And Zuleika? She had done a wise thing, and was where it was best that she should be.
Her face lay upturned on the water's surface, and round it were the masses of her dark hair, half floating, half submerged. Her eyes were closed, and her lips were parted. Not Ophelia in the brook could have seemed more at peace.
"Like a creature native and indued
Unto that element," tranquil Zuleika lay.
Gently to and fro her tresses drifted on the water, or under the water went ever ravelling and unravelling. Nothing else of her stirred.
What to her now the loves that she had inspired and played on? the lives lost for her? Little thought had she now of them. Aloof she lay.
Steadily rising from the water was a thick vapour that turned to dew on the window-pane. The air was heavy with scent of violets. These are the flowers of mourning; but their scent here and now signified nothing; for Eau de Violettes was the bath-essence that Zuleika always had.
The bath-room was not of the white-gleaming kind to which she was accustomed. The walls were papered, not tiled, and the bath itself was of japanned tin, framed in mahogany. These things, on the evening of her arrival at the Warden's, had rather distressed her. But she was the better able to bear them because of that well-remembered past when a bath-room was in itself a luxury pined for--days when a not-large and not-full can of not-hot water, slammed down at her bedroom door by a governess-resenting housemaid, was as much as the gods allowed her. And there was, to dulcify for her the bath of this evening, the yet sharper contrast with the plight she had just come home in, sopped, shivering, clung to by her clothes. Because this bath was not a mere luxury, but a necessary precaution, a sure means of salvation from chill, she did the more gratefully bask in it, till Melisande came back to her, laden with warmed towels.
A few minutes before eight o'clock she was fully ready to go down to dinner, with even more than the usual glow of health, and hungry beyond her wont.
Yet, as she went down, her heart somewhat misgave her. Indeed, by force of the wide experience she had had as a governess, she never did feel quite at her ease when she was staying in a private house: the fear of not giving satisfaction haunted her; she was always on her guard; the shadow of dismissal absurdly hovered. And to-night she could not tell herself, as she usually did, not to be so silly. If her grandfather knew already the motive by which those young men had been actuated, dinner with him might be a rather strained affair. He might tell her, in so many words, that he wished he had not invited her to Oxford.
Through the open door of the drawing room she saw him, standing majestic, draped in a voluminous black gown. Her instinct was to run away; but this she conquered. She went straight in, remembering not to smile.
"Ah, ah," said the Warden, shaking a forefinger at her with old-world playfulness. "And what have you to say for yourself?"
Relieved, she was also a trifle shocked. Was it possible that he, a responsible old man, could take things so lightly?
"Oh, grand-papa," she answered, hanging her head, "what CAN I say? It is--it is too, too, dreadful."
"There, there, my dear. I was but jesting. If you have had an agreeable time, you are forgiven for playing truant. Where have you been all day?"
She saw that she had misjudged him. "I have just come from the river," she said gravely.
"Yes? And did the College make its fourth bump to-night?"
"I--I don't know, grand-papa. There was so much happening. It--I will tell you all about it at dinner."
"Ah, but to-night," he said, indicating his gown, "I cannot be with you. The bump-supper, you know. I have to preside in Hall."
Zuleika had forgotten there was to be a bump-supper, and, though she was not very sure what a bump-supper was, she felt it would be a mockery to-night.
"But grand-papa--" she began.
"My dear, I cannot dissociate myself from the life of the College. And, alas," he said, looking at the clock, "I must leave you now. As soon as you have finished dinner, you might, if you would care to, come and peep down at us from the gallery. There is apt to be some measure of noise and racket, but all of it good-humoured and--boys will be boys--pardonable. Will you come?"
"Perhaps, grand-papa," she said awkwardly. Left alone, she hardly knew whether to laugh or cry. In a moment, the butler came to her rescue, telling her that dinner was served.
As the figure of the Warden emerged from Salt Cellar into the Front Quadrangle, a hush fell on the group of gowned Fellows outside the Hall. Most of them had only just been told the news, and (such is the force of routine in an University) were still sceptical of it. And in face of these doubts the three or four dons who had been down at the river were now half ready to believe that there must, after all, be some mistake, and that in this world of illusions they had to-night been specially tricked. To rebut this theory, there was the notable absence of undergraduates. Or was this an illusion, too? Men of thought, agile on the plane of ideas, devils of fellows among books, they groped feebly in this matter of actual life and death. The sight of their Warden heartened them. After all, he was the responsible person. He was father of the flock that had strayed, and grandfather of the beautiful Miss Zuleika.
Like her, they remembered not to smile in greeting him.
"Good evening, gentlemen," he said. "The storm seems to have passed."
There was a murmur of "Yes, Warden."
"And how did our boat acquit itself?"
There was a shuffling pause. Every one looked at the Sub-Warden: it was manifestly for him to break the news, or to report the hallucination. He was nudged forward--a large man, with a large beard at which he plucked nervously.
"Well, really, Warden," he said, "we--we hardly know,"* and he ended with what can only be described as a giggle. He fell low in the esteem of his fellows.
*Those of my readers who are interested in athletic sports will
remember the long controversy that raged as to whether Judas had
actually bumped Magdalen; and they will not need to be minded that
it was mainly through the evidence of Mr. E. T. A. Cook, who had
been on the towing-path at the time, that the 0. U. B. C. decided
the point in Judas' favour, and fixed the order of the boats for
the following year accordingly.
Thinking of that past Sub-Warden whose fame was linked with the sun-dial, the Warden eyed this one keenly.
"Well, gentlemen," he presently said, "our young men seem to be already at table. Shall we follow their example?" And he led the way up the steps.
Already at table? The dons' dubiety toyed with this hypothesis. But the aspect of the Hall's interior was hard to explain away. Here were the three long tables, stretching white towards the dais, and laden with the usual crockery and cutlery, and with pots of flowers in honour of the occasion. And here, ranged along either wall, was the usual array of scouts, motionless, with napkins across their arms. But that was all.
It became clear to the Warden that some organised prank or protest was afoot. Dignity required that he should take no heed whatsoever. Looking neither to the right nor to the left, stately he approached the dais, his Fellows to heel.
In Judas, as in other Colleges, grace before meat is read by the Senior Scholar. The Judas grace (composed, they say, by Christopher Whitrid himself) is noted for its length and for the excellence of its Latinity. Who was to read it to-night? The Warden, having searched his mind vainly for a precedent, was driven to create one.
"The Junior Fellow," he said, "will read grace."
Blushing to the roots of his hair, and with crablike gait, Mr. Pedby, the Junior Fellow, went and unhooked from the wall that little shield of wood on which the words of the grace are carven. Mr. Pedby was--Mr. Pedby is--a mathematician. His treatise on the Higher Theory of Short Division by Decimals had already won for him an European reputation. Judas was--Judas is--proud of Pedby. Nor is it denied that in undertaking the duty thrust on him he quickly controlled his nerves and read the Latin out in ringing accents. Better for him had he not done so. The false quantities he made were so excruciating and so many that, while the very scouts exchanged glances, the dons at the high table lost all command of their features, and made horrible noises in the effort to contain themselves. The very Warden dared not look from his plate.
In every breast around the high table, behind every shirt-front or black silk waistcoat, glowed the recognition of a new birth. Suddenly, unheralded, a thing of highest destiny had fallen into their academic midst. The stock of Common Room talk had to-night been re-inforced and enriched for all time. Summers and winters would come and go, old faces would vanish, giving place to new, but the story of Pedby's grace would be told always. Here was a tradition that generations of dons yet unborn would cherish and chuckle over. Something akin to awe mingled itself with the subsiding merriment. And the dons, having finished their soup, sipped in silence the dry brown sherry.
Those who sat opposite to the Warden, with their backs to the void, were oblivious of the matter that had so recently teased them. They were conscious only of an agreeable hush, in which they peered down the vistas of the future, watching the tradition of Pedby's grace as it rolled brighter and ever brighter down to eternity.
The pop of a champagne cork startled them to remembrance that this was a bump-supper, and a bump-supper of a peculiar kind. The turbot that came after the soup, the champagne that succeeded the sherry, helped to quicken in these men of thought the power to grapple with a reality. The aforesaid three or four who had been down at the river recovered their lost belief in the evidence of their eyes and ears. In the rest was a spirit of receptivity which, as the meal went on, mounted to conviction. The Sub-Warden made a second and more determined attempt to enlighten the Warden; but the Warden's eye met his with a suspicion so cruelly pointed that he again floundered and gave in.
All adown those empty other tables gleamed the undisturbed cutlery, and the flowers in the pots innocently bloomed. And all adown either wall, unneeded but undisbanded, the scouts remained. Some of the elder ones stood with closed eyes and heads sunk forward, now and again jerking themselves erect, and blinking around, wondering, remembering.
And for a while this scene was looked down on by a not disinterested stranger. For a while, her chin propped on her hands, Zuleika leaned over the rail of the gallery, just as she had lately leaned over the barge's rail, staring down and along. But there was no spark of triumph now in her eyes; only a deep melancholy; and in her mouth a taste as of dust and ashes. She thought of last night, and of all the buoyant life that this Hall had held. Of the Duke she thought, and of the whole vivid and eager throng of his fellows in love. Her will, their will, had been done. But. there rose to her lips the old, old question that withers victory--"To what end?" Her eyes ranged along the tables, and an appalling sense of loneliness swept over her. She turned away, wrapping the folds of her cloak closer across her breast. Not in this College only, but through and through Oxford, there was no heart that beat for her--no, not one, she told herself, with that instinct for self-torture which comes to souls in torment. She was utterly alone to-night in the midst of a vast indifference. She! She! Was it possible? Were the gods so merciless? Ah no, surely . . .
Down at the high table the feast drew to its close, and very different was the mood of the feasters from that of the young woman whose glance had for a moment rested on their unromantic heads. Generations of undergraduates had said that Oxford would be all very well but for the dons. Do you suppose that the dons had had no answering sentiment? Youth is a very good thing to possess, no doubt; but it is a tiresome setting for maturity. Youth all around prancing, vociferating, mocking; callow and alien youth, having to be looked after and studied and taught, as though nothing but it mattered, term after term--and now, all of a sudden, in mid-term, peace, ataraxy, a profound and leisured stillness. No lectures to deliver to-morrow; no "essays" to hear and criticise; time for the unvexed pursuit of pure learning . . .
As the Fellows passed out on their way to Common Room, there to tackle with a fresh appetite Pedby's grace, they paused, as was their wont, on the steps of the Hall, looking up at the sky, envisaging the weather. The wind had dropped. There was even a glimpse of the moon riding behind the clouds. And now, a solemn and plangent token of Oxford's perpetuity, the first stroke of Great Tom sounded.
Stroke by stroke, the great familiar monody of that incomparable curfew rose and fell in the stillness.
Nothing of Oxford lingers more surely than it in the memory of Oxford men; and to one revisiting these groves nothing is more eloquent of that scrupulous historic economy whereby his own particular past is utilised as the general present and future. "All's as it was, all's as it will be," says Great Tom; and that is what he stubbornly said on the evening I here record.
Stroke by measured and leisured stroke, the old euphonious clangour pervaded Oxford, spreading out over the meadows, along the river, audible in Iffley. But to the dim groups gathering and dispersing on either bank, and to the silent workers in the boats, the bell's message came softened, equivocal; came as a requiem for these dead.
Over the closed gates of Iffley lock, the water gushed down, eager for the sacrament of the sea. Among the supine in the field hard by, there was one whose breast bore a faint-gleaming star. And bending over him, looking down at him with much love and pity in her eyes, was the shade of Nellie O'Mora, that "fairest witch," to whose memory he had to-day atoned.
And yonder, "sitting upon the river-bank o'ergrown," with questioning eyes, was another shade, more habituated to these haunts--the shade known so well to bathers "in the abandoned lasher," and to dancers "around the Fyfield elm in May." At the bell's final stroke, the Scholar Gipsy rose, letting fall on the water his gathered wild- flowers, and passed towards Cumnor.
And now, duly, throughout Oxford, the gates of the Colleges were closed, and closed were the doors of the lodging-houses. Every night, for many years, at this hour precisely, Mrs. Batch had come out from her kitchen, to turn the key in the front-door. The function had long ago become automatic. To-night, however, it was the cue for further tears. These did not cease at her return to the kitchen, where she had gathered about her some sympathetic neighbours--women of her own age and kind, capacious of tragedy; women who might be relied on; founts of ejaculation, wells of surmise, downpours of remembered premonitions.
With his elbows on the kitchen table, and his knuckles to his brow, sat Clarence, intent on belated "prep." Even an eye-witness of disaster may pall if he repeat his story too often. Clarence had noted in the last recital that he was losing his hold on his audience. So now he sat committing to memory the names of the cantons of Switzerland, and waving aside with a harsh gesture such questions as were still put to him by the women.
Katie had sought refuge in the need for "putting the gentlemen's rooms straight," against the arrival of the two families to-morrow. Duster in hand, and by the light of a single candle that barely survived the draught from the open window, she moved to and fro about the Duke's room, a wan and listless figure, casting queerest shadows on the ceiling. There were other candles that she might have lit, but this ambiguous gloom suited her sullen humour. Yes, I am sorry to say, Katie was sullen. She had not ceased to mourn the Duke; but it was even more anger than grief that she felt at his dying. She was as sure as ever that he had not loved Miss Dobson; but this only made it the more outrageous that he had died because of her. What was there in this woman that men should so demean themselves for her? Katie, as you know, had at first been unaffected by the death of the undergraduates at large. But, because they too had died for Zuleika, she was bitterly incensed against them now. What could they have admired in such a woman? She didn't even look like a lady. Katie caught the dim reflection of herself in the mirror. She took the candle from the table, and examined the reflection closely. She was sure she was just as pretty as Miss Dobson. It was only the clothes that made the difference--the clothes and the behaviour. Katie threw back her head, and smiled brilliantly, hand on hip. She nodded reassuringly at herself; and the black pearl and the pink danced a duet. She put the candle down, and undid her hair, roughly parting it on one side, and letting it sweep down over the further eyebrow. She fixed it in that fashion, and posed accordingly. Now! But gradually her smile relaxed, and a mist came to her eyes. For she had to admit that even so, after all, she hadn't just that something which somehow Miss Dobson had. She put away from her the hasty dream she had had of a whole future generation of undergraduates drowning themselves, every one, in honour of her. She went wearily on with her work.
Presently, after a last look round, she went up the creaking stairs, to do Mr. Noaks' room.
She found on the table that screed which her mother had recited so often this evening. She put it in the waste-paper basket.
Also on the table were a lexicon, a Thucydides, and some note-books. These she took and shelved without a tear for the closed labours they bore witness to.
The next disorder that met her eye was one that gave her pause--seemed, indeed, to transfix her.
Mr. Noaks had never, since he came to lodge here, possessed more than one pair of boots. This fact had been for her a lasting source of annoyance; for it meant that she had to polish Mr. Noaks' boots always in the early morning, when there were so many other things to be done, instead of choosing her own time. Her annoyance had been all the keener because Mr. Noaks' boots more than made up in size for what they lacked in number. Either of them singly took more time and polish than any other pair imaginable. She would have recognised them, at a glance, anywhere. Even so now, it was at a glance that she recognised the toes of them protruding from beneath the window-curtain. She dismissed the theory that Mr. Noaks might have gone utterly unshod to the river. She scouted the hypothesis that his ghost could be shod thus. By process of elimination she arrived at the truth. "Mr. Noaks," she said quietly, "come out of there."
There was a slight quiver of the curtain; no more. Katie repeated her words. There was a pause, then a convulsion of the curtain. Noaks stood forth.
Always, in polishing his boots, Katie had found herself thinking of him as a man of prodigious stature, well though she knew him to be quite tiny. Even so now, at recognition of his boots, she had fixed her eyes to meet his, when he should emerge, a full yard too high. With a sharp drop she focussed him.
"By what right," he asked, "do you come prying about my room?"
This was a stroke so unexpected that it left Katie mute. It equally surprised Noaks, who had been about to throw himself on his knees and implore this girl not to betray him. He was quick, though, to clinch his advantage.
"This," he said, "is the first time I have caught you. Let it be the last."
Was this the little man she had so long despised, and so superciliously served? His very smallness gave him an air of concentrated force. She remembered having read that all the greatest men in history had been of less than the middle height. And--oh, her heart leapt--here was the one man who had scorned to die for Miss Dobson. He alone had held out against the folly of his fellows. Sole and splendid survivor he stood, rock-footed, before her. And impulsively she abased herself, kneeling at his feet as at the great double altar of some dark new faith.
"You are great, sir, you are wonderful," she said, gazing up to him, rapt. It was the first time she had ever called him "sir."
It is easier, as Michelet suggested, for a woman to change her opinion of a man than for him to change his opinion of himself. Noaks, despite the presence of mind he had shown a few moments ago, still saw himself as he had seen himself during the past hours: that is, as an arrant little coward--one who by his fear to die had put himself outside the pale of decent manhood. He had meant to escape from the house at dead of night and, under an assumed name, work his passage out to Australia --a land which had always made strong appeal to his imagination. No one, he had reflected, would suppose because his body was not retrieved from the water that he had not perished with the rest. And he had looked to Australia to make a man of him yet: in Encounter Bay, perhaps, or in the Gulf of Carpentaria, he might yet end nobly.
Thus Katie's behaviour was as much an embarrassment as a relief; and he asked her in what way he was great and wonderful.
"Modest, like all heroes!" she cried, and, still kneeling, proceeded to sing his praises with a so infectious fervour that Noaks did begin to feel he had done a fine thing in not dying. After all, was it not moral cowardice as much as love that had tempted him to die? He had wrestled with it, thrown it. "Yes," said he, when her rhapsody was over, "perhaps I am modest."
"And that is why you hid yourself just now?"
"Yes," he gladly said. "I hid myself for the same reason," he added, "when I heard your mother's footstep."
"But," she faltered, with a sudden doubt, "that bit of writing which Mother found on the table--"
"That? Oh, that was only a general reflection, copied out of a book."
"Oh, won't poor Mother be glad when she knows!"
"I don't want her to know," said Noaks, with a return of nervousness. "You mustn't tell any one. I--the fact is--"
"Ah, that is so like you!" the girl said tenderly. "I suppose it was your modesty that all this while blinded me. Please, sir, I have a confession to make to you. Never till to-night have I loved you."
Exquisite was the shock of these words to one who, not without reason, had always assumed that no woman would ever love him. Before he knew what he was doing, he had bent down and kissed the sweet upturned face. It was the first kiss he had ever given outside his family circle. It was an artless and a resounding kiss.
He started back, dazed. What manner of man, he wondered, was he? A coward, piling profligacy on poltroonery? Or a hero, claiming exemption from moral law? What was done could not be undone; but it could be righted. He drew off from the little finger of his left hand that iron ring which, after a twinge of rheumatism, he had to-day resumed.
"Wear it," he said.
"You mean--?" She leapt to her feet.
"That we are engaged. I hope you don't think we have any choice?"
She clapped her hands, like the child she was, and adjusted the ring.
"It is very pretty," she said.
"It is very simple," he answered lightly. "But," he added, with a change of tone, "it is very durable. And that is the important thing. For I shall not be in a position to marry before I am forty."
A shadow of disappointment hovered over Katie's clear young brow, but was instantly chased away by the thought that to be engaged was almost as splendid as to be married.
"Recently," said her lover, "I meditated leaving Oxford for Australia. But now that you have come into my life, I am compelled to drop that notion, and to carve out the career I had first set for myself. A year hence, if I get a Second in Greats--and I SHALL" he said, with a fierce look that entranced her--"I shall have a very good chance of an assistant-mastership in a good private school. In eighteen years, if I am careful--and, with you waiting for me, I SHALL be careful--my savings will enable me to start a small school of my own, and to take a wife. Even then it would be more prudent to wait another five years, no doubt. But there was always a streak of madness in the Noakses. I say 'Prudence to the winds!'"
"Ah, don't say that!" exclaimed Katie, laying a hand on his sleeve.
"You are right. Never hesitate to curb me. And," he said, touching the ring, "an idea has just occurred to me. When the time comes, let this be the wedding-ring. Gold is gaudy--not at all the thing for a schoolmaster's bride. It is a pity," he muttered, examining her through his spectacles, "that your hair is so golden. A schoolmaster's bride should--Good heavens! Those ear-rings! Where did you get THEM?"
"They were given to me to-day," Katie faltered. "The Duke gave me them."
"Please, sir, he gave me them as a memento."
"And that memento shall immediately be handed over to his executors."
"I should think so!" was on the tip of Noaks' tongue, but suddenly he ceased to see the pearls as trinkets finite and inapposite--saw them, in a flash, as things transmutable by sale hereafter into desks, forms, black-boards, maps, lockers, cubicles, gravel soil, diet unlimited, and special attention to backward pupils. Simultaneously, he saw how mean had been his motive for repudiating the gift. What more despicable than jealousy of a man deceased? What sillier than to cast pearls before executors? Sped by nothing but the pulse of his hot youth, he had wooed and won this girl. Why flinch from her unsought dowry?
He told her his vision. Her eyes opened wide to it. "And oh," she cried, "then we can be married as soon as you take your degree!"
He bade her not be so foolish. Who ever heard of a head-master aged three-and-twenty? What parent or guardian would trust a stripling? The engagement must run its course. "And," he said, fidgeting, "do you know that I have hardly done any reading to-day?"
"You want to read NOW--TO-NIGHT?"
"I must put in a good two hours. Where are the books that were on my table?"
Reverently--he was indeed a king of men--she took the books down from the shelf, and placed them where she had found them. And she knew not which thrilled her the more--the kiss he gave her at parting, or the tone in which he told her that the one thing he could not and would not stand was having his books disturbed.
Still less than before attuned to the lugubrious session downstairs, she went straight up to her attic, and did a little dance there in the dark. She threw open the lattice of the dormer-window, and leaned out, smiling, throbbing.
The Emperors, gazing up, saw her happy, and wondered; saw Noaks' ring on her finger, and would fain have shaken their grey heads.
Presently she was aware of a protrusion from the window beneath hers. The head of her beloved! Fondly she watched it, wished she could reach down to stroke it. She loved him for having, after all, left his books. It was sweet to be his excuse. Should she call softly to him? No, it might shame him to be caught truant. He had already chidden her for prying. So she did but gaze down on his head silently, wondering whether in eighteen years it would be bald, wondering whether her own hair would still have the fault of being golden. Most of all, she wondered whether he loved her half so much as she loved him.
This happened to be precisely what he himself was wondering. Not that he wished himself free. He was one of those in whom the will does not, except under very great pressure, oppose the conscience. What pressure here? Miss Batch was a superior girl; she would grace any station in life. He had always been rather in awe of her. It was a fine thing to be suddenly loved by her, to be in a position to over-rule her every whim. Plighting his troth, he had feared she would be an encumbrance, only to find she was a lever. But--was he deeply in love with her? How was it that he could not at this moment recall her features, or the tone of her voice, while of deplorable Miss Dobson, every lineament, every accent, so vividly haunted him? Try as he would to beat off these memories, he failed, and--some very great pressure here!--was glad he failed; glad though he found himself relapsing to the self-contempt from which Miss Batch had raised him. He scorned himself for being alive. And again, he scorned himself for his infidelity. Yet he was glad he could not forget that face, that voice--that queen. She had smiled at him when she borrowed the ring. She had said "Thank you." Oh, and now, at this very moment, sleeping or waking, actually she was somewhere--she! herself! This was an incredible, an indubitable, an all-magical fact for the little fellow.
From the street below came a faint cry that was as the cry of his own heart, uttered by her own lips. Quaking, he peered down, and dimly saw, over the way, a cloaked woman.
She--yes, it was she herself--came gliding to the middle of the road, gazing up at him.
"At last!" he heard her say. His instinct was to hide himself from the queen he had not died for. Yet he could not move.
"Or," she quavered, "are you a phantom sent to mock me? Speak!"
"Good evening," he said huskily.
"I knew," she murmured, "I knew the gods were not so cruel. Oh man of my need," she cried, stretching out her arms to him, "oh heaven-sent, I see you only as a dark outline against the light of your room. But I know you. Your name is Noaks, isn't it? Dobson is mine. I am your Warden's grand-daughter. I am faint and foot-sore. I have ranged this desert city in search of--of YOU. Let me hear from your own lips that you love me. Tell me in your own words--" She broke off with a little scream, and did not stand with forefinger pointed at him, gazing, gasping.
"Listen, Miss Dobson," he stammered, writhing under what he took to be the lash of her irony. "Give me time to explain. You see me here--"
"Hush," she cried, "man of my greater, my deeper and nobler need! Oh hush, ideal which not consciously I was out for to-night--ideal vouchsafed to me by a crowning mercy! I sought a lover, I find a master. I sought but a live youth, was blind to what his survival would betoken. Oh master, you think me light and wicked. You stare coldly down at me through your spectacles, whose glint I faintly discern now that the moon peeps forth. You would be readier to forgive me the havoc I have wrought if you could for the life of you understand what charm your friends found in me. You marvel, as at the skull of Helen of Troy. No, you don't think me hideous: you simply think me plain. There was a time when I thought YOU plain--you whose face, now that the moon shines full on it, is seen to be of a beauty that is flawless without being insipid. Oh that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek! You shudder at the notion of such contact. My voice grates on you. You try to silence me with frantic though exquisite gestures, and with noises inarticulate but divine. I bow to your will, master. Chasten me with your tongue."
"I am not what you think me," gibbered Noaks. "I was not afraid to die for you. I love you. I was on my way to the river this afternoon, but I--I tripped and sprained my ankle, and--and jarred my spine. They carried me back here. I am still very weak. I can't put my foot to the ground. As soon as I can--"
Just then Zuleika heard a little sharp sound which, for the fraction of an instant, before she knew it to be a clink of metal on the pavement, she thought was the breaking of the heart within her. Looking quickly down, she heard a shrill girlish laugh aloft. Looking quickly up, she descried at the unlit window above her lover's a face which she remembered as that of the land-lady's daughter.
"Find it, Miss Dobson," laughed the girl. "Crawl for it. It can't have rolled far, and it's the only engagement-ring you'll get from HIM," she said, pointing to the livid face twisted painfully up at her from the lower window. "Grovel for it, Miss Dobson. Ask him to step down and help you. Oh, he can! That was all lies about his spine and ankle. Afraid, that's what he was--I see it all now--afraid of the water. I wish you'd found him as I did--skulking behind the curtain. Oh, you're welcome to him."
"Don't listen," Noaks cried down. "Don't listen to that person. I admit I have trifled with her affections. This is her revenge--these wicked untruths--these--these--"
Zuleika silenced him with a gesture. "Your tone to me," she said up to Katie, "is not without offence; but the stamp of truth is on what you tell me. We have both been deceived in this man, and are, in some sort, sisters."
"Sisters?" cried Katie. "Your sisters are the snake and the spider, though neither of them wishes it known. I loathe you. And the Duke loathed you, too."
"What's that?" gasped Zuleika.
"Didn't he tell you? He told me. And I warrant he told you, too."
"He died for love of me: d'you hear?"
"Ah, you'd like people to think so, wouldn't you? Does a man who loves a woman give away the keepsake she gave him? Look!" Katie leaned forward, pointing to her ear-rings. "He loved ME," she cried. He put them in with his own hands--told me to wear them always. And he kissed me--kissed me good-bye in the street, where every one could see. He kissed me," she sobbed. "No other man shall ever do that."
"Ah, that he did!" said a voice level with Zuleika. It was the voice of Mrs. Batch, who a few moments ago had opened the door for her departing guests.
"Ah, that he did!" echoed the guests.
"Never mind them, Miss Dobson," cried Noaks, and at the sound of his voice Mrs. Batch rushed into the middle of the road, to gaze up. "_I_ love you. Think what you will of me. I--"
"You!" flashed Zuleika. "As for you, little Sir Lily Liver, leaning out there, and, I frankly tell you, looking like nothing so much as a gargoyle hewn by a drunken stone-mason for the adornment of a Methodist Chapel in one of the vilest suburbs of Leeds or Wigan, I do but felicitate the river-god and his nymphs that their water was saved to-day by your cowardice from the contamination of your plunge."
"Shame on you, Mr. Noaks," said Mrs. Batch, "making believe you were dead--"
"Shame!" screamed Clarence, who had darted out into the fray.
"I found him hiding behind the curtain," chimed in Katie.
"And I a mother to him!" said Mrs. Batch, shaking her fist. "'What is life without love?' indeed! Oh, the cowardly, underhand--"
"Wretch," prompted her cronies.
"Let's kick him out of the house!" suggested Clarence, dancing for joy.
Zuleika, smiling brilliantly down at the boy, said "Just you run up and fight him!"
"Right you are," he answered, with a look of knightly devotion, and darted back into the house.
"No escape!" she cried up to Noaks. "You've got to fight him now. He and you are just about evenly matched, I fancy."
But, grimly enough, Zuleika's estimate was never put to the test. Is it harder for a coward to fight with his fists than to kill himself? Or again, is it easier for him to die than to endure a prolonged cross-fire of women's wrath and scorn? This I know: that in the life of even the least and meanest of us there is somewhere one fine moment--one high chance not missed. I like to think it was by operation of this law that Noaks had now clambered out upon the window-sill, silencing, sickening, scattering like chaff the women beneath him.
He was already not there when Clarence bounded into the room. "Come on!" yelled the boy, first thrusting his head behind the door, then diving beneath the table, then plucking aside either window-curtain, vowing vengeance.
Vengeance was not his. Down on the road without, not yet looked at but by the steadfast eyes of the Emperors, the last of the undergraduates lay dead; and fleet-footed Zuleika, with her fingers still pressed to her ears, had taken full toll now.
Twisting and turning in her flight, with wild eyes that fearfully retained the image of that small man gathering himself to spring, Zuleika found herself suddenly where she could no further go.
She was in that grim ravine by which you approach New College. At sight of the great shut gate before her, she halted, and swerved to the wall. She set her brow and the palms of her hands against the cold stones. She threw back her head, and beat the stones with her fists.
It was not only what she had seen, it was what she had barely saved herself from seeing, and what she had not quite saved herself from hearing, that she strove so piteously to forget. She was sorrier for herself, angrier, than she had been last night when the Duke laid hands on her. Why should every day have a horrible ending? Last night she had avenged herself. To-night's outrage was all the more foul and mean because of its certain immunity. And the fact that she had in some measure brought it on herself did but whip her rage. What a fool she had been to taunt the man! Yet no, how could she have foreseen that he would--do THAT? How could she have guessed that he, who had not dared seemly death for her in the gentle river, would dare--THAT?
She shuddered the more as she now remembered that this very day, in that very house, she had invited for her very self a similar fate. What if the Duke had taken her word? Strange! she wouldn't have flinched then. She had felt no horror at the notion of such a death. And thus she now saw Noaks' conduct in a new light--saw that he had but wished to prove his love, not at all to affront her. This understanding quickly steadied her nerves. She did not need now to forget what she had seen; and, not needing to forget it--thus are our brains fashioned--she was able to forget it.
But by removal of one load her soul was but bared for a more grievous other. Her memory harked back to what had preceded the crisis. She recalled those moments of doomed rapture in which her heart had soared up to the apocalyptic window--recalled how, all the while she was speaking to the man there, she had been chafed by the inadequacy of language. Oh, how much more she had meant than she could express! Oh, the ecstasy of that self-surrender! And the brevity of it! the sudden odious awakening! Thrice in this Oxford she had been duped. Thrice all that was fine and sweet in her had leapt forth, only to be scourged back into hiding. Poor heart inhibited! She gazed about her. The stone alley she had come into, the terrible shut gate, were for her a visible symbol of the destiny she had to put up with. Wringing her hands, she hastened along the way she had come. She vowed she would never again set foot in Oxford. She wished herself out of the hateful little city to-night. She even wished herself dead.
She deserved to suffer, you say? Maybe. I merely state that she did suffer.
Emerging into Catherine Street, she knew whereabouts she was, and made straight for Judas, turning away her eyes as she skirted the Broad, that place of mocked hopes and shattered ideals.
Coming into Judas Street, she remembered the scene of yesterday--the happy man with her, the noise of the vast happy crowd. She suffered in a worse form what she had suffered in the gallery of the Hall. For now--did I not say she was not without imagination?--her self-pity was sharpened by remorse for the hundreds of homes robbed. She realised the truth of what the poor Duke had once said to her: she was a danger in the world . . . Aye, and all the more dire now. What if the youth of all Europe were moved by Oxford's example? That was a horribly possible thing. It must be reckoned with. It must be averted. She must not show herself to men. She must find some hiding-place, and there abide. Were this a hardship? she asked herself. Was she not sickened for ever of men's homage? And was it not clear now that the absorbing need in her soul, the need to love, would never--except for a brief while, now and then, and by an unfortunate misunderstanding--be fulfilled?
So long ago that you may not remember, I compared her favourably with the shepherdess Marcella, and pleaded her capacity for passion as an excuse for her remaining at large. I hope you will now, despite your rather evident animus against her, set this to her credit: that she did, so soon as she realised the hopelessness of her case, make just that decision which I blamed Marcella for not making at the outset. It was as she stood on the Warden's door-step that she decided to take the veil.
With something of a conventual hush in her voice, she said to the butler, "Please tell my maid that we are leaving by a very early train to-morrow, and that she must pack my things to-night."
"Very well, Miss," said the butler. "The Warden," he added, "is in the study, Miss, and was asking for you."
She could face her grandfather without a tremour--now. She would hear meekly whatever reproaches he might have for her, but their sting was already drawn by the surprise she had in store for him.
It was he who seemed a trifle nervous. In his
"Well, did you come and peep down from the gallery?" there was a distinct tremour.
Throwing aside her cloak, she went quickly to him, and laid a hand on the lapel of his coat. "Poor grand-papa!" she said.
"Nonsense, my dear child," he replied, disengaging himself. "I didn't give it a thought. If the young men chose to be so silly as to stay away, I--I--"
"Grand-papa, haven't you been told YET?"
"Told? I am a Gallio for such follies. I didn't inquire."
"But (forgive me, grand-papa, if I seem to you, for the moment, pert) you are Warden here. It is your duty, even your privilege, to GUARD. Is it not? Well, I grant you the adage that it is useless to bolt the stable door when the horse has been stolen. But what shall be said of the ostler who doesn't know--won't even 'inquire' whether--the horse HAS been stolen, grand-papa?"
"You speak in riddles, Zuleika."
"I wish with all my heart I need not tell you the answers. I think I have a very real grievance against your staff--or whatever it is you call your subordinates here. I go so far as to dub them dodderers. And I shall the better justify that term by not shirking the duty they have left undone. The reason why there were no undergraduates in your Hall to-night is that they were all dead."
"Dead?" he gasped. "Dead? It is disgraceful that I was not told. What did they die of?"
"Yes. I am an epidemic, grand-papa, a scourge, such as the world has not known. Those young men drowned themselves for love of me."
He came towards her. "Do you realise, girl, what this means to me? I am an old man. For more than half a century I have known this College. To it, when my wife died, I gave all that there was of heart left in me. For thirty years I have been Warden; and in that charge has been all my pride. I have had no thought but for this great College, its honour and prosperity. More than once lately have I asked myself whether my eyes were growing dim, my hand less steady. 'No' was my answer, and again 'No.' And thus it is that I have lingered on to let Judas be struck down from its high eminence, shamed in the eyes of England--a College for ever tainted, and of evil omen." He raised his head. "The disgrace to myself is nothing. I care not how parents shall rage against me, and the Heads of other Colleges make merry over my decrepitude. It is because you have wrought the downfall of Judas that I am about to lay my undying curse on you."
"You mustn't do that!" she cried. "It would be a sort of sacrilege. I am going to be a nun. Besides, why should you? I can quite well understand your feeling for Judas. But how is Judas more disgraced than any other College? If it were only the Judas undergraduates who had--"
"There were others?" cried the Warden. "How many?"
"All. All the boys from all the Colleges."
The Warden heaved a deep sigh. "Of course," he said, "this changes the aspect of the whole matter. I wish you had made it clear at once. You gave me a very great shock," he said sinking into his arm-chair, "and I have not yet recovered. You must study the art of exposition."
"That will depend on the rules of the convent."
"Ah, I forgot that you were going into a convent. Anglican, I hope?"
Anglican, she supposed.
"As a young man," he said, "I saw much of dear old Dr. Pusey. It might have somewhat reconciled him to my marriage if he had known that my grand-daughter would take the veil." He adjusted his glasses, and looked at her. "Are you sure you have a vocation?"
"Yes. I want to be out of the world. I want to do no more harm."
He eyed her musingly. "That," he said, "is rather a revulsion than a vocation. I remember that I ventured to point out to Dr. Pusey the difference between those two things, when he was almost persuading me to enter a Brotherhood founded by one of his friends. It may be that the world would be well rid of you, my dear child. But it is not the world only that we must consider. Would you grace the recesses of the Church?"
"I could but try," said Zuleika.
"'You could but try' are the very words Dr. Pusey used to me. I ventured to say that in such a matter effort itself was a stigma of unfitness. For all my moods of revulsion, I knew that my place was in the world. I stayed there."
"But suppose, grand-papa"--and, seeing in fancy the vast agitated flotilla of crinolines, she could not forbear a smile--"suppose all the young ladies of that period had drowned themselves for love of you?"
Her smile seemed to nettle the Warden. "I was greatly admired," he said. "Greatly," he repeated.
"And you liked that, grand-papa?"
"Yes, my dear. Yes, I am afraid I did. But I never encouraged it."
"Your own heart was never touched?"
"Never, until I met Laura Frith."
"Who was she?"
"She was my future wife."
"And how was it you singled her out from the rest? Was she very beautiful?"
"No. It cannot be said that she was beautiful. Indeed, she was accounted plain. I think it was her great dignity that attracted me. She did not smile archly at me, nor shake her ringlets. In those days it was the fashion for young ladies to embroider slippers for such men in holy orders as best pleased their fancy. I received hundreds-- thousands--of such slippers. But never a pair from Laura Frith."
"She did not love you?" asked Zuleika, who had seated herself on the floor at her grandfather's feet.
I concluded that she did not. It interested me very greatly. It fired me."
"Was she incapable of love?"
"No, it was notorious in her circle that she had loved often, but loved in vain."
"Why did she marry you?"
"I think she was fatigued by my importunities. She was not very strong. But it may be that she married me out of pique. She never told me. I did not inquire."
"Yet you were very happy with her?"
"While she lived, I was ideally happy."
The young woman stretched out a hand, and laid it on the clasped hands of the old man. He sat gazing into the past. She was silent for a while; and in her eyes, still fixed intently on his face, there were tears.
"Grand-papa dear"--but there were tears in her voice, too.
"My child, you don't understand. If I had needed pity--"
"I do understand--so well. I wasn't pitying you, dear, I was envying you a little."
"Me?--an old man with only the remembrance of happiness?"
"You, who have had happiness granted to you. That isn't what made me cry, though. I cried because I was glad. You and I, with all this great span of years between us, and yet--so wonderfully alike! I had always thought of myself as a creature utterly apart."
"Ah, that is how all young people think of themselves. It wears off. Tell me about this wonderful resemblance of ours."
He sat attentive while she described her heart to him. But when, at the close of her confidences, she said, "So you see it's a case of sheer heredity, grand-papa," the word "Fiddlesticks!" would out.
"Forgive me, my dear," he said, patting her hand. "I was very much interested. But I do believe young people are even more staggered by themselves than they were in my day. And then, all these grand theories they fall back on! Heredity . . . as if there were something to baffle us in the fact of a young woman liking to be admired! And as if it were passing strange of her to reserve her heart for a man she can respect and look up to! And as if a man's indifference to her were not of all things the likeliest to give her a sense of inferiority to him! You and I, my dear, may in some respects be very queer people, but in the matter of the affections we are ordinary enough."
"Oh grand-papa, do you really mean that?" she cried eagerly.
"At my age, a man husbands his resources. He says nothing that he does not really mean. The indifference between you and other young women is that which lay also between me and other young men: a special attractiveness . . . Thousands of slippers, did I say? Tens of thousands. I had hoarded them with a fatuous pride. On the evening of my betrothal I made a bonfire of them, visible from three counties. I danced round it all night." And from his old eyes darted even now the reflections of those flames.
"Glorious!" whispered Zuleika. "But ah," she said, rising to her feet, "tell me no more of it--poor me! You see, it isn't a mere special attractiveness that _I_ have. _I_ am irresistible."
"A daring statement, my child--very hard to prove."
"Hasn't it been proved up to the hilt to-day?"
"To-day? . . Ah, and so they did really all drown themselves for you? . . Dear, dear! . . The Duke--he, too?"
"He set the example."
"No! You don't say so! He was a greatly-gifted young man--a true ornament to the College. But he always seemed to me rather--what shall I say?--inhuman . . . I remember now that he did seem rather excited when he came to the concert last night and you weren't yet there . . . You are quite sure you were the cause of his death?"
"Quite," said Zuleika, marvelling at the lie--or fib, rather: he had been GOING to die for her. But why not have told the truth? Was it possible, she wondered, that her wretched vanity had survived her renunciation of the world? Why had she so resented just now the doubt cast on that irresistibility which had blighted and cranked her whole life?
"Well, my dear," said the Warden, "I confess that I am amazed-- astounded." Again he adjusted his glasses, and looked at her.
She found herself moving slowly around the study, with the gait of a mannequin in a dress-maker's show-room. She tried to stop this; but her body seemed to be quite beyond control of her mind. It had the insolence to go ambling on its own account. "Little space you'll have in a convent cell," snarled her mind vindictively. Her body paid no heed whatever.
Her grandfather, leaning back in his chair, gazed at the ceiling, and meditatively tapped the finger-tips of one hand against those of the other. "Sister Zuleika," he presently said to the ceiling.
"Well? and what is there so--so ridiculous in"--but the rest was lost in trill after trill of laughter; and these were then lost in sobs.
The Warden had risen from his chair. "My dear," he said, "I wasn't laughing. I was only--trying to imagine. If you really want to retire from--"
"I do," moaned Zuleika.
"But I don't," she wailed.
"Of course, you don't, my dear."
"Why, of course?"
"Come, you are tired, my poor child. That is very natural after this wonderful, this historic day. Come dry your eyes. There, that's better. To-morrow--"
"I do believe you're a little proud of me."
"Heaven forgive me, I believe I am. A grandfather's heart-- But there, good night, my dear. Let me light your candle."
She took her cloak, and followed him out to the hall table. There she mentioned that she was going away early to-morrow.
"To the convent?" he slyly asked.
"Ah, don't tease me, grand-papa."
"Well, I am sorry you are going away, my dear. But perhaps, in the circumstances, it is best. You must come and stay here again, later on," he said, handing her the lit candle. "Not in term-time, though," he added.
"No," she echoed, "not in term-time."
From the shifting gloom of the stair-case to the soft radiance cast through the open door of her bedroom was for poor Zuleika an almost heartening transition. She stood awhile on the threshold, watching Melisande dart to and fro like a shuttle across a loom. Already the main part of the packing seemed to have been accomplished. The wardrobe was a yawning void, the carpet was here and there visible, many of the trunks were already brimming and foaming over . . . Once more on the road! Somewhat as, when beneath the stars the great tent had been struck, and the lions were growling in their vans, and the horses were pawing the stamped grass and whinnying, and the elephants trumpeting, Zuleika's mother may often have felt within her a wan exhilaration, so now did the heart of that mother's child rise and flutter amidst the familiar bustle of "being off." Weary she was of the world, and angry she was at not being, after all, good enough for something better. And yet--well, at least, good-bye to Oxford!
She envied Melisande, so nimbly and cheerfully laborious till the day should come when her betrothed had saved enough to start a little cafe of his own and make her his bride and dame de comptoir. Oh, to have a purpose, a prospect, a stake in the world, as this faithful soul had!
"Can I help you at all, Melisande?" she asked, picking her way across the strewn floor.
Melisande, patting down a pile of chiffon, seemed to be amused at such a notion. "Mademoiselle has her own art. Do I mix myself in that?" she cried, waving one hand towards the great malachite casket.
Zuleika looked at the casket, and then very gratefully at the maid. Her art--how had she forgotten that? Here was solace, purpose. She would work as she had never worked yet. She KNEW that she had it in her to do better than she had ever done. She confessed to herself that she had too often been slack in the matter of practice and rehearsal, trusting her personal magnetism to carry her through. Only last night she had badly fumbled, more than once. Her bravura business with the Demon Egg-Cup had been simply vile. The audience hadn't noticed it, perhaps, but she had. Now she would perfect herself. Barely a fortnight now before her engagement at the Folies Bergeres! What if--no, she must not think of that! But the thought insisted. What if she essayed for Paris that which again and again she had meant to graft on to her repertory--the Provoking Thimble?
She flushed at the possibility. What if her whole present repertory were but a passing phase in her art--a mere beginning--an earlier manner? She remembered how marvellously last night she had manipulated the ear-rings and the studs. Then lo! the light died out of her eyes, and her face grew rigid. That memory had brought other memories in its wake.
For her, when she fled the Broad, Noaks' window had blotted out all else. Now she saw again that higher window, saw that girl flaunting her ear-rings, gibing down at her. "He put them in with his own hands!"--the words rang again in her ears, making her cheeks tingle. Oh, he had thought it a very clever thing to do, no doubt--a splendid little revenge, something after his own heart! "And he kissed me in the open street"--excellent, excellent! She ground her teeth. And these doings must have been fresh in his mind when she overtook him and walked with him to the house-boat! Infamous! And she had then been wearing his studs! She drew his attention to them when--
Her jewel-box stood open, to receive the jewels she wore to-night. She went very calmly to it. There, in a corner of the topmost tray, rested the two great white pearls--the pearls which, in one way and another, had meant so much to her.
"When we go to Paris, would you like to make a little present to your fiance?"
"Je voudrais bien, mademoiselle."
"Then you shall give him these," said Zuleika, holding out the two studs.
"Mais jamais de la vie! Chez Tourtel tout le monde le dirait millionaire. Un garcon de cafe qui porte au plastron des perles pareilles--merci!"
Tell him he may tell every one that they were given to me by the late Duke of Dorset, and given by me to you, and by you to him."
"Mais--" The protest died on Melisande's lips. Suddenly she had ceased to see the pearls as trinkets finite and inapposite--saw them as things presently transmutable into little marble tables, bocks, dominos, absinthes au sucre, shiny black portfolios with weekly journals in them, yellow staves with daily journals flapping from them, vermouths secs, vermouths cassis . . .
"Mademoiselle is too amiable," she said, taking the pearls.
And certainly, just then, Zuleika was looking very amiable indeed. The look was transient. Nothing, she reflected, could undo what the Duke had done. That hateful, impudent girl would take good care that every one should know. "He put them in with his own hands." HER ear-rings! "He kissed me in the public street. He loved me" . . . Well, he had called out "Zuleika!" and every one around had heard him. That was something. But how glad all the old women in the world would be to shake their heads and say "Oh, no, my dear, believe me! It wasn't anything to do with HER. I'm told on the very best authority," and so forth, and so on. She knew he had told any number of undergraduates he was going to die for her. But they, poor fellows, could not bear witness. And good heavens! If there were a doubt as to the Duke's motive, why not doubts as to theirs? . . But many of them had called out "Zuleika!" too. And of course any really impartial person who knew anything at all about the matter at first hand would be sure in his own mind that it was perfectly absurd to pretend that the whole thing wasn't entirely and absolutely for her . . . And of course some of the men must have left written evidence of their intention. She remembered that at The MacQuern's to-day was a Mr. Craddock, who had made a will in her favour and wanted to read it aloud to her in the middle of luncheon. Oh, there would be proof positive as to many of the men. But of the others it would be said that they died in trying to rescue their comrades. There would be all sorts of silly far-fetched theories, and downright lies that couldn't be disproved . . .
"Melisande, that crackling of tissue paper is driving me mad! Do leave off! Can't you see that I am waiting to be undressed?"
The maid hastened to her side, and with quick light fingers began to undress her. "Mademoiselle va bien dormir--ca se voit," she purred.
"I shan't," said Zuleika.
Nevertheless, it was soothing to be undressed, and yet more soothing anon to sit merely night-gowned before the mirror, while, slowly and gently, strongly and strand by strand, Melisande brushed her hair.
After all, it didn't so much matter what the world thought. Let the world whisper and insinuate what it would. To slur and sully, to belittle and drag down--that was what the world always tried to do. But great things were still great, and fair things still fair. With no thought for the world's opinion had these men gone down to the water to-day. Their deed was for her and themselves alone. It had sufficed them. Should it not suffice her? It did, oh it did. She was a wretch to have repined.
At a gesture from her, Melisande brought to a close the rhythmical ministrations, and--using no tissue paper this time--did what was yet to be done among the trunks.
"WE know, you and I," Zuleika whispered to the adorable creature in the mirror; and the adorable creature gave back her nod and smile.
THEY knew, these two.
Yet, in their happiness, rose and floated a shadow between them. It was the ghost of that one man who--THEY knew--had died irrelevantly, with a cold heart.
Came also the horrid little ghost of one who had died late and unseemly.
And now, thick and fast, swept a whole multitude of other ghosts, the ghosts of all them who, being dead, could not die again; the poor ghosts of them who had done what they could, and could do no more.
No more? Was it not enough? The lady in the mirror gazed at the lady in the room, reproachfully at first, then--for were they not sisters? --relentingly, then pityingly. Each of the two covered her face with her hands.
And there recurred, as by stealth, to the lady in the room a thought that had assailed her not long ago in Judas Street . . . a thought about the power of example . . .
And now, with pent breath and fast-beating heart, she stood staring at the lady of the mirror, without seeing her; and now she wheeled round and swiftly glided to that little table on which stood her two books. She snatched Bradshaw.
We always intervene between Bradshaw and any one whom we see consulting him. "Mademoiselle will permit me to find that which she seeks?" asked Melisande.
"Be quiet," said Zuleika. We always repulse, at first, any one who intervenes between us and Bradshaw.
We always end by accepting the intervention. "See if it is possible to go direct from here to Cambridge," said Zuleika, handing the book on. "If it isn't, then--well, see how to get there."
We never have any confidence in the intervener. Nor is the intervener, when it comes to the point, sanguine. With mistrust mounting to exasperation Zuleika sat watching the faint and frantic researches of her maid.
"Stop!" she said suddenly. "I have a much better idea. Go down very early to the station. See the station-master. Order me a special train. For ten o'clock, say."
Rising, she stretched her arms above her head. Her lips parted in a yawn, met in a smile. With both hands she pushed back her hair from her shoulders, and twisted it into a loose knot. Very lightly she slipped up into bed, and very soon she was asleep.