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Title: Sacrifice
Author: Whitman, Stephen French
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 "Sacrifice" ***

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SACRIFICE

by

STEPHEN FRENCH WHITMAN

Author of "Predestined," Etc.



[Frontispiece: "COME CLOSER, I WANT TO LOOK AT YOU."]



D. Appleton and Company
New York :: 1922 :: London

Copyright, 1922, by
D. Appleton and Company

Copyright, 1921-1922, by The Ridgway Company



SACRIFICE


PART ONE

CHAPTER I

Lilla Delliver's parents, killed in a railway accident, left their
child a legacy other than the fortune that the New York newspapers
mentioned in the obituaries.

The mother had been tall, blonde, rather wildly handsome, with the look
of one of those neurotic queens who suppress under a proud manner many
psychic disturbances.  Painfully fastidious in her tastes, she had
avoided every unnecessary contact with mediocrity.  Reclining on a
couch in her boudoir, she read French novels saturated with an
exquisite sophistication.  Then, letting the book slip from her
fingers, she gazed into space, as listless as a lady immured in a
seraglio on the Bosphorous.  At night, if the opera was _Tristan_, she
went down to her limousine with the furtive eagerness of a woman
escaping from monotony into a secret world.  She drove home with
feverish cheeks, and when her husband spoke to her she gave him the
blank stare of a somnambulist.

After a busy social season she was liable to melancholia.  She sat by
the window in a charming negligée, paler than a camellia, hardly
turning her head when, at twilight, her child was led in to kiss her.

Recovering, somehow, she traveled.

On those journeys every possible hardship was neutralized by wealth.
Yet even for her the sea could not always be calm, or the skies of the
Midi and the Riviera blue.  In Venice, at midnight, the soft, hoarse
cries of the gondoliers made her toss fretfully on her canopied bed.
In Switzerland, as dawn flushed the snow peaks, awakened by the virile
voices of the guides, she started up from her pillow in a daze of
resentment and perverse antipathy.

She calmed herself by listening to the sermons of swamis in yellow
robes, and by sitting in cathedrals with her eyes fixed upon the
splendor of the altar.

Wherever they traveled, her husband went about inquiring for new
physicians--"specialists in neurasthenia."  But then he usually felt
the need of a physician's services also.

He was taller than his wife, a brownish, meager, handsome man with dark
circles round his eyes.  A doctor had once told him that some persons
never had more than a limited amount of nervous energy; so he was
always trying to conserve his share, as if the prolongation of his idle
life were very important.  Yet he was not dull.  He had written several
essays, on classical subjects, that were privately circulated in
sumptuous bindings.  He played Brahms with unusual talent.  But certain
colors and perfumes set his nerves on edge, while the sight of blood,
if more than a drop or two, made him feel faint.

Disillusioned from travel, because they had viewed all those fair,
exotic scenes through the blurred auras of their emotional infirmities,
he and his wife returned to their home in New York.  There they were
protected against all contact with ugliness, all ignoble influences,
all sources of unhappiness except themselves.

It was a stately old house--for two hundred years the Dellivers and the
Balbians had been stately families--a house always rather dim, its
shadows aglimmer with richness, and here and there a beam of light
illuminating some flawless, precious object.  It was a house of silent
servants, of faces imprinted with a gracious weariness, of beautifully
modulated low voices, of noble reticence.  Yet all the while the place
quivered from secret transports of anguish.

In this atmosphere Lilla, the child, was like a delicate instrument on
which are recorded, to be ultimately reproduced, myriad vibrations too
subtle for appreciation by the five senses.  Or, one might say, the
small, apparent form that this man and this woman had created in their
likeness--as it were a fatal sublimation of their blended physical
selves--became the fragile vessel into which, drop by drop, the
essences of all their most unfortunate emotions were being distilled.

Sometimes, at a moment of perspicacity, the father's face was distorted
by a spasm of remorse.  Looking at his child, he was thinking:

"By what right have we done this?"

For that matter, he was always oppressed by miseries foreign to normal
men.  For instance, he fluctuated between the ardors of a pagan and an
anchorite, at one hour reëmbracing aestheticism, at another fleeing
back to a bleak sanctuary where he hoped to escape some vague, immense
reproach.  Too complex for an irrevocable decision, too weak to stand
firm against the pressure either of pantheism or an absolutely
spiritual idea, he was an insignificant creature worried and torn
between two vast antagonists.

Then, too, he was afflicted with a frequent symptom of neuroticism,
namely, superstition; and this superstition was sharpened by the usual
morbid forebodings--the characteristic expectations of calamity.

He accepted the idea that there were persons who could fathom the
destinies of others, that the palm of one's hand was cryptic with one's
future fortunes, and that the remotest planets had an influence on
one's life.  Furtively, then, as one might enter a place dedicated to
some shameful mystery, this erudite, handsome, wretched gentleman
slipped into the sanctums of the diviners, where, with a feeling of
degradation and imbecility, yet with a pounding heart, he listened to
prophecies uttered by the aid of playing cards, horoscopes, and crystal
balls.

All he asked was some assurance that he would presently find peace.
They all promised him that this desire of his would soon be realized.

Perhaps they would have called it realized by that crash of trains in
the night, which he and his wife hardly heard before their fine,
restless bodies were bereft of life.

So one day, when Lilla was six years old, the drawing-room suddenly
blossomed with white roses.  Next morning the orphan was taken away by
Aunt Althea Balbian to another house, on lower Fifth Avenue.



CHAPTER II

Miss Balbian's house provided an appropriate setting for its pale,
aristocratic, chastely fervent owner.  But its sedate, antiquated,
brick exterior--unaltered since the presidency of Andrew
Jackson--afforded hardly a hint of the conservative beauty that
pervaded it.

Here the glitter of old chandeliers fell upon the suave outlines of
colonial furniture upholstered with sage green and mulberry-colored
fabrics, chimney pieces of mellow marble carved into graceful
flourishes and bearing on their shelves quaint bric-a-brac, family
portraits in frames that it would have been a sacrilege to furbish
up--ladies dressed in the fashion of 1812, French and English gentlemen
in antique uniforms, a few of these likenesses doubly precious because
they were painted so naïvely.  But this "early-American" effect was
adulterated by objects that Miss Balbian had acquired on her travels,
such as medieval chalices, coffers covered with vellum and encrusted
with jewels, and a few authenticated paintings from that period when
the men of Italy, at a breath of inspiration from the Athenian tomb,
perceived, instead of the glamour of a celestial paradise, the
gorgeousness of this world.

In this gracefully puritanical atmosphere, these latter treasures,
imbued with a disturbing alien richness, were like thoughts that a
woman, hedged round by innumerable obscure oppressions, might gather
from afar and store away in her heart.

Lilla, in this environment, became a juvenile epicurean, precocious in
aesthetic judgment, intolerant of everything that was not exquisite.
Her opinions amused and touched her aunt, who, for a while, derived
from that imitation a nearly maternal pride.  Miss Althea Balbian
redoubled her efforts to form Lilla according to her most exalted
ideas; and, as a result, she implanted in that little charge still more
complexities of impulse--a greater sensitiveness to the lures of mortal
beauty, together with something of her own recoil from all the ultimate
consequences of that sensitiveness.

In fine, the devoted woman was preparing Lilla unwittingly for an
accentuation of the conflict that already had been prefigured in her
parents.

The child was so fragile-looking, there was about her so strange an air
of sensibility, that many persons who had known her father and mother
shook their heads in pity.  Some suggested that she ought to be reared
in the country, to play hard all day "close to nature."  But the play
of other children exhausted her, as if she, too, possessed "only a
limited amount of nervous energy."  She had nervous headaches and
feverish spells from no apparent cause.  When the weather was changing,
or when a thunder storm impended, the governess found it hard to manage
her.  Then, suddenly, certain odors and sounds filled her with
indistinct visions of felicity.  At night, when there was music in the
house, she crept from her bed to the staircase, and sat listening with
burning cheeks and icy hands.

Next day there came over her an immense, hazy discontent with
everything.  And her tragic little face--her eyes, skin, and fluffy
hair all harmonized in the most delicate shade of brown--resembled the
face of some European _grande amoureuse_ seen through the small end of
an opera glass.

"Yes," said Miss Balbian at last to the charming, quiet ladies who sat
in her library drinking tea from old china cups.  "Lilla is a strange,
I may say a startling, child."  And allowing herself one of her rare
public failures of expression--a look of uneasiness--she added, half
swallowing her words, "I sometimes ask myself----"



CHAPTER III

Nearly every spring, Aunt Althea, craving "her beloved Europe," took
Lilla abroad.

Escorted by an elderly courier who had the appearance of a gentleman in
waiting at the Vatican, they moved with royal deliberation, patronizing
luxurious hotels, celebrated landscapes, notable art collections.  The
governess was supplemented with the best local teachers of music and
languages; but it was Aunt Althea, with her proud fastidiousness, her
eclecticism at once virginal and ardent, who set the keynote for
Lilla's education.

All the young girl's inherited repugnances were enhanced.  All her
sensibilities were aggravated.  With the lapse of time and the
expansion of her world, her impassionable nature vibrated still more
extravagantly, at the most subtle stimuli, between the poles of
happiness and pain--which two sensations sometimes seemed to her
identical.

Now she was lovelier than her mother had ever been--a tall, fragile,
pale brown creature whose carefully composed lips, whose deliberately
slow grace, only half concealed that inner intensity of hers.

She had, indeed, the exceptional, agitating look--that softly fatal
aspect---which is seen in those who are destined to extraordinary
lives.  It was as though strange, unprecipitated events were clinging
round her slender body like an aura: the promises of unparalleled
adventures in love, perhaps also in tragedy.  Before her twentieth year
she had given this presentiment to many men, who, with a thrill that
may have been partly fear, longed to be the cause of those raptures,
and to accept the perils.

In an alley of Constantine, in fierce sunshine that oppressed and
stimulated her delicate tissues, she stood before an old Arab who,
seated on the ground, told her fortune by strewing sand on a board.

"You will be loved by men," he said, after contemplating apathetically
the curlicues of sand.  "And will be the death of men," he added,
closing his eyes as if bored; for out there, in the mountains beyond
Constantine, love and death, as partners in the fates of fair women,
were commonplace.

Before returning to America, Aunt Althea always managed a visit to
Rome.  On her first day there, the spinster drove out alone, returning
at twilight with her eyelids swollen and red.  She had been, she said,
to the English cemetery; but she declared that nobody whom she had
known was buried there.

They visited American ladies who had married into the Roman nobility.
In those historic palaces the great rooms were cool, dim, and resonant,
the women's voices died away in space between the tapestried walls and
the ceilings frescoed with pagan deities.  Through the tall doorway
entered young men with medieval faces, in quest of a cup of tea.

To Lilla these descendants of medieval despots seemed curiously dwarfed
by their surroundings.

But her eyes were apt to turn wistful when she passed the shabby cafés
where famous artists had sat brooding over the masterpieces that she
admired.  Then she thought of Bohemian studios at dusk, and of geniuses
aquiver, like dynamos, with the powers that had taken possession of
them.  She envied the women whose lives were united to theirs in an
atmosphere where beauty was always being recreated, who basked in that
radiance of art which love, perhaps, had inspired.

Of all the arts it was music that cast over Lilla the strongest spell.

During the winter season in New York, she haunted concert halls where
celebrated musicians played their works.  The new music, however,
strident with the echoes of industrialism, dissonant with the tumult of
great cities, repelled her.  She turned instinctively toward the
harmonious romanticism and idealism of a previous age.  She felt that
the compositions of Schumann and Schubert were the language that had
always been imprisoned in her heart, that could never reach her lips,
but that she now heard, by a miracle, freed and in its perfection.

When the concert was over, she could hardly prevent herself from
joining the women who surged toward the author of those sounds, as if
impelled by an inexorable force--or possibly by an idea that they must
mingle their lives with the life of the stranger who could so interpret
their souls, make clear to them their secrets, and give them, at least
momentarily, a coherent glimpse of their ideals.

One afternoon, in the exit of a concert hall, Lilla met Brantome, a
critic of music.

He was a robust-looking old Frenchman with white hair and the mustaches
of a Viking, displaying a leonine countenance out of which gazed a pair
of eyes that seemed to have been made tragical by some profound
chagrin.  In his youth, a student in Paris, he had written some scores
of songs, half a dozen sonatas, and a symphony.  These efforts, though
technically brilliant, had soon passed into oblivion.  After a long
while, during which nobody had heard a sound from him, Brantome had
popped up in the United States to begin his critical career.  Now he
was courted not only in artistic circles but also in the fashionable
world, where one might sometimes see his haggard old face relentlessly
revealed beneath fine chandeliers, ironical and weary, as if crushed
beneath the combined weight of disillusionment and renown.

At sight of Lilla he stopped in the concert hall doorway; and, when he
had peered at her closely, he rumbled in her ear:

"I see that this afternoon of bad music has not fooled you.  You don't
wear the look that I discovered on your face the other day, when they
had been playing Schumann."

"Oh, but Schumann!"  And with a nervous laugh she said, "If I had been
Clara Wieck----"

"You would have married him just as she did, eh?  Ah, well, maybe there
will be other Robert Schumanns.  In fact, two years ago I found a
certain young man--but now he is dying."

He lost the smile that had come to him at this contact.  With a shrug
he passed on, leaving with her the thought of beauty enmeshed by death.
She wondered who this young man was, who might have been another Robert
Schumann, but now was dying.



CHAPTER IV

Of all her suitors the most persistent was Cornelius Rysbroek.

In their childhood he had drawn for her amusement Spanish galleons, the
domes of Mogul palaces, and a fantastic damsel, that he called a
bayadere, languishing on a balcony.  His thin, sallow little face bent
close to the printed page, he had read _Ivanhoe_ to her.  At parties,
it was she to whom he had brought the choicest favors.

Departing to school, he had addressed her in melancholy
verses--doggerel decorated with references to flowers turned to dust,
setting suns that would never rise again, countless symbols of hopeless
passion and impending tragedy.

But, as an anti-climax, he always showed up alive in vacation time.

During his college years he had apparently forgotten her, had made
himself conspicuous by some highly pessimistic theories, and had tried
the Byronic gesture.  Then, after Commencement, meeting her
unexpectedly, he had turned a yellowish white.

Now Cornelius Rysbroek had become a lean, neat hypochondriac, highly
cultivated, with fine instincts and excruciating aversions, bored by
his leisure, yet incapable of action, and inconstant in every
aspiration except this love of his.  Whenever she refused him he sailed
away, after threatening to plunge into some wild, dramatic waste, but
always compromising on the easiest, beaten path.  He returned sadder
and sallower than ever, having contracted in his imagination some new,
obscure ailment, and with his old ailment, his longing for Lilla, still
gnawing at his heart.

But Lilla, so fragile and moody, dreamed of physical strength and a
triumphant will.

Where was he?

She was enervated by melancholy, scorched by impatience, then chilled
by an indefinable foreboding, just as her father had been.  Putting on
a figured veil to blur her blush of shame, she slipped away to visit
the soothsayers that fashionable women patronized.  In a shadowy room
hung with Oriental curtains, the shrewd crystal gazer informed her that
all would soon be well.  "A great love was in store for her."

She kept in her desk a magazine picture of Lawrence Teck, the explorer,
whom she had never met, but whose likeness, singular amid innumerable
presentments of the human face, had arrested her first glance and
fascinated her mind.

His aquiline countenance, darkened and corrugated by fierce suns,
expressed that virility which kept driving him back, for his
contentment, into remote and dangerous places.  But his salient
features suggested also the patience and wisdom of those who have
suffered hardship and derived extraordinary thoughts from solitude.  It
pleased her to note that his was the brow of a scholar--he had written
learned volumes about the jungle peoples, was the most picturesque
authority on the Islamic world since Burton, and his monographs on
African diseases had added to his romantic reputation the luster of
benevolence.  She liked to picture him as finding in his travels and
work the stimulation that less serious, aimless men might seek in love.

When she read his books, there unrolled before her the esoteric corners
of the desert, the strange charm and depravity of little-known Oriental
cities, the deadly richness of equatorial forests, peopled by human
beasts whose claws were hammered steel, whose fangs were poisoned
arrows, and who carried in their thick skulls the condensed miasma of
their hiding places.

She seemed to see him passing through those physical dangers and
corroding mental influences, a superior being of unalterable health and
sanity, perhaps protected because of a grand destiny still unrevealed
to him.  She longed to participate in that destiny, or, at any rate, to
be responsible somehow for it.

"Where are you?  What are your thoughts?" she would whisper, staring at
the likeness of this peculiarly congenial stranger.

Late at night, at that hour when bizarre fancies and actions may seem
natural, she would ask him:

"Don't you know that I exist?  Then I must make you know it."

So she tried to cast forth into space a flood of feeling strong enough
to reach him--a projection of her identity, her appearance, and her
infatuation.  All her secret ardors that had never been so strongly
focused upon a definite personality found their centering point in him,
whose imagined nature seemed to be so emphatically what she needed to
appease and complete her nature.  She was like one of those antique
sorceresses who would cast over distant hearts the spells that must
inevitably recoil upon their makers.

But when she had remained for a long while motionless and tense, she
rose wearily, with a low laugh of disillusionment and ridicule.

Little by little her thoughts of him were obscured by other thoughts,
by weakly apposite conjectures that had different men as their objects.
And when different men made love to her, once or twice, maybe at a
conjunction of exquisite scenery, music, and impatience, of confused
longings and eloquent persuasion, she was tempted to consent.  But just
in time she stilled that tremulous smile, and averted that dizzy look
in the depths of which lurked a fatal sweetness.

Then, when life seemed to her unbearably monotonous, she went to a
week-end party at the Brassfields' house in the country.



CHAPTER V

The Brassfields' country house was copied from an historic French
chateau.  In the drawing-room, the high walls, from which well-known
portraits stood forth, were paneled with amber-hued wood overlaid with
elaborate gilt traceries; they ended in a wide golden frieze that
curved inward to inclose a ceiling painted with roguish goddesses after
the manner of Watteau.  Here and there, between chairs and sofas the
arms of which seemed composed of half-melted ingots, appeared a baroque
cabinet filled with small, precious objects.  Or from a creamy pedestal
the marble features of some ancient sybarite regarded without surprise
this modern richness based upon the past.

Emerging from the dining room, the ladies crossed the large amber rug,
like moving images made of multicolored light.

Below their negligible bodices hung draperies of brocade interwoven
with metallic threads, of lace dyed the colors of exotic flowers, of
tulle embroidered with iridescent beads.  Parting into groups, they
dotted the drawing-room with the gorgeousness of peacock blue and jade
green, the joyousness of petunias and the melancholy of orchids, or the
pale, intermelting tints of rainbows seen through the spangle of a
shower.

Some, unfurling fans before their bosoms, sank down upon the chairs and
sofas.  Others stood beside the large chimney piece, talking to the
men, and smoking cigarettes that were thrust into jeweled holders.

A few emerged through the French windows upon the terrace to enjoy the
moonlit landscape, wherein Nature herself had been taught to show a
charming artificiality.

An esplanade overlooked an aquatic garden, with three pools full of
water flowers massed round statues.  Below, in broad stages that fell
away toward a wooded valley, lay other gardens, deriving a vague
stateliness from their successive balustrades and sculptured fountains.
The moonlight, while blanching the geometrical pattern of the paths,
and frosting the rectangular flowerbeds, imparted to the whole
surrounding, billowing panorama an appearance of unreality.

"Where's Lilla?" Fanny Brassfield inquired of a young man in the
doorway of the drawing-room, in her clear, grating voice that seemed
made to express an involuntary disdain of everything not comprised in
her luxurious little world.  She had just seen one of her most recent
lions, old Brantome, on his way toward the music room amid a group of
ladies; and this had recalled to her mind another celebrity, who, five
minutes before, had arrived from the city after she had given up
expecting him.

"Shall I find her?"

"Never mind, my surprise can wait."

Fanny Brassfield followed Brantome and his coterie into the music room,
her attractive, bony features revealing a quizzical expression.  In the
glitter of the big chandelier her coiffure appeared extraordinarily
blonde, her green eyes, especially frosty; and the eighteenth century
ladies in the gilded frames seemed suddenly, despite their histories,
insipid in comparison with this modern face, emancipated from a
thousand traditional reactions.

As for Lilla, she was sitting in the dim library with Cornelius
Rysbroek, who was harping on the old tune.



CHAPTER VI

She believed that she could discern in him already the first hints of
middle age.  His lifeless, brown hair was receding above his temples.
His small mustaches, which ought to have made him debonair, seemed on
his sallow face like the worthless disguise of a pessimist at the feast
of life.

Her look of compassion struck him silent.  He smiled in self-contempt,
then uttered a sharp sigh, pressed his palm to his forehead, and
produced a tiny silver box, from which he took a tablet.

"More antipyrene?" she demanded reproachfully.

"My sinus is pretty bad to-night.  This salt air blowing in from the
Sound----"

He declared that he was going away again.  "His health made it
necessary."  He had hung round New York long enough, enduring an
impossible climate because of an idiotic hope.  He uttered the word
"Arizona."  He spoke of hot deserts, solitudes under the stars, mirages
less mocking than his aspirations.  As he contemplated her delicately
fervent face, her tapering, graceful body, wrapped like something very
precious in pale gold, his eyes glittered with tears.

"Dear Cornie----"

And once more she began the familiar rigmarole.  Her lips shaped the
immemorial complaint, "Why isn't our friendship enough--why must we
always be clouding our old congeniality----"  And so on.  These
inexorable words, combined with her look of pity and reproach--a look
that seemed almost amorous on her fair face--gave him an impression of
immense perfidiousness.

He turned bitter.  He asked her where the ideal suitor could be
loitering--the strange knight for whom she used to watch as a little
girl, the fairytale prince from another kingdom, who was to sweep her
off her feet by the force of his perfections, and carry her away.

As he spoke, there stole through the doorway the first notes of _Vienna
Carnival_.  In the music room old Brantome had been persuaded to play
Schumann.

"I know, at least," said Cornelius, "that you haven't found him yet!"

In his voice there was a gloating that made her again turn toward him
that unique face of hers, whose brownish pallor, in harmony with her
large eyes and fluffy hair, appeared to reflect amid the shadows the
radiance disseminated from her dress.  In his unhappy eyes she now
perceived something that had not been there before--a desperation, as
though his heart had suffered too long from a sense of inferiority to
the unknown and unrevealed antagonist, who was to win this treasure.
For an instant, in fact, there was something weakly ferocious, not
quite sane, in this visage that had been familiar to her since
childhood.  Then his habitual, well-bred, wooden look, as a door might
shut on a glimpse of an inferno.

He muttered, in his throaty, queerly didactic voice:

"Well, one must be philosophical in this life.  You'll teach me that,
won't you?"  He got up, patting the pocket of his waistcoat, where he
kept the little vial of oil of peppermint, which he always touched to
his tongue when he threw aside his cigarette on his way to a dancing
partner.  "Are they at it?" he asked, cocking his ear toward the music
of Schumann.  "Or is it only that old chap hammering the piano?"

"Don't ask me to dance to-night," she returned, closing her eyes.

"I wasn't."  With the parody of a merry smile, he explained, "You know
I can't dance with you any more.  You know you make my legs tremble
like the devil."

With an exclamation intended for a laugh, looking unusually bored and
vacuous, he went out of the room like a man in an earthquake sedately
strolling away between reeling and crumbling walls.



CHAPTER VII

Lilla was approaching the music room doorway--round which some men were
standing with the respectful looks of persons at the funeral of a
stranger--when a laughing young woman intercepted her.

"Do come over here.  Madame Zanidov is telling our fortunes."

Anna Petrovna Zanidov, one of the Russian aristocrats that the
revolution had scattered through the world, was a thin, black-haired
woman with a faintly Tartar cast of countenance, a dead-white
complexion that made her seem denser than ordinary flesh, and somewhat
the look of an idol before whose blank yet sophisticated eyes had been
performed many extraordinary rites.  Tonight her strangeness was made
doubly emphatic by a gown of oxidized silver tissue painted over in
dull colors with a barbaric design.

She was said to be a clairvoyant.  Rumor had it that she had foreseen
her husband's murder by Lenin's Mongolians, and that, since her arrival
in America, she had predicted accurately some sensational events,
including a nearly fatal accident in the polo field.

Now, turning her sharp, dead-white profile to right and left,
encountering everywhere a frivolous eagerness, Madame Zanidov protested:

"Really, I ask you if this is the proper atmosphere!"

She explained that she regarded very seriously "this gift" of hers,
which had astonished people even in her childhood.  She agreed that it
was inexplicable, unless by the theory that the future, if it did not
already exist, was at least somehow prefigured.  Yet she believed that
this prearrangement of events was not so rigid as to exclude a certain
amount of free will.  In other words, one who had been forewarned of a
special result, if a special course were pursued, might escape the
result by pursuing another course.  "For as you know," she added,
looking round her at the women who were losing their smiles, "the
impression that I receive is often far from amusing.  How can one tell
beforehand?  So I consent to do this only because, if what I see is
unpleasant, my warning may possibly help one to evade it."

A lady objected that prophecy frequently had just the opposite effect.
She referred to the attractive power of anticipation.  Then she cited
instances where persons had made every effort to realize even the most
unfortunate predictions, as if hypnotized by their dread into a feeling
that the tragic outcome was inevitable.  Of course, on the other hand,
she admitted, a happy prediction might have a tonic effect, heartening
one to pluck victory from apparent failure.  Or else, just by setting
in action the magnetic power of expectancy, it might even draw
mysteriously into one's life a wealth or a fame that had seemed
unattainable, a love that had appeared to be impossible.

When she had voiced this last opinion, the other ladies' faces were
softened by a gentle acquiescence.  Their necklaces flashed with the
rising of their bosoms; their heads leaned forward in thought; and the
mingled odors of their perfumes were like exhalations from the
innermost recesses of their hearts.

By this time, apparently, the proper atmosphere had been established.
Madame Zanidov consented to display her powers.

All the women drew their chairs closer.

She took the hand of a young girl whose features were alive with an
invincible gay selfishness.  Madame Zanidov hardly glanced at the
other's palm.  Closing her almond-shaped eyes, contracting her brows,
she let an unnatural fixed smile settle upon her lips.  And now,
indeed, it seemed to them that some of the mystery of Asia had informed
her rigid person, or was escaping, together with a thick, sweet scent,
from the folds of her metallic and barbarically painted gown.

"Do not be afraid," she said, without opening her eyes.

Even the girl whose hand she held had ceased to smile.

There was a long silence, pervaded by the faint harmonies of _Vienna
Carnival_.

"For you have nothing to fear," the Russian quietly announced at last.
"All that you must pass through--how much confusion and twitter I am
conscious of!--will hardly touch you.  Few heartaches, few tears.  Some
day you will find yourself in a tawny land of harsh outlines: it is
probably southern Spain.  There you will meet a man as lithe as a
panther, his shoulders covered with gold, driving his sword through the
neck of a bull.  You are speaking to him at night.  He kisses your
hands.  But that, too, will soon end in laughter.  You will marry three
times, but never be a widow."

She opened her eyes, to gaze thoughtfully at Lilla.

They asked Madame Zanidov if she really saw those things.  She replied
that her perceptions were at times exactly like pictures.  For example,
she had seen the matador's lunge, as a splendid plasticity of violet
silk and tinsel, and then the bright blood gushing from the neck of the
bull.

In subdued voices they began to discuss "the possession of human beings
by occult forces."  One spoke of astounding passages set down through
automatic writing.  Another mentioned psychometry.  "But psychometrists
got impressions only from the past!"  Whereupon they stared at the
Russian.  Their eyes, which had been lightly touched with a black
pencil, were no longer sophisticated.  Their rouged lips were relaxed
by that superstitious awe which, even in cultivated societies, is ever
waiting to invade the feminine mind.

Madame Zanidov was still looking at Lilla.

"Yes," some one proposed.  "Try her."

"She doesn't wish it," Madame Zanidov remarked.

But after a moment of hesitation Lilla held out her hand.  Once more
everybody became silent and intent.  The music of Schumann softly
intruded into this stillness.

"Ah," the Russian murmured, "here is something different."

With her eyelids pressed together, she began:

"You are sitting alone.  You are writing letters, which will pass
through many hands of different colors.  One would think that those
hands would grow warm from touching your letters.  Now you are not
writing any more letters.  You are wearing a black dress."  Madame
Zanidov leaned forward as if striving with her closed eyes to pierce a
sudden opacity.  "This is very odd," she declared.  "I can see no more
pictures.  For there is a darkness which grows larger and larger, which
obscures everything.  So now I must discover what this darkness means.
Please be patient for a few moments."

Some one whispered:

"It's getting quite uncanny,"

Lilla's senses reached out to clench themselves upon the normality of
her surroundings.  But beneath that normality, that familiar solidity,
her innate mysticism, her instinctive habit of foreboding, seemed to
perceive a basis invisible yet similar--a solution, so to speak, from
which material things and events were continually being evolved, the
fluid containing all the elements of the crystalization.  And this
foreigner, with her idol-like face and meager, rigid body, her aspect
of long acquaintance with the very essence of materiality, became the
ageless oracle, the rewarder of humanity's incorrigible credulity.  So,
like the bejeweled princesses in the Mesopotamian temples, the Latin
ladies who had crept trembling into the Aventine caves, the Renaissance
beauties who, in the huts of witches, had turned whiter than their
ruffs, Lilla remained motionless, her gaze fixed apprehensively on the
clairvoyant.

The latter said:

"It will soon be plainer, for the moon is rising.  No, what a nuisance!
It is still very dark, because the moonlight is shut out by great
masses of foliage, great tangles of vines.  Such a place!  Gigantic
thickets, through which wild beasts are prowling, and above them the
trunks of huge trees.  Wait, I have found a path.  It leads to a
clearing in the midst of this forest.  Here I can see much better.
There are human beings here, and a feeling of sadness."

At a general stir, one of the ladies suggested nervously:

"Perhaps you'd better----"

But Madame Zanidov was saying:

"The people in the clearing are black savages.  They sit round a body
that is stretched on the ground and covered with a cloth.  Is it the
savages who are so sad?  I think not.  I cannot describe the one who
lies in the midst of them.  The cloth is drawn up to cover even his
face.  But I feel that it is some one who has loved you.  He is dead.
That is to say, he will be dead when the scene that I am describing is
realized; but now he is alive----"

Lilla, raising her eyes, saw in the doorway, with Fanny Brassfield, a
tall man, a stranger, whose countenance was aquiline and swarthy.  It
was Lawrence Teck, the explorer.



CHAPTER VIII

In the music room some musicians were playing a waltz; but Lilla and
Lawrence Teck were walking on the terrace.

She said to herself, "This is a dream"; for she had come to believe
that only in dreams did one realize, even in faint counterpart, one's
deepest desires.  She stood still.  The world--this new world drenched
in an unprecedented quality of moonlight--gradually became distinct.
She gave him, through that veil of silvery beams, a long look of
verification.

As in his picture he seemed at once rugged and fine, resolute and
gentle.  He was very quiet, like one who has willed to be so; but a
certain shyness remained in him, and presently announced itself to her.
Whereupon, remembering that she was beautiful, and that her beauty had
a way of troubling men, Lilla felt her own timidity transmuted into joy.

"Are your jungles better than this?" she asked.

"The charm of my jungles overlies a welter of stupid cruelty and deadly
waste.  Would it surprise you to know that I should like to see all the
world as nobly ordered as this landscape?"

She did not grasp the meaning of the words, being too deeply occupied
with seizing upon those syllables, those living tones, and dropping
them one by one into the treasury of her heart.

Glancing down at the aquatic garden, he remarked:

"These three basins would please my Mohammedan friends, who like to see
their flowers inverted in still water, like a mirage come true."

"Yes, no doubt they have their ideals."

"And often dream of them in very pleasant places."

He described certain gardens of the East.  He made her see nests of
color unexpectedly blooming in the midst of deserts, behind walls of
sundried mud overgrown with Persian roses, and with airy pavilions
mirrored in pools that were seldom darkened by a cloud.  Under date
palms the white-robed Arabs sat smoking.  From time to time black
slaves brought them coffee flavored with ambergris.  After sundown, at
the hour called "maghrib," when the sky was turning green, having
performed their ceremonial ablutions, they prayed.

"For what?"

"Behind the formal words?  Who knows?  For whatever they desired most.
Probably for something that nobody would suspect."

"And the women?" she ventured, looking at him sidewise.

In those remote walled towns they still remained invisible.  Their
minds, restricted to puerilities, had never grown up.  Their bodies
were so lax that their short weekly promenade to the cemetery exhausted
them.  Seated on cushions, they spent their time listening to cuckoo
clocks and music boxes, smelling perfumes, putting their jewelry away
in caskets, then bedizening themselves all over again.  Their servants,
who had known in childhood the hurly burly of caravanserais and slave
markets, told them of a world where everybody was possessed by a
thousand devils of ingenuity and wit.  And those scented ladies with
feeble flesh, hollow eyes, and the brains of parrots, after listening
for a while in vague regret, all at once became bored.  Whereupon they
fell to playing parchesi and eating sweetmeats.

In such sheltered and languid lives Lilla seemed to perceive a
similarity to her own life.  Or, at least, she felt that her life, if
he knew it in detail, would seem to him almost as trivial.

"Poor souls," she said.  "But one surely finds others out there," she
persisted, unfurling her large fan of yellow plumes, and looking at it
intently.  "White women, for example, the women of the empire builders?
At such meetings, in those far-off places, romance must be almost
inevitable.  Each finds in the other an overwhelming congeniality?  The
loneliness round about exerts a tremendous persuasion?"

"Oh, yes," he assented, with a smile.  "Especially if the lady smokes a
pipe."

He told her of an Englishwoman whom he had met in the Masai veldt,
hunting for maneless lions--an amazon in breeches and boots, at the
head of her own safari.  Week after week she had led her dark-skinned
retainers through the wilds, cheerily doctoring them in their
sicknesses, herself never ailing or weary.  At the charge of a lion she
had withheld her fire till the last possible moment.  By night, the
safari encamped, she had sat before her tent in a folding chair, one
knee cocked over the other, a pipe between her teeth, listening to the
gossip of ragged wanderers who had been attracted by the firelight and
the smell of burning fat.

"I find such women incomprehensible," Lilla declared, with a profound
animosity to that huntress whose body was so strong, whose nerves were
so sound, whose courage had been proved in the face of charging lions,
who took life without a twinge and doubtless gloated over the blood
that she had shed.

Lawrence Teck, after a moment's struggle with himself, blurted out:

"I assure you that when we fellows dream of women it's of a different
sort."

"Oh, of course.  Of the one that you've left behind, I suppose."

Sometimes, he assented presently; in which case the one at home would
be immensely enriched by that wide separation.  But it often happened
that such an exile, when no specially congenial woman had given him her
heart, constructed from his imagination an ideal, a vision capable of
brightening the wilderness with the most exquisite charms.  Or else he
might find an unattainable ideal ready-made.  Thus it was that uncouth
sailors, on long voyages, treasured the photographs of unknown
actresses in fancy costume, as a religious devotee might treasure an
ikon.  Or thus a soldier in some Congo fort, while gradually succumbing
to the malefic spell of the encircling forests, yearned toward the
portrait of a princess that he had clipped from an old illustrated
magazine--toward a divinity whom he could never know, but whom he
adored because her nature and life were so different from his.

"How romantic men are!" she exclaimed, turning away her head.

He seemed abashed; but he returned:

"And are women never tempted to renounce that famous practicality of
theirs?"

She walked on along the terrace.  The moonlight intensified her
ethereal aspect; and nothing could have been more emphatic than the
contrast between her seeming fragility and his apparent strength.

At a recollection she walked more and more slowly, her pace according
with the faltering of her heart beats.  But it was in an almost
indifferent tone that she inquired:

"You are really going back to Africa day after to-morrow?"

"Yes, everything's settled."

She paused, staring across the gardens, watching the slow withdrawal
from that scene of its peculiar charm.

"Why are you returning?"

He hesitated.  Well, he had reason to believe, he said, that not far
north of the Zambesi there was an unmapped, ruined city similar to the
stone city called Zimbabwe, which adventurers from Phoenicia were
supposed to have built four thousand years ago, as a mining town of the
fabled Land of Ophir.  Who knew what ancient idols, what Himyarite
inscriptions, what trinkets of gold, might not be found there?

"How can such a matter be important enough to make you risk your life
amid deadly fevers and insects, venomous reptiles, wild beasts and
wilder men?"

In that respect the expedition would be tame.  The journey into the
interior would consist of undramatic drudgeries and discomforts, of
association with a primitive folk whom he had never failed to make his
friends, of precautions that would confound the reptiles, the fevers,
and the disease-bearing insects.  As for the wild beasts, they asked
nothing better than to be left alone.

"Oh, yes," she assented, trailing her fan along the balustrade, "a hero
must be modest on such points.  Yet it seems to me an abnormal vanity
that drives one into those places, just in order that one may say,
'It's I who have found a new pile of ruins, a few scraps of gold, in a
jungle.'"

After a moment's reflection, he confessed:

"I gave you my secondary reason, because I thought you might find it
more interesting than my chief one."

It was true, he said, that he hoped to find a new Zimbabwe there; but
his principal task would be to make a geological survey of some
territory believed to be very rich in certain minerals.  He was going
for a group of capitalists who, if he brought back an encouraging
report, would obtain large concessions for exploiting the land.  It was
a gamble; the territory in question was virtually unexplored.  That
region, moreover, was peopled by a tribe opposed to exploitation, and,
for that matter, even to visits from their white-skinned nominal
rulers.  But he had always been successful in dealing with savages; so,
since this was to be as much a diplomatic mission as a geological
survey, he had seemed the one for the task.

From this explanation she derived the idea that he was not a rich man,
that perhaps until recently he had never thought of money as important,
but that now, for some reason, he had determined that his fortune must
be increased.

The waltz had ended.  The dancers were appearing on the terrace.  Some,
descending the staircases between the pools, wandered away through the
gardens.  Here and there a match flared up against unnaturally tinted
foliage.  Farther on, a spangled dress shimmered beside a fountain,
then, accompanied by a dark shadow, disappeared into a charmille.  A
clock in the valley struck eleven, its last vibrations mingling with a
laugh that rose, through the moonbeams, from a marble kiosk enveloped
in flowers.  And as the breeze, heavy with the fragrance of many
blossoms, caressed her face, Lilla felt that the gardens must be full
of hidden persons each of whom had at last found the amorous complement.

At the end of the esplanade, in the light of the French windows,
Cornelius Rysbroek's face appeared, then drifted away.

"What is that fellow's name?" asked Lawrence Teck.  "Just now he wanted
me to take him along to Africa.  He seemed quite unhappy, especially
when I had to tell him no.  Indeed, he gave me a rather curious
impression of misery and recklessness.  What is it?  An unfortunate
love affair?"

"So it's that," she vouchsafed, staring at him intently, "which starts
men off to the wilds?"

"Sometimes it's that which brings them back from the wilds.  I could
give you an instance----"

They, too, were now descending the steps between the pools.

The leafy alleys, silvered by the moon, and redolent of flowers that
had been made magical by the alchemy of night, surrounded them.  They
came to a spot where a circular wall of foliage, rising behind stone
benches, hemmed in a fountain, above which a marble antique warrior was
lifting in his arms a marble girl, who struggled against that seizure
with a convulsive energy, while her upturned face wore a look of
happiness.  Lawrence Teck made the comment:

"It appears that a rather primitive Greek gentleman has found a nymph
bathing in a pool.  If I remember, mortals who tried to capture nymphs
were liable to die."

"Yes," she assented, staring at the upturned face of the captive.  "He
should not have tried."

"But no doubt it's hard for them to be reasonable at such times,
especially when the person that they try to catch seems so strange, yet
so overwhelmingly congenial--the embodied dream."

"Then she should have prevented him."

"Perhaps she tried to, with the usual success when it's a question of
love in opposition to fear."

Lilla turned aside, drawing a cloud of golden tulle around her slender
shoulders.  "Does that acuteness also come to one in the jungle?"  She
seated herself upon the nearest stone bench.  "What is that story of
yours?"

"A story of one of those sentimental exiles and the picture of his
ideal."

The man, he said, had found the picture in a tattered magazine in the
Afrika Hotel at Zanzibar.  Of all the thousands of fair faces that he
had seen depicted or in the flesh, it was this face whose peculiar
beauty clutched suddenly at his pulse.  But it was not so much the
physical beauty that exerted the spell; nor was it, in this instance,
the attractiveness of the incomprehensible.  For the man divined from
his contemplation of those features the nature of the woman, all her
complexities, and even her emotional fragilities.  There came to him
the well-known conviction, "It's she that I've always been seeking."
At dawn, smothering under his mosquito net, with the din of Arab and
Hindu, Masai and Swahili voices drifting in through his shutters, his
first waking thought was of her.

He cut out the picture and kept it in his notebook.

It was there, against his breast, for many months.  It traveled into
still stranger places.  It passed, through Gallaland and Abyssinia,
into the country of the Blue Nile spearmen, across Darfur and Wadai,
where the Emir's men rode out in the helmets and chain mail that their
ancestors had copied from the Crusaders.  It crossed the Sahara,
skirting the strongholds of the Senussia Brotherhood, penetrating the
wastes patrolled by the Tuaregs, ferocious camel riders whose mouths
were always muffled in black bandages.  It went north to the steppes of
the Ziban, from which the tribe of the Ouled Nail scattered their
feather-crowned dancing girls from Ceuta to Suez.  And in the Atlas it
entered the hill castles of Kabyles, whose unveiled, fierce-eyed,
red-haired women, drenched with half a dozen perfumes, and clattering
with silver, coral, turquoise and gold, were swifter than snakes with
their knives.

At last it was yellow and crinkled, that picture of the fair unknown,
which had become for him, in consequence of so many vivid reveries,
like a living companion.

There were days when he forgot her.  Then suddenly, under those desert
constellations, he remembered her with a thrill.  Or else, before the
tent of some nomad sheikh, all at once she fluttered from the notebook
to the silken carpet, on which girls with little brown feet had just
been making their cuirasses of gold coins leap to the music of
flageolets and drums.

And sometimes, though he had never before been superstitious, he felt
that this picture was a sort of amulet.  For twice when he was in
danger, and there seemed to be small hope of his survival, there had
come to him the fortifying thought, "Not yet, because I haven't found
her in reality."

"Just a picture!" Lilla uttered, thinking of another picture that had
been hardly less potent.

Yes, but when he returned home, after a dozen efforts and
discouragements one day, merely by chance, he saw her alive, breathing.
She whirled past in a limousine.  She disappeared into the haze of a
city street in summer.  Whereupon he thought, "I was not mistaken; it's
inevitable."  He accepted the fatalism of his Arab friends, who believe
that every man's destiny is fixed.

"He found her again?"

"Finally.  There were difficulties."

"And they were happy ever after?"

He did not reply.

She looked over this magical garden toward the future, which now
appeared like one of those deserts, but bereft of all enchantment, and
covered with clouds that were not positive enough to rain.  Then,
gazing at the marble warrior that had seized the marble nymph, she said:

"I suppose it was you?"

"Yes," he assented, and pressed her hand to his lips.



CHAPTER IX

When she had reached her room she stood dazzled by the rays of the
declining moon, and stifled by the sweetness of the night.  The clock
in the valley struck one, as if marking the end of a time that had been
interminable in its tediousness and bleakness.  In the mirror she saw
her pale brown eyes, skin and tresses invested with a new allurement, a
new ardor.

His face sprang out before her--against the moonlit wall, in the
glazing of the pictures, on the dial of the clock.  She saw his gray
eyes surrounded by the fine wrinkles of those who have peered across
glaring sands, and his black eyebrows united above his aquiline nose.
The qualities that made him her antithesis redoubled his worth; and the
prestige of romance clung round his head like a nimbus.

As she moved to and fro, the moonbeams followed her and embraced her;
they glorified her slender figure whose reflections she saw with a new
pride.  The pale rays passed through her bosom, like a current from the
fabled regions of felicity.  They renewed in her breast that agitation
as if all her fibers were emerging from inertia into the fullness of
life.

She lay on her bed wide eyed, as if floating in a tepid sea, buoyed up
by happiness and wonder.

Then she sat upright, stricken with terror.  She had seen a clearing in
a jungle, and black savages seated round a body covered over with a
cloth.  For a moment she thought that she had seen Madame Zanidov also,
trailing her barbaric gown away through a shaft of moonlight.



CHAPTER X

It was mid-afternoon when Lilla emerged from her room.

A servant informed her that "everybody" was motoring or playing golf.
She entered the library, lustrous with its rows of books and its
deep-toned paintings hung against wooden panels.  Between half-drawn
window curtains passed rays of sunshine that came to rest upon vases of
flowers arranged in porcelain bowls; but the corners of the room were
steeped in shadows.  A man who had been sitting on a couch amid these
shadows rose to his feet.

She sought the gloom beyond the fireplace, in order that her changed
face might not betray her.  But even here her paleness was emphasized,
and her eyes, with faint purple streaks below them, took on a look of
deeper anxiety.  Her features began to quiver as if her soul were
revealing itself beneath a transparent mask.

"What has happened?"

She managed to reply:

"A great mistake.  Because that picture seemed congenial to you in
those lonely places you thought that the original must be the same?
You were wrong.  Physically and temperamentally we belong to different
worlds.  You couldn't rest in mine, and I couldn't enter yours.  If you
knew me," she added, in a hushed voice, "you'd find me contemptible, in
all my weaknesses."  She lowered her head, then, raising her eyes,
which were full of fear, besought him, "Tear it out of your heart!
Destroy it!"

"There, it's done.  How easy it was to obey you!"

And they stood face to face in a pallor that was like a scintillation
of white-hot metal, both knowing that their lips, though they uttered
first a thousand similar phrases, would presently be united.

Then he came close, catching in his strong grasp her writhing hands.
But she stopped him with a look like a flashing sword--a look as
poignant as though they had been lovers for years and now must love no
longer.  And so, in fact, they had been, heart drawn to heart by a
strange likeness of accidental or of fatal events, one longing groping
through space toward another longing.  Apart, just by aid of their
imaginations, they had progressed already from indefinite to precise
emotions, from vague to fixed visions, each attaining in thought a
consummation that mocked this present struggle.  And this profound
mutual intimacy, an accomplished fact in the realm of mind, was
suddenly projected into the physical atmosphere, so that the glances of
these two, who had just now met each other, clashed in an almost
terrible intimacy, as though the question were not "Never," but "Never
again."

Wrenching her hands away, she made a despairing gesture.

"Tear it out," she repeated.  "It's only by doing so that you can
please me."

"Will you help me to kill it?  Will you lend a hand by making your
beauty hideous, your nature repulsive?  Come and take a drive with me.
Just an hour or two.  How long do you need to destroy it?"

"Ah," she breathed, closing her eyes in pain.

In a broad-brimmed hat that matched her muslin gown she went down the
steps to his car.  The high, gray walls of the house disappeared behind
a rush of trees; the conical turret roofs of slate sank quickly away.

From the terrace Cornelius Rysbroek stared at the distant gateway
through which they had vanished.

The car rushed through the countryside.  The orderly fields stretched
away toward gentle slopes on which cows were grazing.  Here and there a
village abruptly spread out its roofs, which rotated on the axis of a
spire.  All the windows gave back the light of late afternoon; and far
off, against a hollow between two hills, like wine in a cup, there was
a ruddy flash of water.  It was the Sound; and beyond the Sound lay the
sea.

A cloud covered the setting sun.

"So you pretend to begrudge me this perfected feeling, this
verification, that I'll carry back with me!"

He told her that over there he would build a perfect similacrum of her
out of his thoughts, as an enchanter might form at will in the
twinkling of an eye the likeness of some one who was far away.  "You
shall even move and speak," he predicted, "and I'll make your glances
and your words whatever I want them to be.  Look out for yourself!
That is sorcery.  I shall have taken a part of you away from yourself,
across the ocean, to Africa where the forests are full of magicians.
Over here you'll no longer be complete.  You'll turn your eyes
southeast with a sense of missing something from your heart."

He gazed ahead at the road that the car was devouring with an endless
purr of triumph.  He pursued his fancy, while the car pursued the
glimmer of the Sound, which was escaping amid the first thin veils of
the twilight.

He promised that she, to whom everything uncouth and primitive was
repugnant, would smile beside him in those equatorial tangles, or, at
any rate, that she would do so in his dream of her.  In the camp
surrounded by a hedge of thorns, in the firelight flickering on the
shoulder blades and teeth of the negroes, the wraith of her living self
would sit at his side, radiant in the dress that she had worn last
night.  "Real as you'll seem to me," he said, "I sha'n't have to worry
about the striped mosquitoes stinging you on the shoulders; and when we
others go plodding along, no helmet or terai need hide that hair of
yours.  Since you'll be made of my thoughts, you'll be invulnerable.
You'll catch up your little train to run across a field of ferns in
pursuit of some small, inquisitive wild beast.  When the tribes make
dances for us, they won't know that a beautiful white lady, in a golden
decolleté gown, is seated before them, as happy as if that hullabaloo
were a ballet by Stravinsky."

In the twilight, by a road hemmed in with sumac, they came to a small,
rustic restaurant, which perched on a cliff above the waters of the
Sound.  An old waiter led them between empty tables to a veranda
overlooking the waves.  He seated them by the railing, along which
trailed a honeysuckle vine.

They had come for tea or for dinner?

"Dinner!" exclaimed Lawrence.  "Here, take this, and carry your sane
and practical face away.  Wait, you might bring us some tea."  He
reached across the table to feel her hand, which was as cold as ice.
"I've frozen you!"

"No," she returned, almost inaudibly.

The odor of the honeysuckle was mingled with the smell of the sea.  The
old waiter came and departed like a shade.  They were alone on the
veranda, above the waves over which the rising moon had just thrown a
silver net.

But it was a beam of light from the doorway that illuminated the angles
of his face, at which she looked with a sensation of faintness.  She
bent her neck; her hat brim concealed her eyes.

By this time to-morrow!

"Let me hear your voice," he pleaded.  "At least I'll fill my mind with
those tones; and when I'm alone I can put them together into the words,
'I love you.'"

As if conjured up by this utterance, a breeze swept over them, full of
the fragrance of honeysuckle and the acridity of the sea, like the
immense, soft breath with which nature blows upon the kindled human
heart, fanning it into a sudden conflagration.  And the rustling
of the vines, together with the murmur of the water, expanded into
a sigh which seemed to issue from the multitude of lovers who
somewhere--everywhere--at that moment, were swaying toward the
irresistible embrace; and from the innumerable flowers of the earth, in
the act of relinquishing the sweetness beloved by bees; and, indeed,
from that whole spread of mortal consciousness which nature, moved by a
supreme necessity, has subjected to this world-wide tyranny.

She lifted her head as if striving to rise above that smothering flood,
and in the moonlight her face was revealed to him--her eyes humid, her
lips twisted into an unprecedented shape, her whole aspect, in its
startling maturity, like that of the immortal goddess whose genius and
nature had suddenly possessed this flesh and blood.

Rising, she turned away in a movement of denial that came too late.  He
followed her to the end of the veranda; and there at last--or, as it
seemed to them, again--he took her in his arms.  For an instant her
averted face imitated the marble nymph's face, her slender and flexible
body the nymph's struggling body, before she became limp at his kiss.

In the doorway of the dining room she paused to look back at the
veranda.  She wanted to remember every arabesque that the vines were
tracing in silhouette against the moonlit sea; but she could not see
anything distinctly.  As she left the restaurant some one presented her
with a little bunch of flowers.

It was her wedding bouquet.

They were married in a village rectory.  The minister, peering over his
horn-rimmed spectacles, stood before a mantelpiece on which a black
marble clock was flanked by clusters of wax fruit under glass.

Lilla borrowed a cloak from the minister's wife, and Lawrence drove
straight to New York.



CHAPTER XI

She appeared in the doorway of the living room wearing a white
burnoose, her pale brown hair caught up in a loose knot, her feet
thrust into yellow Moorish slippers much too large for her.  In the
thin morning sunlight Lawrence, dressed for his journey, was locking a
metal trunk.  Lilla sat down and fixed her eyes on the clock.

The furniture of the living room, gathered from various parts of the
Mohammedan world, was carved and inlaid.  In the corners long-barreled
muskets, with stocks of mother of pearl, flanked cabinets full of
brittle copies of the Koran, witch doctors' switches, and outlandish
fetishes.  Above these objects there dangled from the molding the
cagelike silver head armor of the Wadai cavalry horses, the tassels of
Algerian marriage palanquins, oval shields of bullock-hide and bucklers
of hammered brass, crude drums and harps from Uganda.  On the four
walls, against pieces of reddish bark cloth, gleamed savage weapons
arranged in circular trophies--the war spears of the Wanandi, the
swords of the Masai, the bows and poisoned arrows of the Wakamba,
besides jeweled yataghans, scimitars with gilded hilts, and damascened
pistols.  Over the bookcases--which were crammed full of heavy volumes,
portfolios, and maps--appeared framed photographs; among the likenesses
of Europeans in duck tunics one saw the visages of Egyptians, Persians,
and Arabs, or some ghastly black apparition daubed with white paint and
crowned with a shako of squirrel fur and plumes.

In the air there was a faint odor of skins, dried herbs, sandalwood,
and camphor.  But on the center table, in a large African gourd that
had been polished till it looked like porcelain, stood the little
bouquet that some one had presented to her at the restaurant.

These flowers, because neither he nor she had thought to give them
water, were already faded.

"Have you telephoned to the Brassfields?"

"Yes," she said, with a wan smile, "and caused quite a sensation."

A small, wiry, middle-aged man, with an honest, lantern-jawed face,
entered the living room bearing a breakfast tray.  After one glance,
keeping his eyes cast down, he bowed respectfully.

He was Parr, Lawrence Teck's valet in America and right-hand man in
Africa.

With her head bent forward, she stared at some petals that had fallen
from the gourd.  Her neck rose from the white burnoose in a curve of
the palest amber; her delicate lips were parted; her loosened tresses
were filled with the feeble sunshine.  She seemed to symbolize quiet.
But when the telephone bell rang she started violently.

It was a call from Long Island, where Aunt Althea Balbian was
summering.  The servants had learned of Lilla's whereabouts from the
Brassfields.  Aunt Althea had fallen seriously ill in the night.

Parr showed his downcast eyelids and lantern jaws in the doorway.

"A maid is here from madam's house downtown with a steamer trunk and
three suitcases."

"Tell her to take them back," Lilla said in a muffled voice.

She had planned to go as far as London with Lawrence.

She went to a bookcase, knelt down, and scanned the titles of the books.

"I shall read these," she murmured.  "I shall take them home with me,
stack by stack, and read them all.  At night I'll read the ones that
are worn from your hands, the dog-eared ones full of pencil marks.
Show me those that you care for most.  Have you any little book that's
gone with you everywhere, that's shabby from your constant use?  I want
to keep it in my handbag in the daytime and under my pillow at night."

He turned away to the window.  She sat on her heels before the
bookcase, the white folds of the burnoose flowing out round her, her
fragile hands in her lap, her soft palms upturned, her fluffy hair
trailing down to frame her sad face.

She continued:

"Don't forget to leave me the key.  There will always be flowers here;
but the moment they fade fresh ones will take their place.  What chair
do you like to sit in?  On winter nights I'll come here, and draw your
favorite chair toward the fire, and sit opposite.  I won't let these
cruel weapons, these hideous painted faces, frighten me.  I'll tell
myself that nothing can prevent us from being together again.  Yes,"
she declared, in a deadened voice, "my thoughts are going to form armor
round you.  Just wait!  When you're alone out there, and everything's
silent, you'll wonder what it is that makes the air round you electric.
It will be my thoughts of you."

The clock struck the hour.  She rose; but at the doorway she paused,
drooping and tremulous, so that he could take her in his arms again.
Her head sank back; her curling lashes veiled her eyes, and a sob,
swelling her throat, escaped through her quivering lips.  Her knees
bent, and with a look of anguish she cried distractedly:

"Good-by!  Good-by!"

She believed that her heart had stopped beating.

She was in the bedroom, lying on the couch spread over with a leopard
skin.  He was sitting beside her.  His face expressed alarm; for she
shivered convulsively, turning her head from side to side, and biting
her lips.  He urged her to have courage.

"Courage!  When I shall never see you again?"

"What an idea!"

She touched his dark cheek with her fingers on which the nails were
like gems.  Her eyes, extraordinarily enlarged, and swimming in a
mournful tenderness, regarded his face, as if striving to impress it
forever upon her mind.

"Give it up," she pleaded once more.  "Don't scorn my intuition."

"It's necessary," he said.  "More so now than ever."

"Money!  As if there were no other way!  And even if there weren't----"

Parr knocked on the door.

"Shall I call the taxi, sir?"

"Yes."

Lying motionless, staring at the ceiling, she faltered:

"All right.  I'll dress."

But she could hardly drag herself to her feet.

As she pinned on her hat she longed for a veil, such a heavily figured
veil as she had put on when setting out to the fortune teller's, who
had said, "A great love is in store for you."  "How dreadfully I look!
This is the picture of me that he must take away with him."  She
entered the living room as Parr and the taxi driver were carrying out
the valises.  She took a flower from the gourd.  A petal fell off; and
the taxi driver, brushing past her, ground it into the rug.

In the outer corridor, which she did not remember having passed through
last night, she held out her hand.  Lawrence gave her the key; she
slipped it down the neck of her muslin frock, and it struck a chill
through her bosom.

When the ship had carried him away she returned uptown and took a train
for Long Island.



CHAPTER XII

Aunt Althea lay in a four-post bed near a window through which she
might see the sunshine resting on the small Italian garden.  Her
colorless face was stamped with a look of almost infantile
acquiescence, though it was only three days since she had sat out there
in the garden, thinking:

"When Lilla comes back I'll ask her whether she wouldn't like a little
run over to Rome, before the season sets in."

The sick woman tell asleep.  Her hair appeared grayer, her skin more
nearly transparent, than ordinarily.  All her various ardors had not
slipped away from her without leaving on her countenance the marks of
their transmutation, a peculiar nobility that owed half its fineness to
unacknowledged suffering.

In the night the nurse decided to wake the physician, who was dozing in
one of the guest rooms.  Aunt Althea had conquered time, had regained
her "beloved Europe."  Somewhere in the New York house there was a
photograph of her, taken in her twenty-fifth year.  She, too, it
seemed, had once been charming, full of young grace and eager
expectancy.  And now she was in her twenty-fifth year again, and
driving through Rome to the English cemetery.  She reached it.  She met
some one there, to whom she spoke in Italian.  It was a rendezvous of
lovers.  And Lilla heard the sigh:

"Don't go.  Don't smile at my intuition----"

Later, after seeming to listen intently, Aunt Althea cried:

"What are they calling?  All massacred at Adowa!"  She uttered a moan,
"I knew it!"

To the doctor's surprise she lived through the following day.  By
evening everybody had become hopeful of her recovery.  Aunt Althea,
turning her faded, aristocratic head on the pillow, said:

"You must go and rest, Lilla.  I shall be all right now.  How badly you
look!  How I must have worried you!  They shouldn't have spoiled your
party.  You see it wasn't worth while."

She passed away at dawn.

It was a morning of unusual brightness.  A high wind caught up and
scattered broadcast the petals from the Italian garden, as though that
spot had served its only purpose.  Now and then a swift cloud cast a
shadow over the landscape, then passed on, leaving everything as
brilliant as before.  The boughs of the trees tapped urgently against
the windowpanes, calling attention to the sparkling clarity of space.
And Lilla, sitting alone in her room, wondered, "Will she meet him out
there?  Does fate finally relent?  Or are those moments that she had
with him--so few, while others are allowed so many!--supposed to be
enough happiness for her?"



CHAPTER XIII

For a while Lilla remained in the house on Long Island.

She sat in the pergola holding on her lap a closed book, between the
pages of which she kept Lawrence's cablegrams and letters from London.
Toward sunset she rose and went down across the meadow to the brook,
where some willows leaned over the water.  As the twilight gathered, a
smell of wood smoke made her think of camp fires; and casting a look
around her at the suave landscape she tried to picture the jungle.

Then, when she recalled their brief hours together, a filmy curtain
appeared to ascend before her eyes; and that relationship, which
because of her profound, psychic agitation had been almost dreamlike
while in progress, assumed a perfect clarity, a new value.  And now,
with the dissipation of that haze cast over all her senses by his
nearness, she perceived him, himself, far more distinctly than when he
had been with her.  "Ah, what was I thinking of to let him go!"  She
felt that another woman, not cursed with her ineptitude in that crisis,
would have held him back.

"But you were cruel enough not to give up going of your own accord,"
she sighed in the twilight.  And, turning wearily back toward the
house, she reflected that if she had been fatally weak he had been
fatally strong, and that, after all, those two antithetical defects
were strangely similar.

When she was most gloomy, Fanny Brassfield came to visit her for a few
days.

That vigorous blonde woman, ruddy from golf and thin from horseback
riding, with calm nerves and an endless fund of gossip, brought a vital
thrill into the Long Island house.  Yet to Lilla this very vigor was
oppressive instead of tonic; and resentment came over her as she
scrutinized her friend's satirical face, which seemed to typify all the
women who progressed successfully through life, as if their natures,
victoriously adamantine, had bestowed upon them this brilliant hardness
of complexion, this sophisticated, frosty, conquering glance.  Lucky
women, who were so emphatically of the same essence as the phenomena
round them, who accepted life with the simplicity of natural creatures,
who never saw, beneath the pageantry of these appearances, a peeping
horror that cast one down from joy to despair!  Even death seemed
natural to them, apparently, so long as they themselves escaped its
touch.

"One must resign oneself to all these things," said Fanny, in her
clear, loud voice.  "One must learn to rise above them.  These periods
of mourning are really a mistake.  All this sitting still, dressed in
black!  One takes medicine when one's ill.  A dose of pleasure ought to
be the prescription when one's sad."

She added that physical exercise was also very important.

In a striped woolen sports suit, a felt hat turned over one ear and a
walking stick in her hand, Fanny Brassfield presented herself at
Lilla's bedside while the garden was still full of mist.  She
prescribed, on this occasion, a walk before breakfast.

They trudged through bypaths where the bushes were gemmed with dew.
From a wooded hilltop they saw, gliding along the highway, the cars of
men who were bound for their safe occupations in the city.

Lilla regained the house exhausted, pale from fatigue, while Fanny
Brassfield seemed bursting with energy.

In the evening time began to hang rather heavily for Fanny.  She
persuaded Lilla to play the piano for her.  Then she glanced over the
books in which the paragraphs were shortest, ran through a few
magazines, kicked off her slippers, put her feet on a stool, lighted a
cigarette, and fell back upon gossip.  Madame Zanidov was now visiting
in Maine.  Cornelius Rysbroek had gone to Mexico.

"Mexico!  Aren't things rather unsettled there?"

"Perhaps he's gone where things are unsettled because everything is too
much settled here," replied Fanny, with her satirical smile.

"But Cornie!"

"Oh," said Fanny, luxuriously stretching herself like a cat that needs
exercise, "if one of these timid souls is hit hard enough, there's no
telling what he'll do."



CHAPTER XIV

Before the end of summer Lilla returned to the house on lower Fifth
Avenue.

In the hall paved with black and white tiles, the chasteness of the
ivory-colored wainscot set off two stately consoles, on which lamps
with cylindrical shades of painted parchment were reflected in antique
mirrors.  The drawing-room furniture, from the eighteenth century,
displayed its discreet elegance against the sage green walls and the
formal folds of the mulberry-colored curtains; while over the chimney
piece, which was ornamented with three vases of the Renaissance in
silver gilt, a painting by Bronzino focused the gaze upon a triumph of
romance over formality.  This painting, in this room, was like a
gesture of Aunt Althea's real self.

"How well she kept her secret," Lilla thought "She was rather heroic,
it seems."

And she felt as surprised a sadness as though she were the first who
had not quite appreciated the departed.

"The departed!"

The prophecy of Madame Zanidov--"that incredible balderdash!"--even
woke her in the night.

She discovered the date of Lawrence's birth, then went to a woman with
birdlike eyes, who was seated behind a table on which stood some little
Hindu idols and a vase of gilded lotus buds.  The astrologer, when she
had made some marks on a sheet of paper, and had added up some figures,
confessed that "these next few months were going to be a critical time
for him."  "You see, here are Saturn and Uranus----"

Emerging from the sanctum, Lilla felt the pavement move beneath her
feet.

Presently she sought out the teachers of New Thought, whose faces were
as serene as though they had found a talisman by which death itself
might be vanquished.  They calmed her with benignant smiles, then
informed her that fear was as potent in bringing about disaster as
optimism was in preventing it.  In those consultation rooms, where the
walls were dotted--rather unnecessarily, it seemed to Lilla--with
mottoes exhorting her to love, they gave her the recipe in gentle
voices that were nearly lyrical.  But gradually she got the idea that
they were speaking to her in a foreign language.  Drowsiness assailed
her, as though a malignant power, determined that she should not gain
this peace, had cast over her a spell of mental lethargy.

Nevertheless, she persisted.  In the bookshops the customers turned to
regard this tall beauty clad in black, who, with a mournful eagerness,
leaned over the counters devoted to "inspirational literature."

One rainy afternoon she threw those books aside and went to church.

Here was an awesomeness appropriate to a mortal conception of God--a
distant glitter of candles beyond colossal pillars, a fragrance of
stale incense, a silence in which the shadowy crimson of banners,
suspended high in the nave, was like a soft blaring of celestial
trumpets.  Exaltation took hold of her as she recalled the miracles of
orthodox faith and the eternal promise of compassion.

She prayed for a long while, lost in the sweetness of the incense, her
heart quivering from the memory of her few hours of love.

Whenever she received a letter from him she tore open the envelope with
one movement, and pressed against her face those crackling sheets of
paper that seemed to exhale the odor of a far-off land.  He had written
it in the wilds, before his tent, while a naked black messenger stood
waiting.  The letter sealed, the messenger had stuck it into a split
wand, and straightway had set off at a trot toward the coast.

Now she wanted to know precisely what his surroundings looked like.
When she had pored over the map she collected all the books about that
region.

She was surprised to find it impregnated with romance.

It was the "Eldorado" of remote antiquity.  Thither, in the dawn of
recorded history, had gone the Phoenician galleys, full of hook-nosed
men in purple and brass, their beards scented with spikenard.  From the
mining towns that they built in the jungle, surrounded by cyclopean
walls and adorned with grotesque stone images, came the stores of gold
with which the Sidonians enriched King Solomon.  To-day all those
workings were apparently exhausted.  The Zimbabwe--the cities of
stone--had crumbled; the jungle had closed in; and in that wilderness
only a heap of rubble, or the choked mouth of a pit, remained here and
there to mark the source of the metal that had gilded the temple at
Jerusalem, and the Semitic shrines to Baal and Astoreth.

But a new letter told her that he had crossed the Zambesi.

He had gone into a land almost wholly unexplored by its present
claimants, full of fever-breeding marshes, barren mountain gorges, and
great forests.  The inhabitants were an unconquered race of warriors
called the Mambava, fiercer than the lions and leopards about them,
hostile to strangers, and given to uncanny customs.  They worshipped
among other things--perhaps in consequence of the old Phoenician
occupation--the moon.  At certain periods of the year their forests
thundered with the music of drums; their towns were deserted except for
the women and children.  Then the stranger who had ventured into their
country might see, from his hiding place, hordes of black men moving to
a secret rendezvous, their painted faces framed in monkey hair, their
limbs covered with amulets, their shields rising in time to an
interminable chanting in a minor key.

Sometimes, in the corridor outside the door of Lawrence's rooms, she
encountered a small, dapper young man with an inquisitive face, who
lived on the floor above.  He usually carried under his arm a leather
portfolio.  Nothing could have been more interested than his look when
he passed this sad-eyed woman in mourning, whose identity and story he
had learned from the janitor.

When she had shut the living-room door behind her, for a moment she
closed her eyes in order that she might not see the weapons on the
walls.  Then she kindled the fire.  The blazing logs sent over her a
wave of heat; but she shivered while listening to the sound of sleet on
the glass.

"He might be here with me.  We might have felt together the security
and peace of this warm room, and laughed at the storm outside."

One evening she ripped from their frames the photographs of savages
smeared with white paint and crowned with fur and feathers.  She threw
them into the fire.  As the flames consumed them, she leaned, forward
like those who try to annihilate their enemies by destroying their
likenesses.

For a long while she sat beside the empty chair, shading her eyes from
the blaze with a translucent hand.  But suddenly she stood up, tense
and quaking.  Her dilated eyes were fixed upon a point in space, from
which an overwhelming impression had rushed in upon her--a flood of
distant emotion, a sort of voiceless cry, in a flash traversing half
the earth and unerringly reaching her.

Little by little her nerves and muscles relaxed.  Moving as though her
limbs were weighted with lead, after carefully drawing the fire screen
in front of the glowing embers, she put on her black toque, her long
coat of black fur and her black gloves.

As she crossed the sidewalk to her car, an eddy of wind raised up
before her, head high, a whirl of snowflakes that resembled a wraith
for one moment, before it was whipped away into the darkness.



PART TWO


CHAPTER XV

A month after that stormy night when Lilla had felt the impact of some
far-off gush of feeling, the newspapers published a despatch reporting
the death of Lawrence Teck at the hands of savages.  Four months
passed, however, before Lilla received a letter from Parr, the valet.

It had happened in the country of the Mambava.  That tribe, despite
their well-known animosity to strangers, had not been hostile to
Lawrence.  Indeed, he had won the friendship of their king.  Yet it was
in the king's stronghold that the tragedy had happened.

There had been a beer dance, a disorderly festival ending in a clash
between the Mambava warriors and Lawrence's camp police.  Almost
without warning the rifles had cracked, the spears had begun to fly.
Lawrence, throwing himself between the parties, had been among the
first to fall.  Then a frenzy had seized the savages; a panic, the
intruders.  It had been a massacre--a headlong flight amid the Mambava
forests, through which Parr, himself badly wounded, and half the time
unconscious, had been dragged by five Mohammedan survivors.  They had
gained an outpost fort where, ever since, Parr had lain hovering
between life and death, not only crippled by his wounds, but also
stricken with the black-water fever.  Then, at last, he had gathered
strength enough to scrawl these lines.



CHAPTER XVI

Her friends were surprised that she "took it as well as she did."
Considering her emotional legacy, they had expected a collapse.  On the
contrary she remained, as it seemed, almost passionless.  She did not
show even that desire for sympathy which is characteristic of
hysterical natures.

Fanny Brassfield noticed presently, however, that Lilla could no longer
look at negroes without turning pale, that her antipathy to certain
colors, sounds, and perfumes had increased, and that sometimes she
appeared to be listening to a voice inaudible to others.

It was the voice of her thoughts, which she heard, now and then, just
as if some one were whispering in her ear.

She became subject to reveries in which there were frequent lapses from
all mental function.  Then, of a sudden, she was filled with a longing
for movement.

She went abroad alone, and settled herself in a villa on the French
Riviera.

Every morning there appeared on the terrace of a neighboring villa a
young Frenchwoman in a white straw hat and a white dress, carrying an
ebony cane, and followed by a brown spaniel.  In the evening the
stranger might be seen pacing behind the marble urns in a gown of gold
and silver lace, or perhaps in a black dress spotted with large
medallions of pearl and turquoise.  A tall man walked by her side; and
when their silhouettes stood out against the luminous sea there came to
Lilla, with the interminable odor of roses, a soft laugh of happiness.

The sound floated across a gulf as wide as that which separates one
world from another.

As for Lilla, her world lay in the past; and all this semitropical
luxuriance of nature, enriched and complicated by an insatiable
mankind, was lost in such mistiness as had risen round her in
childhood--when her world had seemed to lie in the future.  Sometimes
those past events, from her continual rehearsal of them, attained
recreation; the precious scenes surrounded her visibly and almost
tangibly; and the dark garden of the villa became the other garden, the
threshold of love.  Then she realized that this was one more delusion
due to her abnormal state of mind.  In her terror she reached out
through the shadows to grasp at something that might help her to regain
contact with reality.  She clutched a rose, and as she crushed its
sweetness to her face its thorn pierced her lip.  She burst into a fit
of crying and laughing at this reassurance--this proof that there
existed, after all, a material world, of beauty inextricably mingled
with despair.

But loneliness remained.

She expected no abatement of this loneliness; for he was gone after
showing her that it was he, of a worldful of men, for whom she had been
waiting.  And now, more and more, her objective mind was filled with
hitherto unsuspected memories of him, a thousand fragmentary
recollections that she fitted together into an image more vivid than
the man himself had been.  This image, gilded by layer after layer of
pathetic thoughts, enlarged by the continuous enhancement of his value,
gradually assumed an heroic magnitude, and became more splendid than a
statue in a temple.  So now it was no longer a man that she
contemplated in her reveries, but a sort of god whose stubbornness had
destroyed her.

In those nightmares of hers, however, he was still a man, subject to
mortal tragedy.  Waking with a cry, she discerned, in the act of fading
away against the curtains, the dead-white, wedge-shaped face of Anna
Zanidov.

One day she closed the villa and went swiftly to Lausanne.

She entered a bright consulting room where there rose to meet her, from
behind a desk, a calm-looking man with a bushy red and white beard.
His gaze took in, in a flash, her widow's weeds, her tall, slim person,
her delicate, pale brown face, her features composed and yet a trifle
wild, her whole effect of elegance and singularity.

"I feel as if I am going mad," she blurted out, by way of greeting.

The famous physician smoothed his beard reflectively.

"There is a story, perhaps?"

And when she had told him everything, he remarked, "I will make out for
you a series of appointments."

"The cause will remain," she returned.

"But I shall change your thoughts about the cause," he said paternally.

"No!" she exclaimed, in a voice vibrant with apprehension.  For she
would have gone on risking this madness that she feared, rather than
let him efface from her conscious thoughts, or even dim, one
recollection of Lawrence.

He understood.  Casting down his eyes, he reflected:

"Apparently this charming person has never been told how extreme an
example she is of our poor civilisées.  For the sake of a dead man she
is willing, after all, to commit slow suicide.  If she continues to
nurse this grief which is indissoluble from her love, with her
predispositions she will go the usual way, probably ending in a psychic
collapse.  Ah, yes, if she had not come to me she would just have
drifted on and on into the devil knows what.  As it is, I don't fancy
that I could make her quite unemotional; but that grief--there's no
reason why she should go through life under that additional burden!
She is exquisite, young, sure of many happy years with some one else,
if she is cured of this preoccupation with that fellow who is gone.
Shall I ask permission to try to do her that favor?"

The celebrated specialist, raising his eyes, said benevolently to Lilla:

"At least, madam, you have no objection to my stopping those nightmares
of yours?"

Every day, for three weeks, she returned to the consultation room, sat
down in a deep leather chair, fixed her eyes on a bright metal ball,
and fell asleep.  The famous physician found her, as he had expected,
extremely impressionable.  On waking, she had no objective recollection
of what had been said to her.

But the dreams ceased to torment her.

With a strange, almost unprecedented feeling of peace she traveled down
to Lake Como.  Here she dwelt in a house smothered in flowers, on a
promontory that was almost an island.

In the morning she walked in the garden, drenched in sunshine,
enveloped in the silence of the lake, beyond which she saw, far away,
other villas nestling at the bases of the mountains.  A sensation of
humility came to her.  Amid that great panorama of blue and gold she
seemed to perceive subtle traces of a beneficent divinity.  The
sunshine veiled the hawks that were soaring through the sky in quest of
weaker birds; the waters of the lake concealed the fishes that were
devouring one another; and when, with a timid and pleading naïveté, she
paused before a rosebush, she did not see, behind those petals, the
spiders spinning their traps.

As she returned toward the house, there stole over her a pleasant
weakness, a childlike and tremulous trust; and she felt the soft air
more keenly, smelled more delicate fragrances, heard a multitude of
infinitesimal sounds that had not reached her ears a moment ago.

She sat in a high-ceiled, white-walled room with French windows opening
on a terrace where _olea fragans_ blossoms expanded round the base of a
statue by Canova.  At last a feeling of incompleteness penetrated her
languor.  She rose to pace the mosaic floor on which appeared a design
of mermaids and tritons.

"What shall I do now?  I must fill my life with something.  I must find
some way to occupy my mind."

She thought of mastering another language; for like many persons of
similar temperament she found the learning of foreign tongues a simple
matter.  But what language?  Already she knew French, Italian, and
German.  Russian, then?

She recoiled from that thought, associated as it was with Anna Zanidov.

Sitting down at the piano, she played Chopin.

Her interpretation of the piece was good, but not eloquent.  The spirit
that she had heard certain musicians put into it was lacking.  She
remembered how differently even old Brantome, the expatriated French
critic, had expressed these phrases.  She wondered why, with her
immense passion for music, she had never been able to translate its
profoundest spirit.

And she recalled an old longing of hers to compose some musical
masterpiece.  For that purpose she had faithfully studied harmony,
counterpoint, fugue, and musical form, had steeped herself in the works
of the masters from Palestrina to Stravinsky.  Yet her own creative
efforts had ended in platitudes.  Was it true that women, supposed to
be more emotional than men, were incapable of employing successfully
the most intense medium for the revealment of emotion?

"What am I good for?  Ah, what shall I do with my life?"

Late in the afternoon a boatman rowed her out on the lake.  At twilight
the mauve shadows on the cliffs combined with the pallor of the Alps to
form round her a setting full of poetry and pathos.  She thought how
perfectly these things might once have enclosed her in the scenery of
love--yet now, for some reason, they were incapable of composing with a
proper vividness the scenery of grief.

She returned to the villa to find visitors, women whom she had known in
girlhood, who had married members of the Italian nobility, and now were
sojourning in the neighborhood.  They brought men with them, and
sometimes stayed to dinner.

One night, as she leaned against the balustrade of the terrace,
watching the strings of lights across the lake, a young Roman, tall,
dark and aquiline, handsome and strong, laid his hand upon hers.

"It is a world made for happiness," he breathed.

The others, in the white-walled room now mellow from lamplight, were
clustered round the piano, and one of them was singing a song by Tosti.
Without drawing away her hand, Lilla returned:

"Happiness.  Yes, tell me what it consists in."

"In the glory of life and love.  In the splendors of this world and our
acceptance of them--we who are this world's strange, sensitive
culmination.  Not to question, but to feel, with these feelings of ours
that a thousand generations have made so fine, so complex.  To be
natural in the heart of nature."

She smiled mournfully:

"You realists!  And are these things that you celebrate reality?  They
fade and die----"

"But while they live they live," he cried low, with an accent of
austere passion, and seized her in his arms.

For a moment she did not move.  She let herself feel that contact, that
strength and fervor, with a nearly analytical attentiveness, with, a
melancholy curiosity.  But of a sudden she pushed him from her with a
surprising strength, her heart beating wildly.  She stared at him in
amazement, then entered the house.

A fortnight later she returned to New York.

Winter was imminent; but few of her friends had yet appeared in town.
One day on Fifth Avenue, however, she met old Brantome, the critic, who
invited her to an afternoon of music at his apartment.



CHAPTER XVII

In Brantome's living room the book shelves rose to the ceiling; between
them the spaces on the walls were covered with the mementoes of a long
life.  On the tables stood bowls of flowers, stacks of musical scores,
trays of wineglasses, cigarette boxes that had once been jewel cases,
half-empty teacups, and the gold purses or jet handbags of women who
reclined in the deep chairs with their faces turned toward the piano.

Men leaned smoking in the heavily curtained embrasures of the windows,
their foreheads lowered, their eyebrows casting over their eyes the
shadows as if of a profound fatigue.  Beside the hall door loomed the
white mane of Brantome, who turned, at an inflow of artificial light,
to greet the small Italian woman that had recently become a prima donna.

And presently this song bird warbled for her comrades of the arts, as
she would have done in no other company.  The air shook from her agile
cadenzas.  A last, long trill, high and pure, died away vibrating in
the vases of iridescent glass.

Then some one persuaded Brantome to play a piece of Schumann's.  And
once more Lilla heard _Vienna Carnival_.

When he had finished playing, Brantome sat down beside her.

"So it is as magical as ever, a bit of music?" he inquired, in his
rumbling, hoarse voice.

"You were playing that at the moment when I first saw my husband," she
said.

He contemplated her with his haggard old eyes.  Patting her hand, he
declared:

"All these emotions that you, a beautiful young woman, have felt, I
believe that I, an ugly, worn-out old man, have felt, also.  I, too,
have felt in my time that the world was at an end.  I have suffered
from the same inability to return into life.  Well, will you think me
cruel--shall I appear to you as the thief of an inestimable
treasure--if I tell you something?  In time, sooner or later, one
recovers.  I don't mean that one forgets.  It is always there; and a
chance sound or perfume brings it back to one.  But at last it returns
so gently!  One feels then, instead of pain, almost a gentle,
melancholy pleasure.  Then you will learn that there may be certain
subtle joys in grief."

She lowered her gaze, flinching inwardly, as one sometimes does when
credited with a feeling that one no longer fully deserves.  A dismal
perplexity came to her, a little pang of treason, as she asked him:

"How can I hasten that day?"

He suggested:

"You might perhaps find some engrossing interest?"

Near the piano a group were discussing women's failures in music.  One
heard the names of Chaminade, Augusta Holmes, Ethel Smyth.  Why had
there been no female Beethovens, Liszts, or even Chopins?  The reason,
asserted a middle-aged man, was that women's emotions were too
thoroughly instinctive to be projected in the form of first-class
music, which was, in fine, emotion analyzed, compressed within the
limits of fixed rules, expressed by series of arbitrary signs.  In the
midst of his conclusion, however, he lost his self-satisfied smile: he
had caught sight of Lilla, who was looking at him blankly as though he
had slammed a transparent door in her face.

She heard Brantome benevolently murmuring the platitude:

"It is often in making others forget their sorrows that one diminishes
one's own, and in doing good to others that one finds good for oneself."

She showed him a bitter smile.

"Yes, charity.  The usual prescription.  I have already tried it."  She
added, "Of course those poor people in their poverty and illnesses
merely appeared to me as a means for my own relief.  In helping them I
didn't think of their troubles, but of forgetting my own.  Sometimes
when I've written a check I almost expect it to buy me a less gloomy
day.  At such moments I should be absurd if I weren't contemptible."

"Bah! you are unjust to yourself."

It was true.  Lilla, who had suffered so much from her exceptional
temperament, could not bear to see others suffer; and in the grip of
her own weaknesses she had always felt compassion for the weak.

"But I ought not to come here," she said.

She explained that in this place she "felt her worthlessness."  It
would be better, she thought, to remain in the Brassfield state of
mind: thus one might find an anodyne for this sense of insignificance.
For, to those others, of course, wealth and social position were the
important things in life, magnificently making up for the lack of other
qualities.  If they had artistic enthusiasms, it was because they
regarded the arts as did the Roman conquerors--as elements created for
no other reason than to enhance their triumphs.  Debussy, she
suggested, had been born to give them a cause for displaying their
jewels at the opera, just as Titian had existed in order that their
acquisition of a painting by his hand might be cabled round the world.
In that region of inverted values one took on the egotism of the fabled
frog in the well, who laughed to scorn the frog that came to tell him
of the ocean.

"But the well is so prettily gilded," Lilla remarked.  "And it's lined
with so many nice little mirrors in Louis XVI frames, that you can
hardly blame the frog if he imagines that his importance, like his
reflections, extends to the ends of the earth, in that multiplied
glitter of gilt."

Brantome began to laugh, then turned serious.

"You must be desperate," he commented.

"That is your fault.  I've always had a longing for what I find in
these rooms; but that longing isn't backed up by any capacity.  When
one of these friends of yours has suffered a loss, his art still
remains.  And maybe it becomes a richer art because of his loss."

She sighed, her pale brown cheek resting against her black-gloved hand,
her black fur collar framing her neck on which the strand of pearls was
less lustrous than the teeth between her parted lips.

His leonine old visage grew soft as he looked at her, and under his
white mustaches of a Viking there appeared a sad smile, as if he were
thinking that things might have been different with him, had she, with
this beauty and these predilections, been young when he had been young.

"Oh, no, you must not stop coming here," he protested gently.  "It's
only right that these poor fellows should have their glimpses of a
composite of all the beautiful muses--who, as you'll remember, were not
themselves practitioners in the arts, but the inspirers of artists.
Isn't there, for women, besides the joys of personal accomplishment,
another satisfaction, which one might call vicarious?"

She gave him again her bitter, listless smile.

"You believe that stuff about women's inspiration?"

"But why not, good heavens!  When it is a fact of life----"

He bade her consider the great music written by men.  Almost invariably
one found in its depths a longing for synthesis with some ideal beauty,
produced by thoughts of some idealized woman.  Or else, by woman in the
abstract--that obsession which, ever since the days of Dante and the
troubadours, had attained a nearly religious quality, against whose
pressure even the modern materialist struggled in vain.  Yes, ever
since that fatal twelfth century it was woman, the goddess, the
Beatrice-form beckoning on the staircase of Paradise, who attracted
upward the dazzled gaze of man, and who seemed, by an unearthly
smile--with which man himself had possibly endowed her--to promise a
mystical salvation and a sort of celestial bliss.

"But at times, as I say," he concluded, with a shrug, "some lucky
artist is suddenly confronted by all that in bodily form--by a Beatrice
in a sable coat from Fifth Avenue and a little black hat from Paris."

But in her silvery voice there was a cadence of irony, when she
demanded:

"Whom shall I inspire?  Show me the one by whose aid I can pretend that
the woman is responsible for the masterpieces, as no doubt Vittoria
Colonna sometimes pretended to herself in the case of Michael Angelo.
But remember that it must be an affair like that one, romantically
platonic--_à la manière de Provence_."

Brantome nodded benignantly.  But old pangs had revived in his heart.

How well he understood this restlessness of hers, this sense of
impotency, this secret rancor at contemplation of congenial forms of
success!  He, by some minute fault, some tiny slip of fate, had long
ago been doomed to these same sensations.  In the morning of youth,
when gazing toward the future, he had seen the world at his feet,
unaware of that little flaw in the foundations of his Castle in Spain,
unwarned of the trick that destiny was going to play on him.  All these
years it had been here in the bottom of his heart, the sensation of
inferiority, the gnawing chagrin.  He had masked it well: one discerned
it only in some rare look when he was off his guard.  And now and then,
for a while, he even vanquished it, when some fresh voice rose in the
world of music, and he championed the cause of that new genius so
generously, hotly, and triumphantly that the consequent renown seemed
nearly to be his own, since he had helped by his enthusiasm to
establish it.

"Yes, certainly, _à la manière de Provence_--since music is so very
impersonal an art," he muttered, with an absentminded, haggard smile.

But Lilla was watching a man and woman who sat in a shadowy alcove, and
who, as some one began to play a nocturne, let their fingers twine
together.



CHAPTER XVIII

One night, at the end of the winter, she astonished everybody by
appearing with Fanny Brassfield in a box at the opera, wearing a black
velvet dress that made her, in that great horseshoe blooming with
flowerlike gowns, the objective of all eyes.

"There is hope!" said one young man waggishly to another.  "Cornie
Rysbroek ought to see this."

But Cornelius Rysbroek was traveling far away.

As for Lawrence, he was slipping farther and farther into the past.
There were times when without the aid of his picture Lilla could no
longer visualize his face.  Their moment of love became blurred in her
memory.  At times, remorsefully, as if struggling against a lethargy
mysteriously imposed upon her natural instincts, she strove to revive
her grief in its full strength; and then, for an instant, her
recollections became as poignant as though he had been with her only
yesterday.  But that perception could not always be evoked at will; and
ordinarily Lilla was aware only of a faint echo from a distant region
of pathos and delight--an echo that reached her, through a host of
other sounds, like the intrinsic spirit of an ultra-modern symphony, so
wrapped up in dissonances as to be nearly unintelligible.

"Where is he?" she wondered.  "Are those right who would say that he
has ceased to exist except in memory?"

At this thought she wept, not for him so much as for the blurring of
her remembrance of him.  And sometimes, when she had not thought of him
all day, she was awakened in the night by her own cry:

"Give me back my love!  Give me back my grief!"

Rising from her bed, she pored over the books on spiritualism that
still formed a long row on the shelf of her writing desk.  She envied
the women who were reported to have received, through automatic
writing, messages from the dead.  She sat down, in the silence of the
night, to hold over the clean sheet of paper the perpendicular pencil.
With her head bowed forward, her pose an epitome of patience, she fixed
her eyes upon the pencil point, which slowly made meaningless curlicues.

But suddenly, when she was expecting nothing, there passed through her
a tingling warmth such as that which must pervade the earth at
spring-time.  She stared round the room with the thought, "His spirit
is here!"

And she uttered, very distinctly, in the hope that the words might
penetrate his world from hers:

"I love you as much as ever!"

Those moments became rare.  At last they ceased to occur.

"He has passed so far into the beyond that he can no longer return to
me."

As if it had been awaiting this acknowledgment, a thicker curtain
descended between Lilla and the past.

And now she was like some medieval chatelaine who, emerging from a dark
and lonely castle, views all the gewgaws that a far-wandering peddlar
has spread out for her in the sun.

There were the art galleries filled with statues in inchoate or
tortured forms, or with paintings that seemed to Lilla to have been
conceived by madmen, yet in which certain persons declared that they
could discern a sanity beyond the understanding of the age.  And there
were the concert halls given over to the very newest music, from which
Lilla emerged with her nerves exacerbated.

Then the prosceniums of the theaters framed pageants of Oriental
sensuousness--scenes of hallucinatory seductiveness and splendor,
through which, to a blare of startling music, bounded swarms of
half-naked bodies jingling with jewels.

Or, abruptly, the softness of oboes and cellos, the flagrancy of musk,
the gleam of purple light on torsoes moist from exertion, a presentment
of love as understood by ancient Eastern despots--a perverse and
gorgeous ideal resuscitated to challenge modern thought.  Or perhaps,
with a sudden rush of darkness and return of light, before scenery that
tore at the nerves like a discord of trumpets, a dancer--a heathen
god--leaped high into the air, with muscles gilded as if to add an
overwhelming value to mere human flesh.

Later, the chandeliers of ballrooms, multiplied by those Louis XVI
mirrors that Lilla had derided, cast their glitter upon the bright
dresses of a new design, the coiffures that had been invented
yesterday, the jewels, maybe souvenirs of old fervors, that had been
ruthlessly reset.  In glass galleries banked with azaleas, where the
waltz music was like an echo from a still more desirable world, looks
melted into embraces, or, at least, a whisper promised the kiss that
caution there denied.  On all sides love was going forward: men and
women were dancing toward the pain of happiness or the strange
pleasures of tragedy.  And even in the brief silence the air seemed to
ring from a concerted laugh of triumph over life.

Yet all these activities were informed with a feverish haste, a sort of
delirious greediness and apprehension, as though one must feel very
quickly everything that humanity's experiments had made the senses
capable of feeling.

Lilla stood watching this whirlpool.

Sometimes she thought of opening the Long Island house and shutting
herself up there, of collecting Chinese porcelains, of studying a new
language or religion.

"Ah, if I had some real object!"

One day she put on her hat intending to drive uptown and spend an hour
in Lawrence's old rooms; for nothing was changed there, except that
nowadays the curtains were always drawn, and the hearth was always
cold.  But this time she purposed to light the fire, and pretend----

Instead, she returned to Brantome's.  Some one had just stopped
playing.  On the dim divans, men and women sat pensively holding
teacups on their knees.  The firelight appeared to give life to the
many rows of books, as though all the fine emotions stored between
those covers were consuming the leather that was intricately tooled
with gold.  Together with the wood smoke, and the scents of tobacco and
tea, there stole through the quiet room a redolence not of flowers or
of women's perfumes, but, as it were, the essence of the mementoes on
the walls and cabinets--those souvenirs of old friendships and past
attachments, or maybe of unconfessed infatuations and thwarted longings.

"I knew you'd come back," said Brantome, looking at Lilla out of his
massive, ruined face.

He made her sit down beside him on a divan apart from the rest.  She
looked like a lady of cavalier days, he told her, in her tricorn hat of
maroon velvet, with a brown plume trailing down to the shoulder from
which was slipping her maroon-colored cloak edged with fur.  He assured
her that she had never looked so lovely.

At these words she felt despondency instead of pleasure.

Across the room, half in shadow, with a ray of lamplight falling on his
hands, a young man sat sunken in a wheel chair.  He was frail,
obviously an invalid; yet in the gloom of the alcove where he was
sitting his complexion seemed bronzed, as if from a life in the sun.
His sensitive face, disfigured by his sufferings and his thoughts,
leaned forward; his eyes were fixed on the keyboard of the piano.

"What!" Brantome exclaimed, "you don't know David Verne?"

She thought that she had heard some of his music, but could not recall
the impression it had made on her.

"The impression produced by Verne's work isn't usually vague."

"Has he so much talent?"

"I was confident," said Brantome, "that he would be the great composer
of this age."

"And now?"

"It's a question whether he'll live through the spring."

He told her David Verne's story.

At the height of his promise, in consequence, it was said by some, of a
certain mental shock, the young composer had fallen victim to a rare,
insidious disease, arising apparently from an organic derangement,
small in itself but deadly in its secondary effects.  The chief
characteristics of this malady were a general muscular prostration
growing ever more profound, and a slowly increasing feebleness of vital
action.  It was an illness for which medical science had provided no
cure; the physicians could prescribe only such drugs as arsenic and
strychnia, to postpone as long as possible the climax of that fatal
debility.  The patient was already afflicted with an immense
exhaustion, incapacitated from any but the slightest of muscular
efforts, unable to carry on the simplest occupation.  Yet despite his
almost continuous attacks of headache he could think--of the collapse
of his hopes, of the approaching end.

In the beginning David Verne had rebelled against this fate with all
the force of one who feels that he is in the world for an unparalleled
purpose--who refuses to believe that any physical affliction is meant
to thwart the unfoldment of his genius.  All the splendid raptures
pressing toward expression, the conviction of unique capacity and great
prolificness, reinforced his determination to be well again.  Brantome
declared that in those early days it had been like the combat of a hero
against malefic gods--a "sort of Greek tragedy."

"Well," said Brantome, in a tone of stifled fury, glaring at Lilla with
his eyes of an old conquered Viking, "have you seen these pigmies
brandishing their fists at thunderbolts?"

Disqualified long ago from walking, to-day David Verne could hardly
raise his hands to lay them limply upon the keyboard of a piano.

His mind had suffered as sad a deterioration as his body.  Formerly
fine, as befitted the source of fine achievements, it was now deformed
by bitterness.  The last of those bright qualities, which in other days
had endeared him to his friends, were dying now, or perhaps were
already dead, In fact, Brantome confessed, it was doubly painful to
receive him here; one had to see the wreck not only of a young
physique, but also of an invaluable spirit.

Lilla sat frozen.  At last she uttered:

"Ah! this world of ours!"

And she had a vision of a universal monster evolving exquisite forms of
beauty only to destroy them fiendishly.

"Yes," Brantome assented.  He, too, for all his experience with life,
looking crushed anew.  Indeed, in his old countenance there was a look
of defeat as dismal as though the ruin of that young man's hopes had
involved one more precious aspiration of his own.  After a pause he
exclaimed, "I haven't suggested that you, who have enough unhappy
recollections, meet the poor fellow----"

"What was the shock that caused it?"

The old Frenchman made a hopeless gesture, and returned:

"I don't say it was that.  It's only certain persons who say the thing
may sometime be produced that way.  Who knows?  Too sensitive!--but if
he hadn't been we shouldn't have had the music.  These poor chaps,
always balanced between joy and sorrow by a hair!"  And he ground out
between his teeth, "One of those Beatrices of ours.  As if she had come
to a harp, and had made all its strings vibrate just for the pleasure
of hearing their quality, and then had gone on content----"

Lilla rose, drew her cloak around her, and departed with an appalling
sensation of pity and resentment.



CHAPTER XIX

One afternoon, returning to her house on lower Fifth Avenue, as she
entered the hall paved with black and white tiles she saw a shabby
little man trying to rise from a settee between two consoles, by aid of
a pair of crutches.  For an instant she had a hazy idea that he ought
to be holding a breakfast tray in his hands.  Then, with a sickening
leap of her heart, she realized that this was Parr, who had been
Lawrence Teck's valet.

He had thought she would want to receive from him, promptly on his
return, a first-hand report on that African tragedy.

"But where have you been all this time?"

He had been a long while recovering from the wound that had crippled
him, and from the black-water fever.  Then he had found himself
penniless, dependent on the charity of traders and petty government
officials in the port town lying just above the equator.  He had
"drifted about," a reproach, perhaps, to a certain human callousness
engendered by the tropics, till finally an old friend of Lawrence
Teck's had appeared from Mozambique, found him sitting in tatters on
the steps of a grogshop, and paid his passage home.

"You should have let me know," she said remorsefully.

He hung his head.

She led him into the drawing-room, and seated him in one of the
mulberry chairs.  He had become an old man.  His honest, lantern-jawed
face was gray and drawn.

And then there had always been the idea in his head that he ought to
have fallen with his master.

"I couldn't help myself, ma'am," he said in a broken voice.  "Before I
hardly knew what was up he was done for, and I had this spear wound in
me, and our gun boys was dragging me off amongst them, shooting to
right and left.  I didn't rightly know what was going on any more than
if I'd got mauled by a pack of lions.  Once when I kind of come to
myself I tried to make them go back; but they told me they'd seen the
Mambava finishing Mr. Teck as he lay on the ground----"

She gave a start and a moan.  He recoiled in contrition.

At last, when she had bade him continue:

"Besides, they was after us all the way.  Sometimes they even showed up
in our path instead of behind us, waving their shields and shouting for
a parley.  But we'd had enough of their treachery; and our boys let
them have it.  Night and day it was dodge and run.  Then we got out of
the Mambava forests, and they carried me the rest of the way in a
hammock made of vines and poles.  Even then they never dared to light a
fire, because we could always hear the Mambava behind us, telephoning
from one village to another with their drums.  But I couldn't hope to
make you feel it, ma'am, even what I took in myself when I wasn't out
of my head.  It was just bad.  Of course, the worst of it was that Mr.
Teck was gone."

He began to cry weakly, exclaiming:

"I'd been with him everywheres!"

He was living with relatives.  He hoped to get a job as a watchman.
This idea was repugnant to her.  The shattered, tremulous, little man
was dignified by his grief, the intensity of which, after all this
time, filled her with self-contempt.  Then she thought, "But now, by
his aid, I shall regain that dear grief!"  She said:

"You must let me arrange to have your pay go on.  That's what Mr. Teck
would have wished."

She took his address, told a servant to call a taxicab, and went down
the front steps with Parr, holding him by his bony arm as he lowered
his crutches.  Overwhelmed by this condescension, he stammered:

"I was afraid to come here, ma'am."

She replied:

"We need each other."

Next day she sought him out.

She found him near Stuyvesant Square, in a shabby room overlooking a
back yard in which an ailanthus tree spread its limbs above some
clothes lines.  She leaned forward in a raveled chair, with her veil
tucked up so that she could see him better, her gloved hands clasped
tightly in her lap, her eyes intent.  When he had recovered from her
simplicity, Parr prepared to tell her what she had come to hear.

But there were so many tales about the hero to choose from!

"Anything," she exclaimed.  "Make me hear what he used to say, know
what he used to think.  Make me see him there.  Make him live!"

She meant, "Make him vivid again in my heart, where, against all my
efforts, his face has faded away."

Parr held his crutches against his shoulder as if they were the harp of
a minstrel who has come from afar to chant the epic of some already
mythical character.  His faded coat was wrinkled round the neck; his
collar was split at the folds; and a faint smell of iodoform mingled
with Lilla's perfume, which a Viennese artist in odors had concocted
especially to "match her temperament."

"One time in Nyasaland----"

"Not the jungles!" she protested, flinching back.

"The desert, then?" he ventured.

He showed Lawrence to her in the desert that is called Erg, the waste
of shifting sand; and in the desert called Chebka, a wilderness of
boulders; and in the desert called Hamedan, the bleak plateaux where
there are no springs of water; and in the desert called Gaci, the
oases, rich with date palms, pomegranates, and oleanders.  The caravan
routes unrolled before her, at sunset.  The hills turned to ashes of
rose; the sand dunes to heliotrope; and against the sky appeared a
caravan of many thousands of camels, bearing on their humps,
impoverished from hard travel, the traffic that passes between the
great oases--the rugs and the oil, the sacks of dates and boiled
locusts, and, in the closed palanquins, the women destined to new
slaveries.  A great calm descended at dusk; the tents of dingy brown
hair surrounded the sheik's pavilion, which was topped with a plume.
The air was filled with odors of camels, of cous-cous, of sagebrush.
The camp fires of desert grass flared in the night wind.

He was always well received by the caravan chiefs, the sheiks of the
oases, the heads of the desert monasteries--drowsy towns with arcaded
streets and tunnels of mud, into whose holy precincts came no echoes of
war.  He had the knack of endearing himself to fierce men, by something
in his character at the same time inflexible and kindly, by a sympathy
that embraced that other religion, or at least its intrinsic spirit, so
that he could repeat the Fatihah with good grace before the tombs of
saints.  Even the Tuaregs, the untamed bandits whose faces were always
muffled in black, received him into their tents of red dyed leather,
where he joked with their wives and daughters, the "little queens," who
were accustomed to ride alone, fifty miles on their trotting camels, to
visit a sweetheart.

"But my picture was with him," thought Lilla.  "I was with him there,
just as he, through his picture, though I had never seen him, was with
me.  In our longings, that crossed in space, we were already united.
Even then our actual meeting was predestined--like our parting."

Once he had encountered a band of Shaambah Arabs, out, like
knights-errant, in quest of any adventure.  They had fought him all
afternoon in a desert spotted with gold and purple lilies, the
burnooses flitting in a wide ring as the horses raced through the heat.
Then suddenly they had vanished.  The lukewarm water flavored with
goatskin and tar, the draughts of sour camel's milk, had tasted good
after that scrimmage, like a combat in chivalry.

What was it that had driven him into such places, when there had been a
great, rich world of safety?  Some fatal desire for regions where
beauty sported more obviously than here the signs of its origins, or
death the mask of beauty?

"Yes, there is a fatality in all our preferences.  Is that what the
Arabs mean when they say that our destinies are written on our
foreheads?"

"What is their word for fate?" she inquired of Parr.

"Mektoub."

"Mektoub!"  And presently, "Do you speak Arabic?"

"Oh, no, ma'am; but Mr. Teck did, as well as any of 'em."

"Tell me more," she said.

So he took her to the oases.  As one drew near, there floated from the
minaret a thin cry, "Allah is great!  Allah is great!  Allah is great!"
In the house of the sheik, sitting among the hawk-nosed horsemen, they
dipped their right hands into couscous flavored with cinnamon, ate
honey cakes and nougat.  In the doorways, beyond the range of the lamp,
there was a soft clashing of bangles, a craning of veiled heads.  Then
in the cool of the night they walked to the café, where cobwebs hung
from the palmwood rafters, and the raised hearth glowed.  Here were the
men drinking coffee infused with rose water, pepper, or mint, smoking
tobacco and hasheesh.  And here were the dancing women--"The Pearl,"
"Lips of Pomegranate," "The Star"--their foreheads bearing the tattoo
marks of their tribes, their cheeks and chins smeared with saffron,
their fingernails tinted with henna, their bodies moving convulsively
under rose-colored satin dresses.

But Lilla was no longer listening.

Dusk had covered the windowpanes; the shabby furniture had turned
nebulous.  In these shadows Parr heard the words, meditatively
pronounced:

"I think I should like to learn Arabic."

"You, ma'am!"

He gaped at her vague, pearly face, as if she had suggested some
enormity.  It was an ugly language, all bubbling and snorting.  And a
very hard one to learn!

"A hard one?  Good.  Can you find me a teacher somewhere?"

The door opened to frame a careworn woman in a gingham dress, who said
shyly to Lilla:

"Oh, excuse me, ma'am.  I thought----"  And to Parr, "I'll keep your
supper warm."

With her sleek bandeaux of lusterless brown hair, and her thick,
straight eyebrows meeting above her nose, she looked like some model
for a fifteenth century Italian painter, who had suddenly faded and now
was exiled from the studio to the region of pots and pans.  She was
Parr's niece.

As Lilla departed down the black staircase redolent of boiled cabbage,
she reflected that these surroundings were going to contaminate the sad
pleasure that she planned to obtain through Parr.  Her instinctive
epicureanism demanded that the scene of these evocations should not be
sordid.

Besides, it was intolerable that Parr, of whom Lawrence had been fond,
should not be better housed.

So Lilla moved Parr and his astounded relatives to a pretty little
dwelling in Greenwich Village, with waxed floors, chintz hangings at
the windows, and Delia Robbia plaques in the sitting room.  After
seeing them installed, she said to herself:

"Poor things!  How abominable I am!"

At any rate, there was nothing abominable in her having sent Parr to a
surgeon who, though he doubted that the patient would ever be quite
well again, guaranteed to abolish the crutches.

On the day that Parr was to go to the hospital, Lilla entered the
Greenwich Village house to find a stranger sitting under the Delia
Robbia plaques, He rose with a graceful dignity, bowed, and stood
gazing down at her out of dark, lustrous eyes.

Parr explained that this stranger was prepared to give lessons in
Arabic.

He was in his early twenties, though one did not immediately appreciate
his youth because of a very delicate black beard that softened, without
concealing, the lines of his chin.  His features appeared to have been
chiseled with great precision out of some pale, tan-colored marble; his
nose was long and straight; his full eyelids gave him a slightly
languorous look; but his lips, as sharply defined as a gem of
carnelian, seemed somehow to be ascetic as well as sensual--virile as
well as effete.  Tall and spare, with small hands, he wore an
outrageously inappropriate, ill-fitting sack suit.  To Lilla it was as
if some romantic young character from the tales of Scheherazade had
been degraded for his gallantries in this hideous attire.

His name was Hamoud-bin-Said.  He was an Omân Arab from Zanzibar.

Parr had found him in a Turkish café in Washington Street, oppressed by
the weight of successive misfortunes, and by that sense of fatality
which benumbs the Arab of vitiated stock.  For little by little the
soft, moist airs of Zanzibar had corroded the spirit of the Omân Arabs,
who had sailed thither, in the old days, from their own rugged land, in
great fierceness and ruthlessness, unconquered by men, and incapable of
foreseeing that some day they would be vanquished by perfumed breezes.
As for Hamoud-bin-Said, he was typical of his kind to-day in that humid
paradise, where want of energy, and lack of discipline or any
well-defined purpose, affected even the young.

"As you see him, ma'am, he's down on his luck.  But I think he has
seen----"

The young Arab remained impassive, erect, as handsome as a faintly
tinted statue of Pride, yet pathetic in his salt-and-pepper suit.  And
Lilla, despite his costume and his errand, divined in him a certain
subtle relationship to herself, received an impression of
"aristocratic" feeling perhaps derived from a consciousness of superior
birth and fortune.  Parr need not have told her--especially in so
audible a stage whisper--that the stranger had "seen better days."

"You speak English?" she inquired.

The Arab's limpid eyes were slowly infused with light.  His clear-cut
carnelian lips started apart; but he did not answer until the last
vibrations of her voice had died away, like the echo of a silver bell
in a landscape that one had believed to be empty of human life.  In a
low, grave, muffled tone, he said:

"A little.  Enough, perhaps, madam, I hope."

And after a moment, though his face did not change, he gave a sharp
sigh, somehow the last thing that one had expected from him.

All at once as she stared at him she had a feeling of unreality.  Why
were they three standing here?  A whim, transformed into a command by a
vision of a Saharan coffee house, had materialized this abjectly
clothed young human exotic in the midst of the blue-and-white Delia
Robbias!  But she had a feeling that she had stood here before with
him, or else had dreamed of this, perhaps, in one of those
psychopathological moments that have a prophetic quality.  This
sensation of recurrence--or else, this impression of the
unavoidable--gave her a twinge of awe.  Was everything, even a baggy
young teacher of Arabic, foreordained?  "Am I," she thought, with a
sort of comic despair, "doomed by fate, as well as by my own
foolishness, to learn a language like the snarling of camels?  Or is it
that his old Allah has picked me out to tide him along for a while?"
She wanted to laugh aloud, at the restlessness, superstition, weakness,
and folly that had composed her life, and had now produced this
egregious interview.  And in the midst of this emotion she was touched
by his statuesque face, with its glimmering suggestion of gentility
cast down, of pride lost in a dread that she might not find him worth
her charity.

"I shall expect you on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at eleven
o'clock."

He bowed in silence.  She felt his relief that was mingled with a sense
of abasement; and she wondered what he had been, that he should suffer
from the prospect of turning an honest penny.



CHAPTER XX

She received a note from Brantome, informing her that if she went to a
certain orchestral concert she would hear a piece that David Verne had
written at the height of his promise.

To Lilla it was a new voice in the world of music, ultra-modern, yet
incorrigibly melodic, giving utterance to immemorial emotions with
great nobility.  Those passages of almost intolerable aspiration were
underlaid with dissonant harmonies, as if hell itself had poured all
its allurements into tone, to engulf the theme that was struggling to
soar upward.  It became a terrific combat, in which beauty was to be
recognized in sublimated form, striving to end its likeness to another
beauty, seductive in a different, monstrous way, yet all too similar.
It was a battle translated into sound, so enlarged and enriched by the
imagination of the composer that a universe, instead of one soul,
seemed to be involved in it.

Suddenly in the midst of a piercing blare of brass there was a moment
of chaos; then the theme, as if soaring free, lost itself in
extraordinary altitudes, borne up by a whirl of violin notes.  A crash
of cymbals ended everything.

When she roused herself at last, Lilla perceived that the concert hall
was empty except for the ushers who were turning up the seats.



CHAPTER XXI

Hamoud-bin-Said suggested that she master first the most difficult
consonants--"ha," to be pronounced with the force at the back of the
palate, "dâd" and "tâ," emphasized by pressing the tongue far back, and
the strong guttural "en."  These were sounds that had no association
with any in English, French, German, or Italian.  Lilla was filled with
dismay.

"But this poor young man lost from the _Arabian Nights_ must live," she
reflected, eyeing the salt-and-pepper suit with secret horror.

He was extremely neat, however; and his small right hand, with which he
turned the pages of the textbook, was as well cared for as hers.  He
brought with him into the library an almost imperceptible scent of
burnt aloes.  His grave composure sometimes made her forget his youth.

Now and then, the lesson finished, she detained him in talk, out of
curiosity.

From his father he had inherited a house in Zanzibar, a mansion,
indeed, of coraline limestone fitted with doors of palmwood elegantly
carved.  At the same time he had fallen heir to a grove of clove trees;
in short, he had been wealthy.  There had been no end of hospitality in
his home.  In the large, white rooms strewn with Persian carpets, where
there were no pictures, but a variety of clocks, the slaves were always
bringing in to visitors an excess of refreshment--stews of mutton, fine
soups, cakes, sherbets, Turkish delight.  The world had been a good
place, full of friends.

And there was no spot as fair as Zanzibar!  The hills, crowned with
palms, embraced a sea as deeply blue as lapis-lazuli.  The clove trees
were covered with pink blossoms whose fragrance entered the city.  It
was a place of brilliant sunshine and purple shadows, of gray walls
over which peacocks hung their tails, of mysterious stairways, and
latticed windows behind which ladies sat peering through their
embroidered face screens resembling semicircular candle shades; and
there was always a marvelous clamor in the streets, and silence in the
patios full of flowers.  At dusk, one still saw, sometimes, the
daughters of the rich hurrying through the alleys, muffled up, escorted
by slaves with lanterns, going to call on their women friends, leaving
behind them a trail of perfumes.

"It was in Zanzibar," thought Lilla, "that Lawrence found my picture."

And gazing as if indifferently at a vaseful of roses, she asked, with a
feeling of suffocation:

"Why did you leave there?"

He did not reply.  When she turned her eyes toward him he appeared to
be listening almost drowsily to something that she could not hear, or
else, since his sensitive-looking nostrils were dilated, to be
relishing some sweet odor--perhaps the smell of the roses.  She
received an impression of deliberate, yet somnolent, sensuous
enjoyment; and she recalled having seen long ago, in a doorway in
Tunis, this same expression on the face of a beggar who had just been
smoking hasheesh.

He gave a start, and looked like a man who in his sleep has fallen off
a roof.  But immediately, lowering his full eyelids, he became the
handsome statue, or perhaps the delicately bearded effigy, in
tan-colored wax, of a young caliph who had incurred the hatred of the
jinn.

It was simple.  He had squandered his fortune.  It had sifted through
his fingers like sand, the price of one clove tree after another, till
the whole grove was gone.  Then the Hindu money lenders had got the
ancestral house.  The friends had departed to make merry elsewhere; the
gazelle-eyed girls with short, silk dresses and frilled pantalettes had
turned cold; and, in the market, little boys had sung songs about the
ruined young man.  Burning with resentment and shame, he had sailed
away in a dhow--it had landed him at Beira--believing that he would
hate Zanzibar forever.

When he began to starve, he joined the safari of a Muscat trader,
traveled up-country, returned to the coast sick with fever.  Late one
night, while walking below the sea wall, yearning for Zanzibar, he saw
a man running, from time to time throwing something into the sea, and
another man running silently in pursuit with a knife in his hand.  He
waded along the shore, and presently found in the surf a bag of
gold-dust.  Next morning he slipped aboard a north-bound coaster.
Instead of calling at Zanzibar, this time it went clear to Suez!

In Suez a fortune-telling dervish, perhaps because he had just seen an
American pass by, told Hamoud-bin-Said that his wanderings would take
him to America.  Hamoud accepted the words of the holy man as a
second-hand pronouncement of God.  At that time there was even a ship
at Suez bound for New York.

"It was my destiny," he averred, sitting motionless in his atrocious
suit, so young yet so full of bizarre recollections, impassive at the
inevitable thought that this "destiny" of his might be preparing events
stranger still than those which he had endured.



CHAPTER XXII

A pallid, black-haired woman with pendent earrings--a woman who rather
resembled Anna Zanidov--was playing a sea-piece by MacDowell in the
light of a tall lamp.  The hall door swung open; the unsympathetic face
and square shoulders of David Verne's attendant appeared above the back
of the wheel chair.  The invalid, looking up at Brantome, murmured:

"Let him put me in the alcove, where it's dark enough for your friends
to forget that I'm here.  And don't bother about me."

"What!" Brantome protested.  "I'm not even to bring a beautiful lady to
talk to you?"

"It's rather late for talks with beautiful ladies," David Verne replied
in his weak, dull voice.  "Besides, it's music that I've chosen to
torment myself with this afternoon.  Where is she?"  And when Brantome
had nodded toward Lilla.  "Ah, she was here once before."

Lilla wore a brown coat frock heavily trimmed with fur; her brown
velvet hat, very wide across the forehead, was brightened by a rosette
of silver ribbon.  The black pearls in the lobes of her ears, just
visible below her fluffy brown hair, completed the harmony of her
costume with her person, while bestowing upon her face a maturity in
contrast with the invalid's youthfulness--which all his sufferings and
despairs had not eclipsed.

When she had sat down beside him, he regarded her with a sort of
suppressed aversion.

The attendant, a bullet-headed fellow with Scandinavian cheek-bones,
leaned down, looking flagrantly solicitous, and inquired in unctuous
tones if there was "anything else at present."  At this question David
Verne appeared to be overwhelmed with a dreary contempt.  He did not
trouble himself to reply; and the attendant went away, walking
cautiously on the sides of his feet, the back of his head somehow
suggesting that he was gritting his teeth.

Lilla surprised herself by saying:

"Why do you have that man?"

"I don't know.  He is appallingly stupid."  He paused, with an effect
of still more profound exhaustion, then breathed, "He hates me, no
doubt because I resent his stupidity.  I resent stupidity," he
repeated, giving her a glance of weak alarm, as if wondering, "Are you
stupid, too?"  He seemed reassured by his scrutiny of her.  A coldness
began to melt out of his eyes.

Then he looked astonished, rather like a child that is unexpectedly led
up before a Christmas tree.

Now she had analyzed the most touching impression that David Verne
produced--an impression as of a child who has come into the world with
a heart full of blitheness and trust, only to be mistreated.  A child,
but an extremely precocious one, with a child's round chin, but with a
brow of genius; with eyes accustomed to visions, but with lips almost
too delicate to belong to a man.  Another incongruity was presented in
his complexion--bronzed as though by the sun, mockingly bestowing on
him one of the aspects of health.

When he listened to music suddenly he became adult.  There appeared in
his face a glimpse of a masculine, severely critical soul, a nature to
be satisfied with little less than perfection.  And no doubt it was
this habit of stern analysis, involuntarily carried over from art into
life, that had helped to make him "impatient of stupidity."

The black-haired woman at the piano was attempting Beethoven.

"Talk to me," said David Verne.  "I don't wish to hear this."

He added that Beethoven was intolerable on the piano--a composer who
had never had a thought that was not orchestral.

"Like myself," he vouchsafed, with that smile of a mistreated child.
"I, too, thought orchestrally.  There was no group of instruments rich
enough to suit my ambitions, just as the scale was too poor for what I
wished to express.  A tone speech inadequate to describe what I had to
describe--do you know what I'm talking about?"

"Yes."

"Never mind.  It is all over."

He sat in the wheel chair in so collapsed a pose that he seemed
subjected to some exceptional pull of gravitation.  His bronzed hands,
on the chair arms, appeared to be welded to the brown wood; his head,
resting against the chair back, never turned.  But his troubled eyes,
stealing round in their sockets, surprised on Lilla's countenance a
look as if all her compassions had been united to find the fading young
genius as their congenial object.

It was hard to talk to him, since every topic must lead to some
interest that he was relinquishing.  His doom, hanging over them like a
black cloud, stifled all those gleams of enthusiasm which normally
would have illumined such a conversation.  But presently he forgot
himself in watching her moving lips, in gazing at her hair, her throat,
her hands, in letting his eyes embrace, with reluctance, all her
singularity which was made doubly exquisite by the fastidiousness of
her costume.  While he was inhaling her perfume, he listened with a
blank look to the silvery cadence of her voice.

At last he asked her:

"Do you come here often?"

"Oh, no."

"Why not?"  He stared at the abandoned piano.  "Why not every week?"
And, in a soft, impulsive rush of words, blurred by haste, and maybe by
intention, "I have so few weeks left."



CHAPTER XXIII

As week followed week, it was evident that David Verne watched her and
listened to her as he watched and listened to no other person, with an
attention as though there were something unique in her most trivial
utterance, and with a sadness as though she symbolized all the
allurements of life, from which he must presently depart.  And at last
it became evident that he had found in this relationship a charm more
piercing than if their association could have had a different outcome.
For him, no doubt, their hours together were at last suffused with the
mournful glory that concludes a sunset--more valuable, to the
romantically imaginative soul, than the flaming vigor of mid-day.  To
have found her, to realize that she must remain as an angel hovering
high over an inferno, to perceive that he must pass from this radiance
into the shades, filled him with a gloomy ecstasy and a pathetic
gratitude.

A time came when his armor of misanthropy crumbled away; and in the
shadowy alcove of Brantome's living room he confessed to her.

He told her that she had covered the page on which Finis was already
written with a glow of gold, as though, at the last moment, a shutter
opening on a paradise had swung ajar.

He declared that she could not imagine the blackness that had
surrounded him at her first appearance.  His heart had been cased in
ice; he had hated every one.  Then she had come holding beauty in one
hand and tenderness in the other.  Although he believed in nothing but
a mechanistic universe, he had thought of those figures, half woman and
half goddess, that descend from another plane, in the old mystical
tales, to lure one back to faith with a celestial smile.  He protested
that he was not far from regaining that deep-rooted belief of his race,
of which Brantome had spoken--the idea that woman might be angelic.

He even said:

"Suppose your kindness were the reflection of something still more
lovely, which we cannot see with these eyes?"

He went on to other, similar rhapsodies, such phrases as bubble from
the lips of those who, in the extremity of despair, exhausted by their
sufferings, become, with a sigh of relief, like little children.  Amid
the shadows of the alcove his eyes shone; and even his body, helpless
in the wheel chair, quivered as if with new life.

"If you had appeared sooner!  The music I might have written!  But
then, everything would be different.  There would have been no reason
for your pity."

On the hearth the log that was nearly consumed fell with a shower of
sparks, shot forth one last flame, which brightened the room that had
become for a moment a whole world.  The light flashed over the many
rows of books, which made Lilla imagine a vast human audience, all
aglow from a final blaze of genius.

She leaned toward him, staring into his eyes as one who would summon
from a sepulchre something more precious than love.

He understood her, and assented:

"Yes, what a victory, eh?  Even on the threshold of death!  And even
though the inspiration was the embodiment of pity only!  But men before
me--though not so far gone, perhaps--have transmitted to the world the
songs that rose in their hearts as a result of unconsummated, even
unrequited, love.  Who knows?  That, too, may come just in time.  I may
write one more song."

Before her mind's eye there sprang out the full picture of her part in
such a triumph.

Was it not she who would virtually be the creative force?  Had he not
become, in these last days of his, a shattered instrument that she,
alone, could make musical again?  And her long-thwarted aspirations
coalesced into this desire, in which, it may be, her compassion was
disorganized by egotism, her compunctions swallowed up in ruthlessness.

"You will do it!" she cried softly, leaning closer still, holding his
hand more tightly, blinding him by the glorification of her smile.

Hardly knowing what she was saying, finding at the tip of her tongue
all the arguments that had failed to help her in her griefs, she spoke
of the prodigies accomplished by will, the triumphs of faith over fate,
the miracles of love.

"Of love?" he repeated.

The log on the hearth was ashes.  But that morning there had drifted
through the city a message from the country--of a new spring, which
would not be like nature's previous unfoldments, yet could not, for all
its subtle differences, be denied.  Was it something like that in
Lilla, or only a tender duplicity born of this new ruthlessness of
hers, that made her press his limp hand against her kindling cheek?



CHAPTER XXIV

It was a romance as nearly incorporeal as mortal romance may be, almost
as though one of the participants had already passed beyond the
sensuous world.

If Brantome was not at home they had the place to themselves.  The fire
no longer burned on the hearth; but the sunshine of the lengthening
days conquered the shadows that had lingered here all winter.  And now
the wheel chair was rolled to the open window, so that David might see,
beyond the trees of the square and above the cornices of the tall
houses, the inexhaustible improvisations of nature in the western sky.

"You have changed everything," he affirmed, drinking in her beauty, her
elegance that was always presented to him in some new guise, her
invariable manifestation of tenderness.  "How did it happen?  You, so
intensely in the midst of life, so lovely, who might so easily find
elsewhere----"

She did not tell him that it was the almost phantasmal quality of their
communion that made it possible.

Yet now and then, for a moment, she forgot his infirmity.  He became
the young hero of an idyllic scene such as those that seem attractive
enough in adolescence.  But unlike those heroes he spoke only of the
moment, since it was only the moment of which he could be sure.  "You
are here!" his eyes said to her, as she entered the room.  "I have this
hour at least.  Nothing else matters."  Then, by aid of the sunset, the
warm breeze in his face, the flowers on the table, the fragrance of her
perfume and the smoothness of her hand, he tried to drown himself in a
sea of sensation, like one who listens, in a glamour of stained glass
and a cloud of incense, to the protracted sweetness of an organ playing
the _Nunc Dimittis_.

Sometimes he would say:

"When I am gone you will be as fair as ever.  That is good.  The
ancients who entered their temples to worship the goddess must have
redoubled their love with the thought that the beauty of her marble
person would survive them."

Or perhaps:

"Yes, you will still be young.  And presently--no, I shall pretend that
you will never turn to another."

He thought her ensuing look of sadness was a reproach to him; but she
was reproaching herself.

But here was a miracle.  The invalid had ceased to decline in health.
And that declension, which formerly had been uninterrupted, seemed
stopped just by the hand that she had held out to him on that first
full day of spring--by the slender hand that had owed its beauty to its
apparent uselessness.

Then he told her that he had begun to jot down, in feeble signs, some
scraps of music.

That evening, as she drove home, the city seemed hung with banners.
"Ah, fate!" she cried, clenching her fists, and uttering a savage laugh
of defiance.  She entered her house radiant, erect, shining with
triumph.  In the black-and-white hall, at the entrance to the
drawing-room, a man stood before her, tanned, lean from physical
hardships, strange-looking and yet familiar.  Instead of a small
mustache intended to be debonaire, he had a heavy one; his shoulders
were wider and straighter than formerly; he advanced with a quick,
swinging step.

"Cornie Rysbroek!"

She laid her palms, on the new shoulders of this friend of her
childhood, and flooded him with her victorious smile.

"What have you done to yourself?" she laughed, rather wildly.  "Where
do you come from?  India?"

"I went on to China."

He had traveled up the Yangtze River, had crossed Tse-Chouan, had
reached the borders of Thibet.  Her happy look continued to embrace
him; but she hardly heard what he said.  She did not perceive that he
had undertaken that journey in imitation of the other--perhaps in the
hope of finding in those distant, hard places the secret of Lawrence
Teck's attractiveness.  And, in fact, he looked stronger in spirit as
well as in body.  The hypochondriac, the timid dilettante, seemed to
have slunk away; in his place stood a man who had forced himself,
against all his natural instincts, to endure extremes of cold and heat,
dirt and famine, hardship and danger.  Even now his face was calm; but
he could not keep his eyes from shining at her.

"You'll stay to dinner, Cornie.  Just us."

From the doorway she came rushing back to throw her arms round him, and
cry like a delighted child:

"Dear old Cornie!  I'm so happy!"



CHAPTER XXV

As for David Verne, despite the extraordinary prostration in which
Lilla had found him, it seemed that he had not passed beyond the
vivifying powers of love, which sometimes appear to change the body, as
well as the mind, into a new organism for a while.  Week after week, to
the bewilderment--one might almost say the consternation--of the
physician, he refused to imitate the customary progress of that disease
which had been diagnosed as his.  And while he acknowledged that this
phenomenon must presently end, David knew that for the moment, at any
rate, love had proved stronger than death.

To prolong these hours in the transfigured world of sense!  To steal
from oblivion one more summer of which she would be the warmth, the
fragrance, the unprecedented beauty!

In appearing to him she had embodied all that seductiveness which he
had formerly perceived at random, fragmentarily and vaguely, in a
change of light on the sea, in a spread of landscape, in the grace of
animals or the refinements of art, or in those streams of consciousness
that flow as the senses are touched by some reminiscent odor,
apparition, or sound.  She was the whole, dear, fading world compressed
into one shape, as the goddesses of ancient times personified
blindingly a host of precious elements that had previously been
diffuse.  And since she was so, he determined, with all this new mental
energy evoked by love, to cling to her another day, another week or
season, like a drowning man who, as he sinks, clutches at a flower
hanging over the water, with the thought, "In this flower, whose petals
hold as much wonder as the whole universe, there is surely strength
enough to sustain me till I have filled my throat with one more draught
of life?"

Inevitably all this fervor and pathos, gratitude and adoration, were
transmuted into a consciousness of music.  He felt ever more strongly
the artist's need of expression.  Since he had never previously known
such exaltation--or, indeed, such dejection--the music that he finally
produced, his physical weakness notwithstanding, was music such as he
had never written before.

At Brantome's, when that piece was to be played for the first time, he
sat in his wheel chair suffocated by sudden doubts, as if on trial for
his life.  Lilla sat beside him, her hand on his.  No one else was
there except Brantome, who bent over the manuscript his haggard old
face, revealing nearly as much agitation as did David.

At last, raising his head, the critic murmured:

"You think this is going to be easy for me?  Reflect on what I must do.
To satisfy you I must take the rigidity out of all these ink marks,
restore to this score the emotions that you felt in writing it."

David responded:

"The emotions that I felt in writing it are not there; for the idea
always loses its original form the moment it is seized by the pen.
That is the first loss.  The second comes now.  You cannot help it.  It
is the old misfortune, the inability to transmit what one feels, the
isolation of the human soul.  But nobody could play as well as you
what's left of those thoughts of mine."

The bullet-headed attendant appeared beside the wheel chair, a bottle
of medicine and a glass of water in his hands.  With that pretentious
solicitude of his, he uttered:

"It is time----"

David Verne gave a shudder.

"Ah!  At this moment!  Will you get out of the room?"  And when the
attendant had gone, "Is he, can he be, so stupid?  I really think he
does these things on purpose."

Brantome poised his hands above the keyboard, leaned forward to peer at
a legend scrawled faintly in the corner of the page, then, turning
round on the piano bench, cast at Lilla:

"Rose-covered Cypresses."

"What?" she exclaimed, with a start.

"He has called it that."

The old Frenchman began to play.

Not a song after all, but a piano concerto, it described in tone that
goal of all human longings, the conquest of tragedy.

But this music, although gradually made replete with victory, was not
to end in major chords of triumph.  The sadness that seemed, at the
beginning, unassuageable, continued to the end, but--and herein lay the
victory--became ever more exquisite.  For this was the utterance of a
man who having had his life transformed by love must soon leave that
love behind him; this glory that had descended upon his sadness was
such a glory as fills the sky for a little while before the inrush of
dusk.  At the conclusion, it was as if in the gorgeousness of a sunset
the roses covering the cypresses had become a mist of rare hues, behind
which those trees emblematic of mourning almost lost their
significance.  At last, however, one felt that the light was fading,
that the somber silhouettes of the cypresses were more visible than
their poetic embellishment.  And finally, with the darkness, a breeze
seemed to bring a long sigh from those elegiac branches, together with
a perfume of the roses that had become unapparent, wet with dew as if
with innumerable tears.

After a long silence, Brantome lifted his burly, old body from the
piano bench, came to stand before David, then abruptly turned away.

"It is all your promises fulfilled," he said, as he went out of the
room without looking back.  But it was Lilla whose arm he touched in
passing.

David Verne sat gazing before him, his sunken eyes shining in his face
of a sick, young Apollo in bronze.  But soon, turning his eyes toward
Lilla:

"All you!"

She gathered his hands against her bosom with a movement that imparted
to him the life so violently pounding in her heart--the pride and the
hope, perhaps even a little of the defiance and belief.  She gave him a
look that pierced the caverns of his brain, where his faith in death
resided blackly, with a white-hot faith in life.

"Have you forgotten," she breathed, "that a little while ago you, and
every one else, would have called this impossible?"

"Too much!" he whispered, peering at her with a dreadful longing across
the chasm that lay between her will and his terror of extinction.

"No!  You shall see!"

She felt that this must be the object of her life-long wishes and
antipathies--that her sense of the preciousness of mortal life and
beauty, and her hunger for participation in the development of both,
were instincts intended to make her indomitable now.  Suddenly she had
one of those rare moments when the wall is so strengthened by a feeling
of worthy purpose that it becomes tremendous, and everything opposed to
it seems as good as vanquished.  It was with an accent of accomplished
victory that she repeated:

"You shall see!"

And now, indeed, the drowning man clutched at the flower that
epitomized the dear world.

"Lilla!  Never let go of my hands!  Yes, it's true; while I hold them I
hold fast to life; but if you let go of them, in that moment I'll go
tumbling down into the pit.  Do you realize that by this time I should
probably be already gone, if you hadn't appeared?  I am a dead man who
lives, who even does this work, because of the hold of these slender
hands of yours."

In that clutch of his, all at once so strong despite his feebleness,
Lilla found no sinister portent.  She was thinking:

"Death conquered me once; but now I shall conquer death."



CHAPTER XXVI

Next day, when a maid announced that Hamoud-bin-Said was waiting in the
library, Lilla felt that the time had come to "stop that nonsense."
Her desire to learn Arabic now seemed to her an absurd caprice; and
once more she had reason to wonder at her swift passage from one
enthusiasm to another, her intense preoccupation with things that
suddenly became insufferable.  She entered the library dressed and
hatted for the street, pulling on her gloves; and while occupied with
her glove buttons said calmly, in her enchanting voice:

"I'm going to be very busy for a while.  I suppose I ought to have
given you a little notice; so I'm writing you a check for two-weeks'
lessons."

Hamoud stood before her, tall and spare, in a new, black alpaca suit as
incongruous-looking as the old one.  He made no response at once; and
there was no change in his perfectly chiseled, tan features; but for
all his impassiveness he managed remarkably to convey the impression
that an immense calamity had befallen him.  His full eyelids remained
lowered, as if he were considering his whole unfortunate destiny; and a
sort of loneliness, produced no doubt by his strangeness in this room,
hovered round his shapely head that was covered with straight, black
locks.

Lilla felt a twinge of compunction, as she reflected:

"Who in this town except myself would ever take Arabic lessons!  Poor
young caliph!  Now he must work or starve."

She added, aloud:

"In fact, you've been such a good teacher that I ought--well, haven't I
made great progress?"

He raised his eyes, and a bitter smile appeared on his gemlike lips.
He replied in Arabic:

"It is a difficult language, madam.  Perhaps you understand what I am
saying now because I am speaking very simply and slowly.  But you
yourself can speak only the most ordinary phrases; and I doubt if any
one but I could understand you.  However, why should you trouble to
learn this language of mine?  It always seemed folly to me.  It is just
a part of this life, which has little meaning except to thoughtless
persons, and in which, to the wise, all events are like the shadows of
passing birds."

Her pride was affronted; and yet it was not as if an inferior had
rebuked her.  He picked up his hat, a frightful confection of tan and
yellow straw, and the textbook out of which she had learned--in
heaven's name, why?--the facts that "el" and "al" are assimilated
before dentals, and that "elli" is omitted after general substantives.
Hamoud-bin-Said inclined his handsome head, while concluding:

"You will soon forget all you have learned from me, and I shall have
received your money for nothing."  His impassiveness was deranged by a
look of chagrin, as he blurted out harshly: "I regret that the money
also has flown away, or I should insist----"

He held his head high, as if trying to rise above his feeling of
degradation.

Lilla stood looking at him thoughtfully from under the edge of a
verdigris-colored turban that matched the high collar of her walking
suit.  She was reluctant to let him drift away to some obscure,
wretched fate, to which his native apathy would surely direct him.  She
perceived in him again a certain relationship to herself, a
relationship due not only to his past good fortune, but also to
something in his character--perhaps some likeness of enthusiasm, or
even some identical kind of ardor, or else some weakness that had
ruined him but had not yet ruined her.  So it was with a blush that she
suggested:

"See here, an invalid friend of mine is dissatisfied with the man who
takes care of him----"

When she had made herself clear, his face turned brick-red, and for an
instant his eyes were terrible.  One would have said that some ancestor
uncontaminated by Zanzibar, some true Arab of Omân, stood there in his
place, flaming with outraged dignity.  He cast back at her one more
burning look before he stalked from the house.

The following week, when she had forgotten him, she found him, at
twilight, in the black-and-white hall.

He looked exhausted, as if he had tramped innumerable miles; and his
face was as pale as death.  He bowed humbly, muttering:

"Madam, if you will forgive, I am now ready to be the servant of that
sick man."



CHAPTER XXVII

Sometimes she tried to stand off as a spectator of her emotionalism, to
examine these new feelings.  Were they more egotistical than
compassionate, more defiant than gentle?  Among them, at any rate,
there was gratitude.  She had found an object in life, had splendidly
emerged from her old sensations of incompleteness and inferiority.  No
longer that morbid humility struggling in vain to transform itself into
a violent self-assertion.  Not since she had become the virtual
creatrix of beauty, even the giver of life!

And David, because she owed so much to him, became every day more
precious.  All this new dignity and worth that now enveloped her, these
self-satisfactions of a Euterpe and a Beatrice, depended on his
survival, would increase, even if he maintained just that strange
equilibrium between life and death, but would die the instant he died.
So for Lilla he took on such importance that everything else in life
turned insignificant: old ardors were all consumed in this new ardor at
once conquering and maternal, vainglorious and passionately grateful.

Even that wound in her heart from which a corporeal love had been torn
out by the roots, was healed at last, as it seemed, by these new forms
of pride and tenderness that could culminate in no material union.

She returned less and less often to the little house in Greenwich
Village, where Parr, escaped from his crutches, sat in a chintz-covered
chair, a cane between his knees, his white head lowered, still dreaming
of "those good days."

"You're better, aren't you?  What does the doctor say now?  Is there
anything you need here?"

Her eyes, avoiding his look of humble devotion, roamed over the walls,
as if she were considering the advisability of more Delia Robbia
plaques.  The niece, with her sleek brown bandeaux and fifteenth
century profile, passed noiselessly through the hall; and presently a
smell of cooking entered the sitting room.

"As late as that?"

Lilla drove uptown, heaped her arms with flowers, entered the rooms to
which Lawrence Teck had led her on the night of their marriage.

The characteristic odor of the place--the odor of skins and sandalwood,
camphor and dried grasses--nearly stifled her.  In the gloom she saw
the savage weapons gleaming.  Then the shadow of clustered tomtoms
against the bedroom door made her heart stand still.  As if to exorcise
a ghost that she no longer dared to meet, still clutching the mass of
tributary blossoms to her breast, she tore the window curtains apart.
The sunset struck in like a sword blade relentlessly cleaving through
the veils of time.  Dust lay over everything.  On the center table, in
the polished gourd, a bouquet of winter roses stood rigid, brown, like
the lips of mummies, dry enough to crumble at a touch.

Standing there in her modish suit so cunningly devised to emphasize her
charms, with the flowers slipping from her arms to the dusty rug, she
wept at the vagueness of her recollections, the fading away of grief,
to which she had once dedicated herself "for life."

"Why do I keep this place up?  It's dreadful that everything should be
just the same here----"

She meant, "While I am so changed."

She went downstairs intending to tell the janitor to give the rooms a
cleaning; but she found him--a fat, undersized old fellow in a
skullcap--talking to a young man who had a leather portfolio stuck
under his arm.  As her eyes were red, and her voice no doubt still
unsteady, she averted her head, and passed quickly out to her car.



CHAPTER XXVIII

Though a genius--at any rate according to Brantome--it was now David
Verne, instead of Lilla, who suffered from the feeling of inferiority.
To hold her, he had only his music, and perhaps his bodily feebleness
that excited her compassion.  Yet this feebleness, profound,
insurmountable, was what caused his torments of jealousy.

The question was, how long would she be content with this wan sort of
love?

And what did he know of her life during all the hours when she was
invisible to him?  What homage, what persuasions, must she, with her
peculiar loveliness, not be object of, out there in the world full of
gaiety and vitality, where strength was always offering itself to
beauty?  It would be only natural, he thought, if one of those men
should win her heart away, and she, out of pity, should pretend that
nothing had happened.

For that matter, perhaps even now----

At last she understood why, when she entered the room, he sometimes
transfixed her with that poignant, questioning look.  Then his
appearance was the same as on the day of their first meeting, as
though, at that dread, he had lost all the ground that she had helped
him to gain.

"Oh, what folly!" she cried, aghast more at the change in him than at
this injustice.  "If you knew how seldom I see any one these days,
except you!"

He remained lost in the fatal contemplation of the idea, his body sunk
even deeper in the wheel chair.

"And what's more there never has been anybody else, except one----"

A gleam issued from the eyes of the poor wretch who, while hovering so
nicely between life and death, was still, just because he could see
her, hear her voice, and touch her hand, superior to the dead.

"I am not jealous of him," he affirmed, though not quite convincingly;
since a man may be nearly as jealous of a departed rival as of a
present one.  "But every fellow that you know, who walks toward you in
his wholeness and vigor, is my superior.  Ah, my music; don't speak of
it!  What does all that amount to against those natural qualities,
which I can never regain?"

His frail, handsome, bronzed, young face expressed a puerile
helplessness.  And it was with a maternal pity that she reassured him,
using words such as mothers find for children frightened by the dark.

"Forgive me, Lilla.  But what do you expect?  You are my life."

She reflected that beneath his weakness there was a strength perhaps
greater than the strength of the strong; and now, at last, she thought
of the clutch of the drowning.

Then, instead of meeting her always at Brantome's, he had himself
wheeled to her house.  Two or three times a week, as the summer
advanced, he dined there, in the cream-colored room where Balbians and
Dellivers of Andrew Jackson's day--and even a dandy by Benjamin West in
a sky-blue satin coat--looked down from above the mahogany sideboards
that were laden with Colonial glassware and old Lowenstoft.  The
windows were open to the mews; the candle flames flickered in a tepid
breeze.  They could hear the faint crash of a band that was playing a
Strauss waltz in Washington Square.

She had not opened the Long Island house.  As for David, he had a house
of his own in a corner of Westchester County, inherited from his
parents, who had been well-to-do.  He told her about his family and his
childhood--his feeling of strangeness amid persons who had thought him
very queer, and had tried by every means to make him conform to their
ideals of thought.  "I was a sort of black sheep," he declared,
"because some necessity compelled me to be myself.  I could never get
over my skepticism about a thousand things that seemed plain to those
good folks----"

The candles flickered before his hypersensitive face.  The band in the
Square continued to play Strauss's _Rosen aus dem Süden_, with its old
suggestions of agile grace, united movement, young men and maidens
joyously dancing away toward kisses and laughter.  The servants brought
in the fresh course.  Lilla cut up David's food, then held the fork to
his lips; for the man who had scrawled that concerto could not lift his
hands high enough to feed himself.  He faltered:

"Your dinner will get cold."

"All the better, on such a hot night."

"Yes," he sighed, "you ought not to be here in this oven of a city."

"Oh, I!" she retorted, with moisture in her eyes.

In the drawing-room Hamoud-bin-Said paced to and fro, sometimes
standing before the picture by Bronzino, and seeming to stare clear
through it.  He was serene, as water is serene that has been lashed by
tempests, and that holds in the depths of its placidity secrets that
none can discern.  He was always near nowadays, on the fringe of their
lives, just beyond the radius of their preoccupations, the silent
witness of this strange love affair, in the humble station that Allah,
for some inscrutable reason, had decreed for him.



CHAPTER XXIX

One night when she was expecting David to dinner, she turned round,
from arranging some flowers in a vase in the drawing-room, to see
Cornelius Rysbroek in the doorway.  He had come, he declared, to "take
her out somewhere, give her a breath of fresh air, and make her listen
to reason."

"But I'm dining here, Cornie."

"Alone?"

"No."

Nevertheless, he sat down with a dogged look.

"What's to be the end of this?" he demanded.  "I suppose you know what
a lot of chatter this nonsense of yours has stirred up?  They're even
saying that you're engaged to him.  It's perfectly monstrous."

It was his old tone of voice, throaty, quaintly didactic, precise from
spite and yet muffled by rage; but it was not the same face.  It was,
instead, the face of a desperate, possibly dangerous man, who had
brooded over this monomania in the gorges of the great Chinese river,
in the filthy yamens of barbarous mountain towns, in the forts of
hill-robbers who practiced extraordinary cruelties.  He had fought his
way through rapids whose very names were ominous--"The King of Hell's
Slide," the "Last Look at Home," the "Place Where the Soul Itself Is
Lost."  He had sat with the free people of Nosuland, the enemies of the
Chinese, eating from bowls of camphorwood raw sheep's heart minced with
pepper, sometimes expecting permission to go free, sometimes sure of
being tortured with the split bamboo.  At last they had sent him back
with gifts.  Then, rushing home to her, he had been led by her greeting
to believe that his miseries were ended.

What a mockery of hope!  On those journeys of his, roused from his
acquiescence in ill-health and failure, moved by a savage
determination, he had accomplished the impossible, in body and
character had exceeded his limitations.  He had taken as his pattern
the rival whom she had preferred.  He had built up in himself the
counterfeits of those qualities by which Lawrence Teck had won her.
Yet now he must see her devoting herself to a man who was the
antithesis of all that she had previously preferred.

It was unendurable!  But how was he to escape it?  By hating her?  Yes,
surely she was worthy of his hatred, heartless, cruel, the cause of all
these innumerable torments from which he sometimes got a moment of
madness.

"What do I see in you?" he said between his teeth.

She had on a copper-colored gown hung over her slender shoulders by two
straps.  Maybe because its hue was a deeper shade of the same color as
her hair, her eyes, and even her pale-brown skin, the costume seemed
part of her.  He could see nothing about her that was not exquisite--no
detail from which to build up a remedial distaste.  So he ground out at
her:

"Your nature?  What rot!--as if that ever attracted me, with its false
pretenses of heart, its instabilities and downright treacheries.  What
else do you offer?  This that I see?  What we human fools call beauty?
What is beauty?"

She sat down in despair, observing that even his jaws, under his heavy
mustache, looked more salient.  It was almost laughable, she thought;
but she was far from laughing.  Every moment she expected to hear the
doorbell.

He continued ferociously:

"In the beginning these arms and legs of yours were nothing but
appliances for hanging from trees and running away from wild beasts.
Your body was merely a convenient case for a machine that kept your
life ticking along.  How does one get the idea that all this is
good-looking?  Ages ago men decided to think so for reasons that have
nothing to do with esthetics; they passed the hoax on, and in time
these physical features got themselves surrounded with a perfect fog of
sentimental and romantic balderdash.  Take your face.  Your nose is
bridged in that so-called ravishing way in order to let a stream of air
into your lungs.  Your eyebrows--how many sonnets have been written on
eyebrows!--are there, in the first place, to keep the perspiration from
running into your eyes.  Your lips are merely a binding against the
friction of food.  How grotesque to find such expedients beautiful!  No
doubt in other planets there are creatures that you'd call monsters;
and they'd call you hideous.  In fact, there can't be any such thing as
beauty."

"No doubt you're right, Cornie dear," she responded, looking down at
her beautiful hands.

"And what's it all for?" he ejaculated, in a stupefied kind of horror.
"All this sordid consolidation of flesh and blood, this disgusting
hallucination of attractiveness?  All for----"

"I know," she assented.  "More Lillas, ad infinitum.  Isn't it
tiresome?"

He jumped up, with a groan:

"I could kill you!"

"Too late.  You ought to have done it when we were children together."

"Yes, too late, too late."

He wandered round the room, slapping one fist into the other, glaring
at the walls, from which old-time ladies simpered vapidly at him.  His
brain seemed to be whirling round in his skull; his vision became
blurred; and he had a dreadful apprehension of losing contact with
normality.  But normality, too--what was it?  Normality was being
natural!  He came toward her; she rose and recoiled; but he caught hold
of her arms above the elbows, and held her fast when she swayed back
from him with a long shimmer of her copper-colored gown.

"You're hurting me, Cornie.  And there's the bell," she muttered, her
heart going dead.

He released her with the gesture of a man who hurls an enemy over a
precipice.  He gasped:

"One of these days!"

And with a livid smile he left the room as David Verne appeared in the
doorway, in his wheel chair, propelled by Hamoud.

But David, too, was nearly unrecognizable.

"What is it?" she ejaculated, and turned to catch her reflection in a
mirror.  She saw herself in a curious aspect also, white and a little
wild.  One of her shoulder straps had slipped down across her arm.

"What a dress!" she said.

David carefully pronounced the words:

"That was Rysbroek, wasn't it?"

"Yes; I've known him since we were kiddies."

"I remember your saying so."

"He brought me bad news," she added, to imply, "That's it."

"Ah, I'm sorry."

There was no life in his voice.

In the dining room the servants moved noiselessly, as though fearful of
disturbing the long silences.  A sickly breeze stirred the curtains of
apricot velvet.  The brass band in Washington Square was playing
selections from Verdi; the long-drawn wails of the horns crept in
through the windows like snatches of a dirge.  She was reduced to
speaking of the sultry air.  A thunderstorm was brewing?

"The air will be clearer," he assented.

He ate nothing.  When Hamoud had wheeled him back to the drawing-room,
he asked:

"Do you mind if I go?  A splitting headache.  This weather."

"You shouldn't have stayed in town, you see," she returned
automatically.

"Maybe I'll go up to Westchester for a week or so."  His dull eyes
rested upon the picture that she made as she stood uneasily before him,
with an appearance of guilt, her figure like a shaft of flame springing
upward from the hearth, her brown head aureoled by the tempestuous
canvas of Bronzino.  "Besides," he concluded, "keeping you here all
this while a prisoner----"

"How can you be so unkind?"

"At least I'm not ungrateful."

He made a sign to Hamoud, who stole forward to take his post behind the
wheel chair; and the two faces regarded her with the same brave, secret
look, the same queer impassiveness that was like a deafening cry.  Her
nerves began to fail her.  With an unaccountable feeling of perfidy she
straightened his cravat, while murmuring:

"I'll see you first, of course, dear?"

"Of course."

But he neither saw her nor telephoned before his departure; nor did he
write to her from the house in Westchester County.  On the third day
she went to Brantome, who said:

"I was coming to see you."

Fixing her with his tragical old eyes, he informed her that he had
received a long-distance call from David Verne's physician, who had
telephoned from the house in Westchester County.  In three days David
seemed to have lost all that he had gained in these months.  For some
reason he was letting go of life.

"Why is that?  Is it because he is letting go of you?"

The Frenchman's leonine countenance took on a hostile expression.  He
persisted:

"Eh?  Is it you who have done this?"

And Lilla understood that to this old devotee of the arts she had
ceased to be anything except a means to an end.

He seemed contemptible to her with his red-rimmed, fiery eyes, his
Viking mustaches that had turned truculent, his whole aspect of
animosity at this last collapse of hope.  And of a sudden she divined
the true basis of those hopes of his--the longing for at least some
vicarious creation, the desire to escape, in part, his own sense of
defeat by aiding, and, therefore, sharing, the triumphs of another.  He
put himself in her path: he would not let her go.  He was preparing to
hurl at her, who knew what reproaches.

"Oh, get out of my way!" she cried at last, in a breaking voice.  She
pushed him aside so sharply that he tottered back on his heels.  She
rushed out of the room, downstairs, into her car.

The limousine sped northward into the country.

She watched the placid fields, the wooded hill-tops, the lanes that
wound away between walls of sumac.  She thought of another unexpected
ride toward another crisis of life.  Her heart was beating wildly; her
breathing was labored; her hands twitched open and shut.  She took the
mirror from its rack, and saw her pupils extraordinarily dilated, so
that her eyes appeared black.

The car left the highway, to enter a park of well-grown trees.  She
caught sight of the low, simple mass of the house; its walls of gray
plaster rising between two clumps of evergreens, beyond a garden laid
out in grassy stages, where flagstone paths wound away between beds of
heliotrope.  On the terrace, under an awning of striped canvas, stood a
man in a dark-blue robe that opened down the front to reveal a white
under robe confined with a scarlet sash.  He had a close-fitting
skullcap on his head, of white, embroidered linen.  He was
Hamoud-bin-Said.

She passed him without a second glance, and found herself face to face
with the physician, who was just starting back to town.

Dr. Fallows began to talk to her judicially and suavely, with a tone of
regret, but possibly with an undertone of contentment: for this case,
after having immensely bewildered him for a time, was now, at last,
imitating all the proper symptoms again.  The patient's recent
improvement had been due, no doubt, to one of those rallies that may
interrupt the progress of many diseases--though in a case of this sort,
whether due to a functional or a pathological cause, Dr. Fallows had
never seen nor heard of an arrest--much less a diminution--of the
general weakness.

But now the relapse was complete.

She was aware of a lot of fluted wainscotting around her, and, beyond
Dr. Fallows' head, a Tudor staircase in silhouette against a large bay
window of many leaded panes.  Some of these panes, of stained glass in
heraldic patterns, gleamed against a passing cloud like rubies,
emeralds, and sapphires that had lost their fire.  Dr. Fallows still
blocked her way--almost another Brantome!--engrossed in his pessimistic
peroration, his visage of an urbane, successful man full of complicated
satisfactions and regrets.  Behind him the staircase was suddenly
bathed in sunshine; all the panes of stained glass became sparkling and
rich; and a sheaf of prismatic rays stretched down, through the gloom
of the hall, toward Lilla's upturned face.

She sped up the staircase.

All that she saw was the four-post bedstead canopied with cretonne, the
face on the pillow.  At her approach, a thrill passed through the air
pervaded by the stagnation of his spirit.  He opened his eyes.

"You!  I thought I had unchained you."

She knelt down beside him, and asked:

"What have I done to deserve this?"

He managed to respond:

"You deserve more, perhaps--a worldful of blessings.  But this release
is all that I have to give you."

"Do you think I care for that man?  I even hate him now, if it's he who
has brought you to this."

He looked like a soul that sees an angel hovering on the threshold of
hell, promising salvation.

"Oh, if I could believe you!"

And all the propulsions that had brought this moment to pass now forced
from her lips:

"I am here to prove it in a way that you can never doubt."

That day, at twilight, she standing beside his bed, they were married.



CHAPTER XXX

Beyond seas, deserts, and snow-capped mountain peaks, in the equatorial
forests where the Mambava spearmen dwelt unconquered, the black king,
Muene-Motapa, sat in the royal house listening to a story teller.

The king sat on an ebony stool, in a haze of wood smoke, muffled in a
cape of monkey skin embroidered with steel beads; for while it was
summer in America it was winter in his land.  Behind him, in a wide
semicircle against the wattled walls, sat his black councilors, war
captains, and wives, their eyeballs and teeth agleam in the light cast
up by the embers.  On the other side of the fire, the story teller
discoursed from between two warriors who leaned their heads pensively
against the upright shafts of their stabbing spears.

At the story teller's gestures--since gestures were needed to explain
these wonders--chains clanked on his wrists.  The chains had been
fastened upon his arms and legs long ago, when he had begun to struggle
back to health, surviving wounds that even his hardy captors had
expected to prove fatal.  When he fell silent, the councilors,
captains, and women patted their mouths to express their astonishment,
and the king declared:

"A good tale, Bangana.  Do you know still another?"

So Lawrence Teck resumed his entertainment.



CHAPTER XXXI

The house in Westchester County was a pleasant surprise to Lilla.  When
she had gotten rid of some furniture and bric-a-brac whose style or
color irritated her, she found herself in a sympathetic atmosphere,
surrounded, as always, by a harmonious and sophisticated richness.

In the wainscotted hall, which the stained glass of the bay-window on
the staircase landing dappled every day with a prismatic light, a
marble Renaissance mantelpiece supported a mounted knight of the
fifteenth century in stone, a champion who brandished his sword, and
raised his sightless eyes, in an invariable gesture of defiance.
Across the hall from him, a wide doorway opened on the living room,
illuminated from tall windows set with quaint faces in color, and
having at its far end a fine old Flemish tapestry of faded greens and
browns, behind a long table on which stood a bust of a Florentine
noblewoman in polychrome.  High sprays of flowers sprang up, here and
there, above sofas and chairs upholstered in antiquated damask, and
seemed to bring into this spacious room walled with fluted wood the
gayety of the garden, which appeared, behind the leaded windowpanes, a
riot of golden marguerites, Chilean lilies, Chinese larkspur, phlox,
asters, and poppy mallows.

Next, beyond folding doors, stood David's study, a pianoforte between
the mullioned windows, a large carved center table covered with
portfolios and books, the paneled walls hung with framed sheets of
music written and autographed by famous composers.

Upstairs, however, in her own apartment, Lilla had produced an
eighteenth century air.  The walls of her sitting room and bedroom were
remolded in chaste panels of French gray; the new rugs and the canopied
window curtains were the palest orange.  Her desk, the most vivid
object in her sitting room, pleased her especially--a high Venetian
desk of green and gold lacquer with pigeon holes and writing shelf of
gold and red.  She thought of the letters that must have been written
there by women with dark eyes and powdered coiffures.

Then she sighed.  A look of wonder and depression was reflected by a
mirror framed in gilt; and she turned to stare at a vase in which stood
a bouquet of Louis XVI flowers, a soft blending of mauve, faint yellow,
rose, and pale blue, all fashioned out of tin.

"Tin flowers!  Great heavens, what was I thinking of?"

She had only now realized the mockery of them.  She rang for a maid,
and said:

"Throw this thing out."



CHAPTER XXXII

In September David began to write his tone poem, _Marco Polo_.

It was not Marco Polo alone, but every man of extraordinary
aspirations, who took that long journey, through semimythical deserts,
into the realm of the Great Khan, and there for many years lived a life
unrelated to the lives of his boyhood companions.

In far-off Cambulac the Venetian adventurer steeped himself in sights,
odors, and sounds that were the antithesis of those which he had known,
till at last he took on the strangeness of his surroundings.  Yet in
the course of time, though covered with wealth and honors, and
habituated to bizarre delights, he began, with the perversity of human
nature, to long for the land of his birth.  With a sense of necessity
and foreboding he tore himself loose from the paradise of Cambulac,
traversed the deserts again, regained his own house.  None knew him,
for he was old, savory with antipodal spices, outlandishly garbed; and
even his countenance had become like those Oriental faces amid which he
had found unheard-of griefs and joys.  In Venice, his birthplace,
instead of a greeting that might ease his nostalgia, he encountered
disbelief in his identity, and ridicule of his tales.  He could not
make them credulous of that delicious Cambulac where he had dwelt like
a god: his tidings of unearthly felicities--free to all who would make
that journey--fell upon brutish ears.  The very children came to laugh
him to scorn.  So finally, stunned by this ingratitude, cut to the
heart by the gibes of these Venetian wretches to whom he had brought
such fine news, he sank into a stupor, and wondered, as he sat alone in
his shame, whether indeed he had been a great and dazzled man in
Cambulac--which, perhaps, after all, had no existence in reality!

The idea mapped out, there began for David Verne the period of complex
mental tension, of intense concentration, during which an interruption
might scatter forever a sequence of valuable thought.  Lilla, knowing
how great this mental and emotional strain must be, wondered that he
was strong enough to bear it.

But the desire to be to Lilla, despite his infirmity, something that no
other man could be, made him prodigious.  As the tone poem expanded
from this inspiration, he gained still greater impetus from the mere
tonic of success.  Toward the end of October, his asthenia had
diminished enough to allow him to play the piano weakly in three
octaves.

Dr. Fallows, on one of his visits a witness of this achievement, went
out thunderstruck to his car, muttering to himself:

"It is impossible!"

He looked sternly across the sunny garden, where the last of the summer
flowers--giant daisies above beds of tufted pansies--were triumphantly
flaunting themselves.  He had never heard, and he doubted if any one
else had ever heard, of a similar case--the checking and diminishing of
such a prostration.  But, knitting his brows, he pondered on the still
chaotic state of the whole data concerning the "endocrine chain," and
on the fallibility of previous unequivocal pronouncements in the
science of medicine.  He had a slight feeling of deflation, followed by
a glow of curiosity; and he returned into the house to change his
orders about the medicine.

He had been prescribing a solution of arsenic, the dose increasing
little by little toward the point of tolerance.  Now, for the purpose
of experiment, he ordered that the dose was to remain the same.  And in
order to impress his instructions upon the mind of Hamoud-bin-Said, he
said to the Arab severely:

"Remember, not one drop more!"



CHAPTER XXXIII

"Lilla!  Lilla!"

She appeared in the doorway of the study like a muse that David had
summoned by an infallible conjuration.

His day's work was over.  He showed her what he had done.  She leaned
down beside the wheel chair to scan the pages; her fluffy, brown hair
filled with the afternoon sunshine.  And David, in the exhaustion
following his labor, dreamily immersed his senses in the sight of her
pale-brown cheek so close to his, in the persistent strangeness of her
perfume, in the singular cadences of her voice that were always
inspiring new harmonies, and in the caress of her cool, fragile hands
that had drawn him back from death.

"Is it good?"

What he meant was, "Is it good enough to keep you from regrets?"

She understood, pitied him the more, redoubled her tenderness.  And
this wan idyll of theirs, as nearly incorporeal as though she were
indeed an ethereal visitor, took on a new pathos which was accentuated
by the withering of the flowers in the garden, the first hints of the
rigor of winter.

He marveled at her self-immolation in this lonely house.  He wondered
how long such a state of things could last.  Then, summoning back his
new courage, he continued his combat against the unknown rivals, who,
perhaps, had not yet revealed themselves to her, or else had thus far
sent to her only ambiguous and subtle heralds of their coming--a breeze
flavored with the past and promising an imitation of old transports, a
cry of departing birds like a reassurance of the inevitable return, not
only of the spring, but also of natural love.

"What are you reading now?" he would ask her apprehensively; for so
many books were replete with accounts of a different sort of union.

Or, when she had gone to walk through the grounds at sunset, he,
chained to his wheel chair, watched her departing figure with a
sensation of dread, asking himself what thoughts would come to her out
there, under the immense compulsion of the scarlet clouds.

His fears, for lack of any other definite object, often veered toward
her memories.

She rejoined him at dusk, languid from that brief promenade, like those
Eastern women whom Lawrence Teck had once described to her, or like one
who is enervated by a fever stealthily creeping round one at the moment
of tropical twilight.  He saw her eyes misty with shadows which
disappeared as she came forward into the lamplight.

"Yes, she had been thinking of him."

He suspected that she thought of "him" also in the night.

"Don't go yet," he would plead, when she came to his bed, into which
Hamoud-bin-Said had tucked him like a child.  So she sat down; and the
ray of the night lamp fell across her sensitive lips that had felt the
kisses of "the other."  David's thin, romantic, bronzed face, with its
queer comminglement of adolescence and genius, was fortunately in the
shadows cast by the curtains of the bed canopy.

"Ah, how dull it must be for you!  If we had some visitors?
Brantome----"

"No," she said.

"And yet it was through him----"

"What! haven't you seen through him yet?" she returned in a jealous
tone.  And presently, with an accent of fear, as if her intuition had
discerned some serious, unrevealed event of which Brantome was going to
be the cause, "I wish we could have met some other place."

"You dislike him now?"

She responded:

"It was he, you know, who told me of that other woman, the one before
me, who had you when you were well."

She rose, laid a kiss upon his forehead, and went away to her rooms
across the corridor, leaving with him her perfume.



CHAPTER XXXIV

In New York there were two opinions concerning the change in Cornelius
Rysbroek.

From his travels, it seemed, he had acquired a certain temperamental as
well as physical hardness.  He wore habitually a calm, ironical look,
as though, having found life out, he considered it a phenomenon worthy
only of scorn.  He was seen everywhere, fastidiously attired,
self-possessed, taciturn, listening to the chatter of his friends with
sardonic attention, now and then throwing in a blighting comment.  It
was curious that these infrequent remarks of his, even though they had
not remotely referred to her, always ended by bringing the conversation
round to Lilla.  Thereupon he fell silent, smoked one cigarette after
another, and wore a look of indifference and boredom.  At last he would
rise, apparently fatigued by all that trivial gossip, and wander away.

In solitude he became another man.  He would pace the floor for hours,
sometimes all night; and then one might have heard some very peculiar
rigmaroles declaimed aloud, or even shouted out--phrases so jumbled
that they were hardly rational, cries interrupted by groans or
smothered by the grinding of his teeth.  Now and then his valet, on
pushing back the window curtains in the morning, discovered a mirror
smashed, or a book torn to tatters.  There was something shocking in
the calm set of Cornelius Rysbroek's jaws, the languid contempt of his
eyes, as he remarked to the valet, that "there had been a little
accident last night."

Once he burned his right hand severely.  He had hurled a picture of
Lilla into the fire, then, to rescue it, had plunged his arm to the
elbow into the flames.

He often drove his car into Westchester County, round and round a wide
network of roads in the center of which lay the house of David Verne.
Suddenly he entered the highway that passed the tall gateposts of the
detestable place.  He drove faster and faster.  The gateposts were near
at hand.  He bent over the wheel, and, without raising his eyes, sent
the car roaring by, as if escaping through a forest in conflagration.
His visage was covered with sweat; his pupils were full of red lights.
He no longer saw the road, or was conscious of driving.  Miles beyond,
he became aware that he was calling out maledictions: and strangers,
passing at a decent speed, had a vision of a dapper, ghastly wretch who
appeared to be fleeing on the wings of the wind from the clutch of
insanity.



CHAPTER XXXV

Fanny Brassfield, whose country house was not far away, sometimes
dropped in to see Lilla.

"Hello, David," she said, sitting down beside the tea table, and
crossing her knees.  "How's old Marco Polo to-day?"

Her bony cheeks were rosy from the cold wind; her green eyes glittered
with health; and her whole countenance, under a tilted, putty-colored
toque, expressed her full satisfaction with what she had found in life.
She had no nerves, no remorse nor thwarted ambitions.  Because of her
wealth, unscrupulousness, and small imagination, her one constant
craving--for novel experiences--was easily satisfied.  A long cigarette
holder between her thin lips, one putty-colored lisle stocking showing
to the knee, she exhaled, together with an odor of Florentine
orris-root, a ruthless vigor and appetency for pleasure.  Lilla thought
with envy of all this woman had never imagined nor felt, all that she
had been able to enjoy without self-questioning.

How simple life was for some people!

"I'm giving a little party.  No doubt it's useless to ask you----"

Fanny Brassfield interrupted herself to stare at Hamoud-bin-Said, who
had entered the room without a sound.

He had on a long, dark-blue joho, or robe, embellished down its open
front with a tracery of gold.  Underneath he wore the kanzu, the under
robe of fine white cotton, embroidered round the neck with a bit of red
needlework, and reaching to his boots of soft, black leather.  Bound
his waist was a blue-and-gold sash, from which protruded the silver
hilt of his J-shaped Zanzibar dagger.  His head was covered, as always
in the house, with a white embroidered skullcap.  In one small hand he
held a Venetian goblet, in the other a bottle of medicine.

It was the hour for Dr. Fallows' prescription.

"Really," Fanny Brassfield exclaimed, in her high-pitched, insolent
voice, "I must get myself one of these--what is he again?  Zanzibari?"

Hamoud, towering there in the attire of an Omân gentleman--which she
took for a specially effective livery--contemplated the great Mrs.
Brassfield.  His full eyelids were dreamily lowered over his lustrous
eyes.  His long, straight nose seemed narrower than usual, perhaps from
disdain.  But his clear-cut carnelian mouth, vivid between his faint
mustache and his delicate beard, did not change expression, although he
was calling the great Mrs. Brassfield a female beneath the contempt of
a Muscat slaver, the progeny of camels and alley dogs, and other names
besides.  As if regretfully he turned away to David Verne, measured out
the solution of arsenic, and presented the goblet, a tapering treasure
covered with gilt and crimson protuberances, an antique that had stood
before men in the wave-lapped palaces of Venice, brimming with Greek
wine, or maybe with Renaissance poison.

David Verne himself raised the goblet.

"Dr. Fallows has really done wonders, hasn't he?"

"Wonders," Lilla echoed with a smile.

In the hall, as she was leaving, Fanny Brassfield said to Lilla:

"By the way, Anna Zanidov is in town.  She was asking after you."

Without moving, Lilla murmured slowly:

"Ah, she wants to tell my fortune again, perhaps?"

"She stopped doing that.  It got too uncanny.  You know yourself that
everything she ever predicted came to pass.  Including three deaths;
that is, two besides----"

"One must believe that she sees it," Lilla assented, and, frozen by her
thoughts, shuddered violently.  "Yes, too uncanny!  She did well to
give it up."

"Especially as people were getting to be afraid of her," said Fanny
Brassfield, while passing through the front doorway.



CHAPTER XXXVI

While David worked behind the closed doors of the study, Lilla, sitting
down in a damask-covered chair, tried to concentrate her mind on the
new books from New York.

She skimmed the novels to the point where the lovers had their first
embrace, then turned to poems by women, which were pervaded with a
melancholy derived perhaps from disillusionment.  As a corrective she
read the books on world politics, economics, esthetic philosophy.  In
these last she found, eloquently expressed, the most characteristic
argument of the times--a persuasion to that self-abandonment which
follows materialism and moral skepticism, an announcement that
happiness lay in a religion of the senses, in becoming, indeed,
"divinely animal."

As she laid down the book, there returned to her the words that a young
Roman had poured into her ears one night on Lake Como:

"The splendors of this world and our acceptance of them.  Not to
question, but to feel, with these feelings of ours that a thousand
generations have made so complex."

Of a sudden New York rose before her, bathed in the glitter from its
lights, ringing with music and laughter.  She saw the multitudes of
pleasure seekers streaming hither and thither, immersing themselves in
startling hues and sounds, in abnormal spectacles and freshly
discovered impulses, which the priests of this new-old cult provided
for them benignly in ever more exacerbating forms and combinations.
There, possibly, amid those emotions gradually approaching a Dionysiac
frenzy, was the logical Mecca of her long pilgrimage, the end of all
this hunger for sensuous reactions--for the pleasures that came from
strange fragrances and harmonies, from contacts with precious fabrics
and the patina of perfect porcelains, from the perception of matchless
color in painted canvas and gems, or from the grace that was fluent in
the moving bodies of human beings and beasts?

She rose, turning away from those books, and from the room full of
objects whose textures were finer and more lasting than flesh.
Crossing the hall, she entered the fernery, where palms rose against
the stone arches of the windows, and hanging baskets overflowed with
long tendrils above a wicker couch that was covered with red cushions.
It was the last refuge of the flowers.  Beyond the leaded panes some
snowflakes were floating down upon the flagstone paths of the garden.

Her gaze was attracted to some potted roses languishing in a corner.

She recalled having read somewhere, "The color is in us, not in the
rose."  She fell to wondering about the miracle of sight, in fact of
all the senses, through which one derived from vibrations a seeming
impression of surrounding things, and called this impression reality.

Of what nature were those vibrations?  Did they truly explain the
objects from which they issued?  Suppose the senses caught only the
least of them, or misinterpreted them?  In that case one might be
surrounded by things wholly different from what one believed them to
be, awesome things which might be either exquisite or frightful.  She
stood horrified by this thought.  The familiar world seemed to be
dissolving in a mist, just as in her childhood: and through the mist
she perceived immense, vague apparitions, at once monstrous and
beautiful.

"Ah! why must these things come to me?  What crime have I ever
committed?"

The huge, invisible cat was resuming its play with the mouse.

"Yes," she thought, "the capacity for pleasure is balanced by the
capacity for suffering.  The more subtle our happy sensations, the more
piercing our painful ones.  Yet the thrill from pleasure is gradually
deadened by repetition, and finally, with the passage of time, the
senses no longer feel it; but all the while that pleasure is
diminishing, pain increases.  After all, what a tragical farce!  Is
there nothing else, nothing better?"

Lilla began again to shrink from life, to mistrust it.

She suffered from trivial, groundless fears, which she magnified, then
abruptly forgot.  Growing thinner, she found herself enervated as in
the days of her mourning for Lawrence Teck, and all the while something
at once indefinite and priceless seemed to be lost to her.  In the
midst of her sadness she would have fleeting perceptions of blue water,
felucca sails, a town on the edge of a lake--maybe Lausanne--a room
where she sat obediently asleep in a deep leather chair.

Now and again she woke in the morning with dim impressions of having
dreamed a dream of inexpressible grandeur, of supernatural joy, in some
place that she could not remember, and with some person whose face she
could not recall.  But as soon as she was wide awake all recollections
of the dream passed away.  She found herself burdened with the same
unaccountable distress that she had taken to bed with her last night.

"All this preoccupation with myself!  It must end to-day."

She determined to lose herself in David, to live and think and feel for
him alone.



CHAPTER XXXVII

In the forests of the Mambava, in groves of banana trees, the peaked,
thatched roofs of Muene-Motapa's stronghold rose in concentric circles
round the royal houses.

Here, all day long, one heard the bleating of goats and fat-tailed
sheep, the coo and whirr of pigeons, the thump of wooden mortars in
which the women, their nude bodies covered with intricate designs of
scars, were grinding millet.  At times these noises were pierced by the
clatter of little hammers, with which the smiths were beating into
spear blades the lumps of iron smelted in rude furnaces from
ferriferous quartz.  It was an hereditary art.  Who had taught it to
them?  Perhaps the hook-nosed voyagers from the Phoenician coast, who
had bequeathed to them also a nebulous religious awe of fire, of the
sun, and also of the moon, personified in legend by a pale, ardent,
supernatural woman of surpassing beauty.

In their low verandas the warriors reclined at full length, their
bangles of copper jingling as they reached out their hands toward the
calabashes full of palm wine, or the smoking gourds charged with hemp.
At the gate of the king's stockade the guards sat with their stabbing
spears across their knees, surrounded by wolflike dogs and naked
children with distended abdomens.

It was in the royal enclosure that Lawrence Teck had endured his
captivity.

Beside him, waking and sleeping, there remained two guards, so that in
Muene-Motapa's capital there was a lucid riddle, "What is it that casts
three shadows?"  Those two prehistoric warriors were aware of an
incomprehensible great value locked up in the captive's mind; yet at
his first false movement they would have slaughtered him, destroying
cheerfully, like many others before them, what they could never hope to
understand.  However, they were kind to him, holding palm leaves over
his head when he crossed the courtyards in the blaze of the sun,
cooling his wrists when he fell ill with fever, and at night, if they
spoke to each other across his body, keeping their voices low so as not
to break his sleep.  King Muene-Motapa had said to them long ago:

"If he escapes, you shall be beaten to death with sticks; but if he
tells me that you have not treated him respectfully, soldier ants shall
eat you alive."

For despite his chains, Lawrence Teck was the chosen friend of the king.

Muene-Motapa had been fond of him even before the drunken riot in which
he got his wounds.  This friendship had then become a proprietary
emotion, a compound of affection, remorse, the fear of revenge, and
even a sort of proselytizing zeal mixed up with self-interest.
Muene-Motapa hoped that in time his prisoner would renounce all desire
for the white world, embrace the beliefs and habits of the Mambava,
become a subtle counselor in diplomacy as well as in wars of conquest.
In short, those tales of the lands beyond these forests--the wiles of
Islam, the methods by which the Europeans were eating up Africa--had
revived in the king the incoherent and grandiose dreams of his youth.
In this captive, whom he would some day make his brother, co-priest,
and fellow general, he had found the knowledge to supplement his force,
and make himself invincible.

So, night after night he repeated the same plea, sitting in the royal
pavilion, across the fire from the white man whose guards had been sent
out of doors.

Muene-Motapa was tall, muscular, bold of gesture and fierce of face.
His word was life and death.  Day and night he was surrounded by
chiefs, councilors, wizards, and royal ladies who roared with laughter
when he smiled, gnashed their teeth when he frowned, accompanied his
every comment with moans of admiration and a soft snapping of their
fingers.  They were round him now, aligned against the wattled walls,
behind the film of wood smoke; breathlessly awaiting the sound of his
deep voice.

He began, in a chanting tone, to rehearse the past glories of the
blacks.  He spoke of that great ancestor of his, that other
Muene-Motapa, whose kingdom had extended from the country of the
Bushmen to the Indian Ocean, and from Nyasaland to Delagoa Bay.  Then
the white men had come.

"The flies destroyed the horses.  The fevers burned up the men.  Those
who survived, my forefathers pierced with their spears.  Have I shown
you the trophies, Bangana, the hats of steel, the corselets of steel,
the guns that one fires by lighting a string?  My forefathers gave
those things to their children for toys, and grass grew through the
bones of those white men.  But there came more, and more, and more,
swarming over all the land, till now my country alone is free from
them.  Shall that be?  Have I eaten rabbits?  Am I some village
headman?  When I stamp my foot seven thousand spearmen spring from the
ground.  I am Muene-Motapa!"

In the crimson glow from the ashes the chieftains, the councilors, and
the wizards raised their faces which were convulsed with rage.  The
wattled walls hurled back a deafening chorus of war cries.

The king drank from a gourdful of cashew-brandy, wiped his lips, and
shouted:

"Consent, Bangana!  Consent, Mfondolo, who might be my brother lion,
pouncing upon army after army, as the lion pounces upon the antelope.
I have shown you the Zimbabwe, the stone cities of the ancients.  With
slaves we will dig the gold out of the quartz reefs, buy guns from the
Arabs, and drive these little yellow-skinned white men back into the
sea.  We two will rule over the land of my ancestors, the kingdom of
the first Muene-Motapa.  Through your mouth we will treat with the
English, the Arabs, and all the world as equals.  I will not kill you,
because you will be my mind.  Besides, I love you."

At a wave of his hand, behind the veils of smoke the women of the royal
household rose and departed, their symmetrically scarred torsoes
shining with oil, so that they resembled statues of polished bronze.
They were slender, graceful, informed with the gentleness of those
reared in the shadow of royalty, showing profiles that suggested the
faces chiseled on Semitic monuments.  Fringes of bark cloth hung down
from their yellow girdles to their knees; over their breasts dangled
strings of pearls and amber beads from Bazaruto; each wore on the
middle of her forehead a charm intended to make her fortunate in
marriage.  They left behind them an odor of cheap German perfumes,
which Mohammedan traders had brought to the edge of these forests.

When they had passed beyond earshot--for the mention of sacred things
was not to be thought of while women sat within hearing--the king
continued:

"What more can I do to show you that I love you, Bangana?  I have
initiated you into the mysteries of my people.  You know the ceremonies
of the dead, of those who become of age.  I have shown you where the
fire is kept from which, once a year, all the fires in my kingdom are
rekindled.  I have told you which mountains and streams are holy.  I
have admitted you even into the secret of my own divinity.  Nay, I have
done still more.  I have let you see my people dance for the Lady of
the Moon."

There was a silence.

Lawrence Teck remained as before, his bearded face bowed down; but a
slight tremor of horror passed through his shoulders under the
sun-blackened skin.

The Dances of the Moon!  Yes, he had seen them, one time when he was
weak from fever and despair.  All the frightfulness of Africa had then
been made manifest to him at last, as if the very soul of destruction
had condensed itself out of the vapors, venoms and invisible menaces of
these primeval forests, to assume, for one night, a horde of nearly
human shapes.  But he shuddered not at his memory of that spectacle,
but at its effect on him--an effect that he had denied with a
passionate, clanking gesture of his chained arms, yet that had remained
in the depths of his brain like a serpent, which had always slept till
then, and had ever since been gnawing at his thoughts.

He recalled the deafening thunder of the drums, the glare and the
blood, the moon peering down through the branches like the face of a
perverse divinity pale from pride, and the thought that had come to him
there, in his sickness and lonely hopelessness--that while some in a
fit of decrepitude and despair might turn to God, others might turn to
the oblivion promised by evil.

Raising his head, he called out in a voice as strong as the king's:

"Still dreaming, Muene-Motapa?  Awake, and let me go!"

The king leaped to his feet, to pace the earthen floor.  His kilt of
leopards' paws swayed from side to side; his amulets jingled; his
shaven head glistened amid the shadows, like an ebony ball.  His court
bowed their naked bodies, muttering:

"Father of elephants!  He shall stamp on this man, and his foot shall
shake the whole earth!"

Muene-Motapa bitterly asked his captive:

"Is there not always rich meat, and beer and brandy in season?  I have
also hundreds of women who are young, as slender as palm trees, with
teeth like milk.  I will buy women from the Arabs, with red or tawny
skin and straight hair like waterfalls.  I will send men to steal the
women of Mozambique--white women with hair brighter than firelight.
Why do you not marry my little sisters, my brother?  They pine away for
you.  Or is it wealth?  I know the little bible that you carry in that
pouch!  When you look into it, you remember all the quartz reefs in the
gorges of the mountains beyond my forests, with their veins of gold and
of gray and yellow copper; and the river sands full of gold; and the
places where you have seen the iron that draws iron, and the tin, and
the black grease.  But I have already told you that you shall be rich.
What is the matter with you, Bangana?  Are you deaf?"

He squatted down before Lawrence Teck, and thrust forward his angry
face; and his pendent, pear-shaped earrings of jasper, which some
Phoenician adventurer had worn perhaps four thousand years ago,
quivered as he shouted with all his might:

"Are you deaf, I say?  Shall I open your ears with a spear point?"

He stared in stupefaction at Lawrence Teck's stony countenance, then
suddenly burst into sobs.

"See how I love him!" he moaned, "and yet he hates me; and I shall
never be great."

The prisoner thought to himself, "Now, if ever, is the time."  He laid
his hands on the shoulders of the king with a movement at once
commanding and compassionate.  All the courtiers stopped weeping to
gasp in consternation at this sacrilege; one or two stood up; and in
the shadows a blade of steel returned the crimson gleam of the embers.

Lawrence Teck said gently, as if talking to a child:

"Alas! my brother, I should lead you only to some death unbefitting a
king.  You were happy before you made me your captive; these chains
have tormented you as much as me.  Strike them off, and let me go.
Forget me, and free yourself from vain thoughts."

"I should not forget you, Bangana," the king responded in a small, thin
tone, as though the virile resonance of his voice had passed away with
all his naïve and grandiose hopes.  "All those tales!  To whom shall I
listen now at night?  Besides, it has been good to see you here every
day; for you alone in these forests have really understood my
heart--and have stabbed it to death with your wisdom."

He pondered dismally, while the councilors and chieftains wept out his
unexpressed grief, so that the whole pavilion was filled with their
full-throated sobbing.

"Will you ever return, Bangana?"

"Why not?  To persuade you to peace instead of war.  To make treaties
for the passage of my workmen through your forests to the new mines,
and to give your people work if they will accept it."

The king closed his eyes.

"All that again!  What are these white man's promises?  Have they made
the other tribes happy in their slavery?  No, my face will be glad when
you return to see me; but never ask me to let the white foot wedge
itself in the door of my country.  There would only be a great battle
without you to help me in it.  I and my race, if we cannot be mighty,
at least will die free men."

He rose from his heels, and in a strangling voice called out to the
guards, who came headlong, stooping, through the low entrance of the
pavilion, with bared teeth and darting spears.

"Strike off the chains from my brother!" shouted Muene-Motapa, as one
should say, "Slay my dreams!"

Then he stalked away, to sit alone in darkness.  Next day, with an
escort of Mambava warriors, Lawrence Teck set out for the coast.

At the bidding of the king, to do honor to the white man who was
leaving them, they had put on their gala paint, and their plumed
headgear bound under their chins with fur lappets.  Their bangles made
a cheerful clatter as they marched along the dim trails between the
enormous trees.  They carried food for two weeks.

Emerging from the forests, they saw the lowlands steaming in the heat;
for while it was winter in America, here it was summer.

They traversed plateaux that were dotted with islets of jungle, plains
covered with flowers and drenched with torrential rains, misty marshes
that suggested landscapes of the Paleozoic Age.  They saw sodden herds
of zebras, the tracks of leopards, acacia trees uprooted by elephants.
In a glade filled with blossoms of every color they came upon a family
of lions, one of which they headed off and deftly killed with their
spears.

The plumes of the warriors bobbed along in single file; at sunset the
spear blades seemed still wet with blood.  They raised their long
shields, adorned with crude geometrical designs, and sang for the white
man a rambling song of parting.

"But he will return some day to bask in the countenance of
Muene-Motapa."

They all took up the refrain:

"To bask in the countenance of Muene-Motapa!"

Their voices rose strongly, full of exultation.  On a branch above
them, a python, awakened by those vibrations, revealed itself in an
iridescent gliding of its coils.

Suddenly, on the edge of a jungle of bamboo, they stood still.  Far off
appeared the bastions of a fort, of whitewashed stone, mottled and
streaked with green.  A flag was hanging limply from the flagstaff.

His two shadows, in bidding him farewell, began to weep, their tears
running over the white grease paint with which their cheeks were
bedaubed.  They turned away with a choking cry:

"Farewell!"

"Farewell!" all the other warriors uttered in unison, fiercely, at the
top of their voices.  Their howl passed over his head, like a defiance,
toward the distant fort.

So Lawrence Teck returned to civilization.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

The commandant of the district, a melancholy, flaccid man with a
saffron-colored visage that looked like a half-deflated balloon, a
martyr to prickly heat, anaemia, and monotony, peered up from under the
moving punkah, to inquire of his subordinate in the doorway:

"He is still sitting there alone?"

"In the same position," the subordinate assented.

"I wish now that I hadn't shown it to him," said the commandant of Fort
Pero d'Anhaya, the district judge, the chief of the public works, the
receiver of taxes, the collector of revenues, the postmaster, the poor
exile prematurely aged by the African sun, the sorry "hero on the
outposts of civilization."

The subordinate shrugged his shoulders, and retorted:

"They would have told him on the coast."

"No doubt," said the commandant, giving the other a veiled look of
animosity, expressing thus a little of that loathing which had
gradually come to embrace everything habitual to this pitiless and
violently beautiful land.  And when the subordinate had withdrawn, he
muttered to himself, as he returned to his apathetic contemplation of
the papers on his desk, "All the same, an ideal!  And I killed it for
him a few days before there was any real need."

The moist heat of the equatorial summer penetrated the embrasures of
the fort, and made stifling even the dim, whitewashed room where
Lawrence Teck was sitting.  Dusky from the sun, and seeming more
aquiline than ever in his gauntness, he remained like an effigy in the
suit of white duck that hung round him in loose folds, without so much
as a movement of his eyes.  His hand rested on a tattered copy of an
English journal.

The commandant had extracted this journal from a pile of newspapers and
magazines of half a dozen countries, all thumbed and ragged from
perusals that had embraced the most trivial advertisements, and all
still precious because by their aid one's spirit could fly home.  This
London journal contained at the bottom of a page, amid some gossip
about music in America, the announcement that "the widow of Lawrence
Teck, the explorer," had married the young composer, David Verne.

Raising his eyes at last toward the casement in the embrasure, Lawrence
Teck saw, against a glaring turquoise sky, the fronds of a borassus
palm, which seemed, like all the rest of nature, to be sleeping.  He
leaped to his feet, realizing that he was in Africa, still far from the
coast, and that at this moment, in another hemisphere----

The walls, the sleeping borassus palm, the patch of sky, all became red.

He walked to and fro, saying to himself in what seemed a jocular tone:

"Didn't wait long.  A composer.  Think of that!"

He stood still, his bearded face upturned toward the casement.  He let
out a peal of laughter that froze the blood of the white-robed servants
who had been dozing in the stone corridor.  They crept beyond earshot
of the stranger who, with his hips wrapped in bark cloth, had suddenly
appeared on the rim of the safe world against a background of shields
painted with the devices of the terrible Mambava.

But Lawrence Teck quickly recovered an external impassiveness.  He sat
down, and considered:

"How naïve I was.  That's when the sentimentalism gushes out, at the
end of long journeys, at the novelty of elegance and sophistication.
One deifies them then: one gives them a place much larger than they
ought to take up in life.  How Muene-Motapa would laugh!  He, virtually
a Neolithic man, never sinks below manly thoughts: his ambitions are
never enfeebled by the malady of sentimental love.  So when he suffers
it is like a man, not like a descendant of medieval mystics and
_cavalieri serventi_."

His body relaxed, and he muttered:

"A bit of romance for her in imitation of some favorite play or book.
An emotional hour with the man from Africa--and now a musical fellow."

After a sharp expulsion of his breath he resumed that immobility which
extended even to his eyes.  He recalled the thoughts of her that had
filled his captivity, all his memories of their union which had gained,
from "the pathos of distance," and from the passage of time, an
immaterial, an ideal, nobility, till at last, in the poetic fancy of
his lonely heart, she had become more remote and diffuse than the
moonlight on the mountain peaks, more intoxicating and elusive than the
odors of the equatorial flowers, an influence rather than a woman, a
vague hope, a sort of sanative faith.

It was, he reflected, all one with the romanticism that had driven him
to those many wanderings, the longing for what was so dissimilar to him
and yet intensely congenial--the magical deserts where one suffered
from heat and thirst, the gaudy jungles where death lay in wait for
one, the woman who concealed beneath an appearance of perfection an
incapacity for a decent period of grief.  Ah, there was the perfidy
more deadly to him than all the plagues and vipers and weapons of
Africa!

He felt a profound revulsion from his own nature, which was flawed with
this sentimentalism, this jejune expectancy.  At nightfall, rising
wearily from his chair, he wondered how he was to go on living with
himself.

"And after all is it her fault?  I was dead.  No doubt she shed some
tears.  Because I loved her I expected too much of her."

Through the casement he saw a world fading away beneath clouds as black
as ink.  A purplish-gray wall of rain was swiftly approaching the fort.
A pink fork of lightning stood out against the clouds: the crash of
thunder was followed by a noise like a thousand waterfalls; and
everything turned black.

The rolling thunder recalled to him the thunder of the Mambava drums at
the Dances of the Moon; and in the darkness he remembered the voice of
Muene-Motapa pleading with him to cast off the old, to become a new
man, to return amid the black forebears of mankind, kill hope and even
conscience, forget and be at peace.  In the turmoil of the storm around
the fort and in his breast he even seemed to see the king in apparition
before him, and to hear the words:

"Consent, Bangana.  Consent."

"Bah! as if anything in life were worth all this.  All sound and fury;
all pompous silliness like this storm.  Presently there will not be an
echo or a trace of it."

He found the door, burst out into the corridor, then walked sedately
under the flickering lamps toward the commandant's rooms.  That
yellow-visaged man jumped up from behind his desk, stammering:

"Yes, it's dinner time."

The candles on the dinner table jarred at the peals of thunder; but
Lawrence Teck sat impassive.  Toward the end of the meal he vouchsafed:

"Have you reported my showing up?"

"I was going to put it on the wire to-morrow morning."

"If it could be arranged I should like to precede the news to America."

The commandant, without knowing why, felt a touch of alarm.

"Then I'll send my report direct to the governor, and mark it
confidential at your request."

That night the commandant, lying under his mosquito net, wakeful from
prickly heat, was haunted by the face of Lawrence Teck.  "She must be
very beautiful," he sighed.  "Why didn't they print her picture?"  And
he occupied himself with trying to imagine what she looked like.

By the time he was falling asleep he had decided that she must have
yellow hair and large, blue eyes.  Just as he dozed off he had a
ravishing impression of her--a composite of an Austrian arch-duchess,
whose likeness he had admired in a periodical, and a Neapolitan singer
who had overwhelmed him in a music hall at home, long ago, when the
world had seemed a place stored with love, fame, and wealth, instead of
with prickly heat, malaria, and shiny, black faces.

"My angel!" breathed the poor commandant of Fort Pero d'Anhaya,
sleeping for the first time in many a night with an infantile smile on
his countenance that suggested a half-deflated balloon.



CHAPTER XXXIX

Hamoud, wearing the blue robe edged with gold embroidery, and carrying
in his right hand the Venetian goblet, was half-way out of the
living-room when David Verne resumed:

"No, you must really go about more, or you will begin to hate me."

The young Arab paused beyond the living-room door, his handsome head
inclined to one side, waiting for the response--not for the words, but
for the mere tone of her voice.  He heard:

"While you are holding your own, and working so well, I am happy."

Hamoud closed his eyes, in order to let those silvery vibrations occupy
his whole consciousness.  Then, staring before him, he went swiftly
across the wainscotted hall with his lithe, noiseless step, escaping
before that other voice could break the spell.

David Verne, in his wheel chair that stood beside a tall lamp, gave her
a furtive look, before continuing:

"Is it always happiness that I discover on your face?  Is that what you
show me when you raise your eyes blankly from some book, or return from
the garden after those lonely walks of yours in the twilight?  Or is it
pity, not only for me, but also for yourself?  Is it then that you see
clearly what you've let yourself in for--what that divine impulse of
yours has brought you to?"

"David!" she protested, her nerves contracting at this threat of a
scene that must lacerate both their hearts.

But he persisted:

"I don't disbelieve what you told me about Rysbroek.  It's not he that
I'm jealous of.  I can even believe that there's no other living man in
your thoughts.  The powers that I can never hope to conquer don't have
to exist in the present, in order to frighten me.  They have only to
exist in the past and in the future.  Of course the man who is dead
will always triumph over me by comparison.  And some day, since mortals
are bound to strive for a duplication of their happiest moments,
another will appear to promise you that duplication."

How young he seemed in the light of the tall lamp, despite all his
former physical sufferings and his present anxieties!  Again there was
a look of childish pain on his lips, and in his large eyes humid
beneath the brow that harbored thoughts of a magnificent precocity.
Again compassion filled her at sight of this weakness, this
helplessness.  She returned:

"How can you say such things?  When I refuse to go anywhere, because
you couldn't go with me without being bored----"

"You mean, without feeling my inferiority."

"Is it inferiority to be the great artist that you are?  What
wickedness!  You, with your genius, aren't satisfied, but envy those
commonplace men because their bodies move easily from place to place.
Can their minds soar up like yours?"

"Perhaps not--nor sink into such depths."

She rose, to approach the long window against which the night had
plastered its blackness.  He watched her inevitably graceful passage
from the light into the shadows, and her nervous attitude, as she stood
with averted face, staring out through the lustrous glass.  She was
glamorous with the material elegance that always ended by deriding him.
She was agitated by who knew what secret thoughts in accordance with
that involuntary withdrawal--the movement of a prisoner toward the
window of a cell.

"Let's not deny the facts of life," he began again.  "Or pretend with
each other.  Pity doesn't make one incorporeal.  All your angelic
compassion can't transform you from a woman into an angel, especially
when you see, at every glance in your mirror, the charms that a moment
of generosity has made futile."

She came to him quickly, knelt down beside the wheel chair, and put
round him her bare, slender arms.

"Don't you know that I love you, David?"

"There are so many kinds of love," he sighed, gazing at her dark eyes
that once had flamed with passion, at her fragile lips that had uttered
such words as he was never to hear, at her whole pale-brown countenance
that would never express for him what it had expressed for the other.

"I want nothing else," she affirmed, in a voice wherein no one could
have found any insincerity.

"Perhaps you believe even that.  But when it comes to you, then you'll
realize what a trap I've caught you in."  He gave her a look of horror.
"Why did you go there that afternoon to Brantome's?  When you saw me
there, sitting alone in the shadows, dying with no weight on my
conscience, why didn't you leave me alone?  But maybe you had no idea
of the effect you were going to produce on me--that your look, and
voice, and mind, were what I'd always been waiting for.  Or since you
had come there why couldn't my conscience die at the moment when you
made me live again?  But instead of dying, my conscience is becoming
more and more alive."

He bit his lips to keep back a groan.  She declared:

"You're harming yourself again.  You won't be able to work to-morrow."

"What is my work worth, if it dooms you to this?"  Presently he said in
a quiet tone, "It would be easy to free you."

"Ah, you are horrible!"

"Don't be afraid.  If there is anywhere beyond this life, anything in
the nature of a heaven, it would seem inferior to this house, where I
can see you without possessing the love that you're capable of, and
hear your voice utter these incredible reassurances.  Yes, my
conscience torments me, but not enough for that.  While I may, I'll
hold on to you and to life, even when I feel sure that your thoughts
are turning elsewhere, and even if it comes to pass that your bodily
self must follow those thoughts.  For as your pity returns, so must you
return to me.  What a weapon I've found in pity!  What a victory it
will bring me!  Some other man may end by winning yourself; but I, as
long as I can keep my grip on life, will cling to this ghost of you!"

"Do you do this just in order to drive me mad?" she cried.

"No, you would understand if you could see into my soul.  All its
surgings and clashings, its vortexes of pain and joy, the anguish that
somehow produces an audible beauty, and the ecstasies that are struck
mute by these fears!  If I could explain all that, you would forgive me
for these moments that are beyond my control.  But I can't explain it.
Not even in my music.  One is always alone with one's heart."

Taking his twitching face between her hands, she showed him her eyes
filled with tears.

"But I do understand," she protested.

If she did, it was because she also was alone.

That night, as she was going to her own room, she saw Hamoud in the
upper corridor.  Something forlorn and lost in his exotic aspect struck
through her sadness: she remembered how far from home this exile was,
how far removed also from the rank to which he had been born.  She
hesitated, then asked remorsefully:

"Do you hate me, Hamoud?"

He turned pale, standing before her with the wall light shining upon
his face of a young caliph.

"I, madam?"

"Well, for what I've got you into: this service, which must distress
you every day.  But what was there to do?  It offered itself when
I--you, too, I suppose--could think of nothing else."

Hamoud-bin-Said, paler than ever, replied in Arabic:

"You are sorry for me because I have lost my heshma, my prestige?  It
is part of the divine wisdom, the foreordained plan of my life.  All
things happen for the best.  The house is warm, so that one does not
feel the winter.  There is food, so that one does not starve.
Therefore, my body is at peace----"  He paused to compress his
carnelian lips, before concluding serenely, "And as for my soul, it
rests as always in the palm of God, like a bird waiting to be taught
its ways."



CHAPTER XL

When Lilla and David went driving through the country, Hamoud prowled
all over the house.

He entered the study, to stare at the autographed music framed on the
walls, the manuscript strewn over the center table, the open piano.  A
look of contempt appeared upon his face: for one reason, perhaps,
because he belonged to the Ibathi sect, who looked askance at music,
disdaining even the cantatas about the Birth of the Prophet.  He went
out of the study in a rage, slammed the folding doors behind him, and
stood eyeing the damask-covered chair in which she usually sat.

He recalled the old tales of the lovers, he a Mohammedan and she a
Christian, who always fled away on a magic carpet to the safety of
Islam.

If it was an hour appointed for prayer, he went up to his room, closed
the door, took the Koran out of his Zanzibar box, a carved and brightly
painted chest bound with iron and furnished with padlocks.  He opened
the Koran, but recited the verses from memory, trying to feel behind
the words the esoteric meanings expounded in the commentaries.  This
done, he took out from his bosom the talisman that he wore attached to
a silver chain--a silver disc having on one side a square made up of
sacred characters, and on the other side the seal of Solomon.  The
talisman recalled to him the careless days of good fortune; and he
became homesick.

Thereupon he produced a little censer, kindled a piece of charcoal, and
sprinkled the coal with aloes, gum incense, and musk.  Sitting on his
heels, with the censer between his small hands, he lowered his face
toward the fumes, became drunk with sad memories.  His tears hissed on
the red coal, and through a glittering film he saw the ancestral house,
the blush of the clove trees, the deep blue sea with the dhows slipping
out toward Muscat.  He dried his eyes, put everything away, concealed
in his palm a tiny, empty, square vial of glass enameled with gold.  He
appeared in the corridor, calm, stately, giving a passing housemaid a
look of scorn.

When all was silent he entered Lilla's rooms.  Hamoud drew in through
his expanded nostrils the unique fragrance of this place, and trembled
as he looked round him at the walls of French gray, the faintly orange
hangings, all the charming objects that were so artfully arranged.  He
passed into her bedroom, stood pensive before the dressing table whose
mirrors were accustomed to reflect her, reached out to touch the
handles of her brushes, as if expecting them to be still warm from her
hands.  He remembered the tiny empty vial, at the same moment that he
heard the car returning.

Lilla, on entering her bedroom, found the air heavier than usual with
her perfume.  It occurred to her that one of the servants must have
been taking some; and she was vexed to think that a housemaid should go
to meet a sweetheart wearing the fragrance that a Viennese expert in
odors had concocted "to express her special temperament."



CHAPTER XLI

Now and then, craving a glimpse of the gay streets and the shops, Lilla
went into town "to see that everything was all right" in the house on
lower Fifth Avenue, or else, "to make sure that Parr was comfortable."

One afternoon, at a stoppage of the traffic her limousine came side by
side with that of Fanny Brassfield, who persuaded her to look in at a
horse show.

She found herself in a box on the edge of an arena, amid a concourse of
people whose unrelated movements and chatter combined in a species of
visible and audible mist, which encircled the spread of tan bark.  In
the midst of everything, in the dusty glitter that poured down from the
high roof, horses and men were moving like automata.  The thud of the
hoofs was lost in a great buzzing of voices.  The odor of stables was
impregnated with the scent of winter flowers and sachets.

Round Lilla there was an accentuated stir.  Even across the arena some
women were staring through their glasses.  The reporters came hurriedly
to verify the rumor that it was she.  Those who were promenading below
the boxes walked more slowly, feasting their eyes on her.

She eat proudly erect, her fur-trimmed cloak drawn round her tightly;
and none could have suspected the confusion of her brain after so much
solitude.

Fanny Brassfield's piercing voice struck through the fanfare of a bugle:

"Look here, Lilla, I'm giving quite a dinner tonight.  You stay in town
for once, and have a little fun.  We can stop and buy you a perfect
gown that I saw yesterday----"

And when Lilla had shaken her head, the blonde, lean temptress
exclaimed in exasperation:

"I declare, you're no good to anybody any more!"

A sleek-looking man in riding clothes stepped down into the box.  Fanny
Brassfield, who had been craning her neck indignantly, disregarded his
outstretched hand to give his arm a push, while crying out:

"Go get her for me, Jimmy.  Anna Zanidov.  There, with those people in
the aisle."

The Russian woman appeared before them in a black turban and a
voluminous black cloak.  Her flat, vermilion lips were parted in a
social smile; but her Tartar eyes remained inscrutable.  Her face,
wedge-shaped, dead white, with its look of being made from some
material more rigid than flesh, was as startling as the countenance of
an Oriental image, in its frame of glossy black fur.  Sitting down, she
assumed that close-kneed hieratic attitude habitual to her, which made
Lilla see her once more in the barbarically painted evening gown, amid
superstitious women breathless from awe.

"Do you care for this idolatry?" Madame Zanidov asked Lilla, in her
precise English.  "But then after all so few are here to worship the
animals.  Perhaps rather to be worshipped," she suggested pleasantly,
casting her glance over Lilla's face and costume.

All around her, indeed, Lilla could see the pretty women in their
slate-gray and rust-colored cloaks, in their rakish little toques from
under which their sophisticated eyes peeped out in search of homage.
Some had the expression of those for whom love is an assured phenomenon
solving all questions.  Others seemed to be waiting impatiently for its
advent or its departure.  But all, Lilla thought, looked assured either
of its persistence or its recurrence.  Amid them she felt as isolate as
a ghost.

The men approached them with confident smiles, long limbed, with
leisurely and supple movements, smart in their heavy tweeds or riding
breeches that suggested habits of strenuous exertion.  When they
removed their hats, one saw their close-clipped heads bending forward
confidentially toward the fair faces: and their eyes slowly followed
the eyes of the women who were contemplating absentmindedly the
rippling muscles of the horses in the arena.  A band in a balcony began
to play Strauss's _Wiener Mad'l_, the strains of music muffled by the
dust, the lights, the movement of the audience, the pain in Lilla's
breast.  And the vague savor of stables and flowers, the statuesque
postures of beasts and the expectant attitudes of human beings, were
suddenly fused together into one hallucination--a flood of sensory
impressions at once unreal and too actual, in which Lilla found herself
sinking and smothering.

Anna Zanidov was looking at her intently.

"You do not often come to town, they tell me," the Russian murmured.

"No, why should I?" Lilla returned, as if violently aroused from sleep.
She saw beyond Anna Zanidov, on the steps of the box, a man whose
visage was lined across the forehead and under the cheekbones, and who
showed, under his heavy, mouse-colored mustache, a stony, courteous
smile.

It was the new face of Cornelius Rysbroek.

"No, sit here," said the Russian, "I wish to talk with Fanny."

He seated himself beside Lilla, and, after watching a horse clear a
jump, remarked:

"Do you know I'm living near you?"

He had taken a house in Westchester County, five miles away from hers.
He had been looking for quiet, because he was writing a book about his
journey in China--"just for the fun of the thing."

"Yesterday," he added indifferently, "I happened to pass your gates.
At least I suppose they were.  I had a mind to call."

His hands, clasped round his knee, attracted her unwilling notice.
They had become sinewy.  He appeared like a hard-muscled elder brother
of the listless hypochondriac who in the old days had paid feeble court
to her: and strangeness enveloped him, not only because of the changes
in his body and character, but also because of the hardships and
escapes that he had experienced in the Chinese mountains.  Yet in this
strangeness Lilla found a disturbingly familiar quality, like an echo
of something lost, a vague and diminished reapparition of an old ideal.

"Yes," she said softly, "I wish we could be friends again.  But the
situation at home is so very delicate."

After a long silence, he uttered, so low that she could hardly hear him:

"Are there no other places?"

The band still played _Wiener Mad'l_.

"It's getting late," she faltered, wondering where she was going to
find the strength to rise from her chair.

"Yes, go back to your tomb.  Are there any mirrors in it?  Do you ever
look in them?  Do you see in them what's happening to you?  Your eyes
are losing their luster; you're getting haggard, and in a little while
one will see the bones under your skin.  At this moment you look like
the devil."  Without raising his voice, without ceasing to stare as
though bored at the old Russian silver box from which he was taking a
cigarette with trembling fingers, he pronounced malignantly, "You are
losing your beauty, Lilla--all that you ever had to plunge a man into
hell.  Presently, thank God, there will be nothing to love."

It seemed to her that he had shouted the words at the top of his voice,
that the whole multitude must have heard him, and must have seen the
look that he showed her for the briefest instant--the look of a damned
soul peering through flames that only she could quench.

At the full impact of pity and remorse at last, she felt her spirit
stumbling toward his through that inferno.

The promenaders perceived a woman and a man, expressionless though
rather worn and pale, exchanging apparently commonplace words, while
staring down at the horses.

"I'll phone you to-night----"

"Not the phone."

"With an indolent movement he thrust his shaking hands into his coat
pockets, and tried again:

"I'll drive over in the morning.  You might be taking a walk----"

Weak and sick, she glanced down at the buttons of her gloves, before
rising to her feet.  She heard Anna Zanidov saying to Fanny Brassfield,
"Well, I've lost those friends of mine.  No matter.  I'll find a taxi."
Pouncing upon this chance to escape, for the moment, from him and from
herself, Lilla blurted out:

"Let me give you a lift.  Come on."

Cornelius Rysbroek saw her lovely head turning away from him, the swirl
of her cloak as she ascended the steps, the flash of her tapering boot
heel.  He then stood looking round him through his ironical, weary
mask, one hand on the back of a chair, however, as if without that
support his quaking legs might let him fall to the floor.



CHAPTER XLII

The limousine glided northward.  A cold rain was falling.  Behind the
glistening windowpanes the scene was continually melting from one
 blackness into another.  At each flash of radiance
Madame Zanidov was revealed motionless in her corner, muffled in her
cloak, with closed eyes.

"Is she reading my thoughts?" Lilla wondered.

No matter: by this time the whole world must know them, released as
they had been, into that eager public air, like a deafening cry of
confession.  "What's to be the end of this?" she asked herself,
appalled, as she felt her life being whirled along from one fatal
impulse to another, just as she was being whisked by the limousine from
darkness to darkness.  To check that inexorable progress! to see some
constant light!

Anna Zanidov turned her wedge-shaped face toward Lilla, with the words:

"I have thought of you many times."

"I can say the same."

"To be sure," the Russian declared, "I have stopped doing that, you
know.  I didn't want to end by being shunned."

"I suppose you still have the gift?"

"No doubt."

The limousine halted.  Across its path rumbled a street car mistily
bright behind the rain, crowded with people who represented a rational
humanity aloof from the little compartment in which were shut up these
two victims of remarkable beliefs.  Then, the limousine moving on, the
blurred phantasmagoria closed in again:--and the northern vista took on
the ambiguity of Lilla's life, a compound of darknesses and deceptive
gleams, stretching away toward what?  She uttered:

"Nevertheless, to know the future!"  And as the Russian remained mute
and motionless, she faltered, "No matter what one learned, the suspense
would be over."

"Would it, indeed?"

"I am desperate," Lilla responded in low tones.

After a while Madame Zanidov, with a compassionate austerity, responded:

"Remember, then, that it is you who wished this."

Their hands touched.  In the rushing limousine, in this fluidity of
lights and darkness, they were intent on the phenomenon that both
believed to be a revelation of fate.  At last the clairvoyant quietly
began:

"I am out of doors, far away."

The glare of passing headlights displayed her closed, oblique eyes, her
parted, flat lips, her idol-like aspect, which bestowed on her the
impressiveness, the seeming infallibility, of those oracles that were
anciently supposed to describe some future mood of the chaotic ebb and
surge that human beings call life.

"Very old tree trunks.  Great trailing vines.  Huge flowers black in
the moonlight.  It is the very same place.  Here is that clearing, and
the squatting black men.  Their hands are folded; their heads are bowed
forward; they are filled with sadness.  Near them, on the ground, lies
the dead man whose body is covered with a cloth.  It is the man who has
loved you."  She dropped Lilla's hand, protesting, "This is incredible!"

"Incredible?"

"Yes, because this scene appears to be still in the future.  Do you
understand me?  Hasn't happened yet."

The limousine stopped before the Russian's door as Lilla, disgusted by
this anticlimax, replied:

"You've repeated your old prophecy because it has haunted my mind ever
since you made it that night at the Brassfields'.  You've merely gotten
back from me the impression that you stamped on my consciousness then."

"Then that is something new.  These perceptions of mine have never
referred to the past.  Besides, I had just now--but how shall I explain
it?--a powerful sense of the future.  Ah, well, maybe this gift of mine
is leaving me, since I've refused to use it.  I sha'n't be sorry."  As
she got out of the car, she amended, "At least, I don't think I'm sorry
to have disappointed you."

The door snapped shut on that hope: the world became fluid again: and
Lilla was borne away toward another pity and another remorse.



CHAPTER XLIII

Hamoud opened the front door, and told her:

"They are waiting for you."

"They?  Who is here?"

"Mr. Brantome."

She stood for a moment staring balefully at the stone knight above the
fireplace of the hall, who still raised his sightless face, and
brandished his blunt sword, with that stupid appearance of defying
everything.  Then she tossed aside her cloak and hat, and went straight
into the living room, peeling off her gloves, saying in a gracious
voice:

"Hello!  How nice!  But how foolish to wait for me.  You must both be
starved."

"No, but David has been imagining all sorts of calamities," Brantome
returned, with a loud, artificial laugh, and a look of anxiety in the
depths of his old eyes.  As for the invalid, silent in his wheel chair
before the Flemish tapestry, he showed her a frozen smile, a travesty
of approval.

They went in to dinner.  As soon as they had sat down she began, with
an unnatural vivacity, to tell them where she had been.  That horse
show!  It had never seemed so silly to her.  The same old stable slang
interspersed with the same old scandal.  And to-night Fanny Brassfield,
instead of falling upon her bed in a stupor of futility, was going to
give a big dinner for the very same people.  "I'm surprised," she
exclaimed, turning her flushed face toward Brantome, "that you weren't
dragged into it.  They usually sacrifice a captive from the land of
art."

David remained quite still, his frail shoulders bowed forward, his head
advanced, his eyes intently watching her moving lips.  She could not
abate that frozen smile of his.  Brantome, his portly body thrown back,
his white mane and long mustaches shimmering like spun glass in the
candle light, seemed still to wear on his tragical old face a look of
uneasiness.  She had the feeling of sitting before two judges who were
weighing not only her words, but her tone of voice and appearance.  She
wondered what appearance she presented.

"Why don't you eat your dinner?" she asked David.

"I am interested," he replied rather hoarsely.

"At what?  I was wondering what right I had to inflict all this on you.
I suppose when I came in you were talking of something worth while."
She turned again to Brantome.  "And _Marco Polo_?"

"The best tone poem since _Don Quixote_," he said, rising and making
her a bow.  "As far as it has gone.  It is not finished yet."

"It soon will be.  Won't it, David?"

"Oh, another month with luck," he returned lightly, trying to lift a
wineglass, and spilling on the cloth the champagne that had been
prescribed by Dr. Fallows.

She caught his wrist.  A pang passed through her heart.  She showed
them a new expression, or else an old one for which they had been
hoping, as she exclaimed in alarm:

"You're not so well to-night!"

And, as Hamoud was wheeling David into the living room, she protested
to Brantome:

"I can't leave him for a day without something happening."

"Then for God's sake don't, at least till this piece is done."  The old
Frenchman pulled her back, and whispered, "Why, this afternoon he was
nearly beside himself.  How can he work----"

"About what?" she ejaculated, glancing down at his hand on her arm.

"How should I know, if you don't?"

In the living room Brantome did not sit down.  Flushed from the wine
that he had drunk, striding to and fro, he began a rigmarole about
"David's future."  His voice was nearly ferocious when he prophesied
the subjugation of the public, which might be aroused, by precisely the
right persuasion, to a tumult of applause.  Yes, they must all be
conquered, until, as in the case of Beethoven for instance, the name of
the genius appeared as though written like a portent in the sky, above
the heads even of throngs that knew nothing of music, that would never
hear these harmonies, but that would be filled all the same with
reverential awe.

He had never before revealed this thirst for undiscriminating homage.
They hardly recognized him.  The old leonine fellow was transfigured,
as though by megalomania.  He seemed larger, and slowly made the
gestures of an emperor.

He darted into the study, as Lilla said to David:

"The piece will stand up for itself, I think.  He's becoming almost too
ridiculous."

But in the other room Brantome began beating out fragments of _Marco
Polo_.  The familiar sounds took on a startling majesty in the
atmosphere heavily charged with the player's exultation.  One had an
illusion that this music was irradiating from the house all over the
earth.  Then, in the silence, the rustle of the rain seemed a long
murmur of enthusiastic comment.

Abruptly Brantome reappeared in the doorway with his mane disheveled,
like a lion let out of a cage; but Lilla was too wretched to laugh at
him.  Now he was bursting with memories of those, since great, with
whom he had chummed in his youth, when he, too, had expected to be
great.  He swept his listeners away to foreign studios, where they saw
young men poising for flights amid the stars.

"And here," he affirmed, whirling round to Lilla, "is something better,
in humor, in tragedy, in dignity, in richness of invention, in
everything."

"I know it," she responded, reaching out to lay her hand upon David's
hand.

"Something better," he repeated, in a changed voice, with an effect of
shrinking to his usual proportions.  His arm fell to his side, and he
turned away to hide his altered look.  "I'll fight for this boy," he
said.  "I'll fight the whole world for him."

"You looked," suggested Lilla gently, "as if you were going to fight
me, too."

"You?  No, you are my ally.  Or, if you please, I am yours; for neither
of us can do anything without you."

At midnight, when Lilla returned to the doorway of his bedroom, David
was not asleep.

She sat down on the edge of the bed.  A beam of light from the corridor
touched her slender figure wrapped in yellow silk, and her braided hair
outlined, round her head, by a narrow golden halo.  The rain had
ceased, and the breeze from the window was laden with the odor of the
saturated earth.  Falteringly he asked her if she was chilly.

She was surprised, having been aware for a long while only of this pity
and this remorse.

"You have suffered to-day," she said.

He responded:

"The penalty one pays for having acquired great riches is the fear of
losing them."

She was silent for a time, then murmured:

"When this piece is finished, or to-morrow if you like, we might go
abroad?  Over there we could find any number of nice, secluded places.
Some Greek island might please you?  The climate is very invigorating."

"Would you like it?"

"If it would make you happier."

He uttered a groan:

"How I torment you!  It must be some devil in me that prompts me to
this ingratitude.  All that you've done for me, and I'm not satisfied.
You are perfection."

She laughed dismally, raising her face in the gloom of the bed canopy
that enshrouded them like the shadows of a catafalque.  Perfection!  A
pitiable heroine, an unstable creature tossed about from one compassion
to another, from a contemptible dissatisfaction here to a
half-hypocritical idea of reparation there, and now to self-abasement!
She was sick from disgust at her ingratitude to this poor invalid,
through whom she had become majestic, holding fate back so that beauty,
and even life, might miraculously survive.  She seemed to have emerged
from an ignoble dream; she longed to merit again, at least in her
devotion to this supine figure, that word, perfection.  Suddenly her
bosom swelled not only with compunction, but with love also--since it
was she, indeed, who had recreated him, and since without the
nourishment of her daily reassurances he must die.

"Help me to deserve those words," she besought him, bending down
through the shadows.  Her tears moistened his lips, and upon that
revelation he stammered:

"At this moment I feel that you're mine."

"Not only this moment.  Always."



CHAPTER XLIV

In the morning, when Brantome had departed for the city, Lilla said to
Hamoud:

"Please tell the servants that if any one should ask for me I'm not at
home."

Soon afterward, while David was at work shut up in the study, and Lilla
was trying to read a book in the living room, the doorbell rang.  When
she heard Hamoud, in the hall, speaking quickly in Arabic, her body
relaxed.  She thought:

"He has found one of his own people.  I am glad.  He must have been so
lonely all this while!"

She heard another voice, deeper and more vibrant.  "Yes, Arabic," she
said, smiling contentedly.  Of a sudden, for some inexplicable reason,
she felt as if she were going to faint.

She raised her eyes from the book, and saw a tall man with a black
beard, standing in the hall doorway, watching her.

She was seized with the paralyzing chill that comes to those who seem
to be confronted by apparitions of the dead.  Her conviction that she
saw no living man was strengthened by his physical alteration.  His
black beard, which covered even his cheekbones, masked a shriveled
countenance.  His eyes had receded into their sockets; his lips were
stretched over his teeth; and the swarthiness of his skin had become
sulphurous.  The stillness of his attitude, and his blank, attentive
look, completed the effect of unreality.

Then she thought, "Perhaps it's I who am dead."  Her surroundings
melted away.  All her obligations related to these surroundings melted
also.  She began to float toward him, over the floor that she no longer
felt beneath her feet, so that her disembodied spirit might be merged
with this other spirit.  Her half-raised hands prepared to cling to
him--as though one phantom could cling fast to another!  But abruptly
an invisible force seemed to check her progress mid-way; and she stood
before him with her arms, that had meant to embrace him, lifted in what
appeared to be a gesture of horrified denial.

There was no change in his face disfigured by unhappiness and illness.

The air round them began to tremble with strains of music--harmonies
mounting up toward a climax of intolerable beauty.  It came, this
perfect epitome of love, from behind the closed doors of the study,
where David Verne was playing as never before.

"Lilla!"

A profound silence followed the call that neither of these two had
uttered.  And from behind the closed doors, David, transported by his
exultation, cried out again to the Muse:

"Lilla!  Lilla!"

Swaying aside, she sank down into a chair.  "Oh," she breathed, looking
at the rug as though some very precious object had slipped from her
hands and broken at her feet.  As she sat there, a huddle of
coffee-colored fabric and pallid flesh, the sunlight burst through the
clouds to smite her all over with its glory, igniting her hair, turning
her face into incandescent gold.

Lawrence Teck watched this transformation.

He became natural--ready to fight for this woman, though still
believing that he despised everything about her except her loveliness.
All at once he was like a man who stands on the edge of a chasm, who
has an idea that he may be able to leap across, from a bitterness
endured alone to a bitterness shared with another.  He took the leap.
He put her to the test.

She saw him walking across the living room toward the closed doors of
the study.

Noiselessly, as swift as her dreadful thought, she rose, traversed the
room, passed him, and whirled round against the door.  She flung out
her arms in a movement that nailed her against the panels as to a
cross.  She could not speak; but he read on her lips, as if she had
cried it in his face:

"No!"

The music began again, at first soft and simply melodious, soon complex
and thunderous.  The door at her back vibrated from the sound, and the
quivering penetrated her body and her brain.  She was filled with a new
horror, at the new, miraculous strength evinced in that playing.

And again that voice exulting in the study:

"Lilla?  Oh, where are you?"

"Come away from here," she muttered, giving Lawrence an awful stare,
snatching at his sleeve, dragging him after her across the room, her
feet as heavy as if fleeing through a nightmare.  Now, straining at his
arm, she was in the wainscotted hall before the stone mantelpiece that
bore up the defiant knight.  Now she reached the fernery.  The palms
leaped back into place behind them as she collapsed upon the red
cushions of the settee.

He stood watching her as before, erect, breathing, alive, even though
he lay smashed in the depths of that chasm which she had prevented him
from clearing.



CHAPTER XLV

"And your idea is," Lawrence inquired calmly, "that he mustn't know at
all?"  She continued to weep in silence, the tears running quickly down
her cheeks and falling like brilliants upon the fur edging of her house
gown.  He added, "I merely mean, is it practicable?"

Incoherently she started to tell the whole story over again.

"But how can I make you understand?  My wits are gone.  He was utterly
helpless, done for, you might as well say dead.  All the life blazing
and throbbing round him--and round me, too; for I was as good as dead
also.  Two dead people meeting and trying to find their way back,
through each other, to some sort of life.  But he didn't know that he
was helping me; that is my secret.  Yet it wasn't all selfishness with
me.  In the end I was persuaded just by pity.  Have you seen a sick
animal looking at you pleadingly?  Pity is a monster!  First one
tentacle, then another, and finally one is pulled under and devoured.
One should never feel pity.  But you were gone."

She pressed her fingers to her temples, and closed her eyes.

"Don't you know this will kill him?" she asked.  "But how could you
know that?  It's so, all the same.  It's just I who have kept him
alive.  It's just by holding on to me that he's held on to life."

She gave a cry:

"Ah!  This is too much!  What am I to do?"

She writhed amid the red cushions of the settee till he commanded
sternly:

"Calm yourself.  It's time we began to talk sensibly."

She sat still, looking at him in terror.

"Yes," she whispered.

His erect immobility, his emotional self-containment, recalled to her,
by contrast, the feebleness and helplessness that had lured her into
this trap.  Once more she perceived in this man the refuge that her
frailty of nerves and tissues had always yearned for; and the miracle
that she had accomplished in his absence became the work of a stranger.
Ah, to let go of heroism now, to be once more her true self--the
fragile complement of this strength!  But in the very moment when she
visualized the consummation of that wish, she saw with her mind's eye
the other sitting at the piano in his wheel chair, his music strewn
round him, the air still vibrant with triumph and gratitude, his face
turned eagerly toward the door as toward the source of an infallible
reassurance, of beautiful accomplishment, of life itself.

The palms, forming an arch above him, cast a greenish shadow over
Lawrence's bearded visage, which was shrunken and yellow from the last
attack of fever, in the coast town.  This head of his, hovering before
her in a frame of ragged greenery, seemed about to melt away amid one
of her old illusions of the jungle.  Gradually she understood that this
was not he whom she had married on that night of romance.

All those thoughts of his were what had changed his face into this new
appearance, hard and misunderstanding, incredulous and ironical, and
crushed with an utter weariness of spirit.  And Lilla did not know how
to summon back into being the man that he had been; for all her
inspiration was dragged down by guilt.  She remembered the dusty rooms
where even her last tribute of flowers had now turned to dust.  She
recalled the victorious seductiveness of genius, of egotism, the lure
of a world in which a myriad women had seemed to be dancing away from
her toward happiness; and then, her moment of complex treason at the
horse show.  She quailed as she heard again her vow to Lawrence on
their wedding night, "Forever!" and that word was blended with the
"Forever!" which, a few hours ago, she had uttered in the gloom of
David's bedroom.

He felt her sense of guilt, and misinterpreted it.  When her
protestations became more intimate, a smile, half contemptuous and half
commiserating, appeared on his shrunken lips.  It struck her silent.

"As I understand it," said Lawrence Teck, "this is your plan, which;
seems to me, in the light of common sense, perfectly hopeless.  In
short, he's not to know.  You've refused to let me face him----"

"Ah, yes," she sighed, and quoted, "'Infirm of purpose, give me the
daggers.'  You'd kill him for me, wouldn't you?"

"You exaggerate.  If he were as delicately poised as that, I shouldn't
want his death on my hands.  These people who kill one another, and
even themselves, for love, exist of course; but to me they're
ridiculous.  The game isn't worth it.  There are too many other things
in life.  As for me, my work, that part of it out there unfinished,
dropped so that I could run back here and clear this matter up----"

"No, I'm the one that you're killing," she returned, bowing her head
that was glorified in the sunshine pouring round her, as if with a
crown of celestial happiness.

He went on in a deliberate, grave tone, feeling logical and dizzy,
replete with self-justification, magnanimity, and horror:

"I managed to arrive in this country secretly.  There are only three
persons in New York who know that I'm here, or, for that matter, alive.
It may help a little if I succeed in slipping away as quietly as I
came.  You can get your divorce on grounds of desertion.  I'm sorry
enough to have let you in for this.  It's my fault from beginning to
end.  I shouldn't have appeared then, and worst of all I shouldn't have
reappeared now."  He hesitated; then, glancing toward the door of the
fernery, "No doubt you'll discover how to smooth it out with him.
After all, if he were the most sensitive creature on earth, he ought to
be satisfied when he understands that though I've popped up alive he is
the one you've chosen."

"You are mad," she gasped, giving a convulsive bound amid the red
cushions.

He wondered if it were so.

Here she was before his eyes, more beautiful than in any of his dreams,
a diffuse vision compressed once more into a tangible form, fragrant
and warm, full of coursing blood and tremors, no doubt still capable of
those same ecstatic appearances and vocal rhapsodies.  All his
swarming, jealous thoughts were consuming him, as warrior ants might
consume some wretched victim of King Muene-Motapa.  He felt that this
deliberate farce must end, that he must spring through the door, find
the other, kill him with one blow, and then rush away from this woman
who, like a fallen deity, lay weeping again, her face between her arms,
somehow pathetic under this retribution for the inconstancy that she
pretended was pity.

She raised her face, and pronounced:

"There must be some way.  But I can't think any more."

"There are two ways.  One is for me to go.  The other is to tell him."

She sat up and clutched the cushions on each side of her.

"You ask me to go into that room, and you might as well say shoot him
through the heart?"

He said to himself, "How she sticks to it!  This pretense is all she
has to cling to, poor thing, in lieu of saying straight out, 'I can't
return to that old adventure now.  Too much time has intervened; I'm no
longer the same woman.  I must stick to this new romance.'"  He said to
himself, "I shall get away from here this moment."  He turned toward
the doorway.

"Remember," he told her wearily, "I'm depending on your silence."

Struck by the folly of that caution, he hurried into the hall, as
though to escape an outburst of laughter.

He was close to the front door when she appeared in his path,
materialized from thin air.

"Wait outside.  I'll go with you."

She stood tearing her handkerchief to pieces, looking at him strangely
out of her swollen eyes, her cheeks flushed.  She went on:

"Why, we must talk.  We can surely find the way out.  But not here.  At
the rooms."  A film passed over her eyes.  She caught him fast round
the neck, raised her lips toward his, and whispered, with a distracted
appearance that seemed guilty as well as passionate, "You still love
me?  As much as ever?"

He felt that he and she had reached the depths.  This temptation
capping the climax of her rejection--this monstrous inversion of the
classic triangle!  "What is she, then?" he asked himself, "and what am
I?"  For he caught hold of her as if he were going to crush her doubly
perfidious, inexplicable heart, and fastened his lips to hers in a kiss
that burned her up, before he thrust her from him with a gesture meant
to express all his loathing of her, of himself, of the whole of life.

"Oh, wait!" she cried, as he fumbled with the door.

To hold her off with the first words that came into his head, he cast
at her:

"To-morrow!"

She remained facing the closed door, softly repeating:

"To-morrow."



CHAPTER XLVI

Cornelius Rysbroek had just driven up before the house in a blue
runabout.  Now, sunk down behind the steering wheel, he gaped at the
black-bearded man who stood like a rock at the foot of a low flight of
steps.

Lawrence Teck put on his hat, gave Cornelius Rysbroek a blind stare,
climbed into a hired car.  In doing so he showed his aquiline profile;
and Cornelius recalled the moonlit terrace of the Brassfields' country
house.

"It's he!"

The hired car set out for New York; and behind it, all the way, went
the blue runabout.



CHAPTER XLVII

She entered her sitting room, locked the door, threw herself upon the
couch.  Round lunch time there came a creaking in the corridor, a
knock.  It was David in his wheel chair, propelled by Hamoud.

"No lunch.  And perhaps no dinner.  It's only a headache, dear.  I
shall be all right."

"Your voice sounds----"

"Why not, since I'm suffering a little?"

The creaking sound died away.

At the first glimmer of dawn she was up.  An hour later she entered
David's bedroom, dressed, hatted, and gloved.  Her skin appeared
translucent.  Her hands, drawing her cloak round her shivering body,
seemed almost too weak for that task.

"Why, where are you going?"

"To town.  It seems that Parr has fallen ill."

She leaned over him quickly, thinking of all the kisses of betrayal
that had ever been bestowed upon the unaware.  She went out leaving him
dumfounded by her appearance of feverish eagerness, energy, and illness.

On the ride to New York she lay back in the corner of the limousine,
her face burning, her lips pressed together.  "He thinks I don't love
him, it seems!"  That was the tender menace she hurled ahead of her, as
the car carried her swiftly--yet how slowly!--toward his rooms.

She remembered Anna Zanidov.

"The infallible clairvoyant!  All that solemn nonsense!  Ha, ha, ha!
Ha, ha, ha!"

She found herself at the door of his rooms, ringing, knocking, calling
his name through the panels.  She recollected that she had the key in
her purse.  The door swung back with a bang, and she ran through the
shaded apartment that was filled with the dull gleaming of weapons.
She stopped before the bed that had not been slept in.  She returned to
the living room, and gazed at the withered petals lying round the gourd.

The doorway framed an undersized, obese old man who wore a skullcap of
black silesia.  He was the janitor.

"Where is Mr. Teck?"

"Mr. Teck!" the janitor exclaimed in a shocked voice.

The words tumbled out of her mouth:

"He was here yesterday, surely.  Didn't he leave any word?"

"Mr. Lawrence Teck?" the old fellow repeated, in consternation.

Behind him hesitated, in passing by, a young man with an inquisitive
face, who had under his arm a leather portfolio.  She slammed the door
on them.  In the shadowy room the very walls seemed to be crumbling.

She searched everywhere for a note, for some sign that he had been
here; but there was no object in the place not covered with dust.

Then, sunk in a stupor, she drove to the little house in Greenwich
Village.  Her ring was answered by Parr's niece, the woman with the
sleek bandeaux.  Mr. Teck had been here twice, the second time late
last night.  On that occasion he had taken Parr away with him.

"Where to?"

"Ah, ma'am, if only I knew!"

Those faded, medieval eyes gazed at the benefactress in a sudden
understanding and intimacy; and Lilla thought, "You, too, perhaps in
some region far removed from your pots and pans, have had such a moment
as this!"  And she would have liked to let her face fall forward upon
the bosom of that threadbare working dress, feel those toil-worn arms
close round her, and utter the plea, "Tell me how to bear such things,
to survive, to emerge into that strange serenity of yours."

She drove to Brantome's.  The whole world was now tumbling down about
her ears.

Brantome rose from his desk, where perhaps he had been sketching out
some brilliant appreciation of _Marco Polo_.  After one glance at Lilla:

"What's happened?"

She showed him a look of hatred that embraced the whole room; for it
was not only he, but also this abode of his, that had entrapped her.
In accents that lashed him like whips she told him everything.

The old Frenchman sat down with a thump, and let his ruined face droop
forward.  She heard the hoarse rumble:

"What shall I do now?"

"Find him!"

She returned to the house in the country.

In the middle of the third night, the telephone beside her pillow gave
a buzz, more terrifying than a shout of fire, an earthquake, a knife at
the throat.  Brantome was speaking.  Parr had returned to the house in
Greenwich Village.  Lawrence Teck had sailed secretly, that day, for
Africa.

She replaced the receiver on the hook, rested her head on her hands,
and remained thus for a long while.  In the end she formed the words:

"That woman."

She was thinking of "the infallible clairvoyant."



PART III


CHAPTER XLVIII

In the early morning, while the trees round the house were still full
of mist, Lilla, in her sitting room, at the tall Venetian desk of green
and gold lacquer, redrafted for the twentieth time the message that she
wanted to send after Lawrence Teck by wireless.  The rich
scintillations from the polished surfaces before her enveloped her
distracted countenance in a new, greenish pallor, as she traced, now
heavily, now very faintly, the words:

"If you knew what you've done----"

She paused; for the confusion of her brain made her think of a squirrel
frantically racing in a revolving cage.  Then, seeing nothing except
the pen point, she wrote slowly, "What have you done?  What have you
done?"  And suddenly, in a convulsive hand that sprawled over half the
page, "Betrayed!"  She stared at these words in amazement.

Hamoud-bin-Said entered the sitting room.  He had on the dark blue joho
edged with a red pattern.  His snowy under robe was bound with a blue
and red sash from which protruded the silver hilt of his dagger.  His
tan-colored, clear-cut, delicately bearded face was expressionless, as
he said softly:

"The morning paper."

And she realized that the whole story had been discovered, scattered
broadcast.

For a time Hamoud regarded the prostration of her spirit from the
heights of fatalism.  But presently, as he contemplated that limp pose,
which added one more novelty to her innumerable beautiful appearances,
the stoicism that had made him look mature gave way to the fervor of
youth--his limpid eyes turned to fire; his full, precisely chiseled
lips were distorted by a pang.  He appeared as before, however, when
she raised her head and uttered:

"Burn it."

His reverie had a flavor of commiseration now, as though he were saying
to himself, "Who can catch all the leaves before they fall to the
ground?  Who can sweep back the waves of the sea?"  He responded:

"The men who make these things have been telephoning half the night.
And now they are here themselves."

"Here!"

"They are sitting on the steps," he affirmed, lost in a gloomy,
relishing consideration of the wonders of life.  "They wish to talk to
you and to Mr. Verne."

He pronounced these words as if he had no idea of their enormity.

Her spirit stirred at this threat.  All seemed lost except the
phenomenon of David living, by which, in her distraction, she hoped
somehow to justify herself.  To the amazement of the world one might
oppose the fact of genius miraculously unfolding through her sacrifice.
But she thought, "The world!  What is that?"  And thereupon, "All the
same it shall not strike down this helpless creature."  And the world
became a monster, unfeeling, indeed immeasurably malign, lying far off
with the teeming cells of its brain all plotting to rob her of her
wretched victory, and with the claws of one outstretched paw already
touching the threshold of this house.

"You are to drive them away."

She went on groping for phrases as one gropes for objects in the dark,
telling Hamoud that henceforth nobody from outside the house was to see
David till she had been informed, that all newspapers and letters must
come first to her, that the servants must not show by so much as a
look----  She became aware that among these phrases she was uttering,
with an air of calm consideration, others that had no intelligible
meaning, no relation to her objective thoughts.  She heard herself say,
"Perhaps I had better see the servants myself.  It would be a queer
thing if there were a draft from the pantry.  There is a red pillow in
the fernery; it must be hidden--the spears, too----"  She gazed in
perplexity at Hamoud, who appeared to be floating before her at the end
of a dark tunnel.

"For how long?" he sighed.

"For how long?" she repeated plaintively.

He seemed to grow taller.  His face, which had taken on a blank aspect,
resembled the faces of those who, in Oriental tales, stand waiting to
fulfil a wish too sinister to have become an audible command.  In that
instant she saw all problems rushing to their solution, except one; all
treasures recaptured, except the peace of conscience.  She struggled as
one might to awake from some hypnotic spell in which one has been
assailed with frightful suggestions.  She sprang up and transfixed him
with a look.

"Go!  Do as I say!"

He bowed and departed.

At once she became so weary that she could hardly reach her couch.

"What am I to do?" she asked herself in a lost voice.

Somewhere, no doubt, there was another Lilla, sane, able to act as well
as to think, capable of solving even this dilemma.  But that other
Lilla remained far away, perhaps in the realm of those who, with an
Alexandrian gesture, ruthlessly cut the knot of interwoven scruples,
and for a brief season triumphed over the accidents of life!  Raising
her eyes in despair, she saw trembling on the ceiling a ray of light
that resembled the blade of a spear.

There descended upon her the full weight of her forebodings--the
superstitious dread that was typical of her emotional defectiveness,
and that had its origin, perhaps, in those two unhappy persons who had
been her parents.  Yet when she moaned, "Ah, Anna Zanidov!" it was with
an accent of reproach as keen as though the prophetess of a tragedy
must be the cause of it.

The sunshine was dissolving the luxurious room.  There came to her,
like a dullness from a drug, the fancy that this world had no existence
except that with which her credulity had endowed it.  "All my life I
have been dreaming this dream in which Lawrence and David, Hamoud and
Anna Zanidov, America and Africa, are figments.  Presently I shall wake
and wonder why all these figments gave me so much pain."

She floated deliciously in this thought.  She reflected, with a vague
smile:

"I must go and restore the appearance of happiness to that poor phantom
downstairs."



CHAPTER XLIX

Lilla descended the staircase in the transplendency of the many colored
windowpanes.  The red of rubies, the blue of sapphires, the green of
emeralds, enwrapped her slim body that was still phenomenally moving in
its habitual harmoniousness.  The serene progress of her person through
prismatic light, the smile that passed unchanged through rays of
varying resplendence, added another stanza to the poetry of flesh, a
stanza differing from all the rest, however, in its ominous quality of
strangeness.  For now, bathed in the fortuitous magnificence of the
stained glass, she shone in herself with an unearthly bloom, as if an
abnormality that had always permeated her seductiveness were now at its
apogee--as if, with no one to witness, she had reached the utter
expression of her loveliness, which blazed forth for an instant
completely, before dissolving in this strange element that mingled with
it.

The multicolored lights released her.  A pale, cold atmosphere closed
round her as she traversed the sunless hall and living room.  Beyond
the doorway of the study this cold pallor rested on the figure in the
wheel chair--the phantom because of which that other phantom was
traveling toward an exotic semblance of death.  He had not heard her
footsteps.  He remained with his head bowed forward, a prey, no doubt,
to such anxiety as ghosts experience.  He expressed perfectly that
helplessness with which, when she had believed him to be real, he had
laid hold of her pity.

The outlines of all objects round her were clear and hard: everything
had assumed a look of preternatural density.  She stood paralyzed by
the thought, "It is not illusion.  It is reality."

He was looking at her.

What did he read in her face?  Had he, too, heard the command that
seemed to have been shouted in her ears, "Tell him!  Strike and be
free!"

"What is it?" he whispered.

Her lips parted, writhed, and uttered no sound.  She was struck dumb,
no doubt by the feeling that if she spoke she would blurt out
everything, in obedience to that atrocious command.

All at once she seemed to have flames in her eyes.  Everything had
turned the color of gold.  She stood with her head thrown back, her
face changed by anguish; then she fled through that golden dazzle.  On
the staircase the many-colored rays reached out to hold her, to restore
her to that exquisite transfiguration; she passed through them in a
flash; and indeed they could now have enhanced, instead of beauty, only
the triumph of that element which had made her beauty strange.  She
stretched herself upon her couch, on her back, in the attitude of the
dead.  She pronounced with an extreme rapidity, in muffled tones:

"I am on the ship----Faster!  Faster!"

She uttered a cry that was heard all over the house.

When Hamoud and the servants came running, they found her rigid; but
while they were telephoning for the nearest physician the convulsions
began.  Tossing about, she showed intense fear of all who tried to
approach her.  The women ran from the room.  Hamoud remained, rigid at
the foot of the bed, his face a dingy white, staring before him as one
who meditates on some immense, intolerable injury.  When her cries
burst forth, he laid his hand upon his dagger, as if against these
invisible forces, these jinn from the Pit, that had taken possession of
her.

The physician arrived to find the convulsions ended.  Hamoud, now
gripping his dagger as if he would presently escape this scene by
plunging the blade into his breast, uttered:

"Dying?"

"It will pass," the physician answered, with a movement of reproof.

Hamoud, afflicted by disbelief, by a despair that swept away his
fatalism, by a fury that called for revenge, bared his teeth and
demanded:

"I shall bring him?  We show her to him?"

"Who?"

Hamoud glanced malignantly toward the floor.

"Hardly!"

The physician resumed his contemplation of the patient, who had
descended into a stupor that was to last for days.



CHAPTER L

There was a hush over the house amid the old trees.  The servants moved
softly through the corridors, paused to whisper to one another, then
hurried out of sight as David Verne appeared in his wheel chair, slowly
propelled toward the sick room by Hamoud.

She seemed hardly to breathe as she lay in the gloom through which
drifted the white uniforms of the nurses, amid a dim glamour from all
the charming objects that had been meant to please her senses.  Her
hair was spread out on the pillow to frame her colorless face, which
had now attained indeed the look of the "angelic messenger."  But the
angelic messenger, the bearer of life to him, seemed to David on the
point of returning to the source of life.

He sat at the bedside, sometimes unable to extend his hand to touch her
hand, as though his strength were wholly a reflection of her strength,
so that with the latter's waning the former must flicker out.

"What is it?" he thought, lost in misery and wonder.

The physicians and the nurse looked at him askance, their secret pent
in behind their lips.

He felt round him the pressure of this secret.  The air was full of
thoughts that he could not apprehend.  Behind the benignant evasiveness
of the doctors he seemed to discern a fact, like a thunderbolt
withheld.  He recoiled from his conjectures, to cower amid these
shadows which he felt might be less agonizing than that flash of light.

There was no reason for alarm, they told him.  And instead of being
mysterious it was a perfectly defined case of nerves, hysteria,
emotional collapse.

Ah, yes; but from what cause?

Even Hamoud, he was sure, knew something that he did not know.  The
Arab, while apparently as solicitous as ever, was changed.  He had
taken on, merely in his physical aspect, a new quality: he seemed
taller than formerly, and older.  Amid all his tasks he moved with a
sort of feline restlessness.  He took to prowling at night, round and
round the bleak garden.  The robed figure paced the paths with an
effect of stealing carefully toward an enemy.  In the light from a
window his fine profile appeared for an instant like a presentment of
vengeance--with something sensual in its look of cruelty.

Now and then, in the middle of the night, David became aware that
Hamoud had entered the room without a sound, to watch him from the
deepest mass of shadows.  One could make out only the pale blotch that
was his white skullcap, and the long pale streak that was the uncovered
portion of his white under robe.  The eyes, the expression of the face,
were lost in blackness.

"I thought you called."

And he was gone.

In his own room, having noiselessly closed and locked the door, he drew
from his bosom the Koran.  Holding the book reverently in his small,
right hand, he raised his head, and stood waiting with closed eyes for
inspiration.  Presently, opening the Koran, he read:

"The doom of God cometh to pass."

This text was the answer to his prayer for guidance?

He seated himself by the window, and gazed out into the darkness.  He
considered piously the wonders of terrestrial life, a succession of
accidents all foreordained by God, an apparent drifting that was in
fact one steady propulsion by the hand of fate.  From the rich,
ancestral house of coraline limestone across the sea to strange lands.
From dignity to abasement.  From loneliness to this faint, delicious
fragrance in which the heart dissolved.  From a dream of freedom to the
service of love through the agency of death.



CHAPTER LI

It was twilight.  David Verne sat in the study, his chin on his breast.
Hamoud, appearing in the doorway, gazed round the room.  He had a
folded newspaper in his hand.

He looked carefully at the fireplace, where logs were piled ready for
lighting over a heap of brushwood and crumpled wrapping paper.  Then he
regarded the center table, on which stood the Venetian goblet, the
caraffe, and the bottle filled with the medicine prescribed by Dr.
Fallows.  In the expiring daylight Hamoud, motionless in his robes,
loomed paler than usual, his handsome face very grave.

The piano attracted his attention.  In the shadows it had the aspect of
a squatting monster that bared at him the teeth of its wide mouth.  As
if he had been awaiting this grotesque effect of challenge, he moved
toward the hazy windows, and began to curtain them.

David murmured listlessly:

"Has the doctor gone?"

Hamoud gave a slight start.  With his hand on the last window curtain,
he inclined his head, listening in awe to the tremor of that voice.
When he had passed his tongue over his lips he responded:

"Yes."

He drew the last curtain slowly.  As he did so, his visage, sharpened
by the dying light, was turned toward David; his gemlike lips, without
parting, seemed to say, "Look! it is the world of sky and trees, of
sunrise and noon, sunset and night, that I am shutting out."

The study lay in darkness.

Through this darkness Hamoud moved silently toward the center table.
He tweaked the lamp cord: a gush of mellow rays leaped out to cover the
scattered piles of manuscript, the Venetian goblet, the bottle of
medicine.  Hamoud moved the wheel chair closer to these objects, so
that David by reaching forth his hand might touch them if he wished.
Then, after stepping back to consider this arrangement with a strained
look, he went to the fireplace, lighted a match, blew it out, and laid
it on the hearth.  David stared at him.

"You have not lighted the fire.  It is cold tonight."

Again Hamoud listened in awe to the sound of that voice.

"It is cold," he assented softly, with a shiver.

Still kneeling on the hearth, he contemplated the other as though he
were seeing him now for the first time.  The feeble, romantic face
before him was not so pallid as his face; those enlarged, questioning
eyes were not so strange as his eyes.  At that stare of undefined alarm
he felt, despite all his jealousy, contempt, and hatred, a twinge of
weakness; he remembered all the other's helpless attitudes that he had
sustained and eased.  Of a sudden the habit of protection grappled with
his resolve, and might have conquered, for a time at any rate, had he
not recalled the sufferings of the beloved.

He rose and approached the wheel chair.  The newspaper was in his left
hand, half concealed, like a weapon, in the folds of his robe.

He heard a feeble cry:

"What has happened?  What has happened?"

"And I who have eaten his bread," thought Hamoud, in sudden shame and
horror.

If only some one would come!  But the shadowy perspective of the living
room remained empty; and there was nowhere any sound except the beating
of his heart.

He lifted the bottle containing the solution of arsenic.

"Have not taken any of this?"  He pronounced in a tone of suffocation.
"Remember must never take it until Hamoud has dropped it."

He set down the bottle.  It fell upon its side.  But alas! it did not
break.

"Hamoud! what has happened?"

In mercy, with a violent gesture, with a sensation of sickness, he
thrust the newspaper into David's hands.  "Done!  No chance to turn
back now!"  He rolled the folding doors together behind him and leaned
against them, his face beaded with sweat, panting as if in escaping
that room he had run a mile.  He listened.  How his heart thumped!  He
heard nothing.  "Has he the courage, though?  Alone with those
thoughts!"  Leaning against the door, through which came never a sound,
Hamoud began to weep, for the man whom he had served, for her, and for
himself.

Yes, the Omân stock, cruel and remorseless in its pristine state, had
deteriorated in the lax paradise of Zanzibar; the old impulses were
there, but in abortive form; and the deed that Hamoud's forefathers
would have done less indirectly, and without a twinge, aroused in
Hamoud that pity which an ironist has called "the mask of weakness."

Next morning, when they asked him to state his whole knowledge of the
matter, he told them that as he had been about to light the fire Mr.
Verne had seen, amid the brushwood, a bit of newspaper showing his name
in large type.  It was there, no doubt, in consequence of the servants'
carelessness.

"But you gave it to him," the local chief of police remarked severely.

"Before I knew."

Their indignation was softened by his crushed mien, and by his inflamed
eyes.  Having arrived at their verdict, they discussed Arabs--or, as
they called them, "Ayrabs"--and one honest old fellow even paid the
race a compliment, in saying:

"It's said that when they like a person they will do anything for them."

It was Hamoud who told her.

The nurse, stealing a nap on the couch in the sitting room, did not
stir as he passed into the bedchamber; but Lilla awoke at the command
of his eyes.  When he had finished speaking:

"No!" she sighed, as the world burst into fragments, and, like the bits
of colored glass in a kaleidoscope, slid swiftly into a new pattern.
"Ah, the poor soul!  The poor soul!"  She saw him more clearly, she
understood him better, than in life.  "All for nothing!"

No, surely not all for nothing!

At any rate, these were tears of convalescence.



CHAPTER LII

A fortnight later, as she sat in a deep chair in the living room,
Hamoud presented himself in the doorway, to announce:

"He is here."

Parr crept into her presence.

The little, grizzled fellow advanced a few steps, limping on his cane,
then halted, frightened by this thin, white-faced woman who, her chin
in her cupped hand, sat staring at him with the cold eyes of a queen
about to condemn a malefactor to death.  She was wrapped in a negligée
of peach-colored silk from the flowing sleeves of which long tassels
trailed on the rug.  The morning light, as though lured from all other
objects in the room by this motionless, fine figure, accentuated her
appearance of iciness.  She spoke, too, in the voice of a stranger, in
accents that thrilled with a force produced incongruously from so
emaciated a body.

"Come closer.  I want to look at you."

He resumed his tremulous advance very slowly, because he was so heavily
burdened by his loyalty to the beloved master and his treason to this
once gentle benefactress.  Casting down his eyes, he stood before her
abjectly leaning on his cane.  His honest, deeply lined face twitched
painfully; for he could feel her scorn passing over him like a winter
blast.  He faltered:

"I was helpless, ma'am.  I only did as he ordered.  He thought it best.
He believed it wouldn't leak out.  We took all precautions."  He told
her how Lawrence Teck had taken him from the Greenwich Village house to
an obscure hotel, where they had found a strange gentleman, slender,
with a fatigued, nervous face, almost too fastidiously dressed to be
another traveler, smoking constantly, saying nothing.  This gentleman's
name--it was altogether a disjointed, feverish business anyway--had
never been pronounced in Parr's hearing.  The stranger had seemed at
once a torment and a comfort to Mr. Teck.  Occasionally, when Parr
entered, it was as if he had interrupted a distressing scene.  Mr. Teck
had then jumped up with a queer smile, knocking against the chairs as
he went to look out of the window.  There the strange gentleman would
join him, to put his hand on his shoulder, soothe him in a low voice.
Then one morning Mr. Teck's rooms were empty; and the hotel clerk
handed Parr an envelope containing some banknotes and the scrawl,
"Good-by.  God bless you.  Remember, keep quiet."

"Here it is, ma'am."

She snatched the note from him, pored over it fiercely, and thrust it
into the bosom of her gown.  Her lashes wearily veiled her implacable
stare.

"You fool.  You should have seen that he wasn't in his senses.  Where
is he now?"

"He should be there," Parr quavered.  "By this time he might be inland."

She saw a stream of men flowing in through the jungle, a human river
doomed to roll at last over some tragic brink.  She clenched her hands,
seemed about to rise and rush out, as she was, in pursuit.  She said:

"You are going with me."

His jaw sagged.  Gaping round him, taking the whole room as witness to
this folly, he cried out, "Where to?"  When she began to speak he
sagged forward over his cane, drinking in the verification of her
incredible desire.  Her attitude did not change; her face remained
cold; her lips hardly moved; but he was aware of a tremendous force
behind the words, of something inflexible, invincible, grand--perhaps
of a flame without heat that filled her empty heart with an unearthly
coruscation, like a radiance thrown back from the walls of a cavern of
ice.

"Do you want to die, ma'am?"

"I?"  Her voice expressed in that syllable such arrogance as youth
feels at the thought of death; yet she did not look young--she looked
as old as eternity, and as passionless and overpowering.

He bowed his head beneath the pressure of this will, and the weight of
his obligation.  He perceived the uselessness of describing to her the
dangers that she would run there, especially at the season that was
beginning.  Still, for a moment he pondered the trouble he would have
in taking his broken body on that pilgrimage.  "And this time it will
get me: just one or two little chills," he reflected, thinking of
black-water fever.  The thought came to him, however, that his life was
no longer worth much, even to himself.  This sitting with folded hands,
a cane between one's knees, in the tidy little house that she had given
him--and but for her it might have been the crutches!

Besides, if he lasted that long, he might fill his nostrils once more
with the smell of Africa, see the little fires of the safari flickering
against the green cane brakes, hear the songs of the march and the
crooning of the camp and the voices of the jungle under the crowded
stars.



CHAPTER LIII

She crossed the Atlantic, traveled swiftly down from Cherbourg to
Marseilles, embarked on a ship that steamed through the Mediterranean
toward the Orient.  At last she saw Port Said, Suez, and the red and
purple lava islands of the Red Sea, splendid in a sunset of extravagant
hues.

The heat was intense.

But the ship emerged from the Gulf of Aden into a still greater heat;
and suddenly the air was saturated with moisture.  The walls and the
ceiling of her cabin were covered with drops of water; exposed objects
were defaced by rust and mildew overnight; while the human body seemed
to be deliquescing in a torrid steam.  A sickly breeze, filled with the
odors of a strange world, hardly rippled the languid sea.

On the right, beyond a heat mist through which flying fish were
darting, loomed a new coastline.  Yellow beaches appeared, interrupted
by lagoons where the slow waves abruptly spouted high into the
air--white geysers against somber forests and jungles.  From these dark
green fastnesses, ascending threads of smoke inveigled the gaze far
upward into space, to where, above a belt of hazy blue that one had
taken for the sky, mountain peaks revealed themselves, unrelated to the
earth, and half dissolved, like a mirage.

Night fell.  The velvety blackness of the heavens was powdered with
star dust; in the wash of the ship there gleamed a profound
phosphorescence, as from a decaying ocean.  The coast hung like a mass
of inky vapor above the fitful shimmer of the surf from which was
wafted a faint, interminable booming that suggested the roaring of
lions and the thunder of savage drums.

Lilla emerged from her cabin, crossed the deck, and laid her hands upon
the softly quivering rail.  Close beside her the darkness gave up a
ghost--Hamoud, who also stood silent, gazing toward the coast.  His
robes exhaled an odor of musk and aloes.

"Africa, madam," he uttered at last in a voice that lost itself in the
clinging darkness and the smothering heat.

And soon a languid ecstasy stole over him.

His heart swelled as he drank in, at the same time, the exhalations of
his native land and the faint fragrance of her hair.  In the darkness
he perceived with his mind's eye both her beauty and the
well-remembered beauty of the spice isles.  The palm-crowned hills
encircled the lapis-lazuli harbor of Zanzibar, on whose waters he saw
himself sailing, with this mortal treasure, in a handsome dhow, the
tasseled prow shaped like the head of the she-camel sent from heaven to
the Thamud tribesmen, the mast fluttering the pennants of ancient
sultans.  Then the dhow with the camel prow became a panoplied camel,
on which he and she were being borne away to Omân, the land of his
fathers, which he had never seen.  There, in those rugged mountains, he
would become, as his ancestors had been--vigorous of will, fierce and
great, triumphant in war and love.

For a long while he stood there trembling gently in unison with the
ship, thought linking itself to thought, and image to image, his
fancies growing ever more bizarre yet ever more distinct, as though he
were inhaling, instead of the faint perfume of her hair, the smoke of
hasheesh.

But she had forgotten him.



CHAPTER LIV

In the thick sunshine, below the cloudlike mountains, sandbanks
unrolled themselves between the mouths of the equatorial rivers flanked
by mangrove forests.  At last, in the depths of a bay of glittering,
brownish water, the port town appeared, a mass of red-tiled roofs
spread along the gray seawall that suggested a fortress.

Through sandy thoroughfares bordered with acacia trees rode hollow-eyed
Europeans in little cars, which half-naked negroes pushed along a
narrow-gauge railway.  The languor of those recumbent figures was
abruptly disturbed, at the apparition of a woman clad in snowy linen,
who advanced between a tall, young Zanzibar Arab and a small, limping
white man, with the step of a convalescent, but with eyes that were
filled with an extraordinary resolution.  That evening, at the club
house, one brought word to the rest that she was Lawrence Teck's wife.

There was a chorus of profane surprise in half a dozen tongues; for
this was the end of March, the climax of the rainy summer, when the
land was full of rotting vegetation and mephitic vapors, of mosquitoes
and tsetse flies, malaria and fever.

"Is he coming out, then?" said one.  "Where is he this time, by the
way?"  "All the same," another remarked, "I'll wager that he isn't
aware of this.  Looks as if she were planning a reconciliation by
surprise!"

"She seems ill already.  She'll last in this place about as long as an
orchid in a saucepan."

"But, my friend, she wants to go in after him, it appears.  She's with
the governor now."

At that moment, indeed, the governor was patiently repeating his
remonstrances to Lilla.

They sat in a large, white room with shuttered windows, beneath a
punkah that kept churning up the dead air, beside a carved table on
which stood a tray of untouched coffee cups.  The governor was a
studious, sick-looking gentleman with a _pince-nez_ over his jaundiced
eyes, and with long mustaches frizzed out before his ears.  He wore a
white duck uniform adorned with gilt shoulder straps, an aiguillette,
and a bar of service ribbons brilliantly plaided and striped.  Anaemic
from malaria, and harassed by fever, he showed while he was talking to
Lilla a look of exhaustion and pain.  Now and again, after puffing his
cigarette, he gave a feeble cough and rolled up his eyes.  Then, in a
monotonous, dull tone he began again to express his various objections.

Mr. Teck had gone in from a northern port a month ago.  He had passed
by Fort Pero d'Anhaya, telling the commandant there that he was bound
back for the region in which his principals might presently seek a
concession.  He was, no doubt, at present in the gorges beyond the
forests of the Mambava.  He had with him a strong safari and a
gentleman friend.

"What friend?" asked Lilla, who had been listlessly waiting for this
monologue to cease.

"I don't remember.  But I can, of course, find out."

"It's not worth while.  All that I want is----"

The governor raised his hand, which trembled visibly.

"Pray let me finish, madam.  Mr. Teck is in a very dangerous place.  We
have never conquered the Mambava; they are a ferocious people, and the
man who enters their country does so at his own risk.  Had it not been
that Mr. Teck's venture, because of his peculiar relationship to King
Muene-Motapa, might end in winning over the Mambava to peaceful labor
and trade, we should never have given permission.  As for you, madam,
such a journey is not to be thought of.  I say nothing about the
climate at this season.  But, if you will pardon me, as I look at you
the idea of your traveling inland on safari at any time of year--in
fact, I ask myself----"  He stared round him at the mildewed, white
walls, and explained, "I ask myself, indeed, if you are real."

For even in her white terai and belted suit of white linen she was a
vision appropriate only to the far-off world that this man had left
behind him at the call of duty--a world of delicate living and subtle
sensations, of frail flesh in luxurious settings, of sophistication
that would have shrunk from every crudity, and exquisiteness that would
have shriveled at the touch of hardship.  This studious-looking,
fever-stricken soldier, a nobleman under a bygone regime and in his
youth a great amateur of love, had known well many women of whom this
suppliant was the virtual counterpart, fragile, complex, too sensitive,
too ardent, the predestined prey of impulses and disabilities that none
but themselves, their adorers, and specialists in neurasthenia, could
conceive of.  In the present woman he discerned the same lovely and
neurotic countenance, the same traces of mingled fastidiousness and
desperation, the same promises of exceptionally passionate and tragic
happenings.

"Ah, yes," he reflected, coughing feebly, so as not to make his head
ache, "ah, yes, she is fatal.  Twenty years ago I would have killed men
for her with pleasure," he told himself, watching her pale, golden
face.  "Fatal! fatal!"--but he did not ask himself what fatality had
brought her here.  He knew her story, as by this time every one knew it
who had ever heard of Lawrence Teck, or David Verne, or her.

"So it is this one that she really loves?" he thought, contemplating
rather dismally her bitten lips, her lowered eyelashes, the throb of
her throat, the working of her slim fingers.  "I know: now she must
find him quickly, quickly, quickly.  She cannot sleep; she cannot eat;
but she can drink, because she is always burning; and she can think,
yes--but one thought, only.  Ah, the lucky man!" he sighed, while
beginning to shiver from his evening chill.

As though she had read his mind, or at least had discerned his capacity
for understanding her, she leaned forward, laid her hand on his sleeve,
and murmured:

"You have told me why I must not go.  Now give me permission."

"Do you then wish to risk death just at this time?  I should have
thought----"  He shook his head.  "No, I will telegraph to Fort Pero
d'Anhaya; the commandant there will send messengers to the border of
the Mambava country; the Mambava will telephone your message through
their forests by drum beat, and in one night every village will have
the news.  They will find him and tell him, and he will come here to
you."

"Too much time has passed already.  Even now I may be too late.
Besides, he must not come to me; it's I who must go to him."  She
blurted out in a soft voice, "On my knees, all the way----"  She
recovered herself; but two tears suddenly rolled down her cheeks, and
she faltered, "Look here, you know, if you prevent me you'll be doing a
terrible thing."

He got up to pace the floor.  He was of short stature, and his
shoulders were rounded by desk work and the debility from the tropics;
yet in the lost paradise of youth fair women had shed tears before him
and made him wax in their hands.  He came back to the table,
absentmindedly drank a cup of tepid coffee, and said indignantly:

"Nevertheless, you look far from well at this moment."

"I have never been so strong," she retorted.

"She dares everything, and no doubt all the while she fears terribly
what she dares.  She is sublime!  Who am I, a lump of sick flesh in
this fever trap, to interfere so strictly with this thing of white
flame?"

He said to her:

"Listen.  I will give you permission to travel on safari as far as Fort
Pero d'Anhaya.  Beyond that point I cannot promise you protection; so
beyond you are not to go.  Mr. Teck must come to you there.  To-morrow
I will see these people of yours, to make sure that they are competent
men, able to take all possible precautions for your welfare.  Now,
then, tell me at least that I am not as cruel and as stupid as you
thought."

When she had gone, a young man in a white uniform entered with a sheaf
of papers.  The governor smothered a groan.

"The summary of the hut tax, Excellency.  The post-office reports for
last month.  The reports of new public works--by the way, the new
bridge at Maquival has been finished."

"Ah," said the governor profoundly, staring into space, "the new bridge
of Maquival has been finished!"



CHAPTER LV

The equatorial wilds spread before the safari its wealth of extravagant
hues and forms, all its perfidies veiled for the allurement of mortals
who would trust nature in her richest manifestations.  The sun shone on
a rain-drenched world; the earth steamed; and through a mist like that
which prefaced the second Biblical version of creation the splendor of
the jungle seemed to be taking shape for the first time, at the command
of a power for whom beauty was synonymous with peril.

Nevertheless, the safari men were singing.

Askaris led the way, Somalis in claret-colored fezzes and khaki
uniforms, bare legged, with bandoliers across their chests and rifles
over their shoulders.  Their small, dark faces were sharp and fierce;
they marched with the swing of desert men; their glances expressed
their pride, their contempt for the humble, melodious horde that
followed after them.

Four negroes, naked to the waist, supported a machilla, a canopied
hammock of white duck that swung from a bamboo pole.  They were Wasena,
specially trained for this fatiguing work, maintaining a smooth step
over the roughest ground.  Lilla reclined in the hammock.  Her face,
half concealed by the fringe of the awning, appeared opalescent in the
filtered sunlight.  Her tapering figure had the grace of Persian queens
and Roman empresses floating along in their litters on ripples of dusky
muscles.

So this delicate, white product of modernity, this embodiment of
civilization's perceptions and all that it pays for them, was borne at
last into the primordial world on the shoulders of savages.

Behind her streamed a hundred porters balancing on their heads the
personal baggage, rolled tents, chop boxes, sacks of safari food.  They
were men from Manica, Sofala, and Tete, some of pure strain, others
with Arab and Latin blood in their veins.  Their bare torsoes were the
color of chocolate, of ebony, or even of saddle leather; but all their
foreheads bulged out in the same way, all their noses were short and
flat, all their chins receded.  On their breasts and arms were charms
of crocodiles' teeth and leopards' claws, to keep them safe from
beasts, rheumatism, arrows, pneumonia, snake bite, and skin diseases.
In the distended lobes of their ears were stuffed cigarettes, horn
snuffboxes, or flowers from the port town.

They were followed by the camp servants in long, white robes,
Beira-boys and Swahilis, driving before them a little flock of sheep.
Parr, at the head of another squad of askaris, brought up the rear,
riding a Muscat donkey.  He raised his head, and his withered mouth,
emerging from the shadow of his helmet, showed a melancholy smile.

He was drinking in the smell of Africa, and listening to the song of
the safari.

At times the song died down into a hum.  But soon a quavering falsetto
was heard formulating a new motive, expressing a new thought.  Other
voices joined the leader's; a minor refrain swept up and down the line;
and abruptly the climax swelled out in a diapason descending far into
the bass.  So that every one could sing, the improvisor had phrased his
thoughts in Swahili, the inter-tribal language of Africa.  He sang of
the Bibi from afar, her skin like a bowl of milk, who was traveling as
a bride to Fort Pero d'Anhaya.

"She is rich.  She is the daughter of a sultan.  She is ill, but she
will be well.  She is sad, but she will be happy.  We shall eat much
meat at her wedding."

The deep chorus rolled out to a banging of sticks on the sides of the
balanced boxes.

"Wah!  This Bibi is rich!  We shall eat much meat at her wedding!"

"They sing of you," said Hamoud, turning his limpid eyes toward her
face which was veiled by swaying fringes of the awning.  She unclenched
her fists; her body slowly relaxed; and a look of incredulity appeared
in her eyes, as she returned from afar to this oscillating world of
steamy heat, throbbing with aboriginal song, impregnated with the smell
of putrefying foliage and of sweat.  From under the feet of the
machilla carriers a cloud of mauve butterflies rose like flowers to
strew themselves over her soft body.  It was as if the machilla had
suddenly become a bier.

"God forbid it!" Hamoud muttered, averting his face from that sign.

He wore a tight turban of many colored stripes cocked up over one ear;
he had bared his legs, and bound sandals on his small feet; and round
his waist, over the sash that held his dagger, he had fastened a web
belt sustaining a bolstered pistol.  He never left the side of the
moving machilla.

They soon put behind them the mangroves of the coast.  They passed
through brakes of white-tipped feathery reeds, beyond which expanded
forests whose velvety foliage was mingled with gray curtains of moss.
On their left a little river kept reappearing.  From the islands of
marsh grass that floated down the stream, egrets and kingfishers flew
away.  On sandbars some dingy, log-like shapes, beginning stealthily to
move toward the water, were revealed as crocodiles.

In a bend of the river cashew trees overshadowed the thatch of fishing
huts.  Beyond fields of lilies one made out, flitting away, sooty
wanderers clad in ragged kilts and carrying thin-bladed spears.  Then
marshes spread afar: the transparent stalks of papyrus trembled above
the bluish pallor of lotuses.  As the declining sun poured its gold
across the world, the air over the marshes was jeweled from a great
rush of geese, ducks, heron, ibises, and storks.

They camped on the clean, white sand beside the stream.

The luxury that had always been her atmosphere still clung round her
here, taking on an Oriental quality from this host of unfettered
slaves, these dusky armed guards, these scurrying, white-robed servants
who, in the light of the sunset, composed with the speed of enchantment
her habitation for the night.  The green tent, its fly extended like an
awning, awaited her entrance.  The floor sheet was strewn with rugs;
the snowy camp bed was made; her toilet case stood open on the folding
table.  The tent boys, their faces obsequiously lowered, were pouring
hot water into the canvas tub.

Bareheaded, but wrapped in a tan polo coat, she emerged from the tent
to find the dinner table ready under the fly.  They offered _hors
d'oeuvres_, a jellied soup, a curry, fruit tarts, and coffee.  She
shook her head, and continued to stare at the candles on the table.
Fluffy, white moths were burning themselves in the flames.

Parr protested that she must eat.  In this climate one did not fast
with impunity.

"I sha'n't collapse," she replied, that stony look returning to her
face.

Night fell like the abruptly loosened folds of a great curtain.  The
air became vibrant with the shrilling of insects.  Fireflies filled the
darkness with a twinkling mist, so that the immense spangle of the
purple sky seemed to have invaded the purple ambiguities of earth.  But
along the river bank shone the fires of the safari--points of flame
that outlined, like a binding of copper wire, the silhouettes of
squatting men, or turned a half-inchoate face to molten bronze, or
illuminated, against the lustrous blackness of the water, the fragment
of a muscular back, the crook of an arm, a stare of eyeballs, a display
of teeth that seemed to be swimming there unrelated to a head.

The babble of the camp--a continuous chattering, crooning, and
guffawing, blended with the indignant cries of monkeys.  It was, she
thought, all one threnody of purely natural creatures, of which one
species, by some accident of structure and unplanned immunity, had
enlarged its powers of experiment and imitation to this point of
triumph--the kindling of fires, the eating of cooked food, the
gradually enhanced capacity for suffering.

"Are you religious, Parr?" she asked the little man who sat huddled in
a faded ulster, sucking at a cold pipe.  What she meant was, "Do you
believe, poor traveler, that you have a soul--some spark that these
black savages share with you perhaps, but that those chattering monkeys
lack?"

His pinched, gray countenance took on a timid look.

"I hope so, ma'am," he stammered, and tried to assume an expression of
befitting dignity.

"So you can pray without laughing at yourself!"

Her cold voice was replete with the bitterness of those who have got
from suffering nothing except rancor, as if at some vast hoax.

Parr was frightened by this glimpse into her disillusionment; and
prayer, which he himself had abandoned in his childhood, seemed
suddenly worthy of his timid championship.  He mumbled something about
faith; he had, it appeared, seen some of its achievements.  He recalled
the faith of strong men, which had accomplished prodigies; the
confidence of youth----

"And when one is old and weak?  So it is all a physical phenomenon?"

When she had slowly and relentlessly flung this retort at him, for want
of a better object for her scorn, she turned her head away.  Her eyes
fell upon Hamoud who, sitting on his heels near her chair, was watching
her face by the light of the talc-sided lanterns that dangled from the
tent-fly.  But Parr, not utterly crushed, proffered faintly that he
knew he could not argue with the likes of her, being without education,
having taken life as it came, mostly obeying orders----

"Like Hamoud," she commented.  "Hamoud has taken life as it came,
obeying the orders of fate.  What is your word for resignation, Hamoud?
The word that brought you across the ocean into Mr. Verne's service,
and then back across the ocean into this place?"

"Mektoub," he vouchsafed, after lowering his eyes so that she should
not see the flames in them.  "And why not, since none can hope to
escape his destiny?  We--this whole safari--are here in the palm of
God's hand.  None knows what God has prepared for us; yet every
footprint that we make has been marked before our feet."

On these words, his handsome, lightly bearded visage was touched with a
look of beatitude, as though speaking in his sleep he was dreaming of
some unrevealed delight.

"Then our will is nothing?"

"Ah, if our will is victorious it is the will of God."

As she made no response, and since the hour called "Isheh" was
approaching, he rose and departed to pray.

"Will!" she thought.  "No, there is nothing else.  Will is the
Thing-in-Itself."

The tent curtain fell behind her.  She heard Parr's voice call out the
command for silence.  His words were taken up by the askaris on guard.
The camp noises ceased; one heard only the scolding of the monkeys, the
drumming of partridges, and the far-off roar of a lion that had eaten
his fill.  The earth seemed to tremble slightly from that distant sound.

She lay on her bed, under the muslin mosquito net through which
strained the pearly gleam of a lantern.  Once more it was all an
illusion which must be allowed to endure till reality could be gained.
For Lilla, the only reality was comprised at this moment into one more
meeting with him, in the sight of his living face, in the sound of his
voice pronouncing words of forgiveness, of love, perhaps even of
remorse.  Should she reach him too late for that--find this longing
also part of the illusion?  The prophesy of Anna Zanidov had gained a
still greater power from those deep forests, those sudden apparitions
in vaporous clearings of men armed with gleaming spears, and now from
the greenish infiltration of the moonlight.

Another lion roared in the depths of the night.

"Why should one fear even these strange forms of death?  What has my
life been that I should find it precious?  What does anything matter
except one hour with him?  I really ask only a moment.  No, all that I
fear is death before I find him, before I've won from him a last kiss
of understanding and pardon.  Will!  That shall be my strength and my
immunity all the way!"

At last she dozed, to dream that Hamoud had confronted a lion just as
the beast was about to pounce upon Madame Zanidov, who, wearing the
dress of oxidized silver barbarically painted, crouched in a moonlit
clearing.  "No, Hamoud, let him have her!"  Hamoud, with a smile, stood
aside.  Then she saw Lawrence approaching, his face and body wrapped in
a white cloth.  "Too late," he uttered, and was unveiling his face when
she sat up in bed with a scream.

Instantly the curtain let in a flash of moonlight.  Hamoud stood at the
bedside, his hand on the hilt of his dagger.  From behind him entered
the voices Of the guards calling out to one another.  Then a murmur of
other voices broke like a wave.

"There is nothing here," Hamoud said gently, when he had looked round
the tent.  As she made no reply, he was about to withdraw; but,
kneeling down, instead, he raised the weighted hem of the mosquito net,
to take her hand and press it to his brow.

"Sleep always without fear.  Till Hamoud is dead no harm shall come to
you."

"And dreams?" she moaned, letting her hand go limp in his frozen grasp.
"Oh, Hamoud, and dreams?"

In the pearly light, beneath the cloudy net, in the air that was
fragrant with the odors of soap and cologne, her upturned countenance
and swelling throat gave forth a gleam as if of flesh transfigured by
love instead of grief.  He felt himself falling through space into a
bottomless anguish.  He clutched at the thought, "Yet who knows His
designs?" and hung in that void alive, his secret still locked in his
breast, the delicious pain of her daily condescension still assured to
him.

"Ah, if you were of my faith you would have heard that life is all a
dream, that there is no reality except paradise and hell."

He rose, and stole away from paradise to hell.



CHAPTER LVI

In the dawn Parr hobbled down the line of yawning porters, checking the
reapportionment of burdens.  The machilla men, still nibbling at chunks
of cold porridge, approached with the hammock swinging from their
shoulders.

The safari resumed its march.

Its course was northwest, through jungles of bamboo, round the rims of
marshes, past forests filmed with the blue and yellow of convolvulus.
The mountains remained apparently as far away as ever, now indistinct
behind the heat mist of the lowlands, now disappearing beyond the
rainstorms that swept across the plateaux like the robes of colossal
gods.

The safari passed leopard traps, graves decked with broken pottery and
little banners of rags, then, circling fields of maize, entered a
village.  The huts stood in a ring inside a rude stockade.  The village
headman advanced, bending forward from the waist and scraping first one
foot and then the other.  He made obeisance before the machilla, in
which men of his own kind bore up a delicate, pale prodigy, an
incredible creature from another aeon or planet.

He was a wizened, old man with shreds of white wool on his chin.  His
eyeballs were tinctured with yellow.  His right shoulder was a mass of
long-healed scars from the claws and teeth of some beast.  Behind him,
against a solid wall of his people, young girls with shaved heads,
awe-stricken, held gourds of beer as pink as coral and as thick as
gruel.

The village headman revealed the news of the wilds, which had been
transmitted from tribe to tribe by native travelers, or by the
far-carrying beat of wooden gongs.  A safari, passing to the north, had
penetrated the land of the Mambava.  In that safari there were two
white men and many askaris.  They had now journeyed through the forests
of the people of Muene-Motapa.  They were in the granite gorges of the
waterfalls.

He pointed toward where the floating mountains rose in a peak that was
lightly silvered with snow.

Parr, on the Muscat donkey, looking more haggard than ever in the
sunshine, demanded:

"Is it the white man who is called the Bwana Bangana?"

That was the name that had accompanied the news.

The safari marched faster than before, toward the exalted masses that
trembled behind the heat.  They emerged upon rolling plains remotely
dotted with herds of zebras and antelope.  In the blinding sky they saw
kites, buzzards, and crows, rising from the carcasses that had been
left half devoured by noctambulant beasts of prey.  At nightfall the
lightning flashed above the mountains in yellow sheets or rosy zigzags.
Thunder rolled out across the plain in majestic detonations.

Lilla, watching the storm from the doorway of her tent, told herself
that he, too, must hear these sounds; that she had come near enough to
share with him at any rate this sensation--unless her dread had already
been realized, and he had sunk into a sleep from which even such noises
could not wake him.

Hamoud appeared at her side.  He quoted from the _Uncreated Book_:

"He showeth you the lightning, a source of awe and hope."

Her heart swelled; she turned to that fervent, handsome face beneath
the turban a look of peculiar tenderness like a sword thrust, and
responded in liquid tones:

"What should I have done without you?"



CHAPTER LVII

Lawrence Teck was not in the gorges of the waterfalls.

While marching in through the lowlands he had been seized with a fever
that he had failed to shake off on the plateaux.  Every day he had
grown a little worse, indeed, till finally the choice had seemed to lie
between resignation of his work and serious illness.  Turning back
toward the coast, he had now regained the forests of the Mambava.
Here, in his second night's camp, he had suffered a collapse.

He lay abed in his tent.  On the waterproof floor cloth squatted a
Mambava warrior, a messenger from King Muene-Motapa.

"Give the word, Bangana.  Give the word, Brother of the King.  We will
carry you to the King's town on a litter as soft as the clouds.  The
wizards shall work their charms to make you well.  The Dances of the
Moon are about to begin: it is the time of answered prayers.  Your
medicines have failed; now try ours.  One word, Bangana!  Gladden the
heart of the King!"

The messenger's almost Semitic visage, upturned in the lamplight, was
smeared with ambassadorial signs in yellow paint.  On his head he wore
a bonnet of marabout feathers that floated like a tiara of gossamer;
his arms and legs were armored with copper bangles.  In his voice there
throbbed a tenderness and pathos, as if he were making vocal the very
essence of the king's desire.  His eyes even swam in moisture, as he
repeated the conjuration:

"Speak!  Speak the word!"

Lawrence Teck returned:

"Say this to Muene-Motapa.  The medicine that might cure me is far
beyond the sea.  I thought I might do without it; but see what the lack
of it has brought me to.  A little chill, a headache--the strong man
rejoicing in the world shakes his shoulders and they are gone.  But
death in one of its multitude of forms stands at the door of the heart
that has ceased to take pleasure in life."

His voice was feeble.  His bearded face, bending forward under the net,
was blank from exhaustion and unnaturally flushed.  His teeth clashed
together, as he concluded:

"There is no medicine in this land to cure this sickness."

The messenger groaned, and said compassionately:

"It is sad to see the great deserted by their gods.  Yet our gods
remain!"  He pressed his palms on the floor sheet and leaned forward,
his filmy headdress drifting over his glittering eyes.  "Surely,
Bangana, now is the time to renounce the old, to embrace the true!  To
cast the spear of scorn and come in behind our shields till you are
strong again.  We will make you forget!  Give yourself up but once to
our ancient mysteries!  Have you forgotten the Dances of the Moon?"

There rose before Lawrence Teck a vision of an inferno deep in these
forests, red from great fires that devoured the moonlight.  The scene
was peopled by thousands of beings too dreadful, surely, in their
appearance and actions, to be human--beings that danced in regiments
with foaming lips, that howled out their frenzy amid the roar of drums,
that fell right and left, convulsed, insane, cataleptic, while the
witch doctors, impassive in their masks, emerged through the smoke of
the fires with bloody hands.  It was the reign of nature in its densest
stronghold; it was that which hovers like an echo over the suave,
ordered landscapes of civilization; it was the seductive horror that
invades the modern brain in dreams, or in some moment of utter
bitterness and despair.

For a moment he still leaned forward, peering into those glittering,
dark eyes, though what he saw was something beyond that face--the
destruction of all the toil of fifty thousand years, the suicide of a
soul.  With a shudder he lay back upon the bed.

"Return to the King."

For five minutes the messenger sat motionless; but Lawrence Teck did
not speak again.  Rising at last, in a fluff of his marabout plumes, he
armed himself with his spear and his oval shield covered with an
heraldic design.

"The King will weep," he said.  "And the little sisters of the King,
and all those who loved you, oh, dead man."

He raised the curtain, and stalked away through the camp, clashing
superbly between the fires, while the clustered askaris and porters
regarded him dismally.

A white man in a fleece-lined coat, who had been waiting in the open
for the messenger to depart, entered the tent and sat down beside the
bed.

He was Cornelius Rysbroek.

"Shall you try to march to-morrow?"

Lawrence Teck did not reply.  There was no strength in him even to move
his hand, after that gesture with which he had put from him, though
half lost in fever, the ultimate temptation.  Cornelius Rysbroek,
believing that he saw here defeat instead of victory, smiled.

In his eyes appeared, perfected, the light that had made them
exceptional for years, a flash from that psychical lake of fire and
brimstone in which his heart had so long been burning up.  For the
tables were turned at last: the weak one, the inferior, had become the
stronger, the better.  A thousand wounds seemed to heal themselves in
him as he contemplated the prostration of the enemy whom he had hated,
just from premonition, even before his appearance.  There was true
madness in that look, arising from the long privation, the interminable
jealousy, the consequent monomania of revenge.  "He will die," he
reflected, gloating with half-shut eyes, his face, that had once been
puerile, now dignified by triumph.  "He will never leave this forest,"
he sang to himself, curling up his mouse-colored mustaches as if at a
mirror before sallying out to some pleasure in which there was no
sting.  But suddenly he remembered that this prostrate rival was still
his conqueror, had won what he had not been able to win, would recall,
no doubt, in his last moment of consciousness, that love in all its
details.

Out of the silent night the spirit of Africa crept into the dim tent,
completing his madness.

To one of the little fires came softly Lawrence Teck's tent boy, a
turbaned Persian, lemon-hued, with the beak of a parrot and the mouth
of a cruel woman.  He sat down close beside a Swahili gun bearer, who
was frying a mess of white ants.

"Our Bwana has fallen asleep," he uttered in a voice that would have
been inaudible to white men.  "The other Bwana is sitting by the bed."
He waited till the ants were cooked to a turn, then murmured, in a tone
like aeolian harp strings caressed by the faintest zephyr, "If our
Bwana does not die of the fever the other Bwana will kill him."

The brown Swahili, his pan half raised, turned his face which seemed to
have been smashed flat, and gave the speaker a slow, fierce look of
inquiry.  The Persian breathed:

"With our Bwana's own pistol.  As if he had killed himself.  I peeped
through the curtain.  The pistol was hanging from the tent-pole.  When
he looked at it, and then at our Bwana, I read everything in his mind.
But if this also is the will of God it will not happen until some hour
when the camp is still--when we are all asleep."



CHAPTER LVIII

The safari that was seeking him marched and camped, marched and camped,
marched and camped.

Every afternoon the northeastern monsoon wafted in its sticky moisture,
releasing in the jungles the nauseating sweetness of incredible
flowers.  Smoky-brown flies were seen on the necks of the sheep.  The
beasts began to sicken and die.  The porters ate fresh meat.

But the porters no longer sang.  The Wasena, who bore the hammock,
muttered to one another dolefully as they shuffled along.  All knew by
this time that they were not headed for Fort Pero d'Anhaya.  Avoiding
that last outpost of civilization, they were approaching the country of
the Mambava, which lay behind the steamy sunshine, below the blue and
lavender battlements of granite, in the uplands covered with forests.

The askaris alone, the lean, khaki-clad Somalia, remained indifferent
to this atmosphere of disquiet that was more debilitating to the
porters than the fever-laden mists.  For these fierce, restless men
from the northern deserts were of a breed that found its true
contentment in danger and violence.  They were cheered, perhaps, by the
possibility of bloodshed, sustained by the automatism resulting from
their faith, and, despite their disdain of women, inspired by their
admiration of this frail personage who was always urging more speed
toward the fabulous regions of peril.

As for her, she no longer saw anything except that deep green zone
which quivered behind the heat.

"I shall find him not in the gorges, but in those forests."

For the scene of Anna Zanidov's prophecy was laid in a forest.

She lay in the machilla like a tightly drawn bow.  Her skin, now ashen,
now bright from a touch of fever, stretched over a visage of apparently
new contours: round her cheekbones and jaws were suggestions of
previously unsuspected strength.  Her tender lips had assumed an almost
cruel aspect; her sunken eyes, growing ever larger in her diminishing
face, were harder than gems.  She was the personification of will.

And Parr, sagging, shivering, softly groaning on the back of the Muscat
donkey, and Hamoud, ever pacing beside her, and the askaris with their
rifle barrels glinting against their fezzes, and the porters and the
camp boys, were only the instrument that her will had welded together.
They were wraiths obediently advancing her dream of one fleeting moment
of triumph over fate.  They were nothing, since she had summoned them
out of the void of this world by an imperious cry.  They were
everything; for without them her dream would fade.

Sometimes the green zone of the uplands was lost in a blur not of heat,
but of fever.  Sharp pains stabbed her temples, and, when the dream
became distinct again, she saw black men walking like giants, their
heads in the white-hot sky.  But just as she had conquered fear, so, by
a supreme resolution, she conquered her vertigo, the burning of her
emaciated limbs, the quaking of her body which a moment before had been
bathed in moisture.  At sunset she descended from the machilla to give
Hamoud a look of astonishment, while replying:

"No, I am well."

Yet she cast a look of dread at the rising tent, thinking of the hours
of sleeplessness, of appalling thoughts on the borderline between
nightmares and flashes of fever.

Now and then, as she escaped shivering from the hot bath, she lost hold
of her new strength.

"If you knew!" she whimpered.

The lost, safe life rose before her.  She saw against the green tent
walls the painting by Bronzino, the jeweled perspective of Fifth Avenue
at night, Fanny Brassfield's necklace sparkling in the blaze of the
opera house.  The music of waltzes mingled with the strains of David's
tone poem; and she smelled at the same time the tanbark of the horse
show, the pastilles at Brantome's, and the flowers surrounding the
marble warrior and the marble nymph.  She was seized with panic, on
realizing the remoteness of security.

"Where am I?  Africa!  But why?"

She stood motionless, aghast at her inability to remember why she was
here.

Hamoud's voice came to her from beyond the curtain:

"There is going to be a shauri, a talk with these porters of yours."

"Ah, my God!  What is it now?"

Hamoud cast back at her through the curtain, in a tone of bitterness:

"Rebellion."

She wrapped herself in her robe and cowered on the bed.

Half an hour passed.  Hamoud's voice was heard again:

"Madam, all is ready."

She emerged victorious once more, her face stony, her lips compressed,
her eyes as cold as ice.

On each side of her tent a clump of askaris stood leaning on their
rifles.  Over against her chair the porters were aligned in a great
semicircle, tribe by tribe.  The intervening flames of a camp fire
shone richly on the massed bronze bodies and the brutish faces that had
turned, for once, inexpressive.  As Lilla sat down in her chair, a low
murmur passed through their ranks and lost itself in the gilded fronds
of palm trees that hung stiffly, like the scenery of a theater, above
this spectacle.

Amid the shrilling of crickets a Wasena, the leader of the machilla
bearers, spoke first.  He was a thin mulatto with filed teeth; the
sores on his shoulders were smeared with an ointment made of charcoal
and oil.  His voice rose explosively, in a sort of childish defiance,
persisted for a long while, then suddenly died away.  One heard from
the depths of the jungle the tittering of a hyena.

An askari spat to the left contemptuously.

The leader of the porters from Tete sprang forward with a cry of
exasperation.  For this occasion he had bound round his waist the pelt
of one of the slaughtered sheep, and had made a head-dress of draggled
turaco feathers.  He waved his sinewy arms, crouched, postured, tossed
back his head.  His oration was less coherent than the Wasena's, but
more dramatic.

"The first moon since the rains!  The season when the Mambava hold
their great dances!  It is now that their forest will be full of music,
while their warriors gather in the place that they know of, to dance to
the moon.  We will not enter the country of the Mambava while they
dance to the moon!"

A hoarse outcry rose toward the multitude of stars:

"We will not enter the country of the Mambava when they dance to the
moon!"

The askaris, their fezzes cocked jauntily, impatiently shuffled their
sandals of giraffe hide, and hitched up their belts in which were
thrust broad-bladed Somali knives.

"They are rabbits," the askaris affirmed.  "Even this lady shames them.
They are less than women."  They turned their fierce eyes toward Lilla,
calling out to her, "Here we stand, Ya Bibi!"  There was a savage
insinuation in that cry.

In order to respond, Parr sat down in a chair, the immemorial symbol of
authority.  He spoke in Swahili.  After each sentence he paused, so
that his words might be translated by the headmen of the porters into
their tribal dialects.  His voice rose faintly, almost ineffectually
contending against the sounds of the insects.  He looked very small and
ghastly in the firelight; he was sick to his bones, feeling just as he
had felt before the black-water fever.  The great semicircle of hostile
eyes perceived all his weakness.  In the opinion of his antagonists his
face bore the seal of death.  This representative of the white-skinned
super-race was revealed as weaker than they--no trace of the white
man's conquering will was to be discerned in his feeble countenance.
Why listen any more?

Their leaders no longer troubled to translate his words.

He went on, however, with the last of his strength holding fast to the
thought of paying his debt in full.

In that land, he declared, none would dare to hurt the friends of
Muene-Motapa's friend.  They should return telling how they had passed
unharmed, even honored, through the country of the Mambava.  He
promised them double pay--while groping for some further argument, he
seemed to be sinking in upon himself.  His face drooped forward.

From the horde of porters came scattered shouts:

"Enough!  The shauri is over!  In the morning we return!"

"What do they say, Hamoud?"

"They say that in the morning they will return to the coast."

She sat stunned.

The orator from Tete moved with a kind of spasmodic dancing gait toward
Parr.  Never thus had the white man's genius lain prostrate before him.
He was the symbol of a race abruptly exalted from inferiority to
dominance.  There came over him a frenzy of pride and malice; it was
the realization of the dreams that burn the brains of all the dark
people of the earth.  "Do you hear?" he howled, and brandished his
fists as though about to strike that lowered head.

An askari glided forward reversing his rifle.  There was a cracking
sound as the gun butt struck the orator from Tete in the middle of the
forehead.  With a drowsy look the smitten man sank down as gently as if
falling into a mound of feathers, and deliberately composed himself in
sleep, his brown face against the brown earth.

In all that throng there was suddenly not the slightest movement, and
no sound was to be heard except the trill of the insects.

She was standing, staring from the prostrate body to the mass of
porters, whose eyes were fixed upon the victim with one look, of
mournful awakening.  Then they saw her whom they had forgotten, or, in
their transport, considered negligible.  But when they had read her
face it was they who were frightened.

"You!  You!  To stop me!"

And a homicidal gesture completed her appearance of fury.

"Wallahi!" the askaris called out to one another.  "She has given the
order!"

They spread out to right and left with a clicking of their rifle locks;
they drove the porters together, close to the fire.  A soft moan arose
from the huddled crowd.  They had seen the whips of hippopotamus hide,
long and flexible, translucent in the firelight like streams of amber.

As the lash described a flourish above the first outstretched back she
turned away to her tent.  Hamoud was before her, raising the curtain.
He said:

"They will speak no more about the coast when we are through with them."



CHAPTER LIX

At dawn he came to tell her that Parr had the black-water fever.

The sick man was unconscious when they sent him off, in the machilla,
toward Fort Pero d'Anhaya, with three of the askaris and fifteen of the
porters.  They soon disappeared into a jungle of spear grass, above
which the sunrise was spreading its bands of smoky gold and rose.  The
chosen porters forgot their lacerated bodies; a song floated back from
them to those who must still press onward.

"I have killed him, Hamoud."

"Who knows?  It is true that he is old and has had this fever before.
But we do not need him.  Maybe he has fulfilled his destiny.  And we
have not."  In the glory of the sunrise he turned to meditate over her
thin, tortured face.  He observed, with a lyrical sadness, "What is
life?  A running this way and that after mirages.  A thirsting for
sweet wells of which one has heard in a dream.  Does one ever taste
those waters?  Are they sweet or bitter?  Perhaps this is the
secret--that to taste them is death."

The safari marched on.  She rode the Muscat donkey, which was dying
from the bites of tsetse flies.



CHAPTER LX

Next morning she marched afoot in the blaze of the sun.  Trailing
thorns pierced her ankles; the stipa shrubs showered her with little
barbs, and from another bush was detached an invisible pollen that
penetrated her clothing and burned her skin.  At the noon halt they
made a hammock of tent cloth, in which she was carried all the
afternoon by four porters.  At nightfall they saw, across a valley, the
edge of the Mambava forests, the towering tree trunks banked with huge
thickets and bound together by nets of vines.

They camped in the valley, where a stream flowed through a tangle of
indigo plants.  The warm bath steamed in her tent; the fresh evening
garments were laid out; everything was the same in this canvas ark that
proceeded farther and farther into the wilds with its atmosphere of
rude luxury intact.  When she emerged from the tent, in her polo coat
and suede mosquito boots, the table glistened with its china and
glassware.

She sat looking at the black forest.

"He is there!"

But she was very tired.

Ah, to lie down, grope no longer for her will, drift away into a region
where there was no love or remorse, sleep forever!  Why should she feel
like this with the goal so near at last, unless from a premonition that
all her efforts were useless?

Never before had this land and its phenomena appeared so cruel, so
perfectly the manifestation of a superhuman force that clothed its
malignancy in a primordial splendor.  Here, she reflected, was the
quintessence of earthly beauty inextricable from the quintessence of
horror; here was the source of all that she had trusted elsewhere in
countless perfidious disguises and refinements.

Poisonous in some subtle element behind its visible vapors, it
corrupted not only the flesh, but also the souls that had emerged
elsewhere into forms of affection and compassion.  Two nights ago even
she had greeted the crack of the whips with the furious thought,
"Strike again!"--and now there stole into her brain, together with the
light hallucinations of fever, a hatred of these cringing black men who
for a moment had dared to stand before her as antagonists.  The evening
breeze brought to her, from the porters' fires, the odor of savage
bodies that had labored and been beaten for the cause of love; and her
disgust was tinctured with the fierce intolerance of all those
impressionable beings from what is called civilization, whom Africa had
debased--or else, made "natural" again.

Through the buzz of insects there came from the forest, gradually
blending over wide distances, a gentle throbbing.  The porters lifted
their round heads beyond the fires.  The sharp profiles of the askaris
were motionless.  A wail floated over the camp:

"The drums of the Mambava!"

The throbbing died away.  But soon it began again in the north, then in
the south, and swelled to a continuous rumbling.

On the edge of the sky the moon appeared, blood red, nearly full.

There was a rush of feet, a scuffle in the bushes, and two askaris
advanced into the firelight, dragging between them a creature that they
seemed to have plucked out of some grotesque dream.

He was an albino.  His gray skin, because of its lack of pigmentation,
was splotched with eczema; his wool was a dirty, yellowish white; his
features were permanently distorted because of his lifelong efforts to
keep the light from paining his pink eyes.  The askaris threw this
monstrosity upon his face before Lilla's chair.  He lay moaning and
feebly moving his hands, as if he were caressing the earth.

Suddenly he sat up on his haunches.  His body jumped from the beating
of his heart.  He fixed on Lilla a look that was the utmost caricature
of terror and entreaty.

An askari let out a neighing laugh:

"So this is one of the dangerous Mambava!"

But the albino was not one of the Mambava.

He was a man of the Manyazombe, who dwelt in the north--an exile, a
solitary wanderer, a lost soul.  Who knew what aversion, what
indefinable dread, his dissimilarity had produced in his own people,
what village calamities he had been blamed for, what persecutions he
had suffered?  For some reason he had fled from his own tribe, to be
greeted at the outskirts of alien villages with showers of spears.  He
had learned to reciprocate the horror of mankind.  Then he had dwelt in
the jungle, joining the furtive beasts.  But still, moved by an
obscure, invincible need, he crept in thickets from which he might
watch the life of human beings, feasting his eyes on the fire-splashed
bodies of men and women, listening to the songs and the laughter,
filling his nostrils with the savor of his kind, as a damned spirit
might creep back to the warmth of life from a desolate hereafter.

But what did he see now?  Was she who sat before him human or
divine--one of those who must be placated by strict deeds, by charms or
the blood of animals and captives; some spirit of the jungle that had
made herself visible, in her marvelous pallor and uncanny costume, amid
a retinue of mortals inured to her magic?

"Tell him that he is safe," she said, with a movement of loathing.

Falling forward, he embraced her boots with his hands.

A porter who understood his language was summoned to question him.  The
albino had just now crept through the country of the Mambava.  He had
not dared to linger there; for on all the forest trails bands of
warriors were moving in toward the rendezvous where, as soon as the
moon was full, they would hold the dances.  Yet in the midst of those
forests he had seen the camp of white men.

"He has seen it!" she cried, leaning forward to devour with her eyes
that hideous and precious instrument of fate.  "Hamoud, he has seen
him!  He can guide us there!"  And with a look of tenderness she
murmured, "You will show us the way?  Ah, I will give you--I will give
you----"

She saw herself pouring gold over the pariah.

He bowed his head till his dirty, yellowish poll nearly touched his
gray knees that were covered with callouses.  Amid the close-packed,
silent audience a smothered phrase rose to the ears of the interpreter.
Hamoud, turning away his face, cast forth the words:

"Too late."

For the albino, while creeping round that camp in the Mambava forests,
had heard of a strange thing, of the shooting of one of the white men
in the night.  Those discussing the matter had not known how it had
happened, since they had all been asleep.  The white man was then
dying.  By this time, no doubt, he was dead.

She sank back as if she, too, had received a bullet.  But after a time,
during which that dark throng had not stirred, she rose and entered her
tent.  There Hamoud found her standing, swaying slightly, with closed
eyes.  An invisible hand had brushed across her countenance, effacing
the last traces of her beauty.

"Do we still go on?" breathed Hamoud.

Without opening her eyes she returned, in a loud voice:

"He shall not die till I get there."

Hamoud's look of sadness gave place to a look of peace.



CHAPTER LXI

At daybreak the safari entered the forest.

Two askaris went first, guarding the albino.  Next, since the forest
trail was too narrow for hammock travel, Lilla came afoot with Hamoud,
seeing nothing, hearing nothing, feeling no physical weariness or pain.
Behind her the rest of the askaris herded along the porters.

The huge tree trunks sprang up toward a firmament of somber green, from
which descended dense festoons of vines.  Through this twilight flitted
birds of brilliant plumage and long-haired monkeys.  The place had a
morose, nefarious beauty, like the forest in the prophecy of Anna
Zanidov.

Now and then a glade appeared, hung with flowers of mustard yellow or
diaphanous purple.  Then again the tunnel-like trail, the green
twilight, the flapping of carmine wings, and a shaft of sunshine
piercing the canopy to rest upon the gnawed bones of a forest deer.
Here and there stood clumps of brown reeds, without twigs or buds, as
though a band of warriors had buried their spear blade down in the
earth before vanishing into the thickets.  But one saw no faces except
those of the monkeys.

They camped in a glade beside a spring.  The drums filled the night
with their throbbing, which seemed part of the throbbing in Lilla's
feverish head.  The askaris kept double guard; but at dawn eleven of
the porters were missing.

Ahead of the marching safari, in a clearing spotted with large,
dirty-white blossoms, six black men sat motionless round the ashes of a
camp fire.  They were watchers posted here to see that no strangers
entered their land at the season of the dances.

Although they could not take part in those mysteries they wore the full
dance regalia.  They were crowned with towering shakoes of
black-and-white monkey hair, fastened under their chins with beaded
straps, and bristling with egrets.  Their bodies were smeared with
indigo and blotched with large discs of white paint; their faces were
painted white, but their noses were covered with soot.  They wore not a
scrap of clothing; but around their necks and on their arms and legs
they had a wealth of talismans--tiny figures fashioned from clay, from
iron, from copper and from stones, in which one might discern the
characteristics of Phoenician images debased by thousands of years of
savage inspiration.  In their painted, plumed, bedizened immobility
they appeared inhuman, or perhaps less than human--the personifications
of Africa's blind and vivid soul, the full efflorescence of this
gloomy, white-splotched clearing.

They raised their heads as a seventh, crowned and painted as they were,
stood forth from a curtain of vines.  On his left arm he wore a shield
covered with black-and-white patterns; above the shield rim glittered
the blades of three spears.

He described what he had seen.

He told of a train of dark-skinned men, guided by one with
unexceptional features, but with yellowish wool and a skin that
resembled the belly of a dead fish.  These intruders served a personage
such as had never been seen.  For she--if indeed a woman--was tall,
with a face the color of the highest mountain peaks, and eyes gleaming
like strange stones.  She walked as if in a trance; but in her
trancelike face was a cold grief, or maybe a cold fury, like that of
some goddess whose taboos had been broken, and who was marching to
vengeance.

They sat awe-stricken, filled with that dread of the supernatural which
possesses the savage who is confronted with anything unheard of.
Besides, the spell of the dances was upon them, remote though they were
from that scene--the far-off frenzies that were preparing had begun to
trouble their nerves.  But at last their leader rose.  Moved by the
mysticism of the season, when every act must take on a liturgical
quality, he chanted the question:

"Who is the woman with the cold face who enters our country at the time
of the Dances of the Moon?"

All his companions repeated his question in a low, singing tone,
touching their amulets, and raising their whitened visages toward the
interlaced branches and vines.

The leader's high, tremulous voice was heard again:

"Is it a woman of flesh and blood; or is it the Lady of the Moon?"

It was the genius of the ancient Phoenicians, the spirit of Astoreth,
surviving distorted through all these ages in the depths of the jungle,
exerting its spell.

But a look of cunning entered his blood-shot eyes; and his flexible
mask of white was creased by a smile.  He cried out in a new voice:

"If she is the Lady of the Moon our spears will not hurt her!"

He bounded into the air, stamped his feet, shook his headdress, and
crouched in an attitude of war.

"But if she is flesh and blood our spears will tell us so!"

All leaped to their feet.  Their brandished spears made nimbuses over
their heads; and this time their response was like the baying of
hounds.  Then, one by one, stepping lightly, they slipped through the
curtain of vines.



CHAPTER LXII

Trees, trees, trees.  They were colossal, draped in moss and lichen,
ferns growing from the crooks of their limbs, above the impenetrable
thickets of broad-leaved plants from which came the tinkle of rills.
Here and there had fallen across the narrow corridor a tree trunk
riddled by ants; as Lilla stepped over it blue scorpions scuttled away.

Hour after hour there floated before her the fezzes and khaki-covered
backs of the two leading askaris, trim, narrow, jaunty backs flanking
the leprous shoulders of the albino.  Now and again Hamoud, a robed
figment always beside her, addressed her in an unintelligible language.

"Dying.  Dying.  Dying."

Too late, perhaps, even for that last embrace of glances, that moment
of pardon and love which was all that she had asked.  Closed eyes,
sealed lips, a similacrum to mock her will, left behind by the spirit
that had gone where she and the safari could not follow.

"All the same, I shall not be far behind you!  My spirit, when it has
shaken off this flesh, will travel faster than yours, on the wings of a
supreme necessity.  I shall find you!"

She stopped short, bewildered by a new hallucination--a flash of
silvery light across her face.  She saw one of the leading askaris
kneel down and stretch himself upon his face, as if trying to press
against the ground a thin shaft that seemed to be lying crosswise under
his chest.  Then she heard an explosion, and perceived a film of smoke
full of horizontal gleams--the blades of flying spears.

She had a fleeting impression of Hamoud, his arm outstretched, his hand
spitting fire.  Beyond him the albino vanished in mid-air.  The second
askari, his rifle lowered, was staring in vague surmise at his breast,
from which protruded a piece of polished wood.  At that moment she
found herself surrounded by khaki-clad forms all moving with catlike
grace.  The dark faces under the fezzes were changed by the fervor of
battle; the bared teeth shone out beside the locks of the rifles.
These thin, hard bodies, buffeting her about, formed round her a
rampart from which the blades of steel were answered by blades of flame.

Hamoud rose from the ground at her feet, drawing his dagger.  An askari
grunted and sat down with a thud.  Then she saw that they were in the
midst of a glade.  Among the bushes flitted the pattern of a shield, a
clump of egrets, a whitened visage that seemed to lack a nose.  The
askaris' rifles rose, spouted fire, sank down with a click, rose,
crashed again.  Silence fell.

The blue veil of smoke rose slowly, all in one piece.

Then, without warning, came the charge.

She became aware of an incredible apparition--a sort of naked
harlequin, magnified by a towering headdress, sailing high, twisting
over his shield like a pole vaulter over a pole, coming down asprawl in
a bed of crimson flowers.  Another followed, crouching--or else this
was only a swiftly advancing shield, topped by a tuft of egrets.  But
from one side of the shield darted out along, indigo arm, releasing a
spear: an askari leaned against Lilla, coughed, and slipped to the
ground.  The advancing shield doubled up, to reveal a warrior who, with
a somersault, a rattle of amulets, a blur of broad polka dots, lay
flat, his face blown away.

More shields were rushing upon the guns, however.

The Mambava, shot through and through, feeling death upon them,
maintained their momentum long enough to drive their weapons through
the khaki jackets, or, at the least, to go down with their teeth buried
in the riflemen's necks, as if that draught of blood might reanimate
them.  The wrestlers sank to earth inextricably mingled, a fist perhaps
sticking up above the tangle and slowly relinquishing a broad-bladed
Somali knife.

One remained apart, some dozen yards away, shot through the hips, but
still dragging himself forward.  From his open month, yawning black in
the whitened face, issued roars like those of a crippled lion, as with
a lion's courage he still came on, his legs trailing, his body scraping
the soil, a spear in one clenched paw.

Lilla stood paralyzed, alone before that inexorable advance.

For the rampart of askaris had become a circle of dead men, expressing
with their last gestures a deep desire to be remerged with this rich,
dark, ancient earth.

But all at once, as though a bit of blue sky had fallen into the glade,
there appeared between Lilla and the crawling warrior, a figure of
trailing blue robes, bent double, running.  It was Hamoud, his turban
gone, his cheek smeared with loam, one shoulder of his robe stained a
deep violet.

Clapping his sandaled foot upon the spear blade, he seized the Mambava
by his plume of egrets.  The painted head was dragged back.  The
Zanzibar dagger shone through the ribbons of smoke.

Her mouth twisted in abnormal shapes as she struggled to cry out.
"Hamoud!" she screamed at last, raising her arms as high as she could,
and trying to tear her gaze away from that spectacle.  The Arab's pose,
as he bent over his enemy, was a frightful burlesque of solicitude.
How many times had she not seen him bending thus over David, maybe to
smooth his pillow?  And now, against the colonnade of gloomy trees,
there was something sacrificial in that tableau--the blue robe, the wet
dagger, the plumed head pulled back, with glazed eyes fixed on the
woman who stood rigid, her arms upstretched, transformed from the giver
of life into the giver of death.

She fled, stumbled, stood still in the entrance to the back-trail.  In
that leafy tunnel, as far as the eye could see, was no one living or
dead.  The porters, the tent boys, all were gone in a stampede for
safety.  The baggage lay scattered among the fern beds.  She saw
bundles of green canvas, chop boxes, rags, bursting sacks of grain.
Beside a mossy rock lay her dressing case smashed open, its mirror,
brushes, and vials trampled into the mud.

"Ah, my mirror is broken."

She wandered through the wreckage, uttering peals of laughter.



CHAPTER LXIII

The light of the full moon, penetrating the high canopy of leaves,
illuminated the contorted vines that hung motionless in mid-air like
pythons of silver.  Here, miles beyond the place of battle, apart from
the trail, in a covert that seemed made for them, the woman and the man
sat resting, she on a mound of moss as soft as a pile of velvet
cushions, he at her feet.  A moonbeam rested on her loosened hair and
her dress that was torn to tatters.  She raised her head as the sound
of the drums came to her from far away.

To-night there was a new accent in that throbbing, a wilder cadence, a
suggestion of tumult, a hint of the infernal.  In her fancy she
perceived a multitude of naked, painted figures dancing in the glamor
of great fires.

A shudder passed through her from head to foot, as she said:

"Now you will confess that we have come into a place where God does not
exist."

He cast round her his blood-stained robe.  Through a rent in his white
kanzu, which was glued to his body, his shoulder appeared, covered with
a black encrustation.

"Wherever we turn," he answered, "there is the face of God."

"So you still believe?  You could even pray, perhaps?"

By way of response, casting up his dark eyes, he pronounced the
Fatihah, his low voice mingling with the mutter of the drums:

"In the name of God, the Compassionate!  Praise belongeth to God, the
Lord of the Worlds, the King of the Day of Doom.  Thee do we serve, and
of Thee do we ask aid.  Guide us in the straight path, the path of
those to whom Thou hast been gracious, not of those with whom Thou art
angered, or of those who stray.  Amen."

"Delusion!" she moaned.

His gaze embraced her in pity.  His precisely modeled face, still so
youthful despite his delicate beard, and almost spiritually handsome in
the moonlight, yearned toward her as he returned, with a caressing
gentleness:

"Yes, surely this present life is only a play, a pastime.  This world,
and all in it, are shadows cast upon the screen of eternity.  But God
is real.  Everything may go to destruction, but not the face of God.
Ah," he sighed, "if only the Lord had opened your heart to Islam, had
willed that you might feel the Inner Light!  No matter what may happen,
there is peace."  He dreamed sadly for a time, then said, "Fair-seeming
to men are women; but God--goodly the home with him!"  And he averted
his head from her, as though from a temptation to apostasy.

Something moved in the bushes.  Hamoud raised a rifle from the moss
into his lap.  Amid the leaves two balls of green fire appeared and
disappeared.  It was a leopard that had peeped out at them.

The drum music swelled through the forest.

"To-morrow they will find us," she reflected.

"Meanwhile we live in this flesh, subject to its beliefs, still able to
trust in its seeming powers of delight."

So, after a long hush, he took from his bosom a little glass bottle of
square surfaces enameled with gold, uncorked it, and held it out to
her.  There came to her nostrils the odor of her own perfume, which she
had worn in a lost world.

"Clothe yourself in this sweetness," he whispered.  "Touch it once more
to your temples, your hair, your lips.  Let it float about you like a
veil that covers a beauty remembered from old dreams.  These rags will
become cloth of gold on the body of the Sultana of Sultanas.  I shall
sit while still alive in those gardens beneath whose shades the rivers
flow--those charming abodes that are in the Garden of Eden.  This, and
not Paradise, shall be the great bliss."

She poured the few drops of perfume into her palms, and held out her
hands.

"Ah, Hamoud----"

"Do not speak," he protested, catching her hands in his.  "It is this
moment for which I became a servant, did things that you will never
know of, and followed you here."

She sat in the blood-stained robe, in the dark forest vibrating from
the drums and rustling with stealthy beasts, lost, bereft of beauty and
faith, yet aware of one more miracle--realizing that even now, out of
her poverty, she could still bestow happiness.



CHAPTER LXIV

At daybreak they went on.

With his shoulders bowed under a distended sack and a canvas water
bottle, and with his rifle at trail, he guided her feeble steps along
the path.  Now and then he besought her to rest.  She shook her head.

Bees hummed above them in the festoons of flowers.  Purple parrots with
scarlet crests went fluttering away.  At noon they paused, ate some
biscuits, then pressed ahead, she driven by her obsession and he, as he
believed, by the purposes of Allah.

Just as a rosy warmth was invading the upper foliage, Hamoud pushed her
from him, and struck at the ground with his gun butt.  He had stepped
upon a puff adder.

He sat down to examine his ankle, on which four tiny pinpricks were
visible.  He looked up with a fixed smile.

There it lay, a little, crushed reptile, a trivial fragment of matter,
its triangular head flattened out, its scales of pinkish gray, black,
slate, and lemon yellow already turning dull.  Yet the man, a rational
being, with power for good as well as evil, for love as well as hatred,
was even now dying from it.  But his face expressed the fortitude that
was at the same time the blessing and the curse of his religion, as he
said to her:

"Go.  I do not wish you to see me die this death."

She knelt down to peer at those almost imperceptible punctures.

"From that?"

As she spoke he seized his leg above the knee, to choke back the first
excruciating pang.  Rocking backward and forward, he began to repeat
scattered texts from the Koran:

"The recompense of the life to come is better, for those who have
believed and feared God----"  With a groan he let go of his leg and
clutched at his abdomen.  He gasped, "Adorned shall they be with golden
bracelets and with pearls, and their raiment shall be of silk----  Go!
go!  Oh, my star, I do not want you to see me die this death!"  He
arched his back, then lay flat, his skin colorless, bedewed with a
sudden moisture.  "Praise be to God, who hath allowed release from all
this, my Master, the Knowing, the Wise!  Into gardens beneath whose
shades----  Ah, but you will not be there!  You will not be there!"

He was silent, twisting like the serpent whose head he had crushed.



CHAPTER LXV

Night was falling: it was the time when the beasts of prey begin to
stir from their lairs.  Sitting beside the semblance of Hamoud, she
examined in the last of the twilight the well-worn Koran.  She hurled
the book from her.  It was swallowed by the gloom.  "You have won," she
thought, regarding the murky thickets that were hung with morbific
blossoms, the trees that remained a labyrinth even while they dissolved
in the night.

In her progress hither she had cast off, one by one, all her
repugnances and terrors, all her proud and luxurious impulses, all her
charms.  Nothing had remained except a love that expected and desired
no physical rewards, and a power of will that she had conjured up
apparently out of nothing.

Now both will and love lay vanquished.

The drums were not yet beating.  Silence filled the forest that should
have been alive with little furtive noises.  Nature, of which this
place was the core and utmost manifestation, seemed to brood with bated
breath.

She began to speak, urgently, seductively:

"When they come you will wake up and protect me, Hamoud?  You love me,
and I once read somewhere that love can be stronger than death.  But
now sleep; get back your strength.  I'll keep watch.  I'm not afraid;
for I have only to reach out my hand to touch you."

She touched the cold forehead and muttered, "How chilly you are!" and
threw over the body of the martyr the torn joho, which she had been
wearing round her shoulders.  There was long silence.  The whole forest
sighed softly, as if weary of waiting.

"What did you say, Hamoud?  A play of shadows?  And above it a
permanence that you call the face of God?  What queer things your God
must see in this shadow play of ours!"

She laughed indulgently, then caught her breath.  The darkness was
filled with an amazing sight.

Before her a great pyramid of bodies rose toward an apex surrounded by
flashes of pink lightning--the seething bodies of all humanity, and of
all the animals and reptiles of the earth.  Each struggled to extricate
itself from the rest, to surmount its neighbors, to wriggle toward the
apex.  The bare breasts of women, whose handsome ball gowns were torn
and covered with mud, strained to be free from the enwrapping trunks of
elephants, and the coils of pythons.  The torsoes of dusky savages and
the limbs of white men writhed under the fangs of lions and hyenas,
which were transfixed by spears, or lacerated by wounds that they had
inflicted on one another.  The countless faces exposed on that quaking
mountain of flesh, male and female, light and dark, fair and hideous,
brutish and sensitive, expressed one look of stupid and yet agonized
desire--all eyes were turned upward toward the summit wreathed with
lightning.  There those who had just gained their goal, lightly touched
by the tips of the rose-colored bolts, sank back inanimate, went
tumbling down the slope with astonishment frozen on their faces,
scattering broadcast from their hands a cascade of treasures--jewels,
scraps of paper, purses, images of gold and ivory, wreaths of laurel or
of lilies, scepters, and objects in which no one could have discovered
any meaning or any worth.

But what was the goal toward which this mass of flesh was striving so
frantically?  Above the apex of the pyramid, amid the sheen of the
lightning, was revealed a vast figure, naked and indeterminate, dim and
yet seeming of a denser texture than the most abysmal beasts, a figure
at the same time human and serpentine, that twisted in attitudes of
human anguish, yet appeared, like a maddened serpent, to be stinging
itself to death.

The whole vision vanished.

"Hamoud!  Hamoud!  Now I'm afraid!"

But she could not wake the protector.  She was alone.

"God, then!"

And in one last flash of distracted irony:

"If I called God in Arabic?"

She had an idea that the silently brooding forest was smiling in the
darkness.

Yes, she felt, alone; since even the God of Hamoud could not be aware
of this world, in which everything desired by the senses, or
apprehensible by them, was going to destruction--so futile a tragedy,
so contemptible a fleeting dream, a nothingness of which the miserable
woman seemed to see herself, at last, as the most insignificant part.

"But I have cast it off, left it all behind me!  You must hear me!  You
shall hear me!"

When her voice, a thin blade of sound, pierced the silence of the black
forest, without a premonitory thud the rumble of the drums began, as
though the roused spirit of the jungle were trying to drown out this
cry.  The drum music swelled louder and louder in the breathless night,
its mingled rhythms combining into a thunder.  But once more the cry,
"Hear me!" rose to contest with that demoniacal uproar.

When she had remained motionless for a while with upturned face,
weariness rolled down upon her like an avalanche.

The moonlight, creeping through the tangles, covered her prostrate
body.  She was dreaming that Anna Zanidov stood before her in the
barbarically painted evening gown.  She sat up with a bound.  Hands had
embraced her feet.  A grayish form crouched before her.

The albino had heard her.



CHAPTER LXVI

Sitting back upon his heels, hugging against his breast a small bow and
a handful of arrows, the albino scrutinized the fallen divinity.  Yes,
by some pass of magic she had been changed into a helpless human being,
full of human despair.  The poor pariah contemplated her in her
abasement from an eminence of pity.

He rose with an uncouth gesture of invitation.  He guided her through
the mottled labyrinth.  Stumbling over the roots, bursting her way
through the vines, she pressed after the bent figure whose very
loathsomeness now seemed precious to her.

He had found the lost path.  He crept forward more quickly, halted at
last, and pointed.  Ahead there expanded a wide sheen of moonlight, in
the midst of which she discerned a man standing like a statue, a fez on
his head and a rifle over his arm.

The albino was gone.

A challenge rang out as she stood forth on the edge of the clearing.
Beyond the sentinel she saw red embers and tents, rising black skulls,
and agitated fezzes.  But in the midst of a broad pool of moonlight was
spread a tent cloth through which appeared the outline of a body.

She sank down upon her knees, turned back the tent cloth from the
inscrutable face.

It was the face of Cornelius Rysbroek, who, in the dead of night,
beside his sleeping rival, while drawing the pistol from the holster,
had been shot in the back.

She perceived, on the curtain of a tent before her, a hand that thrust
back the folds, a hand that moved, that lived.  Under the tent fly
emerged a man cadaverous from fever, to gaze at another chimera, of
tatters and gaunt pallor, in which he found at last a resemblance to
the woman he had loved.  Though Lawrence was sure that this could not
be reality, life bubbled up in him as she drew nearer.  He found
somehow the power to stand firm, to hold her fast when she sagged down
in his arms.





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