The old clergyman who lives at Ashworth has just been. He comes twice
a week and eats a biscuit and drinks a glass of wine, and tells me we
should all think on the future life, or the life to come. He asked me
what I was writing, and I said–nothing.
Well–that day I had luncheon all alone. Where that other strange being
had luncheon, or whether she had luncheon at all, I don’t know; I had
luncheon alone, and I had chops for luncheon.
What did James Wilder mean by sending me here to be driven mad? What
was driving me mad? Why, Geraldine was. I had sprung at one bound into
the most fabulous world of love. I could have eaten that snail she
lifted on to the leaf, just because she touched it.
The old butler was meandering round the room with a dish of vegetables
in his hand.
“James,” I said.
“I have fallen in love with your Miss Geraldine.”
“May God be thanked, ma’am.”
“James,” in a coaxing voice, “I want to go out for a drive with him–I
mean with her–with Miss Geraldine. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am, and so shall I tell the horses to be put in?”
“Why, yes, after luncheon, that is, if Miss Geraldine likes; do you
think she would like?”
“Ma’am,” in a voice like the voice of a ghost, “Miss Geraldine has been
a-speaking of you to me; she comes to me, ma’am, to tell any little
trouble that may happen like as she was a boy, which she is, may God
in Heaven bless her; and she came to me last night after you’d a-gone
to bed, and she said, ‘James, who is Beatrice Sinclair?’ Lord, ma’am,
you might ha knocked me down with your finger. ‘Why,’ I says, Miss
Geraldine, ‘she’s the lady just come.’ Then she says ‘James,’ and she
held down her head and all her little face grew red, ‘Will she ever go
away again?’ ‘Why, Miss Geraldine?’ said I. ‘Because if she does,’ said
she, ‘I shall die; I’ve been waiting for her and thinking of her for
years, and if she leaves me now I shall die:’ those were her words.”
A bucket of vitriol emptied into a furnace those words were to me.
“The horses,” I cried, rising from the table, “ring for the horses;
go and tell Miss Geraldine to dress, for I am going to take her
for a drive. Go.” I stamped my foot, I was speaking like a man. I
was suddenly intoxicated. I felt hat, boots and belt upon me; the
falcon was on my wrist. I clapped my hand on my left hip and was
astonished to find–no sword. That, somehow, brought me to, and I sat
down at the table again feeling shrunk–shrunk? do you understand
that word?–shrunk like an apple that has been all winter in the
cellar–shrunk like a warrior who wakes to find himself a woman. “She
hung down her head and all her little face grew red,” how exactly those
words brought her image before me. This little milksop. I was sitting
at the table; the old butler had gone to order the carriage; the light
of the autumn day came greyly through the great double windows, a spray
of withered wistaria was tapping at one of the panes like the hand of a
ghost. Before me, on the opposite wall, hung a convex Venetian mirror,
one of those strange mirrors that are made so perfectly and so truly
that they reflect everything just as it is, even the atmosphere, so
that a room reflected by them seems like a real room. I was staring
at my own reflection in the mirror, and wondering over again at my
own likeness to the portrait of Gerald Wilder–when–the door in the
mirror opened, a figure the size of my thumb entered the mirror room,
a figure lithe and more gorgeously clad than any caterpillar. I knew
quite well that it was only Geraldine who had opened the door behind
me, and was therefore reflected in the mirror. I knew that quite well,
yet I watched the mirror without moving: the little figure seemed to
hold me in a spell. It came up softly behind the woman seated at the
table–the woman with the face so like Gerald Wilder; it paused as if
undecided. I watched.
Geraldine evidently was utterly ignorant of the mirror and its picture.
Geraldine the observed imagined herself unobserved: then, like a little
thief, she bent her lips to kiss the woman’s hair without the woman
knowing. I threw my head back and caught the kiss upon my lips, I threw
my arms back and caught her round the neck; never was a thief so caught
in his own trap.
Then I turned round, and let her go, and confronted her, all at the
same time. And there she stood, “with her head hung down and all her
little face grown red.”
Love has never been described properly: all that about roses and altars
is nonsense. Love is like being in a beautiful and mysterious room,
and you push a curtain aside and you find a more mysterious and more
beautiful room, and you see another curtain. How that comparison would
shock the people who write poetry. Imagine comparing love to a suite of
I shall never forget that drive; the horses were those Russian horses
that go as if they were mad; the air was all filled with the smell of
autumn, and the earth seemed as silent as the leaden-coloured sky. The
park lay all dull-coloured and damp, the great trees were standing with
their leaves hanging down.
Miles and miles of park we passed through; there were sober and
sad-coloured hills in the distance that seemed to watch us with a
mournful air. The country had for me the aspect of fate as it lay
around us, silent as a dream, the trees dropped their withered leaves,
the clouds passed by, the wind blew, and clouds and wind and trees
all said to me in their own language, the past, the past, the past.
Once Geraldine said, “When I saw you before, so long ago, you were not
dressed as you are now.”
No, Geraldine, I said to myself, when you saw me before, so long ago, I
was dressed as a man. But I did not answer her in words.
To the deep window of the library, where I am sitting now wrapped in
shawls and scribbling this, I came that day after our drive to sit and
think, and stare out of the double windows at the dusky garden, and
wait for tea. I had taken an old book from one of the library shelves.
It was “The whole art of Falconry,” dedicated to his Majesty, King
Charles the First, by his liege servant–I forget whom.
When I was tired with looking out of the window I turned over the
leaves of the book; they smelt of age. Between the cover and the last
leaf was a manuscript, the ink faded, the paper mildewed. I spelt it
out in the dusk.
It was a ballad written in a curious, old-fashioned hand. It was about
a little falcon which a lady had given to her lover; he killed her in a
fit of passion, and he killed the little falcon, or “the little hawke,”
as the ballad sometimes called it, and then he killed himself. As I
read it grew sadder and sadder, it seemed to moan to me like a living
thing, and my eyes became blind with tears so that I could scarcely
read it in the twilight. It was all about the little falcon, but I knew
that the pity was meant for the cavalier. Perhaps the writer dared not
express it openly, for was not the cavalier an assassin and a suicide?
This is the last verse, as well as I remember–
“With the little falcon prest
To his cold and lifeless breast,
They laid him to his rest.
And the ballade humbly prays
The tribute of your sighs
For the hawke’s blinde little eyes,
–And the cavalier who lies
By the four cross ways.”
Ah! the dead hand that wrote that long ago betrayed itself in the two
“And the cavalier who lies
By the four cross ways.”
I laid it down and cried as if my heart would break. I was crying, not
for the cavalier but for “the little hawke.”
That night I went up to my room early. I took pens, ink, and paper
with me–why I took them I had no notion–I took them. I lit all
the wax lights on the mantel, and the wax lights that stood on the
dressing-table. Then I stood before the dressing-table mirror looking
at myself. I can see the reflection of my face still, a pale face with
dark sombre eyes, and lips that curled in a sneer. That was how Gerald
Wilder looked when he was in a rage. I could see now Gerald Wilder, the
assassin and the suicide. I was Gerald Wilder.
Geraldine and I were inextricably entangled–she in the body of a
boy, I in the body of a woman. Was this my punishment for that murder
and that suicide committed long, long ago, this blind maze of the
flesh into which I had been led? I could do one of two things. Leave
Geraldine to-morrow morning, never to see her again, or–stay. If I
left her she would break her heart, and die. I would break my heart,
and die. Then perhaps we might meet, and be happy for ever. Surely, if
all those stars were suns, and if there were worlds round them like our
world, God might give us some little place, some tiny garden out of all
His splendour. He was rich, and owned the whole of space, and He would
give something to two ghosts who had left the world for the love of
each other. That was what would happen if we left each other–we would
grow sick and die, but we would meet on the other side. If we remained
together, I knew that something would happen to separate us for ever,
how I knew this I cannot tell, perhaps it was by instinct.
I turned from the mirror to the table, where I had placed the writing
things. Now I knew why I had brought them up: it seems to me that we
often think when we don’t know we are thinking.
I sat down, and took one of the thick sheets of paper stamped in red
and I wrote. This is what I wrote–
“DEAR JAMES,–I know now why you have sent me down here. I have seen
your Geraldine, and I love her, but I must leave her. It will kill
us both, but I have chosen to die. _Can_ you not see that I am your
kith and kin, that I am Gerald Wilder? You have no claim on Geraldine,
for she is a Sinclair, she is the dead Beatrice returned as a Wilder.
I think I see it all now, if one may see anything in such awful
darkness. I know, without knowing exactly _how_ I know it, that if we
part we shall dream of each other till we die, and that then we shall
meet never to be separated, but if we remain together some fearful
thing will happen and divide us, so that we may never meet again.
If I loved your son all would be right, but it is not Gerald I love,
I am leaving here early to-morrow morning, going, I don’t know where.
I shall write to you.
Then I directed an envelope–
JAMES WILDER, ESQ.,
NO. — BERKELEY SQUARE,
I put the letter in. I gummed it. Then I began to search for a stamp.
I felt that I must stamp it to add a kind of security to my purpose,
though the post did not leave until noon on the morrow. What a search I
had for that stamp. I rummaged all my dress pockets; at last I found my
purse,–there were two stamps in it.
I stamped the letter carefully. I held it in my hands as I sat
over the fire. Then, without any apparent reason, I tore the letter
slowly up into four pieces, then into eight. Then I placed the pieces
carefully on the burning coals in the grate. I watched the stamp
burning and thought it was a pity to see it burn, for it was worth a
penny. I saw the d e r letters of Wilder stand out white on a bit of
the burnt envelope.
Then I took the poker and poked at the bits of paper ash.
I was thinking.
All my life long I have loved everything beautiful: colours have a
strange fascination for me, you could make me sad quicker with a colour
than a story or a poem; scents and sounds have the same effect, the
smell of violets suddenly transports me to somewhere, I don’t know
where, I only know it is elsewhere. I have heard things in music that
no one has ever heard, notes that come up again and again as the
harmony moves to the end of its story, sombre notes full of fate.
I have seen people listening to music and their faces had no more
expression than jugs; I have heard women talking of the opera, utterly
unconscious of the story the music they were listening to was telling
I was sitting by the fire thinking; the bits of burnt paper had flown
up the chimney in a hurry, perhaps the devil had called them. I was
thinking in pictures, and I felt unutterably happy and relieved now
that I had written my letter to James Wilder–and burnt it.
I saw my room in —- Crescent. The creature that had inhabited that
room was not _I_. I saw the room so distinctly that I saw on a shelf
an old tattered book–Dumas’ “Three Musketeers.” I used to read it
sometimes at nights, and I used to wonder how it was possible that
the Duke of Buckingham could have loved Anne of Austria in the insane
manner in which he did; now I saw at a glance that such love was quite
possible, and no fable. He loved her because she was unattainable, she
was a Queen; he could never have loved an ordinary woman like that. A
soap bubble is the most beautiful thing in the world because it is so
unattainable, you cannot put it in your pocket.
Then Geraldine suddenly appeared before my mind. Not only Geraldine,
but the thousand and one things that made her up. I have told you
before that colour and scent and sound seem to act as food and drink
to me. This Geraldine had all these in their fullest perfection, like
some strange tropical fruit that no one could imagine till they had
seen. At no point was she imperfect; she was an utter little dunce, but
that was her last and crowning fascination: she could not spell A B ab,
and the problem of what twice thirteen was would have filled her small
brown head with distraction. She could not tell you where Asia was, nor
whether Japan was the capital of China; but neither could one of those
delightful things we read of in the old stories, things that come out
of a fountain and turn into a shower of spray when spoken to.
I was going to stay, then. What on earth made me dream of leaving
_Geraldine_? Did that idea really occur to me? To leave here and get
into a _railway train_ and go back to a place called London–to turn
back out of the seventeenth century into the horrible nineteenth
century, with its railroads and smoke, and telegraphs, just because a
hideous old woman called Reason had told me to do so or it would be
I took another sheet of paper and wrote.
DEAR JAMES,–I know now the reason why you sent me here. I have fallen
in love with your mysterious Gerald. Leave us together and have no
fear, lovers never hurt each other, except, perhaps, with kisses. I
shall write to you every other day.–
This letter I gummed up in an envelope. I had no trouble to find a
stamp for it; my purse lay on the table and in it the other stamp. Then
I put the letter on the mantel, and went to bed.