/*bootstrap*/ My Maugham Collection Concordance Library: The Buried Talent (1934)

The Buried Talent (1934)

Short Stories >

When Convers arrived at Penang and the Resident, coming to meet him, told him that a culvert on the line to Bangkok had been swept away by a flood so that unless he flew he would not be able to go for three or four days, he received the news with equanimity. He decided to wait till the line was repaired. The Resident asked him to stay with him, but with proper expressions of civility Convers chose rather to go to the hotel.

He was now having breakfast on the verandah of his room and he looked forward to spending a lazy day wandering about the pleasant town. He frowned slightly when a letter was brought in to him. On the evening of his arrival he had attended a large and dull dinner party at the Residency and on the day following another at the Club. He guessed that the letter was an invitation to a party of the same nature and he wondered whether there was any means by which he could politely refuse it. But though it was an invitation it was not of the sort he expected. The letter began abruptly.

I hardly know how to address you. I'm not quite sure if it's fitting to address His Britannic Majesty's Minister Plenipotentiary to the King of Siam as Teddie and I'm not quite sure if now you're so grand you will want to know an obscure doctor's wife whom you have not seen or heard of for more than twenty years.

Convers interrupted his reading.

'Who the devil is this?'

He looked at the signature: Blanche MacArdle. It meant nothing to him at all. He went on.

I see that you are at Penang and if I know anything of the P.W.D. they won't get the trains running for at least three days, and I am wondering if for old times' sake you would come over to dinner and spend the night It will only take you a couple of hours to get here by car. Considering the difficulties one has to contend with, I have a rather nice garden. It might amuse you to see what one can do in the East if one tries. I should like to talk to you about poor Charmian.

Then of course he remembered. It gave him quite a turn. He didn't know much anatomy, but he felt that there was a loose string in his heart, dangling there, and someone had just given it a painful tug. The letter went on to say if he would telegraph, a car would be sent for him and would bring him back next day. Convers got up from his chair, went into the room and wrote out a telegram.

Greatly regret. Absolutely impossible. Convers.

Then he came back and proceeded to finish his breakfast.

It was useless to renew an acquaintance that had ceased so many years ago. What was the sense of reviving painful memories and probing old wounds that had long been healed? Blanche must be a middle-aged woman by now. MacArdle? He had forgotten that this was the name of the man she married. He remembered him vaguely, a tall, big-boned solemn Scot; he smiled when he thought how Charmian and he had begged her not to marry him. What young fools they were then! And Charmian was dead.

Of course Blanche had done the wise thing and the right thing. Convers wondered what she looked like now. He wondered if she were as tidy as ever. She was a handsome creature, in those days, with fine eyes and a good profile, and in her bearing, although she could not have been more than twenty-four, something already of the tragedy queen. And what had become of the magnificent contralto? When quite unexpectedly she told them that she was giving up her singing to marry, and was going to the F.M.S. with Andrew, he remembered how Charmian and he had besought her not to throw away the glorious instrument that nature had given her. Charmian had wept. There was nothing so rare as a contralto and at the Conservatoire they held out to Blanche hopes of a splendid career. It was already decided that she should make her debut in Gluck's Orfeo.

It was strange how it all came back to him, the memory of the past, and poor dead Charmian; he had scarcely thought of her for years. What a success she had had and in what shame ended! Convers read Blanche's letter again.

He remembered the room in a pension that he had lived in—he was learning French for his examination—and the studio that Blanche and Charmian had in a street that led out of the Boulevard Raspail, and the Closerie des Lilas, which was their favourite café. Good heavens, how it all came back! After all, why shouldn't he go to see Blanche? He wondered whether she had kept in touch with Charmian after her marriage. For a moment his thoughts lingered with the dead singer; he gave a sigh.

He had been married for nineteen years, happily married, and he had two sons of whom he was proud; after falling out of love with Charmian he had fallen in love again before falling in love with his wife; but thinking it over calmly it seemed to him that his love for Charmian, wretched as it had made him, was unique. It had a spiritual quality, a sort of idealistic eagerness, that transfused sensual desire with some beauty not of this earth.

'I've never loved anyone as I loved Charmian,' he pondered, but he was no sooner conscious of the reflection than he felt a warm, grateful glow as he thought of his wife. He smiled affectionately in her absent eyes.

He returned to his room, tore up the telegraph form and wrote another.

Will come to dine and sleep tonight. Don't bother about car. Hiring. Teddie.

His diplomatic career had taken him to several of the capitals of Europe, to Brazil and to Guatemala, but he had never been East and he viewed the passing scene with pleasure. But he saw it with the eyes of his head only; at the back of his mind—more vivid than the interminable plantations of rubber trees and the Malay villages, half hidden by fruit trees, that he drove through—he saw the streets of Paris, noisy, crowded and romantic, and Montparnasse, with its prim air of a town in the provinces and yet with an alertness that set the blood racing through one's veins. The world then was thrilling, and you could not walk down those wide, leisurely streets without a feeling that at every turn the unexpected awaited you. Anything was possible. Art was the only thing that mattered and everyone was young.

He had come from his own respectable pension near the Bois de Boulogne to a party given in his studio by an American painter, and there had met Blanche and Charmian. They were both studying singing and presently their host asked them to sing. Blanche sang some old Gaelic songs and her rich contralto gave them a lovely sadness. Then Charmian sang the great soprano aria from the Marriage of Figaro. She had a voice of exquisite purity, not very powerful, but of great sweetness. She was a lovely creature, with a very white skin, a little straight nose and large shining eyes. But it was not her voice nor her beauty that most captivated you; it was an urge of youth, a charming gay exuberance that seemed to shed a material radiance. She seemed to pour life forth as a lamp pours light.

Teddie Convers, a good-looking boy then, in Paris for the first time in his life, fell in love with her at first sight. He sought her society and Charmian seemed to like his. But she knew a good many people on the other side of the river and was often engaged; then Blanche and he would dine together and talk about her by the hour. Sometimes the three of them would go to Versailles and once they spent an enchanting holiday in the Forest of Fontainebleau.

Blanche, older than either of them and of a more serious nature, was in charge of Charmian and kept a watchful eye over her, but she liked the clean young Englishman and felt that Charmian was safe with him. Life was free and easy in the Latin Quarter. None of them had any money, but they enjoyed their work, they enjoyed their play and they were happy.

Of course they had their moments of difficulty, Charmian was careless and extravagant, and when she wanted something the last thing that occurred to her was that she could not afford it. One could not imagine what would have happened if Blanche had not been there. She pinched and saved. Charmian laughed at her prudence, but accepted whatever Blanche did for her with light-hearted insouciance. She managed to make it seem the most enchanting thing in the world to be privileged to do her a service.

Once Convers told Blanche that he thought her the most unselfish woman he had ever known.

'Because of what I do for Charmian?' she smiled. 'It makes me so happy. I love her.'

'Why aren't you jealous of me?'

'Because you love her too? Of course you love her. I should hate you if you didn't. We shall never either of us ever meet anyone quite like her. I think she's going to be one of the great singers of the world. I 've got a feeling that some day we shall see that to have known her was the great experience of our lives.'

'You know we're not lovers, don't you?'

'Of course.'

He flushed. He was only twenty-two.

'I think I love her too much for that.'

'I know.'

It was a comfort to him that she understood and did not think him ridiculous. Common friends took it for granted that Charmian was his mistress; it did not dawn on them that his passion for her had a quality that made the thought of sexual union an offence. Charmian had a flower-like beauty that he felt it would be desecration to touch; her purity was so exquisite that it gave him a sort of mystical elation. He asked her to marry him and naturally she refused; she wanted her freedom, her career came before everything. He was prepared to wait. He thought he would love her to the end of time, and he had a kind of inner conviction that one day she would Consent to be his wife. He adored her as the saint adores his God.

And now leaning back in the car that sped along the straight road, smoking a pipe, a middle-aged man with grey hair and a keen, intelligent face, he remembered that ecstatic feeling with precision and he was glad to have had it. He had gone through many experiences since then, he had loved, married and begotten children, he had made a success of his career and could look forward to greater success to come, but that ecstasy was a possession that neither time nor circumstance could take away from him. It had given him the sense of immortality.

But at last he was obliged to leave Paris. The second language he was taking for his examination was Spanish, and he was to spend some months in Seville. Charmian promised to write to him. They made plans for her and Blanche to come down and see him at Easter.

It was just then, on the eve of his departure, that Blanche broke the surprising news that she was giving up her career as a singer to marry the big Scotsman who had come over to Paris now and then to see her and whom they knew she refused to marry every time he came. She was going with him to Singapore as soon as they were married. It seemed a terrible thing that with such a glorious voice and the possibility of a great future she should bury herself in a distant country. But after all it was her business and the thought of leaving Charmian made Convers too unhappy for him to bother himself very much with other people's concerns.

Charmian saw him off at the station and she wept bitterly at parting from him. It was he who had to console her by telling her that the time would soon pass and they would be reunited. When the train steamed out of the station his heart was heavy and his eyes were blurred with tears. But his love, and the feeling he had that Charmian loved him also, filled him with a deep serenity. His mind busied itself with the future. He did not know that he was never to see her again.

But now they arrived at a considerable town. The chauffeur stopped in front of a large white handsome bungalow and Convers got out. A big stout woman with grey hair came down the steps with outstretched hands.

Teddie,' she cried.

It was a shock to him. He would never have recognised her and in order to cover his confusion assumed an effusive cordiality.

'How do you do?' he cried. 'By George, I am glad to see you. What a long time!'

She had still the handsome dark eyes that he remembered, but a heavy jowl and bags under the eyes; her skin was coarse and sallow. She wore a sort of tea-gown, in white silk, and on her ample bosom hung three or four strings of coloured beads. She was an old woman.

'Come in,' she said, 'and I'll give you a drink. I want you to see the garden before it gets dark. Andrew is out. 1 told him not to come in till dinner so that we could have a good talk.'

She led him into a large sitting-room–overcrowded with furniture, among which he noticed a grand piano–and gave him a whisky and soda.

'I can't tell you how thrilled I was when I saw that you were the new Minister to Siam. At first I wasn't quite sure if Sir Edward Convers and Teddie Convers were one and the same. You see I never thought of you but as a dear little boy just down from Oxford. But then I thought it must be the same. Ought I to call you Sir Edward?'

'Only if you want to make me feel a damned fool.'

'You've got on, haven't you? I suppose you'll be an ambassador next.'

'If I'm lucky.'

She took him into the garden, and as gardeners will, talked to him of this that did well in that climate and of the other that wasn't worth the trouble it cost you. It was a small coconut plantation, a square plot of land fenced in, and Blanche had left the regular lines of tall trees undisturbed; she had sown grass and mown it. Along the fences were flowering shrubs; and here and there, seemingly at haphazard, grew clumps of cannas, yellow or flame-coloured. It was exquisitely romantic. Artifice and nature were combined to make a pattern that appealed to the eye and the fancy. The ordered beauty caught the heart with an ecstasy that was almost pain. Then as the light was failing they went and sat on the verandah that overlooked the garden. They made themselves comfortable in long chairs and the boy brought out whisky and soda and a bucket of ice.

'You must be very happy here/ said Convers.

'You're married, aren't you?'


'Have you any children?'

'Two boys.'

'I envy you that. I never had any children. Will your wife join you in Bangkok?'

'Of course. I'm lost without her. She didn't come with me only because she thought she ought to stay with the boys till they went back to school.'

'I always imagined you'd make a very good husband.'

'It's not difficult to be a good husband when you've got a wife like mine.'

'That sounds as though you were very fond of her.'

'She's a very nice woman.'

'How long have you been married?'

'Nineteen years.'

'I've been married twenty-six.'

'I know.'

She gave a little laugh and he glanced at her, for there was in her laugh a harshness that surprised him. He smiled good-naturedly.

'My dear, I was twenty-two when I was in love with Charmian. You wouldn't have wished me to cherish a hopeless passion for her all my life. I suppose there are people who fall in love only once in their lives, but I think they must be exceptional.'

Blanche turned to him with a smile full of friendliness.

'And yet how indignant you'd ha v e been if anyone had told you that your love for Charmian would die away and in three or four years you'd marry somebody else and live happily ever after!'

'I shouldn't have been indignant, I should just have thought it ridiculous. Whoever loved that didn't think his love would last for ever?'

'It seems rather sad that a passion that was so pure, so intense, so beautiful, should die and leave not a trace behind.'

'Oh, but that isn't so. My love for Charmian was unique in my life. It is an imperishable and lovely memory. All the bitterness I endured is forgotten and I remember only the happiness it gave me. If it didn't sound so pretentious I'd say it enriched my soul.'

They were silent for a while. They thought of that beautiful, gifted creature who attained such heights and ended so tragically. The world moves quickly nowadays and the singer whom half the world so ecstatically applauded is forgotten. But here and there you can still find elderly people who remember Charmian's debut in Brussels.

She had changed her good English name of Pelter to that of Pelletier. She made her first appearance in Thaïs and the Belgian public went mad over her. She was young and beautiful, she acted well, and her voice, though not very powerful, had a springtime purity and a sweetness that were enchanting. She was never a great artist, but nature endowed her with wonderful gifts and there was a spontaneity in her singing, a deep sincerity in her acting, that disarmed critical opinion.

The following season saw her debut in Paris and her success far surpassed expectation. She was launched on the path of glory. But it is a dangerous path and it cannot be trod too warily. Charmian was weak. She squandered her gifts with a spendthrift's improvidence. She would not listen to the counsels of prudence. She was determined to wrest from life every possibility it afforded. She became notorious for her extravagance, the beauty of her clothes, the splendour of her jewels and the magnificence of her establishment. Rich men were glad to satisfy her whims and she flung their money away with the indifference of a wanton child.

She behaved as though her voice were an instrument that could be treated without concern and as though her radiant beauty were imperishable. Things began to go wrong. Now and then she gave a performance so bad that she was hissed. Once the curtain at the Opera-Comique had to be lowered because she was too drunk to finish the scene. Her voice lost its silvery tone. She put on weight. The fall was as rapid as had been the ascent.

Although so much money had passed through her hands she was overwhelmed with debts. She fell ill. There was a spectacular sale of her effects. Two or three years more went by and she began to sing in second-rate companies at watering places and seaside resorts. Her voice was but a shadow of what it once had been. She continued to pursue pleasure with the same mad frenzy. She fell upon men who exploited and robbed her.

She sank lower and lower till at last she was glad to get engagements in provincial music halls of a doubtful character where she sold herself to coarse and vulgar men for a hundred francs. Any money she could get hold of she spent on drink and drugs. At last even this means of earning failed her.

She was fished out one morning from the harbour at Toulon with a knife thrust in her back. Her death gave the papers some welcome copy,- her past triumphs were recalled and industrious journalists traced the course of her final degradation. The last few months of her life had been passed in sordid squalor. She was forty-three when she died.

Blanche sighed. The night had fallen. The fronds of the coconut trees made a florid pattern against the starry sky and in the garden the fire-flies, swaying deliberately upon the still air, were like the wavering lights of fairy boats that rose and fell on an unquiet. invisible sea. After the heat of the day the coolness was very grateful.

'Did you never see her again after you left Paris?'

'Never. At first I wrote to her every day and now and then she sent me an untidy scrawl in answer.'

'She never came down to Seville after all?'

'No. At the last minute she sent a wire to say she couldn't. I'd been looking forward to it so much, the disappointment shattered me. When I passed through Paris I couldn't find her. She'd left the studio and the concierge didn't know where she'd gone. I went back to London. I met new people, I had new experiences. I was very young.'

'You fell in love with somebody else.'


'Did you never have the curiosity to go and hear her sing when she was at the height of her fame?'

'No. I didn't want to revive the old dead feeling. After all it would have been madness. I knew then how she was living. I'd loved her too much to be able to suffer the idea of the rich South American who provided all the luxury I'd heard about. I was older then. I didn't think she'd have much use for an obscure clerk in the Foreign Office. I wanted to keep my recollection undisturbed.'

'And you've done that notwithstanding all that happened afterwards?'

'Yes. My love for Charmian was a perfect thing. I shall always be thankful for it.'

Blanche sighed.

'I suppose it never occurred to you to ask yourself why I threw over the career that seemed open to me and sacrificed my ambition to marry a doctor and come out to the Far East. You weren't much interested in me, were you? I was the prim, prudish Scotswoman who was always in the way. You thought me rather absurd because I tidied up and kept accounts and tried not to run into debt. I'll tell you why I married Andrew. I was afraid.'

Convers did not speak. He waited for her to go on. 'We'd known one another all our lives. He'd asked me to marry him a score of times. He was a good fellow, I knew I could trust him, but I wanted to be a great singer, I wanted fame, and I wanted to lead a full and various life. I knew I had a good voice; of course 1 was a contralto, but voice for voice mine was finer than Charmian's. I was prepared to work like the devil to make the most of it. In my mind's eye I saw vast audiences held spellbound by the wonder of my singing and I heard the thunder of their applause. I know I should have realised my ambition.'

'I think you would.'

'I adored Charmian. I adored her beauty, I adored her careless gaiety. She was everything that I could have wished to be. I knew she was wilful and loved pleasure, but I was convinced there was no harm in her. My character was stronger than hers and I made up my mind to watch over her and guide her. I was as ambitious for her as I was for myself. When she told me there was a chance of her making her debut in Brussels I was as excited as she was.

'I couldn't help boasting about it to one of the girls who were studying with us. She sniggered. I thought she was jealous and I was rather short with her. She lost her temper. She said that if Charmian got this engagement it would be for her looks rather than for her voice. I snapped back at her and we had a row. She said Charmian had been to bed with half the students at the Conservatoire; I don't know what she didn't say. Of course I didn't believe a word of it. I went straight to Charmian. I expected her to be as indignant as I was, but she only giggled; I was so taken aback by her attitude that for a moment 1 was beside myself.

'She didn't seem to realise the awfulness of the stories that were being told of her. She came up and kissed me and told me not to be an old prude. Then it all came out. She confessed everything, without shame, without reluctance, with a brazen callousness that horrified me. She simply could not understand my horror. I cried with shame for her and it only made her laugh. She mocked me. She sneered at my coldness; she said I would never become a great singer until I let myself go. She called me a constipated virgin.

I thought I knew every thought in her heart and now I realised there was an abyss between us. She said she wasn't prepared to wait for her chance, she wanted it now; a rich Belgian had promised to get her into the Opera at Brussels and she wasn't going to be such a fool as to miss the opportunity. Of course she would have to pay him his price. Well, what of it? She asked me if I thought one got anything without paying for it. I had a sudden revulsion of feeling for all that world of singers and musicians and impressarios.

'You see, although I was horrified, I saw her standpoint, I was young then and not bad-looking; men now and then had tried to be familiar with me, I wondered whether the time would come when I should go the way she had gone. It was such an easy way. I was frightened. And I was angry that she'd made such a fool of me. I think I had some sort of crazy feeling that by sacrificing everything I cared for I was revenging myself on her. I wired for Andrew and when he came told him that I was ready to marry him.'

Blanche gave a ghostly laugh and turned to Convers.

'You'll hardly believe it, but almost my first thought then was of you. I was as sorry for you as I was for myself. I couldn't bear that this first great love of yours, so pure and ideal, should suffer that awful shock. You were to go in a fortnight. I knew nothing would come of it and I wanted you to believe in her to the end.'

'That was kind of you.'

Except for you I should have left her at once. On your account we pretended that we were as great friends as ever.'

'You pretended very well.'

'After she'd seen you off she came back to the studio and we parted for ever. My luggage was packed and Andrew was waiting to take me to the station. I was very sad. I loved her still. When 1 said goodbye to her I couldn't help crying. I know how weak she was. The last thing I said to her was, "Mark my words, it'll end badly"; she smiled and kissed me and answered, "I shall have had my fling."'

But at that moment came the sound of a heavy tread in the sitting-room, a voice called, and Dr. MacArdle thumped out on to the verandah.

'What are you sitting in pitch-darkness for?' he cried in a loud cheerful tone.

He turned on the electric light and Convers, getting out of his long chair to greet his host, found his hand heartily grasped by a big stout man with a great deal of curly white hair and a white beard. With his red cheeks he looked the picture of jovial health. The dour silent Scot that Convers remembered had turned into a chatty old fellow with a pleasant word for everybody. He carried his bedside manner into ordinary life and you felt it was his willing mission to cheer and encourage the ailing.

'Glad to see you, sir,' he cried. 'This is a real treat for my mem. You've worn well, upon my word. We're none of us so young as we used to be. Well, you're no end of a swell now, it appears, and I'm just what I was thirty years ago. Still, we mustn't complain. Dinner's ready, my dear. Would Sir Edward like to wash his hands before the cocktails come in?'

'I don't think you need call him Sir Edward.'

The doctor laughed aloud as though he or she had made a joke.

Presently they sat down to dinner. Andrew talked of Siam and asked Convers questions about the previous posts he had filled. He talked about the Federated Malay States and about rubber. He was well-informed. He liked to hear himself speak. He was obviously a good fellow, competent, jolly, who liked his life and was satisfied with what it had given him. It was plain too that he had the greatest admiration for his wife.

'You shall hear her sing after dinner,' he said. 'Her voice is better than ever.'

'What nonsense you talk, Andrew,' Blanche smiled good-naturedly.

'It's a fact. I'm not a bad doctor, though I say it myself, but I'm known from Penang to Singapore as Mrs MacArdle's husband. She's in demand, I can tell you and if I didn't put my foot down she'd be gallivanting about the country from one year's end to the other. Why, they'll come to hear her from fifty miles around. D'you know she collected over two thousand pounds for the Red Cross during the war?'

They lingered over their coffee and presently Blanche sat down at the piano. She sang that great aria from Orfeo which it had once been her ambition to sing at Covent Garden. Her low notes were as magnificent as ever, but the high ones were harsh and strained. She sang two or three more songs. Then Andrew looked at his watch.

'I'm afraid I must leave you. I've got a patient to go and see.' He turned to Convers. 'If I'm not back before you turn in I'll see you in the morning.'

'All right.'

When he had left them Convers asked:

'Do you ever sing those old Scottish songs that you used to sing? D'you remember you sang them the first time I ever saw you?'

'I haven't sung them for years.' She looked through her music and found the book. She sat down again at the piano and tentatively began an accompaniment. They were tunes gathered among the peasantry of the Northern Highlands and arranged by a sensitive musician. She sang one and then another. They had the melancholy of primitive music and in that warm silent night these songs of women wailing for their men killed in battle and of maids mourning their faithless lovers had a grave plaintiveness that was deeply moving. They did not seem out of place in that distant country; you felt that this music born amid mists and barren mountains had a subtle relation with the land of palm trees and wide rivers. There was a tragic quality in Blanche's voice that gave them a troubling and enigmatic significance. You listened with a feeling of awe for you knew not what and you seemed carried back to ages long ago.

'Let's go into the garden,' said Blanche suddenly.

She got up from the piano and went out. Convers followed her. The moon had risen and in its light the garden was like a closed garden of a king's palace in the Arabian Nights. The coconut trees in their regular lines had a hieratic solemnity. Night-flowering shrubs scented the air with a heavy perfume. With silent steps on the close-cut grass they walked down the central avenue.

'Do you know that Charmian wrote to me two days before she died?' Blanche said suddenly. 'I'd read in the paper of her horrible end and it was a shock to me when I recognised her writing. I'd never had a line from her since we'd parted that evening in Paris after you'd gone to Spain. It was written on a common sheet of paper with the name of some cafe in Toulon and it was in a flimsy, cheap envelope.'

'Did she know your address?'

'It had been sent to my old home in Scotland. It's a miracle I ever got it.'

'What did she say?'

Blanche stopped and even though it was night he could see that she was frightfully pale.

'It was only one line, with her name at the bottom. It's been worth it. That's all.'

'I wonder if it was true.'

'I'm sure it was true. But how strange that she should write to me after all those years and how horrible that I should get it when she was dead. It was like a voice from the dead. It's haunted me ever since.'

'Yes, it is strange.'

'I'm glad that she never forgot me entirely. I wonder what was in her mind.'

'Perhaps she was drunk.'

'I don't believe it. I believe that she had a presentiment that her end was near. I think she looked back on her life and she thought of her triumph and her fame, and the love she'd inspired and the love she'd suffered, and her fall, her shame, her disgrace, and she was glad to have lived it all. And she wanted me to know, because I'd run away, because I'd buried my talent in the ground, because I'd made nothing of the gift God have given me and had crept shivering with fear into a hole where I could be safe.'

'I don't see how you can say that you buried your talent in the ground. You've given pleasure to a great many people. And what about those two thousand pounds that Andrew says you made for the Red Cross?'

'What is that?' she cried with a bitterness that startled Convers. 'I've sung cheap ballads to people who could appreciate nothing else. I've sung in drawing- rooms after dinner to people who wanted to play bridge. D'you remember what my voice was like twenty-four years ago?'

'But you've been happy here. You've had the love of your husband.' 'Oh, yes, I've been happy. I'm fond of Andrew. I've been comfortable. My life has been a sober jog-trot. Dull, mediocre, aimless. And that brief note of Charmian's asks me a question all the time. It asks me: Can you say as much, can you say it's been worth it? And the answer is No. I made a mistake. I oughtn't to have hesitated at the risk. I was a coward to throw my chance away. And now it's too late. I'm almost an old woman and life has given me nothing. By my own fault. Oh, I know all about those years of degeneration, but even they were life,- she lived and I've existed; when I look back on her life with its glory and its shame I know it was worth it. In my respectability, in my security, I envy her.'

'Even when you think of her pitiful, shameful end?'

'Even then. Do you remember what Elizabeth said about Mary Stuart? "The Queen of Scots hath a bonny bairn and I am but a barren stock." I look back on my life and see nothing but the waste of a great opportunity. At the Day of Judgement, if there is one, it would not be so strange if Charmian found more mercy than I. Oh, the bitterness of those words: too late!'

A sob broke from her and he knew she was weeping. He was deeply moved, but he was silent for he knew no words of consolation. What was there for him to say that would give her back the lost years? She turned to him suddenly and held out her hand.

'Good night. I'm sorry to have made a nuisance of myself. I won't see you in the morning. Goodbye.'

Her voice was strangled with her tears. She touched his hand and walked towards the house. When she came to the verandah the light fell on her and she climbed the steps, a large heavy woman in her ample draperies, with the weariness of one who has lost hope.

Next day, on his return to Penang, Convers heard that the line was repaired and in the evening he started for Bangkok. During the journey he thought much of Blanche and Charmian. He was a man of intelligence and he had some knowledge of the world. He smiled when he thought of himself, whom Blanche had looked upon as an absurd and callow youth, now giving her good advice. During a halt of the train he wrote a letter to her. He reminded her how ephemeral was the glory of the stage and how heart-rending its dis- appointments. He tried to make her see that there was beauty also in the normal life of ordinary people. Was it not Marcus Aurelius who had said that our life was what our thoughts made it? He said a number of wise and sensible things and he ended up with these words:

My dear, don't think me unsympathetic when I tell you that regret is meaningless. You couldn't have done anything but what you did. You think you could have acted differently because you've forgotten what sort of a woman you were then. Let's come down to brass tacks: now, twenty-five years later, you wished you had consented when some man wanted to become your lover, you've forgotten that then the mere thought of it filled you with physical repulsion.

It wasn't only your mind that kept you pure, it was your nerves. The virtuous woman deceives herself when she thinks she could have been a light one if she had wished. They say every woman is a rake at heart. Nonsense. You resisted the temptations to which poor Charmian succumbed not because you were any better than she, don't think that for a minute; you resisted because there was no temptation. Only a harlot can be a harlot.

He posted the letter at a wayside station. The reply reached him a few day later. It was from Andrew MacArdle. It ran as follows:

Your letter came too late. Blanche killed herself last night.
|                 |                |
|                \|/               |
|               \~|~/              |
|       ,#####\/  | ,\/§§§§        |
|       #  #\./#__|_§_\./          |
|       #  \./ # _|_§  \./         |
|       #  #/  #  | §   \          |
|       #  #   #  | `~§§§§§        |