Part 6 out of 6
Her gentleness had the effect of evening light. I was soothed.
Her confidence in her own power touched me profoundly. I suppose
my love was too great for madness to get hold of me. I can't say
that I passed to a complete calm, but I became slightly ashamed of
myself. I whispered:
"No, it was not from affection, it was for the love of you that I
brought him here. That imbecile H. was going to send him to
"That Jacobin!" Dona Rita was immensely surprised, as she might
well have been. Then resigned to the incomprehensible: "Yes," she
breathed out, "what did you do with him?"
"I put him to bed in the studio."
How lovely she was with the effort of close attention depicted in
the turn of her head and in her whole face honestly trying to
approve. "And then?" she inquired.
"Then I came in here to face calmly the necessity of doing away
with a human life. I didn't shirk it for a moment. That's what a
short twelvemonth has brought me to. Don't think I am reproaching
you, O blind force! You are justified because you ARE. Whatever
had to happen you would not even have heard of it."
Horror darkened her marvellous radiance. Then her face became
utterly blank with the tremendous effort to understand. Absolute
silence reigned in the house. It seemed to me that everything had
been said now that mattered in the world; and that the world itself
had reached its ultimate stage, had reached its appointed end of an
eternal, phantom-like silence. Suddenly Dona Rita raised a warning
finger. I had heard nothing and shook my head; but she nodded hers
and murmured excitedly,
"Yes, yes, in the fencing-room, as before."
In the same way I answered her: "Impossible! The door is locked
and Therese has the key." She asked then in the most cautious
"Have you seen Therese to-night?"
"Yes," I confessed without misgiving. "I left her making up the
fellow's bed when I came in here."
"The bed of the Jacobin?" she said in a peculiar tone as if she
were humouring a lunatic.
"I think I had better tell you he is a Spaniard--that he seems to
know you from early days. . . ." I glanced at her face, it was
extremely tense, apprehensive. For myself I had no longer any
doubt as to the man and I hoped she would reach the correct
conclusion herself. But I believe she was too distracted and
worried to think consecutively. She only seemed to feel some
terror in the air. In very pity I bent down and whispered
carefully near her ear, "His name is Ortega."
I expected some effect from that name but I never expected what
happened. With the sudden, free, spontaneous agility of a young
animal she leaped off the sofa, leaving her slippers behind, and in
one bound reached almost the middle of the room. The vigour, the
instinctive precision of that spring, were something amazing. I
just escaped being knocked over. She landed lightly on her bare
feet with a perfect balance, without the slightest suspicion of
swaying in her instant immobility. It lasted less than a second,
then she spun round distractedly and darted at the first door she
could see. My own agility was just enough to enable me to grip the
back of the fur coat and then catch her round the body before she
could wriggle herself out of the sleeves. She was muttering all
the time, "No, no, no." She abandoned herself to me just for an
instant during which I got her back to the middle of the room.
There she attempted to free herself and I let her go at once. With
her face very close to mine, but apparently not knowing what she
was looking at she repeated again twice, "No--No," with an
intonation which might well have brought dampness to my eyes but
which only made me regret that I didn't kill the honest Ortega at
sight. Suddenly Dona Rita swung round and seizing her loose hair
with both hands started twisting it up before one of the sumptuous
mirrors. The wide fur sleeves slipped down her white arms. In a
brusque movement like a downward stab she transfixed the whole mass
of tawny glints and sparks with the arrow of gold which she
perceived lying there, before her, on the marble console. Then she
sprang away from the glass muttering feverishly, "Out--out--out of
this house," and trying with an awful, senseless stare to dodge
past me who had put myself in her way with open arms. At last I
managed to seize her by the shoulders and in the extremity of my
distress I shook her roughly. If she hadn't quieted down then I
believe my heart would have broken. I spluttered right into her
face: "I won't let you. Here you stay." She seemed to recognize
me at last, and suddenly still, perfectly firm on her white feet,
she let her arms fall and, from an abyss of desolation, whispered,
"O! George! No! No! Not Ortega."
There was a passion of mature grief in this tone of appeal. And
yet she remained as touching and helpless as a distressed child.
It had all the simplicity and depth of a child's emotion. It
tugged at one's heart-strings in the same direct way. But what
could one do? How could one soothe her? It was impossible to pat
her on the head, take her on the knee, give her a chocolate or show
her a picture-book. I found myself absolutely without resource.
Completely at a loss.
"Yes, Ortega. Well, what of it?" I whispered with immense
My brain was in a whirl. I am safe to say that at this precise
moment there was nobody completely sane in the house. Setting
apart Therese and Ortega, both in the grip of unspeakable passions,
all the moral economy of Dona Rita had gone to pieces. Everything
was gone except her strong sense of life with all its implied
menaces. The woman was a mere chaos of sensations and vitality.
I, too, suffered most from inability to get hold of some
fundamental thought. The one on which I could best build some
hopes was the thought that, of course, Ortega did not know
anything. I whispered this into the ear of Dona Rita, into her
precious, her beautifully shaped ear.
But she shook her head, very much like an inconsolable child and
very much with a child's complete pessimism she murmured, "Therese
has told him."
The words, "Oh, nonsense," never passed my lips, because I could
not cheat myself into denying that there had been a noise; and that
the noise was in the fencing-room. I knew that room. There was
nothing there that by the wildest stretch of imagination could be
conceived as falling with that particular sound. There was a table
with a tall strip of looking-glass above it at one end; but since
Blunt took away his campaigning kit there was no small object of
any sort on the console or anywhere else that could have been
jarred off in some mysterious manner. Along one of the walls there
was the whole complicated apparatus of solid brass pipes, and quite
close to it an enormous bath sunk into the floor. The greatest
part of the room along its whole length was covered with matting
and had nothing else but a long, narrow leather-upholstered bench
fixed to the wall. And that was all. And the door leading to the
studio was locked. And Therese had the key. And it flashed on my
mind, independently of Dona Rita's pessimism, by the force of
personal conviction, that, of course, Therese would tell him. I
beheld the whole succession of events perfectly connected and
tending to that particular conclusion. Therese would tell him! I
could see the contrasted heads of those two formidable lunatics
close together in a dark mist of whispers compounded of greed,
piety, and jealousy, plotting in a sense of perfect security as if
under the very wing of Providence. So at least Therese would
think. She could not be but under the impression that
(providentially) I had been called out for the rest of the night.
And now there was one sane person in the house, for I had regained
complete command of my thoughts. Working in a logical succession
of images they showed me at last as clearly as a picture on a wall,
Therese pressing with fervour the key into the fevered palm of the
rich, prestigious, virtuous cousin, so that he should go and urge
his self-sacrificing offer to Rita, and gain merit before Him whose
Eye sees all the actions of men. And this image of those two with
the key in the studio seemed to me a most monstrous conception of
fanaticism, of a perfectly horrible aberration. For who could
mistake the state that made Jose Ortega the figure he was,
inspiring both pity and fear? I could not deny that I understood,
not the full extent but the exact nature of his suffering. Young
as I was I had solved for myself that grotesque and sombre
personality. His contact with me, the personal contact with (as he
thought) one of the actual lovers of that woman who brought to him
as a boy the curse of the gods, had tipped over the trembling
scales. No doubt I was very near death in the "grand salon" of the
Maison Doree, only that his torture had gone too far. It seemed to
me that I ought to have heard his very soul scream while we were
seated at supper. But in a moment he had ceased to care for me. I
was nothing. To the crazy exaggeration of his jealousy I was but
one amongst a hundred thousand. What was my death? Nothing. All
mankind had possessed that woman. I knew what his wooing of her
would be: Mine--or Dead.
All this ought to have had the clearness of noon-day, even to the
veriest idiot that ever lived; and Therese was, properly speaking,
exactly that. An idiot. A one-ideaed creature. Only the idea was
complex; therefore it was impossible really to say what she wasn't
capable of. This was what made her obscure processes so awful.
She had at times the most amazing perceptions. Who could tell
where her simplicity ended and her cunning began? She had also the
faculty of never forgetting any fact bearing upon her one idea; and
I remembered now that the conversation with me about the will had
produced on her an indelible impression of the Law's surprising
justice. Recalling her naive admiration of the "just" law that
required no "paper" from a sister, I saw her casting loose the
raging fate with a sanctimonious air. And Therese would naturally
give the key of the fencing-room to her dear, virtuous, grateful,
disinterested cousin, to that damned soul with delicate whiskers,
because she would think it just possible that Rita might have
locked the door leading front her room into the hall; whereas there
was no earthly reason, not the slightest likelihood, that she would
bother about the other. Righteousness demanded that the erring
sister should be taken unawares.
All the above is the analysis of one short moment. Images are to
words like light to sound--incomparably swifter. And all this was
really one flash of light through my mind. A comforting thought
succeeded it: that both doors were locked and that really there
was no danger.
However, there had been that noise--the why and the how of it? Of
course in the dark he might have fallen into the bath, but that
wouldn't have been a faint noise. It wouldn't have been a rattle.
There was absolutely nothing he could knock over. He might have
dropped a candle-stick if Therese had left him her own. That was
possible, but then those thick mats--and then, anyway, why should
he drop it? and, hang it all, why shouldn't he have gone straight
on and tried the door? I had suddenly a sickening vision of the
fellow crouching at the key-hole, listening, listening, listening,
for some movement or sigh of the sleeper he was ready to tear away
from the world, alive or dead. I had a conviction that he was
still listening. Why? Goodness knows! He may have been only
gloating over the assurance that the night was long and that he had
all these hours to himself.
I was pretty certain that he could have heard nothing of our
whispers, the room was too big for that and the door too solid. I
hadn't the same confidence in the efficiency of the lock. Still I
. . . Guarding my lips with my hand I urged Dona Rita to go back to
the sofa. She wouldn't answer me and when I got hold of her arm I
discovered that she wouldn't move. She had taken root in that
thick-pile Aubusson carpet; and she was so rigidly still all over
that the brilliant stones in the shaft of the arrow of gold, with
the six candles at the head of the sofa blazing full on them,
emitted no sparkle.
I was extremely anxious that she shouldn't betray herself. I
reasoned, save the mark, as a psychologist. I had no doubt that
the man knew of her being there; but he only knew it by hearsay.
And that was bad enough. I could not help feeling that if he
obtained some evidence for his senses by any sort of noise, voice,
or movement, his madness would gain strength enough to burst the
lock. I was rather ridiculously worried about the locks. A horrid
mistrust of the whole house possessed me. I saw it in the light of
a deadly trap. I had no weapon, I couldn't say whether he had one
or not. I wasn't afraid of a struggle as far as I, myself, was
concerned, but I was afraid of it for Dona Rita. To be rolling at
her feet, locked in a literally tooth-and-nail struggle with Ortega
would have been odious. I wanted to spare her feelings, just as I
would have been anxious to save from any contact with mud the feet
of that goatherd of the mountains with a symbolic face. I looked
at her face. For immobility it might have been a carving. I
wished I knew how to deal with that embodied mystery, to influence
it, to manage it. Oh, how I longed for the gift of authority! In
addition, since I had become completely sane, all my scruples
against laying hold of her had returned. I felt shy and
embarrassed. My eyes were fixed on the bronze handle of the
fencing-room door as if it were something alive. I braced myself
up against the moment when it would move. This was what was going
to happen next. It would move very gently. My heart began to
thump. But I was prepared to keep myself as still as death and I
hoped Dona Rita would have sense enough to do the same. I stole
another glance at her face and at that moment I heard the word:
"Beloved!" form itself in the still air of the room, weak,
distinct, piteous, like the last request of the dying.
With great presence of mind I whispered into Dona Rita's ear:
"Perfect silence!" and was overjoyed to discover that she had heard
me, understood me; that she even had command over her rigid lips.
She answered me in a breath (our cheeks were nearly touching):
"Take me out of this house."
I glanced at all her clothing scattered about the room and hissed
forcibly the warning "Perfect immobility"; noticing with relief
that she didn't offer to move, though animation was returning to
her and her lips had remained parted in an awful, unintended effect
of a smile. And I don't know whether I was pleased when she, who
was not to be touched, gripped my wrist suddenly. It had the air
of being done on purpose because almost instantly another:
"Beloved!" louder, more agonized if possible, got into the room
and, yes, went home to my heart. It was followed without any
transition, preparation, or warning, by a positively bellowed:
"Speak, perjured beast!" which I felt pass in a thrill right
through Dona Rita like an electric shock, leaving her as motionless
Till he shook the door handle, which he did immediately afterwards,
I wasn't certain through which door he had spoken. The two doors
(in different walls) were rather near each other. It was as I
expected. He was in the fencing-room, thoroughly aroused, his
senses on the alert to catch the slightest sound. A situation not
to be trifled with. Leaving the room was for us out of the
question. It was quite possible for him to dash round into the
hall before we could get clear of the front door. As to making a
bolt of it upstairs there was the same objection; and to allow
ourselves to be chased all over the empty house by this maniac
would have been mere folly. There was no advantage in locking
ourselves up anywhere upstairs where the original doors and locks
were much lighter. No, true safety was in absolute stillness and
silence, so that even his rage should be brought to doubt at last
and die expended, or choke him before it died; I didn't care which.
For me to go out and meet him would have been stupid. Now I was
certain that he was armed. I had remembered the wall in the
fencing-room decorated with trophies of cold steel in all the
civilized and savage forms; sheaves of assegais, in the guise of
columns and grouped between them stars and suns of choppers,
swords, knives; from Italy, from Damascus, from Abyssinia, from the
ends of the world. Ortega had only to make his barbarous choice.
I suppose he had got up on the bench, and fumbling about amongst
them must have brought one down, which, falling, had produced that
rattling noise. But in any case to go to meet him would have been
folly, because, after all, I might have been overpowered (even with
bare hands) and then Dona Rita would have been left utterly
"He will speak," came to me the ghostly, terrified murmur of her
voice. "Take me out of the house before he begins to speak."
"Keep still," I whispered. "He will soon get tired of this."
"You don't know him."
"Oh, yes, I do. Been with him two hours."
At this she let go my wrist and covered her face with her hands
passionately. When she dropped them she had the look of one
"What did he say to you?"
"Listen to me. It was all true!"
"I daresay, but what of that?"
These ghostly words passed between us hardly louder than thoughts;
but after my last answer she ceased and gave me a searching stare,
then drew in a long breath. The voice on the other side of the
door burst out with an impassioned request for a little pity, just
a little, and went on begging for a few words, for two words, for
one word--one poor little word. Then it gave up, then repeated
once more, "Say you are there, Rita, Say one word, just one word.
Say 'yes.' Come! Just one little yes."
"You see," I said. She only lowered her eyelids over the anxious
glance she had turned on me.
For a minute we could have had the illusion that he had stolen
away, unheard, on the thick mats. But I don't think that either of
us was deceived. The voice returned, stammering words without
connection, pausing and faltering, till suddenly steadied it soared
into impassioned entreaty, sank to low, harsh tones, voluble, lofty
sometimes and sometimes abject. When it paused it left us looking
profoundly at each other.
"It's almost comic," I whispered.
"Yes. One could laugh," she assented, with a sort of sinister
conviction. Never had I seen her look exactly like that, for an
instant another, an incredible Rita! "Haven't I laughed at him
innumerable times?" she added in a sombre whisper.
He was muttering to himself out there, and unexpectedly shouted:
"What?" as though he had fancied he had heard something. He waited
a while before he started up again with a loud: "Speak up, Queen
of the goats, with your goat tricks. . ." All was still for a
time, then came a most awful bang on the door. He must have
stepped back a pace to hurl himself bodily against the panels. The
whole house seemed to shake. He repeated that performance once
more, and then varied it by a prolonged drumming with his fists.
It WAS comic. But I felt myself struggling mentally with an
invading gloom as though I were no longer sure of myself.
"Take me out," whispered Dona Rita feverishly, "take me out of this
house before it is too late."
"You will have to stand it," I answered.
"So be it; but then you must go away yourself. Go now, before it
is too late."
I didn't condescend to answer this. The drumming on the panels
stopped and the absurd thunder of it died out in the house. I
don't know why precisely then I had the acute vision of the red
mouth of Jose Ortega wriggling with rage between his funny
whiskers. He began afresh but in a tired tone:
"Do you expect a fellow to forget your tricks, you wicked little
devil? Haven't you ever seen me dodging about to get a sight of
you amongst those pretty gentlemen, on horseback, like a princess,
with pure cheeks like a carved saint? I wonder I didn't throw
stones at you, I wonder I didn't run after you shouting the tale--
curse my timidity! But I daresay they knew as much as I did.
More. All the new tricks--if that were possible."
While he was making this uproar, Dona Rita put her fingers in her
ears and then suddenly changed her mind and clapped her hands over
my ears. Instinctively I disengaged my head but she persisted. We
had a short tussle without moving from the spot, and suddenly I had
my head free, and there was complete silence. He had screamed
himself out of breath, but Dona Rita muttering; "Too late, too
late," got her hands away from my grip and slipping altogether out
of her fur coat seized some garment lying on a chair near by (I
think it was her skirt), with the intention of dressing herself, I
imagine, and rushing out of the house. Determined to prevent this,
but indeed without thinking very much what I was doing, I got hold
of her arm. That struggle was silent, too; but I used the least
force possible and she managed to give me an unexpected push.
Stepping back to save myself from falling I overturned the little
table, bearing the six-branched candlestick. It hit the floor,
rebounded with a dull ring on the carpet, and by the time it came
to a rest every single candle was out. He on the other side of the
door naturally heard the noise and greeted it with a triumphant
screech: "Aha! I've managed to wake you up," the very savagery of
which had a laughable effect. I felt the weight of Dona Rita grow
on my arm and thought it best to let her sink on the floor, wishing
to be free in my movements and really afraid that now he had
actually heard a noise he would infallibly burst the door. But he
didn't even thump it. He seemed to have exhausted himself in that
scream. There was no other light in the room but the darkened glow
of the embers and I could hardly make out amongst the shadows of
furniture Dona Rita sunk on her knees in a penitential and
despairing attitude. Before this collapse I, who had been
wrestling desperately with her a moment before, felt that I dare
not touch her. This emotion, too, I could not understand; this
abandonment of herself, this conscience-stricken humility. A
humbly imploring request to open the door came from the other side.
Ortega kept on repeating: "Open the door, open the door," in such
an amazing variety of intonations, imperative, whining, persuasive,
insinuating, and even unexpectedly jocose, that I really stood
there smiling to myself, yet with a gloomy and uneasy heart. Then
he remarked, parenthetically as it were, "Oh, you know how to
torment a man, you brown-skinned, lean, grinning, dishevelled imp,
you. And mark," he expounded further, in a curiously doctoral
tone--"you are in all your limbs hateful: your eyes are hateful
and your mouth is hateful, and your hair is hateful, and your body
is cold and vicious like a snake--and altogether you are
This statement was astonishingly deliberate. He drew a moaning
breath after it and uttered in a heart-rending tone, "You know,
Rita, that I cannot live without you. I haven't lived. I am not
living now. This isn't life. Come, Rita, you can't take a boy's
soul away and then let him grow up and go about the world, poor
devil, while you go amongst the rich from one pair of arms to
another, showing all your best tricks. But I will forgive you if
you only open the door," he ended in an inflated tone: "You
remember how you swore time after time to be my wife. You are more
fit to be Satan's wife but I don't mind. You shall be my wife!"
A sound near the floor made me bend down hastily with a stern:
"Don't laugh," for in his grotesque, almost burlesque discourses
there seemed to me to be truth, passion, and horror enough to move
Suddenly suspicion seized him out there. With perfectly farcical
unexpectedness he yelled shrilly: "Oh, you deceitful wretch! You
won't escape me! I will have you. . . ."
And in a manner of speaking he vanished. Of course I couldn't see
him but somehow that was the impression. I had hardly time to
receive it when crash! . . . he was already at the other door. I
suppose he thought that his prey was escaping him. His swiftness
was amazing, almost inconceivable, more like the effect of a trick
or of a mechanism. The thump on the door was awful as if he had
not been able to stop himself in time. The shock seemed enough to
stun an elephant. It was really funny. And after the crash there
was a moment of silence as if he were recovering himself. The next
thing was a low grunt, and at once he picked up the thread of his
"You will have to be my wife. I have no shame. You swore you
would be and so you will have to be." Stifled low sounds made me
bend down again to the kneeling form, white in the flush of the
dark red glow. "For goodness' sake don't," I whispered down. She
was struggling with an appalling fit of merriment, repeating to
herself, "Yes, every day, for two months. Sixty times at least,
sixty times at least." Her voice was rising high. She was
struggling against laughter, but when I tried to put my hand over
her lips I felt her face wet with tears. She turned it this way
and that, eluding my hand with repressed low, little moans. I lost
my caution and said, "Be quiet," so sharply as to startle myself
(and her, too) into expectant stillness.
Ortega's voice in the hall asked distinctly: "Eh? What's this?"
and then he kept still on his side listening, but he must have
thought that his ears had deceived him. He was getting tired, too.
He was keeping quiet out there--resting. Presently he sighed
deeply; then in a harsh melancholy tone he started again.
"My love, my soul, my life, do speak to me. What am I that you
should take so much trouble to pretend that you aren't there? Do
speak to me," he repeated tremulously, following this mechanical
appeal with a string of extravagantly endearing names, some of them
quite childish, which all of a sudden stopped dead; and then after
a pause there came a distinct, unutterably weary: "What shall I do
now?" as though he were speaking to himself.
I shuddered to hear rising from the floor, by my side, a vibrating,
scornful: "Do! Why, slink off home looking over your shoulder as
you used to years ago when I had done with you--all but the
"Rita," I murmured, appalled. He must have been struck dumb for a
moment. Then, goodness only knows why, in his dismay or rage he
was moved to speak in French with a most ridiculous accent.
"So you have found your tongue at last--Catin! You were that from
the cradle. Don't you remember how . . ."
Dona Rita sprang to her feet at my side with a loud cry, "No,
George, no," which bewildered me completely. The suddenness, the
loudness of it made the ensuing silence on both sides of the door
perfectly awful. It seemed to me that if I didn't resist with all
my might something in me would die on the instant. In the
straight, falling folds of the night-dress she looked cold like a
block of marble; while I, too, was turned into stone by the
terrific clamour in the hall.
"Therese, Therese," yelled Ortega. "She has got a man in there."
He ran to the foot of the stairs and screamed again, "Therese,
Therese! There is a man with her. A man! Come down, you
miserable, starved peasant, come down and see."
I don't know where Therese was but I am sure that this voice
reached her, terrible, as if clamouring to heaven, and with a
shrill over-note which made me certain that if she was in bed the
only thing she would think of doing would be to put her head under
the bed-clothes. With a final yell: "Come down and see," he flew
back at the door of the room and started shaking it violently.
It was a double door, very tall, and there must have been a lot of
things loose about its fittings, bolts, latches, and all those
brass applications with broken screws, because it rattled, it
clattered, it jingled; and produced also the sound as of thunder
rolling in the big, empty hall. It was deafening, distressing, and
vaguely alarming as if it could bring the house down. At the same
time the futility of it had, it cannot be denied, a comic effect.
The very magnitude of the racket he raised was funny. But he
couldn't keep up that violent exertion continuously, and when he
stopped to rest we could hear him shouting to himself in vengeful
tones. He saw it all! He had been decoyed there! (Rattle,
rattle, rattle.) He had been decoyed into that town, he screamed,
getting more and more excited by the noise he made himself, in
order to be exposed to this! (Rattle, rattle.) By this shameless
"Catin! Catin! Catin!"
He started at the door again with superhuman vigour. Behind me I
heard Dona Rita laughing softly, statuesque, turned all dark in the
fading glow. I called out to her quite openly, "Do keep your self-
control." And she called back to me in a clear voice: "Oh, my
dear, will you ever consent to speak to me after all this? But
don't ask for the impossible. He was born to be laughed at."
"Yes," I cried. "But don't let yourself go."
I don't know whether Ortega heard us. He was exerting then his
utmost strength of lung against the infamous plot to expose him to
the derision of the fiendish associates of that obscene woman! . .
. Then he began another interlude upon the door, so sustained and
strong that I had the thought that this was growing absurdly
impossible, that either the plaster would begin to fall off the
ceiling or he would drop dead next moment, out there.
He stopped, uttered a few curses at the door, and seemed calmer
from sheer exhaustion.
"This story will be all over the world," we heard him begin.
"Deceived, decoyed, inveighed, in order to be made a laughing-stock
before the most debased of all mankind, that woman and her
associates." This was really a meditation. And then he screamed:
"I will kill you all." Once more he started worrying the door but
it was a startlingly feeble effort which he abandoned almost at
once. He must have been at the end of his strength. Dona Rita
from the middle of the room asked me recklessly loud: "Tell me!
Wasn't he born to be laughed at?" I didn't answer her. I was so
near the door that I thought I ought to hear him panting there. He
was terrifying, but he was not serious. He was at the end of his
strength, of his breath, of every kind of endurance, but I did not
know it. He was done up, finished; but perhaps he did not know it
himself. How still he was! Just as I began to wonder at it, I
heard him distinctly give a slap to his forehead. "I see it all!"
he cried. "That miserable, canting peasant-woman upstairs has
arranged it all. No doubt she consulted her priests. I must
regain my self-respect. Let her die first." I heard him make a
dash for the foot of the stairs. I was appalled; yet to think of
Therese being hoisted with her own petard was like a turn of
affairs in a farce. A very ferocious farce. Instinctively I
unlocked the door. Dona Rita's contralto laugh rang out loud,
bitter, and contemptuous; and I heard Ortega's distracted screaming
as if under torture. "It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!" I
hesitated just an instant, half a second, no more, but before I
could open the door wide there was in the hall a short groan and
the sound of a heavy fall.
The sight of Ortega lying on his back at the foot of the stairs
arrested me in the doorway. One of his legs was drawn up, the
other extended fully, his foot very near the pedestal of the silver
statuette holding the feeble and tenacious gleam which made the
shadows so heavy in that hall. One of his arms lay across his
breast. The other arm was extended full length on the white-and-
black pavement with the hand palm upwards and the fingers rigidly
spread out. The shadow of the lowest step slanted across his face
but one whisker and part of his chin could be made out. He
appeared strangely flattened. He didn't move at all. He was in
his shirt-sleeves. I felt an extreme distaste for that sight. The
characteristic sound of a key worrying in the lock stole into my
ears. I couldn't locate it but I didn't attend much to that at
first. I was engaged in watching Senor Ortega. But for his raised
leg he clung so flat to the floor and had taken on himself such a
distorted shape that he might have been the mere shadow of Senor
Ortega. It was rather fascinating to see him so quiet at the end
of all that fury, clamour, passion, and uproar. Surely there was
never anything so still in the world as this Ortega. I had a
bizarre notion that he was not to be disturbed.
A noise like the rattling of chain links, a small grind and click
exploded in the stillness of the hall and a eciov began to swear in
Italian. These surprising sounds were quite welcome, they recalled
me to myself, and I perceived they came from the front door which
seemed pushed a little ajar. Was somebody trying to get in? I had
no objection, I went to the door and said: "Wait a moment, it's on
the chain." The deep voice on the other side said: "What an
extraordinary thing," and I assented mentally. It was
extraordinary. The chain was never put up, but Therese was a
thorough sort of person, and on this night she had put it up to
keep no one out except myself. It was the old Italian and his
daughters returning from the ball who were trying to get in.
Suddenly I became intensely alive to the whole situation. I
bounded back, closed the door of Blunt's room, and the next moment
was speaking to the Italian. "A little patience." My hands
trembled but I managed to take down the chain and as I allowed the
door to swing open a little more I put myself in his way. He was
burly, venerable, a little indignant, and full of thanks. Behind
him his two girls, in short-skirted costumes, white stockings, and
low shoes, their heads powdered and earrings sparkling in their
ears, huddled together behind their father, wrapped up in their
light mantles. One had kept her little black mask on her face, the
other held hers in her hand.
The Italian was surprised at my blocking the way and remarked
pleasantly, "It's cold outside, Signor." I said, "Yes," and added
in a hurried whisper: "There is a dead man in the hall." He
didn't say a single word but put me aside a little, projected his
body in for one searching glance. "Your daughters," I murmured.
He said kindly, "Va bene, va bene." And then to them, "Come in,
There is nothing like dealing with a man who has had a long past of
out-of-the-way experiences. The skill with which he rounded up and
drove the girls across the hall, paternal and irresistible,
venerable and reassuring, was a sight to see. They had no time for
more than one scared look over the shoulder. He hustled them in
and locked them up safely in their part of the house, then crossed
the hall with a quick, practical stride. When near Senor Ortega he
trod short just in time and said: "In truth, blood"; then
selecting the place, knelt down by the body in his tall hat and
respectable overcoat, his white beard giving him immense authority
somehow. "But--this man is not dead," he exclaimed, looking up at
me. With profound sagacity, inherent as it were in his great
beard, he never took the trouble to put any questions to me and
seemed certain that I had nothing to do with the ghastly sight.
"He managed to give himself an enormous gash in his side," was his
calm remark. "And what a weapon!" he exclaimed, getting it out
from under the body. It was an Abyssinian or Nubian production of
a bizarre shape; the clumsiest thing imaginable, partaking of a
sickle and a chopper with a sharp edge and a pointed end. A mere
cruel-looking curio of inconceivable clumsiness to European eyes.
The old man let it drop with amused disdain. "You had better take
hold of his legs," he decided without appeal. I certainly had no
inclination to argue. When we lifted him up the head of Senor
Ortega fell back desolately, making an awful, defenceless display
of his large, white throat.
We found the lamp burning in the studio and the bed made up on the
couch on which we deposited our burden. My venerable friend jerked
the upper sheet away at once and started tearing it into strips.
"You may leave him to me," said that efficient sage, "but the
doctor is your affair. If you don't want this business to make a
noise you will have to find a discreet man."
He was most benevolently interested in all the proceedings. He
remarked with a patriarchal smile as he tore the sheet noisily:
"You had better not lose any time." I didn't lose any time. I
crammed into the next hour an astonishing amount of bodily
activity. Without more words I flew out bare-headed into the last
night of Carnival. Luckily I was certain of the right sort of
doctor. He was an iron-grey man of forty and of a stout habit of
body but who was able to put on a spurt. In the cold, dark, and
deserted by-streets, he ran with earnest, and ponderous footsteps,
which echoed loudly in the cold night air, while I skimmed along
the ground a pace or two in front of him. It was only on arriving
at the house that I perceived that I had left the front door wide
open. All the town, every evil in the world could have entered the
black-and-white hall. But I had no time to meditate upon my
imprudence. The doctor and I worked in silence for nearly an hour
and it was only then while he was washing his hands in the fencing-
room that he asked:
"What was he up to, that imbecile?"
"Oh, he was examining this curiosity," I said.
"Oh, yes, and it accidentally went off," said the doctor, looking
contemptuously at the Nubian knife I had thrown on the table. Then
while wiping his hands: "I would bet there is a woman somewhere
under this; but that of course does not affect the nature of the
wound. I hope this blood-letting will do him good."
"Nothing will do him any good," I said.
"Curious house this," went on the doctor, "It belongs to a curious
sort of woman, too. I happened to see her once or twice. I
shouldn't wonder if she were to raise considerable trouble in the
track of her pretty feet as she goes along. I believe you know her
"Curious people in the house, too. There was a Carlist officer
here, a lean, tall, dark man, who couldn't sleep. He consulted me
once. Do you know what became of him?"
The doctor had finished wiping his hands and flung the towel far
"Considerable nervous over-strain. Seemed to have a restless
brain. Not a good thing, that. For the rest a perfect gentleman.
And this Spaniard here, do you know him?"
"Enough not to care what happens to him," I said, "except for the
trouble he might cause to the Carlist sympathizers here, should the
police get hold of this affair."
"Well, then, he must take his chance in the seclusion of that
conservatory sort of place where you have put him. I'll try to
find somebody we can trust to look after him. Meantime, I will
leave the case to you."
Directly I had shut the door after the doctor I started shouting
for Therese. "Come down at once, you wretched hypocrite," I yelled
at the foot of the stairs in a sort of frenzy as though I had been
a second Ortega. Not even an echo answered me; but all of a sudden
a small flame flickered descending from the upper darkness and
Therese appeared on the first floor landing carrying a lighted
candle in front of a livid, hard face, closed against remorse,
compassion, or mercy by the meanness of her righteousness and of
her rapacious instincts. She was fully dressed in that abominable
brown stuff with motionless folds, and as I watched her coming down
step by step she might have been made of wood. I stepped back and
pointed my finger at the darkness of the passage leading to the
studio. She passed within a foot of me, her pale eyes staring
straight ahead, her face still with disappointment and fury. Yet
it is only my surmise. She might have been made thus inhuman by
the force of an invisible purpose. I waited a moment, then,
stealthily, with extreme caution, I opened the door of the so-
called Captain Blunt's room.
The glow of embers was all but out. It was cold and dark in there;
but before I closed the door behind me the dim light from the hall
showed me Dona Rita standing on the very same spot where I had left
her, statuesque in her night-dress. Even after I shut the door she
loomed up enormous, indistinctly rigid and inanimate. I picked up
the candelabra, groped for a candle all over the carpet, found one,
and lighted it. All that time Dona Rita didn't stir. When I
turned towards her she seemed to be slowly awakening from a trance.
She was deathly pale and by contrast the melted, sapphire-blue of
her eyes looked black as coal. They moved a little in my
direction, incurious, recognizing me slowly. But when they had
recognized me completely she raised her hands and hid her face in
them. A whole minute or more passed. Then I said in a low tone:
"Look at me," and she let them fall slowly as if accepting the
"Shall I make up the fire?" . . . I waited. "Do you hear me?" She
made no sound and with the tip of my finger I touched her bare
shoulder. But for its elasticity it might have been frozen. At
once I looked round for the fur coat; it seemed to me that there
was not a moment to lose if she was to be saved, as though we had
been lost on an Arctic plain. I had to put her arms into the
sleeves, myself, one after another. They were cold, lifeless, but
flexible. Then I moved in front of her and buttoned the thing
close round her throat. To do that I had actually to raise her
chin with my finger, and it sank slowly down again. I buttoned all
the other buttons right down to the ground. It was a very long and
splendid fur. Before rising from my kneeling position I felt her
feet. Mere ice. The intimacy of this sort of attendance helped
the growth of my authority. "Lie down," I murmured, "I shall pile
on you every blanket I can find here," but she only shook her head.
Not even in the days when she ran "shrill as a cicada and thin as a
match" through the chill mists of her native mountains could she
ever have felt so cold, so wretched, and so desolate. Her very
soul, her grave, indignant, and fantastic soul, seemed to drowse
like an exhausted traveller surrendering himself to the sleep of
death. But when I asked her again to lie down she managed to
answer me, "Not in this room." The dumb spell was broken. She
turned her head from side to side, but oh! how cold she was! It
seemed to come out of her, numbing me, too; and the very diamonds
on the arrow of gold sparkled like hoar frost in the light of the
"Not in this room; not here," she protested, with that peculiar
suavity of tone which made her voice unforgettable, irresistible,
no matter what she said. "Not after all this! I couldn't close my
eyes in this place. It's full of corruption and ugliness all
round, in me, too, everywhere except in your heart, which has
nothing to do where I breathe. And here you may leave me. But
wherever you go remember that I am not evil, I am not evil."
I said: "I don't intend to leave you here. There is my room
upstairs. You have been in it before."
"Oh, you have heard of that," she whispered. The beginning of a
wan smile vanished from her lips.
"I also think you can't stay in this room; and, surely, you needn't
hesitate . . ."
"No. It doesn't matter now. He has killed me. Rita is dead."
While we exchanged these words I had retrieved the quilted, blue
slippers and had put them on her feet. She was very tractable.
Then taking her by the arm I led her towards the door.
"He has killed me," she repeated in a sigh. "The little joy that
was in me."
"He has tried to kill himself out there in the hall," I said. She
put back like a frightened child but she couldn't be dragged on as
a child can be.
I assured her that the man was no longer there but she only
repeated, "I can't get through the hall. I can't walk. I can't .
"Well," I said, flinging the door open and seizing her suddenly in
my arms, "if you can't walk then you shall be carried," and I
lifted her from the ground so abruptly that she could not help
catching me round the neck as any child almost will do
instinctively when you pick it up.
I ought really to have put those blue slippers in my pocket. One
dropped off at the bottom of the stairs as I was stepping over an
unpleasant-looking mess on the marble pavement, and the other was
lost a little way up the flight when, for some reason (perhaps from
a sense of insecurity), she began to struggle. Though I had an odd
sense of being engaged in a sort of nursery adventure she was no
child to carry. I could just do it. But not if she chose to
struggle. I set her down hastily and only supported her round the
waist for the rest of the way. My room, of course, was perfectly
dark but I led her straight to the sofa at once and let her fall on
it. Then as if I had in sober truth rescued her from an Alpine
height or an Arctic floe, I busied myself with nothing but lighting
the gas and starting the fire. I didn't even pause to lock my
door. All the time I was aware of her presence behind me, nay, of
something deeper and more my own--of her existence itself--of a
small blue flame, blue like her eyes, flickering and clear within
her frozen body. When I turned to her she was sitting very stiff
and upright, with her feet posed, hieratically on the carpet and
her head emerging out of the ample fur collar, such as a gem-like
flower above the rim of a dark vase. I tore the blankets and the
pillows off my bed and piled them up in readiness in a great heap
on the floor near the couch. My reason for this was that the room
was large, too large for the fireplace, and the couch was nearest
to the fire. She gave no sign but one of her wistful attempts at a
smile. In a most business-like way I took the arrow out of her
hair and laid it on the centre table. The tawny mass fell loose at
once about her shoulders and made her look even more desolate than
before. But there was an invincible need of gaiety in her heart.
She said funnily, looking at the arrow sparkling in the gas light:
"Ah! That poor philistinish ornament!"
An echo of our early days, not more innocent but so much more
youthful, was in her tone; and we both, as if touched with poignant
regret, looked at each other with enlightened eyes.
"Yes," I said, "how far away all this is. And you wouldn't leave
even that object behind when you came last in here. Perhaps it is
for that reason it haunted me--mostly at night. I dreamed of you
sometimes as a huntress nymph gleaming white through the foliage
and throwing this arrow like a dart straight at my heart. But it
never reached it. It always fell at my feet as I woke up. The
huntress never meant to strike down that particular quarry."
"The huntress was wild but she was not evil. And she was no nymph,
but only a goatherd girl. Dream of her no more, my dear."
I had the strength of mind to make a sign of assent and busied
myself arranging a couple of pillows at one end of the sofa. "Upon
my soul, goatherd, you are not responsible," I said. "You are not!
Lay down that uneasy head," I continued, forcing a half-playful
note into my immense sadness, "that has even dreamed of a crown--
but not for itself."
She lay down quietly. I covered her up, looked once into her eyes
and felt the restlessness of fatigue over-power me so that I wanted
to stagger out, walk straight before me, stagger on and on till I
dropped. In the end I lost myself in thought. I woke with a start
to her voice saying positively:
"No. Not even in this room. I can't close my eyes. Impossible.
I have a horror of myself. That voice in my ears. All true. All
She was sitting up, two masses of tawny hair fell on each side of
her tense face. I threw away the pillows from which she had risen
and sat down behind her on the couch. "Perhaps like this," I
suggested, drawing her head gently on my breast. She didn't
resist, she didn't even sigh, she didn't look at me or attempt to
settle herself in any way. It was I who settled her after taking
up a position which I thought I should be able to keep for hours--
for ages. After a time I grew composed enough to become aware of
the ticking of the clock, even to take pleasure in it. The beat
recorded the moments of her rest, while I sat, keeping as still as
if my life depended upon it with my eyes fixed idly on the arrow of
gold gleaming and glittering dimly on the table under the lowered
gas-jet. And presently my breathing fell into the quiet rhythm of
the sleep which descended on her at last. My thought was that now
nothing mattered in the world because I had the world safe resting
in my arms--or was it in my heart?
Suddenly my heart seemed torn in two within my breast and half of
my breath knocked out of me. It was a tumultuous awakening. The
day had come. Dona Rita had opened her eyes, found herself in my
arms, and instantly had flung herself out of them with one sudden
effort. I saw her already standing in the filtered sunshine of the
closed shutters, with all the childlike horror and shame of that
night vibrating afresh in the awakened body of the woman.
"Daylight," she whispered in an appalled voice. "Don't look at me,
George. I can't face daylight. No--not with you. Before we set
eyes on each other all that past was like nothing. I had crushed
it all in my new pride. Nothing could touch the Rita whose hand
was kissed by you. But now! Never in daylight."
I sat there stupid with surprise and grief. This was no longer the
adventure of venturesome children in a nursery-book. A grown man's
bitterness, informed, suspicious, resembling hatred, welled out of
"All this means that you are going to desert me again?" I said with
contempt. "All right. I won't throw stones after you . . . Are
you going, then?"
She lowered her head slowly with a backward gesture of her arm as
if to keep me off, for I had sprung to my feet all at once as if
"Then go quickly," I said. "You are afraid of living flesh and
blood. What are you running after? Honesty, as you say, or some
distinguished carcass to feed your vanity on? I know how cold you
can be--and yet live. What have I done to you? You go to sleep in
my arms, wake up and go away. Is it to impress me? Charlatanism
of character, my dear."
She stepped forward on her bare feet as firm on that floor which
seemed to heave up and down before my eyes as she had ever been--
goatherd child leaping on the rocks of her native hills which she
was never to see again. I snatched the arrow of gold from the
table and threw it after her.
"Don't forget this thing," I cried, "you would never forgive
yourself for leaving it behind."
It struck the back of the fur coat and fell on the floor behind
her. She never looked round. She walked to the door, opened it
without haste, and on the landing in the diffused light from the
ground-glass skylight there appeared, rigid, like an implacable and
obscure fate, the awful Therese--waiting for her sister. The heavy
ends of a big black shawl thrown over her head hung massively in
biblical folds. With a faint cry of dismay Dona Rita stopped just
within my room.
The two women faced each other for a few moments silently. Therese
spoke first. There was no austerity in her tone. Her voice was as
usual, pertinacious, unfeeling, with a slight plaint in it;
terrible in its unchanged purpose.
"I have been standing here before this door all night," she said.
"I don't know how I lived through it. I thought I would die a
hundred times for shame. So that's how you are spending your time?
You are worse than shameless. But God may still forgive you. You
have a soul. You are my sister. I will never abandon you--till
"What is it?" Dona Rita was heard wistfully, "my soul or this house
that you won't abandon."
"Come out and bow your head in humiliation. I am your sister and I
shall help you to pray to God and all the Saints. Come away from
that poor young gentleman who like all the others can have nothing
but contempt and disgust for you in his heart. Come and hide your
head where no one will reproach you--but I, your sister. Come out
and beat your breast: come, poor Sinner, and let me kiss you, for
you are my sister!"
While Therese was speaking Dona Rita stepped back a pace and as the
other moved forward still extending the hand of sisterly love, she
slammed the door in Therese's face. "You abominable girl!" she
cried fiercely. Then she turned about and walked towards me who
had not moved. I felt hardly alive but for the cruel pain that
possessed my whole being. On the way she stooped to pick up the
arrow of gold and then moved on quicker, holding it out to me in
her open palm.
"You thought I wouldn't give it to you. Amigo, I wanted nothing so
much as to give it to you. And now, perhaps--you will take it."
"Not without the woman," I said sombrely.
"Take it," she said. "I haven't the courage to deliver myself up
to Therese. No. Not even for your sake. Don't you think I have
been miserable enough yet?"
I snatched the arrow out of her hand then and ridiculously pressed
it to my breast; but as I opened my lips she who knew what was
struggling for utterance in my heart cried in a ringing tone:
"Speak no words of love, George! Not yet. Not in this house of
ill-luck and falsehood. Not within a hundred miles of this house,
where they came clinging to me all profaned from the mouth of that
man. Haven't you heard them--the horrible things? And what can
words have to do between you and me?"
Her hands were stretched out imploringly, I said, childishly
"But, Rita, how can I help using words of love to you? They come
of themselves on my lips!"
"They come! Ah! But I shall seal your lips with the thing
itself," she said. "Like this. . . "
The narrative of our man goes on for some six months more, from
this, the last night of the Carnival season up to and beyond the
season of roses. The tone of it is much less of exultation than
might have been expected. Love as is well known having nothing to
do with reason, being insensible to forebodings and even blind to
evidence, the surrender of those two beings to a precarious bliss
has nothing very astonishing in itself; and its portrayal, as he
attempts it, lacks dramatic interest. The sentimental interest
could only have a fascination for readers themselves actually in
love. The response of a reader depends on the mood of the moment,
so much so that a book may seem extremely interesting when read
late at night, but might appear merely a lot of vapid verbiage in
the morning. My conviction is that the mood in which the
continuation of his story would appear sympathetic is very rare.
This consideration has induced me to suppress it--all but the
actual facts which round up the previous events and satisfy such
curiosity as might have been aroused by the foregoing narrative.
It is to be remarked that this period is characterized more by a
deep and joyous tenderness than by sheer passion. All fierceness
of spirit seems to have burnt itself out in their preliminary
hesitations and struggles against each other and themselves.
Whether love in its entirety has, speaking generally, the same
elementary meaning for women as for men, is very doubtful.
Civilization has been at work there. But the fact is that those
two display, in every phase of discovery and response, an exact
accord. Both show themselves amazingly ingenuous in the practice
of sentiment. I believe that those who know women won't be
surprised to hear me say that she was as new to love as he was.
During their retreat in the region of the Maritime Alps, in a small
house built of dry stones and embowered with roses, they appear all
through to be less like released lovers than as companions who had
found out each other's fitness in a specially intense way. Upon
the whole, I think that there must be some truth in his insistence
of there having always been something childlike in their relation.
In the unreserved and instant sharing of all thoughts, all
impressions, all sensations, we see the naiveness of a children's
foolhardy adventure. This unreserved expressed for him the whole
truth of the situation. With her it may have been different. It
might have been assumed; yet nobody is altogether a comedian; and
even comedians themselves have got to believe in the part they
play. Of the two she appears much the more assured and confident.
But if in this she was a comedienne then it was but a great
achievement of her ineradicable honesty. Having once renounced her
honourable scruples she took good care that he should taste no
flavour of misgivings in the cup. Being older it was she who
imparted its character to the situation. As to the man if he had
any superiority of his own it was simply the superiority of him who
loves with the greater self-surrender.
This is what appears from the pages I have discreetly suppressed--
partly out of regard for the pages themselves. In every, even
terrestrial, mystery there is as it were a sacred core. A
sustained commentary on love is not fit for every eye. A universal
experience is exactly the sort of thing which is most difficult to
appraise justly in a particular instance.
How this particular instance affected Rose, who was the only
companion of the two hermits in their rose-embowered hut of stones,
I regret not to be able to report; but I will venture to say that
for reasons on which I need not enlarge, the girl could not have
been very reassured by what she saw. It seems to me that her
devotion could never be appeased; for the conviction must have been
growing on her that, no matter what happened, Madame could never
have any friends. It may be that Dona Rita had given her a glimpse
of the unavoidable end, and that the girl's tarnished eyes masked a
certain amount of apprehensive, helpless desolation.
What meantime was becoming of the fortune of Henry Allegre is
another curious question. We have been told that it was too big to
be tied up in a sack and thrown into the sea. That part of it
represented by the fabulous collections was still being protected
by the police. But for the rest, it may be assumed that its power
and significance were lost to an interested world for something
like six months. What is certain is that the late Henry Allegre's
man of affairs found himself comparatively idle. The holiday must
have done much good to his harassed brain. He had received a note
from Dona Rita saying that she had gone into retreat and that she
did not mean to send him her address, not being in the humour to be
worried with letters on any subject whatever. "It's enough for
you"--she wrote--"to know that I am alive." Later, at irregular
intervals, he received scraps of paper bearing the stamps of
various post offices and containing the simple statement: "I am
still alive," signed with an enormous, flourished exuberant R. I
imagine Rose had to travel some distances by rail to post those
messages. A thick veil of secrecy had been lowered between the
world and the lovers; yet even this veil turned out not altogether
He--it would be convenient to call him Monsieur George to the end--
shared with Dona Rita her perfect detachment from all mundane
affairs; but he had to make two short visits to Marseilles. The
first was prompted by his loyal affection for Dominic. He wanted
to discover what had happened or was happening to Dominic and to
find out whether he could do something for that man. But Dominic
was not the sort of person for whom one can do much. Monsieur
George did not even see him. It looked uncommonly as if Dominic's
heart were broken. Monsieur George remained concealed for twenty-
four hours in the very house in which Madame Leonore had her cafe.
He spent most of that time in conversing with Madame Leonore about
Dominic. She was distressed, but her mind was made up. That
bright-eyed, nonchalant, and passionate woman was making
arrangements to dispose of her cafe before departing to join
Dominic. She would not say where. Having ascertained that his
assistance was not required Monsieur George, in his own words,
"managed to sneak out of the town without being seen by a single
soul that mattered."
The second occasion was very prosaic and shockingly incongruous
with the super-mundane colouring of these days. He had neither the
fortune of Henry Allegre nor a man of affairs of his own. But some
rent had to be paid to somebody for the stone hut and Rose could
not go marketing in the tiny hamlet at the foot of the hill without
a little money. There came a time when Monsieur George had to
descend from the heights of his love in order, in his own words,
"to get a supply of cash." As he had disappeared very suddenly and
completely for a time from the eyes of mankind it was necessary
that he should show himself and sign some papers. That business
was transacted in the office of the banker mentioned in the story.
Monsieur George wished to avoid seeing the man himself but in this
he did not succeed. The interview was short. The banker naturally
asked no questions, made no allusions to persons and events, and
didn't even mention the great Legitimist Principle which presented
to him now no interest whatever. But for the moment all the world
was talking of the Carlist enterprise. It had collapsed utterly,
leaving behind, as usual, a large crop of recriminations, charges
of incompetency and treachery, and a certain amount of scandalous
gossip. The banker (his wife's salon had been very Carlist indeed)
declared that he had never believed in the success of the cause.
"You are well out of it," he remarked with a chilly smile to
Monsieur George. The latter merely observed that he had been very
little "in it" as a matter of fact, and that he was quite
indifferent to the whole affair.
"You left a few of your feathers in it, nevertheless," the banker
concluded with a wooden face and with the curtness of a man who
Monsieur George ought to have taken the very next train out of the
town but he yielded to the temptation to discover what had happened
to the house in the street of the Consuls after he and Dona Rita
had stolen out of it like two scared yet jubilant children. All he
discovered was a strange, fat woman, a sort of virago, who had,
apparently, been put in as a caretaker by the man of affairs. She
made some difficulties to admit that she had been in charge for the
last four months; ever since the person who was there before had
eloped with some Spaniard who had been lying in the house ill with
fever for more than six weeks. No, she never saw the person.
Neither had she seen the Spaniard. She had only heard the talk of
the street. Of course she didn't know where these people had gone.
She manifested some impatience to get rid of Monsieur George and
even attempted to push him towards the door. It was, he says, a
very funny experience. He noticed the feeble flame of the gas-jet
in the hall still waiting for extinction in the general collapse of
Then he decided to have a bit of dinner at the Restaurant de la
Gare where he felt pretty certain he would not meet any of his
friends. He could not have asked Madame Leonore for hospitality
because Madame Leonore had gone away already. His acquaintances
were not the sort of people likely to happen casually into a
restaurant of that kind and moreover he took the precaution to seat
himself at a small table so as to face the wall. Yet before long
he felt a hand laid gently on his shoulder, and, looking up, saw
one of his acquaintances, a member of the Royalist club, a young
man of a very cheerful disposition but whose face looked down at
him with a grave and anxious expression.
Monsieur George was far from delighted. His surprise was extreme
when in the course of the first phrases exchanged with him he
learned that this acquaintance had come to the station with the
hope of finding him there.
"You haven't been seen for some time," he said. "You were perhaps
somewhere where the news from the world couldn't reach you? There
have been many changes amongst our friends and amongst people one
used to hear of so much. There is Madame de Lastaola for instance,
who seems to have vanished from the world which was so much
interested in her. You have no idea where she may be now?"
Monsieur George remarked grumpily that he couldn't say.
The other tried to appear at ease. Tongues were wagging about it
in Paris. There was a sort of international financier, a fellow
with an Italian name, a shady personality, who had been looking for
her all over Europe and talked in clubs--astonishing how such
fellows get into the best clubs--oh! Azzolati was his name. But
perhaps what a fellow like that said did not matter. The funniest
thing was that there was no man of any position in the world who
had disappeared at the same time. A friend in Paris wrote to him
that a certain well-known journalist had rushed South to
investigate the mystery but had returned no wiser than he went.
Monsieur George remarked more unamiably than before that he really
could not help all that.
"No," said the other with extreme gentleness, "only of all the
people more or less connected with the Carlist affair you are the
only one that had also disappeared before the final collapse."
"What!" cried Monsieur George.
"Just so," said the other meaningly. "You know that all my people
like you very much, though they hold various opinions as to your
discretion. Only the other day Jane, you know my married sister,
and I were talking about you. She was extremely distressed. I
assured her that you must be very far away or very deeply buried
somewhere not to have given a sign of life under this provocation.
Naturally Monsieur George wanted to know what it was all about; and
the other appeared greatly relieved.
"I was sure you couldn't have heard. I don't want to be
indiscreet, I don't want to ask you where you were. It came to my
ears that you had been seen at the bank to-day and I made a special
effort to lay hold of you before you vanished again; for, after
all, we have been always good friends and all our lot here liked
you very much. Listen. You know a certain Captain Blunt, don't
Monsieur George owned to knowing Captain Blunt but only very
slightly. His friend then informed him that this Captain Blunt was
apparently well acquainted with Madame de Lastaola, or, at any
rate, pretended to be. He was an honourable man, a member of a
good club, he was very Parisian in a way, and all this, he
continued, made all the worse that of which he was under the
painful necessity of warning Monsieur George. This Blunt on three
distinct occasions when the name of Madame de Lastaola came up in
conversation in a mixed company of men had expressed his regret
that she should have become the prey of a young adventurer who was
exploiting her shamelessly. He talked like a man certain of his
facts and as he mentioned names . . .
"In fact," the young man burst out excitedly, "it is your name that
he mentions. And in order to fix the exact personality he always
takes care to add that you are that young fellow who was known as
Monsieur George all over the South amongst the initiated Carlists."
How Blunt had got enough information to base that atrocious calumny
upon, Monsieur George couldn't imagine. But there it was. He kept
silent in his indignation till his friend murmured, "I expect you
will want him to know that you are here."
"Yes," said Monsieur George, "and I hope you will consent to act
for me altogether. First of all, pray, let him know by wire that I
am waiting for him. This will be enough to fetch him down here, I
can assure you. You may ask him also to bring two friends with
him. I don't intend this to be an affair for Parisian journalists
to write paragraphs about."
"Yes. That sort of thing must be stopped at once," the other
admitted. He assented to Monsieur George's request that the
meeting should be arranged for at his elder brother's country place
where the family stayed very seldom. There was a most convenient
walled garden there. And then Monsieur George caught his train
promising to be back on the fourth day and leaving all further
arrangements to his friend. He prided himself on his
impenetrability before Dona Rita; on the happiness without a shadow
of those four days. However, Dona Rita must have had the intuition
of there being something in the wind, because on the evening of the
very same day on which he left her again on some pretence or other,
she was already ensconced in the house in the street of the
Consuls, with the trustworthy Rose scouting all over the town to
Of the proceedings in the walled garden there is no need to speak
in detail. They were conventionally correct, but an earnestness of
purpose which could be felt in the very air lifted the business
above the common run of affairs of honour. One bit of byplay
unnoticed by the seconds, very busy for the moment with their
arrangements, must be mentioned. Disregarding the severe rules of
conduct in such cases Monsieur George approached his adversary and
addressed him directly.
"Captain Blunt," he said, "the result of this meeting may go
against me. In that case you will recognize publicly that you were
wrong. For you are wrong and you know it. May I trust your
In answer to that appeal Captain Blunt, always correct, didn't open
his lips but only made a little bow. For the rest he was perfectly
ruthless. If he was utterly incapable of being carried away by
love there was nothing equivocal about his jealousy. Such
psychology is not very rare and really from the point of view of
the combat itself one cannot very well blame him. What happened
was this. Monsieur George fired on the word and, whether luck or
skill, managed to hit Captain Blunt in the upper part of the arm
which was holding the pistol. That gentleman's arm dropped
powerless by his side. But he did not drop his weapon. There was
nothing equivocal about his determination. With the greatest
deliberation he reached with his left hand for his pistol and
taking careful aim shot Monsieur George through the left side of
his breast. One may imagine the consternation of the four seconds
and the activity of the two surgeons in the confined, drowsy heat
of that walled garden. It was within an easy drive of the town and
as Monsieur George was being conveyed there at a walking pace a
little brougham coming from the opposite direction pulled up at the
side of the road. A thickly veiled woman's head looked out of the
window, took in the state of affairs at a glance, and called out in
a firm voice: "Follow my carriage." The brougham turning round
took the lead. Long before this convoy reached the town another
carriage containing four gentlemen (of whom one was leaning back
languidly with his arm in a sling) whisked past and vanished ahead
in a cloud of white, Provencal dust. And this is the last
appearance of Captain Blunt in Monsieur George's narrative. Of
course he was only told of it later. At the time he was not in a
condition to notice things. Its interest in his surroundings
remained of a hazy and nightmarish kind for many days together.
From time to time he had the impression that he was in a room
strangely familiar to him, that he had unsatisfactory visions of
Dona Rita, to whom he tried to speak as if nothing had happened,
but that she always put her hand on his mouth to prevent him and
then spoke to him herself in a very strange voice which sometimes
resembled the voice of Rose. The face, too, sometimes resembled
the face of Rose. There were also one or two men's faces which he
seemed to know well enough though he didn't recall their names. He
could have done so with a slight effort, but it would have been too
much trouble. Then came a time when the hallucinations of Dona
Rita and the faithful Rose left him altogether. Next came a
period, perhaps a year, or perhaps an hour, during which he seemed
to dream all through his past life. He felt no apprehension, he
didn't try to speculate as to the future. He felt that all
possible conclusions were out of his power, and therefore he was
indifferent to everything. He was like that dream's disinterested
spectator who doesn't know what is going to happen next. Suddenly
for the first time in his life he had the soul-satisfying
consciousness of floating off into deep slumber.
When he woke up after an hour, or a day, or a month, there was dusk
in the room; but he recognized it perfectly. It was his apartment
in Dona Rita's house; those were the familiar surroundings in which
he had so often told himself that he must either die or go mad.
But now he felt perfectly clear-headed and the full sensation of
being alive came all over him, languidly delicious. The greatest
beauty of it was that there was no need to move. This gave him a
sort of moral satisfaction. Then the first thought independent of
personal sensations came into his head. He wondered when Therese
would come in and begin talking. He saw vaguely a human figure in
the room but that was a man. He was speaking in a deadened voice
which had yet a preternatural distinctness.
"This is the second case I have had in this house, and I am sure
that directly or indirectly it was connected with that woman. She
will go on like this leaving a track behind her and then some day
there will be really a corpse. This young fellow might have been
"In this case, Doctor," said another voice, "one can't blame the
woman very much. I assure you she made a very determined fight."
"What do you mean? That she didn't want to. . . "
"Yes. A very good fight. I heard all about it. It is easy to
blame her, but, as she asked me despairingly, could she go through
life veiled from head to foot or go out of it altogether into a
convent? No, she isn't guilty. She is simply--what she is."
"And what's that?"
"Very much of a woman. Perhaps a little more at the mercy of
contradictory impulses than other women. But that's not her fault.
I really think she has been very honest."
The voices sank suddenly to a still lower murmur and presently the
shape of the man went out of the room. Monsieur George heard
distinctly the door open and shut. Then he spoke for the first
time, discovering, with a particular pleasure, that it was quite
easy to speak. He was even under the impression that he had
"Who is here?"
From the shadow of the room (he recognized at once the
characteristic outlines of the bulky shape) Mills advanced to the
side of the bed. Dona Rita had telegraphed to him on the day of
the duel and the man of books, leaving his retreat, had come as
fast as boats and trains could carry him South. For, as he said
later to Monsieur George, he had become fully awake to his part of
responsibility. And he added: "It was not of you alone that I was
thinking." But the very first question that Monsieur George put to
"How long is it since I saw you last?"
"Something like ten months," answered Mills' kindly voice.
"Ah! Is Therese outside the door? She stood there all night, you
"Yes, I heard of it. She is hundreds of miles away now."
"Well, then, ask Rita to come in."
"I can't do that, my dear boy," said Mills with affectionate
gentleness. He hesitated a moment. "Dona Rita went away
yesterday," he said softly.
"Went away? Why?" asked Monsieur George.
"Because, I am thankful to say, your life is no longer in danger.
And I have told you that she is gone because, strange as it may
seem, I believe you can stand this news better now than later when
you get stronger."
It must be believed that Mills was right. Monsieur George fell
asleep before he could feel any pang at that intelligence. A sort
of confused surprise was in his mind but nothing else, and then his
eyes closed. The awakening was another matter. But that, too,
Mills had foreseen. For days he attended the bedside patiently
letting the man in the bed talk to him of Dona Rita but saying
little himself; till one day he was asked pointedly whether she had
ever talked to him openly. And then he said that she had, on more
than one occasion. "She told me amongst other things," Mills said,
"if this is any satisfaction to you to know, that till she met you
she knew nothing of love. That you were to her in more senses than
one a complete revelation."
"And then she went away. Ran away from the revelation," said the
man in the bed bitterly.
"What's the good of being angry?" remonstrated Mills, gently. "You
know that this world is not a world for lovers, not even for such
lovers as you two who have nothing to do with the world as it is.
No, a world of lovers would be impossible. It would be a mere ruin
of lives which seem to be meant for something else. What this
something is, I don't know; and I am certain," he said with playful
compassion, "that she and you will never find out."
A few days later they were again talking of Dona Rita Mills said:
"Before she left the house she gave me that arrow she used to wear
in her hair to hand over to you as a keepsake and also to prevent
you, she said, from dreaming of her. This message sounds rather
"Oh, I understand perfectly," said Monsieur George. "Don't give me
the thing now. Leave it somewhere where I can find it some day
when I am alone. But when you write to her you may tell her that
now at last--surer than Mr. Blunt's bullet--the arrow has found its
mark. There will be no more dreaming. Tell her. She will
"I don't even know where she is," murmured Mills.
"No, but her man of affairs knows. . . . Tell me, Mills, what will
become of her?"
"She will be wasted," said Mills sadly. "She is a most unfortunate
creature. Not even poverty could save her now. She cannot go back
to her goats. Yet who can tell? She may find something in life.
She may! It won't be love. She has sacrificed that chance to the
integrity of your life--heroically. Do you remember telling her
once that you meant to live your life integrally--oh, you lawless
young pedant! Well, she is gone; but you may be sure that whatever
she finds now in life it will not be peace. You understand me?
Not even in a convent."
"She was supremely lovable," said the wounded man, speaking of her
as if she were lying dead already on his oppressed heart.
"And elusive," struck in Mills in a low voice. "Some of them are
like that. She will never change. Amid all the shames and shadows
of that life there will always lie the ray of her perfect honesty.
I don't know about your honesty, but yours will be the easier lot.
You will always have your . . . other love--you pig-headed
enthusiast of the sea."
"Then let me go to it," cried the enthusiast. "Let me go to it."
He went to it as soon as he had strength enough to feel the
crushing weight of his loss (or his gain) fully, and discovered
that he could bear it without flinching. After this discovery he
was fit to face anything. He tells his correspondent that if he
had been more romantic he would never have looked at any other
woman. But on the contrary. No face worthy of attention escaped
him. He looked at them all; and each reminded him of Dona Rita,
either by some profound resemblance or by the startling force of
The faithful austerity of the sea protected him from the rumours
that fly on the tongues of men. He never heard of her. Even the
echoes of the sale of the great Allegre collection failed to reach
him. And that event must have made noise enough in the world. But
he never heard. He does not know. Then, years later, he was
deprived even of the arrow. It was lost to him in a stormy
catastrophe; and he confesses that next day he stood on a rocky,
wind-assaulted shore, looking at the seas raging over the very spot
of his loss and thought that it was well. It was not a thing that
one could leave behind one for strange hands--for the cold eyes of
ignorance. Like the old King of Thule with the gold goblet of his
mistress he would have had to cast it into the sea, before he died.
He says he smiled at the romantic notion. But what else could he
have done with it?