Nevertheless, a man hasn’t finished his life at forty. He may, however, have finished one great phase of his life.
And Alexander Hepburn was not the man to live alone. All our troubles, says somebody wise, come upon us because we cannot be alone. And that is all very well. We must all be ABLE to be alone, otherwise we are just victims. But when we ARE able to be alone, then we realize that the only thing to do is to start a new relationship with another — or even the same — human being. That people should all be stuck up apart, like so many telegraph-poles, is nonsense.
So with our dear captain. He had his convulsion into a sort of telegraph-pole isolation: which was absolutely necessary for him. But then he began to bud with a new yearning for — for what? For love?
It was a question he kept nicely putting to himself. And really, the nice young girls of eighteen or twenty attracted him very much: so fresh, so impulsive, and looking up to him as if he were something wonderful. If only he could have married two or three of them, instead of just one!
Love! When a man has no particular ambition, his mind turns back perpetually, as a needle towards the pole. That tiresome word Love. It means so many things. It meant the feeling he had had for his wife. He had loved her. But he shuddered at the thought of having to go through such love again. It meant also the feeling he had for the awfully nice young things he met here and there: fresh, impulsive girls ready to give all their hearts away. Oh yes, he could fall in love with half a dozen of them. But he knew he’d better not.
At last he wrote to Hannele: and got no answer. So he wrote to Mitchka and still got no answer. So he wrote for information — and there was none forthcoming, except that the two women had gone to Munich.
For the time being he left it at that. To him, Hannele did not exactly represent rosy love. Rather a hard destiny. He did not adore her. He did not feel one bit of adoration for her. As a matter of fact, not all the beauties and virtues of woman put together with all the gold in the Indies would have tempted him into the business of adoration any more. He had gone on his knees once, vowing with faltering tones to try and make the adored one happy. And now — never again. Never.
The temptation this time was to be adored. One of those fresh young things would have adored him as if he were a god. And there was something VERY alluring about the thought. Very — very alluring. To be god-almighty in your own house, with a lovely young thing adoring you, and you giving off beams of bright effulgence like a Gloria! Who wouldn’t be tempted: at the age of forty? And this was why he dallied.
But in the end he suddenly took the train to Munich. And when he got there he found the town beastly uncomfortable, the Bavarians rude and disagreeable, and no sign of the missing females, not even in the Café Stéphanie. He wandered round and round.
And then one day, oh heaven, he saw his doll in a shop window: a little art shop. He stood and stared quite spellbound.
‘Well, if that isn’t the devil,’ he said. ‘Seeing yourself in a shop window!’
He was so disgusted that he would not go into the shop.
Then, every day for a week did he walk down that little street and look at himself in the shop window. Yes, there he stood, with one hand in his pocket. And the figure had one hand in its pocket. There he stood, with his cap pulled rather low over his brow. And the figure had its cap pulled low over its brow. But, thank goodness, his own cap now was a civilian tweed. But there he stood, his head rather forward, gazing with fixed dark eyes. And himself in little, that wretched figure, stood there with its head rather forward, staring with fixed dark eyes. It was such a real little MAN that it fairly staggered him. The oftener he saw it, the more it staggered him. And the more he hated it. Yet it fascinated him, and he came again to look.
And it was always there. A lonely little individual lounging there with one hand in its pocket, and nothing to do, among the bric-à-brac and the bibelots. Poor devil, stuck so incongruously in the world. And yet losing none of his masculinity.
A male little devil, for all his forlornness. But such an air of isolation, or not-belonging. Yet taut and male, in his tartan trews. And what a situation to be in! — lounging with his back against a little Japanese lacquer cabinet, with a few old pots on his right hand and a tiresome brass ink-tray on his left, while pieces of not-very-nice filet lace hung their length up and down the background. Poor little devil: it was like a deliberate satire.
And then one day it was gone. There was the cabinet and the filet lace and the tiresome ink-stand tray: and the little gentleman wasn’t there. The captain at once walked into the shop.
‘Have you sold that doll? — that unknown soldier?’ he added, without knowing quite what he was saying.
The doll was sold.
‘Do you know who bought it?’
The girl looked at him very coldly, and did not know.
‘I once knew the lady who made it. In fact, the doll was ME,’ he said.
The girl now looked at him with sudden interest.
‘Don’t you think it was like me?’ he said.
‘Perhaps’ — she began to smile.
‘It was me. And the lady who made it was a friend of mine. Do you know her name?’
‘Gräfin zu Rassentlow,’ he cried, his eyes shining.
‘Oh yes. But her dolls are famous.’
‘Do you know where she is? Is she in Munich?’
‘That I don’t know.’
‘Could you find out?’
‘I don’t know. I can ask.’
‘Or the Baroness von Prielau-Carolath.’
‘The Baroness is dead.’
‘She was shot in a riot in Salzburg. They say a lover — ’
‘How do you know?’
‘From the newspapers.’
‘Dead! Is it possible. Poor Hannele.’
There was a pause.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘if you would inquire about the address — I’ll call again.’
Then he turned back from the door.
‘By the way, do you mind telling me how much you sold the doll for?’
The girl hesitated. She was by no means anxious to give away any of her trade details. But at length she answered reluctantly:
‘Five hundred marks.’
‘So cheap,’ he said.’ Good-day. Then I will call again.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10