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THE EYES OF PRIDE

To A. F.
            “Pluck out the eyes of pride; thy lips to mine ?
            Never, though I die thirsting! Go thy ways!”
                                                                        GEORGE MEREDITH.

                                                I

“ DO as you please— it’s all one to me : yet I think you will live to regret
it.”
     He spoke sullenly, with well-affected indifference, standing on the hearth-
rug, his hands in his pockets, looking down at her ; and yet there was a note
of irresolution, of potential suffering in his voice, which was absent from her reply :
    “If I do, I will tell you.”
    “That is just what you will never do.”
    “Perhaps not.” She was actually indifferent, or her dissimulation was
more profound than his, for the blank coldness of her speech lit a spark of
irritation in him.
    “And, all the same, I think you will regret it— every day of your
life.   .   .   .    By God ! you are making a great mistake, Rosalind !”
    “Is it all coming over again ?” murmured the girl, wearily.  “And,
after all, it’s your own choice.”
    He flushed angrily. He was in evening dress, and he fidgeted with his
tie for a moment, before he held out his hand with stiff courtesy.
    “Good-bye,” he said ; and “Good-bye, Mr. Seefang !” the girl answered,
listlessly.  He dropped her impassive hand, and went slowly towards the door.
Then he remembered he had brought his hat with him into the drawing-room,
and he came back again, and placed it mechanically under his arm.  “Well,
good-bye, Rosalind !” he said again.  This time she made no response, and he
was really gone when she raised her eyes again.   .   .   .   

52                              THE SAVOY

    When he opened the hall door, emerged into the square, he paused to
light a cigar before he plunged into the fog, rank and yellow and raw, which
engulfed him.  A clock struck eleven.  It was actually so late ; and he began
to look round, vaguely, for a hansom, reflecting that their rapid talk—certainly,
it had been fruitful in momentous consequences—had lasted for over an hour.
He decided that all the cabs would have disappeared ; the square railings, ten
yards in front of him, were invisible ; he shrugged his shoulders— a gesture
habitue! with him, in which, just now, lassitude and a certain relief were
mingled— and, doggedly and resolutely, he set his face eastwards, to accom-
plish on foot: his return journey to the Temple.   .   .   .    As he went, his mind
was recasting his past life, and more especially the last six months of it, during
which he had been engaged to Rosalind Lingard.  Well ! that was over at
last, and he was unable to add that it had been pleasant while it lasted.
Pleasant? Well, no!  but it had been an intoxicating experience—a delirious
torture.  Now he was a free man, and he tried to congratulate himself,
reminding himself of all the phrase implied.  Yes ; he was free again— free
to his old pleasures and his old haunts, to his friends and his former wan-
dering life, if he chose ; above all, free to his art—his better passion.   .   .   .   
And, suddenly, into his meditation there floated the face of the girl on the
sofa, impassively beautiful and sullen, as it had been framed to his vision
when he last held her hand, and he ground his teeth and cursed aloud.

    He began to remember how, all along, he had forecasted this end of his
wooing.  What an ill-omened affair it had been from the first !  He was yet
uncertain whether he loved or hated her most.  That he had loved her at all
was the Miracle.  But, even now, he knew that he had loved her, with a love
that was not child’s-play—it had come for that—but, like his genius,
faulty yet tremendous.

    There was a great deal of Seefang ; even the critics of his pictures admitted
it ; and everything about him was on a large scale.  So that when he had fallen
in love with Rosalind Lingard, after three days’ acquaintance, he had done so
supremely, carried away by a strange hurricane of sensual fascination and
spiritual rapture.  Meeting her first at a sparsely-attended table d’hôte in a

                           THE EYES OF PRIDE                                    53

primitive Breton village where he was painting, he had promptly disliked her,
thought her capricious and ill-tempered.  Grudgingly, he had admitted that
she was beautiful, but it was a beauty which repelled him in a girl of his
own class, although he would have liked it well enough in women of less title
to respect, with whom he was far too well acquainted.

    If he had ever thought of marriage—and it must have been remotely—
during his fifteen years of manhood, spent so pleasantly in the practice of an art
in which his proficiency had met recognition and in the frank and unashamed
satisfaction of his vigorous appetites, he had dreamed of a girl most unlike
Rosalind Lingard ; a girl with the ambered paleness and the vaguely virginal
air of an early Tuscan painting, who would cure him of his grossness and
reform him.  For he had, still, intervals of depression—generally when he had
spoiled a canvas—in which he accused himself of living like a beast, and
hankered, sentimentally, for the love of a good woman.  And yet, Rosalind
Lingard, with her ambiguous charm, her adorable imperfection, had been this
woman—the first to dominate him by something more than the mere rose and
white of her flesh.  Masterful as he had been with the others, he was her
slave, if it was still his masterfulness which bound her to him, for a pliant
man would have repelled her, and she had dreamed of being loved tyrannically.
A few days had sufficed.  A juxtaposition somewhat out of the common—a
slight illness of her aunt, Mrs. Sartorys, with whom she was travelling—
having thrown them together, a discovery which he made suddenly, that if
she was capricious she could yet be charming, and that her audacity was
really the perfection of her innocence—these were the material agents of his
subjection.  To the lovers, as they became speedily, inevitable fate and the
god who watches over little lovers were held alone responsible.  The best of
Seefang’s character, in which the fine and the gross were so strangely mingled,
leapt to meet the promise in her eyes.  Their vows were exchanged.   .   .   .   

    He crossed Piccadilly Circus, debating whether he should go home at once
or turn into his club and have an hour’s poker ; finally, he decided to make
for the Temple   .   .   .    And he told himself again that it was over.  In retro-
spect, their love seemed like a long quarrel, with a few intervals of reconciliation.

54                              THE SAVOY

But there had been a time, at the very beginning, when life was like Eden ;
when he was so buoyant that he felt as if his head must touch the sky.  He
left his easel and wandered with them through Morbihan : his knowledge of
the country, so sad and cold and poor, and yet so pictorial, made him their
cicerone to nooks which elude the ordinary tourist.  Actually, they were not
betrothed, but they anticipated the official sanction ; and, indeed, no opposition
was expected even by Mrs. Sartorys ; though, formally, Rosalind’s guardian,
a learned lawyer—an abstract idea, even, to his ward—was to be consulted.
Seefang had his fame, his kinship with the peerage, to set off against the girl’s
fortune, which was considerable.  Had he been less eligible, Mrs. Sartorys,
a weak, placid woman, professionally an invalid, would have been equally sub-
missive.  As it was, she allowed them the license of an engagement, stipulating
merely for a postponement which was nominal.  They rambled alone together
over the ruddy moorland as it pleased them.  Once he said to her :
    “If your guardian damns me, will you make a curtsy and dismiss me,
Rosalind ?”
    They had come to a pause in their walk ; the sun was merciless, and
they had wandered off the road to seek shade ; the girl had seated herself on
a bank under a silver-birch tree, Seefang was standing over her.  She shook
her head.
    “No ! if I’ve ever wanted anything since I was a child, I’ve cried and
stormed till I got it.”
    “You give yourself a fine character.”
    “I’m not a nice girl, I’ve told you so before.”
    “Nice!” he looked at her gravely.  “I don’t care about niceness.”
    “What do you care for”
    “You as you are,” he said deliberately : “proud, capricious, not very
sweet of temper, and—I suspect—”
    Her eyes challenged him, he completed his phrase: “A bit of a flirt!”
    “And yet you—”
    “And yet I love you; good God! what am I myself?”
    She glanced at him with a sort of mocking tenderness.

                           THE EYES OF PRIDE                                    55

    “You are very proud,” she said ; “capricious, I don’t know ; but stubborn
and headstrong ; I think you can be very cruel, and I am sure you have
been very wicked.”
    “And yet?——”” he imitated her phrase softly.  They were quite alone
with the trees and the birds, and instinctively their lips met.  Presently she
resumed, a trifle sadly, her eyes contemplating vaguely the distant valley.
    “I’m only a girl— not twenty.  You are thirty-eight, thirty-eight!  You
must have kissed so many, many women before me.”
    He touched her hand very softly, held it while he went on : “Never
mind the past, Rosalind.  I’ve lived as other men. If I’ve been stupid, it
was because I had never known you. When a man has been in heaven he
is in no hurry to get back anywhere else. I’m yours, and you know it—
body and soul— and they are a poor bargain, my child ! ever since— since
Ploumariel.”  She flushed and her head drooped towards him ; at Ploumariel
they had crossed the great climacteric.  When she looked up, the sun, moving
westwards, lit up the valley opposite them, illuminated the white stones of a
village cemetery.  Her eyes rested upon it.  Presently she said :
    “Oh, my dear, let us be kind to each other, bear and forbear   .   .   .   
That’s the end of it all.”
    For a moment he was silent : then he leant over and kissed her hair.
    “Rosalind, my darling, I wish we were dead together, you and I, lying
there quietly, out of the worry of things.”
    It was a fantastic utterance, an odd and ominous mood to interrupt
their foolish talk of plighted lovers ; it never recurred.  But just now it came
back to him like an intuition.  It is so much easier to die for the woman you
love than to live with her.  They could talk of bearing and forbearing, but
much tolerance was in the nature of neither.  They were capable of
generosity, but even to themselves they could not be just.  Both had known
speedily how it must end.  He was impatient, tyrannical ; she, capricious
and utterly a woman ; their pride was a great Juggernaut, beneath whose car
they threw, one by one, their dearest hopes, their happiness and all that
they cared most for in life.  Was she a coquette ? At least she cared for

56                              THE SAVOY

admiration, encouraged it, declined to live her life as he would have it.  His
conviction that small sacrifices which he asked of her she refused, not from
any abiding joy the possession gave her, but in sheer perverseness, setting
her will against his own, heightened his estimation of the offence. That his
anger was out of all proportion to her wrongdoing he knew, and his know-
ledge merely inflamed his passionate resentment.  She, on her side, was
exacting, jealous of his past life ; he was faithfully her lover, and he felt
aggrieved, perhaps unjustly, that woman-like she took constancy too much
for granted, was not more grateful that he did not lapse.  And neither could
make concessions : they hardened their hearts, were cold of eye and tongue
when a seasonable softening would have flung them each in the other’s arms.
When they were most divided, each was secretly aware that life without the
other would be but a savourless dish.  For all that, they had ended it.  She
had flung him back his liberty, and he had accepted it with a bitter word
of thanks.  They had said, if they had not done, irrevocable things   .   .   .   

    Seefang let himself into his chambers and slammed the oak behind
him ; the room smelt of fog, the fire had gone out, and, just then, the lack
of it seemed the most intolerable thing in life. But he sat down, still in his
ulster, lighting the candle to dispel the gloom, and faced his freedom more
deliberately than he had done before.  He began to think of his work, and
he was surprised at discovering how utterly he had neglected it during the
last six months.  There is nothing so disorganising as a great passion, nothing
so enervating as a virtuous one.  He went to bed, vowing that he would
make amends.  His art ! that he should ever have forgotten it !  None of the
other women had interfered with that, the women who had amused him,
satisfied the animal in him, but whom he had not loved.  She alone had
made him forget it. He had a sense of ingratitude towards his art, as to a
person who has always stood by one, whom at times one has not valued,
and whom one finds, after some calamity, steadfast and unchanged.  His art
should stand him in good stead now ; it should help him to endure his life, to
forget her and be strong.  Strength ! that was the great thing ; and he knew
that it appertained to him. He fell asleep murmuring that he was glad he

                           THE EYES OF PRIDE                                    57

was strong   .   .   .   strong   .   .   .    Two months later Seefang went abroad ;
he had made arrangements for a prolonged absence.  He had not seen Miss
Lingard ; if an acquaintance, who was ignorant of the rupture, asked after
her, he looked vacant, seemed to search his memory to give the name a
connotation. Then he remarked indifferently that he believed Mrs. Sartorys
was out of town.  He was working hard, contemplated work more arduous
still.  Every now and then he drew himself up and reminded himself that
he had forgotten her.

    For two years he was hardly heard of : he was believed to be travelling
in Spain, living in some secluded village. Then he was in London for a
month : he exhibited, and critics were unanimous in their opinion that he had
never done better work—at which he smiled. They declared he had not been
in vain to the land of Velasquez and Goya. It was at this time that he
heard of Miss Lingard’s marriage with Lord Dagenham ; that nobleman had
carried away his bride to an obscure Scandinavian capital, where he was
diplomatically engaged. Seefang was curious enough to turn over the pages
of Debrett, and discovered that the bridegroom was sixty ; it enabled him to
credit the current rumour that he was dull. He went on smiling and was
abroad for another three years.

                                                II

    He had known they would meet when he first heard that the Dagenhams
were in town.  Lord Dagenham had abandoned diplomacy with stays and any
semblance of being young ; he was partly paralysed, and was constantly to be
seen in a bath-chair in Kensington Gardens.  But the lady went everywhere,
and Seefang made much the same round ; their encounter was merely a
question of time. He faced it with equanimity, or its tolerable imitation : he
neither feared it nor hoped for it.  And the season was but a few weeks old
when it came about. At the dinner-table he faced her almost directly.

    Five years ! Her beauty was richer, perhaps ; it had acquired sombre
tones like an old picture ; but she was not perceptibly altered, hardly older.
She was straight and tall, had retained something of her slim, girlish figure ;

58                              THE SAVOY

and, as of old, her beauty had a sullen stain on it ; in the languid depths of
her dark eyes their fate was written ; her full mouth in repose was scornful.
He finished his soup, talked to his neighbour, mingled in the conversation ;
one of his remarks sent a little ripple of well-bred laughter down the table,
and he noticed that she joined in it.  But her eyes avoided him, as they had
done when she bowed to him formally in the drawing-room.  They had not
spoken.  A vague feeling of irritation invaded him.  Was there another woman
in the world with hair like that, so dark and multitudinous ?  He had promised
himself to forget her, and it seemed to him that the promise had been kept.
Life had been amusing, full of experience, lavish and expansive. If one
supreme delight were impossible, that had not seemed to him a reason for
denying himself any lesser joys which offered—joys, distractions.  How
successful he had been !  And the tide of his irritation rose higher.  His
mind went back to the days when he had first known her.  She had forgotten
them, no doubt, but they were good while they lasted—yes, they were good.
But what a life they would have led !—how thankful he should have been
for his escape !  From time to time he fidgeted nervously with his tie.  Like
a great wave of anguish his old desire swept over him.

    To Lady Dagenham, if she had not seemed to notice him, his presence
there, facing her, was the one fact which possessed her mind during that
interminable dinner-party.  She had to perfection the gift of being rude
urbanely, and she had begun by repressing any intentions of her neighbour
on the right to be conversational.  Her neighbour on the left talked for
three ; she preserved appearances by throwing him smiles, and at mechanical
intervals an icy monosyllable.  “Yes,” and “Yes,” said her lips, and her
eyes, which looked everywhere else—above, below, beside him—saw only
Seefang   .   .   .    He was changed ; older, coarser, bigger, she thought.  Large
he had always been ; but to-night he loomed stupendous. Every now and
then his deep voice was borne across to her—that remained the same, his
voice was always pleasant.  And she missed no detail—his hair was thinner,
it was streaked, like his moustache, with gray ; his eyes were clouded, a
trifle blood-shot ; his laugh was cynical and easy.  She noticed the one ring

                           THE EYES OF PRIDE                                    59

he wore, a curious, absinthe-coloured opal, when he moved his left hand, large,
but well-shaped and white.  She remembered the ring and his affection for
opals.  Had that been the secret of his luck—their luck? He was not
noticeably pitiable, but instinctively she fell to pitying him, and her com-
passion included herself.  Skeleton fingers groped out of the past and
throttled her.  At a familiar gesture, when his hand went up to his tie, a
rush of memories made her giddy.  Was the past never done with ? And
why wish things undone or altered ?  He was a cross, brutal fellow; stupid
and self-indulgent.  Why had they ever met ?  They were too much alike
And she was sorry for him, sorry if he still cared, and sorrier if, as was more
likely, he had forgotten ; for she was aware that the strength which puts
away suffering is more costly than acquiescence in unhappiness.  A sudden
tenderness came over her for him ; it was not with the man she was angry,
but with fate, the powers which had made them what they were, self-
tormentors, the instruments of their own evil. As she rose from the table
with the other women, she dropped one glance at him from her sombre, black
eyes.  And they met his in a flash which was electric.

    When he came upstairs, rather tardily, it was with a certain relief that
he failed to discover in either of the two large rooms, which opened into one
another, the face which he sought.  In the first of them, a young Hungarian
musician of note was just taking his seat at the piano.  The air was heavy
with the smell of flowers, full of soft vibrations—the frou-frou of silken skirts,
the rustle of posturing fans.  He moved into the second room.  It was a
parched, hot night, and the windows had been left open ; the thin lace
curtains protecting them were stirred imperceptibly.  With a strange, nervous
dread on him that was also an intuition, he pushed them aside and stepped
on to the spacious balcony.  Half-a-dozen people were sitting or standing
there, and he distinguished her profile, marble white and strangely cold, in the
subdued shine of the electric lights.  An elderly-looking young man with a
blonde moustache was talking with her.  He took his station by them, joined
mechanically in the conversation, looking not at her, but at the long, low
line of the park in front of them with its background of mysterious trees.

60                              THE SAVOY

Presently a crash of chords came from within—the Hungarian had begun
his performance.  People began to drift inside again ; Lady Dagenham and
the blonde young man—a little anxious, for he was due in the House,
concerned for a division—were the last loiterers.  For the second time their
eyes met, and there was a note of appeal in them.

    “Please don’t let me keep you, Mr. Rose   .   .   .    Mr. Seefang   .   .   .   We
are old friends, and I haven’t seen him for years   .   .   .    Mr. Seefang will look
after me.”

    When they were alone together he came over to her side, and they stood
so for a moment or two in silence : he was so close to her that he could
smell the misty fragrance of her hair, hear the sighing of her bosom.  The
tense silence preyed on them ; to break it at any cost, he said, at last :
“Rosalind !” Her white face was turned towards him, and he read the
passion in it as in a book.  And, “Rosalind !” he said again, with a new
accent, more strenuously.

    “So you have come back”—her rich voice was under control, but there
was a vibration in it which spoke of effort—“come back to England? Your
fame preceded you long ago. I have often heard of you, and wondered if we
should ever meet.”
    Did you ever wish it ?”
    “It is always pleasant to meet old friends,” she answered, mechanically.
    “Pleasant !” He laughed harshly. “There is no pleasure in it, Lady
Dagenham.” She glanced at him uneasily, for, unconsciously, he had raised his
voice. “And friends, are we friends—how can we be friends, you and I ?”
    “At least—not enemies,” she murmured.

    He was silent for a moment, looking out at the blurred mass of the
park, but seeing only her face, the face of her youth, softened and idealised,
so that five years seemed as yesterday, and the anger and bitterness, which
had driven them apart, chimeras.

    “At Ploumariel, up the hill to Sainte-Barbe” ; he spoke softly, as
it were to himself, and the natural harshness of his voice was modulated.
“Do you remember the wood, the smell of pines and wild thyme ?  The

                           THE EYES OF PRIDE                                    61

pine-needles crackled under your little feet.  How warm it was !  You were
tired at the end of the climb ; you sat on a boulder to rest, while I fetched
you milk from the cottage by the chapel— fresh milk in a big, yellow bowl,
too big for your little fingers to cling to.  You laughed ; and I held it to
your mouth, and you made me drink too, and I drank where the print of
your lips had been, and your lips were sweet and fresh — ”

    “Seefang!” she laid a white finger on his mouth, beseechingly, and
he trembled ; then let her hand rest on his with something of a caress.
“What is the use, Seefang?— what is the use? Do you think I have
forgotten ?   .   .   .   That was over and done with years and years ago.  It is
no use maddening ourselves.  We have so little, little time.  Even now,
someone may interrupt us at any moment ; we may not meet again— tell me
about yourself, your life, all these years.  I know you are a great artist ;
have you been happy ?”

    “I have made a name,” he said, shortly, “in more than one sense.  If
I were to speak, my voice might lie to you.  Look me in the face— that will
answer you.”
    Almost childishly she obeyed him, scrutinised the dark, strong face,
harsh and proud, with engrained lines of bitterness and ill-temper set upon
it even in repose.
     “You have answered me,” she said, with a little moan.
     “I have always longed for you, Rosalind, even when it seemed I had
forgotten you most   .   .   .   And you—?”
    She cut him short quickly.
    “I have not been over happy,” she said.
    “Then your husband—?”
    “My husband has been kind to me.  I have done—tried to do my
duty to him.“

    A fresh silence intervened, nervous and uneasy : each feared to dissipate
it, for each was instinctively conscious of what gulfs of passion lay beneath
it, irretrievable chasms into which one unstudied phrase, one word at random,
might hurl them both.  She was the first to make the venture.

62                              THE SAVOY

    “Can we not be friends, you and I ?” And, innocently as
she had spoken, the words had not fallen before she was conscious of her
error ; and his arms were round her, crushing the frail lace of her bodice,
and their lips had joined, and the thrill in her blood had belied her
protest.
    “Oh, why did we do it, what was the good of it, why did we ever
meet ?” she moaned, when the passionate moment had passed, and they were
left face to face together, stupefied, yet with the mask of convention upon
them once more, if set a little awry.
    “Because,—because—” he faltered.  “Oh, my darling, how can we
ever be friends ?  Oh, my love, my one love, anything but that !   .   .   .   There
is only one end of it—or two—one of two, and you know that, Rosalind !  My
clever, cross darling, you were always clever—always understood.  That is
why I liked you.”
    She stood free of him again ; her hands deftly, nervously restored one of
her black, ruffled tresses.
    “How little you liked me, after all !” she said at last.
    And she saw, with a keen delight in her power to hurt him, with more
pain at the hurt she did herself, the harsh and sneering lines round his
mouth and nostrils darken into prominence, the latent brute in his face
accentuate.
    “There was little enough to like in you, was there, Rosalind ? But, by
God ! I did—I loved you, yes, I love you   .   .   .   Look at the park, Rosalind !
It’s a mist, and dark ; you can guess at the trees, believe in the grass ;
perhaps it’s soft—and new there,—it’s vague and strange   .   .   .   would you
plunge into it now with me, darling—into the darkness ?  How this music
and people tire me since I’ve seen you   .   .   .   would you ? Cool and vague
and strange !   .   .   .   No, you wouldn’t—nor would I, even if it were possible.
You need not answer.  It would not do.  There, or here, we should hurt
each other as we always have—and shall, this side of the grave.  That
is why I said there was only one end of it, or two, and this is the one
you choose.”

                           THE EYES OF PRIDE                                    63

    Once more, she laid her hand on his, and went on, her fingers caressing,
absently, the opal of his ring.
    “Don’t be angry, Seefang, we have so little time—if it must be so.
Life is so short.  Besides, we’ve changed, grown older ; we might be kinder
to each other now.  What are you going to do?”
    “I shall live as I have done—go abroad, perhaps, a little sooner—
what else ?”
    “Oh, why ?” she cried instinctively.  “What is the good?”
“Would you have me come and see you ?  When are you at home ?
What is your day ?” he asked, with an inflection, the irony of which
escaped her.
    “If you are reasonable, why not ?” she queried.
    He took up her hand and kissed it very gently, and, as it might have
been a child’s, retained it in his own.
    “Because I am not that kind of man,” he said; “because I know
myself, and the world, and the world’s view of me ; because of my other
name, out of paint; because—”
    She pulled herself away, petulantly : withdrew from him with a sullen
gesture.
    “How little you must respect me ! You need not have told me that
your reputation is infamous : I have heard of it : is it true, then ?”
“It is true that I love you. As for what they say—” he broke off
with a little suppressed laugh. “You see we are beginning to quarrel, we
are generating a misunderstanding—and, as you said, there is so little time.
The music is quite over, and we may be invaded any moment.”
“And I begin to feel chill,” she said.
He helped to arrange her cloak around her, lifted aside the curtain to
allow her passage.
    “So this is the end ?” she said, lightly ; and her subtile voice had
grown expressionless.
    “Yes,” he replied, dully ; “this is the very end.”

                                                                                                Ernest Dowson.

MLA citation:

Dowson, Ernest. “The Eyes of Pride.” The Savoy, vol. 1 January 1896, pp. 51-63. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv1-dowson-pride/