Part 2 out of 6
they have no scruples. And I don't know that at this moment I
myself am not one of them."
"That, of course, I can't say," I retorted.
"I haven't seen her for years," he said, "and in comparison with
what she was then she must be very grown up by now. From what we
heard from Mr. Blunt she had experiences which would have matured
her more than they would teach her. There are of course people
that are not teachable. I don't know that she is one of them. But
as to maturity that's quite another thing. Capacity for suffering
is developed in every human being worthy of the name."
"Captain Blunt doesn't seem to be a very happy person," I said.
"He seems to have a grudge against everybody. People make him
wince. The things they do, the things they say. He must be
Mills gave me a sidelong look. It met mine of the same character
and we both smiled without openly looking at each other. At the
end of the Rue de Rome the violent chilly breath of the mistral
enveloped the victoria in a great widening of brilliant sunshine
without heat. We turned to the right, circling at a stately pace
about the rather mean obelisk which stands at the entrance to the
"I don't know whether you are mature or not," said Mills
humorously. "But I think you will do. You . . . "
"Tell me," I interrupted, "what is really Captain Blunt's position
And I nodded at the alley of the Prado opening before us between
the rows of the perfectly leafless trees.
"Thoroughly false, I should think. It doesn't accord either with
his illusions or his pretensions, or even with the real position he
has in the world. And so what between his mother and the General
Headquarters and the state of his own feelings he. . . "
"He is in love with her," I interrupted again.
"That wouldn't make it any easier. I'm not at all sure of that.
But if so it can't be a very idealistic sentiment. All the warmth
of his idealism is concentrated upon a certain 'Americain,
Catholique et gentil-homme. . . '"
The smile which for a moment dwelt on his lips was not unkind.
"At the same time he has a very good grip of the material
conditions that surround, as it were, the situation."
"What do you mean? That Dona Rita" (the name came strangely
familiar to my tongue) "is rich, that she has a fortune of her
"Yes, a fortune," said Mills. "But it was Allegre's fortune
before. . . And then there is Blunt's fortune: he lives by his
sword. And there is the fortune of his mother, I assure you a
perfectly charming, clever, and most aristocratic old lady, with
the most distinguished connections. I really mean it. She doesn't
live by her sword. She . . . she lives by her wits. I have a
notion that those two dislike each other heartily at times. . .
Here we are."
The victoria stopped in the side alley, bordered by the low walls
of private grounds. We got out before a wrought-iron gateway which
stood half open and walked up a circular drive to the door of a
large villa of a neglected appearance. The mistral howled in the
sunshine, shaking the bare bushes quite furiously. And everything
was bright and hard, the air was hard, the light was hard, the
ground under our feet was hard.
The door at which Mills rang came open almost at once. The maid
who opened it was short, dark, and slightly pockmarked. For the
rest, an obvious "femme-de-chambre," and very busy. She said
quickly, "Madame has just returned from her ride," and went up the
stairs leaving us to shut the front door ourselves.
The staircase had a crimson carpet. Mr. Blunt appeared from
somewhere in the hall. He was in riding breeches and a black coat
with ample square skirts. This get-up suited him but it also
changed him extremely by doing away with the effect of flexible
slimness he produced in his evening clothes. He looked to me not
at all himself but rather like a brother of the man who had been
talking to us the night before. He carried about him a delicate
perfume of scented soap. He gave us a flash of his white teeth and
"It's a perfect nuisance. We have just dismounted. I will have to
lunch as I am. A lifelong habit of beginning her day on horseback.
She pretends she is unwell unless she does. I daresay, when one
thinks there has been hardly a day for five or six years that she
didn't begin with a ride. That's the reason she is always rushing
away from Paris where she can't go out in the morning alone. Here,
of course, it's different. And as I, too, am a stranger here I can
go out with her. Not that I particularly care to do it."
These last words were addressed to Mills specially, with the
addition of a mumbled remark: "It's a confounded position." Then
calmly to me with a swift smile: "We have been talking of you this
morning. You are expected with impatience."
"Thank you very much," I said, "but I can't help asking myself what
I am doing here."
The upward cast in the eyes of Mills who was facing the staircase
made us both, Blunt and I, turn round. The woman of whom I had
heard so much, in a sort of way in which I had never heard a woman
spoken of before, was coming down the stairs, and my first
sensation was that of profound astonishment at this evidence that
she did really exist. And even then the visual impression was more
of colour in a picture than of the forms of actual life. She was
wearing a wrapper, a sort of dressing-gown of pale blue silk
embroidered with black and gold designs round the neck and down the
front, lapped round her and held together by a broad belt of the
same material. Her slippers were of the same colour, with black
bows at the instep. The white stairs, the deep crimson of the
carpet, and the light blue of the dress made an effective
combination of colour to set off the delicate carnation of that
face, which, after the first glance given to the whole person, drew
irresistibly your gaze to itself by an indefinable quality of charm
beyond all analysis and made you think of remote races, of strange
generations, of the faces of women sculptured on immemorial
monuments and of those lying unsung in their tombs. While she
moved downwards from step to step with slightly lowered eyes there
flashed upon me suddenly the recollection of words heard at night,
of Allegre's words about her, of there being in her "something of
the women of all time."
At the last step she raised her eyelids, treated us to an
exhibition of teeth as dazzling as Mr. Blunt's and looking even
stronger; and indeed, as she approached us she brought home to our
hearts (but after all I am speaking only for myself) a vivid sense
of her physical perfection in beauty of limb and balance of nerves,
and not so much of grace, probably, as of absolute harmony.
She said to us, "I am sorry I kept you waiting." Her voice was low
pitched, penetrating, and of the most seductive gentleness. She
offered her hand to Mills very frankly as to an old friend. Within
the extraordinarily wide sleeve, lined with black silk, I could see
the arm, very white, with a pearly gleam in the shadow. But to me
she extended her hand with a slight stiffening, as it were a recoil
of her person, combined with an extremely straight glance. It was
a finely shaped, capable hand. I bowed over it, and we just
touched fingers. I did not look then at her face.
Next moment she caught sight of some envelopes lying on the round
marble-topped table in the middle of the hall. She seized one of
them with a wonderfully quick, almost feline, movement and tore it
open, saying to us, "Excuse me, I must . . . Do go into the dining-
room. Captain Blunt, show the way."
Her widened eyes stared at the paper. Mr. Blunt threw one of the
doors open, but before we passed through it we heard a petulant
exclamation accompanied by childlike stamping with both feet and
ending in a laugh which had in it a note of contempt.
The door closed behind us; we had been abandoned by Mr. Blunt. He
had remained on the other side, possibly to soothe. The room in
which we found ourselves was long like a gallery and ended in a
rotunda with many windows. It was long enough for two fireplaces
of red polished granite. A table laid out for four occupied very
little space. The floor inlaid in two kinds of wood in a bizarre
pattern was highly waxed, reflecting objects like still water.
Before very long Dona Rita and Blunt rejoined us and we sat down
around the table; but before we could begin to talk a dramatically
sudden ring at the front door stilled our incipient animation.
Dona Rita looked at us all in turn, with surprise and, as it were,
with suspicion. "How did he know I was here?" she whispered after
looking at the card which was brought to her. She passed it to
Blunt, who passed it to Mills, who made a faint grimace, dropped it
on the table-cloth, and only whispered to me, "A journalist from
"He has run me to earth," said Dona Rita. "One would bargain for
peace against hard cash if these fellows weren't always ready to
snatch at one's very soul with the other hand. It frightens me."
Her voice floated mysterious and penetrating from her lips, which
moved very little. Mills was watching her with sympathetic
curiosity. Mr. Blunt muttered: "Better not make the brute angry."
For a moment Dona Rita's face, with its narrow eyes, its wide brow,
and high cheek bones, became very still; then her colour was a
little heightened. "Oh," she said softly, "let him come in. He
would be really dangerous if he had a mind--you know," she said to
The person who had provoked all those remarks and as much
hesitation as though he had been some sort of wild beast astonished
me on being admitted, first by the beauty of his white head of hair
and then by his paternal aspect and the innocent simplicity of his
manner. They laid a cover for him between Mills and Dona Rita, who
quite openly removed the envelopes she had brought with her, to the
other side of her plate. As openly the man's round china-blue eyes
followed them in an attempt to make out the handwriting of the
He seemed to know, at least slightly, both Mills and Blunt. To me
he gave a stare of stupid surprise. He addressed our hostess.
"Resting? Rest is a very good thing. Upon my word, I thought I
would find you alone. But you have too much sense. Neither man
nor woman has been created to live alone. . . ." After this
opening he had all the talk to himself. It was left to him
pointedly, and I verily believe that I was the only one who showed
an appearance of interest. I couldn't help it. The others,
including Mills, sat like a lot of deaf and dumb people. No. It
was even something more detached. They sat rather like a very
superior lot of waxworks, with the fixed but indetermined facial
expression and with that odd air wax figures have of being aware of
their existence being but a sham.
I was the exception; and nothing could have marked better my status
of a stranger, the completest possible stranger in the moral region
in which those people lived, moved, enjoying or suffering their
incomprehensible emotions. I was as much of a stranger as the most
hopeless castaway stumbling in the dark upon a hut of natives and
finding them in the grip of some situation appertaining to the
mentalities, prejudices, and problems of an undiscovered country--
of a country of which he had not even had one single clear glimpse
It was even worse in a way. It ought to have been more
disconcerting. For, pursuing the image of the cast-away blundering
upon the complications of an unknown scheme of life, it was I, the
castaway, who was the savage, the simple innocent child of nature.
Those people were obviously more civilized than I was. They had
more rites, more ceremonies, more complexity in their sensations,
more knowledge of evil, more varied meanings to the subtle phrases
of their language. Naturally! I was still so young! And yet I
assure you, that just then I lost all sense of inferiority. And
why? Of course the carelessness and the ignorance of youth had
something to do with that. But there was something else besides.
Looking at Dona Rita, her head leaning on her hand, with her dark
lashes lowered on the slightly flushed cheek, I felt no longer
alone in my youth. That woman of whom I had heard these things I
have set down with all the exactness of unfailing memory, that
woman was revealed to me young, younger than anybody I had ever
seen, as young as myself (and my sensation of my youth was then
very acute); revealed with something peculiarly intimate in the
conviction, as if she were young exactly in the same way in which I
felt myself young; and that therefore no misunderstanding between
us was possible and there could be nothing more for us to know
about each other. Of course this sensation was momentary, but it
was illuminating; it was a light which could not last, but it left
no darkness behind. On the contrary, it seemed to have kindled
magically somewhere within me a glow of assurance, of unaccountable
confidence in myself: a warm, steady, and eager sensation of my
individual life beginning for good there, on that spot, in that
sense of solidarity, in that seduction.
For this, properly speaking wonderful, reason I was the only one of
the company who could listen without constraint to the unbidden
guest with that fine head of white hair, so beautifully kept, so
magnificently waved, so artistically arranged that respect could
not be felt for it any more than for a very expensive wig in the
window of a hair-dresser. In fact, I had an inclination to smile
at it. This proves how unconstrained I felt. My mind was
perfectly at liberty; and so of all the eyes in that room mine was
the only pair able to look about in easy freedom. All the other
listeners' eyes were cast down, including Mills' eyes, but that I
am sure was only because of his perfect and delicate sympathy. He
could not have been concerned otherwise.
The intruder devoured the cutlets--if they were cutlets.
Notwithstanding my perfect liberty of mind I was not aware of what
we were eating. I have a notion that the lunch was a mere show,
except of course for the man with the white hair, who was really
hungry and who, besides, must have had the pleasant sense of
dominating the situation. He stooped over his plate and worked his
jaw deliberately while his blue eyes rolled incessantly; but as a
matter of fact he never looked openly at any one of us. Whenever
he laid down his knife and fork he would throw himself back and
start retailing in a light tone some Parisian gossip about
He talked first about a certain politician of mark. His "dear
Rita" knew him. His costume dated back to '48, he was made of wood
and parchment and still swathed his neck in a white cloth; and even
his wife had never been seen in a low-necked dress. Not once in
her life. She was buttoned up to the chin like her husband. Well,
that man had confessed to him that when he was engaged in political
controversy, not on a matter of principle but on some special
measure in debate, he felt ready to kill everybody.
He interrupted himself for a comment. "I am something like that
myself. I believe it's a purely professional feeling. Carry one's
point whatever it is. Normally I couldn't kill a fly. My
sensibility is too acute for that. My heart is too tender also.
Much too tender. I am a Republican. I am a Red. As to all our
present masters and governors, all those people you are trying to
turn round your little finger, they are all horrible Royalists in
disguise. They are plotting the ruin of all the institutions to
which I am devoted. But I have never tried to spoil your little
game, Rita. After all, it's but a little game. You know very well
that two or three fearless articles, something in my style, you
know, would soon put a stop to all that underhand backing of your
king. I am calling him king because I want to be polite to you.
He is an adventurer, a blood-thirsty, murderous adventurer, for me,
and nothing else. Look here, my dear child, what are you knocking
yourself about for? For the sake of that bandit? Allons donc! A
pupil of Henry Allegre can have no illusions of that sort about any
man. And such a pupil, too! Ah, the good old days in the
Pavilion! Don't think I claim any particular intimacy. It was
just enough to enable me to offer my services to you, Rita, when
our poor friend died. I found myself handy and so I came. It so
happened that I was the first. You remember, Rita? What made it
possible for everybody to get on with our poor dear Allegre was his
complete, equable, and impartial contempt for all mankind. There
is nothing in that against the purest democratic principles; but
that you, Rita, should elect to throw so much of your life away for
the sake of a Royal adventurer, it really knocks me over. For you
don't love him. You never loved him, you know."
He made a snatch at her hand, absolutely pulled it away from under
her head (it was quite startling) and retaining it in his grasp,
proceeded to a paternal patting of the most impudent kind. She let
him go on with apparent insensibility. Meanwhile his eyes strayed
round the table over our faces. It was very trying. The stupidity
of that wandering stare had a paralysing power. He talked at large
with husky familiarity.
"Here I come, expecting to find a good sensible girl who had seen
at last the vanity of all those things; half-light in the rooms;
surrounded by the works of her favourite poets, and all that sort
of thing. I say to myself: I must just run in and see the dear
wise child, and encourage her in her good resolutions. . . And I
fall into the middle of an intime lunch-party. For I suppose it is
intime. Eh? Very? H'm, yes . . . "
He was really appalling. Again his wandering stare went round the
table, with an expression incredibly incongruous with the words.
It was as though he had borrowed those eyes from some idiot for the
purpose of that visit. He still held Dona Rita's hand, and, now
and then, patted it.
"It's discouraging," he cooed. "And I believe not one of you here
is a Frenchman. I don't know what you are all about. It's beyond
me. But if we were a Republic--you know I am an old Jacobin, sans-
culotte and terrorist--if this were a real Republic with the
Convention sitting and a Committee of Public Safety attending to
national business, you would all get your heads cut off. Ha, ha .
. . I am joking, ha, ha! . . . and serve you right, too. Don't
mind my little joke."
While he was still laughing he released her hand and she leaned her
head on it again without haste. She had never looked at him once.
During the rather humiliating silence that ensued he got a leather
cigar case like a small valise out of his pocket, opened it and
looked with critical interest at the six cigars it contained. The
tireless femme-de-chambre set down a tray with coffee cups on the
table. We each (glad, I suppose, of something to do) took one, but
he, to begin with, sniffed at his. Dona Rita continued leaning on
her elbow, her lips closed in a reposeful expression of peculiar
sweetness. There was nothing drooping in her attitude. Her face
with the delicate carnation of a rose and downcast eyes was as if
veiled in firm immobility and was so appealing that I had an insane
impulse to walk round and kiss the forearm on which it was leaning;
that strong, well-shaped forearm, gleaming not like marble but with
a living and warm splendour. So familiar had I become already with
her in my thoughts! Of course I didn't do anything of the sort.
It was nothing uncontrollable, it was but a tender longing of a
most respectful and purely sentimental kind. I performed the act
in my thought quietly, almost solemnly, while the creature with the
silver hair leaned back in his chair, puffing at his cigar, and
began to speak again.
It was all apparently very innocent talk. He informed his "dear
Rita" that he was really on his way to Monte Carlo. A lifelong
habit of his at this time of the year; but he was ready to run back
to Paris if he could do anything for his "chere enfant," run back
for a day, for two days, for three days, for any time; miss Monte
Carlo this year altogether, if he could be of the slightest use and
save her going herself. For instance he could see to it that
proper watch was kept over the Pavilion stuffed with all these art
treasures. What was going to happen to all those things? . . .
Making herself heard for the first time Dona Rita murmured without
moving that she had made arrangements with the police to have it
properly watched. And I was enchanted by the almost imperceptible
play of her lips.
But the anxious creature was not reassured. He pointed out that
things had been stolen out of the Louvre, which was, he dared say,
even better watched. And there was that marvellous cabinet on the
landing, black lacquer with silver herons, which alone would repay
a couple of burglars. A wheelbarrow, some old sacking, and they
could trundle it off under people's noses.
"Have you thought it all out?" she asked in a cold whisper, while
we three sat smoking to give ourselves a countenance (it was
certainly no enjoyment) and wondering what we would hear next.
No, he had not. But he confessed that for years and years he had
been in love with that cabinet. And anyhow what was going to
happen to the things? The world was greatly exercised by that
problem. He turned slightly his beautifully groomed white head so
as to address Mr. Blunt directly.
"I had the pleasure of meeting your mother lately."
Mr. Blunt took his time to raise his eyebrows and flash his teeth
at him before he dropped negligently, "I can't imagine where you
could have met my mother."
"Why, at Bing's, the curio-dealer," said the other with an air of
the heaviest possible stupidity. And yet there was something in
these few words which seemed to imply that if Mr. Blunt was looking
for trouble he would certainly get it. "Bing was bowing her out of
his shop, but he was so angry about something that he was quite
rude even to me afterwards. I don't think it's very good for
Madame votre mere to quarrel with Bing. He is a Parisian
personality. He's quite a power in his sphere. All these fellows'
nerves are upset from worry as to what will happen to the Allegre
collection. And no wonder they are nervous. A big art event hangs
on your lips, my dear, great Rita. And by the way, you too ought
to remember that it isn't wise to quarrel with people. What have
you done to that poor Azzolati? Did you really tell him to get out
and never come near you again, or something awful like that? I
don't doubt that he was of use to you or to your king. A man who
gets invitations to shoot with the President at Rambouillet! I saw
him only the other evening; I heard he had been winning immensely
at cards; but he looked perfectly wretched, the poor fellow. He
complained of your conduct--oh, very much! He told me you had been
perfectly brutal with him. He said to me: 'I am no good for
anything, mon cher. The other day at Rambouillet, whenever I had a
hare at the end of my gun I would think of her cruel words and my
eyes would run full of tears. I missed every shot' . . . You are
not fit for diplomatic work, you know, ma chere. You are a mere
child at it. When you want a middle-aged gentleman to do anything
for you, you don't begin by reducing him to tears. I should have
thought any woman would have known that much. A nun would have
known that much. What do you say? Shall I run back to Paris and
make it up for you with Azzolati?"
He waited for her answer. The compression of his thin lips was
full of significance. I was surprised to see our hostess shake her
head negatively the least bit, for indeed by her pose, by the
thoughtful immobility of her face she seemed to be a thousand miles
away from us all, lost in an infinite reverie.
He gave it up. "Well, I must be off. The express for Nice passes
at four o'clock. I will be away about three weeks and then you
shall see me again. Unless I strike a run of bad luck and get
cleaned out, in which case you shall see me before then."
He turned to Mills suddenly.
"Will your cousin come south this year, to that beautiful villa of
his at Cannes?"
Mills hardly deigned to answer that he didn't know anything about
his cousin's movements.
"A grand seigneur combined with a great connoisseur," opined the
other heavily. His mouth had gone slack and he looked a perfect
and grotesque imbecile under his wig-like crop of white hair.
Positively I thought he would begin to slobber. But he attacked
"Are you on your way down, too? A little flutter. . . It seems to
me you haven't been seen in your usual Paris haunts of late. Where
have you been all this time?"
"Don't you know where I have been?" said Mr. Blunt with great
"No, I only ferret out things that may be of some use to me," was
the unexpected reply, uttered with an air of perfect vacancy and
swallowed by Mr. Blunt in blank silence.
At last he made ready to rise from the table. "Think over what I
have said, my dear Rita."
"It's all over and done with," was Dona Rita's answer, in a louder
tone than I had ever heard her use before. It thrilled me while
she continued: "I mean, this thinking." She was back from the
remoteness of her meditation, very much so indeed. She rose and
moved away from the table, inviting by a sign the other to follow
her; which he did at once, yet slowly and as it were warily.
It was a conference in the recess of a window. We three remained
seated round the table from which the dark maid was removing the
cups and the plates with brusque movements. I gazed frankly at
Dona Rita's profile, irregular, animated, and fascinating in an
undefinable way, at her well-shaped head with the hair twisted high
up and apparently held in its place by a gold arrow with a jewelled
shaft. We couldn't hear what she said, but the movement of her
lips and the play of her features were full of charm, full of
interest, expressing both audacity and gentleness. She spoke with
fire without raising her voice. The man listened round-shouldered,
but seeming much too stupid to understand. I could see now and
then that he was speaking, but he was inaudible. At one moment
Dona Rita turned her head to the room and called out to the maid,
"Give me my hand-bag off the sofa."
At this the other was heard plainly, "No, no," and then a little
lower, "You have no tact, Rita. . . ." Then came her argument in a
low, penetrating voice which I caught, "Why not? Between such old
friends." However, she waved away the hand-bag, he calmed down,
and their voices sank again. Presently I saw him raise her hand to
his lips, while with her back to the room she continued to
contemplate out of the window the bare and untidy garden. At last
he went out of the room, throwing to the table an airy "Bonjour,
bonjour," which was not acknowledged by any of us three.
Mills got up and approached the figure at the window. To my
extreme surprise, Mr. Blunt, after a moment of obviously painful
hesitation, hastened out after the man with the white hair.
In consequence of these movements I was left to myself and I began
to be uncomfortably conscious of it when Dona Rita, near the
window, addressed me in a raised voice.
"We have no confidences to exchange, Mr. Mills and I."
I took this for an encouragement to join them. They were both
looking at me. Dona Rita added, "Mr. Mills and I are friends from
old times, you know."
Bathed in the softened reflection of the sunshine, which did not
fall directly into the room, standing very straight with her arms
down, before Mills, and with a faint smile directed to me, she
looked extremely young, and yet mature. There was even, for a
moment, a slight dimple in her cheek.
"How old, I wonder?" I said, with an answering smile.
"Oh, for ages, for ages," she exclaimed hastily, frowning a little,
then she went on addressing herself to Mills, apparently in
continuation of what she was saying before.
. . . "This man's is an extreme case, and yet perhaps it isn't the
worst. But that's the sort of thing. I have no account to render
to anybody, but I don't want to be dragged along all the gutters
where that man picks up his living."
She had thrown her head back a little but there was no scorn, no
angry flash under the dark-lashed eyelids. The words did not ring.
I was struck for the first time by the even, mysterious quality of
"Will you let me suggest," said Mills, with a grave, kindly face,
"that being what you are, you have nothing to fear?"
"And perhaps nothing to lose," she went on without bitterness.
"No. It isn't fear. It's a sort of dread. You must remember that
no nun could have had a more protected life. Henry Allegre had his
greatness. When he faced the world he also masked it. He was big
enough for that. He filled the whole field of vision for me."
"You found that enough?" asked Mills.
"Why ask now?" she remonstrated. "The truth--the truth is that I
never asked myself. Enough or not there was no room for anything
else. He was the shadow and the light and the form and the voice.
He would have it so. The morning he died they came to call me at
four o'clock. I ran into his room bare-footed. He recognized me
and whispered, 'You are flawless.' I was very frightened. He
seemed to think, and then said very plainly, 'Such is my character.
I am like that.' These were the last words he spoke. I hardly
noticed them then. I was thinking that he was lying in a very
uncomfortable position and I asked him if I should lift him up a
little higher on the pillows. You know I am very strong. I could
have done it. I had done it before. He raised his hand off the
blanket just enough to make a sign that he didn't want to be
touched. It was the last gesture he made. I hung over him and
then--and then I nearly ran out of the house just as I was, in my
night-gown. I think if I had been dressed I would have run out of
the garden, into the street--run away altogether. I had never seen
death. I may say I had never heard of it. I wanted to run from
She paused for a long, quiet breath. The harmonized sweetness and
daring of her face was made pathetic by her downcast eyes.
"Fuir la mort," she repeated, meditatively, in her mysterious
Mills' big head had a little movement, nothing more. Her glance
glided for a moment towards me like a friendly recognition of my
right to be there, before she began again.
"My life might have been described as looking at mankind from a
fourth-floor window for years. When the end came it was like
falling out of a balcony into the street. It was as sudden as
that. Once I remember somebody was telling us in the Pavilion a
tale about a girl who jumped down from a fourth-floor window. . .
For love, I believe," she interjected very quickly, "and came to no
harm. Her guardian angel must have slipped his wings under her
just in time. He must have. But as to me, all I know is that I
didn't break anything--not even my heart. Don't be shocked, Mr.
Mills. It's very likely that you don't understand."
"Very likely," Mills assented, unmoved. "But don't be too sure of
"Henry Allegre had the highest opinion of your intelligence," she
said unexpectedly and with evident seriousness. "But all this is
only to tell you that when he was gone I found myself down there
unhurt, but dazed, bewildered, not sufficiently stunned. It so
happened that that creature was somewhere in the neighbourhood.
How he found out. . . But it's his business to find out things.
And he knows, too, how to worm his way in anywhere. Indeed, in the
first days he was useful and somehow he made it look as if Heaven
itself had sent him. In my distress I thought I could never
sufficiently repay. . . Well, I have been paying ever since."
"What do you mean?" asked Mills softly. "In hard cash?"
"Oh, it's really so little," she said. "I told you it wasn't the
worst case. I stayed on in that house from which I nearly ran away
in my nightgown. I stayed on because I didn't know what to do
next. He vanished as he had come on the track of something else, I
suppose. You know he really has got to get his living some way or
other. But don't think I was deserted. On the contrary. People
were coming and going, all sorts of people that Henry Allegre used
to know--or had refused to know. I had a sensation of plotting and
intriguing around me, all the time. I was feeling morally bruised,
sore all over, when, one day, Don Rafael de Villarel sent in his
card. A grandee. I didn't know him, but, as you are aware, there
was hardly a personality of mark or position that hasn't been
talked about in the Pavilion before me. Of him I had only heard
that he was a very austere and pious person, always at Mass, and
that sort of thing. I saw a frail little man with a long, yellow
face and sunken fanatical eyes, an Inquisitor, an unfrocked monk.
One missed a rosary from his thin fingers. He gazed at me terribly
and I couldn't imagine what he might want. I waited for him to
pull out a crucifix and sentence me to the stake there and then.
But no; he dropped his eyes and in a cold, righteous sort of voice
informed me that he had called on behalf of the prince--he called
him His Majesty. I was amazed by the change. I wondered now why
he didn't slip his hands into the sleeves of his coat, you know, as
begging Friars do when they come for a subscription. He explained
that the Prince asked for permission to call and offer me his
condolences in person. We had seen a lot of him our last two
months in Paris that year. Henry Allegre had taken a fancy to
paint his portrait. He used to ride with us nearly every morning.
Almost without thinking I said I should be pleased. Don Rafael was
shocked at my want of formality, but bowed to me in silence, very
much as a monk bows, from the waist. If he had only crossed his
hands flat on his chest it would have been perfect. Then, I don't
know why, something moved me to make him a deep curtsy as he backed
out of the room, leaving me suddenly impressed, not only with him
but with myself too. I had my door closed to everybody else that
afternoon and the Prince came with a very proper sorrowful face,
but five minutes after he got into the room he was laughing as
usual, made the whole little house ring with it. You know his big,
irresistible laugh. . . ."
"No," said Mills, a little abruptly, "I have never seen him."
"No," she said, surprised, "and yet you . . . "
"I understand," interrupted Mills. "All this is purely accidental.
You must know that I am a solitary man of books but with a secret
taste for adventure which somehow came out; surprising even me."
She listened with that enigmatic, still, under the eyelids glance,
and a friendly turn of the head.
"I know you for a frank and loyal gentleman. . . Adventure--and
books? Ah, the books! Haven't I turned stacks of them over!
Haven't I? . . ."
"Yes," murmured Mills. "That's what one does."
She put out her hand and laid it lightly on Mills' sleeve.
"Listen, I don't need to justify myself, but if I had known a
single woman in the world, if I had only had the opportunity to
observe a single one of them, I would have been perhaps on my
guard. But you know I hadn't. The only woman I had anything to do
with was myself, and they say that one can't know oneself. It
never entered my head to be on my guard against his warmth and his
terrible obviousness. You and he were the only two, infinitely
different, people, who didn't approach me as if I had been a
precious object in a collection, an ivory carving or a piece of
Chinese porcelain. That's why I have kept you in my memory so
well. Oh! you were not obvious! As to him--I soon learned to
regret I was not some object, some beautiful, carved object of bone
or bronze; a rare piece of porcelain, pate dure, not pate tendre.
A pretty specimen."
"Rare, yes. Even unique," said Mills, looking at her steadily with
a smile. "But don't try to depreciate yourself. You were never
pretty. You are not pretty. You are worse."
Her narrow eyes had a mischievous gleam. "Do you find such sayings
in your books?" she asked.
"As a matter of fact I have," said Mills, with a little laugh,
"found this one in a book. It was a woman who said that of
herself. A woman far from common, who died some few years ago.
She was an actress. A great artist."
"A great! . . . Lucky person! She had that refuge, that garment,
while I stand here with nothing to protect me from evil fame; a
naked temperament for any wind to blow upon. Yes, greatness in art
is a protection. I wonder if there would have been anything in me
if I had tried? But Henry Allegre would never let me try. He told
me that whatever I could achieve would never be good enough for
what I was. The perfection of flattery! Was it that he thought I
had not talent of any sort? It's possible. He would know. I've
had the idea since that he was jealous. He wasn't jealous of
mankind any more than he was afraid of thieves for his collection;
but he may have been jealous of what he could see in me, of some
passion that could be aroused. But if so he never repented. I
shall never forget his last words. He saw me standing beside his
bed, defenceless, symbolic and forlorn, and all he found to say
was, 'Well, I am like that.'
I forgot myself in watching her. I had never seen anybody speak
with less play of facial muscles. In the fullness of its life her
face preserved a sort of immobility. The words seemed to form
themselves, fiery or pathetic, in the air, outside her lips. Their
design was hardly disturbed; a design of sweetness, gravity, and
force as if born from the inspiration of some artist; for I had
never seen anything to come up to it in nature before or since.
All this was part of the enchantment she cast over me; and I seemed
to notice that Mills had the aspect of a man under a spell. If he
too was a captive then I had no reason to feel ashamed of my
"And you know," she began again abruptly, "that I have been
accustomed to all the forms of respect."
"That's true," murmured Mills, as if involuntarily.
"Well, yes," she reaffirmed. "My instinct may have told me that my
only protection was obscurity, but I didn't know how and where to
find it. Oh, yes, I had that instinct . . . But there were other
instincts and . . . How am I to tell you? I didn't know how to be
on guard against myself, either. Not a soul to speak to, or to get
a warning from. Some woman soul that would have known, in which
perhaps I could have seen my own reflection. I assure you the only
woman that ever addressed me directly, and that was in writing, was
. . . "
She glanced aside, saw Mr. Blunt returning from the ball and added
rapidly in a lowered voice,
The bright, mechanical smile of Mr. Blunt gleamed at us right down
the room, but he didn't, as it were, follow it in his body. He
swerved to the nearest of the two big fireplaces and finding some
cigarettes on the mantelpiece remained leaning on his elbow in the
warmth of the bright wood fire. I noticed then a bit of mute play.
The heiress of Henry Allegre, who could secure neither obscurity
nor any other alleviation to that invidious position, looked as if
she would speak to Blunt from a distance; but in a moment the
confident eagerness of her face died out as if killed by a sudden
thought. I didn't know then her shrinking from all falsehood and
evasion; her dread of insincerity and disloyalty of every kind.
But even then I felt that at the very last moment her being had
recoiled before some shadow of a suspicion. And it occurred to me,
too, to wonder what sort of business Mr. Blunt could have had to
transact with our odious visitor, of a nature so urgent as to make
him run out after him into the hall? Unless to beat him a little
with one of the sticks that were to be found there? White hair so
much like an expensive wig could not be considered a serious
protection. But it couldn't have been that. The transaction,
whatever it was, had been much too quiet. I must say that none of
us had looked out of the window and that I didn't know when the man
did go or if he was gone at all. As a matter of fact he was
already far away; and I may just as well say here that I never saw
him again in my life. His passage across my field of vision was
like that of other figures of that time: not to be forgotten, a
little fantastic, infinitely enlightening for my contempt,
darkening for my memory which struggles still with the clear lights
and the ugly shadows of those unforgotten days.
It was past four o'clock before I left the house, together with
Mills. Mr. Blunt, still in his riding costume, escorted us to the
very door. He asked us to send him the first fiacre we met on our
way to town. "It's impossible to walk in this get-up through the
streets," he remarked, with his brilliant smile.
At this point I propose to transcribe some notes I made at the time
in little black books which I have hunted up in the litter of the
past; very cheap, common little note-books that by the lapse of
years have acquired a touching dimness of aspect, the frayed, worn-
out dignity of documents.
Expression on paper has never been my forte. My life had been a
thing of outward manifestations. I never had been secret or even
systematically taciturn about my simple occupations which might
have been foolish but had never required either caution or mystery.
But in those four hours since midday a complete change had come
over me. For good or evil I left that house committed to an
enterprise that could not be talked about; which would have
appeared to many senseless and perhaps ridiculous, but was
certainly full of risks, and, apart from that, commanded discretion
on the ground of simple loyalty. It would not only close my lips
but it would to a certain extent cut me off from my usual haunts
and from the society of my friends; especially of the light-
hearted, young, harum-scarum kind. This was unavoidable. It was
because I felt myself thrown back upon my own thoughts and
forbidden to seek relief amongst other lives--it was perhaps only
for that reason at first I started an irregular, fragmentary record
of my days.
I made these notes not so much to preserve the memory (one cared
not for any to-morrow then) but to help me to keep a better hold of
the actuality. I scribbled them on shore and I scribbled them on
the sea; and in both cases they are concerned not only with the
nature of the facts but with the intensity of my sensations. It
may be, too, that I learned to love the sea for itself only at that
time. Woman and the sea revealed themselves to me together, as it
were: two mistresses of life's values. The illimitable greatness
of the one, the unfathomable seduction of the other working their
immemorial spells from generation to generation fell upon my heart
at last: a common fortune, an unforgettable memory of the sea's
formless might and of the sovereign charm in that woman's form
wherein there seemed to beat the pulse of divinity rather than
I begin here with the notes written at the end of that very day.
--Parted with Mills on the quay. We had walked side by side in
absolute silence. The fact is he is too old for me to talk to him
freely. For all his sympathy and seriousness I don't know what
note to strike and I am not at all certain what he thinks of all
this. As we shook hands at parting, I asked him how much longer he
expected to stay. And he answered me that it depended on R. She
was making arrangements for him to cross the frontier. He wanted
to see the very ground on which the Principle of Legitimacy was
actually asserting itself arms in hand. It sounded to my positive
mind the most fantastic thing in the world, this elimination of
personalities from what seemed but the merest political, dynastic
adventure. So it wasn't Dona Rita, it wasn't Blunt, it wasn't the
Pretender with his big infectious laugh, it wasn't all that lot of
politicians, archbishops, and generals, of monks, guerrilleros, and
smugglers by sea and land, of dubious agents and shady speculators
and undoubted swindlers, who were pushing their fortunes at the
risk of their precious skins. No. It was the Legitimist Principle
asserting itself! Well, I would accept the view but with one
reservation. All the others might have been merged into the idea,
but I, the latest recruit, I would not be merged in the Legitimist
Principle. Mine was an act of independent assertion. Never before
had I felt so intensely aware of my personality. But I said
nothing of that to Mills. I only told him I thought we had better
not be seen very often together in the streets. He agreed. Hearty
handshake. Looked affectionately after his broad back. It never
occurred to him to turn his head. What was I in comparison with
the Principle of Legitimacy?
Late that night I went in search of Dominic. That Mediterranean
sailor was just the man I wanted. He had a great experience of all
unlawful things that can be done on the seas and he brought to the
practice of them much wisdom and audacity. That I didn't know
where he lived was nothing since I knew where he loved. The
proprietor of a small, quiet cafe on the quay, a certain Madame
Leonore, a woman of thirty-five with an open Roman face and
intelligent black eyes, had captivated his heart years ago. In
that cafe with our heads close together over a marble table,
Dominic and I held an earnest and endless confabulation while
Madame Leonore, rustling a black silk skirt, with gold earrings,
with her raven hair elaborately dressed and something nonchalant in
her movements, would take occasion, in passing to and fro, to rest
her hand for a moment on Dominic's shoulder. Later when the little
cafe had emptied itself of its habitual customers, mostly people
connected with the work of ships and cargoes, she came quietly to
sit at our table and looking at me very hard with her black,
sparkling eyes asked Dominic familiarly what had happened to his
Signorino. It was her name for me. I was Dominic's Signorino.
She knew me by no other; and our connection has always been
somewhat of a riddle to her. She said that I was somehow changed
since she saw me last. In her rich voice she urged Dominic only to
look at my eyes. I must have had some piece of luck come to me
either in love or at cards, she bantered. But Dominic answered
half in scorn that I was not of the sort that runs after that kind
of luck. He stated generally that there were some young gentlemen
very clever in inventing new ways of getting rid of their time and
their money. However, if they needed a sensible man to help them
he had no objection himself to lend a hand. Dominic's general
scorn for the beliefs, and activities, and abilities of upper-class
people covered the Principle of Legitimacy amply; but he could not
resist the opportunity to exercise his special faculties in a field
he knew of old. He had been a desperate smuggler in his younger
days. We settled the purchase of a fast sailing craft. Agreed
that it must be a balancelle and something altogether out of the
common. He knew of one suitable but she was in Corsica. Offered
to start for Bastia by mail-boat in the morning. All the time the
handsome and mature Madame Leonore sat by, smiling faintly, amused
at her great man joining like this in a frolic of boys. She said
the last words of that evening: "You men never grow up," touching
lightly the grey hair above his temple.
A fortnight later.
. . . In the afternoon to the Prado. Beautiful day. At the moment
of ringing at the door a strong emotion of an anxious kind. Why?
Down the length of the dining-room in the rotunda part full of
afternoon light Dona R., sitting cross-legged on the divan in the
attitude of a very old idol or a very young child and surrounded by
many cushions, waves her hand from afar pleasantly surprised,
exclaiming: "What! Back already!" I give her all the details and
we talk for two hours across a large brass bowl containing a little
water placed between us, lighting cigarettes and dropping them,
innumerable, puffed at, yet untasted in the overwhelming interest
of the conversation. Found her very quick in taking the points and
very intelligent in her suggestions. All formality soon vanished
between us and before very long I discovered myself sitting cross-
legged, too, while I held forth on the qualities of different
Mediterranean sailing craft and on the romantic qualifications of
Dominic for the task. I believe I gave her the whole history of
the man, mentioning even the existence of Madame Leonore, since the
little cafe would have to be the headquarters of the marine part of
She murmured, "Ah! Une belle Romaine," thoughtfully. She told me
that she liked to hear people of that sort spoken of in terms of
our common humanity. She observed also that she wished to see
Dominic some day; to set her eyes for once on a man who could be
absolutely depended on. She wanted to know whether he had engaged
himself in this adventure solely for my sake.
I said that no doubt it was partly that. We had been very close
associates in the West Indies from where we had returned together,
and he had a notion that I could be depended on, too. But mainly,
I suppose, it was from taste. And there was in him also a fine
carelessness as to what he did and a love of venturesome
"And you," she said. "Is it carelessness, too?"
"In a measure," I said. "Within limits."
"And very soon you will get tired."
"When I do I will tell you. But I may also get frightened. I
suppose you know there are risks, I mean apart from the risk of
"As for instance," she said.
"For instance, being captured, tried, and sentenced to what they
call 'the galleys,' in Ceuta."
"And all this from that love for . . ."
"Not for Legitimacy," I interrupted the inquiry lightly. "But
what's the use asking such questions? It's like asking the veiled
figure of fate. It doesn't know its own mind nor its own heart.
It has no heart. But what if I were to start asking you--who have
a heart and are not veiled to my sight?" She dropped her charming
adolescent head, so firm in modelling, so gentle in expression.
Her uncovered neck was round like the shaft of a column. She wore
the same wrapper of thick blue silk. At that time she seemed to
live either in her riding habit or in that wrapper folded tightly
round her and open low to a point in front. Because of the absence
of all trimming round the neck and from the deep view of her bare
arms in the wide sleeve this garment seemed to be put directly on
her skin and gave one the impression of one's nearness to her body
which would have been troubling but for the perfect unconsciousness
of her manner. That day she carried no barbarous arrow in her
hair. It was parted on one side, brushed back severely, and tied
with a black ribbon, without any bronze mist about her forehead or
temple. This smoothness added to the many varieties of her
expression also that of child-like innocence.
Great progress in our intimacy brought about unconsciously by our
enthusiastic interest in the matter of our discourse and, in the
moments of silence, by the sympathetic current of our thoughts.
And this rapidly growing familiarity (truly, she had a terrible
gift for it) had all the varieties of earnestness: serious,
excited, ardent, and even gay. She laughed in contralto; but her
laugh was never very long; and when it had ceased, the silence of
the room with the light dying in all its many windows seemed to lie
about me warmed by its vibration.
As I was preparing to take my leave after a longish pause into
which we had fallen as into a vague dream, she came out of it with
a start and a quiet sigh. She said, "I had forgotten myself." I
took her hand and was raising it naturally, without premeditation,
when I felt suddenly the arm to which it belonged become
insensible, passive, like a stuffed limb, and the whole woman go
inanimate all over! Brusquely I dropped the hand before it reached
my lips; and it was so lifeless that it fell heavily on to the
I remained standing before her. She raised to me not her eyes but
her whole face, inquisitively--perhaps in appeal.
"No! This isn't good enough for me," I said.
The last of the light gleamed in her long enigmatic eyes as if they
were precious enamel in that shadowy head which in its immobility
suggested a creation of a distant past: immortal art, not
transient life. Her voice had a profound quietness. She excused
"It's only habit--or instinct--or what you like. I have had to
practise that in self-defence lest I should be tempted sometimes to
cut the arm off."
I remembered the way she had abandoned this very arm and hand to
the white-haired ruffian. It rendered me gloomy and idiotically
"Very ingenious. But this sort of thing is of no use to me," I
"Make it up," suggested her mysterious voice, while her shadowy
figure remained unmoved, indifferent amongst the cushions.
I didn't stir either. I refused in the same low tone.
"No. Not before you give it to me yourself some day."
"Yes--some day," she repeated in a breath in which there was no
irony but rather hesitation, reluctance what did I know?
I walked away from the house in a curious state of gloomy
satisfaction with myself.
And this is the last extract. A month afterwards.
--This afternoon going up to the Villa I was for the first time
accompanied in my way by some misgivings. To-morrow I sail.
First trip and therefore in the nature of a trial trip; and I can't
overcome a certain gnawing emotion, for it is a trip that MUSTN'T
fail. In that sort of enterprise there is no room for mistakes.
Of all the individuals engaged in it will every one be intelligent
enough, faithful enough, bold enough? Looking upon them as a whole
it seems impossible; but as each has got only a limited part to
play they may be found sufficient each for his particular trust.
And will they be all punctual, I wonder? An enterprise that hangs
on the punctuality of many people, no matter how well disposed and
even heroic, hangs on a thread. This I have perceived to be also
the greatest of Dominic's concerns. He, too, wonders. And when he
breathes his doubts the smile lurking under the dark curl of his
moustaches is not reassuring.
But there is also something exciting in such speculations and the
road to the Villa seemed to me shorter than ever before.
Let in by the silent, ever-active, dark lady's maid, who is always
on the spot and always on the way somewhere else, opening the door
with one hand, while she passes on, turning on one for a moment her
quick, black eyes, which just miss being lustrous, as if some one
had breathed on them lightly.
On entering the long room I perceive Mills established in an
armchair which he had dragged in front of the divan. I do the same
to another and there we sit side by side facing R., tenderly
amiable yet somehow distant among her cushions, with an immemorial
seriousness in her long, shaded eyes and her fugitive smile
hovering about but never settling on her lips. Mills, who is just
back from over the frontier, must have been asking R. whether she
had been worried again by her devoted friend with the white hair.
At least I concluded so because I found them talking of the heart-
broken Azzolati. And after having answered their greetings I sit
and listen to Rita addressing Mills earnestly.
"No, I assure you Azzolati had done nothing to me. I knew him. He
was a frequent visitor at the Pavilion, though I, personally, never
talked with him very much in Henry Allegre's lifetime. Other men
were more interesting, and he himself was rather reserved in his
manner to me. He was an international politician and financier--a
nobody. He, like many others, was admitted only to feed and amuse
Henry Allegre's scorn of the world, which was insatiable--I tell
"Yes," said Mills. "I can imagine."
"But I know. Often when we were alone Henry Allegre used to pour
it into my ears. If ever anybody saw mankind stripped of its
clothes as the child sees the king in the German fairy tale, it's
I! Into my ears! A child's! Too young to die of fright.
Certainly not old enough to understand--or even to believe. But
then his arm was about me. I used to laugh, sometimes. Laugh! At
this destruction--at these ruins!"
"Yes," said Mills, very steady before her fire. "But you have at
your service the everlasting charm of life; you are a part of the
"Am I? . . . But there is no arm about me now. The laugh! Where
is my laugh? Give me back my laugh. . . ."
And she laughed a little on a low note. I don't know about Mills,
but the subdued shadowy vibration of it echoed in my breast which
felt empty for a moment and like a large space that makes one
"The laugh is gone out of my heart, which at any rate used to feel
protected. That feeling's gone, too. And I myself will have to
die some day."
"Certainly," said Mills in an unaltered voice. "As to this body
you . . ."
"Oh, yes! Thanks. It's a very poor jest. Change from body to
body as travellers used to change horses at post houses. I've
heard of this before. . . ."
"I've no doubt you have," Mills put on a submissive air. "But are
we to hear any more about Azzolati?"
"You shall. Listen. I had heard that he was invited to shoot at
Rambouillet--a quiet party, not one of these great shoots. I hear
a lot of things. I wanted to have a certain information, also
certain hints conveyed to a diplomatic personage who was to be
there, too. A personage that would never let me get in touch with
him though I had tried many times."
"Incredible!" mocked Mills solemnly.
"The personage mistrusts his own susceptibility. Born cautious,"
explained Dona Rita crisply with the slightest possible quiver of
her lips. "Suddenly I had the inspiration to make use of Azzolati,
who had been reminding me by a constant stream of messages that he
was an old friend. I never took any notice of those pathetic
appeals before. But in this emergency I sat down and wrote a note
asking him to come and dine with me in my hotel. I suppose you
know I don't live in the Pavilion. I can't bear the Pavilion now.
When I have to go there I begin to feel after an hour or so that it
is haunted. I seem to catch sight of somebody I know behind
columns, passing through doorways, vanishing here and there. I
hear light footsteps behind closed doors. . . My own!"
Her eyes, her half-parted lips, remained fixed till Mills suggested
softly, "Yes, but Azzolati."
Her rigidity vanished like a flake of snow in the sunshine. "Oh!
Azzolati. It was a most solemn affair. It had occurred to me to
make a very elaborate toilet. It was most successful. Azzolati
looked positively scared for a moment as though he had got into the
wrong suite of rooms. He had never before seen me en toilette, you
understand. In the old days once out of my riding habit I would
never dress. I draped myself, you remember, Monsieur Mills. To go
about like that suited my indolence, my longing to feel free in my
body, as at that time when I used to herd goats. . . But never
mind. My aim was to impress Azzolati. I wanted to talk to him
There was something whimsical in the quick beat of her eyelids and
in the subtle quiver of her lips. "And behold! the same notion had
occurred to Azzolati. Imagine that for this tete-a-tete dinner the
creature had got himself up as if for a reception at court. He
displayed a brochette of all sorts of decorations on the lapel of
his frac and had a broad ribbon of some order across his shirt
front. An orange ribbon. Bavarian, I should say. Great Roman
Catholic, Azzolati. It was always his ambition to be the banker of
all the Bourbons in the world. The last remnants of his hair were
dyed jet black and the ends of his moustache were like knitting
needles. He was disposed to be as soft as wax in my hands.
Unfortunately I had had some irritating interviews during the day.
I was keeping down sudden impulses to smash a glass, throw a plate
on the floor, do something violent to relieve my feelings. His
submissive attitude made me still more nervous. He was ready to do
anything in the world for me providing that I would promise him
that he would never find my door shut against him as long as he
lived. You understand the impudence of it, don't you? And his
tone was positively abject, too. I snapped back at him that I had
no door, that I was a nomad. He bowed ironically till his nose
nearly touched his plate but begged me to remember that to his
personal knowledge I had four houses of my own about the world.
And you know this made me feel a homeless outcast more than ever--
like a little dog lost in the street--not knowing where to go. I
was ready to cry and there the creature sat in front of me with an
imbecile smile as much as to say 'here is a poser for you. . . .'
I gnashed my teeth at him. Quietly, you know . . . I suppose you
two think that I am stupid."
She paused as if expecting an answer but we made no sound and she
continued with a remark.
"I have days like that. Often one must listen to false
protestations, empty words, strings of lies all day long, so that
in the evening one is not fit for anything, not even for truth if
it comes in one's way. That idiot treated me to a piece of brazen
sincerity which I couldn't stand. First of all he began to take me
into his confidence; he boasted of his great affairs, then started
groaning about his overstrained life which left him no time for the
amenities of existence, for beauty, or sentiment, or any sort of
ease of heart. His heart! He wanted me to sympathize with his
sorrows. Of course I ought to have listened. One must pay for
service. Only I was nervous and tired. He bored me. I told him
at last that I was surprised that a man of such immense wealth
should still keep on going like this reaching for more and more. I
suppose he must have been sipping a good deal of wine while we
talked and all at once he let out an atrocity which was too much
for me. He had been moaning and sentimentalizing but then suddenly
he showed me his fangs. 'No,' he cries, 'you can't imagine what a
satisfaction it is to feel all that penniless, beggarly lot of the
dear, honest, meritorious poor wriggling and slobbering under one's
boots.' You may tell me that he is a contemptible animal anyhow,
but you should have heard the tone! I felt my bare arms go cold
like ice. A moment before I had been hot and faint with sheer
boredom. I jumped up from the table, rang for Rose, and told her
to bring me my fur cloak. He remained in his chair leering at me
curiously. When I had the fur on my shoulders and the girl had
gone out of the room I gave him the surprise of his life. 'Take
yourself off instantly,' I said. 'Go trample on the poor if you
like but never dare speak to me again.' At this he leaned his head
on his arm and sat so long at the table shading his eyes with his
hand that I had to ask, calmly--you know--whether he wanted me to
have him turned out into the corridor. He fetched an enormous
sigh. 'I have only tried to be honest with you, Rita.' But by the
time he got to the door he had regained some of his impudence.
'You know how to trample on a poor fellows too,' he said. 'But I
don't mind being made to wriggle under your pretty shoes, Rita. I
forgive you. I thought you were free from all vulgar
sentimentalism and that you had a more independent mind. I was
mistaken in you, that's all.' With that he pretends to dash a tear
from his eye-crocodile!--and goes out, leaving me in my fur by the
blazing fire, my teeth going like castanets. . . Did you ever hear
of anything so stupid as this affair?" she concluded in a tone of
extreme candour and a profound unreadable stare that went far
beyond us both. And the stillness of her lips was so perfect
directly she ceased speaking that I wondered whether all this had
come through them or only had formed itself in my mind.
Presently she continued as if speaking for herself only.
"It's like taking the lids off boxes and seeing ugly toads staring
at you. In every one. Every one. That's what it is having to do
with men more than mere--Good-morning--Good evening. And if you
try to avoid meddling with their lids, some of them will take them
off themselves. And they don't even know, they don't even suspect
what they are showing you. Certain confidences--they don't see it-
-are the bitterest kind of insult. I suppose Azzolati imagines
himself a noble beast of prey. Just as some others imagine
themselves to be most delicate, noble, and refined gentlemen. And
as likely as not they would trade on a woman's troubles--and in the
end make nothing of that either. Idiots!"
The utter absence of all anger in this spoken meditation gave it a
character of touching simplicity. And as if it had been truly only
a meditation we conducted ourselves as though we had not heard it.
Mills began to speak of his experiences during his visit to the
army of the Legitimist King. And I discovered in his speeches that
this man of books could be graphic and picturesque. His admiration
for the devotion and bravery of the army was combined with the
greatest distaste for what he had seen of the way its great
qualities were misused. In the conduct of this great enterprise he
had seen a deplorable levity of outlook, a fatal lack of decision,
an absence of any reasoned plan.
He shook his head.
"I feel that you of all people, Dona Rita, ought to be told the
truth. I don't know exactly what you have at stake."
She was rosy like some impassive statue in a desert in the flush of
"Not my heart," she said quietly. "You must believe that."
"I do. Perhaps it would have been better if you. . . "
"No, Monsieur le Philosophe. It would not have been better. Don't
make that serious face at me," she went on with tenderness in a
playful note, as if tenderness had been her inheritance of all time
and playfulness the very fibre of her being. "I suppose you think
that a woman who has acted as I did and has not staked her heart on
it is . . . How do you know to what the heart responds as it beats
from day to day?"
"I wouldn't judge you. What am I before the knowledge you were
born to? You are as old as the world."
She accepted this with a smile. I who was innocently watching them
was amazed to discover how much a fleeting thing like that could
hold of seduction without the help of any other feature and with
that unchanging glance.
"With me it is pun d'onor. To my first independent friend."
"You were soon parted," ventured Mills, while I sat still under a
sense of oppression.
"Don't think for a moment that I have been scared off," she said.
"It is they who were frightened. I suppose you heard a lot of
"Oh, yes," Mills said meaningly. "The fair and the dark are
succeeding each other like leaves blown in the wind dancing in and
out. I suppose you have noticed that leaves blown in the wind have
a look of happiness."
"Yes," she said, "that sort of leaf is dead. Then why shouldn't it
look happy? And so I suppose there is no uneasiness, no occasion
for fears amongst the 'responsibles.'"
"Upon the whole not. Now and then a leaf seems as if it would
stick. There is for instance Madame . . ."
"Oh, I don't want to know, I understand it all, I am as old as the
"Yes," said Mills thoughtfully, "you are not a leaf, you might have
been a tornado yourself."
"Upon my word," she said, "there was a time that they thought I
could carry him off, away from them all--beyond them all. Verily,
I am not very proud of their fears. There was nothing reckless
there worthy of a great passion. There was nothing sad there
worthy of a great tenderness."
"And is THIS the word of the Venetian riddle?" asked Mills, fixing
her with his keen eyes.
"If it pleases you to think so, Senor," she said indifferently.
The movement of her eyes, their veiled gleam became mischievous
when she asked, "And Don Juan Blunt, have you seen him over there?"
"I fancy he avoided me. Moreover, he is always with his regiment
at the outposts. He is a most valorous captain. I heard some
people describe him as foolhardy."
"Oh, he needn't seek death," she said in an indefinable tone. "I
mean as a refuge. There will be nothing in his life great enough
"You are angry. You miss him, I believe, Dona Rita."
"Angry? No! Weary. But of course it's very inconvenient. I
can't very well ride out alone. A solitary amazon swallowing the
dust and the salt spray of the Corniche promenade would attract too
much attention. And then I don't mind you two knowing that I am
afraid of going out alone."
"Afraid?" we both exclaimed together.
"You men are extraordinary. Why do you want me to be courageous?
Why shouldn't I be afraid? Is it because there is no one in the
world to care what would happen to me?"
There was a deep-down vibration in her tone for the first time. We
had not a word to say. And she added after a long silence:
"There is a very good reason. There is a danger."
With wonderful insight Mills affirmed at once:
She nodded slightly several times. Then Mills said with
"Ah! Then it can't be anything in yourself. And if so . . . "
I was moved to extravagant advice.
"You should come out with me to sea then. There may be some danger
there but there's nothing ugly to fear."
She gave me a startled glance quite unusual with her, more than
wonderful to me; and suddenly as though she had seen me for the
first time she exclaimed in a tone of compunction:
"Oh! And there is this one, too! Why! Oh, why should he run his
head into danger for those things that will all crumble into dust
I said: "YOU won't crumble into dust." And Mills chimed in:
"That young enthusiast will always have his sea."
We were all standing up now. She kept her eyes on me, and repeated
with a sort of whimsical enviousness:
"The sea! The violet sea--and he is longing to rejoin it! . . . At
night! Under the stars! . . . A lovers' meeting," she went on,
thrilling me from head to foot with those two words, accompanied by
a wistful smile pointed by a suspicion of mockery. She turned
"And you, Monsieur Mills?" she asked.
"I am going back to my books," he declared with a very serious
face. "My adventure is over."
"Each one to his love," she bantered us gently. "Didn't I love
books, too, at one time! They seemed to contain all wisdom and
hold a magic power, too. Tell me, Monsieur Mills, have you found
amongst them in some black-letter volume the power of foretelling a
poor mortal's destiny, the power to look into the future?
Anybody's future . . ." Mills shook his head. . . "What, not even
mine?" she coaxed as if she really believed in a magic power to be
found in books.
Mills shook his head again. "No, I have not the power," he said.
"I am no more a great magician, than you are a poor mortal. You
have your ancient spells. You are as old as the world. Of us two
it's you that are more fit to foretell the future of the poor
mortals on whom you happen to cast your eyes."
At these words she cast her eyes down and in the moment of deep
silence I watched the slight rising and falling of her breast.
Then Mills pronounced distinctly: "Good-bye, old Enchantress."
They shook hands cordially. "Good-bye, poor Magician," she said.
Mills made as if to speak but seemed to think better of it. Dona
Rita returned my distant how with a slight, charmingly ceremonious
inclination of her body.
"Bon voyage and a happy return," she said formally.
I was following Mills through the door when I heard her voice
behind us raised in recall:
"Oh, a moment . . . I forgot . . ."
I turned round. The call was for me, and I walked slowly back
wondering what she could have forgotten. She waited in the middle
of the room with lowered head, with a mute gleam in her deep blue
eyes. When I was near enough she extended to me without a word her
bare white arm and suddenly pressed the back of her hand against my
lips. I was too startled to seize it with rapture. It detached
itself from my lips and fell slowly by her side. We had made it up
and there was nothing to say. She turned away to the window and I
hurried out of the room.
It was on our return from that first trip that I took Dominic up to
the Villa to be presented to Dona Rita. If she wanted to look on
the embodiment of fidelity, resource, and courage, she could behold
it all in that man. Apparently she was not disappointed. Neither
was Dominic disappointed. During the half-hour's interview they
got into touch with each other in a wonderful way as if they had
some common and secret standpoint in life. Maybe it was their
common lawlessness, and their knowledge of things as old as the
world. Her seduction, his recklessness, were both simple,
masterful and, in a sense, worthy of each other.
Dominic was, I won't say awed by this interview. No woman could
awe Dominic. But he was, as it were, rendered thoughtful by it,
like a man who had not so much an experience as a sort of
revelation vouchsafed to him. Later, at sea, he used to refer to
La Senora in a particular tone and I knew that henceforth his
devotion was not for me alone. And I understood the inevitability
of it extremely well. As to Dona Rita she, after Dominic left the
room, had turned to me with animation and said: "But he is
perfect, this man." Afterwards she often asked after him and used
to refer to him in conversation. More than once she said to me:
"One would like to put the care of one's personal safety into the
hands of that man. He looks as if he simply couldn't fail one." I
admitted that this was very true, especially at sea. Dominic
couldn't fail. But at the same time I rather chaffed Rita on her
preoccupation as to personal safety that so often cropped up in her
"One would think you were a crowned head in a revolutionary world,"
I used to tell her.
"That would be different. One would be standing then for
something, either worth or not worth dying for. One could even run
away then and be done with it. But I can't run away unless I got
out of my skin and left that behind. Don't you understand? You
are very stupid . . ." But she had the grace to add, "On purpose."
I don't know about the on purpose. I am not certain about the
stupidity. Her words bewildered one often and bewilderment is a
sort of stupidity. I remedied it by simply disregarding the sense
of what she said. The sound was there and also her poignant heart-
gripping presence giving occupation enough to one's faculties. In
the power of those things over one there was mystery enough. It
was more absorbing than the mere obscurity of her speeches. But I
daresay she couldn't understand that.
Hence, at times, the amusing outbreaks of temper in word and
gesture that only strengthened the natural, the invincible force of
the spell. Sometimes the brass bowl would get upset or the
cigarette box would fly up, dropping a shower of cigarettes on the
floor. We would pick them up, re-establish everything, and fall
into a long silence, so close that the sound of the first word
would come with all the pain of a separation.
It was at that time, too, that she suggested I should take up my
quarters in her house in the street of the Consuls. There were
certain advantages in that move. In my present abode my sudden
absences might have been in the long run subject to comment. On
the other hand, the house in the street of Consuls was a known out-
post of Legitimacy. But then it was covered by the occult
influence of her who was referred to in confidential talks, secret
communications, and discreet whispers of Royalist salons as:
"Madame de Lastaola."
That was the name which the heiress of Henry Allegre had decided to
adopt when, according to her own expression, she had found herself
precipitated at a moment's notice into the crowd of mankind. It is
strange how the death of Henry Allegre, which certainly the poor
man had not planned, acquired in my view the character of a
heartless desertion. It gave one a glimpse of amazing egoism in a
sentiment to which one could hardly give a name, a mysterious
appropriation of one human being by another as if in defiance of
unexpressed things and for an unheard-of satisfaction of an
inconceivable pride. If he had hated her he could not have flung
that enormous fortune more brutally at her head. And his
unrepentant death seemed to lift for a moment the curtain on
something lofty and sinister like an Olympian's caprice.
Dona Rita said to me once with humorous resignation: "You know, it
appears that one must have a name. That's what Henry Allegre's man
of business told me. He was quite impatient with me about it. But
my name, amigo, Henry Allegre had taken from me like all the rest
of what I had been once. All that is buried with him in his grave.
It wouldn't have been true. That is how I felt about it. So I
took that one." She whispered to herself: "Lastaola," not as if
to test the sound but as if in a dream.
To this day I am not quite certain whether it was the name of any
human habitation, a lonely caserio with a half-effaced carving of a
coat of arms over its door, or of some hamlet at the dead end of a
ravine with a stony slope at the back. It might have been a hill
for all I know or perhaps a stream. A wood, or perhaps a
combination of all these: just a bit of the earth's surface. Once
I asked her where exactly it was situated and she answered, waving
her hand cavalierly at the dead wall of the room: "Oh, over
there." I thought that this was all that I was going to hear but
she added moodily, "I used to take my goats there, a dozen or so of
them, for the day. From after my uncle had said his Mass till the
ringing of the evening bell."
I saw suddenly the lonely spot, sketched for me some time ago by a
few words from Mr. Blunt, populated by the agile, bearded beasts
with cynical heads, and a little misty figure dark in the sunlight
with a halo of dishevelled rust-coloured hair about its head.
The epithet of rust-coloured comes from her. It was really tawny.
Once or twice in my hearing she had referred to "my rust-coloured
hair" with laughing vexation. Even then it was unruly, abhorring
the restraints of civilization, and often in the heat of a dispute
getting into the eyes of Madame de Lastaola, the possessor of
coveted art treasures, the heiress of Henry Allegre. She proceeded
in a reminiscent mood, with a faint flash of gaiety all over her
face, except her dark blue eyes that moved so seldom out of their
fixed scrutiny of things invisible to other human beings.
"The goats were very good. We clambered amongst the stones
together. They beat me at that game. I used to catch my hair in
"Your rust-coloured hair," I whispered.
"Yes, it was always this colour. And I used to leave bits of my
frock on thorns here and there. It was pretty thin, I can tell
you. There wasn't much at that time between my skin and the blue
of the sky. My legs were as sunburnt as my face; but really I
didn't tan very much. I had plenty of freckles though. There were
no looking-glasses in the Presbytery but uncle had a piece not
bigger than my two hands for his shaving. One Sunday I crept into
his room and had a peep at myself. And wasn't I startled to see my
own eyes looking at me! But it was fascinating, too. I was about
eleven years old then, and I was very friendly with the goats, and
I was as shrill as a cicada and as slender as a match. Heavens!
When I overhear myself speaking sometimes, or look at my limbs, it
doesn't seem to be possible. And yet it is the same one. I do
remember every single goat. They were very clever. Goats are no
trouble really; they don't scatter much. Mine never did even if I
had to hide myself out of their sight for ever so long."
It was but natural to ask her why she wanted to hide, and she
uttered vaguely what was rather a comment on my question:
"It was like fate." But I chose to take it otherwise, teasingly,
because we were often like a pair of children.
"Oh, really," I said, "you talk like a pagan. What could you know
of fate at that time? What was it like? Did it come down from
"Don't be stupid. It used to come along a cart-track that was
there and it looked like a boy. Wasn't he a little devil though.
You understand, I couldn't know that. He was a wealthy cousin of
mine. Round there we are all related, all cousins--as in Brittany.
He wasn't much bigger than myself but he was older, just a boy in
blue breeches and with good shoes on his feet, which of course
interested and impressed me. He yelled to me from below, I
screamed to him from above, he came up and sat down near me on a
stone, never said a word, let me look at him for half an hour
before he condescended to ask me who I was. And the airs he gave
himself! He quite intimidated me sitting there perfectly dumb. I
remember trying to hide my bare feet under the edge of my skirt as
I sat below him on the ground.
"C'est comique, eh!" she interrupted herself to comment in a
melancholy tone. I looked at her sympathetically and she went on:
"He was the only son from a rich farmhouse two miles down the
slope. In winter they used to send him to school at Tolosa. He
had an enormous opinion of himself; he was going to keep a shop in
a town by and by and he was about the most dissatisfied creature I
have ever seen. He had an unhappy mouth and unhappy eyes and he
was always wretched about something: about the treatment he
received, about being kept in the country and chained to work. He
was moaning and complaining and threatening all the world,
including his father and mother. He used to curse God, yes, that
boy, sitting there on a piece of rock like a wretched little
Prometheus with a sparrow peeking at his miserable little liver.
And the grand scenery of mountains all round, ha, ha, ha!"
She laughed in contralto: a penetrating sound with something
generous in it; not infectious, but in others provoking a smile.
"Of course I, poor little animal, I didn't know what to make of it,
and I was even a little frightened. But at first because of his
miserable eyes I was sorry for him, almost as much as if he had
been a sick goat. But, frightened or sorry, I don't know how it
is, I always wanted to laugh at him, too, I mean from the very
first day when he let me admire him for half an hour. Yes, even
then I had to put my hand over my mouth more than once for the sake
of good manners, you understand. And yet, you know, I was never a
"One day he came up and sat down very dignified a little bit away
from me and told me he had been thrashed for wandering in the
"'To be with me?' I asked. And he said: 'To be with you! No. My
people don't know what I do.' I can't tell why, but I was annoyed.
So instead of raising a clamour of pity over him, which I suppose
he expected me to do, I asked him if the thrashing hurt very much.
He got up, he had a switch in his hand, and walked up to me,
saying, 'I will soon show you.' I went stiff with fright; but
instead of slashing at me he dropped down by my side and kissed me
on the cheek. Then he did it again, and by that time I was gone
dead all over and he could have done what he liked with the corpse
but he left off suddenly and then I came to life again and I bolted
away. Not very far. I couldn't leave the goats altogether. He
chased me round and about the rocks, but of course I was too quick
for him in his nice town boots. When he got tired of that game he
started throwing stones. After that he made my life very lively
for me. Sometimes he used to come on me unawares and then I had to
sit still and listen to his miserable ravings, because he would
catch me round the waist and hold me very tight. And yet, I often
felt inclined to laugh. But if I caught sight of him at a distance
and tried to dodge out of the way he would start stoning me into a
shelter I knew of and then sit outside with a heap of stones at
hand so that I daren't show the end of my nose for hours. He would
sit there and rave and abuse me till I would burst into a crazy
laugh in my hole; and then I could see him through the leaves
rolling on the ground and biting his fists with rage. Didn't he
hate me! At the same time I was often terrified. I am convinced
now that if I had started crying he would have rushed in and
perhaps strangled me there. Then as the sun was about to set he
would make me swear that I would marry him when I was grown up.
'Swear, you little wretched beggar,' he would yell to me. And I
would swear. I was hungry, and I didn't want to be made black and
blue all over with stones. Oh, I swore ever so many times to be
his wife. Thirty times a month for two months. I couldn't help
myself. It was no use complaining to my sister Therese. When I
showed her my bruises and tried to tell her a little about my
trouble she was quite scandalized. She called me a sinful girl, a
shameless creature. I assure you it puzzled my head so that,
between Therese my sister and Jose the boy, I lived in a state of
idiocy almost. But luckily at the end of the two months they sent
him away from home for good. Curious story to happen to a goatherd
living all her days out under God's eye, as my uncle the Cura might
have said. My sister Therese was keeping house in the Presbytery.
She's a terrible person."
"I have heard of your sister Therese," I said.
"Oh, you have! Of my big sister Therese, six, ten years older than
myself perhaps? She just comes a little above my shoulder, but
then I was always a long thing. I never knew my mother. I don't
even know how she looked. There are no paintings or photographs in
our farmhouses amongst the hills. I haven't even heard her
described to me. I believe I was never good enough to be told
these things. Therese decided that I was a lump of wickedness, and
now she believes that I will lose my soul altogether unless I take
some steps to save it. Well, I have no particular taste that way.
I suppose it is annoying to have a sister going fast to eternal
perdition, but there are compensations. The funniest thing is that
it's Therese, I believe, who managed to keep me out of the
Presbytery when I went out of my way to look in on them on my
return from my visit to the Quartel Real last year. I couldn't
have stayed much more than half an hour with them anyway, but still
I would have liked to get over the old doorstep. I am certain that
Therese persuaded my uncle to go out and meet me at the bottom of
the hill. I saw the old man a long way off and I understood how it
was. I dismounted at once and met him on foot. We had half an
hour together walking up and down the road. He is a peasant
priest, he didn't know how to treat me. And of course I was
uncomfortable, too. There wasn't a single goat about to keep me in
countenance. I ought to have embraced him. I was always fond of
the stern, simple old man. But he drew himself up when I
approached him and actually took off his hat to me. So simple as
that! I bowed my head and asked for his blessing. And he said 'I
would never refuse a blessing to a good Legitimist.' So stern as
that! And when I think that I was perhaps the only girl of the
family or in the whole world that he ever in his priest's life
patted on the head! When I think of that I . . . I believe at that
moment I was as wretched as he was himself. I handed him an
envelope with a big red seal which quite startled him. I had asked
the Marquis de Villarel to give me a few words for him, because my
uncle has a great influence in his district; and the Marquis penned
with his own hand some compliments and an inquiry about the spirit
of the population. My uncle read the letter, looked up at me with
an air of mournful awe, and begged me to tell his excellency that
the people were all for God, their lawful King and their old
privileges. I said to him then, after he had asked me about the
health of His Majesty in an awfully gloomy tone--I said then:
'There is only one thing that remains for me to do, uncle, and that
is to give you two pounds of the very best snuff I have brought
here for you.' What else could I have got for the poor old man? I
had no trunks with me. I had to leave behind a spare pair of shoes
in the hotel to make room in my little bag for that snuff. And
fancy! That old priest absolutely pushed the parcel away. I could
have thrown it at his head; but I thought suddenly of that hard,
prayerful life, knowing nothing of any ease or pleasure in the
world, absolutely nothing but a pinch of snuff now and then. I
remembered how wretched he used to be when he lacked a copper or
two to get some snuff with. My face was hot with indignation, but
before I could fly out at him I remembered how simple he was. So I
said with great dignity that as the present came from the King and
as he wouldn't receive it from my hand there was nothing else for
me to do but to throw it into the brook; and I made as if I were
going to do it, too. He shouted: 'Stay, unhappy girl! Is it
really from His Majesty, whom God preserve?' I said
contemptuously, 'Of course.' He looked at me with great pity in
his eyes, sighed deeply, and took the little tin from my hand. I
suppose he imagined me in my abandoned way wheedling the necessary
cash out of the King for the purchase of that snuff. You can't
imagine how simple he is. Nothing was easier than to deceive him;
but don't imagine I deceived him from the vainglory of a mere
sinner. I lied to the dear man, simply because I couldn't bear the
idea of him being deprived of the only gratification his big,
ascetic, gaunt body ever knew on earth. As I mounted my mule to go
away he murmured coldly: 'God guard you, Senora!' Senora! What
sternness! We were off a little way already when his heart
softened and he shouted after me in a terrible voice: 'The road to
Heaven is repentance!' And then, after a silence, again the great
shout 'Repentance!' thundered after me. Was that sternness or
simplicity, I wonder? Or a mere unmeaning superstition, a
mechanical thing? If there lives anybody completely honest in this
world, surely it must be my uncle. And yet--who knows?
"Would you guess what was the next thing I did? Directly I got
over the frontier I wrote from Bayonne asking the old man to send
me out my sister here. I said it was for the service of the King.
You see, I had thought suddenly of that house of mine in which you
once spent the night talking with Mr. Mills and Don Juan Blunt. I
thought it would do extremely well for Carlist officers coming this
way on leave or on a mission. In hotels they might have been
molested, but I knew that I could get protection for my house.
Just a word from the ministry in Paris to the Prefect. But I
wanted a woman to manage it for me. And where was I to find a
trustworthy woman? How was I to know one when I saw her? I don't
know how to talk to women. Of course my Rose would have done for
me that or anything else; but what could I have done myself without
her? She has looked after me from the first. It was Henry Allegre
who got her for me eight years ago. I don't know whether he meant
it for a kindness but she's the only human being on whom I can
lean. She knows . . . What doesn't she know about me! She has
never failed to do the right thing for me unasked. I couldn't part
with her. And I couldn't think of anybody else but my sister.
"After all it was somebody belonging to me. But it seemed the
wildest idea. Yet she came at once. Of course I took care to send
her some money. She likes money. As to my uncle there is nothing
that he wouldn't have given up for the service of the King. Rose
went to meet her at the railway station. She told me afterwards
that there had been no need for me to be anxious about her
recognizing Mademoiselle Therese. There was nobody else in the
train that could be mistaken for her. I should think not! She had
made for herself a dress of some brown stuff like a nun's habit and
had a crooked stick and carried all her belongings tied up in a
handkerchief. She looked like a pilgrim to a saint's shrine. Rose
took her to the house. She asked when she saw it: 'And does this
big place really belong to our Rita?' My maid of course said that
it was mine. 'And how long did our Rita live here?'--'Madame has
never seen it unless perhaps the outside, as far as I know. I
believe Mr. Allegre lived here for some time when he was a young
man.'--'The sinner that's dead?'--'Just so,' says Rose. You know
nothing ever startles Rose. 'Well, his sins are gone with him,'
said my sister, and began to make herself at home.
"Rose was going to stop with her for a week but on the third day
she was back with me with the remark that Mlle. Therese knew her
way about very well already and preferred to be left to herself.
Some little time afterwards I went to see that sister of mine. The
first thing she said to me, 'I wouldn't have recognized you, Rita,'
and I said, 'What a funny dress you have, Therese, more fit for the
portress of a convent than for this house.'--'Yes,' she said, 'and
unless you give this house to me, Rita, I will go back to our
country. I will have nothing to do with your life, Rita. Your
life is no secret for me.'
"I was going from room to room and Therese was following me. 'I
don't know that my life is a secret to anybody,' I said to her,
'but how do you know anything about it?' And then she told me that
it was through a cousin of ours, that horrid wretch of a boy, you
know. He had finished his schooling and was a clerk in a Spanish
commercial house of some kind, in Paris, and apparently had made it
his business to write home whatever he could hear about me or
ferret out from those relations of mine with whom I lived as a
girl. I got suddenly very furious. I raged up and down the room
(we were alone upstairs), and Therese scuttled away from me as far
as the door. I heard her say to herself, 'It's the evil spirit in
her that makes her like this.' She was absolutely convinced of
that. She made the sign of the cross in the air to protect
herself. I was quite astounded. And then I really couldn't help
myself. I burst into a laugh. I laughed and laughed; I really
couldn't stop till Therese ran away. I went downstairs still
laughing and found her in the hall with her face to the wall and
her fingers in her ears kneeling in a corner. I had to pull her
out by the shoulders from there. I don't think she was frightened;
she was only shocked. But I don't suppose her heart is desperately
bad, because when I dropped into a chair feeling very tired she
came and knelt in front of me and put her arms round my waist and
entreated me to cast off from me my evil ways with the help of
saints and priests. Quite a little programme for a reformed
sinner. I got away at last. I left her sunk on her heels before
the empty chair looking after me. 'I pray for you every night and
morning, Rita,' she said.--'Oh, yes. I know you are a good
sister,' I said to her. I was letting myself out when she called
after me, 'And what about this house, Rita?' I said to her, 'Oh,
you may keep it till the day I reform and enter a convent.' The
last I saw of her she was still on her knees looking after me with
her mouth open. I have seen her since several times, but our
intercourse is, at any rate on her side, as of a frozen nun with
some great lady. But I believe she really knows how to make men
comfortable. Upon my word I think she likes to look after men.
They don't seem to be such great sinners as women are. I think you
could do worse than take up your quarters at number 10. She will
no doubt develop a saintly sort of affection for you, too."
I don't know that the prospect of becoming a favourite of Dona
Rita's peasant sister was very fascinating to me. If I went to
live very willingly at No. 10 it was because everything connected
with Dona Rita had for me a peculiar fascination. She had only
passed through the house once as far as I knew; but it was enough.
She was one of those beings that leave a trace. I am not
unreasonable--I mean for those that knew her. That is, I suppose,
because she was so unforgettable. Let us remember the tragedy of
Azzolati the ruthless, the ridiculous financier with a criminal
soul (or shall we say heart) and facile tears. No wonder, then,
that for me, who may flatter myself without undue vanity with being
much finer than that grotesque international intriguer, the mere
knowledge that Dona Rita had passed through the very rooms in which
I was going to live between the strenuous times of the sea-
expeditions, was enough to fill my inner being with a great
content. Her glance, her darkly brilliant blue glance, had run
over the walls of that room which most likely would be mine to
slumber in. Behind me, somewhere near the door, Therese, the
peasant sister, said in a funnily compassionate tone and in an
amazingly landlady-of-a-boarding-house spirit of false
"You will be very comfortable here, Senor. It is so peaceful here
in the street. Sometimes one may think oneself in a village. It's
only a hundred and twenty-five francs for the friends of the King.
And I shall take such good care of you that your very heart will be
able to rest."
Dona Rita was curious to know how I got on with her peasant sister
and all I could say in return for that inquiry was that the peasant
sister was in her own way amiable. At this she clicked her tongue
amusingly and repeated a remark she had made before: "She likes
young men. The younger the better." The mere thought of those two
women being sisters aroused one's wonder. Physically they were
altogether of different design. It was also the difference between
living tissue of glowing loveliness with a divine breath, and a
hard hollow figure of baked clay.
Indeed Therese did somehow resemble an achievement, wonderful
enough in its way, in unglazed earthenware. The only gleam perhaps
that one could find on her was that of her teeth, which one used to
get between her dull lips unexpectedly, startlingly, and a little
inexplicably, because it was never associated with a smile. She
smiled with compressed mouth. It was indeed difficult to conceive
of those two birds coming from the same nest. And yet . . .
Contrary to what generally happens, it was when one saw those two
women together that one lost all belief in the possibility of their
relationship near or far. It extended even to their common
humanity. One, as it were, doubted it. If one of the two was
representative, then the other was either something more or less
than human. One wondered whether these two women belonged to the
same scheme of creation. One was secretly amazed to see them
standing together, speaking to each other, having words in common,
understanding each other. And yet! . . . Our psychological sense
is the crudest of all; we don't know, we don't perceive how
superficial we are. The simplest shades escape us, the secret of
changes, of relations. No, upon the whole, the only feature (and
yet with enormous differences) which Therese had in common with her
sister, as I told Dona Rita, was amiability.
"For, you know, you are a most amiable person yourself," I went on.
"It's one of your characteristics, of course much more precious
than in other people. You transmute the commonest traits into gold
of your own; but after all there are no new names. You are
amiable. You were most amiable to me when I first saw you."
"Really. I was not aware. Not specially . . . "
"I had never the presumption to think that it was special.
Moreover, my head was in a whirl. I was lost in astonishment first
of all at what I had been listening to all night. Your history,
you know, a wonderful tale with a flavour of wine in it and
wreathed in clouds, with that amazing decapitated, mutilated dummy
of a woman lurking in a corner, and with Blunt's smile gleaming
through a fog, the fog in my eyes, from Mills' pipe, you know. I
was feeling quite inanimate as to body and frightfully stimulated
as to mind all the time. I had never heard anything like that talk
about you before. Of course I wasn't sleepy, but still I am not
used to do altogether without sleep like Blunt . . ."
"Kept awake all night listening to my story!" She marvelled.
"Yes. You don't think I am complaining, do you? I wouldn't have
missed it for the world. Blunt in a ragged old jacket and a white
tie and that incisive polite voice of his seemed strange and weird.
It seemed as though he were inventing it all rather angrily. I had
doubts as to your existence."
"Mr. Blunt is very much interested in my story."
"Anybody would be," I said. "I was. I didn't sleep a wink. I was
expecting to see you soon--and even then I had my doubts."
"As to my existence?"
"It wasn't exactly that, though of course I couldn't tell that you
weren't a product of Captain Blunt's sleeplessness. He seemed to
dread exceedingly to be left alone and your story might have been a
device to detain us . . ."
"He hasn't enough imagination for that," she said.
"It didn't occur to me. But there was Mills, who apparently
believed in your existence. I could trust Mills. My doubts were
about the propriety. I couldn't see any good reason for being
taken to see you. Strange that it should be my connection with the
sea which brought me here to the Villa."
"No. I mean particularly strange and significant."
"Because my friends are in the habit of telling me (and each other)
that the sea is my only love. They were always chaffing me because
they couldn't see or guess in my life at any woman, open or secret.
"And is that really so?" she inquired negligently.
"Why, yes. I don't mean to say that I am like an innocent shepherd
in one of those interminable stories of the eighteenth century.
But I don't throw the word love about indiscriminately. It may be
all true about the sea; but some people would say that they love
"You are horrible."
"I am surprised."
"I mean your choice of words."
"And you have never uttered a word yet that didn't change into a