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Title: The London Venture
Author: Arlen, Michael
Language: English
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                          _The London Venture_
                             MICHAEL ARLEN



                           _By_ MICHAEL ARLEN

  _These Charming People_

  _The Green Hat_

  _"Piracy"_

  _The London Venture_

  _The Romantic Lady_



                                 _The_
                            _London Venture_

                                  _by_
                            _Michael Arlen_

                           _With Drawings by_
                            _MICHEL SEVIER_

                             [Illustration]

                               _NEW YORK_
                        GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



                           _Copyright, 1920,_
                      _By George H. Doran Company_

                             [Illustration]

                           THE LONDON VENTURE
                                -- B --
                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                                  _To_
                               THE SISTER
                                   of
                              SHELMERDENE



                        APOLOGIA PRO NOMINE MEO


Out of consideration (in part) to such readers as may read this book I
have assumed a name by which they may refer to me (if ever he or she may
wish to do so kindly) in the same manner at least twice running--a feat
of pronunciation which few of my English acquaintances have performed
with my natal name. But there is also another reason, considerate of the
author. I have been told that there are writers whose works would have
been famous if only their names could have been familiarly
pronounced--Polish and Russian writers for the most part, I gather.
Since I had already taken every other precaution but this to deserve
their more fortunate fate, in changing my name I have, I hope, robbed my
readers of their last excuse for my obscurity.

                                          _Dikran Kouyoumdjian._
                                                    "MICHAEL ARLEN."



                        _The London Venture_: I


                             [Illustration]



                                  THE
                             LONDON VENTURE


                                   I

My watch has needed winding only twice since I left London, and already,
as I sit here in the strange library of a strange house, whose only
purpose in having a library seems to be to keep visitors like myself
quiet and out of harm's way, I find myself looking back to those past
months in which I was for ever complaining of the necessity that kept me
in London. How I would deliver myself to a congenial friend about what
men are pleased to call "the artificial necessity of living"--a
cocktail, that courtesan of drinks, lent some artificiality! With what
sincerity I would agree with another's complaint of the "monotonous
routine of politeness," without indulging which men cannot live
decently; how I would mutter to myself of streets and theatres full of
men and women and ugliness! Even as a cab hurried me through the
Tottenham Court Road to Euston the smile which I turned to the
never-ending windows of furniture shops was at the thought that I should
not see them again for many days, and I could not imagine myself ever
being pleased to come back to this world of plain women and bowler hats
and bawdily coloured cinema posters, whose duty it is to attract and
insult with the crude portrayal of the indecent passions of tiresome
people. If there be a studio in purgatory for indiscreet æsthetics,
Rhadamanthus could do no better than paper its walls with illustrations
of "The Blindness of Love," or "Is Love Lust?" For it is now a London of
coloured drawings of men about to murder or be murdered, women about to
be seduced or divorced. One has to see a crowd of people surging into a
cinema, by whose doors is a poster showing a particularly vapid
servant-girl, a harlot of the "dark-eyed, sinister" type, and a drunken,
fair-haired young man who has not yet realised that discretion is the
better part of an indiscretion, before one can understand "the lure of
the screen."

And even the entrance of Euston, rebuilt and newly painted, gave my eyes
only the pleasure of foreseeing that the new yellow paint would soon be
dingy, and that the eyes of porters would soon no longer be offended
with upstart colours which quarrelled with the greyness of their
experience. And in the carriage I leant back and closed my eyes, and was
glad that I was leaving London.

But the train had scarce left the station, and was whirling through the
northern suburbs which should so fervently have confirmed my gladness,
when I felt suddenly as though some little thing was being born inside
me, as though some little speck of dust had come in through the open
window, and fixed itself upon my pleasure at leaving London; and very
soon I realised that this was the first grain of regret, and that I
should not spend so many months away from London as my late depression
had imagined. Then up will start the strong-minded man, and pish and
pshaw me for not knowing my own mind. And if he does, how right he will
be! For little do I care whether this mood be as the last, so they both
fill up the present moment with fitting thoughts, and pain, and
pleasure!

Now, I was already thinking of how I would return to London next year in
the spring. What I would do then, the things I would write, the men I
would talk to, and the women I would lunch with, so filled my mind, and
pleasantly whirled my thoughts from this to that, that Rugby was long
passed before even I had come to think of the pleasures that London in
early summer has in store for all who care to take. When the days were
growing long, it would be pleasant to take a table by the windows of the
Savoy, and dine there with some woman with whom it would be no effort to
talk or be silent.

Such a woman at once comes to my mind, with dark hair and grey-blue
eyes, the corners of whose mouth I am continually watching because it is
only there I find the meaning of her eyes, for she is a sphinx, and I do
not yet know if what she hides is a secret or a sense of humour. You
will say that that means nothing, and that she is quite invisible to
you; but you do not know her, and I do--at least, I know that much of
her. And with her it seems to me that I could dine only at that table by
the windows where I could turn from her eyes to the slow-moving English
river, and the specks of men and trams, which are all that the leaves of
trees will let me see of the Embankment. Perhaps I would tell her of
that novel which I once began to write, but could never finish nor have
any heart to try again; for it began just here at this table where we
are now sitting, but the man was alone, and if he ever lived outside my
halting pages and had the finishing of my novel, he would put himself
here again at the end, with you sitting in front of him. For that is the
whole purpose of the novel, which I never realised till this moment,
that once a young man was sitting here alone and wondering why that
should be and what he should do, and in the end he was sitting here
again with a woman for whom his passion had died, but whose eyes still
made him talk so that he could not see the slow darkening of the river,
or hear the emptying of the restaurant, until at last she laughed, and
he had to stop because of the waiters who hovered round the table to
relay it for the bored people who would come in from the theatres for
supper. But all this I had never realised till I told you of it, and
perhaps now I shall one day finish it, and call it "Nadine," for that is
your name in the novel.

Thinking of the young man of my unfinished novel who had sat there so
alone sent my thoughts back to the day not many years past when I first
came to live in London. I am bitter about those first months, and will
not easily forgive London for them; and if any young person shall begin
to tell me how splendid were his first lonely days in the wilderness of
people, how much he enjoyed the aimless wandering about the streets, how
he liked to watch the faces of the people as they passed, laughing, or
talking, or hungry, while he could do or be none of these for lack of
company and convenience of means, then I will turn on him and curse him
for a fool or a knave, and rend the affected conceit of his
self-contained pleasure with my own experience and that of many others
whom I know of. But then for a young Englishman--how pleasant it is to
write of "young Englishmen," as though one were really a foreigner!--the
circumstances are a little different, and he need never taste that first
absolute loneliness, which, as the weeks go by and the words are not
spoken, seems to open out a vista of solitude for all the days of life;
nor need he be conscious that it is on himself--how, while it
exaggerates, loneliness stifles self!--he must rely for every
acquaintance, for every word spoken in his life. But for him there are
aunts who live in Chester Square, and cousins who come up to stay a
month or so at the Hyde Park Hotel, and uncles who live somewhere about
Bruton Street, and have such a fund of _risqué_ anecdotes that the
length of Bond Street and Piccadilly will not see the end of them; and,
perhaps, there are age-long friends of the family who have houses in
Kensington and Hampstead, and "nice" parquet floors on which you can
dance to a gramophone; while for an Armenian, who soon realises that his
nationality is considered as something of a _faux pas_, there are none
of these things, and he is entirely lost in the wilderness, for there is
no solid background to his existence in another's country; and, as the
days lengthen out and he grows tired of walking in the Green Park, he
comes to wonder why his fathers ever left Hayastan; for it seems to me
much better to be a murdered prince in Hayastan than a living vagabond
in London. So I wandered about, moved my chambers gradually from Earl's
Court to the heart of St. James's and read "Manon Lescaut," and sat in
front of Gainsborough's "Musidora" until I found that she had three
legs, and could never look at it again.

Then, somehow, came acquaintance, first of the world, then of literature
and its parasites; came teas at Golder's Green and Hampstead, and
queerly serious discussions about sub-consciousness; "rags" at Chelsea,
and "dalliance with grubbiness," and women. Through this early maze of
ribaldry and discussion, the first of which bored me because of its
self-consciousness, and because I do not like lying on the dirty floors
of studios with candle grease dripping on me, and the latter which
affected my years miserably and almost entirely perverted my natural
amiability into a morbid distaste for living (which still breaks out at
odd moments, and has branded me among many people as a depressing and
damnably superior young person); through this maze of smoke and talk I
can only still see the occasional personality of Mr. D. H. Lawrence, as
his clear, grey eyes--there is no equivalent to _spirituel_ in
English--flashed from face to face, smiling sometimes, often but a
vehicle for those bitter thoughts (and thoughts are so often conclusions
with men of arrogant genius like Lawrence) which find such strange and
emphatic expression in his books. I would need the pen of a De Quincey
to describe my impression of that man, and I am candid enough to admit
that I lack the ability, rather than the malice, which caused the little
opium-eater to be so justly hated by such a man as Bob Southey. There is
a bitterness which can find no expression, is inarticulate, and from
that we turn away as from a very pitiful thing; and there is that
bitterness which is as clear-cut as a diamond, shining with definitions,
hardened with the use of a subtle reasoning which is impenetrable but
penetrating, "the outcome of a fecund imagination," as Lawrence himself
might describe it; a bitterness so concisely and philosophically
articulate, that, under the guise of "truth," it will penetrate into the
receptive mind, and leave there some indelible impressions of a strange
and dominating mind. I have found that in the books and person of Mr. D.
H. Lawrence. He seems to lack humility definitely, as a man would lack
bread to eat, and a note of arrogance, as splendid as it is shameless,
runs through his written words; and the very words seem conscious that
they are pearls flung before swine. He will pile them one on top of the
other, as though to impregnate each with his own egotism, to describe
the sexual passions of this man or that woman, words so full of _his_
meaning, so pregnant with _his_ passions, that at the end of such a page
you feel that a much greater and more human Ruskin is hurling his dogmas
at your teeth, that there is nothing you can say or think outside that
pile of feeling which is massed before you, that you must accept and
swallow without cavil and without chewing. With what relief one turns
over a page and finds that here is no touch of the flesh, but that Mr.
Lawrence is writing of earth! Let him sink into earth as deep as he may,
he can find and show there more beauty and more truth than in all his
arrogant and passionate fumblings in the mire of sex, in all his bitter
striving after that, so to speak, sexual millennium, that ultimate
psychology of the body and mind, which seems so to obsess him that in
his writings he has buried his mind, as, in his own unpleasant phrase, a
lover buried his head, in the "terrible softness of a woman's belly."
Who has not read "Sons and Lovers," and laid it down as the work of a
strange and great man, of the company of Coleridge, Stendhal, and
Balzac? And who, as he read it, has not been shocked by a total lack of
that sweetness which must alloy all strength to make it acceptable?
"That strange interfusion of strength and sweetness," which Pater so
admiringly found in Blake and Hugo, cannot be found in Mr. D. H.
Lawrence; there is a mass of passionate strength, that of an angry man
straining with his nerves because he despises his hands; there is a
gentleness in his writing of children which could never be capable of
such melodrama as that in Mr. Hardy's "Jude the Obscure," but in his men
and women, in their day and night, there is no drop of sweetness. And I
do not think he wishes it otherwise.

As the train flew through the Derbyshire countryside, whose hillsides
and vales, covered with the brilliant sheen of the autumn sun, met the
eye pleasantly with a rising and falling of pale yellowish green, with
here and there a dark green patch of woodland, and made me want to stop
the hurrying train and breathe the air of the place, my thoughts slipped
back to the spring and the summer just before the war; and, with my eyes
on the quickly passing sunshine on the low hills, I found that, after
all, those last few months of peace had passed, perhaps, too lightly,
too carelessly; but it was pleasant to think back to those days when
lunches and dinners and week-ends took up so much of one's time. I was
glad now that I had not spent the three summer months in Yorkshire on
the moors, where I should have been uncomfortable; and had to be for
ever sending postcards to Hatchard's to post me this or that book, which
would come when my mood for it had passed.

And how dreadful it is to want to read suddenly "Love in the Valley,"
and have to be content with Tennyson, to long for a chapter of
Dostoieffsky, and be met with complete editions of Trollope and Surtees!
So I see that my middle age will be crabbed and made solitary by my
books, and that I shall never have the heart to leave them and go to the
East to see the land of my father Haik, or to walk about the lake upon
which the great Queen Semiramis (who was the first in the world to
discover that men could be conveniently changed into eunuchs) built the
city Semiramakert, which is now called Van, and where later, when she
was pursued by the swordsmen of her son, she threw a magic bracelet into
the lake and turned herself into a rock, which still stands there
covered with the triumphant script of the Assyrians.



                        _The London Venture_: II

                             [Illustration]



                                   II


Once (in those far-off peaceful days when men still had enough
grammatical sense to know that the word "pacifist" does not exist, but
that the less convenient "pacificist" does) I had been very depressed
for a week, and had scarcely spoken to any one, but had just walked
about in my rooms and on the Embankment, for I suddenly found myself
without any money at all; and it is thus with me that when I am without
money I am also without ideas, but when I have the first I do not
necessarily have the last. I wondered if I had not done a very silly
thing in being independent, and in not doing as my brothers had done,
reading "The Times" in an office every morning from ten to twelve, and
playing dominoes in the afternoon, and auction bridge in the evening,
and having several thousands a year when I was forty, and a Wolseley car
to take my wife for a holiday to Windermere, because she looked pale, or
because we were bored with each other. I smiled to think of the look on
my brothers' faces if I suddenly appeared at their office one morning,
and said that it was no good, and that I couldn't write, and was very
hungry. I could not make up my mind whether they would laugh at me and
turn me out, or whether they would teach me how to play auction and set
me to answer letters about what had happened on such and such a day
inst., and why the firm of ---- thought it unnecessary that it should
happen again, while they would sit in the next room, marked "Private,"
signing cheques and talking to visitors about the weather and the cotton
markets. Perhaps I will do that some day, for, from what I have heard,
it seems to me the easiest thing in the world to talk about rises and
falls and margins without knowing anything about them at all.

The same thing happens with regard to books, for one often meets people
who seem to have read every modern novel, and can discuss quite prettily
whether Mr. Wells is a man or a machine, or whether Mr. Arnold Bennett,
ever since he wrote the last lines to "The Old Wives' Tales," has not
decided that it is better to be a merchant than a writer, or whether Mr.
E. V. Lucas thinks he is the second Charles Lamb, and what other grounds
than his splendid edition has he for thinking so, or whether Mr. George
Moore does or does not think that indiscretion is the better part of
literature, or whether Mr. Chesterton or vegetarianism has had the
greatest effect on Mr. Shaw's religion; but then, after all this talk,
it turns out that they read "The Times Literary Supplement" every week,
and think Epictetus nothing to Mr. Clutton-Brock, or they are steeped in
Mr. Clement Shorter's weekly criticism _en deshabille_ in the
"Illustrated London News."

At last I could stand my depression no longer, and late one night, after
a day in which I had spoken to no one but a little old woman who said
that she wasn't a beggar but that God blessed the charitable, I sat down
and wrote a long, conceited letter to Shelmerdene; for to her I can
write whether I am gay or depressed, and be sure that she will not be
impatient with me. I told her how I had a great fund of ambition, but
had it not in me to satisfy a tenth part of it; for that is in the
character of all my people, they promise much greater things in their
youth than they can fulfil in their mature age. From twenty onwards they
are continually growing stale, and bitter with their staleness; the
little enthusiasm of their youth will not stretch through their whole
life, but will flicker out shamefully with the conceit of their own
precocity, and in trying to fly when other people are just learning to
walk; and as the years pass on and youth becomes regret, the son of
Haik, the faded offspring of a faded nation whose only call to exist is
because it has lived so long and has memories of the sacking of Nineveh
and Carchemish, is left without the impetus of development, with an
ambition which is articulate only in bitterness; while the hardy
Northerner, descendant of barbarian Druid worshippers whose nakedness
was rumoured with horror in the courts and pleasure gardens of Hayastan
and Persia, slowly grows in mind as in body, and soon outstrips the
petty outbursts of the other's stationary genius. I told Shelmerdene
that I, who had thought that England had given me at least some of her
continually growing enthusiasm, that _I_ who had thought I would not,
like so many of my countrymen, be too soon stranded on "the ultimate
islands" of Oriental decay, was even now in the stage between the dying
of enthusiasm and its realisation; for the first impetus of my youthful
conceits was vanishing, and there looked to be nothing left to them but
an "experience" and a "lesson of life" without which I would have been
much happier. In moods such as these one can hear in the far distance
the wailing of a dirge, a knell, indefinitely yet distinctly, and the
foreboding it brings is of an end to something which should have no end;
a falling away, a premature decay which is like a growing cloud soon to
cover the whole mind.... Shelmerdene, do you know the story of the
Dán-nan-Rón, which Fiona Macleod tells? How there lived three brothers
on the isle of Eilanmore: Marcus, who was "the Eilanmore," and Gloom,
whose voice "was low and clear, but cold as pale green water running
under ice," and Sheumais, on whose brow lay "the dusk of the shadow."
Gloom was the wisest of the brothers, and played upon an oaten flute,
which is called a _feadan_; and men were afraid of the cold, white notes
of his barbaric runes, as he played his _feadan_ from rock to rock and
on the seashore, but most of all they feared the playing of the
Dán-nan-Rón, which is the Song of the Seal and calls men to their death
in the sea. And when the eldest brother Marcus was killed with the
throwing of a knife, the murderer heard the woods of Gloom, which said
that he would hear the Dán-nan-Rón the night before he died, and lest he
should doubt those words, he would hear it again in the very hour of his
death. It happened as Gloom said: for one night the playing of the
_feadan_ drove the slayer, Manus MacCodrum, down into the sea, and as he
battled madly in the water, and the blood gushed out of his body as the
teeth of seals tore the life out of him, he heard from far away the
cold, white notes of the Dán-nan-Rón.

This tale always brings to me that many men, in some sudden moment which
even M. Maeterlinck would hesitate to define as "a treasure of the
humble," hear the playing of a tune such as that, which tells them of
some ending, unknown and indefinite, just as, in the moments of greatest
love, a man will feel for a terrible second the shivering white ice of
sanity, which tells him a different tale to that which he is murmuring
to the woman in his arms. Men who have heard it must have become morose
with the fear this distant dirge brought upon them; but of that
foreboding nothing certain can be known, and it is only in such a mood
as this, and to a Shelmerdene of women, that a fool will loosen his
foolishness to inquire into such things. Clarence Mangan must have heard
the tune as he lay drunk and wretched in his Dublin garret, for there is
more than Celtic gloom in the dirge of his lines. John Davidson, whose
poetry you so love, and who wrote in a moment of madness "that Death has
loaded dice," must have heard it, perhaps when first he came to venture
his genius in London, a young man with a strange, bad-tempered look in
his eyes; and he must have heard the exulting notes, as clearly as did
Manus MacCodrum, when he walked into the sea from Cornwall. Charles
Meryon must have heard it as he walked hungrily about the streets of
Paris, and wondered why those gargoyles--strange things to beautify!--on
Notre Dame, into which he had put so much life, could not scream aloud
to the people of Paris that a genius was dying among them for lack of
food and praise. Do you remember, Shelmerdene, how you and I, when first
I began to know you, stood before a little imp of wonderfully carved
onyx stone which leered at us from the centre of your mantelpiece, and I
said that it was like one of those gargoyles of Meryon's; and that
afternoon I told you about his life and death, and when I had finished
you said that I told the tale as though I enjoyed it, instead of being
frightened by the tragedy of it. But I admired your imp of onyx stone
very much, telling you that I loved its ravenous mouth and reptile
claws, because they looked so helplessly lustful after something
unattainable; and that same night I found a little black-and-gold box
awaiting me in my rooms, in which was the imp of onyx stone, and a note
saying that I must put it on my table because it would bring me luck.
For a second I did not believe your words, but thought that you had
given it to me to be a symbol for my helplessness, for I had said that
it lusted after something utterly unattainable. But the second passed,
and I found later that you had forgotten those words, and had sent it to
me because I liked it.... I would like to spend these glorious spring
days away from London with you, in quietness, perhaps in Galway
somewhere; but if you cannot come away with me to-morrow, I will take
you out to dinner instead, and we will talk about yourself and the
_ci-devants_ who have loved you; and though I have no money at all now,
I am quite sure that to-morrow will bring some.

Sure enough a few hours later I awoke to a bright spring morning, which
brought happiness in itself, even without the help of a cheque which a
recreant editor had at last thought fit to send me. As I walked out into
the blaze of sunshine on the King's Road, I felt that I must surely be a
miserable fellow to let my ill-nature so often oppress me that only very
seldom I was allowed to enjoy such mornings as this; mornings which seem
to spring suddenly out at you from a night of ordinary sleep, when, as
you walk through streets which perhaps only the day before you hated
bitterly, the spring sun wholly envelops your mind and comes between
yourself and your pretty dislikes, and the faces of men and women look
brown, and red, and happy as the light and shadow play on them; such a
day was this, a pearl dropped at my feet from the tiara of some Olympian
goddess.

Later I telephoned to Shelmerdene to ask her to lunch with me instead of
dine, as the day was so beautiful; but she said that she had already
promised to lunch with some one, a man who had loved her faithfully for
more than ten years, and as all he wanted from her was her company over
lunch on this particular day of the week, she could not play him false,
even though the day was so beautiful. But I told her that I would not be
loving her faithfully for ten years, and that she must take the best of
me while she could, and that on such a day as this it would be a shame
to lunch with an inarticulate lover; for a man who had loved her
faithfully for more than ten years, and wanted only her company over
lunch once a week, must be inarticulate, or perhaps a knave whose subtle
cunning her innocence had failed to unveil. So in the end we lunched
together in Knightsbridge, and then walked slowly through the Park.

The first covering of spring lay on every thing. The trees, so
ashamed--or was it coyness?--were they of their bareness in face of all
the greenness around them, were doing their best to hurry out that
clothing of leaves which, in a few weeks' time, would baffle the rays of
the sun which had helped their birth; and there was such a greenness and
clearness in the air and on the grass, and about the flowers which
seemed surprised at the new warmth of the world, hesitating as yet to
show their full beauty for they were afraid that the dark winter was
playing them a trick and would suddenly lurch clumsily upon them again,
that the Park has never seemed to me so beautiful as on that spring
afternoon when a careless happiness lay about everything.

So far I have not said a word about Shelmerdene, except that she had
found a man--or, rather, he had tiresomely found her--to love her
faithfully for ten years, and she had so affected him that he thought a
weekly lunch or dinner was the limit of his destiny with her. And yet,
had he searched himself and raked out the least bit of gumption, he
would have found he was tremendously wrong about her--for there were
pinnacles to be reached with Shelmerdene unattainable within the
material limits of a mere lunch or dinner. She was just such a
delightful adventuress as only a well-bred mixture of American and
English can sometimes make; such a subtle negation of the morals of
Boston or Kensington that she would, in the searching light of the one
or the other, have been acclaimed the shining light of their William
Morris drawing-rooms. She drew men with a tentative, all-powerful little
finger, and mocked them a little, but never so cruelly that they
weren't, from the inarticulate beginning to the inevitable end,
deliriously happy to be miserable about her. She was a Princess
Casassimma without anarchical affectations; and like her she was almost
too good to be true.

So much then, for Shelmerdene; for if to cap it all, I should go on to
say that she was beautiful I would be held to have been an infatuated
fool. Which, perhaps, I carelessly was, since I can't even now exactly
fix upon the colour of her hair, doubting now in memory as I must have
done actually in those past days with her, whether it was brown or black
or, as sometimes on a sofa under a Liberty-shaded lamp, a silver-tinted
blue, so wonderfully deep.... Perhaps destined, in that future when
Shelmerdene is at last tired of playing at life, to be the "blue silver"
of the besotted madman to whom she, at the weary end, with but a look
back at the long-passed procession of _ci-devants_, will thankfully give
herself. _Dies iræ, dies illa...._



                       _The London Venture_: III


                             [Illustration]



                                  III


We sat on chairs in the sun, and after we had been silent a long while,
she began to do what women will never cease doing, so wise men say, as
long as men say they love them, to define what the love of a man meant
to a woman, and to explain the love of a man. She said that that man was
wise who had said that love was like religion, and must be done well or
not at all, but that she had never yet found in any man sincere love and
delicacy, for there was always something coarse, some little note which
jarred, some movement of the mind and body maladroit, in a man who is
shown a woman's love. "When men love and are not loved," she said,
"often they kept their grace and pride, and women are proud to be loved
by such men--even faithfully for more than ten years; but when men are
loved and are confident, then they seem to lose delicacy, to think that
love breaks down all barriers between man and woman; that love is a vase
of iron, unbreakable, and not, as it is, a vase of the most delicate and
brittle pottery, to be broken to pieces by the least touch of a careless
hand. They seem to think that the state of love stands at the end of a
great striving; they do not realise that it is only the beginning, and
that the striving must never cease, for without striving there is no
love, but only content. But they do not see that; they insist on
spoiling love, breaking the vase with stupid, unconscious hands; and
when it breaks they are surprised, and they say that love is a fickle
thing and will stand no tests, and that women are the very devil. Always
they spoil love; it comes and finds them helpless, puzzling whether to
clothe themselves entirely in reserve or whether to be entirely naked in
brutality; and generally they compromise, and, physically and mentally,
walk about in their shirts."

"As you say that," I said, "you remind me of that woman, Mrs. Millamant,
in Congreve's play, 'The Way of the World.' Do you remember that scene
between her and Mirabell, when she attaches 'provisos' to her consent to
marry him? She says, 'We must be as strange as though we had been
married a long time, and as well bred as though we had never been
married at all.' And it seems to me that she was right, and that you are
right, Shelmerdene. Nowadays there is a reaction against convention, and
such people make life unclean. They talk about being 'natural,' and
succeed only in being boorish; they think that the opposite of 'natural'
is 'artificial,' but that is absurd, for why was the title 'gentleman'
invented if not for the man who could put a presentable gloss on his
primitive, 'natural' instincts in polite company? There must always be
etiquette in life and in love, and there is no friendship or passion
which can justify familiarity trying to break down the barriers which
hide every man and every woman from the outside world. Men grow mentally
limp with their careless way of living; and life is like walking on the
Embankment at three o'clock in the morning, when London is very silent:
and if you lounge along as your feet take you, your hands deep in your
pockets, being 'natural,' you will see very little but the general
darkness of the night and the patch of pavement on which your eyes are
glued: but if you walk upright, your mind taut and rigid as it always
must be except when asleep, then you will see many things, how the river
looks strange beneath the stars, the mystery of Battersea Park which
might, in the darkness, be an endless forest of distantly murmuring
trees, the figure of a policeman by the bridge, a light here and there
in the windows of the houses in Cheyne Walk, which might mean birth or
death or nothing, but is food for your mind because you are living and
interested in all living things. It was probably some wise philosopher,
an Epicurean, and not a buffoon, as is supposed, who first uttered that
saying which is now become farcical, that 'distance lends enchantment.'
For he did not mean the material distance of yards and furlongs and
miles, but the distance of necessary strangeness, of inevitable mystery,
and of a rigid mental etiquette, the good manners of the mind. And that
is why Henry James was a great man, and with a great propaganda. He was
subtle with his propaganda--an ugly word which can be used for other
things than the bawling of tiresome men in this Park on Sunday
afternoons--for he could do nothing without an almost obvious subtlety;
but it is there in all his work, a teaching for all who care to be
taught. In the world of Henry James, for he was more fastidious than
Meredith or Mr. Hardy and would have nothing to do with this world as it
was, but made one of his own, in this world the men and women are not
just men and women, with thoughts and doings bluntly and coarsely
expressed as in real life; but he showed them to be subtle creatures,
something higher than clever animals, with different shades of meaning
in every word--what fool was it who said that a word spoken must be a
word meant!--with barriers of reserve and strangeness between each
person; and their conversation is not just a string of words, but a
thing of different values, in which the mind of the speaker and the
listener is alive and rigid to every current of refined thought which is
often unexpressed but understood. I think 'thin' is the right epithet
for the minds of James' characters; and the difference between them and
ordinary people is that within us there is a sort of sieve between the
mind and the mouth, or in whatever way we choose to be articulate,
which, unlike ordinary sieves, allows only the coarse grains to drop
through and be given out, but keeps the subtleties and the refinement to
itself; but between the minds and the articulation of James' people
there are no sieves, and the inner subtleties and shades are given
expression. There is a strangeness, a kind of mental tautness, a
never-ceasing etiquette, about them all."

But then I laughed, and when she asked me why I did not go on, I said
that I had suddenly realised that I had strayed from the subject, and
that whereas she had begun to talk of love I had ended by talking of
Henry James. "It is all about the same thing," she said, "for we are
both grumbling at that mental limpness which makes people think that
they need make no effort, but that life will go on around them just the
same. And that is why I think one of the most dreadful sights is a man
asleep. No one should see another person asleep; it seems to me the most
private thing in the world, and if I were a man and a woman had watched
me as I lay asleep, I should want to kill her so that she should not go
about and tell people how I had looked as I lay stupidly unconscious of
everything around me. Only once I have seen a man asleep, and that was
the end of a perfect love affair. I had suddenly gone to see him in his
chambers, and when his man showed me into his room I found him lying
there on the sofa, with his head thrown back on a cushion, sleeping. His
man said that he must be very tired as he had been working all night,
and that it would be kind of me not to wake him. I waited in the room
for an hour, trying not to look at him but to read a book, but his
breathing filled the room and I could not take my eyes away from him;
and at the end of an hour I felt that my love had gone from me minute by
minute as I had looked at him, and that now I might just as well get up
and go away, for I did not care any longer if he was asleep or awake. So
I went away, but I do not know if he woke up as the door closed behind
me."

"And did you ever tell him why you had ceased to love him?" I asked.

"I couldn't do that," she said, "because if he had not understood me I
should have hated him, and I do not like hating people whom I have
loved. But now I dine with him from time to time, and I can see that he
is still wondering how it was that on Monday I loved him and on Tuesday
I didn't."

As we walked through the Park towards the Park Lane gates, it seemed to
me wonderful that this day, one among many days, should already be
passing, irrevocably, and that what we had said and what we had felt as
we sat on chairs in the sun would never be repeated, would never come
again except perhaps in a different way and with different surprises.
And when I asked her if she felt the happiness of the afternoon, she
laughed slightly and said that she liked the Park this spring afternoon.
"It is perfect now," she said, "but when we come here in a month's or
two months' time it will be too warm to sit in the sun and talk about
love and Henry James, and in the autumn we will sit down for a moment
and shiver a little and pity the brown leaves falling, and in the winter
we will walk quickly through because it will be too cold; and then in
Park Lane you will put me into a taxi and stand by the door with your
hat in your hand, and say good-bye. For the seasons will have gone
round, and we shall each have given what the other will take, and when I
look at you you will be different, and when you look at me you will not
see, as you see now, my eyes looking far away over your shoulder, and
you will not wonder what it is that I am looking at. For then, as you
stand by the door of the taxi and smile your good-bye at me, the end
will have come, and there will be nothing to look at in the distance
over your shoulders. And next year you will be an 'old friend,' and I
shall ring you up and say that I am very sorry I can't lunch and walk in
the Park with you that day because an Oxfordish young man has fallen in
love with me, and it will be amusing to see what sort of lunch he will
order when he is in love.

"But is a rose less beautiful because it is sure to die?" she said.

But the winter she spoke of was not of the seasons, for it rushed
incontinently in upon us between the summer and the autumn, and I, too,
was delicately added to the sedate statuary of Shelmerdene's "old
friends...."

And now I am in this strange library whose rows of books stare so
unfamiliarly at me. The table at which I write is by the big French
windows, and I must be careful to keep my elbows from sprawling as they
would, for everything is covered with dust, and if I were fussy and
wiped it away I should raise a great cloud of it around my head.... All
is quiet and leisurely this morning. Outside there is no sun or mildness
to make me restless and self-conscious about my laziness; it is one of
those days on which one need not think of doing anything which will be
"good for one," and until about tea-time the outside world will be
better to look at than to breathe. For the windows show me a very dark,
wet-laden garden, and the steady rain falling among the last leaves of
the trees and their myriad dead comrades on the grass and gravel makes
that "swish" which comes so coolly and pleasantly to ears which need not
be wet with it. But at about five o'clock, if the rain has stopped by
then, I shall go out and walk about the garden for an hour or so; I
shall walk to the top of the Divvil Mound, which lies above half the
county to the west and, on a fine day, gives your eyes a rugged length
of the distant Cheviots, and there I shall look up to the sky and draw
in long draughts of the fresh rain-scented air, and feel that I shall
never be ill again in all my life; and as I walk back under the trees
the wet will drip on to me and I shall splash myself here and there; but
I shall not swear, for my clothes are done for the day, and when I get
in I shall have a bath and change, and feel all new and clean for
whatever the evening may bring.

Beside me now is an envelope with an American stamp, and the vaguely
woebegone look which readdressed envelopes have; for it followed me here
some ten days ago from London, reaching me the same morning that I sat
down to write this (for it has taken me more than a week of long
mornings to write these few thousand words) which was at first to have
been an essay on London, but seems now to have fallen into the state of
a personal confession. Many times I have taken out this letter and
re-read it, for it is a strange letter, such a one as a man may receive
only once in his life. This letter needs no answer, for it is dead like
the person who sent it; and that the sender should not now care if I
read it or not gives me a queer feeling of triviality; for in her letter
she asks me to write back, not knowing then that a letter from a dead
person is the only sort one need not answer without blame or reproach.

The day has long passed when, if you felt inclined, you could moralise
on death and the frailty of human life to your heart's content and be
sure of a hearing. I am sorry that the commonplaces on death find now
only impatient readers, for they make pleasant reading in the pioneer
essayists from poor Overbury to Steele; for death, with all its
embroideries and trappings of destiny and Nemesis, is a pretty way of
exercising that philosophy which no one is without. I envy the courage
of the man who could now write an essay "On Death" as Bacon did once,
laying down the law of it with no hint of an apology for the monotony of
his subject; but there is now no essayist or philosopher with the calm
and aloof assurance and arrogance of a Bacon, that you might see, after
the last written words on the most trivial theme, this last seal, as
though he were God, "Thus thought Francis Bacon." But of death there is
nothing trivial and pleasant left to be said, and as a subject it has
grown monotonous, except for the inevitable slayer and the slain, and
that prevalent instinct for fair play ("the essential quality of the
looker-on") which interests itself in the manner of the slaying.

But this letter has seemed strange to me because, perhaps, I shall never
again receive a letter whose writer is dead, and who, when writing it,
dreamt of all material things but death. Were I Oscar Wilde I might
wonder now if English-women who die in America come back to London; for
there is much of London in the letter: "I should like to be in London
to-day--Bloomsbury London, Mayfair London, Chelsea London, London of the
small restaurants and large draughts of wine, London of the intellectual
half-lights, drone of flippant phrases and racy epigrams, with a thin
fog outside; London of a resigned good humour, of modulated debauch
moving like her traffic, strips of colour through dusk, and drab,
optimistic, noisy solitude, tranquillity of incessant sound: autumn
lamplight, busy park, sheep, men, women, prostitutes: doors slamming,
people coming in and sitting by the fire, more cigarettes, cakes, shops,
myriads of people...."

But I would not like to be in London this month of November.



                        _The London Venture_: IV


                             [Illustration]



                                   IV


But there was once a month of November, about which I could not so
grandly say that I would not like to spend it in London; for something
happened which threw me in a great hurly-burly of change into an
uncomfortable little flat in Monday Road, which is in South Kensington,
but for all the life and gaiety there is in it might just as well be in
a scrubby corner of the Sahara on a dusty day. My father had died
suddenly, and what little question there was of my ever going into
business now dropped away, so I had to make at least a pretence of
earning my living, or, rather, of making a career for myself. I was very
definite about this, that I must _do something, be something_: for I had
learnt this much of the world, that there is no room in it for casual
comers, that a man must have a background (any background will do, but
the more individual the better); that there is no room in any part
soever of the social scale for a man who is just nothing at all; and as
I have never seriously contemplated living exclusively in the company of
landladies and their friends, I saw that I must put my back into it and
cease being a very insignificant _rentier_. I couldn't bear the idea of
going through life as just a complacent Armenian in a world where
millions and millions of others were trying honestly and otherwise to
climb up the greasy pole of respectable attainment.

But I cannot resist saying what I think of Monday Road, though I am sure
I can do it no harm, because better men than I must have hated it, and
more virulently. Monday Road, like all the other roads which sink their
mutual differences into the so dreary Fulham Road, consists of large,
equal-faced houses stuck together in two opposite rows which are
separated by about fifteen yards or so of second-hand Tarmac; a road
like another, you will mildly say, but you cannot possibly realise its
dismal grimness if you have not lived there. The people who live in the
angular-faced houses are artists who believe in art for art's sake--else
they wouldn't be forced to live in the dismalest street in the
world--amateur intellectuals like myself, and various sorts of women.
The tribe of organ-grinders have a great weakness for Monday Road,
probably because some tactless ass has stuck up a notice there that
"Barrel-organs are prohibited," which is a silly thing to say if you
can't enforce it. Altogether it is the sort of road in which a "spinster
lady" might at any moment lock her door, close her windows, turn on the
gas, and read a novel to death. A woman in the flat next to mine did
that a week after I arrived, and I have never viewed death more
sympathetically.

When men grow old they are apt to discover pleasant memories attached
even to the worst periods, as they thought them at the time, of their
lives. I am not very old as yet, but looking back calmly on the eighteen
months I spent in South Kensington, I can find here and there, through
an exaggerated cloud of depression and wretchedness, a pleasant memory
smiling reprovingly at me; as though, perhaps, I should not be
treacherous to the good hours God or my luck had given me.... And there
was one moment of them all, when, in the first darkness of an early
autumn night, a dim slight figure stood mysteriously on my doorstep, and
I blinked childishly at it because I did not know who the figure was nor
how it had come there--if indeed it had come at all, and I had not
dreamed the ring of the bell which had startled me out of my book. Or,
perhaps, she had made a mistake, hadn't come for me at all....

But when she spoke, asking for me, I began to remember her, but only her
voice, for I could not see her face which was hidden in the high fur
collar of an evening cloak. She looked so mysterious that I didn't want
to remember where I had seen her.

"I simply can't bear it," she said nervously, "if you don't remember me.
I'll go away." And she turned her head quickly to the gates where there
stood the thick dark shape of a taxi which I had somehow not seen
before, else I would have known for certain that she was not a fairy, a
Lilith fairy, but just a woman; a nice woman who takes life at a
venture, I decided, and said abruptly: "Don't go."

When we were upstairs in my sitting-room and I could see her by the
light of eight candles, I remembered her perfectly well, though I had
only seen her once before. We had met at some tiresome bridge party six
months before, but just incidentally, and without enough interest on
either side to carry the conversation beyond the tepid limits of our
surroundings. And as I had never once thought of her since I had shaken
myself free of them, I couldn't imagine how on earth she had known my
address or even remembered my name, which she didn't dare try to
pronounce, she had told me as we went up the stairs.

She said that she, too, had never thought about me at all since then,
"until to-night when I was playing bridge in the same room with the same
people, except that you were not there--and I remembered you only
suddenly, as something missing from the room. I didn't remember you
because of anything you said, but because you had been the worst bridge
player in the room, and had the most unscrupulous brown eyes that ever
advised a flapper to inhale her cigarette smoke, as it was no use her
smoking if she didn't. And thinking about you among those people who
seemed more dreary than ever to-night, I had a silly homesick feeling
about you as though we were comrades in distress, whereas I didn't even
know your name properly and never shall if you don't somehow make it a
presentable one.

"So I turned the conversation to Armenians in general, which is an easy
thing to do, because you have only to murmur the word 'massacre' and the
connection is obvious, isn't it? Of course that sent that dear old snob,
Mrs. ----, off like mad, saying what bad luck it was for you being an
Armenian, because you could so nicely have been anything else, and even
a Montenegrin would have been a better thing to be; how surprised she
had been when she met you, she told us, for she had always had a vague
idea that Armenians were funny little old men with long hooked noses and
greasy black hair, who hawked carpets about on their backs, and
invariably cheated people, even Jews and Greeks....

"But you are quite English and civilised really, aren't you? I mean you
don't think that, just because I managed to wrangle out your address and
came here on impulse, I want to stay with you or anything like that, do
you?"

As she said that, I suddenly thought of Lord Dusiote's gallant villainy
in Meredith's poem, and I told her quickly how a whole Court had been
lovesick for a young princess, but Lord Dusiote had laughed, heart-free,
and said:

  "I prize her no more than a fling of the dice,
  But oh, shame to my manhood, a lady of ice,
    We master her by craft!"

"But I seem to remember that my Lord Dusiote came to a bad end," she
laughed at me.

"Not so bad an end--it must have been worth it. And at least he died for
a mistake, which is better than living on one:

  "'All cloaked and masked, with naked blades,
    That flashed of a judgment done,
  The lords of the Court, from the palace-door,
    Came issuing forth, bearers four,
    And flat on their shoulders one.'"

But Lord Dusiote's gallant death left her quite cold, for she was
suddenly by the bookcase, running caressing fingers over a binding here
and there.

"What perfectly divine books you have! I shall read them all, and give
up Ethel M. Dell for good--but you are probably one of those stuffy
people who 'take care' of their books and never lend them to any one
because they are first editions or some such rubbish."

"You can have them all," I said, "and you can turn up the corner of
every page if you like, and you can spill tea on every cover or you can
use them as table props, because all these books from Chaucer to Pater
are absolute nonsense at this moment, for in not one of them is there
anything about a dark-haired young woman with blue eyes and a tentative
mouth, and the indolent caress of a Latin ancestress somewhere in her
voice, standing on a doorstep in a dingy road, calling on a man who
might quite easily be a murderer, for all you know."

But enough of that, for the situation of a young man and a young woman
in a third-floor flat miles away from anywhere that mattered, at eleven
o'clock on such a warm autumn night as makes all things seem unreal and
beautiful, is a situation with a beard on it, so to speak.

When I first knew Phyllis, though always candid, she was inclined to be
rather "county," the sort of woman "whose people are all Service people,
you know"; she lived with her mother, near Chester Square, who at first
disliked me because I was not in the Brigade of Guards, but later grew
quite pleasantly used to me since I, unlike the Brigade of Guards, it
seems, did at least acknowledge my habitual presence in her house by
emptying Solomon's glory into her flower vases; and if there's a better
reason than gratitude for getting into debt, tell it to me, please.

But Phyllis, like many another good woman of these Liberal times, turned
her bored back on "county," and only remembered what was "done" the
better not to do it; fought for, and won a latchkey; asserted her right
to come home at night as late as she pleased, and _how_ she pleased--for
she had come home from a dance one night on a benevolent motor lorry,
which she had begged to pick her up on Piccadilly in pity for her "tired
bones," and which, in cumbrously dropping her at mother's door, woke up
the whole street. And I can so well imagine Phyllis, as she fitted in
her latchkey, murmuring, languidly, but without much conviction, "What
fun women have...."

But, in the reaction of her type against the preceding age of Victoria,
she went to the other extreme; saw life too much through the medium of a
couple of absinthe cocktails before each meal, and sex too much as
though it were entirely a joke, which it isn't ... quite. She cut her
hair short, and took to saying "damn" more often than was strictly
necessary. In fact, she would have been quite unbearable if she hadn't
been pretty, which she delightfully was. And, unlike her more careless
sisters of Chelsea, Hampstead, and Golders' Green, she did not make the
terrible mistake of dressing all anyhow, or make a point of being able
to "put up with anything"; such as, sleeping on studio floors after a
party, in such a way as to collect the maximum amount of candle grease
and spilled drink on her skirts, and wearing men's discarded felt hats,
cut as no decent man would be seen alive wearing one, and Roger Fry sort
of blouses which don't quite make two ends meet at the back, and
carrying queer handbags made, perhaps, out of the sole of a Red Indian's
threadbare moccasin.... Bohemians indeed, but without so much as a "Bo"
anywhere about them!

They can "stand anything," as they have let it be generally known. But,
by dressing like freaks and by being able to stand anything, they have
detracted considerably from their attraction for men; for freaks are
well enough in freak-land but look rather silly in the world as it
is--which is the world that matters, after all; and what the devil is
the good of being polite and making a fuss of a woman if she tells you
repeatedly that she can "stand anything," and much prefers the feeling
of independence fostered by lighting cigarettes with her own matches,
and opening doors with her own so unmanicured fingers?

I suddenly realise at this very moment of writing why those months in
South Kensington seemed so overpoweringly dismal, and that even now it
is only time which lends a real pleasure to the memory of the tall, dim
figure (Mr. Charles Garvice would have called her "sylph-like." I wish I
were Mr. Garvice) which stood on my doorstep on an autumn night, and so
mysteriously asked for me. For that beginning had a dreary end, as
indeed all endings are dreary if the silken cord is not swiftly and
sharply cut, thus leaving a neat and wonderful surprise, instead of the
long-drawn ending of frayed edges and worn-out emotions which drive
quite nice young men into a premature cynicism of dotage.

For we very soon tired of each other, and began to slip away into our
different lives with a great deal of talk about our "wonderful
friendship"; though we both of us knew very well that there is nothing
left to eat in an empty oyster, and nothing to talk about on a desert
island except how deserted it is, and nothing to look forward to when
you have too quickly reached _Ultima Thule_ but to get as quickly back
again and examine your bruises--but he is a coward who hasn't enough
kick left in him to begin again and repeat his mistake, for though two
wrongs may not make a right, three or four mistakes of this sort do
certainly make a man.... So we both set out to get back again, but not
as quickly as possible, because Phyllis is a woman, and, perhaps, I am
by way of having a few manners left--and, therefore, we had to take the
longest way back; and were both very tired and bored with each other
when at last I suddenly left her one night after dinner at her house at
half-past nine, because I had a headache--"my dear, aspirin isn't any
good, really it isn't"--and was sure she had one, too....

Six months ago I had a letter from her, saying that she was going to
marry a nice fat baronet, a real, not a Brummagem one, and not so much
because of his money, but because of his nice, solid, middle-class
ideas, which would help to tone down hers. Phyllis was like that, and
I've often wondered very much about that wretched baronet, whether he
will tone her down, or whether she will persuade him to open a hat shop
off Bond Street in aid of a "bus conductors'" orphanage.

Phyllis, Phyllis, you really can't go through life with half a cold
grouse in one hand and a pint of Cliquot '04 in the other. There are
other things ... so they say.

                             [Illustration]



                        _The London Venture_: V


                             [Illustration]



                                   V


It shames me a little to confess that I have always fitted in my friends
to suit my moods; for it may seem superior of me, as though I attached
as much importance to my moods as to my friends, and therefore too much
to the former; but it is really quite natural and human, for there is no
man, be he ever so strong, who does not somehow sway to his moment's
mood; as a great liner imperceptibly sways to the lulling roll of the
seas--as compared to myself, a rickety, rakish-looking little craft
which goes up to the skies and down into the trough to the great swing
of those mocking waves--moods!

But I, as I say, unlike that strong man who will pretend to crush his
mood as some trifling temptation to relax his hold on life, I am so
sociable a person that I must give my friends every side of myself and
to each friend his particular side. And, though I do not wish to seem
superior I have so far mastered the art of friendship, of which Whistler
made such a grievous mess, that that side of me which such and such a
friend may like is the side which I happen to wish to show to him. I
keep it for him, labelling it his; when I see him in the distance I say,
"Dikran, up and away and be at him"; for I think it incumbent on people
who, like myself, are not really significant, to be at least significant
in their relations with others, to stand out as something, even as a
buffoon, among their acquaintances, and not be just part of the ruck. My
ideal is, of course, that splendid person of Henry James', in "The
Private Life," who faded away, did not exist, when he was alone, but was
wonderfully and variably present when even a chambermaid was watching
him. That subtle, ironic creation of Henry James' is the very
incarnation of a Divine Sociability, but in actual life there is no
artist perfect enough to give himself so wholly to others that he
literally does not exist to himself.

I am not selfish, then, with my moods; with a little revision and
polishing I can make them presentable enough to give to my friends as,
to say vulgarly, the real article, the real me. And of them all there is
one special mood, a neutral-tinted, tired, sceptical thing, which I have
come to reserve exclusively for my friend Nikolay, who lives in a studio
in Fitzroy Street, and faintly despises people for living anywhere else.

When I had pressed his bell I had to step back and watch for his face at
the third-floor window, which, having emerged and grunted at me below,
would dwindle into a hand from which would drop the latchkey into my
upturned hat. Then very wearily--I had to live up to my mood, you see,
else why visit Nikolay?--I would climb the stone steps to his studio.

Once there, I resigned myself to a delicious and conscious indolence. My
thoughts drifted up with my cigarette smoke, and faded with it. My
special place was on the divan in the corner of the large room, under a
long shelf of neatly arranged first editions, from which I would now and
again pick one, finger it lazily, mutter just audibly that I had bought
that same book half-a-crown cheaper, and relapse into silence. If
uncongenial visitors dropped in, I would abuse Nikolay's hospitality by
at once turning over on my left side and going to sleep until they had
gone. But generally no one came, and we were alone and silent.

From the divan I would watch Nikolay at work at his long table in front
of the window, through which could be seen all the chimneys in Fitzroy
Street, Charlotte Street, and Tottenham Court Road. How he could do any
work at all (and work of colour!) with the drab cosmopolitanism of this
view ever before his eyes, I do not know; myself would have to be very
drunk before I could ignore those uncongenial backs of houses and
chimneys, stuck up in the air like the grimy paws of a gutter-brat
humanity. For an hour on end, until he turned to me and said, "Tea,
Dikran?" I would watch him through my smoke, as though fascinated by the
bent, slight figure as it drew and painted, with so delicate a precision
of movement, those unreal and intangible illustrations, which tried at
first to impress one by their drawing or colouring, but seemed to me
mainly expressions of the artist's grim and ironic detachment from other
men; a _macabre_ observer, as it were, of their passions, himself
passionless, but widely, almost wickedly, tolerant. An erect satyr in
topsy-turvydom.

If it were any other man than Nikolay, I would know him well, for I have
seen much of him, but one knows men by their "points of view," and I am
not sure that Nikolay ever had one. He was, or rather he seemed
definitely to be, curiously wise; one never put his wisdom to the test;
one never heard him say an overpoweringly wise thing, but there was no
doubt that he was wise. People said he was wise. Women said it. A
strange man, indeed; queer, and a little sinister. Perhaps six hundred
years ago he might have been an alchemist living in a three-storied
house in Prague, exiled from his native land of Russia for criticising
too openly the size of the Czarina's ears; for Nikolay knows no fear, he
can be ruder than any man I know. I have heard him answer a woman that
her new hat didn't suit her at all. "I think it is a rotten hat," he
said, and the vanity of an admitted thirty years faded from her, she was
as a dejected _houri_ before the repelling eyes of a Salhadine.

He had not always been so detached and passionless. Steps of folly must
somehow have led up to that philosophic wisdom which so definitely
obtruded on the consciousness; so definitely, indeed, that I have
watched women, as we perhaps sat round the card-table in his studio, and
seen them in their manner defer to him, as though he were a great man in
the eyes of the world, which he isn't. But to be treated as a great man,
even by women, when you are not a great man, is indeed the essence of
greatness! Bravo, Nikolay! I see you, not as I have always seen you, but
in Paris, where rumour tells of you; in Paris, where your art was your
hobby and life your serious business, and a dress suit the essential of
your visibility of an evening.

I feel riot and revelry somewhere in you, Nikolay; the dim green lights
of past experiences do very queerly mock the wisdom in your
contemplative eye. I am to suppose, then, that you have seen other
things than the rehearsals of a ballet, have marvelled at other things
than the architecture of Spanish-Gothic cathedrals? Ah, I have the
secret of you! You are a mediæval, a knight of old exotic times, a Sir
Lancelot without naïveté. Now, as the years take you, it is only in your
drawings that your mind runs cynically riot among the indiscretions of
literature--what a sinister inner gleam I espied in you when you told me
that you were going to illustrate the poems of François Villon! But in
Paris, long ago, I see you, Nikolay, standing in the curtained doorway
of a cushion-spread studio, where the lights shine faintly through the
red arabesques patterned on the black lamp shades. I see you standing
there with a half-empty glass of Courvoisier in your hand, sipping, and
watching, and smiling.... And women, perhaps--nay! a princess for very
certain, it is said--running wild over the immobility of your face,
immobile even through those first perfervid years.

But it did not always happen that I found him working at his table by
the window. Sometimes he would be pacing restlessly up and down the
room, and round the cardtable in the centre (which was also a lunch,
tea, and dinner table).

"I have never before been four years in one place," he said. "I have
never been six months in one place." He related it as a possibly
interesting fact, not as a cavil against circumstances. It shows what
little I knew of, or about, him, that I had never before heard of his
travels.

"But how have you ever done any work if you never stayed in one place,
never settled down?"

"Settled down!" He stopped in his walk and fixed on me with a
disapproving eye. "That's a nasty bad word, Dikran. The being-at-home
feeling is a sedative to all art and progress. In the end it kills
imagination. It is a soporific, a--what you call it?--a dope. There's a
feeling of contentment in being at home, and you can't squeeze any
creation out of contentment.

"Permanent homes," he said, "were invented because men wanted safety.
The safety of expectation! Imagination is a curse to most men; they are
not comfortable with it; they think it is unsettling. Life is an
experiment until you have a home, and feel that it is a home. Men like
that. They like the idea of having a definite pillow on which to lay
their heads every night, of having a definite woman, called a wife,
beside them.... Bah! Charity begins at home, and inertia stays there.
Safety doesn't breed art or progress--and when it does, it
miscarries--the Royal Academy....

"Men want homes," he said, "because they want wives. And they generally
want wives because they don't want to be worried by the sex-feeling any
more. They don't want women left to their own imagination any more. They
want the thing over and done with for ever and ever. Safety! Men are not
adventurous...."

He turned to me sharply. "Look at you!" he said. "Have you done
anything? Since I have known you, you have done nothing but write
self-conscious essays which "The New Age" tolerates; you have played
about with life as you have with literature, as though it were all a
question of commas and semi-colons.... You have tried to idealise
love-affairs into a pretty phrase, and in your spare time you lie on
that divan and look up at the ceiling and dream of the luxurious vices
of Heliogabalus.... You are horribly lazy, not adventurous at all.
What's it matter if your cuffs get dirty as long as your hands get hold
of something?"

"One can always change one's shirt, if that is what you suggest,
Nikolay. But you are wrong about my not being adventurous--I shall
adventure many things. But not sensationally, you know. I mean, I can't
look at myself straight, I can only look at myself sideways; and that
perhaps is just as well for I overlook many things in myself which it is
good to overlook, and I can smile at things which James Joyce would
write a book about. And when I write a novel--for of course I will write
one, since England expects every young man to write a novel--the quality
I shall desire in it will be, well, fastidiousness.... I come from the
East; I shall go to the East; I shall try to strike the literary mean
between the East and the West in me--between my Eastern mind and Western
understanding. It will be a great adventure."

"The East is a shambles," he said shortly. And in that sentence lay my
own condemnation of my real self; if any hope of fame ever lay in me, I
suddenly realised, it was in that acquired self which had been to a
public school and thought it not well bred to have too aggressive a
point of view. Oh, but what nonsense it all was! I lazily thought--this
striving after fame and notoriety in a despairing world.

I looked at Nikolay, who had done all the talking he would do that day,
and was now sitting in an arm-chair and staring thoughtfully at the
floor; thoughtfully, I say, but perhaps it was vacantly, for his face
was a mask, as weird, in its way, as those fiendish masks which he
delighted in making. And, as I watched him like this, I would say to
myself that, if I watched long enough, I would be sure to surprise
something; but I never surprised anything at all, for he would surprise
me looking at him, and his sudden genial smile would bring him back into
the world of men, leaving me nothing but the skeleton of a guilty and
ludicrous fancy; and of my many ludicrous fancies about my friend this
was indeed the most ludicrous, for I had caught myself thinking that he
was not really a man at all, but just part of a drawing by Félicien
Rops....



                        _The London Venture_: VI


                             [Illustration]



                                   VI


From my flat in Monday Road to Piccadilly Circus was a long way, and the
first part of it wearisome enough through the Fulham Road, with its
cancer and consumption hospitals, its out-of-the-centre dinginess, its
thrifty, eager-looking, dowdy women, and its decrepit intellectuals
slouching along with their heads twisted over their shoulders looking
back for a bus, on the top of which they will sit with an air of grieved
and bitter dislike of the people near them. But at Hyde Park Corner I
would get off the bus, for I have a conventional fondness for
Piccadilly, and like to walk the length of it to the Circus.

I like to walk on the Green Park side; in summer because of the fresh,
green, rustling trees, an unhurried pleasaunce in London's chaotic
noises, and in winter because I like nothing better than to look at
leaf-stripped trees standing nakedly against a grey sky, finger-posts of
Nature pointing to the real No-Man's Land, and illustrating the
miraculous wonder of being just beautiful, as no man-made thing can be;
for all things made by man, a picture, or, if you like, a woman's shoes
with heels of stained majolica, have an aim and a purpose. They lack the
futility, of which Nature alone has the secret, of being just carelessly
beautiful. When I say Nature, I do not see the Dame Nature of Oscar
Wilde's crooked vision, a crude, slatternly charwoman, but a spendthrift
prodigal, spending for the sheer love of spending; he takes every man by
the sleeve, and with delicious good manners he makes it seem that he
values your opinion above all others, that he has created the beauty of
the world to please in particular your eye, that you will sadly
disappoint him if you hint that you hadn't much liked the tinge of
vermilion in yestreen's sunset, for he had touched in that vermilion
just to give you a pleasant surprise.

Thus it is with Nature and myself; I see him as an old beau, given to
leering in cities, but frank and natural in open places. And he knows me
well, too; knows I am no minor poet, no poet at all, in fact, and,
therefore, not to be gulled by insincere sunsets and valleys without
shade or colour; that the idea of a fawn skipping about where I don't
expect him, far from causing in me a metrical paroxysm after Mr. Robert
Nichols, frankly bores me; he has shown me an odd nymph here and there,
but I haven't encouraged him.... They are so intangible, I thought, and
they faded away. So at last, in desperation, he stuck up a naked tree
against a grey sky, and I thought it beautiful. It is a matter entirely
between the old beau and myself. For all I care, you may think my
stripped tree a stupid old tree, but to me it is beautiful. I see life
that way.

But the day I am thinking of, when I got off the bus at Hyde Park
Corner, was towards the end of October, when oysters have already become
a commonplace; and as I walked up the Green Park side, the path around
me was strewn with brown and red and faded green leaves, the last
sacrifice of autumn to winter. I wondered why all things did not die as
beautifully and as naturally as autumn dies. If all things died like
that, there would be no fear in the world, and a world without fear
would be just a splendid adventure, and life would be like chasing a
sunset to the Antipodes--it would disappear only to appear again, more
wonderfully.

But the fear of the shapeless bogey behind existence has been the
peculiar gift of God; for so long He has chosen to be secretive about
death, and the secret of it is in the eating of the last remaining apple
on the Tree of Knowledge. But, O God, it is all a vain secrecy, this
about death. Man was not made to be so easily satisfied. Education may
have made him ignorant, but he was born inquisitive. Some day, some day,
a more subtle and less solid Conan Doyle will arise, and valiantly catch
a too indiscreet ancestral ghost, and holloa to a professor to X-ray his
astral vitals, to find out by what means and processes came a living man
to be a dead man and then an ancestral ghost. Their discoveries will
then be written down in the form of a memoir and made into a fat book,
complete with a spiritual preface and an astral index, and will cause a
great stir in the world. But it will be a great shame on the Tree of
Knowledge to have its last apple knocked down from it by a paltry book.

This last week or so of autumn is the time of all times when the fanatic
hermit, sitting alone in his desert place, should be tolerant of the
world's frailty. If such an one would let me, a worldly enough young
man, approach him, I would tell him of the great joys there is in
walking with a loved woman on crisp wind-blown leaves, under country
trees, with tea soon to be ready before a big fire in the house
half-a-mile away. At that my hermit would look at me angrily, for a
fleshly young man indeed, but I would go on to tell him of how there is
no splendour anywhere like to the splendour of a youth's dreams at that
quiet time; dreams that may be of a palace made of dead leaves, with
terraced pleasure gardens fashioned out of autumn air, in which he would
walk with his mistress, and be a king and she a queen of more than one
world....

As though for the first time, I noticed that afternoon a sheen of livid
copper over the scattered leaves, and I said to myself that it was an
undefinable addition to their beauty, like the sheen of blue in the dark
hair of Shelmerdene, as she sat in the corner of a sofa under a
Liberty-shaded lamp.

The passing thought of Shelmerdene fixed my attention through the Park
railings on the prostrate figures here and there of men sleeping, for it
was a very mild afternoon for late October. Sleep was her foible, the
hobby-horse on which she would capriciously ride to heights of unreason
whither no man could follow her and remain sane. She admitted that she
herself had, occasionally, to sleep; but she apologised for it, resented
the necessity. And, as I walked, I saw a sleeping, dejected figure too
near the Park railings as though with her eyes, and was as disgusted.
But I smiled at the memory of her wild flights of mythical reasoning.

"The mistake Jehovah made," I heard her saying, "was to teach Adam and
Eve that it was pleasanter and more comfortable to lie and sleep on the
same well-worn spot in Eden every night than to move about the Garden
and venture new resting-places. It was a great mistake, for it gave
sleep a definite and important value, it became something to be sought
for in a special and comfortable place. Sleep ceased to be a careless
lapse, as it had been at first when Adam madly chased the shadow of
Lilith through the twilight. In the company of Eve sleep was no more a
state for the tired body, and only for the body, but it became a thing
of the senses; so many hours definitely and defiantly flung as a sop to
Time. Sleep became part of the business of life, whereas, in those first
careless days of Adam's unending pursuit of Lilith, it had been only
part of the hazard of life.

"If Lilith had been allowed to have the handling of Adam," she said,
"instead of Eve, who was the comfortable sort of woman 'born to be a
mother,' sleep, as we know it, would never have happened; unnecessary,
gluttonous sleep, the mind-sleep!

"Lilith was a real woman, and very beautiful. She was the first and
greatest and most mysterious of all courtesans--as, indeed, the devil's
mistress would have to be, or lose her job. She must have had the eyes
of a Phoenix, veiled and secret, but their secret was only the secret of
love and danger--Danger! Jehovah never had a chance against Lucifer, who
was, after all, a man of the world, in his fight for the soul of Lilith.
She never had a soul, and it was of Lilith Swinburne must have been
thinking when he wrote 'Faustine,' which silly fools of men have
addressed to me.... Of course, she chose Lucifer. Who wouldn't choose a
dashing young rebel, a splendid failure if ever there was one, with a
name like Lucifer, as compared to a darling, respectable, anxious old
man called Jehovah? It's like asking a young woman to choose between
Byron and Tolstoi ..."

But Shelmerdene had long since gone, to play at life and make fools of
men; to make men, to break men, they said of her, and leave them in the
dust, grovelling arabesques on the carpet of their humiliated love. "Let
them be, let them be in peace," I had said to her impatiently, but she
had turned large, inquiring, serious eyes on me, and answered, "I want
to find out." She had, indeed, gone "to find out"--to Persia, they said,
on a splendid, despairing chase. And I saw a vision of her there, but
not as the proud, beautiful creature who filled and emptied a man's life
as though for a caprice; I saw her on her knees in a ruined pagan temple
on a deserted river bank, purified, and satisfied, and tired, entreating
the spectre of the monstrous goddess, Ishtar, to let her cease from the
quest of love ... I am so tired, she is saying to the nebulous goddess
who has fashioned the years of her life into a love-tale. But who is
Shelmerdene to beg a favour from Ishtar, who, in the guise of Astarte in
Syria and Astaroth in Canaan, upset the gods and households of great
peoples and debauched their minds, so that in later ages they were fit
for nothing but to be conquered and to serve Rome and Byzantium as
concubines and eunuchs?

Poor, weak Shelmerdene! Slave of Ishtar! Didn't you know, when, as a
young girl, you set yourself, mischievously but seriously, "to find out"
about men and life, that you would never be able to stop, that you would
go on and on, even from Mayfair to Chorasan? You should have known. You
have been so wantonly blind, Shelmerdene. You have idealised to-morrow
and forgotten to-day--and now, perhaps, you are on your knees in a
ruined temple in the East, begging favours of Ishtar. Not she to grant
you a favour! Trouble has always come to the world from such as she, a
malignant goddess. It has been said that Semiramis conquered the world,
and Ishtar set it on fire....



                       _The London Venture_: VII


                             [Illustration]



                                  VII


I asked her once, but long after I had realised that loving Shelmerdene
could not be my one business in life, if she did not feel that
perhaps--I was tentative--she would some day be punished. "But how young
you are!" she said. "You don't really think I am a sort of Zuleika
Dobson, do you?--just because one wretched man once thought it worth
while to shoot himself because of me, and just because men have that
peculiar form of Sadism which makes them torture themselves through
their love, when they have ceased to be loved.... It's a horrible sight,
my dear--men grovelling in their unreturned emotions so as to get the
last twinge of pain out of their humiliation. I've seen them grovelling,
and they knew all the time that it would do no good, merely put them
farther away from me--or from any woman, for the matter of that. But
they like grovelling, these six-foot, stolid men."

"But haven't _you_ ever been on your knees, Shelmerdene?"

"Of course I have. Lots of times. I always begin like that--in fact,
I've never had an affair which didn't begin with my being down and
under. I am so frightfully impressionable....

"You see," she touched my arm, "I am rather a quick person. I mean I
fall in love, or whatever you call my sort of emotion, quickly. While
the man is just beginning to think that I've got rather nice eyes, and
that I'm perhaps more amusing than the damfool women he's known so far,
I'm frantically in love. I do all my grovelling then. And, Dikran! if
you could only see me, if you could only be invisible and see me loving
a man more than he loves me--you simply wouldn't know me. And I make
love awfully well, in my quiet sort of way, much better than any
man--and different love-speeches to every different man, too! I say the
divinest things to them--and quite seriously, thank God! The day I can't
fall in love with a man seriously, and tell him he's the only man I've
ever _really_ loved, and _really_ believe it when I'm saying it--the day
I can't do that I shall know I'm an old, old woman, too old to live any
more."

"Then, of course, you will die?" I suggested.

"Of course I will die," she said. "But not vulgarly--I mean I won't make
a point of it, and feel a fat coroner's eyes on my body as my soul goes
up to Gabriel. I shall die in my bed, of a broken heart. My heart will
break when I begin to fade. I shall die before I have faded...."

"No, you won't, Shelmerdene," I said. "Many women have sworn that, from
Theodosia to La Pompadour, but they have not died of broken hearts
because they never realised when they began to fade, and no man ever
dared tell them, not even a Roi Soleil."

"Oh, don't be pedantic, Dikran, and don't worry me about what other
women will or won't do. You will be quoting the 'Dolly Dialogues' at me
next, and saying 'Women will be women all the world over.'

"It is always like that about me and men," she said. "I burn and burn
and fizzle out. And all the time the man is wondering if I am playing
with him or not, if it is worth his while to fall in love with me or
not--poor pathos, as if he could help it in the end! And then, at last,
when he realises that he is in love, he begins to say the things I had
longed for him to say four weeks before; every Englishman in love is
simply bound to say, at one time or another, that he would adore to lie
with his beloved in a gondola in Venice, looking at the stars; any
Englishman who doesn't say that when he is in love is a suspicious
character, and it will probably turn out that he talks French perfectly.

"And when at last he has fallen in love," she said dreamily, "he wants
me to run away with him, and he is very hurt and surprised when I
refuse, and pathetically says something 'about my having led him to
expect that I loved him to death, and would do anything for or with
him.' The poor little man doesn't know that he is behind the times, that
he could have done anything he liked with me the first week we met, when
I was madly in love with him, that when I was dying for him to ask me to
go away with him, and would gladly have made a mess of my life at one
word from him--but four weeks later I would rather have died than go
away with him.

"Only once," she said, "I was almost beaten. I fell in love with a stone
figure. Women are like sea-gulls, they worship stone figures.... I went
very mad, Dikran. He told me that he didn't deserve being loved by
me--he admired me tremendously, you see--because he hadn't it in his
poor soul to love any one. He simply couldn't love, he said ... and he
felt such a brute. He said that often, poor boy--he felt such a brute!
He passed a hand over his forehead and, with a tragic little English
gesture, tried to be articulate, to tell me how intensely he felt that
he was missing the best things in life, and yet couldn't rectify it,
because .... 'Oh, my dear, I'm a hopeless person!' he said despairingly,
and I forgot to pity myself in pitying him.

"But he got cold again. He weighed his words carefully: No, he liked me
as much as he could like any one, but he didn't _think_ he loved
me--mark that glorious, arrogant _think_, Dikran!... He was very
ambitious; with the sort of confident, yet intensive, nerve-racking
ambition which makes great men. Very young, very wonderful, brilliantly
successful in his career at an age when other men were only beginning
theirs--an iron man, with the self-destructive selfishness of ice, which
freezes the thing that touches it, but itself melts in the end.... He
froze _me_. Don't think I'm exaggerating, please, but, as he spoke--it
was at lunch, and a coon band was playing--I died away all to myself. I
just died, and then came to life again, coldly, and bitterly, and
despairingly, but still loving him.... I couldn't _not_ love him, you
see. His was the sort of beauty that was strong, and vital, and a little
contemptuous, and with an English cleanness about it that was
scented.... I am still loyal to my first despairing impression of him.
And I knew that I was really in love with him, because I couldn't bear
the idea of ever having loved any one else. I was sixteen again, and
worshipped a hero, a man who did things.

"I was a fool, of course--to believe him, I mean. But when women lose
their heads they lose the self-confidence and pride of a lifetime,
too--and, anyway, it's all rubbish about pride; there isn't any pride in
absolute love. There's a name to be made out of a brilliant epigram on
love and pride--think it over, Dikran.... What an utter fool I was to
believe him! As he spoke, over that lunch-table, I watched his grey
English eyes, which tried to look straight into mine but couldn't,
because he was shy; he was trying to be frightfully honest with me, you
see, and being so honest makes decent men shy. He felt such a brute, but
he had to warn me that in any love affair with him, he ... yes, he did
love me, in his way, he suddenly admitted. But his way wasn't, couldn't
ever be, mine. He simply couldn't give himself wholly to any one, as I
was doing. And he so frightfully wanted to--to sink into my love for
him.... 'Shelmerdene, it's all so damnable,' he said pathetically, and
his sincerity bit into me. But I had made up my mind. I was going to do
the last foolish thing in a foolish life--I'm a sentimentalist, you
know.

"I believed him. But I clung to my pathetic love affair with both hands,
so tight--so tight that my nails were white and blue with their pressure
against his immobility. I made up my mind not to let go of him, however
desperate, however hopeless ... it was an attempt at life. He was all I
wanted, I could face life beside him. Other men had been good enough to
play with, but my stone figure--why, I had been looking for him all my
life! But in my dreams the stone figure was to come wonderfully to life
when I began to worship it--in actual life my worshipping could make the
stone figure do nothing more vital than crumble up bits of bread in a
nervous effort to be honest with me! I took him at that--I told you I
was mad, didn't I?--I took him at his own value, for as much as I could
get out of him.

"I set out to make myself essential to him, mentally, physically, every
way.... If he couldn't love me as man to woman, then he would have to
love me as a tree trunk loves the creepers round it; I was going to
cling all round him, but without his knowing. But I hadn't much
time--just a month or perhaps six weeks. He was under orders for Africa,
where he was going to take up a big administrative job, amazing work for
so young a man; but, then, he was amazing. Just a few weeks I had, then,
to make him feel that he couldn't bear life, in Africa or anywhere,
without me. And, my dear! life didn't hold a more exquisite dream than
that which brought a childish flush under my rouge, the very dream of
dreams, of how, a few days before he went, he would take me in his arms
and tell me that he couldn't bear to go alone, and that I must follow
him, and together we would face all the scandal that would come of
it.... I passionately wanted the moment to come when he would offer to
risk his career for me; I wanted him to offer me his ambition, and then
I would consider whether to give it back to him or not. But he didn't. I
lost.

"And I had seemed so like winning during that six weeks between that
horrible lunch and his going away! London love affairs are always
scrappy, hole-in-the-corner things, but we managed to live together now
and again. And then, _mon Dieu_! he suddenly clung to me and said he
wasn't seeing enough of me, that London was getting between us, and that
we must go away somewhere into the country for at least a week before he
left, to breathe and to love.... Wouldn't you have thought I was
winning? I thought so, and my dreams were no more dreams, but actual,
glorious certainties; he would beg me on his knees to follow him to
Africa!

"We went away ten days before he sailed, to a delightful little inn a
few miles from Llangollen. Seven days we spent there. Wonderful,
intimate days round about that little inn by the Welsh stream; we were
children playing under a wilderness of blue sky, more blue than Italy's
because of the white and grey puffs of clouds which make an English sky
more human than any other; and we played with those toy hills which are
called mountains in Wales, and we were often silent because there was
too much to talk about.... And as we sat silently facing each other in
the train back to London, I knew I had won. There were three days left.

"In London, he dropped me here at my house, and went on to his flat; he
was to come in the evening to fetch me out to dinner. But he was back
within an hour. I had to receive him in a kimono. I found him pacing up
and down this room, at the far end there, by the windows. He came
quickly to me, and told me that his orders had been changed--he had to
go to Paris first, spend two days there, and then to Africa via
Marseilles. 'To Paris?' I said, not understanding. 'Yes, to-night--in
two hours,' he said, quickly, shyly. He was embarrassed at the idea of a
possible scene. But he was cold. He must go at once, he said. And he
looked eager to go, to go and be doing. He shook both my hands--I hadn't
a word--and almost forgot to kiss me. It was just as though nothing had
ever happened between us, as though we hadn't ever been to Wales, or
played, and laughed, and loved; as though he had never begged me to run
my fingers through his hair, because I had said his hair was a garden
where gold and green flowers grew. He was going away; and he was just as
when I had first met him, or at that lunch--I hadn't gained anything at
all, it was all just a funny, tragic, silly dream ... he had come and
now he was going away. He would write to me, he said, and he would be
back in sixteen months....

"I'm not a bad loser, you know; I can say such and such a thing isn't
for me, and then try and undermine my wretchedness with philosophy. But
I simply didn't exist for a few months; I just went into my little shell
and stayed there, and was miserable all to myself, and not bitter at
all, because I sort of understood him, and knew he had been true to
himself. It was I who had failed in trying to make him false to his own
nature.... But there's a limit to all things; there comes a time when
one can't bear any more gloom, and then there is a reaction. No one with
any courage can be wretched for ever--anyway, I can't. So, suddenly,
after a few months, I went out into the world again, and played and
jumped about, and made my body so tired that my mind hadn't a chance to
think.

"His first few letters were cold, honest things, a little pompous in
their appreciations of me tacked on to literary descriptions of the
Nile, and the desert, and the natives. I wrote to him only once, a
wonderful letter, but I hadn't the energy to write again--what was the
good?

"At the end of a year I was really in the whirl of the great world
again. There were a few kicks left in Shelmerdene yet, I told myself
hardly, and Maurice became just a tender memory. I never thought of how
he would come back to England soon, as he had said, and what we would do
then, for I had so dinned it into myself that he wasn't for me that I
had entirely given up the quest of the Blue Bird. He was just a tender
memory ... and impressionable me fell in love again. But not as with
Maurice--I was top-dog this time. He was the sort of man that didn't
count except in that I loved him. He was the servant of my reaction
against Maurice, and to serve me well he had to help me wipe out all the
castles of sentiment I had built around Maurice. And the most gorgeous
castle of all I had built round that little Welsh inn! Something must be
done about that, I told myself, but for a long time I was afraid of the
ghost of Maurice, which might still haunt the place, and bring him back
overpoweringly to me. It was a risk; by going there with some one else I
might either succeed in demolishing Maurice's last castle, or I might
tragically have to rebuild all the others, and worship him again.

"He had continued to write to me, complaining of my silence. And he had
somehow become insistent--he missed me, it seemed. He didn't write that
he loved me, but he forgot to describe the Nile, and wrote about love as
though it were a real and beautiful thing and not a pastime to be wedged
in between fishing and hunting. I wrote to him once again, rather
lightly, saying that I had patched up my heart and might never give him
a chance to break it again. That was just before I went to demolish the
last castle of my love for him. For I did go; one day my young man
produced a high-powered car which could go fast enough to prevent one
sleeping from boredom, and I said 'Us for Llangollen,' and away we
went....

"The divinest thing about that little inn was its miniature dining-room,
composed almost entirely of a large bow-window and a long Queen Anne
refectory table. There were three tables, of which never more than one
was occupied. Maurice and I had sat at the table by the window, and now
my reaction and I sat there again; we looked out on to a toy garden
sloping down to a brown stream which made much more noise than you could
think possible for so narrow a thing. My back was to the door, and I sat
facing a large mirror, with the garden and the stream on my right; he
sat facing the window, adoring me, the adventure, the stream, and the
food. And I was happy too, for now I realised that I had fallen out of
love with Maurice, for his ghost didn't haunt the chair beside me, and I
could think of him tenderly, without regret. I was happy--until, in the
mirror in front of me, I saw the great figure of Maurice, and his face,
at the open door. Our eyes met in the mirror, the eyes of statues,
waiting.... I don't know what I felt--I wasn't afraid, I know. Perhaps I
wasn't even ashamed. I don't know how long he stood there, filling the
doorway. Not more than a few seconds, but all the intimacy of six weeks
met in our glance in that mirror. At last he took his eyes off mine and
looked at the man beside me, who hadn't seen him. I thought his lips
twitched, and his eyes became adorably stern, and then the mirror
clouded over.... When I could see again the door was closed, and Maurice
was gone. The magic mirror was empty of all but my unbelieving eyes, and
the profile of the man beside me, who hadn't seen him and never knew
that I had lived six weeks while he ate a potato....

"I stayed my week out in Wales, because I always try to do what is
expected of me. When I got home, right on the top of a pile of
letters--I had given orders for nothing, not even wires, to be sent on
to me--was a wire, which had arrived one hour after I had left for
Wales. It was from Southampton, and it said: 'Just arrived. Am going
straight up to the little palace in Wales because of memories. Will
arrive there dinner-time. Shall we dine together by the window?'

"And so, you see, I had won and lost and won again, but how
pathetically.... Am I such a bad woman, d'you think?"



                       _The London Venture_: VIII


                             [Illustration]



                                  VIII


As I look back now on the past years, I find that the thing that
penetrated most into my inner self, shocked me to the heart, and gave me
no room and left no desire for any pretence about the will of fate and
destiny, such as sometimes consoles grief, was the death of my friend
Louis. Unlike most great friendships, mine with Louis began at school;
and those, to whom circumstances have not allowed friendships at school,
cannot realise the intensity of certain few friendships which, beginning
on a basis of tomfoolery and ragging, as the general relations between
schoolboys begin, yet survive them all, and steadily ripen with the
years into a maturity of companionship, which has such a quality and
nobility of its own that no other relation, not even that of passionate
love, can ever take its place when it is gone.

I have not happened to mention Louis before in these papers for the
reason that he had actually come very little into my life in London. In
fact, we retained our intimacy against the aggression of our different
lives, which was rather paradoxical for the casual people we believed
ourselves to be. (Without a sincere belief in his own casualness the
modern youth would be the most self-important ass of all generations.)
Our ways of life lead very contrarily; there was nowhere they could
rationally touch; he, a soldier; I, a doctor, lawyer, or pedlar, I did
not know which. But I had the grace, or if you like, the foolishness, to
envy him the definite markings of his career; I envied him his knowledge
of the road he wished to tread, and of the almost certainties which lay
inevitably along that road.

Later, in those very best of days, I used to talk about him to
Shelmerdene. And as I described, she listened and wondered. For, she
said, such a man as I described Louis to be, and myself, could have
nothing in common. But I told her that it isn't necessary for two people
to have anything "in common" but friendship--and as I made that
meaningless remark I put on a superior air, and she did not laugh at me.
She continued to wonder during months, and at last she said, "Produce
this wretched youth." But I would not produce him, "because Louis has
never in his life met or dreamt of any one like you, and he will fall in
love with you straight away. And as he is more honest than I am, so he
will fall in love with you much more seriously, and that will be very
bad for him, because you are the sort of woman that you are. It isn't
fair to destroy the illusions of a helpless subaltern in the Rifle
Brigade.... No, I will not produce him, Shelmerdene." But of course I
did, and of course Louis saw, heard, and succumbed delightedly, and all
through that lunch and for the half-hour after I had to keep a very
stern eye on Shelmerdene and take great care not to let her get within a
yard of him, else she would have asked him to go and see her next time
he was in town, and then there would have been another wild-eyed ghost
wandering about the desert places of Mayfair. As for Louis, he beat even
his own record for dulness during that lunch. He admired her
tremendously and obviously, and too obviously he couldn't understand a
beautiful woman with beauty enough to be as dull as she liked, saying
witty and amusing things every few seconds, always giving the most
trivial remark, the most stereotyped phrase, such a queer twist as would
make it seem delightfully new. For ever after he pestered me to
"produce" him again, and I made myself rather unpopular by putting him
off; and I never did let him see her again. On Shelmerdene's part it was
just cussedness to worry me to see him again, for with a disgusted laugh
at my "heavy father stunt," she forgot all about him; after that lunch
she had found him "rather dull and a dear, and much to be loved by all
women over thirty-five. I am not yet old enough to love your Louis," she
said. And she retained her surprise at our friendship.

It was, perhaps, rather surprising; surprising not so much that we were
friends, but how we ever became friends; for there are many people in
this world, who could be great friends with each other if they could but
once surmount the first barrier, if they could but _wish_ to surmount
that barrier--and between Louis and me there was much more than a simple
barrier to surmount. We became friends in spite of ourselves, then;
though Louis, as you may believe, had nothing at all to do with the
affair; he just sat tight and let things happen, to him, for his was not
the nature consciously to defeat an invisible aim, a tyrannical decree.
As one of England's governing classes, even at the age of fourteen when
I first met him, such a rebellion as that of forcing God's hand about
the smallest trifle would somehow have savoured to him of disloyalty to
the "Morning Post" which, together with the Navy, Louis took as
representing the British Empire.

I had been at school already one term when Louis came; and so it was at
breakfast on the opening day of the winter term that I first noticed his
bewildered face, though as we grew to prefects that same face aired so
absolute a nonchalance that, together with my rather sophisticated
features, we thoroughly deserved the title of the _blasted roués_.
However, at that time, we were not prefects, but "new bugs," though
Louis was by one term a newer "bug" than myself and my friends, and
therefore had to sit at the bottom of the "bug" table and take his food
as he found it. I, of course, took no notice of him at all; I maintained
a, so to speak, official _hauteur_ about our meal-time relations--one
couldn't do anything else, you know, if one wished to keep unimpaired
the dignity of one's seniority. I had, in fact, no use for newer "bugs"
than myself; I was quite happy at my own end of the table with the three
men (ages fourteen to fourteen-and-a-half) with whom I shared a study.
We made a good and gay study, I remember, for they were three stalwart
fellows and I, even at that age not taking my Armenianism very
seriously, gave a quite passable imitation of an English public-school
man.

How, as I looked round at my three friends and said to myself "here are
companions for life," how was I to know of the irruption into my life of
a bewildered face! I despised that face. It was the face of a newer
"bug" than myself. But the wretched man could play soccer, I noticed;
his deft work at "inside right" to my "center forward" warmed my heart;
and, by the time the term was half over, he had gained a certain
distinction for being consistently at the bottom of the lowest form in
the school; one rather liked a man for sticking to his convictions like
that.

Nevertheless we became silently inimical. He ceased to look bewildered;
with an English cunning he had already found that an air of nonchalance
pays best. And his sort of "Oh, d'you think so?" air began to irritate
me; it was no good doing my man of the world on a man who obviously made
a point of not believing what I said. I rather felt in speaking to him
as an irritated and fussy foreign ambassador must feel before the
well-bred imperturbability of Mr. Balfour; I wasn't then old enough to
know I felt like that, but myself and study had reasonable grounds for
deciding that "that sloppy-haired new long bug was a conceited young
swine," and that he was trading rather too much on being at the bottom
of the school.

There was a dark-haired, sallow-faced youth, one Marsden, who had come
the same term as we three; he had at first shared our study, but had
been fired out for being a cub. And, by intimating to the House-Master
that if he was put back in our study, new bugs or no, we wouldn't answer
for his mother's knowing him, we had fired him out in such a way that he
couldn't ever get back. But he didn't try to get back. He just went into
the newest bug's study, and there, when Louis came the next term, made
firm and fast friends with him. Marsden disliked me much more than he
disliked any one else, as I had been the instigator of his ejection from
our study, and so the silent and contemptuous enmity with which Louis
eyed me wasn't very strange. Those two made common cause in their
indifference to anything we three at the head of the table might say;
and soon, things came to such a pass that we had to put lumps of salt
into the potato dish before handing it down to them. And even that
didn't seem to have much effect, for one tea-time I distinctly heard a
murmur resembling "Armenian Jew" escape from Marsden's lips; that, of
course, couldn't be borne, and I couldn't then explain to him that there
was no such person as an Armenian Jew for I wasn't myself quite certain
about it--all I knew was that I wasn't a Jew, and it wasn't Marsden who
was going to call me one in vain. So there and then I upped and threw my
pot of jam at his head, striking him neatly just above the right eye; I
didn't do it in anger, I didn't know why I did it, though now I know it
was done through a base passion for notoriety, which I still have,
though in a less primitive manner. I certainly got notoriety then, and
also six cuts from a very supple cane and a Georgic on which to work off
my ardour.

But I gained Louis for a friend. He had, it seemed, admired the deft and
unassuming way in which I had thrown that pot of jam--he knew even less
than I did about that passion for notoriety--and when he met me in the
passage as I came back from my six cuts in the prefects' room, he said,
"I say, bad luck," and I suggested that if his friend Marsden's ugly
face hadn't got in the way of a perfectly harmless pot of jam I wouldn't
have got a licking. Thus, in a three-minute talk, we became friends; but
when we each went to our own studies we didn't know we were friends--in
fact, I was quite prepared to go on treating him as an enemy until, when
we met again, we both seemed to find that we had something to say to
each other. And throughout those years of school we had always something
to say to each other which we couldn't say quite in the same way to any
one else, and that seems to me to be the basis of all friendship.... I
don't quite know what happened to Marsden, or how Louis told him that he
had decided to discontinue his friendship. I have an idea that Marsden
went on disliking me through four years of school, and that if I met him
on Piccadilly to-morrow would recognise me only to scowl at me, the man
who not only hit him over the eye with a pot of jam, but also deprived
him of his best friend.

Louis and I left school together; he on his inevitable road to
Sandhurst, and I, with a puckered side glance at Oxford, to Edinburgh
University. Even now I don't know why I went to Edinburgh and not to
Oxford; I had always intended going to Oxford, my family had always
intended that I should go to Oxford, up to the last moment I was
actually going to Oxford--when, suddenly, with a bowler hat crammed over
my left ear and a look of vicious obstinacy, I decided that I would go
to Edinburgh instead.

Of course it was a silly mistake. The only thing I have gained by not
going to Oxford is an utter inability to write poetry and a sort of
superior contempt for all pale, interesting-looking young men with dark
eyes and spiritual hair who are tremendously concerned about the utter
worthlessness of Mr. William Watson's poetry. Of course my own superior
attitude may be just as unbearable as their anaemic enthusiasm over,
say, a newly discovered _rondel_ by the youngest son of the local
fishmonger; but I at least do sincerely try to face and appreciate
literature boldly, and frankly, and normally, and not self-consciously
as they do, attacking literature from anywhere but a sane standpoint,
trying to force a breach in any queer spot so that it is unusual and has
not been thought of before; and through this original breach will
suddenly appear an Oxford face with a queer unhallowed grin of
self-conscious cleverness; and all this for a thin book of poems in a
yellow cover, called, as like as not, "Golden Oxygen"!

Louis, down at Sandhurst, was being made into a soldier, and I, up at
Edinburgh, was on the high road to general fecklessness. I only stayed
there a few months; jumbled months of elementary medicine, political
economy, metaphysics, theosophy--I once handed round programs at an
Annie Besant lecture at the Usher Hall--and beer, lots of beer. And
then, one night, I emptied my last mug, and with another side-glance at
Oxford, came down to London; "to take up a literary career" my
biographer will no doubt write of me. I may of course have had a
"literary career" at the back of my mind, but as it was I slacked
outrageously, much to Louis' disgust and envy. I have already written of
those months, how I walked in the Green Park, and sat in picture
galleries, and was lonely.

That first loneliness was lightened only by the occasional visits to
London of Louis. He was by now a subaltern in the Rifle Brigade, with an
indefinite but cultured growth somewhere between his nose and upper lip,
and a negligent way of wearing mufti, as though to say, "God, it's good
to be back in civilised things again!" They were jolly, sudden evenings,
those! London was still careless then. Of an evening, a couple of young
men in dress suits with top hats balanced over their eyebrows and eyes
full of a _blasé_ vacancy, were not as remarkable as they now are. Life
has lost its whilom courtesy to a top hat. Red flags and top hats cannot
exist side by side; the world is not big enough for both. Ah, thou
Bolshevik, thou class-beridden shop-steward! When ye die, how can ye say
that ye have ever lived if, in your aggressive experiences, you have not
known upon your foreheads the elegant weight of a top hat, made
especially to suit your Marxian craniums by one Locke, who has an
ancient shop at the lower end of St. James's Street and did at one time
dictate the headwear of the beaux of White's and Crockford's. I warrant
the life of my top hat, made by that same artist to withstand the impact
of the fattest woman on earth, against all the battering eloquence of
all the orators in all the Albert Halls of all the Red Flag countries.
With it on my head I will finesse any argument whatsoever with you any
night of the week. And at the end of the argument, if you are still
obstinate, I will cram my blessed top hat on your head and, lo and
behold! you are at once a Labour Minister in the Cabinet, and a most
respectable man with a most rectangular house in Portman Square!... But
I must go back to Louis, who never got further in his study of Labour
than an idea that all station-masters were labour leaders because they
took tips so impressively.

Those occasional evenings were very good. I put away from myself writing
and books--Louis hadn't really ever read anything but Kipling,
"Ole-Luk-Oie" and "The Riddle of the Sands"-and I temporarily forgot
Shelmerdene, and we dined right royally. I don't know what we talked
about, perhaps we talked of nothing at all; but we talked all the time,
and we laughed a great deal, and we still had the good old "_blasted
roué_" touch about us. We were very, very old indeed, so old that we
decided that the first act of no play or revue in the world could
compensate one for a hurried dinner; and we were old enough to know that
a confidential manner to _maitres d'hôtels_ is a thing to be cultivated,
else a chicken is apt to be wizened and the sweet an unconscionable long
time in coming. After dinner, a show, and then perhaps a night club, "to
teach those gals how to dance."

We founded a Club for Good Mannered People. I, as the founder, was the
president of the club, and Louis the vice-president; there were no
members because we unanimously black-balled every one whom, in a moment
of weakness, one or other of us might propose. We decided, in the end,
that the Club could never have any members except the president and
vice-president, simply because the men of our own generation were the
worst mannered crew God ever put within lounging distance of a
drawing-room.... There must be something wrong, we said, in a world
where public-school men could be recognised by the muddy footprints they
left on other people's carpets. So it was obviously left to us to supply
the deficiency of our generation, both as regards manners and everything
else. We made a cult of good manners; Louis took to them as a cult where
he had never taken to them as a necessity, and the happiest moments of
his life were when he could work it off on to some helpless woman who
had dropped an umbrella or a handkerchief. The Club, we decided, must
never come to an end, it must go on being a Club until one or other of
us should die ... and now the Club is no more, for suddenly a spring
gave way, the world gave a lurch towards hell, and Louis stopped playing
at soldiers to go away and be a real soldier, to die in his first attack
with a bullet in his chest....



                        _The London Venture_: IX


                             [Illustration]



                                   IX


Somewhere in these papers I have said that Shelmerdene left England, but
I touched on it very lightly, for I am only half-heartedly a realist,
and may yet live to be accused of shuffling humanity behind a phrase....
Youth must endure its periods of loneliness with what grace it can; and
youth could endure them as resignedly as its preceptors, if it were not
for its grotesque self-importance, which inflates loneliness to such a
size that it envelopes a young man's whole being, leaving him at the end
a sorry wreck of what was once a happy mortal. Anyway, that is what
happened to me; I took the whole affair in the worst possible spirit,
and, during that probation time to wisdom, thought and wrote and did so
many silly things, smashed ideals and cursed idols with such morbid
thoroughness and conviction (after the fashion of all the bitterest
young men), that I must have been as detestable a person as ever
trickled wheezily from the, well, pessimistic pen of a Mr. Wyndham
Lewis.... But it takes very little effort to forget that time entirely,
to let it bury itself with what mourning it can muster from the Shades
which sent it to plague me. Enough that it passed, but not before it
had, as they say, "put me wise" about the world and its ways.

For Shelmerdene had left behind her much more than just loneliness; much
that was more precious and, thankfully, more lasting; for she had found
a young man shaped entirely of acute angles and sharp corners, and had
rubbed and polished them over with such delicate tact that it was only
months, after she had gone that I suddenly realised how much more fit I
was to cope with a complicated world since I had known her. But, more
importantly, Shelmerdene to me was England. Before I met her I did not
know England; I knew English, but England only as a man knows the
landmarks about him in a strange country. But when she had come and gone
England was a discovered country, a vast and ever-increasing panorama in
which discoveries were continually made, leaving yet more hidden valleys
of discoveries still to be made--and to be enjoyed! So much and much
more, O unbeliever, I learnt from Shelmerdene, and in the learning of it
lay the best and gladdest lesson of all.

Time, they say, can efface all things, but in truth it can efface
nothing but its own inability to smooth out the real problems of life;
so at least I have found in the one instance in which I have challenged
time to do its best for me, a slave bound down by an unholy wizardry; or
else, perhaps, it was that Shelmerdene was not made of the stuff which
fades into the years and becomes musty and haggard in their increasing
company. I do not know. But, take it as I will, all the service time has
been able to do for me has been negative, for without disarranging one
hair of her head it has only emphasised in me the profound and subtle
influence of that gracefully licentious woman whom I once called
Shelmerdene, because, I told her, "it is the name of an American girl
which I found in a very bad American novel about the fanatical Puritans
of New England, and the name seems to suit you because in New England
they would have treated you exactly as they treated Shelmerdene Gray,
the heroine of this book, whom they branded and burnt as a shameless
woman, but loved in their withered hearts for her gaiety, and elegance,
and wit, which they couldn't understand, but vaguely felt was as much an
expression of Christ as their own wizened virtue."

Out of the silence of two years at last came a letter from her. I found
it when I came in very late one night, and for a long time I stood in my
little hall and examined the Eastern stamp and postmark; and the writing
on the envelope was so exactly the same as on the last note she had sent
me before leaving England that I had to smile at the idea of
Shelmerdene, in the rush of her last pursuit of her perfect fate, laying
in a sufficient store of her own special nibs to last her for the
lifetime she intended to spend abroad; for when I opened the letter I
found that, as I had guessed, she would never come back to England,
saying, "I am a fugitive branch which has at last found its parent
tree.... I have run my perfect fate to earth, Dikran! more perfect than
any dream, more lasting than the most perfect dream. And life is so
beautiful that I can scarcely bear your not being here to share it, for,
you see, I am quite sure that you are still the dear you were two years
ago. But it is so tiresome of you to be so young, and to have to
experience so many things before you can qualify for my sort of
happiness; and on top of being young you are so restless and fussy, too,
with your ideas of what you are going to do, and your ambitions--how it
must tire the mind to be ambitious! It would certainly tire mine in this
climate, so will you please make a note of the fact that I simply forbid
you to come out here to join me! You are too young to be happy, and you
aren't wise enough to be contented; and you can't hope to be wise enough
until you begin to lose a bit of that mane of hair of yours, which I
hope you never will, for I remember how I loved one particular wave in
it in the far-off age when I thought I was in love with you.... It is
terrible, but I am forgetting England. Terrible, because it must be
wrong to forget one's country, seeing how you oppressed nationalities go
on remembering your wretched countries for centuries of years, and
throwing bombs and murdering policemen for all the world as though you
weren't just as happy as every one else, while I, with a country, which
is after all worth remembering, go and forget it after a paltry two
years! Of course it will always be my country, and I shall always love
it for the good things it has given me, but as a _fact_ in my life it
has faded into something more dim than a memory. A spell has been put
upon me, Dikran, to prevent a possible ache in my heart for the things I
was born among, a spell which has made me forget Europe and all my
friends in it except just you, and you because, in spite of all your
English airs, you will always be a pathetic little stranger in a very
strange land, fumbling for the key.... Ah, this wise old East of mine!
so old and so wise, my dear, that it knows for certain that nothing is
worth doing; and as you happen, perhaps, on the ruins of a long-dead
city by the desert, you can almost hear it chuckling to itself in its
hard-earned wisdom, as though to say that since God Himself is that very
same Law which creates men, and cities, and religions only to level them
into the dust of the roads and the sands of the desert, why fight
against God! It is a corrupt and deadening creed, this of the East, but
it has a weight of ancestral will behind it which forces you to believe
in it; and belief in it leaves you without your Western defences, and
open to be charmed into non-resistance, as I and my Blue Bird have been
charmed, else perhaps I would not now be so happy, and might even be
dining with you on the terrace of the Hyde Park Hotel.... Rather
bitterly you have often called me the slave of Ishtar, though at the
time I did not know who the lady was, for I was always rather weak about
goddesses and such like; but I guessed she had something to do with love
because of the context, for you were developing your pleasant theory
about how I would come to a bad end, someday.... Well, Dikran, that
'someday' of your prophecy has come. I've never belonged so wholly to
Ishtar as I do now that I am perhaps in the very same country in which
she once haunted the imagination of the myriad East. I've made a mess of
life, I've come to my bad end, and, as I tell you, I have never known
such perfect happiness. The world couldn't wish me a worse fate, and I
couldn't wish myself a better.... Don't write to me, please. I can
always imagine you much more clearly than your letters can express you,
and if I think of you as doing big things, as I pray you may, it will be
better for me than knowing that you are doing nothing at all, which
might easily happen, seeing how lazy you are.... In the dim ages I was
all wrong about life. For I know now that restraint in itself is the
most perfect emotion...."

I laid the letter down, and as the windows were already greying with the
March dawn it did not seem worth while going to a sleepless bed; and so
I sat on in my chair, drawing my overcoat round me for warmth, and
smoked many cigarettes. I felt very old indeed, for was not that letter
the echo of a long-dead experience, and are not long-dead experiences
the peculiar property of old men?

                             [Illustration]

No visions of the Shelmerdene of that letter came up to disturb my
peace, for she did not fit in with my ideas of the East, she had never
appealed to that Eastern side which must be somewhere in me, but had
always been to me a perfect symbol of the grace and kindliness and
devilry of the arrogant West. I could not see her as she described
herself, happy, meditative, wise in contentment.... Her contentment is
too much like an emotion, and therefore spurious, I thought, and so she
will still dine with me on the terrace of the Hyde Park Hotel, and will
wonder why I look so differently at her, for I will still be young while
she will be middle-aged.... No, that letter conjured up no perfect
vision of her in the East, except that I saw her, melodramatically
perhaps, pleading on her knees for release from the bonds of Ishtar, for
I knew that not even a Shelmerdene among women can evade the penalty of
so many unsuccessful love-affairs just by the success of one.

The grey of the March dawn became paler, and the furniture and books in
my room seemed so wan and unreal that I thought drowsily that they were
a dream of last night and were fading before the coming daylight; and
later, when my thoughts had mellowed into a security of retrospect, I
may have slept, for I realised with a start that the maid had come in to
tidy up the room for breakfast, but had got no further than the door,
perhaps wondering whether I had been very drunk the night before, or
only just "gay."

Retrospect came naturally after that letter, for she had written at the
end how she had found the true worth of "restraint"; it would have been
just a phrase in a letter if I had not remembered, as she must have when
she wrote it, that the word had a context, and that the context lay in a
long summer afternoon on a silent reach of the river many miles from
Maidenhead.... One day that summer I had suggested to her that, as the
world was becoming a nuisance with its heat and dust, we might go and
stay on the river for a few days, but she had said, quite firmly, "No, I
can't do that. I am not yet old enough to put my name down for the
divorce stakes, so if you don't mind, Dikran, we will call that bet off
and think of something else. For if that same husband heard of my
staying on the river with a young man of uncelibate eye and uncertain
occupation, he would at once take steps about it, and although I like
you well enough as a man, I couldn't bear you as a co-respondent.... But
if you really do want to stay on the river, I will get the Hartshorns to
ask us both down, for they have a delightful house on a little hill,
from which you can see the twilight creeping over the Berkshire downs
across the river."

"Oh, we can't do that," I said; "Guy Hartshorn is such a stiffnecked ass
and his wife is dull enough to spoil any river--"

"Tolerance, my dear, is what you lack," she said; "tolerance and a
proper understanding of the relation between a stiffnecked ass and a
possible host. And Guy, poor dear, always does his duty by his
guests.... Please don't be silly about it, Dikran. The Hartshorns
distinctly need encouragement as hosts, so you and I will go down and
encourage them. And if you can manage to cloak your evil thoughts behind
a hearty manner and watch Guy as he swings a racing punt down the river,
you will learn more about punting and the reason why Englishmen are
generally considered to be superior to foreigners than I could teach you
in a lifetime."

We had been two days at the house on the little hill by the river (for,
of course, we went there) before, on the third afternoon, after lunch,
our chance came, and Shelmerdene and I were at last alone on the river;
I had not the energy to do more than paddle very leisurely and look from
here to there, but always in the end to come back to the woman who lay
facing me against the pale green cushions of the Hartshorn punt, steeped
in the happy sunshine of one of those few really warm days which England
now and again manages to steal from the molten South, and exhibits in a
new green and golden loveliness. From round a bend of the river we could
quite clearly see the ivy-covered Georgian house of our host, perched
imperiously up on the top of its little hill, but not imperiously enough
to prevent the outlet of two days' impatience in the curse I vented on
it.

"Little man with little toy wants big toy of the same pattern and cries
when he can't have it," she mocked me, and smiled away my bad temper,
which had only a shallow root in impatience. But I would not let it go
all at once, for man is allowed licence on summer afternoons on the
river, and I challenged her to say if she did not know of better ways of
spending the whole glorious time between dinner and midnight than by
playing bridge, "as we tiresomely do at the house on the hill, much to
the delight of that sombre weeping elm which looks in at the window and
can then share the burden of its complaining leaves with my pessimistic
soul."

"We will leave your soul severely alone for the moment, but as for
playing bridge, I think it is very good for you," she said. "It is very
good for you to call three No Trumps, and be doubled by some one who
won't stand any nonsense, and go down four hundred or so. It teaches you
restraint."

"Restraint," I said, "is the Englishman's art of concealing his emotions
in such a way that every one can guess exactly what they are. And I have
acquired it so perfectly that you know very well that only the other day
you told me how you admired my restraint, and how I would never say to a
man's face what I couldn't say just as well behind his back." But she
did not answer, and in silence I pulled into a little aimless backwater,
and moored by a willow which let through just enough sun to speck
Shelmerdene's dress with bright arabesques.

I changed my seat for the cushions and lay full length in front of
Shelmerdene, but it was as though she had become part of the river, she
was so silent. I said something, I can't remember what it was, but it
must have suited the day and my mood. I could not see her face because
she had turned it towards the bank and it was hidden under the brim of
her pale blue hat, but when my words had broken the quietness and she
turned it towards me, I was surprised at the firm set of her lips and
the sadness of her smile.

"You are making love to me, and that is quite as it should be," she
said. "But on the most beautiful of all days I have the saddest
thoughts, for though you laughed at me when I talked about restraint, I
was really very serious indeed. I know a lot about restraint, my dear,
and how the lack of it can make life suddenly very horrible ... for once
upon a time I killed an old man because I didn't know the line between
my desires and his endurance." She shook her head at me gently. "No,
that won't do, Dikran. You were going to say something pretty about my
good manners, but that is all so much play-acting, and, besides, good
manners are my trade and profession, and without them I should long ago
have been down and under, as I deserve to be much more than Emma
Hamilton ever did.... The tragedy about people like me is that we step
into life at the deep end and find only the shallow people there, and
when we meet some one really deep and very sincere, like that old man,
we rather resent it, for we can't gauge him by the standards we use for
each other. Men like that bring a sudden reality into life, but the
reality is unacceptable and always ugly because it is forced upon one,
while the only realities that are beautiful are those that were born in
your heart when you were born; just like your country for you, which you
have never seen and may never see, and yet has been your main reality in
life since you were born; a reality as sad and beautiful as the
ancestral memories which must lurk somewhere in you, but which you can't
express because you have not learnt yet how to be really natural with
yourself. And when you have learnt that you will have learnt the secret
of great writing, for literature is the natural raw material which every
man secretes within himself, but only a few can express it to the world.
But I may be wrong about all that, and anyway you must know a great deal
more about great thinking and great writing than I do, for you have read
about it in dull books while I have only sensed it in my trivial
way...."

"Shelmerdene, I want to hear about your old man," I said, "whom you say
you killed. But that is only your way of saying that he was in love with
you, and that you hurt him so much that he died of it."

"Ah, if it had been only that I would not be so sad this afternoon! In
fact, I would not be sad at all, for he was old and had to die, and all
that about love and being hurt is fair and open warfare. But it was
something much beastlier than that, something animal in me, which will
make me ashamed whenever I think of that day when we three gave our
horses rein down to the Breton coast, and I turned on the old man, a
very spitfire of a girl broken loose from the restraint of English
generations, forgetting for one fierce moment that her saddle was not
covered with the purple of a Roman Augusta, and that she couldn't do as
she liked in a world of old men.... Have you ever seen a quarrel, a real
quarrel, Dikran? When some one is so bitterly and intensely angry that
he loses all hold on everything but his wretched desire to hurt, and
unchains a beast which in a second maims him as deeply as his enemy--no,
it maims him more.

"The old Frenchman was my guardian," she said, "and the last of a name
which you can find here and there in Court Memoirs, in the thick of that
riot of gallantry and intrigue which passed for life at old Versailles.
But the world has grown out of that and does things much better now, for
gallantry has been scattered to the four winds of democracy and is the
navvy's part as much as the gentleman's, while intrigue has become the
monopoly of the few darling old men who lead governments, more as a way
of amusing their daughters than for any special purpose of their own.
But if the world has grown old since then so had my old man, for he was
none of your rigid-minded _cidevant aristos_ whom you can see any day at
the Ritz keeping up appearances on an occasional cocktail and the use of
the hotel note-paper; but the air of the _grand seigneur_ hadn't
weathered proscriptions and revolutions for nothing, and so still clung
rather finely to him in spite of himself, and made him seem as old and
faded as his ancestors in the world in which he had to live, poor old
dear! It was cruel of that other nice old gentleman above him to put him
through the ordeal, for he did so bitterly and genuinely resent a world
in which honour was second to most things and above nothing. He couldn't
forgive, you see. He couldn't forgive himself, nor France, nor God, but
especially he couldn't forgive France. Sedan, revolution, republic--and
no Turenne or Bonaparte to thrash a Moltke with the flat of his sword,
for he wasn't worth more! And all a France could muster were the
trinkets of her _monde_ and _demimonde_, and a threatening murmur of
'_revanche_' and '_Alsace-Lorraine_'--as though threats and hatred could
wipe out the memory of that day of surrender at Sedan, when he stood not
ten yards away among only too polite Prussian aides-de-camp while
Napoleon put the seal on his last mistake, and signed away an empire....
And allowing for exaggeration, and the white-hot excitement to which
folk who fuss about honour, etc., are liable, there may have been
something in his point of view about it all, for I once heard a man with
a lot of letters behind his name say that when a country gives up a limb
it also gives up its body; but he may have been wrong, for after all
France is still France!

"But you would have adored my old man, Dikran, just as I did. He treated
life, and men, and women with all that etiquette which you so admire, he
was simply bristling with etiquette--a deal too much of it for my taste,
for I was only seventeen then and liked my freedom like any other
Englander.... But I'm finding it very difficult to describe the man he
was, my dear, for in our slovenly sort of English we've got used to
describing a person by saying he is like another person, and I can't do
that in this case because he belongs as much to a past age as Hannibal,
and there isn't any one like him now. And even when he was alive there
were very few--two or three old men as fierce and unyielding and vital
as himself, who used to come and dine, and say pretty things to little
me who sat at the end of the table with very large eyes and fast-beating
heart, wondering why they weren't all leading Cabinets and squashing
revolutions, for they seemed to know the secrets of every secret cabal
and camarilla in Europe.

"Yes, my old guardian was a remnant of an empire--but what a remnant!
Such a fierce-looking little man he was, with pale, steel-blue eyes
which pierced into you from under a precipice of a forehead, a bristling
Second Empire moustache, and thin bloodless lips which parted before the
most exquisite French I've ever heard; I can scarcely bear it when you
say I talk French divinely, for I know how pitiful mine is compared to
the real thing, as done by that old man and Sarah Bernhardt, for they
were very old friends and she used often to come and lunch with us.

"He talked well, too, and all the better for having something to say, as
well he might have since he had been everything and known every one
worth knowing of his time--ministers, and rebels, and artists, and all
the best-known prostitutes of the day; but they did those things better
then, Dikran. In fact, more as an excuse for getting away from a parvenu
Paris than from any Bonapartist feelings, for he was always an
Orleanist, I think he had represented Louis Napoleon at every city which
could run to an Embassy from London to Pekin; from where he brought back
that ivory Buddha which is on my writing-table, and which has an
inscription in ancient Chinese saying that every man is his own god, but
that Buddha is every man's God, which goes a long way to prove that the
wisdom of the East wasn't as wise as all that, after all.

"But you are getting restless," she said suddenly. "You probably want to
open the tea-basket to see what's inside, or you've just seen a water
rat----"

"No, it's a little more subtle than that, Shelmerdene, although as a
fact I do see a water rat not a yard from you on the bank.... I merely
wanted to know how it was that, since you had a perfectly good father
alive in England, you were allowed to go gadding about in France with a
guardian, soi-disant----"

"We will ignore your soi-disant, young man. But I'll allow your
interruption, for it may seem a bit complicated.... It was like this: as
the fortunes of our family had run rather to seed through generations of
fast women and slow horses, my father who was utterly a pet, succumbed
to politics for an honest living, or, if you pull a face like that about
it, for a dishonest living. For up to that time, in spite of having
exactly the figure for it, he had always refused to enter Parliament,
because his idea was that the House was just a club, and one already
belonged to so many better clubs. But once there nothing could stop him,
and when he entered for the Cabinet stakes he simply romped home with a
soft job and a fat income.... But all that is really beside the point,
for between politics and guineas father and I had had a slight
disagreement about a certain young man whom I was inclined to marry
offhand, being only sixteen, you know, and liking the young man--and, of
course, my father did the correct thing, as he always did, gave the
young man a glass of port and told him not to be an ass, and shipped me
off to Paris to his very old friend. You see, he knew about that old
Marquis, and how I'd be quite safe in his care, for any young man who as
much as looked at me would have a pair of gimlet eyes asking him who the
devil he might be and why he chose to desecrate a young lady's virginal
beauty by his so fatuous gaze.

"I've been saying a lot of nice things about that old man to you, but I
didn't feel quite like that about him at the time. I liked him, of
course, because he was a man; but all that French business about the
sanctity of a young maid's innocence got badly on my nerves, for
innocence was never my long suit even from childhood, having ears to
hear and eyes to see; and I soon began to get very bored with life as my
old Frenchman saw it. So it wasn't surprising that I broke out now and
again just to shock him, he was so rigid, but I was always sorry for it
afterwards because he just looked at me and said not a word for a minute
or so, and then went on talking as though I hadn't hurt him--but I had,
Dikran! I had hurt him so much that for the rest of the day he often
couldn't bear to see me.... But though I was ashamed of myself for
hurting him, I couldn't stop; life with him was interesting enough in
a way, of course, but it left out so much, you see; it entirely left
out the stupendous fact that I was almost a woman, and a very feminine
one at that, who liked an odd young man about now and again just to
play about with. But I wasn't allowed any young men, except a
twenty-five-year-old over-manicured Vicomte who was so unbearably
worldly and useless that I wanted to hit him on the head with my
guardian's sword-stick, which he always carried about with him, as a
sort of mental solace, I think. No, there weren't any young men, nor any
restaurants, for the old man simply ignored them; my dear, there wasn't
anything at all in my young life except a few old dukes and dowagers,
and the aforesaid young Vicomte, who had manicured himself out of
existence and was considered harmless. And so Paris was a dead city to
me who lived in the heart of it, and all the more dead for the faded old
people who moved about in my life, and tried to change my heart into a
Louis-Quinze drawing-room hung with just enough beautiful and musty
tapestries to keep out the bourgeois sunshine and carelessness, which I
so longed for.

"So I had to amuse myself somehow.... I was a bad young woman then, as I
am a bad woman now, Dikran; for I've always had a particular sort of
vanity which, though it doesn't show on the surface like most silly
women's, is deep down in me and has never left me alone; a sort of
vanity which makes itself felt in me only in the off-seasons when no one
happens to be in love with me and I in love with no one, and tells me
that I must be dull and unattractive, utterly insignificant and
non-existent; it is a weakness in me, but much stronger than I am, for
I've never resisted it, but been only too glad to fall in love again as
soon as I could; and that is why I've never made a stand against my
impressionableness, why I've never run away from or scotched a
love-affair which I knew wouldn't last two weeks, however much I loved
the wretched man at the time; it was so much the line of least
resistance, it drowned that infernal whisper in me that I was of no
account at all in the world. But the tragedy of it was, and is, my dear,
that indulgence made the monster grow; it was like a drug, for as soon
as the off-season came again it was at its old tricks with twice its old
virulence and malice, and, of course, I gave way again. And so on, and
so on--did you murmur _dies iræ_, Dikran? Well, perhaps, but who knows?
There's a Perfect Fate for every one in this world, and if any one
deserves to find it, it's myself who has failed to find it so often....

"At that time that wretched vanity of mine was only a faint whisper, but
there it was, and it had to be satisfied, or else I should have become a
good woman, which never did attract me very much. I simply had to amuse
myself somehow--and so I formed _la grande idée_ of my young life, just
as Napoleon III had long ago formed his equally _grande idée_ about
Mexico and Maximilian, and with the same disastrous results. True, there
was no young man about, but there was a man, anyway, and a Marquis to
boot, even though he was a bit old and rigid. But it was exactly that
rigidity of his which I wanted to see about; I wanted to find out
things, and in my own way, don't you see? And so, deliberately and with
all the malice in me, I set out to subdue the old man. Not childishly
and gushingly, although I was so young, but with all the finesse of the
eternal game, for clever women are born with _rouge_ on their cheeks.

"But it was a disappointing business; I didn't seem to make the
impression I wanted to make; all my finesse went for nothing, except as
signs of the affection of a ward. Obviously, I thought hopelessly, I
don't know all there is to be known about subduing old French marquises,
and I had almost decided to try some other amusement when one May
morning, a few months after my father had died and appointed him as my
guardian and executor, he came into my little boudoir, looking more
stern and adorable than ever. And as he came in I knew somehow that big
things were coming into my little life; I don't know how, but I knew it
as surely as I knew that for all his grand air of calmness he was as shy
as any schoolboy.

"'My child,' he said very gently, 'I am intruding on you only because I
have something to say to you of the utmost importance and delicacy. I am
too old and too much of the world to do things by impulse, and so if I
seem to offend against your unworldliness now it is not because I have
not thought very carefully about what I am going to say.... And I beg
you not to count it as any more than the suggestion of an old man who
thinks only of your good, and to tell me quite frankly at the end what
you think of it.

"'My old friend, your father,' he said, 'honoured me by placing you
entirely in my charge as guardian and executor; but on looking into
matters I find that he has left very little for me to do in the latter
capacity--very little, in fact, besides that small estate in Shropshire
which is entailed on you and your children, as with all its associations
of that beautiful girl--scarcely older than you are now, your
mother--your father could not bear the thought of it ever passing to
strangers. And so, my child, without any reflection on my friend, when
you leave my care you enter the world with an old enough name to ensure
your position, but without the income to maintain it, and, if you will
forgive me, a quite insignificant _dot_; though in your case, as in your
beautiful mother's,' he added, with his little gallant smile, the first
and last of the morning, 'a _dot_ would be the requirement of a blind
man.

"'All this preamble must seem very aimless and tiresome to you, but I
wish to put all the facts before you, my dear, before asking you to take
the responsibility, as indeed it is, of weighing the suggestion I am
going to make.... You must have seen that I am out of sympathy with this
modern world of yours, that I belong to some other period, better or
worse, what does it matter? And this world, my child, has little use for
those hard-headed persons who cannot change the bent of their minds
according to its passing whims, and so it has little use for me who
cannot and will not change.... Do you understand? I mean that I am an
old man who is every day losing touch with life, and that I know here,
quite certainly, that I have only a very few more years to live. Do not
look sad, child,' he said, almost impatiently, 'it is not that I am
complaining, but that I wish you to understand my thoughts.... Into an
old life you have come like a ray of sunshine which is even now making
light of your little puzzled frown; and I have a debt of gratitude to
pay to you, my child, which I wish to pay at the expense even of your
young peace of mind this morning. Although this new world has passed out
of my grasp, and will soon pass out of my understanding, I know that it
is the proper setting for you, the only subtle and beautiful thing that
I have found in it, and my greatest wish is to leave you in a position
worthy of your beauty and intelligence. It is not that I am afraid for
you, for you are no trivial chit of a girl, but merely that I wish to
leave you both happy and independent.... And, as it is, I can do
nothing, nothing at all! For it has been a fixed rule of our family that
we may not leave our fortune and property to any one who does not bear
our name, and thus, though my nephew and I have had no occasion to meet
for some fifteen years, I must leave him such money as I have and all
this not unappreciated furniture.... And that is why, my child, because
of my wish to leave you all I have, I have been forced to suggest the
only alternative, for I would not have even considered it otherwise,
that you should consent to bear my name with me for the few years I have
to live, and then, as a young and beautiful widow of means, and bearing
an old French name which may still be worth a little consideration, you
can take your fit position in the world in which you, and not I, were
born to be happy....'

"There it is, Dikran, or as much of it as I can remember. And do you
need a setting for it? Oh, yes, you do, for you are a little lost.
Imagine then, sitting by a window of a large house in the _Rue Colbert_,
a young girl with a battered copy of Madame Bovary skilfully hidden
beside her, and a little erect old man, very stiff but _soigné_, and
cruelly aged by the sunlight which poured blessedly into the room,
standing by the arm of her chair, asking her to marry him. Oh! but you
can't imagine it, you will think of him as pleading, and of me as
surprised. He didn't plead, he couldn't and I, my dear, by the time he
had finished, wasn't surprised.... I knew, you see. Why, I knew
everything! Lexicons and encyclopædias had toppled off their dusty
shelves, and the Sibylline books had come running to my feet, and the
whole world had come trotting out with its wisdom, wisdom as clear and
cold as any Dân-nan-Rón that your friend Gloom ever played on his
_feadan_, and all in the few minutes that an old man was speaking to me!
Of course, it should all have happened differently; I should have been
just a 'trivial chit of a girl,' and then I would have accepted all the
old darling said, and gaped, and cried, and said 'thank you.' But as it
was I did none of those things; I'm not quite sure what I did, unless it
was nothing at all.... It all seems rather mixed now, but on that May
morning it was as clear as the sunlight in my cruel young mind--how
young and how cruel, Dikran!

"You see, as he spoke, he opened out the world which he so despised to
me; page by page he showed me life, how beastly and how beautiful; he
showed me both sides, because he himself was both beastly and
beautiful.... And I gloried in it all! At my knowledge and the power it
gave me over life. After a while the old man didn't seem to
matter--there he was, talking away! I knew about him, and just how
beastly and beautiful he was. For he _was_ beautiful in his sincerity; I
knew that he wished for my good, that to leave me well provided was the
only condition he made with death; but I knew too that there was a
beastly little imp somewhere in him, as in other men, which turned his
finest thoughts into so much bluff, which told him through the locked
and bolted doors of his honour that he wanted me for my own sake, and
just for that, because I was young and because he loved me, and,
stripped of all his honour and guardianship, because he loved me just as
Solomon loved his wives, and Lucifer loved Lilith, and as you love me
now....

"There it was, then, the whole damnable world, and I, only eighteen, in
the middle of it! And there he was, my dear old man, more rigid and more
adorable than ever; for, cruel as I was in seeing through him, I loved
him all the more for his sweet naïveté and for his old, so old illusions
about his motives. While as for being shocked at the way he loved me,
I've never been shocked by anything but the vulgarity and the
indecencies of respectable people, who seem to think that sex is purely
a sort of indoor sport to be indulged in darkness and behind barricaded
doors, while it is really a setting for the most beautiful Bacchanal
that was ever devised by the fairest and purest of God's children. In
spite of bibles and the Bishop of London, Mary knew what she was about,
Dikran. Love doesn't grow anywhere, to be picked up by the wayside. Pure
beauty grows only where beauty already is....

"But, wise as I was, I didn't know what to say; what could I say? He was
waiting; I had to say, do something. I did--flung my arms round his neck
and told him he was a pet to be so nice to me, and that I must think
about it. For the first time that he had wanted me to behave like a
woman I behaved consciously like a child--it seemed the easiest way out.
And I think he saw that I was acting; he had expected something else,
for he smiled very sadly down at me, and patted my hair, saying I was a
sweet child not to be angry with him for making life so suddenly
serious, and then, very gently, he went away, leaving me in the
sunshine, a playmate of the gods.... And yet I was so sorry for him that
I almost cried when I thought of him sitting alone and lonely in his
library.

"We never spoke of it again. At first it was as though he was waiting
for me to say yes, or no, or something, but I didn't say anything, and,
later, he seemed to forget. I didn't do it out of cruelty, my dear; I
simply couldn't say anything, that's all. After sunshine, rain, you
know; I was dismal, frightened of him a little. The romance of that May
morning when he had come to me in my room had become a ridiculous
fantasy, so that it seemed to me that any reference to it would rather
tarnish the very splendid dignity which he had kept, and sort of
increased, through it all. Besides, anyway, what was there to say? I had
made up my mind as he spoke that morning, through all the clearness of
my new-found knowledge. I had never a doubt as to what I was going to
do. It wasn't in me to do as he asked, or rather, as he advised, the old
dear! I wish it had been in me, for to be a rich French marquise without
a marquis is no bad fate for any girl, and it might have helped me to
steer clear of many complications. But I couldn't, because all my life,
Dikran, I've been cursed by an utter inability to make any money out of
love. And that is why I would never be a success in my mother's country
of America, where men throw pearls and beauty roses about as a matter of
course and are very offended if one suggests an economical flirtation on
a gross of diamonds and a hundredweight of Russian sables.... It isn't
that I am mean-minded, but I cannot take presents from men who love me,
for, after all, the old Marquis' offer was a present. When I see other
women with relays of fur coats, and pearl necklaces, and no visible
means of support, I am thoroughly sorry for myself, for it isn't through
any excess of morals that I haven't just as many furs and pearls; it is
simply because I don't see life that way, as, ten years ago, I didn't
see life as the wife of an old man, whom I adored but didn't love, and
couldn't have thought of marrying him even if he had promised to arrange
for his death an hour after the wedding.... Do you understand, Dikran?
For all this while I've been trying to tell you that whatever else I am
not, I am an honest woman; a very upright gentleman in my way, which is
more than you can say for most really nice women.

"The reason why realistic tragedies are impossible, or at best only
melodramatic, on the stage is that the Person who arranges life has no
sense of drama at all. Imagine how Sardou, the wretched man who turned
Sarah Bernhardt into an exhibition, would have worked it out: the young
girl would have run away from the lustful old man to Nice; the old man
would have followed her to her boarding-house and made faces at the
landlady's fair-haired son, who was the girl's destiny; a duel, tears,
another duel, more tears, and Sarah falling about the stage in exhausted
attitudes, as well she might.... And then imagine how life worked out
the tragedy of that girl and old man; it let them be, or it seemed to
let them be! No, God can have no dramatic sense, as we know it, because
all the tragedies He arranges for us are slow-moving, so slow and moving
none of the actors know whither; perhaps this tragedy we are acting will
fade away, they say hopefully to themselves, and leave us again happy
and careless; a little later they are happily sure that their tragedy is
fading, there is no possible climax in sight, and then suddenly, out of
the inmost earth, from some really foul spot of their animal natures,
come the sudden ingredients for the tragical climax; the climax lasts
only a second, but after it no blessed curtain falls; God has interfered
again, Life is more cruel than Art, He says, so away with your tricks,
your curtains and your finales. And I suppose He is right, you know; it
must be right that shameful memories live beside the beautiful ones, as
twenty years from now the memory of that old man and myself will live
beside this very moment of you and I under this willow; for my abundant
confession of it all seems to make it as much yours as mine, Dikran.

"My guardian and I lived on smoothly enough, then; as before I broke out
now and again when he stepped too sternly between myself and an amusing
indiscretion, but rebellions always ended in my smiling at some cutting
remark of his, and in his always sweet dismissal of the subject; there
was nothing to show that we were different with each other. But we were,
indeed we were. I did not know it then, but I knew it very clearly
later; how we two people, really loving each other, though in our
different ways, had found a deep, subtle antagonism in each other, a
very real antagonism, which it would have shamed us to realise at the
time, and with a very real and inevitable climax; but like God's
creatures, mummers in yet another of His cruelly monstrous plays, we
thought the tragedy was fading, had faded, and were forgetting it, for
what climax could there possibly be?

"Four or five months after that May morning he took me to stay at a
château in Brittany; a very beautiful, tumble-down, draughty place, my
dear, standing proudly at the head of a valley like a dissipated actor
who feels that he must have done great things in the past to be what he
now is, and with nothing to show for its draughty arrogance but a few
rakish stones which were once the embattlement from which the Huguenot
_seigneur_ of the day defied the old Medici; and the slim, white-haired
old woman who charmingly met me at the door, the châtelaine of only one
castle, but with the dignity of an empire in her kind, calm elegance. My
hostess and my guardian were old, old friends, and to watch them in
their gentle, courteous intimacy was a lesson on the perfect management
of such things. When we are old and white-haired, will you come and stay
at my place, Dikran, and will you pretend that you have forgotten that
you ever liked me for anything else than my mind? Just like those two
old people in the Breton château, who a thousand years ago may have been
lovers or may have only loved one another.... Who knows? and does it
matter?

"The idea of this visit, on my guardian's part, to the solitary château
from whose highest windows one could just see the sea curling round the
Breton coast, was of course excellent. He wanted me to be out of harm's
way and entirely his own, and was there any better way of achieving that
than by putting me in a lonely château with only my hostess as an
alternative to himself? But, poor old dear, it didn't fall out like
that; for we had only been there two days when the alternative presented
himself in the person of the young man of the house, my hostess's son,
the young lord of Tumbledown Castle.... He went and spoilt it all, good
and proper, did that young man. His mother hadn't expected him, my
guardian didn't want him, and I didn't mind him--there he was, all the
way from England on a sudden desire to see his mother, the only woman
whom Raoul had ever a decent thought about, I suppose. (His name wasn't
really Raoul, you know, but it is a sort of convention that all young
Frenchmen with the title of Vicomte and with languid eyes and fragile
natures are called Raoul.) For he wasn't by any means a nice young man,
except facially, but how was I to know that! And besides, the man could
sit a horse as gallantly as any young prince who ever went crusading,
and I strained my eyes in prolonging the little thrill I had when, the
morning after he came, I saw him from a window riding out of the gates
and down into the valley, very much the young lord of the manor, on the
huge white stallion which, with such a master, defied a Republic and
still proclaimed him as the _Sieur du Château-Mauvrai_ to the dour and
morose-minded peasants of the Breton villages....

"When I say that Raoul was not a nice young man, I mean that he was a
very agreeable companion; but, like little Billee, in 'Trilby,' and
Maurice, the stone-image of my dreams, that poor young man couldn't
love, it wasn't in him to love; but unlike the other two, who were sweet
about it and made up for it as much as they could, Raoul had taken it
into his head that love was all stuff and nonsense, anyway, and that he
could do a deal better with the very frequent and not very fastidious
pretences of it; and, according to his little-minded lights, he seems to
have been right, for he had already done fairly well for himself in
London--this I found much later, of course--with a flat in Mayfair which
was much more consistent with the various middle-aged ladies who came to
tea with him than with the extent of his income.

"No reasonable person could expect that a young man like that and I
could stay in the same house and no trouble come of it. But my guardian
wasn't reasonable. He seemed still to expect me to go riding with him,
and let a perfectly good young man run to waste for want of a companion
to say pretty things to. Raoul and I, in that beautiful spot, were
scarcely ever allowed to be alone, and only twice did we manage to ride
away together to the sea for a delicious, exciting few hours; only
twice, I said, for the second time was very definitely the last....
Somehow the Marquis was always there. Not in any unpleasant way, but he
would just happen to come into the room or the particular corner of the
large garden where we also happened to be; he didn't rebuke or look
sulky, he was just the same, except, perhaps, for a little irony to
Raoul, whom he refused to take seriously as a young man of the world.
And there is where the old man made his mistake with me, for I, too,
didn't take Raoul seriously; I took him for just what he was, more knave
than fool, a charming companion, and a very personable young man, as far
as being just 'personable' counts, and only so far. If I had been
allowed to deal with the matter in my own way, without let or hindrance,
it would only have been very pleasant trifling, and certainly no more;
even as it was, the 'no more' part of it was still safe in my keeping,
thanks entirely to my having brought myself up properly; but for the
rest a simple amusement became a rather sordid tragedy, for God and
guardian had combined to use a commonplace young man as the climax to a
faded and forgotten little fantasy, once sun-kissed by a May morning,
now to be shivered and scattered by the shrieking sea wind, discordant
chorus enough for the unmingled destinies of any Tristans and Isoldas,
which kept forcing our horses apart on that last morning of all, when we
three rode by the sea, and made a world of anger for ourselves because
some one, something, had suddenly pushed us out of the other world where
we had been so careless and happy....

"Once things happened, they happened quickly. For all my not taking him
at all seriously, I suppose I liked him quite a lot, really--I must have
done, else I would not have been such a fool. He was my first experience
of dishonesty in man, and I suppose I wanted to plumb this dishonesty of
his to the depths, which was very stupid of me because he was much more
likely to find out about me than I about him.... Raoul had been at the
château two weeks, and our little affair had taken the important and
unpleasant air of a conspiracy. Our own stay was to last another month,
and if it hadn't been that my guardian would not for the world have
offended his old friend by cutting short this long-looked-for visit, he
would very soon have taken me away from the so desecrating gaze of young
Raoul.

"On that day, towards evening, he and I had managed to steal out walking
for an hour. Agreeable enough as he was, he would have bored me if I had
let him. But I wanted him, I intended to keep him in my mind; I wanted
him as an assertion of my independence from the old man. As we went back
up the drive to the château I carefully became as animated and smiling
as I could, for I knew that he would be watching us from the
drawing-room windows, and I wanted to irritate him as much as his
incessant care was irritating me, though that would have been
impossible, for that evening I was absurdly, fiercely angry with him.
Life seemed made up of the interferences of old men. I didn't want old
men in my life. I wanted young men, and sunshine, and fun. And so, as
Raoul and I went up the steps to the massive door, and as I turned to
him just below the drawing-room window and gave him my most trustful
smile, I was feeling reckless, unrestrained, fiercely independent....
Oh, Dikran! what idiocies we do for the fancied sake of independence!

"It was time to dress for dinner, so I left Raoul and went straight to
my room. A minute later came a knock on the door, and as I turned
sharply from the mirror, it opened and Raoul stood there, rather shy,
smiling. I wasn't old enough to know the proper way of dealing with
young men in one's bedroom, even if I had overpoweringly wanted to.

"'I had an impulse,' he said, but he still stood in the doorway, a
little question somewhere about him. I didn't answer it; just watched
him, rather interested in his methods.

"'Because,' he went on, 'I used to sleep in this room once, and remember
it as a dreary little place, and I wanted to see what it looked like
with you in it.' Poor silly fool, I thought, but rather loved him. I
have found since then, though, that his fatuous speech was quite the
proper one to make, for the established way of entering a woman's room
is by expressing an interest in the furniture, thus making the lady
self-conscious and not so sure about her dignity; seductions are
successful through women fearing to look fools if they refuse to be
seduced.

"But this time, as he spoke, he closed the door behind him and came into
the room towards me. 'This isn't playing fair, Raoul,' I only said; 'you
will get me into a row.'

"'Fair!' he said, lifting his eyebrows, the gallant ass. 'My sweet, do
you think anything real is fair in this world? And don't you trust me?
That isn't fair of you, you know--haven't I made love to you for two
weeks, haven't I loved you for two weeks, haven't I loved you all my
life--and now?' And with that he had me in his arms, not for the first
time, mind you, but this time very differently; and, over his shoulder,
as he held me, I saw the door open, and the Marquis stood there,
outraged. Raoul didn't seem to know, still held me, and I, for a
paralysed moment, couldn't move, just stared at the old man standing
very stiffly in the doorway, a hand outstretched on the door-knob--hell
seemed to have opened for him through that door, and he could move as
little as I. At last I jumped away from Raoul with a sort of cry, and he
turned quickly round to the door. He didn't go pale, or look a fool; he
must have made a study of such contretemps; nothing was said, the old
man waiting in the doorway, with words terribly smothered; he moved
aside a little from the door as though to let a dog slink through. But
Raoul wasn't going to slink; he was rather pink, negligent, resigned;
and as, without the least hurry, he bent over my fingers and his eyes
smiled gently at me, I found myself admiring him, really loving him for
the first time. Women are like that.... All this, of course, had
happened in less than a minute; from point of time my guardian came into
my room and Raoul left it--but in point of fact a great deal happened.
For, as Raoul left me and walked across the room to the door, and
through it without taking the least notice of the old man, and as I
heard his even steps receding down the _parquet_ corridor, my first
paralysed fear simmered in me and boiled up into a fierce, vixen anger.
I simply trembled now with anger at the old man as I had first trembled
with fear of him. What right had he to be standing there, ordering about
my life and my young men? What right had he to be closing the door, as
he was doing now? What right, what right? The words were throbbing
inside me, just those words, fixed unrestrainedly on the old man, who
had made a step towards me, and stopped again....

"'Child!' the pain in that one word, the lack of anger in it, an utter,
absolute pain accusing me, did not soothe. Accuse me? By what right?

"The scene was dreadful, Dikran. I can't tell you what we said, what I
said, for I did most of the scene-making. He just forbade me to talk
again alone with Raoul or to go out with him; said he would take me away
to-morrow if it weren't that explanations would then be necessary to our
hostess, who was in feeble health and might be killed by such a disgrace
as this in her own house. As for Monsieur le Vicomte, he himself would
arrange that I did not see him for longer time than could be helped.
That's all he said, but my white heat took little notice of his
commands. I said I don't know what--it must all have been terrible, for
it ended on a terrible note. Dikran, how could I have done it? I pointed
at the door and asked him how he could think he had more right in my
room than Raoul, for though he was my guardian our relations had been
changed by a certain proposal, which perhaps he remembered.... A look at
me, in which was the first and last contempt that's ever been given me,
and the door closed on the wonderful old man.

"Dinner that night passed off quite well considering the unsettled
climatic conditions aforesaid. Myself didn't contribute much, but my
guardian and Raoul talked smoothly away about anything that came, while
Madame, our hostess, smiled sweetly at us all, on brooding me in
particular.... Quite early I made for bed; the old man and I hadn't
exchanged a word all evening, and his 'good night' was a little bow, and
mine cold. As I passed Raoul he cleverly put a small piece of paper into
my hand. Upstairs in my room, that piece of paper said that he would be
going away in a day or two, and would I ride with him to-morrow morning
before breakfast, at seven o'clock. Of course I would.

"It was all a silly business, Dikran. If I had ever been in love with
Raoul, I certainly wasn't that morning when we rode away from the
gloomy, silent château, a little frightened by our own bravado; for that
is all it was. But later, as we reached the sands, I forgot that, I
forgot Raoul, though of course he always talked; I was enjoying the
horse under me, the summer morning, the high sea wind dashing its salt
air against my cheeks; I was enjoying every one of those things more
than the company of the young man, but, tragically, my guardian could
not know that.

"We had been out about half an hour when Raoul, looking back over his
shoulder, murmured, 'Ah!' 'What is it?' I asked. I could barely force my
little voice through the wind. 'That old man,' Raoul said indifferently.
'It seems that he too is out to take the salt air.' Yes, there was a
figure on horseback, perhaps half a mile behind us but rapidly gaining
on our slow canter. I had forgotten my anger, but now again it thrust
itself viciously on me.

"'Come on, let's give him a run,' I said, a little excitedly.

"'Oh, no! I am not a baby to be chased about by my own guests or other
people's grandfathers!'

"Affected idiot, I thought, and we rode on in silence. So really silly
it all was, my dear; for if it hadn't been for my anger, the natural
reaction, in a way, of the muffled life I had led with him, I had much
sooner been riding with the old man than with the young one. But that
feeling didn't last long--no one gave it a chance to last. For at last,
after what seemed an age, his horse drew beside mine, and I heard his
voice distantly through the wind, saying, 'Sandra! You must come back.'
I didn't answer, but worse, I looked sideways at him and laughed. It was
the first time that I had ever seen him in the least bit ridiculous, and
my laugh took advantage of it. Raoul was a yard or so ahead of us and
was giving his horse rein, and so I put mine to the gallop--and
heigh-ho! there were the three of us racing away on the Breton
sands--until, with wonderful and dangerous horsemanship, my guardian's
horse leapt a yard or so ahead and swung broadside round in front of our
startled horses. Near as anything there were broken collar-bones. Our
horses reared high up, almost fell backwards, nearly braining the old
man with their frantic hoofs, and then at last took the ground, startled
and panting. My guardian didn't wait. He pointed his whip at Raoul and
said sternly, 'If I were not a guest at your mother's house I would
thrash you, for that is what you need'; and then to me, harshly, 'Come,
Sandra. Enough of this nonsense. Home.'

"'Not I,' I cried against the wind. 'I'm enjoying my ride.' And round
his horse I went, towards the sea, leaving them to their argument. I
almost wanted him to follow me, I was so bitterly angry. I don't know
what I thought I would do--but I suppose I didn't think.

"I must have galloped two hundred yards or so when he was beside me
again. I took no notice; we rode on, almost knee to knee. And then I saw
his hand stretch out, clutch my rein, and pull; I saw red, I saw
nothing, or just his old, lined face bending over ... and, my dear, I
swung my riding-whip as hard as I could across it. The hand left my
rein, but my horse had already been pulled up. I don't remember what
happened. I stared at him as unbelievingly as he stared at me. I seemed
to see a weal across his face, where my whip had struck him--had I done
that? And then he smiled. Dikran, that dear old man smiled after that
horrible insult, so sweetly and sadly.

"'That then is the end, my child,' he said very gently; and then he left
me, and for a long time I watched him as he rode slowly away.
Frightfully ashamed.

"It was done, irretrievably; such things can't be forgiven, except in
words; and as far as words went he, of course, forgave me. A few hours
later I saw him in the hall; he was going to pass me, but suddenly I
flung my arms about him, begging him ... very pitiful, dreadful thing I
was. He was splendid. He said very softly into my ear that of course he
forgave me, but that he was too old to have a proper control over his
memory, and so couldn't forget, and that he was too old to be hurt any
more, and so this would be the very last time, for he didn't think it
would be wise for me to live with him any more. 'Sandra, my child, you
must not think me too unkind for sending you away, but I think it is the
best plan. You have lived with an old man long enough--it was a mistake.
I see now that it was a mistake. You must forgive me, child. I was wrong
to keep you so long. I thought, perhaps, it might have been
different....' He was inexorable about that, and it wasn't my place to,
I couldn't, beg him to keep me. I, who had hurt him so much!

"He must have made some excuse to our hostess, for the next day saw us
in Paris. Raoul? Oh, I never noticed him any more. And two days later I
was with a stodgy uncle in Portman Square, hating London but hating
myself more. I have been miserable many times, but never so shamefacedly
as then, during the two weeks which passed between my arrival in London
and the coming of that note from the old man's valet, saying that
Monsieur le Marquis was very ill, and the doctor said he would die; and
so he had taken the liberty of writing to me, without permission, in
case I should like to go and see him; would I be so kind as not to tell
Monsieur le Marquis that he had written to me?

"Like a young woman to a dying lover, I went to Paris, and with a
terrible flutter in my heart stood on the doorstep of the stern-looking
house in the _Rue Colbert_.... They hadn't told him I was coming, but he
must have expected me, for there was no surprise in the smile with which
he met the timid little figure which came into his room. He seemed to me
not ill, but just dying; he looked the same, only very tired. And then I
realised that he was dying because he wanted to die. An angry girl had
shown him that life was indeed not worth living, and so he was stopping
his heart with his own hand.... It was terrible to realise that as I
stood by his bed and he smiled quite gaily up at me. The weakness was
too strong inside him, and he couldn't speak, just patted my hand and
held it very tightly.... I was very glad when I was out of that room,
and I did not see him again before he died early the next morning.

"And so you see, Dikran, for all your talk of _dies iræ_ in the future,
I've already had my _dies iræ_, and very sadly, too--and been the wiser
for it in restraint."

                               * * * * *

Then it was that I realised with a start that my housemaid was staring
at me from the door in the grey March morning, and that I was not
listening to Shelmerdene in a backwater of the Thames, but was in
London, where there is less time for cherishing one's ideals than for
enquiring into other people's....


                                THE END



                           Transcriber Notes:

Passages in italics were indicated by _underscores_.

Small caps were replaced with ALL CAPS.

Throughout the document, the oe ligature was replaced with "oe".

Throughout the dialogues, there were words used to mimic accents of
the speakers. Those words were retained as-is.

Errors in punctuations and inconsistent hyphenation were not corrected
unless otherwise noted.

On page 19, "distate" was replaced with "distaste".





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