A NOVEL By SOMERSET MAUGHAM
TOGETHER WITH A FRAGMENT OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
A FRAGMENT OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
In 1897, after spending five years at St Thomas's Hospital I passed the examinations which enabled me to practise medicine. While still a medical student I had published a novel called Liza of Lambeth which caused a mild sensation, and on the strength of that I rashly decided to abandon doctoring and earn my living as a writer; so, as soon as I was 'qualified', I set out for Spain and spent the best part of a year in Seville. I amused myself hugely and wrote a bad novel. Then I returned to London and, with a friend of my own age, took and furnished a small flat near Victoria Station. A maid of all work cooked for us and kept the flat neat and tidy. My friend was at the Bar, and so I had the day (and the flat) to myself and my work. During the next six years I wrote several novels and a number of plays. Only one of these novels had any success, but even that failed to make the stir that my first one had made. I could get no manager to take my plays. At last, in desperation, I sent one, which I called A Man of Honour, to the Stage Society, which gave two performances, one on Sunday night, another on Monday afternoon, of plays which, unsuitable for the commercial theatre, were considered of sufficient merit to please an intellectual audience. As every one knows, it was the Stage Society that produced the early plays of Bernard Shaw. The committee accepted A Man of Honour, and W.L. Courtney, who was a member of it, thought well enough of my crude play to publish it in The Fortnightly Review, of which he was then editor. It was a feather in my cap.
Though these efforts of mine brought me very little money, they attracted not a little attention, and I made friends. I was looked upon as a promising young writer and, I think I may say it without vanity, was accepted as a member of the intelligentsia, an honourable condition which, some years later, when I became a popular writer of light comedies, I lost; and have never since regained. I was invited to literary parties and to parties given by women of rank and fashion who thought it behoved them to patronise the arts. An unattached and fairly presentable young man is always in demand. I lunched out and dined out. Since I could not afford to take cabs, when I dined out, in tails and a white tie, as was then the custom, I went and came back by bus. I was asked to spend week-ends in the country. They were something of a trial on account of the tips you had to give to the butler and to the footman who brought you your morning tea. He unpacked your gladstone bag, and you were uneasily aware that your well-worn pyjamas and modest toilet articles had made an unfavourable impression upon him. For all that, I found life pleasant and I enjoyed myself. There seemed no reason why I should not go on indefinitely in the same way, bringing out a novel once a year (which seldom earned more than the small advance the publisher had given me but which was on the whole respectably reviewed), going to more and more parties, making more and more friends. It was all very nice, but I couldn't see that it was leading me anywhere. I was thirty. I was in a rut. I felt I must get out of it. It did not take me long to make up my mind. I told the friend with whom I shared the flat that I wanted to be rid of it and go abroad. He could not keep it by himself, but we luckily found a middle-aged gentleman who wished to install his mistress in it, and was prepared to take it off our hands. We sold the furniture for what it could fetch, and within a month I was on my way to Paris. I took a room in a cheap hotel on the Left Bank.
A few months before this, I had been fortunate enough to make friends with a young painter who had a studio in the Rue Campagne Premiere. His name was Gerald Kelly. He had had an upbringing unusual for a painter, for he had been to Eton and to Cambridge. He was highly talented, abundantly loquacious, and immensely enthusiastic. It was he who first made me acquainted with the Impressionists, whose pictures had recently been accepted by the Luxembourg. To my shame, I must admit that I could not make head or tail of them. Without much searching, I found an apartment on the fifth floor of a house near the Lion de Belfort. It had two rooms and a kitchen, and cost seven hundred francs a year, which was then twenty-eight pounds. I bought, second-hand, such furniture and household utensils as were essential, and the concierge told me of a woman who would come in for half a day and make my cafe au lait in the morning and my luncheon at noon. I settled down and set to work on still another novel. Soon after my arrival, Gerald Kelly took me to a restaurant called Le Chat Blanc in the Rue d'Odessa, near the Gare Montparnasse, where a number of artists were in the habit of dining; and from then on I dined there every night. I have described the place elsewhere, and in some detail in the novel to which these pages are meant to serve as a preface, so that I need not here say more about it. As a rule, the same people came in every night, but now and then others came, perhaps only once, perhaps two or three times. We were apt to look upon them as interlopers, and I don't think we made them particularly welcome. It was thus that I first met Arnold Bennett and Clive Bell. One of these casual visitors was Aleister Crowley. He was spending the winter in Paris. I took an immediate dislike to him, but he interested and amused me. He was a great talker and he talked uncommonly well. In early youth, I was told, he was extremely handsome, but when I knew him he had put on weight, and his hair was thinning. He had fine eyes and a way, whether natural or acquired I do not know, of so focusing them that, when he looked at you, he seemed to look behind you. He was a fake, but not entirely a fake. At Cambridge he had won his chess blue and was esteemed the best whist player of his time. He was a liar and unbecomingly boastful, but the odd thing was that he had actually done some of the things he boasted of. As a mountaineer, he had made an ascent of K2 in the Hindu Kush, the second highest mountain in India, and he made it without the elaborate equipment, the cylinders of oxygen and so forth, which render the endeavours of the mountaineers of the present day more likely to succeed. He did not reach the top, but got nearer to it than anyone had done before.
Crowley was a voluminous writer of verse, which he published sumptuously at his own expense. He had a gift for rhyming, and his verse is not entirely without merit. He had been greatly influenced by Swinburne and Robert Browning. He was grossly, but not unintelligently, imitative. As you flip through the pages you may well read a stanza which, if you came across it in a volume of Swinburne's, you would accept without question as the work of the master. 'It's rather hard, isn't it, Sir, to make sense of it?' If you were shown this line and asked what poet had written it, I think you would be inclined to say, Robert Browning. You would be wrong. It was written by Aleister Crowley.
At the time I knew him he was dabbling in Satanism, magic and the occult. There was just then something of a vogue in Paris for that sort of thing, occasioned, I surmise, by the interest that was still taken in a book of Huysmans's, La Bas. Crowley told fantastic stories of his experiences, but it was hard to say whether he was telling the truth or merely pulling your leg. During that winter I saw him several times, but never after I left Paris to return to London. Once, long afterwards, I received a telegram from him which ran as follows: 'Please send twenty-five pounds at once. Mother of God and I starving. Aleister Crowley.' I did not do so, and he lived on for many disgraceful years.
I was glad to get back to London. My old friend had by then rooms in Pall Mall, and I was able to take a bedroom in the same building and use his sitting-room to work in. The Magician was published in 1908, so I suppose it was written during the first six months of 1907. I do not remember how I came to think that Aleister Crowley might serve as the model for the character whom I called Oliver Haddo; nor, indeed, how I came to think of writing that particular novel at all. When, a little while ago, my publisher expressed a wish to reissue it, I felt that, before consenting to this, I really should read it again. Nearly fifty years had passed since I had done so, and I had completely forgotten it. Some authors enjoy reading their old works; some cannot bear to. Of these I am. When I have corrected the proofs of a book, I have finished with it for good and all. I am impatient when people insist on talking to me about it; I am glad if they like it, but do not much care if they don't. I am no more interested in it than in a worn-out suit of clothes that I have given away. It was thus with disinclination that I began to read The Magician. It held my interest, as two of my early novels, which for the same reason I have been obliged to read, did not. One, indeed, I simply could not get through. Another had to my mind some good dramatic scenes, but the humour filled me with mortification, and I should have been ashamed to see it republished. As I read The Magician, I wondered how on earth I could have come by all the material concerning the black arts which I wrote of. I must have spent days and days reading in the library of the British Museum. The style is lush and turgid, not at all the sort of style I approve of now, but perhaps not unsuited to the subject; and there are a great many more adverbs and adjectives than I should use today. I fancy I must have been impressed by the ecriture artiste which the French writers of the time had not yet entirely abandoned, and unwisely sought to imitate them.
Though Aleister Crowley served, as I have said, as the model for Oliver Haddo, it is by no means a portrait of him. I made my character more striking in appearance, more sinister and more ruthless than Crowley ever was. I gave him magical powers that Crowley, though he claimed them, certainly never possessed. Crowley, however, recognized himself in the creature of my invention, for such it was, and wrote a full-page review of the novel in Vanity Fair, which he signed 'Oliver Haddo'. I did not read it, and wish now that I had. I daresay it was a pretty piece of vituperation, but probably, like his poems, intolerably verbose.
I do not remember what success, if any, my novel had when it was published, and I did not bother about it much, for by then a great change had come into my life. The manager of the Court Theatre, one Otho Stuart, had brought out a play which failed to please, and he could not immediately get the cast he wanted for the next play he had in mind to produce. He had read one of mine, and formed a very poor opinion of it; but he was in a quandary, and it occurred to him that it might just serve to keep his theatre open for a few weeks, by the end of which the actors he wanted for the play he had been obliged to postpone would be at liberty. He put mine on. It was an immediate success. The result of this was that in a very little while other managers accepted the plays they had consistently refused, and I had four running in London at the same time. I, who for ten years had earned an average of one hundred pounds a year, found myself earning several hundred pounds a week. I made up my mind to abandon the writing of novels for the rest of my life. I did not know that this was something out of my control and that when the urge to write a novel seized me, I should be able to do nothing but submit. Five years later, the urge came and, refusing to write any more plays for the time, I started upon the longest of all my novels. I called it Of Human Bondage.
Arthur Burdon and Dr Porhoet walked in silence. They had lunched at a restaurant in the Boulevard Saint Michel, and were sauntering now in the gardens of the Luxembourg. Dr Porhoet walked with stooping shoulders, his hands behind him. He beheld the scene with the eyes of the many painters who have sought by means of the most charming garden in Paris to express their sense of beauty. The grass was scattered with the fallen leaves, but their wan decay little served to give a touch of nature to the artifice of all besides. The trees were neatly surrounded by bushes, and the bushes by trim beds of flowers. But the trees grew without abandonment, as though conscious of the decorative scheme they helped to form. It was autumn, and some were leafless already. Many of the flowers were withered. The formal garden reminded one of a light woman, no longer young, who sought, with faded finery, with powder and paint, to make a brave show of despair. It had those false, difficult smiles of uneasy gaiety, and the pitiful graces which attempt a fascination that the hurrying years have rendered vain.
Dr Porhoet drew more closely round his fragile body the heavy cloak which even in summer he could not persuade himself to discard. The best part of his life had been spent in Egypt, in the practice of medicine, and the frigid summers of Europe scarcely warmed his blood. His memory flashed for an instant upon those multi-coloured streets of Alexandria; and then, like a homing bird, it flew to the green woods and the storm-beaten coasts of his native Brittany. His brown eyes were veiled with sudden melancholy.
'Let us wait here for a moment,' he said.
They took two straw-bottomed chairs and sat near the octagonal water which completes with its fountain of Cupids the enchanting artificiality of the Luxembourg. The sun shone more kindly now, and the trees which framed the scene were golden and lovely. A balustrade of stone gracefully enclosed the space, and the flowers, freshly bedded, were very gay. In one corner they could see the squat, quaint towers of Saint Sulpice, and on the other side the uneven roofs of the Boulevard Saint Michel.
The palace was grey and solid. Nurses, some in the white caps of their native province, others with the satin streamers of the nounou, marched sedately two by two, wheeling perambulators and talking. Brightly dressed children trundled hoops or whipped a stubborn top. As he watched them, Dr Porhoet's lips broke into a smile, and it was so tender that his thin face, sallow from long exposure to subtropical suns, was transfigured. He no longer struck you merely as an insignificant little man with hollow cheeks and a thin grey beard; for the weariness of expression which was habitual to him vanished before the charming sympathy of his smile. His sunken eyes glittered with a kindly but ironic good-humour. Now passed a guard in the romantic cloak of a brigand in comic opera and a peaked cap like that of an alguacil. A group of telegraph boys in blue stood round a painter, who was making a sketch—notwithstanding half-frozen fingers. Here and there, in baggy corduroys, tight jackets, and wide-brimmed hats, strolled students who might have stepped from the page of Murger's immortal romance. But the students now are uneasy with the fear of ridicule, and more often they walk in bowler hats and the neat coats of the boulevardier.
Dr Porhoet spoke English fluently, with scarcely a trace of foreign accent, but with an elaboration which suggested that he had learned the language as much from study of the English classics as from conversation.
'And how is Miss Dauncey?' he asked, turning to his friend.
Arthur Burdon smiled.
'Oh, I expect she's all right. I've not seen her today, but I'm going to tea at the studio this afternoon, and we want you to dine with us at the Chien Noir.'
'I shall be much pleased. But do you not wish to be by yourselves?'
'She met me at the station yesterday, and we dined together. We talked steadily from half past six till midnight.'
'Or, rather, she talked and you listened with the delighted attention of a happy lover.'
Arthur Burdon had just arrived in Paris. He was a surgeon on the staff of St Luke's, and had come ostensibly to study the methods of the French operators; but his real object was certainly to see Margaret Dauncey. He was furnished with introductions from London surgeons of repute, and had already spent a morning at the Hotel Dieu, where the operator, warned that his visitor was a bold and skilful surgeon, whose reputation in England was already considerable, had sought to dazzle him by feats that savoured almost of legerdemain. Though the hint of charlatanry in the Frenchman's methods had not escaped Arthur Burdon's shrewd eyes, the audacious sureness of his hand had excited his enthusiasm. During luncheon he talked of nothing else, and Dr Porhoet, drawing upon his memory, recounted the more extraordinary operations that he had witnessed in Egypt.
He had known Arthur Burdon ever since he was born, and indeed had missed being present at his birth only because the Khedive Ismail had summoned him unexpectedly to Cairo. But the Levantine merchant who was Arthur's father had been his most intimate friend, and it was with singular pleasure that Dr Porhoet saw the young man, on his advice, enter his own profession and achieve a distinction which himself had never won.
Though too much interested in the characters of the persons whom chance threw in his path to have much ambition on his own behalf, it pleased him to see it in others. He observed with satisfaction the pride which Arthur took in his calling and the determination, backed by his confidence and talent, to become a master of his art. Dr Porhoet knew that a diversity of interests, though it adds charm to a man's personality, tends to weaken him. To excel one's fellows it is needful to be circumscribed. He did not regret, therefore, that Arthur in many ways was narrow. Letters and the arts meant little to him. Nor would he trouble himself with the graceful trivialities which make a man a good talker. In mixed company he was content to listen silently to others, and only something very definite to say could tempt him to join in the general conversation. He worked very hard, operating, dissecting, or lecturing at his hospital, and took pains to read every word, not only in English, but in French and German, which was published concerning his profession. Whenever he could snatch a free day he spent it on the golf-links of Sunningdale, for he was an eager and a fine player.
But at the operating-table Arthur was different. He was no longer the awkward man of social intercourse, who was sufficiently conscious of his limitations not to talk of what he did not understand, and sincere enough not to express admiration for what he did not like. Then, on the other hand, a singular exhilaration filled him; he was conscious of his power, and he rejoiced in it. No unforeseen accident was able to confuse him. He seemed to have a positive instinct for operating, and his hand and his brain worked in a manner that appeared almost automatic. He never hesitated, and he had no fear of failure. His success had been no less than his courage, and it was plain that soon his reputation with the public would equal that which he had already won with the profession.
Dr Porhoet had been making listless patterns with his stick upon the gravel, and now, with that charming smile of his, turned to Arthur.
'I never cease to be astonished at the unexpectedness of human nature,' he remarked. 'It is really very surprising that a man like you should fall so deeply in love with a girl like Margaret Dauncey.'
Arthur made no reply, and Dr Porhoet, fearing that his words might offend, hastened to explain.
'You know as well as I do that I think her a very charming young person. She has beauty and grace and sympathy. But your characters are more different than chalk and cheese. Notwithstanding your birth in the East and your boyhood spent amid the very scenes of the Thousand and One Nights, you are the most matter-of-fact creature I have ever come across.'
'I see no harm in your saying insular,' smiled Arthur. 'I confess that I have no imagination and no sense of humour. I am a plain, practical man, but I can see to the end of my nose with extreme clearness. Fortunately it is rather a long one.'
'One of my cherished ideas is that it is impossible to love without imagination.'
Again Arthur Burdon made no reply, but a curious look came into his eyes as he gazed in front of him. It was the look which might fill the passionate eyes of a mystic when he saw in ecstasy the Divine Lady of his constant prayers.
'But Miss Dauncey has none of that narrowness of outlook which, if you forgive my saying so, is perhaps the secret of your strength. She has a delightful enthusiasm for every form of art. Beauty really means as much to her as bread and butter to the more soberly-minded. And she takes a passionate interest in the variety of life.'
'It is right that Margaret should care for beauty, since there is beauty in every inch of her,' answered Arthur.
He was too reticent to proceed to any analysis of his feelings; but he knew that he had cared for her first on account of the physical perfection which contrasted so astonishingly with the countless deformities in the study of which his life was spent. But one phrase escaped him almost against his will.
'The first time I saw her I felt as though a new world had opened to my ken.'
The divine music of Keats's lines rang through Arthur's remark, and to the Frenchman's mind gave his passion a romantic note that foreboded future tragedy. He sought to dispel the cloud which his fancy had cast upon the most satisfactory of love affairs.
'You are very lucky, my friend. Miss Margaret admires you as much as you adore her. She is never tired of listening to my prosy stories of your childhood in Alexandria, and I'm quite sure that she will make you the most admirable of wives.'
'You can't be more sure than I am,' laughed Arthur.
He looked upon himself as a happy man. He loved Margaret with all his heart, and he was confident in her great affection for him. It was impossible that anything should arise to disturb the pleasant life which they had planned together. His love cast a glamour upon his work, and his work, by contrast, made love the more entrancing.
'We're going to fix the date of our marriage now,' he said. 'I'm buying furniture already.'
'I think only English people could have behaved so oddly as you, in postponing your marriage without reason for two mortal years.'
'You see, Margaret was ten when I first saw her, and only seventeen when I asked her to marry me. She thought she had reason to be grateful to me and would have married me there and then. But I knew she hankered after these two years in Paris, and I didn't feel it was fair to bind her to me till she had seen at least something of the world. And she seemed hardly ready for marriage, she was growing still.'
'Did I not say that you were a matter-of-fact young man?' smiled Dr Porhoet.
'And it's not as if there had been any doubt about our knowing our minds. We both cared, and we had a long time before us. We could afford to wait.'
At that moment a man strolled past them, a big stout fellow, showily dressed in a check suit; and he gravely took off his hat to Dr Porhoet. The doctor smiled and returned the salute.
'Who is your fat friend?' asked Arthur.
'That is a compatriot of yours. His name is Oliver Haddo.'
'Art-student?' inquired Arthur, with the scornful tone he used when referring to those whose walk in life was not so practical as his own.
'Not exactly. I met him a little while ago by chance. When I was getting together the material for my little book on the old alchemists I read a great deal at the library of the Arsenal, which, you may have heard, is singularly rich in all works dealing with the occult sciences.'
Burden's face assumed an expression of amused disdain. He could not understand why Dr Porhoet occupied his leisure with studies so profitless. He had read his book, recently published, on the more famous of the alchemists; and, though forced to admire the profound knowledge upon which it was based, he could not forgive the waste of time which his friend might have expended more usefully on topics of pressing moment.
'Not many people study in that library,' pursued the doctor, 'and I soon knew by sight those who were frequently there. I saw this gentleman every day. He was immersed in strange old books when I arrived early in the morning, and he was reading them still when I left, exhausted. Sometimes it happened that he had the volumes I asked for, and I discovered that he was studying the same subjects as myself. His appearance was extraordinary, but scarcely sympathetic; so, though I fancied that he gave me opportunities to address him, I did not avail myself of them. One day, however, curiously enough, I was looking up some point upon which it seemed impossible to find authorities. The librarian could not help me, and I had given up the search, when this person brought me the very book I needed. I surmised that the librarian had told him of my difficulty. I was very grateful to the stranger. We left together that afternoon, and our kindred studies gave us a common topic of conversation. I found that his reading was extraordinarily wide, and he was able to give me information about works which I had never even heard of. He had the advantage over me that he could apparently read, Hebrew as well as Arabic, and he had studied the Kabbalah in the original.'
'And much good it did him, I have no doubt,' said Arthur. 'And what is he by profession?'
Dr Porhoet gave a deprecating smile.
'My dear fellow, I hardly like to tell you. I tremble in every limb at the thought of your unmitigated scorn.'
'You know, Paris is full of queer people. It is the chosen home of every kind of eccentricity. It sounds incredible in this year of grace, but my friend Oliver Haddo claims to be a magician. I think he is quite serious.'
'Silly ass!' answered Arthur with emphasis.
Margaret Dauncey shared a flat near the Boulevard du Montparnasse with Susie Boyd; and it was to meet her that Arthur had arranged to come to tea that afternoon. The young women waited for him in the studio. The kettle was boiling on the stove; cups and petits fours stood in readiness on a model stand. Susie looked forward to the meeting with interest. She had heard a good deal of the young man, and knew that the connexion between him and Margaret was not lacking in romance. For years Susie had led the monotonous life of a mistress in a school for young ladies, and had resigned herself to its dreariness for the rest of her life, when a legacy from a distant relation gave her sufficient income to live modestly upon her means. When Margaret, who had been her pupil, came, soon after this, to announce her intention of spending a couple of years in Paris to study art, Susie willingly agreed to accompany her. Since then she had worked industriously at Colarossi's Academy, by no means under the delusion that she had talent, but merely to amuse herself. She refused to surrender the pleasing notion that her environment was slightly wicked. After the toil of many years it relieved her to be earnest in nothing; and she found infinite satisfaction in watching the lives of those around her.
She had a great affection for Margaret, and though her own stock of enthusiasms was run low, she could enjoy thoroughly Margaret's young enchantment in all that was exquisite. She was a plain woman; but there was no envy in her, and she took the keenest pleasure in Margaret's comeliness. It was almost with maternal pride that she watched each year add a new grace to that exceeding beauty. But her common sense was sound, and she took care by good-natured banter to temper the praises which extravagant admirers at the drawing-class lavished upon the handsome girl both for her looks and for her talent. She was proud to think that she would hand over to Arthur Burdon a woman whose character she had helped to form, and whose loveliness she had cultivated with a delicate care.
Susie knew, partly from fragments of letters which Margaret read to her, partly from her conversation, how passionately he adored his bride; and it pleased her to see that Margaret loved him in return with a grateful devotion. The story of this visit to Paris touched her imagination. Margaret was the daughter of a country barrister, with whom Arthur had been in the habit of staying; and when he died, many years after his wife, Arthur found himself the girl's guardian and executor. He sent her to school; saw that she had everything she could possibly want; and when, at seventeen, she told him of her wish to go to Paris and learn drawing, he at once consented. But though he never sought to assume authority over her, he suggested that she should not live alone, and it was on this account that she went to Susie. The preparations for the journey were scarcely made when Margaret discovered by chance that her father had died penniless and she had lived ever since at Arthur's entire expense. When she went to see him with tears in her eyes, and told him what she knew, Arthur was so embarrassed that it was quite absurd.
'But why did you do it?' she asked him. 'Why didn't you tell me?'
'I didn't think it fair to put you under any obligation to me, and I wanted you to feel quite free.'
She cried. She couldn't help it.
'Don't be so silly,' he laughed. 'You own me nothing at all. I've done very little for you, and what I have done has given me a great deal of pleasure.'
'I don't know how I can ever repay you.'
'Oh, don't say that,' he cried. 'It makes it so much harder for me to say what I want to.'
She looked at him quickly and reddened. Her deep blue eyes were veiled with tears.
'Don't you know that I'd do anything in the world for you?' she cried.
'I don't want you to be grateful to me, because I was hoping—I might ask you to marry me some day.'
Margaret laughed charmingly as she held out her hands.
'You must know that I've been wanting you to do that ever since I was ten.'
She was quite willing to give up her idea of Paris and be married without delay, but Arthur pressed her not to change her plans. At first Margaret vowed it was impossible to go, for she knew now that she had no money, and she could not let her lover pay.
'But what does it matter?' he said. 'It'll give me such pleasure to go on with the small allowance I've been making you. After all, I'm pretty well-to-do. My father left me a moderate income, and I'm making a good deal already by operating.'
'Yes, but it's different now. I didn't know before. I thought I was spending my own money.'
'If I died tomorrow, every penny I have would be yours. We shall be married in two years, and we've known one another much too long to change our minds. I think that our lives are quite irrevocably united.'
Margaret wished very much to spend this time in Paris, and Arthur had made up his mind that in fairness to her they could not marry till she was nineteen. She consulted Susie Boyd, whose common sense prevented her from paying much heed to romantic notions of false delicacy.
'My dear, you'd take his money without scruple if you'd signed your names in a church vestry, and as there's not the least doubt that you'll marry, I don't see why you shouldn't now. Besides, you've got nothing whatever to live on, and you're equally unfitted to be a governess or a typewriter. So it's Hobson's choice, and you'd better put your exquisite sentiments in your pocket.'
Miss Boyd, by one accident after another, had never seen Arthur, but she had heard so much that she looked upon him already as an old friend. She admired him for his talent and strength of character as much as for his loving tenderness to Margaret. She had seen portraits of him, but Margaret said he did not photograph well. She had asked if he was good-looking.
'No, I don't think he is,' answered Margaret, 'but he's very paintable.'
'That is an answer which has the advantage of sounding well and meaning nothing,' smiled Susie.
She believed privately that Margaret's passion for the arts was a not unamiable pose which would disappear when she was happily married. To have half a dozen children was in her mind much more important than to paint pictures. Margaret's gift was by no means despicable, but Susie was not convinced that callous masters would have been so enthusiastic if Margaret had been as plain and old as herself.
Miss Boyd was thirty. Her busy life had not caused the years to pass easily, and she looked older. But she was one of those plain women whose plainness does not matter. A gallant Frenchman had to her face called her a belle laide, and, far from denying the justness of his observation, she had been almost flattered. Her mouth was large, and she had little round bright eyes. Her skin was colourless and much disfigured by freckles. Her nose was long and thin. But her face was so kindly, her vivacity so attractive, that no one after ten minutes thought of her ugliness. You noticed then that her hair, though sprinkled with white, was pretty, and that her figure was exceedingly neat. She had good hands, very white and admirably formed, which she waved continually in the fervour of her gesticulation. Now that her means were adequate she took great pains with her dress, and her clothes, though they cost much more than she could afford, were always beautiful. Her taste was so great, her tact so sure, that she was able to make the most of herself. She was determined that if people called her ugly they should be forced in the same breath to confess that she was perfectly gowned. Susie's talent for dress was remarkable, and it was due to her influence that Margaret was arrayed always in the latest mode. The girl's taste inclined to be artistic, and her sense of colour was apt to run away with her discretion. Except for the display of Susie's firmness, she would scarcely have resisted her desire to wear nondescript garments of violent hue. But the older woman expressed herself with decision.
'My dear, you won't draw any the worse for wearing a well-made corset, and to surround your body with bands of grey flannel will certainly not increase your talent.'
'But the fashion is so hideous,' smiled Margaret.
'Fiddlesticks! The fashion is always beautiful. Last year it was beautiful to wear a hat like a pork-pie tipped over your nose; and next year, for all I know, it will be beautiful to wear a bonnet like a sitz-bath at the back of your head. Art has nothing to do with a smart frock, and whether a high-heeled pointed shoe commends itself or not to the painters in the quarter, it's the only thing in which a woman's foot looks really nice.'
Susie Boyd vowed that she would not live with Margaret at all unless she let her see to the buying of her things.
'And when you're married, for heaven's sake ask me to stay with you four times a year, so that I can see after your clothes. You'll never keep your husband's affection if you trust to your own judgment.'
Miss Boyd's reward had come the night before, when Margaret, coming home from dinner with Arthur, had repeated an observation of his.
'How beautifully you're dressed!' he had said. 'I was rather afraid you'd be wearing art-serges.'
'Of course you didn't tell him that I insisted on buying every stitch you'd got on,' cried Susie.
'Yes, I did,' answered Margaret simply. 'I told him I had no taste at all, but that you were responsible for everything.'
'That was the least you could do,' answered Miss Boyd.
But her heart went out to Margaret, for the trivial incident showed once more how frank the girl was. She knew quite well that few of her friends, though many took advantage of her matchless taste, would have made such an admission to the lover who congratulated them on the success of their costume.
There was a knock at the door, and Arthur came in.
'This is the fairy prince,' said Margaret, bringing him to her friend.
'I'm glad to see you in order to thank you for all you've done for Margaret,' he smiled, taking the proffered hand.
Susie remarked that he looked upon her with friendliness, but with a certain vacancy, as though too much engrossed in his beloved really to notice anyone else; and she wondered how to make conversation with a man who was so manifestly absorbed. While Margaret busied herself with the preparations for tea, his eyes followed her movements with a doglike, touching devotion. They travelled from her smiling mouth to her deft hands. It seemed that he had never seen anything so ravishing as the way in which she bent over the kettle. Margaret felt that he was looking at her, and turned round. Their eyes met, and they stood for an appreciable time gazing at one another silently.
'Don't be a pair of perfect idiots,' cried Susie gaily. 'I'm dying for my tea.'
The lovers laughed and reddened. It struck Arthur that he should say something polite.
'I hope you'll show me your sketches afterwards, Miss Boyd. Margaret says they're awfully good.'
'You really needn't think it in the least necessary to show any interest in me,' she replied bluntly.
'She draws the most delightful caricatures,' said Margaret. 'I'll bring you a horror of yourself, which she'll do the moment you leave us.'
'Don't be so spiteful, Margaret.'
Miss Boyd could not help thinking all the same that Arthur Burdon would caricature very well. Margaret was right when she said that he was not handsome, but his clean-shaven face was full of interest to so passionate an observer of her kind. The lovers were silent, and Susie had the conversation to herself. She chattered without pause and had the satisfaction presently of capturing their attention. Arthur seemed to become aware of her presence, and laughed heartily at her burlesque account of their fellow-students at Colarossi's. Meanwhile Susie examined him. He was very tall and very thin. His frame had a Yorkshireman's solidity, and his bones were massive. He missed being ungainly only through the serenity of his self-reliance. He had high cheek-bones and a long, lean face. His nose and mouth were large, and his skin was sallow. But there were two characteristics which fascinated her, an imposing strength of purpose and a singular capacity for suffering. This was a man who knew his mind and was determined to achieve his desire; it refreshed her vastly after the extreme weakness of the young painters with whom of late she had mostly consorted. But those quick dark eyes were able to express an anguish that was hardly tolerable, and the mobile mouth had a nervous intensity which suggested that he might easily suffer the very agonies of woe.
Tea was ready, and Arthur stood up to receive his cup.
'Sit down,' said Margaret. 'I'll bring you everything you want, and I know exactly how much sugar to put in. It pleases me to wait on you.'
With the grace that marked all her movements she walked cross the studio, the filled cup in one hand and the plate of cakes in the other. To Susie it seemed that he was overwhelmed with gratitude by Margaret's condescension. His eyes were soft with indescribable tenderness as he took the sweetmeats she gave him. Margaret smiled with happy pride. For all her good-nature, Susie could not prevent the pang that wrung her heart; for she too was capable of love. There was in her a wealth of passionate affection that none had sought to find. None had ever whispered in her ears the charming nonsense that she read in books. She recognised that she had no beauty to help her, but once she had at least the charm of vivacious youth. That was gone now, and the freedom to go into the world had come too late; yet her instinct told her that she was made to be a decent man's wife and the mother of children. She stopped in the middle of her bright chatter, fearing to trust her voice, but Margaret and Arthur were too much occupied to notice that she had ceased to speak. They sat side by side and enjoyed the happiness of one another's company.
'What a fool I am!' thought Susie.
She had learnt long ago that common sense, intelligence, good-nature, and strength of character were unimportant in comparison with a pretty face. She shrugged her shoulders.
'I don't know if you young things realise that it's growing late. If you want us to dine at the Chien Noir, you must leave us now, so that we can make ourselves tidy.'
'Very well,' said Arthur, getting up. 'I'll go back to my hotel and have a wash. We'll meet at half-past seven.'
When Margaret had closed the door on him, she turned to her friend.
'Well, what do you think?' she asked, smiling.
'You can't expect me to form a definite opinion of a man whom I've seen for so short a time.'
'Nonsense!' said Margaret.
Susie hesitated for a moment.
'I think he has an extraordinarily good face,' she said at last gravely. 'I've never seen a man whose honesty of purpose was so transparent.'
Susie Boyd was so lazy that she could never be induced to occupy herself with household matters and, while Margaret put the tea things away, she began to draw the caricature which every new face suggested to her. She made a little sketch of Arthur, abnormally lanky, with a colossal nose, with the wings and the bow and arrow of the God of Love, but it was not half done before she thought it silly. She tore it up with impatience. When Margaret came back, she turned round and looked at her steadily.
'Well?' said the girl, smiling under the scrutiny.
She stood in the middle of the lofty studio. Half-finished canvases leaned with their faces against the wall; pieces of stuff were hung here and there, and photographs of well-known pictures. She had fallen unconsciously into a wonderful pose, and her beauty gave her, notwithstanding her youth, a rare dignity. Susie smiled mockingly.
'You look like a Greek goddess in a Paris frock,' she said.
'What have you to say to me?' asked Margaret, divining from the searching look that something was in her friend's mind.
Susie stood up and went to her.
'You know, before I'd seen him I hoped with all my heart that he'd make you happy. Notwithstanding all you'd told me of him, I was afraid. I knew he was much older than you. He was the first man you'd ever known. I could scarcely bear to entrust you to him in case you were miserable.'
'I don't think you need have any fear.'
'But now I hope with all my heart that you'll make him happy. It's not you I'm frightened for now, but him.'
Margaret did not answer; she could not understand what Susie meant.
'I've never seen anyone with such a capacity for wretchedness as that man has. I don't think you can conceive how desperately he might suffer. Be very careful, Margaret, and be very good to him, for you have the power to make him more unhappy than any human being should be.'
'Oh, but I want him to be happy,' cried Margaret vehemently. 'You know that I owe everything to him. I'd do all I could to make him happy, even if I had to sacrifice myself. But I can't sacrifice myself, because I love him so much that all I do is pure delight.'
Her eyes filled with tears and her voice broke. Susie, with a little laugh that was half hysterical, kissed her.
'My dear, for heaven's sake don't cry! You know I can't bear people who weep, and if he sees your eyes red, he'll never forgive me.'
The Chien Noir, where Susie Boyd and Margaret generally dined, was the most charming restaurant in the quarter. Downstairs was a public room, where all and sundry devoured their food, for the little place had a reputation for good cooking combined with cheapness; and the patron, a retired horse-dealer who had taken to victualling in order to build up a business for his son, was a cheery soul whose loud-voiced friendliness attracted custom. But on the first floor was a narrow room, with three tables arranged in a horse-shoe, which was reserved for a small party of English or American painters and a few Frenchmen with their wives. At least, they were so nearly wives, and their manner had such a matrimonial respectability, that Susie, when first she and Margaret were introduced into this society, judged it would be vulgar to turn up her nose. She held that it was prudish to insist upon the conventions of Notting Hill in the Boulevard de Montparnasse. The young women who had thrown in their lives with these painters were modest in demeanour and quiet in dress. They were model housewives, who had preserved their self-respect notwithstanding a difficult position, and did not look upon their relation with less seriousness because they had not muttered a few words before Monsieur le Maire.
The room was full when Arthur Burdon entered, but Margaret had kept him an empty seat between herself and Miss Boyd. Everyone was speaking at once, in French, at the top of his voice, and a furious argument was proceeding on the merit of the later Impressionists. Arthur sat down, and was hurriedly introduced to a lanky youth, who sat on the other side of Margaret. He was very tall, very thin, very fair. He wore a very high collar and very long hair, and held himself like an exhausted lily.
'He always reminds me of an Aubrey Beardsley that's been dreadfully smudged,' said Susie in an undertone. 'He's a nice, kind creature, but his name is Jagson. He has virtue and industry. I haven't seen any of his work, but he has absolutely no talent.'
'How do you know, if you've not seen his pictures?' asked Arthur.
'Oh, it's one of our conventions here that nobody has talent,' laughed Susie. 'We suffer one another personally, but we have no illusions about the value of our neighbour's work.'
'Tell me who everyone is.'
'Well, look at that little bald man in the corner. That is Warren.'
Arthur looked at the man she pointed out. He was a small person, with a pate as shining as a billiard-ball, and a pointed beard. He had protruding, brilliant eyes.
'Hasn't he had too much to drink?' asked Arthur frigidly.
'Much,' answered Susie promptly, 'but he's always in that condition, and the further he gets from sobriety the more charming he is. He's the only man in this room of whom you'll never hear a word of evil. The strange thing is that he's very nearly a great painter. He has the most fascinating sense of colour in the world, and the more intoxicated he is, the more delicate and beautiful is his painting. Sometimes, after more than the usual number of aperitifs, he will sit down in a cafe to do a sketch, with his hand so shaky that he can hardly hold a brush; he has to wait for a favourable moment, and then he makes a jab at the panel. And the immoral thing is that each of these little jabs is lovely. He's the most delightful interpreter of Paris I know, and when you've seen his sketches—he's done hundreds, of unimaginable grace and feeling and distinction—you can never see Paris in the same way again.'
The little maid who looked busily after the varied wants of the customers stood in front of them to receive Arthur's order. She was a hard-visaged creature of mature age, but she looked neat in her black dress and white cap; and she had a motherly way of attending to these people, with a capacious smile of her large mouth which was full of charm.
'I don't mind what I eat,' said Arthur. 'Let Margaret order my dinner for me.'
'It would have been just as good if I had ordered it,' laughed Susie.
They began a lively discussion with Marie as to the merits of the various dishes, and it was only interrupted by Warren's hilarious expostulations.
'Marie, I precipitate myself at your feet, and beg you to bring me a poule au riz.'
'Oh, but give me one moment, monsieur,' said the maid.
'Do not pay any attention to that gentleman. His morals are detestable, and he only seeks to lead you from the narrow path of virtue.'
Arthur protested that on the contrary the passion of hunger occupied at that moment his heart to the exclusion of all others.
'Marie, you no longer love me,' cried Warren. 'There was a time when you did not look so coldly upon me when I ordered a bottle of white wine.'
The rest of the party took up his complaint, and all besought her not to show too hard a heart to the bald and rubicund painter.
'Mais si, je vous aime, Monsieur Warren,' she cried, laughing, 'Je vous aime tous, tous.'
She ran downstairs, amid the shouts of men and women, to give her orders.
'The other day the Chien Noir was the scene of a tragedy,' said Susie. 'Marie broke off relations with her lover, who is a waiter at Lavenue's, and would have no reconciliation. He waited till he had a free evening, and then came to the room downstairs and ordered dinner. Of course, she was obliged to wait on him, and as she brought him each dish he expostulated with her, and they mingled their tears.'
'She wept in floods,' interrupted a youth with neatly brushed hair and fat nose. 'She wept all over our food, and we ate it salt with tears. We besought her not to yield; except for our encouragement she would have gone back to him; and he beats her.'
Marie appeared again, with no signs now that so short a while ago romance had played a game with her, and brought the dishes that had been ordered. Susie seized once more upon Arthur Burdon's attention.
'Now please look at the man who is sitting next to Mr Warren.'
Arthur saw a tall, dark fellow with strongly-marked features, untidy hair, and a ragged black moustache.
'That is Mr O'Brien, who is an example of the fact that strength of will and an earnest purpose cannot make a painter. He's a failure, and he knows it, and the bitterness has warped his soul. If you listen to him, you'll hear every painter of eminence come under his lash. He can forgive nobody who's successful, and he never acknowledges merit in anyone till he's safely dead and buried.'
'He must be a cheerful companion,' answered Arthur. 'And who is the stout old lady by his side, with the flaunting hat?'
'That is the mother of Madame Rouge, the little palefaced woman sitting next to her. She is the mistress of Rouge, who does all the illustrations for La Semaine. At first it rather tickled me that the old lady should call him mon gendre, my son-in-law, and take the irregular union of her daughter with such a noble unconcern for propriety; but now it seems quite natural.'
The mother of Madame Rouge had the remains of beauty, and she sat bolt upright, picking the leg of a chicken with a dignified gesture. Arthur looked away quickly, for, catching his eye, she gave him an amorous glance. Rouge had more the appearance of a prosperous tradesman than of an artist; but he carried on with O'Brien, whose French was perfect, an argument on the merits of Cezanne. To one he was a great master and to the other an impudent charlatan. Each hotly repeated his opinion, as though the mere fact of saying the same thing several times made it more convincing.
'Next to me is Madame Meyer,' proceeded Susie. 'She was a governess in Poland, but she was much too pretty to remain one, and now she lives with the landscape painter who is by her side.'
Arthur's eyes followed her words and rested on a cleanshaven man with a large quantity of grey, curling hair. He had a handsome face of a deliberately aesthetic type and was very elegantly dressed. His manner and his conversation had the flamboyance of the romantic thirties. He talked in flowing periods with an air of finality, and what he said was no less just than obvious. The gay little lady who shared his fortunes listened to his wisdom with an admiration that plainly flattered him.
Miss Boyd had described everyone to Arthur except young Raggles, who painted still life with a certain amount of skill, and Clayson, the American sculptor. Raggles stood for rank and fashion at the Chien Noir. He was very smartly dressed in a horsey way, and he walked with bowlegs, as though he spent most of his time in the saddle. He alone used scented pomade upon his neat smooth hair. His chief distinction was a greatcoat he wore, with a scarlet lining; and Warren, whose memory for names was defective, could only recall him by that peculiarity. But it was understood that he knew duchesses in fashionable streets, and occasionally dined with them in solemn splendour.
Clayson had a vinous nose and a tedious habit of saying brilliant things. With his twinkling eyes, red cheeks, and fair, pointed beard, he looked exactly like a Franz Hals; but he was dressed like the caricature of a Frenchman in a comic paper. He spoke English with a Parisian accent.
Miss Boyd was beginning to tear him gaily limb from limb, when the door was flung open, and a large person entered. He threw off his cloak with a dramatic gesture.
'Marie, disembarrass me of this coat of frieze. Hang my sombrero upon a convenient peg.'
He spoke execrable French, but there was a grandiloquence about his vocabulary which set everyone laughing.
'Here is somebody I don't know,' said Susie.
'But I do, at least, by sight,' answered Burdon. He leaned over to Dr Porhoet who was sitting opposite, quietly eating his dinner and enjoying the nonsense which everyone talked. 'Is not that your magician?'
'Oliver Haddo,' said Dr Porhoet, with a little nod of amusement.
The new arrival stood at the end of the room with all eyes upon him. He threw himself into an attitude of command and remained for a moment perfectly still.
'You look as if you were posing, Haddo,' said Warren huskily.
'He couldn't help doing that if he tried,' laughed Clayson.
Oliver Haddo slowly turned his glance to the painter.
'I grieve to see, O most excellent Warren, that the ripe juice of the aperitif has glazed your sparkling eye.'
'Do you mean to say I'm drunk, sir?'
'In one gross, but expressive, word, drunk.'
The painter grotesquely flung himself back in his chair as though he had been struck a blow, and Haddo looked steadily at Clayson.
'How often have I explained to you, O Clayson, that your deplorable lack of education precludes you from the brilliancy to which you aspire?'
For an instant Oliver Haddo resumed his effective pose; and Susie, smiling, looked at him. He was a man of great size, two or three inches more than six feet high; but the most noticeable thing about him was a vast obesity. His paunch was of imposing dimensions. His face was large and fleshy. He had thrown himself into the arrogant attitude of Velasquez's portrait of Del Borro in the Museum of Berlin; and his countenance bore of set purpose the same contemptuous smile. He advanced and shook hands with Dr Porhoet.
'Hail, brother wizard! I greet in you, if not a master, at least a student not unworthy my esteem.'
Susie was convulsed with laughter at his pompousness, and he turned to her with the utmost gravity.
'Madam, your laughter is more soft in mine ears than the singing of Bulbul in a Persian garden.'
Dr Porhoet interposed with introductions. The magician bowed solemnly as he was in turn made known to Susie Boyd, and Margaret, and Arthur Burdon. He held out his hand to the grim Irish painter.
'Well, my O'Brien, have you been mixing as usual the waters of bitterness with the thin claret of Bordeaux?'
'Why don't you sit down and eat your dinner?' returned the other, gruffly.
'Ah, my dear fellow, I wish I could drive the fact into this head of yours that rudeness is not synonymous with wit. I shall not have lived in vain if I teach you in time to realize that the rapier of irony is more effective an instrument than the bludgeon of insolence.'
O'Brien reddened with anger, but could not at once find a retort, and Haddo passed on to that faded, harmless youth who sat next to Margaret.
'Do my eyes deceive me, or is this the Jagson whose name in its inanity is so appropriate to the bearer? I am eager to know if you still devote upon the ungrateful arts talents which were more profitably employed upon haberdashery.'
The unlucky creature, thus brutally attacked, blushed feebly without answering, and Haddo went on to the Frenchman, Meyer as more worthy of his mocking.
'I'm afraid my entrance interrupted you in a discourse. Was it the celebrated harangue on the greatness of Michelangelo, or was it the searching analysis of the art of Wagner?'
'We were just going,' said Meyer, getting up with a frown.
'I am desolated to lose the pearls of wisdom that habitually fall from your cultivated lips,' returned Haddo, as he politely withdrew Madame Meyer's chair.
He sat down with a smile.
'I saw the place was crowded, and with Napoleonic instinct decided that I could only make room by insulting somebody. It is cause for congratulation that my gibes, which Raggles, a foolish youth, mistakes for wit, have caused the disappearance of a person who lives in open sin; thereby vacating two seats, and allowing me to eat a humble meal with ample room for my elbows.'
Marie brought him the bill of fare, and he looked at it gravely.
'I will have a vanilla ice, O well-beloved, and a wing of a tender chicken, a fried sole, and some excellent pea-soup.'
'Bien, un potage, une sole, one chicken, and an ice.'
'But why should you serve them in that order rather than in the order I gave you?'
Marie and the two Frenchwomen who were still in the room broke into exclamations at this extravagance, but Oliver Haddo waved his fat hand.
'I shall start with the ice, O Marie, to cool the passion with which your eyes inflame me, and then without hesitation I will devour the wing of a chicken in order to sustain myself against your smile. I shall then proceed to a fresh sole, and with the pea-soup I will finish a not unsustaining meal.'
Having succeeded in capturing the attention of everyone in the room, Oliver Haddo proceeded to eat these dishes in the order he had named. Margaret and Burdon watched him with scornful eyes, but Susie, who was not revolted by the vanity which sought to attract notice, looked at him curiously. He was clearly not old, though his corpulence added to his apparent age. His features were good, his ears small, and his nose delicately shaped. He had big teeth, but they were white and even. His mouth was large, with heavy moist lips. He had the neck of a bullock. His dark, curling hair had retreated from the forehead and temples in such a way as to give his clean-shaven face a disconcerting nudity. The baldness of his crown was vaguely like a tonsure. He had the look of a very wicked, sensual priest. Margaret, stealing a glance at him as he ate, on a sudden violently shuddered; he affected her with an uncontrollable dislike. He lifted his eyes slowly, and she looked away, blushing as though she had been taken in some indiscretion. These eyes were the most curious thing about him. They were not large, but an exceedingly pale blue, and they looked at you in a way that was singularly embarrassing. At first Susie could not discover in what precisely their peculiarity lay, but in a moment she found out: the eyes of most persons converge when they look at you, but Oliver Haddo's, naturally or by a habit he had acquired for effect, remained parallel. It gave the impression that he looked straight through you and saw the wall beyond. It was uncanny. But another strange thing about him was the impossibility of telling whether he was serious. There was a mockery in that queer glance, a sardonic smile upon the mouth, which made you hesitate how to take his outrageous utterances. It was irritating to be uncertain whether, while you were laughing at him, he was not really enjoying an elaborate joke at your expense.
His presence cast an unusual chill upon the party. The French members got up and left. Warren reeled out with O'Brien, whose uncouth sarcasms were no match for Haddo's bitter gibes. Raggles put on his coat with the scarlet lining and went out with the tall Jagson, who smarted still under Haddo's insolence. The American sculptor paid his bill silently. When he was at the door, Haddo stopped him.
'You have modelled lions at the Jardin des Plantes, my dear Clayson. Have you ever hunted them on their native plains?'
'No, I haven't.'
Clayson did not know why Haddo asked the question, but he bristled with incipient wrath.
'Then you have not seen the jackal, gnawing at a dead antelope, scamper away in terror when the King of Beasts stalked down to make his meal.'
Clayson slammed the door behind him. Haddo was left with Margaret, and Arthur Burdon, Dr Porhoet, and Susie. He smiled quietly.
'By the way, are you a lion-hunter?' asked Susie flippantly.
He turned on her his straight uncanny glance.
'I have no equal with big game. I have shot more lions than any man alive. I think Jules Gerard, whom the French of the nineteenth century called Le Tueur de Lions, may have been fit to compare with me, but I can call to mind no other.'
This statement, made with the greatest calm, caused a moment of silence. Margaret stared at him with amazement.
'You suffer from no false modesty,' said Arthur Burdon.
'False modesty is a sign of ill-breeding, from which my birth amply protects me.'
Dr Porhoet looked up with a smile of irony.
'I wish Mr Haddo would take this opportunity to disclose to us the mystery of his birth and family. I have a suspicion that, like the immortal Cagliostro, he was born of unknown but noble parents, and educated secretly in Eastern palaces.'
'In my origin I am more to be compared with Denis Zachaire or with Raymond Lully. My ancestor, George Haddo, came to Scotland in the suite of Anne of Denmark, and when James I, her consort, ascended the English throne, he was granted the estates in Staffordshire which I still possess. My family has formed alliances with the most noble blood of England, and the Merestons, the Parnabys, the Hollingtons, have been proud to give their daughters to my house.'
'Those are facts which can be verified in works of reference,' said Arthur dryly.
'They can,' said Oliver.
'And the Eastern palaces in which your youth was spent, and the black slaves who waited on you, and the bearded sheikhs who imparted to you secret knowledge?' cried Dr Porhoet.
'I was educated at Eton, and I left Oxford in 1896.'
'Would you mind telling me at what college you were?' said Arthur.
'I was at the House.'
'Then you must have been there with Frank Hurrell.'
'Now assistant physician at St Luke's Hospital. He was one of my most intimate friends.'
'I'll write and ask him about you.'
'I'm dying to know what you did with all the lions you slaughtered,' said Susie Boyd.
The man's effrontery did not exasperate her as it obviously exasperated Margaret and Arthur. He amused her, and she was anxious to make him talk.
'They decorate the floors of Skene, which is the name of my place in Staffordshire.' He paused for a moment to light a cigar. 'I am the only man alive who has killed three lions with three successive shots.'
'I should have thought you could have demolished them by the effects of your oratory,' said Arthur.
Oliver leaned back and placed his two large hands on the table.
'Burkhardt, a German with whom I was shooting, was down with fever and could not stir from his bed. I was awakened one night by the uneasiness of my oxen, and I heard the roaring of lions close at hand. I took my carbine and came out of my tent. There was only the meagre light of the moon. I walked alone, for I knew natives could be of no use to me. Presently I came upon the carcass of an antelope, half-consumed, and I made up my mind to wait for the return of the lions. I hid myself among the boulders twenty paces from the prey. All about me was the immensity of Africa and the silence. I waited, motionless, hour after hour, till the dawn was nearly at hand. At last three lions appeared over a rock. I had noticed, the day before, spoor of a lion and two females.'
'May I ask how you could distinguish the sex?' asked Arthur, incredulously.
'The prints of a lion's fore feet are disproportionately larger than those of the hind feet. The fore feet and hind feet of the lioness are nearly the same size.'
'Pray go on,' said Susie.
'They came into full view, and in the dim light, as they stood chest on, they appeared as huge as the strange beasts of the Arabian tales. I aimed at the lioness which stood nearest to me and fired. Without a sound, like a bullock felled at one blow, she dropped. The lion gave vent to a sonorous roar. Hastily I slipped another cartridge in my rifle. Then I became conscious that he had seen me. He lowered his head, and his crest was erect. His lifted tail was twitching, his lips were drawn back from the red gums, and I saw his great white fangs. Living fire flashed from his eyes, and he growled incessantly. Then he advanced a few steps, his head held low; and his eyes were fixed on mine with a look of rage. Suddenly he jerked up his tail, and when a lion does this he charges. I got a quick sight on his chest and fired. He reared up on his hind legs, roaring loudly and clawing at the air, and fell back dead. One lioness remained, and through the smoke I saw her spring to her feet and rush towards me. Escape was impossible, for behind me were high boulders that I could not climb. She came on with hoarse, coughing grunts, and with desperate courage I fired my remaining barrel. I missed her clean. I took one step backwards in the hope of getting a cartridge into my rifle, and fell, scarcely two lengths in front of the furious beast. She missed me. I owed my safety to that fall. And then suddenly I found that she had collapsed. I had hit her after all. My bullet went clean through her heart, but the spring had carried her forwards. When I scrambled to my feet I found that she was dying. I walked back to my camp and ate a capital breakfast.'
Oliver Haddo's story was received with astonished silence. No one could assert that it was untrue, but he told it with a grandiloquence that carried no conviction. Arthur would have wagered a considerable sum that there was no word of truth in it. He had never met a person of this kind before, and could not understand what pleasure there might be in the elaborate invention of improbable adventures.
'You are evidently very brave,' he said.
'To follow a wounded lion into thick cover is probably the most dangerous proceeding in the world,' said Haddo calmly. 'It calls for the utmost coolness and for iron nerve.'
The answer had an odd effect on Arthur. He gave Haddo a rapid glance, and was seized suddenly with uncontrollable laughter. He leaned back in his chair and roared. His hilarity affected the others, and they broke into peal upon peal of laughter. Oliver watched them gravely. He seemed neither disconcerted nor surprised. When Arthur recovered himself, he found Haddo's singular eyes fixed on him.
'Your laughter reminds me of the crackling of thorns under a pot,' he said.
Haddo looked round at the others. Though his gaze preserved its fixity, his lips broke into a queer, sardonic smile.
'It must be plain even to the feeblest intelligence that a man can only command the elementary spirits if he is without fear. A capricious mind can never rule the sylphs, nor a fickle disposition the undines.'
Arthur stared at him with amazement. He did not know what on earth the man was talking about. Haddo paid no heed.
'But if the adept is active, pliant, and strong, the whole world will be at his command. He will pass through the storm and no rain shall fall upon his head. The wind will not displace a single fold of his garment. He will go through fire and not be burned.'
Dr Porhoet ventured upon an explanation of these cryptic utterances.
'These ladies are unacquainted with the mysterious beings of whom you speak, cher ami. They should know that during the Middle Ages imagination peopled the four elements with intelligences, normally unseen, some of which were friendly to man and others hostile. They were thought to be powerful and conscious of their power, though at the same time they were profoundly aware that they possessed no soul. Their life depended upon the continuance of some natural object, and hence for them there could be no immortality. They must return eventually to the abyss of unending night, and the darkness of death afflicted them always. But it was thought that in the same manner as man by his union with God had won a spark of divinity, so might the sylphs, gnomes, undines, and salamanders by an alliance with man partake of his immortality. And many of their women, whose beauty was more than human, gained a human soul by loving one of the race of men. But the reverse occurred also, and often a love-sick youth lost his immortality because he left the haunts of his kind to dwell with the fair, soulless denizens of the running streams or of the forest airs.'
'I didn't know that you spoke figuratively,' said Arthur to Oliver Haddo.
The other shrugged his shoulders.
'What else is the world than a figure? Life itself is but a symbol. You must be a wise man if you can tell us what is reality.'
'When you begin to talk of magic and mysticism I confess that I am out of my depth.'
'Yet magic is no more than the art of employing consciously invisible means to produce visible effects. Will, love, and imagination are magic powers that everyone possesses; and whoever knows how to develop them to their fullest extent is a magician. Magic has but one dogma, namely, that the seen is the measure of the unseen.'
'Will you tell us what the powers are that the adept possesses?'
'They are enumerated in a Hebrew manuscript of the sixteenth century, which is in my possession. The privileges of him who holds in his right hand the Keys of Solomon and in his left the Branch of the Blossoming Almond are twenty-one. He beholds God face to face without dying, and converses intimately with the Seven Genii who command the celestial army. He is superior to every affliction and to every fear. He reigns with all heaven and is served by all hell. He holds the secret of the resurrection of the dead, and the key of immortality.'
'If you possess even these you have evidently the most varied attainments,' said Arthur ironically.
'Everyone can make game of the unknown,' retorted Haddo, with a shrug of his massive shoulders.
Arthur did not answer. He looked at Haddo curiously. He asked himself whether he believed seriously these preposterous things, or whether he was amusing himself in an elephantine way at their expense. His mariner was earnest, but there was an odd expression about the mouth, a hard twinkle of the eyes, which seemed to belie it. Susie was vastly entertained. It diverted her enormously to hear occult matters discussed with apparent gravity in this prosaic tavern. Dr Porhoet broke the silence.
'Arago, after whom has been named a neighbouring boulevard, declared that doubt was a proof of modesty, which has rarely interfered with the progress of science. But one cannot say the same of incredulity, and he that uses the word impossible outside of pure mathematics is lacking in prudence. It should be remembered that Lactantius proclaimed belief in the existence of antipodes inane, and Saint Augustine of Hippo added that in any case there could be no question of inhabited lands.'
'That sounds as if you were not quite sceptical, dear doctor,' said Miss Boyd.
'In my youth I believed nothing, for science had taught me to distrust even the evidence of my five senses,' he replied, with a shrug of the shoulders. 'But I have seen many things in the East which are inexplicable by the known processes of science. Mr Haddo has given you one definition of magic, and I will give you another. It may be described merely as the intelligent utilization of forces which are unknown, contemned, or misunderstood of the vulgar. The young man who settles in the East sneers at the ideas of magic which surround him, but I know not what there is in the atmosphere that saps his unbelief. When he has sojourned for some years among Orientals, he comes insensibly to share the opinion of many sensible men that perhaps there is something in it after all.'
Arthur Burdon made a gesture of impatience.
'I cannot imagine that, however much I lived in Eastern countries, I could believe anything that had the whole weight of science against it. If there were a word of truth in anything Haddo says, we should be unable to form any reasonable theory of the universe.'
'For a scientific man you argue with singular fatuity,' said Haddo icily, and his manner had an offensiveness which was intensely irritating. 'You should be aware that science, dealing only with the general, leaves out of consideration the individual cases that contradict the enormous majority. Occasionally the heart is on the right side of the body, but you would not on that account ever put your stethoscope in any other than the usual spot. It is possible that under certain conditions the law of gravity does not apply, yet you will conduct your life under the conviction that it does so invariably. Now, there are some of us who choose to deal only with these exceptions to the common run. The dull man who plays at Monte Carlo puts his money on the colours, and generally black or red turns up; but now and then zero appears, and he loses. But we, who have backed zero all the time, win many times our stake. Here and there you will find men whose imagination raises them above the humdrum of mankind. They are willing to lose their all if only they have chance of a great prize. Is it nothing not only to know the future, as did the prophets of old, but by making it to force the very gates of the unknown?'
Suddenly the bantering gravity with which he spoke fell away from him. A singular light came into his eyes, and his voice was hoarse. Now at last they saw that he was serious.
'What should you know of that lust for great secrets which consumes me to the bottom of my soul!'
'Anyhow, I'm perfectly delighted to meet a magician,' cried Susie gaily.
'Ah, call me not that,' he said, with a flourish of his fat hands, regaining immediately his portentous flippancy. 'I would be known rather as the Brother of the Shadow.'
'I should have thought you could be only a very distant relation of anything so unsubstantial,' said Arthur, with a laugh.
Oliver's face turned red with furious anger. His strange blue eyes grew cold with hatred, and he thrust out his scarlet lips till he had the ruthless expression of a Nero. The gibe at his obesity had caught him on the raw. Susie feared that he would make so insulting a reply that a quarrel must ensure.
'Well, really, if we want to go to the fair we must start,' she said quickly. 'And Marie is dying to be rid of us.'
They got up, and clattered down the stairs into the street.
They came down to the busy, narrow street which led into the Boulevard du Montparnasse. Electric trams passed through it with harsh ringing of bells, and people surged along the pavements.
The fair to which they were going was held at the Lion de Belfort, not more than a mile away, and Arthur hailed a cab. Susie told the driver where they wanted to be set down. She noticed that Haddo, who was waiting for them to start, put his hand on the horse's neck. On a sudden, for no apparent reason, it began to tremble. The trembling passed through the body and down its limbs till it shook from head to foot as though it had the staggers. The coachman jumped off his box and held the wretched creature's head. Margaret and Susie got out. It was a horribly painful sight. The horse seemed not to suffer from actual pain, but from an extraordinary fear. Though she knew not why, an idea came to Susie.
'Take your hand away, Mr Haddo,' she said sharply.
He smiled, and did as she bade him. At the same moment the trembling began to decrease, and in a moment the poor old cab-horse was in its usual state. It seemed a little frightened still, but otherwise recovered.
'I wonder what the deuce was the matter with it,' said Arthur.
Oliver Haddo looked at him with the blue eyes that seemed to see right through people, and then, lifting his hat, walked away. Susie turned suddenly to Dr Porhoet.
'Do you think he could have made the horse do that? It came immediately he put his hand on its neck, and it stopped as soon as he took it away.'
'Nonsense!' said Arthur.
'It occurred to me that he was playing some trick,' said Dr Porhoet gravely. 'An odd thing happened once when he came to see me. I have two Persian cats, which are the most properly conducted of all their tribe. They spend their days in front of my fire, meditating on the problems of metaphysics. But as soon as he came in they started up, and their fur stood right on end. Then they began to run madly round and round the room, as though the victims of uncontrollable terror. I opened the door, and they bolted out. I have never been able to understand exactly what took place.'
'I've never met a man who filled me with such loathing,' she said. 'I don't know what there is about him that frightens me. Even now I feel his eyes fixed strangely upon me. I hope I shall never see him again.'
Arthur gave a little laugh and pressed her hand. She would not let his go, and he felt that she was trembling. Personally, he had no doubt about the matter. He would have no trifling with credibility. Either Haddo believed things that none but a lunatic could, or else he was a charlatan who sought to attract attention by his extravagances. In any case he was contemptible. It was certain, at all events, that neither he nor anyone else could work miracles.
'I'll tell you what I'll do,' said Arthur. 'If he really knows Frank Hurrell I'll find out all about him. I'll drop a note to Hurrell tonight and ask him to tell me anything he can.'
'I wish you would,' answered Susie, 'because he interests me enormously. There's no place like Paris for meeting queer folk. Sooner or later you run across persons who believe in everything. There's no form of religion, there's no eccentricity or enormity, that hasn't its votaries. Just think what a privilege it is to come upon a man in the twentieth century who honestly believes in the occult.'
'Since I have been occupied with these matters, I have come across strange people,' said Dr Porhoet quietly, 'but I agree with Miss Boyd that Oliver Haddo is the most extraordinary. For one thing, it is impossible to know how much he really believes what he says. Is he an impostor or a madman? Does he deceive himself, or is he laughing up his sleeve at the folly of those who take him seriously? I cannot tell. All I know is that he has travelled widely and is acquainted with many tongues. He has a minute knowledge of alchemical literature, and there is no book I have heard of, dealing with the black arts, which he does not seem to know.' Dr Porhoet shook his head slowly. 'I should not care to dogmatize about this man. I know I shall outrage the feelings of my friend Arthur, but I am bound to confess it would not surprise me to learn that he possessed powers by which he was able to do things seemingly miraculous.'
Arthur was prevented from answering by their arrival at the Lion de Belfort.
The fair was in full swing. The noise was deafening. Steam bands thundered out the popular tunes of the moment, and to their din merry-go-rounds were turning. At the door of booths men vociferously importuned the passers-by to enter. From the shooting saloons came a continual spatter of toy rifles. Linking up these sounds, were the voices of the serried crowd that surged along the central avenue, and the shuffle of their myriad feet. The night was lurid with acetylene torches, which flamed with a dull unceasing roar. It was a curious sight, half gay, half sordid. The throng seemed bent with a kind of savagery upon amusement, as though, resentful of the weary round of daily labour, it sought by a desperate effort to be merry.
The English party with Dr Porhoet, mildly ironic, had scarcely entered before they were joined by Oliver Haddo. He was indifferent to the plain fact that they did not want his company. He attracted attention, for his appearance and his manner were remarkable, and Susie noticed that he was pleased to see people point him out to one another. He wore a Spanish cloak, the capa, and he flung the red and green velvet of its lining gaudily over his shoulder. He had a large soft hat. His height was great, though less noticeable on account of his obesity, and he towered over the puny multitude.
They looked idly at the various shows, resisting the melodramas, the circuses, the exhibitions of eccentricity, which loudly clamoured for their custom. Presently they came to a man who was cutting silhouettes in black paper, and Haddo insisted on posing for him. A little crowd collected and did not spare their jokes at his singular appearance. He threw himself into his favourite attitude of proud command. Margaret wished to take the opportunity of leaving him, but Miss Boyd insisted on staying.
'He's the most ridiculous creature I've ever seen in my life,' she whispered. 'I wouldn't let him out of my sight for worlds.'
When the silhouette was done, he presented it with a low bow to Margaret.
'I implore your acceptance of the only portrait now in existence of Oliver Haddo,' he said.
'Thank you,' she answered frigidly.
She was unwilling to take it, but had not the presence of mind to put him off by a jest, and would not be frankly rude. As though certain she set much store on it, he placed it carefully in an envelope. They walked on and suddenly came to a canvas booth on which was an Eastern name. Roughly painted on sail-cloth was a picture of an Arab charming snakes, and above were certain words in Arabic. At the entrance, a native sat cross-legged, listlessly beating a drum. When he saw them stop, he addressed them in bad French.
'Does not this remind you of the turbid Nile, Dr Porhoet?' said Haddo. 'Let us go in and see what the fellow has to show.'
Dr Porhoet stepped forward and addressed the charmer, who brightened on hearing the language of his own country.
'He is an Egyptian from Assiut,' said the doctor.
'I will buy tickets for you all,' said Haddo.
He held up the flap that gave access to the booth, and Susie went in. Margaret and Arthur Burdon, somewhat against their will, were obliged to follow. The native closed the opening behind them. They found themselves in a dirty little tent, ill-lit by two smoking lamps; a dozen stools were placed in a circle on the bare ground. In one corner sat a fellah woman, motionless, in ample robes of dingy black. Her face was hidden by a long veil, which was held in place by a queer ornament of brass in the middle of the forehead, between the eyes. These alone were visible, large and sombre, and the lashes were darkened with kohl: her fingers were brightly stained with henna. She moved slightly as the visitors entered, and the man gave her his drum. She began to rub it with her hands, curiously, and made a droning sound, which was odd and mysterious. There was a peculiar odour in the place, so that Dr Porhoet was for a moment transported to the evil-smelling streets of Cairo. It was an acrid mixture of incense, of attar of roses, with every imaginable putrescence. It choked the two women, and Susie asked for a cigarette. The native grinned when he heard the English tongue. He showed a row of sparkling and beautiful teeth.
'My name Mohammed,' he said. 'Me show serpents to Sirdar Lord Kitchener. Wait and see. Serpents very poisonous.'
He was dressed in a long blue gabardine, more suited to the sunny banks of the Nile than to a fair in Paris, and its colour could hardly be seen for dirt. On his head was the national tarboosh.
A rug lay at one side of the tent, and from under it he took a goatskin sack. He placed it on the ground in the middle of the circle formed by the seats and crouched down on his haunches. Margaret shuddered, for the uneven surface of the sack moved strangely. He opened the mouth of it. The woman in the corner listlessly droned away on the drum, and occasionally uttered a barbaric cry. With a leer and a flash of his bright teeth, the Arab thrust his hand into the sack and rummaged as a man would rummage in a sack of corn. He drew out a long, writhing snake. He placed it on the ground and for a moment waited, then he passed his hand over it: it became immediately as rigid as a bar of iron. Except that the eyes, the cruel eyes, were open still, there might have been no life in it.