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And they were such lovely literature; the artist in her woke to that. He never saw sun or moonshine without wanting her to see with him. He pulled down the very stars to heap at her. All the glory of Nature was for her; all the sweet rehearsal of this world, all the boundless promise of the world to come. He would write wildly, hot with joy, when he saw a rainbow, jewelled and curving in the sky. Letters in spring were all birth; they expressed new life, tender green, little white lambs. Summer letters were languorous; autumn letters lay heaped in blazing leaves; in winter the wild wind skirled through his sprawling sheets. And whatever he had felt or seen or suffered, it always ended on the same note :—“Isabel, I wanted you. I stretched my arms to the sky for you; I felt you high above me in the clouds—you were sitting on the little peaks, a goddess all gold and rose colour.”

Wasn't it exquisite to have been loved like that, and did anything else matter? Yet, oh! she was so cold and she was hungry. And the steam of mingled dinners came up the stair. She was hungry, and here was a Treasure Mine. But the pain of doing it. She must be calm; she must sit here in the cold room and choose; she would take the way which meant the lesser suffering; she would spare herself. Would it hurt more to die of hunger or to lay one's soul open to the spear? This was the eternal conflict between flesh and spirit. Quaint old conflict !

The haggard east wind went like a fiend all round the big yellow building as she arose and went into her bedroom to put on her things. She wore blue serge, of course that unfailing choice of the genteel needy; and she had a neat hat of hard felt, with a cock's plume. She looked at the cock's plume and stroked it, and then began to cry.

As she went down the stairs two women stood on a landing, one with a grubby baby, which she kept joggling and hoisting, making a little perch for it in the crook of her arm.

“It's a bitter cold day,” she said to Isabel, trying to stare clean through her.

Weather's bad an' money's short, an' it comes hard on you bein' single, I'll be bound. There's benefits to men,

in spite o' beer an' politics. Jawin' and swillin'! But you gits the pick o' their wages.”

“It is a very cold day,” said Isabel, mechanically, and pulling together the mean collar of her coat and hugging her dear bundle close to her heart.

She took a wild plunge into the weather-it was grey, it was yellow, it was dry, it was harsh; it screamed with fury; it shed never one tear.

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CHAPTER II.

At a publishing office she was at home, renewed the mood of her brief literary vogue.

Years back she had written a book with a wild tinge and made a stir. But her gift was small; it had only fed with Felix, and when he died her mental spring broke. Since then she had been barely scraping along on occasional newspaper work, but her vogue was past; it was worse than if it never had been, and the editors bluntly told her so. She belonged to the big army of half-achievement.

She was at home here with Paper. Her spirits rose; she liked the machinery, the noise and dirt, the hurry of feet on bare stairs, the slamming of doors. While she waited her turn to see the publisher she built a whole castle of enduring gold. Her brain got up and shook itself; she became possessed of half-a-dozen really good ideas. And yet she knew that this exaltation was only brief; the world of letters had swung clean past her.

She was shown into the publisher's private room. The first thing she saw, the only thing she cared for, was the enormous fire. It went up the chimney with a huge bass laugh. She advanced to the window, where the roll-top desk stood, and the office chair that swung round, and the big business man. She wanted to run away; the room was an operating theatre—but the man—the surgeonnear the window was smiling suavely.

He was kind, most polite; he made things easy. He understood at once that she had brought him a marketable thing; his nose was unerring. He was so jubilant at the idea of being first in the field with a literary boom that he didn't even stop to dissimulate and pretend he would not take the letters. He fell on them as a bear falls on a bun.

Isabel saw his eye run down them, saw his hand—a fat, white hand-tumble them over and over. She thought she was really dying, and she put out her own hand, with an instinct for life, to the tray. The publisher had a decanter of sherry on it and a box of lean biscuits falling to dust in their ascetic dryness. He was a busy man and a dyspeptic; he lunched at the office.

“I'm faint,” she said. “The room is hot.” “Hot!" He stared

up. “You can't have too big a fire on a day like this. Take some sherry and a biscuit.”

He went back to the letters. There was money in them; he hated to be interrupted.

Sherry to Isabel's hunger was the essence of life. It gave her courage and youth, recklessness, vivacity. Little threads of coquetry and wit spread out like filaments within her—until she saw her pointed profile in the long glass near.

"Most curious, most interesting," he said. “They will make a successful book. It must be luxuriously produced and skilfully

advertised. How did the letters fall into your hands? I don't think, however, that we should publish the name of the lady-yet. The public loves to be teased."

“The name of the lady!”

"Exactly," he chuckled. “I always knew his wife was not at the bottom of his genius. Worthy woman! I met her once, and I always-wondered."

“Those letters were written to me. If you look, you will find an addressed envelope."

Isabel was suffering more than she had supposed possible. Cold and hunger were nothing to this. And yet—the woman rose in herit was a triumph to let this big business brute see. She had been loved once-to madness; to the most adorable and abandoned childishness.

To you! By Jove ! ”

He looked from the vivid sheet on which was scrawled the dead poet's most sacred, secret soul, and then he looked at her—a little old maid gone lean, gone dusty, wearing a cheap hat worn by the multitude. Sherry and anguished excitement had tipped it crooked on her head.

"To me!" she laughed—and he didn't like the sound. “You, you always—wondered.”

She hated to see his smooth hands touch those letters. If Felix could suddenly spring back to flesh and throttle him! Hadn't it been a little-cowardly-of Felix to die? How she was suffering! Would she ever wipe the marks off her? Would Felix, in the dim world where he waited forgive ?

The publisher read a phrase aloud. He laughed.

“Beautiful--but mad! These poets ! As if any woman worth it-even you."

He looked at her, the little comically tragic creature. He had a sense of drollery, but no mercy.

Don't stare !” she called out in a loud voice, and seizing the sherry glass and drinking. “Can't you see that I'm past bearing it --that I am sitting here naked, in my very soul?”

He appeared thoughtful.

“I beg your pardon, and—well, when you look and speak like that, it reminds me of your first book. Why didn't you follow it up? I always said there was money in you, but some authors miss their market."

“I have a very good trick of missing,” she said, quiet again. “Are you going to make me a really generous offer for those letters?"

“One moment more, please.'

He went on reading; he gave a phrase aloud. How it thrilled her, even at this distance and through such a ghastly medium. Felix had written it after one of their tragic partings. To part, whether for long or for little, had always hurt them just as much

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every time. Even to turn a corner made a parting. He kept on reading out loud, the publisher :

“A sweet garden, all weeds and wet and riot." "A sky of dapple and abundant drapery."

The way the bare trees stand with their gaunt legs deep in the flowing ditches."

“The wine purple of wet hedgerows, the Bacchantine trail of a bramble.”

"They'll need editing,” he said, dryly. “There is a vogue for Nature, but the public won't stand anything too exotic.

We are a sane nation; it is the secret of our triumphant Imperialism. Hare you a portrait that could go as a frontispiece?"

“There is one; you'll find it with the letters. I brought it pur. posely. I forgot nothing." Isabel seized the sticky glass again and drank. “It was taken years ago, and like me then."

He had it out instantly. How prompt he was! He looked at it critically, and then at her.

“A picturesque pose; an Eastern flavour about the frock; the whole thing quite suited to the type of book we propose, and no one who knew you now would suspect the identity. We must keep our secret, so long as it is politic.”

No one would suspect! How bitterly eloquent it was, and how it broke her! She looked at the portrait lying flat on the desk and saw herself as she certainly had been when Felix was alive and loved her-pensive eyes, a passionate mouth that seemed to quiver on the card. What lovely things he had said about her eyes and mouth! She-remembered. And he had made a shrine of that portrait, giving it fresh flowers every morning. The publisher went on reading :

"The grand stride and colour of words."
A woman! Fie eness and tenderness in one crucible."
"A cricket making a noise like a sick cart-wheel."
“The house all shout and sewing and screaming sunlight.”
“A woman in black with a bird visage—a parrot dipped in tar."

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And finally he made her an offer, a magnificent offer. She was to have a maximum royalty on the book and a lump sum down on account. And she was to edit the letters and write an anonymous introduction.

When she had gone away the publisher spun round in his chair and looked out at the depressing line of London leads. He had been rather baffled by that woman's eyes. Mad creatures, these poets, but you made a handsome income out of them.

Regent Street was made doubly summer by lighted lamps, by the sensuous warmth of winter fabrics; people wore purple and wine-red that year.

Isabel adored pretty things. It was a fortnight since she went

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to the publisher, and already she had money on account for the book. She plunged in at the door of a shop which was one mad mingle of supple sheen, of distracting shadings. She was happy; she proposed to choose, to buy, to annex to her very heart's content. She told the shopman, who eyed her with a suspicious yet servile eye, that she desired green—a gown of it; scarves of it—to float. Felix had loved her in green, and she had never worn anything else, save yellow, which almost equally had been his ardent tinge. The selection of her dresses had been one of their silly, sweet secrets. She remembered the delightful flutter with which she had posted him patterns to choose from-a perfect posy of little pieces pinned together. It all came back, the young, the tremulous time. And yet they had not been young; youth never loves; it merely takes a trial trip.

It was joy to see things—hers—grow into glow on the counter. When she was just wrung out with satisfied emotion, she had everything stacked into a hansom, and drove through the lighted, twinkling streets built up in flimsy boxes and brown-paper parcels. She looked out, like a little old bird from the encompassing nest. Her eyes were very, very bright. The commissionaire on the curb winked to the passing policeman as she drove away.

She was safely shut in her own rooms at the top of the model dwelling, and with much solemnity she lighted six candles, sticking them in empty bottles or bare on the bedroom window ledge. The little mean room was glowing, ritual.

Making wild slashes at string, tearing open careful papers, piling the foam of carefully spread tissue sheets, so she displayed her finery and heaped the mean bed with bewildering charm. She then lighted a fire that the room might be voluptuous, and started pretending—that she was dressing to go to a party with Felix. In the brief days of her vogue they had gone so to literary gatherings. It was so pretty to pretend. Her heart made joyful little patterings. Gullible old heart !

One after the other she put on the things; tried on, flung off. Such delicious garments—in the hand; on the body somehow they evaded one. And yet she was very flushed and very happy; the fire and the six candles kept up her ceremonial mood. Standing at last in full evening dress she looked at her throat, remembering that Felix had loved it, found perfections in it which no one else had noticed. Her shoulders and arms ! How pretty they were once ! More than one sonnet had he written to that round shoulder.

And so she stood staring in the glass, marking with increasing coldness that no fire could warm how grey

she The lovely gown she wore might have hung on a hook and not on a body. And yet! She remembered-remembered; and began to glow. She saw in her eyes the lost joy spring to beautiful life again; it only lived for the briefest while, for the last time. It was so elusive, so evasive, that she barely clutched at it. And yet she did

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