He said “You fool!”
And she drew away from him, for this man was no longer smiling.
“You burned my ‘Hero and Leander’! You! you big-eyed fool! You lisping idiot! you wriggling, cuddling worm! you silken bag of guts! had not even you the wit to perceive it was immortal beauty which would have lived long after you and I were stinking dirt? And you, a half-witted animal, a shining, chattering parrot, lay claws to it!” Marlowe had risen in a sort of seizure, in a condition which was really quite unreasonable when you considered that only a poem was at stake, even a rather long poem.
And Cynthia began to smile, with tremulous hurt-looking young lips. “So my poet’s love is very much the same as Pevensey’s love! And I was right, after all.”
“Oh, oh!” said Marlowe, “that ever a poet should love a woman! What jokes does the lewd flesh contrive!” Of a sudden he was calmer: and then rage fell from him like a dropped cloak and he viewed her as with respectful wonder. “Why, but you sitting there, with goggling innocent bright eyes, are an allegory of all that is most droll and tragic. Yes, and indeed there is no reason to blame you. It is not your fault that every now and then is born a man who serves an idea which is to him the most important thing in the world. It is not your fault that this man perforce inhabits a body to which the most important thing in the world is a woman. Certainly it is not your fault that this compost makes yet another jumble of his two desires, and persuades himself that the two are somehow allied. The woman inspires, the woman uplifts, the woman strengthens him for his high work, saith he! Well, well, perhaps there are such women, but by land and sea I have encountered none of them.”
All this was said while Marlowe shuffled about the room, with bent shoulders, and nodding his tousled red head, and limping as he walked. Now Marlowe turned, futile and shabby-looking, just where Pevensey had loomed resplendent a while since. Again she saw the poet’s queer, twisted, jeering smile.
“What do you care for my ideals? What do you care for the ideals of that tall earl whom you have held from his proper business for a fortnight? or for the ideals of any man alive? Why, not one thread of that dark hair, not one snap of those white little fingers, except when ideals irritate you by distracting a man’s attention from Cynthia Allonby. Otherwise, he is welcome enough to play with his incomprehensible toys.”
He jerked a thumb toward the shelves behind him.
“Oho, you virtuous pretty ladies! what all you value is such matters as those cups: they please the eye, they are worth sound money, and people envy you the possession of them. So you cherish your shiny mud cups, and you burn my ‘Hero and Leander’: and I declaim all this dull nonsense, over the ashes of my ruined dreams, thinking at bottom of how pretty you are, and of how much I would like to kiss you. That is the real tragedy, the immortal tragedy, that I should still hanker after you, my Cynthia—”