon him straight from
under the stout blonde concierge's hat (or so at least it had
seemed), and sitting beside her in the carriage, blushing, he had
told her of his life and ambitions, his hand timidly touching the
shining silk of her tight blue dress?

Yes, so it had been with him, and so it must be now with Nathalie.
And he would care for her and watch over her and see that she came
to no harm.

His life, as he stretched out his hand for yet another piece of
cake, seemed to be opening at last, like a flower--a glorious
flower with petals of gold and a fragrance of delicious tenderness.



CHAPTER III

Soul of Ruth


Ruth, in Zanti's shop, was wondering whether she ought to afford
the little box of gold and crystal.  On every side of her were
beautiful things, a painted Spanish crucifix in red and orange, an
old necklace of amethysts set in silver, a piece of gold brocade,
an ivory clock with the moon and stars and a bejewelled jester
striding the world in pearls and diamonds, a pair of turquoise blue
earrings, boxes of every sort, gold and silver and agate, and ivory
and mother-of-pearl--but this was the one--of gold and crystal--
that had caught her fancy.

"Lady Poole recommended me to come here," she said, smiling
graciously at Zanti, who, fat and shining, stood awaiting her
orders.

Zanti bowed.

"Lady Poole is my very good friend," he said.  "Once, the first
time, she come in here by chance and want to buy my rose-coloured
bowl she see in the window."

"And did she?" asked Ruth, who had not heard a word that he had
said.

"She did not buy it," Zanti said, smiling.  "She take it away with
her though."

Ruth was not in the least interested in this fat smiling man, who
was so foreign that surely he would smell of garlic had he not so
smart a shop in so smart a part of the town.  The whole of her mind--
extremely prehensile, active, fierce and militant--was fastened,
octopus-like, around this little box that she wanted to possess,
that indeed she must possess--but must also give as little for as
was humanly possible.  She did not need the box in the least, but
she was going to fight for it with every energy that was hers.

"What is the price of this box?" she asked.

Zanti told her.

"Oh, but how monstrous!"  She turned and faced him, flinging onto
him the full glory of her splendour and beauty.  He seemed
curiously unaffected, and as soon as she saw that, she began to
criticize him to herself, how fat he was, and only a foreigner
would wear black clothes, and how podgy his hands were.

"Now," she said in her most military manner, "what will you let me
have that for?"

Zanti named the price once more.

"Now you know that that's absurd.  Lady Poole told me that you were
most moderate in your charges."  (Lady Poole had done nothing of
the kind.)  "I can't call that moderate.  Now what do you say?"

"You see, madame," said Zanti, "I don't care in the least whether I
sell anything--or not.  I prefer indeed not to sell.  These things
are friends of mine.  It distresses me to lose them."

"What do you have a shop for?" asked Ruth haughtily.  She had never
heard such nonsense in her life!

"Ah!  One must do somezing.  And one makes friends of one's
customers.  Lady Poole, for example.  I am very proud of being Lady
Poole's friend."

Ruth held her box in her hand.  She must have it.  "Well, what
about--?"  She named half his original sum.

He bowed.  "I am extremely regretful.  I cannot change the price.
It is a fair price, but if it was unfair I must not change it."

Ruth tossed her head.

"I shall tell my friends that your prices are ridiculous," she
retorted, and swung out of the shop.  She had lost her temper.  A
moment later, in the sunshining street, she regretted that.  She
hated to lose her temper.  Stupid, and got you nowhere.  She
paused, half tempted to return to the shop, smile at the man, and
pay what he asked.

No, she was damned if she would.  She found her car in St. James's
Square, told the chauffeur to take her home, sat back and
discovered that she was extremely irritated.  Why had she abandoned
the conflict so suddenly?  She had wanted the box--heaven knew why,
there were plenty of others just like it--and had been determined
to have it.  And now here she was in her car alone with her
exasperated temper.  That man was hateful, fat, greasy foreigner.
And then with that by now practised and customary spiritual massage
she set to work on herself and, in five minutes' time, just as the
china plates and cups of South Audley Street were swinging into
view, she was sweet and amiable and kindly again.

There was one thing that Ruth, with all her social practice, had
never yet learned to do--to be kindly and pleasant to people who
seemed to her at the moment unimportant.  This failing--of which
she was supremely unaware--came from two things--just that she had
no idea of how unpleasant she was on certain occasions, never
dreamt how deeply these same unimportant people resented her (had
she realized it she would at once have altered her behaviour) and,
secondly, there was her egotism which limited, surprisingly, her
vision--simply because when she was after a thing she was after it
like a contestant in a race, her loins girded, her every muscle
strung, her eyes fixed relentlessly on the goal.  Nine times out of
every ten she secured her prize, but at a considerable (although to
her quite unrealized) cost.  She thought that she was an extremely
charming and important woman.  She had every reason for thinking
so.  She was beautiful.  People (the finest, noblest, and most
interesting people) came to her house with the utmost readiness.
She was gay and clever, and amusing (not quite so clever as she
fancied, and to some people not at all amusing).  But, above all,
she knew what she wanted.

Once and again someone was rude to her, or some loving friend told
her that someone had been rude about her.  She was then quite
honestly amazed.  She could not conceive what anyone could have
against her.  All that she wanted was for others to be happy.  She
arranged her parties so that people who wanted to meet one another
should meet--(she had some cousins, two old maids, who longed to
meet some of the splendid guests, but they were never invited).
She wished well to all the world--so long as it did not stand in
her way.

And especially it was her gospel that she was a genius at seeing
through people.  No one whom she could not sum up and place.  No
fault or silly weakness in her friends that she could not
recognize, and then most nobly she overlooked those faults and
weaknesses and was more charming than ever.  (She had no conception
of the irritation that she caused by exercising this noble
forgiveness.)

And beneath all this was a touching and sympathetic childishness.
Her trouble was perhaps that she had changed so little from the
small girl with auburn hair, screaming at a party, "I want that
toy."  She had been grasping then, she was grasping now; she had
been vain then, she was vain now; but she had also been anxious to
be noble-spirited then, she was anxious to be noble-spirited now.

Finally, although she had not the least idea of this, she was one
of the loneliest women in London.

By the time that the car was halfway up Baker Street she had
transformed the incident of the little box into a pretty, quite
noble affair.  Because, after all (just look at those ridiculous
women crossing the street without looking anywhere at all!  How
dare they, and a good thing for them if they had an accident just
to teach them!), it would have been absurd to have shown anger to a
man like that, a common foreigner without even good manners.  And,
as she had again and again noticed, something prompted one to take
exactly the right line on those occasions, although at the time one
might be quite unaware that one was taking it--as, for instance, at
Venice last year, when the little worm of a Fascist official at the
railway station had been so abominably vulgar about Ruth who had
wanted to bring all her bags into her compartment with her--and
Ruth saw the Venice railway station stretching from the Bakerloo
Tube as far as Canute's, a vast overhanging wing of foreign
impudence, and her own figure (she could remember even the hat that
she was wearing that day, dark blue with a soft grey feather
curling about it), beautifully courageous, beautifully successful.
And the hat made her think of Hans, because he had been with her
when she bought it, and thinking of Hans (they were almost home
now, turning in through Clarence Gate, and behold all the water was
ruffled by the evening breeze) she was, she must confess, a little
disturbed at the way that he was going on.

She would be home in a moment and have no time to think, because
Adele Manson was coming to tea.  It was as though Hans had hurled
himself straight through the window of the car, presented a pistol
at her head, crying:  "Now what are you going to do about it?"
What? . . .  Indeed what? . . .  But was anything the matter?  Only
that a few evenings ago he had gone with Nathalie to a Bohemian
party.  So unlike him.  And here the car stopped, and the chauffeur
was off his seat and standing at the door.  No, it had rather been
his manner.  Something determined and secret.  And that odd talk
that he had had with her after the dinner-party.

She got out and stood for a moment looking at the large yellow
cloud, like a cow that was going mooning about the sky as though it
desperately wanted milking.  Was there something in him of which
she was not sure?  Had there always been something?  Yes, there
had.  She knew it only too well, as the cow split up into four sofa
cushions and a pink ear-trumpet--something that he put on like a
disguise, an invisible mantle--he passing beside her like a ghost
that is felt but not seen.

She shivered, drawing her furs a little closer about her.  Some
anticipation--unexpected, without precedent, like a stranger
addressing her in an unknown language--touched her shoulder.  She
could not bear to be alone.  She hastened, as though fearful of the
open sky, the gleaming water, the bare and unfriendly trees, into
the house.



CHAPTER IV

The Zoo


Hans, feeling, as he always did in the Zoo, a mixture of conscience-
stricken shame and a pleasurable schoolboy excitement, was aware
(he and Nathalie stopping in front of the little coloured birds)
that the thing (if he ever did it, which was most unlikely) must be
called "The One-eyed Commander."  That was its one and only
conceivable title.  Two little birds with crimson bodies and bright
blue wings sat very close together on a slender swaying bough.
Were they unhappy and desolate, or loving and private, or simply
cold?  He asked Nathalie.

Nathalie, who was so happy that it was impossible for her to
believe at this moment in the unhappiness of anyone or anything,
was sure that they were enjoying every moment of the sun, the stir
of life, the perfect companionship.  And did Uncle Hans know from
what part of the world they had come?  She would like if she knew
where it was to go there--and she had a vision of a glittering blue-
acred country where monkeys threw cocoa-nuts into the air, and the
roars of the lions could be heard quivering the silences in the
thickness of the jungle.  Uncle Hans, putting his arm through hers
and drawing her gently forward, knew, he informed her sadly, little
about birds.  It had been always in his novels his trouble that he
had to go so carefully when birds were in the air, naming only the
ones of whose family he was certain, leaving the others to sing
their songs in a beautiful golden mist.

"And the danger is," he continued, "that you can have too much
golden mist.  It's so damned easy.  There's no reason why you
should ever stop."

He saw the One-eyed Commander come charging down the path,
scattering the family from Putney, making the little girl with the
bag of biscuits for the monkeys burst into tears.

Ah, the Commander was fine in his vest of silver, his coat of green
velvet, and the silver buckles on his shoes.  But that was at the
moment all that Hans had discovered.  He was excited because he was
out in the sunny air with Nathalie, and because it was the first
time, for many a day, that inspiration had visited him.  He wasn't
dead then?  His old vessel was to be boarded once again by those
daring devils.  With their oaths and cutlasses, driving him, at the
edge of the plank itself, to plunge into the great sea of
imagination.

"Now, what about the monkeys?" he said to Nathalie.  The monkeys
were, as always, too terribly human to be comforting.  Five of them
huddled together on the wooden bar resembled so exactly a family of
infants left out in the snow on a lonely Christmas Eve that their
sentimentality was revolting to a modern realist.

Hans was not that, but he could not endure the pathos of their
beseeching gaze as he moved on hastily to an ancient member of the
Athenæum Club, busily engaged in searching for the soul of a piece
of red calico.  Here there was an ancient boredom that spoke of
centuries of lonely club meals, Times leaders, and flights from
other members' aimless loquacities.  "No," thought Hans, staring
into the sad, timeless eyes of this Ancient, "the One-eyed
Commander is wearing no silver buckles nor coat of green velvet--he
is driving up in a broken-down cab on a wet and windy night to the
mansion with the garbage heap just to the right of the front door.
His family are waiting for him.  He has sworn that he will never
return to them, but circumstances have been too much for him. . . ."

"It's terribly stuffy in here," said Nathalie.  "Let's go out and
find the lions."

She, too, had been depressed by the monkeys' faces.  Her happiness
had for the moment been twitched from her as though it had been a
lightly worn mantle.  On what basis had she, during these last
three days, been building all her glory?  On the rocking, trembling
foundation of one meeting and a letter.  It was true that the
letter had said wonderful things.  It was near her heart now, and
her hand went up to it feeling the crackle of the paper beneath her
dress, while the Ancient, realizing that life is but vanity, flung
to the floor the piece of red calico, swung to the top bar of his
cage and screamed his discontent with this perpetually cheating
world.  What had not that piece of calico promised him, while in
reality. . . .  No, Nathalie thought, as she followed Uncle Hans
into the sunshine again, she had but little to go upon.  With a
Russian, too, you never could tell.  Everyone knew how uncertain
they were.  Look at the present state of their country.  On the
other hand, he had said--she knew the words by heart--"Such moments
of wonder and delight come but seldom.  Why should we permit to
pass us a happiness such as perhaps we shall never encounter
again?"

The English that he used was a little strange, but would he say
such things if he did not mean them?  And she thought of his
splendid beauty, the frank honesty of his eyes, the pressure of his
hand as they said good-bye, and so, trembling at this picture,
found that a little boy, running away from his family to see at
closer view the splendour of the elephant, who took passengers, had
nearly tumbled, and caught her dress to save himself.

He fell almost but not quite, and then, straightening himself, was
off like a shot from a gun, pursued by urgent cries of "'Enery,
'Enery!"

She was happy again.  She was in a splendid reassuring world, where
the camel and the elephant moved, children swaying delirious on
their backs, where the cries of strange birds rent the sky and the
boughs of the trees waved in the blue warm air--so warm for the
time of the year that everyone was a little abnormal and unusually
demonstrative, because this couldn't last for more than an hour or
two and was like a Royal Procession or a visit of the French
President.

Hans also was reassured again now that he was in the sunshine.  The
name of the Commander's family was Hellicent, an absurd name, but
that was what they were called.  He didn't know as yet how many of
them there were, but he could see Francesca the wife, an ugly
beetle-browed mountain of a woman, jealous and unfaithful.  Yes,
she had had many lovers, and it was perhaps to avenge himself that
the Commander was returning.  Up through the soppy, leaf-sodden
avenue his old cab stumbled, while he, sitting sternly and with
fierce concentration inside it, meditated the form that his arrival
should take.  While Francesca all unwitting . . .

"I think this is the way to the lions," said Nathalie.  "Round to
the right."

With a rush of eager affection he returned to her.  How pretty she
looked this afternoon in her grey dress and dark furs and little
hat with the rosy feather.  Never had girls, in any time in the
world's history, looked so pretty as they did now.  Prettiness and
health together!

And she was his.  She had come into his life never again to leave
it.  He would see to that.

Even when she married he would be allowed still to care for her and
look after her.  That was an old man's privilege.  But then there
crept in the sadness that is at the heart of all love.  What in a
little while would she want with an ancient monster like himself
and growing with every second of time more ancient--because, after
seventy, every day makes a difference.  He saw himself being
shovelled into a grave by careless and indifferent grave diggers
whose eyes were already active to see who was next.

Ah well, he would make the most of his time, and he whispered
suddenly, putting his face close to hers:

"Do you love me, Nathalie, do you love me?  Say you do, even though
you don't."

And she answered, laughing up at him, "I do.  Of course I do.  I've
never loved anyone so much."

It was true.  This raging madness that during the last three days
she had suffered, was not love.  It was rather a choking, a
strangling, a fire at the throat, a chill at the heart,
anticipation, starting up at every sound, lying at night awake,
staring, staring, waiting--for what?

This madness, then, was new.  She had heard of it, read of it, been
superbly remote from it, then like an aëroplane from the sky it had
swooped down, caught her up, swung her far into the burning
brilliant air.

No, this was not love--this was something deafening, blinding, and
without a name.

But did you talk about love--and here they were in the Lion House,
and it was ten minutes to three so that very shortly now the lions
would be fed--then she had never loved anyone before as she now
loved Uncle Hans.

She had loved in faint memory her parents, she had loved in
comfortable fireside fashion the Proudies, but something she had
kept to herself away from all of them.  They hadn't known that,
they had thought her so wonderfully spontaneous and open-hearted.
So in a fashion she had been, but now, staring into the dreaming
sombre gaze of the lion who was marked like a tiger, it seemed to
her that here suddenly in front of these splendid imprisoned
beauties she had come of age, matured, grown up, and that that
night when Uncle Hans had come into her room had been the magic
moment of that transformation.

And now seen through the thick rich smoky haze of her new
experience, how long ago already that night seemed!  Here, although
she had opened her heart to him, was something already of which she
had not told him.  How much did he know or guess?  He was so very
sharp and clever; standing there now, one knee up on the outer
bars, leaning his wise old chin on the knob of his walking-stick,
he looked a terrific swell.

Because it was feeding time the place was crowding with people,
families with eager excited children, some grand ones who kept
apart and tried to conceal their interest, some shabby old men who
were there to pass the time away--how magnificently from them all
he stood out, with his clothes so quiet and so distinguished, his
splendid head, his kind wise eyes, his mouth a little arrogant,
secret, determined, humorous, his thick strong body--who would ever
dream that he was seventy years of age?  Yes, if he were not
anybody at all everyone would notice him.  "Who is that fine-
looking man over there?  He must be somebody!"

"It is just two minutes to three," said Hans.  "They are always
very punctual."

"Let's move on to the next one," said Nathalie.  "I like the real
lions better, don't you, Uncle Hans?  This one looks as though
someone had been playing jokes with him and he's unhappy about it."

So they moved on to the next one, a very fine fellow with a huge
dusty mane and an expression of affectionate, almost sentimental,
amiability.  He would do beautifully for a poster advertising the
purposes and spirit of the League of Love and Kindness, a new
society whose pamphlets Hans had received a few days ago.  But why
was it you could not go into his cage, fasten him, smiling amiably,
with a daisy chain, and lead him down the Charing Cross Road?  And
why could you not, after that, arrange in his place the stout lady
with the little beady eyes who was at this very moment staring at
him with a gaze of haughty patronage?  It was a platitude that many
animals were superior to many human beings, but, platitude or not,
it made one uncomfortable on every occasion that it was brought
home.

Hans turned for comfort to Nathalie, his darling and his pride.  He
drew her close to him.  He whispered to her, putting his cheek very
close to hers:

"Are you enjoying yourself?  Do you like to come out with your
uncle?  Isn't it good that we're friends?  Do you mind how
sentimental I am, or are you one of those hard, cynical, modern
young women?"

"I am not," Nathalie whispered back.  "I love to go out with you
anywhere, and I'm terribly proud of you--not because you've written
great books, but because you are such a darling."

"And would you defend me," he went on, "no matter how all these
people in here attacked me?  Will you stick to me through thick and
thin?"

"I'll stick to you through thick and thin," she answered.  "And
will you in the same way stick to me through everything?"

"In the same way I'll stick to you--through everything."

"No matter whatever I did?"

"No matter whatever you did."

He caught her hand and held it tightly.  Why must fear and
apprehension run at the heart of love?  Why did he seem suddenly to
see in the large amber dreaming eyes of the lion the threat that he
was going to lose her, that this wonderful thing that had come to
him so unexpectedly in his old age was fugitive, vanishing?  Oh! he
must keep it!  He must keep it!  She was true and loyal if anyone
ever was.  She said only what she meant.  She was, oh, surely she
was to be trusted in this vain and faithless world!

"Here comes the man!" said Nathalie.

Yes, here was the man shovelling in another moment under the bars
the lumps of bloody meat, then while the children cried, "Look!
Look!" and everyone else said, "Ah!" the noble animals proceeded to
show what they would do had they got these same children under
their noble jaws.  Crunch!  Crunch!  Tear!  Tear! . . .  No daisy
chains any longer and no sentimental gaze wasted upon the emotion-
loving public.

Hans was suddenly tired.  He wasn't, in these days, altogether
accustomed to these continuous expeditions.  This last week had
been exhausting.

He wanted, with an immediate pressing need, the library with the
deep blue ceiling, the ivory-coloured bookcases (Gibbon in calf and
gold, Macaulay in dark green, and the Elizabethan dramatists in
crimson morocco), the hush, the peace, the fire gently stirring--
yes, and the Manet.  The adorable Manet and its soft colour, its
lovely gentle light.  This crunching, this tearing--

"Shall we go?" he said.  "We'll be back in time to have a nice laze
before tea."

Nathalie at once agreed.  She had had enough.  Her eyes had flown
forward to the moment when she would be alone in her bedroom, would
take the letter from her dress and read it again and again, while
the curtains blew ever so slightly before the open window and the
croaks and mutterings of the birds came up from the dusky Park.

So they moved away, away to the main entrance where the car would
be waiting.

And as Hans, loving to feel Nathalie close beside him, trotted
away, once again the One-eyed Commander leapt upon him.

He had pulled the bell-chain now.  The echo of the clanging rang
all through the house.  Behind him he could hear the horse pawing
the soaking ground and the stealthy stir of the rain through the
black wall of laurels.  Ah! someone was coming with a light!  The
key was creaking in the lock.  The door was swinging. . . .

"There's the car!" cried Nathalie.



CHAPTER V

Nathalie in Russia


Approaching the Park she took her hand out of her uncle's, as
though she were about to test his fidelity and patience and wanted
to see how he would feel about it.

"I hope you'll approve," she said a little timidly.  (Why was it
that with people even like Uncle Hans, whom she loved and could
utterly trust, cowardice WOULD keep creeping back?)  "I'm going to
spend to-morrow evening with Millie Westcott."  What she meant to
imply was--whether you like it or not I'm going to do it, just as
any modern girl would; but she wasn't, it seemed, quite modern
enough, because her voice trembled into a little quaver of anxiety.

"Millie Westcott?"

"Yes, you know--the wife of Peter Westcott."

Of course he knew, and at once a sharp pain ran up the calf of his
left leg (where all his emotions in these days seemed to be
seated).  Of course he knew, and it wasn't Millie Westcott whom she
was going to see but the young Russian.  She hadn't lied to him.
She wouldn't do that, but nevertheless Millie Westcott was a blind.

He had a furious, heart-heating impulse to turn to her and say:
"Look here!  Tell me everything.  You love this boy, don't you?  It
has fallen on you like a thunderbolt.  You can think, morning and
night, of nothing else.  Let me share it with you.  I'm old, I
know, but I'm wise.  My love for you has come on me, too, like a
thunderbolt.  It's different from your love, but perhaps because
it's different it's more real and more lasting.  I want to protect
and help you.  It's the only thing now that I care for.  I'm your
father, your guardian, your friend, everything that an old man can
be.  Trust me.  Trust me."

All that he did say was:

"Why, of course, dear, if you want to go.  Have a nice evening.
They're pleasant people.  I like Peter Westcott especially."

"I think"--she paused an instant--"that Mrs. Westcott is taking me
to the house of those Russians who were there the other evening."

"Yes," he said.

"The Westcotts like them very much.  I think Mr. Westcott's a very
trustworthy man--about people, I mean.  Don't you?"

"Oh, very," he said, patting her hand.

"Do you think Aunt Ruth will mind?" she asked.

"No.  Why should she?" he answered rather sharply.  "You're free.
All young people are nowadays, I suppose.  Only--" he took her hand
tightly in his own.  "We neither of us have the slightest hold over
you, of course.  We wouldn't wish to have.  The only hold I have is
that I'm your friend for you to come to if you want any advice or
help.  Anything--it doesn't matter what it is.  I'm there behind
you."

"Oh, I know."  She bent forward and lightly kissed his cheek.
"That makes me so awfully happy.  I've never been so happy before."

But it wasn't he that was making her happy, he reflected, as they
went into the house together.

He had a strange, crazy impulse as he slowly climbed the stairs to
his room to curse the Westcotts and all their damned Russians.
What did this child know about life? . . . and she suddenly, just
as he reached the door of the library, was beside him with the
bucket and the spade, the glitter of sand on her cheeks, breathless
with some news, the seaweed trailing from the spade.

"You don't know a thing about life," he said to her, as he pushed
open the library door.

"Oh, come and look at the starfish I've found," she gasped out, her
eyes shining with the glory of it.

"A pretty sort of starfish," he muttered, as he went angrily over
to his favourite chair.

The One-eyed Commander was so far away that he was quite certainly
never going to exist again, but the Manet was there, and Martha,
who looked up at him with her comical eyes, patted his leg with her
paw, then posted herself between his thighs, raised her paws onto
his waistcoat, and looked up at him with an amused, ironical
glance.

She knew at once when he was unhappy.  She never surrendered
sentimentally to that unhappiness; she had too ironical a spirit
for that.  Moreover, she knew that he despised his own discontents
and disliked extremely any sympathy, scorning the sympathizer.

She paused, however, in the middle of her own secret purposes and
pursuits, surrendered her egotisms for long enough to assure him
that she laughed at his moods, but was his friend all the same.

With slow, strong fingers, he stroked her sleek, shiny back.  Her
eyes never left his face, but very gently she wagged her tail,
partly because she liked to be stroked by him and partly because
she knew that her pleasure pleased him.

"I was tempted, Martha, to believe for a moment that I was to be
active again, kick my heels in the air, have some fun, but a young
Russian gentleman has thrown me out of the window. . . .  Well, no
harm done.  I don't suppose I could have stood the pace--"

He took out his large tortoiseshell spectacles, settled himself in
his chair, Martha arranged herself at his feet, and with a sigh
half of comfort, half of humorous distress, he opened the book on
the reading desk--the Socrate Chrétien, of M. Jean Guez de
Balzac. . . .



Millie Westcott, standing in the middle of the mirror, waiting, a
little impatiently, for Nathalie, had still certain fragments of
her children clinging about her.  She had only five minutes before
closed the nursery door behind her, but closing the door did not
hold captive everything within the room--Norah's slight ghost of a
cough, for instance, really no more than her little polite cough of
ordinary society, but mightn't it perhaps be more?  Had it been
wise perhaps today . . . that wind . . . Kensington Gardens . . . ?
Oh, well, keep her in bed to-morrow if necessary--this time of the
year.  Also Bobby's terrible way of saying "Shan't."  Hadn't they
for ages been trying to rid him of this very thing, and there he
was again saying it to Miss Cleaver, who, after all, was very
patient with them, although she did, quite rightly, insist upon
discipline.

Perhaps if Miss Cleaver's mother had only insisted when she was a
child that she should wear one of those bands across her front
teeth, she wouldn't have such dreadfully prominent ones now.  It
was the only thing against Miss Cleaver, but of course Bobby, who
showed an astonishing feeling for beauty at his age (he was only
three and a bit), would listen to Miss Cleaver more obediently were
she a little better looking.  And Miss Cleaver was, we must all
admit (and here Millie looked round at a deep, dense circle of
accusing and criticizing friends and relatives), the only one left
now to whom he said "Shan't," and he hadn't said it to her now for
several months.  It was only to-night that there was that
unfortunate scene about Julius Cæsar.  It was, of course, foolish
of Miss Cleaver to insist that Julius Cæsar was a great man if
Bobby, on that particular evening, was so determined that he was
not.  And Bobby, after all, was determined only because he had seen
a picture of Cæsar somewhere, and had thought him hideous, which
wasn't, however, as Miss Cleaver had pointed out, a reason for his
not being important.  A great many ugly people were important--to
which Bobby had said that they couldn't be, and when Miss Cleaver
had said that she could give him instances, Bobby had said
something very rude indeed, and then had been told to apologize.
It was at that point that he had said "Shan't," had been sent to
bed supperless, and then long afterwards, when he should have been
fast asleep, had burst suddenly into floods of tears.  That was
what made him so odd and surprising.  It was only his father who
seemed really to understand him.

Millie, placed there in her pale blue dress in the very middle of
the mirror, sighed.  The trouble with her was that she didn't feel
like a mother at all.  She didn't feel married even.  She didn't,
as an honest fact, ever feel a day older.  It was a pity.  Everyone
else was getting older, but she wasn't.  Peter, Katherine, they
were getting older.  You had only to look at them.  She saw
instantly Peter's habit of scratching his left ear reflectively;
that was an odd thing to do, there he was right in front of her,
his legs spread apart, his affectionate but rather serious gaze
upon her.  Yes, he WAS serious and she wasn't.  She couldn't be;
something was always happening, like one afternoon the mud at the
corner of Mr. Symons' nose, or the ridiculous puppy, Arnold
Barnabas, that Henry was dragging about with him just now.  One
silly, ridiculous thing, and there she was forgetting everything,
ready to go and play leap-frog down the Strand. . . .

That was the very quality that Peter had loved most in her when he
married her.  It was undoubtedly the quality that he loved least
now.  Was that always so with marriage, was it also so with life--
which she saw as Henry's puppy, all legs, ears, and a gaping,
snapping mouth--couldn't one ever get life into just the right
shape like a box neatly made for Pope's poetry?  No, obviously not,
because everyone was always complaining.

But why, then, must she act as she did so constantly on impulse--
was that Bobby crying?  She went to the end of the room and
listened.  Take to-night, for instance.  There had been no reason
to ask this girl, who was pretty, but in all probability nothing
else at all.  Only the Russian boy had suggested it, and Millie had
said yes at once, as though it were the thing in all the world that
she wanted to do; and it wasn't--or at least it wouldn't be until
she was there in the very middle of it, and then she always enjoyed
herself.

But now that it was settled, she would see that she enjoyed
herself.  You never knew who would be there or what would happen
before you came home again.  And she began to flush with excitement
and to smile to herself and to dance a few steps down the room, and
to think what darlings Norah and Bobby were, and how perfect Peter
was (only he mustn't get too serious), and what a pet Katherine
was, and what a lovely thing life altogether must be when you had
babies and just money sufficient, and a husband like a rock, and a
woman who really didn't cook so badly (especially the things she
knew how to do, like shoulders of mutton and fig puddings--she was
a PLAIN cook from Glebeshire), and real celebrities, like Hans
Frost, coming to supper.  Sham celebrities.  Real celebrities.
There were so many of the former.  They were always coming and
borrowing money, she was certain, from Peter, who was terribly
generous.

But REAL celebrities.  People who were SO real that they didn't
care whether they were or no.

And beginning to dance again, she saw Hans Frost with his kindness
and beautiful appearance and benevolence, and she loved him and
loved everybody (except that it was a terrible pity that Miss
Cleaver hadn't had something done to her teeth when she was young),
and danced breathlessly, happily, straight into Nathalie's knock on
the door.

Then, as sometimes happens when one sees someone for the second
time, not having been very much struck with them on the first,
Millie fell straight into love with Nathalie, standing as she did,
rather timidly, in her rose-coloured dress at the door.  It wasn't
because she was so awfully pretty--although that, of course, had
something to do with it--nor that she looked eager and anxious to
be friendly, but really because she looked such a baby that
Millie's maternal heart--and Millie was more maternal than anything
else--was caught and held.

She went straight up to her and kissed her, then held her hand up
warningly.

"Hush, did you hear Bobby? . . .  I thought I heard something."
Nathalie, too, listened seriously.  There was nothing.

"No.  It's all right.  I'm so glad you've come.  And now we must be
off right away.  It's eight already."

"Am I late?  I'm so sorry."

"No.  They're only off Russell Square.  It's no distance.  We'll
have a taxi.  We've got a car--only a Morris--but Peter's got it to-
night.  He's gone to a first-night.  He sometimes does notices for
the Once a Week.  He's pretty good at it, I think.  But of course
I'm prejudiced."

Nathalie was happy at once.  All the fears were gone.  She had
felt, as she always did before approaching a strange house, as
though she were going to the dentist's.  Now it was as though she
had known Millie for years.  She liked Millie--yes, tremendously.
Five minutes earlier she had thought her rather stuck-up and
distant.

She had passed, in fact, as she was always doing, from a state of
dismay to a state of ecstasy.

But beneath both the dismay and the ecstasy there was this furious
current running.  In another instant she would see him, in another
instant her hand would touch his, she would hear his voice.
"Because," said Millie, out of a thunderous distance, "they are the
most unpunctual people in the world, so it doesn't matter."

"All Russians are, I suppose," said Nathalie with an air of
profound wisdom.

"Have you ever met any before?"

"Never," said Nathalie.  (What an absurd falsehood, when she had
known Vladimir for ever and ever--when he was a star and she a
cabbage perhaps.)

They were in the taxi, and London belonged to them.  They sat up
proudly and ordered Piccadilly Circus to take care of its manners,
Shaftesbury Avenue to mind what it was doing, and the Prince's
Theatre to watch its steps.

Millie talked incessantly, but Nathalie heard from a vast distance.
Suppose, when he saw her to-night, he didn't like her any more.
Russians were that way.  Everyone said so.  But no.  No one could
look at her as he had done and not mean it for ever and always.
"So then Bobby said 'Shan't!'  Well, of course, he oughtn't to have
done it, and he had to be punished, but _I_ know just what he was
thinking, poor lamb.  If Miss Cleaver weren't so ugly, if she
hadn't got such DREADFUL teeth it never would have happened, but
the trouble is that if you get a girl who's really pretty she never
knows her job and can't manage the children a bit--"

(But WHAT was the next step?  Would he ask her to marry him?  It
was terribly soon.  But she had made up her mind.  She didn't care
how little money he had.  She would work like anything.  And he
went down to the City every day.  They must pay him something for
that.)

"Norah's quite different from Bobby.  I do hope I'm not boring you
by talking about my children.  Children AREN'T exciting, and I do
try not to bore people about them.  Philip says I never talk about
anything else, but Philip's always finding fault with something.  I
wonder if you noticed him the other night.  He's awfully good-
looking and devoted to Katherine.  But then who wouldn't be?  She's
such a darling, anyone would be ready to die for her.  All the same
I sometimes think Mother was right years ago when she tried to
prevent their marrying.  Katherine's happy in a kind of a way, but
he's so full of his career and making a name for himself.  I don't
think it matters making a name for yourself if you've got just
enough money.  The chief thing is being happy.  That's what I tell
Peter--"

(Being happy?  Was Nathalie happy?  Was this happiness?  No.  There
was dread in it, and fear. . . .  Supposing he should look at her
coldly, hardly speak to her. . . .)

Ah, here we are!  Here before this dark house in a dark, silent
street with no eyes to any of the windows.

The taxi was paid and went lurching away.  There were a number of
little bells with names above them.  The door mysteriously opened.
They climbed black stairs, stumbling as they went.

"I do hope," said Millie, "they haven't forgotten all about it.  It
would be just like them if they did."  Then, quite casually, she
added, "It may be just the two Shapkins.  They said no one was
coming.  I do hope you won't be bored."

Nathalie's heart jumped and died.  Only the two Shapkins!  The
whole evening without him, when she had counted on this as she
counted on God.  And if he weren't there, it would be because he
didn't want to see her.  It would be deliberate.  The kindest way
to show her that he hadn't meant a word that he had said, that it
had been only a moment's fun--

"This must be the door, I think," said Millie.  "Yes, there's the
name."

She pushed another little bell.  They could hear it echoing.  There
was a pause.  Someone was coming.  The door opened, and there was
the tall, stout, bepince-nezed Madame Shapkin standing to welcome
them.

A moment later Nathalie knew that it was all right.  He was there,
haloed with light, and an untidy tablecloth, plates of ham, loaves
of bread, and piles of newspapers for his foreground.  Not only was
he there, but he had seen her instantly, had stepped forward,
smiling. . . .  He was glad that she had come.

At once she was reserved.  She wouldn't show him that she was glad,
not immediately at any rate.  She looked around the room and at
everyone but him.

What a room!  What a mess!  What a noise!  There seemed to be
hundreds of people there, the room was thick with smoke.

A large table covered most of the space.  She thought at once of
Alice's Tea-party.  Plates and knives and forks and cups were
everywhere, thrown about carelessly, as though they had tumbled
from the ceiling.  Dishes with ham and fish, and jam and butter,
and at one end piles of newspapers which two men, talking
excitedly, were turning over.  Someone was playing the piano.  One
man, short and stout, was standing on his head before a group who,
for some strange reason, were clapping their hands to a measured
beat.

This was madness.  She shrank back behind Millie, who seemed to be
finding exactly what she had expected.  They were led through all
the people, who paid no attention to them at all, into another room
where there was a vast bed, a large dressing table, a cracked
looking-glass, collars, hats, a large bandbox in the middle of the
floor, and numbers of lost and desolate shoes.

"Throw your things onto the bed, there's a darling," said Madame
Shapkin in her deep bass voice--then turned and shouted:
"Darushka!  Darushka!" and then when a tall slim girl with a long
nose and laughing mouth appeared, after a torrent of Russian, ended
abruptly and very absent-mindedly:--"There's a darling."

"I thought there wasn't to be anyone here but yourselves," said
Millie, tidying her hair in the cracked glass.

"So did I," said Madame Shapkin amiably.  "But it's Kostia's name-
day, so he came along with some friends.  Thank God, he brought
some food with him.  And Gaier Gemzonitch has come.  He was one of
the finest comic actors in Petrograd.  Such a jolly fellow!"

Beaming upon them both and pushing back her pince-nez, which were
for ever slipping down her nose, she shouted again:  "Darushka!
Darushka!" and when the tall laughing girl once more appeared,
poured out another torrent of Russian.

"I hope you don't mind the noise," she said, smiling at Nathalie.
"English people are so quiet, I find.  Come along now.  You must be
starved.  There's still something left to eat."

They came back into the room and sat down at the table.  Mr.
Shapkin came and greeted them, but very absent-mindedly.  It was
plain that he had not the least idea who they were.

Nathalie was glad to be left alone for a little; she could not but
admire Millie, who was able, in a moment, to take the pulse of the
room, to smile first at one then at another, to laugh at the man
who had been standing on his head, but now was pulling faces under
a paper cap, and to eat the strange mixture of cold ham and fish
that was piled on her plate, and to listen at the same time to the
grave, melancholy discourse of Mr. Shapkin, who was apparently
talking about stamps on letters and the difficulties of English
coinage.

She herself was very glad to be left out of things for a little.
She had never been to a party like this before, and she wanted to
feel her way; moreover, in her heart there was the unceasing
consciousness that Vladimir was standing near to her, that soon he
would come and speak to her, and that then her cup would be filled
with happiness.  Nevertheless, he was more remote from her than he
had been on the other evening.  He belonged to this strange,
foreign, noisy world.  He was part of the little company gathered
round the piano, singing now to a very soft accompaniment a melody
that repeated again and again, and sounded to her ignorant ears
like--


     "Boshe, boshe, meely moi
     Kreek--ibushna
     Boshe, boshe, meely moi
     Ibushna--la."


Very beautiful it was, and beautiful, too, to see how their faces
were absorbed and lost, their eyes soft, their bodies strung to a
devout attention.


     "Boshe, boshe, meely moi
     Kreek--ibushna
     Boshe, boshe, meely moi
     Ibushna--la."


What did it mean?  What every other song in the world meant.  What
her own heart meant, as, trying to pretend that she enjoyed the ham
and the fish and the tea in a glass at her side, her eyes filled
with tears; and Vladimir seemed to steal closer to her with every
moment.

Someone had sat down beside her, and a very gentle voice said in
her ear:

"Mihail Alexandrovitch Klimov."

She turned and saw the stout round man with a head as bald as an
egg, who had been at the Westcotts' the other evening and had
talked to Uncle Hans.

"How do you do?" she said, smiling.

He looked at her with large, melancholy eyes that reminded her of a
cow, a dog, and one of the vergers in Polchester Cathedral.  She
found it difficult to hear what he said, because his voice was so
soft.

"I do hope that the splendid Mr. Frost is well," he said, "and took
no harm from the other evening."

"He's very well, thank you," she answered.  Vladimir was standing
quite near to her now, talking to Madame Shapkin, and his eyes were
always on her.

"That is a very great man," said Mr. Klimov, nodding his head
excitedly.  "I would follow him round the world if he invited me to
do so.  There are very few great men anywhere in the world to-day.
It is also very difficult to be a great man and not to be aware
that you are one."

"Yes.  I suppose that it is," said Nathalie.

"I find," continued Mr. Klimov, "that the marks of a great man are
that he is like a child and a very wise, experienced man both at
the same time, that he is kindly of heart, but allows no one to
possess him.  All these things are apparent in Mr. Frost."  Mr.
Klimov sighed.  "It must be a fine thing to have your thoughts in
order as Mr. Frost must have them.  All my life I have desired to
bring my thoughts into some kind of order, but the essential thing
escapes me.  I admire that in the English; although their thoughts
are very seldom of the first importance, yet they have them all
arranged very neatly.  It must be exceedingly comforting.  I had
unfortunately a toothache on the night when I met Mr. Frost and,
therefore, I was able to think even less clearly than usual."  He
gave another deep sigh.  Then suddenly his face broke into a
radiant smile.

"However, I shall never forget the good fortune of speaking to Mr.
Frost.  He was exceedingly kind to me."

"He is the very kindest man in all the world," said Nathalie.

"I'm sure that he is," said Mr. Klimov.  "He was even interested in
my desire to find well-cooked vegetables in England.  Something
that must have been to him of the very smallest importance.  May I
ask whether he is a relation of yours?"

"He's my uncle," said Nathalie very proudly.  They had left the
piano now, but more had gathered round them, and they were all
singing in harmony, softly, those words that sounded to Nathalie's
ignorant ears like--


     "Boshe, boshe, meely moi
     Kreek--ibushna
     Boshe, boshe, meely moi
     Ibushna--la."


Mr. Klimov was caught in.  He, too, began to sing.  They were all
singing.

Then under cover of the singing, Vladimir came close to her.  She
felt his nearness.  She dared not look.  She dared not move.

At last he spoke to her, bending towards her, his cheek close to
hers.

"What a noise!  Shan't we go to the other room?"

She got up.  She moved trance-like, noticing that the comic actor
from Petrograd had unbuttoned his waistcoat; that the tall girl
with the black eyes had stopped singing and was looking into the
green curtains that protected the windows, as though she were
asking them a question; that the two men who were reading the
newspapers were now arguing fiercely.  She noticed all these
things, but they were in her dream.

Vladimir led her into a little room and closed the door upon it.
The thing that at once she noticed was a picture--a picture in very
vivid colours of a green tree, a pool deeply blue, two brown cows,
a lady and a gentleman in eighteenth-century clothes talking under
the tree, and in the background against a sky of faintest blue a
snow-white house, and over the snow-white house a snow-white cloud.
All very still.  Not a leaf stirring.  The heat of a summer's day.

"Oh, what a beautiful picture!" she cried.

"Yes," he answered, looking at her and not at the picture.  "It is
by one of our most celebrated painters, Konstantin Somov.  Mr.
Shapkin brought it out of Petrograd."

But he spoke as in a dream.  He drew close to her, never moving his
eyes from her face, then gently, softly drew her to him, laid with
a protecting gesture her head on his breast, bent down over her,
murmuring, "I love you. . . .  I love you. . . .  Little darling,
how I love you!  Ya Lublyoo Tibeer. . . .  Ya Lublyoo Tibeer. . . .
Lublyoo. . . .  Lublyoo. . . ."



CHAPTER VI

Blackmoor


Hans surrendered to Blackmoor with surprising swiftness.  Before he
knew where at all he was he was selecting the books for Bigges to
shove into the top of the bag (and it was a kind of desecration for
Bigges even to touch them), two volumes of Chapman's Homer, a
volume of Galleon's Letters, and Crotchet Castle and Melincourt.

And while he stood watching disgustedly Bigges' broad beam, he was
thinking:  "Why the devil . . . to surrender to that old woman's
whims! . . .  And Ruth will be more possessive than ever."

But that was perhaps why he had done it--to return to the old
situation once more.  His little plunge into life was over.  It had
failed.  The most that it had done for him was to drag the One-eyed
Commander up out of the marshes, but indeed he had sunk back into
them again as completely as ever.  The other thing that it had done
was to show him to himself as a ridiculous old fool, letting his
heart go once more, as for years he had not done, throwing it at
the feet of a child who was far too young to know what to do with
it, who had at the first chance thrown HERS into the lap of a
worthless young Russian.  And then at the very thought that
Nathalie might suffer, might be hurt, his heart began to beat
rapidly, his eyes to burn.  What was he doing, flying off to
Blackmoor (although only for a week) and leaving her to the tender
mercies of her ignorant passion?  But let him stay, and what good
could he do?  She would tell him nothing.  He had not the
impertinence to ask her for her confidences, nor would his vanity
risk a rebuff.  That was the way, too, with these modern
youngsters.  They must find out life for themselves.  They insisted
on that.  It was their own risk, and they were proud to take it.

Therefore when Ruth had suggested Blackmoor for a week he had
instantly (and very much to her surprise) agreed.  That this was
part of her campaign he knew--to drag him back into the old
position, to be sure once more of her dominion. . . .  Oh, well,
let her!  It was easier that way after all.  Too old a dog for new
tricks.  Too old a dog. . . .

He would be spared, at least, the sight of Bigges for a week.

"Take care of those books now," he snapped, pushing his spectacles
up his nose and frowning.  He hated to see Bigges handle books.
They seemed to cry out under the damp pressure of those soft hands.
Bigges, bent forward over the bag, his thick fat arms swelling in
their shirt sleeves, sniffed.

He would adore to kick Bigges' vast behind.  He had to turn away,
so strong was the temptation.

When he had told Nathalie that they were going, fear had flashed
into her eyes.

He wished that he did not remember that.  If he thought of it too
long it would force him to change his purpose.

All that she had said was:

"Oh, must you?"

"Yes, my dear, I must.  Duty."

"I shall miss you terribly."

"Nonsense--you young people never miss anybody."

She had turned away.  She had been, he could swear, on the edge of
telling him everything.  He wanted to go and put his arms around
her and kiss the back of her neck, where the hair had been bobbed.
But he was shy, damnably shy.  He didn't know after all these years
how to set about it.  And perhaps she would laugh at him--or hate
him, thinking of her handsome young Russian.

After all it was only for a week, and these modern children were
marvellously wise in their love affairs. . . .  But still . . .
But still . . .

And she had suddenly turned, flung her arms about him, passionately
kissed him, and run from the room.

Oh yes, it was better that he should go.  The trouble was that the
One-eyed Commander showed no signs whatever of coming with him.

Since the day at the Zoo he had not put in an appearance.  There he
was still waiting in the rain among the laurels, the bell echoing
its peal through the dark house. . . .  Well, damn it, if he chose
to stay there he should.  On the other hand, to go to Blackmoor
without any work--those heavy stuffy rooms crammed with hideous
furniture, the overgrown, weedy garden, the Wiltshire woods
dripping in the rain, Ruth's snobbish visits to Wintersmoon and
Farinford and the other big houses, the old dark witch glowering in
her stuffy bedchamber, the ancient library crowded with sermons,
political pamphlets, and the works of minor eighteenth-century
poets--

He was peevish these days.  Nothing was right.  His peace here was
disturbed.  His creative fire had for an instant flickered and died
again.  His heart had been stirred, but to what purpose?  And he
was old.  Oh, damnably, damnably old!

He said farewell to Nathalie in the presence of Ruth and Mrs.
Marriott, who, muffled in black coats and cloaks, resembled an
early Victorian crow.

"You won't be lonely--it's only for a week?" he asked.

"Lonely!"  Ruth broke in laughing.  "Why, everyone in the house is
going to look after her.  And you have your own friends, haven't
you, darling?"

Ruth kissed her.  "Strange," Hans reflected, "how Ruth never
forgives or forgets anything.  That's one for the Westcott
evening!"

Nathalie was looking lovely, but strange, with bright shining eyes
and pale cheeks.  While she was kissing Hans she pressed a piece of
paper into his hand.  He slipped it into his coat pocket.  Kissing
him, she clung to him for a moment.

His eyes were misty as he climbed into the car.

Later on, when they had left London, and fields and lanes enclosed
them, noticing that Ma Marriott slept (and in sleep she was most
horrible) and that Ruth was engaged in some deep spiritual
calculations, he took out the paper and read it.

It was a little letter, and the effect of it upon him was to cause
him, for a moment, to determine to insist upon turning the car
round and to drive back to London again, but the fear of a scene,
some dominance that these two women had over him, dread of scandal
in which Nathalie herself would be involved, held him down without
action.  The letter was:


DARLING UNCLE HANS:

Don't let anyone else read this.  Of course you won't.  Why must
you go away just now?  I hate your going away--any time.  But
especially just now.  I wanted to ask you not to, but I hadn't the
courage.  I'm writing this up in my room when I ought to be
dressing for dinner, so I mustn't be long.  I'm afraid you're very
disappointed with me, and of course you must be.  I must seem so
stupid to you, and I'm not what you thought me that first night
when you came into my room.  But you're so clever that when you've
got over your disappointment and don't expect anything from me any
more perhaps you'll like me again.  I've wanted to speak to you so
badly all these days, but I haven't had the courage.  You've got so
many things to think about that you can't waste time on me, but I
don't know who to ask advice from.

I've never been in love before, but now I am terribly.  It's the
Russian who was at the Westcotts' that night.  The young one.  He
says he loves me too, and I think just now he does, but he's
Russian, and they are different from us, aren't they?  Only I feel
I can't live without him.  When he isn't there I'm so unhappy, the
sort of feeling I've never had before.  I'm so sorry about this, I
didn't mean it to happen.  It just came.  You're so wise that
you'll tell me when you come back what I ought to do.  DON'T TELL
AUNT RUTH; she'd think me so silly.

                                         Your loving, LOVING niece,

                                                          NATHALIE.


When he had finished this he read it again and then again.

A storm had come up and the trees seemed to roll in the rain; the
sky was grey with slashes of pale light.  The rain tingled against
the panes of the car.  It was so dark that he couldn't see the
faces of his companions.

He sat back wondering what he should do.  He knew now that his
fancy that he could go back to his old life was illusive.  He could
never go back.  His love for Nathalie--protective, paternal,
maternal, PASSIONATELY protective--filled his heart.  She was his,
and she must come to no harm.  She was his and asked him to help
her.  Every phrase in her letter reproached him.  What had he done
to help her?  Nothing.  He had known the danger that she was in and
had not moved a finger.  He was afraid of trouble, of making a fool
of himself, of losing his comfort and security.

She had waited for him to come to her, and he had not come, but she
had no word of reproach for him.

He would go back to London by train to-morrow morning.  He would
get out now, when they passed through Salisbury, and catch an
evening train back.

But was that wise?  What would Ruth and the old witch think?
Better to wait until to-morrow. . . .  But when he went back what
could he do?  See the young man and ask him his intentions in
approved Victorian fashion?

"Young man, your intentions?"

"Oh, go to hell, you silly old man."  Did any young people care
these days about anything old people said to them?  Of course not.
But Nathalie cared.  She would listen to his advice.  But would she
obey it? when he advised her never to see the young man again. . . .

But perhaps the young man meant, as the old phrase went,
"honourably by her."  But was that the kind of world into which
Nathalie, so simple, so ignorant, could happily go?  That messy,
Russian, inchoate world.  And the young man--was he of the sort to
be faithful to her for a single moment?  As good-looking as that,
would women leave him for an instant alone?  Of course they would
not.

Completely miserable, holding Nathalie's letter in his hand,
listening to the rain making the darkness vocal, as it seemed to
him for hours, he came to no decision.  And so they slipped on to
Blackmoor.

"Well, here we are," said Ma Marriott, waking from a deep sleep.
"What a miserable journey!"

Blackmoor was dry and barren.  Neither rain nor storm, frost nor
snow could impress its naked ill-temper.  Until the day of judgment
it would stand, impervious, discontented, and arrogant.

That night, after an ill-cooked dinner and a restless pacing up and
down the dark cumbrous library, in his room, before he undressed,
he wrote her a letter:


DARLING NATHALIE:

I read your letter at once and wanted to turn and come back
immediately.  But I don't know whether that is what you would wish,
and in any case it's better to wait until to-morrow, because your
Aunt Ruth might think it odd and ask questions.

My darling, I'm so bitterly ashamed of myself for not speaking to
you sooner.  I knew what was happening--don't be afraid.  Only I
know, Aunt Ruth hasn't the slightest idea, but I was shy of
interfering.  I've lived so much by myself these last years that
I'm more timid than I used to be.  It was just wretched cowardice.
But don't imagine for a moment that I have ever been disappointed
in you.  I have loved you more every day, but I have thought that
perhaps you wouldn't want an old man like me interfering in your
affairs.  That was my mistake as I see now.  But never doubt me.  I
will be at your side, as I promised you, for anything or
everything.

I don't know what to say at the moment except that I would be happy
if you would let things be as they are until I come back.  But the
worst of love is that it won't stand still.  I know that well
enough.

Only, you see, the young man is something of a mystery to us both
at present, isn't he?  I see from your letter that you think so
too.  Although he is young, he knows probably more about love than
you do, and, although he may wish all that is good for you quite
sincerely, what HE thinks good for you may not be quite the things
that you and I would wish.

I put all this very clumsily, I know; you must forgive my
inexperience.  But I trust you.  I know you are wise and believe
that however strong our desires may be, there are things that are
unworthy of us.  I'm not preaching when I say that.  It is sound
practical advice, and although I've made countless mistakes in my
own life and done numberless silly things, I've never really had
any doubt of there being always a fine thing to do if one's got
enough courage.

Then for a woman these things are more dangerous than for a man,
even in these days.

You are very young, with a splendid life in front of you, and you
don't want to start it with a bad mistake.

If I seem to have been preaching it's only because I love you so
much.  Preaching is not really my rôle, you know, and if you saw
what a mess I've made in many ways of my own life you'd wonder how
I had the impertinence to offer advice to anyone else.

Send me a wire at once if you want me.  In any case I shall return
in a day or two, and then we will see this through together.  I
shall be thinking about you all the time.

                                            Your most loving uncle,

                                                              HANS.


How insufficient and unsatisfactory, and yet, as he folded the
paper and pushed it, almost savagely, into the envelope, it was as
though his very heart went with it into the confined space.  What
an insufficient letter, and how dark the room!  Dark and creeping
with draughts, the rain crawling about the windows, two large sham
Indian vases in bright yellow and black that had been the fashion
about 1850, bulging their corpulent sides at him, a wheezy clock, a
flapping blind, a dark, dark house.

Nathalie, Nathalie, Nathalie. . . .  He was drawn back.  He was at
her side.  She was more to him than all the books, than all the
comfort the world had ever contained.

He got up from the chair, stretched himself like an old dog, and
started to undress.  He shivered.  Ugh! how cold it was.  Why had
he not asked to have a fire in his bedroom?  Why always in this
house did he feel as though he were a child, in possible disgrace
at any moment, afraid to ask for a fire?

There slipped into his mind lines of which he had not thought for
many a year.  But his memory was wonderful.  Almost as good as
Macaulay's, he used to say, boastfully, to Galleon, when Galleon
cried out in his vibrant fashion:

"I can't remember a damned thing . . . hang it, why can't I?" and
Galleon was there in the room, astride that shabby rug with the
faded flowers, his head up, his eyes smiling, his mouth indignant;
and Hans, turning and mockingly defiant as though he saw him there,
murmured to that adored ghost the words (murmured, perhaps, to
himself by old Ambrose Phillips, deserting his warm but inattentive
heaven to persuade even one listening mortal on this rainy,
frowning earth):


    "The vast Leviathan wants room to play,
     And spout his Waters in the Face of Day;
     The starving Wolves along the main sea prowl
     And to the Moon in Icy Valleys howl;
     O'er many a shining League the level Main
     Here spreads itself into a glassy Plain--
     There solid Billows of enormous Size,
     Alpes of green Ice, in wild Disorder rise.


"Alpes of green Ice, in wild Disorder rise," he repeated.  "Damn
good. . . .  Damn good."

And old Galleon cried back to him:

"And later on--don't you remember?


    "Soon as the silent Shades of Night withdrew,
     The ruddy Morn disclosed at once to view
     The Face of Nature in a rich Disguise,
     And brighten'd ev'ry Object to my Eyes,
     For every Shrub, and every Blade of grass,
     And ev'ry pointed Thorn, seemed wrought in glass.
     In Pearls and Rubies rich the Hawthorns show,
     While thro' the Ice the Crimson Berries glow.
     The thick-sprung Reeds, which wat'ry marshes yield,
     Seem polished Lances in a hostile Field."


"And you say you can't remember anything, you old liar!" Hans
cries.

"Ah, but," the ruddy ghost returns, "I can NOW!  I've a pull over
you now, Hans, my friend!"

And the fluttering shadow of poor Ambrose, thin veil against
dripping pane, chuckles, because he is once more remembered, and
far out across all the storm-swept sky calls triumphantly:

"They have me yet!  They have me yet!"

While Hans, stepping forward that he may touch once again that old
friendly arm, repeats:


    "In Pearls and Rubies rich the Hawthorns show,
     While thro' the Ice the Crimson Berries glow. . . ."


The door opened and there came in someone far indeed from ghostly--
Ruth.

He turned, surprised and defeated.  The ghosts were fled.

She sat down in the large, hideous armchair near the fireplace,
smiled up at him, took him at once in charge, dressed him in a
sailor suit, and told him he should have jam for tea if he were
good.  She did not, however, he could see it lurking in her eyes,
forget altogether the possibility of a suddenly returning maturity.

"Well, Hans, isn't it jolly now that we're here?"

He blinked at her, pulling up his trousers with a sort of defensive
movement.  He had been about to throw them off before she came in.
Now they were on for ever.

"Jolly?"  That seemed the very last word to use.

"Yes.  I don't know if you feel about this old place as I do.  Oh,
I know it's old-fashioned and untidy, but the moment I get back to
it I'm at peace.  I feel as though I'd got you again, that we
belong to one another once more, just as we used to do, and--oh,
you don't know how happy that makes me!"

"Got me again . . . belong to one another!"  He seemed to be able
to do nothing but repeat her words parrot-like.  "But of course--
when haven't you got me?"

She jumped up with a movement, in its intensity and impetuosity,
sharply unlike her.  She went to him, came close to him, so that
her breast pressed against the hard glossy front of his shirt, laid
her cheek against his, murmured:

"Yes . . . I was so happy when you said you'd come down here.  I've
been feeling these last weeks that I was losing you . . . that you
didn't want me any more . . . and . . . I couldn't bear it."

She turned, ever so slightly, her warm arm was against his
collarless neck, she pressed her lips on his.  He put his arm
around her to hold her and stood there--rigid.

She was all about him.  The scent that belonged so especially to
her, the warm softness of her arm, his hand pressed into the deep,
yielding, gentle strength of her side.  Oh, he was old! damnably,
damnably old!  He felt only infinite weariness, a longing to yawn,
a shiver of age and awkwardness, shyness and ennui that trembled
through his soul.

And she knew at once that that was what he felt.  She stayed for a
moment, then withdrew.

"Aren't you glad we've come?  Isn't it time after all these ages in
London that we were alone together again?"

You could always touch his heart, even though you touched many
other things at the same moment.

He felt what he so rarely felt about her, pathos, loneliness,
something unassisted and unsupported.

He smiled at her with that odd smile that she had known so long,
but never understood, a smile, roguish, affectionate, and a little
malicious.

"I'm glad if this place makes you happy, my dear.  Of course I'm
glad.  I love you to be happy, you know that I do.  As to the
place--"

"Oh, I know it's old-fashioned and filled with ugly things.  But
Mother likes them.  They remind her of the days when she was happy.
Surely you can put up with them for a little while?"

"My dear, have I said anything against--?"

"No, only, of course, I know what you feel.  One can tell, if it's
only the way you've stuck up your precious Manet there on the
dressing table.  Besides, I think them awful myself as far as that
goes.  What I value is our having some time together to ourselves.
Will you be able to stand a fortnight of it, do you think?  Do say
you will.  It will make me so happy.  I haven't, as a matter of
fact, been awfully well lately, although I've said nothing about
it.  I need some quiet here--" and she ended, dropping her voice
ever so slightly, "a fortnight with you."

A fortnight?  A fortnight here in this horrible house with that
horrible old woman pervading every corner of it?  A fortnight alone
with Ruth? . . .  And Nathalie?  Nathalie alone. . . .

He steadied himself.  He realized how vast a distance had he and
Ruth already travelled that she should be compelled to put forward
this elaborate pleading and persuasion.  Three months ago she would
have made her statement, her cheerful, determined resolve:  "I
think we'll be here a fortnight or so, Hans; it's jolly to be by
ourselves for a little"--and he would at once have submitted, out
of laziness, indifference, hatred of argument.

He smiled at her, scratching his head and yawning a little--"Ugh,
I'm sleepy. . . .  A fortnight?  That's as it may be.  Possibly I
shall have to run up to town for a night or so and then come back.
You won't mind that?"

"Now, Hans, that's precisely what I don't want you to do.  What's
the good of our being down here at all, if you're breaking into it
all the time?  Besides, whatever have you got to run up to town
for?  Is it Nathalie you're thinking of?"

"No, why should it be?  Modern girls don't want looking after.  But
there are some people I have to see.  One or two picture-shows.
I'm not ready to give up the ghost entirely, you know, darling."

The moment that he had said it he knew what a mistake he had made.
He cursed himself for a silly blind old fool.  He turned, moving
towards her.  But the mischief was done.

"Well," she said dimly, "that's not exactly complimentary to me.
I'm not dead either, you know--not by a very long way.  Good-night.
Think over it.  See if you can't oblige me."

She kissed him very lightly on the cheek and went.

The following day was one of the most miserable and confusing of
his life.  New emotions--or rather emotions that in the dark ages
of the past he had known, but since had lost all track of--returned
and swept in upon him in baffling, bewildering succession.  All
morning he shut himself away in the dark, dim library, staring at
the funereal rows of faded calf--Withering on British Plants
(there's a name for a botanist!), Lister's Life of Clarendon,
Hampton's Polybius--seeing them, not seeing them, feeling the
rheumatic twitch in his leg, thinking of food and drink, religion,
astronomy, and the thin long legs of beautiful women--not thinking
of any of these things--and always, always this increasing
knowledge that he was in the hands of some power that soon, unless
he pulled himself together, would swing him off his feet, hurl him
into the air and bring him down, a thousand miles away in mid-ocean
somewhere, with a devastating ruinous splash.

But pull himself together?  There was nothing to pull.  "Is there?"
he enquired of Polybius.  And Polybius, with an air of infinite
boredom, answered, "Nothing."

He wanted Nathalie.  "Yes," he assured Bingley's Animal Biography,
"I want Nathalie."

"Well, go after her then," said Bingley.

"But I'm an old man of seventy.  Tired and bored."

"Then don't go after her," said Bingley.

No hope there.  Moreover, it wasn't Nathalie that he wanted.  It
was rather to be assured of her happiness and her safety.  Yes, her
safety.  What was happiness to her?  Even now, perhaps, she had
taken some rash step. . . .  At one moment, looking fixedly into
the blind, stony eyes of a very bad bust of Cicero, he decided that
he would tell Ruth everything.  Everything?  What was everything?
Simply that he was fond of his niece and that SHE was fond of a
Russian young man, who wasn't to be trusted.  And at once Cicero, a
very wise man, showed him coldly (not at all out of friendship, but
simply because he flattered himself on his ability to give good
advice), showed him how foolish that would be.  Tell Ruth about
Nathalie?  Nathalie would be dismissed immediately and for ever.
Deliver Nathalie's secret to Ruth's tender keeping?  The
ruthlessness of the hungry tiger is not to be compared with the
ruthlessness of a woman whose vanity is unexpectedly wounded and
whose sense of possession is so threatened.

No, no, no--a thousand times no.

In the afternoon he took Ruth for a walk.  In the evening there
took place one of the really amazing interviews of his life.

The walk was quiet and amiable and sham.  Neither alluded to
anything of importance.  They walked through a pale misted country
with pale shadow moving behind pale shadow.  They climbed crooked
and shadowy lanes to an open and shadowy down.  Sheep could be
heard and not seen; silver clouds promised the coming of the sun,
but no sun came.  There was no air, but a waiting suspended hush.

Ruth was gay and amusing and very friendly, so Hans was gay and
friendly too.  But he had never in all their married life felt so
far away from her as to-day.  He was miserable and alone.  The life
of the last ten years--easy, slothful, dying--was gone, and no
other life had as yet taken its place.  Beneath her talk he saw
that she was deeply disturbed and determinedly resolved.

The sense of an impending talk excited her--it depressed him like a
bad dream.  He had not for ten years had a quarrel or dispute with
anyone.

Now he knew that he was in for a series of contests.  He was.  He
encountered the first of them that evening.

Mrs. Marriott did not, as in London, confine herself to her own
room.  She made the whole of Blackmoor hers.  She was indeed as
restless here as she was motionless in Regent's Park.  She could be
felt rather than seen wandering from room to room, her long black
dress trailing after her with a murmurous, ominous whisper.

Her favourite room was the drawing-room, a long dingy room papered
in dark faded red and littered with little tables and chairs as
though it were a restaurant.  On these tables there were
innumerable photographs.  Long thin pinched windows looked out with
a kind of dusty despair upon unkept lawns and woods in whose
enclosures the sun was never seen to shine.

She would move from chair to chair in this room, helping herself
with a thick ebony cane.  Once and again she would sit down at a
piano much neglected and out of tune, strike some screaming notes,
listen with twisted head to their discordances and then move again
from chair to chair.

This was her place, her fortress.  It had belonged to her father
and her father's father.  No one could change a thing in it without
her wish.  Here she was dingy and melodramatic queen.

Hans coming in after his walk with Ruth, and finding her there, was
thoroughly conscious of her melodrama.  She was sitting, a large
photograph album on her lap, a dirty yellow sky against which the
trees were humped in shadow behind her.

A lamp covered with a hideous crimson shade threw light over her,
leaving the rest of the long room in obscurity.

As soon as he saw her he would have withdrawn.  He was in no mood
for a conversation with the old woman, but she called to him to
stop.

"I hope you will give me three minutes, Hans," she said.

He realized at once that she was in a raging temper.  He had not
seen one of her tempers for at least five years, but he instantly
now, at the tone of her voice, recalled them (visualizing them, as
he stood there, in a kind of whirling rainstorm, feathers flying
and pieces of calico and sticks and stones, chickens running
shrieking for shelter, and all the trees bent wildly by the wind).

He knew well that she hated to lose her temper, that the loss of it
troubled her vanity and diminished her power.  He had thought that
with her fading physical strength her rage, also, was ebbing.

He was to learn in the following ten minutes that he was wrong.

"Certainly," he said, threading his way through the little tables
and coming over to her.  But he did not, as he generally did, smile
and indulge her.  His voice was stern.  He had neither time nor
patience for her tantrums.

"So," she began looking up at him, her fingers tightening about the
knob of her stick, "you have told Ruth that staying with her here
is like being buried alive.  A pretty thing for Ruth to feel after
she has given up her life to you, and has come down here only
because she thought you were tired and needed a change."

(A pretty thing!  A pretty thing! something repeated inside him--
who wants this pretty thing?)

He answered her quietly:  "I said nothing of the kind to Ruth.  She
asked me whether I would mind being here for a fortnight, and I
said that that was for her to decide, that I might have to be in
London for a few days, but that could easily be managed."

Mrs. Marriott, shaking with anger, plunged into the cataract.

"Look here, Hans Frost . . . I'll tell you . . . I'll let you
know . . .  I've been longing to for years."  Here she broke for a
moment into a breathless, convulsed coughing.  There was an awful
moment when, the coughing subdued, but her breath not yet returned,
she looked at him with a cold, apprehensive stare, as though some
other person inside her seized its opportunity and looked out of
the window, someone quite different, a stranger; someone from the
cellar who knew not Hans, was concerned with no private quarrels,
but was busy day and night digging for its own private treasure.
The creature vanished.  Mrs. Marriott was once more in full
control.  "For years I've been longing to tell you what I think of
you--you with your conceited arrogance, you thinking yourself so
grand, because of your little books and the rest of it.  Books!
Why, everyone can write books these days.  Schoolgirls write them,
little boys at college, and books as good as yours, I'm sure.  And
who's made your reputation for you?  You think it's your books that
have done it, but I tell you, you wouldn't be anywhere at all if it
weren't for Ruth.  You think you've been so fine all these years,
but I tell you, you haven't done a thing.  If you hadn't married
Ruth, you'd be nobody.  You think people like your books, but I can
tell you there are thousands of people can't read a word of them.
I can't myself, for the matter of that, and I'm no fool.  Tiresome,
silly stuff.  But Ruth's worked like a slave just because she's
loved you.  She's done everything, arranged everything, asked the
right people.  And you, you've just sat back and been so pleased
with yourself and thought what a grand man you are, and now when
you're old and ought to know better, you tell Ruth that being with
her is like being buried, and you think you'll run back to town and
be a gay young man again, and take your pretty young niece about.
Oh, yes!  I know all about it!  There isn't much goes on that I
don't see. . . .  But there's plenty goes on you don't see, yes,
with all your cleverness.  You think you're a grand one, but I know
how they laugh at you behind your back, with all your conceit and
the rest of it.  Ruth, the finest wife a man ever had, worth a
hundred of you; and you treat her, you treat her--"

Her coughing once more had its triumph.  She was suddenly an old
broken woman, a bag of shaking bones.  He had to go to her and
arrange her in her chair, pick up her stick for her; she choked,
gasped, sat up straight again, stammered out--"And now you know,"
then leaned her head back, glaring at him.

"Yes, I know."  He answered her very seriously.  He knew that the
time for chaff had gone by.  There was justice in what she had
said.  She was defending her young, and through all the vibration
of her anger, there was the truth of his coming disloyalty to Ruth.
This old woman had scented it in the air, and by her prophetic cry
she convinced him that the crisis had arrived.

"You are right," he said quietly.  "I am, I've no doubt, a
ridiculous old man.  So are we all, all ridiculous old men.  That
is neither my fault nor yours.  But what is my fault, perhaps, is
that I want a holiday.  We both want one, away from one another.
You say that she has done everything for me.  I know that she has.
That's why I want to get away for a little."

The yellow had faded from the sky.  The room was thickening with
dusk.  He could scarcely see her face.  Her voice came out of the
shadow.

"Why should you have a holiday if Ruth wants you to stay?  She's
spent the best years of her life in giving you what you want.  Why
shouldn't you give her what she wants for a change?"

"She's had me," he answered wearily, hating the place, the scene,
the close, stuffy air, the vindictive old woman, with a physical
nausea, "for years.  Now it's time we were apart for a little."

Mrs. Marriott rose from her chair.  She came towards him.  He
thought for an odd, fantastic moment that she was going to strike
him with her stick.  He stood his ground, his head up, his legs
wide planted.  But she only said, as she passed him to the door:
"I know what you want. . . .  You want to flirt with your beautiful
young niece. . . .  I have my daughter's happiness to fight
for. . . .

"Look out!"

The last two words which she flung out of the dusky end of the room
had the true melodramatic ring, but they seemed oddly to be spoken
by some other voice, from the far side of the door, a warning to
him that he must regard.

"Look out!"  Ah, he would look out all right, that is if he could
keep awake.  The little battle had tired him extraordinarily.  He
almost tumbled into the stuffy, sticky, velvet-covered armchair,
leaning his head back, and at the touch feeling as though jammy,
dusky fingers reached out and caught him.  What a loathsome old
woman!  What a vile house!  He had always hated it--hated it as
when once, as a little boy, playing hide-and-seek in an old house,
he had shut himself into a cupboard, been forgotten, closed the
doors and then been unable to open them again.

Oh! the agony of that, the close smell of pitch pine and moth
balls, the strangling, suffocating terror of the doors that would
not open!

He was pushing with his hands, his knees, his feet!  Oh, suppose it
were never to open again!  Suppose that that vile old woman had
closed it on the other side, was waiting there maliciously smiling
to hear his strangling cries!  He must get out! . . .  He must get
out!

He jumped from his chair, stood there blinking.  Someone had come
in.  Someone had placed a lamp on the table and was speaking to
him.  He blinked again.  It was Ruth.

"Hans, Mother has just been here, bothering you.  I know she has.
What has she been saying?"

He was still too stupidly confused.  He could only stand there
blinking at her.

"Hans, I must know what happened.  What did Mother say to you?"

He, as though to steady himself and bring himself safely back out
of that other world into this one, put his hand on her shoulder.

"Why, my dear?  Why, nothing."  He could feel that she was
trembling.

"It's hateful.  You won't tell me anything, and Mother won't
either.  And yet I'm the one chiefly concerned.  I will know.  You
and Mother have had a row--a bad one.  She's shaking all over and
muttering to herself.  What's it all been about?  I insist on your
telling me."

He was now thoroughly awake again, although Ruth in the soft,
shaded lamplight gave him the impression of something immaterial
and, unfortunately, unimportant.  And yet she WAS important--for
herself, for him, for all of them.  And yet he could not take her
seriously.  She was evanescent, like water poured from a bottle,
the kind of glistening shower that you get when you are using your
watering-can on a sunny day.  And as he felt her evanescence his
own firmness of purpose grew.

"I was simply telling your mother, my dear, that I thought the time
had come for us to be apart a little--for us both to take a
holiday."

"So it's come to that, has it?" she murmured.

"My dear, it's come to nothing except what it always comes to, once
and again, with all married people.  We haven't separated for
years.  It isn't good for either of us."

She began to give little hysterical, breathless sobs.  "It isn't
good enough for you, you mean. . . .  Oh, I know! . . .  It isn't
as though I haven't seen--and Mother's seen too.  I know when the
change began. . . .  I know what you want. . . .  I know, I
know. . . .  But you shan't have it, do you hear?  You shan't
have it!  You shan't have it!"

She was crying and beating the floor with her foot.  He was
suddenly very exasperated.  Tired and sick of the whole thing.  He
wanted to beat her, to crumple her up and throw her out of the
window, and with her the whole race of women--ridiculous, play-
acting, unscrupulous, unreal! . . .

"Well, you can take it or leave it," he shouted back at her.  "I
loathe this house and everything in it.  I won't stay in it another
twenty-four hours.  I'll go up to town to-morrow morning."

He pushed past her, feeling like a naughty but suddenly liberated
schoolboy, who, bent over the schoolmaster's knee, has broken free
and run for his life.

He even, as he trotted up the dark stairs to his room, repeated to
himself, "To-morrow morning!  Yes!  To-morrow morning!  I'm damned
if I stay here another day!"



CHAPTER VII

Return


Hans jumped out of the car, let himself in with his key, and stood
in the hall looking about him as though he were seeing it for the
first time.  The house was silent and bathed in sunshine.  The
chauffeur came quietly past him and then vanished up the stairs.
Not a sound.  Not a creature.

How long was it since he had been alone in the house like this?
Oh, but years and years!  Not a sound.  Not a creature.  The
sunshine lay in pools and splashes of colour on the gleaming boards
and the dark rugs.  The deep mezzotints of the eighteenth-century
ladies and gentlemen lay back on the pale, creamy walls with a
gesture of proud resignation.  He had not noticed them for years.
Not a sound in the house.  He did not move; the luxury of this was
so great.  And they would not return for several days.  The car
would go back to-night.  To-day at least he would have the glorious
free afternoon, the magnificent liberated evening.  He sighed
deeply.  Yes, this was wonderful.

There was a sound on the stairs.  Looking up he saw that Martha was
coming down.  She had started her descent in her usual, casual,
indifferent fashion, slowly, with grand superiority.  She saw him.
She stopped.  Then, most miraculous of dogs, seeing that he had his
finger on his lip, she checked her shrill bark of welcome, but
forgetting everything now, save her eagerness to welcome him,
hurriedly pattered across the hall, and was leaping up at him,
pushing at his trousers with her short legs, shoving her cold, long
nose into the cup of his hand, biting in an extravagance of joy and
pleasure his fingers, licking the thick gold signet ring that was
for her one of his especial properties, and especially her own
affair.

He sat down, there and then, on the little chair under the portrait
of Madame de Sévigné (whose letters were surely less brilliant than
people supposed them), took Martha into his lap, and stroked the
sleek warm head with a luxury of pleasure.  She gave a little
humming sigh of pleasure, laid her head on his arm, and fell
instantly asleep.  He sat on basking in the sun.  The clocks about
the house struck the hour; his eye wandered from rug to rug, from
picture to picture.  He nodded his head as though to say:  "Yes,
I've never seen any of you before.  I apologize.  I won't forget
you again."

At last he rose.  The library was demanding him.  He got up slowly,
stood Martha (who had doubtless been dreaming glories of putting
other dogs in their places) on her legs, and savouring every moment
of his independence, mounted the stairs.

The sunlight, the silence went with him.  Why should not life be
always like this?  Even as he turned the last stair it seemed to
him that the One-eyed Commander came out to meet him.  Yes, that
was how he would be inside the house now, standing, listening, his
great head erect, and then calling in a voice that rang like a gong
against the walls of the passages, a name. . . .  What name? . . .

He pushed open the library door.  This room also was bathed in
sunshine, but someone was here.  Bigges was here.  Bigges, in his
shirt sleeves, and an apron round his stout waist, a feather duster
in his hand, was moving about.  Even as Hans looked in, Bigges had
picked up the pencil drawing by Grantby Stein (considered by most
to be the best drawing of Hans), and looking at it held at a
distance in his red fist, distinctly and clearly uttered:  "Pah!"

"Well, Bigges," said Hans.

Bigges wheeled round.  First he carefully replaced the drawing on
the table, then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then
gasping a little like a strangling fish, he stood there, a slow,
purple shadow creeping into his cheeks and nose.

"So it's 'Pah', is it, Bigges?" Hans said, coming forward and
smiling.  "I've long suspected that it was.  Please forgive me for
overhearing your confidences.  I didn't know that anyone was here."

Bigges gulped, rubbed his mouth once again with the back of his
hand, then started slowly towards the door.

"Tell me," said Hans, "why it is 'Pah.'  As man to man."  Bigges
straightened himself.

"I beg your pardon, sir . . . I was ignorant of your return."

"Of course you were.  You've committed no crime.  Quite the
contrary.  We can speak honestly to one another.  Tell me what
you've got against me."

"It's what you've got against ME, sir.  These last weeks I've been
irritating you something terrible.  Everything I've done is wrong.
You've been despising me at every turn.  It isn't human not to
mind, sir.  I do my best.  Certainly I do.  I try my 'ardest, yet
you can't bear the sight of me.'

"Why do you think it is, Bigges?" Hans asked.

"I can't say, sir.  I've thought and thought.  Of course you're not
like other gentlemen, sir.  You can't be expected to be, but it's
hard to be mocked at, morning, noon, and night.  I feel it, I can
tell you, sir."

"Then why don't you give notice?  You're so good a butler that you
could get an excellent place in half an hour."

"So I could, sir, but until you took against me, sir, this was the
best place I've ever been in.  And I've been hoping it would pass,
your being irritated by me, so to speak."

"Have I changed, then, in the last month or two?"

"Yes, sir, you have.  Everyone's noticed it."

Hans spoke gravely.  "You must forgive me, Bigges.  I didn't know
that I was behaving so badly.  Your mistress appreciates you
highly, you're a perfect servant.  I'm a cross, malicious, selfish,
old man.  When you're seventy, you'll either be an angel or a pig.
For your own sake I hope you'll be an angel--for the sake of those
who live with you I don't know--the angels are sometimes harder to
live with.  And remember--everyone is hard to live with.  Everyone.
The only hope is to be a bearded hermit, and even that state they
say has its drawbacks. . . .  I apologize, Bigges.  That you do
irritate me there's no denying.  That it isn't your own fault is
also true.  If you find me too impossible, just tell me, and I dare
say I can go away somewhere. . . .  Is Miss Nathalie in?"

"Yes, sir.  In her room, sir."

"Would you let her know that I'm here and would like to see her?"

Bigges withdrew, carefully, as though eggshells strewed the carpet.
Hans sat down in the big armchair simply to revel in the feel of
it.  On the reading stand at his side was the old Balzac book,
closed but waiting, he was sure, with one old eye upon him until he
should turn to open it.  Martha had lain down at his feet, her head
on his shoe, as was the eternal custom.  The afternoon sun stroked
the bookshelves tenderly . . . blessing Lord Macaulay, condoling
with Mr. Carlyle on his indigestion, and showing a dignified
sympathy with Mr. Pope's eight volumes of Letters.  The Manet was
not yet unpacked, but soon it would be there.  Comfort and
sincerity everywhere.  But he well knew what it was for which he
waited.  He was leaning forward listening, the smile of
anticipation on his lips.  The door burst open.  She ran to him.
She flung herself into his arms.  His lips were on her cheeks, his
hands caressed her hair.  He felt her heart beat against his.  He
knew now how deeply he loved her, and that he must never, never
lose her again.

"You're back! . . . but . . . it's marvellous--wonderful . . . I
never dreamt . . .  Why are you back?  What made you?  Oh, I'm so
glad!  All night I've been awake, missing you so.  After your
letter this morning I couldn't be without you. . . .  I was
thinking I might go by train and meet you somewhere.  This is
wonderful--like a dream.  When Bigges came in I couldn't believe
it.  I said 'Bigges, it isn't true.'  Why, for half a minute I
quite liked him--and you've come back all alone.  When's Aunt Ruth
coming?  This evening by the train?  Why didn't she come with you?"

She waited, however, for no explanation, but, dragging a cushion
from another chair, sat on it between his knees, leaning her head
back against his waistcoat, his hands resting on her shoulders.
Martha, dispossessed, waddled to the centre of the room, where she
stretched herself sighing, her eyes reproachfully on her master.

He sat there knowing that one of the great moments had come.  Was
this too illusion?  And there swept in upon him other moments,
coming to him in an instant of time, presenting themselves with "We
are not illusion.  We are more real than ever before."

His first hearing of "Don Giovanni" in the little red and gold
theatre in Munich, bathing at Gassirtz, reading The Rape of the
Lock on a summer evening in the hay-scented fields in Watendlath;
the evening when Galleon and he had known that they loved one
another, saying nothing personal, walking back through Leicester
Square and Piccadilly under the stars, and piling up enthusiasm for
Goethe and Jean Paul.  A late night in a hotel on the lake at
Vevey, finishing Goliath, knowing it was good in his heart, a great
mixture of sadness and triumph, the first time that he kissed Ruth
walking home on a shining, snowy, star-lit evening in the Tyrol;
his first married night, lying awake at her side, listening to the
striking of the clocks, the murmur and suction of the sea, staring
into the grey room, she sleeping, his head between her breasts--and
vague, timeless memories, the full moon above a rushing tide
skimming onto a silver beach; great moments of reading, of
pictures, of music--Karamazov; a volume of Marlowe; Quixote for
the first time in Spanish; Beddoes' Jest Book; the first
"Meistersinger"; César Franck somewhere; a room in the Luxembourg,
a little room with only a Cézanne, a Manet, a Renoir. . . .  And
now another moment eternally captured.  Whatever might come,
sickness, betrayal, loneliness, at the last death (and all these
were duly approaching him now swiftly), nothing could rob him of
this moment, of the anxiousness of this love that had, it seemed,
no baseness, no meanness, no rapacity, but a purity and a
generosity that were the best gift of his old age.  It was as
though he could now cry out to all the sensual, vulgar betrayals of
his spirit by his body. . . .  "I have had to pass your way to come
to this.  I regret nothing."

"I gave Bigges the surprise of his young life.  He was murmuring
'Pah' to that drawing of me, as I stood in the doorway.  It was
mean to overhear him.  I have been unjust to Bigges.  I dislike him
a little less now that I know his dislike of myself."

"And we're all alone in the house?"

"Quite alone."

"For how long?"

"I don't know.  Two or three days perhaps."

"Won't Aunt Ruth be angry?"

"No, my dear, why should she be?"  That was a lie.  Ruth was
furious.  Would continue to be furious, and would discover some
means of effectively showing her fury.  It was of no use to pretend
that this was not a crisis.  It was a crisis--one of the most
serious of his life.  He was amazed at the feeling of vigour that
this knowledge gave him.  His muscles seemed to swell beneath his
sleeves.  He could run five hundred miles (those young men running
at dusk up Portland Place with white shorts, motor-cars hooting on
every side of them).

"And now tell me about your young man," he said.

"I haven't seen him.  Not since I went with Millie Westcott to the
Russian party.  I swore that I wouldn't, until you came back.  He's
been writing every day," she added.

"Has he asked you to marry him?"

"Yes.  He wants us to marry at once.  He says that he doesn't think
marriage important, but that if I care about it he cares too!
Marriage is important, Uncle Hans, isn't it?  Still, in spite of
being modern."

"Yes."  Hans drew her closer to him as though to guard her.  "Yes,
it's important, my dear.  Has he got any money?"

"Not very much.  He's making three hundred a year and he's got
debts and he helps other Russians.  But I can work.  There are lots
of things I could do."

"Are there?  What, for instance?"

"I could be a secretary or go on the stage or be a companion to an
old lady."

"I see.  But you and he wouldn't be much together that way."

"Oh, it would be only for a time.  Besides, married people are
better when they aren't together all the while."

"Perhaps they are and perhaps they aren't.  It depends.  And can
you trust him not to fall in love with other women, and would you
mind if he did?"

He felt a little tremor run through her body.

She was silent, then answered slowly:  "When I am with him I can
trust him, but when I am away--"

He laid his hand on hers.

"Why is that, do you think?  Is it because you don't know him
enough yet, or is it because there is something in his character--
something that will always be there?"

She turned her body round, that she might look into his face.

"How do I know?  How can I tell?  I'm in love with him--and he's
Russian.  And he doesn't think physical fidelity very important--
perhaps it isn't."

She sighed.

"Oh, doesn't he?  Anyway, a lot you know about physical fidelity.
That's the trouble with you modern children.  You use these phrases
like counters to play a game with.  The game's all right AS a game,
but when suddenly it isn't a game any longer the counters can
spring into life on their own.  I've a kind of idea that physical
infidelity doesn't matter, but the point is that it's mixed up with
so many other things that do matter.  Blowing your nose would be
important if every time you did it you were liable to knock someone
else's life to pieces. . . .  Do you think," he went on rather
shyly, "that I might go and see your young man and have a talk with
him?  I promise I wouldn't preach as I've just been doing to you.
It isn't really my habit.  I'd like to have a talk with him.  I got
no idea of him the other evening."

"Yes, of course. . . .  It would be sweet of you."  She leaned up,
put her arms round his neck, kissed him, then settling down she
went on more gravely:  "But I want to say one thing.  I do hope you
won't be hurt.  It's difficult.  Uncle Hans, I don't want you to go
on bothering about Vladimir and me.  Of course, it's wonderful to
have your help, and I didn't know how I was ever going to wait
until you came back, but all the same I'm so afraid you're going to
make yourself unhappy over this, or that it will bring you some
trouble.  I know that I'm young and inexperienced and haven't been
anywhere yet, but I DO understand how it all is.  I'm not going to
be so foolish. . . .  Besides it wouldn't be good for Vladimir if I
were.  And whatever happens to us, it will make it all twice as bad
if anything happens to you."

"Happens to ME!" he broke in, laughing.  "Why, what CAN happen to
me?"

"Oh, a lot of things," she answered gravely.  "You were all settled
in and comfortable before I came along--with your books and your
work and your friends and Aunt Ruth.  Nothing could touch you,
could it?  And now already I've broken it all up.  I didn't mean
to, but I loved you from the first moment I saw you.  I couldn't
help myself.  But I never knew that you'd care so much, and why
should you?  You'll only make yourself unhappy, and then I shall be
twice as unhappy as I would be otherwise."

He looked out beyond her, to the long high room over which the dusk
was now creeping.  To the long rows of books, seeming now in his
close contact with her so dead and far away. . . .  Life and
letters--letters and life.  How could he ever have doubted as to
which was the more important?

"Happiness?" he answered slowly.  "This happiness and safety you
want me to have?  My dear, I've never been very happy except at
moments. . . .  Who is?  Wouldn't it be all wrong if one were?  But
I was dying, and a touch of your hand on my forehead saved me.  Is
that very sentimental?  Well, let it be.  I don't care a damn.  I
was sinking into a nice cozy coma; I hadn't actively cared for
anybody for years.  Oh! I don't mean your aunt.  Marriage is
something different.  For one lucky man in a hundred it's exciting
to the very end, and if there are children it's alive anyway.  But
if there aren't any children--well, it's better than being single,
that's the best you can say.  Your aunt's been too good to me all
these years--and the world's been too good to me too.  If I'd been
poor all my life, read nothing, only a few fine things, kept away
from the literary life, broken my head and my heart--ah, then, I'd
have written a book!  Just one--the book of my dreams.  One book
that all my life I've been going to write--yes, so I fancy.  But
maybe not--you can live like Flaubert or you can live like Borrow.
You can die like Keats or survive to be a pompous old ass like
Tennyson.  One has precious little to do with it.  But I know that
I've missed all my life the one thing I wanted to do, and if you
hadn't come I'd have perished like a pig in a stye."

He drew himself up in his chair.  "Not that I pity myself.  I'm an
ass like the rest, but I've had my good moments and shall have more
yet.  Life's marvellous, more and more marvellous the older you
get.  It's luck enough for any man to have tasted a bit of it.
Even when I'm with your grandmother I'm aware of that.  I hate your
grandmother, my dear.  God forgive me.  She's a bad old woman and
ought to have been cremated years ago.  Yes, don't you reproach
yourself.  You are giving me the best thing I've had since I fell
in love with your aunt.  You are indeed."

She sprang up, rested a hand on his shoulder, stood there facing
the dark rich room trembling under the light of the flickering
fire.  "There, that's all right.  We'll go along together whatever
happens.  But what you've said has encouraged me to take all the
risks.  If you feel like that, isn't it right that I should?
I'll never love anyone so much as Vladimir again.  Never, never.
And isn't it better I should have all that to look back on when
I'm old?  Even if I do love someone later on I won't be as young
then as I am now.  It won't be the first time.  It won't be as
exciting. . . ."

"Yes," he broke in, "but remember you can do something now that
will spoil your whole life.  I mean that.  There are things I've
done that I'd give everything now never to have done--the
experience I won wasn't worth the things I did.  Love your young
man, but keep it fine.  Don't let it be mean and furtive and
shabby.  There is something in us that can be damaged, almost
irreparably.  I know that now.  It's taken me all my life to have
it. . . ."

He broke off.  Although the door was closed he had caught a sound.
He turned--frowning.

"I thought . . .  It can't be . . ."  The door opened, and Ruth
came in.

She stayed in the doorway and nodded to him.  She was furred to the
chin, and her eyes shone; her cheeks glowed under the little silver
fur hat, over the silver fur collar.

"Now, aren't you surprised?  You were quite right.  The place was
too beastly.  Mother and I both discovered it the moment you were
gone.  If you must go down in a day or two, as you say, you can go
alone.  I won't trust it again. . . .  I couldn't even wait for the
car to come back and fetch us.  Hallo, darling" (this to Nathalie),
"how cozy you both look; I'll be down for some tea in a moment.
Bigges shall bring it here."

She smiled at them both, a dazzling, beautiful smile.  She was
gone, and silence swept in, but now over how different a shore!

He turned to her, staring past her to the dark world on the other
side of the window-frame.

"Now I'm going to catch it!" Nathalie cried, and turned almost
running to leave the room.  But he caught her by the shoulder.  He
could feel her whole body tremble.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Oh, Aunt Ruth!  Can't you see?  Didn't you watch her face?  And
why has she come back, do you think?  How she hates me!  Oh, I wish--
I wish I'd never come!"

And this time she did break free of him, leaving him to a room that
seemed to echo with thunder.

He sat down again.  He'd got to think this out.  He'd got to think
out a thousand things!  What a whirl of violence women could stir
up when they pleased.  Women!  He suddenly, in a flash of lightning
revelation, discovered that he knew nothing whatever about them, he
who had been writing of them and for them all his days.

Martha, to whom this had always been apparent, settled down once
more at his feet, her head on his shoe.

But Nathalie should not suffer.  Whatever else the outcome,
Nathalie, the darling, shall be safe.

Meanwhile--let him admit it--he was frightened, frightened of the
next event, frightened of the noises and skirmishes, frightened,
above all, of Ruth.



CHAPTER VIII

Nathalie-at-Arms


They had a horrible dinner that evening, the three of them, with
Bigges in solemn attendance.

The silver shone, the flowers gleamed, thunder rumbled through the
vegetables.  Nathalie, helping herself to cauliflower (which, from
her childhood, she had detested), realized that Uncle Hans was
frightened.  He was being terribly friendly to Aunt Ruth--"Yes," he
was saying, "I quite agree with you.  Egypt is too far, and nowhere
nearer is really warm that month."

Nathalie trembled.  What had she done?  Here these two had been
with their beautiful life so secure and well arranged, carpets
nailed tightly to the floor, curtains hung strongly on their rings,
doors closing without a murmur; and she, coming from nowhere,
completely unimportant, had upset everything.

Worst of all had she upset this darling old man, who deserved, if
anyone did, his quiet years of glory, she had turned all his
coziness into dismay, his order into chaos.  And she saw him,
looking across the candied fruit and soft lights, rising like
Tenniel's picture of Alice, his hands raised in dismay, the
furniture falling on every side about his head.

Aunt Ruth hated her.  She had turned Uncle Hans upside down.  All
in a week or two.  Without meaning any harm.  "No, thank you," she
said to the ice cream.  She had never before in all her life felt
quite so miserable.

Nor was she either old enough or social enough to conceal her
misery.  She knew that Aunt Ruth and Uncle Hans were talking with
an easy fondness that covered a whole world of uneasy displeasure.
They tried at times to draw her into this, but she was, as it were,
stuck to her chair with spiritual wax.  She could not say more than
"Yes" or "No."

Her face seemed to her, as she sat there, to be freezing into a
terrible mask, something without life, with fixed and staring eyes.

She could not become used to this new fact that Uncle Hans was
frightened of Aunt Ruth.  That seemed so oddly unnatural--that
Uncle Hans, the greatest of men, should be frightened of anybody!
But he was.  She could see how his eyes, timidly at times, sought
hers as though for support and encouragement.  And all she could do
was to sit there, a gawky schoolgirl, with a mask for a face, a
hot, dry spot where her appetite ought to be.

Her fault, all of it her fault--and she herself must mend it.  She
made the excuse, familiar to the wives of the Cavemen, of a
headache, and slipped up to her room.  Lying on her bed for hours
sleepless, she knew that, as soon as possible, she must see
Vladimir.  Then what?  Marry him?  A strange, warning terror swept
over her.  In spite of everything she was a child, lonely,
inexperienced, unaware of life.  She loved him, she thought, with
eternal passion.  But eternal?  Passion?  What do the words mean
when eternity has no boundaries and passion no quiescence?  And
marry him?  A Russian who did not believe in marriage, who had
already loved many women?  She knew enough of life to foresee many
of the dangers, humiliation, desertion, loneliness--could she face
them?  They said that such things made a woman of a girl, and she
wanted, above everything else in life, to be a woman, ripe in
experience, self-subsisting, self-supporting, proud and strong--but
if, through his treatment of her, she should come to know him to be
unworthy, mean, false, cowardly; if her love should turn to
contempt!

Her body, hot against the cool sheets, shivered.  She loved him
with all her body and soul, but she knew herself well enough to
realize that she could not love when there was nothing left to
admire.  She could guard, protect, assist, but love, no.  Was he
then so weak? must he of such necessity desert her?

No, it was not that he was weak, but that he was strange, of
another world in nationality, in sex, in something rough and
independent in his spirit, in his young self-confidence and eager
egotism and pride of adventure.

She had read, she had been told that men never needed women as
women needed men.  That was an old platitude but true enough,
perhaps.  But without him where was she?  She would never return to
the Proudies, she must leave this place--where could she go if not
to him?  She had spoken bravely to Uncle Hans, but she knew well
enough how little she could do.  And she wanted him, physically
now, so that she hid her face in the pillow and thus fell asleep,
his arms around her, his cheek against hers.

In the morning she telephoned to him, standing at the telephone in
the corner of the sitting room, trembling every moment lest Bigges
or someone should overhear her.  Aunt Ruth, she knew, was safe in
her room.  Yes--she could hear how his voice shook with eagerness
and delight as he realized that it was she.  Yes, of course, he
would meet her for lunch.  Would he not?  Oh, would he not?  The
little place that he had told her of, near Holborn.  They would
meet nobody there.  It would be quiet.  They could talk
uninterruptedly.  At one-thirty.  Oh, darling--darling!

The sound of his voice had swept her into a whirl of feeling.  If
these few words could so excite her now, when she was with him
could she resist his impulse?  What could she do?  What could she
say?  How could she remain wise?

As she passed the library door Uncle Hans crossed the passage.  He
drew her, without a word, into the room, closing the door quietly
behind them.

He took her into his arms, kissed her, then very gravely (seeming
now an old, exceedingly wise man from whom nothing in life was hid)
said:  "Nathalie, dear, I want you to promise me one thing."

"Yes?" she answered him, looking up at him.

"Not to take any step--any step of any kind--until you have told me
about it."

"Oh, I don't know."  She looked past him, almost desperately
straight, into the face of the Manet, restored now to its position
of grandeur.  "I oughtn't to promise, Uncle Hans.  It's all wrong
that I've brought you into this.  That has made me more unhappy
than anything else.  Please . . . I can't promise--"

"You MUST promise.  I won't let you go unless you do."

"But promise what?"

"That you won't take any definite step without telling me."

"No, I can't promise that.  It would make you responsible."

He shook his head like an angry, impatient child.

"Nonsense.  That's absurd nonsense.  I AM responsible already,
because I love you.  Promise me at least that you'll give him, your
young Russian, no definite answer until I've seen him."

"When are you going to see him?"

"As soon as possible.  Now promise me that."

She hesitated, then she said slowly:  "Very well, I promise that."

He kissed her.

"That's right.  Now I've something at least to go on."

She kissed him almost passionately, the emotion of the sound of
Vladimir's voice still trembling in her body.

She could think of nothing now, save that before the sun set she
would see him.

At a quarter to one she was out of the house.  She walked along to
Clarence Gate, then, feeling, she scarcely knew why, extremely
defiant, she summoned a taxi.  The taxi driver, of the colour of
beetroot and smelling of mice, thought to himself cheerfully,
"There's a pretty young piece."  She was wearing a dress of plum
colour with silver lace at her wrists and throat.  She had a little
hat, pulled down tight over her head.  Aunt Ruth had given her the
hat, and she felt that it was wicked of her now, as things were, to
be flaunting it.

She had a shop to visit in the Strand, and the taxi took her into a
part of London that she did not know at all--dust on the buildings,
dust on the coats of the hurrying figures, and because it was a
sunny day gold-dust.  And that was as it should be, because this
was the entrance to the City where they all make money.

She thought, as they ran and stopped, ran and stopped, down Fleet
Street, oddly enough of Peter Westcott.  Millie had told her of
Peter's early days in London and how he had walked down Fleet
Street when he was starving and had gazed in despair at St. Paul's.
Why should she think of him?  A kind, solid, dependable man.  He
would be a friend if she wanted one, and, indeed, it seemed that
she would want one very soon.

The buildings closed in and widened again.  Noise and figures,
figures and noise, and a whiff in an odd unexpected way, of the
river.

The taxi stopped.  There it was in bold letters, FARLING'S
RESTAURANT.  It was off the main road and the first building on the
right of an empty, desolate side street that seemed to be lamenting
its inability to be up and doing.  She would remember all her life
that the walls of Farling's were cream colour, the boarding of the
door and windows dark blue, and that there was a fat black cat
asleep inside the window.  She paid the taxi man and timidly walked
in.  The room was hot and dim, and instantly she perceived that
Vladimir was sitting at a table in the far corner.

She walked straight over to him like a somnambulist.  Yes, she
loved him more than before.  She could talk nonsense about this and
that, but she belonged to him for ever.

It was odd, then, that the first thing that she said to him, after
she had sat down, arranged herself, given her hat a little push,
smiled at him timidly, allowed him to take her hand, was:

"I've come to say that we must never see one another again."

His eyes lingered over her, absorbing the little childlike but
determined eyes and mouth, the soft, gentle colour of the skin, the
dark blue hat, the silver over the purple at the throat, then he
answered gently, with the rather proud foreign accent that, for
her, gave such distinction to everything that he said:

"All right, then--First, what will you like to eat?  Then we will
talk about that."  Then, as she said nothing but only looked at him
as though she had never seen him before:  "The sole meunière is
good here.  Also the veal."

"I'll eat anything you say," she answered, speaking as though in a
dream.  He gave his order to the lean and untidy waiter, who
obviously thought them the prettiest pair that had ever sat in that
restaurant, then, holding her hand very tightly, he said to her
gently:

"Why must we never meet again?  You know that that is absurd."

She pulled her eyes away from him.  How could she for a single
moment be wise and cool and sensible if she looked at him?  His
eyes were enough of themselves to drown all her determination.

"It isn't absurd."  She began to speak in a great hurry as though
she were repeating a lesson.  "It isn't absurd, because you don't
really want to marry me, and I won't come to you in any other way,
and if we did marry it wouldn't do.  You think differently about
everything.  You are Russian and I am English.  You are ambitious,
but have very little money, and I have none at all.  You don't know
me in the least, and when the excitement is over you will be
dreadfully disappointed in me."

She thought this a very wise speech.

"Very well," he answered her quietly.  "Ve-ry well."

He rolled his r's adorably.  "C'est ça.  Now we know WHERE we are.
I'll be honest, shall I?  Quite honest.  It is true that I am
Russian and that I had never intended to marry anyone.  It is true,
also, that I have loved other women; ever since I was fifteen I
have been in love.  It is true what you say, also, that I am
ambitious.  I am only a clerk in the City here now, but I know that
I shall do great things.  I am confident of that.  First, I shall
make money in the City, then, when I have some money, I will make
them listen to my ideas--world ideas--"

He paused and very gravely, as though he were already a millionaire
of middle age, ordered the wine.  Then he went on, drawing a little
closer to her and never taking his eyes from her face:  "But you
must not think that I am a conceited man.  I have many faults.  I
am not proud of myself, but I am not ashamed either.  Have we not
all faults, all men, and are not the faults the things that make us
interesting?  So you see me, a man with many faults and great
ambitions.  Before now I have loved women.  Now I love only one
woman.  From the first instant I see you I love only one woman.
For ever?  Who can say?  That is sentimental nonsense.  Every love
history has its own fortune.  No one is like another one.  No one
can say what our history shall be.  But we are both young and
strong.  We are sensible, modern people.  We shall learn.  We shall
make mistakes and be happy, and be angry and be happy again.  We
shall have difficult times, but these difficult times make life for
us.  Every adventure is dangerous, thank God.  Try the sole,
darling.  It is extremely good."

He smiled at her with perfect confidence, then, without looking to
see whether there was anyone watching in the room, he put his hand
against her cheek and kissed her on the mouth.  Then he turned and
began with grave attention to dissect his sole.

She stared in front of her.  How was she to make him understand?

"Yes, but I can't take it like that.  If, after we were married,
you loved some other woman it would be terrible.  And I think that
soon you would find me stupid and dull.  I AM stupid.  I've never
been anywhere.  I've never done anything.  How can I be sure that
in a month you wouldn't hate me and leave me?"

"Then, darling," he said, smiling into her eyes, "let us go away
for a little together, and then if we find that it won't go, we
separate, and there's no harm at all."

"No--no.  Uncle Hans says that, in spite of being modern, that
doesn't work.  And he's right.  I know he's right.  It might work
for lots of people.  I know that it wouldn't work for us.  I expect
it's right for heaps of people.  I know it's wrong for me."

"Then let us wait a little.  Let us see one another EVERY day.  You
will find that there is something in me this time that doesn't
change.  I have always said before, when I was in love, 'Now in a
moment this will change,' and, true enough, changed it has.  I am
not very fine.  I am not very good.  The Russian nature is always
in a mess, but right in the middle of it there is something fixed.
Perhaps there is not a soul.  I doubt it very greatly, but there is
something in a Russian's heart that is faithful in the middle of
all his infidelity.  Don't trust me as a man, but trust THAT,
better and finer than a man.  Do you understand, dearest?  And eat
your sole.  It will be all cold."

She caught into the first part of his speech.

"I can't wait.  That's just why I had to see you.  I've been making
a terrible lot of trouble in the house where I'm staying.  Uncle
Hans was settled and happy, but my coming has unsettled him, and
now Aunt Ruth is angry, and I must go away.  I must indeed, as soon
as possible, and I'm not going back to Glebeshire.  I must find
some work.  That's what I want mostly to talk to you about."

She knew that she was incoherent, but her urgency, she felt, was
awful.  He only knew that she was adorable with that English
freshness, that English naïveté, following so the well-worn simile
of the rose with the dew upon it, and stirring in him, just because
of its deep, positive difference, all the romance and tenderness
and longing to protect that his ironic, pessimistic, doubting
Russian soul allowed.  Yes, the love in his heart was this time
different from any that his life had known.

It had in it a sense of responsibility that was quite new to him.

Before this it had been:  "Come this way and prenez garde!  Your
risk, not mine."--And well enough able to protect themselves they
had generally been!  But now, here, in this restaurant, at this
very hour, something new was growing in him, something that, with
all his skepticism, he felt that he would never lose again.

He had not heard a word that she said, but from a vast distance he
caught the words "Uncle Hans."

"Ah, your uncle.  He seemed a nice old boy.  Does he know about
us?"

"He's the finest man that ever lived.  Not inhuman and grand like
most famous people, but as natural as possible.  You would never
know he was famous.  Yes, he knows about us.  He noticed it the
very first evening at the Westcotts'."

"And what does he say?"

"He wants to talk to you."

Vladimir made a grimace.  "Merci--very kind.  No old gentleman's
going to talk to me."

"Oh, but not to preach or tell you what to do.  Only to see what
you're like.  He's very fond of me.  He only wants me to be happy."

"Well," admitted Vladimir, his eyes searching hers as though he
could never exhaust for himself the beauty in them, "they say he's
a fine old boy.  Uncle Mihail's fallen straight--completely in love
with him."

"Uncle who?"

"Mihail Klimov.  The fat, bald old boy who was at the Westcotts'
party.  He says he'd follow your Uncle Hans to Jerusalem.  So he
would too.  He's always getting these enthusiasms.  They don't hurt
anybody."

"Would you see Uncle Hans if he asked you?"

"Of course I would.  I'll see anybody.  I'm not ashamed of loving
you."

He said this fiercely, and then glared round the room, into the
eyes of the lean waiter, the stout, moon-faced proprietor, the
family party, the mother busy wiping the mouths of the children,
and a melancholy clergyman seated alone, reading sadly in a book.
He looked at all these innocent people as though he challenged them
to defy his love.  No one noticed him.  Smiling, he turned to her
and, quite simply, kissed her again.

She drew away, looking at him, both adoring him and fearing him.
"You mustn't.  I'm sure you didn't hear what I said just now.  I've
got to leave the Frosts' house soon--very soon.  Where do you think
I can get some work to do?"

"Come and stay with me and we'll see."

She got up.  She pulled her little hat down about her ears.

"This is serious.  You won't see that I mean what I say.  I am NOT
coming to you and I AM going to get some work somewhere.  If you
don't realize these two things it's hopeless our going on talking."

"Sit down.  Don't please look as lovely as that, or I shall pick
you up and carry you home."

"That settles it," she said, tossing her head.  "You treat me like
a fool.  I'm going."

She moved, and he sprang up and caught her arm.  The children at
the family table turned round with their mouths open, like birds in
a nest.  "Sit down.  Sit down.  I'm sorry.  Forgive me.  I love you
so much that I don't know what I'm saying.  Listen--darling,
please, please listen."

She sat down again, but as one prepared to fly out of the window at
any moment.

"You shall do all you wish.  I will be good.  Let your uncle come,
and we will have a talk.  Truly, I will be wise.  What I cannot
understand is, why you won't marry me.  You are afraid of my
wickedness.  Ah, try it and see--my wickedness.  Perhaps it will
not be so bad."

"No," she said, looking down at the tablecloth.  "I'm afraid that
you don't know me, that when you do you'll find me so stupid, so
uninteresting--just nothing--and then I won't be able to stand it,
because I love you so--so terribly--and I won't risk losing you."

And at that, without looking at him, with one of those light, swift
movements, like a bird's movements, so especially hers, she slipped
from him, crossed the restaurant floor, and had vanished.

He ran to the door, into the street.  She was gone.

Raging, he turned to the restaurant again to find that even the
clergyman was interested enough by this dramatic circumstance to
put down his book and stare with sad and speculative eyes.

"Damn!" said Vladimir to the family party.  "Oh, damn, damn, damn!"



CHAPTER IX

Hans Steps Out


For Hans, too, Nathalie presented this image of the bird in flight.
She had come in early this afternoon, hastening up the stairs; he
had met her halfway up--had stayed her with a hand on her arm--

 "Well?" he asked her.

She was in great agitation, and had for him precisely that
trembling, beating, fearing quiver of a bird caught in the hand.

"It's nothing," she answered, trying to smile.  Then, looking down
the stairs into the hall as though to make sure that there was no
one there, lowering her voice:  "Uncle Hans, would you please go to
see him?  He would like to talk to you."

"Of course I will--"

Quickly, as though she had not a moment to lose, she gave him
Vladimir's business telephone number.  He would be there all to-
morrow morning.  He lived in a little street not far from the
British Museum--if Uncle Hans would go to see him there--

Hans looked a little bewildered.  "Yes, dear, of course I'll go.
But is there anything you especially want me to say?"

"No--no.  Only to see for yourself. . . ."

They had both dropped their voices.  They were talking like
conspirators.  They were both aware at the same instant that Ruth
had come into the hall.

"Is that you, Hans?  Are you ready?  The car's there."

Nathalie vanished.

"Yes, I'm ready," Hans said, coming slowly downstairs.

He felt guilty.  How absurd!  He did not want to drive in the car
with Ruth, he did not want to go to the concert at the Æolian Hall,
of a Russian tenor--he did not want to do anything, but to follow
Nathalie up to her room, to close the door behind them both, and
then to discover from her everything that had happened.  Most of
all, he hated to feel guilty in his own house, and just as the
other day, coming into the house alone, he had thought it all
beautiful and radiant, so now, feeling, against his will, a secret
conspirator, he hated the house and everything in it.

Someone was responsible for this.  Who but Ruth?  He disliked, as
he felt, according to constant habit, the last rung of the
staircase with his foot, to make sure that he didn't slip, her
furs, her grey hat with the small blue feather, all her rich
appearance, her grandeur, the house's grandeur, the car's grandeur.
It stifled him.  As he crossed the hall to greet her, he was
nothing at all but a peevish, discontented old man.

But his discontent was nothing at all compared with Ruth's.  She,
too, almost hated him, as she saw him slowly descend the stairs.
So the two of them had been conspiring together again?  It was
happening now at every turn.  Ever since that girl had come into
the house. . . .

The fool, the fool that she had been to invite her!  Everything had
been wrong since that moment.

Her heart was the oddest mixture of wild jealousy, physical
distress (because her heart was beating in her ears, as though she
had just heard that there was a fire or that someone had tumbled
from a third-floor window or that there was a snake in the pantry),
bewilderment and self-pity.  Of these emotions, the last was the
strongest.  She seemed, as she stood there in the hall, to be a
little girl whose mother had been called names, whose father had
been caught cheating at cards, whose grandparents were moving to-
morrow into the workhouse.  And why?  What had she done?  Nothing
at all, save invite to stay a conceited idiot of a girl, who had
shown nothing but ingratitude and insult.  She had, for years, done
her duty to everyone, nobly sacrificed herself on every possible
occasion, and this was what she got!

As she sat down in the car her nobility, her suffering, her
loneliness, her cruel isolation, these things hurt her so terribly
that she had to bite her lip to prevent the tears.  And there he
sat, self-satisfied, hard, selfish.  Her longing for him and her
disgust of him were present in equal quantities.  But stronger than
either was the determination to end this odious situation (which
had developed, as it were, out of nothing at all, a ring of the
door bell, an order to a servant, a picture crooked on the wall) at
the very first possible moment.

For the first time in all their married lives together they sat in
complete and absolute silence.

At the Æolian Hall, Stanislas Lermontov seemed to both of them a
shrieking maniac.  Celebrated though he afterwards became, Ruth,
whenever he was mentioned, said:  "But, my dear, he's dreadful!  I
heard him once . . ."

On such straws in the temperamental mind do the reputations of
artists depend!

On the following morning Hans telephoned, and out of that odd
medley of hooting cars, omnibus conductors, the pigeons outside St.
Paul's, and a million men making and losing a million a minute,
came young Vladimir's voice saying that he would be in his rooms at
Five Becket Street that afternoon at four-thirty o'clock.  "You go
past Mudie's and turn sharp to the left. . . ."

The voice faded, and all the little stir of the house resumed its
power.

He went off to the appointment as though he were a young fellow of
twenty out to capture his first job.  For how many years now had
his expeditions been surrounded with pomp and circumstance, not
because he had wanted it to be so, but simply because that was the
way it had been.  Why, even were it only to drop into Mr. Bain's
bookshop in King William Street to have a chat and look at that
Blake Songs of Innocence or a Pine's Vergil, the car must take him,
and everyone in the shop must be aware of his presence and there
must be a sort of tum-ti-tum, tum-ti-tum accompaniment to all his
words and acts.  But now, as Nathalie had done only yesterday, he
slipped quite furtively out of the house, walked to Clarence Gate,
and there seized upon a very handsome taxi, with paper flowers in a
silver vase, seats of crimson leather, and a young driver with his
cap at an angle.

Then, just as the house had seemed suddenly to belong to him for
the first time, so now to-day did London.  It was a dim autumn
afternoon of smoky skies and hidden fires.  He didn't doubt but
that snow would shortly fall.  Everything delighted him, the
flaming branches of red and amber chrysanthemums in the flower
stalls, the pale pearl outlines of the roofs as they cut the blue
and grey of the changing sky, the hurrying cheeks and noses, hats
and furs, the rising and fall of cries, the ringing of bells, the
sudden flash of a window, throwing at him, as he passed, jewels and
wax models, carpets and tables, fruit and china, the flaring of
cinema posters, a policeman on a horse, the whirling smoke from the
crowded chimneys that huddled like witches plotting their spells--
all these were his now, and he was proud as Lucifer at the
greatness of his possessions.

He was smiling with pleasure as he pushed the little bell that had
"Vladimir Shapkin" written on a dirty card above it, climbed slowly
the dingy staircase, and knocked at last on young Mr. Shapkin's
door.

"Mr. Shapkin?"

"How do you do, sir?  Won't you sit down?"

Hans sat down--on a faded green sofa with a hole in it.  On this he
carefully placed his square black hat, his gloves, and his gold-
topped cane.  Then, with a smile which he could not prevent (he had
earlier determined that he would be stern and wise), he looked up
at young Mr. Shapkin.

He smiled, because Vladimir was so very good-looking, such a young
swell in this very bare and shabby room.  Yes, a gentleman, and he
thought once again of the room in Paris and M. Turgenev drinking
tea through a piece of lemon.  He had also been a gentleman.  Young
Mr. Shapkin rather resembled a modern version of a Turgenev novel.
But no.  He was not of sufficient melancholy.  He suggested,
however, the private pleasures and aristocratic courtesies of many
generations.  If he was as nice as he looked, then Nathalie would
be all right.  Or, perhaps not.  You could never go by a
foreigner's looks.

And Vladimir was thinking.  "A jolly old boy.  Well-preserved for
seventy.  He has a twinkle in his eye.  He's a sportsman.  I
shouldn't wonder--"

"Nathalie asked me to come," Hans began confidentially.  "I'm, in a
sort of way, her guardian.  At least she has no one else.  I love
her very much and I want her to be happy."

Vladimir nodded as though to a contemporary.  "Yes, sir, I quite
understand.  By the way, will you not allow me to offer you some
tea?"

"No, thank you.  But I'll smoke, if I may."

Hans took out a cigar case, offered Vladimir a thin, fierce cigar
which Vladimir, bowing, accepted.

"You see, sir, it's like this.  Nathalie and I love one another.
That is quite sure.  I have asked her to marry me and she has
refused me."

"She has refused you?" repeated Hans, nodding his head and then
smiling at Vladimir reassuringly.

A jolly old boy with his black hair, the kindly wrinkles at the
corner of the eye, the clever, strong mouth, the thickset form
sitting there, his legs spread, his back up--a fine old boy.  Yes,
he was somebody.  You'd notice him in a crowd.

"Yes, sir, she has the idea that soon after we were married I would
become tired of her.  I have been honest, as I would wish to be
with any woman I have asked to be my wife, and I have told her that
I have loved other women.  I wouldn't prophesy with certainty our
future.  How could I do so?  Who knows about the future?  But I
love her, sir, with much more than physical love.  I have never
felt about any woman before as now.  Perhaps in meeting her I have
grown up."

"How old are you?" asked Hans.

"I am three-and-twenty years of age."

"And what are your means?"  Vladimir, smiling, shook his head.

"They are not so great.  I have a good position in the City in a
shipping firm, but I have debts."

"Well, well," said Hans rather hurriedly, "the money might not be a
great difficulty.  But the other--that is something different.
Forgive me--you have at present--no other lady towards whom you
have--well, obligations?"

"Not a one, sir--not a one!  There is no one in the world, save
Nathalie, and I hope there will never be another.  But women are
beautiful.  There are so many women in the world--I would never
promise Nathalie that I would never look at a woman again.  It
would be false to say such a thing.  But I have a feeling in my
heart that I have never had before.  I would protect her from all
harm.  I would not deceive her.  We are sensible people, sir, and
all the events of our life we would discuss together, and then we
would become such great friends, that if such a time arrived I
would say to Nathalie, 'Now, see, my dear--here is a beautiful
lady.  She has lovely legs or a fine neck, or maybe only a smile.
What do you think about it?'"

"Yes, and what would Nathalie say to that?" asked Hans, greatly
interested in this modern frankness.

"Oh, we would discuss it together.  Nathalie is full of courage and
honesty.  She will grow.  She is very young and I'm sure"--he went
on earnestly--"I'm quite sure, sir, that I couldn't hurt her.
Rather than hurt her I would take one last look at the lady's smile
and then run away."

"I see," said Hans.  "And what would happen if Nathalie happened to
see a gentleman with beautiful legs?"

"Ah, women," said Vladimir confidently, "women are different.
Women like Nathalie, once they love a man, are too terribly
faithful.  They don't permit themselves a moment's pleasure in any
direction that isn't their husband's.  But if it were so, we would
discuss it sensibly, I'm sure.  You see, sir, by that time we
should be such firm friends and have been through so many things
together that no new person coming along could be as charming.  We
would have done so many things, the one for the other.  I would die
for her!" he ended simply.

"Well, now," said Hans, "I wonder whether you would.  Those are
easy words.  Many a lover has used them and kissed some other woman
half an hour later.  Dying, when you are young and strong as you
are, is no fun, you know."

"I wouldn't mind dying," said Vladimir, waving his cigar with a
grand gesture in the air.  "It would be harder now, of course, that
I have met Nathalie, but death is no great affair, I should
imagine.  I would like to offer you something," he exclaimed,
suddenly springing from his chair, "some tea, or if you really will
not, some whisky--I have some very good whisky."

"No, indeed--thank you, no," said Hans.  "Then you think that I
should persuade Nathalie to trust you and take you once and for
all?"

"No, sir.  I wouldn't wish you to persuade her.  She must decide
for herself.  I am sure that she will.  But we must meet.  We have
met such a little time.  And then," he went on more slowly, "I
don't know whether I should speak to you of this--but yesterday she
said that she was not at all happy, that she had done you harm,
that she must go somewhere, get some work--She is very young.  She
doesn't know what life can be.  That is why I was glad that we
should have a talk--because she might of a sudden do something--"

Hans, his voice sharp, interrupted, "She said that she was
unhappy?"

"Yes--only that she had upset you all and that she mustn't return
to Glebeshire and didn't know where to go--and she's so young--"
He broke off, looking very young himself.

Hans stood up, holding out his hand.  Vladimir took it, liking the
strong firm grip of it--not an old man's hand at all.

"I like you," Hans said.  "I trust you.  We'll pull it off
together, shall we?"

"Yes, sir," said Vladimir (thinking to himself, "It's a handsome
style when you're an old English gentleman, that buff waistcoat
with brass buttons," and thinking at the same time (so odd is life)
of how terribly he loved Nathalie and how he must marry her as
soon, as soon--)  "We will pull it off together."

They liked one another.  They were friends from that moment.

"I'll speak to Nathalie," said Hans, moving towards the door, "and
then I think it would be nice if the three of us had a talk
together.  What do you say?"

"That would be very nice," said Vladimir, bowing.

"He's certainly a little too polite," thought Hans, "but, then,
that's foreign ways.  He's a decent fellow, I fancy."

"There's one thing," said Vladimir, as they reached the door.  "I
wonder whether you would mind doing me a favour?"

"No, indeed," said Hans.  "Of course I will be delighted."

"Would you, for only two minutes, glance into the room of my
friend, Mihail Klimov?  It is only one flight of stairs.  It will
give him such extreme pleasure.  He has been, for many years, very
good to me, and he has so great an admiration for you.  He is
there, I know, making a box."

"Making a box?" asked Hans.

"Yes; he is a very excellent carpenter.  You wouldn't think it,
would you, when you talk to him?  But so it is.  One of his several
excitements."

"Of course I will," said Hans.

"Thank you.  It is very good of you.  One flight up.  His name is
on the door."

They shook hands again.  A grandee of Spain, a schoolboy, a nice
handsome young man, a Russian philosopher, a scamp, the son of a
parson, a showman, a student, an ardent but unfaithful lover, an
ascetic idealist, a play-actor--all these personalities might,
thought Hans, be living together in the soul of this remarkable
young man.  And Nathalie, a swallow in flight, was it wise to trust
her to his keeping?

Stubbing his toes on the stairs, feeling that at that very moment
she might have flown from the house and be beating her wings in
loneliness and terror against the walls of that vast darkening
London, almost forced him to turn and run straight back to Regent's
Park.  But no.  He would see this old boy for five minutes.  It
might be that he, too, could help.

On opening Mihail Klimov's door and entering he beheld a strange
room.  High up the windows looked out to sky, roofs, and chimney
pots.  Near the window was a large carpenter's table, over which
hung an electric light with a green shade.  In the centre of the
room was a large deal table without a cloth, and on this some
wooden children's toys--a large, spotted horse with a red saddle, a
house with a green tufted tree, an animal that looked like a tiger,
and a Noah's Ark with a bright yellow roof.  In the corner a bed,
two wooden chairs, a bright painted chest of drawers.  On one wall
a white bookcase, on the other wall a series of very gay pictures,
the subjects obviously Russian fairy tales.  In one a witch bent
over a cauldron, in another, against a snowy background, a crimson
Russian giant with a club talked to three dwarfs.  There were also
in the room two dogs and a cat.  The dogs were mongrels, one a
strange cross between a rough-haired terrier and--who can tell?
This animal was lying in a basket.  One paw hanging on the edge of
the basket was bandaged.  He had very soft and appealing eyes, and
a snub nose.  The other was little more than a puppy with a shaggy
black head, a round body, and a long tail.  He was playing very
amiably with the cat and a piece of newspaper.

Mihail Klimov himself, in his shirt and trousers, was seated at the
carpenter's table, busily engaged with a hammer.  As he hammered he
sang in an odd, cracked voice.  His bald head shone under the
electric light.  One of the windows was open, and the room was very
cold.  A hideous, green-striped linoleum covered the floor.

"Good afternoon," said Hans.  The hammering and the singing stopped
abruptly.  Klimov swung round.

"Dear me, dear me."  He jumped up.  The dog in the basket barked.
The puppy dropped the newspaper and skipped like a ballet dancer in
Hans' direction.  The cat flew to the corner of the room and stood
there, eyes gleaming, back raised, fur bristling.

"Dear, dear!" cried Klimov, coming forward, his face smiling from
one end to the other.  "This is a great honour."

"How do you do?" said Hans.  They shook hands.  "I have looked in
only for a moment.  I have been visiting your young friend,
Shapkin, below, and I thought as I was here I would pay you a
little call."

"I'm delighted, delighted," cried Klimov, pulling one of the wooden
chairs forward.  "And what a surprise!  The pleasant surprise--I
was working a little as I like to do on an afternoon.  Let me take
your hat and coat."

Hans kept on his coat.  Here one might be living on the top of a
mountain.  He walked over to the table.

"What are you making here?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing.  Please don't trouble.  Indeed, nothing at all.  A
box for a child friend of mine.  I make toys and boxes.  You must
excuse me.  It must seem a fearful waste of time to a man like
yourself."

"Not at all.  All my life I've longed to make something with my
hands.  Now you write a book--who knows whether it's good or bad?
Up and down it goes.  Every fit of indigestion destroys it.  But a
box, well made, there can never be any doubt about it.  There it is
for all the world to agree upon."

"Indeed," said Klimov, immensely pleased.  "That's very
interesting.  I never thought of it that way.  Pushkin in Boris
says somewhere that--Oh, but you don't want to be troubled with
Pushkin.  Will you allow me to offer you some tea?"

"No, thank you.  I must stay only a moment.  And did you really
make these toys on the table?"

"Yes.  I must confess that I did.  I give them to children, friends
of mine.  They have more personality than toys from a shop.  Home-
made.  I find that when I'm carpentering I think more clearly.  If
you put a nail in straight an idea frequently goes in straight with
it.  Oh, but indeed I'm greatly ashamed.  There isn't a comfortable
chair in the room--"

It is true that there wasn't, but Hans didn't just then want a
comfortable chair.  He had plenty at home.  He sat down on one of
the hard little chairs.  The puppy stretched itself on its round
belly in front of him and watched him with friendly, inquisitive
eyes.

"Mr. Klimov, you probably know that your young friend, Vladimir,
down there is in love with a niece of mine.  It happens that I'm
extremely fond of that niece.  She is very young, and I don't want
to make a mistake.  Shall I be making one if I help those two to
marry?"

Mihail Klimov, who had until this moment been a little gay and
disconnected (so happy was he at Hans' unexpected visit), and had
been wandering, one vast smile, about the room, at one moment
looking at the shavings on the table, at another patting the dog in
the basket, and, in spite of himself, humming a little tune, now
very abruptly pulled himself together, sat down on the remaining
chair and looked very wise, with a distinct resemblance to Mr. Dick
engaged in advising Betsy Trotwood.

"Oh, yes, indeed.  Very delightful.  I HAVE heard of it.  You care
for your niece, Mr. Frost--I am exceedingly attached to Vladimir.
He is more to me than I like to realize, because I believe that in
life one must be entirely independent of human beings.  One must be
courageous enough not to depend on the human affections.  That's my
theory, but in practice I am, as indeed in everything else, very
weak.  But, of course, I am fond of the boy, because he has been
very good to me.  There, again, I hold that gratitude doesn't
belong to a man who is superior to life.  It is undoubtedly one of
the weaker emotions.  I find myself, however, quite unable not to
be grateful to Vladimir."

"You see," said Hans, "Vladimir, if I may call him so, has been
very honest with my niece and has told her that he has had
relations with women before, and refuses to promise that he won't
have relations with them again.  She is naturally afraid of
marrying him and being very unhappy.  She has had no experience of
life at all.  This is certainly the first time she has ever been in
love.  Now, I want her to be happy.  If anyone can be happy I want
her to be.  How much chance has she, do you think, of happiness if
she marries this young man?  You know him--what he is, I mean--and
can judge."

Klimov brought his chair very close to Hans' and, bending forward,
laid his broad hand on his knee.

"Vladimir is good.  Yes, he is truly good.  I have watched him in
every situation, and he has nobility of spirits.  Certainly he is
handsome and young.  I, who was never handsome, have loved many
women, but I have been faithful only to one.  And I am faithful
still.  But I am not as noble as Vladimir.  I am not, in fact,
noble at all.  But it seems to me, my friend, in life that it takes
two fine people to make a fine relationship--one is not enough.
And when two fine people meet and love one another, let them take
their risk.  The result must be fine, whichever way it goes.  The
trouble in life comes because a fine person meets one who is not so
fine.  I know I'm a fool, and can never keep an idea in my head for
more than a minute at a time, but what I am telling you is true."

"And from what he's said to you," asked Hans, "you think that he
truly loves my niece?"

"Vladimir is a strange man.  Sometimes I think that he will one day
be a great man.  But I don't know.  There are many ways that it can
go.  And, as with all men, love will not ever be the only thing in
his life.  He has great ambitions and fine ideas.  He sees beyond
life and beyond persons, and there are times when no one is of much
account to him, but he has a good and tender heart.  He will care
for her and guard her against unhappiness and make her life richer,
that I swear."

"Thank you," said Hans, rising.  "That's what I wanted to know."

Klimov also rose.  He looked at Hans with a rather pathetic,
anxious gaze, as though he were a little bewildered and afraid now
of being left alone.

"It has been a great honour, your coming to visit me.  Will you
come again?"

"Of course I will."

"And may I say this--possibly an impertinence to a man like
yourself--but if you are troubled and disturbed about this matter
will you allow me to know of it?"

"I promise that."

"Thank you.  I admire you very greatly, and that makes it difficult
for me to speak."

"Not at all."  Hans was embarrassed, as all Englishmen are at
spoken emotion.  But he liked him.  He seemed this afternoon to be
liking the whole Russian nation.

"We'll meet again soon," he said cheerfully, to cover his
embarrassment.  "Good-afternoon, Mr. Klimov."

His last glimpse of the room was of Klimov returning slowly to his
carpenter's table, the puppy tumbling after him, the evening breeze
blowing the curtains as the wind outside rushed the clouds along
their course.



CHAPTER X

Ruth Is Honest


For three days Nathalie had been like a captured animal, bewildered
by her confinement.

She kept to herself as much as was possible.  She sat in her room,
looking out over Regent's Park, watching the stripped branches
writhe in the wind and rain (the weather now was terrible) and
hearing the cries of the animals in the Zoo.  Their cries were
hers.  She did not know how to get out.  She had lost her trust in
herself, and she did not know how to regain it.

All her life it was this upon which she had especially prided
herself.  As a tiny child she had said to herself, that she was
alone, belonged to nobody, nobody belonged to her.  Tying up her
boots one morning in her little room in Polchester (she saw it so
often with its faded wall paper of robins, its view of the
Cathedral--if like Charles Lamb you perked up in bed on your
haunches to catch it--and its battered copies in the little brown
bookcase of What Katy Did, Queechy, and The Dove in the Eagle's
Nest--the hole in the carpet, and the wind that whistled in the
wall), stinging red in the face, hearing someone call from far down
in the house her name, standing up, her boots yet unlaced, she said
out aloud, "I don't care--I can manage it myself."

And always afterwards, when things were difficult, she saw the
unlaced, gaping boots, the robins, the little brown bookcase--"I
can manage it myself."

Now it seemed that she could not--and she could not, because she
was so dreadfully in love.

She was dreadfully in love, but didn't trust him, or rather didn't
trust her own power to hold him.

He wrote to her every day.  He wrote a long letter after his talk
with Hans, telling her what the old boy had said, and what a
sporting old boy he was, and demanding of her that she should
herself speak to the old boy and find out from him his opinion.

She did speak to him, but very briefly.  She had a queer conviction
that by dragging Uncle Hans into her small affairs she had ruined
his life.  He was changed--anyone could see it.  The whole house
was changed, and Aunt Ruth was furious.  So she stood away from
him, didn't kiss him (although she was longing to do so), spoke to
him in a tight, reserved voice and altogether behaved quite unlike
the modern girl that she fancied she was.

He told her to wait for a little while, that he liked her young
man, but that he must see a little more of him.  Yes, wait.  But
how?  Where?

Aunt Ruth hated her.  That was now the central fact of her
situation, the one fact that must be altered.  She had never been
hated by anyone before, never even, so far as she was aware,
disliked.  The sense of it was new to her, horrible, frightening,
sinister, like a witch's story.  She could not help herself.  She
wanted always to be liked.  She had her pride, but she had also her
sensitiveness that came, perhaps, from her lonely start in life;
and now that she knew that Aunt Ruth hated her, the only thing was
to get away at once, and far, far away, where she could not feel
Ruth's iron, implacable dislike.

At what moment had she been aware of this hatred?  Only one week
ago they had, it seemed, loved one another.  She was to be Ruth's
companion, to cherish her old age.  Ruth had been so kind, so
generous.

The change had come, perhaps, one afternoon at tea when, the three
of them alone, Uncle Hans had said something enchantingly funny and
kind, and Nathalie impulsively had gone to him, put her arms around
him, and kissed him.

Something that Aunt Ruth had said a moment later had told Nathalie
she must never kiss Uncle Hans in front of Aunt Ruth again.  It was
like the things that in her childhood she had learned that she must
not do, must not make a noise when Mr. Proudie was writing his
sermon, must not speak of "stomach," must not say of a pudding that
she loved it, must not stare at strangers--but there were reasons
for these laws, and they were friendly laws.  Now it was as though
with that one embrace of Uncle Hans she had been pushed out of one
room into another, out of a room full of light and bright colours
into one gloomy, close, hot, and stale.

She had not the knowledge yet of life to enable her to track that
action of Aunt Ruth's to its true conclusion.  She was rather
inclined to believe that the evil emanated from her grandmother's
room.  That first visit had been also her last; she had never been
invited again, and she had concluded from that that her grandmother
did not like her.  She most certainly did not like her grandmother,
and these things were always mutual.  She thought of that bedroom
as of a witch's cave, where spells were brewed and enchantments
muttered.  Ugh!  A nasty old woman to have for a grandmother!

But come whence it might, Aunt Ruth wanted her out of the house,
and her pride told her that she must go before she was sent.  Her
pride also told her that she must show Vladimir how independent she
truly was, that she could stand on her own feet, that she was
somebody, a modern girl who could manage her own life without
ANYBODY'S help.  And then, having shown him these things, she would
marry him.

So, sitting on her bed staring out of the window, loving him,
longing, aching for him, she resolved.

Well enough.  But where to go?  What to do?  She had a little
money, ten pounds or so; she had a gold locket that had belonged to
her mother, a gold wrist-watch that only last week Uncle Hans had
given her, and that she most foolishly in her naïve delight had
exhibited at once to Aunt Ruth--she could live for a week or two on
these.  But in what direction could she find work?

She searched the columns of the Times and the Morning Post.  It
seemed that ladies wanted companions; gentlemen, secretaries; and
one old woman in Kensington a girl to look after her dogs.  Well,
then, there you were!

On this same rainy afternoon, alone in her room at exactly four of
the clock, she came to her resolve: she would tell Aunt Ruth that
on the following Monday her charming visit must terminate, she was
to stay with a friend, it had been most kind of Aunt Ruth. . . .

And so, happier than she had been for three days, she sprang off
her bed, washed her face, tidied her hair, and went down to tea--
stepping at that same instant, although she did not know it, from
girlhood into maturity.

Aunt Ruth was alone.  Nathalie stood hesitating at the door.  She
wanted to come forward boldly, but the furniture itself seemed to
stop her.  "We don't like you," the chairs shouted at her, and the
silver on the tea table shivered at the sight of her.  Meanwhile
Ruth said, in her kindest voice (she had some five or six voices
very carefully graduated), "Ah, it's you, dear. . . .  Come in, I'm
sure you're dying for some tea."  As she saw the child standing
there, she thought:  "This will be a good opportunity to explain to
her that she can't stay here for ever."

And so it would, and she behaved to her very nicely indeed.  She
was always unhappy unless she was quite sure that she was behaving
with tenderness and generosity.  Swiftly, minute by minute, the
pictures passed, giving money to a blind man with a dog,
approaching at a party some poor woman whom everyone else had
neglected, protesting against the ill-treatment of a horse, patting
a child seated in a cottage door, and there were so many of these
pictures that she had very little time to examine her real actions.

So now she had for several weeks been dreadfully unhappy; all her
life, she told herself, lying on the little dark gold sofa in her
bedroom, pretending to read a novel, had been sent tumbling about
her ears; her husband, for whom she had done everything, suddenly
selfish, indifferent, and (who could ever tell?) unfaithful.

This chit of a child--and here her eyes sought the different things
in her bedroom, her silver crucifix, her toilet articles, her
crimson-furred bedroom slippers, who having known her so long could
testify to her character--was the cause of this ruin.  But was the
child to blame?  No, no.  Only a really selfish and egotistic woman
would make such a child responsible.  Little did she know what she
had done--only she must return to the place whence Ruth had so
generously brought her, as soon, yes, as soon as possible.

So she beckoned very graciously indeed to the place on the sofa
beside her.

"Come, dear, sit here beside me, the water is just boiling.  Well--
and what have you been busy about to-day?"

Nathalie's heart felt a rush of eager gratitude.  This was the Aunt
Ruth of a week ago, before this horrible change.  This was the Aunt
Ruth whom she had been eager to adore.  Perhaps, after all, they
would find one another again, and all would be well.  How much had
not Nathalie imagined?  Or it might be that Aunt Ruth had been very
unwell during this last week with neuralgia or headache.  And how
beautiful Aunt Ruth was this afternoon in her dove-grey dress, with
the single row of pearls and the silver shoes.

"Oh, I haven't done much to-day--written to the Proudies--and this
afternoon I went for a walk in the Park--quite a little one--it was
raining--and what have you been doing, Aunt Ruth?"

"Well, dear, it's been a busy day--and yet it's hard quite to
remember.  Let me see--try one of those little rolls.  They're very
good and quite fresh."

Nathalie tried one.  Looking around her a little, she knew that
even now with all Aunt Ruth's kindness, the room wasn't very
friendly--perhaps it never had been.  Vladimir wouldn't be
comfortable here, and Aunt Ruth wouldn't like him.

"Well, now, let me see--what have I been doing?  This afternoon
some necessary shopping.  One has to do things oneself, as you'll
discover one day, when you have a house of your own, or everything
goes wrong.  And it's not been a nice day.  I can't say it has.
Wind and rain--terrible.  And so many poor people out in it.
Really our climate is too awful!  If I had my way I'd never spend
another November to March in England again.  But of course London
is the only possible place for your uncle, and now that he is older
one must study his comfort.  Why, only the other day, when we went
down to the country, I saw at once that he was miserable, and
ordered him straight back to town.  He misses his books and his
regular life.  If I didn't force him out, he would become a perfect
recluse."

"Are you and Uncle going out to-night?" Nathalie asked.

"Yes, dear, the Beaminsters.  Frank Beaminster is the Duke of
Wrexe's first cousin.  A very artistic man.  He collects French
pictures.  He has a lot in common with your uncle.  The old Duchess
of Wrexe, years before you were born, was a great figure.  Before
the Boer War.  Doesn't that seem centuries ago, and hasn't the last
terrible war made it seem a tiny affair!  I don't suppose that a
great figure like that would be possible now.  Society has changed
so utterly.  There's very little ceremony left, I'm afraid."  (And
she saw herself a splendid figure moving magnificently across the
old Duchess's drawing-room.  "Ah!  That's a noble face!  And what a
lovely poise."  And behind the picture she was thinking:  "Now in a
minute or two I will be able to tell her that another week is just
as long as I can possibly have her--")  "Have you had all the tea
you want, dear?  I'll ring to have it taken away.  You're nearer
the bell.  Thank you so much, dear."  (She was still only a raw
little country girl, in spite of the dresses that had so generously
been given her.  Nothing would ever make her smart.  Nothing.  A
country town was her proper milieu.)  And behind this--restless,
ceaseless--were thoughts about Hans.  What was he doing up there in
his library?  Soon, when she had rid herself of this tiresome child
she would go up and see; one word, one glance, and all the old
certainty, the old security, the old safety of their mutual
relation would return; this odd strangeness that had lately seized
him would fly away, and she would be happy once more!

The tea was removed.  They sat side by side on the little sofa,
staring into the fire.

Nathalie, at least, was happy again, happy as she had not been for
many days, touched, grateful, longing to show her gratitude.

"Aunt Ruth, I have been wanting for a long time to thank you for
all that you have done for me, you and Uncle Hans.  I think it's
simply wonderful of you.  One day I hope to be able to show you
what I feel.  That you have let me come and stay here so generously,
and that you and Uncle Hans have been so good to me. . . .  At one
time I was a little afraid that I had been in the way, and I want
you always to tell me if there's anything I do wrong, and if I'm
stupid about something, because of course I've got so much to
learn . . ." she broke off, smiling into her aunt's face.

"I've got so much to learn!"  The words were alarming.  "So she
intends to stay.  She's here for ever!"

Ruth's voice was sharper than she had intended.

"There's no reason for gratitude, dear, your uncle and I have loved
your being with us.  I wish we could have you always.  But we
mustn't be selfish.  They must be missing you badly in Polchester."

"I'm never going back to Polchester," Nathalie said.  So her aunt
had run in before her?  She had not been quick enough.  Her pride,
the quivering sense that already, after all, she HAD outstayed her
welcome shivered through her body.  The room WAS hostile and
unfriendly, and her aunt--

"Never going back to Polchester!  But my dear, WHAT do you mean?
That's your home."

"No, it isn't.  When I left it the other day, I left it for good.
I can't possibly be dependent on them any more.  Later on, when
I've made my way, I'll go back for a visit."

"Made your way?  But how?"

"Oh, I have friends in London, and I shall make my living."

"Make your living!  But do you realize--"

Ruth was aware of something very near to terror.  So the girl would
remain in London, would be at Hans' elbow, would be meeting him,
disturbing him, plotting--

Tired, nervously excited by the events of the last fortnight, she
saw everything at once melodramatically, the chairs and tables
swelling to twice their natural size, the clock ticking with
frantic insistence.  She dragged her excitement down, laid her hand
upon it; there, under her palm, it stayed quivering.

"Now, Nathalie dear, listen to me.  You're only a child.  You know
nothing about life at all.  Take the advice of your aunt and don't
try any experiments with London--yet awhile at least.  Go back to
Polchester and live there quietly for a year or two.  Perhaps I did
wrong to give you a peep at London so soon.  But I only wanted to
be kind.  I was a little impetuous maybe.  It's gone possibly to
your head--ever so slightly.  And oh! I understand it so well.  I
should have been just the same at your age--all the fun of London
after the quiet of a little town like Polchester.  But Polchester's
the place--for a year or two at least.  Believe me, it is.  Your
grandmother feels as I do, and although she's an old lady now she
knows life.  Believe me, she does."

"Grandmother," said Nathalie slowly, "doesn't know anything about
me at all.  She's only seen me once, and then we never talked about
anything."

"Now, that isn't very grateful, Nathalie.  Your grandmother's an
invalid and a brave one too.  But because she has to stay in her
room so much doesn't mean that she knows nothing of what's going on
outside it.  Indeed it doesn't."

Nathalie saw her grandmother, the dark, stuffy room, the creaking
black silk dress.  So that old woman thought she would be safer
packed away in Polchester?

She seemed suddenly to confront that old dried dark figure here in
this room, a shadow thickening the air, fading the light colours of
the chairs, the stuffs, the pictures.  Her hands were trembling a
little on her lap, but her voice was steady enough as she answered.

"I know, Aunt Ruth, that you think me very young and ignorant.
Perhaps I am.  But I've been alone all my life.  Everyone has been
very kind to me, but I've always longed for the time when I should
be able to be independent.  I've taken people's charity so long,
and that's over--I'll never be dependent on anyone again.  I'd
rather starve.  I will indeed!"

And as she spoke she thought of Vladimir, whom she loved with all
her heart, but to whom she would not go before she was earning her
own living.  No, not if he said he would never see her again!

But Ruth knew nothing about Vladimir.  All she knew was that in
spite of her kindness and generosity this pig-headed girl, to whom
Hans had most unfortunately taken a most dangerous fancy, now that
she realized that she had found an important association, was
determined to cling like a limpet.

Well, she should not, and in another minute or two Ruth, even
though she hurt the girl's feelings, would make this plain.

"Nathalie, I'd better put things honestly.  You're talking
nonsense, my dear child.  Make your way in London?  How can you
possibly?  Do you realize what London is?  Do you realize how many
people at this very moment are 'making their way' as you call it?
If you had to help people continually as I have to; if you were for
ever meeting the terrible tragedies, often enough just the result
of trying to 'make their way,' you'd realize the hopelessness of
it.  I wish I could take you into some of the homes where my work
often lies, hear what some of these women say, how they repent that
first step, which you are so lightly proposing.  No, Nathalie, go
back to Polchester.  That's your home.  Put these grand ideas out
of your little head."

Ruth saw herself moving from door to door, dispensing food here,
money there, advice everywhere, and grateful faces looked up to
her, faces that had been sullen and scowling, lighted now with a
new hope, a new faith in human nature.

But "little head"!  That was an unfortunate word.  Patronage is the
hardest thing in the world for the poor to endure.  Nathalie had no
intention of enduring it.  "I'm sorry, Aunt Ruth"--and her voice
was very firm now indeed, even a little arrogant--"but I don't
think you quite understand me.  How could you, when I've only been
here so short a time?  But, indeed, I'm neither so young as you
think nor so ignorant.  I had made up my mind when I came down this
afternoon to tell you that I would be going away next week.  I'd
made my plans.  You've been ever so kind, you and Uncle Hans, and
I'll never forget your kindness, but--but--I'm not a little
schoolgirl, you know.  I realize perfectly what I'm about.  I shall
manage very well indeed.  I shall really."

The impertinence!  Here was the girl's true nature coming out at
last!  This matter must be dealt with, once and for all.

To have the girl running loose about London, Hans making secret
appointments with her, leading him into all kinds of company,
encouraging him to oppose her wishes in everything.

Her voice shook a little in spite of herself as she answered:

"Well, Nathalie, you force me to be frank.  I didn't intend to hurt
your feelings--I hope I shan't now--I hate to hurt anyone's
feelings--but I think that as you've said what you have, it's my
duty.  This visit, as I tried to hint just now, has gone to your
head, my dear.  I made a great mistake in bringing you up here.  It
was one of my foolish, impetuous impulses.  You ARE a little
schoolgirl, so far as knowledge of the world goes.  Like so many
girls these days, you think you know everything, and you know
nothing at all.  It has been only too obvious, I am afraid, these
weeks here, how ignorant you are.  I don't want to be unkind, but I
must speak the truth.  You've given both your uncle and myself a
lot of trouble and anxiety during your stay with us.  We've been
glad to have you, but there's no doubt both your uncle and I are
agreed that you will be better and safer in Polchester."

"Uncle Hans said that?  That's a lie!"

Nathalie had sprung to her feet; her voice was a cry.

"A lie!  Nathalie, you're forgetting yourself!"

"It IS a lie.  Uncle Hans never said that.  Uncle Hans loves me.
He wants me to be with him always.  It's you that hate me and have
always hated me since first I came here!"  She turned and
challenged the room, the house, the nasty old woman in her nasty
chair, the town, the world.  Ruth also had risen.

"Oh! so that's what you think, is it?"  (Shame, shame that she, who
had been so good, so generous and patient, should have to face this
savage ingratitude.)  "Do you know what you have done since you've
been here?  You've managed in a few days to disturb everything that
your uncle values.  With your crude selfishness, never thinking of
anyone but yourself, you have interrupted your uncle's work, his
privacy, his comfort, everything that I for years have been
protecting.  It is because he is a great man, and a great
gentleman, that he hasn't pointed one or two things out to you.  If
you had been less selfish and less conceited you'd have realized
what your visit has meant to him.  Only last night he said to me:
'Is that girl never going?  Am I never to be left in peace?'
That's why to-day I was trying to tell you as gently as I could--"

"It isn't true!  It isn't true!  He never said that!"

(But indeed Ruth was sure now that he had said it.  She saw him
standing in the door of her bedroom, she caught again the very
accents of his voice:  "Ruth, is that girl never going?")

"Now, Nathalie, that's enough.  You've forced me to tell you the
truth.  And take my advice.  See yourself as you really are.  Don't
flatter your attraction to men; you are an ordinary little
uneducated girl from a country town.  I've been greatly to blame
in--"

"It isn't true!  It isn't true!" pantingly she interrupted again.
"He never said that!"

But perhaps he had!  Oh! perhaps he had!  Like a blow in the heart
she saw herself as Ruth saw her, an ignorant, uneducated girl,
flattering herself that he loved her.  That had been possibly his
kindness, his generosity.  How could she tell?  This woman must
know him better than she.

She looked at Ruth.  "If he really said that--I'm sorry.  He is so
kind, he wouldn't want to hurt me.  You needn't worry.  I'll go."

With her head up she left the room.



CHAPTER XI

Farewell to Tapestries!


Hans had, during these three days, been in a strange mood.

All his life he had been subject to overwhelming times of lethargy--
not laziness, not idleness, but conditions that were dreamlike,
submerged beneath long shadows, as it seemed to him, of green and
purple colour, when everything was dim to him.  When he wrote, but
scarcely knew what it was that he was writing, when figures moved
before him like ghosts, and the hours flew before his eyes like
scraps of paper.

Now that he was old these moods were more frequent.  He would sit
in his chair in the library like a man under a spell, happy,
indifferent, and when he had energy enough, scornful.

In his youth he had thought that these moods were the creative ones
and had been proud of them.  Now he didn't care whether they were
creative or no.  He had done, it might be, with creation for ever,
and a good thing too.  What, after all, had he even created?  Witch
talk and a passing cloud, the ripple of a stream and a flare in the
night.  Only he was not so picturesque about his creations.
"Crétins" he was in this and that sort of a mood inclined to name
them.  He had had his moments, had snatched a perch or two out of
the flaming lake with his worm on the end of a string.  There had
been salmon for cleverer fishermen.

These moods, however, were for the most part happy ones.  This time
they had been acutely unhappy.  He sat in his chair, not moving,
his velvet cap on his head, his deep-set piercing eyes staring into
nothing at all.

And in this nothing shadows shifted--Nathalie, Ruth, his cursed
mother-in-law, the Russians.  Who were they?  What were they about?
And in a dimmer distance the One-eyed Commander sulkily overhung
his gaze.  What was the fellow doing there?  He didn't want him.
He was done with creation.  He wouldn't stir a finger to help him
out of his obscurity.  No, he would not look his way or catch the
purport of his whisper.  He was done with creation.

And later he thought, as his eye scornfully moved about the room,
they had all been done with it.  Dante, Milton and his dummy
heaven, William of the playhouse and the second-best bed, Euripides
and his melodrama, Balzac and his dressing gown, Keats and his
young woman, Byron and his game leg, Wordsworth and his daffodils,
Dostoevsky and his lunacies, Tolstoi and his arrogant peasantry,
Pope and his malice, Cervantes and his windmills, Browning and his
dinner parties, Chaucer and his daisies, Homer and his blindness,
Lord--what a cackle about a fire in the gorse!  Stuff your guts and
tickle your phallic sensibilities--only he was too old even for
that these days.

Yes, the fire died to ashes, the clouds, above the house,
spreading, thinning, the streamers in great battalions advancing
across the sky, shutting out the light, throwing darkness upon the
earth, prophesying the end of all these vanities.  Out of nothing
into nothing.  After the whistle of the wind and the stir of the
hissing flame, the long blessed silence.

He moved about the house, lay on his bed staring into darkness,
listening to the clocks, hearing his body fall into decay.

Then on the third morning he burnt his finger lighting a cigar.  He
cursed like hell, danced about the room, kicked Martha, came to a
stop, still cursing, in front of the Manet.

Well, that was a darling, certainly it was a darling.  There was
justified creation with those women and the delicate colour in the
air.  He would have liked to know those women, to have kissed their
ears and lost his hands in their dark-lit hair.

He yawned and scratched his head, picked up Martha and stroked her
forehead over her eyes (which she adored), stretched his body.
Where was he?  What about Nathalie?  He hadn't done a thing about
her.  He had talked to her these days--or had he not?  And he loved
her.  He tingled suddenly with love of her.  He was awake again.

Those Russians--could you trust 'em?  That young man, he had talked
long enough about wanting to die for her, but everyone knew that
you couldn't trust them a yard.  And the old boy, and the people in
the street, the shops and houses, the rain gurgling down the water
pipes, the girls ogling the men at the street corner. . . .  Dante
wasn't so bad; Goethe knew a thing or two.


     And if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
     Through love, through hope, and faith's transcendent dower,
     We feel that we are greater than we know.


Do we, by God?  That's just the question.  But Nathalie, at least,
should be happy.  That's one thing he'd see to before the earth
choked his nostrils, and standing in the middle of the room he felt
life run fiercely once again through the old veins, tingle at the
heart, flame in his eyes, fire his brain.

It happened on that afternoon (the afternoon of Nathalie's little
tea party with Ruth) that he had to be present at a meeting of
authors and publishers.  Seldom indeed, now, that he went to these
gatherings.  This occasion, suggested to him weeks ago, had stirred
some interest--he had forgotten now what it was.

But he went through the rain, dressed in his best, sat there
sardonically at the long table, looking to them all (as they
remarked to one another in confidence) "exceedingly ancient"; then
back in the car through the rain again, up to his library where he
slept for two hours.  Woke to the touch of Bigges' hand on his
shoulder.  "Time to dress, sir.  Going out to dinner to-night."

He woke in a panic of apprehension.  What was the matter?

"Bigges, what's up?"  Half awake he stared at that solemn
countenance.

"Nothing at all, sir.  Only you're dining out and it's gone seven."

As he dressed the apprehension remained with him.  He had half a
mind to look into Nathalie's room.  He moved indeed to the door,
then paused.  No, he would settle it all in the morning.
Scandalous the way he had allowed these days to pass.  But he would
settle it all in the morning.  He would go along with her to young
Shapkin. . . .  Everything should be arranged.

Nevertheless, when he had finished dressing, he tapped on her door.
No answer.  He tapped again.  She was downstairs maybe.  A damned
incumbrance, these dinner-parties.  He would make an excuse and
stay at home.  The two of them should enjoy a perfect dinner alone.
He smiled, standing there in the passage, at the thought of the
pleasure of it.  But, no, he must go carefully with Ruth until the
business was arranged.  No risking Nathalie's happiness.  But he
would see her for a moment at least before he went.

His first word to Ruth, standing waiting in the hall, was:

"Where's Nathalie?"

"Up in her room, I think."

"No, I knocked on her door."

"It's late, Hans.  They live right over in Cadogan Square."  So he
suffered himself to be led into the car, arrayed for the sacrifice,
this vague apprehension still clutching him.

In the queer, muffled silence of the car the apprehension grew.
Ruth was strange; something had happened to her.  Whatever else had
been true of her, she had always been protected by her self-
confidence.

Now she was not protected.  He knew it by her nervous movements,
her slight, hesitating sentences, her oddly restless gestures.

He was himself uncomfortably restless.  He did not want to go to
this damned party.  He wanted to have an hour with Nathalie.  The
newly awakened consciousness of the lethargy of the last three days
was irritating him now the more with every passing moment.

They exchanged few words, but once held up at a street corner,
lights illuminating the interior of the car, he turned to her and
said:

"Ruth, what's the matter?"

"Nothing," she answered sharply.

"Yes, there is," he said.  "I know."

"Oh, why don't we go on?  We shall be terribly late."

"This damned party," he growled.  "This is the last dinner you ever
get me to."

She sighed, but didn't reply; and he was suddenly touched by her;
she seemed to him, for perhaps the first time in all their married
life, lonely and desolate--Ruth, who had always been so self-
sufficient.  Had he been unkind during these weeks?  The trouble
was that he didn't care if he had been.  For years and years,
because he was fond of her, and because she had done so much for
him, and because he was lazy, he had been anxious to save her every
distress, even the tiniest.  Now when he knew that he was
desperately bored with her, and would for the rest of his days be
so, he was sorry and felt a great tenderness towards her--the
tenderness and kindness that one feels for people who have been
very good to one, but whom, thank goodness, one will, after to-
morrow, never see again.

He put out his hand and took hers.

"Tired?" he asked.

To his amazement her hand was trembling.  He thought for a moment
that she was going to cry.

"No," she said.  "It's all right."

He held her hand, but they spoke no more until they reached their
destination.

The Beaminsters were very kind and hospitable people.  They were
not very clever.  Everyone went to their parties because the food
was good; moreover, you never knew whom you might meet.  The great
and interesting were as greedy as the others, and probably at the
Beaminsters you might watch them feeding.

Marjorie Beaminster was born a Medenham.  She belonged to the
Beaminster clan.  The Beaminsters and the Medenhams lived in these
days on the past.  They were great no longer--but the younger
members of these families did not wish to be great--a colossal
Victorian bore, that idea of greatness! . . .

A figure like the old Duchess of Wrexe seemed to Marjorie
Beaminster a fantastic waxwork.  There were few left alive any
longer who, by personal reminiscence, could give her reality.  And
a good thing too, thought Marjorie, who lived for her friends,
bridge, dancing, and hunting in its due season.  She and Frank were
not, thank God, intellectual.

They invited, however, the best intellectuals to their parties,
just as they invited the best politicians, actors, painters,
jugglers, saints, and missionaries.  Ruth always accepted, and Hans
was in general quite glad to go.  He tolerated Frank, who, with his
round red face, long limbs, and wide-staring eyes, looked like an
ox being led dumbly to the slaughter.  And Marjorie was young and
pretty.  And they were kindly.  And he seldom met there his
confrères.

To-night, however, he was miserable.  He was only longing for the
thing to be over that he might hurry home and reassure himself
about Nathalie.

He was seated on the right of his hostess and, as usual, she
treated him with a mixture of chaff and reverence.  She thought him
an old pet and also, as everyone knew, he was a great man.  And
although she did not believe in great men she liked to entertain
celebrities.  She had not read a line that he had ever written.  He
never seemed to her in any way extraordinary, just a charming,
rather handsome old man who could, when he wished, have charming
manners, who liked pretty women and good food, who possessed a bore
of a wife (she thought Ruth, with her social manner, her chatter,
and her assumption that she was important, too terrible for words).

Hans seemed to her an exception to the general rule that writers
were not gentlemen--and by the word "gentlemen" she meant nothing
to do with birth, but rather social ease and companionship.

She saw that to-night Hans' mind was elsewhere.  He seemed old and
tired: probably that wife of his had been bothering him, and she
glanced (without seeming to) across at Ruth, who seemed to be made
all of a piece, shining with colour--rose--gold.  She was talking
eagerly and gaily.  It was one of the unhappiest evenings of her
life.

All the several people at dinner watched Hans, sooner or later, and
made their comments.  This, the last dinner-party of his life, had,
although they didn't know it, its importance.

Two of the commentators were Clare Ronder and a young man, a
barrister.  Clare Ronder was a large, stout woman, who had, for
thirty years or more, written clever, witty stories, more
autobiography than story, depending for their success on a rather
sharp and cruel wit mixed with a light and sophisticated
sentimentality.  She had reached the age when literary egotism,
unless watched and guarded, becomes devastating.  Every thought,
every breath passing through the world seemed to her to have
reference to herself and her work.  Clever though she was, she
could not conceal her sensitiveness, her eagerness for praise, her
hurt at another's success.  She was naturally kindly, generous, and
warm-hearted, but she was lonely and ageing, and clutched her
literary reputation to herself passionately, the only love left to
her.

The sight of Hans irritated her.  There was a convention that he
was a great writer, and she guessed that he did not care whether he
were so or no.  That indifference hurt, because it was not hers.

Over her fish she murmured to her companion.

"Well, what do you think of the great man?"

"Frost?  He's astonishingly young-looking for his years.  He had
his seventieth birthday the other day, hadn't he?"

"Yes, his wife coddles him like an infant.  He might have been a
great man once, if he hadn't married as he did."

"Don't you think much of him then?"

"Oh, I know it's the fashion to praise him.  England's always got
to have her great man of letters.  All you've got to do is to live
long enough."

"I don't know.  Some of his things are fine--Goliath and The
Scornful Sun.  Wonderful how he's kept it up."

"Oh, you think he has?  Can't say I do.  Derivative stuff.  Galleon
and water, most of it."

"What's he like personally?  Do you know him?"

"He can be charming when he likes.  Pretends he's indifferent to
praise, but he's as proud as Lucifer underneath.  His wife's built
up a kind of Chinese pagoda over him.  That's her over there in the
rose-coloured dress.  Frightful snob.  It's a pity he's succumbed
to all that.  Just lets himself be coddled."

"Well, hang it, he's over seventy.  He deserves some petting.  He
looks a grand old boy to me.  Finest eyes I've ever seen.  It
doesn't matter what his job might be--he'd go to the top in
anything."

("Stupid ass," thought Miss Ronder.  "Too naïve for words.  I
wonder what the man's like on the other side of me.")

Meanwhile, on the other side of Hans, there was a young girl whose
first year in London this was.  Marjorie Beaminster had put her
next to Hans, partly because she knew that he liked pretty girls,
and partly because of the thrilling excitement it was to the girl.
Marjorie liked people to be happy.

The girl was so terribly moved by the event that she had not as yet
dared to speak.  They had reached the middle of dinner before Hans
discovered her.  He was pleased at once when he saw her, because
she resembled, a little, Nathalie.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" he asked her, smiling for the first
time this evening.

"Yes."

"I don't mean this dinner.  I mean life generally."

"Yes.  Some of it--when I can do the things I want to."

"What are they?"

"I don't like parties much--not all the time I mean.  I want to
paint, but my mother wants me to marry as soon as possible.  I've
got six younger sisters, you see.  But I don't want to marry."

"Well--what are you going to do about it?"

"Everyone says I'm selfish if I don't marry.  I'm stopping my
sisters' chances.  I want to go away and lead my own life.  Then my
sisters can go ahead."

"Do you think you'll be a good artist?"

"I don't know.  I don't care.  That's all I want to do."  Then
greatly daring, looking at him rather timidly:

"Did anyone try to stop you writing when you were young?"

"No, nobody.  Perhaps it would have been better if they had.  I
began too soon--before I knew anything about life."

"But some people think"--she was growing, encouraged by his
kindness, very courageous now--"that some of your early books are
as good as the later ones."

"Better perhaps.  But that doesn't alter the fact that they'd have
been better if I'd waited.  Don't worry.  If you're meant to paint
you will, nothing will stop you."

"Oh, do you think so?"  Her face lightened up.  She was at the
moment beautiful.  "You've made me so happy by telling me that.
I'll never forget it."

"You're like a young friend of mine--a niece I'm very fond of.
She's starting out into life too.  And I'm starting out as well,
the two of us together."

"You starting out?"  She stared at him, not knowing at all what he
meant.

"Yes. . . .  We'll drink one another's healths, wish one another
luck."

They drank to one another.

Ruth saw them do it.  "Any pretty girl's enough," she thought
bitterly.

An hour later he gave Ruth a sign.  They were the first to leave.
In the car she longed to reassure herself against the old age and
desolation that had approached her from the eyes of the young girl
at dinner.  Also she could not escape from Nathalie.  She saw her,
had seen her through the evening, standing and crying, "That's a
lie."

So almost timidly she put out her hand and touched his knee.  He
started as though he had been sleeping.

"Hans," she said, "Nathalie told me at tea time that next week she
must leave us.  She is going to some other friends in London."

His whole body quivered.

"Leave us?  What other friends?  She has none."

"I don't know.  She didn't tell me their names."

"Nonsense!"  He flung himself up and away from her.  His gleaming
top hat slipped to the back of his head.

"Of course she mustn't leave us.  I hope you told her so."

"No. . . .  She is determined.  There is some job she wants to do."

"She can do her job at our home.  Our house is her proper home."

He had never spoken directly about Nathalie to her before, and a
fierce fiery jealousy gripped her and shook her.

"Oh! she can't live with us always.  It would never do.  She
wouldn't like it herself."

"Have you been telling her so?"

"Of course not. . . .  She knows it without my telling her so."

"She does not."  Then he felt a sudden consciousness of selfishness
and ingratitude.

"I beg your pardon, Ruth; I'm rude.  It's a thing we must discuss.
I don't think it's a bad thing for us to have a young thing like
that in the house.  It keeps us lively."

"Yes--and separates us."  Her voice was shaking--this day seemed
the worst and hardest of all her life.

"Separates us?"

"You know it does.  From the moment she entered the house you have
been different.  We have never been so far apart in our married
lives before as we are now.  Whose fault is it but hers?"

He answered her quietly.

"That may be.  We will come together again--but differently.  I was
dying and you were dying.  You were too good to me, Ruth, and I was
stifling."

She said nothing.  He went on:  "Why shouldn't we tell one another
the truth?  We've been married long enough.  You don't really love
me.  You have probably never loved me.  You love the life you've
built out of me.  You shan't lose that.  I'll see to that, but now
I'm going to build a life for myself."

She answered him rapidly.

"I don't perhaps see love as you do.  I have never been romantic.
It is hard after all these years to be reproached . . .  Because a
girl . . ."  She was on the verge of tears.  She lifted her hands
with a pathetic gesture and let them fall on her cloak.  "You can't
begin again now.  You can't get on without me. . . .  No, no. . . .
Try it and see."

He turned to her, his eyes full of affection and kindness.  "You
are the best friend I have in the world.  You have been wonderful
to me for many years--but we must not make one another prisoners."

They had arrived.  He got out, helped her out, put his hand through
her arm, felt for his latch-key.  The storm was over, there were
stars in the sky; all the trees in the Park trembled after the
rain.

Hans swung his hat and coat to Bigges, turned to her, and said:

"I'll be down in a moment--it's early yet," then slowly went up to
the library.

She stood there without stirring.  She was thinking with that sharp
intensity that was hers sometimes at a crisis.  This was a crisis
now.

What must be her next move?  Should she prepare him to-night for
the things that Nathalie would tell him to-morrow?  How she hated
that girl!  How she HATED that girl!  She crushed in her hand one
of her gloves. . . .  But hatred was no use as a policy.  She must
be cleverer than that.  Things, however they might seem to change,
must not alter in reality.  She would give him all the freedom that
he thought he wanted, and in a fortnight's time have him as he had
been before.  He was old, he was tired, he was lazy. . . .  Above
all, the world must know nothing.  That cat, Clare Ronder, had been
watching to-night--and Marjorie Medenham had said something. . . .
Silly idiotic old man to want to break loose NOW when she had made
him so comfortable.  Then she saw him coming down the stairs.  She
knew at once what had happened.  She saw the note in his hand.

"She has gone," he said, giving her the note.  His eyes were
terrible.  Through all their lives together she had been afraid of
his eyes.  Of all the properties of his body, she had possessed
them the least.  She had kissed him, flattered him, petted him;
they had never been hers.

She read the note.


DEAREST UNCLE HANS:

I can't stay any longer.  I haven't meant to be tiresome.  She says
that I have disturbed you and that you want me to go.  I don't know
whether that's true.  You've been so kind.  But one day I shall ask
you.  Good-bye.

                                                        Your loving
                                                          NATHALIE.


"Did you tell her that?" he asked her.

"I told her that she disturbed you--yes.  And it was true."

"I'll never forgive you that lie." He turned towards the staircase--
"I'm going after her."

His head was clear.  He walked firmly and quickly to his bedroom.
After the first anger he did not think of Ruth again.  His only
thought was that Nathalie might do something desperate.  He must
stop her.  And he would never enter this hateful house again.

He changed his clothes rapidly.  He found a bag in the cupboard in
the bathroom.  He found shirts, collars, ties.  Anything would do.
He could send for other things that he needed. . . .  There were
some books on the table beside the bed.  Pride and Prejudice,
Carlyle's Life of Sterling, a volume of Proust, John Buncle, and a
volume of Lamb's Letters.  He laid them carefully in the bag.

He closed it.  Passing the library he remembered Martha.  When he
went out to a dinner-party Martha always remained in the library
until his return.  He went in.  Martha, who had been sleeping in
front of the fire, yawned, and came gently towards him.

"Come on," he said.  "We're leaving."

Then he saw the Manet.

He picked it up, wrapped it in the leaves of the Times Literary
Supplement, and laid it in the top of the bag.

He went downstairs, Martha at his side.

He went to the cupboard at the end of the hall and found his coat
and hat.

Ruth was standing just where he had left her.

"Hans," she said, "wait--wait until to-morrow.  I was wrong to
speak to Nathalie.  She shall come back to-morrow."

"Oh, no, she won't," he said, cocking his hat a little sideways on
his head.  "She knows better than that.  So do I."

His cocking his hat infuriated her.

"Very well, then," she answered.  "If you go now like this, it's
the end."

(And underneath her fury something said to her, "You silly fool--
temper's no good.")

"I expect so," he answered, going to the door praying that Bigges
would not appear and that there would be a taxi passing.

There was a taxi.  He hailed it.  As he closed the door behind him
he heard Bigges' voice.

He climbed in slowly.  Martha jumped in delicately after him.

He gave the man the address of Vladimir Shapkin.


END OF PART II




Part III

TO ST. SERVIAN!



CHAPTER I

A Lodging for the Night


He sat in the taxi, leaning forward, his hat still cocked, like a
pirate who has escaped, against his expectations, with all his
booty intact.

His soul was, indeed, divided--one half of it cried, "To Nathalie!
To Nathalie!"  The other half of it called, "To Freedom!  To
Freedom!"--and it is this divided domination which has bewildered
artists since the first trembling of this star.

Martha knew also that the chief event of her life had just
occurred.  She too sat forward, her tongue out, her eyes gleaming;
once and again she turned and licked Hans' hand to show him that
she was with him in this adventure.

He had no doubt that he would find Nathalie, and that very soon.
She would have gone either to Vladimir or the Westcotts.  If
Vladimir knew nothing, he would go to the Westcotts.

But, beyond all else he was free--he had only this bag and Martha
in all the world--no wife, no mother-in-law, no house, no fame, no
stupid friends, no stupider acquaintances, no one to fuss over or
trouble him.  He might die in a ditch and no one prevent him.  Oh,
perfect liberty!

At least for a day and a night he might do so!  How to keep his
freedom, that was the question.  As the taxi lumbered along he felt
that he would like to ride in it for ever (although it was an
ancient taxi).

He was so deeply excited that when he put his hand on Martha's neck
it trembled, but it was the excitement of happiness.  When he found
Nathalie they would live together somewhere, in some extremely
remote place, until she was ready to marry her young man, and after
that--Why, he would live all by himself!  (Why was it that that
thought gave him the deepest throb of happiness of all?)

He adored Nathalie--she was his child, his darling, his beloved for
ever--but to be quite alone--he and the One-eyed Commander! . . .

"We three!" he said to Martha, who, her eyes shining desperately,
barked sharply once, then yawned.

The taxi stopped.

He got out, took his bag, and looked up at the dark and sinister
building.  Not a light in any window.  It was then, standing in the
quite empty street, the taxi waiting for a moment behind him then
buzzing into activity and vanishing--after, not a sound save the
distant rumble of traffic--that he realized that he was indeed at
the beginning of an adventure.  He had been for so long enclosed
and guarded and watched that he had now in spite of himself a
moment of apprehension.  This was what it was to be alone, to stand
in a dark street under the stars before a dark house that did not
know of your approach, and, moreover, did not care.

But the One-eyed Commander was at his side.  He felt him--tall, the
silver buckles glittering on his shoes, the silver at his wrists,
that hawk-like nose, the stern relentless gaze.  "Well, go ON with
it.  This is your adventure.  Not mine.  I have my own affairs, as
you'll soon discover."

So he went on with it.  He walked forward and pushed Vladimir's
bell.  He waited.  There was no answer.  He looked up the street
and down the street, then, shouldering the bag (he was aware at
that how his excitement had tired him), he turned the handle of the
street door.  The door would not open.  He waited.  He rang
Vladimir's bell again.  Still no response.  It was chill, and a
breeze had sprung up, around his feet as it seemed--a cold breeze
with the shiver of snow on it.  He looked up at the sky and saw
that the stars were slowly vanishing; wisps of grey cloud, thicker
and darker than the night sky, were spreading above the chimney
pots.

He rang the bell above Vladimir's--Klimov's bell.  A window at the
top of the house was flung up.  A figure leaned out.

"Who is there?"

He called back, feeling intensely ludicrous and ironically
helpless, his name.  The window closed.  The street door with a
creaking noise slowly opened.  He climbed the dark stairs,
stumbling at every step, dragging the bag.  Now he was very tired
and felt foolish.  The One-eyed Commander had departed into the
stars.

On Vladimir's landing there was a light, and Klimov standing in a
faded red dressing gown, his mouth open.

"But what--?" he cried.

Hans, panting, put down the bag.  "Wait a moment.  I'm out of
breath.  This damned bag . . ."  Then he gasped:  "Where's young
Shapkin?"

It did him good then to see Klimov's delighted pleasure.

"Here, give me the bag.  Come up to my room AT once.  Shapkin is
away--since yesterday.  He returns to-morrow.  But why? . . .
what? . . . no, but come.  Rest in my room."

He almost ran up the further flight of stairs, bumping the bag
after him.  Hans and Martha followed.  Mihail's room was in a
splendid confusion.  The dog and puppy ran to meet them, barking
excitedly.  Klimov had been carpentering, the floor was littered
with shavings, newspapers, clothes.  On the table beside the wooden
toys were piles of books, the remains of a meal, and a large blue
china bowl full of chrysanthemums.  The bed was neat in the corner,
on it laid very modestly a white nightshirt with a red border.
Klimov was in his shirt and trousers and a pair of shabby clapping
slippers.

Hans had put down his bag and stood looking about him.  The dog and
the puppy were investigating Martha, who herself was inquisitive,
aloof, and coquettish.

"I must explain," Hans said.  "If Shapkin is away, can you tell me
where I can find him?"

"He has gone--yesterday, he has gone to Bristol on business.  He
was very reluctant to go, but he had no choice.  He gave me orders
that if there was a message from the young lady I was to send him a
telegram.  There has been no message."

"She hasn't been here then this evening?"

"No, no.  Certainly not."

"And when does he return--young Shapkin?"

"To-morrow afternoon."

"Oh, I see.  Then I must enquire at the other place."

His fatigue subconsciously getting the better of him, he sat down,
almost without knowing it, on Klimov's bed.

"What time is it?" he asked.

"Nearly midnight."

"It's too late to go to them--but I might ring them up.  Have you a
telephone, Klimov?"

"Yes, next floor.  I'll go with you."

They went down together.  Near Vladimir's room, in a dark corner,
there was a telephone.

"You put in pennies," explained Klimov.

Hans found his pennies, gave the number which he had found in the
old tattered book, waited eagerly.  Suppose they were all in bed!
How could he ever rest?

"Ah, is that Mrs. Westcott?"

"Yes--who is it?"

"It's Hans Frost speaking."

"Oh, yes."

"I apologize for ringing you up at this hour, but--have you heard
anything of Nathalie this evening?"

"Yes, Mr. Frost.  She's upstairs asleep at this moment."

"Oh, thank God!"  He sighed with relief.  Klimov, standing beside
him in the darkness, smiled with delight.  He could tell from the
sigh that the news was good.

"Was she very upset?  What time did she come to you?"

"Yes, she was--very upset.  She was quite hysterical.  She got here
about half-past five.  She arrived with a small bag, said she'd
only come for a minute, and must go out instantly and make her
living!  She's refused to tell us anything more.  The only thing
she said over and over again was that no one must know where she
was.  She said she'd been a burden on you, and when you'd been so
good to her that was wicked--that she wouldn't see anyone again
until she was on her own. . . ."

"Poor child, poor child!" Hans murmured.  Klimov sighed
sympathetically in the darkness.

"I told her she was a fool.  I scolded her.  I thought that was the
best way to treat her.  She was on the edge of hysterics.  I told
her she was imagining everything.  At last I persuaded her to lie
down for an hour or two--to wait until my husband came in.  She
did, and then I gave her--although she didn't know it--a sleeping
draught.  She's slept soundly ever since."

"Poor child, poor child--yes, you did absolutely right, Mrs.
Westcott.  I'm most grateful to you.  May I come round in the
morning?"

"Yes--please do.  If you could show her that she hasn't bothered
you--"

"Bothered me!  Good God! . . .  All right.  I'll be with you first
thing in the morning.  Thank you so much."

He turned round to Klimov.

"It's all right.  She's gone to friends.  I'm so relieved."

They went back to Klimov's room, where they found that Martha had
already established her power, having ejected the dog from the
cushion in front of the fire and ordered the puppy to keep its
distance, which it most obediently was doing.

And now what was Hans to say?  How much was he to explain?  He
looked at Klimov and decided to tell him everything.

"Look here, Klimov.  We're friends--I felt that we were from the
first.  Here's a secret--not a soul's to know.  I've had a quarrel
with my wife about this girl.  I'm not going back home to-night.
Can you put me up somewhere, just for to-night?"

"Everything I have, it is yours," said Mihail, his bald head
crimson with pleasure.

"Thank you, that's a noble answer.  But I only want to lie down
somewhere for an hour or two.  I don't suppose I shall sleep very
much anyway."

"There's Vladimir's room."

"So there is.  The very thing."

They moved down together, Klimov insisting on carrying Hans' bag,
Martha following.

Vladimir's room was clean and empty.  A bed in one corner, a shelf
of books--everything neat and in order.

"Yes, I can make this do nicely," said Hans.

He shook hands with Klimov, who bowed, then said:

"I'm proud that you let me assist you.  Very proud."

Then he went.

How strange, then, the silence of this empty room!  He undressed,
washed, put on pyjamas, switched off the light, lay down on the
bed.

He could hear Martha moving round in this strange new place.  She
moved round and round the room, scratched at the carpet, lay down,
sighed, got up again, scratched again, sighed, lay down, padded
here and there.  Then there was silence.  He knew what she was
doing.  She was standing beside the bed, looking up, wondering
whether for once she might do what had always been forbidden.
After all, this was a strange uncouth place--unlike everything she
had ever known in smell and substance.  Should she dare?  He must
be feeling strange himself to-night.  She hesitated.  Then she
jumped.  She was on the bed.  She waited, expecting the protest.
None came.  Encouraged, she scratched among the bedclothes.
Wrapped in his dressing gown he was lying under the counterpane.
She advanced, sniffed at his face, then finding that he did not
scold her, with a sigh of great content, lay down, fitting into the
hollow of his thigh.  This was what all her life with him she had
desired.  She had, long ago, abandoned all hope of its realization.
But you never could tell.  Everything came if you waited for it.
Then when he put out his hand and laid it on her head her happiness
was complete.

He lay there, his body aching with weariness, but unable to sleep.
Figures, pictures of the past crowded about him.  The old days when
creation had come upon him so fast that he had scarcely time to
breathe, the old days of Henley and Stevenson, the old days of The
Duchess of Paradis and The Blissful Place, and Queen Rosalind.

It seemed that all the intervening years had been rolled away.  All
the hours since his illness were like a scroll rolled up.  His body
might be old, but the spirit was once again young.

Yes, his heart was young--but as he lay there he realized with a
splendid sense of ease and lightness that it mattered but little
what his heart might be.  He had never before in all his creative
life been so completely conscious of his passivity, of the way in
which in the past his body and soul and mind had been used, whether
he wished it or no, by something that had regarded himself,
his happiness, misery, content, ambitions, with a sweeping
indifference.  One glance, and he was used, and the spirit passed
on.  So it had been that day at Portofino, when, finding with great
luck the chapel open, he had walked in, stared at the altar and the
candles, and thus staring, had been seized, held, had The Silver
Tree thrust upon him; or walking back on a blind, foggy night,
after saying good-bye to Carlotta Hegel (ugly, angry, selfish thing
of a German) heart-broken, it had seemed, and then suddenly--free!
No more running round to the rooms in Parchment Street with the
spotted wall paper and the rustling everlastings, no more meeting
her at the restaurant in Soho--what was it called?  He had
forgotten now even the name--and imploring her over the fritto
misto which she adored and was so greedy about, to divorce the
hideous Hegel and marry himself; no more of that high shrill laugh
and the canary-coloured dress with the silver buttons--and
realizing then, in the middle of the fog, his freedom, how Laura
Merrilees had come to him, Laura the woman of fifty, with her
grasping maternity, her selfish self-sacrifice, her greed for love,
her clutch on her weak, feckless sons--and how, grasping the
railings that he might not fall, he had shouted for joy, fetched
Laura a "clout" and carried her helpless home, then for months and
months battened on her body!

Or the misery once in the English Lakes, staying in the farm near
Ravenglass, fighting with The Philistines.  How the book, a quarter
created, died and withered under his hand, how he waited day after
day, day after day, for something to come of it, how the people--
that beastly family, the Crocketts, who had started so well--simply
vanished from before his eyes, lay down, died, and passed away.
That miserable country, how it rained and rained!  That wretched
day at Wastdale Head, staring up at the gloomy Gable, listening to
the climbers in the dark, smelly room of the inn, with their eager,
selfish (as it seemed to him) absorption in their trumpery climbs--
and then, even then, wandering wretchedly into the little church,
suddenly the Crocketts had come crowding about him again.  Milly
with her sarcastic smile, and Henry with his ambitious selfishness,
and Old Mother Crockett with her thieving good nature.  Directly
after that the weather had changed.  He had moved on, he
remembered, to the little inn at Dungeon Ghyll, and the sky had
been a glory of coloured clouds, and the earth musical with running
water!

But himself--he had had nothing whatever to do with it.  He had not
even learnt the rules of his craft.  And there were no rules.  The
great men came along, broke all the rules; then came the critics,
and made the very breaking of the rules new laws for the next comer
to go by.

No, he had not even written the kind of books that he wanted to
write.  He admired supremely, in literature, the SIMPLE style.  In
English, Defoe of prose writers and Wordsworth of poets (yes, even
the Wordsworth of the Ecclesiastical Sonnets) had seemed to him the
great exemplars.  And yet, in the end, in The Duchess of Paradis
and Green Parrots and The Silver Tree he had written some of the
most fantastic and bejewelled prose in the English language.

Everything had been as he would not have it.  No book that he had
ever written had been the book that he had wanted to write, no
praise that he had ever received (save a word or two from Galleon)
had been the praise that he had desired, no criticism (and he had
had plenty) had seemed to him to hit the mark (he knew how feeble
in many ways all his works had been).  He had not even lived the
life that in his youth he had longed for.  "Oh!" he had cried at
twenty-five, "when I have money enough, and fame enough, the
freedom, the energy, the breadth that my life is going to have!"
And, behold, his life had not had either freedom or breadth. . . .

He sighed, drifting now towards sleep--and even as he sighed the
One-eyed Commander came to him.  Not, as he had come to him
hitherto, unattended, driving up in the rain to the dark and
sheltered house, but moving now in thick and fast company.  Near to
him was a woman with flaming red hair, a young man halting a little
in his walk, an old woman with a bent back.  The long room was lit
with candles: the red-haired woman was playing at the piano.  The
One-eyed Commander, pacing the room, stopped at her side, laid a
hand on her shoulder.  She looked up, smiling.  The young man came
with halting step towards them, then stayed.

All the candles blew out.  The Commander was alone.  He turned and,
raising his hands in the dark, felt his way blindly.  The woman,
also blindly, waited, steady against the wall, for his coming. . . .

But this woman, although he would possess her, was not the prize
that the Commander needed.  At every turn he missed his desire. . . .
The funeral was creeping up the hill.  The bearers stumbling
under the heavy black coffin; the two women darkly veiled; the
Commander grimly impatient at this idiotic ceremony that he must
attend; the little graveyard on the hillside; the priest's robes
blowing in the chilly wind; below, on the right, the house sunk in
the trees, his destination on that rainy night months before; the
words of the priest; the sinking of the coffin into the thick, damp
soil; the smell of dung and rotting leaves; the cawing of the rooks
in the little wood near by. . . .

So it goes . . .  So it goes . . .  Coming, coming, coming. . . .

The last trees, the last cloud fading into dusk. . . .

Hans, his hand on Martha's warm, smooth neck, fell asleep.

He awoke, instantly aware that he was deeply refreshed, and happily
excited to a consciousness of Klimov standing over him.  Martha was
still asleep, and did not move when he sat up.

"What time is it?" he asked, rubbing his eyes.

"Nine o'clock," said Klimov, smiling.

"Oh, Lord!"  He tumbled out of bed.  "Nathalie!"

"I have some breakfast ready in my room," Klimov said; "and there
is a bathroom down the passage."

Klimov had made coffee and boiled eggs.  He sat rather silently
while Hans ate and drank.  He seemed to be lost in a sort of dreamy
ecstasy that Hans should be there.  He asked no questions, and
Hans, was too deeply preoccupied with Nathalie's affairs to notice
Klimov.

He was quickly dressed and bustling away.  By ten o'clock he was at
the Westcotts' door.

Millie let him in.

"She's gone," she said.

"Gone!" Hans cried.  Then impatiently he went on:  "Oh, you
shouldn't have let her go! . . .  Oh, why am I so late? . . ."

"We couldn't stop her," Millie said.  "She woke me very early,
knocked on my door.  I went, and there she was fully dressed.  She
told me that she was going.  I said where?  She said she'd decided
to go back to Polchester, not to live with the Proudies again, but
because she couldn't at present stay in London.  There were
circumstances that made it impossible.  She might, she said, stop
with the Proudies for a night or two, but only while she was
looking for something.  I asked her what kind of thing.  She said
that there were lots of old ladies down there who wanted
companions.  I told her then that you'd rung up last night.  That
seemed to excite her very much.  She had been very calm and
collected until then.  She begged me to tell her what you'd said,
so I told her exactly.  Tears were in her eyes.  She was
tremendously moved.  She said that if you came this morning I
wasn't to tell you where she'd gone to, but to let you know that as
soon as she had a real position she would write to you.  She
repeated the words a 'real position' as though they were very
important.  She also said that she loved you, and always would. . . .
She is a darling, Mr. Frost, she is indeed.  My children are
more to me than anything on earth, but, honestly, I'd leave them,
and my husband too, just now for Nathalie.  But she wouldn't hear
of my going with her, or giving her money or anything at all but
breakfast.  Then Peter, my husband, woke up and came out and joined
us in his pyjamas.  And he seemed to understand in a moment what
she was feeling.  He really did.  And he'll go down at once to
Polchester if she wants any help."

"He needn't," said Hans.  "I'm going down myself."

"Oh, are you?" said Millie, a little doubtfully.  "That's
splendid."

"I'm going down to-day by the very next express train."

"Oh, yes," said Millie, still more doubtfully.  "Only--I oughtn't,
I suppose, to have told you where she's gone.  I promised not to."

"That makes no kind of difference," said Hans.  "You were quite
right to tell me.  I promise not to give you away.  I suppose
there's another express train to-day?"

"Yes," Millie said.  "I know there's one in the afternoon--about
three."

She found an ABC.  Yes, there was a train from Paddington at three.

"She had enough money?"

"She said so.  She was very proud, and very independent. . . .  Mr.
Frost, can you tell me at all what happened?"

"Yes.  She had a quarrel with my wife, who unfortunately said
something that made her feel she was in the way.  This happened
while I was out.  I didn't know until I got back from a dinner-
party last night that she'd gone.  She left me a note."

"Yes," said Millie.  "Also, she's in love with young Vladimir
Shapkin, but is afraid to marry him."

"Now, Mrs. Westcott, you introduced them in the first place.  Tell
me, what do you think of that young man?  Is he a good sort or no?"

"Yes," said Millie, nodding her head, "I think he is.  I don't know
him very well; but Peter likes him and trusts him, and Peter's a
splendid judge of people.  Of course he's a Russian, but that only
means that he sees some things at a different angle from ourselves.
He's got a good brain and a good heart.  He's very kind."

Hans agreed.  "I've only had one talk with him, but I liked him."

He was aware of a pleasurable, excited interest in everything.  He
liked the room into which the sunlight was glancing, he liked
Millie in her soft, crocus-coloured dress, he liked the dark
chrysanthemums on the table, the voices of the children from
upstairs--all of the world was here in this room, flowing about
him.

"Well," he said briskly, "I must be going along."

("Dear old man," thought Millie.  "How smart and spruce he looks!
I hope Peter's like that at seventy.")  She wanted, though, to
return to the children now.  Nathalie was safe if the old boy was
going to make her his charge.  She wanted to get back to the
children.  No knowing what they were up to. . . .

Hans, returning, found Klimov on his knees near the window playing
with the puppy.  He was drawing a piece of string across the floor.
The puppy, lying flat, pretended not to notice, then suddenly made
a frantic dash.  Martha was watching the door, wondering where in
this strange new world could her master be.  The other dog was
watching Martha.

Klimov, not at all embarrassed at being caught over so childish an
employment, got up.

"Well," he said, "there you are.  Have you seen her?"

"No," said Hans.  "She left at eight this morning for a town in the
south where she'd been living before she came up to London."

"Yes," said Klimov, beginning to hum a tune, then checking himself.

"I'm going down there.  There's a train this afternoon at three."

"Yes," said Klimov.  He appeared of a sudden extremely doleful.
The corners of his mouth drooped.  He looked out of the window.

"You'll be able to tell young Shapkin," went on Hans, "something of
what has happened.  Not everything.  I don't want you to tell him
where she's gone.  I'll write to him when I've seen how things are
down there.  You can tell him that.  Tell him also--"

"Oh, Mr. Frost--" broke in Klimov, but timidly, nervously, twisting
his hands together.

"Yes?" said Hans, smiling.

"I suppose it wouldn't appear to you possible. . . .  You'd dislike
it extremely--if--well--I want to come with you.  Just for the
journey.  I've never been to the south of England.  I haven't
indeed.  I know that this suggestion is most audacious, but I'd
leave you immediately you wished--I would indeed.  I might be of
some assistance--"

He broke off.  He looked like a child entreating from its elder
some incredible joy.

Hans looked at him.  Why not?  He wasn't sure whether in spite of
this splendid new-found liberty he wanted to be quite alone.  He
liked the man.  Why not?

"Come, then," he cried.  "We'll go on the adventure together."

He had a horrible fear for a moment that Klimov was going to
embrace him.  But all that Klimov did in reality was to sit down at
the carpentering table and begin frantically to work.

"The box," he said, "must be made before I leave.  I promised it to
Nancy by to-night.  Now come, you devil!  See what a fine box we
can make together."



CHAPTER II

The Train


Hans was aware against his will, as they started for the station,
that Mihail Klimov was an odd-looking travelling companion; against
his will he realized it because he was now in the open world, free
of all prejudices, caring nothing for appearances.

Nevertheless, Klimov's appearance was too individual--a faded green
jacket of the hunting sort, gay knickerbockers and gay worsted
stockings, a large black hat of the kind worn by unsuccessful
artists.

He carried also a kind of alpenstock, and conducted on a lead his
dog Tray.  ("Why Tray?" Hans had asked him.  "The name," Klimov had
answered, "of every dog in English poetry.")

Hans was the more aware of Klimov's costume because his own was so
official.  He had at the moment only the clothes in which he had
escaped last night from what he now called "the Zoo"--his dark
London clothes with the buff waistcoat and the black hat.  Martha
was in attendance, exceedingly scornful of Tray's bondage, and of
this Tray was most unhappily aware.

It was a chill day, with wisps of fog clinging to windows and
doorways, unsuspecting lampposts, and indignant street corners.
Everyone looked as though marriage were a failure and dyspepsia the
common lot.  In the half-light, faces were pale and backs bowed.
All the wrong horses were winning the wrong races; the Balkans were
feeling very uncomfortable about Italy; there had been earthquakes
in Japan, and two millionaires had committed suicide.  Russell
Square dribbled at the mouth, this street had a cold in the nose,
that a sore throat.  The afternoon was closing quickly into a thick
yellow twilight and the pavements were slippery under a paste of
thin filmy mud.  No sparrows twittered--human voices were hushed,
and all the mechanism of the new triumphant world creaked, yelled,
thundered its progress.

"I'm escaping!  I'm escaping!" Hans thought joyfully, sitting
beside Klimov in the taxi.  "It's fitting that it should be on such
a day."  But his joy was nothing at all to Mihail Klimov's.  Klimov
was busily engaged in "keeping himself down."  He had told himself
that beyond and above everything he must not bore Hans Frost.  He
must show himself worthy of this, the greatest, most unexpected
glory of all his life.  Because, ever since he had been a little
round boy in the Moscow Government spelling out for himself the
easier poems of Pushkin, ever since his father had taken him one
never-to-be-forgotten day into the nearest town to witness a
performance of an Ostrovsky comedy, he had thought men of letters
the greatest creations of the Almighty God.  It had been his lot,
however, only to know the lesser ones--the so-much-lesser ones
that, try as he might, he could never reverence them as he should.

Once, spending a holiday in the Crimea, he had had pointed out to
him the attenuated figure of Tchekhov.  That had been indeed a
tremendous moment for one who had worshipped, as he had done,
Stanislavsky and Knipper and Kochalov in The Three Sisters and The
Cherry Orchard; a great moment that he carried like a picture
always in his heart--the brilliant sky, the shining front of the
hotel, the figure, standing on the hotel steps, looking out, lonely
and whimsical, into the infinite distance.  That had been his
nearest approach until now.

This present event was nothing less than a miracle.  He had a true
sense of what was fine in the Arts.  He had long ago savoured the
uniqueness, the odd alliance of irony and sentiment, of fantastic
beauty and rigid formalism, of almost wild poetry and realistic
prose in The Duchess of Paradis and The Silver Tree and Goliath and
the others.

And here the man himself was presented to him, so to speak,
straight out of heaven's pocket.  The man himself, so attractive,
so human, so kindly, so unpretentious.

Mihail Klimov was a very humble man, although he would stand up at
any moment with hot indignation for the ideas in which he believed.
He was always very unconscious of himself, for ever losing himself
in enthusiasms, devotions, ideas, protests, labours, projects.  He
lost himself now completely in Hans Frost, and it made him
exceedingly happy to do so.

They reached the station and found a porter.  He looked with great
suspicion at the two dogs.

"They won't bite, will they?" he asked.

"Dear me, no," said Hans indignantly.

"Because if they bite anybody there'll be a bit of trouble.
Anyway, you can't take them in the carriage with you.  They'll have
to go in the van."

"Not take them with us!" cried Klimov.  "But we must.  I insist.
I'll pay extra.  My dog will be terribly unhappy by himself."

"Can't help it, sir," said the porter, who was a little shrivelled
man with a hoarse voice.  "Ain't allowed.  Must go in the van."

"I'll see about it," said Klimov confidently.  "I'll speak to the
guard."

"Speak to 'oo you like," said the porter, digging down into his
trousers for his voice, then, failing to find it, ending in a
whisper:  "It's the law."

Tray meanwhile, greatly depressed in the taxi by Martha's (as he
felt, deserved) contempt, had just discovered a lady Pomeranian
tied to a stout lady in furs, and, in order to establish in
Martha's eyes his adequate masculinity, started in pursuit.  This
involved Klimov and his alpenstock in many confusions--porters'
barrows, piles of luggage, and the legs of passengers.

Certain lookers-on were smiling.  Hans had a moment (of which he
was greatly ashamed) of wishing that he had never met Klimov.  It
was difficult to rid himself completely, all in an instant, of
twenty years' traditions.  So he went off and bought the tickets.
He bought third-class ones.  He suspected that that would suit
Klimov's pocket more appropriately.

When he reached the train he found Klimov, hot, his hat on one side
of his head and Tray wound about his legs, discussing the situation
with the guard.

However, it could scarcely be called a discussion.  The guard had
but little time to spare.

"Sorry, sir.  Rules; no dogs allowed in with passengers.  Quite all
right in the van, you'll find.  Always settle down."

With anxious absorption Klimov followed the guard, dragged forward
indeed by the now exceedingly excited Tray, who supposed, it
seemed, that he was heading straight for a paradise of bones and
lady Pomeranians.  Martha, always wise before the event, followed
demurely.

Tray was tied to a pillar in the middle of a sea of boxes, Martha
to a staple in the wall.  Klimov knelt beside him, whispered in his
ear, patted him, pulled his ears.  Tray, straining at his cord,
panting, smiling, wagging his tail, considered this excellent fun.
But the moment arrived.

"Now, sir--only three minutes.  You must go to your carriage."

"But I wish to remain here."

"Sorry, sir, no room to-day.  Very heavy luggage."

It was true enough--no room to squeeze a cat.  Klimov tumbled onto
the platform, dust on his knees, his cheeks, straw in his hair.
Hans, in a state of nervous exasperation, was waving to him to
hasten.  He was dragged into a compartment completely filled, so
that at once he was pressed down between a stout ginger-faced
woman, a man with knees widely spread, a little boy and a little
girl.  Hans, on his side, had a young man in a bowler hat, a little
man with pince-nez and a newspaper, and an old goatish man with a
white beard.

But this audience was exactly what Klimov needed.  He seized upon
them, compelled them to force the highways and hedges of their
British surly shyness, made them partners and co-sharers of his
wrongs, injustices, outrages and intolerable treatments, forced
from them compassion, sympathy, argument, and general emotional
chorus.

A new Klimov was revealed to Hans, a challenging, ferocious,
melodramatic, abusive Klimov.  What was the British Government to
him?  Had he not paid a ticket for his dog, and if he had paid his
ticket, was not the dog entitled to some special convenience?  Was
it right or just that he should be tied up like a criminal to a
post without bread or water, without a friend in the world, that he
should be allowed to howl his heart out from loneliness and terror,
and nobody care?  He, moreover, a dog who lately had been sick, his
leg sprained, and having for weeks to be most especially tended.
And it was not as though he were a dog of evil or malicious tongue--
the mildest dog ever seen, only, of course, a dog with natural
feelings, a human, tender-hearted dog, who would feel this
injustice as possibly no other dog in the whole country would feel
it. . . .

And suddenly, because he was short of breath, Klimov ceased, and
with a most unexpected (because he had been crying out in a very
ferocious tone) beaming smile looked round upon the company.

He had them all in his power.  They might not indeed agree with his
opinions or accept all his views.  The little man with the
newspaper enquired rather fiercely whether he considered that the
comfort of other passengers ought not to be considered, and the
stout man at his side said that he hoped that he realized that when
the Labour Party came into power everything would be very
different.

But in general they were all with him, sympathizing, understanding,
his little sisters and his little brothers.

Then what intimacies poured forth!  Who is it who has complained
that the English are a reserved and reticent people?  Reticent!
Give them an inch of encouragement and they will return you ell
upon ell of personal experience.  The ginger-faced woman had a dog;
the man with the widespread knees had two dogs; the prophet with
the white beard had had kennels of dogs; the little man with the
newspaper had an Alsatian; even the small children hoped to have
dogs.

All these dogs were led forward and presented to Klimov; he was
urged to consider their coats, their noses, their appetites, their
tricks, their injustices, their triumphs, their humanities, their
passions.  And behind this world of dogs hovered an atmosphere,
pleasantly stimulated, of a general disgust with the idle, selfish,
exorbitant, malicious, uneducated British Government "going to the
dogs," as the little newspaper man, who had plainly a pretty wit,
humorously suggested, but so far, so far, inferior to their
destination!

And what of Hans during this eager excitement?  He sat there,
taking indeed no part, but revelling in this close contact with his
common humanity.  How could it be that he who had hated Bigges so
bitterly that it had been all he could do not to kick his
posterior, who disliked increasingly any sort of dinner-party, who
had been creeping more and more into a reserved and isolated shell,
should feel now this warm sympathy, humorous participation?  He did
not mind in the least that the compartment was already close and
stuffy, that the young shiny-nosed man on one side, the goatish
prophet on the other, were pressing in upon him and leaning,
because of their interest in the general argument, right across his
chest.  Strange to say, forgotten impulses and agitations were
rising in his breast.  He was savouring life once again, real life,
at first hand, as for years he had not savoured it.  Not that he
would wish to spend immortal years in this compartment, to be
condemned for ever to the company of the ginger-faced woman and the
goatish old man--but he was in contact once more with his own
people.  These were those from whom he had sprung, the real
children of the world, to whom birth and death, labour of the soil,
contest with earth and sky, and at the last an eternal God-given
truce, were the unescapable facts.  No escape, no flinching, no
specious argument--acceptance of life.

After these grand thoughts he felt for his pipe, with apologies for
troubling his neighbours pulled down his bag and extracted Charles
Lamb, looked out at the dim and misty landscape, and began
comfortably to read.

The hubbub fell as quickly as it had risen.  Everyone slipped back
into his or her proper individuality, but they were all friends
together now, and would support one another if occasion arose
against all the world.

Klimov looked smilingly about him, and then, a little anxiously, at
Hans Frost.  How had he taken all this noise and excitement?  Ah,
there!  Once again he had forgotten, in the stir of the moment, to
control himself, and as always when ashamed of his behaviour he
saw, standing before him, his huge fat nurse, her bosom creaking
behind the crimson bodice with the gold buttons that she used to
wear.  She had had a dark moustache and a hairy mole in the middle
of her right cheek, and she would scream at him and raise her great
flat hand.  But she never struck him.  In the middle of her temper
she would smile and catch him to her and give him something to eat.
He could feel still the soft warmth of her cheek and neck and the
smell of milk and cabbage soup that seemed always to hang about
her.  He looked at Hans just as all those years ago, there in the
huge empty wooden rooms of the house in the Moscow Government, he
had looked at his nurse.

But Hans was all right.  He was reading in a thick squat crimson
book, The Letters of Charles Lamb.  Klimov felt in his coat pocket
and produced from it, very shabby and dog-eared, Tristram Shandy.
It was his favourite book in the English language, and in between
the pages he listened for the howls of Tray.

After a while the train stopped at a station, and the young man,
the goatish old man with the beard, and the little man with the
newspaper got out.  They all seemed to part from Klimov with great
regret.  They smiled and nodded and said good-day.  Klimov smiled
and got out and stood on the platform wondering whether he had time
to visit Tray.  He looked about him with wide-open childish
attention, but just as he was prepared to make a valiant dash he
was ordered back into the train.

Hans had moved now to the window and Klimov sat opposite him.  The
fat man had disappeared.  There remained now only the woman and the
two children.  Yes, they also were going to Polchester, to a
sister.  Not a good time of the year, but the sister's husband had
gone to Canada and the sister needed company.  The little boy had
new boots which he showed to Klimov.  Klimov patted his head.
Then, seeing that Hans was not reading but was gazing out of the
window, he began to talk to him.  He talked about art.  Did Hans
remember how Dostoevsky in his Journal of a Writer defended the
artist against the utilitarian critics, how he said that the only
thing the artist had to bother about was to write well and to give
his fellow men as much beauty as there was time for, and never to
bother as to whether he were useful or no?  Did Hans agree with
that?

"Certainly I agree with that," Hans answered.  Gazing out of the
window he saw how a faint pale dusk, dimly gold, had invaded the
world, and against this dim world the streams, the fields, the
trees were like vaporous shadows.

A dim, dim world--beautiful in its silence, its loneliness, its
remoteness.

"I don't know anything about art," he went on hurriedly.  "I never
have known anything.  I can't talk about those things; I never
could.  I've always been quite passive as a writer.  I've never had
many ideas.  Something comes to me and forces itself out of me.
I'm not a true artist at all.  If I were I'd hammer and hammer away
to make something more beautiful.  I'm not a poet.  I've never
known--what shall I call it?--a frenzy of inspiration.  I'm not a
novelist either, or only a very little one.  People do compel me to
let them out sometimes.  I do it reluctantly.  I resist them as
long as I can.  I suppose I'm best at fairy tales.  And those are
what I admire most in literature.  But not the sort of decorated,
elaborated fairy stories that I've written.  I'd rather have
written like Hans Andersen than anyone.  Or La Fontaine.  Or your
Kryllov whom I've read in French.  Or Robinson Crusoe.  There's a
book!  Wonderful!  But I can't do it.  I can't be simple and
natural.  Only once in these popular poems before the war.  Not
that they were good; but they were simple, natural."

"So you've never tried to be useful?" asked Klimov, drawing the
little boy close to his side.

"Useful!  Lord, no!"

"You've never planned any Utopias?"

"Utopias!  You can see how useful my Utopia would be when I tell
you that my favourite book of that kind is old Morris's News from
Nowhere.  No one reads it now, I suppose.  I should like just such
a world, beautiful men and women moving happily along flowery
meads, singing as they row up the river, carving boxes and painting
missals. . . .  No, I suppose I should hate it really.  But
politics are unmeaning to me.  I just do what I'm told by the man
in power, and curse at having to do it, like every other man.
There have to be men in power, I suppose.  One of them is very like
another."

Klimov sighed.  "At least you've given happiness to thousands of
your fellow men; that is enviable."

"Perhaps.  But have I ever made a single human being happy?  An
artist is a godless egoist.  Everything must be sacrificed to his
trumpery little creation.  So soon as an artist allows another
human being or a cause or a religion to dominate him he becomes a
bad artist.  He must be selfish and vain and petty and tyrannical.
I've been an artist long enough, and not a good enough one to
justify my tyrannies.  I should like before I die to see life at
first hand a little, to know one or two human beings as they are,
not as the creatures my art makes of them. . . ."  He tapped his
book.  "Here was a man.  He loved his sister and his friends like a
man, and he wrote divinely.  Although he knew great tragedy and was
often unhappy, he was one of the most fortunate men who ever lived,
and one of the greatest . . . Saint Charles--Thackeray's damnable
sentimentality, but for once truth, was justified."

"When I was a young man," said Klimov, "I thought that I was going
to be a great artist.  I could write a little and paint a little
and play the piano a little.  I thought I had great ideas.  I would
walk for hours beside the canals in Petrograd and think how great
my ideas were.  But nothing came of it.  I had no application.  I
never could think anything out.  And yet I've had a very happy
life.  I used to have visions.  I often talked with God.  He wasn't
a weary old man with a white beard, but young and lusty, rather
arrogant, and very wrong-headed about many things.  I used to argue
with him and point out where he'd made mistakes.  He would come and
walk with me and curse the stupidity of human beings.  He was
always showing them the right way to do things, but would they go
the right way?  Never.  Obstinate as mules he would say they were.
But he would grow wiser himself in time--or he hoped so.  That's
the one hope of the world in my opinion, that God himself should
grow wiser as time goes on. . . .  There is not at present much
sign of it.  Ah, here we are at another station!  Let's go and see
the dogs."

They hurried down the platform, found the van, and there were the
dogs lying like the lion and the lamb, or more pertinently,
perhaps, like Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, almost in one another's
arms.

They were in fact only languidly interested at the sight of their
masters.  Martha had scarcely ever been out of her master's sight
before, and she found this new world uncertain, puzzling, but
filled with interest.  This strange dog was after all to be sniffed
at, and there were many humans who appeared, paid their due by open
admiration, and passed on.  She had been fed, too, with biscuits,
pieces of sandwiches, and the jammy fingers of two young children.
Her strict home diet gave her deep appreciation of the many
pleasant adventures possible in a world without discipline.

Tray, a vain and inexperienced dog, was overcome with pride at his
apparent conquest of Martha.  It was true (as is, alas! so
frequently true) that now that she had given him her companionship,
she was not after all so very interesting, but his tail was "up."
He had vindicated his incipient manhood.

He rose to greet his master, but yawned several times, and then at
once lay down again, his head resting very pleasantly on a mail
bag.

"They seem to be all right," said Klimov, in his heart disappointed
that his dog didn't need him more.  All his life it had been the
same.  No one had ever needed him very much.  A woman who had loved
him once for three days in Petrograd told him that it was because
he was too eager about people, showed them too plainly that he
liked them.

"You should be more indifferent," she had said, yawning, and
powdering her cheeks.  "Never send women telegrams."  And she had
been so fond of him the first evening!

Returning to the carriage, looking out of the window rather sadly,
he admitted that this was probably true.

It would be the same shortly with Hans Frost.  Then cheering up--no
matter, this had been a great adventure, a wonderful piece of luck
that he would cherish all his days.  With him "cheerfulness was
always breaking in."  He had a puppy's excitement in the moment and
trust of the future.

Hans, meanwhile, opposite him, was feeling exceedingly weary.  He
was not seventy now, but seven hundred.  All the weariness of the
world sat upon his eyelids.  He wondered why the devil he wasn't
sitting in his marvellous chair in his library, a crackling fire at
his side, Martha at his feet, the Manet before his eyes.  What fly
had bitten him?  He loved Nathalie--she was the apple of his eye,
his heart rejoiced when he thought of her--but wasn't an old man a
fool to give up his beautiful home for a young girl who considered
him, when she considered him at all, an ancient Methuselah?

It was true that Ruth was a bore, and her mother a horror, but Ruth
ran the house extremely well, and he needn't see the mother.  What
was he doing sitting on a seat so hard that his ham bones throbbed
with ear-ache, a seat also so filthy that every germ in the world
must have its country home in the creases, sitting staring into the
fat, cow-fed cheeks of a country woman, and the oily, shining
countenances of her offspring?  What was he doing, too, in the
company of this amiable, but too utterly childish, Russian, who now
had seized him and would never let him go again?  What, what had
possessed him at his age to break his settled, comfortable life
into pieces, all for a whim, for a moment's anger, because of a
scrap of paper, Bigges' posterior, Ruth's irritation, his mother-in-
law's insults?

A profound melancholy seized him, a horror as of approaching death.
He saw himself seated there, an ugly, lonely failure of an old man,
not needed, ludicrous, despised by the young, rotting to the
grave. . . .

They were summoned to dinner in the restaurant car.  Sulkily,
silently, he bumped along the corridor, gloomily he sat down to the
congealing soup, the fragment of turbot with the glistening blue
eye, the stolid mutton and water-soaked cauliflower, the tasteless
apple tart, the cheese and poisonous watercress.

Not a word did the two of them exchange during the meal.  The train
went bumping along, lights flashed, rivers whisked by, hills and
roads flashed out under a pale, dim moon that had risen gently into
a misty heaven.

The sea rolled up to the train, flashed a breaker or two and was
gone.  They bumped back again to their carriage.

Hans picked up the Lamb again, and, warmed now by food and drink,
was a little happier.  Saint Charles, knowing his case, came along
and sat beside him.

"You are feeling a little low," he said.  "You shouldn't.  Take a
pig, for instance.  To confess an honest truth, a pig is one of
those things which I could never think of sending away.  Teals,
widgeons, snipes, barn-door fowl, ducks, geese--your tame villatic
things--Welsh mutton, collars of brawn, sturgeon, fresh or pickled,
your potted char, Swiss cheeses, French pies, early grapes,
muscadines, I impart as freely unto my friends as to myself.  They
are but self-extended; but pardon me if I stop somewhere.  Where
the fine feeling of benevolence giveth a higher smack than the
sensual rarity, there my friends (or any good man) may command me;
but pigs are pigs, and I myself therein am nearest to myself."

Seeing then that Hans was already more cheerful, was smiling
indeed, and pricking up his ears, he proceeded to tell him and
Samuel Taylor Coleridge the adventure of the Cake and the Beggar
Man:

"One of the bitterest pangs of remorse I ever felt was when a child--
when my kind old aunt had strained her pocket-strings to bestow a
sixpenny whole plum cake upon me.  In my way home through the
Borough I met a venerable old man, not a mendicant, but
thereabouts; a look-beggar, not a verbal petitionist; and in the
coxcombry of taught charity, I gave away the cake to him.  I walked
on a little in all the pride of an Evangelical peacock, when of a
sudden my old aunt's kindness crossed me; the sum it was to her;
the pleasure she had a right to expect that I--not the old imposter--
should take in eating her cake; the ingratitude by which, under
the colour of a Christian virtue, I had frustrated her cherished
purpose.  I sobbed, wept, and took it to heart so grievously, that
I think I never suffered the like--and I was right.  It was a piece
of unfeeling hypocrisy, and proved a lesson to me ever after.  The
cake has long been masticated, consigned to dunghill with the ashes
of that unseasonable pauper."

"Good!" cried Hans aloud.  "Damn good!  Good indeed!"

Then aware that he had cried out aloud in a public conveyance,
looking about him to see whom he might have disturbed, he realized
that no one was paying him the slightest attention.

Klimov had gathered the two children close to himself, and was
telling them a story.  They were sitting like little coloured
statues, without motion, mouths open.

"And when the little boy," Klimov proceeded, "came near to this
part of the town his heart bounded within him.  He had come across
the shining, glittering snow to the doors of the great church.  The
doors were of beaten gold, and on all the walls the saints of the
church were painted in every colour.  The towers of the church were
like a cluster of tulips, crimson and purple and orange and green.
And above the towers all the silver stars were shining in a sea of
glory.  And even as he looked, holding onto his father's hand very
tightly, his eyes starting from his head, all the bells began to
ring, jangling together across the snow.  And from every part of
the town came flocks of people, all hastening into the church to
return thanks to God.  Little Ivan, with his father, passed in too,
and then indeed he had to draw a great breath.  Because there in
front of him were thousands and thousands of candles, all shaking
in the breeze, and glittering, like the stars above outside.  Then
all the people knelt down and offered thanks to God--"

"Polchester!  Polchester!" cried the guard, passing down the
corridor.

"Polchester!  Polchester!  Here we are!" cried Hans.  "Well, upon
my soul.  I've never enjoyed a journey so much in my life before!"



CHAPTER III

Progress through Polchester


He awoke next morning in his bedroom in "The Three Feathers" to
awareness that it was nearly nine o'clock, that it was a day of
sunshine, and that he was bewildered as to his surroundings.  The
wall paper was of a mottled yellow, with birds that looked like
green canaries.  There was a large print of "Carrying Home the Yule-
log" that reminded him instantly of his mother-in-law.  His mother-
in-law!  Ah! she was, thank God, abandoned and deserted.  He
remembered, instantly, everything, and especially the train journey
of yesterday, the dogs, the talk with Klimov, the company of
Charles Lamb, Klimov's story, the country people. . . .  A glorious
and vigorous satisfaction with life attacked him.  He sat up,
stretching his arms.  Of course he was free, free--free!  Here he
was in Polchester, where not a soul (save Nathalie) knew him, he
had had a divine sleep, better than any that he had known for
years, and to-day he would see Nathalie!

He rang for his hot water, and twenty minutes later he was down in
the breakfast room, drinking bad coffee, and marvelling at the
sensational stories in the Daily Post.

It was an old-fashioned, thoroughly English hotel.  The rooms
seemed to echo with the click of billiard balls; in the lounge
there was an ancient wall paper with yellow chrysanthemums, Frith's
"Railway Station," a little spotted with time and weather, and
large red vases with everlastings.

He stood in the doorway of the hotel and looked out on the shining,
cobbled street.  People were moving about in a lazy, happy fashion.
Only now, although it was nearly ten o'clock, some of the shops
were losing their shutters; as he walked, from some high distance
the cathedral bells rang the hour.  Here Klimov found him.  He
arranged with him to meet him at the hotel at one o'clock, and with
Martha (who had against all rules been smuggled last night into his
bedroom) started up the High Street to find the house of the
Proudies.

Now, as he moved up the street (and many people turned to glance at
this very distinguished-looking old gentleman with the peculiar-
shaped hat), all his excited love for Nathalie had returned.  The
events of yesterday had for a moment dimmed his vision of her, but
now, in a minute or two, he would see her again, the darling--the
darling, and he would have her in his arms again, and pet her, and
reassure her, and show her that he was her friend, and would look
after her to the end of his days, and maybe after that.

He passed under the Arden Gate and stood for a moment looking at
the splendid breadth and size of the cathedral basking now like a
splendid great animal under the warm autumnal November sun.  Just
to think that he had allowed all these years to pass and had
scarcely visited England at all, had never seen many of the English
cathedrals, and indeed none of them since his early youth.  There
was great peace and quiet here.  Two clergymen moved slowly across
the grass, and an old man passed him pushing a wheelbarrow pressed
down with dead leaves and faded flowers.  Martha walked in dignity
beside him, as though this were the very place and atmosphere for
which she had been always intended.

He had found the address of Canon Proudie in the directory and soon
discovered that it was one of the little houses, its garden
bursting with chrysanthemums, that looked out across the grass to
the cathedral.

He rang the bell and, when the maid came, presented his card.  He
would like to see Mrs. Proudie, if he might, on a matter of
considerable importance.  The maid took his card, said that Mrs.
Proudie would see him if he did not mind waiting for a moment, led
him up the stairs into a drawing-room full of sunshine and
photographs of Proudie relations.  He sat rather stiffly in a very
old and not very comfortable chair, leaning forward on his stick.
In another second Nathalie would be in his arms!

But Mrs. Proudie came in alone.  She was a big, stout woman with a
beaming smile and the air of one who has spent her life in taking
pots of conserve out of an aromatic storeroom to bestow upon large
and greedy families.

She greeted him like an old friend.

"Mr. Frost, how good of you to come!  This is an honour--and most
unexpected!"

"Yes," he said, feeling rather like a schoolboy, "I hope I'm not
here at an inconvenient hour.  I arrived late last night in
Polchester.  I hope you'll forgive me not giving you any warning,
but I was so impatient to see my niece Nathalie--"

"Oh, dear!" Mrs. Proudie broke in, "Nathalie's gone!"

"Nathalie gone!"

"Yes.  She went an hour ago.  She arrived here, as I suppose you
know, only yesterday afternoon--about tea time.  Most unexpected.
We had no idea, of course, that she was coming.  She just walked
in.  We were all having tea, my husband and three children.  Having
tea in here.  She simply sat down without a word of explanation and
had tea with us, just as she used to do."

He was bitterly disappointed.  He wanted now to see her, there
standing right in front of him, as (so he felt under the unexpected
blow) he had never wanted to see any human being before.

"Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!" was all that he could say.

She saw how grievously disappointed he was and was very sorry for
him.

She and Canon Proudie had, last night in their bedchamber
discussion, been angry with him.  Nathalie had refused to tell them
a thing, but they could see, of course, that there had been
grievous trouble somewhere, and they had thought it very wrong of
Mr. Frost to allow so young a child to go off, then, without a word
to anybody.

But now when she saw him, she could not be angry with him.  A dear-
looking old man and not at all alarming for such a celebrity.  It
was pleasant that she would be able, for many weeks to come, to
describe the event to her friends--to Mrs. Nash and the Chancellors
and the Burrows and those supercilious busybodies the Swintons.
"No, he was charming--not a bit conceited.  He just sat there, and
we talked.  He'd never been in Polchester before.  Wonderful for
his age--oh, well, he must be over seventy--"

All this passed through her mind as she went on.

"Yes, we thought it, of course, most peculiar.  She had never sent
us a word of warning.  She just arrived.  And she would tell us
nothing.  She was most reserved--not at all as she used to be, the
dear child.  She was quite friendly, but grave, and a lot older, we
all thought.  All she would tell us was that she wasn't going back
to London again and that, at once, she must find work of some kind.
That was the only thing she could think about.  She began right
away, looking in the advertisement columns of the Glebeshire News,
and before she'd finished her tea she'd found several that she said
she was going to try."

"What kind of advertisements?" asked Hans.

"Oh, people who wanted companions, being read to, having their dogs
looked after, that sort of thing.  She found one that she thought
looked especially promising.  A lady who is staying in St. Servian
and wanted a secretary."

"St. Servian?" asked Hans.  "Where's that?"

"It's a little fishing place on the coast about twenty miles from
here.  That's where she's gone off to this morning."

"That's where I'm going off to too," said Hans, rising.

"Of course," said Mrs. Proudie, "Nathalie may not like the look of
the lady or the lady might not like the look of her.  My husband
begged her not to be so precipitate, and to write a letter and stay
quietly here for a day or two.  I'm sure we're all simply delighted
to have her.  But Nathalie was absolutely determined, she wouldn't
hear of anything but that she must go off at once.  Certainly a
week or two in London has strangely changed her.  I do hope"--Mrs.
Proudie hesitated, then went on--"that Nathalie hasn't done
anything disgraceful in London.  You see, she's almost like our own
child.  She's been with us so much."

"No, indeed," said Hans warmly.  "Nothing disgraceful.  How could
she?  Why, she's wonderful.  She's brought something into my life--"

He broke off.  Why should he disturb Mrs. Proudie with the story of
his life?  "Why," asked the eyes, noses, and chins of the
photographed cousins, brothers, sisters, grandfathers, and aunts,
"should you disturb our Mrs. Proudie?  This is not YOUR home.  You
don't belong to us at all."

"It's only," said Hans, gently rubbing his black hat round and
round, "that there's been something of a love-affair.  A very
innocent and harmless one, but Nathalie was determined to show her
independence.  And--well, this is the way that she's showing it."

"I see," said Mrs. Proudie (although she didn't see in the least).
"I'm greatly relieved, I'm sure, and so will my husband be.  We're
so very fond of Nathalie.  And now, Mr. Frost, I do hope you'll
stay to luncheon.  My husband will be so very disappointed if he
doesn't meet you.  We have it at one-thirty.  Just ourselves--"

"No, thank, you," said Hans, moving towards the door.  "That's
extremely kind of you, but I--I would like to get to this place--
what's its name?"

"St. Servian."

"St. Servian, as quickly as possible--you say that it is twenty
miles.  One could motor, I suppose?"

"You could motor, of course"--Mrs. Proudie was very doubtful--"but
I don't think I'd recommend it.  It is one of the most out-of-the-
way places in Glebeshire, or Cornwall either, for the matter of
that.  And we've had a lot of rain lately.  The roads will be
terrible.  I would recommend that you take a train to Treliss and
then drive from there.  I know that there's a good train to Treliss
at 3:30 in the afternoon.  You should be in St. Servian by dinner
time."

"I see," said Hans.  "It certainly DOES seem very remote.  Is there
a hotel or anything of that kind?"

"Well, there's an inn, but it's very primitive, I'm afraid.  You
see, it's really a tiny place--very few visitors find their way
there, even in the summer.  And it will be quite empty at this time
of the year.  You're sure to find a room; it doesn't matter just
for one night what it's like, does it, if it's clean?"

"Not at all," said Hans.  He felt oddly excited about St. Servian.
He felt that he would want to go there now, even though Nathalie
were not there.  The curious happiness that had been slowly pouring
in, like a welling stream, upon his heart during the last two days,
seemed here, at this moment, in this quiet sunlit room with peace
in the air, colour everywhere, and the sunlit cathedral still and
beneficent beyond the window, to reach a height that swung with a
lovely rhythm around, beyond, and about him.

It was within him and outside him.  St. Servian!  St. Servian!  St.
Servian!

"Thank you very much.  My friend and I will take the afternoon
train."

"Then won't you come to luncheon?"

"I think not, Mrs. Proudie.  You are very kind.  I have a number of
things that I must see to."

He had, when he liked, a beautiful old-fashioned courtesy.  He
liked now.  Mrs. Proudie, after he had gone, stood there without
moving, thinking that she had never met so beautiful an old
gentleman.  She determined to go that very afternoon and find
several of his books at the Library.

He crossed the green and went into the cathedral.  The great place
was empty, save for an ancient verger.  He saw several beautiful
things.  He saw the splendid tomb of the Black Bishop.  He saw the
six windows known as "The Virgin and the Children."  As he looked
at these with their deep rich colour, the one in which the Virgin
bends down to watch the Baby Christ at play, the one in which St.
John and the Christ paddle in the stream, the one in which Jesus is
playing at his Mother's feet, while the ox and the ass and the
three dogs with the large heads gravely look on, as the colours,
purple and green and blue, falling now in great splashes onto the
floor, moved his heart, he felt the tide of happiness in him move
yet higher.

And he saw the Brytte monument, one of the loveliest things in all
England, with its Mino da Fiesole babies.  He wondered, indeed,
what he had been doing for so long in the house in Regent's Park.

He walked about the town.  He walked down the High Street into the
market place, and then up Orange Street to get the view, and then
through the market place again to the street that led down to the
river.  Here, hanging over the Lower Town, he found under a tree a
brass tablet which read:


                      HJALMAR JOHANSON.
                    FRIEND OF THIS TOWN,
                 DIED OCTOBER VII.  MCMVII.


"Hjalmar Johanson!"  An odd name to find in a little English town!
He wondered who he might be.  There was beside the tablet a lovely
little fountain of eighteenth-century work, so rare and beautiful
that for a long time he bent over it, examining its details.  Who
had this Johanson been, and what had he had to do with the
fountain?  He did not know.  He did not want to know.  There was
beauty here, and that was enough.  He drank some water out of the
little metallic cup chained to the fountain.  He drank; during
these days he seemed always to be obeying some inner commanding
instinct.  Then, jauntily, Martha at his side, he found his way
back to "The Three Feathers."

Here was Klimov waiting for him.

During luncheon Hans told him the news.  "So we will catch the 3:30
train," he ended.

"I too?" asked Klimov.

"Of course you too."

"Well, for a day or two perhaps--"

Klimov looked a little unhappy.

"I have been doing this morning considerable thinking.  I sat
inside the cathedral, I went up onto the hill and looked down to
the river.  I became very uneasy about mankind."

"Oh, dear," said Hans, looking with some doubt at a shining purple
slice of cold meat that, attended by some congealed beetroot and a
little forest of ancient lettuce, testified to the splendid and
courageous impertinence of English hostelries.  "Oh, dear!  Don't
get upset by such general questions.  I believe that's always been
your way in Russia, and look what it's led to!  Think of
individuals if you like--and especially of yourself--but this
general commiseration--it leads to nothing but stomach-ache and bad
temper."

Klimov looked at Hans with admiration.

"What a clear mind you have!  You always know just what you think!--
and I never do.  I'm in a hundred moods in one morning.  But it's
such a beautiful day, and this town is so charming.  And when I
realized how happy I was, and how fortunate for me to be with a man
like yourself, and what miserable lives many people had to lead--"

"Oh, damn! damn! damn!" Hans broke in, pushing his plate away from
him.  "This beef is bloody.  What I mean is, that I really do
dislike raw meat.  And I dislike all this misery, I do, indeed.  If
only everyone would be cheerful on their own little dunghill and
leave other people's dunghills alone.  Now, here I am.  I've been a
selfish man all my life.  I regard myself as someone I've got to
look after, because if I don't, certainly no one else is going to.
And here I am, too, at a very advanced age, suddenly discovering
that I've been living all the wrong kind of life--submitting to
other people out of laziness, just passing into corruption in an
armchair.  And I've been jerked out of that like a Jack-in-the-box.
I'm going to lead my own life from now on.  I shan't care a damn
for anybody, and I'll die in a ditch with a bottle of whisky in my
hand and nettles in my hair, and the worms will eat me, and no one
will know I've even gone--only a star or two or a sleepy duck in a
green pond, or a water hen, or possibly the village constable.  Do
you know what would have happened otherwise?  I'd have died in my
bed, and there'd have been three doctors, oxygen in a bag, and rows
of medicine bottles.  My wife would have closed my eyes, my mother-
in-law would have danced the saraband, there would have been
articles in the newspapers, and the Authors' Society would have
sent a wreath to the funeral.  A memorial service in a church, and
no one caring a damn.  A word or two at some dinner-parties and
then--silence.  And my poor ghost tearing its windy hair, because
for all those years I was in prison and didn't know it.  I might
have been free and wasn't.  I might have kicked my heels and eaten
my eggs and bacon in a tuppenny inn, and bought liquorice at the
village shop, and ridden on a char-à-banc to Margate, lived in a
world with decent noises and long silences.  Thought one or two
things through to the beginning, slept till midday or got up at
five and nobody caring--and I sacrificed it all, for what?  For a
ceremony that has always bored me to death, for people who are less
than shadows to me, for a convention that is a gilded sham.  I
don't want to make the world better.  I never did.  God knows, I
don't want to have any truck with the world at all.  What's the
world to me or I to the world?  I'm but an old man with two eyes
and a nose.  MY eyes and MY nose.  I've been letting them out on
hire.  I'm never going to give anyone the use of them again.  I've
been playing Blind-man's buff for seventy years. . . .  Do you
know," he said, looking up at the waiter, "what your cheese is
like?  It's like soap.  And then soap.  And then more soap.  Do you
know what your apple tart's like?  It's like plaster and a cold in
the nose.  Do you know what your coffee's like?  It's like ink and
sawdust."

"I'm very sorry, sir," said the waiter.  "Most gentlemen speak very
well of the food here."

"Most gentlemen," said Hans, getting up from the table, "are
liars."

Klimov followed Hans into the hall.

Hans turned round and put his hand on Klimov's shoulder.

"I've been talking like a book.  I apologize.  But I'm excited to-
day.  I haven't been so happy since I was a boy.  I like you,
Klimov, you're a good fellow.  Now the train's at 3:30.  Let's go
down to the market.  It's market day.  Lots of sheep and pigs.  The
nice sort, not the human variety.  We'll have an hour there--and
then for St. Servian!"

The market place was in a fine bustle.  It was crowded with stalls,
human beings, and animals.  There were sheep and cows and dogs, old
women and young women, stout farmers and thin farmers, flowers and
fruit, and shirts and handkerchiefs, noise and sun, and the wind
blowing from the sea.

Hans and Klimov had a tremendous time.  They bought ridiculous
things--apples and coloured cotton handkerchiefs, a tin train, two
trumpets, a dog collar for Tray, two shilling volumes of Milton's
poetry (this was Klimov's purchase), a looking-glass, a bag of
sweets, a book of Glebeshire ballads, and an old eighteenth-century
map of Polchester, and the True and Entertaining History of Anthony
Keech, Pirate.

They talked to everyone, were trodden on, pushed, and hustled.
They went back to "The Three Feathers" loaded with parcels and dust
and disorder.

"Now for St. Servian!" said Hans.



CHAPTER IV

The Tawny Sand


Hans, sitting by Klimov in the bumpy old car, thought, as the light
left the last lingering fields:  "How like a dream this is!  And
all the best moments of life have been dreams."  That was it then--
never to force anything into too positive a shape, to avoid at all
costs, if one wanted to remain happy, this modern passion for
seizing something and looking at it in and out, up and down, as a
small boy seizes his railway train or his birthday watch and
investigates the works.

The car was an open one, and it was cold.  There was a strong wind
from the sea, a wind that bore on its wings salt and savour, seeds
and clods of earth, wet leaves and the tang of fishy scales.  The
two men sat close to one another, and the dogs clung to them for
safety.  They were taking with them all the things that they had
bought in the market--the toys, the coloured handkerchiefs, the
book about the pirate, and the eighteenth-century map.

The earth, crouching expectantly beneath the oncoming sweep of
darkness, was filled with sweet scents.  Sea gulls and rabbits, sea
pinks and dandelions, the dung of the animals and the thick secrets
of the high hedges all surrendered to the night.  Only the lights
were beginning to shine in the windows, and the stars in a
cloudless heaven.

They didn't talk to one another.  They were becoming real friends
now, and speech wasn't needed.

"All my best moments," thought Hans, "have been dreams, and now I'm
an old man.  This is my last adventure and perhaps my best."

He was knowing again, for the first time for many years, some of
that sharp and acrid flavour of expectant excitement that he had
felt as a young lover going to meet the lady of the moment.  Why?
Was it Nathalie?  Not entirely.  He could not tell what it was, but
he thought of himself as most men, when they are honest men, do:
"Well, here I am--not so bad and not so good.  But I'm ashamed of
nothing, and I wonder what the next thing's going to be like."

They had found an open Ford with an ancient, decrepit driver
outside Treliss Station.  They had stood for a moment looking down
on the shield of the bay as the last sun slashed the thin glasslike
waters with purple.  They had sniffed the sea, then filed into the
car.  For a while they had kept to the main road, but now they were
leaving it and were bumping horribly over country lanes.  They all
bumped together--themselves, the dogs, the parcels, the bags.  The
car creaked, wheezed, groaned.  No houses now were visible.  The
stars were rushing into the sky, and at every bump the scent of the
sea became stronger.  Now they seemed to be on the very edge, then
down they plunged, almost, as it seemed, on their very heads.

"I suppose it's all right?" Hans shouted; but nobody answered him,
only Martha frantically scraped at his knees, pulled herself onto
his lap, and lay there, her body trembling.

They turned sharply a corner, and the car appeared for an instant
to stand on end, three wheels in air.  Then it bumped down again,
giving the earth a resounding smack and, like a horse that scents
his stable, plunged eagerly forward.  Little houses, clustered
tightly together, came out to meet them; and a moment later, with a
jerk as though all the paper wrappings had with one rough gesture
been torn off the parcels, they were flung onto a little cobbled
square with nothing but sea in front of them.  Another step, and
into the sea they would surely all have gone.

Unless they had been destined for America, they had arrived.

The Ancient inquired their address.

"Do you know good lodgings?" Hans asked him.

He considered them as a fisherman may consider fish so small that
they are best, perhaps, returned to the sea.  He looked at them
with contempt and indifference.  Then he pointed to lighted
windows, apparently high in air.

Accepting ungraciously their invitation, abandoning doubtfully his
car, he led them over the cobbles up a flight of wooden steps,
through bushes that smelt of thyme and blackberries, to a cottage
door.  He knocked.

A tall, thin woman, with hair tied in a knot on the top of her
head, appeared in the doorway, carrying a lamp.

"I'm sorry to disturb you," Hans said, "but my friend and I have
come over in a car from Treliss.  I wondered whether you could give
us lodging for the night."

She raised her lamp that she might see them both.

"Dogs?" she said.

"I beg your pardon?"

"You've got dogs with you."

"Yes," said Hans.  "We have."

"Never take dogs."

"I'm sorry," he said, turning away.  "We'll find somewhere else."

But Tray, excited by the smell of food, had pushed past her into
the lighted room beyond.  Thus, unwitting, he influenced Frost's
remaining days.

Very indignant she hurried in.  Tray, trailing his lead, was
sniffing the legs of the table.

"Shoo!" she said, as she might to chickens.  "Shoo!"  But now the
others had followed her; they were in a kitchen, spotless,
gleaming, a great fire blazing.  Three small children, seated on
high chairs, were eating their suppers.  At the sight of Tray they
broke into a chorus, jumped from their chairs, rushed to him and
began to pull his tail, his ears, shrieking with pleasure.

It was evident that discipline here was not very stern.

"My daughter's children," she said grimly.  "My daughter and her
husband are in China--Shanghai," she added unexpectedly.

"I have never been in China," said Hans politely; "a very
picturesque country."

"I really can't allow dogs," she said again, but now with less
decision.

"It's probably for a night only," said Hans; "but I'm sure there
are other places."

"Now Lottie--Harold, Emma.  What are you about?  Where's your
manners?  The dog will bite you."

"Indeed it will not," said Klimov indignantly.  "It's never bitten
anyone in its life.  It's very fond of children."

She regarded Klimov with considerable astonishment.

"You're not a German gentleman?" she asked sternly.

"I am not," said Klimov with dignity.  "My native country is
Russia, and I was compelled to leave it owing to the monstrous
tyranny--"

His eyes would soon be flaming, his hair on end, as he considered
Lenin standing on a tub in the Nevski Prospect, Trotsky ordering
innocent people to execution, the ice of the Neva floating, a
crystal green, down past the palaces. . . .

But the Ancient wanted his money.  "I've got to be getting home--"

She seemed to come to a decision.

"I happen to have two rooms.  They're small, of course, but they're
clean, and considering the time of year if it's only for one night--"

They all moved up a tight and winding staircase.  First little
room.  Second little room.  First little room full of whitewash
and, in the daytime, you must believe, the sea.  Second little room
also full of whitewash--in the daytime a view of Mrs. Agerson's
house.

How clean the rooms were, how they smelt of whitewash, moth ball,
sand, and seaweed!  On the white walls there were texts.  In each
room three.  In the sea room--"Thou God seest me," "A little child
shall lead them," and "Thou shalt love thy Father and Mother"; in
the other room--"Behold the Lilies," "The Lord is My Shepherd," and
"Feed My Sheep."  No other ornament, save in each room two large,
inquisitive seashells.  Hans, seeing them, knew at once that it was
here that he was going to live.  When Klimov had departed, he would
have both rooms, one to sleep in, one to work in.  He didn't know
it, but in the bed at which he was now looking he would one day
die.

Turning from the bed, he looked at the lady and smiled.
Surprisingly she smiled back at him.

"Whether you like it or no I am going to stay here."

And she oddly answered:  "Yes.  It is always very quiet here."

Once more in the kitchen, she told them that her name was Mrs.
Iglesias.  This astonished him greatly.  She explained laconically
that her husband had been half a Spaniard.  And then, addressing
only Hans, who seemed now to have a strange attraction for her, she
added:  "He was a good husband to me, although he had strange
ideas.  I have never been farther than Treliss in all my life--
never needed to, somehow.  This was a cramping place to him.  He
was a sailor, though, and had plenty of travelling.  He was content
to die in this quiet place at the last."

She herself was quiet.  She seemed to spread quiet like a colour
over all the scene.

So it was settled with no more questions asked, only would they be
having something to eat?  Yes, in an hour's time.  Hans went off to
find Nathalie.

He had got the address from the advertisement in the Glebeshire
News.  The lady to whom Nathalie had gone was Miss Thome, and the
address was Barham Villa.  Mrs. Iglesias' home was called Saltgrass
Cottage.

Barham Villa was easy to find, even in the dim light that was
threaded with half-seen cobbles, twinkling stars, and the sudden
flashing of white-topped waves.  The villa stood so close to the
sea that the spray stung Hans' face.  He rapped the knocker.  A
little maid came to the door.  He asked whether Miss Thorne was
staying here.  Yes, sir, she was.  Then with thumping heart he
asked whether Miss Nathalie was also staying here.  (Was he once
again to be disappointed?)  Yes, sir, she was.  And was she just
now at home?  The little maid would see.  She left him there with
the sea thundering into his back, and the little hall, dimly lit,
watching him with a gentle and apprehensive eye.  A moment later
Nathalie was there.

He dropped his stick.  His arms were round her, her lips against
his, her hand stroking his cheek.  For a long, beating, triumphant
pause, they stayed thus on the edge of a thundering sea.  Then she
drew him inside, stood him beneath the little hall lamp that she
might see him better.

"Oh, you're just the same! just the same!  And you aren't angry.
Look out for the aspidistras.  Quick!  Come in here.  Miss Thorne
is praying upstairs.  She'll be another half hour at least."

"Praying?"

"Yes, for the peace of the world--so we've got twenty minutes
anyway.  Come along in here.  Look out for the photographs.  Don't
bang yourself against the table.  There's a candle here somewhere.
We haven't got electric light.  Matches.  Matches. . . .  Oh!  I'm
so glad you've come.  I've watched all the time.  I knew you'd find
me, but I didn't think you would so soon. . . .  Here by the
window. . . ."

They sat down, close together, hand in hand, on a red plush sofa,
and the candle, rickety and dribbling, watched them with drunken
solemnity.

"Well, now," he said, "answer to me for all your sins.  You're up
for judgment."

"You've really taken all this trouble, you've followed me here--
just to look after me?"

"Just to look after you."

"Who told you I was here?"

"Your friends the Proudies."

"Oh, yes, of course.  But you've been so quick--"

"You've been quicker.  I've always been just an hour behind you.
For all I knew you might have been back in Polchester by now."

"I would have been if Miss Thorne hadn't taken a fancy to me.  I've
only been here since lunch time.  I got the early train to Treliss,
then came on by bus.  I walked into this house just as she was
sitting down to her egg and boiled water.  I said, 'I hear you want
a secretary.'  She looked at me and said, 'Have you any
references?'  I said, 'No.'  'Can you type?'  I said, 'No.'  'Do
you know shorthand?'  I said, 'No.'  'Have you ever been secretary
to anyone before?'  I said, 'No.'  'I'll try you then.  Sit down
and have a boiled egg with me.'  She never asked me another
question, but all the afternoon she's been dictating her pamphlet
to me, and as she speaks quite slowly it's been easy.  I'm to try
for a month and see how we get on."

"What an extraordinary woman!" said Hans.  "What's she paying you?"

"A pound a week and all found."

"And what's her work?  What's her pamphlet about?"

"The Peace of the World.  It's the only thing she ever thinks
about.  She has a plan."

"A good plan?"

"I don't know.  We were dealing with poison gases all the
afternoon, and we didn't get beyond the fact that they exist.  We
shall squash them to-morrow."

"Do you like her?"

"Yes," said Nathalie.  "I like her because she doesn't know any of
the world that I know.  It's so peaceful.  She'd never heard your
name, for instance, and when I said you were a novelist she said
'Tchut!' and when I said you were a poet she said 'Tchut!' again.
But I'm sure that no one in this village has ever heard of you."

"This is the place for me."  He drew a deep breath, then tightened
his hand on hers.

"Now tell me.  We must have this out before we go any further.  Why
did you treat me so damnably?  Why did you trust me so little?"

She looked in front of her, staring into a little mirror that hung
crookedly on the wall opposite her.

"I didn't know.  I believed what she said.  Because she hated me
so, I disbelieved everybody.  I'd never been hated by anybody
before."

"Wouldn't it have been fairer to me just to have waited and asked
me?"

"I couldn't wait.  I wanted to get out of that house--at once, at
once I wanted to go where no one I knew could see me.  I felt
shabby, mean.  I was ashamed."

"Yes, you thought of yourself.  You were selfish.  You didn't care
about the pain you were giving--"

"No, why should I?  I didn't matter enough to anybody to pain
them."

"You thought that?"

"Yes--I--I--"

She burst out crying, turned to him, clinging to him.  He held her,
stroking her hair, kissing her.  He let her cry.  Then he began to
talk, to give her time to come quietly back to herself again.

"You did me an injustice.  But we won't say any more about that.
After all, it might have been the other way.  I'd reached the state
when I was as peevish as an old woman if anyone interrupted any of
my arrangements.  And I didn't know I was peevish.  I had caught my
wife's idea of myself as something very grand, Olympian, that had
to have its own laws and rules.  But no--that isn't fair either.  I
never thought I was grand.  I'll do myself that justice.  But I was
lazy, and getting lazier and lazier--and your aunt, my dear, liked
me to be so.  It made her own plans easier.  It's terrible the
seriousness with which women set about a job.  It's devastating.
Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill.  It's their
perpetual business.  And the worst of it is that the molehill is
compelled to feel a sort of gratitude for being made into a
mountain although he may have greatly preferred the molehill state.
But after all the work and the labour, all on his behalf, what can
he do but say Thank you?  It was your aunt's life work to transform
my cottage into a palace.  She was very clever about it, she set
all the right people to work, saw that the proper lights were
turned on, arranged the criers and banged the drums.  It usedn't to
be difficult in England.  It's been much harder since the war, I
fancy, but by that time, because no one ever read me any longer, it
was easy enough for them to say in a lazy way that I was a great
man.  And then there were a few fanatics, of course. . . .  That
was all your aunt wanted.  And I slumbered in the middle of it all
like the Sleeping Beauty until you came and woke me--"

"I didn't mean to," Nathalie said; "and you're quite wrong about
nobody reading you.  Aunt Ruth may have done something, but it
would have been none of it any use if your work hadn't been
splendid."

"Splendid?  Splendid?  My dear child, what words!  I've failed in
everything I've tried."

"Doesn't every real artist think that when he looks back on what he
meant to do?"

"Yes, that's the general consolation for Mr. Tuppenny.  Ah, well,
this isn't the fine thing I meant it to be, but every great man in
the past has been disillusioned in the same way.  It isn't true,
that's all.  Milton was arrogant with pride over Paradise Lost,
Balzac burst buttons off his dressing gown over Illusions perdues,
Wagner couldn't contain himself after Tristan.  Every truly great
artist is arrogant and selfish, and greedy and mean, and a maniac.
I've written some pretty little things.  I've had some great times
writing them.  Now I'm going to have some great times living them.
A little late.  But no matter. . . .  That's enough about me--and
now--Vladimir?"

Nathalie said:  "I've had a telegram from him--"

"Already?"

"Yes."  She hesitated.  "It was weak and cowardly of me, but just
before I left London I sent him a telegram giving him the Proudies'
address in Polchester.  I couldn't bear somehow for him not to know
where I was.  A telegram came to the Proudies early this morning."

She took it out of the bosom of her dress.

This was the telegram:


Just returned London found your telegram Please return London
otherwise will come Polchester Love you terribly always Vladimir.


"I don't know what the post-office people must have thought."

"Oh, post-office people get wires like that every minute.  What are
you going to do?"

"Well, Miss Thorne is going up to London in three days' time, to
attend a meeting at the Albert Hall about the next war and how to
prevent it.  She said at tea time that she wants me to go with her.
It's only for a week.  I'll see Vladimir then."

"And tell him you'll marry him?"

"No, of course not.  I won't marry him until I'm quite independent.
Then, if things go wrong, I've got my own life to turn back to.
And he'll respect me more--and perhaps he'll love me longer when he
doesn't own me.  I'll seem more valuable."

How she had developed, he thought, since that first evening when,
going into her room, he had found her in tears.  And in so short a
while!  From a child to a woman.  He loved her the more for that.
She seemed to him now to have in her all the great womanly elements--
she was lover and mother and child, courageous, tender, touchingly
inexperienced, wise, and humorous.  Yes, men weren't in it with
women for the grand big things in life.

Sitting there beside Nathalie he saw his sex as a huddled,
labouring, mannequin crowd of Nibelungen with bent backs bowed to
the heavenly whip.  A poor, blind lot.  He chucked them out of the
window into the tramping, insolent, regardless sea.  They vanished
as though they had never been, himself among them.

"Uncle Hans," said Nathalie, rolling the telegram tightly in her
hand, "does love never last?  Why is it that Vladimir is so sure
that he isn't going to care for me later on?  Why must marriage be
so unsuccessful?"

Hans put his arm round her.

"Love can last if you get two people who are fine enough.  But they
must both be fine, and the trouble is that the right people so
seldom meet.  You see it sometimes.  A man has had the luck to
encounter a woman who compels all the grand things in him--
unselfishness, honour, gaiety, gladness.  Yes, he has the luck.
But for the most part people aren't patient enough, and they blame
others for their own failings--and the body's a strange thing.  If
you take a permanent step on some temporary bodily impulse, of
course you get nowhere.  You must play a waiting game.  Women are
good at that--men no good at all.  That's why women always think
they're unfairly treated.  But don't you worry, my darling.  You've
got character and pluck, so you'll take Vladimir as though he were
a long, long story--not over in one chapter or two.  And you won't
turn the pages over to see what the end's going to be.  You'll
write the end one day yourself.  And you won't throw a fit at every
cat-and-monkey trick he shows you.  You'll be patient, and then
patient, and then patient once more.  And gradually his soul will
be delivered into your hands, bit by bit you'll have had the making
of it.  He won't know it.  He'll think he's made it all himself.
You won't try to possess him.  Ownership of one human being by
another is the sin against the Holy Ghost, to my thinking--but in
the end he'll be yours.  He's worth having.  He's got fine lines on
his map.  And when you're unhappy there is your old uncle, covered
with seaweed, barnacles on his nose and jellyfish clinging to his
boots, but just alive enough to give you a fish dinner if you care
to take the train to Treliss."

"But Uncle Hans--you're going to live here?"

"Yes.  I'm going to live here."

"Here--with nothing--nobody--"

"Here with Mrs. Iglesias, Martha, Lottie and Company--what more do
you want?"

He rose slowly.  There were aches in his joints.  He was very
weary.

"Your employer's prayers must be just about over.  I'll be seeing
you in the morning."

"I'll walk with you to your house."

So through the dark, arm-in-arm and without another word, they went
along to Saltgrass Cottage.

They kissed and said good-night, then he went in.  He was so
grossly tired--felt such a very old man that he sat down on the
first kitchen chair that he came to, one near the door.  Klimov,
sitting near the table, deeply intent, was carving with his
pocketknife something out of a piece of wood.  The three children
watched him with absorbed eagerness.  The smallest one, a fat round
child, stood, resting her hand on his thigh.  The three children
and Tray, who, his mouth wide open, was sitting on his haunches, as
though he expected at any moment the coming of the Kingdom, made no
noise.  They seemed scarcely to breathe.  A grandfather clock
loudly ticked and chattered.  Martha was asleep in front of the
fire.  Mrs. Iglesias, moving about very softly, was preparing
supper.  Hans as he sat there, his stick between his knees, knew
that he had never before been in contact with such peace.  And it
was timeless.  He might have been here already for a thousand
years.

No one seemed to notice him.  Then suddenly Mrs. Iglesias asked him
whether he wouldn't prefer to be in the sitting room.  No, he
thought not.  Well, wouldn't he like to look at it?  He went with
her and found the customary chilled, stiff, and deceased room
crowded with shells, photographs, woollen mats, and horsehair sofa.

"I shouldn't be happy in here."

"No, likely not," she said.  "When the other gentleman's gone away
you can have his room for your sitting room."

Then she knew that he was going to stay?  How did she know?

But he only said "Yes."

They had supper, and very shortly afterwards Hans went up to bed,
Martha following him.

He never remembered to have known such weariness as he felt now.
He could scarcely pull off his clothes.  He blinked at the Manet
which was propped up against the little swinging looking-glass.  He
arranged the two or three books, the Lamb, John Buncle, and the
others, on the table by his bed.  As soon as he had, with the same
movement that he had used as a little boy, turned on his right
side, curled into a ball, his head cupped in his hand, he was
asleep.  He slept like the dead.

He woke up abruptly, as though someone had called his name.  He lit
his candle and looked at his watch.  It was a quarter-past six.
Through his open window came the swish and sigh of the sea; the
whole world was still intensely dark.  He blew out his candle and
lay flat on his back thinking.  He was tired no longer, but
beautifully refreshed, intensely happy, at peace.  Thoughts swam,
lazily, easily, across his consciousness.  He thought of Nathalie.
Once or twice in a man's life, if he is lucky, he loves someone,
man or woman, with complete trust, with a great sentiment of
honourable dealing, understanding, noble generosity, and is loved
in return in truest fashion.

After their talk last evening he knew that they felt, and now would
always feel, such a love for one another.  Nothing could touch or
harm it.  He had not in all probability now many years to live, he
was no certain believer in the survival of personality after death,
but it seemed, as he lay there in that quiet little room listening
to the rhythm of the sea, that it was very unlikely that his love
for Nathalie would cease with physical death--it was so unphysical,
although he delighted in her youth and prettiness and charm.  There
can be a grandeur and nobility in human relations that is beyond
chemistry, something with a light and fire so strong and
penetrating that the great loose word immortality does not seem a
foolish word to use.

Then he thought of Ruth.  With that he passed out once again
another world of experience.  There was no immortality in his
contact with Ruth.  Nor had there ever been.  But he must achieve
some relationship with her that would be clean and honourable.  All
irritation with her had passed away--only he would never return to
that other life again.  Maybe there would be a letter from her this
very day.  Before he left London he had written her a brief note,
and she knew the Proudies' address.

She seemed to him now, in this rhythmic darkness, infinitely far
away.

But behind Ruth, and even behind Nathalie, he knew that there was
now something more important than either of them, a great sense of
eager expectancy.  Soon, soon he would be at work again.  At the
mere thought of it his heart began to beat fiercely, he felt energy
pulse through his body.  He saw no figures.  The Commander was not
there in the room with him.  But he was almost ready; it was like
the moment before the rise of the curtain, before the ringing of
the little bell, when the orchestra stops its preliminary playing,
the lights go down and with a soft whisper the curtain quivers. . . .

For months now these people had been assembling the scene,
preparing the idea that would form all the scattered forces into
one shape and pattern, gathering power. . . .

Soon, in a day or two, the voice would be heard:  "Now--begin!"

And he lay there, seeing with all the clarity born of the silence
how all the little circumstances had arisen, one after another, to
bring him to this point--the seventieth birthday, the Manet, the
dinner-party, his discovery of Nathalie, his dissatisfaction with
the party, the evening at the Westcotts', the Russians, the visit
to the country, his talks with Klimov, Nathalie's flight, his
hatred of his mother-in-law, his own flight, the journey in the
train, Lamb's Letters, Klimov's fairy story, Polchester, the
cathedral, the market place, Nathalie's journey to this place, the
Ancient's directing them to this house--omit one of these elements
and he would have lost his prize!  He held his breath lest even
now, after all, he should have lost it!

His room was flooded now with the early morning sun.  It was half-
past seven.  He got up and went over to his window.  He gave a cry
of pleasure.  All the little cove was shining in the sun.  Directly
in front of him was a roughly cobbled square.  On this, boats were
drawn up and, beyond it, bright yellow sand ran out to a misty,
glittering sea.  Clustering around it were the heaped cottages,
white and grey, two of them with green shutters, one with blue;
little flights of steps ran irregularly to the higher tier of
little houses.  In front of some of them, as they climbed up the
hill, were small gardens with chrysanthemums and fat deep green
bushes.  It was all like a painted scene.  Thin purple smoke rose
from some chimneys into the thin papery blue sky; some gulls,
crying in the distance, hovered over the sea.  These were the only
movements.  Not a human being was to be seen.  The light--the
brilliant, smoky, frosty light of an English Indian summer--burnt
with fire upon the cobbles, the yellow sand, the sea, the
glittering Chinese white of the cottages, the red and amber colour
of the autumn trees hanging to the hill.

Hans felt the sun on his head and his bare chest.  He raised his
hand that it might shine too upon his palms.


     The Sounds and Seas with all their finny drove
     Now to the Moon in wav'ring Morrice move,
     And on the Tawny Sands and Shelves
     Trip the pert Fairies and the dapper Elves.


He turned back into the room and climbed into bed again.

"Thou God seest me," said the text on the wall.

Hans scratched his chest, saw that Martha also was lazily
scratching.  In another moment he would be asleep again, floating
off on the sunlight.

But sleepily he murmured:  "The Sounds and Seas. . . .  The Sounds
and Seas. . . ."

And, scenting the crisp odour of frying bacon, he swung off into a
cloudless space of light and misty sun.



CHAPTER V

The Silver Feather


Two wonderful, miraculous days, and then a telegram from Ruth:


Arrive to-morrow morning about midday Motoring from Polchester.


On the morning that Nathalie was going, Ruth was arriving.
Nathalie would be away for a week.  Klimov was going also because
he had fallen in love--not with Miss Thorne but with Miss Thorne's
idea, with the Peace of the World.

The idea was made for Klimov, and Klimov for the idea.  Miss
Thorne, introduced to him outside her house by Nathalie, knew at
once that he was the man for whom she had been waiting.  She said:
"M. Klimov, there is the great work in the world waiting for you,"
and Klimov, his eyes shining as though paradise had been opened
before him, answered:  "This is what, for years, I have been
looking for."

Nathalie's eyes also shone, not because of the Peace of the World,
but because in twenty-four hours' time she would see Vladimir, and
now proudly independent she would be able to hold up her head when
she saw him.  So the Peace of the World had already done one good
deed.

Miss Thorne, who was short, round, and stout, with flaxen hair and
rosy cheeks (not at all what you would have supposed), was
distressed when she heard from Nathalie that one day she intended
to marry.

"How you can," Miss Thorne wondered, "when there are so many really
important things to be done!"

"Someone must marry," said Nathalie, "for the next generation."

"Not at all," said Miss Thorne, "that must be a State-arranged
affair."

"Poor babies, with only the State for their mother."

"Better than nine mothers out of ten."

However, Miss Thorne had taken a fancy to Nathalie and was ready to
forgive her a good deal.  She ended:

"When you've seen what this work really is, you'll think better of
marriage."

Nathalie smiled.

She had a little walk with Hans after breakfast, just before the
Treliss bus started.

The Indian summer was still smiling on the land.

Already Hans belonged to the place, to the country within a radius,
perhaps, of three miles.

Hans walked with Nathalie past the cove, over the irregular little
steps to a narrow beach closed in with trees.  A wooded valley ran
straight from the beach into the heart of the inland, a stream
tumbling over white shining stones, raced out over the valley
through the sand into the sea.  As they walked, they, this stream,
the sea, two sea-gulls were the only live spirits in this little
world.

Nathalie had only ten minutes before she must go, but she would be
back in a week.

As they walked he realized that this was the last time that they
would ever be truly alone together.  To-morrow she would see her
young man, and after that, whether she liked it or no, however she
might wish to assert her independence, she would be always part of
him.

He had an instant--which he was to remember afterwards as part of
the thin faint colours of the day, the singing stream, the brown
bare trees--of acute, almost agonizing loneliness.

An old man by himself, that was what by his own impulse he had
chosen to be.

"When are you coming back to London?" she asked him.

"Never."

"Never? . . .  Oh, but you must. . . .  If I have to work up
there. . . ."

"Maybe I'll come to see you one fine morning, just for an hour,
and then vanish again."

"You won't want to see me."

He could tell that for the first time she was realizing now that
some change had come, that something had happened to him.

"My dear, you won't want me.  You'll have some work or other--and
you'll be married--"

"No, never, if it's going to keep me from you--"

"Never!  Stop a moment.  Think, just now, here on this beach, isn't
it really Vladimir of whom all the time you are thinking?  You know
that it is.  I'm a very pleasant old gentleman; you're fond of me,
you'll be always glad to see me.  But your life--your life--that
isn't with an old man of seventy.  It can't be.  It shouldn't be."

He spoke almost passionately.  He was at that instant as far from
her youth as once only a month ago he had fancied himself in
contact with it.  An odd air seemed to be creeping upon him, a
whisper, a foreboding as though all the doors were closing about
him.  He hadn't thought it would be like this, he hadn't expected
it, but he realized that he was waiting with an eager curiosity for
the next step--would it perhaps be death?

"Oh, you're wrong," she cried, seizing his arm, pressing her body
close to his.  "I don't feel your age, I haven't from the first
moment that we met.  I love Vladimir.  I'm terribly glad that I'm
going to see him again so soon--but you are different, you are more
important to me than anybody.  Yes, really, than anybody.  And you
always will be, I know it."

"You dear child."  He bent down and gently kissed her.  "I'm glad
you think that--if it's even for a moment.  We love one another--of
course we do.  But I'm passing into a place where you can't come.
It's all right.  That won't prevent our being together.  We may
find that our contact is eternal.  Who knows?  There is a kind of
sniff of immortality about our love for one another.  But here,
now, on this earth my adventure is almost over and yours is just
beginning.  I shall write one book perhaps--I don't know.  I feel
as though I shall.  But from now onwards I shall be alone.  I want
to be.  It's what for years I've wanted, although I didn't know it.
And you have finer and finer contacts, events, fusions, more and
more exciting and thrilling.  I'll watch you for a little, but I'm
not going to cling on and cry, as tiresome old men do, because no
one comes to see them, and beg to force a situation that isn't
really there.  Ever since I first saw you on that afternoon of my
seventieth birthday, I've been travelling to this place.  I didn't
at first know the direction I was going in.  Now I do."

She nodded her head.  "Ah well, you talk like this, but soon you'll
see.  I'll be back here in a week.  I'm not going to marry Vladimir
for ages.  Perhaps I never shall.  I'm in a sort of excited dream
about Vladimir.  I don't feel that he's real.  I don't want him to
be real.  But you're real.  I don't know whether I shall love
Vladimir six months from now.  I know I shall always love you."

"Of course you'll always love me.  I'm a very charming old
gentleman.  But beware of the old however charming they are.
They're preoccupied people--the old are--and they'll eat up the
young if they get half a chance.  I'm very charming just now, but
you accustom me to your society, make yourself necessary, and see
how greedy I get and the demand I make.  Besides I want to be
quiet, I tell you.  I don't want your life to drive in upon mine.
I'm selfish, as selfish as a pig, and I grow more selfish every
moment.  I've seized on this place, and I'm going to make it mine--
yes, every stock and stone of it.  That won't hurt the place.  It's
stronger than I am.  But what would you say if I came in and
demanded your life and Vladimir?  Don't encourage me.  Keep me in
my own little box.  You can come and feed me sometimes--but beware
of me.  An old man let loose with his sentimentalities,
reminiscences, complaints, greedy ailments is the devil."

Then a miraculous moment that he afterwards caught again and again
the echo of for his exquisite pleasure--standing there on the
little beach, she pressed her body against his, kissing his eyes,
his mouth, her hand against his heart--"Yes, yes, but isn't that
selfish?  What of me?  Don't you know that I'm frightened without
you, that I must always be close to you and have you love me?  I
need you terribly.  I'll never need anyone so much.  I'm going to
have my own life, yes, and I'm going to make it as fine as I can,
but it's only if you're with me that I'm able. . . .

"You can't lose me.  You can't get rid of me.  You never will.
Whether you're with me or not with me, I'll love you, love you,
love you for ever and ever and ever."

"Well, Nathalie," at last he answered her, "we'll make an immortal
pair."

Exultingly he thought:  "Now I shall never die.  It will pass on
and on. . . .  There'll be something always to remember.  In Hades
I shan't be lonely."

Ten minutes later he was saying good-bye to them all, to Miss
Thorne and Klimov and Tray and Nathalie.  The old bus was crammed
to bursting with human beings, baskets, hens, dogs, and rabbits.
The noise was tremendous.

Hans had a fear that Klimov would embrace him, but Klimov's eyes
were fixed upon the Peace of the World.  With Tray between his
knees and his arms absent-mindedly round the hutch that contained
the rabbits, he sailed off into eternity, busy with his divine
mission.

At quarter-past twelve exactly Ruth arrived in her motor from
Polchester.

Hans saw her from behind his window.  She got out of the car and
stood looking about her.

Her car was very handsome, she herself was very handsome; Hans,
stroking the pane of the window softly with his fingers, knew, when
he saw how handsome she was, that he had escaped from her for ever.
Round her little hat was curled a silver feather.  St. Servian had
never seen a hat with a fine silver feather in it before.  Hans as
he stepped out on to the cobbles, smelt the fish and the tar and
the salty air, was happily aware that it would never see such a
feather again.

She greeted him very easily.

"Dear Hans, how well you look!"  He kissed her, then led her away.

"Where would you like to go?  A walk?  Or I have a fire in my
room."

She shivered.  "Let's sit in your room.  I've been dying of cold in
the car.  What a funny little place.  It is out of the world, isn't
it?"

"It is," he assured her.

He led her in, through the kitchen, up the dark crooked little
stairs into the bedroom.  The other little room, just vacated by
Klimov, would be ready for him to-morrow morning.  Oh! how
beautifully it would be ready, with the whitewashed walls, the deal
table, and the Manet!

She looked round her, at the little brass bedstead, the texts on
the wall, and the old armchair with the hole in the seat.  But
there was a bright fire burning.

She went to the window and looked out at the sky, now grey like a
bird's wing, the sea of silver streaked with purple, the ghostly
mist, the floating sand.

She shivered again.

"How can you!" she said.  He pointed to the armchair.

"But where will you sit?"

"In this one."  He drew forward a little wooden chair.

"Oh, but you will be so uncomfortable!"

"Not at all, I assure you."

She took off the hat with the silver feather and laid it very
carefully on the bed.  She looked in the cracked glass, patted and
stroked her hair.  Her lovely silver fur lay stretched on the bed
like the ghost of superior fashion, overcome by this rustic
crudity.  She sat down in front of the little fire, sticking out
her feet.  She began at once.

"First I want to apologize to you for my wretched behaviour the
other night.  I have been perfectly miserable ever since.  Nathalie
exasperated me, and I'm ashamed of myself for that--but I'm more
ashamed of my unkindness.  I haven't, as a matter of fact, been
myself for weeks--nor, dear Hans, if I may say so, have you,
quite."

"Don't you think so?" he asked, smiling at her.

"No, I don't.  I've been thinking it all out, and what we both want
is to get away from the house, from Mother, from everything.  Now--
what about Egypt?"

"Egypt?"

"Yes, Egypt.  We've never been.  Oh! it will be heavenly, the
warmth, the light, the colour!  And so interesting!  I'll leave you
alone.  You shall go and excavate as much as you like by yourself.
All I shall want is to sit and feel the sun in my bones."

"No, I don't want to go to Egypt."

She paused a moment, then rather more sharply said:

"Well, where DO you want to go then?"

"I want to stay here."

She rattled her shoe against the little fender.

"Hans, don't be absurd.  How can we stay here?  What, in the
winter!  Here!  Why, I should perish of cold and misery."

"I'm not suggesting that you should stay here."

She sighed.

"Now, Hans--you're still angry with me, aren't you?  That isn't
like you.  You're always so generous.  I've confessed my fault.
I've said I'm sorry.  You must forgive me."

"I'm not angry.  I've never had anything to forgive.  It was quite
natural of you to be exasperated with Nathalie."

She turned sharply round to him.

"Nathalie has been here?"

"Nathalie was here first.  It was because she was here that I came
here."

"Nathalie is here now?"

"No.  She left for London this morning."

Ruth moved impatiently.

"Can't we keep Nathalie out of this?  After all we've had all our
married lives together without her.  This is between us.  What I
want to know is, why you are still angry with me, how long you're
going to continue to be, and when you're coming back to live with
me again?"

"I'm never coming back to live with you again."

There was a long pause.  At last Ruth said in a low voice:

"That's absurd and rather insulting to me."

"It's not absurd," Hans answered gently, "and it's not insulting."

"You're in love with that girl," she burst out.

"No," he replied.  "She's my niece, you know.  I'm not as modern as
all that. . . .  Besides I'm too old."

She turned to him.  He thought for a moment, so angry she was, that
she was going to strike him.

"You're lying to me.  There's someone in the background.  No man's
ever too old.  But don't imagine that I'm going to let you make a
fool of yourself.  I warn you that I can protect myself and you too--
I warn you--"

She suddenly turned away from him and burst into tears, hiding her
face in her hands.

He was filled with pity for her, filled with boredom too.

"Ruth--listen.  Let's be honest with one another for once in our
lives.  We never have been.  Never.  There is no one in my life, no
one at all.  I'm tired of people, tired of human beings.  Nathalie
is a darling, but I'd be tired of her too if I saw very much of
her.  It isn't my fault, and it certainly isn't yours; you've been
a splendid wife to me for many years.  Now your job is over.
You're not really fond of me, you haven't been for ages.  Perhaps
you never were.  If all the truth were known I shouldn't wonder if
I'm not more fond of you than you are of me.  But I'm not very fond
of anyone any more.  I'm not fond of myself either.  I'm tired of
all personal relations.  I want quiet and silence.  For a long time
I've wanted those things, but I didn't know it.  There are, I'm
sure, millions of people to-day who want those things, but there is
such a row going on that they can't hear themselves think.  Someone
soon will found a new contemplative order.  It will have nothing to
do with any kind of religion.  It will simply be for people who
want a quiet hour or two.  A great success it will be, I'm sure.
Well, I'm founding my own contemplative order--membership of one.
A little late in the day, I'm afraid.  But still there it is."

"You're mad," she said, through her sobs.  "You'll be sick of it in
a week.  It is a crazy impulse, because we had a pretty girl in the
house and I lost my temper."

"No, I'm not mad," he answered quietly.  "I'm not mad--but I'm very
determined.  Nothing that anyone can say will make the slightest
difference."

He waited.  She pulled herself together.

"Then listen to me.  If you're not mad, you're selfish.  After all
I've done for you, for years and years, you throw me over.  You
think only of yourself.  You don't care what the world says, what
my position is--"

"Ah," he said, "that's the truth.  Why didn't you come out with
that before?  You've never cared for me, but you've cared for the
position that you could make through me.  And you were perfectly
right.  That was our bargain.  You were to give me a comfortable
life, and I was to give you a position of importance.  You've
certainly done more for me than I have for you.  I've got to make
it up to you for that.  And I will.  Let's discuss that and see
what we can do."

But she broke in passionately:  "You're wrong.  You're wrong.  I do
care for you.  I've always cared.  I would have loved you more,
much more, if you had let me.  But you've always been so cold.  You
forget that I'm younger, that I want some life of my own.  But I've
always put yours before mine.  I have indeed."

"Yes, I think you have, and that's what's been wrong.  I acquiesced
lazily and let you do what you wished.  As to love--I don't want to
be ungallant, but at the beginning I loved you passionately.  And--
we're being honest, you know--you were bored with my passion.  Do
you remember one night--at Caux?  A night in July.  We were high
above the lake; there was a great red moon.  We had been dancing
and came up to our room; I knelt at your feet, imploring--"

"Ah, that . . ."  She shivered, moving forward to the fire again.
"I don't mean that, by love.  Not such violence--"

"Not such violence--and afterwards not such indifference.  You are
exacting, my dear.  We were both to blame, and out of our fault
came a kind of compromise, as in many marriages, and buried deep in
the compromise love died.  Died years ago.  You know it.  You have
been bored with me for centuries, wondering what people saw in me,
but glad that they saw something because that helped our grand
position.  Bored by my books, too, for which indeed I don't blame
you.  I wasn't even the kind of artist you could understand.  I
wasn't on the one hand eccentric enough, I didn't wear old clothes,
drink like a pig, leading mistresses into your bedroom.  I was
never very modern.  Always years behind the latest thing.  On the
other hand, you could never quite rely on me.  I would have my
moods.  I would escape you sometimes and you didn't know when I'd
give in.  You could never be quite sure that I wouldn't shock your
friends.  The only thing that you could be sure of was that I
wouldn't shock them in the really interesting way.  You wanted
people to talk about me, you wanted them to think me a genius, but
because you were so sure in your heart that I wasn't one, you were
for ever afraid that they would wake up one day and discover the
truth.  You have always had a fear that one day I'd be discovered
for a sham and vanish. . . .  Well, now--I've vanished."

While he had been speaking her mood had changed.  Her face had
hardened, as indeed it could harden!  Now she had a curious
resemblance to her mother.  In another twenty years, he thought,
looking at her, she would be her mother's spitting image.

"Yes," she said.  "There is something in all that you say.  As
we're going on now, yes, honestly I'll admit it, I haven't
understood the fuss that people have made over you.  You've put
your side of the case, but have you ever for a moment realized how
patient I've had to be?  You say I built up the situation for my
own advantage, but it hasn't been so simple as all that.  I suppose
I've felt maternal to you.  You have seemed to me so silly, so
childish, so ignorant of how to manage for yourself, so upset by
tiny unimportant things, so selfish.  I know that all men are
childish and selfish--otherwise women would never bother about them--
but it touched me to see you thinking yourself a great man, and
other people thinking you important when I knew that you were
neither great nor important."

"Now, come," he interrupted, smiling at her.  "You know that I have
never thought myself a great man."

"Oh, I know that's your pose about yourself--to tell yourself that
you don't think yourself a great man, but you wouldn't have to tell
yourself that so often if you didn't really think yourself so."

"That's clever of you," he agreed, nodding his head.  "You've been
reading modern novels.  But never mind whether I think myself great
or no, the point is, that at last we've been honest with one
another.  You can't really want any longer to look after anyone you
despise so thoroughly."

"I've no one else," she broke out unexpectedly.

"You have your mother."

"I hate my mother. . . .  Yes, you didn't know that, did you?  With
all your cleverness you've never seen that.  I've often wondered
that you could be so blind.  We've been in a kind of league, my
mother and I--that's what you supposed.  My mother and I have
detested one another for years.  It has been her pose to say that
I'm wonderful, so that she may get a kind of glory out of it.  And
she does think me wonderful in comparison with you.  She does think
I've made something out of nothing--but her conceit is such that
she can't bear to see me carrying anything off, even while she
praises me for it.  So, you see, you're all I've got.  I've grown
accustomed to looking after you, and I've always sworn that nobody
should take me from you.  And nobody shall.  You're coming back to
Polchester with me in half an hour's time."

"No.  We say good-bye here.  Here, in this room," he answered
quietly.  "You shall have all the glory of the separation.  It will
be easy enough for you to put all the blame upon me.  I shan't say
a word, you can keep everything up in style.  You can call me every
name under the sun."

"Yes, and have everyone despise me and laugh behind my back at the
mess I've made of it.  No, thank you."

"No one will despise you.  You'll have plenty of money, and a good
cook.  No one to-day despises anyone with a good cook.  And think
how fine you'll be!  No stupid old man to arrange for!  Your own
complete mistress.  All the glory of being my wife, with none of
the bother.  'Poor Hans,' you'll say, 'I thought it best that he
should stay quietly in the country for a bit.  I go down to see him
whenever I can.'  You can come down here sometimes, you know--just
to keep up appearances."

"Down here!  You don't mean that you are really meaning to live
here?"

"Yes.  Really."

She looked at him with an odd expression of regard and interest,
such as he had never seen in her eyes before.  Their talk had
altered their relations.  They saw one another with a new respect,
perhaps, and, at the same time, realized how far they had travelled
the one from the other.

She got up, walked about the little room, then went to the window
and looked out.  A thin sea mist had come down and obscured all the
landscape.  Little trickles of water tumbled on the panes.

"Here!"  She turned round to him.  "In this awful, awful place!
Alone!  You're mad.  You must be.  Or no.  It's a momentary
reaction from London.  You'll come back in a week or two.  You will
have had enough of this.  I'll go back and wait for you."

"Yes, do that."  He, too, got up.  "Wait for me--but don't expect
me ever to return."

He felt that she was a little afraid of him--that now she wanted to
be gone.  He knew that already her brain was busied with her London
plans, with the new arrangements in the house, the new combinations
of friends and acquaintances, the fresh ground that she could now
occupy entirely on her own account; the tiresome and irritating
people whom she must no longer invite, because they had come only
for his sake, never for hers; the pictures that she would paint of
his oddness, eccentricity, impossibility; the parties that now she
would have, gayer, more modern, younger admirers, possibly even
(with all discretion and control) lovers. . . .  He knew that in
those swift minutes, these views, these fresh glittering landscapes
were almost against her will unrolling before her.  Against her
will!

"Well"--she picked up her lovely cloak and the little hat with the
silver feather--"I leave you then.  But only for--how long shall I
give you?--one week, two--before you are back again.  The library
will be waiting for you."

She went up to him and kissed him.  "Look after yourself: don't
catch cold in this chilly place.  Come up the moment that you are
bored."

He looked at her.  Odd.  Once he had loved her passionately.  He
had knelt before her pleading. . . .  He helped her down the
crooked little stairs.  He handed her into the motor.  She smiled
and nodded.  Turning back to the cottage, he felt the thin friendly
rain caress his cheek.



CHAPTER VI

The Wave--Silence


Early in the afternoon the misty rain slipped away, and a world was
revealed of faint pale colour and a saffron light shed by a dim
sun.

Hans had his meal all to himself in his new little sitting room.
He had cold beef, salad, potatoes in their jackets, and blackberry
and apple tart and thick yellow cream.

Mrs. Iglesias served it and never exchanged a syllable with him
while he ate.  He had discovered Robinson Crusoe in the kitchen; he
read it, the volume propped up against the jug of water.

After the meal he went out.  He walked over the steps to the little
beach where he had been with Nathalie.

Everyone was gone--Ruth, Nathalie, the Russians.  And every place
was gone--London, Paris, Vienna, Shanghai. . . .  And every memory
was gone--Germany, Italy, early London struggles, triumphs,
mistresses, toothaches, ambitions.

There was not a soul in sight.

After the rain the wood, the beach, the bare trees were thin and
unsubstantial.  The colours were faint ivory, dim amber, the grey
surface of steel.  The sea heaved without breaking, then threw a
line of foam in white froth upon the sand.  Then a little wave
broke far out, another nearer.  Several raced together to the
shore.

Hans watched, waiting.  He was eagerly expectant; then, as though
to answer his expectancy, from the long expanse of trembling silver
a wave rose, shook its shoulders, tossed its head, leaped up.  It
hung before his eyes in an arc of crystal green, clear glass green,
shelving in a half-circle of lovely, purest colour.  Thus it hung,
waiting, before his eyes.  Then with a final grand shudder of
ecstasy it came crashing, tumbling down, and leaped with white
edges of triumph spilling to the shore.

At that moment, in Hans' ears, a voice cried:

"Now--BEGIN!"

He turned, crossed again the stone steps, mounted the steps to the
cottage, climbed the dark stairs.

He entered the little white room, closed the door behind him, sat
down at the deal table, drew the pad of paper before him, wrote:


                   THE ONE-EYED COMMANDER

                              I


Then his pen moved swiftly.



THE END


Brackenburn,
Sept. 10, 1927.



THE END




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