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Title: Five Nights
Author: Cross, Victoria, 1868-1952
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Five Nights" ***

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FIVE NIGHTS

A Novel

By

Victoria Cross

1908



By Victoria Cross

  Five Nights
  Life's Shop Window
  Anna Lombard
  Six Women
  Six Chapters of a Man's Life
  The Woman Who Didn't
  To-morrow?
  Paula
  A Girl of the Klondike
  The Religion of Evelyn Hastings
  Life of my Heart



CONTENTS


  PART I

  The Gold Night

      I THE TAKU INLET
     II THE TEA-SHOP
    III IN THE WOOD


  PART II

  The Violet Night

     IV AT THE STUDIO
      V THE CALL OF THE CUCKOO


  PART III

  The Black Night

     VI IN MAYFAIR
    VII FREEDOM


  PART IV

  The Crimson Night

   VIII LOSS
     IX IN 'FRISCO
      X IN THE SHADOW OF THE VOLCANO
     XI THE WAY OF THE GODS


  PART V

  The White Night

    XII THE FLAMES OF LIFE'S FURNACE



FIVE NIGHTS


    "The nights have different colours. Some nights are black, the
    nights of storm: some are electric blue, some are silver, the
    moon-filled nights: some are red under the hot planet Mars or the
    fierce harvest moon. Some are white, the white nights of the
    Arctic winter: but this was a violet night, a hot, mysterious,
    violet night of Midsummer."

    _LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW_.



INTRODUCTION


As one looks over any period of one's life, it appears behind one as
a shining maze of brilliant colour with spots in it here and there of
brighter or darker hue. Each spot represents a period of time when our
happiness has glowed brighter or waned; sometimes it is a day, more
often it is a night. Looking back now, over a stretch of my existence
I see many such spots gleaming brightly; they are nights of colour.
The history of many of these is too sacred to be written, but there
are Five Nights, which, though not the dearest to my memory, have yet
stamped themselves and their colour on it for ever. And the record of
these five nights is contained in the following pages.

TREVOR LONSDALE.



PART ONE

THE GOLD NIGHT



CHAPTER I

THE TAKU INLET


It was just striking three as I came up the companion-stairs on to the
deck of the Cottage City, into the clear topaz light of a June morning
in Alaska: light that had not failed through all the night, for in
this far northern latitude the sun only just dips beneath the horizon
at midnight for an hour, leaving all the earth and sky still bathed in
limpid yellow light, gently paling at that mystic time and glowing to
its full glory again as the sun rises above the rim.

Our steamer had left the open sea and entered the Taku Inlet, and we
were steaming very slowly up it, surrounded on every side by great
glittering blocks of ice, flashing in the sunshine as they floated by
on the buoyant blue water. How blue it was, the colouring of sea and
sky! Both were so vividly blue, the note of each so deep, so intense,
one seemed almost intoxicated with colour. I stepped to the vessel's
side, then made my way forward and stood there; I, the lover of the
East, dazzled by the beauty of the North! The marvellous picture
before me was painted in but three colours, blue, gold, and white.

The sides of the inlet were jagged lines of white, the sparkling
crystalline whiteness of eternal snow on sharp-pointed, almost
lance-like mountain peaks; the water a broad band of blue, the sky
above a canopy of blue, and there at the end of the inlet, closing it,
like some colossal monster crouched awaiting us, lay the Muir, the
huge glacier, a solid wedge of ice, white also, but a transparent
white full of blue shadows.

Who shall describe the wonderful air and atmosphere of the North? Its
brilliancy, its delicacy, its radiant diamond-like clearness? And the
silence, the enchanted stillness of the North? Now as we crept slowly
onwards over the vivid water between the flashing icebergs, there was
no sound. Complete silence round us, on earth and sea and in the blue
vault above, impressive, glittering silence. None of the passengers
had broken their sleep to come up to the glory above them, and I stood
alone at the forward part of the vessel gliding on through this dream
of lustrous blue. Slowly we advanced towards the Muir; very slowly,
for these shining bergs carried death with them if they should graze
hard against the steamer's side, and, cautiously, steered with
infinite pains, the little boat crept on, zigzagging between them. A
frail little toy of man, it seemed, to venture here alone; small,
black, impertinent atom forcing its way so hardily into this
magnificence of colour, this silent splendour, this radiant stillness
of the North. Into this very fastness of the most gigantic forces of
Nature it had penetrated, and the sapphire sea supported it, the
transparent light illumined it, the lance-like mountains looked down
upon it, and the glistening bergs forbore to crush it, as if
disdaining to harm so fragile a thing.

Very slowly we pushed up the inlet, approaching the shimmering
blue-green wall of ice that barred the upper end; seven hundred feet
down below the clear surface of the water descends this wall, while
three hundred feet of it rise above, forming a glorious shining
palisade across the entire width of the inlet. As the sun played on
the glittering façade, rays struck out from it as from a reflector, of
every shade of green and blue, the deepest hue of emerald mingling
with the lightest sapphire, iridescent, sparkling, wonderful. As we
crept still nearer, over the living blue of the water, the continual
fall of the icebergs from the front wall of the glacier became
apparent. At intervals of about five minutes, with a terrific crash
like thunder a great wedge of the glittering wall would fall forward
into the blue-green depths, and a cloud of snowy spray rise up
hundreds of feet into the air. The berg, thus detached, after a few
minutes would rise to the surface, glistening, dazzling, and begin
its joyous, buoyant voyage downwards to the sea. In all this brilliant
setting, with this glory of light around and the triumphal crash of
sound like the salute of cannon, amid this joyous movement and in this
blaze of colour, amid all that seemed to personify life, we were
watching the death of the glacier.

The colossal Muir Glacier, the remains of a world the history of which
is lost in the dim twilight none can now penetrate, is dying slowly
through a million years. From the mountains, eternally snow-covered,
where its huge body, three hundred and fifty miles in extent, has
rested through the centuries, it creeps forward slowly towards the sea
to meet its doom. Formerly its lip touched the open ocean where now
the Taku inlet commences to run inland. But the icy waters, that yet
are so much warmer than itself, caressed it with eroding caresses and
melted it, and broke bergs from it and rushed inwards, following it
till they formed the Taku Inlet, and now the process still goes on,
the gigantic body moves forward inch by inch and the green waves break
the bergs from its face as the sun invades its structure; and so it
lies there, dying slowly through the countless years, glorious,
miraculous.

The Captain had promised to approach the face of the glacier as near
as was reasonably safe and lie there at anchor for an hour, that the
passengers might land at the side of the inlet and those who wished
could explore the glacier.

An hour! What was an hour? Those sixty golden minutes would be gone in
a flash. Yet it would be an hour of life, of deep emotion, face to
face with this monster, strange relic of a forgotten world, stretched
on its glorious death-bed.

I was alone still. Not another passenger had yet come up, and I could
lean there undisturbed, trying to open my eyes still wider, to expand
my heart, to stretch my brain, that I might drink in more of the
inimitable grandeur and beauty round me.

The nearer we drew to the glacier the closer packed became the water
with the floating bergs; they threatened the ship now on every side,
and so slowly did we move we hardly seemed advancing. The bergs
flashed and shone as they passed us, rayed through with jewel-like
colours, and on one gliding by far from the ship's side I saw two
seals at play. For many hundred miles past these seals were the only
living things I had seen. The forests on the shore, so thick in the
first part of the journey by the Alaskan coast, had long since given
way to barren rocks, snow-capped peaks, and ice-filled clefts. No life
seemed possible there, the wide distant blue above had shown no bird
nor shadow of bird passing. There was no voice of insect nor the least
of Nature's children here. Between the thunderous crash of the
ice-falls that seemed to shiver the golden air there was intense and
solemn stillness.

But the seals played merrily on their floating berg as they passed me,
and I watched them long through field-glasses as the joyous, turbulent
blue waves carried them far out of my sight towards the open sea.

The clanging of the breakfast bell made me leave my place and go down
for a hurried breakfast. I was chilled through, for the early morning
air is keen, the pure breath of infinite snowfields, and I took my
coffee gratefully amongst the crowd of hungry passengers.

Rough miners some of them, going up to Sitka from the great Treadwell
mine at Juneau, traders on their way to Fort Wrangle, and some few
explorers. Amongst them were four men our boat had taken on board as
we passed the mouth of the Stickeen river. They had started from
Canada, lured by the light of the gold that lay under the snows of the
Klondike, intending to travel there overland. Losing their way, they
had wandered with their pack train for eighteen months in these vast
solitudes of ice and snow, groping blindly towards the coast.

Food had failed them, their horses had died by the way from want or
fatigue. Faced by starvation, the men had eaten those of their pack
animals that had survived, then, finally, when hope had almost left
them, they came in sight of the sea.

They were talking of this and their terrible conflict with snow-storm
and ice-floe as I joined them, of the plans for making money with
which they had started and their failure.

I got away from them all and went back to my place as soon as I could,
and spent the rest of the morning as I had begun it, alone at the
forward end.

There were very few passengers like myself. Not many people for mere
pleasure would take that hazardous voyage along the coast, for it was
new country and not a tenth of the sunken rocks and dangerous shoals
were yet on any chart. All the way up along that rocky and treacherous
shore we had seen the evidences of wreck and disaster everywhere.
Above the flats of shimmering water, where the gold or crimson of
sunset lay, rose constantly the tops of masts, shadowy and spectral,
telling of the sunken hull, the pale corpses beneath those gleaming
waves. Ship after ship went down out of those adventurous little
coasting vessels that plied up and down the coast trading with the
natives, and as we passed these half submerged masts, we often asked
ourselves--"Will the Cottage City be more lucky?" She was trading,
like all the other boats that go there, with the Alaskan natives, and
to go as far north as the Muir was no part of the official programme.

But the fares of the few passengers who really wished to take all
risks and go there was a temptation and overcame the fear of the
dreaded Taku Inlet with its monstrous crashing bergs and its
possibility of sudden and furious storms. So the little steamer was
here, creeping up slowly through this vision of mystic blue towards
the glacier, which lay there white, vast, shadowy, mysterious, and my
heart beat quicker and quicker as we approached.

I went off in one of the first boats and the moment it touched the
pebbly strand of the side of the inlet I jumped out and walked away,
eager to be alone to enjoy the glory of it all away from the rasping
voices, the worldly talk of my companions, the perpetual "littleness"
of ideas that humanity drags with it everywhere.

As I turned from the boat the voices followed me clearly, distinctly,
in the exquisite rarefied air.

Thin waves of laughter mingled with them from time to time, growing
faint behind me, then the distance closed up between us and I heard no
more.

The steamer had landed about thirty passengers and crew, and they
seemed immediately lost in these vast expanses. When I had walked a
few minutes up the beach from the water's edge, I looked round and was
apparently alone. Some few black dots here and there disfiguring the
snowy slopes and glittering ice-covered rocks was all that remained of
them. In the midst of the vivid blue-green of the inlet behind me, a
little wedge of black, lay the steamer, the only reminder that I was
one also of these miserable black dots and in an hour I should be
collected and taken away as one of them. For this hour, however, I was
free and at one with the divine glory about me.

It was just noon. The sky was of a pale and perfect blue, the air
still, of miraculous clearness and radiant with the pure light of the
North, unshaded, unsoftened by the smallest mist or cloud. The silence
was unbroken except for the regular thunder of the falling bergs, that
continued with absolute precision at the five-minute interval, and the
accompanying splash of the water. I walked on up the strand, having
the great glistening wall of the glacier's face somewhat on my left.
It was impossible to approach it on land, as the fervid green water
lay deep all about its base. It was only at the side of the inlet that
little beaches had been formed, and on one of these I stood. The
steamer could not get nearer the glacier for fear of the floating
bergs, and a small boat could only approach with deadliest peril at
the risk of being crushed beneath the falling ice or swamped by the
wild division and upheaval of the water that it caused.

But here, on the beach, was a world of enchantment second only in
beauty to the glacier itself, for many of the bergs had been stranded
there by the playful tides. They stood there now towering up in a
thousand different forms, hundreds of feet above one's head, drawing
all the light of the sunbeams into their glittering recesses, turning
them there into violet, purple, and crimson hues, mauve, saffron, and
emerald, blood-red and topaz, and then throwing them out in a million
lance-like rays of colour, dazzling and blinding the vision. Like the
most wonderful rainbows turned into solid masses they stood there, or
like the jewels, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds broken from some
giant's crown and scattered recklessly along the strand.

I went up to them and walked beneath an ice arch that glowed rose
without as the sun touched it and deepest violet within. Then on, into
a cave beyond where the last chamber was coldest white but the outer
rim seemed hung with blood-red fire and the middle wall glowed deepest
emerald. On, on from one to another, each like a perfect dream of
exquisite colour: sunrise and sunset, and all the hues of earth that
we ever see were blended together in those glorious bergs.

What a phantasmagoria of colour, what a wonderful vision! Wrapped up
in the delight of it, I passed on through some and round others,
pursuing my way up the beach, and ascended slowly the rocks, the huge
morain at the side of the glacier, while impressively from the inlet
came unvaryingly the thunder of the five-minute guns, hastening my
steps, dogging them, as it were, with warning of the passing time.

After a heavy climb taken too quickly, when I put my foot first on the
clear blue-green surface of the glacier, its immensity, its grandeur
came home to me. The idea of the huge size of it seems to take the
human mind in a curious grip and appal it. Three hundred and fifty
square miles of ice stretched round me, white, unbroken, except here
and there where gigantic fissures and ravines opened in its surface;
ravines where deep blue-green colour glowed in the sides, as if it
were the blue-green blood of the glacier. A tiny wind from the north,
keen as a knife blade, blew in my face as I stood there, out of the
calm blue sky, and seemed to whisper to me of the terrifying nights of
storm, of the deadly wind before which all life goes down like a
straw, that raged here in the winter. On every side, as far as the
eyes could reach, wide white plains of undulating ice and snow, broken
here and there by patches of barren rock, that seemed now by some
optical delusion, against the glaring white, to be of the brightest
mauve and violet tints. Only that; ice and snow and rock for mile upon
mile, until the tale of three hundred and fifty is told. No track or
trace of bird, no sweet companionship of little furred, four-footed
things, no blade of grass or smallest plant or flower, no sound but
the roar of the riven ice, the groans of the dying glacier.

I walked on slowly, looking inland towards the white fields
stretching away endlessly into the distance till the blue of the sky
seems to come down and mingle with the blue shadows in the snow.
Beneath my feet glimmered sometimes the green glass-like surface of
smooth ice, at others the thin crisp covering of drifted snow crackled
at every step. Sometimes the crevasses were so narrow one could easily
walk over them, others yawned widely, many yards across, necessitating
a long detour to pass round them.

Looking back from the side of one of them as I walked up it to find
the narrowest part, I saw the objectionable black dots had swarmed up
on to the edge of the glacier and through the thin, glittering air
their voices and laughter at intervals came faintly to me. I sprang
over the crevasse and walked on quickly to a point where the fissures
grew thick about my feet and the green-blue blood of the glacier
glowed in them on every side.

I was looking now down the inlet and was near enough to the face of
the glacier to hear, though dulled by distance, the crash of the
falling bergs into the foaming water beneath. I could not approach
nearer for crevasses hemmed me in; the ice showed itself clear of snow
and was so slippery I could hardly stand. One false step now, one
small slip and I should disappear down one of these green rents,
swallowed up in between those gleaming crystal sides to remain one
with the glacier for all time. My idea had been to approach the face
of the glacier from the top, but I found this to be as impossible, by
reason of the crevasses, as it had been to approach it from the sea on
account of the falling bergs.

Sacred, inaccessible, guarded above and below, the great gleaming wall
stood there through the centuries, defying the puny curiosity, the
feeble efforts of man to even gaze upon it and marvel over it, except
from a long distance. I would have given all I had to have been able
to advance to the very edge and, kneeling there, look over it down
those majestic palisades of white flushed through with green, throwing
back to the sun, their destroyer and conqueror, a thousand flashing
rays as if in defiance of the slow death being dealt out to them, like
one who dies brandishing to the last his sword in the face of his
enemy. I longed to look over, down the glimmering wall, to the
swelling rush of the green waters as they leapt up rejoicing to
receive the colossal diamond-like berg as it crashed down to them, to
see them seethe over it and fling their spray high up in the sunshine
in mocking revelry; but it was impossible. The fissures in the ice
multiplied themselves as one neared the edge and now were spread round
my feet in a perfect network, like the meshes of a snare. It was
impossible to go forward, and I was unwilling to go back. I stood
motionless on a little tongue of polished ice between two blue-green
chasms, so deep that they seemed riven down to the very heart of the
glacier; stood there, drinking in the keen gold air and the beauty of
the blue arch above, of the boundless spaces of glittering white round
me, of the narrow green inlet so far below from which echoed the
reverberating roar of the falling ice.

I was debating with myself, should I stay here alone for a time,
letting the steamer go, after having stored some provisions for me on
the shore, and call again for me a few weeks later, in any case before
the short summer of these northern latitudes was over, and winter
closed the inlet?

To stay here alone, the one single human being, in a thousand miles of
space, and not only the one human being, but the one _life_, with no
companionship of animal, bird, or insect, that would be an experience
of solitude indeed!

The idea attracted me; all day and all night to hear nothing but that
thunderous roar, and see nothing but the shining sea, the gleaming
ice-fields, and the glittering bergs, to be alone with Nature, to see
her, as it were, intimately in her awful beauty, with breast and brow
unveiled--and, perhaps, have death as one's reward!

There was fascination in the thought.

What ideas would come to one as one watched the little steamer, the
only link that held one still bound to the world of men, weigh anchor
and steam slowly down the green inlet, departing and leaving one
behind it, as one watched it growing smaller, dwindling ever, till it
was a mere speck, and then saw it vanish, leaving the green riband of
water unbroken save for the passing bergs? How one would realise
solitude when the boat had absolutely disappeared, and how that
solitude would thrill through and through one's blood as the long
light night rolled by and dawn and day succeeded with their unvarying
march of silent glittering hours!

And if death came on the wings of a storm such as rises suddenly in
these regions and piled high the snow over the camp, freezing the
inmate, or if it came by slow starvation, the steamer having been lost
on that dangerous rocky coast and none other having come in time, how
would death seem to one here, already so far removed from men and all
desire and lust of the world, here, where already all earthly things
had almost ceased to be and one's spirit had merged into the Infinite?

Death would seem to one in different guise from when he comes to us in
the midst of the delights of the world, with the baubles of life
around us, or in the stress of the battle-field in the moment of
victory, surrounded by our comrades.

Death here would come but as the crown, the climax to the solitude,
the detachment, the isolation, would seem but as the laying down the
head on the breast of Nature, becoming one with her immensity, her
grandeur.

For some minutes I was keenly tempted to stay, the idea held my mind
and fascinated it, but with the vision of death came the recoil from
it born from the remembrance of my art. The same recoil that had saved
me many times before, for youth is usually greatly inclined to
suicide, either directly or indirectly in the dangers it courts. But
in an artist this is strangely balanced by his love for his work. When
he has ceased to wish for life or heed it for himself he still feels
instinctive revolt against extinguishing that diviner spark than life
itself, his genius, lent him from the celestial fire.

The thought of my work dispelled the enchanted dream into which I had
fallen. Instinctively I turned and very slowly began to retrace my
steps amongst the yawning pitfalls. As I did so I heard a hoarse hoot
from the steamer lying below, to tell me it was about to leave,
another and another resounded dully from it, warning me to hasten my
return.

I made my way back to the shore where the boat and the impatient
sailors awaited me. I took my seat in it, turning my eyes to the
glistening, glimmering white palisade rising over the sapphire sea.

When we had reached the steamer and its head was turned round I stood
at the stern and watched that palisade for long, as it receded and
receded. At last the blue distance swallowed it up. I could see no
more than a silvery line dividing the blues of meeting sea and sky.
Then I went down to my cabin and locked the door and lay down on my
berth in the quiet, trying to live over again that one hour of close
contact with the beauty of the North.

After dinner that night I wrote a long letter to my cousin Viola about
the beauty of the Muir. She would understand, I knew. What I thought
she would feel, for our brains were cast in the same mould. The letter
finished, it was still too early to go to bed; so I picked up a
curious book called "Life's Shop Window" which I had been reading the
previous night, and read this passage which had struck me before, over
again:

"So, as we look into our future, we see ourselves beloved and wealthy;
victorious, famous, and free to wander through the sweetest paths of
the world, passing through a thousand scenes, sometimes loving,
sometimes warring, tasting and drinking of everything sweet and
stimulating, knowing all things, enjoying all in turn; but this is the
life of a God, not a man. And it is perhaps the God in us which so
savagely demands the life of a God."

"But it is not granted to us."

Yet this was the life I was trying to lead, and to some extent I
succeeded. Change, change, it is the life of life, perhaps especially
to the artist.

And I was an artist now, thanks to the decision of the Royal Academy
last year to accept the worst picture I had submitted to them for four
years. Ever since my fingers could clasp round anything at all they
had loved to hold a brush; for years in my teens I had studied
painting under the best teachers of technique in Italy. For two or
three years I had done really good work, with the divine afflatus
thrilling through every vein. And last year I had painted rather a
commonplace picture and it had been hung on the line in the Academy,
and so my friends all said I really was an artist now, and I modestly
accepted the style and title, with outward diffidence.

How little any of them guessed, as they congratulated me, of the wild
rapture of feeling, of intense gratitude with which I had listened to
the Divine whisper that had come to my ears as a boy of seventeen
sitting in a small bare bedroom, on the floor with the sheet of paper
before me on which I had drawn a woman's head. As I looked at it, I
knew suddenly my power, and the Voice that is above all others said
within me: "_I_ have made you an artist. None can undo or dispute MY
work."

From that moment I cared for neither praise nor blame. The opinion of
men affected me not at all. My gift was mine, and I knew it. I held it
straight from the Divine hands. I had the Divine promise with me for
as long as I should live on this earth.

And I was filled with a boundless delight in life and my own powers.

When I showed my original pictures all painted under inspiration to my
father, he carefully put on his pince-nez and studied them very
closely. After that he said he must reserve his judgment. When they
went to the Academy and were promptly refused, he drew a long face and
said I had better have gone into the Indian Civil Service as he
wished. Subsequently, when I had sold them all, and not one for less
than a thousand guineas, he began to enter upon a placid state of
contentment with me which induced him to say to other captious
relations--"Let the boy alone, he will be an artist some day." At
which I used to laugh inwardly and go away to my studio to listen to
the Divine voice dictating fresh pictures to me. For five years in
Italy I had studied closely and worked unremittingly, keeping myself
for my art alone and existing only in it. My teachers had called me
industrious. Another phrase which always must make an artist laugh
when applied to his art.

To those who know the wild pleasure, the almost mad joy of exercising
a really natural gift, it sounds as funny as to talk of a drunkard
industriously getting drunk.

However, this by the way. The world is the world, and artists are
artists; the artist may understand the world, but the world can never
understand the artist.

I was happy, life passed like a golden dream till I was twenty-two,
and my father was satisfied that I was an "industrious" student.

From twenty-two till now, when I was twenty-eight, life had opened out
into fuller colour still. My art remained the life of the soul, of all
that was best in me, but the brain and the senses had come forward,
demanding their share of recognition, too, and out of the many
coloured strands of which we can weave our web of life, I had chosen
that which gleams the next brightest to art, the strand of passion,
and woven much with that.

I had travelled, passing from country to country, city to city,
finding love and inspiration everywhere, for the world is full of both
for those who desire and look for them, and now I had come on this
coasting trip along the shores of Alaska in the same spirit, looking
for pictures in the golden atmosphere, for joy in the golden days and
nights.

My sketch-book was full of ideas and jottings, and I looked forward
much to the landing at Sitka where I hoped to find new and good
material. The hopeless ugliness of the Alaskan natives had so far
appalled me. An artist chiefly of the face and figure, as I was, could
not hope to find a model amongst them. As our steamer had come up the
coast I had looked in vain for even a decent-sized woman or child
amongst them. They seem a race without a single beauty, possessing
neither stature, nor colour, nor length of hair, nor even plump
shapeliness. Undersized, leather-skinned, small-eyed, thin, and
wizened, they never seem to be young. They seem to start middle-aged
and go on growing older.

No, I had really had no luck at present on my Alaskan tour, but I was
naturally sanguine and hoped still something from Sitka.

Most capitals give you something if you visit them, and Sitka was the
capital of Alaska.

As I lay in my berth that night, made wakeful by the bright light, I
was thinking over past incidents in my life and all the Minnies and
Marys that had been connected with them. They seemed all to have been
Mary or Minnie with Marias in Italy and France. I fell asleep at last,
hoping whatever Fate had in store for me at Sitka, it wouldn't be a
Mary or a Minnie, but some new name embodying a new idea.



CHAPTER II

THE TEA-SHOP


When we landed at Sitka I went ashore with a fellow passenger. He was
a clever man, and had made trips up there already for the sake of
taking photographs of the people and the scenery; he knew Sitka well
and came up to me just before we arrived there with the remark:

"If you come with me I'll take you to have tea with the prettiest girl
you've ever seen."

This certainly seemed an invitation to accept, and I did so on the
spot.

"She really is," he continued, observing my sceptically raised
eyebrows, "wonderfully pretty. She keeps a tea-shop and she is
Chinese." With that he bolted into his own cabin, which was next mine,
and as I heard him laughing, I concluded he was joking and thought no
more about it. However, as the ship glided up over flat sheets of
golden water to the landing-stage, he joined me again, and together we
stood looking up the principal street of Sitka which runs down to meet
the little quay.

It was just four in the afternoon, and everything was vivid living
gold, as the floods of yellow sunshine filled all the shining air. The
green copper dome of the church alone stood out a soft spot of
delicate colour in the dazzling burnished haze.

At the sides of the street sat and crouched the small squat figures of
the Alaskan Indians, each with a mat before it on which the owner had
set out his little store of wares--bottles of various-coloured sands,
reindeer slippers beautifully embroidered in blue beads, carved walrus
teeth.

We stepped on the shore and the Indians looked up at us with quaint
brown questioning eyes, like their own seals.

They did not ask you to buy, but watched you silently.

"Come along," said my friend, "we'll go up and get tea before there's
a crowd."

After about five minutes' walk, while I was gazing about interested in
this quaint little capital, my companion suddenly exclaimed:

"In here," and turned through an opening at the corner of a square
enclosure on our right hand. I followed, and saw we had entered a
little square court or compound, similar to those with which the
poorer classes in any Eastern community surround their huts.

The floor was dried and hardened mud, the walls about seven feet high,
and numerous small tables laid for tea stood round them.

My companion did not pause here, however, but went straight through in
at the low house door, and we found ourselves in a very small, dark
passage, hung with red and with red cloths dangling from the ceiling,
that swept our heads as we came in.

It seemed quite dark inside, coming from the fierce gold light of the
streets, but there was a dim little lamp in Eastern glass of many
colours swinging somewhere at the farther end, and we found our way
down to a low door in the side of the passage. This brought us into a
small square room which gave the impression of being sunk below the
level of the street. There were diminutive windows in the outer wall,
but they were close to the low ceiling and though the glorious light
from without tried hard to come in, it was successfully obstructed by
little rush blinds of red and green. The rushes were placed vertically
side by side and fastened together with string and painted in bright
tints. The breeze from the sea came through them and sang a low song
of its own. The walls were hung with red stuff curtains, over which
ramped wonderful Chinese dragons in green; the floor was spread with
something soft, on which the feet made no sound; in the corners of the
room stood some little tables.

To the farthest of these, under the rush-covered windows, we made our
way and sat down on some very ordinary American chairs, a hideous note
in the quaint surrounding, introduced as a concession, no doubt, to
Western taste.

"I rather like this, Morley," I said as I took my seat and looked
round.

"Thought you would," he returned, and pressed his hand on a tiny
bronze figure standing on the table. At the touch of his finger the
head of the figure disappeared between its shoulders, and then sprung
up again, producing a harsh clanging sound of a gong.

Hardly a moment later the red curtains that hung over the doorway
parted, and a figure came into the room.

Such a sweet figure, the very spirit of poetic girlhood seemed
incarnate before us.

In appearance she was a Chinese maiden of seventeen or eighteen years;
seventeen or eighteen according to our standard of looks, doubtless
she was in reality younger.

The face was wonderfully beautiful, a very rounded oval and of the
most perfect creamy tint, the nose, straight and fine, was rather
long, the upper lip short, and the mouth very small, soft, and
full-lipped. The eyes inclined a little to the Chinese shape, but were
large, wide, and well-opened and brimming to the lids with
extraordinary light and fire; delicately narrow black eyebrows arched
above on the low satiny forehead, from which was brushed upwards a
mass of shining black hair piled on the top of the small head and
apparently secured there by two weighty gold pins thrust through from
side to side.

The last touch of beauty, if any were needed, was added by the
earrings of turquoise-blue stone that swung against the ivory-tinted
softness of the full young throat.

Those blue stones against the creamy neck! For years afterwards how I
could see them again in the darkness that lies behind closed lids! How
often I was back in the crimson darkness of the tiny chamber with the
sea song of the Alaskan waves coming through the painted rushes above
my head!

She was very simply dressed, yet so fitly to her own beauty.

A straight pale blue jacket covered her shoulders and opened on the
breast over a white muslin vest. Her skirts hung like the full
trousers of Persian women, and were a deep yellow in colour. Her feet
were bare, and shone white on the red floor.

"How do you do, Suzee?" said Morley.

"How do you do, Mister Morlee," returned the girl lightly, smiling and
showing pretty little teeth as she did so.

"You two gentlemen want some tea? Very good. I make it."

She glided to the curtains and disappeared as rapidly and noiselessly
as she had entered.

I turned to Morley with enthusiasm.

"She's lovely, perfect."

"Isn't she just? I knew you'd say so. But she's married, old man, so
don't you think you can go playing any tricks with her."

"Married?" I gasped incredulously, "that child? Impossible! You're
joking."

"I'm not, 'pon my honour. She has a great roaring brute of a baby,
too."

"How horrible!" I exclaimed. "Yes, horrible. You've spoiled it all. It
seems a sacrilege."

"Fiddlesticks," returned my practical friend. "That's the sort that
does these things, isn't it? Would you expect her to turn into an old
maid?"

"No, but so young!" I faltered. In reality it was a shock to me. To
have such an exquisite sight float before one for a moment, and then
to be roughly dragged down to earth from the exaltation it had caused,
hurt and bruised me.

The next moment she was back again, bearing a tray in her hands which
she set on our table, and deftly arranged the steaming teapot and tiny
cups before us.

As she bent near us over the little table a strange sensation of
delight came over me, a faint scent of roses reached me from the
little buds behind her ear. The blue stones in the long gold earrings
swung against her neck of cream as she set out the tea things.

"How is your boy, Suzee?" asked Morley with a tone of mischief in his
voice.

"He is very well, thank you, Mister Morlee."

"I should like to see him. Will you bring him in?" he continued,
commencing to pour out the tea.

"Yes; he is asleep now, but I will wake him up," she returned
nonchalantly, and, in spite of a protestation from me, she went out to
do so.

After a minute we heard loud screams from across the passage and
presently Suzee reappeared dragging (I can use no other phrase) in her
arms an enormous baby. Its face was red, and it was roaring lustily.
The girl-mother did not seem disturbed in the least by its cries, but
staggered slowly over to us, clasping the child awkwardly round the
waist and holding it flat against her own body.

It seemed very large, out of all proportion to the small and
exquisitely dainty mother. She was short and small, and the child
really, as I looked at it, seemed to be quite half the length of her
own body.

"What a big boy he is," remarked Morley.

"Yes, isn't he?" said the mother proudly.

The baby roared its loudest, tears streamed down its scarlet face, and
it dug its clenched knuckles furiously into its eyes.

"Surely it's in pain," I suggested.

"Oh, he always cries when he is woken up," returned the mother
tranquilly. She did not seem to take the least notice of the child's
bellowing. She might have been deaf for all the effect it had upon
her. She stood there placidly holding it, though it seemed very heavy
for her, while the child screamed itself purple. She began a
conversation with Morley just precisely as if the child were
non-existent.

I never saw such a picture, and it struck me suddenly I should like to
paint it, just as it was there, and call the thing "Maternity."

But no. What would be the good? No one, certainly not the British
public, would ever believe its truth.

They would think it a joke, and a grotesque one at that. "Beauty and
the Beast" would do for a name, I mused, or "Fact and Fancy."

Nothing could be more delicately soul-absorbingly beautiful than the
mother; nothing so brutally hideous as the child.

Suzee had sat down on the floor now, and the baby, still roaring, had
rolled on to its face on the ground beside her. Still she took not the
smallest notice of it; she laid one shapely hand on the small of its
back, as if to make sure it was there, and continued her conversation
tranquilly with Morley. How she could hear what he said I could not
tell. I could hear nothing but the appalling row the child made.

"Do take it away," I said after a few moments more, in an interval of
yells, during which the baby rolled, apparently in the last stages of
suffocation, on the floor. "I can't stand that noise."

"Ah!" said Suzee meditatively, lifting her glorious almond eyes to
mine, "you do not like my boy-baby?"

"I do not like the noise he makes," I said evasively, "and I don't
think he can be well, either."

"Oh yes, he is quite well," she returned composedly; "but I will take
him away."

So saying, she began to haul at the loose things about the child's
waist, as a tired gardener hauls at a sack of potatoes prior to
lifting it up.

I thought really she would get the child into her arms head downwards,
so carelessly did she seem to manage it, and as she rose and carried
it to the door it seemed as if the awkward weight of it must strain
her own slight body.

When the curtain closed behind her and the screams got faint in the
distance as the unhappy child was hauled to a back room, I drew a
breath of relief and began to drink my tea, which really hitherto I
had been too nervous to do. Morley chuckled and remarked:

"Good for you to be disillusioned."

"I'm not in the least, with _her_. She is a divine piece of physical
beauty. I wish I could get her on my canvas."

"You won't be able to; that old curmudgeon of a husband of hers will
see to that."

"I should think he has the devil of a temper, judging by his
offspring," I answered. "She looks sweet enough."

Morley nodded, and we finished our tea in silence. Suzee came back
presently with cigarettes for us and sat down on the floor herself,
rolling one up between supple fingers. She had an air of extraordinary
unruffled placidity. The dragging about of the child had not disturbed
her dress nor heated her face. In cool, tranquil, placid beauty she
sat and rolled cigarettes while the child's cries dimly echoed in the
distance.

"Where's the boss, Suzee?" questioned Morley presently.

"He has gone down to Fort Wrangle for two days," she returned, and my
spirits leapt up at her words. Her husband away for two days! Perhaps
there was a chance for a picture....

My eyes swept over her seated on the floor in front of us. What
exquisite supple lines! What sweet little dainty curves showed beneath
the blue silk jacket and sleeve! What a glory of light and passionate
expression in the liquid dark eyes when she raised them to us!

After a few minutes Morley got up, and I saw him laying down on the
table the money for our tea. I added my share, and Morley remarked,

"We'd better go and walk about before dinner, hadn't we? You'd like a
look round?"

I was gazing at Suzee.

"Do you have any time to yourself?" I asked her. "Later in the evening
perhaps when you could come for a walk with me."

Suzee looked up. There was surprise in those wonderful eyes, but I
thought I saw pleasure too.

"At six," she said. "I close the restaurant for a short time, but I
don't walk, I smoke and go to sleep. But I will come with you if it is
not too far," she added as an after-thought.

Morley gave a whistle, indicative of surprise and disapproval, but I
answered composedly.

"Very well, I shall come here at six; so don't be asleep and fail to
let me in!"

Suzee laughed and shook her head, and we picked up our hats and went
out of the little room into the passage. In the outer court, as we
passed through, we saw most of the tables occupied, and an elderly
woman serving.

"We had the best of it," I remarked.

"Yes, rather. But you are going ahead with that girl. Do be careful or
you'll have the old terror of a husband down on you."

"You introduced me," I returned laughing. "You have all the
responsibility."

"You know dinner's at six on this unearthly boat. Aren't you going to
get any dinner to-night?"

"I'm not very particular about it. I shall pick up something. I
thought six when all the men would be back on board would be her free
time."

"But what are you going to do with her?"

"Get her to pose for me, if she will."

"Anything else?"

"One never knows in life," I answered smiling.

Morley regarded me thoughtfully.

"You artists do manage to have a good time."

"You could have just the same if you chose," I said.

"No, I don't think I could somehow," he answered slowly. "I am not so
devilishly good-looking as you are, for one thing."

"Oh, I don't know," I replied; "and does that make much difference
with women, do you think? Isn't it rather a passionate responsiveness,
a go-aheadness, that they like?"

"Yes, I think it is, but then that's it, you've got that. I don't
think I have. I don't seem to want the things, to see anything in
them, as you do."

I laughed outright. We were walking slowly down one of the gold,
light-filled streets towards the church now, and everything about us
seemed vibrating in the dazzling heat.

"If you don't want them I should think it's all right." I said.

"No, it isn't," returned my companion gravely. "You want a thing very
much and you get it, and have no end of fun. I don't want it and don't
get it, and don't have the fun. So it makes life very dull."

"Well, I _am_ very jolly," I admitted contentedly. "I think really,
artists--people with the artist's brain--do enjoy everything
tremendously. They have such a much wider field of desires, as you
say; and fewer limitations. They 'weave the web Desire,' as Swinburne
says, 'to snare the bird Delight.'"

"They get into a mess sometimes," said Morley sulkily; "as you will
with that girl if you don't look out. Here we are at the church.
There's a very fine picture inside; you'd like to see it, I expect."

We turned into the church and rested on the chairs for a few minutes,
enjoying the cool dark interior.

At six o'clock exactly I was in the little mud-yard again, before the
tea-shop; having sent Morley off to his dinner on board. I felt
elated: all my pulses were beating merrily. I was keenly alive. Morley
was right in what he said. An artist is Nature's pet, and she has
mixed all his blood with joy. Natural, instinctive joy, swamped
occasionally by melancholy, but always there surging up anew. Joy in
himself--joy in his powers--joy in life.

I knocked as arranged, and Suzee herself let me in. She had been
burning spice, apparently, before one of the idols that stood in each
corner of the tea-shop; for the whole place smelt of it.

"What have you been doing?" I said. "Holding service here?"

"Only burning spice-spills to chase away the evil spirits," replied
Suzee.

"Are there any here?" I inquired.

"They always come in with the white foreign devils," she returned with
engaging frankness.

I laughed.

"Well, Suzee, you are unkind," I expostulated. "Is that how you think
of me?"

She looked up with a calm smile.

"The devil is always welcomed by a woman," she answered sweetly--her
eyes were black lakes with fire moving in their depths--"that is one
of our proverbs. It is quite true."

The lips curled and the creamy satin of the cheeks dimpled and the
blue earrings shook against her neck.

"What lovely earrings," I said, smiling down upon her, and put up my
hand gently to touch one. She did not draw back nor seem to resent my
action.

"You think them pretty? I have others upstairs. Will you come up and
see my jewellery?"

I assented with the greatest willingness, and we went on down the
passage and then up the narrow, steep flight of stairs at the end.

"Don't wake up your child," I said in sudden horror, as we reached the
small square landing above of slender rickety uncovered boards.

"Oh, he never wakes till one pulls him up," she answered tranquilly,
and led the way into a little chamber. Did she sleep here? I wondered.
There was no bed, but a loose heap of red rugs in one corner. The
windows were mere narrow horizontal slits close to the ceiling. In the
centre, blocking up all the space, stood a high narrow chest. It
looked very old, of blackened wood and antique shape. I had never seen
such a thing. On the top of this, which nearly came to her chin, she
eagerly spread out heaps of little paper parcels she took from one of
the drawers.

"Have you any earrings just like those you are wearing?" I asked her.
If she had, I would buy them if I could for my cousin Viola, I
thought. Viola was excessively fair, and those blue stones would be
enchanting against her blonde hair.

"You want to buy them?" she said quickly. "I have a pair here just
like, only green. Buy those."

"No," I said. "It is the colour I like. Do you want to sell these blue
ones you are wearing?"

"No," she said quickly; "not these," and ran to a small mirror on the
wall and looked in hastily, fearfully, as if she thought that by
wishing for them I could charm them away from her out of her very
ears.

That she appreciated so well the effect of the colour harmony between
the blue stones and her own cream-hued skin, and the value of it in
setting off her beauty, pleased me. It seemed to augur well for her
artistic sense.

"May I sit down here?" I asked her, going to the pile of scarlet rugs
and cushions in the corner.

"Oh yes, Meester Treevor, sit down," and she came hastily forward to
rearrange them for me with Oriental politeness. I sat down, drawing up
my legs as I best could, and pointed to a place beside me.

"Come and sit down, Suzee," I said; "I have something to show you
now."

She came and sat beside me, but not very close, with her knees raised
and her smooth lissom little hands clasped round them. Her almond eyes
grew almost round with curiosity. I had brought with me a small
portfolio of some of my sketches with the object of introducing the
subject of her posing for me. I opened it and drew out the topmost
sketch. It was the figure of a young Italian girl lying on a green
bank beneath some vines. She was not wholly undraped, but most of her
attire was on the bank beside her, and the rest was of a transparent
gauzy nature suited to the heat suggested in the sunlit picture.

The moment Suzee's eyes fell upon it she gave a shriek of dismay and
covered her face with her hands. Over any portion I could still see
of it spread the Eastern's equivalent of a blush: a sort of dull heavy
red that seems to thicken the tissues.

"What is the matter?" I asked, surveying her in surprise. There was
nothing in the picture which would cause the least embarrassment to
any English girl.

"Oh, Treevor, it is dreadful to look at things like that," she
exclaimed, moving her fingers before her face and looking at me with
one eye through them. Then she made some rapid passes over her head,
as if to ward off the evil spirits I had conjured up.

I laughed.

"You may think so, Suzee," I said; "but in our country, and many
others, these 'things,' as you call them, are not only very much
looked at, but also admired, and bought and sold for great sums. What
do you see so very bad in it?"

Suzee ventured to peer through her fingers with both eyes at the
fearful object.

"Dreadful!" she exclaimed again, quickly shutting her fingers. "It is
a very bad woman, is it not?"

"No," I said, somewhat nettled; "certainly not. This was quite a
respectable girl. I have quantities of these portraits and sketches.
Look here," and I opened the portfolio and spread out several pictures
on the rug.

Suzee drew herself together, tightly pursed up her and looked down at
them with alarm,--as if I had let loose a number of snakes.

"They are very, very wicked things," she said, primly as a dissenting
minister's wife; and lowered her eyelids till the lashes lay like
black silk on the cheeks.

I gathered the offending sketches together and pushed them back under
cover.

"I wanted you to pose for me," I said, "that I might have your
picture, too; but I expect you won't do so for me?"

"I! I!" said Suzee, with virtuous indignation, "be put on paper like
that? I would die first." Her face had thickened all over as the blood
went into it. Her eyes looked stormy, alluring.

I leant towards her suddenly as we sat side by side, put my arms round
her waist, drew her to me, and pressed my lips on the ridiculous
little screwed-up mouth, with a sudden access of passion that left her
breathless.

"You are a horrid little humbug, and goose, and prude," I said,
laughing, as I released her. "What do you think of letting me kiss you
like that, then? Is that wrong?"

Suzee sighed heavily, swaying her pliable body only a very little way
from me.

"It may be--a little" she admitted; "but it's not like the pictures."

"Oh! It's not so bad--not so wicked?" I asked mockingly.

"Oh no, not nearly," she returned decisively.

"Well," I answered, "many people would think it much worse. Those
girls who have let me draw them would not let me kiss them--some of
them," I added. "So, you see, it's a matter of opinion and idea. Now,
will you say why the picture is so much worse than a kiss?"

"A kiss," murmured Suzee, "is just between two people. It is done, and
no one knows. It is gone." She spread out her hands and waved them in
the air with an expressive gesture. "Those things remain a monument of
shame for ever and ever."

I laughed. I was beginning to see there was not much chance of a
picture, but other prospects seemed fair. In life one must always take
exactly what it offers, and neither refuse its goods nor ask for more,
either in addition or exchange. Sitka would give me something, but
perhaps not a picture as I had hoped.

I looked at her in silence for some seconds, musing on her curious
beauty.

"I shall call you 'Sitkar-i-buccheesh,'" I said after a minute.

Suzee looked frightened and made a rapid pass over her head.

"What is that?" she asked. "It sounds a devil's name."

"It only means the gift of Sitka," I answered. "This city has given
you to me, has it not? or it will," I added in a lower tone.

I put my arm round her again, and she leant towards me as a flower
swayed by the breeze, her head drooped and rested against my shoulder.

"If it were the name of a devil," I said laughing, "it would suit you.
I believe you are an awful little devil."

"All women are devils," returned Suzee placidly.

I did not answer, but Viola's face swam suddenly before my vision--a
face all white and gold and rose and with eyes of celestial blue.

"What would your husband say to all this?" I asked jestingly.

"He will never know. I tell him quite different. He believes
everything I say."

Involuntarily I felt a little chill of disgust pass through me. Deceit
of any kind specially repels me, and deceit towards some one trusting,
confident, is the worst of all.

Perhaps she read my thoughts instinctively, for she said next, in a
pleading note, to enlist my sympathies:

"He is very, very cruel, he beats me all the time."

I looked down at her as she lay in the cradle of my arm, a little
sceptical.

From what I knew of the Chinese character it did not seem at all
likely that Hop Lee did beat his wife; moreover, the delicate,
fragile, untouched beauty of the girl did not allow one to imagine she
had suffered, or could suffer much violence.

Again she seemed to feel my doubt of her, for she pushed up suddenly
her sleeve with some trouble from one velvet-skinned arm and pushed it
up before my eyes. There was a deep dull crimson mark upon it the size
of a half-crown.

"Unbeliever! Look at this bruise."

I looked at it, then at her steadily.

"Suzee, did your husband make that bruise?"

"Yes. He pinched me so hard in a rage with me," she said a little
sulkily.

"Give me your arm," I said.

She held it out reluctantly. I looked at the bruise, then I rolled the
sleeve back a little farther, and in it found a heavy gold bangle with
a boss on one side corresponding with the size of the mark on the
flesh.

"I think it is the gold bracelet your kind old husband gave you that
you have pressed into the flesh," I said, "that has marked it. That is
about what his cruelty to you amounts to." I dropped her arm
contemptuously, and rose suddenly.

She had succeeded in dispelling for the moment the charm of her
beauty. Her prudery, her deceit, her lies made up to me a peculiarly
obnoxious mixture.

She sprang up, too, as I rose and threw herself on her knees,
clasping her arms round mine so that I could not move.

"Oh Treevor, I do love you so much. You are my real master, not he. A
woman loves a man who conquers her, but not by buying her. But because
he is better and stronger than she. Because he has great muscles, as
you have, and could kill her, and because she can't deceive him,
because he sees all her lies, as you do. Yes, Treevor, I love you now
very much indeed. Come here again, kiss me again."

But somehow her pleading did not move me. The moment when I had been
drawn to her had gone by, swallowed up in a feeling of disgust.

I stooped down and unlocked her hands and put her back among her
cushions.

"Good-bye, Suzee, for to-day," I said. "To-morrow I will come and take
you for a walk. You must let me go now. I do not want to stay any
longer."

She looked at me in silence, but did not offer to move from where I
had put her.

I gathered up my portfolio and left the room, went down the stairs and
through the passage and courtyard to the sun-filled street.

I went on slowly, and after a time found myself close to the church
again. I went in, for the interior interested me, and found service
was being held. A Russian priest, wholly in white clothing, stood
before the altar, the cross light from the aisle windows falling on
the long twist of fair hair that lay upon his shoulders. The whole air
was full of incense that rose in white clouds to the domed roof. I sat
down near the door and listened while the priest intoned a Latin hymn.
The figure of the young priest at the altar attracted me. I thought I
should like a sketch of it; but I hesitated to take one of him in the
church, even surreptitiously, so I fixed the picture of him as he
stood there on my eyes as far as I could, and then, in a convenient
pause of the service, quietly slipped outside.

Near the church was a great outcrop of rock surmounted by a
weather-beaten tree. In the shade thrown by these I got out a sheet of
loose paper and made a sketch of the fair, long-haired priest, with
the quaint frame building of the church, its green copper dome and
bell tower and double gold crosses behind him.

After I had been there some time I was suddenly surprised by Morley.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "You here? Why, I thought you would be in the
arms of the fair Suzee by this time."

"So I might have been," I answered, looking up from the sketch, "but I
got put off somehow, so I left her and went to church instead!"

Morley burst out laughing.

"You _are_ the funniest fellow," he exclaimed, taking his seat beside
me on the ground and clasping his hands round his knees. "So Suzee has
offended you, has she? Do you know, I think that's where we ordinary
people get ahead of fellows like you. You are too sensitive. We're not
so particular. When I'm stuck on Mary Ann it doesn't matter to me what
she says or does. It doesn't interfere with my happiness."

I went on painting in silence.

"Funny those chaps look with their long hair, don't they?" he remarked
after a moment, as I painted the light on the priest's long curl.

"Very picturesque, don't you think?" I said.

"No, I don't," returned the Briton stoutly. "I think it's beastly."

I laughed this time, and having completed the portrait, slipped it
into my portfolio and prepared to put away my paints.

"Don't you want any dinner?" asked Morley. "You must be hungry."

"Well, I hadn't thought of it," I answered. "But, now you mention it,
perhaps I am. Do you know of any place where one can get anything?"

"There's one place at the end of the town where you can have soup and
bread," replied Morley, and we started off to find it.

Later on, towards ten o'clock, when we were leaving the little, frame,
sailors' restaurant, I looked up to the western sky and saw that
strange colour in it of the Alaskan sunset that I have never found in
any other sky, a bright magenta, or deep heather pink, a crude colour
rather like an aniline dye, but brilliant and arresting in the clean,
clear gold of the heavens.

Great ribs and bars and long flat lines of it lay all across the West.
No other cloud, no other colour appeared anywhere in the sky. It was
painted in those two tints alone; the brightest magenta conceivable
and living gold.

Walking back slowly to the ship, I gazed at it with interest. No other
sky that I could recall ever shows this tone of colour. Pink, scarlet,
rose, and all the shades of blood or flame-colour are familiar in
every sunset, but this curious tint seemed to belong to Alaska alone.

I watched it glow and deepen, then fade, and softly disappear as the
sun dipped below the horizon.



CHAPTER III

IN THE WOOD


The next evening, after dinner, I left the ship and made my way to
Suzee's place to take her for the promised walk.

It was just seven when I stepped ashore, and light of the purest, most
exquisite gold lay over everything. The air had that special quality
of Alaska which I have never met anywhere else, an extreme humidity;
it hung upon the cheek as a mist hangs, only it was clear as crystal,
brilliant as a yellow diamond.

There was no wind, not a breath ruffled the stillness nor stirred the
motionless blue water.

The exquisite chain of islands off the mainland was mirrored in the
still, shining depths, and lifted their delicate outlines clothed with
fir and larch, soft as half-forgotten dreams, against the transparent
blue of the sky. Sitka was placid and restful, the streets quiet and
empty as I walked along in the sunny silence.

Suzee was at the door waiting for me. She had dressed herself
differently, entirely in yellow. The yellow silk of the little square
jacket contrasted well with her midnight hair, and the only dash of
other colour in the picture she presented was the blue stone in her
earrings.

"Good evening, Treevor," she said, smiling up at me. And I bent down
and pressed my lips to those little, soft, curved ones she put up for
me.

We started out at once. Suzee told me we were going for a long way to
see the wood, and had the important air of a person going on a lengthy
expedition. She had brought a Japanese sunshade with her which she put
up, and certainly the hot light falling through the rice-paper had a
wonderfully beautiful effect on her creamy skin and soft yellow silk
clothing. She walked easily, only with rather short steps. As she was
of the lower class, there had been no question of the "golden lilies"
or distortion of the feet for her, and they were small and prettily
shaped, bare, save for a sort of sandal, or as the Indians call them,
"guaraches," bound under the sole.

We passed up the main street and soon after turned into a narrow
winding road that leads along the coast, Sitka being on a promontory,
with a beautiful azure bay running inland behind it.

Our path ran sometimes inland, through portions of wood, part of that
great impenetrable primeval forest that at one time completely covered
the whole of Sitka, sometimes quite on the edge of the water. Here
there were rocks and boulders, and little coves of white sand and
stretches of miniature beaches, with the lip of the bay resting on
them.

Infinitesimal waves broke on the sunny white sand with a low musical
tinkle, across the bay one could see the delicate chain of islands
rising with their feathery trees into the blue, warding off the
breakers and the storms of the open sea beyond. In here, the peaceful
water murmured to itself and repeated tales of the beginning of the
world, of the first gold dawn that broke upon the earth, and of later
days, when the sombre black forests came to the water's edge and none
knew them but the great black bear, and when the seals played
joyously, undisturbed, in the fog-banks off the islands. I was in the
mood to appreciate deeply the beauty of the scene, and all the objects
round seemed to speak to me of their inner meaning, but my companion
was not at all moved by, nor interested in her surroundings. She
helped to make the picture more strange and lovely as she sat by me on
a rock, with her shining clothes and brilliant face under the gay
sunshade, but mentally she jarred on me by her complete indifference
to any influence of the scene. I almost wished I were alone here, to
sit upon this tremendous shore and dream.

"You are dull, Treevor," she exclaimed pettishly. "You really are."

I had kissed her twice in the last ten minutes, but she hated my eyes
to wander for a moment from her face to the sea. She hated the least
reference apparently to the landscape. As long as I was talking to
her and about her, admiring her dress or her hair, she was satisfied.

"Come along," she said impatiently; "let us go on to the wood, leave
off looking at that stupid sea."

I rose reluctantly and we followed the road which turned inland again.
The wood was a world of grey shadows. As we entered by a narrow trail
leading from the road, the golden day outside was soon closed from us
by the thick veils of hanging creeper and parasitical plants of all
sorts that entwined round the gnarled and aged trees, and crossing and
re-crossing from one to the other, netted them together.

Over the creepers again had grown grey-green lichens and long, shaggy
moss, so that strands and fringes of it fell on every side, filling
the interstices of the gigantic web that stretched from tree to tree,
excluding the light of the sunlit sky.

Beneath, the lower branches of the trees were sad and sodden,
overgrown with lichen, clogged with hanging wreaths of moss. A river
ran through the wood and at times, swelled by the melting snows,
burst, evidently, in roaring flood over its banks.

Everywhere there were traces of recent floods, roots washed bare and
places where the swirling waters had heaped up their débris of sticks
and mud-stained leaves. All along the damp ground the lowest branches
of the trees, weighted with tangled moss, trailed, broken and bruised
by the fierce rush of the current. The trees themselves seemed
centuries old, bent and gnarled and twisted into grotesque and ghostly
forms. In the dim twilight reigning here one could fancy one stood in
some hideous torture-chamber, surrounded by writhing and distorted
figures. There an elbow, there a withered arm, a fist clenched in
agony, seemed protruding from the sombre, sad-clothed trees, so
weirdly knotted and twisted were the old cinder-hued boughs.

As we neared the river we could hear it rushing by long before we
could see it, so thick was the undergrowth that hung low over it.

It seemed as if we might be approaching the black Styx through this
melancholy wood where all seemed weeping in torn veils and
ash-coloured garments.

No touch of depression affected my companion; she seemed as insensible
to the grey solemnity, the dim mystery of the wood, as she had been to
the vivid glory of the sea. She slipped a little velvet hand into
mine, and when we drew near to the hidden Styx, murmured softly:

"We will find a dry place, Treevor, on the other side, and sit down
among the trees. Then you must take me in your arms and I will be your
own Suzee. I do not want my old husband any more."

I stopped and looked down upon her. Not even the sad light could dim
the soft brilliance of her face. It seemed to bloom out of the ashy
shadows like an exquisite flower. Her eyes were wells of fire beneath
their velvet blackness.

"Do you love me very much?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, so much," she answered with passionate emphasis. "You are so
beautiful. Never have I seen any one so beautiful, and so tall and so
strong. Oh, it is _pain_ to me to love you so much."

And indeed she became quite white, as she drew her hand from mine and
clasped both of hers upon her breast as if to still some agony there.

My own heart beat hard. The grey wood seemed to lose its ashy tone and
become warm and rosy round us. I bent over her and took her up wholly
in my arms, and she laughed and threw hers around me in wild delight.

"Carry me, Treevor, over the bridge and up the slope at the side. It
is so nice to feel you carrying me."

It was no difficulty to carry her, and the waves of electricity from
her joyous little soul rushed through me till my arms and all the
veins of my body seemed alight and burning.

I ran with her, over the narrow bridge and up the slope, where, as she
said, there was drier ground. And there, on a bed of leaves under some
tangled branches, I fell on my knees with her still clasped to my
breast, and covered her small satin-skinned face with kisses.

"I am yours now. You must not let me go. I only want to look and look
at your face. I wish I could tell you how I love you. Oh, Treevor, I
can't tell you...."

As I looked down, breathless with running and kisses and the fires she
had kindled within me, I saw how her bosom heaved beneath the yellow
jacket, how all the delicate curves of her breast seemed broken up
with panting sighs and longing to express in words all that her body
expressed so much better.

"Darling, there is no need to tell me. I know." And I put my hand
round her soft column of throat, feeling all its quick pulses
throbbing hard into the palm of my hand.

"Put your head down on my heart, Treevor. Lie down beside me; now let
us think we have drunk a little opium, just a little, and we are going
to sleep through a long night together. Hush! What is that? Did you
hear anything?"

She lifted my hand from her throat and sat up, listening.

I had not heard anything. I had been too absorbed. All had vanished
now from me, except the fervent beauty of the girl before me.

The sea of desire had closed over my head, sealing the senses to
outside things; I drew her towards me impatiently.

"It is nothing," I murmured. "I heard nothing." But she sat up, gazing
straight across a small cleared space in front of us to where the
impenetrable thicket of undergrowth again stood forward like grey
screens between the twisted tree trunks.

"Yes, there was something; there, opposite! Look, something is
moving!" I followed her eyes and saw a strand of loose moss quiver and
heard a twig break in the quiet round us. We both watched the
undergrowth across the open space intently. For a second nothing
moved, then the boughs parted in front of us, and through the great
lichen streamers and rugged bands of grey-green moss depending from
them, peered an old, drawn-looking face.

Suzee gave a piercing shriek of dismay, and started to her feet.

"My husband!" she gasped.

I sprang to my feet, and my right hand went to my hip pocket. The head
pushed through the thicket, and a bent and aged form followed slowly.
I drew out my revolver, but the figure of the old man straightened
itself up and he waved his hand impatiently, as if deprecating
violence.

"Sir, I have come after my wife," he said, in a low, broken tone.

I slipped the weapon back in my pocket. I had had an idea that he
might attack Suzee, but voice and face showed he was in a different
mood.

Suzee clung to my hand on her knees, crying and trembling.

"Go and sit over there," he said peremptorily to her, pointing to the
other side of the glade, far enough from us to be out of hearing.

She did not move, only clung and shivered and wept as before.

I bent over her, loosening my hand.

"Do as he says," I whispered; "no harm can come to you while I am
here."

Suzee let go my fingers reluctantly and crept away, sobbing, to the
opposite edge of the thicket. The old Chinaman motioned me to sit
down. I did so, mechanically wondering whether his calmness was a ruse
under cover of which he would suddenly stab me. He sat down, too,
stiffly, beside me, resting on his heels, and his hard, wrinkled hands
supporting his withered face.

"Now," he said, in a thin old voice; "look at me! I am an old man, you
are a young one. You are strong, you are well; you are rich too, I
think." He looked critically over me. "You have everything that I have
not, already. Why do you come here to rob an old man of all he has in
this world?"

I felt myself colour with anger. All the blood in my body seemed to
rush to my head and stand singing in my ears.

I felt a furious impulse to knock him aside out of my way; but his age
and weakness held me motionless.

"All my youth, when I was strong and good-looking as you are now, and
women loved me, I worked hard like a slave, and starved and saved.
When others played I toiled, when they spent I hoarded up. What was I
saving for? That I might buy myself _that_." He waved his hand in the
direction of Suzee, sitting in a little crumpled heap against a
gnarled tree opposite us.

"I bought her," he went on with increasing excitement. "I bought her
from a woman who would have let her out, night by night, to
foreigners. I have given her a good home, she does no hard work. She
has a child, she has fine clothes. I work still all day and every day
that I may give money to her. She is my one joy, my treasure; don't
take her away from me, don't do it. You have all the world before you,
and all the women in it that are without husbands. Go to them, leave
me my wife in peace."

Tears were rolling fast down his face now, his clasped hands quivered
with emotion.

"When I was a young man I would not take any pleasure. No, pleasure
means money, and I was saving. When I am old I will buy, I said. It
needs money, when I am old I shall have it. I can buy then. But, ah!
when one is old it is all dust and ashes."

I looked at his thin shrunken form, poorly clad, at his face, deeply
lined with great furrows, made there by incessant toil and constant
pain. I felt my joy in Suzee to wither in the grey shadow of his
grief. Some people would have thought him doubtless an immoral old
scoundrel, and that he had no business in his old age to try to be
happy as younger men are, to wish, to expect it. But I cannot see that
joy is the exclusive right of any particular age. A young man or young
woman has no more right or title to enjoy than an old man or woman;
they have simply the right of might, which is no _right_ at all.

"Well, what do you want me to say or do?" I exclaimed impatiently.
"Take your wife back with you now, no harm has happened to her. Take
her home with you."

"Yes, I can take her body, but not her spirit," answered the old man
sadly.

His tone made me look at him keenly. Hitherto I had felt sorry for
Suzee that she was his; now, as I heard his accent, I felt sorry for
him that he was hers.

A great capacity for suffering looked out of the aged face, such as I
knew could never look out of hers.

"If you lift your finger she would come to you! Promise me you will
not see her again, not speak to her; that you will go. And if she
comes to you, you will not accept her."

I was silent for a moment.

"My ship goes to-morrow morning," I answered; "I am not likely to see
your wife again. I shall not seek her."

"That is not enough," moaned the old man; "she will find a way. She
will come to you. Promise me you will not take her away with you; if
you do you will have an old man's murder on your head."

I moved impatiently.

"I am not going to take her away," I answered.

"But promise me. If I have your promise I shall feel certain."

I hesitated, and looked across at Suzee, a patch of beautiful colour
against the grey background of bent and aged trees.

What had I intended to do, I asked myself. I could not take her, in
any case. I had not meant that. A virtuous American ship like the
Cottage City would hardly admit a Suzee to share my cabin.

Then what did my promise matter if it but reflected the fact, and if
it satisfied him?

"You are not willing to promise," he said, coming close to me and
peering into my face; "I feel it."

I thought I heard his teeth close on an unuttered oath. Still he did
not threaten me. As I remained silent he suddenly threw himself on the
ground in front of me, and stretched out his hands and put them on my
feet.

"Sir I implore you. Give me your word you will not take her, then I am
satisfied. Better take my life than my wife."

I lifted my eyes for a moment in a glance towards Suzee and saw her
make a scornful gesture at the prostrate figure. The gold bracelets on
her arm below the yellow silk sleeve shewed in the action a contrast
to the old, worn clothing of the poorest material that her husband
wore.

I rose to my feet and raised him up.

"Get up, I hate to see you kneel to me. I have said I shall not take
your wife. As far as I am concerned, that is a promise. I have said
it."

"Thank you," he said, inclining his head, and then moved away, not
without a certain dignity in his old form, lean and twisted though the
work of years had made it.

I dropped back into my place where I had been sitting and watched the
two figures before me almost in a dream.

He went up to the girl and spoke, apparently not unkindly, and some
talk ensued. Then I saw him bend down and take her wrist and drag her
to her feet.

Suzee hung back as one sees a child hang back from a nurse, but she
moved forward though unwillingly, and so at last they passed from my
sight, through the grey trees and the weeping moss, the thin old man
stepping doggedly forward, the pretty, gay-clothed childish little
figure dragging back.

Then all was still. The old grey wood was full of weird light, but the
silence of the night had fallen on it. Beast and bird and insect had
sought their lair and nest and cranny. Not a leaf moved. I felt
entirely alone.

"One never knows in life," I thought, repeating my words to Morley.

I felt a keen sense of longing regret surge slowly, heavily through
me. How exquisitely sweet and perfect her beauty was! And she had lain
in my arms for that moment, one moment that was stamped into my brain
in gold. I put my head into my hands and shut out the dim grey wood
from vision and recalled that moment. It came back to me, the touch of
her soft form, the smiling curve of the lips put up to me, the fire in
the liquid depths of those almond eyes, the round throat delicate as
polished ivory. The extraordinary triumph of beauty over the senses
came before my mind suddenly, presenting the problem that always
puzzles and eludes me.

Why should certain lines and colours in pleasing the eye so
intoxicate and inflame the brain? For it is the brain to which beauty
appeals. Youth and health in a loved object are sufficient to capture
the physical senses, but they do not fill the brain with that
exaltation, that delirium of joy, that divine elation that sweeps up
through us at the sight of beauty. Divine fire, it seems to be lighted
first in the glance of the eyes.

In an hour's time I left the wood and walked slowly shipwards. I felt
tired and overstrained, exceedingly regretful, full of longing after
that lovely vision that had come to me and that I had had to drive
away.

The unearthly stillness combined with the brilliant, unabated,
unfailing light had a curious mystery about it that charmed and
delighted me. The sea, so blue and tranquil, sparkled softly on my
left hand, the pellucid blue of the sky stretched overhead, and all
the air was full of the sweet sunshine we associate with day. Yet it
was midnight. I pulled out my watch and looked at it to assure myself
of the fact. Sitka was wrapt in silence and sleep, my own footstep
resounded strangely in the burning empty streets.

I had to pass the tea-shop on my way to the ship. One could see
nothing of it from the street as the compound shut it off from view,
and across the compound entrance a stout hurdle was now stretched and
barred.

I passed on with a sigh, reached the ship lying motionless against
the quay, went down to my cabin without encountering any one, threw
off my clothes and myself in my berth, feeling a sense of fatigue
obliterating thought.

The night before I had had no sleep, and the incessant golden glare,
day and night alike, wearies the nerves not trained to it.

Suzee and almond eyes and injured husbands floated away from me on the
dark wings of sleep.

It must have been an hour or so later that I woke suddenly with a
sense of suffocation. Some soft, heavy thing lay across my breast. I
started up and two arms clasped my neck and I heard Suzee's voice;
saying in my ear:

"Treevor, dear Treevor, I have found you! Now I you will take me away,
and we will stay for ever and ever together. I am so happy."

The cabin was full of the same steady yellow light as when I closed my
eyes. Looking up I saw her sweet oval face above me.

She was lying on the berth leaning over me, supported on her elbows.

As I looked up she pressed her lips down on my face, kissing me on the
eyes and mouth with passionate repetition and insistence.

"Dear little girl, dear little Suzee!" I answered, putting up my arms
and folding them round her.

I was only half-awake, and for a moment the old Chinaman was
forgotten. It was all rather like a delicious dream.

"I am quite, quite happy now," she said, laying down her head on my
chest. "Oh, so happy, Treevor; you must never let me go. I love you
so, like this," she added, putting her two hands round my throat,
"when I can feel your neck and when you are sleeping. You looked
beautiful, just now, when I found you. I am sorry you woke."

Clear consciousness was struggling back now with memory, but not
before I had pressed her to me and returned those kisses. She had laid
aside her little saffron silk coat, and her breast and arms shone
softly through a filmy muslin covering.

I sat up regarding her; very lissom and soft and lovely she looked,
and my whole brain swam suddenly with delight.

Surely I could not part with her! She was precious to me in that
madness that comes over us at such moments.

I put my arms round her and held her to my breast with all my force in
a clasp that must have been painful to her, but she only laughed
delightedly.

Then my promise came back to me. It was impossible to break that. What
was the good of torturing myself when I had made it impossible to take
her. Why had she come here?

"Where is your husband?" I asked mechanically wondering if any strange
fate had removed him from between us.

"Oh, I put him to sleep, he will give no trouble. I gave him opium, so
much opium, he will sleep a long time."

"You have not killed him?" I said, in a sudden horror.

Her eyes were wide open and full of extraordinary fire, she seemed in
those moments capable of anything.

She put up her little hands and ran them through my hair.

"Such black hair," she murmured. "Ah, how I love it! I love black
hair. How it shines, how soft it is! I hate grey hair. It is horrid.
No, I have not killed him. He will wake again when we have sailed and
are far away from Sitka."

These words drove from me the last veil of clinging sleep. I kept my
arms round her and said:

"But, Suzee, I can't take you with me. I promised your husband
to-night I would not."

"That's nothing," she replied lightly; "promises are nothing when one
loves. And you love me, Treevor; you must love me, and I am coming
with you, you can't drive me away."

The ship's bells sounded overhead on deck as she spoke. The sound
seemed a warning. I knew our ship was due to leave in the morning; I
did not know quite when. If it left the quay with the girl on board,
the horror of a broken promise would cling to me all my life.

"I can't take you, it is impossible. You must go back and try to
forget you have ever seen me. You must go now at once, our ship is
leaving soon."

"I know," said Suzee tranquilly; "and I shall be so happy when it
starts."

I pushed her aside and got up from the berth. The cabin window stood
wide open. In the position the ship was it was easy to come in and out
through it from the quay. She must have entered that way.

"You must go," I said between my teeth. I was afraid of myself.
Overhead I heard movements and clanking chains and shuffling feet. Our
ship was leaving, and she was still on board with me.

"Go out of that window now, instantly, or I shall put you out."

"You will not, Treevor," beginning to cry; "you won't be so unkind. I
only want to stay with you; let me stay."

She was half-sitting on the edge of my berth, clinging to it with both
hands. She was pale with an ivory pallor, her breasts rose in sobs
under the transparent muslin of her vest.

The ship gave a great heave under our feet.

The blood beat so in my head and round my eyes I could hardly see her.
I moved to her, clinging to one blind object. I bent over her and
lifted her up. She was like a doll in weight. She was nothing to me.

As she realised my intention she seemed to turn into a wild animal in
my arms. She bit and tore at my wrists, and scratched my face with her
long sharp nails.

The ship was moving now and I was desperate.

I walked with her to the window and put her feet over the ledge.

We neither of us spoke a word. She clung to my neck so I thought she
must overbalance me and drag me through with her.

With all my force I pushed her outwards and away from me. Her hands
broke from my neck and scratched down my face till the blood ran from
it.

"Don't struggle so," I warned her; "you will drop into the sea if you
do." For a blue crack opened already between the moving ship and the
quay.

Words were useless. She bit and struggled and clung to me like a cat
mad with fear and rage.

With an effort I leant forward and half threw, half dropped her on the
woodwork. She fell there with a gasping cry, and I drew the window to
and shut it.

The ship rose and fell now and the blue water gleamed in an
ever-widening track between its side and the quay.

I leant against the window glass and watched her through it. She had
struggled to her knees and now knelt there weeping and stretching out
little ivory tinted hands to the departing ship. My own eyes were
full, and only through a mist could I see her kneeling there, a
brilliant spot of colour in dazzling light on the deserted quay.

I turned away at last as we struck out on the open water. There, on my
berth, facing me as I stumbled back to it, lay a little yellow jacket.

I threw myself upon it and put my hand over my eyes, while the ship
made out beyond the fairy islands. And the gold night passed over and
melted into the new day.



PART TWO

THE VIOLET NIGHT



CHAPTER IV

AT THE STUDIO


I was back in London again, back in my studio with the dull grey light
of the city falling through the windows, and all the vivid glory, the
matchless splendour of the North lay like a past dream in the
background of my memory. But still how clear the dream, how bright
each moment of it, and how long to my retrospective vision! Was it
possible I had only been there three or four months? It seemed like as
many years. For time has this peculiarity, that joy and action shorten
it while it is passing, but lengthen it when it is past. A week in
which we have done nothing of note, but spent in stationary idleness,
how long and tedious it seems, yet in looking back upon it, it appears
short as a day; while a week in which we have travelled far, seen
several cities and been glad in each, though the gilded moments have
danced by on lightning feet, when we look back upon that week it seems
as if we have lived a year.

It was there, bright, radiant in my mind, the picture of those blue
days and golden northern nights, and how the light of the picture
seemed to gather round, and centre in a sweet youthful face with the
blue stone earrings, hanging against the creamy neck, beside the
rounded cheek, and the cluster of red flowers bound on each temple
against the smooth black hair!

I settled myself lower in the deep roomy armchair, and pushed my feet
forward to the blazing fire. There was still half an hour before I
could decently ring for tea, and it was too dark already to work. I
had had a hard and disagreeable morning, too, and felt I needed rest
and quiet thought. How the red flame leapt in the grate, and what a
rich, warm, wine-dark colour it threw all round my red room! I rose
and drew the heavy crimson curtains across the windows to shut out
their steely patches of grey that spoiled the harmony of colour. I
returned to my chair and glanced round with satisfaction. Fitted and
furnished and hung with every beautiful shade of red, my studio always
delighted and charmed my vision.

My friends said I had papered and furnished it in red to throw up the
white limbs and contours of my models, and this had something to do
with it, for hardly any colour shows off white flesh to better
advantage, though pale blue in this matter runs it close; but this was
not the prompting motive. Rather it was that in England where all is
so cold and tame and grey, from morals to colours, I liked to surround
myself with this glowing barbaric crimson, this warm inviting tint.

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

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

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

"I am so glad to find you."

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

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

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

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

"You are sure? You have nothing else to do?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I shall never forget you have offered it, never cease to be grateful,
but...."

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

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

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

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

"I could not allow it."

She turned upon me.

"Why?" she said simply.

"Well, because ... because it is too great a sacrifice."

"I have said it is no sacrifice. It is an honour."

"It would injure you if it became known."

"It will not become known."

"Everything becomes known."

"Well, I shouldn't care if it did."

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

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

"It is all sophistry, dearest, I can't do it."

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

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

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

She paused. I said nothing.

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

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

I bent over her and kissed her bright scarlet lips.

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

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

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

"Good-night," she said softly, and went out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Trevor, I must move!"

I started, dropped the paper, and rose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, I should like to see it," she answered.

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

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

"You have idealised me, Trevor!"

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

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

She turned and looked at my clock.

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

"May I expect you to-morrow?"

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

"Not if it is a bright day."

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

I dropped her hands and turned away.

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

Viola laughed.

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

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

I stepped forwards towards her impulsively.

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

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

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

Then she went out, and I was alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?"

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

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

"And how many women have you loved?"

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

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

"I don't think I loved her. I wanted her as an experience."

"Is it not just the same with me?"

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

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

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

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

"I don't care about the art, I don't care about anything. You shall
marry me. I will make you love me."

"You don't understand. If you were fifty-eight I would marry you
directly."

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

"Trevor, you are mad. Let me get up."

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

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

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

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

I took her dear little hand and kissed it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You are ill, Trevor! I am so sorry."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Did you really mean that ... that you wouldn't finish the picture?"
she said, after a long silence.

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

"I don't think I can. I have got to a point where I must get away from
it and from you."

"But it is dreadful to leave it unfinished."

"It's better than going mad. Let's have some champagne. Perhaps that
will give us an appetite."

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

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

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

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

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

In the vestibule at the end I said:

"It's early yet. Come and have supper somewhere with me, you had a
wretched dinner."

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

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

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

We had moved through the throng and passed outside.

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

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

"We shan't have time for supper and to go to the studio as well," I
answered quietly.

"I don't think I want any supper," she replied.

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

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



CHAPTER V

THE CALL OF THE CUCKOO


I stood looking through the window of my studio thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I haven't kept you waiting, have I?" was her first exclamation after
our greeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But how do you know they've any rooms?" I expostulated.

Viola looked at me with jesting scorn in her eyes.

"I don't know yet, but I'm going to find out."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What do you want for these two?" Viola enquired.

"Five guineas a week, ma'am," returned the woman, placidly folding her
hands together in front of her.

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

"Surely that's a good deal," she said after a second.

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

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

"We'll take them for the sake of the cherry-tree," Viola said smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They don't dare to do the things, I suppose," I answered.

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

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

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

"Please, mum, I thought you'd like some hot water."

"Very much," returned Viola calmly. "Thank you."

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

"Please, m'm, when your luggage comes shall I bring it up?"

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

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

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

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

"Don't waste the time washing your face. Come and look out of the
window."

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

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

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

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

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

"Certainly not," I answered, "I'll go." And I followed the maid out
and downstairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Now do come down."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Let us go, too, dearest, it is quite late."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viola raised her eyebrows with a laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viola listened with a look of delight.

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

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

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

"Oh, say anything you like," rejoined Viola laughing; "saying doesn't
do any harm."

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

Viola jumped up and came over to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What shall we do?" I queried; "it's beautifully hot," I added
persuasively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Are you glad to be going?" I asked.

"Yes," she said surprised; "are not you?"

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

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

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



PART THREE

THE BLACK NIGHT



CHAPTER VI

IN MAYFAIR


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"If what...?" asked Viola smiling.

"Well, if you don't mind," I answered, colouring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyes gleamed, and the lovely crimson mouth pouted.

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

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

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

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

I drew my hand away.

"Don't be silly, or I shan't employ you," I said with some annoyance.

She pushed out her crimson lips.

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

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

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

I sprang up and gathered the sheets of paper together.

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

"No," she answered, shaking her head. "All that was sitting down;
that's easy."

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:
    bainô. to gar chrên mou te kai theôn 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.

A second night like last stared me in the face. What was the use of
continuing to feel in this wretched, angry, burning, hungry way?

I broke the seal and read Suzee's second appeal to me, more
passionate, more urgent than the last. She begged me to go to her
without delay, or it would be too late; a fervour of longing breathed
in every line.

An ironic smile came over my face as I read. This letter to me seemed
like an echo of the one I had sent to Viola that morning. Well, I
would wait for her answer, and then, perhaps, if she would not return
to me, I would go to 'Frisco.

In any case, I would send a few lines to Suzee with the money for her
purchase. It would be best to cable it to her, and I went out again to
arrange this.

Five wretched, listless days went by, followed by nearly sleepless
nights, and then came Viola's answer, apparently by the postmark from
some place in France.

My whole body shook as I opened it, and for many seconds I could see
nothing on the paper but a mass of dancing black lines. Yet the
immense comfort of being again in touch with her after these dreadful
days of isolation seemed to flow over and through me like some healing
balm.

At last I read these lines:

    "I am terribly, unutterably grieved, my own dearest one, to hear
    how much you have suffered, but my return to you now would not
    undo that, and only give you the pain in addition that I went away
    to avoid for you.

    "Go, dearest, go out to 'Frisco, and let the thought of me lie in
    your subconsciousness for a year, a little chrysalis of future
    happiness. Do not think of me, do not let your mind dwell on me.
    Fill up your life with joy and work. I have a conviction that we
    cannot ever really separate in this life. Therefore I do not fear
    (as you seemed to do) that anything will be strong enough to keep
    us apart if we both will to be together. Only, for a time, let me
    sleep in your Soul in a chamber where none other can enter, and
    the year will soon pass for you, though slowly, as a winter night,
    for me. Your

    "VIOLA."

       *       *       *       *       *

A great numbness seized me as I came to the end.

A year without her. It seemed like Eternity itself.

I sat for many hours motionless with her letter in my hand.

Then I went out and to a ticket office in Piccadilly, and got a
through ticket to 'Frisco.



CHAPTER IX

IN 'FRISCO


During the voyage to New York and the subsequent journey across
America to San Francisco I was very wretched.

The mystery of Viola's disappearance and her flight from me stood
before my mind perpetually, worrying and harassing it. I felt no
joyful anticipation of reaching 'Frisco and meeting Suzee, though I
recognised in a dull way that some sort of distraction and
companionship would be the best thing to stop this incessant pondering
on the same subject. I slept little at night, and in the short
intervals of rest such vivid dreams of Viola would come to me, that
awakening in the morning brought a fresh anguish of despair and
disappointment with it each day.

This sort of thing could not go on, I must let her "lie asleep in my
subconsciousness for a year," as she put it in her letter--for to
forget her was impossible--or my reason would go down under the
strain.

When I arrived in San Francisco, it was one of those strange days when
the sea-fog comes in to visit the town. It rolled in great thick
billows down the streets from the sand dunes, obscuring everything,
damping everything, filling the air with the salt scent of the open
sea.

I went to one of the big hotels, and they gave me a bedroom and
sitting-room to myself: the rooms were adjoining and comfortable, but
oh! what a blankness fell upon me as I sat down in one of the chairs
and the bell-boy, having deposited a jug of iced water on the table,
shut the door. I had been so much with Viola that it seemed strange to
me now, hard to realise that I was alone. How many rooms such as
these, she and I had come into, shared together, and how bright and
gay her companionship had always been, how she had always laughed at
the discomforts or the difficulties of our travels! Surely we had been
made for each other! What strange wave of life was this that had
broken us apart? I looked towards my bedroom, dull and cheerless and
empty. From the open window the warm, wet, yellow fog was streaming in
its soft wreaths through both rooms. The roar from the stone-paved
streets, crowded with incessant traffic, came up to me muffled through
the fog.

After a time I rose, closed the windows, unpacked my things, and
changed my clothes. Then I went down at six to dine, as I wanted a
long evening. Some champagne cheered me, and as I sat in the long,
crowded dining-room, alone at my small table, my heart began to beat
again warmly at the thought of the new venture before me. To-night?
What would it bring forth? Should I find her? The vitalising breath of
excitement began to creep through me. I finished my dinner hurriedly,
swallowed my black coffee at a draught, and made my way down the room
and out to the hall, putting on my hat and coat as I went. I found the
guide I had asked for when I first arrived at the hotel waiting for
me. He asked me mysteriously if I had put away my watch and divested
myself of all jewellery, and I told him impatiently I had and showed
him a small revolver I always carried. When he was somewhat reassured
I took the paper that Suzee had sent me out of my pocket and showed it
to him.

"That's where I want to go," I said, "and if you know every hole and
cranny of the place as I was told, I suppose you know that one."

The guide grinned as he read the name.

"It's the worst place in the whole town," he remarked with a sort of
admiring unction. I evidently went up in his estimation as he
recognised the acumen I had shewed in my choice. I was a visitor
worthy of his guidance, and he was put upon his mettle.

"The police don't dare to go there, but they'll let me in day or
night."

We had reached the door now and stepped into the street. The fog had
had its frolic down town, it seemed and had almost disappeared,
rolling off to the sand dunes and the sea whence it had come. The
night was dark and fresh with the damp saltness of the shore; a few
stars shone above. The shops were still open, and their huge
plate-glass windows blazed with light. We walked rapidly through these
streets towards the Chinese quarter where the noise and light ceased.
The streets were quiet and empty and seemed very clean. The shops here
were closed. The lights few. There was a fever of impatience in my
veins. I felt as when one is drawing near to an unknown combat: a
conflict the nature of which and ultimate result one does not know.

My rather shambling guide seemed amused at the pace at which I walked
and giggled immoderately between remarks of his own which seemed to
him to be appropriate to the occasion. I hardly heard him. At one
moment I was lost in a bitter reflection of how many excursions and
similar wanderings Viola had shared with me; at another, my mind
seemed leaping eagerly forward, to seize this new joy in front of me.

"That's a joss-house, and that's a tea-house, and that's a silk
merchant," remarked my guide at intervals, indicating different
buildings as we passed. Some were frame houses with signs hanging out,
painted in Chinese characters and with wonderful red door-posts; some
had latticed windows with lights burning behind. But for the most
part, from this outer point of view, Chinatown was clean, orderly, and
dark.

We stopped at last before an open doorway through which we stepped and
crossed a yard, hemmed in by the crowded frame buildings round it, but
open to the sky. By the light of the stars we found a ladder at the
farther side and ascended this as it leant against the crooked wall of
a rickety and tumbledown-looking house. The ladder went as far as the
second story, where there was an open square of blackness, either
window or door, through which we scrambled from the swaying rungs and
then found ourselves in a passage. It was very low, apparently, for I
struck my head whenever I held it upright, and so narrow that our
shoulders brushed the sides. It was in fact a little tunnel, reminding
one of the rounded runways a rabbit makes in thick undergrowth. It was
quite dark, and my guide put himself in front and took one of my
hands, pulling me along after him down steps and round corners, along
different twisted, corkscrew turnings, till at last a passage a little
broader than the others opened before us, where a lamp was burning; he
drew back against the wall, pushing me forwards, and whispering some
directions in my ear.

I passed along, as I was bid, went down two small steps, and knocked
at the door I found before me. The door seemed a very stout one,
securely fastened, and had a small aperture, at the height of one's
face from the ground. It was only about five inches square and set
with thick vertical iron bars. Behind these was an iron flap now
closed.

I knocked and waited. Presently the iron flap behind the bars was
cautiously opened and I saw a face peering through at me. Before I
could speak the iron flap was shut to with a clank.

"That's because Nanine sees you're a stranger," whispered my guide.
"They're a real bad lot here, and they're precious afraid of any 'tecs
getting in. Just let me pass, sir."

I drew back, and he went up and gave the most extraordinary squawk
that I ever heard. It was a pretty good password to have, for I should
think no stranger could imitate it. The flap flew open again, and then
some conversation ensued through the bars.

"It's all right now, sir," said the guide after a minute; "you walk
right in." The door was now ajar. I went forwards and pushed it; it
gave way easily. I stepped inside, and it swung to behind me. Inside
the light was red--scarlet. A lamp was standing somewhere at the side
of the room, behind thin, red curtains. As I entered, another door at
the end of the room swung to on a retreating form. Some one had gone
out. The room seemed empty. It was very small, and an enormous bed
took up nearly the whole of it. There seemed no window at all
anywhere: the low ceiling almost touched my head. I stopped still. A
very slight movement somewhere near me seemed to speak of another's
presence.

"Suzee," I said under my breath.

At the sound of my voice there was a delighted cry, and the next
moment a little form in scarlet drapery threw itself at my feet.

"Treevor, Treevor," came in Suzee's voice; and I bent over the little
scarlet bundle, lifted her up, and pressed my lips on her hair. It
smelt of roses, just as it had done in the tea-shop at Sitka, and
carried me back there on the wings of its fragrance, as scents alone
can do.

She clung to me in a wild fervour of emotion. I felt her little hands
dutch me desperately. She kissed my arm and wrist passionately,
seeming not to dare to lift her face to mine. This wild abandonment,
this frenzy of hungered, starving love, what a sharp contrast to the
cool, slow surrender of Viola, if surrender it could be called, that
lending of the beautiful body, with total reserve of the spirit! Even
in that moment of this wild lavishing of love from another, as the
little breast leapt wildly against my own, a fierce pulse of jealous
longing went through me as I thought of that unconquered something
that _she_ had never yielded to me.

Suzee hardly seemed to expect my caresses in return, she only seemed
to wish to pour her own upon me in the wildest, most lavish excess.
At last, when she grew a little calmer, I held her at arm's length
from me and looked at her.

"Now, Suzee, I want you to tell me what you are doing in this awful
place. How did you get here, to begin with?"

"Oh, Mister Treevor, I have had such trouble, such awful trouble, you
will never believe; but when I ran--when I came to Mrs. Hackett she
was very good to me, only she wanted to sell me for two hundred and
fifty dollars to Chinaman. I said, 'No, I belong to rich Englishman.
He send you more if you wait. He send you three hundred!' And I wrote
you, you remember?"

"Yes," I answered. "Did you get the money all right that I cabled to
you?"

"Oh yes, Treevor, thank you; and Nanine had it and so she was willing
to keep me."

"But what have you been doing while you have been here?" I said
glancing round. The whole place, with its hidden entrance, secret
passages, and barred doors seemed to speak of the lowest and worst
forms of vice.

"Oh, Treevor, I have been very good, so good. I would not have any
visitors at all. I was so afraid you would find out and not have me if
you knew, and, besides, I loved you too much." (But this was
evidently an after-thought, and I noted it as such. Her true reason
was given first.) "And I knew Nanine would take all my money, whatever
I got. She is good to the girls here, but she takes all their money,
all, they never have any. So I said to myself, 'What is the use?
Besides, he will come soon and take you away.' And to Nanine I
said--'Englishman will be so angry with you and with me, perhaps he
will kill you or tell the police if you do not keep me for him.' And
when the money came Nanine was quite pleased and said perhaps you
would pay more when you came, so she did not worry me with Chinamen or
any one, and I've had this room all to myself since I've been here.
And I was very much afraid of you, Treevor, if I did anything at all,
so I really, really have not."

I kept my eyes fixed on hers all the time she was speaking, and I felt
as the words came eagerly from her lips that they were the truth. Her
exquisite, untouched beauty, her ardour of passionate welcome to me
helped to illustrate it.

I smiled at her.

"Well, I am quite satisfied," I said; "I believe you have been 'good,'
as you call it, because you were afraid to be otherwise. I want to
hear a lot more about your husband and how you came here, but I think
we had better get out of this place as soon as we can. Have you any
things you want to take with you?"

"Only this," she said, pointing to an odd, little, hide-covered trunk
beside her. "That has my silk clothes in it and my jewellery. If you
want me to come away I can come now."

I sat silent for a moment, thinking. Where should I take her? Back to
my own hotel perhaps for this one night. It might be managed. It was
getting late, most of the people in the hotel would be in bed when we
got there. To-morrow or the next day we could start for Mexico, where
I had made up my mind to go with her.

"Very well," I said aloud; "shut up your trunk and put something round
you, and we'll go now."

"You will see Nanine? You will speak to her? Let me call her," said
Suzee rather anxiously. And as I assented she slipped out of the room
and reappeared with a fat, coarse-looking woman who grinned amiably as
she saw me. She agreed to let Suzee go with me then and there for
another hundred dollars, and said her little trunk should be sent
downstairs and put on a cab which the guide could get for us.

While this was being done, she chatted to me, thanked me for the money
I had cabled over, and hoped I was satisfied with Suzee, her
appearance, and the treatment she had received. I said I was, and
asked how it was the girl had come to her at all. She seemed a little
confused at that, and began to explain volubly that she had had
nothing to do with it. Suzee had come there one night and begged to be
taken in, and as she had known some of the girl's people who had
formerly lived in Chinatown, she had done so out of pure pity and
charity and love of humanity.

I listened to all this with a smile, and, as I felt I was not getting
the truth, did not prolong the conversation. When the guide came back
and said he was ready for us I paid the one hundred dollars and wished
her good-night.

She opened the outer door of the room for us, and we went down a
staircase this time which eventually led us to a door in another yard
from which we gained the street. The ladder way, I take it, was used
chiefly as a convenient exit in case of a raid by the police. I put
Suzee into the cab and jumped in myself, the guide went on the box,
and we drove back to the hotel.

It needed a certain amount of moral courage to drive up to the hotel
with the scarlet-clad Suzee beside me, but I think possibly artists
have a larger share of that useful quality than other men. Always
having been different from others since his childhood, the artist is
accustomed to the gaping wonder, the ridicule as well as the
admiration, the misunderstanding, of those about him, and it ceases to
affect him; while viewing as he does his companions with a certain
contempt, knowing them to be less gifted than himself, he sets no
store by their opinion.

So I paid and dismissed my guide, also the driver, pushed open the
swinging glass doors, and entered the lounge, Suzee beside me.

We were not late enough; in another hour the hall would have been
deserted. As it was, the band had ceased playing, but there were
numbers of men lounging about and smoking, and groups of women still
sitting in the rocking-chairs under the palms.

Through the hall we went, straight to the lift, but every eye was
turned upon us and I felt rather than heard the gasp of horror that
our entry caused. The elevator boy almost collapsed on the ground as I
motioned Suzee to go in and sit down, which she did--on the floor.

However, no actual force was used to restrain our movements, and we
reached my rooms without any hindrance.

It was decidedly an improvement to have her there; the rooms looked
better, more comfortable, more as my rooms were accustomed to look.

Suzee herself was extravagantly delighted, and shewed it in every look
and gesture. Gay and radiant in her brilliant scarlet silk, she moved
about under the electric light like a glowing animated picture.

"What will you have to eat or drink?" I asked as I saw her look
curiously into the jug of iced water that adorned my table. "I'll
order some supper."

"Anything, Treevor, anything you eat; I don't mind, and I never drink
anything but tea. May I get out my own tea-things and make it?"

"Certainly," I answered, and I watched her interestedly as she went
down on her knees before her little trunk and opened it, turning out
beautiful coloured silks of all shades on to the floor.

While we were thus innocently engaged the hotel manager burst suddenly
into the room. He looked very perturbed, and his face was a deep
purple.

"Now, sir, will you tell me what you mean by behaving like this in a
respectable hotel?"

He caught sight of Suzee sitting on the ground and started; the girl
stared up at him with a look of astonishment in which I thought
recognition blended.

"Come outside," I said mildly, "and take a turn in the corridor with
me." And we both went out and shut the door.

I talked with him for fifteen minutes and explained it was unwise and
unnecessary to make a great fuss and turn a good customer into the
streets at this late hour. We were going in any case as soon as we
could get off; in the mean time, the engagement of the next room to
mine at seven dollars a day for Suzee would satisfy the proprieties.
An artist must have models for his pictures and must put them up
somewhere. Besides, I pointed out that he could put all my
transgressions down at full length in the bill.

This seemed to soothe him very much, and our interview ended by his
unlocking the door of the next room, turning on the lights, and saying
what a fine one it was. I promised Suzee should occupy it, and told
him we wanted supper and some champagne he could recommend. This
completely softened him, and he left me promising to send the waiter
for orders.

In a few minutes the same bell-boy appeared with another of the
inevitable jugs of iced water, and a waiter came immediately after and
took my orders. All this being temporarily arranged, I went back to
Suzee. She had changed in that short time from her scarlet dress into
one of the palest blue, the most exquisite soft tone of colour
conceivable. It was all embroidered round the edge of the little
jacket and the wide falling sleeves in mauve and silver, and she had
twisted some mauve flowers and heavy silver ornaments into her shining
hair. Her great dark eyes flashed and sparkled, the pure tint of her
skin shewed the most faultless cream against the soft blue silk, her
little mouth curved redly in gay smiles as she looked at me for
admiration.

I was sad and heart-sick really in my inner self, but the senses count
for much in this life and they were pleased and told me I had done
well.

"I am quite, quite happy, Treevor," she said, as I told her she was
beautiful, a vision to dazzle one. "Now see me make tea. All Chinese
make it this way."

On a little side table she had rigged up a sort of spirit stand, and
on this a kettle steamed merrily. Set out on the table was a queer
little silver box of tea and four delicate, transparent cups or
basins, for they had no handles, of the most fairy-like egg-shell
china, each standing in a shell-like saucer.

"Where is your teapot?" I asked, coming up to the table and putting my
hand on the blue silk-clad shoulder.

"Chinese never have teapot. That's all an English mistake. Chinese
always make tea in a cup."

She took as she spoke a pinch of tea between her tiny fingers and
dropped it into one of the cups, immediately filling it up with
boiling water. Then she took the saucer from underneath and set it on
the top, its rim exactly enclosed the edge of the cup. Raising the
saucer a trifle at one side, she poured the infusion into one of the
other little bowls, keeping her finger on the saucer to hold it in
place. The tea leaves, kept back by the saucer, remained in the first
cup. The tea, a clear, pale-amber liquid, filled the second.

"Now it is ready to drink," she said, lifting the tiny egg-shell bowl
and handing it to me.

"Don't you have any milk or sugar?" I said, taking the hot basin in my
hand and holding it by a little rim at the bottom, the only place one
could hold it for the heat.

"No, anything else spoil it. You drink that and I make you another."

She threw away the first leaves, put a fresh pinch of tea in, filled
up the bowl and strained it off into another as before, then picked up
the second by the bottom rim, drained it, and repeated the process
with marvellous rapidity. I watched her, sipping my own.

"Do you like it?" she asked. "It is real gold-tipped Orange Pekoe.
Very good tea, indeed!"

I drank it. It had a wonderful flavour. I told her so and took another
cup, to her great delight.

The waiter came in, laid our supper on the table, put the champagne in
ice, and departed. I offered Suzee the wine, but she said she had all
the tea she could drink. She was willing to eat, however, and we sat
down to the table.

"I want you to tell me all about what happened at Sitka," I said. "How
did poor old Hop Lee die?"

"Oh, it was all such a dreadful thing, Treevor," she returned,
spreading out both hands, on the wrists of which heavy silver bangles
set with amethysts shone and tinkled. "He went down one day to Fort
Wrangle on business and when he came back one day after, he had a
fearful cough, and then he got very ill and went to bed, and I sat
beside him and he got worse and worse. Oh, so bad, and the doctor came
and he had very much medicine, and then his chest began to bleed, and
he coughed very much blood for days and days and weeks, and I nursed
him all that time, Treevor, all night long. I got no sleep at all; oh,
it was very, very bad."

I looked at her curiously. I could not somehow picture Suzee as the
devoted nurse passing sleepless nights and never absent from the
pillow of the suffering Hop Lee.

As I looked at her, I noticed the strange thickening of the features
and darkening of the skin I had noted before at Sitka, and knew the
blood was mounting into the face, though she could not blush, as the
English girl blushes, red.

"It is really true, Treevor," she said, in an aggrieved tone.

"I am not contradicting you," I replied calmly, "go on."

"At last he died," she continued, though in rather a sulky tone, "and
doctor said I might die too, I had made myself so ill, so thin with
waiting on him. My bones stuck out so," she put her hands edgeways to
her sides to indicate how her ribs, now remarkably well covered, had
stood out from her sufferings; but remembering the fictitious blows
she had recounted to me when I first met her, I was not so much
stirred by her recital as I might otherwise have been.

"And what about the child?" I asked.

"The boy? Oh, Treevor, he died very soon after. He caught cold from
his father, I think."

"Did he die of cold and cough, too, then?" I asked.

"Yes, he coughed till he died. Oh, I cried so much when he died. My
baby boy, my very big baby, I did love him so."

She blinked her glorious eyes very much as if they were full of tears
at the recollection, but I did not see any fall, and she pursued her
supper without any interruption of appetite.

I sat back in my chair, watching her and musing. Poor old Hop Lee! I
wondered what his last moments had been like, and whether those dainty
fingers had really been employed smoothing his brow, or counting his
effects, at the last?

"And then what came after?" I asked. "How did it come that you were to
be sold, as you said?"

"We were very poor when he died; so poor, and we owed a lot, and his
brother came up from Juneau and took over the tea-shop and everything.
Then he said he had offer from big Chinaman who would buy me, and he
said my husband owe him lot of money, he sell me, get it back, and he
sent me down to Nanine in 'Frisco to give to big Chinaman; but I told
Nanine you would give more, so Nanine kept me for you."

"But how will your husband's brother get the money for you in that
case?" I said.

"What a lot of questions you do ask, Treevor!" she returned sulkily.
"I don't know how he will get the money. He will make Nanine give him
some, I suppose. Let us forget it all, I don't want to think of that
any more."

I laughed.

"Very well. If you have finished your supper, come over here and sit
on my knee and we will forget it all, as you say."

She rose willingly and came over to me, a lovely, shimmering, Oriental
vision, dainty and perfect.

"I must paint you, Suzee, some day just as you appear now and call you
The Beauty of China, or something like that. You seem the joy of the
East incarnate."

Suzee frowned and then smiled.

"I do not like such long words. I do not understand you when you talk
like that; but I love you, Treevor, so, so much."

The misty light of dawn was rolling over 'Frisco when I shewed Suzee
her own room, where according to the pact with the manager, she was to
sleep.

She shivered as we went into it.

"Oh, Treevor, what a great big room," she said; "I am frightened at
it. Won't you stay with me? Or let me be in yours?"

"I said you should sleep here," I answered; "so you must. Jump into
bed quick and go to sleep; you will soon forget the size of the room.
I am dead tired now, I must go and get some sleep myself. Good-night,
dear."

I kissed her and went back to the sitting-room. The morning light
struggling with the artificial fell on the table with its scattered
plates and glasses, and on her little trunk and the unpacked silken
clothes.

I turned out the lights and drew up the blinds, and stood looking out.
The waves of soft white fog filled the empty streets. All was quiet,
white, in the dawn.

I had said I was tired, yet now sleep seemed far from my eyes, and my
mind flew out over intervening space to Viola, longing to find her,
wherever she was.

Where would she be? I could imagine her waking with this same dawn in
her calm, innocent bed, and gazing, too, into this white light, and
longing for me. Surely she would be that? The words of her letter came
back to me: the time would pass "slowly as a winter night to me, your
Viola."

She was right. Nothing could divide us permanently, really. Perhaps
even Death would be powerless to do that.

I had a dissatisfied feeling with myself. Would it have been better, I
asked myself, to have waited through this year alone, since nothing
could really satisfy or delight me in her absence? What was the good,
after all, of chasing the mere shadow of the joy I had with her?

But, strangely enough, I felt that Viola had no wish that I should
pass this mysterious year of separation she had imposed upon us,
alone.

She had confessed her inability to share my love with any other. The
incident of Veronica had made that clear; but now that she chose to
deny herself to me she seemed rather to wish than otherwise that I
should seek adventures, experiences elsewhere. And I felt
indefinitely, yet strongly, that the more I could crush into this year
of life and of artistic inspiration, especially the latter, the
happier she would feel when we met.

Perhaps she wished to tire me with lesser loves, certain that her own
must prevail against them. Perhaps she had even left me solely for
this, with this idea. Knowing herself unable to bear the pain of
infidelity to her when she was present, yet, accepting it as tending
to some ultimate psychological end, she had withdrawn herself from me.

I remembered she had said once to me:

"I would so much rather be a man's last love, the crowning love of
his life, the one whose image would be with him as he passed from this
world, than his first; poor little toy of his youth, forgotten,
unheeded, effaced by the passions of his life at the zenith."

Perhaps, ... but, ah! what was the use of speculation when it might
all be wrong?

Some reason was there, guiding that subtle mystery of her brain, and
I, if I fulfilled her expressed wishes, was doing the utmost to carry
out that plan of hers which I could not yet understand.

A feeling of excessive weariness invaded me, mental and physical, and
as the light grew stronger, breaking into day, I went to my own room
to sleep.

As soon as I woke I got up and went to look at my new possession. To
my surprise the room seemed empty. I looked round. No Suzee. I went up
to the bed. It had apparently not been slept in, but two of the
blankets had been pulled off and disappeared.

As I stood by the bedside, wondering what had become of her, I felt a
soft kiss on my ankles and, looking down, there she was, creeping out
from under the bed with one of the blankets round her. Her hair was a
lovely undisarranged mass; but the rosebuds in it were dead, and it
was dusty. Her face looked like white silk in its youthful pallor. She
smiled up delightedly at me and crawled out farther from the bed
valance.

"What are you doing down there?" I asked. "Wasn't the bed
comfortable?"

"Oh yes, Treevor, underneath I was very comfortable and warm. You see,
I have always been accustomed to something over my head, and in this
room the ceiling is such a long way off."

She got up and stood before me, her rounded shoulders and sweetly
moulded arms shewing above the blanket.

"You don't mind, do you?" she added, with a note of quick anxiety.

I laughed as I remembered the low ceilings, almost on one's head, that
are the rule in Chinatown, and caught her up in my arms.

"No, I don't mind," I said; "only get into bed now, and don't shew
that you have slept underneath instead of inside. I am going to order
breakfast and I will call you in a minute or two."

I threw her on to the bed, into which she rolled like a kitten, kissed
her, and went back to my own room.

When we had had breakfast I took Suzee with me on the car, and all the
eyes of its occupants fixed upon us for the whole of the journey. This
was harmless, however, and I did not mind, while Suzee sat apparently
sublimely unconscious of the rude stares and ruder smiles, with the
calm gravity of the Oriental who is above insults because he considers
himself above criticism.

At the office where I went to buy tickets for our journey I was put to
worse annoyance. I had taken tickets for two from 'Frisco to City of
Mexico when the clerk, looking suddenly from me to my childish
companion, said: "We can't give you a section,[A] sir."

"Why not?" I demanded.

"Only married couples," he remarked tersely, and turned away.

I told Suzee to go outside, and went to another part of the office,
bought my section ticket from another clerk while the first was
engaged, and then joined her. I began to realise that petty
difficulties would line the path the whole way, and I must make some
effort to minimise them.

We went to a café for lunch, and after seating ourselves at a table a
little away from the staring crowd, I said: "I expect it would be
better if we got you some American clothes."

"Very well, Treevor," she returned docilely, and leant her pretty,
round, ivory-hued cheek on her hand as she looked across at me
adoringly. Had I suggested cutting off her head, I believe she would
have looked the same.

"We must try after lunch to get some," I continued. "And don't be too
submissive to me in public. You see, it's not at all the fashion with
us for wives to be that way, and it makes people think you are not
mine."

Suzee laughed gaily: the idea seemed to amuse her.

After lunch we went to one of the large stores, and Suzee, in her
scarlet silk attracted of course general attention. We found, however,
a sensible saleswoman to whom I explained that I wanted a grey
travelling costume, and she and Suzee disappeared from me entirely,
into the fitting-room.

Left alone, I swung myself back on a chair and lapsed into thought.

When Suzee at last came back an exclamation broke from me. She was
spoilt. Lovely as she seemed in her own picturesque clothing, in the
rough grey cloth of hideous Western dress she looked simply a little
guy. Reading my face at a glance, her own clouded instantly, and in
another second she would have thrown herself at my feet had I not
warned her by a look and a gesture not to. I sprang up and turned to
the saleswoman.

"Is this the best, the prettiest costume you have?" I asked.

"Yes, sir. You see it's so difficult to fit the young lady without any
corsets, and she is really so short we have only a few skirts that
will do for her."

I looked at Suzee as she stood before me. The figure, so exquisite in
its lines when unclothed, looked too soft and shapeless under the
cloth coat. She appeared absurdly short, too, beside the American
assistant, who stood at least five feet eleven. I could not bear to
see my little Suzee so disfigured. However, that she looked far more
ordinary could not be disputed. She would attract less attention now,
and that might be an advantage. Her head was still bare and had its
Oriental character, but the colour of her skin against the grey cloth
lost its creaminess that it had possessed above the blue silk jacket.
It now looked merely sallow.

I paid nine guineas for the hideous dress, ordered the silk clothes to
be sent to the hotel, and then we went on to the millinery. Amongst
these frightful edifices my heart sank still more, but I steeled
myself to the ordeal, and, choosing out the simplest grey one I could
find, directed the giggling young shop-assistant to try it on Suzee.

The immense coiffure of shining black hair of the Chinese girl did not
lend itself to any Western hat. Hat and hair together made her head
appear out of proportion to the small, short figure.

At last, in despair, I said:

"You must alter your hair and do it in a different way. Could you take
it down now and roll it up small at the back, do you think?"

Suzee gazed on me in mild surprise.

"Take my hair down, here and now! Why, it's done up for a fortnight!"
she answered simply, while the shop-girl turned away to replace a hat
and hide her titters.

"Do you only do your hair once a fortnight?" I enquired, surprised in
my turn.

"Yes, that's all. It's such a bother to do. It was done just before
you came. I thought it would do for a month, I took such pains with
it."

A month! So that beautiful, scented, shining coiffure was only brushed
out once a month!

A sudden memory of Viola and her gleaming light tresses swept over me,
as I had seen them at night lying on her shoulders. But had I not
often waited for her till I was deadly sleepy, and when at length she
came to the bedside and I had asked her what she had been doing all
that time, had she not generally said--"brushing her hair"?

Perhaps, after all, a coiffure that never detained its owner at night
except once a month might have its advantages.

By the time these reflections had swept over me, Suzee herself had
found a little grey velvet hat that looked less dreadful than the
rest. I had only to pay for it, which I did, and she walked away with
me in her Western clothes. At the glove counter things went well, and
she triumphed over her civilised sisters. Her tiny supple hands were
easily fitted by number five, and tired and thirsty with our efforts
we left the store and found our way to a tea-shop.

The change in dress made matters easier. She did not attract much
notice now; and unless any one looked very closely at her, she would
pass for any little ordinary, unattractive European girl. It rather
ruffled my vanity to think she should look like this, but I consoled
myself with thinking of the evening, when the hideous disguise could
be laid aside and she would appear again in her amber beauty and I
could pose her in a hundred ways.

We had several cups of tea apiece. Very good I found it, though Suzee
somewhat disdainfully remarked it was not like China tea; and then
returned to the hotel.

As I passed through the swing doors with my reclothed and much altered
companion, the proprietor came hastily forwards with protestation
written on his face. He evidently thought I had erred again and this
was another investment. He was about to impart vigorously his opinion
of me when a hasty glance at Suzee's face and my bland look of enquiry
stopped him. Instead of addressing us, he wheeled round discomfited
and disappeared into his bureau.

"Why does that man always look so crossly at you?" enquired Suzee, as
we were walking down the passage to our rooms.

"He does not approve of my wickedness in having you here," I answered
laughing. "He thinks a man must never be with any woman but his wife."

"And has he a wife?"

"Yes, that great creature you saw sitting in the glass desk
downstairs."

Suzee threw up her chin and pursed up her soft blue-red lips.

"I know that man by sight quite well. He was always down with the
girls in Chinatown. He was one of Nanine's best customers."

I laughed as I put the key in, and opened our door.

"That accounts then, quite, for his terrific propriety in his hotel,"
I answered. "It's always the way. You can tell the really vicious
person by his affected horror of vice."

We dined upstairs, and directly after dinner I got her to pose for me
that I might catch the first idea for my picture "The Joy of the
East."

She still shewed an apparently unconquerable objection to any undraped
study, so I did not press it, but told her to dress as she had been
dressed the previous night, in blue and mauve with silver ornaments,
and I would take her in that.

While she was arraying herself I sat back in my chair, thinking.

How strange it was that a girl like Viola, who I believed would have
been burnt alive rather than let an untruth pass her lips, who could
not possibly have done a dishonourable action, had posed for me so
simply and fearlessly, viewing the whole matter from that artistic
standpoint which is so lofty because so really pure; and this girl,
whose soul, as I knew, was full of trickery and treachery, and whose
lips were worn with lies, clothed herself about with this ridiculous
prudery and imagined it was modesty!

She came back presently, wonderfully lovely in the bizarre Oriental
costume, and I wanted her to stand on tiptoe, leaning towards me and
laughing.

But she was not a good model; she soon grew tired and failed to keep
the same pose or expression. She fidgeted so, that at last I laid the
paper aside.

"Your expression won't go with that title," I said. "What is the
matter? Can't you stand still and look happy for fifteen minutes?"

"It's so tiring to stand quite still," she said crossly, and my heart
reproached me as I thought of Viola and the hours she had stood for me
without a word of complaint in the London studio!

"Well, I'll try another picture. I shall call it 'The Spoiled
Favourite of the Harem,' Throw yourself into that chair and look as
cross as you like."

Suzee sat down opposite me. I put her head back against the chair; her
right arm hung over the side, in her left hand she held a cigarette,
one foot was bent under her, the other swung listlessly to the ground.

Her expression, restless and dissatisfied, her attitude, weary and
enervated, gave the idea of the title admirably, and I made a good
sketch.

She was sitting down now so she could keep still without much
difficulty, and her air of _ennui_ suited this theme well enough.

As soon as I had finished the sketch and told her she might get up she
was delighted. She did not seem to take much interest in the picture,
however, but rather regard it grudgingly as it took up my attention.
She was only happy again when I took her on my knees and caressed her,
telling her she was the loveliest Eastern I had ever seen.

The following day we started on our journey southward.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote A: Sleeping berth for two persons in the Pullman car.]



CHAPTER X

IN THE SHADOW OF THE VOLCANO


The journey down to the City of Mexico, in itself, was a delight to
me, and I felt how infinitely more I could have enjoyed it had Viola
been with me.

My present companion did not seem able to appreciate any but physical
beauty. If a good looking man came on board the train she glanced over
him, demurely enough, but with the eye of a connoisseur. The glorious
beauty, however, of the painted skies and magnificent stretches of
open country we were passing through affected her not at all.

For four days, on either side of the train, America unrolled before us
her vast tracts of entrancing beauty, from which I could hardly tear
my gaze, and this little almond-eyed doll sat in a lump on the seat
opposite me yawning and fidgeting, or else reading some childish book;
or spent the time at the other end of the car playing with some
American children on board the train.

I did not intend to have my journey spoilt by her, so I gave my own
attention to the scene and told her to go and play, if she wished, or
buy oranges and pictures from the train-venders, do anything she
liked, in fact, as long as she did not disturb me and prevent my
taking a pleasure in the beauty she could not see.

Suzee, annoyed at my admiration of something she could not
appreciate, was mostly sulky and pettish through the day, regaining
her good temper at night when we retired into our section.

As a toy to caress, to fondle, she was enchanting. Nature had
apparently made her for that and for nothing else. Her extreme youth,
her beauty, her joy in love, made her irresistible at such moments.
And as I was young, at the height of youth's powers and desires, our
relations in that way held a great deal of pleasure for us both.

But that was the limit. Beyond this there was nothing.

That exquisite mental companionship, that sharing of every thought and
idea, that constant conversation on all sorts of subjects that
interested us both, all this which I had had with Viola, and which
filled so perfectly those intervals when the tired senses ask for, and
can give, no more pleasure, was completely absent here.

That delight in beauty which is to an artist as much a part of his
life as another man's delight in food or wine Viola had shared with me
in an intense degree.

And sharing any of the delights of life with one we love enhances them
enormously. One can easily imagine a gourmand being dissatisfied with
his wife if she resolutely refused to share any of his meals!

Now, as I gazed through the windows of the slow-moving train and saw
the long blue lines of the level-topped hills, the deep purple edges
of the vast table-lands rising against the amber or the blood red
evening skies, I longed for Viola with that inward longing of the soul
which nothing but the presence of its own companion can satisfy.

One evening, as I gazed out, the whole prairie was bathed in
rose-coloured light that appeared to ripple over it in pink waves. The
tall grass, tall as that of an English hay-field, seemed touched with
fire; far on every side stretched the open plain, absolutely level,
bounded at last in the far distance by that deep purple wall of
mountains, flat-topped, level-lined also, against the sky, the great
mesas or table-lands of Mexico.

And in this vast expanse of waving grasses and low flowering shrubs,
in the pink glow of the evening, stood out two graceful forms, a pair
of coyotes, distinct against the sunset behind them. Only these two
were visible in all that great lonely plain, and they stood together
watching the train go by, their sinuous bodies and low sweeping tails
touched and tipped with fire in the ruby light.

How delighted Viola would have been with that scene, I thought
regretfully, as the train carried us through it.

When we arrived at the City of Mexico, we drove to the Hotel Iturbide
and took a room high up on the third floor, to be well lifted out of
the suffocating atmosphere of the streets.

Suzee was a little overawed by the height of the long, narrow room
that we had assigned to us in this, at one time, palace, but when she
saw that the bed was comfortable and there was a large mirror before
which she could array and re-array herself, she was satisfied.

I saw the room would be a very difficult one to paint in, for it was
dark in spite of the tall window which opened on to an iron balcony
running across the front of the hotel.

The window was draped with thick red curtains and had a deep, handsome
cornice hanging over it.

Suzee went on to the balcony immediately and was delighted with the
incessant stream of gaily dressed people passing underneath. This was
the main street of the city. Not very wide, flanked with lofty, old,
picturesquely built houses on each side, of which the lower part was
often shop or restaurant, it presented somewhat the same heavy, gloomy
appearance as the streets in Italian towns. The air was thick,
dust-laden, and evil-smelling, for the City of Mexico, though at an
elevation of 8,000 feet, has none of the crisp, healthful clearness,
usually to be found at that altitude. Built over the bed of an
enormous dried up lake, in the centre of an elevated table-land, it
is, even at the present day, badly drained and unhealthy.

We had some tea brought up to us and took it at a little table drawn
close to the window,--Suzee chattering away to me of the delights of
this new big city--as big as 'Frisco, she thought. And what gay hats
the women wore! She saw them passing underneath. Would I not take her
out to the shops and buy a great big white muslin hat like theirs,
covered with pink roses?

I promised I would, watching her with a smile.

She was certainly very lovely just now. She seemed to have bloomed
into fairer beauty than she had possessed at Sitka.

Doubtless her gratified passion and happy relations with me helped to
this result, for a woman's beauty depends almost wholly on her inner
life, the life of her emotions and passions.

After tea we went downstairs, hired a carriage, and drove to the
Paseo--or laid-out drive--which is the thing to do in Mexico at that
hour; and to follow the custom of the country you are in is the first
golden rule of the traveller who would enjoy himself.

It was about six o'clock, and darkness was closing in on the thick,
dust-filled air as we drove with the stream of other vehicles of all
descriptions, from the poorest hired carriage to the most splendidly
appointed barouche, into the Paseo, a wide, sweeping drive, lined each
side with trees and lighted with rows of electric arc-light lamps,
some of which glowed pinkly or sputtered out blue rays in the dusk.

It has never seemed to me a very cheerful matter, this drive between
the lights in the formal Paseo, this great string of carriages drawn
mostly by poor unhappy horses and filled with dressed-up women who
stare rudely at each other as they pass and re-pass, solemn and silent
ghosts in a world of grey shadow!

But the fashion amongst the Mexican women of painting and powdering to
an inordinate degree perhaps accounts for their love of this hour
between the lights, when they imagine the falseness of their
complexion cannot be detected.

After about an hour's drive we came back, the great arc-lights now
sending their uncertain, shifting glare across the road and serving to
show the heavy dust through which we moved. Seen sideways, the ray of
light looked solid, so thick was the atmosphere.

When we came back we dined, and then sat outside our window on the
iron balcony, looking down at the gay scene below.

The street was fully lighted now by powerful lamps of electricity,
some belonging to the roadway, others hung out over restaurants and
shops. The latter were all open, having been closed through the middle
of the day. The cafés and restaurants were in full swing, half the
populace seemed in the street, either walking or driving.

"We will go to a theatre as soon as they open," I said. "I don't think
any of them begin till half-past nine or ten."

Suzee clapped her hands.

"That will be nice, Treevor," she said.

"I did like the theatre in Chinatown. I went with Nanine sometimes."

So at half-past nine we drove to a theatre. The performance began at
ten o'clock and continued till one in the morning, with a break in the
middle for supper.

It was a light musical farce, well acted and sung, and I enjoyed it.

Suzee looked on profoundly silent, and seemed to be quite wide-awake
all through it. Just before one o'clock she leant to me and whispered:

"When does the killing begin?"

"Killing?" I returned. "I don't think there'll be any, what do you
mean?"

"Oh," she said, "in Chinese theatres there is always very much
killing; every one's head comes off at the end."

I laughed.

"You little monster," I whispered; "is that what you came to see?"
Suzee nodded.

"All Chinese plays like that," she answered.

We waited till the curtain fell, but there was no killing and all the
heads were left on at the end. Suzee looked quite disappointed, and
explained to me as we were driving away that that was no play at all.

The next morning we were up very late, and after breakfast in our room
there was only time to drive out to the shops and buy for Suzee one of
the hats she coveted before luncheon.

All Orientals have a wonderful, artistic instinct for fabrics and
colours, and always, when left alone, clothe themselves with exquisite
taste. But this instinct seems to desert them when brought amongst
European manufactures and into the sphere of European tints. Suzee now
chose an enormous white hat wreathed round with poppies and
cornflowers that I certainly should not have chosen for her. However,
it pleased and satisfied her, and she was in great good-humour in
consequence.

I found some letters for me at the hotel, forwarded from the club. My
heart sank as I saw there was none from Viola. I thought she might
have written again....

There was one from a friend of mine who was attached to the embassy
here, and he asked me to go and dine with him that evening, or name
some other, if I were engaged that day.

I looked up at Suzee.

"I have an invitation here to go out to dinner," I said to her; "do
you think you can amuse yourself without me this evening?"

Suzee looked sulky.

"You are going out all the evening without me? Can't I come too?"

"I am afraid not," I answered.

"Why? Is it a woman you are going to?"

"No, it is not," I answered a little sharply.

How different this sulky questioning was from Viola's bright way of
assenting to any possible suggestion of mine for my own amusement or
benefit!

How different from this her quick:

"Oh yes, do go, Trevor, do not think about me, I shall be quite happy
looking forward to your coming back!"

Suzee pushed out her lips.

"How long will you be?" she asked.

"I shall go just before seven and return about ten," I answered. "You
must get accustomed to amusing yourself. I can't always be with you."

"I can amuse myself," returned Suzee sulkily. "All the same, I believe
it's a woman you are going to."

The blood rushed over my face with anger and annoyance, but I
restrained myself and made no answer. She was so much of a child, it
seemed absurd to enter into argument or to get angry with her.

I went back to reading my other letters and occupied myself with
answering them till luncheon.

That evening about seven I was dressing for dinner, Suzee standing by
me or playing with my things and somewhat impeding me, as usual. She
seemed to have recovered from her ill-temper and was all smiles and
gay prattle.

Before I took up my hat and coat to leave I bent over her and kissed
her.

"You understand, I don't want you to leave this room till I come back.
They will bring up your dinner here, and you can sit on the balcony
and smoke, and you have lots of picture-books to amuse you. I shall be
back at ten."

She kissed me and smiled and promised not to leave the room, and I
went out.

I really enjoyed the evening with my friend. It was a relief to talk
again with one who possessed a full-grown mind after being so long
with a childish companion, and the time passed pleasantly enough. A
quarter to ten seemed to come directly after dinner and my companion
was astonished at my wanting to leave so early.

I explained the situation in a few words and, of course, caused
infinite amusement to my practical friend.

"The idea of you living with a Chinese infant like that!" he
exclaimed. "I shall hear of your being fascinated with a Hottentot
next, I suppose."

"Maybe," I answered, putting on my hat. "Anyway, I must go now; thanks
all the same for wishing me to stay."

I left him and walked rapidly back in the direction of the Iturbide.
Some of the shops were still open, and as I passed down the main
street the brilliant display in a jeweller's window, under the
electric light, attracted my attention.

I paused and looked in. I thought I would buy and take back some
little thing to Suzee. It had been a dull evening for her. I went in
and chose a necklet of Mexican opals. These, though not so lovely as
the sister stone we generally buy in England, have a rich red colour
and fire all their own.

I had not enough money with me to pay for it, but with that delightful
confidence in an Englishman--often unfortunately misplaced--one finds
in some distant countries, the shopman insisted on my taking it, and
said he would send to the hotel in the morning for the money.

I slipped the case in my pocket and went on to the Iturbide.

After all, I thought, as I neared home, with all her faults she was a
very attractive and dear little companion to be going back to.

Full of pleasure at the thought of bestowing the gift and the joy it
would give her, I ran up the stone stairs without waiting for the lift
and pushed open the door of our room.

I entered softly, thinking she might be curled up asleep, but as I
crossed the threshold I heard the sound of laughter. The next moment I
saw there were two figures standing at the end of the long room in
front of the window.

Suzee had her back to me and a man was standing beside her. Just as I
came in I saw her raise her face, and the man put his arm round her
and kiss her. Two or three steps carried me across the room and I
struck them apart with a blow on the side of the man's head that sent
him reeling into a corner.

It was the young Mexican waiter that had hitherto brought us all our
meals.

The table was still covered with the dinner things, a bottle of wine
stood on it and two half-filled glasses. My impression, gathered in
that first furious glance, was that he had brought up her dinner and
she had invited him to stay and share at least the wine and
cigarettes. Some of these lay on the table, and the room was full of
smoke.

Suzee gave a scream of terror and then crouched down on a chair,
looking at me.

The waiter picked himself up, and, catching hold of his iron
stove-fitted basket in which he had brought up the dinner, slunk out
of the room.

I was left alone with Suzee, and I looked at her, with an immense
sense of disgust and repulsion swelling up in me.

"So you can't even be trusted an hour or two, it seems," I said
contemptuously, throwing myself into a chair opposite her.

Suzee began to sob. Tears were her invariable refuge under all
circumstances.

"Treevor, you were so long. I was all alone, and I was sure you were
with another woman."

"If you would learn to believe what I say and not fancy every one
tells lies, as I suppose you do," I answered hotly, "it would be a
great deal better for you. I went to dine with a bachelor friend this
evening, as I told you, and what made me later than I otherwise should
have been was that I stopped to buy a present for you on my way back."

Suzee's tears dried instantly.

"A present! Oh, what is it, Treevor?" she said eagerly. "Do show it
me. Where is it?"

I drew the case out of my pocket and opened it. The electric light
flashed on the opals, and they blazed with orange and tawny fires on
the white velvet.

Suzee gave a little cry of wonder and delight, and then sat staring at
them breathlessly.

"I don't feel at all inclined to give them to you now," I remarked
coldly.

"Oh, yes, Treevor, _do_ let me have them. It was all the man's fault.
I did not want him. I could not help it."

"I heard you laughing as I came in," I returned, more than ever
disgusted by her lies and her throwing all the blame on her companion.
"It's no use lying to me, Suzee, you found that out at Sitka. What I
want to make clear to you is this: if I find you doing this sort of
thing again I shall send you away from me altogether, because I won't
have it."

Suzee looked terror-stricken.

"Send me away! But what could I do? Where could I go?"

"Where you pleased! You would not live any more with me."

"Well, Treevor, I will not do it any more," she answered, her eyes
fixed on the jewels. "Do let me have the necklace. May I put it on?"

And she stretched out her hand to grasp it from the table where I had
laid it. Her avarice, her lack of any real deep feeling about the
matter, filled me with irrepressible anger.

I sprang to my feet and snatched the necklet up, case and all, and
flung it through the window.

"No, you shall certainly not have it," I exclaimed.

Suzee gave a shriek of pain and dismay as she saw the beloved jewels
flash through the air and disappear in the darkness, and rushed to the
window as if she would jump after them.

Fearing she might call to the passers-by below and create a
disturbance, I took her by the shoulder and pulled her back into the
room.

Then I shut the window and bolted it above her head.

I walked over to the door of the room.

"You had better go to bed," I said; "do not wait for me, I shall sleep
elsewhere."

Then I went out and locked the door behind me, putting the key in my
pocket.

I went down the passage slowly. My heart was beating fast and I felt
angry, but the anger was not that deep fierce agony of emotion I had
felt at times when Viola angered or grieved me.

It was more a superficial sensation of disgust and repulsion that
filled me, and, after a few minutes, I grew calm and recovered my
self-possession.

"What could I expect from a girl like this?" I asked myself. "What
could I expect but lies and deceit and trickery and infidelity? She
had shewn me all these at Sitka when I first met her."

I had been willing enough to profit by them, but even then they had
disgusted me. Now I was in the position of Hop Lee, and as she had
treated him so would she treat me. It was true she professed to love
me, and did so in her way. But it was the way of the woman who is
bought and sold.

And why should I feel specially repelled because I had found her with
a servant? Had she not come from a tea-shop in Sitka, where she
herself was serving?

The Mexican boy was handsome enough. Doubtless he presented a
temptation to her.

It was all my own fault, everything that had happened or would happen,
for choosing such an unsuitable companion. The light loves of an hour
with painted butterflies such as Suzee are well enough, but for life
together one must seek and find one's equal, one who sees with the
same eyes, who has the same standard as one's own of the fitness of
things, in whose veins runs blood of the same quality as one's own.

Why had Viola left me? The thought came with a pang of anguish as my
heart called out for her.

The corridor was a lofty one of stone. It was quite empty now and
unlighted. I walked on slowly in the dark till I came to a large
window on my right hand. This window overlooked a wide expanse of lead
roofs belonging to the lower stories of the hotel, and these commanded
a magnificent view of the whole city.

I stepped out over the low sill and stood on the leads. The night was
soft and cool. The sky, full of the light of a rising moon, shewed
beautifully, against its luminous violet, the outlines of dome and
minaret and spire, and far out beyond the crowded city's confines, the
two incomparable mountains, Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, the huge
volcanoes, shrouded in eternal snow, rising a sheer ten thousand feet
from the level plain, standing like sentinels guarding the city.

It was a magnificent panorama that surrounded me, a view to remember
for all time. Dome upon dome, rising one behind the other, of all
sizes and shapes, their beautiful tiles gleaming here and there as the
light from the rising moon touched them, delicate spires, pointing
upwards, tipped with silver light, low roof of the commoner's dwelling
and pillared façade of old and stately palace intervening, and, far
away, those cold white, solitary peaks overtopping all else, rising
into the region of the stars, made up a grand, impressive scene.

As I looked all sense of petty annoyance dropped from me. I walked
forwards with a grateful sense of relief and took my seat on a
projecting ledge of one of the roofs and let my eyes wander over the
maze of dim outlines and shapes below me.

How strange it was to think of the past history of the city!

Far back in the dim ages, a clear and glorious lake had lain here
where now the city reared itself so majestically. In the centre of
this vast table-land, eight thousand feet above the sea, the blue
waters rested tranquilly, reflecting in their surface the fires and
the flames of those now silent, burnt-out volcanoes.

The lake was inhabited by the lake-dwellers, quaint little people
living in their curious structures built on poles sunk in the water.
There they fished and made their nets and traded with each other,
passing backwards and forwards in their tiny dug-outs--whole crafts
made from a single hollowed-out log--on the gleaming waters, secure
from the raids of wild beasts or savages that the black, impenetrable
forests on the shore might harbour.

Then came the Toltecs and the Aztecs with their refinement, their
civilisation, and the lake dried gradually through the years, and
causeways were built across the swamp, and one by one dwellings
appeared on the hardest, driest places, and step by step there grew to
be a city. Then came the Spaniards in later days, with the flaming
pomp of religion and the loathsome spirit of cruelty. They killed the
people by thousands with torture, and set up their churches to peace
and good-will. They overthrew the temples with murder and slaughter,
and reared altars to the Most High on the blood-soaked earth.

And this city, as we see it to-day, with its countless beautiful
churches, its exquisite tiled domes flashing in the sun, is the work
of the Spaniards. And each church stands there to commemorate their
awful crimes.

I sat on, as the hours passed, and watched the moon rise till it
poured its flood of silver light all over the city, sat thinking on
the horror of man and wondering what strange law has fashioned him to
be the devil he is.

Towards sunrise, the wind blew cold off the marshes round the city,
and I went in and down to the lower floor of the hotel.

Its world was fast asleep. In the hall I saw two Mexican porters in
their thin white clothes, curled up on the door mat, without covering
or pillow, fast asleep.

I made my way to the little-used reception-room, found my way across
it to a wide old couch, threw myself upon it, and closed my eyes. The
couch smelt musty and the room seemed cold, but I was accustomed to
sleep anyhow and anywhere, and in a few moments, with my thoughts on
Viola, I drifted into oblivion.

At breakfast time the next day I went to the administrador and told
him to send up ours by another waiter, and never to allow the former
one to come into our room again. Then I went upstairs to Suzee. As I
unlocked the door and entered I saw she was up and dressed. She came
to me, looking white and frightened.

"Oh, Treevor, do forgive me, I never will again. Only say you forgive
me. I was so frightened all last night, I thought you had locked me up
here to starve."

Again the absence of deep feeling, of any ethical consideration
prompting her contrition, jarred upon me. She would be good because
she did not want to starve or be otherwise punished. That was her view
of it, and that alone.

I bent over her, took her hand, and kissed her.

"We needn't think of it any more," I said gently. "Only you must
remember if such a thing occurs again, we cease to live together,
that's all."

Suzee reiterated her promises with effusion, and presently an old,
grey-haired waiter appeared with our breakfast.

I could not repress a smile as I saw the administrador had determined
to be on the safe side this time.

Suzee was extremely amiable and docile all that day.

Most women who do not shew gratitude for kindness and consideration,
when the man retaliates or shews any harshness, begin to improve
wonderfully; while a delicate nature like Viola's, that responds to
love and gives devotion in return, would meet that same harshness with
passionate resentment. Suzee sincerely mourned her lost jewels and
gazed wistfully and furtively down into the street where they had
gone in the darkness.

I paid the bill for them that day, but I never knew what became of
them, nor whose neck they now adorn!

The following day was Sunday, the day appointed by the Prince of
Peace, and dedicated here by his followers, the Christians, to the
torture and slaughter of their helpless companions in this world--the
animals. Sunday, throughout Mexico, is the day most usually fixed for
a bull-fight, and to-day there was going to be one, and Suzee had
begged me to take her to see it.

I had hesitated, but finally given in, and taken seats for it.

I felt a strong disinclination to witnessing what I knew would be
merely another example of the loathsome barbarity of the human race,
but it was my rule in life to see and study its different aspects, to
add to my knowledge of it whenever possible, and so I consented with a
sense of repulsion within me. Suzee was in the wildest delight. She
had talked to the waiter, it seemed, and had heard from him wonderful
stories of the big crowds of gaily dressed people in the large ring,
of the music, of the gaily dressed toreadors, of the clapping of hands
and the shouting.

"And you feel no sympathy with the bull that is going to be killed or
the unfortunate horses?" I asked, looking across at her as we sat at
luncheon.

Suzee looked grave.

"I didn't think of that," she said.

The great fault of the less guilty half of humanity--it does not
think! and the other half thinks evil.

"Well, think now," I said sharply. "Would you like to have your inside
torn out for a gaping crowd to laugh at, to be tortured to death for
their Sunday diversion? For that is what you are going to see
inflicted on the animals this afternoon."

Suzee regarded me with a frightened air.

Presently she said, glibly:

"Of course not, Treevor, and I am very, very sorry for the poor
animals if they are going to be hurt."

"Of course they are," I said shortly; "that is what the whole city is
going to turn out to see."

I felt she had no real appreciation of the subject, and that any
sympathetic utterance would be made to please me. How I hate being
with a companion who automatically says what will please me! A servile
compliance that one knows is false is more irritating to a person of
intellect than contradiction.

How different Viola had always been! In physical relations she had
accepted me as her owner, master, conqueror. She had never sought to
deny or evade or resent the physical domination Nature has given the
male over the female. But her mind had been always her own. And what a
glorious strength and independence it possessed! Not even to me would
she ever have said what she did not believe.

Like the old martyrs, she would have given herself to the rack or the
flames rather than let her lips frame words her brain did not approve.

Her mind and her opinions were her own, not to be bought from her at
any price whatever, and, as such, they were worth something.

The assent or dissent of the fool who agrees or disagrees from fear or
love is worth nothing when you've got it.

We finished our luncheon and then, in a hired carriage, drove to the
Plaza de Toros.

I, with a feeling of cold depression, Suzee, gaily dressed and in the
highest spirits.

All the city was streaming out in splendid carriage or miserable shay.
Rich and cultured, poor and illiterate, human beings are all alike in
their love of butchery and blood. We reached the great ragged stretch
of open ground, hideous and bare enough, and the structure of the
bull-ring reared itself before us, a sinister curve against the
laughing blue of the sky.

It seemed to hum like a great hive already; there was a crowd of the
poorer class about it, and men came continually in and out of the
little doors in its base.

We dismissed our carriage at the outer edge of the ragged ground, the
driver insisting he could drive no farther. And the moment we had
alighted he turned his horses' heads and started them at a furious
gallop back to the city in the hope of catching another fare.

We walked forwards towards the principal of the wickets through which
already the people were passing to their seats. In approaching the
bull-ring we had to pass by a circle of little buildings, low dens
with small barred windows and closed doors. Blood was trickling from
under some of these over the brown and dusty earth, and the low, heavy
breathing and groans of a horse in agony came from one or another at
intervals.

I looked through the grated slit of one, as I passed, and saw two men,
or, rather, fiends in the shape of men, crouched on the floor of the
dark and noisome den. Between them lay outstretched the body of a
horse, old and thin, worn to the last gasp in the cruel service of the
streets. On its flank was a long open wound. One of the men, bending
over it, had a red-hot iron glowing in his hand. What they were going
to do I could not tell, and I did not wait to see.

The horse was one, doubtless, which unhappily had survived last
Sunday's bull-fight, and was being horribly patched up, terribly
stimulated by agony to expend its last spark of vitality in this.

In these loathsome little dens this fiendish work goes on, the poor
mangled brutes are brought out from the ring, their gaping wounds are
plugged with straw, or anything that is at hand, and then they are
thrust back on to the horns of the bull.

More than ever filled with loathing of my kind, I passed on in silence
towards the ring.

It was no use speaking to Suzee. She could not understand what I felt.
I thought of Viola. If she had been here, what would she have
suffered? Of all women I had met, I had never known one who had the
same exquisite compassion, the same marvellous sympathy for all living
things as she had.

We shewed our tickets, passed through the wicket, and were inside the
vast circle.

The impression on the eye as one enters is pleasing, or would be if
one's brain were not there to tell one of the scenes of infamy that
take place in that grand arena.

Wide circles, great sweeping lines have always a certain fascination,
and the form that charms one in the coliseum is here also in these
modern imitations.

The huge arena, empty now and clean, sprinkled with fine white sand,
and with circle after circle, tier after tier of countless seats
rising up all round, cutting at last the blue sky overhead, is in
itself impressive.

We passed to our seats, which were a little low down, not much raised
above the level of the boarding running round the arena.

They were on the coveted shady side of the ring, where the sun would
not be in our eyes. On the left of us was the President's box;
opposite, the seats of the common people, let cheap, because the sun's
rays would fall on them through all the afternoon.

These were already full. Occupied by _women_, largely _women_. Dressed
in their gayest, with handkerchiefs in their hands ready to wave, with
brightly painted fans, they sat there laughing, talking, eating
sweets, making the ring in that quarter a flare of colour.

Women! Ah, what a pity it is that there should be such women as these,
stony-hearted, stony-eyed, deaf to the dictates of mercy, of pity.
Women who can congregate with delight to see a fellow-creature die!

For what are the animals but our fellow-creatures? With the same life,
the same heart-beats as our own! With whom, if we acted rightly, we
should share this world in kindly fellowship and love.

The other seats in the shade were filling quickly; soon the whole mass
of dizzy circles, one above the other, flamed with brilliant colour
under the Mexican sun.

Suddenly, with a great crash, the music burst out, and a triumphal
march rolled over the arena as the President and his party arrived and
took their places in their box. The people cheered and the
handkerchiefs were waved, for the President is popular.

Suzee sat in the greatest glee beside me. The vast concourse of
people, the lavish colour, the loud, gay, strident music, the sea of
faces and clapping hands and waving kerchiefs pleased her childish
little soul.

After a few moments the music changed, and to a slow, almost solemn
march, the toreadors filed slowly in to the arena and bowed before the
President's box.

A burst of applause greeted their appearance, and Suzee watched
entranced these men parading in the ring, in their various red, blue,
and green velvet costumes fitting tightly their fine figures, with
their gorgeous cloaks of red velvet thrown over one arm and the flat
round hats of the toreadors sitting lightly above their bold handsome
faces.

They disappeared, there was a pause in the music, the great arena
stood empty, the vast audience were silent, a few moments of waiting
expectancy, then one of the low doors opposite us in the inner circle
flew open, shewing a long black tunnel leading into darkness. From
this came confused roarings and bellowings, and then with his head
flung high and his great eyes starting with pain and rage from the
goadings he had received, a glorious black Andalusian bull charged
into the arena. The people, delighted at his size and strength and
apparent ferocity, cheered and applauded loudly while, still further
excited by the sudden glare of light and the deafening noise, the
creature galloped round the sandy ring.

Jet-black, sleek-coated, and with a long pair of slender, tapering
horns, sharply pointed, crowning his great head, he was a magnificent
animal, far finer in make and shape than any of these brutes round him
who had come to see him die. As he galloped round the ring, I saw that
he was looking wildly, eagerly, for somewhere to escape. The animals
have no innate savagery, as man has. They do not love inflicting pain,
torture, and death upon others. That vile instinct has been given to
man alone. They kill for food. They fight for their mates. But no
animal fights or kills for the love of blood as we do.

And now this great monarch of the hills and plains, in all the pride
and glory of his strength, had no wish to attack or kill; he bounded
round and across the sandy space hoping to find some outlet, longing
to be again upon his wild Andalusian hills he was never to see again.

Another burst of music, a great fanfare of trumpets, and then slowly
in triumphal procession the picadors, mounted bull-fighters with
lances, entered the ring.

Theoretically, when these men enter, the savage beast they are
supposed to be encountering immediately makes a terrible charge upon
them; but, as a matter of fact, the bull never wishes to fight or
attack any one, and does not, until his brutal captors absolutely
force him into doing so. That is why a bull-fight, as well as being
hideously degrading and cruel, is also dull and tedious.

If one were watching the grand natural passion of an animal fighting
for his life on the prairie, against another, with an equal fortune of
war for both, there would be excitement in it. But in this case one
sees an unwilling animal tortured into a fight, which it neither seeks
nor understands, and which it has from the start no chance of winning.

In this case, as in all I have seen, the beautiful Andalusian, having
made his gallop round the ring and finding no chance of escape, had
subsided into a quiet trot and when the picadors entered he stood
still, demurely regarding them from the opposite side of the arena.

The sunlight fell full upon him, on his glossy sides and grand head,
from which the noble, lustrous brown eyes looked out with benign and
gentle dignity on the great multitude, the sandy space, and the
picadors who were stealing slowly up to him.

It is a difficult matter for the picador to approach the bull, for the
horses shrink from the awful fate awaiting them, and only by plunging
great spurs into their sides can their riders get them to advance.

Anything more unutterably cowardly and despicably mean than the
picador can hardly be imagined. Riding a poor, aged horse, generally
one that has been wounded in a previous combat, and that is
absolutely naked of all protection from the bull's horns, he is
himself cased from head to foot in metal and leather, so that by no
possibility can he be scratched.

He comes into the ring with the deliberate intention of riding his
tottering, naked horse on to the horns of the bull, and the greater
number of these helpless creatures he can get mangled and
disembowelled under him, the greater and finer picador he is and the
more the people love him. Such is humanity!

On this afternoon the bull eyed the horses' approach with no ill-will,
he seemed to be reflecting--"Perhaps these are friends of mine and
will show me the way out." But when at last the picador, having
spurred his flinching horse close up to the bull's side, jabbed at his
glossy neck with his lance and the pain convinced the great monarch
they were hostile, he threw up his head with a snort and in a lithe,
agile bound he passed by them and trotted quietly away.

This enraged the people, and screams of "Coward! Coward!" went up from
all parts of the ring.

How they can twist into any semblance of cowardice the benignity of an
animal that scorns to take any notice of what it sees is a feeble and
puny opponent is amazing, a fit illustration of the weakness of the
human intellect.

As the bull continued his gentle trot, unmoved, the audience grew
furious, and then began that tedious and utterly sickening chase of
the unwilling bull by the faltering and unwilling horses.

The bull, conscious of his great strength and absolutely fearless, had
all that chivalry which seems inherent in animals and which is quite
lacking in man in his attitude to them.

As the unfortunate horses were ridden up to and across the face of the
bull, he did his best to avoid them. Over and over again the picadors
stabbed him with their lances and thrust their naked horses at his
head, but his whole attitude and manner said plainly: "Why should I
toss these poor old, trembling horses? I have no quarrel with them. I
could kill them in a minute, but I don't want to."

The screaming fiends above him yelled and cursed and tore pieces of
wood from the seats to throw at him. Insults and invectives were
showered on the picadors, until at last one of them, stung by the
filthy abuse of the mob, drove his spurs so deep into his horse that
the animal reared a little; the picador then, with spur and knee,
almost lifted him on to the long pointed horns of the bull, who,
forced back against the hoarding, had lowered his head in anger as the
blood streamed from the lance wounds in his neck.

Then there was the horrid, low sound of grating horn against the ribs
of the horse, the ripping of the hide; the animal was lifted into the
air a moment, then fell. There was a gush of blood on the sand, blood
and entrails; with a groan it staggered quivering to its feet, made a
step forwards, trod on its own trailing, bleeding insides, fell again,
groaning with anguish, quivering convulsively.

The people were delighted. They shouted and screamed and stood up on
their seats and waved their kerchiefs, especially the women!

The picador, who picked himself up unhurt--indeed, cased in armour, he
could not well be otherwise--was cheered and cheered, and bowed and
smiled and took off his cap and swept it to the ground. And the band
crashed loudly to drown the terrible groaning of the dying horse,
struggling in agony on the sand. The bull, sorry rather than otherwise
apparently, walked away to another part of the ring, tossing his head
in pain as the blood dripped from it.

The people clapped delightedly. Suzee seeing all the women about her
doing so, put up her little hands and clapped too.

I bent towards her and caught them and held them down in her lap.

"Be quiet," I said; "I won't have you clap such a disgusting sight."

She stopped at once. A Mexican woman on my other hand, looked daggers
at me for an instant, divining my words, but she was too eager to see
all the blood and the anguish in the arena, not to miss a throe of the
dying horse, to turn her eyes away for more than a moment.

So, after a scowl at me, she directed them again, bulging with
satisfaction, on the scene before her.

From then on, for about an hour, the same hideous thing went on; horse
after horse was brought forward, pushed on the horns of the bull, torn
and mangled beneath its cowardly rider, and then, if completely ripped
open, dragged dead or dying from the ring; if its wound was not large
enough to cause instant death, stuff or straw was thrust into it by
the attendants and the dying animal kicked, lashed, and dragged to its
feet to be thrown again on to the sharp horns amidst the shouts and
laughs of the delighted crowd.

Once, in a general mêlée, when the bull and several picadors were in a
tangled mass at one side of the ring, I saw one of these horses,
terribly wounded, with its life pouring from it, emerge from the
conflict and stagger unnoticed to the hoarding.

It came close to the wall of the ring and looked over; its glazed,
anguished eyes gazed from side to side as if asking: "Is there no
escape, no mercy anywhere?"

A spectator on the audience side of the hoarding raised his hand and
struck it between the eyes. It tottered, staggered, and sank within
the ring.

Eight horses had now been rendered useless, the arena was black and
red with blood, in spite of the assiduous sprinkling of fresh sand,
and there was a pause in the entertainment. The picadors had had their
turn, the banderilleros were ready to appear, but the people were
thoroughly enjoying themselves now and they stamped and roared
"Caballos" till they were hoarse. That horrid cry for more and more
horses to be produced that alarms the administrador, or manager, of
the bull-fight.

In vain the attendants lashed and goaded the dying horses in the
arena. They could not get them to their feet again. There is a limit
to man's sway, the tortured life at last escapes him. The bodies were
dragged away, more sand, and then the administrador himself, pale as
ashes, stepped out before the audience howling for more blood.

"Señors," he commenced, "it is impossible to supply more than eight
horses for one bull; there are five more bulls to be dispatched. They
are more savage than this one. I must keep horses for them. Let the
señors be reasonable and allow the show to continue."

At this promise of five more bulls there was general applause. The
band rolled out fresh music. There was a thunder of drums and the
banderilleros came on, gorgeous in velvet, glittering in spangle and
tinsel.

The bull is weary now and has lost much of his blood; as from the
first, he only longs to escape from this ring, and the mad monkeys who
are gibing and gibbering at him in it. They came forward with their
fresh weapons, shafts and arrows of iron decked up with coloured
ribbons, which they throw at him and which stick on his shoulders and
in his sides, drawing streams of blood wherever they strike him.

Maddened by those, he rushes at the flaming coats the men trail before
his eyes; but the cruel little, dancing, monkey-like man with the
cloak darts away before he can be touched, and at last, after repeated
rushes and repeated failures, the grand creature stands still, wearied
and disdainful, his head erect, the blood flowing from his wounds in
which the darts move, swaying to and fro each time he stirs, causing
him an agony he cannot understand. So he faces the great crowded ring
contemptuously, and the people shout at him and call him a coward and
scream for the espada to come and dispatch him.

The banderilleros retire: they have weakened the bull so that there is
now no danger for the puny little two-legged creature who struts in
next with a sword, and who is greeted with plaudits and triumphal
music. Flowers are thrown him, bouquets, the men call him hero, the
women throw kisses to him.

He bows to the President, then turns towards the bull who stands
erect still, though the loss of blood must be telling upon him, stands
with that same air of deadly _ennui_, of weary scorn of all this folly
which he has possessed from the first. Dusty and blood-stained his
glossy coat, bloodshot his great lustrous eyes. As he looks round the
circle already growing dim to them, does he long for his green
Andalusian pastures, does he see again those pleasant streams by which
his herd is wandering?

The little manikin sidles up and jabs him behind the shoulder with his
sword. The bull turns upon him, and he runs for his life. But the bull
does not deign to follow. With a great show of precaution where there
is really no danger, the little man with the sword approaches again.
Amidst cheers from the onlookers he plunges his sword between the
shoulders of the dying monarch and then rushes backwards. The great
beast sways, shivers in mortal anguish for a moment, and then without
a sound sinks, for the first time in this cruel and unequal combat, to
his knees. Sinks, full of a superb dignity to the end, and one asks
oneself--"What _can_ the scheme of creation be that gives a creature
so clean-souled, so grand, into the power of such a miserable mass of
vile lusts as man?"

A moment more and the head crowned with its tapering crescent horns
sinks forwards. A gush of blood from the nostrils on the sand, and it
is over. The glossy form is still--at peace.

With ridiculous manoeuvres the little man comes up again to the great
beast, obviously dead and harmless, and withdraws his sword which he
waves triumphantly before the applauding populace.

While he capers about before his delighted admirers, the attendants
come in and draw away with some difficulty the magnificent form of the
slaughtered bull.

The music broke into a loud march. There was an interval of relaxation
for the audience, to move, look about, chatter, and take refreshments.

"This is the end," I said to Suzee; "let us go now."

"Oh, but Treevor, that man said he had five more bulls, look, nobody
is going yet," she returned, having evidently followed in her own
sharp way the sense of the Spanish speech of the administrador.

"Do you want to see any more?" I asked. "I think it is dull and
tedious, as well as horrible."

"The killing is not nice," she said, in deference to my opinions, I
suppose; "but the music and the people are fun, I think. Do let us
stay for one more fight. You won't want to bring me again."

"No, I certainly shan't," I answered.

"Then do let me stay now, Treevor, just one more time."

I shrugged my shoulders and sat back in my seat, and after a second
the little door opposite opened and another bull, this time apparently
mad with pain, dashed into the ring.

The people applauded him and the shouts and clappings increased his
excitement.

He bounded at full gallop across the sandy space and charged the
hoarding that hemmed him in.

The audience were delighted, but the toreadors entered the ring and
stood together at one side, looking anxious, and some of the
attendants came up and received orders from them.

From the first the animal was unmanageable, out of all control. The
goading and the enraging that goes on in the dens behind the arena had
been overdone apparently, for the bull, wild with rage and pain,
galloped madly round, taking no notice of the pallid group of
toreadors.

At last one or two came forward with their cloaks of scarlet; the bull
made a dash at them, scattering them on either side, then bounded on
and with one tremendous leap cleared the hoarding that separates
spectators from the rings, and landed bellowing in the corridor that
ran round it just below our seats. It was full of onlookers drawn
nearer than usual to the hoarding by the excitement, and they
scattered and fled in all directions, while shriek upon shriek went up
from the women all round us as they saw the bull clear the hoarding
and come down amongst them.

With one accord they stood up. Like a great wave breaking, they rushed
upwards to the highest part of the ring, shrieks and screams on every
side telling of the trampled children and injured women in the frantic
panic.

Suzee rose with the rest, livid and trembling, and would have rushed
after that seething mass behind us, if I had not seized her arm and
forced her back to her seat.

"Sit down, stay where you are," I said; "the bull will do you less
harm than that trampling horde."

We were left there alone; groans and cries came from the
panic-stricken, struggling mass of people behind us; just beneath us
in the emptied corridor stood the bull, snorting with lowered head,
pawing the ground; in the arena, the administrador, green with terror
and anxiety, shouted commands to the pallid and trembling attendants.

I sat still, holding Suzee. The bull paused for a moment in front of
us, then with his head lowered almost to the ground, made a terrific
rush forwards, shattering the woodwork of the platform at our feet to
atoms with his horns. Suzee gave a piercing shriek and fell across me,
unconscious. The animal, startled by the scream, raised its head.

In its rolling eyes I saw nothing but the madness of pain and terror.
As it drew back for a second charge, in its mad effort to dash through
the woodwork to liberty, I slipped sideways with the dead weight of
Suzee on my arm, into the seats on one side. It was not an instant too
soon. The next, the bull rushed forwards and our seats were falling in
splinters about his head. Along, sideways, over chair after chair, I
slipped, dragging and supporting Suzee as best I could. I heard
screams of terror and suffering all round us as the panic spread
amongst the people and they forced themselves in an ever-increasing
mass upwards, fighting their way to the exits at the top of the ring.

My mind was made up. All before me was clear and open, the seats
deserted, below me ran the corridor leading to the entrance by which
we had come in. For that I would make.

There was some slight risk, for the bull, tired now of his futile
efforts to destroy the wooden barriers in front of him, had turned
back into the corridor and started on a mad gallop down it round the
ring.

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 débris; 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, Señor," 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 Señor 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 £50 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 Señor's getting well? These things are as
the good God wills. I can hire a Sister to pray for the Señor. 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 Señor 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 Señor 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 £50 came before him too dazzling to resist,
and with a final: "It shall be exactly as the Señor 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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