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Whatever we do, you know, is only what comes
out of that — it is all settled before, so that, of
course, in that sense there is no frree will. For
instance, my dear young lady, if you choose to


do something unexpected, it is rreally the ex-
pected thing you are doing all the time, because
the chains of your circumstances and your tem-
perrament would not permit you to do other-
wise. I am afrraid I do not explain what I
mean verry well."

Jocelyn did not speak, she leaned forward
with her chin on her hand gazing downwards.

Nielsen, with a puzzled look, rubbed his hands
softly together. " Of course," he began again,
" that is a verry brroad view, too brroad for
everyday wear ; it is "

Jocelyn, without looking up, interrupted
him —

" And do you believe in morality ? "

Nielsen sighed.

" Ah ! What is morrality ? "

He plucked a long blade of spikey grass from
the bank, and said, twisting it in his fingers —

" What we call morrality — I believe in it," and
he shrugged his shoulders. " Certainly. Why ?
Because there it is, don't you know ? One can
see it, it is quite thick, one can cut it with a
knife. Every peoples has its own, and every
peoples disobeys it more or less, don't you know ;


that is natural." He took out another cigarette,
and began to nod his head up and down.

" Yes, yes," he said, continuing to nod his
head. Presently he went on, fixing his eyes
on the driftweed, where the end of the cigarette
was giving up the ghost of its tobacco, and
speaking to himself rather than to her. " Ah !
it is a little thing, our morrality ; but there is a
big morrality, yes, yes, a big morrality ; over
there, don't you know," he pointed with his
spike of grass towards the sweep of glistening
water and the woods beyond.

" Over there ! " he repeated, " everrywhere !
Yes, yes. Nature is verry morral. Ah ! she is
big, but she is morral. She has to be, you know.
Look at that grass, my dear young lady," he
said, holding up his spike of grass, and drawing
it once or twice gently through his fingers, " she
can't play frreaks, she has got her place, you
know. It is wonderful to think, isn't it, if that
little blade of grass vanished quite away, all the
world would come undone. Ah ! I think that
is wonderful, that is morrality." He lit his
cigarette and puffed at it thoughtfully.

"■ I think you know, everry man and woman


has his place according to the big morrality — so
have flies " — he went on, stabbing with his spike
at an early fly which had settled on the rim of
his cup — " and in spite of everrything they come
to it at the last." He did not see Jocelyn's
face. A wave of colour had rushed suddenly
into it, and her eyes looked eager and startled ;
her lips moved — she was repeating to herself
his words. A chance current swept the dis-
embodied cigarette gently back past the boat,
the paper and tobacco floated apart, pathetically
close to each other.

" Ah ! " said Nielsen, " there you are, my
frriend ; when we come apart like you, perrhaps
we shall know all about it — this morrality." He
straightened himself on his seat with a sudden
jerk, and looking at Jocelyn remarked in an
apologetic drawl —

" I am afrraid I have bored you drreadfully."
She was leaning back again on her cushions,
twisting her fingers in her lap in the way pecu-
liar to her when she was troubled or thinking
deeply. Her face was still flushed, and her
dark eye-lashes almost rested on her cheeks. A
faint scent of May-blossom drifted to them from


the bank. Nielsen threw away his cigarette.
His eyes began to glow, his face suddenly lost
its habitual apathy — the attitude of his mind was
no longer leisurely. Indeed, it had not been
leisurely for eight days, in fact, since he had
passed Legard upon the stairs. Legard was
gone, he had found that out, but he was still in
a hurry.

His cheeks grew slightly red, a rare thing
with him, and the lines deepened about his eyes.
He bent forward as far as he could upon his
seat, and the boat rocked slightly from side to
side. He kept his eyes fixed upon her face.
The colour was coming and going upon it. He
fancied that her eyes were soft under their
drooping lids, though he could not see them.
Did she know that he was looking at her ?
Could she be thinking of him ?

The long fingers were still twisting in and out
of each other upon her knee. He put out his
hand and touched one of them gently.

" I am waiting," he said ; " I have been wait-
ing so long."

She raised her eyes, and he was astonished
at them. They were so large, and they changed


as he looked at them. At first they were full of
shrinking, almost of fear, then suddenly they
blazed with excitement, which died away in a
gentle look. She did not draw her hand away, she
did not seem to know that he was touching her.

" I love you," he said. " Will you not marry
me ? I am always waiting."

It was curious that, generally so full of phrase
and gesture, he was obliged to be quite simple
in this matter. Her face did not change, but
the corners of her mouth shaped themselves
into a queer little smile. She did not speak at
first, then she said softly —

" Wait a little longer," and her eyes seemed
to be looking at something beyond him ; " wait
till to-morrow morning ; I promise to tell you
then — everything comes to its own place at
the last, you know." His own words, but they
sounded strange to him, as if used in some
sense, he did not know what, which he had not
intended for them. His face became puckered
with the confusion of his thoughts. He bent it
forward, and raising her hand, kissed it gently.
She let him do it, but he was left with the feeling
that she had known nothing of it.


Presently she rose suddenly to her feet, and
stretched herself with a little shake, as if freeing
herself from some weight. The colour rushed
into her cheeks.

" Come," she said, " it's time to go."

Nielsen got out his sculls, and pushed out
into the narrow stream. He said nothing
more ; with the kiss he had given her hand,
he seemed to have relapsed into his usual
patient resignation.

Every breath of wind had gone, the swallows
were flying low, the hush of a perfect silence
lay upon the river, yet there was felt rather than
heard a mysterious singing, lost behind the veil of
the blue sky — the voice of innumerable larks.

The sun, dropping into the west, laid a touch
of warm light on Jocelyn's cheek when she turned
and, looking behind her, as the boat shot through
the narrow entrance, grasped at a drift of thistle-
down floating aimlessly just out of her reach.

" That was like me," she said to herself softly.

Nielsen, occupied with his sculls, did not
catch the words. All the way to Reading she
was either moodily silent or talked with spas-
modic gaiety. She kept saying nervously,


" You don't think we shall lose the train, do
you ? "

As they were walking to the station from
the river, she suddenly stood still, and said to
Nielsen —

" D'you remember that picture we saw at
Watts's studio — the ' Paolo ' ? "

" Yes," he answered, " a drreadful picture."

" It was not dreadful," she said, " it was beau-
tiful — you don't see the meaning in it. I didn't
then, but I do now. There was ' union ' in that
picture — ' union ' in spite of everything else. I
never realised it before."

Before he could answer, she started to walk
again. He did not understand her.

It was nearly half-past eight before they got to
the Mansions. Jocelyn asked him to come in
and have some supper, but she did not appear
herself, sending a message from her room to say
that she was very tired, and was going straight
to bed. Mrs. Travis accepted the excuse with a
wry face — she disliked the trouble of entertain-
ing single-handed ; she made no remonstrance,
however. During the last few days, she had
found Jocelyn so variable in her moods, so


silent and restless, that for the sake of comfort
she mildly accepted any conduct at her hands. It
had so happened that she had heard nothing of
Legard's reappearance, but she had been acutely
conscious of something disturbing, for which she
neither knew, nor cared to know, the reason.
She never dived below the surface.

Nielsen took his departure early. The para-
mount impression on his mind as he drove
back to his hotel was that of uneasy perplexity ;
it did not, however, prevent him from sleeping

The next morning he rose early, and dressed
very carefully. He made a good breakfast, eating
it slowly and earnestly, as if he wished to place
each morsel where it would be of the greatest
service to him. During breakfast he entered
into conversation, over the top of his newspaper,
with an old gentleman at the adjoining table, to
whom he gave much useful advice as to the treat-
ment of lumbago. He had never had it himself.
When he had finished his paper, he went out.

It was a beautiful morning, and he moved
leisurely along with his square walk, turning
every now and then to look at somebody, gene-


rally a lady, and removing his grey top -hat
politely if he chanced to brush against any one
in the crowded street. He stopped at his hair-
dresser's, and went in. He had his hair cut,
discussing affably with the man the political
situation, and a new instrument for crimp-
ing hair. When he came out again he drew
his gloves on to his round, freckled hands, and
hailed a hansom. He directed the man to
"Wills & Segar's," where he bought a beautiful
bouquet of roses and lilies, and an orchid for
his own buttonhole. He lectured the florist for
two minutes upon the injustice of demanding
eighteenpence for his orchid, and gave half-a-
crown to a ragged child he found on the door-
step. He told the cabman to drive him to the
Mansions. As the cab bowled down to the
Embankment, his pale, broad face under its
white hat looked out over the bouquet with
the weary, anxious expression of a dog sitting
on its hind legs.

Arrived at the Mansions, he went up the
stairs slowly, holding his bouquet carefully in
front of him, and stopping at the top to wipe
his forehead. He felt very nervous. The maid,


who let him in, looked scared and troubled, and
he detained her a moment in the passage to
inquire after her health. He was such a con-
stant visitor that he was admitted to the drawing-
room without special announcement.

He placed his bouquet upon the table, and
rubbed his hands together. A door opened
behind him, and Mrs. Travis came into the
room. She was incongruously majestic in black
silk and a rose-coloured bonnet with humming-
birds in it. She did not shake hands, but held
a note out to him. Nielsen looked at her face
as he took it. It gave him the impression that
she had somehow neglected to finish it that
morning. It was, so to speak, patchy, and there
were strange and sudden wrinkles round her
mouth and eyes. This was alarming to him,
as no words could have been. He bowed over
her hand, and opened his note.

Mrs. Travis said nothing, but stood in front
of him, puffing her lips. His note was from
Jocelyn, and it was in these words : —

" Dear Mr. Nielsen, — What you wish of me
can never be. Yoi? don't know me, or what I



am. If you did, you would not ask me. I am
going away — * to my own place.' I am very,
very sorry if I hurt you, you are so good, and
so kind. Will you be like yourself, and take
care of my aunt a little ? I'm afraid she will
miss me at first. — Yours ever sincerely,

"JocELYN Ley."

He read it over a second time. " To my
own place." What did she mean ? The words
were familiar. Ah ! Yes ! his own words. He
did not understand, but he was dimly conscious
that in some way he had ministered to his own
defeat. He looked up, and encountered Mrs.
Travis's green eyes.

" She is gone ! " he said slowly, and as if he
wanted to impress the fact upon his own mind.

" Yes, she is gone ! " he repeated, and he
looked at Mrs. Travis's face. It was twitching
nervously, and her eyes were not still for a

" Where ? " he said abruptly, and sat stiffly
down in a chair. Mrs. Travis's hand sought
her pocket.

" I don't know," she said at last, taking out


a letter and her handkerchief, " I have had this
— a dreadful letter. She says she will write, and
that we are not to fuss about her — to fuss," she
sniffed, and went on —

" I came down late to breakfast, and the ser-
vant told me she had gone, the naughty girl,
and taken her maid and her boxes and dressing-
bag, and left me this note. I don't know what
to do — she has her own money. Of course I
can't do anything. It's not right. What will
people say, what will people think ? "

Nielsen heard, but he did not answer, he was
thinking of other things, and he sat staring at his
bouquet with little puckers at the corners of
his brown eyes. He drummed with the fingers
of one hand upon his knee. The note had
fallen out of them, and Jocelyn's kitten, straying
from a corner, patted it furtively with a grey
paw. His reverie was painful, and yet it was
tinged with a characteristic philosophy. Per-
haps it did not hurt him quite so much as he
thought. She was lost to him ! How beautiful
she had been ! It was curious, but true, that he
already thought of her in the past tense. He
smoothed his moustache. Yes ! It hurt ! The


kitten clawed his trousers, and climbed up on
to his knee.

" Poor little cat ! " he muttered. He felt sorry
for the cat. It had a forlorn little face, and
it mewed, probably because his trousers were
slippery, and because he had no lap.

" Poor little cat ! " This was going to be a
serious business for them both, eh ? He dangled
the end of his eyeglass in front of its nose. The
kitten cheered up somewhat, and bit it. Nielsen
watched it with sympathy. A bad business !
He wrinkled his nose thoughtfully, and his face
looked older.

A sigh from the other end of the room
attracted his attention. It came from Mrs.
Travis. She was sitting, tremblingly upright,
upon the sofa, constantly smoothing, with a
large white hand, the note in her lap. Her
face seemed to have become suddenly flabby
like a pudding ; her cheeks had lost much of
their colour ; one long end of her fringe dangled
into her left eye, and she puffed her lips inces-
santly. She said nothing ; her pride did not
allow her to utter any word of complaint, but
her green eyes were alive with resentment. The


bottom had fallen out of the chair of her com-
fort, and left her — a large child, pathetic and
ridiculous — sitting upon air.

Nielsen put the kitten gently on the floor
and got up. He walked across the room, sat
squarely down upon the sofa, and took her
hand in his.


At Port Said the Rangoon was coaling. Legions
of black and brown men swarmed at her from
the unkempt rafts alongside. Half naked, gleam-
ing with perspiration, chattering and laughing,
they poured into her an unending stream of coal.

The passengers were escaping into the town,
besieged by a motley set of rascals, masterpieces
of ugliness and iniquity, with cries of " Hi, hi.
Master — Tararaboomdeay — Mrs. Langtry — Hi —
Charlie — Porter, sah ? — Very good guide, dis
fella. Master." Nobody wanted them, nobody
engaged them, but they followed yelping like
a pack of curs.

Legard, walking rapidly through the streets,

inquiring his way here and there, went straight

to the post-office. He had received nothing at

other places, but it was a formality which he

continued to observe. There was nothing. He

came out again, and stood in the street, biting



his lips, with a sick, leaden sensation of defeat,
and mechanically began to calculate the next
possible place at which he might have news.
He stared about him blankly. In the sprawling,
ill-kept streets the hot wind, creeping unexpect-
edly round corners, raised little eddies of sand,
and crept away again, leaving them stagnant.
Jews, Greeks, Turks, infidels and heretics, lounged
and loafed outside the shops, in every variety
of costume ; now and then, threading stolidly
between them, parties of his fellow-passengers
passed, their faces for the most part expressive
of a continual exclamation, smothered in a con-
tinual sniff. He began to walk about, wander-
ing idly into shops, exchanging a nod here
and there with some ship acquaintance. His
thoughts were bitter, and yet his attention was
half distracted from them by the strange chatter
and movement around him.

The sea had done him good, he no longer
looked ill, only very fine-drawn. On the second
day of the voyage he had given up brandy ; he
used to tramp about the deck by himself, or
stand in the bows with Shikari, looking at the
water hissing up the ship's side.


His thoughts ran perpetually in one channel.
If she wished it to be an episode, let it be ; he
would tear her image out of his heart, drop the
past year out of his life, as if it had never been ;
and then — he would suddenly have a sense of
degradation, a feeling as if his heart were shrink-
ing within him, like a plant closing its leaves at
the touch of something rough and foreign to
it ; the old pain and longing would begin again,
and he would think of her as a tender, helpless
child to whom he must be good, at all costs to
himself — yes ! to whose memory even he must
be good. He sometimes wished the thing would
break him up, and let him go comfortably to
the dogs, and he felt exasperation because he
somehow knew that it would not.

He remained gently unapproachable to people
on board, but he made friends with some chil-
dren, one of whom, a dark-eyed, brown-faced
child, reminded him in a mysterious way of
Jocelyn. She was not in the least like her,
except that she had the same tiny dimples at the
corners of her mouth when she smiled. She
left the ship, however, at Brindisi, and he gave
her his watch, to which she had taken a fancy.


He had always loved the sea, and now she
served him ; her many moods gave him some-
thing outside himself to think about. The days
seemed very long, but all the time, without
knowing it, he got stronger and calmer. The
great sea is a wonderful soother of sorrowing.
For the time that she takes a man into her
keeping, he is not torn, but rather rocked by
sorrow, with a gentle heaving as of many waters.
She brings not forgetfulness, but sympathy. So
Giles found. . . .

When he had strolled aimlessly about the
streets for some time, he went into an hotel,
and, sitting down, waited till it should please an
unwilling providence to give him lunch. Many
of his fellow-passengers were in the room, the
waiters ran distractedly here and there, and
nothing seemed to result. That is a peculiarity
of Port Said when ships are in.

Two men sitting at a table near him, but
hidden by a column, began to talk.

" Beastly hole ! " said the first.

He recognised the voice for that of a man of
about his own age, who had lost one of his legs,
and wore a wooden one.


" When I was coming out last year with my
friend, Lord Cardrew," said the other man, " we
— er — hadn't even time to go up the — er —
water tower. Such a beautiful view from it ;
you must come with me and see it."

The speaker was an old fellow of sixty, travel-
ling for his health ; a man with a tanned face,
clean-shaven, but for the white moustache run-
ning in a straight close-clipped line above a Hp
which displayed his rather yellow upper teeth.
A retired diplomat, a dilettante in art, tall, dapper,
a stickler for ceremony and the aristocracy, of
which he was not a member, he habitually wore
a yachting cap, and pronounced the word ghastly
— gastly.

Giles had heard his private history, and knew
him for a man who had suffered much at the
hands of his wife and children, and who lived
perpetually in the fear of death from a bad

" A propos of my friend. Lord Cardrew, there
is a man on board very like him ; his name is
— er — Legard. I wonder if he is one of the —
Legards. I would ask him, but he — er — never
seems to speak to anybody."


The other voice said —

"Tall, rather dark chap, I know — seems very
down in the mouth — here, waiter, bring some

Giles shifted uneasily in his seat.

The old fellow went on —

" Poor fellow — nice-looking fellow he is too —
a woman, I suppose."

Giles rose softly from his seat and went out of
the room. He experienced a sudden feeling of
shame, of disgust with himself. He told him-
self bitterly that he had no monopoly of trouble,
that he should make himself a stock for the
chatter of any casual bystander. Either of
these two men, who had been talking, had more
claim to compassion than himself.

He strode on angrily, till, on the outskirts of
the town, a desolate expanse of sand and of
brackish water confronted him in cheerless
immensity. He stood there for a long time,
while the hot wind swept past him.

A sense of his own insignificance was upon
him. What did his emotions matter ? What
was he ? A tiny fragment in the eternal scheme,
which the scorching wind of life had dried and


passed by, a fragment as hard, as unmingled,
and as lonely as the grains of sand which he
rubbed between his hands. After all, was he
not himself a single grain in a wilderness of
bitter sand ?

Life was a weary business ; he had made a
mess of his, and nothing mattered much now !
He hated himself for his lack of pluck. He
turned on his heel presently, and went back
through the town, and got on board.

A gentle grime was over everything, and they
were cleaning down. He shut himself up in
his cabin, and lay on his bunk trying to read.
Two hours later the Rangoon got up steam and
entered the canal.

He went in to dinner as usual. After all,
there is a law that a man must eat, and another
law that his emotions shall not stand still, but
shift always back and forwards. He made
spasmodic efforts to talk during dinner, but he
felt both dull and reckless, and they were not
a success.

When he went up, the decks were cleared for
dancing, an awning was spread over them,
Chinese lanterns swayed gently from poles, and,


here and there, seats were placed cunningly in
dark corners.

The ship glided smoothly along the narrow
belt of water, with a slight list to port.

Giles, leaning over the rail, smoked, and
watched the light of the summer evening slowly
give way, and sink into the distant sand moun-
tains of the West.

The band came up and began to play a waltz,
and people moved uneasily about the decks, like
ducks before they take the water. The ship's
lamps shone feebly through the twilight, and
stars began to creep up into the receding
heavens. He walked forward and stood in the
round of the promenade deck, looking towards
the bows. The darkness gathered ; in front the
tail light of a steamer glowed like a fiery eye ;
the canal banks, and here and there the outline
of buildings or of fencing, showed in sharp,
black lines through the clear dusk. Over his
shoulder he could see the lanterns swinging,
lonely discs of coloured lights, and catch the
gleam of white skirts. Laughter and voices,
music, and the hushed hoot of the steam-
whistle sprang into the still night.


Sometimes, in a lull of the dancing, when
nothing sounded but the dumb beat of the
screw, the desert wind stole softly past, and
whispered in the awning over his head. The
magic of the night wrapt him, and he thought —

" There must be something in it all. I am on
the wrong tack," and again the whisper of the
wind, and the faint cry of flighting quails, would
come to him through the darkness, seeming to
speak of something hidden, of something behind
the veil, which may perhaps be reached through
pain and work and much self-sacrifice, some
secret, great and universal.

'* Yes," he 'thought, watching the smoke of
his cigar curl away, " I am on the wrong tack."

He thought of his life, the emptiness and
waste of it. What had he ever done for any-
body ? Nothing. Nothing, except bring harm.
He thought of his mother and his school-days,
of what she had thought he would become — of
all the unbroken waste of his life since. What
had he done ? How had he gained the right to
live in a world where all things must move for-
ward or die ? The music started again, there
was a light laugh, and, as he stood back in the

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Online LibraryJohn GalsworthyJocelyn → online text (page 13 of 14)