By D. H. Lawrence
'Take off that mute, do!' cried Louisa, snatching her fingers from the
piano keys, and turning abruptly to the violinist.
Helena looked slowly from her music.
'My dear Louisa,' she replied, 'it would be simply unendurable.' She
stood tapping her white skirt with her bow in a kind of a pathetic
'But I can't understand it,' cried Louisa, bouncing on her chair with
the exaggeration of one who is indignant with a beloved. 'It is only
lately you would even submit to muting your violin. At one time you
would have refused flatly, and no doubt about it.'
'I have only lately submitted to many things,' replied Helena, who
seemed weary and stupefied, but still sententious. Louisa drooped from
her bristling defiance.
'At any rate,' she said, scolding in tones too naked with love, I don't
'Go on from Allegro,' said Helena, pointing with her bow to the place
on Louisa's score of the Mozart sonata. Louisa obediently took the
chords, and the music continued.
A young man, reclining in one of the wicker arm-chairs by the fire,
turned luxuriously from the girls to watch the flames poise and dance
with the music. He was evidently at his ease, yet he seemed a stranger
in the room.
It was the sitting-room of a mean house standing in line with hundreds
of others of the same kind, along a wide road in South London. Now and
again the trams hummed by, but the room was foreign to the trams and to
the sound of the London traffic. It was Helena's room, for which she was
responsible. The walls were of the dead-green colour of August foliage;
the green carpet, with its border of polished floor, lay like a square
of grass in a setting of black loam. Ceiling and frieze and fireplace
were smooth white. There was no other colouring.
The furniture, excepting the piano, had a transitory look; two light
wicker arm-chairs by the fire, the two frail stands of dark, polished
wood, the couple of flimsy chairs, and the case of books in the
recess—all seemed uneasy, as if they might be tossed out to leave the
room clear, with its green floor and walls, and its white rim of
On the mantlepiece were white lustres, and a small soapstone Buddha from
China, grey, impassive, locked in his renunciation. Besides these, two
tablets of translucent stone beautifully clouded with rose and blood,
and carved with Chinese symbols; then a litter of mementoes,
rock-crystals, and shells and scraps of seaweed.
A stranger, entering, felt at a loss. He looked at the bare wall-spaces
of dark green, at the scanty furniture, and was assured of his
unwelcome. The only objects of sympathy in the room were the white lamp
that glowed on a stand near the wall, and the large, beautiful fern,
with narrow fronds, which ruffled its cloud of green within the gloom of
the window-bay. These only, with the fire, seemed friendly.
The three candles on the dark piano burned softly, the music fluttered
on, but, like numbed butterflies, stupidly. Helena played mechanically.
She broke the music beneath her bow, so that it came lifeless, very
hurting to hear. The young man frowned, and pondered. Uneasily, he
turned again to the players.
The violinist was a girl of twenty-eight. Her white dress, high-waisted,
swung as she forced the rhythm, determinedly swaying to the time as if
her body were the white stroke of a metronome. It made the young man
frown as he watched. Yet he continued to watch. She had a very strong,
vigorous body. Her neck, pure white, arched in strength from the fine
hollow between her shoulders as she held the violin. The long white lace
of her sleeve swung, floated, after the bow.
Byrne could not see her face, more than the full curve of her cheek. He
watched her hair, which at the back was almost of the colour of the
soapstone idol, take the candlelight into its vigorous freedom in front
and glisten over her forehead.
Suddenly Helena broke off the music, and dropped her arm in irritable
resignation. Louisa looked round from the piano, surprised.
'Why,' she cried, 'wasn't it all right?'
Helena laughed wearily.
'It was all wrong,' she answered, as she put her violin tenderly to
'Oh, I'm sorry I did so badly,' said Louisa in a huff. She loved Helena
'You didn't do badly at all,' replied her friend, in the same tired,
apathetic tone. 'It was I.'
When she had closed the black lid of her violin-case, Helena stood a
moment as if at a loss. Louisa looked up with eyes full of affection,
like a dog that did not dare to move to her beloved. Getting no
response, she drooped over the piano. At length Helena looked at her
friend, then slowly closed her eyes. The burden of this excessive
affection was too much for her. Smiling faintly, she said, as if she
were coaxing a child:
'Play some Chopin, Louisa.'
'I shall only do that all wrong, like everything else,' said the elder
plaintively. Louisa was thirty-five. She had been Helena's friend
'Play the mazurkas,' repeated Helena calmly.
Louisa rummaged among the music. Helena blew out her violin-candle, and
came to sit down on the side of the fire opposite to Byrne. The music
began. Helena pressed her arms with her hands, musing.
'They are inflamed still' said the young man.
She glanced up suddenly, her blue eyes, usually so heavy and tired,
lighting up with a small smile.
'Yes,' she answered, and she pushed back her sleeve, revealing a fine,
strong arm, which was scarlet on the outer side from shoulder to wrist,
like some long, red-burned fruit. The girl laid her cheek on the
smarting soft flesh caressively.
'It is quite hot,' she smiled, again caressing her sun-scalded arm with
'Funny to see a sunburn like that in mid-winter,' he replied, frowning.
'I can't think why it should last all these months. Don't you ever put
anything on to heal it?'
She smiled at him again, almost pitying, then put her mouth lovingly on
'It comes out every evening like this,' she said softly, with curious
'And that was August, and now it's February!' he exclaimed. 'It must be
psychological, you know. You make it come—the smart; you invoke it.'
She looked up at him, suddenly cold.
'I! I never think of it,' she answered briefly, with a kind of sneer.
The young man's blood ran back from her at her acid tone. But the
mortification was physical only. Smiling quickly, gently—'
'Never?' he re-echoed.
There was silence between them for some moments, whilst Louisa continued
to play the piano for their benefit. At last:
'Drat it,' she exclaimed, flouncing round on the piano-stool.
The two looked up at her.
'Ye did run well—what hath hindered you?' laughed Byrne.
'You!' cried Louisa. 'Oh, I can't play any more,' she added, dropping
her arms along her skirt pathetically. Helena laughed quickly.
'Oh I can't, Helen!' pleaded Louisa.
'My dear,' said Helena, laughing briefly, 'you are really under no
With the little groan of one who yields to a desire contrary to her
self-respect, Louisa dropped at the feet of Helena, laid her arm and her
head languishingly on the knee of her friend. The latter gave no sign,
but continued to gaze in the fire. Byrne, on the other side of the
hearth, sprawled in his chair, smoking a reflective cigarette.
The room was very quiet, silent even of the tick of a clock. Outside,
the traffic swept by, and feet pattered along the pavement. But this
vulgar storm of life seemed shut out of Helena's room, that remained
indifferent, like a church. Two candles burned dimly as on an altar,
glistening yellow on the dark piano. The lamp was blown out, and the
flameless fire, a red rubble, dwindled in the grate, so that the yellow
glow of the candles seemed to shine even on the embers. Still no
At last Helena shivered slightly in her chair, though did not change her
position. She sat motionless.
'Will you make coffee, Louisa?' she asked. Louisa lifted herself, looked
at her friend, and stretched slightly.
'Oh!' she groaned voluptuously. 'This is so comfortable!'
'Don't trouble then, I'll go. No, don't get up,' said Helena, trying to
disengage herself. Louisa reached and put her hands on Helena's wrists.
'I will go,' she drawled, almost groaning with voluptuousness and
Then, as Helena still made movements to rise, the elder woman got up
slowly, leaning as she did so all her weight on her friend.
'Where is the coffee?' she asked, affecting the dullness of lethargy.
She was full of small affectations, being consumed with uneasy love.
'I think, my dear,' replied Helena, 'it is in its usual place.'
'Oh—o-o-oh!' yawned Louisa, and she dragged herself out.
The two had been intimate friends for years, had slept together, and
played together and lived together. Now the friendship was coming to
'After all,' said Byrne, when the door was closed, 'if you're alive
you've got to live.'
Helena burst into a titter of amusement at this sudden remark.
'Wherefore?' she asked indulgently.
'Because there's no such thing as passive existence,' he replied,
She curled her lip in amused indulgence of this very young man.
'I don't see it at all,' she said.
'You can't, he protested, 'any more than a tree can help budding in
April—it can't help itself, if it's alive; same with you.'
'Well, then'—and again there was the touch of a sneer—'if I can't help
myself, why trouble, my friend?'
'Because—because I suppose I can't help myself—if it bothers me, it
does. You see, I'—he smiled brilliantly—'am April.'
She paid very little attention to him, but began in a peculiar reedy,
metallic tone, that set his nerves quivering:
'But I am not a bare tree. All my dead leaves, they hang to me—and—and
go through a kind of danse macabre—'
'But you bud underneath—like beech,' he said quickly.
'Really, my friend,' she said coldly, 'I am too tired to bud.'
'No,' he pleaded, 'no!' With his thick brows knitted, he surveyed her
anxiously. She had received a great blow in August, and she still was
stunned. Her face, white and heavy, was like a mask, almost sullen. She
looked in the fire, forgetting him.
'You want March,' he said—he worried endlessly over her—'to rip off
your old leaves. I s'll have to be March,' he laughed.
She ignored him again because of his presumption. He waited awhile, then
broke out once more.
'You must start again—you must. Always you rustle your red leaves of a
blasted summer. You are not dead. Even if you want to be, you're not.
Even if it's a bitter thing to say, you have to say it: you are
Smiling a peculiar, painful smile, as if he hurt her, she turned to gaze
at a photograph that hung over the piano. It was the profile of a
handsome man in the prime of life. He was leaning slightly forward, as
if yielding beneath a burden of life, or to the pull of fate. He looked
out musingly, and there was no hint of rebellion in the contours of the
regular features. The hair was brushed back, soft and thick, straight
from his fine brow. His nose was small and shapely, his chin rounded,
cleft, rather beautifully moulded. Byrne gazed also at the photo. His
look became distressed and helpless.
'You cannot say you are dead with Siegmund,' he cried brutally. She
shuddered, clasped her burning arms on her breast, and looked into the
fire. 'You are not dead with Siegmund,' he persisted, 'so you can't say
you live with him. You may live with his memory. But Siegmund is dead,
and his memory is not he—himself,' He made a fierce gesture of
impatience. 'Siegmund now—he is not a memory—he is not your dead red
leaves—he is Siegmund Dead! And you do not know him, because you are
alive, like me, so Siegmund Dead is a stranger to you.'
With her head bowed down, cowering like a sulky animal, she looked at
him under her brows. He stared fiercely back at her, but beneath her
steady, glowering gaze he shrank, then turned aside.
'You stretch your hands blindly to the dead; you look backwards. No, you
never touch the thing,' he cried.
'I have the arms of Louisa always round my neck,' came her voice, like
the cry of a cat. She put her hands on her throat as if she must relieve
an ache. He saw her lip raised in a kind of disgust, a revulsion from
life. She was very sick after the tragedy.
He frowned, and his eyes dilated.
'Folk are good; they are good for one. You never have looked at them.
You would linger hours over a blue weed, and let all the people down the
road go by. Folks are better than a garden in full blossom—'
She watched him again. A certain beauty in his speech, and his
passionate way, roused her when she did not want to be roused, when
moving from her torpor was painful. At last—
'You are merciless, you know, Cecil,' she said.
'And I will be,' protested Byrne, flinging his hand at her. She laughed
For some time they were silent. She gazed once more at the photograph
over the piano, and forgot all the present. Byrne, spent for the time
being, was busy hunting for some life-interest to give her. He ignored
the simplest—that of love—because he was even more faithful than she
to the memory of Siegmund, and blinder than most to his own heart.
'I do wish I had Siegmund's violin,' she said quietly, but with great
intensity. Byrne glanced at her, then away. His heart beat sulkily. His
sanguine, passionate spirit dropped and slouched under her contempt. He,
also, felt the jar, heard the discord. She made him sometimes pant with
her own horror. He waited, full of hate and tasting of ashes, for the
arrival of Louisa with the coffee.
Siegmund's violin, desired of Helena, lay in its case beside Siegmund's
lean portmanteau in the white dust of the lumber-room in Highgate. It
was worth twenty pounds, but Beatrice had not yet roused herself to sell
it; she kept the black case out of sight.
Siegmund's violin lay in the dark, folded up, as he had placed it for
the last time, with hasty, familiar hands, in its red silk shroud. After
two dead months the first string had snapped, sharply striking the
sensitive body of the instrument. The second string had broken near
Christmas, but no one had heard the faint moan of its going. The violin
lay mute in the dark, a faint odour of must creeping over the smooth,
soft wood. Its twisted, withered strings lay crisped from the anguish of
breaking, smothered under the silk folds. The fragrance of Siegmund
himself, with which the violin was steeped, slowly changed into an
odour of must.
Siegmund died out even from his violin. He had infused it with his life,
till its fibres had been as the tissue of his own flesh. Grasping his
violin, he seemed to have his fingers on the strings of his heart and of
the heart of Helena. It was his little beloved that drank his being and
turned it into music. And now Siegmund was dead; only an odour of must
remained of him in his violin.
It lay folded in silk in the dark, waiting. Six months before it had
longed for rest; during the last nights of the season, when Siegmund's
fingers had pressed too hard, when Siegmund's passion, and joy, and fear
had hurt, too, the soft body of his little beloved, the violin had
sickened for rest. On that last night of opera, without pity Siegmund
had struck the closing phrases from the fiddle, harsh in his impatience,
wild in anticipation.
The curtain came down, the great singers bowed, and Siegmund felt the
spattering roar of applause quicken his pulse. It was hoarse, and
savage, and startling on his inflamed soul, making him shiver with
anticipation, as if something had brushed his hot nakedness. Quickly,
with hands of habitual tenderness, he put his violin away.
The theatre-goers were tired, and life drained rapidly out of the
opera-house. The members of the orchestra rose, laughing, mingling their
weariness with good wishes for the holiday, with sly warning and
suggestive advice, pressing hands warmly ere they disbanded. Other years
Siegmund had lingered, unwilling to take the long farewell of his
associates of the orchestra. Other years he had left the opera-house
with a little pain of regret. Now he laughed, and took his comrades'
hands, and bade farewells, all distractedly, and with impatience. The
theatre, awesome now in its emptiness, he left gladly, hastening like a
flame stretched level on the wind.
With his black violin-case he hurried down the street, then halted to
pity the flowers massed pallid under the gaslight of the market-hall.
For himself, the sea and the sunlight opened great spaces tomorrow. The
moon was full above the river. He looked at it as a man in abstraction
watches some clear thing; then he came to a standstill. It was useless
to hurry to his train. The traffic swung past the lamplight shone warm
on all the golden faces; but Siegmund had already left the city. His
face was silver and shadows to the moon; the river, in its soft grey,
shaking golden sequins among the folds of its shadows, fell open like a
garment before him, to reveal the white moon-glitter brilliant as living
flesh. Mechanically, overcast with the reality of the moonlight, he took
his seat in the train, and watched the moving of things. He was in a
kind of trance, his consciousness seeming suspended. The train slid out
amongst lights and dark places. Siegmund watched the endless movement,
This was one of the crises of his life. For years he had suppressed his
soul, in a kind of mechanical despair doing his duty and enduring the
rest. Then his soul had been softly enticed from its bondage. Now he was
going to break free altogether, to have at least a few days purely for
his own joy. This, to a man of his integrity, meant a breaking of bonds,
a severing of blood-ties, a sort of new birth. In the excitement of this
last night his life passed out of his control, and he sat at the
carriage-window, motionless, watching things move.
He felt busy within him a strong activity which he could not help.
Slowly the body of his past, the womb which had nourished him in one
fashion for so many years, was casting him forth. He was trembling in
all his being, though he knew not with what. All he could do now was to
watch the lights go by, and to let the translation of himself continue.
When at last the train ran out into the full, luminous night, and
Siegmund saw the meadows deep in moonlight, he quivered with a low
anticipation. The elms, great grey shadows, seemed to loiter in their
cloaks across the pale fields. He had not seen them so before. The world
The train stopped, and with a little effort he rose to go home. The
night air was cool and sweet. He drank it thirstily. In the road again
he lifted his face to the moon. It seemed to help him; in its brilliance
amid the blonde heavens it seemed to transcend fretfulness. It would
front the waves with silver as they slid to the shore, and Helena,
looking along the coast, waiting, would lift her white hands with sudden
joy. He laughed, and the moon hurried laughing alongside, through the
black masses of the trees.
He had forgotten he was going home for this night. The chill wetness of
his little white garden-gate reminded him, and a frown came on his face.
As he closed the door, and found himself in the darkness of the hall,
the sense of his fatigue came fully upon him. It was an effort to go to
bed. Nevertheless, he went very quietly into the drawing-room. There the
moonlight entered, and he thought the whiteness was Helena. He held his
breath and stiffened, then breathed again. 'Tomorrow,' he thought, as he
laid his violin-case across the arms of a wicker chair. But he had a
physical feeling of the presence of Helena: in his shoulders he seemed
to be aware of her. Quickly, half lifting his arms, he turned to the
moonshine. 'Tomorrow!' he exclaimed quietly; and he left the room
stealthily, for fear of disturbing the children.
In the darkness of the kitchen burned a blue bud of light. He quickly
turned up the gas to a broad yellow flame, and sat down at table. He was
tired, excited, and vexed with misgiving. As he lay in his arm-chair, he
looked round with disgust.
The table was spread with a dirty cloth that had great brown stains
betokening children. In front of him was a cup and saucer, and a small
plate with a knife laid across it. The cheese, on another plate, was
wrapped in a red-bordered, fringed cloth, to keep off the flies, which
even then were crawling round, on the sugar, on the loaf, on the
cocoa-tin. Siegmund looked at his cup. It was chipped, and a stain had
gone under the glaze, so that it looked like the mark of a dirty mouth.
He fetched a glass of water.
The room was drab and dreary. The oil-cloth was worn into a hole near
the door. Boots and shoes of various sizes were scattered over the
floor, while the sofa was littered with children's clothing. In the
black stove the ash lay dead; on the range were chips of wood, and
newspapers, and rubbish of papers, and crusts of bread, and crusts of
bread-and-jam. As Siegmund walked across the floor, he crushed two
sweets underfoot. He had to grope under sofa and dresser to find his
slippers; and he was in evening dress.
It would be the same, while ever Beatrice was Beatrice and Siegmund her
husband. He ate his bread and cheese mechanically, wondering why he was
miserable, why he was not looking forward with joy to the morrow. As he
ate, he closed his eyes, half wishing he had not promised Helena, half
wishing he had no tomorrow.
Leaning back in his chair, he felt something in the way. It was a small
teddy-bear and half of a strong white comb. He grinned to himself. This
was the summary of his domestic life—a broken, coarse comb, a child
crying because her hair was lugged, a wife who had let the hair go till
now, when she had got into a temper to see the job through; and then the
teddy-bear, pathetically cocking a black worsted nose, and lifting
absurd arms to him.
He wondered why Gwen had gone to bed without her pet. She would want the
silly thing. The strong feeling of affection for his children came over
him, battling with something else. He sank in his chair, and gradually
his baffled mind went dark. He sat, overcome with weariness and trouble,
staring blankly into the space. His own stifling roused him.
Straightening his shoulders, he took a deep breath, then relaxed again.
After a while he rose, took the teddy-bear, and went slowly to bed.
Gwen and Marjory, aged nine and twelve, slept together in a small room.
It was fairly light. He saw his favourite daughter lying quite
uncovered, her wilful head thrown back, her mouth half open. Her black
hair was tossed across the pillow: he could see the action. Marjory
snuggled under the sheet. He placed the teddy-bear between the
As he watched them, he hated the children for being so dear to him.
Either he himself must go under, and drag on an existence he hated, or
they must suffer. But he had agreed to spend this holiday with Helena,
and meant to do so. As he turned, he saw himself like a ghost cross the
mirror. He looked back; he peered at himself. His hair still grew thick
and dark from his brow: he could not see the grey at the temples. His
eyes were dark and tender, and his mouth, under the black moustache, was
full of youth.
He rose, looked at the children, frowned, and went to his own small
room. He was glad to be shut alone in the little cubicle of darkness.
Outside the world lay in a glamorous pallor, casting shadows that made
the farm, the trees, the bulks of villas, look like live creatures. The
same pallor went through all the night, glistening on Helena as she lay
curled up asleep at the core of the glamour, like the moon; on the sea
rocking backwards and forwards till it rocked her island as she slept.
She was so calm and full of her own assurance. It was a great rest to be
with her. With her, nothing mattered but love and the beauty of things.
He felt parched and starving. She had rest and love, like water and
manna for him. She was so strong in her self-possession, in her love of
beautiful things and of dreams.
The clock downstairs struck two.
'I must get to sleep,' he said.
He dragged his portmanteau from beneath the bed and began to pack it.
When at last it was finished, he shut it with a snap. The click sounded
final. He stood up, stretched himself, and sighed.
'I am fearfully tired,' he said.
But that was persuasive. When he was undressed he sat in his pyjamas for
some time, rapidly beating his fingers on his knee.
'Thirty-eight years old,' he said to himself, 'and disconsolate as a
child!' He began to muse of the morrow.
When he seemed to be going to sleep, he woke up to find thoughts
labouring over his brain, like bees on a hive. Recollections, swift
thoughts, flew in and alighted upon him, as wild geese swing down and
take possession of a pond. Phrases from the opera tyrannized over him;
he played the rhythm with all his blood. As he turned over in this
torture, he sighed, and recognized a movement of the De Beriot concerto
which Helena had played for her last lesson. He found himself watching
her as he had watched then, felt again the wild impatience when she was
wrong, started again as, amid the dipping and sliding of her bow, he
realized where his thoughts were going. She was wrong, he was hasty; and
he felt her blue eyes looking intently at him.
Both started as his daughter Vera entered suddenly. She was a handsome
girl of nineteen. Crossing the room, brushing Helena as if she were a
piece of furniture in the way, Vera had asked her father a question, in
a hard, insulting tone, then had gone out again, just as if Helena had
not been in the room.
Helena stood fingering the score of Pelléas. When Vera had gone, she
asked, in the peculiar tone that made Siegmund shiver:
'Why do you consider the music of Pelléas cold?'
Siegmund had struggled to answer. So they passed everything off, without
mention, after Helena's fashion, ignoring all that might be humiliating;
and to her much was humiliating.
For years she had come as pupil to Siegmund, first as a friend of the
household. Then she and Louisa went occasionally to whatever hall or
theatre had Siegmund in the orchestra, so that shortly the three formed
the habit of coming home together. Then Helena had invited Siegmund to
her home; then the three friends went walks together; then the two went
walks together, whilst Louisa sheltered them.
Helena had come to read his loneliness and the humiliation of his lot.
He had felt her blue eyes, heavily, steadily gazing into his soul, and
he had lost himself to her.
That day, three weeks before the end of the season, when Vera had so
insulted Helena, the latter had said, as she put on her coat, looking at
him all the while with heavy blue eyes: 'I think, Siegmund, I cannot
come here any more. Your home is not open to me any longer.' He had
writhed in confusion and humiliation. As she pressed his hand, closely
and for a long time, she said: 'I will write to you.' Then she left him.
Siegmund had hated his life that day. Soon she wrote. A week later, when
he lay resting his head on her lap in Richmond Park, she said:
'You are so tired, Siegmund.' She stroked his face, and kissed him
softly. Siegmund lay in the molten daze of love. But Helena was, if it
is not to debase the word, virtuous: an inconsistent virtue, cruel and
ugly for Siegmund.
'You are so tired, dear. You must come away with me and rest, the first
week in August.'
His blood had leapt, and whatever objections he raised, such as having
no money, he allowed to be overridden. He was going to Helena, to the
Isle of Wight, tomorrow.
Helena, with her blue eyes so full of storm, like the sea, but, also
like the sea, so eternally self-sufficient, solitary; with her thick
white throat, the strongest and most wonderful thing on earth, and her
small hands, silken and light as wind-flowers, would be his tomorrow,
along with the sea and the downs. He clung to the exquisite flame which
But it died out, and he thought of the return to London, to Beatrice,
and the children. How would it be? Beatrice, with her furious dark eyes,
and her black hair loosely knotted back, came to his mind as she had
been the previous day, flaring with temper when he said to her:
'I shall be going away tomorrow for a few days' holiday.'
She asked for detail, some of which he gave. Then, dissatisfied and
inflamed, she broke forth in her suspicion and her abuse, and her
contempt, while two large-eyed children stood listening by. Siegmund
hated his wife for drawing on him the grave, cold looks of condemnation
from his children.
Something he had said touched Beatrice. She came of good family, had
been brought up like a lady, educated in a convent school in France. He
evoked her old pride. She drew herself up with dignity, and called the
children away. He wondered if he could bear a repetition of that
degradation. It bled him of his courage and self-respect.
In the morning Beatrice was disturbed by the sharp sneck of the hall
door. Immediately awake, she heard his quick, firm step hastening down
the gravel path. In her impotence, discarded like a worn out object, she
lay for the moment stiff with bitterness.
'I am nothing, I am nothing,' she said to herself. She lay quite rigid
for a time.
There was no sound anywhere. The morning sunlight pierced vividly
through the slits of the blind. Beatrice lay rocking herself, breathing
hard, her finger-nails pressing into her palm. Then came the sound of a
train slowing down in the station, and directly the quick
'chuff-chuff-chuff' of its drawing out. Beatrice imagined the sunlight
on the puffs of steam, and the two lovers, her husband and Helena,
rushing through the miles of morning sunshine.
'God strike her dead! Mother of God, strike her down!' she said aloud,
in a low tone. She hated Helena.
Irene, who lay with her mother, woke up and began to question her.
In the miles of morning sunshine, Siegmund's shadows, his children,
Beatrice, his sorrow, dissipated like mist, and he was elated as a young
man setting forth to travel. When he had passed Portsmouth Town
everything had vanished but the old gay world of romance. He laughed as
he looked out of the carriage window.
Below, in the street, a military band passed glittering. A brave sound
floated up, and again he laughed, loving the tune, the clash and glitter
of the band, the movement of scarlet, blithe soldiers beyond the park.
People were drifting brightly from church. How could it be Sunday! It
was no time; it was Romance, going back to Tristan.
Women, like crocus flowers, in white and blue and lavender, moved gaily.
Everywhere fluttered the small flags of holiday. Every form danced
lightly in the sunshine.
And beyond it all were the silent hillsides of the island, with Helena.
It was so wonderful, he could bear to be patient. She would be all in
white, with her cool, thick throat left bare to the breeze, her face
shining, smiling as she dipped her head because of the sun, which
glistened on her uncovered hair.
He breathed deeply, stirring at the thought. But he would not grow
impatient. The train had halted over the town, where scarlet soldiers,
and ludicrous blue sailors, and all the brilliant women from church
shook like a kaleidoscope down the street. The train crawled on, drawing
near to the sea, for which Siegmund waited breathless. It was so like
Helena, blue, beautiful, strong in its reserve.
Another moment they were in the dirty station. Then the day flashed out,
and Siegmund mated with joy. He felt the sea heaving below him. He
looked round, and the sea was blue as a periwinkle flower, while gold
and white and blood-red sails lit here and there upon the blueness.
Standing on the deck, he gave himself to the breeze and to the sea,
feeling like one of the ruddy sails—as if he were part of it all. All
his body radiated amid the large, magnificent sea-moon like a piece
The little ship began to pulse, to tremble. White with the softness of a
bosom, the water rose up frothing and swaying gently. Ships drew near
the inquisitive birds; the old Victory shook her myriad pointed flags
of yellow and scarlet; the straight old houses of the quay passed by.
Outside the harbour, like fierce creatures of the sea come wildly up to
look, the battleships laid their black snouts on the water. Siegmund
laughed at them. He felt the foam on his face like a sparkling, felt the
blue sea gathering round.
On the left stood the round fortress, quaintly chequered, and solidly
alone in the walk of water, amid the silent flight of the golden-and
Siegmund watched the bluish bulk of the island. Like the beautiful women
in the myths, his love hid in its blue haze. It seemed impossible.
Behind him, the white wake trailed myriads of daisies. On either hand
the grim and wicked battleships watched along their sharp noses. Beneath
him the clear green water swung and puckered as if it were laughing. In
front, Sieglinde's island drew near and nearer, creeping towards him,
bringing him Helena.
Meadows and woods appeared, houses crowded down to the shore to meet
him; he was in the quay, and the ride was over. Siegmund regretted it.
But Helena was on the island, which rode like an anchored ship under the
fleets of cloud that had launched whilst Siegmund was on water. As he
watched the end of the pier loom higher, large ponderous trains of cloud
cast over him the shadows of their bulk, and he shivered in the
His travelling was very slow. The sky's dark shipping pressed closer and
closer, as if all the clouds had come to harbour. Over the flat lands
near Newport the wind moaned like the calling of many violoncellos. All
the sky was grey. Siegmund waited drearily on Newport station, where the
wind swept coldly. It was Sunday, and the station and the island were
desolate, having lost their purposes.
Siegmund put on his overcoat and sat down. All his morning's blaze of
elation was gone, though there still glowed a great hope. He had slept
only two hours of the night. An empty man, he had drunk joy, and now the
intoxication was dying out.
At three o'clock of the afternoon he sat alone in the second-class
carriage, looking out. A few raindrops struck the pane, then the blurred
dazzle of a shower came in a burst of wind, and hid the downs and the
reeds that shivered in the marshy places. Siegmund sat in a chilly
torpor. He counted the stations. Beneath his stupor his heart was
thudding heavily with excitement, surprising him, for his brain
The train slowed down: Yarmouth! One more station, then. Siegmund
watched the platform, shiny with rain, slide past. On the dry grey under
the shelter, one white passenger was waiting. Suddenly Siegmund's heart
leaped up, wrenching wildly. He burst open the door, and caught hold of
Helena. She dilated, gave a palpitating cry as he dragged her into
'You here!' he exclaimed, in a strange tone. She was shivering with
cold. Her almost naked arms were blue. She could not answer Siegmund's
question, but lay clasped against him, shivering away her last chill as
his warmth invaded her. He laughed in his heart as she nestled in
'Is it a dream now, dear?' he whispered. Helena clasped him tightly,
shuddering because of the delicious suffusing of his warmth through her.
Almost immediately they heard the grinding of the brakes.
'Here we are, then!' exclaimed Helena, dropping into her conventional,
cheerful manner at once. She put straight her hat, while he gathered
Until tea-time there was a pause in their progress. Siegmund was
tingling with an exquisite vividness, as if he had taken some rare
stimulant. He wondered at himself. It seemed that every fibre in his
body was surprised with joy, as each tree in a forest at dawn utters
astonished cries of delight.
When Helena came back, she sat opposite to him to see him. His naïve
look of joy was very sweet to her. His eyes were dark blue, showing the
fibrils, like a purple-veined flower at twilight, and somehow,
mysteriously, joy seemed to quiver in the iris. Helena appreciated him,
feature by feature. She liked his clear forehead, with its thick black
hair, and his full mouth, and his chin. She loved his hands, that were
small, but strong and nervous, and very white. She liked his breast,
that breathed so strong and quietly, and his arms, and his thighs, and
For him, Helena was a presence. She was ambushed, fused in an aura of
his love. He only saw she was white, and strong, and full fruited, he
only knew her blue eyes were rather awful to him.
Outside, the sea-mist was travelling thicker and thicker inland. Their
lodging was not far from the bay. As they sat together at tea,
Siegmund's eyes dilated, and he looked frowning at Helena.
'What is it?' he asked, listening uneasily.
Helena looked up at him, from pouring out the tea. His little anxious
look of distress amused her.
'The noise, you mean? Merely the fog-horn, dear—not Wotan's wrath, nor
The fog was white at the window. They sat waiting. After a few seconds
the sound came low, swelling, like the mooing of some great sea animal,
alone, the last of the monsters. The whole fog gave off the sound for a
second or two, then it died down into an intense silence. Siegmund and
Helena looked at each other. His eyes were full of trouble. To see a
big, strong man anxious-eyed as a child because of a strange sound
amused her. But he was tired.
'I assure you, it is only a fog-horn,' she laughed.
'Of course. But it is a depressing sort of sound.'
'Is it?' she said curiously. 'Why? Well—yes—I think I can understand
its being so to some people. It's something like the call of the horn
across the sea to Tristan.'
She hummed softly, then three times she sang the horn-call. Siegmund,
with his face expressionless as a mask, sat staring out at the mist. The
boom of the siren broke in upon them. To him, the sound was full of
fatality. Helena waited till the noise died down, then she repeated her
'Yet it is very much like the fog-horn,' she said, curiously interested.
'This time next week, Helena!' he said.
She suddenly went heavy, and stretched across to clasp his hand as it
lay upon the table.
'I shall be calling to you from Cornwall,' she said.
He did not reply. So often she did not take his meaning, but left him
alone with his sense of tragedy. She had no idea how his life was
wrenched from its roots, and when he tried to tell her, she balked him,
leaving him inwardly quite lonely.
'There is no next week,' she declared, with great cheerfulness. 'There
is only the present.'
At the same moment she rose and slipped across to him. Putting her arms
round his neck, she stood holding his head to her bosom, pressing it
close, with her hand among his hair. His nostrils and mouth were crushed
against her breast. He smelled the silk of her dress and the faint,
intoxicating odour of her person. With shut eyes he owned heavily to
himself again that she was blind to him. But some other self urged with
gladness, no matter how blind she was, so that she pressed his face
She stroked and caressed his hair, tremblingly clasped his head against
her breast, as if she would never release him; then she bent to kiss his
forehead. He took her in his arms, and they were still for awhile.
Now he wanted to blind himself with her, to blaze up all his past and
future in a passion worth years of living.
After tea they rested by the fire, while she told him all the delightful
things she had found. She had a woman's curious passion for details, a
woman's peculiar attachment to certain dear trifles. He listened,
smiling, revived by her delight, and forgetful of himself. She soothed
him like sunshine, and filled him with pleasure; but he hardly attended
to her words.
'Shall we go out, or are you too tired? No, you are tired—you are very
tired,' said Helena.
She stood by his chair, looking down on him tenderly.
'No,' he replied, smiling brilliantly at her, and stretching his
handsome limbs in relief—'no, not at all tired now.'
Helena continued to look down on him in quiet, covering tenderness. But
she quailed before the brilliant, questioning gaze of his eyes.
'You must go to bed early tonight,' she said, turning aside her face,
ruffling his soft black hair. He stretched slightly, stiffening his
arms, and smiled without answering. It was a very keen pleasure to be
thus alone with her and in her charge. He rose, bidding her wrap herself
up against the fog.
'You are sure you're not too tired?' she reiterated.
Outside, the sea-mist was white and woolly. They went hand in hand. It
was cold, so she thrust her hand with his into the pocket of his
overcoat, while they walked together.
'I like the mist,' he said, pressing her hand in his pocket.
'I don't dislike it,' she replied, shrinking nearer to him.
'It puts us together by ourselves,' he said. She plodded alongside,
bowing her head, not replying. He did not mind her silence.
'It couldn't have happened better for us than this mist,' he said.
She laughed curiously, almost with a sound of tears.
'Why?' she asked, half tenderly, half bitterly.
'There is nothing else but you, and for you there is nothing else but
He stood still. They were on the downs, so that Helena found herself
quite alone with the man in a world of mist. Suddenly she flung herself
sobbing against his breast. He held her closely, tenderly, not knowing
what it was all about, but happy and unafraid.
In one hollow place the siren from the Needles seemed to bellow full in
their ears. Both Siegmund and Helena felt their emotion too intense.
They turned from it.
'What is the pitch?' asked Helena.
'Where it is horizontal? It slides up a chromatic scale,' said Siegmund.
'Yes, but the settled pitch—is it about E?'
'E!' exclaimed Siegmund. 'More like F.'
'Nay, listen!' said Helena.
They stood still and waited till there came the long booing of the
'There!' exclaimed Siegmund, imitating the sound. 'That is not E.' He
repeated the sound. 'It is F.'
'Surely it is E,' persisted Helena.
'Even F sharp,' he rejoined, humming the note.
She laughed, and told him to climb the chromatic scale.
'But you agree?' he said.
'I do not,' she replied.
The fog was cold. It seemed to rob them of their courage to talk.
'What is the note in Tristan?' Helena made an effort to ask.
'That is not the same,' he replied.
'No, dear, that is not the same,' she said in low, comforting tones. He
quivered at the caress. She put her arms round him reached up her face
yearningly for a kiss. He forgot they were standing in the public
footpath, in daylight, till she drew hastily away. She heard footsteps
down the fog.
As they climbed the path the mist grew thinner, till it was only a grey
haze at the top. There they were on the turfy lip of the land. The sky
was fairly clear overhead. Below them the sea was singing hoarsely
Helena drew him to the edge of the cliff. He crushed her hand, drawing
slightly back. But it pleased her to feel the grip on her hand becoming
unbearable. They stood right on the edge, to see the smooth cliff slope
into the mist, under which the sea stirred noisily.
'Shall we walk over, then?' said Siegmund, glancing downwards. Helena's
heart stood still a moment at the idea, then beat heavily. How could he
play with the idea of death, and the five great days in front? She was
afraid of him just then.
'Come away, dear,' she pleaded.
He would, then, forgo the few consummate days! It was bitterness to her
to think so.
'Come away, dear!' she repeated, drawing him slowly to the path.
'You are not afraid?' he asked.
'Not afraid, no….' Her voice had that peculiar, reedy, harsh quality
that made him shiver.
'It is too easy a way,' he said satirically.
She did not take in his meaning.
'And five days of our own before us, Siegmund!' she scolded. 'The mist
is Lethe. It is enough for us if its spell lasts five days.'
He laughed, and took her in his arms, kissing her very closely.
They walked on joyfully, locking behind them the doors of forgetfulness.
As the sun set, the fog dispersed a little. Breaking masses of mist went
flying from cliff to cliff, and far away beyond the cliffs the western
sky stood dimmed with gold. The lovers wandered aimlessly over the
golf-links to where green mounds and turfed banks suggested to Helena
that she was tired, and would sit down. They faced the lighted chamber
of the west, whence, behind the torn, dull-gold curtains of fog, the sun
was departing with pomp.
Siegmund sat very still, watching the sunset. It was a splendid, flaming
bridal chamber where he had come to Helena. He wondered how to express
it; how other men had borne this same glory.
'What is the music of it?' he asked.
She glanced at him. His eyelids were half lowered, his mouth slightly
open, as if in ironic rhapsody.
'Of what, dear?'
'What music do you think holds the best interpretation of sunset?'
His skin was gold, his real mood was intense. She revered him for a
'I do not know,' she said quietly; and she rested her head against his
shoulder, looking out west.
There was a space of silence, while Siegmund dreamed on.
'A Beethoven symphony—the one—' and he explained to her.
She was not satisfied, but leaned against him, making her choice. The
sunset hung steady, she could scarcely perceive a change.
'The Grail music in Lohengrin,' she decided.
'Yes,' said Siegmund. He found it quite otherwise, but did not trouble
to dispute. He dreamed by himself. This displeased her. She wanted him
for herself. How could he leave her alone while he watched the sky? She
almost put her two hands over his eyes.
The gold march of sunset passed quickly, the ragged curtains of mist
closed to. Soon Siegmund and Helena were shut alone within the dense
wide fog. She shivered with the cold and the damp. Startled, he took her
in his arms, where she lay and clung to him. Holding her closely, he
bent forward, straight to her lips. His moustache was drenched cold with
fog, so that she shuddered slightly after his kiss, and shuddered again.
He did not know why the strong tremor passed through her. Thinking it
was with fear and with cold, he undid his overcoat, put her close on his
breast, and covered her as best he could. That she feared him at that
moment was half pleasure, half shame to him. Pleadingly he hid his face
on her shoulder, held her very tightly, till his face grew hot, buried
against her soft strong throat.
'You are so big I can't hold you,' she whispered plaintively, catching
her breath with fear. Her small hands grasped at the breadth of his
'You will be cold. Put your hands under my coat,' he whispered.
He put her inside his overcoat and his coat. She came to his warm breast
with a sharp intaking of delight and fear; she tried to make her hands
meet in the warmth of his shoulders, tried to clasp him.
'See! I can't,' she whispered.
He laughed short, and pressed her closer.
Then, tucking her head in his breast, hiding her face, she timidly slid
her hands along his sides, pressing softly, to find the contours of his
figure. Softly her hands crept over the silky back of his waistcoat,
under his coats, and as they stirred, his blood flushed up, and up
again, with fire, till all Siegmund was hot blood, and his breast was
one great ache.
He crushed her to him—crushed her in upon the ache of his chest. His
muscles set hard and unyielding; at that moment he was a tense, vivid
body of flesh, without a mind; his blood, alive and conscious, running
towards her. He remained perfectly still, locked about Helena, conscious
She was hurt and crushed, but it was pain delicious to her. It was
marvellous to her how strong he was, to keep up that grip of her like
steel. She swooned in a kind of intense bliss. At length she found
herself released, taking a great breath, while Siegmund was moving his
mouth over her throat, something like a dog snuffing her, but with his
lips. Her heart leaped away in revulsion. His moustache thrilled her
strangely. His lips, brushing and pressing her throat beneath the ear,
and his warm breath flying rhythmically upon her, made her vibrate
through all her body. Like a violin under the bow, she thrilled beneath
his mouth, and shuddered from his moustache. Her heart was like fire in
Suddenly she strained madly to him, and, drawing back her head, placed
her lips on his, close, till at the mouth they seemed to melt and fuse
together. It was the long, supreme kiss, in which man and woman have one
being, Two-in-one, the only Hermaphrodite.
When Helena drew away her lips, she was exhausted. She belonged to that
class of 'dreaming women' with whom passion exhausts itself at the
mouth. Her desire was accomplished in a real kiss. The fire, in heavy
flames, had poured through her to Siegmund, from Siegmund to her. It
sank, and she felt herself flagging. She had not the man's brightness
and vividness of blood. She lay upon his breast, dreaming how beautiful
it would be to go to sleep, to swoon unconscious there, on that rare
bed. She lay still on Siegmund's breast, listening to his heavily
With her the dream was always more than the actuality. Her dream of
Siegmund was more to her than Siegmund himself. He might be less than
her dream, which is as it may be. However, to the real man she was
He held her close. His dream was melted in his blood, and his blood ran
bright for her. His dreams were the flowers of his blood. Hers were more
detached and inhuman. For centuries a certain type of woman has been
rejecting the 'animal' in humanity, till now her dreams are abstract,
and full of fantasy, and her blood runs in bondage, and her kindness is
full of cruelty.
Helena lay flagging upon the breast of Siegmund. He folded her closely,
and his mouth and his breath were warm on her neck. She sank away from
his caresses, passively, subtly drew back from him. He was far too
sensitive not to be aware of this, and far too much of a man not to
yield to the woman. His heart sank, his blood grew sullen at her
withdrawal. Still he held her; the two were motionless and silent for
She became distressedly conscious that her feet, which lay on the wet
grass, were aching with cold. She said softly, gently, as if he was her
child whom she must correct and lead:
'I think we ought to go home, Siegmund.' He made a small sound, that
might mean anything, but did not stir or release her. His mouth,
however, remained motionless on her throat, and the caress went out
'It is cold and wet, dear; we ought to go,' she coaxed determinedly.
'Soon,' he said thickly.
She sighed, waited a moment, then said very gently, as if she were loath
to take him from his pleasure:
'Siegmund, I am cold.'
There was a reproach in this which angered him.
'Cold!' he exclaimed. 'But you are warm with me—'
'But my feet are out on the grass, dear, and they are like wet pebbles.'
'Oh dear!' he said. 'Why didn't you give them me to warm?' He leaned
forward, and put his hand on her shoes.
'They are very cold,' he said. 'We must hurry and make them warm.'
When they rose, her feet were so numbed she could hardly stand. She
clung to Siegmund, laughing.
'I wish you had told me before,' he said. 'I ought to have known….'
Vexed with himself, he put his arm round her, and they set off home.
They found the fire burning brightly in their room. The only other
person in the pretty, stiffly-furnished cottage was their landlady, a
charming old lady, who let this sitting-room more for the change, for
the sake of having visitors, than for gain.
Helena introduced Siegmund as 'My friend'. The old lady smiled upon him.
He was big, and good-looking, and embarrassed. She had had a son years
back…. And the two were lovers. She hoped they would come to her house
for their honeymoon.
Siegmund sat in his great horse-hair chair by the fire, while Helena
attended to the lamp. Glancing at him over the glowing globe, she found
him watching her with a small, peculiar smile of irony, and anger, and
bewilderment. He was not quite himself. Her hand trembled so, she could
scarcely adjust the wicks.
Helena left the room to change her dress.
'I shall be back before Mrs Curtiss brings in the tray. There is the
Nietzsche I brought—'
He did not answer as he watched her go. Left alone, he sat with his arms
along his knees, perfectly still. His heart beat heavily, and all his
being felt sullen, watchful, aloof, like a balked animal. Thoughts came
up in his brain like bubbles—random, hissing out aimlessly. Once, in
the startling inflammability of his blood, his veins ran hot, and
When Helena entered the room his eyes sought hers swiftly, as sparks
lighting on the tinder. But her eyes were only moist with tenderness.
His look instantly changed. She wondered at his being so silent,
Coming to him in her unhesitating, womanly way—she was only twenty-six
to his thirty-eight—she stood before him, holding both his hands and
looking down on him with almost gloomy tenderness. She wore a white
dress that showed her throat gathering like a fountain-jet of solid foam
to balance her head. He could see the full white arms passing clear
through the dripping spume of lace, towards the rise of her breasts. But
her eyes bent down upon him with such gloom of tenderness that he dared
not reveal the passion burning in him. He could not look at her. He
strove almost pitifully to be with her sad, tender, but he could not put
out his fire. She held both his hands firm, pressing them in appeal for
her dream love. He glanced at her wistfully, then turned away. She
waited for him. She wanted his caresses and tenderness. He would not
look at her.
'You would like supper now, dear?' she asked, looking where the dark
hair ended, and his neck ran smooth, under his collar, to the strong
setting of his shoulders.
'Just as you will,' he replied.
Still she waited, and still he would not look at her. Something troubled
him, she thought. He was foreign to her.
'I will spread the cloth, then,' she said, in deep tones of resignation.
She pressed his hands closely, and let them drop. He took no notice,
but, still with his arms on his knees, he stared into the fire.
In the golden glow of lamplight she set small bowls of white and
lavender sweet-peas, and mignonette, upon the round table. He watched
her moving, saw the stir of her white, sloping shoulders under the lace,
and the hollow of her shoulders firm as marble, and the slight rise and
fall of her loins as she walked. He felt as if his breast were scalded.
It was a physical pain to him.
Supper was very quiet. Helena was sad and gentle; he had a peculiar,
enigmatic look in his eyes, between suffering and mockery and love. He
was quite intractable; he would not soften to her, but remained there
aloof. He was tired, and the look of weariness and suffering was evident
to her through his strangeness. In her heart she wept.
At last she tinkled the bell for supper to be cleared. Meanwhile,
restlessly, she played fragments of Wagner on the piano.
'Will you want anything else?' asked the smiling old landlady.
'Nothing at all, thanks,' said Helena, with decision.
'Oh! then I think I will go to bed when I've washed the dishes. You will
put the lamp out, dear?'
'I am well used to a lamp,' smiled Helena. 'We use them always at home.'
She had had a day before Siegmund's coming, in which to win Mrs Curtiss'
heart, and she had been successful. The old lady took the tray.
'Good-night, dear—good-night, sir. I will leave you. You will not be
'No, we shall not be long. Mr MacNair is very evidently tired out.'
'Yes—yes. It is very tiring, London.'
When the door was closed, Helena stood a moment undecided, looking at
Siegmund. He was lying in his arm-chair in a dispirited way, and looking
in the fire. As she gazed at him with troubled eyes, he happened to
glance to her, with the same dark, curiously searching,
'Shall I read to you?' she asked bitterly.
'If you will,' he replied.
He sounded so indifferent, she could scarcely refrain from crying. She
went and stood in front of him, looking down on him heavily.
'What is it, dear?' she said.
'You,' he replied, smiling with a little grimace.
He smiled at her ironically, then closed his eyes. She slid into his
arms with a little moan. He took her on his knee, where she curled up
like a heavy white cat. She let him caress her with his mouth, and did
not move, but lay there curled up and quiet and luxuriously warm.
He kissed her hair, which was beautifully fragrant of itself, and time
after time drew between his lips one long, keen thread, as if he would
ravel out with his mouth her vigorous confusion of hair. His tenderness
of love was like a soft flame lapping her voluptuously.
After a while they heard the old lady go upstairs. Helena went very
still, and seemed to contract. Siegmund himself hesitated in his
love-making. All was very quiet. They could hear the faint breathing of
the sea. Presently the cat, which had been sleeping in a chair, rose and
went to the door.
'Shall I let her out?' said Siegmund.
'Do!' said Helena, slipping from his knee. 'She goes out when the nights
Siegmund rose to set free the tabby. Hearing the front door open, Mrs
Curtiss called from upstairs: 'Is that you, dear?'
'I have just let Kitty out,' said Siegmund.
'Ah, thank you. Good night!' They heard the old lady lock her bedroom
Helena was kneeling on the hearth. Siegmund softly closed the door, then
waited a moment. His heart was beating fast.
'Shall we sit by firelight?' he asked tentatively.
'Yes—If you wish,' she replied, very slowly, as if against her will. He
carefully turned down the lamp, then blew out the light. His whole body
was burning and surging with desire.
The room was black and red with firelight. Helena shone ruddily as she
knelt, a bright, bowed figure, full in the glow. Now and then red
stripes of firelight leapt across the walls. Siegmund, his face ruddy,
advanced out of the shadows.
He sat in the chair beside her, leaning forward, his hands hanging like
two scarlet flowers listless in the fire glow, near to her, as she knelt
on the hearth, with head bowed down. One of the flowers awoke and spread
towards her. It asked for her mutely. She was fascinated, scarcely
able to move.
'Come,' he pleaded softly.
She turned, lifted her hands to him. The lace fell back, and her arms,
bare to the shoulder, shone rosily. He saw her breasts raised towards
him. Her face was bent between her arms as she looked up at him afraid.
Lit by the firelight, in her white, clinging dress, cowering between her
uplifted arms, she seemed to be offering him herself to sacrifice.
In an instant he was kneeling, and she was lying on his shoulder,
abandoned to him. There was a good deal of sorrow in his joy.
* * * * *
It was eleven o'clock when Helena at last loosened Siegmund's arms, and
rose from the armchair where she lay beside him. She was very hot,
feverish, and restless. For the last half-hour he had lain absolutely
still, with his heavy arms about her, making her hot. If she had not
seen his eyes blue and dark, she would have thought him asleep. She
tossed in restlessness on his breast.
'Am I not uneasy?' she had said, to make him speak. He had smiled
'It is wonderful to be as still as this,' he said. She had lain tranquil
with him, then, for a few moments. To her there was something sacred in
his stillness and peace. She wondered at him; he was so different from
an hour ago. How could he be the same! Now he was like the sea, blue and
hazy in the morning, musing by itself. Before, he was burning, volcanic,
as if he would destroy her.
She had given him this new soft beauty. She was the earth in which his
strange flowers grew. But she herself wondered at the flowers produced
of her. He was so strange to her, so different from herself. What next
would he ask of her, what new blossom would she rear in him then. He
seemed to grow and flower involuntarily. She merely helped to
Helena could not keep still; her body was full of strange sensations, of
involuntary recoil from shock. She was tired, but restless. All the time
Siegmund lay with his hot arms over her, himself so incomprehensible in
his base of blue, open-eyed slumber, she grew more breathless and
unbearable to herself.
At last she lifted his arm, and drew herself out of the chair. Siegmund
looked at her from his tranquillity. She put the damp hair from her
forehead, breathed deep, almost panting. Then she glanced hauntingly at
her flushed face in the mirror. With the same restlessness, she turned
to look at the night. The cool, dark, watery sea called to her. She
pushed back the curtain.
The moon was wading deliciously through shallows of white cloud. Beyond
the trees and the few houses was the great concave of darkness, the sea,
and the moonlight. The moon was there to put a cool hand of absolution
on her brow.
'Shall we go out a moment, Siegmund?' she asked fretfully.
'Ay, if you wish to,' he answered, altogether willing. He was filled
with an easiness that would comply with her every wish.
They went out softly, walked in silence to the bay. There they stood at
the head of the white, living moonpath, where the water whispered at the
casement of the land seductively.
'It's the finest night I have seen,' said Siegmund. Helena's eyes
suddenly filled with tears, at his simplicity of happiness.
'I like the moon on the water,' she said.
'I can hardly tell the one from the other,' he replied simply. 'The sea
seems to be poured out of the moon, and rocking in the hands of the
coast. They are all one, just as your eyes and hands and what you say,
are all you.'
'Yes,' she answered, thrilled. This was the Siegmund of her dream, and
she had created him. Yet there was a quiver of pain. He was beyond her
now, and did not need her.
'I feel at home here,' he said; 'as if I had come home where I was
She pressed his hand hard, clinging to him.
'We go an awful long way round, Helena,' he said, 'just to find we're
all right.' He laughed pleasantly. 'I have thought myself such an
outcast! How can one be outcast in one's own night, and the moon always
naked to us, and the sky half her time in rags? What do we want?'
Helena did not know. Nor did she know what he meant. But she felt
something of the harmony.
'Whatever I have or haven't from now,' he continued, 'the darkness is a
sort of mother, and the moon a sister, and the stars children, and
sometimes the sea is a brother: and there's a family in one house,
'And I, Siegmund?' she said softly, taking him in all seriousness. She
looked up at him piteously. He saw the silver of tears among the moonlit
ivory of her face. His heart tightened with tenderness, and he laughed,
then bent to kiss her.
'The key of the castle,' he said. He put his face against hers, and felt
on his cheek the smart of her tears.
'It's all very grandiose,' he said comfortably, 'but it does for
tonight, all this that I say.'
'It is true for ever,' she declared.
'In so far as tonight is eternal,' he said.
He remained, with the wetness of her cheek smarting on his, looking from
under his brows at the white transport of the water beneath the moon.
They stood folded together, gazing into the white heart of the night.
Siegmund woke with wonder in the morning. 'It is like the magic tales,'
he thought, as he realized where he was; 'and I am transported to a new
life, to realize my dream! Fairy-tales are true, after all.'
He had slept very deeply, so that he felt strangely new. He issued with
delight from the dark of sleep into the sunshine. Reaching out his hand,
he felt for his watch. It was seven o'clock. The dew of a sleep-drenched
night glittered before his eyes. Then he laughed and forgot the night.
The creeper was tapping at the window, as a little wind blew up the
sunshine. Siegmund put out his hands for the unfolding happiness of the
morning. Helena was in the next room, which she kept inviolate. Sparrows
in the creeper were shaking shadows of leaves among the sunshine;
milk-white shallop of cloud stemmed bravely across the bright sky; the
sea would be blossoming with a dewy shimmer of sunshine.
Siegmund rose to look, and it was so. Also the houses, like white, and
red, and black cattle, were wandering down the bay, with a mist of
sunshine between him and them. He leaned with his hands on the
window-ledge looking out of the casement. The breeze ruffled his hair,
blew down the neck of his sleeping-jacket upon his chest. He laughed,
hastily threw on his clothes, and went out.
There was no sign of Helena. He strode along, singing to himself, and
spinning his towel rhythmically. A small path led him across a field and
down a zigzag in front of the cliffs. Some nooks, sheltered from the
wind, were warm with sunshine, scented of honeysuckle and of thyme. He
took a sprig of woodbine that was coloured of cream and butter. The
grass wetted his brown shoes and his flannel trousers. Again, a fresh
breeze put the scent of the sea in his uncovered hair. The cliff was a
tangle of flowers above and below, with poppies at the lip being blown
out like red flame, and scabious leaning inquisitively to look down, and
pink and white rest-harrow everywhere, very pretty.
Siegmund stood at a bend where heath blossomed in shaggy lilac, where
the sunshine but no wind came. He saw the blue bay curl away to the
far-off headland. A few birds, white and small, circled, dipped by the
thin foam-edge of the water; a few ships dimmed the sea with silent
travelling; a few small people, dark or naked-white, moved below the
He chose his bathing-place where the incoming tide had half covered a
stretch of fair, bright sand that was studded with rocks resembling
square altars, hollowed on top. He threw his clothes on a high rock. It
delighted him to feel the fresh, soft fingers of the wind touching him
and wandering timidly over his nakedness. He ran laughing over the sand
to the sea, where he waded in, thrusting his legs noisily through the
heavy green water.
It was cold, and he shrank. For a moment he found himself thigh-deep,
watching the horizontal stealing of a ship through the intolerable
glitter, afraid to plunge. Laughing, he went under the clear
He was a poor swimmer. Sometimes a choppy wave swamped him, and he rose
gasping, wringing the water from his eyes and nostrils, while he heaved
and sank with the rocking of the waves that clasped his breast. Then he
stooped again to resume his game with the sea. It is splendid to play,
even at middle age, and the sea is a fine partner.
With his eyes at the shining level of the water, he liked to peer
across, taking a seal's view of the cliffs as they confronted the
morning. He liked to see the ships standing up on a bright floor; he
liked to see the birds come down.
But in his playing he drifted towards the spur of rock, where, as he
swam, he caught his thigh on a sharp, submerged point. He frowned at the
pain, at the sudden cruelty of the sea; then he thought no more of it,
but ruffled his way back to the clear water, busily continuing his play.
When he ran out on to the fair sand his heart, and brain, and body were
in a turmoil. He panted, filling his breast with the air that was
sparkled and tasted of the sea. As he shuddered a little, the wilful
palpitations of his flesh pleased him, as if birds had fluttered against
him. He offered his body to the morning, glowing with the sea's passion.
The wind nestled in to him, the sunshine came on his shoulders like warm
breath. He delighted in himself.
The rock before him was white and wet, like himself; it had a pool of
clear water, with shells and one rose anemone.
'She would make so much of this little pool,' he thought. And as he
smiled, he saw, very faintly, his own shadow in the water. It made him
conscious of himself, seeming to look at him. He glanced at himself, at
his handsome, white maturity. As he looked he felt the insidious
creeping of blood down his thigh, which was marked with a long red
slash. Siegmund watched the blood travel over the bright skin. It wound
itself redly round the rise of his knee.
'That is I, that creeping red, and this whiteness I pride myself on is
I, and my black hair, and my blue eyes are I. It is a weird thing to be
a person. What makes me myself, among all these?'
Feeling chill, he wiped himself quickly.
'I am at my best, at my strongest,' he said proudly to himself. 'She
ought to be rejoiced at me, but she is not; she rejects me as if I were
a baboon under my clothing.'
He glanced at his whole handsome maturity, the firm plating of his
breasts, the full thighs, creatures proud in themselves. Only he was
marred by the long raw scratch, which he regretted deeply.
'If I was giving her myself, I wouldn't want that blemish on me,' he
He wiped the blood from the wound. It was nothing.
'She thinks ten thousand times more of that little pool, with a bit of
pink anemone and some yellow weed, than of me. But, by Jove! I'd rather
see her shoulders and breast than all heaven and earth put together
could show…. Why doesn't she like me?' he thought as he dressed. It
was his physical self thinking.
After dabbling his feet in a warm pool, he returned home. Helena was in
the dining-room arranging a bowl of purple pansies. She looked up at him
rather heavily as he stood radiant on the threshold. He put her at her
ease. It was a gay, handsome boy she had to meet, not a man, strange and
insistent. She smiled on him with tender dignity.
'You have bathed?' she said, smiling, and looking at his damp, ruffled
black hair. She shrank from his eyes, but he was quite unconscious.
'You have not bathed!' he said; then bent to kiss her. She smelt the
brine in his hair.
'No; I bathe later,' she replied. 'But what—'
Hesitating, she touched the towel, then looked up at him anxiously.
'It is blood?' she said.
'I grazed my thigh—nothing at all,' he replied.
'Are you sure?'
'The towel looks bad enough,' she said.
'It's an alarmist,' he laughed.
She looked in concern at him, then turned aside.
'Breakfast is quite ready,' she said.
'And I for breakfast—but shall I do?'
She glanced at him. He was without a collar, so his throat was bare
above the neck-band of his flannel shirt. Altogether she disapproved of
his slovenly appearance. He was usually so smart in his dress.
'I would not trouble,' she said almost sarcastically.
Whistling, he threw the towel on a chair.
'How did you sleep?' she asked gravely, as she watched him beginning to
'Like the dead—solid,' he replied'. 'And you?'
'Oh, pretty well, thanks,' she said, rather piqued that he had slept so
deeply, whilst she had tossed, and had called his name in a torture of
'I haven't slept like that for years,' he said enthusiastically. Helena
smiled gently on him. The charm of his handsome, healthy zest came over
her. She liked his naked throat and his shirt-breast, which suggested
the breast of the man beneath it. She was extraordinarily happy, with
him so bright. The dark-faced pansies, in a little crowd, seemed gaily
winking a golden eye at her.
After breakfast, while Siegmund dressed, she went down to the sea. She
dwelled, as she passed, on all tiny, pretty things—on the barbaric
yellow ragwort, and pink convolvuli; on all the twinkling of flowers,
and dew, and snail-tracks drying in the sun. Her walk was one long
lingering. More than the spaces, she loved the nooks, and fancy more
She wanted to see just as she pleased, without any of humanity's
previous vision for spectacles. So she knew hardly any flower's name,
nor perceived any of the relationships, nor cared a jot about an
adaptation or a modification. It pleased her that the lowest browny
florets of the clover hung down; she cared no more. She clothed
everything in fancy.
'That yellow flower hadn't time to be brushed and combed by the fairies
before dawn came. It is tousled …' so she thought to herself. The pink
convolvuli were fairy horns or telephones from the day fairies to the
night fairies. The rippling sunlight on the sea was the Rhine maidens
spreading their bright hair to the sun. That was her favourite form of
thinking. The value of all things was in the fancy they evoked. She did
not care for people; they were vulgar, ugly, and stupid, as a rule.
Her sense of satisfaction was complete as she leaned on the low
sea-wall, spreading her fingers to warm on the stones, concocting magic
out of the simple morning. She watched the indolent chasing of wavelets
round the small rocks, the curling of the deep blue water round the
'This is very good,' she said to herself. 'This is eternally cool, and
clean and fresh. It could never be spoiled by satiety.'
She tried to wash herself with the white and blue morning, to clear away
the soiling of the last night's passion.
The sea played by itself, intent on its own game. Its aloofness, its
self-sufficiency, are its great charm. The sea does not give and take,
like the land and the sky. It has no traffic with the world. It spends
its passion upon itself. Helena was something like the sea,
self-sufficient and careless of the rest.
Siegmund came bareheaded, his black hair ruffling to the wind, his eyes
shining warmer than the sea-like cornflowers rather, his limbs swinging
backward and forward like the water. Together they leaned on the wall,
warming the four white hands upon the grey bleached stone as they
watched the water playing.
When Siegmund had Helena near, he lost the ache, the yearning towards
something, which he always felt otherwise. She seemed to connect him
with the beauty of things, as if she were the nerve through which he
received intelligence of the sun, and wind, and sea, and of the moon and
the darkness. Beauty she never felt herself came to him through her. It
is that makes love. He could always sympathize with the wistful little
flowers, and trees lonely in their crowds, and wild, sad seabirds. In
these things he recognized the great yearning, the ache outwards towards
something, with which he was ordinarily burdened. But with Helena, in
this large sea-morning, he was whole and perfect as the day.
'Will it be fine all day?' he asked, when a cloud came over.
'I don't know,' she replied in her gentle, inattentive manner, as if she
did not care at all. 'I think it will be a mixed day—cloud and
sun—more sun than cloud.'
She looked up gravely to see if he agreed. He turned from frowning at
the cloud to smile at her. He seemed so bright, teeming with life.
'I like a bare blue sky,' he said; 'sunshine that you seem to stir about
as you walk.'
'It is warm enough here, even for you,' she smiled.
'Ah, here!' he answered, putting his face down to receive the radiation
from the stone, letting his fingers creep towards Helena's. She laughed,
and captured his fingers, pressing them into her hand. For nearly an
hour they remained thus in the still sunshine by the sea-wall, till
Helena began to sigh, and to lift her face to the little breeze that
wandered down from the west. She fled as soon from warmth as from cold.
Physically, she was always so; she shrank from anything extreme. But
psychically she was an extremist, and a dangerous one.
They climbed the hill to the fresh-breathing west. On the highest point
of land stood a tall cross, railed in by a red iron fence. They read the
'That's all right—but a vilely ugly railing!' exclaimed Siegmund.
'Oh, they'd have to fence in Lord Tennyson's white marble,' said Helena,
He interpreted her according to his own idea.
'Yes, he did belittle great things, didn't he?' said Siegmund.
'Tennyson!' she exclaimed.
'Not peacocks and princesses, but the bigger things.'
'I shouldn't say so,' she declared.
He sounded indeterminate, but was not really so.
They wandered over the downs westward, among the wind. As they followed
the headland to the Needles, they felt the breeze from the wings of the
sea brushing them, and heard restless, poignant voices screaming below
the cliffs. Now and again a gull, like a piece of spume flung up, rose
over the cliff's edge, and sank again. Now and again, as the path dipped
in a hollow, they could see the low, suspended intertwining of the birds
passing in and out of the cliff shelter.
These savage birds appealed to all the poetry and yearning in Helena.
They fascinated her, they almost voiced her. She crept nearer and nearer
the edge, feeling she must watch the gulls thread out in flakes of white
above the weed-black rocks. Siegmund stood away back, anxiously. He
would not dare to tempt Fate now, having too strong a sense of death
to risk it.
'Come back, dear. Don't go so near,' he pleaded, following as close as
he might. She heard the pain and appeal in his voice. It thrilled her,
and she went a little nearer. What was death to her but one of her
symbols, the death of which the sagas talk—something grand, and
sweeping, and dark.
Leaning forward, she could see the line of grey sand and the line of
foam broken by black rocks, and over all the gulls, stirring round like
froth on a pot, screaming in chorus.
She watched the beautiful birds, heard the pleading of Siegmund, and she
thrilled with pleasure, toying with his keen anguish.
Helena came smiling to Siegmund, saying:
'They look so fine down there.'
He fastened his hands upon her, as a relief from his pain. He was filled
with a keen, strong anguish of dread, like a presentiment. She laughed
as he gripped her.
They went searching for a way of descent. At last Siegmund inquired of
the coastguard the nearest way down the cliff. He was pointed to the
'Path of the Hundred Steps'.
'When is a hundred not a hundred?' he said sceptically, as they
descended the dazzling white chalk. There were sixty-eight steps. Helena
laughed at his exactitude.
'It must be a love of round numbers,' he said.
'No doubt,' she laughed. He took the thing so seriously.
'Or of exaggeration,' he added.
There was a shelving beach of warm white sand, bleached soft as velvet.
A sounding of gulls filled the dark recesses of the headland; a low
chatter of shingle came from where the easy water was breaking; the
confused, shell-like murmur of the sea between the folded cliffs.
Siegmund and Helena lay side by side upon the dry sand, small as two
resting birds, while thousands of gulls whirled in a white-flaked storm
above them, and the great cliffs towered beyond, and high up over the
cliffs the multitudinous clouds were travelling, a vast caravan en
route. Amidst the journeying of oceans and clouds and the circling
flight of heavy spheres, lost to sight in the sky, Siegmund and Helena,
two grains of life in the vast movement, were travelling a moment
side by side.
They lay on the beach like a grey and a white sea-bird together. The
lazy ships that were idling down the Solent observed the cliffs and the
boulders, but Siegmund and Helena were too little. They lay ignored and
insignificant, watching through half-closed fingers the diverse caravan
of Day go past. They lay with their latticed fingers over their eyes,
looking out at the sailing of ships across their vision of blue water.
'Now, that one with the greyish sails—' Siegmund was saying.
'Like a housewife of forty going placidly round with the duster—yes?'
'That is a schooner. You see her four sails, and—'
He continued to classify the shipping, until he was interrupted by the
wicked laughter of Helena.
'That is right, I am sure,' he protested.
'I won't contradict you,' she laughed, in a tone which showed him he
knew even less of the classifying of ships than she did.
'So you have lain there amusing yourself at my expense all the time?' he
said, not knowing in the least why she laughed. They turned and looked
at one another, blue eyes smiling and wavering as the beach wavers in
the heat. Then they closed their eyes with sunshine.
Drowsed by the sun, and the white sand, and the foam, their thoughts
slept like butterflies on the flowers of delight. But cold shadows
startled them up.
'The clouds are coming,' he said regretfully.
'Yes; but the wind is quite strong enough for them,' she answered,
'Look at the shadows—like blots floating away. Don't they devour the
'It is quite warm enough here,' she said, nestling in to him.
'Yes; but the sting is missing. I like to feel the warmth biting in.'
'No, I do not. To be cosy is enough.'
'I like the sunshine on me, real, and manifest, and tangible. I feel
like a seed that has been frozen for ages. I want to be bitten by the
She leaned over and kissed him. The sun came bright-footed over the
water, leaving a shining print on Siegmund's face. He lay, with
half-closed eyes, sprawled loosely on the sand. Looking at his limbs,
she imagined he must be heavy, like the bounders. She sat over him, with
her fingers stroking his eyebrows, that were broad and rather arched. He
lay perfectly still, in a half-dream.
Presently she laid her head on his breast, and remained so, watching the
sea, and listening to his heart-beats. The throb was strong and deep. It
seemed to go through the whole island and the whole afternoon, and it
fascinated her: so deep, unheard, with its great expulsions of life. Had
the world a heart? Was there also deep in the world a great God thudding
out waves of life, like a great heart, unconscious? It frightened her.
This was the God she knew not, as she knew not this Siegmund. It was so
different from the half-shut eyes with black lashes, and the winsome,
shapely nose. And the heart of the world, as she heard it, could not be
the same as the curling splash of retreat of the little sleepy waves.
She listened for Siegmund's soul, but his heart overbeat all other
sound, thudding powerfully.
Siegmund woke to the muffled firing of guns on the sea. He looked across
at the shaggy grey water in wonder. Then he turned to Helena.
'I suppose,' he said, 'they are saluting the Czar. Poor beggar!'
'I was afraid they would wake you,' she smiled.
They listened again to the hollow, dull sound of salutes from across the
water and the downs.
The day had gone grey. They decided to walk, down below, to the next
'The tide is coming in,' said Helena.
'But this broad strip of sand hasn't been wet for months. It's as soft
as pepper,' he replied.
They laboured along the shore, beside the black, sinuous line of
shrivelled fucus. The base of the cliff was piled with chalk debris. On
the other side was the level plain of the sea. Hand in hand, alone and
overshadowed by huge cliffs, they toiled on. The waves staggered in, and
fell, overcome at the end of the race.
Siegmund and Helena neared a headland, sheer as the side of a house, its
base weighted with a tremendous white mass of boulders, that the green
sea broke amongst with a hollow sound, followed by a sharp hiss of
withdrawal. The lovers had to cross this desert of white boulders, that
glistened in smooth skins uncannily. But Siegmund saw the waves were
almost at the wall of the headland. Glancing back, he saw the other
headland white-dashed at the base with foam. He and Helena must hurry,
or they would be prisoned on the thin crescent of strand still remaining
between the great wall and the water.
The cliffs overhead oppressed him—made him feel trapped and helpless.
He was caught by them in a net of great boulders, while the sea fumbled
for him. But he and Helena. She laboured strenuously beside him, blinded
by the skin-like glisten of the white rock.
'I think I will rest awhile,' she said.
'No, come along,' he begged.
'My dear,' she laughed, 'there is tons of this shingle to buttress us
from the sea.'
He looked at the waves curving and driving maliciously at the boulders.
It would be ridiculous to be trapped.
'Look at this black wood,' she said. 'Does the sea really char it?'
'Let us get round the corner,' he begged.
'Really, Siegmund, the sea is not so anxious to take us,' she said
When they rounded the first point, they found themselves in a small bay
jutted out to sea; the front of the headland was, as usual, grooved.
This bay was pure white at the base, from its great heaped mass of
shingle. With the huge concave of the cliff behind, the foothold of
massed white boulders, and the immense arc of the sea in front, Helena
'This is fine, Siegmund!' she said, halting and facing west.
Smiling ironically, he sat down on a boulder. They were quite alone, in
this great white niche thrust out to sea. Here, he could see, the tide
would beat the base of the wall. It came plunging not far from
'Would you really like to travel beyond the end?' he asked.
She looked round quickly, thrilled, then answered as if in rebuke:
'This is a fine place. I should like to stay here an hour.'
'And then where?'
'Then? Oh, then, I suppose, it would be tea-time.'
'Tea on brine and pink anemones, with Daddy Neptune.'
She looked sharply at the outjutting capes. The sea did foam perilously
near their bases.
'I suppose it is rather risky,' she said; and she turned, began
silently to clamber forwards.
He followed; she should set the pace.
'I have no doubt there's plenty of room, really,' he said. 'The sea only
But she toiled on intently. Now it was a question of danger, not of
inconvenience, Siegmund felt elated. The waves foamed up, as it seemed,
against the exposed headland, from which the massive shingle had been
swept back. Supposing they could not get by? He began to smile
curiously. He became aware of the tremendous noise of waters, of the
slight shudder of the shingle when a wave struck it, and he always
laughed to himself. Helena laboured on in silence; he kept just behind
her. The point seemed near, but it took longer than they thought. They
had against them the tremendous cliff, the enormous weight of shingle,
and the swinging sea. The waves struck louder, booming fearfully; wind,
sweeping round the corner, wet their faces. Siegmund hoped they were cut
off, and hoped anxiously the way was clear. The smile became set on
Then he saw there was a ledge or platform at the base of the cliff, and
it was against this the waves broke. They climbed the side of this
ridge, hurried round to the front. There the wind caught them, wet and
furious; the water raged below. Between the two Helena shrank, wilted.
She took hold of Siegmund. The great, brutal wave flung itself at the
rock, then drew back for another heavy spring. Fume and spray were spun
on the wind like smoke. The roaring thud of the waves reminded Helena of
a beating heart. She clung closer to him, as her hair was blown out
damp, and her white dress flapped in the wet wind. Always, against the
rock, came the slow thud of the waves, like a great heart beating under
the breast. There was something brutal about it that she could not bear.
She had no weapon against brute force.
She glanced up at Siegmund. Tiny drops of mist greyed his eyebrows. He
was looking out to sea, screwing up his eyes, and smiling brutally. Her
face became heavy and sullen. He was like the heart and the brute sea,
just here; he was not her Siegmund. She hated the brute in him.
Turning suddenly, she plunged over the shingle towards the wide,
populous bay. He remained alone, grinning at the smashing turmoil,
careless of her departure. He would easily catch her.
When at last he turned from the wrestling water, he had spent his
savagery, and was sad. He could never take part in the great battle of
action. It was beyond him. Many things he had let slip by. His life was
whittled down to only a few interests, only a few necessities. Even
here, he had but Helena, and through her the rest. After this
week—well, that was vague. He left it in the dark, dreading it.
And Helena was toiling over the rough beach alone. He saw her small
figure bowed as she plunged forward. It smote his heart with the keenest
tenderness. She was so winsome, a playmate with beauty and fancy. Why
was he cruel to her because she had not his own bitter wisdom of
experience? She was young and naïve, and should he be angry with her for
that? His heart was tight at the thought of her. She would have to
suffer also, because of him.
He hurried after her. Not till they had nearly come to a little green
mound, where the downs sloped, and the cliffs were gone, did he catch
her up. Then he took her hand as they walked.
They halted on the green hillock beyond the sand, and, without a word,
he folded her in his arms. Both were put of breath. He clasped her
close, seeming to rock her with his strong panting. She felt his body
lifting into her, and sinking away. It seemed to force a rhythm, a new
pulse, in her. Gradually, with a fine, keen thrilling, she melted down
on him, like metal sinking on a mould. He was sea and sunlight mixed,
heaving, warm, deliciously strong.
Siegmund exulted. At last she was moulded to him in pure passion.
They stood folded thus for some time. Then Helena raised her burning
face, and relaxed. She was throbbing with strange elation and
'It might as well have been the sea as any other way, dear,' she said,
startling both of them. The speech went across their thoughtfulness like
a star flying into the night, from nowhere. She had no idea why she said
it. He pressed his mouth on hers. 'Not for you,' he thought, by reflex.
'You can't go that way yet.' But he said nothing, strained her very
tightly, and kept her lips.
They were roused by the sound of voices. Unclasping, they went to walk
at the fringe of the water. The tide was creeping back. Siegmund
stooped, and from among the water's combings picked up an electric-light
bulb. It lay in some weed at the base of a rock. He held it in his hand
to Helena. Her face lighted with a curious pleasure. She took the thing
delicately from his hand, fingered it with her exquisite softness.
'Isn't it remarkable!' she exclaimed joyously. 'The sea must be very,
very gentle—and very kind.'
'Sometimes,' smiled Siegmund.
'But I did not think it could be so fine-fingered,' she said. She
breathed on the glass bulb till it looked like a dim magnolia bud; she
inhaled its fine savour.
'It would not have treated you so well,' he said. She looked at him
with heavy eyes. Then she returned to her bulb. Her fingers were very
small and very pink. She had the most delicate touch in the world, like
a faint feel of silk. As he watched her lifting her fingers from off the
glass, then gently stroking it, his blood ran hot. He watched her,
waited upon her words and movements attentively.
'It is a graceful act on the sea's part,' she said. 'Wotan is so
clumsy—he knocks over the bowl, and flap-flap-flap go the gasping
fishes, pizzicato!—but the sea—'
Helena's speech was often difficult to render into plain terms. She was
'But life's so full of anti-climax,' she concluded. Siegmund smiled
softly at her. She had him too much in love to disagree or to examine
'There's no reckoning with life, and no reckoning with the sea. The only
way to get on with both is to be as near a vacuum as possible, and
float,' he jested. It hurt her that he was flippant. She proceeded to
forget he had spoken.
There were three children on the beach. Helena had handed him back the
senseless bauble, not able to throw it away. Being a father:
'I will give it to the children,' he said.
She looked up at him, loved him for the thought.
Wandering hand in hand, for it pleased them both to own each other
publicly, after years of conventional distance, they came to a little
girl who was bending over a pool. Her black hair hung in long snakes to
the water. She stood up, flung back her locks to see them as they
approached. In one hand she clasped some pebbles.
'Would you like this? I found it down there,' said Siegmund, offering
her the bulb.
She looked at him with grave blue eyes and accepted his gift. Evidently
she was not going to say anything.
'The sea brought it all the way from the mainland without breaking it,'
said Helena, with the interesting intonation some folk use to children.
The girl looked at her.
'The waves put it out of their lap on to some seaweed with such careful
The child's eyes brightened.
'The tide-line is full of treasures,' said Helena, smiling.
The child answered her smile a little.
Siegmund had walked away.
'What beautiful eyes she had!' said Helena.
'Yes,' he replied.
She looked up at him. He felt her searching him tenderly with her eyes.
But he could not look back at her. She took his hand and kissed it,
knowing he was thinking of his own youngest child.
The way home lay across country, through deep little lanes where the
late foxgloves sat seriously, like sad hounds; over open downlands,
rough with gorse and ling, and through pocketed hollows of bracken
They came to a small Roman Catholic church in the fields. There the
carved Christ looked down on the dead whose sleeping forms made mounds
under the coverlet. Helena's heart was swelling with emotion. All the
yearning and pathos of Christianity filled her again.
The path skirted the churchyard wall, so that she had on the one hand
the sleeping dead, and on the other Siegmund, strong and vigorous, but
walking in the old, dejected fashion. She felt a rare tenderness and
admiration for him. It was unusual for her to be so humble-minded, but
this evening she felt she must minister to him, and be submissive.
She made him stop to look at the graves. Suddenly, as they stood, she
kissed him, clasped him fervently, roused him till his passion burned
away his heaviness, and he seemed tipped with life, his face glowing as
if soon he would burst alight. Then she was satisfied, and could laugh.
As they went through the fir copse, listening to the birds like a family
assembled and chattering at home in the evening, listening to the light
swish of the wind, she let Siegmund predominate; he set the swing of
their motion; she rested on him like a bird on a swaying bough.
They argued concerning the way. Siegmund, as usual, submitted to her.
They went quite wrong. As they retraced their steps, stealthily, through
a poultry farm whose fowls were standing in forlorn groups, once more
dismayed by evening, Helena's pride battled with her new subjugation to
Siegmund. She walked head down, saying nothing. He also was silent, but
his heart was strong in him. Somewhere in the distance a band was
playing 'The Watch on the Rhine'.
As they passed the beeches and were near home, Helena said, to try him,
and to strike a last blow for her pride:
'I wonder what next Monday will bring us.'
'Quick curtain,' he answered joyously. He was looking down and smiling
at her with such careless happiness that she loved him. He was wonderful
to her. She loved him, was jealous of every particle of him that evaded
her. She wanted to sacrifice to him, make herself a burning altar to
him, and she wanted to possess him.
The hours that would be purely their own came too slowly for her.
That night she met his passion with love. It was not his passion she
wanted, actually. But she desired that he should want her madly, and
that he should have all—everything. It was a wonderful night to him. It
restored in him the full 'will to live'. But she felt it destroyed her.
Her soul seemed blasted.
At seven o'clock in the morning Helena lay in the deliciously cool
water, while small waves ran up the beach full and clear and foamless,
continuing perfectly in their flicker the rhythm of the night's passion.
Nothing, she felt, had ever been so delightful as this cool water
running over her. She lay and looked out on the shining sea. All things,
it seemed, were made of sunshine more or less soiled. The cliffs rose
out of the shining waves like clouds of strong, fine texture, and rocks
along the shore were the dapplings of a bright dawn. The coarseness was
fused out of the world, so that sunlight showed in the veins of the
morning cliffs and the rocks. Yea, everything ran with sunshine, as we
are full of blood, and plants are tissued from green-gold, glistening
sap. Substance and solidity were shadows that the morning cast round
itself to make itself tangible: as she herself was a shadow, cast by
that fragment of sunshine, her soul, over its inefficiency.
She remembered to have seen the bats flying low over a burnished pool at
sunset, and the web of their wings had burned in scarlet flickers, as
they stretched across the light. Winged momentarily on bits of tissued
flame, threaded with blood, the bats had flickered a secret to her.
Now the cliffs were like wings uplifted, and the morning was coming
dimly through them. She felt the wings of all the world upraised against
the morning in a flashing, multitudinous flight. The world itself was
flying. Sunlight poured on the large round world till she fancied it a
heavy bee humming on its iridescent atmosphere across a vast air
She lay and rode the fine journey. Sunlight liquid in the water made the
waves heavy, golden, and rich with a velvety coolness like cowslips. Her
feet fluttered in the shadowy underwater. Her breast came out bright as
the breast of a white bird.
Where was Siegmund? she wondered. He also was somewhere among the sea
and the sunshine, white and playing like a bird, shining like a vivid,
restless speck of sunlight. She struck the water, smiling, feeling along
with him. They two were the owners of this morning, as a pair of wild,
large birds inhabiting an empty sea.
Siegmund had found a white cave welling with green water, brilliant and
full of life as mounting sap. The white rock glimmered through the
water, and soon Siegmund shimmered also in the living green of the sea,
like pale flowers trembling upward.
'The water,' said Siegmund, 'is as full of life as I am,' and he pressed
forward his breast against it. He swam very well that morning; he had
more wilful life than the sea, so he mastered it laughingly with his
arms, feeling a delight in his triumph over the waves. Venturing
recklessly in his new pride, he swam round the corner of the rock,
through an archway, lofty and spacious, into a passage where the water
ran like a flood of green light over the skin-white bottom. Suddenly he
emerged in the brilliant daylight of the next tiny scoop of a bay.
There he arrived like a pioneer, for the bay was inaccessible from the
land. He waded out of the green, cold water on to sand that was pure as
the shoulders of Helena, out of the shadow of the archway into the
sunlight, on to the glistening petal of this blossom of a sea-bay.
He did not know till he felt the sunlight how the sea had drunk with its
cold lips deeply of his warmth. Throwing himself down on the sand that
was soft and warm as white fur, he lay glistening wet, panting, swelling
with glad pride at having conquered also this small, inaccessible
sea-cave, creeping into it like a white bee into a white virgin blossom
that had waited, how long, for its bee.
The sand was warm to his breast, and his belly, and his arms. It was
like a great body he cleaved to. Almost, he fancied, he felt it heaving
under him in its breathing. Then he turned his face to the sun, and
laughed. All the while, he hugged the warm body of the sea-bay beneath
him. He spread his hands upon the sand; he took it in handfuls, and let
it run smooth, warm, delightful, through his fingers.
'Surely,' he said to himself, 'it is like Helena;' and he laid his hands
again on the warm body of the shore, let them wander, discovering,
gathering all the warmth, the softness, the strange wonder of smooth
warm pebbles, then shrinking from the deep weight of cold his hand
encountered as he burrowed under the surface wrist-deep. In the end he
found the cold mystery of the deep sand also thrilling. He pushed in his
hands again and deeper, enjoying the almost hurt of the dark, heavy
coldness. For the sun and the white flower of the bay were breathing and
kissing him dry, were holding him in their warm concave, like a bee in a
flower, like himself on the bosom of Helena, and flowing like the warmth
of her breath in his hair came the sunshine, breathing near and
lovingly; yet, under all, was this deep mass of cold, that the softness
and warmth merely floated upon.
Siegmund lay and clasped the sand, and tossed it in handfuls till over
him he was all hot and cloyed. Then he rose and looked at himself and
laughed. The water was swaying reproachfully against the steep pebbles
below, murmuring like a child that it was not fair—it was not fair he
should abandon his playmate. Siegmund laughed, and began to rub himself
free of the clogging sand. He found himself strangely dry and smooth. He
tossed more dry sand, and more, over himself, busy and intent like a
child playing some absorbing game with itself. Soon his body was dry and
warm and smooth as a camomile flower. He was, however, greyed and
smeared with sand-dust. Siegmund looked at himself with disapproval,
though his body was full of delight and his hands glad with the touch of
himself. He wanted himself clean. He felt the sand thick in his hair,
even in his moustache. He went painfully over the pebbles till he found
himself on the smooth rock bottom. Then he soused himself, and shook his
head in the water, and washed and splashed and rubbed himself with his
hands assiduously. He must feel perfectly clean and free—fresh, as if
he had washed away all the years of soilure in this morning's sea and
sun and sand. It was the purification. Siegmund became again a happy
priest of the sun. He felt as if all the dirt of misery were soaked out
of him, as he might soak clean a soiled garment in the sea, and bleach
it white on the sunny shore. So white and sweet and tissue-clean he
felt—full of lightness and grace.
The garden in front of their house, where Helena was waiting for him,
was long and crooked, with a sunken flagstone pavement running up to the
door by the side of the lawn. On either hand the high fence of the
garden was heavy with wild clematis and honeysuckle. Helena sat
sideways, with a map spread out on her bench under the bushy little
laburnum tree, tracing the course of their wanderings. It was very
still. There was just a murmur of bees going in and out the brilliant
little porches of nasturtium flowers. The nasturtium leaf-coins stood
cool and grey; in their delicate shade, underneath in the green
twilight, a few flowers shone their submerged gold and scarlet. There
was a faint scent of mignonette. Helena, like a white butterfly in the
shade, her two white arms for antennae stretching firmly to the bench,
leaned over her map. She was busy, very busy, out of sheer happiness.
She traced word after word, and evoked scene after scene. As she
discovered a name, she conjured up the place. As she moved to the next
mark she imagined the long path lifting and falling happily.
She was waiting for Siegmund, yet his hand upon the latch startled her.
She rose suddenly, in agitation. Siegmund was standing in the sunshine
at the gate. They greeted each other across the tall roses.
When Siegmund was holding her hand, he said, softly laughing:
'You have come out of the water very beautiful this morning.'
She laughed. She was not beautiful, but she felt so at that moment. She
glanced up at him, full of love and gratefulness.
'And you,' she murmured, in a still tone, as if it were almost
sacrilegiously unnecessary to say it.
Siegmund was glad. He rejoiced to be told he was beautiful. After a few
moments of listening to the bees and breathing the mignonette, he said:
'I found a little white bay, just like you—a virgin bay. I had to swim
'Oh!' she said, very interested in him, not in the fact.
'It seemed just like you. Many things seem like you,' he said.
She laughed again in her joyous fashion, and the reed-like vibration
came into her voice.
'I saw the sun through the cliffs, and the sea, and you,' she said.
He did not understand. He looked at her searchingly. She was white and
still and inscrutable. Then she looked up at him; her earnest eyes, that
would not flinch, gazed straight into him. He trembled, and things all
swept into a blur. After she had taken away her eyes he found
'You know, I felt as if I were the first man to discover things: like
Adam when he opened the first eyes in the world.'
'I saw the sunshine in you,' repeated Helena quietly, looking at him
with her eyes heavy with meaning.
He laughed again, not understanding, but feeling she meant love.
'No, but you have altered everything,' he said.
The note of wonder, of joy, in his voice touched her almost beyond
self-control. She caught his hand and pressed it; then quickly kissed
it. He became suddenly grave.
'I feel as if it were right—you and me, Helena—so, even righteous. It
is so, isn't it? And the sea and everything, they all seem with us. Do
you think so?'
Looking at her, he found her eyes full of tears. He bent and kissed her,
and she pressed his head to her bosom. He was very glad.
The day waxed hot. A few little silver tortoises of cloud had crawled
across the desert of sky, and hidden themselves. The chalk roads were
white, quivering with heat. Helena and Siegmund walked eastward
bareheaded under the sunshine. They felt like two insects in the niche
of a hot hearth as they toiled along the deep road. A few poppies here
and there among the wild rye floated scarlet in sunshine like
blood-drops on green water. Helena recalled Francis Thompson's poems,
which Siegmund had never read. She repeated what she knew, and laughed,
thinking what an ineffectual pale shadow of a person Thompson must have
been. She looked at Siegmund, walking in large easiness beside her.
'Artists are supremely unfortunate persons,' she announced.
'Think of Wagner,' said Siegmund, lifting his face to the hot bright
heaven, and drinking the heat with his blinded face. All states seemed
meagre, save his own. He recalled people who had loved, and he pitied
them—dimly, drowsily, without pain.
They came to a place where they might gain access to the shore by a path
down a landslip. As they descended through the rockery, yellow with
ragwort, they felt themselves dip into the inert, hot air of the bay.
The living atmosphere of the uplands was left overhead. Among the rocks
of the sand, white as if smelted, the heat glowed and quivered. Helena
sat down and took off her shoes. She walked on the hot, glistening sand
till her feet were delightfully, almost intoxicatingly scorched. Then
she ran into the water to cool them. Siegmund and she paddled in the
light water, pensively watching the haste of the ripples, like crystal
beetles, running over the white outline of their feet; looking out on
the sea that rose so near to them, dwarfing them by its far reach.
For a short time they flitted silently in the water's edge. Then there
settled down on them a twilight of sleep, the little hush that closes
the doors and draws the blinds of the house after a festival. They
wandered out across the beach above high-water mark, where they sat down
together on the sand, leaning back against a flat brown stone, Siegmund
with the sunshine on his forehead, Helena drooping close to him, in his
shadow. Then the hours ride by unnoticed, making no sound as they go.
The sea creeps nearer, nearer, like a snake which watches two birds
asleep. It may not disturb them, but sinks back, ceasing to look at them
with its bright eyes.
Meanwhile the flowers of their passion were softly shed, as poppies fall
at noon, and the seed of beauty ripened rapidly within them. Dreams came
like a wind through, their souls, drifting off with the seed-dust of
beautiful experience which they had ripened, to fertilize the souls of
others withal. In them the sea and the sky and ships had mingled and
bred new blossoms of the torrid heat of their love. And the seed of such
blossoms was shaken as they slept, into the hand of God, who held it in
His palm preciously; then scattered it again, to produce new splendid
blooms of beauty.
A little breeze came down the cliffs. Sleep lightened the lovers of
their experience; new buds were urged in their souls as they lay in a
shadowed twilight, at the porch of death. The breeze fanned the face of
Helena; a coolness wafted on her throat. As the afternoon wore on she
revived. Quick to flag, she was easy to revive, like a white pansy flung
into water. She shivered lightly and rose.
Strange, it seemed to her, to rise from the brown stone into life again.
She felt beautifully refreshed. All around was quick as a garden wet in
the early morning of June. She took her hair and loosened it, shook it
free from sand, spread, and laughed like a fringed poppy that opens
itself to the sun. She let the wind comb through its soft fingers the
tangles of her hair. Helena loved the wind. She turned to it, and took
its kisses on her face and throat.
Siegmund lay still, looking up at her. The changes in him were deeper,
like alteration in his tissue. His new buds came slowly, and were of a
fresh type. He lay smiling at her. At last he said:
'You look now as if you belonged to the sea.'
'I do; and some day I shall go back to it,' she replied.
For to her at that moment the sea was a great lover, like Siegmund, but
more impersonal, who would receive her when Siegmund could not. She
rejoiced momentarily in the fact. Siegmund looked at her and continued
smiling. His happiness was budded firm and secure.
'Come!' said Helena, holding out her hand.
He rose somewhat reluctantly from his large, fruitful inertia.
Siegmund carried the boots and the shoes while they wandered over the
sand to the rocks. There was a delightful sense of risk in scrambling
with bare feet over the smooth irregular jumble of rocks. Helena laughed
suddenly from fear as she felt herself slipping. Siegmund's heart was
leaping like a child's with excitement as he stretched forward, himself
very insecure, to succour her. Thus they travelled slowly. Often she
called to him to come and look in the lovely little rock-pools, dusky
with blossoms of red anemones and brown anemones that seemed nothing but
shadows, and curtained with green of finest sea-silk. Siegmund loved to
poke the white pebbles, and startle the little ghosts of crabs in a
shadowy scuttle through the weed. He would tease the expectant anemones,
causing them to close suddenly over his finger. But Helena liked to
watch without touching things. Meanwhile the sun was slanting behind the
cross far away to the west, and the light was swimming in silver and
gold upon the lacquered water. At last Siegmund looked doubtfully at two
miles more of glistening, gilded boulders. Helena was seated on a stone,
dabbling her feet in a warm pool, delicately feeling the wet sea-velvet
of the weeds.
'Don't you think we had better be mounting the cliffs?' he said.
She glanced up at him, smiling with irresponsible eyes. Then she lapped
the water with her feet, and surveyed her pink toes. She was absurdly,
'Why should we?' she asked lightly.
He watched her. Her child-like indifference to consequences touched him
with a sense of the distance between them. He himself might play with
the delicious warm surface of life, but always he reeked of the
relentless mass of cold beneath—the mass of life which has no sympathy
with the individual, no cognizance of him.
She loved the trifles and the toys, the mystery and the magic of things.
She would not own life to be relentless. It was either beautiful,
fantastic, or weird, or inscrutable, or else mean and vulgar, below
consideration. He had to get a sense of the anemone and a sympathetic
knowledge of its experience, into his blood, before he was satisfied. To
Helena an anemone was one more fantastic pretty figure in her
So she sat dabbling her pink feet in the water, quite unconscious of his
gravity. He waited on her, since he never could capture her.
'Come,' he said very gently. 'You are only six years old today.'
She laughed as she let him take her. Then she nestled up to him, smiling
in a brilliant, child-like fashion. He kissed her with all the father in
him sadly alive.
'Now put your stockings on,' he said.
'But my feet are wet.' She laughed.
He kneeled down and dried her feet on his handkerchief while she sat
tossing his hair with her finger-tips. The sunlight grew more and
'I envy the savages their free feet,' she said.
'There is no broken glass in the wilderness—or there used not to be,'
As they were crossing the sands, a whole family entered by the cliff
track. They descended in single file, unequally, like the theatre; two
boys, then a little girl, the father, another girl, then the mother.
Last of all trotted the dog, warily, suspicious of the descent. The boys
emerged into the bay with a shout; the dog rushed, barking, after them.
The little one waited for her father, calling shrilly:
'Tiss can't fall now, can she, dadda? Shall I put her down?'
'Ay, let her have a run,' said the father.
Very carefully she lowered the kitten which she had carried clasped to
her bosom. The mite was bewildered and scared. It turned round
'Go on, Tissie; you're all right,' said the child. 'Go on; have a run on
The kitten stood dubious and unhappy. Then, perceiving the dog some
distance ahead, it scampered after him, a fluffy, scurrying mite. But
the dog had already raced into the water. The kitten walked a few steps,
turning its small face this way and that, and mewing piteously. It
looked extraordinarily tiny as it stood, a fluffy handful, staring away
from the noisy water, its thin cry floating over the plash of waves.
Helena glanced at Siegmund, and her eyes were shining with pity. He was
watching the kitten and smiling.
'Crying because things are too big, and it can't take them in,' he said.
'But look how frightened it is,' she said.
'So am I.' He laughed. 'And if there are any gods looking on and
laughing at me, at least they won't be kind enough to put me in their
She laughed very quickly.
'But why?' she exclaimed. 'Why should you want putting in a pinafore?'
'I don't,' he laughed.
On the top of the cliff they were between two bays, with darkening blue
water on the left, and on the right gold water smoothing to the sun.
Siegmund seemed to stand waist-deep in shadow, with his face bright and
glowing. He was watching earnestly.
'I want to absorb it all,' he said.
When at last they turned away:
'Yes,' said Helena slowly; 'one can recall the details, but never the
He pondered a moment.
'How strange!' he said. I can recall the atmosphere, but not the detail.
It is a moment to me, not a piece of scenery. I should say the picture
was in me, not out there.'
Without troubling to understand—she was inclined to think it
verbiage—she made a small sound of assent.
'That is why you want to go again to a place, and I don't care so much,
because I have it with me,' he concluded.
They decided to find their way through the lanes to Alum Bay, and then,
keeping the cross in sight, to return over the downs, with the moon-path
broad on the water before them. For the moon was rising late. Twilight,
however, rose more rapidly than they had anticipated. The lane twisted
among meadows and wild lands and copses—a wilful little lane, quite
incomprehensible. So they lost their distant landmark, the white cross.
Darkness filtered through the daylight. When at last they came to a
signpost, it was almost too dark to read it. The fingers seemed to
withdraw into the dusk the more they looked.
'We must go to the left,' said Helena.
To the left rose the downs, smooth and grey near at hand, but higher
black with gorse, like a giant lying asleep with a bearskin over his
Several pale chalk-tracks ran side by side through the turf. Climbing,
they came to a disused chalk-pit, which they circumvented. Having passed
a lonely farmhouse, they mounted the side of the open down, where was a
sense of space and freedom.
'We can steer by the night,' said Siegmund, as they trod upwards
pathlessly. Helena did not mind whither they steered. All places in that
large fair night were home and welcome to her. They drew nearer to the
shaggy cloak of furze.
'There will be a path through it,' said Siegmund.
But when they arrived there was no path. They were confronted by a tall,
impenetrable growth of gorse, taller than Siegmund.
'Stay here,' said he, 'while I look for a way through. I am afraid you
will be tired.'
She stood alone by the walls of gorse. The lights that had flickered
into being during the dusk grew stronger, so that a little farmhouse
down the hill glowed with great importance on the night, while the
far-off in visible sea became like a roadway, large and mysterious, its
specks of light moving slowly, and its bigger lamps stationed out amid
the darkness. Helena wanted the day-wanness to be quite wiped off the
west. She asked for the full black night, that would obliterate
everything save Siegmund. Siegmund it was that the whole world meant.
The darkness, the gorse, the downs, the specks of light, seemed only to
bespeak him. She waited for him to come back. She could hardly endure
the condition of intense waiting.
He came, in his grey clothes almost invisible. But she felt him coming.
'No good,' he said, 'no vestige of a path. Not a rabbit-run.'
'Then we will sit down awhile,' said she calmly.
'"Here on this mole-hill,"' he quoted mockingly.
They sat down in a small gap in the gorse, where the turf was very soft,
and where the darkness seemed deeper. The night was all fragrance, cool
odour of darkness, keen, savoury scent of the downs, touched with
honeysuckle and gorse and bracken scent.
Helena turned to him, leaning her hand on his thigh.
'What day is it, Siegmund?' she asked, in a joyous, wondering tone. He
laughed, understanding, and kissed her.
'But really,' she insisted, 'I would not have believed the labels could
have fallen off everything like this.'
He laughed again. She still leaned towards him, her weight on her hand,
stopping the flow in the artery down his thigh.
'The days used to walk in procession like seven marionettes, each in
order and costume, going endlessly round.' She laughed, amused at
'It is very strange,' she continued, 'to have the days and nights
smeared into one piece, as if the clock-hand only went round once in a
'That is how it is,' he admitted, touched by her eloquence. 'You have
torn the labels off things, and they all are so different. This morning!
It does seem absurd to talk about this morning. Why should I be
parcelled up into mornings and evenings and nights? I am not made up
of sections of time. Now, nights and days go racing over us like
cloud-shadows and sunshine over the sea, and all the time we take
She put her arms round his neck. He was reminded by a sudden pain in his
leg how much her hand had been pressing on him. He held his breath from
pain. She was kissing him softly over the eyes. They lay cheek to cheek,
looking at the stars. He felt a peculiar tingling sense of joy, a
keenness of perception, a fine, delicate tingling as of music.
'You know,' he said, repeating himself, 'it is true. You seem to have
knit all things in a piece for me. Things are not separate; they are all
in a symphony. They go moving on and on. You are the motive in
Helena lay beside him, half upon him, sad with bliss.
'You must write a symphony of this—of us,' she said, prompted by a
'Some time,' he answered. 'Later, when I have time.'
'Later,' she murmured—'later than what?'
'I don't know,' he replied. 'This is so bright we can't see beyond.' He
turned his face to hers and through the darkness smiled into her eyes
that were so close to his. Then he kissed her long and lovingly. He lay,
with her head on his shoulder looking through her hair at the stars.
'I wonder how it is you have such a fine natural perfume,' he said,
always in the same abstract, inquiring tone of happiness.
'Haven't all women?' she replied, and the peculiar penetrating twang of
a brass reed was again in her voice.
'I don't know,' he said, quite untouched. 'But you are scented like
nuts, new kernels of hazel-nuts, and a touch of opium….' He remained
abstractedly breathing her with his open mouth, quite absorbed in her.
'You are so strange,' she murmured tenderly, hardly able to control her
voice to speak.
'I believe,' he said slowly, 'I can see the stars moving through your
hair. No, keep still, you can't see them.' Helena lay obediently very
still. 'I thought I could watch them travelling, crawling like gold
flies on the ceiling,' he continued in a slow sing-song. 'But now you
make your hair tremble, and the stars rush about.' Then, as a new
thought struck him: 'Have you noticed that you can't recognize the
constellations lying back like this. I can't see one. Where is the
She laughed at the idea of his questioning her concerning these things.
She refused to learn the names of the stars or of the constellations, as
of the wayside plants. 'Why should I want to label them?' she would say.
'I prefer to look at them, not to hide them under a name.' So she
laughed when he asked her to find Vega or Arcturus.
'How full the sky is!' Siegmund dreamed on—'like a crowded street. Down
here it is vastly lonely in comparison. We've found a place far quieter
and more private than the stars, Helena. Isn't it fine to be up here,
with the sky for nearest neighbour?'
'I did well to ask you to come?' she inquired wistfully. He turned to
'As wise as God for the minute,' he replied softly. 'I think a few
furtive angels brought us here—smuggled us in.'
'And you are glad?' she asked. He laughed.
'Carpe diem,' he said. 'We have plucked a beauty, my dear. With this
rose in my coat I dare go to hell or anywhere.'
'Why hell, Siegmund?' she asked in displeasure.
'I suppose it is the postero. In everything else I'm a failure,
Helena. But,' he laughed, 'this day of ours is a rose not many men
She kissed him passionately, beginning to cry in a quick, noiseless
'What does it matter, Helena?' he murmured. 'What does it matter? We are
The quiet tone of Siegmund moved her with a vivid passion of grief. She
felt she should lose him. Clasping him very closely, she burst into
uncontrollable sobbing. He did not understand, but he did not interrupt
her. He merely held her very close, while he looked through her shaking
hair at the motionless stars. He bent his head to hers, he sought her
face with his lips, heavy with pity. She grew a little quieter. He felt
his cheek all wet with her tears, and, between his cheek and hers, the
ravelled roughness of her wet hair that chafed and made his face burn.
'What is it, Helena?' he asked at last. 'Why should you cry?'
She pressed her face in his breast, and said in a muffled,
'You won't leave me, will you, Siegmund?'
'How could I? How should I?' he murmured soothingly. She lifted her face
suddenly and pressed on him a fierce kiss.
'How could I leave you?' he repeated, and she heard his voice waking,
the grip coming into his arms, and she was glad.
An intense silence came over everything. Helena almost expected to hear
the stars moving, everything below was so still. She had no idea what
Siegmund was thinking. He lay with his arms strong around her. Then she
heard the beating of his heart, like the muffled sound of salutes, she
thought. It gave her the same thrill of dread and excitement, mingled
with a sense of triumph. Siegmund had changed again, his mood was gone,
so that he was no longer wandering in a night of thoughts, but had
become different, incomprehensible to her. She had no idea what she
thought or felt. All she knew was that he was strong, and was knocking
urgently with his heart on her breast, like a man who wanted something
and who dreaded to be sent away. How he came to be so concentratedly
urgent she could not understand. It seemed an unreasonable an
incomprehensible obsession to her. Yet she was glad, and she smiled in
her heart, feeling triumphant and restored. Yet again, dimly, she
wondered where was the Siegmund of ten minutes ago, and her heart lifted
slightly with yearning, to sink with a dismay. This Siegmund was so
incomprehensible. Then again, when he raised his head and found her
mouth, his lips filled her with a hot flush like wine, a sweet, flaming
flush of her whole body, most exquisite, as if she were nothing but a
soft rosy flame of fire against him for a moment or two. That, she
decided, was supreme, transcendental.
The lights of the little farmhouse below had vanished, the yellow specks
of ships were gone. Only the pier-light, far away, shone in the black
sea like the broken piece of a star. Overhead was a silver-greyness of
stars; below was the velvet blackness of the night and the sea. Helena
found herself glimmering with fragments of poetry, as she saw the sea,
when she looked very closely, glimmered dustily with a reflection
Tiefe Stille herrscht im Wasser
Ohne Regung ruht das Meer …
She was fond of what scraps of German verse she knew. With French verse
she had no sympathy; but Goethe and Heine and Uhland seemed to speak
Die Luft ist kühl, und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fliesst der Rhein.
She liked Heine best of all:
Wie Träume der Kindheit seh' ich es flimmern
Auf deinem wogenden Wellengebiet,
Und alte Erinnerung erzählt mir auf's Neue
Von all dem lieben herrlichen Spielzeug,
Von all den blinkenden Weihnachtsgaben….
As she lay in Siegmund's arms again, and he was very still, dreaming she
knew not what, fragments such as these flickered and were gone, like the
gleam of a falling star over water. The night moved on imperceptibly
across the sky. Unlike the day, it made no sound and gave no sign, but
passed unseen, unfelt, over them. Till the moon was ready to step forth.
Then the eastern sky blenched, and there was a small gathering of clouds
round the opening gates:
Aus alten Märchen winket es
Hervor mit weisser Hand,
Da singt es und da klingt es
Von einem Zauberland.
Helena sang this to herself as the moon lifted herself slowly among the
clouds. She found herself repeating them aloud in in a forgetful
singsong, as children do.
'What is it?' said Siegmund. They were both of them sunk in their own
stillness, therefore it was a moment or two before she repeated her
singsong, in a little louder tone. He did not listen to her, having
forgotten that he had asked her a question.
'Turn your head,' she told him, when she had finished the verse, 'and
look at the moon.'
He pressed back his head, so that there was a gleaming pallor on his
chin and his forehead and deep black shadow over his eyes and his
nostrils. This thrilled Helena with a sense of mystery and magic.
'"Die grossen Blumen schmachten,"' she said to herself, curiously
awake and joyous. 'The big flowers open with black petals and silvery
ones, Siegmund. You are the big flowers, Siegmund; yours is the
bridegroom face, Siegmund, like a black and glistening flesh-petalled
flower, Siegmund, and it blooms in the Zauberland, Siegmund—this is
the magic land.'
Between the phrases of this whispered ecstasy she kissed him swiftly on
the throat, in the shadow, and on his faintly gleaming cheeks. He lay
still, his heart beating heavily; he was almost afraid of the strange
ecstasy she concentrated on him. Meanwhile she whispered over him sharp,
breathless phrases in German and English, touching him with her mouth
and her cheeks and her forehead.
'"Und Liebesweisen tönen"-not tonight, Siegmund. They are all
still-gorse and the stars and the sea and the trees, are all kissing,
Siegmund. The sea has its mouth on the earth, and the gorse and the
trees press together, and they all look up at the moon, they put up
their faces in a kiss, my darling. But they haven't you-and it all
centres in you, my dear, all the wonder-love is in you, more than in
them all Siegmund—Siegmund!'
He felt the tears falling on him as he lay with heart beating in slow
heavy drops under the ecstasy of her love. Then she sank down and lay
prone on him, spent, clinging to him, lifted up and down by the
beautiful strong motion of his breathing. Rocked thus on his strength,
she swooned lightly into unconsciousness.
When she came to herself she sighed deeply. She woke to the exquisite
heaving of his life beneath her.
'I have been beyond life. I have been a little way into death!' she said
to her soul, with wide-eyed delight. She lay dazed, wondering upon it.
That she should come back into a marvellous, peaceful happiness
Suddenly she became aware that she must be slowly weighing down the life
of Siegmund. There was a long space between the lift of one breath and
the next. Her heart melted with sorrowful pity. Resting herself on her
hands, she kissed him—a long, anguished kiss, as if she would fuse her
soul into his for ever. Then she rose, sighing, sighing again deeply.
She put up her hands to her head and looked at the moon. 'No more,' said
her heart, almost as if it sighed too-'no more!'
She looked down at Siegmund. He was drawing in great heavy breaths. He
lay still on his back, gazing up at her, and she stood motionless at his
side, looking down at him. He felt stunned, half-conscious. Yet as he
lay helplessly looking up at her some other consciousness inside him
murmured; 'Hawwa—Eve—Mother!' She stood compassionate over him.
Without touching him she seemed to be yearning over him like a mother.
Her compassion, her benignity, seemed so different from his little
Helena. This woman, tall and pale, drooping with the strength of her
compassion, seemed stable, immortal, not a fragile human being, but a
personification of the great motherhood of women.
'I am her child, too,' he dreamed, as a child murmurs unconscious in
sleep. He had never felt her eyes so much as now, in the darkness, when
he looked only into deep shadow. She had never before so entered and
gathered his plaintive masculine soul to the bosom of her nurture.
'Come,' she said gently, when she knew he was restored. 'Shall we go?'
He rose, with difficulty gathering his strength.
Siegmund made a great effort to keep the control of his body. The
hill-side, the gorse, when he stood up, seemed to have fallen back into
shadowed vagueness about him. They were meaningless dark heaps at some
distance, very great, it seemed.
'I can't get hold of them,' he said distractedly to himself. He felt
detached from the earth, from all the near, concrete, beloved things; as
if these had melted away from him, and left him, sick and unsupported,
somewhere alone on the edge of an enormous space. He wanted to lie down
again, to relieve himself of the sickening effort of supporting and
controlling his body. If he could lie down again perfectly still he need
not struggle to animate the cumbersome matter of his body, and then he
would not feel thus sick and outside himself.
But Helena was speaking to him, telling him they would see the
moon-path. They must set off downhill. He felt her arm clasped firmly,
joyously, round his waist. Therein was his stability and warm support.
Siegmund felt a keen flush of pitiful tenderness for her as she walked
with buoyant feet beside him, clasping him so happily, all unconscious.
This pity for her drew him nearer to life.
He shuddered lightly now and again, as they stepped lurching down the
hill. He set his jaws hard to suppress this shuddering. It was not in
his limbs, or even on the surface of his body, for Helena did not notice
it. Yet he shuddered almost in anguish internally.
'What is it?' he asked himself in wonder.
His thought consisted of these detached phrases, which he spoke verbally
to himself. Between-whiles he was conscious only of an almost
insupportable feeling of sickness, as a man feels who is being brought
from under an anaesthetic; also he was vaguely aware of a teeming stir
of activity, such as one may hear from a closed hive, within him.
They swung rapidly downhill. Siegmund still shuddered, but not so
uncontrollably. They came to a stile which they must climb. As he
stepped over it needed a concentrated effort of will to place his foot
securely on the step. The effort was so great that he became
conscious of it.
'Good Lord!' he said to himself. 'I wonder what it is.'
He tried to examine himself. He thought of all the organs of his
body—his brain, his heart, his liver. There was no pain, and nothing
wrong with any of them, he was sure. His dim searching resolved itself
into another detached phrase. 'There is nothing the matter with me,'
Then he continued vaguely wondering, recalling the sensation of wretched
sickness which sometimes follows drunkenness, thinking of the times when
he had fallen ill.
'But I am not like that,' he said, 'because I don't feel tremulous. I am
sure my hand is steady.'
Helena stood still to consider the road. He held out his hand before
him. It was motionless as a dead flower on this silent night.
'Yes, I think this is the right way,' said Helena, and they set off
again, as if gaily.
'It certainly feels rather deathly,' said Siegmund to himself. He
remembered distinctly, when he was a child and had diphtheria, he had
stretched himself in the horrible sickness, which he felt was—and here
he chose the French word—'l'agonie'. But his mother had seen and had
cried aloud, which suddenly caused him to struggle with all his soul to
spare her her suffering.
'Certainly it is like that,' he said. 'Certainly it is rather deathly. I
wonder how it is.'
Then he reviewed the last hour.
'I believe we are lost!' Helena interrupted him.
'Lost! What matter!' he answered indifferently, and Helena pressed him
tighter, hearer to her in a kind of triumph. 'But did we not come this
way?' he added.
'No. See'—her voice was reeded with restrained emotion—'we have
certainly not been along this bare path which dips up and down.'
'Well, then, we must merely keep due eastward, towards the moon pretty
well, as much as we can,' said Siegmund, looking forward over the down,
where the moon was wrestling heroically to win free of the pack of
clouds which hung on her like wolves on a white deer. As he looked at
the moon he felt a sense of companionship. Helena, not understanding,
left him so much alone; the moon was nearer.
Siegmund continued to review the last hours. He had been so wondrously
happy. The world had been filled with a new magic, a wonderful, stately
beauty which he had perceived for the first time. For long hours he had
been wandering in another—a glamorous, primordial world.
'I suppose,' he said to himself, 'I have lived too intensely, I seem to
have had the stars and moon and everything else for guests, and now
they've gone my house is weak.'
So he struggled to diagnose his case of splendour and sickness. He
reviewed his hour of passion with Helena.
'Surely,' he told himself, 'I have drunk life too hot, and it has hurt
my cup. My soul seems to leak out—I am half here, half gone away.
That's why I understand the trees and the night so painfully.'
Then he came to the hour of Helena's strange ecstasy over him. That,
somehow, had filled him with passionate grief. It was happiness
concentrated one drop too keen, so that what should have been vivid wine
was like a pure poison scathing him. But his consciousness, which had
been unnaturally active, now was dulling. He felt the blood flowing
vigorously along the limbs again, and stilling has brain, sweeping away
his sickness, soothing him.
'I suppose,' he said to himself for the last time, 'I suppose living too
intensely kills you, more or less.'
Then Siegmund forgot. He opened his eyes and saw the night about him.
The moon had escaped from the cloud-pack, and was radiant behind a fine
veil which glistened to her rays, and which was broidered with a
lustrous halo, very large indeed, the largest halo Siegmund had ever
seen. When the little lane turned full towards the moon, it seemed as if
Siegmund and Helena would walk through a large Moorish arch of
horse-shoe shape, the enormous white halo opening in front of them. They
walked on, keeping their faces to the moon, smiling with wonder and a
little rapture, until once mote the little lane curved wilfully, and
they were walking north. Helena observed three cottages crouching under
the hill and under trees to cover themselves from the magic of the
'We certainly did not come this way before,' she said triumphantly. The
idea of being lost delighted her.
Siegmund looked round at the grey hills smeared over with a low, dim
glisten of moon-mist. He could not yet fully realize that he was walking
along a lane in the Isle of Wight. His surroundings seemed to belong to
some state beyond ordinary experience—some place in romance, perhaps,
or among the hills where Brünhild lay sleeping in her large bright halo
of fire. How could it be that he and Helena were two children of London
wandering to find their lodging in Freshwater? He sighed, and looked
again over the hills where the moonlight was condensing in mist
ethereal, frail, and yet substantial, reminding him of the way the manna
must have condensed out of the white moonlit mists of Arabian deserts.
'We may be on the road to Newport,' said Helena presently, 'and the
distance is ten miles.'
She laughed, not caring in the least whither they wandered, exulting in
this wonderful excursion! She and Siegmund alone in a glistening
wilderness of night at the back of habited days and nights! Siegmund
looked at her. He by no means shared her exultation, though he
sympathized with it. He walked on alone in his deep seriousness, of
which she was not aware. Yet when he noticed her abandon, he drew her
nearer, and his heart softened with protecting tenderness towards her,
and grew heavy with responsibility.
The fields breathed off a scent as if they were come to life with the
night, and were talking with fragrant eagerness. The farms huddled
together in sleep, and pulled the dark shadow over them to hide from the
supernatural white night; the cottages were locked and darkened. Helena
walked on in triumph through this wondrous hinterland of night, actively
searching for the spirits, watching the cottages they approached,
listening, looking for the dreams of those sleeping inside, in the
darkened rooms. She imagined she could see the frail dream-faces at the
windows; she fancied they stole out timidly into the gardens, and went
running away among the rabbits on the gleamy hill-side. Helena laughed
to herself, pleased with her fancy of wayward little dreams playing with
weak hands and feet among the large, solemn-sleeping cattle. This was
the first time, she told herself, that she had ever been out among the
grey-frocked dreams and white-armed fairies. She imagined herself lying
asleep in her room, while her own dreams slid out down the moonbeams.
She imagined Siegmund sleeping in his room, while his dreams, dark-eyed,
their blue eyes very dark and yearning at night-time, came wandering
over the grey grass seeking her dreams.
So she wove her fancies as she walked, until for very weariness she was
fain to remember that it was a long way—a long way. Siegmund's arm was
about her to support her; she rested herself upon it. They crossed a
stile and recognized, on the right of the path, the graveyard of the
Catholic chapel. The moon, which the days were paring smaller with
envious keen knife, shone upon the white stones in the burial-ground.
The carved Christ upon His cross hung against a silver-grey sky. Helena
looked up wearily, bowing to the tragedy. Siegmund also looked, and
bowed his head.
'Thirty years of earnest love; three years' life like a passionate
ecstasy-and it was finished. He was very great and very wonderful. I am
very insignificant, and shall go out ignobly. But we are the same; love,
the brief ecstasy, and the end. But mine is one rose, and His all the
white beauty in the world.'
Siegmund felt his heart very heavy, sad, and at fault, in presence of
the Christ. Yet he derived comfort from the knowledge that life was
treating him in the same manner as it had treated the Master, though his
compared small and despicable with the Christ-tragedy. Siegmund stepped
softly into the shadow of the pine copse.
'Let me get under cover,' he thought. 'Let me hide in it; it is good,
the sudden intense darkness. I am small and futile: my small,
Helena shrank in the darkness. It was almost terrible to her, and the
silence was like a deep pit. She shrank to Siegmund. He drew her closer,
leaning over her as they walked, trying to assure her. His heart was
heavy, and heavy with a tenderness approaching grief, for his small,
'Are you sure this is the right way?' he whispered to her.
'Quite, quite sure,' she whispered confidently in reply. And presently
they came out into the hazy moonlight, and began stumbling down the
steep hill. They were both very tired, both found it difficult to go
with ease or surety this sudden way down. Soon they were creeping
cautiously across the pasture and the poultry farm. Helena's heart was
beating, as she imagined what a merry noise there would be should they
wake all the fowls. She dreaded any commotion, any questioning, this
night, so she stole carefully along till they issued on the high-road
not far from home.
In the morning, after bathing, Siegmund leaned upon the seawall in a
kind of reverie. It was late, towards nine o'clock, yet he lounged,
dreamily looking out on the turquoise blue water, and the white haze of
morning, and the small, fair shadows of ships slowly realizing before
him. In the bay were two battleships, uncouth monsters, lying as naïve
and curious as sea-lions strayed afar.
Siegmund was gazing oversea in a half-stupid way, when he heard a voice
beside him say:
'Where have they come from; do you know, sir?'
He turned, saw a fair, slender man of some thirty-five years standing
beside him and smiling faintly at the battleships.
'The men-of-war? There are a good many at Spithead,' said Siegmund.
The other glanced negligently into his face.
'They look rather incongruous, don't you think? We left the sea empty
and shining, and when we come again, behold, these objects keeping their
eye on us!'
'You are not an Anarchist, I hope?' he said jestingly.
'A Nihilist, perhaps,' laughed the other. 'But I am quite fond of the
Czar, if pity is akin to love. No; but you can't turn round without
finding some policeman or other at your elbow—look at them, abominable
ironmongery!—ready to put his hand on your shoulder.'
The speaker's grey-blue eyes, always laughing with mockery, glanced from
the battleships and lit on the dark blue eyes of Siegmund. The latter
felt his heart lift in a convulsive movement. This stranger ran so
quickly to a perturbing intimacy.
'I suppose we are in the hands of—God,' something moved Siegmund to
say. The stranger contracted his eyes slightly as he gazed deep at
'Ah!' he drawled curiously. Then his eyes wandered over the wet hair,
the white brow, and the bare throat of Siegmund, after which they
returned again to the eyes of his interlocutor. 'Does the Czar sail this
way?' he asked at last.
'I do not know,' replied Siegmund, who, troubled by the other's
penetrating gaze, had not expected so trivial a question.
'I suppose the newspaper will tell us?' said the man.
Sure to,' said Siegmund.
'You haven't seen it this morning?'
'Not since Saturday.'
The swift blue eyes of the man dilated. He looked curiously at Siegmund.
'You are not alone on your holiday?'
'No.' Siegmund did not like this—he gazed over the sea in displeasure.
'I live here—at least for the present—name, Hampson—'
'Why, weren't you one of the first violins at the Savoy fifteen years
back?' asked Siegmund.
They chatted awhile about music. They had known each other, had been
fairly intimate, and had since become strangers. Hampson excused himself
for having addressed Siegmund:
'I saw you with your nose flattened against the window,' he said, 'and
as I had mine in the same position too, I thought we were fit to be
Siegmund looked at the man in astonishment.
'I only mean you were staring rather hard at nothing. It's a pity to try
and stare out of a beautiful blue day like this, don't you think?'
'Stare beyond it, you mean?' asked Siegmund.
'Exactly!' replied the other, with a laugh of intelligence. 'I call a
day like this "the blue room". It's the least draughty apartment in all
the confoundedly draughty House of Life.'
Siegmund looked at him very intently. This Hampson seemed to express
something in his own soul.
'I mean,' the man explained, 'that after all, the great mass of life
that washes unidentified, and that we call death, creeps through the
blue envelope of the day, and through our white tissue, and we can't
stop it, once we've begun to leak.'
'What do you mean by "leak"?' asked Siegmund.
'Goodness knows—I talk through my hat. But once you've got a bit tired
of the house, you glue your nose to the windowpane, and stare for the
dark—as you were doing.'
'But, to use your metaphor, I'm not tired of the House—if you mean
Life,' said Siegmund.
'Praise God! I've met a poet who's not afraid of having his pocket
picked—or his soul, or his brain!' said the stranger, throwing his head
back in a brilliant smile, his eyes dilated.
'I don't know what you mean, sir,' said Siegmund, very quietly, with a
strong fear and a fascination opposing each other in his heart.
'You're not tired of the House, but of your own particular room-say,
suite of rooms—'
'Tomorrow I am turned out of this "blue room",' said Siegmund with a wry
smile. The other looked at him seriously.
'Dear Lord!' exclaimed Hampson; then: 'Do you remember Flaubert's saint,
who laid naked against a leper? I could not do it.'
'Nor I,' shuddered Siegmund.
'But you've got to-or something near it!'
Siegmund looked at the other with frightened, horrified eyes.
'What of yourself?' he said, resentfully.
'I've funked-ran away from my leper, and now am eating my heart out, and
staring from the window at the dark.'
'But can't you do something?' said Siegmund.
The other man laughed with amusement, throwing his head back and showing
'I won't ask you what your intentions are,' he said, with delicate
irony in his tone. 'You know, I am a tremendously busy man. I earn five
hundred a year by hard work; but it's no good. If you have acquired a
liking for intensity in life, you can't do without it. I mean vivid soul
experience. It takes the place, with us, of the old adventure, and
Siegmund looked at the other man with baffled, anxious eyes.
'Well, and what then?' he said.
'What then? A craving for intense life is nearly as deadly as any other
craving. You become a concentré, you feed your normal flame with
oxygen, and it devours your tissue. The soulful ladies of romance are
'At least, I am quite opaque,' he said.
The other glanced over his easy, mature figure and strong throat.
'Not altogether,' said Hampson. 'And you, I should think, are one whose
flame goes nearly out, when the stimulant is lacking.'
Siegmund glanced again at him, startled.
'You haven't much reserve. You're like a tree that'll flower till it
kills itself,' the man continued. 'You'll run till you drop, and then
you won't get up again. You've no dispassionate intellect to control you
'You're telling me very plainly what I am and am not,' said Siegmund,
laughing rather sarcastically. He did not like it.
'Oh, it's only what I think,' replied Hampson. 'We're a good deal alike,
you see, and have gone the same way. You married and I didn't; but women
have always done as they liked with me.'
'That's hardly so in my case,' said Siegmund.
Hampson eyed him critically.
'Say one woman; it's enough,' he replied.
Siegmund gazed, musing, over the sea.
'The best sort of women—the most interesting—are the worst for us,'
Hampson resumed. 'By instinct they aim at suppressing the gross and
animal in us. Then they are supersensitive—refined a bit beyond
humanity. We, who are as little gross as need be, become their
instruments. Life is grounded in them, like electricity in the earth;
and we take from them their unrealized life, turn it into light or
warmth or power for them. The ordinary woman is, alone, a great
potential force, an accumulator, if you like, charged from the source of
life. In us her force becomes evident.
'She can't live without us, but she destroys us. These deep, interesting
women don't want us; they want the flowers of the spirit they can
gather of us. We, as natural men, are more or less degrading to them and
to their love of us; therefore they destroy the natural man in us—that
is, us altogether.'
'You're a bit downright are you not?' asked Siegmund, deprecatingly. He
did not disagree with what his friend said, nor tell him such statements
'That's according to my intensity,' laughed Hampson. 'I can open the
blue heaven with looking, and push back the doors of day a little, and
see—God knows what! One of these days I shall slip through. Oh, I am
perfectly sane; I only strive beyond myself!'
'Don't you think it's wrong to get like it?' asked Siegmund.
'Well, I do, and so does everybody; but the crowd profits by us in the
end. When they understand my music, it will be an education to them; and
the whole aim of mankind is to render life intelligible.'
Siegmund pondered a little….
'You make me feel—as if I were loose, and a long way off from myself,'
he said slowly.
The young man smiled, then looked down at the wall, where his own hands
lay white and fragile, showing the blue veins.
'I can scarcely believe they are me,' he said. 'If they rose up and
refused me, I should not be surprised. But aren't they beautiful?'
He looked, with a faint smile, at Siegmund.
Siegmund glanced from the stranger's to his own hands, which lay curved
on the sea-wall as if asleep. They were small for a man of his stature,
but, lying warm in the sun, they looked particularly secure in life.
Instinctively, with a wave of self-love, he closed his fists over
'I wonder,' said Hampson softly, with strange bitterness, 'that she
can't see it; I wonder she doesn't cherish you. You are full and
beautiful enough in the flesh—why will she help to destroy you, when
she loved you to such extremity?'
Siegmund looked at him with awe-stricken eyes. The frail, swift man,
with his intensely living eyes, laughed suddenly.
'Fools—the fools, these women!' he said. 'Either they smash their own
crystal, or it revolts, turns opaque, and leaps out of their hands. Look
at me, I am whittled down to the quick; but your neck is thick with
compressed life; it is a stem so tense with life that it will hold up by
itself. I am very sorry.'
All at once he stopped. The bitter despair in his tone was the voice of
a heavy feeling of which Siegmund had been vaguely aware for some weeks.
Siegmund felt a sense of doom. He laughed, trying to shake it off.
'I wish I didn't go on like this,' said Hampson piteously. 'I wish I
could be normal. How hot it is already! You should wear a hat. It is
really hot.' He pulled open his flannel shirt.
'I like the heat,' said Siegmund.
'So do I.'
Directly, the young man dashed the long hair on his forehead into some
sort of order, bowed, and smiling in his gay fashion, walked leisurely
to the village.
Siegmund stood awhile as if stunned. It seemed to him only a painful
dream. Sighing deeply to relieve himself of the pain, he set off to
In the garden of tall rose trees and nasturtiums Helena was again
waiting. It was past nine o'clock, so she was growing impatient. To
herself, however, she professed a great interest in a little book of
verses she had bought in St Martin's Lane for twopence.
A late, harsh blackbird smote him with her wings,
As through the glade, dim in the dark, she flew….
So she read. She made a curious, pleased sound, and remarked to herself
that she thought these verses very fine. But she watched the road
And now she takes the scissors on her thumb …
Oh then, no more unto my lattice come.
'H'm!' she said, 'I really don't know whether I like that or not.'
Therefore she read the piece again before she looked down the road.
'He really is very late. It is absurd to think he may have got drowned;
but if he were washing about at the bottom of the sea, his hair loose on
Her heart stood still as she imagined this.
'But what nonsense! I like these verses very much. I will read them as
I walk along the side path, where I shall hear the bees, and catch the
flutter of a butterfly among the words. That will be a very fitting way
to read this poet.'
So she strolled to the gate, glancing up now and again. There, sure
enough, was Siegmund coming, the towel hanging over his shoulder, his
throat bare, and his face bright. She stood in the mottled shade.
'I have kept you waiting,' said Siegmund.
'Well, I was reading, you see.'
She would not admit her impatience.
'I have been talking,' he said.
'Talking!' she exclaimed in slight displeasure. 'Have you found an
acquaintance even here?'
'A fellow who was quite close friends in Savoy days; he made me feel
queer-sort of Doppelgänger, he was.'
Helena glanced up swiftly and curiously.
'In what way?' she said.
'He talked all the skeletons in the cupboard-such piffle it seems, now!
The sea is like a harebell, and there are two battleships lying in the
bay. You can hear the voices of the men on deck distinctly. Well, have
you made the plans for today?'
They went into the house to breakfast. She watched him helping himself
to the scarlet and green salad.
'Mrs Curtiss,' she said, in rather reedy tone, 'has been very motherly
to me this morning; oh, very motherly!'
Siegmund, who was in a warm, gay mood, shrank up.
'What, has she been saying something about last night?' he asked.
'She was very much concerned for me-was afraid something dreadful had
happened,' continued Helena, in the same keen, sarcastic tone, which
showed she was trying to rid herself of her own mortification.
'Because we weren't in till about eleven?' said Siegmund, also with
'I mustn't do it again. Oh no, I mustn't do it again, really.'
'For fear of alarming the old lady?' he asked.
'"You know, dear, it troubles me a good deal … but if I were your
mother, I don't know how I should feel,"' she quoted.
'When one engages rooms one doesn't usually stipulate for a stepmother
to nourish one's conscience,' said Siegmund. They laughed, making jest
of the affair; but they were both too thin-skinned. Siegmund writhed
within himself with mortification, while Helena talked as if her teeth
were on edge.
'I don't mind in the least,' she said. 'The poor old woman has her
opinions, and I mine.'
Siegmund brooded a little.
'I know I'm a moral coward,' he said bitterly.
'Nonsense' she replied. Then, with a little heat: 'But you do continue
to try so hard to justify yourself, as if you felt you needed
He laughed bitterly.
'I tell you—a little thing like this—it remains tied tight round
something inside me, reminding me for hours—well, what everybody else's
opinion of me is.'
Helena laughed rather plaintively.
'I thought you were so sure we were right,' she said.
He winced again.
'In myself I am. But in the eyes of the world—'
'If you feel so in yourself, is not that enough?' she said brutally.
He hung his head, and slowly turned his serviette-ring.
'What is myself?' he asked.
'Nothing very definite,' she said, with a bitter laugh.
They were silent. After a while she rose, went lovingly over to him, and
put her arms round his neck.
'This is our last clear day, dear,' she said.
A wave of love came over him, sweeping away all the rest. He took her in
'It will be hot today,' said Helena, as they prepared to go out.
'I felt the sun steaming in my hair as I came up,' he replied.
'I shall wear a hat—you had better do so too.'
'No,' he said. 'I told you I wanted a sun-soaking; now I think I shall
She did not urge or compel him. In these matters he was old enough to
choose for himself.
This morning they were rather silent. Each felt the tarnish on their
'I think, dear,' she said, 'we ought to find the little path that
escaped us last night.'
'We were lucky to miss it,' he answered. 'You don't get a walk like that
twice in a lifetime, in spite of the old ladies.'
She glanced up at him with a winsome smile, glad to hear his words.
They set off, Siegmund bare-headed. He was dressed in flannels and a
loose canvas shirt, but he looked what he was—a Londoner on holiday. He
had the appearance, the diffident bearing, and the well-cut clothes of a
gentleman. He had a slight stoop, a strong-shouldered stoop, and as he
walked he looked unseeing in front of him.
Helena belonged to the unclassed. She was not ladylike, nor smart, nor
assertive. One could not tell whether she were of independent means or a
worker. One thing was obvious about her: she was evidently educated.
Rather short, of strong figure, she was much more noticeably a
concentrée than was Siegmund. Unless definitely looking at something
she always seemed coiled within herself.
She wore a white voile dress made with the waist just below her breasts,
and the skirt dropping straight and clinging. On her head was a large,
simple hat of burnt straw.
Through the open-worked sleeves of her dress she could feel the sun bite
'I wish you had put on a hat, Siegmund,' she said.
'Why?' he laughed. 'My hair is like a hood,' He ruffled it back with his
hand. The sunlight glistened on his forehead.
On the higher paths a fresh breeze was energetically chasing the
butterflies and driving the few small clouds disconsolate out of the
sky. The lovers stood for some time watching the people of the farm in
the down below dip their sheep on this sunny morning. There was a ragged
noise of bleating from the flock penned in a corner of the yard. Two
red-armed men seized a sheep, hauled it to a large bath that stood in
the middle of the yard, and there held it, more or less in the bath,
whilst a third man baled a dirty yellow liquid over its body. The white
legs of the sheep twinkled as it butted this way and that to escape the
yellow douche, the blue-shirted men ducked and struggled. There was a
faint splashing and shouting to be heard even from a distance. The
farmer's wife and children stood by ready to rush in with assistance if
Helena laughed with pleasure.
'That is really a very quaint and primitive proceeding,' she said. 'It
is cruder than Theocritus.'
'In an instant it makes me wish I were a farmer,' he laughed. 'I think
every man has a passion for farming at the bottom of his blood. It would
be fine to be plain-minded, to see no farther than the end of one's
nose, and to own cattle and land.'
'Would it?' asked Helena sceptically.
'If I had a red face, and went to sleep as soon as I sat comfortable, I
should love it,'he said.
'It amuses me to hear you long to be stupid,' she replied.
'To have a simple, slow-moving mind and an active life is the
'Is it?' she asked ironically.
'I would give anything to be like that,' he said.
'That is, not to be yourself,' she said pointedly.
He laughed without much heartiness.
'Don't they seem a long way off?' he said, staring at the bucolic scene.
'They are farther than Theocritus—down there is farther than Sicily,
and more than twenty centuries from us. I wish it weren't.'
'Why do you?' she cried, with curious impatience.
Crossing the down, scattered with dark bushes, they came directly
opposite the path through the furze.
'There it is!' she cried, 'How could we miss it?'
'Ascribe it to the fairies,' he replied, whistling the bird music out of
Siegfried, then pieces of Tristan. They talked very little.
She was tired. When they arrived at a green, naked hollow near the
cliff's edge, she said:
'This shall be our house today.'
'Welcome home!' said Siegmund.
He flung himself down on the high, breezy slope of the dip, looking out
to sea. Helena sat beside him. It was absolutely still, and the wind was
slackening more and more. Though they listened attentively, they could
hear only an indistinct breathing sound, quite small, from the water
below: no clapping nor hoarse conversation of waves. Siegmund lay with
his hands beneath his head, looking over the sparkling sea. To put her
page in the shadow, Helena propped her book against him and began
Presently the breeze, and Siegmund, dropped asleep. The sun was pouring
with dreadful persistence. It beat and beat on Helena, gradually drawing
her from her book in a confusion of thought. She closed her eyes
wearily, longing for shade. Vaguely she felt a sympathy with Adam in
'Adam Cast Forth'. Her mind traced again the tumultuous, obscure
strugglings of the two, forth from Eden through the primitive
wildernesses, and she felt sorrowful. Thinking of Adam blackened with
struggle, she looked down at Siegmund. The sun was beating him upon the
face and upon his glistening brow. His two hands, which lay out on the
grass, were full of blood, the veins of his wrists purple and swollen
with heat. Yet he slept on, breathing with a slight, panting motion.
Helena felt deeply moved. She wanted to kiss him as he lay helpless,
abandoned to the charge of the earth and the sky. She wanted to kiss
him, and shed a few tears. She did neither, but instead, moved her
position so that she shaded his head. Cautiously putting her hand on his
hair, she found it warm, quite hot, as when you put your hand under a
sitting hen, and feel the hot-feathered bosom.
'It will make him ill,' she whispered to herself, and she bent over to
smell the hot hair. She noticed where the sun was scalding his forehead.
She felt very pitiful and helpless when she saw his brow becoming
inflamed with the sun-scalding.
Turning weariedly away, she sought relief in the landscape. But the sea
was glittering unbearably, like a scaled dragon wreathing. The houses of
Freshwater slept, as cattle sleep motionless in the hollow valley. Green
Farringford on the slope, was drawn over with a shadow of heat and
sleep. In the bay below the hill the sea was hot and restless. Helena
was sick with sunshine and the restless glitter of water.
'"And there shall be no more sea,"' she quoted to herself, she knew not
'No more sea, no more anything,' she thought dazedly, as she sat in the
midst of this fierce welter of sunshine. It seemed to her as if all the
lightness of her fancy and her hope were being burned away in this
tremendous furnace, leaving her, Helena, like a heavy piece of slag
seamed with metal. She tried to imagine herself resuming the old
activities, the old manner of living.
'It is impossible,' she said; 'it is impossible! What shall I be when I
come out of this? I shall not come out, except as metal to be cast in
another shape. No more the same Siegmund, no more the same life. What
will become of us—what will happen?'
She was roused from these semi-delirious speculations in the sun furnace
by Siegmund's waking. He opened his eyes, took a deep breath, and looked
smiling at Helena.
'It is worth while to sleep,' said he, 'for the sake of waking like
this. I was dreaming of huge ice-crystals.'
She smiled at him. He seemed unconscious of fate, happy and strong. She
smiled upon him almost in condescension.
'I should like to realize your dream,' she said. 'This is terrible!'
They went to the cliff's edge, to receive the cool up-flow of air from
the water. She drank the travelling freshness eagerly with her face, and
put forward her sunburnt arms to be refreshed.
'It is really a very fine sun,' said Siegmund lightly. 'I feel as if I
were almost satisfied with heat.'
Helena felt the chagrin of one whose wretchedness must go unperceived,
while she affects a light interest in another's pleasure. This time,
when Siegmund 'failed to follow her', as she put it, she felt she must
'You are having your satisfaction complete this journey,' she said,
smiling; 'even a sufficiency of me.'
'Ay!' said Siegmund drowsily. 'I think I am. I think this is about
perfect, don't you?'
'I want nothing more and nothing different,' he continued; 'and that's
the extreme of a decent time, I should think.'
'The extreme of a decent time!' she repeated.
But he drawled on lazily:
'I've only rubbed my bread on the cheese-board until now. Now I've got
all the cheese—which is you, my dear.'
'I certainly feel eaten up,' she laughed, rather bitterly. She saw him
lying in a royal ease, his eyes naïve as a boy's, his whole being
careless. Although very glad to see him thus happy, for herself she felt
very lonely. Being listless with sun-weariness, and heavy with a sense
of impending fate, she felt a great yearning for his sympathy, his
fellow-suffering. Instead of receiving this, she had to play to his
buoyant happiness, so as not to shrivel one petal of his flower, or
spoil one minute of his consummate hour.
From the high point of the cliff where they stood, they could see the
path winding down to the beach, and broadening upwards towards them.
Slowly approaching up the slight incline came a black invalid's chair,
wheeling silently over the short dry grass. The invalid, a young man,
was so much deformed that already his soul seemed to be wilting in his
pale sharp face, as if there were not enough life-flow in the distorted
body to develop the fair bud of the spirit. He turned his pain-sunken
eyes towards the sea, whose meaning, like that of all things, was half
obscure to him. Siegmund glanced, and glanced quickly away, before he
should see. Helena looked intently for two seconds. She thought of the
torn, shrivelled seaweed flung above the reach of the tide—'the life
tide,' she said to herself. The pain of the invalid overshadowed her own
distress. She was fretted to her soul.
'Come!' she said quietly to Siegmund, no longer resenting the
completeness of his happiness, which left her unnecessary to him.
'We will leave the poor invalid in possession of our green hollow—so
quiet,' she said to herself.
They sauntered downwards towards the bay. Helena was brooding on her own
state, after her own fashion.
'The Mist Spirit,' she said to herself. 'The Mist Spirit draws a curtain
round us—it is very kind. A heavy gold curtain sometimes; a thin, torn
curtain sometimes. I want the Mist Spirit to close the curtain again, I
do not want to think of the outside. I am afraid of the outside, and I
am afraid when the curtain tears open in rags. I want to be in our own
fine world inside the heavy gold mist-curtain.'
As if in answer or in protest to her thoughts, Siegmund said:
'Do you want anything better than this, dear? Shall we come here next
year, and stay for a whole month?'
'If there be any next year,' said she.
Siegmund did not reply.
She wondered if he had really spoken in sincerity, or if he, too, were
mocking fate. They walked slowly through the broiling sun towards
'There will be an end to this,' said Helena, communing with herself.
'And when we come out of the mist-curtain, what will it be? No
matter—let come what will. All along Fate has been resolving, from the
very beginning, resolving obvious discords, gradually, by unfamiliar
progression; and out of original combinations weaving wondrous harmonies
with our lives. Really, the working out has been wondrous, is wondrous
now. The Master-Fate is too great an artist to suffer an anti-climax. I
am sure the Master-Musician is too great an artist to allow a bathetic
The afternoon of the blazing day passed drowsily. Lying close together
on the beach, Siegmund and Helena let the day exhale its hours like
perfume, unperceived. Siegmund slept, a light evanescent sleep irised
with dreams and with suffering: nothing definite, the colour of dreams
without shape. Helena, as usual, retained her consciousness much more
clearly. She watched the far-off floating of ships, and the near wading
of children through the surf. Endless trains of thoughts, like little
waves, rippled forward and broke on the shore of her drowsiness. But
each thought-ripple, though it ran lightly, was tinged with
copper-coloured gleams as from a lurid sunset. Helena felt that the sun
was setting on her and Siegmund. The hour was too composed, spell-bound,
for grief or anxiety or even for close perception. She was merely aware
that the sun was wheeling down, tangling Siegmund and her in the traces,
like overthrown charioteers. So the hours passed.
After tea they went eastwards on the downs. Siegmund was animated, so
that Helena caught his mood. It was very rare that they spoke of the
time preceding their acquaintance, Helena knew little or nothing of
Siegmund's life up to the age of thirty, whilst he had never learned
anything concerning her childhood. Somehow she did not encourage him to
self-discovery. Today, however, the painful need of lovers for
self-revelation took hold on him.
'It is awfully funny,' he said. 'I was so gone on Beatrice when I
married her. She had only just come back from Egypt. Her father was an
army officer, a very handsome man, and, I believe, a bit of a rake.
Beatrice is really well connected, you know. But old FitzHerbert ran
through all his money, and through everything else. He was too hot for
the rest of the family, so they dropped him altogether.
'He came to live at Peckham when I was sixteen. I had just left school,
and was to go into father's business. Mrs FitzHerbert left cards, and
very soon we were acquainted. Beatrice had been a good time in a French
convent school. She had only knocked about with the army a little while,
but it had brought her out. I remember I thought she was miles above
me—which she was. She wasn't bad-looking, either, and you know men all
like her. I bet she'd marry again, in spite of the children.
'At first I fluttered round her. I remember I'd got a little, silky
moustache. They all said I looked older than sixteen. At that time I was
mad on the violin, and she played rather well. Then FitzHerbert went off
abroad somewhere, so Beatrice and her mother half lived at our house.
The mother was an invalid.
'I remember I nearly stood on my head one day. The conservatory opened
off the smoking-room, so when I came in the room, I heard my two sisters
and Beatrice talking about good-looking men.
'"I consider Bertram will make a handsome man," said my younger sister.
'"He's got beautiful eyes," said my other sister.
'"And a real darling nose and chin!" cried Beatrice. "If only he was
more solide! He is like a windmill, all limbs."
'"He will fill out. Remember, he's not quite seventeen," said my elder
'"Ah, he is doux—he is câlin," said Beatrice.
'"I think he is rather too spoony for his age," said my elder sister.
'"But he's a fine boy for all that. See how thick his knees are," my
younger sister chimed in.
'"Ah, si, si!" cried Beatrice.
'I made a row against the door, then walked across.
'"Hello, is somebody in here?" I said, as I pushed into the little
'I looked straight at Beatrice, and she at me. We seemed to have formed
an alliance in that look: she was the other half of my consciousness, I
of hers. Ha! Ha! there were a lot of white narcissus, and little white
hyacinths, Roman hyacinths, in the conservatory. I can see them now,
great white stars, and tangles of little ones, among a bank of green;
and I can recall the keen, fresh scent on the warm air; and the look of
Beatrice … her great dark eyes.
'It's funny, but Beatrice is as dead—ay, far more dead—than Dante's.
And I am not that young fool, not a bit.
'I was very romantic, fearfully emotional, and the soul of honour.
Beatrice said nobody cared a thing about her. FitzHerbert was always
jaunting off, the mother was a fretful invalid. So I was seventeen,
earning half a guinea a week, and she was eighteen, with no money, when
we ran away to Brighton and got married. Poor old Pater, he took it
awfully well, I have been a frightful drag on him, you know.
'There's the romance. I wonder how it will all end.'
Helena laughed, and he did not detect her extreme bitterness of spirit.
They walked on in silence for some time. He was thinking back, before
Helena's day. This left her very much alone, and forced on her the idea
that, after all, love, which she chose to consider as single and
wonderful a thing in a man's life as birth, or adolescence, or death,
was temporary, and formed only an episode. It was her hour of
'Come to think of it,' Siegmund continued, 'I have always shirked.
Whenever I've been in a tight corner I've gone to Pater.'
'I think,' she said, 'marriage has been a tight corner you couldn't get
out of to go to anybody.'
'Yet I'm here,' he answered simply.
The blood suffused her face and neck.
'And some men would have made a better job of it. When it's come to
sticking out against Beatrice, and sailing the domestic ship in spite of
her, I've always funked. I tell you I'm something of a moral coward.'
He had her so much on edge she was inclined to answer, 'So be it.'
Instead, she ran back over her own history: it consisted of petty
discords in contemptible surroundings, then of her dreams and fancies,
'In my life,' she said, with the fine, grating discord in her tones, 'I
might say always, the real life has seemed just outside—brownies
running and fairies peeping—just beyond the common, ugly place where I
am. I seem to have been hedged in by vulgar circumstances, able to
glimpse outside now and then, and see the reality.'
'You are so hard to get at,' said Siegmund. 'And so scornful of familiar
She smiled, knowing he did not understand. The heat had jaded her, so
that physically she was full of discord, of dreariness that set her
teeth on edge. Body and soul, she was out of tune.
A warm, noiseless twilight was gathering over the downs and rising
darkly from the sea. Fate, with wide wings, was hovering just over her.
Fate, ashen grey and black, like a carrion crow, had her in its shadow.
Yet Siegmund took no notice. He did not understand. He walked beside her
whistling to himself, which only distressed her the more.
They were alone on the smooth hills to the east. Helena looked at the
day melting out of the sky, leaving the permanent structure of the
night. It was her turn to suffer the sickening detachment which comes
after moments of intense living.
The rosiness died out of the sunset as embers fade into thick ash. In
herself, too, the ruddy glow sank and went out. The earth was a cold
dead heap, coloured drearily, the sky was dark with flocculent grey ash,
and she herself an upright mass of soft ash.
She shuddered slightly with horror. The whole face of things was to her
livid and ghastly. Being a moralist rather than an artist, coming of
fervent Wesleyan stock, she began to scourge herself. She had done wrong
again. Looking back, no one had she touched without hurting. She had a
destructive force; anyone she embraced she injured. Faint voices echoed
back from her conscience. The shadows were full of complaint against
her. It was all true, she was a harmful force, dragging Fate to petty,
Life and hope were ash in her mouth. She shuddered with discord. Despair
grated between her teeth. This dreariness was worse than any her dreary,
lonely life had known. She felt she could bear it no longer.
Siegmund was there. Surely he could help? He would rekindle her. But he
was straying ahead, carelessly whistling the Spring Song from Die
Walküre. She looked at him, and again shuddered with horror. Was that
really Siegmund, that stooping, thick-shouldered, indifferent man? Was
that the Siegmund who had seemed to radiate joy into his surroundings,
the Siegmund whose coming had always changed the whole weather of her
soul? Was that the Siegmund whose touch was keen with bliss for her,
whose face was a panorama of passing God? She looked at him again. His
radiance was gone, his aura had ceased. She saw him a stooping man, past
the buoyancy of youth, walking and whistling rather stupidly—in short,
something of the 'clothed animal on end', like the rest of men.
She suffered an agony of disillusion. Was this the real Siegmund, and
her own only a projection of her soul? She took her breath sharply. Was
he the real clay, and that other, her beloved, only the breathing of her
soul upon this. There was an awful blank before her.
'Siegmund!' she said in despair.
He turned sharply at the sound of her voice. Seeing her face pale and
distorted in the twilight, he was filled with dismay. She mutely lifted
her arms to him, watching him in despair. Swiftly he took her in his
arms, and asked in a troubled voice:
'What is it, dear? Is something wrong?'
His voice was nothing to her—it was stupid. She felt his arms round
her, felt her face pressed against the cloth of his coat, against the
beating of his heart. What was all this? This was not comfort or love.
He was not understanding or helping, only chaining her, hurting. She did
not want his brute embrace—she was most utterly alone, gripped so in
his arms. If he could not save her from herself, he must leave her free
to pant her heart out in free air. The secret thud, thud of his heart,
the very self of that animal in him she feared and hated, repulsed her.
She struggled to escape.
'What is it? Won't you tell me what is the matter?' he pleaded.
She began to sob, dry wild sobs, feeling as if she would go mad. He
tried to look at her face, for which she hated him. And all the time he
held her fast, all the time she was imprisoned in the embrace of this
brute, blind creature, whose heart confessed itself in thud, thud, thud.
'Have you heard anything against us? Have I done anything? Have I said
anything? Tell me—at any rate tell me, Helena.'
Her sobbing was like the chattering of dry leaves. She grew frantic to
be free. Stifled in that prison any longer, she would choke and go mad.
His coat chafed her face; as she struggled she could see the strong
working of his throat. She fought against him; she struggled in panic
to be free.
'Let me go!' she cried. 'Let me go! Let me go!' He held her in
bewilderment and terror. She thrust her hands in his chest and pushed
him apart. Her face, blind to him, was very much distorted by her
suffering. She thrust him furiously away with great strength.
His heart stood still with wonder. She broke from him and dropped down,
sobbing wildly, in the shelter of the tumuli. She was bunched in a
small, shaken heap. Siegmund could not bear it. He went on one knee
beside her, trying to take her hand in his, and pleading:
'Only tell me, Helena, what it is. Tell me what it is. At least tell me,
Helena; tell me what it is. Oh, but this is dreadful!'
She had turned convulsively from him. She shook herself, as if beside
herself, and at last covered her ears with her hands, to shut out this
unreasoning pleading of his voice.
Seeing her like this, Siegmund at last gave in. Quite still, he knelt on
one knee beside her, staring at the late twilight. The intense silence
was crackling with the sound of Helena's dry, hissing sobs. He remained
silenced, stunned by the unnatural conflict. After waiting a while, he
put his hand on her. She winced convulsively away.
Then he rose, saying in his heart, 'It is enough,' He went behind the
small hill, and looked at the night. It was all exposed. He wanted to
hide, to cover himself from the openness, and there was not even a bush
under which he could find cover.
He lay down flat on the ground, pressing his face into the wiry turf,
trying to hide. Quite stunned, with a death taking place in his soul, he
lay still, pressed against the earth. He held his breath for a long time
before letting it go, then again he held it. He could scarcely bear,
even by breathing, to betray himself. His consciousness was dark.
Helena had sobbed and struggled the life animation back into herself. At
length, weary but comfortable, she lay still to rest. Almost she could
have gone to sleep. But she grew chilly, and a ground insect tickled her
face. Was somebody coming?
It was dark when she rose. Siegmund was not in sight. She tidied
herself, and rather frightened, went to look for him. She saw him like a
thick shadow on the earth. Now she was heavy with tears good to shed.
She stood in silent sorrow, looking at him.
Suddenly she became aware of someone passing and looking curiously at
'Dear!' she said softly, stooping and touching his hair. He began to
struggle with himself to respond. At that minute he would rather have
died than face anyone. His soul was too much uncovered.
'Dear, someone is looking,' she pleaded.
He drew himself up from cover. But he kept his face averted. They walked
'Forgive me, dear,' she said softly.
'Nay, it's not you,' he answered, and she was silenced. They walked on
till the night seemed private. She turned to him, and 'Siegmund!' she
said, in a voice of great sorrow and pleading.
He took her in his arms, but did not kiss her, though she lifted her
face. He put his mouth against her throat, below the ear, as she offered
it, and stood looking out through the ravel of her hair, dazed, dreamy.
The sea was smoking with darkness under half-luminous heavens. The
stars, one after another, were catching alight. Siegmund perceived first
one, and then another dimmer one, flicker out in the darkness over the
sea. He stood perfectly still, watching them. Gradually he remembered
how, in the cathedral, the tapers of the choir-stalls would tremble and
set steadily to burn, opening the darkness point after point with yellow
drops of flame, as the acolyte touched them, one by one, delicately with
his rod. The night was religious, then, with its proper order of
worship. Day and night had their ritual, and passed in uncouth worship.
Siegmund found himself in an abbey. He looked up the nave of the night,
where the sky came down on the sea-like arches, and he watched the stars
catch fire. At least it was all sacred, whatever the God might be.
Helena herself, the bitter bread, was stuff of the ceremony, which he
touched with his lips as part of the service.
He had Helena in his arms, which was sweet company, but in spirit he was
quite alone. She would have drawn him back to her, and on her woman's
breast have hidden him from Fate, and saved him from searching the
unknown. But this night he did not want comfort. If he were 'an infant
crying in the night', it was crying that a woman could not still. He was
abroad seeking courage and faith for his own soul. He, in loneliness,
must search the night for faith.
'My fate is finely wrought out,' he thought to himself. 'Even damnation
may be finely imagined for me in the night. I have come so far. Now I
must get clarity and courage to follow out the theme. I don't want to
botch and bungle even damnation.'
But he needed to know what was right, what was the proper sequence of
his acts. Staring at the darkness, he seemed to feel his course, though
he could not see it. He bowed in obedience. The stars seemed to swing
softly in token of submission.
Feeling him abstract, withdrawn from her, Helena experienced the dread
of losing him. She was in his arms, but his spirit ignored her. That was
insufferable to her pride. Yet she dared not disturb him—she was
afraid. Bitterly she repented her of the giving way to her revulsion a
little space before. Why had she not smothered it and pretended? Why had
she, a woman, betrayed herself so flagrantly? Now perhaps she had lost
him for good. She was consumed with uneasiness.
At last she drew back from him, held him her mouth to kiss. As he
gently, sadly kissed her she pressed him to her bosom. She must get him
back, whatever else she lost. She put her hand tenderly on his brow.
'What are you thinking of?' she asked.
'I?' he replied. 'I really don't know. I suppose I was hardly thinking
She waited a while, clinging to him, then, finding some difficulty in
speech, she asked:
'Was I very cruel, dear?'
It was so unusual to hear her grieved and filled with humility that he
drew her close into him.
'It was pretty bad, I suppose,' he replied. 'But I should think neither
of us could help it.'
She gave a little sob, pressed her face into his chest, wishing she had
helped it. Then, with Madonna love, she clasped his head upon her
shoulder, covering her hands over his hair. Twice she kissed him softly
in the nape of the neck, with fond, reassuring kisses. All the while,
delicately, she fondled and soothed him, till he was child to
They remained standing with his head on her shoulder for some time, till
at last he raised himself to lay his lips on hers in a long kiss of
healing and renewal—long, pale kisses of after-suffering.
Someone was coming along the path. Helena let him go, shook herself
free, turned sharply aside, and said:
'Shall we go down to the water?'
'If you like,' he replied, putting out his hand to her. They went thus
with clasped hands down the cliff path to the beach.
There they sat in the shadow of the uprising island, facing the restless
water. Around them the sand and shingle were grey; there stretched a
long pale line of surf, beyond which the sea was black and smeared with
star-reflections. The deep, velvety sky shone with lustrous stars.
As yet the moon was not risen. Helena proposed that they should lie on a
tuft of sand in a black cleft of the cliff to await its coming. They lay
close together without speaking. Each was looking at a low, large star
which hung straight in front of them, dripping its brilliance in a thin
streamlet of light along the sea almost to their feet. It was a
star-path fine and clear, trembling in its brilliance, but certain upon
the water. Helena watched it with delight. As Siegmund looked at the
star, it seemed to him a lantern hung at the gate to light someone home.
He imagined himself following the thread of the star-track. What was
behind the gate?
They heard the wash of a steamer crossing the bay. The water seemed
populous in the night-time, with dark, uncanny comings and goings.
Siegmund was considering.
'What was the matter with you?' he asked.
She leaned over him, took his head in her lap, holding his face between
her two hands as she answered in a low, grave voice, very wise and old
'Why, you see, dear, you won't understand. But there was such a greyish
darkness, and through it—the crying of lives I have touched….'
His heart suddenly shrank and sank down. She acknowledged then that she
also had helped to injure Beatrice and his children. He coiled
'….A crying of lives against me, and I couldn't silence them, nor
escape out of the darkness. I wanted you—I saw you in front, whistling
the Spring Song, but I couldn't find you—it was not you—I couldn't
She kissed his eyes and his brows.
'No, I don't see it,' he said. 'You would always be you. I could think
of hating you, but you'd still be yourself.'
She made a moaning, loving sound. Full of passionate pity, she moved her
mouth on his face, as a woman does on her child that has hurt itself.
'Sometimes,' she murmured, in a low, grieved confession, 'you lose me.'
He gave a brief laugh.
'I lose you!' he repeated. 'You mean I lose my attraction for you, or my
hold over you, and then you—?'
He did not finish. She made the same grievous murmuring noise over him.
'It shall not be any more,' she said.
'All right,' he replied, 'since you decide it.'
She clasped him round the chest and fondled him, distracted with pity.
'You mustn't be bitter,' she murmured.
'Four days is enough,' he said. 'In a fortnight I should be intolerable
to you. I am not masterful.'
'It is not so, Siegmund,' she said sharply.
'I give way always,' he repeated. 'And then—tonight!'
'Tonight, tonight!' she cried in wrath. 'Tonight I have been a fool!'
'And I?' he asked.
'You—what of you?' she cried. Then she became sad. 'I have little
perverse feelings,' she lamented.
'And I can't bear to compel anything, for fear of hurting it. So I'm
always pushed this way and that, like a fool.'
'You don't know how you hurt me, talking so,' she said.
He kissed her. After a moment he said:
'You are not like other folk. "Ihr Lascheks seid ein anderes
Geschlecht." I thought of you when we read it.'
'Would you rather have me more like the rest, or more unlike, Siegmund?
Which is it?'
'Neither,' he said. 'You are you.'
They were quiet for a space. The only movement in the night was the
faint gambolling of starlight on the water. The last person had passed
in black silhouette between them and the sea.
He was thinking bitterly. She seemed to goad him deeper and deeper into
life. He had a sense of despair, a preference of death. The German she
read with him—she loved its loose and violent romance—came back to his
mind: 'Der Tod geht einem zur Seite, fast sichtbarlich, und jagt einem
immer tiefer ins Leben.'
Well, the next place he would be hunted to, like a hare run down, was
home. It seemed impossible the morrow would take him back to Beatrice.
'This time tomorrow night,' he said.
'Siegmund!' she implored.
'Why not?' he laughed.
'Don't, dear,' she pleaded.
'All right, I won't.'
Some large steamer crossing the mouth of the bay made the water dash a
little as it broke in accentuated waves. A warm puff of air wandered in
on them now and again.
'You won't be tired when you go back?' Helena asked.
'Tired!' he echoed.
'You know how you were when you came,' she reminded him, in tones full
of pity. He laughed.
'Oh, that is gone,' he said.
With a slow, mechanical rhythm she stroked his cheek.
'And will you be sad?' she said, hesitating.
'Sad!' he repeated.
'But will you be able to fake the old life up, happier, when you go
'The old life will take me up, I suppose,' he said.
There was a pause.
'I think, dear,' she said, 'I have done wrong.'
'Good Lord—you have not!' he replied sharply, pressing back his head to
look at her, for the first time.
'I shall have to send you back to Beatrice and the babies—tomorrow—as
you are now….'
'"Take no thought for the morrow." Be quiet, Helena!' he exclaimed as
the reality bit him. He sat up suddenly.
'Why?' she asked, afraid.
'Why!' he repeated. He remained sitting, leaning forward on the sand,
staring intently at Helena. She looked back in fear at him. The moment
terrified her, and she lost courage.
With a fluttered motion she put her hand on his, which was pressed hard
on the sand as he leaned forward. At once he relaxed his intensity,
laughed, then became tender.
Helena yielded herself like a forlorn child to his arms, and there lay,
half crying, while he smoothed her brow with his fingers, and grains of
sand fell from his palm on her cheek. She shook with dry, withered sobs,
as a child does when it snatches itself away from the lancet of the
doctor and hides in the mother's bosom, refusing to be touched.
But she knew the morrow was coming, whether or not, and she cowered down
on his breast. She was wild with fear of the parting and the subsequent
days. They must drink, after tomorrow, separate cups. She was filled
with vague terror of what it would be. The sense of the oneness and
unity of their fates was gone.
Siegmund also was cowed by the threat of separation. He had more
definite knowledge of the next move than had Helena. His heart was
certain of calamity, which would overtake him directly. He shrank away.
Wildly he beat about to find a means of escape from the next day and its
consequences. He did not want to go. Anything rather than go back.
In the midst of their passion of fear the moon rose. Siegmund started to
see the rim appear ruddily beyond the sea. His struggling suddenly
ceased, and he watched, spellbound, the oval horn of fiery gold come up,
resolve itself. Some golden liquor dripped and spilled upon the far
waves, where it shook in ruddy splashes. The gold-red cup rose higher,
looming before him very large, yet still not all discovered. By degrees
the horn of gold detached itself from the darkness at back of the waves.
It was immense and terrible. When would the tip be placed upon the table
of the sea?
It stood at last, whole and calm, before him; then the night took up
this drinking-cup of fiery gold, lifting it with majestic movement
overhead, letting stream forth the wonderful unwasted liquor of gold
over the sea—a libation.
Siegmund looked at the shaking flood of gold and paling gold spread
wider as the night upraised the blanching crystal, poured out farther
and farther the immense libation from the whitening cup, till at last
the moon looked frail and empty.
And there, exhaustless in the night, the white light shook on the floor
of the sea. He wondered how it would be gathered up. 'I gather it up
into myself,' he said. And the stars and the cliffs and a few trees were
watching, too. 'If I have spilled my life,' he thought, 'the unfamiliar
eyes of the land and sky will gather it up again.'
Turning to Helena, he found her face white and shining as the empty
Towards morning, Siegmund went to sleep. For four hours, until seven
o'clock, the womb of sleep received him and nourished him again.
'But it is finest of all to wake,' he said, as the bright sunshine of
the window, and the lumining green sunshine coming through the lifted
hands of the leaves, challenged him into the open.
The morning was exceedingly fair, and it looked at him so gently that
his blue eyes trembled with self-pity. A fragment of scarlet geranium
glanced up at him as he passed, so that amid the vermilion tyranny of
the uniform it wore he could see the eyes of the flower, wistful,
offering him love, as one sometimes see the eyes of a man beneath the
brass helmet of a soldier, and is startled. Everything looked at him
with the same eyes of tenderness, offering him, timidly, a little love.
'They are all extraordinarily sweet,' said Siegmund to the full-mouthed
scabious and the awkward, downcast ragwort. Three or four butterflies
fluttered up and down in agitated little leaps, around him.
Instinctively Siegmund put his hand forward to touch them.
'The careless little beggars!' he said.
When he came to the cliff tops there was the morning, very bravely
dressed, rustling forward with a silken sound and much silken shining to
meet him. The battleships had gone; the sea was blue with a panier of
diamonds; the sky was full with a misty tenderness like love. Siegmund
had never recognized before the affection that existed between him and
everything. We do not realize how tremendously dear and indispensable to
us are the hosts of common things, till we must leave them, and we break
'We have been very happy together,' everything seemed to say.
Siegmund looked up into the eyes of the morning with a laugh.
'It is very lovely,' he said, 'whatever happens.'
So he went down to the beach; his dark blue eyes, darker from last
night's experience, smiled always with the pride of love. He undressed
by his usual altar-stone.
'How closely familiar everything is,' he thought. 'It seems almost as if
the curves of this stone were rounded to fit in my soul.'
He touched the smooth white slope of the stone gently with discovering
fingers, in the same way as he touched the cheek of Helena, or of his
own babies. He found great pleasure in this feeling of intimacy with
things. A very soft wind, shy as a girl, put his arms round him, and
seemed to lay its cheek against his chest. He placed his hands beneath
his arms, where the wind was caressing him, and his eyes opened with
'They find no fault with me,' he said. 'I suppose they are as fallible
as I, and so don't judge,' he added, as he waded thigh-deep into the
water, thrusting it to hear the mock-angry remonstrance.
'Once more,' he said, and he took the sea in his arms. He swam very
quietly. The water buoyed him up, holding him closely clasped. He swam
towards the white rocks of the headlands; they rose before him like
beautiful buttressed gates, so glistening that he half expected to see
fantail pigeons puffing like white irises in the niches, and white
peacocks with dark green feet stepping down the terraces, trailing a
sheen of silver.
'Helena is right,' he said to himself as he swam, scarcely swimming, but
moving upon the bosom of the tide; 'she is right, it is all enchanted. I
have got into her magic at last. Let us see what it is like.'
He determined to visit again his little bay. He swam carefully round the
terraces, whose pale shadows through the swift-spinning emerald facets
of the water seemed merest fancy. Siegmund touched them with his foot;
they were hard, cold, dangerous. He swam carefully. As he made for the
archway, the shadows of the headland chilled the water. There under
water, clamouring in a throng at the base of the submerged walls, were
sea-women with dark locks, and young sea-girls, with soft hair, vividly
green, striving to climb up out of the darkness into the morning, their
hair swirling in abandon. Siegmund was half afraid of their
But the tide carried him swiftly through the high gate into the porch.
There was exultance in this sweeping entry. The skin-white, full-fleshed
walls of the archway were dappled with green lights that danced in and
out among themselves. Siegmund was carried along in an invisible
chariot, beneath the jewel-stained walls. The tide swerved, threw him as
he swam against the inward-curving white rock; his elbow met the rock,
and he was sick with pain. He held his breath, trying to get back the
joy and magic. He could not believe that the lovely, smooth side of the
rock, fair as his own side with its ripple of muscles, could have hurt
him thus. He let the water carry him till he might climb out on to the
shingle. There he sat upon a warm boulder, and twisted to look at his
arm. The skin was grazed, not very badly, merely a ragged scarlet patch
no bigger than a carnation petal. The bruise, however, was painful,
especially when, a minute or two later, he bent his arm.
'No,' said he pitiably to himself, 'it is impossible it should have hurt
me. I suppose I was careless.'
Nevertheless, the aspect of the morning changed. He sat on the boulder
looking out on the sea. The azure sky and the sea laughed on, holding a
bright conversation one with another. The two headlands of the tiny bay
gossiped across the street of water. All the boulders and pebbles of the
sea-shore played together.
'Surely,' said Siegmund, 'they take no notice of me; they do not care a
jot or a tittle for me. I am a fool to think myself one with them.'
He contrasted this with the kindness of the morning as he had stood on
'I was mistaken,' he said. 'It was an illusion.'
He looked wistfully out again. Like neighbours leaning from opposite
windows of an overhanging street, the headlands were occupied one with
another. White rocks strayed out to sea, followed closely by other white
rocks. Everything was busy, interested, occupied with its own pursuit
and with its own comrades. Siegmund alone was without pursuit
'They will all go on the same; they will be just as gay. Even Helena,
after a while, will laugh and take interest in others. What do
Siegmund thought of the futility of death:
We are not long for music and laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think we have no portion in them after
We pass the gate.
'Why should I be turned out of the game?' he asked himself, rebelling.
He frowned, and answered: 'Oh, Lord!—the old argument!'
But the thought of his own expunging from the picture was very bitter.
'Like the puff from the steamer's funnel, I should be gone.'
He looked at himself, at his limbs and his body in the pride of his
maturity. He was very beautiful to himself.
'Nothing, in the place where I am,' he said. 'Gone, like a puff of steam
that melts on the sunshine.'
Again Siegmund looked at the sea. It was glittering with laughter as at
'And I,' he said, lying down in the warm sand, 'I am nothing. I do not
count; I am inconsiderable.'
He set his teeth with pain. There were no tears, there was no relief. A
convulsive gasping shook him as he lay on the sands. All the while he
was arguing with himself.
'Well,' he said, 'if I am nothing dead I am nothing alive.'
But the vulgar proverb arose—'Better a live dog than a dead lion,' to
answer him. It seemed an ignominy to be dead. It meant, to be
overlooked, even by the smallest creature of God's earth. Surely that
was a great ignominy.
Helena, meanwhile, was bathing, for the last time, by the same sea-shore
with him. She was no swimmer. Her endless delight was to explore, to
discover small treasures. For her the world was still a great wonder-box
which hid innumerable sweet toys for surprises in all its crevices. She
had bathed in many rock-pools' tepid baths, trying first one, then
another. She had lain on the sand where the cold arms of the ocean
lifted her and smothered her impetuously, like an awful lover.
'The sea is a great deal like Siegmund,' she said, as she rose panting,
trying to dash her nostrils free from water. It was true; the sea as it
flung over her filled her with the same uncontrollable terror as did
Siegmund when he sometimes grew silent and strange in a tide of passion.
She wandered back to her rock-pools; they were bright and docile; they
did not fling her about in a game of terror. She bent over watching the
anemone's fleshy petals shrink from the touch of her shadow, and she
laughed to think they should be so needlessly fearful. The flowing tide
trickled noiselessly among the rocks, widening and deepening insidiously
her little pools. Helena retreated towards a large cave round the bend.
There the water gurgled under the bladder-wrack of the large stones; the
air was cool and clammy. She pursued her way into the gloom, bending,
though there was no need, shivering at the coarse feel of the seaweed
beneath her naked feet. The water came rustling up beneath the fucus as
she crept along on the big stones; it returned with a quiet gurgle which
made her shudder, though even that was not disagreeable. It needed, for
all that, more courage than was easy to summon before she could step off
her stone into the black pool that confronted her. It was festooned
thick with weeds that slid under her feet like snakes. She scrambled
hastily upwards towards the outlet.
Turning, the ragged arch was before heir, brighter than the brightest
window. It was easy to believe the light-fairies stood outside in a
throng, excited with fine fear, throwing handfuls of light into the
'How surprised they will be to see me!' said Helena, scrambling forward,
She stood still in the archway, astounded. The sea was blazing with
white fire, and glowing with azure as coals glow red with heat below the
flames. The sea was transfused with white burning, while over it hung
the blue sky in a glory, like the blue smoke of the fire of God. Helena
stood still and worshipped. It was a moment of astonishment, when she
stood breathless and blinded, involuntarily offering herself for a
thank-offering. She felt herself confronting God at home in His white
incandescence, His fire settling on her like the Holy Spirit. Her lips
were parted in a woman's joy of adoration.
The moment passed, and her thoughts hurried forward in confusion.
'It is good,' said Helena; 'it is very good.' She looked again, and saw
the waves like a line of children racing hand in hand, the sunlight
pursuing, catching hold of them from behind, as they ran wildly till
they fell, caught, with the sunshine dancing upon them like a white dog.
'It is really wonderful here!' said she; but the moment had gone, she
could not see again the grand burning of God among the waves. After a
while she turned away.
As she stood dabbling her bathing-dress in a pool, Siegmund came over
the beach to her.
'You are not gone, then?' he said.
'Siegmund!' she exclaimed, looking up at him with radiant eyes, as if it
could not be possible that he had joined her in this rare place. His
face was glowing with the sun's inflaming, but Helena did not notice
that his eyes were full of misery.
'I, actually,' he said, smiling.
'I did not expect you,' she said, still looking at him in radiant
wonder. 'I could easier have expected'—she hesitated, struggled, and
continued—'Eros walking by the sea. But you are like him,' she said,
looking radiantly up into Siegmund's face. 'Isn't it beautiful this
morning?' she added.
Siegmund endured her wide, glad look for a moment, then he stooped and
kissed her. He remained moving his hand in the pool, ashamed, and full
of contradiction. He was at the bitter point of farewell; could see,
beyond the glamour around him, the ugly building of his real life.
'Isn't the sea wonderful this morning?' asked Helena, as she wrung the
water from her costume.
'It is very fine,' he answered. He refrained from saying what his heart
said: 'It is my last morning; it is not yours. It is my last morning,
and the sea is enjoying the joke, and you are full of delight.'
'Yes,' said Siegmund, 'the morning is perfect.'
'It is,' assented Helena warmly. 'Have you noticed the waves? They are
like a line of children chased by a white dog.'
'Ay!' said Siegmund.
'Didn't you have a good time?' she asked, touching with her finger-tips
the nape of his neck as he stooped beside her.
'I swam to my little bay again,' he replied.
'Did you?' she exclaimed, pleased.
She sat down by the pool, in which she washed her feet free from sand,
holding them to Siegmund to dry.
'I am very hungry,' she said.
'And I,' he agreed.
'I feel quite established here,' she said gaily, something in his
position having reminded her of their departure.
'It seems another eternity before the three-forty-five train, doesn't
it?' she insisted.
'I wish we might never go back,' he said.
'It would be too much for life to give. We have had something,
Siegmund,' she said.
He bowed his head, and did not answer.
'It has been something, dear,' she repeated.
He rose and took her in his arms.
'Everything,' he said, his face muffled in the shoulder of her dress. He
could smell her fresh and fine from the sea. 'Everything!' he said.
She pressed her two hands on his head.
'I did well, didn't I, Siegmund?' she asked. Helena felt the
responsibility of this holiday. She had proposed it; when he had
withdrawn, she had insisted, refusing to allow him to take back his
word, declaring that she should pay the cost. He permitted her at last.
'Wonderfully well, Helena,' he replied.
She kissed his forehead.
'You are everything,' he said.
She pressed his head on her bosom.
Siegmund had shaved and dressed, and come down to breakfast. Mrs Curtiss
brought in the coffee. She was a fragile little woman, of delicate,
'The water would be warm this morning,' she said, addressing no one in
Siegmund stood on the hearth-rug with his hands behind him, swaying from
one leg to the other. He was embarrassed always by the presence of the
amiable little woman; he could not feel at ease before strangers, in his
capacity of accepted swain of Helena.
'It was,' assented Helena. 'It was as warm as new milk.'
'Ay, it would be,' said the old lady, looking in admiration upon the
experience of Siegmund and his beloved. 'And did ye see the ships of
war?' she asked.
'No, they had gone,' replied Helena.
Siegmund swayed from foot to foot, rhythmically.
'You'll be coming in to dinner today?' asked the old lady.
Helena arranged the matter.
'I think ye both look better,' Mrs. Curtiss said. She glanced at
He smiled constrainedly.
'I thought ye looked so worn when you came,' she said sympathetically.
'He had been working hard,' said Helena, also glancing at him.
He bent his head, and was whistling without making any sound.
'Ay,' sympathized the little woman. 'And it's a very short time for you.
What a pity ye can't stop for the fireworks at Cowes on Monday. They are
grand, so they say.'
Helena raised her eyebrows in polite interest. 'Have you never seen
them?' she asked.
'No,' replied Mrs. Curtiss. 'I've never been able to get; but I hope to
'I hope you may,' said Siegmund.
The little woman beamed on him. Having won a word from him, she was
'Well,' she said brightly, 'the eggs must be done by now.'
She tripped out, to return directly.
'I've brought you,' she said, 'some of the Island cream, and some white
currants, if ye'll have them. You must think well of the Island, and
'How could we help?' laughed Helena.
'We will,' smiled Siegmund.
When finally the door was closed on her, Siegmund sat down in relief.
Helena looked in amusement at him. She was perfectly self-possessed in
presence of the delightful little lady.
'This is one of the few places that has ever felt like home to me,' she
said. She lifted a tangled bunch of fine white currants.
'Ah!' exclaimed Siegmund, smiling at her.
'One of the few places where everything is friendly,' she said. 'And
'You have made so many enemies?' he asked, with gentle irony.
'Strangers,' she replied. 'I seem to make strangers of all the people I
She laughed in amusement at this mot. Siegmund looked at her intently.
He was thinking of her left alone amongst strangers.
'Need we go—need we leave this place of friends?' he said, as if
ironically. He was very much afraid of tempting her.
She looked at the clock on the mantelpiece and counted: 'One, two,
three, four, five hours, thirty-five minutes. It is an age yet,'
Siegmund laughed too, as he accepted the particularly fine bunch of
currants she had extricated for him.
The air was warm and sweet in the little lane, remote from the sea,
which led them along their last walk. On either side the white path was
a grassy margin thickly woven with pink convolvuli. Some of the reckless
little flowers, so gay and evanescent, had climbed the trunks of an old
yew tree, and were looking up pertly at their rough host.
Helena walked along, watching the flowers, and making fancies out of
'Who called them "fairies' telephones"?' she said to herself. 'They are
tiny children in pinafores. How gay they are! They are children dawdling
along the pavement of a morning. How fortunate they are! See how they
take a wind-thrill! See how wide they are set to the sunshine! And when
they are tired, they will curl daintily to sleep, and some fairies in
the dark will gather them away. They won't be here in the morning,
shrivelled and dowdy … If only we could curl up and be gone, after
She looked at Siegmund. He was walking moodily beside her.
'It is good when life holds no anti-climax,' she said.
'Ay!' he answered. Of course, he could not understand her meaning.
She strayed into the thick grass, a sturdy white figure that walked with
bent head, abstract, but happy.
'What is she thinking?' he asked himself. 'She is sufficient to
herself—she doesn't want me. She has her own private way of communing
with things, and is friends with them.'
'The dew has been very heavy,' she said, turning, and looking up at him
from under her brows, like a smiling witch.
'I see it has,' he answered. Then to himself he said: 'She can't
translate herself into language. She is incommunicable; she can't render
herself to the intelligence. So she is alone and a law unto herself: she
only wants me to explore me, like a rock-pool, and to bathe in me. After
a while, when I am gone, she will see I was not indispensable….'
The lane led up to the eastern down. As they were emerging, they saw on
the left hand an extraordinarily spick and span red bungalow. The low
roof of dusky red sloped down towards the coolest green lawn, that was
edged and ornamented with scarlet, and yellow, and white flowers
brilliant with dew.
A stout man in an alpaca jacket and panama hat was seated on the bare
lawn, his back to the sun, reading a newspaper. He tried in vain to
avoid the glare of the sun on his reading. At last he closed the paper
and looked angrily at the house—not at anything in particular.
He irritably read a few more lines, then jerked up his head in sudden
decision, glared at the open door of the house, and called:
No answer was forthcoming. He flung down the paper and strode off
indoors, his mien one of wrathful resolution. His voice was heard
calling curtly from the dining-room. There was a jingle of crockery as
he bumped the table leg in sitting down.
'He is in a bad temper,' laughed Siegmund.
'Breakfast is late,' said Helena with contempt.
'Look!' said Siegmund.
An elderly lady in black and white striped linen, a young lady in
holland, both carrying some wild flowers, hastened towards the garden
gate. Their faces were turned anxiously to the house. They were hot with
hurrying, and had no breath for words. The girl pressed forward, opened
the gate for the lady in striped linen, who hastened over the lawn. Then
the daughter followed, and vanished also under the shady veranda.
There was a quick sound of women's low, apologetic voices, overridden by
the resentful abuse of the man.
The lovers moved out of hearing.
'Imagine that breakfast-table!' said Siegmund.
'I feel,' said Helena, with a keen twang of contempt in her voice, 'as
if a fussy cock and hens had just scuffled across my path.'
'There are many such roosts,' said Siegmund pertinently.
Helena's cold scorn was very disagreeable to him. She talked to him
winsomely and very kindly as they crossed the open down to meet the next
incurving of the coast, and Siegmund was happy. But the sense of
humiliation, which he had got from her the day before, and which had
fixed itself, bled him secretly, like a wound. This haemorrhage of
self-esteem tortured him to the end.
Helena had rejected him. She gave herself to her fancies only. For some
time she had confused Siegmund with her god. Yesterday she had cried to
her ideal lover, and found only Siegmund. It was the spear in the side
of his tortured self-respect.
'At least,' he said, in mortification of himself—'at least, someone
must recognize a strain of God in me—and who does? I don't believe in
And, moreover, in the intense joy and suffering of his realized passion,
the island, with its sea and sky, had fused till, like a brilliant bead,
all their beauty ran together out of the common ore, and Siegmund saw it
naked, saw the beauty of everything naked in the shifting magic of this
bead. The island would be gone tomorrow: he would look for the beauty
and find the dirt. What was he to do?
'You know, Domine,' said Helena—it was his old nickname she used—'you
look quite stern today.'
'I feel anything but stern,' he laughed. 'Weaker than usual, in fact.'
'Yes, perhaps so, when you talk. Then you are really surprisingly
gentle. But when you are silent, I am even afraid of you—you seem
'And shall I not be brave?' he said. 'Can't you smell Fumum et opes
strepitumque Romae?' He turned quickly to Helena. 'I wonder if that's
right,' he said. 'It's years since I did a line of Latin, and I thought
it had all gone.'
'In the first place, what does it mean?' said Helena calmly, 'for I can
only half translate. I have thrown overboard all my scrap-books of
'Why,' said Siegmund, rather abashed, 'only "the row and the smoke of
Rome". But it is remarkable, Helena'—here the peculiar look of interest
came on his face again—'it is really remarkable that I should have
'Yes, you look surprised,' smiled she.
'But it must be twenty'—he counted—'twenty-two or three years since I
learned that, and I forgot it—goodness knows how long ago. Like a
drowning man, I have these memories before….' He broke off, smiling
mockingly, to tease her.
'Before you go back to London,' said she, in a matter-of-fact, almost
ironical tone. She was inscrutable. This morning she could not bear to
let any deep emotion come uppermost. She wanted rest. 'No,' she said,
with calm distinctness, a few moments after, when they were climbing the
rise to the cliff's edge. 'I can't say that I smell the smoke of London.
The mist-curtain is thick yet. There it is'—she pointed to the heavy,
purple-grey haze that hung like arras on a wall, between the sloping sky
and the sea. She thought of yesterday morning's mist-curtain, thick and
blazing gold, so heavy that no wind could sway its fringe.
They lay down in the dry grass, upon the gold bits of bird's-foot
trefoil of the cliff's edge, and looked out to sea. A warm, drowsy calm
drooped over everything.
'Six hours,' thought Helena, 'and we shall have passed the mist-curtain.
Already it is thinning. I could break it open with waving my hand. I
will not wave my hand.'
She was exhausted by the suffering of the last night, so she refused to
allow any emotion to move her this morning, till she was strong.
Siegmund was also exhausted; but his thoughts laboured like ants, in
spite of himself, striving towards a conclusion.
Helena had rejected him. In his heart he felt that in this love affair
also he had been a failure. No matter how he contradicted himself, and
said it was absurd to imagine he was a failure as Helena's lover, yet he
felt a physical sensation of defeat, a kind of knot in his breast which
neither reason, nor dialectics, nor circumstance, not even Helena, could
untie. He had failed as lover to Helena.
It was not surprising his marriage with Beatrice should prove
disastrous. Rushing into wedlock as he had done, at the ripe age of
seventeen, he had known nothing of his woman, nor she of him. When his
mind and soul set to develop, as Beatrice could not sympathize with his
interests, he naturally inclined away from her, so that now, after
twenty years, he was almost a stranger to her. That was not very
But why should he have failed with Helena?
The bees droned fitfully over the scented grass, aimlessly swinging in
the heat. Siegmund watched one gold and amber fellow lazily let go a
white clover-head, and boom in a careless curve out to sea, humming
softer and softer as he reeled along in the giddy space.
'The little fool!' said Siegmund, watching the black dot swallowed into
No ship sailed the curving sea. The light danced in a whirl upon the
ripples. Everything else watched with heavy eyes of heat enhancement the
wild spinning of the lights.
'Even if I were free,' he continued to think, 'we should only grow
apart, Helena and I. She would leave me. This time I should be the
laggard. She is young and vigorous; I am beginning to set.
'Is that why I have failed? I ought to have had her in love sufficiently
to keep her these few days. I am not quick. I do not follow her or
understand her swiftly enough. And I am always timid of compulsion. I
cannot compel anybody to follow me.
'So we are here. I am out of my depth. Like the bee, I was mad with the
sight of so much joy, such a blue space, and now I shall find no footing
to alight on. I have flown out into life beyond my strength to get back.
When can I set my feet on when this is gone?'
The sun grew stronger. Slower and more slowly went the hawks of
Siegmund's mind, after the quarry of conclusion. He lay bare-headed,
looking out to sea. The sun was burning deeper into his face and head.
'I feel as if it were burning into me,' thought Siegmund abstractedly.
'It is certainly consuming some part of me. Perhaps it is making me
ill.' Meanwhile, perversely, he gave his face and his hot black hair
to the sun.
Helena lay in what shadow he afforded. The heat put out all her
thought-activity. Presently she said:
'This heat is terrible, Siegmund. Shall we go down to the water?'
They climbed giddily down the cliff path. Already they were somewhat
sun-intoxicated. Siegmund chose the hot sand, where no shade was, on
which to lie.
'Shall we not go under the rocks?' said Helena.
'Look!' he said, 'the sun is beating on the cliffs. It is hotter, more
So they lay down in the glare, Helena watching the foam retreat slowly
with a cool splash; Siegmund thinking. The naked body of heat
'My arms, Siegmund,' said she. 'They feel as if they were dipped in
Siegmund took them, without a word, and hid them under his coat.
'Are you sure it is not bad for you—your head, Siegmund? Are you sure?'
He laughed stupidly.
'That is all right,' he said. He knew that the sun was burning through
him, and doing him harm, but he wanted the intoxication.
As he looked wistfully far away over the sea at Helena's mist-curtain,
'I think we should be able to keep together if'—he faltered—'if only
I could have you a little longer. I have never had you …'
Some sound of failure, some tone telling her it was too late, some ring
of despair in his quietness, made Helena cling to him wildly, with a
savage little cry as if she were wounded. She clung to him, almost
beside herself. She could not lose him, she could not spare him. She
would not let him go. Helena was, for the moment, frantic.
He held her safely, saying nothing until she was calmer, when, with his
lips on her cheek, he murmured:
'I should be able, shouldn't I, Helena?'
'You are always able!' she cried. 'It is I who play with you at hiding.'
'I have really had you so little,' he said.
'Can't you forget it, Siegmund?' she cried. 'Can't you forget it? It was
only a shadow, Siegmund. It was a lie, it was nothing real. Can't you
forget it, dear?'
'You can't do without me?' he asked.
'If I lose you I am lost,' answered she with swift decision. She had no
knowledge of weeping, yet her tears were wet on his face. He held her
safely; her arms were hidden under his coat.
'I will have no mercy on those shadows the next time they come between
us,' said Helena to herself. 'They may go back to hell.'
She still clung to him, craving so to have him that he could not be reft
Siegmund felt very peaceful. He lay with his arms about her, listening
to the backward-creeping tide. All his thoughts, like bees, were flown
out to sea and lost.
'If I had her more, I should understand her through and through. If we
were side by side we should grow together. If we could stay here, I
should get stronger and more upright.'
This was the poor heron of quarry the hawks of his mind had struck.
Another hour fell like a foxglove bell from the stalk. There were only
two red blossoms left. Then the stem would have set to seed. Helena
leaned her head upon the breast of Siegmund, her arms clasping, under
his coat, his body, which swelled and sank gently, with the quiet of
'If,' thought she, 'the whole clock of the world could stand still now,
and leave us thus, me with the lift and fall of the strong body of
Siegmund in my arms….'
But the clock ticked on in the heat, the seconds marked off by the
falling of the waves, repeated so lightly, and in such fragile rhythm,
that it made silence sweet.
'If now,' prayed Siegmund, 'death would wipe the sweat from me, and it
But the waves softly marked the minutes, retreating farther, leaving the
bare rocks to bleach and the weed to shrivel.
Gradually, like the shadow on a dial, the knowledge that it was time to
rise and go crept upon them. Although they remained silent, each knew
that the other felt the same weight of responsibility, the shadow-finger
of the sundial travelling over them. The alternative was, not to return,
to let the finger travel and be gone. But then … Helena knew she must
not let the time cross her; she must rise before it was too late, and
travel before the coming finger. Siegmund hoped she would not get up. He
lay in suspense, waiting.
At last she sat up abruptly.
'It is time, Siegmund,' she said.
He did not answer, he did not look at her, but lay as she had left him.
She wiped her face with her handkerchief, waiting. Then she bent over
him. He did not look at her. She saw his forehead was swollen and
inflamed with the sun. Very gently she wiped from it the glistening
sweat. He closed his eyes, and she wiped his cheeks and his mouth. Still
he did not look at her. She bent very close to him, feeling her heart
crushed with grief for him.
'We must go, Siegmund,' she whispered.
'All right,' he said, but still he did not move.
She stood up beside him, shook herself, and tried to get a breath of
air. She was dazzled blind by the sunshine.
Siegmund lay in the bright light, with his eyes closed, never moving.
His face was inflamed, but fixed like a mask.
Helena waited, until the terror of the passing of the hour was too
strong for her. She lifted his hand, which lay swollen with heat on the
sand, and she tried gently to draw him.
'We shall be too late,' she said in distress.
He sighed and sat up, looking out over the water.
Helena could not bear to see him look so vacant and expressionless. She
put her arm round his neck, and pressed his head against her skirt.
Siegmund knew he was making it unbearable for her. Pulling himself
together, he bent his head from the sea, and said:
'Why, what time is it?'
He took out his watch, holding it in his hand. Helena still held his
left hand, and had one arm round his neck.
'I can't see the figures,' he said. 'Everything is dimmed, as if it were
'Yes,' replied Helena, in that reedy, painful tone of hers. 'My eyes
were the same. It is the strong sunlight.'
'I can't,' he repeated, and he was rather surprised—'I can't see the
time. Can you?'
She stooped down and looked.
'It is half past one,' she said.
Siegmund hated her voice as she spoke. There was still sufficient time
to catch the train. He stood up, moved inside his clothing, saying: 'I
feel almost stunned by the heat. I can hardly see, and all my feeling in
my body is dulled.'
'Yes,' answered Helena, 'I am afraid it will do you harm.'
'At any rate,' he smiled as if sleepily, 'I have had enough. If it's too
much—what is too much?'
They went unevenly over the sand, their eyes sun-dimmed.
'We are going back—we are going back!' the heart of Helena seemed to
run hot, beating these words.
They climbed the cliff path toilsomely. Standing at the top, on the edge
of the grass, they looked down the cliffs at the beach and over the sea.
The strand was wide, forsaken by the sea, forlorn with rocks bleaching
in the sun, and sand and seaweed breathing off their painful scent upon
the heat. The sea crept smaller, farther away; the sky stood still.
Siegmund and Helena looked hopelessly out on their beautiful,
incandescent world. They looked hopelessly at each other, Siegmund's
mood was gentle and forbearing. He smiled faintly at Helena, then
turned, and, lifting his hand to his mouth in a kiss for the beauty he
had enjoyed, 'Addio!' he said.
He turned away, and, looking from Helena landwards, he said, smiling
'It reminds me of Traviata—an "Addio" at every verse-end.'
She smiled with her mouth in acknowledgement of his facetious irony; it
jarred on her. He was pricked again by her supercilious reserve.
'Addi-i-i-i-o, Addi-i-i-o!' he whistled between his teeth, hissing out
the Italian's passion-notes in a way that made Helena clench her fists.
'I suppose,' she said, swallowing, and recovering her voice to check
this discord—'I suppose we shall have a fairly easy journey—Thursday.'
'I don't know,' said Siegmund.
'There will not be very many people,' she insisted.
'I think,' he said, in a very quiet voice, 'you'd better let me go by
the South-Western from Portsmouth while you go on by the Brighton.'
'But why?' she exclaimed in astonishment.
'I don't want to sit looking at you all the way,' he said.
'But why should you?' she exclaimed.
'Indeed, no!' she said. 'We shall go together.'
'Very well,' he answered.
They walked on in silence towards the village. As they drew near the
little post office, he said:
'I suppose I may as well wire them that I shall be home tonight.'
'You haven't sent them any word?' she asked.
He laughed. They came to the open door of the little shop. He stood
still, not entering. Helena wondered what he was thinking.
'Shall I?' he asked, meaning, should he wire to Beatrice. His manner was
'Well, I should think so,' faltered Helena, turning away to look at the
postcards in the window. Siegmund entered the shop. It was dark and
cumbered with views, cheap china ornaments, and toys. He asked for a
'My God!' he said to himself bitterly as he took the pencil. He could
not sign the abbreviated name his wife used towards him. He scribbled
his surname, as he would have done to a stranger. As he watched the
amiable, stout woman counting up his words carefully, pointing with her
finger, he felt sick with irony.
'That's right,' she said, picking up the sixpence and taking the form to
the instrument. 'What beautiful weather!' she continued. 'It will be
making you sorry to leave us.'
'There goes my warrant,' thought Siegmund, watching the flimsy bit of
paper under the post-mistress's heavy hand.
'Yes—it is too bad, isn't it,' he replied, bowing and laughing to the
'It is, sir,' she answered pleasantly. 'Good morning.'
He came out of the shop still smiling, and when Helena turned from the
postcards to look at him, the lines of laughter remained over his face
like a mask. She glanced at his eyes for a sign; his facial expression
told her nothing; his eyes were just as inscrutable, which made her
falter with dismay.
'What is he thinking of?' she asked herself. Her thoughts flashed back.
'And why did he ask me so peculiarly whether he should wire them
'Well,' said Siegmund, 'are there any postcards?'
'None that I care to take,' she replied. 'Perhaps you would like one of
She pointed to some faded-looking cards which proved to be imaginary
views of Alum Bay done in variegated sand. Siegmund smiled.
'I wonder if they dribbled the sand on with a fine glass tube,' he said.
'Or a brush,' said Helena.
'She does not understand,' said Siegmund to himself. 'And whatever I do
I must not tell her. I should have thought she would understand.'
As he walked home beside her there mingled with his other feelings
resentment against her. Almost he hated her.
At first they had a carriage to themselves. They sat opposite each other
with averted faces, looking out of the windows and watching the houses,
the downs dead asleep in the sun, the embankments of the railway with
exhausted hot flowers go slowly past out of their reach. They felt as if
they were being dragged away like criminals. Unable to speak or think,
they stared out of the windows, Helena struggling in vain to keep back
her tears, Siegmund labouring to breathe normally.
At Yarmouth the door was snatched open, and there was a confusion of
shouting and running; a swarm of humanity, clamouring, attached itself
at the carriage doorway, which was immediately blocked by a stout man
who heaved a leather bag in front of him as he cried in German that here
was room for all. Faces innumerable—hot, blue-eyed faces—strained to
look over his shoulders at the shocked girl and the amazed Siegmund.
There entered eight Germans into the second-class compartment, five men
and three ladies. When at last the luggage was stowed away they sank
into the seats. The last man on either side to be seated lowered himself
carefully, like a wedge, between his two neighbours. Siegmund watched
the stout man, the one who had led the charge, settling himself between
his large lady and the small Helena. The latter crushed herself against
the side of the carriage. The German's hips came down tight against her.
She strove to lessen herself against the window, to escape the pressure
of his flesh, whose heat was transmitted to her. The man squeezed in the
'I am afraid I press you,' he said, smiling in his gentle, chivalric
German fashion. Helena glanced swiftly at him. She liked his grey eyes,
she liked the agreeable intonation, and the pleasant sound of his words.
'Oh no,' she answered. 'You do not crush me.'
Almost before she had finished the words she turned away to the window.
The man seemed to hesitate a moment, as if recovering himself from a
slight rebuff, before he could address his lady with the good-humoured
remark in German: 'Well, and have we not managed it very nicely, eh?'
The whole party began to talk in German with great animation. They told
each other of the quaint ways of this or the other; they joked loudly
over 'Billy'—this being a nickname discovered for the German
Emperor—and what he would be saying of the Czar's trip; they questioned
each other, and answered each other concerning the places they were
going to see, with great interest, displaying admirable knowledge. They
were pleased with everything; they extolled things English.
Helena's stout neighbour, who, it seemed, was from Dresden, began to
tell anecdotes. He was a raconteur of the naïve type: he talked with
face, hands, with his whole body. Now and again he would give little
spurts in his seat. After one of these he must have become aware of
Helena—who felt as if she were enveloped by a soft stove—struggling to
escape his compression. He stopped short, lifted his hat, and smiling
beseechingly, said in his persuasive way:
'I am sorry. I am sorry. I compress you!' He glanced round in
perplexity, seeking some escape or remedy. Finding none, he turned to
her again, after having squeezed hard against his lady to free
Helena, and said:
'Forgive me, I am sorry.'
'You are forgiven,' replied Helena, suddenly smiling into his face with
her rare winsomeness. The whole party, attentive, relaxed into a smile
at this. The good humour was complete.
'Thank you,' said the German gratefully.
Helena turned away. The talk began again like the popping of corn; the
raconteur resumed his anecdote. Everybody was waiting to laugh. Helena
rapidly wearied of trying to follow the tale. Siegmund had made no
attempt. He had watched, with the others, the German's apologies, and
the sight of his lover's face had moved him more than he could tell.
She had a peculiar, childish wistfulness at times, and with this an
intangible aloofness that pierced his heart. It seemed to him he should
never know her. There was a remoteness about her, an estrangement
between her and all natural daily things, as if she were of an unknown
race that never can tell its own story. This feeling always moved
Siegmund's pity to its deepest, leaving him poignantly helpless. This
same foreignness, revealed in other ways, sometimes made him hate her.
It was as if she would sacrifice him rather than renounce her foreign
birth. There was something in her he could never understand, so that
never, never could he say he was master of her as she was of him
As she smiled and turned away from the German, mute, uncomplaining, like
a child wise in sorrow beyond its years, Siegmund's resentment against
her suddenly took fire, and blazed him with sheer pain of pity. She was
very small. Her quiet ways, and sometimes her impetuous clinging made
her seem small; for she was very strong. But Siegmund saw her now,
small, quiet, uncomplaining, living for him who sat and looked at her.
But what would become of her when he had left her, when she was alone,
little foreigner as she was, in this world, which apologizes when it has
done the hurt, too blind to see beforehand? Helena would be left behind;
death was no way for her. She could not escape thus with him from this
house of strangers which she called 'life'. She had to go on alone, like
a foreigner who cannot learn the strange language.
'What will she do?' Siegmund asked himself, 'when her loneliness comes
upon her like a horror, and she has no one to go to. She will come to
the memory of me for a while, and that will take her over till her
strength is established. But what then?'
Siegmund could find no answer. He tried to imagine her life. It would go
on, after his death, just in the same way, for a while, and then? He had
not the faintest knowledge of how she would develop. What would she do
when she was thirty-eight, and as old as himself? He could not conceive.
Yet she would not die, of that he was certain.
Siegmund suddenly realized that he knew nothing of her life, her real
inner life. She was a book written in characters unintelligible to him
and to everybody. He was tortured with the problem of her till it became
acute, and he felt as if his heart would burst inside him. As a boy he
had experienced the same sort of feeling after wrestling for an hour
with a problem in Euclid, for he was capable of great concentration.
He felt Helena looking at him. Turning, he found her steady, unswerving
eyes fixed on him, so that he shrank confused from them. She smiled: by
an instinctive movement she made him know that she wanted him to hold
her hand. He leaned forward and put his hand over hers. She had peculiar
hands, small, with a strange, delightful silkiness. Often they were cool
or cold; generally they lay unmoved within his clasp, but then they were
instinct with life, not inert. Sometimes he would feel a peculiar
jerking in his pulse, very much like electricity, when he held her hand.
Occasionally it was almost painful, and felt as if a little virtue were
passing out of his blood. But that he dismissed as nonsense.
The Germans were still rattling away, perspiring freely, wiping their
faces with their handkerchiefs as they laughed, moving inside their
clothing, which was sticking to their sides. Siegmund had not noticed
them for some time, he was so much absorbed. But Helena, though she
sympathized with her fellow-passengers, was tormented almost beyond
endurance by the noise, the heat of her neighbour's body, the atmosphere
of the crowded carriage, and her own emotion. The only thing that could
relieve her was the hand of Siegmund soothing her in its hold.
She looked at him with the same steadiness which made her eyes feel
heavy upon him, and made him shrink. She wanted his strength of nerve to
support her, and he submitted at once, his one aim being to give her out
of himself whatever she wanted.
The tall white yachts in a throng were lounging off the roads of Ryde.
It was near the regatta time, so these proud creatures had flown loftily
together, and now flitted hither and thither among themselves, like a
concourse of tall women, footing the waves with superb touch. To
Siegmund they were very beautiful, but removed from him, as dancers
crossing the window-lights are removed from the man who looks up from
the street. He saw the Solent and the world of glamour flying gay as
snow outside, where inside was only Siegmund, tired, dispirited,
without any joy.
He and Helena had climbed among coils of rope on to the prow of their
steamer, so they could catch a little spray of speed on their faces to
stimulate them. The sea was very bright and crowded. White sails leaned
slightly and filed along the roads; two yachts with sails of amber
floated, it seemed, without motion, amid the eclipsed blue of the day;
small boats with red and yellow flags fluttered quickly, trailing the
sea with colour; a pleasure steamer coming from Cowes swung her soft
stout way among the fleeting ships; high in the background were
men-of-war, a long line, each one threading tiny triangles of flags
through a sky dim with distance.
'It is all very glad,' said Siegmund to himself, 'but it seems to be
He was out of it. Already he felt detached from life. He belonged to his
destination. It is always so: we have no share in the beauty that lies
between us and our goal.
Helena watched with poignant sorrow all the agitation of colour on the
'We must leave it; we must pass out of it,' she lamented, over and over
again. Each new charm she caught eagerly.
'I like the steady purpose of that brown-sailed tramp,' she said to
herself, watching a laden coaster making for Portsmouth.
They were still among the small shipping of Ryde. Siegmund and Helena,
as they looked out, became aware of a small motor-launch heading across
their course towards a yacht whose tall masts were drawn clean on the
sky. The eager launch, its nose up as if to breathe, was racing over the
swell like a coursing dog. A lady, in white, and a lad with dark head
and white jersey were leaning in the bows; a gentleman was bending over
some machinery in the middle of the boat, while the sailor in the low
stern was also stooping forward attending to something. The steamer was
sweeping onwards, huge above the water; the dog of a boat was coursing
straight across her track. The lady saw the danger first. Stretching
forward, she seized the arm of the lad and held him firm, making no
sound, but watching the forward menace of the looming steamer.
'Look!' cried Helena, catching hold of Siegmund. He was already
watching. Suddenly the steamer bell clanged. The gentleman looked up,
with startled, sunburned face; then he leaped to the stern. The launch
veered. It and the steamer closed together like a pair of scissors. The
lady, still holding the boy, looked up with an expressionless face at
the high sweeping chisel of the steamer's bows; the husband stood rigid,
staring ahead. No sound was to be heard save the rustling of water under
the bows. The scissors closed, the launch skelped forward like a dog
from in front of the traffic. It escaped by a yard or two. Then, like a
dog, it seemed to look round. The gentleman in the stern glanced back
quickly. He was a handsome, dark-haired man with dark eyes. His face was
as if carven out of oak, set and grey-brown. Then he looked to the
steering of his boat. No one had uttered a sound. From the tiny boat
coursing low on the water, not a sound, only tense waiting. The launch
raced out of danger towards the yacht. The gentleman, with a brief
gesture, put his man in charge again, whilst he himself went forward to
the lady. He was a handsome man, very proud in his movements; and she,
in her bearing, was prouder still. She received him almost with
Helena turned to Siegmund. He took both her hands and pressed them,
whilst she looked at him with eyes blind with emotion. She was white to
the lips, and heaving like the buoy in the wake of the steamer. The
noise of life had suddenly been hushed, and each heart had heard for a
moment the noiselessness of death. How everyone was white and gasping!
They strove, on every hand, to fill the day with noise and the colour of
'By Jove, that was a near thing!'
'Ah, that has made me feel bad!' said a woman.
'A French yacht,' said somebody.
Helena was waiting for the voice of Siegmund. But he did not know what
to say. Confused, he repeated:
'That was a close shave.'
Helena clung to him, searching his face. She felt his difference from
herself. There was something in his experience that made him different,
quiet, with a peculiar expression as if he were pained.
'Ah, dear Lord!' he was saying to himself. 'How bright and whole the day
is for them! If God had suddenly put His hand over the sun, and
swallowed us up in a shadow, they could not have been more startled.
That man, with his fine, white-flannelled limbs and his dark head, has
no suspicion of the shadow that supports it all. Between the blueness of
the sea and the sky he passes easy as a gull, close to the fine white
seamew of his mate, amid red flowers of flags, and soft birds of ships,
and slow-moving monsters of steamboats.
'For me the day is transparent and shrivelling. I can see the darkness
through its petals. But for him it is a fresh bell-flower, in which he
fumbles with delights like a bee.
'For me, quivering in the interspaces of the atmosphere, is the darkness
the same that fills in my soul. I can see death urging itself into life,
the shadow supporting the substance. For my life is burning an invisible
flame. The glare of the light of myself, as I burn on the fuel of death,
is not enough to hide from me the source and the issue. For what is a
life but a flame that bursts off the surface of darkness, and tapers
into the darkness again? But the death that issues differs from the
death that was the source. At least, I shall enrich death with a potent
shadow, if I do not enrich life.'
'Wasn't that woman fine!' said Helena.
'So perfectly still,' he answered.
'The child realized nothing,' she said.
Siegmund laughed, then leaned forward impulsively to her.
'I am always so sorry,' he said, 'that the human race is urged
inevitably into a deeper and deeper realization of life.'
She looked at him, wondering what provoked such a remark.
'I guess,' she said slowly, after a while, 'that the man, the sailor,
will have a bad time. He was abominably careless.'
'He was careful of something else just then,' said Siegmund, who hated
to hear her speak in cold condemnation. 'He was attending to the
machinery or something.'
'That was scarcely his first business,' said she, rather sarcastic.
Siegmund looked at her. She seemed very hard in judgement—very blind.
Sometimes his soul surged against her in hatred.
'Do you think the man wanted to drown the boat?' he asked.
'He nearly succeeded,' she replied.
There was antagonism between them. Siegmund recognized in Helena the
world sitting in judgement, and he hated it. 'But, after all,' he
thought, I suppose it is the only way to get along, to judge the event
and not the person. I have a disease of sympathy, a vice of
Nevertheless, he did not love Helena as a judge. He thought rather of
the woman in the boat. She was evidently one who watched the sources of
life, saw it great and impersonal.
'Would the woman cry, or hug and kiss the boy when she got on board?' he
'I rather think not. Why?' she replied.
'I hope she didn't,' he said.
Helena sat watching the water spurt back from the bows. She was very
much in love with Siegmund. He was suggestive; he stimulated her. But to
her mind he had not her own dark eyes of hesitation; he was swift and
proud as the wind. She never realized his helplessness.
Siegmund was gathering strength from the thought of that other woman's
courage. If she had so much restraint as not to cry out, or alarm the
boy, if she had so much grace not to complain to her husband, surely he
himself might refrain from revealing his own fear of Helena, and from
lamenting his hard fate.
They sailed on past the chequered round towers. The sea opened, and they
looked out to eastward into the sea-space. Siegmund wanted to flee. He
yearned to escape down the open ways before him. Yet he knew he would be
carried on to London. He watched the sea-ways closing up. The shore came
round. The high old houses stood flat on the right hand. The shore swept
round in a sickle, reaping them into the harbour. There the old
Victory, gay with myriad pointed pennons, was harvested, saved for
'It is a dreadful thing,' thought Siegmund, 'to remain as a trophy when
there is nothing more to do.' He watched the landing-stages swooping
nearer. There were the trains drawn up in readiness. At the other end of
the train was London.
He could scarcely bear to have Helena before him for another two hours.
The suspense of that protracted farewell, while he sat opposite her in
the beating train, would cost too much. He longed to be released
They had got their luggage, and were standing at the foot of the ladder,
in the heat of the engines and the smell of hot oil, waiting for the
crowd to pass on, so that they might ascend and step off the ship on to
'Won't you let me go by the South-Western, and you by the Brighton?'
asked Siegmund, hesitating, repeating the morning's question.
Helena looked at him, knitting her brows with misgiving and perplexity.
'No,' she replied. 'Let us go together.'
Siegmund followed her up the iron ladder to the quay.
There was no great crowd on the train. They easily found a second-class
compartment without occupants. He swung the luggage on the rack and sat
down, facing Helena.
'Now,' said he to himself, 'I wish I were alone.'
He wanted to think and prepare himself.
Helena, who was thinking actively, leaned forward to him to say:
'Shall I not go down to Cornwall?'
By her soothing willingness to do anything for him, Siegmund knew that
she was dogging him closely. He could not bear to have his anxiety
'But you have promised Louisa, have you not?' he replied.
'Oh, well!' she said, in the peculiar slighting tone she had when she
wished to convey the unimportance of affairs not touching him.
'Then you must go,' he said.
'But,' she began, with harsh petulance, 'I do not want to go down to
Cornwall with Louisa and Olive'—she accentuated the two names—'after
this,' she added.
'Then Louisa will have no holiday—and you have promised,' he said
Helena looked at him. She saw he had decided that she should go.
'Is my promise so very important?' she asked. She glanced angrily at
the three ladies who were hesitating in the doorway. Nevertheless, the
ladies entered, and seated themselves at the opposite end of the
carriage. Siegmund did not know whether he were displeased or relieved
by their intrusion. If they had stayed out, he might have held Helena in
his arms for still another hour. As it was, she could not harass him
with words. He tried not to look at her, but to think.
The train at last moved out of the station. As it passed through
Portsmouth, Siegmund remembered his coming down, on the Sunday. It
seemed an indefinite age ago. He was thankful that he sat on the side of
the carriage opposite from the one he had occupied five days before. The
afternoon of the flawless sky was ripening into evening. The chimneys
and the sides of the houses of Portsmouth took on that radiant
appearance which transfigures the end of day in town. A rich bloom of
light appears on the surfaces of brick and stone.
'It will go on,' thought Siegmund, 'being gay of an evening, for ever.
And I shall miss it all!'
But as soon as the train moved into the gloom of the Town station, he
'Beatrice will be proud, and silent as steel when I get home. She will
say nothing, thank God—nor shall I. That will expedite matters: there
will be no interruptions….
'But we cannot continue together after this. Why should I discuss
reasons for and against? We cannot. She goes to a cottage in the
country. Already I have spoken of it to her. I allow her all I can of my
money, and on the rest I manage for myself in lodgings in London.
'But when I am comparatively free I cannot live alone. I shall want
Helena; I shall remember the children. If I have the one, I shall be
damned by the thought of the other. This bruise on my mind will never
get better. Helena says she would never come to me; but she would, out
of pity for me. I know she would.
'But then, what then? Beatrice and the children in the country, and me
not looking after the children. Beatrice is thriftless. She would be in
endless difficulty. It would be a degradation to me. She would keep a
red sore inflamed against me; I should be a shameful thing in her mouth.
Besides, there would go all her strength. She would not make any
efforts. "He has brought it on us," she would say; "let him see what the
result is." And things would go from bad to worse with them. It would be
a gangrene of shame.
'And Helena—I should have nothing but mortification. When she was
asleep I could not look at her. She is such a strange, incongruous
creature. But I should be responsible for her. She believes in me as if
I had the power of God. What should I think of myself?'
Siegmund leaned with his head against the window, watching the country
whirl past, but seeing nothing. He thought imaginatively, and his
imagination destroyed him. He pictured Beatrice in the country. He
sketched the morning—breakfast haphazard at a late hour; the elder
children rushing off without food, miserable and untidy, the youngest
bewildered under her swift, indifferent preparations for school. He
thought of Beatrice in the evening, worried and irritable, her bills
unpaid, the work undone, declaiming lamentably against the cruelty of
her husband, who had abandoned her to such a burden of care while he
took his pleasure elsewhere.
This line exhausted or intolerable, Siegmund switched off to the
consideration of his own life in town. He would go to America; the
agreement was signed with the theatre manager. But America would be only
a brief shutting of the eyes and closing of the mouth. He would wait for
the home-coming to Helena, and she would wait for him. It was
inevitable; then would begin—what? He would never have enough money to
keep Helena, even if he managed to keep himself. Their meetings would
then be occasional and clandestine. Ah, it was intolerable!
'If I were rich,' said Siegmund, 'all would be plain. I would give each
of my children enough, and Beatrice, and we would go away; but I am
nearly forty; I have no genius; I shall never be rich,' Round and round
went his thoughts like oxen over a threshing floor, treading out the
grain. Gradually the chaff flew away; gradually the corn of conviction
gathered small and hard upon the floor.
As he sat thinking, Helena leaned across to him and laid her hand on his
'If I have made things more difficult,' she said, her voice harsh with
pain, 'you will forgive me.'
He started. This was one of the cruel cuts of pain that love gives,
filling the eyes with blood. Siegmund stiffened himself; slowly he
smiled, as he looked at her childish, plaintive lips, and her large eyes
haunted with pain.
'Forgive you?' he repeated. 'Forgive you for five days of perfect
happiness; the only real happiness I have ever known!'
Helena tightened her fingers on his knee. She felt herself stinging with
painful joy; but one of the ladies was looking her curiously. She leaned
back in her place, and turned to watch at the shocks of corn strike
swiftly, in long rows, across her vision.
Siegmund, also quivering, turned his face to the window, where the
rotation of the wide sea-flat helped the movement of his thought. Helena
had interrupted him. She had bewildered his thoughts from their hawking,
so that they struck here and there, wildly, among small, pitiful prey
that was useless, conclusions which only hindered the bringing home of
the final convictions.
'What will she do?' cried Siegmund, 'What will she do when I am gone?
What will become of her? Already she has no aim in life; then she will
have no object. Is it any good my going if I leave her behind? What an
inextricable knot this is! But what will she do?'
It was a question she had aroused before, a question which he could
never answer; indeed, it was not for him to answer.
They wound through the pass of the South Downs. As Siegmund, looking
backward, saw the northern slope of the downs swooping smoothly, in a
great, broad bosom of sward, down to the body of the land, he warmed
with sudden love for the earth; there the great downs were, naked like a
breast, leaning kindly to him. The earth is always kind; it loves us,
and would foster us like a nurse. The downs were big and tender and
simple. Siegmund looked at the farm, folded in a hollow, and he wondered
what fortunate folk were there, nourished and quiet, hearing the vague
roar of the train that was carrying him home.
Up towards Arundel the cornfields of red wheat were heavy with gold. It
was evening, when the green of the trees went out, leaving dark shapes
proud upon the sky; but the red wheat was forged in the sunset, hot and
magnificent. Siegmund almost gloated as he smelled the ripe corn, and
opened his eyes to its powerful radiation. For a moment he forgot
everything, amid the forging of red fields of gold in the smithy of the
sunset. Like sparks, poppies blew along the railway-banks, a crimson
train. Siegmund waited, through the meadows, for the next wheat-field.
It came like the lifting of yellow-hot metal out of the gloom of
Helena was reassured by the glamour of evening over ripe Sussex. She
breathed the land now and then, while she watched the sky. The sunset
was stately. The blue-eyed day, with great limbs, having fought its
victory and won, now mounted triumphant on its pyre, and with white arms
uplifted took the flames, which leaped like blood about its feet. The
day died nobly, so she thought.
One gold cloud, as an encouragement tossed to her, followed the train.
'Surely that cloud is for us,' said she, as she watched it anxiously.
Dark trees brushed between it and her, while she waited in suspense. It
came, unswerving, from behind the trees.
'I am sure it is for us,' she repeated. A gladness came into her eyes.
Still the cloud followed the train. She leaned forward to Siegmund and
pointed out the cloud to him. She was very eager to give him a little of
'It has come with us quite a long way. Doesn't it seem to you to be
travelling with us? It is the golden hand; it is the good omen.'
She then proceeded to tell him the legend from 'Aylwin'.
Siegmund listened, and smiled. The sunset was handsome on his face.
Helena was almost happy.
'I am right,' said he to himself. I am right in my conclusions, and
Helena will manage by herself afterwards. I am right; there is the hand
to confirm it.'
The heavy train settled down to an easy, unbroken stroke, swinging like
a greyhound over the level northwards. All the time Siegmund was
mechanically thinking the well-known movement from the Valkyrie Ride,
his whole self beating to the rhythm. It seemed to him there was a
certain grandeur in this flight, but it hurt him with its heavy
insistence of catastrophe. He was afraid; he had to summon his courage
to sit quiet. For a time he was reassured; he believed he was going on
towards the right end. He hunted through the country and the sky, asking
of everything, 'Am I right? Am I right?' He did not mind what happened
to him, so long as he felt it was right. What he meant by 'right' he did
not trouble to think, but the question remained. For a time he had been
reassured; then a dullness came over him, when his thoughts were stupid,
and he merely submitted to the rhythm of the train, which stamped him
deeper and deeper with a brand of catastrophe.
The sun had gone down. Over the west was a gush of brightness as the
fountain of light bubbled lower. The stars, like specks of froth from
the foaming of the day, clung to the blue ceiling. Like spiders they
hung overhead, while the hosts of the gold atmosphere poured out of the
hive by the western low door. Soon the hive was empty, a hollow dome of
purple, with here and there on the floor a bright brushing of wings—a
village; then, overhead, the luminous star-spider began to run.
'Ah, well!' thought Siegmund—he was tired—'if one bee dies in a swarm,
what is it, so long as the hive is all right? Apart from the gold light,
and the hum and the colour of day, what was I? Nothing! Apart from these
rushings out of the hive, along with swarm, into the dark meadows of
night, gathering God knows what, I was a pebble. Well, the day will
swarm in golden again, with colour on the wings of every bee, and
humming in each activity. The gold and the colour and sweet smell and
the sound of life, they exist, even if there is no bee; it only happens
we see the iridescence on the wings of a bee. It exists whether or not,
bee or no bee. Since the iridescence and the humming of life are
always, and since it was they who made me, then I am not lost. At least,
I do not care. If the spark goes out, the essence of the fire is there
in the darkness. What does it matter? Besides, I have burned bright; I
have laid up a fine cell of honey somewhere—I wonder where? We can
never point to it; but it is so—what does it matter, then!'
They had entered the north downs, and were running through Dorking
towards Leatherhead. Box Hill stood dark in the dusky sweetness of the
night. Helena remembered that here she and Siegmund had come for their
first walk together. She would like to come again. Presently she saw the
quick stilettos of stars on the small, baffled river; they ran between
high embankments. Siegmund recollected that these were covered with
roses of Sharon—the large golden St John's wort of finest silk. He
looked, and could just distinguish the full-blown, delicate flowers,
ignored by the stars. At last he had something to say to Helena:
'Do you remember,' he asked, 'the roses of Sharon all along here?'
'I do,' replied Helena, glad he spoke so brightly. 'Weren't they
After a few moments of watching the bank, she said:
'Do you know, I have never gathered one? I think I should like to; I
should like to feel them, and they should have an orangy smell.'
He smiled, without answering.
She glanced up at him, smiling brightly.
'But shall we come down here in the morning, and find some?' she asked.
She put the question timidly. 'Would you care to?' she added.
Siegmund darkened and frowned. Here was the pain revived again.
'No,' he said gently; 'I think we had better not.' Almost for the first
time he did not make apologetic explanation.
Helena turned to the window, and remained, looking out at the spinning
of the lights of the towns without speaking, until they were near
Sutton. Then she rose and pinned on her hat, gathering her gloves and
her basket. She was, in spite of herself, slightly angry. Being quite
ready to leave the train, she sat down to wait for the station. Siegmund
was aware that she was displeased, and again, for the first time, he
said to himself, 'Ah, well, it must be so.'
She looked at him. He was sad, therefore she softened instantly.
'At least,' she said doubtfully, 'I shall see you at the station.'
'At Waterloo?' he asked.
'No, at Wimbledon,' she replied, in her metallic tone.
'But—' he began.
'It will be the best way for us,' she interrupted, in the calm tone of
conviction. 'Much better than crossing London from Victoria to
'Very well,' he replied.
He looked up a train for her in his little time-table.
'You will get in Wimbledon 10.5—leave 10.40—leave Waterloo 11.30,' he
'Very good,' she answered.
The brakes were grinding. They waited in a burning suspense for the
train to stop.
'If only she will soon go!' thought Siegmund. It was an intolerable
minute. She rose; everything was a red blur. She stood before him,
pressing his hand; then he rose to give her the bag. As he leaned upon
the window-frame and she stood below on the platform, looking up at him,
he could scarcely breathe. 'How long will it be?' he said to himself,
looking at the open carriage doors. He hated intensely the lady who
could not get a porter to remove her luggage; he could have killed her;
he could have killed the dilatory guard. At last the doors slammed and
the whistle went. The train started imperceptibly into motion.
'Now I lose her,' said Siegmund.
She looked up at him; her face was white and dismal.
'Good-bye, then!' she said, and she turned away.
Siegmund went back to his seat. He was relieved, but he trembled with
sickness. We are all glad when intense moments are done with; but why
did she fling round in that manner, stopping the keen note short; what
would she do?
Siegmund went up to Victoria. He was in no hurry to get down to
Wimbledon. London was warm and exhausted after the hot day, but this
peculiar lukewarmness was not unpleasant to him. He chose to walk from
Victoria to Waterloo.
The streets were like polished gun-metal glistened over with gold. The
taxi-cabs, the wild cats of the town, swept over the gleaming floor
swiftly, soon lessening in the distance, as if scornful of the other
clumsy-footed traffic. He heard the merry click-clock of the swinging
hansoms, then the excited whirring of the motor-buses as they charged
full-tilt heavily down the road, their hearts, as it seemed, beating
with trepidation; they drew up with a sigh of relief by the kerb, and
stood there panting—great, nervous, clumsy things. Siegmund was always
amused by the headlong, floundering career of the buses. He was pleased
with this scampering of the traffic; anything for distraction. He was
glad Helena was not with him, for the streets would have irritated her
with their coarse noise. She would stand for a long time to watch the
rabbits pop and hobble along on the common at night; but the tearing
along of the taxis and the charge of a great motor-bus was painful to
her. 'Discords,' she said, 'after the trees and sea.' She liked the
glistening of the streets; it seemed a fine alloy of gold laid down for
pavement, such pavement as drew near to the pure gold streets of Heaven;
but this noise could not be endured near any wonderland.
Siegmund did not mind it; it drummed out his own thoughts. He watched
the gleaming magic of the road, raced over with shadows, project itself
far before him into the night. He watched the people. Soldiers, belted
with scarlet, went jauntily on in front. There was a peculiar charm in
their movement. There was a soft vividness of life in their carriage; it
reminded Siegmund of the soft swaying and lapping of a poised
candle-flame. The women went blithely alongside. Occasionally, in
passing, one glanced at him; then, in spite of himself, he smiled; he
knew not why. The women glanced at him with approval, for he was ruddy;
besides, he had that carelessness and abstraction of despair. The eyes
of the women said, 'You are comely, you are lovable,' and
When the street opened, at Westminster, he noticed the city sky, a
lovely deep purple, and the lamps in the square steaming out a vapour of
'It is a wonderful night,' he said to himself. 'There are not two such
in a year.'
He went forward to the Embankment, with a feeling of elation in his
heart. This purple and gold-grey world, with the fluttering flame-warmth
of soldiers and the quick brightness of women, like lights that clip
sharply in a draught, was a revelation to him.
As he leaned upon the Embankment parapet the wonder did not fade, but
rather increased. The trams, one after another, floated loftily over the
bridge. They went like great burning bees in an endless file into a
hive, past those which were drifting dreamily out, while below, on the
black, distorted water, golden serpents flashed and twisted to and fro.
'Ah!' said Siegmund to himself; 'it is far too wonderful for me. Here,
as well as by the sea, the night is gorgeous and uncouth. Whatever
happens, the world is wonderful.'
So he went on amid all the vast miracle of movement in the city night,
the swirling of water to the sea, the gradual sweep of the stars, the
floating of many lofty, luminous cars through the bridged darkness, like
an army of angels filing past on one of God's campaigns, the purring
haste of the taxis, the slightly dancing shadows of people. Siegmund
went on slowly, like a slow bullet winging into the heart of life. He
did not lose this sense of wonder, not in the train, nor as he walked
home in the moonless dark.
When he closed the door behind him and hung up his hat he frowned. He
did not think definitely of anything, but his frown meant to him: 'Now
for the beginning of Hell!'
He went towards the dining-room, where the light was, and the uneasy
murmur. The clock, with its deprecating, suave chime, was striking ten,
Siegmund opened the door of the room. Beatrice was sewing, and did not
raise her head. Frank, a tall, thin lad of eighteen, was bent over a
book. He did not look up. Vera had her fingers thrust in among her hair,
and continued to read the magazine that lay on the table before her.
Siegmund looked at them all. They gave no sign to show they were aware
of his entry; there was only that unnatural tenseness of people who
cover their agitation. He glanced round to see where he should go. His
wicker arm-chair remained by the fireplace; his slippers were standing
under the sideboard, as he had left them. Siegmund sat down in the
creaking chair; he began to feel sick and tired.
'I suppose the children are in bed,' he said.
His wife sewed on as if she had not heard him; his daughter noisily
turned over a leaf and continued to read, as if she were pleasantly
interested and had known no interruption. Siegmund waited, with his
slipper dangling from his hand, looking from one to another.
'They've been gone two hours,' said Frank at last, still without raising
his eyes from his book. His tone was contemptuous, his voice was
jarring, not yet having developed a man's fullness.
Siegmund put on his slipper, and began to unlace the other boot. The
slurring of the lace through the holes and the snacking of the tag
seemed unnecessarily loud. It annoyed his wife. She took a breath to
speak, then refrained, feeling suddenly her daughter's scornful
restraint upon her. Siegmund rested his arms upon his knees, and sat
leaning forward, looking into the barren fireplace, which was littered
with paper, and orange-peel, and a banana-skin.
'Do you want any supper?' asked Beatrice, and the sudden harshness of
her voice startled him into looking at her.
She had her face averted, refusing to see him. Siegmund's heart went
down with weariness and despair at the sight of her.
'Aren't you having any?' he asked.
The table was not laid. Beatrice's work-basket, a little wicker
fruit-skep, overflowed scissors, and pins, and scraps of holland, and
reels of cotton on the green serge cloth. Vera leaned both her elbows on
Instead of replying to him, Beatrice went to the sideboard. She took out
a table-cloth, pushing her sewing litter aside, and spread the cloth
over one end of the table. Vera gave her magazine a little knock
with her hand.
'Have you read this tale of a French convent school in here, Mother?'
In this month's Nash's.'
'No,' replied Beatrice. 'What time have I for reading, much less for
'You should think more of yourself, and a little less of other people,
then,' said Vera, with a sneer at the 'other people'. She rose. 'Let me
do this. You sit down; you are tired, Mother,' she said.
Her mother, without replying, went out to the kitchen. Vera followed
her. Frank, left alone with his father, moved uneasily, and bent his
thin shoulders lower over his book. Siegmund remained with his arms on
his knees, looking into the grate. From the kitchen came the chinking of
crockery, and soon the smell of coffee. All the time Vera was heard
chatting with affected brightness to her mother, addressing her in fond
tones, using all her wits to recall bright little incidents to retail to
her. Beatrice answered rarely, and then with utmost brevity.
Presently Vera came in with the tray. She put down a cup of coffee, a
plate with boiled ham, pink and thin, such as is bought from a grocer,
and some bread-and-butter. Then she sat down, noisily turning over the
leaves of her magazine. Frank glanced at the table; it was laid solely
for his father. He looked at the bread and the meat, but restrained
himself, and went on reading, or pretended to do so. Beatrice came in
with the small cruet; it was conspicuously bright.
Everything was correct: knife and fork, spoon, cruet, all perfectly
clean, the crockery fine, the bread and butter thin—in fact, it was
just as it would have been for a perfect stranger. This scrupulous
neatness, in a household so slovenly and easy-going, where it was an
established tradition that something should be forgotten or wrong,
impressed Siegmund. Beatrice put the serving knife and fork by the
little dish of ham, saw that all was proper, then went and sat down. Her
face showed no emotion; it was calm and proud. She began to sew.
'What do you say, Mother?' said Vera, as if resuming a conversation.
'Shall it be Hampton Court or Richmond on Sunday?'
'I say, as I said before,' replied Beatrice: 'I cannot afford to go
'But you must begin, my dear, and Sunday shall see the beginning. Dîtes
'There are other things to think of,' said Beatrice.
'Now, maman, nous avons changé tout cela! We are going out—a jolly
little razzle!' Vera, who was rather handsome, lifted up her face and
smiled at her mother gaily.
'I am afraid there will be no razzle'—Beatrice accented the word,
smiling slightly—'for me. You are slangy, Vera.'
'Un doux argot, ma mère. You look tired.'
Beatrice glanced at the clock.
'I will go to bed when I have cleared the table,' she said.
Siegmund winced. He was still sitting with his head bent down, looking
in the grate. Vera went on to say something more. Presently Frank looked
up at the table, and remarked in his grating voice:
'There's your supper, Father.'
The women stopped and looked round at this. Siegmund bent his head
lower. Vera resumed her talk. It died out, and there was silence.
Siegmund was hungry.
'Oh, good Lord, good Lord! bread of humiliation tonight!' he said to
himself before he could muster courage to rise and go to the table. He
seemed to be shrinking inwards. The women glanced swiftly at him and
away from him as his chair creaked and he got up. Frank was watching
from under his eyebrows.
Siegmund went through the ordeal of eating and drinking in presence of
his family. If he had not been hungry, he could not have done it,
despite the fact that he was content to receive humiliation this night.
He swallowed the coffee with effort. When he had finished he sat
irresolute for some time; then he arose and went to the door.
'Good night!' he said.
Nobody made any reply. Frank merely stirred in his chair. Siegmund shut
the door and went.
There was absolute silence in the room till they heard him turn on the
tap in the bathroom; then Beatrice began to breathe spasmodically,
catching her breath as if she would sob. But she restrained herself. The
faces of the two children set hard with hate.
'He is not worth the flicking of your little finger, Mother,' said Vera.
Beatrice moved about with pitiful, groping hands, collecting her sewing
and her cottons.
'At any rate, he's come back red enough,' said Frank, in his grating
tone of contempt. 'He's like boiled salmon.'
Beatrice did not answer anything. Frank rose, and stood with his back to
the grate, in his father's characteristic attitude.
'He would come slinking back in a funk!' he said, with a young man's
Stretching forward, he put a piece of ham between two pieces of bread,
and began to eat the sandwich in large bites. Vera came to the table at
this, and began to make herself a more dainty sandwich. Frank watched
her with jealous eyes.
'There is a little more ham, if you'd like it,' said Beatrice to him. 'I
kept you some.'
'All right, Ma,' he replied. Fetch it in.'
Beatrice went out to the kitchen.
'And bring the bread and butter, too, will you?' called Vera after her.
'The damned coward! Ain't he a rotten funker?' said Frank, sotto voce,
while his mother was out of the room.
Vera did not reply, but she seemed tacitly to agree.
They petted their mother, while she waited on them. At length Frank
yawned. He fidgeted a moment or two, then he went over to his mother,
and, putting his hand on her arm—the feel of his mother's round arm
under the black silk sleeve made his tears rise—he said, more gratingly
'Ne'er mind, Ma; we'll be all right to you.' Then he bent and kissed
her. 'Good night, Mother,' he said awkwardly, and he went out of
Beatrice was crying.
'I shall never re-establish myself,' said Siegmund as he closed behind
him the dining-room door and went upstairs in the dark. 'I am a family
criminal. Beatrice might come round, but the children's insolent
judgement is too much. And I am like a dog that creeps round the house
from which it escaped with joy. I have nowhere else to go. Why did I
come back? But I am sleepy. I will not bother tonight.'
He went into the bathroom and washed himself. Everything he did gave him
a grateful sense of pleasure, notwithstanding the misery of his
position. He dipped his arms deeper into the cold water, that he might
feel the delight of it a little farther. His neck he swilled time after
time, and it seemed to him he laughed with pleasure as the water caught
him and fell away. The towel reminded him how sore were his forehead and
his neck, blistered both to a state of rawness by the sun. He touched
them very cautiously to dry them, wincing, and smiling at his own
Though his bedroom was very dark, he did not light the gas. Instead, he
stepped out into the small balcony. His shirt was open at the neck and
wrists. He pulled it farther apart, baring his chest to the deliciously
soft night. He stood looking out at the darkness for some time. The
night was as yet moonless, but luminous with a certain atmosphere of
light. The stars were small. Near at hand, large shapes of trees rose
up. Farther, lamps like little mushroom groups shone amid an undergrowth
of darkness. There was a vague hoarse noise filling the sky, like the
whispering in a shell, and this breathing of the summer night
occasionally swelled into a restless sigh as a train roared across
'What a big night!' thought Siegmund. 'The night gathers everything into
a oneness. I wonder what is in it.'
He leaned forward over the balcony, trying to catch something out of the
night. He felt his soul like tendrils stretched out anxiously to grasp a
hold. What could he hold to in this great, hoarse breathing night? A
star fell. It seemed to burst into sight just across his eyes with a
yellow flash. He looked up, unable to make up his mind whether he had
seen it or not. There was no gap in the sky.
'It is a good sign—a shooting star,' he said to himself. 'It is a good
sign for me. I know I am right. That was my sign.'
Having assured himself, he stepped indoors, unpacked his bag, and was
soon in bed.
'This is a good bed,' he said. 'And the sheets are very fresh.'
He lay for a little while with his head bending forwards, looking from
his pillow out at the stars, then he went to sleep.
At half past six in the morning he suddenly opened his eyes.
'What is it?' he asked, and almost without interruption answered: 'Well,
I've got to go through it.'
His sleep had shaped him perfect premonition, which, like a dream, he
forgot when he awoke. Only this naïve question and answer betrayed what
had taken place in his sleep. Immediately he awoke this subordinate
Another fine day was striding in triumphant. The first thing Siegmund
did was to salute the morning, because of its brightness. The second
thing was to call to mind the aspect of that bay in the Isle of Wight.
'What would it just be like now?' said he to himself. He had to give his
heart some justification for the peculiar pain left in it from his sleep
activity, so he began poignantly to long for the place which had been
his during the last mornings. He pictured the garden with roses and
nasturtiums; he remembered the sunny way down the shore, and all the
expanse of sea hung softly between the tall white cliffs.
'It is impossible it is gone!' he cried to himself. 'It can't be gone. I
looked forward to it as if it never would come. It can't be gone now.
Helena is not lost to me, surely.' Then he began a long pining for the
departed beauty of his life. He turned the jewel of memory, and facet by
facet it wounded him with its brilliant loveliness. This pain, though it
was keen, was half pleasure.
Presently he heard his wife stirring. She opened the door of the room
next to his, and he heard her:
'Frank, it's a quarter to eight. You will be late.'
'All right, Mother. Why didn't you call me sooner?' grumbled the lad.
'I didn't wake myself. I didn't go to sleep till morning, and then I
She went downstairs. Siegmund listened for his son to get out of bed.
The minutes passed.
'The young donkey, why doesn't he get out?' said Siegmund angrily to
himself. He turned over, pressing himself upon the bed in anger and
humiliation, because now he had no authority to call to his son and keep
him to his duty. Siegmund waited, writhing with anger, shame, and
anxiety. When the suave, velvety 'Pan-n-n! pan-n-n-n!' of the clock was
heard striking, Frank stepped with a thud on to the floor. He could be
heard dressing in clumsy haste. Beatrice called from the bottom of
'Do you want any hot water?'
'You know there isn't time for me to shave now,' answered her son,
lifting his voice to a kind of broken falsetto.
The scent of the cooking of bacon filled the house. Siegmund heard his
second daughter, Marjory, aged nine, talking to Vera, who occupied the
same room with her. The child was evidently questioning, and the elder
girl answered briefly. There was a lull in the household noises, broken
suddenly by Marjory, shouting from the top of the stairs:
'Mam!' She wailed. 'Mam!' Still Beatrice did not hear her. 'Mam! Mamma!'
Beatrice was in the scullery. 'Mamma-a!' The child was getting
impatient. She lifted her voice and shouted: 'Mam? Mamma!' Still no
answer. 'Mam-mee-e!' she squealed.
Siegmund could hardly contain himself.
'Why don't you go down and ask?' Vera called crossly from the bedroom.
And at the same moment Beatrice answered, also crossly: 'What do you
'Where's my stockings?' cried the child at the top of her voice.
'Why do you ask me? Are they down here?' replied her mother. 'What are
you shouting for?'
The child plodded downstairs. Directly she returned, and as she passed
into Vera's room, she grumbled: 'And now they're not mended.'
Siegmund heard a sound that made his heart beat. It was the crackling of
the sides of the crib, as Gwen, his little girl of five, climbed out.
She was silent for a space. He imagined her sitting on the white rug and
pulling on her stockings. Then there came the quick little thud of her
feet as she went downstairs.
'Mam,' Siegmund heard her say as she went down the hall, 'has dad come?'
The answer and the child's further talk were lost in the distance of the
kitchen. The small, anxious question, and the quick thudding of Gwen's
feet, made Siegmund lie still with torture. He wanted to hear no more.
He lay shrinking within himself. It seemed that his soul was sensitive
to madness. He felt that he could not, come what might, get up and
meet them all.
The front door banged, and he heard Frank's hasty call: 'Good-bye!'
Evidently the lad was in an ill-humour. Siegmund listened for the sound
of the train; it seemed an age; the boy would catch it. Then the water
from the wash-hand bowl in the bathroom ran loudly out. That, he
suggested, was Vera, who was evidently not going up to town. At the
thought of this, Siegmund almost hated her. He listened for her to go
downstairs. It was nine o'clock.
The footsteps of Beatrice came upstairs. She put something down in the
bathroom—his hot water. Siegmund listened intently for her to come to
his door. Would she speak? She approached hurriedly, knocked, and
waited. Siegmund, startled, for the moment, could not answer. She
'All right,' said he.
Then she went downstairs.
He lay probing and torturing himself for another half-hour, till Vera's
voice said coldly, beneath his window outside:
'You should clear away, then. We don't want the breakfast things on the
table for a week.'
Siegmund's heart set hard. He rose, with a shut mouth, and went across
to the bathroom. There he started. The quaint figure of Gwen stood at
the bowl, her back was towards him; she was sponging her face gingerly.
Her hair, all blowsed from the pillow, was tied in a stiff little
pigtail, standing out from her slender, childish neck. Her arms were
bare to the shoulder. She wore a bodiced petticoat of pink flannelette,
which hardly reached her knees. Siegmund felt slightly amused to see her
stout little calves planted so firmly close together. She carefully
sponged her cheeks, her pursed-up mouth, and her neck, soaping her hair,
but not her ears. Then, very deliberately, she squeezed out the sponge
and proceeded to wipe away the soap.
For some reason or other she glanced round. Her startled eyes met his.
She, too, had beautiful dark blue eyes. She stood, with the sponge at
her neck, looking full at him. Siegmund felt himself shrinking. The
child's look was steady, calm, inscrutable.
'Hello!' said her father. 'Are you here!'
The child, without altering her expression in the slightest, turned her
back on him, and continued wiping her neck. She dropped the sponge in
the water and took the towel from off the side of the bath. Then she
turned to look again at Siegmund, who stood in his pyjamas before her,
his mouth shut hard, but his eyes shrinking and tender. She seemed to be
trying to discover something in him.
'Have you washed your ears?' he said gaily.
She paid no heed to this, except that he noticed her face now wore a
slight constrained smile as she looked at him. She was shy. Still she
continued to regard him curiously.
'There is some chocolate on my dressing-table,' he said.
'Where have you been to?' she asked suddenly.
'To the seaside,' he answered, smiling.
'To Brighton?' she asked. Her tone was still condemning.
'Much farther than that,' he replied.
'To Worthing?' she asked.
'Farther—in a steamer,' he replied.
'But who did you go with?' asked the child.
'Why, I went all by myself,' he answered.
'Twuly?' she asked.
'Weally and twuly,' he answered, laughing.
'Couldn't you take me?' she asked.
'I will next time,' he replied.
The child still looked at him, unsatisfied.
'But what did you go for?' she asked, goading him suspiciously.
'To see the sea and the ships and the fighting ships with cannons—'
'You might have taken me,' said the child reproachfully.
'Yes, I ought to have done, oughtn't I?' he said, as if regretful.
Gwen still looked full at him.
'You are red,' she said.
He glanced quickly in the glass, and replied:
'That is the sun. Hasn't it been hot?'
'Mm! It made my nose all peel. Vera said she would scrape me like a new
potato.' The child laughed and turned shyly away.
'Come here,' said Siegmund. 'I believe you've got a tooth out, haven't
He was very cautious and gentle. The child drew back. He hesitated, and
she drew away from him, unwilling.
'Come and let me look,' he repeated.
She drew farther away, and the same constrained smile appeared on her
face, shy, suspicious, condemning.
'Aren't you going to get your chocolate?' he asked, as the child
hesitated in the doorway.
She glanced into his room, and answered:
'I've got to go to mam and have my hair done.'
Her awkwardness and her lack of compliance insulted him. She went
downstairs without going into his room.
Siegmund, rebuffed by the only one in the house from whom he might have
expected friendship, proceeded slowly to shave, feeling sick at heart.
He was a long time over his toilet. When he stripped himself for the
bath, it seemed to him he could smell the sea. He bent his head and
licked his shoulder. It tasted decidedly salt.
'A pity to wash it off,' he said.
As he got up dripping from the cold bath, he felt for the moment
exhilarated. He rubbed himself smooth. Glancing down at himself, he
thought: 'I look young. I look as young as twenty-six.'
He turned to the mirror. There he saw himself a mature, complete man of
forty, with grave years of experience on his countenance.
'I used to think that, when I was forty,' he said to himself, 'I should
find everything straight as the nose on my face, walking through my
affairs as easily as you like. Now I am no more sure of myself, have no
more confidence than a boy of twenty. What can I do? It seems to me a
man needs a mother all his life. I don't feel much like a lord of
Having arrived at this cynicism, Siegmund prepared to go downstairs. His
sensitiveness had passed off; his nerves had become callous. When he was
dressed he went down to the kitchen without hesitation. He was
indifferent to his wife and children. No one spoke to him as he sat to
the table. That was as he liked it; he wished for nothing to touch him.
He ate his breakfast alone, while his wife bustled about upstairs and
Vera bustled about in the dining-room. Then he retired to the solitude
of the drawing-room. As a reaction against his poetic activity, he felt
as if he were gradually becoming more stupid and blind. He remarked
nothing, not even the extravagant bowl of grasses placed where he would
not have allowed it—on his piano; nor his fiddle, laid cruelly on the
cold, polished floor near the window. He merely sat down in an
arm-chair, and felt sick.
All his unnatural excitement, all the poetic stimulation of the past few
days, had vanished. He felt flaccid, while his life struggled slowly
through him. After an intoxication of passion and love, and beauty, and
of sunshine, he was prostrate. Like a plant that blossoms gorgeously and
madly, he had wasted the tissue of his strength, so that now his life
struggled in a clogged and broken channel.
Siegmund sat with his head between his hands, leaning upon the table. He
would have been stupidly quiescent in his feeling of loathing and
sickness had not an intense irritability in all his nerves tormented him
'I suppose this is the result of the sun—a sort of sunstroke,' he said,
realizing an intolerable stiffness of his brain, a stunned condition
in his head.
'This is hideous!' he said. His arms were quivering with intense
irritation. He exerted all his will to stop them, and then the hot
irritability commenced in his belly. Siegmund fidgeted in his chair
without changing his position. He had not the energy to get up and move
about. He fidgeted like an insect pinned down.
The door opened. He felt violently startled; yet there was no movement
perceptible. Vera entered, ostensibly for an autograph-album into which
she was going to copy a drawing from the London Opinion, really to see
what her father was doing. He did not move a muscle. He only longed
intensely for his daughter to go out of the room, so that he could let
go. Vera went out of the drawing-room humming to herself. Apparently she
had not even glanced at her father. In reality, she had observed
'He is sitting with his head in his hands,' she said to her mother.
Beatrice replied: 'I'm glad he's nothing else to do.'
'I should think he's pitying himself,' said Vera.
'He's a good one at it,' answered Beatrice.
Gwen came forward and took hold of her mother's skirt, looking up
'What is he doing, Mam?' she asked.
'Nothing,' replied her mother—'nothing; only sitting in the
'But what has he been doing?' persisted the anxious child.
'Nothing—nothing that I can tell you. He's only spoilt all our
The little girl stood regarding her mother In the greatest distress and
'But what will he do, Mam?' she asked.
'Nothing. Don't bother. Run and play with Marjory now. Do you want a
She took a yellow plum from the table. Gwen accepted it without a word.
She was too much perplexed.
'What do you say?' asked her mother.
'Thank you,' replied the child, turning away.
Siegmund sighed with relief when he was again left alone. He twisted in
his chair, and sighed again, trying to drive out the intolerable clawing
irritability from his belly.
'Ah, this is horrible!' he said.
He stiffened his muscles to quieten them.
'I've never been like this before. What is the matter?' he asked
But the question died out immediately. It seemed useless and sickening
to try and answer it. He began to cast about for an alleviation. If he
could only do something, or have something he wanted, it would
'What do I want?' he asked himself, and he anxiously strove to find this
Everything he suggested to himself made him sicken with weariness or
distaste: the seaside, a foreign land, a fresh life that he had often
dreamed of, farming in Canada.
'I should be just the same there,' he answered himself. 'Just the same
sickening feeling there that I want nothing.'
'Helena!' he suggested to himself, trembling.
But he only felt a deeper horror. The thought of her made him shrink
'I can't endure this,' he said. If this is the case, I had better be
dead. To have no want, no desire—that is death, to begin with.'
He rested awhile after this. The idea of death alone seemed
entertaining. Then, 'Is there really nothing I could turn to?' he
To him, in that state of soul, it seemed there was not.
'Helena!' he suggested again, appealingly testing himself. 'Ah, no!' he
cried, drawing sharply back, as from an approaching touch upon a
He groaned slightly as he breathed, with a horrid weight of nausea.
There was a fumbling upon the door-knob. Siegmund did not start. He
merely pulled himself together. Gwen pushed open the door, and stood
holding on to the door-knob looking at him.
'Dad, Mam says dinner's ready,' she announced.
Siegmund did not reply. The child waited, at a loss for some moments,
before she repeated, in a hesitating tone:
'All right,' said Siegmund. 'Go away.'
The little girl returned to the kitchen with tears in her eyes, very
'What did he say?' asked Beatrice.
'He shouted at me,' replied the little one, breaking into tears.
Beatrice flushed. Tears came into her own eyes. She took the child in
her arms and pressed her to her, kissing her forehead.
'Did he?' she said very tenderly. 'Never mind, then, dearie—never
The tears in her mother's voice made the child sob bitterly. Vera and
Marjory sat silent at table. The steak and mashed potatoes steamed and
When Helena arrived home on the Thursday evening she found everything
repulsive. All the odours of the sordid street through which she must
pass hung about the pavement, having crept out in the heat. The house
was bare and narrow. She remembered children sometimes to have brought
her moths shut up in matchboxes. As she knocked at the door she felt
like a numbed moth which a boy is pushing off its leaf-rest into
The door was opened by her mother. She was a woman whose sunken mouth,
ruddy cheeks, and quick brown eyes gave her the appearance of a bird
which walks about pecking suddenly here and there. As Helena reluctantly
entered the mother drew herself up, and immediately relaxed, seeming to
peck forwards as she said:
'Well, here we are!' replied the daughter in a matter-of-fact tone.
Her mother was inclined to be affectionate, therefore she became
'So I see,' exclaimed Mrs Verden, tossing her head in a peculiar jocular
manner. 'And what sort of a time have you had?'
'Oh, very good,' replied Helena, still more coolly.
Mrs Verden looked keenly at her daughter. She recognized the peculiar
sulky, childish look she knew so well, therefore, making an effort, she
forbore to question.
'You look well,' she said.
Helena smiled ironically.
'And are you ready for your supper?' she asked, in the playful,
affectionate manner she had assumed.
'If the supper is ready I will have it,' replied her daughter.
'Well, it's not ready.' The mother shut tight her sunken mouth, and
regarded her daughter with playful challenge. 'Because,' she continued,
'I didn't known when you were coming.' She gave a jerk with her arm,
like an orator who utters the incontrovertible. 'But,' she added, after
a tedious dramatic pause, 'I can soon have it ready. What will
'The full list of your capacious larder,' replied Helena.
Mrs Verden looked at her again, and hesitated.
'Will you have cocoa or lemonade?' she asked, coming to the point
'Lemonade,' said Helena.
Presently Mr Verden entered—a small, white-bearded man with a gentle
'Oh, so you are back, Nellie!' he said, in his quiet, reserved manner.
'As you see, Pater,' she answered.
'H'm!' he murmured, and he moved about at his accounts.
Neither of her parents dared to question Helena. They moved about her on
tiptoe, stealthily. Yet neither subserved her. Her father's quiet 'H'm!'
her mother's curt question, made her draw inwards like a snail which can
never retreat far enough from condemning eyes. She made a careless
pretence of eating. She was like a child which has done wrong, and will
not be punished, but will be left with the humiliating smear of
offence upon it.
There was a quick, light palpitating of the knocker. Mrs Verden went to
'Has she come?'
And there were hasty steps along the passage. Louisa entered. She flung
herself upon Helena and kissed her.
'How long have you been in?' she asked, in a voice trembling with
'Ten minutes,' replied Helena.
'Why didn't you send me the time of the train, so that I could come and
meet you?' Louisa reproached her.
'Why?' drawled Helena.
Louisa looked at her friend without speaking. She was deeply hurt by
As soon as possible Helena went upstairs. Louisa stayed with her that
night. On the next day they were going to Cornwall together for their
usual midsummer holiday. They were to be accompanied by a third girl—a
minor friend of Louisa, a slight acquaintance of Helena.
During the night neither of the two friends slept much. Helena made
confidences to Louisa, who brooded on these, on the romance and tragedy
which enveloped the girl she loved so dearly. Meanwhile, Helena's
thoughts went round and round, tethered amid the five days by the sea,
pulling forwards as far as the morrow's meeting with Siegmund, but
reaching no further.
Friday was an intolerable day of silence, broken by little tender
advances and playful, affectionate sallies on the part of the mother,
all of which were rapidly repulsed. The father said nothing, and avoided
his daughter with his eyes. In his humble reserve there was a dignity
which made his disapproval far more difficult to bear than the repeated
flagrant questionings of the mother's eyes. But the day wore on. Helena
pretended to read, and sat thinking. She played her violin a little,
mechanically. She went out into the town, and wandered about.
At last the night fell.
'Well,' said Helena to her mother, 'I suppose I'd better pack.'
'Haven't you done it?' cried Mrs Verden, exaggerating her surprise.
'You'll never have it done. I'd better help you. What times does the
'Ten minutes to ten.'
Her mother glanced at the clock. It was only half-past eight. There was
ample time for everything.
'Nevertheless, you'd better look sharp,' Mrs Verden said.
Helena turned away, weary of this exaggeration.
'I'll come with you to the station,' suggested Mrs Verden. 'I'll see the
last of you. We shan't see much of you just now.'
Helena turned round in surprise.
'Oh, I wouldn't bother,' she said, fearing to make her disapproval too
'Yes—I will—I'll see you off.'
Mrs Verden's animation and indulgence were remarkable. Usually she was
curt and undemonstrative. On occasions like these, however, when she was
reminded of the ideal relations between mother and daughter, she played
the part of the affectionate parent, much to the general distress.
Helena lit a candle and went to her bedroom. She quickly packed her
dress-basket. As she stood before the mirror to put on her hat, her
eyes, gazing heavily, met her heavy eyes in the mirror. She glanced away
swiftly as if she had been burned.
'How stupid I look!' she said to herself. 'And Siegmund, how is he, I
She wondered how Siegmund had passed the day, what had happened to him,
how he felt, how he looked. She thought of him protectively.
Having strapped her basket, she carried it downstairs. Her mother was
ready, with a white lace scarf round her neck. After a short time Louisa
came in. She dropped her basket in the passage, and then sank into
'I don't want to go, Nell,' she said, after a few moments of silence.
'Why, how is that?' asked Helena, not surprised, but condescending, as
to a child.
'Oh, I don't know; I'm tired,' said the other petulantly.
'Of course you are. What do you expect, after a day like this?' said
'And rushing about packing,' exclaimed Mrs Verden, still in an
exaggerated manner, this time scolding playfully.
'Oh, I don't know. I don't think I want to go, dear,' repeated Louisa
'Well, it is time we set out,' replied Helena, rising. 'Will you carry
the basket or the violin, Mater?'
Louisa rose, and with a forlorn expression took up her light luggage.
The west opposite the door was smouldering with sunset. Darkness is only
smoke that hangs suffocatingly over the low red heat of the sunken day.
Such was Helena's longed-for night. The tramcar was crowded. In one
corner Olive, the third friend, rose excitedly to greet them. Helena sat
mute, while the car swung through the yellow, stale lights of a
third-rate street of shops. She heard Olive remarking on her sunburned
face and arms; she became aware of the renewed inflammation in her
blistered arms; she heard her own curious voice answering. Everything
was in a maze. To the beat of the car, while the yellow blur of the
shops passed over her eyes, she repeated: 'Two hundred and forty
miles—two hundred and forty miles.'
Siegmund passed the afternoon in a sort of stupor. At tea-time Beatrice,
who had until then kept herself in restraint, gave way to an outburst of
'When does your engagement at the Comedy Theatre commence?' she had
asked him coldly.
He knew she was wondering about money.
'Tomorrow—if ever,' he had answered.
She was aware that he hated the work. For some reason or other her anger
flashed out like sudden lightning at his 'if ever'.
'What do you think you can do?' she cried. 'For I think you have done
enough. We can't do as we like altogether—indeed, indeed we cannot. You
have had your fling, haven't you? You have had your fling, and you want
to keep on. But there's more than one person in the world. Remember
that. But there are your children, let me remind you. Whose are they?
You talk about shirking the engagement, but who is going to be
responsible for your children, do you think?'
'I said nothing about shirking the engagement,' replied Siegmund, very
'No, there was no need to say. I know what it means. You sit there
sulking all day. What do you think I do? I have to see to the
children, I have to work and slave, I go on from day to day. I tell you
I'll stop, I tell you I'll do as I like. I'll go as well. No, I
wouldn't be such a coward, you know that. You know I wouldn't leave
little children—to the workhouse or anything. They're my children; they
mightn't be yours.'
'There is no need for this,' said Siegmund contemptuously.
The pressure in his temples was excruciating, and he felt loathsomely
Beatrice's dark eyes flashed with rage.
'Isn't there!' she cried. 'Oh, isn't there? No, there is need for a
great deal more. I don't know what you think I am. How much farther do
you' think you can go? No, you don't like reminding of us. You sit
moping, sulking, because you have to come back to your own children. I
wonder how much you think I shall stand? What do you think I am, to put
up with it? What do you think I am? Am I a servant to eat out of
'Be quiet!' shouted Siegmund. 'Don't I know what you are? Listen to
Beatrice was suddenly silenced. It was the stillness of white-hot wrath.
Even Siegmund was glad to hear her voice again. She spoke low and
'You coward—you miserable coward! It is I, is it, who am wrong? It is I
who am to blame, is it? You miserable thing! I have no doubt you know
what I am.'
Siegmund looked up at her as her words died off. She looked back at him
with dark eyes loathing his cowed, wretched animosity. His eyes were
bloodshot and furtive, his mouth was drawn back in a half-grin of hate
and misery. She was goading him, in his darkness whither he had
withdrawn himself like a sick dog, to die or recover as his strength
should prove. She tortured him till his sickness was swallowed by anger,
which glared redly at her as he pushed back his chair to rise. He
trembled too much, however. His chin dropped again on his chest.
Beatrice sat down in her place, hearing footsteps. She was shuddering
slightly, and her eyes were fixed.
Vera entered with the two children. All three immediately, as if they
found themselves confronted by something threatening, stood arrested.
Vera tackled the situation.
'Is the table ready to be cleared yet?' she asked in an unpleasant tone.
Her father's cup was half emptied. He had come to tea late, after the
others had left the table. Evidently he had not finished, but he made no
reply, neither did Beatrice. Vera glanced disgustedly at her father.
Gwen sidled up to her mother, and tried to break the tension.
'Mam, there was a lady had a dog, and it ran into a shop, and it licked
a sheep, Mam, what was hanging up.'
Beatrice sat fixed, and paid not the slightest attention. The child
looked up at her, waited, then continued softly.
'Mam, there was a lady had a dog—'
'Don't bother!' snapped Vera sharply.
The child looked, wondering and resentful, at her sister. Vera was
taking the things from the table, snatching them, and thrusting them on
the tray. Gwen's eyes rested a moment or two on the bent head of her
father; then deliberately she turned again to her mother, and repeated
in her softest and most persuasive tones:
'Mam, I saw a dog, and it ran in a butcher's shop and licked a piece of
meat. Mam, Mam!'
There was no answer. Gwen went forward and put her hand on her mother's
'Mam!' she pleaded timidly.
'Mam!' she whispered.
She was desperate. She stood on tiptoe, and pulled with little hands at
her mother's breast.
'Mam!' she whispered shrilly.
Her mother, with an effort of self-denial, put off her investment of
tragedy, and, laying her arm round the child's shoulders, drew her
close. Gwen was somewhat reassured, but not satisfied. With an earnest
face upturned to the impassive countenance of her mother, she began to
whisper, sibilant, coaxing, pleading.
'Mam, there was a lady, she had a dog—'
Vera turned sharply to stop this whispering, which was too much for her
nerves, but the mother forestalled her. Taking the child in her arms,
she averted her face, put her cheek against the baby cheek, and let the
tears run freely. Gwen was too much distressed to cry. The tears
gathered very slowly in her eyes, and fell without her having moved a
muscle in her face. Vera remained in the scullery, weeping tears of
rage, and pity, and shame into the towel. The only sound in the room was
the occasional sharp breathing of Beatrice. Siegmund sat without the
trace of a movement, almost without breathing. His head was ducked low;
he dared never lift it, he dared give no sign of his presence.
Presently Beatrice put down the child, and went to join Vera in the
scullery. There came the low sound of women's talking—an angry, ominous
sound. Gwen followed her mother. Her little voice could be heard
'Mam, is dad cross—is he? What did he do?'
'Don't bother!' snapped Vera. 'You are a little nuisance! Here, take
this into the dining-room, and don't drop it.'
The child did not obey. She stood looking from her mother to her sister.
The latter pushed a dish into her hand.
'Go along,' she said, gently thrusting the child forth.
Gwen departed. She hesitated in the kitchen. Her father still remained
unmoved. The child wished to go to him, to speak to him, but she was
afraid. She crossed the kitchen slowly, hugging the dish; then she came
slowly back, hesitating. She sidled into the kitchen; she crept round
the table inch by inch, drawing nearer her father. At about a yard from
the chair she stopped. He, from under his bent brows, could see her
small feet in brown slippers, nearly kicked through at the toes, waiting
and moving nervously near him. He pulled himself together, as a man does
who watches the surgeon's lancet suspended over his wound. Would the
child speak to him? Would she touch him with her small hands? He held
his breath, and, it seemed, held his heart from beating. What he should
do he did not know.
He waited in a daze of suspense. The child shifted from one foot to
another. He could just see the edge of her white-frilled drawers. He
wanted, above all things, to take her in his arms, to have something
against which to hide his face. Yet he was afraid. Often, when all the
world was hostile, he had found her full of love, he had hidden his face
against her, she had gone to sleep in his arms, she had been like a
piece of apple-blossom in his arms. If she should come to him now—his
heart halted again in suspense—he knew not what he would do. It would
open, perhaps, the tumour of his sickness. He was quivering too fast
with suspense to know what he feared, or wanted, or hoped.
'Gwen!' called Vera, wondering why she did not return. 'Gwen!'
'Yes,' answered the child, and slowly Siegmund saw her feet lifted,
hesitate, move, then turn away.
She had gone. His excitement sank rapidly, and the sickness returned
stronger, more horrible and wearying than ever. For a moment it was so
bad that he was afraid of losing consciousness. He recovered slightly,
pulled himself up, and went upstairs. His fists were tightly clenched,
his fingers closed over his thumbs, which were pressed bloodless. He lay
down on the bed.
For two hours he lay in a dazed condition resembling sleep. At the end
of that time the knowledge that he had to meet Helena was actively at
work—an activity quite apart from his will or his consciousness,
jogging and pulling him awake. At eight o'clock he sat up. A cramped
pain in his thumbs made him wonder. He looked at them, and mechanically
shut them again under his fingers into the position they sought after
two hours of similar constraint. Siegmund opened his hands
'It is said to be the sign of a weak, deceitful character,' he said to
His head was peculiarly numbed; at the back it felt heavy, as if
weighted with lead. He could think only one detached sentence at
intervals. Between-whiles there was a blank, grey sleep or swoon.
'I have got to go and meet Helena at Wimbledon,' he said to himself, and
instantly he felt a peculiar joy, as if he had laughed somewhere. 'But I
must be getting ready. I can't disappoint her,' said Siegmund.
The idea of Helena woke a craving for rest in him. If he should say to
her, 'Do not go away from me; come with me somewhere,' then he might lie
down somewhere beside her, and she might put her hands on his head. If
she could hold his head in her hands—for she had fine, silken hands
that adjusted themselves with a rare pressure, wrapping his weakness up
in life—then his head would gradually grow healed, and he could rest.
This was the one thing that remained for his restoration—that she
should with long, unwearying gentleness put him to rest. He longed for
it utterly—for the hands and the restfulness of Helena.
'But it is no good,' he said, staring like a drunken man from sleep.
'What time is it?'
It was ten minutes to nine. She would be in Wimbledon by 10.10. It was
time he should be getting ready. Yet he remained sitting on the bed.
'I am forgetting again,' he said. 'But I do not want to go. What is the
good? I have only to tie a mask on for the meeting. It is too much.'
He waited and waited; his head dropped forward in a sort of sleep.
Suddenly he started awake. The back of his head hurt severely.
'Goodness,' he said, 'it's getting quite dark!'
It was twenty minutes to ten. He went bewildered into the bathroom to
wash in cold water and bring back his senses. His hands were sore, and
his face blazed with sun inflammation. He made himself neat as usual. It
was ten minutes to ten. He would be very late. It was practically dark,
though these bright days were endless. He wondered whether the children
were in bed. It was too late, however, to wonder.
Siegmund hurried downstairs and took his hat. He was walking down the
path when the door was snatched open behind him, and Vera ran
'Are you going out? Where are you going?'
Siegmund stood still and looked at her.
'She is frightened,' he said to himself, smiling ironically.
'I am only going a walk. I have to go to Wimbledon. I shall not be very
'Wimbledon, at this time!' said Vera sharply, full of suspicion.
'Yes, I am late. I shall be back in an hour.'
He was sorry for her. She knew he gave her an honourable promise.
'You need not keep us sitting up,' she said.
He did not answer, but hurried to the station.
Helena, Louisa, and Olive climbed the steps to go to the South-Western
platform. They were laden with dress-baskets, umbrellas, and little
packages. Olive and Louisa, at least, were in high spirits. Olive
stopped before the indicator.
'The next train for Waterloo,' she announced, in her contralto voice,
'is 10.30. It is now 10.12.'
'We go by the 10.40; it is a better train,' said Helena.
Olive turned to her with a heavy-arch manner.
'Very well, dear. There is a parting to be got through, I am told. We
sympathize, dear, but we regret it. Starting for a holiday is always a
prolonged agony. But I am strong to endure it.'
'You look it. You look as if you could tackle a bull,' cried Louisa,
'My dear Louisa,' rang out Olive's contralto, 'don't judge me by
appearances. You're sure to be taken in. With me it's a case of
'"Oh, the gladness of her gladness when she's sad,
And the sadness of her sadness when she's glad!"'
She looked round to see the effect of this. Helena, expected to say
something, chimed in sarcastically:
'"They are nothing to her madness—"'
'When she's going for a holiday, dear,' cried Olive.
'Oh, go on being mad,' cried Louisa.
'What, do you like it? I thought you'd be thanking Heaven that sanity
was given me in large doses.'
'And holidays in small,' laughed Louisa. 'Good! No, I like your madness,
if you call it such. You are always so serious.'
'"It's ill talking of halters in the house of the hanged," dear,' boomed
She looked from side to side. She felt triumphant. Helena smiled,
acknowledging the sarcasm.
'But,' said Louisa, smiling anxiously, 'I don't quite see it. What's the
'Well, to be explicit, dear,' replied Olive, 'it is hardly safe to
accuse me of sadness and seriousness in this trio.'
Louisa laughed and shook herself.
'Come to think of it, it isn't,' she said.
Helena sighed, and walked down the platform. Her heart was beating
thickly; she could hardly breathe. The station lamps hung low, so they
made a ceiling of heat and dusty light. She suffocated under them. For a
moment she beat with hysteria, feeling, as most of us feel when sick on
a hot summer night, as if she must certainly go crazed, smothered under
the grey, woolly blanket of heat. Siegmund was late. It was already
twenty-five minutes past ten.
She went towards the booking-office. At that moment Siegmund came on to
'Here I am!' he said. 'Where is Louisa?'
Helena pointed to the seat without answering. She was looking at
Siegmund. He was distracted by the excitement of the moment, so she
could not read him.
'Olive is there, too,' she explained.
Siegmund stood still, straining his eyes to see the two women seated
amidst pale wicker dress-baskets and dark rugs. The stranger made things
'Does she—your other friend—does she know?' he asked.
'She knows nothing,' replied Helena in a low tone, as she led him
forward to be introduced.
'How do you do?' replied Olive in most mellow contralto. 'Behold the
dauntless three, with their traps! You will see us forth on our perils?'
'I will, since I may not do more,' replied Siegmund, smiling,
continuing: 'And how is Sister Louisa?'
'She is very well, thank you. It is her turn now,' cried Louisa,
There was always a faint animosity in her bearing towards Siegmund. He
understood, and smiled at her enmity, for the two were really
'It is your turn now,' he repeated, smiling, and he turned away.
He and Helena walked down the platform.
'How did you find things at home?' he asked her.
'Oh, as usual,' she replied indifferently. 'And you?'
'Just the same,' he answered. He thought for a moment or two, then
added: 'The children are happier without me.'
'Oh, you mustn't say that kind of thing protested Helena miserably.
'It's not true.'
'It's all right, dear,' he answered. 'So long as they are happy, it's
all right.' After a pause he added: 'But I feel pretty bad tonight.'
Helena's hand tightened on his arm. He had reached the end of the
platform. There he stood, looking up the line which ran dark under a
haze of lights. The high red signal-lamps hung aloft in a scarlet swarm;
farther off, like spangles shaking downwards from a burst sky-rocket,
was a tangle of brilliant red and green signal-lamps settling. A train
with the warm flare on its thick column of smoke came thundering upon
the lovers. Dazed, they felt the yellow bar of carriage-windows brush in
vibration across their faces. The ground and the air rocked. Then
Siegmund turned his head to watch the red and the green lights in the
rear of the train swiftly dwindle on the darkness. Still watching the
distance where the train had vanished, he said:
'Dear, I want you to promise that, whatever happens to me, you will go
on. Remember, dear, two wrongs don't make a right.'
Helena swiftly, with a movement of terror, faced him, looking into his
eyes. But he was in the shadow, she could not see him. The flat sound of
his voice, lacking resonance—the dead, expressionless tone—made her
lose her presence of mind. She stared at him blankly.
'What do you mean? What has happened? Something has happened to you.
What has happened at home? What are you going to do?' she said sharply.
She palpitated with terror. For the first time she felt powerless.
Siegmund was beyond her grasp. She was afraid of him. He had shaken away
her hold over him.
'There is nothing fresh the matter at home,' he replied wearily. He was
to be scourged with emotion again. 'I swear it,' he added. 'And I have
not made up my mind. But I can't think of life without you—and life
must go on.'
'And I swear,' she said wrathfully, turning at bay, 'that I won't live a
day after you.'
Siegmund dropped his head. The dead spring of his emotion swelled up
scalding hot again. Then he said, almost inaudibly: 'Ah, don't speak to
me like that, dear. It is late to be angry. When I have seen your train
out tonight there is nothing left.'
Helena looked at him, dumb with dismay, stupid, angry.
They became aware of the porters shouting loudly that the Waterloo train
was to leave from another platform.
'You'd better come,' said Siegmund, and they hurried down towards Louisa
'We've got to change platforms,' cried Louisa, running forward and
excitedly announcing the news.
'Yes,' replied Helena, pale and impassive.
Siegmund picked up the luggage.
'I say,' cried Olive, rushing to catch Helena and Louisa by the arm,
'look—look—both of you—look at that hat!' A lady in front was wearing
on her hat a wild and dishevelled array of peacock feathers. 'It's the
sight of a lifetime. I wouldn't have you miss it,' added Olive in hoarse
'Indeed not!' cried Helena, turning in wild exasperation to look. 'Get a
good view of it, Olive. Let's have a good mental impression of it—one
that will last.'
'That's right, dear,' said Olive, somewhat nonplussed by this outburst.
Siegmund had escaped with the heaviest two bags. They could see him
ahead, climbing the steps. Olive readjusted herself from the wildly
animated to the calmly ironical.
'After all, dear,' she said, as they hurried in the tail of the crowd,
'it's not half a bad idea to get a man on the job.'
Louisa laughed aloud at this vulgar conception of Siegmund.
'Just now, at any rate,' she rejoined.
As they reached the platform the train ran in before them. Helena
watched anxiously for an empty carriage. There was not one.
'Perhaps it is as well,' she thought. 'We needn't talk. There will be
three-quarters of an hour at Waterloo. If we were alone. Olive would
make Siegmund talk.'
She found a carriage with four people, and hastily took possession.
Siegmund followed her with the bags. He swung these on the rack, and
then quickly received the rugs, umbrellas, and packages from the other
two. These he put on the seats or anywhere, while Helena stowed them.
She was very busy for a moment or two; the racks were full. Other people
entered; their luggage was troublesome to bestow.
When she turned round again she found Louisa and Olive seated, but
Siegmund was outside on the platform, and the door was closed. He saw
her face move as if she would cry to him. She restrained herself, and
'You are coming? Oh, you are coming to Waterloo?'
He shook his head.
'I cannot come,' he said.
She stood looking blankly at him for some moments, unable to reach the
door because of the portmanteau thrust through with umbrellas and
sticks, which stood on the floor between the knees of the passengers.
She was helpless. Siegmund was repeating deliriously in his mind:
'Oh—go—go—go—when will she go?'
He could not bear her piteousness. Her presence made him feel insane.
'Would you like to come to the window?' a man asked of Helena kindly.
She smiled suddenly in his direction, without perceiving him. He pulled
the portmanteau under his legs, and Helena edged past. She stood by the
door, leaning forward with some of her old protective grace, her 'Hawwa'
spirit evident. Benign and shielding, she bent forward, looking at
Siegmund. But her face was blank with helplessness, with misery of
helplessness. She stood looking at Siegmund, saying nothing. His
forehead was scorched and swollen, she noticed sorrowfully, and beneath
one eye the skin was blistered. His eyes were bloodshot and glazed in a
kind of apathy; they filled her with terror. He looked up at her because
she wished it. For himself, he could not see her; he could only recoil
from her. All he wished was to hide himself in the dark, alone. Yet she
wanted him, and so far he yielded. But to go to Waterloo he could
The people in the carriage, made uneasy by this strange farewell, did
not speak. There were a few taut moments of silence. No one seems to
have strength to interrupt these spaces of irresolute anguish. Finally,
the guard's whistle went. Siegmund and Helena clasped hands. A warm
flush of love and healthy grief came over Siegmund for the last time.
The train began to move, drawing Helena's hand from his.
'Monday,' she whispered—'Monday,' meaning that on Monday she should
receive a letter from him. He nodded, turned, hesitated, looked at her,
turned and walked away. She remained at the window watching him depart.
'Now, dear, we are manless,' said Olive in a whisper. But her attempt at
a joke fell dead. Everybody was silent and uneasy.
He hurried down the platform, wincing at every stride, from the memory
of Helena's last look of mute, heavy yearning. He gripped his fists till
they trembled; his thumbs were again closed under his fingers. Like a
picture on a cloth before him he still saw Helena's face, white,
rounded, in feature quite mute and expressionless, just made terrible by
the heavy eyes, pleading dumbly. He thought of her going on and on,
still at the carriage window looking out; all through the night rushing
west and west to the land of Isolde. Things began to haunt Siegmund like
a delirium. He knew not where he was hurrying. Always in front of him,
as on a cloth, was the face of Helena, while somewhere behind the cloth
was Cornwall, a far-off lonely place where darkness came on intensely.
Sometimes he saw a dim, small phantom in the darkness of Cornwall, very
far off. Then the face of Helena, white, inanimate as a mask, with heavy
eyes, came between again.
He was almost startled to find himself at home, in the porch of his
house. The door opened. He remembered to have heard the quick thud of
feet. It was Vera. She glanced at him, but said nothing. Instinctively
she shrank from him. He passed without noticing her. She stood on the
door-mat, fastening the door, striving to find something to say to him.
'You have been over an hour,' she said, still more troubled when she
found her voice shaking. She had no idea what alarmed her.
'Ay,' returned Siegmund.
He went into the dining-room and dropped into his chair, with his head
between his hands. Vera followed him nervously.
'Will you have anything to eat?' she asked.
He looked up at the table, as if the supper laid there were curious and
incomprehensible. The delirious lifting of his eyelids showed the whole
of the dark pupils and the bloodshot white of his eyes. Vera held her
breath with fear. He sank his head again and said nothing. Vera sat down
and waited. The minutes ticked slowly off. Siegmund neither moved nor
spoke. At last the clock struck midnight. She was weary with sleep,
querulous with trouble.
'Aren't you going to bed?' she asked.
Siegmund heard her without paying any attention. He seemed only to half
hear. Vera waited awhile, then repeated plaintively:
'Aren't you going to bed, Father?'
Siegmund lifted his head and looked at her. He loathed the idea of
having to move. He looked at her confusedly.
'Yes, I'm going,' he said, and his head dropped again. Vera knew he was
not asleep. She dared not leave him till he was in his bedroom. Again
she sat waiting.
'Father!' she cried at last.
He started up, gripping the arms of his chair, trembling.
'Yes, I'm going,' he said.
He rose, and went unevenly upstairs. Vera followed him close behind.
'If he reels and falls backwards he will kill me,' she thought, but he
did not fall. From habit he went into the bathroom. While trying to
brush his teeth he dropped the tooth-brush on to the floor.
'I'll pick it up in the morning,' he said, continuing deliriously: 'I
must go to bed—I must go to bed—I am very tired.' He stumbled over the
door mat into his own room.
Vera was standing behind the unclosed door of her room. She heard the
sneck of his lock. She heard the water still running in the bathroom,
trickling with the mysterious sound of water at dead of night. Screwing
up her courage, she went and turned off the tap. Then she stood again in
her own room, to be near the companionable breathing of her sleeping
sister, listening. Siegmund undressed quickly. His one thought was to
get into bed.
'One must sleep,' he said as he dropped his clothes on the floor. He
could not find the way to put on his sleeping-jacket, and that made him
pant. Any little thing that roused or thwarted his mechanical action
aggravated his sickness till his brain seemed to be bursting. He got
things right at last, and was in bed.
Immediately he lapsed into a kind of unconsciousness. He would have
called it sleep, but such it was not. All the time he could feel his
brain working ceaselessly, like a machine running with unslackening
rapidity. This went on, interrupted by little flickerings of
consciousness, for three or four hours. Each time he had a glimmer of
consciousness he wondered if he made any noise.
'What am I doing? What is the matter? Am I unconscious? Do I make any
noise? Do I disturb them?' he wondered, and he tried to cast back to
find the record of mechanical sense impression. He believed he could
remember the sound of inarticulate murmuring in his throat. Immediately
he remembered, he could feel his throat producing the sounds. This
frightened him. Above all things, he was afraid of disturbing the
family. He roused himself to listen. Everything was breathing in
silence. As he listened to this silence he relapsed into his sort
He was awakened finally by his own perspiration. He was terribly hot.
The pillow, the bedclothes, his hair, all seemed to be steaming with hot
vapour, whilst his body was bathed in sweat. It was coming light.
Immediately he shut his eyes again and lay still. He was now conscious,
and his brain was irritably active, but his body was a separate thing, a
terrible, heavy, hot thing over which he had slight control.
Siegmund lay still, with his eyes closed, enduring the exquisite torture
of the trickling of drops of sweat. First it would be one gathering and
running its irregular, hesitating way into the hollow of his neck. His
every nerve thrilled to it, yet he felt he could not move more than to
stiffen his throat slightly. While yet the nerves in the track of this
drop were quivering, raw with sensitiveness, another drop would start
from off the side of his chest, and trickle downwards among the little
muscles of his side, to drip on to the bed. It was like the running of a
spider over his sensitive, moveless body. Why he did not wipe himself he
did not know. He lay still and endured this horrible tickling, which
seemed to bite deep into him, rather than make the effort to move, which
he loathed to do. The drops ran off his forehead down his temples. Those
he did not mind: he was blunt there. But they started again, in tiny,
vicious spurts, down the sides of his chest, from under his armpits,
down the inner sides of his thighs, till he seemed to have a myriad
quivering tracks of a myriad running insects over his hot, wet,
highly-sensitized body. His nerves were trembling, one and all, with
outrage and vivid suspense. It became unbearable. He felt that, if he
endured it another moment, he would cry out, or suffocate and burst.
He sat up suddenly, threw away the bedclothes, from which came a puff of
hot steam, and began to rub his pyjamas against his sides and his legs.
He rubbed madly for a few moments. Then he sighed with relief. He sat on
the side of the bed, moving from the hot dampness of the place where he
had lain. For a moment he thought he would go to sleep. Then, in an
instant his brain seemed to click awake. He was still as loath as ever
to move, but his brain was no longer clouded in hot vapour: it was
clear. He sat, bowing forward on the side of the bed, his
sleeping-jacket open, the dawn stealing into the room, the morning air
entering fresh through the wide-flung window-door. He felt a peculiar
sense of guilt, of wrongness, in thus having jumped out of bed. It
seemed to him as if he ought to have endured the heat of his body, and
the infernal trickling of the drops of sweat. But at the thought of it
he moved his hands gratefully over his sides, which now were dry, and
soft, and smooth; slightly chilled on the surface perhaps, for he felt a
sudden tremor of shivering from the warm contact of his hands.
Siegmund sat up straight: his body was re-animated. He felt the pillow
and the groove where he had lain. It was quite wet and clammy. There was
a scent of sweat on the bed, not really unpleasant, but he wanted
something fresh and cool.
Siegmund sat in the doorway that gave on to the small veranda. The air
was beautifully cool. He felt his chest again to make sure it was not
clammy. It was smooth as silk. This pleased him very much. He looked out
on the night again, and was startled. Somewhere the moon was shining
duskily, in a hidden quarter of sky; but straight in front of him, in
the northwest, silent lightning was fluttering. He waited breathlessly
to see if it were true. Then, again, the pale lightning jumped up into
the dome of the fading night. It was like a white bird stirring
restlessly on its nest. The night was drenching thinner, greyer. The
lightning, like a bird that should have flown before the arm of day,
moved on its nest in the boughs of darkness, raised itself, flickered
its pale wings rapidly, then sank again, loath to fly. Siegmund watched
it with wonder and delight.
The day was pushing aside the boughs of darkness, hunting. The poor moon
would be caught when the net was flung. Siegmund went out on the balcony
to look at it. There it was, like a poor white mouse, a half-moon,
crouching on the mound of its course. It would run nimbly over to the
western slope, then it would be caught in the net, and the sun would
laugh, like a great yellow cat, as it stalked behind playing with its
prey, flashing out its bright paws. The moon, before making its last
run, lay crouched, palpitating. The sun crept forth, laughing to itself
as it saw its prey could not escape. The lightning, however, leaped low
off the nest like a bird decided to go, and flew away. Siegmund no
longer saw it opening and shutting its wings in hesitation amid the
disturbance of the dawn. Instead there came a flush, the white lightning
gone. The brief pink butterflies of sunrise and sunset rose up from the
mown fields of darkness, and fluttered low in a cloud. Even in the west
they flew in a narrow, rosy swarm. They separated, thinned, rising
higher. Some, flying up, became golden. Some flew rosy gold across the
moon, the mouse-moon motionless with fear. Soon the pink butterflies had
gone, leaving a scarlet stretch like a field of poppies in the fens. As
a wind, the light of day blew in from the east, puff after puff filling
with whiteness the space which had been the night. Siegmund sat watching
the last morning blowing in across the mown darkness, till the whole
field of the world was exposed, till the moon was like a dead mouse
which floats on water.
When the few birds had called in the August morning, when the cocks had
finished their crowing, when the minute sounds of the early day were
astir, Siegmund shivered disconsolate. He felt tired again, yet he knew
he could not sleep. The bed was repulsive to him. He sat in his chair at
the open door, moving uneasily. What should have been sleep was an ache
and a restlessness. He turned and twisted in his chair.
'Where is Helena?' he asked himself, and he looked out on the morning.
Everything out of doors was unreal, like a show, like a peepshow. Helena
was an actress somewhere in the brightness of this view. He alone was
out of the piece. He sighed petulantly, pressing back his shoulders as
if they ached. His arms, too, ached with irritation, while his head
seemed to be hissing with angry irritability. For a long time he sat
with clenched teeth, merely holding himself in check. In his present
state of irritability everything that occurred to his mind stirred him
with dislike or disgust. Helena, music, the pleasant company of friends,
the sunshine of the country, each, as it offered itself to his thoughts,
was met by an angry contempt, was rejected scornfully. As nothing could
please or distract him, the only thing that remained was to support the
discord. He felt as if he were a limb out of joint from the body of
life: there occurred to his imagination a disjointed finger, swollen and
discoloured, racked with pains. The question was, How should he reset
himself into joint? The body of life for him meant Beatrice, his
children, Helena, the Comic Opera, his friends of the orchestra. How
could he set himself again into joint with these? It was impossible.
Towards his family he would henceforward have to bear himself with
humility. That was a cynicism. He would have to leave Helena, which he
could not do. He would have to play strenuously, night after night, the
music of The Saucy Little Switzer which was absurd. In fine, it was
all absurd and impossible. Very well, then, that being so, what remained
possible? Why, to depart. 'If thine hand offend thee, cut it off.' He
could cut himself off from life. It was plain and straightforward.
But Beatrice, his young children, without him! He was bound by an
agreement which there was no discrediting to provide for them. Very
well, he must provide for them. And then what? Humiliation at home,
Helena forsaken, musical comedy night after night. That was
insufferable—impossible! Like a man tangled up in a rope, he was not
strong enough to free himself. He could not break with Helena and return
to a degrading life at home; he could not leave his children and go
Very well, it was impossible! Then there remained only one door which he
could open in this prison corridor of life. Siegmund looked round the
room. He could get his razor, or he could hang himself. He had thought
of the two ways before. Yet now he was unprovided. His portmanteau stood
at the foot of the bed, its straps flung loose. A portmanteau strap
would do. Then it should be a portmanteau strap!
'Very well!' said Siegmund, 'it is finally settled. I had better write
to Helena, and tell her, and say to her she must go on. I'd better
He sat for a long time with his notebook and a pencil, but he wrote
nothing. At last he gave up.
'Perhaps it is just as well,' he said to himself. 'She said she would
come with me—perhaps that is just as well. She will go to the sea. When
she knows, the sea will take her. She must know.'
He took a card, bearing her name and her Cornwall address, from his
pocket-book, and laid it on the dressing-table.
'She will come with me,' he said to himself, and his heart rose with
'That is a cowardice,' he added, looking doubtfully at the card, as if
wondering whether to destroy it.
'It is in the hands of God. Beatrice may or may not send word to her at
Tintagel. It is in the hands of God,' he concluded.
Then he sat down again.
'"But for that fear of something after-death,"' he quoted to himself.
'It is not fear,' he said. 'The act itself will be horrible and
fearsome, but the after-death—it's no more than struggling awake when
you're sick with a fright of dreams. "We are such stuff as dreams are
Siegmund sat thinking of the after-death, which to him seemed so
wonderfully comforting, full of rest, and reassurance, and renewal. He
experienced no mystical ecstasies. He was sure of a wonderful kindness
in death, a kindness which really reached right through life, though
here he could not avail himself of it. Siegmund had always inwardly held
faith that the heart of life beat kindly towards him. When he was
cynical and sulky he knew that in reality it was only a waywardness
The heart of life is implacable in its kindness. It may not be moved to
fluttering of pity; it swings on uninterrupted by cries of anguish or
Siegmund was thankful for this unfaltering sternness of life. There was
no futile hesitation between doom and pity. Therefore, he could submit
and have faith. If each man by his crying could swerve the slow, sheer
universe, what a doom of guilt he might gain. If Life could swerve from
its orbit for pity, what terror of vacillation; and who would wish to
bear the responsibility of the deflection?
Siegmund thanked God that life was pitiless, strong enough to take his
treasures out of his hands, and to thrust him out of the room;
otherwise, how could he go with any faith to death; otherwise, he would
have felt the helpless disillusion of a youth who finds his infallible
parents weaker than himself.
'I know the heart of life is kind,' said Siegmund, 'because I feel it.
Otherwise I would live in defiance. But Life is greater than me or
anybody. We suffer, and we don't know why, often. Life doesn't explain.
But I can keep faith in it, as a dog has faith in his master. After all,
Life is as kind to me as I am to my dog. I have, proportionally, as much
zest. And my purpose towards my dog is good. I need not despair
It occurred to Siegmund that he was meriting the old gibe of the
atheists. He was shirking the responsibility of himself, turning it over
to an imaginary god.
'Well,' he said, 'I can't help it. I do not feel altogether
The morning had waxed during these investigations. Siegmund had been
vaguely aware of the rousing of the house. He was finally startled into
a consciousness of the immediate present by the calling of Vera at
'There are two letters for you. Father.'
He looked about him in bewilderment; the hours had passed in a trance,
and he had no idea of his time or place.
'Oh, all right,' he said, too much dazed to know what it meant. He heard
his daughter going downstairs. Then swiftly returned over him the
throbbing ache of his head and his arms, the discordant jarring of
'What made her bring me the letters?' he asked himself. It was a very
unusual attention. His heart replied, very sullen and shameful: 'She
wanted to know; she wanted to make sure I was all right.'
Siegmund forgot all his speculations on a divine benevolence. The
discord of his immediate situation overcame every harmony. He did not
fetch in the letters.
'Is it so late?' he said. 'Is there no more time for me?'
He went to look at his watch. It was a quarter to nine. As he walked
across the room he trembled, and a sickness made his bones feel rotten.
He sat down on the bed.
'What am I going to do?' he asked himself.
By this time he was shuddering rapidly. A peculiar feeling, as if his
belly were turned into nothingness, made him want to press his fists
into his abdomen. He remained shuddering drunkenly, like a drunken man
who is sick, incapable of thought or action.
A second knock came at the door. He started with a jolt.
'Here is your shaving-water,' said Beatrice in cold tones. 'It's half
'All right,' said Siegmund, rising from the bed, bewildered.
'And what time shall you expect dinner?' asked Beatrice. She was still
'Any time. I'm not going out,' he answered.
He was surprised to hear the ordinary cool tone of his own voice, for he
was shuddering uncontrollably, and was almost sobbing. In a shaking,
bewildered, disordered condition he set about fulfilling his purpose. He
was hardly conscious of anything he did; try as he would, he could not
keep his hands steady in the violent spasms of shuddering, nor could he
call his mind to think. He was one shuddering turmoil. Yet he performed
his purpose methodically and exactly. In every particular he was
thorough, as if he were the servant of some stern will. It was a
mesmeric performance, in which the agent trembled with
Siegmund's lying late in bed made Beatrice very angry. The later it
became, the more wrathful she grew. At half past nine she had taken up
his shaving-water. Then she proceeded to tidy the dining-room, leaving
the breakfast spread in the kitchen.
Vera and Frank were gone up to town; they would both be home for dinner
at two o'clock. Marjory was despatched on an errand, taking Gwen with
her. The children had no need to return home immediately, therefore it
was highly probable they would play in the field or in the lane for an
hour or two. Beatrice was alone downstairs. It was a hot, still morning,
when everything outdoors shone brightly, and all indoors was dusked with
coolness and colour. But Beatrice was angry. She moved rapidly and
determinedly about the dining-room, thrusting old newspapers and
magazines between the cupboard and the wall, throwing the litter in the
grate, which was clear, Friday having been charwoman's day, passing
swiftly, lightly over the front of the furniture with the duster. It was
Saturday, when she did not spend much time over the work. In the
afternoon she was going out with Vera. That was not, however, what
occupied her mind as she brushed aside her work. She had determined to
have a settlement with Siegmund, as to how matters should continue. She
was going to have no more of the past three years' life; things had come
to a crisis, and there must be an alteration. Beatrice was going to do
battle, therefore she flew at her work, thus stirring herself up to a
proper heat of blood. All the time, as she thrust things out of sight,
or straightened a cover, she listened for Siegmund to come downstairs.
He did not come, so her anger waxed.
'He can lie skulking in bed!' she said to herself. 'Here I've been up
since seven, broiling at it. I should think he's pitying himself. He
ought to have something else to do. He ought to have to go out to work
every morning, like another man, as his son has to do. He has had too
little work. He has had too much his own way. But it's come to a stop
now. I'll servant-housekeeper him no longer.'
Beatrice went to clean the step of the front door. She clanged the
bucket loudly, every minute becoming more and more angry. That piece of
work finished, she went into the kitchen. It was twenty past ten. Her
wrath was at ignition point. She cleared all the things from the table
and washed them up. As she was so doing, her anger, having reached full
intensity without bursting into flame, began to dissipate in uneasiness.
She tried to imagine what Siegmund would do and say to her. As she was
wiping a cup, she dropped it, and the smash so unnerved her that her
hands trembled almost too much to finish drying the things and putting
them away. At last it was done. Her next piece of work was to make the
beds. She took her pail and went upstairs. Her heart was beating so
heavily in her throat that she had to stop on the landing to recover
breath. She dreaded the combat with him. Suddenly controlling herself,
she said loudly at Siegmund's door, her voice coldly hostile:
'Aren't you going to get up?'
There was not the faintest sound in the house. Beatrice stood in the
gloom of the landing, her heart thudding in her ears.
'It's after half past ten—aren't you going to get up?' she called.
She waited again. Two letters lay unopened on a small table. Suddenly
she put down her pail and went into the bathroom. The pot of
shaving-water stood untouched on the shelf, just as she had left it. She
returned and knocked swiftly at her husband's door, not speaking. She
waited, then she knocked again, loudly, a long time. Something in the
sound of her knocking made her afraid to try again. The noise was dull
and thudding: it did not resound through the house with a natural ring,
so she thought. She ran downstairs in terror, fled out into the front
garden, and there looked up at his room. The window-door was
open—everything seemed quiet.
Beatrice stood vacillating. She picked up a few tiny pebbles and flung
them in a handful at his door. Some spattered on the panes sharply; some
dropped dully in the room. One clinked on the wash-hand bowl. There was
no response. Beatrice was terribly excited. She ran, with her black eyes
blazing, and wisps of her black hair flying about her thin temples, out
on to the road. By a mercy she saw the window-cleaner just pushing his
ladder out of the passage of a house a little farther down the road. She
hurried to him.
'Will you come and see if there's anything wrong with my husband?' she
'Why, mum?' answered the window-cleaner, who knew her, and was humbly
familiar. 'Is he taken bad or something? Yes, I'll come.'
He was a tall thin man with a brown beard. His clothes were all so
loose, his trousers so baggy, that he gave one the impression his limbs
must be bone, and his body a skeleton. He pushed at his ladders with
'Where is he, Mum?' he asked officiously, as they slowed down at the
'He's in his bedroom, and I can't get an answer from him.'
'Then I s'll want a ladder,' said the window-cleaner, proceeding to lift
one off his trolley. He was in a very great bustle. He knew which was
Siegmund's room: he had often seen Siegmund rise from some music he was
studying and leave the drawing-room when the window-cleaning began, and
afterwards he had found him in the small front bedroom. He also knew
there were matrimonial troubles: Beatrice was not reserved.
'Is it the least of the front rooms he's in?' asked the window-cleaner.
'Yes, over the porch,' replied Beatrice.
The man bustled with his ladder.
'It's easy enough,' he said. 'The door's open, and we're soon on the
He set the ladder securely. Beatrice cursed him for a slow, officious
fool. He tested the ladder, to see it was safe, then he cautiously
clambered up. At the top he stood leaning sideways, bending over the
ladder to peer into the room. He could see all sorts of things, for he
'I say there!' he called loudly.
Beatrice stood below in horrible suspense.
'Go in!' she cried. 'Go in! Is he there?'
The man stepped very cautiously with one foot on to the balcony, and
peered forward. But the glass door reflected into his eyes. He followed
slowly with the other foot, and crept forward, ready at any moment to
'Hie, hie!' he suddenly cried in terror, and he drew back.
Beatrice was opening her mouth to scream, when the window-cleaner
exclaimed weakly, as if dubious:
'I believe 'e's 'anged 'imself from the door-'ooks!'
'No!' cried Beatrice. 'No, no, no!'
'I believe 'e 'as!' repeated the man.
'Go in and see if he's dead!' cried Beatrice.
The man remained in the doorway, peering fixedly.
'I believe he is,' he said doubtfully.
'No—go and see!' screamed Beatrice.
The man went into the room, trembling, hesitating. He approached the
body as if fascinated. Shivering, he took it round the loins and tried
to lift it down. It was too heavy.
'I know!' he said to himself, once more bustling now he had something to
do. He took his clasp-knife from his pocket, jammed the body between
himself and the door so that it should not drop, and began to saw his
way through the leathern strap. It gave. He started, and clutched the
body, dropping his knife. Beatrice, below in the garden, hearing the
scuffle and the clatter, began to scream in hysteria. The man hauled the
body of Siegmund, with much difficulty, on to the bed, and with
trembling fingers tried to unloose the buckle in which the strap ran. It
was bedded in Siegmund's neck. The window-cleaner tugged at it
frantically, till he got it loose. Then he looked at Siegmund. The dead
man lay on the bed with swollen, discoloured face, with his
sleeping-jacket pushed up in a bunch under his armpits, leaving his side
naked. Beatrice was screaming below. The window-cleaner, quite unnerved,
ran from the room and scrambled down the ladder. Siegmund lay heaped on
the bed, his sleeping-suit twisted and bunched up about him, his face
Helena was dozing down in the cove at Tintagel. She and Louisa and Olive
lay on the cool sands in the shadow, and steeped themselves in rest, in
a cool, sea-fragrant tranquillity.
The journey down had been very tedious. After waiting for half an hour
in the midnight turmoil of an August Friday in Waterloo station, they
had seized an empty carriage, only to be followed by five
north-countrymen, all of whom were affected by whisky. Olive, Helena,
Louisa, occupied three corners of the carriage. The men were distributed
between them. The three women were not alarmed. Their tipsy travelling
companions promised to be tiresome, but they had a frank honesty of
manner that placed them beyond suspicion. The train drew out westward.
Helena began to count the miles that separated her from Siegmund. The
north-countrymen began to be jolly: they talked loudly in their uncouth
English; they sang the music-hall songs of the day; they furtively drank
whisky. Through all this they were polite to the girls. As much could
hardly be said in return of Olive and Louisa. They leaned forward
whispering one to another. They sat back in their seats laughing, hiding
their laughter by turning their backs on the men, who were a trifle
disconcerted by this amusement.
The train spun on and on. Little homely clusters of lamps, suggesting
the quiet of country life, turned slowly round through the darkness. The
men dropped into a doze. Olive put a handkerchief over her face and went
to sleep. Louisa gradually nodded and jerked into slumber. Helena sat
weariedly and watched the rolling of the sleeping travellers and the
dull blank of the night sheering off outside. Neither the men nor the
women looked well asleep. They lurched and nodded stupidly. She thought
of Bazarof in Fathers and Sons, endorsing his opinion on the
appearance of sleepers: all but Siegmund. Was Siegmund asleep? She
imagined him breathing regularly on the pillows; she could see the under
arch of his eyebrows, the fine shape of his nostrils, the curve of his
lips, as she bent in fancy over his face.
The dawn came slowly. It was rather cold. Olive wrapped herself in rugs
and went to sleep again. Helena shivered, and stared out of the window.
There appeared a wanness in the night, and Helena felt inexpressibly
dreary. A rosiness spread out far away. It was like a flock of
flamingoes hovering over a dark lake. The world vibrated as the sun
Helena waked the tipsy men at Exeter, having heard them say that there
they must change. Then she walked the platform, very jaded. The train
rushed on again. It was a most, most wearisome journey. The fields were
very flowery, the morning was very bright, but what were these to her?
She wanted dimness, sleep, forgetfulness. At eight o'clock,
breakfast-time, the 'dauntless three' were driving in a waggonette amid
blazing, breathless sunshine, over country naked of shelter, ungracious
'Why am I doing this?' Helena asked herself.
The three friends, washed, dressed, and breakfasted. It was too hot to
rest in the house, so they trudged to the coast, silently, each feeling
in an ill humour.
When Helena was really rested, she took great pleasure in Tintagel. In
the first place, she found that the cove was exactly, almost identically
the same as the Walhalla scene in Walküre; in the second place,
Tristan was here, in the tragic country filled with the flowers of a
late Cornish summer, an everlasting reality; in the third place, it was
a sea of marvellous, portentous sunsets, of sweet morning baths, of
pools blossomed with life, of terrible suave swishing of foam which
suggested the Anadyomene. In sun it was the enchanted land of divided
lovers. Helena for ever hummed fragments of Tristan. As she stood on
the rocks she sang, in her little, half-articulate way, bits of Isolde's
love, bits of Tristan's anguish, to Siegmund.
She had not received her letter on Sunday. That had not very much
disquieted her, though she was disappointed. On Monday she was miserable
because of Siegmund's silence, but there was so much of enchantment in
Tintagel, and Olive and Louisa were in such high spirits, that she
forgot most whiles.
On Monday night, towards two o'clock, there came a violent storm of
thunder and lightning. Louisa started up in bed at the first clap,
waking Helena. The room palpitated with white light for two seconds; the
mirror on the dressing-table glared supernaturally. Louisa clutched her
friend. All was dark again, the thunder clapping directly.
'There, wasn't that lovely!' cried Louisa, speaking of the lightning.
'Oo, wasn't it magnificent!—glorious!'
The door clicked and opened: Olive entered in her long white nightgown.
She hurried to the bed.
'I say, dear!' she exclaimed, 'may I come into the fold? I prefer the
shelter of your company, dear, during this little lot.'
'Don't you like it?' cried Louisa. 'I think it's lovely—lovely!'
There came another slash of lightning. The night seemed to open and
shut. It was a pallid vision of a ghost-world between the clanging
shutters of darkness. Louisa and Olive clung to each other
'There!' exclaimed the former, breathless. 'That was fine! Helena, did
you see that?'
She clasped ecstatically the hand of her friend, who was lying down.
Helena's answer was extinguished by the burst of thunder.
'There's no accounting for tastes,' said Olive, taking a place in the
bed. 'I can't say I'm struck on lightning. What about you, Helena?'
'I'm not struck yet,' replied Helena, with a sarcastic attempt at a
'Thank you, dear,' said Olive; 'you do me the honour of catching hold.'
Helena laughed ironically.
'Catching what?' asked Louisa, mystified.
'Why, dear,' answered Olive, heavily condescending to explain, 'I
offered Helena the handle of a pun, and she took it. What a flash! You
know, it's not that I'm afraid….'
The rest of her speech was overwhelmed in thunder.
Helena lay on the edge of the bed, listening to the ecstatics of one
friend and to the impertinences of the other. In spite of her ironical
feeling, the thunder impressed her with a sense of fatality. The night
opened, revealing a ghostly landscape, instantly to shut again with
blackness. Then the thunder crashed. Helena felt as if some secret were
being disclosed too swiftly and violently for her to understand. The
thunder exclaimed horribly on the matter. She was sure something
Gradually the storm, drew away. The rain came down with a rush,
persisted with a bruising sound upon the earth and the leaves.
'What a deluge!' exclaimed Louisa.
No one answered her. Olive was falling asleep, and Helena was in no mood
to reply. Louisa, disconsolate, lay looking at the black window, nursing
a grievance, until she, too, drifted into sleep. Helena was awake; the
storm had left her with a settled sense of calamity. She felt bruised.
The sound of the heavy rain bruising the ground outside represented her
feeling; she could not get rid of the bruised sense of disaster.
She lay wondering what it was, why Siegmund had not written, what could
have happened to him. She imagined all of them terrible, and endued with
grandeur, for she had kinship with Hedda Gabler.
'But no,' she said to herself, 'it is impossible anything should have
happened to him—I should have known. I should have known the moment his
spirit left his body; he would have come to me. But I slept without
dreams last night, and today I am sure there has been no crisis. It is
impossible it should have happened to him: I should have known.'
She was very certain that in event of Siegmund's death, she would have
received intelligence. She began to consider all the causes which might
arise to prevent his writing immediately to her.
'Nevertheless,' she said at last, 'if I don't hear tomorrow I will go
She had written to him on Monday. If she should receive no answer by
Wednesday morning she would return to London. As she was deciding this
she went to sleep.
The next day passed without news. Helena was in a state of distress. Her
wistfulness touched the other two women very keenly. Louisa waited upon
her, was very tender and solicitous. Olive, who was becoming painful by
reason of her unsatisfied curiosity, had to be told in part of the state
Helena looked up a train. She was quite sure by this time that something
fatal awaited her.
The next morning she bade her friends a temporary good-bye, saying she
would return in the evening. Immediately the train had gone, Louisa
rushed into the little waiting-room of the station and wept. Olive shed
tears for sympathy and self-pity. She pitied herself that she should be
let in for so dismal a holiday. Louisa suddenly stopped crying and
'Oh, I know I'm a pig, dear, am I not?' she exclaimed. 'Spoiling your
holiday. But I couldn't help it, dear, indeed I could not.'
'My dear Lou!' cried Olive in tragic contralto. 'Don't refrain for my
sake. The bargain's made; we can't help what's in the bundle.'
The two unhappy women trudged the long miles back from the station to
their lodging. Helena sat in the swinging express revolving the same
thought like a prayer-wheel. It would be difficult to think of anything
more trying than thus sitting motionless in the train, which itself is
throbbing and bursting its heart with anxiety, while one waits hour
after hour for the blow which falls nearer as the distance lessens. All
the time Helena's heart and her consciousness were with Siegmund in
London, for she believed he was ill and needed her.
'Promise me,' she had said, 'if ever I were sick and wanted you, you
would come to me.'
'I would come to you from hell!' Siegmund had replied.
'And if you were ill—you would let me come to you?' she had added.
'I promise,' he answered.
Now Helena believed he was ill, perhaps very ill, perhaps she only could
be of any avail. The miles of distance were like hot bars of iron across
her breast, and against them it was impossible to strive. The train did
what it could.
That day remains as a smear in the record of Helena's life. In it there
is no spacing of hours, no lettering of experience, merely a smear
Towards six o'clock she alighted, at Surbiton station, deciding that
this would be the quickest way of getting to Wimbledon. She paced the
platform slowly, as if resigned, but her heart was crying out at the
great injustice of delay. Presently the local train came in. She had
planned to buy a local paper at Wimbledon, and if from that source she
could learn nothing, she would go on to his house and inquire. She had
prearranged everything minutely.
After turning the newspaper several times she found what she sought.
'The funeral took place, at two o'clock today at Kingston Cemetery, of
——. Deceased was a professor of music, and had just returned from a
holiday on the South Coast….'
The paragraph, in a bald twelve lines, told her everything.
'Jury returned a verdict of suicide during temporary insanity. Sympathy
was expressed for the widow and children.'
Helena stood still on the station for some time, looking at the print.
Then she dropped the paper and wandered into the town, not knowing where
she was going.
'That was what I got,' she said, months afterwards; 'and it was like a
brick, it was like a brick.'
She wandered on and on, until suddenly she found herself in the grassy
lane with only a wire fence bounding her from the open fields on either
side, beyond which fields, on the left, she could see Siegmund's house
standing florid by the road, catching the western sunlight. Then she
stopped, realizing where she had come. For some time she stood looking
at the house. It was no use her going there; it was of no use her going
anywhere; the whole wide world was opened, but in it she had no
destination, and there was no direction for her to take. As if marooned
in the world, she stood desolate, looking from the house of Siegmund
over the fields and the hills. Siegmund was gone; why had he not taken
her with him?
The evening was drawing on; it was nearly half past seven when Helena
looked at her watch, remembering Louisa, who would be waiting for her to
return to Cornwall.
'I must either go to her, or wire to her. She will be in a fever of
suspense,' said Helena to herself, and straightway she hurried to catch
a tramcar to return to the station. She arrived there at a quarter to
eight; there was no train down to Tintagel that night. Therefore she
wired the news:
'Siegmund dead. No train tonight. Am going home.'
* * * * *
This done, she took her ticket and sat down to wait. By the strength of
her will everything she did was reasonable and accurate. But her mind
'It was like a brick,' she reiterated, and that brutal simile was the
only one she could find, months afterwards, to describe her condition.
She felt as if something had crashed into her brain, stunning and
As she knocked at the door of home she was apparently quite calm. Her
mother opened to her.
'What, are you alone?' cried Mrs. Verden.
'Yes. Louisa did not come up,' replied Helena, passing into the
dining-room. As if by instinct she glanced on the mantelpiece to see if
there was a letter. There was a newspaper cutting. She went forward and
took it. It was from one of the London papers.
'Inquest was held today upon the body of ——.'
Helena read it, read it again, folded it up and put it in her purse. Her
mother stood watching her, consumed with distress and anxiety.
'How did you get to know?' she asked.
'I went to Wimbledon and bought a local paper,' replied the daughter, in
her muted, toneless voice.
'Did you go to the house?' asked the mother sharply.
'No,' replied Helena.
'I was wondering whether to send you that paper,' said her mother
Helena did not answer her. She wandered about the house mechanically,
looking for something. Her mother followed her, trying very gently
to help her.
For some time Helena sat at table in the dining-room staring before her.
Her parents moved restlessly in silence, trying not to irritate her by
watching her, praying for something to change the fixity of her look.
They acknowledged themselves helpless; like children, they felt
powerless and forlorn, and were very quiet.
'Won't you go to rest, Nellie?' asked the father at last. He was an
unobtrusive, obscure man, whose sympathy was very delicate, whose
ordinary attitude was one of gentle irony.
'Won't you go to rest, Nellie?' he repeated.
Helena shivered slightly.
'Do, my dear,' her mother pleaded. 'Let me take you to bed.'
Helena rose. She had a great horror of being fussed or petted, but this
night she went dully upstairs, and let her mother help her to undress.
When she was in bed the mother stood for some moments looking at her,
yearning to beseech her daughter to pray to God; but she dared not.
Helena moved with a wild impatience under her mother's gaze.
'Shall I leave you the candle?' said Mrs Verden.
'No, blow it out,' replied the daughter. The mother did so, and
immediately left the room, going downstairs to her husband. As she
entered the dining-room he glanced up timidly at her. She was a tall,
erect woman. Her brown eyes, usually so swift and searching, were
haggard with tears that did not fall. He bowed down, obliterating
himself. His hands were tightly clasped.
'Will she be all right if you leave her?' he asked.
'We must listen,' replied the mother abruptly.
The parents sat silent in their customary places. Presently Mrs. Verden
cleared the supper table, sweeping together a few crumbs from the floor
in the place where Helena had sat, carefully putting her pieces of
broken bread under the loaf to keep moist. Then she sat down again. One
could see she was keenly alert to every sound. The father had his hand
to his head; he was thinking and praying.
Mrs. Verden suddenly rose, took a box of matches from the mantelpiece,
and hurrying her stately, heavy tread, went upstairs. Her husband
followed in much trepidation, hovering near the door of his daughter's
room. The mother tremblingly lit the candle. Helena's aspect distressed
and alarmed her. The girl's face was masked as if in sleep, but
occasionally it was crossed by a vivid expression of fear or horror. Her
wide eyes showed the active insanity of her brain. From time to time she
uttered strange, inarticulate sounds. Her mother held her hands and
soothed her. Although she was hardly aware of the mother's presence,
Helena was more tranquil. The father went downstairs and turned out the
light. He brought his wife a large shawl, which he put on the bed-rail,
and silently left the room. Then he went and kneeled down by his own
bedside, and prayed.
Mrs Verden watched her daughter's delirium, and all the time, in a kind
of mental chant, invoked the help of God. Once or twice the girl came to
herself, drew away her hand on recognizing the situation, and turned
from her mother, who patiently waited until, upon relapse, she could
soothe her daughter again. Helena was glad of her mother's presence, but
she could not bear to be looked at.
Towards morning the girl fell naturally asleep. The mother regarded her
closely, lightly touched her forehead with her lips, and went away,
having blown out the candle. She found her husband kneeling in his
nightshirt by the bed. He muttered a few swift syllables, and looked up
as she entered.
'She is asleep,' whispered the wife hoarsely.
'Is it a—a natural sleep?' hesitated the husband.
'Yes. I think it is. I think she will be all right.'
'Thank God!' whispered the father, almost inaudibly.
He held his wife's hand as she lay by his side. He was the comforter.
She felt as if now she might cry and take comfort and sleep. He, the
quiet, obliterated man, held her hand, taking the responsibility
Beatrice was careful not to let the blow of Siegmund's death fall with
full impact upon her. As it were, she dodged it. She was afraid to meet
the accusation of the dead Siegmund, with the sacred jury of memories.
When the event summoned her to stand before the bench of her own soul's
understanding, she fled, leaving the verdict upon herself eternally
When the neighbours had come, alarmed by her screaming, she had allowed
herself to be taken away from her own house into the home of a
neighbour. There the children were brought to her. There she wept, and
stared wildly about, as if by instinct seeking to cover her mind with
confusion. The good neighbour controlled matters in Siegmund's house,
sending for the police, helping to lay out the dead body. Before Vera
and Frank came home, and before Beatrice returned to her own place, the
bedroom of Siegmund was locked.
Beatrice avoided seeing the body of her husband; she gave him one swift
glance, blinded by excitement; she never saw him after his death. She
was equally careful to avoid thinking of him. Whenever her thoughts
wandered towards a consideration of how he must have felt, what his
inner life must have been, during the past six years, she felt herself
dilate with terror, and she hastened to invoke protection.
'The children!' she said to herself—'the children. I must live for the
children; I must think for the children.'
This she did, and with much success. All her tears and her wildness rose
from terror and dismay rather than from grief. She managed to fend back
a grief that would probably have broken her. Vera was too
practical-minded, she had too severe a notion of what ought to be and
what ought not, ever to put herself in her father's place and try to
understand him. She concerned herself with judging him sorrowfully,
exonerating him in part because Helena, that other, was so much more to
blame. Frank, as a sentimentalist, wept over the situation, not over the
personae. The children were acutely distressed by the harassing
behaviour of the elders, and longed for a restoration of equanimity. By
common consent no word was spoken of Siegmund. As soon as possible after
the funeral Beatrice moved from South London to Harrow. The memory of
Siegmund began to fade rapidly.
Beatrice had had all her life a fancy for a more open, public form of
living than that of a domestic circle. She liked strangers about the
house; they stimulated her agreeably. Therefore, nine months after the
death of her husband, she determined to carry out the scheme of her
heart, and take in boarders. She came of a well-to-do family, with whom
she had been in disgrace owing to her early romantic but degrading
marriage with a young lad who had neither income nor profession. In the
tragic, but also sordid, event of his death, the Waltons returned again
to the aid of Beatrice. They came hesitatingly, and kept their gloves
on. They inquired what she intended to do. She spoke highly and
hopefully of her future boarding-house. They found her a couple of
hundred pounds, glad to salve their consciences so cheaply. Siegmund's
father, a winsome old man with a heart of young gold, was always ready
further to diminish his diminished income for the sake of his
grandchildren. So Beatrice was set up in a fairly large house in
Highgate, was equipped with two maids, and gentlemen were invited to
come and board in her house. It was a huge adventure, wherein Beatrice
was delighted. Vera was excited and interested; Frank was excited, but
doubtful and grudging; the children were excited, elated, wondering. The
world was big with promise.
Three gentlemen came, before a month was out, to Beatrice's
establishment. She hoped shortly to get a fourth or a fifth. Her plan
was to play hostess, and thus bestow on her boarders the inestimable
blessing of family life. Breakfast was at eight-thirty, and everyone
attended. Vera sat opposite Beatrice, Frank sat on the maternal right
hand; Mr MacWhirter, who was superior, sat on the left hand; next him
sat Mr Allport, whose opposite was Mr Holiday. All were young men of
less than thirty years. Mr MacWhirter was tall, fair, and stoutish; he
was very quietly spoken, was humorous and amiable, yet extraordinarily
learned. He never, by any chance, gave himself away, maintaining always
an absolute reserve amid all his amiability. Therefore Frank would have
done anything to win his esteem, while Beatrice was deferential to him.
Mr Allport was tall and broad, and thin as a door; he had also a
remarkably small chin. He was naïve, inclined to suffer in the first
pangs of disillusionment; nevertheless, he was waywardly humorous,
sometimes wistful, sometimes petulant, always gallant. Therefore Vera
liked him, whilst Beatrice mothered him. Mr Holiday was short, very
stout, very ruddy, with black hair. He had a disagreeable voice, was
vulgar in the grain, but officiously helpful if appeal were made to him.
Therefore Frank hated him. Vera liked his handsome, lusty appearance,
but resented bitterly his behaviour. Beatrice was proud of the superior
and skilful way in which she handled him, clipping him into shape
without hurting him.
One evening in July, eleven months after the burial of Siegmund,
Beatrice went into the dining-room and found Mr Allport sitting with his
elbow on the window-sill, looking out on the garden. It was half-past
seven. The red rents between the foliage of the trees showed the sun was
setting; a fragrance of evening-scented stocks filtered into the room
through the open window; towards the south the moon was budding out of
'What, you here all alone!' exclaimed Beatrice, who had just come from
putting the children to bed. 'I thought you had gone out.'
'No—o! What's the use,' replied Mr Allport, turning to look at his
landlady, 'of going out? There's nowhere to go.'
'Oh, come! There's the Heath, and the City—and you must join a tennis
club. Now I know just the thing—the club to which Vera belongs.'
'Ah, yes! You go down to the City—but there's nothing there—what I
mean to say—you want a pal—and even then—well'—he drawled the
word—'we-ell, it's merely escaping from yourself—killing time.'
'Oh, don't say that!' exclaimed Beatrice. 'You want to enjoy life.'
'Just so! Ah, just so!' exclaimed Mr Allport. 'But all the same—it's
like this—you only get up to the same thing tomorrow. What I mean to
say—what's the good, after all? It's merely living because you've
'You are too pessimistic altogether for a young man. I look at it
differently myself; yet I'll be bound I have more cause for grumbling.
What's the trouble now?'
'We-ell—you can't lay your finger on a thing like that! What I mean to
say—it's nothing very definite. But, after all—what is there to do but
to hop out of life as quickly as possible? That's the best way.'
Beatrice became suddenly grave.
'You talk in that way, Mr. Allport,' she said. 'You don't think of the
'I don't know,' he drawled. 'What does it matter? Look here—who'd care?
What I mean to say—for long?'
'That's all very easy, but it's cowardly,' replied Beatrice gravely.
'Nevertheless,' said Mr. Allport, 'it's true—isn't it?'
'It is not—and I should know,' replied Beatrice, drawing a cloak of
reserve ostentatiously over her face. Mr. Allport looked at her and
waited. Beatrice relaxed toward the pessimistic young man.
'Yes,' she said, 'I call it very cowardly to want to get out of your
difficulties in that way. Think what you inflict on other people. You
men, you're all selfish. The burden is always left for the women.'
'Ah, but then,' said Mr. Allport very softly and sympathetically,
looking at Beatrice's black dress, 'I've no one depending on me.'
'No—you haven't—but you've a mother and sister. The women always have
to bear the brunt.'
Mr. Allport looked at Beatrice, and found her very pathetic.
'Yes, they do rather,' he replied sadly, tentatively waiting.
'My husband—' began Beatrice. The young man waited. 'My husband was one
of your sort: he ran after trouble, and when he'd found it—he couldn't
carry it off—and left it—to me.'
Mr. Allport looked at her very sympathetically.
'You don't mean it!' he exclaimed softly. 'Surely he didn't—?'
Beatrice nodded, and turned aside her face.
'Yes,' she said. 'I know what it is to bear that kind of thing—and it's
no light thing, I can assure you.'
There was a suspicion of tears in her voice.
'And when was this, then—that he—?' asked Mr. Allport, almost with
'Only last year,' replied Beatrice.
Mr. Allport made a sound expressing astonishment and dismay. Little by
little Beatrice told him so much: 'Her husband had got entangled with
another woman. She herself had put up with it for a long time. At last
she had brought matters to a crisis, declaring what she should do. He
had killed himself—hanged himself—and left her penniless. Her people,
who were very wealthy, had done for her as much as she would allow them.
She and Frank and Vera had done the rest. She did not mind for herself;
it was for Frank and Vera, who should be now enjoying their careless
youth, that her heart was heavy.'
There was silence for a while. Mr. Allport murmured his sympathy, and
sat overwhelmed with respect for this little woman who was unbroken by
tragedy. The bell rang in the kitchen. Vera entered.
'Oh, what a nice smell! Sitting in the dark, Mother?'
'I was just trying to cheer up Mr. Allport; he is very despondent.'
'Pray do not overlook me,' said Mr. Allport, rising and bowing.
'Well! I did not see you! Fancy your sitting in the twilight chatting
with the mater. You must have been an unscrupulous bore, maman.'
'On the contrary,' replied Mr. Allport, 'Mrs. MacNair has been so good
as to bear with me making a fool of myself.'
'In what way?' asked Vera sharply.
'Mr. Allport is so despondent. I think he must be in love,' said
'Unfortunately, I am not—or at least I am not yet aware of it,' said
Mr. Allport, bowing slightly to Vera.
She advanced and stood in the bay of the window, her skirt touching the
young man's knees. She was tall and graceful. With her hands clasped
behind her back she stood looking up at the moon, now white upon the
richly darkening sky.
'Don't look at the moon, Miss MacNair, it's all rind,' said Mr Allport
in melancholy mockery. 'Somebody's bitten all the meat out of our slice
of moon, and left us nothing but peel.'
'It certainly does look like a piece of melon-shell—one portion,'
'Never mind, Miss MacNair,' he said, 'Whoever got the slice found it
raw, I think.'
'Oh, I don't know,' she said. 'But isn't it a beautiful evening? I will
just go and see if I can catch the primroses opening.'
'What primroses?' he exclaimed.
'Evening primroses—there are some.'
'Are there?' he said in surprise. Vera smiled to herself.
'Yes, come and look,' she said.
The young man rose with alacrity.
Mr Holiday came into the dining-room whilst they were down the garden.
'What, nobody in!' they heard him exclaim.
'There is Holiday,' murmured Mr Allport resentfully.
Vera did not answer. Holiday came to the open window, attracted by the
'Ho! that's where you are!' he cried in his nasal tenor, which annoyed
Vera's trained ear. She wished she had not been wearing a white dress to
'What have you got?' he asked.
'Nothing in particular,' replied Mr Allport.
Mr Holiday sniggered.
'Oh, well, if it's nothing particular and private—' said Mr Holiday,
and with that he leaped over the window-sill and went to join them.
'Curst fool!' muttered Mr Allport. 'I beg your pardon,' he added swiftly
'Have you ever noticed, Mr Holiday,' asked Vera, as if very friendly,
'how awfully tantalizing these flowers are? They won't open while
'No,' sniggered he, I don't blame 'em. Why should they give themselves
away any more than you do? You won't open while you're watched.' He
nudged Allport facetiously with his elbow.
After supper, which was late and badly served, the young men were in
poor spirits. Mr MacWhirter retired to read. Mr Holiday sat picking his
teeth; Mr. Allport begged Vera to play the piano.
'Oh, the piano is not my instrument; mine was the violin, but I do not
play now,' she replied.
'But you will begin again,' pleaded Mr. Allport.
'No, never!' she said decisively. Allport looked at her closely. The
family tragedy had something to do with her decision, he was sure. He
watched her interestedly.
'Mother used to play—' she began.
'Vera!' said Beatrice reproachfully.
'Let us have a song,' suggested Mr. Holiday.
'Mr. Holiday wishes to sing, Mother,' said Vera, going to the
'Nay—I—it's not me,' Holiday began.
'"The Village Blacksmith",' said Vera, pulling out the piece. Holiday
advanced. Vera glanced at her mother.
'But I have not touched the piano for—for years, I am sure,' protested
'You can play beautifully,' said Vera.
Beatrice accompanied the song. Holiday sang atrociously. Allport glared
at him. Vera remained very calm.
At the end Beatrice was overcome by the touch of the piano. She went out
'Mother has suddenly remembered that tomorrow's jellies are not made,'
Allport looked at her, and was sad.
When Beatrice returned, Holiday insisted she should play again. She
would have found it more difficult to refuse than to comply.
Vera retired early, soon to be followed by Allport and Holiday. At half
past ten Mr. MacWhirter came in with his ancient volume. Beatrice was
studying a cookery-book.
'You, too, at the midnight lamp!' exclaimed MacWhirter politely.
'Ah, I am only looking for a pudding for tomorrow,' Beatrice replied.
'We shall feel hopelessly in debt if you look after us so well,' smiled
the young man ironically.
'I must look after you,' said Beatrice.
'You do—wonderfully. I feel that we owe you large debts of gratitude.'
The meals were generally late, and something was always wrong.
'Because I scan a list of puddings?' smiled Beatrice uneasily.
'For the puddings themselves, and all your good things. The piano, for
instance. That was very nice indeed.' He bowed to her.
'Did it disturb you? But one does not hear very well in the study.'
'I opened the door,' said MacWhirter, bowing again.
'It is not fair,' said Beatrice. 'I am clumsy now—clumsy. I once could
'You play excellently. Why that "once could"?' said MacWhirter.
'Ah, you are amiable. My old master would have said differently,' she
'We,' said MacWhirter, 'are humble amateurs, and to us you are more than
'Good old Monsieur Fannière, how he would scold me! He said I would not
take my talent out of the napkin. He would quote me the New Testament. I
always think Scripture false in French, do not you?'
'Er—my acquaintance with modern languages is not extensive, I regret to
'No? I was brought up at a convent school near Rouen.'
'Ah—that would be very interesting.'
'Yes, but I was there six years, and the interest wears off everything.'
'Alas!' assented MacWhirter, smiling.
'Those times were very different from these,' said Beatrice.
'I should think so,' said MacWhirter, waxing grave and sympathetic.
In the same month of July, not yet a year after Siegmund's death, Helena
sat on the top of the tramcar with Cecil Byrne. She was dressed in blue
linen, for the day had been hot. Byrne was holding up to her a
yellow-backed copy of Einsame Menschen, and she was humming the air of
the Russian folk-song printed on the front page, frowning, nodding with
her head, and beating time with her hand to get the rhythm of the song.
She turned suddenly to him, and shook her head, laughing.
'I can't get it—it's no use. I think it's the swinging of the car
prevents me getting the time,' she said.
'These little outside things always come a victory over you,' he
'Do they?' she replied, smiling, bending her head against the wind. It
was six o'clock in the evening. The sky was quite overcast, after a dim,
warm day. The tramcar was leaping along southwards. Out of the corners
of his eyes Byrne watched the crisp morsels of hair shaken on her neck
by the wind.
'Do you know,' she said, 'it feels rather like rain.'
'Then,' said he calmly, but turning away to watch the people below on
the pavement, 'you certainly ought not to be out.'
'I ought not,' she said, 'for I'm totally unprovided.'
Neither, however, had the slightest intention of turning back.
Presently they descended from the car, and took a road leading uphill
off the highway. Trees hung over one side, whilst on the other side
stood a few villas with lawns upraised. Upon one of these lawns two
great sheep-dogs rushed and stood at the brink of the, grassy declivity,
at some height above the road, barking and urging boisterously. Helena
and Byrne stood still to watch them. One dog was grey, as is usual, the
other pale fawn. They raved extravagantly at the two pedestrians. Helena
laughed at them.
'They are—' she began, in her slow manner.
'Villa sheep-dogs baying us wolves,' he continued.
'No,' she said, 'they remind me of Fafner and Fasolt.'
'Fasolt? They are like that. I wonder if they really dislike us.'
'It appears so,' she laughed.
'Dogs generally chum up to me,' he said.
Helena began suddenly to laugh. He looked at her inquiringly.
'I remember,' she said, still laughing, 'at Knockholt—you—a half-grown
lamb—a dog—in procession.' She marked the position of the three with
'What an ass I must have looked!' he said.
'Sort of silent Pied Piper,' she laughed.
'Dogs do follow me like that, though,' he said.
'They did Siegmund,' she said.
'Ah!' he exclaimed.
'I remember they had for a long time a little brown dog that followed
'Ah!' he exclaimed.
'I remember, too,' she said, 'a little black-and-white kitten that
followed me. Mater would not have it in—she would not. And I remember
finding it, a few days after, dead in the road. I don't think I ever
quite forgave my mater that.'
'More sorrow over one kitten brought to destruction than over all the
sufferings of men,' he said.
She glanced at him and laughed. He was smiling ironically.
'For the latter, you see,' she replied, 'I am not responsible.'
As they neared the top of the hill a few spots of rain fell.
'You know,' said Helena, 'if it begins it will continue all night. Look
She pointed to the great dark reservoir of cloud ahead.
'Had we better go back?' he asked.
'Well, we will go on and find a thick tree; then we can shelter till we
see how it turns out. We are not far from the cars here.'
They walked on and on. The raindrops fell more thickly, then thinned
'It is exactly a year today,' she said, as they-walked on the round
shoulder of the down with an oak-wood on the left hand. 'Exactly!'
'What anniversary is it, then?' he inquired.
'Exactly a year today, Siegmund and I walked here—by the day, Thursday.
We went through the larch-wood. Have you ever been through the
'We will go, then,' she said.
'History repeats itself,' he remarked.
'How?' she asked calmly.
He was pulling at the heads of the cocksfoot grass as he walked.
'I see no repetition,' she added.
'No,' he exclaimed bitingly; 'you are right!'
They went on in silence. As they drew near a farm they saw the men
unloading a last wagon of hay on to a very brown stack. He sniffed the
air. Though he was angry, he spoke.
'They got that hay rather damp,' he said. 'Can't you smell it—like hot
tobacco and sandal-wood?'
'What, is that the stack?' she asked.
'Yes, it's always like that when it's picked damp.'
The conversation was restarted, but did not flourish. When they turned
on to a narrow path by the side of the field he went ahead. Leaning over
the hedge, he pulled three sprigs of honeysuckle, yellow as butter, full
of scent; then he waited for her. She was hanging her head, looking in
the hedge-bottom. He presented her with the flowers without speaking.
She bent forward, inhaled the rich fragrance, and looked up at him over
the blossoms with her beautiful, beseeching blue eyes. He smiled
gently to her.
'Isn't it nice?' he said. 'Aren't they fine bits?'
She took them without answering, and put one piece carefully in her
dress. It was quite against her rule to wear a flower. He took his place
by her side.
'I always like the gold-green of cut fields,' he said. 'They seem to
give off sunshine even when the sky's greyer than a tabby cat.'
She laughed, instinctively putting out her hand towards the glowing
field on her right.
They entered the larch-wood. There the chill wind was changed into
sound. Like a restless insect he hovered about her, like a butterfly
whose antennae flicker and twitch sensitively as they gather
intelligence, touching the aura, as it were, of the female. He was
exceedingly delicate in his handling of her.
The path was cut windingly through the lofty, dark, and closely serried
trees, which vibrated like chords under the soft bow of the wind. Now
and again he would look down passages between the trees—narrow pillared
corridors, dusky as if webbed across with mist. All round was a
twilight, thickly populous with slender, silent trunks. Helena stood
still, gazing up at the tree-tops where the bow of the wind was drawn,
causing slight, perceptible quivering. Byrne walked on without her. At a
bend in the path he stood, with his hand on the roundness of a
larch-trunk, looking back at her, a blue fleck in the brownness of
congregated trees. She moved very slowly down the path.
'I might as well not exist, for all she is aware of me,' he said to
himself bitterly. Nevertheless, when she drew near he said brightly:
'Have you noticed how the thousands of dry twigs between the trunks make
a brown mist, a brume?'
She looked at him suddenly as if interrupted.
'H'm? Yes, I see what you mean.'
She smiled at him, because of his bright boyish tone and manner.
'That's the larch fog,' he laughed.
'Yes,' she said, 'you see it in pictures. I had not noticed it before.'
He shook the tree on which his hand was laid.
'It laughs through its teeth,' he said, smiling, playing with everything
As they went along she caught swiftly at her hat; then she stooped,
picking up a hat-pin of twined silver. She laughed to herself as if
pleased by a coincidence.
'Last year,' she said, 'the larch-fingers stole both my pins—the same
He looked at her, wondering how much he was filling the place of a ghost
with warmth. He thought of Siegmund, and seemed to see him swinging down
the steep bank out of the wood exactly as he himself was doing at the
moment, with Helena stepping carefully behind. He always felt a deep
sympathy and kinship with Siegmund; sometimes he thought he
They had emerged at the head of a shallow valley—one of those wide
hollows in the North Downs that are like a great length of tapestry held
loosely by four people. It was raining. Byrne looked at the dark blue
dots rapidly appearing on the sleeves of Helena's dress. They walked on
a little way. The rain increased. Helena looked about for shelter.
'Here,' said Byrne—'here is our tent—a black tartar's—ready pitched.'
He stooped under the low boughs of a very large yew tree that stood just
back from the path. She crept after him. It was really a very good
shelter. Byrne sat on the ledge of a root, Helena beside him. He looked
under the flap of the black branches down the valley. The grey rain was
falling steadily; the dark hollow under the tree was immersed in the
monotonous sound of it. In the open, where the bright young corn shone
intense with wet green, was a fold of sheep. Exposed in a large pen on
the hillside, they were moving restlessly; now and again came the
'tong-ting-tong' of a sheep-bell. First the grey creatures huddled in
the high corner, then one of them descended and took shelter by the
growing corn lowest down. The rest followed, bleating and pushing each
other in their anxiety to reach the place of desire, which was no whit
better than where they stood before.
'That's like us all,' said Byrne whimsically. 'We're all penned out on a
wet evening, but we think, if only we could get where someone else is,
it would be deliciously cosy.'
Helena laughed swiftly, as she always did when he became whimsical and
fretful. He sat with his head bent down, smiling with his lips, but his
eyes melancholy. She put her hand out to him. He took it without
apparently observing it, folding his own hand over it, and unconsciously
increasing the pressure.
'You are cold,' he said.
'Only my hands, and they usually are,' she replied gently.
'And mine are generally warm.'
'I know that,' she said. 'It's almost the only warmth I get now—your
hands. They really are wonderfully warm and close-touching.'
'As good as a baked potato,' he said.
She pressed his hand, scolding him for his mockery.
'So many calories per week—isn't that how we manage it?' he asked. 'On
She put her other hand on his, as if beseeching him to forgo his irony,
which hurt her. They sat silent for some time. The sheep broke their
cluster, and began to straggle back to the upper side of the pen.
'Tong-tong, tong,' went the forlorn bell. The rain waxed louder.
Byrne was thinking of the previous week. He had gone to Helena's home to
read German with her as usual. She wanted to understand Wagner in his
In each of the arm-chairs, reposing across the arms, was a violin-case.
He had sat down on the edge of one seat in front of the sacred fiddle.
Helena had come quickly and removed the violin.
'I shan't knock it—it is all right,' he had said, protesting.
This was Siegmund's violin, which Helena had managed to purchase, and
Byrne was always ready to yield its precedence.
'It was all right,' he repeated.
'But you were not,' she had replied gently.
Since that time his heart had beat quick with excitement. Now he sat in
a little storm of agitation, of which nothing was betrayed by his
gloomy, pondering expression, but some of which was communicated to
Helena by the increasing pressure of his hand, which adjusted itself
delicately in a stronger and stronger stress over her fingers and palm.
By some movement he became aware that her hand was uncomfortable. He
relaxed. She sighed, as if restless and dissatisfied. She wondered what
he was thinking of. He smiled quietly.
'The Babes in the Wood,' he teased.
Helena laughed, with a sound of tears. In the tree overhead some bird
began to sing, in spite of the rain, a broken evening song.
'That little beggar sees it's a hopeless case, so he reminds us of
heaven. But if he's going to cover us with yew-leaves, he's set
himself a job.'
Helena laughed again, and shivered. He put his arm round her, drawing
her nearer his warmth. After this new and daring move neither spoke
for a while.
'The rain continues,' he said.
'And will do,' she added, laughing.
'Quite content,' he said.
The bird overhead chirruped loudly again.
'"Strew on us roses, roses,"' quoted Byrne, adding after a while, in
wistful mockery: '"And never a sprig of yew"—eh?'
Helena made a small sound of tenderness and comfort for him, and
weariness for herself. She let herself sink a little closer against him.
'Shall it not be so—no yew?' he murmured.
He put his left hand, with which he had been breaking larch-twigs, on
her chilled wrist. Noticing that his fingers were dirty, he held
'I shall make marks on you,' he said.
'They will come off,' she replied.
'Yes, we come clean after everything. Time scrubs all sorts of scars off
'Some scars don't seem to go,' she smiled.
And she held out her other arm, which had been pressed warm against his
side. There, just above the wrist, was the red sun-inflammation from
last year. Byrne regarded it gravely.
'But it's wearing off—even that,' he said wistfully.
Helena put her arms found him under his coat. She was cold. He felt a
hot wave of joy suffuse him. Almost immediately she released him, and
took off her hat.
'That is better,' he said.
'I was afraid of the pins,' said she.
'I've been dodging them for the last hour,' he said, laughing, as she
put her arms under his coat again for warmth.
She laughed, and, making a small, moaning noise, as if of weariness and
helplessness, she sank her head on his chest. He put down his cheek
'I want rest and warmth,' she said, in her dull tones.
'All right!' he murmured.