Part 14 out of 18
queen who could do no wrong. "Just when I thought I had made some headway, she
goes off chasing butterflies. It's too maddening!"
There was no possibility of arguing, for the red-haired girl was in the studio.
Dick could only look unutterable reproach.
"I'm sorry," he said, "and I think you make a mistake. But what's the idea of
your new picture?"
"I took it from a book."
"That's bad, to begin with. Books aren't the places for pictures. And----"
"It's this," said the red-haired girl behind him. "I was reading it to Maisie
the other day from The City of Dreadful Night. D'you know the book?"
"A little. I am sorry I spoke. There are pictures in it. What has taken her
"The description of the Melancolia--
'Her folded wings as of a mighty eagle,
But all too impotent to lift the regal
Robustness of her earth-born strength and pride.
And here again. (Maisie, get the tea, dear.)
'The forehead charged with baleful thoughts and dreams,
The household bunch of keys, the housewife's gown,
Voluminous indented, and yet rigid
As though a shell of burnished metal frigid,
Her feet thick-shod to tread all weakness down."
There was no attempt to conceal the scorn of the lazy voice. Dick winced.
"But that has been done already by an obscure artist by the name of Durer,"
said he. "How does the poem run?--
'Three centuries and threescore years ago,
With phantasies of his peculiar thought.'
You might as well try to rewrite Hamlet. It will be a waste of time."
"No, it won't," said Maisie, putting down the teacups with a clatter to
reassure herself. "And I mean to do it. Can't you see what a beautiful thing it
"How in perdition can one do work when one hasn't had the proper training? Any
fool can get a notion. It needs training to drive the thing through,--training
and conviction; not rushing after the first fancy." Dick spoke between his
"You don't understand," said Maisie. "I think I can do it."
Again the voice of the girl behind him--
"Baffled and beaten back, she works on still; Weary and sick of soul, she works
Sustained by her indomitable will, The hands shall fashion, and the brain shall
pore, And all her sorrow shall be turned to labour----
I fancy Maisie means to embody herself in the picture."
"Sitting on a throne of rejected pictures? No, I shan't, dear. The notion in
itself has fascinated me.--Of course you don't care for fancy heads, Dick. I
don't think you could do them. You like blood and bones."
"That's a direct challenge. If you can do a Melancolia that isn't merely a
sorrowful female head, I can do a better one; and I will, too. What d'you know
about Melacolias?" Dick firmly believed that he was even then tasting three-
quarters of all the sorrow in the world.
"She was a woman," said Maisie, "and she suffered a great deal,--till she could
suffer no more. Then she began to laugh at it all, and then I painted her and
sent her to the Salon."
The red-haired girl rose up and left the room, laughing.
Dick looked at Maisie humbly and hopelessly.
"Never mind about the picture," he said. "Are you really going back to Kami's
for a month before your time?"
"I must, if I want to get the picture done."
"And that's all you want?"
"Of course. Don't be stupid, Dick."
"You haven't the power. You have only the ideas--the ideas and the little cheap
impulses. How you could have kept at your work for ten years steadily is a
mystery to me. So you are really going,--a month before you need?"
"I must do my work."
"Your work--bah! . . . No, I didn't mean that. It's all right, dear. Of course
you must do your work, and--I think I'll say goodbye for this week."
"Won't you even stay for tea? "No, thank you. Have I your leave to go, dear?
There's nothing more you particularly want me to do, and the line-work doesn't
"I wish you could stay, and then we could talk over my picture. If only one
single picture's a success, it draws attention to all the others. I know some
of my work is good, if only people could see. And you needn't have been so rude
"I'm sorry. We'll talk the Melancolia over some one of the other Sundays.
There are four more--yes, one, two, three, four--before you go. Goodbye,
Maisie stood by the studio window, thinking, till the red-haired girl returned,
a little white at the corners of her lips.
"Dick's gone off," said Maisie. "Just when I wanted to talk about the picture.
Isn't it selfish of him?"
Her companion opened her lips as if to speak, shut them again, and went on
reading The City of Dreadful Night.
Dick was in the Park, walking round and round a tree that he had chosen as his
confidante for many Sundays past. He was swearing audibly, and when he found
that the infirmities of the English tongue hemmed in his rage, he sought
consolation in Arabic, which is expressly designed for the use of the
afflicted. He was not pleased with the reward of his patient service; nor was
he pleased with himself; and it was long before he arrived at the proposition
that the queen could do no wrong.
"It's a losing game," he said. "I'm worth nothing when a whim of hers is in
question. But in a losing game at Port Said we used to double the stakes and go
on. She do a Melancolia! She hasn't the power, or the insight, or the training.
Only the desire. She's cursed with the curse of Reuben. She won't do line-work,
because it means real work; and yet she's stronger than I am. I'll make her
understand that I can beat her on her own Melancolia. Even then she wouldn't
care. She says I can only do blood and bones. I don't believe she has blood in
her veins. All the same I lover her; and I must go on loving her; and if I can
humble her inordinate vanity I will. I'll do a Melancolia that shall be
something like a Melancolia 'the Melancolia that transcends all wit.' I'll do
it at once, con--bless her."
He discovered that the notion would not come to order, and that he could not
free his mind for an hour from the thought of Maisie's departure. He took very
small interest in her rough studies for the Melancolia when she showed them
next week. The Sundays were racing past, and the time was at hand when all the
church bells in London could not ring Maisie back to him. Once or twice he said
something to Binkie about 'hermaphroditic futilities,' but the little dog
received so many confidences both from Torpenhow and Dick that he did not
trouble his tulip-ears to listen.
Dick was permitted to see the girls off. They were going by the Dover night-
boat; and they hoped to return in August. It was then February, and Dick felt
that he was being hardly used. Maisie was so busy stripping the small house
across the Park, and packing her canvases, that she had not time for thought.
Dick went down to Dover and wasted a day there fretting over a wonderful
possibility. Would Maisie at the very last allow him one small kiss? He
reflected that he might capture her by the strong arm, as he had seem women
captured in the Southern Soudan, and lead her away; but Maisie would never be
led. She would turn her gray eyes upon him and say, "Dick, how selfish you
are!" Then his courage would fail him. It would be better, after all, to beg
for that kiss.
Maisie looked more than usually kissable as she stepped from the night-mail on
to the windy pier, in a gray waterproof and a little gray cloth travelling-cap.
The red-haired girl was not so lovely. Her green eyes were hollow and her lips
were dry. Dick saw the trunks aboard, and went to Maisie's side in the darkness
under the bridge. The mail-bags were thundering into the forehold, and the red-
haired girl was watching them.
"You'll have a rough passage tonight," said Dick. "It's blowing outside. I
suppose I may come over and see you if I'm good?"
"You mustn't. I shall be busy. At least, if I want you I'll send for you. But I
shall write from Vitry-sur-Marne. I shall have heaps of things to consult you
about. Oh, Dick, you have been so good to me!--so good to me!"
"Thank you for that, dear. It hasn't made any difference, has it?"
"I can't tell a fib. It hasn't--in that way. But don't think I'm not grateful."
"Damn the gratitude!" said Dick, huskily, to the paddle-box.
"What's the use of worrying? You know I should ruin your life, and you'd ruin
mine, as things are now. You remember what you said when you were so angry that
day in the Park? One of us has to be broken. Can't you wait till that day
"No, love. I want you unbroken--all to myself."
Maisie shook her head. "My poor Dick, what can I say!"
"Don't say anything. Give me a kiss. Only one kiss, Maisie. I'll swear I won't
take any more. You might as well, and then I can be sure you're grateful."
Maisie put her cheek forward, and Dick took his reward in the darkness.
It was only one kiss, but, since there was no time-limit specified, it was a
long one. Maisie wrenched herself free angrily, and Dick stood abashed and
tingling from head to toe.
"Goodbye, darling. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm sorry. Only--keep well and
do good work,--specially the Melancolia. I'm going to do one, too. Remember me
to Kami, and be careful what you drink. Country drinking-water is bad
everywhere, but it's worse in France. Write to me if you want anything, and
good-bye. Say good-bye to the whatever-you-call-um girl, and--can't I have
another kiss? No. You're quite right. Goodbye."
A shout told him that it was not seemly to charge of the mail-bag incline. He
reached the pier as the steamer began to move off, and he followed her with his
"And there's nothing--nothing in the wide world--to keep us apart except her
obstinacy. These Calais night-boats are much too small. I'll get Torp to write
to the papers about it. She's beginning to pitch already."
Maisie stood where Dick had left her till she heard a little gasping cough at
her elbow. The red-haired girl's eyes were alight with cold flame.
"He kissed you!" she said. "How could you let him, when he wasn't anything to
you? How dared you to take a kiss from him? Oh, Maisie, let's go to the ladies'
cabin. I'm sick,--deadly sick."
"We aren't into open water yet. Go down, dear, and I'll stay here. I don't like
the smell of the engines. . . . Poor Dick! He deserved one,--only one.
But I didn't think he'd frighten me so."
Dick returned to town next day just in time for lunch, for which he had
telegraphed. To his disgust, there were only empty plates in the studio.
He lifted up his voice like the bears in the fairy-tale, and Torpenhow entered,
"H'sh!" said he. "Don't make such a noise. I took it. Come into my rooms, and
I'll show you why."
Dick paused amazed at the threshold, for on Torpenhow's sofa lay a girl asleep
and breathing heavily. The little cheap sailor-hat, the blue-and-white dress,
fitter for June than for February, dabbled with mud at the skirts, the jacket
trimmed with imitation Astrakhan and ripped at the shoulder-seams, the one-and-
elevenpenny umbrella, and, above all, the disgraceful condition of the kid-
topped boots, declared all things.
"Oh, I say, old man, this is too bad! You mustn't bring this sort up here. They
steal things from the rooms."
"It looks bad, I admit, but I was coming in after lunch, and she staggered into
the hall. I thought she was drunk at first, but it was collapse. I couldn't
leave her as she was, so I brought her up here and gave her your lunch. She was
fainting from want of food. She went fast asleep the minute she had finished."
"I know something of that complaint. She's been living on sausages, I suppose.
Torp, you should have handed her over to a policeman for presuming to faint in
a respectable house. Poor little wretch! Look at the face! There isn't an ounce
of immorality in it. Only folly,--slack, fatuous, feeble, futile folly. It's a
typical head. D'you notice how the skull begins to show through the flesh
padding on the face and cheek-bone?"
"What a cold-blooded barbarian it is! Don't hit a woman when she's down. Can't
we do anything? She was simply dropping with starvation. She almost fell into
my arms, and when she got to the food she ate like a wild beast. It was
"I can give her money, which she would probably spend in drinks. Is she going
to sleep for ever?"
The girl opened her eyes and glared at the men between terror and effrontery.
"Feeling better?" said Torpenhow.
"Yes. Thank you. There aren't many gentlemen that are as kind as you are. Thank
"When did you leave service?" said Dick, who had been watching the scarred and
"How did you know I was in service? I was. General servant. I didn't like it."
"And how do you like being your own mistress?"
"Do I look as if I liked it?"
"I suppose not. One moment. Would you be good enough to turn your face to the
The girl obeyed, and Dick watched her face keenly,--so keenly that she made as
if to hide behind Torpenhow.
"The eyes have it," said Dick, walking up and down. "They are superb eyes for
my business. And, after all, every head depends on the eyes. This has been sent
from heaven to make up for--what was taken away. Now the weekly strain's off my
shoulders, I can get to work in earnest. Evidently sent from heaven. Yes. Raise
your chin a little, please."
"Gently, old man, gently. You're scaring somebody out of her wits," said
Torpenhow, who could see the girl trembling.
"Don't let him hit me! Oh, please don't let him hit me! I've been hit cruel
today because I spoke to a man. Don't let him look at me like that! He's
reg'lar wicked, that one. Don't let him look at me like that, neither! Oh, I
feel as if I hadn't nothing on when he looks at me like that!"
The overstrained nerves in the frail body gave way, and the girl wept like a
little child and began to scream. Dick threw open the window, and Torpenhow
flung the door back.
"There you are," said Dick, soothingly. "My friend here can call for a
policeman, and you can run through that door. Nobody is going to hurt you."
The girl sobbed convulsively for a few minutes, and then tried to laugh.
"Nothing in the world to hurt you. Now listen to me for a minute. I"m what they
call an artist by profession. You know what artists do?"
"They draw the things in red and black ink on the pop-shop labels."
"I dare say. I haven't risen to pop-shop labels yet. Those are done by the
Academicians. I want to draw your head."
"Because it's pretty. That is why you will come to the room across the landing
three times a week at eleven in the morning, and I'll give you three quid a
week just for sitting still and being drawn. And there's a quid on account."
"For nothing? Oh, my!" The girl turned the sovereign in her hand, and with more
foolish tears, "Ain't neither 'o you two gentlemen afraid of my bilking you?"
"No. Only ugly girls do that. Try and remember this place. And, by the way,
what's your name?"
"I'm Bessie,--Bessie----It's no use giving the rest. Bessie Broke,--Stone-
broke, if you like. What's your names? But there,--no one ever gives the real
Dick consulted Torpenhow with his eyes.
"My name's Heldar, and my friend's called Torpenhow; and you must be sure to
come here. Where do you live?"
"South-the-water,--one room,--five and sixpence a week. Aren't you making fun
of me about that three quid?"
"You'll see later on. And, Bessie, next time you come, remember, you needn't
wear that paint. It's bad for the skin, and I have all the colours you'll be
likely to need."
Bessie withdrew, scrubbing her cheek with a ragged pocket-handkerchief. The two
men looked at each other.
"You're a man," said Torpenhow.
"I'm afraid I've been a fool. It isn't our business to run about the earth
reforming Bessie Brokes. And a woman of any kind has no right on this landing."
"Perhaps she won't come back."
"She will if she thinks she can get food and warmth here. I know she will,
worse luck. But remember, old man, she isn't a woman; she's my model; and be
"The idea! She's a dissolute little scarecrow,--a gutter-snippet and nothing
"So you think. Wait till she has been fed a little and freed from fear. That
fair type recovers itself very quickly. You won't know her in a week or two,
when that abject fear has died out of her eyes. She'll be too happy and smiling
for my purposes."
"But surely you're not taking her out of charity?--to please me?"
"I am not in the habit of playing with hot coals to please anybody. She has
been sent from heaven, as I may have remarked before, to help me with my
"Never heard a word about the lady before."
"What's the use of having a friend, if you must sling your notions at him in
words? You ought to know what I'm thinking about. You've heard me grunt
"Even so; but grunts mean anything in your language, from bad 'baccy to wicked
dealers. And I don't think I've been much in your confidence for some time."
"It was a high and soulful grunt. You ought to have understood that it meant
the Melancolia." Dick walked Torpenhow up and down the room, keeping silence.
Then he smote him in the ribs, "Now don't you see it? Bessie's abject futility,
and the terror in her eyes, welded on to one or two details in the way of
sorrow that have come under my experience lately. Likewise some orange and
black,--two keys of each. But I can't explain on an empty stomach."
"It sounds mad enough. You'd better stick to your soldiers, Dick, instead of
maundering about heads and eyes and experiences."
"Think so?" Dick began to dance on his heels, singing--
"They're as proud as a turkey when they hold the ready cash,
You ought to 'ear the way they laugh an' joke;
They are tricky an' they're funny when they've got the ready money,--
Ow! but see 'em when they're all stone-broke."
Then he sat down to pour out his heart to Maisie in a four-sheet letter of
counsel and encouragement, and registered an oath that he would get to work
with an undivided heart as soon as Bessie should reappear.
The girl kept her appointment unpainted and unadorned, afraid and overbold by
turns. When she found that she was merely expected to sit still, she grew
calmer, and criticised the appointments of the studio with freedom and some
point. She liked the warmth and the comfort and the release from fear of
physical pain. Dick made two or three studies of her head in monochrome, but
the actual notion of the Melancolia would not arrive.
"What a mess you keep your things in!" said Bessie, some days later, when she
felt herself thoroughly at home. "I s'pose your clothes are just as bad.
Gentlemen never think what buttons and tape are made for."
"I buy things to wear, and wear 'em till they go to pieces. I don"t know what
Bessie made diligent inquiry in the latter's room, and unearthed a bale of
disreputable socks. "Some of these I'll mend now," she said, "and some I'll
take home. D'you know, I sit all day long at home doing nothing, just like a
lady, and no more noticing them other girls in the house than if they was so
many flies. I don't have any unnecessary words, but I put 'em down quick, I can
tell you, when they talk to me. No; it's quite nice these days. I lock my door,
and they can only call me names through the keyhole, and I sit inside, just
like a lady, mending socks. Mr. Torpenhow wears his socks out both ends at
"Three quid a week from me, and the delights of my society. No socks mended.
Nothing from Torp except a nod on the landing now and again, and all his socks
mended. Bessie is very much a woman," thought Dick; and he looked at her
between half-shut eyes. Food and rest had transformed the girl, as Dick knew
"What are you looking at me like that for?" she said quickly. "Don"t. You look
reg'lar bad when you look that way. You don't think much o" me, do you?"
"That depends on how you behave."
Bessie behaved beautifully. Only it was difficult at the end of a sitting to
bid her go out into the gray streets. She very much preferred the studio and a
big chair by the stove, with some socks in her lap as an excuse for delay. Then
Torpenhow would come in, and Bessie would be moved to tell strange and
wonderful stories of her past, and still stranger ones of her present improved
circumstances. She would make them tea as though she had a right to make it;
and once or twice on these occasions Dick caught Torpenhow's eyes fixed on the
trim little figure, and because Bessie's flittings about the room made Dick
ardently long for Maisie, he realised whither Torpenhow's thoughts were
tending. And Bessie was exceedingly careful of the condition of Torpenhow's
linen. She spoke very little to him, but sometimes they talked together on the
"I was a great fool," Dick said to himself. "I know what red firelight looks
like when a man's tramping through a strange town; and ours is a lonely,
selfish sort of life at the best. I wonder Maisie doesn't feel that sometimes.
But I can't order Bessie away. That's the worst of beginning things. One never
knows where they stop."
One evening, after a sitting prolonged to the last limit of the light, Dick was
roused from a nap by a broken voice in Torpenhow's room. He jumped to his feet.
"Now what ought I to do? It looks foolish to go in.--Oh, bless you, Binkie!"
The little terrier thrust Torpenhow's door open with his nose and came out to
take possession of Dick's chair. The door swung wide unheeded, and Dick across
the landing could see Bessie in the half-light making her little supplication
to Torpenhow. She was kneeling by his side, and her hands were clasped across
"I know,--I know," she said thickly. "'Tisn't right 'o me to do this, but I
can't help it; and you were so kind,--so kind; and you never took any notice 'o
me. And I've mended all your things so carefully,--I did. Oh, please, 'tisn't
as if I was asking you to marry me. I wouldn't think of it. But you--couldn't
you take and live with me till Miss Right comes along? I'm only Miss Wrong, I
know, but I'd work my hands to the bare bone for you. And I'm not ugly to look
at. Say you will!"
Dick hardly recognised Torpenhow's voice in reply--"But look here. It's no use.
I'm liable to be ordered off anywhere at a minute's notice if a war breaks out.
At a minute's notice--dear."
"What does that matter? Until you go, then. Until you go. 'Tisn't much I'm
asking, and--you don't know how good I can cook." She had put an arm round his
neck and was drawing his head down.
"Torp," said Dick, across the landing. He could hardly steady his voice.
"Come here a minute, old man. I'm in trouble"--
"Heaven send he'll listen to me!" There was something very like an oath from
Bessie's lips. She was afraid of Dick, and disappeared down the staircase in
panic, but it seemed an age before Torpenhow entered the studio. He went to the
mantelpiece, buried his head on his arms, and groaned like a wounded bull.
"What the devil right have you to interfere?" he said, at last.
"Who's interfering with which? Your own sense told you long ago you couldn't be
such a fool. It was a tough rack, St. Anthony, but you"re all right now."
"I oughtn't to have seen her moving about these rooms as if they belonged to
her. That's what upset me. It gives a lonely man a sort of hankering, doesn't
it?" said Torpenhow, piteously.
"Now you talk sense. It does. But, since you aren't in a condition to discuss
the disadvantages of double housekeeping, do you know what you're going to do?"
"I don't. I wish I did."
"You're going away for a season on a brilliant tour to regain tone. You"re
going to Brighton, or Scarborough, or Prawle Point, to see the ships go by. And
you're going at once. Isn't it odd? I'll take care of Binkie, but out you go
immediately. Never resist the devil. He holds the bank. Fly from him. Pack your
things and go."
"I believe you're right. Where shall I go?"
"And you call yourself a special correspondent! Pack first and inquire
An hour later Torpenhow was despatched into the night for a hansom.
"You'll probably think of some place to go to while you're moving," said Dick.
"On to Euston, to begin with, and--oh yes--get drunk tonight."
He returned to the studio, and lighted more candles, for he found the room very
"Oh, you Jezebel! you futile little Jezebel! Won't you hate me tomorrow!--
Binkie, come here."
Binkie turned over on his back on the hearth-rug, and Dick stirred him with a
"I said she was not immoral. I was wrong. She said she could cook. That showed
premeditated sin. Oh, Binkie, if you are a man you will go to perdition; but if
you are a woman, and say that you can cook, you will go to a much worse place."
What's you that follows at my side?--
The foe that ye must fight, my lord.--
That hirples swift as I can ride?--
The shadow of the night, my lord.--
Then wheel my horse against the foe!--
He's down and overpast, my lord.
Ye war against the sunset glow;
The darkness gathers fast, my lord.
----The Fight of Heriot's Ford
"This is a cheerful life," said Dick, some days later. "Torp's away; Bessie
hates me; I can't get at the notion of the Melancolia; Maisie's letters are
scrappy; and I believe I have indigestion. What give a man pains across the
head and spots before his eyes, Binkie? Shall us take some liver pills?"
Dick had just gone through a lively scene with Bessie. She had for the fiftieth
time reproached him for sending Torpenhow away. She explained her enduring
hatred for Dick, and made it clear to him that she only sat for the sake of his
money. "And Mr. Torpenhow's ten times a better man than you," she concluded.
"He is. That's why he went away. I should have stayed and made love to you."
The girl sat with her chin on her hand, scowling. "To me! I'd like to catch
you! If I wasn't afraid 'o being hung I'd kill you. That's what I'd do. D'you
Dick smiled wearily. It is not pleasant to live in the company of a notion that
will not work out, a fox-terrier that cannot talk, and a woman who talks too
much. He would have answered, but at that moment there unrolled itself from one
corner of the studio a veil, as it were, of the flimsiest gauze. He rubbed his
eyes, but the gray haze would not go.
"This is disgraceful indigestion. Binkie, we will go to a medicine-man. We
can't have our eyes interfered with, for by these we get our bread; also
mutton-chop bones for little dogs."
The doctor was an affable local practitioner with white hair, and he said
nothing till Dick began to describe the gray film in the studio.
"We all want a little patching and repairing from time to time," he chirped.
"Like a ship, my dear sir,--exactly like a ship. Sometimes the hull is out of
order, and we consult the surgeon; sometimes the rigging, and then I advise;
sometimes the engines, and we go to the brain-specialist; sometimes the look-
out on the bridge is tired, and then we see an oculist. I should recommend you
to see an oculist. A little patching and repairing from time to time is all we
want. An oculist, by all means."
Dick sought an oculist,--the best in London. He was certain that the local
practitioner did not know anything about his trade, and more certain that
Maisie would laugh at him if he were forced to wear spectacles.
"I've neglected the warnings of my lord the stomach too long. Hence these spots
before the eyes, Binkie. I can see as well as I ever could."
As he entered the dark hall that led to the consulting-room a man cannoned
against him. Dick saw the face as it hurried out into the street.
"That's the writer-type. He has the same modelling of the forehead as Torp. He
looks very sick. Probably heard something he didn't like."
Even as he thought, a great fear came upon Dick, a fear that made him hold his
breath as he walked into the oculist's waiting room, with the heavy carved
furniture, the dark-green paper, and the sober-hued prints on the wall. He
recognised a reproduction of one of his own sketches.
Many people were waiting their turn before him. His eye was caught by a flaming
red-and-gold Christmas-carol book. Little children came to that eye-doctor, and
they needed large-type amusement.
"That's idolatrous bad Art," he said, drawing the book towards himself.
"From the anatomy of the angels, it has been made in Germany." He opened in
mechanically, and there leaped to his eyes a verse printed in red ink--
The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of three,
To see her good Son Jesus Christ
Making the blind to see;
Making the blind to see, good Lord,
And happy we may be.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity!
Dick read and re-read the verse till his turn came, and the doctor was bending
above him seated in an arm-chair. The blaze of the gas-microscope in his eyes
made him wince. The doctor's hand touched the scar of the sword-cut on Dick's
head, and Dick explained briefly how he had come by it. When the flame was
removed, Dick saw the doctor's face, and the fear came upon him again. The
doctor wrapped himself in a mist of words. Dick caught allusions to "scar,"
"frontal bone," "optic nerve," "extreme caution," and the "avoidance of mental
"Verdict?" he said faintly. "My business is painting, and I daren't waste time.
What do you make of it?"
Again the whirl of words, but this time they conveyed a meaning.
"Can you give me anything to drink?"
Many sentences were pronounced in that darkened room, and the prisoners often
needed cheering. Dick found a glass of liqueur brandy in his hand.
"As far as I can gather," he said, coughing above the spirit, "you call it
decay of the optic nerve, or something, and therefore hopeless. What is my
time-limit, avoiding all strain and worry?"
"Perhaps one year."
"My God! And if I don't take care of myself?"
"I really could not say. One cannot ascertain the exact amount of injury
inflicted by the sword-cut. The scar is an old one, and--exposure to the strong
light of the desert, did you say?--with excessive application to fine work? I
really could not say?"
"I beg your pardon, but it has come without any warning. If you will let me,
I'll sit here for a minute, and then I'll go. You have been very good in
telling me the truth. Without any warning; without any warning. Thanks."
Dick went into the street, and was rapturously received by Binkie.
"We've got it very badly, little dog! Just as badly as we can get it. We'll go
to the Park to think it out."
They headed for a certain tree that Dick knew well, and they sat down to think,
because his legs were trembling under him and there was cold fear at the pit of
"How could it have come without any warning? It's as sudden as being shot. It's
the living death, Binkie. We're to be shut up in the dark in one year if we're
careful, and we shan't see anybody, and we shall never have anything we want,
not though we live to be a hundred!" Binkie wagged his tail joyously. "Binkie,
we must think. Let's see how it feels to be blind." Dick shut his eyes, and
flaming commas and Catherine-wheels floated inside the lids. Yet when he looked
across the Park the scope of his vision was not contracted. He could see
perfectly, until a procession of slow-wheeling fireworks defiled across his
"Little dorglums, we aren't at all well. Let's go home. If only Torp were back,
But Torpenhow was in the south of England, inspecting dockyards in the company
of the Nilghai. His letters were brief and full of mystery.
Dick had never asked anybody to help him in his joys or his sorrows. He argued,
in the loneliness of his studio, henceforward to be decorated with a film of
gray gauze in one corner, that, if his fate were blindness, all the Torpenhows
in the world could not save him. "I can't call him off his trip to sit down and
sympathise with me. I must pull through this business alone," he said. He was
lying on the sofa, eating his moustache and wondering what the darkness of the
night would be like. Then came to his mind the memory of a quaint scene in the
Soudan. A soldier had been nearly hacked in two by a broad-bladed Arab spear.
For one instant the man felt no pain. Looking down, he saw that his life-blood
was going from him. The stupid bewilderment on his face was so intensely comic
that both Dick and Torpenhow, still panting and unstrung from a fight for life,
had roared with laughter, in which the man seemed as if he would join, but, as
his lips parted in a sheepish grin, the agony of death came upon him, and he
pitched grunting at their feet. Dick laughed again, remembering the horror. It
seemed so exactly like his own case.
"But I have a little more time allowed me," he said. He paced up and down the
room, quietly at first, but afterwards with the hurried feet of fear. It was as
though a black shadow stood at his elbow and urged him to go forward; and there
were only weaving circles and floating pin-dots before his eyes.
"We need to be calm, Binkie; we must be calm." He talked aloud for the sake of
distraction. "This isn't nice at all. What shall we do? We must do something.
Our time is short. I shouldn't have believed that this morning; but now things
are different. Binkie, where was Moses when the light went out?"
Binkie smiled from ear to ear, as a well-bred terrier should, but made no
"'Were there but world enough and time, This coyness, Binkie, were not crime. .
. . But at my back I always hear----'" He wiped his forehead, which was
unpleasantly damp. "What can I do? What can I do? I haven't any notions left,
and I can't think connectedly, but I must do something, or I shall go off my
The hurried walk recommenced, Dick stopping every now and again to drag forth
long-neglected canvases and old note-books; for he turned to his work by
instinct, as a thing that could not fail. "You won't do, and you won't do," he
said, at each inspection. "No more soldiers. I couldn't paint 'em. Sudden death
comes home too nearly, and this is battle and murder for me."
The day was failing, and Dick thought for a moment that the twilight of the
blind had come upon him unaware. "Allah Almighty!" he cried despairingly, "help
me through the time of waiting, and I won't whine when my punishment comes.
What can I do now, before the light goes?"
There was no answer. Dick waited till he could regain some sort of control over
himself. His hands were shaking, and he prided himself on their steadiness; he
could feel that his lips were quivering, and the sweat was running down his
face. He was lashed by fear, driven forward by the desire to get to work at
once and accomplish something, and maddened by the refusal of his brain to do
more than repeat the news that he was about to go blind. "It's a humiliating
exhibition," he thought, "and I'm glad Torp isn't here to see. The doctor said
I was to avoid mental worry. Come here and let me pet you, Binkie."
The little dog yelped because Dick nearly squeezed the bark out of him.
Then he heard the man speaking in the twilight, and, doglike, understood that
his trouble stood off from him--"Allah is good, Binkie. Not quite so gentle as
we could wish, but we'll discuss that later. I think I see my way to it now.
All those studies of Bessie's head were nonsense, and they nearly brought your
master into a scrape. I hold the notion now as clear as crystal, 'the
Melancolia that transcends all wit.' There shall be Maisie in that head,
because I shall never get Maisie; and Bess, of course, because she knows all
about Melancolia, though she doesn't know she knows; and there shall be some
drawing in it, and it shall all end up with a laugh. That's for myself. Shall
she giggle or grin? No, she shall laugh right out of the canvas, and every man
and woman that ever had a sorrow of their own shall--what is it the poem says?-
'Understand the speech and feel a stir
Of fellowship in all disastrous fight.'
"'In all disastrous fight'? That's better than painting the thing merely to
pique Maisie. I can do it now because I have it inside me. Binkie, I'm going to
hold you up by your tail. You're an omen. Come here."
Binkie swung head downward for a moment without speaking.
"Rather like holding a guinea-pig; but you're a brave little dog, and you don't
yelp when you're hung up. It is an omen."
Binkie went to his own chair, and as often as he looked saw Dick walking up and
down, rubbing his hands and chuckling. That night Dick wrote a letter to Maisie
full of the tenderest regard for her health, but saying very little about his
own, and dreamed of the Melancolia to be born. Not till morning did he remember
that something might happen to him in the future.
He fell to work, whistling softly, and was swallowed up in the clean, clear joy
of creation, which does not come to man too often, lest he should consider
himself the equal of his God, and so refuse to die at the appointed time. He
forgot Maisie, Torpenhow, and Binkie at his feet, but remembered to stir
Bessie, who needed very little stirring, into a tremendous rage, that he might
watch the smouldering lights in her eyes.
He threw himself without reservation into his work, and did not think of the
doom that was to overtake him, for he was possessed with his notion, and the
things of this world had no power upon him.
"You're pleased today," said Bessie.
Dick waved his mahl-stick in mystic circles and went to the sideboard for a
drink. In the evening, when the exaltation of the day had died down, he went to
the sideboard again, and after some visits became convinced that the eye-doctor
was a liar, since he could still see everything very clearly.
He was of opinion that he would even make a home for Maisie, and that whether
she liked it or not she should be his wife. The mood passed next morning, but
the sideboard and all upon it remained for his comfort.
Again he set to work, and his eyes troubled him with spots and dashes and blurs
till he had taken counsel with the sideboard, and the Melancolia both on the
canvas and in his own mind appeared lovelier than ever. There was a delightful
sense of irresponsibility upon him, such as they feel who walking among their
fellow-men know that the death-sentence of disease is upon them, and, seeing
that fear is but waste of the little time left, are riotously happy. The days
passed without event.
Bessie arrived punctually always, and, though her voice seemed to Dick to come
from a distance, her face was always very near. The Melancolia began to flame
on the canvas, in the likeness of a woman who had known all the sorrow in the
world and was laughing at it. It was true that the corners of the studio draped
themselves in gray film and retired into the darkness, that the spots in his
eyes and the pains across his head were very troublesome, and that Maisie's
letters were hard to read and harder still to answer. He could not tell her of
his trouble, and he could not laugh at her accounts of her own Melancolia which
was always going to be finished. But the furious days of toil and the nights of
wild dreams made amends for all, and the sideboard was his best friend on
Bessie was singularly dull. She used to shriek with rage when Dick stared at
her between half-closed eyes. Now she sulked, or watched him with disgust,
saying very little.
Torpenhow had been absent for six weeks. An incoherent note heralded his
return. "News! great news!" he wrote. "The Nilghai knows, and so does the
Keneu. We're all back on Thursday. Get lunch and clean your accoutrements."
Dick showed Bessie the letter, and she abused him for that he had ever sent
Torpenhow away and ruined her life.
"Well," said Dick, brutally, "you're better as you are, instead of making love
to some drunken beast in the street." He felt that he had rescued Torpenhow
from great temptation.
"I don't know if that's any worse than sitting to a drunken beast in a studio.
You haven't been sober for three weeks. You've been soaking the whole time; and
yet you pretend you're better than me!"
"What d'you mean?" said Dick.
"Mean! You'll see when Mr. Torpenhow comes back."
It was not long to wait. Torpenhow met Bessie on the staircase without a sign
of feeling. He had news that was more to him than many Bessies, and the Keneu
and the Nilghai were trampling behind him, calling for Dick.
"Drinking like a fish," Bessie whispered. "He's been at it for nearly a month."
She followed the men stealthily to hear judgment done.
They came into the studio, rejoicing, to be welcomed over effusively by a
drawn, lined, shrunken, haggard wreck,--unshaven, blue-white about the
nostrils, stooping in the shoulders, and peering under his eyebrows nervously.
The drink had been at work as steadily as Dick.
"Is this you?" said Torpenhow.
"All that's left of me. Sit down. Binkie's quite well, and I've been doing some
good work." He reeled where he stood.
"You've done some of the worst work you've ever done in your life. Man alive,
Torpenhow turned to his companions appealingly, and they left the room to find
lunch elsewhere. Then he spoke; but, since the reproof of a friend is much too
sacred and intimate a thing to be printed, and since Torpenhow used figures and
metaphors which were unseemly, and contempt untranslatable, it will never be
known what was actually said to Dick, who blinked and winked and picked at his
hands. After a time the culprit began to feel the need of a little self-
respect. He was quite sure that he had not in any way departed from virtue, and
there were reasons, too, of which Torpenhow knew nothing. He would explain.
He rose, tried to straighten his shoulders, and spoke to the face he could
"You are right," he said. "But I am right, too. After you went away I had some
trouble with my eyes. So I went to an oculist, and he turned a gasogene--I mean
a gas-engine--into my eye. That was very long ago. He said, 'Scar on the head,-
-sword-cut and optic nerve.' Make a note of that. So I am going blind. I have
some work to do before I go blind, and I suppose that I must do it. I cannot
see much now, but I can see best when I am drunk. I did not know I was drunk
till I was told, but I must go on with my work. If you want to see it, there it
is." He pointed to the all but finished Melancolia and looked for applause.
Torpenhow said nothing, and Dick began to whimper feebly, for joy at seeing
Torpenhow again, for grief at misdeeds--if indeed they were misdeeds--that made
Torpenhow remote and unsympathetic, and for childish vanity hurt, since
Torpenhow had not given a word of praise to his wonderful picture.
Bessie looked through the keyhole after a long pause, and saw the two walking
up and down as usual, Torpenhow's hand on Dick"s shoulder.
Hereat she said something so improper that it shocked even Binkie, who was
dribbling patiently on the landing with the hope of seeing his master again.
The lark will make her hymn to God,
The partridge call her brood,
While I forget the heath I trod,
The fields wherein I stood.
'Tis dule to know not night from morn,
But deeper dule to know
I can but hear the hunter's horn
That once I used to blow.
--The Only Son
IT WAS the third day after Torpenhow's return, and his heart was heavy.
"Do you mean to tell me that you can't see to work without whiskey? It's
generally the other way about."
"Can a drunkard swear on his honour?" said Dick.
"Yes, if he has been as good a man as you."
"Then I give you my word of honour," said Dick, speaking hurriedly through
parched lips. "Old man, I can hardly see your face now. You've kept me sober
for two days,--if I ever was drunk,--and I've done no work. Don't keep me back
any more. I don't know when my eyes may give out. The spots and dots and the
pains and things are crowding worse than ever. I swear I can see all right when
I'm--when I'm moderately screwed, as you say. Give me three more sittings from
Bessie and all--the stuff I want, and the picture will be done. I can't kill
myself in three days. It only means a touch of D. T. at the worst."
"If I give you three days more will you promise me to stop work and--the other
thing, whether the picture's finished or not?"
"I can't. You don't know what that picture means to me. But surely you could
get the Nilghai to help you, and knock me down and tie me up. I shouldn't fight
for the whiskey, but I should for the work."
"Go on, then. I give you three days; but you're nearly breaking my heart."
Dick returned to his work, toiling as one possessed; and the yellow devil of
whiskey stood by him and chased away the spots in his eyes. The Melancolia was
nearly finished, and was all or nearly all that he had hoped she would be. Dick
jested with Bessie, who reminded him that he was "a drunken beast"; but the
reproof did not move him.
"You can't understand, Bess. We are in sight of land now, and soon we shall lie
back and think about what we've done. I'll give you three months' pay when the
picture's finished, and next time I have any more work in hand--but that
doesn't matter. Won't three months' pay make you hate me less?"
"No, it won't! I hate you, and I'll go on hating you. Mr. Torpenhow won't speak
to me any more. He's always looking at maps."
Bessie did not say that she had again laid siege to Torpenhow, or that at the
end of our passionate pleading he had picked her up, given her a kiss, and put
her outside the door with the recommendation not to be a little fool. He spent
most of his time in the company of the Nilghai, and their talk was of war in
the near future, the hiring of transports, and secret preparations among the
dockyards. He did not wish to see Dick till the picture was finished.
"He's doing first-class work," he said to the Nilghai, "and it's quite out of
his regular line. But, for the matter of that, so's his infernal soaking."
"Never mind. Leave him alone. When he has come to his senses again we'll carry
him off from this place and let him breathe clean air. Poor Dick! I don't envy
you, Torp, when his eyes fail."
"Yes, it will be a case of 'God help the man who's chained to our Davie.' The
worst is that we don't know when it will happen, and I believe the uncertainty
and the waiting have sent Dick to the whiskey more than anything else."
"How the Arab who cut his head open would grin if he knew!"
"He's at perfect liberty to grin if he can. He's dead. That's poor consolation
In the afternoon of the third day Torpenhow heard Dick calling for him.
"All finished!" he shouted. "I've done it! Come in! Isn't she a beauty? Isn't
she a darling? I've been down to hell to get her; but isn't she worth it?"
Torpenhow looked at the head of a woman who laughed,--a full-lipped, hollow-
eyed woman who laughed from out of the canvas as Dick had intended she would.
"Who taught you how to do it?" said Torpenhow. "The touch and notion have
nothing to do with your regular work. What a face it is! What eyes, and what
insolence!" Unconsciously he threw back his head and laughed with her. "She's
seen the game played out,--I don't think she had a good time of it,--and now
she doesn't care. Isn't that the idea?"
"Where did you get the mouth and chin from? They don't belong to Bess."
"They're--some one else's. But isn't it good? Isn't it thundering good? Wasn't
it worth the whiskey? I did it. Alone I did it, and it's the best I can do." He
drew his breath sharply, and whispered, "Just God! what could I not do ten
years hence, if I can do this now!--By the way, what do you think of it, Bess?"
The girl was biting her lips. She loathed Torpenhow because he had taken no
notice of her.
"I think it's just the horridest, beastliest thing I ever saw," she answered,
and turned away.
"More than you will be of that way of thinking, young woman.--Dick, there's a
sort of murderous, viperine suggestion in the poise of the head that I don't
understand," said Torpenhow.
That's trick-work," said Dick, chuckling with delight at being completely
understood. "I couldn't resist one little bit of sheer swagger. It's a French
trick, and you wouldn't understand; but it's got at by slewing round the head a
trifle, and a tiny, tiny foreshortening of one side of the face from the angle
of the chin to the top of the left ear. That, and deepening the shadow under
the lobe of the ear. It was flagrant trick-work; but, having the notion fixed,
I felt entitled to play with it,--Oh, you beauty!"
"Amen! She is a beauty. I can feel it."
"So will every man who has any sorrow of his own," said Dick, slapping his
thigh. "He shall see his trouble there, and, by the Lord Harry, just when he's
feeling properly sorry for himself he shall throw back his head and laugh,--as
she is laughing. I've put the life of my heart and the light of my eyes into
her, and I don't care what comes. . . . I'm tired,--awfully tired. I think I'll
get to sleep. Take away the whiskey, it has served its turn, and give Bessie
thirty-six quid, and three over for luck. Cover the picture."
He dropped asleep in the long chair, hid face white and haggard, almost before
he had finished the sentence. Bessie tried to take Torpenhow"s hand. "Aren't
you never going to speak to me any more?" she said; but Torpenhow was looking
"What a stock of vanity the man has! I'll take him in hand tomorrow and make
much of him. He deserves it.--Eh! what was that, Bess?"
"Nothing. I'll put things tidy here a little, and then I'll go. You couldn't
give the that three months" pay now, could you? He said you were to."
Torpenhow gave her a check and went to his own rooms. Bessie faithfully tidied
up the studio, set the door ajar for flight, emptied half a bottle of
turpentine on a duster, and began to scrub the face of the Melancolia
viciously. The paint did not smudge quickly enough. She took a palette-knife
and scraped, following each stroke with the wet duster. In five minutes the
picture was a formless, scarred muddle of colours. She threw the paint-stained
duster into the studio stove, stuck out her tongue at the sleeper, and
whispered, "Bilked!" as she turned to run down the staircase. She would never
see Torpenhow any more, but she had at least done harm to the man who had come
between her and her desire and who used to make fun of her. Cashing the check
was the very cream of the jest to Bessie. Then the little privateer sailed
across the Thames, to be swallowed up in the gray wilderness of South-the-
Dick slept till late in the evening, when Torpenhow dragged him off to bed. His
eyes were as bright as his voice was hoarse. "Let's have another look at the
picture," he said, insistently as a child.
"You--go--to--bed," said Torpenhow. "You aren't at all well, though you mayn't
know it. You're as jumpy as a cat."
"I reform tomorrow. Good night."
As he repassed through the studio, Torpenhow lifted the cloth above the
picture, and almost betrayed himself by outcries: "Wiped out!--scraped out and
turped out! He's on the verge of jumps as it is. That's Bess,--the little
fiend! Only a woman could have done that!--with the ink not dry on the check,
too! Dick will be raving mad tomorrow. It was all my fault for trying to help
gutter-devils. Oh, my poor Dick, the Lord is hitting you very hard!"
Dick could not sleep that night, partly for pure joy, and partly because the
well-known Catherine-wheels inside his eyes had given place to crackling
volcanoes of many-coloured fire. "Spout away," he said aloud.
"I've done my work, and now you can do what you please." He lay still, staring
at the ceiling, the long-pent-up delirium of drink in his veins, his brain on
fire with racing thoughts that would not stay to be considered, and his hands
crisped and dry. He had just discovered that he was painting the face of the
Melancolia on a revolving dome ribbed with millions of lights, and that all his
wondrous thoughts stood embodied hundreds of feet below his tiny swinging
plank, shouting together in his honour, when something cracked inside his
temples like an overstrained bowstring, the glittering dome broke inward, and
he was alone in the thick night.
"I'll go to sleep. The room's very dark. Let's light a lamp and see how the
Melancolia looks. There ought to have been a moon."
It was then that Torpenhow heard his name called by a voice that he did not
know,--in the rattling accents of deadly fear.
"He's looked at the picture," was his first thought, as he hurried into the
bedroom and found Dick sitting up and beating the air with his hands.
"Torp! Torp! where are you? For pity's sake, come to me!"
"What's the matter?"
Dick clutched at his shoulder. "Matter! I've been lying here for hours in the
dark, and you never heard me. Torp, old man, don't go away. I'm all in the
dark. In the dark, I tell you!"
Torpenhow held the candle within a foot of Dick's eyes, but there was no light
in those eyes. He lit the gas, and Dick heard the flame catch. The grip of his
fingers on Torpenhow's shoulder made Torpenhow wince.
"Don't leave me. You wouldn't leave me alone now, would you? I can't see.
D'you understand? It's black,--quite black,--and I feel as if I was falling
through it all."
"Steady does it." Torpenhow put his arm round Dick and began to rock him gently
to and fro.
"That's good. Now don't talk. If I keep very quiet for a while, this darkness
will lift. It seems just on the point of breaking. H'sh!" Dick knit his brows
and stared desperately in front of him. The night air was chilling Torpenhow's
"Can you stay like that a minute?" he said. "I'll get my dressing-gown and some
Dick clutched the bed-head with both hands and waited for the darkness to clear
away. "What a time you've been!" he cried, when Torpenhow returned. "It's as
black as ever. What are you banging about in the door-way?"
"Long chair,--horse-blanket,--pillow. Going to sleep by you. Lie down now;
you'll be better in the morning."
"I shan't!" The voice rose to a wail. "My God! I'm blind! I'm blind, and the
darkness will never go away." He made as if to leap from the bed, but
Torpenhow's arms were round him, and Torpenhow's chin was on his shoulder, and
his breath was squeezed out of him. He could only gasp, "Blind!" and wriggle
"Steady, Dickie, steady!" said the deep voice in his ear, and the grip
tightened. "Bite on the bullet, old man, and don't let them think you"re
afraid." The grip could draw no closer. Both men were breathing heavily.
Dick threw his head from side to side and groaned.
"Let me go," he panted. "You're cracking my ribs. We--we mustn't let them think
we're afraid, must we,--all the powers of darkness and that lot?"
"Lie down. It's all over now."
"Yes," said Dick, obediently. "But would you mind letting me hold your hand? I
feel as if I wanted something to hold on to. One drops through the dark so."
Torpenhow thrust out a large and hairy paw from the long chair. Dick clutched
it tightly, and in half an hour had fallen asleep. Torpenhow withdrew his hand,
and, stooping over Dick, kissed him lightly on the forehead, as men do
sometimes kiss a wounded comrade in the hour of death, to ease his departure.
In the gray dawn Torpenhow heard Dick talking to himself. He was adrift on the
shoreless tides of delirium, speaking very quickly--"It's a pity,--a great
pity; but it's helped, and it must be eaten, Master George. Sufficient unto the
day is the blindness thereof, and, further, putting aside all Melancolias and
false humours, it is of obvious notoriety--such as mine was--that the queen can
do no wrong. Torp doesn't know that. I'll tell him when we're a little farther
into the desert.
"What a bungle those boatmen are making of the steamer-ropes! They'll have that
four-inch hawser chafed through in a minute. I told you so--there she goes!
White foam on green water, and the steamer slewing round. How good that looks!
I'll sketch it. No, I can't. I'm afflicted with ophthalmia. That was one of the
ten plagues of Egypt, and it extends up the Nile in the shape of cataract. Ha!
that's a joke, Torp. Laugh, you graven image, and stand clear of the hawser. .
. . It'll knock you into the water and make your dress all dirty, Maisie dear."
"Oh!" said Torpenhow. "This happened before. That night on the river."
"She'll be sure to say it's my fault if you get muddy, and you're quite near
enough to the breakwater. Maisie, that's not fair. Ah! I knew you'd miss.
Low and to the left, dear. But you've no conviction. Don't be angry, darling.
I'd cut my hand off if it would give you anything more than obstinacy. My right
hand, if it would serve."
"Now we mustn't listen. Here's an island shouting across seas of
misunderstanding with a vengeance. But it's shouting truth, I fancy," said
The babble continued. It all bore upon Maisie. Sometimes Dick lectured at
length on his craft, then he cursed himself for his folly in being enslaved. He
pleaded to Maisie for a kiss--only one kiss--before she went away, and called
to her to come back from Vitry-sur-Marne, if she would; but through all his
ravings he bade heaven and earth witness that the queen could do no wrong.
Torpenhow listened attentively, and learned every detail of Dick's life that
had been hidden from him. For three days Dick raved through the past, and then
a natural sleep. "What a strain he has been running under, poor chap!" said
Torpenhow. "Dick, of all men, handing himself over like a dog! And I was
lecturing him on arrogance! I ought to have known that it was no use to judge a
man. But I did it. What a demon that girl must be! Dick's given her his life,--
confound him!--and she's given him one kiss apparently."
"Torp," said Dick, from the bed, "go out for a walk. You've been here too long.
I'll get up. Hi! This is annoying. I can't dress myself. Oh, it's too absurd!"
Torpenhow helped him into his clothes and led him to the big chair in the
studio. He sat quietly waiting under strained nerves for the darkness to lift.
It did not lift that day, nor the next. Dick adventured on a voyage round the
walls. He hit his shins against the stove, and this suggested to him that it
would be better to crawl on all fours, one hand in front of him. Torpenhow
found him on the floor.
"I'm trying to get the geography of my new possessions," said he. "D"you
remember that nigger you gouged in the square? Pity you didn't keep the odd
eye. It would have been useful. Any letters for me? Give me all the ones in fat
gray envelopes with a sort of crown thing outside. They're of no importance."
Torpenhow gave him a letter with a black M. on the envelope flap. Dick put it
into his pocket. There was nothing in it that Torpenhow might not have read,
but it belonged to himself and to Maisie, who would never belong to him.
"When she finds that I don't write, she'll stop writing. It's better so. I
couldn't be any use to her now," Dick argued, and the tempter suggested that he
should make known his condition. Every nerve in him revolted. "I have fallen
low enough already. I'm not going to beg for pity. Besides, it would be cruel
to her." He strove to put Maisie out of his thoughts; but the blind have many
opportunities for thinking, and as the tides of his strength came back to him
in the long employless days of dead darkness, Dick's soul was troubled to the
core. Another letter, and another, came from Maisie. Then there was silence,
and Dick sat by the window, the pulse of summer in the air, and pictured her
being won by another man, stronger than himself. His imagination, the keener
for the dark background it worked against, spared him no single detail that
might send him raging up and down the studio, to stumble over the stove that
seemed to be in four places at once. Worst of all, tobacco would not taste in
the darkness. The arrogance of the man had disappeared, and in its place were
settled despair that Torpenhow knew, and blind passion that Dick confided to
his pillow at night. The intervals between the paroxysms were filled with
intolerable waiting and the weight of intolerable darkness.
"Come out into the Park," said Torpenhow. "You haven't stirred out since the
beginning of things."
"What's the use? There's no movement in the dark; and, besides,"--he paused
irresolutely at the head of the stairs,--"something will run over me."
"Not if I'm with you. Proceed gingerly."
The roar of the streets filled Dick with nervous terror, and he clung to
Torpenhow's arm. "Fancy having to feel for a gutter with your foot!" he said
petulantly, as he turned into the Park. "Let's curse God and die."
"Sentries are forbidden to pay unauthorised compliments. By Jove, there are the
Dick's figure straightened. "Let's get near "em. Let's go in and look. Let"s
get on the grass and run. I can smell the trees."
"Mind the low railing. That's all right!" Torpenhow kicked out a tuft of grass
with his heel. "Smell that," he said. "Isn't it good?" Dick sniffed
luxuriously. "Now pick up your feet and run." They approached as near to the
regiment as was possible. The clank of bayonets being unfixed made Dick's
"Let's get nearer. They're in column, aren't they?"
"Yes. How did you know?"
"Felt it. Oh, my men!--my beautiful men!" He edged forward as though he could
see. "I could draw those chaps once. Who'll draw 'em now?"
"They'll move off in a minute. Don't jump when the band begins."
"Huh! I'm not a new charger. It's the silences that hurt. Nearer, Torp!--
nearer! Oh, my God, what wouldn't I give to see 'em for a minute!--one half-
He could hear the armed life almost within reach of him, could hear the slings
tighten across the bandsman's chest as he heaved the big drum from the ground.
"Sticks crossed above his head," whispered Torpenhow.
"I know. I know! Who should know if I don't? H'sh!"
The drum-sticks fell with a boom, and the men swung forward to the crash of the
band. Dick felt the wind of the massed movement in his face, heard the
maddening tramp of feet and the friction of the pouches on the belts. The big
drum pounded out the tune. It was a music-hall refrain that made a perfect
"He must be a man of decent height,
He must be a man of weight,
He must come home on a Saturday night
In a thoroughly sober state;
He must know how to love me,
And he must know how to kiss;
And if he's enough to keep us both
I can't refuse him bliss."
"What's the matter?" said Torpenhow, as he saw Dick's head fall when the last
of the regiment had departed.
"Nothing. I feel a little bit out of the running,--that's all. Torp, take me
back. Why did you bring me out?"
There were three friends that buried the fourth,
The mould in his mouth and the dust in his eyes
And they went south and east, and north,--
The strong man fights, but the sick man dies.
There were three friends that spoke of the dead,--
The strong man fights, but the sick man dies.--
"And would he were with us now," they said,
"The sun in our face and the wind in our eyes."
The Nilghai was angry with Torpenhow. Dick had been sent to bed,--blind men are
ever under the orders of those who can see,--and since he had returned from the
Park had fluently sworn at Torpenhow because he was alive, and all the world
because it was alive and could see, while he, Dick, was dead in the death of
the blind, who, at the best, are only burdens upon their associates. Torpenhow
had said something about a Mrs. Gummidge, and Dick had retired in a black fury
to handle and re-handle three unopened letters from Maisie.
The Nilghai, fat, burly, and aggressive, was in Torpenhow's rooms.
Behind him sat the Keneu, the Great War Eagle, and between them lay a large map
embellished with black-and-white-headed pins.
"I was wrong about the Balkans," said the Nilghai. "But I'm not wrong about
this business. The whole of our work in the Southern Soudan must be done over
again. The public doesn't care, of course, but the government does, and they
are making their arrangements quietly. You know that as well as I do."
"I remember how the people cursed us when our troops withdrew from Omdurman. It
was bound to crop up sooner or later. But I can't go," said Torpenhow. He
pointed through the open door; it was a hot night. "Can you blame me?"
The Keneu purred above his pipe like a large and very happy cat--"Don't blame
you in the least. It's uncommonly good of you, and all the rest of it, but
every man--even you, Torp--must consider his work. I know it sounds brutal, but
Dick's out of the race,--down,--gastados expended, finished, done for. He has a
little money of his own. He won't starve, and you can't pull out of your slide
for his sake. Think of your own reputation."
"Dick's was five times bigger than mine and yours put together."
"That was because he signed his name to everything he did. It's all ended now.
You must hold yourself in readiness to move out. You can command your own
prices, and you do better work than any three of us."
"Don't tell me how tempting it is. I'll stay here to look after Dick for a
while. He's as cheerful as a bear with a sore head, but I think he likes to
have me near him."
The Nilghai said something uncomplimentary about soft-headed fools who throw
away their careers for other fools. Torpenhow flushed angrily. The constant
strain of attendance on Dick had worn his nerves thin.
"There remains a third fate," said the Keneu, thoughtfully. "Consider this, and
be not larger fools than necessary. Dick is--or rather was--an able-bodied man
of moderate attractions and a certain amount of audacity."
"Oho!" said the Nilghai, who remembered an affair at Cairo. "I begin to see,--
Torp, I'm sorry."
Torpenhow nodded forgiveness: "You were more sorry when he cut you out,
though.--Go on, Keneu."
"I've often thought, when I've seen men die out in the desert, that if the news
could be sent through the world, and the means of transport were quick enough,
there would be one woman at least at each man's bedside."
"There would be some mighty quaint revelations. Let us be grateful things are
as they are," said the Nilghai.
"Let us rather reverently consider whether Torp's three-cornered ministrations
are exactly what Dick needs just now.--What do you think yourself, Torp?"
"I know they aren't. But what can I do?"
"Lay the matter before the board. We are all Dick's friends here. You"ve been
most in his life."
"But I picked it up when he was off his head."
"The greater chance of its being true. I thought we should arrive. Who is she?"
Then Torpenhow told a tale in plain words, as a special correspondent who knows
how to make a verbal precis should tell it. The men listened without
"Is it possible that a man can come back across the years to his calf-love?"
said the Keneu. "Is it possible?"
"I give the facts. He says nothing about it now, but he sits fumbling three
letters from her when he thinks I'm not looking. What am I to do?"
"Speak to him," said the Nilghai.
"Oh yes! Write to her,--I don't know her full name, remember,--and ask her to
accept him out of pity. I believe you once told Dick you were sorry for him,
Nilghai. You remember what happened, eh? Go into the bedroom and suggest full
confession and an appeal to this Maisie girl, whoever she is. I honestly
believe he'd try to kill you; and the blindness has made him rather muscular."
"Torpenhow's course is perfectly clear," said the Keneu. "He will go to Vitry-
sur-Marne, which is on the Bezieres-Landes Railway,--single track from Tourgas.
The Prussians shelled it out in '70 because there was a poplar on the top of a
hill eighteen hundred yards from the church spire. There's a squadron of
cavalry quartered there,--or ought to be. Where this studio Torp spoke about
may be I cannot tell. That is Torp's business. I have given him his route. He
will dispassionately explain the situation to the girl, and she will come back
to Dick,--the more especially because, to use Dick's words, 'there is nothing
but her damned obstinacy to keep them apart.'"
"And they have four hundred and twenty pounds a year between 'em."
Dick never lost his head for figures, even in his delirium. You haven't the
shadow of an excuse for not going," said the Nilghai.
Torpenhow looked very uncomfortable. "But it's absurd and impossible. I can't
drag her back by the hair."
"Our business--the business for which we draw our money--is to do absurd and
impossible things,--generally with no reason whatever except to amuse the
public. Here we have a reason. The rest doesn't matter. I shall share these
rooms with the Nilghai till Torpenhow returns. There will be a batch of
unbridled 'specials' coming to town in a little while, and these will serve as
their headquarters. Another reason for sending Torpenhow away. Thus Providence
helps those who help others, and"--here the Keneu dropped his measured speech--
"we can't have you tied by the leg to Dick when the trouble begins. It's your
only chance of getting away; and Dick will be grateful."
"He will,--worse luck! I can but go and try. I can't conceive a woman in her
senses refusing Dick."
"Talk that out with the girl. I have seen you wheedle an angry Mahdieh woman
into giving you dates. This won't be a tithe as difficult. You had better not
be here tomorrow afternoon, because the Nilghai and I will be in possession. It
is an order. Obey."
"Dick," said Torpenhow, next morning, "can I do anything for you?"
"No! Leave me alone. How often must I remind you that I'm blind?"
"Nothing I could go for to fetch for to carry for to bring?"
"No. Take those infernal creaking boots of yours away."
"Poor chap!" said Torpenhow to himself. "I must have been sitting on his nerves
lately. He wants a lighter step." Then, aloud, "Very well. Since you're so
independent, I'm going off for four or five days. Say goodbye at least. The
housekeeper will look after you, and Keneu has my rooms."
Dick's face fell. "You won't be longer than a week at the outside? I know I'm
touched in the temper, but I can't get on without you."
"Can't you? You'll have to do without me in a little time, and you'll be glad
Dick felt his way back to the big chair, and wondered what these things might
mean. He did not wish to be tended by the housekeeper, and yet Torpenhow's
constant tenderness jarred on him. He did not exactly know what he wanted. The
darkness would not lift, and Maisie"s unopened letters felt worn and old from
much handling. He could never read them for himself as long as life endured;
but Maisie might have sent him some fresh ones to play with. The Nilghai
entered with a gift,--a piece of red modelling-wax. He fancied that Dick might
find interest in using his hands. Dick poked and patted the stuff for a few
minutes, and, "Is it like anything in the world?" he said drearily. "Take it
away. I may get the touch of the blind in fifty years. Do you know where
Torpenhow has gone?"
The Nilghai knew nothing. "We're staying in his rooms till he comes back. Can
we do anything for you?"
"I'd like to be left alone, please. Don't think I'm ungrateful; but I'm best
The Nilghai chuckled, and Dick resumed his drowsy brooding and sullen rebellion
against fate. He had long since ceased to think about the work he had done in
the old days, and the desire to do more work had departed from him. He was
exceedingly sorry for himself, and the completeness of his tender grief soothed
him. But his soul and his body cried for Maisie--Maisie who would understand.
His mind pointed out that Maisie, having her own work to do, would not care.
His experience had taught him that when money was exhausted women went away,
and that when a man was knocked out of the race the others trampled on him.
"Then at the least," said Dick, in reply, "she could use me as I used Binat,--
for some sort of a study. I wouldn't ask more than to be near her again, even
though I knew that another man was making love to her. Ugh! what a dog I am!"
A voice on the staircase began to sing joyfully--
"When we go--go--go away from here,
Our creditors will weep and they will wail,
Our absence much regretting when they find that we've been getting
Out of England by next Tuesday's Indian mail."
Following the trampling of feet, slamming of Torpenhow's door, and the sound of
voices in strenuous debate, some one squeaked, "And see, you good fellows, I
have found a new water-bottle--firs'-class patent--eh, how you say? Open
himself inside out."
Dick sprang to his feet. He knew the voice well. "That's Cassavetti, come back
from the Continent. Now I know why Torp went away. There's a row somewhere,
and--I'm out of it!"
The Nilghai commanded silence in vain. "That's for my sake," Dick said
bitterly. "The birds are getting ready to fly, and they wouldn't tell me. I can
hear Morten-Sutherland and Mackaye. Half the War Correspondents in London are
there;--and I'm out of it."
He stumbled across the landing and plunged into Torpenhow"s room. He could feel
that it was full of men. "Where's the trouble?" said he. "In the Balkans at
last? Why didn't some one tell me?"
"We thought you wouldn't be interested," said the Nilghai, shamefacedly.
"It's in the Soudan, as usual."
"You lucky dogs! Let me sit here while you talk. I shan't be a skeleton at the
feast.--Cassavetti, where are you? Your English is as bad as ever."
Dick was led into a chair. He heard the rustle of the maps, and the talk swept
forward, carrying him with it. Everybody spoke at once, discussing press
censorships, railway-routes, transport, water-supply, the capacities of
generals,--these in language that would have horrified a trusting public,--
ranting, asserting, denouncing, and laughing at the top of their voices. There
was the glorious certainty of war in the Soudan at any moment. The Nilghai said
so, and it was well to be in readiness. The Keneu had telegraphed to Cairo for
horses; Cassavetti had stolen a perfectly inaccurate list of troops that would
be ordered forward, and was reading it out amid profane interruptions, and the
Keneu introduced to Dick some man unknown who would be employed as war artist
by the Central Southern Syndicate. "It's his first outing," said the Keneu.
"Give him some tips--about riding camels."
"Oh, those camels!" groaned Cassavetti. "I shall learn to ride him again, and
now I am so much all soft! Listen, you good fellows. I know your military
arrangement very well. There will go the Royal Argalshire Sutherlanders. So it
was read to me upon best authority."
A roar of laughter interrupted him.
"Sit down," said the Nilghai. "The lists aren't even made out in the War
"Will there be any force at Suakin?" said a voice.
Then the outcries redoubled, and grew mixed, thus: "How many Egyptian troops
will they use?--God help the Fellaheen!--There's a railway in Plumstead marshes
doing duty as a fives-court.--We shall have the Suakin-Berber line built at
last.--Canadian voyageurs are too careful. Give me a half-drunk Krooman in a
whale-boat.--Who commands the Desert column?--No, they never blew up the big
rock in the Ghineh bend. We shall have to be hauled up, as usual.--Somebody
tell me if there's an Indian contingent, or I'll break everybody's head.--Don't
tear the map in two.--It's a war of occupation, I tell you, to connect with the
African companies in the South.--There's Guinea-worm in most of the wells on
that route." Then the Nilghai, despairing of peace, bellowed like a fog-horn
and beat upon the table with both hands.
"But what becomes of Torpenhow?" said Dick, in the silence that followed.
"Torp's in abeyance just now. He's off love-making somewhere, I suppose," said
"He said he was going to stay at home," said the Keneu.
"Is he?" said Dick, with an oath. "He won't. I'm not much good now, but if you
and the Nilghai hold him down I'll engage to trample on him till he sees
reason. He'll stay behind, indeed! He's the best of you all. There'll be some
tough work by Omdurman. We shall come there to stay, this time.
"But I forgot. I wish I were going with you."
"So do we all, Dickie," said the Keneu.
"And I most of all," said the new artist of the Central Southern Syndicate.
"Could you tell me----"
"I'll give you one piece of advice," Dick answered, moving towards the door.
"If you happen to be cut over the head in a scrimmage, don't guard. Tell the
man to go on cutting. You'll find it cheapest in the end. Thanks for letting me
"There's grit in Dick," said the Nilghai, an hour later, when the room was
emptied of all save the Keneu.
"It was the sacred call of the war-trumpet. Did you notice how he answered to
it? Poor fellow! Let's look at him," said the Keneu.
The excitement of the talk had died away. Dick was sitting by the studio table,
with his head on his arms, when the men came in. He did not change his
"It hurts," he moaned. "God forgive me, but it hurts cruelly; and yet, y'know,
the world has a knack of spinning round all by itself. Shall I see Torp before
"Oh, yes. You'll see him," said the Nilghai.
The sun went down an hour ago,
I wonder if I face towards home;
If I lost my way in the light of day
How shall I find it now night is come?
"Maisie, come to bed."
"It's so hot I can't sleep. Don't worry."
Maisie put her elbows on the window-sill and looked at the moonlight on the
straight, poplar-flanked road. Summer had come upon Vitry-sur-Marne and parched
it to the bone. The grass was dry-burnt in the meadows, the clay by the bank of
the river was caked to brick, the roadside flowers were long since dead, and
the roses in the garden hung withered on their stalks. The heat in the little
low bedroom under the eaves was almost intolerable. The very moonlight on the
wall of Kami's studio across the road seemed to make the night hotter, and the
shadow of the big bell-handle by the closed gate cast a bar of inky black that
caught Maisie's eye and annoyed her.
"Horrid thing! It should be all white," she murmured. "And the gate isn't in
the middle of the wall, either. I never noticed that before."
Maisie was hard to please at that hour. First, the heat of the past few weeks
had worn her down; secondly, her work, and particularly the study of a female
head intended to represent the Melancolia and not finished in time for the
Salon, was unsatisfactory; thirdly, Kami had said as much two days before;
fourthly,--but so completely fourthly that it was hardly worth thinking about,-
-Dick, her property, had not written to her for more than six weeks. She was
angry with the heat, with Kami, and with her work, but she was exceedingly
angry with Dick.
She had written to him three times,--each time proposing a fresh treatment of
her Melancolia. Dick had taken no notice of these communications. She had
resolved to write no more. When she returned to England in the autumn--for her
pride's sake she could not return earlier--she would speak to him. She missed
the Sunday afternoon conferences more than she cared to admit. All that Kami
said was, "Continuez, mademoiselle, continuez toujours," and he had been
repeating the wearisome counsel through the hot summer, exactly like a cicada,-
-an old gray cicada in a black alpaca coat, white trousers, and a huge felt
But Dick had tramped masterfully up and down her little studio north of the
cool green London park, and had said things ten times worse than continuez,
before he snatched the brush out of her hand and showed her where the error
lay. His last letter, Maisie remembered, contained some trivial advice about
not sketching in the sun or drinking water at wayside farmhouses; and he had
said that not once, but three times,--as if he did not know that Maisie could
take care of herself.
But what was he doing, that he could not trouble to write? A murmur of voices
in the road made her lean from the window. A cavalryman of the little garrison
in the town was talking to Kami's cook. The moonlight glittered on the scabbard
of his sabre, which he was holding in his hand lest it should clank
inopportunely. The cook's cap cast deep shadows on her face, which was close to
the conscript's. He slid his arm round her waist, and there followed the sound
of a kiss.
"Faugh!" said Maisie, stepping back.
"What's that?" said the red-haired girl, who was tossing uneasily outside her
"Only a conscript kissing the cook," said Maisie.
"They've gone away now." She leaned out of the window again, and put a shawl
over her nightgown to guard against chills. There was a very small night-breeze
abroad, and a sun-baked rose below nodded its head as one who knew unutterable
secrets. Was it possible that Dick should turn his thoughts from her work and
his own and descend to the degradation of Suzanne and the conscript? He could
not! The rose nodded its head and one leaf therewith. It looked like a naughty
little devil scratching its ear.
Dick could not, "because," thought Maisie, "he is mine,--mine,--mine. He said
he was. I'm sure I don't care what he does. It will only spoil his work if he
does; and it will spoil mine too."
The rose continued to nod in the futile way peculiar to flowers. There was no
earthly reason why Dick should not disport himself as he chose, except that he
was called by Providence, which was Maisie, to assist Maisie in her work. And
her work was the preparation of pictures that went sometimes to English
provincial exhibitions, as the notices in the scrap-book proved, and that were
invariably rejected by the Salon when Kami was plagued into allowing her to
send them up. Her work in the future, it seemed, would be the preparation of
pictures on exactly similar lines which would be rejected in exactly the same
way----The red-haired girl threshed distressfully across the sheets. "It's too
hot to sleep," she moaned; and the interruption jarred.
Exactly the same way. Then she would divide her years between the little studio
in England and Kami's big studio at Vitry-sur-Marne. No, she would go to
another master, who should force her into the success that was her right, if
patient toil and desperate endeavour gave one a right to anything. Dick had
told her that he had worked ten years to understand his craft. She had worked
ten years, and ten years were nothing. Dick had said that ten years were
nothing,--but that was in regard to herself only. He had said--this very man
who could not find time to write--that he would wait ten years for her, and
that she was bound to come back to him sooner or later. He had said this in the
absurd letter about sunstroke and diphtheria; and then he had stopped writing.
He was wandering up and down moonlit streets, kissing cooks. She would like to
lecture him now,--not in her nightgown, of course, but properly dressed,
severely and from a height. Yet if he was kissing other girls he certainly
would not care whether she lecture him or not. He would laugh at her. Very
She would go back to her studio and prepare pictures that went, etc., etc.
The mill-wheel of thought swung round slowly, that no section of it might be
slurred over, and the red-haired girl tossed and turned behind her.
Maisie put her chin in her hands and decided that there could be no doubt
whatever of the villainy of Dick. To justify herself, she began, unwomanly, to
weigh the evidence. There was a boy, and he had said he loved her. And he
kissed her,--kissed her on the cheek,--by a yellow sea-poppy that nodded its
head exactly like the maddening dry rose in the garden. Then there was an
interval, and men had told her that they loved her--just when she was busiest
with her work. Then the boy came back, and at their very second meeting had
told her that he loved her. Then he had----But there was no end to the things
he had done. He had given her his time and his powers. He had spoken to her of
Art, housekeeping, technique, teacups, the abuse of pickles as a stimulant,--
that was rude,--sable hair-brushes,--he had given her the best in her stock,--
she used them daily; he had given her advice that she profited by, and now and
again--a look. Such a look! The look of a beaten hound waiting for the word to
crawl to his mistress's feet. In return she had given him nothing whatever,
except--here she brushed her mouth against the open-work sleeve of her
nightgown--the privilege of kissing her once. And on the mouth, too.
Disgraceful! Was that not enough, and more than enough? and if it was not, had
he not cancelled the debt by not writing and--probably kissing other girls?
"Maisie, you'll catch a chill. Do go and lie down," said the wearied voice of
her companion. "I can't sleep a wink with you at the window."
Maisie shrugged her shoulders and did not answer. She was reflecting on the
meannesses of Dick, and on other meannesses with which he had nothing to do.
The moonlight would not let her sleep. It lay on the skylight of the studio
across the road in cold silver; she stared at it intently and her thoughts
began to slide one into the other. The shadow of the big bell-handle in the
wall grew short, lengthened again, and faded out as the moon went down behind
the pasture and a hare came limping home across the road. Then the dawn-wind
washed through the upland grasses, and brought coolness with it, and the cattle
lowed by the drought-shrunk river. Maisie's head fell forward on the window-
sill, and the tangle of black hair covered her arms.
"Maisie, wake up. You'll catch a chill."
"Yes, dear; yes, dear." She staggered to her bed like a wearied child, and as
she buried her face in the pillows she muttered, "I think--I think--But he
ought to have written."
Day brought the routine of the studio, the smell of paint and turpentine, and
the monotone wisdom of Kami, who was a leaden artist, but a golden teacher if
the pupil were only in sympathy with him. Maisie was not in sympathy that day,
and she waited impatiently for the end of the work.
She knew when it was coming; for Kami would gather his black alpaca coat into a
bunch behind him, and, with faded flue eyes that saw neither pupils nor canvas,
look back into the past to recall the history of one Binat. "You have all done
not so badly," he would say. "But you shall remember that it is not enough to
have the method, and the art, and the power, nor even that which is touch, but
you shall have also the conviction that nails the work to the wall. Of the so
many I taught,"--here the students would begin to unfix drawing-pins or get
their tubes together,--"the very so many that I have taught, the best was
Binat. All that comes of the study and the work and the knowledge was to him
even when he came. After he left me he should have done all that could be done
with the colour, the form, and the knowledge. Only, he had not the conviction.
So today I hear no more of Binat,--the best of my pupils,--and that is long
ago. So today, too, you will be glad to hear no more of me. Continuez,
mesdemoiselles, and, above all, with conviction."
He went into the garden to smoke and mourn over the lost Binat as the pupils
dispersed to their several cottages or loitered in the studio to make plans for
the cool of the afternoon.
Maisie looked at her very unhappy Melancolia, restrained a desire to grimace
before it, and was hurrying across the road to write a letter to Dick, when she
was aware of a large man on a white troop-horse. How Torpenhow had managed in
the course of twenty hours to find his way to the hearts of the cavalry
officers in quarters at Vitry-sur-Marne, to discuss with them the certainty of
a glorious revenge for France, to reduce the colonel to tears of pure
affability, and to borrow the best horse in the squadron for the journey to
Kami's studio, is a mystery that only special correspondents can unravel.
"I beg your pardon," said he. "It seems an absurd question to ask, but the fact
is that I don't know her by any other name: Is there any young lady here that
is called Maisie?"
"I am Maisie," was the answer from the depths of a great sun-hat.
"I ought to introduce myself," he said, as the horse capered in the blinding
white dust. "My name is Torpenhow. Dick Heldar is my best friend, and--and--the
fact is that he has gone blind."
"Blind!" said Maisie, stupidly. "He can't be blind."
"He has been stone-blind for nearly two months."
Maisie lifted up her face, and it was pearly white. "No! No! Not blind! I won't
have him blind!"
"Would you care to see for yourself?" said Torpenhow.
"Oh, no! The Paris train doesn't go through this place till tonight. There will
be ample time."
"Did Mr. Heldar send you to me?"
"Certainly not. Dick wouldn't do that sort of thing. He's sitting in his
studio, turning over some letters that he can't read because he"s blind."
There was a sound of choking from the sun-hat. Maisie bowed her head and went
into the cottage, where the red-haired girl was on a sofa, complaining of a
"Dick's blind!" said Maisie, taking her breath quickly as she steadied herself
against a chair-back. "My Dick's blind!"
"What?" The girl was on the sofa no longer.
"A man has come from England to tell me. He hasn't written to me for six
"Are you going to him?"
"I must think."
"Think! I should go back to London and see him and I should kiss his eyes and
kiss them and kiss them until they got well again! If you don't go I shall. Oh,
what am I talking about? You wicked little idiot! Go to him at once. Go!"
Torpenhow's neck was blistering, but he preserved a smile of infinite patience
as Maisie's appeared bareheaded in the sunshine.
"I am coming," said she, her eyes on the ground.
"You will be at Vitry Station, then, at seven this evening." This was an order
delivered by one who was used to being obeyed. Maisie said nothing, but she
felt grateful that there was no chance of disputing with this big man who took
everything for granted and managed a squealing horse with one hand. She
returned to the red-haired girl, who was weeping bitterly, and between tears,
kisses,--very few of those,--menthol, packing, and an interview with Kami, the
sultry afternoon wore away.
Thought might come afterwards. Her present duty was to go to Dick,--Dick who
owned the wondrous friend and sat in the dark playing with her unopened
"But what will you do," she said to her companion.
"I? Oh, I shall stay here and--finish your Melancolia," she said, smiling
pitifully. "Write to me afterwards."
That night there ran a legend through Vitry-sur-Marne of a mad Englishman,
doubtless suffering from sunstroke, who had drunk all the officers of the
garrison under the table, had borrowed a horse from the lines, and had then and
there eloped, after the English custom, with one of those more mad English
girls who drew pictures down there under the care of that good Monsieur Kami.
"They are very droll," said Suzanne to the conscript in the moonlight by the
studio wall. "She walked always with those big eyes that saw nothing, and yet
she kisses me on both cheeks as though she were my sister, and gives me--see--
The conscript levied a contribution on both gifts; for he prided himself on
being a good soldier.
Torpenhow spoke very little to Maisie during the journey to Calais; but he was
careful to attend to all her wants, to get her a compartment entirely to
herself, and to leave her alone. He was amazed of the ease with which the
matter had been accomplished.
"The safest thing would be to let her think things out. By Dick's showing,--
when he was off his head,--she must have ordered him about very thoroughly.
Wonder how she likes being under orders."
Maisie never told. She sat in the empty compartment often with her eyes shut,
that she might realise the sensation of blindness. It was an order that she
should return to London swiftly, and she found herself at last almost beginning
to enjoy the situation. This was better than looking after luggage and a red-
haired friend who never took any interest in her surroundings. But there
appeared to be a feeling in the air that she, Maisie,--of all people,--was in
disgrace. Therefore she justified her conduct to herself with great success,
till Torpenhow came up to her on the steamer and without preface began to tell
the story of Dick"s blindness, suppressing a few details, but dwelling at
length on the miseries of delirium. He stopped before he reached the end, as
though he had lost interest in the subject, and went forward to smoke. Maisie
was furious with him and with herself.
She was hurried on from Dover to London almost before she could ask for
breakfast, and--she was past any feeling of indignation now--was bidden curtly
to wait in a hall at the foot of some lead-covered stairs while Torpenhow went
up to make inquiries. Again the knowledge that she was being treated like a
naughty little girl made her pale cheeks flame. It was all Dick's fault for
being so stupid as to go blind.
Torpenhow led her up to a shut door, which he opened very softly. Dick was
sitting by the window, with his chin on his chest. There were three envelopes
in his hand, and he turned them over and over. The big man who gave orders was
no longer by her side, and the studio door snapped behind her.
Dick thrust the letters into his pocket as he heard the sound. "Hullo, Torp! Is
that you? I've been so lonely."
His voice had taken the peculiar flatness of the blind. Maisie pressed herself
up into a corner of the room. Her heart was beating furiously, and she put one
hand on her breast to keep it quiet. Dick was staring directly at her, and she
realised for the first time that he was blind.
Shutting her eyes in a rail-way carriage to open them when she pleased was
child's play. This man was blind though his eyes were wide open.
"Torp, is that you? They said you were coming." Dick looked puzzled and a
little irritated at the silence.
"No; it's only me," was the answer, in a strained little whisper. Maisie could
hardly move her lips.
"H'm!" said Dick, composedly, without moving. "This is a new phenomenon.
Darkness I'm getting used to; but I object to hearing voices."
Was he mad, then, as well as blind, that he talked to himself? Maisie"s heart
beat more wildly, and she breathed in gasps. Dick rose and began to feel his
way across the room, touching each table and chair as he passed. Once he caught
his foot on a rug, and swore, dropping on his knees to feel what the
obstruction might be. Maisie remembered him walking in the Park as though all
the earth belonged to him, tramping up and down her studio two months ago, and
flying up the gangway of the Channel steamer. The beating of her heart was
making her sick, and Dick was coming nearer, guided by the sound of her
breathing. She put out a hand mechanically to ward him off or to draw him to
herself, she did not know which. It touched his chest, and he stepped back as
though he had been shot.
"It's Maisie!" said he, with a dry sob. "What are you doing here?"
"I came--I came--to see you, please."
Dick's lips closed firmly.
"Won't you sit down, then? You see, I've had some bother with my eyes, and----"
"I know. I know. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I couldn't write."
"You might have told Mr. Torpenhow."
"What has he to do with my affairs?"
"He--he brought me from Vitry-sur-Marne. He thought I ought to see you."
"Why, what has happened? Can I do anything for you? No, I can't. I forgot."
"Oh, Dick, I'm so sorry! I've come to tell you, and----Let me take you back to
"Don't! I'm not a child. You only do that out of pity. I never meant to tell
you anything about it. I'm no good now. I'm down and done for. Let me alone!"
He groped back to his chair, his chest labouring as he sat down.
Maisie watched him, and the fear went out of her heart, to be followed by a
very bitter shame. He had spoken a truth that had been hidden from the girl
through every step of the impetuous flight to London; for he was, indeed, down
and done for--masterful no longer but rather a little abject; neither an artist
stronger than she, nor a man to be looked up to--only some blind one that sat
in a chair and seemed on the point of crying. She was immensely and unfeignedly
sorry for him--more sorry than she had ever been for any one in her life, but
not sorry enough to deny his words.
So she stood still and felt ashamed and a little hurt, because she had honestly
intended that her journey should end triumphantly; and now she was only filled
with pity most startlingly distinct from love.
"Well?" said Dick, his face steadily turned away. "I never meant to worry you
any more. What's the matter?"
He was conscious that Maisie was catching her breath, but was as unprepared as
herself for the torrent of emotion that followed. She had dropped into a chair
and was sobbing with her face hidden in her hands.
"I can't--I can't!" she cried desperately. "Indeed, I can't. It isn't my
fault. I'm so sorry. Oh, Dickie, I'm so sorry."
Dick's shoulders straightened again, for the words lashed like a whip.
Still the sobbing continued. It is not good to realise that you have failed in
the hour of trial or flinched before the mere possibility of making sacrifices.
"I do despise myself--indeed I do. But I can't. Oh, Dickie, you wouldn't ask
me--would you?" wailed Maisie.
She looked up for a minute, and by chance it happened that Dick's eyes fell on
hers. The unshaven face was very white and set, and the lips were trying to
force themselves into a smile. But it was the worn-out eyes that Maisie feared.
Her Dick had gone blind and left in his place some one that she could hardly
recognise till he spoke.
"Who is asking you to do anything, Maisie? I told you how it would be. What's
the use of worrying? For pity's sake don't cry like that; it isn't worth it."
"You don't know how I hate myself. Oh, Dick, help me--help me!" The passion of
tears had grown beyond her control and was beginning to alarm the man. He
stumbled forward and put his arm round her, and her head fell on his shoulder.
"Hush, dear, hush! Don't cry. You're quite right, and you've nothing to
reproach yourself with--you never had. You're only a little upset by the
journey, and I don't suppose you've had any breakfast. What a brute Torp was to
bring you over."
"I wanted to come. I did indeed," she protested.
"Very well. And now you've come and seen, and I'm--immensely grateful. When
you're better you shall go away and get something to eat. What sort of a
passage did you have coming over?"