Part 1 out of 5
By Victoria Cross
Life's Shop Window
Six Chapters of a Man's Life
The Woman Who Didn't
A Girl of the Klondike
The Religion of Evelyn Hastings
Life of my Heart
The Gold Night
I THE TAKU INLET
II THE TEA-SHOP
III IN THE WOOD
The Violet Night
IV AT THE STUDIO
V THE CALL OF THE CUCKOO
The Black Night
VI IN MAYFAIR
The Crimson Night
IX IN 'FRISCO
X IN THE SHADOW OF THE VOLCANO
XI THE WAY OF THE GODS
The White Night
XII THE FLAMES OF LIFE'S FURNACE
"The nights have different colours. Some nights are black, the
nights of storm: some are electric blue, some are silver, the
moon-filled nights: some are red under the hot planet Mars or the
fierce harvest moon. Some are white, the white nights of the
Arctic winter: but this was a violet night, a hot, mysterious,
violet night of Midsummer."
_LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW_.
As one looks over any period of one's life, it appears behind one as
a shining maze of brilliant colour with spots in it here and there of
brighter or darker hue. Each spot represents a period of time when our
happiness has glowed brighter or waned; sometimes it is a day, more
often it is a night. Looking back now, over a stretch of my existence
I see many such spots gleaming brightly; they are nights of colour.
The history of many of these is too sacred to be written, but there
are Five Nights, which, though not the dearest to my memory, have yet
stamped themselves and their colour on it for ever. And the record of
these five nights is contained in the following pages.
THE GOLD NIGHT
THE TAKU INLET
It was just striking three as I came up the companion-stairs on to the
deck of the Cottage City, into the clear topaz light of a June morning
in Alaska: light that had not failed through all the night, for in
this far northern latitude the sun only just dips beneath the horizon
at midnight for an hour, leaving all the earth and sky still bathed in
limpid yellow light, gently paling at that mystic time and glowing to
its full glory again as the sun rises above the rim.
Our steamer had left the open sea and entered the Taku Inlet, and we
were steaming very slowly up it, surrounded on every side by great
glittering blocks of ice, flashing in the sunshine as they floated by
on the buoyant blue water. How blue it was, the colouring of sea and
sky! Both were so vividly blue, the note of each so deep, so intense,
one seemed almost intoxicated with colour. I stepped to the vessel's
side, then made my way forward and stood there; I, the lover of the
East, dazzled by the beauty of the North! The marvellous picture
before me was painted in but three colours, blue, gold, and white.
The sides of the inlet were jagged lines of white, the sparkling
crystalline whiteness of eternal snow on sharp-pointed, almost
lance-like mountain peaks; the water a broad band of blue, the sky
above a canopy of blue, and there at the end of the inlet, closing it,
like some colossal monster crouched awaiting us, lay the Muir, the
huge glacier, a solid wedge of ice, white also, but a transparent
white full of blue shadows.
Who shall describe the wonderful air and atmosphere of the North? Its
brilliancy, its delicacy, its radiant diamond-like clearness? And the
silence, the enchanted stillness of the North? Now as we crept slowly
onwards over the vivid water between the flashing icebergs, there was
no sound. Complete silence round us, on earth and sea and in the blue
vault above, impressive, glittering silence. None of the passengers
had broken their sleep to come up to the glory above them, and I stood
alone at the forward part of the vessel gliding on through this dream
of lustrous blue. Slowly we advanced towards the Muir; very slowly,
for these shining bergs carried death with them if they should graze
hard against the steamer's side, and, cautiously, steered with
infinite pains, the little boat crept on, zigzagging between them. A
frail little toy of man, it seemed, to venture here alone; small,
black, impertinent atom forcing its way so hardily into this
magnificence of colour, this silent splendour, this radiant stillness
of the North. Into this very fastness of the most gigantic forces of
Nature it had penetrated, and the sapphire sea supported it, the
transparent light illumined it, the lance-like mountains looked down
upon it, and the glistening bergs forbore to crush it, as if
disdaining to harm so fragile a thing.
Very slowly we pushed up the inlet, approaching the shimmering
blue-green wall of ice that barred the upper end; seven hundred feet
down below the clear surface of the water descends this wall, while
three hundred feet of it rise above, forming a glorious shining
palisade across the entire width of the inlet. As the sun played on
the glittering facade, rays struck out from it as from a reflector, of
every shade of green and blue, the deepest hue of emerald mingling
with the lightest sapphire, iridescent, sparkling, wonderful. As we
crept still nearer, over the living blue of the water, the continual
fall of the icebergs from the front wall of the glacier became
apparent. At intervals of about five minutes, with a terrific crash
like thunder a great wedge of the glittering wall would fall forward
into the blue-green depths, and a cloud of snowy spray rise up
hundreds of feet into the air. The berg, thus detached, after a few
minutes would rise to the surface, glistening, dazzling, and begin
its joyous, buoyant voyage downwards to the sea. In all this brilliant
setting, with this glory of light around and the triumphal crash of
sound like the salute of cannon, amid this joyous movement and in this
blaze of colour, amid all that seemed to personify life, we were
watching the death of the glacier.
The colossal Muir Glacier, the remains of a world the history of which
is lost in the dim twilight none can now penetrate, is dying slowly
through a million years. From the mountains, eternally snow-covered,
where its huge body, three hundred and fifty miles in extent, has
rested through the centuries, it creeps forward slowly towards the sea
to meet its doom. Formerly its lip touched the open ocean where now
the Taku inlet commences to run inland. But the icy waters, that yet
are so much warmer than itself, caressed it with eroding caresses and
melted it, and broke bergs from it and rushed inwards, following it
till they formed the Taku Inlet, and now the process still goes on,
the gigantic body moves forward inch by inch and the green waves break
the bergs from its face as the sun invades its structure; and so it
lies there, dying slowly through the countless years, glorious,
The Captain had promised to approach the face of the glacier as near
as was reasonably safe and lie there at anchor for an hour, that the
passengers might land at the side of the inlet and those who wished
could explore the glacier.
An hour! What was an hour? Those sixty golden minutes would be gone in
a flash. Yet it would be an hour of life, of deep emotion, face to
face with this monster, strange relic of a forgotten world, stretched
on its glorious death-bed.
I was alone still. Not another passenger had yet come up, and I could
lean there undisturbed, trying to open my eyes still wider, to expand
my heart, to stretch my brain, that I might drink in more of the
inimitable grandeur and beauty round me.
The nearer we drew to the glacier the closer packed became the water
with the floating bergs; they threatened the ship now on every side,
and so slowly did we move we hardly seemed advancing. The bergs
flashed and shone as they passed us, rayed through with jewel-like
colours, and on one gliding by far from the ship's side I saw two
seals at play. For many hundred miles past these seals were the only
living things I had seen. The forests on the shore, so thick in the
first part of the journey by the Alaskan coast, had long since given
way to barren rocks, snow-capped peaks, and ice-filled clefts. No life
seemed possible there, the wide distant blue above had shown no bird
nor shadow of bird passing. There was no voice of insect nor the least
of Nature's children here. Between the thunderous crash of the
ice-falls that seemed to shiver the golden air there was intense and
But the seals played merrily on their floating berg as they passed me,
and I watched them long through field-glasses as the joyous, turbulent
blue waves carried them far out of my sight towards the open sea.
The clanging of the breakfast bell made me leave my place and go down
for a hurried breakfast. I was chilled through, for the early morning
air is keen, the pure breath of infinite snowfields, and I took my
coffee gratefully amongst the crowd of hungry passengers.
Rough miners some of them, going up to Sitka from the great Treadwell
mine at Juneau, traders on their way to Fort Wrangle, and some few
explorers. Amongst them were four men our boat had taken on board as
we passed the mouth of the Stickeen river. They had started from
Canada, lured by the light of the gold that lay under the snows of the
Klondike, intending to travel there overland. Losing their way, they
had wandered with their pack train for eighteen months in these vast
solitudes of ice and snow, groping blindly towards the coast.
Food had failed them, their horses had died by the way from want or
fatigue. Faced by starvation, the men had eaten those of their pack
animals that had survived, then, finally, when hope had almost left
them, they came in sight of the sea.
They were talking of this and their terrible conflict with snow-storm
and ice-floe as I joined them, of the plans for making money with
which they had started and their failure.
I got away from them all and went back to my place as soon as I could,
and spent the rest of the morning as I had begun it, alone at the
There were very few passengers like myself. Not many people for mere
pleasure would take that hazardous voyage along the coast, for it was
new country and not a tenth of the sunken rocks and dangerous shoals
were yet on any chart. All the way up along that rocky and treacherous
shore we had seen the evidences of wreck and disaster everywhere.
Above the flats of shimmering water, where the gold or crimson of
sunset lay, rose constantly the tops of masts, shadowy and spectral,
telling of the sunken hull, the pale corpses beneath those gleaming
waves. Ship after ship went down out of those adventurous little
coasting vessels that plied up and down the coast trading with the
natives, and as we passed these half submerged masts, we often asked
ourselves--"Will the Cottage City be more lucky?" She was trading,
like all the other boats that go there, with the Alaskan natives, and
to go as far north as the Muir was no part of the official programme.
But the fares of the few passengers who really wished to take all
risks and go there was a temptation and overcame the fear of the
dreaded Taku Inlet with its monstrous crashing bergs and its
possibility of sudden and furious storms. So the little steamer was
here, creeping up slowly through this vision of mystic blue towards
the glacier, which lay there white, vast, shadowy, mysterious, and my
heart beat quicker and quicker as we approached.
I went off in one of the first boats and the moment it touched the
pebbly strand of the side of the inlet I jumped out and walked away,
eager to be alone to enjoy the glory of it all away from the rasping
voices, the worldly talk of my companions, the perpetual "littleness"
of ideas that humanity drags with it everywhere.
As I turned from the boat the voices followed me clearly, distinctly,
in the exquisite rarefied air.
Thin waves of laughter mingled with them from time to time, growing
faint behind me, then the distance closed up between us and I heard no
The steamer had landed about thirty passengers and crew, and they
seemed immediately lost in these vast expanses. When I had walked a
few minutes up the beach from the water's edge, I looked round and was
apparently alone. Some few black dots here and there disfiguring the
snowy slopes and glittering ice-covered rocks was all that remained of
them. In the midst of the vivid blue-green of the inlet behind me, a
little wedge of black, lay the steamer, the only reminder that I was
one also of these miserable black dots and in an hour I should be
collected and taken away as one of them. For this hour, however, I was
free and at one with the divine glory about me.
It was just noon. The sky was of a pale and perfect blue, the air
still, of miraculous clearness and radiant with the pure light of the
North, unshaded, unsoftened by the smallest mist or cloud. The silence
was unbroken except for the regular thunder of the falling bergs, that
continued with absolute precision at the five-minute interval, and the
accompanying splash of the water. I walked on up the strand, having
the great glistening wall of the glacier's face somewhat on my left.
It was impossible to approach it on land, as the fervid green water
lay deep all about its base. It was only at the side of the inlet that
little beaches had been formed, and on one of these I stood. The
steamer could not get nearer the glacier for fear of the floating
bergs, and a small boat could only approach with deadliest peril at
the risk of being crushed beneath the falling ice or swamped by the
wild division and upheaval of the water that it caused.
But here, on the beach, was a world of enchantment second only in
beauty to the glacier itself, for many of the bergs had been stranded
there by the playful tides. They stood there now towering up in a
thousand different forms, hundreds of feet above one's head, drawing
all the light of the sunbeams into their glittering recesses, turning
them there into violet, purple, and crimson hues, mauve, saffron, and
emerald, blood-red and topaz, and then throwing them out in a million
lance-like rays of colour, dazzling and blinding the vision. Like the
most wonderful rainbows turned into solid masses they stood there, or
like the jewels, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds broken from some
giant's crown and scattered recklessly along the strand.
I went up to them and walked beneath an ice arch that glowed rose
without as the sun touched it and deepest violet within. Then on, into
a cave beyond where the last chamber was coldest white but the outer
rim seemed hung with blood-red fire and the middle wall glowed deepest
emerald. On, on from one to another, each like a perfect dream of
exquisite colour: sunrise and sunset, and all the hues of earth that
we ever see were blended together in those glorious bergs.
What a phantasmagoria of colour, what a wonderful vision! Wrapped up
in the delight of it, I passed on through some and round others,
pursuing my way up the beach, and ascended slowly the rocks, the huge
morain at the side of the glacier, while impressively from the inlet
came unvaryingly the thunder of the five-minute guns, hastening my
steps, dogging them, as it were, with warning of the passing time.
After a heavy climb taken too quickly, when I put my foot first on the
clear blue-green surface of the glacier, its immensity, its grandeur
came home to me. The idea of the huge size of it seems to take the
human mind in a curious grip and appal it. Three hundred and fifty
square miles of ice stretched round me, white, unbroken, except here
and there where gigantic fissures and ravines opened in its surface;
ravines where deep blue-green colour glowed in the sides, as if it
were the blue-green blood of the glacier. A tiny wind from the north,
keen as a knife blade, blew in my face as I stood there, out of the
calm blue sky, and seemed to whisper to me of the terrifying nights of
storm, of the deadly wind before which all life goes down like a
straw, that raged here in the winter. On every side, as far as the
eyes could reach, wide white plains of undulating ice and snow, broken
here and there by patches of barren rock, that seemed now by some
optical delusion, against the glaring white, to be of the brightest
mauve and violet tints. Only that; ice and snow and rock for mile upon
mile, until the tale of three hundred and fifty is told. No track or
trace of bird, no sweet companionship of little furred, four-footed
things, no blade of grass or smallest plant or flower, no sound but
the roar of the riven ice, the groans of the dying glacier.
I walked on slowly, looking inland towards the white fields
stretching away endlessly into the distance till the blue of the sky
seems to come down and mingle with the blue shadows in the snow.
Beneath my feet glimmered sometimes the green glass-like surface of
smooth ice, at others the thin crisp covering of drifted snow crackled
at every step. Sometimes the crevasses were so narrow one could easily
walk over them, others yawned widely, many yards across, necessitating
a long detour to pass round them.
Looking back from the side of one of them as I walked up it to find
the narrowest part, I saw the objectionable black dots had swarmed up
on to the edge of the glacier and through the thin, glittering air
their voices and laughter at intervals came faintly to me. I sprang
over the crevasse and walked on quickly to a point where the fissures
grew thick about my feet and the green-blue blood of the glacier
glowed in them on every side.
I was looking now down the inlet and was near enough to the face of
the glacier to hear, though dulled by distance, the crash of the
falling bergs into the foaming water beneath. I could not approach
nearer for crevasses hemmed me in; the ice showed itself clear of snow
and was so slippery I could hardly stand. One false step now, one
small slip and I should disappear down one of these green rents,
swallowed up in between those gleaming crystal sides to remain one
with the glacier for all time. My idea had been to approach the face
of the glacier from the top, but I found this to be as impossible, by
reason of the crevasses, as it had been to approach it from the sea on
account of the falling bergs.
Sacred, inaccessible, guarded above and below, the great gleaming wall
stood there through the centuries, defying the puny curiosity, the
feeble efforts of man to even gaze upon it and marvel over it, except
from a long distance. I would have given all I had to have been able
to advance to the very edge and, kneeling there, look over it down
those majestic palisades of white flushed through with green, throwing
back to the sun, their destroyer and conqueror, a thousand flashing
rays as if in defiance of the slow death being dealt out to them, like
one who dies brandishing to the last his sword in the face of his
enemy. I longed to look over, down the glimmering wall, to the
swelling rush of the green waters as they leapt up rejoicing to
receive the colossal diamond-like berg as it crashed down to them, to
see them seethe over it and fling their spray high up in the sunshine
in mocking revelry; but it was impossible. The fissures in the ice
multiplied themselves as one neared the edge and now were spread round
my feet in a perfect network, like the meshes of a snare. It was
impossible to go forward, and I was unwilling to go back. I stood
motionless on a little tongue of polished ice between two blue-green
chasms, so deep that they seemed riven down to the very heart of the
glacier; stood there, drinking in the keen gold air and the beauty of
the blue arch above, of the boundless spaces of glittering white round
me, of the narrow green inlet so far below from which echoed the
reverberating roar of the falling ice.
I was debating with myself, should I stay here alone for a time,
letting the steamer go, after having stored some provisions for me on
the shore, and call again for me a few weeks later, in any case before
the short summer of these northern latitudes was over, and winter
closed the inlet?
To stay here alone, the one single human being, in a thousand miles of
space, and not only the one human being, but the one _life_, with no
companionship of animal, bird, or insect, that would be an experience
of solitude indeed!
The idea attracted me; all day and all night to hear nothing but that
thunderous roar, and see nothing but the shining sea, the gleaming
ice-fields, and the glittering bergs, to be alone with Nature, to see
her, as it were, intimately in her awful beauty, with breast and brow
unveiled--and, perhaps, have death as one's reward!
There was fascination in the thought.
What ideas would come to one as one watched the little steamer, the
only link that held one still bound to the world of men, weigh anchor
and steam slowly down the green inlet, departing and leaving one
behind it, as one watched it growing smaller, dwindling ever, till it
was a mere speck, and then saw it vanish, leaving the green riband of
water unbroken save for the passing bergs? How one would realise
solitude when the boat had absolutely disappeared, and how that
solitude would thrill through and through one's blood as the long
light night rolled by and dawn and day succeeded with their unvarying
march of silent glittering hours!
And if death came on the wings of a storm such as rises suddenly in
these regions and piled high the snow over the camp, freezing the
inmate, or if it came by slow starvation, the steamer having been lost
on that dangerous rocky coast and none other having come in time, how
would death seem to one here, already so far removed from men and all
desire and lust of the world, here, where already all earthly things
had almost ceased to be and one's spirit had merged into the Infinite?
Death would seem to one in different guise from when he comes to us in
the midst of the delights of the world, with the baubles of life
around us, or in the stress of the battle-field in the moment of
victory, surrounded by our comrades.
Death here would come but as the crown, the climax to the solitude,
the detachment, the isolation, would seem but as the laying down the
head on the breast of Nature, becoming one with her immensity, her
For some minutes I was keenly tempted to stay, the idea held my mind
and fascinated it, but with the vision of death came the recoil from
it born from the remembrance of my art. The same recoil that had saved
me many times before, for youth is usually greatly inclined to
suicide, either directly or indirectly in the dangers it courts. But
in an artist this is strangely balanced by his love for his work. When
he has ceased to wish for life or heed it for himself he still feels
instinctive revolt against extinguishing that diviner spark than life
itself, his genius, lent him from the celestial fire.
The thought of my work dispelled the enchanted dream into which I had
fallen. Instinctively I turned and very slowly began to retrace my
steps amongst the yawning pitfalls. As I did so I heard a hoarse hoot
from the steamer lying below, to tell me it was about to leave,
another and another resounded dully from it, warning me to hasten my
I made my way back to the shore where the boat and the impatient
sailors awaited me. I took my seat in it, turning my eyes to the
glistening, glimmering white palisade rising over the sapphire sea.
When we had reached the steamer and its head was turned round I stood
at the stern and watched that palisade for long, as it receded and
receded. At last the blue distance swallowed it up. I could see no
more than a silvery line dividing the blues of meeting sea and sky.
Then I went down to my cabin and locked the door and lay down on my
berth in the quiet, trying to live over again that one hour of close
contact with the beauty of the North.
After dinner that night I wrote a long letter to my cousin Viola about
the beauty of the Muir. She would understand, I knew. What I thought
she would feel, for our brains were cast in the same mould. The letter
finished, it was still too early to go to bed; so I picked up a
curious book called "Life's Shop Window" which I had been reading the
previous night, and read this passage which had struck me before, over
"So, as we look into our future, we see ourselves beloved and wealthy;
victorious, famous, and free to wander through the sweetest paths of
the world, passing through a thousand scenes, sometimes loving,
sometimes warring, tasting and drinking of everything sweet and
stimulating, knowing all things, enjoying all in turn; but this is the
life of a God, not a man. And it is perhaps the God in us which so
savagely demands the life of a God."
"But it is not granted to us."
Yet this was the life I was trying to lead, and to some extent I
succeeded. Change, change, it is the life of life, perhaps especially
to the artist.
And I was an artist now, thanks to the decision of the Royal Academy
last year to accept the worst picture I had submitted to them for four
years. Ever since my fingers could clasp round anything at all they
had loved to hold a brush; for years in my teens I had studied
painting under the best teachers of technique in Italy. For two or
three years I had done really good work, with the divine afflatus
thrilling through every vein. And last year I had painted rather a
commonplace picture and it had been hung on the line in the Academy,
and so my friends all said I really was an artist now, and I modestly
accepted the style and title, with outward diffidence.
How little any of them guessed, as they congratulated me, of the wild
rapture of feeling, of intense gratitude with which I had listened to
the Divine whisper that had come to my ears as a boy of seventeen
sitting in a small bare bedroom, on the floor with the sheet of paper
before me on which I had drawn a woman's head. As I looked at it, I
knew suddenly my power, and the Voice that is above all others said
within me: "_I_ have made you an artist. None can undo or dispute MY
From that moment I cared for neither praise nor blame. The opinion of
men affected me not at all. My gift was mine, and I knew it. I held it
straight from the Divine hands. I had the Divine promise with me for
as long as I should live on this earth.
And I was filled with a boundless delight in life and my own powers.
When I showed my original pictures all painted under inspiration to my
father, he carefully put on his pince-nez and studied them very
closely. After that he said he must reserve his judgment. When they
went to the Academy and were promptly refused, he drew a long face and
said I had better have gone into the Indian Civil Service as he
wished. Subsequently, when I had sold them all, and not one for less
than a thousand guineas, he began to enter upon a placid state of
contentment with me which induced him to say to other captious
relations--"Let the boy alone, he will be an artist some day." At
which I used to laugh inwardly and go away to my studio to listen to
the Divine voice dictating fresh pictures to me. For five years in
Italy I had studied closely and worked unremittingly, keeping myself
for my art alone and existing only in it. My teachers had called me
industrious. Another phrase which always must make an artist laugh
when applied to his art.
To those who know the wild pleasure, the almost mad joy of exercising
a really natural gift, it sounds as funny as to talk of a drunkard
industriously getting drunk.
However, this by the way. The world is the world, and artists are
artists; the artist may understand the world, but the world can never
understand the artist.
I was happy, life passed like a golden dream till I was twenty-two,
and my father was satisfied that I was an "industrious" student.
From twenty-two till now, when I was twenty-eight, life had opened out
into fuller colour still. My art remained the life of the soul, of all
that was best in me, but the brain and the senses had come forward,
demanding their share of recognition, too, and out of the many
coloured strands of which we can weave our web of life, I had chosen
that which gleams the next brightest to art, the strand of passion,
and woven much with that.
I had travelled, passing from country to country, city to city,
finding love and inspiration everywhere, for the world is full of both
for those who desire and look for them, and now I had come on this
coasting trip along the shores of Alaska in the same spirit, looking
for pictures in the golden atmosphere, for joy in the golden days and
My sketch-book was full of ideas and jottings, and I looked forward
much to the landing at Sitka where I hoped to find new and good
material. The hopeless ugliness of the Alaskan natives had so far
appalled me. An artist chiefly of the face and figure, as I was, could
not hope to find a model amongst them. As our steamer had come up the
coast I had looked in vain for even a decent-sized woman or child
amongst them. They seem a race without a single beauty, possessing
neither stature, nor colour, nor length of hair, nor even plump
shapeliness. Undersized, leather-skinned, small-eyed, thin, and
wizened, they never seem to be young. They seem to start middle-aged
and go on growing older.
No, I had really had no luck at present on my Alaskan tour, but I was
naturally sanguine and hoped still something from Sitka.
Most capitals give you something if you visit them, and Sitka was the
capital of Alaska.
As I lay in my berth that night, made wakeful by the bright light, I
was thinking over past incidents in my life and all the Minnies and
Marys that had been connected with them. They seemed all to have been
Mary or Minnie with Marias in Italy and France. I fell asleep at last,
hoping whatever Fate had in store for me at Sitka, it wouldn't be a
Mary or a Minnie, but some new name embodying a new idea.
When we landed at Sitka I went ashore with a fellow passenger. He was
a clever man, and had made trips up there already for the sake of
taking photographs of the people and the scenery; he knew Sitka well
and came up to me just before we arrived there with the remark:
"If you come with me I'll take you to have tea with the prettiest girl
you've ever seen."
This certainly seemed an invitation to accept, and I did so on the
"She really is," he continued, observing my sceptically raised
eyebrows, "wonderfully pretty. She keeps a tea-shop and she is
Chinese." With that he bolted into his own cabin, which was next mine,
and as I heard him laughing, I concluded he was joking and thought no
more about it. However, as the ship glided up over flat sheets of
golden water to the landing-stage, he joined me again, and together we
stood looking up the principal street of Sitka which runs down to meet
the little quay.
It was just four in the afternoon, and everything was vivid living
gold, as the floods of yellow sunshine filled all the shining air. The
green copper dome of the church alone stood out a soft spot of
delicate colour in the dazzling burnished haze.
At the sides of the street sat and crouched the small squat figures of
the Alaskan Indians, each with a mat before it on which the owner had
set out his little store of wares--bottles of various-coloured sands,
reindeer slippers beautifully embroidered in blue beads, carved walrus
We stepped on the shore and the Indians looked up at us with quaint
brown questioning eyes, like their own seals.
They did not ask you to buy, but watched you silently.
"Come along," said my friend, "we'll go up and get tea before there's
After about five minutes' walk, while I was gazing about interested in
this quaint little capital, my companion suddenly exclaimed:
"In here," and turned through an opening at the corner of a square
enclosure on our right hand. I followed, and saw we had entered a
little square court or compound, similar to those with which the
poorer classes in any Eastern community surround their huts.
The floor was dried and hardened mud, the walls about seven feet high,
and numerous small tables laid for tea stood round them.
My companion did not pause here, however, but went straight through in
at the low house door, and we found ourselves in a very small, dark
passage, hung with red and with red cloths dangling from the ceiling,
that swept our heads as we came in.
It seemed quite dark inside, coming from the fierce gold light of the
streets, but there was a dim little lamp in Eastern glass of many
colours swinging somewhere at the farther end, and we found our way
down to a low door in the side of the passage. This brought us into a
small square room which gave the impression of being sunk below the
level of the street. There were diminutive windows in the outer wall,
but they were close to the low ceiling and though the glorious light
from without tried hard to come in, it was successfully obstructed by
little rush blinds of red and green. The rushes were placed vertically
side by side and fastened together with string and painted in bright
tints. The breeze from the sea came through them and sang a low song
of its own. The walls were hung with red stuff curtains, over which
ramped wonderful Chinese dragons in green; the floor was spread with
something soft, on which the feet made no sound; in the corners of the
room stood some little tables.
To the farthest of these, under the rush-covered windows, we made our
way and sat down on some very ordinary American chairs, a hideous note
in the quaint surrounding, introduced as a concession, no doubt, to
"I rather like this, Morley," I said as I took my seat and looked
"Thought you would," he returned, and pressed his hand on a tiny
bronze figure standing on the table. At the touch of his finger the
head of the figure disappeared between its shoulders, and then sprung
up again, producing a harsh clanging sound of a gong.
Hardly a moment later the red curtains that hung over the doorway
parted, and a figure came into the room.
Such a sweet figure, the very spirit of poetic girlhood seemed
incarnate before us.
In appearance she was a Chinese maiden of seventeen or eighteen years;
seventeen or eighteen according to our standard of looks, doubtless
she was in reality younger.
The face was wonderfully beautiful, a very rounded oval and of the
most perfect creamy tint, the nose, straight and fine, was rather
long, the upper lip short, and the mouth very small, soft, and
full-lipped. The eyes inclined a little to the Chinese shape, but were
large, wide, and well-opened and brimming to the lids with
extraordinary light and fire; delicately narrow black eyebrows arched
above on the low satiny forehead, from which was brushed upwards a
mass of shining black hair piled on the top of the small head and
apparently secured there by two weighty gold pins thrust through from
side to side.
The last touch of beauty, if any were needed, was added by the
earrings of turquoise-blue stone that swung against the ivory-tinted
softness of the full young throat.
Those blue stones against the creamy neck! For years afterwards how I
could see them again in the darkness that lies behind closed lids! How
often I was back in the crimson darkness of the tiny chamber with the
sea song of the Alaskan waves coming through the painted rushes above
She was very simply dressed, yet so fitly to her own beauty.
A straight pale blue jacket covered her shoulders and opened on the
breast over a white muslin vest. Her skirts hung like the full
trousers of Persian women, and were a deep yellow in colour. Her feet
were bare, and shone white on the red floor.
"How do you do, Suzee?" said Morley.
"How do you do, Mister Morlee," returned the girl lightly, smiling and
showing pretty little teeth as she did so.
"You two gentlemen want some tea? Very good. I make it."
She glided to the curtains and disappeared as rapidly and noiselessly
as she had entered.
I turned to Morley with enthusiasm.
"She's lovely, perfect."
"Isn't she just? I knew you'd say so. But she's married, old man, so
don't you think you can go playing any tricks with her."
"Married?" I gasped incredulously, "that child? Impossible! You're
"I'm not, 'pon my honour. She has a great roaring brute of a baby,
"How horrible!" I exclaimed. "Yes, horrible. You've spoiled it all. It
seems a sacrilege."
"Fiddlesticks," returned my practical friend. "That's the sort that
does these things, isn't it? Would you expect her to turn into an old
"No, but so young!" I faltered. In reality it was a shock to me. To
have such an exquisite sight float before one for a moment, and then
to be roughly dragged down to earth from the exaltation it had caused,
hurt and bruised me.
The next moment she was back again, bearing a tray in her hands which
she set on our table, and deftly arranged the steaming teapot and tiny
cups before us.
As she bent near us over the little table a strange sensation of
delight came over me, a faint scent of roses reached me from the
little buds behind her ear. The blue stones in the long gold earrings
swung against her neck of cream as she set out the tea things.
"How is your boy, Suzee?" asked Morley with a tone of mischief in his
"He is very well, thank you, Mister Morlee."
"I should like to see him. Will you bring him in?" he continued,
commencing to pour out the tea.
"Yes; he is asleep now, but I will wake him up," she returned
nonchalantly, and, in spite of a protestation from me, she went out to
After a minute we heard loud screams from across the passage and
presently Suzee reappeared dragging (I can use no other phrase) in her
arms an enormous baby. Its face was red, and it was roaring lustily.
The girl-mother did not seem disturbed in the least by its cries, but
staggered slowly over to us, clasping the child awkwardly round the
waist and holding it flat against her own body.
It seemed very large, out of all proportion to the small and
exquisitely dainty mother. She was short and small, and the child
really, as I looked at it, seemed to be quite half the length of her
"What a big boy he is," remarked Morley.
"Yes, isn't he?" said the mother proudly.
The baby roared its loudest, tears streamed down its scarlet face, and
it dug its clenched knuckles furiously into its eyes.
"Surely it's in pain," I suggested.
"Oh, he always cries when he is woken up," returned the mother
tranquilly. She did not seem to take the least notice of the child's
bellowing. She might have been deaf for all the effect it had upon
her. She stood there placidly holding it, though it seemed very heavy
for her, while the child screamed itself purple. She began a
conversation with Morley just precisely as if the child were
I never saw such a picture, and it struck me suddenly I should like to
paint it, just as it was there, and call the thing "Maternity."
But no. What would be the good? No one, certainly not the British
public, would ever believe its truth.
They would think it a joke, and a grotesque one at that. "Beauty and
the Beast" would do for a name, I mused, or "Fact and Fancy."
Nothing could be more delicately soul-absorbingly beautiful than the
mother; nothing so brutally hideous as the child.
Suzee had sat down on the floor now, and the baby, still roaring, had
rolled on to its face on the ground beside her. Still she took not the
smallest notice of it; she laid one shapely hand on the small of its
back, as if to make sure it was there, and continued her conversation
tranquilly with Morley. How she could hear what he said I could not
tell. I could hear nothing but the appalling row the child made.
"Do take it away," I said after a few moments more, in an interval of
yells, during which the baby rolled, apparently in the last stages of
suffocation, on the floor. "I can't stand that noise."
"Ah!" said Suzee meditatively, lifting her glorious almond eyes to
mine, "you do not like my boy-baby?"
"I do not like the noise he makes," I said evasively, "and I don't
think he can be well, either."
"Oh yes, he is quite well," she returned composedly; "but I will take
So saying, she began to haul at the loose things about the child's
waist, as a tired gardener hauls at a sack of potatoes prior to
lifting it up.
I thought really she would get the child into her arms head downwards,
so carelessly did she seem to manage it, and as she rose and carried
it to the door it seemed as if the awkward weight of it must strain
her own slight body.
When the curtain closed behind her and the screams got faint in the
distance as the unhappy child was hauled to a back room, I drew a
breath of relief and began to drink my tea, which really hitherto I
had been too nervous to do. Morley chuckled and remarked:
"Good for you to be disillusioned."
"I'm not in the least, with _her_. She is a divine piece of physical
beauty. I wish I could get her on my canvas."
"You won't be able to; that old curmudgeon of a husband of hers will
see to that."
"I should think he has the devil of a temper, judging by his
offspring," I answered. "She looks sweet enough."
Morley nodded, and we finished our tea in silence. Suzee came back
presently with cigarettes for us and sat down on the floor herself,
rolling one up between supple fingers. She had an air of extraordinary
unruffled placidity. The dragging about of the child had not disturbed
her dress nor heated her face. In cool, tranquil, placid beauty she
sat and rolled cigarettes while the child's cries dimly echoed in the
"Where's the boss, Suzee?" questioned Morley presently.
"He has gone down to Fort Wrangle for two days," she returned, and my
spirits leapt up at her words. Her husband away for two days! Perhaps
there was a chance for a picture....
My eyes swept over her seated on the floor in front of us. What
exquisite supple lines! What sweet little dainty curves showed beneath
the blue silk jacket and sleeve! What a glory of light and passionate
expression in the liquid dark eyes when she raised them to us!
After a few minutes Morley got up, and I saw him laying down on the
table the money for our tea. I added my share, and Morley remarked,
"We'd better go and walk about before dinner, hadn't we? You'd like a
I was gazing at Suzee.
"Do you have any time to yourself?" I asked her. "Later in the evening
perhaps when you could come for a walk with me."
Suzee looked up. There was surprise in those wonderful eyes, but I
thought I saw pleasure too.
"At six," she said. "I close the restaurant for a short time, but I
don't walk, I smoke and go to sleep. But I will come with you if it is
not too far," she added as an after-thought.
Morley gave a whistle, indicative of surprise and disapproval, but I
"Very well, I shall come here at six; so don't be asleep and fail to
let me in!"
Suzee laughed and shook her head, and we picked up our hats and went
out of the little room into the passage. In the outer court, as we
passed through, we saw most of the tables occupied, and an elderly
"We had the best of it," I remarked.
"Yes, rather. But you are going ahead with that girl. Do be careful or
you'll have the old terror of a husband down on you."
"You introduced me," I returned laughing. "You have all the
"You know dinner's at six on this unearthly boat. Aren't you going to
get any dinner to-night?"
"I'm not very particular about it. I shall pick up something. I
thought six when all the men would be back on board would be her free
"But what are you going to do with her?"
"Get her to pose for me, if she will."
"One never knows in life," I answered smiling.
Morley regarded me thoughtfully.
"You artists do manage to have a good time."
"You could have just the same if you chose," I said.
"No, I don't think I could somehow," he answered slowly. "I am not so
devilishly good-looking as you are, for one thing."
"Oh, I don't know," I replied; "and does that make much difference
with women, do you think? Isn't it rather a passionate responsiveness,
a go-aheadness, that they like?"
"Yes, I think it is, but then that's it, you've got that. I don't
think I have. I don't seem to want the things, to see anything in
them, as you do."
I laughed outright. We were walking slowly down one of the gold,
light-filled streets towards the church now, and everything about us
seemed vibrating in the dazzling heat.
"If you don't want them I should think it's all right." I said.
"No, it isn't," returned my companion gravely. "You want a thing very
much and you get it, and have no end of fun. I don't want it and don't
get it, and don't have the fun. So it makes life very dull."
"Well, I _am_ very jolly," I admitted contentedly. "I think really,
artists--people with the artist's brain--do enjoy everything
tremendously. They have such a much wider field of desires, as you
say; and fewer limitations. They 'weave the web Desire,' as Swinburne
says, 'to snare the bird Delight.'"
"They get into a mess sometimes," said Morley sulkily; "as you will
with that girl if you don't look out. Here we are at the church.
There's a very fine picture inside; you'd like to see it, I expect."
We turned into the church and rested on the chairs for a few minutes,
enjoying the cool dark interior.
At six o'clock exactly I was in the little mud-yard again, before the
tea-shop; having sent Morley off to his dinner on board. I felt
elated: all my pulses were beating merrily. I was keenly alive. Morley
was right in what he said. An artist is Nature's pet, and she has
mixed all his blood with joy. Natural, instinctive joy, swamped
occasionally by melancholy, but always there surging up anew. Joy in
himself--joy in his powers--joy in life.
I knocked as arranged, and Suzee herself let me in. She had been
burning spice, apparently, before one of the idols that stood in each
corner of the tea-shop; for the whole place smelt of it.
"What have you been doing?" I said. "Holding service here?"
"Only burning spice-spills to chase away the evil spirits," replied
"Are there any here?" I inquired.
"They always come in with the white foreign devils," she returned with
"Well, Suzee, you are unkind," I expostulated. "Is that how you think
She looked up with a calm smile.
"The devil is always welcomed by a woman," she answered sweetly--her
eyes were black lakes with fire moving in their depths--"that is one
of our proverbs. It is quite true."
The lips curled and the creamy satin of the cheeks dimpled and the
blue earrings shook against her neck.
"What lovely earrings," I said, smiling down upon her, and put up my
hand gently to touch one. She did not draw back nor seem to resent my
"You think them pretty? I have others upstairs. Will you come up and
see my jewellery?"
I assented with the greatest willingness, and we went on down the
passage and then up the narrow, steep flight of stairs at the end.
"Don't wake up your child," I said in sudden horror, as we reached the
small square landing above of slender rickety uncovered boards.
"Oh, he never wakes till one pulls him up," she answered tranquilly,
and led the way into a little chamber. Did she sleep here? I wondered.
There was no bed, but a loose heap of red rugs in one corner. The
windows were mere narrow horizontal slits close to the ceiling. In the
centre, blocking up all the space, stood a high narrow chest. It
looked very old, of blackened wood and antique shape. I had never seen
such a thing. On the top of this, which nearly came to her chin, she
eagerly spread out heaps of little paper parcels she took from one of
"Have you any earrings just like those you are wearing?" I asked her.
If she had, I would buy them if I could for my cousin Viola, I
thought. Viola was excessively fair, and those blue stones would be
enchanting against her blonde hair.
"You want to buy them?" she said quickly. "I have a pair here just
like, only green. Buy those."
"No," I said. "It is the colour I like. Do you want to sell these blue
ones you are wearing?"
"No," she said quickly; "not these," and ran to a small mirror on the
wall and looked in hastily, fearfully, as if she thought that by
wishing for them I could charm them away from her out of her very
That she appreciated so well the effect of the colour harmony between
the blue stones and her own cream-hued skin, and the value of it in
setting off her beauty, pleased me. It seemed to augur well for her
"May I sit down here?" I asked her, going to the pile of scarlet rugs
and cushions in the corner.
"Oh yes, Meester Treevor, sit down," and she came hastily forward to
rearrange them for me with Oriental politeness. I sat down, drawing up
my legs as I best could, and pointed to a place beside me.
"Come and sit down, Suzee," I said; "I have something to show you
She came and sat beside me, but not very close, with her knees raised
and her smooth lissom little hands clasped round them. Her almond eyes
grew almost round with curiosity. I had brought with me a small
portfolio of some of my sketches with the object of introducing the
subject of her posing for me. I opened it and drew out the topmost
sketch. It was the figure of a young Italian girl lying on a green
bank beneath some vines. She was not wholly undraped, but most of her
attire was on the bank beside her, and the rest was of a transparent
gauzy nature suited to the heat suggested in the sunlit picture.
The moment Suzee's eyes fell upon it she gave a shriek of dismay and
covered her face with her hands. Over any portion I could still see
of it spread the Eastern's equivalent of a blush: a sort of dull heavy
red that seems to thicken the tissues.
"What is the matter?" I asked, surveying her in surprise. There was
nothing in the picture which would cause the least embarrassment to
any English girl.
"Oh, Treevor, it is dreadful to look at things like that," she
exclaimed, moving her fingers before her face and looking at me with
one eye through them. Then she made some rapid passes over her head,
as if to ward off the evil spirits I had conjured up.
"You may think so, Suzee," I said; "but in our country, and many
others, these 'things,' as you call them, are not only very much
looked at, but also admired, and bought and sold for great sums. What
do you see so very bad in it?"
Suzee ventured to peer through her fingers with both eyes at the
"Dreadful!" she exclaimed again, quickly shutting her fingers. "It is
a very bad woman, is it not?"
"No," I said, somewhat nettled; "certainly not. This was quite a
respectable girl. I have quantities of these portraits and sketches.
Look here," and I opened the portfolio and spread out several pictures
on the rug.
Suzee drew herself together, tightly pursed up her and looked down at
them with alarm,--as if I had let loose a number of snakes.
"They are very, very wicked things," she said, primly as a dissenting
minister's wife; and lowered her eyelids till the lashes lay like
black silk on the cheeks.
I gathered the offending sketches together and pushed them back under
"I wanted you to pose for me," I said, "that I might have your
picture, too; but I expect you won't do so for me?"
"I! I!" said Suzee, with virtuous indignation, "be put on paper like
that? I would die first." Her face had thickened all over as the blood
went into it. Her eyes looked stormy, alluring.
I leant towards her suddenly as we sat side by side, put my arms round
her waist, drew her to me, and pressed my lips on the ridiculous
little screwed-up mouth, with a sudden access of passion that left her
"You are a horrid little humbug, and goose, and prude," I said,
laughing, as I released her. "What do you think of letting me kiss you
like that, then? Is that wrong?"
Suzee sighed heavily, swaying her pliable body only a very little way
"It may be--a little" she admitted; "but it's not like the pictures."
"Oh! It's not so bad--not so wicked?" I asked mockingly.
"Oh no, not nearly," she returned decisively.
"Well," I answered, "many people would think it much worse. Those
girls who have let me draw them would not let me kiss them--some of
them," I added. "So, you see, it's a matter of opinion and idea. Now,
will you say why the picture is so much worse than a kiss?"
"A kiss," murmured Suzee, "is just between two people. It is done, and
no one knows. It is gone." She spread out her hands and waved them in
the air with an expressive gesture. "Those things remain a monument of
shame for ever and ever."
I laughed. I was beginning to see there was not much chance of a
picture, but other prospects seemed fair. In life one must always take
exactly what it offers, and neither refuse its goods nor ask for more,
either in addition or exchange. Sitka would give me something, but
perhaps not a picture as I had hoped.
I looked at her in silence for some seconds, musing on her curious
"I shall call you 'Sitkar-i-buccheesh,'" I said after a minute.
Suzee looked frightened and made a rapid pass over her head.
"What is that?" she asked. "It sounds a devil's name."
"It only means the gift of Sitka," I answered. "This city has given
you to me, has it not? or it will," I added in a lower tone.
I put my arm round her again, and she leant towards me as a flower
swayed by the breeze, her head drooped and rested against my shoulder.
"If it were the name of a devil," I said laughing, "it would suit you.
I believe you are an awful little devil."
"All women are devils," returned Suzee placidly.
I did not answer, but Viola's face swam suddenly before my vision--a
face all white and gold and rose and with eyes of celestial blue.
"What would your husband say to all this?" I asked jestingly.
"He will never know. I tell him quite different. He believes
everything I say."
Involuntarily I felt a little chill of disgust pass through me. Deceit
of any kind specially repels me, and deceit towards some one trusting,
confident, is the worst of all.
Perhaps she read my thoughts instinctively, for she said next, in a
pleading note, to enlist my sympathies:
"He is very, very cruel, he beats me all the time."
I looked down at her as she lay in the cradle of my arm, a little
From what I knew of the Chinese character it did not seem at all
likely that Hop Lee did beat his wife; moreover, the delicate,
fragile, untouched beauty of the girl did not allow one to imagine she
had suffered, or could suffer much violence.
Again she seemed to feel my doubt of her, for she pushed up suddenly
her sleeve with some trouble from one velvet-skinned arm and pushed it
up before my eyes. There was a deep dull crimson mark upon it the size
of a half-crown.
"Unbeliever! Look at this bruise."
I looked at it, then at her steadily.
"Suzee, did your husband make that bruise?"
"Yes. He pinched me so hard in a rage with me," she said a little
"Give me your arm," I said.
She held it out reluctantly. I looked at the bruise, then I rolled the
sleeve back a little farther, and in it found a heavy gold bangle with
a boss on one side corresponding with the size of the mark on the
"I think it is the gold bracelet your kind old husband gave you that
you have pressed into the flesh," I said, "that has marked it. That is
about what his cruelty to you amounts to." I dropped her arm
contemptuously, and rose suddenly.
She had succeeded in dispelling for the moment the charm of her
beauty. Her prudery, her deceit, her lies made up to me a peculiarly
She sprang up, too, as I rose and threw herself on her knees,
clasping her arms round mine so that I could not move.
"Oh Treevor, I do love you so much. You are my real master, not he. A
woman loves a man who conquers her, but not by buying her. But because
he is better and stronger than she. Because he has great muscles, as
you have, and could kill her, and because she can't deceive him,
because he sees all her lies, as you do. Yes, Treevor, I love you now
very much indeed. Come here again, kiss me again."
But somehow her pleading did not move me. The moment when I had been
drawn to her had gone by, swallowed up in a feeling of disgust.
I stooped down and unlocked her hands and put her back among her
"Good-bye, Suzee, for to-day," I said. "To-morrow I will come and take
you for a walk. You must let me go now. I do not want to stay any
She looked at me in silence, but did not offer to move from where I
had put her.
I gathered up my portfolio and left the room, went down the stairs and
through the passage and courtyard to the sun-filled street.
I went on slowly, and after a time found myself close to the church
again. I went in, for the interior interested me, and found service
was being held. A Russian priest, wholly in white clothing, stood
before the altar, the cross light from the aisle windows falling on
the long twist of fair hair that lay upon his shoulders. The whole air
was full of incense that rose in white clouds to the domed roof. I sat
down near the door and listened while the priest intoned a Latin hymn.
The figure of the young priest at the altar attracted me. I thought I
should like a sketch of it; but I hesitated to take one of him in the
church, even surreptitiously, so I fixed the picture of him as he
stood there on my eyes as far as I could, and then, in a convenient
pause of the service, quietly slipped outside.
Near the church was a great outcrop of rock surmounted by a
weather-beaten tree. In the shade thrown by these I got out a sheet of
loose paper and made a sketch of the fair, long-haired priest, with
the quaint frame building of the church, its green copper dome and
bell tower and double gold crosses behind him.
After I had been there some time I was suddenly surprised by Morley.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "You here? Why, I thought you would be in the
arms of the fair Suzee by this time."
"So I might have been," I answered, looking up from the sketch, "but I
got put off somehow, so I left her and went to church instead!"
Morley burst out laughing.
"You _are_ the funniest fellow," he exclaimed, taking his seat beside
me on the ground and clasping his hands round his knees. "So Suzee has
offended you, has she? Do you know, I think that's where we ordinary
people get ahead of fellows like you. You are too sensitive. We're not
so particular. When I'm stuck on Mary Ann it doesn't matter to me what
she says or does. It doesn't interfere with my happiness."
I went on painting in silence.
"Funny those chaps look with their long hair, don't they?" he remarked
after a moment, as I painted the light on the priest's long curl.
"Very picturesque, don't you think?" I said.
"No, I don't," returned the Briton stoutly. "I think it's beastly."
I laughed this time, and having completed the portrait, slipped it
into my portfolio and prepared to put away my paints.
"Don't you want any dinner?" asked Morley. "You must be hungry."
"Well, I hadn't thought of it," I answered. "But, now you mention it,
perhaps I am. Do you know of any place where one can get anything?"
"There's one place at the end of the town where you can have soup and
bread," replied Morley, and we started off to find it.
Later on, towards ten o'clock, when we were leaving the little, frame,
sailors' restaurant, I looked up to the western sky and saw that
strange colour in it of the Alaskan sunset that I have never found in
any other sky, a bright magenta, or deep heather pink, a crude colour
rather like an aniline dye, but brilliant and arresting in the clean,
clear gold of the heavens.
Great ribs and bars and long flat lines of it lay all across the West.
No other cloud, no other colour appeared anywhere in the sky. It was
painted in those two tints alone; the brightest magenta conceivable
and living gold.
Walking back slowly to the ship, I gazed at it with interest. No other
sky that I could recall ever shows this tone of colour. Pink, scarlet,
rose, and all the shades of blood or flame-colour are familiar in
every sunset, but this curious tint seemed to belong to Alaska alone.
I watched it glow and deepen, then fade, and softly disappear as the
sun dipped below the horizon.
IN THE WOOD
The next evening, after dinner, I left the ship and made my way to
Suzee's place to take her for the promised walk.
It was just seven when I stepped ashore, and light of the purest, most
exquisite gold lay over everything. The air had that special quality
of Alaska which I have never met anywhere else, an extreme humidity;
it hung upon the cheek as a mist hangs, only it was clear as crystal,
brilliant as a yellow diamond.
There was no wind, not a breath ruffled the stillness nor stirred the
motionless blue water.
The exquisite chain of islands off the mainland was mirrored in the
still, shining depths, and lifted their delicate outlines clothed with
fir and larch, soft as half-forgotten dreams, against the transparent
blue of the sky. Sitka was placid and restful, the streets quiet and
empty as I walked along in the sunny silence.
Suzee was at the door waiting for me. She had dressed herself
differently, entirely in yellow. The yellow silk of the little square
jacket contrasted well with her midnight hair, and the only dash of
other colour in the picture she presented was the blue stone in her
"Good evening, Treevor," she said, smiling up at me. And I bent down
and pressed my lips to those little, soft, curved ones she put up for
We started out at once. Suzee told me we were going for a long way to
see the wood, and had the important air of a person going on a lengthy
expedition. She had brought a Japanese sunshade with her which she put
up, and certainly the hot light falling through the rice-paper had a
wonderfully beautiful effect on her creamy skin and soft yellow silk
clothing. She walked easily, only with rather short steps. As she was
of the lower class, there had been no question of the "golden lilies"
or distortion of the feet for her, and they were small and prettily
shaped, bare, save for a sort of sandal, or as the Indians call them,
"guaraches," bound under the sole.
We passed up the main street and soon after turned into a narrow
winding road that leads along the coast, Sitka being on a promontory,
with a beautiful azure bay running inland behind it.
Our path ran sometimes inland, through portions of wood, part of that
great impenetrable primeval forest that at one time completely covered
the whole of Sitka, sometimes quite on the edge of the water. Here
there were rocks and boulders, and little coves of white sand and
stretches of miniature beaches, with the lip of the bay resting on
Infinitesimal waves broke on the sunny white sand with a low musical
tinkle, across the bay one could see the delicate chain of islands
rising with their feathery trees into the blue, warding off the
breakers and the storms of the open sea beyond. In here, the peaceful
water murmured to itself and repeated tales of the beginning of the
world, of the first gold dawn that broke upon the earth, and of later
days, when the sombre black forests came to the water's edge and none
knew them but the great black bear, and when the seals played
joyously, undisturbed, in the fog-banks off the islands. I was in the
mood to appreciate deeply the beauty of the scene, and all the objects
round seemed to speak to me of their inner meaning, but my companion
was not at all moved by, nor interested in her surroundings. She
helped to make the picture more strange and lovely as she sat by me on
a rock, with her shining clothes and brilliant face under the gay
sunshade, but mentally she jarred on me by her complete indifference
to any influence of the scene. I almost wished I were alone here, to
sit upon this tremendous shore and dream.
"You are dull, Treevor," she exclaimed pettishly. "You really are."
I had kissed her twice in the last ten minutes, but she hated my eyes
to wander for a moment from her face to the sea. She hated the least
reference apparently to the landscape. As long as I was talking to
her and about her, admiring her dress or her hair, she was satisfied.
"Come along," she said impatiently; "let us go on to the wood, leave
off looking at that stupid sea."
I rose reluctantly and we followed the road which turned inland again.
The wood was a world of grey shadows. As we entered by a narrow trail
leading from the road, the golden day outside was soon closed from us
by the thick veils of hanging creeper and parasitical plants of all
sorts that entwined round the gnarled and aged trees, and crossing and
re-crossing from one to the other, netted them together.
Over the creepers again had grown grey-green lichens and long, shaggy
moss, so that strands and fringes of it fell on every side, filling
the interstices of the gigantic web that stretched from tree to tree,
excluding the light of the sunlit sky.
Beneath, the lower branches of the trees were sad and sodden,
overgrown with lichen, clogged with hanging wreaths of moss. A river
ran through the wood and at times, swelled by the melting snows,
burst, evidently, in roaring flood over its banks.
Everywhere there were traces of recent floods, roots washed bare and
places where the swirling waters had heaped up their debris of sticks
and mud-stained leaves. All along the damp ground the lowest branches
of the trees, weighted with tangled moss, trailed, broken and bruised
by the fierce rush of the current. The trees themselves seemed
centuries old, bent and gnarled and twisted into grotesque and ghostly
forms. In the dim twilight reigning here one could fancy one stood in
some hideous torture-chamber, surrounded by writhing and distorted
figures. There an elbow, there a withered arm, a fist clenched in
agony, seemed protruding from the sombre, sad-clothed trees, so
weirdly knotted and twisted were the old cinder-hued boughs.
As we neared the river we could hear it rushing by long before we
could see it, so thick was the undergrowth that hung low over it.
It seemed as if we might be approaching the black Styx through this
melancholy wood where all seemed weeping in torn veils and
No touch of depression affected my companion; she seemed as insensible
to the grey solemnity, the dim mystery of the wood, as she had been to
the vivid glory of the sea. She slipped a little velvet hand into
mine, and when we drew near to the hidden Styx, murmured softly:
"We will find a dry place, Treevor, on the other side, and sit down
among the trees. Then you must take me in your arms and I will be your
own Suzee. I do not want my old husband any more."
I stopped and looked down upon her. Not even the sad light could dim
the soft brilliance of her face. It seemed to bloom out of the ashy
shadows like an exquisite flower. Her eyes were wells of fire beneath
their velvet blackness.
"Do you love me very much?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, so much," she answered with passionate emphasis. "You are so
beautiful. Never have I seen any one so beautiful, and so tall and so
strong. Oh, it is _pain_ to me to love you so much."
And indeed she became quite white, as she drew her hand from mine and
clasped both of hers upon her breast as if to still some agony there.
My own heart beat hard. The grey wood seemed to lose its ashy tone and
become warm and rosy round us. I bent over her and took her up wholly
in my arms, and she laughed and threw hers around me in wild delight.
"Carry me, Treevor, over the bridge and up the slope at the side. It
is so nice to feel you carrying me."
It was no difficulty to carry her, and the waves of electricity from
her joyous little soul rushed through me till my arms and all the
veins of my body seemed alight and burning.
I ran with her, over the narrow bridge and up the slope, where, as she
said, there was drier ground. And there, on a bed of leaves under some
tangled branches, I fell on my knees with her still clasped to my
breast, and covered her small satin-skinned face with kisses.
"I am yours now. You must not let me go. I only want to look and look
at your face. I wish I could tell you how I love you. Oh, Treevor, I
can't tell you...."
As I looked down, breathless with running and kisses and the fires she
had kindled within me, I saw how her bosom heaved beneath the yellow
jacket, how all the delicate curves of her breast seemed broken up
with panting sighs and longing to express in words all that her body
expressed so much better.
"Darling, there is no need to tell me. I know." And I put my hand
round her soft column of throat, feeling all its quick pulses
throbbing hard into the palm of my hand.
"Put your head down on my heart, Treevor. Lie down beside me; now let
us think we have drunk a little opium, just a little, and we are going
to sleep through a long night together. Hush! What is that? Did you
She lifted my hand from her throat and sat up, listening.
I had not heard anything. I had been too absorbed. All had vanished
now from me, except the fervent beauty of the girl before me.
The sea of desire had closed over my head, sealing the senses to
outside things; I drew her towards me impatiently.
"It is nothing," I murmured. "I heard nothing." But she sat up, gazing
straight across a small cleared space in front of us to where the
impenetrable thicket of undergrowth again stood forward like grey
screens between the twisted tree trunks.
"Yes, there was something; there, opposite! Look, something is
moving!" I followed her eyes and saw a strand of loose moss quiver and
heard a twig break in the quiet round us. We both watched the
undergrowth across the open space intently. For a second nothing
moved, then the boughs parted in front of us, and through the great
lichen streamers and rugged bands of grey-green moss depending from
them, peered an old, drawn-looking face.
Suzee gave a piercing shriek of dismay, and started to her feet.
"My husband!" she gasped.
I sprang to my feet, and my right hand went to my hip pocket. The head
pushed through the thicket, and a bent and aged form followed slowly.
I drew out my revolver, but the figure of the old man straightened
itself up and he waved his hand impatiently, as if deprecating
"Sir, I have come after my wife," he said, in a low, broken tone.
I slipped the weapon back in my pocket. I had had an idea that he
might attack Suzee, but voice and face showed he was in a different
Suzee clung to my hand on her knees, crying and trembling.
"Go and sit over there," he said peremptorily to her, pointing to the
other side of the glade, far enough from us to be out of hearing.
She did not move, only clung and shivered and wept as before.
I bent over her, loosening my hand.
"Do as he says," I whispered; "no harm can come to you while I am
Suzee let go my fingers reluctantly and crept away, sobbing, to the
opposite edge of the thicket. The old Chinaman motioned me to sit
down. I did so, mechanically wondering whether his calmness was a ruse
under cover of which he would suddenly stab me. He sat down, too,
stiffly, beside me, resting on his heels, and his hard, wrinkled hands
supporting his withered face.
"Now," he said, in a thin old voice; "look at me! I am an old man, you
are a young one. You are strong, you are well; you are rich too, I
think." He looked critically over me. "You have everything that I have
not, already. Why do you come here to rob an old man of all he has in
I felt myself colour with anger. All the blood in my body seemed to
rush to my head and stand singing in my ears.
I felt a furious impulse to knock him aside out of my way; but his age
and weakness held me motionless.
"All my youth, when I was strong and good-looking as you are now, and
women loved me, I worked hard like a slave, and starved and saved.
When others played I toiled, when they spent I hoarded up. What was I
saving for? That I might buy myself _that_." He waved his hand in the
direction of Suzee, sitting in a little crumpled heap against a
gnarled tree opposite us.
"I bought her," he went on with increasing excitement. "I bought her
from a woman who would have let her out, night by night, to
foreigners. I have given her a good home, she does no hard work. She
has a child, she has fine clothes. I work still all day and every day
that I may give money to her. She is my one joy, my treasure; don't
take her away from me, don't do it. You have all the world before you,
and all the women in it that are without husbands. Go to them, leave
me my wife in peace."
Tears were rolling fast down his face now, his clasped hands quivered
"When I was a young man I would not take any pleasure. No, pleasure
means money, and I was saving. When I am old I will buy, I said. It
needs money, when I am old I shall have it. I can buy then. But, ah!
when one is old it is all dust and ashes."
I looked at his thin shrunken form, poorly clad, at his face, deeply
lined with great furrows, made there by incessant toil and constant
pain. I felt my joy in Suzee to wither in the grey shadow of his
grief. Some people would have thought him doubtless an immoral old
scoundrel, and that he had no business in his old age to try to be
happy as younger men are, to wish, to expect it. But I cannot see that
joy is the exclusive right of any particular age. A young man or young
woman has no more right or title to enjoy than an old man or woman;
they have simply the right of might, which is no _right_ at all.
"Well, what do you want me to say or do?" I exclaimed impatiently.
"Take your wife back with you now, no harm has happened to her. Take
her home with you."
"Yes, I can take her body, but not her spirit," answered the old man
His tone made me look at him keenly. Hitherto I had felt sorry for
Suzee that she was his; now, as I heard his accent, I felt sorry for
him that he was hers.
A great capacity for suffering looked out of the aged face, such as I
knew could never look out of hers.
"If you lift your finger she would come to you! Promise me you will
not see her again, not speak to her; that you will go. And if she
comes to you, you will not accept her."
I was silent for a moment.
"My ship goes to-morrow morning," I answered; "I am not likely to see
your wife again. I shall not seek her."
"That is not enough," moaned the old man; "she will find a way. She
will come to you. Promise me you will not take her away with you; if
you do you will have an old man's murder on your head."
I moved impatiently.
"I am not going to take her away," I answered.
"But promise me. If I have your promise I shall feel certain."
I hesitated, and looked across at Suzee, a patch of beautiful colour
against the grey background of bent and aged trees.
What had I intended to do, I asked myself. I could not take her, in
any case. I had not meant that. A virtuous American ship like the
Cottage City would hardly admit a Suzee to share my cabin.
Then what did my promise matter if it but reflected the fact, and if
it satisfied him?
"You are not willing to promise," he said, coming close to me and
peering into my face; "I feel it."
I thought I heard his teeth close on an unuttered oath. Still he did
not threaten me. As I remained silent he suddenly threw himself on the
ground in front of me, and stretched out his hands and put them on my
"Sir I implore you. Give me your word you will not take her, then I am
satisfied. Better take my life than my wife."
I lifted my eyes for a moment in a glance towards Suzee and saw her
make a scornful gesture at the prostrate figure. The gold bracelets on
her arm below the yellow silk sleeve shewed in the action a contrast
to the old, worn clothing of the poorest material that her husband
I rose to my feet and raised him up.
"Get up, I hate to see you kneel to me. I have said I shall not take
your wife. As far as I am concerned, that is a promise. I have said
"Thank you," he said, inclining his head, and then moved away, not
without a certain dignity in his old form, lean and twisted though the
work of years had made it.
I dropped back into my place where I had been sitting and watched the
two figures before me almost in a dream.
He went up to the girl and spoke, apparently not unkindly, and some
talk ensued. Then I saw him bend down and take her wrist and drag her
to her feet.
Suzee hung back as one sees a child hang back from a nurse, but she
moved forward though unwillingly, and so at last they passed from my
sight, through the grey trees and the weeping moss, the thin old man
stepping doggedly forward, the pretty, gay-clothed childish little
figure dragging back.
Then all was still. The old grey wood was full of weird light, but the
silence of the night had fallen on it. Beast and bird and insect had
sought their lair and nest and cranny. Not a leaf moved. I felt
"One never knows in life," I thought, repeating my words to Morley.
I felt a keen sense of longing regret surge slowly, heavily through
me. How exquisitely sweet and perfect her beauty was! And she had lain
in my arms for that moment, one moment that was stamped into my brain
in gold. I put my head into my hands and shut out the dim grey wood
from vision and recalled that moment. It came back to me, the touch of
her soft form, the smiling curve of the lips put up to me, the fire in
the liquid depths of those almond eyes, the round throat delicate as
polished ivory. The extraordinary triumph of beauty over the senses
came before my mind suddenly, presenting the problem that always
puzzles and eludes me.
Why should certain lines and colours in pleasing the eye so
intoxicate and inflame the brain? For it is the brain to which beauty
appeals. Youth and health in a loved object are sufficient to capture
the physical senses, but they do not fill the brain with that
exaltation, that delirium of joy, that divine elation that sweeps up
through us at the sight of beauty. Divine fire, it seems to be lighted
first in the glance of the eyes.
In an hour's time I left the wood and walked slowly shipwards. I felt
tired and overstrained, exceedingly regretful, full of longing after
that lovely vision that had come to me and that I had had to drive
The unearthly stillness combined with the brilliant, unabated,
unfailing light had a curious mystery about it that charmed and
delighted me. The sea, so blue and tranquil, sparkled softly on my
left hand, the pellucid blue of the sky stretched overhead, and all
the air was full of the sweet sunshine we associate with day. Yet it
was midnight. I pulled out my watch and looked at it to assure myself
of the fact. Sitka was wrapt in silence and sleep, my own footstep
resounded strangely in the burning empty streets.
I had to pass the tea-shop on my way to the ship. One could see
nothing of it from the street as the compound shut it off from view,
and across the compound entrance a stout hurdle was now stretched and
I passed on with a sigh, reached the ship lying motionless against
the quay, went down to my cabin without encountering any one, threw
off my clothes and myself in my berth, feeling a sense of fatigue
The night before I had had no sleep, and the incessant golden glare,
day and night alike, wearies the nerves not trained to it.
Suzee and almond eyes and injured husbands floated away from me on the
dark wings of sleep.
It must have been an hour or so later that I woke suddenly with a
sense of suffocation. Some soft, heavy thing lay across my breast. I
started up and two arms clasped my neck and I heard Suzee's voice;
saying in my ear:
"Treevor, dear Treevor, I have found you! Now I you will take me away,
and we will stay for ever and ever together. I am so happy."
The cabin was full of the same steady yellow light as when I closed my
eyes. Looking up I saw her sweet oval face above me.
She was lying on the berth leaning over me, supported on her elbows.
As I looked up she pressed her lips down on my face, kissing me on the
eyes and mouth with passionate repetition and insistence.
"Dear little girl, dear little Suzee!" I answered, putting up my arms
and folding them round her.
I was only half-awake, and for a moment the old Chinaman was
forgotten. It was all rather like a delicious dream.
"I am quite, quite happy now," she said, laying down her head on my
chest. "Oh, so happy, Treevor; you must never let me go. I love you
so, like this," she added, putting her two hands round my throat,
"when I can feel your neck and when you are sleeping. You looked
beautiful, just now, when I found you. I am sorry you woke."
Clear consciousness was struggling back now with memory, but not
before I had pressed her to me and returned those kisses. She had laid
aside her little saffron silk coat, and her breast and arms shone
softly through a filmy muslin covering.
I sat up regarding her; very lissom and soft and lovely she looked,
and my whole brain swam suddenly with delight.
Surely I could not part with her! She was precious to me in that
madness that comes over us at such moments.
I put my arms round her and held her to my breast with all my force in
a clasp that must have been painful to her, but she only laughed
Then my promise came back to me. It was impossible to break that. What
was the good of torturing myself when I had made it impossible to take
her. Why had she come here?
"Where is your husband?" I asked mechanically wondering if any strange
fate had removed him from between us.
"Oh, I put him to sleep, he will give no trouble. I gave him opium, so
much opium, he will sleep a long time."
"You have not killed him?" I said, in a sudden horror.
Her eyes were wide open and full of extraordinary fire, she seemed in
those moments capable of anything.
She put up her little hands and ran them through my hair.
"Such black hair," she murmured. "Ah, how I love it! I love black
hair. How it shines, how soft it is! I hate grey hair. It is horrid.
No, I have not killed him. He will wake again when we have sailed and
are far away from Sitka."
These words drove from me the last veil of clinging sleep. I kept my
arms round her and said:
"But, Suzee, I can't take you with me. I promised your husband
to-night I would not."
"That's nothing," she replied lightly; "promises are nothing when one
loves. And you love me, Treevor; you must love me, and I am coming
with you, you can't drive me away."
The ship's bells sounded overhead on deck as she spoke. The sound
seemed a warning. I knew our ship was due to leave in the morning; I
did not know quite when. If it left the quay with the girl on board,
the horror of a broken promise would cling to me all my life.
"I can't take you, it is impossible. You must go back and try to
forget you have ever seen me. You must go now at once, our ship is
"I know," said Suzee tranquilly; "and I shall be so happy when it
I pushed her aside and got up from the berth. The cabin window stood
wide open. In the position the ship was it was easy to come in and out
through it from the quay. She must have entered that way.
"You must go," I said between my teeth. I was afraid of myself.
Overhead I heard movements and clanking chains and shuffling feet. Our
ship was leaving, and she was still on board with me.
"Go out of that window now, instantly, or I shall put you out."
"You will not, Treevor," beginning to cry; "you won't be so unkind. I
only want to stay with you; let me stay."
She was half-sitting on the edge of my berth, clinging to it with both
hands. She was pale with an ivory pallor, her breasts rose in sobs
under the transparent muslin of her vest.
The ship gave a great heave under our feet.
The blood beat so in my head and round my eyes I could hardly see her.
I moved to her, clinging to one blind object. I bent over her and
lifted her up. She was like a doll in weight. She was nothing to me.
As she realised my intention she seemed to turn into a wild animal in
my arms. She bit and tore at my wrists, and scratched my face with her
long sharp nails.
The ship was moving now and I was desperate.
I walked with her to the window and put her feet over the ledge.
We neither of us spoke a word. She clung to my neck so I thought she
must overbalance me and drag me through with her.
With all my force I pushed her outwards and away from me. Her hands
broke from my neck and scratched down my face till the blood ran from
"Don't struggle so," I warned her; "you will drop into the sea if you
do." For a blue crack opened already between the moving ship and the
Words were useless. She bit and struggled and clung to me like a cat
mad with fear and rage.
With an effort I leant forward and half threw, half dropped her on the
woodwork. She fell there with a gasping cry, and I drew the window to
and shut it.
The ship rose and fell now and the blue water gleamed in an
ever-widening track between its side and the quay.
I leant against the window glass and watched her through it. She had
struggled to her knees and now knelt there weeping and stretching out
little ivory tinted hands to the departing ship. My own eyes were
full, and only through a mist could I see her kneeling there, a
brilliant spot of colour in dazzling light on the deserted quay.
I turned away at last as we struck out on the open water. There, on my
berth, facing me as I stumbled back to it, lay a little yellow jacket.
I threw myself upon it and put my hand over my eyes, while the ship
made out beyond the fairy islands. And the gold night passed over and
melted into the new day.
THE VIOLET NIGHT
AT THE STUDIO
I was back in London again, back in my studio with the dull grey light
of the city falling through the windows, and all the vivid glory, the
matchless splendour of the North lay like a past dream in the
background of my memory. But still how clear the dream, how bright
each moment of it, and how long to my retrospective vision! Was it
possible I had only been there three or four months? It seemed like as
many years. For time has this peculiarity, that joy and action shorten
it while it is passing, but lengthen it when it is past. A week in
which we have done nothing of note, but spent in stationary idleness,
how long and tedious it seems, yet in looking back upon it, it appears
short as a day; while a week in which we have travelled far, seen
several cities and been glad in each, though the gilded moments have
danced by on lightning feet, when we look back upon that week it seems
as if we have lived a year.
It was there, bright, radiant in my mind, the picture of those blue
days and golden northern nights, and how the light of the picture
seemed to gather round, and centre in a sweet youthful face with the
blue stone earrings, hanging against the creamy neck, beside the
rounded cheek, and the cluster of red flowers bound on each temple
against the smooth black hair!
I settled myself lower in the deep roomy armchair, and pushed my feet
forward to the blazing fire. There was still half an hour before I
could decently ring for tea, and it was too dark already to work. I
had had a hard and disagreeable morning, too, and felt I needed rest
and quiet thought. How the red flame leapt in the grate, and what a
rich, warm, wine-dark colour it threw all round my red room! I rose
and drew the heavy crimson curtains across the windows to shut out
their steely patches of grey that spoiled the harmony of colour. I
returned to my chair and glanced round with satisfaction. Fitted and
furnished and hung with every beautiful shade of red, my studio always
delighted and charmed my vision.
My friends said I had papered and furnished it in red to throw up the
white limbs and contours of my models, and this had something to do
with it, for hardly any colour shows off white flesh to better
advantage, though pale blue in this matter runs it close; but this was
not the prompting motive. Rather it was that in England where all is
so cold and tame and grey, from morals to colours, I liked to surround
myself with this glowing barbaric crimson, this warm inviting tint.