THE SEA had not changed. Its waters were low on the mud-banks, and the Marazion Bell-buoy clanked and swung in the tide-way. On the white beach-sand dried stumps of sea-poppy shivered and chattered.
‘I don’t see the old breakwater,’ said Maisie, under her breath.
‘Let’s be thankful that we have as much as we have. I don’t believe they’ve mounted a single new gun on the fort since we were here. Come and look.’
They came to the glacis of Fort Keeling, and sat down in a nook sheltered from the wind under the tarred throat of a forty-pounder cannon.
‘Now, if Ammoma were only here!’ said Maisie.
For a long time both were silent. Then Dick took Maisie’s hand and called her by her name.
She shook her head and looked out to sea.
‘Maisie, darling, doesn’t it make any difference?’
‘No!’ between clenched teeth. ‘I’d—I’d tell you if it did; but it doesn’t, Oh, Dick, please be sensible.’
‘Don’t you think that it ever will?’
‘No, I’m sure it won’t.’
Maisie rested her chin on her hand, and, still regarding the sea, spoke hurriedly—
‘I know what you want perfectly well, but I can’t give it to you, Dick. It isn’t my fault; indeed, it isn’t. If I felt that I could care for any one—— But I don’t feel that I care. I simply don’t understand what the feeling means.’
‘Is that true, dear?’
‘You’ve been very good to me, Dickie; and the only way I can pay you back is by speaking the truth. I daren’t tell a fib. I despise myself quite enough as it is.’
‘What in the world for?’
‘Because—because I take everything that you give me and I give you nothing in return. It’s mean and selfish of me, and whenever I think of it it worries me.’
‘Understand once for all, then, that I can manage my own affairs, and if I choose to do anything you aren’t to blame. You haven’t a single thing to reproach yourself with, darling.’
‘Yes, I have, and talking only makes it worse.’
‘Then don’t talk about it.’
‘How can I help myself? If you find me alone for a minute you are always talking about it; and when you aren’t you look it. You don’t know how I despise myself sometimes.’
‘Great goodness!’ said Dick, nearly jumping to his feet. ‘Speak the truth now, Maisie, if you never speak it again! Do I—does this worrying bore you?’
‘No. It does not.’
‘You’d tell me if it did?’
‘I should let you know, I think.’
‘Thank you. The other thing is fatal. But you must learn to forgive a man when he’s in love. He’s always a nuisance. You must have known that?’
Maisie did not consider the last question worth answering, and Dick was forced to repeat it.
‘There were other men, of course. They always worried just when I was in the middle of my work, and wanted me to listen to them.’
‘Did you listen?’
‘At first; and they couldn’t understand why I didn’t care. And they used to praise my pictures; and I thought they meant it. I used to be proud of the praise, and tell Kami, and—I shall never forget—once Kami laughed at me.’
‘You don’t like being laughed at, Maisie, do you?’
‘I hate it. I never laugh at other people unless—unless they do bad work. Dick, tell me honestly what you think of my pictures generally,—of everything of mine that you’ve seen.’
‘“Honest, honest, and honest over!”’ quoted Dick from a catchword of long ago. ‘Tell me what Kami always says.’
Maisie hesitated. ‘He—he says that there is feeling in them.’
‘How dare you tell me a fib like that? Remember, I was under Kami for two years. I know exactly what he says.’
‘It isn’t a fib.’
‘It’s worse; it’s a half-truth. Kami says, when he puts his head on one side,—so,—“Il y a du sentiment, mais il n’y a pas de parti pris.”’ He rolled the r threateningly, as Kami used to do.
‘Yes, that is what he says; and I’m beginning to think that he is right.’
‘Certainly he is.’ Dick admitted that two people in the world could do and say no wrong. Kami was the man.
‘And now you say the same thing. It’s so disheartening.’
‘I’m sorry, but you asked me to speak the truth. Besides, I love you too much to pretend about your work. It’s strong, it’s patient sometimes,—not always,—and sometimes there’s power in it, but there’s no special reason why it should be done at all. At least, that’s how it strikes me.’
‘There’s no special reason why anything in the world should ever be done. You know that as well as I do. I only want success.’
‘You’re going the wrong way to get it, then. Hasn’t Kami ever told you so?’
‘Don’t quote Kami to me. I want to know what you think. My work’s bad, to begin with.’
‘I didn’t say that, and I don’t think it.’
‘It’s amateurish, then.’
‘That it most certainly is not. You’re a work-woman, darling, to your boot-heels, and I respect you for that.’
‘You don’t laugh at me behind my back?’
‘No, dear. You see, you are more to me than any one else. Put this cloak thing round you, or you’ll get chilled.’
Maisie wrapped herself in the soft marten skins, turning the gray kangaroo fur to the outside.
‘This is delicious,’ she said, rubbing her chin thoughtfully along the fur. ‘Well? Why am I wrong in trying to get a little success?’
‘Just because you try. Don’t you understand, darling? Good work has nothing to do with—doesn’t belong to—the person who does it. It’s put into him or her from outside.’
‘But how does that affect——’
‘Wait a minute. All we can do is to learn how to do our work, to be masters of our materials instead of servants, and never to be afraid of anything.’
‘I understand that.’
‘Everything else comes from outside ourselves. Very good. If we sit down quietly to work out notions that are sent to us, we may or we may not do something that isn’t bad. A great deal depends on being master of the bricks and mortar of the trade. But the instant we begin to think about success and the effect of our work—to play with one eye on the gallery—we lose power and touch and everything else. At least that’s how I have found it. Instead of being quiet and giving every power you possess to your work, you’re fretting over something which you can neither help no hinder by a minute. See?’
‘It’s so easy for you to talk in that way. People like what you do. Don’t you ever think about the gallery?’
‘Much too often; but I’m always punished for it by loss of power. It’s as simple as the Rule of Three. If we make light of our work by using it for our own ends, our work will make light of us, and, as we’re the weaker, we shall suffer.’
‘I don’t treat my work lightly. You know that it’s everything to me.’
‘Of course; but, whether you realise it or not, you give two strokes for yourself to one for your work. It isn’t your fault, darling. I do exactly the same thing, and know that I’m doing it. Most of the French schools, and all the schools here, drive the students to work for their own credit, and for the sake of their pride. I was told that all the world was interested in my work, and everybody at Kami’s talked turpentine, and I honestly believed that the world needed elevating and influencing, and all manner of impertinences, by my brushes. By Jove, I actually believed that! When my little head was bursting with a notion that I couldn’t handle because I hadn’t sufficient knowledge of my craft, I used to run about wondering at my own magnificence and getting ready to astonish the world.’
‘But surely one can do that sometimes?’
‘Very seldom with malice aforethought, darling. And when it’s done it’s such a tiny thing, and the world’s so big, and all but a millionth part of it doesn’t care. Maisie, come with me and I’ll show you something of the size of the world. One can no more avoid working than eating,—that goes on by itself,—but try to see what you are working for. I know such little heavens that I could take you to,—islands tucked away under the Line. You sight them after weeks of crashing through water as black as black marble because it’s so deep, and you sit in the fore-chains day after day and see the sun rise almost afraid because the sea’s so lonely.’
‘Who is afraid?—you, or the sun?’
‘The sun, of course. And there are noises under the sea, and sounds overhead in a clear sky. Then you find your island alive with hot moist orchids that make mouths at you and can do everything except talk. There’s a waterfall in it three hundred feet high, just like a sliver of green jade laced with silver; and millions of wild bees live up in the rocks; and you can hear the fat cocoa-nuts falling from the palms; and you order an ivory-white servant to sling you a long yellow hammock with tassels on it like ripe maize, and you put up your feet and hear the bees hum and the water fall till you go to sleep.’
‘Can one work there?’
‘Certainly. One must do something always. You hang your canvas up in a palm tree and let the parrots criticise. When they scuffle you heave a ripe custard-apple at them, and it bursts in a lather of cream. There are hundreds of places. Come and see them.’
‘I don’t quite like that place. It sounds lazy. Tell me another.’
‘What do you think of a big, red, dead city built of red sandstone, with raw green aloes growing between the stones, lying out neglected on honey-coloured sands? There are forty dead kings there, Maisie, each in a gorgeous tomb finer than all the others. You look at the palaces and streets and shops and tanks, and think that men must live there, till you find a wee gray squirrel rubbing its nose all alone in the market-place, and a jewelled peacock struts out of a carved doorway and spreads its tail against a marble screen as fine pierced as point-lace. Then a monkey—a little black monkey—walks through the main square to get a drink from a tank forty feet deep. He slides down the creepers to the water’s edge, and a friend holds him by the tail, in case he should fall in.’
‘Is that all true?’
‘I have been there and seen. Then evening comes, and the lights change till it’s just as though you stood in the heart of a king-opal. A little before sundown, as punctually as clockwork, a big bristly wild boar, with all his family following, trots through the city gate, churning the foam on his tusks. You climb on the shoulder of a blind black stone god and watch that pig choose himself a palace for the night and stump in wagging his tail. Then the night-wind gets up, and the sands move, and you hear the desert outside the city singing, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and everything is dark till the moon rises. Maisie, darling, come with me and see what the world is really like. It’s very lovely, and it’s very horrible,—but I won’t let you see anything horrid,—and it doesn’t care your life or mine for pictures or anything else except doing its own work and making love. Come, and I’ll show you how to brew sangaree, and sling a hammock, and—oh, thousands of things, and you’ll see for yourself what colour means, and we’ll find out together what love means, and then, maybe, we shall be allowed to do some good work. Come away!’
‘Why?’ said Maisie.
‘How can you do anything until you have seen everything, or as much as you can? And besides, darling, I love you. Come along with me. You have no business here; you don’t belong to this place; you’re half a gipsy,—your face tells that; and I—even the smell of open water makes me restless. Come across the sea and be happy!’
He had risen to his feet, and stood in the shadow of the gun, looking down at the girl. The very short winter afternoon had worn away, and, before they knew, the winter moon was walking the untroubled sea. Long ruled lines of silver showed where a ripple of the rising tide was turning over the mud-banks. The wind had dropped, and in the intense stillness they could hear a donkey cropping the frosty grass many yards away. A faint beating, like that of a muffled drum, came out of the moon-haze.
‘What’s that?’ said Maisie, quickly. ‘It sounds like a heart beating. Where is it?’
Dick was so angry at this sudden wrench to his pleadings that he could not trust himself to speak, and in this silence caught the sound. Maisie from her seat under the gun watched him with a certain amount of fear. She wished so much that he would be sensible and cease to worry her with over-sea emotion that she both could and could not understand. She was not prepared, however, for the change in his face as he listened.
‘It’s a steamer,’ he said,—’a twin-screw steamer, by the beat. I can’t make her out, but she must be standing very close in-shore. Ah!’ as the red of a rocket streaked the haze, ‘she’s standing in to signal before she clears the Channel.’
‘Is it a wreck?’ said Maisie, to whom these words were as Greek.
Dick’s eyes were turned to the sea. ‘Wreck! What nonsense! She’s only reporting herself. Red rocket forward—there’s a green light aft now, and two red rockets from the bridge.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It’s the signal of the Cross Keys Line running to Australia. I wonder which steamer it is.’ The note of his voice had changed; he seemed to be talking to himself, and Maisie did not approve of it. The moonlight broke the haze for a moment, touching the black sides of a long steamer working down Channel. ‘Four masts and three funnels—she’s in deep draught, too. That must be the Barralong, or the Bhutia. No, the Bhutia has a clopper bow. It’s the Barralong, to Australia. She’ll lift the Southern Cross in a week,—lucky old tub!—oh, lucky old tub!’
He stared intently, and moved up the slope of the fort to get a better view, but the mist on the sea thickened again, and the beating of the screws grew fainter. Maisie called to him a little angrily, and he returned, still keeping his eyes to seaward. ‘Have you ever seen the Southern Cross blazing right over your head?’ he asked. ‘It’s superb!’
‘No,’ she said shortly, ‘and I don’t want to. If you think it’s so lovely, why don’t you go and see it yourself?’
She raised her face from the soft blackness of the marten skins about her throat, and her eyes shone like diamonds. The moonlight on the gray kangaroo fur turned it to frosted silver of the coldest.
‘By Jove, Maisie, you look like a little heathen idol tucked up there.’ The eyes showed that they did not appreciate the compliment. ‘I’m sorry,’ he continued. ‘The Southern Cross isn’t worth looking at unless someone helps you to see. That steamer’s out of hearing.’
‘Dick,’ she said quietly, ‘suppose I were to come to you now,—be quiet a minute,—just as I am, and caring for you just as much as I do.’
‘Not as a brother, though You said you didn’t—in the Park.’
‘I never had a brother. Suppose I said, “Take me to those places, and in time, perhaps, I might really care for you,” what would you do?’
‘Send you straight back to where you came from, in a cab. No, I wouldn’t; I’d let you walk. But you couldn’t do it, dear. And I wouldn’t run the risk. You’re worth waiting for till you can come without reservation.’
‘Do you honestly believe that?’
‘I have a hazy sort of idea that I do. Has it never struck you in that light?’
‘Ye—es. I feel so wicked about it.’
‘Wickeder than usual?’
‘You don’t know all I think. It’s almost too awful to tell.’
‘Never mind. You promised to tell me the truth—at least.’
‘It’s so ungrateful of me, but—but, though I know you care for me, and I like to have you with me, I’d—I’d even sacrifice you, if that would bring me what I want.’
‘My poor little darling! I know that state of mind. It doesn’t lead to good work.’
‘You aren’t angry? Remember, I do despise myself.’
‘I’m not exactly flattered,—I had guessed as much before,—but I’m not angry. I’m sorry for you. Surely you ought to have left a littleness like that behind you, years ago.’
‘You’ve no right to patronise me! I only want what I have worked for so long. It came to you without any trouble, and—and I don’t think it’s fair.’
‘What can I do? I’d give ten years of my life to get you what you want. But I can’t help you; even I can’t help.’
A murmur of dissent from Maisie. He went on—
‘And I know by what you have just said that you’re on the wrong road to success. It isn’t got at by sacrificing other people,—I’ve had that much knocked into me; you must sacrifice yourself, and live under orders, and never think for yourself, and never have real satisfaction in your work except just at the beginning, when you’re reaching out after a notion.’
‘How can you believe all that?’
‘There’s no question of belief or disbelief. That’s the law, and you take it or refuse it as you please. I try to obey, but I can’t, and then my work turns bad on my hands. Under any circumstances, remember, four-fifths of everybody’s work must be bad. But the remnant is worth the trouble for it’s own sake.’
‘Isn’t it nice to get credit even for bad work?’
‘It’s much too nice. But—— May I tell you something? It isn’t a pretty tale, but you’re so like a man that I forget when I’m talking to you.’
‘Once when I was out in the Soudan I went over some ground that we had been fighting on for three days. There were twelve hundred dead; and we hadn’t time to bury them.’
‘I had been at work on a big double-sheet sketch, and I was wondering what people would think of it at home. The sight of that field taught me a good deal. It looked just like a bed of horrible toadstools in all colours, and—I’d never seen men in bulk go back to their beginnings before. So I began to understand that men and women were only material to work with, and that what they said or did was of no consequence. See? Strictly speaking, you might just as well put your ear down to the palette to catch what your colours are saying.’
‘Dick, that’s disgraceful!’
‘Wait a minute. I said, strictly speaking. Unfortunately, everybody must be either a man or a woman.’
‘I’m glad you allow that much.’
‘In your case I don’t. You aren’t a woman. But ordinary people, Maisie, must behave and work as such. That’s what makes me so savage.’ He hurled a pebble towards the sea as he spoke. ‘I know that it is outside my business to care what people say; I can see that it spoils my output if I listen to ’em; and yet, confound it all,’—another pebble flew seaward,—‘I can’t help purring when I’m rubbed the right way. Even when I can see on a man’s forehead that he is lying his way through a clump of pretty speeches, those lies make me happy and play the mischief with my hand.’
‘And when he doesn’t say pretty things?’
‘Then, belovedest,’—Dick grinned,—‘I forget that I am the steward of these gifts, and I want to make that man love and appreciate my work with a thick stick. It’s too humiliating altogether; but I suppose even if one were an angel and painted humans altogether from outside, one would lose in touch what one gained in grip.’
Maisie laughed at the idea of Dick as an angel.
‘But you seem to think,’ she said, ‘that everything nice spoils your hand.’
‘I don’t think. It’s the law,—just the same as it was at Mrs. Jennett’s. Everything that is nice does spoil your hand. I’m glad you see so clearly.’
‘I don’t like the view.’
‘Nor I. But—have got orders: what can do? Are you strong enough to face it alone?’
‘I suppose I must.’
‘Let me help, darling. We can hold each other very tight and try to walk straight. We shall blunder horribly, but it will be better than stumbling apart. Maisie, can’t you see reason?’
‘I don’t think we should get on together. We should be two of a trade, so we should never agree.’
‘How I should like to meet the man who made that proverb! He lived in a cave and ate raw bear, I fancy. I’d make him chew his own arrow-heads. Well?’
‘I should be only half married to you. I should worry and fuss about my work, as I do now. Four days out of the seven I’m not fit to speak to.’
‘You talk as if no one else in the world had ever used a brush. D’you suppose that I don’t know the feeling of worry and bother and can’t-get-at-ness? You’re lucky if you only have it four days out of the seven. What difference would that make?’
‘A great deal—if you had it too.’
‘Yes, but I could respect it. Another man might not. He might laugh at you. But there’s no use talking about it. If you can think in that way you can’t care for me—yet.’
The tide had nearly covered the mud-banks and twenty little ripples broke on the beach before Maisie chose to speak.
‘Dick,’ she said slowly, ‘I believe very much that you are better than I am.’
‘This doesn’t seem to bear on the argument—but in what way?’
‘I don’t quite know, but in what you said about work and things; and then you’re so patient. Yes, you’re better than I am.’
Dick considered rapidly the murkiness of an average man’s life. There was nothing in the review to fill him with a sense of virtue. He lifted the hem of the cloak to his lips.
‘Why,’ said Maisie, making as though she had not noticed, ‘can you see things that I can’t? I don’t believe what you believe; but you’re right, I believe.’
‘If I’ve seen anything, God knows I couldn’t have seen it but for you, and I know that I couldn’t have said it except to you. You seemed to make everything clear for a minute; but I don’t practice what I preach. You would help me. . . . There are only us two in the world for all purposes, and—and you like to have me with you?’
‘Of course I do. I wonder if you can realise how utterly lonely I am!’
‘Darling, I think I can.’
‘Two years ago, when I first took the little house, I used to walk up and down the back-garden trying to cry. I never can cry. Can you?’
‘It’s some time since I tried. What was the trouble? Overwork?’
‘I don’t know; but I used to dream that I had broken down, and had no money, and was starving in London. I thought about it all day, and it frightened me—oh, how it frightened me!’
‘I know that fear. It’s the most terrible of all. It wakes me up in the night sometimes. You oughtn’t to know anything about it.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Never mind. Is your three hundred a year safe?’
‘It’s in Consols.’
‘Very well. If any one comes to you and recommends a better investment,—even if I should come to you,—don’t you listen. Never shift the money for a minute, and never lend a penny of it,—even to the red-haired girl.’
‘Don’t scold me so! I’m not likely to be foolish.’
‘The earth is full of men who’d sell their souls for three hundred a year; and women come and talk, and borrow a five-pound note here and a ten-pound note there; and a woman has no conscience in a money debt. Stick to your money, Maisie, for there’s nothing more ghastly in the world than poverty in London. It’s scared me. By Jove, it put the fear into me! And one oughtn’t to be afraid of anything.’
To each man is appointed his particular dread,—the terror that, if he does not fight against it, must cow him even to the loss of his manhood. Dick’s experience of the sordid misery of want had entered into the deeps of him, and, lest he might find virtue too easy, that memory stood behind him, tempting to shame, when dealers came to buy his wares. As the Nilghai quaked against his will at the still green water of a lake or a mill-dam, as Torpenhow flinched before any white arm that could cut or stab and loathed himself for flinching, Dick feared the poverty he had once tasted half in jest. His burden was heavier than the burdens of his companions.
Maisie watched the face working in the moonlight.
‘You’ve plenty of pennies now,’ she said soothingly.
‘I shall never have enough,’ he began, with vicious emphasis. Then, laughing, ‘I shall always be three-pence short in my accounts.’
‘I carried a man’s bag once from Liverpool Street Station to Blackfriar’s Bridge. It was a sixpenny job,—you needn’t laugh; indeed it was,—and I wanted the money desperately. He only gave me threepence; and he hadn’t even the decency to pay in silver. Whatever money I make, I shall never get that odd threepence out of the world.’
This was not language befitting the man who had preached of the sanctity of work. It jarred on Maisie, who preferred her payment in applause, which, since all men desire it, must be of he right. She hunted for her little purse and gravely took out a threepenny bit.
‘There it is,’ she said. ‘I’ll pay you, Dickie; and don’t worry any more; it isn’t worth while. Are you paid?’
‘I am,’ said the very human apostle of fair craft, taking the coin. ‘I’m paid a thousand times, and we’ll close that account. It shall live on my watch-chain; and you’re an angel, Maisie.’
‘I’m very cramped, and I’m feeling a little cold. Good gracious! the cloak is all white, and so is your moustache! I never knew it was so chilly.’
A light frost lay white on the shoulder of Dick’s ulster. He, too, had forgotten the state of the weather. They laughed together, and with that laugh ended all serious discourse.
They ran inland across the waste to warm themselves, then turned to look at the glory of the full tide under the moonlight and the intense black shadows of the furze bushes. It was an additional joy to Dick that Maisie could see colour even as he saw it,—could see the blue in the white of the mist, the violet that is in gray palings, and all things else as they are,—not of one hue, but a thousand. And the moonlight came into Maisie’s soul, so that she, usually reserved, chattered of herself and of the things she took interest in,—of Kami, wisest of teachers, and of the girls in the studio,—of the Poles, who will kill themselves with overwork if they are not checked; of the French, who talk at great length of much more than they will ever accomplish; of the slovenly English, who toil hopelessly and cannot understand that inclination does not imply power; of the Americans, whose rasping voices in the hush of a hot afternoon strain tense-drawn nerves to breaking-point, and whose suppers lead to indigestion; of tempestuous Russians, neither to hold nor to bind, who tell the girls ghost-stories till the girls shriek; of stolid Germans, who come to learn one thing, and, having mastered that much, stolidly go away and copy pictures for evermore. Dick listened enraptured because it was Maisie who spoke. He knew the old life.
‘It hasn’t changed much,’ he said. ‘Do they still steal colours at lunch-time?’
‘Not steal. Attract is the word. Of course they do. I’m good—I only attract ultramarine; but there are students who’d attract flake-white.’
‘I’ve done it myself. You can’t help it when the palettes are hung up. Every colour is common property once it runs down,—even though you do start it with a drop of oil. It teaches people not to waste their tubes.’
‘I should like to attract some of your colours, Dick. Perhaps I might catch your success with them.’
‘I mustn’t say a bad word, but I should like to. What in the world, which you’ve just missed a lovely chance of seeing, does success or want of success, or a three-storied success, matter compared with—— No, I won’t open that question again. It’s time to go back to town.’
‘I’m sorry, Dick, but——’
‘You’re much more interested in that than you are in me.’
‘I don’t know, I don’t think I am.’
‘What will you give me if I tell you a sure short-cut to everything you want,—the trouble and the fuss and the tangle and all the rest? Will you promise to obey me?’
‘In the first place, you must never forget a meal because you happen to be at work. You forgot your lunch twice last week,’ said Dick, at a venture, for he knew with whom he was dealing.
‘No, no,—only once, really.’
‘That’s bad enough. And you mustn’t take a cup of tea and a biscuit in place of a regular dinner, because dinner happens to be a trouble.’
‘You’re making fun of me!’
‘I never was more in earnest in my life. Oh, my love, my love, hasn’t it dawned on you yet what you are to me? Here’s the whole earth in a conspiracy to give you a chill, or run over you, or drench you to the skin, or cheat you out of your money, or let you die of overwork and underfeeding, and I haven’t the mere right to look after you. Why, I don’t even know if you have sense enough to put on warm things when the weather’s cold.’
‘Dick, you’re the most awful boy to talk to—really! How do you suppose I managed when you were away?’
‘I wasn’t here, and I didn’t know. But now I’m back I’d give everything I have for the right of telling you to come in out of the rain.’
‘Your success too?’
This time it cost Dick a severe struggle to refrain from bad words.
‘As Mrs. Jennett used to say, you’re a trial, Maisie! You’ve been cooped up in the schools too long, and you think every one is looking at you. There aren’t twelve hundred people in the world who understand pictures. The others pretend and don’t care. Remember, I’ve seen twelve hundred men dead in toadstool-beds. It’s only the voice of the tiniest little fraction of people that makes success. The real world doesn’t care a tinker’s—doesn’t care a bit. For aught you or I know, every man in the world may be arguing with a Maisie of his own.’
‘Poor Dick, I think. Do you believe while he’s fighting for what’s dearer than his life he wants to look at a picture? And even if he did, and if all the world did, and a thousand million people rose up and shouted hymns to my honour and glory, would that make up to me for the knowledge that you were out shopping in the Edgware Road on a rainy day without an umbrella? Now we’ll go to the station.’
‘But you said on the beach——’ persisted Maisie, with a certain fear.
Dick groaned aloud: ‘Yes, I know what I said. My work is everything I have, or am, or hope to be, to me, and I believe I’ve learnt the law that governs it; but I’ve some lingering sense of fun left,—though you’ve nearly knocked it out of me. I can just see that it isn’t everything to all the world. Do what I say, and not what I do.’
Maisie was careful not to reopen debatable matters, and they returned to London joyously. The terminus stopped Dick in the midst of an eloquent harangue on the beauties of exercise. He would buy Maisie a horse,—such a horse as never yet bowed head to bit,—would stable it, with a companion, some twenty miles from London, and Maisie, solely for her health’s sake should ride with him twice or thrice a week.
‘That’s absurd,’ said she. ‘It wouldn’t be proper.’
‘Now, who in all London to-night would have sufficient interest or audacity to call us two to account for anything we chose to do?’
Maisie looked at the lamps, the fog, and the hideous turmoil. Dick was right; but horseflesh did not make for Art as she understood it.
‘You’re very nice sometimes, but you’re very foolish more times. I’m not going to let you give me horses, or take you out of your way to-night. I’ll go home by myself. Only I want you to promise me something. You won’t think any more about that extra threepence, will you? Remember, you’ve been paid; and I won’t allow you to be spiteful and do bad work for a little thing like that. You can be so big that you mustn’t be tiny.’
This was turning the tables with a vengeance. There remained only to put Maisie into her hansom.
‘Good-bye,’ she said simply. ‘You’ll come on Sunday. It has been a beautiful day, Dick. Why can’t it be like this always?’
‘Because love’s like line-work: you must go forward or backward; you can’t stand still. By the way, go on with your line-work. Good-night, and, for my—for my sake, take care of yourself.’
He turned to walk home, meditating. The day had brought him nothing that he hoped for, but—surely this was worth many days—it had brought him nearer to Maisie. The end was only a question of time now, and the prize well worth the waiting. By instinct, once more, he turned to the river.
‘And she understood at once,’ he said, looking at the water. ‘She found out my pet besetting sin on the spot, and paid it off. My God, how she understood! And she said I was better than she was! Better than she was!’ He laughed at the absurdity of the notion. ‘I wonder if girls guess at one-half a man’s life. They can’t, or—they wouldn’t marry us.’ He took her gift out of his pocket, and considered it in the light of a miracle and a pledge of the comprehension that, one day, would lead to perfect happiness. Meantime, Maisie was alone in London, with none to save her from danger. And the packed wilderness was very full of danger.
Dick made his prayer to Fate disjointedly after the manner of the heathen as he threw the piece of silver into the river. If any evil were to befall, let him bear the burden and let Maisie go unscathed, since the threepenny piece was dearest to him of all his possessions. It was a small coin in itself, but Maisie had given it, and the Thames held it, and surely the Fates would be bribed for this once.
The drowning of the coin seemed to cut him free from thought of Maisie for the moment. He took himself off the bridge and went whistling to his chambers with a strong yearning for some man-talk and tobacco after his first experience of an entire day spent in the society of a woman. There was a stronger desire at his heart when there rose before him an unsolicited vision of the Barralong dipping deep and sailing free for the Southern Cross.