Eustace Cardoc, Viscount Miltoun, had lived a very lonely life, since he
first began to understand the peculiarities of existence. With the
exception of Clifton, his grandmother's 'majordomo,' he made, as a small
child, no intimate friend. His nurses, governesses, tutors, by their own
confession did not understand him, finding that he took himself with
unnecessary seriousness; a little afraid, too, of one whom they discovered
to be capable of pushing things to the point of enduring pain in silence.
Much of that early time was passed at Ravensham, for he had always been
Lady Casterley's favourite grandchild. She recognized in him the
purposeful austerity which had somehow been omitted from the composition
of her daughter. But only to Clifton, then a man of fifty with a great
gravity and long black whiskers, did Eustace relieve his soul. “I tell you
this, Clifton,” he would say, sitting on the sideboard, or the arm of the
big chair in Clifton's room, or wandering amongst the raspberries,
“because you are my friend.”
And Clifton, with his head a little on one side, and a sort of wise
concern at his 'friend's' confidences, which were sometimes of an
embarrassing description, would answer now and then: “Of course, my lord,”
but more often: “Of course, my dear.”
There was in this friendship something fine and suitable, neither of these
'friends' taking or suffering liberties, and both being interested in
pigeons, which they would stand watching with a remarkable attention.
In course of time, following the tradition of his family, Eustace went to
Harrow. He was there five years—always one of those boys a little
out at wrists and ankles, who may be seen slouching, solitary, along the
pavement to their own haunts, rather dusty, and with one shoulder slightly
raised above the other, from the habit of carrying something beneath one
arm. Saved from being thought a 'smug,' by his title, his lack of any
conspicuous scholastic ability, his obvious independence of what was
thought of him, and a sarcastic tongue, which no one was eager to
encounter, he remained the ugly duckling who refused to paddle properly in
the green ponds of Public School tradition. He played games so badly that
in sheer self-defence his fellows permitted him to play without them. Of
'fives' they made an exception, for in this he attained much proficiency,
owing to a certain windmill-like quality of limb. He was noted too for
daring chemical experiments, of which he usually had one or two brewing,
surreptitiously at first, and afterwards by special permission of his
house-master, on the principle that if a room must smell, it had better
smell openly. He made few friendships, but these were lasting.
His Latin was so poor, and his Greek verse so vile, that all had been
surprised when towards the finish of his career he showed a very
considerable power of writing and speaking his own language. He left
school without a pang. But when in the train he saw the old Hill and the
old spire on the top of it fading away from him, a lump rose in his
throat, he swallowed violently two or three times, and, thrusting himself
far back into the carriage corner, appeared to sleep.
At Oxford, he was happier, but still comparatively lonely; remaining, so
long as custom permitted, in lodgings outside his College, and clinging
thereafter to remote, panelled rooms high up, overlooking the gardens and
a portion of the city wall. It was at Oxford that he first developed that
passion for self-discipline which afterwards distinguished him. He took up
rowing; and, though thoroughly unsuited by nature to this pastime, secured
himself a place in his College 'torpid.' At the end of a race he was
usually supported from his stretcher in a state of extreme extenuation,
due to having pulled the last quarter of the course entirely with his
spirit. The same craving for self-discipline guided him in the choice of
Schools; he went out in 'Greats,' for which, owing to his indifferent
mastery of Greek and Latin, he was the least fitted. With enormous labour
he took a very good degree. He carried off besides, the highest
distinctions of the University for English Essays. The ordinary circles of
College life knew nothing of him. Not once in the whole course of his
University career, was he the better for wine. He, did not hunt; he never
talked of women, and none talked of women in his presence. But now and
then he was visited by those gusts which come to the ascetic, when all
life seemed suddenly caught up and devoured by a flame burning night and
day, and going out mercifully, he knew not why, like a blown candle.
However unsocial in the proper sense of the word, he by no means lacked
company in these Oxford days. He knew many, both dons and undergraduates.
His long stride, and determined absence of direction, had severely tried
all those who could stomach so slow a pastime as walking for the sake of
talking. The country knew him—though he never knew the country—from
Abingdon to Bablock Hythe. His name stood high, too, at the Union, where
he made his mark during his first term in a debate on a 'Censorship of
Literature' which he advocated with gloom, pertinacity, and a certain
youthful brilliance that might well have carried the day, had not an
Irishman got up and pointed out the danger hanging over the Old Testament.
To that he had retorted: “Better, sir, it should run a risk than have no
risk to run.” From which moment he was notable.
He stayed up four years, and went down with a sense of bewilderment and
loss. The matured verdict of Oxford on this child of hers, was “Eustace
Miltoun! Ah! Queer bird! Will make his mark!”
He had about this time an interview with his father which confirmed the
impression each had formed of the other. It took place in the library at
Monkland Court, on a late November afternoon.
The light of eight candles in thin silver candlesticks, four on either
side of the carved stone hearth, illumined that room. Their gentle
radiance penetrated but a little way into the great dark space lined with
books, panelled and floored with black oak, where the acrid fragrance of
leather and dried roseleaves seemed to drench the very soul with the aroma
of the past. Above the huge fireplace, with light falling on one side of
his shaven face, hung a portrait—painter unknown—of that
Cardinal Caradoc who suffered for his faith in the sixteenth century.
Ascetic, crucified, with a little smile clinging to the lips and deep-set
eyes, he presided, above the bluefish flames of a log fire.
Father and son found some difficulty in beginning.
Each of those two felt as though he were in the presence of someone else's
very near relation. They had, in fact, seen extremely little of each
other, and not seen that little long.
Lord Valleys uttered the first remark:
“Well, my dear fellow, what are you going to do now? I think we can make
certain of this seat down here, if you like to stand.”
Miltoun had answered: “Thanks, very much; I don't think so at present.”
Through the thin fume of his cigar Lord Valleys watched that long figure
sunk deep in the chair opposite.
“Why not?” he said. “You can't begin too soon; unless you think you ought
to go round the world.”
“Before I can become a man of it?”
Lord Valleys gave a rather disconcerted laugh.
“There's nothing in politics you can't pick up as you go along,” he said.
“How old are you?”
“You look older.” A faint line, as of contemplation, rose between his
eyes. Was it fancy that a little smile was hovering about Miltoun's lips?
“I've got a foolish theory,” came from those lips, “that one must know the
conditions first. I want to give at least five years to that.”
Lord Valleys raised his eyebrows. “Waste of time,” he said. “You'd know
more at the end of it, if you went into the House at once. You take the
matter too seriously.”
For fully a minute Lord Valleys made no answer; he felt almost ruffled.
Waiting till the sensation had passed, he said: “Well, my dear fellow, as
Miltoun's apprenticeship to the profession of politics was served in a
slum settlement; on his father's estates; in Chambers at the Temple; in
expeditions to Germany, America, and the British Colonies; in work at
elections; and in two forlorn hopes to capture a constituency which could
be trusted not to change its principles. He read much, slowly, but with
conscientious tenacity, poetry, history, and works on philosophy,
religion, and social matters.
Fiction, and especially foreign fiction, he did not care for. With the
utmost desire to be wide and impartial, he sucked in what ministered to
the wants of his nature, rejecting unconsciously all that by its
unsuitability endangered the flame of his private spirit. What he read, in
fact, served only to strengthen those profounder convictions which arose
from his temperament. With a contempt of the vulgar gewgaws of wealth and
rank he combined a humble but intense and growing conviction of his
capacity for leadership, of a spiritual superiority to those whom he
desired to benefit. There was no trace, indeed, of the common Pharisee in
Miltoun, he was simple and direct; but his eyes, his gestures, the whole
man, proclaimed the presence of some secret spring of certainty, some
fundamental well into which no disturbing glimmers penetrated. He was not
devoid of wit, but he was devoid of that kind of wit which turns its eyes
inward, and sees something of the fun that lies in being what you are.
Miltoun saw the world and all the things thereof shaped like spires—even
when they were circles. He seemed to have no sense that the Universe was
equally compounded of those two symbols, whose point of reconciliation had
not yet been discovered.
Such was he, then, when the Member for his native division was made a
He had reached the age of thirty without ever having been in love, leading
a life of almost savage purity, with one solitary breakdown. Women were
afraid of him. And he was perhaps a little afraid of woman. She was in
theory too lovely and desirable—the half-moon in a summer sky; in
practice too cloying, or too harsh. He had an affection for Barbara, his
younger sister; but to his mother, his grandmother, or his elder sister
Agatha, he had never felt close. It was indeed amusing to see Lady Valleys
with her first-born. Her fine figure, the blown roses of her face, her
grey-blue eyes which had a slight tendency to roll, as though amusement
just touched with naughtiness bubbled behind them; were reduced to a
queer, satirical decorum in Miltoun's presence. Thoughts and sayings
verging on the risky were characteristic of her robust physique, of her
soul which could afford to express almost all that occurred to it. Miltoun
had never, not even as a child, given her his confidence. She bore him no
resentment, being of that large, generous build in body and mind, rarely—never
in her class—associated with the capacity for feeling aggrieved or
lowered in any estimation, even its own. He was, and always had been, an
odd boy, and there was an end of it! Nothing had perhaps so disconcerted
Lady Valleys as his want of behaviour in regard to women. She felt it
abnormal, just as she recognized the essential if duly veiled normality of
her husband and younger son. It was this feeling which made her realize
almost more vividly than she had time for, in the whirl of politics and
fashion, the danger of his friendship with this lady to whom she alluded
so discreetly as 'Anonyma.'
Pure chance had been responsible for the inception of that friendship.
Going one December afternoon to the farmhouse of a tenant, just killed by
a fall from his horse, Miltoun had found the widow in a state of
bewildered grief, thinly cloaked in the manner of one who had almost lost
the power to express her feelings, and quite lost it in presence of 'the
gentry.' Having assured the poor soul that she need have no fear about her
tenancy, he was just leaving, when he met, in the stone-flagged entrance,
a lady in a fur cap and jacket, carrying in her arms a little crying boy,
bleeding from a cut on the forehead. Taking him from her and placing him
on a table in the parlour, Miltoun looked at this lady, and saw that she
was extremely grave, and soft, and charming. He inquired of her whether
the mother should be told.
She shook her head.
“Poor thing, not just now: let's wash it, and bind it up first.”
Together therefore they washed and bound up the cut. Having finished, she
looked at Miltoun, and seemed to say: “You would do the telling so much
better than I.”
He, therefore, told the mother and was rewarded by a little smile from the
From that meeting he took away the knowledge of her name, Audrey Lees
Noel, and the remembrance of a face, whose beauty, under a cap of
squirrel's fur, pursued him. Some days later passing by the village green,
he saw her entering a garden gate. On this occasion he had asked her
whether she would like her cottage re-thatched; an inspection of the roof
had followed; he had stayed talking a long time. Accustomed to women—over
the best of whom, for all their grace and lack of affectation, high-caste
life had wrapped the manner which seems to take all things for granted—there
was a peculiar charm for Miltoun in this soft, dark-eyed lady who
evidently lived quite out of the world, and had so poignant, and shy, a
flavour. Thus from a chance seed had blossomed swiftly one of those rare
friendships between lonely people, which can in short time fill great
spaces of two lives.
One day she asked him: “You know about me, I suppose?” Miltoun made a
motion of his head, signifying that he did. His informant had been the
“Yes, I am told, her story is a sad one—a divorce.”
“Do you mean that she has been divorced, or——”
For the fraction of a second the vicar perhaps had hesitated.
“Oh! no—no. Sinned against, I am sure. A nice woman, so far as I
have seen; though I'm afraid not one of my congregation.”
With this, Miltoun, in whom chivalry had already been awakened, was
content. When she asked if he knew her story, he would not for the world
have had her rake up what was painful. Whatever that story, she could not
have been to blame. She had begun already to be shaped by his own spirit;
had become not a human being as it was, but an expression of his
On the third evening after his passage of arms with Courtier, he was again
at her little white cottage sheltering within its high garden walls.
Smothered in roses, and with a black-brown thatch overhanging the
old-fashioned leaded panes of the upper windows, it had an air of hiding
from the world. Behind, as though on guard, two pine trees spread their
dark boughs over the outhouses, and in any south-west wind could be heard
speaking gravely about the weather. Tall lilac bushes flanked the garden,
and a huge lime-tree in the adjoining field sighed and rustled, or on
still days let forth the drowsy hum of countless small dusky bees who
frequented that green hostelry.
He found her altering a dress, sitting over it in her peculiar delicate
fashion—as if all objects whatsoever, dresses, flowers, books,
music, required from her the same sympathy.
He had come from a long day's electioneering, had been heckled at two
meetings, and was still sore from the experience. To watch her, to be
soothed, and ministered to by her had never been so restful; and stretched
out in a long chair he listened to her playing.
Over the hill a Pierrot moon was slowly moving up in a sky the colour of
grey irises. And in a sort of trance Miltoun stared at the burnt-out star,
travelling in bright pallor.
Across the moor a sea of shallow mist was rolling; and the trees in the
valley, like browsing cattle, stood knee-deep in whiteness, with all the
air above them wan from an innumerable rain as of moondust, falling into
that white sea. Then the moon passed behind the lime-tree, so that a great
lighted Chinese lantern seemed to hang blue-black from the sky.
Suddenly, jarring and shivering the music, came a sound of hooting. It
swelled, died away, and swelled again.
“That has spoiled my vision,” he said. “Mrs. Noel, I have something I want
to say.” But looking down at her, sitting so still, with her hands resting
on the keys, he was silent in sheer adoration.
A voice from the door ejaculated:
“Oh! ma'am—oh! my lord! They're devilling a gentleman on the green!”