BACK FROM THE DEAD

The Clare Stanley who studied Bakounin and quoted Matthew Arnold was
a very different girl from the Clare Stanley who had in the autumn
entertained the reprehensible idea of bringing to her feet the
interesting stranger at Morley’s Hotel. In looking back on that time,
which she did with hot cheeks and uncomfortable self-condemnation,
it really seemed to her that she had changed into another
being–development, when it is rapid, being always bewildering. It
would be interesting to know with what emotions the rose remembers
being a green bud. Pleasanter ones perhaps than those of the woman
whose new earnest sense of the intense seriousness of life leads her to
look back–not with indulgent eyes–on the follies of her unawakened
girlhood. The story of the sleeping beauty is an allegory with a very
real meaning. Every woman’s mind has its time of slumber, when the
creed of the day is truth and the convention of the day is morality.
The fairy prince’s awakening kiss may come in the pages of a book,
in the words of a speaker, through love, through suffering, through
sorrow, through a thousand things glad or sad, and to some it never
comes, and that is the saddest thing of all. Clare had slept, and now
was well awake, and it was no word of Count Litvinoff’s that had broken
the slumbrous spell.

Sometimes she almost wished it had been, for she could not conceal
from herself the fact that she had succeeded in doing what she had
desired to do, and that Count Litvinoff _was_ at her feet. The position
became him, certainly, but she felt a perverse objection to being
placed on a pedestal, and a new conviction that she would rather look
up to a lover than down at one. And yet why should she look down on
him? He was cleverer than she, with a larger knowledge of life–had
done incomparably more for the cause she had espoused. He was brave,
handsome, and, to some extent, a martyr, and he loved her, or she
thought so, which came to the same thing. Verily, a man with all these
qualifications was hardly the sort of lover for a girl under the
twenties to look down upon. But could she help looking down on him, for
was he not at her feet? And that was not the place, she thought, for
a man who had drawn the sword in such a war as she and he had entered
upon. What right had a man who had taken up arms in _that_ cause to lay
them down, even at her feet? No, no. Her lover, if she had one, must be
at her side–not there.

This reaction to the Count’s detriment had set in on New Year’s Day,
when he had told her that he held no cause sacred enough to give her
even inconvenience for the sake of it, and the tide was still ebbing.
Litvinoff appeared quite unconscious of that fact though, for he
continued to call on Mrs Quaid with a persistence which quite justified
all Cora’s animadversions. Miss Quaid’s penetration was at fault, but
the Count’s was not. He was perfectly conscious of the change in her
state of mind, and knew that his chance of being master of the Stanley
money-bags was far less than he had thought shortly after their late
master’s death.

Suspense was the one thing Count Litvinoff could not bear–at least,
he could bear it when the balance of probabilities was in his favour;
but when the chances did not seem to be on his side–no. He knew
perfectly well that it is hardly ‘correct’ to ask a girl to marry one
three months after her father’s death; but he was not an enthusiastic
devotee of ‘correctness.’ He habitually posed as a despiser of
conventions, and this attitude very often stood him in good stead,
even with people who preferred the stereotyped _rôles_ of life for
themselves. Avowed unconventionality serves as a splendid excuse for
doing all sorts of pleasant things which conventional people daren’t
do; hence perhaps its growing popularity.

‘He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch,
To gain or lose it all.’

The lines ran in Count Litvinoff’s head persistently one spring morning
while he sat at his late breakfast. As he despatched his last mouthful
of grilled sardine and looked round for the marmalade, the servant came
in with a letter.

‘It really is time I struck for fortune. I do hope this is not a bill,’
he said to himself as he took it. ‘I retrench and retrench, and still
they come.’

He tore it open. It was not a bill. It ran thus:–

‘I shall call upon you between four and five this afternoon; I wish to
see you on an important matter.–PETROVITCH.’

‘The mysterious stranger doesn’t waste his words. He’s almost as
careful of them as the fellow with the dirty collar–Bursch, or
Kirsch, or Hirsch, or whatever it was. The best of being mixed up with
the revolutionary party is that such beautifully unexpected things
are always befalling one. I wonder why he couldn’t have waited till
to-morrow night. It lends a spice to an important matter to discuss it
at forbidden times and in a secret manner at the houses of friends.
That’s another of our characteristics–to plot when we’re supposed to
be talking frivol only, and to play cards or go to sleep when we’re
supposed to be plotting. Wonder what the important matter is. The
distressed lady friend again, perhaps. Well, before I commit myself
on that matter, I’d better settle things one way or the other with
_la belle_ Clare. Upon my soul, I don’t much care which way they are
settled. If I’m not to shine as the county magnate and the married
man at Aspinshaw, by Heaven, I’ll find out my own little girl, and go
in for virtuous retirement in the _Quartier Latin_. When I do swallow
my principles they go down whole, like oysters; and if Miss Stanley
doesn’t care to add the title of “countess” to her other endowments,
some one will be glad to take that and me, even with nothing a year to
keep state upon.’

He pushed his chair back, and sat biting his moustache irresolutely,
and frowning heavily at the breakfast-table.

‘Yes,’ he said at last, rising; ‘I’ll have a shot for it now, as I’ve
gone so far, and I’ll shoot as straight and as steady as I can. As for
the other matter–well, Aspinshaw and the fruits thereof would not be
a bad drug for inconvenient memories. I wonder if this is one of my
good-looking days?’ he added, moving towards the looking-glass, and
scrutinising his reflection therein. He seemed satisfied, lighted the
inevitable cigarette, and half an hour after noon was in Mrs Quaid’s
library, alone with Clare Stanley.

Mrs Quaid, he had known, would be absent on some educational errand,
and Cora would be at the National Gallery. He knew that Miss Stanley
was not averse to a quiet morning spent in uninterrupted reading and
copying, and he had rightly thought that he should have a very fair
chance of finding her alone. The resolution of his, which had faltered
before the remembrance of that other face, grew strong again as he
saw her, for she looked charming, and it was not in his nature to be
indifferent to the charms of any woman, even if she were not _the_
woman.

Miss Stanley had been making notes in a MS. book, and Litvinoff
noticed with a feeling not altogether pleasurable that ‘The Prophetic
Vision’ and the ‘Ethics of Revolution’ both lay open on the
writing-table, and that she seemed to have been comparing them one with
the other.

‘I am afraid you will hate me for interrupting your studies,’ he began,
apparently ignorant of the direction those studies had been taking,
‘but when the servant told me you were alone in the library, I could
not resist the temptation of coming in.’

‘I don’t at all mind being interrupted,’ she answered, when he had
settled himself down in a chair opposite to her with the air of a man
who, having come in, meant to stay. ‘I was just looking through two of
your books. One of them, indeed, I almost know by heart.’

‘And that is?’–carelessly, as one who is sure of the answer–

‘”The Prophetic Vision.”‘

Somehow Count Litvinoff did not look delighted. Perhaps he wanted to
talk about something else.

‘But, oh,’ she went on, ‘what a long way off it all seems!’

‘Yes, it does; I was an enthusiastic young rebel when I first put on
the Prophet’s Mantle.’ Then, as a faint change in her face showed him
that he had made a false move, he hastened to add, ‘But it will all
happen some day, you know. It is a true vision, but knocking about in
the world has taught me that the immediately practicable is the thing
to aim for.’

‘Oh, no, no, no,’ she said. ‘Never let us lower our standard. We shall
not do less noble work in the present for having the noblest of all
goals before us.’

Then she looked at him, at his handsome, _insouciant_ face, at the
half-cynical droop of his mouth, at the look in his eyes–the sort
of look an old cardinal who knew the Church and the world might turn
on an enthusiastic young monk–and she felt a sudden regret for
that heart-warm speech of hers. What had she in common with this
perfectly-dressed, orchid-button-holed young man? Why should she expect
him to understand her? And yet had he not written “The Prophetic
Vision”? She went on, smiling a little,–

‘You must make allowances for the hopeful faith of a new convert.
Perhaps when I’ve held my new belief a little longer I shall be less
_en l’air_. But I must say I hope not.’

‘Your new beliefs make you very happy, then?’

‘They make me want very much to live to see what will happen. It would
be terrible to die now before anything is accomplished. You see, I
can’t help believing that we shall accomplish something, although I
know you think me very high-flown and absurd.’

‘You know I think you perfect,’ he said, in a very low voice, and went
on hurriedly: ‘But, for Heaven’s sake, don’t talk about dying; the idea
is too horrible. Can’t you guess why I have seemed not sympathetic with
your new religion? I have known what it is to believe strongly, to
work unceasingly, never to leave off hoping, and trying to show others
my hope. I have known what it is to have no life but the life of the
cause; to go through year after year still hoping and striving. I have
known all this, and more. I have known the heart-sickness of waiting
for a dawn that never comes. I know how one may strain every nerve, tax
every power, kill one’s body, wear out one’s brain, break one’s heart
against the iron of things as they are, and when all is sacrificed, all
is gone, all is suffered, have achieved _nothing_. It is from this I
would save you. That you should suffer is a worse evil than any your
suffering could remedy. The cause will have martyrs enough without you.’

‘Martyrs, yes; but how can it have too many workers?’ she asked, not
looking at him.

‘To be a worker is to be a martyr,’ he answered, rising and standing
near her; ‘and that is the reason why you are the only convert I have
never rejoiced over.’

‘I don’t know,’ she was beginning when he interrupted her.

‘Don’t say that,’ he said. ‘Don’t say you don’t know why I can’t endure
the thought of your ever knowing anything but peace and happiness. You
know it is because I love you, and my love for you has eaten up all my
other loves. Freedom, the Revolution, my country, my own ambition, are
all nothing to me. But if _you_ care for the cause I can still work in
it, and with a thousand times more enthusiasm than it ever inspired me
with before, for _you_. That can be your way of helping it. Use me as
your instrument. Make any use you will of me, if only you are safe and
happy, and _mine_.’

His voice was low with the passion which for the moment thrilling
through him made him quite believe his own words.

Clare had listened silently, her eyes cast down, and her nervous
fingers diligently tearing an envelope into little bits, and when he
had ended she still did not speak, but her breath came and went quickly.

‘You,’ he was beginning again, when she stretched out her hand to
silence him.

‘No, no,’ she said; ‘don’t say any more–I can’t bear it.’

‘Does that mean that you care?’

‘It means that this seems the most terrible thing that could have
happened to me. That it should be through me that you give up the
right.’

‘But through you, for you, I will become anything you choose.’

‘And that is the worst of all,’ she said, with very real distress. ‘I
can ask you to do nothing for my sake.’

‘You cannot love me, then?’ he asked, as earnestly as though his
happiness hung on her answer.

‘No,’ she said steadily, ‘I cannot love you. I am very, very sorry–‘

‘Spare me your pity, at least,’ he said. ‘But one thing I must ask. Why
did you let me see you again after New Year’s Day? For I told you the
same thing then, and you knew then that I loved you.’

It was true–but Clare hated him for saying it.

‘I have changed so much since then,’ she said slowly.

Several things both bitter and true rose to his lips. He did not give
them voice, however. He had never in his life said an unkind thing to
a woman. It occurred to him that he was accepting his defeat rather
easily, and he looked at her to measure the chances for and against
the possible success of another appeal. But in her face was a decision
against which he knew there could be no appeal. He felt angry with her
for refusing him–angry and unreasonably surprised; and then, in one
of the flashes of light that made it so hard for him to understand
himself, he saw that if she was to blame for refusing his love, he was
ten thousand times more to blame for having sought hers, and this truth
brought others with it. His real feeling, he knew, was not anger but
relief. He made a step forward.

‘You are right,’ he said. ‘I congratulate you on your decision. You
were talking of dying just now. You will live long enough to know
how much congratulation you merit for having to-day refused to give
yourself to a traitor and a villain.’

‘A traitor–no, no,’ she said, holding out her hand.

‘No,’ he said, ‘I am not worthy. Some day you will know that I ought
never to have touched that hand of yours. Good-bye.’

And the door shut behind him, and Clare was left standing in the
middle of the room with her eyes widely opened, and her hand still
outstretched. She stood there till she heard the front door closed, and
then sank into a chair. She didn’t want to go on making notes about
‘The Prophetic Vision’ any more.

The interview had not been a pleasant one, and it was not pleasant
to think over. One of the least pleasant things in this world is a
granted wish, granted after it has ceased to be wished. And Clare could
not forget that she _had_ desired to win this man’s admiration, at
least. She could not forget that he had saved her father’s life–that
he had been the first to speak to her of many things once unknown or
unconsidered, but now a part of her very life–and she could not forget
that when she had first thought of the possibility of his asking her to
marry him she had _not_ meant to refuse him. There had been much about
him to attract her, and if she had never met Petrovitch she might have
given Litvinoff, even now, a different answer. But in Petrovitch she
found all the qualities that had fascinated her in Litvinoff, and all
on a larger scale, and with a finer development. Litvinoff now seemed
to her like a dissolving view of Petrovitch seen through the wrong
end of a telescope. He lacked the definiteness of outline, the depth
of tone, the intense reality of the other man. Perhaps he seemed more
brilliant and dashing; but Hirsch’s story had shown what Petrovitch
was. Added to all this was one significant fact. She had admired in
Litvinoff one quality or another, and had desired to attract him. To
Petrovitch she herself had been attracted, not by any specific quality
or qualities, but by himself–by the man as he was–and this attraction
grew stronger with each meeting.

A fortnight had now passed since the second time she had seen him,
and somehow or other she had seen him very often in that time. She
knew well enough that neither Litvinoff nor Petrovitch had come to
Marlborough Villa to see its mistress. And she had been sufficiently
certain about the Count’s motives for his visit, but could she
be certain about the motive which brought the elder man there so
constantly? Of any effort to make him care for her she was not guilty.
In her new frame of mind she would have felt any such attempt to be
degrading, alike to herself and to him. And though she knew he came to
see her, she could not be sure why he came. Was his evident interest in
her only the interest of an apostle in a convert? A certain humility
had sprung up in her, along with many other flowers of the heart, and
she did not admit to herself that there was a chance of his interest
being of another nature. Only, she thought, it would be the highest
honour in the world and the deepest happiness to be the woman whom he
loved. Not the less because she knew well enough that the woman he
loved would hold the second place in his heart, and that he would not
wish to hold the first place in hers. That, for both of them, must be
filled by the goddess whom Litvinoff had once said he worshipped, and
whom he had abjured and abandoned for her sake. She thought of this
without a single thrill of gratified pride.

Miss Stanley sat silent for half an hour, and in that time got through
more thinking than we could record if we wrote steadily for half a
year. At the end of that time Miss Quaid came home.

‘I hear Count Litvinoff has been here,’ she said, when she entered
the study. ‘What is it to be? Am I to have a Countess Litvinoff for a
friend?’

‘No,’ said Clare, rising and shaking off her reverie; I shall never be
anything to Count Litvinoff.’

Which was, perhaps, a too hasty conclusion.

* * * * *

To the reader who has followed the fortunes of Count Litvinoff so
far we need hardly mention the fact that as soon as he was clear of
Marlborough Villa he pulled out his cigar-case. It had always been
a favourite theory of his that a cigar and not a mill-pond was the
appropriate sequel to an unsuccessful love affair. Not that it had
ever occurred to him as even remotely possible that such an experience
could ever be his. Here it was, however, and he had one of those
opportunities which always charm the thinker–that of being able to
apply to his own case a theory invented for other people. He took a
meditative turn round Regent’s Park. It is a strange fact which we do
not remember to have seen commented on by any other writer–that when a
man comes away from an interview with a girl to whom he has been making
love he is inevitably driven to think, not of her alone, but also of
one, two, three or more of the other girls to whom he has from time to
time made love in the remote or recent past. Such is the depravity of
the ‘natural man’ that these thoughts are not generally sad ones. But
Litvinoff’s thoughts were genuinely sad. He had said to Miss Stanley
that he was a traitor and a villain, and it had not been said for
dramatic effect. He meant it. He would have given a good many years of
any life that might lie before him to undo a few of the years that lay
behind.

‘I am not consistent enough for a villain,’ he said to himself. ‘I
have failed in that part, and now I will go in for my natural _rôle_
of a fool, and I’ve a sort of idea that I shall get on better. And the
first thing to be done is to find my little one. Fool as I am, I’ve
generally been able to do anything I’ve really set my mind on. The
reason I’ve failed in my “deep-laid schemes” has been that I didn’t
always care whether I won or not. I can be in the same mind about this
matter, however, for a long enough time to achieve what I want. As
for principles, they bore me. If it hadn’t been for my principles I
shouldn’t have got into half this trouble. What shall I do with myself
till my mysterious friend turns up?’

After a minute’s hesitation he turned into the Zoological Gardens,
where he spent some thought on the wasting of an hour or so among the
beasts, incurred the undying hatred of an alligator by stirring him
up with the ferule of his stick, irritated the llama to the point
of expectoration, and grossly insulted the oldest inhabitant of the
monkey-house.

His luncheon was a bath bun and a glass of milk.

‘A fourpenny luncheon,’ he said to himself, ‘is the first step in the
path of virtue.’

At half-past three he got back to his lodgings, and sat down with the
resolution of going thoroughly into his financial affairs. To that he
thought he would devote an hour or two, and in the evening he would
try to find the lost clue in Spray’s Buildings. This looking into his
finances struck him as being a business-like sort of thing to do, and
quite in harmony with his present frame of mind.

He was soon busy at his light writing-table. Presently he drew from a
drawer his banker’s pass-book, made bulky with cancelled cheques. He
groaned earnestly.

‘Alas!’ he said to himself, ‘how sadly simple and easy it is to sign
one’s name on this nice smooth coloured paper. I suppose it’s best to
check these off–bankers’ clerks are so dreadfully careless.’

A most unfounded statement, born of ignorance of business, and a desire
to seem to himself as one who understood it. Suddenly he started, and
singled out the cheque he had given to Hirsch in the autumn. It bore
on it, as endorsement, in a bold, free handwriting, the name, ‘Michael
Petrovitch.’

‘Hola!’ he said; ‘a namesake of mine. Stay, though. This apostle of our
cause does not keep to one handwriting.’

He walked to the mantelpiece, and taking thence the letter he had
received in the morning, he compared the writing.

‘H’m–wonder what _this_ means?’ he said, returning to his seat. ‘The
two writings are not the same, and yet there is something in this
writing on the cheque which I seem to have seen before. We’ll try for
an explanation before he leaves this room.’

He went on steadily with his self-imposed task of comparing each cheque
with the entry in the book. He had half done them when a ring at the
front door bell made him look up.

‘Aha! the mysterious Petrovitch is punctual,’ he said to himself.

It was Petrovitch, though perhaps those who had seen most of him in the
last few months would have failed to recognise him. He looked at least
ten years younger. The handsome long light beard was gone, and he was
close shaved save for a heavy drooping blond moustache.

As Count Litvinoff heard his visitor’s steps upon the stairs he settled
himself back in his chair, with an assumption of a business air, much
like that of a very young lawyer about to receive a new client.

There was a sharp rap at the room door.

‘Come in,’ he said.

The door opened. He sprang to his feet, stood one moment clutching
at the table before him, his eyes wide with something that seemed
almost terror, and his whole frame rigid with astonishment. Then his
expression changed to one of deepest love and delight. There was a
crash of furniture, as he flung the little writing-table from him, and
it fell shattered against the opposite wall. With a hysterical cry of
‘Ah, ah, ah, Litvinoff! back from the dead!’ he sprang across the room,
threw his arms round the other’s neck, and fell sobbing on his breast.