Matthew and Miss Lanyon were standing under the front porch talking
over poor Frank Leroux when Ella came up with a very happy face.
“What a colour you ‘ve got, child!” cried Agatha Lanyon.
“It is the fresh country air. I was being choked in town.”
“And the country people,” suggested the elder lady, archly.
“And the fresh country people,” assented Ella.
“My dear,” said Matthew to his sister, “this is the first time we’ve
been complimented on our adorable rusticity.”
“We don’t count,” said Miss Lanyon.
“I never knew you could be so wicked,” cried Ella, taking her by her
shoulders and kissing her. Whereupon she disappeared into the house.
“I do hope it is settled,” said Miss Lanyon, with a little sentimental
“Sylvester and Ella. Do you mean to say you haven’t noticed? I have been
following it all for months.”
Miss Lanyon had reached the age when one lives in the romances of
“I believe you amuse yourself, Agatha, by mixing up your young friends
and sorting them out in pairs, like gloves,” remarked Matthew.
Miss Lanyon denied the charge indignantly. This was quite a different
matter. Anybody with eyes could see how things were tending. It was a
match. She was sure it was a marriage made in heaven.
“I like heaven-made marriages as little as machine-made boots,” said
Matthew. “Both are apt to come undone in unexpected places. But if
these two are thinking of a wholesome earth-made union–well, I shall be
“But hasn’t Syl told you anything?”
“Not a word.”
“Couldn’t you ask him, Matthew?”
“My dear Agatha,” said he, drawing himself up, “how can you suggest my
committing such an impertinence?”
Miss Lanyon worshipped her brother, but she felt there were many odd
corners of his mind which needed the housewifely besom; just as there
were cobwebs in his office which, on the rare occasions when she entered
it, made her fingers twitch. But being organically acquiescent she
sighed again sentimentally, and brought Matthew his hat and stick.
For Ella, the hours of that day were winged with sunshine. She loved
Sylvester as deeply as one of our untried, pure-minded Northern girls
can love; and with larger wisdom, too, than most. For she had lived a
free life in her aunt’s eccentric house in London, and had sifted the
vanities of many men. Passion would only be evoked by the clasp of
encircling arms and would rise to meet claiming lips. As yet in Ella it
lay a pure fire hidden in the depths of a fervent nature. But all the
sweet thrills of a woman’s early love were hers,–the pride in a
strong man’s wooing, the fluttering fears as to her sufficiency for
his happiness, the resolves, scarce formulated, to raise herself to his
level, the dim dreams of a noble life together, striving for the great
things of the world that are worth the winning. Added thereto was the
delicate charm, essentially feminine, of triumph over the shadows that
had fought with her for possession of his heart.
When she entered her room to dress for dinner that evening, she took
down her frocks and laid them on the bed, and stood a while in deep
thought. She must look her best tonight. She chose a simple cream dress
with chiffon round the bodice and sleeves. Halfway through her toilette
she clasped her white arms over her neck, and looking in the glass held
long converse with her image. It seemed so strange that she, with all
her imperfections of soul and body, should be chosen to guide a man’s
destiny. Then lighter fancies prevailed, and she spent anxious moments
in arranging her thick auburn hair. When she came down at last, with a
diamond-hilted dagger thrust through the coils, and a bunch of violets
peeping shyly from the chiffon in her corsage, Matthew paid her an old
“Do I look nice?” she asked, gratified. “I’m glad; for you once told me
that you liked me in this frock.”
There are times when the sincerest of women can be most blandly
A general practitioner may propose to himself many pleasant occupations
for his spare hours, but his patients dispose of them effectually. On
this particular day, when Sylvester craved leisure to watch over Leroux
and to open his heart finally to Ella, impossible people fell sick at
interminable distances, tiny human beings came with preposterous haste
into this world of trouble, and larger ones gave sudden and alarming
symptoms of leaving it. It was one of those well-known days of sudden
stress when a country doctor eats his meals standing and wearing his
overcoat. Finally, an evening visit from which he reckoned on being free
by nine kept him by an anxious bedside till nearly eleven. But he had
found time to despatch to Ella a few lines scribbled on a leaf of his
_Dearest,–I can’t come, much as I long to. Will see you in
the morning. S. L._
This was almost the first letter he had ever written to her; certainly
the first love-letter. The new sweetness of it soothed Ella’s
At half-past eleven he reached his house, a very weary man. He put on
his slippers, stretched himself, yawned, and thought wistfully of bed.
But first he must go to Leroux, whom he had only seen at odd intervals
during the day. He was pouring himself out some whisky when the
housekeeper entered the dining-room, smoothing her apron.
“I’m glad you ‘ve come, Mr. Sylvester. He’s took worse, nurse says. His
temperature has gone up to 104.”
He nodded, swallowed the drink, and went upstairs. The nurse was bending
over the bed in the dimly lit room, adjusting the ice-bag. The sick
man’s portmanteau had been unpacked, and the contents were piled upon
a chest of drawers. The clothes he had been wearing were hanging from
a row of pegs against the door. The flap of the jacket turned outward,
revealed in the breast-pocket a letter-case stuffed with papers. With
the air of a man accustomed to prompt action, Sylvester withdrew the
letter-case and locked it up. The nurse confirmed the housekeeper’s
“He has been delirious at times,” she added.
Sylvester bent down and placed the thermometer in position, then waited,
looking gravely down upon his friend. Leroux’s face was congested. His
hands moved feebly.
Now and then he moaned. Sylvester examined him closely, inspected the
temperature chart of the last few hours, questioned the nurse as to
their history. A surmise that had been troubling him most of the day
now converted itself into a certainty. Leroux must have been drinking
heavily of late. Thus it was that meningitis had set in from the
concussion. But why should Leroux, once the sanest and cleanest of men,
have taken to drink? The pity of it smote Sylvester. The gay spirit
brutalised, the noble mind o’erthrown. His heart yearned over the
unconscious man. His father had spoken of Leroux being in trouble. He
conjectured pitiful histories of downfall. With a sigh he turned away,
gave final directions, and went to bed.
Three hours later he was waked. The nurse outside the door was calling
him. Accustomed to sudden rising, he leaped up, and thrusting on
dressing-gown and slippers, went back to the sick room. Leroux was
in full tide of violent delirium, his words, wonderfully articulate,
striking almost spectrally upon the utter silence of the house,–“It
is better to die than to live in hell on earth. If you give me up, God
Almighty will give me up…. What is his love to mine?”
The nurse, who had been on duty since ten, was young and nervous.
“He has been like this for an hour. I couldn’t stand it any longer.”
“We will go away to the south,” continued Leroux. “No one minds what a
painter does–For God’s sake don’t give me up–”
“You can go to bed, nurse,” said Sylvester. “I’ll sit with him.”
The tired girl, glad to gain some extra and unexpected hours of slumber,
retired gratefully. Sylvester sat by the bedside. It was as well, he
thought, that the man’s poor secrets should be blabbed into a friend’s
ears instead of a stranger’s. He tried not to listen, but to think of
other things,–Ella and his meeting with her on the morrow. But the
clear voice, now rising in ghastly emphasis, now sinking to a murmur
losing itself in guttural incoherence, continued its tale of love and
despair, so that Sylvester could not choose but piece it together in
his mind. It was a common tale of unlawful love: a passionate man,
a yielding woman, a deceived and adoring husband. Sylvester, whose
reserved, chaste nature had caused him to train himself in a narrow
groove of orthodox morality, felt strangely repelled by the confession.
He had always regarded Leroux as the soul of honour. The thief of a
man’s wife was lowered in his esteem.
There was a silence. He rested his head on his hand and wearily dozed.
Suddenly came a cry from the bed, a cry of great pain and longing,–
The name, fitting in with a waking dream, brought Sylvester with a leap
to his feet, and he looked in foolish bewilderment at Leroux. The latter
murmured incoherently. Had he dreamed the voice crying out the name
so distinctly? He held his breath, trying to seize the half-formed
syllables. “Constance–my love–” had come again. He had not been
dreaming. The voice rose once more, and each word came sharply cut from
the sick man’s lips.
“_Sylvester will never know_.”
Then the tremendous horror of the revelation crashed down upon the man,
stunning his brain, paralysing his limbs. The great drops of sweat stood
on his forehead, and his eyes were staring. And Leroux, who had struck
upon a quieter vein of reminiscence, babbled on of the happy days of his
The first thunder-clap had passed. Thought began to return. Sylvester
sank into a chair and stared at the ground. The once clear vision of the
past was distorted into a phantasmagoria of leering shapes. He shivered
as with an ague, rubbed his eyes, and looked sharply at the man on the
bed. Which of the two was delirious? Leroux raved of death and despair.
The involuntary confession was too complete; mistake was impossible. Yet
the other was impossible. Constance guilty of this hideousness? Her
life a lie? The firm anchorage of his soul but shifting sand? He had
worshipped her as more than woman,–as the purest, chastest thing that
God had ever given to man for his guidance. It was a ghastly figment of
Leroux’s drink-besotted brain.
He rose, went to the drawer in which he had locked Leroux’s letter-case,
and taking it out with shaking hands, deliberately turned the contents
on to the corner of the chest. In spite of the revulsion of faith he had
a sickening certainty of finding there what he hoped he would not find.
There it was, staring him in the face amid a heap of stamps, visiting
cards, pencilled memoranda slips, letters, and law papers: a soiled,
crumpled letter in his dead wife’s hand. He took it up, and from it
dropped a lock of fair hair,–her hair. He read it through steadily.
It was a letter of passionate love, leaving no doubt as to guilt; of
despair, almost madness; such a letter of abandonment as a woman writes
but to one man in a lifetime. It bore no date save the day of the
week,–Wednesday. Even in his agony he contrasted the difference between
this woman and the serene, methodical wife who would as soon have left
a letter undated as the household dinner unordered. He threw the letter
and the lock of hair into the fire, and watched the two little flames
in the glowing coals. The paper curled, the hair writhed; then a little
light ash remained.
Methodically he replaced the cards and papers in the letter-case and
locked it up again in the drawer. Then he stood at the foot of the bed
and watched the man who had done him this great wrong, his brain on fire
with bewildering fury. The name of his wife came again from the man’s
lips. A red cloud passed before Sylvester’s eyes. For a moment he
seemed to lose consciousness of manhood, to become a wild beast. When he
recovered, he found himself glaring into Leroux’s eyes with his fingers
at his throat. How near he had been to murder he did not know.
He drew himself up and wiped the sweat from his forehead, shaken to
the depths by the beast impulse. The reaction brought self-control.
He resumed his vigil by the bedside, listening grimly to the words of
Leroux, now less frequent and distinct. Yet though he could master his
actions, he did not combat with the increasing hatred that took the
place of the old affection. At times he considered calmly whether such a
man should be allowed to live. In his weak state one quick blow over the
heart would stop its beating for ever. The man had done more than wrong
him. He had killed his soul, made it an awful thing to live. Yet, as if
in contempt of such imaginings, he rose once or twice and changed the
bandages with a surgeon’s delicate handling, and moistened the swollen
lips with ice.
Gradually all the phases of realisation developed themselves in his
mind. Far off memories recurred, touched the flesh. It was their
marriage bed whereon Leroux was lying.
He shuddered from the manifold horror of it, and for the first time
broke into a hoarse cry.
Toward morning the fever lowered and Leroux lay still. Streaks of a
ghostly daylight crept in through the Venetian blinds and barred the
floor. The nurse came to take over her watch. Sylvester gave brief
instructions, and, going to his room, threw himself on his bed and slept
heavily. At the moment of waking he had a sense of nightmare, was all
but congratulating himself on his release; but another instant brought
the full flood of memory. He rose, shaved, dressed himself as usual, and
went down to breakfast. At the bottom of the stairs was a quick patter
of feet and two little arms were thrown around his limbs. It was
Dorothy. He started back, looked at her stupidly. Then roughly
disengaging her, he thrust her aside and hurried into the breakfast
room. A new and sickening doubt convulsed him. Was she his child?
She came in a while later, shyly holding by the maid-servant’s skirts,
regarding him with scared reproach. Never had her father been cross or
rough. Ungentleness from him was incomprehensible to her child’s mind.
“Run away upstairs,” he said, controlling his voice, then added to the
servant, “Take Miss Dorothy into the nursery.”
The child burst into tears, as the maid led her out. Tender-hearted a
man as he was, for all the world he could not have called her back.
He received his patients in the consulting-room, visited Leroux, and
went on his morning rounds. On his return, he perceived Ella at the
gates of Woodlands. He raised his hat and was proceeding to turn into
his own little carriage drive, when she made a gesture of arrest. He
pulled up, descended from the trap, and went to meet her.
“How is poor Mr. Leroux? we have all been so anxious. Of course the
nurse has reported, but we wanted to know from you.”
“I am afraid it’s a serious matter,” said Sylvester.
“Do you mean that he may die?”
“I am so sorry,” she said, laying a sympathetic touch on his arm. “I
know what a dear friend he was.”
“A dear friend,” he assented grimly.
“You are looking so fagged. You have been sitting up all night, I hear.
Two nights.” He confessed his vigils, explained Leroux’s symptoms,
and gave her an authoritative report for his father. If he found any
material change since the morning, he would send a message across. The
topic exhausted, there was a short silence. She tried to speak, after an
embarrassed glance, but his sombreness daunted her. He was taking this
danger of his friend greatly to heart.
“You are coming in to see Uncle Matthew some time to-day?” she asked.
“It depends upon my work,” he said. “I have a great deal to occupy me.”
With a word of adieu he left her and went into his own house. Ella
passed through the gate of Woodlands and strolled slowly down the
shrubbery walk, carrying a little burden of depression. For all his
anxiety on Mr. Leroux’s behalf, he might have made some reference to
his letter, some allusion to the sweet and delicate suspense of their
present relations. She felt vaguely disappointed at the lack of appeal
to her sympathy. But her spirits revived when Matthew Lanyon, coming
briskly home to lunch, overtook her and asked her in his cheery voice
for news of the invalid. She took his arm in girlish fashion and gave
him Sylvester’s message.
“He seems dreadfully distressed,” she said.
“Poor old Syl! But he’ll pull him through. He doesn’t realise his
own powers. I don’t think we respect Syl half enough. He’s a great
physician, you know.”
He rattled on, proud of his son, quite glad to have a pretty girl
hanging, in that daughterly way, on his arm. He stopped now and then,
pointing to the tiny green shoots on the trees. The fine weather of the
last few days was the cause. Did Ella remember how black everything
was only a week ago? He spoke as if it were a miracle performed for
the first time and not the recurring phenomenon of a million springs. A
thrush flew out of a laurel bush. He named it, followed it with his eyes
to the elm where it alighted, stooped down and picked a snail from the
middle of the gravel, where it might get crushed, and threw it lightly
on the grass. The tender simplicities of the old man touched the girl
deeply that afternoon, and his steady optimism made her feel ashamed of
her misgivings. So the sunshine came into her heart again.
But two days passed before they saw Sylvester. News came frequently.
Leroux was sinking. At last Sylvester entered the library at the hour of
tea and announced gravely,–“He is dead.”
Miss Lanyon uttered a little cry, and tears flooded her eyes. Matthew
held out his hand.
“I’m sorry, Syl.”
“He died about half an hour ago,” said Sylvester. “He never recovered
consciousness, so what were his last wishes God alone knows. I have put
all his papers into a sealed envelope, which I had better hand over to
Matthew took the packet in silence and locked it in a drawer of his
“You had better let me look after the funeral too, Syl,” said he,
kindly. “It’s the first chance I ‘ve had of doing anything for the poor
“Thank you, father,” said Sylvester.
Miss Lanyon tearfully enumerated Leroux’s virtues. What a frank,
open-hearted, generous lad! And to be taken away, like this, in his
prime! Who could fathom the will of God? Ella remained silent, grieved
Sylvester’s loss. But he refused to meet the ready sympathy in her eyes,
and looked stonily through the window on the grey March sky. Presently
he turned away. To remain there longer was unendurable.
“I have a patient to see, some way out. One mustn’t neglect the living
for the dead.”
Then for the first time he met Ella’s glance, and a special application
of his saying occurred to him.
“Good-bye, all,” he said, and strode hurriedly from the room. He drew a
deep breath on reaching the open air. It was good to be alone, away from
the torturing irony of sympathy. And it was good to be away from the
foreshadowing of reproach in a woman’s eyes.
That night, before he slept, he shut his teeth upon a horrible
repulsion, and went into the death chamber to see that all things had
been decently done. The man lay cold and pale, his jaws swathed and his
eyes closed, an awful sphinx. Sylvester stood and gazed upon him till
his heart grew as cold as the dead man’s. It was well that he was dead,
so that he could blab the disastrous secret no more. Sylvester had
questioned the nurses discreetly. To his relief he had found that the
delirious ravings had made no impression on their memories. He alone had
been the confidant. He had tended the man with devoted skill. The
strain of that terrible task was over. Now the dead past would bury its
dead,–his own heart and youth therewith. He was glad the man would no
longer cumber the earth–and he was glad that his wife was dead.
Three days afterwards, Leroux was buried. A fussy elderly man, Leroux’s
cousin and sole surviving relative, shared with Sylvester the post of
chief mourner, and departed into the unknown whence he came. Sylvester
stood by the grave with a set, impassive face, and his father stood by
his side, looking strangely like him. On the drive home it was Sylvester
who exchanged a few courteous remarks with the cousin; but the old man
remained singularly silent.
They sat together alone that evening in the library.
“Leroux died intestate,” said Matthew, breaking a long silence. “He was
in a troubled state of mind and was coming to me to help him with his
“He had been drinking heavily,” said Sylvester.
“I presumed so. He had roughed the will out. He only had a few
thousands. But Dorothy was to have the greater part. I showed the draft
to John Leroux to-day, who is a man of great wealth. He is desirous that
his cousin’s wishes should be carried out.”
“I can accept no gifts from Mr. John Leroux,” said Sylvester.
The old man argued the point. Morally the money was Dorothy’s. Sylvester
listened stubbornly. He revolted at the thought of touching Leroux’s
money. It was a ghastly impossibility. He repeated,–
“I cannot accept it.”
“Money is money, Syl, after all; and I may not be able, perhaps, to do
what I had hoped for Dorothy.”
“While my daughter bears my name I can support her decently. If Mr.
Leroux will not benefit by what is legally his, he can devote it to
charity. It is a matter of principle.”
They were both inflexible men, and they understood each other’s nature.
Matthew did not press the point.
“Very well,” he said in a business tone. “I will tell Mr. Leroux of your
But the impassiveness of his tone was belied by the almost yearning
earnestness with which he regarded his son, who sat staring into the
fire. He would have given years of his own happiness to know whether
a gnawing suspicion were baseless; but the question could not be put.
Sylvester was silent. What troubles were at work behind his sombre
brow the old man could not fathom; and Sylvester, though his heart was
bursting, could not speak.
How could he disclose, even to the being who now was dearest to him
in the world, his wife’s shame, his own dishonour? Better to keep the
hideous fact locked up in his breast. But yet, if he could have found a
rush of tumultuous words, what heart-ease were in it! So many, with
that great gift of expansiveness, had come to his father and gone away
comforted, and he, the son deeply loving and deeply loved, was powerless
to utter a complaint. He bit his lip to repress a groan.
And so it was all through the remainder of his residence in Ayresford.
His relations with his father continued their old undemonstrative
course. To please him, he assumed his wonted cheerfulness and spoke of
matters political and parochial. And by degrees the old man forgot the
cloud he had seen hanging over him and only thought of his approaching
departure. Dorothy came to live at Woodlands, so as to grow accustomed
to the change, said Sylvester, and he only saw her on his rare visits.
He forced himself to be kind and take notice of her as formerly. But the
sight of her was a great pain.
Ella he avoided as much as possible, never seeing her alone. One day she
was standing by the porch as he came up.
“Is my father in?” he asked.
“He hasn’t yet come back from the office.”
“I will go and meet him there,” he replied, and went away forthwith.
“Have you and Syl quarrelled?” asked Miss Lanyon, who had observed the
scene from indoors.
Ella laughed; not a happy laugh.
“You are behind the times, Aunt Agatha. Nowadays unceremoniousness is a
proof of friendship.”
“I should call it rudeness, my dear,” said Miss Lanyon.
“That’s a proof of affection,” said Ella.
But she went quickly up to her room, lest the elder lady should see the
angry tears that rose in her eyes.
At first she strove to explain away his change of attitude. Then she
examined her own conduct, with a view to discover therein some possible
cause. She could find none. A dull sense of pain and dread crept over
her. What did it mean? He had kissed her, all but asked her to be his
wife, and now, suddenly, he ignored her existence. The realisation of
the fulness of her love for him smote her cruelly as she lay awake at
night. She shrank, fearful-eyed, from the prospect of life without him.
It stretched before her a dreary waste of futile years. Then the quick
hope of youth came back. It was some foolish misunderstanding. Sylvester
was worried, preoccupied, saddened. There were so many things to be
reckoned with in the strenuous life of a man. He would speak, explain.
All would be well.
But the days passed and that of Sylvester’s departure drew nigh. He
had hurried it on. His successor had arrived, been introduced to the
practice; no advantage could be gained by remaining at Ayresford, where
all save his father was strangely hateful. Ella waited, but Sylvester
never spoke nor looked her way. At last she could bear the mortifying
suspense no longer. It was the evening before his departure. She was
sitting with Miss Lanyon in the drawing-room after dinner, having left
the two men below to their coffee and cigars. Her companion was
silently knitting, her eyes somewhat dim, poor soul, at the prospect of
Sylvester’s absence. Ella went to the piano and tried to play, but her
heart was not in the music. The men lingered downstairs. An hour passed.
The silence and the aching of her own suspense acted on her nerves.
Suddenly she left the room and went downstairs and opened the
dining-room door. Both men rose as she stood on the threshold, a
graceful figure, with heightened colour and eyes unusually bright.
“I want to say something to Syl before he goes,” she announced boldly.
“Here he is,” said Matthew, coming forward. “I was just going into the
library for a little as you came in. No; really, Syl, I was. I’ll join
you upstairs when you have had your chat.”
“You spoil me, Uncle Matthew,” said the girl, touched, as she always
was, by his old-fashioned courtesy. “Why can’t Syl and I go into the
“Because I’m master in my own house, my dear,” smiled the old man.
He closed the door behind him. Sylvester motioned Ella to a chair.
“No,” she said. “I have not come to stay.”
She was silent for a moment, looking at the tip of her slipper that
rested on the fender.
“Have I done anything to offend you lately, Sylvester?” she asked at
“Nothing that I am aware of,” he answered gravely.
“We don’t seem to be such good friends,” she hazarded.
“I am sure you must be mistaken.”
The cold formality of the phrase was a knell to her hopes. She looked up
somewhat piteously and met hard, unsympathetic eyes.
“I thought–you made me think–” she began. He raised his hand slightly
to check her.
“If I did,” he said coldly, “I was wrong. I owe you all my apologies.”
There was a moment’s silence. “If I could say more, I would,” he added.
But a quickly gathering anger in the girl’s heart suddenly broke out.
She drew herself up, flaming-cheeked, with eyes flashing through the
tears that would come.
“You have behaved horribly, cruelly, and I want never to see your face
Sylvester bowed his head. A swift rustle of skirts, a sound of the
door, and she was gone. He raised his head and drew rather a choking
breath. He knew that Ella had just cause for reproach. But what could
be done? The new budding love had been killed outright. He regarded her
with aversion, with something akin even to horror. And his heart was as
cold as a stone.
It was a Sunday in June, a year after Sylvester had come to London,
and the great stretch of the Park, past Stanhope Gate, north of
Achilles’ statue, was thronged. The warm breath of the afternoon air
scarcely stirred the leaves that chequered with shade and sunshine the
mass of cool colour below. Above shone the vivid green of the foliage
and the sea-blue of the sky; but beneath the branches the air was
tempered by the reflection of the whites, the pale greys, the delicate
blues and lavenders, and the soft pinks of dresses and parasols. It was
the ordinary crowd that sat there, very fashionable, somewhat vulgar
below the surface, but delicately picturesque, like human flower-beds
in a sweet but formal garden. And on the walks beside and around and
between passed the endless procession of loungers. The hum of talk, the
subdued patter of footsteps, and the frou-frou of soft drapery hung upon
Sylvester sat in the sun at the edge of one of the parterres, flanked,
on the one side, by an elderly matron chaperoning a line of laughing
girls, and on the other by a white-moustached, red-faced Anglo-Indian
laying down the law to a neighbour on the preparation of curry.
Sylvester stared moodily at the parterre in front, separated from him by
the pathway, and felt very lonely. Despite his loss of faith in man
and woman, he hungered dumbly for the human companionship from which
he shrank. The first sense of novelty over, his practice in London had
failed to stimulate him. The interest was absorbing, but unthrilling.
He began to realise that he was degenerating into a consulting and
recording machine,–very sensitive, it is true, but a machine all
the same. He lived alone in a formal house in Weymouth Street. In the
morning he rose early, worked in his laboratory, saw patients, ate, saw
more patients, worked again in his laboratory, ate, and till bedtime
read or worked again among the endless test-tubes and retorts. And so,
without change, day after day. His common-sense told him that it was not
a healthy life for a human being. But how to alter it effectively save
by mixing with his kind? And his kind was hateful to him. He had grown
to be a recluse, misanthropically brooding over its worthlessness. Yet
now and then, as today, instinct drove him into the crowd.
He caught himself half envying the crowd’s irresponsible gaiety. It was
quite within his power, as far as external conditions were concerned,
to become as one of those he saw and to surround himself with
laughter-loving friends. He wondered vaguely what it would be like.
“It’s the proportion of turmeric that does it,” exclaimed his neighbour,
in a more emphatic tone than he had hitherto used. “The only man I
knew that had the secret was poor old Jack Hilton–you remember Jack
Hilton–of the Guides? He ran off with Mrs. Algy Broadbent.”
Sylvester shivered slightly. A cloud came before his eyes. Were all men
dishonourable and all women faithless? Was all this refined and nicely
civilised crowd rotten to its soul? He looked furtively around. Who
could tell what Messalina lurked beneath yonder girl’s pink and white
skin and innocent fresh eyes, what villainy and meanness lay concealed
beneath yonder young soldier’s specious bearing of manliness? Disgust
banished the haunting envy.
A man who had been chattering to the girls on his left took leave of
them with a great sweep of his hat. In the act of passing Sylvester, he
stopped short and regarded him as though in astonishment.
“_Trône de l’air!_ and by all the oaths of the vehement South, what are
you doing here?”
“How do you do, Roderick?” said Sylvester, rising and formally shaking
“Oh, I’m bursting with fatness, which is more than I can say for you.
But what are you doing in this galley?”
“Why shouldn’t I be here?”
“The eternal fitness of things. One doesn’t as a general rule, for
instance, meet the Archbishop of Canterbury at a Covent Garden ball.”
He spoke in a hearty voice, with somewhat exotic gestures. Roderick
Usher had spent part of his schooldays in France, and was fond of
insisting on his cosmopolitan training. He was dressed in the most
perfectly fitting of frock-coats and patent leather boots, and wore
faultless grey suede gloves. His only departure from the commonplace
severity of fashionable attire was a yellow Indian silk bow whose
ends spread over the front of his coat. He had light fuzzy hair that
protruded bushily behind his glossy silk hat, and his yellow beard was
pointed in the Vandyke pattern. He was of medium height, rather stout;
his face was broad and ruddy, at first sight giving the impression of
frank good humour; but his eyes, small and somewhat shifty, although
hidden behind gold pince-nez, detracted from the general air of
handsomeness that he was pleased to cultivate. Besides, the deep lines
of nearing middle age were growing troublesomely obvious.
Sylvester replied in a matter-of-fact way to his last remark,—-
“I was working in my laboratory all the morning, and I felt the need of
air. Weymouth Street is not far. I don’t come here as a rule.”
“Bless you, my friend, there’s no need to apologise. The place belongs
to you just as much as it does to me. How’s the old man?”
“Which old man?” asked Sylvester.
“Your old man, my old man, both our old men. Our antique but venerated
“My father is very well,” replied Sylvester, stiffly, “and so, I
believe, is yours.”
“_A la bonne heure!_ So you’ve come to London to make your fortune? You
steady scientific files always do. We poor artistic devils generally
manage to make other people’s.”
“I don’t quite understand,” said Sylvester.
The other laughed and drawing a cigarette from a silver case lit it
“I don’t suppose you do. You approach a paradox as solemnly as if it
were a disease. We play bat and ball with it. That makes the difference
between us. Have a turn?”
Sylvester assented somewhat reluctantly. He disliked the son as much as
he disliked the father. But the spirit of lonesomeness had been weighing
on him to-day, and human instinct craved relief. They moved away and
took their places in the sauntering procession on the broad walk.
“Why don’t you do more of this sort of thing?” asked Roderick. “You
treat life by rule of thumb, as if it were a science. It isn’t; it’s an
art,–the finest of the Fine Arts. Colour, form, relief, action, sound,
articulation, all combined, capable of a myriad permutations, any one of
which can be fixed by the inspiration of the moment.”
“My way of life suits me best,” replied Sylvester. “I teach people how
to kill bacilli; you teach them how to kill time.”
“Time’s a deadlier enemy than all your bacilli, my friend, and takes a
devilish sight more killing. But we won’t argue. Argument is a discord
in the symphony of existence. Besides, it’s too confoundedly hot.”
Here he bowed in his grand style to a passing lady acquaintance.
“Ideals can exist outside of little glass bottles, my dear Sylvester,”
he resumed. “Perhaps you may be surprised at hearing I am approaching
the attainment of one of the ideals of my maturing years. It’s a great
scheme for the purification of art and the ennoblement of life. It is my
own conception. Have you been to the Royal Academy yet?”
“No,” said Sylvester. “I haven’t had the time.”
“Happy man! You have been spared a soul-rending spectacle of England’s
utter degradation. In all our art–drama, music, painting, poetry,
architecture–it is the same. The vulgarity of commercialism, the
banality of meretricious prettiness, the hand and brain working
mechanically while the soul is far away wallowing in pounds, shillings
and pence, or following a golf ball, or philandering in my Lady’s
boudoir. The true artist is suffocated. But we ‘re going to change all
“How are you going to manage it?” asked Sylvester, with polite
“Ah, that’s my secret. A great and glorious scheme just on the point of
ripening. We are going to catch our artists young, painters,
musicians, poets, the whole celestial brood, and keep them out of
contamination,–give them free elemental surroundings for their art to
develop. They will become the teachers and the guides of the race. To
carry this dream through to a reality is something to live for,–to make
one feel twenty again, with all one’s glittering illusions.”
“You are going to carry it through?” said Sylvester.
“My boy, I should just think I am,” replied Roderick, taking his arm
confidentially. “Funds have been slow in coming in, but people are
promising support, now that they see the magnificence of the concern.
I’ll send you our prospectus and other publications. You can judge for
yourself. Perhaps your father would like to further the work.”
“You’d better ask him,”, said Sylvester, drily. “But where does the
money go to?”
“To the Colony. Didn’t I tell you it was to be a colony? The Walden Art
Colony. After a time it will be self-supporting; the produce will sell
in the European and American markets, and the Colony will wax rich. It
will become the world’s great Palace of Art.”
“How will this fit in with Thoreau and uncontaminated nature?”
Sylvester put the question idly. He took faint interest in Roderick’s
iridescent scheme, which seemed to have no bearing upon the realities of
life, as he understood them. But he could not help wondering as to the
mental attitude of the fools who were providing the money to launch it.
“It’s too complicated to explain now,” replied Roderick. “You read the
literature I shall send you.” He pulled out his watch. “Dear me! it is
ten minutes to six, and I promised to meet Lady Milmo and Miss Defries
at the quarter by the statue. They are my two most enthusiastic
disciples. Shall we turn and seek them?”
“I think not,” said Sylvester. “I’m too dull a dog for fashionable
dames. I should be a discord in the polka, or whatever you call it, of
Roderick laughed with good-humoured indulgence, showing a set of white,
“The same old _intransigeant_,” said he. “Well, go your ways.
I’ll convert you to the Colony yet, and make you a director! _Auf
Sylvester shook hands with him in his glum style and strolled on towards
the Marble Arch, glad to be winning homewards again away from the froth
of fashion and the jargon of art. He smiled once on his way. It was at
the idea of his father, shrewd-headed abhorrer of cranks, putting his
hands in his pockets for the Walden Art Colony. Not while there was
a lazy miscreant with wife and children in Ayresford, he thought. How
could a man of the world like Roderick imagine him to be such a fool?
But Roderick, with his cheery air of confidence, followed the southward
stream of people.
“How do, Usher?” said a young man, passing by.
Roderick stopped him. “My dearest boy, I haven’t been able to see you to
shake you by the hand. The play’s immense, colossal. You’ve marked a new
era,–the Marlowe of our time.”
“Very good of you to say so,” murmured the dramatic author.
“It is my most esteemed privilege,” said Roderick, and waving an adieu
with his well-gloved hand, he went on his way to Lady Milmo.
At the corner he looked about for a moment, and not seeing her sat down
and waited. He gazed on the soft blue sky and stroked his pointed beard,
letting his thoughts wander whither they would.
“I am so sorry, Mr. Usher,” said a voice. He started to, his feet; Lady
Milmo and Ella were before him.
“A thousand pardons. I was gathering the wool of sweet and bitter fancy!
Oh, no, you are not late, indeed not. Won’t you sit? It is somewhat
deserted here, but it is more rural than further up; we can talk more
“I am sure you can talk interestingly anywhere,” said Lady Milmo.
She was a small elderly lady dressed somewhat youthfully. She wore a
little rouge, a trifle of black along the eyelashes, and a coquettish
straw hat with pink roses and an osprey feather. She seemed thoroughly
contented with herself and her surroundings.
“One gets into the habit of talking in the key of one’s environment,”
said Roderick, reflectively. “Don’t you think so, Miss Defries?”
“It is the fault of this social life of ours,” replied Ella. “There are
so many affectations and insincerities around us that we are afraid to
“It is a great charm of Lady Milmo and yourself that with you one is
bound to be genuine.”
“I do like people to appear just as they are,” smiled Lady Milmo.
“That is what we are working for,” said Roderick; “the return to
sincerity and simple truth.”
“Well, what have you to tell us?”
“Good news. Raynham has come round, and will take a seat on the Council.
He may get a couple more Academicians. One further item in my debt of
gratitude to you, Miss Defries.”
“It is very little I have been able to do,” said Ella. “I only asked
Mr. Raynham to receive you. Your own earnestness and conviction won him
An old gentleman came up and spoke to Lady Milmo. Roderick politely
yielded him his chair and took possession of a vacant one on the other
side of Ella.
“It is your womanly sympathy and courage all through that I have to
thank; your cheering in depression, your encouragement in the face of
defeat. If the star of success has arisen, it is you who have dispersed
the obscuring clouds. A man may set his heart on a thing, but a woman
keeps it there.”
He spoke in a low voice, and Ella leaned towards him to listen. Her
cheeks flushed. The flattery was sweet, and there was a subtle vibration
in his voice that stirred her.
“One would die if there were not something noble to live for,” said she,
suddenly throwing off the stealing languor. “To rise every morning and
look forward to sixteen inevitable waking hours that will not bring
one throb to the pulses, one inspiring hope; to go to sleep each night
feeling dull and useless, and so on for endless months and years,–it is
an unlivable life. It is you I have to thank for putting an interest in
“I love to hear you speak like that,” he said admiringly. “Pray God you
keep your enthusiasms; There are thousands who never know the thrill. It
should be part of our mission to awaken their souls. There is one friend
of ours, for instance, who needs it to make him a great man. Oddly
enough, I have just left him–dear old Sylvester Lanyon, you know. I
found him sitting a little higher up, looking like a sick raven among
birds of paradise.”
Her clear girl’s eyes effected feminine concealment of the old pain that
every reference to Sylvester had caused her for the past year. Her heart
rebelled against it, resenting the inefficacy of time to cure. Wantonly
she ignored it.
“I have not set eyes on him since he settled in town. He never comes to
see us. He is still mourning and moping, I suppose. The world is for the
living, not the dead; don’t you think so?”
“Yes. He should marry again. A woman of exuberant vitality, who would
carry him along with her.”
“We’ll have to find him a wife, Mr. Usher,” she replied gaily.
Thus she proved to herself defiantly that all her foolish feeling for
Sylvester was dead; that she had also attained a standpoint of generous
forgetfulness of wrong.
“And send him out with her to doctor the Colony,” laughed Roderick. “It
would be the making of him. As it is, he is a man of fine honour and
strong character. Even if one’s own spiritual horizon is wider than
that bounded by his narrow orthodoxy, yet one can but admire the
steadfastness with which he keeps within its limits. I have always had,
as you know, a great affection for him.”
The girl’s responsive nature was touched by the generous tribute.
Roderick took a sudden leap in her esteem. She had her own haunting
and miserable ideas as to Sylvester’s honour, but the praise pleased
her,–the fact of a man’s loyalty to the ideal of a friend. At least, so
she half consciously analysed her feelings.
The talk went on, and time passed. Lady Milmo’s friend departed and
mingled in the stream that began to make for Hyde Park Corner and home.
She turned to Ella and Roderick.
“The dear, tiresome general has been entertaining me with his corns
while I have been dying to hear all about the Colony. And now it’s too
late. You must come soon and see us, Mr. Usher. It is useless to try to
talk here. Why didn’t we say Battersea? I’m afraid we ‘re sad creatures
“Miss Defries will make an adequate report, I am sure,” said Roderick.
“But Raynham’s accession to the cause was my main item of news.”
They all rose and walked to Hyde Park Corner. There he saw the ladies
into a cab and swept one of his elaborate bows as they drove off. But
he remained for some moments on the curb in front of the Park gates
absently watching the hansom until it was lost amid the traffic.
“I wonder,” he said half aloud, “I wonder.” And he walked slowly up
Piccadilly, his eyes bent on the pavement, his hands behind him, with
the air of a man in deep and somewhat harassed thought.