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torrent of tender words forced its way between
his dry lips. He kissed her hands and her dress
convulsively. She stood for a moment sub-
mitting, shivering a little, a faint colour in her
cheeks, then she cried brokenly —

" Oh, get up ! Get up, don't kneel to me.
How caw you — when I am — what I am?" and
burst into a passion of sobbing. The sense of
degradation vivid in her voice wounded him like
the cut of a knife. He sprang to his feet, and
took her in his arms. He was quite silent, but
his lips trembled. She grew quiet at last, till only
little shudders running through her body, pressed
against his own, told him of her emotion. They
stood together at the window. In the momen-
tary lull of his feeling, he had dim impressions
of outward things — of the blue sky and the
shifting play of white clouds, of the river danc-
ing through the green of the trees in glittering
patches. At intervals the melodious and dole-
ful cry of a costermonger came to his ears


through the soft air, the air that was young
with the fluttering of leaves and the chirping
of birds.

The spirit of the day seemed to be caUing
with a whisper of invitation. He felt a sudden
hope spring up in his heart. Could her love
be dead ? He put his lips down to the level
of her bent head —

" Have you no love for me, Jocelyn ? " he said.

She did not answer, but bent her head a
little lower, and he felt a faint pressure of her
fingers upon his hand, a momentary clinging
which passed, and left them cold and lifeless in
his grasp. She did love him still ! He felt it
with a great joy. Was it possible then that she
could throw away everything that made life
bright, that gave it form, and colour, and mean-
ing ? And for what ? For a shadow ! Because
of a memory. The matter-of-fact temper of
his mind revolted. For a shadow ! After all,
nothing more !

His eyes fell upon the gleaming river.

" Come away from it all, my darling. Be ym
wife. Let me take you somewhere where you
can forget. If you only will, you can. The


world is so beautiful ; I will give you every-
thing. Won't you come ? " and he raised his
eyes to her face. There were the marks of
tears upon it, and her hands moved with a little
gesture of helplessness, as though she found
life too heavy for her. She shook her head

" Why ? " he said, seizing her hands, so that
she had to turn towards him. " Why ? "

She did not answer at once, and when she
did, every word went through him.

" You want me to take her place, and you
say, forget ? How could I ? Forget ! In her
place. Ah ! don't ask me ! "

From the living pain in her voice, he had a
gleam of insight that to her the shadow was
substance, the substance only shadows, and he
said in a voice that shook, in spite of all his
efforts to keep it calm and persuasive —

" Think, darling, can it be worse together than
alone ? Won't you think of me a little ? " He
wanted to break into passionate words telling of
his starvation, but somehow he couldn't ; they
refused to come, they rose indeed to his lips,
but vanished ashamed and unspoken.


" Think of you ? I do think of you. Do you
think I don't know, that I haven't thought and
thought ? I can't trust myself. I should only
make you wretched — I'm not good enough.
It's too strong for me — I can't forget. I'm not
good enough. Can't you see what it is you're
asking of me ? "

His grasp tightened upon her hands. In
spite of himself he did see her side of the ques-
tion, something of what it meant to her proud
and sensitive nature to stand in the place of
the dead woman ; it did not move his passionate
desire by the breadth of one single hair, but it
deprived him suddenly of the power of fighting
her with words. He seemed to see beforehand
all her answers to his arguments, all the piti-
less irony of the situation. It was not in him to
thrust his convictions down the throats of other
people. He wished to, but he was not able.
The fatal turn of his mind was always to see the
other view. He could only say —

" For my sake, dear."

" It can't be — it can't be ; it would kill me,
perhaps both of us. I know what would come.
Her place ! Horrible ! " She shivered as if


with deadly cold, and shut her eyes. Then she
said quite calmly —

" Some day, you see, it would be too strong
for me, I should leave you, or kill myself. I
can't love as you do ; if I could, perhaps it
would be different. I know myself, I'm shallow,
not good enough for you."

In the expression of her face fear, pity, and
wounded pride were strangely blended, and her
voice was measured and even. He had an im-
mense inclination to break into harsh laughter.
Not good enough for him ! What a reason !
It was as if some one, holding a cup of water
to the lips of a man dying of thirst, had snatched
it away, with the words, " Don't drink, it is not
cold enough."

He repeated the words —

" Not good enough ! " In his desperation he
turned away from her, and walked up and down
the room.

" So ! " burst from him suddenly and very
bitterly, *' it was only an episode ! All our pain,
all my life, all yours, for it is all yours, I tell you,
— only an episode ! " It v^^as the only harsh
thing he had ever said to her — a betrayal of his


inmost instinct — a treachery to his nature. He
knew it ; and dropping into a chair, rested his
head in his hands, muttering, " Forgive me."

There was a tense silence in the room . . .
Jocelyn came quickly from the window. She
sank upon her knees at his side.

" I can't ! " she sobbed. " I would — but oh !
I can't. Anything but that ! " and she pressed
her face against him.

" Not that, dearest ! I will be anything else
to you — anything. I love you ! But not that —
oh ! not that."

What was she saying ? The blood throbbed
in his veins ; the perfume of her breath was
on his cheek, he could feel the warmth of her
body against his knee. The whole vehemence
of his passion stirred within him. The temp-
tation was such that he writhed ; his senses
reeled with the desire to gain, and lose, all
things in her embrace. His instinct told him it
was ruin for him and for her, but what did it
matter ? . . . He threw his arms round her.
She rubbed her cheek against his hand with a
little tender movement, and he felt it suddenly
wet. A pure and great pity took hold of him.


" God help me ! " he thought. " Not again ! "
He got up on to his feet, and raised her, smooth-
ing the loosened hair back from her temples.

" No, no ! " he said gently. " No, no ! Any-
thing rather "

He felt he was talking to himself, not to
her, that he was suddenly thrust back into utter
isolation ; and he knew that he must get away
quickly before the maddened throbbing in his
blood overmastered him.

" This will make you ill, sweet," he said,
'' I had better go — yes — I'll write. God bless
you ! Good-bye ! "

He did not know how he got out of the room,
how he left her, or where. Everything swam in
a mist before his eyes, but at last he found him-
self on the stairs, going down slowly and deli-
berately, and trying to pull his gloves on to his
hands. A man passed him at the foot of the
stairs, and stopped in his ascent to look after


Giles stepped outside, and turned indifferently
to the left. A few paces down the street was a
public-house, he turned into it, and calling for
a glass of brandy drank it off at a gulp. As he
was coming out a man touched him smartly on
the shoulder from behind. He turned round,
and saw Nielsen. He was panting slightly from
emotion or haste, his eyes had a red and angry
look, and he planted his square figure firmly on
the pavement in front of Legard.

" Look here, you know," he said, '' this will
not do, this is not the thing, you know. Mon-
sieur Legard " — the words tumbled over each
other grotesquely in his anger : " Cest une Idchete
vous savez, c que vous avez fait la."

" What ? " said Giles ; he stood with clenched

hands before the other, and his face was set and


"This, what you have done to Miss Ley, to


that angel. What is it you have said to her to
make her cry ? Pardieu ! Cest un peu trop forty

Giles's ^ace quivered at the words, then was
instantly hard again. He looked at the other,
with his jaw thrust forward.

" What is it to you ? " he said.

He felt grateful for the sensation of anger.
By nature very gentle, at this moment he felt a
savage enjoyment.

" You have hurt her, I will not have it ; do
you understand me, you — you ? "

" Ah ! " said Giles, and he looked very dan-
gerous. Each man felt that all the old anta-
gonism between them was being compressed
into the few words they spoke.

Nielsen continued, tugging at his moustache,
his face white with anger.

"What you have done you shall not again
do ; I will take care of it — /. You are not fit to
speak to her, voiis etes un Idche, voits avez tue votr^
femme ! " The last words seemed to explode in
his mouth before they found vent — he had pro-
bably never intended to utter them.

Giles did not move, he only gritted his teeth


" Perhaps ! " he said between them. At the
word, so measured and so strange, Nielsen's
hands dropped inertly to his sides, his face
expressed a sudden blank amazement, all his
anger seemed to evaporate in surprise. A barrel
organ was playing within a few feet of where
they stood, the man, as he turned the dismal
handle, grinned and kept holding a greasy hat
towards them.

Giles, taking a step forward, spoke in a low
voice —

" Look here, Mr. Nielsen," he said, *' I don't
take this sort of thing from you or any other
man. Get out of my way, please, or by God,
I'll throw you."

He stepped past Nielsen, who involuntarily
moved to one side, and made no attempt to
detain him. His face still expressed a blank
astonishment, and he was endeavouring to fix
his eyeglass into his eye as a short-sighted man
does when he is puzzled. Giles strode along.
The organ - grinder muttered : " Btwn giorno,
Signore," thrusting his hat almost into his face,
an intruding triviality which was quite accept-
able to him.


He walked quickly eastwards. The incident
with Nielsen had, for the moment, done him
good ; he thought grimly of the sudden change
which had come over the Swede's broad face.
It served as a temporary distraction to his
thoughts. But the next instant he was pur-
sued again by a dull sense of utter unhappiness.
Twice he actually turned round, and began to
retrace his steps towards the Mansions, and
each time his mind in the end was bent against
it by the feeling, light and unsubstantial as a
feather, that it would be ridiculous to go back
now. He knew that it formed no part of the
real balancing of his reasons, for or against, but
there it was, a chance surface feeling just suffi-
cient to turn the scale. He thought too of
Nielsen, with a sensation of jealousy — which he
knew all the time to be unreal. What was he
doing there ? What did his interference mean ?
He tried to bring the feeling to his own sup-
port, but it slipped away from him with the
memory of the words Jocelyn had spoken. " I
love you — I will be anything to you, anything
but that "

He got back to his hotel at last, having formed


and reformed resolutions a dozen times. He
drank some more brandy. He felt so miser-
able that he thought he could understand the
Canadian Indian, who will drink red ink because
it gives him a feeling of warmth inside. A
benevolent State passes a law against the sale
of red ink. There was no law, however, to
prevent him from drinking brandy, except the
invincible law of his own intelligence, which he
preferred to stifle for the moment. In spite of
the warmth of the weather he felt cold. He
ordered more brandy and a fire in his bed-
room ; he went up, sat down before it, and

Jacopo, whose eyes glistened at the sight of
the fire, came up to him with letters. He stared
at them blankly, and left them unopened.

" Will the Signore dine ? "

" No, Jacopo, I am too busy."

He looked at his own empty, outstretched
hands, and felt faintly amused. After the boy
had gone he sat there a long time, staring
stupidly into the fire. Then he drank some
more brandy, which seemed to have no effect
upon him, and began to stride up and down the


room. He must write to her. His ideas were
all blurred and misty in his head — he could
not get them into focus. He sat down at the
writing-table, and took up a pen. He wrote a
few words, crossed them out, began again, tore
the sheet, took another, and at the end of a
quarter of an hour had written a whole sentence.
Then suddenly he seemed to know what he
wanted to say, and wrote steadily for a long
time. This was what he said : —

"Langham Hotel,
May 3.

" My Beloved, — From my heart I thank you
for the words you spoke to me to-day. What
they were to me I cannot tell you. You love
me. Whatever you choose, that is much — more
than I deserve.

" Look, my darling. I can't say what is in my
heart, what I write seems only words — words — ■
words. I must trust to your sweet tenderness
to read into them what I feel. I want to think
oi you first, but it's so hard.

" If you will marry me, child, I will give my
life, every beat of it, every movement of my


hands, every thought of my heart, to make you
happier, and to restore.

" I know what I am saying, and I ivill. You
love me. Can't you come to me ? Can't
you ?

" If you cannot, I must not see you again. I
know myself, and I know you. I cannot see
you without having all of you, all to the last
breath of your being. I know that would be
your destruction and mine, it's not natural, it
would make you hate me at the last. It can't
be, it mustn't be. I could not go through again
what I went through this afternoon, without
bringing that destruction upon you and upon
myself. There are limits — I know my own.
If I once saw you again I couldn't stop myself.

I should go with the tide and carry you with
me. It mustn't be, I love you too much, but it
is hard. I daren't stay within reach of you.

" If I do not have a word from you by

I I o'clock on Saturday morning, I leave for
Singapore by the P. and O. steamship Rangoon.
She touches at Malta, Brindisi, and Port Said.
She will be at the last place on the 17th. In
the enclosed paper are addresses which will


find me. A word from you will bring me from
the end of the world.

" My darling, have pity on me. You are so
young, and the world is very big and beautiful,
and time very merciful. Can't you come to
me ? If you love me, think of yourself^ think
of everything it must mean to yon.

" Send me a word of hope ! Tell me to
wait. I love you so. The world is empty
without you, the sun has no light, and there
is no air. . . ."

The letter ended abruptly with those words.
He made a fair copy of it, and read it through.
While writing it he had had a certain feeling of
satisfaction. He was at any rate doing some-
thing. But now, reading it, he thought " It is
cold : It will never move her."

He sealed and addressed it, and as he did so
he felt a great disgust with it and with himself.
He stood with one foot on the grate holding
it in his hand. The dying lire glowed with a
sombre redness. He dropped the letter suddenly
on the table with a groan, bent his forehead
against the mantelpiece, and stared into the


grate. Let it go ! He could do no more. He
looked at his watch, it was already ten o'clock.
He felt very cold. There was still some brandy
left and he drank it. With sudden energy he
undressed, and got into bed. He thought, " I'll
be done with it all ; I'll get away to the East,
there's always something going on there. Lots
to see and do." He had a momentary glow in
his heart ; then he thought : " Without her ! O
God ! Without her ! It's all empty ! " And
he turned his face to the wall.

The next morning he sent Jacopo with his
letter, telling him to give it into Miss Ley's own
hands, and knowing that he would be obeyed.
The boy came back about noon.

" What did she say ? " Giles asked.

" She thanked me, Signore."

" She gave you no message ? Did she read
the letter ? "

The boy shook his head mournfully. From
constant living with his master in lonely places
he had an intuitive knowledge of the workings
of his mind, and his own impressionable nature
was wont to adapt itself accordingly.


" How did she look ? "

" Her eyes were big and dark, Signore."

With that presentment of her he was obHged
to be content. He sent Jacopo to take berths
for Singapore, in the superstition, that if he pre-
pared for the worst the best might come, the
same feehng that makes a man take an umbrella
out upon a fine day. No day that he had ever
spent was quite as terrible as that day of waiting.
He kept buying things for tropical use, telling
himself that everything was settled, that she
could not come, but he expected her all the
time. The day dragged to its end.

She did not come.

On Saturday morning he drank brandy for
breakfast — smoking was no use, but brandy was
a good thing. The last year had been of use to
him, he did not take trouble so resentfully. He
was quiet under it, it seemed more a matter of

The brown was fading out of his face, he was
hollow-eyed, and moved like a man recovering
from an illness. He said to the hotel porter, a
man who remembered him as a boy —

" If a lady calls for me or sends a message,


a young lady with dark hair and eyes, that is
the name, but perhaps she won't give a name,"
and he handed him a piece of paper with
Jocelyn's name written on it — " Wire to me at
Plymouth, Malta, Brindisi. I am going by the
steamship Rangoon, there are written direc-
tions." He gave the man a ten-pound note.
" It's important."

The man's countenance remained unmoved,
but he was touched.

" I wish you luck, sir," he said ; " you're not
looking well, begging your pardon."

" Oh, I'm all right, thanks," said Giles with a

A couple of hours later he went on board.
That afternoon the Rangoon rounded the Fore-


In the reach of the Thames, just above Sonning
Lock, a single scuUing boat drifted slowly with
the stream ; though it was only the second week
in May the river glowed with a soft radiance.
The boat stole along under the left bank, over a
chequered pattern of light and shade thrown on
the water through the branches of the willow
trees. Upon the far side of the river the hot
sun laid a band of golden light spreading on to
the path and over the green woods beyond. A
slight breeze stirred with a gentle rustling, and
a few fleecy clouds stood still in the blue sky.

Nielsen, in a white flannel suit, sat squarely on
the rowing thwarts. Now and then he dipped
his sculls in the water stiffly, from the elbows,
with a motion somewhat suggestive of the '' deep-
sea" stroke. He had on white shoes, and a
broad white hat was pushed back from his fore-
head. His eyeglass was screwed into his eye,


giving his face an expression of anxious concen-
tration, ludicrously out of keeping with his attire
and his occupation.

Jocelyn sat opposite him in the stern ; the
rudder lines were crossed idly in her lap, and
she leant sideways, dangling a hand out of the
boat and making little signs of the cross in the
cool water. Sometimes she caught the young
leaf of a water-lily plant, and then she would
touch it softly with her fingers as if loth to let
it go. She wore a blue skirt and a white silk
blouse, which clung softly round the Hnes of her
figure. Her jacket was thrown over the back
of the seat, and a Japanese sunshade of a soft
apricot colour lay unopened across her feet.
She looked tired and languid ; on her face there
was a grave pre-occupied look, and the corners
of her mouth drooped a little.

Nielsen glanced over his shoulder. At the end
of the long vista of rippling water and bending
trees, the lock stretched, a black and sturdy line
across the narrowing river. In the centre of
it the figure of the lock-keeper could be seen
leaning, in his shirt sleeves, over the railing of
the foot-bridge.


" Shall we go through the lock ?" said Nielsen.

Jocelyn looked up.

" I don't think there will be time," she said,
" our train goes at half-past six. We passed a
lovely backwater just now, let's go back to that
and have tea."

Nielsen turned the boat round, and sculled
slowly up-stream. He did not look quite at
home in a boat, and he finished each stroke
with a precision suggestive of earnest endeavour.
It was too early in the year for river-folk, and
with the exception of a fisherman's punt, their
boat was the only one on the reach. Nielsen
pulled through the entrance of the backwater,
and ran the boat under a willow bank which
formed a shelving islet in the centre. Jocelyn
made tea. She handed Nielsen a cup, and he
sat, very silent for him, alternately sipping it
and puffing at a cigarette.

" What a heavenly day ! " she said, with a
sigh. Leaning back on the cushions of her
seat, she glanced from side to side as if she
would drink in to the full the calm beauty of
the world. A little bird, sitting on an osier
twig, cocked its head on one side, and chirped


feebly — an answering chirp came from the
branch above her head.

The rushes and the feathery grasses on the
banks quivered as if the breeze were kissing
them. A cuckoo called, another answered ;
two wood-pigeons flighted together across to the
woods on the other side ; a distant weir mur-
mured gently, the willow branches over her
head echoed it faintly, and the sun, breaking
through the trees, made soft, white holes of
light in the running water. A spirit of perfect
harmony seemed to be looking gently at her
from everywhere around. Her face clouded,
and she made a quick movement with her
hands. A startled water-rat dropped with a
splash into the stream, and swam in a strenuous
line for the other bank, where it scrambled to
the mouth of its hole and sat calmly looking at
her. Two swans with a brood of dusky infants
paddled majestically past, hissing faintly ; they
disappeared up a narrow passage of reed-grown
water, leaving tiny eddies for a memory,

A furrow came between her brows. Nielsen,
watching her, wondered. He sent a cloud of
smoke through his lips.


" What is it you are thinking of ? " he said at
last. Jocelyn gave a little start, as if she had
been brought back from very far.

" I was wondering," she said, " what it all
means." She clasped her hands together, with
their backs towards her. It was a motion that
seemed to embrace all that was around them,
and her eyes glanced at him with a troubled
expression. The blue smoke from his cigarette
was melting on all sides into the soft air.

" Even the smoke ! " she said to herself

Nielsen did not answer — he did not under-
stand. Jocelyn rested her chin in her hand ;
she was thinking : " Why isn't there a place for
me to fill ? Why am I always alone ? Every-
thing I see has a home, all the birds, and the
trees, and the beasts, everything has its mate
and its place. I am out in the cold — in the
cold, always in the cold."

Nielsen was bending slightly forward on the
seat, staring at her with his eyes screwed up.
He held his cup in one hand and his cigarette
in the other, and he seemed to have forgotten
the existence of both.


There was a long silence, and the boat swayed
once with some unseen stir of the water.

Jocelyn said suddenly —

" Do you believe in free will ? "

Nielsen put down his cup, a little surprised
at the sudden question, and threw away the end
of his cigarette ; it floated gently away from
them, and stuck in some driftweed.

" Yes," he said, " and — no."

Jocelyn waited. He cleared his throat.

" That is a verry difficult question, but I think
it is like this, don't you know. One to another
of us, has frree will ; that is, you know, in our
social relations. Looked at from the — er — the
narrow point of view, there is of course frree
will, yes — frree will, and we make use of it, as
we are weak or strrong. But," and he spread
his hands, and looking fixedly at the bank,
" there is quite another point of view, don't you
see, equally trrue ; of course, we are all at the
ends of long chains of — er — of circumstance.

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Online LibraryJohn GalsworthyJocelyn → online text (page 12 of 14)