THE FAR HORIZON
(MRS. MARY ST. LEGER HARRISON)
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
The Wages of Sin
A Counsel of Perfection
Colonel Enderby's Wife
The Gateless Barrier
The History of Sir Richard Calmady
"Ask for the Old Paths, where is the Good Way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest."—JEREMIAS.
"The good man is the bad man's teacher; the bad man is the material upon which the good man works. If the one does not value his teacher, if the other does not love his material, then despite their sagacity they must go far astray. This is a mystery of great import."—FROM THE SAYINGS OF LAO-TZU.
..."Cherchons a voir les choses comme elles sont, et ne voulons pas avoir plus d'esprit que le bon Dieu! Autrefois on croyait que la canne a sucre seule donnait le sucre, on en tire a peu pres de tout maintenant. Il est de meme de la poesie. Extrayons-la de n'importe quoi, car elle git en tout et partout. Pas un atome de matiere qui ne contienne pas la poesie. Et habituons-nous a considerer le monde comme un oeuvre d'art, dont il faut reproduire les procedees dans nos oeuvres."—GUSTAVE FLAUBERT.
Dominic Iglesias stood watching while the lingering June twilight darkened into night. He was tired in body, but his mind was eminently, consciously awake, to the point of restlessness, and this was unusual with him. He had raised the lower sash of each of the three tall, narrow windows to its extreme height, since the first-floor sitting-room, though of fair proportions, appeared close. His thought refused the limits of it, and ranged outward over the expanse of Trimmer's Green, the roadway and houses bordering it, to the far northwest, that region of hurried storm, of fierce, equinoctial passion and conflict, now paved with plaques of flat, dingy, violet cloud opening on smoky rose-red wastes of London sunset. All day thunder had threatened, but had not broken. And, even yet, the face of heaven seemed less peaceful than remonstrant, a sullenness holding it as of troops in retreat denied satisfaction of imminent battle.
Otherwise the outlook was wholly pacific, one of middle-class suburban security. The Green aforesaid is bottle-shaped, the neck of it debouching into a crowded westward-wending thoroughfare; while Cedar Lodge, from the first-floor windows of which Mr. Iglesias contemplated the oncoming of night, being situate in the left shoulder, so to speak, of the bottle, commanded, diagonally, an uninterrupted view of the whole extent of it. Who Trimmer was, how he came by a Green, and why, or what he trimmed on it, it is idle at this time of day to attempt to determine. Whether, animated by a desire for the public welfare, he bequeathed it in high charitable sort; or whether, fame taking a less enviable turn with him, he just simply was hanged there, has afforded matter of heated controversy to the curious in questions of suburban nomenclature and topography. But in this case, as in so many other and more august ones, the origins defy discovery. Suffice it, therefore, that the name remains, as does the open space—the latter forming one of those minor "lungs of London" which offer such amiable oases in the great city's less aristocratic residential districts. Formerly the Green boasted a row of fine elms, and was looked on by discreetly handsome eighteenth-century mansions and villas, set in spacious gardens. But of these, the great majority—Cedar Lodge being a happy exception—has vanished under the hand of the early Victorian speculative builder; who, in their stead, has erected full complement of the architectural platitudes common to his age and taste. Dignity has very sensibly given place to gentility. Nevertheless the timid red, or sickly yellow-grey, brick of the existing houses is pleasingly veiled by ivy and Virginia creeper, while no shop front obtrudes derogatory suggestion of retail trade. The local authorities, moreover, some ten years back girdled the Green with healthy young balsam-poplar and plane trees and enclosed the grass with iron hurdles—to rescue it from trampling into unsightly pathways—thus doing a well-intentioned, if somewhat unimaginative, best to safeguard the theatre of long ago Trimmer's beneficence or infamy from greater spoliation.
Hence it follows that, certain inherent limitations admitted, the scene upon which Dominic Iglesias' eyes rested was not without elements of attraction. And of this fact, being a person of an excellent temperance of expectation, he was gratefully aware. His surroundings, indeed, constituted, so it appeared to him, the maximum of comfort and advantage which could be expected by a middle-aged gentleman, of moderate fortune, in the capacity of a "paying guest." Not only in word but in thought—for in acknowledgment of obligation he was scrupulously courteous. He frequently tendered thanks to his neighbour and old school-fellow, Mr. George Lovegrove, first for calling his attention to Mrs. Porcher's advertisement, and subsequently for reassuring him as to its import. For, though incapable of forming so much as a thought to her concrete disparagement, Mr. Iglesias was not without a quiet sense of humour, or of that instinct of self-protection common to even the most chivalrous of mankind. He was, therefore, perfectly sensible that "the widow of a military officer," who describes herself in print as "bright, musical and thoroughly domesticated," while offering "a cheerful and refined home at the West End, within three minutes of Tube and omnibus"—"noble dining and recreation rooms, bath h. and c." thrown in—to unmarried members of the stronger sex, must of necessity be a lady whose close acquaintance it would be foolhardy to make without a trifle of preliminary scouting.
Happily not only George Lovegrove, but his estimable wife was at hand. The latter hastened to prosecute inquiries, beginning with a visit to the Anglican vicar of the parish, the Rev. Giles Nevington. He reported Mrs. Porcher an evening communicant at the greater festivals, and a not ungenerous donor to parochial charities; adding that a former curate had resided under her roof with perfect impunity. Mrs. Lovegrove terminated her researches by an interview with the fishmonger, who assured her that "Cedar Lodge always took the best cuts," sternly refused fish or poultry which had suffered cold storage, and paid its housebooks without fail before noon on Thursday. She ascertained, further, from a source socially intermediate between clergyman and tradesman, that Mrs. Porcher's husband, some time veterinary surgeon of a crack regiment, had died in the odour of alcohol rather than in that of sanctity, leaving his widow—in addition to his numerous and heavy debts—but a fraction of the comfortable fortune to procure the enjoyment of which he had so considerately married her. The solid Georgian mansion was her freehold; and it was to secure sufficient means for continued residence in it that the poor lady started a boarding-house, or in the politer language of the present day, had decided to receive paying guests.
Encouraged by the satisfactory nature of the above information, Mr. Iglesias—shortly after his mother's death, now nearly eight years ago— had become a member of Mrs. Porcher's household. He had never, so far, had reason to regret that step. And it was with a consciousness of well-being and repose that he returned daily—after hours of strenuous work in the well-known city banking house of Messrs. Barking Brothers & Barking—to this square first-floor sitting-room, to its dimly white panelled and painted walls, its nice details of carved work in chimney- piece and ceiling, and the outlook from its tall, narrow windows. A touch of old-world stateliness in its aspect satisfied his latent pride of race. To certain natures not obscurity or slender means, but the pretentious vulgarity which, in English-speaking countries, too often goes along with these constitutes the burden and the offence.
To-night, however, things were different. Material objects remained the same; but the conditions of existence had taken on a strange appearance, and with that appearance Iglesias was bound to reckon, being uncertain as yet whether it was destined to prove that of a friend or of an enemy. In furtherance of such reckoning, he had declined dining at the public table, in company with his hostess, Miss Eliza Hart, her devoted friend and companion, and the three gentlemen—Mr. de Courcy Smyth, Mr. Farge, and Mr. Worthington—who shared with him the hospitalities of Cedar Lodge. He had dined here, upstairs, solitary; and Frederick, the German- Swiss valet, had just finished clearing the table and departed. Usually under such circumstances Iglesias would have taken a favourite book from the carved Spanish mahogany bookcase containing his small library; and, reading again that which he had often read before, would have found therein the satisfaction of friendship, along with the soothing influences of familiarity. But to-night neither Gibbon's Rome—a handsome early edition in many volumes—The Travels of Anacharsis, Evelyn's Diary, Napier's Peninsular War, John Stuart Mill's Logic, Byron's Poems, nor those of Calderon, nor of that so-called "prodigy of nature," Lope de Vega, not even the dear and immortal Don Quixote himself, served to attract him. His own thoughts, his own life, filled his whole horizon, leaving no space for the thoughts or lives of others. He found himself a prey to a certain mental incoherence, a bewildering activity of vision. More than once before in the course of his laborious, monotonous, and, as men go, very virtuous life had this same thing happened to him—the tides of the obvious and accustomed suddenly receding and leaving him stranded, as on some barren sand-bank, uncertain whether the ship of his individual fate would lie there wind-swept and sun-bleached till rusty rivets fell out and planks parted, disclosing the ribs of her in unsightly nakedness, or whether the kindly tide, rising, would float her off into blue water and she would sail hopefully once again.
It was inevitable that this present experience should recall these other happenings, evoking memories poignant enough. The first time the ship of his fate thus stranded was when, as a lad of seventeen, he left school. Living alone with his mother in a quaint little house in Holland Street, Kensington, eagerly ambitious to make his way in the world and to obtain, it had dawned on him that there was something strange, unhappy, and not as it was wont to be with that, to him, most beautiful and beloved of women. The mere suspicion was as a blasphemy against which his young loyalty revolted. For Dominic, with the inherent pieties of his Latin and Celtic blood, had none of that contemptuous superiority in regard of his near relations so common to male creatures of the Protestant persuasion and Anglo-Saxon race. He took his parents quite seriously; it never having occurred to him that fathers and mothers are given us merely for purposes of discipline, or as helot-like examples of what to avoid. He was simple-minded enough indeed to regard them as sacred, altogether beyond the bounds of legitimate criticism—and this, as destiny would have it, with intimate and life-long results.
Vaguely, through the mists of infancy, he could remember a hurried exodus—after sound of cannon and sight of blood—from Spain, the fierce and pious country of his birth. Since then, while his mother lived— namely, till he was a man of over forty—always and only the house in the Kensington side street, with its crooked creaking stairways, its high wainscots—behind which mice squeaked and scampered—its clinging odour of ancient woodwork, its low ceilings, and uneven floors. At the back of it was a narrow strip of garden, glorious for one brief week in early summer, with the gold of a big laburnum; and fragrant later thanks to faithful effort on the part of the white jasmine clothing its enclosing walls. In fair weather the morning sun lay warm there; while the sky showed all the bluer overhead for the dark lines of the adjacent housetops, and upstanding deformities in the matter of zinc cowls and chimney-pots. Frequented by cats, boasting in the centre a rockery of gas clinkers and chalk flints surmounted by a stumpy fluted column bearing a stone basin—in which, after rain, sparrows disported themselves with much conversation and fluttering of sooty wings—the garden was, to little Dominic, a place of wonder and delight. He peopled it with beings of his own fancy, lovely or terrific, according to his passing humour. Granted a measure of imagination, the solitary child is often the happiest child, since the social element, with its inevitable materialism, is absent, and the dear spirit of romance is unquenched by vulgar comment.
His father, grave and preoccupied, whose arrivals after long periods of absence had in them an effect of secrecy and haste, was to the small boy a being, august, but remote. During his brief sojourns at home the quiet house awoke to greater fulness of life, with much coming and going of other grave personages, strange of dress, and with a certain effect of hardly restrained violence in their aspect. A spirit of fear seemed to enter with them, demanding an unnatural darkening of windows and closing of doors. Before Dominic they were of few words; but became eloquent enough, in sonorous foreign speech, as his ears testified when he was banished from their rather electric presence to the solitude of the nursery above. And so it came about that a sense of mystery, of large issues, of things at once strong and hidden, impenetrable to his understanding and concerning which no questions might be asked, encircled Dominic's childhood and passed into the very fabric of his thought. While through it all his mother moved, to him tender and wholly exquisite, but with the reticence of some deep-seated enthusiasm silently cherished, some far-reaching alarm silently endured, always upon her. And this resulted in an atmosphere of seriousness and responsibility which inevitably reacted on the boy, making him sober beyond his years, tempering his natural vivacity with watchfulness, and pitching even his laughter in a minor key.
Only many years later, when after his mother's death it became his duty to read letters exchanged between his parents during this period, did Dominic Iglesias touch the key to the riddle, and fully measure the public danger, the private strain and stress which had surrounded his childhood and early youth. For his father, a man of far from ignoble nature, but of narrow outlook and undying hatreds, was deeply involved in revolutionary intrigue of the most advanced type—a victim of that false passion of humanity which takes its rise not in honest desire for the welfare of mankind, but in blind rebellion against all forms of authority. His self-confidence was colossal; all rule being abominable to him—save his own—all rulers hideous, save himself. The anarchist, rightly understood, is merely the autocrat, the tyrant, turned inside out. And this man, as Dominic gathered from the perusal of those old letters, to whom the end so justified the means that red-handed crime took on the fair colours of virtue, his mother had loved, even while she feared him, with all the faithfulness and pure passion of her Irish blood. Pathetic combination, the patience and resignation of the one ever striving to temper the flaming zeal of the other, as though the spindrift of the Atlantic, sweeping inland from the dim sadness of far western coasts, should strive with relentless fierceness of sunglare outpoured on some high-lying walled city of arid central Spain! Mist is but a weak thing as against rock and fire; and what his mother must have suffered in moral and spiritual conflict, let alone all question of active dread, was to her son almost too cruel to contemplate, although it explained and justified much.
In 1860, when Dominic was a schoolboy of fourteen, his father left home on one of those sudden journeys the object and objective of which were alike concealed. For about a year letters arrived at irregular intervals, hailing from Paris, Naples, Prague, and finally Petersburg. Then followed silence, broken only by rumours furtively conveyed by a former associate, one Pascal Pelletier—an angel-faced, long-haired, hysteric creature, inspired by an impassioned enthusiasm for infernal machines and wholesale slaughter in theory, and, in practice, by a gentle doglike devotion to Mrs. Iglesias and young Dominic. He would arrive depressed and shadowy in the shadowy twilights. But, once in the presence of the beings whom he loved, he became effervescent. His belief was unlimited in the Head Centre, the Chief, in his demonic power and fertility of resource. That any evil should befall him!—Pascal snapped his thin fingers; while, with the inalienable optimism of the born fanatic, he proceeded to state hopeful conjecture as established fact, thereby doing homage to the spirit of delusion which so conspicuously ruled him even to his inmost thought. But a spell of cold weather in the winter of 1862 struck a little too shrewdly through Pascal's seedy overcoat, causing that tender- hearted subverter of society to cough his life out, with all possible despatch, in the third-floor back of a filthy lodging-house off Tottenham Court Road.
This was the end as far as information went, whether authentic or apocryphal. But Dominic, his horizon still bounded by the world of school, greedy of distinction both in learning and in games, away all day and eagerly, if somewhat sleepily, busy over the preparation of lessons at night, was very far from realising that. Poor voluble kind-eyed Pascal he mourned with all his heart; yet the months of his father's absence accumulated into years almost unnoticed. The same thing had so often happened before; and then, at an unlooked-for moment, the wanderer had returned. Moreover, the old habit of obedience was still strong in him. It was understood that concerning his father's occupations and movements no comment might be made, no questions might be asked.
Meanwhile, the small house in Holland Street was ever more still, more unfrequented. As he grew older Dominic became increasingly sensible of this—sensible of a sort of hush falling on him as he crossed the threshold, so that instinctively he left much of his wholesome young animality outside, while his voice took on softer tones in speech, and his quick light footsteps became more scrupulously noiseless as he ran up the little crooked stairs.
"When your father comes home we must decide what profession you shall follow, my Dominic," it had been his mother's habit to declare. But, even before the time for such decision arrived the boy had begun to understand he must see to all that unaided. For his mother was ill, how deeply and in what manner he could not tell. He shrank, indeed, from all clear thought, let alone speech, on the subject, as from something indelicate, in a way irreverent. Her beauty remained to her, notwithstanding a gradual wasting as of fever. A peculiar, very individual grace of dress and of bearing remained to her likewise. But she was uncertain in mood, the victim of strange fancies, a being almost alarmingly far removed from the interests of ordinary life. Long ago, in submission to her husband's anti-clerical prejudices, she had ceased to practise her religion, so that the services of the Church no longer called her forth in beneficent routine of sacred obligation. Now she never left the house, living, since poor Pascal Pelletier's death, in complete seclusion. Little wonder then that a hush fell on Dominic crossing the threshold, since so doing he passed from the world of healthy action to that of acquiescent sickness, from vigorous hoarse-voiced realities to the intangible sadness of unrelated dreams! The effect was one of rather haunting melancholy; and it was characteristic of the lad that he did not resent it, though rejoicing in the reputation at school of being high-spirited enough, impatient of restraint or of any frustration of purpose. His mother had always been sacred. She remained so, even though her sympathies had become imperfect, and she moved in regions which his sane young imagination failed to penetrate. One thing was perfectly plain to him, though it cut at the root of ambition—namely, that he could not leave her. So, in that matter of a profession, he must find work which would permit of his continuing to live at home; and, since her income was narrow, the work in question must make no heavy demand in respect of preliminary expense.
Here was a problem more easy of statement than of solution, in face of Dominic's pride, inexperience, and the singular isolation of his position! There followed dreary months wherein his evenings were spent in studying and answerings advertisements; and his days, till late afternoon, in walking the town from end to end for the interviewing of possible employers and the keeping of fruitless appointments. He would set forth full of hope and courage in the morning, only to return full of the dejection of failure at night. And it was then London began to reveal herself to him in her solidarity, under the cloud of dun-blue coal smoke —it was wintertime—which, at once hanging over and penetrating her immensity, adds the majesty of mystery to the majesty of mere size. He noted how, in the chill twilights, London grew strangely and feverishly alive. Lamps sprang into clearness along the pavements. A dazzling glitter of shop windows marked the great thoroughfares, while often the angry glare of a fire pulsed along the sky-line. When night comes in the country, so Dominic told himself, the land sinks into peaceful repose. But in cities it is otherwise. There the light leaves heaven for earth; and walks the streets, with much else far from celestial, until the small hours move towards the dawn and usher in the decencies of day.
Never before had he seen London thus and understood it in all its enormous variety, yet as a unit, a whole. How much he actually beheld with his bodily eyes, how much through the working of a rather exalted condition of imagination induced by loneliness and bodily fatigue, he could never subsequently determine. But the great city presented herself to him in the guise of some prodigious living creature, breathing, feeding, suffering, triumphing, above all mating and breeding, terrible in her power and vitality, age old, yet still unspent. Presented herself to him as horribly prolific, ever outpassing her own unwieldy limits, sending forth her children, year after year, all the wide world over by shipping or by rail; receiving some tithe of them back, proud with accomplished fortune to enhance her glory, or, disgraced and broken, slinking homeward to the cover of her fog and darkness merely to swell the numbers of the nameless who rot and die. He thought of those others, too—and this touched his young ardour with a quick shudder of personal fear—whom she never sends forth at all; but holds close in bondage all their lives long, enslaved to her countless and tyrant activities by their own poverty, or by their fellow-creatures' misfortune, cruelties, and sins. Was it thus she was going to deal with him, Dominic Iglesias? Was he to be among the great city's bondmen through the coming years, better acquainted with the very earthly light which walks her streets by night, than with the heavenly light which gladdens the sweet face of day in the open country and upon the open sea? And for a moment the boy's heart rebelled, hungry for pleasure, hungry for wide experience, hungry even for knowledge of those revolutionary intrigues which, as he was beginning to understand, had surrounded his childhood, and, as he was beginning to fear, had cost his mother her reason and his father both liberty and life. Thus did the ship of poor Dominic's fate appear to be stranded or ever it had fairly set sail at all.
Meanwhile, if London claimed him, she did so in very cynical fashion, mocking his willingness to labour, refusing to feed him even while she refused to let him go. Everything, he feared, was against him—his youth, his foreign name, his limited acquaintance, the impossibility of giving definite information regarding his father's past occupations or present whereabouts. Moreover, his spare young figure, his thin shapely hands and feet, his blue-black Irish eyes and black hair, his energetic colourless face, his ready yet reticent speech—all these marked him as unusual and exotic. And for the unusual and exotic the British employer of labour—of whatever sort—has, it must be conceded, but little use. He is half afraid, half contemptuous of it, instinctively disliking anything more alert and alive than his own most stolid self. But while men, distrusting the distinctness of his personality and his good looks, refused to give Dominic work, women, relishing them, were only too ready to give him enjoyment—of a kind. The boy, in those solitary wanderings, ran the gauntlet of many temptations; and was presented—did he care to accept it—with the freedom of the city on very liberal lines. Happily, inherent cleanliness of nature saved him from much; and reverent shame at the thought of entering the hushed and silent house where his mother lived— spotless, amid pathetic memories and delicate dreams—with the soil of licence upon him, saved him from more. Crime might have come close to him in his childhood, but vice never; and the influences of vice are far more insidious, and consequently more damaging, than those of crime.
Still, one way and another, the boy came very near touching the confines of despair. Then the tide rose and the stranded ship of his fate began to lift a little. By means of a series of accidents—the illness of his former school-fellow, the already mentioned George Lovegrove, whose post he offered temporarily to fill—he drifted into connection with the banking house of Messrs. Barking Brothers & Barking. There his knowledge of modern languages, his industry, and a certain discreet aloofness commended him to his superiors. A minor clerkship fell vacant; it was offered to him. And from thenceforth, for Dominic Iglesias, the monotony of fixed routine and steady labour, until the day when, as a man of past fifty, restless and somewhat distrustful both of the present and the future, he watched the dying of the sullen sunset over Trimmer's Green from the windows of the first-floor sitting-room of Cedar Lodge.
That which had in point of fact happened was not, as Iglesias felt, without a pretty sharp edge of irony. For to-day, London, so long his task-mistress and gaoler, had assumed a new attitude towards him. Suddenly, unexpectedly, she had cast him off, given him his freedom. It was amazing, a thing to take your breath away for the moment. And agitated and hurt—for his pride unquestionably had suffered in the process—Iglesias asked himself what in the world he should do with this gift of freedom, what he should do, indeed, with that which remained to him of life?
It had come about thus. Seeking an interview that morning with Sir Abel Barking, in the latter's private room at the bank, he had made certain statements regarding his own health in justification of a request for some weeks' rest and holiday now, rather than later, in September, when his yearly vacation would fall due.
"So you find yourself unequal to dealing satisfactorily with the increasing intricacy of our financial operations, become confused by the multiplicity of detail, suffer from pains in the head?" Sir Abel had commented, with a certain largeness of manner. "I own, my good friend, I was not wholly unprepared for this announcement."
"My work has not so far, I believe, suffered in any respect," Iglesias put in quietly. "Directly I had reason to fear it might suffer I——"
"Of course, of course. I make no complaint—none. I go further. I admit that the area of our undertakings is enlarged, enormously enlarged, thanks to the remarkable personal energy and strenuous transatlantic business methods introduced by my nephew Reginald. I grant you all that——"
Sir Abel cleared his throat. Seduced by the charms of his own eloquence, he was ready to mount the platform at the shortest possible notice, even in private life. He loved exposition. He loved periods. His critics—for what public man is without these, their strictures naturally inspired by envy?—had been known to add that he also loved platitudes. Be this as it may, certain it is that he loved an audience—even of one. He had been considerably ruffled this morning by communications made to him by his good-looking and somewhat scapegrace youngest son. Those who fail to rule their own households often find solace in attempting to rule the households of others. Speech and patronage consequently tended to the restoration of self-complacency.
"No doubt this expansion, these modern methods, constitute a tax upon your capacity, my good friend, you having acquired your training under a less exacting system. I am not surprised. I confess"—he leaned back in his chair, with an indulgent smile, as one who should say, "the gods themselves do not wholly escape"—"I confess," he repeated, "it is something of a tax upon the capacity of a veteran financier such as myself. But then strain in some form or other, as I frequently remind myself, is the very master-note of our modern existence. We all experience it in our degree. And there are those men, such as myself, for instance, who from their position, their vast interests and heavy responsibilities, from the almost incalculable issues dependent on their judgment and their action, are called upon to endure this strain in its most exhausting manifestations, who are compelled to subordinate personal case, even health itself, to public obligation. In the end they pay, incontestable they pay, for their self-abnegation, for their unswerving obedience to the trumpet-call of public duty."
He paused and mused a while, his head raised, his right hand resting—it was noticeably podgy and squat—on the highly polished surface of the extensive writing-table, his left hand dropped, with a rather awkward negligence, over the arm of his chair. Meanwhile he gazed, as pensively as his caste of countenance permitted, at a portrait of himself, in the self-same attitude, which adorned the opposite wall. It had been presented to him by the electors of his late constituency. It was life- size and full-length. It had been painted by a well-known artist whose appreciation of the outward as a revelation of the inward man is slightly diabolic in its completeness. The portrait was very clever; it was also very like. Looking upon it no sane observer could stand in doubt of Sir Abel's eminent respectability or eminent wealth. His appearance exuded both. Unluckily nature had been niggardly in the bestowal of those more delicate marks of breeding which, both in man and beast, denote distinction of personality and antiquity of race. Pursy, prolific, Protestant, a commonness pervaded the worthy gentleman's aspect, causing him, as compared with his head clerk, Dominic Iglesias—standing there patiently awaiting his further utterance—to be as is a cheap oleograph to a fine sketch in pen and ink. It may be taken as an axiom that, in body and soul alike, to be deficient in outline is a sad mistake. But of all these little facts and the result of them, Sir Abel was, needless to relate, sublimely ignorant.
"With you, my good friend, it is otherwise," he remarked presently, reluctantly removing his gaze from the portrait of himself. "A beneficent Providence has devised the law of compensation. And we may remark the workings of it everywhere with instruction and encouragement. Hence social obscurity has its compensating advantages. You, for example, are affected by none of those considerations of public obligation binding upon myself. You are so situated that you can avoid the more trying consequences of this universal overstrain. If the demands of the position you now fill are too much for you, you can retire. I congratulate you, Iglesias. For some of us it is impossible, it is forbidden to retire."
The speaker paused, as when in addressing a political or charitable meeting he paused for well-merited applause, secure of having made a telling point. Dominic Iglesias, however, had not applauded. To tell the truth, his back was stiffening a little. He had a very just appreciation of the relative social positions of himself and his employer; still it did not occur to him, somehow, that applause was necessarily in the part.
"You have the redress in your own hands," Sir Abel went on, not without a hint of annoyance. "If you need amusement, leisure, rest, they are all within your reach."
Still Iglesias did not speak.
"See now, my good friend, consider. To be practical"—Sir Abel raised his finger and wagged it, with a heavy attempt at bonhomie. "You have no family to provide for?"
"No," said Mr. Iglesias.
"You are, in short, not married?"
"No, Sir Abel," he said again.
"Well, then, no obstacle presents itself. But let us pause a moment, for I must guard myself against misconception. In the interests of both public and private morality I am a staunch advocate of marriage." Again he cleared his throat. The platform was conspicuous by its presence—in idea. "I hold matrimony to be among the primary duties, nay, to be the primary duty of the Christian and the citizen. We owe it to the race, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the opposite sex. Let us be quite clear on this point. Yet, since I deprecate all bigotry, I admit that there may be exceptional cases in which absence of the marital relation, though arguing some emotional callousness, may prove advantageous to the individual."
A queer light had come into Dominic Iglesias' eyes. The corners of his mouth worked a little. He stood quite still and rather noticeably erect.
"I do not deny this," Sir Abel continued. "I repeat, I do not deny it. And yours, my good friend, may be, I am prepared to acknowledge, a case in point. I take for granted, by the way, that you have saved, since your salary has been a liberal one?"
Iglesias inclined his head.
"Clearly we need discuss this matter no further then." The speaker became impressive, admonitory. "Indeed, it appears to me that your lot is a most favoured one. You are free of all encumbrances. You can retire in comfort—retire, moreover, with the assurance that your departure will cause no inconvenience to myself and my colleagues, since you make room for men younger and more in touch with modern methods than yourself."
Mr. Iglesias permitted himself to smile.
"Ah, yes!" he said. "Possibly I had not taken that fact sufficiently into account."
"Yet, clearly, it should augment your satisfaction," Sir Abel Barking observed, with a touch of severity. "And, by the by, you can draw your pension. You were entitled, strictly speaking, to do so some years ago— four, I believe, to be accurate. This was pointed out to you at the time by my nephew Reginald. He was not at all unwilling that you should retire then; but you preferred to remain. I had some conversation, at the time, with my nephew on the subject. I insisted upon the fact that your service had been exemplary. I finally succeeded in overruling his objection to your retaining your post."
"I am evidently under a heavy obligation to you, Sir Abel," said Iglesias.
"Don't mention it—don't mention it," the great man answered nobly. "Those in power should try to exercise it to the benefit of their subordinates. It has always been my effort not only to be just, but to be considerate of the interests and feelings of persons in my employment."
And with that he again fixed his eyes upon the ironical portrait adorning the opposite wall, wholly blind to the fact that it at once revealed his weaknesses and mocked at them, conscious only of an agreeable conviction that he had treated his head clerk with generosity and spoken to him with the utmost good-feeling and tact.
With the proud it is ever a question whether to spoil the Egyptians, or to fling back even the best-earned wages, payable by Egyptians, full in the said Egyptians' face. For the firm of Barking Brothers & Barking, in the abstract, Iglesias had the loyalty of long-established habit. It had been as the rising tide, setting the ship of his fate and fortune honourably afloat in the dismal days of that early stranding. Its service had eaten up the best years of his life, it is true. But, even in so doing, by mere force of constant association, the interests of the great banking house had come to be his own, its schemes and secrets his excitement, its successes his satisfaction. Fortunately the human mind is so constituted that it is possible to have an esteem, amounting to enthusiasm, for a body corporate, while entertaining but scanty admiration for the individuals of whom that body is composed—fortunately indeed, since otherwise what government, secular or sacred, would long continue to subsist? Hence, to Iglesias, this matter of the pension was decidedly difficult. Pride said, "This man, Abel Barking has been offensive; both he and his nephew have been ungrateful; reject it with contempt." Justice said, "You have no quarrel with the firm as a whole; accept it." Common sense, pricked up by anger, said, "Claim your own, take every brass farthing of it." While personal dignity, winding up the case, admonished, "By no means give yourself away. Make no impetuous demonstration. Go home and think it quietly over." And with the advice of personal dignity Mr. Iglesias fell in.
Yet he was still very sore, the heat of anger past, but the smart of it remaining, when he journeyed back from the city later in the day. And not only that after-smart, but a perplexity held him. For two strange faces had looked into his during the last few hours—those of Loneliness and Freedom. He had taken for granted, in a general sort of way, that such personages existed and exercised a certain jurisdiction in human affairs. But in all the course of his laborious life they had never before come close, personally claiming him. He had had no time for them. But they are patient, they only wait. They had time for him—plenty of it. Suddenly he understood that; and it perplexed him, for his estimate of his own importance was modest. He even felt apologetic towards them, as one at whose door distinguished guests alight for whose entertainment he has made no adequate provision. He was embarrassed, his sense of hospitality reproaching him.
It so happened that, on this same return journey, he occupied the seat on the right, immediately behind that of the driver. The sky was covered, the atmosphere close. The horses, grey ones, showed a thick yellowish lather where the collar rubbed their necks and the traces their flanks. They were slack and heavy, and the omnibus hugged the curb. Within it was empty, and on the top boasted but three passengers besides Iglesias himself. It followed that, carrying insufficiency of ballast, the great red-painted vehicle lumbered, and jerked, and swayed uneasily; while the lighter traffic swept past it in a glittering stream, the dominant note of which was black as against the dirty drab of the recently watered wood-pavement. And the character of that traffic was new to Dominic Iglesias, though he had travelled the Hammersmith Road, Kensington High Street and Kensington Gore, Knightsbridge and Piccadilly, back and forth daily, these many years. For the exigencies of business demanding that the hours of his journeying should be early and late, always the same, it came about that the aspect of these actually so-familiar thoroughfares was novel, as beheld in the height of the season at three o'clock in the afternoon.
At first Iglesias saw without seeing, busy with his own uncheerful thoughts. But after a while he began to speculate idly on the scene around him, turning to the outward and material for distraction, if not for actual comfort. And so the stream of carriages and hansoms, and the conspicuously well-favoured human beings occupying them, began to intrigue his attention. He questioned whom they might be and whither wending, decked forth in such brave array. They seemed to suggest something divorced from, yet native to, his experience; something he had never touched in fact, yet the right to which was resident in his blood. And with this he ceased, in instinct, to be merely the highly respected and respectable head clerk of Messrs. Barking Brothers & Barking—now superannuated and laid on the shelf. A gayer, fiercer, simpler life, quick with violences of vivacious sound and vivid colour, the excitement of it heightened by clear shining southern sunshine and blue-black shadow—a life undreamed of by conventional, slow-moving, rather vulgar middle-class London—to which, on the face of it, he appeared as emphatically to belong—awoke and cried in Dominic Iglesias.
It was a surprising little experience, causing him to straighten up his lean yet shapely figure; while the burden of his years, and the long monotony of them, seemed strangely lifted off him. Then, with the air of courtly reserve—at once the joke and envy of the younger clerks, which had earned him the nickname of "the old Hidalgo"—he leaned forward and addressed the omnibus driver. The latter upraised a broad, moist and sleepy countenance.
"Polo at Ranelagh," he answered, in a voice thickened by dust and the laying of that dust by strong waters. "Club team plays 'Undred and First Lancers."
The words had been to the inquirer pretty much as phrases from the liturgy of an unknown cult. But it was Iglesias' praiseworthy disposition not to be angry with that which he did not happen to understand, so much as angry with himself for not understanding it.
"Only an additional proof, were it needed, of the prodigious extent of my ignorance!" he reflected in stoically humorous self-contempt. His eyes dwelt, somewhat wistfully, on the glittering stream of traffic, once again those two unbidden guests, Loneliness and Freedom—for whose entertainment he had made inadequate provision—sitting, as it seemed, very close on either side of him. Then that happened which altered all the values. Dominic Iglesias suddenly saw a person whom he knew.
He had seen that same person about three hours previously in the bank in Threadneedle Street, while waiting for admittance to Sir Abel's private room. Rumour accredited this handsome young gentleman—Sir Abel's youngest son—with tastes expensive rather than profitable, liberal socially, rather than estimable ethically, declaring him to be distinctly of the nature of the proverbial thorn in the banker's otherwise very prosperous side. He had, so said rumour, the fortune or misfortune, as you chose to take it, of being at once a considerably bad boy and a distinctly charming one. Be all that as it might, the young man had certainly presented a grimly anxious countenance when, without so much as a nod of recognition, he had stalked past Mr. Iglesias in the dim light of the glass and mahogany-walled corridor. But now, as the latter noted, his expression had changed, and that very much for the better. The young man's face was flushed and eager, and his teeth showed white and even under his reddish brown moustache. If anxieties still pursued him they were in subjection to one main anxiety, the anxiety to please, which of all anxieties is the most engaging and grace-begetting.
Just then the traffic was held up, thus enabling Iglesias from his perch on the 'bustop to receive a more than fleeting impression. Two ladies were seated opposite the young man in the carriage. In them Iglesias recognised persons of very secure social standing. The elder he supposed to be Lady Sokeington—Alaric Barking's half-sister—to whom, on the occasion of her marriage, twelve or thirteen years ago, he had had the expensive honour of presenting, in his own name and that of his colleagues, a costly gift of plate. The other lady, so it appeared to him, was eminently sweet to look upon. She was very young. She leaned a little forward, and in the pose of her delicate figure and the carriage of her pretty head—under its burden of pale pink and grey feathers, flowers, and lace—he detected further example of that engaging anxiety to please. They made a delightful young couple, the fair seeming of this life and riches of it very much on their side. Mr. Iglesias' chivalrous heart went out to them in silent sympathy and benediction; while, the block being over, his gaze continued to follow them as long as the young girl's slender white-clad back and the young man's flushed and eager face remained distinguishable. Then he started, for he was aware that his unbidden companions had received unexpected reinforcement. A third guest had arrived, and looked hard and critically at him. It's name was Old Age, and he found something sardonic in its glance. With all his gentleness of soul, all his innate self-restraint, there remained fighting blood in Dominic Iglesias. Therefore, for the moment, recognising with whom he had to deal, a light anything but mild visited his eyes, and a rigidity the straight lines of his chin and lips. Old Age is a sinister visitant even to those who are moderate in demand and clean of life. For it gives to drink of the cup not of pleasure, but merely of patience, of physical loss and intellectual humiliation; and, once it has laid its spell upon you, you are past all remedy save the supreme remedy of death. And so, at first sight, Iglesias rebelled—as do all men— turning defiant. Then, being very sane, he gave in to the relentless logic of fact. Silently, yet with all courtesy, he acknowledged the newcomer, and bade it be seated along with the rest. While, after brief pause to rally his pride, and that courage which is the noblest attribute of pride, he turned to things concrete and material once more, finally addressing himself to the omnibus driver:
"Pardon me; polo, as I understand, is a species of game?"
The broad moist countenance was again uplifted, a hint of patronage now tempering its good-natured apathy.
"Sort'er 'ockey on 'orseback."
"That must be sufficiently dangerous," Mr. Iglesias remarked.
"Bless you, yes. Players breaks their backs pretty frequent, and cuts the ponies about most cruel—"
He ceased speaking abruptly, jammed the brake down with his heel in response to the conductor's bell, and drew the sweating horses up short to permit the ingress of fresh passengers. This accomplished, the omnibus lumbered onwards while Dominic Iglesias fell into further meditation.
The explanation vouchsafed him was still far from explicit; yet this much of illumination he gained from it, namely, the assurance that all these goodly personages, Alaric Barking and his sweet companion among them, were on pleasure bent. One and all they fared forth, on this heavy summer afternoon, in search of amusement—in search of that intangible yet very powerful factor in human affairs to which it is given to lift the too great weight of seriousness from mortal life, cheating perception of relentless actualities, helping to restore the balance, helping men to hope, to laugh, and to forget. Perceiving all which, conscious moreover of the near neighbourhood of Loneliness on the right hand and Old Age on the left, Iglesias began to bestow on these votaries of pleasure a more earnest attention, recognising in them the possessors of a secret which it greatly behoved him to enter into possession of likewise. In what, he asked himself, did it actually consist, this to him practically unknown quantity, amusement? How was the spirit of it cultivated, the enjoyment of it consciously attained? How far did it reside in inward attitude, how far in outward circumstance? In a word, how did they all do it? It was very incumbent upon him to learn, and he admitted a ridiculous ignorance.
Thus had the chapter of labour ended, and that of leisure opened. And it was with the sadness of things terminated very strongly upon him that, as Frederick, the German-Swiss valet, finished clearing the dinner-table and departed, Mr. Iglesias looked forth over the neatly protected verdure of Trimmer's Green in the evening quiet. The smugly pacific aspect of the place irritated him. He was aware of a great emptiness. And very certainly the scene before him offered no solution of the problem of the filling of that emptiness. And somehow or other it had to be filled— Iglesias knew that, knew it through every fibre of him—or life would be simply insupportable. Meanwhile from the public drawing-room below came sounds of revelry, innocent enough yet hardly calculated to soothe over- strained nerves. Little Mr. Farge—whose thin and reedy tenor carried as does a penny whistle—gave forth the refrain of a song just then popular in metropolitan music-halls.
"They're keeping latish hours at the Convalescent Home," piped Mr. Farge; while his friend and devout admirer, Albert Edward Worthington, tore at the banjo strings and the ladies tittered.
Iglesias listened in a somewhat grim spirit of endurance. On the far side of the Green he could see the gaslights in the Lovegroves' dining-room. These appeared to watch him rather uncomfortably, as with three supplicating and reproachful eyes. He debated whether he would not take his hat, step across, and tell his old friend what had happened—it would at least relieve him of the sound of little Farge's serenading. But his pride recoiled somehow. Good souls, man and wife, they would be full of solicitude and kindness; but they would say the wrong thing. They would not understand. How, indeed, should they, being wholly at one with their surroundings—unimaginative, domestic, British middle-class, with its virtues and limitations aggressively in evidence? George Lovegrove would suggest some minor municipal office, or membership of the local borough council, as a crown of consolation. His wife would skirt round the subject of matrimony. She had done so before now; and Iglesias, while presenting a dignified front to the enemy, had inwardly shuddered. She was an excellent, estimable woman; but when ponderously arch, when extensively sly! Oh, dear no! It didn't do. Her gambols were too sadly suggestive of those of a skittish hippopotamus. Dominic Iglesias was conscious that he had a skin too little to-night; he could not witness them with philosophy. The kindliest intention, the best-meant words, might cause him extravagant annoyance.
He turned away from the window and took a turn the length of the room—a tall, distinct, and even stately figure in the thickening dusk. He felt rather horribly desolate. He was fairly frightened by the greatness of the emptiness, within and about him, engendered by absence of employment. He had little to reproach himself with. His record was cleaner than most men's—he could not but know that. He had sacrificed personal ambition, personal happiness, to the service of one supremely dear to him. Not for a moment did he regret it. Had it to be done all over again, without hesitation he would do it. Still there was no blinking facts. Here was the nemesis, not of ill living, but of good—namely, emptiness, loneliness, homelessness, Old Age here at his elbow, Death waiting there ahead.
"The routine has gone on too long," he said to himself bitterly. "I have lost my pliability, lost my humanity. I am a machine now, not a man. To the machine, work is life. Work over, life is over; and the machine is just so much lumber—better broken up and sent to the rag and bottle shop, where it may fetch the worth of its weight as scrap-iron."
He turned, came back to the open window again and stood there, rather carefully avoiding the three reproachful eyes of the Lovegroves' dining- room gaselier, and fixing his gaze on that sullen fierceness of sunset still hanging in the extreme northwest.
"Unluckily there is no rag and bottle shop where superannuated bank clerks of five-and-fifty have even the very modest market value of scrap- iron!" he went on. "Of all kinds of uselessness, that of we godlike human beings is the most utterly obvious when our working day is past. Mental decay and bodily corruption as the ultimate. And, this side of it, a few years of increasing degradation, a mere senseless killing of time until the very unpleasing goal is reached—along with a growing selfishness, and narrowness of outlook; along, possibly, with some development of senile sensuality, the more detestable because it lacks the provocations of hot blood. Oh! Dominic Iglesias, Dominic Iglesias, is that the ugly road you are doomed to travel—a toothless greed for filling your belly with fly-blown dainties off the refuse-heap?"
And through the open window, in sinister accompaniment to little Mr. Farge's sophisticated and unpastoral pipings, came the voice of the great city herself in answer—low, multitudinous, raucous, without emphasis but without briefest relief of interval or of pause. And this laid hold strongly of Iglesias' imagination, reminding him of all the intimate wretchedness of that first stranding of the ship of his fate. Reminding him of his long and fruitless trampings in search of employment—good looks, energy, youth itself, seeming but an added handicap—when London revealed herself to him in her solidarity, revealed herself as a prodigious living creature, awful in her mysterious vigour, ever big with impending birth, merciless with impending death. As she showed herself to him then, with life all untried before him, so she showed herself still when, in the blackness of his present humour, all life worth the name appeared over and passed. He had changed, so he believed, to the point of nullity and final ineptitude. She remained strong, active, relentless as ever. As long ago, so now, she struck him as monstrous. Yet now, though all the conditions were changed, he had, as long ago, an instinct that from her there was no escape.
"I have served you honestly enough all these years," he said—since she had voice to speak, she had also ears to hear, mayhap—"and you have taken much and given little. To-day you have turned me off, told me to quit. But where, I ask you, can I go? I am too stiffened by work, unskilled in travel, too unadaptable to begin again elsewhere. Moreover, you hold the record of my experience, all my glad and sorrowful memories. I might try to leave you, but it's no use. I am planted and rooted in you, monstrous mother that you are. If I know myself, I should go only to come back."
For the moment the calm of long self-control was broken up within him. Dominic Iglesias dwelt, consciously and sensibly, in the horror of the Outer Darkness—which horror is known only to that small and somewhat suspect minority of human beings who are also capable, by the operation of the divine mercy, of dwelling in the glory of the Uncreated Light. The swing of the pendulum is equal to right as to left. He was staggered by the misery of his own isolation—a stranger, as he suddenly realised, by temperament and ideals, as well as by race! Then resolutely he turned his back on this, with an instinct of self-preservation directing his thought to things practical and average.
For example, that question of the pension—concerning which he now found, to his slight surprise, he was no longer the least in doubt. This money was his by right. The hard strain in his nature was dominant—to the full he would claim his rights. And since in moments of despair the human mind invariably requires a human victim, be it merely a simulacrum, a waxen image of a man to melt in the fires of its humiliation and revolt, Iglesias remembered, with much contemptuous satisfaction, the ironical portrait of Sir Abel Barking adorning the wall of the latter's private room at the bank. He hailed the diabolic talent of the artist who had laid bare with such subtle skill the flatulence of his sitter. It was a pretty revenge, very assuaging just now to Iglesias. For the real man, as he reflected, was not the man who sat heavily self-complacent in a library chair, exuding platitudes and pride of patronage; but the man who hung upon the wall forever ridiculous while paint and canvas should last. Thus would he go down to posterity! And to Dominic Iglesias, just now, it seemed very excellent that posterity should know him for the wind-bag hypocrite he essentially was. Securely entrenched behind his own large prosperity, uxoriousness, paternity, had he not counted his, Iglesias', blessings to him; counselling amusement, rest, congratulating him on just all that which made for his present distress—namely, his obscure position, his enforced idleness, his absence of human ties, the general meagreness of his state in life? The more he thought of the incident, the more it filled him with indignation and disgust. Therefore, very certainly he would claim his pension; claim an infinitesimal but actual fraction of this man's great wealth; would live long so as to claim it as long as possible, till the paying of it, indeed, should become a weariness to the payer. And he would spend it, too, unquestionably he would. Mr. Iglesias' rare and gracious smile had an almost cruel edge to it.
"The machine shall become a man again," he said. "And the man shall amuse himself. How, I don't yet know, but I will find out. Work has made me dull and inept."
He straightened himself up, tired, yet unbroken, defiant, aware—though the horror of the Outer Darkness was yet upon him—of purpose still militant and unspent.
"Play may make me the reverse of dull and inept. I have always been diligent and methodical. I will continue to be so. This enterprise admits of no delay. I will begin at once, begin to-morrow, to amuse myself."
It is characteristic of the Latin to see things written in fire and blood, which the slower-brained Anglo-Saxon only sees written in red paint—if, indeed, he ever arrives at seeing them written at all. To- night the Latin held absolute sway in Dominic Iglesias. With freedom had come a curious reversion to type. His humour, like his smile, was a trifle cruel. He observed, criticised, judged, condemned unsparingly, all mental courtesies in abeyance. When, therefore, at this juncture the three eyes of the Lovegroves' dining-room gaselier winked slowly, and closed their lids—so to speak—ceasing to watch and to supplicate, he suffered no self-reproach. The good, simple couple were shutting up house and going to bed, he supposed. They sought repose betimes; and, unless supper had been more aggressively cold and heavy than usual, slept, till broad day, a dreamless sleep. Decidedly it was well he had not taken his hat and stepped across to visit them, for, beyond all question, they would not have understood! The voice of London, for instance, meant nothing to them. They had no notion London had a voice. Still less had they any notion she was a prodigious living creature. London was the place where they resided—that was all, and, since the streets are admittedly noisy and dusty, they had taken a house in this genteel and convenient suburb. Of the tremendous life and force of things, miscalled man-made and inanimate, they had no faintest conception. Small wonder they went to bed betimes and slept a dreamless sleep! Thinking of which— notwithstanding their kindness and affection—they became, just now, to Iglesias as truly astonishing phenomena in their line as Sir Abel Barking in his. He saw in them merely specimens, though good ones, of the great majority of the British public, a public so overlaid and permeated by convention, so parochial in outlook, so hidebound by social tradition and insular prejudice, that it is really less in touch with everlasting fact than the animals it pets, demoralises, and eats. These at least have instinct, and so are at one with universal nature. In perception, in spontaneity of action, good Mrs. Lovegrove was as an infant compared to her parrot or her pug. So was little Mr. Farge with his sophisticated warblings—so, for that matter, were all the other persons among whom his, Iglesias', lot was cast. His sense of isolation deepened. If amusement was his object, most certainly the society of Trimmer's Green would not supply it. He must look further afield for all that.
In the far northwest the last of the sunset had faded; only the cloud remained. Yet the horizon, above the broken line of the house-roofs and chimney-pots, pulsed with light—the very earthly light which, in great cities, flares out when the light of heaven dies, to walk the streets, with much else of doubtful loveliness, till it is shamed by the cold chastity of dawn. And along with that outflaring, a certain meretricious element introduced itself into the aspect of Trimmer's Green. Across the roadway, the gaslamps showed cones of vivid yet sickly brightness, bringing at regular intervals the sharply indented leaves of the plane trees and the shivering silver of the balsam-poplars into an arresting and artificial distinctness. Between were spaces of vacancy and gloom. And from out such a space, immediately opposite, slowly emerged a shambling and ungainly figure, in which Dominic Iglesias recognised the third of his fellow-lodgers, Mr. de Courcy Smyth. His acquaintance with the said lodger was of the slightest, since the latter had but recently entered into residence and rarely appeared at meals. Mrs. Porcher habitually referred to him with a pitying respect as "a gentleman very influential in literary and professional circles, but unfortunate in his married life"; ending with a sigh and upward glance of her still fine eyes, as one who could sympathise, having herself been through that gate. Influential or not, it occurred to Iglesias that the man presented a sorry spectacle enough. For a minute or so he stood aimlessly in the full glare of a gaslamp. His thin, creasy Inverness cape was thrown back, displaying evening dress. He carried a soft grey felt hat in one hand. His whole aspect was seedy, disappointed, dejected; his face pale and puffy, his sparse reddish hair and beard but indifferently trimmed. It was borne in upon Iglesias, moreover, that the man was hungry, that he had not—and that for some time—had enough to eat. Voluntary poverty is among the most beautiful, involuntary poverty among the ugliest, sights upon earth; and to which order of poverty that of de Courcy Smyth belonged, Mr. Iglesias was in no doubt. This was a sordid sight, a sight of discouragement, adding the last touch to the melancholy which oppressed him. The seedy figure crossed the road, fumbled for a minute with a latchkey. Then nerveless footsteps ascended the stairs, passed the door, and took their joyless way up and onward to the bed-sitting-room immediately above.
Down below the music had ceased, while sounds arose suggestive of a little playfulness on the part of the two young men in bidding their hostess and Miss Eliza Hart good-night. Very soon the house became silent. But Dominic Iglesias, though tired, was in no humour for sleep. He drew forward a leather-covered armchair and sat near the open window, in at which came a breathing of night wind. This was soothing, touching his forehead as with delicate pressure of a cool and sympathetic hand; so that, without any sense of surprising transition, he found himself in the garden of the little house in Holland Street, Kensington, once again. The laburnum was in full blossom, and the breeze uplifted the light drooping branches of it, making all their golden glory dance in the sunshine. There must have been rain in the night, too, for the stone basin was full of water, in which the sparrows were busy washing, sending up tiny iridescent jets and fountains from their swiftly fluttering wings. It was delicious to Dominic. He felt very safe, very gay. Only a heavy ill- favoured tabby cat came from nowhere. It had designs upon the sparrows. Twice it climbed stealthily up the broken bricks and gas clinkers. Twice the little boy drove it away. It was not a nice cat. It had a broad white face, deceitful little eyes, and grey whiskers. It declared it only caught sparrows for their good and for the good of the community. It assured Dominic he was guilty of a grave error of judgment in attempting to interfere. It said a great deal about moral responsibility and the heavy obligations persons of wealth and position owe to themselves.
Just then Pascal Pelletier, carrying a square Huntley Palmer's biscuit tin, containing an infernal machine, under his arm, his angelic countenance radiant in the sunshine, came down the steps from the dining- room window. And, while Dominic ran to greet him, the cat crept back again—its face was the face of Sir Abel Barking, and it made a spring at the sparrows. But the pillar broke and the basin toppled over, pinning it, across the loins, down on to the clinkers under the edge of the stone lip.
"Oh! you've spoilt my garden, you've spoilt my garden!" Dominic cried. "The basin has fallen. The sparrows will never wash in it any more."
But Pascal Pelletier patted him on the head tenderly.
"Do not weep over the fallen basin, very dear one," he said. "Rather sing aloud Te Deum in praise of the glorious goddess of Social Revolution who has delivered the enemy of the people into our hands. This is no affair of cat and bird, but of the capitalist and the proletariat on which he battens. So for a little space let the unholy creature lie there writhing. Let it understand what it is to have a back broken by the weight of an impossible burden. Let it try vainly to drag its limbs from beneath an immovable load. Observe it, let it suffer. Very soon we will finish with it, and explode the iniquitous system it represents. See, in the name of humanity, of labour, of the unknown and unnumbered millions of the martyred poor, I set a match to this good little fuse, and, with the rapidity of thought, blow blasphemous tyrant Capital into a thousand fragments of reeking flesh and splintered bone!"
But to the little boy, words and spectacle alike had become unendurably painful.
"No, no, Pascal, you cannot cure everything that way. It is not just," he cried. And running forward with all his strength he lifted the stone basin off the wounded creature—cat, man, beast of prey, modern financier, be it what it might. He stopped to gather it up in his arms, and, repulsive though it was, to comfort and protect it. But just then came a thunderous rattle and crash knocking him senseless.
Mr. Iglesias sat bolt upright in his chair, uncertain of his identity and surroundings, shaken and bewildered.
Upstairs, de Courcy Smyth—spent and stupefied by the writing of a would- be smart critique on the first-night performance of a screaming farce, for one of to-morrow's evening papers—had stumbled, upsetting the fire- irons, as he slouched across his room to bed. Iglesias heard the creak of the wire-wove mattress as the man flung himself down; and that familiar sound restored his sense of actualities. Yet all his mood was changed and softened. The return to childhood had made a strange impression upon him, filling him with a great nostalgia for things apparently lost, but exquisite; and which, having once been, might, though he knew not by what conceivable alchemy of time or chance, once again be. Meanwhile, he must have slept long, for the wind had grown chill. The voice of London, the monstrous mother, had grown weak and intermittent. And the earthly light, pulsing along the horizon, had grown faint, humbled and chastened by the whiteness of approaching dawn.
A quarter-mile range of high unpainted oak paling, well seasoned, well carpentered, innocent of chink or shrinkage, impervious to the human eye. Visible above it the domed heads of enormous elm trees steeped in sunshine, rising towards the ample curve of the summer sky. At intervals, with tumultuous rush and scurry, the thud of the hoofs of unseen horses, galloping for all they are worth over grass. The suck and rub of breeches against saddle-flaps, the rattle of a curb chain or the rings of a bit. A call, a challenge, smothered exclamations. The long-drawn swish of the polo stick through the air, and the whack of the wooden head of it against ball, or ground, or something unluckily softer and more sentient. A pause, broken only by distant voices, and the sound, or rather sense, of men and horses in quiet and friendly movement; followed by the tumultuous rush and scurry, and all the moving incidents of the heard, yet unwitnessed, drama over again.
For here it was that gallant and costly game beloved of Oriental princes—rather baldly described to Mr. Iglesias yesterday by the driver of the Hammersmith 'bus as a "kind of hockey on horseback"—in very full swing no doubt. Only unfortunately Iglesias found himself on the wrong side of the palings. And, since he had learned, indirectly, from the observations of the monumental police-sergeant—directing the stream of carriages at the entrance gates—to other would-be spectators, that to the polo ground, as to so much else obviously desirable in this world, there is "no admission except by ticket," on the wrong side of these same palings he recognised he was fated to stay. It was a disappointment, not to say an annoyance. For he had come forth, in accordance with his determination, to make observations and inquiries regarding that same matter of amusement. And, since the influence of that which is to be acts upon us almost, if not quite, as strongly as the influence of that which has been, the handsome, eager countenance of young Alaric Barking and the graceful figure of his fair companion, as seen from the 'bustop, occurred very forcibly in this connection to Dominic Iglesias' mind. He would go forth and behold that which they had gone forth to behold. He would witness the sports of the well-born and rich. From these he elected, somewhat proudly, to take his first lessons in the fine art of amusement. So here he was; and here, too—very much here—were the palings, spelling failure and frustration of purpose.
Fortunately unwonted exercise and the pure invigorating atmosphere tended to generate placidity, and agreeable harmony of the mental and physical being. It followed that active annoyance was short-lived. For a minute or two Mr. Iglesias loitered, listening to the moving music of the unseen game. Then, walking onward to the end of the enclosure, where the palings turn away sharply at the left, he crossed the road and made for a wooden bench just there amiably presenting itself. It was pleasant to rest. The walk had been a long one; but it now appeared to him that the labour of it had not been wholly in vain. For around him stretched a breezy common, broken by straggling bramble and furze brakes, and dotted with hawthorn bushes, upon the topmost branches of which the crowded pinkish-white blossoms still lingered. From one to another small birds flitted with a pretty dipping flight, uttering quick detached notes as in merry question and answer. Through the rough turf the bracken pushed upward, uncurling sturdy croziers of brownish green. Away to the right, beyond the railway line, rose the densely wooded slopes of Roehampton and Sheen; while, against the purple-green gloom of them, the home signals of Barnes Station—hard white lines and angles tipped with scarlet and black—stood out in high relief like the gigantic characters of some strange alphabet. Down the wide road motors ground and snorted; and carriages moved slowly, two abreast, the menservants sitting at ease, talking and smoking while waiting to take up at the police-guarded gate, back there towards the heat and smoke of London, when the polo match should be played out.
But immediately London, the heat, and smoke, and raucous voice of it, seemed far enough away, the wholesome charm of the country very present. For a while Dominic Iglesias yielded himself up to it. Receptive, quiescent, contented, he basked in the sunshine, his mind vacant of definite thought. But for a while only. For as physical fatigue wore off, definite thought returned; and with it the sense of his own loneliness, the oppression of a future empty of work, the bitterness of this enhanced by the little disappointment he had lately suffered. He leaned forward, his hands clasped between his knees, looking at the bracken croziers pushing bravely upward through the rough turf to air and light. Even these blind and speechless things worked, in a sense, fulfilling the law of their existence. He went back on the dream of last night, on his own childhood, the happiness, yet haunting unspoken anxiety of it, his father's fanaticism, fierce revolutionary propaganda, and mysteriously uncertain fate.
"And to think that was the pit out of which I, of all men, was digged!" he said to himself. "Have I done something to restore the family balance in respect of right reason, or is the shame of incapacity upon me? Have I sacrificed myself, or cowardly have I merely shirked living? Heaven knows—I don't, only——"
But here his uncheerful meditations were broken in on by a voice, imperative in tone, yet perceptibly shaken by laughter.
"Cappadocia!" it called. "Cappadocia! Do you hear? Come here, you little reprobate."
Then Dominic Iglesias perceived that he had ceased to be sole occupant of the bench. A dog, a tiny toy spaniel, sat beside him. It sidled very close, gazing at him with foolishly prominent eyes. Its ears, black edged with tan, soft and lustrous as floss silk, hung down in long lappets on either side its minute and melancholy face. The tip of its red tongue just showed. It was abnormally self-conscious and solemn. It planted one fringed paw upon Iglesias' arm and it snored.
"Cappadocia!—well, of all the cheeky young beggars——"
This time the voice broke in unmistakable merriment, wholly spontaneous, as of relief, even of mischievous triumph; and Mr. Iglesias, looking up, found himself confronted by a young woman. She advanced slowly, her trailing string-coloured lace skirts gathered up lazily in one hand. About her shoulders she wore a long blue-purple silk scarf, embroidered with dragons of peacock, and scarlet, and gold. These rather violent colours found repetition in the nasturtium leaves and flowers that crowned her lace hat, the wide brim of which was tied down with narrow strings of purple velvet, gipsy fashion, beneath her chin. Under her arm she carried another tiny spaniel, the creature's black morsel of a head peeping out quaintly from among the forms of the embroidered dragons, which last appeared to writhe, as in the heat of deadly conflict, as their wearer moved. Her face was in shadow owing to the breadth of the brim of her hat. Otherwise the sunshine embraced her whole figure, conferring on it a glittering yet singularly unsubstantial effect, as though a column of pale windswept dust were overlaid, here and there, with splendour of rich enamel.
And it was just this effect of something unsubstantial, in a way fictitious and out of relation to sober fact, which struck Dominic Iglesias, robbing him for the moment of his dignified courtesy. Frankly he stared at this appearance, so strangely at variance with the realities of his own melancholy thought. Meanwhile the little dog snuggled up yet closer against him.
"Yes—pray don't disturb yourself," the young lady went on volubly "It's too bad, I know, to intrude on you like this. But as Cappadocia refuses to come to me, it is clear I have to come after Cappadocia. It's simply disgraceful the way she carries on when one takes her out, making acquaintances like this, casually, all over the place. The maids flatly refuse to air her, even on a string. They say it becomes a little too compromising. But, as I explain to them, she's not a bit the modern woman. She belongs to a stage of social development when pretty people infinitely preferred being compromised to being squelched." The speaker laughed again quietly. "I'm not altogether sure they weren't right. When you are squelched, finished, done for, it matters precious little whether you've been compromised first or not. Don't you agree? Any way, Cappadocia's not going to be squelched if she can help it. She's horribly scared, or pretends to be, at motors. Let one toot and she forgets all her fine-lady manners, and just skips to anybody for protection. She'll take refuge in the most unconventional places to escape."
The part of wisdom, in face of this very forthcoming young person, would have been no doubt to arise and withdraw. But to Dominic Iglesias, just then, dogs, woman, conversation, were alike so remote and unreal, part merely of the scene which he had been contemplating, that he failed to take them seriously. Divorced from routine, he was divorced, in a way, from habitual modes of mind and conduct. He neither consented nor refused, but just let things happen, attaching little or no meaning to them. If this feminine being chose to prattle—well, let her do so. Really he did not care.
"I am not very modern myself," he said, with a shade of weariness. "So perhaps your small dog had some intuition of a kindred spirit when taking refuge with me."
"All the same, you hardly date from the social era of Charles II., I fancy," the young lady answered quickly.
As she spoke she raised her chin with a slightly impudent movement, thus bringing her countenance into the sunlight. For the first time Iglesias clearly saw her face. It was small, the features insignificant, the skin smooth and fine in texture, but sallow. Her hair, black and very massive, was puffed out and dressed low, hiding her ears. Her lips were rather positively red, and the tinge of colour on either cheek, though slight, was not wholly convincing in tone. Even to a person of Mr. Iglesias' praiseworthy limitation of experience in such matters, her face was vaguely suggestive of the footlights—would have been distinctly so but for her eyes. These were curiously at variance with the rest of her appearance. They belonged to a quite other order of woman, so to speak—a woman of finer physique, of higher intelligence, possibly of nobler purposes. They were arrestingly large in size, thereby helping to dwarf the proportions of her face. In colour they were a rather light warm hazel, with a slight film over both iris and pupil, and a noticeably bluish shade in the whites of them. In these last particulars they were like a baby's eyes; but very unlike in the reflective intensity of their observation as she fixed them upon Dominic Iglesias.
"Cappadocia may be a fool about motors," she remarked, "but she's uncommonly shrewd in reading character. She seems to like you, to have taken you on, don't you know; and she's generally right. So I'll sit down, please. Oh! no, no, come along now"—this as Mr. Iglesias rose and made a movement to depart—"why, dear man, the very point of the whole show is that you should sit down, too."
And so it came about that the Lady of the Windswept Dust sat at one end of the flat bench and Dominic Iglesias at the other, with the two absurd and exquisite little dogs in between. And the lady chattered. Her voice was sweet and full, with plaintive tones and turns of laughter in it; and, though the vowel sounds were not wholly impeccable, having the tang in them common to the speech of the cockney bred, the aspirates happily remained inviolate. And Iglesias listened, still with a curious indifference, as, sitting in the body of the house, he might have listened to patter from the other side of the footlights. It passed the time. Presently he would get up, taking the whole of his rather sorrowful personality along with him, and go out by the main entrance, while she left by the stage door—and so vanished, little dogs and all.
"It's my habit to play fair," she announced. "If I'm going to ask personal questions at the finish, I always lead up to them by supplying personal information at the start. It's mean to induce other people to give themselves away unless you give yourself away first—also, I observe it is usually quite unsuccessful. Well, then, to begin with, his name"— she gently poked the tiny spaniel beside her, causing it to wriggle uneasily all the length of its satiny back—"is Onions. Graceful and distinguished, isn't it? But I give you my word I couldn't help myself. Cappadocia's so duchessy that I had to knock the conceit out of her somehow, or it would not have been possible to live with her. She was altogether too smart for me—used to look at me as if I was a cockroach. So I consulted a friend of mine about it; for it's a little too much to be made to feel like a black-beetle in your own house, and by a thing of that size, too! And he—my friend—said there is nothing to compare with a mesalliance for taking the stuffing out of anyone. I own I was not exactly off my head about that speech of his. In a way it was rather a facer; but when I got cool I saw he was right. After all, he knew, and I knew—and he knew that I knew——"
The lady paused. Her voice had taken on a plaintive inflection. She looked away at the domed heads of the enormous elm trees above the range of oak palings.
"For the life of me I can't imagine why you're here," she exclaimed, "instead of inside there with all the rest of them! However, we haven't got as far as that yet. I was telling you about my King Charleses. So my friend brought me this one"—again she poked the little dog gently. "His pedigree's pretty fair, but of course it's not a patch on Cappadocia's. Her prizes and the puppies—you don't mind my alluding quite briefly to the puppies—are a serious source of income to me. But I believe she would have ignored the defective pedigree. He is rather nice-looking, you see, and Cappadocia is rather superficial. It is the name that worries her—Onions, Willie Onions, that's where the real trouble comes in. Not like it? I believe you. She's capable of saving up all her pocket-money to buy him a foreign title, as a rich, ugly woman I once knew did who married a man called Spittles. He was a bad lot when she married him, and he stayed so. But as the Comte d'Oppitale it didn't matter. Vices became merely quaint little eccentricities. If he beat her it was with an umbrella with a coronet on the handle, and that made all the difference. Everything for the shop window, you see, with a nature like hers or Cappadocia's. But I don't rub it in, I assure you I don't. I only remind Cappadocia of the fact by calling her Mrs. W. O. when she's a pest and a terror. And that's better than smacking her, anyhow, isn't it?"
To this proposition Mr. Iglesias gravely assented. The lady drew her blue-purple scarf a little closer about her shoulders, causing the embroidered dragons to writhe as in the heat of conflict, while the sunlight glinted on the gold thread of their crests and claws, and glittered in their jewelled eyes. She gazed at the elm trees again.
"It's quite nice to hear you speak, you know," she remarked parenthetically. "The conversation has been a little one-sided so far. I was beginning to be afraid you might be bored. But now it's all right. I flourish on encouragement! So, to go on, my name is Poppy—Poppy St. John—Mrs. St. John. Rather good, isn't it?"
"Distinctly so," said Mr. Iglesias. Her unblushing effrontery began to entertain him somewhat. And then he had sallied forth in search of amusement. This was not the form of amusement he would have selected; but—since it presented itself?
"I'm glad you like it," she returned. "I've always thought it rather telling myself—an improvement on Mrs. Willie Onions, anyhow. Oh! yes, a vast improvement," she repeated. "My friend was quite right. I tell you it's an awful handicap to have a name which gives you away socially. The man, the husband, I mean, may be the best of the good. Still, it's difficult to forgive him for labelling you with some stupidity like that. There's no getting away from it. You feel like a bottle of pickles, or boot-polish, or a tin of insecticide whenever a servant announces you. Everybody knows where you do—and don't—come in. But, to go on, I am barely three—only I fancy you are the sort of person who is rather rough on lying, aren't you? Well, in that case, quite between ourselves—I am just turned nine-and-twenty."
She faced round on Dominic Iglesias, fixing on him those curiously arresting eyes, which at once emphasised and redeemed the commonness of her face, as the sweetness of her voice emphasised and redeemed the commonness of her accent, and the quietude of her manner and movements mitigated the impertinence of her words and vulgarity of her diction.
"And really that's about all it is necessary for you to know at present," she asserted. "We shall see later, if we keep it up—if Cappadocia keeps it up, I mean, of course. She is fearfully gone on you now, that's clear; and she may be capable of a serious attachment. I can't tell. An unfortunate marriage has been known to turn that way before now. Anyhow, we'll give her the benefit of the doubt."
Poppy laughed softly, leaning forward and still looking at Mr. Iglesias from under the shadow of her wide-brimmed hat.
"Now," she said, "come along. I've shown you I play fair all round, even to a stuck-up little monkey of a thing like Cappadocia. It's your turn to stand and deliver. I had been watching you and speculating for ever so long before our introduction. Tell me, who on earth are you?"
Iglesias' figure stiffened a little; but it was impossible to be annoyed with her. To begin with, she was too unreal, too unsubstantial a being. And, to go on with, invincible good-temper is so very disarming.
"Who am I? Nobody," he answered gravely.
"Bless us, here's a find!" Poppy cried, apparently addressing the little dogs. "Hasn't he so much of a name even as Willie Onions? Where's it gone to? It must be nearly as awkward for him as it was for the man who had no shadow. Come, though," she added in tones of remonstrance, "you must play fair. Cards on the table and no humbugging. To put it another way, what do you do?"
"Since yesterday, nothing," he answered.
The young lady regarded him with increasing interest.
"But, my gentle lunatic," she said, "you didn't exactly begin your acquaintance with this planetary sphere yesterday—couldn't, you know, though you are very beautiful to look at. So, if you don't very particularly much mind, we'll hark back to before yesterday."
Dominic Iglesias' gravity gave way slightly. He smiled in spite of his natural pride and reticence.
"For over thirty-five years I was a clerk in a city bank."
"Pshaw!" Poppy cried hotly. "And pray what variety of congenital idiot do you take me for? If you are going to decline upon fiction, please let it be of a higher order than that. I tell you it's unworthy of you!"
She pursed up her lips and moved her head slowly from side to side in high disgust.
"Don't be childish," she said. "Don't be transparently silly. If you want to gas, do put a little more intelligence into it. You—you—out of sight the most distinguished-looking man I've ever met except Lord—well, we won't name names, it sounds showy—you a clerk in a city bank! There, excuse me, but simply—" Poppy snapped her fingers like a pair of castanets, making the little dogs start and whimper. "Fiddle!" she cried; "tell it to a bed-ridden spinster in a blind asylum!—Fiddle-de-dee!"
And for the life of him Dominic Iglesias could not help laughing. It was a new sensation. It occurred to him that he had not laughed for years— hardly since the days of poor Pascal Pelletier and the little garden in Holland Street, Kensington.
Poppy watched him, her eyes dancing. Her expression was very charming, wholly unselfconscious, in a way maternal, just then. But Iglesias was hardly sensible of it.
"That's good," she said. "Now you'll feel a lot better. I saw there was something wrong with you from the start which needed breaking up. Now, suppose you quit inadequate inventions and just tell the truth."
"Unfortunately, I have done so already," Mr. Iglesias said.
The lady paused a moment, her face full of inquiry and doubt.
The term was not familiar to her hearer, but he judged it to be of the nature of an asseveration, and assented.
"And do you mean to tell me that for all those years you went through that drudgery every day?"
"I had my Sundays," Iglesias answered; "and, since their invention, my bank holidays. Latterly I got three weeks' holiday in the summer, formerly a fortnight."
Laughter had speedily evaporated; and, his harsher mood returning upon him, Iglesias found a certain bitter enjoyment in setting forth the extreme meagreness of his life before this light-hearted, unsubstantial piece of womanhood. Again he classed her with the absurd and exquisite little dogs as something superfluous, out of relation to sad and sober realities.
"And yet you manage to look as you do! It beats me," Poppy declared. "I tell you it knocks me out of time completely. For, if you'll excuse my being personal, there is an air about you not usually generated by an office stool—at least, in my experience. Where do you get it from? You can't be English?"
"I am a Spaniard by extraction," Mr. Iglesias said, with a slight lift of the head.
"There now, my dear man, don't you go and freeze up again. We were just beginning to get along so nicely," Poppy put in quickly. "I am having a capital good time, and you're not having an altogether bad one, are you? But, tell me, how long ago were you extracted?"
"Very long ago. I was brought to England as a baby child."
"Oh! I didn't mean it that way," she returned. "I was not touching on the unpardonable subject of age; not that it would matter much in your case, for you are one of the lucky sort with whom age does not count. I only meant are you an all-round foreigner?"
"Practically—my mother was partly Irish."
Dominic Iglesias looked away to those densely wooded slopes of Sheen and Roehampton, against the purple-green gloom of which the home signals of Barnes Station—hard white lines and angles tipped with scarlet and black—stood out like the gigantic characters of some strange alphabet. The air was sweet with the scent of new-mown hay. The birds flirted up and down the hawthorn bushes and furze brakes. It was all very charming; yet that same emptiness and distrust of the future were very present to Iglesias. He forgot all about his companion, aware only that those two unbidden guests, Old Age and Loneliness, stood close beside him, claiming harbourage and entertainment.
"Ah! your mother," Poppy said slowly, with the slightest perceptible inflection of mockery. "And she is alive still?"
Dominic Iglesias turned upon the poor Lady of the Windswept Dust fiercely. She had come too close, come from her proper place—were not her lips painted?—behind the footlights, and laid her hands upon that which was holy. He was filled with unreasoning anger towards her—anger towards himself, too, that he should have departed from his habitual silence and reticence, submitted to be cross-questioned, and listened to her feather-headed patter so long. He rose to his feet, for the moment young, alert, full of a pride at once militant and protective.