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XVII A Protracted Idyll

SHE kept me waiting almost half an hour. The park was completely deserted. I stood upon the old plank bridge that traversed the pond, and occupied myself in counting the flat fronds of the lotus lilies by the reflections of the lamps and stars. It was very dark. I had counted already almost two thousand, when she glided like a spirit from the shadow of a big aloe at the corner of the bridge, and stood beside me.

“Where shall we go?” she asked.

“What time have you to be home?” I demanded.

“As late or as early as I please.”

“How long will you stay with me?”

“As long as you amuse me.”

“Shall we find a seat; the wind is cold?”

She put her right hand in my overcoat pocket as we


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strolled towards the University; she seemed to know her way very well. Indeed, it was she who led me to the door of the left wing, and pointed out a dark and sheltered corner in an angle of the building.

“You have been here before,” I cried.

“Often.”

I felt jealous. “With whom?”

“A very nice fellow indeed!”

“Where is he now?”

“At Oxford.”

“How long ago?”

“Years!”

“What was his name?”

“I shan't tell you.”

“Did he kiss you?”

“Yes.”

I at once got up. “Then I won't stay here,” and I strode off.

She laughed, but followed me. Presently I found a pretty dell, sheltered by a terraced wall. I took off my coat, and spread it on the grass. She sank down, and I beside her. I felt cold, and shivered. I smuggled up close to her for warmth. She did not offer to rebuff me, so I gathered courage, and wrapped my arms about her. She was clad in a lovely fur cloak, which it was a luxury to touch. I rubbed my face up and down her shoulder. She put her soft cheek against mine, and slipped one arm round my neck. We did not speak for hours. Then I asked her if she loved me.

She said “No!” but I did not believe her.

“Why don't you kiss me?” she asked, at last.

“You want me to?”

She nodded her head.

“Any man would do?”

“No.”

“You are a little animal,” I said; “you love to be cuddled and petted and kissed. You will never be a woman, though!”

“Why?”

“Because you have no heart.”

“Kiss me!” she muttered.




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I was burning to kiss her, but I managed to refuse. I felt myself growing angry with her.

“You have no soul!” I cried.

“Kiss me!”

“No comprehension of anything except a vague desire; you are a little animal.”

“Kiss me!”

Passion urged me on. “It is the spirit of evil; it will lead you there some day.”

“What do you mean?”

“You don't respect yourself.”

“Go on.”

“You make yourself cheap, too cheap; cheap as dirt.”

“Lucas!”

“Can't you see, fool that you are!” I cried, hotly, “that where favours are yielded easily they are never appreciated? You throw away what should be almost the greatest gift of all. Your kisses should only accompany your love. Then they would be valuable. I could buy what you offer in a score of places in the city for a few half-crowns. If you were for sale I could understand!”

She drew herself away, and sat to face me. “Is that what you think of me?”

“Yes.”

“You have almost called me a bad girl.”

“It was very rude of me.”

She fetched up a big sigh. “Is it wrong to want to be kissed?”

“Oh, you are very innocent!” I sneered.

“You will make me hate you!” she flashed.

“In a very little while I shan't care a pin what you do.”

“Oh, Lucas!”

“It's the truth! Do you think I want your kisses? Give them to the others; the six, or as many new ones as you can find. Give them to Percival.”

“I thought you cared for me.”

“I am sincere!” I knew what I wanted to say, but I could not find the words. Presently I cried: “Don't think you are going to make a fool of me with your kisses. I love you; but what of that! I don't want


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you unless you love me. I don't want anything of you. You can go.”

“Now?”

“If you want to.”

“If I do, I shall never see you again—never!”

Her tones calmed me; they were passionately earnest. “I can't understand how you can bear a man to kiss you when you don't care,” I muttered.

She laughed suddenly, then threw herself upon me. “You are a silly boy!” she cried.

I caught and held her arms; I pushed her back. She panted like a little fury.

“Let me go!”

“No.”

“Oh, Lucas, you silly boy; why don't you understand?”

“What?”

“Why don't you make me love you? If you want me, make me; do you hear?”

There came a noise like the sound of rushing waters in my ears. For a second I was weak and utterly unnerved; but, in another instant, I had caught her in my arms. It was then she struggled; instinct warned her of my passion, and it terrified her. She fought to escape; crying out to me to let her go. She even bit at my wrists. I used her roughly, but I did not know it. I was doomed to master her. I forced her lithe, sweet form across my knees. I held her fast, and, finally subdued, I showered kisses, swift, burning kisses on her lips and cheeks and eyes. It seemed to me that I poured out my very soul upon her. There was an intoxicating fragrance in the air, a species of silken soft incense that weighed upon my senses like a charm. Thin, unearthly melodies rang in my ears—intangible, haunting, and wildly sweet, as the music that one hears in dreams. It commenced to rain—a fine thin mist that ran along the grass with a low and lulling sound without an echo. I raised my head at last, and gazed up into the gloomy skies. She lay in my arms still as death. She had swooned. When I knew it I wished that she might be really dead, for I had no hope of winning her love. I raised her body on my knees, and brought her to with kisses. She sighed and moaned,


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and set herself to weep. I always kissed her. The tower clock chimed midnight. Slowly she freed herself, and started to her feet, trembling like an aspen. I put on my coat, and deliberately approached her. With me was the calm after a storm. I was absolutely emotionless—cold and passive; my hands were steady, my heart was still. She came into my arms of her own accord, and hid her face in my breast.

“Oh, I am so miserable!” she sobbed.

I stroked her hair; I had nothing to say.

“I am the most miserable girl on earth,” she moaned.

“Why?” I muttered.

“I feel just terrible,” she sighed.

“Do you hate me, dear?” I asked.

“N-no!”

“Do you love me?”

“No.”

“Let us go.”

I led her to the gates, and put her into a cab. During the drive she said no word, though often she shuddered violently. I stopped it at a distance from her house, and helped her down. She leaned upon me heavily until we reached the gate. There I raised her chin, and kissed her softly on the lips. “I am so sorry, dear!” I said.

She clung to me. “Tell me—tell me something!” she gasped. “Something to make me happy! I am very miserable.”

“Ah, what can I say to make you happy? you do not care for me.”

“Tell me that you love me.”

“I do.”

“But tell me how much!”

“Everything in the world, dear!”

“But outside the world?”

“The whole universe.”

“How long?”

“For ever and ever!”

She sighed and smiled and raised her face. It looked bonny in the dim lamplight, even though thin rain-drops splashed upon it.




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“Be true to me!” she whispered.

A wave of warm longing enveloped me. “Love me, May!” I pleaded.

Her eyes flashed. “Be here to-morrow night at ten!”

The gate clicked and she was gone. I stood for moments listening to the flying patter of her feet, then with the silence I went off, in a sort of ecstasy, a delirium of curiosity, of love and hope.

I dreamed through the hours between. I cut lectures, I pretended to be ill, I never left my bedroom, and ordered my landlady to tell any chance comer I was out. At nine o'clock I commenced to live. At ten I slipped like a spy down the Yarrannabbe Road, and hid myself in the shadow of the fence. I peered through the railings. The garden was deserted. The lower portion of the house was already wrapped in gloom. Edward Shaw was pacing one of the balconies, cigar in mouth, probably meditating a poem. I watched him angrily, for I guessed that May would not appear until he had withdrawn. He kept us almost an hour; but five minutes after he had disappeared the gate softly opened and she came forth, gowned in sable like the night. We gave each other no greeting, but she led me swiftly through the shadows to the sea, by a little rocky byepath. At last we stood within a narrow cleft of rocks, the way behind us hidden by great masses of larn tarner, and before our feet the tide. The water surged into the passage with a hollow note of lamentation, its white foam spangled with a thousand phosphorescent glows; it receded with a breathless mutter. The place was ghostly and full of echoes; the rocks frowned above us black and grim; straight overhead hovered the sky of stars, at which we seemed to look as from the bottom of a well.

We held each other's hands, and tried to look into each other's eyes each time the tide swept in. I was feverishly happy. We stayed thus until after one o'clock. We spoke very little. Once she said to me—

“Have you been true to me?”

“Yes.”

“So have I.”




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Again she said: “Do you love me more and more?”

“No.”

“Neither do I.”

But we seemed to be conversing all the time. My hands tingled from her touch. I could feel her thoughts. The night was cold, but I was filled with a delicious warmth.

“Do you believe in God?” I asked once.

“How did you know?” she cried. The same wonder had disturbed her.

I told her that I was happy. She raised my hand and touched it with her lips. I knew then that I could win her. I bent and kissed her feet, one after the other. Then I led her from the place and we parted without speech. Her eyes were dark with dreams.

I saw her almost every night thereafter. Sometimes we spoke calmly and dispassionately, on trivial topics, of our acquaintances and friends, of current events, and books. We would grow suddenly shy of one another and be obliged to converse, in order to hide deeper feelings. Speech was our mask, but it always grew transparent in its course. We each loved the same books. Jean Jacques Rousseau, Hugo, Voltaire, and Meredith were our idols. Our discussions ever ended in books. Their intimate theme is love; we slipped into talk of love unconsciously, and then started to perceive each other through the masks we had been wearing. Her ideas were conventional, but beautiful. She thought true love the great and only perfect guarantee of permanent fidelity between human hearts. She regarded marriage as a sacrament, a divine consecration of devoted lives, too often degraded by the approach of thoughtless aspirants, ill-equipped for its duties, improperly acquainted with its deeper meaning. Sometimes she was a grave philosopher, and her discourse was enchanting. Sometimes her mood was personal and confident. She pictured the life she wished to lead, the wife of the man whom she would one day love. I listened in a dream. She promised me her husband would be a human man, neither a hero, nor an insignificant, but that he would be the sovereign of her mind and actions, the throned monarch of her heart. Her wifehood was a sweet idyll. She


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purposed to become her husband's friend; she would love him; he must adore her, but in season. The constant mood should be companionship. He must be ever at her disposal as she at his, but he must be her master. She would always be the second, he the first; he would never be permitted to dethrone himself; but, of course, he must unbend to his friend; his majesty must be provided with a friend as well as subject. Her moods would supply his kingdom. She would never be to him the same person for hours together. She would know how to prevent that. She would marshal minister, his subject; if occasion required, his enemy, but not for long. He should not be permitted to grow cold. She would know how to prevent that. She would marshal against indifference, jealousy. He should never be allowed to feel entirely sure of her, or know her utterly. She would teach him to guard his conduct by hidden forces, which he should perceive in her but never fathom. Love, to be a power, she thought, must hold a threat from the woman to the man; man was au fond inconstant. Her husband would be true, because in winning her he would wed a hundred women. Man's heart is republican in worship, woman's monarchical. She would fill her husband's heart with diverse faces of herself. She seemed to have acquired instinctively all the wisdom of the ages. She was variable as the wind. Her heart was asleep, but I thought it was slowly awakening. In public we met and spoke, and parted, each set on our separate ways, so that not even Edward guessed that there was aught between us. But in private and on our clandestine meetings we drew together swiftly, impelled by a mutual and irresistible attraction. She would not admit that she loved me; but I was satisfied to wait. We used to stand close together, holding hands; sometimes we would touch each other's faces, softly, questioningly. We were each filled with a shy, vague curiosity. She would often murmur, “I wonder—” and pause. She often besought me for my thoughts. Every night I asked her, “Has it come?” She would shake her head and sigh. We only kissed each other's hands. She had great power over me. I would have gone to Hell for her with a smile; or, had it been possible, and need arisen, have killed hundreds without


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remorse, just to reach her side, to kiss her hand, or even look at her afar off.

One night she said to me, “Next Thursday evening I am to be presented at the Government House Ball; it is my début.”

I was instantly sad, for I thought, “I shall not see you on Thursday night.”

“I want you to come,” she said.

“How can I?” I sighed.

“Captain Graham, the aide-de-camp, has promised me a card. You will find it waiting at your rooms to-night.”

“Darling!” I muttered.

“I could not like it if you did not dance with me.”

“May, you love me!” I cried. “Why don't you admit it?”

“No,” she replied, “I do not love you, Lucas!” and then she softly kissed my hand.

“Your heart is sleeping,” I said.

“No, it is dreaming.”

“You will love me soon?”

She shook her head. “When you go home, write me a love letter, Lucas. Go now, so that you may catch the post. I want to read it when I wake.”

I sent her these words: “I love you.” When next we met she placed my hand on her bosom, and I felt beneath the lace a twisted sheaf of paper.

“It is now!” I cried, enraptured. But still she answered “No.” I almost gave myself up to despair.

She said, “Next month aunty and I are going to England. We sail in the Oruba.”

I wonder that I did not swoon; I felt like death.

“Why? Why?” I cried.

“By the terms of my father's will I must spend two years in England before I am twenty. I cannot help myself.”

“Are you glad?”

She shook her head, and smiled. But so deep was my grief that I could not stay with her. I swung on my heel and strode off. She did not move to hinder me.

I said to myself, “She is playing with me. I shall never


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see her again! Her heart is not sleeping; she has no heart at all, at least for me.”

Next evening I remained at home. In order to do so, I locked my door, and threw the key out of the window. In the morning they had to break the lock for my release. I did not sleep, for through the hours I saw her waiting for me in the cleft by the sea, and the vision was full of restforbidding pain.

A letter came from her. “I waited”—that was all; but I cursed myself for a thousand, thousand fools when I received it.

Dark found me at the trysting-place. I waited two hours, and at last she came.

“The reason?” was her demand.

“A woman!” I replied.

The moon shone so brightly that I could distinctly see her face. She looked at me in a startled fashion.

“Who?”

“You!”

She smiled happily. It was curious how thoroughly we always understood each other. She knew why I had stayed away, and I knew that she knew.

“Poor boy!” she murmured; “was it hard?”

But I resented her pity. I said to her, “Miss Denton, have you ever reflected that some day you will probably marry?”

“Often!” she smiled.

“If your husband who is to come happens also to be the man whom you will love, don't you think you will repent these hours with me?”

“Why should I?”

“They would seem wrong—at least, I think they should.”

“But if the man were you?”

“You have never thought of me in that way.”

“Have you?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me your thoughts.”

“I have pictured our lives spent together, not here, but in some far country of the old world, amid the beauties of


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Italy, perhaps, or in some bright city of France. It was a pretty fancy; but it is impossible of being realised.”

“Because?”

“For one reason, you do not love me!”

“And next?”

“Because I am really poor. I shall be penniless when my degree is taken. I have only sufficient to keep myself till then.”

“I am quite rich,” said Amber Eyes, reflectively.

“You!” I cried, surprised.

“Did you not know?”

“I never dreamed.”

“I have almost a thousand pounds a year. I come of age when I am twenty, or when I marry, if before that time.”

“What a lucky girl you are!” I cried, and a moment afterwards, “and how far away from me!”

“You mean that my money puts a barrier between us?”

“Scarcely that. I mean you are going abroad. You will probably meet and marry some man in England—a nobleman, perhaps.”

“I am not rich enough to tempt a nobleman.”

“You are beautiful enough to tempt a king!”

She placed both her hands upon my breast. “The man I love will be a king to me!” she murmured, gazing dreamily into my face; “yes, even if he had not a penny in the world.”

“Romantic girl!”

“You are very handsome, Lucas Rowe!”

My cheeks burned. “Your methods are very cruel, May Denton. Do you never think how miserable I shall be when you desert me?”

“I want you to be miserable. You will miss me?”

“Ah! The very thought of it hurts! hurts!”

“You must be true to me.”

“To what end?”

“I want you to be true to me.”

“And you?”

“I do not know. Make me a promise.”

“What is it?”




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“Swear to me, on your honour as a man, that you will be true to me in thought, word, and deed until I return.”

I put my hands on hers. “And in return, May?”

“Swear!” she cried.

“I swear.”

“I,” she murmured, “swear to you, on my faith and honour as a woman, that I shall never flirt with any man again.”

“Is that all?” I muttered sadly.

“No. I promise you that the man I kiss next or allow to kiss me will be the man I love.”

“Kiss me, May!”

“No.”

“Let me kiss you?”

“No.”

“Ah!” I sighed, “it will never come!”

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