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Vanitas. Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
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page: 121

A WORLDLY WOMAN.

page: 123

A WORLDLY WOMAN.

I.

“BUT why should you mind who buys your pots, so long as your pots are beautiful?” asked the girl.

“Because as things exist at present, art can minister only to the luxury of the rich, idle classes. The people, the people that works and requires to play, and requires something to tell it of happier things, gets no share in art. The people is too poor to possess beautiful things, and too brutish to care for them: the only amusement it can afford is getting drunk. And one wearies and sickens of merely adding one's grain of sand to the inequality and injustice of existing social conditions—don't you see, Miss Flodden?”

Leonard Greenleaf stopped short, his breathlessness mingling with the annoyance at having let himself be carried away by his ideas, and producing a vague sense of warm helplessness.

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“Of course,” he went on, taking up a big jar of yellow Hispano-Moorish lustre ware, and mechanically dusting it with the feather brush, “it's absurd to talk like that about such things as pots, and it's absurd to talk like that to you.”

And raising his head he gave a furtive little glare at the girl, where she stood in a golden beam of dust and sunlight, which slanted through his workshop.

Miss Valentine Flodden—for such was the name on the family card which she had sent in together with that of Messrs. Boyce—made rather a delightful picture in that yellow halo: the green light from under the plane trees filtering in through the door behind her, and gleams of crimson and glints of gold flickering, in the brown gloom wherever an enamel plate or pot was struck by a sunbeam, winnowed by the blind which flapped in the draught. Greenleaf knew by some dim, forgotten experience or unaccountable guess-work, that she was what was called, in the detestable jargon of a certain set, a pretty woman. He also recognised in her clothes—they were would-be manly, far more simple and practical than those of the girls he knew, yet telling of a life anything but practical and simple—that she belonged to that same set of persons; a fact apparent also in her movements, her words page: 125 and accent, nay in the something indefinable in her manner which seemed to take things for granted. But he didn't care for her being beautiful. His feeling was solely of vague irritation at having let himself speak—he had quite unnecessarily told her he intended giving up the pottery next year—about the things which were his very life, to a stranger; a stranger who had come with a card to ask advice about her own amateur work, and from out of a world which was foreign and odious to him, the world of idleness and luxury. Also, he experienced slight shame at a certain silly, half-romantic pleasure at what was in reality the unconscious intrusion of a fashionable eccentric. This girl, who had been sent on from Boyce & Co.'s for information which they could not give, must evidently have thought she was coming to another shop, otherwise she would never have come all alone; she evidently took him for a shopman, otherwise she would not have staid so long nor spoken so freely. It was much better she should continue to regard him as a shopman; and indeed was it not his pride to have shaken off all class distinctions, and to have become a workingman like any other?

It was this thought which made him alter his tone page: 126 and ask with grave politeness, “Is there any further point upon which I can have the pleasure of giving you any information?”

Miss Flodden did not answer this question. She stood contemplating the old warped oaken floor, on whose dust she was drawing a honeysuckle pattern with the end of her parasol.

“Why did you say that you ought not to speak about such things to—people, Mr. Greenleaf?” she asked. “Of course, one's a Philistine, and in outer darkness, but still—”

She had raised her eyes full upon him. They were a strange light blue, darkening as she spoke, under very level brows, and she had an odd way of opening them out at one. Like that, with her delicate complexion, and a little vagueness about the mouth, she looked childish, appealing, and rather pathetic.

“All these things are very interesting,” she added quickly; “at least they must be if one understands anything about them.”

Greenleaf was sorry. He didn't know exactly why; but he felt vaguely as if he had been brutal. He had made her shut up—for he recognised that the second part of her speech was the reaction against his own; and that was brutal. He ought not to have page: 127 let the conversation depart from the technicalities of pottery, as he had done by saying he intended giving it up, and then bursting into that socialistic rhapsody. It wasn't fair upon her.

By this time the reaction had completely set in with her. Her face had a totally different expression, indifferent, bored, a little insolent—the expression of her society and order.

“It's been very good of you,” she said, looking vaguely round the room, with the shimmer of green leaves and the glint of enamel in its brown dustiness, “to tell me so many things, and to have given up so much of your time. I didn't know, you know, from Messrs. Boyce, that I was breaking in upon you at your work. I suppose they were so kind because of my father having a collection—they thought that I knew more about pottery than I do.”

She stretched out her hand stiffly. Leonard Greenleaf did not know whether he ought to take it, because he guessed that she did not know whether she ought to offer it him. Also he felt awkward, and sorry to have shut her up.

“I should—be very happy to tell you anything more that I could, Miss Flodden,” he said; “ be- besides page: 128 sides, the owners of Yetholme must be privileged people with us potters.”

“If—if ever you be passing anywhere near Eaton Square—that's where I live with my aunt,” she said, “won't you come in and have a cup of tea? Number 5; the number is on the card. But,” she added suddenly, with a little laugh, which was that social stiffening once more, “perhaps you never do pass anywhere near tea-time; or you pass and don't come in. It would be a great waste of your time.”

What had made her stiffen suddenly like that was a faint smile which had come into Greenleaf's face at the beginning of her invitation. He had understood, or thought he understood, that his visitor had grasped the fact of his being a sort of gentleman after all, and that she thought it necessary to express her recognition of the difference between him and any other member of the firm of Boyce & Co. by asking him to call.

“Of course you are a great deal too busy,” she repeated. “Perhaps some day you will let me come to your studio again—some day next year—good-bye.”

“Shall I call you a hansom?” he asked, wondering whether he had been rude.

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“Thank you; I think I'll go by the Underground. You cross the big square, and then along the side of the British Museum, don't you? I made a note of the way as I came. Or else I'll get a 'bus in Tottenham Court Road.”

She spoke the words 'bus and Underground, he thought, with a little emphasis. She was determined to have her fill of eccentricity, now that she had gone in for pottery, and for running about all alone to strange places, and scoring out everything save her own name on the family card. At least so Greenleaf said to himself, as he watched the tall, slight young figure disappearing down the black Bloomsbury street, and among the green leaves and black stems of the Bloomsbury square. An unlikely apparition, oddly feminine in its spruce tailoring, in that sleepy part of the world, whence fashion had retreated long, long ago, with the last painted coach which had rumbled through the iron gates, and the last link which had been extinguished in the iron extinguishers of the rusty areas.

page: 130

II.

GREENLEAF had a great disbelief in his own intuitions; perhaps because he vibrated unusually to the touch of other folks' nature, and that the number and variety of his impressions sometimes made it difficult to come to a cut-and-dry conclusion. There was in him also a sensitiveness on the subject of his own beliefs and ideals which made him instinctively avoid contact with other folk, and avoid even knowing much about them. He often felt that in a way he was very unfit to be a Socialist and an agitator; for besides the absurd attraction that everything beautiful, distinguished, exotic, exercised upon him, and a corresponding repugnance to the coarse and sordid sights of the world, he knew himself to look at people in an excessively subjective way, never seeking spontaneously to understand what they themselves were trying to do and say, but analysing them merely from the series of impressions which he received. Just as his consciousness of being a born page: 131 æsthete and aristocrat had pushed him into social questions and democratic views; so also his extreme conscientiousness occasionally made him attempt, rather abortively, to behave to others as he might wish to be behaved to himself, his imagination being taxed to the utmost by the inquiry as to what behaviour would be altruistic and just under the circumstances.

This preamble is necessary to explain various inconsistencies in our hero's conduct, and more particularly at this moment, the inconsistency of suddenly veering round in his suppositions about Miss Valentine Flodden. In his monotonous life of artistic work and social study—in those series of quiet days, as like one another as the rows of black Bloomsbury houses with their garlanded door-lintels and wornout doorsteps, as the spear-heads of the railings, the spikes of blossom on the horse-chestnuts, and the little lions on the chain curbs round the British Museum—the weekly firing of his pottery kiln at Boyce's Works near Wandsworth, the weekly lecture to workingmen down at Whitechapel, the weekly reception in the sooty rooms of Faber, the Socialist poet and critic who had married the Socialist painter—all these were the landmarks of Greenleaf's exist- existence page: 132 ence, and landmarks of the magnitude of martello towers along a sea-shore. So that anything at all unexpected became, in his life of subversive thoughts and methodical activity, an incident and an adventure.

Thus it was that the visit of Miss Flodden, although he repeatedly noted its utter unimportance to himself and everyone else, became the theme of much idle meditation in the intervals of his work and study. He felt it as extraordinarily strange. And feeling it in this way, his conscientious good sense caused him to analyse it as sometimes almost unusually commonplace.

It was in consequence of repeatedly informing himself that after all nothing could be more natural than this visit, that he took the step which brought him once more into contact with the eccentricity of the adventure. For he repeated so often to himself how natural it was that a girl with a taste for art should care for pottery (particularly as her father owned the world-famous Yetholme collection), and caring for pottery should go for information to Messrs. Boyce's the decorators, and being referred by Boyce's to himself should come on, at once, and quite alone, to the studio of his unknown self; he identified Miss Flodden page: 133 so completely with any one of the mature maidens who carried their peacock blue and sage green and amber beads, and interest in economics, archæology and so forth freely through his world, that he decided to give Miss Flodden the assistance which he would have proffered to one of the independent and studious spinsters of Bloomsbury and West Kensington. Accordingly he took a sheet of paper with “Boyce & Co., Decorators,” stamped at the head of it, and wrote a note directed to Miss Valentine Flodden, Eaton Square, saying that as she would doubtless be interested in examining the Rhodian and Damascene pottery of the British Museum, which she had told him she knew very imperfectly, he ventured to enclose an introduction to the Head of the Department, whom she would find a most learned and amiable old gentleman; the fact of her connection with the famous Yetholme collection would, for the rest, be introduction enough in itself.

After posting the note and the enclosure, Leonard Greenleaf reflected, with some wonder and a little humiliation, that he had chosen a sheet of Boyce's business paper to write to Miss Flodden; while he had selected a sheet with the name of his old Oxford college for writing to the Head of the Department. page: 134 But it was not childish contradictoriness after all; at least so he told himself. For old Colonel Hancock Dunstan (one never dropped the Colonel even in one's thoughts) had a weakness in favour of polite society and against new-fangled democracy, and liked Greenleaf exactly because he had better shaped hands and a better cut coat than other men who haunted the Museum. And as to Miss Flodden, why, it seemed more appropriate to keep things on the level of pottery and decoration, and therefore to have Boyce & Co. well to the fore.

Greenleaf had made up his mind that Fate would never again bring him face to face with Miss Flodden, and that he would certainly take no steps towards altering Fate's intentions. It was for this very reason that he had introduced the lady to his old friend of the Museum: for it is singular how introducing someone to somebody else keeps up the sense of the someone's presence; and how, occasionally, one insists upon such vicarious company. But, as stated already, he never dreamed, at least he thought he never dreamed, to see his eccentric young visitor again.

Such being the case, it might seem odd, had not his experience of human feelings destroyed all perception of oddity, that Greenleaf experienced no surprise page: 135 when, obeying a peremptory scrawl from the former terror of Pashas and the present terror of scholars, he found himself one afternoon in Colonel Dunstan's solemn bachelor drawing-room, and in the presence once more of Miss Valentine Flodden.

Colonel Hancock Dunstan, who in his distant days had gone to Mecca disguised as a pilgrim, dug up Persian temples, slain uncivil Moslems with his own hand, and altogether constituted a minor Eastern question in his one boisterous self, had now settled down (a Government post having been created expressly to keep him quiet) into a life divided between furious archæological disputes and faithful service of the fair sex. He was at this moment promenading his shrunken person—which somehow straightened out into military vigour in the presence of young ladies—round a large table spread with innumerable cups of tea, plates of strawberries and dishes of bonbons. Of this he partook only in the spirit, offering it all, together with the service of a severe housekeeper and a black, barefooted Moor, for the consumption of his fair guests. The other guest, indeed, a gaunt and classic female archæologist, habited in peacock plush, was fair only in mind; and Colonel Dunstan, devoted as he was to all womankind, was wont to neglect such intellectual grace when in the presence of more page: 136 obvious external beauty. Hence, at this moment, the poor archæological lady, accustomed to a shower of invitations to lunch, tea, dinner, and play-tickets from the gallant though terrible old man, was abandoned to the care of the housekeeper until she could be passed over to that of Greenleaf. And Colonel Dunstan, with his shrunken tissues and shrunken waistcoat regaining a martial ampleness, as the withered rose of Dr. Heidegger's experiment regained colour and perfume in the basin of Elixir of Youth, was wandering slowly about (for he never sat still) heaping food and conversation on Miss Flodden. He was informing her, among anecdotes of dead celebrities, reminiscences of Oriental warfare, principles of Persian colour arrangement, and panegyrics of virtuous incipient actresses, that Greenleaf was a capital fellow, although he would doubtless have been improved by military training; a scholar, and the son of a great scholar (Thomas Greenleaf's great edition of the “Mahabarata,” which she should read some day when he, Colonel Dunstan, taught her Sanskrit), and that, for the rest, philanthropy, socialism, and the lower classes were a great mistake, of which the Ancient Persians would have made very short work indeed. To Greenleaf also he conveyed page: 137 sundry information, not troubling to make it quite intelligible, for Colonel Dunstan considered that young men ought to be taught their place, which place was nowhere. So from various mutterings and ejaculations addressed to Miss Flodden, such as, “Ah, your great aunt, the duchess—what a woman she was! she had the shoulders of the Venus of Milo—I always told her she ought to ride out in the desert to excavate Palmyra with me;” and “that dear little cousin of yours—why didn't she let me teach her Arabic?” it became gradually apparent to Greenleaf that the old gentleman, who seemed as versed in Burke's Peerage and Baronetage as in cuneiform inscriptions, had known many generations of ladies of the house of Flodden. Nay, most unexpected of all, that the young lady introduced by Greenleaf had been a familiar object to the learned and hot-tempered Colonel ever since she had left the nursery. Greenleaf experienced a slight pang on this discovery: he had forgotten, in his own unworldliness, that worldly people like Colonel Dunstan and Miss Flodden probably moved in the same society.

“And your sister, how is she?” went on the old gentleman; “is she as bright as ever, now she is mar- married page: 138 ried, and has she got that little air mutin still? It's months since I've seen her; why didn't you bring her with you, my dear? And does she also take an interest in Rhodian pots, the dear, beautiful creature?”

Miss Flodden's face darkened as he slowly spun out his questions.

“I don't know what my sister is doing. I don't live with her any longer, Colonel Dunstan; and she is always busy rushing about with people; and I'm busy with pots and practising the fiddle; I've turned hermit since quite a long time.”

“Well, well, practising the fiddle isn't a bad thing; Orpheus with his lute, you know. But you'd much better let me teach you Greek, my dear, and come to Asia Minor next winter with me. Lady Betty's coming, and we'll see what we can dig up among those sots of Turks. You can get capital tents at that fellow's—what's his name—in Piccadilly. And how are your people? I saw your brother Herbert the other day at a sale. He told me your father was determined not to let us have your collection, more's the pity! And what's become of that nice young fellow, Hermann Struwë, who used to be at your house? He hasn't got a wife yet, eh?”

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Miss Flodden took no notice of these questions. She passed them over in disdainful silence, Greenleaf thought, till she suddenly said coldly:

“I should think Mr. Struwë will have no more difficulty in finding a wife than in hiring a shooting, or buying a sham antique.”

She was a very beautiful woman, Greenleaf said to himself. She was very tall (Greenleaf wondered whether the women of that lot, of the idlers, were always a head taller than those of his acquaintance), and slender almost to thinness, with a rigid, undeveloped sort of grace which contrasted with the extreme composure—that sort of taking things for granted—of her manner. Old Mr. Dunstan had just alluded to her mother having been a Welshwoman; and Greenleaf thought he saw very plainly the Celt in this superficially Saxon-looking girl. That sharp perfection of feature—features almost over-much chiselled and finished in every minutest detail—that excessive mobility of mouth and eyes, did not belong to the usual kind of English pretty women. She was so much of a Celt, despite her Northumbrian name, that the pale-brown of her hair—hair crisp and close round her ears—gave him almost the impression of a wig; underneath it must really be jet black.

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Notwithstanding a slight weariness at Colonel Dunstan's social reminiscences and questions, she seemed pleased and rather excited at finding herself in the sanctuary of his learning. While quietly taking care of the old gentleman, and much concerned lest he should stumble over chairs and footstools in his polite haverings, she let her eyes ramble over the expanse of books which covered the walls, evidently impressed by all that must be in them. And from the timid though pertinacious fashion in which she questioned him, it was clear that she thought him an oracle, although an oracle rather difficult to keep to the point.

“And now,” she finally said, with a little suppressed desperation, “won't you show me some of the Rhodian ware, Colonel Dunstan? It would be so awfully good of you.”

Colonel Dunstan suddenly unwrinkled himself with considerable importance. He had forgotten the Rhodian ware, and rather resented its existence. Why, bless you! He didn't possess such things as pots: and as to going to the Museum, it was the most cold-taking place in the world. He would show her his books some day, and the casts of the cuneiform inscriptions. She must come to tea again soon with page: 141 him. Did she know Miss Tilly Tandem, who had just been engaged by Irving? He should like them to meet. That was her photograph.

“But,” said Miss Flodden—Val Flodden it appeared she was called—“mayn't I—couldn't I—be allowed to see those Rhodian pots also?” She was dreadfully crestfallen, and had a little disappointed eagerness, like a child.

“Of course you can,” Colonel Dunstan answered, with infinite disdain. “I don't think anything of Rhodian ware, you know—mere debased copy of the old Persian. Those Greeks of the islands were a poor lot, then as now. Believe me, those Greeks have always been a set of confounded liars and their account of Salamis will be set right some day. But if you want to see it, why of course you can. Greenleaf, take Miss Val Flodden to see the Rhodian ware some day soon; do you hear, Greenleaf, eh?”

“Yes, sir.” Greenleaf had always said sir to Colonel Dunstan, like a little boy, or a subordinate. It made up for a kind of contempt with which the learned, but worldly and hot-tempered old gentleman very unreasonably inspired him. Greenleaf was full of prejudices, like all very gentle and apostolic persons.

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“There's Greenleaf—go with him some morning,” said Colonel Dunstan, regaining his temper; “but, bless me! Why haven't you had any more strawberries, Miss Val?”

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III.

THE discovery that he had introduced two people who had already been acquainted for years, depressed Greenleaf with something more than the mere sense of slight comicality. Indeed, Greenleaf, like many apostolic persons, was deficient in the sense of the comic, and destitute of all fear of social solecisms. As he waited under the portico of the Museum, the pigeons fluttering from the black temple frieze on to the sooty steps, and the rusty students pressing through the swinging glass doors, he felt a vague dissatisfaction—the sort of faint crossness common in children, and of which no contact with the world, the contact with its grating or planing powers, had cured this dreamer; but such crossness leaves in the candid mind a doubt of possible vicariousness, of being caused by something not its ostensible reason, or being caused by the quite undefinable. When at last, from out of the blue haze and gauzy blackness of page: 144 the Bloomsbury summer, there emerged an object of interest, and the slender recognised figure detached itself from the crowd of unreal other creatures, on foot, in cabs, and behind barrows, he was aware of a certain flat and prosaic quality in things since that tea-party at Colonel Dunstan's. And he was very angry with himself, and consequently with everything else, when it struck him suddenly that perhaps he was annoyed at the little eccentric adventure—the adventure of the lady dropped from the clouds and never seen again—turning into a humdrum acquaintance, which might even linger on, with a girl about whose family he now knew everything, who, on her side, was now certain that he was a gentleman, and who did really and seriously intend to find out all about pots.

They walked quickly upstairs, exchanging very few words, save on the subject of umbrellas and umbrella tickets; and when they had arrived in the pottery room, they became wonderfully business-like. Miss Flodden was business-like simply because she was extraordinarily interested in the matter in hand; and Greenleaf was business-like because he was ashamed of having perhaps thought about Miss Flodden apart from pottery, and therefore most anxious, for his own page: 145 moral dignity, to look at her and pottery as indissolubly connected.

As the narrator of this small history is unhappily an ignoramus on the subject of pottery, prudence forbids all attempt to repeat the questions of Miss Flodden and the answers of Greenleaf on the subject of clay, colours, fixing glaze and similar mysteries. These were duly discussed for some time while the patient assistant unlocked case after case, and let them handle the great Hispano-Moorish dishes, heraldic creatures spreading wings among their arabesques of yellow brown goldiness; the rotund vases and ewers where Roman consuls and Jewish maidens and Greek gods were crowded together, yellow and green and brown, on the deep sea-blue of Castel Durante and Gubbio majolica; the fanciful scalloped blue upon blue nymphs and satyrs of seventeenth century Savona, which looked as if the very dishes and plates had wished to wear furbelows and perukes; and the precious pieces, cracked and broken, of Brusa tiles and Rhodian and Damascene platters, with the gorgeous crimson tulips—opening vistas of Oriental bean-fields—and fantastic green and blue fritillaries standing almost in relief on the thick white glaze.

“I suppose it's being brought up among the Yeth- Yetholme page: 146 olme collection that makes you know so much about pottery?” remarked Greenleaf, in considerable surprise: “you haven't been to this part of the Museum before?”

Miss Flodden raised her pale blue luminous eyes.

“Do you know, I've never been to the Museum since I was a tiny girl, at least, except once, when my married sister conducted a party of New York friends. I thought we were going to see stuffed birds, and I was so surprised to see all those beautiful Greek things—I had seen statues once when we went to Rome—I wanted so much to look at them a little, but my friends thought they weren't in good repair, and wanted to have tea and go to the park, so they scooted me round among the Egyptian things and the reading rooms and out by the door. Yes, the little I know I have learned by playing with our things at home. Some day you must see them, Mr. Greenleaf.”

Greenleaf did not answer for a moment. Good heavens! here was a young woman of twenty-four or twenty-five who had spent part of every year of her life in London, and had been only once to the British Museum, and then had expected to see stuffed birds! page: 147 And the girl apparently an instinctive artist, extraordinarily quick and just in her appreciations.

Then there were other things to do, besides opening galleries on Sundays and promenading East-end workmen in company with young men from Toynbee Hall! And Greenleaf's heart withered—as one's mouth withers at the contact of strong green tea or caper sauce—with indignation at all the waste of intellectual power and intellectual riches implied in this hideous present misarrangement of all things. Was it possible that the so-called upper classes, or at least some members thereof, were in one way as much the victims of injustice and barbarism as the lower classes, off whose labour they basely subsisted?

The thought came over him as his eyes met Miss Flodden's face—that delicately chiselled, mobile young face which was suddenly contracted with a smile of cynical, yet resigned bitterness. He made that reflection once more, when with the wand-bearing custodian imperturbably occupying the only seat in the place, they leaned upon the glass case, and she asked him, and he told her, about the various currents in art history—the form element of ancient Greece, the colour element of the Orientals, the patterns of Persian ware, the outline figures on Greek page: 148 and Etruscan vases—things which he imagined every child to know, and about which, as about Greeks, Orientals, and Etruscans, and Latin and geography and most matters, this girl seemed completely ignorant.

“My word,” she exclaimed, and that little piece of slang grated horribly on Greenleaf's nerves; “how very interesting things are when one knows something about them! Do you suppose all things would be equally interesting if one knew about them? Or would it only be every now and then, just as with other matters, balls, and picnics, and so forth? Or does one get interested whenever one does anything as hard as one can, like hard riding, or rowing, or playing tennis properly? Some books seem so awfully interesting, you know; but there are such a lot of others that one would just throw into the fire if they didn't belong to Mudie. But somehow a thread seems always to be wanting. It's like trying to play a game without knowing the rules. How have you got to know all these things, Mr. Greenleaf? I mean all the connections between things; and could anybody get the connecting links if they tried, or must one have a special vocation?”

Greenleaf was embarrassed how to answer. He page: 149 really could not realise the extraordinary emptiness in this young woman's mind; and at the same time he felt strangely touched and indignant, as he did sometimes when giving some little street Arab a good thing which it had never eaten before, and did not clearly know how to begin eating.

“Have you—have you—never read at all methodically?” he asked. He really meant, “Have you never received any education?”

Miss Flodden reflected for a moment. “No. Somehow one never thought of reading as a methodical thing, as a business, you know. Dancing and hunting and playing tennis and seeing people, all that's a business, because one has to do it. At least one has to do it as long as one hadn't turned into a savage; everyone else has to do it. Of course, there's the fiddle; I've practised that rather methodically, but it was because I liked the sound of the thing so much, and I once had a little German—my brother's German crammer for diplomacy—who taught me. And then one knew that, unless one got up at five in the morning and did it regularly, it wouldn't be done at all. But reading is different. One just picks up a book before dinner, or while being dressed. And the books are usually such rot.”

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It was getting late, and Greenleaf conducted Miss Flodden back to her parasol, where it was waiting among the vast and shabby umbrellas of the studious, very incongruous in its semi-masculine, yet rather futile smartness, at the door of the reading-room.

“It is all very beautiful,” remarked Miss Flodden, as they descended the Museum steps, with the pigeons fluttering all round in the dim, smoky air, nodding her head pensively.

“What?” asked Greenleaf. He had an almost conventual hatred of noise and bustle, which seemed to him, perhaps because he had elected to work among them, the utter profanation of life; and to his æsthetic soul, the fact that many thousands of people lived among smoke and smuts, and never saw a clear stream, a dainty meadow of grass and daisies, or a sky just washed into blueness by a shower, was one of the chief reasons for condemning modern industrial civilisation.

“Why, all that—the pale blue mist with the black houses quite soft, like black flakes against it, and the green of the trees against the black walls, and the moving crowd.” Then, as if suddenly taking courage to say something rather dreadful, she said: “Tell page: 151 me about Colonel Dunstan. Is he really so learned, does he know such a lot of things?”

Greenleaf laughed at the simplicity with which she asked this. She seemed to have a difficulty in realising that anyone could know anything.

“Yes, he knows a great lot of things. He is one of the first Orientalists in Europe, I believe—at least my father, who was an Oriental scholar himself, used to say so; and he is a great archæologist, besides his knowledge of Eastern things, and of course he knows more about Oriental art, and in fact all art, than almost anyone.”

“Does he know,” hesitated Miss Flodden, “what you were telling me about the different currents of ancient art, Persian and Greek and Etruscan, and the way in which artists lived then—all that you were telling me just now?”

Greenleaf laughed. “Good gracious, yes; I know nothing compared with him. Why, most of the little I know I learned at his lectures. Shall I hail that hansom for you, Miss Flodden?”

They were crossing Bedford Square. The birds were singing in the plane trees, and from the open windows of a solemn Georgian house, with its courses of white stone, and its classic door frieze, came the page: 152 notes of a sonata of Mozart. All was wonderfully peaceful under the hazy summer sky.

“No—not yet. Tell me, then: since Colonel Dunstan knows so many interesting things, why in the world does he live like that?”

“Like what, Miss Flodden?”

“Why, as if—well, as if he knew nothing at all. Why does he go every afternoon a round of calls on silly women, gossiping about their dresses, and listening to all—well—the horrid, because it often is horrid, nonsense and filth people talk? I used to meet him about everywhere, when I used still to go into the world. He often came to my sister's—I thought he was just an old—well, an old creature like the rest of them, collecting gossip to retail it next door. Since he really knows all about beautiful things, why doesn't he stick to them—why does he go about with stupid folk—he must know lots of clever ones?”

“Because—because Colonel Dunstan is a man of the world,” answered Greenleaf bitterly; “because he cares about art, and history, and philosophy, but he also cares for pretty women, and pretty frocks, and good manners, and white hands.”

“But—why shouldn't one care—doesn't everyone care—for—well, good manners?”

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He had spoken with such violence that Miss Flodden had turned round. Her question died away as she looked into his face. It had hitherto struck her merely by its great kindness, and a sort of gentle candour which was rare. Now, the clean-shaven features and longish hair gave her the impression of a fanatic priest, at least what she imagined such to be.

“In this world, as it now exists,” continued Greenleaf in an undertone, which was almost a hiss, “things are so divided that a man must choose between people who are pretty and pleasant and well-mannered; and people who are ugly and brutish and hateful, because the first are idle and unjust, and the second overworked and oppressed. Nowadays, more even than when Christ taught it, a man cannot serve both God and Mammon; and God, at present, at least God's servants, live among the ignorant, and dirty, and suffering. Shan't I stop that hansom for you, Miss Flodden?”

“Yes,” she answered with a catch in her breath, as if overcome by surprise, almost as by an attack.

“Good-bye,” he said, closing the flaps of the hansom.

Miss Flodden's hand mechanically dropped on to one of them, and her head, with the little black bonnet page: 154 all points and bows of lace, was looking straight into space, as one overcome by great astonishment.

Greenleaf sickened with shame at his vehemence.

“You will let me show you the Etruscan things some day?” he cried, as the hansom rolled off.

Ah, could he never, never learn to restrain himself? What business had he to talk of such things to such a woman. To let the holy of holies become, most likely, a subject of mere idle curiosity and idle talk?

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IV.

AS Greenleaf looked up from the article on the “Rochdale Pioneers and Co-operation” and glanced out of the window at the smoke-veiled, soot-engrained Northern towns, and the bleak-green North country hillsides which flashed past the express, he did not realise at all clearly that he was going to see once more Miss Val Flodden, and see her in the unexpected relations of hostess and guest.

She had indeed, during their last ramble through the British Museum, said something vague about his coming to Yetholme if ever he came North; but he had given the invitation no weight and had forgotten it completely. His journey was due to a circumstance more important in his eyes than the visit of a young lady to his studio, and would be crowned by an event far more satisfactory than the meeting with a stray acquaintance.

For Sir Percy Flodden had at last decided to sell the famous Yetholme collection of majolica and page: 156 Palissy ware; and the South Kensington authorities had selected Leonard Greenleaf, potter and writer on pottery, to verify the catalogue and conclude the purchase. It was one of Greenleaf's socialist maxims that no important works of art should be hidden from public enjoyment in the houses of private collectors; an Act of Parliament, in his opinion, should force all owners to sell to the nation, supposing that arguments in favour of true citizenship and true love of art had failed to make them bestow their property gratis. Greenleaf had agitated during several years to induce the public to make the first bid for the Yetholme collection; difficulties of all kinds had stood in the way, and the owner himself had become restive in the negotiations; but now, at last, this immortal earthenware had been saved from further private collections and secured for the enjoyment of everybody.

This being the case, it was not wonderful if Miss Flodden was thrown into the shade by her family collection; and if Greenleaf had gradually got to think very little about her of late—I say of late, because until the Yetholme sale had diverted his mind from theory to practice, Miss Flodden had played a certain part in Greenleaf's thoughts. Her page: 157 sudden intrusion upon the monotony of his existence had made him ponder once more upon his undergraduate's dream of reclaiming the upper as well as the lower classes; a dream which had gradually vanished before practical contact with the pressing want of the poor. He had forgotten, during the last five or six years, that the leisured classes existed otherwise than as oppressors of the overworked ones. But now there had returned to the surface his constitutional craving for harmony, his horror of class warfare, a horror all the greater that in this very gentle soul there was a possibility of intense hatred. Why should not the whole of society work out harmoniously a new and better social order? After all, he and his chosen friends belonged to the privileged class, and only the privileged class could give the generous initiative required to counteract the selfish claiming of rights from below. Mankind was not wicked and perverse; and the injustice, wantonness, and cruelty of the rich were, doubtless, a result of their ignorance: they must be shown that they could do without so many things and that other folk were wanting those things so very much. And, half consciously, the image of Val Flodden rose up to concentrate and typify the ideas she had evoked. She was page: 158 the living example of the ignorance of all higher right and wrong, of all the larger facts of existence, in which the so-called upper classes lived on no better than heathen blacks.

In these reflections Greenleaf had never claimed for Miss Flodden any individual superiority: to do so would have been to diminish her value as a type and an illustration. She had become, in his thoughts, the natural woman as produced, or rather as destroyed, by the evil constitution of idle society. She appeared, indeed, to have a personal charm, but this was doubtless a class peculiarity which his inexperience perceived as an individual one. It was the sole business of idle folk, Greenleaf said to himself, to make themselves charming, and they doubtless carried this quality as high as blacksmiths do strength of arm, and sempstresses nimbleness of finger: for the occasional examples of idle folk without any charm at all quickly faded from Greenleaf's logical memory. Also, he forgot for the moment, that many women, neither ignorant nor idle, the three Miss Carpenters for instance, who lived in a servantless flat in Holborn and worked in the East End, had as much charm, though not quite the same; and that there were tricks of manner and speech, affectations of school-boy slang, yokel ways, page: 159 about Miss Flodden herself, which affected his sensitive nerves as ungraceful. But, be this as it may, the acquaintance with Miss Flodden had set his thoughts on the disadvantages of the upper classes, and he found it convenient to use Miss Flodden as an illustration thereof.

Besides, every now and then, Greenleaf had felt, in those long talks at the Museum, a curious pang of pity for her. In Greenleaf's nature, more thoughtful than logical, the dominating forces were a kind of transcendent æstheticism, and an extraordinary, also transcendent, compassion—compassion which, coming upon him in veritable stabs, went to his head and soon passed the boundaries of individual pain and wrong. This man, who aspired towards the future and really hankered painfully after the past, was like some mediæval monk all quivering at the sufferings of a far-distant, impersonal Godhead, for the sake of whose wrongs he could even hate fiercely, and for the sake of whose more than individual sufferings he could feel, every now and then, overwhelming pity for some small, ill-treated bird, or beast, or man. That this girl—intelligent and good—had been brought up not merely in utter indifference to real evil (tempered only by a vague fear of a black man who carried you page: 160 to hell and a much blacker man who turned you out of society) but in ignorance of every one of the nobler and more beautiful activities of life; this perception of moral and intellectual starvation, veiled his mind with tears and made him spiritually choke, like the sight of a supperless ragged child, or of a dog that had lost its master.

Such impressions had been common enough in their two or three meetings. They had met several times in the Museum, and once at Messrs. Boyce's works, the utter unworldliness of Greenleaf's mind preventing his asking himself, even once, whether such proceedings did not display unusual recklessness on the part of a girl belonging to Miss Flodden's set; so much that he did not even take heed of Miss Flodden's occasional remarks showing that this liberty, this familiarity with a man and a stranger, were possible only because she had deliberately turned her back on her former companions. Indifferent to personal matters, he had not even understood very plainly (although he had a pleasant, vague sense of something similar) that unfamiliarity with the class and type to which he belonged had given the girl a sense of absolute safety which allowed her to go about and discuss everything with this man from a page: 161 different sphere, as she might have done with another woman. This knowledge was vague and scarce conscious, taking the form rather of indignation with Miss Flodden's world and pity for Miss Flodden's self, whenever, incidentally, she said things which revealed the habit of an opposite state of things, the habit of a woman's liberty of action, speech and feeling being cramped by disbelief in men's purity and honour, or rather by knowledge of their thinly varnished baseness.

Thus it had come about during that dim and delicate London June that the young lady from Eaton Square had become a familiar figure in the mind, if not in the life, of the Socialist potter of Church Street, Bloomsbury. There was, of course, a certain exotic strain in the matter; and as they rambled among the solemn sitting Pharaohs, the Roman Emperors and headless Greek demigods, and the rows of glass cases in the cool, empty Museum, Greenleaf occasionally experienced, while discussing various forms of art and describing dead civilisations, a little shock of surprise on realising the nature of his companion, on catching every now and then an intonation and an expression which told of ball-rooms and shooting-houses, on perceiving suddenly, silhouetted against page: 162 the red wall, or reflected in a glass case, the slender, dapper figure in its plain, tight clothes; the tight, straight-featured head beneath its close little bonnet. But this sense of the unusual and the exotic was subdued by the sense of the real, the actually present, just as, in some foreign or Eastern town, our disbelief in the possibility of it all is oddly moulded into a sort of familiarity by the knowledge that we are our ourselves, and ourselves are on the spot.

It was different now; as his train jogged slowly along the banks of the Tweed, between the bare, green hills and the leafy little ravines of Northumberland. A couple of months' separation had gradually reduced Miss Flodden to an unfamiliar, and almost an abstract being. She was the subject no longer of impressions, but merely of reflections; and of reflections which had grown daily more general, as the perfume of individuality faded away. Greenleaf lived so much more in his thoughts than in his life that creatures very speedily got to represent nothing but problems to him. At this moment his main interest in life was to secure the Yetholme collection of majolica and Palissy work; the fact that he was going, in a few minutes, to meet Miss Flodden was not more important than the fact that he would have to get his port- portmanteau page: 163 manteau out of the van. And as to Miss Flodden, she represented to him, in a rather rubbed-out way, the problem of upper class want of education and moral earnestness.

It seemed to him also, as he shook hands with Miss Flodden, in her cart at Yetholme station, and took his place beside her in the vehicle, that not only all his own feelings about Miss Flodden, but Miss Flodden herself had changed. She had grown so much more like everybody else, he thought, or he had got to see her so much more in her reality. There was nothing exotic about her now, wrapped in a big, fuzzy cloak, a big cap drawn over her head, concealing the close, light-brown curls, and making her face so very much less keen in feature. He wondered why he had seen so much of the Celt in her, and such a far-fetched nervous fineness. She seemed also, in her almost monosyllabic conversation, mainly preoccupied with his portmanteau, the hours of his train, the names of the villages and hills they passed, and similar commonplace matters; whereas, in London he had noted the eager insistence with which she had immediately set the conversation and firmly kept it on intellectual and artistic problems.

The cart rolled away by high-lying fields of pale page: 164 green barley and oats shivering in the cold breeze, between the stunted hedges, whence an occasional wind-warped thorn-tree rose black against the pale yellow afternoon sky, with every now and then a bunch of blue cranesbill, or a little fluttering group of poppies, taking the importance of bushes and trees in this high, bleak, Northern country. Great savage dogs, with chests and pointed ears like the antique Cerberus, came barking out of the black stone cottages; and over the fields, from the tree-tops just visible in the river valley below, circled innumerable rooks, loudly cawing. The road made a sudden dip, and they were on a level with the wide, shingly bed of the Tweed, scattered sheep grazing along the banks. Then a black belfry appeared among black ash trees; a row of black cottages bordered the road with their hollyhocks and asters; and the cart rolled in between rows of rook-peopled trees, and stopped at last before a long, black stone house, sunk, as in some parts of Scotland, into a kind of trench. There was a frightful alarum of dogs of all kinds, rushing up from all directions. But Miss Flodden led Greenleaf into the house and through various passages, without any human being appearing, save a boy, to whom she threw the reins at the door. At last, in page: 165 a big, dark drawing-room, a child was discovered helping herself to milk and bread and jam at a solitary table.

“They're all out,” she said, taking no notice of Greenleaf, although scanning him with the critical eyes of six or seven. “Cut me a scone, Val, and put butter on it, but not too much.”

“This is a step-sister of mine,” explained Miss Flodden, laconically, nodding in the child's direction, as she threw aside her cloak, drew off her gloves, and began pouring out tea. “I say, leave that scone alone until I can cut it for you. It's rather hard lines on one for the family to have its tea and leave us only the cold dregs.”

She looked listless and calm and bored. Greenleaf wondered how he could ever have romanced about this handsome, commonplace young woman. Then he began to speculate as to where the famous collection was kept.

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V.

“IT'S very unfair of me, of course,” Miss Flodden remarked next morning, as she handed down plate after plate, jar after jar, to Greenleaf, seated, the catalogue before him and the pen in his hand, at a long deal table—“it's very unfair, and it isn't at all business, but I used to think I should like to see you again; and now, on account of these pots, I dislike you.”

Greenleaf looked up in astonishment. It was as if the veil of sullenness, preventing his recognition of Miss Flodden ever since his arrival, had suddenly been torn asunder by a burst of passion. The girl was standing by the glass case, dusting a Limoges platter with a feather brush, her mannish coat and short skirt covered with dust. She spoke in an undertone, and her eyes were looking down upon the platter; but it struck him at once that she was a Celt once more, and that the Celtic waywardness and emotion were bursting out the more irresistibly for that long repression due to the Spartan undemonstra- undemonstrativeness page: 167 tiveness of smart society. He noticed also a trait he had forgotten, and which had seemed to be, long ago at the Museum, a sort of mark of temperament, telling of inherited ferocity in this well-bred young lady; two of her little white teeth, instead of being square pearls, like their companions, were pointed and sharp, like those of a wild animal. And as she raised her eyes, their light, whitish blue, flashed angrily.

“Excuse my being so rude, Mr. Greenleaf,” she added very coldly, “you have been so good, showing and explaining a lot of things to me, that it's only fair you should know that, on account of the pots, I have—well, got to dislike you. You see,” she went on, turning her back to him, “they were my toys. They were the only people, except the trees and the river, one had to talk to sometimes.”

Greenleaf had noticed at dinner last night, and again this morning at lunch, that Miss Flodden seemed to have very little in common with her family, and, indeed, scarcely any communication at all.

Sir Percy Flodden, an old gentleman with a beautiful white beard, and beautiful soft manners, but a deficiency in further characteristics, had found leisure, in the intervals of organising Primrose meetings, making speeches at Conservative dinners, writing page: 168 letters to the Times about breeds of cattle, and hunting and fishing a great deal, to get married a second time, and to produce a large number of younger fishermen and huntresses, future Primrose Leaguers and writers to the Times. The second wife being dead, and sundry aunts installed in her place, the younger generation of Floddens, after gradually emerging from the nursery, ran wild in brooks and streams, stables and haylofts, until the boys were packed off to civilisation and Eton, pending further civilisation and Sandhurst; and the girls were initiated into their proper form of civilisation by being taken to a drawing-room and then hustled into further female evolution by an energetic and tactful married sister. The elder girls were now at home, preparing clothes for various balls and packing trunks for various visits; and the elder boys had come back on holidays, with fishing-rods, coin collections, the first three books of Euclid, and the last new thing in slang; as to the younger half-brothers and sisters, they were still in the phase of the hayloft and stable, emerging only to partake of gigantic breakfasts and teas.

Among all these good-natured and well-mannered, but somewhat dull creatures, Val Flodden moved in page: 169 an atmosphere of her own, somewhat of a stranger, considerably of a puzzle, and regarded with the mixed awe and suspicion due to her having been recently an admittedly pretty woman, and now showing signs of becoming an undoubtedly eccentric one. Besides, there was the fact that Val Flodden was partially a Celt, and that her father and brothers were most emphatically Saxons.

All this it has been necessary to explain that the reader might understand that Greenleaf might have understood Miss Flodden's passionate clinging to her sole companions at Yetholme, the old crockery of her grandfather's collection.

But although Greenleaf did actually take in a portion of the situation, he was mainly impressed by the want of public spirit exhibited by the young lady; so inevitably do we expect other folk to possess even our most eccentric standards, and to rule their feelings and actions by notions of which they have probably never even heard.

Miss Flodden had broken through all rules in manifesting her feelings about the pots; Greenleaf never dreamed of taking advantage of her false move, but with his usual simplicity, encouraged by a plain-spokenness, which never struck him as otherwise page: 170 than natural, he answered very gravely: “Of course I understand how fond you must be of these beautiful things, and how much it must have been to you—it would be to anyone who cared for art, even if not specially interested like you in pottery—to have them constantly before you. But you ought to remember that you are parting with them for the advantage of others.”

Miss Flodden flushed a little. It was probably from surprise and shame at this man's stupidity. She must have felt as if she herself had alluded to the necessity of selling these heirlooms, as if she herself had done the incredible thing of pointing out the pecuniary advantage. Then, apparently, she reflected that if this man was so obtuse, he could not help himself; but that he was doubtless honest in his intentions. For she added coldly, and hiding her contemptuous face from him with a jar held at arms' length:

“Of course I know that it's for the benefit of my brothers and sisters. I don't grudge them the money, heaven knows, and when one's broke, one's broke. Only it's sad to think what sort of things—what stupid amusements and useless necessaries these lovely things will be exchanged for, merely because the world is so idiotically constituted. You see, the pos- possession page: 171 session of these pots ought to give everyone more pleasure than the possession of an additional horse, or an extra frock.”

Greenleaf was as much taken aback at her misconception of his meaning as she had been at her supposed understanding of it.

“Good gracious, Miss Flodden, I didn't mean the advantage of your brothers and sisters. But surely you ought to reflect that these pots passing from a private house in Northumberland to the South Kensington Mlusuem, will mean that hundreds of people will be afforded pleasure, instead of only one or two—one, namely yourself, by your own account. Besides, do you really think that any private individual has a moral right to keep for himself any object capable of giving a noble kind of pleasure to his fellows, merely because the present state of society allows him to possess more money than his neighbours, and to lock up things as his property? Surely art belongs to all who can enjoy it!”

There was something fault-finding in Greenleaf's tone, owing to the fact that he could not realise such ideas, so very familiar to himself, not being equally familiar to everyone else.

Miss Flodden set down the jar she was dusting, page: 172 keeping her wrist balanced on its edge, and looked at Greenleaf with surprise in her blue eyes, which concentrated, and seemed to grow darker and deeper by the concentration.

“Really,” she asked incredulously, “are you speaking seriously? But then—what would become of luxury and so forth?”

“The active would enjoy it as well as the idle—or rather, there would be no longer either active or idle; everyone would work and enjoy equally, and equally fairly and rationally.”

“Then,” went on Miss Flodden slowly, the sequence of thoughts bursting with difficulty on to her mind, “no one would have things, except for real enjoyment and as a result of fairly earning them? People would all have books and beautiful trees and fields to look at, and pictures and music; but no diamonds, or stepping horses, or frocks from Worth—the things one has because other folk have them.”

Greenleaf smiled: she seemed to him, talking of these things which “one” had because “others” had them, things so futile, so foreign to his mind, extraordinarily like a child talking of the snakes, whales, and ogres, represented by tables and chairs, and hearthrugs.

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“Of course not.”

“At that rate,” went on the girl, “there would no longer be any need for marrying and giving in marriage. One would live quite free; free to work at what one liked, and look about without folks worrying one.”

Greenleaf did not follow her thought, for his own thoughts were too foreign to the habits she was alluding to.

“I don't see,” he added simply, “why people shouldn't marry or be given in marriage because every one worked and had leisure. Some mightn't, perhaps, because some would always, perhaps, want to work too much, and because things matter to me—I mean to some—more than other people. But I can't see why others shouldn't marry and be given in marriage, Miss Flodden.”

A little contraction passed across the girl's face, and she answered in a hurried, husky voice:

“No, no; that would be all over.”

And they fell again to the catalogue. It was a very hard day's work, that first one, for the catalogue was in horrid confusion; and they really could not have had time to talk much about other things, for they went on with merely a brief space for lunch, and page: 174 Greenleaf was sent for a walk with one of the boys at tea time, while Miss Flodden unwillingly entertained some neighbours. Then at dinner the conversation, in which she took no part, rolled mainly upon local pedigrees, crops, how many fish the boys had caught, in what houses friends were staying, whom sundry young ladies of the neighbourhood were likely to marry, and how many bags had been made at the various shoots. Still, despite these irrelevant interests, Miss Flodden seemed to have understood why Greenleaf had expected her to like the sale of the collection, and Greenleaf to have understood why Miss Flodden should have been vexed at the collection being sold. At least there was a sense of mutual comprehension and good-will, such as the morning had scarcely promised. And when, after fretting a little over more bags of game and more local pedigrees, with his host and the boys after dinner, Greenleaf returned to find the ladies in various stages of somnolence, over the drawing-room fire; he experienced an odd sense of the naturalness of things when Miss Flodden asked whether he could play the piano, and took her violin out of its case.

Miss Flodden did not play exactly well, for it appears that very few people do; and she, of course, page: 175 had had but little opportunity of learning. Yet, in a way, she played the fiddle much better, Greenleaf felt, than he himself, who was decidedly a proficient, could play the piano. For there was in her playing the expression not merely of talent, but of extraordinary, passionate, dogged determination to master the instrument. It was as much this as the actual execution which gave the charm to her performance, To Greenleaf the charm was immense. He nearly always played, when he did play, with men; and he hated the way in which the fiddle crushes the starched hideous shirt, the movement of bowing rucks the black sleeve and hard white cuff too high above the red, masculine wrist; and among the dreams of his life there had always been a very silly one, of a younger sister—he always thought of her as called Emily—who would have learned the violin, and who would have stood before him like this, bow in hand, while he looked up from his piano. It seems odd, perhaps, that the fair violinist should never have appeared to his mind as a possible wife; but so it was. And so it was that this image, which had dawned upon his school-boy fancy long before the delectableness of marriage could ever be understood, and when his solitary little soul still smarted at his dull, grown- page: 176 up, companionless home—so it was that the image of “Emily”—the imaginary sister with the violin had gradually taken the place in his heart of that grave Miss Delia Carpenter, the only woman whom he had ever loved, and who had told him she was in love with another.

The family was beginning to disperse; the girls to wake up yawning from their novels or their embroidery; the father to start suddenly from his slumber over the Times; the boys, having satisfied themselves in the newspapers about the number of brace of grouse, had sneaked off to prepare flies for the next day's fishing; and still the duet went on, the image of “Emily” gradually acquiring the blue eyes (its own had been brownish) and clear-cut, nervous features (she had hitherto had an irregular style of beauty) of Val Flodden.

“That's enough,” said Miss Flodden, putting her violin tenderly—she had the same rather unwonted tenderness with some of the majolica—into its case, and looking round at the sleepy faces of the family. “Jack, give Mr. Greenleaf his candle. And,” she added, as they shook hands, “you'll tell me some more about how it will be when everybody works and has leisure, won't you, to-morrow?”

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That night Greenleaf saw in his dreams his father's rectory among the south country pines, the garden and paddock, the big library and loft full of books; and among it all there wandered about, rather dim in features, but unhesitatingly recognised, that imaginary sister, the violinist Emily.

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VI.

“TELL me more about the Miss Carpenters,” said Miss Flodden shyly, keeping her eyes fixed on the rapidly flowing twist of water between the big shingle, where every now and then came the spurt of a salmon's leap.

They were seated, after tea, and another hard day's cataloguing, under some beech trees that overhung the Tweed. From the fields opposite—no longer England, already Scotland—came the pant and whirr of a threshing-machine; while from the woods issued the caw of innumerable rooks, blackening the sky. A heron rose from among the reeds of the bank, and mounted, printing the pale sky with his Japanese outline. There was incredible peacefulness, not unmixed with austerity, in the gurgle of the water, the green of the banks, the scent of damp earth.

Greenleaf, who was very reserved about his friends, so much that one friend might almost have imagined him to possess no others, had somehow slid into page: 179 speaking of his little Bloomsbury world to this girl, who was so foreign to it. It had come home to him how utterly Miss Flodden had lived out of contact with all the various concerns of life, and out of sight of the people who have such. Except pottery and violin music, come into her existence by the merest accident, and remaining there utterly isolated, she had no experience, save of the vanities of the world. But what struck him most, and seemed to him even more piteous, was her habit of regarding these vanities as matters not of amusement, but of important business. To her, personally, it would seem, indeed, that frocks, horses, diamonds, invitations to this house or that, and all the complications of social standing, afforded little or no satisfaction. But then she accepted the fact of being an eccentric, a creature not quite all it should be; and she expected everyone else to be different, to be seriously engaged in the pursuit of the things she, personally, and owing to her eccentricity, did not want.

It was extraordinary how, while she expressed her own distaste for various weaknesses and shortcomings, she defended those who gave way to them as perfectly normal creatures. Greenleaf was horrified to hear her explain, with marvelous perception of how page: 180 and wherefore, and without any blame, the manner in which women may gradually allow men not their husbands to pay their dressmaker's bills, and gradually to become masters of their purse and of themselves: the necessity of a new frock at some race or ball, the desire to outshine another woman, to get into royalty's notice, and the fear of incensing a husband already hard up—all this seemed to Miss Flodden perfectly natural and incontrovertible; and she pleaded for those who gave way under such pressure.

“Of course I wouldn't do it,” she said, twisting a long straw in her hands; “it strikes me as bad form, don't you know; but then I'm peculiar, and there are so many things in the world which other folk don't mind, and which I can't bear. I don't like some of their talk, and I don't like their not running quite straight. But then I seem to have been born with a skin less than one ought to have.”

Greenleaf listened in silent horror. In the course of discussing how much the world might be improved by some of his socialistic plans, this young lady of four or five and twenty had very simply and quietly unveiled a state of corruption, of which, in his tirades against wealth and luxury, he had had but the vaguest idea. “You see,” Miss Flodden had remarked, page: 181 “it's because one has to have so many things which one's neighbours have, whether they give one much pleasure or not, that a woman gets into such false positions, which make people, if things get too obvious, treat her in a beastly, unjust way. But women have always been told that they must have this and that, and go to such and such a house, otherwise they'd not keep up in it all; and then they're fallen upon afterwards. It's awfully unfair. Why, of course, if one hadn't always been told that one must have frocks, and carriages, and must go to Marlborough House, one wouldn't get married. Of course it's different with me, because I'm queer, and I like making pots, and am willing to know no one. But then that's all wrong, at least my married sister is always saying so. And, of course, I'm not going to marry, however much they bore me about it.”

“You speak as if women got married merely for the sake of living like their neighbours,” remarked Greenleaf; “that's absurd.”

Miss Flodden, seated on a stone, looked up at him under his beech tree. Her face bore a curious expression of incredulity dashed with contempt. Could he be a Pharisee?

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“There may be exceptions,” she answered, “and perhaps you may know some. But if a woman were secure of her living, and did not want things, why should she get married?” It was as if she had said, Why should a Hindoo widow burn herself? “There must be some inducement,” she added, looking into the water and plucking at the grass, “to give oneself into the keeping of another person.” Her face had that same contraction, as once when she had mentioned the matter before.

“Good God,” thought Greenleaf, “into what ugly bits of life had this girl been forced to look!” And he felt a great pity and indignation about things in general.

Miss Flodden sent a stone skimming across the river, as if to dismiss the subject, and then it was that she said rather hesitatingly:

“Tell me more about the Miss Carpenters.”

She had an odd, timid curiosity about Greenleaf's friends, about everyone who did anything, as if she feared to intrude on them even in thought.

Greenleaf had spoken about them before and not unintentionally. These three sisters, living in their flat off Holborn, doing all their housework themselves, and yet finding time to work among the poor, to be page: 183 cultivated and charming, were a stalking horse of his, an example he liked to bring before this member of fast society.

He had taken his refusal by one of the sisters with a philosophy which had astonished himself, for he certainly had thought that Delia was very dear to him. She was dear in a way now. But he felt quite pleased at her marriage with young Farquhar of the Museum, and he rather enjoyed talking about her. He told Miss Flodden of Maggie Carpenter's work among the sweaters, and of the readings of English literature she and Clara gave to the shop-girls; and he was a little shocked, when he told her of the young woman from Shoolbred's who had borrowed a volume of Webster, that Val Flodden had never heard of that eminent dramatist, and thought he was the dictionary. He described the little suppers they gave in their big kitchen, where the one or two guests helped to lay the table and to wash up afterwards, previous to going to the highest seats in the Albert Hall, or to some socialist lecture; then the return on foot through the silent, black Bloomsbury streets. He made it sound even more idyllic than it really was. Then he spoke of Delia and the piano lessons she gave and the poems she wrote. He even repeated page: 184 two of the poems out loud and felt that they were very beautiful.

“They can never bore themselves,” remarked Miss Flodden, pensively.

“Bore themselves?” responded Greenleaf.

“Yes: bore themselves and feel they just must have something different to think about, like birds beating against cage bars.” Then, after a pause, she said vaguely and hesitatingly: “I wish there were a chance for one to know the Miss Carpenters.”

Greenleaf brightened up. This was what he wished. “Of course you shall know them, if you care, Miss Flodden, only—”

“Only—you mean that they would think me a bore and an intruder.”

“No,” answered Greenleaf, he scarcely knew why, “that's not what I meant. But you must remember that you and they belong to different classes of society.”

Miss Flodden's face contracted. “Ah,” she exclaimed angrily. “Why must you throw that in my face? You have said that sort of thing several times before. Why do you?”

Why, indeed? For Greenleaf could not desist, every now and then, from bringing up that fact. It page: 185 made the girl quiver, but he could not help himself; it was an attempt to find out whether she was really in earnest, which he occasionally doubted; and also it was a natural reaction against certain cynical assumptions, certain takings for granted on Miss Flodden's part that the vanity and corruption of her miserable little clique permeated the whole of the world—of the world which did not even know, in many instances, that there was such a thing as a smart lot!

But now he was sorry.

“Indeed,” he said sorrowfully, “such a gulf between classes unfortunately still exists. In our civilisation, where luxury and the money which buys it go for so much, those who work must necessarily be separate from those who play.”

“Heaven knows you have no right to abuse us for having money,” exclaimed Miss Flodden, much hurt. “Why, if I don't get married, and I shan't, I shall never have a penny to bless myself with.”

“It's a question of the lot one belongs to,” answered Greenleaf unkindly; but added, rather remorsefully: “Would you like me to give you a letter for the Miss Carpenters when next you go to town? I have,” he hesitated a little, “talked a good deal about you with them.”

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“Really!” exclaimed Miss Flodden quickly. “That's awfully good of you—I mean to give me a letter—only I fear it will bore them. I shall be going to town for a week or two in October. May I call on them then, do you think?”

“Of course.” And Greenleaf, who was a business-like man, drew out his pocket-book, full of little patterns for pots and notes for lectures, and wrote on a clean page:

“Mem.: Letter for the Miss Carpenters for Miss Flodden.”

“I will write it to-night or to-morrow; you shall have it before I leave. By the way, that train the day after to-morrow is at 6.20, is it not?”

“Yes,” answered Miss Flodden. “I wish you could stay longer.”

And they walked home.

As they wandered through the high-lying fields of green oats and yellow barley, among whose long beards the low sun made golden dust, with the dark, greenish Cheviots on one side, purple clouds hanging on their moor sides, and the three cones of the Eildons rising, hills of fairy-land, faint upon the golden sunset mist—as they wandered talking of various things, pottery, philosophy, and socialism, Greenleaf felt stealing page: 187 across his soul a peacefulness as unlike his usual mood, as this northern afternoon, with soughing grain and twittering of larks, was different from the grime and bustle of London. He knew, now, that Miss Delia Carpenter's refusal had been best for him; his nature was too thin to allow of his giving himself both to a wife and family, and to the duties and studies which claimed him; he would have starved the affections of the first while neglecting the second. His life must always be a solitary one with his work. But into this rather cheerless solitude, there seemed to be coming something, he could scarcely tell what. Greenleaf believed in the possible friendship between a man and a woman; if it had not existed often hitherto, that was the fault of our corrupt bringing up. But it was possible and necessary; a thing different from, more perfect and more useful, than any friendship between persons of the same sex. But more different still, breezier, more robust and serene, than love even at its best. And had he not always wished for that sister, that Emily who had never existed? Of course he did not contemplate seeing very much of Miss Flodden; still less did he admit to himself that this strange, reserved, yet outspoken girl might be the friend he craved for. But he felt a curious page: 188 satisfaction, despite his better reason, which protested against everything abnormal, and which explained a great deal by premature experience of the world's ugliness—he felt a satisfaction at Miss Flodden's aversion to marriage. He could not have explained why, but he knew in a positive manner that this girl never had been, and never would be, in love; that this young woman of a frivolous and fast lot, was a sort of female Hippolytus, but without a male Diana; and he held tight to the knowledge as to a treasure.

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VII.

THE next day, Greenleaf was a little out of conceit with himself and the world at large: a vague depression and irritation got hold of him. Before breakfast, while ruminating over a list of books for Miss Flodden's reading, he had mechanically taken up a volume which lay on the drawing-room table. There were not many books at Yetholme, except those which were never moved from the library shelves; and the family's taste ran to Rider Haggard and sporting novels; while the collection put in his room, and bearing the name of Valentine Flodden, consisted either of things he already knew by heart—a selection from Browning, a volume of Tolstoy, and an Imitation of Christ;—or of others—as sundry works on Esoteric Buddhism, a handbook of Perspective, and a novel by Marie Corelli—which he felt little desire to read. The book that he took up was from the Circulating Library, Henry James's “Princess Casamassima.” He had read it, of course, and dived into it—the last volume it was— page: 190 at random. Do authors ever reflect how much influence they must occasionally have, coming by accident, to arouse some latent feeling, or to reinforce some dominant habit of mind? Certainly Henry James had been possessed of no ill-will towards Miss Val Flodden, whom indeed he might have made the heroine of some amiable story. Yet Henry James, at that moment, did Val Flodden a very bad turn. Greenleaf got up from the book, after twenty minutes' random reading, in a curiously suspicious and aggressive mood. Of course he never dreamed that he, a gentleman of some independent means, a scholar, a man who had known the upper classes long before he had ever come in contact with the lower, could have anything in common with poor Hyacinth, the socialist bookbinder, pining for luxury and the love of a great lady; neither was there much resemblance between Christina Light, married to Prince Casamassima, and this young Val Flodden married to nobody; yet the book depressed him horribly, by its suggestion of the odd freaks of curiosity which relieve the weariness of idle lives. And the depression was such, that he could not hold his tongue on the subject.

“Have you read that book—the ‘Princess Casamassima’—Miss Flodden?” he asked at breakfast.

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“Yes,” answered the girl; “isn't it good? and so natural, don't you think?”

“You don't mean that you think the Princess natural—you don't think there ever could be such a horrible woman?”

He was quite sure there might be, indeed the fear of such an one quite overpowered him at this very moment; and he asked in hopes of Miss Flodden saying that there were no Princess Casamassimas.

Something in his tone appeared to irritate Miss Flodden. She thought him pharisaical, as she sometimes did, and considered it her duty to give him a setting down with the weight of her superior worldly wisdom.

“Of course I think her natural; only she might be more natural still.”

“You mean more wicked?” asked Greenleaf sharply.

“No, not more wicked. The woman in the book may be intended to be wicked; but she needn't have been so in real life. Not at all wicked. She's merely a clever woman who is bored by society, and who wants to know about a lot of things and people. Heaps of women want to know about things because they're bored, but it's not always about nice things page: 192 and nice people, as in the case of the Princess. She may have done mischief—she shouldn't have played with that wretched little morbid bookbinding boy; women oughtn't to play with men even when they're fools, indeed especially not then. But that wasn't inevitable. Hyacinth would run under her wheels Of course I shouldn't have cared for that chemist creature either, nor for that Captain Sholto; he behaved rather like a cad all round, don't you think? But after all, they all talked very well; about interesting things—real, important things—didn't they?”

“And you think that to hear people talk about real, important things is a great delight, Miss Flodden?” asked Greenleaf, with a bitterness she did not fully appreciate.

“You would understand it if you had lived for years among people who talked nothing but gossip and rot,” she answered sadly, rising from her place.

No more was said that morning about the Princess Casamassima. Miss Flodden was rather silent during their cataloguing work, and Greenleaf felt vaguely sore, he knew not what about.

Throughout the day, there kept returning to his mind those words, “You see they talked very well, about interesting things, important, real things, didn't page: 193 they?” and the simple, taking-things-for-granted tone in which they had been said. Women of her lot, Miss Flodden had once informed him, would go great lengths for the sake of a new frock or a pair of stepping horses. Was it not possible that some of them, to whom frocks and horses had been offered in too great abundance, might transfer their desire for novelty to interesting talk and real things?

That was their last afternoon together. The catalogue had been finished with. Miss Flodden took Greenleaf for a drive in her cart. They sped along under the rolling clouds of the blustering northern afternoon, the rooks, in black swarms, cawing loudly, and the pee-wits screeching among the stunted hedges and black stones of the green, close-nibbled pastures; it was one of those August days which foretell winter. Greenleaf could never recollect very well what they had talked about, except that it had been about a great variety of things, which the blustering wind had seemed to sweep away like the brown beech leaves in the hollows. The fact was that Greenleaf was not attending. He kept revolving in his mind the same idea, with the impossibility of solving it. He was rather like a man in love, who cannot decide whether or not he is sufficiently so to make a declaration and feels the page: 194 propitious moment escaping. Greenleaf was not in love; had he been, had there been any chance of his being so, Val Flodden would not have been there in the cart by his side; she had once told him, in one of her fits of abstract communicativeness, that people in love were despicable, but for that reason to be pitied, and that to let them fall in love was to be unkind to them, and to prepare a detestable exhibition for oneself. So Greenleaf was not in love. But he was as excited as if he had been. He felt that a great suspicion had arisen within him; and that this suspicion was about to deprive him of a friendship to which he clung as to a newly-found interest in life.

About Miss Flodden he did not think—that is to say, whether he might be running the risk of depriving her of something. He had not made love to her, so what could he deprive her of? Besides he thought of Miss Flodden exclusively as of the person who was probably going to deprive him of something he wanted. Deprive him if his suspicions should be true. For if his suspicions were true, there was no alternative to giving up all relations with her. He was not a selfish man, trying to save himself heartburns and disenchantments. He was thinking of his opinions, solely. It was quite impossible that they should become the toys page: 195 of an idle, frivolous woman. Such a thing could not be. The sense of sacrilege was so great that he did not even say to himself that such a thing could not be allowed: to him it took the form of impossibility of its being at all.

Greenleaf was in an agony of doubt; he kept on repeating to himself—“Is she a Princess Casamassima?” so often, that at last he found it quite natural to put the question, so often formulated internally, out loud to her. Of course if she were a Princess Casamassima, her denial would be worth nothing; but when we cannot endure a suspicion against someone, we do not, in our wild desire to have it denied at any price, stop short to reflect that the denial will be worthless. A denial; he wanted a denial, not for the sake of justice towards her, but for his own peace of mind. He was on the very point of putting that strange question to her, when, in the process of a conversation in which he had taken part as in a dream, there suddenly came the unasked-for answer.

They must have been talking of the Princess Casamassima again, and of the uninterestingness of most people's lives. Greenleaf could not remember. It was all muddled in his memory, only there suddenly flashed a sentence, distinct, burning, out of that forgotten confusion.

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“It's odd,” said Miss Flodden's high, occasionally childish voice; “but I've always found that the people who bored one least were either very clever or very fast.”

They were clattering into a little border town, with low black houses on either side, and a square tower, with a red tile extinguisher, and a veering weathercock, closing the distance and connecting the grey, wet flags below with the grey, billowy sky above.

Greenleaf, although forgetful of all save theories, remembered for a long time that street and that tower. He did not answer, for his heart was overflowing with bitterness.

So it was true; and it just had to be. He had let his belief become the plaything of a capricious child. He had lost his dear friend. It was inevitable.

Greenleaf did not say a word, and showed nothing until his departure. But his letter to Miss Flodden, thanking for the hospitality of Yetholme, was brief, and it contained no allusion to any future meeting, and no promised introduction to the Miss Carpenters. Only at the end was this sentence: “I have lately been re-reading Henry James's ‘Princess Casamassima’: and I agree with you completely now as to the naturalness of her character.”

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VIII.

SOME ten years later found Leonard Greenleaf once more—but this time with only a brougham and a footman to meet him—on his way to stay in a country house. He had been left penniless by his attempts to start co-operative workshops: and overwork and worry had made him far too weak to be a tolerable artisan; so, after having given up his pottery, those long years ago, because it ministered exclusively to rich men's luxury, he had been obliged to swallow the bitterness of perfecting rich men's dwellings in the capacity of Messrs. Boyce & Co.'s chief decorator; and now he was bent upon one of these hated errands.

Time, and the experience of many failures, had indeed perplexed poor Greenleaf's socialistic schemes a little, and had left him doubtful how to hasten the millennium, except by the slow methods of preaching morality and thrift; but time had rather exasperated his hatred of the idleness and selfishness of the privi- privileged page: 198 leged classes, to whose luxury he now found himself a minister. And, as he looked out of his window while dressing for dinner (those evening clothes, necessary for such occasions, had become a badge of servitude in his eyes), he felt that old indignation arise with unaccountable strength, and choke him with his own silence. It was a long, low house, the lawn spread, with scarcely any fall, down to the river brink; a wide band of green, then a wide band of shimmering, undecided blue and grey, reflecting the coppery clouds and purple banks of loose-strife, and then beyond and higher up in the picture, flat meadows, whose surface was beginning to be veiled in mist, and whose boundary elms were growing flat and unsubstantial, like painted things. There were birds twittering, and leaves rustling: a great sense of peacefulness, for the family and guests were doubtless within doors busy dressing. Suddenly, there was a plash of oars, and a peal of laughter; and, after a minute, two men and a woman came hurrying up the green lawn, against whose darkening slopes their white clothes made spots of unearthly whiteness in the twilight. They were noisy, and Greenleaf hated their laughter; but suddenly the lady stopped short a moment, and said to her companions in a tone of boredom and irritation: “Oh, shut page: 199 up; can't you let one look about and listen to things once in a way?”

There was more laughter, and they all disappeared indoors. Greenleaf leaned upon his window, wondering where he had heard that voice before—that voice, or rather one different, but yet very like it.

Downstairs, after a few civil speeches about the pleasure of having the assistance of so great an artistic authority, and sundry contradictory suggestions about styles of furniture and architecture, Greenleaf's host and hostess requested him to join in a little game devised for the removal of precedence in the arrangement of places at table. The game, which had been suggested that very moment by one of the various tall, blond and moustached youths hanging about the drawing-room, consisted in hiding all the men behind a door curtain, whence projected, as sole clue to their identity, their more or less tell-tale feet, by which the ladies were to choose their partners. The feet, so Greenleaf said to himself, were singularly without identity; he saw in his mind's eye the row of projecting, pointed-toed, shining pumps, cut low upon the fantastic assortment of striped, speckled, and otherwise enlivened silk stockings. Among them all there could only be a single pair betraying the nature of their page: 200 owner, and it was his. They said, or would say, in the mute but expressive language of their square-toedness (Greenleaf felt as if they might have elastic sides even, although his democratic views had always stopped short before that), that their owner was the curate, the tutor, the house-decorator, in fine, the interloper. He wondered whether, as good nature to himself and consideration for the other guests must prompt, those feet would be immediately selected by the mistress of the house, or whether they would be left there unclaimed, when all the others had marched cheerfully off.

But his suspense was quickly converted into another feeling, when among the laughter and exclamations provoked by the performance, a voice came from beyond the curtain, saying slowly: “I think I'll have this pair.” The voice was the same he had heard from the lawn, the same he had heard years ago in the British Museum, and on the banks of the Tweed—the same which once or twice since, but at ever-increasing intervals, he had tried in vain to recall to his mind's hearing. The voice—but grown deeper, more deliberate and uniformly weary—of Val Flodden.

Greenleaf heard vaguely the introductory interchange of names performed by his hostess; and felt in his page: 201 back the well-bred smile of amusement of the couples still behind, as the lady took his unprepared arm and walked him off in the helter-skelter move to the dining-room; and it was as in a dream that he heard his name pronounced, with the added information, on the part of his companion, that it was a long time since they had last met.

“Yes,” answered Greenleaf, as the servant gently pushed him and his chair nearer the table; “it must be quite a lot of years ago. I have come here,” he added, he scarce knew why—but with a vague sense of protest and self-defence—“about doing up the house.”

“Yes, to be sure—it is all going to be overhauled and made beautiful and inappropriate,” replied the lady, with a faint intonation of insolence, Greenleaf thought, in her bored voice.

“It is not always easy, is it,” rejoined Greenleaf, “to make things appropriate?”

“And beautiful? I suppose not. We aren't any of us very appropriate to a river-bank, with cows lowing and scythes being whetted and all that sort of thing, when one comes to think of it.”

“Oh, I do think cows are such interesting creatures—don't you?” put in the charming voice of a charming, charmingly dressed, innocent looking woman page: 202 opposite, who was evidently the accredited fool of the party. “Sir Robert took us to see a lot of his—all over the dairies, you know—this afternoon, while you were punting.”

Another lady, also very charming and charmingly dressed, but neither innocent nor foolish, made some comment on this speech to the man next to her; he said something in his turn, there was a general suppressed laugh, and the innocent looking lady laughed too; but protesting they oughtn't to say such things.

Greenleaf's mind, little accustomed to the charms of innuendoes and slippery allusions, had not followed the intricacies of the conversation. An astonishing girl, beautiful with the beauty of a well-bred horse, sat next to him, and tried to perplex him with sundry questions which she knew he could not follow; but she speedily found there was no rise to be got out of him, and bestowed elsewhere her remarks, racy in more senses than one. So Greenleaf sat silent, looking vaguely at the pools of light beneath the candle-shades, in which the rose petals strewn about, the roses lying loosely, took warm old ivory tints, and the silver—the fantastic confusion of chased salt-cellars and menu-holders and spoons and indescribable objects—flashed blue and lilac on its smooth or page: 203 chiselled surfaces. From the table the concentrated, shaded light led upwards to the opal necklace of the lady opposite, the blue of the opals changing, with the movement of her head, to green, burning and flickering into fiery sparks; then Greenleaf noticed, sometimes modelled into roundness and sometimes blurred into flatness in the shadow, the black sleeves of the men, the arms of the women, ivory like the rose petals where they advanced beneath the candle-shades; and behind, to the back of the shimmer of the light stuffs and the glare of white shirt-fronts, the big footmen, vague, shadowy, moving about. A man opposite, with babyish eyes and complexion, was telling some story about walking from a punt into the water, which raised the wrath of the girl near Greenleaf; others added further details, which she laughingly tried to deny; there was something about having fastened her garter with a diamond star, and the river having to be dragged for it. Another man, gaunt and languid, said something about not hiding old damask under rose-leaves; but being unnoticed by his hostess, went on about “Parsifal” to his neighbour, the lady interested in cows. There were also allusions to the other Cowes, the place, and to yachting; and a great many to various kinds of sport page: 204 and to gambling and losing money; indeed, it was marvellous how much money was lost and bankruptcy sustained (technically called getting broke).

The men were mostly more good-looking than not; the women, it seemed to Greenleaf, beautiful enough, each of them, to reward a good month's search. There was a smell, cool and white and acute, of gardenias, from the buttonholes, and a warmer, vaguer one of rose petals; the mixture of black coats and indescribable coloured silk, and of bare arms and necks, the alternations of concentrated light and vague shadow, the occasional glint and glimmer of stones, particularly that warm ivory of roses among the silver, struck Greenleaf, long unaccustomed to even much slighter luxury, as extraordinarily beautiful, like some Tadema picture of Roman orgies. And the more beautiful it seemed to him, with its intentional, elaborate beauty, the more did it make him gnash his teeth with the sense of its wickedness, and force him, for his own conscience' sake, to conjure up other pictures: of grimy, gaslit London streets, and battered crowds round barrows of cheap, half-spoilt food.

The lady who had once been called Val Flodden, and whose name—and he fancied he had heard it page: 205 before—was now Mrs. Hermann Struwë, addressed him with the necessary politeness, and asked him one or two questions about his work and so forth, in a conventional, bored tone. But, although the knowledge that this was his old acquaintance, and the recognition, every now and then, of the fact, put his feelings into a superficial flutter, Greenleaf's mind kept revolving the fact that this woman was really quite a stranger to him; and the apparently somewhat contradictory fact that this was what, after all, he had known she would end in. He noted that among these beautiful and self-satisfied women, with their occasional cleverness and frequent unseemliness of word and allusion, the former Val Flodden was in a way conspicuous, not because she was better looking, but because she was more weary, more reckless, because one somehow expected her to do more, for good or bad, than the others.

“I don't see exactly which of the party could have reported the case,” said the woman with the opals, “at least, the crucifix could scarcely have done so ... well, well.”

There was a great deal of laughter, as the hostess gave the signal for rising; but over it and the rustle and crackle of the ladies' frocks, the voice of Mrs. page: 206 Hermann Struwë was heard to say in languid, contemptuous tone: “I think your story is a little bit beastly, my dear Algy.”

Fortunately for Greenleaf, the men did not stay long at table, as smoking was equally allowed all over the house and in the ladies' presence. For Greenleaf, whose conversation with other men had for years turned only on politics, philosophy, or business, was imbued, much as a woman might have been, with a foregone conviction that as soon as idle men were left to themselves they began to discuss womankind. And there was at the table one man in particular, a long, black, nervous man, with a smiling, jerky mouth, an odd sample of Jewry acclimatised in England, a horrid, half-handsome man, with extraordinarily bland manners and an extraordinarily hard expression, obstinate and mocking, about whom Greenleaf felt that he positively could not sit out any of his conversation on women, and, of course, his conversation would turn on women; partly, perhaps, because the fellow had been introduced as Mr. Hermann Struwë.

Her husband—that was her husband! Greenleaf kept repeating to himself, as he answered as best he could his host's remarks about Elizabethan as against page: 207 Queen Anne. It was only now when he thought of her in connection with this man that Greenleaf realised that he was really a little upset by this meeting with his old acquaintance. And the thought went on and on, round and round, in his head, when he had followed the first stragglers who went to smoke their cigarettes with the ladies, and answered the interrogations of the æsthetic man who had talked about old damask and Wagner. The man in question, delighted to lay hold of so great an authority as Greenleaf, had also noticed that Greenleaf had known Mrs. Hermann Struwë at some former period. He had evidently been snubbed a little by the lady, and partly from a desire to hear her artistic capacities pooh-poohed by a professional (since every amateur imagines himself the only tolerable one), and partly from a natural taste for knowing what did not concern him, he had set very artfully to pump poor Greenleaf, who, at best, was no match for a wily man of the world.

“Miss Flodden had a good deal of talent—quite a remarkable talent—as a draughtsman, had she only studied seriously,” he answered emphatically, seeing only that the fellow wished for some quotable piece of running down. “It is, in fact, a pity”—but he page: 208 stopped. He was really not thinking of that. The long drawing-room opened with all its windows on to the lawn, and you could see, at the bottom of that, the outlines of trees and boats in the moonlight, and Chinese lanterns hanging about the flotilla of moored punts and canoes and skiffs, to which some of the party had gone down, revealing themselves with occasional splashings, thrummings on the banjo, and little cries and peals of laughter. Nearer the house a couple was walking up and down on the grass, the light of the drawing-room lamps catching their faces with an odd, yellow glow every now and then, and making the woman's white frock shimmer like silver against the branches of the big cedars. “It appears Lady Lilly told her mother she was going to try on a frock, but somehow on the way there she met Morton's coach, so she thought she'd get on to it and have some change of air and she changed the air so often that by the evening she had contrived to win sixty pounds at Sandown,” said one of the promenading couples, pausing in the stream of light from the window. “Oh, bless your soul, she doesn't mind it's being told; she thinks it an awful joke, and so it was.”

That man—that Val Flodden should have married page: 209 that man—Greenleaf kept repeating to himself, and the recollection of her words about never getting married, about a world where there would be no diamonds and no stepping horses, and also, as she expressed it, no marrying and giving in marriage, filled Greenleaf's mind as with some bitter, heady dram. And he had thought of her as a sort of unapproachable proud amazon, or Diana of Hippolytus, incapable of any feeling save indignation against injustice and pity for weak and gentle things. Oh Lord, oh Lord! It was horrible, horrible, and at the same time laughable. And just that man, too—that narrow, obstinate looking creature with the brain and the heart (Greenleaf knew it for a certainty) of a barn-door cock! And yet, was he any worse than the others, the others who, perhaps, had a little more brains and a little more heart, and who all the same lived only to waste the work of the poor, to make debts, to gamble, to ruin women, and to fill the world with filthy talk and disbelief in better things? Was he worse than all the other manly, well-mannered, accomplished, futile, or mischievous creatures? Was he worse than she?

“Ah, well, of course; you have known her so much more than I have,” said the æsthetic man, page: 210 puffing at his cigarette, opposite to Greenleaf. “But now, I should have thought there would have always been something lacking in anything that woman would do. A certain—I don't know what to call it—but, in short, proper mental balance and steadiness. I consider, that for real artistic quality, it is necessary that one should possess some sort of seriousness, of consistency of character—of course you know her so much better, Mr. Greenleaf—but now I can't understand a really artistic woman—after refusing half a dozen other fellows who were at least gentlemen, suddenly choosing a tubbed Jew like that—and apparently not seeing that he is only a tubbed Jew,” the æsthetic man stopped, disappointed in not getting a rise from Greenleaf, but Greenleaf was scarcely listening.

A man had sat down to the piano and was singing, on the whole, rather well. Some of the people were standing by him, others were in little groups, men and women nearly all smoking equally, scattered about the big white room with the delicate blue china, and the big stacks of pale pink begonias. Mrs. Hermann Struwë was standing near the piano, leaning against the long, open window, the principal figure in a group of two other women and a man. In her page: 211 fanciful, straight-hanging dress of misty-coloured crape, her hair, elaborately and tightly dressed, making her small head even smaller, and her strong, slender neck, with the black pearls around it, drawn up like a peacock's, she struck Greenleaf as much more beautiful than before, and even much taller; but there had been a gentleness, a something timid and winning, in her former occasional little stoop, which was now quite gone. She looked young, but young in quite another way; she was now very thin, and her cheeks were hollowed very perceptibly.

The bland, blurred man at the piano was singing with all his might, and with considerable voice and skill; but the music, of his own composition, was indecorously passionate as he sang it, at least taken in connection with the words, culled from some decadent French poet, and which few people would have deliberately read out aloud. The innocent lady who had talked about cows even made some faint objection, to which the singer answered much surprised, by blandly pointing out the passionate charm of the words, and assuring her that she did not know what real feeling was. And when he had finished that song, and begun another, one of the two other page: 212 women actually moved away, while the other buried her head in a volume of Punch; there was a little murmur, “Well, I think he is going a little too far.” But Mrs. Hermann Struwë never moved.

“I can't make out that woman,” remarked Greenleaf's new acquaintance, the æsthetic man; “she's usually by ways of being prudish, and has a way of shutting up poor Chatty when he gets into this strain. Only yesterday, she told him his song was beastly, and it wasn't half as bad as this one. I expect she's doing it from cussedness, because her husband was bored at her being too particular yesterday; because, of course, he'll be bored by her not being particular enough to-day.”

Greenleaf walked up to a picture, and thence slunk off to the door. As he was leaving the room, he looked back at the former Miss Flodden: she was still standing near the piano, listening composedly, but he thought that her thin face bore an expression of defiance.

He was so excited that he opened his room door too quickly to give effect to a practical joke, consisting of a can of water balancing on its angle as it stood ajar, and intended to tumble on his head while he was passing in; a delicate jest which the girl who page: 213 had sat next to him—she of the punt, diamond garter and coach adventures—occasionally practised on the new inmates of what she technically called “houses.”

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IX.

THE next morning, after surveying the house with his host, and making elaborate plans for its alteration with his hostess, Greenleaf was going for a stroll outside the grounds, when he suddenly heard his name called by the voice of her who had once been Val Flodden, but of whom he already thought only as Mrs. Hermann Struwë. She arose from under a big cedar, among whose sweeping branches she had been seated reading.

“Are you going for a walk?” she asked, coming towards him in her white frock, incredibly white against the green lawn, and trailing her also incredibly white parasol after her.

“Is it true that you go back to town this afternoon?”

“Yes,” answered Greenleaf, laconically.

“Then,” she said, “I will come with you a little way.”

page: 215

They walked silently through a little wood of beeches, and out into the meadows by the river. Greenleaf found it too difficult to say anything, and, after all, why say anything to her?

“Look here,” began Mrs. Hermann Struwë, suddenly stopping short by the water's brink. “I want to speak to you quite plainly, Mr. Greenleaf. Quite plainly, as one does, don't you know, to a person one isn't likely ever to meet again. I didn't want to speak to you yesterday, because—well—because I disliked you too much.”

Greenleaf looked up from the grasses steeping at the root of a big willow, in the water.

“Why?” he asked blankly, but a vague pain invading his consciousness, with the recollection of the library at Yetholme, of the catalogue and the dusty majolica, when Miss Flodden had said once before that she disliked him, because he was taking away the pots.

“But I've thought over it,” she went on, not noticing his interruption; “and I see again, what I recognised years ago—only that every now and then I can't help forgetting it and feeling bad—namely, that it was quite natural on your part—I mean your never having introduced me to the Miss Carpenters, nor page: 216 even written to me again.” She spoke slowly and very gently, with just a little hesitation, as he remembered so well her having done those years ago in Northumberland.

An unknown feeling overwhelmed Greenleaf and prevented his speaking—the feeling, he vaguely understood, of having destroyed, of having killed something.

“I don't reproach you with it. I never really did. I understood very soon that it was quite natural on your part to take me for a Princess Casamassima. I had done nothing to make you really know me, and I had no right to expect you to take me on my own telling. And there must have been so many things to make you suspect my not deserving to know your friends, or to learn about your ideas. It wasn't that,” she added, hurriedly, “that I wished really to explain, because, as I repeat, although I sometimes feel unreasonable and angry, like last night, when something suddenly makes me see the contrast between what I might have been, and what I am, I don't bear you any grudge. What I wanted to tell you, Mr. Greenleaf, is that I wasn't unworthy of the confidence, though it wasn't much, which you once placed in me. I was not a Princess Casamassima; I was not a hum- humbug page: 217 bug then, saying things and getting you to say them for the sake of the novelty. And I'm not really changed since. I wasn't a worthless woman then; and I haven't really become a worthless woman now. Shall we go towards home? I think I heard the gong.”

They were skirting the full river, with its fringe of steeping loose-strife and meadow-sweet, and its clumps of sedge, starred with forget-me-not, whence whirred occasional water-fowl. From the field opposite there came every now and then the lazy low of a cow.

“It was very different, wasn't it, on the Tweed,” she said, looking round her; “the banks so steep and bare, and all that shingle. Do you remember the heron? Didn't he look Japanese? I hate all this,” and she dug up a pellet of green with her parasol point, and flung it far into the water.

“Of course,” she went on, “to you it must seem the very proof of your suspicions having been justified, I mean your finding me again—well, in this house. And, perhaps, you may remember my telling you, all those years ago at Yetholme, that I would never marry.”

She raised her eyes from the ground and looked straight into his, with that odd deepening of colour of page: 218 her own. She had guessed his thoughts: that sentence about not marrying and being given in marriage was ringing in his mind; and he felt, as she looked into his face, that she wished above all to clear herself from that unspoken accusation.

“I never should have, most likely,” she went on. “Although you must remember that all my bringing up had consisted in teaching me that a woman's one business in life is to marry, to make a good marriage, to marry into this set, a man like my husband. For a long while before I ever met you, I had made up my mind that although this was undoubtedly the natural and virtuous course, I would not follow it, that I would rather earn my living or starve; and I had been taught that to do either, to go one's own ways and think one's own thoughts, was scandalous. It was about this that I had broken with my sister. She had bothered me to marry one of a variety of men whom she unearthed for the purpose; and we quarrelled because I refused the one she wanted me to have most—the one, as a matter of fact, who is now my husband. I tell you all these uninteresting things because I want you to know that I was in earnest when I told you I did not want the things a woman gets by marrying. I was in earnest,” she page: 219 went on, stopping and twisting a long willow leaf round her finger, the tone of her voice changing suddenly from almost defiant earnestness to a sad, helpless little tone, “but it was of no good. I saw—you showed me that I was locked, walled into the place into which I had been born; you made me feel that it was useless for an outsider to try to gain the confidence of you people who work and care about things; that your friends would consider me an intruder, that you considered me a humbug—you slammed in my face the little door through which I had hoped to have escaped from all this sort of thing.”

And she nodded towards the white house, stretched like a little encampment upon the green river bank, with the flotilla of boats and punts and steam launches, moored before its windows.

“Then,” said Greenleaf, a light coming into his mind, a light such as would reveal some great ruin of flood or fire to the unconscious criminal who has opened the sluice or dropped the match in the dark, “then you sat out that song last night to make me understand....?”

“It was very childish of me, and also very unjust,” answered Mrs. Hermann composedly. “Of course you couldn't help it. I don't feel angry with you. page: 220 But sometimes, when I remember those weeks when I gradually understood that it was all to be, and I made up my mind to live out the life for which I had been born—and, now that the pots were sold—well, to sell myself also to the highest bidder—sometimes I did feel a little bad. You see when one is really honest oneself, it is hard to be misunderstood—and the more misunderstood the more one explains oneself—by other people who are honest.”

They walked along in silence; which Greenleaf broke by asking as in a dream—“And your violin?”

“Oh! I've given that up long ago—my husband didn't like it, and as he has given me everything that I possess, it wouldn't be business, would it, to do things he dislikes? If it had been the piano, or the guitar, or the banjo! But a woman can't lock herself up and practice the fiddle! People would think it odd. And now,” she added, as they came in sight of the little groups of variegated pink and mauve frocks, and the white boating-clothes under the big cedars, “good-bye, Mr. Greenleaf; and—be a little more trustful to other people who may want your friendship—won't you? I shall like to think of that.” She stretched out her hand, with the thin glove loosely wrinkled over the arm, and she smiled that good, wide-eyed page: 221 smile, like that of a good, serious child who wishes to understand.

Greenleaf did not take her hand at once.

“You have children at least?” he asked hoarsely.

She understood his thought, but hesitated before answering.

“I have three—somewhere—at the sea-side, or some other place where children ought to be when their parents go staying about,”—she answered quickly—“they are quite happy, with plenty of toys, now; and they will be quite happy when they grow up, for they will have plenty of money, and they will be their father's image—good-bye!”

“Good-bye,” answered Greenleaf, and added, after he had let go her hand, “It is very generous of you to be so forgiving. But your generosity makes it only more impossible for me ever to forgive myself.”

Out of the station of that little group of river houses the line goes almost immediately on to a long bridge. It was in process of repair, and as the train moved slowly across, Greenleaf could see, on the upper river reach, close beneath him, a flotilla of boats, canoes, and skiffs of various sizes, surrounding a punt, and all of them gay with lilac and pale green and pale pink frocks, and white flannels, and coloured sashes and page: 222 cushions, and fantastic umbrellas. Some of the ladies were scrambling from one of the skiffs into the punt, which was pinned into its place by the long pole held upright in the green, glassy water, reflecting the pink, green, lilac, and white, the red cushions, and the shimmering greyness of the big willows. There was much laughter and some little shrieks, and the twang of a banjo; and it looked altogether like some modern Watteau's version of a latter-day embarkation for the island of Venus. And, in the little heap of bright colours, Greenleaf recognised, over the side of a skiff, the parasol, white, incredibly white, of the former Val Flodden.

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