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  • 1908
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I must drop down into the corridor before I could arrive at the entrance, and unless he were stopped he might meet us in the corridor before I could reach the exit. But his arc of the circle was a long one, mine to the exit was short, and, anyway, I preferred to chance meeting him to trusting myself to the mercies of my own kind.

I leapt down into the passage, and, lifting Suzee into my arms, passed on rapidly to the wicket.

There was no one there. I went through, out into the golden sunlight.

Outside, the accident and the panic had not yet become known. I saw a carriage, with its driver asleep upon the box, close to the main gate. I went up to it, put Suzee in and spoke to the man.

“The lady has fainted,” I said; “drive us back to the Hotel Iturbide.”

The man, delighted at securing a fare so soon, seized the whip and reins and drove away full tilt before one of the struggling wretches in the bull-ring had succeeded in getting out.

Suzee recovered consciousness just before we reached the hotel, but when she had opened her eyes she closed them again instantly and covered her face with her hands with a cry of terror.

“Oh, Treevor, that awful bull; where is it now? It can’t get at us, can it?”

“No, poor brute,” I answered. “You are safe enough now, Suzee; you are miles away from the bull-ring.”

She was trembling so much she could hardly walk up the stairs to our room, and when we got there I made her go to bed while I sat by her putting cold compresses on her head. She complained of such pain in it, I was afraid that the fright and shock would do her serious harm.

I sat up with her through the night, and towards morning she fell into a tranquil sleep.

I paced up and down the quiet room lighted only by the night light, thinking over the horrid scene of the afternoon, and when it grew to be day I was hungering so for a companion to speak to and to feel with me, that I drew out my writing-case and wrote a long letter to Viola.

CHAPTER XI

THE WAY OF THE GODS

“But, Treevor, I am so very dull when you go out, and when you are working it is as bad. I do miss my baby so to play with.”

“You did not strike me as a very devoted mother when I saw you at Sitka,” I answered.

“Oh, Treevor, he was a very fine boy, and I took so much care of him. Was he not a very large child?”

“Yes, he certainly was, and with a dreadful voice and a furious temper. It’s no use worrying me, Suzee, about the matter. I dislike children very much, and I do not wish nor intend to have any of my own.”

Suzee began to cry in the easy way she had. She seemed able to commence and leave off just when she chose.

“You are a little goose,” I said jestingly. “You don’t know when you are well off. For months and months you would be ill and disfigured, unable to come about with me or be my companion, unable to sit to me for my painting, and afterwards the child would be an unendurable tie and burden. Besides, as I say, I have an intense dislike to children and could never live with one anywhere near me. I am afraid, if you want them, you must go away from me, to some one who has your views.”

Suzee came over to where I was sitting and knelt beside my chair, clasping both hands round my arm.

“Treevor,” she said, almost in a whisper, “you are so beautiful with your straight face, every line in it is so straight, quite straight; and your black hair and your dark eyes and your dark eyebrows. I want that for my baby. I want a son just like you; he must be just like you, and then I should be so happy.”

As she spoke, the lines of a poetess flashed across me, indistinctly remembered–“beauty that women seek after … that they may give to the world again.”

Was this the reason of woman’s love of beauty in men? Ah, not with all women! Viola loved beauty, as I did, as all artists do, as they love their art, for itself alone.

I stroked her smooth shining hair, gently, and shook my head, smiling down upon her.

“Do you not value my love for you?” I asked.

“Oh yes, yes; you know I do.”

“Well, then understand this: you would utterly and entirely lose it if you became a mother.”

Suzee shrank away from me.

“But why, Treevor? Hop Lee was so pleased with me….”

“Men have different tastes. And it is well they have, or the world would be worse than it is. Some men like children and domesticity and sick-nursing and childish companionship; I don’t. I like health and beauty, and love and intellect about me, and women who are straight and slim and can inspire my pictures. That’s why, Suzee, and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t gratify my tastes as they do theirs. There are plenty of men in the world who like being fathers of families; the world can well allow an artist to give it his art instead.”

“Oh yes, Treevor, of course; but I am so sorry. I am so dull without a baby.”

We were sitting together in a light balcony of one of the hotels at Tampico, and the subject of our conversation was one which had come up many times between us lately.

Some months had slipped by since the accident in the bull-ring. Suzee had recovered from the shock with a few day’s rest and care, and as soon as she was better we had started on a tour through the country places of Mexico, and as it grew colder we had worked downwards to the gulf of Vera Cruz in the Tierra Caliente, or Hot Lands, and now were making a stay here on the coast, caught by the beauty of palm and sea and shore.

Suzee, though apparently she had all that most young women covet, had been for some time restless and dissatisfied, and the reason soon appeared in conversations like that of to-day.

“Come along,” I said, getting up; “see what a lovely evening it is, let’s go for a walk along the seashore.”

Suzee looked round at the translucent green bell of the sky that hung over us, disapprovingly.

“It’s always fine weather,” she said, rather sulkily; “and there’s nothing to see on that old shore.”

“Nothing to see!” I exclaimed in sheer amazement. Then I stopped short, remembering her indifference to all I valued, and added: “There are most beautiful shells of every shape and colour, wouldn’t you like to get some of those?”

Suzee’s face brightened immediately. This idea took her fancy at once. It appealed to her keen love of material things. Beauty in air and sky was nothing to her; but something she could pick up and handle, become possessed of, like the shells, deeply interested her. She rose at once.

“I had better take a basket, Treevor,” she said, “to carry them back in.” And while she went to get it, I leant over the balcony-rail musing on that great difference in character between woman and woman, man and man. Humanity might almost be divided into those two great parts–those who love and live in ideas; and those who love, and are wholly concerned with, material things.

She came back in a moment with a basket swinging in her hand. It had not seemed so necessary here in Mexico that she should dress in Western clothes, so she had gradually relapsed into her gaily coloured silks and embroidered muslins and Zouave jackets. This style of dressing suited the tropical climate, and the convenances of Europe and America were too far off for anything to matter much here. It gave her constant occupation, too, the making of her costumes; for she was marvellously quick and dexterous with her needle, and if I gave her the silks she fancied she made them into dainty forms and embroidered them with the greatest skill. As she came back now with her basket the light fell softly on her lilac silk, all worked with gold thread, and on her pretty bare head with its block of black shining hair.

We started for the shore, Suzee all animation now and chattering on the possibility of sewing sea-shells into gold tissue or muslin.

The sky all round and overhead was palest green and strangely luminous, the sea before us stretched to the far horizon in tones of gentlest mauve and violet, beneath our feet was the firm brown sand for miles and miles unrolled like a glossy, sepia carpet. On one side broke the tiny waves in undulating lines of white; on the other, the wild sand-dunes, grown over with rough grass and waving cocoanut palms, came down towards the sea.

We walked on, both contented. I, in the strange colouring and the warm salt breath in the air, that stirred the palm leaves till they tossed joyfully in it; she, in the absorbing pursuit of the shells which lay along the sand, positively studding it, like jewels, with colour. The tide had recently gone down over the shore where we walked and left them radiant, gleaming with moisture in the low light of the sun, pink and scarlet, deepest purple and gold. She ran ahead of me, picking them up and filling her basket rapidly. I walked on slowly, thinking, while my eyes wandered over that shining, palpitating, gently heaving violet sea. She had given herself to me entirely–and what beauty she had to give! And yet she had failed to chain me to her in any way, greatly though she pleased my senses. It is, after all, something in the soul of a woman, in her inner self, that has the power of throwing an anchor into our soul and holding it captive. Mere beauty throws its anchor into the flesh, and after a time the flesh gives way.

In a little while Suzee came running back to me; her basket was full to overflowing: she was quite happy.

“Take me up in your arms and kiss me,” she said. “Look, Treevor, we are all alone. What a great, great beach it is here, with not another soul to see anywhere.”

As she said, the firm brown plain of glistening sand stretched behind us and before us with not another footfall to disturb its silence, the wide white sand-dunes were deserted, the palms tossed their greeting to the sea through the glory of calm evening light.

“Let us lie under those palms now; I am tired,” she said as I kissed her. And we went together and lay down under the palms on a ragged tussock of grass, and the light fell and grew deeper in tone round us and the amethystine sea, flushed with colour, swayed and heaved, murmuring its low eternal song by our side.

A great vulture flapped heavily by and perched on a sand-hill not far from us, eyeing us somewhat askance, and some sea-gulls circled over us–otherwise we were undisturbed.

The following day we planned to come down the river Tamesi, which flows out at Tampico. We could not go up by boat, as the river was in flood and nothing could make headway against it, but the natives were adepts at steering a boat down with the rapid current, and knew how to handle it on the top of the flood.

We took the train some distance up the line, and alighted at a place where the river flowed by between high banks and where boats could be had from the villagers.

It was a perfect, cloudless day, and we reached our destination in the sweet fresh early hours of the morning. A walk through the tiny Mexican village brought us to the bank of the river where the Tamesi flowed by, heavily, grandly, in all the majesty of its flood.

The waters were brown and discoloured, but the sun glinting on its ripples turned them into gold, and the tamarisk on the bank drooped over it, letting its long strands float on the gliding water.

A little way down the bank, moored to the side, rocked a boat, of which the outline delighted me, and, to Suzee’s annoyance, I stood still and drew out my note-book to make a sketch of it.

It appeared to be the larger half of one immense tree of which the inside had all been hollowed out, both ends were raised and pointed and, in the centre, four bent bamboo poles, inclined together, supported a finely plaited wicker-work screen, which shielded a patch about two yards square in the boat from the burning rays of the sun.

I finished the sketch in a few minutes, and we went on towards the boat; its owners, two Mexican Indians, were sitting on the bank engaged in mending one of their paddles. They were quite naked except for their loin cloths, and their bare, brown crouching figures gave the last touch of suggested savagery to the scene. The red, earthy banks of the river stretched before us desolate and sunburnt; the swollen, muddy river itself rolled swiftly and heavily along, silent, impressive; the dug-out, looking like a craft of primeval times, rocked and swayed noiselessly on the flood; the naked savages crouched over their broken paddle beneath the waving tamarisk; the sunlight fell torrid, blighting in its scorching heat, over all. The scene, with its rough, fresh, vigorous barbarism, delighted me. I slackened my pace and stood still again before disturbing or interrupting the men.

“Suzee,” I said suddenly, “I admire this picture before us immensely. I should like to see it in the Academy to cheer up jaded Londoners next season. I should be glad to stop here to-day to paint it. We can go down the river to-morrow.”

Suzee stared at me in dismay.

“Oh, Treevor, you don’t want to stay here all day, do you? It’s so hot, and there’s nothing to do, and, we shall miss the fair at Tampico to-night. You promised we should see it”

I sighed. It was true, I had said something about the fair, but I had forgotten it. Suzee, however, never forgot things of this sort and she radically objected to any change being made in a programme. She did not adapt herself quickly and easily to changed moods or circumstances.

Had Viola been with me, she would have said at once:

“_Would_ you like to stay here instead of going on? Do let’s stay, then. We can go down the river any time.” And had I suggested there would be nothing for her to do, she would have answered:

“Oh yes, I shall enjoy sitting watching you.” Her interest had always lain in me, in her companion; to what we did she was indifferent; provided we were together and I was pleased, she was content. It is just this difference in women that makes it so delightful to live with some, so impossible to live with others. There are some, very few, of whom Viola was one, who delight in the society of the man they love, who drink in pleasure for themselves from his enjoyment; there are others, like Suzee, the majority, who are always at conflict with his wishes in little things, striving after some independent aim or project.

And they wonder why, after a time, their companionship grows irksome and they are deserted. They also wonder why sometimes the other woman is adored and worshipped and grows into the inner life of a man till he cannot exist without her.

I felt then an extraordinary longing to be free from Suzee, to be alone. Here was a picture, set ready to my hand. A scene we had come upon accidentally and that, in its barbaric simplicity, was not easily to be found again. It was strong, striking, original. I saw it before my mind’s eyes on the canvas already, with “On the Tamesi, Mexico” written on the margin.

How could she ask me to lose it? But I could not break my word, as she chose to keep me to it.

I said nothing, and, after a pause of keen disappointment, I walked slowly on again towards the boat.

The men were Indians, but they understood a little Spanish and I bargained with them to take us down to Tampico where we should arrive about seven the same evening, in time for the fruit-market and general fair held in the Plaza.

They were glad enough to take us as they were going down in any case with a load of bananas and our fares would pay them well for the extra space we took up in the boat.

They hauled the dug-out to the bank and jumped in, clearing it of old fruit baskets and arranging some rugs and mats under the shade of the wicker screen. Behind that, to the stem, the boat was filled with the rich yellow of the bananas, the ruddy pink of the plantains, and mellow, translucent orange of the mangoes. They lay there in great heaps, leaving only just space enough for the stem paddler to stand.

The men motioned us to get in, which we did, and took our seats cross-legged in the centre on the mats, beneath the awning; glad of its shade, for the sun’s rays grew fiercer every moment.

I put my unused sketch-pad behind me, gazing back regretfully over the yellow flood. The men pushed the boat out on to the waters and sprang in themselves, each armed with a long paddle; one taking his stand in front of us, one at the stern, and directed our little craft to the centre of the huge and sullen stream. It rolled from side to side as it shot out over the surface, but as soon as the men got their paddles to work, evenly with long alternate strokes, the flood bore us along, swiftly, smoothly, the dug-out floating steadily without rocking.

The men stood, alert and watchful, on the lookout for submerged trees and floating debris; for at the swift rate we were now floating, any collision would have brought great danger.

I leant back, watching the banks pass swiftly by, mile upon mile of red earth and waving tamarisk under the scorching blue. Suzee seemed more interested in the stalwart figure of our forward boatman and the play of his fine muscles under the smooth brown skin of his shoulders where the sun struck them.

Had I loved her more I should have been angry; as it was, I was only amused, and glad of anything that occupied her attention and relieved me of the necessity of listening and replying to her childish chatter.

How fast the boat sped on over the surface of the whirling stream that rushed by those red banks, swift as the flash of life, hurrying on to lose itself in the ocean as life hurries on to lose itself in the infinite.

The banks were getting flatter, here and there the stream widened, the wild tamarisk, child of the desert, disappeared and gave way to cultivated fields and wide tracts of the maguey plant, dear and valuable to the Mexican as the date-palm to the East-Indian. Rough yellow adobe huts stood here and there, their crude colouring of unbaked mud turned into gold by that great painter, the tropical sun; and sometimes a palm stood by a hut, cutting the fierce light blue of the sky with its delicate, fine, curved, drooping branches; sometimes the dark, glossy green of the organ cactus rose like jade pillars beside it. All these sped by us quickly, though at times the scene was so engaging I could have held it with my eyes; but ruthlessly we were whirled forward and the scenes on the bank kept slipping behind us, just as our dearest scenes and incidents in life keep slipping past, swallowed up by the ever-pursuing distance.

Our red banks had been growing flatter and flatter and now they seemed to disappear, and the river instantly broadened itself out and spread into a lake, as if glad of the expansion. Over each bank, far on either side, it rolled itself out in great shining flats of water, glittering and dazzling, impossible to look at in this hour of noon; and as if tranquillity had come to it with its greater freedom, the river flowed more slowly and gently.

Our boatmen stood at ease at their paddles, pushing quietly along, and I looked round with interest. We were in the centre of a great lake in which here and there submerged trees and bushes made green islands. An endless lake it seemed, a great waste of gleaming water. We floated along gently like this for some time, and then almost suddenly when I looked ahead, I saw the end of the lake was closing in, there were woods and forests now upon its margin; a few more strokes of the paddle and we were in shade, heavy, cool shade, where the water gleamed with a bronze shimmer. Narrower still the lake end became, the margins drew together, and with a swift push forwards, like the bolt of a rabbit to its hole, our boat shot forwards into a little tunnel of darkness before us over which the interlacing boughs of the trees made a perfect arch. We were in the forest, and it was dark and cool as it had been brilliant, dazzling with light and heat, on the lake. A dim, green twilight reigned here, and the river went with a swift, dark rush, past the roots of the overhanging trees. How they stooped over the water! Swinging down, interlacing boughs from which vine and flowering creeper trailed. The standing figure of the boatman had to bend down and sway from side to side to avoid the clinging wreaths or mossy boughs and be wary with his paddle to escape the snags projecting from the banks.

How grand the great spanning arches of the trees were, above our heads! Finer than any cathedral roof wrought by man. How soft the luminous green twilight seemed in the long aisle! And constantly from bough to bough twined a great scarlet-flowered creeper, glowing redly in all this mystery of shade. The banks were thick with vegetation, one thing growing over another, with tropical luxuriance, until sometimes here and there groups of plants, weary with the struggle each to assert itself, had all fallen together over the bank and trailed their long strands wearily in the water.

The stream zigzagged on before us, here darkly green to blackness; there, where the light pierced through the upper boughs, a golden bronze; then blue and silver where it caught and eddied and played round a fallen tree or a stump in the river bed.

We were going fast now, and as we shot along the glimmering stream we left the thick green part of the forest behind us. The river broadened out, expanded widely on either side, and in a few more minutes we seemed on a chain of infinite lakes spreading out on every side under and through the trees, which, though they met far overhead forming a perfect and continuous roof, were bare of leaves and flowering vines beneath. Grey trunks and bare brown branches in bewildering numbers now surrounded us, and the sheets of water reflected all so perfectly down to infinite depths that one lost sense of reality. Boughs and branches, all arching and curving and spreading above us in the softened light, and boughs and branches and inverted trees below us, arches and curves and twisted networks; between, those long gleaming flats of water on which we floated silently without sense of motion, ever onwards.

“It is a little like the wood at Sitka in times of river flood,” Suzee said to me, as we sat together watching the mirrored stems and branches glide by beneath our boat.

“Yes?” I answered, smiling back upon her at the remembrance of the wood.

The stream was a wide flat here, and our boatmen suddenly directed the boat to the bank and brought it to a standstill. “We want to go on land here and buy mangoes,” he explained in Spanish.

“Very good mangoes can be got here.”

We looked round and saw, some distance from the margin, amongst the stems of the trees standing thickly together, an adobe building, low and flat, and some figures, not much more clothed than our boatmen, squatting in front of it, counting mangoes from a great pile into baskets.

He fastened the dug-out to one of the many tree stems, drawing it close to the bank, and then he and his companion landed, leaving us alone in the lightly swaying boat.

“We’ll have lunch here, Suzee, don’t you think?” I asked her, beginning to unpack the small basket we had brought. “Can you make tea for us there, do you think?”

“Oh yes, quite easily; they have a little kitchen here.”

In the forepart of the boat the Indians had fixed a piece of tin with a few bricks round it, forming a hearthstone and stove. On this they cooked their own food as their surrounding pots and kettles shewed. A few embers from their last cooking glowed still between the bricks. Suzee leant over them, blew them into a blaze and then set our kettle on, getting out her little cups and saucers and ranging them on the floor of the boat.

I sat back and watched her. The whole scene was a delightful one and rivalled the one I had noted at starting. The gleaming water spread itself in large flat mirrors on every side, and the trees standing in it reflected beneath, and reaching up to the lofty roof of overarching, interlaced boughs above us, gave the effect of a hall of a thousand columns. The adobe house of the fruit-seller seemed standing on a precarious island, so high had the floods risen round it, and numerous empty baskets and crates, evidently lifted from their moorings on the bank, drifted slowly about on the silvery tide. Our boat itself was a lovely object with its fairy lines, its thread of smoke going up from it, and the little Oriental figure bending over the red embers in its prow.

We lunched and had our tea in this cool retreat of softened light, and knew the sun was beating with its murderous noonday glare just without. The boatmen came back after an interval with a huge load of mangoes which they piled into the boat, and offered us sixty for five cents. I gave them the five cents and took two or three of the fruits for myself and Suzee. Then the moorings were undone, the men jumped in, and paddled us swiftly onwards. The proprietor of the adobe hut came to the edge of his grove and saluted, as we passed by on a rapid current; then he and hut and mangoes all glided from us, quickly as a dream, and we were borne forward through the wonderful maze of trees over the tranquil sheets of water.

All through the golden Mexican afternoon we descended the river, down, ever downwards, to the sea. Sometimes in the deep green shadows of overhanging trees, passing through the heart of a forest; sometimes out in the burning open beneath the clear blue of the sky, between flat plains of open country; sometimes on the breast of wide lakes; sometimes between high banks, where the boat went dizzily fast and the waters passed the paddles with a sharp hiss as we rushed on; and each of those moments was a delight to me, and even Suzee seemed affected by the beauty and the poetry of the river, for she leant against me silent and absorbed and her eyes grew soft and dreaming as the visions on the golden banks swept by; fields of sugar-cane and maguey, coffee plantations with their million scarlet berries, waving banana and palm, masses of delicate bamboo rustling as the warm breeze stirred them.

As the day melted into evening, the sky flushed a deep rosy red and seemed to hang over us like a great hollowed-out ruby glowing with crimson fires. The waterway of the river before us turned crimson, and all the ripples in it were edged and flecked with gold. The great lagoons, when we passed through them now, reflected the peace of the painted skies and the marsh lilies floating on their surface became jewels set in gold as the water eddied round them.

In half an hour the glory faded, leaving a transparent lilac sky over which the darkness closed with all the swiftness of the tropics.

As we neared the sea and the warm salt breath came up to us we saw the light over the Market Square in Tampico and the masses of soft shadow of the trees in the Plaza.

Frail, wooden boat-houses, with shaky landing-stages built out over the water, lined the banks on either side, and at one of them our boatmen suddenly drew in, and we disembarked in the soft darkness, suffused with the red light from the square and vibrating with the music from a band playing there behind the trees.

We got out and walked along the river-bank towards the seashore, where the sea lay calm and still, its black, gently heaving surface reflecting the light of the stars. Where the river debouched, there was a sheltered cove of fine white sand, and here every species of gaily painted craft was drawn up. The light from the Market Square, ablaze with lamps, reached out to it and shewed boat after boat of fantastic shape and colour, with striped awnings fixed on bamboo poles over their centre, lying in the shelter of the palm-trees that fringed the cove. We rounded the slight promontory on our left hand and came full into the light of the animated town.

The fair was in progress, and numbers of fruit-sellers from all the country round, from the adobe hut and the large hacienda, or estate, of the Mexican gentleman, alike, had brought down their load of fruit to sell in Tampico.

Not only was the Plaza itself filled to overflowing with fruit and other stalls, but they reached down almost to the shore, and very rich and Oriental the scene looked, framed in deepest shadow from the Plaza trees on one side, and the smooth, black, starlit darkness of the sea on the other.

Each stall had its own light, a bowl of flaming naphtha mounted on a bamboo pole, and the light fell over the golden fruit–mangoe, plantain, and banana piled high upon it, and also all round the vender’s feet as he stood by his stall in town costume of one long white muslin robe.

There were other stalls where they sold Mexican drawn-work, carved leather and filigree silver, others again with chairs set round where one could have iced-fruit drinks or coffee, and the band played sonorously and the crowd, good-natured, laughing, gaily dressed, men, women, and children of all sizes, strolled amongst the stalls, buying, looking, chattering, flirting, in the soft, damp heat of the night.

Suzee was enchanted and stared about her with bold, lustrous glances, pleased at the admiring looks of the men on her strange pretty face. She steered me up to the silver-filigree stall and there had all the vender’s wares put out for her inspection. She was keen enough where her own particular interests were concerned, and the sellers of artificial jewellery tempted her with their sparkling gewgaws not at all. Real solid worth was what she intended to obtain, and her taste in choosing the silver was excellent.

Would I buy her this? Would I buy her that? And I assented to everything. I only wished I could buy myself pleasure as easily.

She chose a necklet, a brooch, and numberless bangles for her arms, all the smallest she could find, those generally made for children. When these loaded her little arms and the necklet was clasped round her throat she was happy, and the curious, interested Mexicans gathered in a little knot round us, looked on with interest and evident approval at the Englishman’s money being spent amongst them.

We stayed in the square buying to her heart’s content till eleven, and then, after supper at a little table beneath the Plaza trees where the band played loudest, for Suzee loved music when it meant noise, we went back to the hotel and to bed.

The next day I went by train to the place where we had embarked for our voyage down the Tamesi, fully equipped with my materials for a sketch–and alone.

Suzee, adhering to her idea that it would be dull and hot on the river-bank, had preferred to stay in the hotel playing with some of the treasures bought yesterday at the fair.

Alone and undisturbed I sat all day sketching, till the fires were lighted in the West and warned me I must turn homewards. I had a good picture, and I packed up my traps with that deep sense of satisfaction that accomplished work alone can give and walked slowly to the station. As my thoughts slipped on to Suzee a sense of anxiety came over me. Time was going on. The year would soon be over. What did I intend to do? Once the year was past it would be impossible for me to continue living with her, even for a day. And now I felt so often I would rather be alone than with her. How would she feel over our separation? How could I provide for her happiness when I took back my freedom?

Satiety was beginning to creep over the passion I had for her, and that was still farther checked now that I knew she looked upon it more as a means to an end–the child–rather than enjoyed it for itself.

It worried me greatly this thought of her future and how I was going to provide for it, and it seemed sometimes as if it might be better to give in to her; perhaps without me she would be happy if she had a child as she wished, provided I could make, as I could, a good allowance to both. But then even with a child I could not imagine Suzee would want to remain alone, and what would be the fate of a child if other lovers came, or a husband?…

While I did not think that Suzee loved me deeply, deep emotion not being within her range of powers, it was difficult to see how I could find for her an existence as pleasant as she led with me.

All these things worried me greatly, and as Fate willed it, needlessly.

How often in this life a way is suddenly opened out through circumstances where we least expect it.

The Greeks said–“For these unknown matters a god shall find out the way.” And often indeed it happens that Fate steps in, and in some way our wildest dreams have never pictured turns all our life to another hue suddenly before our eyes.

One night when I had been making a little head of Suzee in her prettiest mood on my canvas, she came and sat on my knee and begged me to give her, as a reward for her sitting, a narrow band of gold I always wore on my left arm above the elbow.

I refused, for Viola had given it to me and locked it on my arm. She had the key and I, even had I wished, could only have had it taken off by means of another key or melting the gold.

At my refusal there was a storm of tears as usual, but it soon passed over on my kissing her and promising we would go to a jeweller’s on the morrow and have one something like it put on her own arm.

She soon fell asleep after peace was restored, but I lay awake for hours watching the tracery of palm shadows on the wall opposite, thrown there by the light of the square. At midnight the lamp was put out, the room grew black, without a ray of light, and after a time I, too, fell asleep.

I was awakened by a curious sense of a presence in the room. My eyelids flew open, my ears strained. The room was one solid block of blackness, there was no ray of light anywhere. I could see and hear nothing for a moment, though I was certain another living thing had entered the room. Then at the same instant there was a violent vibration of the bed beneath me and a piercing scream from Suzee, a blind, wild cry to me for protection.

Instinctively I threw my arms out to her. Her body was struggling, writhing. I felt it as my hands shot out and gripped fiercely, in the thick darkness, round two hard hairy arms, tense, rigid, as they held her down.

Suzee’s voice broke out suddenly as my grip possibly loosened the pressure of those other hands upon her throat, and she was speaking in _Chinese_. A hot breath came on my eyes, some face must have been close to mine in the blackness; under my arms, on Suzee’s wildly heaving body, I felt something moving, warm and slow and soft, and knew that it was blood.

“Suzee,” I called to her across her clamour of terrified entreaty, “get a light if you can.”

The hot breath came nearer.

“Devil! Devil! This is your promise, your English word.” The sound came to me like the hiss of steam close to my ear, but I knew the voice of Hop Lee–Hop Lee buried in Sitka, thousands of miles away.

The arms in my clutch struggled furiously; in their spasm of muscular effort they tore me upwards from the bed, as the lock of my fingers would not give way.

Suzee’s voice clamoured in passionate entreaty, unintelligible to me. Then suddenly came a terrific twist, which wrenched away one of the arms, and a lightning stab, a deep burning in my shoulder, and simultaneously a blaze of light. Over me hung the bent old form of Hop Lee, his right arm, lifted up, held a long knife raised for its second stab. His face was alight with fury. Scarlet was already running in bright ribands over the whiteness of the bed, Suzee’s blood and my own. I threw up my left arm and caught his wrist and turned the hand and knife upwards till it pointed to the ceiling, my own arm stretched to the fullest length upright. Suzee gave one horrible cry of terror, animal terror, and then there was silence beside me.

“She has fainted, has fainted,” my brain muttered in itself. A sickening fear came into it as silence fell after that one awful cry.

I had my revolver under my pillow. If I could reach it! I looked up to the small red eyeballs of the Chinaman.

They were insane, glaring, full of the wild, unreasoning lust to kill. Some instinct moved me to speak.

“You were dead, I heard. I never had your wife while you were alive.”

“Liar! Liar! You shall pay me in blood.”

His hand with the knife in it twisted itself round in my grip. I felt my uplifted arm losing its force. What was draining my strength? That stream coming softly from my shoulder.

I lifted myself, trying to throw him backwards. My arm suddenly bent at the elbow and his hand with the knife in it zigzagged downwards very near to my throat. Age and feebleness had disappeared from him. He was strong now with the strength of insanity and of that blind leaping fury that glared out of his distorted face. There was a sudden struggle as he dropped on my chest, then with my hand still locked on his wrist we rolled together onto the floor.

A moment and we were up on our feet and he had forced me backwards to the bed. I felt my strength was going, but I still clung with a steel-like clutch to his wrist and kept the pointed knife at bay. As he bent me backwards on to the bed near the pillow, I took my right hand from his arm, snatched the revolver from under the pillow, thrust it into his face between the eyes, and fired.

He fell forwards, a great hole torn in his forehead, from which a river of blood poured, joining the bright ribands and with them making a sea of crimson.

I looked across him to where Suzee lay motionless.

“Suzee,” I said, my breath almost dying in my throat.

She stirred slightly. I was beside her in a moment. Her eyelids opened slowly. Then her eyes filled with terror.

“Where is he?” she muttered.

“Dead; he cannot hurt you any more. You are safe now.”

“No, Treevor, I am dying; it pains me so here.”

She laid one hand on her breast and I saw the blood well up between two fingers. I tore aside the muslin veils on her bosom and found the wound: it was not large, just one clean stab, turning purple at the edges.

“It is deep, Treevor; so deep. And it bleeds inside me. It is drinking my life. I have only a few minutes to tell you. Hold up my head. I can’t breathe.”

I slipped my arm beneath her little neck. My heart seemed breaking with distress; black tides of resentment, of rage went through me, that she should be torn from me.

“Listen, Treevor. It was I that lied to you. I told you he was dead, and the child. They were not. I ran away. I left them at Sitka. I came to ‘Frisco and took refuge with that woman. Then I wrote to you.”

A sudden horror of her seemed to enfold me as I heard.

How she had lied and deceived me! And forced me to break my word!

“Because I wanted you so much and I knew you would never have me if you thought he was still alive…. Your stupid promise. What are promises when one loves? I wanted you, Treevor, so much! So much!”

Some of the old fire flashed out of the dying eyes, a hungry, despairing look.

“Kiss me, Treevor. Say you forgive me.”

But I could not. For the moment I was so stunned, so overwhelmed by this sudden revelation of her deception.

A deathly physical faintness was creeping over me; a sensation like the beginning of long-denied sleep which rolls at last like an unconquerable tide, obliterating everything, through the exhausted frame, was invading my whole body. I clasped one hand mechanically round the bed-rail to support myself, the ground seemed to lift and sway beneath my feet.

I looked down on the little oval face that had lived so near to me through the last year. How pale it was now, framed in the crimson mist that stretched across the bed! At the slight, exquisite body so often held in my arms. Was I to lose them now for all time?

“I did it all for you, because I wanted you so much. Do kiss me and say you forgive. I shall not rest through a thousand years if you will not.”

Grey shadows were collecting in her face, some unseen hand seemed drawing the eternal veil between us. To me, life, with all its doings, was far away. I myself was standing in the uncertain mists of death. Wide, limitless, and grey, the great plains of the hereafter seemed opening before me, dim, silent, and mysterious.

Life, with its glare of colour, its triumphant music, its crash of sound, was far behind me, almost forgotten; like clouds of indefinable tint, piled up on some distant horizon, rose the memories of its loves, its woes, its crimes.

Her weak voice calling on me to forgive seemed to have little meaning to me now. I leant forward, clasping her dying body to me, and kissed her lips, murmuring some words of consolation. Then the grey mists rose up over my eyes sealing them, and I sank slowly into the perfect darkness.

PART FIVE

THE WHITE NIGHT

CHAPTER XII

THE FLAMES OF LIFE’S FURNACE

A large room with open windows shewing a great square of hot blue sky and a palm branch that swayed in front of them, bright gold in the vivid light, was before my eyes as I lay alone, stretched out on my bed, the mosquito-curtains draped round me, and raised on the side next the windows.

How many weary days and nights had gone slowly by since that night which hung veiled in crimson mists in my memory! Horrible night of anger, of struggle, of death, of blood! Would its remembrance always cling to me like this?

Hop Lee thought I had broken my promise to him. That was the poisoned thorn that rankled and twisted and festered within me. No wonder he had cursed me and wanted to kill me. And Suzee–how well she had deceived me! I remembered her as she had sat trying to weep at the supper-table in San Francisco, telling me of the last moments of Hop Lee, her own devotion to him, and the child in their dying sufferings! Husband and child that she had deserted so gladly! A dull anger burnt within me at the thought of that deception, and most fiercely at the knowledge that she had forced me to break my word.

Yet that anger, strongly though it flamed against her, could not wholly dry the tears that came between my lids as I thought of her. She had loved me in her own selfish, childish way, and had risked her own life as well as mine to come to me.

After all, was it not I who had been in the wrong from the first? I had known she was married. Why had I ever looked at her with that admiration which had stirred her passion for me? Morley had warned me. Now it had ended like this and nearly cost us all our lives. But I, the most guilty of the three, had escaped, and they were both dead.

I appeared to have broken my promise, and now, after already injuring him so much–one who had never injured me–I had killed Hop Lee. I had taken his wife, who, he had said, was more than his life. Not satisfied with that, I had taken his life, too! How horrible it all was! I felt suffocated beneath the weight of it. But surely, surely it was Suzee who had thrown this burden on me? Yes, but I had begun the evil far back in the sunny days at Sitka.

Truly, as I had said to Morley, “One never knows in life.”

I had killed him, a poor harmless, defenceless old man who had trusted me!

One thing after another had gradually pushed me on to this climax, all having their origin in those careless glances exchanged in the Sitka tea-shop.

They had thought I should die, too, all the people who had rushed into the room and found us that night. Myself unconscious, and the others dead.

The cold voice of a doctor had been the first I had heard as sense came back to me with the damp night air from the window blowing on my face:

“He’s done for, I should say, you’d better take his depositions if he can speak.”

I had opened my eyes and seen some men carrying out the body of Hop Lee and the tiny pliable form of dear little Suzee that I should never see or clasp again.

The landlord had come up ashy-pale and shaking, with a note-book in his hand, and had questioned and re-questioned me, and I had answered until I fainted again.

Next, after a black gap, I came to beneath the surgeon’s probe which he was thrusting into my wound, as he would a fork into cold meat.

“He won’t get through, I should think; he has too much fever,” he was saying, in the regular callous professional voice.

“But I’m going to try the effect of this new antiseptic dressing, I want to see if it does harm or not.”

I opened my eyes and looked up at his hard, thin-lipped face, and he seemed somewhat disconcerted; but only jabbed his probe in a little deeper and remarked jocularly:

“Ah, I see, you’re tougher than I thought.”

More oblivion, and when I next came to I knew that _they_ had both been carried away from me and buried–Hop Lee, and his wife beside him, and that that chapter in my life was, for ever and ever, closed.

Now I was in charge of a hospital nurse. A horrible creature she was, lean and hard-faced, with a straight slit across her face for mouth, and little grey, cruel eyes. Like a nightmare she hung round my bed, preventing me from getting better.

All the fiendish tortures and cruelties that she had witnessed within the hospital walls had, I suppose, made her the thing she was.

Days had passed, and very slowly a little strength had crept back into me, enough for me to see I was not getting well as quickly as my youth and strength would let me if there were no drawback. I drew all my forces together to try and understand this, and then I noticed that regularly after each dose of physic I went back a little.

More fever, more pain in my shoulder, more delusions before the brain. Each morning when the vitality within me had struggled through the evil effects of my medicine I was better, then came the harpy-faced nurse to the pillow–my dose–then pain and illness again.

The look on the face of the woman as I drank it was extraordinary. A sly, pleased look, as one sees on the face of a schoolboy dismembering a living fly.

One day I took the glass as usual from her, but instead of raising it to my lips, turned it upside down through the window.

The woman turned red, and then livid.

“What does that mean, sir, may I ask?”

“Simply that I am not going to take any more medicine, thank you,” I replied quietly, “as I now wish to get well.”

“My orders from the doctor are that you shall take it,” she said grimly; “and I’ll make you.”

She poured out another glass of the medicine and approached the bed, with the intention, it seemed, of opening my mouth and pouring it down. But I had had no weakening, sense-destroying drug that morning, and nature was rapidly curing me.

She forgot that. As she came up, I sprang from the bed, put my hand on her shoulder, and forced her to the door. She shrieked and protested, but she could not resist. I put her outside and locked the door.

Then I sank down trembling with exhaustion, for I was very weak. But I rejoiced to know my strength had come back even that much. I crossed to the window after a moment and looked out. In the distance glimmered the sea, blue and joyous and beautiful. How I longed to be out near it, in its warm salt breeze! Beside my window grew the companion of my weary hours, the waving palm; beneath there was a little flagged court, shut in by small buildings belonging to the hotel. There was a well there and a banana-tree, and a man sitting down plucking alive a struggling fowl. I called to him in Spanish:

“Send the administrador to me.” And he looked up.

A frightened look came into his face as he saw who it was that called him. Then he nodded, and carrying the unhappy bird by its feet, head downwards, disappeared into the hotel.

People and things move slowly with the Spaniards. I waited an hour, gazing out into the amethystine distance, wondering if Suzee’s glad, careless, irresponsible little spirit was dancing there in the sunbeams; and then a knock came at the door.

I walked to it and said: “Who is there?”

I recognised the voice of the administrador in his answer, and unlocked the door and bid him come in.

He did so, with an alarmed aspect.

“Have you seen the nurse?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied; “she told me you were again delirious and had refused to take your medicine, and that she must refuse all responsibility for you.”

“I am not at all delirious, as you see,” I answered; “I simply want to get well, and each time I take their stuff I get worse; so I am going to cease taking it. Now what I ask you to do is to keep that woman and the doctor and the surgeon out of my room. All I want is to be left alone, to be quiet. The surgeon took all the stitches out yesterday. There is no need for _him_ to see me again, and the others I won’t have in here.”

“But the responsibility, really, Senor,” the man muttered looking all ways at once, “and the good doctor–such an amiable man. What object could he have in not curing the Senor quickly?”

“The object of prolonging his fees,” I answered smiling, “I should think. When I get well, his fees stop.” Then it occurred to me this man had also an object in keeping me here, since my hotel bill would certainly stop, like the doctors’ fees, when I got well; so I added:

“What day of the month is it? The twentieth? Well, listen to this. If I am well, perfectly well by the end of the month, I will give you a cheque for fifty pounds in addition to my bills, just to show my good-will.”

Now L50 is much to a Mexican, and over this man’s face spread a look as of one who has a glimpse of Paradise. He looked down immediately, however, and said deprecatingly:

“How can I influence the Senor’s getting well? These things are as the good God wills. I can hire a Sister to pray for the Senor. That I can do.”

“Thank you,” I said. “But if you will keep the doctor and nurse out of my room and send me good food and water I shall get well and the fifty pounds is yours. Do you understand, if they come into this room again you lose it. I only wish to be alone.”

The man bowed and bowed.

“As the Senor wishes, but the good amiable doctor, what should I say to him?”

“What you please, only don’t let him come near me.”

“And when the Senor is well there are many little matters to settle. The Consul and the Magistrate….”

I stopped him.

“Not now. I am to have ten days in peace, and alone, or you don’t get the money.”

The man stood bowing and shuffling and muttering for some minutes. Then the thought of the L50 came before him too dazzling to resist, and with a final: “It shall be exactly as the Senor wishes,” he withdrew.

And so now I lay alone. Ah, what a comfort solitude is!

Freedom and solitude! Are these not two sweet Sisters of Mercy?

How few of all worldly ills and sorrows can they not either cure or assuage? Or, rather, perhaps, ought one not to call them mates, from which the child, Content, is born?

I lay there, weak and suffering still, but a balm seemed poured all over me, for now I was alone.

I fell asleep after a time and did not wake till it was dark. I felt stronger, better. Sleep had nursed me in her own way through all the afternoon.

A lamp had been lighted on the table beside me and only needed turning up. There was a tray of food there and a carafe of water. I took a little of both and felt life stirring in all my veins, now that the paralysing grip of the deadly drugs they had been giving me was lifted off.

I lay still, gazing about the large, shadowy room and into the violet dusk of the square beyond the window, and then gradually sleep came over me again.

In less than an hour I started up from my bed, wide-awake. I thought I had been with Hop Lee. I looked round the room. All was just as I had seen it last. I sank back on my pillow. “It was only a vivid dream,” I said to myself, and then fell to wondering what the dream had been. I could not remember. It seemed some communication had been made to my brain while I slept, that it had received very clearly, but now that I was awake it could not retain nor understand it, but it could, and did remember that I had dreamed of Hop Lee, and that it was a pleasant dream.

Yes, the man I had murdered had been with me, had spoken to me, and the impression was that of rest, of calm, of some aching self-reproach being appeased.

“Just a dream, of course,” I said to myself; “but how odd that I cannot remember at all what he said.” An hour perhaps passed by while I lay quiet, strangely comforted by the dream I had forgotten; and then I lapsed back into sleep and again Hop Lee was with me, speaking, telling me something earnestly, exhorting me gently, and again I woke with a feeling of gratitude, of peace; but I could recall nothing of what had been said to me.

The light burned steadily beside me, and I sat up and thought.

The feeling of tranquillity that spread through me, so different from the feverish self-reproach that had gripped me ever since I had killed Hop Lee was so marked, so wonderful in its effect on me that I could not feel it was the result of a dream. No, the spirit of the old man had been there, absolving me of my broken word, absolving me of his murder. The fact that I could not remember, could not recall or understand when awake my dream or his words, seemed to shew that in sleep a mysterious message from a hidden source had been conveyed to me, which, from its nature and the nature of my ordinary material brain, could not be received by the latter. From that hour I began to get well rapidly. Often and often in the long nights or the lonely quiet days, I tried to call up a dream to me, a vision of either of them again; often I longed to speak to Suzee once more. But never again did any shade come to my pillow. He had come that once, of that I was convinced. To others it would always seem as if I had dreamed that night. I knew, by some inner sense, I had been spoken to by the soul of the old dead Chinaman, and forgiven.

The time passed evenly in that calm solitude. Sometimes still I was burnt with fever and racked with pain and got but poor food, and often longed for a hand to give me water in the dark nights. And I longed–ah, how I desired, infinitely, to send to Viola, tell her, and ask her to come to me!

I felt she would come then, that she would fly to me once she heard I was ill, in actual need of her.

But my pride refused to let me do this.

I had begged her to come in the name of our love, appealed to her through our passion. I would never appeal to her pity.

Besides, I could not bear that she should see me now, wrecked in strength, a shadow, a skeleton of myself.

Fever had reduced me to the last thin edge of existence. As I stretched out my arms before me, they looked like some grim ghastly stranger’s, I did not recognise them. No, she should come back to me when I had regained the full glory of my health and strength that I knew she delighted in.

So I waited with all the patience I could command, and sleep and Nature nursed me between them till I was quite well.

Then came long-drawn-out procedure in the Mexican courts. I had documents to write and sign, affidavits to make out, interrogations to answer; but finally the Law was satisfied. I was acquitted. I heard the decision with a curious feeling. How little it seemed to matter beside the inner knowledge of my heart, that Hop Lee himself had been with me, and knew and understood.

One afternoon then, after the satisfying of nearly endless claims upon me, I looked at the long, flat, rolling sea with its reefs of palms for the last time, and took the train northwards away from Tampico.

The year was not yet over, but I was going back to be in London, or very near it. For would she not write first to my club? and here it took at least three weeks for my letters sent on from the club to reach me.

I did not wish to live actually in town yet till Viola joined me, to advertise our separation, unnecessarily, to our friends, but I thought I would live practically hidden somewhere near, so that letters could reach me from London the same day.

Within a month I was back in London and went first of all to call for letters. Amongst them I recognised instantly there was not one from Viola. And, depressed and disappointed, I went down into the country, to work.

Work, the dear mistress of an artist’s life, the one that never leaves him but is there always waiting to receive him back to her, to console him in her arms for all the wounds that love has made.

Month after month went by and I worked at the painting, turning into finished pictures the many sketches life with Suzee had given me.

As I worked on some of these a wave of sad reflection would sweep over me, of memory of her, but the recollection of the deceit and lies in which her love for me had been always cloaked came with that memory and blunted the poignant edge of it.

Then suddenly one morning came a letter from Viola, and my heart seemed at the sight of it to fly upwards and forwards to the future as a swallow let out of a darkened room flies upwards and outwards with a swift rush to the open light.

“Bletchner’s Hotel, Paris.” “If you wish, you may come to me.”

That was all, but it was enough. Within a few moments I was ready for departure. For weeks a little case had stood ready packed against the wall of my room. All else was left standing.

I went to town, caught the morning train to Dover, and crossed to Calais.

I reached Paris finally about six and drove to a hotel. I dined in my travelling clothes in the restaurant, and then went up to my room to dress. What keen life I felt in all my veins! How strongly all the power of living had come back to me! Ordinarily, when we are well we get so accustomed to our health and strength we are hardly aware of either, but there are times when we become supremely conscious of both, as I was now. As I walked about my small apartment I felt a pride and joy in my strength such as a woman feels, I suppose, in her beauty when she surveys it in the mirror–a wild elation, a sense of triumph, as she realises in it her power. The thought of the approaching meeting with Viola danced before my mind, filling it with superb delight. All my veins seemed filled with fire instead of blood. My limbs and muscles flew to do the bidding of the eager, impatient brain.

I drove to Bletchner’s Hotel and enquired for Madame Lonsdale, and was immediately shewn up to her suite of apartments. The salon I entered was empty. A door faced me at the other end. It was closed. My heart leapt up as I saw it. Was she there–just on the other side? The salon was lighted with shaded electric lamps and furnished and hung entirely in white, so that there was that dazzling effect of light I knew she always loved. I walked up and down in short quick turns, longing to go up to that tantalising door and knock, but holding myself back.

After a moment it opened and she came through it towards me. For one second before I rushed forward to clasp her in my arms, I stood to gaze at her, and the sweetness, the enchanting glamour of the vision was borne in upon me and locked itself into my memory for ever. She was in white, some soft white tissue that fell round her closely, edged with silver that seemed like moonlight on white clouds, and there was a little silver on her shoulders and round the breast that seemed like moonlight upon snow. Her fair hair shone in the blaze of light, her face raised to mine was pale and smiling, with a wonderful lustre in the azure eyes.

She seemed, as ever, the dream, the vision, the ideal, the unattainable divinity man’s soul continually strives after.

A moment more and she was in my arms. Her physical semblance was mine, in which her spirit walked and moved, and I was the owner and conqueror of that at least.

“Trevor dear, be gentle!” she murmured in laughing remonstrance, but her white arms did not unlock from my neck nor her soft lips move far from mine.

“How happy I am now,” she said, sinking into my embrace, “and how well you look, Trevor, how splendid! So strong and gloriously full of life!”

“I wonder I do,” I answered, “after this cruel year you gave me. How could you leave me as you did while I was asleep beside you, and what was your reason? You will have to tell me now.”

“I believe you would be happier if I did not, if you just trusted me and never asked to know,” she answered, smiling back at me. “Are we not perfectly happy now? You have me again; look at me, am I just the same as when we parted?”

I looked at her intently, eagerly, my eyes drinking in all the perfect vision before me, each slim outline of the body, lying back now on the couch where we both were sitting, all the delicacy of the transparent skin, the smooth white forehead with its fine, straight-drawn eyebrows, the lovely eyes searching mine. Yes, I had lost nothing of my possession, and there seemed rather something added to that inner light and that wonderful look of intellect and power that shone through the face.

“I think you are the same,” I said slowly, seeking vainly to express that indefinable extra light that seemed upon her face.

“Only perhaps more lovely. But tell me what your reason was. I cannot bear to think there is a dark gap between us.”

“You are so happy at this moment it seems a pity,” she murmured softly. “You will not feel so happy when you know, and it’s all over and past and forgotten. It’s a thunderstorm that has rolled by and left us again in the sunlight. We are in Paradise now, are we not?”

I looked at her, and the triumph of delighted joy I had in her rose up to my brain, filling it, making all else seem obscure and of no account. Yet something in her words stirred my brain anxiously. Why should I mind hearing what she had to say? Was it possible that she had acted on her first letter to me, after all, and, while forcing freedom on me, taken it also for herself? Was it possible she had lent my possession, herself, to another? That blind, insensate jealousy of the male in physical matters instantly flamed up through me. In that moment of extreme passion for her, of expected triumph and delight, it burnt at its most furious pitch. I felt I must _know_, must drag the secret out of her, and if it was what I thought in that unreasoning moment, I would kill us both.

I threw myself forward on her so that she could not move. “Now tell me,” I said. “You shall tell me, you promised you would.”

Viola looked up at me with a regretful gaze but without any shrinking from my savage look and grasp.

“Certainly I will,” she said gently; “but you will regret forcing me to tell you. Well, I left you, Trevor, because I found I was going to be the mother of your child.”

“Viola!”

Had she stabbed me in the breast as I leant over her, the shock could not have been more great. To me the words seemed to go straight to my heart and stop it. I could not speak beyond that one word. For the moment I was absolutely stunned, paralysed. I took my hands from her arms which I had been holding, rose from the couch mechanically, and walked away from her, trying to realise, to understand what she had said and its meaning.

This was the fact that stood out most clearly before my disordered mental vision: knowing she was going to be in danger, to suffer, she had fled from me to bear the burden of it alone. And, next, that I had brought that burden and suffering on her. That spirit, so far above earthly things, as I always thought her, I had dragged down to know the common trials, share the common lot of earthly womanhood. The pain of these two ideas, the agony they brought with them to me in those moments was something almost unendurable. I felt crushed, absolutely ground into the dust before it. I sat down by the table and put both hands across my eyes, shutting out her exquisite vision, trying to shut out my thoughts. I felt as a religious enthusiast might feel who in a moment of drunken madness had outraged a sacred shrine.

Viola was to me, had always been, far more than a wife or a mistress is to a man; she was also the Idea to my brain, and what his Idea is to an artist an artist alone can know. But it is something he will live and die for, and count his heart’s blood as nothing beside it. That she was a sacred thing, to be protected and guarded from the sordid incidents of daily life that she hated, had always been my thought. She was an artist, and as such had Art’s own penalties to pay–the excessive nervous strain it puts upon the body, the long weakening tension, the extreme mental and bodily fatigue that sometimes accompanies or follows an artist’s flight into the Elysian fields, from which he brings back those deathless flowers of music, verse, song, or colour to plant in the world. It is not fair that such a one should have to bear the common ills of life as well as pay those penalties.

That had always been my view. Viola was apart from the world, a daughter of the gods, not suited for, nor designed for the common sufferings of the clay. Love she might know, or rather must know, for love is always the handmaiden to Art, but motherhood, no. For those thousands and thousands of women who inhabit this world and have no divine gifts to bestow maternity is a pleasing and natural occupation; for the one amongst those thousands who has heard the Divine whisper and walked and conversed with the gods, and who can repeat those whispers to mortals, it is a waste of divine energy–a sacrilege. For genius is not handed down. It is given to one alone. It is not hereditary. For genius accumulated through heredity would at last produce a god. And that the jealous gods will not allow. Therefore the child of a genius is rarely a genius itself. It is born with a veil across its eyes that it may not see divinity and so return to the common type.

Knowing all this and feeling it keenly to my heart’s core, I had given my promise to Viola. A promise, which indeed was part of a religion to me, and this was how I had kept it!

The intense humiliation of it all rolled through me, stunning me like a physical agony.

I heard her voice speaking gently to me, but I could not understand what she said, could not respond.

In memory, I was listening again to her voice when she had come that first night to the studio:

“You will not let our love drag us down to earth, will you? Let it only inspire us more. We will go to the Elysian fields together to gather the amaranth flowers. You will not try to turn me into the ordinary married woman. I could not accept those duties and that life. I want to live in my music, in the heaven of Ideas, as I do now. And to you I want always to be the vision, the dream, the spirit of your thoughts: never the wife, the mother, the keeper of the household, occupied with worldly matters.”

And I had promised with all the rapture and the fervour of one who understood and thought her thoughts, and who had always longed to escape from the commonplace, the trivial matters of the world, to whom, as to her, the deathless amaranth flowers of beauty, of art, of Idea, of inspiration were all.

But the promise had been broken. Through me she had known pain, suffering, danger, inability to work, anxiety, daily care for months and months alone. The exquisite, perfect form I had counted so sacred, had suffered the common earthly lot. And through me. My thoughts seemed crushing me, grinding me beneath them, but at last her voice penetrated to my brain, through its anguish of self-reproach.

“I knew you would feel it so much, dear Trevor, that was why I kept it secret from you and went away, but now it is all over and past, you must not dwell on it. It is irrevocable. Don’t reproach yourself about it. Let us be glad we are in Heaven now.”

I rose and went over to her and knelt by the couch, raising one of her hands to my lips and holding it against me.

“Dear! Dearest one! You went away to endure all that misery alone, so that it should not distress me? How wonderfully unselfish you have always been to me!”

“Oh, no,” she answered quickly, a light colour rising all over her face.

“You must not think that. I went away for myself, too. I could not bear that you should see me disfigured, spoiled, as you would think. I had always been the ideal to you. I could not bear to let you see me as an ordinary woman. I was afraid I should lose your passion for me, which I value more than anything else in the world. I felt I could face everything but that. Terrifying and horrible as it all was to meet quite alone, still it was better than feeling I was losing your love and desire.”

“But you would not have done,” I said vehemently; “nothing could make any difference to my love for you.”

“Not to your love, perhaps, but our passions are not in our own control. They rise under certain influences, sink and decline under others, and we can do nothing. We must look these things in the face. See now, if I were suddenly turned to an old, old woman, withered before your eyes, would you feel as you feel now?”

“No,” I answered slowly, “I admit old age….”

“Or hopelessly disfigured–my face rendered hideous by burns or loathsome with disease? You could not desire me then, I should not expect it. Love is unchangeable, but passion is a flame that shivers in every transient breeze. We can’t help it. It _is_ so. As I look at you now I love you for your strength and grace, above all for your beautiful form. If you hobbled into the room, bent and lame, I should love you still but not as I do now, quite, quite otherwise. And I was disfigured, temporarily, I know, but it went on for months and months. I was no longer your gay, glad spirit with the radiant wings. I was broken, distorted, hideous.”

“Don’t tell me,” I muttered; “I can’t bear it.” She put one arm round my neck and her soft lips on my hair.

“It is over,” she whispered. “Do not be sorry, do not reproach yourself. It was so much better for you not to know, not to see it. It would all have preyed upon you so from day to day. _I_ felt the long waiting. It seemed the time would never pass, and each day and night I felt so glad to know you were not there, to suffer with me, but away, quite out of reach of it all.”

“But suppose you had died … without me.”

“The chances were against that. And if I had, it would have still been better that you should be away … for you. I would have come to you after death, really a spirit then, and lived ever after in your soul.”

I put my arms round her, living, warm, beautiful, in the flesh.

“What a lonely, terrible year for you!” I said. “It never occurred to me … I never dreamed … and I can’t understand now….”

“You remember the night I came back from Lawton’s place to you? … You were mad with jealous rage, and I am so little accustomed to resist you…. Well, it was my punishment for even thinking I could leave you…. At least, I have always accepted it as such.”

“I can never, never forgive myself.”

“I knew you would take it like that, and now you see I can make you soon forget it. If you had felt like this for weeks and months it would almost have killed you.”

She played with my hair and her lips touched my eyebrows.

“Yes,” she answered, looking back at me sadly and closely. “Are you sorry?”

“No, I am not sorry,” I answered savagely.

“I thought you would not be.”

“Are you?”

She sighed.

“I hardly know. It was so like you, Trevor, such a very, very beautiful boy, exactly like you in miniature. I loved it, of course; I could not help it, but it is better as it is, better that it should die. We could not foresee how it would grow up, and so many men, the majority, are such monsters, such cruel fiends, it is really a crime to bring one into the world.”

I was silent, thinking over that wonderful devotion and courage she had shewn me. Of all the solutions to the problem of her flight from me, this had never presented itself to my mind. We are taught both by tradition and experience how most women cling to their lover at such a time. Though indifferent, even faithless to him in their beauty and health, they come to him then for protection, for assistance. For their name’s sake, to save their conventional honour, they will even accept marriage with one they no longer love, or force themselves on one they know has no longer love for them.

But how different this one, as always, had been! To preserve inviolate the spirit of our love, she had gone forward to meet what must to a sensitive nature like hers have been a time of horror and terror, absolutely alone, unsupported except by the thought that I was away, free, unable to share her misery!

With gifts in both hands she had come to me and laid them all in mine. Then, when I had broken my trust and brought distress upon her, when she was in need and I could have been the one to give, she had fled away from love, from consolation, from any return or reparation. Proud, courageous, independent, untamable, as she had always been, she was in comparison with other women as a lioness is to a gazelle.

I folded my arms round her tighter at these thoughts, for the lioness was mine and I owned her.

Perhaps, after all, it was worth while to suffer that agony of self-reproach I had just now, and was suffering still, to see put in such shining light before me her courage and her worth.

This was a white night, surely, as the others had been coloured, for as white is the blending of all the colours into one, so in this night all the emotions of those previous nights were blended. Passion, jealousy, triumph, and an agony like death had all swept over me in these few short hours, and now from them all, blent together and burning as metals in a smelter, rose up the extreme white vivid flame of love for her like the white silken tongue of fire, the last degree of fiercest heat that the smelter can produce.

I bent over her, looking down into her eyes, deep down into those living depths where I seemed to see the rays of an eternal heaven, clasping the smooth breast to me, closely, that its passionate heart-beats might answer my own, and in our veins burnt that intense white flame that melts into itself the glory of the immortal Spirit, the wonder of the hereafter, and all the joys of the world.

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