Hungerton, her father, really
was the most tactless person
upon earth,--a fluffy, feathery,
untidy cockatoo of a man, perfectly
good-natured, but absolutely
centered upon his own silly self.
If anything could have driven
me from Gladys, it would have
been the thought of such a father-in-law.
I am convinced that he really
believed in his heart that I
came round to the Chestnuts three
days a week for the pleasure
of his company, and very especially
to hear his views upon bimetallism,
a subject upon which he was by
way of being an authority.
For an hour or more that evening
I listened to his monotonous
chirrup about bad money driving
out good, the token value of
silver, the depreciation of the
rupee, and the true standards
"Suppose," he cried with feeble
violence, "that all the debts
in the world were called up simultaneously,
and immediate payment insisted
upon,--what under our present
conditions would happen then?"
I gave the self-evident answer
that I should be a ruined man,
upon which he jumped from his
chair, reproved me for my habitual
levity, which made it impossible
for him to discuss any reasonable
subject in my presence, and bounced
off out of the room to dress
for a Masonic meeting.
At last I was alone with Gladys,
and the moment of Fate had come!
All that evening I had felt like
the soldier who awaits the signal
which will send him on a forlorn
hope; hope of victory and fear
of repulse alternating in his
She sat with that proud, delicate
profile of hers outlined against
the red curtain. How beautiful
she was! And yet how aloof! We
had been friends, quite good
friends; but never could I get
beyond the same comradeship which
I might have established with
one of my fellow-reporters upon
the Gazette,--perfectly frank,
perfectly kindly, and perfectly
unsexual. My instincts are all
against a woman being too frank
and at her ease with me. It is
no compliment to a man. Where
the real sex feeling begins,
timidity and distrust are its
companions, heritage from old
wicked days when love and violence
went often hand in hand. The
bent head, the averted eye, the
faltering voice, the wincing
figure-- these, and not the unshrinking
gaze and frank reply, are the
true signals of passion. Even
in my short life I had learned
as much as that--or had inherited
it in that race memory which
we call instinct.
Gladys was full of every womanly
quality. Some judged her to be
cold and hard; but such a thought
was treason. That delicately
bronzed skin, almost oriental
in its coloring, that raven hair,
the large liquid eyes, the full
but exquisite lips,--all the
stigmata of passion were there.
But I was sadly conscious that
up to now I had never found the
secret of drawing it forth. However,
come what might, I should have
done with suspense and bring
matters to a head to-night. She
could but refuse me, and better
be a repulsed lover than an accepted
far my thoughts
me, and I was about to break
the long and uneasy silence,
when two critical, dark eyes
looked round at me, and the proud
head was shaken in smiling reproof. "I
have a presentiment that you
are going to propose, Ned. I
do wish you wouldn't; for things
are so much nicer as they are."
drew my chair
a little nearer. "Now,
how did you know that I was going
to propose?" I asked in genuine
know? Do you
woman in the
world was ever taken unawares?
But--oh, Ned, our friendship
has been so good and so pleasant!
What a pity to spoil it! Don't
you feel how splendid it is that
a young man and a young woman
should be able to talk face to
face as we have talked?"
"I don't know, Gladys. You
see, I can talk face to face
with-- with the station-master." I
can't imagine how that official
came into the matter; but in
he trotted, and set us both laughing. "That
does not satisfy me in the least.
I want my arms round you, and
your head on my breast, and--oh,
Gladys, I want----"
from her chair,
as she saw signs that I proposed
to demonstrate some of my wants. "You've
spoiled everything, Ned," she
said. "It's all so beautiful
and natural until this kind of
thing comes in! It is such a
pity! Why can't you control yourself?"
"I didn't invent it," I pleaded. "It's
nature. It's love."
it may be different.
I have never
with your beauty,
with your soul!
you were made for love! You must
must wait till
why can't you
love me, Gladys?
Is it my appearance,
She did unbend a little. She
put forward a hand--such a gracious,
stooping attitude it was--and
she pressed back my head. Then
she looked into my upturned face
with a very wistful smile.
"No it isn't that," she said
at last. "You're not a conceited
boy by nature, and so I can safely
tell you it is not that. It's
She nodded severely.
can I do to
mend it? Do
sit down and
talk it over.
No, really, I won't if you'll
only sit down!"
She looked at me with a wondering
distrust which was much more
to my mind than her whole-hearted
confidence. How primitive and
bestial it looks when you put
it down in black and white!--and
perhaps after all it is only
a feeling peculiar to myself.
Anyhow, she sat down.
tell me what's
"I'm in love with somebody
else," said she.
It was my turn to jump out
of my chair.
"It's nobody in particular," she
explained, laughing at the expression
of my face: "only an ideal. I've
never met the kind of man I mean."
me about him.
What does he
he might look
very much like
dear of you
to say that!
Well, what is it that he does
that I don't do? Just say the
aeronaut, theosophist, superman.
I'll have a try at it, Gladys,
if you will only give me an idea
what would please you."
of my character. "Well, in the
first place, I don't think my
ideal would speak like that," said
she. "He would be a harder, sterner
man, not so ready to adapt himself
to a silly girl's whim. But,
above all, he must be a man who
could do, who could act, who
could look Death in the face
and have no fear of him, a man
of great deeds and strange experiences.
It is never a man that I should
love, but always the glories
he had won; for they would be
reflected upon me. Think of Richard
Burton! When I read his wife's
life of him I could so understand
her love! And Lady Stanley! Did
you ever read the wonderful last
chapter of that book about her
husband? These are the sort of
men that a woman could worship
with all her soul, and yet be
the greater, not the less, on
account of her love, honored
by all the world as the inspirer
of noble deeds."
She looked so beautiful in
her enthusiasm that I nearly
brought down the whole level
of the interview. I gripped myself
hard, and went on with the argument.
"We can't all be Stanleys and
Burtons," said I; "besides, we
don't get the chance,--at least,
I never had the chance. If I
did, I should try to take it."
you. It is
the mark of
of man I mean that he makes his
own chances. You can't hold him
back. I've never met him, and
yet I seem to know him so well.
There are heroisms all round
us waiting to be done. It's for
men to do them, and for women
to reserve their love as a reward
for such men. Look at that young
Frenchman who went up last week
in a balloon. It was blowing
a gale of wind; but because he
was announced to go he insisted
on starting. The wind blew him
fifteen hundred miles in twenty-four
hours, and he fell in the middle
of Russia. That was the kind
of man I mean. Think of the woman
he loved, and how other women
must have envied her! That's
what I should like to be,--envied
for my man."
have done it
to please you."
do it merely
to please me. You should do it
because you can't help yourself,
because it's natural to you,
because the man in you is crying
out for heroic expression. Now,
when you described the Wigan
coal explosion last month, could
you not have gone down and helped
those people, in spite of the
"I didn't know." She looked
at me with rather more interest. "That
was brave of you."
had to. If
you want to
copy, you must
the things are."
"What a prosaic motive! It
seems to take all the romance
out of it. But, still, whatever
your motive, I am glad that you
went down that mine." She gave
me her hand; but with such sweetness
and dignity that I could only
stoop and kiss it. "I dare say
I am merely a foolish woman with
a young girl's fancies. And yet
it is so real with me, so entirely
part of my very self, that I
cannot help acting upon it. If
I marry, I do want to marry a
"Why should you not?" I cried. "It
is women like you who brace men
up. Give me a chance, and see
if I will take it! Besides, as
you say, men ought to MAKE their
own chances, and not wait until
they are given. Look at Clive--just
a clerk, and he conquered India!
By George! I'll do something
in the world yet!"
my sudden Irish
effervescence. "Why not?" she
said. "You have everything a
man could have,--youth, health,
strength, education, energy.
I was sorry you spoke. And now
I am glad--so glad--if it wakens
these thoughts in you!"
if I do----"
dear hand rested
like warm velvet
upon my lips. "Not
Sir! You should
at the office for evening duty
half an hour ago; only I hadn't
the heart to remind you. Some
day, perhaps, when you have won
your place in the world, we shall
talk it over again."
And so it was that I found
myself that foggy November evening
pursuing the Camberwell tram
with my heart glowing within
me, and with the eager determination
that not another day should elapse
before I should find some deed
which was worthy of my lady.
But who--who in all this wide
world could ever have imagined
the incredible shape which that
deed was to take, or the strange
steps by which I was led to the
doing of it?
And, after all, this opening
chapter will seem to the reader
to have nothing to do with my
narrative; and yet there would
have been no narrative without
it, for it is only when a man
goes out into the world with
the thought that there are heroisms
all round him, and with the desire
all alive in his heart to follow
any which may come within sight
of him, that he breaks away as
I did from the life he knows,
and ventures forth into the wonderful
mystic twilight land where lie
the great adventures and the
great rewards. Behold me, then,
at the office of the Daily Gazette,
on the staff of which I was a
most insignificant unit, with
the settled determination that
very night, if possible, to find
the quest which should be worthy
of my Gladys! Was it hardness,
was it selfishness, that she
should ask me to risk my life
for her own glorification? Such
thoughts may come to middle age;
but never to ardent three-and-twenty
in the fever of his first love.