Zuleika Dobson/Chapter 6
"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. Or perhaps it was because he felt that in a Christian community not even the meanest and basest of men should be accounted beneath contempt, beyond redemption.
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 now Zuleika was changing her frock—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 pacing 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 in his sombre reverie. His manner was not encouraging.
"Isn't it 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 icy.
"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, with melancholy 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," sighed 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.
It was sweet, it was bitter, for the Duke. "I remember," Zuleika had said to him, "nothing that happened to me this morning till I found myself at your door." It was bitter-sweet to have that outline filled in by these artless pencils. No, it was only bitter, to be, at his time of life, living in the past.
"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 just now," 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 fellow- lovers. He would fain preserve them from the anguish that beset himself. So humanising is sorrow.
"You are in love with Miss Dobson?" he asked.
"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 he could take the good advice he had given them . . . Suppose he did take it! Suppose he went to the Bursar, obtained an exeat, fled straight to London! What just humiliation for Zuleika to come down and find her captive gone! He pictured her staring around the quadrangle, ranging the cloisters, calling to him. He pictured her rustling to the gate of the College, inquiring at the porter's lodge. "His Grace, Miss, he passed through a minute ago. He's going down this afternoon."
Yet, even while his fancy luxuriated in this scheme, he well knew that he would not accomplish anything of the kind—knew well that he would wait here humbly, eagerly, even though Zuleika lingered over her toilet till crack o' doom. He had no desire that was not centred in her. Take away his love for her, and what remained? Nothing—though only in the past twenty-four hours had this love been added to him. Ah, why had he ever seen her? He thought of his past, its cold splendour and insouciance. But he knew that for him there was no returning. His boats were burnt. The Cytherean babes had set their torches to that flotilla, and it had blazed like match-wood. On the isle of the enchantress he was stranded for ever. For ever stranded on the isle of an enchantress who would have nothing to do with him! What, he wondered, should be done in so piteous a quandary? There seemed to be two courses. One was to pine slowly and painfully away. The other . . .
Academically, the Duke had often reasoned that a man for whom life holds no chance of happiness cannot too quickly shake life off. Now, of a sudden, there was for that theory a vivid application.
"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer" was not a point by which he, "more an antique Roman than a Dane," was at all troubled. Never had he given ear to that cackle which is called Public Opinion. The judgment of his peers—this, he had often told himself, was the sole arbitrage he could submit to; but then, who was to be on the bench? Peerless, he was irresponsible—the captain of his soul, the despot of his future. No injunction but from himself would he bow to; and his own injunctions—so little Danish was he—had always been peremptory and lucid. Lucid and peremptory, now, the command he issued to himself.
"So sorry to have been so long," carolled a voice from above. The Duke looked up. "I'm all but ready," said Zuleika at her window.
That brief apparition changed the colour of his resolve. He realised that to die for love of this lady 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 he ask than to die for his love? Poor indeed seemed to him now the sacrament of marriage beside the sacrament of death. Death was incomparably the greater, the finer soul. Death was the one true bridal.
He flung back his head, spread wide his arms, quickened his pace almost to running speed. Ah, he would win his bride before the setting of the sun. He knew not by what means he would win her. Enough that even now, full-hearted, fleet-footed, he was on his way to her, and that she heard him coming.
When Zuleika, a vision in vaporous white, came out through the postern, she wondered why he was walking at so remarkable a pace. To him, wildly expressing in his movement the thought within him, she appeared as his awful bride. With a cry of joy, he bounded towards her, and would have caught her in his arms, had she not stepped nimbly aside.
"Forgive me!" he said, after a pause. "It was a mistake—an idiotic mistake of identity. I thought you were . . ."
Zuleika, rigid, asked "Have I many doubles?"
"You know well that in all the world is none so blest as to be like you. I can only say that I was over-wrought. I can only say that it shall not occur again."
She was very angry indeed. Of his penitence there could be no doubt. But there are outrages for which no penitence can atone. This seemed to be one of them. Her first impulse was to dismiss the Duke forthwith and for ever. But she wanted to show herself at the races. And she could not go alone. And except the Duke there was no one to take her. True, there was the concert to-night; and she could show herself there to advantage; but she wanted ALL Oxford to see her—see her NOW.
"I am forgiven?" he asked. In her, I am afraid, self-respect outweighed charity. "I will try," she said merely, "to forget what you have done." Motioning him to her side, she opened her parasol, and signified her readiness to start.
They passed together across the vast gravelled expanse of the Front Quadrangle. In the porch of the College there were, as usual, some chained-up dogs, patiently awaiting their masters. Zuleika, of course, did not care for dogs. One has never known a good man to whom dogs were not dear; but many of the best women have no such fondness. You will find that the woman who is really kind to dogs is always one who has failed to inspire sympathy in men. For the attractive woman, dogs are mere dumb and restless brutes—possibly dangerous, certainly soulless. Yet will coquetry teach her to caress any dog in the presence of a man enslaved by her. Even Zuleika, it seems, was not above this rather obvious device for awaking envy. Be sure she did not at all like the look of the very big bulldog who was squatting outside the porter's lodge. Perhaps, but for her present anger, she would not have stooped endearingly down to him, as she did, cooing over him and trying to pat his head. Alas, her pretty act was a failure. The bulldog cowered away from her, horrifically grimacing. This was strange. Like the majority of his breed, Corker (for such was his name) had ever been wistful to be noticed by any one—effusively grateful for every word or pat, an ever-ready wagger and nuzzler, to none ineffable. No beggar, no burglar, had ever been rebuffed by this catholic beast. But he drew the line at Zuleika.
Seldom is even a fierce bulldog heard to growl. Yet Corker growled at Zuleika.