Norma Octavia Lorimer.

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the providing, and that someone will have to be you,
dear, won't it ? "

Samson nodded in assent.

" He can't just become a Roman priest, I suppose ? "

Samson smiled. " I'm afraid not ... I wish he
could, he would be perfectly happy."

"You poor dear ! " Samson's hand was caught and
kissed. " You'll have a whole big family to support
a father, a wife, and a son ; for it's going to be a son,
dear a six-footer, too, and I want to have six of
them, so you'll have to make piles of money on your
old Gold Coast ! " She had sprung to her feet. " But
it is tiresome of your father ! He's been a ritualist
for all these years ; can't he be content to remain
one to the end ? "

" I know, darling, that that is how you look upon
such things ; but in the matter of love, no one is
perfectly balanced, and in his love for the Church,
my father is as ardent and jealous as a lover. He
longs to lose himself in its embrace, and to enjoy the
full beauty of its passions and emotions, which can
only come with a perfect union."

He pressed his lips to hers.

" Do you understand, little wife ? "

" I think so," Alice said. Her eyes had dropped
before his and she moved a little to free herself, but
he caught her to him.

" No, little woman, you only half understand." . . .
He compelled her by the hunger in his voice to lift her
eyes, and return his gaze while he spoke. " I sometimes
wonder if you ever will understand if your love
for me will always hold back that passion which my
father feels for the Church that ecstasy of the physical
as well as of the spiritual ? . . . His fastings, his
renunciations . . . they all belong to the adoration


of the body : . . . ' with my body I thee worship.' . . .
His bodily chastisements for the Church which he
adores, give him a very human satisfaction. You,
Sweetheart, love me with your mind and heart, and
affections. ... I very much wonder if you wouldn't
be quite as well content with me as a brother ! "

" Oh, Samson ! " Her cry was the confusion of
self-reproach. " And I thought you were so happy ! "
She put her hands before her face, which had become
crimson with blushes and shy self-accusation. " I
am perfectly happy, and so grateful. Life is delight-

She was enclosed in his arms again, and now it was
his voice that was full of self-reproach. " Darling,
I am happy so happy that I am almost afraid. I
suppose mortals are never allowed perfect happiness,
or I should know it " his voice assumed a mock
sternness, " and don't talk about gratitude. On
whose side, I should like to know, should there be
gratitude ? "

" On mine," Alice said quickly, " you don't know
all, or you would understand . . . but for you, I might

perhaps have been " she hid her face on his

shoulder to finish her sentence, but he interrupted
her before she had said any more.

" Might have been what ? " he asked earnestly,
looking into her eyes to see if they held anything but
the exquisite purity of soul they had always ex-
pressed. " Tell me, dearest, what might you have been
but for me ? "

" I might have been like the Baroness."

The knowledge that the promise of motherhood
had come to her had worked a curious change upon the
girl's mind. The thing she had almost done she now
looked upon with horror.

" Good Gqd ! What do you mean, child you ? "

" Yes, I wanted to go away with Gwynn Stevens


to Tunisia. . . . He doesn't believe in marriage . . .
I don't know whether I should have gone or not. . . .
I tried not to, but I know that it was knowing you
that stopped me. . . . '

"Did you care for me, even then? " His heart
swelled with happiness. He could have crushed her
to atoms.

Alice, who was the soul of truthfulness, said quickly,
" No, I didn't care for you, not in that way ;
but I knew that you were the right sort of man and
that Gwynn wasn't. But I loved him, dearest . . .
or I thought I did, and his life was so fascinating ; . . .
but all that's long ago. It is over and done with."

" The low hound ! " The words escaped Samson's
lips unwillingly.

" Oh, don't say that ; Gwynn's not bad, or I am
bad too, for I longed to go with him. I saw no real
harm in the pictures he drew of the life we should
have led, and he had the courage of his opinions.
I had only the opinions, and no courage ! I thought
of my parents it wasn't my own idea of right and
wrong that hindered me, or that I was acting up to ;
it was fear, and caution, and the horror of hurting my
parents who had trusted me. ... If I had been as
unhampered as the Baroness, I suppose I should have
gone : so you can't call that being good . . ." she
put her arms round his neck ; their softness caressed
his cheeks, " and then you came, and saved me from
myself ! . . . Fancy our little son having a mother
like me ! nearly what my mother would call an
outcast I that's why I have so much to be grateful for."

" Sweetheart, never use that word again. If I was
of any help to you in your difficult life and what a
life it was for a girl it is I who ought to be grateful
to Providence for having let me cross your path at
that critical moment. ... I did nothing. ... I
only loved you ! "


" That was just it ! you did nothing . . . you
never tried to make love to me. You knew all about
the Baroness, and you were sorry for me, and helped
me, instead of taking it for granted that I was not
much better than she was. It was what you did not
do that helped me most. You must remember that
in my revolt against all the narrowness of my mother's
teachings, I had been flung headlong into a house-
hold where nothing mattered but pleasure. ... I
quickly lost my moral centre ; while I was there I
never saw anything, or did anything that was actually
wrong ... I certainly never did anything, darling,
except almost go off with Gwynn, but there was an
atmosphere about the castle which even to me, with
my inexperience, was inexplicable. I used to think
that it was the tone of the German aristocracy that
I was provincial and that was why I shrank from it."

" Thank God you did ! It was dreadful for you to
be there. It was only because you are what you are
that you came out of it all right. Innocence is a
powerful weapon."

" I wonder where the Baroness is now ? " she
continued thoughtfully, " there was so much that was
nice in her, and lovable ... I hope the Count will
be kind to her. She is really too irresponsible to blame,
and she was susceptible to the least bit of affection.
If the old Baroness had been kind to her she would
have adored her, and I believe she could have done
anything with her." Alice sighed the sigh of youthful
wordly wisdom. " If she had married the Baron and
had a child it would have saved her. A woman must
want to be so good for her children's sake. I believe
I shall be even stricter and more conventional than
my own mother with my daughters. I'll never let
them go off to Germany alone ! "

" Then inhere are to be daughters, too, dearest, as
well as the six sons ? "


" Oh, yes, sisters have such a good influence on
their brothers. They are often more help to them
than mothers are."

He caught her laughing face in his hands.

"My dearest, I wonder if you know how I worship
you ? "

" I know quite enough to be good for me, Sam !
Save some up your sleeve for surprises on a rainy

" I don't need to," he said, " it keeps on growing,
and bulging out at the elbows. I have to tell you
about it to make roonTfor the new supply."

" Is this your end of the season ' mark down sale ' ?
What novelty in the way of adoration am I to expect
with the new season's goods ? "

He whispered in her ear, " With every kiss a prayer,
sweetheart, for the little son that is to be."



THE week before Samson left for Nigeria they were
invited to a large "At Home" at the house of Sir
Frank Maccabaeus, whose importance hi the financial
world was so great that the health of the eldest
brother hi the firm of Maccabaeus Brothers was a
kind of weather-glass hi the London Stock Exchange.
If Abraham Maccabaeus was ill the shares on the
stock market fell ; as he recovered they quickly
rose. Samson had long known Sir Frank, the youngest
brother in the firm, sufficiently well to be invited
to crushes in his magnificent mansion in Park Lane.
Since his marriage, Alice had met Lady Maccabaeus
at one or two houses, and as she had liked her, Alice
had consented to her request that she might call.

As Sir Frank was an ardent collector, his house was
almost a museum of objets d'art. Alice was quite
pleased at the idea of going to their large evening
reception, more especially as the invitation cards
announced- that Pavlova was going to dance at 11.30.

It was the grandest and most important party
that she had been to since her marriage, or indeed,
had ever been asked to at all.

When it was time for them to start, her husband
was waiting for her hi the hall ; the servant had taken
her cloak downstairs, and laid it on the table. Samson
always put it round her better than anyone else.

" Shall J do ? " she said, as she came up to him, her
hands hanging at her side hi her half -boyish fashion,



and lifting her face to his as she spoke. She knew that
she was looking exquisitely fair, and that she was
" well turned out." She was delighted for his sake
that she was looking her best.

" Dearest, you are too dainty to touch. I daren't
put my arms round you." He stood at an admiring

" I'm so glad you approve, and I think it's rather
a triumph, and wouldn't Lady Maccabaeus laugh if
she knew all that it had cost ? a horrible lot of money
for Alice Lindsay of Red Hill, Duddington, but
ridiculously little for Lady Maccabaeus or any of her
fashionable friends."

Samson clasped her column-like throat with his

Alice shook him off laughingly.

" Don't, dear, you'll take off the powder."

" You don't use powder, do you ? If you do it's a
shame with a skin as fine as ivory what on earth do
you need it f or ? "

" To make me smell like a baby for you to kiss . . .
you dear silly ! . . . I think there's a little on my
nose, but none on my neck, but take your hands off,
I'm far too grand for connubial cooings." She laughed
happily, and shook out her dress hi mock anger at
his attempted embrace.

" I was only going to say that you ought to have a
husband who could put pearls and diamonds round
that throat. It's so nice of you not to long for

" I never think of such things," she said, with
childish truthfulness, " and I don't believe they would
be so very becoming. I think you want a Royal neck
and head to show off jewels. They always say that
Queen Mary wears hers magnificently. I'm afraid
I'm too lanky."

He wrapped her up in her cloak.


" Mind you tell me whenever you feel the least bit

" Oh, I shan't feel tired. I love fun, and Pavlova
won't be able to dance until late, you know she can't."

When they entered the Maccabaeus' palace for it
was nothing less than a palace ; in Italy it would have
been called one they met Sir Frank, whom Alice
had never seen before, at the foot of the wide staircase.
When he saw that Samson was with Alice he stopped.
He had been following an important guest downstairs
to accompany her to the refreshment-room. If Alice
had not been there he would have bowed to Samson,
and passed on with a " How do you do ? " but with
the eye of an art connoisseur, he had taken hi at a
glance the girl's rare and fragrant beauty, her maniere
ravissante, so he had let the elderly dowager, who
was unaware of his having been hi attendance, go
into the supper-room along with a stream of others
who were going to seek out what priceless delicacies
they might devour.

Sir Frank Maccabaeus was not a typical London
Jew hi appearance, for he had pale blue eyes, and his
hair, which had begun to turn grey at the temples,
was fair rather than dark ; yet he was unmistakably
Jewish-looking, for his cast of features and the shape
of his eyes proclaimed his nationality immediately.
He was perfectly dressed and his manner showed
that he had long been at ease in, and accustomed to,
the habits and conventions of the London society of the
moneyed classes. His enormous wealth had opened
the doors which required golden keys.
f^His father had spent his boyhood in a small fish-
shop in the ghetto, and he was proud of it : in fact
he rather boasted of it, for he was inordinately proud
of the firm which owed its birth to his father's industry
and capacity ; and he was equally proud of his mag-
nificent home.


When he shook hands with Alice and her husband
the girl felt a curious shrinking from his personality
which made her either very distant or very shy. His
penetrating eyes seemed to her to seek out the form
of her person through her clothes : it was as though
she stood nude before him and he was critically sum-
ming her up as he would have summed up a statue
which had lately been brought to light from the
buried treasures of Hadrian's Villa. In his eyes there
was a look of pleasure which expressed his triumph
at being the first to show in his exquisite rooms so
rare an object of beauty.

As he shook hands with her, he said, " I will give
myself the pleasure later on of showing you some of
the works of art I have managed to pick up, if you
care for such things."

He had been quick to notice that Alice's eyes had
wandered to the pictures which decorated the walls
of the wide staircase. " You like pictures, I can see,
and you know good ones when you see them."

" Oh, I don't, I assure you," Alice said modestly.
" I think when anything is superlatively beautiful
even the poorest judges must admire it. It is the merits
in lesser things which are not easy to recognize without
special training ; it takes technical knowledge to
understand their good qualities. It is a simple matter
to admire perfect beauty like that." Her eyes
turned to a portrait of a lady by Hoppner which smiled
down from the Jew's staircase wall.

" For me a very simple matter," he replied impres-
sively. " I am such a slave to beauty that I never
can resist it, or overlook it."

They had parted, and Alice whispered to her hus-
band as they mounted the staircase, " Isn't it the very
irony of fate that the portraits of all these lovely
English people, painted by Hoppner and Reynolds and
Gainsborough and Raeburn, should find their way


into this exiled Hebrew's home ? If they were Italian
or Spanish pictures they would not seem so out of
place ! . . . How Jewish he is in an unusual way,
but how able ! "

" Yes," Samson answered, " these Gainsboroughs
look so very English beside him, but he's not a bad
sort, and very charitable to his own race, I believe.
He's very much respected in the city. I rather like
him I wish I had half his brains."

They had arrived hi the drawing-room, and had
shaken hands with their hostess, and for the next
half-hour their time was spent hi listening to some
very excellent music, in wandering about from room
to room, and in speaking once or twice to chance
acquaintances whom they met, but seldom for more
than a few minutes.

Alice thought that a very little of this cold and
impersonal entertaining would go a long way, and
that she never would give such big parties even if she
could afford to. Still she enjoyed the novelty of the
scene ; the beautiful frocks, the affectations and idiosyn-
crasies of the different well-known people, the beauty
of many of the women, and most of all, the superb
objects of art which were scattered about the rooms
interested her.

It was nice to be able to wander through the rooms
with Samson and to speak to him about everything
and to discuss the various people. So far, however,
it was not her idea of an enjoyable party.

Samson saw that many eyes followed his wife, and
that lots of people asked each other who she was.
She was all the more noticeable perhaps because she
knew so few people. There was one superb thing
about Alice which, knowing as he did the winning
simplicity of the girl's nature, amused him very much,
and that was her unconsciousness of, and perfect


indifference to, other people's attitude towards her.
She looked as though no one's opinion was to her of the
slightest account, whilst really she would have been
youthfully delighted if Samson had told her after-
wards that she had been an object of admiration.
Nature had bestowed upon Alice many ways and many
charms which misled strangers. Only her most
intimate friends I being among the few knew how
perfectly natural and incapable of pose or affectation
she was.

The evening was wearing on it was nearing the
appointed hour when Pavlova was expected to dance
when Sir Frank appeared, and asked Alice if she
would like supper.

" Come with me now," he said, " and I will see that
you get back in good time, and have a good place when
Pavlova dances." Turning to Samson, " I must find
some charming lady for you," he said, " so that I may
enjoy a tete-a-tete with your wife." His very blue eyes
again gave Alice the same nervous fear of the man's
personality. She was so seldom shy or nervous that
she felt annoyed with herself. They had not crossed
the room before he saw an attractive girl standing
beside her father. He stopped when he reached the
couple, and instantly introduced Samson to them
both. " And now, Mrs. Rathbone," he said, " let me
enjoy the pleasure I have looked forward to all the
evening of having a tete-a-tete with you."

After Alice had been talking to him for a few
moments she forgot her objection to him ; she lost
sight of the man in the interest of his conversation,
for he was intellectually magnetic and extremely

He told her anecdotes connected with the great
pictures they were looking at, and asked her if she
knew various pictures in the National Gallery, which
she did not, but which she felt an instant desire to see..


He told her to pay a visit to the panels of Mantegna's
Triumph of Ccesar&t Hampton Court. " You will find
them in the communication gallery, a long narrow
place, scarcely ever visited by strangers. These master-
pieces are hardly known to the English public ; a few
foreigners go and see them that is all."

He spoke of each picture and object of beauty they
looked at with so much feeling that Alice allowed
her sympathies to be excited. She told him of her
visit to Carthage, and of the museum there, and to her
surprise he asked her questions about the objects in
it which she could scarcely have believed possible
from anyone who had not visited the spot. He seemed
to know it intimately.

" Come," he said, " and I will show you something
which will interest you." He led her on to a little
cabinet which consisted of many small drawers. He
opened one and took out a ring, and as he handed it
to her, he said, " I will give you two guesses. What do
you think it is ? " he pointed to the pale sea-blue
uncut jewel in it. " The setting is modern workman-
ship copied from an ancient design."

" Oh, I could never guess, it is just like a drop of
clear sea-water. I know nothing about precious

" I'm afraid it is only glass," he said, " but it was
once the eye of a Phoenician goddess the wonderful
Astarte, or Tanith, as you would hear her spoken of
at Carthage."

" Is it really ? Oh, how interesting ! " Alice sighed
a nervous stricken sigh ; the bitter-sweet memories
of Carthage surged through her, and all that Gwynn
Stevens had told her about the horrible worship of
Baal-Moloch, the Sun-god, who devoured his own
children, and of Astarte, the Moon-goddess, who was
worshipped under so many strange and varying forms
some abominable, as were the " abominations of the


Sidonians," and others gentle, as in her aspect of the
goddess of wedded love. As it all came back to her a
wave of hot blood flew along her veins, and flushed her
clear throat and cheeks. Her sense had too suddenly
recalled Gwynn's personality, which was for ever to be
woven inseparably in her mind with her vision of

Sir Frank, seeing her youthful emotion, imagined
that it was caused entirely by the delight she ex-
perienced in handling and putting on her own finger
a ring which held one of the blue eyes of the Car-
thaginians' most beloved goddess. Her emotion
excited him. He adored intellectually sensitive

" You have the eye and instinct of the collector.
Have you inherited the taste, or cultivated it ? "

The girl smiled. The idea was too amusing.

" I know nothing at all about collecting ! "

" You may not have the knowledge as yet, but you
have the light sure touch, the sensibility, and the

guiding eye " he looked into her eyes, " I am sure

these things enjoy being handled by your appreciative
human fingers the touch, the truly appreciative
touch, is unmistakable. I can always tell ; there is
something caressing in your way of handling the things
which gives the assurance that you will not let the
object fall, even if something were to startle you. I
hate to see some ladies lift my things, however careful
they mean to be I feel afraid. I think a sure touch
goes with perfect health, and you have that ? "

" Yes, I have, and I love the things," Alice said
simply. " Perhaps that is why I would rather possess
old uncut jewels than all the diamonds in the world,"
she laughed, " except of course for their money value."

He turned to her impulsively, and said very deliber-
ately, " But you should wear diamonds ; they would
suit you. Why don't you ? "


Alice laughed. " Because diamonds cost money,
and we have none."

He gave an impatient laugh in return as though
her words were foolish. " A beautiful woman like
you should have anything and everything she wants."
He closed the drawer. " I attended a very interesting
sale yesterday in London." He had moved towards a
beautiful inlaid cabinet which he unfastened. " In
this," he said, " there are some of the things I bought
at it, and you will never guess where they came
from ! "

" No, I never should," answered Alice, " but they
look Italian and very old mediaeval am I wrong ? "

" No ! " he said, his eyes sparkling with pleasure,
for the girl's judgment had been wonderfully true.
" How did you know ? "

" My husband and I have been so often to the
South Kensington Museum. I love the Italian section
of it. But that was only a guess, simple because that
jug is so like one I saw there a few days ago. I admired
the colour."

" I will tell you how I got them. ... Do you know
the town of Orvieto ? "

" I have never been to Italy, but I have heard of
Orvieto and its cathedral."

" What ? You have never been in Italy ! My dear
lady ! . . . Ah ! " he said, " just to see you there ! . . .
that would be delightful. You must go ... perhaps
we can arrange it."

" Some day we mean to go," Alice said, " but we
must wait."

Then again he repeated his words, " But a woman
like you should have anything you want. . . . You
would love Italy and understand it, which many
people, even though they enjoy it, do not. . . . Well,
let me tell you what has happened within the last few
years to the great Pozzi (wells) at Orvieto. They were


once dug out and lined with masonry, like towers in
the earth, for the city's ash-pits, because the city
standing as it does on a great high cliff had no waste
ground which could be spared for the rubbish of the
households and of the city generally. So the refuse
of the city of Orvieto ever since the fourteenth century,
until quite lately, was thrown into these deep wells.
Ardent collectors have emptied them, and the greater
portion of their contents have been sold at different
times by auction in London. I bought some of these
jugs there. They are rough of course ; but look at
their shape ! for this one I only gave two shillings."

Alice gave a cry of envious surprise. " Oh, no ! two
shillings ! that is our price for treasures, not yours ! "

Sir Frank smiled. " They can be yours," he said,
" if you like ... I don't want them all, but I could
not let them go at that price into perhaps careless

As he spoke he heard sounds which told him that
his guests were flocking to the dancing-room.

" Ah ! that must be the wonderful Pavlova I wish
she had never been born ! "

Before Alice had tune to make even a laughing

Online LibraryNorma Octavia LorimerOn desert altars → online text (page 9 of 26)