Part 4 out of 6
attention, "I would never have dared to put before him my views of
the extraordinary merits and the uncertain fate of the exquisite
woman of whom we speak, if I had not been certain that, partly by
my fault, I admit, his attention has been attracted to her and his-
-his--his heart engaged."
It was as if some one had poured a bucket of cold water over my
head. I woke up with a great shudder to the acute perception of my
own feelings and of that aristocrat's incredible purpose. How it
could have germinated, grown and matured in that exclusive soil was
inconceivable. She had been inciting her son all the time to
undertake wonderful salvage work by annexing the heiress of Henry
Allegre--the woman and the fortune.
There must have been an amazed incredulity in my eyes, to which her
own responded by an unflinching black brilliance which suddenly
seemed to develop a scorching quality even to the point of making
me feel extremely thirsty all of a sudden. For a time my tongue
literally clove to the roof of my mouth. I don't know whether it
was an illusion but it seemed to me that Mrs. Blunt had nodded at
me twice as if to say: "You are right, that's so." I made an
effort to speak but it was very poor. If she did hear me it was
because she must have been on the watch for the faintest sound.
"His heart engaged. Like two hundred others, or two thousand, all
around," I mumbled.
"Altogether different. And it's no disparagement to a woman
surely. Of course her great fortune protects her in a certain
"Does it?" I faltered out and that time I really doubt whether she
heard me. Her aspect in my eyes had changed. Her purpose being
disclosed, her well-bred ease appeared sinister, her aristocratic
repose a treacherous device, her venerable graciousness a mask of
unbounded contempt for all human beings whatever. She was a
terrible old woman with those straight, white wolfish eye-brows.
How blind I had been! Those eyebrows alone ought to have been
enough to give her away. Yet they were as beautifully smooth as
her voice when she admitted: "That protection naturally is only
partial. There is the danger of her own self, poor girl. She
I marvelled at the villainy of my tone as I spoke, but it was only
"I don't think she has done badly for herself, so far," I forced
myself to say. "I suppose you know that she began life by herding
the village goats."
In the course of that phrase I noticed her wince just the least
bit. Oh, yes, she winced; but at the end of it she smiled easily.
"No, I didn't know. So she told you her story! Oh, well, I
suppose you are very good friends. A goatherd--really? In the
fairy tale I believe the girl that marries the prince is--what is
it?--a gardeuse d'oies. And what a thing to drag out against a
woman. One might just as soon reproach any of them for coming
unclothed into the world. They all do, you know. And then they
become--what you will discover when you have lived longer, Monsieur
George--for the most part futile creatures, without any sense of
truth and beauty, drudges of all sorts, or else dolls to dress. In
The implication of scorn in her tranquil manner was immense. It
seemed to condemn all those that were not born in the Blunt
connection. It was the perfect pride of Republican aristocracy,
which has no gradations and knows no limit, and, as if created by
the grace of God, thinks it ennobles everything it touches:
people, ideas, even passing tastes!
"How many of them," pursued Mrs. Blunt, "have had the good fortune,
the leisure to develop their intelligence and their beauty in
aesthetic conditions as this charming woman had? Not one in a
million. Perhaps not one in an age."
"The heiress of Henry Allegre," I murmured.
"Precisely. But John wouldn't be marrying the heiress of Henry
It was the first time that the frank word, the clear idea, came
into the conversation and it made me feel ill with a sort of
"No," I said. "It would be Mme. de Lastaola then."
"Mme. la Comtesse de Lastaola as soon as she likes after the
success of this war."
"And you believe in its success?"
"Not for a moment," I declared, and was surprised to see her look
She was an aristocrat to the tips of her fingers; she really didn't
care for anybody. She had passed through the Empire, she had lived
through a siege, had rubbed shoulders with the Commune, had seen
everything, no doubt, of what men are capable in the pursuit of
their desires or in the extremity of their distress, for love, for
money, and even for honour; and in her precarious connection with
the very highest spheres she had kept her own honourability
unscathed while she had lost all her prejudices. She was above all
that. Perhaps "the world" was the only thing that could have the
slightest checking influence; but when I ventured to say something
about the view it might take of such an alliance she looked at me
for a moment with visible surprise.
"My dear Monsieur George, I have lived in the great world all my
life. It's the best that there is, but that's only because there
is nothing merely decent anywhere. It will accept anything,
forgive anything, forget anything in a few days. And after all who
will he be marrying? A charming, clever, rich and altogether
uncommon woman. What did the world hear of her? Nothing. The
little it saw of her was in the Bois for a few hours every year,
riding by the side of a man of unique distinction and of exclusive
tastes, devoted to the cult of aesthetic impressions; a man of
whom, as far as aspect, manner, and behaviour goes, she might have
been the daughter. I have seen her myself. I went on purpose. I
was immensely struck. I was even moved. Yes. She might have
been--except for that something radiant in her that marked her
apart from all the other daughters of men. The few remarkable
personalities that count in society and who were admitted into
Henry Allegre's Pavilion treated her with punctilious reserve. I
know that, I have made enquiries. I know she sat there amongst
them like a marvellous child, and for the rest what can they say
about her? That when abandoned to herself by the death of Allegre
she has made a mistake? I think that any woman ought to be allowed
one mistake in her life. The worst they can say of her is that she
discovered it, that she had sent away a man in love directly she
found out that his love was not worth having; that she had told him
to go and look for his crown, and that, after dismissing him she
had remained generously faithful to his cause, in her person and
fortune. And this, you will allow, is rather uncommon upon the
"You make her out very magnificent," I murmured, looking down upon
"Isn't she?" exclaimed the aristocratic Mrs. Blunt, with an almost
youthful ingenuousness, and in those black eyes which looked at me
so calmly there was a flash of the Southern beauty, still naive and
romantic, as if altogether untouched by experience. "I don't think
there is a single grain of vulgarity in all her enchanting person.
Neither is there in my son. I suppose you won't deny that he is
uncommon." She paused.
"Absolutely," I said in a perfectly conventional tone, I was now on
my mettle that she should not discover what there was humanly
common in my nature. She took my answer at her own valuation and
"They can't fail to understand each other on the very highest level
of idealistic perceptions. Can you imagine my John thrown away on
some enamoured white goose out of a stuffy old salon? Why, she
couldn't even begin to understand what he feels or what he needs."
"Yes," I said impenetrably, "he is not easy to understand."
"I have reason to think," she said with a suppressed smile, "that
he has a certain power over women. Of course I don't know anything
about his intimate life but a whisper or two have reached me, like
that, floating in the air, and I could hardly suppose that he would
find an exceptional resistance in that quarter of all others. But
I should like to know the exact degree."
I disregarded an annoying tendency to feel dizzy that came over me
and was very careful in managing my voice.
"May I ask, Madame, why you are telling me all this?"
"For two reasons," she condescended graciously. "First of all
because Mr. Mills told me that you were much more mature than one
would expect. In fact you look much younger than I was prepared
"Madame," I interrupted her, "I may have a certain capacity for
action and for responsibility, but as to the regions into which
this very unexpected conversation has taken me I am a great novice.
They are outside my interest. I have had no experience."
"Don't make yourself out so hopeless," she said in a spoilt-beauty
tone. "You have your intuitions. At any rate you have a pair of
eyes. You are everlastingly over there, so I understand. Surely
you have seen how far they are . . ."
I interrupted again and this time bitterly, but always in a tone of
"You think her facile, Madame?"
She looked offended. "I think her most fastidious. It is my son
who is in question here."
And I understood then that she looked on her son as irresistible.
For my part I was just beginning to think that it would be
impossible for me to wait for his return. I figured him to myself
lying dressed on his bed sleeping like a stone. But there was no
denying that the mother was holding me with an awful, tortured
interest. Twice Therese had opened the door, had put her small
head in and drawn it back like a tortoise. But for some time I had
lost the sense of us two being quite alone in the studio. I had
perceived the familiar dummy in its corner but it lay now on the
floor as if Therese had knocked it down angrily with a broom for a
heathen idol. It lay there prostrate, handless, without its head,
pathetic, like the mangled victim of a crime.
"John is fastidious, too," began Mrs. Blunt again. "Of course you
wouldn't suppose anything vulgar in his resistances to a very real
sentiment. One has got to understand his psychology. He can't
leave himself in peace. He is exquisitely absurd."
I recognized the phrase. Mother and son talked of each other in
identical terms. But perhaps "exquisitely absurd" was the Blunt
family saying? There are such sayings in families and generally
there is some truth in them. Perhaps this old woman was simply
absurd. She continued:
"We had a most painful discussion all this morning. He is angry
with me for suggesting the very thing his whole being desires. I
don't feel guilty. It's he who is tormenting himself with his
"Ah," I said, looking at the mangled dummy like the model of some
atrocious murder. "Ah, the fortune. But that can be left alone."
"What nonsense! How is it possible? It isn't contained in a bag,
you can't throw it into the sea. And moreover, it isn't her fault.
I am astonished that you should have thought of that vulgar
hypocrisy. No, it isn't her fortune that cheeks my son; it's
something much more subtle. Not so much her history as her
position. He is absurd. It isn't what has happened in her life.
It's her very freedom that makes him torment himself and her, too--
as far as I can understand."
I suppressed a groan and said to myself that I must really get away
Mrs. Blunt was fairly launched now.
"For all his superiority he is a man of the world and shares to a
certain extent its current opinions. He has no power over her.
She intimidates him. He wishes he had never set eyes on her. Once
or twice this morning he looked at me as if he could find it in his
heart to hate his old mother. There is no doubt about it--he loves
her, Monsieur George. He loves her, this poor, luckless, perfect
homme du monde."
The silence lasted for some time and then I heard a murmur: "It's
a matter of the utmost delicacy between two beings so sensitive, so
proud. It has to be managed."
I found myself suddenly on my feet and saying with the utmost
politeness that I had to beg her permission to leave her alone as I
had an engagement; but she motioned me simply to sit down--and I
sat down again.
"I told you I had a request to make," she said. "I have understood
from Mr. Mills that you have been to the West Indies, that you have
some interests there."
I was astounded. "Interests! I certainly have been there," I
said, "but . . ."
She caught me up. "Then why not go there again? I am speaking to
you frankly because . . ."
"But, Madame, I am engaged in this affair with Dona Rita, even if I
had any interests elsewhere. I won't tell you about the importance
of my work. I didn't suspect it but you brought the news of it to
me, and so I needn't point it out to you."
And now we were frankly arguing with each other.
"But where will it lead you in the end? You have all your life
before you, all your plans, prospects, perhaps dreams, at any rate
your own tastes and all your life-time before you. And would you
sacrifice all this to--the Pretender? A mere figure for the front
page of illustrated papers."'
"I never think of him," I said curtly, "but I suppose Dona Rita's
feelings, instincts, call it what you like--or only her chivalrous
fidelity to her mistakes--"
"Dona Rita's presence here in this town, her withdrawal from the
possible complications of her life in Paris has produced an
excellent effect on my son. It simplifies infinite difficulties, I
mean moral as well as material. It's extremely to the advantage of
her dignity, of her future, and of her peace of mind. But I am
thinking, of course, mainly of my son. He is most exacting."
I felt extremely sick at heart. "And so I am to drop everything
and vanish," I said, rising from my chair again. And this time
Mrs. Blunt got up, too, with a lofty and inflexible manner but she
didn't dismiss me yet.
"Yes," she said distinctly. "All this, my dear Monsieur George, is
such an accident. What have you got to do here? You look to me
like somebody who would find adventures wherever he went as
interesting and perhaps less dangerous than this one."
She slurred over the word dangerous but I picked it up.
"What do you know of its dangers, Madame, may I ask?" But she did
not condescend to hear.
"And then you, too, have your chivalrous feelings," she went on,
unswerving, distinct, and tranquil. "You are not absurd. But my
son is. He would shut her up in a convent for a time if he could."
"He isn't the only one," I muttered.
"Indeed!" she was startled, then lower, "Yes. That woman must be
the centre of all sorts of passions," she mused audibly. "But what
have you got to do with all this? It's nothing to you."
She waited for me to speak.
"Exactly, Madame," I said, "and therefore I don't see why I should
concern myself in all this one way or another."
"No," she assented with a weary air, "except that you might ask
yourself what is the good of tormenting a man of noble feelings,
however absurd. His Southern blood makes him very violent
sometimes. I fear--" And then for the first time during this
conversation, for the first time since I left Dona Rita the day
before, for the first time I laughed.
"Do you mean to hint, Madame, that Southern gentlemen are dead
shots? I am aware of that--from novels."
I spoke looking her straight in the face and I made that exquisite,
aristocratic old woman positively blink by my directness. There
was a faint flush on her delicate old cheeks but she didn't move a
muscle of her face. I made her a most respectful bow and went out
of the studio.
Through the great arched window of the hall I saw the hotel
brougham waiting at the door. On passing the door of the front
room (it was originally meant for a drawing-room but a bed for
Blunt was put in there) I banged with my fist on the panel and
shouted: "I am obliged to go out. Your mother's carriage is at
the door." I didn't think he was asleep. My view now was that he
was aware beforehand of the subject of the conversation, and if so
I did not wish to appear as if I had slunk away from him after the
interview. But I didn't stop--I didn't want to see him--and before
he could answer I was already half way up the stairs running
noiselessly up the thick carpet which also covered the floor of the
landing. Therefore opening the door of my sitting-room quickly I
caught by surprise the person who was in there watching the street
half concealed by the window curtain. It was a woman. A totally
unexpected woman. A perfect stranger. She came away quickly to
meet me. Her face was veiled and she was dressed in a dark walking
costume and a very simple form of hat. She murmured: "I had an
idea that Monsieur was in the house," raising a gloved hand to lift
her veil. It was Rose and she gave me a shock. I had never seen
her before but with her little black silk apron and a white cap
with ribbons on her head. This outdoor dress was like a disguise.
I asked anxiously:
"What has happened to Madame?"
"Nothing. I have a letter," she murmured, and I saw it appear
between the fingers of her extended hand, in a very white envelope
which I tore open impatiently. It consisted of a few lines only.
It began abruptly:
"If you are gone to sea then I can't forgive you for not sending
the usual word at the last moment. If you are not gone why don't
you come? Why did you leave me yesterday? You leave me crying--I
who haven't cried for years and years, and you haven't the sense to
come back within the hour, within twenty hours! This conduct is
idiotic"--and a sprawling signature of the four magic letters at
While I was putting the letter in my pocket the girl said in an
earnest undertone: "I don't like to leave Madame by herself for
any length of time."
"How long have you been in my room?" I asked.
"The time seemed long. I hope Monsieur won't mind the liberty. I
sat for a little in the hall but then it struck me I might be seen.
In fact, Madame told me not to be seen if I could help it."
"Why did she tell you that?"
"I permitted myself to suggest that to Madame. It might have given
a false impression. Madame is frank and open like the day but it
won't do with everybody. There are people who would put a wrong
construction on anything. Madame's sister told me Monsieur was
"And you didn't believe her?"
"Non, Monsieur. I have lived with Madame's sister for nearly a
week when she first came into this house. She wanted me to leave
the message, but I said I would wait a little. Then I sat down in
the big porter's chair in the hall and after a while, everything
being very quiet, I stole up here. I know the disposition of the
apartments. I reckoned Madame's sister would think that I got
tired of waiting and let myself out."
"And you have been amusing yourself watching the street ever
"The time seemed long," she answered evasively. "An empty coupe
came to the door about an hour ago and it's still waiting," she
added, looking at me inquisitively.
"It seems strange."
"There are some dancing girls staying in the house," I said
negligently. "Did you leave Madame alone?"
"There's the gardener and his wife in the house."
"Those people keep at the back. Is Madame alone? That's what I
want to know."
"Monsieur forgets that I have been three hours away; but I assure
Monsieur that here in this town it's perfectly safe for Madame to
"And wouldn't it be anywhere else? It's the first I hear of it."
"In Paris, in our apartments in the hotel, it's all right, too; but
in the Pavilion, for instance, I wouldn't leave Madame by herself,
not for half an hour."
"What is there in the Pavilion?" I asked.
"It's a sort of feeling I have," she murmured reluctantly . . .
"Oh! There's that coupe going away."
She made a movement towards the window but checked herself. I
hadn't moved. The rattle of wheels on the cobble-stones died out
almost at once.
"Will Monsieur write an answer?" Rose suggested after a short
"Hardly worth while," I said. "I will be there very soon after
you. Meantime, please tell Madame from me that I am not anxious to
see any more tears. Tell her this just like that, you understand.
I will take the risk of not being received."
She dropped her eyes, said: "Oui, Monsieur," and at my suggestion
waited, holding the door of the room half open, till I went
downstairs to see the road clear.
It was a kind of deaf-and-dumb house. The black-and-white hall was
empty and everything was perfectly still. Blunt himself had no
doubt gone away with his mother in the brougham, but as to the
others, the dancing girls, Therese, or anybody else that its walls
may have contained, they might have been all murdering each other
in perfect assurance that the house would not betray them by
indulging in any unseemly murmurs. I emitted a low whistle which
didn't seem to travel in that peculiar atmosphere more than two
feet away from my lips, but all the same Rose came tripping down
the stairs at once. With just a nod to my whisper: "Take a
fiacre," she glided out and I shut the door noiselessly behind her.
The next time I saw her she was opening the door of the house on
the Prado to me, with her cap and the little black silk apron on,
and with that marked personality of her own, which had been
concealed so perfectly in the dowdy walking dress, very much to the
"I have given Madame the message," she said in her contained voice,
swinging the door wide open. Then after relieving me of my hat and
coat she announced me with the simple words: "Voila Monsieur," and
hurried away. Directly I appeared Dona Rita, away there on the
couch, passed the tips of her fingers over her eyes and holding her
hands up palms outwards on each side of her head, shouted to me
down the whole length of the room: "The dry season has set in." I
glanced at the pink tips of her fingers perfunctorily and then drew
back. She let her hands fall negligently as if she had no use for
them any more and put on a serious expression.
"So it seems," I said, sitting down opposite her. "For how long, I
"For years and years. One gets so little encouragement. First you
bolt away from my tears, then you send an impertinent message, and
then when you come at last you pretend to behave respectfully,
though you don't know how to do it. You should sit much nearer the
edge of the chair and hold yourself very stiff, and make it quite
clear that you don't know what to do with your hands."
All this in a fascinating voice with a ripple of badinage that
seemed to play upon the sober surface of her thoughts. Then seeing
that I did not answer she altered the note a bit.
"Amigo George," she said, "I take the trouble to send for you and
here I am before you, talking to you and you say nothing."
"What am I to say?"
"How can I tell? You might say a thousand things. You might, for
instance, tell me that you were sorry for my tears."
"I might also tell you a thousand lies. What do I know about your
tears? I am not a susceptible idiot. It all depends upon the
cause. There are tears of quiet happiness. Peeling onions also
will bring tears."
"Oh, you are not susceptible," she flew out at me. "But you are an
idiot all the same."
"Is it to tell me this that you have written to me to come?" I
asked with a certain animation.
"Yes. And if you had as much sense as the talking parrot I owned
once you would have read between the lines that all I wanted you
here for was to tell you what I think of you."
"Well, tell me what you think of me."
"I would in a moment if I could be half as impertinent as you are."
"What unexpected modesty," I said.
"These, I suppose, are your sea manners."
"I wouldn't put up with half that nonsense from anybody at sea.
Don't you remember you told me yourself to go away? What was I to
"How stupid you are. I don't mean that you pretend. You really
are. Do you understand what I say? I will spell it for you. S-t-
u-p-i-d. Ah, now I feel better. Oh, amigo George, my dear fellow-
conspirator for the king--the king. Such a king! Vive le Roi!
Come, why don't you shout Vive le Roi, too?"
"I am not your parrot," I said.
"No, he never sulked. He was a charming, good-mannered bird,
accustomed to the best society, whereas you, I suppose, are nothing
but a heartless vagabond like myself."
"I daresay you are, but I suppose nobody had the insolence to tell
you that to your face."
"Well, very nearly. It was what it amounted to. I am not stupid.
There is no need to spell out simple words for me. It just came
out. Don Juan struggled desperately to keep the truth in. It was
most pathetic. And yet he couldn't help himself. He talked very
much like a parrot."
"Of the best society," I suggested.
"Yes, the most honourable of parrots. I don't like parrot-talk.
It sounds so uncanny. Had I lived in the Middle Ages I am certain
I would have believed that a talking bird must be possessed by the
devil. I am sure Therese would believe that now. My own sister!
She would cross herself many times and simply quake with terror."
"But you were not terrified," I said. "May I ask when that
interesting communication took place?"
"Yesterday, just before you blundered in here of all days in the
year. I was sorry for him."
"Why tell me this? I couldn't help noticing it. I regretted I
hadn't my umbrella with me."
"Those unforgiven tears! Oh, you simple soul! Don't you know that
people never cry for anybody but themselves? . . . Amigo George,
tell me--what are we doing in this world?"
"Do you mean all the people, everybody?"
"No, only people like you and me. Simple people, in this world
which is eaten up with charlatanism of all sorts so that even we,
the simple, don't know any longer how to trust each other."
"Don't we? Then why don't you trust him? You are dying to do so,
don't you know?"
She dropped her chin on her breast and from under her straight
eyebrows the deep blue eyes remained fixed on me, impersonally, as
if without thought.
"What have you been doing since you left me yesterday?" she asked.
"The first thing I remember I abused your sister horribly this
"And how did she take it?"
"Like a warm shower in spring. She drank it all in and unfolded
"What poetical expressions he uses! That girl is more perverted
than one would think possible, considering what she is and whence
she came. It's true that I, too, come from the same spot."
"She is slightly crazy. I am a great favourite with her. I don't
say this to boast."
"It must be very comforting."
"Yes, it has cheered me immensely. Then after a morning of
delightful musings on one thing and another I went to lunch with a
charming lady and spent most of the afternoon talking with her."
Dona Rita raised her head.
"A lady! Women seem such mysterious creatures to me. I don't know
them. Did you abuse her? Did she--how did you say that?--unfold
her petals, too? Was she really and truly . . .?"
"She is simply perfection in her way and the conversation was by no
means banal. I fancy that if your late parrot had heard it, he
would have fallen off his perch. For after all, in that Allegre
Pavilion, my dear Rita, you were but a crowd of glorified
She was beautifully animated now. In her motionless blue eyes like
melted sapphires, around those red lips that almost without moving
could breathe enchanting sounds into the world, there was a play of
light, that mysterious ripple of gaiety that seemed always to run
and faintly quiver under her skin even in her gravest moods; just
as in her rare moments of gaiety its warmth and radiance seemed to
come to one through infinite sadness, like the sunlight of our life
hiding the invincible darkness in which the universe must work out
its impenetrable destiny.
"Now I think of it! . . . Perhaps that's the reason I never could
feel perfectly serious while they were demolishing the world about
my ears. I fancy now that I could tell beforehand what each of
them was going to say. They were repeating the same words over and
over again, those great clever men, very much like parrots who also
seem to know what they say. That doesn't apply to the master of
the house, who never talked much. He sat there mostly silent and
looming up three sizes bigger than any of them."
"The ruler of the aviary," I muttered viciously.
"It annoys you that I should talk of that time?" she asked in a
tender voice. "Well, I won't, except for once to say that you must
not make a mistake: in that aviary he was the man. I know because
he used to talk to me afterwards sometimes. Strange! For six
years he seemed to carry all the world and me with it in his hand.
. . . "
"He dominates you yet," I shouted.
She shook her head innocently as a child would do.
"No, no. You brought him into the conversation yourself. You
think of him much more than I do." Her voice drooped sadly to a
hopeless note. "I hardly ever do. He is not the sort of person to
merely flit through one's mind and so I have no time. Look. I had
eleven letters this morning and there were also five telegrams
before midday, which have tangled up everything. I am quite
And she explained to me that one of them--the long one on the top
of the pile, on the table over there--seemed to contain ugly
inferences directed at herself in a menacing way. She begged me to
read it and see what I could make of it.
I knew enough of the general situation to see at a glance that she
had misunderstood it thoroughly and even amazingly. I proved it to
her very quickly. But her mistake was so ingenious in its
wrongheadedness and arose so obviously from the distraction of an
acute mind, that I couldn't help looking at her admiringly.
"Rita," I said, "you are a marvellous idiot."
"Am I? Imbecile," she retorted with an enchanting smile of relief.
"But perhaps it only seems so to you in contrast with the lady so
perfect in her way. What is her way?"
"Her way, I should say, lies somewhere between her sixtieth and
seventieth year, and I have walked tete-a-tete with her for some
little distance this afternoon."
"Heavens," she whispered, thunderstruck. "And meantime I had the
son here. He arrived about five minutes after Rose left with that
note for you," she went on in a tone of awe. "As a matter of fact,
Rose saw him across the street but she thought she had better go on
"I am furious with myself for not having guessed that much," I said
bitterly. "I suppose you got him out of the house about five
minutes after you heard I was coming here. Rose ought to have
turned back when she saw him on his way to cheer your solitude.
That girl is stupid after all, though she has got a certain amount
of low cunning which no doubt is very useful at times."
"I forbid you to talk like this about Rose. I won't have it. Rose
is not to be abused before me."
"I only mean to say that she failed in this instance to read your
mind, that's all."
"This is, without exception, the most unintelligent thing you have
said ever since I have known you. You may understand a lot about
running contraband and about the minds of a certain class of
people, but as to Rose's mind let me tell you that in comparison
with hers yours is absolutely infantile, my adventurous friend. It
would be contemptible if it weren't so--what shall I call it?--
babyish. You ought to be slapped and put to bed." There was an
extraordinary earnestness in her tone and when she ceased I
listened yet to the seductive inflexions of her voice, that no
matter in what mood she spoke seemed only fit for tenderness and
love. And I thought suddenly of Azzolati being ordered to take
himself off from her presence for ever, in that voice the very
anger of which seemed to twine itself gently round one's heart. No
wonder the poor wretch could not forget the scene and couldn't
restrain his tears on the plain of Rambouillet. My moods of
resentment against Rita, hot as they were, had no more duration
than a blaze of straw. So I only said:
"Much YOU know about the management of children." The corners of
her lips stirred quaintly; her animosity, especially when provoked
by a personal attack upon herself, was always tinged by a sort of
wistful humour of the most disarming kind.
"Come, amigo George, let us leave poor Rose alone. You had better
tell me what you heard from the lips of the charming old lady.
Perfection, isn't she? I have never seen her in my life, though
she says she has seen me several times. But she has written to me
on three separate occasions and every time I answered her as if I
were writing to a queen. Amigo George, how does one write to a
queen? How should a goatherd that could have been mistress of a
king, how should she write to an old queen from very far away; from
over the sea?"
"I will ask you as I have asked the old queen: why do you tell me
all this, Dona Rita?"
"To discover what's in your mind," she said, a little impatiently.
"If you don't know that yet!" I exclaimed under my breath.
"No, not in your mind. Can any one ever tell what is in a man's
mind? But I see you won't tell."
"What's the good? You have written to her before, I understand.
Do you think of continuing the correspondence?"
"Who knows?" she said in a profound tone. "She is the only woman
that ever wrote to me. I returned her three letters to her with my
last answer, explaining humbly that I preferred her to burn them
herself. And I thought that would be the end of it. But an
occasion may still arise."
"Oh, if an occasion arises," I said, trying to control my rage,
"you may be able to begin your letter by the words 'Chere Maman.'"
The cigarette box, which she had taken up without removing her eyes
from me, flew out of her hand and opening in mid-air scattered
cigarettes for quite a surprising distance all over the room. I
got up at once and wandered off picking them up industriously.
Dona Rita's voice behind me said indifferently:
"Don't trouble, I will ring for Rose."
"No need," I growled, without turning my head, "I can find my hat
in the hall by myself, after I've finished picking up . . . "
I returned with the box and placed it on the divan near her. She
sat cross-legged, leaning back on her arms, in the blue shimmer of
her embroidered robe and with the tawny halo of her unruly hair
about her face which she raised to mine with an air of resignation.
"George, my friend," she said, "we have no manners."
"You would never have made a career at court, Dona Rita," I
observed. "You are too impulsive."
"This is not bad manners, that's sheer insolence. This has
happened to you before. If it happens again, as I can't be
expected to wrestle with a savage and desperate smuggler single-
handed, I will go upstairs and lock myself in my room till you
leave the house. Why did you say this to me?"
"Oh, just for nothing, out of a full heart."
"If your heart is full of things like that, then my dear friend,
you had better take it out and give it to the crows. No! you said
that for the pleasure of appearing terrible. And you see you are
not terrible at all, you are rather amusing. Go on, continue to be
amusing. Tell me something of what you heard from the lips of that
aristocratic old lady who thinks that all men are equal and
entitled to the pursuit of happiness."
"I hardly remember now. I heard something about the unworthiness
of certain white geese out of stuffy drawing-rooms. It sounds mad,
but the lady knows exactly what she wants. I also heard your
praises sung. I sat there like a fool not knowing what to say."
"Why? You might have joined in the singing."
"I didn't feel in the humour, because, don't you see, I had been
incidentally given to understand that I was an insignificant and
superfluous person who had better get out of the way of serious
"Ah, par example!"
"In a sense, you know, it was flattering; but for the moment it
made me feel as if I had been offered a pot of mustard to sniff."
She nodded with an amused air of understanding and I could see that
she was interested. "Anything more?" she asked, with a flash of
radiant eagerness in all her person and bending slightly forward
"Oh, it's hardly worth mentioning. It was a sort of threat wrapped
up, I believe, in genuine anxiety as to what might happen to my
youthful insignificance. If I hadn't been rather on the alert just
then I wouldn't even have perceived the meaning. But really an
allusion to 'hot Southern blood' I could have only one meaning. Of
course I laughed at it, but only 'pour l'honneur' and to show I
understood perfectly. In reality it left me completely
Dona Rita looked very serious for a minute.
"Indifferent to the whole conversation?"
I looked at her angrily.
"To the whole . . . You see I got up rather out of sorts this
morning. Unrefreshed, you know. As if tired of life."
The liquid blue in her eyes remained directed at me without any
expression except that of its usual mysterious immobility, but all
her face took on a sad and thoughtful cast. Then as if she had
made up her mind under the pressure of necessity:
"Listen, amigo," she said, "I have suffered domination and it
didn't crush me because I have been strong enough to live with it;
I have known caprice, you may call it folly if you like, and it
left me unharmed because I was great enough not to be captured by
anything that wasn't really worthy of me. My dear, it went down
like a house of cards before my breath. There is something in me
that will not be dazzled by any sort of prestige in this world,
worthy or unworthy. I am telling you this because you are younger
"If you want me to say that there is nothing petty or mean about
you, Dona Rita, then I do say it."
She nodded at me with an air of accepting the rendered justice and
went on with the utmost simplicity.
"And what is it that is coming to me now with all the airs of
virtue? All the lawful conventions are coming to me, all the
glamours of respectability! And nobody can say that I have made as
much as the slightest little sign to them. Not so much as lifting
my little finger. I suppose you know that?"
"I don't know. I do not doubt your sincerity in anything you say.
I am ready to believe. You are not one of those who have to work."
"Have to work--what do you mean?"
"It's a phrase I have heard. What I meant was that it isn't
necessary for you to make any signs."
She seemed to meditate over this for a while.
"Don't be so sure of that," she said, with a flash of mischief,
which made her voice sound more melancholy than before. "I am not
so sure myself," she continued with a curious, vanishing,
intonation of despair. "I don't know the truth about myself
because I never had an opportunity to compare myself to anything in
the world. I have been offered mock adulation, treated with mock
reserve or with mock devotion, I have been fawned upon with an
appalling earnestness of purpose, I can tell you; but these later
honours, my dear, came to me in the shape of a very loyal and very
scrupulous gentleman. For he is all that. And as a matter of fact
I was touched."
"I know. Even to tears," I said provokingly. But she wasn't
provoked, she only shook her head in negation (which was absurd)
and pursued the trend of her spoken thoughts.
"That was yesterday," she said. "And yesterday he was extremely
correct and very full of extreme self-esteem which expressed itself
in the exaggerated delicacy with which he talked. But I know him
in all his moods. I have known him even playful. I didn't listen
to him. I was thinking of something else. Of things that were
neither correct nor playful and that had to be looked at steadily
with all the best that was in me. And that was why, in the end--I
"I saw it yesterday and I had the weakness of being moved by those
tears for a time."
"If you want to make me cry again I warn you you won't succeed."
"No, I know. He has been here to-day and the dry season has set
"Yes, he has been here. I assure you it was perfectly unexpected.
Yesterday he was railing at the world at large, at me who certainly
have not made it, at himself and even at his mother. All this
rather in parrot language, in the words of tradition and morality
as understood by the members of that exclusive club to which he
belongs. And yet when I thought that all this, those poor
hackneyed words, expressed a sincere passion I could have found in
my heart to be sorry for him. But he ended by telling me that one
couldn't believe a single word I said, or something like that. You
were here then, you heard it yourself."
"And it cut you to the quick," I said. "It made you depart from
your dignity to the point of weeping on any shoulder that happened
to be there. And considering that it was some more parrot talk
after all (men have been saying that sort of thing to women from
the beginning of the world) this sensibility seems to me childish."
"What perspicacity," she observed, with an indulgent, mocking
smile, then changed her tone. "Therefore he wasn't expected to-day
when he turned up, whereas you, who were expected, remained subject
to the charms of conversation in that studio. It never occurred to
you . . . did it? No! What had become of your perspicacity?"
"I tell you I was weary of life," I said in a passion.
She had another faint smile of a fugitive and unrelated kind as if
she had been thinking of far-off things, then roused herself to
"He came in full of smiling playfulness. How well I know that
mood! Such self-command has its beauty; but it's no great help for
a man with such fateful eyes. I could see he was moved in his
correct, restrained way, and in his own way, too, he tried to move
me with something that would be very simple. He told me that ever
since we became friends, we two, he had not an hour of continuous
sleep, unless perhaps when coming back dead-tired from outpost
duty, and that he longed to get back to it and yet hadn't the
courage to tear himself away from here. He was as simple as that.
He's a tres galant homme of absolute probity, even with himself. I
said to him: The trouble is, Don Juan, that it isn't love but
mistrust that keeps you in torment. I might have said jealousy,
but I didn't like to use that word. A parrot would have added that
I had given him no right to be jealous. But I am no parrot. I
recognized the rights of his passion which I could very well see.
He is jealous. He is not jealous of my past or of the future; but
he is jealously mistrustful of me, of what I am, of my very soul.
He believes in a soul in the same way Therese does, as something
that can be touched with grace or go to perdition; and he doesn't
want to be damned with me before his own judgment seat. He is a
most noble and loyal gentleman, but I have my own Basque peasant
soul and don't want to think that every time he goes away from my
feet--yes, mon cher, on this carpet, look for the marks of
scorching--that he goes away feeling tempted to brush the dust off
his moral sleeve. That! Never!"
With brusque movements she took a cigarette out of the box, held it
in her fingers for a moment, then dropped it unconsciously.
"And then, I don't love him," she uttered slowly as if speaking to
herself and at the same time watching the very quality of that
thought. "I never did. At first he fascinated me with his fatal
aspect and his cold society smiles. But I have looked into those
eyes too often. There are too many disdains in this aristocratic
republican without a home. His fate may be cruel, but it will
always be commonplace. While he sat there trying in a worldly tone
to explain to me the problems, the scruples, of his suffering
honour, I could see right into his heart and I was sorry for him.
I was sorry enough for him to feel that if he had suddenly taken me
by the throat and strangled me slowly, avec delices, I could
forgive him while I choked. How correct he was! But bitterness
against me peeped out of every second phrase. At last I raised my
hand and said to him, 'Enough.' I believe he was shocked by my
plebeian abruptness but he was too polite to show it. His
conventions will always stand in the way of his nature. I told him
that everything that had been said and done during the last seven
or eight months was inexplicable unless on the assumption that he
was in love with me,--and yet in everything there was an
implication that he couldn't forgive me my very existence. I did
ask him whether he didn't think that it was absurd on his part . .
"Didn't you say that it was exquisitely absurd?" I asked.
"Exquisitely! . . . " Dona Rita was surprised at my question. "No.
Why should I say that?"
"It would have reconciled him to your abruptness. It's their
family expression. It would have come with a familiar sound and
would have been less offensive."
"Offensive," Dona Rita repeated earnestly. "I don't think he was
offended; he suffered in another way, but I didn't care for that.
It was I that had become offended in the end, without spite, you
understand, but past bearing. I didn't spare him. I told him
plainly that to want a woman formed in mind and body, mistress of
herself, free in her choice, independent in her thoughts; to love
her apparently for what she is and at the same time to demand from
her the candour and the innocence that could be only a shocking
pretence; to know her such as life had made her and at the same
time to despise her secretly for every touch with which her life
had fashioned her--that was neither generous nor high minded; it
was positively frantic. He got up and went away to lean against
the mantelpiece, there, on his elbow and with his head in his hand.
You have no idea of the charm and the distinction of his pose. I
couldn't help admiring him: the expression, the grace, the fatal
suggestion of his immobility. Oh, yes, I am sensible to aesthetic
impressions, I have been educated to believe that there is a soul
With that enigmatic, under the eyebrows glance fixed on me she
laughed her deep contralto laugh without mirth but also without
irony, and profoundly moving by the mere purity of the sound.
"I suspect he was never so disgusted and appalled in his life. His
self-command is the most admirable worldly thing I have ever seen.
What made it beautiful was that one could feel in it a tragic
suggestion as in a great work of art."
She paused with an inscrutable smile that a great painter might
have put on the face of some symbolic figure for the speculation
and wonder of many generations. I said:
"I always thought that love for you could work great wonders. And
now I am certain."
"Are you trying to be ironic?" she said sadly and very much as a
child might have spoken.
"I don't know," I answered in a tone of the same simplicity. "I
find it very difficult to be generous."
"I, too," she said with a sort of funny eagerness. "I didn't treat
him very generously. Only I didn't say much more. I found I
didn't care what I said--and it would have been like throwing
insults at a beautiful composition. He was well inspired not to
move. It has spared him some disagreeable truths and perhaps I
would even have said more than the truth. I am not fair. I am no
more fair than other people. I would have been harsh. My very
admiration was making me more angry. It's ridiculous to say of a
man got up in correct tailor clothes, but there was a funereal
grace in his attitude so that he might have been reproduced in
marble on a monument to some woman in one of those atrocious Campo
Santos: the bourgeois conception of an aristocratic mourning
lover. When I came to that conclusion I became glad that I was
angry or else I would have laughed right out before him."
"I have heard a woman say once, a woman of the people--do you hear
me, Dona Rita?--therefore deserving your attention, that one should
never laugh at love."
"My dear," she said gently, "I have been taught to laugh at most
things by a man who never laughed himself; but it's true that he
never spoke of love to me, love as a subject that is. So perhaps .
. . But why?"
"Because (but maybe that old woman was crazy), because, she said,
there was death in the mockery of love."
Dona Rita moved slightly her beautiful shoulders and went on:
"I am glad, then, I didn't laugh. And I am also glad I said
nothing more. I was feeling so little generous that if I had known
something then of his mother's allusion to 'white geese' I would
have advised him to get one of them and lead it away on a beautiful
blue ribbon. Mrs. Blunt was wrong, you know, to be so scornful. A
white goose is exactly what her son wants. But look how badly the
world is arranged. Such white birds cannot be got for nothing and
he has not enough money even to buy a ribbon. Who knows! Maybe it
was this which gave that tragic quality to his pose by the
mantelpiece over there. Yes, that was it. Though no doubt I
didn't see it then. As he didn't offer to move after I had done
speaking I became quite unaffectedly sorry and advised him very
gently to dismiss me from his mind definitely. He moved forward
then and said to me in his usual voice and with his usual smile
that it would have been excellent advice but unfortunately I was
one of those women who can't be dismissed at will. And as I shook
my head he insisted rather darkly: 'Oh, yes, Dona Rita, it is so.
Cherish no illusions about that fact.' It sounded so threatening
that in my surprise I didn't even acknowledge his parting bow. He
went out of that false situation like a wounded man retreating
after a fight. No, I have nothing to reproach myself with. I did
nothing. I led him into nothing. Whatever illusions have passed
through my head I kept my distance, and he was so loyal to what he
seemed to think the redeeming proprieties of the situation that he
has gone from me for good without so much as kissing the tips of my
fingers. He must have felt like a man who had betrayed himself for
nothing. It's horrible. It's the fault of that enormous fortune
of mine, and I wish with all my heart that I could give it to him;
for he couldn't help his hatred of the thing that is: and as to
his love, which is just as real, well--could I have rushed away
from him to shut myself up in a convent? Could I? After all I
have a right to my share of daylight."
I took my eyes from her face and became aware that dusk was
beginning to steal into the room. How strange it seemed. Except
for the glazed rotunda part its long walls, divided into narrow
panels separated by an order of flat pilasters, presented, depicted
on a black background and in vivid colours, slender women with
butterfly wings and lean youths with narrow birds' wings. The
effect was supposed to be Pompeiian and Rita and I had often
laughed at the delirious fancy of some enriched shopkeeper. But
still it was a display of fancy, a sign of grace; but at that
moment these figures appeared to me weird and intrusive and
strangely alive in their attenuated grace of unearthly beings
concealing a power to see and hear.
Without words, without gestures, Dona Rita was heard again. "It
may have been as near coming to pass as this." She showed me the
breadth of her little finger nail. "Yes, as near as that. Why?
How? Just like that, for nothing. Because it had come up.
Because a wild notion had entered a practical old woman's head.
Yes. And the best of it is that I have nothing to complain of.
Had I surrendered I would have been perfectly safe with these two.
It is they or rather he who couldn't trust me, or rather that
something which I express, which I stand for. Mills would never
tell me what it was. Perhaps he didn't know exactly himself. He
said it was something like genius. My genius! Oh, I am not
conscious of it, believe me, I am not conscious of it. But if I
were I wouldn't pluck it out and cast it away. I am ashamed of
nothing, of nothing! Don't be stupid enough to think that I have
the slightest regret. There is no regret. First of all because I
am I--and then because . . . My dear, believe me, I have had a
horrible time of it myself lately."
This seemed to be the last word. Outwardly quiet, all the time, it
was only then that she became composed enough to light an enormous
cigarette of the same pattern as those made specially for the king-
-por el Rey! After a time, tipping the ash into the bowl on her
left hand, she asked me in a friendly, almost tender, tone:
"What are you thinking of, amigo?"
"I was thinking of your immense generosity. You want to give a
crown to one man, a fortune to another. That is very fine. But I
suppose there is a limit to your generosity somewhere."
"I don't see why there should be any limit--to fine intentions!
Yes, one would like to pay ransom and be done with it all."
"That's the feeling of a captive; and yet somehow I can't think of
you as ever having been anybody's captive."
"You do display some wonderful insight sometimes. My dear, I begin
to suspect that men are rather conceited about their powers. They
think they dominate us. Even exceptional men will think that; men
too great for mere vanity, men like Henry Allegre for instance, who
by his consistent and serene detachment was certainly fit to
dominate all sorts of people. Yet for the most part they can only
do it because women choose more or less consciously to let them do
so. Henry Allegre, if any man, might have been certain of his own
power; and yet, look: I was a chit of a girl, I was sitting with a
book where I had no business to be, in his own garden, when he
suddenly came upon me, an ignorant girl of seventeen, a most
uninviting creature with a tousled head, in an old black frock and
shabby boots. I could have run away. I was perfectly capable of
it. But I stayed looking up at him and--in the end it was HE who
went away and it was I who stayed."
"Consciously?" I murmured.
"Consciously? You may just as well ask my shadow that lay so still
by me on the young grass in that morning sunshine. I never knew
before how still I could keep. It wasn't the stillness of terror.
I remained, knowing perfectly well that if I ran he was not the man
to run after me. I remember perfectly his deep-toned, politely
indifferent 'Restez donc.' He was mistaken. Already then I hadn't
the slightest intention to move. And if you ask me again how far
conscious all this was the nearest answer I can make you is this:
that I remained on purpose, but I didn't know for what purpose I
remained. Really, that couldn't be expected. . . . Why do you sigh
like this? Would you have preferred me to be idiotically innocent
or abominably wise?"
"These are not the questions that trouble me," I said. "If I
sighed it is because I am weary."
"And getting stiff, too, I should say, in this Pompeiian armchair.
You had better get out of it and sit on this couch as you always
used to do. That, at any rate, is not Pompeiian. You have been
growing of late extremely formal, I don't know why. If it is a
pose then for goodness' sake drop it. Are you going to model
yourself on Captain Blunt? You couldn't, you know. You are too
"I don't want to model myself on anybody," I said. "And anyway
Blunt is too romantic; and, moreover, he has been and is yet in
love with you--a thing that requires some style, an attitude,
something of which I am altogether incapable."
"You know it isn't so stupid, this what you have just said. Yes,
there is something in this."
"I am not stupid," I protested, without much heat.
"Oh, yes, you are. You don't know the world enough to judge. You
don't know how wise men can be. Owls are nothing to them. Why do
you try to look like an owl? There are thousands and thousands of
them waiting for me outside the door: the staring, hissing beasts.
You don't know what a relief of mental ease and intimacy you have
been to me in the frankness of gestures and speeches and thoughts,
sane or insane, that we have been throwing at each other. I have
known nothing of this in my life but with you. There had always
been some fear, some constraint, lurking in the background behind
everybody, everybody--except you, my friend."
"An unmannerly, Arcadian state of affairs. I am glad you like it.
Perhaps it's because you were intelligent enough to perceive that I
was not in love with you in any sort of style."
"No, you were always your own self, unwise and reckless and with
something in it kindred to mine, if I may say so without offence."
"You may say anything without offence. But has it never occurred
to your sagacity that I just, simply, loved you?"
"Just--simply," she repeated in a wistful tone.
"You didn't want to trouble your head about it, is that it?"
"My poor head. From your tone one might think you yearned to cut
it off. No, my dear, I have made up my mind not to lose my head."
"You would be astonished to know how little I care for your mind."
"Would I? Come and sit on the couch all the same," she said after
a moment of hesitation. Then, as I did not move at once, she added
with indifference: "You may sit as far away as you like, it's big
enough, goodness knows."
The light was ebbing slowly out of the rotunda and to my bodily
eyes she was beginning to grow shadowy. I sat down on the couch
and for a long time no word passed between us. We made no
movement. We did not even turn towards each other. All I was
conscious of was the softness of the seat which seemed somehow to
cause a relaxation of my stern mood, I won't say against my will
but without any will on my part. Another thing I was conscious of,
strangely enough, was the enormous brass bowl for cigarette ends.
Quietly, with the least possible action, Dona Rita moved it to the
other side of her motionless person. Slowly, the fantastic women
with butterflies' wings and the slender-limbed youths with the
gorgeous pinions on their shoulders were vanishing into their black
backgrounds with an effect of silent discretion, leaving us to
I felt suddenly extremely exhausted, absolutely overcome with
fatigue since I had moved; as if to sit on that Pompeiian chair had
been a task almost beyond human strength, a sort of labour that
must end in collapse. I fought against it for a moment and then my
resistance gave way. Not all at once but as if yielding to an
irresistible pressure (for I was not conscious of any irresistible
attraction) I found myself with my head resting, with a weight I
felt must be crushing, on Dona Rita's shoulder which yet did not
give way, did not flinch at all. A faint scent of violets filled
the tragic emptiness of my head and it seemed impossible to me that
I should not cry from sheer weakness. But I remained dry-eyed. I
only felt myself slipping lower and lower and I caught her round
the waist clinging to her not from any intention but purely by
instinct. All that time she hadn't stirred. There was only the
slight movement of her breathing that showed her to be alive; and
with closed eyes I imagined her to be lost in thought, removed by
an incredible meditation while I clung to her, to an immense
distance from the earth. The distance must have been immense
because the silence was so perfect, the feeling as if of eternal
stillness. I had a distinct impression of being in contact with an
infinity that had the slightest possible rise and fall, was
pervaded by a warm, delicate scent of violets and through which
came a hand from somewhere to rest lightly on my head. Presently
my ear caught the faint and regular pulsation of her heart, firm
and quick, infinitely touching in its persistent mystery,
disclosing itself into my very ear--and my felicity became
It was a dreamlike state combined with a dreamlike sense of
insecurity. Then in that warm and scented infinity, or eternity,
in which I rested lost in bliss but ready for any catastrophe, I
heard the distant, hardly audible, and fit to strike terror into
the heart, ringing of a bell. At this sound the greatness of
spaces departed. I felt the world close about me; the world of
darkened walls, of very deep grey dusk against the panes, and I
asked in a pained voice:
"Why did you ring, Rita?"
There was a bell rope within reach of her hand. I had not felt her
move, but she said very low:
"I rang for the lights."
"You didn't want the lights."
"It was time," she whispered secretly.
Somewhere within the house a door slammed. I got away from her
feeling small and weak as if the best part of me had been torn away
and irretrievably lost. Rose must have been somewhere near the
"It's abominable," I murmured to the still, idol-like shadow on the
The answer was a hurried, nervous whisper: "I tell you it was
time. I rang because I had no strength to push you away."
I suffered a moment of giddiness before the door opened, light
streamed in, and Rose entered, preceding a man in a green baize
apron whom I had never seen, carrying on an enormous tray three
Argand lamps fitted into vases of Pompeiian form. Rose distributed
them over the room. In the flood of soft light the winged youths
and the butterfly women reappeared on the panels, affected,
gorgeous, callously unconscious of anything having happened during
their absence. Rose attended to the lamp on the nearest
mantelpiece, then turned about and asked in a confident undertone.
I had lost myself with my elbows on my knees and my head in my
hands, but I heard the words distinctly. I heard also the silence
which ensued. I sat up and took the responsibility of the answer
"Impossible. I am going to sea this evening."
This was perfectly true only I had totally forgotten it till then.
For the last two days my being was no longer composed of memories
but exclusively of sensations of the most absorbing, disturbing,
exhausting nature. I was like a man who has been buffeted by the
sea or by a mob till he loses all hold on the world in the misery
of his helplessness. But now I was recovering. And naturally the
first thing I remembered was the fact that I was going to sea.
"You have heard, Rose," Dona Rita said at last with some
The girl waited a moment longer before she said:
"Oh, yes! There is a man waiting for Monsieur in the hall. A
It could be no one but Dominic. It dawned upon me that since the
evening of our return I had not been near him or the ship, which
was completely unusual, unheard of, and well calculated to startle
"I have seen him before," continued Rose, "and as he told me he has
been pursuing Monsieur all the afternoon and didn't like to go away
without seeing Monsieur for a moment, I proposed to him to wait in
the hall till Monsieur was at liberty."
I said: "Very well," and with a sudden resumption of her extremely
busy, not-a-moment-to-lose manner Rose departed from the room. I
lingered in an imaginary world full of tender light, of unheard-of
colours, with a mad riot of flowers and an inconceivable happiness
under the sky arched above its yawning precipices, while a feeling
of awe enveloped me like its own proper atmosphere. But everything
vanished at the sound of Dona Rita's loud whisper full of boundless
dismay, such as to make one's hair stir on one's head.
"Mon Dieu! And what is going to happen now?"
She got down from the couch and walked to a window. When the
lights had been brought into the room all the panes had turned inky
black; for the night had come and the garden was full of tall
bushes and trees screening off the gas lamps of the main alley of
the Prado. Whatever the question meant she was not likely to see
an answer to it outside. But her whisper had offended me, had hurt
something infinitely deep, infinitely subtle and infinitely clear-
eyed in my nature. I said after her from the couch on which I had
remained, "Don't lose your composure. You will always have some
sort of bell at hand."
I saw her shrug her uncovered shoulders impatiently. Her forehead
was against the very blackness of the panes; pulled upward from the
beautiful, strong nape of her neck, the twisted mass of her tawny
hair was held high upon her head by the arrow of gold.
"You set up for being unforgiving," she said without anger.
I sprang to my feet while she turned about and came towards me
bravely, with a wistful smile on her bold, adolescent face.
"It seems to me," she went on in a voice like a wave of love
itself, "that one should try to understand before one sets up for
being unforgiving. Forgiveness is a very fine word. It is a fine
"There are other fine words in the language such as fascination,
fidelity, also frivolity; and as for invocations there are plenty
of them, too; for instance: alas, heaven help me."
We stood very close together, her narrow eyes were as enigmatic as
ever, but that face, which, like some ideal conception of art, was
incapable of anything like untruth and grimace, expressed by some
mysterious means such a depth of infinite patience that I felt
profoundly ashamed of myself.
"This thing is beyond words altogether," I said. "Beyond
forgiveness, beyond forgetting, beyond anger or jealousy. . . .
There is nothing between us two that could make us act together."
"Then we must fall back perhaps on something within us, that--you
admit it?--we have in common."
"Don't be childish," I said. "You give one with a perpetual and
intense freshness feelings and sensations that are as old as the
world itself, and you imagine that your enchantment can be broken
off anywhere, at any time! But it can't be broken. And
forgetfulness, like everything else, can only come from you. It's
an impossible situation to stand up against."
She listened with slightly parted lips as if to catch some further
"There is a sort of generous ardour about you," she said, "which I
don't really understand. No, I don't know it. Believe me, it is
not of myself I am thinking. And you--you are going out to-night
to make another landing."
"Yes, it is a fact that before many hours I will be sailing away
from you to try my luck once more."
"Your wonderful luck," she breathed out.
"Oh, yes, I am wonderfully lucky. Unless the luck really is yours-
-in having found somebody like me, who cares at the same time so
much and so little for what you have at heart."
"What time will you be leaving the harbour?" she asked.
"Some time between midnight and daybreak. Our men may be a little
late in joining, but certainly we will be gone before the first
streak of light."
"What freedom!" she murmured enviously. "It's something I shall
never know. . . ."
"Freedom!" I protested. "I am a slave to my word. There will be a
siring of carts and mules on a certain part of the coast, and a
most ruffianly lot of men, men you understand, men with wives and
children and sweethearts, who from the very moment they start on a
trip risk a bullet in the head at any moment, but who have a
perfect conviction that I will never fail them. That's my freedom.
I wonder what they would think if they knew of your existence."
"I don't exist," she said.
"That's easy to say. But I will go as if you didn't exist--yet
only because you do exist. You exist in me. I don't know where I
end and you begin. You have got into my heart and into my veins
and into my brain."
"Take this fancy out and trample it down in the dust," she said in
a tone of timid entreaty.
"Heroically," I suggested with the sarcasm of despair.
"Well, yes, heroically," she said; and there passed between us dim
smiles, I have no doubt of the most touching imbecility on earth.
We were standing by then in the middle of the room with its vivid
colours on a black background, with its multitude of winged figures
with pale limbs, with hair like halos or flames, all strangely
tense in their strained, decorative attitudes. Dona Rita made a
step towards me, and as I attempted to seize her hand she flung her
arms round my neck. I felt their strength drawing me towards her
and by a sort of blind and desperate effort I resisted. And all
the time she was repeating with nervous insistence:
"But it is true that you will go. You will surely. Not because of
those people but because of me. You will go away because you feel
With every word urging me to get away, her clasp tightened, she
hugged my head closer to her breast. I submitted, knowing well
that I could free myself by one more effort which it was in my
power to make. But before I made it, in a sort of desperation, I
pressed a long kiss into the hollow of her throat. And lo--there
was no need for any effort. With a stifled cry of surprise her
arms fell off me as if she had been shot. I must have been giddy,
and perhaps we both were giddy, but the next thing I knew there was
a good foot of space between us in the peaceful glow of the ground-
glass globes, in the everlasting stillness of the winged figures.
Something in the quality of her exclamation, something utterly
unexpected, something I had never heard before, and also the way
she was looking at me with a sort of incredulous, concentrated
attention, disconcerted me exceedingly. I knew perfectly well what
I had done and yet I felt that I didn't understand what had
happened. I became suddenly abashed and I muttered that I had
better go and dismiss that poor Dominic. She made no answer, gave
no sign. She stood there lost in a vision--or was it a sensation?-
-of the most absorbing kind. I hurried out into the hall,
shamefaced, as if I were making my escape while she wasn't looking.
And yet I felt her looking fixedly at me, with a sort of
stupefaction on her features--in her whole attitude--as though she
had never even heard of such a thing as a kiss in her life.
A dim lamp (of Pompeiian form) hanging on a long chain left the
hall practically dark. Dominic, advancing towards me from a
distant corner, was but a little more opaque shadow than the
others. He had expected me on board every moment till about three
o'clock, but as I didn't turn up and gave no sign of life in any
other way he started on his hunt. He sought news of me from the
garcons at the various cafes, from the cochers de fiacre in front
of the Exchange, from the tobacconist lady at the counter of the
fashionable Debit de Tabac, from the old man who sold papers
outside the cercle, and from the flower-girl at the door of the
fashionable restaurant where I had my table. That young woman,
whose business name was Irma, had come on duty about mid-day. She
said to Dominic: "I think I've seen all his friends this morning
but I haven't seen him for a week. What has become of him?"
"That's exactly what I want to know," Dominic replied in a fury and
then went back to the harbour on the chance that I might have
called either on board or at Madame Leonore's cafe.
I expressed to him my surprise that he should fuss about me like an
old hen over a chick. It wasn't like him at all. And he said that
"en effet" it was Madame Leonore who wouldn't give him any peace.
He hoped I wouldn't mind, it was best to humour women in little
things; and so he started off again, made straight for the street
of the Consuls, was told there that I wasn't at home but the woman
of the house looked so funny that he didn't know what to make of
it. Therefore, after some hesitation, he took the liberty to
inquire at this house, too, and being told that I couldn't be
disturbed, had made up his mind not to go on board without actually
setting his eyes on me and hearing from my own lips that nothing
was changed as to sailing orders.
"There is nothing changed, Dominic," I said.
"No change of any sort?" he insisted, looking very sombre and
speaking gloomily from under his black moustaches in the dim glow
of the alabaster lamp hanging above his head. He peered at me in
an extraordinary manner as if he wanted to make sure that I had all
my limbs about me. I asked him to call for my bag at the other
house, on his way to the harbour, and he departed reassured, not,
however, without remarking ironically that ever since she saw that
American cavalier Madame Leonore was not easy in her mind about me.
As I stood alone in the hall, without a sound of any sort, Rose
appeared before me.
"Monsieur will dine after all," she whispered calmly,
"My good girl, I am going to sea to-night."
"What am I going to do with Madame?" she murmured to herself. "She
will insist on returning to Paris."
"Oh, have you heard of it?"
"I never get more than two hours' notice," she said. "But I know
how it will be," her voice lost its calmness. "I can look after
Madame up to a certain point but I cannot be altogether
responsible. There is a dangerous person who is everlastingly
trying to see Madame alone. I have managed to keep him off several
times but there is a beastly old journalist who is encouraging him
in his attempts, and I daren't even speak to Madame about it."
"What sort of person do you mean?"
"Why, a man," she said scornfully.
I snatched up my coat and hat.
"Aren't there dozens of them?"
"Oh! But this one is dangerous. Madame must have given him a hold
on her in some way. I ought not to talk like this about Madame and
I wouldn't to anybody but Monsieur. I am always on the watch, but
what is a poor girl to do? . . . Isn't Monsieur going back to
"No, I am not going back. Not this time." A mist seemed to fall
before my eyes. I could hardly see the girl standing by the closed
door of the Pempeiian room with extended hand, as if turned to
stone. But my voice was firm enough. "Not this time," I repeated,
and became aware of the great noise of the wind amongst the trees,
with the lashing of a rain squall against the door.
"Perhaps some other time," I added.
I heard her say twice to herself: "Mon Dieu! Mon, Dieu!" and then
a dismayed: "What can Monsieur expect me to do?" But I had to
appear insensible to her distress and that not altogether because,
in fact, I had no option but to go away. I remember also a
distinct wilfulness in my attitude and something half-contemptuous
in my words as I laid my hand on the knob of the front door.
"You will tell Madame that I am gone. It will please her. Tell
her that I am gone--heroically."
Rose had come up close to me. She met my words by a despairing
outward movement of her hands as though she were giving everything
"I see it clearly now that Madame has no friends," she declared
with such a force of restrained bitterness that it nearly made me
pause. But the very obscurity of actuating motives drove me on and
I stepped out through the doorway muttering: "Everything is as
Madame wishes it."
She shot at me a swift: "You should resist," of an extraordinary
intensity, but I strode on down the path. Then Rose's schooled
temper gave way at last and I heard her angry voice screaming after
me furiously through the wind and rain: "No! Madame has no
friends. Not one!"
That night I didn't get on board till just before midnight and
Dominic could not conceal his relief at having me safely there.
Why he should have been so uneasy it was impossible to say but at
the time I had a sort of impression that my inner destruction (it
was nothing less) had affected my appearance, that my doom was as
it were written on my face. I was a mere receptacle for dust and
ashes, a living testimony to the vanity of all things. My very
thoughts were like a ghostly rustle of dead leaves. But we had an
extremely successful trip, and for most of the time Dominic
displayed an unwonted jocularity of a dry and biting kind with
which, he maintained, he had been infected by no other person than
myself. As, with all his force of character, he was very
responsive to the moods of those he liked I have no doubt he spoke
the truth. But I know nothing about it. The observer, more or
less alert, whom each of us carries in his own consciousness,
failed me altogether, had turned away his face in sheer horror, or
else had fainted from the strain. And thus I had to live alone,
unobserved even by myself.
But the trip had been successful. We re-entered the harbour very
quietly as usual and when our craft had been moored
unostentatiously amongst the plebeian stone-carriers, Dominic,
whose grim joviality had subsided in the last twenty-four hours of
our homeward run, abandoned me to myself as though indeed I had
been a doomed man. He only stuck his head for a moment into our
little cuddy where I was changing my clothes and being told in
answer to his question that I had no special orders to give went
ashore without waiting for me.
Generally we used to step on the quay together and I never failed
to enter for a moment Madame Leonore's cafe. But this time when I
got on the quay Dominic was nowhere to be seen. What was it?
Abandonment--discretion--or had he quarrelled with his Leonore
before leaving on the trip?
My way led me past the cafe and through the glass panes I saw that
he was already there. On the other side of the little marble table
Madame Leonore, leaning with mature grace on her elbow, was
listening to him absorbed. Then I passed on and--what would you
have!--I ended by making my way into the street of the Consuls. I
had nowhere else to go. There were my things in the apartment on
the first floor. I couldn't bear the thought of meeting anybody I
The feeble gas flame in the hall was still there, on duty, as
though it had never been turned off since I last crossed the hall
at half-past eleven in the evening to go to the harbour. The small
flame had watched me letting myself out; and now, exactly of the
same size, the poor little tongue of light (there was something
wrong with that burner) watched me letting myself in, as indeed it
had done many times before. Generally the impression was that of
entering an untenanted house, but this time before I could reach
the foot of the stairs Therese glided out of the passage leading
into the studio. After the usual exclamations she assured me that
everything was ready for me upstairs, had been for days, and
offered to get me something to eat at once. I accepted and said I
would be down in the studio in half an hour. I found her there by
the side of the laid table ready for conversation. She began by
telling me--the dear, poor young Monsieur--in a sort of plaintive
chant, that there were no letters for me, no letters of any kind,
no letters from anybody. Glances of absolutely terrifying
tenderness mingled with flashes of cunning swept over me from head
to foot while I tried to eat.
"Are you giving me Captain Blunt's wine to drink?" I asked, noting
the straw-coloured liquid in my glass.
She screwed up her mouth as if she had a twinge of toothache and
assured me that the wine belonged to the house. I would have to
pay her for it. As far as personal feelings go, Blunt, who
addressed her always with polite seriousness, was not a favourite
with her. The "charming, brave Monsieur" was now fighting for the
King and religion against the impious Liberals. He went away the
very morning after I had left and, oh! she remembered, he had asked
her before going away whether I was still in the house. Wanted
probably to say good-bye to me, shake my hand, the dear, polite
I let her run on in dread expectation of what she would say next
but she stuck to the subject of Blunt for some time longer. He had
written to her once about some of his things which he wanted her to
send to Paris to his mother's address; but she was going to do
nothing of the kind. She announced this with a pious smile; and in
answer to my questions I discovered that it was a stratagem to make
Captain Blunt return to the house.
"You will get yourself into trouble with the police, Mademoiselle
Therese, if you go on like that," I said. But she was as obstinate
as a mule and assured me with the utmost confidence that many
people would be ready to defend a poor honest girl. There was
something behind this attitude which I could not fathom. Suddenly
she fetched a deep sigh.
"Our Rita, too, will end by coming to her sister."
The name for which I had been waiting deprived me of speech for the
moment. The poor mad sinner had rushed off to some of her
wickednesses in Paris. Did I know? No? How could she tell
whether I did know or not? Well! I had hardly left the house, so
to speak, when Rita was down with her maid behaving as if the house
did really still belong to her. . .
"What time was it?" I managed to ask. And with the words my life
itself was being forced out through my lips. But Therese, not
noticing anything strange about me, said it was something like
half-past seven in the morning. The "poor sinner" was all in black
as if she were going to church (except for her expression, which
was enough to shock any honest person), and after ordering her with
frightful menaces not to let anybody know she was in the house she
rushed upstairs and locked herself up in my bedroom, while "that
French creature" (whom she seemed to love more than her own sister)
went into my salon and hid herself behind the window curtain.
I had recovered sufficiently to ask in a quiet natural voice
whether Dona Rita and Captain Blunt had seen each other.
Apparently they had not seen each other. The polite captain had
looked so stern while packing up his kit that Therese dared not
speak to him at all. And he was in a hurry, too. He had to see
his dear mother off to Paris before his own departure. Very stern.
But he shook her hand with a very nice bow.
Therese elevated her right hand for me to see. It was broad and
short with blunt fingers, as usual. The pressure of Captain
Blunt's handshake had not altered its unlovely shape.
"What was the good of telling him that our Rita was here?" went on
Therese. "I would have been ashamed of her coming here and
behaving as if the house belonged to her! I had already said some
prayers at his intention at the half-past six mass, the brave
gentleman. That maid of my sister Rita was upstairs watching him
drive away with her evil eyes, but I made a sign of the cross after
the fiacre, and then I went upstairs and banged at your door, my
dear kind young Monsieur, and shouted to Rita that she had no right
to lock herself in any of my locataires' rooms. At last she opened
it--and what do you think? All her hair was loose over her
shoulders. I suppose it all came down when she flung her hat on
your bed. I noticed when she arrived that her hair wasn't done
properly. She used your brushes to do it up again in front of your
"Wait a moment," I said, and jumped up, upsetting my wine to run
upstairs as fast as I could. I lighted the gas, all the three jets
in the middle of the room, the jet by the bedside and two others
flanking the dressing-table. I had been struck by the wild hope of
finding a trace of Rita's passage, a sign or something. I pulled
out all the drawers violently, thinking that perhaps she had hidden
there a scrap of paper, a note. It was perfectly mad. Of course
there was no chance of that. Therese would have seen to it. I
picked up one after another all the various objects on the
dressing-table. On laying my hands on the brushes I had a profound
emotion, and with misty eyes I examined them meticulously with the
new hope of finding one of Rita's tawny hairs entangled amongst the
bristles by a miraculous chance. But Therese would have done away
with that chance, too. There was nothing to be seen, though I held
them up to the light with a beating heart. It was written that not
even that trace of her passage on the earth should remain with me;
not to help but, as it were, to soothe the memory. Then I lighted
a cigarette and came downstairs slowly. My unhappiness became
dulled, as the grief of those who mourn for the dead gets dulled in
the overwhelming sensation that everything is over, that a part of
themselves is lost beyond recall taking with it all the savour of
I discovered Therese still on the very same spot of the floor, her
hands folded over each other and facing my empty chair before which
the spilled wine had soaked a large portion of the table-cloth.
She hadn't moved at all. She hadn't even picked up the overturned
glass. But directly I appeared she began to speak in an
"If you have missed anything of yours upstairs, my dear young
Monsieur, you mustn't say it's me. You don't know what our Rita
"I wish to goodness," I said, "that she had taken something."
And again I became inordinately agitated as though it were my
absolute fate to be everlastingly dying and reviving to the
tormenting fact of her existence. Perhaps she had taken something?
Anything. Some small object. I thought suddenly of a Rhenish-
stone match-box. Perhaps it was that. I didn't remember having
seen it when upstairs. I wanted to make sure at once. At once.
But I commanded myself to sit still.
"And she so wealthy," Therese went on. "Even you with your dear
generous little heart can do nothing for our Rita. No man can do
anything for her--except perhaps one, but she is so evilly disposed
towards him that she wouldn't even see him, if in the goodness of
his forgiving heart he were to offer his hand to her. It's her bad
conscience that frightens her. He loves her more than his life,
the dear, charitable man."
"You mean some rascal in Paris that I believe persecutes Dona Rita.
Listen, Mademoiselle Therese, if you know where he hangs out you
had better let him have word to be careful I believe he, too, is
mixed up in the Carlist intrigue. Don't you know that your sister
can get him shut up any day or get him expelled by the police?"
Therese sighed deeply and put on a look of pained virtue.
"Oh, the hardness of her heart. She tried to be tender with me.
She is awful. I said to her, 'Rita, have you sold your soul to the
Devil?' and she shouted like a fiend: 'For happiness! Ha, ha,
ha!' She threw herself backwards on that couch in your room and
laughed and laughed and laughed as if I had been tickling her, and
she drummed on the floor with the heels of her shoes. She is
possessed. Oh, my dear innocent young Monsieur, you have never
seen anything like that. That wicked girl who serves her rushed in
with a tiny glass bottle and put it to her nose; but I had a mind
to run out and fetch the priest from the church where I go to early
mass. Such a nice, stout, severe man. But that false, cheating
creature (I am sure she is robbing our Rita from morning to night),
she talked to our Rita very low and quieted her down. I am sure I
don't know what she said. She must be leagued with the devil. And
then she asked me if I would go down and make a cup of chocolate
for her Madame. Madame--that's our Rita. Madame! It seems they
were going off directly to Paris and her Madame had had nothing to
eat since the morning of the day before. Fancy me being ordered to
make chocolate for our Rita! However, the poor thing looked so
exhausted and white-faced that I went. Ah! the devil can give you
an awful shake up if he likes."
Therese fetched another deep sigh and raising her eyes looked at me
with great attention. I preserved an inscrutable expression, for I
wanted to hear all she had to tell me of Rita. I watched her with
the greatest anxiety composing her face into a cheerful expression.
"So Dona Rita is gone to Paris?" I asked negligently.
"Yes, my dear Monsieur. I believe she went straight to the railway
station from here. When she first got up from the couch she could
hardly stand. But before, while she was drinking the chocolate
which I made for her, I tried to get her to sign a paper giving
over the house to me, but she only closed her eyes and begged me to
try and be a good sister and leave her alone for half an hour. And
she lying there looking as if she wouldn't live a day. But she
always hated me."
I said bitterly, "You needn't have worried her like this. If she
had not lived for another day you would have had this house and
everything else besides; a bigger bit than even your wolfish throat
can swallow, Mademoiselle Therese."
I then said a few more things indicative of my disgust with her
rapacity, but they were quite inadequate, as I wasn't able to find
words strong enough to express my real mind. But it didn't matter
really because I don't think Therese heard me at all. She seemed
lost in rapt amazement.
"What do you say, my dear Monsieur? What! All for me without any
sort of paper?"
She appeared distracted by my curt: "Yes." Therese believed in my
truthfulness. She believed me implicitly, except when I was
telling her the truth about herself, mincing no words, when she
used to stand smilingly bashful as if I were overwhelming her with
compliments. I expected her to continue the horrible tale but
apparently she had found something to think about which checked the
flow. She fetched another sigh and muttered:
"Then the law can be just, if it does not require any paper. After
all, I am her sister."
"It's very difficult to believe that--at sight," I said roughly.
"Ah, but that I could prove. There are papers for that."
After this declaration she began to clear the table, preserving a
I was not very surprised at the news of Dona Rita's departure for
Paris. It was not necessary to ask myself why she had gone. I
didn't even ask myself whether she had left the leased Villa on the
Prado for ever. Later talking again with Therese, I learned that
her sister had given it up for the use of the Carlist cause and
that some sort of unofficial Consul, a Carlist agent of some sort,
either was going to live there or had already taken possession.
This, Rita herself had told her before her departure on that
agitated morning spent in the house--in my rooms. A close
investigation demonstrated to me that there was nothing missing
from them. Even the wretched match-box which I really hoped was
gone turned up in a drawer after I had, delightedly, given it up.
It was a great blow. She might have taken that at least! She knew
I used to carry it about with me constantly while ashore. She
might have taken it! Apparently she meant that there should be no
bond left even of that kind; and yet it was a long time before I
gave up visiting and revisiting all the corners of all possible
receptacles for something that she might have left behind on
purpose. It was like the mania of those disordered minds who spend
their days hunting for a treasure. I hoped for a forgotten
hairpin, for some tiny piece of ribbon. Sometimes at night I
reflected that such hopes were altogether insensate; but I remember
once getting up at two in the morning to search for a little
cardboard box in the bathroom, into which, I remembered, I had not
looked before. Of course it was empty; and, anyway, Rita could not
possibly have known of its existence. I got back to bed shivering
violently, though the night was warm, and with a distinct
impression that this thing would end by making me mad. It was no
longer a question of "this sort of thing" killing me. The moral
atmosphere of this torture was different. It would make me mad.
And at that thought great shudders ran down my prone body, because,
once, I had visited a famous lunatic asylum where they had shown me
a poor wretch who was mad, apparently, because he thought he had
been abominably fooled by a woman. They told me that his grievance
was quite imaginary. He was a young man with a thin fair beard,
huddled up on the edge of his bed, hugging himself forlornly; and
his incessant and lamentable wailing filled the long bare corridor,
striking a chill into one's heart long before one came to the door
of his cell.
And there was no one from whom I could hear, to whom I could speak,
with whom I could evoke the image of Rita. Of course I could utter
that word of four letters to Therese; but Therese for some reason
took it into her head to avoid all topics connected with her
sister. I felt as if I could pull out great handfuls of her hair
hidden modestly under the black handkerchief of which the ends were
sometimes tied under her chin. But, really, I could not have given
her any intelligible excuse for that outrage. Moreover, she was
very busy from the very top to the very bottom of the house, which
she persisted in running alone because she couldn't make up her
mind to part with a few francs every month to a servant. It seemed
to me that I was no longer such a favourite with her as I used to
be. That, strange to say, was exasperating, too. It was as if
some idea, some fruitful notion had killed in her all the softer
and more humane emotions. She went about with brooms and dusters
wearing an air of sanctimonious thoughtfulness.
The man who to a certain extent took my place in Therese's favour
was the old father of the dancing girls inhabiting the ground
floor. In a tall hat and a well-to-do dark blue overcoat he
allowed himself to be button-holed in the hall by Therese who would
talk to him interminably with downcast eyes. He smiled gravely
down at her, and meanwhile tried to edge towards the front door. I
imagine he didn't put a great value on Therese's favour. Our stay
in harbour was prolonged this time and I kept indoors like an
invalid. One evening I asked that old man to come in and drink and
smoke with me in the studio. He made no difficulties to accept,
brought his wooden pipe with him, and was very entertaining in a
pleasant voice. One couldn't tell whether he was an uncommon
person or simply a ruffian, but in any case with his white beard he
looked quite venerable. Naturally he couldn't give me much of his
company as he had to look closely after his girls and their
admirers; not that the girls were unduly frivolous, but of course
being very young they had no experience. They were friendly
creatures with pleasant, merry voices and he was very much devoted
to them. He was a muscular man with a high colour and silvery
locks curling round his bald pate and over his ears, like a barocco
apostle. I had an idea that he had had a lurid past and had seen
some fighting in his youth. The admirers of the two girls stood in
great awe of him, from instinct no doubt, because his behaviour to
them was friendly and even somewhat obsequious, yet always with a
certain truculent glint in his eye that made them pause in
everything but their generosity--which was encouraged. I sometimes
wondered whether those two careless, merry hard-working creatures
understood the secret moral beauty of the situation.
My real company was the dummy in the studio and I can't say it was
exactly satisfying. After taking possession of the studio I had
raised it tenderly, dusted its mangled limbs and insensible, hard-
wood bosom, and then had propped it up in a corner where it seemed
to take on, of itself, a shy attitude. I knew its history. It was
not an ordinary dummy. One day, talking with Dona Rita about her
sister, I had told her that I thought Therese used to knock it down
on purpose with a broom, and Dona Rita had laughed very much.
This, she had said, was an instance of dislike from mere instinct.