A few days afterwards Ella was lying on a sofa in her aunt’s
drawing-room in Pont Street. It was a hot afternoon, the windows were
open, and the sun blinds tempered the light. Between their edges and the
tops of the flowers in the window-boxes she could see a great band of
golden sunshine. Having been to a late dance the evening before and to
a stuffy but advanced picture exhibition in the morning, she was feeling
physically languid, and glad to be excused from attendance on Lady
Milmo, who was indefatigably attending a charitable committee. In her
hand she held a letter that had come by the early afternoon post. It was
from Matthew Lanyon, bright and gossipy on the surface, but her quick
perception divined an undercurrent of sadness. He was looking forward to
her promised visit in August. If only he could persuade Syl to come down
too, it would be quite like old times. But perhaps it would be better
for Syl to get right away among the Swiss mountains, as he proposed.
There was nothing like a complete change for a jaded Londoner. He had
come down for a week-end lately and was looking fagged and overworked.
The garden had never been lovelier. The rhododendrons were out and all
a mass of bumble-bees; he had never seen so many in his life. He was
writing late at night, on his knees in the library. Dorothy had made
a complicated web of Berlin wool all over his writing-chair, by way
of fitting it up as a carriage for her doll, which was throned in the
midst, and of course he had not dared to disturb it.
“I think I make an average grandfather,” he wrote, “but I do wish some
one had given me a few lessons as to how to become a mother.”
The fragrance of the country garden stole elusively upon the hot London
room, and awakened a longing to get away from the glare and chatter into
the cool quietude of Woodlands; to exchange the heavy dinnerparty where
she was due in a few hours’ time, with its heavy hot-house flowers and
its artificial talk, for the peaceful summer evening in the summer-house
under the trees, in the company of the dear old man, so sane, so
sincere, and of Miss Lanyon, whose gentle mind seemed to have lain in
lavender. She was tired; her heart was tired. The beautiful world lay
hidden behind a mountain, up which she was climbing wearily, vainly. Her
feet were tangled in an inextricable maze and her steps were devious.
Where could she find a guide? She conjured up the picture of the old
man’s kind, grave smile, and longed, as only a girl can who is enmeshing
her life, to throw herself down by his knees and open all her heart. Had
he appeared at that moment at the door, she would have arisen and with
a cry, half sob, half welcome, have thrown her arms about his neck and
burst into tears.
“If only he could come!” she said, and she sank vaguely into the
imagined solace. But what could she say to him? The formulated query
crystallised her thoughts into chill dismay. How could she make known,
even to him, the humiliation of that last interview with Sylvester,
expose to him the nakedness of her outraged pride? She shrank from the
thought. And the history of the year’s follies? No. Never. She crumpled
the letter fiercely in her hand. Then, suddenly repenting of her
violence, she smoothed the sheet tenderly and kissed it and slipped it
into the bosom of her dress.
The year’s follies. In this hour of lassitude and depression–rare to
Ella, but common to all her sex, coming to woman with rhythmic iteration
as inevitable as the tides–they rose up one by one before her, and her
cheeks burned with shame. First it was Lionel Kavanagh, the poet
and aesthetic critic. She had been reckless, craving excitement,
forgetfulness of her burning humiliation. All through the season a year
ago, she had flirted with him, openly, outrageously. He was one of Lady
Milmo’s menagerie, and used to sprawl on the hearth-rug and alternate
rhapsody with mordant wit. And alone in her company he would sail
perilously near the wind with sensuous allusiveness, until one day
he grew bold and brought her a sonnet frankly sensual. She tore the
manuscript into tiny pieces during an ominous silence, and ordered him
out of the house. The next was Bertie Hetherington, who made violent
love to her at Aix-les-Bains, whither she had been led by Lady Milmo’s
wandering fancy and rheumatic tendencies. He was a fresh, wholesome
young Briton in a Hussar regiment. The vehemence of his devotion was
sweet to Ella, and she kept him hoping longer than she knew was right.
Perhaps if he had possessed more brains she might have married him. But
when he wrote her an impassioned letter in which he affirmed that his
heart _beet_ only for her, the spelling caught the humorous side of
Ella’s fancy and she laughed herself out of her entanglement. Yet she
had wronged him, just as Sylvester had wronged her, and she had wronged
herself. The fresh bloom of her maidenhood had gone. Her sensitive pride
magnified the taint.
In London once more, the need of an occupation, an aim, a purpose,
tormented her. She had tried the ignoble and found it bitter. She craved
the higher plane of devotion to a cause, something elevated, impersonal.
The ordinary pursuits that call forth a woman’s self-sacrifice did
not appeal to the unrest of her imagination. Besides, her young blood
rebelled against self-suppression. In the stress and storm she caught
at the first thing to her hand: Roderick Usher’s Utopian scheme for the
regeneration of art and the consequent purification of society. She was
carried away like a straw on the crest of his vehement pro-pagandism.
From an occasional attendant at her aunt’s receptions, he became a
regular visitor. Together they elaborated the scheme, discussed the
details. She worked with him in obtaining supporters and canvassing
for subscriptions. At first the correspondence, the interviewing, the
plotting and intriguing, kept her enthusiastically occupied. She made
converts among the young artists and poets who came to the house,
inveighing against the tame formalism on the one hand and the morbid
exaggeration on the other that were the curses of modern art. She
attended meetings in fashionable drawing-rooms and expounded her
theories. Notoriety followed her doings. A weekly paper published an
illustrated interview with the priestess of the new gospel.
She believed in the scheme. It was audacious, but practical. It was
impossible for convincing art to flourish in the midst of the social
insincerity and commercialism of the day. The teachers of men must lead
a higher life than the taught; to have authority, must dwell aloof from
the world; to have inspiration, must draw it from the pure wells of
nature and their own hearts. These postulates being allowed, the logical
consequence was the conception of a colony of earnest and devoted
artists in some sequestered spot where the world’s Babel came but as an
echo. Such a spot was readily obtainable in California. A large ranch,
in one of the loveliest valleys of the Sierra Nevada, was for sale.
Extensions could be built indefinitely at a comparatively trifling
cost. Thither the band of youths and maidens, uncorrupted as yet by the
deadening influences around them, would proceed, and settling down would
allow to flow unchecked the genuine founts of their genius. They would
be in Arcadian ignorance of the arch destroyer of art, the public taste,
and thus be beyond the reach of the temptation to pander to it. They
would reveal the truth as it came crystallised in song or poem or
picture from their own souls. The lack of pence would not disturb
their serenity. Those who could afford it would pay a modest monthly
contribution to the general fund. The penniless children of genius would
obtain free food, shelter, and all the privileges of the Colony. The
subscriptions of the supporters of the movement in England would defray
their expenses. A commission would be levied on the profits of any work
produced in the Colony. This, in the course of years, when public
taste was revolutionised and the Waldenites’ productions obtained great
prices, would place the Colony beyond the need of subscriptions or of
contributions by members. It would become, in Roderick’s words, “The
world’s great Palace of Art.” Roderick himself was ready to sacrifice
his future in London so as to take up the post of director of the Colony
at a handsome salary.
She believed in the scheme still; success, in fact, justified her faith.
But in this hour of self-abasement she distrusted the sincerity of her
enthusiasm. How much had she done genuinely for the cause? How much,
unconsciously, for the man? The question racked her. He had woven his
influence around her life. Her name was publicly associated with his.
She dreaded meeting him, yet felt the heart taken out of the day on
which she was not working under his direction. Whither was she tending?
She could not answer. Not where happiness would lie. To have brought
herself into this morass was the last and greatest of the year’s
follies. In her helpless anger she hated the scheme and all that she had
done to further it. A sickening surmise as to its futility overspread
She clasped her hands over her hot eyes and again longed for Woodlands.
Suddenly she sprang to her feet, and smoothed her dress and hair
hurriedly, as if ashamed of her nervelessness. She would write to
Matthew Lanyon then and there, yield herself wholly to her need of
expansion, and let what would flow from her pen. She sat down resolutely
at the ornamental escritoire and drew out writing materials. She had
never given him any definite account of the scheme. She had alluded
to it vaguely, somewhat flippantly, partly anxious to amuse and partly
fearful of criticism. The mention of Roderick Usher’s name had been
rare. She had followed the secretive instinct of her sex. The old man’s
references hitherto had been jocular; deceived by her manner, he had
merely regarded her interest as an idle young woman’s harmless hobby.
Even in this letter that she carried crumpled in her bosom, he had asked
her how her artistic. Robinson Crusoes were getting on. He should know
the history of the whole movement, her own hopes and fears,–perhaps
more of her difficulties. She would write whatever words came into her
She dipped her pen in the ink, dashed off the date and “My darling Uncle
Matthew,” and was starting the text of the letter, when the door opened.
“Mr. Usher, miss,” announced the parlour maid.
Ella closed her blotter with a petulant snap, but rose and greeted her
visitor with a smile. Roderick looked cool and point-device in a grey
frock-coat suit. A slight baldness in front gave his high forehead an
air of intellectuality. He had called, he informed her, just to report
progress. And as he talked she sat, her chin resting on her knuckles,
watching him with that wistful gaze that comes from a woman’s weary
“There, that is all,” he said in conclusion; “and I am glad there’s no
“Why?” asked Ella.
“Because you want a holiday,–a respite from the worry of affairs.
Enthusiasms entail an expenditure of vital force; so there are times
when the temperament is at a low ebb, and ought to be treated with
“Do you think I am at low ebb, Mr. Usher?”
“You are tired,–a little _mal de vivre_. Isn’t it so?”
He said it so kindly that her first impulse of resentment died away.
“How do you know I’m not simply physically out of sorts? I was dancing
till four this morning and till three the morning before.”
He smiled with a touch of indulgent superiority.
“As a sailor who knows the sea reads all its moods on its surface, so I
read yours in your eyes. Confess. You have been feeling the burthen of
life and have not known whence came its heaviness; and you have been
longing for relief in the fresh, cool arms of Mother Nature.”
“Perhaps,” she said, looking away from him.
“You are not offended?” he said, after a pause. He had a very musical
voice, trained to modulation of feelings. “My heart is always near my
lips and at times speaks indiscreetly.”
Ella turned round with a short laugh.
“No, I am not offended. Of course not. But it was scarcely fair to turn
me inside out like that without warning.”
Immediately she regretted her confession. His acute perception had half
flattered, half frightened her. She felt now that she had yielded some
of her ground. She strove to regain it.
“But it’s all nonsense,” she added. “And very contemptible, just because
it’s a close day, with a stuffy dinner-party looming ahead.”
“Phases of morale are never nonsense,” he replied. “No one knows what
unrest is better than I. We must find the remedy.”
“What do you suggest?”
“What is happiness?”
“The pursuit of the ideal on the wings of–”
“Dare I say it–in all delicacy? Of love.” Ella again turned her face
aside, uncertain whether to resent the implication or to make a light
answer. Her hesitation was his opportunity.
“I, too, have been feeling depressed of late,” he said. “All pleasure
has in time to be paid for with pain. In a few months our scheme will
be launched,–the scheme that you and I have built up with pieces of our
hearts,–and I shall go away to end my life in carrying out its working.
I shall be alone. My helper and sweet comrade will no longer be by my
side. Thus I, too, sigh for happiness.”
He smiled sadly, but she saw that his eyes were regarding her keenly
from behind his gold pince-nez.
“We won’t think of that,” she said hastily. “So many things may happen
between then and now.”
Roderick rose, rested his hand on the back of her chair, and bent over
“One thing might happen that would fill the months with glory, and
inaugurate our project in the radiance of the rising sun. Yet not
for the scheme’s sake, but for our lives’ sake–for the sake of the
expansion and development of all that is yearning within us to find
utterance–Ella–Will you come with me?”
She sat, looking straight before her, her lips apart, her body slightly
swaying. Words would not come. She vaguely wished that something could
happen to rid her of his presence, that he could disappear, there and
then, once for all, out of her life. Yet she felt it impossible to
dismiss him. Some mysterious feminine chord had been struck whose echoes
proclaimed his right to stand over her and speak to her thus.
“What are you saying?” she murmured, with an almost piteous emphasis on
the last word.
“I am telling you that I love you, Ella, that my life is bound up in
you, that I need you for the accomplishment of my manhood. And I am
asking you to come with me to this sweet new land, to be my helper and
my star. Say that you will come with me.”
“Give me time,” she breathed. “I can’t say–I have been living in a
whirl so long. I don’t know what I am or think or feel. I will give you
an answer some day–soon–not now.”
“I will wait devotedly for your answer,” said Roderick, in his
courtliest manner, and moved a pace or two from her chair.
Ella looked up at him, almost grateful for his assurance.
“We will fix no period,” she said. “To have to give such a reply by a
“I do not ask it,” said Roderick, quietly, though his heart was beating
fast at the certainty of victory.
“You have given me the food of hope, whereon I can live meanwhile.”
“Could you not bear suspense?” she asked. “I might not answer as you
“I could bear anything for your sake,” said he. Then, after a pause,
“And now goodbye. I must have solitude to dream over my happiness.”
She gave him her hand; he bent over it and kissed it, and she felt his
lips hot against her skin. It gave her a little shudder of repugnance,
and the feeling remained after he had gone. And yet his fascination was
strong upon her. He dominated her will as no man had done before. She
was conscious that he had the rare power to penetrate to the core of her
woman’s weaknesses, to understand her as a botanist understands a plant,
and the rarer power to touch the fibres delicately, so that it became a
pleasure to be weak. Again, her somewhat exaggerated conception of his
wide spiritual and intellectual horizon moved her emotional temperament
to wondering respect, and she thought gratefully of the expansion of her
own under his influence. With the incomplete vision wherewith the
wisest of women must of necessity regard a man, she saw him strong and
masterful, clearing his way resolutely to a definite end. She felt that
he brought this air of mastery into his love; and he had created a need
of him within her.
He held her bound by many chains. And as she stood in the drawing-room,
half-consciously rubbing the spot on her hand where his lips had rested,
she felt the chains grow tighter, one by one.
Her maid came into the room. “When will you dress, miss?”
She remembered the dinner-party and gave her directions. She wished that
she had not to attend it. And then unbidden came the longing for “the
sweet new land” with its freedom and freshness, and her cheeks flamed at
the sudden realisation of what it all implied.
Her glance fell upon the blotter in which lay the just commenced letter
to Matthew Lanyon. She sat down again at the escritoire and took up her
pen. But the mood had passed. She found herself writing artificially,
in the jargon of her set. Angrily she fore up the paper and threw the
fragments into the waste-paper basket. No; better nothing than the
insincerity he despised; she loved him too dearly for that. So the
letter, that was to reveal her inmost struggling self, remained
She was very silent as Lady Milmo and herself drove to the dinner-party.
Her head ached and her limbs were tired.
“The man who takes me down will over-eat himself dreadfully,” she
remarked, as the carriage pulled up.
“I don’t think there is any danger,” replied her aunt, who was a woman
And she was justified; for the girl’s youth asserted itself, and as
the meal progressed the headache was forgotten and Ella enjoyed herself
“I rather think your partner will want some supper, poor man,” said Lady
Milmo, on the homeward journey.
“It’s his own fault; he would talk,” said Ella, laughing.
Lady Milmo patted her niece’s knee affectionately.
“I love to see you getting all that enjoyment out of life, my dear.
You seem to take it out in great chunks, like my neighbour this evening
helping himself to iced pudding.”
Ella thought of her enjoyment with a whimsical feeling of shame, a touch
of disappointment at not being as jaded as she had expected. But with
the quiet darkness of the night her conflict of doubts returned. After
all, what trivial topics she had discussed, what inanities she had
laughed at, what spiteful little shafts of malice she had flung. If she
had enjoyed it, so much the worse spiritually and morally for herself.
Oh, the past year! It had corrupted her. She looked back wistfully upon
the girl whom Sylvester had kissed at Woodlands. That fresh, shy, sweet
something she had given him then was hers no longer to give to any man.
What she could give to Roderick Usher, if she yielded to him, she did
not know; certainly, not that.
She was very young, very much unversed in the dark and crooked ways of
life, in spite of her experience of men and things; intensely eager to
keep herself pure and proud, to love the highest when she saw it. It is
not to be set down to weakness, therefore, if she grew very sorry for
the girl whom Sylvester had kissed, and cried herself miserably to
The facilities that London offers as a hiding-place are proverbial. A
man in good position may disappear entirely from his friends and yet be
living for many years as a grocer’s assistant half a mile away. But when
two acquaintances who belong to the same social class have no particular
reasons for lying hidden, they are bound sooner or later to meet. Now
Sylvester and Ella had not set eyes on each other since the eve of the
former’s departure from Ayres-ford, when he had said things which
Ella firmly believed at the time had broken her heart. This was not
unnatural, seeing that he held rigidly aloof from the society in which
Ella moved. Neither did he frequent theatres nor operas nor picture
galleries, nor places of public resort. But he went this year to the
Ladies’ Soirée of the Royal Society, first, because he had been unable
to attend the sterner masculine assembly of the former evening, and,
secondly, because he desired to meet two or three scientists of European
reputation who he knew would be there.
Lady Milmo, who went everywhere and was proud of taking everywhere
her beautiful niece, was at the soirée also with Ella. Their progress
through the rooms was slow, as they knew many people, and the crowd was
great. Suddenly Lady Milmo pulled Ella’s arm.
“Dear me, if that isn’t Sylvester Lanyon!”
Ella looked instinctively in the indicated direction, and as her
eyes fell upon him, her heart gave a great throb. He was in earnest
conversation with an elderly man who wore an order of some kind,
enforcing his argument, according to a familiar trick of his, with
the forefinger of one hand and the palm of the other. His brown,
intellectual face and well-knit figure marked him as a man of some
distinction. To Ella’s dismay he appeared to her the one distinguished
personality in the room. His face had grown more worn than she
remembered it, and his hair greyer at the temples. She found herself
“Come,” said Lady Milmo, “I’m going to give him a good talking to.”
Before Ella could resist she had adroitly edged through the press and
arrived within his reach, Ella following mechanically.
“Oh, Dr. Lanyon, fancy meeting you here. Ella and I have jars and jars
of pickled rods for you. Why do you never come near us? Is it because we
‘re so aggravatingly healthy?” Sylvester murmured an apology. Indeed, he
had no reasons to offer. Lady Milmo was an old friend. He confessed his
“Madame,” said Sylvester’s companion, with a low bow.
“Professor Steinthal! I didn’t know you were in London. Forgive me.”
She turned to speak to him as Ella and Sylvester confronted each other.
Ella put out her hand.
“I hope you are well,” she said.
“Quite well; and you?”
“You ought to be able to judge.”
“You seem to be in good health,” he said. “What maladies may lurk
beneath the surface, I cannot tell.”
“I don’t suppose you can,” she was tempted to say. She saw that he
understood, but he made no reply, and there was an awkward pause.
“I’m going to see Uncle Matthew in August,” she said at last.
“So I have heard. I’m going to Switzerland, so I shall not have the
pleasure of meeting you. Do you know many people here?”
The pointed banality of the question angered her.
“Will you never have a kind word to say to me?” she flashed out in a
quick undertone, then she turned and greeted the professor effusively.
Thus, whatever wild, uncontrollable hopes were newly born at the first
sight of him, they were frozen at once to death. She went home in a
furious rage of humiliation. He was a man of ice and steel, an automaton
equipped with an intellect, scarcely a man at all. She put an imperious
end to her doubts.
Roderick Usher called next day, and spoke as one inspired with lofty
ideals. Before her fascinated vision he seemed to place realities where
hitherto the void had yawned or shadows at the most had shimmered. Life
stretched infinitely in front of her, a lush garden, fertile with a
myriad beauties. Her expanding soul shone out of dewy eyes. All the
blindness, all the weakness, all the deluded nobility of her nature, lay
revealed, pathetically defenceless. It was Roderick’s golden hour, when
he knew that he had her at his mercy.
He rose, flung out his arms in a passionate gesture.
“Come to me, Ella. Our destinies demand it.”
She too rose and faced him, her eyes shining like stars, and held out
“Yes, I will come,” she said.
Roderick went into the warm June sunshine, thrilled with triumph,
holding his head high. He walked along heedless of direction, turned
into Hans Place and completed an entire circuit of the gardens before he
realised what he had done. He paused, to think of some destination. Then
he laughed aloud.
“Roderick, you must be in love,” he said to himself. A long struggle
with fortune had rendered it a rare occurrence for Roderick not to be
perfectly aware of what he was doing and of what he was about to do. But
the victory had come sooner than he had anticipated, and his immediate
scheme of life, was thrown into confusion. He turned to the right,
and once in Sloane Street, wandered north and found himself again
undetermined at the corner of the Brompton Road. The driver of a
crawling hansom touched his hat inquiringly. It was a brand-new, summer
season cab, with horse and driver well turned out, and it caught his
fancy. He stood upon the step, looked east, looked west, up and down
the surging thoroughfare. Then obeying a sudden impulse, he shouted
laughingly an address over the hood of the cab,–“24 Weymouth Street.”
He would go and present himself to an astonished Sylvester, acquaint him
with his good fortune, and perhaps learn certain things concerning which
delicacy had forbidden him to make too close inquiries. At any rate,
there was a certain attractive impudence in the adventure. He lit a
cigar and lay back on the soft cushions of the cab and regarded himself
complacently in the strip of mirror. He was wearing well, he thought,
as he caressed his Vandyke beard, and appeared by no means an unromantic
lover. The deepening crows’ feet about his eyes gave him a momentary
uneasiness, but he parted his lips, and by way of compensation looked
admiringly at his white, even teeth. The conviction that there was
nothing about him that would be otherwise than physically attractive to
the most fastidious feminine sense brought him an assured content.
He gazed through the blue cigar-smoke up the long vista of clashing
traffic broadening out by Hyde Park Corner, where London at its gayest
displayed itself in the mellow afternoon sunlight. He waved his hand
towards it as if summoning its blithe spirit to hear him.
“Do you think I’m going to give you up?” he said, breaking into a laugh.
For London, to the man of the pavement, the theatres, the studios,
the newspaper offices, the clubs, the restaurants, means the elemental
medium of his being. The deep bosom of Mother Nature would suffocate
him. It is a picturesque thing to talk about, and it may be exploited
by an ingenious contriver to his considerable advantage, but it did
not satisfy the spiritual cravings of Roderick Usher. He had not the
remotest intention of committing himself to lifelong exile with the
Walden Art Colony, if his supple wit could devise other means of
profiting by the enterprise.
“But I nearly lost you!” he apostrophised London again, after a few
In a certain sense, he had been meditating flight, the summary
abandonment of his broken fortunes too far gone for satisfactory
repairing. For Roderick was a man who demanded more from society than
his talents enabled him to give in return. Not that he was, in the
general sense of the term, an adventurer. He had worked hard all his
life; but he had always just not succeeded in his undertakings. He had
written a play which an enthusiastic young manager had run at a loss for
fifty nights. A second play evoked a chorus of delight among the newer
school of critics, but had fizzled out after a week’s unsatisfactory
existence. His succeeding plays went the round of rueful and
head-shaking managers. Professionally he was an artist. He painted
pictures, but prices were low. One immense and ambitious canvas hung at
the Royal Academy was to have brought him everlasting fame and fortune.
It was taken over by a firm of art publishers whose royalties on prints
after two years’ waiting amounted to a few paltry pounds. Then for some
reason or the other the Academy refused to hang him. Hence his bitter
hatred of the Academy and all its works. He had written a couple of
novels which were universally belauded and nowhere bought. He was art
critic, dramatic critic, reviewer, short-story writer. This work and
the sale of such pictures as the dealers could be prevailed upon to
purchase, together with private orders for portraits, brought him a
maintenance. It would have been wealth to him who was content with beer,
comfort to him who drank modest claret, but it was penury to the man who
claimed at least 1889 champagne as a divine right. Roderick’s career had
therefore been an interminable battle with society. He rode through it
a free lance, plundering it blandly whenever a chance offered. He had
scarcely ever during his life as a man been free from debt. But
his unflagging energy, his suppleness of humour, his buoyancy, his
versatility, by winning popular esteem had saved him many times from
social disaster. He played billiards too well; he played whist and poker
too well. He was too disinterested an adviser of young men in search of
ready money. Thus, somewhat paradoxically, he was welcomed at private
houses, but looked shyly upon in clubs. Yet no one had hinted a
dishonourable action. Twice or three times his father had groaningly
sent him a cheque to cover some of his more pressing debts; but in
justice to him, it must be said that in speaking of them to Matthew
Lanyon, the old man had exaggerated the extent of his culpability. Nor
had Roderick the slightest suspicion that any of Matthew Lanyon’s money
had ever found its way into his own pocket.
Once again, however, he found himself more seriously involved than
ever, and his father pleaded empty coffers. There was a billbroking
transaction which might lead to unpleasantness. He had persuaded a
foolish young man to back bills to the amount of two or three thousand
pounds. In two or three months they could be renewed for a further
period. But after that would come the deluge. Exile might save him. But
where should he go? To the Colonies? He was too old. To Boulogne, to
lead a shifty life with compatriot wastrels? “Sooner Death,” said he.
But for some time past, as it happened, the scheme of the Walden Art
Colony had been idly occupying his disinterested attention. Suddenly his
astute mind perceived in the scheme his own social salvation. His energy
quickly brought it into practicable shape. His plausibility staved off
his creditors. His future position as salaried director of the Colony
would secure him an honourable retreat from an untenable position.
But now with the heiress of an ample fortune as his affianced bride, he
could laugh at fears and exultantly send the Colony to the devil. His
luck had turned at last. Now he would get to the heart of life. And Ella
was sweet, great-hearted, and beautiful. It was not only for her money
that he wanted her. Perish the miserable thought! He could conceive
a noble existence, all ideals. His thoughts touched the Empyrean. His
facile nature easily persuaded itself of lofty purpose, and for the
moment he was sincere. For Roderick was a man with wings to fly, but
chained to the earth with fetters of brass; and often his wings fanning
the air gave him the delusion of mounting heavenward.
The cab drew up at the dull and decorous door in Weymouth Street, at
half-past six. A decorous man-servant opened it and showed him into the
consulting-room, formally furnished with dark leather chairs and couch,
and a desk on which lay the stethoscope, tongue-depressor, and a few
other ordinary instruments of the physician. Some old prints hung round
the walls. The windows, glazed halfway, to insure privacy from the
street, gave an air of gloom to the not over cheerful apartment.
Roderick compared it with his own light and artistically furnished
chambers, and wondered at the dark soul of the man who could live amid
He laughed his gayest laugh, however, when Sylvester came in.
“I’m about as incongruous and unexpected here as you were the other day
in the Park,” said he. “But you’ll understand why I’ve come when I tell
“I’m very glad to see you,” said Sylvester, politely. “Won’t you sit
He seated himself in the writing-chair and motioned his guest to
“No, thanks, I’ll walk about,” said Roderick. “If I sat there I’d feel
too much like a patient, and you’d be wanting to look at my tongue or
pommel my stomach. I’ve come, my boyhood’s friend, to tell you some good
news, to demand your felicitations. I give you a thousand guesses.”
“Have you succeeded in floating your chartered Thelema Company?” asked
Sylvester, with a smile.
“Oh, damn the Colony! That is to say, comparatively damn the Colony.
You behold in me the happiest man on earth, engaged to the sweetest and
loveliest girl in the world. And the Colony’s in it for something. So I
ought to have said ‘thrice bless the Colony.’” Sylvester started in his
“You are not referring to Miss Defries?”
“I am so.”
“I must offer you my congratulations,” said Sylvester, recovering
composure. Then despising himself for a momentary pang, which he could
not explain to himself, he added: “I am sure she will make you an
“An excellent wife! Hear him, ye gods! As who should say, ‘You will find
this a most serviceable umbrella!’ She’s the dewy dawn of all things
sweet to live for!”
“My habit of mind is more prosaic than yours,” laughed Sylvester. “But
I think I am none the less accurate. Is Miss Defries going also to
“That is the present intention. But plans are but frail barks upon the
capricious sea of time.”
“I see,” said Sylvester. “Now I understand your condemnation of the
“No, no; I am sure you don’t,” put in Roderick, hastily.
“Well, never mind,” said Sylvester. “Have you obtained my fathers
“Mr. Lanyon’s consent? What for?”
“But Ella is overage,–her own mistress.”
“Still, she must not marry without my father’s consent, or she loses her
Roderick swept his hand in a magnificent gesture. “The money’s neither
here nor there. But of course your father will consent.”
“He’s the dearest old man God ever made,” said Sylvester, in his grave
way; “but he has queer crotchets now and then.”
“But this is the end of the nineteenth century,” laughed Roderick.
“I don’t deny it. The other is a fact, all the same. The late Mr.
Defries’s will is valid. Appointing my father trustee for his daughter
Ella, it provides for his administration of the estate until either
her marriage with his consent or his own death, whichever is first. On
either of these events, the whole money comes into her own keeping. If
during his lifetime she marries without his written consent, the money
all goes to some specified charity, I forget what it is.”
“Well, I never heard of such a damned silly will in all my life,” said
Roderick, falling, into the vernacular.
“It only shows one man’s implicit trust in the honour of another.”
“And how much does it all run to?” asked Roderick, casually.
“I haven’t the remotest idea,” replied Sylvester. “It never entered my
head to inquire.”
Roderick took a few quick turns about the room, then he laughed in his
“Well, if Damon Lanyon is recalcitrant, Pythias Usher will soothe him
down. So it will all come right. And you, camarado, shall dance at
the wedding. I swear it. I must go and dress for dinner with some
Philistines at Cricklewood. I shall be interested to see how God makes
the creatures who live at Cricklewood. By the way, shall I give Ella
your good wishes?”
“Most certainly,” said Sylvester.
He accompanied his guest to the front door; then returning to the
consulting-room, he opened the window, with an exclamation of distaste.
Roderick carried heavy scent about him, and Sylvester, like a wholesome
Briton, detested scent. He also in his heart detested Roderick.
Before preparing for his solitary dinner he went into his laboratory
to examine some tubes of gelatine in which the anthrax bacillus was
thriving. But he gazed at them somewhat absently. Scorn and contempt
were in his heart,–contempt for the woman whom once he thought fit to
be his own wife, and who had now thrown herself away upon this plausible
but vulgar charlatan.
“Like to like,” he muttered cynically.
And putting down his gelatine he went upstairs, apparently satisfied
with the examination he had entirely forgotten to make.
Mr. Usher the elder had settled down in Ayresford a few months after
the death of Sylvester’s mother. At first he had taken a small cottage,
then a semi-detached villa. Finally, he had transferred his household
gods to a comfortable little house standing in its own grounds not far
from Woodlands. He was not beloved in Ayresford on account of his habit
of telling dull stories of uninteresting incidents in his past career;
but as he went to church regularly and did no particular harm to
anybody, he was accepted as a member of the humdrum society of the
somnolent little town. No one knew much of his antecedents. He had been
something in Australia and now lived on his means. That he had chummed
with Mr. Lanyon,–a fact which he proclaimed so unceasingly that people
grew nervous with teasing anticipation whenever Australia was mentioned
in his presence,–was a sufficient guarantee of his respectability.
Then Roderick came on flying visits and with his brilliant ways acquired
popularity. Later, when he produced plays, painted pictures for the
Academy, and wrote novels, Ayresford was quite proud of him. The
father gained a vicarious reputation. They wanted to make him people’s
church-warden. But here Matthew Lanyon intervened.
“I’m not a church-goer myself,” said he, “but I’m hanged if I’ll let you
make a mockery of the whole thing.”
Whereupon Usher replied that it was a pity for lifelong friends
to quarrel over such a trifle, and wrote a letter to decline
the church-wardenship. But he put a little black mark and some
hieroglyphics, with the date, in a little black book, half filled with
similar inscriptions, which he kept locked up in his safe. This was some
years before Sylvester had left for London, and the black marks had gone
on increasing. Ebenezer Usher was a methodical man.
He was very proud of his house, which was tastefully furnished
and contained a choice collection of old china, of which he was a
connoisseur. Ayresford naturally put him down as a man of substance,
and though he entertained as little as decency allowed, he avoided the
reputation of a miser. His elegant leisure was passed in collecting
the china above mentioned, postage-stamps, and book plates, and in
speculating through outside brokers.
One morning in June he sat at his table, by the open window, through
which came all the scents of the lawn, immersed in his morning’s work
of sorting book plates. He had them before him in cardboard boxes neatly
labelled on the back. They were divided into their several countries,
subdivided into noble families and commoners, further divided into
“Armorial,” “Artistic-Armorial,” and “Fanciful,” and they were all
arranged according to date. A manuscript catalogue by his side gave the
reference to case and position. A pile of loose plates, unmounted, lay
immediately in front of him, through which he was going one by one. If
the plate happened to be new, he put it aside for mounting. If it was
a duplicate, he fished out his original from its case and subjected the
two to anxious scrutiny through a magnifying-glass, to decide which was
the better impression. Of the subject he had profound knowledge, and he
had a sincere appreciation of beauty of workmanship. At such times as
this he was the most harmless of old gentlemen, dignifying the evening
of his days with a learned pastime.
He was leaning back in his chair, lovingly scrutinising the almost
fragile tenderness of an exquisite Bewick, when a servant brought in two
letters that had come by the second post. He bade her put them on
the table, and there they lay for some time while he continued the
inspection of his Bewick. At last he laid it down with a sigh and opened
the first letter. It ran:–
_Dear Sir,–We regret to inform you that the Great Elephant
stock has fallen to 3 1/8. Kindly wire advice as to cover.
We have every confidence in the stock and its ultimate
Peter Vavasour & Co._
Mr. Usher groaned and threw the letter away from him. He felt a most
ill-used man. The ingratitude of the world after a laborious lifetime
spent in its service pained him exceedingly. The sight of Roderick’s
handwriting on the other envelope by no means brought him comfort.
Roderick’s letters were rare, but unpleasantly to the point. He unfolded
it with distrustful resignation. But when his glance had taken in its
contents, his expression changed. He took off his gold spectacles,
breathed on them, and wiped them with his handkerchief, and putting them
on again, beamed at his son’s letter:–
_Revered Parent,–I’m going to marry Ella Defries. Can’t get
shekels without Lanyon’s consent to union. A silly will
gives him the hold. Am writing now for his blessing. Better
let me overhaul the draft of your letter of paternal welcome
to her, as I know your effusive little habits.
“Ah, the flippant ways of youth,” said he, with an indulgent smile.
The bucket-shop shark’s application for cover came to him now through
the rosy cloud of his content. What did a few hundreds matter when his
only son was putting himself into a position to relieve from want his
aged father’s declining years? He almost caressed Mr. Vavasour’s letter
as he folded it up carefully and placed it with Roderick’s in the
breast-pocket of his old frock-coat. He felt kindly disposed towards all
mankind, and prepared with a benevolent air to go forth and visit
his friend, Matthew Lanyon. He cleared his table of the book plates,
scrupulously putting each in its proper case, and then rang the bell.
“My hat, Olivia. And my stick. No. The sun is warm. It is very hot. I
shall take the green umbrella.”
The elderly servant brought him these articles. He put on the Panama
straw hat with his accustomed deliberation, while Olivia held the
umbrella. Then he took the latter in his hand, and went out with his
slow old man’s tread.
On his way through the wide straggling main street of Ayresford, he
paused, according to long custom, to look into the window of a little
poverty-stricken bric-à-brac shop, garnished with a few rusty old
pistols, bits of china, and worm-eaten books. To-day was displayed a
couple of leaves torn from an old postage-stamp album. The eye of the
collector at once fixed itself on a Canada, green and unused. He hurried
into the shop.
“Good-morning, Mrs. Driscoll; it is a very hot day.”
A dejected old woman rose from a stool by the counter.
“The Lord sends it, Mr. Usher. We must abide by His mercies.”
“We must indeed,” replied Usher, wagging his head.
“I thought I would come in and help you, Mrs. Driscoll, by making a
“You ‘re very kind, sir,” said the old woman, mournfully.
“What might you be asking for these two sheets of postage stamps?”
“Ten shillings, I was told, sir.”
Usher lifted up his hands pityingly and smiled.
“My dear Mrs. Driscoll, they are not worth half a crown. But I will be
generous. It is one’s duty to be generous to the poor and needy. I will
give you five shillings.”
“Very well, sir,” said the old woman. The bargain was concluded, and
Mr. Usher went out a very happy man. For a green, unused 7 1/2d. Canada
postage stamp, as all philatelists know, will fetch some eight or nine
pounds, if judiciously put on the market, and Mr. Usher had a beautiful
specimen already in his collection. Fortune was really smiling on him
He reached Matthew Lanyon’s office in a seraphic temper, which a quarter
of an hour’s wait did not ruffle. When Mr. Lanyon’s client had departed,
he was shown into the office, where Matthew was seated at his desk.
“I thought you would come,” said Matthew, without further greeting. “Sit
“You are not looking at all well, my dear friend,” said Usher. “You
should really take care of yourself. I always say it is wrong for a man
to let his business affairs get the upper hand with him.”
It was true. Matthew had been ailing considerably of late, and his
doctor had urged him to do a number of impossible things,–to go for a
sea voyage, to reduce his practice, to take a partner. He was killing
himself. He must stop, or human science wouldn’t answer for the
“Human science can wait till she’s asked,” the old man had replied with
a certain humour. The past year had aged him considerably. His hair was
greyer, his figure slightly bent, his face and hands thinner, his brow
more care worn. Characteristically he had told Sylvester of none of his
ailments, and during the weekends Sylvester had spent at Woodlands, he
had made special efforts to appear bright and strong. When Sylvester,
anxiously informed by his aunt, questioned him, he had laughed in his
cheery way, but with a touch of petulance, and asked how he, a man of
science, could attribute any importance to Agatha’s silly whimsies.
He was not the man to be fond of pity, even from those dearest to him;
_a fortiori_, he found Usher’s sympathy particularly obnoxious.
“I’m exceedingly well,” he said somewhat irritably. “Better than I have
been for months.”
“Perhaps the pleasant news has cheered you,” said Usher. “There is
nothing like the happiness of others to make the heart young again. I am
always rejoiced at the happiness of others. It is my nature.”
He said it with such an air of dull simplicity, uttering each vocable
with weighty deliberation, that a smile flickered around Matthew’s lips.
“I really think you believe it.”
“I never disguise my sentiments. Falsehood is abhorrent to me.”
“Rubbish!” said Matthew, curtly. “I’m busy. I can only give you ten
minutes. What have you come for?”
“To share your happiness in the engagement of our dear children,–my
son, your ward.”
“I am not pleased at all. Even you ought to know that.”
“No. A marriage like that is an impossibility.”
Usher opened his eyes in reproachful astonishment.
“How can I let my ward marry a man like Roderick?”
“My son is a fine fellow,” said Usher.
“He ‘s an infernal scamp,” said Matthew, “and you know it.”
“He has been a little wild, I allow,” said Usher, indulgently. “But
all young men sow their wild oats. Even you, Matthew, have committed
“And I’ve paid for them a million times over,” said Matthew. “My God! I
have paid the uttermost farthing.”
He passed his hand with a quick movement across his face, as if to wipe
out a sudden contortion of features.
“We needn’t discuss the matter,” he said in business tones. “I shall not
give my consent.”
“I don’t understand why it is necessary,” said Usher.
Matthew put him briefly into possession of the facts that Sylvester had
disclosed to Roderick.
“They will marry without your consent,” said Usher. Matthew laughed.
“It takes two to make a marriage, Usher.” Usher looked at him dully and
sighed. “I did not expect this ungenerosity from you, Matthew. Remember
I am a father. I have always been a most affectionate father. My
affection has always stood in my way. I plead for my poor son.”
“Your poor son! Why, I’ve supported him in comfort all his life. He
earns a decent living himself, and twice I have saved him from gaol.
By George, sir, he would have got there–and richly deserved it. If
you think I’m going to give my consent to Ella marrying that confounded
attitudinising swindler, you take me for a greater rascal than
yourself.” Matthew got up and walked about the room.
He was not a man who easily lost his temper, but the idea of this
marriage infuriated him. Usher lifted a deprecating hand.
“Perhaps it can be arranged,” said he.
“No, it can’t. So you can go.”
“We will withdraw our claim for five thousand pounds.”
“Where do you suppose I’m to find five thousand pounds?”
“You can do what you like with Miss Defries’s money, Matthew.”
Matthew stopped in his walk, and his face grew livid. He pointed to the
“Go out,” he said in a trembling voice, “or I’ll have you turned out.”
Usher rose to his feet and shuffled towards the door.
“Then poor Sylvester shall know what were the parents in whom he
“Let him know and be damned to you!” said Matthew.
He flung open the door into the outer office, and stood rigid and white
with anger, as Usher passed out. Then, when he was alone, he put his
hand to his heart, and staggering to an old couch threw himself down
half fainting among the papers with which it was piled.
A clerk, coming in a few moments later to announce a client, found him
white and gasping. But he insisted to the frightened youth on his being
well again, drank a glass of water, and with a sheer effort of will,
dragged himself to his feet and concentrated his faculties.
“Show Sir Trevorin,” said he.
But the sudden attack rendered him weak and anxious for the rest of the
day. He had never fainted like that before. It must have been the heat
and the fury he had flown into with Usher. When he went home to lunch
Miss Lanyon was alarmed at his appearance.
“Perhaps I’m a little bilious. It is the heat. It’s nothing,” he said
Miss Lanyon looked at him sadly out of her faded blue eyes. If Dorothy,
herself, or any of the household showed signs of poorliness, he would
worry himself to death about it, get the doctors in, ransack the town
for delicacies, and send special messengers from the office during
the day to make inquiries. But where he himself was concerned, he
was impatient of interference. Miss Lanyon shook her head. Men were
In the afternoon he went round the garden with his little granddaughter,
submitting to be decorated with whatever flowers her childish fancy
selected. He wore carnations round the ribbon of his hat, a Maréchal
Niel rose in the lapel of his coat, and pansies stuck down his
waistcoat, and he stalked on, gravely holding the child’s hand and
chatting with her on terms of comradeship. As they passed by the
strawberry beds in the kitchen garden, Dorothy pointed to some
ragamuffin children pressing their faces against the iron gate.
“Dirty little boys,” she announced fastidiously.
“What would you sooner give them,–soap or strawberries?” asked the old
Dorothy reflected a moment.
“Soap is nasty,” she said.
“Well, we’ll give them some strawberries. Open the gate and call them.”
She ran to the gate and gave the invitation. The children came in shyly,
their mouths watering.
“Show them how to pick,” said Matthew.
She bent down and picked and gave a berry to each of the children. The
old man walked away. Presently Dorothy came running after him. Why had
he gone off?
“They’ll eat more if I’m not there,” said he. “But why don’t you stay?”
“One of them ate a slug,” replied Dorothy, in disgusted dignity.
The old man threw himself down on a garden seat and laughed. Dorothy
clambered on to his knees.
“Tell me about the kangaroos,” she commanded. So for the next hour he
entertained her with stories of kangaroos and monkeys and crocodiles
and the strange beasts of far lands. Then Miss Lanyon came upon them, in
search of Dorothy.
“There are some horrid little boys stealing the strawberries,” she said.
“What! are they there still? They began an hour ago. I gave them leave.”
“And they have been picking some of the green peaches that were coming
on so nicely.”
“They’ll enjoy them green better than we shall enjoy them ripe,” said
Matthew. “So let them be.”
“I sha’n’t. They’ll be ill,” said Miss Lanyon, with spirit.
The old man went off to distribute halfpence among the children as a
sort of compensation for loss of stomach aches, and his sister carried
“Dorothy,” she said on the way, “your grandfather is a saint.”
“You said he was the worry of your life to-day,” said Dorothy.
“Because he’s too good, dear. We’re none of us good enough for him,”
said Miss Lanyon.
Matthew returned to the seat and slowly divested himself of his flowers,
giving himself up for the moment to the peaceful charm of the afternoon
hour. The place was dear to him. It was more or less the creation of his
life. It was a small house in a little garden when he had brought his
wife to Ayresford. And he had added on to both, bit by bit, building
a wing, buying a few adjacent acres, until it had come to be a large
property perfectly laid out.
The house stood mellow and homelike in the soft sunshine, with ivy and
clematis clustering on walls and around windows. The lawn, smooth and
well trimmed, stretched into the dimness of a little wilderness marked
by shrubs. The sycamores on the other side of the house waved their tops
above the roof. He remembered when they were planted. She planted them.
What a number of years ago I And there in the old part of the house was
her window. The clematis had always been there. He remembered how it
used to brush her cheek as she leaned out to call to him. It was just
such an afternoon as this that her delicate face, like a pink shell,
flushed with excitement, had appeared and she had summoned him nearer.
“Mat, Baby has cut a tooth.”
My God! He could hear her voice now; almost wondered whether she had not
withdrawn within, and whether the five and thirty years had not been a
vague dream, and he himself was not young and vigorous and defiant
of fate. But the quick memories of the day rushed back upon him and
obscured the dearer vision.
The marriage was impossible. His heart yearned towards the girl whom
he loved with an old man’s tender affection. How could he allow her to
marry a man whom he knew, from heredity, from actual facts that had come
miserably within his own knowledge, to be an unprincipled adventurer?
The misery of it was that his lips were sealed. He could not tell her
of Roderick’s real character. To do that would be to break virtually the
promise he had kept for over thirty years.
“Whatever I do for my own son, I shall do for yours.”
He could no more blacken Roderick’s reputation than he could
Sylvester’s. Perhaps the marriage would redeem him. Yet to stake the
life’s happiness of a human soul that was dear to him upon the chance of
another’s redemption was too great a responsibility. Why had she engaged
herself to this man? It was not through love. He drew from his pocket
the letter he had received from her that morning and read it through.
It was constrained, artificial. The tone jarred upon their intimacy.
Perhaps Ella had changed, grown worldly and cynical, lost her love for
him. Or was it only the letter of a girl at war with her own heart? He
had seen many such battles in his time.
“At any rate, I withhold my consent,” he said decisively.
Yet Usher’s threat agitated him more than he dared confess. He had never
defied him before on that point. For a moment he was racked with a spasm
of fear lest Sylvester should know the secret of his relations with
Usher. The fear had grown with the years into the roots of his life, had
become an unreasoning terror. To save his son the knowledge, he had been
killing himself by inches with work and worry.
Suddenly he rose, shook himself as if impatient of the clinging doubts,
and walked briskly across the lawn. Usher daren’t do it, for his own
Usher turned the corner of the house and met him by the door. Matthew
frowned and regarded him angrily.
“I told you to go and be damned to you,” he said.
“You made use of improper language, Matthew. You lost your temper. I
never lose my temper. I am a most peaceful man. And I forgive. It is a
Christian virtue. I thought you might change your mind on reflection.”
“I haven’t changed my mind,” said Matthew.
Usher took an envelope from his pocket, withdrew a letter, and handed it
“Would you like me to send that to Sylvester?”
Matthew glanced through it; his fingers trembled in spite of his will.
But he tore the paper across and across and put the fragments into his
“You would not be such a fool as to kill the goose with the golden
eggs,” he said.
“I thought you would do that,” said Usher, drawing another paper from
his pocket; “but I have prepared a duplicate. I have always been a man
of foresight. It is my firm intention to post this to Sylvester unless
you give me your written consent to the marriage. I do not want money,
Matthew. I have earned enough to keep me in comfort for the rest of
my old age, and your promise to help my poor boy was based on no
conditions. All the country says you are an upright man, Matthew. When
I mentioned the five thousand pounds to-day, I was forgetting your
scrupulous honour. I apologise. I always apologise when I am wrong. I am
a just man.”
All through this harangue Matthew’s stern gaze had never left the puffy,
white-bearded, common face. And he saw, not for the first time, beneath
the old man’s dull and red-rimmed eyes, a hard gleam of hate. But
for the first time he realised that even to such a man there might be
something dearer even than money, and the chill fear fastened round his
heart. He made an impatient movement across the threshold of the open
“Come into the library,” he said. “It is an insult to God’s sweet air to
discuss such things here.”
Usher followed him indoors. Some time later Miss Lanyon came down,
having changed her dress for dinner, and leaned against the jamb of the
creeper-covered porch and drank in the softness of the summer evening
with the country-bred gentlewoman’s vague mingling of happiness and
regret. She had heard of the engagement. It had made her sad. Why had it
not been Sylvester instead of Roderick? She sighed over the grave of her
old maid’s vicarious romance. A footstep behind her caused her to turn.
It was Mr. Usher, buttoning his old frock-coat. His face showed grave
“A father lives in his children,” he said, after receiving her reluctant
congratulations. “I live in my son.”
The dinner-bell rang.
“I must go,” he continued. “I came to see my old friend on business. He
is so good. His time is always at the disposal of his friends.”
“I told Dorothy this evening that he was a saint,” she said.
Usher squeezed her hand impressively.
“He is indeed, Miss Lanyon. He is indeed.”
But Matthew sat in his library chair staring in front of him in agony of
spirit. He had yielded. The trace of the writing was there on the fresh
blotting-paper before him. The strong man writhed under the humiliation
of defeat. The proud, sensitive gentleman was tortured in his Nessus
shirt of dishonour. And it comforted him not that it was for his
son’s sake. He felt as if he had ransomed him at the price of Ella’s
deliverance to the Minotaur.