HERE ARE LADIES
AUTHOR OF 'THE CROCK OF GOLD'
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1913
Reprinted March, 1914.
WOMEN THREE HEAVY HUSBANDS A GLASS OF BEER ONE AND ONE THREE WOMEN WHO WEPT THE TRIANGLE THE DAISIES THREE ANGRY PEOPLE THE THREEPENNY PIECE BRIGID THREE YOUNG WIVES THE HORSES MISTRESS QUIET EYES THREE LOVERS WHO LOST THE BLIND MAN SWEET-APPLE THREE HAPPY PLACES THE MOON THERE IS A TAVERN IN THE TOWN
HERE ARE LADIES
Listen! If but women were Half as kind as they are fair There would be an end to all Miseries that do appal.
Cloud and wind would fly together In a dance of sunny weather, And the happy trees would throw Gifts to travellers below.
Then the lion, meek and mild, With the lamb would, side by side, Couch him friendly, and would be Innocent of enmity.
Then the Frozen Pole would go, Shaking off his fields of snow, To a kinder clime and dance Warmly with the girls of France.
These; if women only were Half as kind as they are fair.
THREE HEAVY HUSBANDS
He had a high nose. He looked at one over the collar, so to speak. His regard was very assured, and his speech was that short bundle of monosyllables which the subaltern throws at the orderly. He had never been questioned, and, the precedent being absent, he had never questioned himself. Why should he? We live by question and answer, but we do not know the reply to anything until a puzzled comrade bothers us and initiates that divine curiosity which both humbles and uplifts us.
He wanted all things for himself. What he owned he wished to own completely. He would give anything away with the largest generosity, but he would share with no one—
"Whatever is mine," said he, "must be entirely mine. If it is alive I claim its duty to the last respiration of its breath, and if it is dead I cannot permit a mortgage on it. Have you a claim on anything belonging to me? then you may have it entirely, I must have all of it or none."
He was a stockbroker, and, by the methods peculiar to that mysterious profession, he had captured a sufficiency of money to enable him to regard the future with calmness and his fellow-creatures with condescension—perhaps the happiest state to which a certain humanity can attain.
So far matters were in order. There remained nothing to round his life into the complete, harmonious circle except a wife; but as a stated income has the choice of a large supply, he shortly discovered a lady whose qualifications were such as would ornament any, however exalted, position—She was sound in wind and limb. She spoke grammar with the utmost precision, and she could play the piano with such skill that it was difficult to explain why she played it badly.
This also was satisfactory, and if the world had been made of machinery he would have had the fee-simple of happiness. But to both happiness and misery there follows the inevitable second act, and beyond that, and to infinity, action and interaction, involution and evolution, forging change for ever. Thus he failed to take into consideration that the lady was alive, that she had a head on her shoulders which was native to her body, and that she could not be aggregated as chattel property for any longer period than she agreed to.
After their marriage he discovered that she had dislikes which did not always coincide with his, and appreciations which set his teeth on edge. A wife in the house is a critic on the hearth—this truth was daily and unpleasantly impressed upon him: but, of course, every man knows that every woman is a fool, and a tolerant smile is the only recognition we allow to their whims. God made them as they are—we grin, and bear it.
His wife found that the gospel of her husband was this—Love me to the exclusion of all human creatures. Believe in me even when I am in the wrong. Women should be seen and not heard. When you want excitement make a fuss of your husband.—But while he entirely forgot that his wife had been bought and paid for, she did not forget it: indeed, she could not help remembering it. A wrong had been done her not to be obscured even by economics, the great obscurer. She had been won and not wooed. (The very beasts have their privileges!) She had been defrauded of how many teasing and provoking prerogatives, aloofnesses, and surrenders, and her body, if not her mind, resented and remembered it.
There are times when calmness is not recognised as a virtue. Of course, he had wooed her in a way. He took her to the opera, he gave her jewels, he went to Church with her twice every Sunday, and once a month he knelt beside her in more profound reverences: sometimes he petted her, always he was polite—
But he had not told her that her eyes were the most wonderful and inspiring orbs into which a tired man could look. He never said that there would not be much to choose between good and evil if he lost her. He never said that one touch of her lips would electrify a paralytic into an acrobat. He never swore that he would commit suicide and dive to deep perdition if she threw him over—none of these things. It is possible that she did not wish him to say or do such extravagances, but he had not played the game, and, knowing that something was badly wrong, she nursed a grievance, that horrid fosterling.
He was fiercely jealous, not of his love, but of his property, and while he was delighted to observe that other men approved of his taste, he could not bear that his wife should admire these outsiders. This was his attitude to her: Give me your admirations, all of them, every note of exclamation of which you are mistress, every jot and tittle of your thoughts must be mine, for, lacking these, I have nothing. I am good to you. I have interposed between you and the buffets of existence. I temper all winds to the bloom of your cheek. Do you your part, and so we will be happy.
There was a clerk in his office, a black-haired, slim, frowning young man, who could talk like a cascade for ten minutes and be silent for a month: he was a very angry young man, with many hatreds and many ambitions. His employer prized him as a reliable and capable worker, liked his manners, and paid him thirty-five shillings per week—Outside of these matters the young man abode no more in his remembrance than did the flower on the heath or the bird on the tree.
It happened one day that the employer fell sick of influenza and was confined to his bed. This clerk, by order, waited on him to see to his correspondence; for, no matter who sneezes, work must be attended to.
The young man stayed in the house for a week, and during his sojourn there he met the lady. She fair, young, brooding! he also young, silent, and angry! After the first look had passed between them, there was little more to be said. They came together as though they had been magnetised. Love or passion, by whatever name it is called, was born abruptly. There is a force in human relations drawing too imperatively for denial; defying self-interest, and dragging at all anchors of duty and religion. Is it in man only the satisfaction of self? Egotism standing like a mountain, and demanding, "Give me yourself or I will kill myself." And women! is their love the degradation of self, the surrender and very abasement of lowliness? or is it also egotism set on a pinnacle, so careless and self-assured as to be fearful of nothing? In their eyes the third person, a shadow already, counted as less than a shadow. He was a name with no significance, a something without a locality. His certain and particular income per annum was a thing to laugh at . . . there was a hot, a swift voice speaking—"I love you," it said, "I love you": he would batter his way into heaven, he would tear delight from wherever delight might be—or else, and this was harder, a trembling man pleading, "Aid me or I perish," and it is woman's instinct not to let a man perish. "If I help you, I hurt myself," she sighed; and, "Hurt yourself, then," sighed the man; "would you have me perish. . .?"
So the owner by purchase smiled—
"You are mine," said he, "altogether mine, no one else has a lien upon you. When the weather is fine I will take you for drives in the sunshine. In the nights we will go to the opera, hearkening together to the tenor telling his sweet romanza, and when the wintry rain beats on the windows you will play the piano for me, and so we will be happy."
When he was quite recovered he went back to his office, and found that one of his clerks had not arrived—this angered him; when he returned home again in the evening, he found that his wife was not there. So things go.
He was one of those who shy at the tete-a-tete life which, for a long time, matrimony demands. As his wedding-day approached he grew fearful of the prolonged conversation which would stretch from the day of marriage, down the interminable vistas, to his death, and, more and more, he became doubtful of his ability to cope with, or his endurance to withstand, the extraordinary debate called marriage.
He was naturally a silent man. He did not dislike conversation if it was kept within decent limits: indeed, he responded to it contentedly enough, but when he had spoken or been addressed for more than an hour he became, first, impatient, then bored, and, finally, sulky or ill-mannered.—"With men," said he, "one can talk or be silent as one wishes, for between them there is a community of understanding which turns the occasional silence into a pregnant and fruitful interlude wherein a thought may keep itself warm until it is wanted: but with a woman!"—he could not pursue that speculation further, for his acquaintance with the sex was limited.
In every other respect his bride was a happiness. Her good looks soothed and pleased him. The touch of her hand gave him an extraordinary pleasure which concealed within it a yet more extraordinary excitement. Her voice, as a mere sound, enchanted him. It rippled and flowed, deepened and tinkled. It cooed and sang to him at times like the soft ringdove calling to its mate, and, at times again, it gurgled and piped like a thrush happy in the sunlight. The infinite variation of her tone astonished and delighted him, and if it could have remained something as dexterous and impersonal as a wind he would have been content to listen to it for ever—but, could he give her pipe for pipe? Would the rich gurgle or the soft coo sound at last as a horrid iteration, a mere clamour to which he must not only give an obedient heed, but must even answer from a head wherein silence had so peacefully brooded?
His mind was severe, his utterance staccato, and he had no knowledge of those conversational arts whereby nouns and verbs are amazingly transfigured into a gracious frolic or an intellectual pleasure. To snatch the chatter from its holder, toss and keep it playing in the air until another snatched it from him; to pluck a theory hot from the stating, and expand it until it was as iridescent and, perhaps, as thin as a soap-bubble: to light up and vivify a weighty conversation until the majestic thing sparkled and glanced like a jewel—these things he could not do, and he knew it. Many a time he had sat, amazed as at an exhibition of acrobatics, while around him the chatter burst and sang and shone. He had tried to bear his part, but had never been able to edge more than one word into that tossing cataract, and so he fell to the habit of listening instead of speaking.
With some reservations, he enjoyed listening, but particularly he enjoyed listening to his own thoughts as they trod slowly, but very certainly, to foregone conclusions. Into the silent arena of his mind no impertinent chatter could burst with a mouthful of puns or ridicule, or a reminiscence caught on the wing and hurled apropos to the very centre of discussion. His own means of conveying or gathering information was that whereby one person asked a question and another person answered it, and, if the subject proved deeper than the assembled profundity, then one pulled out the proper volume of an encyclopaedia, and the pearl was elicited as with a pin.
Meanwhile, his perturbation was real. There are people to whom we need not talk—let them pass: we overlook or smile distantly at the wretches, retaining our reputation abroad and our self-respect in its sanctuary: but there are others with whom we may not be silent, and into this latter category a wife enters with assured emphasis. He foresaw endless opportunities for that familiar discussion to which he was a stranger. There were breakfast-tables, dinner-tables, tea-tables, and, between these, there might be introduced those preposterous other tables which women invent for no purpose unless it be that of making talk. His own breakfast, dinner, and tea-tables had been solitary ones, whereat he lounged with a newspaper propped against a lamp, or a book resting one end against the sugar-bowl and the other against his plate.—This quietude would be ravaged from him for ever, and that tumult nothing could exorcise or impede. Further than these, he foresaw an interminable drawing-room, long walks together, and other, even more confidential and particular, sequestrations.
After one has married a lady, what does one say to her? He could not conceive any one saying anything beyond "Good-morning." Then the other aspect arrested him, "What does a woman find to say to a man?" Perhaps safety lay in this direction, for they were reputed notable and tireless speakers to whom replies are not pressingly necessary. He looked upon his sweetheart as from a distance, and tried to reconstruct her recent conversations.—He was amazed at the little he could remember. "I, I, I, we, we, we, this shop, that shop, Aunt Elsa, and chocolates." She had mentioned all these things on the previous day, but she did not seem to have said anything memorable about them, and, so far as he could recollect, he had said nothing in reply but "Oh, yes" and "To be sure!" Could he sustain a lifetime of small-talk on these meagre responses? He saw in vision his most miserable tea-table—a timid husband and a mad wife glaring down their noses at plates. The picture leaped at him as from a cinematograph and appalled him. . . . After a time they would not even dare to look at each other. Hatred would crouch behind these figures, waiting for its chain to be loosed!
So he came to the knowledge that he, so soon to be a husband, had been specially fashioned by nature to be a bachelor. For him safety lay in solitude: others, less rigorously planned, might safely venture into the haphazard, gregarious state of wedlock, but he not only could not, but must not, do so, and he meditated an appeal to his bride to release him from the contract. Several times the meditation almost became audible, but always, just as he toppled on the surge of speech, the dear lady loosed a torrent of irrelevancies which swirled him from all anchorage, and left him at the last stranded so distantly from his thought that he did not know how to find his way back to it.
It would be too brutally direct to shatter information about silk at one shilling the yard with a prayer for matrimonial freedom. The girl would be shocked—he could see her—she would stare at him, and suddenly grow red in the face and stammer; and he would be forced to trail through a lengthy, precise explanation of this matter which was not at all precise to himself. Furthermore, certain obscure emotions rendered him unwilling to be sundered from this girl.—There was the touch of her hand; more, the touch of her lips given bravely and with ready modesty—a contact not lightly to be relinquished. He did not believe he could ever weary of looking at her eyes: they were grey, widely open, and of a kindness such as he could not disbelieve in; a radiant cordiality, a soft, limpid goodwill; believing and trustful eyes which held no guile when they looked at him: there were her movements, her swiftness, spaciousness, her buoyant certainty: one remembered her hair, her hands, the way she wore a frock, and a strange, seductive something about the look of her shoe.
The thing was not possible! It is the last and darkest insult to tell the woman who loves you that you do not wish to marry her. Her indignant curiosity may be appeased only by the excuse that you like some other woman better, and although she may hate the explanation she will understand it—but no less legitimate excuse than this may pass sunderingly between a man and a woman.
It lay, therefore, that he must amend his own hand, and, accordingly, for the purpose of marital intercourse, he began a sad inquiry into the nature of things. The world was so full of things: clouds and winds and sewing machines, kings and brigands, hats and heads, flower-pots, jam and public-houses—surely one could find a little to chat about at any moment if one were not ambitiously particular. With inanimate objects one could speak of shape and colour and usefulness. Animate objects had, beside these, movements and aptitudes for eating and drinking, playing and quarrelling. Artistic things were well or badly executed, and were also capable of an inter-comparison which could not but be interesting and lengthy.—These things could all be talked about. There were positive and negative qualities attaching to everything, and when the former was exhausted the latter could still be profitably mined—"Order," said he, "subsists in everything, and even conversation must be subject to laws capable of ascertainment."
He carefully, and under the terms of badinage, approached other men, inquiring how they bore themselves in the matrimonial dispute, and what were the subjects usually spoken of in the intimacies of family life. But from these people he received the smallest assistance.—Some were ribald, some jocose, some so darkly explanatory that intelligence could not peer through the mist or could only divine that these hated their wives. One man held that all domestic matters should be left entirely to the wife and that talking was a domestic matter. Another said that the words "yes, no, and why" would safeguard a man through any labyrinth, however tortuous. Another said that he always went out when the wife began to speak; and yet another suggested that the only possible basis for conversation was that of perpetual opposition, where an affirmation was always countered by a denial, and the proving of the case exercised both time and intelligence.
As he sat in the train beside his wife the silence which he so dreaded came upon them. Emptiness buzzed in his head. He sought diligently for something to speak about—the characteristics of objects! There were objects and to spare, but he could not say—"that window is square, it is made of glass," or, "the roof of this carriage is flat, it is made of wood."
Suddenly his wife buried her face in her muff, and her shoulders were convulsed. . . .
Love and contrition possessed him on the instant. He eased his husky throat, and the dreaded, interminable conversation began—
"What are you crying for, my dear?" said he.
Her voice, smothered by the fur, replied—
"I am not crying, darling," said she, "I am only laughing."
He got stiffly up from his seat before the fire—
"Be hanged," said he, "if I wait any longer for her. If she doesn't please to come in before this hour let her stop out." He stared into the fire for a few moments—"Let her go to Jericho," said he, and he tramped up to bed.
They had been married just six months, after, as he put it, the hardest courtship a man ever undertook. She was more like a piece of quicksilver than a girl. She was as uncertain as a spring wind, as flighty as a ball of thistledown—"Doesn't know her own mind for ten minutes together," he groaned. "Hasn't any mind at all," he'd think an hour later. While, on the following day, it might be—"That woman is too deep, she is dodging all round me, she is sticking her finger in my eye. She treats me as if I wasn't there at one moment, and diddles me as if I was Tom Fool the next—I'll get out of it."
He had got out of it three or four times—halted her against a wall, and, with a furious forefinger, wagged all her misdeeds in her face; then, rating her up, down and round, he had prepared to march away complacent and refreshed like Justice taking leave of a sinner, only to find that if the jade wept he could not go away—
"Dash it all," said he, "you can't leave a girl squatting down against a wall, with her head in her lap and she crying. Hang it," said he, "you feel as if there was water round your legs and you'll splash if you move."
So he leavened justice with mercy, and, having dried her tears with his lips, he found himself in the same position as before, with a mad suspicion tattering through his brain that maybe he had been "diddled" again.
But he married her, and to do that was a job also. She shied at matrimony. She shied at everything that looked plain or straight. She was like a young dog out for a walk: when she met a side-street she bolted down it and was instantly surrounded by adventure and misery, returning, like the recovered pup, thick with the mud of those excursions. There was a lust in her blood for side-streets, laneways and corners.
"Marriage!" said she, and she was woebegone—"Marriage will be for ever."
"So will heaven," he retorted comfortingly.
"So will—the other place," said she, with a giggle, and crushed him under the feeling that she envisaged him as the devil of that particular Hades, instead of as an unfortunate sinner plucked up by the heels and soused into the stew-pan by his wife.
He addressed himself—
"When we are married," said he, "I'll keep a hand on you, my lady, that you won't be able to wriggle away from. If you are slippery, and faith you are, why I'm tough, and so you'll find it." "Get rid of your kinks before you marry," said he. "I've no use for a wife with one eye on me, and it a dubious one, and the other one squinting into a parlour two streets off. You've got to settle down and quit tricks. A wife has no one else to deceive but her husband, that's all she can want tricks for, and there's not going to be any in my house. It's all right for a pretty girl to be a bit larky——"
"Am I really pretty?" said she, deeply interested and leaning forward with her hands clasping her knees—"Do you really and truly think I am pretty? I met a man one time, he had a brown moustache and blue eyes, outside a tailor's shop in Georges Street, with a public-house on one side, and he said he thought I was very pretty: he told me what his name was, but I forget it: maybe, you know him: he wears a tweed suit with a stripe and a soft hat—Let me see, no, his name began with a T——"
"His name was Thief," he roared, "and that was his profession too. Don't let me catch you talking with a strange man, or you'll get hurt, and his brown eyes will be mixed up with his blue moustache."
So married they were, six months now, and the wits were nearly worried out of him in trying to keep pace with his wife's vagaries. Matrimony had not cured her love for side-streets, short cuts and chance acquaintances, and she was gradually making her husband travel at a similar tangent. When they started to go to church he would find, to his amazement, that they were in the Museum. If they journeyed with a Museum for an objective they were certain to pull up in the Botanic Gardens. A call on a friend usually turned into a visit to a theatre or a walk by the Dodder—
"Heart-scalded I am," said he, "with her hopping and trotting. She travels sideways like a crab, so she does. She has a squint in her walk. Her boots have a bias outwards. I'm getting bow-legged, so I am, slewing round corners after her. I'll have to put my foot down," said he.
And now it was all finished. Here was twelve o'clock at night and an absent wife—a detestable combination. Twelve o'clock at night outside a house is an immoral hour, inside a house it is non-moral, but respectable. There is nothing in the street at that time but dubiety. Who would be a husband listening through the tolling of midnight for a muffled footfall?—And he had told her not to go: had given an order, formulated his imperative and inflexible will—
"Never mind! I'll stand by it," said he, "this is the last straw. One break and then freedom. Surgery is better than tinkering. Cut the knot and let who will try to join it then. One pang, and afterwards ease, fresh air, and freedom: fresh air! gulps of it, with the head back and an easy mind. I'm not the man to be fooled for ever—surgery! surgery!"
His wife had wished to see a friend that night and requested her husband to go with her—he refused—
"You're always trapsin about," said he.
He heaved an angry forehead at her, puckered an eye, toned a long No that wagged vibration behind it like an undocked tail.
She persisted, whereupon he loosed his thunder—
"You're not to step outside the house this night, ma'am," said he; and to her angry "I will go," he barked, "If you do go, don't come back here. I'll have a dutiful wife or I'll have none—stay in or stay out. I'm tired humouring your whimsies, let you humour mine now——"
Then a flame gathered on her face, it grew hot in her voice, flashed to a point in her eyes—
"I'm going out to-night," said she loudly; "are you coming with me?"
"I'm not," said he.
"Then," she snapped, "I'll go by myself."
"Wherever you go to-night you can stay," he roared. "Don't come back to this house."
"I'm not mad enough to want to," she replied. "I wish I'd never seen your old house. I wish I'd never seen yourself. You are just as dull as your house is, and nearly as flat. It's a stupid, uninteresting, slow house, so it is, and you are a stupid, dissatisfied grump of a man, so you are. I'd sooner live in a cave with a hairy bear, so I would——" and out she ran.
Two minutes later he had heard the door bang, and then silence.
That was five hours ago, and during all these long hours he had sat staring sourly into the fire, seeing goodness knows what burnt-up visions therein, waiting to hear a footfall, and an entreating voice at the key-hole; apologies and tears perhaps, and promises of amendment. Now it was after twelve o'clock, darkness everywhere and silence. Time and again a policeman's tramp or the hasty, light footfall of adventure went by. So he stood up at last sour and vindictive—
"She would have her fling. She wouldn't give in. She doesn't care a tinker's curse what I say. . . . Let her go to Jericho," said he, and he tramped up to bed.
In his bedroom he did not trouble to get a light. He undressed in a bitterly savage mood and rolled into bed, only to jump out again in sudden terror, for there was some one in it. It was his wife. He lay down with a hazy, half-mad mind. Had he wronged her? Was she more amenable than he had fancied? She had not gone out at all—or, had she gone out, sneaked in again by the back door and crept noiselessly to bed. . . .?
He fell asleep at last on the tattered fringe of a debate—Had he wronged her? or had she diddled him again?
A GLASS OF BEER
It was now his custom to sit there. The world has its habits, why should a man not have his? The earth rolls out of light and into darkness as punctually as a business man goes to and from his office; the seasons come with the regularity of automata, and go as if they were pushed by an ejector; so, night after night, he strolled from the Place de l'Observatoire to the Font St. Michel, and, on the return journey, sat down at the same Cafe, at the same table, if he could manage it, and ordered the same drink.
So regular had his attendance become that the waiter would suggest the order before it was spoken. He did not drink beer because he liked it, but only because it was not a difficult thing to ask for. Always he had been easily discouraged, and he distrusted his French almost as much as other people had reason to. The only time he had varied the order was to request "un vin blanc gommee," but on that occasion he had been served with a postage stamp for twenty-five centimes, and he still wondered when he remembered it.
He liked to think of his first French conversation. He wanted something to read in English, but was timid of asking for it. He walked past all the newspaper kiosks on the Boulevard, anxiously scanning the vendors inside—they were usually very stalwart, very competent females, who looked as though they had outgrown their sins but remembered them with pleasure. They had the dully-polished, slightly-battered look of a modern antique. The words "M'sieu, Madame" rang from them as from bells. They were very alert, sitting, as it were, on tiptoe, and their eyes hit one as one approached. They were like spiders squatting in their little houses waiting for their daily flies.
He found one who looked jolly and harmless, sympathetic indeed, and to her, with a flourished hat, he approached. Said he, "Donnez-moi, Madame, s'il vous plait, le Daily Mail." At the second repetition the good lady smiled at him, a smile compounded of benevolence and comprehension, and instantly, with a "V'la M'sieu," she handed him The New York Herald. They had saluted each other, and he marched down the road in delight, with his first purchase under his arm and his first foreign conversation accomplished.
At that time everything had delighted him—the wide, well-lighted Boulevard, the concierges knitting in their immense doorways, each looking like a replica of the other, each seeming sister to a kiosk-keeper or a cat. The exactly-courteous speech of the people and their not quite so rigorously courteous manners pleased him. He listened to the voluble men who went by, speaking in a haste so breathless that he marvelled how the prepositions and conjunctions stuck to their duty in so swirling an ocean of chatter. There was a big black dog with a mottled head who lay nightly on the pavement opposite the Square de l'Observatoire. At intervals he raised his lean skull from the ground and composed a low lament to an absent friend. His grief was respected. The folk who passed stepped sidewards for him, and he took no heed of their passage—a lonely, introspective dog to whom a caress or a bone were equally childish things: Let me alone, he seemed to say, I have my grief, and it is company enough. There was the very superior cat who sat on every window-ledge, winking at life. He (for in France all cats are masculine by order of philology), he did not care a rap for man or dog, but he liked women and permitted them to observe him. There was the man who insinuated himself between the tables at the Cafe, holding out postcard-representations of the Pantheon, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and other places. From beneath these cards his dexterous little finger would suddenly flip others. One saw a hurried leg, an arm that shone and vanished, a bosom that fled shyly again, an audacious swan, a Leda who was thoroughly enjoying herself and had never heard of virtue. His look suggested that he thought better of one than to suppose that one was not interested in the nude. "M'sieu," he seemed to say, with his fixed, brown-eyed regard, "this is indeed a leg, an authentic leg, not disguised by even the littlest of stockings; it is arranged precisely as M'sieu would desire it." His sorrow as he went away was dignified with regret for an inartistic gentleman. One was en garcon, and yet one would not look at one's postcards! One had better then cease to be an artist and take to peddling onions and asparagus as the vulgar do.
It was all a long time ago, and now, somehow, the savour had departed from these things. Perhaps he had seen them too often. Perhaps a kind of public surreptitiousness, a quite open furtiveness, had troubled him. Maybe he was not well. He sat at his Cafe, three quarters down the Boulevard, and before him a multitude of grotesque beings were pacing as he sipped his bock.
Good manners decreed that he should not stare too steadfastly, and he was one who obeyed these delicate dictations. Alas! he was one who obeyed all dictates. For him authority wore a halo, and many sins which his heyday ought to have committed had been left undone only because they were not sanctioned by immediate social usage. He was often saddened when he thought of the things he had not done. It was the only sadness to which he had access, because the evil deeds which he had committed were of so tepid and hygienic a character that they could not be mourned for without hypocrisy, and now that he was released from all privileged restraints and overlookings and could do whatever he wished he had no wish to do anything.
His wife had been dead for over a year. He had hungered, he had prayed for her death. He had hated that woman (and for how many years!) with a kind of masked ferocity. How often he had been tempted to kill her or to kill himself! How often he had dreamed that she had run away from him or that he had run away from her! He had invented Russian Princes, and Music Hall Stars, and American Billionaires with whom she could adequately elope, and he had both loved and loathed the prospect. What unending, slow quarrels they had together! How her voice had droned pitilessly on his ears! She in one room, he in another, and through the open door there rolled that unending recitation of woes and reproaches, an interminable catalogue of nothings, while he sat dumb as a fish, with a mind that smouldered or blazed. He had stood unseen with a hammer, a poker, a razor in his hand, on tiptoe to do it. A movement, a rush, one silent rush and it was done! He had revelled in her murder. He had caressed it, rehearsed it, relished it, had jerked her head back, and hacked, and listened to her entreaties bubbling through blood!
And then she died! When he stood by her bed he had wished to taunt her, but he could not do it. He read in her eyes—I am dying, and in a little time I shall have vanished like dust on the wind, but you will still be here, and you will never see me again—He wished to ratify that, to assure her that it was actually so, to say that he would come home on the morrow night, and she would not be there, and that he would return home every night, and she would never be there. But he could not say it. Somehow the words, although he desired them, would not come. His arm went to her neck and settled there. His hand caressed her hair, her cheek. He kissed her eyes, her lips, her languid hands; and the words that came were only an infantile babble of regrets and apologies, assurances that he did love her, that he had never loved any one before, and never would love any one again. . . .
Every one who passed looked into the Cafe where he sat. Every one who passed looked at him. There were men with sallow faces and wide black hats. Some had hair that flapped about them in the wind, and from their locks one gathered, with some distaste, the spices of Araby. Some had cravats that fluttered and fell and rose again like banners in a storm. There were men with severe, spade-shaped, most responsible-looking beards, and quizzical little eyes which gave the lie to their hairy sedateness—eyes which had spent long years in looking sidewards as a woman passed. There were men of every stage of foppishness—men who had spent so much time on their moustaches that they had only a little left for their finger-nails, but their moustaches exonerated them; others who were coated to happiness, trousered to grotesqueness, and booted to misery. He thought—In this city the men wear their own coats, but they all wear some one else's trousers, and their boots are syndicated.
He saw no person who was self-intent. They were all deeply conscious, not of themselves, but of each other. They were all looking at each other. They were all looking at him; and he returned the severe, or humourous, or appraising gaze of each with a look nicely proportioned to the passer, giving back exactly what was given to him, and no more. He did not stare, for nobody stared. He just looked and looked away, and was as mannerly as was required.
A negro went by arm in arm with a girl who was so sallow that she was only white by courtesy. He was a bulky man, and as he bent greedily over his companion it was evident that to him she was whiter than the snow of a single night.
Women went past in multitudes, and he knew the appearance of them all. How many times he had watched them or their duplicates striding and mincing and bounding by, each moving like an animated note of interrogation! They were long, and medium, and short. There were women of a thinness beyond comparison, sheathed in skirts as featly as a rapier in a scabbard. There were women of a monumental, a mighty fatness, who billowed and rolled in multitudinous, stormy garments. There were slow eyes that drooped on one heavily as a hand, and quick ones that stabbed and withdrew, and glanced again appealingly, and slid away cursing. There were some who lounged with a false sedateness, and some who fluttered in an equally false timidity. Some wore velvet shoes without heels. Some had shoes, the heels whereof were of such inordinate length that the wearers looked as though they were perched on stilts and would topple to perdition if their skill failed for an instant. They passed and they looked at him; and from each, after the due regard, he looked away to the next in interminable procession.
There were faces also to be looked at: round chubby faces wherefrom the eyes of oxen stared in slow, involved rumination. Long faces that were keener than hatchets and as cruel. Faces that pretended to be scornful and were only piteous. Faces contrived to ape a temperament other than their own. Raddled faces with heavy eyes and rouged lips. Ragged lips that had been chewed by every mad dog in the world. What lips there were everywhere! Bright scarlet splashes in dead-white faces. Thin red gashes that suggested rat-traps instead of kisses. Bulbous, flabby lips that would wobble and shiver if attention failed them. Lips of a horrid fascination that one looked at and hated and ran to. . . . Looking at him slyly or boldly, they passed along, and turned after a while and repassed him, and turned again in promenade.
He had a sickness of them all. There had been a time when these were among the things he mourned for not having done, but that time was long past. He guessed at their pleasures, and knew them to be without salt. Life, said he, is as unpleasant as a plate of cold porridge. Somehow the world was growing empty for him. He wondered was he outgrowing his illusions, or his appetites, or both? The things in which other men took such interest were drifting beyond him, and (for it seemed that the law of compensation can fail) nothing was drifting towards him in recompense. He foresaw himself as a box with nothing inside it, and he thought—It is not through love or fear or distress that men commit suicide: it is because they have become empty: both the gods and the devils have deserted them and they can no longer support that solemn stagnation. He marvelled to see with what activity men and women played the most savourless of games! With what zest of pursuit they tracked what petty interests. He saw them as ants scurrying with scraps of straw, or apes that pick up and drop and pick again, and he marvelled from what fount they renewed themselves, or with what charms they exorcised the demons of satiety.
On this night life did not seem worth while. The taste had gone from his mouth; his bock was water vilely coloured; his cigarette was a hot stench. And yet a full moon was peeping in the trees along the path, and not far away, where the countryside bowed in silver quietude, the rivers ran through undistinguishable fields chanting their lonely songs. The seas leaped and withdrew, and called again to the stars, and gathered in ecstasy and roared skywards, and the trees did not rob each other more than was absolutely necessary. The men and women were all hidden away, sleeping in their cells, where the moon could not see them, nor the clean wind, nor the stars. They were sundered for a little while from their eternal arithmetic. The grasping hands were lying as quietly as the paws of a sleeping dog. Those eyes held no further speculation than the eyes of an ox who lies down. The tongues that had lied all day, and been treacherous and obscene and respectful by easy turn, said nothing more; and he thought it was very good that they were all hidden, and that for a little time the world might swing darkly with the moon in its own wide circle and its silence.
He paid for his bock, gave the waiter a tip, touched his hat to a lady by sex and a gentleman by clothing, and strolled back to his room that was little, his candle that was three-quarters consumed, and his picture which might be admired when he was dead but which he would never be praised for painting; and, after sticking his foot through the canvas, he tugged himself to bed, agreeing to commence the following morning just as he had the previous one, and the one before that, and the one before that again.
ONE AND ONE
Do you hate me, you! Sitting quietly there, With the burnished hair That frames the two Deep eyes of your face In a smooth embrace.
And you say naught, And I never speak; But you rest your cheek On your hand, a thought Showing plain as the brow Goes wrinkling now.
Of what do you think, Sitting opposite me, As you stir the tea That you do not drink, And frown at nought With those brows of thought.
THREE WOMEN WHO WEPT
He was one of those men who can call ladies by their Christian names. One day he met twenty-four duchesses walking on a red carpet, and he winked at them, and they were all delighted. It was so at first he appeared to her. Has a mere girl any protection against a man of that quality? and she was the very merest of girls—she knew it. It was not that she was ignorant, for she had read widely about men, and she had three brothers as to whom she knew divers intimate things.
The girl who has been reared among brothers has few defences against other males. She has acquired two things—a belief in the divine right of man, and a curiosity as to what those men are like who are not her brothers. She may love her brothers, but she cannot believe that they adequately represent the other sex. Does not every girl wish to marry the antithesis of her brother? The feeling is that one should marry as far outside of the family as is possible, and as far outside of one's self as may be; but love has become subject to geography, and our choice is often bounded by the tramline upon which we travel from our houses to our businesses and back again.
While she loved and understood her brothers, she had not in the least understood or believed in the stories she had read, and so, when the Young Man out of a Book came to her, she was delighted but perplexed.
It was difficult to live up to him worthily. It was difficult to know what he would do next, and it was exceedingly difficult to keep out of his way; for, indeed, he seemed to pervade the part of the world where she lived. He was as ubiquitous as the air or the sky. If she went into a shop, he was pacing on the pavement when she came out. If she went for a walk he was standing at the place farther than which she had decided not to go. She had found him examining a waterfall on the Dodder, leaning over the bear-pit in the Zoological Gardens, and kneeling beside her in the Chapel, and her sleep had been distressed by the reflection that maybe he was sitting on her window-sill like a sad sparrow drenched in the rain, all its feathers on end with the cold, and its eyes wide open staring at misery.
The first time they met he spoke to her. He plucked a handkerchief from somewhere and thrust it into her hand, saying—
"You have dropped this, I think"—and she had been too alarmed to disown it.
It was a mighty handkerchief. It was so big that it would scarcely fit into her muff.—"It is a table-cloth," said she, as she solemnly stuffed away its lengthy flaps. "It is his own," she thought a moment later, and she would have laughed like a mad woman, only that she had no time, for he was pacing delicately by her side, and talking in a low voice that was partly a whisper and partly a whistle, and was entirely and disturbingly delicious.
The next time they met very suddenly. Scarcely a dozen paces separated them. She could see him advancing towards her, and knew by his knitted brows that he was searching anxiously for something to say. When they drew together he lifted his hat and murmured—
"How is your handkerchief to-day?"
The query so astonished her that (the verb is her own) she simply bawled with laughter. From that moment he treated her with freedom, for if once you laugh with a person you admit him to equality, you have ranked him definitely as a vertebrate, your hand is his by right of species, scarcely can you withhold even your lips from his advances.
Another, a strange, a fascinating thing, was that he was afraid of her. It was inconceivable, it was mad, but it was true. He looked at her with disguised terror. His bravado was the slenderest mask. Every word he said was uttered tentatively, it was subject to her approval, and if she opposed a statement he dropped it instantly and adopted her alternative as one adopts a gift. This astonished her who had been prepared to be terrified. He kept a little distance between them as he walked, and when she looked at him he looked away. She had a vision of herself as an ogre—whiskers sprouted all over her face, her ears bulged and swaggled, her voice became a cavernous rumble, her conversation sounded like fee-faw-fum—and yet, her brothers were not afraid of her in the least; they pinched her and kicked her hat.
He spoke (but always without prejudice) of the loveliest things imaginable—matters about which brothers had no conception, and for which they would not have any reverence. He said one day that the sky was blue, and, on looking she found that it was so. The sky was amazingly blue. It had never struck her before, but there was a colour in the firmament before which one might fall down and worship. Sunlight was not the hot glare which it had been: it was rich, generous, it was inexpressibly beautiful. The colour and scent of flowers became more varied. The world emerged as from shrouds and cerements. It was tender and radiant, comeliness lived everywhere, and goodwill. Laughter! the very ground bubbled with it: the grasses waved their hands, the trees danced and curtsied to one another with gentle dignity, and the wind lurched down the path with its hat on the side of its head and its hands in its pockets, whistling like her younger brother.
And then he went away. She did not see him any more. He was not by the waterfall on the Dodder, nor hanging over the bear-pit in the Zoo. He was not in the Chapel, nor on the pavement when she came out of a shop. He was not anywhere. She searched, but he was not anywhere. And the sun became the hot pest it had always been: the heavens were stuffed with dirty clouds the way a second-hand shop is stuffed with dirty bundles: the trees were hulking corner-boys with muddy boots: the wind blew dust into her eye, and her brothers pulled her hair and kicked her hat; so that she went apart from all these. She sat before the mirror regarding herself with woeful amazement—
"He was afraid of me!" she said.
And she wept into his monstrous handkerchief.
When he came into the world he came howling, and he howled without ceasing for seven long years, except at the times when he happened to be partaking of nourishment, or was fast asleep, and, even then, he snored with a note of defiance and protest which proved that his humour was not for peace.
The time came when he ceased to howl and became fascinated by the problem of how to make other people howl. In this art he became an adept. When he and another child chanced to be left together there came, apparently from the uttermost ends of the earth, a pin, and the other child and the pin were soon in violent and lamentable conjunction.
So he grew.
"Be hanged if I know what to do with him," said his father as he rebuckled on his belt. "The devil's self hasn't got the shape or match of such an imp in all the length and breadth of his seven hells. I'm sick, sore and sorry whacking him, so I am, and before long I'll be hung on the head of him. I'm saying that there's more deceit and devilment in his bit of a carcass than there is in a public-house full of tinkers, so there is."
He turned to his wife—
"It's no credit at all the son you've bore me, ma'am, but a sorrow and a woe that'll be killing us in our old age and maybe damning our souls at the heel of it. Where he got his blackguardly ways from I'm not saying, but it wasn't from my side of the house anyway, so it wasn't, and that's a moral. Get out of my sight you sniffling lout, and if ever I catch you at your practices again I'll lam you till you won't be able to wink without help, so I will."
"Musha," sobbed his wife, "don't be always talking out of you. Any one would think that it was an old, criminal thief you were instructing, instead of a bit of a child that'll be growing out of his wildness in no time. Come across to me, child, come over to your mother, my lamb."
That night, when his father got into bed, he prodded his foot against something under the sheets. Investigation discovered a brown paper bag at the end of the bed. A further search revealed a wasp's nest, inside of which there was an hundred angry wasps blazing for combat. His father left the room with more expedition than decency. He did not stop to put on as much as his hat. He fled to the stream which ran through the meadow at the back of their house, and lay down in it, and in two seconds there was more bad language than water in the stream. Every time he lifted his head for air the wasps flew at him with their tails curled. They kept him there for half an hour, and in that time he laid in the seeds of more rheumatism than could be cured in two lifetimes.
When he returned home he found his wife lying on the floor with a blanket wrapped about her head, groaning by instinct, for she was senseless.
Her face had disappeared. There was nothing where it had been but poisoned lumps. A few days later it was found that she was blind of one eye, and there was danger of erysipelas setting in.
The boy could not be found for some time, but a neighbour, observing a stone come from nowhere in particular and hit a cat, located the first cause in a ditch. He brought the boy home, and grabbed his father just in time to prevent murder being done.
It was soon found that the only thing which eased the restless moaning woman was the touch of her son. All her unmanageable, delirious thoughts centred on him—
"Sure he's only a boy; beating never did good to anything. Give him a chance now for wouldn't a child be a bit wild anyhow. You will be a good boy, won't you? Come to your mother, my lamb."
So the lad grew, from twelve to fifteen, from fifteen to twenty. Soon he attained to manhood. To his mother he seemed to have leaped in a day from the careless, prattling babe to the responsibly-whiskered miracle at whom mothers sit and laugh in secret delight. This towering, big-footed, hairy person! was he really the little boy who used to hide in her skirts when his father scowled? She had only to close her eyes and she could feel again a pair of little hands clawing at her breast, sore from the violent industry of soft, wee lips.
So he grew. Breeches that were big became small. Bony wrists were continually pushing out of coat cuffs. His feet would burst out of his boots. He grew out of everything but one. A man may outgrow his breeches, he cannot outgrow his nature: his body is never too big or too small to hold that.
Every living thing in the neighbourhood knew him. When a cat saw him coming it climbed a tree and tried to look as much like a lump of wood as it could. When a dog heard his step it tucked its tail out of sight and sought for a hole in the hedge. The birds knew he carried stones in his pockets. No tree cast so black a shadow in the sunlight as he did. There were stories of a bottle of paraffin oil and a cat that screeched in flames. Folk told of a maltreated dog that pointed its nose to heaven and bayed a curse against humanity until a terrified man battered it to death with a shovel. No one knew who did it, but every one said there were only two living hearts capable of these iniquities—one belonged to the devil, the other to our young man, and they acquitted Satan of the deeds.
The owner of the dog swore by the beasts in the field and the stars in the sky that he would tear the throat of the man who had injured his beast.
The father drove his one-eyed wife from the house, and went with her to live elsewhere; but she left him and went back to her son, and her husband forswore the twain.
When women saw him in the road they got past him with their breath hissing through their teeth in fear. When men passed him they did it warily, with their fists clenched and their eyes alert. He was shunned by every one. The strength of his arms also was a thing to be afraid of, and in the world there was but two welcomes for him, one from his mother, the other from an old, grey rat that slept in his breast—
"Sure, you're all against him," his mother would say. "Why don't you give the boy a chance? It's only the hot blood of youth that's working in him—and he never did it either. Look how kind he is to me! never the bad word or the hard look! Ye black hearts that blame my boy, look among yourselves for the villain. No matter who is against you, come to your mother, my lamb."
He was found one day at the foot of the cliff with his neck broken. Some said that he had slipped and fallen, some said he had committed suicide, other some pursed their lips tightly and said nothing. All were relieved that he was gone, saving his mother only, she mourned for her only son, and wept bitterly, refusing to be comforted until she died.
She had begun to get thin. Her face was growing sharp and peaked. The steady curve of her cheek had become a little indeterminate. Her chin had begun to sag and her eyes to look a little weary. But she had not observed these things, for we do not notice ourselves very much until some other person thinks we are worthy of observation and tells us so; and these changes are so gradual and tiny that we seldom observe them until we awaken for a moment or two in our middle age and then we get ready to fall asleep again.
When her uncle died, the solicitors who had administered his will handed her a small sum of money and intimated that from that date she must hew out her own path in life, and as she had most of the household furniture of her late uncle at her disposal, she decided to let lodgings. Setting about that end with all possible expedition she finished writing "apartments to let" on a square of pasteboard, and, having placed it prominently in a window, she folded her mittened hands and sat down with some trepidation to await the advent of a lodger.
He came in the night time with the stars and the moon. He was running like a youthful god, she thought, for her mind had not yet been weaned from certain vanities, and she could not see that a gigantic policeman was in his wake, tracking him with elephantine bounds, and now and again snatching a gasp from hurry to blow furious warnings on a whistle.
It was the sound of the whistle which opened her eyes through her ears. She went to the door and saw him coming framed in the moonlight, his arms pressed tightly to his sides, his head well up and his feet kicking a mile a minute on the pavement. Behind him the whistle shrilled with angry alarm, and the thunder of monumental feet came near as the policeman sprinted in majesty.
As the lodger ran she looked at him. He was a long-legged, young man with a pleasant, clean-shaven face. His eyes met hers, and, although he grinned anxiously, she saw that he was frightened. That frightened smile gripped her and she panted noiselessly, "Oh, run, run!"
As he drew level he fixed his gaze on her, and, stopping suddenly, he ducked under her arm and was inside the house in a twinkling.
The poor lady's inside curled up in fear and had started to uncurl in screams when she felt a hand laid gently on her arm, and, "Don't make a noise, or I'm caught," said a voice, whereupon, and with exceeding difficulty, she closed her mouth while the scream went sizzling through her teeth in little gasps. But now the enemy appeared round the corner, tooting incessantly on his whistle, and whacking sparks from the cobblestones as he ran. Behind her she could hear the laboured breathing of a spent runner. The lodger was kneeling at her skirts: he caught her hand and pressed his face against it entreatingly—
The policeman drew near—
"Did you see a fellow skedaddling along here, ma'am?" said he.
She hesitated for only a moment and then, pointing to a laneway opposite, replied—
"He went up there."
"Thank you, ma'am," said the policeman with a genial smile, and he sprinted up the laneway whistling cheerily.
She turned to the lodger—
"You had better go now," said she.
He looked at her ruefully and hesitated—
"If I go now," he replied, "I'll be caught and get a month. I'll have to eat skilly, you know, and pick oakum, and get my hair cut."
She looked at his hair—it was brown and wavy, just at his ears it crisped into tiny curls, and she thought it would be a great pity to cut it. He bore her scrutiny well, with just a trifle of embarrassment and a shyly humorous eye—
"You are the kindest woman I ever met," said he, "and I'll never forget you as long as I live. I'll go away now because I wouldn't like to get you into trouble for helping me."
"What did you do?" she faltered.
"I got into a fight with another man," he replied, "and while we were hammering each other the policeman came up. He was going to arrest me, and, before I knew what I was doing, I knocked him down."
She shook her head—
"You should not have done that. That was very wrong, for he was only doing his duty."
"I know it," he admitted, "but, do you see, I didn't know what I was doing, and then, when I hit him, I got frightened and ran."
"You poor boy," said she tenderly.
"And somehow, when I saw you, I knew you wouldn't give me up: wasn't it queer?"
What a nice, gentlemanly young fellow he is, she thought.
"But, of course, I cannot be trespassing on your kindness any longer," he continued, "so I'll leave at once, and if ever I get the chance to repay your kindness to a stranger——"
"Perhaps," said she, "it might not be quite safe for you to go yet. Come inside and I will give you a cup of tea. You must be worn out with the excitement and the danger. Why, you are shaking all over: a cup of tea will steady your nerves and give him time to stop looking for you."
"Perhaps," said he, "if I turned my coat inside out and turned my trousers up, they wouldn't notice me."
"We will talk it over," she replied with a wise nod.
That was how the lodger came. He told her his name and his employment—he was a bookmaker's clerk. He brought his luggage, consisting mostly of neckties, to her house the following day from his former lodgings—
"Had a terrible time getting away from them," said he. "They rather liked me, you know, and couldn't make out why I wanted to leave."
"As if you weren't quite free to do as you wished," quoth his indignant new landlady.
"And then, when they found I would go, they made me pay two weeks' rent in lieu of notice—mean, wasn't it?"
"The low people," she replied. "I will not ask you to pay anything this week."
He put his bandbox on the ground, and shook hands with her—
"You are a brick," said he, "the last and the biggest of them. There isn't the like of you in this or any other world, and never was and never will be, world without end, amen."
"Oh, don't say that," said she shyly.
"I will," he replied, "for it's the truth. I'll hire a sandwichman to stop people in the street and tell it to them. I'll get a week's engagement at the theatre and sing it from the stage. I'll make up a poem about your goodness. I don't know what to do to thank you. Do you see, if I had to pay you now I'd have to pawn something, and I really believe I have pawned everything they'd lend on to get the money for that two weeks' rent. I'm broke until Friday, that's my pay day, but that night I'll come home with my wages piled up on a cart."
"I can lend you a few shillings until then," said she laughing.
"Oh, no," said he. "It's not fair. I couldn't do that," but he could.
Well the light of the world shone out of the lodger. He was like a sea breeze in a soap factory. When he awakened in the morning he whistled. When he came down to breakfast he sang. When he came home in the evening he danced. He had an amazing store of vitality: from the highest hair on the top of his head down to his heels he was alive. His average language was packed with jokes and wonderful curses. He was as chatty as a girl, as good-humoured as a dog, as unconscious as a kitten—and she knew nothing at all of men, except, perhaps, that they wore trousers and were not girls. The only man with whom she had ever come in contact was her uncle, and he might have been described as a sniffy old man with a cold; a blend of gruel and grunt, living in an atmosphere of ointment and pills and patent medicine advertisements—and, behold, she was living in unthinkable intimacy with the youngest of young men; not an old, ache-ridden, cough-racked, corn-footed septuagenarian, but a young, fresh-faced, babbling rascal who laughed like the explosion of a blunderbuss, roared songs as long as he was within earshot and danced when he had nothing else to do. He used to show her how to do hand-balances on the arm-chair, and while his boots were cocked up in the air she would grow stiff with terror for his safety and for that of the adjacent crockery.
The first morning she was giving him his breakfast, intending afterwards to have her own meal in the kitchen, but he used language of such strangely attractive ferocity, and glared at her with such a humorously-mad eye that she was compelled to breakfast with him.
At night, when he returned to his tea, he swore by this and by that he would die of hunger unless she ate with him; and then he told her all the doings of the day, the bets that had been made and lost, and what sort of a man his boss was, and he extolled the goodness of his friends, and lectured on the vast iniquity of his enemies.
So things went until she was as intimate with him as if he had been her brother. One night he came home just a trifle tipsy. She noted at last what was wrong with him, and her heart yearned over the sinner. There were five or six glasses inside of him, and each was the father of an antic. He was an opera company, a gymnasium, and a menagerie at once, all tinged with a certain hilarious unsteadiness which was fascinating. But at last he got to his bed, which was more than she did.
She sat through the remainder of the night listening to the growth of her half-starved heart. Oh, but there was a warmth there now. . . .! Springtime and the moon in flood. What new leaves are these which the trees put forth? Bird, singing at the peep of morn, where gottest thou thy song? Be still, be still, thou stranger, fluttering a wing at my breast. . . .
At the end of a month the gods moved, and when the gods move they trample mortals in the dust.
The lodger's employer left Dublin for London, taking his clerk with him.
"Good-bye," said he.
"Good-bye," she replied, "and a pleasant journey to you."
And she took the card with "Apartments to Let" written upon it and placed it carefully in the window, and then, folding her mittened hands, she sat down to await the coming of another lodger, and as she sat she wept bitterly.
Nothing is true for ever. A man and a fact will become equally decrepit and will tumble in the same ditch, for truth is as mortal as man, and both are outlived by the tortoise and the crow.
To say that two is company and three is a crowd is to make a very temporary statement. After a short time satiety or use and wont has crept sunderingly between the two, and, if they are any company at all, they are bad company, who pray discreetly but passionately for the crowd which is censured by the proverb.
If there had not been a serpent in the Garden of Eden it is likely that the bored inhabitants of Paradise would have been forced to import one from the outside wilds merely to relax the tedium of a too-sustained duet. There ought to be a law that when a man and a woman have been married for a year they should be forcibly separated for another year. In the meantime, as our law-givers have no sense, we will continue to invoke the serpent.
Mrs. Mary Morrissy had been married for quite a time to a gentleman of respectable mentality, a sufficiency of money, and a surplus of leisure—Good things? We would say so if we dared, for we are growing old and suspicious of all appearances, and we do not easily recognize what is bad or good. Beyond the social circumference we are confronted with a debatable ground where good and bad are so merged that we cannot distinguish the one from the other. To her husband's mental attainments (from no precipitate, dizzy peaks did he stare; it was only a tiny plain with the tiniest of hills in the centre) Mrs. Morrissy extended a courtesy entirely unmixed with awe. For his money she extended a hand which could still thrill to an unaccustomed prodigality, but for his leisure (and it was illimitable) she could find no possible use.
The quality of permanency in a transient world is terrifying. A permanent husband is a bore, and we do not know what to do with him. He cannot be put on a shelf. He cannot be hung on a nail. He will not go out of the house. There is no escape from him, and he is always the same. A smile of a certain dimension, moustaches of this inevitable measurement, hands that waggle and flop like those of automata—these are his. He eats this way and he drinks that way, and he will continue to do so until he stiffens into the ultimate quietude. He snores on this note, he laughs on that, dissonant, unescapeable, unchanging. This is the way he walks, and he does not know how to run. A predictable beast indeed! He is known inside and out, catalogued, ticketed, and he cannot be packed away.
Mrs. Morrissy did not yet commune with herself about it, but if her grievance was anonymous it was not unknown. There is a back-door to every mind as to every house, and although she refused it house-room, the knowledge sat on her very hearthstone whistling for recognition.
Indeed, she could not look anywhere without seeing her husband. He was included in every landscape. His moustaches and the sun rose together. His pyjamas dawned with the moon. When the sea roared so did he, and he whispered with the river and the wind. He was in the picture but was out of drawing. He was in the song but was out of tune. He agitated her dully, surreptitiously, unceasingly. She questioned of space in a whisper, "Are we glued together?" said she. There was a bee in a flower, a burly rascal who did not care a rap for any one: he sat enjoying himself in a scented and gorgeous palace, and in him she confided:
"If," said she to the bee, "if that man doesn't stop talking to me I'll kick him. I'll stick a pin in him if he does not go out for a walk."
She grew desperately nervous. She was afraid that if she looked at him any longer she would see him. To-morrow, she thought, I may notice that he is a short, fat man in spectacles, and that will be the end of everything. But the end of everything is also the beginning of everything, and so she was one half in fear and the other half in hope. A little more and she would hate him, and would begin the world again with the same little hope and the same little despair for her meagre capital.
She had already elaborated a theory that man was intended to work, and that male sloth was offensive to Providence and should be forbidden by the law. At times her tongue thrilled, silently as yet, to certain dicta of the experienced Aunt who had superintended her youth, to the intent that a lazy man is a nuisance to himself and to everybody else; and, at last, she disguised this saying as an anecdote and repeated it pleasantly to her husband.
He received it coldly, pondered it with disfavour, and dismissed it by arguing that her Aunt had whiskers, that a whiskered female is a freak, and that the intellectual exercises of a freak are—— He lifted his eyebrows and his shoulders. He brushed her Aunt from the tips of his fingers and blew her delicately beyond good manners and the mode.
But time began to hang heavily on both. The intellectual antics of a leisured man become at last wearisome; his methods of thought, by mere familiarity, grow distasteful; the time comes when all the arguments are finished, there is nothing more to be said on any subject, and boredom, without even the covering, apologetic hand, yawns and yawns and cannot be appeased. Thereupon two cease to be company, and even a serpent would be greeted as a cheery and timely visitor. Dismal indeed, and not infrequent, is that time, and the vista therefrom is a long, dull yawn stretching to the horizon and the grave. If at any time we do revalue the values, let us write it down that the person who makes us yawn is a criminal knave, and then we will abolish matrimony and read Plato again.
The serpent arrived one morning hard on Mrs. Morrissy's pathetic pressure. It had three large trunks, a toy terrier, and a volume of verse. The trunks contained dresses, the dog insects, and the book emotion—a sufficiently enlivening trilogy! Miss Sarah O'Malley wore the dresses in exuberant rotation, Mr. Morrissy read the emotional poetry with great admiration, Mrs. Morrissy made friends with the dog, and life at once became complex and joyful.
Mr. Morrissy, exhilarated by the emotional poetry, drew, with an instinct too human to be censured, more and more in the direction of his wife's cousin, and that lady, having a liking for comedy, observed the agile posturings of the gentleman on a verbal summit up and down and around which he flung himself with equal dexterity and satisfaction—crudely, he made puns—and the two were further thrown together by the enforced absences of Mrs. Morrissy, into a privacy more than sealed, by reason of the attentions of a dog who would climb to her lap, and there, with an angry nose, put to no more than temporary rout the nimble guests of his jacket. Shortly Mrs. Morrissy began to look upon the toy terrier with a meditative eye.
It was from one of these, now periodical, retreats that Mrs. Morrissy first observed the rapt attitude of her husband, and, instantly, life for her became bounding, plentiful, and engrossing.
There is no satisfaction in owning that which nobody else covets. Our silver is no more than second-hand, tarnished metal until some one else speaks of it in terms of envy. Our husbands are barely tolerable until a lady friend has endeavoured to abstract their cloying attentions. Then only do we comprehend that our possessions are unique, beautiful, well worth guarding.
Nobody has yet pointed out that there is an eighth sense; and yet the sense of property is more valuable and more detestable than all the others in combination. The person who owns something is civilised. It is man's escape from wolf and monkeydom. It is individuality at last, or the promise of it, while those other ownerless people must remain either beasts of prey or beasts of burden, grinning with ineffective teeth, or bowing stupid heads for their masters' loads, and all begging humbly for last straws and getting them.
Under a sufficiently equable exterior Mrs. Morrissy's blood was pulsing with greater activity than had ever moved it before. It raced! It flew! At times the tide of it thudded to her head, boomed in her ears, surged in fierce waves against her eyes. Her brain moved with a complexity which would have surprised her had she been capable of remarking upon it. Plot and counterplot! She wove webs horrid as a spider's. She became, without knowing it, a mistress of psychology. She dissected motions and motives. She builded theories precariously upon an eyelash. She pondered and weighed the turning of a head, the handing of a sugar-bowl. She read treason in a laugh, assignations in a song, villainy in a new dress. Deeper and darker things! Profound and vicious depths plunging stark to where the devil lodged in darknesses too dusky for registration! She looked so steadily on these gulfs and murks that at last she could see anything she wished to see; and always, when times were critical, when this and that, abominations indescribable, were separate by no more than a pin's point, she must retire from her watch (alas for a too-sensitive nature!) to chase the enemies of a dog upon which, more than ever, she fixed a meditative eye.
To get that woman out of the house became a pressing necessity. Her cousin carried with her a baleful atmosphere. She moved cloudy with doubt. There was a diabolic aura about her face, and her hair was red! These things were patent. Was one blind or a fool? A straw will reveal the wind, so will an eyelash, a smile, the carriage of a dress. Ankles also! One saw too much of them. Let it be said then. Teeth and neck were bared too often and too broadly. If modesty was indeed more than a name, then here it was outraged. Shame too! was it only a word? Does one do this and that without even a blush? Even vice should have its good manners, its own decent retirements. If there is nothing else let there be breeding! But at this thing the world might look and understand and censure if it were not brass-browed and stupid. Sneak! Traitress! Serpent! Oh, Serpent! do you slip into our very Eden? looping your sly coils across our flowers, trailing over our beds of narcissus and our budding rose, crawling into our secret arbours and whispering-places and nests of happiness! Do you flaunt and sway your crested head with a new hat on it every day? Oh, that my Aunt were here, with the dragon's teeth, and the red breath, and whiskers to match! Here Mrs. Morrissy jumped as if she had been bitten (as indeed she had been) and retired precipitately, eyeing the small dog that frisked about her with an eye almost petrified with meditation.
To get that woman out of the house quickly and without scandal. Not to let her know for a moment, for the blink and twitter of an eyelid, of her triumph. To eject her with ignominy, retaining one's own dignity in the meantime. Never to let her dream of an uneasiness that might have screamed, an anger that could have bitten and scratched and been happy in the primitive exercise. Was such a task beyond her adequacy?
Below in the garden the late sun slanted upon her husband, as with declamatory hands and intense brows he chanted emotional poetry, ready himself on the slope of opportunity to roll into verses from his own resources. He criticised, with agile misconception, the inner meaning, the involved, hard-hidden heart of the poet; and the serpent sat before him and nodded. She smiled enchantments at him, and allurements, and subtle, subtle disagreements. On the grass at their feet the toy terrier bounded from his slumbers and curved an imperative and furious hind-leg in the direction of his ear.
Mrs. Morrissy called the dog, and it followed her into the house, frisking joyously. From the kitchen she procured a small basket, and into this she packed some old cloths and pieces of biscuit. Then she picked up the terrier, cuffed it on both sides of the head, popped it into the basket, tucked its humbly-agitated tail under its abject ribs, closed the basket, and fastened it with a skewer. She next addressed a label to her cousin's home, tied it to the basket, and despatched a servant with it to the railway-station, instructing her that it should be paid for on delivery.
At breakfast the following morning her cousin wondered audibly why her little, weeny, tiny pet was not coming for its brecky.
Mrs. Morrissy, with a smile of infinite sweetness, suggested that Miss O'Malley's father would surely feed the brute when it arrived. "It was a filthy little beast," said she brightly; and she pushed the toast-rack closer to her husband.
There followed a silence which drowsed and buzzed to eternity, and during which Mr. Morrissy's curled moustaches straightened and grew limp and drooped. An edge of ice stiffened around Miss O'Malley. Incredulity, frozen and wan, thawed into swift comprehension and dismay, lit a flame in her cheeks, throbbed burningly at the lobes of her ears, spread magnetic and prickling over her whole stung body, and ebbed and froze again to immobility. She opposed her cousin's kind eyes with a stony brow.
"I think," said she rising, "that I had better see to my packing."
"Must you go?" said Mrs. Morrissy, with courteous unconcern, and she helped herself to cream. Her husband glared insanely at a pat of butter, and tried to look like some one who was somewhere else.
Miss O'Malley closed the door behind her with extreme gentleness.
So the matter lay. But the position was unchanged. For a little time peace would reign in that household, but the same driving necessity remained, and before long another, and perhaps more virulent, serpent would have to be requisitioned for the assuagement of those urgent woes. A man's moustaches will arise with the sun; not Joshua could constrain them to the pillow after the lark had sung reveille. A woman will sit pitilessly at the breakfast table however the male eye may shift and quail. It is the business and the art of life to degrade permanencies. Fluidity is existence, there is no other, and for ever the chief attraction of Paradise must be that there is a serpent in it to keep it lively and wholesome. Lacking the serpent we are no longer in Paradise, we are at home, and our sole entertainment is to yawn when we wish to.
In the scented bud of the morning—O, When the windy grass went rippling far, I saw my dear one walking slow In the field where the daisies are.
We did not laugh and we did not speak As we wandered happily to and fro; I kissed my dear on either cheek In the bud of the morning—O.
A lark sang up from the breezy land, A lark sang down from a cloud afar, And she and I went hand in hand In the field where the daisies are.
THREE ANGRY PEOPLE
He sat cross-legged on the roadside beside a heap of stones, and with slow regularity his hammer swung up and down, cracking a stone into small pieces at each descent. But his heart was not in the work. He hit whatever stone chanced to be nearest. There was no cunning selection in his hammer, nor any of these oddities of stroke which a curious and interested worker would have essayed for the mere trial of his artistry.
He was not difficult to become acquainted with, and, after a little conversation, I discovered that all the sorrows of the world were sagging from his shoulders. Everything he had ever done was wrong, he said. Everything that people had done to him was wrong, that he affirmed; nor had he any hope that matters would mend, for life was poisoned at the fountain-head and there was no justice anywhere. Justice! he raised his eyebrows with the horrid stare of a man who searches for apparitions; he lowered them again to the bored blink of one who will not believe in apparitions even though he see them—there was not even fairness! Perhaps (and his bearing was mildly tolerant), perhaps some people believed there was fairness, but he had his share of days to count by and remember. Forty-nine years of here and there, and in and out, and up and down; walking all kinds of roads in all kinds of weathers; meeting this sort of person and that sort, and many an adventure that came and passed away without any good to it—"and now," said he sternly, "I am breaking stones on a bye-way."
"A bye-road such as this," said I, "has very few travellers, and it may prove a happy enough retreat."
"Or a hiding-place," said he gloomily.
We sat quietly for a few moments—
"Is there no way of being happy?" said I.
"How could you be happy if you have not got what you want?" and he thumped solidly with his hammer.
"What do you want?" I asked.
"Many a thing," said he, "many a thing."
I squatted on the ground in front of him, and he continued—
"You that are always travelling, did you ever meet a contented person in all your travels?"
"Yes," said I, "I met a man yesterday, three hills away from here, and he told me he was happy."
"Maybe he wasn't a poor man?"
"I asked him that, and he said he had enough to be going on with."
"I wonder what he had."
"I wondered too, and he told me.—He said that he had a wife, a son, an apple-tree, and a fiddle.
"He said, that his wife was dumb, his son was deaf, his apple-tree was barren, and his fiddle was broken."
"It didn't take a lot to satisfy that man."
"And he said, that these things, being the way they were, gave him no trouble attending on them, and so he was left with plenty of time for himself."
"I think the man you are telling me about was a joker; maybe you are a joker yourself for that matter."
"Tell me," said I, "the sort of things a person should want, for I am a young man, and everything one learns is so much to the good."
He rested his hammer and stared sideways down the road, and he remained so, pursing and relaxing his lips, for a little while. At last he said in a low voice—
"A person wants respect from other people.—If he doesn't get that, what does he signify more than a goat or a badger? We live by what folk think of us, and if they speak badly of a man doesn't that finish him for ever?"
"Do people speak well of you?" I asked.
"They speak badly of me," said he, "and the way I am now is this, that I wouldn't have them say a good word of me at all."
"Would you tell me why the people speak badly of you?"
"You are travelling down the road," said he, "and I am staying where I am. We never met before in all the years, and we may never meet again, and so I'll tell you what is in my mind.—A person that has neighbours will have either friends or enemies, and it's likely enough that he'll have the last unless he has a meek spirit. And it's the same way with a man that's married, or a man that has a brother. For the neighbours will spy on you from dawn to dark, and talk about you in every place, and a wife will try to rule you in the house and out of the house until you are badgered to a skeleton, and a brother will ask you to give him whatever thing you value most in the world."