To Morrow?

Author: Victoria Cross

Chapter II

The next morning when I came down to breakfast it was late, and my father had already withdrawn to his own library. I had missed again speaking to him, as I could not seek and disturb him there.

He also was a writer, though quite of a different school from myself. He wrote ardently upon politics, political economy, and statistics, things which I took no interest in.

The nation might arrange itself how it pleased for all I cared. What I wanted to arrange was my own life. I had no ambition to set my country’s affairs straight, my own thoughts were too much engaged in tugging my own into some sort of order.

There were some letters for me, and I turned them over listlessly, balancing them tip in succession against the toast-rack in front of me, without opening any. The last I came to was quite different from any of the others, and being the last, it stood foremost before me, and I looked at it while I went on with my breakfast.

It is curious how representative a letter generally is of its writer. The mere outside is like a psychological photograph. Of course it does not give details, but it presents you with a wonderfully accurate outline of the cut of a person’s identity. This envelope was square, and looked as hard, white and clean as if a stone-tablet had passed through the post. It bore a delicate, weak, feminine superscription, hurried and careless; the writing unformed, but graceful and distinguished; and on the other side of the letter, stamped in grey, stood a crest, and the motto subscrolled.

Yes, the woman who had written it was very like the letter. Immaculate and perhaps somewhat hard, delicate, and in will a little weak, impulsive and undecided, well-bred, and strikingly typical of the class to which she belonged.

I broke the letter open after a minute and read—

"DEAREST VICTOR,—Do come and see me as soon as you possibly can. A scheme for the next canvas occurred to me last night, but I want you to help me execute it. What about the manuscripts? If you can’t come, tell me. Bring Nous. LUCIA."

I smiled as I replaced the letter. The composition was rather defective, and left the meaning decidedly indistinct. If I could not come I was to tell her. Tell her what? About the MS., or that I couldn’t come?

And under what circumstances was I to take Nous? Apparently if I could not do so.

I was not sneering at the little note, and it went into my breast pocket, but it amused me.

"That is the way I ought to write for the British, I suppose?" I muttered, with a yawn. "Muddle all one’s language up until nobody has the faintest idea of what the author’s sentiments are, and then they don’t know whether he means anything heterodox or not."

I got up. I might as well obey the orders I had just received.

There was a tired confusion of thought in my brain—a floating mass of half-formed embryonic ideas, wishes, plans and suggestions filled it that were quite useless for prompting or guiding any definite resolution as to what I should do in the immediate future.

Everything seemed to depend on something else, and it was impossible to find any positive basis upon which I could found a resolve.

If I could succeed as an author, my way was clear, but if I could not, and if . . . and if . . . And so on through a wearying, perplexing series of conditions.

Just then I felt unequal to regulating and giving order to this inward chaos, and I abandoned the attempt.

Meanwhile I would go over to the house in South Kensington, whence the letter had come.

It was about eleven when I arrived there, and I was told Miss Grant was "upstairs, as usual."

I nodded, and went up the necessary six flights of stairs to a familiar landing on the third floor.

A door in front of me stood ajar, and with a sign to Nous to remain on the stairs, I knocked at it.

There was no answer and no sound from within, and thinking the room was empty after all, I pushed the door wide and went in.

It was a huge room, used as a studio, facing the north light, and with three large windows.

Before the middle one there was an easel, and the girl was in the room, standing there in front of the canvas between me and the light. She was seemingly entirely abstracted and absorbed. She was completely motionless, and for the moment she communicated her stillness to me.

I paused, silent, looking at her.

She was standing directly in front of me, facing the canvas, that was perfectly blank at present.

One hand rested on her hip, the other was raised and pressed to her head, as when a person looks into distance, and the arm and elbow and wrist traced a delicate curve against the dull grey square of London window pane.

A twist of hair about as thick as my arm fell nearly to her waist. It was decidedly not gold; that is, it did not suggest dye and the Haymarket; but it was fair and curly, and seemed to hold light imprisoned amongst it.

The figure was tall, and erred, perhaps, on the side of slightness.

Certainly it would have been too slight for those men whose scale of admiration runs—so much in the pound. But the architecture of the form was perfect. Each line was worthy of study in itself as a thing of beauty, and the harmony of them all in the whole figure, whether it moved or was at rest, gave an indefinable pleasure to the eye.

What a lovely thing it was this form, seeming to hold in itself the light and pleasure and glow of life, as it stood, the only brilliant thing in that cold north room.

And it might be mine, might have belonged to me long since if . . . well if . . . that was just it.

I made a step forward and she turned.

"Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come," she said, laying her hand in mine. "I want you so much."

We shook hands.

Although we were cousins, and had been engaged for the last two years, this was our invariable method of greeting and leave-taking.

I had never kissed her, nor was I sure whether I ever really desired to.

There were times when the thought that precedes the impulse or the impulse that gives birth to the thought came to me, but always when I was away from her and not with her, and consequently the desire culminated in nothing.

When I was actually beside her all my own feelings seemed suddenly held in suspension, just as one stops with feet chained when one discovers one has come abruptly upon sacred ground.

There had been times when I had hurried to this girl with words eager to be spoken on my lips, and at the first sight of her they had died unuttered on my tongue, just as words die into silence in the presence of a somnambulist.

"Why am I specially necessary?" I said, smiling, as we stood in front of the easel. "Will you let me paint you as Hyacinthus?" I went into a fit of laughter. "My dear girl! anything to oblige you, but consider," I said, looking down into her eager eyes; "you ought not to have a model of six-and-twenty. Hyacinthus was probably sixteen."

"You don’t know how old he was!" she said, mockingly, her azure, sunny eyes lighting up with laughter, too, as she leant on the bending maul-stick and looked up at me.

"No, I don’t know," I answered; "but I can infer it. If we only went upon what we actually know we should not go very far."

"Well, he might have been as much as nineteen, and you don’t look quite six-and-twenty; and the remaining difference I can soften down. Have you any other excuse to make to get out of the bother of sitting?"

"You are a horrid little wretch to put it like that," I answered, "and I won’t say another word of advice. Paint your Greek youth as you please. Of course, you’ll give him this mustache with waxed ends? It’s very appropriate!"

"No; of course I shan’t. Now, Victor, do be sensible. You can be so nice at times!"

"Can I really? You are kind!"

"I want to hear about the manuscript. Was it accepted?" she said very gently, with her hand on mine.

"Well, that’s soon told," I answered. "It wasn’t."

She said nothing. Probably she knew that the mere expression "I am sorry" would be inadequate to say to a man who felt every failure as keenly as I did, and I hastened to remove her difficulty.

"Don’t let us talk of it," I said. "Tell me of the new conception."

"It is to be called ’The Death of Hyacinthus,’" she said, glancing at the vast, vacant canvas, on which, doubtless, her eye saw the whole vision already. "The scene is to be flooded with sunlight, that pours in upon a green, open glade. The life-sized figure of Hyacinthus will be standing three-quarters towards the spectator, and a little towards the rush of light from the setting sun. His eyes are to be fixed upon the quoit which will be here, at this end of the canvas, opposite him. It will be tinged blood-red in the sun’s rays, and seem a little above him."

She paused, with her eyes on the canvas. She had drifted away on the stream of her idea. "And what about the two gods?" I asked.

She started.

"Oh yes, I was going to tell you. Zephyrus will only be represented by the effect of the wind seen on the bushes, on the trees, and every blade of grass or fern in the picture. These small tamarisk trees that fringe the glade will be bent nearly double. The spirit of the wind must be in the whole painting. That will be the great effect, of course."

"And Apollo?"

"I cannot put him in. You see, I do want this to be taken at the Academy next year, and though they have scores of nude women, they would not have a nude god at any price: and it would be too inartistic to clothe Apollo. So I have supposed him invisible; being a god, he would be so to all except Hyacinthus. Simply his hand, holding the quoit, will be faintly suggested, and the light allowed to fall through it."

There was silence. "Do you like it?" she said suddenly to me.

"Yes. I think the idea is unconventional: but on that account you will probably be rejected."

"I must risk it. Hyacinthus is to be in white, and must look radiantly, gloriously happy."

"I say, do you want me to look radiantly, gloriously happy-because that will be rather difficult just now."

"As far as you can. You see, the point is that he was struck and killed in the moment of supreme confidence and light-hearted joy."

"How very uncomfortable! Is that to be my fate?" I said laughing.

"Well, will you, Victor?"

"Will I what?"

"Take your seat here, now, and let me sketch you?"

"Certainly; but I thought you said he was to be standing?"

"I don’t think I can take you for the whole figure. You are too much occupied to be able to spare the time. And I can find another model for the figure. I should like to take you for the whole, but you may be going away or something before the painting is finished. But in any case I have set my heart on giving him your head and neck."

"You flatter me awfully," I returned. "You shall have them—but that wretched Nous is outside all this time. May I let him in?"

"Oh yes! I did not know you had brought him!" she exclaimed, and ran herself to the door and called him in.

He came in meekly. And I stood where she had left me by the easel, and watched her bend over him and caress him, and I thought I was badly used.

"Now, will you sit there?" she said, coming back and indicating a chair.

I took it in silence. Then she paused, looking at me.

"What is it?" I said, enquiringly.

"Would you—" and she hesitated.

"Continue: command me."

"Could you take off your collar?"

"I think, perhaps, I could," I said, looking up into her serious face. "I am not aware that it is an absolute fixture!"

She laughed, but she was seldom chaffed out of a reply.

"It might have been in one with the shirt!" she said.

"Far-seeing intuitiveness! I admit it might; but fortunately in this case it’s not. Then you’ll excuse me if I take off my coat?"

"Yes, I want you to—coat, collar, and tie; so that I can sketch your neck down to the base of the throat."

"Ah!" I said, drawing off my coat, "I was wondering how you were going to fix up Hyacinthus with a lavender tie!"

She deigned no answer to that, and sat down just in front of me. A piece of plain drawing paper was put upon the easel before the canvas.

"Will you raise your head more? and throw your eyes up? higher, above my head!"

"May I not look straight at you?"

"No: up! up! to the window above me!"

"Won’t you come and put me in the right position?"

"No. I am sure you have intellect enough to understand verbal directions."

"Well there," I said, throwing myself into the position she wanted; "that is easy: but how about that jolly expression? where’s that to come from?"

"Can’t you imagine for a moment that you are successful, and we are married?"

"A pretty good stretch of the imagination that!" I muttered, "as things are at present!"

And involuntarily I brought my eyes down from the window to the pale, delicate, abstracted face opposite me. I did not intend to convey any reproach to her, but perhaps she thought so, for she seemed to answer that which she took to be in my mind.

"But, Victor, you know," she said, laying down the pencil she had just taken up, "it is in your own hands. I am willing to marry you when you like!"

She said it very gently, but with just a touch of cold restraint that irritated me excessively.

"Oh yes, I know it’s all my own confounded fault, but that does not make it any pleasanter. However, let all that pass. I’ll look as cheerful as I can."

There was a long silence. She was absorbed in the drawing, and I in my own thoughts, as I stared through the upper pane, as directed, at the grey, drifting, hurrying November clouds. Had I descried a quoit there about to descend upon me I should have been rather pleased than not. At last I became conscious of an intolerable crick in my neck.

"May I move?"

"Oh, one minute! one minute!" she answered, and her voice struck me. It was faint, breathless, mechanical: the voice of a person whose whole being is tense with some straining effort. At least fifteen more minutes of silence passed.

"I say! I really must turn my head now!"

"No, no! not for worlds! Keep still!"

I kept still, but I felt sick with the peculiar cramp in my neck. Suddenly she dropped the crayon and started up.

"Now you may move, Victor! I’ve finished!"

I brought my head down to its ordinary level with considerable thankfulness, and as my eyes fell upon her I was rather startled. Her figure seemed expanded as she stood, and the white serge of her bodice rose and fell heavily. All the blood had flowed from her face, leaving it blanched, colourless. In her eyes the azure iris had disappeared, the dilated pupils had brimmed over it, and left nothing behind the lashes but shining, liquid blackness. Unconsciously, seemingly, her left hand was pressed to her left side, beneath the heart, and I saw it tremble; and the whole form quivered as she leaned slightly forward with her gaze bent upon the canvas. There was for the time being some great force lent her. Some power had stirred in the brain, and now seemed overflowing through the physical system—doubtless at its expense. This was inspiration, certainly, and valuable for its creative power, but the merely physical life and physical frame panted and fainted after its painful throes to produce that which the brain commanded. I looked at the girl, oblivious of me, oblivious of herself and of the pain that forced her hand mechanically to her side—looked half with pleasure, half with alarm. It must always bring a delight to the human being to watch the triumph of intellect over matter, of the mental over the physical system, of the mind over the body. The sympathy of our own mind must go with the fellow-mind in its struggles for freedom. It is like one captive calling to another from behind his prison bars. But when we love the body too, and when our reason tells us that the striving captive, if set free, must die; when we remember that by some horrible, unnatural anomaly this spirit, that at times seems divinity itself, is condemned to live in this abominable prison and to perish there, with and in its fetters, then the wave of exultant pleasure, of exuberant, arrogant triumph, that swept over us, poor fellow-prisoners, watching those fetters shaken and almost cast off, thunders back upon us, turned into the bitterest humiliation. I felt it all—the pitiable mockery of man’s nature, the inexplicable, terrible union of a god and a brute in one frame, and the god dependent on the brute, and both mortal—as I looked at the slight, lovely form of the woman I loved, and saw it rocked and swayed, and left pained and breathless with the struggles of the powers within to assert and express themselves. It had so happened that I had never seen her at work before. It was only recently that she had been allowed to give up set studies for her own creative fancy. For years she had been employed in acquiring the technique of her art; and even beside these considerations, I had not been with her in her moments of most tense application, and I should not have been with her now but that I was needed as a tool in the work. And as I saw her at this moment, filled with mental energy and dominated by the pleasure of mental labour, a quick sympathetic elation came over me, almost immediately after to be replaced by simple fear.

"I am afraid you have overtaxed yourself rather," I said, in conventional phrase; "I’m afraid you’re in pain."

"Oh, that’s nothing! Come and tell me what you think!" she said, extending her hand, but not taking her eyes from the drawing. "This is only the first study, of course. But tell me, have I got a sufficiently—well—expectant—rapt expression? I am not quite sure."

I saw she was too utterly preoccupied to attend to anything I said of herself then, so I did not insist farther, and went up to the easel. I was not an artist nor a critic, nor in any way qualified to be a judge of painting as painting; but of genius, who is not a judge? In any art it is recognisable, patent, obvious to all. There is no human clod, no boor who is utterly insensible to its influence. It needs no education to perceive its presence, though the ignorant could not tell you what that presence was. Genius is as the sun itself: as universally perceptible. Even the rustic clown feels the sun hot upon his face. Ask him what sun is, and he cannot say, but he feels the difference between sun and no sun. And the power in this rough drawing beat in upon my perceptions as the sun beats on the labourer’s face.

"I think it’s a triumph," I answered. "You have caught a most startling look of concentration."

"I am so glad!" she said, lightly.

The strain was over, and she was descending into ordinary mundane life again, but the hand she had put on my arm chilled through the shirt sleeve like ice.

"Do you recognise yourself?"

"Ye—es," I said, slowly; "except for that very glorified nose you’ve given me!"

She laughed, and moved the paper off the easel.

"Now I just want to give you an idea of how the tamarisk will be swayed," she said, holding a crayon between her tiny white teeth, and motioning me to a couch under the window. "Sit down there and wait a minute. I’ll just sketch them roughly for you to get an approximation."

I sat down on the couch facing her, and occupied myself by replacing my collar, etc. The studio was fireless and uncommonly chilly. Then I leaned back and studied the girl as she sat there, one little foot crossed over the other, and a piece of mill-board supported on her raised knee. The tamarisk seemed to call for little expense of the divine energy, for she was as tranquil, smiling, and human as usual, now, as she sketched the bushes. They were far more mechanical work, naturally, than creating an expression and throwing it on a human face. The light from the window behind me fell full upon her, and seemed positively to brighten in her proximity. I wonder how, in their canons of beauty, the Latins could possibly have inscribed Frons minima, underrating the forehead, the sublimest feature in the human face, the great distinction between our countenance and that of our Simian prototypes. In this woman I thought it was, perhaps, her chief attraction. Round the temples and summit her light hair lay in thick loose curls. It did not "stray" anywhere. On the contrary, it was very intelligent hair, and knew exactly what to do with itself, how to curl upwards here and catch the light, how to cluster together there in adorable circles and half-circles in the shadow. And then came her forehead, a smooth band of white velvet, upon which two bow-like eyebrows were delicately traced. Excepting these and the vivid blue colouring in the eyes, and the rose and white tinting of the flesh, she had no positive beauties. The nose was a straight little nose, but very English, not the least sculptural, and the lips were rather too thick. They looked best when she was speaking, and their crimson was divided, and showed the small, even teeth behind them. Sitting watching her, now that her face was no longer flushed and animated in conversation, I noticed it looked white and tired, and all round the eyes were faint, discoloured shades. She looked overworked: looked as I myself looked in the early morning when I went upstairs from a night’s work in my study to dress for breakfast.

"What were you doing last night?" I asked, abruptly. If I interrupted the work on the bushes, no matter; she must work less.

She looked up with a sudden flush.

"How did you know?" she answered, looking at me with confusion and perplexity in her eyes.

"I know nothing. I merely ask you. You were up all night?"

Her face became quite pale again, and she raised her eyebrows with a slight smile of indifference.

"Yes, I was."

I paled too, with annoyance.

"Lucia! this is the one thing I asked you to do for me; to give your nights, at least, to rest!"

"I know you did," she said, passionately, looking at me, her lips quivering and her face growing paler and paler. "But it is impossible sometimes! What gain is there in discussing these things? A perfect scheme came to me last night, and I sat here thinking of it—planning it upon this canvas. I could not have slept had I left this room. Besides, to close your brain to your ideas when they do come!—it is madness! I might never have seen the picture so vividly before me again if I had not stayed to think it out, to realise it, to impress it, as it were, clearly on myself. I cannot promise you, Victor—I never have, I would not before—to go to bed and try to sleep when a plan occurs to me suddenly for a canvas, as it did last night!"

"But think of sitting in a room like this all night with no fire! This studio is positively freezing!"

"Is it? I don’t feel it."

"No. That is what I complain of. You feel nothing and think of nothing while you are at work, and you will injure yourself unconsciously. If you do these things you will certainly break down."

She merely shrugged her shoulders and looked past me through the window, an arrogant determination filling her blue eyes. The next minute she was speaking rapidly, and with an intonation of impatience in her voice.

"You know I am given over to the work—entirely, utterly. It is useless to expect me to sacrifice it to anything. On the contrary, everything must be sacrificed to it. Health, life itself, must be in the second place. I only value my life for the sake of this talent. Of course, I know if I lose my life I lose it too; but, equally, I can produce nothing without work. If I am to succeed I must work simply—it is necessity."

Each word was incisive, and seemed to cut slightly like falling steel from those soft, warm lips. A sudden desire rushed through me to teach her—at any rate, to exert myself to the utmost to teach her—that her life was valuable to her for other things than the capacity it gave to work. But I checked the words and the thoughts that rose, acting on the same principle as had guided me hitherto. To wake her to a sense of the pleasure and the gifts life holds, without being able to confer either—that could not be any gain. I merely said:

"And if you give up your life for the sake of this painting, Lucia, is that fair to me?"

"You would have your work," she answered.

The tone was cold and calm, and she went on sketching.

"Do you think that would console me?"

"I do not think: I am convinced of it. You are a man to whom your work, your genius, is everything. This holds the first, the ruling place in your life, and will always do so. I am in the second, I believe; but it is the second, and the step between is wide. It is quite right it should be so. I am not complaining, but it is useless to deny that it is so. Well, when one loses but the second object in one’s life—"

A soft smile swept over her face, and she lifted the white lids and dark lashes—that had been drooped as she looked down at the drawing paper—with a brilliant, mocking flash in her eyes. I met them, and though I was not looking at it, but directly back into her eyes, the whole charming figure forced itself upon my vision. The round throat and the fine shoulders and the delicate curves of the long figure, sloping to the waist beneath the white serge bodice. Had she really but a second place? If I realised at any time I was not to possess her after all, what then? Should I be consolable? An angry denial leapt to my lips. There was no question of first or second. These two passions for this woman and for my own success were coordinate forces, and their very equality it was that kept me passive, without decisive action between them.

There was a sort of confusion in my brain—a longing to make some protestations. The words crowded excitedly to my lips, but I kept them closed. The conversation was on dangerous, critical ground. If I began to speak now, in this frame of mind, I did not know what I might say. My own brain was not sufficiently clear and collected. I did not know myself quite how far that which she had said was the truth. It is useless to talk vaguely and at random, or on mere passing sensations of the moment. Before speaking to another, before entering on a discussion, one must know exactly what one is saying— be prepared to act in accordance with every statement, and accept and realise the responsibility of each word, and all this at that moment I was not,—far from it. I felt my thoughts disordered and confused. Before my mental eye swam a mist of manuscript; before my physical eye rose and fell that gently beating breast. I took out my watch.

"It’s a quarter past twelve, Lucia," I said, rising; "I must go."

The girl started to her feet and came in front of me.

"Victor, are you offended at what I said?"

I looked down at her with a slight smile.

"I am not so easily offended," I said, quietly.

"I will talk about all these things with you another day—not now."

"And do forgive me for siting up at nights. I know you do not like it. I know it ruins my looks, but I must work. Besides, all my excitement, all my amusement, is in it too. When I am not with you it is all I have. It is different for you, as a man, besides your work and besides myself, you have all sorts of distractions and—"

"What sort of distractions do you think I have?" I asked, quietly, and looking straight into her eyes.

Her words might mean and include a very great deal.

"Oh, how can I say! When you feel restless and unable to work at seven in the evening, say from then till seven the next morning your time is your own—balls, the Empire; there are a thousand things— all the pleasure, or at any rate the passing excitement that you can take in these ways, I crush into the excitement that there is in work—in overwork."

There was nothing in the actual words, but I felt the thoughts that underlay them, unexpressed. I resented the opinion she held of me. It was untrue, and I meant to remove it. I was silent an instant, thinking how to find words passably comprehensible and yet conventionally circumlocutory and euphemistic. After a moment I said simply—

"If you think I am leading a fast life, it is a mistake. I am not. What makes you think I have distractions, as you put it?"

"Oh, nothing, except that I know you are constantly not at home at— in the evenings. But really, Victor—" she added, a scarlet flush leaping across her face, and then leaving it pale and cold, with a shade of reserve and pride upon it. "I have no wish to approach this subject at all. I should never think of enquiring into or interfering with a man’s life. These are things that must rest in his own hands."

I looked at her, as the graceful figure seemed to expand with pride, at the dignity of each line of her form and the pose of the distinguished head, and an irritated flush crept into my own face.

"I am out constantly, as you say," I answered, "because I cannot sleep, but I walk then simply in search of fatigue. Pleasure, Lucia! there can be none for me now until you belong to me. As for my life, it is a hard-working and as absolutely without relief as your own— absolutely."

She was silent.

"You don’t believe me?"

"Of course I believe you," she answered, impulsively, putting her white hand suddenly into mine. "If you say so, but—"

"But what?"

She hesitated and coloured. I had not the least idea of what she was really going to say. I thought the "but" led to some condition more or less contradictory to her expression of belief in me, or, perhaps, to some statement she had heard, or something that she had thought. And I pressed her.

"But what?" I repeated.

"I was going to say, I have no wish to make your life harder than it is. I do not want our engagement to impose impossible laws upon you, nor do I set up an imaginary standard for you. You have your honour and your own self-respect, and I know I shall always be satisfied with the standard you raise for yourself."

The voice was very soft, and her touch and eyes caressing. She had not said in the least what I had expected, and she had touched, as she always did in me, the best springs in my thoughts. Her own pride, and her unquestioning assumption of mine, stung all that I had.

"Even you, Lucia, could not have a higher!" I answered on the impulse.

She smiled.

"That is exactly what I say," she said, and the smile went on into a slight laugh. "When will you come again to sit for Hyacinthus?"

"To-morrow, at the same time! Will that do?"

"Yes. It’s immensely good of you. How can I thank you?"

I looked down at the red lips, at the delightful neck and shoulders, for a second in silence, then I pressed her hand, whistled to Nous, and went out. As soon as I had passed down the stairs and reached the street the bitter rush of feelings that the sight of this girl roused in me, and that her actual presence held in check, swept over me unrestrained. Why had I left her like that? I asked myself savagely. Why had I not drawn her into my arms and kissed her till all that soft delicate face was one flame of scarlet? Then a contemptuous smile came with the answering thought. What use were mere empty kisses if she gave me a thousand! This state of things could not go on. The life that I led seemed growing more and more unendurable week by week. It was a life of perpetual restraint, of refusal to every wish, of denial to every desire that rose in me, in which there was a bar laid upon every impulse, and an immovable chain upon every tendency. I was ambitious, and I could get no recognition. I was gifted, at least in my own estimation, and I could force open no field for my gifts. I was in love, and there was no means of attaining its object. Patience! patience! This was what I had been saying to myself hour by hour for two years, but there were times when it seemed that my brain, my whole system, was collapsing in the nervous irritation, in the chafing and the straining of this existence, which was filled with nothing but successless work, continuous disappointment, and unsatisfied desires.

Night succeeded night in which sleep was an impossibility, when my head seemed light and turning as in delirium with the violence and intensity of longing to shape my life differently. Could I have obtained the fulfilment of one desire or of the other, the strength of my nature would have flowed naturally into the channel opened before it. Could I have seen my work succeeding I would have foregone everything else willingly and worked with satisfied ardour, closing my eyes to the pleasure of life. Could I have obtained Lucia I would have been content to work and wait patiently till success chose to come to me. But the latter desire depended on the former, and when I thought of Lucia, her image only brought back upon me the stunning, deadening sense of the necessity of success, and so my thoughts were dragged round in a perpetual, wearying, dizzying circle, like a fixed wheel revolving without motion forward.

I had grown to hate my present daily existence. It was a state of enforced passive inaction that seemed corroding my nerves as the long worn fetter eats into the flesh. The current of life was running at its swiftest and fiercest in my veins. Vitality was ardent in the brain and blood, but there was no worthy expense of my energies, and they simply fell back upon themselves again and again, thwarted, baffled, unused, until existence seemed an intolerable curse. I saw daily other men’s works accepted and received, and their talent and genius praised that could produce such a work, which, when it drifted into my hands, I recognised was no better than the MSS. lying in my study, unused, wasted. Sometimes the morning of a day would pass in looking through the reviews and criticisms of the favourite novel of the hour, the afternoon in reading the book itself and forming a judgment of it, and then an evening of sickly irritation would follow, in which, pacing backwards and forwards, in the empty study, I had to admit that the author, no more gifted, no more favoured with talent than myself, had been successful and I had not. The very praise I received for my powers from men who would not help me to employ them was a maddening stimulus.

"Talent? Yes, decidedly, but too heterodox for us."

This was the general resume of the opinion of the publishing world that had determined to eject me and shut its door in my face. Had it been hinted that the rejection was on the ground of incapacity it would have been easier to bear, but, without exception, every declined manuscript had been accompanied with a warm commendation of the art that the critic chose to think was so misapplied. Often, walking up and down the length of that study with these letters of empty compliment crowding the mantelpiece, I felt like a captured tiger in a cage, being goaded and thrust at through the bars. And, together with this excessive longing of the brain to employ its power raged the useless, vehement desire for the woman, until in those moments of silent solitude, it seemed as if two living vultures were upon me, slowly tearing me asunder. As I walked away from Lucia this morning, and when I reached my own steps, I was conscious of a sense of physical illness; my head seemed light and dizzy, as when one gets up after long fever. I was so long opening the door that Nous, who had pushed his whole body close up against it, looked at me with surprise. As we went in I had one clear determination, and that was to apply once more to my father for help. He could, if he would, enable me to marry Lucia. Success must come with time. It was this time that would be transformed. This time, this daily life of waiting work, that hung upon me now like a wolf, with its fangs, gnawing my brain, would then, if I possessed her, pass by like a dove upon wings. After luncheon, when he was standing by the hearth, I thought, was a good time to approach the subject, and I came up to the other end of the mantelpiece.

"Don’t you think you could," I said, striking a lucifer and lighting up a cigar, without the least wish to smoke at that moment, "manage to let Lucia and myself arrange something?"

He looked at me a little ironically.

"Have you heard that the firm have rescinded their decision, and are going to bring out the book after all?" he asked quietly.

I coloured with anger and annoyance at the sneer. "No," I answered, simply, "I have not."

"Then, my dear Victor, you know it is quite useless to re-open this old question. I have told you before, and I can only repeat it now, I am not going to make you an independent allowance, that you may marry your cousin and comfortably settle down into a do-nothing existence."

"I never propose such an existence," I answered calmly. "Have I ever led it? am I leading it now?"

"No, because just now you have every incentive to work, and you have all your energies turned in that one direction, but with a secured income, independence, and married to this girl, I know exactly what you would become, and if I can prevent it, I am not going to have my son a confirmed idler about town."

"I can’t think how you can so misjudge me," I said. "If you would make me an allowance—say 300 Pounds Sterling a year—half the rent of this house we live in!" I added bitterly. "I should marry Lucia, but on that account I should not neglect the work. Incentive! I should have every inducement to work then as now!—if inducement were necessary—Which it is not. I work now, not because I am driven by motives and wishes, but because to write is as natural to me as to sleep or breathe!"

"Please remember you are talking to a sane Englishman," he answered coldly; "and if you want me to listen to you, you must talk sense."

"Very good," I said, bringing my teeth down nervously on the cigar. "Put it entirely on the ground of motive if you like; I should want to succeed then doubly, and success is only a thing of time. It will come one day to me, as it has come to others who have had the same difficulties at first."

My father smiled sceptically.

"We shall see. In any case, if you are so certain of success, you can’t object to the fulfilment of your wishes resting on so sure a contingency!"

"That has nothing to do with it. I did not say how long success might not be deferred, and I am unwilling to wait in these circumstances."

"Ah!—delightful frankness!" he returned derisively, and I looked away from him into the fire.

It shot across me then, amongst my own worrying thoughts, how strange it is that one human being should have so little sympathy with another, that where one can, without the least annoyance to himself, confer all that another desires, there seems always some inexplicable impulse to withhold it. And I—if I had power to give, if I ever possessed money, it should be to give, give freely and without conditions to those who needed it.

Perhaps my father guessed what I was thinking of. At any rate, he recommenced the conversation by saying—

"You have had a great deal done for you, Victor, though you may consider yourself very ill-used. You had a most expensive education. Then you passed into the army—brilliantly, I admit, but you were aided in every possible way. Then you had a fancy to go to India. Well, I got your regiment changed, and you went. Six months after you write that you have determined to become an author. I assent to that, much against my judgment, and you send in your papers. Good. What have you done since then? Nothing but write things no one will print, and hang about your cousin!"

A dull anger lit up in all my veins, and sent the blood to my head at his words. Still, they were practically the truth, and I knew I had no right to resent them.

"Now," he continued, "I make you a reasonable and just proposal, and you know that it is so. I give you every opportunity to display your talent, if you have any, which I very seriously doubt. You have leisure and unlimited means at your disposal. I only stipulate that before I make you independent, and before you marry, you shall give some proof of your powers in literature. I don’t say you must wait till you have acquired a fortune. Your first production that is accepted and acknowledged sets you free. When I see you are really on the way to a profession, I will take care your finances don’t trouble you, and as to marriage, you can then, of course, do what you please. But as to assisting you now to hurry into an affair that I don’t under any circumstances particularly approve of—No."

"Why don’t you approve of it?" I said, with a faint smile; "if I were in love with a housemaid or a ballet dancer I could understand your objection, but a girl in our own rank, educated, pretty, clever—what more would you have?"

My father shrugged his shoulders and elevated his eyebrows, and finally answered—"I should have liked a little more sanity between you. Remember there is insanity on her side and insanity on yours, and you both of you seem half-cracky already, to my mind. Then you are cousins. The relationship is near, unpleasantly near. You are both very much alike, extremely excitable, and with both your heads stuffed full of nonsense. She is exceedingly delicate, and no wonder, sitting up all night sketching and sitting in all day painting! I wish you could have chosen some strong, sensible, matter-of-fact young woman!"

I smiled as I listened. The combination of those three adjectives fairly set my teeth on edge, and suddenly I seemed to see Lucia’s pale brilliant face, with its dilated eyes and genius-lit pupils, swimming in the shaft of sunlight that fell between us on the rug.

"What the children of two such maniacs will be, I tremble to think of!" he said after a minute.

I laughed outright, flung my cigar end into the fire, and stretched myself.

"I don’t think you need trouble about the children!" I said significantly.

His remark sounded so ludicrous to me that my answer came spontaneously, but it was the worst thing I could have said. My father’s old-fashioned ideas were the rock upon which we invariably split. Otherwise we should have got on very well. But he was entirely of the school of yesterday, and I was entirely of the school of to-morrow. His forehead contracted violently, and he said curtly—

"Now, don’t let me hear any of that ridiculous nonsense you were talking the other day! I won’t have these sentiments expressed in my hearing!"

I laughed, and said nothing. I never wish to express sentiments in anybody’s hearing that they don’t want.

"Of course," he said, finally, after a long pause, "you can please yourself. If you like to try and find a situation as clerk or secretary or shoe-black, and marry this girl on the proceeds, do so. But if you do, you will get no help from me in future. Don’t come to me then for funds to bring out your MSS. If you choose to disgrace your family and disappoint my expectations, consider yourself entirely cut off from me, that’s all."

There was another stretch of silence, and then—

"Well, which is it to be, Victor? Lucia or Genius?"

"I really hardly know," I answered, lightly. "I want them both. I’ll think it over."

And with Nous, who had sprung to his feet as I moved, closely following me, I crossed the dining-room and went out, upstairs to my own writing and sitting-room. Here I flung myself into an arm-chair and let my hand hang over the side and rest on the collie’s neck. And as I curled absently the locks of fur round my fingers, the thought came—When would my hand play as familiarly with those short, glistening curls on Lucia’s forehead? Of course, as far as that went, we were engaged, and I might have put our relations on a far more intimate and familiar footing than they were now. I might have kissed her, twisted and untwisted that great cable of hair, put my arm round her waist, and so on and so on. No one would have objected since we were fiances and, in addition, cousins. And it is difficult to define exactly the impulse that had prompted me to abstain from all of these things. Partly it was an impulse in her defence, and partly in my own. I felt that it was difficult enough, hard enough, to keep in perfect control my own passionate impulses when I was with her, even now, while there was the screen and shield between us of her abstracted calm; when there was a certain coldness and reserve around her; when there was no beginning, no opening, no invitation of demonstration; when her complete unconsciousness of herself helped me to restrain and conceal all my own feelings; but if this were dispelled; if she came to greet me with the bright conscious flush of passion; if I saw reflected in her eyes the fire that burnt in me; if I were permitted to take her into my arms and cheat myself for a single illusive instant with the thought that she was mine—what would it all mean? Only giving a sharper, more cutting edge to the bit in my mouth and rousing in her a hunger I could not satisfy. She was at present devoted to her art with a devotion that left her practically indifferent to everything else, and there was a thin frame of ice round her, which her abstraction and her ceaseless work built up; but I was convinced that the smouldering fire of a woman’s nature lay underneath—that it was concealed never cheated me for an instant into the belief it was not existent. She was pure—perfectly, absolutely immaculate; but there was another power within and transfused throughout her innocence that swayed and subdued my will as innocence alone could never do. She reminded me of some exquisite, delicate porcelain flagon filled with sparkling wine, that sends its hot crimson glow through the snowy transparent tints of its circling walls. The wine within lies, at present, in glowing tranquillity, unshaken and unstirred, and the beauty and the purity of the flagon grows upon one as one looks. One would hesitate certainly to stretch an unclean hand to lift it, hesitate to touch it with lips that were not pure—but as certainly one sees that, if hand and lip are clean, and one may raise it to oneself, there is intoxication within that cup. Though its brilliant walls are white, they are not so because they hold thin water or turgid milk or yet vacancy. Of the nature of porcelain, they are clear and brilliant, for as such they left the potter’s hands; but that faint flush stealing through them tells us that that within is wine. And as the purity of a cup like this is different from that of a clean, thick, common china cup standing empty on the board, so was Lucia different from the ordinary virtuous English girl. And for her I would do and suffer much, and feel glad in it. I looked upon her as this vase, and since I had known her I had kept my hand clean, that one day I might take it without remorse. And in my treatment of herself I acted as I did because I saw that, as yet, her passions and her nature slumbered, just as the wine, unshaken, is steady within the cup.

Now, in my present helpless condition, to merely wake and rouse them, to distract and disturb her, and lift her out of her art, to draw her half from her own life, before I could take her wholly into my own, seemed a sacrilegious cruelty. And this was why, from the commencement of our engagement, I had said to myself—On this one condition only.

This was why, on the evening when I put the circlet of the engagement ring over the delicate finger, I had not touched the lips thanking me. I knew I could not kiss her coldly. These things depend upon one’s nature. Some men shake hands listlessly. I cannot. If I take a friend’s hand I grasp it warmly. How then, here, with those passive lips under mine, could I prevent them from drawing in the enthusiasm from my own? And this once done, I did not know how it might stir in her, and break up her life and turn her aside from the tranquil path of abstraction and occupation she was following now. I am not saying that, as a rule, a woman waits for her lover’s kiss to arouse her. On the contrary, I am well aware that most women are uncommonly wide-awake from their thirteenth year, and it is a very old-fashioned and quite exploded idea to suppose that the springs of their nature lie dormant until one particular individual unlocks them. I am only saying that this girl was as yet entirely given over to her genius, and happy in it; and I loved her too well to weaken an impulse towards art which she could gratify, and create an impulse towards love which I could not for so long satisfy. So with all this in my brain, and with a guard upon myself that had never been relaxed since, I released her hand, with my ring upon it, as gently as I had taken it, and the quiver of nervous, painful excitement, that had shot through me as she laid it on my knee confirmed my resolution. Why teach her also, one moment before she need know it, the pain of self-repression?

"Is it not pretty," she had said.

"Which, the hand or the ring?"

"Why, the ring, of course," she had said, laughing. "You are too bad, Victor!"

"I don’t know. I think the hand is decidedly the lovelier. But the ring is useful as a sign that now there is but one man in the world for you, as, Lucia, there is for me henceforth but one woman."

She had looked up suddenly, and her eyes had met mine with the passion kept out of them, and only reverence for her there. And even at that the fugitive scarlet had stained the pale skin, and the eyes had widened and darkened upon me, asking, Tell me, explain what this mysterious feeling is that seems stirring faintly in me? And I had looked back at her in silence, with a word unuttered, but still perhaps divined by her, on my lips.


And now things had come to a crisis. I felt as if I could not stand any longer, clear-headed and hard-working as I had been, against this repeated raising, then deferring, then breaking down of hope.

Constantly I had given rein to my thoughts and wishes; many times I had said, "This book will certainly be accepted, and then a month or a few weeks and she is my own."

But the book had not been taken, the weeks passed by and Lucia was as far from me as ever. And it could not continue. The perpetual excitation and reaction was slowly injuring and confusing the brain like a noxious drug administered to procure lunacy. And the temptation swept over me now to let go my hold on work, on this bitter effort to succeed, on this vain, useless striving for recognition, and sink into some humble position which would supply the necessities for a quiet obscure existence—shared with this woman. The weeks, months, years, passed now, wasted, in a dull torture, in a low fever, filled with long, dragging hopes, expectations, possibilities, and no realities. Better sweep all these away and settle into a level, solid existence, contented with the simple natural pleasures that life offers without striving for. Contented! I laughed as the word drifted across my brain. That was just what I felt I could not be in any life but the one I coveted—a life of power, recognition, distinction. Other men were. They married the women they loved, and dropped into quiet lives of daily work and regular incomes, and were content in them. Yes; but that was insufficient argument.

They had not within them the suffocating weight of a desire ungratified, the stifling sense of a power unused. Nature, who has appointed no greater joy for us than the exercise of the capacities she has given us, has also no heavier, bitterer burden she can lay upon us than these capacities barred down in us unemployed. As I thought, my father’s words recurred to me, "A secretary, a clerk or a shoeblack." It was improbable I should descend to the shoeblack. It was possible that I could become a secretary or a clerk. A secretary or a clerk! The idea amused me. I leaned my elbows on my knees, my forehead on my hands, as I sat and stared down at the bear-skin rug at my feet and saw a vision of fifth-rate existence pass before me. A suburban villa or squalid London lodgings; the hurried early breakfast served by a slavey; the tram or bus to the city; the society of seedy clerks; the pipe instead of the cigar; the public billiard room instead of the club; the omnibus instead of the hansom; the fortnight up the Thames instead of the spring at Cairo. A day of uncongenial work—but at the end of it Lucia!

The thought seemed to come suddenly and stunningly through my brain like a bullet. The blood rushed to my face and I got up and crossed to the window, looking out and seeing nothing. Lucia daily, hourly, side by side with me in my life, and utterly my own possession! Yes, it was worth it! Worth all those petty considerations that had been passing before me, but there was another heavier than all the others massed together. My leisure would be taken from me. It would be impossible to write then as I was writing now. Now, I was absolutely my own master, and disposed of my time exactly as I pleased, and days passed constantly which were wholly spent in the preparation of a manuscript and when my train of thought was never interrupted. If all my days were given to monotonous business work, how then, and when, would the writing be accomplished? My evenings and nights would be my own—or Lucia’s; and this line of reflection finished in an ironical laugh. I walked to and fro, one word hammering persistently on my brain-sacrifice. To accept a humble, working position, and in it to marry a woman as lovely, as vehemently desired, and as long waited for as Lucia, would mean the sacrifice of my talent. It would mean a suppression, a thrusting aside of work, and, to a certain extent, of thought. In such a life there would be so little place for it. Between the necessity of rejecting impersonal or imaginative thought to make room for the diurnal business routine, and the irresistible temptations to reject it at other times for present personal pleasure, it would be rarely accepted or welcomed, and its impetus would gradually weaken or lessen. Even as I thought of it, a revolt rose in me. The revolt of all the higher instincts against enslavement by the lower. The rebellion of all the intellectual impulses against being ruled by the physical. What! weaken, enervate, starve, destroy the mental sinews to gratify the passion for a woman? Crush down the mental emotions to give reins to the physical? It would be the work of a fool. A rooting-up fruit trees to clear a space for weeds. And what of those twenty-six years of life that lay behind me? Did they count for nothing? Was all the repression and the hard work they contained to be flung aside now and wasted? Was the whole principle that had shaped them, of living in and for the intellect, to be utterly reversed now? And yet it was a wretched, poor, burdensome thing, life, as it had been lived by me. The past years stared me in the face mockingly. Clean, capable of being scrutinised in the sunlight, estimable from a moral and mental standpoint, but absolutely barren of pleasure, and, so far, barren of result. I looked at them with little satisfaction or pride. They were as immaculate, as bare, as denuded, as irritating, and as painful to contemplate as a chalk cliff. The character that is summed up in the line "video meliora proboque, detiora sequor" is supposed to be very common, and meets with universal comprehension and commiseration. Mine, perhaps, would find neither. I followed the good—that is, good as the world’s opinion goes—the straight line in life, without any of the enthusiasm for virtue to form a consolation and support. I looked upon vice without that repulsion that makes resistance to it easy, pleasant, involuntary almost. I felt no sense of strong condemnation of those acts or failings or lapses in others which I studiously avoided myself. Therefore, I had neither the pleasure that might be derived from the evil itself, nor the warm satisfaction and personal pride that comes from conscious superiority to one’s neighbours. I had lived the life of a Puritan, but I had neither the heart nor brain of one. None of the rigid bigotry, none of the exultant delight in morality, none of the merciless joy in trampling upon pleasure which gives him his reward. I looked round upon life and its many devious ways with eyes listless and indifferent to its vice and sympathetic to its pleasure, and back upon my own straight path with something of regret that my self-respect had been strong enough to hold me to it. And now the temptation came to sacrifice all that I had clung to. To abolish the thought and remembrance of my talent, muffle and stifle the powers of the brain, and remember only that I had the pulses and senses and blood of a man. It came over me slowly, this phase of rebellious animalism, like a mantle falling over me. Thought followed thought insidiously, imperceptibly, like fold upon fold of a cloth dropped upon me, as I sat in the silent room alone. To take this girl and force back her art upon itself, to mutilate her brain-power and drug it with her roused sensuality, to turn her into a simple instrument of pleasure for myself, and lend myself to her as such. To yield to this inflowing tide of desire that beat, now, heavily through all my veins, and let the brain go down beneath its waves.

If I chose I could do it, and none but myself could gauge the depth of my debasement. No eye could discern the high level ground now on which I stood and the morass that swam before me. I should marry this girl and the world asks no more. This other lower life that lay in my power appealed to me in all its sweetness—this woman as she would be when mine. Those lips with the mark of mine upon them; those delicate nerves stung to frenzy; that form tense, and the limbs strung with passion; those eyes terror-stricken between anguish and ecstasy.

The thought of the woman’s personality clung to me like a viscous web. I struggled against it, but it enwrapped me; I could not shake it from me.

Again and again my arm encircled those soft yielding shoulders; the warm agitated bosom was touching mine; my hands held, and felt within it, the smooth muscles of the white arm—a vision of the whole indefinably supple form swam giddily before me in a suffocating proximity, till I pressed my hands on my eyes, and the thought came involuntarily,—Is this insanity?

My brain gave her into my arms now as I sat there, and the blind physical system clamoured in agony, Where is she? An hour passed, and then I got up and laughed. The destructive wave of emotion had risen in me, rolled through me and gone by. The struggle was over, and I lived again but to work. I stood on the rug rolling a cigarette, and lighted it leisurely, trying to recall a respectable calm, and when I had fairly succeeded I went out and downstairs. I came into the dining-room and found my father still there, looking through a budget of political pamphlets that had just come in by the post.

He looked up, and I met his eyes with a laugh.

"I have decided not to look out for a vacancy in the shoeblack line," I said; "but to go on—up the hill. Is there any claret or water or soda about—I don’t much care what it is?"

"There is claret and soda too—there on the cheffonier. What a pity it is, Victor, you are so unreasonable! You make yourself look deplorably ill about every trifle! You are certainly trying to find a short cut out of the world! Why don’t you take things more easily?"

"I am as I am," I muttered. "I’m going out now," I said, when I had finished the soda.

"I’m going to look Howard up. I have got a new plan of work if he’ll join me in it. I shall see."

My father elevated his shoulders as much as to say, Some new phase of dementia, I suppose, and I went out.

I took the underground to Baker Street, and thence two minutes’ walk brought me to the house I wanted. Howard was a friend of mine, an intimate friend, though, strictly speaking, from his character he ought not to have been.

As a general rule I steer clear of friendships with men who are very much opposed to me in character; it saves a lot of bother in the end. However, in this case, although I believed Howard to be a weak, worthless, untrustworthy individual, I could not help liking him. He was talented and of a pleasing—at least to me—personality. When I came into his room he was sitting reading in a long chair by the fire.

"Oh! is that you, Vic? Come in," he said, turning a good-looking discontented face towards me, not improved just now by the effects of a severe attack of jaundice.

"How are you?" I said, shaking his saffron-hued hand.

"Pretty beastly. And you?"

"Your remark might serve, I think," I said, taking a chair opposite him.

"Aren’t you any better?" and I scanned his face closely.

He was not more than twenty, and had a singularly fine type of countenance.

"Oh yes, thanks! Crawling on."

"Any news?"

"None, I think, except that I’ve broken with Kitty."

I laughed.

"I knew you’d have to!" I said. "Did I not say so from the first? I felt sure you could never stand her!"

"I am rather sorry, for she was very pretty; but the last straw she put upon me was too much. I couldn’t—after that—no, I couldn’t, really."

"What was it?" I said, laughing, as he shook his head dubiously and looked meditatively into the fire.

"Why, I sent her a sonnet—at least, no, a verse—and we were talking about it afterwards, I had written—"

’And leaning sideways, looks, and lifts
The tresses of her heavy hair.’


I nodded.

"Well, she objected to the adjective ’heavy,’ and wanted me to insert another. What word do you think she suggested?"

"Can’t say at all. Golden, perhaps!"

"Worse!" he answered, with a groan. "Golden is hackneyed but still conceivable. No—Crimpy! my dear fellow! Think of it!"

I went into a fit of laughter.

"Heavens! well I must say I never should have thought of that," I said. "What a fearful girl. And what did you say?"

"Say! I tried to explain to her the awfulness of it, the incongruity, but no, she couldn’t see it! We jawed about it for a couple of hours with the result that our engagement is now off!"

"Good. I am very glad to hear it; but perhaps a Breach of Promise will come on?"

"Can’t help it. Anything would be better than to go through life with a girl who didn’t feel there are some things no fellar can do; and one of them, that he can’t put a word like crimpy in his sonnet."

"Been doing any work?"

"Yes; one poem. Like to see it?"

"Very much."

He got up and went to a table littered all over with papers— written, printed, and blank. After a time he extracted the one he wanted, handed it to me, and then flung himself into the chair again.

"Whew! This title won’t do. ’The Hermaphrodite!’ That’s far too alarming for the British public."

"Oh, bother! Well, go on. Read the poem."

I did so in silence.

"First-rate," I said, when I had finished. "Not a weak line in it. Not a single weak line. And there’s nothing to prevent its being taken even in this d----d England, I think. The title’s the worst part. You’ll have to alter that."

"Why? Swinburne has a poem, ’Hermaphroditus.’"

"Yes—in a volume; and there it’s Latinised; and then Swinburne has made his name, which of course is everything. If you want to make your debut before the English reading world you must do so with ’Ode to my father’s tombstone,’ or something of that sort!"

"Well, if you think Latin would improve it, let’s put ’Duplexus’ as its title," he answered, laughing and trying to snatch back the paper.

"Not on any account!" I said. "That would sound cynical, and cynical when you’re unknown you must not be."

"Oh, well, there! I leave it to you to find a title! I don’t care what it’s called."

I looked through the verses trying to catch an idea for a name. Numbers suggested themselves to me, but none sufficiently vague and indefinite to suit the English ear. At last I said—

"Do you think Linked Spheres would do?"

"Linked Spheres?" replied Howard, with elevated brows. "What on earth has that to do with the subject?"

"Well, I have taken it from this line where you say, ’And in his brain are two divided worlds of thought.’"

"But I say that they are divided—divided isn’t linked!"

"No, I quite admit it. But though divided they must be linked to a certain extent by being both within his brain. It is not quite right though, because the walls of the skull might, by encircling the two worlds, be said to unite them, but they could not ’link’ anything. I follow all that, and I don’t think the title is particularly artistic. It’s not clear enough. Your own is much better from the view of intrinsic fitness. But the beauty of Linked Spheres is its indistinctness. You must not be too clear. That has been my great fault—perspicuity—and I am beginning to see it now. It has fatally barred my getting on. I always do try to make people see exactly what I mean, and that is apparently a mistake. When I write about passion everybody feels it is passion, and is shocked in consequence. When another fellow writes about it you feel he is trying to say something, but you are not quite sure what, and so it doesn’t matter."

"’Muddle it! muddle it!’ must be your watchword if you want to pass muster through the British press. Linked Spheres is a splendid muddle—very indefinite, quite void of connection with the subject in hand, and with a pleasant tinkle about the sound, just like Gladstone’s speeches! Linked Spheres! It’s impossible, for how the deuce would you link a sphere? Metaphor all wrong, and no one will know in the least what you mean, but it sounds pleasant and polished, and perfectly proper, and you’ll find your editor will swallow the poem at a gulp."

Howard laughed.

"You’re in an awful huff, Victor, with the British press, that’s clear!"

I laughed too.

"Yes I am, I admit it, and all this leads up to the question I came to ask you this afternoon. Will you come over to Paris with me? I am going."

I got up and leant against the mantel-piece, pushing a place clear for my elbow on it between a bottle of liqueur and a copy of "The Holy Grail."

"You’re great at springing mines upon one. Paris? why Paris? And how can you tear yourself away from Lucia?"

"I wish you would not pronounce that word as if it rhymed with Fuchsia," I said.

"Well, how do you want me to pronounce it?"

"You know quite well its Lu-chee-ah, and the accent is on the middle syllable, not the first."

"Oh, all right: Lu-CHEE-ah. Ah! what a mouthful! I would rather say Miss Grant!"

"It might be as well if you did," I said, coldly.

Howard looked at me and opened his eyes.

"You are uncommonly sticky to-day," he said, kicking a very old slipper off his swinging foot and catching it on the toe again.

"Well, what about Paris? Let’s hear."

"I am so sick of this rotten, wishy-washy England. They won’t take my things as they stand, and I’m not going to write ’Tales of my First Feeding Bottle’ to please them. So I’m going over to Paris. I shall turn my MSS. into French and publish them there. The language lends itself to perfect lucidity, and the Paris press allows men to write as men. Besides, the French admire word-painting, which is my particular vein. The English don’t. They like composition. Here an author’s pen must remain always a stick dipped in ink. It must never become what mine is—a painter’s brush, wet, dripping, overflowing with oil colour. It struck me you might care to come too, and do the same with your verse. If so—come, by all means."

I looked down at his intelligent face and hoped he would come. Selfish, conceited, and self-sufficient as I may be, there is a strand of weakness made up in my composition that forces me to find the companionship of another intellect whenever possible.

"Yes; I’ll come," he answered after a minute, getting on to his feet and thrusting both hands into his pockets with an energetic air. "I’m rather dubious about the books and the translation business; but anyway we can have a high old time in Paris!"

"But look here, Howard," I returned, "whether I succeed or not, I am not meditating having any high old time, or rather what you mean—a low old time. I’m going there to work."

"Oh, we all know you’re a saint!" he said derisively. "But—’A doubtful throne is ice on summer seas!’ We shall see how long your virtue lasts at La Scala and in the Champs Elysees, with Lucia safely packed away in England!"

I smiled and raised my eyebrows in silence. The point was not worth discussing. Howard and I looked at some things from such an enormously different level that conversation on them was merely waste of time. It was as if a man upon a cliff started a dissertation with another in a boat lying on the sea beneath. Half the excellent arguments would drift away upon the wind, lost, rendered nil by the mere difference of level in the two planes. The two main chains that bound my whole psychological system—selfcontrol and self-respect—were entirely absent in him. He looked at his every good action from the point of utility, at his every bad one from the point of secrecy. He would do the first if it were useful to him, and the last if it were secret. These, I believe, were the only two conditions that ever occurred to him. He was weak, even contemptible, in character, and I could not help clearly seeing it, but my friendship to him was won over by his talents, and by a certain good-tempered, easy, pleasant way he had. Widely different though we were, we had never had a quarrel. We got on together perfectly, and he might say things to me that would have offended me from an other man. Liking! Liking! What is it? It is as difficult to define, as impossible to imprison between the limits of motives and reasons, of "Whys" and "becauses," as Loving. I liked Howard, or rather I liked his society, which is not the same thing. Often the people who are the most disappointing in the great issues of life are the pleasantest to live with through the trifles of everyday existence and vice versa. I would not have trusted Howard in a crisis for any consideration, but then crises don’t come every day, and he was delightful to discuss a chapter or a sonnet with.

"When are you going, by the way? Not to-morrow, I hope, for behold this room!" and he glanced round helplessly.

It was certainly in the most frightful of literary confusions. Masses of loose papers, letters, bills, poems, drifted over the tables; books stood in piles upon the floor; newspapers occupied the chairs.

"No, next week. Shall we say Saturday?"

"All right. I’ll be ready by then. Cross—evening, I suppose?"

"Very likely. But I shall see you again," I said, looking at my watch. "By Jove! close to seven. I must go. Try and get rid of that confounded jaundice. Good-bye!"

Howard extended his hand.

"By the way, what about the tin? Can you manage?"—

"Oh yes! That’s all right," I said.

I was Howard’s bank, upon which he drew fitfully and spasmodically: that is to say, when any expensive little fancy seized him. He always insisted on giving me I.O.U.’s and acknowledgments for the sums he borrowed, which I as regularly tore in pieces and put in the fire. I was half way down the stairs when I ran back and opened his door again.



"Have you a copy of that verse? I have not half studied it this evening."

"What?" he said, looking round his chair back. "Your precious Linked Spheres? Yes; take that one if you like."

I took up the paper.

"Thanks!" I said, and re-descended the stairs.

Going down Baker Street, I stopped at the first lamp-post, and read some lines of it again. A glow of admiration, almost of affection, towards the curious lines, full of nascent genius, lit slowly in me.

"Splendid! magnificent!" I muttered. "If not here, I’ll see it’s got out in Paris."


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: To Morrow?

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: To Morrow?

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Victoria Cross, "Chapter II," To Morrow?, trans. Evans, Sebastian in To Morrow? Original Sources, accessed June 14, 2024,

MLA: Cross, Victoria. "Chapter II." To Morrow?, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in To Morrow?, Original Sources. 14 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Cross, V, 'Chapter II' in To Morrow?, trans. . cited in , To Morrow?. Original Sources, retrieved 14 June 2024, from