Loss of faith in all through the faithlessness of one is a common and a
tragic phenomenon. It is vain for the robust-minded to prove the illogic
of the conclusion, which is one arrived at more from the emotional than
the logical faculties of the brain. The phenomenon occurs only in men of
a certain temperament They are endowed with powers of intense individual
passion, but lack that; universality of sympathy which makes for breadth
of judgment. To narrow the proposition to a particular case, they take
one woman, not after long and patient deliberation,–that is the supreme
pity of it,–but haphazard, on the impulse of a great emotion, and
glorify her as the queen of all women. She becomes inevitably the test
of a sex. The poor human touchstone fails, and a whole sex is condemned.
To the commoner sort this loss of faith matters little, for the nobility
of a great faith was never in them; they cultivate an easy-going
cynicism, and that is all. But the men whose lives are broken, who feel
within them the horrible weight of a dead ideal, are of nobler mould,
and therein lies the piteousness of the tragedy.
Sylvester walked slowly homewards from his partner’s house in St. John’s
Wood, where he had been dining. For Dr. Frodsham, who had ample means
and a large family, had taken the opportunity of moving from the
house in Weymouth Street into the purer air of the N. W. district,
on Sylvester’s entrance into partnership, and only retained a
consulting-room, where he attended at certain hours. The sense of his
loss hung heavy upon Sylvester. He had left a home that glowed with a
happiness for ever beyond his reach. He had seen love, trust, sympathy,
reflected from face to face of husband and wife. The house was glad with
the laughter of youth. The somewhat intellectual atmosphere was softened
by an indescribable tenderness of human relation. Faith in themselves as
men and women, in humanity in general, gave a largeness to their social
intercourse. And he had sat there recognising, wondering; envying, until
the door had closed behind him and he was left to his loneliness on the
A boy and girl of the lower class passed slowly by, she with her head on
his shoulder, he with his arm round her waist. They were saying
nothing, probably were maintaining a half-hour’s silence, but they were
undeniably happy, and, for the moment, Sylvester envied them. Vulgar as
may have been their affection, they, like the Frodshams, possessed that
which he had lost for ever,–faith. And faith meant love and love meant
life. He had seldom felt so keenly the abomination of his desolation,
and the craving for a woman’s touch grew to a pang like hunger. And yet
his whole nature rejected the idea of fulfilment. He shuddered as he
walked, and strove to turn his thoughts into another channel. But the
elemental dominates a man’s will. Unconsciously he returned to the
subject. Ella had been much in his mind since Roderick’s announcement.
Her yielding to such a lover had strengthened his conviction of the
contemptibility of a woman’s nature. Cynically he congratulated himself
on his escape. He set down nothing in extenuation. He only saw, on the
one side, a woman of apparent refinement whom he had once thought worthy
of being his wife, on the other side a blatant, sensual, mercenary cad.
The refined woman had thrown herself into the cad’s arms. What was
the need of looking further? Any woman would have done the same. The
so-called virtuous were merely the untempted. The kindly matron at whose
table he had been dining had only maintained her position by a series
of lucky accidents. And what living soul could tell whether she had been
true to Frodsham? But he envied Frodsham his unclouded faith and the
happiness that love brought to his hearth.
Thus Sylvester walked homewards, his thoughts revolving in a vicious
circle. At Baker Street Station he passed through a crowd that was
gathering around two fringed and feathered coster-girls shrieking and
biting and cursing in a policeman’s grip. They were too much for one
man, for your coster-girl in drink is a she-devil, and possessed
of extraordinary activities. One escaped, and as her companion was
struggling with the constable, she rushed at his face with a gigantic
hat-pin held dagger-wise.
In an instant Sylvester had dropped his light coat and had seized
the fury by the arms from behind. And there he held her pinioned. She
kicked, she butted, she poured out torrents of filth, she struggled,
she tried to lie down, to the great excitement of the crowd, who, out of
respect for the hat-pin, kept at a reasonable distance off, and expected
to see a battle royal in which the slight man in evening dress would get
the worst of it. But they were not prepared for such an exhibition of
sheer strength on the part of the slight man. He stood like a figure
of bronze, holding the foul and frenzied Amazon almost at arm’s length,
lifting her like a child when she tried to fall, forcing her down when
she tried to leap into the air. The tussle, as far as Sylvester was
concerned, did not last long; for two policemen, forcing their way
through the throng, speedily relieved him of his charge and the lady of
the hat-pin. Whereupon Sylvester, cheered by the crowd, coolly took
his overcoat from a man who was holding it, and walked away down Baker
The incident, although not tending to raise the Eternal Feminine in his
esteem, broke the train of his morbid imaginings. He glowed with
the sense of victory and chuckled quietly to himself. The successful
application of one’s own brute force brings exultation to the primitive
savage in a man.
“I’m not in such bad training, after all,” he said to himself
So he sprang up the steps of the house in Weymouth Street in a much
healthier frame of mind than that in which he had descended them some
hours before. The sudden stirring of the blood had done him good.
“Mr. Lanyon is here, sir,” said a servant, meeting him in the hall. “He
said he would wait until you came home.”
Sylvester disregarded the letters lying on the hall table, and ran
upstairs to the drawing-room, where somewhat breathlessly he expressed
his delight and wonder at seeing his father. But he was struck almost
immediately with dismay at the look of illness on the old man’s face.
“You have no business to be here,” he exclaimed. “You ought to be in
bed. For God’s sake, father, what is wrong with you?” He looked at him
keenly. “It is the heart, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that and other things,” Matthew admitted; “I have been a bit seedy
lately. But I’ll look after myself; don’t fret. And I didn’t come here
to talk about my inside. I had to come up to town on business, so I
thought I’d look in instead of writing. I haven’t been waiting long. You
see, your man has made me quite comfortable.”
He pointed to a tray by his side with whisky, soda, and glasses, and a
box of cigars. Sylvester poured himself out a drink and bit off the end
of a cigar.
“What’s gone wrong?” he asked, striking a match.
“This confounded marriage of Ella’s.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it, father, if I were you. They are just worth
one another. She has proved she’s on his level by accepting him.”
“Not at all, not at all,” said the old man. “That shows you know nothing
of women. It is one of the most astounding facts about an astounding
sex, that women of absolute refinement will throw themselves away upon
the most obvious cad, be utterly blind to his coarseness, if once he
gets a hold upon them. It’s a kind of helpless infatuation. It doesn’t
at all argue the degeneration of the woman.”
“Well, you can withhold your consent, and in the mean time try to open
“I have already given my consent, and there are reasons why I can’t open
her eyes,” said Matthew, rather slowly, looking at his finger tips.
Sylvester swung a straight-backed chair from its place and sat down near
“Then you are not going to interfere at all? Don’t you think that is.
the best thing you can do? Let them work out their own salvation or
damnation, as the case may be.”
“I love Ella as my own daughter, Syl, and I would save her if I could.”
“Then I don’t understand,” said Sylvester. “Forgive my being
impertinent, Syl, but this is a serious matter. Weren’t you fond of Ella
yourself, some time ago?”
The eyes of father and son met, and the eyes of each were very keen.
“I would rather not answer the question,” said Sylvester.
“You needn’t,” replied Matthew, taking a sip of his whisky and soda.
There was a short silence. Sylvester smoked on, his glance fixed on his
father’s face, his mind more concerned with the traces of illness and
suffering that he read there than with the subject under discussion.
“Syl,” said the old man, at last, looking at his son, “we are neither of
us sentimental people.”
“I suppose we’re not,” assented Sylvester, with a short laugh.
“Good. So what I want to say to you is serious. You have been a good son
to me. I’ve tried to do my duty by you. But I’ve never asked you to do
a thing for my sake during the whole course of your life. Do you think I
should be justified in starting now?”
“It stands to reason,” said Sylvester.
Matthew rose from his chair and put his hand on his son’s shoulder. With
all the tenderness of his heart, he was a man singularly little given to
outward demonstrations of affection.
“Then do everything in your power,” said he, “to stop this marriage. For
my sake.” He turned and walked away. “I can do nothing,” he added.
“Very well,” replied Sylvester, quietly; “I’ll stop it.”
“Don’t undertake too much. I only asked you to try.”
“I’ve said I’ll stop it, and I will. Even if it comes to–”
“To marrying her myself,” said Sylvester, grimly.
Matthew sat down again, and then passed one of the long silences, so
common between these two, who seemed to understand each other better
when no words were spoken. Each man kept his own life’s secrets hidden
in his heart, would have gone through torture rather than reveal them to
the other, or indeed to any human being, and yet each was dearer to the
other than any being on earth. Speech, then, on intimate matters was
dragged reluctantly and painfully from their souls, which preferred
to hold a silent and mysterious communion. Even what he had said to
Sylvester this evening seemed to Matthew an indecency, an exposure of an
integral part of himself that the proud man kept hidden under a usually
inscrutable veil of reserve. It was characteristic of both that the
subject received no further allusion.
“I must think about turning in,” said Matthew at last.
“I’ll go and see if they’ve made things comfortable for you,” said
“But, bless you, man, I’m not billeting myself on you and turning your
house upside down. I’m putting up at the Charing Cross Hotel.”
“You’d better stay here for two or three days and let me doctor you a
bit,” said Sylvester.
But the old man pooh-pooh’d the idea. He did not want doctoring. He had
had some worrying intricate business lately. These confounded landed
proprietors,–they got their affairs into the most disastrous muddles,
and when once they had put them into a lawyer’s hands thought themselves
relieved of all responsibilities and gaily went off to borrow more
money. God may have made man in his own image, but he certainly forgot
to supply the majority of the images with brains. However, he had set
things straight by now and could take it easy for a bit. When he wanted
Sylvester to doctor him, he would say so.
Against his will and better judgment, Sylvester had to let him go.
He announced his intention of walking to Charing Cross, but Sylvester
anticipated him by whistling up a hansom at the street door. Matthew
protested. He had always walked home.
“Do something for my sake,–for a change,” said Sylvester, with a touch
The old man laughed, entered the cab, and drove off.
Sylvester went upstairs to finish his cigar. The world seemed a more
ironical place than it had appeared some hours before. He felt certain
aches in his fingers and sundry tinglings in his shins. He stooped and
rubbed the latter with a meditative smile. There was another young woman
between whom and her desires he was about to come. He speculated on the
prospect of rubbing his shins after that encounter.
“I wonder how it is to be done,” he said, lying back in his chair.
His promise was given. He would have unquestioningly married his fair
antagonist of Baker Street had his father so commanded. But all the same
it was not without uneasiness that he contemplated his mission. And as
for the girl he had undertaken to save, he assured himself that he took
no interest whatever in her destiny.
To celebrate the engagement, Lady Milmo held a great reception to which
came crowds of distinguished and undistinguished persons, but it was
characteristic of her gatherings that the former far outnumbered the
latter. The air hummed with congratulations and with laudations of Art.
Sylvester, moving sardonically through the press, felt like a visitor
dazed by the whirl cf a great unfamiliar factory. He confessed the
feeling to an acquaintance who fluttered between the two worlds of art
“The manufactory of artificial ideals,” laughed the latter, having also
to maintain a reputation for epigram.
The wit stayed to speak with a friend, and Sylvester tried to edge his
way towards the further end of the room where Ella stood talking with a
couple of men. From where he was he could see that she looked more than
usually beautiful. Her face was flushed, her eyes held the light of
enthusiasm, her young figure in a simple white silk dress stood out
proud and defiant against the darkness of an open window. It
recalled vividly to his mind her attitude when long, long ago she had
passionately expressed her faith in the glory of the world. His
lips twitched in a half-smile. All around him he heard snatches of
conversation in which the engagement was alluded to. A man cast doubts
on Roderick’s solvency. A girl declared she would just as soon marry a
steam-organ. A lean, anxious woman with a mechanical grin ecstaticised
over the union. The Art Colony was discussed on all sides.
Presently Roderick, resplendent in a great white bow that fell half over
his shirt-front and almost hid a topaz solitaire, caught sight of him
and hailed him with a southern wave of his hand.
“My dear comrade,” he cried as soon as he was within hand-shaking range
of Sylvester, “it does my heart good to see you here to share our joy.
Have you spoken to her yet? There she is–
‘Oh, she is fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars!’
Isn’t she? A throbbing moment, _amigo_.”
“I’m glad to see you so much in love,” said Sylvester. “It’s
“Cynic!” said Roderick. “That’s why your hair is turning grey. Look at
mine,–fresh as a rose in June. And I’m older than you.”
“How’s the Utopia?”
“Colossal. Come, I’ll introduce you to Sir Decimus Bland. Lady Derring
has fixed me with her glassy eye, and I must obey her call. Sir Decimus,
let me present my oldest and most valued friend, Dr. Sylvester Lanyon,
the terror of bacilli.”
Sir Decimus was a portly red-faced man who, from a habit of holding his
hands in front of him, looked as if he were supporting a model of one
of his Art galleries after the self-conscious manner of a “donor,”
supporting his church in the company of various saints in an old Italian
painting. He puffed as he spoke and glared amiably through a single
“Delighted to make your acquaintance, Dr. Lanyon,” said he. “Your name
is a household word in the domain of science. In our domain we also have
bacilli to fight against,–commercialism, insincerity, all the cankers
that destroy the soul of art.”
“So you are going to choose an environment unsuitable for their
development, I hear,” said Sylvester.
“Yes, the Walden Art Colony. I am, as you may know, guaranteeing the
Director’s salary. Our fortunate friend is just the man for the post.”
“When do you think it will take practical shape?” asked Sylvester.
“We hope to start next spring–and under very happy auspices. I look
upon this as a fitting culmination to the poor services I have been able
to render to Art in this country. Are you interested in the movement,
“Not financially. I hardly know enough about it. One thing I don’t quite
understand. I thought an artist gave out the experience he had gathered
in his contact with real life. How is he going to get that contact if he
buries himself in what amounts to a desert island?”
“He goes direct to nature,” replied Sir Decimus, platitudinously.
“Does he?” argued Sylvester. “Rocks and trees are all very well
for pretty pictures. But what about love and sorrow and other human
emotions. He seems to get away entirely from the important side of
“Yes, yes, so I grant. But it’s hardly that,” puffed Sir Decimus,
mopping his forehead. “Ah, here is Urquhart; he will tell you all about
it. Don’t you know Urquhart?”
He performed the introduction, stated the case at great length with a
confusion that irritated the scientist’s trained mind, and then, with
visible relief, moved away. Bevis Urquhart, a slight young man, with
a tiny silky black moustache and a languid manner, began a patient
explanation. Sylvester had heard of him as a lad of great wealth who
had convulsed a whole county by refusing to ride to hounds and uttering
blasphemy against partridge shooting. It was whispered that he had
invented a new religion and had an oratory in his bedroom fitted with
expensive idols made of chrysoprasus.
“It is the mistake of the crowd,” said he, “to regard Art as an
interpretation of experience. Art has nothing to do with Life. Life
claims all for itself and so kills Art, drains it of its blood. In other
words, Life claims Art, Art does not claim Life. If not, Art would be
unexpressed. The poem would remain a pure crystal in the soul of the
poet, the picture a fair-hued mist in the fantasy of the painter. Art is
the revelation of the Undetermined, and this can only reach its fulness
in the quietude of the soul.”
“Thank you,” said Sylvester; “you have given me a lucid solution of my
The young man smiled deprecatingly.
“Pardon me. I try to be an artist in words, and lucidity is so brutal
and commonplace. Do you read Mallarmé?”
“No,” said Sylvester. “When I want wholesome unintelligibility I read
Urquhart looked pained. There was a slight pause.
“Fond of bicycling?” asked Sylvester, cheerily.
Again came the pitying smile over the face of the young
“I know so little of the things one does with one’s body,” he said.
“Better learn,” said Sylvester. “Capital exercise. Shakes up your liver,
Here he was carried off by Lady Milmo, who was dying to introduce him to
“Do you understand all the things they talk about here?” he asked.
Lady Milmo regarded him with a twinkling eye.
“God bless your soul, no,” she said.
“I suppose they’re all exceedingly clever?”
Lady Milmo stood upon the points of her toes and looked around, as if
to take in all her guests in one comprehensive glance. Then she half
whispered into his ear,–“They’ve all got to talk like that to one
another for the sake of their reputations. But I go round and talk to
each in turn of their cooks or their stomachs, according to sex,–and
they love it!”
“Well, I’d sooner talk to you, Lady Milmo,–though not of my
stomach,–than to any of these people,” said Sylvester, with a laugh.
“Can’t you steal five minutes?”
Lady Milmo spied a couple of vacant chairs in a near corner, and sitting
down on one motioned Sylvester to the other. Then she smiled. She was
a kind-hearted woman, and in spite of her false air of youth possessed
much charm of manner.
“I suppose you want to talk about the engagement!” she said.
“No, not particularly. What do you think of this Colony, where Ella
proposes to exile herself?”
“Utter rubbish,” said Lady Milmo.
Sylvester expressed surprise. “I was under the impression that you were
one of its fervent propagandists.”
“Oh, one must do something,” she replied inconsequently. “One bubble
is just as good as another to blow during the season. Whether it’s
providing eau de cologne for released criminals, or founding a Garden of
Eden for unsuccessful poets, it all comes to the same thing in the end.
You look puzzled. Well, what is one person’s amusement is another’s
“But all these promoters–Ella and Roderick–they believe in it?”
“Oh, yes, they believe in it. People will believe in anything,–Mr.
Urquhart’s new religion, for instance. But the Art Colony is rubbish.
Don’t put a penny in it. I haven’t. It may be a romantic toy for Ella to
play with for the first two years of her married life, but then she will
come back and settle down to a reasonable existence. You won’t give me
away, will you?”
Sylvester promised, and a few moments later found himself standing
alone, wrapped in gloomy wonder at the inanity of life. A voice roused
him from his meditation.
He started and found Ella by his side. She looked at him boldly, with a
little triumphant gleam of defiance. He shook hands, explained that his
object in accepting the invitation was to offer her his congratulations.
Social convention required the formula. Ella’s ear, however, detected an
ironical note, and the blood came swiftly to her cheeks.
“For a man who scorns hypocrisy–” she began; then checked herself. His
regard of grave inquiry made her swiftly conscious of a false position,
and her cheeks flamed hotter.
“You know what I mean,” she said. “You don’t really congratulate me.”
“Why do you say so?”
“I feel that you are inimical to me, and you have never liked Roderick.”
“One can wish one’s enemies well,” he remarked with a half-smile.
“Why should we be your enemies? You should hear how differently Roderick
speaks of you.”
“My dear Ella,” replied Sylvester, “I have not uttered a single word
against Roderick. It would be in very bad taste for me to do so. I have
known him for many years, and we still meet. But he is not an intimate
friend of mine.”
“You dislike him,” said Ella. “I feel that you do.”
The feline that is in the nature of all women–just as its stronger,
tigerish development is in the nature of all men–tingled to her finger
ends. She felt the velvet sheaths stiffen back. The sight of him angered
her. She itched to provoke him to battle, to fall on him tooth and claw
if he took up her challenge. An unreasoning instinct clamoured also for
violent defence of Roderick. It was a psychological moment full of many
feminine complexities which she half understood; and that made her the
Sylvester, looking only on the surface, smiled somewhat contemptuously
at her desire to scratch. Certainly he had undertaken a campaign against
her; but he felt that so undignified a skirmish was not the wisest
preliminary to hostilities. He had come here, besides, to reconnoitre.
“Why should I dislike Roderick?” he asked.
“Because you never try to understand anybody. Because Roderick has not
locked himself up in your iron cage of convention; because he hasn’t set
himself up on a pillar of impeccability as you have done. You sit
within your own prim parlour of moderation and think the man who goes to
generous extremes is a lost soul. You need not have congratulated me. I
should not have resented it. I should have understood and have given you
credit for honesty.”
But Sylvester was not to be drawn into strife. He replied equably that
he would withdraw his congratulations, if they offended her. Meanwhile
they might talk of something pleasanter. She suggested Shakespeare and
the musical glasses, with a fine air of disdain.
“Or the Walden Art Colony?” said Sylvester.
“What have you to say against the Colony?” she flashed.
“Nothing at all. Do you believe in it?”
“With all my heart. It is a great movement. It is an idea to live for.
It is the first thing I have had to believe in since–since I threw off
the girl and became a woman.”
“And I sincerely hope it won’t be the last,” he replied with grave
irony. And as a young man drew nigh to take his leave of Ella, he bowed
and turned away with a saturnine sense of a victory after which there
would be no rubbing of shins. But Ella, although she smiled sweetly on
the young man, felt that she had been foolish in wantonly exposing
herself to Sylvester’s cold mockery, and the brightness of her evening
suffered a miserable eclipse. It was only when Sir Decimus Bland came up
and talked Colony with ponderous patronage, and elevated her to the
dignity of high-priestess of the undefined cult of the Higher Art, that
she regained her self-respect and looked more serenely on the universe.
It was late October. People were beginning to return to London, and
among the early arrivals was Lady Milmo, who had been longing to escape
from the discomforts of foreign hotels and English country-houses to her
own familiar surroundings in Pont Street. With her came Ella, who was
anxious to resume the work of the Colony. She had spent the latter part
of July and August in Ayresford.
It had been a time of rest and quiet happiness, for she loved the old
man in a wistful, daughterly way; yet, in spite of his tender courtesy,
she had divined in him the same antagonism to Roderick as she had
discovered in Sylvester, and this had put a constraint in their
relations which had never before existed. The engagement was seldom
referred to, and though the girl’s cheek flushed with pleasure at
Roderick’s morning letter, yet during the rest of the day she was
happier when he was not vivid in her thoughts.
At first it had been arranged that Roderick should pay a long-promised
visit to his father at the same time. But when it came to the point
of making definite arrangements, he had found his presence, in the
interests of the Colony, essential elsewhere. As a matter of fact, the
elder Usher jarred upon his son’s more refined susceptibilities. His
personal acquaintance with Ella was sufficiently annoying to Roderick;
but to sit by in silent apology, while she was being overspread with
unctuous and paternal platitudes, was an ordeal too exasperating to
face. So following as usual the line of least resistance, he had accepted
one or two pleasant and profitable invitations. His non-appearance,
though she credited herself with a feeling of disappointment, was a
relief to Ella. She had passed lately through many conflicting emotions,
and she needed solitude, a period of moral repose, wherein to realise
both herself and circumstances. For a proud girl does not surrender to a
man almost against her will, without striving in her heart to account
it to herself as a victory. The fact of the strained relations between
Matthew and Usher, of which Miss Agatha Lanyon informed her, also
mitigated her regret. They were at daggers drawn, did not even salute
each other in the street. Roderick’s absence avoided a grotesque
Montague and Capulet situation. It further saved her from much personal
intercourse with Usher, for whom she entertained no very high opinion.
Once, however, she dined with him ceremoniously. He talked in his
reiterative way of the comfort a daughter would be to his old age, and
represented himself as the most generous and indulgent of parents. He
alluded to Matthew more in sorrow than in anger. A man with whom he had
been in intimate bonds of friendship for forty years to throw him over
at the last! It was grievous; it was ageing him rapidly. He was always a
faithful friend. It was his disposition. The saint leered at her out of
his red-rimmed eyes, and Ella felt a shiver of repulsion which lasted
till the next morning, when a fervid epistle from Roderick restored her
“I can’t make out why Matthew and Mr. Usher have quarrelled,” said Miss
Lanyon during the day.
“And I wonder why they haven’t quarrelled for forty years,” returned
Ella. “Oh, don’t look shocked, auntie. It is no reason for me to adore a
man because I am engaged to his son!”
Thenceforward she became a violent though silent partisan of Matthew in
his dispute. There must have been serious grounds for such a quarrel;
Matthew could do no wrong; therefore Usher must have treated him
shamefully. The syllogism was perfectly conclusive. This feeling and
a growing anxiety as to the old man’s health did much to lessen the
constraint between them. For he was constantly ailing, and was not
the man she had seen fifteen months before. She left him with great
reluctance, in spite of the glowing impatience of Roderick, with whom
she was to spend some weeks as the guest of Sir Decimus Bland.
Now it was October, and London life began again. Lady Milmo busied
herself in spinning her gossamer web of affairs and appeared smiling and
contented. Ella devoted herself to such studies as she considered would
be of benefit in her peculiar position as Lady Director of the Colony.
Roderick was ever by with suggestion and advice. Things were going
splendidly. Some three thousand pounds had already been subscribed
and lay at Roderick’s bankers. Three thousand more had been promised,
irrespective of Sir Decimus’s undertaking to provide the Director’s
salary. With another four thousand they could start. Ella offered to
provide it. Roderick shook his head. It had better come from the great
heart of the public. She persisted and wrote to Matthew. He urged her
almost passionately not to put money into the scheme until she was
married. Thus Roderick and Matthew were in accord on the point, and Ella
“When is it to be, dearest?” asked Roderick one day.
The question came suddenly after a short pause in their talk. It was
during the few minutes before dinner. Roderick was dining in Pont
Street, and Lady Milmo not having come down yet, they were alone.
“You know,” replied Ella, with a halfsmile.
“Ah, do I?” said he. “I don’t love contingencies. I long for the
glorious life with you, my wonderful Ella. And I am a man, and waiting
She flushed slightly. The consciousness of being desired ever quickens
a woman’s pulses. But she also loves the sense of mastery in maintaining
herself within impregnable walls. In this perhaps lies the delicious
paradox of her sex.
“I keep to my terms,” she said. “Within a week of our starting for the
Colony. Not before. It will give a new sacredness to our work and to our
married life if we begin them both at the same time.”
“But who knows when the inauguration of the colony will be?” asked
“It could be now, practically, if you would let me furnish the deficit.”
“Ah, no,” he said. “You would be acting against a principle very dear
to me. It must be others who give their money. We give our lives. If
you subscribe, the prestige of the Colony as a great public movement is
gone. It is bound to come to ripeness. But like an exquisite fruit it
“I am happy to wait for the ripening,” said Ella.
“But I?” He threw out his arms passionately. “Ella, do you know what the
madness of love is? Don’t you fear that in the first rapturous days of
life with you I might forget the work for your enchantment? Would it
not be better to begin the work in the sweet fulness of our wedded
life,–when we have learned each other in the way that only wedded life
“It will be better to begin things together,” she replied with feminine
He pleaded flamboyantly. Why not fix the date of his great happiness
for Christmas,–the time of universal rejoicing? The marriage would
stimulate imaginations. The deficit would be made up fourfold.
Subscriptions would come in by way of wedding gifts. Ella remained
“Before I loved you, the cause was everything to me. Since then, you are
everything. The cause is second. It is the irrefragable law of life and
“To me,” replied Ella, “the cause and you are one.”
She glanced up swiftly and caught, as it seemed, a look of irritation on
his face,–a contraction of the brows, a snarl of the lips between the
auburn moustache and beard, showing the teeth. But it passed like a
lightning flash and left his face aglow with such exuberant adoration
that she attributed it to some-trick of shadow, and dismissed it from
But as the days went on, a vague uneasiness took root and began to
grow. Roderick spoke less of the Colony, more of herself. Negotiations
appeared to be at a standstill. No more names swelled the subscription
list; Roderick took no further steps to make fresh converts among the
young and ardent. He pleaded the necessity of work to supply ordinary
personal needs. He tried to awaken her enthusiasm over a flaring picture
of _Love the Destroyer_, which he had begun to paint. She went one day
to his studio to see it. Love stood, triumphant and cruel, a two-handed
sword in his hand. Around him was the carnage for which he was
responsible. An emaciated creature at last gasp was kissing his feet.
There was a suggestion of the flesh in it that jarred upon the girl. The
commonplace of the conception chilled her. She remained staring at the
picture. It was long before she could trust herself to look at Roderick.
At last she did so, unable to hide her disappointment.
“You do not like it?” said Roderick, eagerly.
“Forgive me–” she began rather piteously.
“Say no more,” he cried, and with a magnificent gesture he seized a
cloth, and in great, swift sweeps of his arm smeared the picture into
a horrid chaos of greens and yellows. Ella sprang forward with a little
“So perish all in me that you deem unworthy!” he exclaimed fervently.
The act brought the woman in her to his feet. Who was she to judge the
creation of an artist’s genius? Had he let it stand, she would have
loved the picture. The annihilation, at her bidding, of the result of
days of artistic travail smote her with a sense of guilt. She was ready
to lament a lost masterpiece. She would never rest until he repainted
it. He magnanimously refused. The first impression of a picture on a
pure and beautiful soul was the true one. She would be the touchstone of
all his life’s work. He sent her away at once raised and humbled. But
to make amends, she threw herself earnestly into a new conception of
the subject that he put before her, and watched it taking shape upon the
canvas with intense eagerness. And in the meanwhile the Colony was not
quite so much on the surface of her thoughts. Now and then, however, she
questioned him anxiously. Once he turned upon her in solemn reproach,–
“Do I understand that you are afraid of my faltering in the sacred cause
to which we have devoted ourselves?”
Ella was impressed with his dignity and again rebuked herself for her
want of faith. Women are indignant when they are told how often they are
taken in by fustian.
November came. She met Sylvester at dinner one evening at Lady Milmo’s
for the first time since the At Home in July, given to celebrate her
engagement. He sat silent during the meal. Roderick, who made the
fourth, was in his gayest mood. Rebellious defiance again came uppermost
in the girl’s heart, and she strove to put forward all her brilliance.
She compared the two men: one, cold, sombre, severe,–a mere intellect
clothed in the outer semblance of humanity; the other warm-hearted,
enthusiastic, sensitive to every impression of life, and gifted with
a perception of a world that had never entered into the purview of
his fellow’s dreams. She fortified her unmitigated resentment against
Sylvester with disdain. How could she ever have loved such a bloodless
piece of mechanism? She lashed with scorn her girlish folly. A
heightened colour and an added lustre to her eyes rendered dazzling her
ordinary girlish beauty.
“You are not one, but all wondrous womankind’s epitome to-night,”
whispered Roderick, in the drawing-room afterwards.
“That is foolishness,” she replied, “but I–I was just going to say I
have never felt so proud of you as I have done this evening.”
Roderick laughed. “I’m afraid it is because dear old Syl sits by so glum
while I’m such a chatterbox,” he said.
Ella shot a swift glance upwards. Really this man had marvellous
intuition. Could he ever have suspected–? Her cheek burned. But to her
comforting no trace of malicious insinuation lurked in the frankness of
his eyes. His deprecation of her tribute was sincere.
Lady Milmo went to the piano. She had a dainty taste in music, and
having lately added an obscure but colossal Herzigovinan rhapsodist to
her menagerie, found intense delight in his compositions. He was only
two and twenty and had already reached op. 236. This Lady Milmo began
to play, while Roderick self-sacrificingly turned over the leaves.
Sylvester exchanged commonplace remarks with Ella. The consciousness of
the task he had undertaken somewhat weighed upon him. He was to break
off the marriage. How? Only by fair means. A man of scrupulous honour,
he characterised as foul any secret investigations into Roderick’s
financial position or past career. Nor could he asperse Roderick’s
character while maintaining with him a semblance of friendly relations.
To declare open war would be foolish. He could do nothing but bide his
opportunity. Meanwhile he was less than ever at his ease with Ella. She,
however, interpreted his constraint as contemptuous indifference, and
once more she longed for battle. The memory of her humiliation on
the night of Lady Milmo’s reception only made her irritation more
unbearable. A chance remark about his father gave her the longed for
opportunity to stab.
“I suppose you know Uncle Matthew’s health is failing,’’ she said
“I am afraid so,” he said.
“Then why aren’t you by his side to take care of him? Since you left he
has been gradually breaking down. Neglect is killing him.”
Sylvester curled the ends of his moustache and regarded her impassively.
“You are trying to hurt me,” he said. “I do not neglect my father.”
“No. You are a paragon of all the excellences. If you had some
infirmities, you might be a better and a happier man.”
“I do not believe in the new doctrine of the saving quality of evil,”
he replied. “I am of the old-fashioned opinion that evil taints the
character, blunts the moral sense, and comes out sooner or later in evil
“You talk like a Sunday-school tract,” said Ella, with a short laugh.
“But I was speaking of Uncle Matthew–”
“I should like to speak of him too,” said Sylvester, curtly. “Your
engagement is a great unhappiness to him. He loves you like his own
daughter. You know that. If you had consulted him beforehand, perhaps it
would have been kinder. What his reasons are for wishing it broken off I
do not know, but you may be quite certain they are good ones.”
Ella looked across the room to the piano where the Herzigovinan rhapsody
was in full tumult of crashing chords, and then edged nearer Sylvester
on the couch where they were sitting.
“Are you aware that you are committing an impertinence in speaking to me
like that?” she said in an undertone. “How dare you? I acknowledge Uncle
Matthew as my guardian. But you–what right have you to touch upon my
affairs? What concern can you have in them?”
“Absolutely none,–personally. But my father is dear to me. If I could
break off your engagement to please him, I should do so.”
“Are you going to try?”
“Yes, I shall try,” he replied coldly. Their eyes met in undisguised
“It would take a better man than you, Sylvester Lanyon,” she said.
She rose and walked to the fireplace, with an air of great stateliness.
Sylvester did not attempt to follow her, but lay back on the couch as
if rapt in the music. But his evil mood was upon him. He had at once
divined her desire to wound him in his tenderest spot. It was like a
woman. He felt a great scorn for her. The music suddenly ceased. He
uttered a conventional murmur. Roderick broke into ecstatic comment.
“A divine genius! Interpreting the message of the wild winds of his
mountain fastnesses,–the elemental throbbing in the hearts of his
rugged forefathers. Ella, Moskovic must come to Walden. This supreme
spirit must not be clogged by the banality of London concert rooms. He
must breathe the freedom of the woods and streams.”
“He has half consented already,” said Ella.
“The silly fool!” muttered Sylvester, beneath his breath.
“Ah, my comrade,” cried Roderick, turning suddenly round, “what message
has science to deliver comparable to this?”
“None that I’m aware of, thank Heaven!” replied Sylvester.
Roderick broke into his gay laughter and crossed the room.
“We must think of him kindly, as good Catholics do of those that sit in
darkness and ignorance, eh, Ella?”
With a lover’s gesture he passed his arm lightly around Ella’s waist,
and drew her with ever so delicate a pressure a little nearer to him,
and looked tenderly into her eyes.
Sylvester started to his feet. A feeling unexpected, undreamed of,
hateful, passed through him,–a wave of disgust, of sudden, fierce
hatred of Roderick standing there as the undisputed possessor of Ella
Defries. Had the man kissed her, he would have struck him. A phrase
formulated in Heaven knows what cell of his brain leaped with ghastly
suddenness into his mind. How dare that loathsome brute touch her? The
revulsion was physical, almost unendurable. It lasted but a moment or
two. Then Ella moved away and Lady Milmo came up with a light remark,
and the world was as it was before,–a great grim vanity which he
regarded with apathetic indifference.
He took his leave early, pleading professional duties. Ella gave him
a defiant hand and her lips had a contemptuous curl as she bade him
good-night. Roderick, taking upon himself the part of man of the house,
accompanied him downstairs and pressed whisky and soda upon him amid
fervid expressions of regard. The discreet man-servant helped him on
with his overcoat, and the welcome cold air of the street was upon him.
There was a touch, of early frost and the stars shone clear. The memory
of his unaccountable seizure half an hour ago brought back the memory
of a night in Ayresford when he had read, as his heart prompted, the
message of the stars. He hailed a passing cab, entered it with the air
of a man who has the business of life to consider and not the dreams
of a dead past. But in spite of himself the dreams came back, ugly and
chilling, and he spent the drive home in brooding thought. What did
Roderick’s caresses matter to him? Did he not despise Ella utterly? For
aught he cared they might marry into eternal misery to-morrow. It was
only for his father’s sake that he wished to part them. Roderick was a
plausible knave, Ella a woman, feline, treacherous, delicate of face and
gross of soul. They were well paired. He laughed cynically as he settled
down to his evening’s work in his laboratory. Here at least were things
which he could understand. The growth of a bacillus in a bed of jelly
was comprehensible. He could see it, test it. But who could see the
growth of a lie in the heart of a human being? And the man himself was
unconscious that a dead love had awakened that evening from its sleep
and had passionately, for one brief instant, raised the stone that
covered the mouth of its tomb.
Roderick drove away from Lady Milmo’s in a far more comfortable frame
of mind than Sylvester. The evening had been a success. Hitherto, in
spite of his conviction that his hold upon Ella was secure, he had been
puzzled as to the nature of her feelings towards him. Over the life-work
they were to carry out in common she had always glowed; in their purely
personal relations she had exhibited a sad lack of emotionality. His
vanity had often been piqued by her regarding him less as a man than as
the incarnation of an idea. At the same time his own feelings had been
simulated to love. He honestly desired her beauty, youth, and wit. As a
proof thereof, he had abandoned with entire distaste the latest of the
many minor affairs of the heart in which his emotional life had been
spent. A breath of something sweeter, purer, nobler, had stirred his
soul. The train of courtesans shrank back affrighted, and he walked
serene with the higher woman. But desiring her thus uniquely, the man
in him craved response. Until to-night she had given none. To-night,
however, the statue had grown warm woman. She had avowed her pride in
him, had yielded adorably to his caress; before they parted she had
given him her lips.
At last he felt the triumph of possession. At last she was his to mould
and cherish. A little pleading and their wedded life would dawn with the
New Year. He was confident of victory.
Yet his heart sank like lead two days afterwards, when he had dropped a
couple of letters into the pillar-box outside his chambers. He stopped
and gazed abstractedly at the oblong imperturbable mouth of the red,
almost personal thing, to which he had irrevocably intrusted his
destiny. For the letters contained cheques to the amount of over three
thousand pounds, and the balance at his bankers, on whom they were
drawn, consisted mainly of the funds of the Walden Art Colony.
Yet what could he have done? To-morrow the bills, once renewed, with
a foolish youngster’s name at the back of them, would fall due. His
father, to whom he had trusted, had refused help. The forcing of the
youngster to pay would at the least create scandal, and scandal
would mean loss of reputation, loss of Ella, and general downfall.
Misappropriation of the funds saved his credit for a season. It would
give him time to urge on his marriage, whilst he cunningly arrested
the progress of the Colony. Once married, he was practically master
of Ella’s fortune. A pretext for obtaining a few thousands, so as to
replace the misappropriated sum with his bankers, would easily be found
by a man of his resource. Before posting the letters he had felt the
half-contemptuous exhilaration of the gambler who bets on a certainty.
But now that the bet was entered and made final, doubts and fears began
to assail him. He looked two years older as he walked down St. James’s
Street to his club.
A whisky and apollinaris restored his nerves, so that when young
Lathrop, who had backed the bills, came up to him with a long face, he
was able to assume his southern manner.
“Dearest of friends–” he began.
“It strikes me, Usher, _you_‘ll be the dearest of friends to-morrow,”
broke in the young man,–“those confounded bills, you know.”
“Bills!” cried Roderick. “What are you talking to me of bills for? Do
you think I am going to let the bloodsuckers feast upon your young and
beauteous form? My child, put aside that pessimism which is sapping your
youth. Behold, Israel is satisfied.”
He drew his cheque-book from his pocket and showed the counterfoils to
the two cheques. Lathrop looked intensely relieved. Then he blushed and
stammered. He was devilish sorry; but the time was getting so close.
Would Usher have a drink? Roderick assented and drank another whisky and
“You needn’t noise abroad the fact of my astounding solvency,” he said,
before they parted. “I hope you haven’t told any one about the bills.”
“Only Urquhart. I saw him last night,” said the young man.
“You’ll be a Metternich yet, Willie,” replied Roderick. As young Lathrop
belonged to the diplomatic service, he was dimly conscious that his
friend’s remark was in some fashion ironical. But Roderick waved him a
flourishing adieu and swaggered out of the club.
A man met him on the steps.
“Seen Willie Lathrop lately?”
Roderick looked him squarely between the eyes.
“He ‘s a braying jackass,” he said.
Having thus conveyed an answer to the implied question and given vent to
his anger at the same time, he hailed a cab and drove to Pont Street. It
was a foggy, murky day. Already the lights had appeared in shop windows,
and, where they streamed, the pavement and roadway glistened in brown
slime. Impressionable to external surroundings, Roderick shivered and
drew his fur coat closer round him. The world wore an air of hopeless
depression. On such a day no human undertaking could prosper. It was
only his intellectual contempt for superstition that restrained him from
turning round and driving back to his club. The dreary stretch of Sloane
Street seemed interminable. At last he arrived and was shown up to the
drawing-room. Lady Milmo, Ella, and a lady visitor were having afternoon
tea. He exerted himself to amuse in his usual way, but his efforts
resulted in failure. When should he be able to see Ella alone? The lady
visitor seemed resolved to outstay him. She plied him with questions
concerning the Colony. He replied vaguely. Realisation of the project
was a long way off. To start such a concern otherwise than on a sound
financial basis was magnificent, but it was not business. He was
thinking of a last appeal to the public. Ella listened, somewhat out of
spirits. Roderick’s pessimistic utterances argued loss of faith in the
Colony. He caught her glance fixed upon him with perturbed questioning,
and his depression deepened.
At last they were alone. He cleared his throat and plunged into the
midst of things. Speech restored his confidence. He made an eloquent
appeal. He loved her, worshipped her; the deferring of their marriage to
an indefinite date was making his heart sick, robbing him of energy and
the joy of life. Christmas it must be. He hinted at personages waiting
for their marriage to subscribe largely to the fund. What had the
marriage to do with it? Well, he was an artist, a Bohemian; his very
class did not inspire confidence. But his marriage would set upon him
the seal of irreproachable responsibility. He pleaded desperately,
the restoration of the three thousand pounds being his paramount and
imperative aim. His heart sank at the coldness with which she received
his fervour. His ear detected the note of insincerity, to which he felt
conscious she, too, was sensitive.
“I can’t marry you yet, Roderick,” she said, at length, wearily. “I
can’t. It means too much.”
“Then you don’t love me,” he exclaimed, starting to his feet. The old
dramatic device did not succeed.
“Sometimes I do,” she said. “At others–I don’t know–I shall love you
wholly when we realise our dreams.”
“That will be the Great Never Never,” he replied tragically, “for when
did man ever realise his dreams?”
The dressing gong sounded through the house. She rose and put out her
“You must be patient with me, Roderick. Usually you understand so
finely; can’t you understand now?”
“I understand that you are a woman of an imperious will, to which it
will always be my pride to bow,” he responded.
There was no help for it. No more pleading could move her that
afternoon. He had to take his leave. When the drawing-room door shut
behind him, his expression changed, and he descended the stairs cursing
the Colony and all who were concerned therein. He went back to his club,
dined, lost fifty pounds at cards, and went to bed morose and miserable.
The next morning he was greatly surprised by a visit from Sylvester. He
was sitting in the well-lit corner room of his chambers, which he had
converted into a studio, in front of the new picture he was painting
from Ella’s conception. His heart was not in it. No good could ever
come from such tame propriety. And there he sat in an armchair, his legs
extended compass-wise, glowering at the picture, when Sylvester came in.
“What fog has driven you here, camarado?” he cried. “You have arrived
in season. This beastly world is standing on its head, and I don’t
know what to make of it. Sit down and have some absinthe, the only true
comfort the devil has vouchsafed us.”
He pointed to a glass of the opalescent liquid by his side. Sylvester
declined the consolation.
“I want to have a little talk with you about your marriage,” said he.
“Oh, damn my marriage!” exclaimed Roderick, irritably. “I tell you the
idiot world is gyrating indecently on its occiput; my engagement with
the rest of things.”
“Is it broken off?” inquired Sylvester, hopefully.
“The same thing. Postponed to the Millennium.”
“The Colonial Millennium–?”
“Yes. You are quite right, _fratello mio_, to keep clear of women and
their works. No man can ever fathom their infinite incomprehensibility.
Look here–” He rose and inarched about the studio, burning with a sense
of his wrongs and led by the instinct of his temperament to give vent
to his grievances. “I love that girl with an imbecile passion. Art is
great, but love is greater. I would make a holocaust of all that is
dear to me in the world in the sacred name of Art. Am I not ready to
expatriate myself? Have I not been working like Sisyphus for months? But
I can’t throw my elemental sex into the blaze. Six months’ waiting is
enough for all but anchorites. Do I look like an anchorite? I urge her
to fix the marriage at Christmas. She’s as hard as your Philistine’s
head. We must wait until the Colony is a _fait accompli_. How is it
going to be accomplished without money?”
“I thought the scheme was getting along famously,” interposed Sylvester.
“So did I, but it isn’t. It hasn’t appealed to the imagination of this
haggis-brained public, and so funds remain stationary. As if this worry
and disappointment isn’t enough for a man! _Point d’argent, point de
Suisse_. No money, no colony. No colony, no marriage. The two things
could never be connected save in the ineffable convolutions of the
“I see,” said Sylvester. “It is hard lines on you.”
He was intensely relieved by Roderick’s confidences; could afford even
to be magnanimous. Since his avowal to Ella of hostile intentions, he
had felt it his duty to inform Roderick of his attitude. He had come
this morning prepared to make a declaration of war. There were several
little things he had learned incidentally of Roderick’s past career,
with which he had intended to confront him. The memory of Mr. Snodgrass
informing the small boy that he was going to begin came into his mind as
he mounted the stairs, and he smiled grimly. But, after all, no one had
ever questioned the chivalry of Mr. Snodgrass’s motives. His first words
on entering were an announcement of the object of his visit. Roderick
had implicitly declared that object to be futile. To proceed further
would be to attack a fallen man. To express satisfaction would be to
triumph over a foe’s discomfiture. He therefore expressed conventional
sympathy. It was hard lines.
Roderick caught up the phrase and wove it into a fugue of indignant
lamentation. Luck never came his way. The stars in their courses had
fought against him since his cradle.
“Some men’s touch turns everything to gold; mine to brass and deuced
gimcrack brass at that. I’ve never loved a dear gazelle; but if I had,
the disastrous animal would have got mange or delirium tremens and
turned round and bitten me and given me hydrophobia. I suppose it’s
because of my general nefariousness. I wish I had been an austere
embodiment of the seven deadly virtues like you, _amigo_. Then I should
have waxed fat and prosperous. But there,” he added, lighting a cigar,
“that’s enough. I don’t know why I’m washing you in this torrent of my
“If it has done you any good, I am not sorry to have heard it,” said
Sylvester. “As for the Colony, I never did think much of the idea, you
know. It is outside the sphere of practical affairs altogether. Besides,
you could never stay more than a month away from Piccadilly.”
“It meant a means of livelihood for this profitless child of nature,
anyway,” said Roderick, watching the wreaths of his cigar-smoke.
“Pardon me if I take a liberty,” said Sylvester, “but I was under the
impression that your father made you a good allowance.”
Roderick stared at him for a moment and then laughed loud.
“You don’t know Usher senior. How much the old man has, or where the
devil it all came from, I have no idea; but I don’t get any of it. And
when he descends to realms below, he’ll bequeath it all to a home for
decayed postage-stamp collectors. No; I get what I earn. The Colony was
a fixed income.”
“Well, you’ll have to settle down to something else,” said Sylvester,
“And meanwhile you can go and persuade our fair enthusiast that the
Colony is all a fizzle and that she must shed happiness upon the head of
your devoted friend at Christmas!”
“I don’t think I can do that,” said Sylvester, drily. He pulled out his
watch, announced his departure. Roderick shook his hand effusively.
“But, by the way,” said he, “you haven’t told me what you came for–my
“Oh, after what you’ve said about the matter that can wait,” replied
Sylvester, hurriedly, and he left his friend to his artistic solitude.
Roderick felt somewhat ashamed and somewhat relieved after his burst of
confidence. To cry defeat after the first reverse seemed the part of a
craven. Thus were women not won. He determined to return to the attack,
to choose his time more wisely. A week later he caught Ella in
a brighter mood. He had exerted himself to please, to kindle her
enthusiasms, which shone from cheeks and eyes. He struck the personal
chord, watched eagerly, seemed to perceive it vibrate through her. Then
he urged once more. She changed suddenly, held out a warning hand.
“Not that again, Roderick,” she said. “You must not make me dread your
coming. Some women yield to insistence; it only hardens me. I thought
you knew me better.”
“Then the Colony shall start at Christmas; I swear it,” he cried
magniloquently, and the remainder of the interview flowed more smoothly.
It is all very well to command events. But whether they will obey is a
different matter. During the last few weeks Roderick had succeeded
in his design to quash the Colony in so far as to alienate several
hesitating supporters. To win these back was no easy matter. Moreover,
his old power of persuasion seemed to have failed him. There was a
period when he had deluded himself into the belief that the Colony was
a practicable scheme. But the moment it had appeared contrary to his own
interest and he had regarded it dispassionately, he despised it from the
depths of his soul as an inane chimera. To have to simulate a burnt out
enthusiasm was irksome; he failed to carry conviction. And meanwhile he
was a prey to gnawing anxiety. How was he to replace the three thousand
pounds? He anathematised the feminine temperament.
The feminine temperament, however, was not in that state of
dispassionate, yet unreasoning decision in which he imagined it to be.
These were unhappy days for Ella. She seemed to have become to herself
a vague entity wandering in a land of shadows, forced by some unknown
power therein to wander, and finding her only hope of salvation in one
elusive light that gleamed fitfully in the distance. Her aunt, being
a practical woman, was quick to notice the habitual contraction of her
brow and the wearied preoccupation in her eyes. Nowadays she openly
mocked at the Colony. On such occasions Ella fired up, defended it with
the fierceness of a forlorn hope. Lady Milmo was puzzled. She even went
the length of consulting Sylvester, surprising him considerably by a
morning call in Weymouth Street.
“The Colony ‘s a fraud, and she knows it’s a fraud,” she said, in the
vernacular of her class. “And yet she pins her immortal soul to it.
Why doesn’t she marry the man and be done with it? But no–she won’t do
that. She’s making herself ill because the Colony isn’t likely to come
off, which is distinctly good business, and what on earth she can find
to interest her in the rubbishy scheme, goodness only knows. If she
only painted, or wrote poetry, or out-Wagnered Wagner in immortal
tunelessness, one could perhaps understand. But she’s no more artistic
than you are.”
“I know I’m a Philistine,” smiled Sylvester, at the tribute of the
artless lady. “Is that why you ‘ve come to me?”
“Oh, you know what I mean,” returned Lady Milmo. “Now can’t you put some
sense into her, or get that dear Mr. Lanyon to do so? It’s my impression
she isn’t in love with him one little bit.”
“Then, for Heaven’s sake, my dear Lady Milmo,” said Sylvester,
earnestly, “do all you can to impress that fact upon him!”
“I should be glad if the engagement were broken off,” said Lady Milmo,
“So would all the true friends of Ella Defries,” replied Sylvester.
Lady Milmo arched her eyebrows. She looked at him for a moment
“Is that purely a disinterested remark, Dr. Lanyon?”
“I would not marry one single woman that is now living on this earth,”
“Why, whatever have we poor creatures done to you? There are some men, I
know, who look upon women as a disease, but I’m sure you ‘re not one.”
Sylvester scanned his finger nails,–a trick he had caught from his
“One marriage is enough for a man, Lady Milmo,” he said in a low voice.
Lady Milmo was conscious of an indiscretion. She escaped adroitly and
led the talk back to Roderick.
“I think we’d better get this silly affair of Ella’s broken off, don’t
you?” she said at parting.
“If you could manage it, my father and myself would be exceedingly
grateful to you,” he replied.
Lady Milmo was driving away, her kind head filled with schemes for
Ella’s extrication, when, at the block at Oxford Circus, she caught
sight of a news-vendor wearing as an apron the coloured bill of an early
edition of an evening paper. Across it in enormous capitals ran the
startling legend, “Sudden Death of Sir Deci-mus Bland.”
“The best thing the pompous old idiot has ever done in his life!” said