THE DARK FLOWER
THE DARK FLOWER
He walked along Holywell that afternoon of early June with his
short gown drooping down his arms and no cap on his thick dark
hair. A youth of middle height and built as if he had come of two
very different strains one sturdy the other wiry and light. His
face too was a curious blend for though it was strongly formed
its expression was rather soft and moody. His eyes--dark grey
with a good deal of light in them and very black lashes--had a way
of looking beyond what they saw so that he did not seem always to
be quite present; but his smile was exceedingly swift uncovering
teeth as white as a negro's and giving his face a peculiar
eagerness. People stared at him a little as he passed--since in
eighteen hundred and eighty he was before his time in not wearing a
cap. Women especially were interested; they perceived that he took
no notice of them seeming rather to be looking into distance and
making combinations in his soul.
Did he know of what he was thinking--did he ever know quite
definitely at that time of his life when things especially those
beyond the immediate horizon were so curious and interesting?--the
things he was going to see and do when he had got through Oxford
where everybody was 'awfully decent' to him and 'all right' of
course but not so very interesting.
He was on his way to his tutor's to read an essay on Oliver
Cromwell; and under the old wall which had once hedged in the
town he took out of his pocket a beast. It was a small tortoise
and with an extreme absorption he watched it move its little
inquiring head feeling it all the time with his short broad
fingers as though to discover exactly how it was made. It was
mighty hard in the back! No wonder poor old Aeschylus felt a bit
sick when it fell on his head! The ancients used it to stand the
world on--a pagoda world perhaps of men and beasts and trees
like that carving on his guardian's Chinese cabinet. The Chinese
made jolly beasts and trees as if they believed in everything
having a soul and not only being just fit for people to eat or
drive or make houses of. If only the Art School would let him
model things 'on his own' instead of copying and copying--it was
just as if they imagined it would be dangerous to let you think out
anything for yourself!
He held the tortoise to his waistcoat and let it crawl till
noticing that it was gnawing the corner of his essay he put it
back into his pocket. What would his tutor do if he were to know
it was there?--cock his head a little to one side and say: "Ah!
there are things Lennan not dreamed of in my philosophy!" Yes
there were a good many not dreamed of by 'old Stormer' who seemed
so awfully afraid of anything that wasn't usual; who seemed always
laughing at you for fear that you should laugh at him. There were
lots of people in Oxford like that. It was stupid. You couldn't
do anything decent if you were afraid of being laughed at! Mrs.
Stormer wasn't like that; she did things because--they came into
her head. But then of course she was Austrian not English and
ever so much younger than old Stormer.
And having reached the door of his tutor's house he rang the
bell. . . .
When Anna Stormer came into the study she found her husband
standing at the window with his head a little on one side--a tall
long-legged figure in clothes of a pleasant tweed and wearing a
low turn-over collar (not common in those days) and a blue silk
tie which she had knitted strung through a ring. He was humming
and gently tapping the window-pane with his well-kept finger-nails.
Though celebrated for the amount of work he got through she never
caught him doing any in this house of theirs chosen because it was
more than half a mile away from the College which held the 'dear
young clowns' as he called them of whom he was tutor.
He did not turn--it was not of course his habit to notice what
was not absolutely necessary--but she felt that he was aware of
her. She came to the window seat and sat down. He looked round at
that and said: "Ah!"
It was a murmur almost of admiration not usual from him since
with the exception of certain portions of the classics it was
hardly his custom to admire. But she knew that she was looking her
best sitting there her really beautiful figure poised the sun
shining on her brown hair and brightening her deep-set ice-green
eyes under their black lashes. It was sometimes a great comfort to
her that she remained so good-looking. It would have been an added
vexation indeed to have felt that she ruffled her husband's
fastidiousness. Even so her cheekbones were too high for his
taste symbols of that something in her character which did not go
with his--the dash of desperation of vividness that lack of a
certain English smoothness which always annoyed him.
"Harold!"--she would never quite flatten her r's--"I want to go to
the mountains this year."
The mountains! She had not seen them since that season at San
Martino di Castrozza twelve years ago which had ended in her
"I don't know what that means--I am homesick. Can we go?"
"If you like--why not? But no leading up the Cimone della Pala for
She knew what he meant by that. No romance. How splendidly he had
led that day! She had almost worshipped him. What blindness!
What distortion! Was it really the same man standing there with
those bright doubting eyes with grey already in his hair? Yes
romance was over! And she sat silent looking out into the street--
that little old street into which she looked day and night. A