- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original text has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. -
THE ORCHARD OF TEARS
AUTHOR OF "DR. FU-MANCHU"
METHUEN & CO. LTD. 36 ESSEX STREET W.C. LONDON
First Issued in this Cheap Form (Second Edition) July 14th, 1921 Third Edition 1921
This Book was First Published (Crown 8vo) October 24th, 1918
PART I AT LOWER CHARLESWOOD 1
PART II FLAMBY IN LONDON 85
PART III THE KEY 173
TO THE SLAVES OF THE POMEGRANATE, SONS OF ADAM AND DAUGHTERS OF EVE, WHO DRINK AT THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE, THIS CHALICE IS OFFERED AS A LOVING-CUP.
THE ORCHARD OF TEARS
AT LOWER CHARLESWOOD
It was high noon of a perfect summer's day. Beneath green sun blinds, upon the terrace overlooking the lawns, Paul Mario, having finished his lunch, lay back against the cushions of a white deck-chair and studied the prospect. Sloping turf, rose-gay paths, and lichened brick steps, hollowed with age, zigzagging leisurely down to the fir avenue, carried the eye onward again to where the river wound its way through verdant banks toward the distant town.
A lark wooed the day with sweet music. Higher and ever higher rose the little sun-worshipper, pouring out his rapturous hymn to Apollo. Swallows, who but lately had crossed the battlefields of southern Europe, glided around Hatton Towers, describing mystic figures in the air, whilst the high feeble chirping of the younger generation sounded from the nests beneath the eaves. Amid the climbing roses bees were busy, their communal labours an object-lesson for self-seeking man; and almost at Mario's feet a company of ants swarmed over the yet writhing body of an unfortunate caterpillar, who had dropped from an apple-tree to fall a prey to that savage natural law of death to the weak. The harsh voice of a sentinel crow spoke from a neighbouring cornfield, and a cloud of dusky marauders took the air instantly, and before the sharp crack of the farmer's fowling-piece came to confirm the warning. In the hush of noon the tones of some haymakers at their patriarchal labours in a meadow beyond the stream were clearly audible—and the atmosphere constantly vibrated with remote booming of guns on the Western front.
Paul Mario was sufficiently distinguished in appearance to have been a person of no importance. His virile, curling black hair had the raven's-wing sheen betraying remote Italian forebears, and for that matter there was in his entire cast of countenance and the poise of his fine head something statuesquely Roman, Southern, exotic. His large but deep-set eyes were of so dark a blue as very generally to pass for "black"; and whilst in some moods they were soft and dreamy, in others, notably in moments of enthusiasm, they burnt darkly fierce in his pale olive face. In profile there was a certain resemblance to the Vatican head of Julius Caesar, save for the mouth, which had more gentle curves, and which was not unlike that of Dante; but seen full-face, and allowing for the fact that Paul Mario was clean-shaven, the likeness of feature to the traditional Christ was startling. This resemblance is equally notable in the face of Shakespeare.
Rather above medium height, well but slightly proportioned, the uneasy spirit of the man ever looking out of those arresting eyes so wholly dominated him as to create a false impression of fragility, of a casket too frail to confine the burning, eager soul within. His emotions were dynamic, and in his every mannerism there was distinction. The vein of femininity which is found in all creative artists betrayed itself in one item of Mario's attire: a white French knot, which slightly overlay the lapels of his well-worn Norfolk jacket.
To the world's caricaturists, when Paul Mario, at the age of twenty-six, had swept across the literary terrain, storming line after line, the white knot had proved a boon. Delilah, a lyrical drama, written in French, and first published in Paris, achieved for this darling of Minerva a reputation which no man is entitled to expect during his lifetime. Within twelve months of the date of publication it had appeared in almost every civilised language, and had been staged in New York, where it created a furore. Of Madame Caligula, a novel, which followed it, thirty-one editions were subscribed in six days!
The miracle of Paul Mario's success was perhaps to be explained by the neutrality of his genius. A passionate, elemental sympathy with all nature, a seeming capacity to hear the language of the flowers, the voices of the stars and to love and understand the lowliest things that God has made, bore him straight to the heart of England as surely as it swept his name into the holy of holies of artistic France, spoke to Russia's sombre soul and temporarily revolutionised the literature of the United States. His work belonged to no "school," and its charm was not due to "style"; therefore his books lost little in translation, for true genius speaks to every man in his own tongue.
Sympathetic atmosphere was as necessary to Paul Mario as pure air to the general. Deliberate ugliness hurt him, and the ugliness which is the handiwork of God aroused within him a yearning sorrow for poor humanity who might be of the White Company, were it not for avarice, hate and lust. The war, even in its earlier phases, stirred the ultimate deeps of his nature, and knowing himself, since genius cannot be blind, for what he was, a world power, a spiritual sword, he chafed and fretted in enforced inactivity, striving valiantly to reconcile himself to the ugliness of military life. Courted as only poets and actors are courted, he was offered posts and commissions in bewildering variety; but all of them he scornfully rejected. The insane injustice of such selection enraged him.
A severe nervous lesion freed him from the galley-bench of a training-camp, and sent him on a weary pilgrimage through the military hospitals to discharge—and freedom; freedom, which to that ardent nature proved to be irksome. For whilst the very springs of his genius were dammed by the agony of a world in travail, he found himself outside the mighty theatre, a mere bystander having no part in the rebirth of humanity.
Someone was approaching along the path consecrated by a million weary feet and still known as the Pilgrim's Way, someone who wore the ugly uniform of a Guards officer (which is a sort of du Maurier survival demanding Dundreary whiskers). He seemed to hesitate ere he turned aside, opened the gate and began to mount those hundred and twenty mossy steps which led up to the terrace.
The newcomer, whose tunic had seen much service, was a man perhaps two or three years Paul Mario's senior, and already the bleaching hand of Time had brushed his temples with furtive fingers. He was dark but of sanguine colouring, now overlaid with a deep tan, wore a short military moustache and possessed those humorous grey eyes which seem to detect in all creation hues roseate and pleasing; eyes made for laughter and which no man other than a good fellow ever owned.
Gaining the terrace and raising his hand to his cap in salute, the officer smiled, and his smile fulfilled all the promise of the grey eyes and would have brought a ray of sunshine into the deepest and darkest cell of the Bastille itself.
"I believe I am trespassing," he began—then, as Paul Mario rose: "By all that's gracious and wonderful, it's Paul!"
"Don!" exclaimed the other, and sprang forward in his own impetuous fashion, grasping the newcomer by both shoulders and staring eagerly into the suntanned face. "Dear old Don! A thousand welcomes, boy!" And releasing his grip on the shoulders, he seized both hands and shook them with a vigour that was not assumed but was merely an outlet for his brimming emotions.
"Some kindly coy dryad of the woods has guided my footsteps to this blessed spot," declared Don. "The last inn which I passed—observe my selection of the word, passed—known, I believe, as the 'Pig and Something-or-other,' is fully three sunny miles behind me. From the arid and dusty path below I observed the siphon on your table——"
"And you determined to become a trespasser?" cried Paul Mario joyously, pushing his friend into the cane rest-chair and preparing a drink for him. "I will build an altar to your dryad, Don; for there is certainly something miraculous in your appearance at Hatton Towers."
"When I have suitably reduced my temperature I will explain. But I have yet to learn what you are doing here. I had always understood that Hatton Towers——"
"My dear fellow, it's mine!" cried Paul excitedly. "My Uncle Jacques dramatically bequeathed this wonderful place to me, altering his will on the day that I renounced the pen and entered an officer's training corps. He was a remarkable old bachelor, Don——"
Don raised his hand, checking Paul's speech. "My dear Paul, you cannot possibly amplify your own description of Sir Jacques, with which you entertained us one evening in a certain top set at Oxford. Do you remember those rooms, Paul?"
"Do I remember them!"
"I do, and I remember your account of the saintly Uncle, for your acquaintance had begun and terminated during a week of the previous long vacation which you had spent here at Hatton. 'Uncle Jacques,' you informed us, 'is a delightful survival, bearing a really remarkable resemblance to a camel. Excepting his weakness for classic statuary and studies in the nude, his life is of Mayflower purity. He made his fortune on the Baltic Exchange, was knighted owing to a clerical error, and built the appalling church at Mid Hatton.'"
Paul laughed boyishly. "At least we were sincere in our youthful cynicism, Don. You may add the note to your very accurate recollections of Sir Jacques that on the publication of Delilah he instructed his butler to say that he was abroad whenever I might call!"
Fascinated as of old by his whimsical language, the cap-and-bells which he loved to assume, Paul watched affectionately the smiling face of Donald Courtier. Momentarily a faint tinge of melancholy had clouded the gaiety of Don's grey eyes; for this chance meeting had conjured up memories of a youth already slipping from his grasp, devoured by the all-consuming war; memories of many a careless hour treasured now as exquisite relics are treasured, of many a good fellow who would never again load his pipe from Paul Mario's capacious, celebrated and hospitable tobacco jar, as he, Don, was doing; of days of sheer indolent joy, of nights of wild and carefree gladness.
"Good old Paul," he murmured, raising his glass. "Here's to the late Sir Jacques. So you are out of it?"
Paul Mario nodded and took from the pocket of his threadbare golf jacket the very twin of Don's curved and blackened briar, drawing towards him the tobacco jar upon the table—a Mycenaean vase from the tomb of Rameses III. A short silence fell between them.
"Frankly, I envy you," said Don suddenly, breaking the spell, "although I realise that actually you have suffered as deeply as many a man who has spent two years in the trenches. One cannot imagine the lyre of Apollo attuned to What's-the-name's marches."
"Two years," echoed Paul; "is it really two years since we met?"
"Two years on June the twenty-second. On June the twenty-second, nineteen hundred and fifteen, you saw me off from Victoria of hateful memory. I have been home six or seven times in the interval, but somehow or other have always missed you. I was appalled when I heard you had joined. God knows we need such brains as yours, but they would be wasted on the Somme; and genius is too rare to be exposed to the sniper's bullet. What are you doing?"
The sympathy between the two was so perfect that Paul Mario knew the question to refer not to his private plans but to his part in the world drama.
"Beyond daily descending lower in my own esteem—nothing."
"Yet you might do so much."
"I know," said Paul Mario. "But—it awes me."
If his work had not already proved him, the genius of the man must have been rendered apparent by his entire lack of false modesty. Praise and censure alike left him uninfluenced—although few artists can exist without a modicum of the former: he knew himself born to sway the minds of millions and was half fearful of his self-knowledge. "I know," he said, and pipe in hand he gazed wistfully across the valley.
A faint breeze crept through the fir avenue, bearing with it a muffled booming sound which was sufficient to raise the curtain of distance—never truly opaque for such as he—and to display to that acute inner vision a reeking battlefield. Before his shuddering soul defiled men maimed, blind, bleeding from ghastly hurts; men long dead. Women he saw in lowly hovels, weeping over cots fashioned from rough boxes; women, dry-eyed, mutely tragic, surrounded by softness, luxury and servitude, wearing love gifts of a hand for ever stilled, dreaming of lover-words whispered in a voice for ever mute. He seemed to float spiritually over the whole world upon that wave of sound and to find the whole world stricken, desolate, its fairness mockery and its music a sob.
"At the moment, no doubt," said Don, "you feel as though you had been knocked out of the ring in the first round. But this phase will pass. The point is, that you never had any business in the ring at all. No quarrel ever actually begins with a blow, and no quarrel was ever terminated by one. Genius—perverted, I'll grant you, but nevertheless genius—started this war; and we are English enough to think that we can end it by brute force. Pass the matches."
"You are really of opinion," asked Paul dreamily, "that I should be doing my utmost if I stuck to my last?"
"Unquestionably. There are a thousand and one things of vital interest to all humanity which have not been said yet, which only you can say, a thousand and one aspects of the Deluge not yet presented to the world. Above all, Paul, there are millions of poor bereaved souls who suffer dumbly and vaguely wonder for what crime they are being punished."
"Would you have me tell them that their faith, their churches, are to blame?"
"Not necessarily. The churches will receive many a hard knock without you adding your quota. Merry England has always nourished the 'Down-wither'; we breed the 'Down-withers'; and they will raise their slogan of 'Down with everything' soon enough. I see your part, Paul, as that of a reconstructor rather than a 'Down-wither.' Any fool can smash a Ming pot but no man living to-day can make one. You think that the churches have failed?"
"On the whole, yes. If we here in England are firm in our spiritual faith, why are the churches empty at such an hour as this and the salons of the crystal-gazers full?"
"Because we are not firm in our spiritual faith. But many of us know and admit that. The point is, can you tell us why, and indicate a remedy?"
Paul Mario's expression grew wrapt, and he stared out over the valley into a land which it is given to few ever to explore. "I believe I can," he answered softly; "but I dare not attempt such a task without the unshakable conviction that mine is the chosen hand."
"I am glad to hear you say it; those doubts prove to me that you recognise the power of your pen. They are fools who hold that a ton of high-explosive is worth all the rhetoric of Cicero. It was not Krupps who plunged the Central Empires into the pit, Paul, but Bernhardi, Nietzsche and What's-his-name. Wagner's music has done more to form the German character than Bismarck's diplomacy. Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth means more to England than Magna Charta."
"When the last of our marshals has stuck the last of his pins in the last war map, all the belligerents will still be of the same opinion as before the war began. The statesman of to-day is perhaps past praying for, but your book will help to form the statesman of to-morrow."
"You dazzle me. You would make me the spiritual father of a new Europe."
"And a new America. Why not? You have heard the call and you are not the man to shirk it. Lesser men than you have tried—all honour to them if they were sincere—to voice the yearnings, the questions, the doubts, of a generation that has outgrown its spiritual garments. All the world feels, knows, that a new voice must come soon. The world is waiting for you, Paul."
Flamby Duveen lay flat amid the bluebells, one hand outstretched before her and resting lightly upon a little mound of moss. It was a small brown hand and she held it in such a manner, knuckles upward, and imparted to it so cunning and peculiar a movement that it assumed quite an uncanny resemblance to a tiny and shrinking hare.
Some four feet in front of her, at the edge of a small clearing in the bluebell forest, from a clump of ferns two long silky ears upstood, motionless, like twin sentries, and from between the thick stalks of the flowers which intermingled with the ferns one round bright eye regarded the moving hand fascinatedly.
Flamby's lips were pursed up and a soft low whistle quite peculiar in tone caused the silky ears of the watching hare to twitch sharply. But the little animal remained otherwise motionless and continued to study the odd billowy motions of the brown hand with that eager wonder-bright eye. The whistling continued, and the hare ventured forth from cover, coming fully twelve inches nearer to Flamby. Flamby constrained her breathing as much as was consistent with maintaining the magical whistle. Her hand wriggled insinuatingly forward, revealing a round bare arm, brown as a nut upon its outer curves and creamy on the inner.
The hypnotised subject ventured a foot nearer. Flamby's siren song grew almost inaudible above the bird-calls of the surrounding wood, but it held its sway over the fascinated hare, for the animal suddenly sprang across the space intervening between himself and the mysterious hand and sat studying that phenomenon at close quarters.
A little finger softly caressed one furry forepaw. Up went the hare's ears again and his whole body grew rigid. The caress was continued, however, and the animal grew to like it. Two gentle fingers passed lightly along his back and he was thrilled ecstatically. Now, his silky ears were grasped, firmly, confidently; and unresisting, he allowed himself to be couched in the crook of a soft arm. His heart was beating rapidly, but with a kind of joyous fear hitherto unknown and to which he resigned himself without a struggle.
Flamby wriggled up on to her knees and holding the hare in her lap petted the wild thing as though it had been some docile kitten. "Sweet little Silk Ears," she whispered endearingly. "What a funny tiny tail!"
Quite contentedly now, the hare crouched, rubbing its blunt nose against her hands and peering furtively up into her face and quickly down again. Flamby studied the little creature with an oddly critical eye.
"Your funny ears go this way and that way," she murmured, raising one hand and drawing imaginary lines in the air to illustrate her words; "so and so. I never noticed before those little specks in your fur, Silk Ears. They only show in some lights but they are there right enough. Now I am going to study your tiny toes, Silky, and you don't have to be afraid...."
Raising one of the hare's feet, Flamby peered at it closely, at the same time continuing to caress the perfectly happy animal. She was so engaged when suddenly up went the long ears, and uttering a faint cry resembling an infant's whimper the hare sprang from her lap into the sea of bluebells and instantly disappeared. A harsh grip fastened upon Flamby's shoulder.
Lithely as one of the wild things with whom she was half kin and who seemed to recognise the kinship, Flamby came to her feet, shaking off the restraining hand, turned and confronted the man who had crept up behind her.
He was an undersized, foxy fellow, dressed as a gamekeeper and carrying a fowling-piece under one arm. His small eyes regarded her through narrowed lids.
"So I've caught you at last, have I," he said; "caught you red-handed."
He suddenly seized her wrist and dragged her towards him. The bright colour fled from Flamby's cheeks leaving her evenly dusky; but her grey eyes flashed dangerously.
"Poachin', eh?" sneered the gamekeeper. "Same as your father."
Deliberately, and with calculated intent, Flamby raised her right foot, shod in a clumsy, thick-soled shoe, and kicked the speaker on the knee. He uttered a half-stifled cry of pain, releasing her wrist and clenching his fist. But she leapt back from him with all the easy agility of a young antelope.
"You're a blasted liar!" she screamed, her oval face now flushing darkly so that her eyes seemed supernormally bright. "I wasn't poaching. My father may have poached, but you hadn't the pluck to try and stop him. Guy Fawkes! Why don't you go and fight like he did?"
Fawkes—for this was indeed the keeper's name—sprang at her clumsily; his knee was badly bruised. But Flamby eluded him with ease, gliding behind the trunk of a friendly oak and peering out at the enraged man elfishly.
"When are they going to burn you?" she inquired.
Fawkes laid his gun upon the ground, without removing his gaze from the flushed mocking face, and began cautiously to advance. He was a man for whom Flamby in the ordinary way entertained a profound contempt, but there was that in his slinking foxy manner which vaguely disturbed her. For long enough there had been wordy warfare between them, but to-day Flamby realised that she had aroused something within the man which had never hitherto shown upon the surface; and into his eyes had come a light which since she had passed her thirteenth year she had sometimes seen and hated in the eyes of men, but had never thought to see and fear in the eyes of Fawkes. For the first time within her memory she realised that Bluebell Hollow was a very lonely spot.
"You daren't hit me," she said, rather breathlessly. "I'd play hell."
"I don't want to hit you," replied Fawkes, still advancing; "but you're goin' to pay for that kick."
"I'll pay with another," snapped Flamby, her fiery nature reasserting itself momentarily.
But despite the bravado, she was half fearful, and therefore some of her inherent woodcraft deserted her, so much so that not noting a tuft of ferns which uprose almost at her heels, she stepped quickly back, stumbled, and Fawkes had his arms about her, holding her close.
"Now what can you do?" he sneered, his crafty face very close to hers.
"This," breathed Flamby, her colour departing again.
She seized his ear in her teeth and bit him savagely. Fawkes uttered a hoarse scream of pain, and a second time released her, clapping his hand to the wounded member.
"You damned witch cat," he said. "I could kill you."
Flamby leapt from him, panting. "You couldn't!" she taunted. "All you can kill is rabbits!"
Through an opening in the dense greenwood a ray of sunlight spilled its gold upon the carpet of Bluebell Hollow, and Flamby stood, defiant, head thrown back, where the edge of the ray touched her wonderful, disordered hair and magically turned it to sombre fire. Venomous yet, but doubtful, Fawkes confronted her, now holding his handkerchief to his ear. And so the pair were posed when Paul Mario and Donald Courtier came down the steep path skirting the dell. Don grasped Paul by the arm.
"As I live," he said, "there surely is my kindly coy nymph of the woods—now divinely visible—who led me to your doors!"
Together they stood, enchanted by the girl's wild beauty, which that wonderful setting enhanced. But Flamby had heard their approach, and, flinging one rapid glance in their direction, she ran off up a sloping aisle of greenwood and was lost to view.
At the same moment Fawkes, hitherto invisible from the path, stooped to recover his fowling-piece and turned, looking up at the intruders. Recognising Paul Mario, he raised the peak of his cap and began to climb the dell-side, head lowered shamefacedly.
"It's Fawkes," said Paul—"Uncle Jacques' gamekeeper. Presumably this wood belonged to him."
"Lucky man," replied Don. "Did he also own the wood-nymphs?"
Paul laughed suddenly and boyishly, as was his wont, and nodded to Fawkes when the latter climbed up on to the path beside them. "You are Luke Fawkes, are you not?" he asked. "I recall seeing you yesterday with the others."
"Yes, sir," answered Fawkes, again raising the peak of his cap.
Having so spoken Fawkes become like a man of stone, standing before them, gaze averted, as a detected criminal. One might have supposed that a bloody secret gnawed at the bosom of Fawkes; but his private life was blameless and his past above reproach. His wife acted as charwoman at the church built by Sir Jacques.
"Did you not observe a certain nymph among the bluebells, Fawkes?" asked Don whimsically.
At the first syllable Fawkes sprang into an attitude of alert and fearful attention, listened as to the pronouncement of a foreman juror, and replied, "No, sir," with the relieved air of a man surprised to find himself still living. "I see Flamby Duveen, I did," he continued, in his reedy voice—"poachin', same as her father...."
"Poachin'—same as her father," came a weird echo from the wood.
Paul and Don stared at one another questioningly, but Fawkes' sandy countenance assumed a deeper hue.
"She's the worst character in these parts," he went on hastily. "Bad as her father, she is."
"Father, she is," mocked the echo.
"She'll come to a bad end," declared the now scarlet Fawkes.
"A bad end," concurred the magical echo, its accent and intonation eerily reproducing those of the gamekeeper. Then: "Whose wife stole the key of the poor-box?" inquired the spirit voice, and finally: "When are they going to burn you?"
At that Don succumbed to uncontrollable laughter, and Paul had much ado to preserve his gravity.
"She appears to be very young, Fawkes," he said gently; "little more than a child. High spirits are proper and natural after all; but, of course I appreciate the difficulties of your position. Good day."
"Good day, sir," said Fawkes, again momentarily relieved apparently from the sense of impending harm. "Good day, sir." He raised the peak of his cap, turned and resumed his slinking progress.
"A strange coincidence," commented Don, taking Paul's arm.
"You are pursuing your fancy about the nymph visible and invisible?"
"Not entirely, Paul. But you may remember, if the incident has not banished the fact from your mind, that you are at present conducting me, at my request, to Something-or-other Cottage, which I had failed to find unassisted."
"Quite so. We are almost there. Yonder is Babylon Lane, which I understand is part of my legacy. Dovelands Cottage, I believe, is situated about half-way along it."
"Babylon Lane," mused Don. "Why so named?"
"That I cannot tell you. The name of Babylon invariably conjures up strange pictures of pagan feasts, don't you find? The mere sound of the word is sufficient to transport us to the great temple of Ishtar, and to dazzle our imagination with processions of flower-crowned priestesses. Heaven alone knows by what odd freak this peaceful lane was named after the city of Semiramis. But you were speaking of a coincidence."
"Yes, it is the mother of the nymph, Flamby, that I am going to visit; the Widow Duveen."
"Then this girl with the siren hair is she of whom you spoke?"
"Evidently none other. I told you, Paul, that I bore a message from her father, given to me under pledge of secrecy as he lay dying, to her mother. Paul, the man's life was a romance—a tragic romance. I cannot divulge his secrets, but his name was not Duveen; he was a cadet of one of the oldest families in Ireland."
"You interest me intensely. He seems to have been a wild fellow."
"Wild, indeed; and drink was his ruin. But he was a man, and by birth a gentleman. I am anxious to meet his widow."
"Of course, she knows of his death?"
"Oh, you need fear no distressing scenes, Paul. I remember how the grief of others affects you. He died six months ago."
"It affects me, Don, when I can do nothing to lessen it. Before helpless grief I find myself abashed, afraid, as before a great mystery—which it is. Only one day last week, passing through a poor quarter of South London, my cab was delayed almost beside a solitary funeral coach which followed a hearse. The coffin bore one poor humble little wreath. In the coach sat a woman, a young woman, alone—and hers was the wreath upon the coffin, her husband's coffin. He had died after discharge from a military hospital; so much I learned from the cabman, who had known the couple. She sat there dry-eyed and staring straight before her. No one took the slightest notice of the hearse, or of the lonely mourner. Don, that woman's face still haunts me. Perhaps he had been a blackguard—I gathered that he had; but he was her man, and she had lost him, and the world was empty for her. No pompous state funeral could have embodied such tragedy as that solitary figure following the spectre of her vanished joy."
Don turned impulsively to the speaker. "You dear old sentimentalist," he said; "do you really continue to believe in the faith of woman?"
Paul glanced aside at him. "Had I ever doubted it, Yvonne would have reassured me. Wait until you meet a Yvonne, old man; then I shall ask you if you really continue to believe in the faith of woman. Here we are."
A trellis-covered path canopied with roses led up to the door of Dovelands Cottage. On the left was a low lichened wall, and on the right a bed of flowers bordering a trimly kept lawn, which faced the rustic porch. Dovelands Cottage was entirely screened from the view of anyone passing along Babylon Lane by a high and dense privet hedge, which carried on its unbroken barrier to the end of the tiny orchard and kitchen-garden flanking the bungalow building on the left.
As Paul opened the white gate a cattle-bell attached to it jangled warningly, and out into the porch Mrs. Duveen came to meet them. She was a tiny woman, having a complexion like a shrivelled pippin, and the general appearance of a Zingari, for she wore huge ear-rings and possessed shrewd eyes of Oriental shape and colour. There was a bluish tinge about her lips, and she had a trick of pressing one labour-gnarled hand to her breast. She curtsied quaintly.
Paul greeted her with the charming courtesy which he observed towards everyone.
"Mrs. Duveen, I believe? I am Paul Mario, and this is Captain Courtier, who has a message to give to you. I fear we may have come at an awkward hour, but Captain Courtier's time is unfortunately limited."
Mrs. Duveen repeated the curtsey. "Will it please you to step in, sirs," she said, her eyes fixed upon Don's face in a sort of eager scrutiny. "It is surely kind of you to come, sir"—to Don.
They entered a small living room, stuffy because of the characteristically closed windows, but marked by a neatness of its appointments for which the gipsy appearance of Mrs. Duveen had not prepared them. There were several unframed drawings in pastel and water-colour, of birds and animals, upon the walls, and above the little mantelshelf hung a gleaming German helmet, surmounted by a golden eagle. On the mantelshelf itself were fuses, bombs and shell-cases, a china clock under a glass dome, and a cabinet photograph of a handsome man in the uniform of a sergeant of Irish Guards. Before the clock, and resting against it so as to occupy the place of honour, was a silver cigarette case.
Don's eyes, as his gaze fell on this last ornament, grew unaccountably misty, and he turned aside, staring out of the low window. Mrs. Duveen, who throughout the time that she had been placing chairs for her visitors (first dusting the seats with her apron) had watched the captain constantly, at the same moment burst into tears.
"God bless you for coming, sir," she sobbed. "Michael loved the ground you walked on, and he'd have been a happy man to-day to have seen you here in his own house."
Don made no reply, continuing to stare out of the window, and Mrs. Duveen cried, silently now. Presently Paul caught his friend's eye and mutely conveying warning of his intention, rose.
"Your grief does you honour, Mrs. Duveen," he said. "Your husband was one I should have been proud to call my friend, and I envy Captain Courtier the memory of such a comrade. There are confidences upon which it is not proper that I should intrude; therefore, with your permission, I am going to admire your charming garden until you wish me to rejoin you."
Bareheaded, he stepped out through the porch and on to the trim lawn, noting in passing that the home-made bookshelf beside the door bore copies of Shakespeare, Homer, Horace and other volumes rarely found in a workman's abode. Lempriere's Classical Dictionary was there, and Kipling's Jungle Book, Darwin's Origin of Species, and Selous' Romance of Insect Life. Assuredly, Sergeant Duveen had been a strange man.
* * * * *
Some twenty minutes later the widow came out, followed by Don. Mrs. Duveen's eyes were red, but she had recovered her composure, and now held in her hand the silver cigarette case from the mantelpiece.
"May I show you this, sir," she said, repeating her quaint curtsey to Paul. "Michael valued it more than anything he possessed."
Paul took the case from her hand and examined the inscription:
To Sergeant Michael Duveen, — Company, Irish Guards, from Captain Donald Courtier, in memory of February 9th, 1916.
Opening the case, he found it to contain a photograph of Don. The latter, who was watching him, spoke:
"My affairs would have terminated on February the ninth, Paul, if Duveen had not been there. He was pipped twice."
"His honour doesn't tell you, sir," added Mrs. Duveen, "that he brought Michael in on his back with the bullets thick around him."
"Oh! oh!" cried Don gaily. "So that's the story, is it! Well, never mind, Mrs. Duveen; it was all in the day's work. What the Sergeant did deserved the V.C., and he'd have had it if I could have got it for him. What I did was no more than the duty of a stretcher-bearer."
Mrs. Duveen shook her head, smiling wanly, the thin hand pressed to her breast. "I'm sorry you couldn't meet Flamby, sir," she said. "She should have been home before this."
"No matter," replied Don. "I shall look forward to meeting her on my next visit."
They took their departure, Mrs. Duveen accompanying them to the gate and watching Don as long as he remained in sight.
"Did you observe the drawings on the wall?" he asked Paul, as they pursued their way along Babylon Lane.
"I did. They were original and seemed to be interesting."
"Remarkably so; and they are the work of our wood nymph."
"Really! Where can she have acquired her art?"
"From her father, I gather. Paul, I am keenly disappointed to have missed Flamby. The child of such singularly ill-assorted parents could not well fail to be unusual. I wonder if the girl suspects that her father was not what he seemed? Mrs. Duveen has always taken the fact for granted that her husband was a nobleman in disguise! It may account for her adoration of a man who seems to have led her a hell of a life. I have placed in her hands a certain locket which Duveen wore attached to a chain about his neck; I believe that it contains evidence of his real identity, but he clearly intended his wife to remain in perpetual ignorance of this, for the locket is never to be opened except by Flamby, and only by Flamby on the day of her wedding. I fear this popular-novel theme will offend your aesthetic sensibilities, Paul!"
"My dear fellow, I am rapidly approaching the conclusion that life is made up more of melodrama than of psychological hair-splitting and that the penmen dear to the servants' hall more truly portray it than Henry James ever hoped to do or Meredith attempted. The art of to-day is the art of deliberate avoidance of the violent, and many critics persist in confusing it with truth. There is nothing precious about selfish, covetous, lustful humanity; therefore, good literature creates a refined humanity of its own, which converses in polished periods and never comes to blows."
"What of Madame Caligula? And what of the critics who hailed Francesca of the Lilies as a tragedy worthy to name with Othello!"
"Primitive passions are acceptable if clothed in doublet and hose, Don. My quarrel with to-day is that it pretends to have lived them down."
"Let us give credit where credit is due. Prussia has not hesitated to proclaim her sympathy with the primitive. Did you observe an eagle-crowned helmet above Mrs. Duveen's fireplace?"
"Yes; you know its history?"
"Some part of its history. It was worn by a huge Prussian officer, who, together with his staff, was surprised and captured during the operations of March 1st, 1916; a delightful little coup. I believe I told you that Sergeant Duveen had been degraded, but had afterwards recovered his stripes?"
"You did, yes."
"It was this incident which led to his losing them. He was taking particulars of rank and so forth of the prisoners, and this imposing fellow with the golden helmet stood in front of all the others, arms folded, head aloft, disdainfully surveying his surroundings. He spoke perfect English and when Duveen asked him his name and rank and requested him to hand over the sword he was wearing, he bluntly refused to have any dealings whatever with a 'damned common sergeant.' Those were his own words.
"Duveen very patiently pointed out that he was merely performing a duty for which he had been detailed and added that he resented the Prussian's language and should have resented it from one of his own officers. He then repeated the request. The Prussian replied that if he had him in his own lines he would tie him to a gun and flog him to death.
"Duveen stood up and walked around the empty case which was doing service as a table. He stepped up to take the sword which the other had refused to surrender; whereupon the Prussian very promptly and skilfully knocked him down. Immediately some of the boys made a rush, but Duveen, staggering to his feet, waved them back. He deliberately unbuttoned his tunic, took off his cap and unhitching his braces, fastened his belt around his waist. To everybody's surprise the lordly Prussian did likewise. A ring was formed and a fight began that would have brought in the roof of the National Sporting Club!
"Feeling ran high against the Prussian, but he was a bigger man than Duveen and a magnificent boxer. Excited betting was in full swing when I appeared on the scene. Of course my duty was plain. But I had young Conroy with me and he pulled me aside before the men saw us.
"'Five to one in fivers on the sergeant!' he said.
"I declined the bet, for I knew something of Duveen's form; but I did not interrupt the fight! And, by gad! it was a splendid fight! It lasted for seventeen minutes without an interval, and Duveen could never have stayed another two, I'll swear, when the Prussian made the mistake of closing with him. I knew it was finished then. Duveen got in his pet hook with the right and fairly lifted his opponent out of the sentient world.
"I felt like cheering; but before I could retire Duveen turned, a bloody sight, and looked at me, out of puffy eyes. He sprang to attention, and 'I am your prisoner, sir,' said he.
"That left me no way out, and I had to put him under arrest. Just as he was staggering off between his guards the Prussian recovered consciousness and managed to get upon his feet. His gaze falling on Duveen, he held out one huge hand to him—"
"Good! he was a sportsman after all!"
"Duveen took it—and the Prussian, grasping that dangerous right of the sergeant's in his iron grip, struck him under the ear with his left and knocked him insensible across the improvised table!"
Paul pulled up in the roadway, his dark eyes flashing: "The swine!" he exclaimed—"the—ee swine!"
"I had all my work cut out then to keep the men off the fellow. But finally a car came for him he was the Grand Duke of Something or other—and he was driven back to the base. He had resumed his golden helmet, and he sat, in spite of his bloody face, scornfully glancing at the hostile group about the car, like a conquering pagan emperor. Then the car moved off out of the heap of rubbish, once a village, amid which the incident had taken place. At the same moment, a brick, accurately thrown, sent the golden helmet spinning into the road!
"Search was made for it, but the helmet was never found. I don't know who threw the brick, Paul (Duveen was under arrest at the time), but that is the helmet above his widow's mantelpiece! The men who have witnessed incidents of this kind will no longer continue to believe in the veneer of modern life, for they will know that the true savage lies hidden somewhere underneath."
* * * * *
They were come to the end of Babylon Lane and stood now upon the London road. Above the cornfield on the right hovered a sweet-voiced lark and the wild hedges were astir with active bird life. Velvet bees droned on their way and the air was laden with the fragrance of an English summer. Along the road flashed a motor bicycle, bearing a khaki-clad messenger and above the distant town flew a Farman biplane gleaming in the sunlight. The remote strains of a military band were audible.
"The Roman road," mused Don, "constructed in the misty unimaginable past, for war, and used by us to-day—for war. Oh, lud! in a week I shall be in the thick of it again. Babylon Hall? Who resides at that imposing mansion, Paul?"
They stood before the open gates of a fine Georgian building, lying far back from the road amid neatly striped lawns and well-kept gardens.
"The celebrated Jules Thessaly, I believe," replied Paul; "but I have never met him."
"Jules Thessaly! Really? I met him only three months ago near Bethune (a neighbourhood which I always associate with Milady and the headsman in The Three Musketeers)."
"What was he doing in Bethune?"
"What does he do anywhere? He was visiting the French and British fronts, accompanied by an imposing array of 'Staffs.' He has tremendous influence of some kind—financial probably."
"An interesting character. I hope we may meet. By the way, do you manage to do much work nowadays? I rarely see your name."
"It is impossible to do anything but war stuff, Paul, when one is in the middle of it. You saw the set of drawings I did for The Courier?"
"Yes; I thought them fine. I have them in album form. They were excellently noticed throughout the press."
Don's face assumed an expression of whimsical disgust. "There is a certain type of critic," he said "who properly ought to have been a wardrobe dealer: he is eternally reaching down the 'mantle' of somebody or other and assuring the victim of his kindness that it fits him like a glove. Now no man can make a show in a second-hand outfit, and an artist is lost when folks begin to talk about the 'mantle' of somebody or other having 'fallen upon him.' A critic can do nothing so unkind as to brand a poor poet 'The Australian Kipling,' a painter 'The Welsh Whistler,' or a comedian 'The George Robey of South Africa.' The man is doomed."
"And what particular offender has inspired this outburst?"
"Some silly ass who has dubbed me 'the Dana Gibson of the trenches'! It's a miserable outrage; my work isn't a scrap like Gibson's; it's not so well drawn, for one thing, and it doesn't even remotely resemble his in form. But never mind. When I come back I'll show 'em! What I particularly want to ask you, Paul, is to get in touch with Duveen's girl; she has really remarkable talent. I have never seen such an insight into wild life as is exhibited in her rough drawings. I fear I shall be unable to come down here again. There are hosts of sisters, cousins and aunts, all of whom expect to be taken to the latest musical play or for a week-end to Brighton: that's how we victimised bachelors spend our hard-earned leave! But I promised Duveen I would do all in my power for his daughter. It would be intolerable for a girl of that kind to be left to run wild here, and I am fortunately well placed to help her as she chances to be a fellow-painter. Will you find out all about her, Paul, and let me know if we can arrange for her to study properly?"
"You really consider that she has talent?"
"My dear fellow! go and inspect her work for yourself. Considering her limited opportunities, it is wonderful."
"Rely upon me, Don. She shall have her chance."
Don grasped his arm. "Tell Mrs. Duveen that she will receive a special allowance on account of her husband's services," he said, bending towards Paul. "Don't worry about expenses. You understand?"
"My dear Don, of course I understand. But I insist upon sharing this protegee with you. Oh, I shall take no refusal. My gratitude to the man who saved my best pal must find an outlet! So say no more. Do you return to London to-night?"
"Unfortunately, yes. But you must arrange to spend a day, or at any rate an evening, with me in town before my leave expires. Are you thinking of taking up your residence at Hatton Towers?"
Paul made a gesture of indecision. "It is a lovely old place," he said; "but I feel that I need to be in touch with the pulse of life, if I am to diagnose its ailments. Latterly London has become distasteful to me; it seems like a huge mirror reflecting all the horrors, the shams, the vices of the poor scarred world. To retire to Hatton in the companionship of Yvonne would be delightful, but would also be desertion. No idle chance brought us together to-day, Don; it was that Kismet to which the Arab ascribes every act of life. I was hesitating on a brink; you pushed me over; and at this very hour I am falling into the arms of Fate. I believe it is my appointed task to sow the seed of truth; a mighty task, but because at last I realise its dimensions I begin to have confidence that I may succeed."
Don stood still in the road, facing Paul. "Choose your seed with care, Paul, for generations yet unborn will eat of its fruit."
Paul Mario dined alone in the small breakfast-room overlooking the sloping lawns, waited upon by Davison, the late Sir Jacques' butler, a useful but melancholy servant, having the demeanour of a churchwarden and a habit of glancing rapidly under tables and chairs as though he had mislaid a cassock or a Book of Common Prayer. The huge, gloomy dining-room oppressed the new owner of Hatton Towers, being laden with the atmosphere of a Primitive Methodist Sunday School.
Sir Jacques had been Paul's maternal uncle, and Paul had often wondered if there could have been anything in common between his mother—whom he had never known—and this smug Pharisee. His father, who had died whilst Paul was at Oxford, had rarely spoken of Paul's mother; but Paul had chanced to overhear an old clubman refer to her as having possessed "the most fascinating ankles in London." The remark had confirmed his earlier impression that his mother had been a joyous butterfly. For his father, a profound but sombre scholar, he cherished a reverence which was almost Roman in its character. His portrait in oils occupied the place of honour in Paul's study, and figuratively it was a shrine before which there ever burned the fires of a deathless love and admiration.
* * * * *
Paul's acute response to environment rendered him ill at ease in Hatton Towers. The legacy embarrassed him. He hated to be so deeply indebted to a man he could never repay and from whom he would not willingly have accepted the lightest favour. It has been truly said that the concupiscence of the eye outlives desire. Tiberius succumbed to premature senility (and was strangled by Macro) in a bedchamber decorated with figures from the works of Elephantis; and Sir Jacques' secret library, which he had omitted to destroy or disperse, bore evidence to the whited sepulchre of his intellectual life.
This atmosphere was disturbing. Paul could have worked at Hatton Towers, but not upon the mighty human theme with which at that hour his mind was pregnant. For his intellect was like a sensitive plate upon which the thoughts of those who had lived and longed and died in whatever spot he might find himself, were reproduced eerily, almost clairvoyantly. It was necessary that he should work amid sympathetic colour—that he should appropriately set the stage for the play; and Fame having coming to him, not empty-handed but laden with gold, he made those settings opulent.
He did spontaneously the things that lesser men do at behest of their press-agents. The passionate mediaeval tragedy Francesca of the Lilies, destined to enshrine his name in the temple of the masters, he wrote at the haunted Palazzo Concini in Tuscany, where, behind tomb-like doors, iron-studded and ominous, he worked in a low-beamed windowless room at a table which had belonged to Gilles de Rais, and by light of three bronze lamps found in the ruins of the Mamertine dungeons.
For company he had undying memories of sins so black that only the silent Vatican archives held record of them; memories of unholy loves, of deaths whose manner may not be written, of births whereat the angels shuddered. Torch-scarred walls and worm-tunnelled furniture whispered their secrets to him, rusty daggers confessed their bloody histories, and a vial still bearing ghastly frost of Borgian contarella spoke of a virgin martyr and of a princely cardinal whose deeds were forgotten by all save Mother Church. Paul's genius was absorbent, fructiferous, prolific of golden dreams.
But the atmosphere of Hatton Towers stifled inspiration, was definitely antagonistic. The portrait of the late Sir Jacques, in the dining-room, seemed to dominate the house, as St. Peter's dominates Rome, or even as the Pyramids dominate Lower Egypt. The scanty beard and small eyes; the flat, fleshy nose; the indeterminable, mask-like expression; all were faithfully reproduced by the celebrated academician—and humorist—who had executed the painting. Soft black hat, flat black tie, and ill-fitting frock coat might readily have been identified by the respectable but unfashionable tradesmen patronised by Sir Jacques.
Paul, pipe in mouth, confronting the likeness after dinner, recalled, and smiled at the recollection, a saying of Don's: "Never trust a whiskered man who wears a soft black felt hat and a black frock coat. The hat conceals the horns; the coat hides the tail!"
From room to room he rambled, and even up into the octagonal turret chambers in the tower. Here he seemed to be rid of the aura of the dining-room portrait and in a rarefied atmosphere of Tudor turbulence. In one of the turret chambers, that overlooking the orchard, he found himself surveying the distant parkland with the eyes of a captive and longing for the coming of one who ever tarried yet was ever expected. The long narrow gallery over the main entrance, with its six mullioned windows and fine collection of paintings, retained, as a jar that has held musk retains its scent, a faint perfume of Jacobean gallantry. But the pictures, many of them undraped studies collected by Sir Jacques, which now held the place once sacred to ancestors, cast upon the gallery a vague shadow of the soft black hat.
From a tiny cabinet at one end of the gallery a stair led down to my lady's garden where bushes masqueraded as birds, a sundial questioned the smiling moon and a gathering of young frogs leapt hastily from the stone fountain at sound of Paul's footsteps. Monkish herbs and sweet-smelling old-world flowers grew modestly in this domain once sacred to the chatelaine of Hatton; and Paul kept ghostly tryst with a white-shouldered lady whose hair was dressed high upon her head, and powdered withal, and to whose bewitching red lips the amorous glance was drawn by a patch cunningly placed beside a dimple. My lady's garden was a reliquary of soft whispers, and Paul by the magic of his genius reclaimed them all and was at once the lover and the mistress.
In the depths of the house he found a delightful dungeon. More modern occupiers of Hatton had used the dungeon as a wine-cellar and Sir Jacques had converted it to the purposes of a dark-room, for he had been a skilful and enthusiastic amateur of photography; but that it had at some period of its history served other ends, Paul's uncanny instinct told him. A sense of chill, not physical, indeed almost impersonal, attacked him as he entered, hurricane-lantern aloft. For the poet that informed his lightest action dictated that the ray of a lantern and not the glare of a modern electric appliance should illuminate that memory-haunted spot.
Gyves fastened up his limbs and dread of some cruel doom struck at his heart as he stooped to enter the place. Here again the powerful influence of Sir Jacques was imperceptible; the dungeon lay under the spell of a stronger and darker personality; and as he curiously examined its structure and form, to learn that it was older than the oldest part of the house above, he knew himself to be in a survival of some forgotten stronghold upon whose ashes a Tudor mansion had been reared. Searing irons glared before his eyes; in a dim, arched corner a brazier glowed dully; ropes creaked.
Returning to the library, he found himself again within the aura of his departed uncle. It was in this book-lined apartment that Sir Jacques had transacted the affairs of the ugly little church at Mid Hatton and the volumes burdening the leather-edged shelves were of a character meet for the eye of an elder. The smaller erotic collection in the locked bureau in the study presumably had companioned Sir Jacques' more leisured hours.
Paul sank into a deep, padded arm-chair. The library of Hatton Towers was in the south-east wing, and now because of the night's stillness dim booming of distant guns was audible. A mood of reflection claimed him, and from it he sank into sleep, to dream of the portrait of Sir Jacques which seemed to have become transparent, so that the camel-like head now appeared, as in those monstrous postcard caricatures which at one time flooded the Paris shops, to be composed of writhing nudities cunningly intertwined, of wanton arms, and floating locks and leering woman-faces.
Through the sun-gay gardens, wet with dew, Paul made his way on the following morning. The songs of the birds delighted him and the homely voices of cattle in the meadows were musical because the skies were blue. A beetle crawled laboriously across the gravel path before him, and he stepped aside to avoid crushing it; a ladybird discovered on the brim of his hat had to be safely deposited on a rose bush, nor in performing this act of charity did he disturb the web of a small spider who resided hard by. Because the flame of life burnt high within him, he loved all life to-day.
The world grew blind in its old age, reverencing a man-hewn symbol, a fragment of wood, a sacerdotal ring, when the emblem of creation, of being, the very glory of God made manifest, hung resplendent in the heavens! Men scoffed at miracles, and the greatest miracle of all rose daily before their eyes; questioned the source of life, and every blade of grass pointed upward to it, every flower raised its face adoring it; doubted eternity whilst the eternal flames that ever were, are and ever shall be, burned above their heads! Those nameless priests of a vanished creed who made Stonehenge, drew nearer perhaps to the Divine mystery than modern dogma recognised.
So ran his thoughts, for on a sunny morning, although perhaps sub-consciously, every man becomes a fire-worshipper. Then came the dim booming—and a new train of reflection. Beneath the joyous heavens men moiled and sweated at the task of slaying. Doubting souls, great companies of them, even now were being loosed upon their mystic journey. Man slew man, beast slew beast, and insect devoured insect. The tiny red beetle that he had placed upon the rose bush existed only by the death of the aphides which were its prey; the spider, too, preyed. But man was the master slayer. It was jungle law—the law of the wilderness miscalled life; which really was not life but a striving after life.
Realising, anew, how wildly astray from simple truth the world had wandered, how ridiculous were the bickerings which passed for religious thought, how puerile, inadequate, the dogmas that men named creeds, he trembled spiritually before the magnitude of his task. He doubted his strength and the purity of his motives. "Any fool can smash a Ming pot, but no man living to-day can make one." Dear old Don had a way of saying quaint things that meant much. The world was very fair to look upon; but for some odd reason a mental picture of Damascus seen from the Lebanon Mountains arose before him. Perhaps that was how the world looked to the gods—until they sought to live in it.
* * * * *
Coming out into the narrow winding lane beyond the lodge gates, Paul saw ahead of him a shambling downcast figure, proceeding up the slope.
"Good morning, Fawkes," he called.
Fawkes stopped as suddenly as Lot's wife, but unlike Lot's wife without looking around, and stood in the road as rigid as she. Paul came up to his side, and the gamekeeper guiltily raised the peak of his cap and remained standing there silent and downcast.
"A glorious morning, Fawkes," said Paul, cheerily.
"Yes, sir," agreed Fawkes, his breath bated.
"I want to tell you," continued Paul, "whilst I remember, that Mrs. Duveen's daughter, Flamby, is to be allowed to come and go as she likes anywhere about the place. She does no harm, Fawkes; she is a student of wild life and should be encouraged."
Fawkes' face assumed an expression of complete bewilderment. "Yes, sir," he said, his reedy voice unsteady; "as you wish, sir. But I don't know about not doing no harm. She spoils all the shootin', alarms the birds and throws things at the beaters, she does; and this year she stopped the hounds, she did."
"Stopped the hounds, Fawkes?"
"Yes, sir. The fox he ran to cover down Babylon Lane, and right into Dovelands Cottage. The hounds come through the hedge hard after him, they did, and all the pack jumped the gate and streamed into the garden. Colonel Wycherley and Lady James and old John Darbey, the huntsman, they was close on the pack, and they all three took the gate above Coates' Farm and come up in a bunch, you might say."
Fawkes paused, glanced guiltily at Paul's face, and, reassured, lowered his head again and raced through the remainder of his story breathlessly.
"Flamby, she was peelin' potatoes in the porch, and she jumps up and runs down to the gate all on fire. The hounds was bayin' all round her as fierce as tigers, and she took no more notice of 'em than if they'd been flies. She see old John first, and she calls to him to get the pack out of the garden, in a way it isn't for me to say...."
"On the contrary, Fawkes, I take an interest in Flamby Duveen, and I wish to hear exactly what she said."
"Well, sir, if you please, sir, she hollers: 'Call your blasted dogs out of my garden, John Darbey!'
"'The fox is a-hiding somewhere here,' says John.
"'To hell with the fox and you, too!' shouts Flamby, and pickin' up a big stick that's lyin' on the ground, she slips into them dogs like a mad thing. I'm told everybody was sure they'd attack her; but would you believe it, sir, she chased 'em out like a flock of sheep. She don't hit like a girl, Flamby don't; she means it."
"She loves animals, Fawkes, and knows them; therefore she has great influence over them. I don't suppose one of them was hurt."
"Anyway, sir, she got 'em all out in the lane and stood lookin' over the gate. John Darbey he was speechless in his saddle, like, but Lady James she told Flamby what she thought about her."
Fawkes paused for breath and darted a second furtive glance at Paul.
"Proceed, Fawkes," directed the latter. "What was the end of the episode?"
"Well, sir, Flamby answered her back, but it's not for me to repeat what she said...."
"Since the story is evidently known to the whole countryside, you need have no scruples about the matter, Fawkes. What did Lady James say to Flamby?"
"She says, 'You're a low, vulgar creature!' And Flamby says, 'Perhaps I am,' she says, 'but I ain't afraid to tell anybody where I spend my week-ends!'"
"Ah," interrupted Paul, hurriedly, "you should not have repeated that, Fawkes; but I am to blame. See to it that you are more discreet in future."
"Yes, sir," said Fawkes, all downcast immediately. "Shall I tell you what happened to the fox, sir?"
"Yes, you might tell me what happened to the fox."
"Flamby had him locked in the tool-shed, sir!"
He uttered the words as a final, crushing indictment, and ventured a swift look at Paul in order to note its effect. Paul's face was expressionless, however, as a result of the effort to retain his composure.
"An awful character, Fawkes!" he said. "Good morning."
"Good morning, sir," said Fawkes, raising the peak of his cap with that queer air of relief.
* * * * *
Paul set off along the lane, now smiling unrestrainedly, came to the stile where the footpath through the big apple orchard began, crossed it and stood for a moment watching a litter of tiny and alarmed pigs scampering wildly after their mother. One lost his way and went racing along distant aisles of apple trees in quest of a roundabout route of his own. Paul, who symbolised everything, found food for reflection in the incident.
He lingered in the fragrant orchard looking at a flock of sheep who grazed there, and admiring the frolics of the lambs. In the beauty of nature he always found cause for sorrow, because every living thing is born to pain. Animals knew this law instinctively and received it as a condition of their being, but men shut their eyes to so harsh a truth, and cried out upon heaven when it came home to them. He thought of Yvonne and his happiness frightened him. Gautama Buddha had left a lovely bride, to question the solitude and the sorrows of humanity respecting truth; he, Paul Mario, dared to believe that the light had come without the sacrifice. This mood bore him company to Babylon Lane, but the sight of the white gate of Dovelands Cottage terminated a train of thought. Here it was that the story related by Fawkes had had its setting.
No one responded to the ringing of the cattle-bell, and the door of the cottage was closed. In the absence of a knocker Paul rapped with his stick, and having satisfied himself that Mrs. Duveen and her daughter were not at home turned away disappointed. He had counted upon an intimate chat with Flamby, which should enable him to form some personal impression of her true character.
He returned slowly along Babylon Lane, and passing the path through the orchard, he chose that which would lead him through the fringe of the wood wherein he and Don had first seen Flamby. Evidently the wood was a favourite haunt of the girl's, for as he crossed the adjoining meadow he saw her in front of him, lying flat upon a carpet of wild flowers, now shadowed by the trees, her chin resting in one palm and her elbow upon the ground. In her right hand she held a brush, which now and again she applied with apparent carelessness to a drawing lying on the grass before her, but without perceptibly changing her pose.
The morning was steamy and still, giving promise of another tropically hot day, but Paul approached so quietly that he came within a few yards of Flamby without disturbing her. There he stopped, watching and admiring. She was making a water-colour drawing of a tiny lamb which lay quite contentedly within reach of her hand, sometimes looking up into her face confidently and sometimes glancing at the woolly mother who grazed near the fringe of the trees. Flamby was so absorbed in her work that she noted nothing of Paul's approach, but the mother sheep looked up, startled, and the lamb made a sudden move in her direction.
"Be good, Woolly," said Flamby, and her voice had that rare vibrant note which belongs to the Celtic tongue; "I have nearly finished now."
But the lamb's courage had failed, and not even the siren voice could restore it. With the uncertain steps of extreme youth it sought its mother's side, and the two moved away towards the flock which grazed in a distant corner of the meadow.
"I fear I have disturbed you."
The effect of Paul's words was singular. Flamby dropped her brush and seemed to shrink as from a threatened blow, drawing up her shoulders and slowly turning her head to see who had spoken. As her face came into view, Paul saw that it was blanched with fear.
"Please forgive me," he said with concern; "but I did not mean to frighten you."
"Oh," moaned Flamby, "but you did. I thought——" She rose to her knees and then to her feet, the quick colour returning in a hot blush.
"What did you think?" asked Paul gently.
"I thought you were Sir Jacques."
She uttered the words impulsively and seemed to regret them as soon as spoken, standing before Paul with shyly lowered eyes. The attitude surprised him. From what he had seen and heard of Flamby he had not anticipated diffidence, and he regarded her silently for a moment, smiling in his charming way. She had evidently made some attempt this morning to arrange her rebellious hair, for it had been parted and brushed over to one side so that the rippling waves gleamed like minted copper where the sun kissed them. Flamby had remarkable hair, nut-brown in its shadows, and in the light glowing redly like embers or a newly extinguished torch.
Her face was a perfect oval, and she had the most beautifully chiselled straight little nose imaginable. Her face and as much of her neck as was exposed by a white jumper were tanned to gipsy hue; so that when, shyly raising her eyes, she responded to Paul's smile, the whiteness of her teeth was extraordinary. A harsh critic might have said that her mouth was too large; but no man of flesh and blood would have quarrelled with such lips as Flamby's. She was below medium height, but shaped like a sylph and had the airy grace of one. As Paul stood regarding her he found wonder to be growing in his mind, for such wild roses as Flamby are rare enough in the countryside, as every artist knows.
"Why," he asked, "should you be so afraid of Sir Jacques?"
"He's dead!" replied Flamby, an elfin light of mischief kindling in her eyes; yet she was by no means at her ease.
"And what made you mistake me for him?"
"Ah," said Paul, to whom others had remarked on this resemblance; "but you had no cause to fear him?—alive, I mean."
"No," replied Flamby, stooping to pick up her sketching materials.
Her monosyllabic reply was not satisfactory; but recognising that if she did not wish to talk about the late Sir Jacques he must merely defeat his own purpose by endeavouring to make her do so, he abandoned the topic.
"My name is Paul Mario," he said, "and I came to see you this morning."
Flamby stood up, paint-box, brushes and sketch in hand. "To see me?"
"Yes! why not?"
Flamby confronted him, her natural self-confidence restored, and studied him with grave grey eyes. "What did you want to see me about?" she asked; and in the tone of the question there was a restrained anxiety which Paul could not understand. Also there was a faint and fascinating suggestion of brogue in her accent.
"About yourself, of course," he replied, and wondered more and more because of the knowledge—borne to him by that acute, almost feminine, intuition which was his—that the girl was fencing with him, and because of her strangeness and her beauty as she stood before him, hair flaming in the sunlight, and her eyes watching him observantly.
Now, her expression changed, and her pupils growing momentarily larger, he knew that her thoughts were in the past—and that they had brought relief from some secret anxiety which had been with her.
"Of course!" she said, and laughed with a sudden joyousness that was in harmony with the morning; "you came yesterday with Captain Courtier. I understand, now."
Swiftly as her laughter had come, it vanished, and her eyes grew dim with tears. Such tempestuous emotions must have nonplussed the average man, but to Paul Mario her moods read clearly as a printed page, so that almost as the image arose in Flamby's mind, it arose also in his; and he saw before him one who wore the uniform of a sergeant of Irish Guards. Hotly pursuing the tears came brave smiles. Flamby shook her curls back from her brow, gave Paul a glance which was half apologetic and wholly appealing, then laughed again and swept him a mocking curtsey.
"I am your honour's servant," she said; "what would you with me?"
The elfin light danced in her eyes again, and in this country damsel who used the language of an obsolete vassalage he saw one who mocked at his manorial rights and cared naught for king or commoner. Beyond doubt, Sergeant Duveen had been a strange man, and strangely had he trained his daughter.
"May I see your drawing?"
Flamby hesitated. "Are you really interested?" she said wistfully, "or are you just trying to be kind?"
Paul was tempted to laugh outright, but his delicate sensibilities told him that laughter would give offence. "I am really interested," he assured her earnestly, "Captain Courtier is of opinion that you have a remarkable gift for portraying wild life."
He selected his words deliberately with the design of reassuring her respecting the sincerity of his interest. He was aware of a vague fear that some ill-chosen remark would send Flamby flying from him, the coy wood-nymph to whom Don had likened her, and that she would disappear as she had done from Bluebell Hollow. But still she hesitated.
"You look as though you mean it," she conceded, furtively glancing down at the sketching-board in her hand. "But it's a rotter."
"I'm afraid I am to blame. I spoiled it."
"No you didn't. It was a mess before you came." She glanced at him doubtfully, keeping the drawing turned away. "You see," she continued, "the shadowy part of a lamb on a sunny morning is quite blue—quite blue. Did you know that?"
"Well," replied Paul, musingly, shielding his eyes and looking toward the distant flock, "now that you have drawn my attention to the fact I perceive it to be so—yes."
"But when you haven't got many colours," explained Flamby, "it's not so easy to paint. I've made my lamb too blue for anything!" She displayed the drawing, her eyes dancing with laughter. "No man ever saw a blue lamb," she said—"while he was sober!"
The words shed a sidelight upon the domestic habits of the late Sergeant Duveen, as Paul did not fail to note; and in the masculinity of Flamby's jesting he glimpsed something of the closeness of the intimacy which had existed between father and daughter. But, taking the drawing from her hands, he was astonished at the skill which it displayed and which surpassed that of any work he had seen outside the best exhibitions. It possessed none of the graceful insipidity of the water colours which young ladies are taught to produce at all good boarding-schools and convents, but was characterised by the same vigour which informed Flamby's conversation. Furthermore, it represented a living animal, soft of fleece and inviting a caress and was drawn with almost insolent ease. Paul looked into the girl's watching eyes.
"You are an artist, Flamby," he said; "and like all artists you are unduly critical of your work."
A rich colour glowed through the tan upon Flamby's cheeks and she was aware of a delicious little nervous thrill. Paul Mario's fascinating voice had laid its thrall upon her and his eyes were far more beautiful even than she had supposed, when, confronting Fawkes in Bluebell Hollow, she had suddenly looked up to find Paul watching her. That easy self-possession which she had learned from her father and which deserted her rarely enough, threatened to desert her now; also, a poisonous doubt touched her joy. With its coming came a return of confidence and Flamby laid her hand confidingly upon Paul's arm.
"You really do mean what you say, don't you?" she asked wistfully.
"My dear little girl, why are you so doubtful of my honesty?"
Flamby lowered her fiery head. "Except father," she said, "I never knew anybody who really thought I could paint. Some pretended to think so; and Miss Kingsbury at High Fielding, who ought to know, laughed at me—after she had asked me to go and see her—and told me to 'try and find a nice domestic situation.'"
The mimicry in the concluding words was delightfully funny, but Paul nodded sympathetically. A mental picture of Miss Kingsbury arose before him, and it was in vain that he sought to consider her and her kind without rancour. Beauty is a dangerous gift for any girl, making countless enemies amongst her own sex and often debarring her from harmless pleasures open to her plainer sisters. But the Miss Kingsburys of the smaller county towns are an especial menace to such as Flamby, although charity rarely assumes the dimensions of a vice among any of the natives of England's southern shires.
"And your father had intended that you should become a painter?"
Unconsciously, he found himself speaking of the late Michael Duveen as of one belonging to his own station in life, nor did the wild appearance and sometimes uncouth language of Flamby serve wholly to disguise the blue streak in her blood.
"When he was sober," she replied, and suddenly bursting into gay laughter she snatched the drawing and turned away, waving her hand to Paul. "Goodbye, Mr. Mario," she cried. "I like you heaps better than your uncle!"
Her impudence was delicious, and Paul detained her. "You must not run away like that," he said. "Captain Courtier made me promise that I would arrange for you to pursue your art studies——"
Flamby shook her head. "How can I do that?" she asked, in a gust of scorn. Then, as suddenly, her gaze grew wrapt and her face flushed. "But how I would love to!" she whispered.
"You shall. It is all arranged," declared Paul earnestly. "The—special pension which your mother will receive and which Captain Courtier is arranging will be sufficient to cover all costs."
Flamby looked up at him, her eyes aglow with excitement. "Oh, Mr. Mario," she said, "please don't think me ungrateful and a little beast; but—is it true?"
"Why should I mislead you in the matter, Flamby?"
"I don't know; but—if you knew how I've longed and longed to be able to go to London, among people who understand; to get away from these men and women who are really half vegetables!"
Paul laughed gaily. "But you love the country?"
"I could not live long away from it. But the people! And I love the birds and the animals, and—oh!"—her voice rose excitedly—"don't kill it!"
A wasp was humming dangerously about Paul's head, and although his love of all things that had life was as strong as Flamby's, the self-protective instinct had led him to endeavour to knock the wasp away. Now, Flamby extending one motionless hand, the gaudily-striped insect alighted upon her finger and began busily to march from thence to the rosy tip of the next, and so on until it reached Flamby's little curved thumb. Holding the thumb upright, so that the wasp stood upon a miniature tower, she pursed her lips entrancingly and blew the insect upon its way as gently as if borne upon a summer zephyr.
"They only sting if you hurt them," she explained; "and so would you!"
"But," said Paul, who had watched the incident wonderingly, "if all insects were permitted to live unmolested, and all animals for that matter, the world would become uninhabitable for man."
"I know," replied Flamby pensively—"and I cannot understand why nature is so cruel."
Paul studied the piquant, sun-kissed face with a new interest. "Flamby," he said earnestly, "one day you will be a great artist."
She looked into his eyes, but only for a moment, turned and fled. There were a hundred things he had wanted to say to her, a hundred questions he had wanted to ask. But off she ran along the margin of the wood, and where a giant elm stood, a forest outpost at a salient, paused and waved her hand to him.
For all the exquisite sympathy of his nature and intuitive understanding of others, there was a certain trait in the character of Paul Mario not infrequently found in men of genius. From vanity he was delightfully free, nor had adulation spoiled him; but his interest in the world was strangely abstract, and his outlook almost cosmic. He dreamed of building a ladder of stars for all earth-bound humanity, and thought not in units, but in multitudes. Picturesque distress excited his emotions keenly, and sometimes formed ineffaceable memories, but memories oddly impersonal, little more than appreciations of sorrow as a factor in that mystic equation to the solving of which he had bent all his intellect.
On the other hand he was fired by a passionate desire to aid; nor when occasion had arisen had he hesitated to sacrifice self for another's good. But such altruism was born of impulse and never considered. The spectacle of the universe absorbed him, and listening for the Pythagorean music of the spheres he sometimes became deaf to the voices of those puny lives about him. His attention being called to them, however, his solicitude was sweet and sincere, but once removed from his purview they were also dismissed from his mind; and because of his irresistible charm there were some who wept to be so soon forgotten. His intellect was patrician—almost deiform in the old Roman sense. Probably all great masters have been similarly endowed, for if in order that one shall successfully conduct a military campaign he must think in armies and not in squads, so, if another would aspire to guide Thought, presumably must he think in continents. It does not follow that he shall lack genius for love and friendship, but merely that he cannot distract his mind in seeking out individual sorrows. The physician tends the hurts of the body, the priest ministers to the ills of the spirit; Paul Mario yearned to heal the wounds of a stricken world.
But Flamby interested him keenly, and therefore he draped her in a mantle of poesy, obscuring those shades displeasing to his sensibilities; as, an occasional coarseness due to association with her father; and enhancing her charms and accomplishments. Her beauty and spirit delighted the aesthete, and her mystery enthralled the poet. She had feared Sir Jacques. Why? Paul toyed with the question in his own fashion and made of Hatton Towers a feudal keep and of his deceased uncle a baron of unsavoury repute. The maid Flamby, so called because men had likened the glory of her hair to a waving flambeau, he caused to reside in a tiny cottage beneath the very shadow of Sir Jacques' frowning fortress; and the men-at-arms looking down from battlement and bartizan marvelled when the morning wove a halo around the head of the witch's daughter. (In the poem-picture which grew thus in his mind as he swung along towards Hatton, Mrs. Duveen had become even more shrivelled than nature had made her; her eyes had grown brighter and her earrings longer).
Word of the maid's marvellous comeliness reaching Sir Jacques, he won entrance to the cottage crouching against his outer walls, disguised as a woodman; for the mighty weald had reclaimed its own in the period visited by Paul's unfettered spirit and foresters roamed the greenwood. He wooed maid Flamby, employing many an evil wile, but she was obdurate and repulsed him shrewdly. Whereupon he caused Dame Duveen to be seized as a weaver of spells and one who had danced before Asmodeus at the Witches' Sabbath to music of the magic pipe. To serve his end Sir Jacques invoked inhuman papal witch-law; the stake was set, each faggot laid. But by stratagem of a humble cowherd who loved her with a fidelity staunch unto death, Flamby secured the Dame's escape and the two fled together covertly, through the forest and by night....
A few paces beyond the giant elm, Flamby paused, breathless, looking down at the drawing which she held in her hand. Then turning, she retraced her steps until she could peep around the great trunk of the tree. Thus peeping she stood and watched Paul Mario until, coming to the stile at the end of the meadow, he climbed over and was hidden by the high hedgerow.
Flamby looked at the sketch again, seized it as if to tear the board across; then changed her mind, studied the drawing attentively, smiled, and looked straight before her, but not at anything really visible. She was dreaming, as many another had dreamed who had heard Paul Mario's voice and looked into Paul Mario's eyes. From these maiden dreams, which may not be set down because they are formless, like all spiritual things, her mind drifted into a channel of reflection.
The memory of Paul's voice came back again and thrilled her as though he had but just spoken. She grew angry because she had imagined his voice to resemble that of Sir Jacques. Poor little Flamby, the very name of Sir Jacques was sufficient to make her shudder, to cast black shadows upon the sunny fields of her dream-world. She dared not believe that Paul's interest was sincere and disinterested—yet her heart believed it.
Almost the earliest recollection of her young womanhood was of a man's interest in her welfare; that was at the big racing stables in Yorkshire where her father had trained for Lord Loamhurst. Flamby was thirteen, then, and already her beauty, later to develop into that elfin loveliness which had excited the wonder of Don, was unusual. The man in question was his lordship's nephew, and his interest had grown so marked that Michael Duveen had spoken to him, had received an insolent reply and had struck down the noble youth with one blow of his formidable fist. The episode had terminated Duveen's career as a trainer.
Thereafter had begun the nomadic life, with its recurrent phases of brawls, drunken debauches by her father, occasional brief intervals of prosperity and longer ones of abject poverty. Lower Charleswood had seemed as an oasis in the wilderness and the employment offered by Sir Jacques too bountiful to be real. Nevertheless, it was real enough, and all went well for a season. Michael Duveen gave the bottle a go-by, and the first real home that Flamby had known established its altars in Dovelands Cottage. The understanding between father and daughter was complete and was rendered more perfect by the necessity for companionship experienced by both. Poor Mrs. Duveen possessed the personality of a chameleon, readily toning with any background; but intellectually she was never present. Why Michael Duveen had selected such a mate was a mystery which Flamby, who loved her mother the more dearly for her helplessness, could never solve. It was a mystery to which Duveen, in his darker moods, devoted himself cruelly, and many were the nights that Flamby had sobbed herself to sleep, striving to deafen her ears to the hateful insults and merciless taunts which Duveen would hurl at his wife.
Following such an outburst, Michael Duveen would exhibit penitence which was almost as shocking as his brutality—but it was always to Flamby that he came for forgiveness, bringing some love-gift which he would proffer shamefacedly, tears trembling in his eyes.
"Ask your mother to come into town with me, Flamby asthore; I've seen a fine coat at Dale's that'll make her heart glad."
It was invariably the same, and never was the olive branch rejected for a moment by his long-suffering wife. Hers was the dog-like fidelity which men of Duveen's pattern have the gift of inspiring in women, and had he been haled to the felon's dock she would gladly and proudly have stood beside her man. So the years stole by, and Flamby crept nearer to womanhood and closer to her father's heart. The drinking-bouts grew less frequent and only once again did Duveen offer violence to his wife. It was on the occasion of a house-party at Hatton Towers, and a racy young French commercial man who was one of Sir Jacques' guests fell to the lure of Flamby's ever increasing charms.
Flamby, who now was wise with a wisdom possessed by few women, and who could confound a gallant with the wit of Propertius, or damn his eyes like any trooper, amused herself with the overdressed youth, and ate many expensive chocolates. Mistaking the situation, and used to the complaisance of the French peasant, M. le Petit-Maitre presented himself at Dovelands Cottage and made certain overtures of a financial nature to Mrs. Duveen. Between his imperfect English, his delicate mode of expressing the indelicate, and his great charm, poor Mrs. Duveen found confusion, brewed tea and reported the conversation to her husband.
Michael Duveen grew black with wrath, and, taking up a heavy dish from the table, he hurled it at the poor, foolish woman. As he did so the door opened and Flamby came in. The dish, crashing against the edge of the door, was shattered and a fragment struck Flamby's bare arm, inflicting a deep wound.
Like a cloak discarded, Duveen's wrath fell from him at sight of the blood on that soft round arm. He was a man suddenly sick with remorse; and, to the last, the faint scar which the wound left was as a crucifix before which he abased himself. He did not even thrash the Frenchman, but was content with sending to that astonished gallant an acknowledgment of his offer couched in such pure and scathing French prose that it stung more surely than any lash.
Duveen's was a strange nature, and to Flamby, as her powers of observation grew keener, he presented a study at once fascinating and mournful. He had deeper scholarship than many a man who holds a university chair; he knew the classics as lesser men know their party politics; and the woodlands, fields and brooks, with their countless inhabitants, held no mysteries for him. Yet he was content to be as Flamby had always known him—a manual labourer. The larder of Dovelands Cottage was well stocked, winter and summer alike, and Mrs. Duveen, who accepted what the gods offered unquestioningly, never troubled to inquire how folks so poor as they could procure game and fish at all proper seasons. Fawkes could have enlightened her; but there was no man in Lower Charleswood, or for that matter in the county, of a hardihood to cross Michael Duveen. Furthermore, Sir Jacques, who was a Justice of the Peace, would hear no ill of him. Finally, one bitter winter's morning in the first year of the war, Flamby learned why.
Sir Jacques, for the first time since the Duveens had resided there, crossed the threshold of Dovelands Cottage, bringing a letter which he had received from Duveen, then newly arrived in Flanders. That memorable visit was the first of many; and the diabolical patience with which Sir Jacques for over two years had awaited his opportunity was further exemplified in his conduct of the affair now that he was truly entered upon it.
At his first word of greeting, Flamby read his secret and her soul rose up in arms; by the time that he took his departure she doubted her woman's intuition—and wondered. Such was the magic of the silver voice, the Christian humility expressed in the bearing of that black figure. And when he had come again, and yet again, the first, true image began to fade more and more, and she listened with less and less misgiving to the words of encouragement which he bestowed upon her drawings. Her father, although himself no draughtsman, understood art as he understood all that was beautiful, and had taught her the laws of perspective and the tricks of the pencil as he had taught her the ways of the woodland and of the creatures who dwelt there. On her sixteenth birthday he had presented Flamby with a complete water-colour outfit, together with a number of text books; and many a golden morning had they spent together in solving the problem of why, although all shadows look black, some are really purple and others blue, together with kindred mysteries of the painter's craft.
Now came Sir Jacques, a trained critic and collector, with helpful suggestion and inspiring praise. He made no mistakes; his suggestions held no covert significance, his praise was never extravagant. Miss Kingsbury, of High Fielding, the local Lady Butler, hearing of Sir Jacques' protegee, as she heard of everything else in the county, sent a message of honeyed sweetness to Flamby, desiring her to call and bring some of her work. Flamby had never forgotten the visit. The honey of Miss Kingsbury was honey of Trebizond, and it poisoned poor Flamby's happiness for many a day. Strange is the paradox of a woman's heart; for Flamby, well knowing that this spinster's venom was a product of jealousy—jealousy of talent, super-jealousy of youth and beauty—yet took hurt from it and hugged the sting of cruel criticism to her breast. In this, for all her engrafted wisdom, she showed herself a true limb of Eve.
It was Sir Jacques who restored her confidence, and Sir Jacques who seized the opportunity to invite her to study the works in his collection. The original image of the master of Hatton Towers (which had possessed pointed ears and the hoofs of a goat) was faded by this time, and was supplanted by that of a courtly and benevolent patron. Flamby went to Hatton Towers, and meeting with nothing but kindness at the hands of Sir Jacques, went again many times. With the art of a Duc de Richelieu, Sir Jacques directed her studies, familiarising her mind with that "broad" outlook which is essential to the artist. It was done so cleverly that even Flamby the wise failed to recognise whither the rose-strewn path was tending, and might have pursued it to the end but that Fate—or Pan, god of the greenwood, jealous of trespass—intervened and unmasked the presumptuous Silenus.