That old bell, presage of a train, had just sounded through Oxford station; and the undergraduates there waiting, gay intweeded or flannelated figures, moved to the margin of the platform and gazed idly up the line. Young and careless, they seemed out of place on the worn boards they shaded from the glow of afternoon sunshine. Perhaps they were out of place, while the fading signals and grey walls of that antique station, as insignificant to them as familiar, yet whisper to the able ear the last enchantments of the Middle Age. Significance and the power to signify, how rarely these are met in the afternoon sunshine.
At the door of the first-class waiting-room, aloof and venerable, stood the Warden of Judas. A marblei pillar of tradition seemed he, disguised in his garb of an old-fashioned cleric. Aloft, between the wide brim of his silk hat and the white extent of his shirt-front, appeared those eyes which hawks, that nose which eagles, had often envied. He supported his years on a well polished chinaberry stick. He alone was worthy of the background.ii
Came a whistle from the distance. The breast of an engine was descried, a single round opening of light adorning its upper frame and a long train curving after it, heavy, impetuous under a flight of smoke. It grew and grew. Louder and louder, its noise foreran it. Longer and longer from up close, the train became a furious, enormous monster, slick and shining under their gaze. With an instinct for safety, all men receded from the platform's margin. With it came danger far more terrible, but yet unknown to them ; and once known impossible to flee to safety from, because in its case instinct, that saviour of mankind, pushed them to sure and certain doom.
The snake came blustering into the expectant station, enveloped in cloud and clangour. Before it retreated, before it had yet even stopped proper, the door of one carriage flew open, and from it, in a white travelling dress, in a toque a-twinkle with fine diamonds, a lithe and radiant creature slipped nimbly down to the platform on her own two legs and by her own, mysterious power.
A cynosure indeed! A hundred eighteen eyes were fixed on her, and imprecisely half as many hearts lost to her. The Warden of Judas himself had mounted on his nose a pair of black-rimmed glasses. Him espying, the nymph darted in his direction. The throng made way for her. She was at his side.
"Grandpapa!" she cried, and kissed the old man on either cheek while not a youth there but would have bartered the difference of years left in his own future to obtain in exchange that salute.
"My dear Zuleika," he said, "welcome to Oxford! Have you no luggage?"
"Heaps!" she answered. "And a maid who will find it."
"Then," said the Warden, "let us drive straight to College." He offered her his arm, and they proceeded slowly to the entrance. She chatted gaily, blushing not in the long avenue of eyes she passed through. All the youths, under her spell, were now quite oblivious of the relatives they had come to meet. Parents, sisters, cousins, milled unclaimed about the platform. Undutiful, all the youths were forming a serried suite to their enchantress. In silence they followed her. They saw her leap into the Warden's landau, they saw the Warden seat himself upon her left. Nor was it until the landau was lost to sight that they turned -- how slowly, and with how bad a grace! -- to look for their relatives.
Through those slums which connect Oxford with the world, also known as "Modern England", sad twirligig of "efficiency" and "spreading -- works!", affreux end product of life that -- in a most un-English manner -- would much rather make more sons than dress the sons it already made to any kind of standard, the landau rolled on towards Judas. Not many youths occurred, for nearly all -- it was the Monday of Eights Week -- were down by the river, cheering the crews. There did, however, come spurring by, on a polo-pony, a very splendid youth. His straw hat was encircled with a riband of blue and white, and he raised it to the Warden.
"That," said the Warden, "is the Duke of Dorset, a member of my College. He dines at my table to-night."
Zuleika, turning to regard his Grace, saw that he had not reined in and was not even glancing back at her over his shoulder. She gave a little start of dismay, but scarcely had her lips pouted ere they curved to a smile -- a smile with no malice whatever in its corners.
As the landau rolled into "the Corn," another youth -- a pedestrian, and very different -- saluted the Warden. He wore a black jacket, rusty and amorphous. His trousers were too short, and he himself was too short: almost a dwarf. His face was as plain as his gait was undistinguished. He squinted behind spectacles.
"And who is that?" asked Zuleika.
The Warden cleared his throat. "That," he said, "is also a member of Judas. His name, I believe, is Noakes."
"Is he dining with us to-night?" asked Zuleika.
"Certainly not," said the Warden. "Most decidedly not."
Noakes, unlike the Duke, had stopped for an ardent retrospect. He gazed till the landau was out of his short sight; then, sighing, resumed his solitary walk.
The landau was rolling into "the Broad," over that ground which had once blackened under the fagots lit for Latimer and Ridley. It rolled past the portals of Balliol and of Trinity, past the Ashmolean. From those pedestals which intersperse the railing of the Sheldonian, high, grim busts of some Roman Emperors, as well cut into the local stone as the local hands could manage stared down at the fair stranger in the equipage. Zuleika returned their stare with but a casual glance. The inanimate had little charm for her.
A moment later, a certain old don emerged from Blackwell's, where he had been buying books. Looking across the road, he saw, to his amazement, great beads of perspiration glistening on the brows of those imperial statues. He trembled, and hurried away. That evening, in Common Room, he told what he had seen; and no amount of polite scepticism would convince him that it was but the hallucination of one who had been reading too much Mommsen. He persisted that he had seen what he described. It was not until two days had elapsed that some credence was accorded him.
Yes, as the landau rolled by, sweat started from the brows of that truly English mimicry of splendors past. The inept statues, through whatever faint link to the actual experience and actual wisdom of the historic figures they struggled to represent, a link more to be ascribed to the truly great merits of Latin men than to the altogether dubious offices of local stonecutters borne among the sheep herds, foresaw the wonder that was overhanging Oxford, and celebrated as they could. Let that be remembered to their credit, that they first saw an insignificant collection of orcs take their very first steps towards true civilisation and let that incline us to think ever more greatly of them. In their lives we know, they were perfect without exception -- what among the sewing circle is called "lechers" or "tyrants" or whatnot. They, who were godlike, godlike remain ; and even through the muddy veil of most inapt idolatry their absolute splendor to some degree still shines.
The sun streamed through the bay-window of a "best" bedroom in the Warden's house, and glorified the pale crayon-portraits on the wall, the dimity curtains, the old fresh chintz. He invaded the many trunks which -- all painted Z. D. -- gaped, in various stages of excavation, around the room. The doors of the huge wardrobe stood, like the doors of Janus' temple in time of war, majestically open; and the sun seized this opportunity of exploring the mahogany recesses. But the carpet, which had over the years faded under his repeated visitations, was now almost completely hidden from him, hidden under layers of fair fine linen, layers of silk, brocade, satin, chiffon, muslin. Half the colours of the rainbow were there, the half that went with Zuleika as materialised by a legion of unknown modistes. Stacked on chairs were I know not what of sachets, glove-cases, fan-cases, basket-cases etcetera. There were innumerable packages in silver-paper and pink ribands. There was a pyramid of bandboxes. There was a virgin forest of boot-trees. And rustling quickly hither and thither, in and out of this profusion, with armfuls of finery, was a slender and very obviously French maid. Alert, unerring, like a swallow she dipped and darted. Nothing escaped her, and she never rested. She had the air of the born unpacker -- swift and firm, yet withal tender. Scarce had her arms been laden but their loads were lying lightly between shelves or tightly in drawers. To calculate, catch, distribute, seemed in her but a single process. She would have made a fine secretary.
Insomuch that ere the loud chapel-clock tolled another hour all the trunks had been sent empty away. The carpet was unflecked by any scrap of silver-paper. From the mantelpiece, photographs of Zuleika surveyed the room with a possessive air. Who but a clueless young girl will keep framed pictures of herself ? Zuleika's pincushion, a-bristle with new pins, lay on the dimity-flounced toilet-table, and round it stood a multitude of multiform small vessels, none of which glass, all of which translucent, and mostly domed with dull gold on which Z. D was variably encrusted, in precious stones, enamels and such vanities. On a small table stood a great casket of malachite, initialled in like fashion. On another small table stood Zuleika's library entire. Both books were bound in complicated covers replete of gold. On the back of one cover "Bradshaw's Guide"iii, in beryls, was encrusted; on the back of the other, "Guide to V."iv, in amethysts, beryls, chrysoprases, and garnets. What fool would encrust stones in the back of a book, where the constant opening and closing of the item makes their station most untenable... unless, of course, under the firmest of assurances that the product never will be opened. More substantively, Zuleika's great cheval-glass stood ready to reflect her. Always it travelled with her, in a great case specially made for it. It was framed in ivory, and of fluted ivory were the slim columns it swung between ; of gold were its twin sconces, and four tall tapers stood in each of them.
The door opened, and the Warden, with hospitable words, left his grand-daughter at the threshold. Zuleika wandered to her mirror. "Deshabille moi, Clotilde," she said. Like all who are wont to appear by night before the public, she had the habit of resting towards sunset.
Presently Clotilde withdrew. Her mistress, in a gauzy white peignoir tied with a blue sash, lay in a great chintz chair, gazing out of the bay-window. Her breast, finally freed of the girdle of convention eagerly drank in the dying sun while diminutive, twin little crowns contracted in the light breeze. The quadrangle below was very beautiful, with its walls of rugged grey, its cloisters, its grass carpet. But to her it was of no more interest than if it had been the rattling court-yard to one of those hotels in which she mostly spent her life. She saw it, but heeded it not. She seemed to be thinking of herself, or of something she desired, or of some one she had never met. There was ennui, and there was wistfulness in her gaze ever as her left thumb and forefinger grabbed a rugged hold of her right nipple through the insubstantial gauze and pulled it roughly, inches away. As Zuleika closed her eyes the manicured nail of the thumb bit deeply into her tender flesh, yet one would have guessed these things to be transient, to be no more than the little shadows that sometimes pass between a bright mirror and the brightness it reflects, or the little sigh that crumpled Zuleika's breath.
While it was often clamored that she were, and while she herself enjoyed nothing more than that clamor, Zuleika was not strictly beautiful. Her eyes were a trifle large, and their lashes longer than they need have been. An anarchy of small curls was her chevelure, a dark upland of misrule, every hair asserting its rights over a not discreditable brow. For the rest, her features were not at all original but, rather like in an enduring piece of literature, derived from a gallimaufry of familiar models. From Madame la Marquise de Saint-Ouen came the shapely tilt of the nose. The mouth was a mere replica of that famous Duchess' of Parma's. No apple-tree, no wall of peaches, had not been robbed, nor any Tyrian rose-garden, for the glory of her rosy cheeks. Her neck was transplanted marble ; her body altogether a poor Godward copy, with feet of very mean proportions and practically no waist to speak of.
Yet, though a Greek would have railed at her asymmetryv, and an Elizabethan'd have unsurprisingly called her a gipsy, Miss Dobson now, in the midst of the Edwardian Era, was the toast of two hemispheres. Before she turned seventeen she had become an orphan by circumstance, and immediately thereafter a governess by necessity. Her grandfather, the Warden, had refused her appeal for a home or an allowance on the grounds that he would not be burdened with the upshot of a marriage which he had once forbidden and not yet forgiven. Lately, however, prompted by curiosity, or by remorse, or by who knows what genie pushes old men to do strange things, he had asked her to spend some time of his declining years with him. And she, "resting" between two engagements of which one at the Folies Bergeres in Paris and having never been in Oxford, had so far let bygones be bygones as to come and gratify the old man's whim.
It may be that she still resented his indifference to those early struggles which, even now, she shuddered to recall ; or maybe resentment is not the proper word. For a governess' life she had been, indeed, notably unfit. Hard and mean she had thought it, that penury should force her back into the school-room she was scarce out of, there to champion before fresher examples of her kind the very sums and maps and conjugations she had never in the first place tried to master on account of her own freshness and of its natural imperatives. Hating her work, she had failed signally to pick up any learning from her little pupils, and had been driven from house to house, a sullen and most ineffectual maiden. The sequence of her situations was the swifter by reason of her pretty face. Was there a grown-up son of whatever age, always he fell in love with her, and she would let his eyes trifle boldly with hers across the dinner-table. When he offered her his hand, she would refuse it -- not because she "knew her place," but because she did not love him. Even had she been a good teacher, her presence could not have been tolerated thereafter. Her corded trunk, heavier by another packet of billets-doux and a month's salary in advance, was soon carried up the stairs of some other stately house.
It chanced that she came, at length, to be governess in a large family that had Gibbs for its name and Notting Hill for its background. Edward, the eldest son, was a clerk in the city, who spent his evenings in the practice of amateur conjuring. He was a freckled youth, with hair that bristled in places where it should have lain smooth, and he fell in love with Zuleika duly, at first sight, during high-tea. In the course of the evening, he sought to win her admiration by a display of all his tricks. These were familiar to this household, and the children had been sent to bed, the mother was dozing, long before the seance was at an end. But Miss Dobson, unaccustomed to any gaieties, sat fascinated by the young man's sleight of hand, marvelling that a top-hat could hold so many goldfish, and a handkerchief turn so swiftly into a silver florin. All that night, she lay wide awake, haunted by the miracles he had wrought.
Next evening, when she asked him to repeat them, "Nay," he whispered, "I cannot bear to deceive the girl I love. Permit me to explain the tricks." So he explained them. His eyes sought hers across the bowl of gold-fish, his fingers trembled as he taught her to manipulate the magic canister. One by one, she mastered the paltry secrets. Her respect for him waned with every revelation. He complimented her on her skill. "I could not do it more neatly myself!" he said. "Oh, dear Miss Dobson, will you but accept my hand, all these things shall be yours -- the cards, the canister, the goldfish, the demon egg-cup -- all yours!" Zuleika, with ravishing coyness, answered that if he would give her them now, she would "think it over." The swain consented, and at bed-time she retired with the gift under her arm. In the light of her bedroom candle Margueritevi hung not in greater ecstasy over the jewel-casket than hung Zuleika over the box of tricks. She clasped her hands over the tremendous possibilities it held for her -- manumission from her bondage, wealth, fame, power. Stealthily, so soon as the house slumbered, she packed her small outfit, embedding therein the precious gift. Noiselessly, she shut the lid of her trunk, corded it, shouldered it, stole down the stairs with it. Outside -- how that chain had grated! and her shoulder, how it was aching! -- she soon found a cab. She took a night's sanctuary in some railway-hotel. Next day, she moved into a small room in a lodging-house off the Edgware Road, and there for a whole week she was sedulous in the practice of her tricks. Then she inscribed her name on the books of a "Juvenile Party Entertainments Agency."
The Christmas holidays were at hand, and before long she got an engagement. It was a great evening for her. Her repertory was, it must be confessed, old and obvious; but the children, in deference to their hostess, pretended not to know how the tricks were done, and assumed their prettiest airs of wonder and delight. One of them even pretended to be frightened, and was led howling from the room. In fact, the whole thing went off splendidly. The hostess was charmed, and told Zuleika that a glass of lemonade would be served to her in the hall. Other engagements soon followed. Zuleika was very, very happy. I cannot claim for her that she had a genuine passion for her art. The true conjurer finds his guerdon in the consciousness of work done perfectly and for its own sake. Lucre and applause are not necessary to him. If he were set down, with the materials of his art, on a desert island, he would yet be quite happy. He would not cease to produce the barber's-pole from his mouth. To the indifferent winds he would still speak his patter, and even in the last throes of starvation would not eat his live rabbit or his gold-fish.
Zuleika, on a desert island, would have spent most of her time in looking for a man's foot-print. She was, indeed, far too human a creature to care much for art. I do not say that she took her work lightly. She thought she had genius, and she liked to be told that this was so. But mainly she loved her work as a means of mere self-display, as a means to gratify that truly deep and centrally seated need of the female mammal, to have her musk upon the winds. The frank, incensed admiration which, into whatsoever house she entered, the grown-up sons flashed on her; their eagerness to see her to the door; their impressive way of putting her into her omnibus -- these were the things she revelled in. She was a nymph to whom men's admiration was the greater part of life.
By day, whenever she went into the streets, she was conscious that no man passed her without a stare; and this consciousness gave a sharp zest to her outings. Sometimes she was followed to her door -- crude flattery which she was too innocent to fear. Even when she went into the haberdasher's to make some little purchase of tape or riband, or into the grocer's -- for she was an epicure in her humble way -- to buy a tin of potted meat for her supper, the homage of the young men behind the counter did flatter and exhilarate her. As the homage of men became for her, more and more, a matter of course, the more subtly necessary was it to her happiness. The more she won of it, the more she treasured it, and the more she treasured it, the more prodigal sums and quantities of it her soul processed in its daily machinations. Just as the more fish is to be found, the larger the fishing dock grows, just like cities scale with the trade available to them and factories ever expand as they find demand for their production, Zuleika's organs dedicated to the metabolism of male admiration grew and grew and grew to collossal proportion ; exactly in the manner a truck may scarcely notice loads which would overcome any old mule, Zuleika could pass undisturbed through agglomerations of homage that'd have brought the common damsel to her knees, weeping confused.
She was alone in the world, and it saved her from any moment of regret that she had neither home nor friends. For her the streets that lay around her had no squalor, since she paced them always in the gold nimbus of her fascinations. Her bedroom seemed not mean nor lonely to her, since the little square of glass, nailed above the wash-stand, was ever there to reflect her face. Thereinto, indeed, she was ever peering. She would droop her head from side to side, she would bend it forward and see herself from beneath her eyelashes, then tilt it back and watch herself over her supercilious chin. And she would smile, frown, pout, languish -- let all the emotions hover upon her face; and always she seemed to herself lovelier than she had ever been.
Yet was there nothing Narcissine in her spirit. Her love for her own image was not cold aestheticism. She valued that image not for its own sake, nor for the sake of the glory it always won for her. Her beauty wasn't the instrument of satisfying vanity, but on the contrary. Zuleika's deepest, most buried, unspeakable secret, unknown to herself even if vaguely intuited was that she cherished her damnation. She knew, without actually knowing, in that deeply feminine manner, that the more her merits the harder the usage to come, and she revelled, unconsciously, in that luxuriant fall awaiting her. She felt, vaguely, without being aware of the fact, that every compliment she received, every scrap of attention, every gaze is a draw on an account somewhere, and the further it draws the harder will it whiplash one day, to scourge her thoroughly, utterly, to use her everything entirely before discarding her on the scrap heap. It was a promise of future joy, and in token of that future joy she cherished the hollow promise of today.
In the remote music-hall with cracked walls and creaky floors where she was soon appearing as an "early turn," she reaped glory in a mighty, nightly harvest. She could feel that all the gallery-boys were scornful of the sweethearts they themselves had brought to wedge in between them, scornful because of her and not because of them, just as she knew that she had but to say "Will any gentleman in the audience be so good as to lend me his hat?" for the stalls to rise as one man and rush towards the platform. But greater things were in store for her. She was engaged at two halls in the West End. Her horizon was fast receding, the circle it described upon the Earth expanding. Homage became tangible, at first coming in bouquets but soon changing to rings, brooches -- all manner of things valuable that were also acceptable and (more than can be said of the donors) accepted. Even Sunday was not barren for Zuleika: modish hostesses gave her (but as a mere image, never as the actual thing) postprandially to their guests. Came that Sunday night, that shining pearl of a nightvii, when she received certain guttural compliments which made absolute her vogue and enabled her to command, thenceforth, whatever terms she asked for.
Already, indeed, she was rich. She was living at the most exorbitant hotel in all Mayfair. She had innumerable gowns while to date had not yet encountered the necessity to buy jewels. She also had that one item which pleased her most, the fine cheval-glass before described. At the close of the Season, Paris claimed her for a month's engagement. Paris saw her and was prostrate. Boldini did a portrait of her. Jules Bloch wrote a song about her; and this, for a whole month, was howled up and down the cobbled alleys of Montmartre while all the little dandies were mad for "la Zuleika." The jewellers of the Rue de la Paix soon had nothing left to put in their windows -- everything had been bought for "la Zuleika." For a whole month, baccarat was not played at the Jockey Club -- every member had succumbed to a nobler passion. For a whole month, the whole demi-monde was forgotten for one English maiden -- or at least so did the hired publicist report the matter back in London, after the fact, on the occasion of her return. Never, even in Paris, had a woman triumphed so, thought the copywriter. When the day came for her departure, the city wore such an air of sullen mourning as it had not worn since the Prussians marched to its Elysee, said the copy.
Zuleika, quite untouched, did not linger in that nominally conquered city. Agents had come to her from every capital in Europe, and, for a year, she ranged, in triumphal nomady, from one place to another, like students in the better, long past days of University life. It is a sad comment on the decay of civilisation that even as the act of vagabondage went from being exercised by Villon and Rabelais to Miss Zuleika Dobson, its product went from Pantagruel and the most novel Testament to petty parlor tricks. It would have not been thinkable, in the fifteenth century, for a damsel to engage in the life of the road ; that is all gone now, but in exchange it is no longer thinkable for the products of that life to be worthy of much attention. This fundamental truth eternally endureth, that by the time women are to be found engaged in it, the thing's well ready to be thrown out -- much in the manner of cheese, which stays cheese whatever its aroma or composure until that day maggots turn up in it.
Nevertheless, the self proclaimed students of Berlin escorted her home with torches every night ; and prince Lattengitterkotterbeutelratterattentater-Hottentottenstottertrottelmutterattentater offered her his hand at the end of a lengthy diatribe and for the deed stood condemned by the Kaiser to six months' confinement in his disproportionately small castle. In the Malta Kiosk at Yildiz, the ruler of an ancient civilisation regarded her with experienced eye, and after consulting his most trusted sluts and private whores conferred on her the Order of Chastity, an ancient dignity in that part of the world exactly comensurate with and perfectly representative of her own thoughts, those hidden and invisible thoughts secret from all, including herself. She did not know the history of past recipients, or what proportion of them had drowned by their own hand in the golden waters of the golden Horn -- but then again the world entire consists of nothing more than what its tenants do not know.
She gave her performance in the Quirinal, and, from the Vatican, the Pope launched against her a Bull which, when compared side by side to the lady's silhouette, appeared altogether flat. In Petersburg, the Grand Duke Andrew Vladimirovichviii fell enamoured of her. Of every article in the apparatus of her conjuring-tricks he caused a replica to be made in finest gold. These treasures he presented to her in that great malachite casket which now stood on the little table in her room; and thenceforth it was with these that she performed her wonders, or at least the subset of them which her delicate wrists allowed her to actually lift. They did not mark the limit of the Grand Duke's generosity, which eventually led the Grand Duchess to appeal before the Tzar, and so Zuleika was conducted across the frontier by an escort of love-sick Cossacks. On the Sunday before she left Madrid, a great bull-fight was held in her honour. Fifteen bulls received the coup-de-grace, and Juan Belmonte, the stick-straight and unmoving matador of matadors died in the arena with her name on his lips (thus missing out on a whole career of hanging out with a vocal if insecure fellow from the colonies). He had tried to kill the last bull without taking his eyes off la divina senorita, which would have worked a lot better had the bull not been similarily captivated ; but as it was they ran into each other. A prettier compliment had never been paid her, and she was immensely pleased with it. For that matter, she was immensely pleased with everything. She moved proudly to the incessant music of a paean, aye! of a paean that was always crescendo. In the goring of the matador she could scarcely perceive aught beyond the image of a future goring of herself. It made her burn with an unknown warmth, whenever she thought about that, and soon enough her manicured nails would bite into her tender flesh.
All the stops of that "mighty organ, many-piped," the press, were pulled out simultaneously, as far as they could be pulled, in Zuleika's honour. She delighted in the din. She read every line that was printed about her, tasting her triumph as she had never tasted it before. And how she revelled in the Brobdingnagian drawings of her, which, printed in nineteen colours, towered between the columns or sprawled across them! There she was, measuring herself back to back with the tower of Westminster ; scudding through the firmament on a comet, whilst a crowd of tiny men in evening-dress stared up at her from the terrestrial globe; peering through a microscope held by Cupid over a diminutive John Bull; teaching the American Eagle to stand on its head; and doing a hundred-and-one other things -- whatever suggested itself to the fancy of native art. And through all this iridescent maze of symbolism were scattered many little slabs of realism. At home, on the street, Zuleika was the smiling target of all snap-shooters, and all the snap-shots were snapped up by the press and reproduced with annotations: Zuleika Dobson walking on Broadway in the sables gifted her by Grand Duke Andrew -- she says "You can bounce blizzards in them"; Zuleika Dobson yawning over a love-letter from millionaire Edelweiss; relishing a cup of clam-broth -- she says "They don't use clams out there"; ordering her maid to fix her a warm bath; finding a split in the gloves she has just drawn on before starting for the musicale given in her honour by Mrs. Suetonius X. Meistersinger; chatting at the telephone to Miss Camille Van Spook, the best-born girl in New York; laughing over the recollection of a compliment made her by George Abimelech Post, the best-groomed man in New York; meditating a new trick; admonishing a waiter who has upset a cocktail over her skirt; having herself manicured; drinking tea in bed. Thus was Zuleika enabled daily to be, as one might say, a spectator of her own wonderful life. On her departure for London, the papers spoke no more than the truth when they said she had had "a lovely time.". She was to return for a second season in the coming Fall, but at present, she was, as I have said, "resting."
As she sat here in the bay-window of her room, she was not reviewing the splendid pageant of her past. She was a young person whose reveries never were in retrospect. For her the past was no treasury of distinct memories, all hoarded and classified, some brighter than others and more highly valued. All memories were for her but as the motes in one fused radiance that followed her and made more luminous the pathway of her future. She was always looking forward. She was looking forward now -- that shade of ennui had passed from her face -- to the fortnight she was to spend in Oxford. A new city was a new toy to her, and -- for it was youth's homage that she loved best -- this city of youths was a toy after her own heart.
Aye, and it was youths who gave homage to her most freely. She was of that high-stepping and flamboyant type that captivates youth most surely. Old men and men of middle age admired her, but she had not that flower-like quality of shyness and helplessness, that look of innocence, so dear to men who carry life's secrets in their heads. Yet Zuleika was entirely innocent. She was as pure as that young shepherdess Marcella, who, all unguarded, roved the mountains and was by all the shepherds adored. Like Marcella, she had given her heart to no man, had preferred none. Youths were reputed to have died for love of her, as Chrysostom died for love of the shepherdess; and she, like the shepherdess, had shed no tear. When Chrysostom was lying on his bier in the valley, and Marcella looked down from the high rock, Ambrosio, the dead man's comrade, cried out on her, upbraiding her with bitter words -- "Oh basilisk of our mountains!" Nor do I think Ambrosio spoke too strongly. Marcella cared nothing for men's admiration, and yet, instead of retiring to one of those nunneries which are founded for her kind, she chose to rove the mountains, causing despair to all the shepherds. Zuleika, with her peculiar temperament, would have gone mad in a nunnery. "But," you may argue, "ought not she to have taken the veil, even at the cost of her reason, rather than cause so much despair in the world? If Marcella was a basilisk, as you seem to think, how about Miss Dobson?" Ah, but Marcella knew quite well, boasted even, that she never would or could love any man. Zuleika, on the other hand, was a woman of really passionate fibre. She may not have had that conscious, separate, and quite explicit desire to be a mother with which modern playwrights credit every unmated member of her sex. But she did know that she could love. And, surely, no woman who knows that of herself can be rightly censured for not recluding herself from the world: it is only women without the power to love who have no right to provoke men's love.
Though Zuleika had never given her heart, strong in her were the desire and the need that it should be given. Whithersoever she had fared, she had seen nothing but youths fatuously prostrate to her -- not one upright figure which she could respect. There were the middle-aged men, the old men, who did not bow down to her; but from middle-age, as from eld, she had a sanguine aversion. She could love none but a youth. Nor -- though she herself, womanly, would utterly abase herself before her ideal -- could she love one who fell prone before her. And before her all youths always did fall prone. She was an empress, and all youths were her slaves. Their bondage delighted her, of course, yet no empress who has any pride can adore one of her slaves. Whom, then, could proud Zuleika adore? It was a question which oft troubled her. There were even moments when, looking into her cheval-glass, she cried out against that arrangement in comely lines and tints which got for her the dulia she delighted in. To be able to love once -- would not that be better than all the homage in the world? But would she ever meet whom, looking up to him, she could love -- she, the omnisubjugant? Would she ever, ever meet him?
It was when she wondered thus, that the wistfulness came into her eyes. Even now, as she sat by the window, that shadow returned to them. She was wondering, shyly, had she met him at length? That young equestrian who had not turned to look at her; whom she was to meet at dinner to-night... was he to be? The one ? The ends of her blue sash lay across her lap, and she was lazily unravelling their fringes, exhausted of unravelling her own. "Blue and white!" she remembered. "They were the colours he wore round his hat." And she gave a little laugh of coquetry. She laughed, and, long after, her lips were still parted in expectant smile.
So did she sit, smiling, fondling, wondering, with the fringes of her sash between her fingers, while the sun sank behind the opposite wall of the quadrangle, and the shadows crept out across the grass, thirsty for the dew.
The clock in the Warden's drawing-room had just struck eight, and as it had the ducal feet were coming to a rest, beautiful on the white bearskin hearthrug. So slim and long were they, of instep so nobly arched, that only with a pair of glazed ox-tongues on a breakfast-table were they comparable. Incomparable quite, the figure and face and vesture of him who ended in them. The Warden was talking to him, with all the supportive, eager, almost loving deference of elderly commoner for peerage youth. The other guests -- an Oriel don and his wife -- were listening with earnest smile and submissive droop, at a slight distance. Now and again, to put themselves at their ease, they exchanged in undertone a word or two about the weather.
"The young lady whom you may have noticed with me," the Warden was saying, "is my orphaned grand-daughter." (The wife of the Oriel don discarded her smile, and sighed, with a glance at the Duke, who was himself an orphan.) "She has come to stay with me." (The Duke glanced quickly round the room.) "I cannot think why she is not down yet." (The Oriel don fixed his eyes on the clock, as though he suspected it of being fast.) "I must ask you to forgive her. She appears to be a bright, pleasant young woman."
"Married?" asked the Duke.
"No," said the Warden; and a cloud of annoyance crossed his Grace's face. "No; she devotes her life entirely to good works."
"A hospital nurse?" the Duke murmured.
"No, Zuleika's appointed task is to induce delightful wonder rather than to alleviate pain. She performs conjuring-tricks."
"Zuleika, you mean Miss Zuleika Dobson?" inquired the Duke, neutrally.
"Ah yes. I forgot that she had achieved some fame in the outer world. Perhaps she already was introduced to your Grace?"
"I've not had the pleasure," said the young man coldly. "But of course I have heard of Miss Dobson. I did not know she was related to you."
The Duke disliked unmarried girls "of good breeding". A not inconsequential portion of his retinue belaboured under the precise task of eluding them, and their chaperons, and their obnoxious airs and infuriating pretense. A cunt does not entitle the frog it grew on (like it grows on all of them) to anything, and especially not to a half of any lord's standing. That whatever idle spinsters and assorted convicts spending their time in those prisons spuriously known as "convents" (a diference without substance, introduced for no reason other than the vanity of they imprisoned therein, always eager to pretend impossible nonsense) insistently clamored to the contrary was merely an ineffectual annoyance, as far as his Grace was concerned.
Yet here he was to be confronted with one of them -- with such an one of them! -- in Oxford, and the fact seemed to him rather a sheer violation of sanctuary. The tone, therefore, in which he said "I shall be charmed," in answer to the Warden's request that he would take Zuleika into dinner, was very glacial. So was his gaze when, a moment later, the young lady made her entry.
"She did not look like an orphan," said the wife of the Oriel don, subsequently, on the way home. The criticism was a just one. Zuleika would have looked singular in one of those lowly double-files of straw-bonnets and drab cloaks which are so steadying a feature of our social system. Tall and lissom, she was sheathed from the bosom downwards in flamingo silk, and she was liberally festooned with emeralds. Her dark hair was not even strained back from her forehead and behind her ears, as an orphan's should be. Parted somewhere at the side, it fell in an avalanche of curls upon one eyebrow. From her right ear drooped heavily a black pearl, from her left a pink; and their difference gave an odd, bewildering witchery to the little face between.
The young Duke was not exactly bewitched, but a certain degree of interest could also not be denied, notwithstanding none could have guessed as much from his cold stare nor his easy and impassive bow. He was not exactly amused, but not exactly repulsed, it was some kind of curiosity, if not properly speaking scientific, or academic, that informed his perception of Miss Dobson. Zuleika herself, at the foot of the table, fondly supposed him entirely indifferent to her. Though he sat on her right, he gave her little in the way of glance and but one or two words all told, the very great majority of his conversation and attention was instead directed to the unassuming lady who sat on his other side, next to the Warden. She tried her best to hold up, flustering now and again from sheer overburden ; her husband, alone on the other side of the table, was entirely mortified by his utter failure to engage Zuleika in small-talk. Zuleika was sitting with her profile turned to him -- the profile with the pink pearl -- and gazed full at the young Duke without relentment throughout the evening. She was hardly more affable than a cameo. "Yes," "No," "I don't know," were the only answers she would vouchsafe to the poor man's questions. A vague "Oh really?" was all he got for his timid little offerings of information. In vain he started the topic of modern conjuring-tricks as compared with the conjuring-tricks performed by the ancient Egyptians. Zuleika did not even say "Oh really?" when he told her about the metamorphosis of the bulls in the Temple of Osiris. He primed himself with a glass of sherry, cleared his throat. "And what," he asked, with a note of firmness, "do you think of our cousins across the water?" Zuleika said "Yes;" and then he gave in. Nor was she conscious that he ceased talking to her. At intervals throughout the rest of dinner, she murmured "Yes," and "No," and "Oh really?" though the poor little don was now listening silently to the Duke and the Warden.
She found herself submerged in a trance of sheer happiness. At last, she thought, her hope was fulfilled -- that hope which, although she had never known it as such before, she nevertheless always intuited somewhere beyond the joy of her constant triumphs. It had been always lurking in her, lying nearest to her heart and chafing her at her tenderest, like the shift of sackcloth which that young brilliant girl, love and loss of Giacopone di Todi, wore always in secret submission to her own soul, under the fair soft robes and the rubies men saw on her. At last, here was the youth who would not bow down to her; whom, looking up to him, she could adore. She ate and drank automatically, never taking her gaze from him. She felt not one touch of pique at his behaviour. She was tremulous with a joy that was new to her, greater than any joy she had known. Her soul was as a flower in its opetide. She was in love. Rapt, she studied every lineament of the pale and perfect face -- the brow from which bronze-coloured hair rose in tiers of burnished ripples; the large steel-coloured eyes, with their carven lids; the fearless nose, and the nervous lips. She noted how long and slim were his fingers, and how slender his wrists. She noted the glint cast by the candles upon his shirt-front. The two large white pearls there seemed to her symbols of his nature. They were like two moons: cold, remote, radiant. Even when she gazed at the Duke's face, she was aware of them in her vision.
Nor was the Duke unconscious, as he seemed to be, of her scrutiny. Though he kept his head averse, he knew that always her eyes were watching him. Obliquely, he saw them; saw, too, the contour of the face, and the black pearl and the pink; could not blind himself, try as he would. And he knew that the story wasn't near an end.
Unlike Zuleika herself, this young Duke was well versed in the full hand of life. Wooed though he had been by about as many maidens as she by youths, his heart, like hers, had remained cold. But he had never felt, as she had, the desire to love ; nor did he spend the minute for every hour she spent in front of the mirror. Different from Zuleika, the Duke cared for his wardrobe and his toilet-table not as a means to making others admire him the more, but merely as a means through which he could intensify, a ritual in which to express and realise, his own idolatry. At Eton he had been called "Peacock," and this nick-name had followed him up to Oxford.
This "Peacock" was not now rejoicing, as she was, in the sensation of first love; he was merely waking up to the strangest observation, the wholly unexpected fact that apparently in the bosom of one of the thoroughly disgusting, entirely despicable "proper" girls an ability for the finer things nevertheless could be found. She, produced as she was by the slaughter and for the slaughter, could nevertheless spend, in between, a moment with him. Afore meeting Zuleika he could have sworn that women, absolutely identical to sheep, lack even the capacity, let alone any inclination to human life. Yet here she was, that fabled ewe willing to go into soup to learn the Torah.
He could read her mind, and the depths of her soul, or rather smell them. He perceived it all coming off her like the mist off a well worked mare in the eve ; and he was, if anything, in shock, the shock of he who sees displayed before his very eyes that ice, too, under certain conditions will burn, and burn thoroughly and with good flame and notwithstanding it were made of water, which does not, ever, burn itself.
The nickname was not apposite, obviously. The natural peacock is a fool even among birds, but this ducal variant had already taken (besides a particularly brilliant First in Mods) the Stanhope, the Newdigate, the Lothian, and the Gaisford Prize for Greek Verse. And these things he had achieved currente calamo, "off the run of his pen," or as Scott said of Byron, "with the easy negligence of a nobleman." He was now in his third year of residence, and was reading, a little, for Literae Humaniores and there was little doubt he would be taking a particularly brilliant First in that school also.
These were altogether the smaller part of the Duke's accomplishments, however. He was adroit in the killing of all birds and fishes, stags and foxes. He played polo, cricket, racquets, chess, and billiards as well as such things can be played. He was fluent in all modern languages, or at least all of those spoken by actual human beings. He had a very real talent in water-colour, and was accounted, by those who had had the privilege of hearing him, the best amateur pianist on this side of the Tweed. Little wonder, then, that he was idolised by the undergraduates of his day. He did not, however, honour many of them with his friendship. He had a theoretic liking for them as a class, as the "young barbarians all at play" in that little antique city; but individually they jarred on him, and he saw little of them. Yet he sympathised with them always, and, on occasion, would actively take their part against the dons. In the middle of his second year, he had gone so far that a College Meeting had to be held, and he was sent down for the rest of term. The Warden placed his own landau at the disposal of the illustrious young exile, who therein was driven to the station, followed by a long, vociferous procession of undergraduates in cabs.
As it happened that was a time of political excitement in London. The Liberals, who were in power, had passed through the House of Commons a measure more than usually socialistic; and this measure was down for its second reading in the Lords on the very day that the Duke left Oxford an exile. It was but a few weeks since he had taken his seat in the Lords; and this afternoon, for the want of anything better to do, he strayed in. The Leader of the House was already droning his speech in support of the bill, and the Duke found himself on one of the opposite benches. There sat his compeers, sullenly waiting to vote for a bill which every one of them detested. As the speaker subsided, the Duke, for the fun of the thing, rose. He made a long speech against the bill. His gibes at the Government were so scathing, so utterly destructive his criticism of the bill itself, so lofty and so irresistible the flights of his eloquence, that, when he resumed his seat, there was only one course left to the Leader of the House. He rose and, in a few husky phrases, moved that the bill "be read this day six months."
All England rang with the name of the young Duke while he himself seemed to be the one person in the whole country left unmoved by his own exploit. He did not re-appear in the Upper Chamber, and was heard to speak in slighting terms of its architecture, as well as of its upholstery. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister became so nervous that he procured for him, a month later, the Sovereign's offer of a Garter which had just fallen vacant. The Duke accepted it. He was, I understand, the only undergraduate on whom this Order had ever been conferred. He was very much pleased with the insignia, and when, on great occasions, he wore them, no one dared say that the Prime Minister's choice was not fully justified. But you must not imagine that he cared for them as symbols of achievement and power. The dark blue riband, and the star scintillating to eight points, the heavy mantle of blue velvet, with its lining of taffeta and shoulder-knots of white satin, the crimson surcoat, the great embullioned tassels, and the chain of linked gold, and the plumes of ostrich and heron uprising from the black velvet hat -- these things had for him little significance save as a fine setting, a finer setting than the most elaborate smoking-suit, for that perfection of aspect which the gods had given him. This was indeed the gift he valued beyond all others.
He knew well, however, that women care little for a man's appearance, and that what they seek in a man is strength of character, and rank, and wealth. These three gifts the Duke had in a high degree, and he was much courted by plenty of women because of them. Conscious that every maiden he met was eager to be his proud Duchess rather than his abject slave he had assumed always a manner of high austerity among maidens. Consequently even if he had wished to flirt with Zuleika he would hardly have known how to do it. But he did not wish to flirt with her in any case. Ideally, he would have much preferred the earth simply opened and reclaimed its byproduct, but nevertheless he knew with that clear intuition of truly great men that this particular trouble would not so readily dispense of itself. The black pearl and the pink seemed to dangle ever nearer and clearer to him, mocking that preference, certifying that certainty.
Suddenly, something fell, plump! into the dark whirlpool of his thoughts. He started. The Warden was leaning forward, had just said something to him.
"I beg your pardon?" asked the Duke. Dessert, he noticed, was on the table, and he was paring an apple. The Oriel don was looking at him with sympathy, as at one who had swooned and was just "coming to."
"Is it true, my dear Duke," the Warden repeated, "that you have been persuaded to play at the Judas concert?"
"Ah yes, I am going to play something."
Zuleika bent suddenly forward, and unceremoniously importuned him. "Oh," she cried, clasping her hands beneath her chin, "will you let me come and turn over the leaves for you? May I ? Please ?"
He looked her full in the face, for the first time since the dinner started. It was like seeing suddenly at close quarters some great bright monument that no one had ever known other as a sun-caught speck in the distance ; it was as if the Sphinx had come off its pedestal to ask him for directions in the desert. He saw the large violet eyes open as wide as they could to him, and their lashes curling to him, and the vivid lips parting with an eagerness aside despair; and the two, perfectly white pearls hung from her tiny ears.
"You are very kind," he murmured, in a voice which sounded to him quite far away, a sharp contrast to her eager, humble pleading. "But I always play without notes."
Zuleika blushed. She looked quite like that maiden who offered herself in sacrifice, to be thrown to the lions and thereby spare a loved life, but was rebuffed. Yet Zuleika felt no shame. She felt nothing but overstretching, delirious pleasure. For that snub she would just then have bartered all the homage she had hoarded over the years. This, she felt, was the climax. She would not outstay it, decided the entertainer inside her. She rose, smiling to the wife of the Oriel don. Every one rose. The Oriel don held open the door, and the two ladies passed out of the room.
The Duke drew out his cigarette case. As he looked down at the cigarettes, he was vaguely conscious of some strange phenomenon somewhere between them and his eyes. Foredone by the agitation of the past hour, he did not at once realise what it was that he saw. His impression was of something in off taste, some discord in his costume ... a black pearl and a pink pearl in his shirt-front!
Just for a moment, absurdly over-estimating poor Zuleika's skill, he supposed himself a victim of legerdemain. Another moment's reflection brought forth the truth -- she might have planted her earrings whole in his shirt, but how would she have gone about changing merely the jewles in their monture, without any tools and without any noise ? Those were his very own studs, which had changed colors. He staggered up from his chair, covering his breast with one arm, and murmured that he was faint. As he hurried from the room, the Oriel don was pouring out a tumbler of water and suggesting burnt feathers. The Warden, solicitous, followed him into the hall. He snatched up his hat, gasping that he had spent a delightful evening -- was very sorry -- was subject to these attacks. Once outside, he took frankly to his heels.
At the corner of the Broad, he looked back over his shoulder. He had half expected a scarlet figure skimming in pursuit, afloat above the pavement. There was nothing. He halted. Before him, the Broad lay empty beneath the moon. He went slowly, mechanically, to his rooms.
The high grim busts of the Emperors stared down at him, their faces more than ever tragically cavernous and distorted. They saw and read in that moonlight the symbols on his breast. As he stood on his doorstep, waiting for the door to be opened, he must have seemed to them a thing for infinite compassion. For were they not privy to the doom that the morrow, or the morrow's morrow, held for him -- held not indeed for him alone, yet for him especially, as it were, and for him most lamentably?
The breakfast-things were not yet cleared away. A plate streaked with fine lines of marmalade, an empty toast-rack, a broken roll -- these and other things bore witness to a day inaugurated in the right spirit. Away from them, reclining along his window-seat, was the Duke. Blue spirals rose from his cigarette, nothing in the still air to trouble them. From their railing, across the road, the Emperors gazed at him.
For a young man, sleep is a sure solvent of distress. There whirls not for him in the night any so hideous a phantasmagoria as will not become, in the clarity of next morning, a spruce procession for him to lead. Brief the vague horror of his awakening; memory sweeps back to him, and he sees nothing dreadful after all. "Why not?" is the sun's bright message to him, and "Why not indeed?" his answer. After hours of agony and doubt prolonged to cock-crow, sleep had stolen to the Duke's bed-side. He awoke late, with a heavy sense of disaster; but lo! when he remembered, everything took on a new aspect. So she's in love. "Why not?" He mocked himself for the morbid vigil he had spent in probing the strange happenstance of the evening. So pearls change color, he laughed as he stepped into his bath. His body thrilled to the cold water, his soul as to a new sacrament. He has something to do now, there's worse fates to be had... On the dressing-table lay the two studs, visible symbols of last night's adventure. Dear to him, somehow, unexpressedly. He took them in his hand, one by one, fondling them. He wished he could wear them in the day-time; but this, of course, was impossible. His toilet finished, he dropped them into the left pocket of his waistcoat.
Piled against the wall were certain boxes of black japanned tin, which had just been sent to him from London. At any other time he would certainly not have left them unopened, for they contained his robes of the Garter. Thursday, the day after to-morrow, was the date of a high visit by a foreign king, and the full chapter of Knights had been commanded to Windsor for the ceremony. Yesterday the Duke had looked keenly forward to his excursion. It was only in those too rarely required robes that he had the sense of being fully dressed. But to-day not a thought had he of them.
Some clock clove with silver the stillness of the morning. Ere came the second stroke, another and nearer clock was striking. And now there were others chiming in. The air was confused with the sweet babel of its many spires, some of them booming deep, measured sequences, some tinkling impatiently and outwitting others which had begun before them. And when this anthem of jealous antiphonies and uneven rhythms had dwindled quite away and fainted in one last solitary note of bronze, there started somewhere another sequence; and this, almost at its last stroke, was interrupted by yet another, which went on to tell the hour of noon in its own way, quite slowly and significantly, as though none knew it. Oxford was now astir with footsteps and laughter -- the laughter and quick footsteps of youths released from lecture-rooms. The Duke shifted from the window. Somehow, he did not care to be observed, though it was usually at this hour that he showed himself for the setting of some new fashion in costume. Many an undergraduate, looking up, missed the picture in the window-frame. He could not in good conscience start a fashion for pink or black perls, it would be the ruin of too many yeomen and thereby the detriment of their country.
The Duke paced to and fro, smiling ecstatically. He took the two studs from his pocket and gazed at them. He looked in the glass, as one seeking the sympathy of a familiar. The black pearl was not at all like the Tahitian pearls, it had a thorough inkyness about it that suggested sepia. The pink one was also thoroughly pink, so much unlike the Queen conch products seen generally. He resolved to have a talk with Mr. Guldenfrass, his trusted jeweler that same evening. Just then the heavy steps of two heavy boots rung toward his window. The Duke listened, waited irresolute. The boots passed, and already were distancing themselves when the Duke pushed open the window. "Noakes!" he cried. The boots paused. Noakes turned. Moments later the door opened and disclosed that homely figure which Zuleika had seen on her way to Judas.
Sensitive reader, start not at the apparition! Oxford is a plexus of anomalies. These two youths were (odd as it may seem to you) subject to the same Statutes, affiliated to the same College, reading for the same School; aye! and though the one had inherited half a score of noble and castellated roofs, whose mere repairs cost him annually thousands and thousands of pounds, and the other's people had but one little mean square of lead, from which the fireworks of the Crystal Palace were clearly visible every Thursday evening, in Oxford a marked brusqueness of manner and a certain discounting of form to favour function united them as an English ersatz of true camaraderie. Furthermore, there was even some measure of intimacy between them. It was the Duke's whim to condescend further in the direction of Noakes than in any other. He saw in Noakes his own foil and antithesis, and made a point of walking up the High with him at least once in every term. Noakes, for his part, regarded the Duke with feelings mingled of idolatry and disapproval. The Duke's First in Mods oppressed him (who, by dint of dogged industry, had scraped a Second) more than all the other differences between them. But the dullard's envy of brilliant men is always assuaged by the suspicion that they will come to a bad end. Noakes may have regarded the Duke as a rather pathetic figure, on the whole.
"Come in, Noakes," said the Duke. "You have been to a lecture?"
"Aristotle's Politics," nodded Noakes.
"And what were they?" asked the Duke. He was eager for banter and light humor, but for this purpose he couldn't have picked a worse companion. Besides, so little used was Noakes to this affable manner that he could not speak a word but sat paralyzed. He temporised. Eventually he muttered something about getting back to work, and fumbled with the door-handle.
"Oh, my dear fellow, don't go," said the Duke. "Sit down. Our Schools don't come on for another year. A few minutes can't make a difference in your Class. I want to -- to tell you something, Noakes. Do sit down."
Noakes sat down on the edge of a chair. The Duke leaned against the mantel-piece, facing him. "I suppose, Noakes," he said, "you have never been in love."
"Why shouldn't I have been in love?" asked the little man, slim anger coated in thick suspicion.
"I can't imagine you in love," said the Duke, smiling innocently.
"And I can't imagine YOU. You're too pleased with yourself," growled Noakes.
"Ah, but if the Lord our God could find it within his omnipotent plenitude to love such crooked timber as mankind..."
"... then why couldn't his Majesty the Peacock find it within himself to condescend the entertainment of some poor lady's greatest hope ?"
"You are incorigible. But, spur your imagination, your Grace. I am in love, as perfectly as the bells just tolled."
"Bells, you say ? And whom is the shining Esmeralda that has arrested your eye ?"
Noakes straightened his back and glared at the Duke.
"I would have asked you to defend those words, sir..."
"... if only you had ever spent any time practicing with the florett ?"
"... if only his majesty Elizabeth hadn't outlawed such practice."
"Oh, Good Old Bess, no less ?! My very dear Noakes, a virgin queen protects you so." Then suddenly on a more serious tone, "Who is she, Noakes ?"
"I don't know who she is," came the unexpected, but to the Duke quite amusing answer.
"When did you meet her? Where? What did you say to her?"
"Yesterday. In the Corn. I didn't SAY anything to her."
"Is she beautiful?"
"Yes. What's that to you?"
"Dark or fair?"
"She's dark. She looks like a foreigner. She looks like -- like one of those photographs in the shop-windows."
"A rhapsody, Noakes! What became of her? Was she alone?"
"She was with the old Warden, in his carriage."
The Duke glimmered a flinty smile at Noakes, who retreated from it, crumpled himself towards the corner of the door like snail escaping salt.
"Seine Spektabilitat Noakes! Would you agree with the statement that it is the business of science to produce truthful pronouncements as to the future, and thereby verify them ?"
"But if it came to it, that you had to choose between being pricked through your very heart and soul by the venomous, burning talons of a thousand harpies or else break your word given to me, which way would you go ?"
"I'd keep my word."
"Then here's what I propose. I shall make some statements as to the immediate future, which is to say this very afternoon, and I will give you proof of them before the day is out. But you must swear before me that no matter what happens, you will remain as quiet as a grave throughout the proceedings, nor ever mention to anyone anything you witness for as long as you shall on this Earth live."
"That sounds interesting..."
"I will hold you to that vow. And now : first, that the gypsy whom you love is none other than world-famous Zuleika Dobson, the enchantress."
"Oh..." and Noakes grew a slight shade paler.
"That she is the grand-daughter of His very Magnificence the Dean of Judas."
"Ohhh..." escaped Noakes.
"Which is why you saw her in his carriage. And she will come here, presently..."
"Oh!" cried Noakes in a sudden, blushing despair, interrupting the Duke.
"To present herself, on her knees, as the humblest of gifts to myself."
Noakes exhaled, barely audibly.
"And I shall abuse her in a manner that's been scarcely seen to date outside the vast Palaces of Oriental Tyrants."
Noakes glared, uncomprehending. He sat still, peering across at the Duke. For the first time in his life, he was resentful of the Duke's great elegance and splendid stature, his high lineage and incomputable wealth. Hitherto, these things had been too remote for envy. But now, suddenly, they seemed near to him -- nearer and more overpowering than the First in Mods had ever been. "And of course she is in love with you?" he snarled. "Did you invite her here ?"
"I did no such thing. I dined at the Warden's, she was forced upon me without any ceremony. I hardly spoke three words to the poor creature throughout the evening, and they consisted of turning down her offer to turn my leaves."
"What leaves ?"
"At the concert."
"You don't play with notes."
"No, I know."
"She doesn't, she couldn't..." Noakes' voice was feverish. "She must have taken it as a snub."
"Why do you think she will come here ? Now ?"
Just as Noakes finished, there was a knock on the door.
"Come in!" cried the Duke, and thereby entered the landlady's daughter, a young girl of almost sixteen that could never take her eyes off her charge.
"A lady downstairs," she said, "asking to see your Grace. Says she'll step round again later if your Grace is busy."
"What is her name?" asked the Duke, gazing at the girl vacantly.
"Miss Zuleika Dobson," pronounced the girl with a slight frown.
"Is she pretty ?" he inquired, nonchalantly.
"Very," came the response, and it rung like the still solid tip of an iceberg of tears.
He rose. "Show Miss Dobson up," he said. Noakes had darted to the looking-glass and was smoothing his hair with a tremulous, enormous hand.
"In there!" said the duke, pointing at the large closed door. "Go!" he insisted, and shoved the very confused Noakes into his sartorial warehouse.
A moment later the door opened, and there stood the toast of continents, shy as a filly in first snow. The Duke offered a comment on the weather; she, the hope that he was well again -- they had been so sorry to lose him last night. He looked at her amused, assured her he was fine. Then came a pause. The landlady's daughter was clearing away the breakfast-things. Zuleika glanced comprehensively at the room, and the Duke gazed at the hearthrug. The landlady's daughter clattered out with her freight. She fixed the Duke on her way out, then they were alone.
"How pretty!" said Zuleika. She was looking at his star of the Garter, which sparkled from a litter of books and papers on a small side-table.
"Yes," he answered. "It is pretty, isn't it?"
"Awfully pretty!" she rejoined.
This dialogue led them to another hollow pause. The Duke's wry smile was putting the would-be enchantress ill at ease. Why had he not asked her to take the star and keep it as a gift? Would have been worth the laugh. She was examining a water-colour on the wall, seemed to be absorbed by it. He watched her. She was even lovelier than he had remembered; or rather her loveliness had been, in some subtle way, transmuted. Something had given to her a graver, nobler beauty. Last night's nymph had become the Madonna of this morning. Despite her dress, which was of a tremendous tartan, she diffused the pale authentic radiance of a spirituality most high, most simple. The Duke wondered where lay the change in her. Suddenly she turned to him, and the proof was plain. The two white pearls, no longer black and pink, the glimmering white of maidenly surrender. He thrilled to his heart's core.
"I hope," said Zuleika, "you aren't awfully vexed with me for coming like this?"
"Not at all," said the Duke. "I am delighted to see you."
"The fact is," she continued, "I don't know a soul in Oxford. And I thought perhaps you'd give me luncheon, and take me to see the boat-races. Will you?"
"I could, miss Dobson, certainly I could. I might, also. But that is not why you have come here."
"It isn't ?" she could barely articulate.
"No, it most certainly is not." As he spoke, she looked up to him like a wounded doe, knowing, awaiting the final coup. He delivered it in measured, equal tones. "You came here to go on your knees before me, haven't you miss Dobson ?"
She glared at him, in disbelief, her whole face, neck, chest redder than cherry. She parted her lips to speak time and again but no sound would escape her throat.
"What are you waiting for ?" thundered the Duke, and she was on her knees before the echo of his words dissipated in the calm air.
The Duke pulled the bell-rope. The landlady's daughter came running.
"Help miss Dobson out of that thing" he said, and pointed. Both girls gazed at him with wider eyes, but none dared utter a word in protest. Zuleika lifted her arms, the girl undid her dress and pulled it over her head.
"The combination also." he said, and they obeyed. The chemise and the drawers were next. The girls worked towards their ordained shared goal with a sudden and somewhat strange sense of camaraderie. Soon enough Zuleika stood on the Duke's rug in boots and a very thin, gauzy veil that left nothing to the imagination. At that juncture they stopped their work and looked up at him. He gestured his satisfaction, and sent the girl for luncheon. Zuleika fell back to her knees.
"Crawl over here." he ordered, and crawl she did. He patted her on her head, and then "Do you know what a bitch is, miss Dobson ?"
"Is it... is it a... a ... female dog..." she whispered with great difficulty.
"So it is. I will feed you luncheon, miss Dobson, as my bitch, on the floor where you are. You will eat morsels from my hand, if I give them to you, and you will scurry to eat them off the floor, if I throw them for you. Is that understood ?"
"And you will do a good job of it too, is that clear ?"
"They usually address me as Your Grace."
"You are my lord." she retorted. There was nothing, not a shade of anything beyond the most abject obedience in Zuleika's voice. She had wholly abandoned herself to her newfound function. No longer Zuleika the enchantress, no longer Zuleika the famous, the admired, the beloved. Zuleika the bitch, the lap dog, ready to jump at a jot, at a gesture, her eyes fixated on the man, her lord, the only man there was. How many girls do the exact same for their part, and how few of them get to live the whole thing, fully. And how satisfactory it is! Zuleika was conquered by wave after wave after wave of the deepest, most sincere, simplest joy. She couldn't even think clearly of things that before had seemed "a climax" to her naive, simple mind. The experience of true submission exhilirated her to extinction. Her chest heaved heavily, her breast tremulous, her nipples engorged. She was serving him. Him!
The girl brought a whole cold chicken, salad, gooseberry tartlets and a Camembert sliced on a tray, her eyes streaking silent tears on her face in a constant flow. For some reason the salt didn't come in a shaker, but as a small pile in a little China tray, elegantly shaped like a tear. The Duke didn't kick her out, so she stayed while he fed his bitch bits of cold chicken. Zuleika swallowed everything ravenously, including the couple of Camembert slices that ended up on the carpet, and licked the spot intently afterwards. At some point midway he pulled the crying maid in his lap, and she spent the rest of Zuleika's humiliation kissing him feverishly while covering him in her adolescent, heartfelt tears.
"That was a horrifying tartan, by the way. What in the hells is it supposed to be, even ?"
"I don't know," came Zuleika's answer. "I got it in Paris."
"Well, it is very ugly. I have one myself, although I practically never wear it. But the Dalbraith is harmonious in comparison, and has, at least, the excuse of history."
"I am sorry milord."
"Also, I thought you had been in Paris ?"
"What is with all that hair ?"
She looked at him, bewildered, for a moment. Did he mean... he couldn't mean... he did. She was red beyond color, she reddened into temperature, into sound. Miss Zuleika Dobson was so ashamed at her pubic mound displayed before the Duke that she nearly hummed in place.
"I... I... I wasn't ever in a bordello." she managed at least.
"No milord. I am untouched."
"Never ?! At your age ?! But my dear girl..." The Duke cut himself short and continued "You will, tonight, pluck every single hair there with your own hand. You have a tool ?"
"I do milord."
"Make it slow so it is painful, and think of me throughout."
"And yes, bitch. I will take you to the races, and other places. Hurry up and get yourself ready, the second starts at half past four." then, turning towars the girl lost in a reverie in his lap, "Get her dressed." The poor child sprang to her feet like electrocuted, and in short order miss Dobson was, outerly, exactly as she came in. Inwardly however, the difference couldn't have been greater -- for the first time in her life, Zuleika had been thoroughly satisfied by a man. She scurried out, but on her way fell on her knees and kissed the Duke's hand. He patted her on the head and next the door closed behind her.
The Duke poured coffee for two by his own hand, unhurriedly, then went to his closet and extracted an unspeakably pale Noakes and sat him in front of one cup. Then he proceeded to leisurely light his cigarillo, leaned back and watched his guest. Noakes was entirely dysfunctional.
"How..." he managed at a long last, "how did you know she loved you so ?"
"My dear Noakes. I, John, Albert, Edward, Claude, Orde, Angus, Tankertonix, Tanville-Tankerton, thirteenth Duke of Dorset, Marquis of Dorset, Earl of Grove, Earl of Chastermaine, Viscount Brewsby, Baron Grove, Baron Petstrap, and Baron Wolock, in the Peerage of England own over three quarter million acres, an area equal to all of County Dorset and then a fifth besides. My town-residence is in St. James's Square. Tankerton, of which you may have seen photographs, is the chief of my country-seats. It is a Tudor house, set on the ridge of a valley. The valley, its park, is halved by a stream so narrow that the deer leap across. The gardens are estraded upon the slope. Round the house runs a wide paven terrace. There are always two or three peacocks trailing their sheathed feathers along the balustrade, and stepping how stiffly! as though they had just been unharnessed from Juno's chariot. Two flights of shallow steps lead down to the flowers and fountains. Oh, the gardens are wonderful. There is a Jacobean garden of white roses. Between the ends of two pleached alleys, under a dome of branches, is a little lake, with a Triton of black marble, and with water-lilies. Hither and thither under the archipelago of water-lilies, dart gold-fish -- tongues of flame in the dark water. There is also a long strait alley of clipped yew. It ends in an alcove for a pagoda of painted porcelain which the Prince Regent -- peace be to his ashes! -- presented to my great-grandfather. There are many twisting paths, and sudden aspects, and devious, fantastic arbours."
"John..." yelped Noakes, barely audible.
"Are you fond of horses, Noakes ? In my stables of pine-wood and plated-silver seventy are installed. Not all of them together could vie in power with one of the meanest of my motor-cars. At Tankerton there is a model farm which would at any rate amuse you, with its heifers and hens and pigs that are like so many big new toys. There is a tiny dairy, which is called 'Her Grace's.' A lady could make therein real butter with her own hands, and round it into little pats, and press every pat with a different device. The boudoir that would be hers is a blue room. Four Watteaus hang in it. In the dining-hall hang portraits of my forefathers -- in petto, her forefathers-in-law -- by many masters."
"John!" cried Noakes.
"Are you fond of peasants? My tenantry are delightful creatures, and there is not one of them who remembers the bringing of the news of the Battle of Waterloo."
"John!" yelled Noakes, to no apparent effect.
"I am Duke of Strathsporran and Cairngorm, Marquis of Sorby, and Earl Cairngorm, in the Peerage of Scotland. In the glens of the hills about Strathsporran are many noble and nimble stags. But I have never set foot in my house there, for it is carpeted throughout with the tartan of my clan. Did you see the horror she was wearing ?"
"I... I..." started Noakes, as if the Duke paid any mind to him.
"If I married her, she'd be entitled to wear the Dalbraith, which would probably be just as well..."
"John..." whispered Noakes, sing-songy. "I merely asked you..."
"You asked me how I knew. I have eyes, they see, what do you want from me ? Or am I not Duc d'Etretat et de la Roche Guillaume in the peerage of France ? Louis Napoleon gave the title to my father for not cutting him in the Bois. I have a house in the Champs Elysees. There is a Swiss in its courtyard. He stands six-foot-seven in his stockings, and the chasseurs are hardly less tall than he. Wherever I go, there are two chefs in my retinue. Both are masters in their art, and furiously jealous of each other. When I compliment either of them on some dish, the other challenges him. They fight with rapiers, next morning, in the garden of whatever house I am occupying. I have a third chef, who makes only souffles, and an Italian pastry-cook; to say nothing of a Spaniard for salads, an Englishwoman for roasts, and an Abyssinian for coffee."
"There's nothing Abysinian about this coffee."
"Noakes my dear boy! You well know it is a whim of mine -- I may say a point of honour -- to lead the ordinary life of an undergraduate while at Oxford. What I eat in this room is cooked by the heavy and unaided hand of Mrs. Batch, my landlady, just like yours."
"And it is set before you by the loving hand of her daughter, who will be sixteen this October."
"You have noticed ?"
"I had noticed."
"You think she has ?"
"Who, she ?"
"My bitch. Miss Kneeling-Naked Dogson."
"You are terrible. But yes, I think she noticed."
"I suppose we'd honeymoon at Baiae. I have a villa at Baiae. It is there that I keep my grandfather's collection of majolica. The sun shines there always. A long olive-grove secretes the garden from the sea. When you walk in the garden, you know the sea only in blue glimpses through the vacillating leaves. White-gleaming from the bosky shade of this grove are several goddesses. I don't much care for for Canova, but I suppose if she did those figures would appeal to her, they are in his best manner. That is of course not the only house of mine that looks out on it. On the coast of County Clare -- am I not Earl of Enniskerry and Baron Shandrin in the Peerage of Ireland? -- I have an ancient castle. Sheer from a rock stands it, and the sea has always raged up against its walls. Many ships lie wrecked under that loud implacable froth. But mine is a brave strong castle. No storm affrights it; and not the centuries, clustering houris, with their caresses can seduce it from its hard austerity. I also have several other titles which for the moment escape me. Baron Llffthwchl I think, and... and... but you can find them for yourself in Debrett. In me you behold a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Look well at me! I am Hereditary Comber of the Queen's Lap-Dogs. I am young. I am handsome. My temper is sweet, and my character without blemish."
"You are an awful snob, John" proffered Noakes.
"And you are most fortunate, my dear Noakes."
"Is that so!" exlaimed the hunchback, unconvinced.
"You loved miss Dogson ?"
"I still do."
"But you were going to pursue her ?"
"As best I could, yes."
"But not anymore ?"
"No..." retorted Noakes, after a pause. "Not anymore."
"Instead, you are going to pursue your studies, are you not."
"I... I am."
"That will be a most productive course for you, my dear Noakes. The bitch wouldn't have been."
"Yes, I know. It's what it is."
Noakes stood, unsteadily in his large boots, and lumbered towards the door. Before letting himself out, he turned towards the Duke.
"Thank you, your Grace."
The Duke waved his hand, as to say "nevermind" to Noakes, then fluently turned and beconed, as the door opened and in its frame a red eyed, whimpering girl stooped. She came in, and Noakes went out closing the door behind him. His boots could be heard falling on the stair for a flight, and then was silence.
"Come in, pretty." but she hesitated. "Would you like to kiss it ?" inquired the Duke after a short pause.
The girl nodded and mumbled "Yes, master" then stepped inside.
"Come on, then." he said, leaning back to gaze out the window.
A few minutes before four, the Duke was ringing the bell on the Warden's door. He needn't explain his purpose, the entire house already knew of the great honor he had bestowed upon them by agreeing to take the miss to see the races. She was already dressed and evidently awaiting him, out of her mind with worry. Will he approve of her dress ? Will he... the mind blushed at the daring leap, but leaped it nevertheless... could it be that he would like it ? Something as humble as she might wear, to be to his liking ? That'd have been her day entire, made perfect.
He didn't in any manner object, and her heart leaped with joy. As she leaned on his arm on the way out the door she whispered in his ear "I am not yet done with my task, milord" in the humblest of voices, petrified that her failure might ruin the promising beginnings.
"What task ?" he puzzled at her.
"The task, that you... the French task." she muttered.
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "No matter, it wasn't for this afternoon. Have it done before you go to sleep, is all." he said, magnaminously, and his good grace filled her all with a steady, soft happiness, like cotton candy made of joy instead of sugar and for that the sweeter.
"Shall we hurry ?" she inquired, sudden worry back in her throat.
"Ah, there is plenty of time. The Second Division is not rowed till half-past four."
"The Second Division? Why not take me to the First?"
"That is not rowed till six."
"Isn't this rather an odd arrangement?"
"No doubt. But Oxford never pretended to be strong in mathematics."
They walked a few steps in silence, then she dared broach the only question left in her mind.
"How did you know I love you so ?"
"Did you notice your earrings ?"
"It was when I went into the drawing-room that I noticed them. I was looking in the glass... How did you know I hadn't simply put on another pair of ear-rings?"
"I didn't know, nor for that matter did I notice them."
"Do you imagine me the kind of man who were emboldened by the knowledge of certain victory, and on that basis only dared sally forth from the walls of his castle ?" Her eyes were as widely open as their thin lids could bear. "How little do you know of men, my little bitch." he mused.
"I've known no man. Just boys..."
"I didn't tell you to kneel because I thought you loved me. And you didn't kneel because I told you to ; you knelt because you loved me. These are different things."
"So very different", she repeated, as in a dream. Then, suddenly, with a start "Will you get rid of me, now that I've kneeled ?"
Her question was entirely heartbroken. It fell as she had felt it spurious, the idle inquiry of "Is it time ?" dropping at daybreak from the lips of one convicted to hang at daybreak.
"No." came his response, plainly.
"I suppose you will wish to use me first." she said, matter of factly. "Sexually, I mean." She steeled herself, visibly. "I do not mind. For your pleasure, anything. Anything."
"Let me tell you a story. There is a dairy at Tankerton, it's called Her Grace's. It dates from the middle of the eighteenth century, and the reason it is so called is that my great-great-grandfather, when he was a very old man, married en troisiemes noces a dairy-maid from the Tankerton estate. Her name was Meg Speedwell. He had seen her walking across a field, not many months after the interment of his second Duchess, Maria, that great and gifted lady. I know not whether it was that her bonny mien fanned in him some embers of his youth, or that he was loth to be outdone in gracious eccentricity by his crony the Duke of Dewlap, who himself had just taken a bride from a dairy. (You have read Meredith's account of that affair? No? You should.) Whether it was veritable love or mere modishness that formed my ancestor's resolve, presently the bells were ringing out, and the oldest elm in the park was being felled (that's a tradition), in Meg Speedwell's honour, and the children were strewing daisies on which Meg Speedwell trod (also), a proud young hoyden of a bride, just like you used to be, her head in the air and her heart in the seventh heaven. The Duke had given her already a horde of fine gifts; but these, he had said, were nothing -- trash in comparison with the gift that was to ensure for her a perdurable felicity. After the wedding-breakfast, when all the squires had ridden away on their cobs, and all the squires' ladies in their coaches, the Duke led his bride forth from the hall, leaning on her arm, till they came to a little edifice of new white stone, very spick and span, with two lattice-windows and a bright green door between. This he bade her enter. A-flutter with excitement, she turned the handle. In a moment she flounced back, red with shame and anger -- flounced forth from the fairest, whitest, dapperest dairy, wherein was all of the best that the keenest dairy-maid might need. The Duke bade her dry her eyes, for that it ill befitted a great lady to be weeping on her wedding-day. 'As for gratitude,' he chuckled, 'zounds! that is a wine all the better for the keeping.' Duchess Meg soon forgot this unworthy wedding-gift, such was her rapture in the other, the so august, appurtenances of her new life. What with her fine silk gowns and farthingales, and her powder-closet, and the canopied bed she slept in -- a bed bigger far than the room she had slept in with her sisters, and standing in a room far bigger than her father's cottage; and what with Betty, her maid, who had pinched and teased her at the village-school, but now waited on her so meekly and trembled so fearfully at a scolding; and what with the fine hot dishes that were set before her every day, and the gallant speeches and glances of the fine young gentlemen whom the Duke invited from London, Duchess Meg was quite the happiest Duchess in all England. For a while, she was like a child in a hay-rick. But anon, as the sheer delight of novelty wore away, she began to take a more serious view of her position. She began to realise her responsibilities. She was determined to do all that a great lady ought to do. Twice every day she assumed the vapours. She schooled herself in the mysteries of Ombre, of Macao. She spent hours over the tambour-frame. She rode out on horse-back, with a riding-master. She had a music-master to teach her the spinet; a dancing-master, too, to teach her the Minuet and the Triumph and the Gaudy. All these accomplishments she found mighty hard. She was afraid of her horse. All the morning, she dreaded the hour when it would be brought round from the stables. She dreaded her dancing-lesson. Try as she would, she could but stamp her feet flat on the parquet, as though it had been the village-green. She dreaded her music-lesson. Her fingers, disobedient to her ambition, clumsily thumped the keys of the spinet, and by the notes of the score propped up before her she was as cruelly perplexed as by the black and red pips of the cards she conned at the gaming-table, or by the red and gold threads that were always straying and snapping on her tambour-frame. Still she persevered. Day in, day out, sullenly, she worked hard to be a great lady. But skill came not to her, and hope dwindled; only the dull effort remained. One accomplishment she did master -- to wit, the vapours: they became for her a dreadful reality. She lost her appetite for the fine hot dishes. All night long she lay awake, restless, tearful, under the fine silk canopy, till dawn stared her into slumber. She seldom scolded Betty. She who had been so lusty and so blooming saw in her mirror that she was pale and thin now; and the fine young gentlemen, seeing it too, paid more heed now to their wine and their dice than to her. And always, when she met him, the Duke smiled the same mocking smile. Duchess Meg was pining slowly and surely away... One morning, in Spring-time, she altogether vanished. Betty, bringing the cup of chocolate to the bedside, found the bed empty. She raised the alarm among her fellows. They searched high and low. Nowhere was their mistress. The news was broken to their master, who, without comment, rose, bade his man dress him, and presently walked out to the place where he knew he would find her. And there, to be sure, she was, churning, churning for dear life. Her sleeves were rolled above her elbows, and her skirt was kilted high; and, as she looked back over her shoulder and saw the Duke, there was the flush of roses in her cheeks, and the light of a thousand thanks in her eyes. 'Oh,' she cried, 'what a curtsey I would drop you, but that to let go the handle were to spoil all!' And every morning, ever after, she woke when the birds woke, rose when they rose, and went singing through the dawn to the dairy, there to practise for her pleasure that sweet and lowly handicraft which she had once practised for her need. And every evening, with her milking-stool under her arm, and her milk-pail in her hand, she went into the field and called the cows to her, as she had been wont to do. To those other, those so august, accomplishments she no more pretended. She gave them the go-by. And all the old zest and joyousness of her life came back to her. Soundlier than ever slept she, and sweetlier dreamed, under the fine silk canopy, till the birds called her to her work. Greater than ever was her love of the fine furbelows that were hers to flaunt in, and sharper her appetite for the fine hot dishes, and more tempestuous her scolding of Betty, poor maid. She was more than ever now the cynosure, the adored, of the fine young gentlemen. And as for her husband, she looked up to him as the wisest, kindest man in all the world."
"A fine story, milord."
"The blood of Meg Speedwell's lord flows in my veins. I think I may boast that I have inherited something of his sagacity. In any case, I can profit by his example. I have no intention to use you for what you are not, little bitch."
She looked up to him, a warm, half tear glistening her eye. "I have no shame, milord, not for anything you bade me do. I'll do it all, anything, I am yours to command. And even should society..."
"There's enough of that. I have no intention to use you for a wife, your breeding's not exactly right for that." Poor Zuleika's eyes grew huger still. The Duke continued, impassible "Nor have I any mind to use you for a whore. For one thing, you're evidently untalented at that, a virgin! At your age! Having taken to Paris like duck to water, and not a drop wetter for the experience! Besides, the little I require of girls unfit for the trite usage of feminity will come at no verifiable cost to your modesty."
The twin dagger stabs of his speech brought her almost to her knees. Not a wife, legitimate mother, not a mistress, illegitimate but still mother! Not a mother at all. He had no such plans for her. She felt something dying inside her breast, and a dark sea of endless sadness drained itself into her bones and behind her eyes.
"Tell me, have you ever kissed a man ?"
"Now and again, I have."
"I do not mean on the lips."
"What do you mean then ?"
"Have you ever kissed a man's manhood, the unsheathed sword, the phallus ?"
"I have never beheld one, milord."
"Were you not curious ?"
"Yes, I suppose I was... but never had I anyone to ask."
"That's a paragon of solitude," thought the Duke outloud.
"It is." she answered, or maybe he just thought she had.
As they walked, Zuleika's thoughts veered dark and brooding. The man she loved was not going to make her a mother, this way nor that. The voice of her inner, mature feminity screamed, and screamed louder by far than the voice of her inner childish pride. That, weak and inconsequential voice she had stomped silent in one single gesture, and wasn't heard hence. This other, irrepressible banshee wail already deafened her and went on in geometric crescendo. "You will never be a mother. You have failed. You should die. You..." there was no end to it, no end whatever. A turtle can go without food for months, but it will not relinquish its carpace. Such is the turtle's nature. Woman will gladly prostrate herself just as gladly as she'd run away or fight tooth and nail, whatever is the fastest way to the filling of her womb. That is the woman's nature. Any manner is just as good as any other for as long as her belly swells. There is no other consideration, not really. Compared to the only true purpose any woman has, as she ever had and ever will have, anything else, taste and circumstance, constraint and requirement are nothing but artifice, pure pretense, a smoke of nothing. A man will dress in many ways and bear many tools to earn the day's bread ; and no one is a this or a that above being one who feeds himself. Once the food is out, the fisherman will become carpenter, the stonemason sailor, the farmer soldier and the soldier ballet dancer -- whatever tomorrow's slice of bread requires. Similarily woman, she will dress in many ways and bear many tools to earn the year's pregnancy, but none of them, inaccessible princess or cheapest whore, one single hair above or one single feather beyond that one true and unique purpose : to get the holy spurt within her slippery canal. Once impregnation is out of the question...
With every further step, the swirling darkness grew deeper on Zuleika's shoulders. She was going to die. For him, for love, for sadness, for... To die for love of this perfect man would be no mere measure of precaution, or counsel of despair. It would be in itself a passionate indulgence -- a fiery rapture, not to be foregone. What better could she ask than to die of his love? She couldn't die for it, dying of it is the best remainder. Poor indeed seemed to her now the sacrament of marriage, set beside the sacrament of death. Death was incomparably the greater, the finer soul. Death was the one true bridal. In dark robe, under jet sky, onyx sparkles on pitch veil to mirror the sooty stars above she will meet her fate.
A slave, humble, wholly given. In spite of all convention and of all internal reason, of any fear, that omenous portent of mishaps long past but through the blood remembered, in spite of any sort of sense, common or otherwise, she was given. Not as much as a scullery maid, hired for house and board from her family in who knows what humble village ; not as much as a Turkish slave, still bought for gold, or silver, or bronze even but still worth something. No, not her. Nothing at all, her. Deer in his rifle sights, less even, a flea in his dog Donne's ear, less than that still. A glint, a glimmer, hardly worth the mention in conversation. Kneeling when told, below the meanest tool, which at the least serves to a purpose. Less than a fool, her, pointless, purposeless, nothing... Yet she, going to die for him! Decidedly, the slave had the whip-hand.
He stole a sidelong look at her, and could not repress a smile. She smiled back. The Triumph of Death must not be handled as a cheap score. She wanted to die because she would thereby so poignantly consummate her love, express it so completely, once and for all... And he -- who could say that he, knowing what she had done, might not, illogically, come to love her? The one impediment forever removed, what is to keep his love from her ? Perhaps he would remember her ; perhaps he would fashion from her ashes an icon, to be held above, high, high above the heads of the slaves to come, an idol to be worshipped, a height they could regard but never touch, a dark star of its own. She saw them, hordes, naked, bending over her tomb in beautiful humble curves, under a starless sky, watering the violets with their tears. So what if they'll assuredly be tears for themselves ? Tears are always shared.
Shades of Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel and other despicable maunderers came to her, though she had never read their words nor knew any of them by name. But poetry, eternal, is equally accessible to all those who raise their head high enough, and in her passion the pure maiden had. Yet she resolved she would be practical. The point was, when and how to die? Time: the sooner the better. Tonight, best. The manner... that was less easy to determine. She must not die horribly, nor without dignity. Dignity, that sickly old whore, the last to leave after all her sisters left. How could she die ? She had no thought, no idea, her mind was blank. How can one die ? She never heard of it. A woman ? Never. It had never happened, throughout history ? Perhaps not. How does a woman die ? Stay! There was the river. Drowning (she had once heard) was a rather pleasant sensation. And to the river they were even now on their way.
The Duke did not try to break the stony silence in which Zuleika walked. As they turned into Radcliffe Square, the Duke's ear caught the sound of a far-distant gun. He started, and looked up at the clock of St. Mary's. Half-past four! The boats had started. The previous year he had heard a certain French upstart, le Comte de Forcheville, importantly declare that whenever a woman was to blame for a disappointment, the best way to avoid a scene was to inculpate oneself. The colossal mismatch of lines and elements amused him, and so he fantastically offered "I am sorry. That gun -- did you hear it? It was the signal for the race. I shall never forgive myself."
"Then we shan't see the race at all?" cried Zuleika.
"It will be over, alas, before we are near the river. All the people will be coming back through the meadows."
"Let us meet them!"
He indulged her, and so through the square, across the High, down Grove Street, they passed. The Duke looked up at the tower of Merton. Strange that to-night it would still be standing here, in all its sober and solid beauty -- still be gazing, over the roofs and chimneys, at the tower of Magdalen, its rightful bride. Through untold centuries of the future it would stand thus, gaze thus. He winced. Oxford walls have a way of belittling us; and the Duke was loth to regard his mastery of the temporal as trivial.
Yet, loth or not, by all minerals we are so mocked. Vegetables, contrarily, are far more sympathetic. The lilac and laburnum, making lovely now the railed pathway to Christ Church meadow, were all a-swaying and a-nodding to poor Zuleika as she passed by. "Adieu, adieu, lovely girl," they were whispering. "We are very sorry for you -- very sorry indeed. We never dared suppose you would predecease us. We think your death a very great tragedy. Adieu! Perhaps we shall meet in another world -- one day. If there be days..."
She looked at him, and wondered. Does he know ? He knows so many things, he knew of her... he knew her all. Does he know this ? But he said he hadn't known, he said something about sallies and bravery... is he merely following a path, some Cosmic rule, unheralded, unknown ? Do all women kneel before him in his room, like her, do all of them then walk the way to the river, and insist to walk, and are allowed, and then drown ? Is this what maturity is all about ? She never had anyone to ask, poor orphan girl, always stuck trying to make sense of the world around her on her own. It took her many months to learn she wasn't dying of her bleeding, that it's not any kind of pox or fever, that... Today, the same. Today, no different from each and every other day, she had no one to ask the simplest point, of paramount importance, the one thing she absolutely must know. Does he know ? Is this the way life goes ?
"Milord..." she dared, throat parched, soul gone, hopeless.
"Yes ?" his response, melodious like fresh silver, came from nearby. He was right there. She was on his arm!
"Milord..." she croaked, like a wounded songbird in the hail, "do you know why ?"
"Why ?" he sounded, puzzled.
"Do you know my mind ?"
"The devil himself knows not another's mind."
"You knew before."
"I merely told you what to do."
"Will you again ?"
"Will you, once we are at the river, tell me to jump, and to stay under, and to drown ?"
"I'll... I beg your pardon ?!"
"No I won't tell you to jump in the river Thames, what nonsense is this. Can you even swim ?"
"I don't know ; I've never tried." she returned, in a sad, small voice. He could barely breathe, perfervid with the irresistible flame of laughter, and the noise, filtering itself through the huge distances into her thoughts made her realise the humor of her retort. She laughed a little, scared laugh along his hearty trills.
"Why would you jump in the river ?"
"That seems unlikely. For one thing, you'd just float to the surface."
"I'll... there must be weeds growing on the bottom, I'll hold on to them."
"Ridiculous! Barely one step above the toddler threatening to hold his breath to death. My dear cunt", she winced at the word, but he continued undisturbed, "you'd let go. Besides, the river is awash with Oxford youth, they are from all I hear infatuated with you to the last man, and all fixated on looking exactly at you and only at you all the time. Don't you think someone'd save you ?"
She knew he wouldn't have ; the notion that other men, men who were not him, would still be capable of effectual action in the physical sphere, the concept that some other Oxford youth, and not the Duke, could still touch her, push her, lift her, grab hold of her came as a complete and utter shock. She simply hadn't thought about it, hadn't even vaguely foreseen the possiblity. They can still touch her ? They do still exist ? They're more corporeal than ghosts, really, they are ?! But how ?
The young elms lining the straight way to the barges had no doubt seen them coming; but any whispers of their leaves were lost in the murmur of the crowd returning from the race. Here, at length, came the torrent ; and Zuleika's heart rose at it. Here was Oxford! From side to side the avenue was filled with a dense procession of youths -- youths interspersed with maidens whose parasols were as flotsam and jetsam on a seething current of straw hats. Zuleika neither quickened nor slackened her advance. But brightlier and brightlier shone her eyes.
The vanguard of the procession was pausing now, swaying, breaking at sight of her. She passed, imperial, through the way cloven for her. All a-down the avenue, the throng parted as though some great invisible comb were being drawn through it. The few youths who had already seen Zuleika, and by whom her beauty had been bruited throughout the University, were lost in a new wonder, so incomparably fairer was she than the remembered vision. And the rest hardly recognised her from the descriptions, so incomparably fairer was the reality than the hope.
She passed among them. None questioned the worthiness of her escort. Could I give you better proof the awe in which our Duke was held? Any man is glad to be seen escorting a very pretty woman because he thinks it adds to his prestige. Not so. In point of fact, his fellow-men are saying merely "Who's that appalling fellow with her?" or "Why does she go about with that ass So-and-So?" Such cavil may in part be envy, but it remains exceedingly difficult for any man, howsoever graced, to shine in juxtaposition to a very pretty woman. The most baisse, and therefore most potent instinct of the crowd works flat against him. The Duke himself cut a poor figure beside Zuleika, yet not one of all the undergraduates felt she could have made a wiser choice.
She swept among them. Her own intrinsic radiance was not all that flashed from her. She was a moving reflector and refractor of all the rays of all the eyes that mankind had turned on her. Her mien told the story of her days. Bright eyes, light feet -- she trod erect, a vision whose glare was dazzling to all beholders. She swept among them, a miracle, overwhelming, breath-bereaving. Nothing at all like her had ever been seen in Oxford.
Mainly architectural, the beauties of Oxford. True, the place is no longer one-sexed. There are the virguncules of Somerville and Lady Margaret's Hall; but beauty and the lust for schooling have yet to be allied. There are the innumerable wives and daughters around the Parks, running in and out of their little red-brick villas; but the indignant shade of celibacy seems to have called down on the dons a Nemesis which precludes them from either marrying beauty or begetting it. (From the Warden's son, that unhappy curate, Zuleika inherited no tittle to her charm. Some of it, there is no doubt, she did inherit from the circus-rider who was her mother, with the rest accounted for by the circus itself.)
But the casual feminine visitors? Well, the sisters and cousins of an undergraduate seldom seem more passable to his comrades than to himself. Altogether, the instinct of sex is not pandered to in Oxford. It is not, however, as it may once have been, dormant. The modern importation of samples of femininity serves to keep it alert, though not to gratify it. A like result is achieved by another modern development -- photography. The undergraduate may, and usually does, surround himself with photographs of pretty ladies known to the public. A phantom harem! Yet the houris have an effect on their sultan. Surrounded both by plain women of flesh and blood and by beauteous women on pasteboard, the undergraduate is the easiest victim of living loveliness -- is as a fire ever well and truly laid, amenable to a spark. And if the spark be such a flaring torch as Zuleika? -- marvel not, reader, at the conflagration.
Not only was the whole throng of youths under her yoke drawing asunder before her: much of it, as she passed, was forming up in her wake. Thus, with the confluence of two masses -- one coming away from the river, the other returning to it -- teeth of chaos seethed around her and the Duke before they were half-way along the avenue. Behind them, and on either side of them, the people were crushed inextricably together, swaying and surging this way and that. "Help!" cried many a shrill feminine voice. "Don't push!" "Let me out!" "You brute!" "Save me, save me!" Many ladies fainted, whilst their escorts, supporting them and protecting them as best they could, peered over the heads of their fellows for one glimpse of the divine Miss Dobson. What deeper humiliation can be conceived for a middle class hopeful to a good marriage, than that of being crushed, physically, by a horde of eligible men peering at another ? Many young maidens with aspiration of making their whole life and an entire career out of their cunts and many damsels hoping to make the librations and ministrations to that slimy organ the business of the entire world if possible, or at any rate as much world as could be pressed into cunt service of their immediate circle were waylaid in the Oxford streets ; yet for Zuleika and the Duke, in the midst of the terrific compress, there always and throughout was space enough. In front of them, as by a miracle of deference, a way still cleared itself. They reached the end of the avenue without a pause in their measured progress. Nor even when they turned to the left, along the rather narrow path beside the barges, was there any obstacle to their advance. Passing evenly forward, they alone were cool, unhustled, undishevelled.
The Duke was so rapt in his private thoughts that he was hardly conscious of the strange scene. And as for Zuleika, her mind was a strange sort of soulful praline, extremely dark chocolate core dipped in the thin layer of white spark the public admiration and self-sacrifice of the lesser phenotypes of her sex readily and with free title provided her.
"What a lot of house-boats!" she exclaimed, with the grim sport of her to be hanged. "Are you going to take me on to one of them?"
The Duke started. Already they were alongside the Judas barge. "Here," he said, "is our goal."
He stepped through the gate of the railings, out upon the plank, and offered her his hand.
She looked back. The young men in the vanguard were crushing their shoulders against the row behind them, to stay the oncoming host. She was tempted to go back through the midst of them. Ah, to sail through waves of living admiration once more, to silence and put the coming doom away, if for a moment. But she shook her head and pressed on, following the Duke on to the barge, and under his auspices climbing the steps to the roof. It looked very cool and gay, this roof, under its awning of red and white stripes. Nests of red and white flowers depended along either side of it. Zuleika moved to the side which commanded a view of the bank. She leaned her arms on the balustrade, and gazed down.
The crowd stretched as far as she could see -- a vista of faces upturned to her. Suddenly it hove forward. Its vanguard was swept irresistibly past the barge -- swept by the desire of the rest to see her at closer quarters. Such was the impetus that the vision for each man was but a lightning-flash: he was whirled past, struggling, almost before his brain took the message of his eyes. Those who were Judas men made frantic efforts to board the barge, trying to hurl themselves through the gate in the railings; but they were swept vainly on. Presently the torrent began to slacken, became a mere river, a mere procession of youths staring up rather shyly. Before the last stragglers had marched by, Zuleika moved away to the other side of the roof, and, after a glance at the sunlit river, sank into one of the wicker chairs. A moment later the Duke asked her to look less disagreeable and to serve tea, so she was on her feet again, busying herself with the trays.
When she came back to the Duke with his cup, he pointed out two among the scores hovering near that were paying her special homage by the insistent persistence of their gaze. He asked her if she knew them, which she denied.
"Then," he said, "I shall introduce them to you."
"No," started Zuleika. "Please", she begged, humbly, sinking into the chair beside him.
"You're going to sit out the races, in that chair, as perfectly morose as an ancient Duchess ?"
"If I may."
"I am not sure," said the Duke, "that you are very polite. Certainly you are foolish. It is natural for boys to fall in love. If these two are in love with you, why not let them talk to you? It were an experience on which they would always look back with romantic pleasure. They may never see you again. Why grudge them this little thing?" She sipped her tea. "As for tripping them up on a threshold -- that is all nonsense. What harm has unrequited love ever done to anybody?" She laughed. "Look at you! When you came to my rooms this morning, thinking you loved in vain, did you seem one jot the worse for it? Did you look different?"
"Did I ?"
"I don't think so."
"I mean, milord : did I think I loved in vain ?"
"Most certainly. Or did you ever know the rapture of being in love before ? You had longed for it, but never had guessed how wonderfully wonderful it was. Then suddenly it came to you, and you shuddered and wavered like a fountain in the wind, more helpless and lightlier aflight than a shred of thistledown among the stars." The Duke looked at his captive, her gaze lost, her cheek ablush, and then continued. "The whole night long, you could not sleep for love of me; nor had you any desire of that sleep, save that it might take me to you in a dream. Do you remember aught that happened this morning before you found yourself at my door ?"
"I do not." she whispered, barely.
"And if I were to guess, you wore that most atrocious sack of a tartan because, in your girlish bosom, an unborn mother was being motherly to me. You actually imagined yourself perhaps too powerful, too mighty, you tried to shield after a fashion the very frail Duke -- who's but a man! -- from the certain doom of your vaginal lures. Was it so ?"
"I chose the frock in the deliberate fear that you, who wouldn't as much as rein in on the first pass, if I made myself presentable might succumb at second sight of me. I would have sent out for a sack and dressed myself in that, I would have blacked my face all over with burnt cork, only I was afraid of being mobbed on the way to you."
"And were you jealous of my little, pubescent cunt ?"
"I saw in the girl's eyes that she, too, loved you. You use her too, don't you."
"No wonder, then, that she loves you," sighed Zuleika. "She read my secret at a glance. Women who love the same man have a kind of bitter freemasonry. We resented each other, on the surface, and we love each other too. She envied me my beauty, my dress. I envied the little fool her privilege of being always near to you, called at all times and at any times by the simplest gesture. Yet I fought the impulse to kiss her." The teary beauty paused for a moment, drew her breath, ordered her sighs. "I can conceive no life sweeter than hers -- to be always near you. To black your boots, to heave under the weight carrying up your coals, like a beast plowing. Under the whip. To scrub your doorstep, dirt from your boot ensconcing itself under my fingernails, and for being however distantly yours nevertheless loved, though mere dirt of the streets it may be. Always to be working for you, hard and humbly and without thanks. If you had refused to see me, I would have tried to bribe that girl with all my jewels, to cede me her position."
"Are you sorry for yourself ?" inquired his Grace, amusement mixed with curiosity in his tone.
"Of course it doesn't occur to you that I am at all to be pitied." she started in a bitter tone. "No! Forgive me, milord. I am blind with selfishness. I love you, you don't love me. Nor should you. I am not the first woman that has fallen on such a boon."
Said the Duke, bowing over a deprecatory hand, "If there were to pass my window one tithe of them whose hearts have been lost to Miss Dobson, I should win no farthing, nor any public fame from that interminable parade."
Zuleika blushed. "Yet," she said more gently, "be sure they would all be not a little envious of YOU! Not one of them ever touched the surface of my heart. You stirred my heart to its very depths. Yes, you made me love you madly. The pearls told you no lie. You are my idol -- the one thing in the wide world to me. You were so different from any man I had ever seen except in dreams. You did not make a fool of yourself. I admire you. I respect you. The word is -- yes, it is. I worship you, milord. You are God to me. I am even now all afire with adoration of you."
The Duke looked thoughtfully at her. "I thought," he said, "that you revelled in your power over men's hearts. I had always heard that you lived for admiration."
"Oh," said Zuleika, "of course I like being admired. Oh yes, I like all that very much indeed. In a way, I suppose, I'd even be pleased if you admired me. But oh, what a little miserable pleasure that is in comparison with the rapture I am living!"
"Why did you ring the bell? Why didn't you walk away?"
"Why? I had come to see you, to be near you, to be WITH you."
"To force yourself on me."
"But if you had no real hope of my loving you..."
"Oh, a man doesn't necessarily drive a woman away because he isn't in love with her."
"Yet that was what you thought I had done to you the other night."
"Yes, but I didn't suppose you would take the trouble to do it again. And if you had, my love'd have turned bitterer, but not lesser." She bit her lip. She, Zuleika Dobson, for the first time since the Flood, was going to be an honest woman before the man she loved. Without intent and without lure, but plain and factually she continued. "I thought you would most likely be rather amused, rather touched, by my importunity. I thought you would take a listless advantage, make a plaything of me -- the diversion of a few idle hours in summer, and then, when you had tired of me, would cast me aside, forget me, break my heart." she looked up at her captor. "I desire nothing better than that, milord. That is what I am vaguely hoping for, to be used by you. But I had no definite scheme. I wanted to be with you and I came to you. How my heart beat as I waited on the doorstep! 'Is his Grace at home?' 'I don't know. I'll inquire. What name shall I say?'"
"And what of all the drowning talk, and rivers and their weeds ?"
"The... milord, there is something in me. An urge, deep and dark. It torments me so. All that I want is to be used, by you, for your own pleasure. Please believe me, whatever it may be."
"Whatever it may be, but best if it be that your cup be filled by me, and overfilled, till seed runneth over the lip."
"I think..." retorted Zuleika, blushing profusely, "it's what every woman wants."
"You may be right. It is however not what any woman yet received of me."
"I do not use women in the way of motherhood. Not unless I mean to continue my bloodline out of their flesh. So far, this has not yet occurred."
"You mean you've never..."
"There are three practicable holes in woman, two twinned and one apart. I oft use the one apart, which is the blessed one, for it gives the woman no further pleasure than the pleasure the spirit takes in the knowledge of having served her master well. Of the two twinned, Sun and Moon I will sometimes use the Moon between the moons. It is a dark and painful pleasure. Until the day I take a Duchess I'll meet no maidenhead, nor pass by the ruined fane of one."
"It hurts ?"
"It sometimes also bleeds."
A shiver passed Zuleika, her eyes suddenly open large. "Will you do me ?"
"Perhaps one day."
"I would like nothing better than to bleed there for you, milord."
"I'll thoroughly humiliate you first."
"All the better, milord." Zuleika, eyes half closed, appeared to seep into a familiar trance. "And in the other way ?"
"You will share the nectar of my rod with my maid."
"You will seek her friendship. You will make a habit of sleeping over with her. You will worship her and love her like you worship and love me."
"Have you ever kissed another woman ?"
"No, milord." Then, after a short pause, "At all."
"You may start in the morning."
"Thank you, milord."
The Duke continued, in a wistful, philosophical tone "I have heard of women, no longer young, wasting away because no man loved them. I have often heard of a young woman fretting because some particular young man didn't love her. But I never heard of her wasting away. Certainly a young man doesn't waste away for love of some particular young woman. He very soon makes love to some other one. If his be an ardent nature, the quicker his transition."
"All the most ardent of my past adorers have married."
"Past?" echoed the Duke, "Have any of your lovers ceased to love you?"
"Ah no, I don't think so; not in retrospect. I remain their ideal, and all that, of course. They cherish the thought of me. They see the world in terms of me. But I am an inspiration, not an obsession; a glow, not a blight."
"You don't believe in the love that corrodes, the love that ruins?"
"No," laughed Zuleika. Then suddenly serious... "Perhaps I am about to."
"You have never dipped into the Greek pastoral poets, nor sampled the Elizabethan sonneteers?"
"No, never. You will think me lamentably crude: my experience of life has been drawn from life itself."
"But your experience of life itself is the heart of innocence."
"I guess it is."
"Yet often you talk as though you had read rather much. Your way of speech has what is called 'the literary flavour'."
"Ah, that is an unfortunate trick which I caught from a writer, a Mr. Beerbohmx, who once sat next to me at dinner somewhere. I can't break myself of it. I assure you I hardly ever open a book. Of life, though, my experience has been very wide. Brief? But I suppose the soul of man during the past two or three years has been much as it was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and of -- whoever it was that reigned over the Greek pastures. And I daresay the modern poets are making the same old silly distortions. But forgive me," she added gently, "perhaps you yourself are a poet?"
"Only in the sense the Venetianxi dog is an elephant," answered the Duke. Confronted with her puzzled look he had to explain, that at some point a certain knight, diplomat and Friulian by his name Fiore Furlano de Cividale D'Austria delli Liberi da Premariacco wrote a book on fencing, which drew many novel points for its time, one of which, a division of man in four types by his personality and inclination included for the illustration of strength an elephant by name, composed in fact out of a plain ordinary dog and frills by the hand of a draughtsman that had evidently never perceived an elephant nude before his eyes. She laughed at the presentation, but the Duke remained altogether unconvinced she had understood what he said, or could productively repeat it. The matter did not seem to concern her overmuch, however, and he didn't press it.
"And why are you smiling, miss Dogson?" he inquired, warming up in face of her sudden, indescribably sweet, contagious smile.
"Laissez moi le loisir de garder ce secret."
"A humble maid was duchess before, was she not. You told me the story yourself, Meg Spendwell, yes ?"
"Speedwell." she repeated, lost in a reverie.
"You haven't the right lineage for that, bitch. I wouldn't marry you anymore than I'd have my hunting dogs lay down with whatever mutt of the street."
"Not even for love ?"
"Especially not for love. What modernist foolishness is this ? Love is a matter private ; marriage is an issue of state. They can not mix any readier than oil and water, and woe on whoever should attempt."
"You will have a most happy life, milord. A household full of maids to worship you ; and a wife or two who dare not go out of your word, secure in the knowledge that there's no webbed nest to catch them under the rope they tread high, high in the tent's very roof."
"I expect so."
"I've never admired a man as much in my life. Nor did I think it possible, to admire a man so. If we had just met I'd beg you make me kneel before you. Will you ? I beg of you milord, humble me again. Let everyone see."
All the while that she had been sitting by him here, talking so glibly, looking so straight into his eyes, flashing at him so many pretty gestures... He knew that she was making her effect irresistible for the other young men by whom the roof of the barge was now thronged. Him alone she seemed to observe. By her manner, she was at the plainest making love to him. He vaguely despised the men she was so deliberately making envious -- the common men, the captives of convention. The men whom, in her undertone to him, she was in a sense really addressing. Shall he ruin convention, shoot a cannonball or two at those gray old walls ? He could, instantly, order her crawl, disrobe, dance, sing... He could turn the roof of the Judas' barge into a seraglio kiosk at dusk with a mere gesture. Will he ?
He chose not to. It wasn't an aesthetical consideration, the nude Ms. Dobson would have cut the finest figure against the turqoise sky. It certainly was not a political consideration. There was absolutely nothing the dons could have done, and in no case anything they'd have dared do. Certainly not anything that might've in any likeliness bring the Prime Minister upon their heads in a tizzy again. He would be... what exactly, reprimanded ? Sternly talked to ? By whom ? No one would have dared, their plaintive wails borne out of subsumed, internalized powerlessness unable to scratch trite glass, let alone the strong gems of his internal constitution. Reprobate of all constraint, the young Duke nevertheless chose to forego the display, and his slave's exposure.
"Another time, miss Dogson." he responded, enunciating, clearly. Dog-son. Son of a dog. She heard, as she had heard before. She bowed, humble, all-accepting. She was to be Miss Zuleika Dogson henceforth, what of it. Women change their name in wedlock ; hers had just changed. Good enough.
The Judas Eight had just embarked for their voyage to the starting-point. Standing on the edge of the raft that makes a floating platform for the barge, William, the hoary bargee, was pushing them off with his boat-hook, wishing them luck with deferential familiarity. The raft was thronged with Old Judasians -- mostly clergymen -- who were shouting hearty hortations, and evidently trying not to appear so old as they felt -- or rather, not to appear so startlingly old as their contemporaries looked to them. What a spectacle the nude maiden would have made for them! Alas, it was not to be ; yet there they stood and hollered, no clear idea of the thin line that separated their present from another alternative present that could just as well have been, no inkling as to who held the decisive mechanism or how it worked, yet nevertheless somehow vaguely aware, permeated somehow by the sexual fluidity of it all. Were she nude before them would not they have tried, in the same vain, the same old tack, would they not have attempted stotting to display a vigour lost, taking some semblance of solace in the comparatively more decrepit state of those who they, arbitrarily, took for their peers ? They knew the Duke was the Duke, and paid him all their homage, without knowing exactly why he is or how his Dukedom works. There is a lot to be said for convention, that remainder of accumulated, historical sense capable of compensating the rank imbecillity of common men, thought the Duke. He always had viewed convention thus, and every year brought scores of further confirmations. It's good enough for them. Zuleika's shoulder pressed his. He thrilled not at all. She did.
The enormous eight young men in the thread-like skiff -- the skiff that would scarce have seemed an adequate vehicle for the tiny "cox" who sat facing them -- were staring up at Zuleika with that uniformity of impulse which, in another direction, had enabled them to bump a boat on two of the previous "nights." If to-night they bumped the next boat, Univ., then would Judas be three places "up" on the river; and to-morrow Judas would have a Bump Supper. Furthermore, if Univ. were bumped to-night, Magdalen might be bumped to-morrow. Then would Judas, for the first time in history, be head of the river. Oh tremulous hope! Yet, for the moment, these eight young men seemed to have forgotten the awful responsibility that rested on their over-developed shoulders. Their hearts, already strained by rowing, had been transfixed this afternoon by Eros' darts. All of them had seen Zuleika as she came down to the river; and now they sat gaping up at her, fumbling with their oars. The tiny cox gaped too; but he it was who first recalled duty. With piping adjurations he brought the giants back to their senses. The boat moved away down stream, with a fairly steady stroke.
Not in a day can the traditions of Oxford be sent spinning. From all the barges the usual punt-loads of young men were being ferried across to the towing-path -- young men naked of knee, armed with rattles, post-horns, motor-hooters, gongs, and other instruments of clangour. Though Zuleika filled their thoughts, they hurried along the towing-path, as by custom, to the starting-point.
She, meanwhile, had not taken her eyes off the Duke's profile. Nor had she dared, for fear of disappointment, to ask him just what his refusal meant. Another time surely means, she will be made to do it at a later time. It isn't a blank refusal, could it be ? It couldn't! Though perhaps... All these men, she imagined dreamily, would be coy of her advances. She pictured herself, dancing on the roof, completely naked. Would they rush her ? Wound her, press her to the ground, like a doe, like a hog in the underbrush, would they bleed her in the dust ? No, they would not. They would give her slightly more space than in the street. Yet perhaps one would breach the wave, and then all follow ? Who ? One, with a silver tusk. She looked around, and her eyes soon fixed on the Duke. He wouldn't. She, slung on her tiptoes, was looking close at him. The loveliest face in all the world will not please you if you see it suddenly, eye to eye, at a distance of half an inch from your own. It was thus that the Duke saw Zuleika's: a monstrous deliquium a-glare. Recoiling, he beheld the loveliness that he knew, the beauty that he owned, not for all the pearls of India, not for a song, barely for asking. Her asking. Or was it his ? It was his asking. Yet she came.
The sinuosities and intricacies of history past swirled together into a mass before his mind's eye, inseparable. He did because she did because he did because she did because... He realised the profound truth that had been obvious to him throughout his life, that there is no such thing as master and servant, not properly speaking. The two are one, and as he knew he instantly knew she knew as well. One, inseparable, the lord and his lordship, the lion and his pride, form gathering function from the form of function formed by its function of the forms it functioned upon. She'll do as he bids her and he'll bid her do. What further marriage ? And in his every fibre he thrilled to her. Even so had she gazed at him last night, this morning. Aye, now as then, her soul was full of him. He had captured, not just her love, but her being, entire. It was enough. Quantum sufficit ? He bowed his head. What suffices is never a quantum.
Zuleika's bosom heaved quickly, quickly. All colour had left her face; but her eyes shone as never before when hark! the sound of a distant gun. To Zuleika, with all the chords of her soul strung to the utmost tensity, the effect was as if she herself had been shot; and she clutched at the Duke's arm, like a frightened child. He laughed. "It was the signal for the race," he said, and laughed again."
"The race?" She laughed hysterically.
"Yes. They're off." He mingled his laughter with hers, gently seeking to disengage his arm. "And perhaps," he said, "you, below, clinging to the weeds of the river's bed, shall see dimly the boats and the oars pass overhead, and manage to gurgle a cheer for old Judas."
"Don't!" she shuddered, with a woman's notion that a jest means levity. A tumult of thoughts surged in her, all confused. She only knew that she must not die -- not yet! A moment ago, her expiration would have been beautiful. Not now! Her grip of his arm tightened. Only by breaking her wrist could he have freed himself. A moment ago, she had been in the seventh-heaven... Men were supposed to have died for love of her. It had never been proved. There had always been something -- card-debts, ill-health, what not -- to account for the tragedy. No man, to the best of her recollection, had ever hinted that he was going to die for her. Never, assuredly, had she seen the deed done. And then came he, the first man she had loved. She was going to die. Here, before his very eyes. But she knew now that she must not die -- not yet!
All around her was the hush that falls on Oxford when the signal for the race has sounded. In the distance could be heard faintly the noise of cheering -- a little sing-song sound, drawing nearer.
Ah, how could she have thought of letting life go, so soon? She gazed into his face -- the face she might never have seen again. Even now, but for that gun-shot, the waters would have closed over her, and her soul, maybe, have passed away. He had saved her, thank heaven! She had him still with her. Gently, vainly, he still sought to unclasp her fingers from his arm.
"Not now!" she whispered. "Not yet!"
And the noise of the cheering, and of the trumpeting and rattling, as it drew near, was an accompaniment to her joy in having saved her love, in having been saved by her love. She would keep him with her -- forever! For at least a little while! Let all be done in order. She would savour the full sweetness of his presence. Tomorrow -- to-morrow, yes, let him have his heart's desire of her. Not now! Not yet!
"To-morrow," she whispered, "to-morrow, if you will. Not yet!"
The first boat came jerking past in mid-stream; and the towing-path, with its serried throng of runners, was like a live thing, keeping pace. As in a dream, Zuleika saw it. And the din was in her ears. No heroine of Wagner had ever a louder accompaniment than had ours to the surging soul within her bosom.
The Duke, tightly held in her diminutive grasp, looked down with benevolent condescension. "Let her have her night", he thought, "she's new". He let her cling to him, and her magnetism range through him. Ah, it was good she had not died! He never had perceived any serious danger of it, no female ever kills herself, "try" as she might for the benefit of any fool being ensnared. Certainly not before menopause, and certainlier still not before having laid her eggs. What foolishness, to drain off-hand, at one coarse draught, the delicate wine of extinction. He would let her lips caress the brim of the august goblet. She will permeate and dally with the deathly aromas mingled therein. Thousands of times will she die inside, and die again the more for each death later on. What is the rush ?
The fact was that the Judas boat had just bumped Univ., exactly opposite the Judas barge. The oarsmen in either boat sat humped, panting, some of them rocking and writhing, after their wholesome exercise. But there was not one of them whose eyes were not upcast at Zuleika. And the vocalisation and instrumentation of the dancers and stampers on the towing-path had by this time ceased to mean aught of joy in the victors or of comfort for the vanquished, and had resolved itself into a wild wordless hymn to the glory of Miss Dobson. Behind her and all around her on the roof of the barge, young Judasians were venting in like manner their hearts through their lungs. She paid no heed. It was as if she stood alone with her lover on some silent pinnacle of the world. It was as if she were a little girl with a brand-new and very expensive doll which had banished all the little other old toys from her mind.
She simply could not, in her naive rapture, take her eyes off her companion. To the dancers and stampers of the towing-path, many of whom were now being ferried back across the river, and to the other youths on the roof of the barge, Zuleika's air of absorption must have seemed a little strange.
"Come!" said the Duke at length, staring around him with the eyes of one awakened from a dream. "Come! I must take you back to Judas."
"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." At any rate, the sinner has a better chance than the saint of being hereafter remembered. We, in whom original sin preponderates, find him easier to understand. He is near to us, clear to us. The saint is remote, dim. A very great saint may, of course, be remembered through some sheer force of originality in him; and then the very mystery that involves him for us makes him the harder to forget: he haunts us the more surely because we shall never understand him. But the ordinary saints grow faint to posterity; whilst quite ordinary sinners pass vividly down the ages.
Of the disciples of Jesus, which is he that is most often remembered and cited by us? Not the disciple whom Jesus loved; neither of the Boanerges, nor any other of them who so steadfastly followed Him and served Him; but the disciple who betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver. Judas Iscariot it is who outstands, overshadowing those other fishermen. And perhaps it was by reason of this precedence that Christopher Whitrid, Knight, in the reign of Henry VI., gave the name of Judas to the College which he had founded. Self-advertising know-nothings of the American persuasion would of course misrepresent "the true reason" in the vein of "he felt that in a Christian community not even the meanest and basest of men should be accounted beneath contempt, beyond redemption", but nobody capable of thought even in modest quantity would even entertain such nonsense.
At any rate, thus he named his foundation. And, though for Oxford men the savour of the name itself has long evaporated through its local connexion, many things show that for the Founder himself it was no empty vocable. In a niche above the gate stands a rudely carved statue of Judas, holding a money-bag in his right hand. Among the original statutes of the College is one by which the Bursar is enjoined to distribute in Passion Week thirty pieces of silver among the needier scholars "for saike of atonynge." The meadow adjoining the back of the College has been called from time immemorial "the Potter's Field." And the name of Salt Cellar is not less ancient and significant.
Salt Cellar, that grey and green quadrangle visible from the room assigned to Zuleika, is very beautiful, as I have said. So tranquil is it as to seem remote not merely from the world, but even from Oxford, so deeply is it hidden away in the core of Oxford's heart. So tranquil is it, one would guess that nothing had ever happened in it. For five centuries these walls have stood, and during that time have beheld, one would say, no sight less seemly than the good work of weeding, mowing, rolling, that has made, at length, so exemplary the lawn. These cloisters that grace the south and east sides -- five centuries have passed through them, leaving in them no echo, leaving on them no sign, of all that the outer world, for good or evil, has been doing so fiercely, so raucously.
And yet, if you are versed in the antiquities of Oxford, you know that this small, still quadrangle has played its part in the rough-and-tumble of history, and has been the background of high passions and strange fates. The sun-dial in its midst has told the hours to more than one bygone King. Charles I. lay for twelve nights in Judas; and it was here, in this very quadrangle, that he heard from the lips of a breathless and blood-stained messenger the news of Chalgrove Field. Sixty years later, James, his son, came hither, black with threats, and from one of the hind-windows of the Warden's house -- maybe, from the very room where Zuleika scourged her flesh -- addressed the Fellows, and presented to them the Papist by him chosen to be their Warden, instead of the Protestant whom they had elected. They were not of so stern a stuff as the Fellows of Magdalen, who, despite His Majesty's menaces, had just rejected Bishop Farmer. The Papist was elected, there and then, al fresco, without dissent. Cannot one see them, these Fellows of Judas, huddled together round the sun-dial, like so many sheep in a storm? The King's wrath, according to a contemporary record, was so appeased by their pliancy that he deigned to lie for two nights in Judas, and at a grand refection in Hall "was gracious and merrie." Perhaps it was in lingering gratitude for such patronage that Judas remained so pious to his memory even after smug Herrenhausen had been dumped down on us for ever. Certainly, of all the Colleges none was more ardent than Judas for James Stuart. Thither it was that young Sir Harry Esson led, under cover of night, three-score recruits whom he had enlisted in the surrounding villages. The cloisters of Salt Cellar were piled with arms and stores; and on its grass -- its sacred grass! -- the squad was incessantly drilled, against the good day when Ormond should land his men in Devon. For a whole month Salt Cellar was a secret camp. But somehow, at length -- woe to "lost causes and impossible loyalties" -- Herrenhausen had wind of it; and one night, when the soldiers of the white cockade lay snoring beneath the stars, stealthily the white-faced Warden unbarred his postern -- that very postern through which now Zuleika had passed on the way to her bedroom -- and stealthily through it, one by one on tip-toe, came the King's foot-guards. Not many shots rang out, nor many swords clashed, in the night air, before the trick was won for law and order. Most of the rebels were overpowered in their sleep; and those who had time to snatch arms were too dazed to make good resistance. Sir Harry Esson himself was the only one who did not live to be hanged. He had sprung up alert, sword in hand, at the first alarm, setting his back to the cloisters. There he fought calmly, ferociously, till a bullet went through his chest. "By God, this College is well-named!" were the words he uttered as he fell forward and died.
Comparatively tame was the scene now being enacted in this place. The Duke, with bowed head, was walking the path between the lawn and the cloisters. Two other undergraduates stood watching him, whispering to each other, under the archway that leads to the Front Quadrangle. Presently, in a sheepish way, they approached him. He halted and looked up.
"I say," stammered the spokesman.
"Well?" asked the Duke. Both youths were slightly acquainted with him; but he was not used to being spoken to by those whom he had not first addressed. Moreover, he was loth to be thus disturbed of his reveries. His manner was not encouraging.
"Wasn't yesterday a lovely day for the Eights?" faltered the spokesman.
"I conceive," the Duke said, "that you hold back some other question."
The spokesman smiled weakly. Nudged by the other, he muttered "Ask him yourself!"
The Duke diverted his gaze to the other, who, with an angry look at the one, cleared his throat, and said "I was going to ask if you thought Miss Dobson would come and have luncheon with me to-morrow?"
"A sister of mine will be there," explained the one, knowing the Duke to be a precisian.
"If you are acquainted with Miss Dobson, a direct invitation should be sent to her," said the Duke. "If you are not -- " The aposiopesis was well frosted over.
"Well, you see," said the other of the two, "that is just the difficulty. I AM acquainted with her. But is she acquainted with ME? I met her at breakfast this morning, at the Warden's."
"So did I," added the one.
"But she -- well," continued the other, "she didn't take much notice of us. She seemed to be in a sort of dream."
"Ah!" murmured the Duke, without much interest.
"The only time she opened her lips," said the other, "was when she asked us whether we took tea or coffee."
"She put hot milk in my tea," volunteered the one, "and upset the cup over my hand, and smiled vaguely."
"And smiled vaguely," echoed the Duke.
"She left us long before the marmalade stage," said the one.
"Without a word," said the other.
"Without a glance?" asked the Duke. It was testified by the one and the other that there had been not so much as a glance.
"Doubtless," the disingenuous Duke said, "she had a headache... Was she pale?"
"Very pale," answered the one.
"A healthy pallor," qualified the other, who was a constant reader of novels.
"Did she look," the Duke inquired, "as if she had spent a sleepless night?"
That was the impression made on both.
"Yet she did not seem listless or unhappy?"
No, they would not go so far as to say that.
"Indeed, were her eyes of an almost unnatural brilliance?"
"Quite unnatural," confessed the one.
"Twin stars," interpolated the other.
"Did she, in fact, seem to be consumed by some inward rapture?"
Yes, now they came to think of it, this was exactly how she HAD seemed.
"The purpose of your tattle?" he asked coldly.
The two youths hurried to the point from which he had diverted them. "When she went by with you yesterday," said the one, "she evidently didn't know us from Adam."
"And I had so hoped to ask her to luncheon," said the other.
"Well, we wondered if you would re-introduce us. And then perhaps..."
There was a pause. The Duke was touched to kindness for these two hopeless lovers.
"You are in love with Miss Dobson?" he asked.
Both nodded, in a strange unison. The circumstance gave neither any pause.
"Then," said he, "you will in time be thankful to me for not affording you further traffic with that lady. To love and be scorned -- does Fate hold for us a greater inconvenience? You think I beg the question? Let me tell you that I, too, love Miss Dobson, and that she scorns me."
To the implied question "What chance would there be for you?" the reply was obvious. Amazed, abashed, the two youths turned on their heels.
"Stay!" said the Duke. "Let me, in justice to myself, correct an inference you may have drawn. It is not by reason of any defect in myself, perceived or imagined, that Miss Dobson scorns me. She scorns me simply because I love her. All who love her she scorns. To see her is to love her. Therefore shut your eyes to her. Strictly exclude her from your horizon. Ignore her. Will you do this?"
"We will try," said the one, after a pause.
"Thank you very much," added the other.
The Duke watched them out of sight. He wished they could take the good advice he had given them ; and as he wished also he knew that they would not... Suppose they did take it! Suppose they went to the Bursar, obtained an exeat, fled straight to London! Would she have noticed ? Yet, even while his fancy luxuriated in this scheme he well knew they would not accomplish anything of the kind -- knew well that they would humbly, eagerly wait, stalk her even though Zuleika never were to look and never would have noticed them if she had looked.
Presently the door to the Warden's abode was open before him, and a moment later the bespectacled man was paying the young Duke all the respects due his high station. Once ensconced in the monumental armchairs before the Warden's hearth, the Duke tilted his head and spoke.
"It may have come to your notice that the young woman in your charge has often turned her steps towards my house."
"I understand, your Grace, that Zuleika struck a friendship with the daughter of your Grace's landlady."
"This may be so. I've not inquired."
"The mother, from what I understand, approves. In any case she's made no indication to the contrary. And I think Zuleika greatly benefitted from the relationship."
"I beg your pardon ?!" started the Duke, most surprised.
"You see, your Grace... how shall I best put this. Zuleika is my grand daughter. Her father married... I think he married her at any rate... But the fact is..."
"I think I follow," cut in the Duke, amicably. He didn't think the blush much became an old man, and even less a Warden of his college. His interruption was as much to put at ease the speaker as himself.
"There always was a vain and superficial inclination in Zuleika, if you permit. But in these last weeks, she has reformed to a great and most incredible degree. She prefers the humble bonnet and the common cape, of her own will. It's as if with age, her sense matured into wholesomeness."
"It's true that I've not heard my landlady complain. But it must be said that it is still my house, and the women within my responsibility with it. What they approve or disapprove carries scarce import beyond a mere indication. A counsel, indicative but not in any sense dispositive, precisely like the weather. Should the arrangement come to grief, I will be held to answer for them, and not themselves."
"I can hardly imagine what grief may come from two young women's friendship."
"I came to seek your advice, as one older and more versed than myself", gestured the Duke affably. "I really know very little of the managing of cows and sheep ; less still of womanhood." and he cast his eyes down modestly.
"I fear few can claim mastery in that field, my dear Duke," offered the Warden with humid eyes. "And I can imagine scarce more portentous omen of disaster than such a claim being made."
The Duke stood. "I bow before your wisdom, and thank you for your counsel. I shall have no objection myself, but should you change your mind -- a single word will suffice to rouse me by your side." offered he, solemnly. Politely refusing the invitation to stay for an early lunch, he took his leave of the Warden and retired to his Oxford home.
As his foot landed on the stair, he could hear the crystalline trills of youthful laugther in his room, and as he opened his door he spied Zuleika, completely naked, kneeling in front of an elegant, enammeled bench, upholstered in the finest silk. The soubrette, across the room, was pulling her own dress over her head -- knee high stockings and smooth, youthful pubis in plain view. A moment later she emerged, curls slightly ruffled, and squealed in delight eyeing the Duke.
"On va faire minette ?" she declaratorily inquired, chewed vowels and ravished consonants running for shelter from her lips.
"You've been teaching her French ?" the Duke turned to the elder, junior partner of the domestic triangle.
"A little, milord. She's taught me so much..."
"Let's see you two." offered the Duke, making the younger, senior partner jump with joy like a yearling lamb in the miracle of early grass. "You go on top, Zuleika." he disposed, and with that the girls arranged themselves on the bench : the maid, on her back, knees bent so her feet lay parallel to the ceiling, her arms caressing the thighs and buttocks of Zuleika, who, on all fours, grabbed solid hold of the young girl's own thighs and lowered her lips to that most secret, joyous fold.
Try as she might -- and oh how did she try! -- the young girl couldn't stir Zuleika's deepest demons from within her. Zuleika herself however had quickly learned the adolescent like a soft, satin glove, and could make her tremble and sing like a lute under her whims within a moment's touch. So it was the case now, hardly a minute had passed before the landlady's daughter was writhing in the sweet agony of her first orgasm. Not of her life, nor of the year, nor even of the day (as they had standing orders to cleanse each other's soul in such a manner at the end and high point of the morning's toiletries), but of the seance. Zuleika did not allow her respite, as she never did, but biting that tenderest finger softly, licked and kissed at intervals, allowing the poor girl no quarter but soon crashing her into a second, obliterating climax. She'd use her generous buttocks as stoppers, allowing the panting, squirming maiden air now and again, but not too much, and not too often, playing her like a bagpipe, to exhaustion, and beyond. Eventually, as the poor girl was turning a bright shade of purple under her, she turned her head to the Duke and, in a torrid whisper, begged : "Bleed me, milord. Please bleed me."
The Duke reached for a small shelf, but Zuleika shook her head animatedly. He placed his glans on her anal opening, already dilated slightly, enough to pass a pea perhaps, and slowly pushed himself inside. Zuleika groaned, and the girl captive under them panted and licked alternatively, and indiscriminately. On the outstroke, red, brilliant blood showed itself on the Duke's manhood, hollow rubies of the highest grade. He stroked her at a determined, steady pace, and the girl underneath licked them both with increasing tension, mirror to Zuleika's deeper and deeper groans. Soon thereby the Duke felt the crazed harmonies of contractions in the inguen of his slavegirl, and readily spent his pearly offerings. As he withdrew, Zuleika fell to her knees, and propped her weary jaw on her united palms.
"What are you doing ?"
"I'm praying for constipation." came the retort "So that I will never evacuate your gift. I must hold it in, within forever."
"There is scarce chance of that." assured Duke. "Moreover, your future holds flatulence, I am afraid."
"Ew!" Zuleika looked up with a start, not sure what to make of the words. Was it a joke ?
"It's true," strengthened the young maid, "when he does me I spend the whole evening and most of the night floating on a cloud. Mother thinks it's the cabbage, because his Grace orders it now and again, and when he does I know my bum is forfeit for that day."
"It would probably be wise to eschew any social engagements for this evening, unless you wish to further and unexpectedly inflate your reputation."
"My reputation," started Zuleika, angrily. "I wish you would ruin me." she said, sudden wistfulness in her voice.
"Come kiss it, rather." ordered the Duke, and as Zuleika turned towards his Grace, the young maid jumped from her place to meet her in front of that well beloved rod. The Duke picked her up, lifted her to her feet and, between kisses, whispered "Let her lick her own blood. It is for her, like yours is for you." The girl nodded and kissed him passionately, eyes closed. He could taste the thick, hearthy secretions of Zuleika on the floral, light breath of his maid. It made for an intoxicating fragrance, and he spent again, pumping thread after thread in the prone, innocent woman's mouth while kissing the standing, well experienced child.
As they all lay in bed, exhausted of their explorations, Zuleika, pad of cotton clenched in the ardent spot between her cheeks murmured again, wistfully "I wish you'd ruin me..."
"Make an exemplar of me, such that all England will be aghast forever," she continued, dreamly "such that I have no hope and nowhere to turn, outcast everywhere, a heretic, a pariah."
The young girl shuddered with undisguised horror. "That would be terrible."
"I wish you'd ruin me..." whispered Zuleika as her only response.
"Actually, my dear slut, I think I just might."
"Will you ?" she asked, a sparkle in her eyes.
"I think it might be time for me to be married." he said, faintly.
"Married!" they both exclaimed, aghast. He will be married. But he couldn't. He wouldn't. Why would he marry ? Whom ? The thought briefly inflated a hopeless hope in both of them, and as soon as it blazed it was extinguished. He'd never marry her! each thought. Oh... if only he'd...
"You could be my child's wet nurse." he offered to Zuleika. "Would you like that ?"
"Do you know what it entails ?"
"Uh..." she hadn't actually considered it. What's a wet nurse ?
"I'll arrange for you to be impregnated, so your milk flows. You have a pair of udders just made for the purpose."
"Oh, yes! Yes, please milord."
"You couldn't, of course, keep the child."
"Would it be yours ?"
"Then I don't care."
"You'd make a fine dairy cow, my dear miss Dogson. Absolutely fine." He squeezed her breasts in his hands, imagining them full of milk. "I could wish for no better heifer for my heir."
"What would I make ?" inquired a small, plantive voice from the side.
"You'd be a maid, of course."
"Of course," hummed the maid along the Duke. "Would you beat us ?"
"If you were bad."
"Stripped naked ? With the thick cornelianxii stick over the buttocks ?"
"She didn't use her tray, you know." offered the girl, after a brief pause, a tattletale out of curiosity rather than malice. It was the rule of the house that all crying must be done in a special tray set aside for this very purpose ; because the Duke's salt all came from the dried off tears of his subservient women. It gave it a unique, faintly bitter quality the Duke much favoured.
"Would you like him to beat me ?" asked Zuleika, neutrally.
"I... I..." the girl's eyes darted, betraying great confusion. "I love seeing him beat you." she confessed, at last, in sottovoce. "But beating hurts. I love you!" she protested. "I don't want you to hurt." she cried, embracing the other.
"You love to see me hurt and don't want me to hurt, do you." murmured Zuleika, ruffling her curls.
"I do!" came a slim voice from between Zuleika's ample bosoms.
"Perhaps he should beat you ?" came the inquiry, jocular. "Have you been bad ?"
"I... I... Your Grace," she said turning, "I've been terrible!"
"What have you done ?"
"I... I don't know. Would it hurt terribly ?"
"Could it hurt not so terribly a little ? And... and... could she choke me, pin me down with her buttocks like she does and choke me ?"
"You want to lick her shredded ani extremus, don't you."
"It hurts when you lick it right after. But it's not bad for you. It's good, it heals."
Zuleika lowered herself on the tattletale, wincing in pain as the tiny wolverine tongue explored her worn innards. The Duke grabbed the girl's ankles in one hand, lifted her buttocks in the air and connected one solid crack of a respectable riding crop. Whack! Pain and ecstasy burbled from underneath Zuleika, who was steadying herself with her left and rubbing herself vigurously with the right. She wasn't allowing any air through, and as the third and hardest crack landed on the young girl's reddening skin, she bucked as if coursed by electrictity and then her arms fell to the side, limp. The scene sent Zuleika into her own climax, and she let herself fall to the side on the carpet, squeezing her thighs hard around her hand while rubbing furiously. The Duke cracked her one too, harder still, and the thousands ants' worth of heat packed in the coil sent her over the edge again.
The Duke surveyed his domain for a long moment, standing with crop in hand above the two panting, cowering, nude female forms.
"I understand, sir, that among your interests in New York there figures one theatrical production company, is it so ?"
"Essanayxiii is actually based in Chicago, but it does have offices in New York."
"Is this a public company ?"
Mr. Abimelech V. Oover, visiting Oxford on a very prestigious Rhodesxiv scholarship, was certainly much honored to receive the Duke of Dorset, at the latter's request. He was also thoroughly puzzled by the affair, and wholly dedicating himself to making a good impression on his well connected visitor without, of course, losing out on any juicy tidbit. His was a difficult task, comparable to that of an ambitious youngster included at an adult dinner trying to eat the savarine without causing a screaming scene. He therefore gingerly explained, "It issued stock, yes. It isn't traded on the main floor, of course."
"Of course. I would like to acquire a portion. Say a quarter of the stock ?"
"My dear Duke! I myself own barely a third, if that."
"What is the total circulating stock ?"
"Twenty-eight or so thousand dollars, I expect. If you would like me to forward you the exact details I will have to contact my agent in..."
"That won't be necessary. Suppose, sir, you arrange for the issuance of another... say, ten thousand dollars worth of stock ? I will then instruct my agent in New York to buy the issuance and the matter can be laid to rest."
"May I ask, if it pleases your lordship, why the... sudden interest in this obscure business ?"
"You are coming to the Junta dinner next week, are you not ?"
"I had the honor of having been invited by The MacQuern, yes."
"Your question will be answered in a most striking manner then, I can assure you of that."
"Do we then have an understanding on the matter ?"
"Certainly, you have my word. I will telegraph at once."
"A pleasure indeed, sir."
The Duke stood and made his way to his joyous abode, after graciously declining the American's faux pas of inviting to lunch a man he already had arrangements to meet for dinner. He wasn't exactly hurried on his way, but unerring, resolute. All other Oxford youth seek liberation from their rooms, a pretext and a chance to go outside. Not so the Duke, and though he never did admit, or even stoop to consider the matter, there was nothing in the world he'd rather do than watch over his two captive vixens play with each other. Most men, less fortunate than his Grace, had to seek out some kind of entertainment to solace them from the dreary of their home ; but he, most fortunate of all mortals, merely had to protect the boundless joy that made his home its roost from the dreary of the world outside. He wasn't just more than every other man and all other men together ; he was outright different, fundamentally opposite, a proton around which they, tiny, readily lost electrons spun great circles of celerity.
Yet as he climbed the stair, and opened his door, no laughter trilled, no young maidens started. The room was empty, a trifle cold, the air somewhat stale. The Duke looked around, and suddenly the place lost all its appeal. Just an old, cramped room in an old, badly drawn and worse built village, a hundred bushels of idle pretense and thirteen acres of deliberate ignorance for each ounce of sense or comprehension.
At that very moment his decision, at first a mere fancy, disconsidered, then something he had been contemplating, now and again, dipping in and out of like a man idling on the sunlit beach of a limpid Epirean river, formed. Its swirling darkness sucked him in. There wasn't any going back -- he, Duke of Dorset etcetera, was going to be wed.
He sat himself ceremoniously, selected one leaf of paper, set it on the desk deliberately, and after one moment's reflection applied the pen to it. The Duke of Dorset was writing to Maude. Mme Marquise de la Vallonierre, Comtesse de Bouillon-Ardenne, Camerino and Acerenza, good aunt Maude, the closest he had known to a mother. The first line turned out the more difficult ; once the paper read "My dear Aunt, I decided I want to be married" the rest flowed naturally, and without much effort, certainly without any conscious effort on his part. It was almost as if the pen, like a trusted horse, like a familiar vallet, needed but pointing in the right direction, perfectly able and entirely willing to finish the task once set to it clearly.
He confided in her discretion, he trusted in her wisdom, aided by experience and that certain subtlety that is so rarely given men, and even less commonly seen in his own line, and he entreated her to select, among the noble houses of Europe, two or three girls of the right age, which he had set at 23, one year his junior, after vacillating between nineteen and twenty nine, and with the stipulation that younger may be acceptable if of child bearing age, provided of course a well distinguished line without rebar or cloud of scandal, historical, attested, respected, not necessarily landed ; but certainly to have produced a girl well educated, of pleasant disposition, not necessarily what the vulgar mind would consider pretty. The letter covered in this manner two pages in the Duke's elegant, somewhat solipsistic calligraphy. Once it was done he knew that there was no turning back.
He sealed in red wax with his house's stately seal, taking his time, making a whole ceremonious production of the entire thing, then he addressed it and laid it in the tray for letters going out. The Marchioness was probably in Parma, it would reach her there within a fortnight, if that. Her answer was unlikely to tarry long, within the month the whole of her far reaching network of friends, acquaintances, more or less distant relations, clients and clerks will be buzzing with the one activity she no doubt most anxiously awaited. She would be well over sixty-five by now, the Duke counted, closer to seventy, in fact. She hadn't ever told him as much, but he had always known it as a fact that her final, greatest wish was seeing him married before moving on. That wish, now granted, was certain to produce the greatest excitement, and command the greatest effort aunt Maude was capable of. Perhaps by the end of June, certainly during July he could make his decision. He would be wed in August.
The Duke did not find the circumstance peculiar that he had a much clearer notion of the exact date of his wedding than of the persona of she who he was marrying. On the contrary, had he stopped to notice the matter, which he did not, he would have thought it entirely natural and absolutely proper. After all, one knows what time the trees will overhang with apples, or pears, or plums much earlier ere perceiving the plums or pears in question ; and one knows he will one day die long before he has any serious reason to suspect it at all, and even less clue as to what shape his demise will take. Why shouldn't he know when he'll be married rather than with whom ?
The Duke continued writing letters until they gathered a sizable little pile on his right, and there was a faint knock on the door. Bidden, the maid set luncheon before him, and then waited on him sheepishly, to the side. He ate in silence, lost in thought. She coughed once, midway, shyly and artless. He did not look up, and she didn't dare try again.
Eventually, once he was done, she fell to her knees before him. "Your Grace..."
"What is it ?"
"Zuleika is coming later."
"May we come with the wolves ?"
He had once told them a scary story, something he made up on the spot along the werewolf legend. It had delighted them thoroughly, so much so that it had passed into their secret, cant-like vocabulary. To come with the wolves, meaning to come once the moon raises, a few hours after sunset. The operation involved the two girls lipping about on the stairwells, barefoot, nude beneath their linen nightgowns. The landlady had never heard them, or never cared to hear, but in either case they weren't ever caught at it.
"Are these to go out ?" she asked, pointing at the pile of letters.
"Yes, send them and mind you don't lose any."
She bowed and left, and the Duke passed the rest of the day in lecture, barely noticing the going of the sun, the coming of dinner, or that his various notes had filled a credible stack of heretofore empty pages. Eventually there was another faint knock on the door. The moon, like a gardenia in the night's butt...on-hole -- but no! Why should a writer never be able to mention the moon without likening it to something else, and something to which it bears not the faintest resemblance half the time ?... The moon, looking like nothing whatsoever but itself, was engaged in that old and futile endeavour of marking the hours approximately and in a drunken manner on the sun-dial at the centre of the lawn. Never, except once, late one night in the eighteenth century, when the toper who was Sub-Warden had spent an hour in trying to set his watch here, had it received the slightest encouragement. Still it wanly persisted. And this was the more absurd seeing as Salt Cellar offered very good scope for those legitimate effects of its which we one and all admire. Was it nothing to this Moon to have cut those black shadows across the cloisters? Was it nothing to it to have so magically mingled its rays with the candle-light shed forth from the Duke's large candelabra? Nothing, that it had cleansed the lawn of all its colour, and turned it into a platform of silver-grey, fit for fairies to dance on? Nothing, that for the past hour or more, two girls had laid in bed, hand in hand, awaiting its uneven, confused progress on the outer sphere to that faintly visible but always moving point where the wolves may be said to come ?
The two girls were evidently melancholy, as they silently removed their gowns and, clad in naught beyond their knee high stockings, crumpled themselves at the feet of the Duke. For a long while none dared break the silence, but savoured instead the still, the things that were, as they were, that faint ersatz of permanence that immobility and quiet contemplation almost affords mankind.
"You truly will be married..." whispered at last Zuleika, a sussur barely audible and, garnished as it was by two small tears in the corners of her eyes, indescribably sweet.
"Indeed." answered the Duke, plainly.
"That's why you wrote your aunt..." she continued her languid, almost plaintive moan. It was a praline of a lament, bitter on the surface, somehow deeply satisfied underneath.
Zuleika was silent. Eventually the maid, who had been darting her quick eyes from one to the other and back again, let loose the curiosity which, for the entire interval, had quarreled in her bosom with her ill formed and little understood regret. What was she regretting ? She didn't know, but the momentuous appearance of the occasion, and the tense, colossal angst of Zuleika colored her own, flighty and youthful feeling in altogether gloomy tones. She didn't properly know there's aught to regret in the general, and she perceived no great loss in the personal, yet nevertheless her soul yet copied the moods of the adults about, just like the face of newborn child will smile to meet his mother's smile and frown to meet her frown. Emotion after all has no proper source in the mind outside of this crude, oft repeated imitation throughout what is known as "the formative years", which then solidifies under force of habit into that amber gem, more polished or more rough, with more or less debris encaptured, that man (and woman especially) then proudly calls -- her feelings, sentiments, and state of mind.
Yet what of it is more, or different, from the state of the room of a gentleman scholar ? Entirely produced by the force of his habits, and with no substantial meaning ; entirely a product of the trivial force of that unexamined repetition which itself is naught more than happenstance, belabouring within the narrow shores of the conventions and commonalities of his era. Will the gentleman always take tea at five, should the lands where tea grows have been meanwhile discovered and cultivated ? The room will then contain filled cups a shade before five and empty ones towards six o'clock. Regularily, precisely, but what sort of rule, and what sort of precision is this ? Was the girl always to cry when excited, should she have grown up with a mother who had discovered tears are shaped like shields, and used this discovery to great effect ? What is to say "she is upset", how is it more and how is it otherwise than to say "the hour is half past five, and so the cups are empty" ? Had she grown among those who didn't cry, she wouldn't cry, and had she been raised by a tribe who wept for joy she'd have wept, the same tears, supposedly also for cause, just that it happened to be opposite in its disposition. In some parts it is the common habit to whitewash the outer walls of one's abode, in other parts it is the common habit to use dark grey stone for the same. Yet others use brick, and others again use wood. Can one then say, "this is the sort of woman living beyond whitewashed wall" ? What sort is this, if she were born in granite and married in brick she'd live just as happily behind wooden or whitewashed walls. The notion that one's emotions somehow relate to the soul is rank nonsense of the ilk of claiming to judge the inhabitant by the architectural application, by choices pondered and then made by men long gone and to which the present soul submits for strict and unexamined convenience, with no meaning and absolutely no intent.
"What is it like, to be married ?" she inquired, vaguely, quietly, as if expecting no answer but merely dialoguing with herself.
"When a new Duchess is brought to Tankerton," answered the Duke in the measured, small voice of a grandfather recounting an ancient bedtime story, known word for word by all those present yet enjoyed for the simple ritual of the retelling, "the oldest elm in the park must be felled. That is one of many strange old customs. As she is driven through the village, the children of the tenantry must strew the road with daisies. The bridal chamber must be lighted with as many candles as years have elapsed since the creation of the Dukedom. If it were done today, there would be" -- and the Duke, closing his eyes, made a rapid calculation -- "exactly three hundred and eighty-eight candles."
The maid's eyes glimmered, bedazzled by the irrepresentable count. Zuleika laid her jaw into his lap, exactly like a loving bloodhound would, after the final meal of the day, after the last wood was added to the fire, after the last of all that's to be done was done.
"My duchess'd have many strange and fascinating rights. She could go to Court. I admit that the Hanoverian Court is not much but still, it is better than nothing. At her presentation, moreover, she would be given the entree. She'd ride to Court in my statecoach, of course. It is swung so high that the streetsters can hardly see its occupant. It is lined with rose-silk; and on its panels, and on its hammer-cloth, my arms are emblazoned. No one has ever been able to count the quarterings, not even the masters employed at painting them. And she'd be wearing the family-jewels, reluctantly yet lovingly surrendered to her by my aunt Maude. They are many and marvellous, in their antique settings. Parures numerous -- one all of white stones, with diamonds, white sapphires, white topazes, tourmalines. Another, of pink stones, with pink rubies and pink amethysts, set in a manner of enamel filigree made in the seventeenth century. The recipe was hence lost, no one today knows the secrets involved in its manufacture and consequently it can no longer be made. Another, of black stones, three black diamonds of equal size, triplet stones the likes of which were never seen before, set in gold among black emeralds. Rings that once were poison-combs on Florentine fingers. Red roses for her hair -- every petal a hollowed amethyst. Amulets and ape-buckles, zones and fillets. Aye! Who could even count all the gauds and not be weeping for wonder."
The girls were swaying lightly in the breeze of his words, drinking in every utterance, picturing with their mind's eye a grandeur beyond this world, perfection infinite and without respite.
"But what if someone should steal them ?" inquired the little one.
"There are those who have tried, over the centuries. None of them have met an enviable fate. The treasures of the Dukes of Dorset are protected, says the legend, by an ancient witch known as Alse Young. She was burned at the stake in Hartford, in Connecticut. My ancestor, the second Duke, had great interests in the farming of tobacco, and he spent half his years on the other side of the great lake. His wife, Maria d'Enza, who was a very pious and heartfelt woman, on hearing of the terrible punishment, sent letters begging her husband to rescue the witch's children. There were two girls, one eleven, one a little older. The Duke sent the footmen to grab them from the clutches of the incensed populace, and the whole busculade nearly led to a rebellion except he appeared before the commoners and promised the girls will never again set foot in the New World. He shipped them off to Parma, in the lands of the Duke who was a cousin of Duchess Maria, where at that time stood a great Carthusian monastery that was later made into a great cigar factory. They married later, when they came of age, both in the same year, one to a Levantine merchant, the other to a Venetian. On the night before the wedding, my great-grandmother, who was sleeping at Tankerton, woke up in a great terror, for having dreamed a great dream."
The girls were listening, their own thoughts forgotten in favour of the rapt attention the Duke's even voice somehow commanded.
"She was lost, through a dark forest, as a young girl, naked and helpless, hungry wolves crying in the distance. She ran, hurting her feet and legs and arms in the thick undergrowth, now and again stepping on a sharp root or branch hidden under the foliage, or an unseen thorn tearing another bloody streak through her flesh. She was struggling towards a faint light, glimmering in the distance, with its promise of human mercy and civilised comfort. As she approached she beheld a big great fire, surrounded by reddish, horned horrors that walked on goat legs. Within the fire, towering above it like thick, smoldering smoke, a darken apparition, an ancient woman, an old hag in haggard robe, fiery eyes sparkling with all the unholy light of Hell! The witch told Maria that she will have naught but daughters, which divination was later borne by history, and all of them can turn to witchcraft if they will, which, as best recorded never did occur, and finally that all her jewels will forever be protected and woe on anyone who, thief or robber, dares touch them. This, also, was confirmed through the history by many and varied incredible events and turns of fortune that I'm unable to recount even in tenth before the night is out. It is for this reason that the Dorset trove is always guarded by the oldest woman of the clan, and only passed by her to the young Duchess, through what ceremonies I do not know..."
"What a fascinating story!" cried the maid.
"Are there many such omens of your house ?" inquired Zuleika, spellbound.
"Oh, yes, there are indeed. For instance, on the eve of the death of a Duke of Dorset, two black owls come and perch on the battlements. They remain there through the night, hooting. At dawn they fly away, none knows whither. On the eve of the death of any other Tanville-Tankerton, comes (no matter what be the time of year) a cuckoo. It stays for an hour, cooing, then flies away, none knows whither. Whenever this portent occurs, my steward telegraphs to me, that I, as head of the family, be not unsteeled against the shock of a bereavement, and that my authority be sooner given for the unsealing and garnishing of the family-vault. He hasn't been wrong that I can remember. And for that matter, not every forefather of mine rests quiet beneath his escutcheoned marble. There are they who revisit, in their wrath or their remorse, the places wherein erst they suffered or wrought evil. There is one who, every Halloween, flits into the dining-hall, and hovers before the portrait which Hans Holbein made of him, and flings his diaphanous grey form against the canvas, hoping, maybe, to catch from it the fiery flesh-tints and the solid limbs that were his, and so to be re-incarnate. He flies against the painting, only to find himself t'other side of the wall it hangs on. There are five ghosts permanently residing in the right wing of the house, two in the left, and eleven in the park. But all are quite noiseless and quite harmless. My servants, when they meet them in the corridors or on the stairs, stand aside to let them pass, thus paying them the respect due to guests of mine; but not even the rawest housemaid ever screams or flees at sight of them. I, their host, often waylay them and try to commune with them; but always they glide past me. And how gracefully they glide, these ghosts! It is a pleasure to watch them. It is a lesson in deportment. May they never be laid at rest! Of all my household-pets, they are the dearest to me."
The rest of the night was spent in similar manner, the Duke, laid back in his comfortable armchair recounting, the two nude forms at his feet, submissive, listening pointedly, untold delights raised by the even words within their tremulous breast, now and again giving voice to a wonderment or egging him on. At some point Zuleika removed his left foot from its housings and, pensively, cuddled with it, kissing now and again the toes, or the instep. They wished the night would never end, but as the Moon progressed in its drunken path so did the day's labours catch up with them, and presently their eyes half closed, the vaguely perceived hum of the Duke's telling admingling with the colorful multiform manifold of their own dreams. The Duke sent them to bed, which they obeyed with some dainty protestations, disrobed, and went to visit Morpheus himself.
A few minutes before half-past seven, the Duke, arrayed for dinner, passed leisurely up the High. The arresting feature of his costume was a mulberry-coloured coat, with brass buttons. This, to any one versed in Oxford lore, betokened him a member of the Junta. It is awful to think that a casual stranger might have mistaken him for a footman. It does not do to think of such things.
The tradesmen, at the doors of their shops, bowed low as he passed, rubbing their hands and smiling, hoping inwardly that they took no liberty in sharing the cool rosy air of the evening with his Grace. The Duke paid them no mind, because inside his coat pocket was to be found no doubt the longest telegram to have ever been written or sent through the wire. It occupied EIGHT! pages of the station's form paper, and while in the common terms of that office it must have cost a fortune, it was no doubt regarded by the expeditor as a trifle of a sum well spent.
As it turns out, the good aunt Maude was not entirely taken by surprise by the young man's request. On the contrary, she had, for years, maintained the rolls ready, so to speak, for just such an eventuality, and upon receipt of the Duke's letter she hurried to the telegraph to send him in full and florid detail the current state of her careful watch. Included therefore was a list, consisting of a French Marchioness, a German Princess and an Italian Duchess of a minor line. Depictions were not included, nor was the Duke familiar with any of the three, but from the description it was evident the Frenchwoman was rich, the Italian girl pretty, and the German neither. The implication was clear enough, and the Duke wasted no time in answering his aunt (through the method she herself had chosen) that he intends to marry the product of the princely house of Lowenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, and that the head of the house should be approached post haste to permit the courtship as he's at the same time sending, through the regular mail, the requisite love letters to the girl.
Nor was the Duke mistaken in his determination. While the Frenchwoman could not exactly have been called ugly, she had an unpleasant manner and a furious temper, and wasn't much likelier to be a virgin than any mare seen at pasture with her foal. The Italian girl, assuredly a beauty dominant of her age, and while certainly not destitute by any sensible measure, nevertheless had serious trouble concentrating on any point for longer than about three seconds, and couldn't by herself and on her own power recite the entire list of her own titles. She would no doubt make a man, or many men, very happy -- the Duke however pointedly wasn't one capable of such happiness. Adelheid, prinzessin von Lowenstein-Wertheim-Rosenbergxv had a very symmetrical face, and pleasant features. If she wasn't arrestingly pretty, she was certainly not far behind. She was also intelligent, within reason, well educated, sensible and submissive by nature. She was her generation's model wife just as surely as the Italian was her generation's model beauty and, contrary to what young men may fancy, the former's a much greater treasure than the latter.
And so it was all set, on the very day of the Junta dinner : the Duke of Dorset was to marry Adelheid of Lowenstein, huzzah and that was that. Nobody knew, of course, not just yet ; but the recent king George, just back in England after the Delhi Durbar, was soon to find out, and upon hearing of the Duke's choice, coming on the heels of his recent Knighthood-worthy exploits, would form a very positive opinion of the young man, and in a self-fulfilling manner prophesize great things for him to come.
The rooms of the Junta were over a stationer's shop, next door but one to the Mitre. They were small rooms, elegantly furnished but for that elegance made even smaller; yet as the Junta had now, besides the Duke, only two members, and as no member might introduce more than one guest, there was ample space.
The Duke had been elected in his second term. At that time there were four members; but these were all leaving Oxford at the end of the summer term, and there seemed to be in the ranks of the Bullingdon and the Loder no one quite eligible for the Junta, that holy of holies. Thus it was that the Duke inaugurated in solitude his second year of membership. From time to time, he proposed and seconded a few candidates, after "sounding" them as to whether they were willing to join. But always, when election evening -- the last Tuesday of term -- drew near, he began to have his doubts about these fellows. This one was "rowdy"; that one was over-dressed; another did not ride quite straight to hounds; in the pedigree of another a bar-sinister was more than suspected. Election evening was always a rather melancholy time. After dinner, when the two club servants had placed on the mahogany the time-worn Candidates' Book and the ballot-box, and had noiselessly withdrawn, the Duke, clearing his throat, read aloud to himself "Mr. So-and-So, of Such-and-Such College, proposed by the Duke of Dorset, seconded by the Duke of Dorset," and, in every case, when he drew out the drawer of the ballot-box, found it was a black-ball that he had dropped into the urn. Thus it was that at the end of the summer term the annual photographic "group" taken by Messrs. Hills and Saunders was a presentment of the Duke alone.
In the course of his third year he had become less exclusive. Not because there seemed to be any one really worthy of the Junta; but because the Junta, having thriven since the eighteenth century, must not die. Suppose -- one never knew -- he were struck by lightning, the Junta would be no more. So, not without reluctance, but unanimously, he had elected The MacQuern, of Balliol, and Sir John Marraby, of Brasenose.
To-night, as he went up into the familiar rooms the MacQuern and two other young men were already there.
"Mr. President," said The MacQuern, "I present Mr. Abimelech V. Oover, of Trinity."
"The Junta is honoured," said the Duke, bowing.
Such was the ritual of the club.
The other young man, because his host, Sir John Marraby, was not yet on the scene, had no locus standi, and, though a friend of The MacQuern, and well known to the Duke, had to be ignored.
A moment later, Sir John arrived. "Mr. President," he said, "I present Lord Sayes, of Magdalen."
"The Junta is honoured," said the Duke, bowing.
Both hosts and both guests were slightly abashed in the Duke's presence. He, however, had no notice for any one in particular, and, even if he had, that fine tradition of the club -- "A member of the Junta can do no wrong; a guest of the Junta cannot err" -- would have prevented him from showing any displeasure.
A very fine figure of an elegant, almost dandish young man insinuated itself in the doorway.
"The Junta is honoured," said the Duke, bowing to his guest.
"Duke," said the newcomer in almost a whisper, "the honour is as much mine as that of the interesting and ancient institution which I am this night privileged to inspect."
Turning to Sir John and The MacQuern, the Duke said "I present Mr. Leigh-Kazoo, of Corpus Christi."
"The Junta," they replied, "is honoured.", exchanging glances.
"Gentlemen," said the Rhodes Scholar, "your good courtesy is just such as I would have anticipated from members of the ancient Junta. Like most of my countrymen, I am a man of few words. We are habituated out there to act rather than talk. Judged from the view-point of your beautiful old civilisation, I am aware my curtness must seem crude. But, gentlemen, believe me, right here -- "
"Dinner is served, your Grace."
Thus interrupted, Mr. Oover, with the resourcefulness of a practised orator, brought his thanks to a quick but not abrupt conclusion. The little company passed into the front room.
Through the window, from the High, fading daylight mingled with the candle-light. The mulberry coats of the hosts, interspersed by the black ones of the guests, made a fine pattern around the oval table a-gleam with the many curious pieces of gold and silver plate that had accrued to the Junta in course of years.
The President showed much deference to his guest, but he also seemed to listen with close attention to the humorous anecdote with which, in the American fashion, Mr. Oover inaugurated dinner.
To all Rhodes Scholars, indeed, his courtesy was invariable. He went out of his way to cultivate them. And this he did more as a favour to Lord Milner than of his own caprice. He found these Scholars, good fellows though they were, rather oppressive. They had not -- how could they have? -- the undergraduate's virtue of taking Oxford as a matter of course. The Germans loved it too little, the Colonials too much. The Americans were, to a sensitive observer, the most troublesome -- as being the most troubled -- of the whole lot. The Duke was not one of those Englishmen who fling, or care to hear flung, cheap sneers at America. Whenever any one in his presence said that America was not large in area, he would firmly maintain that it was. He held, too, in his enlightened way, that Americans have a perfect right to exist. But he did often find himself wishing Mr. Rhodes had not enabled them to exercise that right in Oxford. They were so awfully afraid of having their strenuous native characters undermined by their delight in the place.
They held that the future was theirs, a glorious asset, far more glorious than the past. But a theory, as the Duke saw, is one thing, an emotion another. It is so much easier to covet what one hasn't than to revel in what one has. Also, it is so much easier to be enthusiastic about what exists than about what doesn't. The future doesn't exist. The past does. Yet whereas all men can learn, scarce any do, while the gift of prophecy has all but died out while all attempt to practice it. Nevertheless, a man cannot work up in his breast any real excitement about what possibly won't happen. He cannot very well help being sentimentally interested in what he knows has happened. On the other hand, he owes a duty to his country. Perhaps then if his country be America he ought to try to feel a vivid respect for the future, and a cold contempt for the past. Also, if he be selected by his country as a specimen of the best moral, physical, and intellectual type that she can produce for the astounding of the effete foreigner, and incidentally for the purpose of raising that foreigner's tone, he must -- mustn't he? -- do his best to astound, to exalt. But then comes in this difficulty. Young men don't like to astound and exalt their fellows. And Americans, individually, are of all people the most anxious to please. That they talk overmuch is often taken as a sign of self-satisfaction. It is merely a mannerism. Rhetoric is a thing inbred in them. They are quite unconscious of it. It is as natural to them as breathing. And, while they talk on, they really do believe that they are a quick, businesslike people, by whom things are "put through" with an almost brutal abruptness. This notion of theirs is rather confusing to the patient English auditor.
Altogether, the American Rhodes Scholars, with their splendid native gift of oratory, and their modest desire to please, and their not less evident feeling that they ought merely to edify, and their constant delight in all that of Oxford their English brethren don't notice, and their constant fear that they are being corrupted, are a noble, rather than a comfortable, element in the social life of the University. So, at least, they seemed to the Duke. Perfect, however, the amenity of his manner.
This was the more commendable because Oover's "aura" was even more disturbing than that of the average Rhodes Scholar. To-night, besides the usual conflicts in this young man's bosom, raged a special one between his desire to behave well and his jealousy of the man who had so often been Miss Dobson's escort. In theory he denied the Duke's right to that honour. In sentiment he admitted it. Another conflict, you see. And another : his fortune, gathered in one generation, was substantial, but unsubstantial compared to the Duke's. He knew, in a most poignant manner -- because the Duke's agents in New York had a few years ago refused his own accounts. It all came down to -- he longed to orate about the woman who had his heart; yet she was the one topic that must be shirked.
The MacQuern, Sir John Marraby and Lord Sayes, they too -- though they were no orators -- would fain have unpacked their hearts in words about Zuleika. Only the mysterious visitor gave no indication whatever, apart from a glance stolen now and again towards the Duke. They spoke of this and that, automatically, none listening to another -- each man listening, wide-eyed, to his own heart's solo on the Zuleika theme, and drinking rather more champagne than was good for them. Maybe, these youths sowed in themselves, on this night, the seeds of lifelong intemperance. We cannot tell. They did not live long enough for us to know.
While the six dined, a seventh, invisible to them, leaned moodily against the mantel-piece, watching them. He was not of their time. His long brown hair was knotted in a black riband behind. He wore a pale brocaded coat and lace ruffles, silken stockings, and a sword. Privy to their doom, he watched them. He was loth that his Junta must die. Yes, his. Could the diners have seen him, they would have known him by his resemblance to the mezzotint portrait that hung on the wall above him. They would have risen to their feet in presence of Humphrey Greddon, founder and first president of the club.
His face was not so oval, nor were his eyes so big, nor his lips so full, nor his hands so delicate, as they appeared in the mezzotint. Yet (bating the conventions of eighteenth-century portraiture) the likeness was a good one. Humphrey Greddon was not less well-knit and graceful than the painter had made him, and, hard though the lines of the face were, there was about him a certain air of high romance that could not be explained away by the fact that he was of a period not our own. You could understand the great love that Nellie O'Mora had borne him.
Under the mezzotint hung Hoppner's miniature of that lovely and ill-starred girl, with her soft dark eyes, and her curls all astray from beneath her little blue turban. And the Duke was telling Mr. Oover her story -- how she had left her home for Humphrey Greddon when she was but sixteen, and he an undergraduate at Christ Church; and had lived for him in a cottage at Littlemore, whither he would ride, most days, to be with her; and how he tired of her, broke his oath that he would marry her, thereby broke her heart; and how she drowned herself in a mill-pond; and how Greddon was killed in Venice, two years later, duelling on the Riva Schiavoni with a Senator whose daughter he had -- with her own complicity -- ravished.
The ghost of Greddon was not listening very attentively to the tale. He had heard it told so often in this room, and he did not understand the saccharine sentimentality of the modern mind. Nellie had been a monstrously pretty creature. He had adored her, and had done with her. It was right that she should always be toasted after dinner by the Junta, as in the days when first he loved her -- "Here's to Nellie O'Mora, the fairest witch that ever was or will be!" He would have resented the omission of that toast. But he was sick of the pitying, melting looks that were always cast towards her miniature. Nellie had been beautiful, but, by God! she had lived out the full life of the splendid girl. How could he have spent his life with her? She was a fool, by God! not to marry that simpleton Trailby, of Merton, whom he took to see her.
Mr. Oover's moral tone, and his sense of chivalry, were of the American kind: far higher than ours, even, and far better expressed, owing to the circumstance of being based on nothing substantial as they are -- the balloon morality of men who never discuss anything with people holding any pins. Whereas the English guests of the Junta, when they heard the tale of Nellie O'Mora, would merely murmur "Poor girl!" or "What a shame!" Mr. Oover said in a tone of quiet authority that compelled Greddon's ear "Duke, I hope I am not incognisant of the laws that govern the relations of guest and host. But, Duke, I aver deliberately that the founder of this fine old club; at which you are so splendidly entertaining me to-night, was an unmitigated scoundrel. I say he was not a white man."
As it happened the gentleman so insulted had more than a fair share of Sicilian blood in his veins, but at the word "scoundrel," Humphrey Greddon sprung forward, drawing his sword, and loudly, in a voice audible to himself alone, challenged the American to make good his words. Then, as this gentleman took no notice, with one clean straight thrust Greddon ran him through the heart, shouting "Die, you damned psalm-singer and traducer! And so die all rebels against King George!" Withdrawing the blade, he wiped it daintily on his cambric handkerchief. There was no blood. Mr. Oover, with unpunctured shirt-front, was repeating "I say he was not a white man." And Greddon remembered himself -- remembered he was only a ghost, impalpable, impotent, of no account. "But I shall meet you in Hell to-morrow," he hissed in Oover's face. And there he was wrong. It is quite certain that Oover went to Heaven, that celestial palace of blessed underpants.
Unable to avenge himself, Greddon had looked to the Duke to act for him. When he saw that this young man did but smile at Oover and make a vague deprecatory gesture, he again, in his wrath, forgot his disabilities. Drawing himself to his full height, he took with great deliberation a pinch of snuff, and, bowing low to the Duke, said "I am vastly obleeged to your Grace for the fine high Courage you have exhibited in the behalf of your most Admiring, most Humble Servant." Then, having brushed away a speck of snuff from his jabot, he turned on his heel; and only in the doorway, where one of the club servants, carrying a decanter in each hand, walked straight through him, did he realise that he had not spoilt the Duke's evening. With a volley of the most appalling eighteenth-century oaths, he passed back into the nether world.
To the Duke, Nellie O'Mora had never been a very vital figure. He had often repeated the legend of her. But, having never known what love in that sense was, he could not properly imagine her rapture or her anguish. Himself the quarry of all Mayfair's wise virgins, he had always -- so far as he thought of the matter at all -- suspected that Nellie's death was rather due to thwarted ambition. But to-night, while he told Oover about her, he could see into her soul, peering at him across the dinner table. Nor did he pity her. She had loved. She had known the one thing worth living for -- and dying for. She, as she went down to the mill-pond, had felt just that ecstasy of self-sacrifice which the best of womankind hold as reserved, sacred heirloom. For a while, too -- for a full year -- she had known the joy of being loved, had been for Greddon "the fairest witch that ever was or will be." He could not, in light of lived experience, agree with Oover's long disquisition on her sufferings. And, glancing at her well-remembered miniature, he wondered just what it was in her that had captivated Greddon.
The moment had come for the removal of the table-cloth. The mahogany of the Junta was laid bare -- a clear dark lake, anon to reflect in its still and ruddy depths the candelabras and the fruit-cradles, the slender glasses and the stout old decanters, the forfeit-box and the snuff-box, and other paraphernalia of the dignity of dessert. Lucidly, and unwaveringly inverted in the depths these good things stood; and, so soon as the wine had made its circuit, the Duke rose and with uplifted glass proposed the first of the two toasts traditional to the Junta. "Gentlemen, I give you Church and State."
The toast having been honoured by all -- and by none with a richer reverence than by Oover, despite his passionate mental reservation in favour of Pittsburg-Anabaptism and the Republican Ideal -- the snuff-box was handed round, and fruit was eaten.
Presently, when the wine had gone round again, the Duke rose and with uplifted glass said "Gentlemen, I give you -- " and there halted. Silent, frowning, flushed, he stood for a few moments, and then, with a deliberate gesture, tilted his glass and let fall the wine to the carpet. "No," he said, looking round the table, "I cannot give you Nellie O'Mora."
"Why not?" gasped Sir John Marraby.
"You have a right to ask that," said the Duke, still standing. "I can only say that my conscience is stronger than my sense of what is due to the customs of the club. Nellie O'Mora," he said, passing his hand over his brow, "may have been in her day the fairest witch that ever was -- so fair that our founder had good reason to suppose her the fairest witch that ever would be. But his prediction was a false one. So at least it seems to me. Of course I cannot both hold this view and remain President of this club. MacQuern -- Marraby -- which of you is Vice-President?"
"He is," said Marraby.
"Then, MacQuern, you are hereby President, vice myself resigned. Take the chair and propose the toast."
"I would rather not," said The MacQuern after a pause.
"Then, Marraby, YOU must."
"Not I!" said Marraby.
"Why is this?" asked the Duke, looking from one to the other.
The MacQuern, with Scotch caution, was silent. But the impulsive Marraby -- Madcap Marraby, as they called him in B.N.C. -- said "It's because I won't lie!" and, leaping up, raised his glass aloft and cried "I give you Zuleika Dobson, the fairest witch that ever was or will be!"
The Mr. Leigh gave a start, Mr. Oover and Lord Sayes sprang to their feet; The MacQuern rose to his. "Zuleika Dobson!" they cried, and drained their glasses. The mysterious figure silently drank with them. Then, when they had resumed their seats, came an awkward pause. The Duke, still erect beside the chair he had vacated, looked very grave and pale. Marraby had taken an outrageous liberty. But "a member of the Junta can do no wrong," and the liberty could not be resented. The Duke felt that the blame was on himself, who had elected Marraby to the club.
Mr. Oover, too, looked grave. All the antiquarian in him deplored the sudden rupture of a fine old Oxford tradition. All the chivalrous American in him resented the slight on that fair victim of the feudal system, Miss O'Mora. And, at the same time, all the Abimelech V. in him rejoiced at having honoured by word and act the one woman in the world.
Gazing around at the flushed faces and heaving shirt-fronts of the diners, the Duke forgot Marraby's misdemeanour. What mattered far more to him was that here were five young men deeply under the spell of Zuleika. They must be saved, if possible. He knew how strong his influence was in the University. He knew also how strong was Zuleika's. He had not much hope of the issue. But a new-born sense of duty to his fellows spurred him on. "Is there," he asked with a bitter smile, "any one of you who doesn't with his whole heart love Miss Dobson?"
Nobody held up a hand.
"As I feared," said the Duke, knowing not that if a hand had been held up he would have taken it as a personal insult. No man really in love can forgive another for not sharing his ardour. His jealousy for himself when his beloved prefers another man is hardly a stronger passion than his jealousy for her when she is not preferred to all other women. The situation was drastically complicated in the Duke's case by the relatively large contingent of women in his household -- a silent maid easily left at home, a Princess on her way...
"You know her only by sight -- by repute?" asked the Duke. They signified that this was so. "I wish you would introduce me to her," said Marraby.
"You are all coming to the Judas concert?" the Duke asked, ignoring Marraby. "You have all secured tickets?" They nodded. "To hear me play, or to see Miss Dobson?" There was a murmur of "Both -- both." "And you would all of you, like Marraby, wish to be presented to this lady?" Their eyes dilated. "That way happiness lies, think you?"
"Oh, happiness be hanged!" said Marraby.
To the Duke this seemed a profoundly sane remark -- an epitome of his own sentiments. But what was right for himself was not right for all. He strictly believed in convention as the best way for average mankind. And so, slowly, calmly, he told to his fellow-diners just what he had told a few weeks earlier to those two young men in Salt Cellar. Not knowing that his words had already been spread throughout Oxford, he was rather surprised that they seemed to make no sensation. Quite flat fell his appeal that the syren be shunned by all.
Mr. Oover, during his year of residence, had been sorely tried by the quaint old English custom of not making public speeches after private dinners. It was with a deep sigh of satisfaction that he now rose to his feet. "Duke," he said in a low voice, which yet penetrated to every corner of the room, "I guess I am voicing these gentlemen when I say that your words show up your good heart, all the time. Your mentality, too, is bully, as we all predicate. One may say without exaggeration that your scholarly and social attainments are a by-word throughout the solar system, and be-yond. We rightly venerate you as our boss. Sir, we worship the ground you walk on. But we owe a duty to our own free and independent manhood. Sir, we worship the ground Miss Z. Dobson treads on. We have pegged out a claim right there. And from that location we aren't to be budged -- not for bob-nuts. We asseverate we squat -- where -- we -- squat, come -- what -- will. You say we have no chance to win Miss Z. Dobson. That -- we -- know. We aren't worthy. We lie prone. Let her walk over us. You say her heart is cold. We don't pro-fess we can take the chill off. But, Sir, we can't be diverted out of loving her -- not even by you, Sir. No, Sir! We love her, and -- shall, and -- will, Sir, with -- our -- latest breath."
This peroration evoked loud applause. "I love her, and shall, and will," shouted each man. And again they honoured in wine her image. Sir John Marraby uttered a cry familiar in the hunting-field. The MacQuern contributed a few bars of a sentimental ballad in the dialect of his country. "Hurrah, hurrah!" they shouted. Lord Sayes hummed the latest waltz, waving his arms to its rhythm, while the wine he had just spilt on his shirt-front trickled unheeded to his waistcoat. Mr. Oover gave the Yale cheer.
The genial din was wafted down through the open window to the passers-by. The wine-merchant across the way heard it, and smiled pensively. "Youth, youth!" he murmured.
The genial din grew louder.
At any other time, the Duke would have been jarred by the disgrace to the Junta. But now, as he stood with bent head, covering his face with his hands, he thought only of the need to rid these young men, here and now, of the influence that had befallen them. His conscience insisted that he must. He uncovered his face, and held up one hand for silence.
"We are all of us," he said, "old enough to remember vividly the demonstrations made in the streets of London when war was declared between us and the Transvaal Republic. You, Mr. Oover, doubtless heard in America the echoes of those ebullitions. The general idea was that the war was going to be a very brief and simple affair -- what was called 'a walk-over.' To me, though I was only a small boy, it seemed that all this delirious pride in the prospect of crushing a trumpery foe argued a defect in our sense of proportion. Still, I was able to understand the demonstrators' point of view. To 'the giddy vulgar' any sort of victory is pleasant. But defeat? If, when that war was declared, every one had been sure that not only should we fail to conquer the Transvaal, but that IT would conquer US -- that not only would it make good its freedom and independence, but that we should forfeit ours -- how would the cits have felt then? Would they not have pulled long faces, spoken in whispers, wept? You must forgive me for saying that the noise you have just made around this table was very like to the noise made on the verge of the Boer War. And your procedure seems to me as unaccountable as would have seemed the antics of those mobs if England had been plainly doomed to disaster and to vassalage. My guest here to-night, in the course of his very eloquent and racy speech, spoke of the need that he and you should preserve your 'free and independent manhood.' That seemed to me an irreproachable ideal. But I confess I was somewhat taken aback by my friend's scheme for realising it. He declared his intention of lying prone and letting Miss Dobson 'walk over' him; and he advised you to follow his example; and to this counsel you gave evident approval. Gentlemen, suppose that on the verge of the aforesaid war, some orator had said to the British people 'It is going to be a walk-over for our enemy in the field. Mr. Kruger holds us in the hollow of his hand. In subjection to him we shall find our long-lost freedom and independence' -- what would have been Britannia's answer? What, on reflection, is yours to Mr. Oover? What are Mr. Oover's own second thoughts?" The Duke paused, with a smile to his guest.
"Go right ahead, Duke," said Mr. Oover. "I'll re-ply when my turn comes."
"And not utterly demolish me, I hope," said the Duke. His was the Oxford manner. "Gentlemen," he continued, "is it possible that Britannia would have thrown her helmet in the air, shrieking 'Slavery for ever'? You, gentlemen, seem to think slavery a pleasant and an honourable state." The flushed faces of the diners grew gradually pale. Their eyes lost lustre. Their tongues clove to the roofs of their mouths.
The Duke bid his guest stand. His acquiline eye surveyed the company.
"Gentlemen," said he, "I will present a most peculiar, and most incredible sight to you, and for your entertainment as my guests. First, however, I must request your word that at no point, among yourselves or in the company or any other, for any reason and under any circumstance, you will recount one word -- nay, not one syllable! -- of what you will see with your very own eyes. Do I have your word ?"
With gruff voices, in that melancholy state that never fails to follow nervous excitation in they whose inner workings proceed under the lubrication of wine spirits, the company confirmed. The Duke snapped his fingers. His guest, Mr. Leigh, shook his head most vigurously, like would a dog after traversing a ford. Her hair, released, curled rebelliously on either side of her face.
"Zuleika!" went one voice, around the table. Zuleika paid them no mind. Nimbly, she stepped on her chair, then her foot came to rest on the table. She kicked off her unlaced shoes, then with elegant gyrations and splendid pirouettes she abandoned her black coat, the vest, and the lavalliere. She tapdanced out of her trousers, a more difficult operation than at first meets the eye. The audience stood frozen, not exactly aghast but more properly said separated from its senses. She continued, unabated, losing article after article after article until she stood, completely naked before them, moreso than any other woman who, upon losing her habits made by man, would nevertheless still shield minute part of her modesty under that escutcheon nature had given her kind. Zuleika had long dispensed with that meagre protection, through a painful and slow procedure that nevertheless had brought her mad delights.
She stood naked in front of them for a brief moment measurable in white eternities, and then with movements never before procured for them by either their eyes or the powers of their conventional imaginations, with movements that may only spring from the practice and habituation of lenghty periods of comfortable sexual nudity, she exposed her incunabula, that small, fresh, rosy butterfly already slick with the excitement of the slaughter of innocence. With bent knees Zuleika shook her weight from one calf to the other, heels permanently a good two inches above the reflective mahogany. She shook her collarbone, gyrated her pelvis, arched her back into unspeakable lordosis and back the other way, all the while daintily stepping around a wide circle. The mahogany reflected her secrets in its own tones. The gentlemen were hardly in the mood to notice that most unlikely property of Zuleika's cunt, its still present glory and flowering crown, a clinically unremarkable crescent-shaped hymen. And besides, none of them were taking medicine.
A few minutes later, measurable in red eternities, the Duke snapped his fingers, and Zuleika froze. Completely, perfectly, not a muscle moved on her. There she stood, a statue sired of the finest marble by the finest hand, naked, completely, perfect and quivering from the exertion. At length, almost inaudibly, the Duke bid her come. She went and sat herself in his lap, her buttocks resting on his knees, her admirable bosom leaned back, legs spread widely apart. Her right foot was resting on the floor far to his right, delicious little toes curling against the carpet ; her left knee straight, ankle coming to rest comfortably on the dinner table, her all plainly in view before the petrified audience. The Duke grabbed her in a firm grip by the back of her neck with his left, right under the skull. He reached his right, and rested it on her smalish, engorged tent of skin covering that great mystery to most men, the faint remainder of what intrauterinely could have been a penis, if only there was a Y.
Slowly, fascinatingly, he moved his fingers. She tinged, as if penetrated by electricity. As his movements slowly increased in amplitude and in speed, her breath became belaboured, ragged even. She tensed up, and then exploded, with gritted teeth. It was a display none of them present had ever perceived before, and truth be told none properly knew what to make of it. The Duke slapped her open lips, producing a very wet sound. She winced as in a great pain. He started again, small movements of the elegant right hand, slowly, then growing in amplitude and intensity. She went on her womanly path again, entirely ensnared by his power over her. Her breath grew belaboured again, and soon she tensed up. Subsequently she exploded, but the Duke didn't stop, nor did he merely go on. He rubbed her furiously, ever more rapidly, pushing harder while holding her neck fast. Zuleika was in apparent agony. Her knees were fighting their very own battle of the Bulge, in bad weather, trying to link up and yet daring not try. She was soon writhing in unspeakable agony, strange hoarse whispers emanating from her long throat. Eventually the Duke had enough, or at any rate took mercy on her wretched flesh. Unceremoniously he pushed her off him, and she rolled under the table, coming to rest into a ball of squirming and twitching snow. He rested his left foot on her left hip, haughtily but not without a certain very appropriate majesty. Or was she not his quarry and his victim, his well captivated capture, awaiting her only possible fulfillment -- that of producing him whatever ransom he may deign to excise of the world ?
"Well gentlemen," he spoke without bothering to raise, "it is then time to hear the music." At these words all the guests stood, and the Duke, smiling a bitter small smile, continued. "The Junta, that has stood for centuries, is now no more. It was destroyed, not by my unerring hand, but by your inept brains supported uneasily on such unsteady spines. For a whole year I looked the eccentric while blackballing my own proposals to this club. As I suspected all along and as has well been proven by the hot acids of happenstance today, I was rather the eccentric in proposing anyone in the first place. That eccentricity may well be excusable in the impetuousness of youth, but always was in turn teased out by the eternal workings of the urn."
The Duke flung up his hands, staring wildly. "Reality, as you can see, is plainly a whore. Nor can you fault her for this. It is you who are blind as newborn kittens, not her who is remiss. That unthinking, golum absurdity you improperly call 'modern' will ruin you every time, with its idle pretenses and unsupportable dissimulations. Or have you eyes to see the truth, rather than whatever lies you yourself beg others to whisper in your ear, only to then return the favour ? Or have you the mind to weigh, if only you were given 'the facts' as you importantly refer to those sad, inconsequential shimmers on a wall ? Tell me, will you extract a path out of the waves and the winds your sorry nutshell's rudderlessly drifting upon ? How ? And if you will then, why haven't you now ? Miss Dogson this, Miss Dogson that, your independent manhood, what exactly is it ? And why did you think it was a thing you had ? What duty do you owe to that scandalous bit of self-flattery, do tell, I wish to hear it all."
But there was silence, opressive, velvety, a smothering, irrespirable silence made entirely out of pink velvet with the consistency of intimate female flesh. Slippery it squeezed them, milked them of their first and last breath or rouse.
At length the Duke continued his grim discourse, gruff and most evidently displeased. "It is one thing for a young girl, barely fifteen and barely with tits on her to read a tall story about some white prince on a golden horse acoming to vigurously impale her. The substance is broadly correct, prince or no prince, the maiden will be transfixed, it is a given and a certainty. With any luck she'll be positively skewered on her way to the grave. But on the other hand," boomed the Duke, "for men your age! And who have read at Oxford! Yet here you stand, no better in any discernible way than that fifteen year old maid aiding her laboured reading with a soothy finger under the line and small movements of her jaw. It is a shame, and you must be ashamed!" yelled the Duke, and then fell silent.
There was a comotion. The MacQuern whispered "I can't go on."
"You -- don't -- say," gasped Mr. Oover.
"But -- but," faltered Lord Sayes, "I saw her saying good-bye to you in Judas Street. And -- and she looked quite -- as if nothing had happened."
"Nothing had happened," said the Duke. "Do you think something happened here, for that matter ? No more has happened today, this night, than wine being poured from decanter into glass. That isn't a happening, it is the natural flow. Yet weak kings and impudent townsfolk trodding the Earth astride a great beast of ridiculous pretense, fancying themselves 'politicians' and 'ministers' and what have you will pretend to events in order to excuse their unsurprising as it is unfathomable incompetence. And you'd believe them, too. You would, because it is a lie central to your soul, and very dear to it -- whenever you have erred, 'something happened'. Projection, no different from the private affairs of an inept child cursing upon the chair his own inability to steadily sit. You will believe anything and everything for just as long you don't have to look into any mirrors. 'Modern men'," and the Duke spat, unabashed and undisimulated disgust flying through the air under the cover of a good chunk of sputum, coming to rest on Zuleika's back with a splash, and sliding slowly down, following the most delightful curve of her practically speaking absent waist.
There was a long silence. The Duke, looking around at the bent heads and drawn mouths of his auditors, saw that his words had gone home. It was Marraby who revealed how powerfully home they had gone.
"Dorset," he said huskily, "I shall die."
"So shall we all," came the cold reply. Then after a brief pause the Duke spoke again. "Mr Oover, I shall now require a favour of you. The Essanay shall engage Miss Dogson for a New World tour. This tour is to be consumated to my exact specification, as follows : she will be taken to modest jazz houses and similar taverns, where she will produce herself to instrumental accompaniament. After the show, she will be offered to the men interested, in private rooms in the same building, preferably on the floor above. She is to spread her own buttocks with her own hands and invite the visitors inside. She is to stand at all times, and steady herself only by grabbing her own ankles. She is not to rest or lean against any item of furniture. She must be well filled, after every performane, you understand. She may not be thus used by any white men, but only black. If slaves, still in bondage or recently liberated can be found for the purpose, even better. The men must be in any case well endowed. She is now a virgin, believe it or not, a clinical fact any New York practician will happily confirm should you require. She is to lose her maidenhead in the described manner..." the Duke paused, then turned to his human footstool.
"When do you bleed ?"
"Same as the girl, these days, your Grace." came, melodious and unconcerned, the reply. Zuleika was smiling underfoot.
"Impending", the Duke murmured, then turned to Oover. "She will bleed in a few days. She will likely bleed again either soon afore, or soon after, her spectacular defloration. She must become a mother, you understand me ? This is imperative. When July rolls around she will be bleeding no more, and you will send her back. Are we understood ?"
Mr. Abimelech V. Oover barely nodded. He could not muster the energy for more signifying a gesture.
"I can not hear you, sir!" exclaimed the Duke.
"It... it will be done as you command." came the American's reply.
"Will I miss your wedding, milord ?" came a silvery murmur from under the Junta table.
"Yes." retorted the Duke, a plain statement. The reveal caused some comotion in the thoroughly comatose audience. "The Duke is to be wed ?"
Marraby, pale as they all were, paler than Greddon had ever been (which is not to surprise -- after all the medieval knight did get to consummate his love, and in so doing discover the bottom of its cup through his own draught rather than another's dazzling display), cried in a cavernous, almost otherwordly tone "I can not live." All other thoughts vanished. In an instant he dodged beneath the sash of the window. From the flower-box he sprang to the road beneath. (The facade of the house is called, to this day, Marraby's Leap.) Alighting with the legerity of a cat, he swerved leftward in the recoil, and was off, like a streak of mulberry-coloured lightning, down the High.
The other men had rushed to the window, fearing the worst. "No," cried Oover. But, seeing him running, somewhat unsteadily, their mind was put at ease. Grimly, without a word, without looking at each other, they left. Like bats exeunt bellfry, like so many dark participants to an unholy mass, they melted in the darkness of the hallway and disappeared in the night.
"Mais ca alors!" Clotilde was rather upset, the delicate almonds playing eyebrow on the larger almond of her face betraying an admixture of shock and anxiety.
"Tu veux rentrer a Paris ?"
"Allors t'iras servir chez le Duc."
"Est-il vraiment impossible que je vous suive en l'Amerique ?"
"Tout a fait impossible."
"Mais pourquoi, madame ?! Je vous ai suivi partout! J'ai pas d'exigence aucune..."
"C'est pas possible, Clotilde." then her voice softened, and the corners of her eyes smiled at her frowny maid. She embraced her, and whispered in her ear excitedly "Tu verras, le Duc est le plus grand seigneur qui ait jamais vecu. Il n'y a rien mieux en ce monde que de lui servir." and then, after a short break, tears in the corners of her eyes "Je t'envie un peu."
The Warden's house was replete with fret, as the Duke was doing it the not inconsequential honor of dining there before the Judas concert that evening, and the two didn't have that much time for themselves. Miss Dobson received a constant stream of deliveries of all kinds, Clotilde ran all over the house fetching and dispatching items, the stove was going out of all its pots like a great iron ship crossing the afternoon sea towards vesperian shores.
Eventually that shore was reached, like all shores ever are. The Duke arrived, and was seated, and dinner served. The peak of conversation occured when the Duke, speaking to the Warden, admitted that he has a most dear favour to ask of his grand-daughter. She bade him ask her anything, such that it would be in her power to provide. The Duke explained that he was to be married, which awed all those present, and presently diverted into a lengthy discussion of the putative bride, and of the great event, and of its joyous implications and so following etcetera for a good half an hour. Eventually the labyrinthine circumvolutions imposed by the tedium of common sense exhausted, the Duke proceeded to his request.
"You see, miss Dobson," elaborated the Duke, "I never kept a proper house, not in the sense that befits a foreign Princess, or I suppose in fairness my own station. Oxford is more akin to hermitage than dwelling in state, and Tankerton was, over the years, pared without intent but without much respite into a form indicative of the marital status of its owner. I fear my retinue is under a certain aspect poorly furnished, nor do I have the necessary knowledge or connections to readily round it with quality. I hear however that you are enjoying the services of one of the very best maids in this town, and I dare ask, in view of that kind solicitude you've always shown towards my unworthy person, nay, I beseech that I may have her services from you."
"My dear Dorset!" exclaimed then Zuleika, tout caline "even if it weren't the case of my leaving I would not dare refuse such a justified, well reasoned and under the circumstances necessary request. It is almost a duty incumbent upon me, for love of church and state, to be at the disposition of your Grace in any manner that may be of use so that no foreigner, and certainly no German Princess, may have cause to look down her nose at us."
Zuleika had not spoken a word of her impending departure, deliberately, so to announce it over dinner. The revelation caused another flurry of idle inquiries, and it was at some unnecessary length established that she was to leave for New York the eighth day of June having signed with a production company there. She was to arrive on the very ides if not the day before, and after brief resting spend the coming months entertaining the multitudes in that great expanse of still mostly virgin space.
As the echoes of the idle, circumstance-mandated chatter died down, Zuleika finally observed
"I suppose we should however ask her, too ?" and then called her maid, "Clotilde! Viens ici!"
"Oui madame ?"
"Msr. le Duc..." she started, over the mutters complimenting her command of the continental language, but Clotilde interrupted
"Ca alors!" whispered to herself Zuleika, momentarily at a loss. The procedure would not have passed as any sort of consultation among any capable of understanding French, however poorly. Nevertheless, the company at Oxford assembled never laid claim to quite so lofty an accomplishment. Rather than pursue the matter and in so doing underscore her maid's faux pas, she opted to keep her peace. So was Clotilde's aforedecided transfer into the Duke of Dorset's house introduced into the public record. She was in that employment joining a certain youthful wolverine, whom the Duke had previously that day required much to the excited delight of Mrs. Batch.
Later, over dessert, batting her eyelashes at the Duke, Zuleika whispered "You will of course punish her for cutting me off like that."
"Perhaps," came the retort. "She seems a fine young lady." offered the Duke disinterestedly.
Dinner over, they leisurely proceeded to their destination, across the Front Quadrangle, heedless of the great crowd to right and left. The stone steps all the way to the doorway were blocked by the backs of youths who had by hook and crook secured standing-room. The whole scene was surprisingly unlike that of the average College concert.
On the dais an undergraduate was singing a song entitled "She Loves Not Me." Such plaints are apt to leave us unharrowed. Across the footlights of an opera-house, the despair of some Italian tenor in red tights and a yellow wig may be convincing enough. Not so, at a concert, the despair of a shy British amateur in evening dress. The undergraduate on the dais, fumbling with his sheet of music while he predicted that only when he were "laid within the church-yard cold and grey" would his lady begin to pity him, seemed to the Duke rather ridiculous. This fictitious love-affair was no less nugatory than the entire arid span of modern history, that humdrum tale of how intelligent people had sold their soul to the devil. In fact, the two were not even that distinct. That so called love, originally a literary device of the crudest travesty, invented shorthand by sixteenth century minstrels desperate to explain why the people in their tales always behaved in a patently insane manner (and insanely they must behave, because what idle, ambitious but inept mind wishes to hear a sensible story ?) had crossed into the behaviour of they least inclined to examine their own activity : women too young and women too old, young men, poor men, socially isolated academics, vagrants, all the rejects of humanity. What had originally been the plainest of McGuffins, "love made him/her/them do it" exactly like "a wizard made them do it", had passed through the unthinking blather of the periphery of the human horde, the first -- or properly speaking secondxvii -- memetic infection. Now, for the sake of pretense long entertained by those who never think, fed by the needs of those few who make of pretense a modest and at times entertaining profession, a whole world's stuck having to deal with nonsense as if it were a thing. The youth on the stage could as well have been singing religious hymns, in their tediously melodious vein of "God did it because God did it!". He'd have been no more ridiculous for it, except of course that one set of idle pretense given the appearance of solidity and the color of sense through sheer insistence and naught else had about twenty centuries over the other entirely identical, "romantic" set. If hiring an enchantress, hire the oldest ? Or the prettiest ?
The Duke had no need to hire any such thing, and so the matter scarcely interested him at all. The rich fatuous nonsense of the past replaced with the more sustainable, cheaper, meaner nonsense of the present. Spite isn't even properly the term, one doesn't despise the monkeys in the cage, even if one wouldn't confuse them for himself. As the young turd began emitting the second stanza, predicting that when his lady died too the angels of heaven would bear her straight to him, the audience rumbled with a loud murmur, or subdued roar, and after a few bars the warbler suddenly ceased, staring straight in front of him as though he saw a vision. Automatically, all heads veered in the direction of his gaze. From the entrance, slowly along the aisle, the Duke walked with Zuleika, brilliant in black.
To the Duke, aloft in his thoughts, she nodded and smiled as she swerved down on the chair beside him. She looked to him somehow different. The change in her, though he could not define it, was somehow pleasing to him. He was about to question her, but she shook her head and held up to her lips a black-gloved forefinger, enjoining silence for the singer, who, with dogged British pluck, had harked back to the beginning of the second stanza. When his task was done and he shuffled down from the dais, he received a great ovation entirely not of his own merit. Zuleika, in the way peculiar to persons who are in the habit of appearing before the public, held her hands well above the level of her brow, and clapped them with a vigour demonstrative not less of her presence than of her delight.
"And now," she asked, turning to the Duke, "do you see? do you see?"
"Something, yes. But what?"
"Isn't it plain?" Lightly she touched the lobe of her left ear. "Aren't you flattered?"
He knew now what made the difference. It was that her little face was flanked by two black pearls.
"Think," said she, "how deeply I must have been brooding over you since we last parted!"
"Is this really," he asked, pointing to the left ear-ring, "the white pearl you once wore ?"
"Yes. Isn't it strange? A man ought to be pleased when a woman he sent to the slaughter opens the very bottomest fold of her soul to that dark marriage."
"I am more than pleased. I am touched. When did the change come?"
"I don't know. I only noticed it after dinner, when I saw myself in the mirror. All through dinner I had been thinking of you and of -- well, of to-morrow. And this dear sensitive pearl that used to be pink at some point again expressed my soul." then, after a short pensive pause, "Clotilde was very cross."
"She always wanted to see America, you understand." she continued, expiatorily. "So do I." then, after another pause, "You won't punish her harshly, will you ?"
"I thought you wanted me to."
"I do, for today. But I mean in general. She's very delicate."
"Ah. That is an extraordinary dress you are wearing." he offered, and in sooth no costume could have been more beautifully Cimmerian than Zuleika's. And yet, thought the Duke, watching her as the concert proceeded, the effect of her was not lugubrious. Her darkness shone. The black satin gown she wore was a stream of shifting high-lights. Tiny black diamonds sparkled around her throat and wrists, and tiny black diamonds starred the fan she wielded. In her hair gleamed a great raven's wing. And brighter, brighter than all these were her eyes. Assuredly no, there was nothing morbid about her. Could one even (wondered the Duke, for a brief instant) go so far as to say she was heartless? Ah no, she was merely strong. She was one who could tread the tragic plane without stumbling, and be resilient in the valley of the shadow.
Thus did they commune, these two, radiant without and within. And behind them, throughout the Hall, the undergraduates craned their necks for a glimpse. The Duke's piano solo, which was the last item in the first half of the programme, was eagerly awaited. Already, whispered first from the lips of Oover and the others who had come on from the Junta, the news of Zuleika's humiliation had gone from ear to ear among many of the men. The Duke, for his part, had all but forgotten the scene, nor did he particularly care if his inferiorsxviii gathered any profit from his lesson or not. For him the Hall was a cave of solitude -- no one there but Zuleika and himself. Yet almost, like the late Mr. John Bright, he heard in the air the beating of the wings of the Angel of Death. Not awful wings; little wings that sprouted from the shoulders of a rosy and blindfolded child. Love and Death -- for him they were exquisitely one. And it seemed to him, when his turn came to play, that he floated, rather than walked, to the dais.
He had not considered what he would play tonight. Nor, maybe, was he conscious now of choosing. His fingers caressed the keyboard vaguely; and anon this ivory had voice and language; and for its master, and for some of his hearers, arose a vision. And it was as though in delicate procession, very slowly, listless with weeping, certain figures passed by, hooded, and drooping forasmuch as by the loss of her whom they were following to her grave their own hold on life had been loosened. She had been so beautiful and young. Lo, she was but a burden to be carried hence, dust to be hidden out of sight. Very slowly, very wretchedly they went by. But, as they went, another feeling, faint at first, an all but imperceptible current, seemed to flow through the procession; and now one, now another of the mourners would look wanly up, with cast-back hood, as though listening; and anon all were listening on their way, first in wonder, then in rapture; for the soul of their burden was singing to them: they heard its voice, but clearer and more blithe than they had ever known it -- a voice etherealised by a triumph of joy that was not yet, not soon, perhaps not ever for them to share. Presently the voice receded, its echoes dying away into the sphere whence it came. It ceased; and the mourners were left alone again with their sorrow, and passed on all unsolaced, and drooping, weeping.
Soon after the Duke had begun to play, an invisible figure came and stood by and listened; a frail man, dressed in the fashion of 1840; by its cought the shade could have been of none other than Frederic Chopin. Behind, a moment later, came a woman of somewhat masculine aspect and dominant demeanour, mounting guard over him, and, as it were, ready to catch him if he fell. He bowed his head lower and lower, he looked up with an ecstasy more and more intense, according to the procedure of his Marche Funebre. And among the audience, too, there was a bowing and uplifting of heads, just as among the figures of the mourners evoked. Yet the head of the player himself was all the while erect, and his face glad and serene. Nobly sensitive as was his playing of the mournful passages, he smiled brilliantly through them.
Zuleika returned his gaze with a smile not less gay. She was not sure what he was playing, but she assumed that it was for her, and that the music had some reference to her impending trials. She was of the sort of people that'd say 'I don't know anything about music really, but I know what I like', a thoroughly romantic conceit. Yet she liked this; and she beat time to it with her fan. She thought her Duke looked very handsome. She was proud of him. Strange that this time yesterday she had already been wildly in love with him! It felt like the moment's swell, like a momentary discovery, an instant revolution. Had she met him for the first time right now, how she'd burn of love for him. She was immensely glad she had the unspeakable good fortune of this afternoon. To-morrow! There came back to her what he had told her about the omen at Tankerton, that stately home: "On the eve of the death of a Duke of Dorset, two black owls come always and perch on the battlements. They remain there through the night, hooting. At dawn they fly away, none knows whither." Perhaps, thought she, at this very moment these two birds were on the battlements. The thought started her, with an irrepressible gasp, and for the first time in her life Zuleika prayed.
The music ceased. In the hush that followed it, her applause rang sharp and notable. Not so Chopin's. Of him and his intense excitement none but his companion was aware. "Plus fin que Pachmann!" he reiterated, waving his arms wildly, and dancing.
"Tu auras une migraine affreuse. Rentrons, petit coeur!" said George Sand, gently but firmly.
"Laisse-moi le saluer, ce jeune homme!" cried the composer, struggling in her grasp.
Zuleika was the first to rise as "ce jeune homme" came down from the dais. Now was the interval between the two parts of the programme. There was a general creaking and scraping of pushed-back chairs as the audience rose and went forth into the night. The noise aroused from sleep the good Warden, who, having peered at his programme, complimented the Duke with old-world courtesy and went to sleep again. Zuleika, thrusting her fan under one arm, shook the player by both hands. Also, she told him that she knew nothing about music really, but that she knew what she liked. That secret whisper of the know-nothing party must always be preserved. As she passed with him up the aisle, she said it again. People who say it are never tired of saying it.
Outside, the crowd was greater than ever. All the undergraduates from all the Colleges seemed now to be concentrated in the great Front Quadrangle of Judas. Even in the glow of the Japanese lanterns that hung around in honour of the concert, the faces of the lads looked a little pale, their eyes a little feverish. Even while the concert was in progress, the news of Zuleika's night-time adventure had spread out from the Hall, through the thronged doorway, down the thronged steps, to the confines of the crowd. It grew and grew in proportion to mythical grandiosity and well beyond. Dogs had been involved, and three live Sevillian bulls, and a Bangor elephant. There had been two floods and three fires, an earthquake and numerous otherworldly visitations. Nor had Oover and the other men from the Junta shared the matter with more than perhaps one or two friends, and in the strictest confidence.
The story seemed to not detract one whit from the fascination Zuleika exercised over the crowd. On the contrary -- as they were now equipped with an ironclad excuse to protect their manhood, with a ready explanation as to why they're not pursuing the ideal beauty in the common manner of flesh and blood, each and every man's worship could be unleashed to its comfort, to reach its harmlessly maximal, hallucinated extension. No more chained by reality, by possibility, by the vagaries of circumstance or convention, everything was finally permitted. Zuleika, no longer a woman but now merely an ideal, had three slits and eighteen arms, tentacles, breasts on her butt and whatnot else besides. She had swallowed the waiter's whole fist in her velvety cave, she had laid eggs in the pudding with the ovopositor growing from her sacral bone, she could fly and levitate impaled on a burning candlestick.
You cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hind-legs, of course. Nevertheless you can readily make a crowd of men by standing a flock of sheep in that position. If man were not a gregarious animal, the world might have achieved, by this time, some real progress towards civilisation. Segregate him, and he is no fool. But let him loose among his fellows, and he is lost -- he becomes merely a unit in unreason and naught more. If any one of the undergraduates had met Miss Dobson in the desert of Sahara, or on an island lost on the endless face of Ocean, he would have fallen in love with her, then confessed his love, then extracted out of her his due, whether with her encouragement or against her protest, whether by carrot or by stick, in any case within the space of a night or two. Not one in a hundred thousand of them would have wished to die because she did not 'love' him, whatever that may mean. Here among themselves, lost in the desert of England, more separate from each other than any men cast adrift ever were, these quite ordinary young men were the victims less of Zuleika than of the Duke's example, and of one another. A crowd, proportionately to its size, magnifies all that in its units pertains to the emotions, and diminishes all that in them pertains to thought. It was because these undergraduates were a crowd that their passion for Zuleika was so intense; and it was because they were a crowd that they followed so blindly the lead given to them. To die for Miss Dobson became, within the space of that evening, "the thing to do." The Duke was going to do it. The Junta was going to do it. The Warden, in some of the wilder retellings, was also going to do it.
We may set to this crowd's credit that it refrained now from following Zuleika. Not one of the ladies present was deserted by her escort. All the men recognised the Duke's right to be alone with Zuleika now. We may set also to their credit that they carefully guarded the ladies from all knowledge of what allegedly had transpired, and generally any notion of anything afoot. Side by side, the public's notion of a great lover and his beloved quarry wandered away, out of the public's eye, beyond the light of the Japanese lanterns. They came to Salt Cellar.
The moon, like a gardenia in the night's button-hole -- but no! why should a writer never be able to mention the moon without likening her to something else -- usually something to which she bears not the faintest resemblance? And why, for that matter, should the writer be required to stick to the story ? Faex! The moon, looking like nothing whatsoever but etcetera and a platform of silver-grey, fit for fairies to dance on.
Zuleika turned at sound of a footstep, and saw a young man approaching. He wore a coat like the Duke's, and in his hand he dangled a handkerchief. He bowed awkwardly, and, holding out the handkerchief, said to her "I beg your pardon, but I think you dropped this. I have just picked it up."
Zuleika looked at the handkerchief, which was obviously a man's, and smilingly shook her head.
"I don't think you know The MacQuern," said the Duke, with bemused grace. "This," he said to the intruder, "is Miss Dobson." The Scott knew not what to say. As the reader may have for himself observed, the Scotts are a self-seeking and resolute, but also shy race; swift to act, when swiftness is needed, but seldom knowing quite what to say. The MacQuern, decided as he was to die -- more or less for the sake of the damsel he was now introduced to through the simple stratagem of his own handkerchief -- knew not how to respond to having the dressed form of her introduced, after having plainly observed the earlier, nude presentation of the same one body. Was it proper to protest that they've already met ? Although he knew her in more detail than most men know their lifelong wives, let alone youthful loves, it didn't seem quite right to claim acquaintance. He merely stood and bowed.
"Is it really true," asked Zuleika, retaining The MacQuern's hand, "that you want to die for me?"
In answer to Zuleika's question, and with the pressure of her hand to inspire him, the only word that rose to his lips was "Ay" (which may be roughly translated as "Yes").
"You will do nothing of the sort," interposed the Duke.
"There," said Zuleika, still retaining The MacQuern's hand, "you see, it is forbidden." Then, in suddenly mordant burlesque manner, "You must not defy our dear little Duke. He is not used to it. It is not done."
"I don't know," said The MacQuern, with a stony glance at the Duke, "that he has anything to do with the matter."
Zuleika, on hearing the preposterous dictum nearly lost herself to hysterical laughter. Who, if not the Duke, has something to do with 'the matter', as the Scott importantly put it. What matter ? Was her cunt the matter ? That the Duke spat or played like an instrument at his will ? Was her soul the matter, something she didn't know herself to have before it fastened as a chain around her every movement and laid itself plainly in his palm ? For all she knew, he had given her it! What could it possibly be, this 'matter' ? But she bottled her giggles and instead quite plainly profered "He is stronger and wiser than you. More a man of the world. Regard him as your tutor."
"Do YOU want me not to die for you?" asked the young man.
"Ah, _I_ should not dare to impose my wishes on you," said she, dropping his hand. "Even," she added, "if I knew what my wishes were. And I don't. I know only that I think it is very, very beautiful of you to think of dying for me."
"Then that settles it," said The MacQuern.
"No, no! You must not let yourself be influenced by ME. Besides, I am not in a mood to influence anybody. I am overwhelmed. Tell me," she said, covertly eyeing the Duke, guarding his hands for the slightest sign of impatience, "tell me, is it true that some of the other men love me too, and they -- feel as you do?"
The MacQuern said cautiously that he could answer for no one but himself. "But," he allowed, "I saw a good many men whom I know, outside the Hall here, just now, and they seemed to have made up their minds."
"To die for me? To-morrow?"
"To-morrow. After the Eights, I suppose; it wouldn't do to leave the races undecided."
"Of COURSE not. What old maids men are. But the poor dears! It is too touching! I have done nothing, nothing to deserve it."
"Nothing whatsoever," said the Duke drily.
"Oh HE," said Zuleika, "thinks me an unredeemed brute; just because I will lay myself down for him, and for his every whim. YOU, dear Mr. MacQuern -- does one call you 'Mr.'? 'The' would sound so odd in the vocative. And I can't very well call you 'MacQuern' -- YOU don't think me unkind, do you? I simply can't bear to think of all these young lives cut short."
"Be that as it may," spoke the Duke finally in the mood to cut the little comedy, "the hours are advanced. I bid you both a most excellent sleep." he said, bowing to the Scott, who stood stiffly before him. Zuleika responded with that graceful act of subsidence taken to the verge of collapse which is usually kept for the delectation of some royal person, and immediately thereupon crossed the Warden's threshold. The Duke turned around, and at his measured stride made for his home. The MacQuern was left behind, a pillar of confusion. Nobody knows how long he stood there. Perhaps until midnight ; or until dawn ; or past that still.
The news of Zuleika's departure spread soon and wide, creating the strangest atmosphere in the pretentious, sleepy little village. Take a certain E. J. Craddock, sitting at his small table, elbows squared and head on one side, caught ill at ease in the act of literary composition. The oars and caps on the walls betoken him a rowing-man. Indeed, his somewhat heavy face was in the Judas team looking up at the barge during College Eight.
A large tumbler was set in front of him, holding a considerable bounty of whisky and soda. From this he took a deep draught, and then he read over what he had written. He had written "I, the undersigned Edward Joseph Craddock, do hereby leave and bequeath all my personal and other property to Zuleika Dobson, spinster. This is my last will and testament." He gnawed his pen, and presently altered the "hereby leave" to "hereby and herewith leave." Fool!
In the room directly above were to be found two men, both of them evidently reading-men. One of them was pacing round the room. "Do you know," he was saying, "what she reminded me of, all the time? Those words -- aren't they in the Song of Solomon? -- 'fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and... and...'"
"'And terrible as an army with unfurled banners,'" supplied his host -- rather testily, for he was writing a letter. It began "My dear Father. By the time you receive this I shall have taken a step which..."
The whole college proceeded in like manner, doubtless to appear ridiculous to that one element never in good supply to be found at Oxford : the head of a woman with a good head on her shoulders. To the pityable herd of virgins, the pointless flailing of their infantile vanity smelled not in the slightest repugnant, not even pungent, in fact not at all detectable. Just as the universally mistreated carpet, so often steeped in wine and encrusted with smithereens of glass, did not appear to them in an unacceptable state even though it would have fixated the unrelenting efforts of a competent housewife along with all her helper women for days on end, just so the stale and rotting byproduct of mental masturbation globbing everywhere did not offend their narrowly myopic senses. Rendered brutish through incessant exposure, the peculiar flavours of drivel they insistently marinated in made less impression on their ego than water ordinarily leaves on fish.
To add insult to injury, or in any case to underscore Oxford's irrelevance to the comings and goings of the world, sensible as well as spiritual, the Duke's wedding was to be held at Tankerton. There was some pressure to have him hold the stately event in the unfit hamlet, which should have had him sneering, through in reality they produced very little above a plain, and somewhat cold, refusal. And on the other hand, a well disposed monarch had delicately suggested perhaps... A much stronger pressure, which the Duke parried respectfully, but parried nevertheless.
On the eve of his wedding the Duke for the first time encountered face to face Adelheid, his wife to momentarily be. She was a little shy, and a little put off by the sudden and momentuous changes in her heretofore simple life. Inexplicably her English was frightfully bad and yet she insisted to speak it, with all the dogged, humble determination of oak root seeking water. The Duke could speak German quite well, but he did not at all like to. She insisted he speak English to her, which he attempted, but upon realising that while she had appeared to read and comprehend his letters nevertheless she did not understand two thirds of anything he delivered via the oral route, he occasionally buttressed himself with French, which she seemed to understand well enough.
They exchanged compliments and pleasantries for maybe an hour altogether, in three or four installments prior to the service in church. The height of their congress was a bashful offering on the part of the maiden, who begged effluvious forgiveness for confessing that she does not as of yet love him, and promising all that good breeding and extensive sampling of extant romantic literature could produce for her in the vein of trying her best to love him and perhaps manage in time, which the Duke rebuffed with a rather curt "L'amour, cette notion d'Opera. C'est pour les danseuses, laissez les faire." that she understood correctly and on the first pass, but couldn't believe that she had. She evidently mulled the notion over throughout the day, but couldn't manage to form anything that'd have passed her own standards for an acceptable question.
The wedding service was resplendent and dignified. The wedding party was lengthy and in summary exhausting. The forced joy and the unconvincing effusions of random people arrayed for purely symbolic reasons, driven hither by form and pomp and circumstance, reduced to cutting their expression to measure in complicated courtly arrangements and bouquets dictated by mechanisms long seized and logic long gone to ruin grew tedious within the first hours and insufferable towards the end of the first day. By the third, as most of the guests were leaving, it cost the Duke all his strength and more than half his thoughts to keep from simply ordering everyone off the estate, hunting rifle on shoulder. It was no doubt very much different when all these swains actually knew each other, and actually cared for each other, stealing the food off one another's plate and the damsels from one another's bed for sport and jollies. Back when they went and died together on the fields, back when they were Henry's band of brothers. And even centuries later, when they went hunting, pheasants and peasants, perhaps some sense could still be made of their merrymaking. But by now it had decayed to a sickening degree, well approximated by a dozen kittens stuck in a sack, dragged by a horse through fifty yards of mud, and then not clawing each others' eyes out nor mewing the second coming simply for the sake of "being civilised" and "well brought up". Confound it all!
But the Duke kept his cool, and his Duchess managed to stand upright throughout the swirling, two thirds incomprehensible chaos she found herself thrust into for no fault of her own, and so eventually all went away and they were left in possession of the field. On their first night together, in their huge canopied bed, by the fireside, they naturally and quite pleasantly laid the foundation of a splendid domestic partnership. Her Grace closed her eyes, and trembled like one set to be cut in half. His Grace inquired what is her problem ? Her Grace managed through clenched teeth that she will do whatever he bids of her. His Grace observed that is well.
A short time later she ceased trembling, and not long after that opened her eyes. His Grace was reading. Her Grace mewed, literally, a kitten's mew, and cuddled herself into his side. His Grace patted her head. Her Grace, head upturned, asked what she should do. His Grace bid her lay on her back and spread her legs widely apart. Her Grace laid on her back, and spread her legs somewhat. His Grace went in between her legs and thrust inside Her Grace. Her Grace winced in pain. His Grace thrust some more and presently coated her womb in those thick strands that never before had known the insides of that particular womanly cavity. Her Grace became pregnant a few hours later, and that was the end of the matter.
Clotilde and the young wolverine struck a very close friendship on their first day at Tankerton. Both strangers, they found a quite natural solace in each other. By the next night Clotilde had been thoroughly corrupted by the insinuating manner of a certain little tongue. She found the other's stories both incredible and irresistible, and while her unspoken advances appeared, in theory, entirely resistible in practice she succumbed with Judaean celerity. The Duke would on occasion tell them nightly stories, and on other occasions explore amusements less livresque in their company. Their periods had syncronized by the time Adelheid appeared on the grounds, and amusingly enough it was again the older that took after the younger metronome. The Duke thought it the height of natural absurdity that the dominant female in his household should be a barely fifteen underclass wench, yet every other woman bowed before her in this peculiar manner.
The Duke also found rather amusing their disparity of affect : Clotilde rather loved poor foreign Adelheid, and doted on her with almost motherly concern. Zuleika's old lover was on the other hand colossaly jealous of the poor duchess, and very much ashamed, both to admit it, to have proof of her jealousy waved before her eyes, and conceivably even of the fact itself. The Duke teased her on occasion, which reduced the poor girl to a thoroughly humiliated, crying and contrite mass. He never could discover what exactly was the nevralgic point driving her. It seemed altogether improbable hers were a direct jealousy, as she didn't appear much inclined to duchess herself. Was she envious of the Duke's attention the duchess received ? But that wasn't overmuch in any case. Was she perhaps resentful of Adelheid for having usurped a role she, in her youthful mind, had readily ascribed Zuleika ? Perhaps, or maybe it was just one of those youthful infatuations which, caused by no discernible reason, controls the soul of the victim for a period only to disappear one day without a trace and without an explanation, never to be heard from again.
Lost among his newfound domestic bliss with its varied and multifaceted pleasures, the Duke nearly lost cunt of time, for a few weeks at least, until a telegram from the United States arrived to extract him from his hebetude. The agent of Essanay, Theatrical Production Company, with offices in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, wrote to notify his Grace that Dogson, Zuleika, under contract to the company, having become unable for personal reasons to complete her contract, was returning to England, and was to arrive with RMS Mauretania to land at Southampton on August the 5th in the afternoon. The Duke was much amused by the misspelling, but henceforth wrote to instruct his agent in New York to cede the stock he owned in Essanay to Mr. Abimelech V. Oover with the mention "for services rendered".
He then took the maids over for luncheon on the grass, by the riverside, in a little ensconcement they much favoured, and told them the news. Zuleika was coming back! The girls leaped and jumped for joy, they apparently had both very much missed their mistress, notwithstanding that she only was the mistress of one of them at any point or that only one of them was truly besides herself with joy, infecting and infusing the other. After much splashing and horsing about the time came to hide their pert bodies in their appointed textile prisons, and their feelings in the appropriate mode of behaviour, and they returned.
They could not, of course, go with him to Southampton. He had the excuse of business, to remove him to any place in the world, notwithstanding he didn't need excuses. They, however, did, and they who needed had absolutely none. On the 5th day of August the Duke lunched, then boarded the train for a pleasant two hour ride to culminate with a pleasant recouping of a most ill behaved beauty.
He somehow missed her in the crowd coming off the great ship, but she didn't miss him. She came at him from behind, deliberately, and getting rather closer than good manners would dictate for a young lady, she whispered a little song, something along the lines of "Allez, venez, Milord,"
He turned, startled, and there she was. Motherhood, evident to his eye even if not yet very unkind to her imaginary waist, had certainly inflated her bosom and set her pleasant tone aglow. He kissed her on impulse. She drank her fill shortly and broke off, running away in a zig-zag while carrying on her tune. "... vous asseoir a ma table... Il fait si froid, dehros, ici, c'est comfortable. Laissez vous faire, Milord! Et prenez bien vos aises... vos peines sur mon coeur, et vos pieds sur mes cuisses."
He followed the delightful Zuleika. Experience had rounded her into a most perfect figure, and the Duke felt, sharply and distinctly, an arrow of mystery penetrate his chest, along with the bow that launched it and the obsolete curlicue that held the bow. He took her for an early dinner at a very haughty French restaurant across the street from The Moonbeam Engineering Company and she recounted the full tableau of her adventures, matter over which, for fear of turning the paper pink, we shall pass in silence.
"Isn't it interesting," he observed over coffee, "three months ago in Oxford they'd have caused a riot. Today here you sit and nobody seems to notice."
"Ah, milord, I am already well forgotten. Fame doesn't last long."
"That was remarkably quick..." he proferred, pensively.
"You've well and truly ruined me." she said, a false, theatrical regret in her voice. "There's pictures and everything." then, after a pause, she looked at him, intently, her beautiful eyes that could readily bore through pig iron fixed on his. "Thank you." she said, simply.
The Duke bowed, paid the check and they left.
"Will you permit me to repay my dinner, milord ?" she asked, invitingly.
"What do you have in mind ?"
"There must be a brothel around here somewhere. It's a port after all. You could hire a girl and I could hold her in my arms for you. Or I suppose she could hold me. Or we could both kneel and..." The Duke thought the idea quite palatable, and soon enough they had found a little brunette vixen that didn't fear the cane more than she wanted a sovereign. She couldn't have been older than 16, though she claimed otherwise. The Duke spent a most agreeable evening in the company of his two whores ; and they resolved that Zuleika should by herself return to Oxford, and beg her grandfather for board for just a little while, to sort herself out. Then, as her pregnancy was to be discovered, necessarily there'd be a scandal, because simple people can't possibly do anything without a scandal, and the more convinced they are of their own civilised refinement the louder. The Duke could then swoop in and rescue her, "if he had it within his good heart", as the very humble Zuleika most enticingly put it.
Her modesty was authentic, and as she had observed, "earned in earnest, with a lot of hard sweat". She wouldn't have held it against him if he had forgotten all about her in the interim, and the Duke could scarcely think of a more glowing recommendation in her favour. As he paid the vixen her sovereign Zuleika observed in her self-effacing manner that now she owes for two meals, to which the Duke retorted that in between her various valuable effects left in the charge of his agent as she made for America and the considerable portion of her earnings there that accrue to her, she's very far from a poor woman. She turned deep and serious for a moment, her youthful nonchalance whisked away like mist, and replied that if he would trust any portion of that upon her child she'd be forever grateful, while for herself she aims no more than to eat stinky cheese slices off his rug whenever he felt so inclined as to throw her some.
It wasn't her words, or the sentiment they betrayed, that enraptured the Duke. Words can be learned by rote, and sentiments betrayed by words are always passible of having been switched for a poisoned variant. No, that she dared express in front of him the woman behind the mask, the older, slightly melancholy, faintly lined face of herself, entirely conquered him. It was an intimate familiarity more nuanced, and less contrived, and more deeply human than anything, made all the more bedazzling by the elegant, complicatedly filigreed construction it found itself mounted in.
The Duke knew, right then and right there, that he will forever love his mistress, just as he will forever cherish his wife, just as he will forever tell stories and write in that secret, burning alphabet upon the skins of vixens and wolverines that'll forever come to visit him when the wolves do.
- Ebon, seriously ? Fuck ebon. No black men, and for that matter no even vaguely toasted men ever built a university, and this shall not be glossed over.
Of course, the misinterpretation I must here guard the text from wasn't even remotely conceivable back in 1912. If this is your notion of progress, you are an imbecile. [↩]
- Why exactly it is you need a chinaberry stick to be worthy of the background is detailed in The elephant in the room. [↩]
- Train timetables, published by W. J. Adams of London. Not normally issued in psychotic covers (beyond some gold leaf), but there did exist a significant aftermarket for such improvements at the time. [↩]
- "A Complete Illustrated Course of Instruction on How To Enter Vaudeville" by Frederic La Delle of Jackson, Michigan, published that same year. More broadly known as "How to enter Failville" in cultivated circles. [↩]
- The original author's unfamiliarity with the Classics is preserved here because it conveniently accentuates the camp-y effect of the whole piece. Otherwise, Greek art, especially sculptural, is chiefly famous today for exactly the circumstance that, having found the perfect body, it went overboard and stylisized it into cartoonish nonsense. They reached the target, but then couldn't stop. It happens. [↩]
Ah! je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir
Est-ce toi, Marguerite, est-ce toi?
Réponds-moi, réponds-moi, réponds, réponds, réponds vite!
Non! Non! ce n'est plus toi! Non... non, ce n'est plus ton visage;
C'est la fille d'un roi; ce n'est plus toi, qu'on salut au passage!
Ah s'il était ici! S'il me voyait ainsi!
Comme une demoiselle il me trouverait belle, Ah!
Comme une demoiselle, Il me trouverait belle!
Achevons la métamorphose, il me tarde encor d'essayer le bracelet et le collier!
Dieu! C'est comme une main, qui sur mon bras se pose! Ah! Ah!
Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle dans ce miroir!
- Beerbohm's Latin excursions are in the worst of tastes, I aver. [↩]
- See Mathilde, the ballerina. [↩]
- Tankerton is a 19th century sea resort, without any medieval history, entirely developed by and for the burgeoning consumer market. The original joke is something in the vein of Baron Cohen's "East Staines", and as such it is preserved. [↩]
- I didn't overlook this ; I left it in deliberately. I also left the "an" in deliberately, not just because of the an hero reference, but also because I do not wish to hear any imbeciles whine about ownership.
There is no such thing as an owned text. There is such a thing as an owned wife ; the fact that you don't own yours does not prove anything beyond the circumstance that I do. [↩]
- This is inexact, the manuscript'd be more properly called Milanese. The Duke, however, would have known it as Venetian, as it was sold by Sothesby's on June 15th 1836 part of "the collection of the Venetian Jesuit Matteo Luigi Canonici, d 1806". [↩]
- Cornus mas, a kind of dogwood. Think meaner hazel, for the purpose. [↩]
- I'm too lazy to dig through the 1912 edition of Who's Who In The Theatre for an appropriate name. Essenay was an early cinematics production house, extinct shortly after our story, you'll have to pretend it did theatre instead because I'm also way too lazy to even attempt bridging Deepthroat into this hot mess. [↩]
- Named for the fellow for whom Rhodesia was also named, Cecil John Rhodes. [↩]
- Well, I had to pick someone, and it's really not my fault these people produced no cunt between 1860 and 1900. Pretend she was born in 1897, what can I say. [↩]
- You will no doubt notice that the only substantial matter in discussion between the two young women is a man, who furthermore inescapably controls their destiny. This isn't intentional but, like all good things, unavoidable. [↩]
- See the discussion re the origins of human thought. [↩]
- English has no antonym for "his betters". This is scandalous. [↩]