But Fort had begun to feel something of the revolt which the man of action so soon experiences when he listens to an artist talking.
“It sounds all right,” he said abruptly; “all the same, monsieur, all my sympathy is with modern life. Take these young girls, and these Tommies. For all their feather-pated vulgarity and they are damned vulgar, I must say—they’re marvellous people; they do take the rough with the smooth; they’re all ‘doing their bit,’ you know, and facing this particularly beastly world. Aesthetically, I daresay, they’re deplorable, but can you say that on the whole their philosophy isn’t an advance on anything we’ve had up till now? They worship nothing, it’s true; but they keep their ends up marvellously.”
The painter, who seemed to feel the wind blowing cold on his ideas, shrugged his shoulders.
“I am not concerned with that, monsieur; I set down what I see; better or worse, I do not know. But look at this!” And he pointed down the darkened and moonlit street. It was all jewelled and enamelled with little spots and splashes of subdued red and green-blue light, and the downward orange glow of the high lamps—like an enchanted dream-street peopled by countless moving shapes, which only came to earth-reality when seen close to. The painter drew his breath in with a hiss.
“Ah!” he said, “what beauty! And they don’t see it—not one in a thousand! Pity, isn’t it? Beauty is the holy thing!”
Fort, in his turn, shrugged his shoulders. “Every man to his vision!” he said. “My leg’s beginning to bother me; I’m afraid I must take a cab. Here’s my address; any time you like to come. I’m often in about seven. I can’t take you anywhere, I suppose?”
“A thousand thanks, monsieur; but I go north. I loved your words about the pack. I often wake at night and hear the howling of all the packs of the world. Those who are by nature gentle nowadays feel they are strangers in a far land. Good night, monsieur!”
He took off his queer hat, bowed low, and crossed out into the Strand, like one who had come in a dream, and faded out with the waking. Fort hailed a cab, and went home, still seeing Noel’s face. There was one, if you liked, waiting to be thrown to the wolves, waiting for the world’s pack to begin howling round her—that lovely child; and the first, the loudest of all the pack, perhaps, must be her own father, the lean, dark figure with the gentle face, and the burnt bright eyes. What a ghastly business! His dreams that night were not such as Leila would have approved.