Part 6 out of 8
She did not hear what passed between them; but the bearded man seemed
confident and comfortable and compelling, and presently he and the maid
went into the house, while the other man leaned against the railings
and stared out before him at a tiny star which had appeared in a crack
between the driven clouds. Lonely and afraid he looked, and strangely
like herself. The misery of him drew her irresistibly. Always before,
she had shunned the people of every day, having no understanding of
their pleasures or sorrows, seeing little meaning in their lives or
deaths. But here was a mortal who was different, who was magnetic, and,
almost without realising, she passed out of the house, crossed the road
and stood before him, the corners of her cloak draped across her arms.
He did not seem aware of her at once, and even when she spoke to him in
Italian of the Renaissance he did not hear. So she spoke again and this
time in English: "What is it?"
He started, rubbed his eyes, blinked at her and answered: "Hullo, who
"What is it?" she repeated. "Have you lost something?"
"Don't--don't!" he pleaded. "Don't even suggest such a thing, little
"I won't. I only thought--and you looked so sad."
"Be all right directly. It's the waiting. Kind of you to stop and speak
to me." His eyes strayed over the gold and blue of her cloak. "Been to
a theatre?" he asked.
She shook her head and looked up at him with a child's perplexity.
"A play?" he amended.
"I've no one to play with," she answered simply. "See!" And she held
out her empty arms.
"What's wrong then?"
"I don't know." She seemed to dwell on the last word. "I only
thought--perhaps you could tell me."
"Tell you what?"
"Help me to find it perhaps. It seemed as if you were looking, too;
that's why I came."
"Looking?" he repeated. "I'm waiting; that's all."
"Me too. But it's such a long time, and I get no nearer."
"Nearer to what?"
"Something you lost?"
"I think so. Must be. I'll go back now."
He put out a hand to stop her. "Listen," he said. "It'll be hours
before I shall know. I'm frightened to spend them alone. Be a friend,
little lady, and bear me company. 'Tisn't fair to ask, but if you could
stay a little."
"I'll stay," she said.
"And will you talk to me?"
"Tell me a story then--just as if I were a kid, a child. A man isn't
much more these times."
At the word "child" her arms went out to him, but dropped to her sides
again as he said "a man."
"Come under the porch, where the rain won't spoil your pretty silk.
That's better. Now tell away."
They sat side by side, and she began to talk. He must have been
listening for other sounds, or surely he would have been bewildered at
the very beginning of what she told.
"It's hard to remember when one was alive, but I used to be--yes,
hundreds of years ago. I lived--can't remember very well; there was a
high wall all around, and a tower and a bell that rang for prayers--and
long, long passages where we walked up and down to tell our beads.
Outside were mountains with snow caps like the heads of the sisters,
and it was cold as snow within, cold and pure as snow. I was sixteen
years old and very unhappy. We did not know how to smile; that I learnt
later and have forgotten since. There was the skull of a dead man upon
the table where we sat to eat, that we might never forget to what
favour we must come. There were no pretty rooms in that house."
"What would you call a pretty room?" he asked, for the last sentence
was the first of which he was aware.
"I don't know," she answered. "I think a room with little beds, and
wooden bars across the window, and a high fender would be a pretty
"We have been busy making such a room as that," he said. "There's a
wall paper with pigs and chickens and huntsmen on it. But go on."
"There were iron bars to the window of my cell. He was very strong and
tore them out with his hands as he stood up on the saddle of his horse.
We rode into Florence as dawn broke, and the sun was an angry red;
while we rode his arm was around me and my head upon his shoulder. He
spoke in my ear and his voice trembled for love of me. We had thrown
away the raiment of the sisterhood to which I had belonged, and as I
lay across the saddle I was wrapped in a cloak as crimson as the sun."
"Been reading Tennyson, little lady?" asked the man.
She did not understand, and went on: "It was a palace to which he
brought me, bright with gold, mosaic and fine hangings that dazzled my
eyes after the grey they had been used to look upon. There were many
servants and richly clad friends, who frightened me with their laughter
and the boldness of their looks. On his shoulder he bore me into the
great dining hall, where they sat awaiting us, and one and all they
rose to their feet, leaping upon stools and tables with uplifted
goblets and shouting toasts.
"The noise was greater than any I had heard before and set my heart
a-beating like the clapper of the convent bell. But one only stayed in
his chair, and his looks were heavy with anger. At him the rest pointed
fingers and called on him derisively to pay the wager and be glad.
Whereat he tugged from his belt a bag of gold which he flung at us as
though with the will to injure. But he who held me caught the bag in
his free hand, broke the sealed cord at the neck of it and scattered
the coins in a golden rain among the servants.
"After this, he set me by his side at the board, gave me drink from a
brimming goblet and quails cooked in honey from wild bees and silver
dishes of nectarines and passion fruit. And presently by twos and
threes the guests departed, singing and reeling as they went, and he
and I were left alone. Alone," she repeated shuddering.
"Did you hear anything?" said the young man, raising his head. "A cry,
a little cry? No? I can hear footsteps moving up and down. Doctors'
boots always creak. There! Listen! It was nothing. What were you
"Twice in the months that followed I tried to run away, to return to
the convent; but the servants whom I had counted my friends deceived
me, and I was brought back to a beating, brought back strapped to his
stirrup iron as I might have been a Nubian slave. Long since he had
ceased loving me; that lasted such a little while. He called me
Madonna, as though it were a term of shame, and cursed me for coldness
and my nunnery ways. He was only happy when he read in my face the fear
I held him in. And I was always afraid!"
"Afraid!" echoed the man. "Until to-night I was never afraid."
"And then my baby came, and I was not afraid any more, but contented
all through. I carried him always in my arms by day and night. So pink
and little and with a smile that warmed like sunshine." She paused and
added plaintively: "It's hard to remember when one was alive. My hands,
my arms have forgotten the feel of him."
"I wish," said the man, "I'd had a second opinion. It might have
frightened her though. Oh, heaven, how much longer! Don't mind me,
little lady. You're helping no end. You were speaking of baby. Yes!"
"He killed my baby," said the little Madonna, "because he had killed my
fear of him. Then being done with me, he threw me out in the streets
alone. I thought to end it that night, because my arms were empty and
nothing could be good again. But I could not believe the baby was
indeed gone; I thought if I searched I would find him in the course of
time. Therefore I searched the city from end to end and spoke with
mothers and peeped into nurseries and knocked at many doors. And one
day a door was opened by a man with great eyes and bronze hair swept
back from his brow--a good man. He wore a loose smock over his doublet,
smeared with many colours, and in his left hand he held a palette and
brushes. When he saw me he fell back a pace and his mouth opened.
'Mother of mercy!' he breathed. 'A real Madonna at last!' His name was
Andrea del Sarto, and he was a painter."
"I am a painter, too," said the young man, forgetting his absorption at
the mention of a great name.
"He brought me into his room, which was bright with windows and a fire.
He bade me tell my story, and while I spoke never once did his eyes
desert me. When I had ended he rose and walked up and down. Then he
took from a chest a cloak of blue and gold and draped it round me.
'Stand upon that throne, Madonna,' said he, 'and I will put an infant
in your arms that shall live down all the ages.' And he painted me. So
with the child at my breast, I myself had passed into the picture and
found contentment there.
"When it was finished the great ones of many cities came to look upon
it, and the story of how I came to be painted went from mouth to mouth.
Among those who were there was he who had taken me from the nunnery,
and, seeing me in perfect happiness, a fury was born in him.
"I was hidden behind a hanging and watched the black anger rising up
and knotting his brow into ugly lines. He bought the canvas, and his
servants carried it away. But since the child was in my arms for all
time it mattered little to me.
"Then one night two men came to my lodging and without question took me
across the city and led me into the palace where I had lived with him.
And he came forward to meet me in the great hall. There was a mocking
smile on his lips and he pointed to a wall upon which a curtain was
"'I took away that child,' he said, 'because you valued it higher than
the love of man. Look now.' At a gesture a servant threw back the
hanging and revealed the picture. The babe was gone and my arms crooked
to cradle him were empty with the palms upturned.
"I died then--to the sound of his laughter I died, and, looking down
from the canvas, I watched them carry me away. And long into the night
the man who twice had robbed me of my child sat at the long table
staring out before him, drinking great draughts and sometimes beating
the boards with his bare fists. As dawn broke he clapped his hands and
a servant entered. He pointed at me with a shaking hand. 'Take it
away,' he cried. 'To a cellar, and let masons brick up the door.' He
was weeping as they carried me down to the dark beneath the house."
"What a strange being you are!" said the young man. "You speak as
though these were real memories. What happened to the picture then?"
"I lay in the dark for so long--hundreds of years, I think--and there
was nowhere I might look. Afterward I was found and packed in a box and
presently put upon the wall in the sad room, where everything is so old
that I shall not find him there. This is the furthest I have dared to
look. Help me find him, please! Won't you help me find him?"
"Why, little lady," he answered soothingly, "how shall I help? That's a
woman's burden that heaven isn't merciful enough to let a man share."
He stopped abruptly and threw up his head. "Did you hear that--there?"
Through the still, early morning air came a faint, reedy cry.
The young man was upon his feet, fiercely fitting a key into the lock.
The little Madonna had risen, too, and her eyes were luminous, like
glowworms in the dark.
"He's calling me," she cried. "He's calling."
"Mine," said the young man.
She turned to follow, but the door closed between them.
* * * * *
To the firm of Messrs. Ridgewell, Ridgewell, Hitchcock and Plum was
given the task of disposing of the furniture and effects of the late
Sabina Prestwich, spinster, of 22a Cambridge Avenue, Hyde Park, W.
As Mr. Ridgewell, junior, remarked to Mr. Plum while engaged in
compiling the sale list and supplying appropriate encomiums to describe
an upright grand by Rubenthal, Berlin: "Victorian muck! Lucky if we
clean up two-fifty on the lot."
Mr. Plum was disposed to agree. "Though I must say," he added, "it
wouldn't surprise me if that picture was worth a bit. Half a mind to
let old Kineagie have a squint at it."
"Please yourself," responded Mr. Ridgewell, junior, "but to my mind
it's ten guineas for nix."
It was the chance discovery of an old document amongst a litter of
receipts and papers that persuaded them to engage an expert opinion.
The document stated that the picture had been discovered bricked up in
a Florentine cellar some fifty years before and had been successfully
smuggled out of Italy. But the man who found it died, and it passed
with a few other unvalued possessions to Sabina Prestwich, now
The result of Eden Kineagie's visit to the house in Cambridge Avenue
was the immediate transference of the canvas to Sotheby's Sale Rooms, a
concerted rush on the part of every European and American connoisseur,
a threatening letter from the Italian Foreign Office, some extravagant
bidding and the ultimate purchase of the picture for the nation, after
a heated debate on the part of twenty-two Royal Academicians and five
painters of the new school, who would have accepted death rather than
the letters; R.A., after their names. Extensive correspondence appeared
in the leading papers; persons wrote expressing the opinion that the
picture had never been painted by Del Sarto, that it was the finest
example of his work, that the price paid was a further example of
government waste, and that the money would have been better employed
repairing the main road between Croydon Town Hall and Sydenham High
Street, the condition of which constituted a menace to motor-cyclists.
For nearly ten days scarcely a single publication appeared that failed
to reproduce a comment or criticism upon the subject; but, strangely
enough, no single leader, writer or casual contributor remarked upon
the oddness of the composition or the absence of the Infant from the
Madonna's arms. In the course of time--that is to say, on the eleventh
day--the matter passed from the public mind, a circumstance explainable
perhaps by the decent interment of the canvas in the National Gallery,
where it affected no one save those mysterious folk who look at
pictures for their pleasure and the umbrellaless refugee who is driven
to take shelter from the fierceness of storms.
The little Madonna was placed upon a south wall, whence she could look
out upon a brave company. And sometimes people would pause to gaze at
her and then shake their heads. And once a girl said, "How sad she
looks! I wonder why." And once a little old lady with industrious hands
set up an easel before her and squeezed little twists of colour upon a
palette, then thought a long time and pursed her lips, and puzzled her
brow and finally murmured, "I could never copy it. It's so--so
changing." And she, too, went away.
The little Madonna did not dare to step from her frame at night, for
other mothers were at hand cradling their babes and the sound of her
footfalls might have wakened them. But it was hard to stay still and
alone in that happy nursery. She could see through an archway to the
right a picture Rubens had painted, and it was all aglow with babies
like roses clustered at a porch--fat, dimpled babies who rolled and
laughed in aerial garlands. It would have been nice to pick one and
carry it back with her. Yet perhaps they were not really mothers'
children, but sprites and joys that had not learned the way to nestle.
Had it been otherwise surely the very call of her spirit must have
brought one leaping to her arms.
And then one day came a man and girl, who stopped before her. The girl
was half child, half woman, and the man grey and bearded, but with
brave blue eyes. It was seventeen years since the night she had stolen
across the way and talked with this man in his hour of terror, but time
did not cloud the little Madonna's memory with the dust of
"That's the new Del Sarto," said the girl, who was reading from a small
blue book. "See, daddy?"
Then the man turned and looked at her, fell back a step, came forward
again, passed a hand across his mouth and gasped. "What is it?" asked
He did not answer at once, then: "The night you were born----" he said.
"I'm certain.... It's--it's Del Sarto too! And the poor empty arms.
Just how she looked, and I closed the door on her."
"Daddy, what are you saying?" There was a frightened tone in the girl's
"It's all right, dear, don't mind me. I must find the keeper of the
gallery. Poor little lady! Run back home, tell your mother I may be
"There are more things in heaven and earth," he began, but did not
finish. It seemed as though the Madonna's eyes were pleading to him,
and it seemed as if he could still hear her say, "Help me find him,
He told his story to the Committee of the National Gallery and, to do
them credit, it was received with the utmost courtesy.
They did not require him to leave them while their decision was made.
This was arrived at by a mere exchange of glances, a nod answered by a
tilt of the head, a wave of the hand, a kindly smile; and the thing was
As the chairman remarked: "We must not forget that this gentleman was
living at the time opposite to the house in which the picture was
hanging, and it is possible that a light had been left burning in the
room that contained it.
"Those of us who are fathers--and I regret for my own part that I
cannot claim the distinction--will bear me out that the condition of a
man's mind during the painful period of waiting for news as to his
wife's progress is apt to depart from the normal and make room for
imaginings that in saner moments he must dismiss as absurd. There has
been a great deal of discussion and not a little criticism on the part
of the public as to the committee's wisdom in purchasing this picture,
and I am confident you will all agree with me that we could be
responsible for no greater folly than to work upon the canvas with
various removers on the bare hypothesis, unsupported by surface
suggestion, that the Madonna's arms actually contain a child painted in
the first intention. For my own part, I am well assured that at no
period of its being has the picture been tampered with, and it is a
matter of no small surprise to me, sir, that an artist of your
undoubted quality and achievement should hold a contrary opinion. We
are, greatly obliged for the courtesy of your visit and trust that you
will feel after this liberal discussion that your conscience is free
from further responsibility in the matter. Good-day."
That was the end of the interview. Once again the door was slammed in
the little Madonna's face.
That night the man told his wife all about it. "So you see," he
concluded, "there is nothing more I can do."
But she lay awake and puzzled and yearned long after he had fallen
asleep. And once she rose and peeped into the room that used to be the
nursery. It was a changed room now, for the child had grown up, and
where once pigs and chickens and huntsmen had jostled in happy,
farmyard disorder upon the walls, now there were likenesses of Owen
Nares and Henry Ainley, obligingly autographed.
But for her the spirit prevailed, the kindly bars still ribbed the
windows and the sense of sleeping children still haunted the air.
And she it was who told the man what he must do; and although it scared
him a great deal he agreed, for in the end all good husbands obey their
It felt very eerie to be alone in the National Gallery in the dead of
the night with a tiny electric lamp in one's buttonhole and a sponge of
alcohol and turpentine in one's hand. While he worked the little
Madonna's eyes rested upon him and it could hardly have been mere fancy
that made him believe they were full of gratitude and trust. At the end
of an hour the outline of a child, faint and misty, appeared in her
arms, its head, circled by a tiny white halo, snuggling against the
curve of her little breast.
Then the man stepped back and gave a shout of joy and, remembering the
words the painter had used, he cried out, "I will put an infant in your
arms that shall live down all the ages."
He had thought perhaps there would come an answering gladness from the
Madonna herself and looked into her face to find it. And truly enough
it was there. Her eyes, which for centuries had looked questingly forth
from the canvas, now drooped and rested upon the baby. Her mouth, so
sadly downturned at the corners, had sweetened to a smile of perfect
and serene content.
But the men will not believe he washed away the sadness of her looks
with alcohol and turpentine. "I did not touch the head. I am certain I
did not," he repeated.
"Then how can you explain----"
"Oh, heaven!" he answered. "Put a child in any woman's arms."
By MAY SINCLAIR
(From _The Dial_)
She arranged herself there, on that divan, and I knew she'd come to
tell me all about it. It was wonderful, how, at forty-seven, she could
still give that effect of triumph and excess, of something rich and
ruinous and beautiful spread out on the brocades. The attitude showed
me that her affair with Norman Hippisley was prospering; otherwise she
couldn't have afforded the extravagance of it.
"I know what you want," I said. "You want me to congratulate you."
"Yes. I do."
"I congratulate you on your courage."
"Oh, you don't like him," she said placably.
"No, I don't like him at all."
"He likes you," she said. "He thinks no end of your painting."
"I'm not denying he's a judge of painting. I'm not even denying he can
paint a little himself."
"Better than you, Roly."
"If you allow for the singular, obscene ugliness of his imagination,
"It's beautiful enough when he gets it into paint," she said. "He makes
beauty. His own beauty."
"Oh, very much his own."
"Well, _you_ just go on imitating other people's--God's or somebody's."
She continued with her air of perfect reasonableness. "I know he isn't
good-looking. Not half so good-looking as you are. But I like him. I
like his slender little body and his clever, faded face. There's a
quality about him, a distinction. And look at his eyes. _Your_ mind
doesn't come rushing and blazing out of your eyes, my dear."
"No. No. I'm afraid it doesn't rush. And for all the blaze--"
"Well, that's what I'm in love with, the rush, Roly, and the blaze. And
I'm in love, _for the first time_" (she underlined it) "with a man."
"Come," I said, "come."
"Oh, _I_ know. I know you're thinking of Lawson Young and Dickey
"Well, but they don't count. I wasn't in love with Lawson. It was his
career. If he hadn't been a Cabinet Minister; if he hadn't been so
desperately gone on me; if he hadn't said it all depended on me--"
"Yes," I said. "I can see how it would go to your head."
"It didn't. It went to my heart." She was quite serious and solemn. "I
held him in my hands, Roly. And he held England. I couldn't let him
drop, could I? I had to think of England."
It was wonderful--Lena Wrace thinking that she thought of England.
I said "Of course. But for your political foresight and your virtuous
action we should never have had Tariff Reform."
"We should never have had anything," she said. "And look at him now.
Look how he's crumpled up since he left me. It's pitiful."
"It is. I'm afraid Mrs. Withers doesn't care about Tariff Reform."
"Poor thing. No. Don't imagine I'm jealous of her, Roly. She hasn't got
him. I mean she hasn't got what I had."
"All the same he left you. And you weren't ecstatically happy with him
the last year or two."
"I daresay I'd have done better to have married you, if that's what you
It wasn't what I meant. But she'd always entertained the illusion that
she could marry me any minute if she wanted to; and I hadn't the heart
to take it from her since it seemed to console her for the way, the
really very infamous way, he had left her.
So I said, "Much better."
"It would have been so nice, so safe," she said. "But I never played
for safety." Then she made one of her quick turns.
"Frances Archdale ought to marry you. Why doesn't she?"
"How should I know? Frances's reasons would be exquisite. I suppose I
didn't appeal to her sense of fitness."
"Sense of fiddlesticks. She just hasn't got any temperament, that
"Any temperament for me, you mean."
"I mean pure cussedness," said Lena.
"Perhaps. But, you see, if I were unfortunate enough she probably
_would_ marry me. If I lost my eyesight or a leg or an arm, if I
couldn't sell any more pictures--"
"If you can understand Frances, you can understand me. That's how I
felt about Dickey. I wasn't in love with him. I was sorry for him. I
knew he'd go to pieces if I wasn't there to keep him together. Perhaps
it's the maternal instinct."
"Perhaps," I said. Lena's reasons for her behaviour amused me; they
were never exquisite, like Frances's, but she was anxious that you
should think they were.
"So you see," she said, "they don't count, and Norry really _is_ the
I reflected that he would be also, probably, the last. She had, no
doubt, to make the most of him. But it was preposterous that she should
waste so much good passion; preposterous that she should imagine for
one moment she could keep the fellow. I had to warn her.
"Of course, if you care to take the risk of him--" I said. "He won't
stick to you, Lena."
"Why shouldn't he?"
I couldn't tell her. I couldn't say, "Because you're thirteen ears
older than he is." That would have been cruel. And it would have been
absurd, too, when she could so easily look not a year older than his
It only took a little success like this, her actual triumph in securing
So I said, "Because it isn't in him. He's a bounder and a rotter."
Which was true.
"Not a bounder, Roly dear. His father's Sir Gilbert Hippisley.
Hippisleys of Leicestershire."
"A moral bounder, Lena. A slimy eel. Slips and wriggles out of things.
You'll never hold him. You're not his first affair, you know."
"I don't care," she said, "as long as I'm his last."
I could only stand and stare at that; her monstrous assumption of his
fidelity. Why, he couldn't even be faithful to one art. He wrote as
well as he painted, and he acted as well as he wrote, and he was never
really happy with a talent till he had debauched it.
"The others," she said, "don't bother me a bit. He's slipped and
wriggled out of their clutches, if you like.... Yet there was something
about all of them. Distinguished. That's it. He's so awfully fine and
fastidious about the women he takes up with. It flatters you, makes you
feel so sure of yourself. You know he wouldn't take up with _you_ if
you weren't fine and fastidious, too--one of his great ladies.... You
think I'm a snob, Roly?"
"I think you don't mind coming _after_ Lady Willersey."
"Well," she said, "if you _have_ to come after somebody--"
"True." I asked her if she was giving me her reasons.
"Yes, if you want them. _I_ don't. I'm content to love out of all
And she did. She loved extravagantly, unintelligibly, out of all
reason; yet irrefutably. To the end. There's a sort of reason in that,
isn't there? She had the sad logic of her passions.
She got up and gathered herself together in her sombre, violent beauty
and in its glittering sheath, her red fox skins, all her savage
splendour, leaving a scent of crushed orris root in the warmth of her
Well, she managed to hold him, tight, for a year, fairly intact. I
can't for the life of me imagine how she could have cared for the
fellow, with his face all dried and frayed with make-up. There was
something lithe and sinuous about him that may, of course, have
appealed to her. And I can understand his infatuation. He was decadent,
exhausted; and there would be moments when he found her primitive
violence stimulating, before it wore him out.
They kept up the _menage_ for two astounding years.
Well, not so very astounding, if you come to think of it. There was
Lena's money, left her by old Weinberger, her maternal uncle. You've
got to reckon with Lena's money. Not that she, poor soul, ever reckoned
with it; she was absolutely free from that taint, and she couldn't
conceive other people reckoning. Only, instinctively, she knew. She
knew how to hold Hippisley. She knew there were things he couldn't
resist, things like wines and motor cars he could be faithful to. From
the very beginning she built for permanence, for eternity. She took a
house in Avenue Road with a studio for Hippisley in the garden; she
bought a motor car and engaged an inestimable cook. Lena's dinners, in
those years, were exquisite affairs, and she took care to ask the right
people, people who would be useful to Hippisley, dealers whom old
Weinberger had known, and journalists and editors and publishers. And
all his friends and her own; even friends' friends. Her hospitality was
boundless and eccentric, and Hippisley liked that sort of thing. He
thrived in a liberal air, an air of gorgeous spending, though he
sported a supercilious smile at the _fioritura_, the luscious excess of
it. He had never had too much, poor devil, of his own. I've seen the
little fellow swaggering about at her parties, with his sharp, frayed
face, looking fine and fastidious, safeguarding himself with twinklings
and gestures that gave the dear woman away. I've seen him, in goggles
and a magnificent fur-lined coat, shouting to her chauffeur, giving
counter orders to her own, while she sat snuggling up in the corner of
the car, smiling at his mastery.
It went on till poor Lena was forty-nine. Then, as she said, she began
to "shake in her shoes." I told her it didn't matter so long as she
didn't let him see her shaking. That depressed her, because she knew
she couldn't hide it; there was nothing secret in her nature; she had
always let "them" see. And they were bothering her--"the others"--more
than "a bit." She was jealous of every one of them, of any woman he
said more than five words to. Jealous of the models, first of all,
before she found out that they didn't matter; he was so used to them.
She would stick there, in his studio, while they sat, until one day he
got furious and turned her out of it. But she'd seen enough to set her
mind at rest. He was fine and fastidious, and the models were all
"And their figures, Roly, you should have seen them when they were
undressed. Of course, you _have_ seen them. Well, there isn't--is
And there wasn't. Hippisley had grown out of models just as he had
grown out of cheap Burgundy. And he'd left the stage, because he was
tired of it, so there was, mercifully, no danger from that quarter.
What she dreaded was the moment when he'd "take" to writing again, for
then he'd have to have a secretary. Also she was jealous of his writing
because it absorbed more of his attention than his painting, and
exhausted him more, left her less of him.
And that year, their third year, he flung up his painting and was, as
she expressed it, "at it" again. Worse than ever. And he wanted a
She took care to find him one. One who wouldn't be dangerous. "You
should just see her, Roly." She brought her in to tea one day for me to
look at and say whether she would "do."
I wasn't sure--what can you be sure of?--but I could see why Lena
thought she would. She was a little unhealthy thing, dark and sallow
and sulky, with thin lips that showed a lack of temperament, and she
had a stiffness and preciseness, like a Board School teacher--just that
touch of "commonness" which Lena relied on to put him off. She wore a
shabby brown skirt and a yellowish blouse. Her name was Ethel Reeves.
Lena had secured safety, she said, in the house. But what was the good
of that, when outside it he was going about everywhere with Sybil
Fermor? She came and told me all about it, with a sort of hope that I'd
say something either consoling or revealing, something that she could
"_You_ know him, Roly," she said.
I reminded her that she hadn't always given me that credit.
"_I_ know how he spends his time," she said. "How do you know?"
"Well, for one thing, Ethel tells me."
"How does she know?"
"She--she posts the letters."
"Does she read them?"
"She needn't. He's too transparent."
"Lena, do you use her to spy on him?" I said.
"Well," she retorted, "if he uses her--"
I asked her if it hadn't struck her that Sybil Fermor might be using
"Do you mean--as a _paravent_? Or," she revised it, "a parachute?"
"For Bertie Granville," I elucidated. "A parachute, by all means."
She considered it. "It won't work," she said. "If it's her reputation
she's thinking of, wouldn't Norry be worse?"
I said that was the beauty of him, if Letty Granville's attention was
to be diverted.
"Oh, Roly," she said, "do you really think it's that?" I said I did,
and she powdered her nose and said I was a dear and I'd bucked her up
no end, and went away quite happy.
Letty Granville's divorce suit proved to her that I was right.
The next time I saw her she told me she'd been mistaken about Sybil
Fermor. It was Lady Hermione Nevin. Norry had been using Sybil as a
"_paravent_" for _her_. I said she was wrong again. Didn't she know
that Hermione was engaged to Billy Craven? They were head over ears in
love with each other. I asked her what on earth had made her think of
her? And she said Lady Hermione had paid him thirty guineas for a
picture. That looked, she said, as if she was pretty far gone on him.
(She tended to disparage Hippisley's talents. Jealousy again.)
I said it looked as if he had the iciest reasons for cultivating Lady
Hermione. And again she told me I was a dear. "You don't know, Roly,
what a comfort you are to me."
Then Barbara Vining turned up out of nowhere, and from the first minute
Lena gave herself up for lost.
"I'm done for," she said. "I'd fight her if it was any good fighting.
But what chance have I? At forty-nine against nineteen, and that face?"
The face was adorable if you adore a child's face on a woman's body.
Small and pink; a soft, innocent forehead; fawn skin hair, a fawn's
nose, a fawn's mouth, a fawn's eyes. You saw her at Lena's garden
parties, staring at Hippisley over the rim of her plate while she
browsed on Lena's cakes and ices, or bounding about Lena's tennis court
with the sash ribbons flying from her little butt end.
Oh, yes; she had her there. As much as he wanted. And there would be
Ethel Reeves, in a new blouse, looking on from a back seat, subtle and
sullen, or handing round cups and plates without speaking to anybody,
like a servant. I used to think she spied on them for Lena. They were
always mouthing about the garden together or sitting secretly in
corners; Lena even had her to stay with them, let him take her for long
drives in her car. She knew when she was beaten.
I said, "Why do you let him do it, Lena? Why don't you turn them both
neck and crop out of the house?" "Because I want him in it. I want him
at any cost. And I want him to have what he wants, too, even if it's
Barbara. I want him to be happy.... I'm making a virtue of necessity.
It can be done, Roly, if you give up beautifully."
I put it to her it wasn't giving up beautifully to fret herself into an
unbecoming illness, to carry her disaster on her face. She would come
to me looking more ruined than ruinous, haggard and ashy, her eyes all
shrunk and hot with crying, and stand before the glass, looking at
herself and dabbing on powder in an utter abandonment to misery.
"I know," she moaned. "As if losing him wasn't enough I must go and
lose my looks. I know crying's simply suicidal at my age, yet I keep on
at it. I'm doing for myself. I'm digging my own grave, Roly. A little
deeper every day."
Then she said suddenly, "Do you know, you're the only man in London I
could come to looking like this."
I said, "Isn't that a bit unkind of you? It sounds as though you
thought I didn't matter."
She broke down on that. "Can't you see it's because I know I don't any
more? Nobody cares whether my nose is red or not. But you're not a
brute. You don't let me feel I don't matter. I know I never did matter
to you, Roly, but the effect's soothing, all the same.... Ethel says if
she were me she wouldn't stand it. To have it going on under my nose.
Ethel is so high-minded. I suppose it's easy to be high-minded if
you've always looked like that. And if you've never _had_ anybody. She
doesn't know what it is. I tell you, I'd rather have Norry there with
Barbara than not have him at all."
I thought and said that would just about suit Hippisley's book. He'd
rather be there than anywhere else, since he had to be somewhere. To be
sure she irritated him with her perpetual clinging, and wore him out.
I've seen him wince at the sound of her voice in the room. He'd say
things to her; not often, but just enough to see how far he could go.
He was afraid of going too far. He wasn't prepared to give up the
comfort of Lena's house, the opulence and peace. There wasn't one of
Lena's wines he could have turned his back on. After all, when she
worried him he could keep himself locked up in the studio away from
There was Ethel Reeves; but Lena didn't worry about his being locked up
with _her_. She was very kind to Hippisley's secretary. Since she
wasn't dangerous, she liked to see her there, well housed, eating rich
food, and getting stronger and stronger every day.
I must say my heart bled for Lena when I thought of young Barbara. It
was still bleeding when one afternoon she walked in with her old
triumphant look; she wore her hat with an _air crane_, and the powder
on her face was even and intact, like the first pure fall of snow. She
looked ten years younger and I judged that Hippisley's affair with
Barbara was at an end.
Well--it had never had a beginning; nor the ghost of a beginning. It
had never happened at all. She had come to tell me that: that there was
nothing in it; nothing but her jealousy; the miserable, damnable
jealousy that made her think things. She said it would be a lesson to
her to trust him in the future not to go falling in love. For, she
argued, if he hadn't done it this time with Barbara, he'd never do it.
I asked her how she knew he hadn't, this time, when appearances all
pointed that way? And she said that Barbara had come and told her.
Somebody, it seemed, had been telling Barbara it was known that she'd
taken Hippisley from Lena, and that Lena was crying herself into a
nervous break-down. And the child had gone straight to Lena and told
her it was a beastly lie. She hadn't taken Hippisley. She liked ragging
with him and all that, and being seen about with him at parties,
because he was a celebrity and it made the other women, the women he
wouldn't talk to, furious. But as for taking him, why, she wouldn't
take him from anybody as a gift. She didn't want him, a scrubby old
thing like that. She didn't _like_ that dragged look about his mouth
and the way the skin wrinkled on his eyelids. There was a sincerity
about Barbara that would have blasted Hippisley if he'd known.
Besides, she wouldn't have hurt Lena for the world. She wouldn't have
spoken to Norry if she'd dreamed that Lena minded. But Lena had seemed
so remarkably not to mind. When she came to that part of it she cried.
Lena said that was all very well, and it didn't matter whether Barbara
was in love with Norry or not; but how did she know Norry wasn't in
love with _her_? And Barbara replied amazingly that of course she knew.
They'd been alone together.
When I remarked that it was precisely _that_, Lena said, No. That was
nothing in itself; but it would prove one way or another; and it seemed
that when Norry found himself alone with Barbara, he used to yawn.
After that Lena settled down to a period of felicity. She'd come to me,
excited and exulting, bringing her poor little happiness with her like
a new toy. She'd sit there looking at it, turning it over and over, and
holding it up to me to show how beautiful it was.
She pointed out to me that I had been wrong and she right about him,
from the beginning. She knew him. "And to think what a fool, what a
damned silly fool I was, with my jealousy. When all those years there
was never anybody but me. Do you remember Sybil Fermor, and Lady
Hermione--and Barbara? To think I should have so clean forgotten what
he was like.... Don't you think, Roly, there must be something in me,
after all, to have kept him all those years?"
I said there must indeed have been, to have inspired so remarkable a
passion. For Hippisley was making love to her all over again. Their
happy relations were proclaimed, not only by her own engaging
frankness, but still more by the marvellous renaissance of her beauty.
She had given up her habit of jealousy as she had given up eating
sweets, because both were murderous to her complexion. Not that
Hippisley gave her any cause. He had ceased to cultivate the society of
young and pretty ladies, and devoted himself with almost ostentatious
fidelity to Lena. Their affair had become irreproachable with time; it
had the permanence of a successful marriage without the unflattering
element of legal obligation. And he had kept his secretary. Lena had
left off being afraid either that Ethel would leave or that Hippisley
would put some dangerous woman in her place.
There was no change in Ethel, except that she looked rather more subtle
and less sullen. Lena ignored her subtlety as she had ignored her
sulks. She had no more use for her as a confidant and spy, and Ethel
lived in a back den off Hippisley's study with her Remington, and
displayed a convenient apathy in allowing herself to be ignored.
"Really," Lena would say in the unusual moments when she thought of
her, "if it wasn't for the clicking, you wouldn't know she was there."
And as a secretary she maintained, up to the last, an admirable
Up to the last.
It was Hippisley's death that ended it. You know how it
happened--suddenly, of heart failure, in Paris. He'd gone there with
Furnival to get material for that book they were doing together. Lena
was literally "prostrated" with the shock; and Ethel Reeves had to go
over to Paris to bring back his papers and his body.
It was the day after the funeral that it all came out. Lena and Ethel
were sitting up together over the papers and the letters, turning out
his bureau. I suppose that, in the grand immunity his death conferred
on her, poor Lena had become provokingly possessive. I can hear her
saying to Ethel that there had never been anybody but her, all those
years. Praising his faithfulness; holding out her dead happiness, and
apologizing to Ethel for talking about it when Ethel didn't understand,
never having had any.
She must have said something like that, to bring it on herself, just
then, of all moments.
And I can see Ethel Reeves, sitting at his table, stolidly sorting out
his papers, wishing that Lena'd go away and leave her to her work. And
her sullen eyes firing out questions, asking her what she wanted, what
she had to do with Norman Hippisley's papers, what she was there for,
fussing about, when it was all over?
What she wanted--what she had come for--was her letters. They were
locked up in his bureau in the secret drawer.
She told me what had happened then. Ethel lifted her sullen, subtle
eyes and said, "You think he kept them?"
She said she knew he'd kept them. They were in that drawer.
And Ethel said, "Well then, he didn't. They aren't. He burnt them. _We_
burnt them.... We could, at least, get rid of _them_!"
Then she threw it at her. She had been Hippisley's mistress for three
When Lena asked for proofs of the incredible assertion she had _her_
letters to show.
Oh, it was her moment. She must have been looking out for it, saving up
for it, all those years; gloating over her exquisite secret, her return
for all the slighting and ignoring. That was what had made her
poisonous, the fact that Lena hadn't reckoned with her, hadn't thought
her dangerous, hadn't been afraid to leave Hippisley with her, the
rich, arrogant contempt in her assumption that Ethel would "do" and her
comfortable confidences. It made her amorous and malignant. It
stimulated her to the attempt.
I think she must have hated Lena more vehemently than she loved
Hippisley. She couldn't, _then_, have had much reliance on her power to
capture; but her hatred was a perpetual suggestion.
Supposing--supposing she were to try and take him?
Then she had tried.
I daresay she hadn't much difficulty. Hippisley wasn't quite so fine
and fastidious as Lena thought him. I've no doubt he liked Ethel's
unwholesomeness, just as he had liked the touch of morbidity in Lena.
And the spying? That had been all part of the game; his and Ethel's.
_They_ played for safety, if you like. They had _had_ to throw Lena off
the scent. They used Sybil Fermor and Lady Hermione and Barbara Vining,
one after the other, as their _paravents_. Finally they had used Lena.
That was their cleverest stroke. It brought them a permanent security.
For, you see, Hippisley wasn't going to give up his free quarters, his
studio, the dinners and the motor car, if he could help it. Not for
Ethel. And Ethel knew it. They insured her, too.
Can't you see her, letting herself go in an ecstasy of revenge, winding
up with a hysterical youp? "You? You thought it was you? It was
me--_me_--ME.... You thought what we meant you to think."
Lena still comes and talks to me. To hear her you would suppose that
Lawson Young and Dickey Harper never existed, that her passion for
Norman Hippisley was the unique, solitary manifestation of her soul. It
certainly burnt with the intensest flame. It certainly consumed her.
What's left of her's all shrivelled, warped, as she writhed in her
Yesterday she said to me, "Roly, I'm _glad_ he's dead. Safe from her
She'll cling for a little while to this last illusion: that he had been
reluctant; but I doubt if she really believes it now.
For you see, Ethel flourishes. In passion, you know, nothing succeeds
like success; and her affair with Norman Hippisley advertised her, so
that very soon it ranked as the first of a series of successes. She
goes about dressed in stained-glass futurist muslins, and contrives
provocative effects out of a tilted nose, and sulky eyes, and
sallowness set off by a black velvet band on the forehead, and a black
scarf of hair dragged tight from a raking backward peak.
I saw her the other night sketching a frivolous gesture--
THE DICE THROWER
By SIDNEY SOUTHGATE
Hunger is the most poignant when it has forced physical suffering to
the highest point without impairing the mental functions. Thus it was
with Silas Carringer, a young man of uncommonly high spirit, when he
found himself a total stranger in a ramshackle Mexican city one rainy
night in November. In his possession remained not a single article that
he might have pawned for a morsel of food. And he had already stripped
his body of every shred of clothing except the few garments he was
compelled by an inborn sense of the fitness of things to retain. Bodily
starvation, as a consequence, was added to hunger, and his misery was
It chanced that an extraordinary happening awaited Silas Carringer that
night in Mexico; otherwise he would either have drowned himself in the
river within twenty-four hours or died of pneumonia within three days.
He had been without food for seventy hours, and his mental desperation
had driven him far in its race with his physical needs to consume the
remaining strength of his emaciated body. Pale, weak, and tottering, he
took what comfort he could find in the savoury odours which came
streaming up from the basement kitchens of the restaurants in the main
streets. He lacked the courage to beg or steal. For he had been reared
as a gentleman, and was accordingly out of place in the world.
His teeth chattered, his eyes had dark, ugly lines under them, he
shambled, stooped, and gasped. He was too desperate to curse his
fate--he could only long for food. He could not reason. He could not
reflect. He could not understand that there were pitying hands
somewhere that might gladly have succoured him. He could think only of
the hunger which consumed him, of the food that could give him warmth
and comparative happiness.
Staggering along the streets, he came at last to a restaurant a little
way from the main thoroughfares. Stopping before the window, he stared
greedily at the steaks within, thick and juicy and lined with big, fat
oysters lying on ice; at the slices of ham as large as his hat; at the
roasted chickens, brown and ready for the table; and he ground his
teeth, groaned, and staggered on.
A few steps onward was a drinking saloon. At one side of it was a
private door with the words "Family entrance" painted thereon. And in
the recess of the door (which was closed) there stood the dark figure
of a man.
In spite of his own agony, Carringer saw something which appalled him
in the stranger's face as the street light fell upon it; and yet at the
same time he was fascinated. Perhaps it was the unspeakable anguish of
those features that appealed to the starving man's sympathy, and he
came to an uncertain halt at the doorway and stared rudely upon the
stranger. At first the man did not notice him, seeming to look straight
out into the street with a curious fixity of expression, and the
death-like pallor of his face sent a chill through Carringer's limbs,
chilled nigh to stone though they were already.
The stranger caught sight of him at last. "Ah," he said slowly, and
with peculiar clearness, "the rain has caught you too, without overcoat
or umbrella. Stand in this doorway--there is room for two."
The voice was not unkind, though it sounded strangely harsh. It was the
first word that had been addressed to Carringer since hunger possessed
him, and to be spoken to at all gave him cheer. So he took his place in
the doorway beside the mysterious stranger, who at once relapsed into
his fixed gaze at nothingness across the street.
"It may rain for a long time," he said presently, stirring himself. "I
am cold, and I can feel you trembling and shivering. Let us step inside
He turned and opened the door. Carringer followed, hope slowly warming
his chilled heart. The pale stranger led the way into one of the little
private compartments with which the place was fitted. Before sitting
down he drew from his pocket a roll of bank bills.
"You are younger than I," he said to Carringer. "Will you go to the bar
and buy a bottle of absinthe, and bring also a pitcher of water and
some glasses? I don't like the waiters hanging round. Here is a
Carringer took the money and started down the corridor towards the bar.
He clutched the sudden wealth in his hand tightly. It felt warm and
comfortable, sending a delicious tingling sensation through his arm.
How many glorious meals did not the money represent? He could smell an
imaginary steak, broiled, with fat mushrooms and melted butter in the
steaming dish. Then he paused and looked stealthily backward to where
he had left the stranger. Why not slip away while he had the
opportunity--away from the drinking saloon with the money, to the
restaurant he had passed half-an-hour ago, and buy something to eat? It
was risky, but.... He hesitated, and the coward in him (there are other
names than this) triumphed. He went straight to the bar as the stranger
had requested, and ordered the liquor.
His step was weaker as he returned to the compartment. The stranger was
sitting at the little table, staring at the opposite wall just as he
had stared across the street. He wore a wide-brimmed slouch hat, pulled
well over his eyes. Carringer could only vaguely take the measure of
the man's face.
It was only after Carringer had set the bottle and the glasses on the
table and seated himself opposite that the stranger noticed his return.
"Oh, you have brought it!" he exclaimed without raising his voice. "How
kind of you. Now please close the door."
Carringer was counting out the change from his pocket when the stranger
interrupted him. "Keep that," he said. "You will need it, for I am
going to win it back in a way that may interest you. Let us drink
first, though, and I will explain."
He mixed two drinks of absinthe and water, and the two men lifted their
glasses. Carringer had never tasted the liquor before, and it offended
his palate at first; but no sooner had it passed down his throat than
he began to feel warm again, and the most delicious thrills. He had
heard of the absinthe drinkers of Paris, and he wondered no longer at
the deadly fascination of the liquor--not realising that his extreme
weakness and the emptiness of his stomach made him peculiarly
susceptible to its effects.
"This will do us good," murmured the stranger, setting down his glass.
"Presently we shall have more. Meanwhile, tell me if you know how to
play with the dice."
Carringer replied that he did not.
"I was afraid that you might not," said the stranger. "All the same,
please go to the bar and bring a dice-box. I would ring for it," he
explained, seeing Carringer glance towards the bell, "but I don't want
the waiters coming in and out."
Carringer brought the dice-box, closed the door carefully again, and
the play began. It was not one of the simpler games, but had
complications in which judgment as well as chance played a part. After
a game or two without stakes, the stranger said:
"You have picked it up very quickly. All the same, I will show you that
you don't understand it. We will throw for a dollar a game, and in that
way I shall win the money that you received in change. Otherwise I
would be robbing you, and I imagine that you cannot afford to lose. I
mean no offence. I am a plain-spoken man, but I believe in honesty
before politeness." Here his face relaxed into a most fearful grin....
"I merely want a little recreation, and you are so good-natured that I
am sure you will not object."
"On the contrary," replied Carringer politely, "I shall enjoy it."
"Very well; but let us drink again before we start. I believe I am
They drank again. Carringer took the liquor now with relish, for it was
something in his stomach at least, and it warmed and soothed him. Then
the play commenced. He won.
The pale stranger smiled quietly and opened another game. Again
Then the stranger pushed back his hat, and fixed his quiet gaze upon
his opponent, smiling yet. Carringer obtained a full view of the man's
face for the first time, and it appalled him. He had begun to acquire a
certain self-possession and ease, and the novelty of the adventure was
beginning to pall before the new advances of his terrible hunger, when
this revelation of the man's face threw him back into confusion.
It was the extraordinary expression of the face that alarmed him. Never
upon the face of a living being had he beheld a pallor so chilling, so
death-like. The features were more than pale. They were ghastly as
sunless frost. Carringer's powers of observation had been sharpened by
the absinthe, and after having detected the stranger in an
absent-minded effort on several occasions to stroke a beard which had
no existence, he reflected that some of the whiteness of the face might
be due to the recent shaving and removal of a full beard. The eyes were
black, and his lower lip was purple. The hands were fine, white and
thin, and black veins bulged out upon them.
After gazing for a few moments at Carringer, the stranger pulled his
hat down over his eyes again. "You are lucky," he said, referring to
the success of his opponent. "Suppose we try another drink. There is
nothing to sharpen a man's wits like absinthe, and I see that you and I
are going to have a delightful game."
After the drink the play proceeded. Carringer won from the first,
rarely losing a game. He became greatly excited. Colour flooded his
cheeks, and he forgot his hunger. The stranger exhausted the little
roll of bills which he had first produced and drew forth another, much
larger in amount. There were several thousand dollars in the roll.
At Carringer's right hand were his winnings--something like two hundred
dollars. The stakes were raised, and the game went on. Another drink
was taken and then fortune turned to the stranger. He began to win
easily. Carringer was stung by these reverses, and began to play with
all the skill and judgment at his command. He took the lead again. Only
once did it occur to him to wonder what he should do with the money if
he continued to win. But a sense of honour decided for him that it
belonged to the stranger.
As the play went on Carringer's physical suffering returned with
increased aggressiveness. Sharp pains darted through him viciously, and
he writhed within him and ground his teeth in agony. Could he not order
a supper with his winnings, he wondered? No; it was, of course, out of
The stranger did not observe his suffering, for he was now completely
absorbed in the game. He seemed puzzled and disconcerted. He played
with great care, studying each throw minutely. Not a word escaped him.
The two men drank occasionally, and the dice continued to rattle. And
the money kept piling up at Carringer's hand.
The pale stranger suddenly began to behave strangely. At moments he
would start and throw back his head, listening intently. His eyes would
sharpen and flash as he did so; then they sank back into heaviness once
more. Carringer saw a strange expression sweep over the man's face on
several occasions--an expression of ghastly frightfulness, and the
features would become fixed in a peculiar grimace.
He noticed also that his companion was steadily sinking deeper and
deeper into a condition of apathy. Occasionally, none the less, he
would raise his eyes to Carringer's face after some lucky throw, and he
would fix them upon him with a steadiness that made the starving man
grow chiller than ever he had been before.
Then came the time when the stranger produced another roll of bills,
and braced himself for a bigger effort. With speech somewhat thick, but
still deliberate and very quiet, he addressed his young opponent.
"You have won seventy-four thousand dollars, and that is the exact
amount I have remaining. We have been playing for several hours, and I
am very tired, and so are you. Let us hasten the finish. You have
seventy-four thousand dollars, I have seventy-four thousand dollars.
Nether of us has a cent beside. Each will now stake his all and throw a
final game for it."
Without hesitation Carringer agreed. The bills made a considerable pile
upon the table. Carringer threw, and his starving heart beat violently
as the pale stranger took up the dice-box with exasperating
deliberation. Hours seemed to pass before he threw, but at last the
dice rattled on to the table, and the pale stranger had won. The winner
sat staring at the dice, and then he leaned slowly back in his chair,
settled himself with seeming comfort, raised his eyes to Carringer's
and fixed that unearthly stare upon him.
He did not speak. His face showed not a trace of emotion or even of
intelligence. He simply stared. One cannot keep one's eyes open very
long without winking, but the stranger never winked at all. He sat so
motionless that Carringer became filled with a vague dread.
"I will go now," he said, standing back from the table. As he spoke he
recollected his position and found himself swaying like a drunken man.
The stranger made no reply, nor did he relax his gaze. Under that gaze
the younger man shrank back into his chair, terrified and faint. A
deathly silence filled the compartment.... Suddenly he became aware
that two men were talking in the next room, and he listened curiously.
The walls were of wood, and he heard every word distinctly.
"Yes," said a voice, "he was seen to turn into this street about three
"And he must have shaved?"
"He must have shaved. To remove a full beard would naturally make a
great change in the man. His extreme pallor attracted attention. As you
know, he has been seriously troubled with heart disease lately, and it
has greatly altered him."
"Yes, but his old skill remains. Why, this is the most daring
bank-robbery we have ever had! A hundred and forty-eight thousand
dollars--think of it! How long is it since he came out of prison after
that New York affair?"
"Eight years. In that time he has grown a beard, and lived by throwing
dice. No human being can come out winner in a game with him."
The two men clinked glasses and a silence fell between them. Then
Carringer heard the shuffling of their feet as they passed out, and he
sat on, suffering terrible mental and bodily pain.
The silence remained unbroken, save for the sounds of voices far off,
and the clink of glasses. The dice-players--the pale man and the
starving one--sat gazing at each other, with a hundred and forty-eight
thousand dollars piled upon the table between them. The winner made no
attempt to gather up the money. He merely sat and stared at Carringer,
wholly unmoved by the conversation in the adjoining compartment.
Carringer began to shake with an ague. The cold, unwavering gaze of the
stranger sent ice into his veins. Unable to bear it longer, he moved to
one side, and was amazed to discover that the eyes of the pale man,
instead of following him, remained fixed upon the spot where he had
A great fear came over him. He poured out absinthe for himself with
shaking fingers, staring back at his companion all the while, watching
him, watching him as he drank alone and unnoticed. He drained the
glass, and the poison had a peculiar effect upon him; he felt his heart
bounding with alarming force and rapidity, and his breathing came in
great, pumping spasms. His hunger was now become a deadly thing, for
the absinthe was destroying his vitals. In terror he leaned forward to
beg the hospitality of the stranger, but his whisper had no effect. One
of the man's hands lay on the table. Carringer placed his own upon it,
and drew back quickly, for the hand was as cold as stone!
Then there came into the starving man's face a crafty expression, and
he turned eagerly to the money. Silently he grasped the pile of bills
with his skeleton fingers, looking stealthily every moment at the stark
figure of his companion, mortally dreading lest he should stir.
And yet, instead of hastening from the room with the stolen fortune, he
sank back into his chair again. A deadly fascination forced him there,
and he sat rigid, staring back into the wide stare of the other man. He
felt his breath coming heavier and his heart-beats growing weaker, but
he was comforted because his hunger was no longer causing him that
acute pain. He felt easier, and actually yawned. If he had dared he
would have gone to sleep. The pale stranger still stared at him without
ceasing. And Carringer had no inclination for anything but simply to
* * * * *
The two detectives who had traced the notorious bank robber to the
drink saloon moved slowly through the compartments, searching in every
nook and cranny of the building. At last they reached a compartment
from which no answer came when they knocked.
They pushed the door open with a stereotyped apology on their lips.
They beheld two men before them, one of middle age and the other very
young, sitting perfectly still, and in the queerest manner imaginable
staring at each other across the table. Between the two was a pile of
money, and near at hand an empty absinthe bottle, a water pitcher, two
glasses, and a dice-box. The dice lay before the elder man as though he
had just thrown them.
With a quick movement one of the detectives covered the older man with
a revolver and commanded him to put up his hands. But the dice-thrower
paid not the slightest heed.
The detectives exchanged startled glances. They stepped nearer, looked
closely into the gamesters' faces, and knew in the same instant that
they were dead.
THE STRANGER WOMAN
By G.B. STERN
(From _John o'London's Weekly_)
After Hal Burnham had banged himself with his usual vigour out of the
house, Dickie sat quite inconsolably staring in front of him at a
favourite picture on his wall; a dim, sombre effect of quays and masts
and intent hurrying men; his neat little brows were pulled down in a
worried frown, his childish mouth was puckered.
Was it accurate and just, what Hal had said? Or, simpler still, was it
"What you damn well need, Dickie, old son, is life in the raw. You're
living in a lady's work-box here."
It was a bludgeoning return for the courteous attention with which
Dickie had that evening listened to his friend's experiences of travel,
for Hal was not even a good raconteur; he started an anecdote by its
point, and roughly slapped in the scenery afterwards; he had likewise a
habit of disconnecting his impressions from any sequence of time; also
he exaggerated, and forgot names and dates; and even occasionally
lapsed into odd silence just when Dickie was offering himself
receptively for a climax.
And then the inevitable: "Well--and what have _you_ been doing
Dickie was not in the least at a loss; he had refurnished his rooms, to
begin with; and that involved a diligent search in antique shops and at
sale rooms, and one or two trips across country in order not to miss a
real gem. And they had to be ready for comfortable habitation before
the arrival of M. and Mlle. St. Andre for their annual stay with him--a
delightful old pair, brother and sister, with peppery manners and
hypercritical appreciation of a good cuisine--but so poor, so really
painfully poor, that, as Dickie delicately put it: "I could not help
knowing that it might make a difference to them if I postponed their
visit, of less trivial annoyance, but more vital in quality, than with
other of my friends for whom I should therefore have hurried my
preparations rather less--this is in confidence, of course, my dear
Hal!" He had set himself to complete his collection of Watts's Literary
Souvenirs--"I have the whole eleven volumes now----" And he had been a
guest at two charming house-parties in the country, and at one of them
had been given the full responsibility of rehearsing a comic opera in
the late eighteenth-century style. "Amateurs, of course. But I was so
bent on realizing the flavour of the period, that I'm indeed afraid
that I did not draw a clear enough line between the deliciously robust
and the obnoxiously coarse----"
"Coarse--_you_!" Hal guffawed. And then--out came the accusation which
was so disturbing little Dickie.
Life in the raw! Why did the phrase make him want to clear his throat?
Raw--yes, that was the association--when you opened your mouth and the
fog swirled in. Newsboys scampering along a foggy street that was
neither elegant nor squalid, but just a street of mixed shops and mixed
traffic and barrows lit with a row of flapping lights, and men and
women with faces that showed they worked hard to earn a little less
than they needed.... Public-houses.... Butchers' shops with great
slabs of red meat.... Yes, and a queue outside the picture palace--and
a station; people bought the evening papers as they hurried in and out
of the station. "'Ere yer are, sir," and on the sheets were headlines
that blared out all the most sordid crimes of the past twenty-four
hours, ignored during a sober morning of politics and commerce, but
dragged into bold view for the people's more leisured reading.
Newsboys in a foggy street on a Saturday night--thus was Dickie's first
instinct to define "life in the raw...." Then he discovered that this
was only the archway, and that the crimes themselves were life in the
raw--and the criminals.
But one must get nearer by slow degrees.
If at all.
Hal had said that he was living in a lady's work-box. Dickie was
sensitive, and not at all stupid. His penetration was quite aware that
Burnham's remark was not applied to the harmonizing shades of the walls
between which he dwelt, nor to the soft, mellow pattern of his silky
Persian rugs, nor to his collections--heavens, _how_ he collected!--of
glowing Sevres china, of Second Empire miniatures, of quaint old
musical instruments with names that in themselves were a tender tinkle
of song, and of the shoes that had been worn by queens.
All these things were merely accessories: his soul making neat, tiny
gestures, shrugging its shoulders, pointing a toe. What Hal meant was
that Dickie dared not live dangerously.
"What am I to do?"
He raised wistful, light brown eyes to the picture which was the one
incongruous touch to the dainty perfection of his octagonal
sitting-room. He had bought it at a rummage sale; it was unsigned, and
the canvas, overcrowded with figures, had grown sombre and blurred; yet
queerly Dickie liked the suggestion of powerful, half-naked men; the
foreign quay-side street, with a slatternly woman silent against a
doorway, and the clumsy ship straining to swing out to a menacing sea
All these things that he would never do: strip and carry bales on his
back; linger in strange doorways and love hotly an animal woman who was
unaccomplished and without grace and breeding; and then embark on an
evil-smelling hulk that would have no human sympathy with his human
He had done a little yachting, of course; with the Ansteys the year
His lips bent to a small ironical smile as he reflected on the
difference between "a little yachting" and the sinister fascination of
that ugly, uninspired painting....
Slowly he got up and went out; that is to say, he very precisely
selected the hat, gloves, coat, and silk muffler suitable to wear, and
as precisely put them on. Then he blew up the fire with an
old-fashioned pair of worked brass bellows; turned out the lamp; told
Mrs. Derrick--who would have died in his service every day from eight
to eight o'clock, but would not crook a finger for him a minute before
she entered the house nor five seconds after she left it--that he was
going for a walk and would certainly be back at a quarter to seven, but
probably before; and then went out.
For this was the natural way for Dickie Maybury to behave.
At twenty to seven he returned, with a sheaf of news-papers--raucous,
badly-printed papers with smudged lines and a sort of speckled film
over the illustrations, and startlingly intimate headlines to every
item of news.
Dickie was trying to get into touch with "life in the raw."
At first he was merely bewildered. He had read his daily newspaper, of
course--though not with the stolid regularity with which the average
man does so. And besides, it was pre-eminently a journal of dignity and
good form, with an art column, and a curio column, and a literary page,
and a chess problem, and rather a delicately witty causerie by
"Rapier"; it is to be feared that Dickie absorbed himself in these
items first, and altogether left out most of the topical and
Now, however, he read it. And out of it, the horror of the underworld
swayed up at him. A twilit world, where cisterns dripped, and where
homely, familiar things like gas-brackets and braces and coal-shovels
were turned to dreadful weapons of death. The coroner and the broker's
man and the undertaker sidled in and out of this world, dispassionately
playing their frequent parts.... Stunted boys and girls died for love,
like Romeo and Juliet, leaving behind them badly-punctuated cries of
passion and despair that made Dickie wince as he read them....
Pale but fascinated, Dickie turned over a page, and came to the great
sensation of the moment. "Is Ruth Oliver Guilty?" "Dramatic
Developments." "I Wish You Were Dead, Lucas!"
The account of the first day of the trial filled the entire page, and
dribbled excitedly over on to the next. There was a photograph of Ruth
Oliver, accused of murdering her husband. You could see that she had
gay eyes in a small oval face, and a child's wistful mouth. This must
have been taken while she was very happy.
Dickie had never read through a murder trial before. But he did so now,
every line of it ... and the next day, and the next. Until the woman
who had pleaded "Not guilty" was acquitted. And then he wrote to her,
and asked her to marry him.
And who would dare say of him now that he had feared to meet life in
He did not know, of course, that his offer was one among fifty; did not
know that the curious state of mind he was in, between trance and
hysteria, was a very common one to the public after a trial in which
the elements are dramatic or the central figure in any way picturesque.
He did not even know how Ruth Oliver was being noisily besieged by
Pressmen and Editors anxious for her biography; by music-hall and
theatrical managers willing to star her; by old friends curiously proud
of association with her notoriety; by religious fanatics with their
proofs of a strictly localized Deity--"whose Hand has clearly been
outstretched to save you!"; by unhealthy flappers who had Believed in
her all along--(autograph, please).
But not knowing, yet his letter, chivalrous, without ardour, promised
her a cool, quiet retreat from the plague of insects which was buzzing
and stinging in the hot air all about her.... "My house is in a little
square with trees all around it; it is shady and you cannot hear the
traffic. I wonder if you are interested in old china and Japanese
water-colours?..." Finally: "I shall be very proud and happy if you can
trust me to understand how deeply you must be longing for sanctuary
after the sorrowful time you have been through...."
"Sanctuary." She saw it open for her like a cloistered aisle between
cold pillars. He offered her, not the emotional variations, intolerable
to her weariness just then, of a new devotion; but green shaded rooms,
and the beauty of old things, and a little old-fashioned gentleman's
courtesy.... So, ignoring the fifty other offers of marriage which had
assailed her, she wrote to Dickie Maybury and asked him to come and see
He went, still in a strangely exultant mood, in which his will acted as
easily and yet as fantastically as though it were on a slippery
surface. And if he had met Hal Burnham on his way back from his visit
to Ruth Oliver he would undoubtedly have swaggered a little.
Nevertheless, he was thinking of Ruth, too, as well as of his own
dare-devilry in thus seizing reality with both hands. Ruth's face, much
older and more tormented than it had been in the photograph, had still
that elusive quality which had from the beginning and through all the
period of her trial haunted him. It outraged his refinement that any
woman with the high looks and the breeding of his own class should have
been for any space of time the property of a coarse public. As _his_
wife, the insult should be tenderly rectified.... "The poor child! the
poor sweet child!" He felt almost godlike with this new power upon him
of acting, on impulse.
As for the peril of death which for a short while had threatened her,
that was a fact too stark and hideous for contemplation: even with
Dickie's altered appetite for primitive adventure....
They did not leave town after their quiet, matter-of-fact wedding at
the registrar's. A journey, in Dickie's eyes, would have seemed too
blatant an interruption to his everyday existence, as though he were
tactlessly emphasising to his wife the necessity of a break and a
complete change; she might even think--and again "poor child!" that
events should have rubbed into such super-sensitiveness--that he was
slightly ashamed of his act, and was therefore hustling her and himself
out of sight. So they went straight home. And Mrs. Derrick said:
"Indeed, sir," when informed that her new mistress was the Ruth Oliver
who had recently been acquitted of the charge of murdering her husband;
she neither proffered a motherly bosom to Ruth, nor did she tender a
haughty resignation from Mr. Maybury's service; but said she hoped it
wouldn't be expected of her, under the new circumstances, to arrive
earlier, nor to leave later, because she couldn't do it. As for
Dickie's friends, most of them were of the country-house variety whom
he visited once a year; next autumn would show whether Ruth would be
included in those week and week-end invitations. Meanwhile, those few
dwelling in London marvelled in a detached sort of way at Dickie's
feat, liked Ruth, and pronounced it a shame that she should have been
accused. Hal Burnham, the indirect promoter of the match, had returned
Nobody was unkind; no word jarred; life was padded in dim brocade--Ruth
drew a long breath, and was at peace. She was perfectly happy, watching
Dickie. And Dickie was at play again, enjoying his collection and his
_objets d'art_, and even his daily habits, with the added appreciation
of a gambler who had staked, but miraculously, not lost them. Because,
after all, anything might have resulted from his tempestuous decision
at all costs to get into contact with naked actuality; all that _had_
resulted was the presence in his house of a slim, grave woman who
dressed her hair like a very skilful and not at all unconscious
Madonna; whose taste was as fastidious as his own, and whose radiantly
human smile had survived in vivid contrast to something quenched from
her voice and shadowed in her eyes. A woman who, with a "May I?" of
half-laughing reverence, discovered that she could slip on to her
exquisite feet one pair after another from his collection of the shoes
of dead queens--"It sounds like a ballade--Austin Dobson, I
think--except that they're not all powder-and-patch queens."
For she had an excellent feel of period--the texture of it, the fine
shades of language, the outlook; Dickie hated people who had a blunt
sense of period and in a jumbled fashion referred to old Venetian lace,
and the Early Spanish School, and Louise de la Valliere, and a play by
Wycherley indiscriminately as "historical."
Yes, Dickie had certainly been lucky, and, like a wise man, he did not
strain his star to another effort. The big thing--well, he had squared
up to it--and, truth to say, he had been fearfully shaky and uncertain
about his capacity to do so when Hal had first roused his pride in the
matter. Now the little things again, the little beautiful things--he
had earned them.
Anyway, he could not have a newspaper in the house nowadays, for Ruth's
sake--he owed it to Ruth to shut out for ever those cries of horror and
fear and violence from the battering underworld.
"What I love about the way we live, Dickie, is that the just-rightness
of it all flows on evenly the whole time; one can be certain of it.
Most people get it set aside for them in stray lumps--picture galleries
and churches and a holiday on the Continent. And all the rest of their
time is just-wrongness."
Dickie wondered how much of her existence with Lucas Oliver had been
"just-wrongness"--or indeed "all-wrongness." But he never disturbed her
surface of creamy serenity by referring to the husband who had been
murdered by "some person or persons unknown."
He and Ruth were the most harmonious of comrades, but never, so far,
confidential. Perhaps Dickie overdid tact and non-intrusiveness; or
perhaps Ruth, in her very passion of gratitude to him, was yet checked
for ever from passionate expression by the memory that her innermost
love and her innermost hate, wrung into words, had once, and not so
long ago, been read aloud and commented upon in public court and in
half the homes of England.
One evening, sitting together in front of the fire, they drifted into
talk of their separate childhoods.
"There was a garden in mine," said Ruth.
"And in mine--a Casino garden!" His eyes twinkled. "Palm trees like
giant pineapples, and flower beds in a pattern, and a fountain--"
"Oh, you poor little Continental kiddie!"
He shrugged his shoulders. "The ways of the Lord are thoughtful and
orderly. Why should He have wasted a heavenly wilderness of gnarled old
apple-trees on a small boy who hated climbing?"
"You can't have hated climbing--if you hang that on your wall." She
nodded towards the quayside picture. "Surely you must have played
'pirates and South Seas' with your brothers."
"I had none. A sister, that's all--who carried a sunshade." "I had no
sisters; but there was a girl next door--and her brother."
"I note in jealous anguish of spirit," remarked Dickie. "that you do
not simply say 'a girl and boy next door.'"
Ruth's mischievous laugh affirmed his accusation. "The wall was not
very high--I kicked a foothold into it half-way up, and Tommy gave me a
pull from the top."
"Tommy was ungallant enough to leave the wall to you?"
"There were cherries in his garden--sweet black cherries. And only
crab-apples in ours."
"He might have filled his pockets with cherries, and then climbed.
No--I reject Tommy, he was unworthy of you. I may have been a horrid
little Casino brat, I may even have worn a white satin sailor-suit with
trousers down to my ankles--"
"Oh!" Ruth winced.
"I may have danced too well, and I understood too early the art of
complimenting ladies whose hats were too big and whose eyes were too
bright.... But once, after Annunciata Maddalena's nose had bled over
this same sailor-suit, I said it was my own nose, because I knew how
bitterly she was ashamed of her one bourgeois lapse...."
"Tommy would have disowned her, instead of owning the nose. Oh, I grant
you the nobler nature ... but it breaks my heart that you didn't have
the wild English garden and the cherries and the grubby old dark-blue
"If we have a kiddie--" Dickie began softly, his mouth puckered to its
special elvish little smile. Then he met her eyes lapping him round
with such velvet tenderness--that Dickie suddenly knew he was loved,
knew that impulsively she was going to tell him so, and breathlessly
happier than he had ever been before, waited for it--
"I _did_ kill my husband. They acquitted me, but I was guilty. It was
an accident. I was so afraid. They would never have believed it could
be an accident. But I had to, in self-defence."
And now she had told him she loved him.
Only Dickie was too numb to recognise the form her confession of love
had taken; love, as always, was clamouring to be clearly seen--naked,
if need be, blood-guilty, if need be--but _seen_ ... and then swept up,
sin and all, by another love big enough to accept this truth, also, as
essentially part of her.
Ruth waited several seconds for Dickie to speak. Then she got up, and
strolled over to the picture, and said, examining intently, as though
for the first time, the woman in the doorway: "I'm not sorry, Dickie.
That is to say, I'm sorry, of course, if I've shattered an illusion of
yours, but--I can't be melodramatic, you know, not even to the extent
of using the word 'murderess' on myself. If I hadn't killed Lucas--"
"He would have killed you?" So he was able to utter quite natural and
coherent sounds! Dickie was surprised.
"Yes--" But Ruth found that, after all, she could not tell Dickie much
about Lucas. Lucas had not been a pleasant gentleman to live with--and
there were things that Dickie was too fine himself, and too innocent,
to realise. The only comprehension in this thoroughly well-groomed
atmosphere of soft carpets and dim silken panels and miniatures and
rare frail china might have come from the woman in the doorway of that
incongruous picture ... a woman sullenly patient, brutalised, but--yes,
her man might quite easily have been another Lucas.
For that which Dickie had always thought of as mysterious, elusive,
was, to Ruth's eyes, only sorrowful wisdom.
"Come here, Ruth."
She dragged her eyes away from the picture; crossed the room; broke
down completely, her head on his knees, her shuddering body crouched
closely to the floor: "When you've--been frightened--and have to live
with it--and it doesn't even stop at night--for weeks and months and
years--one's nerves aren't quite reliable.... They've no right to call
that murder, have they? have they, Dickie? When you've been afraid for
a long time--and there's no one you can tell about it except the person
who _makes_ the _fear_...."
But Dickie was all that she had perilously dared to hope he would be at
this crisis. He soothed her and healed her by his loyalty; promised,
without her extorting it, that he would never tell a soul what she had
just told him; pixie-shy, yet he spoke of his personal need of
her--and more than anything else she had desired to hear this. He
mentioned some trivial intimate plans for their unbroken, unchanged
future together, so as to reassure her of its continuance. He even made
In fact, for a last appearance in the _role_ of a gallant little
gentleman, Dickie did not do so badly.
He woke in the night from a bad dream--with terror clinging thickly
about his senses. But it did not slowly dissolve and release him, as
nightmare is wont to do. It remained--so that he lay still as a man in
his winding-sheet, afraid to move--remembering--
"I _did_ kill my husband."
Yes--that was it. In the room with him was a strange woman who had
killed her husband.
Not Ruth--but a strange woman. How had she got into the room with him?
She had killed her husband. And now, _he_ was her husband.
He lay motionless, but his imagination began to crawl.... What might
happen to a man shut up alone in a house with a woman who--murdered?
His imagination began to race--and he lost control of it. Murder ...
with dry, sandy throat and a kicking heart, Dickie had to pay for his
audacity in imagining he was big enough to claim life in the raw.
"Not big enough! Not big enough!"--the goblins of the underworld
croaked at him in triumphant chorus.... They capered ... they snapped
their fingers at him ... they spun him down to where fear was ... he
had delivered himself to them, by not being big enough.
"Mrs. Bigger had a baby--which was bigger, Mrs. Bigger or the baby?"
The silly conundrum sprang at him from goodness knows what void--and
over and over again he repeated it to himself, trying to remember the
answer, trying to forget fear....
"Mrs. Bigger had a baby--"
He dared not fall asleep ... with the woman who had killed her husband,
alone in the room with him ... alone in the house with him.
A stir from the other bed, and one arm flung out in sleep. Dickie's
knees jerked violently--his skin went cold and sticky with sweat. "You
fool--it's only Ruth!"
But she _did_ it--she did it once. There are people who can't kill, and
a few, just a very few, who can. And because they can, they are
different, and have to be shut away from the herd.
But--but this woman. They've made a ghastly mistake--they've let her go
free--and I can't tell anyone ... nobody knows, except me and Ruth----
Ah, yes--a quivering sigh of relief here--Ruth knows, too--Ruth, my
wife--ruth means pity....
There is no Ruth ... there never was ... quite alone except for a
strange, strange woman--the kind that gets shut away and kept by
* * * * *
To this bondage had Dickie's nerves delivered him. The custom of
punctilious courtesy, so deeply ingrained as to mean in his case the
impossibility of wounding another, decreed that some pretence must be
kept up before Ruth. But with one shock she divined the next morning
the significant change in him, and bowed her head to it. What could she
do? She loved him, but she had overrated the capacity of his spirit.
There had never been any courage, only kindness and sweetness and
chivalry--all no good to him, now that courage was wanted. She had made
a mistake in telling him the truth.
Suffering--she thought she had suffered fiercely with Lucas, she
thought she had suffered while she was being ignominiously tried for
her life--but what were either of these phases compared with the
helpless bitterness of seeing Dickie, whom she loved, afraid of her?
Even her periodic fits of wild arrogant passion, which usually, when
they surged past restraint, wrecked and altered whatever situation was
hemming her in, and left gaps for a passage through to something
else--even these had now to be curbed. Useful in hate, they were
impotent in love. So Ruth recognised in her new humility. But when one
day, seized by panic at having spoken irritably to her, Dickie hastily
tried to propitiate her, to ingratiate himself so that she might spare
him, might let him live a little longer, then Ruth felt she must cry
aloud under the strain of this subtle torture. Why, he was her lover,
her man, her child.... In thought, her arm shaped itself into a crook
for his head to lie there; her fingers smoothed out the drawn
perplexity of his brows; her kisses were cool as snow on his hot,
twitching little mouth; her voice, hushed to a lullaby croon, promised
him that nobody should hurt him, nobody, while she was there to heal
"Sleep, baby, sleep,
The hills are white with sheep----"
Over and over again she lulled herself with the old rhyme, for
comfort's sake. But Dickie she could not comfort, since, irony of
ironies, she was the cause of his pitiful breakdown. Why, if she spoke,
he started; if she moved towards him, he shrank. Yet still Ruth dreamt
that if he would only let her touch him, she could bring him
reassurance. But meanwhile his appetite was meagre, the rare half-hours
he slept were broken with evil dreams, from which he awoke whimpering.
He did not care any more about the little beautiful things he had
collected and grouped about him, but sat for hours listless and blank;
his appearance a grotesque parody of the trim and dapper Dickie Maybury
of the past--what could it matter how he looked with death slicing so
close to him?
"The master seems poorly of late, don't he, ma'am? His digestion ain't
strong. P'r'aps something 'as disagreed with 'im." Thus Mrs. Derrick,
taking her part in the drama, as the simple character who makes
speeches of more significant portent than she is aware of.
Something had, indeed, disagreed with Dickie. In the slang phrase: "He
had bitten off more than he could chew."
And the goblins were hunting him; whispering how she would creep up to
him stealthily from behind, this woman who killed ... and put her arms
round him, and put her fingers to his throat--that was one way.
Other ways there were, of course. He must learn about them all, so as
to be watchful and prepared. Self-defence ... accident. Of course, they
always said it was accident. He knew that now, for the evening
crime-sheets began to appear in the flat again, and Dickie studied
them, in place of the _villanelles_, the graceful essays, the
_belles-lettres_ of his former choice. Ruth saw him, with his delicate
shaking hands clutching the newspapers, his mild eyes bright with
sordid fascination. He was ill, certainly; and brain-sick and
oppressed; and she yearned for his illness to show itself a tangible,
serious matter; a matter of bed and doctor and complete prostration and
unwearied effort on the part of his nurse. "My darling--my darling....
He did everything for me, when I most needed it. And now, I can do
nothing.... It isn't fair!"
She stood by one of the open windows of the pretty Watteau
sitting-room. The lamps had just sprung to fiery stars in the blue
glamorous twilight of the square; the fragrance of wet lilac blew up to
her, and a blackbird among the bushes began to sing like mad ... the
fist which was cruelly squeezing Ruth's spirit seemed slowly to
unclench ... and suddenly it struck her that things might be made worth
while again for her and Dickie.
After all, how insane it was for him to be huddling miserably, as she
knew he would be, in the arm-chair of his study, gazing with forlorn
eyes at the squalid columns, which it had grown too dark for him to
decipher. She had a vision of what this very evening might yet hold of
recovered magic, if only she had the courage to carry out her simple
cure of his head drawn down on to her left breast, just where her heart
was beating. "Dickie, it's _all right_, you know--it's only Ruth I
You've been sitting with your bogies all the time the white lilac has
been coming out----"
A faint smile lay at last on Ruth's mouth, and in the curve of her
tired eyelids. She went softly into the study. The door was open....
Dickie sprang to his feet with a yell of terror as her hands came round
his neck from behind. He clutched at the revolver in his pocket and
fired, at random, backwards.... In the wall behind them was the round
dark mark of a merciful bullet. And----
"Dickie--oh, Dickie--when you've been frightened--and have to live with
it--and it doesn't even stop at nights--do you understand, now, how it
happens? They've no right to call _that_ murder, have they, Dickie?"
And now, indeed, understanding that the awful act of killing could be,
in a rare once or twice, a human accident for the frightened little
human to commit--understanding, Dickie was shocked back to sanity.
"Dear, dear Ruth----" Why, this stranger woman was no stranger, after
all, but Ruth, his own sweet wife. Dickie was tired, and he knew he
need not explain things to her. He laid his head down on her left
breast, just where the heart was beating.
THE WOMAN WHO SAT STILL
By PARRY TRUSCOTT
When he went, when he had to go, he took with him the memory of her
that had become crystallised, set for him in his own frequent words to
her, standing at her side, looking down at her with his keen, restless
eyes--such words as: "It puzzles me how on earth you manage to sit so
Then, enlarging: "It is wonderful to me how you can keep so happy doing
nothing--make of enforced idleness a positive pleasure! I suppose it is
a gift, and I haven't got it--not a bit. It doesn't matter how tired I
am, I have to keep going--people call it industry, but its real name is
nervous energy, run riot. I can't even take a holiday peacefully. I
must be actively playing if I cannot work. I'm just the direct
descendant of the girl in the red shoes--they were red, weren't
they?--who had to dance on and on until she dropped. I shall go on and
on until I drop, and then I shall attempt a few more useless yards on
"Come now," in answer to the way she shook her head at him, smiled at
him from her sofa, "you know very well how I envy you your gift, your
power of sitting still--happily still--your power of contemplation...."
And one day, more intimately still, with a sigh and a look (Oh, a look
she understood!), "To me you are the most restful person in the
* * * * *
Why he went, except that he had to go; why he stayed away so long, so
very long, are not really relevant to this story; the facts, stripped
of conjecture, were simply these: she was married, and he was not, and
there came the time, as it always comes in such relationships as
theirs, when he had to choose between staying without honour and going
quickly. He went. But even the bare facts concerning his protracted
absence are less easily stated because his absence dragged on long
after the period when he might, with impeccable honour, have returned.
The likeliest solution was that setting her aside when he had to,
served so to cut in two his life, so wrenched at his heartstrings, so
burnt and bruised his spirit, that when, in his active fashion he had
lived some of the hurt down, he could not bring himself easily to
reopen the old subject--fresh wounds for him might still lurk in
it--how could he tell? Although it had been at the call, the insistence
of honour, still hadn't he left her--deserted her? Does any woman, even
his own appointed woman, forgive a man who goes speechless away?
Useless, useless speculation! For some reason, some man's reason, when
another's death made her a free woman, yet he lingered and did not
He knew, afterwards, that it was from the first his intention to claim
her. He wanted her--deep down he wanted her as he had always wanted
her; meant to come--some time. Knew all the time that he could not
always keep away. And then, responding to a sudden whim, some turn of
his quickly moving mind--a mind that could forcibly bury a subject and
as forcibly resurrect it--hot-foot and eager he came.