When his father had driven off, Morgan,
seized with a restlessness, began to stroll slowly
homeward. He had at least wrung some happiness
from the evening. His love for Margaret had been
strong enough to absorb him, save when at moments
his sense of his general position had obtruded.
But now he surrendered himself once more to the mood
which the events of the day had interrupted.
He was again conscious of the tragedy
of his past life with its culminating episode of the
evening before, and of the infinite possibility that
life held of mystery and fantasy a mystery
and fantasy into which he was going to plunge.
The hours he had just enjoyed, he told himself, must
not be allowed to influence him. They must be
sternly isolated from the future; the disattachment
of the new life before him from the wreckage of the
old must be complete.
Wreckage! He used the word deliberately,
though he was aware there were elements in the position
that would have made his estimate of it seem grotesque
to many ears.
He was the son of a father of unlimited
wealth, who idolised him now. In addition to
very many acquaintanceships, both in London and the
country, that were pleasant even if they did not occupy
the centre of his consciousness, he had the friendship
of Lady Thiselton and the more intimate though less
fantastic relation with the Medhursts. And, moreover,
he was in love with a beautiful and talented girl,
who, he modestly felt, had a great esteem for him though
any other eyes than those of the diffident lover would
have seen at a glance that she loved him in return.
How could all these things fail to
make a man happy, especially when the man was only
twenty-eight years old?
But Morgan’s happiness was dependent
on his attitude towards things, not on the things
themselves. And just now he but perceived all
these elements that might have made another life enviable
as so many ironies. His ambition his
self-realisation and its recognition by his fellows had
been all in all to him; its abandonment had been the
culmination of anguish infinite. The best years
of his youth had been lost in vain effort, and some
of the bitterness of early opposition that success
might have purged still lingered in his spirit.
His nature was proud and sensitive and his very failure
made it impossible for him to ask for more money,
even though he knew it would be forthcoming without
stint. What wonder now if he perceived his life
as a tragedy!
Common Sense would have advised him
to put on one side all emotions and moods that arose
out of and summed up the past, all the subtle feelings
that possessed and mastered him; would have urged him
to begin a new epoch, seek the paternal aid, retain
his friendships, and persevere in his love; would
have given him assurance of a perfectly satisfactory
outlook if he would but readjust his mental focus.
But Common Sense is obtuse and safe.
Morgan was a mass of fine sensibility; his temperament
was full of subtle light and shade therefore
dangerous. Plain-souled, clumsy-handed Common
Sense, with perception limited to the thick outlines
of character, could not have comprehended him, and
would unwittingly have confessed it by classifying
Morgan had lived his own life felt
it. His present estimation of it was, therefore,
spontaneous; not a cold estimation by mere intellect,
but a living one by his whole complex being. And,
as the result, he was meditating, at this period of
pause and summing-up, to carry forward all that Common
Sense would have suppressed, and to suppress all that
Common Sense would have carried forward, to sacrifice
all the inter-relations with others that constituted
his outer life even as he had already sacrificed
the expression of his corresponding inner life; retaining
only his emotional unrest.
And the seductive picture of the scented
serpent-woman, ever smiling at him now with gleaming
teeth, symbolised the future for him, and alone preserved
the continuity of interest that stimulated him to go
forward at all. His attitude, in some respects,
was analogous to that of a romantic boy playing with
the idea of running away from home, drawn by visions
of marvellous adventures in strange lands. The
sequel might be vague and in the clouds, but that
very fact only made it the more fascinating.
His temperament had said to him that
evening: “Let your business still be poetry,
but weave it out of life instead of out of words.”
The thought resurged in his brain and then it struck
him as crystallising his whole feeling about the future
course of his existence, as furnishing the key to
To make of life a fantasy, a poem,
a dream! The idea was an illumination.
But beyond a half-considered intention
of changing to humbler rooms and hiding therein from
his world, he did not meditate any definite activity.
The feeling at the bottom of his mind was rather that
events would shape themselves. To this attitude
of passivity his whole life had tended. His will-strength
had gone into his passionate desire of poetic achievement,
and were it not that he had, so to speak, grown into
relation with others, his life would have been utterly
static. The movement of their lives alone had
taken his along. He had not the least idea now
how he was going to become acquainted with the strange
woman who filled his thoughts, but, without actually
translating his feelings on the point into definite
terms, he counted it as a certainty that a path would
somehow be opened. It pleased him, too, to think
that he owed his cognisance of her existence to that
first impulse which had caused him to write to Ingram.
That fantastic initiation had set in motion fantastic
life-waves that were now flowing back to him.
For others the regularities of existence,
the steady round of work, the care and hoarding of
money; for him the mystery and the colour of life!
And in a flash of insight he seemed
to understand that the poet in him had already asserted
itself in his life as well as in his work. Was
it not the very curiousness of his relationship with
Ingram had made it so palatable? Was it not the
strangeness of his friendship with Lady Thiselton
and the originality of her personality that appealed
to him so much, and was it not his imaginative side
that had always been so pleased with both? Was
it not his peculiar temperament that had always made
him keep his relation with each person a thing apart,
so that each was unaware of the others; that had made
him like to feel that his life, in a manner, was cut
up into strips, along each of which he could look
back with a certain sense of completeness, though it
was only by the nice fusion of all these isolated
completenesses that his existence could be seen as
But underneath the imaginative spirit
of the poet lay the human spirit of the man.
And if the former predominated the latter was not entirely
dormant. If the poet in him coloured his life
and thought, it was the man in him that felt the results,
so that the instincts of the poet often clashed with
the sympathies and affections of the man. Of this
discord within himself he could not help being aware,
but he knew it purely by its effect, for he had never
searched deeply into the complexity of his nature.
Thus it was that the man in him was
grieved at his having had to make promises of further
visits to the Medhursts; was paying for every grain
of happiness wrung from the evening by a reaction of
pain unspeakable. But the poet in him governed,
was trying to suppress the man.
He was roused from his meditations
by a familiar voice when he was but a few feet from
his own door.
“I have been hovering about for a quarter of
He was startled, then laughed.
The veiled woman stood on tip-toe and kissed him on
the forehead, he stooping mechanically to meet her
“You don’t mind the veil?” she said.
“How did you know I was not indoors and abed
by this time?” he asked.
“I didn’t know. I
only came to meditate in the moonlight. I have
been enjoying such exquisite emotions. Are you
too tired for a promenade round the circle?”
He fell in with her humour.
“Morgan, reproaches have been
accumulating. To save time you know
I never waste any you shall have them all
in one ferocious phrase. You have been brutal
to me of late. I don’t mean to say that
you’ve ever ceased to be charming, but why,
at least, didn’t you answer my note?”
“It only came this morning,”
he stammered, “and I haven’t had time to
read it yet.”
“In other words, you wrinkled
your brow as soon as you saw it, made up your mind
I was beginning to be somewhat of a nuisance, and threw
it aside unopened. Of course, you forgot all
about it afterwards. You have a perfect genius
for putting crude facts in a delicate way.”
“Another new discovery about me.”
“That is but the natural result
of the profound thought I bestow upon you.”
“Your profound thought contradicts
itself. It declares me brutal and charming with
the same breath.”
“Profound thought always contradicts
itself. I know it for a fact, because I’ve
been looking up Hegel. The nice things and nasty
things I say about you arise equally from my love
for you, which is thus the unifying principle.
The apparent contradictoriness, therefore, disappears
in a higher synthesis.”
“Quarter! A man can’t
stand having philosophers hurled at his head.”
“But I kiss your head sometimes.
I’m sure I’d much prefer that always,
only you goad me into the other thing.”
“Yes. By your masterly
inactivity when I am concerned. I have to force
myself into your life, and after we’ve been chums
for three years, you, left to yourself, ignore my
existence. You have such a terrible power of
negative resistance against poor, strong-willed me.
But, after all, you admire me tremendously, don’t
you, dear Morgan?”
“I have told you scores of times
you are the cleverest woman in the kingdom.”
“I am the only woman who understands
your poetry. I don’t mean that as a bit
of sarcasm at the expense of your compliment I
merely want to show you I deserve it.”
He made no reply. For a few moments there was
“How reticent you are to-night!”
she said at length. “You usually have quite
a deal to tell me. Are the sentimental chapters
preying on your mind? I do so much want to know
about those sentimental chapters, but you always evade
the subject. Tell me, are there any in
“Ours was to be an intellectual companionship
“Comprising intellectual sympathy
and kissing on the forehead both of them
chaste, stony, saint-like, tantalising things.
But I’d be content for the time being if I were
only sure your heart were perfectly free. I couldn’t
bear the thought of your making love to another woman.”
“You are amusing.”
“I am jealous.”
“Then you have been imagining sentimental chapters
“Well, being a woman of the
world, thirty-three years of age no deception,
Morgan and, knowing you have lived twenty-eight,
I naturally suspect the existence of those chapters,
you darling sphinx. And when I suddenly come
across a poem from your pen about a sweet little girl,
my suspicion becomes almost a certainty.”
He could not help laughing.
“That sweet little girl is too
concrete, too much away from your metaphysical manner,
to be a mere creation of your brain. What vexed
me particularly was that the most stupid woman I know I
mean my dear friend Laura admired the thing
and called it a gem. Now I don’t like my
monopoly threatened in that way. I have always
prayed against your own prayer. I don’t
want the world at large to admire you yet.
I want you, disgusted with the world’s non-acceptance
of you, to find consolation in my love. There
is a fair proposal for you, Morgan. Love me,
marry me and after that you may become as
great as you like. Your poetry as yet is my friend,
but I begin to feel afraid of it when you start pictures
of sweet little girls.”
He did not take her the least bit
seriously he never did. Her occasional
courtship of him had been always so light and airy,
so dispassionately epigrammatic, that he looked on
it as mere whimsical banter and rather good amusement.
She had plagued him into consenting to that kiss on
the forehead which she gave him each time they met,
referring to it constantly as an advantage won by hard
effort. The circumstance of their first meeting
had been commonplace enough a chance introduction
at an afternoon tea. They were friends whilst
yet utter strangers to each other, for a mutual personal
magnetism had acted immediately. He understood
that her playfulness did but conceal fine qualities
of character that would have pleased even the aphoristic
moralist, whose conception of the ideal woman she
mercilessly outraged. That she had really understood
and appreciated his work naturally counted a good
deal in her favour. He knew her worth, but of
course he did not want to marry her. If to-day
there was a more earnest ring than usual in her love-making,
he had got too indurated to it to believe in it.
“Who is the sweet little
girl?” she insisted. “I repeat, I
am jealous. This is my first experience of that
queer emotion, for you are the first man I have ever
He found this most amusing of all.
“Really, Morgan, it is perfectly
harassing to have one’s tragedy taken for light
comedy. You know my wedded life was unhappy.
The late baronet was absolutely ignorant of Schopenhauer,
and even cursed him to my face for a madman, just
because he happened to be my favourite philosopher.
Since I’ve dipped into Hegel, I’ve come
largely to agree with my husband’s denunciation,
though not on the same grounds. Not that I profess
to know anything either about Hegel or Schopenhauer.
Edward always thought me a blue-stocking me,
who have only a woman’s tea-table smattering
of philosophy! Why, it takes all the fun out of
life to be a blue-stocking! Edward hadn’t
any brains. I married him without love, and in
face of his attitude towards Schopenhauer, you may
guess what chance it had of springing up. During
the brilliant years of my widow-hood eight
in number my heart has remained positively
untouched by anybody but you. It’s your
childlike helplessness that fascinates me.”
“You flatter me.”
“There are other things, of
course. You’ve splendid large eyes and
nice, soft, silky hair, and such a pretty curl to your
lip. And you’ve such a charming, innocent
look. If only you’d promise not to write
any more poems about sweet little girls, you’d
Whether it was that her proximity
at this moment of inner perturbation and suffering
roused in him an overmastering desire for her sympathy,
or whether her last remark exercised an insidious drawing
power, he did not quite know, but he found himself
“I can make that promise very
easily. I made a bonfire last night.”
She understood at once.
“Which explains much for which
I’ve been reproaching you!” she exclaimed
sympathetically. “You have been suffering,
Her voice had grown soft and coaxing.
His determination to shun everybody could not stand
against this real concern for him. In a few words
he told her of his despair and of the dubiousness of
his position. But he could not bring himself
to speak of his hopeless love, or to raise the veil
that concealed his other friendships from her.
His comradeship with her had always stood for him as
a thing apart; and this attitude of his towards it
had made it the more charming. It had been quite
natural for him to take it entirely by itself and
as unrelated to the rest of his external life.
“But, my dear Morgan,”
she protested, “this can’t go on.
How do you intend to live?”
He was glad she did not have recourse
to that crude, obvious suggestion of his begging a
replenishment from the paternal coffers. But
he did not know how to reply to her question, which
rather made him regret the turn the conversation had
taken. The one future for him was that in which
floated mystically the figure of the scented serpent-woman,
and he felt that that drift of things he was relying
on had begun by a wrong move.
“Perhaps I shall write stories,” he hazarded.
“You alarm me,” she cried.
“Your idea is hopelessly impracticable.
How could you possibly hope to rival the Robert Ingrams?”
“The Ingrams!” he echoed, glancing at
“I only mention him because
he happens to be as popular as all the rest put together,
and because I happened to make his acquaintance some
Morgan made no remark. He was
relieved at her explanation, about which there was
nothing surprising, for he well knew that Ingram moved
in high social latitudes.
“Besides,” she went on,
“you would naturally be tempted to draw women
like me, which would simply be courting extinction.
Of course, in Ingram’s novels no fashionable
lady ever does the things I do, and the critics would
insist I was an utter impossibility. Now, as to
the fifty pounds you’ve got before
long the sin of that borrowing will rise up against
you and you’ll be signing again, signing away
whole pounds of your flesh. And I daresay you
overlook you’ve various little debts. No
doubt you owe your tailor, say a year’s account,
and then your rooms are pretty expensive, and quarter-day
has a spiteful habit of swooping down on one four
times a year, and and you mustn’t
have to bother your pretty head about all these sordid
This was somewhat of an appalling
speech for Morgan, who certainly did not want to cheat
his creditors. And, indeed, it now occurred to
him that he must be indebted to his tailor for quite
a large amount. Although his horror of debts
was far above the average, he never realised the conception
“money” as ordinary people realise it.
So far as it figured in his thoughts at all, money
was a gorgeous, poetic unit the treasure
of romance, the gold and silver of fairyland.
In practice, the very abundance of it at his command
had till lately kept his attention from dwelling on
it; just as it did not dwell on, say, the second toe
of his left foot an equally constant factor
in his existence till some pain might make
him aware it was there. His present forced awareness
of the prosaic side of the notion “money”
gave him somewhat of a sense of being caught amid a
swirl of storm-blown icicles.
“The remedy is simple,” he said, at last.
“It is. I have forty thousand a year.
Marry me for my money.”
“Declined, with thanks.”
“So blunt, yet so pointed.
A pity it’s not original. But I know what
you meant by your remedy. You don’t see
it would be a double crime, and you are too good a
man even to commit a single one.”
“You mean ”
“I mean I should follow you.
It would be just lovely to be rowed across the Styx
together. Of course, I should have to pay your
“It is getting late. I really think we
ought to turn back.”
Lady Thiselton sighed.
“I must confess I am dejected,”
she said. “I should like to have a quiet
cry. What are you going to do, Morgan?”
But he knew that would mean bankruptcy,
and he had also an unpleasant conviction that she
meant what she said about following him.
“And even if we did go to throw
sugar to Cerberus, your father would step in and inherit
your debts, and you will have sacrificed us both in
vain. The result is the same, whether we go to
Whitechapel or to the other place. You can’t
make it otherwise. Now, if you won’t let
me be your wife, at least let me be a sort of mother
Her thought met his just at the right
junction. He did not answer because her argument
was unanswerable. How else avoid coming on the
paternal purse again?
“I am only asking you, Morgan,
to let me help you live just as you want to live.”
She spoke with pleading and humility.
“We shall be towards each other
just as we are now,” she continued, “and
although I intended to torment you till you agreed
I was worth an occasional kiss on the forehead in
return for mine which would not at all
take us out of the platonic, or rather plutonic, regions
in which you so sternly insist we must abide I
shall give you my word to cease from active hostilities
for six whole months. Just think I
undertake to be content for the next six months with
kissing you on the forehead once each time. Is
that not sufficiently an earnest of my good faith?”
Again he gave her no answer, and,
in the silence that followed, their footsteps seemed
to be echoed back to them. Since to die were futile,
let it be she rather than another that helped him to
live. She was a good friend and a loyal one.
Of course, it was repugnant to take money from a woman,
but to take it from anybody else would be still more
“As is usually the case in life,”
she again chimed in his thought, “the choice
is not between the good and the less good, but between
the bad and the worse. Believe me, I understand
and sympathise with your hesitations. But between
such friends as we are and such original people to
boot, scruples of a conventional kind ought not to
enter. With us money should count for nothing.
So please don’t choose ’the worse,’
and perhaps ‘the bad’ won’t turn
out so very bad after all.”
Still he could not prevail upon himself
to accept her generosity, though conscious he was
undeserving of her long-sufferance.
“If I could but see the least
prospect of repaying you, I should not hesitate so
much,” he said at last.
“My dear Morgan, in life one
mustn’t look too far ahead, else existence becomes
impossible. Let us not bother too much about the
future, but let us seize the flying moments; which
means we ought to go to Whitechapel on Thursday and
spend a happy day.”
He was still lost in thought.
“And your silence may I put the usual
interpretation on it?”
“I suppose so,” he said,
shame-facedly. “Please don’t think
me ungracious,” he added.
“You very dear person!”
she cried; and after that they walked for fully five
minutes without exchanging a word.
The matter had been decided and, according
to their wont, there was no further manifestation,
no further reference to it on either side. Each
understood the other’s emotions, and that sufficed.