Read CHAPTER II. of The Folly Of Eustace 1896 , free online book, by Robert S. Hichens, on

Winifred anticipated this honeymoon with calmness, but Eustace was too much in love to be calm. He was, on the contrary, in a high state of excitement, and of emotion, and the effort of making his ridiculous speech had nearly sent him into hysterics. But he had now fully resolved to continue in his whimsical course, and to play for ever the part of a highly erratic genius, driven hither and thither by the weird impulses of the moment. That he never had any impulses but such as were common to most ordinary young men was a sad fact which he meant to most carefully conceal from Winifred. He had made up his mind that she believed his mask to be his face. She had, therefore, married the mask. To divorce her violently from it might be fatal to their happiness. If he showed the countenance God had given him, she might cry: “I don’t know you. You are a stranger. You are like all the other men I didn’t choose to marry.” His blood ran cold at the thought. No, he must keep it up. She loved his fantasies because she believed them natural to him. She must never suspect that they were not natural. So, as they travelled, he planned the campaign of married life, as doubtless others, strange in their new bondage, have planned. He gazed at Winifred, and thought, “What is her notion of the ideal husband, I wonder?” She gazed at him, and mused on his affection and his whimsicality, and what the two would lead to in connection with her fate. And the old, scarlet-faced guard smiled fatuously at them both through the window on which glared a prominent “Engaged” as he had smiled on many another pair of fools-so he silently dubbed them. Then they entered Bluebeard’s Chamber and closed the door behind them.

Brighton was their destination. They meant to lose themselves in a marine crowd.

They stayed there for a fortnight, and then returned to town, Eustace more in love than ever.

But Winifred?

One afternoon she sat in the drawing-room of the pretty little house they had taken in Deanery Street, Park Lane. She was thinking, very definitely. The silent processes of even an ordinary woman’s mind-what great male writer would not give two years of his life to sit with them and watch them, as the poet watches the flight of a swallow, or the astronomer the processions of the sky? A curious gale was raging through the town, touzling its thatch of chimney-pots, doing violence to the demureness of its respectable streets. Night was falling, and in Piccadilly those strange, gay hats that greet the darkness were coming out like eager, vulgar comets in a dim and muttering firmament. It was just the moment when the outside mood of the huge city begins to undergo a change, to glide from its comparative simplicity of afternoon into its leering complexity of evening. Each twenty-four hours London has its moment of emancipation, its moment in which the wicked begin to breathe and the good to wonder, when “How?” and “Why?” are on the lips of the opposing factions, and only the philosophers who know-or think they know-their human nature hold themselves still, and feel that man is at the least ceaselessly interesting.

Winifred sat by the fire and held a council. She called her thoughts together and gave audience to her suspicions, and her brown eyes were wide and rather mournful as her counsellors uttered each a word of hope or of warning.

Eustace was out. He had gone to a concert, and had not returned.

She was holding a council to decide something in reference to him.

The honeymoon weeks had brought her just as far as the question, “Do I know my husband at all, or is he, so far, a total stranger?”

Some people seem to draw near to you as you look at them steadily, others to recede until they reach the verge of invisibility. Which was Eustace doing? Did his outline become clearer or more blurred? Was he daily more definite or more phantasmal? And the members of her council drew near and whispered their opinions in Winifred’s attentive ears. They were not all in accord at the first. Pros fought with cons, elbowed them, were hustled in return. Sometimes there was almost a row, and she had to stretch forth her hands and hush the tumult. For she desired a calm conclave, although she was a woman.

And the final decision-if, indeed, it could be arrived at that evening-was important. Love seemed to hang upon it, and all the sweets of life; and the little wings of Love fluttered anxiously, as the little wings of a bird flutter when you hold it in the cage of your hands, prisoning it from its wayward career through the blue shadows of the summer.

For love is not always and for ever instinctive-not even the finest love. While many women love because they must, whether the thing to be loved or not loved be carrion or crystal, a child of the gods or an imp of the devil, others love decisively because they see-perhaps can even analyze-a beauty that is there in the thing before them. One woman loves a man simply because he kisses her. Another loves him because he has won the Victoria Cross.

Winifred was not of the women who love because they are kissed.

She had accepted Eustace rather impulsively, but she had not married him quite uncritically. There was something new, different from other men, about him which attracted her, as well as his good looks-that prettiness which had peeped out from the white wig in the scarlet nook at the ball. His oddities at that time she had grown thoroughly to believe in, and, believing in them, she felt she liked them. She supposed them to spring, rather like amazing spotted orchids, from the earth of a quaint nature. Now, after a honeymoon spent among the orchids, she held this council while the wind blew London into a mood of evening irritation.

What was Eustace?

How the wind sang over Park Lane! Yet the stars were coming out.

What was he? A genius or a clown? A creature to spread a buttered slide or a man to climb to heaven? A fine, free child of Nature, who did, freshly, what he would, regardless of the strained discretion of others, or a futile, scheming hypocrite, screaming after forced puerilities, without even a finger on the skirts of originality?

It was a problem for lonely woman’s debate. Winifred strove to weigh it well. In Bluebeard’s Chamber Eustace had cut many capers. This activity she had expected-had even wished for. And at first she had been amused and entertained by the antics, as one assisting at a good burlesque, through which, moreover, a piquant love theme runs. But by degrees she began to feel a certain stiffness in the capers, a self-consciousness in the antics, or fancied she began to feel it, and instead of being always amused she became often thoughtful.

Whimsicality she loved. Buffoonery she possibly, even probably, could learn to hate.

Of Eustace’s love for her she had no doubt. She was certain of his affection. But was it worth having? That depended, surely, on the nature of the man in whom it sprang, from whom it flowed. She wanted to be sure of that nature; but she acknowledged to herself, as she sat by the fire, that she was perplexed. Perhaps even that perplexity was merciful. Yet she wished to sweep it away. She knit her brows moodily, and longed for a secret divining-rod that would twist to reveal truth in another. For truth, she thought, is better than hidden water-springs, and a sincerity-even of stupidity-more lovely than the fountain that gives flowers to the desert, wild red roses to the weary gold of sands.

The wind roared again, howling to poor, shuddering Mayfair, and there came a step outside. Eustace sprang in upon Winifred’s council, looking like a gay schoolboy, his cheeks flushed, his lips open to speak.

“Dreaming?” he said.

She smiled.


“That concert paralyzed me. Too much Beethoven. I wanted Wagner. Beethoven insists on exalting you, but Wagner lets you revel and feel naughty. Winnie, d’you hear the wind?”

“Could I help it?” she asked.

“Does it suggest something to you?”

He looked at her, and made his expression mischievous, or meant to make it. She looked up at him, too.

“Yes, many things,” she said-“many, many things.”

“To me it suggests kites.”


“Yes. I’m going to fly one now in the Park. The stars are out. Put on your hat and come with me.”

He seemed all impulse, sparkling to the novelty of the idea.

“I’ve got one-a beauty, a monster! I noticed the wind was getting up yesterday. Come!”

He pulled at her hand; she obeyed him, not quickly. She put on her hat, a plain straw, a thick jacket, gloves. Kite-flying in London seemed an odd notion. Was it lively and entertaining, or merely silly? Which ought it to be?

Eustace shouted to her from the tiny hall.

“Hurry!” he cried.

The wind yelled beyond the door, and Winifred ran down, beginning to feel a childish thrill of excitement. Eustace held the kite. It was, indeed, a white monster, gaily decorated with fluttering scarlet and blue ribbons.

“We shall be mobbed,” she said.

“There’s no one about,” he answered. “The gale frightens people.”

He opened the door, and they were out in the crying tempest. The great clouds flew along the sky like an army in retreat. Some, to Winifred, seemed soldiers, others baggage-waggons, horses, gun-carriages, rushing pell-mell for safety. One drooping, tattered cloud she deemed the colours of a regiment streaming under the stars that peeped out here and there-watching sentinel eyes, obdurate, till some magic password softened them.

As they crossed the road she spoke of her cloud army to Eustace.

“This kite’s like a live thing,” was his reply. “It tugs as a fish tugs a line.”

He did not care for the tumult of a far-off world.

They entered the Park. It seemed, indeed, strangely deserted. A swaggering soldier passed them by, going towards the Marble Arch. His spurs clinked; his long cloak gleamed like a huge pink carnation in the dingy dimness of the startled night. How he stared with his unintelligent, though bold, eyes as he saw the kite bounding to be free.

Eustace seemed delighted.

“That man thinks us mad!” he said.

“Are we mad?” Winifred asked, surprised at her own strange enjoyment of the adventure.

“Who knows?” said Eustace, looking at her narrowly. “You like this escapade?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“My mask!” he thought, secretly longing to be quietly by the fire sipping tea and reading Punch. “She loves that.”

They were through the trees now, across the broad path, out on the open lawns.

“Now for it!” he shouted, as the wind roared in their faces.

He paid out the coils of the thin cord. The white monster skimmed, struggled near the ground, returned, darted again upward and outward, felt for the wind’s hands, caught them and sprang, with a mad courage, star-wards, its gay ribbons flying like coloured birds to mark its course. But soon they were lost to sight, and only a diminished, ghost-like shadow leaping against the black showed where the kite beat on to liberty.

Eustace ran with the wind, and Winifred followed him. The motion sent an exultation dancing through her veins, and stirred her blood into a ferment. The noises in the trees, the galloping music of the airs on their headlong courses, rang in her ears like clashing bells. She called as she ran, but never knew what words. She leaped, as if over glorious obstacles. Her feet danced on the short grass. She had a sudden notion: “I am living now!” and Eustace had never seemed so near to her. He had an art to find why children are happy, she thought, because they do little strange things, coupling mechanical movements, obvious actions that may seem absurd, with soft flights of the imagination, that wrap their prancings and their leaps in golden robes, and give to the dull world a glory. The hoop is their demon enemy, whom they drive before them to destruction. The kite is a great white bird, whom they hold back for a time from heaven. Suddenly Winifred longed to feel the bird’s efforts to be free.

“Let me have it!” she cried to Eustace, holding out her hands eagerly. “Do let me!”

He was glad to pass the cord to her, being utterly tired of a prank which he thought idiotic, and he could not understand the light that sprang into her eyes as she grasped it, and felt the life of the lifeless thing that soared towards the clouds.

For the moment it was more to her-this tugging, scarce visible, white thing-than all the world of souls. It gave to her the excitement of battle, the joy of strife. She felt herself a Napoleon with empires in her hand; a Diana holding eternities, instead of hounds, in leash. She had quite the children’s idea of kites, the sense of being in touch with the infinite that enters into baby pleasures, and makes the remembrance of them live in us when we are old, and have forgotten wild passions, strange fruitions, that have followed them and faded away for ever.

How the creature tore at her! She fancied she felt the pulsings of its fly-away heart, beating with energy and great hopes of freedom. And suddenly, with a call, she opened her hands. Her captive was lost in the night.

In a moment she felt sad, such a foolish sorrow, as a gaoler may feel sad who has grown to love his prisoner, and sees him smile when the gaping door gives him again to crime.

“It’s gone,” she said to Eustace; “I think it’s glad to go.”

“Glad-a kite!” he said.

And it struck her that he would have thought it equally sensible if she had spoken, like Hans Andersen, of the tragedies of a toy-shop or the Homeric passions of wooden dolls.

Then, why had he been prompted by the wind to play the boy if he had none of the boy’s ardent imagination?

They reached Deanery Street, and passed in from the night and the elements. Eustace shut the door with a sigh of relief. Winifred’s echoing sigh was of regret.

It seemed a listless world-the world inside a lighted London house, dominated by a pale butler with black side-whiskers and endless discretion. But Eustace did not feel it so. Winifred knew that beyond hope of doubt as she stole a glance at his face. He had put off the child-the buffoon-and looked for the moment a grave, dull young man, naturally at ease with all the conventions. She could not help saying to herself, as she went to her room to live with hairpins and her lady’s-maid: “I believe he hated it all!”

From that night of kite-flying Winifred felt differently towards her husband. She was of the comparatively rare women who hate pretence even in another woman, but especially in a man. The really eccentric she was not afraid of-could even love, being a searcher after the new and strange, like so many modern pilgrims. But pinchbeck eccentricity-Brummagem originalities-gave to her views of the poverty of poor human nature leading her to a depression not un-tinged with contempt.

And the fantasies of Eustace became more violent and more continuous as he began to note the lassitude which gradually crept into her intercourse with him. London rang with them. At one time he pretended to a strange passion for death; prayed to a skull which grinned in a shrine raised for it in his dressing-room; lay down each day in a coffin, and asked Winifred to close it and scatter earth upon the lid, that he might realize the end towards which we journey. He talked of silence, long and loudly-an irony which Winifred duly noted-sneered at the fleeting phantoms in the show of existence, called the sobbing of women, the laughter of men, sounds as arid as the whizz of a cracker let off by a child on the fifth of November.

“We should kill our feelings,” he said. “They make us absurd. Life should be a breathing calm, as death is a breathless calm.”

The calm descending upon Winifred was of the benumbing order.

Later he recoiled from this coquetting with the destroyer.

“After all,” he said, “which of us does not feel himself eternal, exempt from the penalty of the race? You don’t believe that you will ever die, Winifred?”

“I know it,” she said.

“Yes, but you don’t believe it.”

“You think knowledge less real than belief? Perhaps it is. But I, at least, hope that some day I shall die. To live on here for ever would be like staying eternally at a party. After all, when one has danced, and supped, and flirted, and wondered at the gowns, and praised the flowers, and touched the hand of one’s hostess, and swung round in a final gallop, and said how much one has enjoyed it all-one wants to go home.”

“Does one?” Eustace said. “Home you call it!”

He shuddered.

“I call it what I want it to be, what I think it may be, what the poor and the weary and the fallen make it in their lonely thoughts. Let us, at least, hope that we travel towards the east, where the sun is.”

“You have strange fancies,” he said.

“I! Not so strange as yours.”

She looked at him in the eyes as she spoke. He wondered what that look meant. It seemed to him a menace.

“I must keep it up-I must keep it up,” he murmured to himself as he left the room. “Winifred loves fancies-loves me for what she thinks mine.”

He went to his library, and sat down heavily, to devise fresh outrages on the ordinary.

His pranks became innumerable, and Society called him the most original figure of London. The papers quoted him-his doings, not his sayings. People pointed him out in the Park. His celebrity waxed. Even the Marble Arch seemed turning to gaze after him as he went by, showing the observation which the imaginative think into inanimate things.

At least, so a wag declared.

And Winifred bore it, but with an increasing impatience.

At this time, too, a strange need of protection crept over her, the yearning for man’s beautiful, dog-like sympathy that watches woman in her grand dark hour before she blooms into motherhood. When she knew the truth, she resolved to tell Eustace, and she came into his room softly, with shining eyes. He was sitting reading the Financial News in a nimbus of cigarette smoke, secretly glorying in his momentary immunity from the prison rules of the fantastic. Winifred’s entry was as that of a warder. He sprang up laughing.

“Winnie,” he said, “I think I am going to South Africa.”

“You!” she said in surprise.

“Yes; to give acrobatic performances in the street, and so pave the way to a position as a millionaire. Who ever heard of a man rising from a respectable competence to a fortune? According to the papers, you must start with nothing; that is the first rule of the game. We have ten thousand a year, so we can never hope to be rich. Fortune only favours the pauper. I am mad about money to-day. I can think of nothing else.”

And he began showing her conjuring tricks with sovereigns which he drew from his pockets.

She did not tell him that day. And when she told him, it was without apparent emotion. She seemed merely stating coldly a physical fact, not breathing out a beautiful secret of her soul and his, a consecrated wonder to shake them both, and bind them together as two flowers are bound in the centre of a bouquet, the envy of the other flowers.

“Eustace,” she said, and her eyes were clear and her hands were still, “I think I ought to tell you-we shall have a child.”

Her voice was unwavering as a doctor’s which pronounces, “You have the influenza.” She stood there before him.

“Winifred!” he cried, looking up. His impulse was to say, “Wife! My Winifred!” to take her in his arms as any clerk might take his little middle-class spouse, to kiss her lips, and, in doing it, fancy he drew near to the prison in which every soul eternally dwells on earth. Finely human he felt, as the dullest, the most unknown, the plainest, the most despised, may feel, thank God! “Winifred!” he cried. And then he stopped, with the shooting thought, “Even now I must be what she thinks me, what she perhaps loves me for.”

She stood there silently waiting.

“Toys!” he exclaimed. “Toys have always been my besetting sin. Now I will make a grand collection, not for the Pope, as people pretend, but for our family. You will have two children to laugh at, Winnie. Your husband is one, you know.” He sprang up. “I’ll go into the Strand,” he said. “There’s a man near the Temple who has always got some delightful novelty displaying its paces on the pavement. What fun!”

And off he went, leaving Winifred alone with the mystery of her woman’s world, the mystic mystery of birth that may dawn out of hate as out of love, out of drunken dissipation as out of purity’s sweet climax.

Next day a paragraph in the papers told how Mr. Eustace Lane had bought up all the penny toys of the Strand. Mention was again made of his supposed mission to the Vatican, and a picture drawn of the bewilderment of the Holy Father, roused from contemplation of the eternal to contemplation of jumping pasteboard, and the frigid gestures of people from the world of papier-mâche.

Eustace showed the paragraph to Winifred.

“Why will they chronicle all I do?” he said, with a sigh.

“Would you rather they did not?”

“Oh, if it amuses them,” he answered. “To amuse the world is to be its benefactor.”

“No, to comfort the world,” was Winifred’s silent thought. .

To her the world often seemed a weary invalid, playing cards on the coverlet of the bed from which it longed in vain to move, peeping with heavy eyes at the shrouded windows of its chamber, and listening for faint sounds from without-soft songs, soft murmurings, the breath of winds, the sigh of showers; then turning with a smothered groan to its cards again, its lengthy game of “Patience.” Clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds-there they all lay on the coverlet ready to the hands of the invalid. But she wanted to take them away, and give to the sufferer a prayer and a hope.

At this period she was often full of a vague, chaotic tenderness, far-reaching, yet indefinite. She could rather have kissed the race than a person.

And so the days went by, Winifred in a dream of wonder, Eustace in the toy-shops.

Until the birthday dawned and faded.

All through that day Eustace was in agony. He did not care so much for the child, but he loved the mother. Her danger tore at his heart. Her pain smote him, till he seemed to feel it actually and physically. That she was giving him something was naught to him; that she might be taken away in the giving was everything. And when he learnt that all was well, he cried and prayed, and thought to himself afterwards, “If Winifred could know what I am like, what I have done to-day, how would it strike her?”

She did not know; for when at length Eustace was admitted to her room, he trained himself to murmur, “A girl, that’s lucky because of all the dolls. The Pope sha’n’t have even one now.”

Winifred lay back white on her pillow, and a little frown travelled across her face. If Eustace had just kissed her, and she had felt a tear of his on her face, and he had said nothing, she could have loved him then as a father, perhaps, more than as a husband. His allusion to the supposed Papal absurdity disgusted her at such a time, only faintly, because of her weakness, but distinctly, and in a way to be remembered.

She recovered; but just as the child was beginning to smile, and to express an approbation of life by murmurous gurglings, an infantile disease gripped it, held it, would not release it. And Winifred knelt beside it, dead, and thought, with a new and vital horror, of the invalid world playing cards upon the drawn coverlet of its bed. Baby was outside that chamber now, beyond the curtained windows, outside in sun or shower that she could not see, could only dream of, while the game of “Patience” went on and on.