Zuleika Dobson/Chapter 7
The Duke did not try to break the stony silence in which Zuleika walked. Her displeasure was a luxury to him, for it was so soon to be dispelled. A little while, and she would be hating herself for her pettiness. Here was he, going to die for her; and here was she, blaming him for a breach of manners. Decidedly, the slave had the whip-hand. He stole a sidelong look at her, and could not repress a smile. His features quickly composed themselves. The Triumph of Death must not be handled as a cheap score. He wanted to die because he would thereby so poignantly consummate his love, express it so completely, once and for all . . . And she—who could say that she, knowing what he had done, might not, illogically, come to love him? Perhaps she would devote her life to mourning him. He saw her bending over his tomb, in beautiful humble curves, under a starless sky, watering the violets with her tears.
Shades of Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel and other despicable maunderers! He brushed them aside. He would be practical. The point was, when and how to die? Time: the sooner the better. Manner: . . less easy to determine. He must not die horribly, nor without dignity. The manner of the Roman philosophers? But the only kind of bath which an undergraduate can command is a hip-bath. Stay! there was the river. Drowning (he had often heard) was a rather pleasant sensation. And to the river he was even now on his way.
It troubled him that he could swim. Twice, indeed, from his yacht, he had swum the Hellespont. And how about the animal instinct of self- preservation, strong even in despair? No matter! His soul's set purpose would subdue that. The law of gravitation that brings one to the surface? There his very skill in swimming would help him. He would swim under water, along the river-bed, swim till he found weeds to cling to, weird strong weeds that he would coil round him, exulting faintly . . .
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.
He had heard that whenever a woman was to blame for a disappointment, the best way to avoid a scene was to inculpate oneself. He did not wish Zuleika to store up yet more material for penitence. And so "I am sorry," he said. "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."
"Meet a torrent? Let us have tea in my rooms and go down quietly for the other Division."
"Let us go straight on."
Through the square, across the High, down Grove Street, they passed. The Duke looked up at the tower of Merton, "os oupot authis alla nyn paunstaton." 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 doom as trivial.
Aye, by all minerals we are mocked. Vegetables, yearly deciduous, 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 the Duke as he passed by. "Adieu, adieu, your Grace," 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— that is, if the members of the animal kingdom have immortal souls, as we have."
The Duke was little versed in their language; yet, as he passed between these gently garrulous blooms, he caught at least the drift of their salutation, and smiled a vague but courteous acknowledgment, to the right and the left alternately, creating a very favourable impression.
No doubt, the young elms lining the straight way to the barges had seen him 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 of which the Duke had spoken; 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. He thinks it adds to his prestige. Whereas, 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 is a fact that no man, howsoever graced, can shine in juxtaposition to a very pretty woman. 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 from a vista 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 learning 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 of her charm. Some of it, there is no doubt, she did inherit from the circus-rider who was her mother.)
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 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—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. Yet for her and the Duke, in the midst of the terrific compress, there 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, she, as well she might be, was in the very best of good humours.
"What a lot of house-boats!" she exclaimed. "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 had half a mind to go back through the midst of them; but she really did want her tea, and she followed the Duke on to the barge, and under his auspices climbed 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, and asked the Duke to look less disagreeable and to give her some tea.
Among others hovering near the little buffet were the two youths whose parley with the Duke I have recorded.
Zuleika was aware of the special persistence of their gaze. When the Duke came back with her cup, she asked him who they were. He replied, truthfully enough, that their names were unknown to him.
"Then," she said, "ask them their names, and introduce them to me."
"No," said the Duke, sinking into the chair beside her. "That I shall not do. I am your victim: not your pander. Those two men stand on the threshold of a possibly useful and agreeable career. I am not going to trip them up for you."
"I am not sure," said Zuleika, "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 me, why not let them talk to me? It were an experience on which they would always look back with romantic pleasure. They may never see me 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 ME! When I came to your rooms this morning, thinking I loved in vain, did I seem one jot the worse for it? Did I look different?"
"You looked, I am bound to say, nobler, more spiritual."
"More spiritual?" she exclaimed. "Do you mean I looked tired or ill?"
"No, you seemed quite fresh. But then, you are singular. You are no criterion."
"You mean you can't judge those two young men by me? Well, I am only a woman, of course. 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. Will you put my cup down, please?"
"Past?" echoed the Duke, as he placed her cup on the floor. "Have any of your lovers ceased to love you?"
"Ah no, no; 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.
"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."
"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. Beerbohm, 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 since yesterday," answered the Duke (not less unfairly to himself than to Roger Newdigate and Thomas Gaisford). And he felt he was especially a dramatic poet. 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, it was the sense of tragic irony that prevailed in him—that sense which had stirred in him, and been repressed, on the way from Judas. He knew that she was making her effect consciously 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 might have seemed to be making love to him. He envied the men she was so deliberately making envious—the men whom, in her undertone to him, she was really addressing. But he did take comfort in the irony. Though she used him as a stalking-horse, he, after all, was playing with her as a cat plays with a mouse. While she chattered on, without an inkling that he was no ordinary lover, and coaxing him to present two quite ordinary young men to her, he held over her the revelation that he for love of her was about to die.
And, while he drank in the radiance of her beauty, he heard her chattering on. "So you see," she was saying, "it couldn't do those young men any harm. Suppose unrequited love IS anguish: isn't the discipline wholesome? Suppose I AM a sort of furnace: shan't I purge, refine, temper? Those two boys are but scorched from here. That is horrid; and what good will it do them?" She laid a hand on his arm. "Cast them into the furnace for their own sake, dear Duke! Or cast one of them, or," she added, glancing round at the throng, "any one of these others!"
"For their own sake?" he echoed, withdrawing his arm. "If you were not, as the whole world knows you to be, perfectly respectable, there might be something in what you say. But as it is, you can but be an engine for mischief; and your sophistries leave me unmoved. I shall certainly keep you to myself."
"I hate you," said Zuleika, with an ugly petulance that crowned the irony.
"So long as I live," uttered the Duke, in a level voice, "you will address no man but me."
"If your prophecy is to be fulfilled," laughed Zuleika, rising from her chair, "your last moment is at hand."
"It is," he answered, rising too.
"What do you mean?" she asked, awed by something in his tone.
"I mean what I say: that my last moment is at hand." He withdrew his eyes from hers, and, leaning his elbows on the balustrade, gazed thoughtfully at the river. "When I am dead," he added, over his shoulder, "you will find these fellows rather coy of your advances."
For the first time since his avowal of his love for her, Zuleika found herself genuinely interested in him. A suspicion of his meaning had flashed through her soul. —But no! surely he could not mean THAT! It must have been a metaphor merely. And yet, something in his eyes . . . She leaned beside him. Her shoulder touched his. She gazed questioningly at him. He did not turn his face to her. He gazed at the sunlit river.
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. It occurred to the Duke as a strange thing, and a thing to be glad of, that he, in this world, would never be an Old Judasian. Zuleika's shoulder pressed his. He thrilled not at all. To all intents, he was dead already.
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 he had meant.
"All these men," he repeated dreamily, "will be coy of your advances." It seemed to him a good thing that his death, his awful example, would disinfatuate his fellow alumni. He had never been conscious of public spirit. He had lived for himself alone. Love had come to him yesternight, and to-day had waked in him a sympathy with mankind. It was a fine thing to be a saviour. It was splendid to be human. He looked quickly round to her who had wrought this change in him.
But 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. Only for the fraction of an instant, though. Recoiling, he beheld the loveliness that he knew—more adorably vivid now in its look of eager questioning. 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 recaptured, not her love, but his power to please her. It was enough. He bowed his head; and "Moriturus te saluto" were the words formed silently by his lips. He was glad that his death would be a public service to the University. But the salutary lesson of what the newspapers would call his "rash act" was, after all, only a side-issue. The great thing, the prospect that flushed his cheek, was the consummation of his own love, for its own sake, by his own death. And, as he met her gaze, the question that had already flitted through his brain found a faltering utterance; and "Shall you mourn me?" he asked her.
But she would have no ellipses. "What are you going to do?" she whispered.
"Do you not know?"
"Once and for all: you cannot love me?"
Slowly she shook her head. The black pearl and the pink, quivering, gave stress to her ultimatum. But the violet of her eyes was all but hidden by the dilation of her pupils.
"Then," whispered the Duke, "when I shall have died, deeming life a vain thing without you, will the gods give you tears for me? Miss Dobson, will your soul awaken? When I shall have sunk for ever beneath these waters whose supposed purpose here this afternoon is but that they be ploughed by the blades of these young oarsmen, will there be struck from that flint, your heart, some late and momentary spark of pity for me?"
"Why of course, of COURSE!" babbled Zuleika, with clasped hands and dazzling eyes. "But," she curbed herself, "it is—it would—oh, you mustn't THINK of it! I couldn't allow it! I—I should never forgive myself!"
"In fact, you would mourn me always?"
"Why yes! . . Y-es-always." What else could she say? But would his answer be that he dared not condemn her to lifelong torment?
"Then," his answer was, "my joy in dying for you is made perfect."
Her muscles relaxed. Her breath escaped between her teeth. "You are utterly resolved?" she asked. "Are you?"
"Nothing I might say could change your purpose?"
"No entreaty, howsoever piteous, could move you?"
Forthwith she urged, entreated, cajoled, commanded, with infinite prettiness of ingenuity and of eloquence. Never was such a cascade of dissuasion as hers. She only didn't say she could love him. She never hinted that. Indeed, throughout her pleading rang this recurrent motif: that he must live to take to himself as mate some good, serious, clever woman who would be a not unworthy mother of his children.
She laid stress on his youth, his great position, his brilliant attainments, the much he had already achieved, the splendid possibilities of his future. Though of course she spoke in undertones, not to be overheard by the throng on the barge, it was almost as though his health were being floridly proposed at some public banquet —say, at a Tenants' Dinner. Insomuch that, when she ceased, the Duke half expected Jellings, his steward, to bob up uttering, with lifted hands, a stentorian "For-or," and all the company to take up the chant: "he's—a jolly good fellow." His brief reply, on those occasions, seemed always to indicate that, whatever else he might be, a jolly good fellow he was not. But by Zuleika's eulogy he really was touched. "Thank you—thank you," he gasped; and there were tears in his eyes. Dear the thought that she so revered him, so wished him not to die. But this was no more than a rush-light in the austere radiance of his joy in dying for her.
And the time was come. Now for the sacrament of his immersion in infinity.
"Good-bye," he said simply, and was about to swing himself on to the ledge of the balustrade. Zuleika, divining his intention, made way for him. Her bosom heaved quickly, quickly. All colour had left her face; but her eyes shone as never before.
Already his foot was on the ledge, 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, rather bitterly, at the crude and trivial interruption of high matters.
"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, "I, clinging to the weeds of the river's bed, shall see dimly the boats and the oars pass over me, and shall be able to gurgle a cheer for 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 he must not die—not yet! A moment ago, his death 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, going to die here, before her eyes, because she no longer loved him. But she knew now that he 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 him die 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 him, and his soul, maybe, have passed away. She had saved him, 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 lover. She would keep him with her—for a while! Let all be done in order. She would savour the full sweetness of his sacrifice. Tomorrow—to-morrow, yes, let him have his heart's desire of death. 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.
And the Duke, tightly held by her, vibrated as to a powerful electric current. He let her cling to him, and her magnetism range through him. Ah, it was good not to have died! Fool, he had meant to drain off- hand, at one coarse draught, the delicate wine of death. He would let his lips caress the brim of the august goblet. He would dally with the aroma that was there.
"So be it!" he cried into Zuleika's ear—cried loudly, for it seemed as though all the Wagnerian orchestras of Europe, with the Straussian ones thrown in, were here to clash in unison the full volume of right music for the glory of the reprieve.
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. For already the news that the Duke loved Zuleika, and that she loved him not, and would stoop to no man who loved her, had spread like wild-fire among the undergraduates. The two youths in whom the Duke had deigned to confide had not held their peace. And the effect that Zuleika had made as she came down to the river was intensified by the knowledge that not the great paragon himself did she deem worthy of her. The mere sight of her had captured young Oxford. The news of her supernal haughtiness had riveted the chains.
"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."
"But you won't leave me there?" pleaded Zuleika. "You will stay to dinner? I am sure my grandfather would be delighted."
"I am sure he would," said the Duke, as he piloted her down the steps of the barge. "But alas, I have to dine at the Junta to-night."
"The Junta? What is that?"
"A little dining-club. It meets every Tuesday."
"But—you don't mean you are going to refuse me for that?"
"To do so is misery. But I have no choice. I have asked a guest."
"Then ask another: ask me!" Zuleika's notions of Oxford life were rather hazy. It was with difficulty that the Duke made her realise that he could not—not even if, as she suggested, she dressed herself up as a man—invite her to the Junta. She then fell back on the impossibility that he would not dine with her to-night, his last night in this world. She could not understand that admirable fidelity to social engagements which is one of the virtues implanted in the members of our aristocracy. Bohemian by training and by career, she construed the Duke's refusal as either a cruel slight to herself or an act of imbecility. The thought of being parted from her for one moment was torture to him; but "noblesse oblige," and it was quite impossible for him to break an engagement merely because a more charming one offered itself: he would as soon have cheated at cards.
And so, as they went side by side up the avenue, in the mellow light of the westering sun, preceded in their course, and pursued, and surrounded, by the mob of hoarse infatuate youths, Zuleika's face was as that of a little girl sulking. Vainly the Duke reasoned with her. She could NOT see the point of view.
With that sudden softening that comes to the face of an angry woman who has hit on a good argument, she turned to him and asked "How if I hadn't saved your life just now? Much you thought about your guest when you were going to dive and die!"
"I did not forget him," answered the Duke, smiling at her casuistry. "Nor had I any scruple in disappointing him. Death cancels all engagements."
And Zuleika, worsted, resumed her sulking. But presently, as they neared Judas, she relented. It was paltry to be cross with him who had resolved to die for her and was going to die so on the morrow. And after all, she would see him at the concert to-night. They would sit together. And all to-morrow they would be together, till the time came for parting. Hers was a naturally sunny disposition. And the evening was such a lovely one, all bathed in gold. She was ashamed of her ill-humour.
"Forgive me," she said, touching his arm. "Forgive me for being horrid." And forgiven she promptly was. "And promise you will spend all to-morrow with me." And of course he promised.
As they stood together on the steps of the Warden's front-door, exalted above the level of the flushed and swaying crowd that filled the whole length and breadth of Judas Street, she implored him not to be late for the concert.
"I am never late," he smiled.
"Ah, you're so beautifully brought up!"
The door was opened.
"And—oh, you're beautiful besides!" she whispered; and waved her hand to him as she vanished into the hall.