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  • 1908
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My eye in wandering from floor to ceiling rested finally on the empty easel, the numerous white unused sheets of paper near it. I felt in despair. Not even a sketch of a Phryne yet! Not even a model found! Not even the idea of where to find one!

I had been seeing models all the morning, and how wearisome and vexatious, and even, towards the end, how repulsive that becomes! The wearying search after something that corresponds to the perfect ideal in one’s brain, the constant raising of hope and ensuing disappointment as a misshapen foot or crooked knee destroys the effect of neck and shoulder, produce at last an intolerable irritation. I had dismissed them all finally, and they had trailed away in the rain, a dismal procession of dark-clothed women.

A quarter of an hour of red stillness in that comfortable room had passed, and the warmth and quiet of it had crept over me and into me, gradually soothing away all vexations, when a knock came on the door and in answer to my, “Come in,” some one entered the room behind me.

“I am so glad to find you.”

I started to my feet at the sound of the soft voice, and went forward to the door.

“Viola! how good of you to come.” I took both her hands and drew her into the firelight which sparkled gratefully on her tall slender figure and the fair waves of hair under her velvet hat.

“May I stay and have tea with you? I have shopping all the afternoon and as I was driving past I thought I would see if you were in and disengaged.”

“I shall be delighted,” I said as I wheeled another armchair up to the fire.

“You are sure? You have nothing else to do?”

“Nothing, really nothing,” I said, walking to the electric lights and switching them on; “and if I had, I would leave it all to have tea with you.”

She laughed, such a pretty dainty laugh! What a contrast to the rough giggles amongst the models this morning!

“Trevor! you are just the same as ever; all compliments. But I am immensely glad you are not going to turn me out, for I am chilly and tired and want my tea and a talk with you very badly.” And she settled down in her large chair with a sigh of content.

I came back to the hearth and stood looking down upon her. The light was rose-coloured, falling through tinted globes, and soft as the firelight. She looked exquisite, and she must have seen the admiration in my eyes for she coloured under them.

She was wearing a dark green velvet gown edged fur and which fitted her lovely figure closely, being perhaps designed to display it.

“You have come like a glorious sunset to a gloomy day,” I said. “I have had a horrid morning and been depressed all the afternoon.”

“You have no inspiration, then, yet for the Phryne?” she answered, glancing round; “otherwise you would be in the seventh heaven.”

“No,” I groaned, “and the models are so dreadful; so far from giving one an inspiration, they would kill any one had. All last week I was trying to find a model, and all this morning again. I would give anything for a good one.”

She murmured a sympathetic assent, and I went on, pursuing my own thoughts freely, for Viola was my cousin and no one else knew or understood me so well as she did. We had grown up together, and always talked on all sorts of subjects to each other.

“The difficulty is with most of these English models, they are so thick and heavy, so cart-horsey, or else they are so thin. The tall, graceful ones are too thin, I want those subtle, gracious lines, but I don’t want sharp bones and corners. I want smooth, rounded contours, and yet the outlines to be delicate; I want slender grace and suppleness with roundness….”

I stopped suddenly, the blood mounting to my forehead. I was looking down at her as she lay back in the chair. She looked at me, and our gaze got locked together. A thought had sprung suddenly between us. I realised all at once I was describing the figure before me, realised that I was face to face with the most perfect, enchanting model of my dearest dreams.

There was a swift rush of red to her face, too, as I stopped. Up till then she had been quietly listening. But she saw my thought then. It was visible to both of us and for a moment a deadly silence dropped on us. Of course, I ought not to have stopped, but the thought came to me with such a blinding flash of sudden revelation that it paralysed me and took speech from my lips. Just in that moment the door opened and tea was brought in. I turned my attention immediately to making it, and what with asking her how much sugar she would have and pressing her to take hot toast and crumpets, the cloud of embarrassment passed and all was light and easy again. I dismissed the idea instantly, and we did not speak of the picture. I questioned her about her shopping, we recalled the last night’s dance where we had been together, and spoke of a hundred other light matters in which we had common interests. Then a silence stole over us, and Viola sank far back in her chair, gazing with absent eyes into the fire.

Suddenly she sat up and turned to me. I saw her heart must be beating fast, for her face and lips had grown quite white.

“Trevor, I wish you would let me be your model for the Phryne.”

Almost immediately she had spoken the colour rushed in a burning stream across her face, forcing the tears to her eyes. I saw them brim up, sparkling to the lids, in the firelight.

I sat up in my chair, leaning forwards towards her. My own heart seemed to rise with a leap into my throat.

“Dearest! I could not think of such a thing! It is so good of you, but….”

I stopped. She had sunk back in her chair. She was looking away from me. I saw the tears well up over the lids and roll slowly unchecked down her face.

“I should so like to be of use to you,” she murmured in a low tone, “and I think I could be in that way, immense use.”

I slid to my knees beside her chair, and took the slim, delicate white hand that hung over the arm in mine and pressed it, very greatly moved and hardly knowing what to answer her.

“I shall never forget you have offered it, never cease to be grateful, but….”

“There is no question of being grateful,” she broke in gently, “unless it were on my side. I should think it an honour to be made part of your work, to live for ever in it, or at least much longer than in mortal life. What is one’s body? It is nothing, it perishes so soon, but what you create will last for centuries at least.”

I pressed my lips to her hand in silence. I felt overwhelmed by the suggestion, by the unselfishness, by the grandeur of it. I saw that the proposition stood before her mind in a totally different light from that in which it would present itself to most women. But, then, the outlook of an artist upon life and all the things in life is entirely different from that of the ordinary person. It takes in the wide horizon, it embraces a universe, and not a world, it sweeps up to the large ideals, the abstract form of things, passing over the concrete and the actual which to ordinary minds make up the all they see.

And Viola was an artist: she expressed herself in music as I did in painting. Our temperaments were alike though our gifts were different, and we served the same mystical Goddess though our appointments in her temple were not the same.

As an artist the idea was, to me, simple enough, as a man it horrified me.

“I could not allow it.”

She turned upon me.

“Why?” she said simply.

“Well, because … because it is too great a sacrifice.”

“I have said it is no sacrifice. It is an honour.”

“It would injure you if it became known.”

“It will not become known.”

“Everything becomes known.”

“Well, I shouldn’t care if it did.”

“By and by you might regret it. It might stand in the way of your marrying some one you loved.”

“I don’t believe I shall ever want to marry. Do I look like a domestic person? In any case, I am quite sure I shouldn’t want to marry a man if he objected to my being a model for a great picture to my own cousin. Why, Trevor, we are part of each other, as it were. I am like your own sister. What can it matter? While you are painting me I shall be nothing, the picture will be everything. I am no more than a dream or vision which might come before you, and you will give me life, immortality on your canvas. As an old woman when all beauty has gone from me, I shall be there alive, young, beautiful still.”

“It is all sophistry, dearest, I can’t do it.”

“You will when you have thought it all over,” she said softly, “at least if you think I should do–are you sure of that?”

She rose and stood for a moment, one hand outstretched towards the mantelpiece, and resting there for support. The velvet gown clung to her, and almost every line of her form could be followed with the eye or divined. The throat was long, round, and full, the fall of the shoulder and the way its lines melted into the curves of the breast had the very intoxication of beauty in them, the waist was low, slender, and perfect, the main line to the knee and on to the ankle absolutely straight. To my practised eyes the clothing had little concealment. I knew that here was all that I wanted.

“I am supposed to have a very perfect figure,” she said with a faint smile, “and it seems rather a pity to use it so little. To let it be of service to you, to give you just what you want, to create a great picture, to save you all further worry over it, which is quite knocking you up, would be a great happiness to me.”

She paused. I said nothing.

“I do not think I must stay any longer,” she said glancing at my clock, “nor shall I persuade you any more. I leave it entirely in your hands. Write to me if you want me to come. Perhaps you may find another model.”

She smiled up at me. Her face had a curious delicate beauty hard to define. The beauty of a very transparent skin and sapphire eyes.

I bent over her and kissed her bright scarlet lips.

“Dearest! if you only knew how I appreciate all you have said, how good I think it of you! And I could never find a lovelier model; you know it is not that thought which influences me, but it is impossible. You must not think of it.”

“Very well,” she said with a laugh in her lovely eyes, “but _you_ will!”

She disengaged herself from me, picked up a fur necklet from her chair, and went to the door.

“Good-night,” she said softly, and went out.

Left to myself, I walked restlessly up and down the room. She was right. I could think of nothing but her words to me, and how her visit had changed my mood and all the atmosphere about me! It seemed as if she had filled it with electricity. My pulses were all beating hard. The quiet of the studio was intolerable. I was dining out that evening, and then going on to a dance. I would dress now a little early and then go to the club and spend the intermediate time there.

My bedroom opened out of the studio by a small door, before which I generally had a red and gold Japanese screen. I went in and switched on the light and began to dress, trying to get away from my crowding thoughts.

The temptation to accept Viola’s suggestion was the greater because she was so absolutely free and mistress of her own actions.

If she chose of her own free will to do any particular thing there was practically no one else to be consulted and no one to trouble her with reproof or reproaches.

Early left an orphan and in possession of a small fortune in her own right, she had been brought up by an old aunt who simply worshipped her and never questioned nor allowed to be questioned anything which Viola did.

She had given her niece an elaborate education, believing that a girl’s mental training should be as severe as a boy’s, and Viola knew her Greek and Latin and mathematics better than I knew mine, though all these had lately given way to the study of music, for which she had a great and peculiar gift.

The old lady was delighted when she found her favourite niece was really one of the children of the gods, as she put it, and henceforth Viola’s life was left still more unrestrained.

“She has genius, Trevor,” she would say to me, “just as you have, and we ordinary people can’t profess to guide or control those who in reality are so much greater than we are. I leave Viola to judge for herself about life, I always have since she was quite a little thing, and I have no fear for her. Whatever she does I know it will always be right.”

Viola was just twenty, but this kind of training had given her an intelligence and developed her intellect far beyond her years.

In her outlook upon life she was more like a man than a woman, and, never having been to school nor mixed much with other girls of her own age, she was free from all those small, petty habits of mind, that littleness of mental vision that so mars and dwarfs the ordinary feminine character.

In this question of posing for the picture, to take her face also would, of course, be quite impossible, but I had my own ideal for the Phryne’s face, nor was that important.

That the figure should be something of unusual beauty, something peculiarly distinctive seemed to me a necessity. For the form of the Grecian Phryne had, by the mere force of its perfect and triumphant beauty, swept away the reason of all that circle of grey-bearded hostile judges called upon to condemn it, had carved for itself a place in history for ever. There should in its presentment be something peculiarly arresting and enchanting, or the artistic idea, the spirit of the picture, would be lost.

The next morning I interviewed models again, and so strange is the human mind that while I honestly tried to find one that suited me, tried to be satisfied, I was full of feverish apprehension that I might do so, and when I had seen the last and could with perfect honesty reject her, I felt a rush of extraordinary elation all through me. I knew, and told myself so, every half second, that Viola’s temptation was one I ought to and must resist, and yet the idea of yielding filled me with a wild instinctive delight that no reason could suppress. Yes, because once an artist has seen or conceived by his own imagination his perfect ideal, nothing else, nothing short of this will satisfy him. If it was difficult for me to find a model before, it was practically impossible to do so now. For, having once realised what it wanted, the mind impatiently rejected everything else, though it might possibly have accepted something less than its desire before that realisation of it.

These models were all well-formed women, but they were commonplace. The hold Viola’s form had upon the eye was that it was not commonplace. Its beauty was distinctive, peculiar, arresting. I was not a painter of types, but of exceptions. The common things of life are not interesting, nor do I think they are worthy subjects for Art to concern itself with. Something unusually beautiful, transcending the common type, is surely the best for the artist to try to perpetuate.

Friday came, the end of the week, and I was still without a model. My nights had been nearly sleepless, and my days full of feverish anxiety: an active anxiety to accept another sitter and withstand the temptation of Viola, which fought desperately with the more passive anxiety not to be satisfied and to be obliged to yield. Between these two I had grown thin, as they fought within me, tearing me in the struggle.

To-day, Friday, the war was over. I had sent a note to Viola asking her to have tea with me. If she came, if she still held to her wish, I should accept, and the Phryne was assured. How my heart leapt at the thought! Those last hours before an artist gives the first concrete form to the brain children of his intangible dreams, how full of a double life he seems! I was back from lunch and in the studio early; I could not tell when she might come, and I closed all the windows and made up the fire till the room seemed like a hot-house. I arranged a dais with screens of flaming colour behind it reflecting the red rays of the fire.

If she consented, she should stand here after having changed into the Greek dress. And as the moment chosen for the picture was that in which Phryne is unveiling herself before her judges, I intended to let her discard the drapery as she liked. I should not attempt to pose her; I would not even direct her; I should simply watch her, and at some moment during the unveiling she would fall naturally into just the pose–some pose–I did not know myself yet which might give me my inspiration–that I wished. Then I would arrest her, ask her to remain in it. I thought so we should arrive nearest to the effect of that famous scene of long ago.

The dress I had chosen was of a dull red tint, not unlike that of Leighton’s picture, but I had no fear of seeming to copy Leighton. What true artist ever fears he may be considered a copyist? He knows the strength and vitality of his conception will need no spokesman when it appears.

I felt frightfully restless and excited, a mad longing filled me to get the first sketch on paper. I hardly thought of Viola as Viola or my cousin then. She was already the Phryne of Athens for me, but when suddenly a light knock came on the door outside my heart seemed to stand still and I could hardly find voice to say, “Come in.” When she entered, dressed in her modern clothes and hat, and held out her hand, all the modern, mundane atmosphere came back and brought confusion with it.

“You said come early, so here I am,” she said lightly. “Trevor,” she added, gazing at me closely, “you are looking awfully handsome, but so white and ill. What is the matter?”

“I have been utterly wretched about the picture. I know I ought not to accept your offer, but the temptation is too great. If you feel the same as you did about it, I am going to ask you to pose for me this afternoon.”

“I do feel just the same, Trevor,” she answered earnestly. “You can’t think how happy and proud I am to be of use to you.”

“You know what the picture is?” I asked her, holding her two hands and looking down into the great eyes raised confidently to mine.

“I want you to dress in all those red draperies, and then, standing on the dais, to drop them, let them fall from you.”

“Yes, I think I know exactly. I will try, and, if I don’t do it rightly, you must tell me and we must begin again.”

She took off her hat and cloak and gloves. Then she turned to me and asked for the dress. I gave it to her and showed her how it fastened and unfastened with a clasp on the shoulder.

She listened quietly to my directions, then, gathering up all the thin drapery, walked to the screen and disappeared from my view.

I sat down waiting. A great nervous tension held me. I had ceased to think of the right or wrong of my action. I was too absorbed now in the thought of the picture to be conscious of anything else.

When she came from behind the screen clothed in the red Athenian draperies her face was quite white, but composed and calm. She did not look at me, but walked to the platform at once. I had withdrawn to a chair as far from it as was practicable, divining that the nearer I was the more my presence would weigh upon her. She faced me now on the dais, and very slowly began to unfasten the buckle on her shoulder. I sat watching her intently, hardly breathing, waiting for the moment.

She was to me nothing now but the Phryne, and I was nothing but a pencil held in the hand of Art.

The first folds of crimson fell, disclosing her throat and shoulders, the others followed, piling softly one on the other to her waist, where they stayed held by her girdle. The shoulders and breasts were revealed exquisite, gleaming white against the dull glow of the crimson stuff. I waited. It was a lovely, entrancing vision but I waited. She lowered her hand from her shoulder and brought it to her waist, firmly and without hesitation she unclasped the belt, and then taking the sides of it, one in each hand, with its enclosed drapery, which parted easily in the centre, she made a half step forwards to free herself from it, and stood revealed from head to foot. It was the moment. Her head thrown up, with her eyes fixed far above me, her throat and the perfect breast thrown outwards and forwards, the slight bend at the slim waist accentuating the round curves of the hips, one straight limb with the delicate foot advanced just before the other, the arms round, beautifully moulded, held tense at her sides, as the hands clutched tightly the falling folds behind her, these made up the physical pose, and the pride, the tense nervousness, the defiance of her own feelings gave its meaning expression. I raised my hand and called to her to pause just so, to be still, if she could, without stirring.

She quivered all through her frame at the sudden shock of hearing my voice; then stood rigid. I had my paper ready, and began to sketch rapidly.

How beautiful she was! In all my experience, in the whole of my career, I had never had such a model. The skin was a marvellous whiteness: there seemed no brown, red, or yellow shades upon it; nor any of that mottled soap appearance that ruins so many models. She was white, with the warm, true dazzling whiteness of the perfect blonde.

My head burned: I felt that great wave of inspiration roll through me that lifts the artist to the feet of heaven. There is no happiness like it. No, not even the divine transports and triumph of love can equal it.

I sketched rapidly, every line fell on the paper as I wished it. The time flew. I felt nothing, knew nothing, but that the glorious image was growing, taking life under my hand. I was in a world of utter silence, alone with the spirit of divine beauty directing me, creating through me.

Suddenly, from a long distance it seemed, a little cry or exclamation came to me.

“Trevor, I must move!”

I started, dropped the paper, and rose.

The light had grown dim, the fire had burned hollow. Viola had dropped to her knees, and was for the moment a huddled blot of whiteness amongst the crimson tones. I advanced, filled with self-reproach for my selfish absorption. But she rose almost directly, wrapped in some of the muslin, and walked from the dais to the screen. I hesitated to follow her there, and went back to the fallen picture. I picked it up and gazed on it with rapture–how perfect it was! The best thing of a lifetime! Viola seemed so long behind the screen I grew anxious and walked over to it. As I came round it, she was just drawing on her bodice, her arms and neck were still bare. She motioned me back imperatively, and I saw the colour stream across her face. I retreated. It was absurd in a way, that blush as my eyes rested on her then, I who just now … and yet perfectly reasonable, understandable. Then she was the Phryne, a vision to me, as she had said, in ancient Athens. And now we were modern man and woman again. All that we do in this life takes its colour from our attitude of mind towards it, and but for her artist’s mind, a girl like Viola could never have done what she had at all.

In a moment more she came from behind the screen. She looked white and cold, and came towards the fire shivering. I drew her into my arms, strained her against my breast, and kissed her over and over again in a passion of gratitude.

“How can I thank you! You have done for me what no one else could. I can never tell you what I feel about it.”

She put her arms round my neck, and kissed me in return.

“Any one would do all they could for you, I think,” she said softly. “You are so beautiful and so nice about things I am only too happy to have been of use to you.”

“What a brute I was to have forgotten you were standing so long. Was it very bad? Were you cold?”

“At the end I was, but I shouldn’t have moved for that. I got so cramped. I couldn’t keep my limbs still any longer. I was sorry to be so stupid and have to disturb you.”

“I can’t think how you stood so well,” I said remorsefully, “and so long. It is so different for a practised model.”

“Well, I did practise keeping quite still in one position every day all this last week, but of course a week is not long.”

I had pressed the bell, and tea was brought in. I busied myself with making it for her. She looked white and ill. I felt burning with a sense of elation, of delighted triumph. The picture was there. It glimmered a white patch against the chair a little way off. The idea was realised, the inspiration caught, all the rest was only a matter of time.

We drank our tea in silence. Viola looked away from me into the fire. She did not seem constrained or embarrassed. Having decided to do, as she had, and conquer her own feelings, she did so simply, grandly, in a way that suited the greatness of her nature. There was no mincing modesty, no self-conscious affectation. The agony of confusion that she had felt in that moment when she had stood before me with her hand on the clasp of her girdle, had been evident to me, but her pride forced her to crush it out of sight.

I went over to her low chair and sat down at her feet.

“Do you know you have shown me this afternoon something which I did not believe existed–an absolutely perfect body without a fault or flaw anywhere. I did not believe there could be anything so exquisitely beautiful.”

She coloured, but a warm happy look came into her eyes as she gazed back at me.

“So I did really satisfy you? I realised your expectations?” she murmured. I lifted one of her hands to my lips and kissed it.

“Satisfied is not the word,” I returned, looking up into the dark blue eyes above me with my own burning with admiration. “I was entranced. May I shew it to you?”

“Yes, I should like to see it,” she answered.

I rose and brought over to her the picture and set it so that we both could see it together. She gazed at it some time in silence.

“Do you like it?” I asked suddenly with keen anxiety.

“You have idealised me, Trevor!”

“It is impossible to idealise what is in itself divine,” I replied quietly. She looked at me, her face full Of colour but her eyes alight and smiling.

“I am so glad, so happy that you are pleased. You have drawn it magnificently. What life you put into your things–they live and breathe.”

She turned and looked at my clock.

“I must go now, I have been here ages.” She began to put on her hat and cloak. When I had fastened the latter round her throat, I took both her hands in mine.

“May I expect you to-morrow?”

“To-morrow? Let me see. Well, I was going to the Carrington’s to lunch. I promised to go, so I must; but I need not stay long. I can leave at three and be here at half past; only that will be too late in any case on account of the light, won’t it?”

“Not if it is a bright day.”

“You see, I need not accept any more invitations. I shan’t, if I am coming here, but I have one or two old engagements I must keep.”

I dropped her hands and turned away.

“But I can’t let you give up your amusements, your time for me in this way!” I said.

Viola laughed.

“It’s not much to give up–a few luncheons and teas! As long as I have time for my music I will give you all the rest.”

She stood drawing on her gloves, facing the fire; her large soft, fearless eyes met mine across the red light.

I stepped forwards towards her impulsively.

“What _can_ I say? How can I thank you or express a hundredth part of my gratitude?”

Viola shook her head with her softest smile and a warm caressing light in her eyes.

“You look at it quite wrongly,” she said lightly. “My reward is great enough, surely! You are giving me immortality.”

Then she went out, and I was alone.

* * * * *

For a fortnight I was happy. Viola came regularly every day to the studio, and the picture grew rapidly, I was absorbed in it, lived for it, and had that strange peace and glowing content that Art bestows, and which like that other peace “passeth all understanding.”

Then gradually a sense of unrest mingled with the calm. The whole afternoon while Viola was with me I worked happily, content to the point of being absolutely oblivious of everything except ourselves and the picture. Our tea together afterwards, when we discussed the progress made and the colour effects, was a delight. But the moment the door was closed after her, when she had left me, a blank seemed to spread round me. The picture itself could not console me. I gazed and gazed at it, but the gaze did not satisfy me nor soothe the feverish unrest. I longed for her presence beside me again.

One day after the posing she seemed so tired and exhausted that I begged her to lie down a little and drew up my great comfortable couch, like a Turkish divan, to the fire. She did as she was bid, and I heaped up a pile of blue cushions behind her fair head.

“I am so tired,” she exclaimed and let her eyes close and her arms fall beside her.

I stood looking down on her. Her face was shell-like in its clear fairness and transparency, and the beautiful expressive eyebrows drawn delicately on the white forehead appealed to me.

The intimacy established between us, her complete willing sacrifice to me, her surrender, her trust in me, the knowledge of herself and her beauty she had allowed me gave birth suddenly in my heart to a great overwhelming tenderness and a necessity for its expression.

I bent over her, pressed my lips down on hers and held them there. She did not open her eyes, but raised her arms and put them round my neck, pressing me to her. In a joyous wave of emotion I threw myself beside her and drew the slender, supple figure into my arms.

“Trevor,” she murmured, as soon as I would let her, “I am afraid you are falling in love with me.”

“I have already,” I answered. “I love you, I want for my own. You must marry me, and come and live at the studio.”

“I don’t think I can marry you,” she replied in very soft tones, but she did not try to move from my clasp.

“Why not?”

“Artists should not marry: it prevents their development. How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight,” I answered, half-submerged in the delight of the contact with her, of knowing her in my arms, hardly willing or able to listen to what she said.

“And how many women have you loved?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I answered. “I have been with lots, of course, but I don’t think I have ever loved at all till now.”

“What about the little girl in the tea-shop at Sitka?”

“I don’t think I loved her. I wanted her as an experience.”

“Is it not just the same with me?”

“No, it isn’t. It’s quite different. Do not worry me with questions, Viola. Kiss me and tell me you love me.”

She raised herself suddenly on one elbow and leant over me, kissing me on the eyes and lips, all over my face, with passionate intensity.

“I do love you. You are like my life to me, but I know I ought not to marry you. I should absorb you. You would love me. You would not want to be unfaithful to me. But fidelity to one person is madness an impossibility to an artist if he is to reach his highest development. It can’t be. We must not think of it.”

The blood went to my head in great waves. The supreme tenderness of a moment back seemed gone, her words had roused another phase of passion, the harsh fury of it.

“I don’t care about the art, I don’t care about anything. You shall marry me. I will make you love me.”

“You don’t understand. If you were fifty-eight I would marry you directly.”

“You shall marry me before then,” I answered, and kissed her again and put my hands up to her soft-haired head to pull it down to my breast and dragged loose some of its soft coils.

“Trevor, you are mad. Let me get up.”

I rose myself, and left her free to get up. She sat up on the couch, white and trembling.

“Now you are going to say you won’t come to me any more, I suppose?” I said angrily. The nervous excitement of the moment was so great; there was such a wild booming in my ears I could hardly hear my own voice.

She looked up. The tears welled into her luminous blue eyes.

“How unkind you are! and how unjust! Of course I shall come, must come every day if you want it till the Phryne is done. You don’t know how I love you.”

I took her dear little hand and kissed it.

“I am sorry,” I said. “Forgive me, but you must not say such stupid things. Of course you will marry me; why, we are half married already. Most people would say we ought to be.”

I turned on the lights and drew the table up to the fire, which I stirred, and began to make the tea.

Viola sat on the edge of the couch in silence, coiling up her hair.

She seemed very pale and tired, and I tried to soothe her with increased tenderness. I made her a cup of tea and came and sat beside her while she drank it. Then I put my arm round her waist and got her to lean against me, and put her soft fair-haired head down on my shoulder and rest there in silence.

I stroked one of her hands that lay cold and nerveless in her lap with my warm one.

“You have done so much for me,” I said softly; “wonderful things which I can never forget, and now you must belong to me altogether. No two people could love each other more than we do. It would be absurd of us not to marry.” I kissed her, and she accepted my caresses and did not argue with me any more; so I felt happier, and when she rose to leave our good-bye was very tender, our last kiss an ecstasy.

When she had gone I picked up one of the sketches I had first made of her and gazed long at it.

How extravagantly I had come to love her now. I realised in those moments how strong this passion was that had grown up, as it were, under cover of the work, and that I had not fully recognised till now.

How intensely the sight of these wonderful lines moved me! I felt that I could worship her, literally. That she had become to me as a religion is to the enthusiast.

I must be the possessor, the sole owner of her. I felt she was mine already. The agony and the loss, if she ever gave herself to another, would be unendurable. If that happened I should let a revolver end everything for me. I did not believe even the thought of my work would save me.

Yet how curious this same passion is, I reflected, gazing at the exquisite image on the paper before me. If one of these lines were bent out of shape, twisted, or crooked, this same passion would cease to be. The love and affection and esteem I had for her would remain, but this intense desire and longing for her to be my own property, which shook me now to the very depths of my system, would utterly vanish.

Yet it would be wrong to say that these lines alone had captured me, for had they enclosed a stupid or commonplace mind they would have stirred me as little as if they themselves had been imperfect.

No it is when we meet a Spirit that calls to us from within a form of outward beauty, and only then, that the greatest passion is born within us.

And that I felt for Viola now, and I knew–looking back through a vista of other and lighter loves–I had never known yet its equal. She loved me, too, that great fact was like a chord of triumphant music ringing through my heart. Then why this fancy that she would not marry me? How could I possibly break it down? persuade her of its folly?

I walked up and down the studio all that evening, unable to go out to dinner, unable to think of anything but her, and all through the night I tossed about, restless and sleepless, longing for the hour on the following day which should bring her to me again.

Yet how those hours tried me now! It would be impossible to continue. She must and should marry me. It was only for me she held back from it apparently, yet for me it would be everything.

One afternoon, after a long sitting, the power to work seemed to desert me suddenly. My throat closed nervously, my mouth grew dry, the whole room seemed swimming round me, and the faultless, dazzling figure before me seemed receding into a darkening mist. I flung away my brush and rose suddenly. I felt I must move, walk about, and I started to pace the room then suddenly reeled, and saved myself by clutching at the mantelpiece.

“What is it? What is the matter?” came Viola’s voice, sharp with anxiety, across the room. “Are you ill? Shall I come to you?”

“No, no,” I answered, and put my head down on the mantelpiece. “Go and dress. I can’t work any more.”

I heard her soft slight movements as she left the dais. I did not turn, but sank into the armchair beside me, my face covered by my hands.

Screens of colour passed before my eyes, my ears sang.

I had not moved when I felt her come over to me. I looked up, she was pale with anxiety.

“You are ill, Trevor! I am so sorry.”

“I have worked a little too much, that’s all,” I said constrainedly, turning from her lovely anxious eyes.

“Have you time to stay with me this evening? We could go out and get some dinner, if you have, and then go on to a theatre. Would they miss you?”

“Not if I sent them a wire. I should like to stay with you. Are you better?”

I looked up and caught one of her hands between my own burning and trembling ones.

“I shall never be any better till I have you for my own, till we are married. Why are you so cruel to me?”

“Cruel to you? Is that possible?” Her face had crimsoned violently, then it paled again to stone colour.

“Well, don’t let’s discuss that. The picture’s done. I can’t work on it any more. It can’t be helped. Let’s go out and get some dinner, anyway.”

Viola was silent, but I felt her glance of dismay at the only half-finished figure on the easel.

She put on her hat and coat in silence, and we went out. After we had ordered dinner and were seated before it at the restaurant table we found we could not eat it. We sat staring at one another across it, doing nothing.

“Did you really mean that … that you wouldn’t finish the picture?” she said, after a long silence.

I looked back at her; the pale transparency of her skin, the blue of the eyes, the bright curls of her hair in the glow of the electric lamp, looked wonderfully delicate, entrancing, and held my gaze.

“I don’t think I can. I have got to a point where I must get away from it and from you.”

“But it is dreadful to leave it unfinished.”

“It’s better than going mad. Let’s have some champagne. Perhaps that will give us an appetite.”

Viola did not decline, and the wine had a good effect upon us.

We got through some part of our dinner and then took a hansom to the theatre. As we sat close, side by side, in one of the dark streets, I bent over her and whispered:

“If we had been married this morning, and you were coming back to the studio with me after the theatre I should be quite happy and I could finish the picture.”

She said nothing, only seemed to quiver in silence, and looked away from me out of the window.

We took stalls and had very good seats, but what that play was like I never knew. I tried to keep my eyes on the stage, but it floated away from me in waves of light and colour. I was lost in wondering where I had better go to get fresh inspiration, to escape from the picture, from Viola, from myself. Away, I must get away. _Coelum, non animum, mutant qui trans mare current_ is not always true. Our mind is but a chameleon and takes its hues from many skies.

In the vestibule at the end I said:

“It’s early yet. Come and have supper somewhere with me, you had a wretched dinner.”

Anything to keep her with me for an hour longer! Any excuse to put off, to delay that frightful wrench that seems to tear out the inside of both body and soul which parting from her to-night would mean.

“Do you want me to come to the studio with you afterwards?” she asked.

I looked back at her with my heart beating violently. Her face was very pale, and the pupils in her eyes dilated.

We had moved through the throng and passed outside.

The night was fine. We walked on, looking out for a disengaged hansom. I could hardly breathe: my heart seemed stifling me. What was in her mind? What would the next few minutes mean for us both?

My brain swam. My thoughts went round in dizzying circles.

“We shan’t have time for supper and to go to the studio as well,” I answered quietly.

“I don’t think I want any supper,” she replied.

A sudden joy like a great flame leapt through me as I caught the words.

A crawling hansom came up. I hailed it and put her in and sprang in beside her, full of that delight that touches in its intensity upon agony. “Westbourne Street,” I called to the man. “No. 2, The Studio.”

CHAPTER V

THE CALL OF THE CUCKOO

I stood looking through the window of my studio thinking.

The worst had happened, or the best, whichever it was. Viola had become my mistress. She had resolutely refused to be my wife, and the alternative had followed of necessity. The picture had brought us together, it held us together. I could not separate from her without sacrificing the picture, and so destroying her happiness, as she said, and rendering useless all that she had done for me so far.

The picture forced us into an intimacy from which I could not escape and which, now that the devastating clutch of passion had seized me, I could not endure unless she became my own. Viola had seen this and given me herself as unhesitatingly as she had at first given me her beauty for the picture.

In her relations with me she seemed to reach the highest point of unselfishness possible to the human character. For I felt that it was to me and for me she had surrendered herself, not to her own passion nor for her own pleasure.

She would have come day after day and sat to me, shewed me herself and delighted in that self’s-reproduction on the canvas, talked to me, delighted in our common worship of beauty, accepted my caresses and–for herself–wanted nothing more.

I had worked well in the past fortnight since the night of the theatre, not so well perhaps as in that first clear period of inspiration, of purely artistic life when Viola was to me nothing but the beautiful Greek I was creating on my canvas, but still, well.

Some may think I naturally should from a sense of gratitude, a sense of duty,–that I should be spurred to do my best, since avowedly Viola had sacrificed all that the work should be good.

But ah, how little has the Will to do with Art!

How well has the German said, “The Will in morals is everything; in Art, nothing. In Art, nothing avails but the being able.”

The most intense desire, the most fervid wish, in Art, helps us nothing. On the contrary, a great desire to do well in Art, more often blinds the eye and clogs the brain and causes our hand to lose its cunning. Unbidden, unasked for, unsought, often in our lightest, most careless moments, the Divine Afflatus descends upon us.

We had arranged to have a week-end together out of town. Fate had favoured us, for Viola’s aunt had gone to visit her sister for a few weeks, and the girl was left alone in the town house, mistress of all her time and free to do as she pleased. The short interviews at the studio, delightful as they were, seemed to fail to satisfy us any longer. We craved for that deeper intimacy of “living together.”

This is supposed to be fatal to passion in the end, but whether this is so or not, it is what passion always demands and longs for in the beginning.

So we had planned for four days together in the country, four days of May, with a delicious sense of delight and secret joy and warm heart-beatings.

I had dined at her house last night when all the final details had been arranged in a palm-shaded corner by the piano, our conversation covered by the chatter of the other guests. No one knew of our plan, it was a dear secret between us, but it would not have mattered very much if others had known that we were going into the country. I was always supposed to be able to look after Viola, and everybody assumed that it was only a question of time when we should marry each other. We had grown up together, we were obviously very much attached to each other, and we were cousins. And with that amazing inconsistency that is the chief feature of the British public, while it would be shocked at the idea of your marrying your sister, it always loves the idea of your marrying your cousin, the person who in all the world is most like your sister.

However, all we as hapless individuals of this idiotic community have to do is to secretly evade its ridiculous conventions when they don’t suit us, and to make the most of them when they do.

And as I was more anxious to marry Viola than about anything else in the world, I welcomed the convention that assigned her to me and made the most of it.

For all that, we kept the matter of our four days to ourselves and planned out its details with careful secrecy.

I was to meet her at Charing-Cross station, and we were going to take an afternoon train down into Kent where Viola declared she knew of a lovely village of the real romantic kind. I had thought we ought to write or wire for rooms at a hotel beforehand, but Viola had been sure she would find what she wanted when we arrived, and she wished to choose a place herself.

So there was nothing more to do. My suit-case was packed, and when the time came to a quarter past two I got into a hansom and drove to the station.

Almost as soon as I got there, Viola drove up, punctual to the minute.

She knew her own value to men too well to try and enhance it by always being late for an appointment as so many women do.

She looked fresh and lovely in palest grey, her rose-tinted face radiant with excitement.

“I haven’t kept you waiting, have I?” was her first exclamation after our greeting.

“I had so much work to do for Aunt Mary all the morning, I thought I should not have time to really get off myself.”

“No, you haven’t kept me waiting,” I answered; “and, if you had, it would not have mattered. You know I would wait all day for you.”

She glanced up with a wonderful light-filled smile that set every cell in my body singing with delight, and we went down the platform to choose our carriage.

When the train started from Charing Cross the day was dull and heavy-looking; warm, without sunshine. But after an hour’s run from town we got into an atmosphere of crystal and gold and the Kentish fruit trees stretched round us a sea of pink and white foam under a cloudless sky.

When we stepped out at our destination, a little sleepy country station, the air seemed like nectar to us. It was the breath of May, real merry, joyous English May at the height of her wayward, uncertain beauty.

We left our light luggage at the station, and walked out from it, choosing at random the first white, undulating road that opened before us.

The little village clustered round the station, but Viola did not want to lodge in the village.

“We can come back to it if we are obliged, but we shall be sure to find a cottage or a wayside inn.”

So we went on slowly in the transparent light of a perfect May afternoon.

There are periods when England both in climate and landscape is perfect, when her delicate, elusive loveliness can compare favourably with the barbaric glory, the wild magnificence of other countries.

On this afternoon a sort of rapture fell upon us both as we went down that winding road. The call of the cuckoo resounded from side to side, clear and sonorous like a bell, it echoed and re-echoed across our path under the luminous dome of the tranquil sky and over the hedges of flowering thorn, snow-white and laden with fragrance.

Everywhere the fruit trees were in bloom: delicate masses of white and pink rose against the smiling innocent blue of the sky.

“Now here is the very place,” exclaimed Viola suddenly, and following her eyes I saw behind the high, green hedge bordering the road on which we were walking some red roofs rising, half hidden by the masses of white cherry blossom which hung over them. A cottage was there boasting a garden in front, a garden that was filled with lilac and laburnum not yet in bloom; filled to overflowing, for the lilac bulged all over the hedge in purple bunches and the laburnum poured its young leaves down on it. A tiny lawn, rather long-grassed and not innocent of daisies, took up the centre of the garden, and on to this two open casements looked; above again, two open windows, half-lost in the white clouds of cherry bloom.

“But how do you know they’ve any rooms?” I expostulated.

Viola looked at me with jesting scorn in her eyes.

“I don’t know yet, but I’m going to find out.”

She put her hand unhesitatingly on the latch of this apparently sacred domain of a private house, opened the gate, and passed in; I followed her inwardly fearful of what our reception might be.

“Men have no moral courage,” she remarked superbly as we reached the porch and rang the bell.

A clean-looking woman came to the door after some seconds.

“Apartments? Yes, miss, we have a sitting-room and two bedrooms vacant,” she answered to Viola’s query. “Shall I show them to you?”

We passed through a narrow, little hall smelling of new oilcloth into a fair-sized room which possessed one of the casements we had seen from outside and through which came the white glow and scent of the cherry bloom and the song of a thrush.

“This will do,” remarked Viola with a glance round; “and what bedrooms have you? We only want a sitting-room and one bedroom now.”

“Well, ma’am, the room over this is the drawing-room. That’s let from next Monday. Then I have a nice double-room, however, I could let with this.”

“We will go and see it,” said Viola. And we went upstairs.

It seemed a long way up, and when we reached it and the door was thrown open we saw a large room, it was true but the ceiling sloped downwards at all sorts of unexpected angles like that of an attic, and the casements were small, opening almost into the branches of the cherry-tree.

“What do you want for these two?” Viola enquired.

“Five guineas a week, ma’am,” returned the woman, placidly folding her hands together in front of her.

I saw a momentary look of surprise flash across Viola’s face. Even she, the young person of independent wealth, and who commanded far more by her talents, was taken aback at the figure.

“Surely that’s a good deal,” she said after a second.

“Well, ma’am, I had an artist here last summer and he had these two rooms, and he said as he was leaving: ‘Mrs. Jevons, you can’t ask too much for these rooms. The view from that window and the cherry-tree alone is worth all the money.'”

We glanced through the window as she spoke. It was certainly very lovely. A veil of star-like jasmine hung at one side, and without, through the white bloom of the cherry, one caught glimpses of the turquoise-blue of the sky. Beneath, the garden with the wandering thrushes and its masses of lilac; beyond, the soft outline of the winding country road leading to indefinite distance of low blue hills.

“We’ll take them for the sake of the cherry-tree,” Viola said smiling.

“Will you send to the station for our light luggage and let us have some tea presently?”

The woman promised to do both at once and ambled out of the room, leaving us there and closing the door behind her.

I looked round, a sense of delight, of spontaneous joy, filling slowly every vein, welling up irresistibly all through my being.

For the first time I stood in a room with Viola which we were going to share. No other form of possession, of intimacy, is quite the same as this, nor speaks to a lover in quite the same way.

I looked at her. She stood in the centre of the rather poorly furnished and bare-looking room, in her travelling dress of a soft grey cloth. Her figure that always woke all my senses to rapture, shewed well in the clear, simple lines of the dress. Over the perfect bosom passed little silver cords, drawing the coat to meet.

Beneath her grey straw summer hat, wide-brimmed, a pink rose nestled against the light masses of her hair. Her eyes looked out at me with a curious, tender smile.

She threw herself into a low cane chair by the window, I crossed the room suddenly and knelt beside it.

“Darling, you are pleased to be here with me, are you not?”

“Pleased! I am absolutely happy. I have the sensation that whatever happened I could not possibly be more happy than I am.”

She put one arm round my neck and went on softly in a meditative voice:

“I can’t think how some girls go on living year after year all through their youth never knowing this sort of pleasure and happiness, for which they are made, can you?”

“They don’t dare to do the things, I suppose,” I answered.

“Perhaps they wouldn’t give them any pleasure, … but it seems extraordinary.” Her voice died away. Her blue eyes fixed themselves on me in a soft, dreaming gaze.

I locked both my arms round her waist and kissed her lips into silence. A knock at the door made me spring to my feet. Viola remained where she was, unmoved, and said, “Come in.”

A trim-looking maid came in with rather round eyes fixed open to see all she could. She had a can of hot water in her hand.

“Please, mum, I thought you’d like some hot water.”

“Very much,” returned Viola calmly. “Thank you.”

The maid very slowly crossed the room to the washing-stand and set the can in the basin, covering it with a towel with elaborate care and deliberateness, looking at Viola out of the corners of her eyes as she did so.

“Please, m’m, when your luggage comes shall I bring it up?”

“Yes, do please, bring it up at once,” replied Viola, and the girl slowly withdrew, shutting the door in the same lengthy manner after her.

Viola got up and crossed to the glass. She took off her hat and smoothed back her hair with her hand. Each time she did so, the light rippled exquisitely over its shining waves.

“I wonder if I ought to wash my face?” she remarked, looking in the glass; “does it look dusty?”

“Not in the least,” I said, studying the pink and white reflection in the glass over her shoulder.

“Don’t waste the time washing your face. Come and look out of the window.”

We went over to the little casement, and leant our arms side by side on the sill.

The glorious afternoon sunlight was ripening and deepening into orange, a burnished sheen lay over everything, the blue hills were changing into violet, the trees along the road stood motionless, soft, and feathery-looking in the sleepy heat. As we looked out we saw a light cart coming leisurely along and recognised our luggage in it.

Some fifteen minutes later the round-eyed maid reappeared, with a man following her carrying our luggage.

“If you please, m’m, Mrs. Jevons says would the gentleman go down and give what orders he likes for dinner for to-day and to-morrow as the tradesmen are here now and would like to know.”

“Do you mind going down, Trevor?” Viola asked me. “I want just to get a few of my things out?”

“Certainly not,” I answered, “I’ll go.” And I followed the maid out and downstairs.

When I returned to the room about half-an-hour later, it was empty, and as I looked round it seemed transformed, now that her possessions were scattered about. I walked across it, a curious sense of pleasure seeming to clasp my heart and rock it in a cradle of joy.

I glanced at the toilet table. On the white cloth lay now two gold-backed brushes, a gold-backed mirror and a gold button-hook, a little clock in silver and a framed photograph of me; over the chair by the dressing-table was thrown what seemed a mass of mauve silk and piles of lace. I lifted it very gently, fearing it would almost fall to pieces, it seemed so fragile, and discovered it was her dressing-gown. How the touch of its folds stirred me since it was _hers_!

I replaced it carefully, wondering at the keen sensation of pleasure that invaded me as the soft laces touched my hands.

I turned to my own suit-case, unstrapped it, opened it, and then pulled out the top drawer of the chest, intending to lay my things in, but I stopped short as I drew it out.

A sheet of tissue paper lay on the top, and underneath this was her dinner-dress–a delicate white cloud of shimmering stuff told me it was that–and at the end of the drawer I saw two little white shoes and white silk stockings.

I paused, looking down at the contents of the drawer, wondering at the wave of emotion they sent through me. Why, when I possessed the girl herself, should these things of hers have any power to move me?

It was perhaps partly because this form of possession, of intimacy, was so new to me, and partly because I was young and still keenly sensitive to all the delights of life and not yet even on the edge of satiety. I lifted one little shoe out and sat down with it in my hand, gazing at its delicate, perfect shape, my heart beating quickly and the blood mounting joyously to my brain.

What a wonderful thing it is, this life in youth when even the sight of a girl’s shoe can bring one such keen, passionate pleasure!

Yet what pain, what agony it would be if by chance I had come across this shoe and held it in my hand as now, and there was no violet night to follow, no white arms going to be stretched out through its deep mauve-tinted shadows!

I was still sitting with the shoe in my hand when Viola reappeared, her arms full of lilac.

“I went down to the garden to get some of this,” she said. “It looked so lovely. What are you doing, Trevor, sitting there? The woman has made the tea, and it will be much too strong if you don’t come down.”

She came up behind me and I saw her flush and smile in the glass as she caught sight of her shoe. I looked up, and she coloured still more at my glance.

“I am thinking about this and other things,” I said smiling up at her.

She bent over and kissed me and took the shoe out of my hand.

“I am glad you like my little shoe,” she said gently with a tender edge to her tone, replacing the shoe in the drawer.

“Now do come down.”

She put all the lilac in a great mass in the jug and basin, and we went downstairs.

After tea we went out to explore our new and temporarily acquired territory, and found there was another flower garden at the side of the house. This, like the one in front, was hedged round with lilac laden with glorious blossom of all shades, from deepest purple through all the degrees of mauve to white. Every here and there the line was broken by a May-tree just bursting into bloom that thrust its pink or white buds through the lilac. A narrow path paved with large, uneven, moss-covered stone flags led down the centre and on through a little wicket gate into the kitchen garden beyond, so that altogether there was quite an extensive walk through the three gardens, all flower-lined and sweetly fragrant. We passed slowly along the path down to the extreme end of the kitchen garden where there was a seat under a broad-leaved fig-tree. By the side of the seat stood an old pump, handle and spout shaded by a vine that half trained and half of its own will trailed and gambolled up the old red brick garden wall. A flycatcher perched on the pump handle and thrilled out its gay irresponsible song.

“I have just come over the sea and I am so glad to be here, so glad, so glad,” it seemed to be saying, and two swallows skimmed backwards and forwards low down to the earth, gathering mud from a little pool by the pump.

We sat down on the bench and looked out from under the fig-tree at the pure tranquil sky, full of gold light and just tinted with the first rosy flush of evening.

There was complete silence save for the clear, gay, rippling song of the bird, and the deep peace of the scene seemed to fall upon us like an enchanted spell.

Viola dropped her head on my shoulder with a sigh of contentment.

“I am so happy, so content. I feel as glad as that little flycatcher. It has escaped from the sea and the storms and winds, and I’ve got away from London, its tiresome dinners and hot rooms and all the stupid men who want to marry one.”

I laughed and watched her face as it lay against me, and I saw her eyes half-closed as she gazed dreaming into the sunshine.

Faint pink clouds sailed across the sky at intervals like downy feathers blown before a breeze; the flycatcher continued its chattering song to us, some bees hummed with a warm summer-like sound over the wall.

An hour slipped by and seemed only like one golden moment. We heard a bell jangle from the direction of the house, and when I looked at my watch I saw it was time to dress for dinner.

When we retraced our steps the whole garden was bathed in rosy light and the lilac stood out in it curiously and poured forth a wonderful, heavy fragrance as we passed.

The voice of spring, that beautiful low whisper with its promise of summer and cloudless days was in all the air. Had we been married several years I do not think either Viola or I would have found Mrs. Jevons’s cooking good nor praised the dinner that night; the attendance also might have been condemned. But as it was we were in that magic mirage of first days together and everything seemed perfect.

When it was over we sought the outside again and sat watching the now paling rose of the sky being replaced by clear, tender green. A passion and rapture of song, the last evening song of the birds, was being poured out on the still dewy air all round us. One by one the songsters grew tired and ceased as a pale star grew visible here and there in the transparent sky, and complete silence fell on the garden. Only a bat flitted across it silently now and then, and the white night-moths came and played by us. I had my arm round her waist and I drew her close to me and looked down upon her through the dusky twilight.

“Let us go, too, dearest, it is quite late.”

She looked up, the colour waving all over her face, and smiled back at me, and we went in and upstairs.

When we reached our room, the window was wide open as we had left it and the room seemed full of soft violet gloom, heavy with fragrance of the lilac that shewed its pale mauve stars through the shadows.

It was so beautiful, the effect of the deep summer twilight, that I told her not to light the candles.

“Shew yourself to me in this wonderful mysterious half-light, nothing can be more beautiful.”

I sat down on the foot of the bed watching her, my heart beating, every pulse within me throbbing with delight.

Viola did not answer. She did not light the candles, but with the rustle of falling silk and lace began her undressing.

That night I could not sleep. The window stood open, and the room was filled with the soft mysterious twilight of the summer night with its thousand wandering perfumes, its tiny sounds of bats and whirring wings.

The cherry bloom thrust its long, white, scented arms into the room. I lay looking towards the white square of the window wide-eyed and thinking.

A strange elation possessed my brain. I felt happy with a clear consciousness of feeling happy. One can be happy unconsciously or consciously.

The first state is like the sensation one has when lying in hot water: one is warm, but one hardly knows it, so accustomed to the embrace of the water has the body become.

The other state of conscious happiness is like that of first entering the bath, when the skin is violently keenly alive to the heat of the water.

Viola lay beside me motionless, wrapped in a soundless sleep like the sleep of exhaustion. Not the faintest sound of breathing came from her closed lips.

The room was so light I could distinctly see the pale circle of her face and all the undulating lines of her fair hair beside me on the pillow.

I felt the strange delight of ownership borne in upon me as it had never been yet.

We had not dared to pass a night together at the studio.

We had only had short afternoons and evenings, hours snatched here and there, over-clouded by fears of hearing a knock at the door, a footstep outside.

But this deep solitude, these hours of the night when she _slept_ beside me, all powers, all the armour of our intelligence that we wear in our waking moments, laid aside, seemed to give her to me more completely than she had ever given herself before.

And gazing upon her in serene unconsciousness, I felt the intense joy of possession, a sort of madness of satisfaction vibrating through me, stamping that hour on my memory for ever.

The next morning we came down late and enjoyed everything with that keen poignant sense of pleasure that novelty alone can give. To us coming from a stay of months in town the small sitting-room, the open casement window, the simple breakfast-table, the loud noise of birds’ voices without, the green glow of the garden seemed delightful, almost wonderful.

So curtains were really white! how strange it seemed. In town they are always grey or brown, and the air was light and thin with a sweet scent, and the sky was blue!!!

It was a fine day, the sun poured down riotously through the snow-white bloom of the cherry-tree, two cuckoos were calling to each other from opposite sides of the wood, and their note, so soft in the distance, so powerful when near, resounded through the shining air till it seemed full of the sound of a great clanging bell, musical and beautiful.

Viola was delighted; her keen ear enjoyed the unusual sound.

“Oh, Trevor, that repeated note, how glorious it is! It reminds me of a sustained note in Wagner’s _Festpiel_. I do wish they’d go on.”

She seated herself by the window listening with rapture in her eyes. The woman of the house brought in our coffee, but I doubt if we should have got any breakfast, only the cuckoos wanted theirs and fortunately flew off to get it.

When the glorious musical bell rang out far on the other side of the wood, dimmed by distance, Viola came reluctantly to the table.

“How delicious this is! this being in the country _just at first_. Look at the table with its jonquils! isn’t it pretty? Look at the honey and cream!”

“I think you had better eat some of it,” I answered; “or at least pour out the coffee.”

Viola laughed and did so, and we breakfasted joyously, full of the curious gayety that belongs to novelty alone.

Then we went out, and the outside was equally entrancing. The scent of the lilac seemed to hang like a canopy in the air under which we walked. There was a fat thrush on the lawn, young and tailless. The sight of him and the dappled marks on his white breast gave me a strange pleasure.

We sat down on the turf finally where the cherry-tree cast a light shade, a sort of white shadow in the sunlight, from its blossoms. Viola thrust her hands down into the cool, green grass.

“How lovely this is,” she said, looking up the tall tree above us. “Look at its great tent of white blossoms against the blue sky; it’s like a picture of Japan!”

After a time, when we were tired of the garden, we went out and turned down the white road to explore the country.

It was very hot, and the glare from the road excessive, but as it was all new to us it all seemed delightful, even to the white dust that coated our lips and got into our eyes whenever the breeze stirred.

After about a mile and a half of walking we came to an oak wood. The road dipped suddenly between cool, green, mossy banks and lay in deep, grateful shade from the arching oaks above. I climbed the bank on one side and looked into the wood. It was very thick and wild, apparently rarely penetrated. Through the close-growing stems of the undergrowth I saw a bluebell carpet lying like inverted sky beneath the oaks.

“The wood looks very attractive,” I said as I rejoined Viola; “but we can’t stay to go into it now. We haven’t the time; it’s half past twelve already.”

“I’m sorry,” said Viola, looking wistfully at the green wood. “This is the nicest part; but I suppose we can’t disappoint that woman by not getting back to luncheon.”

So we walked back slowly through the noonday sun, admiring the double pink May peeping out from the green hedges.

When we came in just before lunch, she took the easy chair facing the window, and I sat down on one opposite and watched her. She was wearing a white cambric dress that looked very simple and girlish; she was smiling, and her face was delicately rose-coloured after the walk.

A sense of responsibility came over me. She was my cousin, my own blood relation. I must protect her, must think for her if she would not think for herself.

“You know it’s risky being down here like this. You had much better come to some rustic church with me in another village and marry me there.”

“No. You know perfectly well I am not going to marry you,” she said softly, looking up at me with a smile in her eyes, great pools of blue beneath their exquisitely arched lids.

“It is ridiculous to suppose that you, an artist of twenty-eight, will want to keep faithful to one woman all the rest of your life–or her life. It would be very bad for you, if you did. One can’t go against Nature, and Nature has not arranged things that way. Marriage is a pleasure perhaps; but Nature never arranged, marriage, and a man should not allow himself unnatural pleasures.”

She was really laughing now, but I knew her resolve was perfectly serious and I did not see how I could break it up.

“Well, but some men do keep to one woman all their life and are none the worse for it; look at a country clergyman for instance.”

Viola raised her eyebrows with a laugh.

“How can you be sure of the country clergyman? I expect he goes up to town sometimes…. However, of course I admit he is fairly faithful, but how about being none the worse for it? A country clergyman is about the most undeveloped creature you could have, and a great artist is the most developed, the nearest approach to a god of all human beings.”

I did not answer, but sat silent staring at her. She looked such a sweet little Saxon schoolgirl in her white dress, but with such tremendous character and power in those great shining eyes.

“But if we marry now,” I said at last, “and anything should … should come between us, I don’t see it would be any worse than….”

“Than if we were living together without marriage,” she put in quickly. “Yes, I think it would. Look here, if we marry now with a great blaze and fuss, and invite all our friends to see the event, which is great nonsense anyway, and then you see some other woman later you covet, it seems to me there are only three ways open to us: either you go without the woman and suffer very much in consequence and always owe me a grudge for standing in your way; or you take her and I have to profess to see nothing and look on quietly, which I could never stand, it would send me mad; or we must have all the trouble and worry and scandal of a divorce and call in the public to witness our quarrel; and why _should_ we have the public to interfere in our affairs?” she added, her eyes flashing. “What is it to them whom I love or whom I live with, whom I leave or quarrel with? These are all private matters.”

“And if we live together and the same thing happens?” I pursued quietly.

“Why, then we should separate, only without any trouble, any publicity; we should fall apart naturally. If you preferred any one else, you must go to her; I should slip away out of your life, and we should each be free and untied.”

“If it’s so much better for the man to change,” I said smiling, “it must be the same for the woman.”

“So it is,” rejoined Viola quickly; “the more men a woman has the more developed she is, the better for her morally, if there is no conventional disgrace attaching to it. Amongst the Greeks, Aspasia and all those women of her class were far more intellectual, more developed than the wives who were kept at home to spin and rear children.”

“All these things ought to be optional. If a woman loves one man so much she wants to stay with him for ever and ever, probably through such a great passion she reaches her highest development; but until she has found that man she ought to be allowed to go from one to another without any disgrace attaching to it. And, of course, just the same law holds good for the man.”

“Outsiders like the world and the law ought never to be allowed to interfere between a man and a woman. They never can know the right or the wrong of their relations to each other well enough to enable them to be judges. Nobody ever knows but the man and the woman themselves, and they ought to be left alone; what they do, whether in quarrelling or love, ought to be as private as the prayers one sends to Heaven.”

She paused, and through the window came the gay, loud, triumphant call of the cuckoo seeking its mate of an hour in the heart of the glad green wood.

Viola listened with a look of delight.

“How happy they are!” she said. And the note came again, instinct with love and joy.

“How well Nature arranged everything, and how Man has spoiled it all! Fancy passion, the most subtle, evanescent, delicate, elusive emotion–and yet one so strong–fancy that being bound down by crabbed and crooked laws, being confined by wretched little conventions!”

“But, anyway, we shall have to say we are married here.”

“Oh, say anything you like,” rejoined Viola laughing; “saying doesn’t do any harm.”

“Yes, but then we must fix some place where we’ve _been_ married and all that, do you see; we’d better go somewhere further off I think and stay away some time and come back married. I do feel very worried about it, Viola. I think it would be much simpler to do it than to lie about it.”

Viola jumped up and came over to me.

“Dear Trevor, I am _so_ sorry you are worried, but really it will work out all right. We will go abroad somewhere from here, we might go to Rome, it’s a lovely time of year, and then to Sicily, to Taormina, … and we’ll stay away a year and you finish the picture and I’ll write an opera, and then we’ll come back married to town in the season and we’ll have _been_ married before we leave England of course, and then it will be a year ago, and I don’t think anybody will bother about it much.”

I looked down upon her. She was so pretty and so dear to me: I must keep her, and if those were the only terms upon which she would stay with me I must accept them.

The landlady came into the room at this minute followed by the maid to lay the luncheon; in the landlady’s hand was a fat, black book which she presented diffidently to Viola.

“It’s the Visitors’ book, ma’am,” she said. “I thought you and the gentleman would like to write your names in it in case of any letters….”

“Yes, very much,” returned Viola promptly, with a little side smile at me, and sat down and wrote in it.

When she had done so, she closed the book, and as the maid was in and out of the room during luncheon, it was not till it was finished and cleared away and we were alone that I asked her what she had written.

“Mr. and Mrs. Lonsdale; that’s right, isn’t it? I did not put Trevor for I always think ‘make your lies short’ is a good rule.”

“I thought you were such a truthful person,” I said a little sadly.

“So I am–to you, for instance, so I should be to any one who has the right to hear truth; but the world has no right, and I don’t care what lies I tell it, it’s such an inquisitive old bore!”

I laughed. Viola always made you laugh when you felt you ought to be angry with her.

“Come out now,” I said, “let’s enjoy this lovely afternoon. I should like to paint you under that tree,” I added musingly, looking out on the tree in its white glory.

“In your usual style?” she returned laughing. “I don’t think you could here. Mrs. Jevons would turn me out as not being respectable; not even being Mrs. Lonsdale would save me.”

“You would make a lovely picture, even dressed,” I returned, musing; “but then of course it would not sell for half the price.”

“Nothing is really snapped at but the nude. That lovely landscape I painted when I was young and foolish,–it took me two years to work it off, and the veriest little daub of an unclothed girl goes directly at a hundred guineas.”

“A great compliment to our natural charms,” laughed Viola. “I am delighted personally at anything that is a note of protest against the tyranny of the dressmaker and fashion.”

“What shall we do?” I queried; “it’s beautifully hot,” I added persuasively.

“I’ll tell you: we will go into the oak wood; the oaks grow low and the ground and the land rise all round, no one can possibly see us without coming quite close; on that blue carpet you shall paint me lying asleep, we will call the picture ‘The Soul of the Wood,’ and you shall sell it for a thousand. Come along.”

So it was decided, and with one of her thick cloaks, that she could throw round her instantly if surprised, and my artist’s pack we started for the wood.

It was a hot golden day, the one day we should get of really fine weather in the whole English year, and when we reached the wood the light under the oak boughs was magnificent, a soft mellow glory falling down on the blue hyacinths which grew so closely together that it was as if a sea of vivid colour had invaded the dell or a great patch of the blue sky had fallen there.

We had difficulty in getting into the wood as the undergrowth of young oak scrub made it almost impenetrable; it stood up straight, and the great, swaying, huge, spreading boughs of the old oaks above came down and rested on and amongst the young oaks, like a roof upon pillars, and the leaves of both intermingled till they were like green silk curtains hung from ceiling to floor. When we had finally pushed through almost on our hands and knees to the centre of the wood, the scrub grew less close, the carpet of blue was perfect, a circle of green shut us in, we were in a magic chamber, through the roof of which came floods of green and golden light.

Viola cast aside the “tyranny of the dressmaker” and shook out her light hair. Then she threw herself on the hyacinth bed, looking upwards to the low arching roof. At that moment the call of the cuckoo, wild, entrancing, came overhead, and she raised her arms with a look of rapture as the slim grey bird dashed through the upper oak branches in pursuit of its mate. It was a perfect pose for the “Soul of the Wood,” and I begged her to keep it while I rapidly caught the idea and sketched it in roughly in charcoal.

Those happy sunlit hours in the wood, how fast they slipped away! I was absorbed in the work and completely happy in it, and Viola I believe was equally happy in the delight she knew she was giving me.

We came back very hungry to our tea, and very pleased with ourselves, the sketch, and our successful afternoon.

It was six o’clock, the light was mellowing, and a thrush singing with all its own wonderful passion and rapture on the lawn. The scent of the lilac, intensely sweet, came in at the window and filled the room.

In the evening we went out and sat under the cherry-tree, watching the stars come out and gleam through its white bloom.

“Sing me the Abendstern,” murmured Viola, leaning her head against me. “I was a dutiful model all the afternoon, it’s your turn to amuse me now.”

So I sang the Abendstern to her under the cherry-tree, and its white shadow enveloped us both, making her face look very beautiful under it; and when I had finished singing we kissed each other and agreed that the world was a very delightful place as long as there was Wagner’s music in it, and cherry-trees to sit under, and white bloom and stars and lips to kiss.

Between nine and ten, after a very countrified supper we went up to bed in the slanting-roofed room under the thatch, full still of the tender light of a spring evening.

The next day was delicious, too, and the next, but on the fourth we were quite ready to go. We had drained the cup of joy which that particular place held for us and it had no more to offer. The cherry-tree pleased us still, but it did not give us the ecstatic thrill of the first view of it. The lilac scent streamed in, but it did not go to the head and intoxicate us as when we came straight from the air of Waterloo; the thrush gurgled as passionately on the deep green lawn, but the gurgle did not stir the blood. All was the same, only the strange spell of novelty was gone.

Viola seemed so pleased to be leaving it quite hurt me. When I went upstairs I found her packing her little handbag with alacrity and singing.

“Are you glad to be going?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said surprised; “are not you?”

“But you have been happy here?” I said with a tone of remonstrance.

“Oh, yes!” she exclaimed; “wildly, intensely happy! It’s been four days’ enchantment, but then it’s gone now; we can’t get any _more_ out of this place. We have enjoyed it so much we have drained it, exhausted it; like the bees, we must move on to a fresh flower.”

It was true that was all we could do, yet I looked round the bare attic-like room with regret. Could ever another give me more than that had done? Could there ever be a keener joy, a deeper delight than I had known in the shadows of that first violet night?

PART THREE

THE BLACK NIGHT

CHAPTER VI

IN MAYFAIR

The spring of the next year found us installed in a small house in Mayfair, for the season.

For a year we had been abroad; the summer in Italy, the winter in Egypt, and had come back with our eyes full of colour, armed against the deadly greyness of England for three months at least.

We had travelled as Mr. and Mrs. Lonsdale, we came back as Mr. and Mrs. Lonsdale. There had been no difficulty so far. Every one seemed satisfied, and what was far more important, so were we.

The whole top floor of the Mayfair house was my studio, and made a fairly large and convenient one. We kept on the old studio as a matter of sentiment, but rarely went there now.

The “Phryne” and the “Soul of the Wood” had been finished and accepted for exhibition. Both were sold, the “Phryne” for five thousand pounds, the “Soul of the Wood” for four thousand, and I had brought from abroad many unfinished sketches and partly finished pictures.

In all this time we had lived very close to each other: Viola had been my only model against an ever-varied background. Not the faintest shadow had flecked the sunshine of our passion for each other. Viola had written her operetta, and it had been taken for a London theatre. A Captain Lawton had written the libretto under the title of the “Lily of Canton.” The music was weird and charming, suited to the strange Chinese story and scenery. It was to be produced in May, and Viola always spoke of the first night with excited joy.

It had been a full, rich year. Like bees, as Viola had said, we had gone from flower to flower, draining the honey from each new blossom and passing on. New places, new skies, new scenes had all in turn contributed to our pleasure and given us inspiration which took form again in our art.

The vivid desert backgrounds, the light-filled skies of Upper Egypt crept into my pictures, the cry of impassioned Eastern music in the forbidden dancing-dens of Keneh stole into Viola’s refrains.

On that sunny afternoon in April, as we took tea in our tiny and gimcrack drawing-room together, Viola and I felt in the best of spirits.

“Captain Lawton and Mr. and Mrs. Dixon are coming in to dinner to-night,” Viola remarked. “Lawton tells me he saw the manager yesterday, and the piece seems getting on all right.”

“I am very glad,” I answered. “Do you know, Viola, a Roman girl called here this morning, and wanted me to take her on as a model. She’s very good. I think I’d better secure her, if … if….”

“If what…?” asked Viola smiling.

“Well, if you don’t mind,” I answered, colouring.

“Mind? I? No, dearest Trevor. Of course not. You must want a new model by now. Do engage her by all means. Is she good altogether?”

“I don’t know. I have only seen her face yet. That’s very lovely. Veronica she calls herself. I thought, anyway, she would do splendidly for the head.”

“What a piece of good luck she should come now. You were just wanting a model for your Roman Forum picture,” returned Viola. And then the matter dropped, for some women came in to tea and broke off the conversation.

At eleven o’clock the next morning I was in my studio, awaiting Veronica. I was pleased, interested, elated. The girl was really beautiful, and the sight of beauty exhilarates and animates like wine.

She was very punctual and came confidently into the room as the clock struck. The cold morning light through a north window fell upon her and instead of the light warming the face as so often happens, her face seemed to warm the light. She was about sixteen, with a skin of velvet, dark, quite dark, but clear as wine, and with a wonderful red flush glowing through the cheek; the eyes were brilliant, brown to blackness, but full of fire and lustre; her hair, dark as midnight, clustered and fell about her face in soft curls. The nose was dainty, refined, with perfect nostrils, the mouth deepest red and curved with the most tender, seducing lines. I had never seen such a face. The beauty of it was glorious, to an artist awe-inspiring.

I stood gazing at her, delighted, spellbound, and the young person keenly observed my admiration. She smiled, revealing true Italian teeth, exquisite, white, and perfect.

“I am Veronica Bernandini,” she said. “I have two hours to spare in the morning and three in the afternoon.”

My first thought was not to let any other artist have her; not till I had painted her at any rate and startled London with her face.

“Are you sitting to any one else?” I asked mechanically.

“No. I give the rest of my time to my family. We are very poor. My mother and father are old. I am their sole support.”

I waved my hand impatiently. All models tell you that. One gets so tired of it.

“What do you want an hour? I will take all your time. You must not sit to any one else.”

Her eyes gleamed, and the lovely crimson mouth pouted.

“Five shillings an hour if you take the five hours a day,” she answered.

“I suppose you know that’s double the ordinary price?” I said smiling. “However, I don’t mind. I’ll pay you if I find you sit well. Take off your hat now and sit down–anywhere. I want just to make a rough sketch of your head.”

She obeyed, and I drew out some large paper sheets and found a piece of charcoal. Sitting down opposite her, I gazed at her meditatively. Now that her hat had been removed I could see the extraordinary wealth and beauty of her hair. It was black with lights of red and gold fire in it, and fell in its own natural waves and curls and clusters all about her small head and smooth white forehead.

What about a Bacchante? She was a perfect study for that. I always imagined–perhaps from seeing antiques, where it is so represented, that the head of a Bacchante should have hair like this; and it is rare enough in English models. Suppose I made a large picture–The Death of Pentheus–the king in Euripides’ tragedy of the Bacchae who in his efforts to put down the Bacchanalia was slain by the enraged Bacchantes. Suppose I put this one in the foreground…. But then it seemed a pity to spoil such a lovely face with a look of rage…. Well, anyway, let me have a sketch first, and see what inspiration came to me. I got up and looked amongst my odd possessions for a vine-leaf wreath I had. When I found it and some ivy leaves, I came back to her and fastened them round her head, in and out of those wonderful vine-like tendrils of hair. She sat demurely enough and very still while I did so, but when I wanted to unfasten the ugly modern bodice and turn it down from her throat so as to get the head well poised and free, she pressed her lips on my hand as it passed round her neck.

I drew my hand away.

“Don’t be silly, or I shan’t employ you,” I said with some annoyance.

She pushed out her crimson lips.

“You are too handsome to be an artist; they are mostly such guys.”

“Hush, be quiet now, be still,” I said, moving back from her to see if I had the effect I wanted. I felt with a sudden rush of delight I had. The face was just perfect now: the head a little inclined, the leaves in the glossy hair, no more exact image of the idea the word Bacchante always formed in my mind could be imagined.

I sketched her head in rapidly. I made two or three draughts of it in charcoal, then I got my colours and did a rough study of it in colour. Her neck, like that of almost all Italians, was a shade too short, but round and lovely in shape and colour. The time passed unnoticed, and it was only when the luncheon gong sounded I realised how long I had been at work.

I sprang up and gathered the sheets of paper together.

“That’s all now,” I said. “I’ll take you again three to six. Are you tired?” I added, as she got up rather slowly and took up her hat.

“No,” she answered, shaking her head. “All that was sitting down; that’s easy.”

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