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Her voice sounded flat, but I was too hurried to take much notice of it. I wanted to get down to show Viola the work.

“Well, three o’clock then,” I repeated, and ran downstairs.

Viola was waiting in the dining-room, but not at the table. I went over to the window where she was standing, and showed her the sketches.

“Oh, Trevor, how lovely; how perfectly beautiful!” she exclaimed, gazing at the charcoal head.

“You have done that well, and what a glorious face!”

I flushed with pleasure.

“I’m so glad you like it. Come up this afternoon and see the model, see me work. Say you’re out, and let’s have tea in the studio.”

“Very well,” she answered as the luncheon came in; “I’ll say we want tea up there. What a good idea to make her a Bacchante; it’s the very face for it.”

“Suppose I took her as a Bacchante dancing, the whole figure I mean, nude, under a canopy of vine leaves, make all the background, everything, green vines with clusters of purple grapes, and then have her dancing down the sort of avenue towards the foreground, with the light pouring down through the leaves. How do you think that would be?”

“I should think it would be lovely,” Viola answered slowly, with a little sigh.

I looked across at her quickly.

“You would like to be my only model for the body?” I said gently, keeping my eyes on her face.

“No, Trevor, I really don’t want to be selfish, and I do think you should have another, only….”

“Yes, only…?”

“Well, when a woman is in love she does so long to be able to assume all sorts of different forms, to be different women, so as to always please and amuse and satisfy the man she loves. How delightful it would be if one could change! One can be pretty, one can be amiable, clever, charming, anything, but one cannot be different from oneself; one must be the same, one can’t get away from that.”

I laughed.

“I don’t want you to be different. I should be overwhelmed if you suddenly changed into some one else! And whatever models I have, you will always be the best. There could not be another such perfect figure as yours.”

Viola smiled, but an absent look came into her face.

After luncheon we both went up to the studio together, and Viola was ensconced in my armchair when Veronica’s knock came on the door.

I said, “Come in,” and she entered with the confident air of the morning. Directly she saw Viola, however, she seemed to stiffen with resentment, and stood still by the door.

“Come in,” I repeated, “and shut the door.”

Viola looked at her kindly and laid down the charcoal sketch in her lap.

“I have been looking at your head here and thinking it so beautiful,” she said gently.

Veronica only stared at her a little ungraciously in return, and took off her hat in silence.

I put her back into position, re-arranged the fillet on her head, and set to work to complete the colour study.

We worked in unbroken silence till tea was brought up at four. Viola rose to make it, and I told the girl to get up and move about if she liked, and I set the canvas aside to dry. Viola offered the girl a cup of tea, but she refused it and went and sat under the window on an old couch, leaving us by the table.

The canvas was a success in a way so far, but the great sweetness of the expression in the charcoal sketch of the morning was not there.

When tea was over I went up to Veronica and told her I must leave the canvas of the head to dry, I could not work more on it then, and asked her if she would pose for me as the Bacchante dancing. I wanted to see if she would do for a larger picture.

I got no answer for a minute. Veronica looked down and began to pull at the faded fringe of an old cushion.

At last I repeated my question.

“Not while _she’s_ here,” she muttered in a low, fierce tone.

I was surprised at the resentment in look and voice.

“Nonsense,” I said with some annoyance. “You can pose before her as well as before me.”

Veronica did not answer, only pulled in sullen silence at the cushion.

“You are wasting my time,” I said impatiently.

Veronica looked through the window.

“I shan’t take off my clothes before her,” she muttered defiantly.

I turned away from her in annoyance and approached Viola who had not moved from her chair on the other side of the room. She sprang up and came to meet me.

“She objects to my being here?” she said quickly. “Is it bothering you? Because, if it is, I’ll go; that’ll settle it.”

“It’s awfully stupid. I’m so sorry, Viola; it’s so idiotic of her.”

Viola smiled brightly up at me.

“Never mind, I’ll go. You’ll be down soon, now.”

I held the door open for her, and with a smiling nod at me she passed through and went down the stairs. I waited till her bright head had disappeared, and then closed the door and went back to Veronica.

“Now,” I said, “Mrs. Lonsdale has left us. Will you get up and stand as I want you to? Or do you want me to dismiss you?”

I felt extremely angry and annoyed. My heart beat violently. Viola had come there by my invitation, she had deprived herself of any possible society for the afternoon, and now had been practically turned out by this impertinent little model.

Veronica got sulkily up from the couch and began to undress in silence.

I walked away and flung myself into the armchair Viola had vacated, and picked up the charcoal sketch.

How sweet the face was in that! And yet what an awful little devil the girl on the couch had looked.

I was so accustomed to Viola’s unfailing either good temper or self-command, that I was beginning to forget women had bad tempers as well as men.

After a minute or two Veronica came over to me; she had let her hair down, and it fell prettily on her shoulders. I laid down the charcoal sketches and looked at her critically as she approached.

Her figure had all the beauty of great plumpness and youthfulness. Every contour was round and full, and yet firm. Her body was beautiful in the sense that all healthy, sound, young, well-formed things are, but there was, as it were, no soul in the beauty, nothing transcendent in any of the lines or in the colour. It was something essentially of earth, un-dreamlike, appealing to the senses, and to them alone.

I was struck with the great contrast it presented to the form of Viola, which was so wonderfully ethereal, so divine in colour and design. Every line in it was long and tapering, never coming to a sudden stop, but merging with infinite grace into the next, and the dazzling, immaculate whiteness of it all made it seem like something of heaven. It suggested the vision, the ideal, all that man longs after with his soul, that stirs the celestial fires within his brain, not merely the flame of the senses.

In the form before me, the lines were short and often abrupt, the curves quick and expressionless; it would do capitally for the “Bacchante,” it would not have served for a moment for the “Soul of the Wood.”

The girl was smiling now, and appeared quite amiable. Most people are when they have got their own way. She asked me if I thought she would do.

“Yes, I think you will. Stand back there, please, against that green curtain. Now put one foot forward as if you were advancing. Yes, that’s right; lift both your arms up over your head.”

I got up to give her a hoop of wire to hold as an arch over her, and put a spray of artificial ivy over it.

“That’ll do. Now stand still, and let’s see how that works out.”

The girl posed well. Evidently she was a model of considerable practice, and I obtained an excellent sketch before a quarter to six, when she said she must leave off and dress.

She did so in silence, while I studied my own work. When she had her hat on I looked up and asked her if she wanted to be paid.

“No,” she answered, “we’ll leave it till the end of the week. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” I said, and she went out. I laid the sketch on the table beside me, and sat thinking. A sudden blankness fell upon me as I stood mentally opposite this new idea that had never presented itself to me in the same form before, that in my former easy, wandering existence I had always welcomed a beautiful model, not only for the gain to my art, but because of the incidental pleasure it might bring me. But now I realised suddenly that this girl’s beauty brought me no elation. _It was not any use_, and in a flash I saw, too, that no woman now, no beauty could be any use to me ever any more, for I was not a single irresponsible existence any longer, but involved with another which was sacred to me.

How often in the past, when entangled in some light _liaison_, I had wished for deeper, stronger emotions, something to wake the mind and stir the soul! Then in my love for Viola I had found all these and welcomed them madly. She had stirred my whole sleeping being into flame, and given me those keener and stronger desires of the brain, and satisfied them; and till now it had seemed to me that this passion for her was a free gift from the hands of Fate. Now, suddenly, I saw that the gift had its price. That, after all, there was something to be said for those light free loves of the past. That some joy had been taken out of life, now those glittering trifles, toys of the senses, were taken from me, made impossible.

For the first time I realised that a great passion has its yoke, and that, in return for the great joy it gives, it demands and takes one’s freedom.

I sat motionless, feeling overwhelmed by the sudden blaze of light that the simple incident of this model’s advent had thrown on an obscure psychological fact.

I saw now that my love for Viola was not wholly a gain, not something extra added to my life’s-cup that made it full to overflowing, but, as always in this life, something had been taken away as well as added.

I felt as a child might feel who was presented with a magnificent gift with which he was overjoyed, but who on taking it to the nursery to add to his other treasures, saw his nurse locking these all away from him for ever in a glass case above his reach.

As the child might, I hugged my new gift to me and delighted in it, but I could not help feeling regret for those other small, glittering toys with which I had formerly played so much, now shut away behind the deadly glass pane of conscience.

It was not that Veronica appealed to me specially. I did not feel I cared whether she came to the studio again or not except for the picture, but the great principle involved, now that I was face to face with it, appalled me.

Viola had sought to leave me free, by refusing marriage with me; but, after all, what difference does the mere nominal tie make?

The essential attribute of a great passion–something that cannot be eliminated from it–is the chain of fidelity it forges round its prisoners.

I do not know how long I sat there, but at last I rose mechanically, put the sheets of paper together, and went downstairs.

As I came to the drawing-room door I heard that Viola was playing. The door stood ajar, and silently I entered and took my seat behind her. She was improvising, just playing as the inspiration came to her, and wholly absorbed and unconscious of my presence. There was a great glass facing her, in which her whole image was reflected, and had she glanced into it she must have seen me; but she did not. Her eyes gazed out before her, wrapt, delighted; her face was quite white, her lips parted in a little smile.

I saw she was under the influence of her music and absolutely happy, full of joy, such as I could never give her. A great jealousy ran through me, kindling all that passion I had for her. The thoughts and reflections of an hour back seemed swept out of mind like dead leaves before a storm. No other lighter loves could give me one-tenth of the emotion that the pursuit and conquest of this strange soul could do. For I had not conquered it. It was absorbed in, and lived in mysteries of joy that its art alone could give it, and I was outside–almost a stranger to it.

The thought burnt and stung me, and the fire of it wrapped round me as I sat watching her. That body, so slim, so perfect, she had given me, but I wanted more, I wanted that inner spirit to be mine, I wanted to conquer that.

I watched her in a fierce, jealous anger, almost as I might have done seeing her caressed by another lover, she was so wonderfully happy, so independent of me, so unconscious of me; but man loves that which is above him, difficult to obtain, hard to pursue. We cannot help it. We are made to be hunters, and I felt I loved Viola then with fresh passion.

Some time or other I would succeed in breaking through that charmed circle in which she lived, in making her yield up to me the spiritual maidenhood which, as it were, was hers.

I would be first and last and everything to her, and not even her art should count beside me.

I closed my eyes and put my head back on the couch where I was sitting and gave myself up to listening to the music.

How the instrument answered her! What a divine melody rose from it, floating gently on the air like quivering wings.

Then suddenly came a storm of passion, and the room was filled with a tempest of sound, while one strong thread of melody low down in the bass ran through it all and seemed a fierce reproach of one in anguish. At last one sheet of sound seemed to sweep the piano from end to end, a cry of dismay, of pain, the woe and grief of one who sees his world shattered suddenly before his eyes; then there was silence. I sprang up and clasped her in my arms.

“Trevor,” she exclaimed, like one awakening from a dream; “I had no idea you were there.”

“No,” I said savagely; “you were so absorbed, you never noticed me come in.”

“Well, I heard the model go, and I waited and waited for you to come down; but you were so long I turned to the piano to console me.”

“Which it did quite well, apparently,” I answered.

A sweet, tender look came over her face, and she stretched out her arms to me.

“Nothing could wholly console me for your absence,” she said; “and you know that quite well; but the music always helps me to bear it.”

I drew her to me and strained her close up to me in silence, longing to conquer, to come into union with that mysterious inner something we call the Soul.

Yet in this unconquerable quality, in this pursuit of that which always escapes from our most passionate embraces, man finds an inexhaustible delight.

CHAPTER VII

FREEDOM

The weeks slipped by, and I worked hard at the painting, while Viola gave herself up to the music and all the work that the approaching production of her opera gave her. Our evenings were always spent together. We set aside two evenings in the week for our friends, giving only small dinners of eight or ten. On the other evenings when we were not dining out ourselves we went to the opera, and supper after.

I often wondered whether there was anything or nothing in the fact that we were not married to each other, which affected our feelings and relations to each other. Does that conventional bond make some subtle difference, just by its existence; and did that account for the fact that we seemed to find a greater delight in each other’s society, a greater need of each other than the average husband and wife do; or was it only because we happened to be two who had met and really loved more than most people do, and had we been married, we should have felt the same?

Certainly we were looked upon as peculiar because, being married, we were so much together.

The true explanation is perhaps that, as a rule, the people who love do not marry, and those who marry do not love.

Coming home from our supper after the opera, I felt the same passionate delight in Viola as that first evening when I had driven her to my studio. Waking in the dawn to find her sleeping on my arm, I had the same joyous elation as I had known under the thatched roof, during our first stay together. Unfortunately, however, a great passion for one object does not necessarily exclude lesser passions, or, rather, passing fancies of the senses for other objects. It is generally supposed that it does, but my experience is rather to the contrary.

With women possibly it may do so oftener than with men, but extreme constancy, absolute exclusiveness is not the natural product of a great passion. It is a question rather of sentiment and artificial restraint.

Nature is not on the side of sentiment. She is always a prodigal, with the one great aim before her of ensuring the continuance of the race.

Consequently, when a man is already loving one object with all his force, it is not Nature’s plan to make him turn from all others by instinct. No, she is ever ready with others, ever rather prompting him, leading him towards others, in order that, should accident or death remove his first mate, others should not be wanting, and her great scheme should not be spoiled nor interrupted.

Nature is always on a grand scale, always acting in and for the plural, never for the singular.

Does she want one oak to survive, she throws on the ground a million acorns for that purpose.

Man she has fitted to love not one, but hundreds, and our senses act automatically and are always on the side of Nature. It is the mind alone that man has taught to act against her, and that demands and gives fidelity in love.

A woman’s attitude towards a second lover, when she is deeply in love with the first, is not so often “I don’t want him,” as “It would grieve my first lover, therefore I will not take him.”

A man, when offered a second mistress, usually thinks “I will take her, but I mustn’t let the first one know.” In both it is the anxiety of Nature that neither should be left mateless, part of her tremendous scheme of insurance against mischance.

And all this great love and passion which I had for Viola, passion which exhausted me almost to the point sometimes of being unable to work, did not seal my senses against the beauty of Veronica–beauty I painted daily in the studio.

I used to enjoy the afternoon spent there now with a different pleasure from that of work merely. The sensuous attraction had become very great, and I was beginning to feel it was not innocent and to half-long for, half-dread an interruption, something to break through it, end it.

Veronica professed to have fallen in love with me. It is rather a trick of models to do this. They think it can do no harm, and possibly extra benefits to themselves may accrue. Perhaps she was in love with me, if a mere covetousness of the senses can be called love. This she had, and from the first she had determined to subdue me. Her ruse of the first day had succeeded. Viola had never again come to the studio while she was there, and so hour after hour we were alone together undisturbed. I kept hard at work the whole time, hardly exchanging a word with her, and would go downstairs for tea with Viola; but she employed her eyes continually to tell her story, and caught my hand and kissed it whenever she was able.

Just at first I felt only amusement and annoyance. Then gradually I used to expect the soft look to come into the beautiful eyes, the touch of the warm lips on my hand began to stir and thrill me. I felt a vague dislike and distrust of the girl mentally, I thought she was vain, selfish, mercenary, revengeful, and bad-tempered, but with all that Nature had nothing to do. Her servants, the senses, submitted to the youth and beauty of the newcomer, and that was all Nature cared about.

One afternoon she was posing as usual, and I was painting, deeply absorbed, on the picture of the “Bacchante” when her voice suddenly disturbed me.

“May I move just for a minute?”

“Certainly,” I exclaimed, looking up and laying down my brush.

The girl laid down her spray of ivy-leaves, walked across the space intervening between us, and, before I was aware of her intention, threw her arms round my neck and kissed me.

The kiss seemed to burn my lips, but with the current of passion I also felt a storm of anger against her. I sprang up and seized her shoulders, pushing her away from me.

“Don’t, Trevor, don’t, you are hurting me; you are hurting my shoulders,” she exclaimed, the tears starting to her eyes.

I took my hands from her arms, and saw my grasp had left deep marks of crimson on them.

“Go and get dressed then, and go,” I said furiously; “I’m not going to paint any more.” I pushed my chair away and threw the palette and brushes on to the table near.

Veronica shrank from me and turned pale. In that moment the intense beauty of the face and figure was borne in upon me, she clung as if for support to the easel with one soft hand, all the youthful body seemed to shrink together in a beautiful dismay, great tears rolled down the cheeks from the dark reproachful eyes. I saw it all for one moment, feeling the anger sinking down under that strange influence that beauty has upon us. But I would not look at her. I turned my back on her and went over to the window, hardly conscious of what I did. I stood there for a few moments; then, suddenly, there came a cry and the sound of a fall behind me. I looked round and saw her lying, a little crushed heap, by the couch where she usually dressed.

I sprang forward, full of self-reproach. How foolish I had been! So unnecessarily harsh! I went to her. In obedience to my order, she had put some of her clothes on, and now lay there senseless apparently and quite white, her arms, still bare, stretched out on the floor beside her. She looked so pretty, so small, round, and helpless, that my heart went out to her. I felt I had been such a brute. As I stooped over her to raise her I saw the great crimson bruises I had left on her arms.

I picked her up and put her on the couch. She lay there quite still, pale, her eyes closed, unconscious.

I pushed the hair off her forehead, and, dipping my handkerchief into a glass of water on the table, pressed it on to her head. I was kneeling by the couch. The sweet, little, rounded face, the soft unconscious body lay just beneath my eyes.

She opened her eyes slowly:

“Trevor, do forgive me,” she whispered, and smiled up at me just a little, opening the curved lips; “do say you forgive me, give me one kiss.”

In the violent reaction of feeling, in the torrent of self-reproach for being so hard on a child like this, the senses conquered, I put my head down, and kissed her passionately, far more passionately from that great reaction of preceding anger, on her lips.

“Dear, dear little girl, are you better?”

She threw her arms round me.

“Oh, Trevor, I do love you so, I do love you, I do love you.”

Full of that great delight, so transient, so baseless, so unreasoning, yet so great, which the senses give us, of that passion in which the mind has no part, that passes over us as the wind ruffles the surface of the lake without moving the depths below, I kissed her over and over again, and pressed her to me, soft shoulders and undone hair and wounded arms.

The next moment the vision of Viola came before my brain, and I rose to my feet. Veronica caught at my hand, and, raising it to her lips, kissed it in a tempest of passion. I drew it away–

“Get up and finish your dressing,” I said very gently. “This sort of thing can do you no good, Veronica. It will only mean that I cannot let you come to the studio at all.”

Veronica rose from the couch obediently and resumed her dressing. She gave me somehow the impression she was satisfied at having broken down my self-control, and hoped to win me over further by extreme docility. I walked away to the window, angry with myself, and yet angry again that that anger should be necessary. I had always been so free till now, able to gratify the fancy of the moment. This need for self-restraint was new and irritating.

Veronica came up to me when she was dressed, and asked for a parting kiss. I gave it, and she went away with a demure and sad little sigh.

When I came down from the studio I went at once to our bedroom to dress. We were dining early and going out after, and I knew I had not much time. Viola was not there; she had dressed evidently and gone down. Sometimes she would be sitting in the armchair at the foot of the bed waiting for me, but to-night she had gone down.

I walked about the room, quickly collecting my evening things and thinking. Why did I, now that I had left Veronica, feel self-reproach and regret at what had passed? What was a kiss? It was ridiculous to think of it twice.

I ran downstairs and found Viola as I had expected in the drawing-room. In her white dinner-gown and with a few violet pansies at her breast, she looked, I thought, particularly charming. She smiled as I came in, but when I approached to kiss her as was usual between us after the shortest absences, she got up, almost started up and moved away from me.

“Don’t kiss me! I am so afraid you will crush my flowers.”

I stopped disconcerted; she coloured slightly and took a chair further from me, I flung myself into one close to me.

It was so unlike Viola to resist any advance of mine, and on such a score, that it astonished me. Often and often I had hesitated when she had been in some of her magnificent toilettes to clasp her to me for fear of disturbing the wonderful creations, and had been laughingly derided for so doing.

“Your kiss is worth a dozen dresses,” she would say, and crush me to her in spite of whatever laces or jewels might lie between; and such words had been very dear to me.

This phrase now, usual with many women, unheard before from her, struck me. The blood rushed to my head for a moment as the thought came–she have seen or heard in any possible way the scene in the studio? and then I dismissed it as quite impossible. It was coincidence, merely that. She could know nothing. Then, staring away from her into the little fire, I thought suddenly–“Is not this the most despicable, the worst part of all infidelity, this deceit it must bring with it? The lies, either spoken or tacit, to which it gives birth?”

There were only a few moments and then the bell called us to dinner.

Viola was just as sweet and charming as usual through the meal and after, both during the theatre party to which we went, and when we were driving home together.

The next morning when we were at breakfast alone she said in a very earnest tone:

“Trevor, you will be careful about that model of yours, won’t you?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“How do you mean?”

“Don’t let her draw you into anything you don’t really want to do. Be a little on your guard with her. You know how detestable some women can be. They try to make men compromise themselves, and then worry them afterwards.”

“I should think I ought to be able to take care of myself,” I replied. Of course I was annoyed, and showed it.

“Well,” said Viola, getting up from the table, “it is difficult when a girl is as beautiful as that and you are shut up for hours alone with her. When do you think the picture will be finished?”

“I don’t know at all,” I said, feeling more and more annoyed. “I shall probably keep her on for another after it.”

This was a pure invention of my anger at the moment, for I had fully resolved last night to get rid of Veronica and as soon as possible, and never see her again; but I objected to what seemed to me interference.

Viola turned paler almost than the cloth before us.

“Do you really wish to do so?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said coldly. “Have you any objection?”

“Yes, I think it would be a great pity,” she replied quietly. “You will get so drawn to her, so interested in her, it will come between us.”

I looked at her in amaze and anger. Was this all coincidence? It must be. How could she possibly know what had occurred?

We are nearly all of us beasts to women when they appeal to us. Had the position been reversed and had I been speaking to Viola as she was to me, she would have been all sweetness, accepting my jealous anxiety as a compliment, recognising how sure a sign of passion it is.

“All this seems very childish and silly,” I answered. “Veronica is nothing to me but a model and will never be anything than that. I shall keep her as long as I want her, and dismiss her when I choose. I don’t want to discuss the matter again with you.”

Viola waited till I had finished speaking, then when I ceased, she inclined her head and went out, shutting the door noiselessly behind her.

In that moment even of anger against her, a great throb of admiration beat through me. Her attitude as she waited by the door, one hand clasping the handle, her face turned towards me, was so perfect, the acquiescence so graceful and dignified; but it was only for a moment, the anger closed over the impulse of love again, and I walked up and down the room full of resentment.

“Why should one,” I muttered, “just because one loves one woman, never be supposed to kiss another, why should there be all this hateful, jealous tyranny? It is better to be free, as one is as a bachelor, and do what one likes, just take everything as it comes along.”

Then it recurred to me suddenly that I was not married, not tied in any way, I was free, and the remembrance came, too, why it was so–that Viola herself had refused to take my freedom from me.

“Then when I use it to amuse myself for an hour or two this is the result,” I thought stormily, trying to keep angry with Viola. “It’s as bad as being married.”

I tried to feel Viola was quite in the wrong, a tiresome, unreasonable, jealous person; but irresistibly my thoughts modified themselves, sobered by that sudden recollection that I was not bound to her nor she to me. Perhaps I should not have to complain of her tyranny very long. Waves of memory rolled over me against my will, memories of the wonderful passion that existed between us, something that went down to the roots of my being, that shook me to the very depths, as different as the day from the night from my passing fancy for Veronica’s beauty. My mind went back to the first night at the studio; I had never felt anything for any other woman that could approach my feelings for her. She was so different from all the others. I had known a good many, and they all seemed very much alike, but Viola stood alone amongst them.

After a few minutes’ more reflection, I went to look for her. I thought I would try to soften the effect of my last words to her, but I could not find her, and full of a sense of dissatisfaction, I went on at last upstairs to the studio.

When Veronica came into the room I realised the full extent of my folly the previous afternoon. Hitherto her manner had been respectful and demure enough on the surface, though always with a suggestion of veiled insolent self-confidence. Now the veil was thrown off, she was assured of herself, and showed it.

She came up to me, kissed me as a matter of course, and when I barely returned the kiss, she laughed openly and said coolly.

“What’s the matter, Trevor? Viola been lecturing you?”

To hear her use Viola’s name seemed to freeze me.

“Be quiet,” I said sharply.

The girl merely made a grimace and began to take off her hat and let down her hair.

The morning passed dully. I did not paint well. The impersonal state of mind in which alone good artistic work can be produced was not with me.

When I went down to luncheon I found Viola looking very pale and ill. This made me feel cross. Ill-health very rarely excites pity or sympathy in men, but nearly always a feeling of vexation and annoyance. “Why should she worry herself?” I asked myself angrily, “when there was nothing to worry about.”

She had generally a very warm pink colour glowing in her face, which disappeared if anything worried or grieved her. It was gone now, and I knew it was my words of the morning that had driven it away.

“I looked for you this morning before I went up to paint,” I said; “but couldn’t find you.”

“I am so sorry,” she answered with a quick smile. “What did you want me for?”

“To tell you you needn’t worry about Veronica. She is absolutely nothing to me.”

“Then, if she is, why will you not send her away, or at least when the ‘Bacchante’ is finished?”

“Because I don’t see any necessity,” I answered. “Besides, if I get any other model you would feel the same, wouldn’t you, about her?”

“Any model you kissed and desired. Yes, certainly.”

We were both standing now facing each other. Viola was deadly pale, as she always became in any conflict with me.

I stood silent for a moment.

I could not understand how she knew and could speak so definitely, but I could not lie and deny it, so I said nothing.

“Do you mean that I am never to kiss another woman as long as I live?” I asked, a shade of derision coming into my voice.

“No, only as long as we are what we are to each other.”

A chill fell upon me. I could not think of a time when she would not be with me, could not face the idea of change.

The light fell across her very bright and waving hair, and caught the tips of her eyelashes and fell all round her exquisite, girlish figure, full of that wonderful grace I had never seen in any other.

“It is a pity to make your love, which otherwise would be such a divine pleasure, a thing of restraint and fetters,” I said slowly.

“But it is a mutual obligation in love,” she said in a very low tone. “It must be so. You would not wish me to kiss any of the men who come here, would you? They often ask me to.”

Her words gave me suddenly such a sense of surprise and shock, it was almost as if she had struck me in the eyes.

“_No_,” I said involuntarily, the instinct within me speaking without thought.

“Well, that is what I say,” answered Viola gently. “A great passion has its fetters. I don’t see how it can be helped. You can have the promiscuous loves of all the women you meet, or you can have the absolute devotion of one; but I don’t see how you can have the two.”

My heart beat, and the blood seemed going up to my head, confusing my reason. I felt angry because I knew she was right.

“Well, really it seems that the first might be better if one’s life is to be so limited.”

Viola did not answer at all. I turned and walked towards the window and stood looking out for a few minutes. When I turned round the room was empty.

I went up to the studio, but again I could not paint. The pale, unhappy face of Viola came between me and the picture.

To Veronica I hardly spoke. Her beauty neither attracted nor even pleased me. She was the cause of all this vague cloud rising up in my life, which had hitherto been intensely happy and allowed me to do the very best in my art.

Her efforts to attract me and to draw me from my work only annoyed and irritated me, and when I went down to tea I told her to go, that I should not paint afterwards.

No one happened to be calling that afternoon, so Viola and I were alone. There was hardly any constraint between us even after what had passed at luncheon. We were so much one, so intimate, mentally as well as physically, that we could not quarrel with each other any more than one can quarrel with oneself. One can be cross with oneself occasionally, but not for long.

We neither of us referred to Veronica or anything disagreeable, but gave ourselves up to the joy of each other’s society. When I told her I was not going back to paint she was delighted, and we planned to dine early and go to the Empire after.

The ballet seemed to amuse her, and when we returned and went up to our room she was in the lightest and gayest of spirits. This room was the only one in the house in the furnishing of which Viola had taken the slightest interest. In all the others she had allowed things to stand just as we found them, just as our landlord had thought good to leave them, but in this one much had been added to the contents written down in the inventory and so much altered that our landlord would indeed have been astonished if he had suddenly looked in. The bed was a triumph of artistic skill, designed and arranged under her own directions, the curtains enclosing it were delicate in colouring and so soft in fabric that the bed seemed enveloped in a mass of blue clouds, gold-lined, and all the sheets and clothing were filmy and lace-edged, and must have been the despair of the steam laundry; a blue silk covering, the colour of her own eyes, and embroidered with pale pink roses, gold-centred, reposed on it, matching the curtains, and an electric lamp shaded in rose colour depended from the French crown above the head; a lamp which flooded the bed with light when all the curtains were drawn and shut out the lights of the room. The carpet was blue also, and the heavy curtains over all the windows matched it, edged with, and embroidered in gold.

The toilet-table, though simple enough in its arrangements, for Viola needed no cosmetics, no lotions, no manicure nor other evil inventions, was always a lovely object. On its pale rose covering lay her gold-backed brushes and comb, her gold hand-mirror with cupids playing on it, her little gold boxes of pins, and always vases of fresh geraniums, white and rose-pink. Out of the room at one side opened a smaller one, it was not used as a chapel nor yet as a dressing-room. We dressed together and took pleasure in so doing, as we did in everything that threw us into intimate companionship. We had no need of dressing-rooms since there were no teeth to come in and out, no wigs to be taken off and put on, no secrets on either side to be jealously guarded from one another. No, the room opening out of ours was a supper-room, where, when we came back late from opera or theatre, we could always count on finding cold supper and champagne. I went in to-night and turned on all the lights, which were many, while Viola laid aside her dress and slipped into a dressing-gown, something as fragile and beautiful as a rose-leaf, suiting her delicate, elusive beauty. She followed me into the little supper-room, and as I turned and saw her on the threshold, the delicacy of the whole vision struck me. A pain shot into my heart suddenly. Supposing I ever lost her? Saw her fade from me?

Her eyes were wide-open and laughing, a faint colour glowed in the white transparent skin, the lips were a light scarlet, parted now from the milky teeth.

I made two steps forwards and caught her and crushed her up tightly to my breast and kissed her and made her sit on my knee while I poured out some champagne.

“Now drink that,” I commanded; “you look as if you needed something material. You look like a vision that may vanish from me into thin air.”

Viola laughed and drank the wine.

“Trevor,” she said reflectively, as if following up some train of thought she had been pursuing already a long time. “What heaps of wonderfully beautiful girls and women we saw to-night. Wouldn’t you like some of them?”

I laughed.

“Some of them! Supposing you send me up a dozen or two?”

“No, but really I was thinking as I sat there to-night, how pretty they were, and how varied. I can quite understand how a man would like to try them all.”

“You would object, I am afraid,” I said gravely. “You object even to Veronica.”

“I know. I don’t think it’s possible to do otherwise. I shouldn’t love you if I didn’t. But if you gave me up you could have all these others.”

“Well, you see, it is the other way; I have given them all up for you.”

“I know, but is it wise for your own happiness? I thought about it a great deal to-night.”

“Women like that can give one only the simple pleasure of the senses. It is very much the same with them all; but with you there is some extraordinary passion created in the brain as well as in the senses, that makes it a different thing.”

“I am so glad,” she murmured, leaning her arms on the table and looking at me with eyes absorbed and abstracted.

“There is no single thing in this world I would not do to give you pleasure, to delight and satisfy you. I have never refused you anything, have I?”

“Never.”

And it was true. She never had refused me anything it was in her power to give. Still she held something that was not yet mine; the inner spirit of the Soul.

* * * * *

Days passed and things continued in the same way. I had not the strength of mind to dismiss Veronica, to deprive myself of that subtle, delicious pleasure that lay in her soft kisses, in the bloom of her beauty, in her professed devotion to myself. The Bacchante was not quite finished, so that gave me the outward excuse. The excuse I put forward to myself was that Viola could not possibly know what I felt for the girl nor what I did, and so it could not hurt her.

Veronica made no secret of her wishes to tie me more closely to her still. But, in spite of the clamour of the senses, there was something within me or round me that held me irresistibly from this.

All that I had done already I knew that Viola would forgive, even though it grieved and distressed her. If I went further I did not know that she would ever forgive, and that made an insurmountable barrier that nothing Veronica could do or say could break down.

The weeks slipped by and brought us to the date when Viola’s operetta was to be produced. On the evening which she had so looked forward to, now it had come, she seemed tired and spiritless, and we dressed for dinner almost in silence. Captain Lawton and another man who had helped in the production of the piece were dining with us, and we were then going on to our box at the theatre.

At dinner Viola seemed to regain some of her old gay spirits, and the light rose colour I loved crept back into her cheeks as she laughed and talked with Lawton seated on her right hand. I had always thought him a particularly handsome fellow, and to-night it struck me suddenly what an extremely attractive man he must be in a woman’s eyes. He was dark and a little sunburnt from being in South Africa, and, combined with really beautiful features and a fine figure, he had that dashing grace of carriage, that unaffected simple manner of the soldier, which even by itself has a charm of its own.

I looked at Viola curiously, and wondered how she felt towards this man who was so obviously in love with her. Whether it moved her at all to see those dark eyes fill with fire as she smiled at him, to know that the whole of this engaging personality was hers if she chose to stretch out her hand and claim it.

The dinner passed off well, thanks principally to the inexhaustible tide of good spirits and fun that flowed from Lawton. We took a couple of hansoms afterwards and arrived at the theatre in good time.

The “Lily of Canton” went smoothly from beginning to end. The crowded house laughed and applauded the whole time. In fact, the humour and fun of Lawton’s libretto were irresistible, and the beautiful airs that Viola’s fancy had woven in and out to carry the wit of Lawton’s sparkling lines enchanted the audience.

At the end there were calls for both of them to appear before the curtain, and Viola left the box with him, radiant and smiling. When they both appeared on the stage the enthusiasm was unbounded. Viola was in white, and her delicate, rose-like fairness delighted the audience, and the women clapped Lawton with good-will. Handsome, easy, dignified, graceful, and debonair as usual, he smiled and bowed his acknowledgments over and over again beside Viola, into whose face came the wrapt, glad look that her music always gave, replacing the expression of pain she had worn now for so many weeks.

I sat in our box watching her, with sore, jealous feelings rising up like mists over the pride I had in my possession. As the whole scene and her triumph stirred and roused my passion for her, some voice seemed interrogating me–“Is she and her love not enough for you? Why do you wear thin and fray the delicious tie between you?”

They were both up again in the box beside me, directly surrounded by congratulating friends; and then Lawton gathered together his party and we all filed off in a stream of hansoms to the supper that he was giving in Viola’s honour. It was already daylight before we reached home.

The next evening I had to attend an artists’ dinner. It was for men only, so that Viola was not invited. I spent a very busy morning and afternoon in the studio. The Bacchante was almost finished, and I had made up my mind to dismiss Veronica as soon as I was sure I was satisfied with the picture and did not need her again. Full of this resolve, I was perhaps a little more careless than usual, less on my guard, and when at the end Veronica came to kiss me, I returned her caress with more warmth than I was accustomed to do. It did not really matter, I thought; the girl would be gone in a day or two and I should have no more to do with her.

Feeling rather pleased with myself for having taken the decided resolution to dismiss her in order to please Viola I went downstairs, and was rather vexed when I met her to see her looking particularly white and ill. She had seemed fairly well at luncheon, and I could not shake off the extraordinary idea that my conduct with Veronica through the afternoon was in some way connected with her pallor and expression now.

I had it on my lips to say–“I have decided to dismiss the model,” when that feeling of irritation against her for looking so wretched came uppermost and held the words back.

If she couldn’t trust me and would worry about things when I told her not to, she might worry and I would let her alone.

It really always hurt and alarmed me so much to see Viola look ill or delicate that it made me angry with her, instead of extra considerate and kind as I should have been.

She came upstairs to be with me while I dressed, and sat in the armchair at the foot of the bed.

I asked her if she had a headache, and she said, “No.”

“What did you do all this afternoon?” I asked. “Did any one come in to tea?”

“No, nobody came. I was lying on a sofa in the drawing-room most of the time, thinking. I didn’t feel able to do anything.”

I did not ask her what she had been thinking about, but went on dressing in silence.

Before I left I kissed her, but it was rather a cold kiss, as I felt she ought to be happy and pink-cheeked as a result of my good intentions–unreasonably enough, since I had not told her of them.

She accepted it, but seemed to hesitate as if she wished to say something to me. I saw her grow paler and her lips quiver. She did not speak, however, and so in rather a strained silence we parted and I went downstairs.

How I regretted that coldness afterwards! How mad and blind one is sometimes where one loves most!

I did not enjoy the dinner at all because I could not deny to myself that I had been unkind to her, with that tacit unkindness that is so keenly felt and is so difficult to meet or combat. I left the hotel where the dinner had been held quite early, and drove back to the house, longing and impatient to be with her again, hold her in my arms, and tell her all I had resolved and been thinking about, and kiss the bright colour back into her face again.

I let myself in with my latch-key and ran up the stairs into the drawing-room.

It was brightly lighted, but empty. I was just going to seek her upstairs when a note set up before the clock on the mantelpiece caught my eye.

I crossed the room, took it up, tore it open, and ran my eyes hurriedly down it, line after line.

“_Dearest,_

“Our relations have entered upon a new phase lately. I suppose it cannot be helped, it is merely the turning on of the wheel of time. We cannot stay the wheel, still less turn it back. All we can do is to adjust ourselves to the new position.

“You have wished for your freedom. It is yours. I have never wanted to take it away, but I feel I cannot go on dedicating my life and every thought I have to you as I have done, if you wish to share with others all that has been mine and all that I value most in this or any world. I have tried, but it is beyond me. You cannot think what I have suffered in these last weeks. I have reasoned with myself, asked myself what did it matter what you did when you were away from me, why should one rival now matter more than those the past has held for me? I have argued, reasoned, fought with myself, but it is useless. These unconquerable instincts of jealousy have been placed in us and are as strong as those other instincts of desire that excite them.

“The life of the last few weeks is killing me. I am losing my health, losing my power to work. It is the concentration of all my thoughts upon you that is maddening, impossible now that you no longer belong to me. Even your presence, once the sun of my existence, is painful to me now; and when you come straight from another woman to kiss me, it is agony. I cannot bear it.

“You thought I did not know all the kisses and caresses you have given Veronica. Dear Trevor, a woman always knows–perhaps a man does, too. Certainly I knew. One does not have to see or hear; there is a sense, not yet discovered, that is above all the others, that tells us these things. When you came from her to me you brought with you an influence that killed. Perhaps it was that you were surrounded with an electricity from her that was hostile to my own.

“I have felt lately a longing to be away from you, a longing to escape from pain and torture, but the music keeps me in town, and we cannot well separate here without a scandal, which I know you would not wish. So I am going to try and escape mentally from you, though our bodies must occupy the same house for a little while longer.

“I am going to try to interest myself in others, not to think of you, not to care for you as I have done. We have both been foolish perhaps, as you say, in limiting our lives to each other, let us end the idea between us. Let us be like ordinary married people. You are free to choose whatever paths of pleasure open before you, I am the same. To-night when you come back you will find this letter instead of me. I shall dine out with one of these men who want me and afterwards spend the evening with him. I will come back early enough to cause no comment, but I will not come to your room, as I do not suppose you will want me. I have had another room put ready, and I shall go there.

“Good-bye, dearest one; if you could know all the agony that has gone before this breaking of the tie between us! Now I seem to feel nothing; I am dead. I can’t cry; can’t think any more.

“VIOLA.”

* * * * *

I read this letter through with an agonised terror coming over me, that gripped and wrung my heart, through the cloud of amaze that filled me. Towards the end the words seemed to stab me. As I came to the conclusion the truth broke upon me in a blinding, lightning flash. _I_ had lost her. But it was incredible, unthinkable. She was part of my life, part of myself. I still lived; therefore, she was mine. I felt paralysed. I could not grasp fully what she had said, what she intended me to understand. It was as when one is told a loved one is dead. It means nothing to us for a moment. Reason goes down under a flood of sickening fear. I read the last page over again.

Then I sprang to my feet and stared round the empty room as if seeking an explanation from it. It offered none. All round me was orderly, placid. Only within me burned a hell, lighted by those written words. It was very quiet, only an occasional drip of the June rain outside broke the stillness.

An exquisite picture of Viola laughed joyously back at me from a little table covered with vases of white flowers, white as she had been that first night at the studio….

O God in heaven, what _had_ I done to bring this ruin into my own life? _Had_ I deserved it? Had I? I thought wildly.

What had I done? What did it all mean? Veronica? A few kisses? the impulse of passion? It was nothing, everything was nothing to me beside Viola. She must have known that. Then I recalled her appeals to me. She had asked me to give up Veronica, why had I not done so? Instead, how had I met Viola; how had I answered her? My own words were hurled back upon me by memory and fell upon me like blows, so had they fallen upon her. How could I have been so mad, so blind?

Her favourite chair was pushed a little from the fire; by its side I noticed something white, and stooped mechanically to pick it up. It was her handkerchief, crushed together and soaked through and through. How she must have been crying to wet it like that! At the corner it was marked with blood, as if she had pressed it to bitten lips.

My own eyes filled with scorching tears as I looked at it.

It was the one sign of the passion and agony that had raged in that room before I came back.

If I had only returned sooner! I put the handkerchief in my breast, and took up her letter again. Could I do anything, anything now to follow, to recall her?

I looked at the clock, and ice seemed to close round my heart and chill it. It was already eleven. Then the phrase about the other room struck me. Could she have possibly returned? I opened the door and went upstairs and through all the rooms in the house. All were empty. I saw the bedroom farthest from mine had been put ready for occupancy, and some few trifles of her own taken from our room and put into it. Then I came back, sick with apprehension, to the drawing-room again, questioning what I could do.

To whom would she have gone? As the thought came all the blood in my body seemed to seethe and rage, but the question had to be faced. For a moment no definite idea would form itself. Then the recollection of Lawton dashed in upon me. The man’s head seemed photographed suddenly on all the pale walls round me; handsome, brilliant, engaging, well born, and well bred, he was the man of all others surely to attract her.

She would go to him, they would dine together, she would return to his chambers with him…. She had not come back yet.

For a few moments I was mad. I laid my hand on the back of the chair near me, and it was smashed in my grip. Then the madness passed over, and I could think again. I went upstairs, took out my revolver, and loaded it. I thought I would go round to Lawton’s place, … but, when coming downstairs again, the thought struck me–Suppose it was not Lawton? What would the latter think of my sudden appearance, my enquiries? Twelve had now struck.

There was just a possibility that she would not fulfil her letter, that she would come back to me; but if I by my actions to-night brought any publicity on what she had done, I should make an injury where none existed.

I thought for some time over this, and it seemed impossible for me to do anything but wait for her return–wait till I knew.

The thought of her name, her reputation, and how I might possibly injure them now held me there motionless.

It seemed incredible that she could be so long away and yet her absence mean nothing. But the other supposition, the thought of her passing from me, seemed more incredible still.

I know how great her love for me was, and love like ours is not easily swept aside and its claims broken down. Still, in a paroxysm of jealous agony and resentment against me, all might be obscured, and if Lawton were there persuading….

And this, something of this pain, I now felt, she had suffered, as the soaked handkerchief told me.

How I loathed the thought of Veronica! Love, even when it has expired, leaves some tenderness of feeling to us; passion once dead leaves nothing but loathing.

I got up and wrote a few lines of dismissal. It was something to do, something to distract my devouring thoughts. I enclosed a cheque for all, and more than the sum due to her. Then I flung the letter on the table, and pushed the thought of her out of my mind.

I paced up and down the room, looking constantly at the clock. What were these fleeting moments taking from me? My brain seemed on fire and full of light. Picture after picture rose before me, vivid, brilliant–all pictures of Viola and hours passed with her. What a wonderful personality she had, and I alone had possessed it. How utterly and entirely she had given herself to me, me alone of all the many who coveted her. I had been the first, the only one for her, till my own hand had foolishly cut the ties that bound us together. If I lost her, suppose I gained everything else in the world, would it content me? Could I lose her? Could I let her go? But I _had. I_ glanced at the clock. It was now one. She had not returned. By this time she had passed from me to another. The pain, the acute pain of it, of this thought seemed to divide my brain like a two-edged sword. What had I done?

Why had I not realised that I should feel like this? To have and then to lose while one still desires, this is the most horrible pain in the world. The animals feel it to the point of madness, and they are wise, they do not court it. They will tear their rival, even the female herself, in pieces rather than yield her up. But I! What had I done? A mate had nestled to my breast, and I had not been wise enough to hold it there. And now I suffered; how I suffered! My brain seemed to writhe in those moments of agony like a body on the rack or in the flames. Each thought was a torture: sweet recollections came to me like the breath of flowers, only to turn into a fresh agony of despair.

There is no pain so absolutely black in its hideous agony as jealousy. The other mental pains of this life may last longer, but there is none that cuts down deeper, that possesses such a ravening tooth, while it lasts, as this.

The vision of Lawton’s face was like a brand upon my brain. I saw it everywhere, as it had looked when she smiled upon him at dinner.

Suddenly, as I paced backwards and forwards, I heard a little noise outside, a light footfall on the stairs or landing. I stood still, my heart seeming to knock about inside my chest as if it wanted to leap out between the ribs. Then I went to the door and threw it wide open. She stood there just outside. The light from within fell upon her, and my eyes ran over her, questioning, devouring, while waves of hope and terror seemed dashing up against my brain like the surf over a rock.

She looked collected, mistress of herself, her dress and hair were perfect in arrangement as when she had started, on her face was a curious look of gladness, of relief, of decision, of triumph. What was its meaning?

I took both her hands and drew her over the threshold. She came gladly. She must have seen the agony of fear, of questioning in my face, for after a swift look up at me she said impulsively:

“I am so glad to be back with you, Trevor.”

I could not answer her. I stood silent. The sick fatigue of hours of painful emotion was creeping over me, and the agony of longing to know everything from her lips seemed to paralyse me.

“I could not, after all, dearest,” she said, in a very low tone. “I could not do anything on my side to sever myself from you, so I have come back to you.”

Her voice seemed to come to me from a long distance, but every word was clear and distinct. The relief of the loosening of the pressure of one hideous idea was intense. I took a chair beside her and put my arm round her shoulders.

“Tell me what has happened, then, since you left me.”

She was drawing off her gloves slowly; the flesh of the fingers and wrist was slightly indented from long pressure of the kid. I saw that her glove had not been removed for several hours. A great tide of pleasure and relief broke slowly over me.

“Well, I went straight from here to Lawton’s chambers, and he was out; so I sat down in one of his easy chairs by the fire to wait for him. I sat and sat there, looking into the fire, and somehow I forgot all about Lawton and began thinking about you and the pictures and your wonderful voice and all the delightful times we had had together; and then I thought of all I had always tried to do for you, and how you were the first, the very first man I had ever cared for or done anything for, and how I had always belonged to you; and it seemed a pity to spoil it all–if you understand. I felt I could not with my own hands pull down the beautiful fabric of my love for you that I had built up. I felt I could not give myself to any one else, there seemed something irresistible holding me from it. You must do what you like, be faithful or not to me, but I must be faithful to you.”

She threw back her head and looked at me. Her elusive loveliness, lying all in colour and bloom and light, was at its height. She was intensely excited, and the excitement paled the skin, widened the lustrous eyes, heightened the extreme delicacy of the face. I bent over her and kissed her as I had never done yet; it was one of those moments in life when the soul seems to have wings and fly upwards.

After a moment.

“And then,” I said, “did you come back to me?”

“Well, gradually, as I sat there, a horror of Lawton, of everything came over me. I did not know how long I had sat there. I looked at my watch: it was two. I was terrified. I only wanted to escape. I got up to go, and just then I heard Lawton coming in. There was a screen near me, and it did just occur to me I might conceal myself and pass out as he went to the inner room; but I did not like the idea of hiding in any one’s rooms, so I stood still, and he came in.”

She was silent, and I felt suddenly plunged back into a mist of questioning horror. What had passed between these two? Had any links in some new chain been forged?

But she was mine! Mine! and I would never let her go.

“What did you say?” I asked her. My throat was so dry the words were hardly more than a whisper.

“He started of course on seeing me, and then rushed forwards and said, ‘Darling,’ or something of that sort. I hardly heard what he said. I said simply: ‘I was just going when you came in. I can’t stay.’ Then, of course, he asked me why I had come and all that and, oh, heaps and heaps of things. You know all the usual things a man does say, and I answered if he really cared for me he would let me go at once. Then he walked to the door, shut and locked it, and put the key in his pocket.”

She paused, and I looked away from her. I was in such a passion of rage against the man, and almost also with her for putting herself in such a position, I did not care for her to see my eyes.

“Go on,” I said; “what did you do?”

“I asked him why he had locked the door, and he said to prevent my going until I had told him why I had come. I said I had changed my mind in the hours I had sat there, and he answered: ‘Well, you will change it again if you stay here some more hours,’ and he came and sat on the chair arm beside me. You see, Trevor, it wasn’t his fault a bit, for he guessed I had come with all sorts of nice feelings for him, and he felt it was only his part, as it were, to play up to the situation, that it would be impossible to do anything but seem to wish to keep me when I had come.”

“Don’t trouble to tell me all that,” I said angrily; “I know what Lawton feels for you. I know he is wild about you. I wonder you are not murdered. Go on, what did he do?”

“He was awfully good and nice. He tried for an hour to persuade me. He wanted to kiss me, of course. I said I was in his power, but that he would kill me before I would kiss him voluntarily. I think that convinced him, for he walked straight to the door and unlocked it and threw it open. Then he said he couldn’t let me go into the streets at that hour alone, and so he came with me. He walked all the way here and left me at this door. That’s all.”

There was silence. Such a tremendous upheaval of emotions and feelings seemed surging within me I could not speak. My voice seemed dried dead in my throat. No words came before my mind that I could use.

Dawn was creeping slowly into the room. The hideous black night was over. Pale light, very soft and grey, but overpowering, was stealing in, mingling with the electric gold glare it was so soon to kill. It seemed to me like that mysterious, impalpable spirit we call love that is overpowering, dominant over everything, before which the false glare of the fires of sense pale into nothingness.

“Trevor,” she said at last, breaking the silence of the pale, misty room, “are you glad I decided as I did? You must do just what you like; I only felt I could not do anything against you.”

I turned and drew her wholly into my arms, and at that warm, living contact my voice came back to me.

“You are my life, my soul, and you ask if I am glad you’ve come back to me? There is nothing in the world for me really but you. Everything else is dust and ashes, that can be swept away by the lightest transient wind. You are the very life in my veins, and you must be mine always, as you have been from the very first.”

I pressed my lips down on hers with all the force of that fury of triumph which rose within me. I did not want her answer. I merely wanted to force my words between her lips, to drive them home to her heart. She was my regained possession, and the joy of it was like madness. She put her arms round my neck and lay quite still and passive, close pressed against my heart, and our souls seemed to meet and hold communion with each other and there was no need of any more words.

PART FOUR

THE CRIMSON NIGHT

CHAPTER VIII

LOSS

We had left town and come down to the country. Viola had not seemed quite so well in the last three months since the night of our reconciliation, and even here in the country she did not seem to regain her colour and her usual spirits.

She declared, however, there was nothing the matter with her, and we had been intensely happy.

One morning when we came down to our rather late breakfast I found a long, thin, curiously addressed letter lying by my plate.

Viola took it up laughingly, and then I saw her suddenly turn pale, and she laid it back on the table as if the touch of it hurt her.

“Oh, Trevor, that is a letter from Suzee! I am sure it is! Why should it come now, just when we are so happy?”

I looked at her in surprise, and took up the letter to cut it open.

“What makes you think it comes from her?” I asked; “it is not at all likely.”

“I know it does,” she said simply; “I feel it.”

I laughed and opened the letter, not in the least believing she would be right. The first line, however, my eye fell upon shewed me it was from Suzee. The queer, stiff, upright characters suggested Chinese writing, and the first words could be hers alone:

“Dear Mister Treevor,

“Do you remember me? I am in awful trouble. Husband died and also baby. I sent here to be sold for slave to rich Chinaman. Please you buy me. Send my price 500 dollars to Mrs. Hackett, address as per above.

“Dear Treevor, dear Treevor, do come to me. You remember the wood?

“I am yours not sold yet,

“SUZEE.”

I read this through with a feeling of amaze. Suzee had for so long been a forgotten quantity to me, something left in the past of the Alaskan trip, like the stars of the North, that her memory, thrown back suddenly on me like this, startled me.

I handed the letter to Viola in silence. She read it through, and then pushed it away from her.

“I told you so. There is no peace in this world!”

“But it needn’t affect us, dearest,” I said. “Suzee is nothing to me now. I don’t want her. There is nothing to distress you.”

“But you’ll have to do something about it, I suppose,” returned Viola gloomily. She was making the tea, and I saw her hands shook.

“I believe you would like to go. It would be a new experience for you. You would go if that letter came to you when you were living as a bachelor, wouldn’t you?”

“Possibly I might. But then, of course, when one is free it is different. Everything is different.”

“Free!” murmured Viola, her eyes filling. “I hate to think I am tying you.”

“It is not that,” I said gently; “one does not want to do the same things, nor care about them.”

“You wanted Veronica and didn’t have her on my account, I am not going to prevent you doing this. You must go if you want to.”

She threw herself into the easy chair with her handkerchief pressed to her mouth. The tears welled up to her eyes and poured down her white face uncontrollably.

“Dearest, dear little girl,” I said, drawing her into my arms, “you are upsetting yourself for nothing. I don’t want to go, I shan’t think of going. I am perfectly happy; you are everything to me.”

She leant her soft head against me in silence, sobbing for some seconds.

“Come and have breakfast,” I said, stroking her hair gently, “and don’t let us think anything more about it. If fifty Suzees were calling me I should not want to go.”

Viola dried her eyes and came to the table in silence. We had other letters to open, and we discussed these, and no further reference was made to Suzee then.

Viola looked white and abstracted all day, but it was not till after dinner, when we were taking our coffee on the verandah, that she gave me any clew to her thoughts. Then she said suddenly:

“Trevor, I want you to let me go away from you for a year.”

I gazed at her in astonishment. She looked very wretched. All the usual bright colour of her face had fled. Her eyes were large, with the pupils widely dilated in them. There was a determined, fixed expression on the pale lips that frightened me.

“Why?” I said, merely drawing my chair close to hers and putting my arm round her shoulders.

“That is just what I can’t tell you,” she answered. “Not now. When I come back I will tell you, but I don’t want to now. But I have a good reason, one which you will understand when you know it. But do just let me go now as I wish, without questions. I have thought it over so much, and I am sure I am doing the right thing.”

“You have thought it over?” I repeated in surprise. “Since when? Since this morning, do you mean?”

“No, long before that. Suzee’s letter has only decided me to speak now. I have been meaning to ask you to let me go for some time, only I put it off because I thought you would dislike it so and would feel dull without me. But now, if you let me leave you, you can go to Suzee for a time, and she will amuse and occupy you, and if you want me at the end of the year I will come back.”

The blood surged up to my head as I listened. How could she deliberately suggest such things?

Did she really care for me or value our love at all?

In any case, for no reason on earth would I let her go.

“No, I shall not, certainly not, consent to anything so foolish,” I said coldly; “I can’t think how you can suggest or think such a thing is possible.”

Viola was silent for a moment. Then she said:

“When I come back I would tell you everything, and you would see I was right.”

“I don’t know that you ever would come back,” I said, with sudden irrepressible anger.

“If you go away I might want you to stay away. You talk as if our emotions and passions were mere blocks of wood we could take up and lay down as we pleased, put away in a box for a time, and then bring them out again to play with. It’s absurd. You talk of going away and driving me to another woman, and then my coming back to you, as if it was just a simple matter of our own will. Once we separate and allow our lives to become entangled with other lives we cannot say what will happen. We might never come together again.”

Viola inclined her head.

“I know,” she said in a low tone. “I have thought of all that. But if I stay there will be a separation all the same, and perhaps something worse.”

“What do you mean by a separation?” I demanded hotly.

“Well, I cannot respond to you any more as I used. I must have rest for a time,” she answered in a low tone.

I looked at her closely, and it struck me again how delicate she looked. She was thinner, too, than she had been. Her delicate, almost transparent hand shook as it rested on the chair arm.

The colour rushed burning to my face as I leant over her.

“But, darling girl, if you want more rest you have only to say so. Perhaps I have been thoughtless and selfish. If so, we must alter things. But there is no need to separate, to go away from me for that.”

“No, I know,” returned Viola in a very tender tone; “I should not for that alone. You are always most good. It is not that only. There are other reasons why I would rather be away from you until we can live together again as we have done.”

“And you propose to go away, and suggest my living with another woman till you come back?” I said incredulously; dismay and apprehension and anger all struggling together within me for expression.

“Would it be more reasonable of me to expect to leave you and you to wait absolutely faithful to me till I came back?” she asked, looking at me with a slow, sad smile, the saddest look I had ever seen, I thought, on a woman’s face. I bent forwards and seized both little hands in mine and kissed them many times over.

“Of the two I would rather you did that. Yes,” I said passionately. “But there is no question of your going away; whatever happens, we’ll stick to each other. If you want rest you shall have it; if you are ill I will nurse you and take care of you; but I shan’t allow you to go away from me.”

She put her arms round my neck. “Dear Trevor, if you would trust me just this once, and let me go, it would be so much better.”

“No, I cannot consent to such an arrangement,” I answered; “it’s absurd. I can’t think what you have in your own mind, but I know nothing would be a greater mistake than what you propose. The chances are we should never come together again.”

There was silence for a moment, broken only by a heavy sigh from Viola.

“Won’t you tell me everything you have in your own mind?” I said persuasively. “I thought we never made mysteries with one another; it seems to me you are acting just like a person in an old-fashioned book. You can tell me anything, say anything you like, nothing will alter my love for you, except deception–that might.”

“And you seem to think separation might,” returned Viola sadly.

“I don’t think it’s a question of separation altering my love for you, but in separation sometimes things happen which prevent a reunion.”

Viola was silent.

“Do tell me,” I urged. “Tell me what you have in your mind. Why has this cloud come up between us?”

“You see,” Viola said very gently, “there are some things, if you tell a man, he is obliged to say and do certain things in return. If you take the matter in your own hands you can do better for him than he can do for himself.”

“It is something for me then?” I said smiling. “I am to gain by your leaving me for a year?”

“Yes, I think so,” she answered doubtfully. “But principally it is for myself. I know there is a great risk in going away, but I think a greater one if I stay.”

I was silent, wondering what it could possibly be that she would not tell me. Although she said she had formed the idea before Suzee’s letter came, I kept returning to that in my thoughts as the main reason that must be influencing her.

I waited, hoping if I did not press her she would perhaps begin to confide in me of her own accord. But she sat quite silent, looking intensely miserable and staring out into space before her. I felt a vague sense of fear and anxiety growing up in me.

“Dearest, do tell me what is the matter,” I said, drawing her close up to me and kissing her white lips.

“Don’t let us make ourselves miserable for nothing, like stupid people one reads about. Life has everything in it for us. Let us be happy in it and enjoy it.”

Viola burst into a storm of tears against my neck and sobbed in a heart-breaking way for some minutes.

“Is it that you have ceased to love me, that you feel your own passion is over?” I asked gently.

“No, certainly not that.”

“Is it that you think I want to, or ought to be free from you?”

“No, not that.”

“Well, tell me what it is.”

“I can’t. I think we shall be happy again, after the year, if you let me come back to you.”

I felt my anger grow up again.

“I am not going to let you leave me. I absolutely forbid it. Don’t let us talk about it any more or speak of it again unless you are ready to tell me your reason.”

There was a long silence, broken only by her sobs.

“Viola.”

“Yes.”

“Did you hear what I said?”

“Yes.”

“Well, do not worry any more. You can’t go, so it is settled. Nothing can hurt us while we remain together.”

Viola did not say anything, but she ceased to cry and kissed me and lay still in my arms.

There was some minutes’ silence, then I said:

“Let’s go up to bed. Sleep will do you good. You look tired and exhausted to the last degree.”

We went upstairs, and that night she seemed to fall asleep in my arms quickly and easily. I lay awake, as hour after hour passed, wondering what this strange fancy could be that was torturing her.

At last, between three and four in the morning, I fell asleep and did not wake again till the clock struck nine on the little table beside me.

The sun was streaming into the room, and I sat up wide awake. The place beside me was empty. I looked round the room. I was quite alone. Remembering our conversation of last night and Viola’s strange manner, a vague apprehension came over me, and my heart beat nervously. It was very unusual for Viola to be up first. She generally lay in bed till the last moment, and always dissuaded me from getting up till I insisted on doing so. I sprang up now and went over to the toilet-table. On the back of her brushes lay a note addressed to me in her handwriting. Before I took it up I felt instinctively she had left me. For a moment I could not open it. My heart beat so violently that it seemed impossible to breathe, a thick mist came over my eyes. I took up the note and paced up and down the room for a few minutes before I could open it.

A suffocating feeling of anger against her raged through me. The sight of the bed where she had so lately lain beside me filled me with a resentful agony. She had gone from me while I slept. To me, in those first blind moments of rage, it seemed like the most cruel treachery.

After a minute I grew calm enough to tear open the note and read it.

* * * * *

“My very dearest one,

“Forgive me. This is the first time I have disobeyed you in anything in all the time we have been together And now [Greek: baino. to gar chren mou te kai theon kratei….]

“I must go from you, and you yourself will see in the future the necessity that is ruling me now. Do not try to find me or follow me, as I cannot return to you yet. Do believe in me and trust me and let me return to you at the end of this miserable year which stretches before me now a desert of ashes and which seems as if it would never pass over, as if it would stretch into Eternity. But my reason tells me that it will pass, and then I shall come back to you and all my joy in life; for there is no joy anywhere in this world for me except with you–if you will let me come back.

“No one will know where I am. I shall see no one we know. Say what you wish about me to the world.

“Don’t think I do not know how you will suffer at first; but you would have suffered more if I had stayed. While I am away from you, think of your life as entirely your own; do not hesitate to go to Suzee, if you wish. I feel somehow that Fate has designed you for me, not for her, and that she will not hold you for long, but that, whatever happens, you will always remember

“VIOLA.”

* * * * *

I crushed this letter in my hand in a fury of rage when I had read it, and threw it from me. Anger against her, red anger in which I could have killed her, if I could in those moments have followed and found her, swept over me.

I looked round the room mechanically. She had dressed in the clothes she had been wearing yesterday apparently, and taken one small handbag, for I missed that from where it had stood on a chest of drawers.

Her other luggage was there undisturbed. I saw her evening and other dresses hanging in the half-open wardrobe opposite me.

The only thing that had gone from the toilet-table was the little frame with my photo in it.

A sickening sense of loss, of despair came over me, mingling with the savage anger and hatred surging within me.

After a time I rose from my chair and began to dress.

I had made up my mind as to my own actions. To stay here without Viola, where the whole place spoke to me of her, was impossible. As soon as I could get everything packed I would go up to London and stay at my club. She would not come back.

No, it was no use my waiting with that hope.

Her mad scheme, whatever it was, I felt was planted deeply, her resolve fixed. It was true that three months before, after just such a cruel letter, she had come suddenly back to me, having failed in her resolution. I remembered that, and paused suddenly at the recollection. But then that was different. Then, infidelity to me had been in the question. Now I knew that wherever she was going it was not to another lover.

Whatever her foolish idea was, some benefit to me was mixed up with it in her mind.

And then, suddenly, in a tender rush of passionate reminiscence that would not be denied, the knowledge came home to me that, whatever her faults might be, however foolish and maddening her actions, no one had ever loved me as she had done, as unselfishly, with the same abandonment of self.

The hot tears came scalding up under my lids. I picked up the little crumpled sheet of paper I had so savagely crushed, smoothed it out, folded it, and put it in my breast pocket.

Then I turned to my packing. We had only taken rooms here. By paying I was free to leave at any moment.

Her things? What should I do with them? Keep them with me or send them away to her bankers?

I thought the latter, and turned to gather up her clothes and put them in her portmanteau. My brain seemed bursting with a wild agony of resentment as I took up first one thing and then another: the touch of them seemed to burn me. Then, when I was half-way through a trunk; I stopped short. Was I wise to accept the situation at all? Perhaps I could follow her and find out, after all, what this mystery meant.

We were in a small country place, but there was a fairly good service of trains to town; one I knew left in the morning at seven, she might have taken that. I could go to the station and find out.

Filled suddenly with that heart-rending longing for the sight and touch of the loved one again that is so unendurable in the first hours of separation, I thought I would do that, and I left the half-filled trunk and went downstairs to the hall.

The two maids were standing there waiting, and they stared at me as I passed and put on my hat.

“Please, sir, are you ready for breakfast? It’s gone half-past ten.”

“No,” I said shortly. “I am going out first.”

“Will Mrs. Lonsdale be coming down, sir?”

I stopped short.

“No, Mrs. Lonsdale has gone out already,” I answered, and went on through the door.

I didn’t care what they thought. When one is in great pain, physical or mental, nothing seems to matter except that pain.

I walked fast to the station, about a mile distant, and made enquiries as discreetly as I could.

“No,” was the unanimous answer. Mrs. Lonsdale had certainly not left there by any train that morning, nor been there at all, nor hired a fly from there. They were all quite sure of that.

She was well known at the station, so it seemed improbable she could have been there unobserved.

There was another station up the line six miles distant. She might easily have walked to that to avoid notice.

I took a fly, and drove to the other station, but here Viola was not known personally, and though I described her, and was assured she had not been seen there, it was indefinite and uncertain information that settled nothing.

She might have gone from there to town by an early train unnoticed, or she might have gone down the line to another country place to elude me. I could tell nothing.

Feeling sick and dispirited, I drove back to the station and then walked on to the house.

When I went upstairs the room was in disorder just as I had left it. As I entered the bed caught my eye, the pillow her head had so lately crushed, and there beside it the delicate garment she had been wearing a few hours ago.

An immense, a devastating sense of loss came over me. A feeling of suffering so intense and so vast, it seemed to crush me beneath it physically as well as mentally.

I sank down in the armchair, laid my head back and closed my eyes. I ceased to think any more, I was unconscious of anything except that sense of intense suffering.

By that evening I had everything packed, all the bills paid; and I took the seven-o’clock train to town. I felt to stay there the night, to attempt to sleep in that room so full of memories of her was an impossibility. Something that would drive me mad if I attempted it.

The people of the house stared at me when I paid them, and the maids looked frightened when I addressed them, but I hardly saw them, doing what was necessary in a mechanical way, with all my senses turned inward, as it were, and blunted by that one overpowering idea of loss.

The two hours in a fast train did me good. I had a sort of subconscious feeling I was going to her by going to town which buoyed me up instinctively; but the reaction was terrible when I actually arrived and drove to some rooms I knew in Jermyn Street and realised that I was indeed alone.

I sat up all that night, feeling my brain alight and blazing with a fire of agony and pain. Sleep was out of the question. A man does not love a woman as I loved Viola and sleep the night after she has left him.

The next morning I went to her bankers, only to get just the answers I had expected.

Yes, Mrs. Lonsdale had communicated with them. She was abroad, and they had her address but were not at liberty to disclose it. They would forward all letters to her immediately.

I went straight back to my rooms and wrote to her. I poured out my whole heart in the letter, imploring her to come to me; yet every line I wrote I knew was useless, useless.

Still I could not rest nor exist till I had written it, and when it was posted I felt a certain solace.

I walked on to my club afterwards, and amongst other letters found another from Suzee.

I could not imagine how she had obtained my club address at all, unless it was in that night when she came to my cabin. She would be quite capable of searching for anything she wanted and taking away some of my letters to obtain and keep my address.

I did not open it at once. I felt a sort of anger with Suzee as being partly responsible for all I was going through. Whatever Viola might say, Suzee’s letter had seemed to bring her mad resolve to a climax.

I took some lunch at the club, and a man I knew came up and spoke to me.

“Up in town again, I see,” he began, to which I assented.

“How’s Mrs. Lonsdale?”

“Quite well, thank you,” I replied.

“Is she up with you?”

“No.”

“Coming up soon, I suppose?”

“I don’t know.”

My friend looked at me once or twice, and then after a few vacuous remarks went away.

I knew that in a few hours it would be all over the club that I and Viola no longer hit it off together, that in fact we were living apart, and by the evening a decree _nisi_ would have been pronounced for us. But I didn’t care what they said. Nothing mattered. No one could hurt me more than I was hurt already. The worst had happened.

As I sat there I saw Lawton, who also belonged to the club, cross the end of the dining-room. He, too, would come up and speak to me if he caught sight of me.

I felt I did not wish to speak to the man who had always loved Viola, who had always envied me her possession, and to whom once I had nearly lost her.

I got up and left the club, went back to my rooms, and there got out my letters to read.

After all, I thought, as I took up Suzee’s letter, why not go out to ‘Frisco? It would make a change, something to do, something to drive away this perpetual desire of another’s presence.

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