The Literary Sense

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The Literary Sense

His tone was convincing.

"But why? but why?"

An impulse of truth-telling came to Robert.

"Because it's all so beautiful," he said with straightforward enthusiasm. "All your lovely quiet life – and the house, and these old gardens, and the dainty, delicate, firm way you have of managing everything – the whole thing's my ideal. It's perfect – I can't bear any other life."

"I'm afraid you'll have to," she said with bitter decision. "I am not going to marry a man just because he admires my house and garden, and is good enough to appreciate my methods of household management. Good night."

She had shaken his hand coolly and shut the front door from within before he could find a word. He found one as the latch clicked.

"Fool!" he said to himself, and stamped his foot.

Dorothea ran up the stairs two at a time to say the same word to herself in the stillness of her bedroom.

"Fool – fool – fool!" she said. "Why couldn't I have said 'No' quietly? Why did I let him see I was angry? Why should I be angry? It's better to be wanted because you're a good manager than not to be wanted at all. At least, I suppose it is. No – it isn't! it isn't! it isn't! And nothing's any use now. It's all gone. If he'd wanted to marry me when I was young and pretty I could have made him love me. And I was pretty – I know I was – I can remember it perfectly well!"

Her quiet years had taken from her no least little touch of girlish sentiment. The longing to be loved was as keen in her as it had been at twenty. She cried herself to sleep, and had a headache the next day. Also her eyes looked smaller than usual and her nose was pink. She went and sat in the black shade of a yew, and trusted that in that deep shadow her eyes and nose would not make Robert feel glad that she had said "No." She wished him to be sorry. She had put on the prettiest gown she had, in the hope that he would be sorry; then she was ashamed of the impulse; also its pale clear greenness seemed to intensify the pinkness of her nose. So she went back to the trailing grey gown. Her wearing of her best Honiton lace collar seemed pardonable. He would never notice it – or know that real lace is more becoming than anything else. She waited for him in the deep shadow, and it was all the morning that she waited. For he knew the value of suspense, and he had not the generosity that disdains the use of the obvious weapon. He was right so far, that before he came she had had time to wonder whether it was her life's one chance of happiness that she had thrown away. But he drove the knife home too far, for when at last she heard the click of the gate and saw the gleam of flannels through the shrubbery, the anxious questioning, "Will he come?" "Have I offended him beyond recall?" changed at one heart-beat to an almost perfect understanding of his reasons for delay. She greeted him coldly. That he expected. But he saw – or believed he saw – the relief under the coldness – and he brought up his forces for the attack.

"Dear," he said – almost at once – "forgive me for last night. It was true, and if I had expressed it better you'd have understood. It isn't just the house and garden, and the perfect life. It's you! Don't you understand what it is to come back from the world to all this, and you – you – you – the very centre of the star?"

"It's all very well," she said, "but that wasn't what you said last night."

"It's what I meant," said he. "Dear, don't you see how much I want you?"

"But – I'm old – and plain, and – "

She looked at him with eyes still heavy from last night's tears, and he experienced an unexpected impulse of genuine tenderness.

"My dear," he said, "when I first remember your mother she was about your age. I used to think she was the most beautiful person in the world. She seemed to shed happiness and peace around her – like – like a lamp sheds light. And you are just like her. Ah – don't send me away."

"Thank you," she said, struggling wildly with the cross currents of emotion set up by his words. "Thank you. I have not lived single all these years to be married at last because I happen to be like my mother."

The words seemed a treason to the dead, and the tears filled Dorothea's eyes.

He saw them; he perceived that they ran in worn channels, and the impulse of tenderness grew.

Till this moment he had spoken only the truth. His eyes took in the sunny lawn beyond the yew shadow, the still house: the whir of the lawn-mower was music at once pastoral and patriotic. He heard the break in her voice; he saw the girlish grace of her thin shape, the pathetic charm of her wistful mouth. And he lied with a good heart.

"My dear," he said, with a tremble in his voice that sounded like passion, "my dear – it's not for that – I love you, Dolly – I think I must have loved you all my life!"

And at the light that leaped into her eyes he suddenly felt that this lie was nearer truth than he had known.

"I love you, dear – I love you," he repeated, and the words were oddly pleasant to say. "Won't you love me a little, too?"

She covered her face with her hands. She could no more have doubted him than she could have doubted the God to whom she had prayed night and morning for all these lonely years.

"Love you a little?" she said softly. "Ah! Robert, don't you know that I've loved you all my life?"

So a lie won what truth could not gain. And the odd thing is that the lie has now grown quite true, and he really believes that he has always loved her, just as he certainly loves her now. For some lies come true in the telling. But most of them do not, and it is not wise to try experiments.

THE GIRL WITH THE GUITAR

THE last strains of the ill-treated, ill-fated "Intermezzo" had died away, and after them had died away also the rumbling of the wheels of the murderous barrel-organ that had so gaily executed that, along with the nine other tunes of its repertory, to the admiration of the housemaid at the window of the house opposite, and the crowing delight of the two babies next door.

The young man drew a deep breath of relief, and lighted the wax candles in the solid silver candlesticks on his writing-table, for now the late summer dusk was falling, and that organ, please Heaven, made full the measure of the day's appointed torture. There had been five organs since dinner – and seven in the afternoon – one and all urgently thumping their heavy melodies into his brain, to the confusion of the thoughts that waited there, eager to marshal themselves, orderly and firm, into the phalanx of an article on "The Decadence of Criticism."

He filled his pipe, drew paper towards him, dipped his pen, and wrote his title on the blank page. The silence came round him, soothing as a beloved presence, the scent of the may bushes in the suburban gardens stole in pleasantly through the open windows. After all, it was a "quiet neighbourhood" as the advertisement had said – at any rate, in the evening: and in the evening a man's best efforts —

Thrum, tum, tum —Thrum, tum, tum came the defiant strumming of a guitar close to the window. He sprang to his feet – this was, indeed, too much! But before he could draw back the curtains and express himself to the intruder, the humming of the guitar was dominated by the first words of a song —

 
"Oh picerella del vieni al'mare
Nella barchetta veletto di fiore
La biancha prora somiglia al'altare
Tutte le stelle favellan d'amor,"
 

and so forth. The performer was evidently singing "under her voice," but the effect was charming. He stood with his hand on the curtain, listening – and with a pleasure that astonished him. The song came to an end with a chord in which all the strings twanged their best. Then there was silence – then a sigh, and the sound of light moving feet on the gravel. He threw back the curtain and leaned out of the window.

"Here!" he called to the figure that moved slowly towards the gate. She turned quickly, and came back two steps. She wore the dress of a Contadina, a very smart dress indeed, and her hands looked small and white.

"Won't you sing again?" he asked.

She hesitated, then struck a chord or two and began another of those little tuneful Italian songs, all stars and flowers and hearts of gold. And again he listened with a quiet pleasure.

"I should like to hear her voice at its full strength," he thought – and now it was time to give the vagrant a few coppers, and, shutting the window, to leave her to go on to the next front garden.

Never had any act seemed so impossible. He had watched her through the singing of this last song, and he had grown aware of the beauty of her face's oval – of the fine poise of her head – and of the grace of hands and arms.

"Aren't you tired?" he said. "Wouldn't you like to sit down and rest? There is a seat in the garden at the side of the house."

Again she hesitated. Then she turned towards the quarter indicated and disappeared round the laurel bushes.

He was alone in the house – his people and the servants were in the country; the woman who came to "do for him" had left for the night. He went into the dining-room, dark with mahogany and damask, found wine and cake in the sideboard cupboard, put them on a tray, and took them out through the garden door and round to the corner where, almost sheltered by laburnums and hawthorns from the view of the people next door, the singer and her guitar rested on the iron seat.

"I have brought you some wine – will you have it?"

Again that strange hesitation – then quite suddenly the girl put her hands up to her face and began to cry.

"Here – I say, you know – don't – " he said. "Oh, Lord! This is awful. I hardly know a word of Italian, and apparently she has no English. Here, signorina, ecco, prendi – vino – gatto – No, gatto's a cat. I was thinking of French. Oh, Lord!"

 

The Contadina had pulled out a very small handkerchief, and was drying her eyes with it. She rose.

"No – don't go," he said eagerly. "I can see you are tired out. Sai fatigueé non è vero? Io non parlate Italiano, sed vino habet, et cake ante vous partez."

She looked at him and spoke for the first time.

"It serves me right," she said in excellent, yet unfamiliar, English. "I don't understand a single word you say! I might have known I couldn't do it, though it's just what girls in books would do. It would have turned out all right with them. Let me go – thank you very much. I am sure you meant to be kind." And then she began to cry again.

"Look here," he said, "this is all nonsense, you know. You are tired out – and there's something wrong. What is it? Do drink this, and then tell me. Perhaps I can help you."

She drank obediently. Then she said: "I have not had anything to eat since last night – "

He hurriedly cut cake and pressed it upon her. He had no time to think, but he was aware that this was the most exciting adventure that had ever happened to him.

"It's no use – and it all sounds so silly."

"Ah – but do tell me!" His voice was kinder than he meant it to be. Her eyes filled again with tears.

"You don't know how horrid everyone has been. Oh – I never knew before what devils people are to you when you're poor – "

"Is it only that you're poor? Why, that's nothing. I'm poor, too."

She laughed. "I'm not poor – not really."

"What is it, then? You've quarrelled with your friends, and – Ah, tell me – and let me try to help you."

"You are kind – but – Well, then – it's like this. My father brought me to England from the States a month ago: he's 'made his pile': it was in pork, and I always wish he'd made it of something else, even canned fruit would be better, but that doesn't matter – We didn't know anyone here, of course, and directly we got here, he was wired for – business – and he had to go home again."

"But surely he didn't leave you without money."

Her little foot tapped the gravel impatiently.

"I'm coming to that," she said. "Of course he didn't. He told me to stay on at the hotel, and I did – and then one night when I was at the theatre my maid – a horrid French thing we got in Paris – packed up all my trunks and took all my money, and paid the bill, and went. The hotel folks let her go – I can't think how people can be so silly. But they wouldn't let me stay, and I wired to papa – and there was no answer, and I don't know whatever's the matter with him. I know it all sounds as if I was making it up as I go along – "

She stopped short, and looked at him through the dusk. He did not speak, but whatever she saw in his face it satisfied her. She said again: "You are kind."

"Go on," he said, "tell me all about it."

"Well, then, I went into lodgings; that wicked woman had left me one street suit – and to-day they turned me out because my money was all gone. I had a little money in my purse – and this dress had been ordered for a fancy ball – it is smart, isn't it? – and it came after that wretch had gone – and the guitar, too – and I thought I could make a little money. I really can sing, though you mightn't think it. And I've been at it since five o'clock – and I've only got one shilling and seven pence. And no one but you has ever even thought of thinking whether I was tired or hungry or anything – and papa always took such care of me. I feel as if I had been beaten."

"Let me think," he said. "Oh – how glad I am that you happened to come this way."

He reflected a moment. Then he said —

"I shall lock up all the doors and windows in the house – and then I shall give you my latch-key, and you can let yourself in and stay the night here – there is no one in the house. I will catch the night train, and bring my mother up to-morrow. Then we will see what can be done."

The only excuse for this rash young man is to be found in the fact that while he was feeding his strange guest with cake and wine she was feeding, with her beauty, the first fire of his first love. Love at first sight is all nonsense, we know – we who have come to forty year – but at twenty-one one does not somehow recognise it for the nonsense it is.

"But don't you know anyone in London?" he asked in a sensible postscript.

It was not yet so dark but that he could see the crimson flush on her face.

"Not know," she said. "Papa wouldn't like me to spoil my chances of knowing the right people with any foolishness like this. There's no one I could let know. You see, papa's so very rich, and at home they expect me to – to get acquainted with dukes and things – and – "

She stopped.

"American heiresses are expected to marry English dukes," he said, with a distinct physical pain at his heart.

"It wasn't I who said that," said the girl, smiling; "but that's so, anyhow." And then she sighed.

"So it's your destiny to marry a duke, is it?" the young man spoke slowly. "All the same," he added irrelevantly, "you shall have the latch-key."

"You are kind," she said for the third time, and reached her hand out to him. He did not kiss it then, only took it in his, and felt how small and cold it was. Then it was taken away.

He says that he only talked to her for half an hour – but the neighbours, from whose eyes suburban hawthorns and laburnums are powerless to conceal the least of our actions, declare that he sat with the guitar player on the iron seat till well after midnight; further, that when they parted he kissed her hand, and that she then put her hands on his shoulders – "quite shamelessly, you know" – and kissed him lightly on both cheeks. It is known that he passed the night prowling in our suburban lanes, and caught the 6.25 train in the morning to the place where his people were staying.

The lady and the guitar certainly passed the night at Hill View Villa, but when his mother, very angry and very frightened, came up with him at about noon, the house looked just as usual, and no one was there but the charwoman.

"An adventuress! I told you so!" said his mother at once – and the young man sat down at his study table and looked at the title of his article on "The Decadence of Criticism." It was surely a very long time ago that he had written that. And he sat there thinking, till his mother's voice roused him.

"The silver is all right, thank goodness," she said, "but your banjo girl has taken a pair of your sister's silk stockings, and those new shoes of hers with the silver buckles – and she's left these."

She held out a pair of little patent leather shoes, very worn and dusty – the slender silken web of a black stocking, brown with dust, hung from her hand. He answered nothing. She spent the rest of that day in searching the house for further losses, but all things were in their place, except the silver-handled button-hook – and that, as even his sister owned, had been missing for months.

Yet his family would never leave him to keep house alone again: they said he is not to be trusted. And perhaps they are right. The half dozen pairs of embroidered silk stockings and the dainty French silver-buckled shoes, which arrived a month later addressed to Miss – , Hill View Villa, only confirmed their distrust. He must have had them sent – that tambourine girl could never have afforded these – why, they were pure silk – and the quality! It was plain that his castanet girl – his mother and sister took a pleasure in crediting her daily with some fresh and unpleasing instrument – could have had neither taste, money, nor honesty to such a point as this.

As for the young man, he bore it all very meekly, only he was glad when his essays on the decadence of things in general led to a berth on the staff of a big daily, and made it possible for him to take rooms in town – because he had grown weary of living with his family, and of hearing so constantly that She played the bones and the big drum and the concertina, and that She was a twopenny adventuress who stole his sister's shoes and stockings. He prefers to sit in his quiet room in the Temple, and to remember that she played the guitar and sang sweetly – that she had a mouth like a tired child's mouth, that her eyes were like stars, and that she kissed him – on both cheeks – and that he kissed – her hand only – as the scandalised suburb knows.

THE MAN WITH THE BOOTS

A YOUNG man with a little genius, a gift of literary expression, and a distaste not only for dissipation, but for the high-toned social functions of his suburban acquaintances, may go far – once he has chosen journalism for a profession, and has realised that to success in any profession a heart-whole service is necessary. A certain young man, having been kissed in his own garden by a girl with a guitar, ceased to care for evening parties, and devoted himself steadily to work. His relaxations were rowing down the Thames among the shipping, and thinking of the girl. In two years he was sent to Paris by the Thunderer – to ferret out information about a certain financial naughtiness which threatened a trusting public in general, and, in particular, a little band of blameless English shareholders.

The details of the scheme are impertinent to the present narrative.

The young man went to Paris and began to enjoy himself.

He had good introductions. He had once done a similar piece of business before – but then luck aided him. As I said, he enjoyed himself, but he did not see his way to accomplishing his mission. But his luck stood by him, as you will see, in a very remarkable manner. At a masked ball he met a very charming Corsican lady. She was dressed as a nun, but the eyes that sparkled through her mask might have taxed the resources of the most competent abbess. She spoke very agreeable English, and she was very kind to the young man, indicated the celebrities – she seemed to know everyone – whom she recognised quite easily in their carnival disguises, and at last she did him the kindness to point out a stout cardinal, and named the name of the very Jew who was pulling the strings of the very business which had brought the young man to Paris.

The young man's lucky star shone full on him, and dazzled him to a seeming indiscretion.

"He looks rather a beast," he said.

The nun clapped her hands.

"Oh – he is!" she said. "If you knew all that I could tell you about him!"

It was with the distinct idea of knowing all that the lady could tell about the Jew that our hero devoted himself to her throughout that evening, and promised to call on her the next day. He made himself very amiable indeed, and if you think that he should not have done this, I can only say that I am sorry, but facts are facts.

When he put her into her carriage – a very pretty little brougham – he kissed her hand. He did not do this because he desired to do it, as in the case of the Girl with the Guitar, but purely as a matter of business. If you blame him here I can only say "à la guerre comme à la guerre – "

Next day he called on her. She received him in a charming yellow silk boudoir and gave him tea and sweets. Unmasked, the lady was seen to be of uncommon beauty. He did not make love to her – but he was very nice, and she asked him to come again.

It was at their third interview that his star shone again, and again dazzled him to indiscreetness. He told the beautiful lady exactly why he wanted to know all that she could tell him about the Jew financier. The beautiful lady clapped her hands till all her gold bangles rattled musically, and said —

"But I will tell you all – everything! I felt that you wished to know – but I thought … however … are you sure it will all be in your paper?"

"But yes, Madame!" said he.

Then she folded her hands on the greeny satin lap of her tea-gown, and told him many things. And as she spoke he pieced things together, and was aware that she spoke the truth.

When she had finished speaking, his mission was almost accomplished. His luck had done all this for him. The lady promised even documents and evidence. Then he thanked her, and she said —

"No thanks, please. I suppose this will ruin him?"

"I'm afraid it will," said he.

She gave a little sigh of contentment.

"But why – ?" he asked.

"I don't mind, somehow, telling you anything," she said, and indeed as it seemed with some truth. "He – he did me the honour to admire me – and now he has behaved like the pig he is."

 

"And so you have betrayed him – told me the things he told you when he loved you?"

She snapped her fingers, and the opals and rubies of her rings shone like fire.

"Love!" she said scornfully.

Then he began to be a little ashamed and sorry for his part in this adventure, and he said so.

"Ah – don't be sorry," she said softly. "I wanted to betray him. I was simply longing to do it – only I couldn't think of the right person to betray him to! But you are the right person, Monsieur. I am indeed fortunate!"

A little shiver ran through him. But he had gone too far to retreat.

"And the documents, Madame?"

"I will give you them to-morrow. There is a ball at the American Embassy. I can get you a card."

"I have one." He had indeed made it his first business to get one – was not the Girl with the Guitar an American, and could he dare to waste the least light chance of seeing her again?

"Well – be there at twelve, and you shall have everything. But," she looked sidelong at him, "will Monsieur be very kind – very attentive – in short, devote himself to me – for this one evening? He will be there."

He murmured something banal about the devotion of a lifetime, and went away to his lodging in a remote suburb, which he had chosen because he loved boating.

The next night at twelve saw him lounging, a gloomy figure, on a seat in an ante-room at the Embassy. He knew that the Lady was within, yet he could not go to her. He sat there despairingly, trying to hope that even now something might happen to save him. Yet, as it seemed, nothing short of a miracle could. But his star shone, and the miracle happened. For, as he sat, a radiant vision, all white lace and diamonds, detached itself from the arm of a grey-bearded gentleman, and floated towards him.

"It is you!" said the darling vision, and the next moment his hands – both hands – were warmly clasped by little white-gloved ones, and he was standing looking into the eyes of the Girl.

"I knew I should see you somewhere – this continent is so tiny," she said. "Come right along and be introduced to Papa – that's him over there."

"I – I can't," he answered, in an agony. "I – my pocket's been picked – "

"Do tell!" said the Girl, laughing; "but Papa doesn't want tipping – he's got all he wants – come right along."

"I can't," he said, hoarse with the misery of the degrading confession; "it wasn't my money – it was my shoes. I came up in boots, brown boots; distant suburb; train; my shoes were in my overcoat pocket – I meant to change in the cab. I must have dropped them or they were taken out. And here I am in these things." He looked down at his bright brown boots. "And all the shops are shut – and my whole future depends on my getting into that room within the next half-hour. But never mind! Why should you bother? – Besides, what does it matter? I've seen you again. You'll speak to me as you come back? I'll wait all night for a word."

"Don't be so silly," said the Girl; but she smiled very prettily, and her dear eyes sparkled. "If it's really important, I'll fix it for you! But why does your future depend on it, and all that?"

"I have to meet a lady," said the wretched young man.

"The one you were with at the masked ball? The nun? Yes – I made Papa take me. Is it that one?" Her tone was imperious, but it was anxious too.

He looked imploringly at her. "Yes, but – "

"You shall have the shoes, all the same," she interrupted, and turned away before he could add a word.

A moment later the grey-bearded gentleman was bowing to him.

"My girl tells me you're in a corner for want of shoes, Sir. Mine are at your service – we seem about of a size – we can change behind that pillar."

"But," stammered the young man, "it's too much – I can't – "

"It's nothing at all, Sir," said the man with the grey beard warmly; "nothing compared to the way you stood by my girl! Shake! John B. Warner don't forget."

"I can't thank you," said the other, when they had shaken hands. "If you will – just for a short time! I'll be back in half an hour – "

He was back in two minutes. The first face he saw when he had made his duty bows was the face of the Beautiful Lady. She was radiant: and beside her stood her Jew, also radiant. They had made it up. And what is more – though he never knew it – they had made it up in that half-hour of delay caused by the Boots. The Lady passed our hero without a word or even a glance to acknowledge acquaintanceship, and he saw that the game was absolutely up. He swore under his breath. But the next moment he laughed to himself with a free heart. After all – for any documents, any evidence, for any success in any walk of life, how could he have borne to devote himself, as he had promised to do, to that Corsican lady, while the Girl, the Girl, was in the room? And he perceived now that he should not even use the information he already had. It did not seem fitting that one to whom the Girl stooped to speak, for ever so brief a moment, should play the part of a spy – in however good a cause.

"Back already?" said the old gentleman.

"Thank you – my business is completed."

The young man resumed his brown boots.

"Now, Papa," said the Girl, "just go right along and do your devoirs in there – and I'll stay and talk to him– "

The father went obediently.

"Have you quarrelled with her, then?" asked the Girl, her eyes on the diamond buckles of her satin shoes.

He told her everything – or nearly.

"Well," she said decisively, "I'm glad you're out of it, anyway. Don't worry about it. It's a nasty trade. Papa'll find you a berth. Come out to the States and edit one of his papers!"

"You told me he was a millionaire! I suppose everything went all right? He didn't lose his money or anything?" His tone was wistful.

"Not he! You don't know Papa!" said the Girl; "but, say, you're not going to be too proud to be acquainted with a self-made man?"

He didn't answer.

"Say," said she again, "I don't take so much stock in dukes as I used to." She laid a hand on his arm.

"Don't make a fool of me," said the young man, speaking very low.

"I won't," – her voice was a caress, – "but Papa shall make Something of you. You don't know Papa! He can make men's fortunes as easily as other folks make men's shoes. And he always does what I tell him. Aren't you glad to see me again? And don't you remember – ?" said she, looking at him so kindly that he lost his head and —

"Ah! haven't you forgotten?" said he.

That is about all there is of the story. He is now a Something – and he has married the Girl. If you think that a young man of comparatively small income should not marry the girl he loves because her father happens to have made money in pork, I can only remind you that your opinion is not shared by the bulk of our English aristocracy. And they don't even bother about the love, as often as not.

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