The river’s black water was making stilly, slow recessional under a half-moon. Beneath the cloak of night the chaos on the far bank, the forms of cranes, high buildings, jetties, the bodies of the sleeping barges, a—million queer dark shapes, were invested with emotion. All was religious out there, all beautiful, all strange. And over this great quiet friend of man, lamps—those humble flowers of night, were throwing down the faint continual glamour of fallen petals; and a sweet-scented wind stole along from the West, very slow as yet, bringing in advance the tremor and perfume of the innumerable trees and fields which the river had loved as she came by.
A murmur that was no true sound, but like the whisper of a heart to a heart, accompanied this voyage of the dark water.
Then a small blunt skiff—manned by two rowers came by under the wall, with the thudding and the creak of oars.
“So ’To-morrow we die’?” said Miltoun: “You mean, I suppose, that ’public life’ is the breath of my nostrils, and I must die, because I give it up?”
“Am I right in thinking that it was my young sister who sent you on this crusade?”
Courtier did not answer.
“And so,” Miltoun went on, looking him through and through; “to-morrow is to be your last day, too? Well, you’re right to go. She is not an ugly duckling, who can live out of the social pond; she’ll always want her native element. And now, we’ll say goodbye! Whatever happens to us both, I shall remember this evening.” Smiling, he put out his hand ’Moriturus te saluto.’
Courtier sat in Hyde Park waiting for five o’clock. The day had recovered somewhat from a grey morning, as though the glow of that long hot summer were too burnt-in on the air to yield to the first assault. The sun, piercing the crisped clouds, those breast feathers of heavenly doves, darted its beams at the mellowed leaves, and showered to the ground their delicate shadow stains. The first, too early, scent from leaves about to fall, penetrated to the heart. And sorrowful sweet birds were tuning their little autumn pipes, blowing into them fragments of Spring odes to Liberty.
Courtier thought of Miltoun and his mistress. By what a strange fate had those two been thrown together; to what end was their love coming? The seeds of grief were already sown, what flowers of darkness, or of tumult would come up? He saw her again as a little, grave, considering child, with her soft eyes, set wide apart under the dark arched brows, and the little tuck at the corner of her mouth that used to come when he teased her. And to that gentle creature who would sooner die than force anyone to anything, had been given this queer lover; this aristocrat by birth and nature, with the dried fervent soul, whose every fibre had been bred and trained in and to the service of Authority; this rejecter