Infomotions, Inc.The Arrow of Gold / Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924



Author: Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924
Title: The Arrow of Gold
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): dona rita; rita; dona; therese; allegre; blunt; henry allegre; mills; dona rita's; monsieur; monsieur george; senor ortega
Contributor(s): Dakyns, Henry Graham, 1838-1911 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 109,095 words (short) Grade range: 8-10 (high school) Readability score: 66 (easy)
Identifier: etext1083
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Title: The Arrow of Gold

Author: Joseph Conrad

Release Date: October, 1997  [EBook #1083]
[This file was first posted on October 29, 1997]
[Most recently updated: June 28, 2003]

Edition: 10

Language: English

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Transcribed by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk




THE ARROW OF GOLD--A STORY BETWEEN TWO NOTES




FIRST NOTE



The pages which follow have been extracted from a pile of
manuscript which was apparently meant for the eye of one woman
only.  She seems to have been the writer's childhood's friend.
They had parted as children, or very little more than children.
Years passed.  Then something recalled to the woman the companion
of her young days and she wrote to him:  "I have been hearing of
you lately.  I know where life has brought you.  You certainly
selected your own road.  But to us, left behind, it always looked
as if you had struck out into a pathless desert.  We always
regarded you as a person that must be given up for lost.  But you
have turned up again; and though we may never see each other, my
memory welcomes you and I confess to you I should like to know the
incidents on the road which has led you to where you are now."

And he answers her:  "I believe you are the only one now alive who
remembers me as a child.  I have heard of you from time to time,
but I wonder what sort of person you are now.  Perhaps if I did
know I wouldn't dare put pen to paper.  But I don't know.  I only
remember that we were great chums.  In fact, I chummed with you
even more than with your brothers.  But I am like the pigeon that
went away in the fable of the Two Pigeons.  If I once start to tell
you I would want you to feel that you have been there yourself.  I
may overtax your patience with the story of my life so different
from yours, not only in all the facts but altogether in spirit.
You may not understand.  You may even be shocked.  I say all this
to myself; but I know I shall succumb!  I have a distinct
recollection that in the old days, when you were about fifteen, you
always could make me do whatever you liked."

He succumbed.  He begins his story for her with the minute
narration of this adventure which took about twelve months to
develop.  In the form in which it is presented here it has been
pruned of all allusions to their common past, of all asides,
disquisitions, and explanations addressed directly to the friend of
his childhood.  And even as it is the whole thing is of
considerable length.  It seems that he had not only a memory but
that he also knew how to remember.  But as to that opinions may
differ.

This, his first great adventure, as he calls it, begins in
Marseilles.  It ends there, too.  Yet it might have happened
anywhere.  This does not mean that the people concerned could have
come together in pure space.  The locality had a definite
importance.  As to the time, it is easily fixed by the events at
about the middle years of the seventies, when Don Carlos de
Bourbon, encouraged by the general reaction of all Europe against
the excesses of communistic Republicanism, made his attempt for the
throne of Spain, arms in hand, amongst the hills and gorges of
Guipuzcoa.  It is perhaps the last instance of a Pretender's
adventure for a Crown that History will have to record with the
usual grave moral disapproval tinged by a shamefaced regret for the
departing romance.  Historians are very much like other people.

However, History has nothing to do with this tale.  Neither is the
moral justification or condemnation of conduct aimed at here.  If
anything it is perhaps a little sympathy that the writer expects
for his buried youth, as he lives it over again at the end of his
insignificant course on this earth.  Strange person--yet perhaps
not so very different from ourselves.

A few words as to certain facts may be added.

It may seem that he was plunged very abruptly into this long
adventure.  But from certain passages (suppressed here because
mixed up with irrelevant matter) it appears clearly that at the
time of the meeting in the cafe, Mills had already gathered, in
various quarters, a definite view of the eager youth who had been
introduced to him in that ultra-legitimist salon.  What Mills had
learned represented him as a young gentleman who had arrived
furnished with proper credentials and who apparently was doing his
best to waste his life in an eccentric fashion, with a bohemian set
(one poet, at least, emerged out of it later) on one side, and on
the other making friends with the people of the Old Town, pilots,
coasters, sailors, workers of all sorts.  He pretended rather
absurdly to be a seaman himself and was already credited with an
ill-defined and vaguely illegal enterprise in the Gulf of Mexico.
At once it occurred to Mills that this eccentric youngster was the
very person for what the legitimist sympathizers had very much at
heart just then:  to organize a supply by sea of arms and
ammunition to the Carlist detachments in the South.  It was
precisely to confer on that matter with Dona Rita that Captain
Blunt had been despatched from Headquarters.

Mills got in touch with Blunt at once and put the suggestion before
him.  The Captain thought this the very thing.  As a matter of
fact, on that evening of Carnival, those two, Mills and Blunt, had
been actually looking everywhere for our man.  They had decided
that he should be drawn into the affair if it could be done.  Blunt
naturally wanted to see him first.  He must have estimated him a
promising person, but, from another point of view, not dangerous.
Thus lightly was the notorious (and at the same time mysterious)
Monsieur George brought into the world; out of the contact of two
minds which did not give a single thought to his flesh and blood.

Their purpose explains the intimate tone given to their first
conversation and the sudden introduction of Dona Rita's history.
Mills, of course, wanted to hear all about it.  As to Captain
Blunt--I suspect that, at the time, he was thinking of nothing
else.  In addition it was Dona Rita who would have to do the
persuading; for, after all, such an enterprise with its ugly and
desperate risks was not a trifle to put before a man--however
young.

It cannot be denied that Mills seems to have acted somewhat
unscrupulously.  He himself appears to have had some doubt about
it, at a given moment, as they were driving to the Prado.  But
perhaps Mills, with his penetration, understood very well the
nature he was dealing with.  He might even have envied it.  But
it's not my business to excuse Mills.  As to him whom we may regard
as Mills' victim it is obvious that he has never harboured a single
reproachful thought.  For him Mills is not to be criticized.  A
remarkable instance of the great power of mere individuality over
the young.




PART ONE




CHAPTER I



Certain streets have an atmosphere of their own, a sort of
universal fame and the particular affection of their citizens.  One
of such streets is the Cannebiere, and the jest:  "If Paris had a
Cannebiere it would be a little Marseilles" is the jocular
expression of municipal pride.  I, too, I have been under the
spell.  For me it has been a street leading into the unknown.

There was a part of it where one could see as many as five big
cafes in a resplendent row.  That evening I strolled into one of
them.  It was by no means full.  It looked deserted, in fact,
festal and overlighted, but cheerful.  The wonderful street was
distinctly cold (it was an evening of carnival), I was very idle,
and I was feeling a little lonely.  So I went in and sat down.

The carnival time was drawing to an end.  Everybody, high and low,
was anxious to have the last fling.  Companies of masks with linked
arms and whooping like red Indians swept the streets in crazy
rushes while gusts of cold mistral swayed the gas lights as far as
the eye could reach.  There was a touch of bedlam in all this.

Perhaps it was that which made me feel lonely, since I was neither
masked, nor disguised, nor yelling, nor in any other way in harmony
with the bedlam element of life.  But I was not sad.  I was merely
in a state of sobriety.  I had just returned from my second West
Indies voyage.  My eyes were still full of tropical splendour, my
memory of my experiences, lawful and lawless, which had their charm
and their thrill; for they had startled me a little and had amused
me considerably.  But they had left me untouched.  Indeed they were
other men's adventures, not mine.  Except for a little habit of
responsibility which I had acquired they had not matured me.  I was
as young as before.  Inconceivably young--still beautifully
unthinking--infinitely receptive.

You may believe that I was not thinking of Don Carlos and his fight
for a kingdom.  Why should I?  You don't want to think of things
which you meet every day in the newspapers and in conversation.  I
had paid some calls since my return and most of my acquaintance
were legitimists and intensely interested in the events of the
frontier of Spain, for political, religious, or romantic reasons.
But I was not interested.  Apparently I was not romantic enough.
Or was it that I was even more romantic than all those good people?
The affair seemed to me commonplace.  That man was attending to his
business of a Pretender.

On the front page of the illustrated paper I saw lying on a table
near me, he looked picturesque enough, seated on a boulder, a big
strong man with a square-cut beard, his hands resting on the hilt
of a cavalry sabre--and all around him a landscape of savage
mountains.  He caught my eye on that spiritedly composed woodcut.
(There were no inane snapshot-reproductions in those days.)  It was
the obvious romance for the use of royalists but it arrested my
attention.

Just then some masks from outside invaded the cafe, dancing hand in
hand in a single file led by a burly man with a cardboard nose.  He
gambolled in wildly and behind him twenty others perhaps, mostly
Pierrots and Pierrettes holding each other by the hand and winding
in and out between the chairs and tables:  eyes shining in the
holes of cardboard faces, breasts panting; but all preserving a
mysterious silence.

They were people of the poorer sort (white calico with red spots,
costumes), but amongst them there was a girl in a black dress sewn
over with gold half moons, very high in the neck and very short in
the skirt.  Most of the ordinary clients of the cafe didn't even
look up from their games or papers.  I, being alone and idle,
stared abstractedly.  The girl costumed as Night wore a small black
velvet mask, what is called in French a "loup."  What made her
daintiness join that obviously rough lot I can't imagine.  Her
uncovered mouth and chin suggested refined prettiness.

They filed past my table; the Night noticed perhaps my fixed gaze
and throwing her body forward out of the wriggling chain shot out
at me a slender tongue like a pink dart.  I was not prepared for
this, not even to the extent of an appreciative "Tres foli," before
she wriggled and hopped away.  But having been thus distinguished I
could do no less than follow her with my eyes to the door where the
chain of hands being broken all the masks were trying to get out at
once.  Two gentlemen coming in out of the street stood arrested in
the crush.  The Night (it must have been her idiosyncrasy) put her
tongue out at them, too.  The taller of the two (he was in evening
clothes under a light wide-open overcoat) with great presence of
mind chucked her under the chin, giving me the view at the same
time of a flash of white teeth in his dark, lean face.  The other
man was very different; fair, with smooth, ruddy cheeks and burly
shoulders.  He was wearing a grey suit, obviously bought ready-
made, for it seemed too tight for his powerful frame.

That man was not altogether a stranger to me.  For the last week or
so I had been rather on the look-out for him in all the public
places where in a provincial town men may expect to meet each
other.  I saw him for the first time (wearing that same grey ready-
made suit) in a legitimist drawing-room where, clearly, he was an
object of interest, especially to the women.  I had caught his name
as Monsieur Mills.  The lady who had introduced me took the
earliest opportunity to murmur into my ear:  "A relation of Lord
X."  (Un proche parent de Lord X.)  And then she added, casting up
her eyes:  "A good friend of the King."  Meaning Don Carlos of
course.

I looked at the proche parent; not on account of the parentage but
marvelling at his air of ease in that cumbrous body and in such
tight clothes, too.  But presently the same lady informed me
further:  "He has come here amongst us un naufrage."

I became then really interested.  I had never seen a shipwrecked
person before.  All the boyishness in me was aroused.  I considered
a shipwreck as an unavoidable event sooner or later in my future.

Meantime the man thus distinguished in my eyes glanced quietly
about and never spoke unless addressed directly by one of the
ladies present.  There were more than a dozen people in that
drawing-room, mostly women eating fine pastry and talking
passionately.  It might have been a Carlist committee meeting of a
particularly fatuous character.  Even my youth and inexperience
were aware of that.  And I was by a long way the youngest person in
the room.  That quiet Monsieur Mills intimidated me a little by his
age (I suppose he was thirty-five), his massive tranquillity, his
clear, watchful eyes.  But the temptation was too great--and I
addressed him impulsively on the subject of that shipwreck.

He turned his big fair face towards me with surprise in his keen
glance, which (as though he had seen through me in an instant and
found nothing objectionable) changed subtly into friendliness.  On
the matter of the shipwreck he did not say much.  He only told me
that it had not occurred in the Mediterranean, but on the other
side of Southern France--in the Bay of Biscay.  "But this is hardly
the place to enter on a story of that kind," he observed, looking
round at the room with a faint smile as attractive as the rest of
his rustic but well-bred personality.

I expressed my regret.  I should have liked to hear all about it.
To this he said that it was not a secret and that perhaps next time
we met. . .

"But where can we meet?" I cried.  "I don't come often to this
house, you know."

"Where?  Why on the Cannebiere to be sure.  Everybody meets
everybody else at least once a day on the pavement opposite the
Bourse."

This was absolutely true.  But though I looked for him on each
succeeding day he was nowhere to be seen at the usual times.  The
companions of my idle hours (and all my hours were idle just then)
noticed my preoccupation and chaffed me about it in a rather
obvious way.  They wanted to know whether she, whom I expected to
see, was dark or fair; whether that fascination which kept me on
tenterhooks of expectation was one of my aristocrats or one of my
marine beauties:  for they knew I had a footing in both these--
shall we say circles?  As to themselves they were the bohemian
circle, not very wide--half a dozen of us led by a sculptor whom we
called Prax for short.  My own nick-name was "Young Ulysses."

I liked it.

But chaff or no chaff they would have been surprised to see me
leave them for the burly and sympathetic Mills.  I was ready to
drop any easy company of equals to approach that interesting man
with every mental deference.  It was not precisely because of that
shipwreck.  He attracted and interested me the more because he was
not to be seen.  The fear that he might have departed suddenly for
England--(or for Spain)--caused me a sort of ridiculous depression
as though I had missed a unique opportunity.  And it was a joyful
reaction which emboldened me to signal to him with a raised arm
across that cafe.

I was abashed immediately afterwards, when I saw him advance
towards my table with his friend.  The latter was eminently
elegant.  He was exactly like one of those figures one can see of a
fine May evening in the neighbourhood of the Opera-house in Paris.
Very Parisian indeed.  And yet he struck me as not so perfectly
French as he ought to have been, as if one's nationality were an
accomplishment with varying degrees of excellence.  As to Mills, he
was perfectly insular.  There could be no doubt about him.  They
were both smiling faintly at me.  The burly Mills attended to the
introduction:  "Captain Blunt."

We shook hands.  The name didn't tell me much.  What surprised me
was that Mills should have remembered mine so well.  I don't want
to boast of my modesty but it seemed to me that two or three days
was more than enough for a man like Mills to forget my very
existence.  As to the Captain, I was struck on closer view by the
perfect correctness of his personality.  Clothes, slight figure,
clear-cut, thin, sun-tanned face, pose, all this was so good that
it was saved from the danger of banality only by the mobile black
eyes of a keenness that one doesn't meet every day in the south of
France and still less in Italy.  Another thing was that, viewed as
an officer in mufti, he did not look sufficiently professional.
That imperfection was interesting, too.

You may think that I am subtilizing my impressions on purpose, but
you may take it from a man who has lived a rough, a very rough
life, that it is the subtleties of personalities, and contacts, and
events, that count for interest and memory--and pretty well nothing
else.  This--you see--is the last evening of that part of my life
in which I did not know that woman.  These are like the last hours
of a previous existence.  It isn't my fault that they are
associated with nothing better at the decisive moment than the
banal splendours of a gilded cafe and the bedlamite yells of
carnival in the street.

We three, however (almost complete strangers to each other), had
assumed attitudes of serious amiability round our table.  A waiter
approached for orders and it was then, in relation to my order for
coffee, that the absolutely first thing I learned of Captain Blunt
was the fact that he was a sufferer from insomnia.  In his
immovable way Mills began charging his pipe.  I felt extremely
embarrassed all at once, but became positively annoyed when I saw
our Prax enter the cafe in a sort of mediaeval costume very much
like what Faust wears in the third act.  I have no doubt it was
meant for a purely operatic Faust.  A light mantle floated from his
shoulders.  He strode theatrically up to our table and addressing
me as "Young Ulysses" proposed I should go outside on the fields of
asphalt and help him gather a few marguerites to decorate a truly
infernal supper which was being organized across the road at the
Maison Doree--upstairs.  With expostulatory shakes of the head and
indignant glances I called his attention to the fact that I was not
alone.  He stepped back a pace as if astonished by the discovery,
took off his plumed velvet toque with a low obeisance so that the
feathers swept the floor, and swaggered off the stage with his left
hand resting on the hilt of the property dagger at his belt.

Meantime the well-connected but rustic Mills had been busy lighting
his briar and the distinguished Captain sat smiling to himself.  I
was horribly vexed and apologized for that intrusion, saying that
the fellow was a future great sculptor and perfectly harmless; but
he had been swallowing lots of night air which had got into his
head apparently.

Mills peered at me with his friendly but awfully searching blue
eyes through the cloud of smoke he had wreathed about his big head.
The slim, dark Captain's smile took on an amiable expression.
Might he know why I was addressed as "Young Ulysses" by my friend?
and immediately he added the remark with urbane playfulness that
Ulysses was an astute person.  Mills did not give me time for a
reply.  He struck in:  "That old Greek was famed as a wanderer--the
first historical seaman."  He waved his pipe vaguely at me.

"Ah!  Vraiment!"  The polite Captain seemed incredulous and as if
weary.  "Are you a seaman?  In what sense, pray?"  We were talking
French and he used the term homme de mer.

Again Mills interfered quietly.  "In the same sense in which you
are a military man."  (Homme de guerre.)

It was then that I heard Captain Blunt produce one of his striking
declarations.  He had two of them, and this was the first.

"I live by my sword."

It was said in an extraordinary dandified manner which in
conjunction with the matter made me forget my tongue in my head.  I
could only stare at him.  He added more naturally:  "2nd Reg.
Castille, Cavalry."  Then with marked stress in Spanish, "En las
filas legitimas."

Mills was heard, unmoved, like Jove in his cloud:  "He's on leave
here."

"Of course I don't shout that fact on the housetops," the Captain
addressed me pointedly, "any more than our friend his shipwreck
adventure.  We must not strain the toleration of the French
authorities too much!  It wouldn't be correct--and not very safe
either."

I became suddenly extremely delighted with my company.  A man who
"lived by his sword," before my eyes, close at my elbow!  So such
people did exist in the world yet!  I had not been born too late!
And across the table with his air of watchful, unmoved benevolence,
enough in itself to arouse one's interest, there was the man with
the story of a shipwreck that mustn't be shouted on housetops.
Why?

I understood very well why, when he told me that he had joined in
the Clyde a small steamer chartered by a relative of his, "a very
wealthy man," he observed (probably Lord X, I thought), to carry
arms and other supplies to the Carlist army.  And it was not a
shipwreck in the ordinary sense.  Everything went perfectly well to
the last moment when suddenly the Numancia (a Republican ironclad)
had appeared and chased them ashore on the French coast below
Bayonne.  In a few words, but with evident appreciation of the
adventure, Mills described to us how he swam to the beach clad
simply in a money belt and a pair of trousers.  Shells were falling
all round till a tiny French gunboat came out of Bayonne and shooed
the Numancia away out of territorial waters.

He was very amusing and I was fascinated by the mental picture of
that tranquil man rolling in the surf and emerging breathless, in
the costume you know, on the fair land of France, in the character
of a smuggler of war material.  However, they had never arrested or
expelled him, since he was there before my eyes.  But how and why
did he get so far from the scene of his sea adventure was an
interesting question.  And I put it to him with most naive
indiscretion which did not shock him visibly.  He told me that the
ship being only stranded, not sunk, the contraband cargo aboard was
doubtless in good condition.  The French custom-house men were
guarding the wreck.  If their vigilance could be--h'm--removed by
some means, or even merely reduced, a lot of these rifles and
cartridges could be taken off quietly at night by certain Spanish
fishing boats.  In fact, salved for the Carlists, after all.  He
thought it could be done. . . .

I said with professional gravity that given a few perfectly quiet
nights (rare on that coast) it could certainly be done.

Mr. Mills was not afraid of the elements.  It was the highly
inconvenient zeal of the French custom-house people that had to be
dealt with in some way.

"Heavens!" I cried, astonished.  "You can't bribe the French
Customs.  This isn't a South-American republic."

"Is it a republic?" he murmured, very absorbed in smoking his
wooden pipe.

"Well, isn't it?"

He murmured again, "Oh, so little."  At this I laughed, and a
faintly humorous expression passed over Mills' face.  No.  Bribes
were out of the question, he admitted.  But there were many
legitimist sympathies in Paris.  A proper person could set them in
motion and a mere hint from high quarters to the officials on the
spot not to worry over-much about that wreck. . . .

What was most amusing was the cool, reasonable tone of this amazing
project.  Mr. Blunt sat by very detached, his eyes roamed here and
there all over the cafe; and it was while looking upward at the
pink foot of a fleshy and very much foreshortened goddess of some
sort depicted on the ceiling in an enormous composition in the
Italian style that he let fall casually the words, "She will manage
it for you quite easily."

"Every Carlist agent in Bayonne assured me of that," said Mr.
Mills.  "I would have gone straight to Paris only I was told she
had fled here for a rest; tired, discontented.  Not a very
encouraging report."

"These flights are well known," muttered Mr. Blunt.  "You shall see
her all right."

"Yes.  They told me that you . . . "

I broke in:  "You mean to say that you expect a woman to arrange
that sort of thing for you?"

"A trifle, for her," Mr. Blunt remarked indifferently.  "At that
sort of thing women are best.  They have less scruples."

"More audacity," interjected Mr. Mills almost in a whisper.

Mr. Blunt kept quiet for a moment, then:  "You see," he addressed
me in a most refined tone, "a mere man may suddenly find himself
being kicked down the stairs."

I don't know why I should have felt shocked by that statement.  It
could not be because it was untrue.  The other did not give me time
to offer any remark.  He inquired with extreme politeness what did
I know of South American republics?  I confessed that I knew very
little of them.  Wandering about the Gulf of Mexico I had a look-in
here and there; and amongst others I had a few days in Haiti which
was of course unique, being a negro republic.  On this Captain
Blunt began to talk of negroes at large.  He talked of them with
knowledge, intelligence, and a sort of contemptuous affection.  He
generalized, he particularized about the blacks; he told anecdotes.
I was interested, a little incredulous, and considerably surprised.
What could this man with such a boulevardier exterior that he
looked positively like, an exile in a provincial town, and with his
drawing-room manner--what could he know of negroes?

Mills, sitting silent with his air of watchful intelligence, seemed
to read my thoughts, waved his pipe slightly and explained:  "The
Captain is from South Carolina."

"Oh," I murmured, and then after the slightest of pauses I heard
the second of Mr. J. K. Blunt's declarations.

"Yes," he said.  "Je suis Americain, catholique et gentil-homme,"
in a tone contrasting so strongly with the smile, which, as it
were, underlined the uttered words, that I was at a loss whether to
return the smile in kind or acknowledge the words with a grave
little bow.  Of course I did neither and there fell on us an odd,
equivocal silence.  It marked our final abandonment of the French
language.  I was the one to speak first, proposing that my
companions should sup with me, not across the way, which would be
riotous with more than one "infernal" supper, but in another much
more select establishment in a side street away from the
Cannebiere.  It flattered my vanity a little to be able to say that
I had a corner table always reserved in the Salon des Palmiers,
otherwise Salon Blanc, where the atmosphere was legitimist and
extremely decorous besides--even in Carnival time.  "Nine tenths of
the people there," I said, "would be of your political opinions, if
that's an inducement.  Come along.  Let's be festive," I encouraged
them.

I didn't feel particularly festive.  What I wanted was to remain in
my company and break an inexplicable feeling of constraint of which
I was aware.  Mills looked at me steadily with a faint, kind smile.

"No," said Blunt.  "Why should we go there?  They will be only
turning us out in the small hours, to go home and face insomnia.
Can you imagine anything more disgusting?"

He was smiling all the time, but his deep-set eyes did not lend
themselves to the expression of whimsical politeness which he tried
to achieve.  He had another suggestion to offer.  Why shouldn't we
adjourn to his rooms?  He had there materials for a dish of his own
invention for which he was famous all along the line of the Royal
Cavalry outposts, and he would cook it for us.  There were also a
few bottles of some white wine, quite possible, which we could
drink out of Venetian cut-glass goblets.  A bivouac feast, in fact.
And he wouldn't turn us out in the small hours.  Not he.  He
couldn't sleep.

Need I say I was fascinated by the idea?  Well, yes.  But somehow I
hesitated and looked towards Mills, so much my senior.  He got up
without a word.  This was decisive; for no obscure premonition, and
of something indefinite at that, could stand against the example of
his tranquil personality.



CHAPTER II



The street in which Mr. Blunt lived presented itself to our eyes,
narrow, silent, empty, and dark, but with enough gas-lamps in it to
disclose its most striking feature:  a quantity of flag-poles
sticking out above many of its closed portals.  It was the street
of Consuls and I remarked to Mr. Blunt that coming out in the
morning he could survey the flags of all nations almost--except his
own.  (The U. S. consulate was on the other side of the town.)  He
mumbled through his teeth that he took good care to keep clear of
his own consulate.

"Are you afraid of the consul's dog?" I asked jocularly.  The
consul's dog weighed about a pound and a half and was known to the
whole town as exhibited on the consular fore-arm in all places, at
all hours, but mainly at the hour of the fashionable promenade on
the Prado.

But I felt my jest misplaced when Mills growled low in my ear:
"They are all Yankees there."

I murmured a confused "Of course."

Books are nothing.  I discovered that I had never been aware before
that the Civil War in America was not printed matter but a fact
only about ten years old.  Of course.  He was a South Carolinian
gentleman.  I was a little ashamed of my want of tact.  Meantime,
looking like the conventional conception of a fashionable reveller,
with his opera-hat pushed off his forehead, Captain Blunt was
having some slight difficulty with his latch-key; for the house
before which we had stopped was not one of those many-storied
houses that made up the greater part of the street.  It had only
one row of windows above the ground floor.  Dead walls abutting on
to it indicated that it had a garden.  Its dark front presented no
marked architectural character, and in the flickering light of a
street lamp it looked a little as though it had gone down in the
world.  The greater then was my surprise to enter a hall paved in
black and white marble and in its dimness appearing of palatial
proportions.  Mr. Blunt did not turn up the small solitary gas-jet,
but led the way across the black and white pavement past the end of
the staircase, past a door of gleaming dark wood with a heavy
bronze handle.  It gave access to his rooms he said; but he took us
straight on to the studio at the end of the passage.

It was rather a small place tacked on in the manner of a lean-to to
the garden side of the house.  A large lamp was burning brightly
there.  The floor was of mere flag-stones but the few rugs
scattered about though extremely worn were very costly.  There was
also there a beautiful sofa upholstered in pink figured silk, an
enormous divan with many cushions, some splendid arm-chairs of
various shapes (but all very shabby), a round table, and in the
midst of these fine things a small common iron stove.  Somebody
must have been attending it lately, for the fire roared and the
warmth of the place was very grateful after the bone-searching cold
blasts of mistral outside.

Mills without a word flung himself on the divan and, propped on his
arm, gazed thoughtfully at a distant corner where in the shadow of
a monumental carved wardrobe an articulated dummy without head or
hands but with beautifully shaped limbs composed in a shrinking
attitude, seemed to be embarrassed by his stare.

As we sat enjoying the bivouac hospitality (the dish was really
excellent and our host in a shabby grey jacket still looked the
accomplished man-about-town) my eyes kept on straying towards that
corner.  Blunt noticed this and remarked that I seemed to be
attracted by the Empress.

"It's disagreeable," I said.  "It seems to lurk there like a shy
skeleton at the feast.  But why do you give the name of Empress to
that dummy?"

"Because it sat for days and days in the robes of a Byzantine
Empress to a painter. . . I wonder where he discovered these
priceless stuffs. . . You knew him, I believe?"

Mills lowered his head slowly, then tossed down his throat some
wine out of a Venetian goblet.

"This house is full of costly objects.  So are all his other
houses, so is his place in Paris--that mysterious Pavilion hidden
away in Passy somewhere."

Mills knew the Pavilion.  The wine had, I suppose, loosened his
tongue.  Blunt, too, lost something of his reserve.  From their
talk I gathered the notion of an eccentric personality, a man of
great wealth, not so much solitary as difficult of access, a
collector of fine things, a painter known only to very few people
and not at all to the public market.  But as meantime I had been
emptying my Venetian goblet with a certain regularity (the amount
of heat given out by that iron stove was amazing; it parched one's
throat, and the straw-coloured wine didn't seem much stronger than
so much pleasantly flavoured water) the voices and the impressions
they conveyed acquired something fantastic to my mind.  Suddenly I
perceived that Mills was sitting in his shirt-sleeves.  I had not
noticed him taking off his coat.  Blunt had unbuttoned his shabby
jacket, exposing a lot of starched shirt-front with the white tie
under his dark shaved chin.  He had a strange air of insolence--or
so it seemed to me.  I addressed him much louder than I intended
really.

"Did you know that extraordinary man?"

"To know him personally one had to be either very distinguished or
very lucky.  Mr. Mills here . . ."

"Yes, I have been lucky," Mills struck in.  "It was my cousin who
was distinguished.  That's how I managed to enter his house in
Paris--it was called the Pavilion--twice."

"And saw Dona Rita twice, too?" asked Blunt with an indefinite
smile and a marked emphasis.  Mills was also emphatic in his reply
but with a serious face.

"I am not an easy enthusiast where women are concerned, but she was
without doubt the most admirable find of his amongst all the
priceless items he had accumulated in that house--the most
admirable. . . "

"Ah!  But, you see, of all the objects there she was the only one
that was alive," pointed out Blunt with the slightest possible
flavour of sarcasm.

"Immensely so," affirmed Mills.  "Not because she was restless,
indeed she hardly ever moved from that couch between the windows--
you know."

"No.  I don't know.  I've never been in there," announced Blunt
with that flash of white teeth so strangely without any character
of its own that it was merely disturbing.

"But she radiated life," continued Mills.  "She had plenty of it,
and it had a quality.  My cousin and Henry Allegre had a lot to say
to each other and so I was free to talk to her.  At the second
visit we were like old friends, which was absurd considering that
all the chances were that we would never meet again in this world
or in the next.  I am not meddling with theology but it seems to me
that in the Elysian fields she'll have her place in a very special
company."

All this in a sympathetic voice and in his unmoved manner.  Blunt
produced another disturbing white flash and muttered:

"I should say mixed."  Then louder:  "As for instance . . . "

"As for instance Cleopatra," answered Mills quietly.  He added
after a pause:  "Who was not exactly pretty."

"I should have thought rather a La Valliere," Blunt dropped with an
indifference of which one did not know what to make.  He may have
begun to be bored with the subject.  But it may have been put on,
for the whole personality was not clearly definable.  I, however,
was not indifferent.  A woman is always an interesting subject and
I was thoroughly awake to that interest.  Mills pondered for a
while with a sort of dispassionate benevolence, at last:

"Yes, Dona Rita as far as I know her is so varied in her simplicity
that even that is possible," he said.  "Yes.  A romantic resigned
La Valliere . . . who had a big mouth."

I felt moved to make myself heard.

"Did you know La Valliere, too?" I asked impertinently.

Mills only smiled at me.  "No.  I am not quite so old as that," he
said.  "But it's not very difficult to know facts of that kind
about a historical personage.  There were some ribald verses made
at the time, and Louis XIV was congratulated on the possession--I
really don't remember how it goes--on the possession of:


". . . de ce bec amoureux
Qui d'une oreille a l'autre va,
Tra la la.


or something of the sort.  It needn't be from ear to ear, but it's
a fact that a big mouth is often a sign of a certain generosity of
mind and feeling.  Young man, beware of women with small mouths.
Beware of the others, too, of course; but a small mouth is a fatal
sign.  Well, the royalist sympathizers can't charge Dona Rita with
any lack of generosity from what I hear.  Why should I judge her?
I have known her for, say, six hours altogether.  It was enough to
feel the seduction of her native intelligence and of her splendid
physique.  And all that was brought home to me so quickly," he
concluded, "because she had what some Frenchman has called the
'terrible gift of familiarity'."

Blunt had been listening moodily.  He nodded assent.

"Yes!"  Mills' thoughts were still dwelling in the past.  "And when
saying good-bye she could put in an instant an immense distance
between herself and you.  A slight stiffening of that perfect
figure, a change of the physiognomy:  it was like being dismissed
by a person born in the purple.  Even if she did offer you her
hand--as she did to me--it was as if across a broad river.  Trick
of manner or a bit of truth peeping out?  Perhaps she's really one
of those inaccessible beings.  What do you think, Blunt?"

It was a direct question which for some reason (as if my range of
sensitiveness had been increased already) displeased or rather
disturbed me strangely.  Blunt seemed not to have heard it.  But
after a while he turned to me.

"That thick man," he said in a tone of perfect urbanity, "is as
fine as a needle.  All these statements about the seduction and
then this final doubt expressed after only two visits which could
not have included more than six hours altogether and this some
three years ago!  But it is Henry Allegre that you should ask this
question, Mr. Mills."

"I haven't the secret of raising the dead," answered Mills good
humouredly.  "And if I had I would hesitate.  It would seem such a
liberty to take with a person one had known so slightly in life."

"And yet Henry Allegre is the only person to ask about her, after
all this uninterrupted companionship of years, ever since he
discovered her; all the time, every breathing moment of it, till,
literally, his very last breath.  I don't mean to say she nursed
him.  He had his confidential man for that.  He couldn't bear women
about his person.  But then apparently he couldn't bear this one
out of his sight.  She's the only woman who ever sat to him, for he
would never suffer a model inside his house.  That's why the 'Girl
in the Hat' and the 'Byzantine Empress' have that family air,
though neither of them is really a likeness of Dona Rita. . . You
know my mother?"

Mills inclined his body slightly and a fugitive smile vanished from
his lips.  Blunt's eyes were fastened on the very centre of his
empty plate.

"Then perhaps you know my mother's artistic and literary
associations," Blunt went on in a subtly changed tone.  "My mother
has been writing verse since she was a girl of fifteen.  She's
still writing verse.  She's still fifteen--a spoiled girl of
genius.  So she requested one of her poet friends--no less than
Versoy himself--to arrange for a visit to Henry Allegre's house.
At first he thought he hadn't heard aright.  You must know that for
my mother a man that doesn't jump out of his skin for any woman's
caprice is not chivalrous.  But perhaps you do know? . . ."

Mills shook his head with an amused air.  Blunt, who had raised his
eyes from his plate to look at him, started afresh with great
deliberation.

"She gives no peace to herself or her friends.  My mother's
exquisitely absurd.  You understand that all these painters, poets,
art collectors (and dealers in bric-a-brac, he interjected through
his teeth) of my mother are not in my way; but Versoy lives more
like a man of the world.  One day I met him at the fencing school.
He was furious.  He asked me to tell my mother that this was the
last effort of his chivalry.  The jobs she gave him to do were too
difficult.  But I daresay he had been pleased enough to show the
influence he had in that quarter.  He knew my mother would tell the
world's wife all about it.  He's a spiteful, gingery little wretch.
The top of his head shines like a billiard ball.  I believe he
polishes it every morning with a cloth.  Of course they didn't get
further than the big drawing-room on the first floor, an enormous
drawing-room with three pairs of columns in the middle.  The double
doors on the top of the staircase had been thrown wide open, as if
for a visit from royalty.  You can picture to yourself my mother,
with her white hair done in some 18th century fashion and her
sparkling black eyes, penetrating into those splendours attended by
a sort of bald-headed, vexed squirrel--and Henry Allegre coming
forward to meet them like a severe prince with the face of a
tombstone Crusader, big white hands, muffled silken voice, half-
shut eyes, as if looking down at them from a balcony.  You remember
that trick of his, Mills?"

Mills emitted an enormous cloud of smoke out of his distended
cheeks.

"I daresay he was furious, too,"  Blunt continued dispassionately.
"But he was extremely civil.  He showed her all the 'treasures' in
the room, ivories, enamels, miniatures, all sorts of monstrosities
from Japan, from India, from Timbuctoo . . . for all I know. . . He
pushed his condescension so far as to have the 'Girl in the Hat'
brought down into the drawing-room--half length, unframed.  They
put her on a chair for my mother to look at.  The 'Byzantine
Empress' was already there, hung on the end wall--full length, gold
frame weighing half a ton.  My mother first overwhelms the 'Master'
with thanks, and then absorbs herself in the adoration of the 'Girl
in the Hat.'  Then she sighs out:  'It should be called
Diaphaneite, if there is such a word.  Ah!  This is the last
expression of modernity!'  She puts up suddenly her face-a-main and
looks towards the end wall.  'And that--Byzantium itself!  Who was
she, this sullen and beautiful Empress?'

"'The one I had in my mind was Theodosia!'  Allegre consented to
answer.  'Originally a slave girl--from somewhere.'

"My mother can be marvellously indiscreet when the whim takes her.
She finds nothing better to do than to ask the 'Master' why he took
his inspiration for those two faces from the same model.  No doubt
she was proud of her discerning eye.  It was really clever of her.
Allegre, however, looked on it as a colossal impertinence; but he
answered in his silkiest tones:

"'Perhaps it is because I saw in that woman something of the women
of all time.'

"My mother might have guessed that she was on thin ice there.  She
is extremely intelligent.  Moreover, she ought to have known.  But
women can be miraculously dense sometimes.  So she exclaims, 'Then
she is a wonder!'  And with some notion of being complimentary goes
on to say that only the eyes of the discoverer of so many wonders
of art could have discovered something so marvellous in life.  I
suppose Allegre lost his temper altogether then; or perhaps he only
wanted to pay my mother out, for all these 'Masters' she had been
throwing at his head for the last two hours.  He insinuates with
the utmost politeness:

"'As you are honouring my poor collection with a visit you may like
to judge for yourself as to the inspiration of these two pictures.
She is upstairs changing her dress after our morning ride.  But she
wouldn't be very long.  She might be a little surprised at first to
be called down like this, but with a few words of preparation and
purely as a matter of art . . .'

"There were never two people more taken aback.  Versoy himself
confesses that he dropped his tall hat with a crash.  I am a
dutiful son, I hope, but I must say I should have liked to have
seen the retreat down the great staircase.  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!"

He laughed most undutifully and then his face twitched grimly.

"That implacable brute Allegre followed them down ceremoniously and
put my mother into the fiacre at the door with the greatest
deference.  He didn't open his lips though, and made a great bow as
the fiacre drove away.  My mother didn't recover from her
consternation for three days.  I lunch with her almost daily and I
couldn't imagine what was the matter.  Then one day . . ."

He glanced round the table, jumped up and with a word of excuse
left the studio by a small door in a corner.  This startled me into
the consciousness that I had been as if I had not existed for these
two men.  With his elbows propped on the table Mills had his hands
in front of his face clasping the pipe from which he extracted now
and then a puff of smoke, staring stolidly across the room.

I was moved to ask in a whisper:

"Do you know him well?"

"I don't know what he is driving at," he answered drily.  "But as
to his mother she is not as volatile as all that.  I suspect it was
business.  It may have been a deep plot to get a picture out of
Allegre for somebody.  My cousin as likely as not.  Or simply to
discover what he had.  The Blunts lost all their property and in
Paris there are various ways of making a little money, without
actually breaking anything.  Not even the law.  And Mrs. Blunt
really had a position once--in the days of the Second Empire--and
so. . ."

I listened open-mouthed to these things into which my West-Indian
experiences could not have given me an insight.  But Mills checked
himself and ended in a changed tone.

"It's not easy to know what she would be at, either, in any given
instance.  For the rest, spotlessly honourable.  A delightful,
aristocratic old lady.  Only poor."

A bump at the door silenced him and immediately Mr. John Blunt,
Captain of Cavalry in the Army of Legitimity, first-rate cook (as
to one dish at least), and generous host, entered clutching the
necks of four more bottles between the fingers of his hand.

"I stumbled and nearly smashed the lot," he remarked casually.  But
even I, with all my innocence, never for a moment believed he had
stumbled accidentally.  During the uncorking and the filling up of
glasses a profound silence reigned; but neither of us took it
seriously--any more than his stumble.

"One day," he went on again in that curiously flavoured voice of
his, "my mother took a heroic decision and made up her mind to get
up in the middle of the night.  You must understand my mother's
phraseology.  It meant that she would be up and dressed by nine
o'clock.  This time it was not Versoy that was commanded for
attendance, but I.  You may imagine how delighted I was. . . ."

It was very plain to me that Blunt was addressing himself
exclusively to Mills:  Mills the mind, even more than Mills the
man.  It was as if Mills represented something initiated and to be
reckoned with.  I, of course, could have no such pretensions.  If I
represented anything it was a perfect freshness of sensations and a
refreshing ignorance, not so much of what life may give one (as to
that I had some ideas at least) but of what it really contains.  I
knew very well that I was utterly insignificant in these men's
eyes.  Yet my attention was not checked by that knowledge.  It's
true they were talking of a woman, but I was yet at the age when
this subject by itself is not of overwhelming interest.  My
imagination would have been more stimulated probably by the
adventures and fortunes of a man.  What kept my interest from
flagging was Mr. Blunt himself.  The play of the white gleams of
his smile round the suspicion of grimness of his tone fascinated me
like a moral incongruity.

So at the age when one sleeps well indeed but does feel sometimes
as if the need of sleep were a mere weakness of a distant old age,
I kept easily awake; and in my freshness I was kept amused by the
contrast of personalities, of the disclosed facts and moral outlook
with the rough initiations of my West-Indian experience.  And all
these things were dominated by a feminine figure which to my
imagination had only a floating outline, now invested with the
grace of girlhood, now with the prestige of a woman; and indistinct
in both these characters.  For these two men had SEEN her, while to
me she was only being "presented," elusively, in vanishing words,
in the shifting tones of an unfamiliar voice.

She was being presented to me now in the Bois de Boulogne at the
early hour of the ultra-fashionable world (so I understood), on a
light bay "bit of blood" attended on the off side by that Henry
Allegre mounted on a dark brown powerful weight carrier; and on the
other by one of Allegre's acquaintances (the man had no real
friends), distinguished frequenters of that mysterious Pavilion.
And so that side of the frame in which that woman appeared to one
down the perspective of the great Allee was not permanent.  That
morning when Mr. Blunt had to escort his mother there for the
gratification of her irresistible curiosity (of which he highly
disapproved) there appeared in succession, at that woman's or
girl's bridle-hand, a cavalry general in red breeches, on whom she
was smiling; a rising politician in a grey suit, who talked to her
with great animation but left her side abruptly to join a personage
in a red fez and mounted on a white horse; and then, some time
afterwards, the vexed Mr. Blunt and his indiscreet mother (though I
really couldn't see where the harm was) had one more chance of a
good stare.  The third party that time was the Royal Pretender
(Allegre had been painting his portrait lately), whose hearty,
sonorous laugh was heard long before the mounted trio came riding
very slowly abreast of the Blunts.  There was colour in the girl's
face.  She was not laughing.  Her expression was serious and her
eyes thoughtfully downcast.  Blunt admitted that on that occasion
the charm, brilliance, and force of her personality was adequately
framed between those magnificently mounted, paladin-like
attendants, one older than the other but the two composing together
admirably in the different stages of their manhood.  Mr. Blunt had
never before seen Henry Allegre so close.  Allegre was riding
nearest to the path on which Blunt was dutifully giving his arm to
his mother (they had got out of their fiacre) and wondering if that
confounded fellow would have the impudence to take off his hat.
But he did not.  Perhaps he didn't notice.  Allegre was not a man
of wandering glances.  There were silver hairs in his beard but he
looked as solid as a statue.  Less than three months afterwards he
was gone.

"What was it?" asked Mills, who had not changed his pose for a very
long time.

"Oh, an accident.  But he lingered.  They were on their way to
Corsica.  A yearly pilgrimage.  Sentimental perhaps.  It was to
Corsica that he carried her off--I mean first of all."

There was the slightest contraction of Mr. Blunt's facial muscles.
Very slight; but I, staring at the narrator after the manner of all
simple souls, noticed it; the twitch of a pain which surely must
have been mental.  There was also a suggestion of effort before he
went on:  "I suppose you know how he got hold of her?" in a tone of
ease which was astonishingly ill-assumed for such a worldly, self-
controlled, drawing-room person.

Mills changed his attitude to look at him fixedly for a moment.
Then he leaned back in his chair and with interest--I don't mean
curiosity, I mean interest:  "Does anybody know besides the two
parties concerned?" he asked, with something as it were renewed (or
was it refreshed?) in his unmoved quietness.  "I ask because one
has never heard any tales.  I remember one evening in a restaurant
seeing a man come in with a lady--a beautiful lady--very
particularly beautiful, as though she had been stolen out of
Mahomet's paradise.  With Dona Rita it can't be anything as
definite as that.  But speaking of her in the same strain, I've
always felt that she looked as though Allegre had caught her in the
precincts of some temple . . . in the mountains."

I was delighted.  I had never heard before a woman spoken about in
that way, a real live woman that is, not a woman in a book.  For
this was no poetry and yet it seemed to put her in the category of
visions.  And I would have lost myself in it if Mr. Blunt had not,
most unexpectedly, addressed himself to me.

"I told you that man was as fine as a needle."

And then to Mills:  "Out of a temple?  We know what that means."
His dark eyes flashed:  "And must it be really in the mountains?"
he added.

"Or in a desert," conceded Mills, "if you prefer that.  There have
been temples in deserts, you know."

Blunt had calmed down suddenly and assumed a nonchalant pose.

"As a matter of fact, Henry Allegre caught her very early one
morning in his own old garden full of thrushes and other small
birds.  She was sitting on a stone, a fragment of some old
balustrade, with her feet in the damp grass, and reading a tattered
book of some kind.  She had on a short, black, two-penny frock (une
petite robe de deux sous) and there was a hole in one of her
stockings.  She raised her eyes and saw him looking down at her
thoughtfully over that ambrosian beard of his, like Jove at a
mortal.  They exchanged a good long stare, for at first she was too
startled to move; and then he murmured, "Restez donc."  She lowered
her eyes again on her book and after a while heard him walk away on
the path.  Her heart thumped while she listened to the little birds
filling the air with their noise.  She was not frightened.  I am
telling you this positively because she has told me the tale
herself.  What better authority can you have . . .?" Blunt paused.

"That's true.  She's not the sort of person to lie about her own
sensations," murmured Mills above his clasped hands.

"Nothing can escape his penetration," Blunt remarked to me with
that equivocal urbanity which made me always feel uncomfortable on
Mills' account.  "Positively nothing."  He turned to Mills again.
"After some minutes of immobility--she told me--she arose from her
stone and walked slowly on the track of that apparition.  Allegre
was nowhere to be seen by that time.  Under the gateway of the
extremely ugly tenement house, which hides the Pavilion and the
garden from the street, the wife of the porter was waiting with her
arms akimbo.  At once she cried out to Rita:  'You were caught by
our gentleman.'

"As a matter of fact, that old woman, being a friend of Rita's
aunt, allowed the girl to come into the garden whenever Allegre was
away.  But Allegre's goings and comings were sudden and
unannounced; and that morning, Rita, crossing the narrow, thronged
street, had slipped in through the gateway in ignorance of
Allegre's return and unseen by the porter's wife.

"The child, she was but little more than that then, expressed her
regret of having perhaps got the kind porter's wife into trouble.

"The old woman said with a peculiar smile:  'Your face is not of
the sort that gets other people into trouble.  My gentleman wasn't
angry.  He says you may come in any morning you like.'

"Rita, without saying anything to this, crossed the street back
again to the warehouse full of oranges where she spent most of her
waking hours.  Her dreaming, empty, idle, thoughtless, unperturbed
hours, she calls them.  She crossed the street with a hole in her
stocking.  She had a hole in her stocking not because her uncle and
aunt were poor (they had around them never less than eight thousand
oranges, mostly in cases) but because she was then careless and
untidy and totally unconscious of her personal appearance.  She
told me herself that she was not even conscious then of her
personal existence.  She was a mere adjunct in the twilight life of
her aunt, a Frenchwoman, and her uncle, the orange merchant, a
Basque peasant, to whom her other uncle, the great man of the
family, the priest of some parish in the hills near Tolosa, had
sent her up at the age of thirteen or thereabouts for safe keeping.
She is of peasant stock, you know.  This is the true origin of the
'Girl in the Hat' and of the 'Byzantine Empress' which excited my
dear mother so much; of the mysterious girl that the privileged
personalities great in art, in letters, in politics, or simply in
the world, could see on the big sofa during the gatherings in
Allegre's exclusive Pavilion:  the Dona Rita of their respectful
addresses, manifest and mysterious, like an object of art from some
unknown period; the Dona Rita of the initiated Paris.  Dona Rita
and nothing more--unique and indefinable."  He stopped with a
disagreeable smile.

"And of peasant stock?" I exclaimed in the strangely conscious
silence that fell between Mills and Blunt.

"Oh!  All these Basques have been ennobled by Don Sanche II," said
Captain Blunt moodily.  "You see coats of arms carved over the
doorways of the most miserable caserios.  As far as that goes she's
Dona Rita right enough whatever else she is or is not in herself or
in the eyes of others.  In your eyes, for instance, Mills.  Eh?"

For a time Mills preserved that conscious silence.

"Why think about it at all?" he murmured coldly at last.  "A
strange bird is hatched sometimes in a nest in an unaccountable way
and then the fate of such a bird is bound to be ill-defined,
uncertain, questionable.  And so that is how Henry Allegre saw her
first?  And what happened next?"

"What happened next?" repeated Mr. Blunt, with an affected surprise
in his tone.  "Is it necessary to ask that question?  If you had
asked HOW the next happened. . .  But as you may imagine she hasn't
told me anything about that.  She didn't," he continued with polite
sarcasm, "enlarge upon the facts.  That confounded Allegre, with
his impudent assumption of princely airs, must have (I shouldn't
wonder) made the fact of his notice appear as a sort of favour
dropped from Olympus.  I really can't tell how the minds and the
imaginations of such aunts and uncles are affected by such rare
visitations.  Mythology may give us a hint.  There is the story of
Danae, for instance."

 "There is," remarked Mills calmly, "but I don't remember any aunt
or uncle in that connection."

"And there are also certain stories of the discovery and
acquisition of some unique objects of art.  The sly approaches, the
astute negotiations, the lying and the circumventing . . . for the
love of beauty, you know."

With his dark face and with the perpetual smiles playing about his
grimness, Mr. Blunt appeared to me positively satanic.  Mills' hand
was toying absently with an empty glass.  Again they had forgotten
my existence altogether.

"I don't know how an object of art would feel," went on Blunt, in
an unexpectedly grating voice, which, however, recovered its tone
immediately.  "I don't know.  But I do know that Rita herself was
not a Danae, never, not at any time of her life.  She didn't mind
the holes in her stockings.  She wouldn't mind holes in her
stockings now. . . That is if she manages to keep any stockings at
all," he added, with a sort of suppressed fury so funnily
unexpected that I would have burst into a laugh if I hadn't been
lost in astonishment of the simplest kind.

"No--really!"  There was a flash of interest from the quiet Mills.

"Yes, really,"  Blunt nodded and knitted his brows very devilishly
indeed.  "She may yet be left without a single pair of stockings."

"The world's a thief," declared Mills, with the utmost composure.
"It wouldn't mind robbing a lonely traveller."

"He is so subtle."  Blunt remembered my existence for the purpose
of that remark and as usual it made me very uncomfortable.
"Perfectly true.  A lonely traveller.  They are all in the scramble
from the lowest to the highest.  Heavens!  What a gang!  There was
even an Archbishop in it."

"Vous plaisantez," said Mills, but without any marked show of
incredulity.

"I joke very seldom," Blunt protested earnestly.  "That's why I
haven't mentioned His Majesty--whom God preserve.  That would have
been an exaggeration. . . However, the end is not yet.  We were
talking about the beginning.  I have heard that some dealers in
fine objects, quite mercenary people of course (my mother has an
experience in that world), show sometimes an astonishing reluctance
to part with some specimens, even at a good price.  It must be very
funny.  It's just possible that the uncle and the aunt have been
rolling in tears on the floor, amongst their oranges, or beating
their heads against the walls from rage and despair.  But I doubt
it.  And in any case Allegre is not the sort of person that gets
into any vulgar trouble.  And it's just possible that those people
stood open-mouthed at all that magnificence.  They weren't poor,
you know; therefore it wasn't incumbent on them to be honest.  They
are still there in the old respectable warehouse, I understand.
They have kept their position in their quartier, I believe.  But
they didn't keep their niece.  It might have been an act of
sacrifice!  For I seem to remember hearing that after attending for
a while some school round the corner the child had been set to keep
the books of that orange business.  However it might have been, the
first fact in Rita's and Allegre's common history is a journey to
Italy, and then to Corsica.  You know Allegre had a house in
Corsica somewhere.  She has it now as she has everything he ever
had; and that Corsican palace is the portion that will stick the
longest to Dona Rita, I imagine.  Who would want to buy a place
like that?  I suppose nobody would take it for a gift.  The fellow
was having houses built all over the place.  This very house where
we are sitting belonged to him.  Dona Rita has given it to her
sister, I understand.  Or at any rate the sister runs it.  She is
my landlady . . ."

"Her sister here!" I exclaimed.  "Her sister!"

Blunt turned to me politely, but only for a long mute gaze.  His
eyes were in deep shadow and it struck me for the first time then
that there was something fatal in that man's aspect as soon as he
fell silent.  I think the effect was purely physical, but in
consequence whatever he said seemed inadequate and as if produced
by a commonplace, if uneasy, soul.

"Dona Rita brought her down from her mountains on purpose.  She is
asleep somewhere in this house, in one of the vacant rooms.  She
lets them, you know, at extortionate prices, that is, if people
will pay them, for she is easily intimidated.  You see, she has
never seen such an enormous town before in her life, nor yet so
many strange people.  She has been keeping house for the uncle-
priest in some mountain gorge for years and years.  It's
extraordinary he should have let her go.  There is something
mysterious there, some reason or other.  It's either theology or
Family.  The saintly uncle in his wild parish would know nothing of
any other reasons.  She wears a rosary at her waist.  Directly she
had seen some real money she developed a love of it.  If you stay
with me long enough, and I hope you will (I really can't sleep),
you will see her going out to mass at half-past six; but there is
nothing remarkable in her; just a peasant woman of thirty-four or
so.  A rustic nun. . . ."

I may as well say at once that we didn't stay as long as that.  It
was not that morning that I saw for the first time Therese of the
whispering lips and downcast eyes slipping out to an early mass
from the house of iniquity into the early winter murk of the city
of perdition, in a world steeped in sin.  No.  It was not on that
morning that I saw Dona Rita's incredible sister with her brown,
dry face, her gliding motion, and her really nun-like dress, with a
black handkerchief enfolding her head tightly, with the two pointed
ends hanging down her back.  Yes, nun-like enough.  And yet not
altogether.  People would have turned round after her if those
dartings out to the half-past six mass hadn't been the only
occasion on which she ventured into the impious streets.  She was
frightened of the streets, but in a particular way, not as if of a
danger but as if of a contamination.  Yet she didn't fly back to
her mountains because at bottom she had an indomitable character, a
peasant tenacity of purpose, predatory instincts. . . .

No, we didn't remain long enough with Mr. Blunt to see even as much
as her back glide out of the house on her prayerful errand.  She
was prayerful.  She was terrible.  Her one-idead peasant mind was
as inaccessible as a closed iron safe.  She was fatal. . . It's
perfectly ridiculous to confess that they all seem fatal to me now;
but writing to you like this in all sincerity I don't mind
appearing ridiculous.  I suppose fatality must be expressed,
embodied, like other forces of this earth; and if so why not in
such people as well as in other more glorious or more frightful
figures?

We remained, however, long enough to let Mr. Blunt's half-hidden
acrimony develop itself or prey on itself in further talk about the
man Allegre and the girl Rita.  Mr. Blunt, still addressing Mills
with that story, passed on to what he called the second act, the
disclosure, with, what he called, the characteristic Allegre
impudence--which surpassed the impudence of kings, millionaires, or
tramps, by many degrees--the revelation of Rita's existence to the
world at large.  It wasn't a very large world, but then it was most
choicely composed.  How is one to describe it shortly?  In a
sentence it was the world that rides in the morning in the Bois.

In something less than a year and a half from the time he found her
sitting on a broken fragment of stone work buried in the grass of
his wild garden, full of thrushes, starlings, and other innocent
creatures of the air, he had given her amongst other
accomplishments the art of sitting admirably on a horse, and
directly they returned to Paris he took her out with him for their
first morning ride.

"I leave you to judge of the sensation," continued Mr. Blunt, with
a faint grimace, as though the words had an acrid taste in his
mouth.  "And the consternation," he added venomously.  "Many of
those men on that great morning had some one of their womankind
with them.  But their hats had to go off all the same, especially
the hats of the fellows who were under some sort of obligation to
Allegre.  You would be astonished to hear the names of people, of
real personalities in the world, who, not to mince matters, owed
money to Allegre.  And I don't mean in the world of art only.  In
the first rout of the surprise some story of an adopted daughter
was set abroad hastily, I believe.  You know 'adopted' with a
peculiar accent on the word--and it was plausible enough.  I have
been told that at that time she looked extremely youthful by his
side, I mean extremely youthful in expression, in the eyes, in the
smile.  She must have been . . ."

Blunt pulled himself up short, but not so short as not to let the
confused murmur of the word "adorable" reach our attentive ears.

The heavy Mills made a slight movement in his chair.  The effect on
me was more inward, a strange emotion which left me perfectly
still; and for the moment of silence Blunt looked more fatal than
ever.

"I understand it didn't last very long," he addressed us politely
again.  "And no wonder!  The sort of talk she would have heard
during that first springtime in Paris would have put an impress on
a much less receptive personality; for of course Allegre didn't
close his doors to his friends and this new apparition was not of
the sort to make them keep away.  After that first morning she
always had somebody to ride at her bridle hand.  Old Doyen, the
sculptor, was the first to approach them.  At that age a man may
venture on anything.  He rides a strange animal like a circus
horse.  Rita had spotted him out of the corner of her eye as he
passed them, putting up his enormous paw in a still more enormous
glove, airily, you know, like this" (Blunt waved his hand above his
head), "to Allegre.  He passes on.  All at once he wheels his
fantastic animal round and comes trotting after them.  With the
merest casual 'Bonjour, Allegre' he ranges close to her on the
other side and addresses her, hat in hand, in that booming voice of
his like a deferential roar of the sea very far away.  His
articulation is not good, and the first words she really made out
were 'I am an old sculptor. . . Of course there is that habit. . .
But I can see you through all that. . . '

He put his hat on very much on one side.  'I am a great sculptor of
women,' he declared.  'I gave up my life to them, poor unfortunate
creatures, the most beautiful, the wealthiest, the most loved. . .
Two generations of them. . . Just look at me full in the eyes, mon
enfant.'

"They stared at each other.  Dona Rita confessed to me that the old
fellow made her heart beat with such force that she couldn't manage
to smile at him.  And she saw his eyes run full of tears.  He wiped
them simply with the back of his hand and went on booming faintly.
'Thought so.  You are enough to make one cry.  I thought my
artist's life was finished, and here you come along from devil
knows where with this young friend of mine, who isn't a bad smearer
of canvases--but it's marble and bronze that you want. . . I shall
finish my artist's life with your face; but I shall want a bit of
those shoulders, too. . . You hear, Allegre, I must have a bit of
her shoulders, too.  I can see through the cloth that they are
divine.  If they aren't divine I will eat my hat.  Yes, I will do
your head and then--nunc dimittis.'

"These were the first words with which the world greeted her, or
should I say civilization did; already both her native mountains
and the cavern of oranges belonged to a prehistoric age.  'Why
don't you ask him to come this afternoon?' Allegre's voice
suggested gently.  'He knows the way to the house.'

"The old man said with extraordinary fervour, 'Oh, yes I will,'
pulled up his horse and they went on.  She told me that she could
feel her heart-beats for a long time.  The remote power of that
voice, those old eyes full of tears, that noble and ruined face,
had affected her extraordinarily she said.  But perhaps what
affected her was the shadow, the still living shadow of a great
passion in the man's heart.

"Allegre remarked to her calmly:  'He has been a little mad all his
life.'"



CHAPTER III



Mills lowered the hands holding the extinct and even cold pipe
before his big face.

"H'm, shoot an arrow into that old man's heart like this?  But was
there anything done?"

"A terra-cotta bust, I believe.  Good?  I don't know.  I rather
think it's in this house.  A lot of things have been sent down from
Paris here, when she gave up the Pavilion.  When she goes up now
she stays in hotels, you know.  I imagine it is locked up in one of
these things," went on Blunt, pointing towards the end of the
studio where amongst the monumental presses of dark oak lurked the
shy dummy which had worn the stiff robes of the Byzantine Empress
and the amazing hat of the "Girl," rakishly.  I wondered whether
that dummy had travelled from Paris, too, and whether with or
without its head.  Perhaps that head had been left behind, having
rolled into a corner of some empty room in the dismantled Pavilion.
I represented it to myself very lonely, without features, like a
turnip, with a mere peg sticking out where the neck should have
been.  And Mr. Blunt was talking on.

"There are treasures behind these locked doors, brocades, old
jewels, unframed pictures, bronzes, chinoiseries, Japoneries."

He growled as much as a man of his accomplished manner and voice
could growl.  "I don't suppose she gave away all that to her
sister, but I shouldn't be surprised if that timid rustic didn't
lay a claim to the lot for the love of God and the good of the
Church. . .

"And held on with her teeth, too," he added graphically.

Mills' face remained grave.  Very grave.  I was amused at those
little venomous outbreaks of the fatal Mr. Blunt.  Again I knew
myself utterly forgotten.  But I didn't feel dull and I didn't even
feel sleepy.  That last strikes me as strange at this distance of
time, in regard of my tender years and of the depressing hour which
precedes the dawn.  We had been drinking that straw-coloured wine,
too, I won't say like water (nobody would have drunk water like
that) but, well . . . and the haze of tobacco smoke was like the
blue mist of great distances seen in dreams.

Yes, that old sculptor was the first who joined them in the sight
of all Paris.  It was that old glory that opened the series of
companions of those morning rides; a series which extended through
three successive Parisian spring-times and comprised a famous
physiologist, a fellow who seemed to hint that mankind could be
made immortal or at least everlastingly old; a fashionable
philosopher and psychologist who used to lecture to enormous
audiences of women with his tongue in his cheek (but never
permitted himself anything of the kind when talking to Rita); that
surly dandy Cabanel (but he only once, from mere vanity), and
everybody else at all distinguished including also a celebrated
person who turned out later to be a swindler.  But he was really a
genius. . . All this according to Mr. Blunt, who gave us all those
details with a sort of languid zest covering a secret irritation.

"Apart from that, you know," went on Mr. Blunt, "all she knew of
the world of men and women (I mean till Allegre's death) was what
she had seen of it from the saddle two hours every morning during
four months of the year or so.  Absolutely all, with Allegre self-
denyingly on her right hand, with that impenetrable air of
guardianship.  Don't touch!  He didn't like his treasures to be
touched unless he actually put some unique object into your hands
with a sort of triumphant murmur, 'Look close at that.'  Of course
I only have heard all this.  I am much too small a person, you
understand, to even . . ."

He flashed his white teeth at us most agreeably, but the upper part
of his face, the shadowed setting of his eyes, and the slight
drawing in of his eyebrows gave a fatal suggestion.  I thought
suddenly of the definition he applied to himself:  "Americain,
catholique et gentil-homme" completed by that startling "I live by
my sword" uttered in a light drawing-room tone tinged by a flavour
of mockery lighter even than air.

He insisted to us that the first and only time he had seen Allegre
a little close was that morning in the Bois with his mother.  His
Majesty (whom God preserve), then not even an active Pretender,
flanked the girl, still a girl, on the other side, the usual
companion for a month past or so.  Allegre had suddenly taken it
into his head to paint his portrait.  A sort of intimacy had sprung
up.  Mrs. Blunt's remark was that of the two striking horsemen
Allegre looked the more kingly.

"The son of a confounded millionaire soap-boiler," commented Mr.
Blunt through his clenched teeth.  "A man absolutely without
parentage.  Without a single relation in the world.  Just a freak."

"That explains why he could leave all his fortune to her," said
Mills.

"The will, I believe," said Mr. Blunt moodily, "was written on a
half sheet of paper, with his device of an Assyrian bull at the
head.  What the devil did he mean by it?  Anyway it was the last
time that she surveyed the world of men and women from the saddle.
Less than three months later. . ."

"Allegre died and. . . " murmured Mills in an interested manner.

"And she had to dismount," broke in Mr. Blunt grimly.  "Dismount
right into the middle of it.  Down to the very ground, you
understand.  I suppose you can guess what that would mean.  She
didn't know what to do with herself.  She had never been on the
ground.  She . . . "

"Aha!" said Mills.

"Even eh! eh! if you like," retorted Mr. Blunt, in an unrefined
tone, that made me open my eyes, which were well opened before,
still wider.

He turned to me with that horrible trick of his of commenting upon
Mills as though that quiet man whom I admired, whom I trusted, and
for whom I had already something resembling affection had been as
much of a dummy as that other one lurking in the shadows, pitiful
and headless in its attitude of alarmed chastity.

"Nothing escapes his penetration.  He can perceive a haystack at an
enormous distance when he is interested."

I thought this was going rather too far, even to the borders of
vulgarity; but Mills remained untroubled and only reached for his
tobacco pouch.

"But that's nothing to my mother's interest.  She can never see a
haystack, therefore she is always so surprised and excited.  Of
course Dona Rita was not a woman about whom the newspapers insert
little paragraphs.  But Allegre was the sort of man.  A lot came
out in print about him and a lot was talked in the world about her;
and at once my dear mother perceived a haystack and naturally
became unreasonably absorbed in it.  I thought her interest would
wear out.  But it didn't.  She had received a shock and had
received an impression by means of that girl.  My mother has never
been treated with impertinence before, and the aesthetic impression
must have been of extraordinary strength.  I must suppose that it
amounted to a sort of moral revolution, I can't account for her
proceedings in any other way.  When Rita turned up in Paris a year
and a half after Allegre's death some shabby journalist (smart
creature) hit upon the notion of alluding to her as the heiress of
Mr. Allegre.  'The heiress of Mr. Allegre has taken up her
residence again amongst the treasures of art in that Pavilion so
well known to the elite of the artistic, scientific, and political
world, not to speak of the members of aristocratic and even royal
families. . . '  You know the sort of thing.  It appeared first in
the Figaro, I believe.  And then at the end a little phrase:  'She
is alone.'  She was in a fair way of becoming a celebrity of a
sort.  Daily little allusions and that sort of thing.  Heaven only
knows who stopped it.  There was a rush of 'old friends' into that
garden, enough to scare all the little birds away.  I suppose one
or several of them, having influence with the press, did it.  But
the gossip didn't stop, and the name stuck, too, since it conveyed
a very certain and very significant sort of fact, and of course the
Venetian episode was talked about in the houses frequented by my
mother.  It was talked about from a royalist point of view with a
kind of respect.  It was even said that the inspiration and the
resolution of the war going on now over the Pyrenees had come out
from that head. . . Some of them talked as if she were the guardian
angel of Legitimacy.  You know what royalist gush is like."

Mr. Blunt's face expressed sarcastic disgust.  Mills moved his head
the least little bit.  Apparently he knew.

"Well, speaking with all possible respect, it seems to have
affected my mother's brain.  I was already with the royal army and
of course there could be no question of regular postal
communications with France.  My mother hears or overhears somewhere
that the heiress of Mr. Allegre is contemplating a secret journey.
All the noble Salons were full of chatter about that secret
naturally.  So she sits down and pens an autograph:  'Madame,
Informed that you are proceeding to the place on which the hopes of
all the right thinking people are fixed, I trust to your womanly
sympathy with a mother's anxious feelings, etc., etc.,' and ending
with a request to take messages to me and bring news of me. . . The
coolness of my mother!"

Most unexpectedly Mills was heard murmuring a question which seemed
to me very odd.

"I wonder how your mother addressed that note?"

A moment of silence ensued.

"Hardly in the newspaper style, I should think," retorted Mr.
Blunt, with one of his grins that made me doubt the stability of
his feelings and the consistency of his outlook in regard to his
whole tale.  "My mother's maid took it in a fiacre very late one
evening to the Pavilion and brought an answer scrawled on a scrap
of paper:  'Write your messages at once' and signed with a big
capital R.  So my mother sat down again to her charming writing
desk and the maid made another journey in a fiacre just before
midnight; and ten days later or so I got a letter thrust into my
hand at the avanzadas just as I was about to start on a night
patrol, together with a note asking me to call on the writer so
that she might allay my mother's anxieties by telling her how I
looked.

"It was signed R only, but I guessed at once and nearly fell off my
horse with surprise."

"You mean to say that Dona Rita was actually at the Royal
Headquarters lately?" exclaimed Mills, with evident surprise.
"Why, we--everybody--thought that all this affair was over and done
with."

"Absolutely.  Nothing in the world could be more done with than
that episode.  Of course the rooms in the hotel at Tolosa were
retained for her by an order from Royal Headquarters.  Two garret-
rooms, the place was so full of all sorts of court people; but I
can assure you that for the three days she was there she never put
her head outside the door.  General Mongroviejo called on her
officially from the King.  A general, not anybody of the household,
you see.  That's a distinct shade of the present relation.  He
stayed just five minutes.  Some personage from the Foreign
department at Headquarters was closeted for about a couple of
hours.  That was of course business.  Then two officers from the
staff came together with some explanations or instructions to her.
Then Baron H., a fellow with a pretty wife, who had made so many
sacrifices for the cause, raised a great to-do about seeing her and
she consented to receive him for a moment.  They say he was very
much frightened by her arrival, but after the interview went away
all smiles.  Who else?  Yes, the Archbishop came.  Half an hour.
This is more than is necessary to give a blessing, and I can't
conceive what else he had to give her.  But I am sure he got
something out of her.  Two peasants from the upper valley were sent
for by military authorities and she saw them, too.  That friar who
hangs about the court has been in and out several times.  Well, and
lastly, I myself.  I got leave from the outposts.  That was the
first time I talked to her.  I would have gone that evening back to
the regiment, but the friar met me in the corridor and informed me
that I would be ordered to escort that most loyal and noble lady
back to the French frontier as a personal mission of the highest
honour.  I was inclined to laugh at him.  He himself is a cheery
and jovial person and he laughed with me quite readily--but I got
the order before dark all right.  It was rather a job, as the
Alphonsists were attacking the right flank of our whole front and
there was some considerable disorder there.  I mounted her on a
mule and her maid on another.  We spent one night in a ruined old
tower occupied by some of our infantry and got away at daybreak
under the Alphonsist shells.  The maid nearly died of fright and
one of the troopers with us was wounded.  To smuggle her back
across the frontier was another job but it wasn't my job.  It
wouldn't have done for her to appear in sight of French frontier
posts in the company of Carlist uniforms.  She seems to have a
fearless streak in her nature.  At one time as we were climbing a
slope absolutely exposed to artillery fire I asked her on purpose,
being provoked by the way she looked about at the scenery, 'A
little emotion, eh?'  And she answered me in a low voice:  'Oh,
yes!  I am moved.  I used to run about these hills when I was
little.'  And note, just then the trooper close behind us had been
wounded by a shell fragment.  He was swearing awfully and fighting
with his horse.  The shells were falling around us about two to the
minute.

"Luckily the Alphonsist shells are not much better than our own.
But women are funny.  I was afraid the maid would jump down and
clear out amongst the rocks, in which case we should have had to
dismount and catch her.  But she didn't do that; she sat perfectly
still on her mule and shrieked.  Just simply shrieked.  Ultimately
we came to a curiously shaped rock at the end of a short wooded
valley.  It was very still there and the sunshine was brilliant.  I
said to Dona Rita:  'We will have to part in a few minutes.  I
understand that my mission ends at this rock.'  And she said:  'I
know this rock well.  This is my country.'

"Then she thanked me for bringing her there and presently three
peasants appeared, waiting for us, two youths and one shaven old
man, with a thin nose like a sword blade and perfectly round eyes,
a character well known to the whole Carlist army.  The two youths
stopped under the trees at a distance, but the old fellow came
quite close up and gazed at her, screwing up his eyes as if looking
at the sun.  Then he raised his arm very slowly and took his red
boina off his bald head.  I watched her smiling at him all the
time.  I daresay she knew him as well as she knew the old rock.
Very old rock.  The rock of ages--and the aged man--landmarks of
her youth.  Then the mules started walking smartly forward, with
the three peasants striding alongside of them, and vanished between
the trees.  These fellows were most likely sent out by her uncle
the Cura.

"It was a peaceful scene, the morning light, the bit of open
country framed in steep stony slopes, a high peak or two in the
distance, the thin smoke of some invisible caserios, rising
straight up here and there.  Far away behind us the guns had ceased
and the echoes in the gorges had died out.  I never knew what peace
meant before. . .

"Nor since," muttered Mr. Blunt after a pause and then went on.
"The little stone church of her uncle, the holy man of the family,
might have been round the corner of the next spur of the nearest
hill.  I dismounted to bandage the shoulder of my trooper.  It was
only a nasty long scratch.  While I was busy about it a bell began
to ring in the distance.  The sound fell deliciously on the ear,
clear like the morning light.  But it stopped all at once.  You
know how a distant bell stops suddenly.  I never knew before what
stillness meant.  While I was wondering at it the fellow holding
our horses was moved to uplift his voice.  He was a Spaniard, not a
Basque, and he trolled out in Castilian that song you know,


"'Oh bells of my native village,
I am going away . . . good-bye!'


He had a good voice.  When the last note had floated away I
remounted, but there was a charm in the spot, something particular
and individual because while we were looking at it before turning
our horses' heads away the singer said:  'I wonder what is the name
of this place,' and the other man remarked:  'Why, there is no
village here,' and the first one insisted:  'No, I mean this spot,
this very place.'  The wounded trooper decided that it had no name
probably.  But he was wrong.  It had a name.  The hill, or the
rock, or the wood, or the whole had a name.  I heard of it by
chance later.  It was--Lastaola."

A cloud of tobacco smoke from Mills' pipe drove between my head and
the head of Mr. Blunt, who, strange to say, yawned slightly.  It
seemed to me an obvious affectation on the part of that man of
perfect manners, and, moreover, suffering from distressing
insomnia.

"This is how we first met and how we first parted," he said in a
weary, indifferent tone.  "It's quite possible that she did see her
uncle on the way.  It's perhaps on this occasion that she got her
sister to come out of the wilderness.  I have no doubt she had a
pass from the French Government giving her the completest freedom
of action.  She must have got it in Paris before leaving."

Mr. Blunt broke out into worldly, slightly cynical smiles.

"She can get anything she likes in Paris.  She could get a whole
army over the frontier if she liked.  She could get herself
admitted into the Foreign Office at one o'clock in the morning if
it so pleased her.  Doors fly open before the heiress of Mr.
Allegre.  She has inherited the old friends, the old connections .
. . Of course, if she were a toothless old woman . . . But, you
see, she isn't.  The ushers in all the ministries bow down to the
ground therefore, and voices from the innermost sanctums take on an
eager tone when they say, 'Faites entrer.'  My mother knows
something about it.  She has followed her career with the greatest
attention.  And Rita herself is not even surprised.  She
accomplishes most extraordinary things, as naturally as buying a
pair of gloves.  People in the shops are very polite and people in
the world are like people in the shops.  What did she know of the
world?  She had seen it only from the saddle.  Oh, she will get
your cargo released for you all right.  How will she do it? . .
Well, when it's done--you follow me, Mills?--when it's done she
will hardly know herself."

"It's hardly possible that she shouldn't be aware," Mills
pronounced calmly.

"No, she isn't an idiot," admitted Mr. Blunt, in the same matter-
of-fact voice.  "But she confessed to myself only the other day
that she suffered from a sense of unreality.  I told her that at
any rate she had her own feelings surely.  And she said to me:
Yes, there was one of them at least about which she had no doubt;
and you will never guess what it was.  Don't try.  I happen to
know, because we are pretty good friends."

At that moment we all changed our attitude slightly.  Mills'
staring eyes moved for a glance towards Blunt, I, who was occupying
the divan, raised myself on the cushions a little and Mr. Blunt,
with half a turn, put his elbow on the table.

"I asked her what it was.  I don't see," went on Mr. Blunt, with a
perfectly horrible gentleness, "why I should have shown particular
consideration to the heiress of Mr. Allegre.  I don't mean to that
particular mood of hers.  It was the mood of weariness.  And so she
told me.  It's fear.  I will say it once again:  Fear. . . ."

He added after a pause, "There can be not the slightest doubt of
her courage.  But she distinctly uttered the word fear."

There was under the table the noise of Mills stretching his legs.

"A person of imagination," he began, "a young, virgin intelligence,
steeped for nearly five years in the talk of Allegre's studio,
where every hard truth had been cracked and every belief had been
worried into shreds.  They were like a lot of intellectual dogs,
you know . . ."

"Yes, yes, of course," Blunt interrupted hastily, "the intellectual
personality altogether adrift, a soul without a home . . . but I,
who am neither very fine nor very deep, I am convinced that the
fear is material."

"Because she confessed to it being that?" insinuated Mills.

"No, because she didn't," contradicted Blunt, with an angry frown
and in an extremely suave voice.  "In fact, she bit her tongue.
And considering what good friends we are (under fire together and
all that) I conclude that there is nothing there to boast of.
Neither is my friendship, as a matter of fact."

Mills' face was the very perfection of indifference.  But I who was
looking at him, in my innocence, to discover what it all might
mean, I had a notion that it was perhaps a shade too perfect.

"My leave is a farce," Captain Blunt burst out, with a most
unexpected exasperation.  "As an officer of Don Carlos, I have no
more standing than a bandit.  I ought to have been interned in
those filthy old barracks in Avignon a long time ago. . . Why am I
not?  Because Dona Rita exists and for no other reason on earth.
Of course it's known that I am about.  She has only to whisper over
the wires to the Minister of the Interior, 'Put that bird in a cage
for me,' and the thing would be done without any more formalities
than that. . . Sad world this," he commented in a changed tone.
"Nowadays a gentleman who lives by his sword is exposed to that
sort of thing."

It was then for the first time I heard Mr. Mills laugh.  It was a
deep, pleasant, kindly note, not very loud and altogether free from
that quality of derision that spoils so many laughs and gives away
the secret hardness of hearts.  But neither was it a very joyous
laugh.

"But the truth of the matter is that I am 'en mission,'" continued
Captain Blunt.  "I have been instructed to settle some things, to
set other things going, and, by my instructions, Dona Rita is to be
the intermediary for all those objects.  And why?  Because every
bald head in this Republican Government gets pink at the top
whenever her dress rustles outside the door.  They bow with immense
deference when the door opens, but the bow conceals a smirk because
of those Venetian days.  That confounded Versoy shoved his nose
into that business; he says accidentally.  He saw them together on
the Lido and (those writing fellows are horrible) he wrote what he
calls a vignette (I suppose accidentally, too) under that very
title.  There was in it a Prince and a lady and a big dog.  He
described how the Prince on landing from the gondola emptied his
purse into the hands of a picturesque old beggar, while the lady, a
little way off, stood gazing back at Venice with the dog
romantically stretched at her feet.  One of Versoy's beautiful
prose vignettes in a great daily that has a literary column.  But
some other papers that didn't care a cent for literature rehashed
the mere fact.  And that's the sort of fact that impresses your
political man, especially if the lady is, well, such as she is . .
."

He paused.  His dark eyes flashed fatally, away from us, in the
direction of the shy dummy; and then he went on with cultivated
cynicism.

"So she rushes down here.  Overdone, weary, rest for her nerves.
Nonsense.  I assure you she has no more nerves than I have."

I don't know how he meant it, but at that moment, slim and elegant,
he seemed a mere bundle of nerves himself, with the flitting
expressions on his thin, well-bred face, with the restlessness of
his meagre brown hands amongst the objects on the table.  With some
pipe ash amongst a little spilt wine his forefinger traced a
capital R.  Then he looked into an empty glass profoundly.  I have
a notion that I sat there staring and listening like a yokel at a
play.  Mills' pipe was lying quite a foot away in front of him,
empty, cold.  Perhaps he had no more tobacco.  Mr. Blunt assumed
his dandified air--nervously.

"Of course her movements are commented on in the most exclusive
drawing-rooms and also in other places, also exclusive, but where
the gossip takes on another tone.  There they are probably saying
that she has got a 'coup de coeur' for some one.  Whereas I think
she is utterly incapable of that sort of thing.  That Venetian
affair, the beginning of it and the end of it, was nothing but a
coup de tete, and all those activities in which I am involved, as
you see (by order of Headquarters, ha, ha, ha!), are nothing but
that, all this connection, all this intimacy into which I have
dropped . . . Not to speak of my mother, who is delightful, but as
irresponsible as one of those crazy princesses that shock their
Royal families. . . "

He seemed to bite his tongue and I observed that Mills' eyes seemed
to have grown wider than I had ever seen them before.  In that
tranquil face it was a great play of feature.  "An intimacy," began
Mr. Blunt, with an extremely refined grimness of tone, "an intimacy
with the heiress of Mr. Allegre on the part of . . . on my part,
well, it isn't exactly . . . it's open . . . well, I leave it to
you, what does it look like?"

"Is there anybody looking on?" Mills let fall, gently, through his
kindly lips.

"Not actually, perhaps, at this moment.  But I don't need to tell a
man of the world, like you, that such things cannot remain unseen.
And that they are, well, compromising, because of the mere fact of
the fortune."

Mills got on his feet, looked for his jacket and after getting into
it made himself heard while he looked for his hat.

"Whereas the woman herself is, so to speak, priceless."

Mr. Blunt muttered the word "Obviously."

By then we were all on our feet.  The iron stove glowed no longer
and the lamp, surrounded by empty bottles and empty glasses, had
grown dimmer.

I know that I had a great shiver on getting away from the cushions
of the divan.

"We will meet again in a few hours," said Mr. Blunt.

"Don't forget to come," he said, addressing me.  "Oh, yes, do.
Have no scruples.  I am authorized to make invitations."

He must have noticed my shyness, my surprise, my embarrassment.
And indeed I didn't know what to say.

"I assure you there isn't anything incorrect in your coming," he
insisted, with the greatest civility.  "You will be introduced by
two good friends, Mills and myself.  Surely you are not afraid of a
very charming woman. . . ."

I was not afraid, but my head swam a little and I only looked at
him mutely.

"Lunch precisely at midday.  Mills will bring you along.  I am
sorry you two are going.  I shall throw myself on the bed for an
hour or two, but I am sure I won't sleep."

He accompanied us along the passage into the black-and-white hall,
where the low gas flame glimmered forlornly.  When he opened the
front door the cold blast of the mistral rushing down the street of
the Consuls made me shiver to the very marrow of my bones.

Mills and I exchanged but a few words as we walked down towards the
centre of the town.  In the chill tempestuous dawn he strolled
along musingly, disregarding the discomfort of the cold, the
depressing influence of the hour, the desolation of the empty
streets in which the dry dust rose in whirls in front of us, behind
us, flew upon us from the side streets.  The masks had gone home
and our footsteps echoed on the flagstones with unequal sound as of
men without purpose, without hope.

"I suppose you will come," said Mills suddenly.

"I really don't know," I said.

"Don't you?  Well, remember I am not trying to persuade you; but I
am staying at the Hotel de Louvre and I shall leave there at a
quarter to twelve for that lunch.  At a quarter to twelve, not a
minute later.  I suppose you can sleep?"

I laughed.

"Charming age, yours," said Mills, as we came out on the quays.
Already dim figures of the workers moved in the biting dawn and the
masted forms of ships were coming out dimly, as far as the eye
could reach down the old harbour.

"Well," Mills began again, "you may oversleep yourself."

This suggestion was made in a cheerful tone, just as we shook hands
at the lower end of the Cannebiere.  He looked very burly as he
walked away from me.  I went on towards my lodgings.  My head was
very full of confused images, but I was really too tired to think.




PART TWO




CHAPTER I



Sometimes I wonder yet whether Mills wished me to oversleep myself
or not:  that is, whether he really took sufficient interest to
care.  His uniform kindliness of manner made it impossible for me
to tell.  And I can hardly remember my own feelings.  Did I care?
The whole recollection of that time of my life has such a peculiar
quality that the beginning and the end of it are merged in one
sensation of profound emotion, continuous and overpowering,
containing the extremes of exultation, full of careless joy and of
an invincible sadness--like a day-dream.  The sense of all this
having been gone through as if in one great rush of imagination is
all the stronger in the distance of time, because it had something
of that quality even then:  of fate unprovoked, of events that
didn't cast any shadow before.

Not that those events were in the least extraordinary.  They were,
in truth, commonplace.  What to my backward glance seems startling
and a little awful is their punctualness and inevitability.  Mills
was punctual.  Exactly at a quarter to twelve he appeared under the
lofty portal of the Hotel de Louvre, with his fresh face, his ill-
fitting grey suit, and enveloped in his own sympathetic atmosphere.

How could I have avoided him?  To this day I have a shadowy
conviction of his inherent distinction of mind and heart, far
beyond any man I have ever met since.  He was unavoidable:  and of
course I never tried to avoid him.  The first sight on which his
eyes fell was a victoria pulled up before the hotel door, in which
I sat with no sentiment I can remember now but that of some slight
shyness.  He got in without a moment's hesitation, his friendly
glance took me in from head to foot and (such was his peculiar
gift) gave me a pleasurable sensation.

After we had gone a little way I couldn't help saying to him with a
bashful laugh:  "You know, it seems very extraordinary that I
should be driving out with you like this."

He turned to look at me and in his kind voice:

"You will find everything extremely simple," he said.  "So simple
that you will be quite able to hold your own.  I suppose you know
that the world is selfish, I mean the majority of the people in it,
often unconsciously I must admit, and especially people with a
mission, with a fixed idea, with some fantastic object in view, or
even with only some fantastic illusion.  That doesn't mean that
they have no scruples.  And I don't know that at this moment I
myself am not one of them."

"That, of course, I can't say," I retorted.

"I haven't seen her for years," he said, "and in comparison with
what she was then she must be very grown up by now.  From what we
heard from Mr. Blunt she had experiences which would have matured
her more than they would teach her.  There are of course people
that are not teachable.  I don't know that she is one of them.  But
as to maturity that's quite another thing.  Capacity for suffering
is developed in every human being worthy of the name."

"Captain Blunt doesn't seem to be a very happy person," I said.
"He seems to have a grudge against everybody.  People make him
wince.  The things they do, the things they say.  He must be
awfully mature."

Mills gave me a sidelong look.  It met mine of the same character
and we both smiled without openly looking at each other.  At the
end of the Rue de Rome the violent chilly breath of the mistral
enveloped the victoria in a great widening of brilliant sunshine
without heat.  We turned to the right, circling at a stately pace
about the rather mean obelisk which stands at the entrance to the
Prado.

"I don't know whether you are mature or not," said Mills
humorously.  "But I think you will do.  You . . . "

"Tell me," I interrupted, "what is really Captain Blunt's position
there?"

And I nodded at the alley of the Prado opening before us between
the rows of the perfectly leafless trees.

"Thoroughly false, I should think.  It doesn't accord either with
his illusions or his pretensions, or even with the real position he
has in the world.  And so what between his mother and the General
Headquarters and the state of his own feelings he. . . "

"He is in love with her," I interrupted again.

"That wouldn't make it any easier.  I'm not at all sure of that.
But if so it can't be a very idealistic sentiment.  All the warmth
of his idealism is concentrated upon a certain 'Americain,
Catholique et gentil-homme. . . '"

The smile which for a moment dwelt on his lips was not unkind.

"At the same time he has a very good grip of the material
conditions that surround, as it were, the situation."

"What do you mean?  That Dona Rita" (the name came strangely
familiar to my tongue) "is rich, that she has a fortune of her
own?"

"Yes, a fortune," said Mills.  "But it was Allegre's fortune
before. . . And then there is Blunt's fortune:  he lives by his
sword.  And there is the fortune of his mother, I assure you a
perfectly charming, clever, and most aristocratic old lady, with
the most distinguished connections.  I really mean it.  She doesn't
live by her sword.  She . . . she lives by her wits.  I have a
notion that those two dislike each other heartily at times. . .
Here we are."

The victoria stopped in the side alley, bordered by the low walls
of private grounds.  We got out before a wrought-iron gateway which
stood half open and walked up a circular drive to the door of a
large villa of a neglected appearance.  The mistral howled in the
sunshine, shaking the bare bushes quite furiously.  And everything
was bright and hard, the air was hard, the light was hard, the
ground under our feet was hard.

The door at which Mills rang came open almost at once.  The maid
who opened it was short, dark, and slightly pockmarked.  For the
rest, an obvious "femme-de-chambre," and very busy.  She said
quickly, "Madame has just returned from her ride," and went up the
stairs leaving us to shut the front door ourselves.

The staircase had a crimson carpet.  Mr. Blunt appeared from
somewhere in the hall.  He was in riding breeches and a black coat
with ample square skirts.  This get-up suited him but it also
changed him extremely by doing away with the effect of flexible
slimness he produced in his evening clothes.  He looked to me not
at all himself but rather like a brother of the man who had been
talking to us the night before.  He carried about him a delicate
perfume of scented soap.  He gave us a flash of his white teeth and
said:

"It's a perfect nuisance.  We have just dismounted.  I will have to
lunch as I am.  A lifelong habit of beginning her day on horseback.
She pretends she is unwell unless she does.  I daresay, when one
thinks there has been hardly a day for five or six years that she
didn't begin with a ride.  That's the reason she is always rushing
away from Paris where she can't go out in the morning alone.  Here,
of course, it's different.  And as I, too, am a stranger here I can
go out with her.  Not that I particularly care to do it."

These last words were addressed to Mills specially, with the
addition of a mumbled remark:  "It's a confounded position."  Then
calmly to me with a swift smile:  "We have been talking of you this
morning.  You are expected with impatience."

"Thank you very much," I said, "but I can't help asking myself what
I am doing here."

The upward cast in the eyes of Mills who was facing the staircase
made us both, Blunt and I, turn round.  The woman of whom I had
heard so much, in a sort of way in which I had never heard a woman
spoken of before, was coming down the stairs, and my first
sensation was that of profound astonishment at this evidence that
she did really exist.  And even then the visual impression was more
of colour in a picture than of the forms of actual life.  She was
wearing a wrapper, a sort of dressing-gown of pale blue silk
embroidered with black and gold designs round the neck and down the
front, lapped round her and held together by a broad belt of the
same material.  Her slippers were of the same colour, with black
bows at the instep.  The white stairs, the deep crimson of the
carpet, and the light blue of the dress made an effective
combination of colour to set off the delicate carnation of that
face, which, after the first glance given to the whole person, drew
irresistibly your gaze to itself by an indefinable quality of charm
beyond all analysis and made you think of remote races, of strange
generations, of the faces of women sculptured on immemorial
monuments and of those lying unsung in their tombs.  While she
moved downwards from step to step with slightly lowered eyes there
flashed upon me suddenly the recollection of words heard at night,
of Allegre's words about her, of there being in her "something of
the women of all time."

At the last step she raised her eyelids, treated us to an
exhibition of teeth as dazzling as Mr. Blunt's and looking even
stronger; and indeed, as she approached us she brought home to our
hearts (but after all I am speaking only for myself) a vivid sense
of her physical perfection in beauty of limb and balance of nerves,
and not so much of grace, probably, as of absolute harmony.

She said to us, "I am sorry I kept you waiting."  Her voice was low
pitched, penetrating, and of the most seductive gentleness.  She
offered her hand to Mills very frankly as to an old friend.  Within
the extraordinarily wide sleeve, lined with black silk, I could see
the arm, very white, with a pearly gleam in the shadow.  But to me
she extended her hand with a slight stiffening, as it were a recoil
of her person, combined with an extremely straight glance.  It was
a finely shaped, capable hand.  I bowed over it, and we just
touched fingers.  I did not look then at her face.

Next moment she caught sight of some envelopes lying on the round
marble-topped table in the middle of the hall.  She seized one of
them with a wonderfully quick, almost feline, movement and tore it
open, saying to us, "Excuse me, I must . . . Do go into the dining-
room.  Captain Blunt, show the way."

Her widened eyes stared at the paper.  Mr. Blunt threw one of the
doors open, but before we passed through it we heard a petulant
exclamation accompanied by childlike stamping with both feet and
ending in a laugh which had in it a note of contempt.

The door closed behind us; we had been abandoned by Mr. Blunt.  He
had remained on the other side, possibly to soothe.  The room in
which we found ourselves was long like a gallery and ended in a
rotunda with many windows.  It was long enough for two fireplaces
of red polished granite.  A table laid out for four occupied very
little space.  The floor inlaid in two kinds of wood in a bizarre
pattern was highly waxed, reflecting objects like still water.

Before very long Dona Rita and Blunt rejoined us and we sat down
around the table; but before we could begin to talk a dramatically
sudden ring at the front door stilled our incipient animation.
Dona Rita looked at us all in turn, with surprise and, as it were,
with suspicion.  "How did he know I was here?" she whispered after
looking at the card which was brought to her.   She passed it to
Blunt, who passed it to Mills, who made a faint grimace, dropped it
on the table-cloth, and only whispered to me, "A journalist from
Paris."

"He has run me to earth," said Dona Rita.  "One would bargain for
peace against hard cash if these fellows weren't always ready to
snatch at one's very soul with the other hand.  It frightens me."

Her voice floated mysterious and penetrating from her lips, which
moved very little.  Mills was watching her with sympathetic
curiosity.  Mr. Blunt muttered:  "Better not make the brute angry."
For a moment Dona Rita's face, with its narrow eyes, its wide brow,
and high cheek bones, became very still; then her colour was a
little heightened.  "Oh," she said softly, "let him come in.  He
would be really dangerous if he had a mind--you know," she said to
Mills.

The person who had provoked all those remarks and as much
hesitation as though he had been some sort of wild beast astonished
me on being admitted, first by the beauty of his white head of hair
and then by his paternal aspect and the innocent simplicity of his
manner.  They laid a cover for him between Mills and Dona Rita, who
quite openly removed the envelopes she had brought with her, to the
other side of her plate.  As openly the man's round china-blue eyes
followed them in an attempt to make out the handwriting of the
addresses.

He seemed to know, at least slightly, both Mills and Blunt.  To me
he gave a stare of stupid surprise.  He addressed our hostess.

"Resting?  Rest is a very good thing.  Upon my word, I thought I
would find you alone.  But you have too much sense.  Neither man
nor woman has been created to live alone. . . ."  After this
opening he had all the talk to himself.  It was left to him
pointedly, and I verily believe that I was the only one who showed
an appearance of interest.  I couldn't help it.  The others,
including Mills, sat like a lot of deaf and dumb people.  No.  It
was even something more detached.  They sat rather like a very
superior lot of waxworks, with the fixed but indetermined facial
expression and with that odd air wax figures have of being aware of
their existence being but a sham.

I was the exception; and nothing could have marked better my status
of a stranger, the completest possible stranger in the moral region
in which those people lived, moved, enjoying or suffering their
incomprehensible emotions.  I was as much of a stranger as the most
hopeless castaway stumbling in the dark upon a hut of natives and
finding them in the grip of some situation appertaining to the
mentalities, prejudices, and problems of an undiscovered country--
of a country of which he had not even had one single clear glimpse
before.

It was even worse in a way.  It ought to have been more
disconcerting.  For, pursuing the image of the cast-away blundering
upon the complications of an unknown scheme of life, it was I, the
castaway, who was the savage, the simple innocent child of nature.
Those people were obviously more civilized than I was.  They had
more rites, more ceremonies, more complexity in their sensations,
more knowledge of evil, more varied meanings to the subtle phrases
of their language.  Naturally!  I was still so young!  And yet I
assure you, that just then I lost all sense of inferiority.  And
why?  Of course the carelessness and the ignorance of youth had
something to do with that.  But there was something else besides.
Looking at Dona Rita, her head leaning on her hand, with her dark
lashes lowered on the slightly flushed cheek, I felt no longer
alone in my youth.  That woman of whom I had heard these things I
have set down with all the exactness of unfailing memory, that
woman was revealed to me young, younger than anybody I had ever
seen, as young as myself (and my sensation of my youth was then
very acute); revealed with something peculiarly intimate in the
conviction, as if she were young exactly in the same way in which I
felt myself young; and that therefore no misunderstanding between
us was possible and there could be nothing more for us to know
about each other.  Of course this sensation was momentary, but it
was illuminating; it was a light which could not last, but it left
no darkness behind.  On the contrary, it seemed to have kindled
magically somewhere within me a glow of assurance, of unaccountable
confidence in myself:  a warm, steady, and eager sensation of my
individual life beginning for good there, on that spot, in that
sense of solidarity, in that seduction.



CHAPTER II



For this, properly speaking wonderful, reason I was the only one of
the company who could listen without constraint to the unbidden
guest with that fine head of white hair, so beautifully kept, so
magnificently waved, so artistically arranged that respect could
not be felt for it any more than for a very expensive wig in the
window of a hair-dresser.  In fact, I had an inclination to smile
at it.  This proves how unconstrained I felt.  My mind was
perfectly at liberty; and so of all the eyes in that room mine was
the only pair able to look about in easy freedom.  All the other
listeners' eyes were cast down, including Mills' eyes, but that I
am sure was only because of his perfect and delicate sympathy.  He
could not have been concerned otherwise.

The intruder devoured the cutlets--if they were cutlets.
Notwithstanding my perfect liberty of mind I was not aware of what
we were eating.  I have a notion that the lunch was a mere show,
except of course for the man with the white hair, who was really
hungry and who, besides, must have had the pleasant sense of
dominating the situation.  He stooped over his plate and worked his
jaw deliberately while his blue eyes rolled incessantly; but as a
matter of fact he never looked openly at any one of us.  Whenever
he laid down his knife and fork he would throw himself back and
start retailing in a light tone some Parisian gossip about
prominent people.

He talked first about a certain politician of mark.  His "dear
Rita" knew him.  His costume dated back to '48, he was made of wood
and parchment and still swathed his neck in a white cloth; and even
his wife had never been seen in a low-necked dress.  Not once in
her life.  She was buttoned up to the chin like her husband.  Well,
that man had confessed to him that when he was engaged in political
controversy, not on a matter of principle but on some special
measure in debate, he felt ready to kill everybody.

He interrupted himself for a comment.  "I am something like that
myself.  I believe it's a purely professional feeling.  Carry one's
point whatever it is.  Normally I couldn't kill a fly.  My
sensibility is too acute for that.  My heart is too tender also.
Much too tender.  I am a Republican.  I am a Red.  As to all our
present masters and governors, all those people you are trying to
turn round your little finger, they are all horrible Royalists in
disguise.  They are plotting the ruin of all the institutions to
which I am devoted.  But I have never tried to spoil your little
game, Rita.  After all, it's but a little game.  You know very well
that two or three fearless articles, something in my style, you
know, would soon put a stop to all that underhand backing of your
king.  I am calling him king because I want to be polite to you.
He is an adventurer, a blood-thirsty, murderous adventurer, for me,
and nothing else.  Look here, my dear child, what are you knocking
yourself about for?  For the sake of that bandit?  Allons donc!  A
pupil of Henry Allegre can have no illusions of that sort about any
man.  And such a pupil, too!  Ah, the good old days in the
Pavilion!  Don't think I claim any particular intimacy.  It was
just enough to enable me to offer my services to you, Rita, when
our poor friend died.  I found myself handy and so I came.  It so
happened that I was the first.  You remember, Rita?  What made it
possible for everybody to get on with our poor dear Allegre was his
complete, equable, and impartial contempt for all mankind.  There
is nothing in that against the purest democratic principles; but
that you, Rita, should elect to throw so much of your life away for
the sake of a Royal adventurer, it really knocks me over.  For you
don't love him.  You never loved him, you know."

He made a snatch at her hand, absolutely pulled it away from under
her head (it was quite startling) and retaining it in his grasp,
proceeded to a paternal patting of the most impudent kind.  She let
him go on with apparent insensibility.  Meanwhile his eyes strayed
round the table over our faces.  It was very trying.  The stupidity
of that wandering stare had a paralysing power.  He talked at large
with husky familiarity.

"Here I come, expecting to find a good sensible girl who had seen
at last the vanity of all those things; half-light in the rooms;
surrounded by the works of her favourite poets, and all that sort
of thing.  I say to myself:  I must just run in and see the dear
wise child, and encourage her in her good resolutions. . . And I
fall into the middle of an intime lunch-party.  For I suppose it is
intime.  Eh?  Very?  H'm, yes . . . "

He was really appalling.  Again his wandering stare went round the
table, with an expression incredibly incongruous with the words.
It was as though he had borrowed those eyes from some idiot for the
purpose of that visit.  He still held Dona Rita's hand, and, now
and then, patted it.

"It's discouraging," he cooed.  "And I believe not one of you here
is a Frenchman.  I don't know what you are all about.  It's beyond
me.  But if we were a Republic--you know I am an old Jacobin, sans-
culotte and terrorist--if this were a real Republic with the
Convention sitting and a Committee of Public Safety attending to
national business, you would all get your heads cut off.  Ha, ha .
. . I am joking, ha, ha! . . . and serve you right, too.  Don't
mind my little joke."

While he was still laughing he released her hand and she leaned her
head on it again without haste.  She had never looked at him once.

During the rather humiliating silence that ensued he got a leather
cigar case like a small valise out of his pocket, opened it and
looked with critical interest at the six cigars it contained.  The
tireless femme-de-chambre set down a tray with coffee cups on the
table.  We each (glad, I suppose, of something to do) took one, but
he, to begin with, sniffed at his.  Dona Rita continued leaning on
her elbow, her lips closed in a reposeful expression of peculiar
sweetness.  There was nothing drooping in her attitude.  Her face
with the delicate carnation of a rose and downcast eyes was as if
veiled in firm immobility and was so appealing that I had an insane
impulse to walk round and kiss the forearm on which it was leaning;
that strong, well-shaped forearm, gleaming not like marble but with
a living and warm splendour.  So familiar had I become already with
her in my thoughts!  Of course I didn't do anything of the sort.
It was nothing uncontrollable, it was but a tender longing of a
most respectful and purely sentimental kind.  I performed the act
in my thought quietly, almost solemnly, while the creature with the
silver hair leaned back in his chair, puffing at his cigar, and
began to speak again.

It was all apparently very innocent talk.  He informed his "dear
Rita" that he was really on his way to Monte Carlo.  A lifelong
habit of his at this time of the year; but he was ready to run back
to Paris if he could do anything for his "chere enfant," run back
for a day, for two days, for three days, for any time; miss Monte
Carlo this year altogether, if he could be of the slightest use and
save her going herself.  For instance he could see to it that
proper watch was kept over the Pavilion stuffed with all these art
treasures.  What was going to happen to all those things? . . .
Making herself heard for the first time Dona Rita murmured without
moving that she had made arrangements with the police to have it
properly watched.  And I was enchanted by the almost imperceptible
play of her lips.

But the anxious creature was not reassured.  He pointed out that
things had been stolen out of the Louvre, which was, he dared say,
even better watched.  And there was that marvellous cabinet on the
landing, black lacquer with silver herons, which alone would repay
a couple of burglars.  A wheelbarrow, some old sacking, and they
could trundle it off under people's noses.

"Have you thought it all out?" she asked in a cold whisper, while
we three sat smoking to give ourselves a countenance (it was
certainly no enjoyment) and wondering what we would hear next.

No, he had not.  But he confessed that for years and years he had
been in love with that cabinet.  And anyhow what was going to
happen to the things?  The world was greatly exercised by that
problem.  He turned slightly his beautifully groomed white head so
as to address Mr. Blunt directly.

"I had the pleasure of meeting your mother lately."

Mr. Blunt took his time to raise his eyebrows and flash his teeth
at him before he dropped negligently, "I can't imagine where you
could have met my mother."

"Why, at Bing's, the curio-dealer," said the other with an air of
the heaviest possible stupidity.  And yet there was something in
these few words which seemed to imply that if Mr. Blunt was looking
for trouble he would certainly get it.  "Bing was bowing her out of
his shop, but he was so angry about something that he was quite
rude even to me afterwards.  I don't think it's very good for
Madame votre mere to quarrel with Bing.  He is a Parisian
personality.  He's quite a power in his sphere.  All these fellows'
nerves are upset from worry as to what will happen to the Allegre
collection.  And no wonder they are nervous.  A big art event hangs
on your lips, my dear, great Rita.  And by the way, you too ought
to remember that it isn't wise to quarrel with people.  What have
you done to that poor Azzolati?  Did you really tell him to get out
and never come near you again, or something awful like that?  I
don't doubt that he was of use to you or to your king.  A man who
gets invitations to shoot with the President at Rambouillet!  I saw
him only the other evening; I heard he had been winning immensely
at cards; but he looked perfectly wretched, the poor fellow.  He
complained of your conduct--oh, very much!  He told me you had been
perfectly brutal with him.  He said to me:  'I am no good for
anything, mon cher.  The other day at Rambouillet, whenever I had a
hare at the end of my gun I would think of her cruel words and my
eyes would run full of tears.  I missed every shot' . . . You are
not fit for diplomatic work, you know, ma chere.  You are a mere
child at it.  When you want a middle-aged gentleman to do anything
for you, you don't begin by reducing him to tears.  I should have
thought any woman would have known that much.  A nun would have
known that much.  What do you say?  Shall I run back to Paris and
make it up for you with Azzolati?"

He waited for her answer.  The compression of his thin lips was
full of significance.  I was surprised to see our hostess shake her
head negatively the least bit, for indeed by her pose, by the
thoughtful immobility of her face she seemed to be a thousand miles
away from us all, lost in an infinite reverie.

He gave it up.  "Well, I must be off.  The express for Nice passes
at four o'clock.  I will be away about three weeks and then you
shall see me again.  Unless I strike a run of bad luck and get
cleaned out, in which case you shall see me before then."

He turned to Mills suddenly.

"Will your cousin come south this year, to that beautiful villa of
his at Cannes?"

Mills hardly deigned to answer that he didn't know anything about
his cousin's movements.

"A grand seigneur combined with a great connoisseur," opined the
other heavily.  His mouth had gone slack and he looked a perfect
and grotesque imbecile under his wig-like crop of white hair.
Positively I thought he would begin to slobber.  But he attacked
Blunt next.

"Are you on your way down, too?  A little flutter. . . It seems to
me you haven't been seen in your usual Paris haunts of late.  Where
have you been all this time?"

"Don't you know where I have been?" said Mr. Blunt with great
precision.

"No, I only ferret out things that may be of some use to me," was
the unexpected reply, uttered with an air of perfect vacancy and
swallowed by Mr. Blunt in blank silence.

At last he made ready to rise from the table.  "Think over what I
have said, my dear Rita."

"It's all over and done with," was Dona Rita's answer, in a louder
tone than I had ever heard her use before.  It thrilled me while
she continued:  "I mean, this thinking."  She was back from the
remoteness of her meditation, very much so indeed.  She rose and
moved away from the table, inviting by a sign the other to follow
her; which he did at once, yet slowly and as it were warily.

It was a conference in the recess of a window.  We three remained
seated round the table from which the dark maid was removing the
cups and the plates with brusque movements.  I gazed frankly at
Dona Rita's profile, irregular, animated, and fascinating in an
undefinable way, at her well-shaped head with the hair twisted high
up and apparently held in its place by a gold arrow with a jewelled
shaft.  We couldn't hear what she said, but the movement of her
lips and the play of her features were full of charm, full of
interest, expressing both audacity and gentleness.  She spoke with
fire without raising her voice.  The man listened round-shouldered,
but seeming much too stupid to understand.  I could see now and
then that he was speaking, but he was inaudible.  At one moment
Dona Rita turned her head to the room and called out to the maid,
"Give me my hand-bag off the sofa."

At this the other was heard plainly, "No, no," and then a little
lower, "You have no tact, Rita. . . ."  Then came her argument in a
low, penetrating voice which I caught, "Why not?  Between such old
friends."  However, she waved away the hand-bag, he calmed down,
and their voices sank again.  Presently I saw him raise her hand to
his lips, while with her back to the room she continued to
contemplate out of the window the bare and untidy garden.  At last
he went out of the room, throwing to the table an airy "Bonjour,
bonjour," which was not acknowledged by any of us three.



CHAPTER III



Mills got up and approached the figure at the window.  To my
extreme surprise, Mr. Blunt, after a moment of obviously painful
hesitation, hastened out after the man with the white hair.

In consequence of these movements I was left to myself and I began
to be uncomfortably conscious of it when Dona Rita, near the
window, addressed me in a raised voice.

"We have no confidences to exchange, Mr. Mills and I."

I took this for an encouragement to join them.  They were both
looking at me.  Dona Rita added, "Mr. Mills and I are friends from
old times, you know."

Bathed in the softened reflection of the sunshine, which did not
fall directly into the room, standing very straight with her arms
down, before Mills, and with a faint smile directed to me, she
looked extremely young, and yet mature.  There was even, for a
moment, a slight dimple in her cheek.

"How old, I wonder?" I said, with an answering smile.

"Oh, for ages, for ages," she exclaimed hastily, frowning a little,
then she went on addressing herself to Mills, apparently in
continuation of what she was saying before.

. . .  "This man's is an extreme case, and yet perhaps it isn't the
worst.  But that's the sort of thing.  I have no account to render
to anybody, but I don't want to be dragged along all the gutters
where that man picks up his living."

She had thrown her head back a little but there was no scorn, no
angry flash under the dark-lashed eyelids.  The words did not ring.
I was struck for the first time by the even, mysterious quality of
her voice.

"Will you let me suggest," said Mills, with a grave, kindly face,
"that being what you are, you have nothing to fear?"

"And perhaps nothing to lose," she went on without bitterness.
"No.  It isn't fear.  It's a sort of dread.  You must remember that
no nun could have had a more protected life.  Henry Allegre had his
greatness.  When he faced the world he also masked it.  He was big
enough for that.  He filled the whole field of vision for me."

"You found that enough?" asked Mills.

"Why ask now?" she remonstrated.  "The truth--the truth is that I
never asked myself.  Enough or not there was no room for anything
else.  He was the shadow and the light and the form and the voice.
He would have it so.  The morning he died they came to call me at
four o'clock.  I ran into his room bare-footed.  He recognized me
and whispered, 'You are flawless.'  I was very frightened.  He
seemed to think, and then said very plainly, 'Such is my character.
I am like that.'  These were the last words he spoke.  I hardly
noticed them then.  I was thinking that he was lying in a very
uncomfortable position and I asked him if I should lift him up a
little higher on the pillows.  You know I am very strong.  I could
have done it.  I had done it before.  He raised his hand off the
blanket just enough to make a sign that he didn't want to be
touched.  It was the last gesture he made.  I hung over him and
then--and then I nearly ran out of the house just as I was, in my
night-gown.  I think if I had been dressed I would have run out of
the garden, into the street--run away altogether.  I had never seen
death.  I may say I had never heard of it.  I wanted to run from
it."

She paused for a long, quiet breath.  The harmonized sweetness and
daring of her face was made pathetic by her downcast eyes.

"Fuir la mort," she repeated, meditatively, in her mysterious
voice.

Mills' big head had a little movement, nothing more.  Her glance
glided for a moment towards me like a friendly recognition of my
right to be there, before she began again.

"My life might have been described as looking at mankind from a
fourth-floor window for years.  When the end came it was like
falling out of a balcony into the street.  It was as sudden as
that.  Once I remember somebody was telling us in the Pavilion a
tale about a girl who jumped down from a fourth-floor window. . .
For love, I believe," she interjected very quickly, "and came to no
harm.  Her guardian angel must have slipped his wings under her
just in time.  He must have.  But as to me, all I know is that I
didn't break anything--not even my heart.  Don't be shocked, Mr.
Mills.  It's very likely that you don't understand."

"Very likely," Mills assented, unmoved.  "But don't be too sure of
that."

"Henry Allegre had the highest opinion of your intelligence," she
said unexpectedly and with evident seriousness.  "But all this is
only to tell you that when he was gone I found myself down there
unhurt, but dazed, bewildered, not sufficiently stunned.  It so
happened that that creature was somewhere in the neighbourhood.
How he found out. . . But it's his business to find out things.
And he knows, too, how to worm his way in anywhere.  Indeed, in the
first days he was useful and somehow he made it look as if Heaven
itself had sent him.  In my distress I thought I could never
sufficiently repay. . . Well, I have been paying ever since."

"What do you mean?" asked Mills softly.  "In hard cash?"

"Oh, it's really so little," she said.  "I told you it wasn't the
worst case.  I stayed on in that house from which I nearly ran away
in my nightgown.  I stayed on because I didn't know what to do
next.  He vanished as he had come on the track of something else, I
suppose.  You know he really has got to get his living some way or
other.  But don't think I was deserted.  On the contrary.  People
were coming and going, all sorts of people that Henry Allegre used
to know--or had refused to know.  I had a sensation of plotting and
intriguing around me, all the time.  I was feeling morally bruised,
sore all over, when, one day, Don Rafael de Villarel sent in his
card.  A grandee.  I didn't know him, but, as you are aware, there
was hardly a personality of mark or position that hasn't been
talked about in the Pavilion before me.  Of him I had only heard
that he was a very austere and pious person, always at Mass, and
that sort of thing.  I saw a frail little man with a long, yellow
face and sunken fanatical eyes, an Inquisitor, an unfrocked monk.
One missed a rosary from his thin fingers.  He gazed at me terribly
and I couldn't imagine what he might want.  I waited for him to
pull out a crucifix and sentence me to the stake there and then.
But no; he dropped his eyes and in a cold, righteous sort of voice
informed me that he had called on behalf of the prince--he called
him His Majesty.  I was amazed by the change.  I wondered now why
he didn't slip his hands into the sleeves of his coat, you know, as
begging Friars do when they come for a subscription.  He explained
that the Prince asked for permission to call and offer me his
condolences in person.  We had seen a lot of him our last two
months in Paris that year.  Henry Allegre had taken a fancy to
paint his portrait.  He used to ride with us nearly every morning.
Almost without thinking I said I should be pleased.  Don Rafael was
shocked at my want of formality, but bowed to me in silence, very
much as a monk bows, from the waist.  If he had only crossed his
hands flat on his chest it would have been perfect.  Then, I don't
know why, something moved me to make him a deep curtsy as he backed
out of the room, leaving me suddenly impressed, not only with him
but with myself too.  I had my door closed to everybody else that
afternoon and the Prince came with a very proper sorrowful face,
but five minutes after he got into the room he was laughing as
usual, made the whole little house ring with it.  You know his big,
irresistible laugh. . . ."

"No," said Mills, a little abruptly, "I have never seen him."

"No," she said, surprised, "and yet you . . . "

"I understand," interrupted Mills.  "All this is purely accidental.
You must know that I am a solitary man of books but with a secret
taste for adventure which somehow came out; surprising even me."

She listened with that enigmatic, still, under the eyelids glance,
and a friendly turn of the head.

"I know you for a frank and loyal gentleman. . . Adventure--and
books?  Ah, the books!  Haven't I turned stacks of them over!
Haven't I? . . ."

"Yes," murmured Mills.  "That's what one does."

She put out her hand and laid it lightly on Mills' sleeve.

"Listen, I don't need to justify myself, but if I had known a
single woman in the world, if I had only had the opportunity to
observe a single one of them, I would have been perhaps on my
guard.  But you know I hadn't.  The only woman I had anything to do
with was myself, and they say that one can't know oneself.  It
never entered my head to be on my guard against his warmth and his
terrible obviousness.  You and he were the only two, infinitely
different, people, who didn't approach me as if I had been a
precious object in a collection, an ivory carving or a piece of
Chinese porcelain.  That's why I have kept you in my memory so
well.  Oh! you were not obvious!  As to him--I soon learned to
regret I was not some object, some beautiful, carved object of bone
or bronze; a rare piece of porcelain, pate dure, not pate tendre.
A pretty specimen."

"Rare, yes.  Even unique," said Mills, looking at her steadily with
a smile.  "But don't try to depreciate yourself.  You were never
pretty.  You are not pretty.  You are worse."

Her narrow eyes had a mischievous gleam.  "Do you find such sayings
in your books?" she asked.

"As a matter of fact I have," said Mills, with a little laugh,
"found this one in a book.  It was a woman who said that of
herself.  A woman far from common, who died some few years ago.
She was an actress.  A great artist."

"A great! . . . Lucky person!  She had that refuge, that garment,
while I stand here with nothing to protect me from evil fame; a
naked temperament for any wind to blow upon.  Yes, greatness in art
is a protection.  I wonder if there would have been anything in me
if I had tried?  But Henry Allegre would never let me try.  He told
me that whatever I could achieve would never be good enough for
what I was.  The perfection of flattery!  Was it that he thought I
had not talent of any sort?  It's possible.  He would know.  I've
had the idea since that he was jealous.  He wasn't jealous of
mankind any more than he was afraid of thieves for his collection;
but he may have been jealous of what he could see in me, of some
passion that could be aroused.  But if so he never repented.  I
shall never forget his last words.  He saw me standing beside his
bed, defenceless, symbolic and forlorn, and all he found to say
was, 'Well, I am like that.'

I forgot myself in watching her.  I had never seen anybody speak
with less play of facial muscles.  In the fullness of its life her
face preserved a sort of immobility.  The words seemed to form
themselves, fiery or pathetic, in the air, outside her lips.  Their
design was hardly disturbed; a design of sweetness, gravity, and
force as if born from the inspiration of some artist; for I had
never seen anything to come up to it in nature before or since.

All this was part of the enchantment she cast over me; and I seemed
to notice that Mills had the aspect of a man under a spell.  If he
too was a captive then I had no reason to feel ashamed of my
surrender.

"And you know," she began again abruptly, "that I have been
accustomed to all the forms of respect."

"That's true," murmured Mills, as if involuntarily.

"Well, yes," she reaffirmed.  "My instinct may have told me that my
only protection was obscurity, but I didn't know how and where to
find it.  Oh, yes, I had that instinct . . . But there were other
instincts and . . . How am I to tell you?  I didn't know how to be
on guard against myself, either.  Not a soul to speak to, or to get
a warning from.  Some woman soul that would have known, in which
perhaps I could have seen my own reflection.  I assure you the only
woman that ever addressed me directly, and that was in writing, was
. . . "

She glanced aside, saw Mr. Blunt returning from the ball and added
rapidly in a lowered voice,

"His mother."

The bright, mechanical smile of Mr. Blunt gleamed at us right down
the room, but he didn't, as it were, follow it in his body.  He
swerved to the nearest of the two big fireplaces and finding some
cigarettes on the mantelpiece remained leaning on his elbow in the
warmth of the bright wood fire.  I noticed then a bit of mute play.
The heiress of Henry Allegre, who could secure neither obscurity
nor any other alleviation to that invidious position, looked as if
she would speak to Blunt from a distance; but in a moment the
confident eagerness of her face died out as if killed by a sudden
thought.  I didn't know then her shrinking from all falsehood and
evasion; her dread of insincerity and disloyalty of every kind.
But even then I felt that at the very last moment her being had
recoiled before some shadow of a suspicion.  And it occurred to me,
too, to wonder what sort of business Mr. Blunt could have had to
transact with our odious visitor, of a nature so urgent as to make
him run out after him into the hall?  Unless to beat him a little
with one of the sticks that were to be found there?  White hair so
much like an expensive wig could not be considered a serious
protection.  But it couldn't have been that.  The transaction,
whatever it was, had been much too quiet.  I must say that none of
us had looked out of the window and that I didn't know when the man
did go or if he was gone at all.  As a matter of fact he was
already far away; and I may just as well say here that I never saw
him again in my life.  His passage across my field of vision was
like that of other figures of that time:  not to be forgotten, a
little fantastic, infinitely enlightening for my contempt,
darkening for my memory which struggles still with the clear lights
and the ugly shadows of those unforgotten days.



CHAPTER IV



It was past four o'clock before I left the house, together with
Mills.  Mr. Blunt, still in his riding costume, escorted us to the
very door.  He asked us to send him the first fiacre we met on our
way to town.  "It's impossible to walk in this get-up through the
streets," he remarked, with his brilliant smile.

At this point I propose to transcribe some notes I made at the time
in little black books which I have hunted up in the litter of the
past; very cheap, common little note-books that by the lapse of
years have acquired a touching dimness of aspect, the frayed, worn-
out dignity of documents.

Expression on paper has never been my forte.  My life had been a
thing of outward manifestations.  I never had been secret or even
systematically taciturn about my simple occupations which might
have been foolish but had never required either caution or mystery.
But in those four hours since midday a complete change had come
over me.  For good or evil I left that house committed to an
enterprise that could not be talked about; which would have
appeared to many senseless and perhaps ridiculous, but was
certainly full of risks, and, apart from that, commanded discretion
on the ground of simple loyalty.  It would not only close my lips
but it would to a certain extent cut me off from my usual haunts
and from the society of my friends; especially of the light-
hearted, young, harum-scarum kind.  This was unavoidable.  It was
because I felt myself thrown back upon my own thoughts and
forbidden to seek relief amongst other lives--it was perhaps only
for that reason at first I started an irregular, fragmentary record
of my days.

I made these notes not so much to preserve the memory (one cared
not for any to-morrow then) but to help me to keep a better hold of
the actuality.  I scribbled them on shore and I scribbled them on
the sea; and in both cases they are concerned not only with the
nature of the facts but with the intensity of my sensations.  It
may be, too, that I learned to love the sea for itself only at that
time.  Woman and the sea revealed themselves to me together, as it
were:  two mistresses of life's values.  The illimitable greatness
of the one, the unfathomable seduction of the other working their
immemorial spells from generation to generation fell upon my heart
at last:  a common fortune, an unforgettable memory of the sea's
formless might and of the sovereign charm in that woman's form
wherein there seemed to beat the pulse of divinity rather than
blood.

I begin here with the notes written at the end of that very day.

--Parted with Mills on the quay.  We had walked side by side in
absolute silence.  The fact is he is too old for me to talk to him
freely.  For all his sympathy and seriousness I don't know what
note to strike and I am not at all certain what he thinks of all
this.  As we shook hands at parting, I asked him how much longer he
expected to stay.  And he answered me that it depended on R.  She
was making arrangements for him to cross the frontier.  He wanted
to see the very ground on which the Principle of Legitimacy was
actually asserting itself arms in hand.  It sounded to my positive
mind the most fantastic thing in the world, this elimination of
personalities from what seemed but the merest political, dynastic
adventure.  So it wasn't Dona Rita, it wasn't Blunt, it wasn't the
Pretender with his big infectious laugh, it wasn't all that lot of
politicians, archbishops, and generals, of monks, guerrilleros, and
smugglers by sea and land, of dubious agents and shady speculators
and undoubted swindlers, who were pushing their fortunes at the
risk of their precious skins.  No.  It was the Legitimist Principle
asserting itself!  Well, I would accept the view but with one
reservation.  All the others might have been merged into the idea,
but I, the latest recruit, I would not be merged in the Legitimist
Principle.  Mine was an act of independent assertion.  Never before
had I felt so intensely aware of my personality.  But I said
nothing of that to Mills.  I only told him I thought we had better
not be seen very often together in the streets.  He agreed.  Hearty
handshake.  Looked affectionately after his broad back.  It never
occurred to him to turn his head.  What was I in comparison with
the Principle of Legitimacy?

Late that night I went in search of Dominic.  That Mediterranean
sailor was just the man I wanted.  He had a great experience of all
unlawful things that can be done on the seas and he brought to the
practice of them much wisdom and audacity.  That I didn't know
where he lived was nothing since I knew where he loved.  The
proprietor of a small, quiet cafe on the quay, a certain Madame
Leonore, a woman of thirty-five with an open Roman face and
intelligent black eyes, had captivated his heart years ago.  In
that cafe with our heads close together over a marble table,
Dominic and I held an earnest and endless confabulation while
Madame Leonore, rustling a black silk skirt, with gold earrings,
with her raven hair elaborately dressed and something nonchalant in
her movements, would take occasion, in passing to and fro, to rest
her hand for a moment on Dominic's shoulder.  Later when the little
cafe had emptied itself of its habitual customers, mostly people
connected with the work of ships and cargoes, she came quietly to
sit at our table and looking at me very hard with her black,
sparkling eyes asked Dominic familiarly what had happened to his
Signorino.  It was her name for me.  I was Dominic's Signorino.
She knew me by no other; and our connection has always been
somewhat of a riddle to her.  She said that I was somehow changed
since she saw me last.  In her rich voice she urged Dominic only to
look at my eyes.  I must have had some piece of luck come to me
either in love or at cards, she bantered.  But Dominic answered
half in scorn that I was not of the sort that runs after that kind
of luck.  He stated generally that there were some young gentlemen
very clever in inventing new ways of getting rid of their time and
their money.  However, if they needed a sensible man to help them
he had no objection himself to lend a hand.  Dominic's general
scorn for the beliefs, and activities, and abilities of upper-class
people covered the Principle of Legitimacy amply; but he could not
resist the opportunity to exercise his special faculties in a field
he knew of old.  He had been a desperate smuggler in his younger
days.  We settled the purchase of a fast sailing craft.  Agreed
that it must be a balancelle and something altogether out of the
common.  He knew of one suitable but she was in Corsica.  Offered
to start for Bastia by mail-boat in the morning.  All the time the
handsome and mature Madame Leonore sat by, smiling faintly, amused
at her great man joining like this in a frolic of boys.  She said
the last words of that evening:  "You men never grow up," touching
lightly the grey hair above his temple.

A fortnight later.

. . . In the afternoon to the Prado.  Beautiful day.  At the moment
of ringing at the door a strong emotion of an anxious kind.  Why?
Down the length of the dining-room in the rotunda part full of
afternoon light Dona R., sitting cross-legged on the divan in the
attitude of a very old idol or a very young child and surrounded by
many cushions, waves her hand from afar pleasantly surprised,
exclaiming:  "What!  Back already!"  I give her all the details and
we talk for two hours across a large brass bowl containing a little
water placed between us, lighting cigarettes and dropping them,
innumerable, puffed at, yet untasted in the overwhelming interest
of the conversation.  Found her very quick in taking the points and
very intelligent in her suggestions.  All formality soon vanished
between us and before very long I discovered myself sitting cross-
legged, too, while I held forth on the qualities of different
Mediterranean sailing craft and on the romantic qualifications of
Dominic for the task.  I believe I gave her the whole history of
the man, mentioning even the existence of Madame Leonore, since the
little cafe would have to be the headquarters of the marine part of
the plot.

She murmured, "Ah! Une belle Romaine," thoughtfully.  She told me
that she liked to hear people of that sort spoken of in terms of
our common humanity.  She observed also that she wished to see
Dominic some day; to set her eyes for once on a man who could be
absolutely depended on.  She wanted to know whether he had engaged
himself in this adventure solely for my sake.

I said that no doubt it was partly that.  We had been very close
associates in the West Indies from where we had returned together,
and he had a notion that I could be depended on, too.  But mainly,
I suppose, it was from taste.  And there was in him also a fine
carelessness as to what he did and a love of venturesome
enterprise.

"And you," she said.  "Is it carelessness, too?"

"In a measure," I said.  "Within limits."

"And very soon you will get tired."

"When I do I will tell you.  But I may also get frightened.  I
suppose you know there are risks, I mean apart from the risk of
life."

"As for instance," she said.

"For instance, being captured, tried, and sentenced to what they
call 'the galleys,' in Ceuta."

"And all this from that love for . . ."

"Not for Legitimacy," I interrupted the inquiry lightly.  "But
what's the use asking such questions?  It's like asking the veiled
figure of fate.  It doesn't know its own mind nor its own heart.
It has no heart.  But what if I were to start asking you--who have
a heart and are not veiled to my sight?"  She dropped her charming
adolescent head, so firm in modelling, so gentle in expression.
Her uncovered neck was round like the shaft of a column.  She wore
the same wrapper of thick blue silk.  At that time she seemed to
live either in her riding habit or in that wrapper folded tightly
round her and open low to a point in front.  Because of the absence
of all trimming round the neck and from the deep view of her bare
arms in the wide sleeve this garment seemed to be put directly on
her skin and gave one the impression of one's nearness to her body
which would have been troubling but for the perfect unconsciousness
of her manner.  That day she carried no barbarous arrow in her
hair.  It was parted on one side, brushed back severely, and tied
with a black ribbon, without any bronze mist about her forehead or
temple.  This smoothness added to the many varieties of her
expression also that of child-like innocence.

Great progress in our intimacy brought about unconsciously by our
enthusiastic interest in the matter of our discourse and, in the
moments of silence, by the sympathetic current of our thoughts.
And this rapidly growing familiarity (truly, she had a terrible
gift for it) had all the varieties of earnestness:  serious,
excited, ardent, and even gay.  She laughed in contralto; but her
laugh was never very long; and when it had ceased, the silence of
the room with the light dying in all its many windows seemed to lie
about me warmed by its vibration.

As I was preparing to take my leave after a longish pause into
which we had fallen as into a vague dream, she came out of it with
a start and a quiet sigh.  She said, "I had forgotten myself."  I
took her hand and was raising it naturally, without premeditation,
when I felt suddenly the arm to which it belonged become
insensible, passive, like a stuffed limb, and the whole woman go
inanimate all over!  Brusquely I dropped the hand before it reached
my lips; and it was so lifeless that it fell heavily on to the
divan.

I remained standing before her.  She raised to me not her eyes but
her whole face, inquisitively--perhaps in appeal.

"No!  This isn't good enough for me," I said.

The last of the light gleamed in her long enigmatic eyes as if they
were precious enamel in that shadowy head which in its immobility
suggested a creation of a distant past:  immortal art, not
transient life.  Her voice had a profound quietness.  She excused
herself.

"It's only habit--or instinct--or what you like.  I have had to
practise that in self-defence lest I should be tempted sometimes to
cut the arm off."

I remembered the way she had abandoned this very arm and hand to
the white-haired ruffian.  It rendered me gloomy and idiotically
obstinate.

"Very ingenious.  But this sort of thing is of no use to me," I
declared.

"Make it up," suggested her mysterious voice, while her shadowy
figure remained unmoved, indifferent amongst the cushions.

I didn't stir either.  I refused in the same low tone.

"No.  Not before you give it to me yourself some day."

"Yes--some day," she repeated in a breath in which there was no
irony but rather hesitation, reluctance what did I know?

I walked away from the house in a curious state of gloomy
satisfaction with myself.


And this is the last extract.  A month afterwards.

--This afternoon going up to the Villa I was for the first time
accompanied in my way by some misgivings.  To-morrow I sail.

First trip and therefore in the nature of a trial trip; and I can't
overcome a certain gnawing emotion, for it is a trip that MUSTN'T
fail.  In that sort of enterprise there is no room for mistakes.
Of all the individuals engaged in it will every one be intelligent
enough, faithful enough, bold enough?  Looking upon them as a whole
it seems impossible; but as each has got only a limited part to
play they may be found sufficient each for his particular trust.
And will they be all punctual, I wonder?  An enterprise that hangs
on the punctuality of many people, no matter how well disposed and
even heroic, hangs on a thread.  This I have perceived to be also
the greatest of Dominic's concerns.  He, too, wonders.  And when he
breathes his doubts the smile lurking under the dark curl of his
moustaches is not reassuring.

But there is also something exciting in such speculations and the
road to the Villa seemed to me shorter than ever before.

Let in by the silent, ever-active, dark lady's maid, who is always
on the spot and always on the way somewhere else, opening the door
with one hand, while she passes on, turning on one for a moment her
quick, black eyes, which just miss being lustrous, as if some one
had breathed on them lightly.

On entering the long room I perceive Mills established in an
armchair which he had dragged in front of the divan.  I do the same
to another and there we sit side by side facing R., tenderly
amiable yet somehow distant among her cushions, with an immemorial
seriousness in her long, shaded eyes and her fugitive smile
hovering about but never settling on her lips.  Mills, who is just
back from over the frontier, must have been asking R. whether she
had been worried again by her devoted friend with the white hair.
At least I concluded so because I found them talking of the heart-
broken Azzolati.  And after having answered their greetings I sit
and listen to Rita addressing Mills earnestly.

"No, I assure you Azzolati had done nothing to me.  I knew him.  He
was a frequent visitor at the Pavilion, though I, personally, never
talked with him very much in Henry Allegre's lifetime.  Other men
were more interesting, and he himself was rather reserved in his
manner to me.  He was an international politician and financier--a
nobody.  He, like many others, was admitted only to feed and amuse
Henry Allegre's scorn of the world, which was insatiable--I tell
you."

"Yes," said Mills.  "I can imagine."

"But I know.  Often when we were alone Henry Allegre used to pour
it into my ears.  If ever anybody saw mankind stripped of its
clothes as the child sees the king in the German fairy tale, it's
I!  Into my ears!  A child's!  Too young to die of fright.
Certainly not old enough to understand--or even to believe.  But
then his arm was about me.  I used to laugh, sometimes.  Laugh!  At
this destruction--at these ruins!"

"Yes," said Mills, very steady before her fire.  "But you have at
your service the everlasting charm of life; you are a part of the
indestructible."

"Am I? . . . But there is no arm about me now.  The laugh!  Where
is my laugh?  Give me back my laugh. . . ."

And she laughed a little on a low note.  I don't know about Mills,
but the subdued shadowy vibration of it echoed in my breast which
felt empty for a moment and like a large space that makes one
giddy.

"The laugh is gone out of my heart, which at any rate used to feel
protected.  That feeling's gone, too.  And I myself will have to
die some day."

"Certainly," said Mills in an unaltered voice.  "As to this body
you . . ."

"Oh, yes!  Thanks.  It's a very poor jest.  Change from body to
body as travellers used to change horses at post houses.  I've
heard of this before. . . ."

"I've no doubt you have," Mills put on a submissive air.  "But are
we to hear any more about Azzolati?"

"You shall.  Listen.  I had heard that he was invited to shoot at
Rambouillet--a quiet party, not one of these great shoots.  I hear
a lot of things.  I wanted to have a certain information, also
certain hints conveyed to a diplomatic personage who was to be
there, too.  A personage that would never let me get in touch with
him though I had tried many times."

"Incredible!" mocked Mills solemnly.

"The personage mistrusts his own susceptibility.  Born cautious,"
explained Dona Rita crisply with the slightest possible quiver of
her lips.  "Suddenly I had the inspiration to make use of Azzolati,
who had been reminding me by a constant stream of messages that he
was an old friend.  I never took any notice of those pathetic
appeals before.  But in this emergency I sat down and wrote a note
asking him to come and dine with me in my hotel.  I suppose you
know I don't live in the Pavilion.  I can't bear the Pavilion now.
When I have to go there I begin to feel after an hour or so that it
is haunted.  I seem to catch sight of somebody I know behind
columns, passing through doorways, vanishing here and there.  I
hear light footsteps behind closed doors. . . My own!"

Her eyes, her half-parted lips, remained fixed till Mills suggested
softly, "Yes, but Azzolati."

Her rigidity vanished like a flake of snow in the sunshine.  "Oh!
Azzolati.  It was a most solemn affair.  It had occurred to me to
make a very elaborate toilet.  It was most successful.  Azzolati
looked positively scared for a moment as though he had got into the
wrong suite of rooms.  He had never before seen me en toilette, you
understand.  In the old days once out of my riding habit I would
never dress.  I draped myself, you remember, Monsieur Mills.  To go
about like that suited my indolence, my longing to feel free in my
body, as at that time when I used to herd goats. . . But never
mind.  My aim was to impress Azzolati.  I wanted to talk to him
seriously."

There was something whimsical in the quick beat of her eyelids and
in the subtle quiver of her lips.  "And behold! the same notion had
occurred to Azzolati.  Imagine that for this tete-a-tete dinner the
creature had got himself up as if for a reception at court.  He
displayed a brochette of all sorts of decorations on the lapel of
his frac and had a broad ribbon of some order across his shirt
front.  An orange ribbon.  Bavarian, I should say.  Great Roman
Catholic, Azzolati.  It was always his ambition to be the banker of
all the Bourbons in the world.  The last remnants of his hair were
dyed jet black and the ends of his moustache were like knitting
needles.  He was disposed to be as soft as wax in my hands.
Unfortunately I had had some irritating interviews during the day.
I was keeping down sudden impulses to smash a glass, throw a plate
on the floor, do something violent to relieve my feelings.  His
submissive attitude made me still more nervous.  He was ready to do
anything in the world for me providing that I would promise him
that he would never find my door shut against him as long as he
lived.  You understand the impudence of it, don't you?  And his
tone was positively abject, too.  I snapped back at him that I had
no door, that I was a nomad.  He bowed ironically till his nose
nearly touched his plate but begged me to remember that to his
personal knowledge I had four houses of my own about the world.
And you know this made me feel a homeless outcast more than ever--
like a little dog lost in the street--not knowing where to go.  I
was ready to cry and there the creature sat in front of me with an
imbecile smile as much as to say 'here is a poser for you. . . .'
I gnashed my teeth at him.  Quietly, you know . . . I suppose you
two think that I am stupid."

She paused as if expecting an answer but we made no sound and she
continued with a remark.

"I have days like that.  Often one must listen to false
protestations, empty words, strings of lies all day long, so that
in the evening one is not fit for anything, not even for truth if
it comes in one's way.  That idiot treated me to a piece of brazen
sincerity which I couldn't stand.  First of all he began to take me
into his confidence; he boasted of his great affairs, then started
groaning about his overstrained life which left him no time for the
amenities of existence, for beauty, or sentiment, or any sort of
ease of heart.  His heart!  He wanted me to sympathize with his
sorrows.  Of course I ought to have listened.  One must pay for
service.  Only I was nervous and tired.  He bored me.  I told him
at last that I was surprised that a man of such immense wealth
should still keep on going like this reaching for more and more.  I
suppose he must have been sipping a good deal of wine while we
talked and all at once he let out an atrocity which was too much
for me.  He had been moaning and sentimentalizing but then suddenly
he showed me his fangs.  'No,' he cries, 'you can't imagine what a
satisfaction it is to feel all that penniless, beggarly lot of the
dear, honest, meritorious poor wriggling and slobbering under one's
boots.'  You may tell me that he is a contemptible animal anyhow,
but you should have heard the tone!  I felt my bare arms go cold
like ice.  A moment before I had been hot and faint with sheer
boredom.  I jumped up from the table, rang for Rose, and told her
to bring me my fur cloak.  He remained in his chair leering at me
curiously.  When I had the fur on my shoulders and the girl had
gone out of the room I gave him the surprise of his life.  'Take
yourself off instantly,' I said.  'Go trample on the poor if you
like but never dare speak to me again.'  At this he leaned his head
on his arm and sat so long at the table shading his eyes with his
hand that I had to ask, calmly--you know--whether he wanted me to
have him turned out into the corridor.  He fetched an enormous
sigh.  'I have only tried to be honest with you, Rita.'  But by the
time he got to the door he had regained some of his impudence.
'You know how to trample on a poor fellows too,' he said.  'But I
don't mind being made to wriggle under your pretty shoes, Rita.  I
forgive you.  I thought you were free from all vulgar
sentimentalism and that you had a more independent mind.  I was
mistaken in you, that's all.'  With that he pretends to dash a tear
from his eye-crocodile!--and goes out, leaving me in my fur by the
blazing fire, my teeth going like castanets. . . Did you ever hear
of anything so stupid as this affair?" she concluded in a tone of
extreme candour and a profound unreadable stare that went far
beyond us both.  And the stillness of her lips was so perfect
directly she ceased speaking that I wondered whether all this had
come through them or only had formed itself in my mind.

Presently she continued as if speaking for herself only.

"It's like taking the lids off boxes and seeing ugly toads staring
at you.  In every one.  Every one.  That's what it is having to do
with men more than mere--Good-morning--Good evening.  And if you
try to avoid meddling with their lids, some of them will take them
off themselves.  And they don't even know, they don't even suspect
what they are showing you.  Certain confidences--they don't see it-
-are the bitterest kind of insult.  I suppose Azzolati imagines
himself a noble beast of prey.  Just as some others imagine
themselves to be most delicate, noble, and refined gentlemen.  And
as likely as not they would trade on a woman's troubles--and in the
end make nothing of that either.  Idiots!"

The utter absence of all anger in this spoken meditation gave it a
character of touching simplicity.  And as if it had been truly only
a meditation we conducted ourselves as though we had not heard it.
Mills began to speak of his experiences during his visit to the
army of the Legitimist King.  And I discovered in his speeches that
this man of books could be graphic and picturesque.  His admiration
for the devotion and bravery of the army was combined with the
greatest distaste for what he had seen of the way its great
qualities were misused.  In the conduct of this great enterprise he
had seen a deplorable levity of outlook, a fatal lack of decision,
an absence of any reasoned plan.

He shook his head.

"I feel that you of all people, Dona Rita, ought to be told the
truth.  I don't know exactly what you have at stake."

She was rosy like some impassive statue in a desert in the flush of
the dawn.

"Not my heart," she said quietly.  "You must believe that."

"I do.  Perhaps it would have been better if you. . . "

"No, Monsieur le Philosophe.  It would not have been better.  Don't
make that serious face at me," she went on with tenderness in a
playful note, as if tenderness had been her inheritance of all time
and playfulness the very fibre of her being.  "I suppose you think
that a woman who has acted as I did and has not staked her heart on
it is . . . How do you know to what the heart responds as it beats
from day to day?"

"I wouldn't judge you.  What am I before the knowledge you were
born to?  You are as old as the world."

She accepted this with a smile.  I who was innocently watching them
was amazed to discover how much a fleeting thing like that could
hold of seduction without the help of any other feature and with
that unchanging glance.

"With me it is pun d'onor.  To my first independent friend."

"You were soon parted," ventured Mills, while I sat still under a
sense of oppression.

"Don't think for a moment that I have been scared off," she said.
"It is they who were frightened.  I suppose you heard a lot of
Headquarters gossip?"

"Oh, yes," Mills said meaningly.  "The fair and the dark are
succeeding each other like leaves blown in the wind dancing in and
out.  I suppose you have noticed that leaves blown in the wind have
a look of happiness."

"Yes," she said, "that sort of leaf is dead.  Then why shouldn't it
look happy?  And so I suppose there is no uneasiness, no occasion
for fears amongst the 'responsibles.'"

"Upon the whole not.  Now and then a leaf seems as if it would
stick.  There is for instance Madame . . ."

"Oh, I don't want to know, I understand it all, I am as old as the
world."

"Yes," said Mills thoughtfully, "you are not a leaf, you might have
been a tornado yourself."

"Upon my word," she said, "there was a time that they thought I
could carry him off, away from them all--beyond them all.  Verily,
I am not very proud of their fears.  There was nothing reckless
there worthy of a great passion.  There was nothing sad there
worthy of a great tenderness."

"And is THIS the word of the Venetian riddle?" asked Mills, fixing
her with his keen eyes.

"If it pleases you to think so, Senor," she said indifferently.
The movement of her eyes, their veiled gleam became mischievous
when she asked, "And Don Juan Blunt, have you seen him over there?"

"I fancy he avoided me.  Moreover, he is always with his regiment
at the outposts.  He is a most valorous captain.  I heard some
people describe him as foolhardy."

"Oh, he needn't seek death," she said in an indefinable tone.  "I
mean as a refuge.  There will be nothing in his life great enough
for that."

"You are angry.  You miss him, I believe, Dona Rita."

"Angry?  No!  Weary.  But of course it's very inconvenient.  I
can't very well ride out alone.  A solitary amazon swallowing the
dust and the salt spray of the Corniche promenade would attract too
much attention.  And then I don't mind you two knowing that I am
afraid of going out alone."

"Afraid?" we both exclaimed together.

"You men are extraordinary.  Why do you want me to be courageous?
Why shouldn't I be afraid?  Is it because there is no one in the
world to care what would happen to me?"

There was a deep-down vibration in her tone for the first time.  We
had not a word to say.  And she added after a long silence:

"There is a very good reason.  There is a danger."

With wonderful insight Mills affirmed at once:

"Something ugly."

She nodded slightly several times.  Then Mills said with
conviction:

"Ah!  Then it can't be anything in yourself.  And if so . . . "

I was moved to extravagant advice.

"You should come out with me to sea then.  There may be some danger
there but there's nothing ugly to fear."

She gave me a startled glance quite unusual with her, more than
wonderful to me; and suddenly as though she had seen me for the
first time she exclaimed in a tone of compunction:

"Oh!  And there is this one, too!  Why!  Oh, why should he run his
head into danger for those things that will all crumble into dust
before long?"

I said:  "YOU won't crumble into dust."  And Mills chimed in:

"That young enthusiast will always have his sea."

We were all standing up now.  She kept her eyes on me, and repeated
with a sort of whimsical enviousness:

"The sea!  The violet sea--and he is longing to rejoin it! . . . At
night!  Under the stars! . . . A lovers' meeting," she went on,
thrilling me from head to foot with those two words, accompanied by
a wistful smile pointed by a suspicion of mockery.  She turned
away.

"And you, Monsieur Mills?" she asked.

"I am going back to my books," he declared with a very serious
face.  "My adventure is over."

"Each one to his love," she bantered us gently.  "Didn't I love
books, too, at one time!  They seemed to contain all wisdom and
hold a magic power, too.  Tell me, Monsieur Mills, have you found
amongst them in some black-letter volume the power of foretelling a
poor mortal's destiny, the power to look into the future?
Anybody's future . . ."  Mills shook his head. . . "What, not even
mine?" she coaxed as if she really believed in a magic power to be
found in books.

Mills shook his head again.  "No, I have not the power," he said.
"I am no more a great magician, than you are a poor mortal.  You
have your ancient spells.  You are as old as the world.  Of us two
it's you that are more fit to foretell the future of the poor
mortals on whom you happen to cast your eyes."

At these words she cast her eyes down and in the moment of deep
silence I watched the slight rising and falling of her breast.
Then Mills pronounced distinctly:  "Good-bye, old Enchantress."

They shook hands cordially.  "Good-bye, poor Magician," she said.

Mills made as if to speak but seemed to think better of it.  Dona
Rita returned my distant how with a slight, charmingly ceremonious
inclination of her body.

"Bon voyage and a happy return," she said formally.

I was following Mills through the door when I heard her voice
behind us raised in recall:

"Oh, a moment . . . I forgot . . ."

I turned round.  The call was for me, and I walked slowly back
wondering what she could have forgotten.  She waited in the middle
of the room with lowered head, with a mute gleam in her deep blue
eyes.  When I was near enough she extended to me without a word her
bare white arm and suddenly pressed the back of her hand against my
lips.  I was too startled to seize it with rapture.  It detached
itself from my lips and fell slowly by her side.  We had made it up
and there was nothing to say.  She turned away to the window and I
hurried out of the room.




PART THREE




CHAPTER I



It was on our return from that first trip that I took Dominic up to
the Villa to be presented to Dona Rita.  If she wanted to look on
the embodiment of fidelity, resource, and courage, she could behold
it all in that man.  Apparently she was not disappointed.  Neither
was Dominic disappointed.  During the half-hour's interview they
got into touch with each other in a wonderful way as if they had
some common and secret standpoint in life.  Maybe it was their
common lawlessness, and their knowledge of things as old as the
world.  Her seduction, his recklessness, were both simple,
masterful and, in a sense, worthy of each other.

Dominic was, I won't say awed by this interview.  No woman could
awe Dominic.  But he was, as it were, rendered thoughtful by it,
like a man who had not so much an experience as a sort of
revelation vouchsafed to him.  Later, at sea, he used to refer to
La Senora in a particular tone and I knew that henceforth his
devotion was not for me alone.  And I understood the inevitability
of it extremely well.  As to Dona Rita she, after Dominic left the
room, had turned to me with animation and said:  "But he is
perfect, this man."  Afterwards she often asked after him and used
to refer to him in conversation.  More than once she said to me:
"One would like to put the care of one's personal safety into the
hands of that man.  He looks as if he simply couldn't fail one."  I
admitted that this was very true, especially at sea.  Dominic
couldn't fail.  But at the same time I rather chaffed Rita on her
preoccupation as to personal safety that so often cropped up in her
talk.

"One would think you were a crowned head in a revolutionary world,"
I used to tell her.

"That would be different.  One would be standing then for
something, either worth or not worth dying for.  One could even run
away then and be done with it.  But I can't run away unless I got
out of my skin and left that behind.  Don't you understand?  You
are very stupid . . ."  But she had the grace to add, "On purpose."

I don't know about the on purpose.  I am not certain about the
stupidity.  Her words bewildered one often and bewilderment is a
sort of stupidity.  I remedied it by simply disregarding the sense
of what she said.  The sound was there and also her poignant heart-
gripping presence giving occupation enough to one's faculties.  In
the power of those things over one there was mystery enough.  It
was more absorbing than the mere obscurity of her speeches.  But I
daresay she couldn't understand that.

Hence, at times, the amusing outbreaks of temper in word and
gesture that only strengthened the natural, the invincible force of
the spell.  Sometimes the brass bowl would get upset or the
cigarette box would fly up, dropping a shower of cigarettes on the
floor.  We would pick them up, re-establish everything, and fall
into a long silence, so close that the sound of the first word
would come with all the pain of a separation.

It was at that time, too, that she suggested I should take up my
quarters in her house in the street of the Consuls.  There were
certain advantages in that move.  In my present abode my sudden
absences might have been in the long run subject to comment.  On
the other hand, the house in the street of Consuls was a known out-
post of Legitimacy.  But then it was covered by the occult
influence of her who was referred to in confidential talks, secret
communications, and discreet whispers of Royalist salons as:
"Madame de Lastaola."

That was the name which the heiress of Henry Allegre had decided to
adopt when, according to her own expression, she had found herself
precipitated at a moment's notice into the crowd of mankind.  It is
strange how the death of Henry Allegre, which certainly the poor
man had not planned, acquired in my view the character of a
heartless desertion.  It gave one a glimpse of amazing egoism in a
sentiment to which one could hardly give a name, a mysterious
appropriation of one human being by another as if in defiance of
unexpressed things and for an unheard-of satisfaction of an
inconceivable pride.  If he had hated her he could not have flung
that enormous fortune more brutally at her head.  And his
unrepentant death seemed to lift for a moment the curtain on
something lofty and sinister like an Olympian's caprice.

Dona Rita said to me once with humorous resignation:  "You know, it
appears that one must have a name.  That's what Henry Allegre's man
of business told me.  He was quite impatient with me about it.  But
my name, amigo, Henry Allegre had taken from me like all the rest
of what I had been once.  All that is buried with him in his grave.
It wouldn't have been true.  That is how I felt about it.  So I
took that one."  She whispered to herself:  "Lastaola," not as if
to test the sound but as if in a dream.

To this day I am not quite certain whether it was the name of any
human habitation, a lonely caserio with a half-effaced carving of a
coat of arms over its door, or of some hamlet at the dead end of a
ravine with a stony slope at the back.  It might have been a hill
for all I know or perhaps a stream.  A wood, or perhaps a
combination of all these:  just a bit of the earth's surface.  Once
I asked her where exactly it was situated and she answered, waving
her hand cavalierly at the dead wall of the room:  "Oh, over
there."  I thought that this was all that I was going to hear but
she added moodily, "I used to take my goats there, a dozen or so of
them, for the day.  From after my uncle had said his Mass till the
ringing of the evening bell."

I saw suddenly the lonely spot, sketched for me some time ago by a
few words from Mr. Blunt, populated by the agile, bearded beasts
with cynical heads, and a little misty figure dark in the sunlight
with a halo of dishevelled rust-coloured hair about its head.

The epithet of rust-coloured comes from her.  It was really tawny.
Once or twice in my hearing she had referred to "my rust-coloured
hair" with laughing vexation.  Even then it was unruly, abhorring
the restraints of civilization, and often in the heat of a dispute
getting into the eyes of Madame de Lastaola, the possessor of
coveted art treasures, the heiress of Henry Allegre.  She proceeded
in a reminiscent mood, with a faint flash of gaiety all over her
face, except her dark blue eyes that moved so seldom out of their
fixed scrutiny of things invisible to other human beings.

"The goats were very good.  We clambered amongst the stones
together.  They beat me at that game.  I used to catch my hair in
the bushes."

"Your rust-coloured hair," I whispered.

"Yes, it was always this colour.  And I used to leave bits of my
frock on thorns here and there.  It was pretty thin, I can tell
you.  There wasn't much at that time between my skin and the blue
of the sky.  My legs were as sunburnt as my face; but really I
didn't tan very much.  I had plenty of freckles though.  There were
no looking-glasses in the Presbytery but uncle had a piece not
bigger than my two hands for his shaving.  One Sunday I crept into
his room and had a peep at myself.  And wasn't I startled to see my
own eyes looking at me!  But it was fascinating, too.  I was about
eleven years old then, and I was very friendly with the goats, and
I was as shrill as a cicada and as slender as a match.  Heavens!
When I overhear myself speaking sometimes, or look at my limbs, it
doesn't seem to be possible.  And yet it is the same one.  I do
remember every single goat.  They were very clever.  Goats are no
trouble really; they don't scatter much.  Mine never did even if I
had to hide myself out of their sight for ever so long."

It was but natural to ask her why she wanted to hide, and she
uttered vaguely what was rather a comment on my question:

"It was like fate."  But I chose to take it otherwise, teasingly,
because we were often like a pair of children.

"Oh, really," I said, "you talk like a pagan.  What could you know
of fate at that time?  What was it like?  Did it come down from
Heaven?"

"Don't be stupid.  It used to come along a cart-track that was
there and it looked like a boy.  Wasn't he a little devil though.
You understand, I couldn't know that.  He was a wealthy cousin of
mine.  Round there we are all related, all cousins--as in Brittany.
He wasn't much bigger than myself but he was older, just a boy in
blue breeches and with good shoes on his feet, which of course
interested and impressed me.  He yelled to me from below, I
screamed to him from above, he came up and sat down near me on a
stone, never said a word, let me look at him for half an hour
before he condescended to ask me who I was.  And the airs he gave
himself!  He quite intimidated me sitting there perfectly dumb.  I
remember trying to hide my bare feet under the edge of my skirt as
I sat below him on the ground.

"C'est comique, eh!" she interrupted herself to comment in a
melancholy tone.  I looked at her sympathetically and she went on:

"He was the only son from a rich farmhouse two miles down the
slope.  In winter they used to send him to school at Tolosa.  He
had an enormous opinion of himself; he was going to keep a shop in
a town by and by and he was about the most dissatisfied creature I
have ever seen.  He had an unhappy mouth and unhappy eyes and he
was always wretched about something:  about the treatment he
received, about being kept in the country and chained to work.  He
was moaning and complaining and threatening all the world,
including his father and mother.  He used to curse God, yes, that
boy, sitting there on a piece of rock like a wretched little
Prometheus with a sparrow peeking at his miserable little liver.
And the grand scenery of mountains all round, ha, ha, ha!"

She laughed in contralto:  a penetrating sound with something
generous in it; not infectious, but in others provoking a smile.

"Of course I, poor little animal, I didn't know what to make of it,
and I was even a little frightened.  But at first because of his
miserable eyes I was sorry for him, almost as much as if he had
been a sick goat.  But, frightened or sorry, I don't know how it
is, I always wanted to laugh at him, too, I mean from the very
first day when he let me admire him for half an hour.  Yes, even
then I had to put my hand over my mouth more than once for the sake
of good manners, you understand.  And yet, you know, I was never a
laughing child.

"One day he came up and sat down very dignified a little bit away
from me and told me he had been thrashed for wandering in the
hills.

"'To be with me?' I asked.  And he said:  'To be with you!  No.  My
people don't know what I do.'  I can't tell why, but I was annoyed.
So instead of raising a clamour of pity over him, which I suppose
he expected me to do, I asked him if the thrashing hurt very much.
He got up, he had a switch in his hand, and walked up to me,
saying, 'I will soon show you.'  I went stiff with fright; but
instead of slashing at me he dropped down by my side and kissed me
on the cheek.  Then he did it again, and by that time I was gone
dead all over and he could have done what he liked with the corpse
but he left off suddenly and then I came to life again and I bolted
away.  Not very far.  I couldn't leave the goats altogether.  He
chased me round and about the rocks, but of course I was too quick
for him in his nice town boots.  When he got tired of that game he
started throwing stones.  After that he made my life very lively
for me.  Sometimes he used to come on me unawares and then I had to
sit still and listen to his miserable ravings, because he would
catch me round the waist and hold me very tight.  And yet, I often
felt inclined to laugh.  But if I caught sight of him at a distance
and tried to dodge out of the way he would start stoning me into a
shelter I knew of and then sit outside with a heap of stones at
hand so that I daren't show the end of my nose for hours.  He would
sit there and rave and abuse me till I would burst into a crazy
laugh in my hole; and then I could see him through the leaves
rolling on the ground and biting his fists with rage.  Didn't he
hate me!  At the same time I was often terrified.  I am convinced
now that if I had started crying he would have rushed in and
perhaps strangled me there.  Then as the sun was about to set he
would make me swear that I would marry him when I was grown up.
'Swear, you little wretched beggar,' he would yell to me.  And I
would swear.  I was hungry, and I didn't want to be made black and
blue all over with stones.  Oh, I swore ever so many times to be
his wife.  Thirty times a month for two months.  I couldn't help
myself.  It was no use complaining to my sister Therese.  When I
showed her my bruises and tried to tell her a little about my
trouble she was quite scandalized.  She called me a sinful girl, a
shameless creature.  I assure you it puzzled my head so that,
between Therese my sister and Jose the boy, I lived in a state of
idiocy almost.  But luckily at the end of the two months they sent
him away from home for good.  Curious story to happen to a goatherd
living all her days out under God's eye, as my uncle the Cura might
have said.  My sister Therese was keeping house in the Presbytery.
She's a terrible person."

"I have heard of your sister Therese," I said.

"Oh, you have!  Of my big sister Therese, six, ten years older than
myself perhaps?  She just comes a little above my shoulder, but
then I was always a long thing.  I never knew my mother.  I don't
even know how she looked.  There are no paintings or photographs in
our farmhouses amongst the hills.  I haven't even heard her
described to me.  I believe I was never good enough to be told
these things.  Therese decided that I was a lump of wickedness, and
now she believes that I will lose my soul altogether unless I take
some steps to save it.  Well, I have no particular taste that way.
I suppose it is annoying to have a sister going fast to eternal
perdition, but there are compensations.  The funniest thing is that
it's Therese, I believe, who managed to keep me out of the
Presbytery when I went out of my way to look in on them on my
return from my visit to the Quartel Real last year.  I couldn't
have stayed much more than half an hour with them anyway, but still
I would have liked to get over the old doorstep.  I am certain that
Therese persuaded my uncle to go out and meet me at the bottom of
the hill.  I saw the old man a long way off and I understood how it
was.  I dismounted at once and met him on foot.  We had half an
hour together walking up and down the road.  He is a peasant
priest, he didn't know how to treat me.  And of course I was
uncomfortable, too.  There wasn't a single goat about to keep me in
countenance.  I ought to have embraced him.  I was always fond of
the stern, simple old man.  But he drew himself up when I
approached him and actually took off his hat to me.  So simple as
that!  I bowed my head and asked for his blessing.  And he said 'I
would never refuse a blessing to a good Legitimist.'  So stern as
that!  And when I think that I was perhaps the only girl of the
family or in the whole world that he ever in his priest's life
patted on the head!  When I think of that I . . . I believe at that
moment I was as wretched as he was himself.  I handed him an
envelope with a big red seal which quite startled him.  I had asked
the Marquis de Villarel to give me a few words for him, because my
uncle has a great influence in his district; and the Marquis penned
with his own hand some compliments and an inquiry about the spirit
of the population.  My uncle read the letter, looked up at me with
an air of mournful awe, and begged me to tell his excellency that
the people were all for God, their lawful King and their old
privileges.  I said to him then, after he had asked me about the
health of His Majesty in an awfully gloomy tone--I said then:
'There is only one thing that remains for me to do, uncle, and that
is to give you two pounds of the very best snuff I have brought
here for you.'  What else could I have got for the poor old man?  I
had no trunks with me.  I had to leave behind a spare pair of shoes
in the hotel to make room in my little bag for that snuff.  And
fancy!  That old priest absolutely pushed the parcel away.  I could
have thrown it at his head; but I thought suddenly of that hard,
prayerful life, knowing nothing of any ease or pleasure in the
world, absolutely nothing but a pinch of snuff now and then.  I
remembered how wretched he used to be when he lacked a copper or
two to get some snuff with.  My face was hot with indignation, but
before I could fly out at him I remembered how simple he was.  So I
said with great dignity that as the present came from the King and
as he wouldn't receive it from my hand there was nothing else for
me to do but to throw it into the brook; and I made as if I were
going to do it, too.  He shouted:  'Stay, unhappy girl!  Is it
really from His Majesty, whom God preserve?'  I said
contemptuously, 'Of course.'  He looked at me with great pity in
his eyes, sighed deeply, and took the little tin from my hand.  I
suppose he imagined me in my abandoned way wheedling the necessary
cash out of the King for the purchase of that snuff.  You can't
imagine how simple he is.  Nothing was easier than to deceive him;
but don't imagine I deceived him from the vainglory of a mere
sinner.  I lied to the dear man, simply because I couldn't bear the
idea of him being deprived of the only gratification his big,
ascetic, gaunt body ever knew on earth.  As I mounted my mule to go
away he murmured coldly:  'God guard you, Senora!'  Senora!  What
sternness!  We were off a little way already when his heart
softened and he shouted after me in a terrible voice:  'The road to
Heaven is repentance!'  And then, after a silence, again the great
shout 'Repentance!' thundered after me.  Was that sternness or
simplicity, I wonder?  Or a mere unmeaning superstition, a
mechanical thing?  If there lives anybody completely honest in this
world, surely it must be my uncle.  And yet--who knows?

"Would you guess what was the next thing I did?  Directly I got
over the frontier I wrote from Bayonne asking the old man to send
me out my sister here.  I said it was for the service of the King.
You see, I had thought suddenly of that house of mine in which you
once spent the night talking with Mr. Mills and Don Juan Blunt.  I
thought it would do extremely well for Carlist officers coming this
way on leave or on a mission.  In hotels they might have been
molested, but I knew that I could get protection for my house.
Just a word from the ministry in Paris to the Prefect.  But I
wanted a woman to manage it for me.  And where was I to find a
trustworthy woman?  How was I to know one when I saw her?  I don't
know how to talk to women.  Of course my Rose would have done for
me that or anything else; but what could I have done myself without
her?  She has looked after me from the first.  It was Henry Allegre
who got her for me eight years ago.  I don't know whether he meant
it for a kindness but she's the only human being on whom I can
lean.  She knows . . . What doesn't she know about me!  She has
never failed to do the right thing for me unasked.  I couldn't part
with her.  And I couldn't think of anybody else but my sister.

"After all it was somebody belonging to me.  But it seemed the
wildest idea.  Yet she came at once.  Of course I took care to send
her some money.  She likes money.  As to my uncle there is nothing
that he wouldn't have given up for the service of the King.  Rose
went to meet her at the railway station.  She told me afterwards
that there had been no need for me to be anxious about her
recognizing Mademoiselle Therese.  There was nobody else in the
train that could be mistaken for her.  I should think not!  She had
made for herself a dress of some brown stuff like a nun's habit and
had a crooked stick and carried all her belongings tied up in a
handkerchief.  She looked like a pilgrim to a saint's shrine.  Rose
took her to the house.  She asked when she saw it:  'And does this
big place really belong to our Rita?'  My maid of course said that
it was mine.  'And how long did our Rita live here?'--'Madame has
never seen it unless perhaps the outside, as far as I know.  I
believe Mr. Allegre lived here for some time when he was a young
man.'--'The sinner that's dead?'--'Just so,' says Rose.  You know
nothing ever startles Rose.  'Well, his sins are gone with him,'
said my sister, and began to make herself at home.

"Rose was going to stop with her for a week but on the third day
she was back with me with the remark that Mlle. Therese knew her
way about very well already and preferred to be left to herself.
Some little time afterwards I went to see that sister of mine.  The
first thing she said to me, 'I wouldn't have recognized you, Rita,'
and I said, 'What a funny dress you have, Therese, more fit for the
portress of a convent than for this house.'--'Yes,' she said, 'and
unless you give this house to me, Rita, I will go back to our
country.  I will have nothing to do with your life, Rita.  Your
life is no secret for me.'

"I was going from room to room and Therese was following me.  'I
don't know that my life is a secret to anybody,' I said to her,
'but how do you know anything about it?'  And then she told me that
it was through a cousin of ours, that horrid wretch of a boy, you
know.  He had finished his schooling and was a clerk in a Spanish
commercial house of some kind, in Paris, and apparently had made it
his business to write home whatever he could hear about me or
ferret out from those relations of mine with whom I lived as a
girl.  I got suddenly very furious.  I raged up and down the room
(we were alone upstairs), and Therese scuttled away from me as far
as the door.  I heard her say to herself, 'It's the evil spirit in
her that makes her like this.'  She was absolutely convinced of
that.  She made the sign of the cross in the air to protect
herself.  I was quite astounded.  And then I really couldn't help
myself.  I burst into a laugh.  I laughed and laughed; I really
couldn't stop till Therese ran away.  I went downstairs still
laughing and found her in the hall with her face to the wall and
her fingers in her ears kneeling in a corner.  I had to pull her
out by the shoulders from there.  I don't think she was frightened;
she was only shocked.  But I don't suppose her heart is desperately
bad, because when I dropped into a chair feeling very tired she
came and knelt in front of me and put her arms round my waist and
entreated me to cast off from me my evil ways with the help of
saints and priests.  Quite a little programme for a reformed
sinner.  I got away at last.  I left her sunk on her heels before
the empty chair looking after me.  'I pray for you every night and
morning, Rita,' she said.--'Oh, yes.  I know you are a good
sister,' I said to her.  I was letting myself out when she called
after me, 'And what about this house, Rita?'  I said to her, 'Oh,
you may keep it till the day I reform and enter a convent.'  The
last I saw of her she was still on her knees looking after me with
her mouth open.  I have seen her since several times, but our
intercourse is, at any rate on her side, as of a frozen nun with
some great lady.  But I believe she really knows how to make men
comfortable.  Upon my word I think she likes to look after men.
They don't seem to be such great sinners as women are.  I think you
could do worse than take up your quarters at number 10.  She will
no doubt develop a saintly sort of affection for you, too."

I don't know that the prospect of becoming a favourite of Dona
Rita's peasant sister was very fascinating to me.  If I went to
live very willingly at No. 10 it was because everything connected
with Dona Rita had for me a peculiar fascination.  She had only
passed through the house once as far as I knew; but it was enough.
She was one of those beings that leave a trace.  I am not
unreasonable--I mean for those that knew her.  That is, I suppose,
because she was so unforgettable.  Let us remember the tragedy of
Azzolati the ruthless, the ridiculous financier with a criminal
soul (or shall we say heart) and facile tears.  No wonder, then,
that for me, who may flatter myself without undue vanity with being
much finer than that grotesque international intriguer, the mere
knowledge that Dona Rita had passed through the very rooms in which
I was going to live between the strenuous times of the sea-
expeditions, was enough to fill my inner being with a great
content.  Her glance, her darkly brilliant blue glance, had run
over the walls of that room which most likely would be mine to
slumber in.  Behind me, somewhere near the door, Therese, the
peasant sister, said in a funnily compassionate tone and in an
amazingly landlady-of-a-boarding-house spirit of false
persuasiveness:

"You will be very comfortable here, Senor.  It is so peaceful here
in the street.  Sometimes one may think oneself in a village.  It's
only a hundred and twenty-five francs for the friends of the King.
And I shall take such good care of you that your very heart will be
able to rest."



CHAPTER II



Dona Rita was curious to know how I got on with her peasant sister
and all I could say in return for that inquiry was that the peasant
sister was in her own way amiable.  At this she clicked her tongue
amusingly and repeated a remark she had made before:  "She likes
young men.  The younger the better."  The mere thought of those two
women being sisters aroused one's wonder.  Physically they were
altogether of different design.  It was also the difference between
living tissue of glowing loveliness with a divine breath, and a
hard hollow figure of baked clay.

Indeed Therese did somehow resemble an achievement, wonderful
enough in its way, in unglazed earthenware.  The only gleam perhaps
that one could find on her was that of her teeth, which one used to
get between her dull lips unexpectedly, startlingly, and a little
inexplicably, because it was never associated with a smile.  She
smiled with compressed mouth.  It was indeed difficult to conceive
of those two birds coming from the same nest.  And yet . . .
Contrary to what generally happens, it was when one saw those two
women together that one lost all belief in the possibility of their
relationship near or far.  It extended even to their common
humanity.  One, as it were, doubted it.  If one of the two was
representative, then the other was either something more or less
than human.  One wondered whether these two women belonged to the
same scheme of creation.  One was secretly amazed to see them
standing together, speaking to each other, having words in common,
understanding each other.  And yet! . . . Our psychological sense
is the crudest of all; we don't know, we don't perceive how
superficial we are.  The simplest shades escape us, the secret of
changes, of relations.  No, upon the whole, the only feature (and
yet with enormous differences) which Therese had in common with her
sister, as I told Dona Rita, was amiability.

"For, you know, you are a most amiable person yourself," I went on.
"It's one of your characteristics, of course much more precious
than in other people.  You transmute the commonest traits into gold
of your own; but after all there are no new names.  You are
amiable.  You were most amiable to me when I first saw you."

"Really.  I was not aware.  Not specially . . . "

"I had never the presumption to think that it was special.
Moreover, my head was in a whirl.  I was lost in astonishment first
of all at what I had been listening to all night.  Your history,
you know, a wonderful tale with a flavour of wine in it and
wreathed in clouds, with that amazing decapitated, mutilated dummy
of a woman lurking in a corner, and with Blunt's smile gleaming
through a fog, the fog in my eyes, from Mills' pipe, you know.  I
was feeling quite inanimate as to body and frightfully stimulated
as to mind all the time.  I had never heard anything like that talk
about you before.  Of course I wasn't sleepy, but still I am not
used to do altogether without sleep like Blunt . . ."

"Kept awake all night listening to my story!"  She marvelled.

"Yes.  You don't think I am complaining, do you?  I wouldn't have
missed it for the world.  Blunt in a ragged old jacket and a white
tie and that incisive polite voice of his seemed strange and weird.
It seemed as though he were inventing it all rather angrily.  I had
doubts as to your existence."

"Mr. Blunt is very much interested in my story."

"Anybody would be," I said.  "I was.  I didn't sleep a wink.  I was
expecting to see you soon--and even then I had my doubts."

"As to my existence?"

"It wasn't exactly that, though of course I couldn't tell that you
weren't a product of Captain Blunt's sleeplessness.  He seemed to
dread exceedingly to be left alone and your story might have been a
device to detain us . . ."

"He hasn't enough imagination for that," she said.

"It didn't occur to me.  But there was Mills, who apparently
believed in your existence.  I could trust Mills.  My doubts were
about the propriety.  I couldn't see any good reason for being
taken to see you.  Strange that it should be my connection with the
sea which brought me here to the Villa."

"Unexpected perhaps."

"No.  I mean particularly strange and significant."

"Why?"

"Because my friends are in the habit of telling me (and each other)
that the sea is my only love.  They were always chaffing me because
they couldn't see or guess in my life at any woman, open or secret.
. ."

"And is that really so?" she inquired negligently.

"Why, yes.  I don't mean to say that I am like an innocent shepherd
in one of those interminable stories of the eighteenth century.
But I don't throw the word love about indiscriminately.  It may be
all true about the sea; but some people would say that they love
sausages."

"You are horrible."

"I am surprised."

"I mean your choice of words."

"And you have never uttered a word yet that didn't change into a
pearl as it dropped from your lips.  At least not before me."

She glanced down deliberately and said, "This is better.  But I
don't see any of them on the floor."

"It's you who are horrible in the implications of your language.
Don't see any on the floor!  Haven't I caught up and treasured them
all in my heart?  I am not the animal from which sausages are
made."

She looked at me suavely and then with the sweetest possible smile
breathed out the word:  "No."

And we both laughed very loud.  O! days of innocence!  On this
occasion we parted from each other on a light-hearted note.  But
already I had acquired the conviction that there was nothing more
lovable in the world than that woman; nothing more life-giving,
inspiring, and illuminating than the emanation of her charm.  I
meant it absolutely--not excepting the light of the sun.

From this there was only one step further to take.  The step into a
conscious surrender; the open perception that this charm, warming
like a flame, was also all-revealing like a great light; giving new
depth to shades, new brilliance to colours, an amazing vividness to
all sensations and vitality to all thoughts:  so that all that had
been lived before seemed to have been lived in a drab world and
with a languid pulse.

A great revelation this.  I don't mean to say it was soul-shaking.
The soul was already a captive before doubt, anguish, or dismay
could touch its surrender and its exaltation.  But all the same the
revelation turned many things into dust; and, amongst others, the
sense of the careless freedom of my life.  If that life ever had
any purpose or any aim outside itself I would have said that it
threw a shadow across its path.  But it hadn't.  There had been no
path.  But there was a shadow, the inseparable companion of all
light.  No illumination can sweep all mystery out of the world.
After the departed darkness the shadows remain, more mysterious
because as if more enduring; and one feels a dread of them from
which one was free before.  What if they were to be victorious at
the last?  They, or what perhaps lurks in them:  fear, deception,
desire, disillusion--all silent at first before the song of
triumphant love vibrating in the light.  Yes.  Silent.  Even desire
itself!  All silent.  But not for long!

This was, I think, before the third expedition.  Yes, it must have
been the third, for I remember that it was boldly planned and that
it was carried out without a hitch.  The tentative period was over;
all our arrangements had been perfected.  There was, so to speak,
always an unfailing smoke on the hill and an unfailing lantern on
the shore.  Our friends, mostly bought for hard cash and therefore
valuable, had acquired confidence in us.  This, they seemed to say,
is no unfathomable roguery of penniless adventurers.  This is but
the reckless enterprise of men of wealth and sense and needn't be
inquired into.  The young caballero has got real gold pieces in the
belt he wears next his skin; and the man with the heavy moustaches
and unbelieving eyes is indeed very much of a man.  They gave to
Dominic all their respect and to me a great show of deference; for
I had all the money, while they thought that Dominic had all the
sense.  That judgment was not exactly correct.  I had my share of
judgment and audacity which surprises me now that the years have
chilled the blood without dimming the memory.  I remember going
about the business with light-hearted, clear-headed recklessness
which, according as its decisions were sudden or considered, made
Dominic draw his breath through his clenched teeth, or look hard at
me before he gave me either a slight nod of assent or a sarcastic
"Oh, certainly"--just as the humour of the moment prompted him.

One night as we were lying on a bit of dry sand under the lee of a
rock, side by side, watching the light of our little vessel dancing
away at sea in the windy distance, Dominic spoke suddenly to me.

"I suppose Alphonso and Carlos, Carlos and Alphonso, they are
nothing to you, together or separately?"

I said:  "Dominic, if they were both to vanish from the earth
together or separately it would make no difference to my feelings."

He remarked:  "Just so.  A man mourns only for his friends.  I
suppose they are no more friends to you than they are to me.  Those
Carlists make a great consumption of cartridges.  That is well.
But why should we do all those mad things that you will insist on
us doing till my hair," he pursued with grave, mocking
exaggeration, "till my hair tries to stand up on my head? and all
for that Carlos, let God and the devil each guard his own, for that
Majesty as they call him, but after all a man like another and--no
friend."

"Yes, why?" I murmured, feeling my body nestled at ease in the
sand.

It was very dark under the overhanging rock on that night of clouds
and of wind that died and rose and died again.  Dominic's voice was
heard speaking low between the short gusts.

"Friend of the Senora, eh?"

"That's what the world says, Dominic."

"Half of what the world says are lies," he pronounced dogmatically.
"For all his majesty he may be a good enough man.  Yet he is only a
king in the mountains and to-morrow he may be no more than you.
Still a woman like that--one, somehow, would grudge her to a better
king.  She ought to be set up on a high pillar for people that walk
on the ground to raise their eyes up to.  But you are otherwise,
you gentlemen.  You, for instance, Monsieur, you wouldn't want to
see her set up on a pillar."

"That sort of thing, Dominic," I said, "that sort of thing, you
understand me, ought to be done early."

He was silent for a time.  And then his manly voice was heard in
the shadow of the rock.

"I see well enough what you mean.  I spoke of the multitude, that
only raise their eyes.  But for kings and suchlike that is not
enough.  Well, no heart need despair; for there is not a woman that
wouldn't at some time or other get down from her pillar for no
bigger bribe perhaps than just a flower which is fresh to-day and
withered to-morrow.  And then, what's the good of asking how long
any woman has been up there?  There is a true saying that lips that
have been kissed do not lose their freshness."

I don't know what answer I could have made.  I imagine Dominic
thought himself unanswerable.  As a matter of fact, before I could
speak, a voice came to us down the face of the rock crying
secretly, "Ola, down there!  All is safe ashore."

It was the boy who used to hang about the stable of a muleteer's
inn in a little shallow valley with a shallow little stream in it,
and where we had been hiding most of the day before coming down to
the shore.  We both started to our feet and Dominic said, "A good
boy that.  You didn't hear him either come or go above our heads.
Don't reward him with more than one peseta, Senor, whatever he
does.  If you were to give him two he would go mad at the sight of
so much wealth and throw up his job at the Fonda, where he is so
useful to run errands, in that way he has of skimming along the
paths without displacing a stone."

Meantime he was busying himself with striking a fire to set alight
a small heap of dry sticks he had made ready beforehand on that
spot which in all the circuit of the Bay was perfectly screened
from observation from the land side.

The clear flame shooting up revealed him in the black cloak with a
hood of a Mediterranean sailor.  His eyes watched the dancing dim
light to seaward.  And he talked the while.

"The only fault you have, Senor, is being too generous with your
money.  In this world you must give sparingly.  The only things you
may deal out without counting, in this life of ours which is but a
little fight and a little love, is blows to your enemy and kisses
to a woman. . . . Ah! here they are coming in."

I noticed the dancing light in the dark west much closer to the
shore now.  Its motion had altered.  It swayed slowly as it ran
towards us, and, suddenly, the darker shadow as of a great pointed
wing appeared gliding in the night.  Under it a human voice shouted
something confidently.

"Bueno," muttered Dominic.  From some receptacle I didn't see he
poured a lot of water on the blaze, like a magician at the end of a
successful incantation that had called out a shadow and a voice
from the immense space of the sea.  And his hooded figure vanished
from my sight in a great hiss and the warm feel of ascending steam.

"That's all over," he said, "and now we go back for more work, more
toil, more trouble, more exertion with hands and feet, for hours
and hours.  And all the time the head turned over the shoulder,
too."

We were climbing a precipitous path sufficiently dangerous in the
dark, Dominic, more familiar with it, going first and I scrambling
close behind in order that I might grab at his cloak if I chanced
to slip or miss my footing.  I remonstrated against this
arrangement as we stopped to rest.  I had no doubt I would grab at
his cloak if I felt myself falling.  I couldn't help doing that.
But I would probably only drag him down with me.

With one hand grasping a shadowy bush above his head he growled
that all this was possible, but that it was all in the bargain, and
urged me onwards.

When we got on to the level that man whose even breathing no
exertion, no danger, no fear or anger could disturb, remarked as we
strode side by side:

"I will say this for us, that we are carrying out all this deadly
foolishness as conscientiously as though the eyes of the Senora
were on us all the time.  And as to risk, I suppose we take more
than she would approve of, I fancy, if she ever gave a moment's
thought to us out here.  Now, for instance, in the next half hour,
we may come any moment on three carabineers who would let off their
pieces without asking questions.  Even your way of flinging money
about cannot make safety for men set on defying a whole big country
for the sake of--what is it exactly?--the blue eyes, or the white
arms of the Senora."

He kept his voice equably low.  It was a lonely spot and but for a
vague shape of a dwarf tree here and there we had only the flying
clouds for company.  Very far off a tiny light twinkled a little
way up the seaward shoulder of an invisible mountain.  Dominic
moved on.

"Fancy yourself lying here, on this wild spot, with a leg smashed
by a shot or perhaps with a bullet in your side.  It might happen.
A star might fall.  I have watched stars falling in scores on clear
nights in the Atlantic.  And it was nothing.  The flash of a pinch
of gunpowder in your face may be a bigger matter.  Yet somehow it's
pleasant as we stumble in the dark to think of our Senora in that
long room with a shiny floor and all that lot of glass at the end,
sitting on that divan, you call it, covered with carpets as if
expecting a king indeed.  And very still . . ."

He remembered her--whose image could not be dismissed.

I laid my hand on his shoulder.

"That light on the mountain side flickers exceedingly, Dominic.
Are we in the path?"

He addressed me then in French, which was between us the language
of more formal moments.

"Prenez mon bras, monsieur.  Take a firm hold, or I will have you
stumbling again and falling into one of those beastly holes, with a
good chance to crack your head.  And there is no need to take
offence.  For, speaking with all respect, why should you, and I
with you, be here on this lonely spot, barking our shins in the
dark on the way to a confounded flickering light where there will
be no other supper but a piece of a stale sausage and a draught of
leathery wine out of a stinking skin.  Pah!"

I had good hold of his arm.  Suddenly he dropped the formal French
and pronounced in his inflexible voice:

"For a pair of white arms, Senor.  Bueno."

He could understand.



CHAPTER III



On our return from that expedition we came gliding into the old
harbour so late that Dominic and I, making for the cafe kept by
Madame Leonore, found it empty of customers, except for two rather
sinister fellows playing cards together at a corner table near the
door.  The first thing done by Madame Leonore was to put her hands
on Dominic's shoulders and look at arm's length into the eyes of
that man of audacious deeds and wild stratagems who smiled straight
at her from under his heavy and, at that time, uncurled moustaches.

Indeed we didn't present a neat appearance, our faces unshaven,
with the traces of dried salt sprays on our smarting skins and the
sleeplessness of full forty hours filming our eyes.  At least it
was so with me who saw as through a mist Madame Leonore moving with
her mature nonchalant grace, setting before us wine and glasses
with a faint swish of her ample black skirt.  Under the elaborate
structure of black hair her jet-black eyes sparkled like good-
humoured stars and even I could see that she was tremendously
excited at having this lawless wanderer Dominic within her reach
and as it were in her power.  Presently she sat down by us, touched
lightly Dominic's curly head silvered on the temples (she couldn't
really help it), gazed at me for a while with a quizzical smile,
observed that I looked very tired, and asked Dominic whether for
all that I was likely to sleep soundly to-night.

"I don't know," said Dominic, "He's young.  And there is always the
chance of dreams."

"What do you men dream of in those little barques of yours tossing
for months on the water?"

"Mostly of nothing," said Dominic.  "But it has happened to me to
dream of furious fights."

"And of furious loves, too, no doubt," she caught him up in a
mocking voice.

"No, that's for the waking hours," Dominic drawled, basking
sleepily with his head between his hands in her ardent gaze.  "The
waking hours are longer."

"They must be, at sea," she said, never taking her eyes off him.
"But I suppose you do talk of your loves sometimes."

"You may be sure, Madame Leonore," I interjected, noticing the
hoarseness of my voice, "that you at any rate are talked about a
lot at sea."

"I am not so sure of that now.  There is that strange lady from the
Prado that you took him to see, Signorino.  She went to his head
like a glass of wine into a tender youngster's.  He is such a
child, and I suppose that I am another.  Shame to confess it, the
other morning I got a friend to look after the cafe for a couple of
hours, wrapped up my head, and walked out there to the other end of
the town. . . . Look at these two sitting up!  And I thought they
were so sleepy and tired, the poor fellows!"

She kept our curiosity in suspense for a moment.

"Well, I have seen your marvel, Dominic," she continued in a calm
voice.  "She came flying out of the gate on horseback and it would
have been all I would have seen of her if--and this is for you,
Signorino--if she hadn't pulled up in the main alley to wait for a
very good-looking cavalier.  He had his moustaches so, and his
teeth were very white when he smiled at her.  But his eyes are too
deep in his head for my taste.  I didn't like it.  It reminded me
of a certain very severe priest who used to come to our village
when I was young; younger even than your marvel, Dominic."

"It was no priest in disguise, Madame Leonore," I said, amused by
her expression of disgust.  "That's an American."

"Ah!  Un Americano!  Well, never mind him.  It was her that I went
to see."

"What!  Walked to the other end of the town to see Dona Rita!"
Dominic addressed her in a low bantering tone.  "Why, you were
always telling me you couldn't walk further than the end of the
quay to save your life--or even mine, you said."

"Well, I did; and I walked back again and between the two walks I
had a good look.  And you may be sure--that will surprise you both-
-that on the way back--oh, Santa Madre, wasn't it a long way, too--
I wasn't thinking of any man at sea or on shore in that
connection."

"No.  And you were not thinking of yourself, either, I suppose," I
said.  Speaking was a matter of great effort for me, whether I was
too tired or too sleepy, I can't tell.  "No, you were not thinking
of yourself.  You were thinking of a woman, though."

"Si.  As much a woman as any of us that ever breathed in the world.
Yes, of her!  Of that very one!  You see, we woman are not like you
men, indifferent to each other unless by some exception.  Men say
we are always against one another but that's only men's conceit.
What can she be to me?  I am not afraid of the big child here," and
she tapped Dominic's forearm on which he rested his head with a
fascinated stare.  "With us two it is for life and death, and I am
rather pleased that there is something yet in him that can catch
fire on occasion.  I would have thought less of him if he hadn't
been able to get out of hand a little, for something really fine.
As for you, Signorino," she turned on me with an unexpected and
sarcastic sally, "I am not in love with you yet."  She changed her
tone from sarcasm to a soft and even dreamy note.  "A head like a
gem," went on that woman born in some by-street of Rome, and a
plaything for years of God knows what obscure fates.  "Yes,
Dominic!  Antica.  I haven't been haunted by a face since--since I
was sixteen years old.  It was the face of a young cavalier in the
street.  He was on horseback, too.  He never looked at me, I never
saw him again, and I loved him for--for days and days and days.
That was the sort of face he had.  And her face is of the same
sort.  She had a man's hat, too, on her head.  So high!"

"A man's hat on her head," remarked with profound displeasure
Dominic, to whom this wonder, at least, of all the wonders of the
earth, was apparently unknown.

"Si.  And her face has haunted me.  Not so long as that other but
more touchingly because I am no longer sixteen and this is a woman.
Yes, I did think of her, I myself was once that age and I, too, had
a face of my own to show to the world, though not so superb.  And
I, too, didn't know why I had come into the world any more than she
does."

"And now you know," Dominic growled softly, with his head still
between his hands.

She looked at him for a long time, opened her lips but in the end
only sighed lightly.

"And what do you know of her, you who have seen her so well as to
be haunted by her face?" I asked.

I wouldn't have been surprised if she had answered me with another
sigh.  For she seemed only to be thinking of herself and looked not
in my direction.  But suddenly she roused up.

"Of her?" she repeated in a louder voice.  "Why should I talk of
another woman?  And then she is a great lady."

At this I could not repress a smile which she detected at once.

"Isn't she?  Well, no, perhaps she isn't; but you may be sure of
one thing, that she is both flesh and shadow more than any one that
I have seen.  Keep that well in your mind:  She is for no man!  She
would be vanishing out of their hands like water that cannot be
held."

I caught my breath.  "Inconstant," I whispered.

"I don't say that.  Maybe too proud, too wilful, too full of pity.
Signorino, you don't know much about women.  And you may learn
something yet or you may not; but what you learn from her you will
never forget."

"Not to be held," I murmured; and she whom the quayside called
Madame Leonore closed her outstretched hand before my face and
opened it at once to show its emptiness in illustration of her
expressed opinion.  Dominic never moved.

I wished good-night to these two and left the cafe for the fresh
air and the dark spaciousness of the quays augmented by all the
width of the old Port where between the trails of light the shadows
of heavy hulls appeared very black, merging their outlines in a
great confusion.  I left behind me the end of the Cannebiere, a
wide vista of tall houses and much-lighted pavements losing itself
in the distance with an extinction of both shapes and lights.  I
slunk past it with only a side glance and sought the dimness of
quiet streets away from the centre of the usual night gaieties of
the town.  The dress I wore was just that of a sailor come ashore
from some coaster, a thick blue woollen shirt or rather a sort of
jumper with a knitted cap like a tam-o'-shanter worn very much on
one side and with a red tuft of wool in the centre.  This was even
the reason why I had lingered so long in the cafe.  I didn't want
to be recognized in the streets in that costume and still less to
be seen entering the house in the street of the Consuls.  At that
hour when the performances were over and all the sensible citizens
in their beds I didn't hesitate to cross the Place of the Opera.
It was dark, the audience had already dispersed.  The rare passers-
by I met hurrying on their last affairs of the day paid no
attention to me at all.  The street of the Consuls I expected to
find empty, as usual at that time of the night.  But as I turned a
corner into it I overtook three people who must have belonged to
the locality.  To me, somehow, they appeared strange.  Two girls in
dark cloaks walked ahead of a tall man in a top hat.  I slowed
down, not wishing to pass them by, the more so that the door of the
house was only a few yards distant.  But to my intense surprise
those people stopped at it and the man in the top hat, producing a
latchkey, let his two companions through, followed them, and with a
heavy slam cut himself off from my astonished self and the rest of
mankind.

In the stupid way people have I stood and meditated on the sight,
before it occurred to me that this was the most useless thing to
do.  After waiting a little longer to let the others get away from
the hall I entered in my turn.  The small gas-jet seemed not to
have been touched ever since that distant night when Mills and I
trod the black-and-white marble hall for the first time on the
heels of Captain Blunt--who lived by his sword.  And in the dimness
and solitude which kept no more trace of the three strangers than
if they had been the merest ghosts I seemed to hear the ghostly
murmur, "Americain, Catholique et gentilhomne.  Amer. . . "  Unseen
by human eye I ran up the flight of steps swiftly and on the first
floor stepped into my sitting-room of which the door was open . . .
"et gentilhomme."  I tugged at the bell pull and somewhere down
below a bell rang as unexpected for Therese as a call from a ghost.

I had no notion whether Therese could hear me.  I seemed to
remember that she slept in any bed that happened to be vacant.  For
all I knew she might have been asleep in mine.  As I had no matches
on me I waited for a while in the dark.  The house was perfectly
still.  Suddenly without the slightest preliminary sound light fell
into the room and Therese stood in the open door with a candlestick
in her hand.

She had on her peasant brown skirt.  The rest of her was concealed
in a black shawl which covered her head, her shoulders, arms, and
elbows completely, down to her waist.  The hand holding the candle
protruded from that envelope which the other invisible hand clasped
together under her very chin.  And her face looked like a face in a
painting.  She said at once:

"You startled me, my young Monsieur."

She addressed me most frequently in that way as though she liked
the very word "young."  Her manner was certainly peasant-like with
a sort of plaint in the voice, while the face was that of a serving
Sister in some small and rustic convent.

"I meant to do it," I said.  "I am a very bad person."

"The young are always full of fun," she said as if she were
gloating over the idea.  "It is very pleasant."

"But you are very brave," I chaffed her, "for you didn't expect a
ring, and after all it might have been the devil who pulled the
bell."

"It might have been.  But a poor girl like me is not afraid of the
devil.  I have a pure heart.  I have been to confession last
evening.  No.  But it might have been an assassin that pulled the
bell ready to kill a poor harmless woman.  This is a very lonely
street.  What could prevent you to kill me now and then walk out
again free as air?"

While she was talking like this she had lighted the gas and with
the last words she glided through the bedroom door leaving me
thunderstruck at the unexpected character of her thoughts.

I couldn't know that there had been during my absence a case of
atrocious murder which had affected the imagination of the whole
town; and though Therese did not read the papers (which she
imagined to be full of impieties and immoralities invented by
godless men) yet if she spoke at all with her kind, which she must
have done at least in shops, she could not have helped hearing of
it.  It seems that for some days people could talk of nothing else.
She returned gliding from the bedroom hermetically sealed in her
black shawl just as she had gone in, with the protruding hand
holding the lighted candle and relieved my perplexity as to her
morbid turn of mind by telling me something of the murder story in
a strange tone of indifference even while referring to its most
horrible features.  "That's what carnal sin (peche de chair) leads
to," she commented severely and passed her tongue over her thin
lips.  "And then the devil furnishes the occasion."

"I can't imagine the devil inciting me to murder you, Therese," I
said, "and I didn't like that ready way you took me for an example,
as it were.  I suppose pretty near every lodger might be a
potential murderer, but I expected to be made an exception."

With the candle held a little below her face, with that face of one
tone and without relief she looked more than ever as though she had
come out of an old, cracked, smoky painting, the subject of which
was altogether beyond human conception.  And she only compressed
her lips.

"All right," I said, making myself comfortable on a sofa after
pulling off my boots.  "I suppose any one is liable to commit
murder all of a sudden.  Well, have you got many murderers in the
house?"

"Yes," she said, "it's pretty good.  Upstairs and downstairs," she
sighed.  "God sees to it."

"And by the by, who is that grey-headed murderer in a tall hat whom
I saw shepherding two girls into this house?"

She put on a candid air in which one could detect a little of her
peasant cunning.

"Oh, yes.  They are two dancing girls at the Opera, sisters, as
different from each other as I and our poor Rita.  But they are
both virtuous and that gentleman, their father, is very severe with
them.  Very severe indeed, poor motherless things.  And it seems to
be such a sinful occupation."

"I bet you make them pay a big rent, Therese.  With an occupation
like that . . ."

She looked at me with eyes of invincible innocence and began to
glide towards the door, so smoothly that the flame of the candle
hardly swayed.  "Good-night," she murmured.

"Good-night, Mademoiselle."

Then in the very doorway she turned right round as a marionette
would turn.

"Oh, you ought to know, my dear young Monsieur, that Mr. Blunt, the
dear handsome man, has arrived from Navarre three days ago or more.
Oh," she added with a priceless air of compunction, "he is such a
charming gentleman."

And the door shut after her.



CHAPTER IV



That night I passed in a state, mostly open-eyed, I believe, but
always on the border between dreams and waking.  The only thing
absolutely absent from it was the feeling of rest.  The usual
sufferings of a youth in love had nothing to do with it.  I could
leave her, go away from her, remain away from her, without an added
pang or any augmented consciousness of that torturing sentiment of
distance so acute that often it ends by wearing itself out in a few
days.  Far or near was all one to me, as if one could never get any
further but also never any nearer to her secret:  the state like
that of some strange wild faiths that get hold of mankind with the
cruel mystic grip of unattainable perfection, robbing them of both
liberty and felicity on earth.  A faith presents one with some
hope, though.  But I had no hope, and not even desire as a thing
outside myself, that would come and go, exhaust or excite.  It was
in me just like life was in me; that life of which a popular saying
affirms that "it is sweet."  For the general wisdom of mankind will
always stop short on the limit of the formidable.

What is best in a state of brimful, equable suffering is that it
does away with the gnawings of petty sensations.  Too far gone to
be sensible to hope and desire I was spared the inferior pangs of
elation and impatience.  Hours with her or hours without her were
all alike, all in her possession!  But still there are shades and I
will admit that the hours of that morning were perhaps a little
more difficult to get through than the others.  I had sent word of
my arrival of course.  I had written a note.  I had rung the bell.
Therese had appeared herself in her brown garb and as monachal as
ever.  I had said to her:

"Have this sent off at once."

She had gazed at the addressed envelope, smiled (I was looking up
at her from my desk), and at last took it up with an effort of
sanctimonious repugnance.  But she remained with it in her hand
looking at me as though she were piously gloating over something
she could read in my face.

"Oh, that Rita, that Rita," she murmured.  "And you, too!  Why are
you trying, you, too, like the others, to stand between her and the
mercy of God?  What's the good of all this to you?  And you such a
nice, dear, young gentleman.  For no earthly good only making all
the kind saints in heaven angry, and our mother ashamed in her
place amongst the blessed."

"Mademoiselle Therese," I said, "vous etes folle."

I believed she was crazy.  She was cunning, too.  I added an
imperious:  "Allez," and with a strange docility she glided out
without another word.  All I had to do then was to get dressed and
wait till eleven o'clock.

The hour struck at last.  If I could have plunged into a light wave
and been transported instantaneously to Dona Rita's door it would
no doubt have saved me an infinity of pangs too complex for
analysis; but as this was impossible I elected to walk from end to
end of that long way.  My emotions and sensations were childlike
and chaotic inasmuch that they were very intense and primitive, and
that I lay very helpless in their unrelaxing grasp.  If one could
have kept a record of one's physical sensations it would have been
a fine collection of absurdities and contradictions.  Hardly
touching the ground and yet leaden-footed; with a sinking heart and
an excited brain; hot and trembling with a secret faintness, and
yet as firm as a rock and with a sort of indifference to it all, I
did reach the door which was frightfully like any other commonplace
door, but at the same time had a fateful character:  a few planks
put together--and an awful symbol; not to be approached without
awe--and yet coming open in the ordinary way to the ring of the
bell.

It came open.  Oh, yes, very much as usual.  But in the ordinary
course of events the first sight in the hall should have been the
back of the ubiquitous, busy, silent maid hurrying off and already
distant.  But not at all!  She actually waited for me to enter.  I
was extremely taken aback and I believe spoke to her for the first
time in my life.

"Bonjour, Rose."

She dropped her dark eyelids over those eyes that ought to have
been lustrous but were not, as if somebody had breathed on them the
first thing in the morning.  She was a girl without smiles.  She
shut the door after me, and not only did that but in the incredible
idleness of that morning she, who had never a moment to spare,
started helping me off with my overcoat.  It was positively
embarrassing from its novelty.  While busying herself with those
trifles she murmured without any marked intention:

"Captain Blunt is with Madame."

This didn't exactly surprise me.  I knew he had come up to town; I
only happened to have forgotten his existence for the moment.  I
looked at the girl also without any particular intention.  But she
arrested my movement towards the dining-room door by a low,
hurried, if perfectly unemotional appeal:

"Monsieur George!"

That of course was not my name.  It served me then as it will serve
for this story.  In all sorts of strange places I was alluded to as
"that young gentleman they call Monsieur George."  Orders came from
"Monsieur George" to men who nodded knowingly.  Events pivoted
about "Monsieur George."  I haven't the slightest doubt that in the
dark and tortuous streets of the old Town there were fingers
pointed at my back:  there goes "Monsieur George."  I had been
introduced discreetly to several considerable persons as "Monsieur
George."  I had learned to answer to the name quite naturally; and
to simplify matters I was also "Monsieur George" in the street of
the Consuls and in the Villa on the Prado.  I verify believe that
at that time I had the feeling that the name of George really
belonged to me.  I waited for what the girl had to say.  I had to
wait some time, though during that silence she gave no sign of
distress or agitation.  It was for her obviously a moment of
reflection.  Her lips were compressed a little in a characteristic,
capable manner.  I looked at her with a friendliness I really felt
towards her slight, unattractive, and dependable person.

"Well," I said at last, rather amused by this mental hesitation.  I
never took it for anything else.  I was sure it was not distrust.
She appreciated men and things and events solely in relation to
Dona Rita's welfare and safety.  And as to that I believed myself
above suspicion.  At last she spoke.

"Madame is not happy."  This information was given to me not
emotionally but as it were officially.  It hadn't even a tone of
warning.  A mere statement.  Without waiting to see the effect she
opened the dining-room door, not to announce my name in the usual
way but to go in and shut it behind her.  In that short moment I
heard no voices inside.  Not a sound reached me while the door
remained shut; but in a few seconds it came open again and Rose
stood aside to let me pass.

Then I heard something:  Dona Rita's voice raised a little on an
impatient note (a very, very rare thing) finishing some phrase of
protest with the words " . . . Of no consequence."

I heard them as I would have heard any other words, for she had
that kind of voice which carries a long distance.  But the maid's
statement occupied all my mind.  "Madame n'est pas heureuse."  It
had a dreadful precision . . . "Not happy . . ."  This unhappiness
had almost a concrete form--something resembling a horrid bat.  I
was tired, excited, and generally overwrought.  My head felt empty.
What were the appearances of unhappiness?  I was still naive enough
to associate them with tears, lamentations, extraordinary attitudes
of the body and some sort of facial distortion, all very dreadful
to behold.  I didn't know what I should see; but in what I did see
there was nothing startling, at any rate from that nursery point of
view which apparently I had not yet outgrown.

With immense relief the apprehensive child within me beheld Captain
Blunt warming his back at the more distant of the two fireplaces;
and as to Dona Rita there was nothing extraordinary in her attitude
either, except perhaps that her hair was all loose about her
shoulders.  I hadn't the slightest doubt they had been riding
together that morning, but she, with her impatience of all costume
(and yet she could dress herself admirably and wore her dresses
triumphantly), had divested herself of her riding habit and sat
cross-legged enfolded in that ample blue robe like a young savage
chieftain in a blanket.  It covered her very feet.  And before the
normal fixity of her enigmatical eyes the smoke of the cigarette
ascended ceremonially, straight up, in a slender spiral.

"How are you," was the greeting of Captain Blunt with the usual
smile which would have been more amiable if his teeth hadn't been,
just then, clenched quite so tight.  How he managed to force his
voice through that shining barrier I could never understand.  Dona
Rita tapped the couch engagingly by her side but I sat down instead
in the armchair nearly opposite her, which, I imagine, must have
been just vacated by Blunt.  She inquired with that particular
gleam of the eyes in which there was something immemorial and gay:

"Well?"

"Perfect success."

"I could hug you."

At any time her lips moved very little but in this instance the
intense whisper of these words seemed to form itself right in my
very heart; not as a conveyed sound but as an imparted emotion
vibrating there with an awful intimacy of delight.  And yet it left
my heart heavy.

"Oh, yes, for joy," I said bitterly but very low; "for your
Royalist, Legitimist, joy."  Then with that trick of very precise
politeness which I must have caught from Mr. Blunt I added:

"I don't want to be embraced--for the King."

And I might have stopped there.  But I didn't.  With a perversity
which should be forgiven to those who suffer night and day and are
as if drunk with an exalted unhappiness, I went on:  "For the sake
of an old cast-off glove; for I suppose a disdained love is not
much more than a soiled, flabby thing that finds itself on a
private rubbish heap because it has missed the fire."

She listened to me unreadable, unmoved, narrowed eyes, closed lips,
slightly flushed face, as if carved six thousand years ago in order
to fix for ever that something secret and obscure which is in all
women.  Not the gross immobility of a Sphinx proposing roadside
riddles but the finer immobility, almost sacred, of a fateful
figure seated at the very source of the passions that have moved
men from the dawn of ages.

Captain Blunt, with his elbow on the high mantelpiece, had turned
away a little from us and his attitude expressed excellently the
detachment of a man who does not want to hear.  As a matter of
fact, I don't suppose he could have heard.  He was too far away,
our voices were too contained.  Moreover, he didn't want to hear.
There could be no doubt about it; but she addressed him
unexpectedly.

"As I was saying to you, Don Juan, I have the greatest difficulty
in getting myself, I won't say understood, but simply believed."

No pose of detachment could avail against the warm waves of that
voice.  He had to hear.  After a moment he altered his position as
it were reluctantly, to answer her.

"That's a difficulty that women generally have."

"Yet I have always spoken the truth."

"All women speak the truth," said Blunt imperturbably.  And this
annoyed her.

"Where are the men I have deceived?" she cried.

"Yes, where?" said Blunt in a tone of alacrity as though he had
been ready to go out and look for them outside.

"No!  But show me one.  I say--where is he?"

He threw his affectation of detachment to the winds, moved his
shoulders slightly, very slightly, made a step nearer to the couch,
and looked down on her with an expression of amused courtesy.

"Oh, I don't know.  Probably nowhere.  But if such a man could be
found I am certain he would turn out a very stupid person.  You
can't be expected to furnish every one who approaches you with a
mind.  To expect that would be too much, even from you who know how
to work wonders at such little cost to yourself."

"To myself," she repeated in a loud tone.

"Why this indignation?  I am simply taking your word for it."

"Such little cost!" she exclaimed under her breath.

"I mean to your person."

"Oh, yes," she murmured, glanced down, as it were upon herself,
then added very low:  "This body."

"Well, it is you," said Blunt with visibly contained irritation.
"You don't pretend it's somebody else's.  It can't be.  You haven't
borrowed it. . . . It fits you too well," he ended between his
teeth.

"You take pleasure in tormenting yourself," she remonstrated,
suddenly placated; "and I would be sorry for you if I didn't think
it's the mere revolt of your pride.  And you know you are indulging
your pride at my expense.  As to the rest of it, as to my living,
acting, working wonders at a little cost. . . . it has all but
killed me morally.  Do you hear?  Killed."

"Oh, you are not dead yet," he muttered,

"No," she said with gentle patience.  "There is still some feeling
left in me; and if it is any satisfaction to you to know it, you
may be certain that I shall be conscious of the last stab."

He remained silent for a while and then with a polite smile and a
movement of the head in my direction he warned her.

"Our audience will get bored."

"I am perfectly aware that Monsieur George is here, and that he has
been breathing a very different atmosphere from what he gets in
this room.  Don't you find this room extremely confined?" she asked
me.

The room was very large but it is a fact that I felt oppressed at
that moment.  This mysterious quarrel between those two people,
revealing something more close in their intercourse than I had ever
before suspected, made me so profoundly unhappy that I didn't even
attempt to answer.  And she continued:

"More space.  More air.  Give me air, air."  She seized the
embroidered edges of her blue robe under her white throat and made
as if to tear them apart, to fling it open on her breast,
recklessly, before our eyes.  We both remained perfectly still.
Her hands dropped nervelessly by her side.  "I envy you, Monsieur
George.  If I am to go under I should prefer to be drowned in the
sea with the wind on my face.  What luck, to feel nothing less than
all the world closing over one's head!"

A short silence ensued before Mr. Blunt's drawing-room voice was
heard with playful familiarity.

"I have often asked myself whether you weren't really a very
ambitious person, Dona Rita."

"And I ask myself whether you have any heart."  She was looking
straight at him and he gratified her with the usual cold white
flash of his even teeth before he answered.

"Asking yourself?  That means that you are really asking me.  But
why do it so publicly?  I mean it.  One single, detached presence
is enough to make a public.  One alone.  Why not wait till he
returns to those regions of space and air--from which he came."

His particular trick of speaking of any third person as of a lay
figure was exasperating.  Yet at the moment I did not know how to
resent it, but, in any case, Dona Rita would not have given me
time.  Without a moment's hesitation she cried out:

"I only wish he could take me out there with him."

For a moment Mr. Blunt's face became as still as a mask and then
instead of an angry it assumed an indulgent expression.  As to me I
had a rapid vision of Dominic's astonishment, awe, and sarcasm
which was always as tolerant as it is possible for sarcasm to be.
But what a charming, gentle, gay, and fearless companion she would
have made!  I believed in her fearlessness in any adventure that
would interest her.  It would be a new occasion for me, a new
viewpoint for that faculty of admiration she had awakened in me at
sight--at first sight--before she opened her lips--before she ever
turned her eyes on me.  She would have to wear some sort of sailor
costume, a blue woollen shirt open at the throat. . . . Dominic's
hooded cloak would envelop her amply, and her face under the black
hood would have a luminous quality, adolescent charm, and an
enigmatic expression.  The confined space of the little vessel's
quarterdeck would lend itself to her cross-legged attitudes, and
the blue sea would balance gently her characteristic immobility
that seemed to hide thoughts as old and profound as itself.  As
restless, too--perhaps.

But the picture I had in my eye, coloured and simple like an
illustration to a nursery-book tale of two venturesome children's
escapade, was what fascinated me most.  Indeed I felt that we two
were like children under the gaze of a man of the world--who lived
by his sword.  And I said recklessly:

"Yes, you ought to come along with us for a trip.  You would see a
lot of things for yourself."

Mr. Blunt's expression had grown even more indulgent if that were
possible.  Yet there was something ineradicably ambiguous about
that man.  I did not like the indefinable tone in which he
observed:

"You are perfectly reckless in what you say, Dona Rita.  It has
become a habit with you of late."

"While with you reserve is a second nature, Don Juan."

This was uttered with the gentlest, almost tender, irony.  Mr.
Blunt waited a while before he said:

"Certainly. . . . Would you have liked me to be otherwise?"

She extended her hand to him on a sudden impulse.

"Forgive me!  I may have been unjust, and you may only have been
loyal.  The falseness is not in us.  The fault is in life itself, I
suppose.  I have been always frank with you."

"And I obedient," he said, bowing low over her hand.  He turned
away, paused to look at me for some time and finally gave me the
correct sort of nod.  But he said nothing and went out, or rather
lounged out with his worldly manner of perfect ease under all
conceivable circumstances.  With her head lowered Dona Rita watched
him till he actually shut the door behind him.  I was facing her
and only heard the door close.

"Don't stare at me," were the first words she said.

It was difficult to obey that request.  I didn't know exactly where
to look, while I sat facing her.  So I got up, vaguely full of
goodwill, prepared even to move off as far as the window, when she
commanded:

"Don't turn your back on me."

I chose to understand it symbolically.

"You know very well I could never do that.  I couldn't.  Not even
if I wanted to."  And I added:  "It's too late now."

"Well, then, sit down.  Sit down on this couch."

I sat down on the couch.  Unwillingly?  Yes.  I was at that stage
when all her words, all her gestures, all her silences were a heavy
trial to me, put a stress on my resolution, on that fidelity to
myself and to her which lay like a leaden weight on my untried
heart.  But I didn't sit down very far away from her, though that
soft and billowy couch was big enough, God knows!  No, not very far
from her.  Self-control, dignity, hopelessness itself, have their
limits.  The halo of her tawny hair stirred as I let myself drop by
her side.  Whereupon she flung one arm round my neck, leaned her
temple against my shoulder and began to sob; but that I could only
guess from her slight, convulsive movements because in our relative
positions I could only see the mass of her tawny hair brushed back,
yet with a halo of escaped hair which as I bent my head over her
tickled my lips, my cheek, in a maddening manner.

We sat like two venturesome children in an illustration to a tale,
scared by their adventure.  But not for long.  As I instinctively,
yet timidly, sought for her other hand I felt a tear strike the
back of mine, big and heavy as if fallen from a great height.  It
was too much for me.  I must have given a nervous start.  At once I
heard a murmur:  "You had better go away now."

I withdrew myself gently from under the light weight of her head,
from this unspeakable bliss and inconceivable misery, and had the
absurd impression of leaving her suspended in the air.  And I moved
away on tiptoe.

Like an inspired blind man led by Providence I found my way out of
the room but really I saw nothing, till in the hall the maid
appeared by enchantment before me holding up my overcoat.  I let
her help me into it.  And then (again as if by enchantment) she had
my hat in her hand.

"No.  Madame isn't happy," I whispered to her distractedly.

She let me take my hat out of her hand and while I was putting it
on my head I heard an austere whisper:

"Madame should listen to her heart."

Austere is not the word; it was almost freezing, this unexpected,
dispassionate rustle of words.  I had to repress a shudder, and as
coldly as herself I murmured:

"She has done that once too often."

Rose was standing very close to me and I caught distinctly the note
of scorn in her indulgent compassion.

"Oh, that! . . . Madame is like a child."  It was impossible to get
the bearing of that utterance from that girl who, as Dona Rita
herself had told me, was the most taciturn of human beings; and yet
of all human beings the one nearest to herself.  I seized her head
in my hands and turning up her face I looked straight down into her
black eyes which should have been lustrous.  Like a piece of glass
breathed upon they reflected no light, revealed no depths, and
under my ardent gaze remained tarnished, misty, unconscious.

"Will Monsieur kindly let me go.  Monsieur shouldn't play the
child, either."  (I let her go.)  "Madame could have the world at
her feet.  Indeed she has it there only she doesn't care for it."

How talkative she was, this maid with unsealed lips!  For some
reason or other this last statement of hers brought me immense
comfort.

"Yes?" I whispered breathlessly.

"Yes!  But in that case what's the use of living in fear and
torment?" she went on, revealing a little more of herself to my
astonishment.  She opened the door for me and added:

"Those that don't care to stoop ought at least make themselves
happy."

I turned in the very doorway:  "There is something which prevents
that?" I suggested.

"To be sure there is.  Bonjour, Monsieur."




PART FOUR




CHAPTER I



"Such a charming lady in a grey silk dress and a hand as white as
snow.  She looked at me through such funny glasses on the end of a
long handle.  A very great lady but her voice was as kind as the
voice of a saint.  I have never seen anything like that.  She made
me feel so timid."

The voice uttering these words was the voice of Therese and I
looked at her from a bed draped heavily in brown silk curtains
fantastically looped up from ceiling to floor.  The glow of a
sunshiny day was toned down by closed jalousies to a mere
transparency of darkness.  In this thin medium Therese's form
appeared flat, without detail, as if cut out of black paper.  It
glided towards the window and with a click and a scrape let in the
full flood of light which smote my aching eyeballs painfully.

In truth all that night had been the abomination of desolation to
me.  After wrestling with my thoughts, if the acute consciousness
of a woman's existence may be called a thought, I had apparently
dropped off to sleep only to go on wrestling with a nightmare, a
senseless and terrifying dream of being in bonds which, even after
waking, made me feel powerless in all my limbs.  I lay still,
suffering acutely from a renewed sense of existence, unable to lift
an arm, and wondering why I was not at sea, how long I had slept,
how long Therese had been talking before her voice had reached me
in that purgatory of hopeless longing and unanswerable questions to
which I was condemned.

It was Therese's habit to begin talking directly she entered the
room with the tray of morning coffee.  This was her method for
waking me up.  I generally regained the consciousness of the
external world on some pious phrase asserting the spiritual comfort
of early mass, or on angry lamentations about the unconscionable
rapacity of the dealers in fish and vegetables; for after mass it
was Therese's practice to do the marketing for the house.  As a
matter of fact the necessity of having to pay, to actually give
money to people, infuriated the pious Therese.  But the matter of
this morning's speech was so extraordinary that it might have been
the prolongation of a nightmare:  a man in bonds having to listen
to weird and unaccountable speeches against which, he doesn't know
why, his very soul revolts.

In sober truth my soul remained in revolt though I was convinced
that I was no longer dreaming.  I watched Therese coming away from
the window with that helpless dread a man bound hand and foot may
be excused to feel.  For in such a situation even the absurd may
appear ominous.  She came up close to the bed and folding her hands
meekly in front of her turned her eyes up to the ceiling.

"If I had been her daughter she couldn't have spoken more softly to
me," she said sentimentally.

I made a great effort to speak.

"Mademoiselle Therese, you are raving."

"She addressed me as Mademoiselle, too, so nicely.  I was struck
with veneration for her white hair but her face, believe me, my
dear young Monsieur, has not so many wrinkles as mine."

She compressed her lips with an angry glance at me as if I could
help her wrinkles, then she sighed.

"God sends wrinkles, but what is our face?" she digressed in a tone
of great humility.  "We shall have glorious faces in Paradise.  But
meantime God has permitted me to preserve a smooth heart."

"Are you going to keep on like this much longer?" I fairly shouted
at her.  "What are you talking about?"

"I am talking about the sweet old lady who came in a carriage.  Not
a fiacre.  I can tell a fiacre.  In a little carriage shut in with
glass all in front.  I suppose she is very rich.  The carriage was
very shiny outside and all beautiful grey stuff inside.  I opened
the door to her myself.  She got out slowly like a queen.  I was
struck all of a heap.  Such a shiny beautiful little carriage.
There were blue silk tassels inside, beautiful silk tassels."

Obviously Therese had been very much impressed by a brougham,
though she didn't know the name for it.  Of all the town she knew
nothing but the streets which led to a neighbouring church
frequented only by the poorer classes and the humble quarter
around, where she did her marketing.  Besides, she was accustomed
to glide along the walls with her eyes cast down; for her natural
boldness would never show itself through that nun-like mien except
when bargaining, if only on a matter of threepence.  Such a turn-
out had never been presented to her notice before.  The traffic in
the street of the Consuls was mostly pedestrian and far from
fashionable.  And anyhow Therese never looked out of the window.
She lurked in the depths of the house like some kind of spider that
shuns attention.  She used to dart at one from some dark recesses
which I never explored.

Yet it seemed to me that she exaggerated her raptures for some
reason or other.  With her it was very difficult to distinguish
between craft and innocence.

"Do you mean to say," I asked suspiciously, "that an old lady wants
to hire an apartment here?  I hope you told her there was no room,
because, you know, this house is not exactly the thing for
venerable old ladies."

"Don't make me angry, my dear young Monsieur.  I have been to
confession this morning.  Aren't you comfortable?  Isn't the house
appointed richly enough for anybody?"

That girl with a peasant-nun's face had never seen the inside of a
house other than some half-ruined caserio in her native hills.

I pointed out to her that this was not a matter of splendour or
comfort but of "convenances."  She pricked up her ears at that word
which probably she had never heard before; but with woman's uncanny
intuition I believe she understood perfectly what I meant.  Her air
of saintly patience became so pronounced that with my own poor
intuition I perceived that she was raging at me inwardly.  Her
weather-tanned complexion, already affected by her confined life,
took on an extraordinary clayey aspect which reminded me of a
strange head painted by El Greco which my friend Prax had hung on
one of his walls and used to rail at; yet not without a certain
respect.

Therese, with her hands still meekly folded about her waist, had
mastered the feelings of anger so unbecoming to a person whose sins
had been absolved only about three hours before, and asked me with
an insinuating softness whether she wasn't an honest girl enough to
look after any old lady belonging to a world which after all was
sinful.  She reminded me that she had kept house ever since she was
"so high" for her uncle the priest:  a man well-known for his
saintliness in a large district extending even beyond Pampeluna.
The character of a house depended upon the person who ruled it.
She didn't know what impenitent wretches had been breathing within
these walls in the time of that godless and wicked man who had
planted every seed of perdition in "our Rita's" ill-disposed heart.
But he was dead and she, Therese, knew for certain that wickedness
perished utterly, because of God's anger (la colere du bon Dieu).
She would have no hesitation in receiving a bishop, if need be,
since "our, Rita," with her poor, wretched, unbelieving heart, had
nothing more to do with the house.

All this came out of her like an unctuous trickle of some acrid
oil.  The low, voluble delivery was enough by itself to compel my
attention.

"You think you know your sister's heart," I asked.

She made small eyes at me to discover if I was angry.  She seemed
to have an invincible faith in the virtuous dispositions of young
men.  And as I had spoken in measured tones and hadn't got red in
the face she let herself go.

"Black, my dear young Monsieur.  Black.  I always knew it.  Uncle,
poor saintly man, was too holy to take notice of anything.  He was
too busy with his thoughts to listen to anything I had to say to
him.  For instance as to her shamelessness.  She was always ready
to run half naked about the hills. . . "

"Yes.  After your goats.  All day long.  Why didn't you mend her
frocks?"

"Oh, you know about the goats.  My dear young Monsieur, I could
never tell when she would fling over her pretended sweetness and
put her tongue out at me.  Did she tell you about a boy, the son of
pious and rich parents, whom she tried to lead astray into the
wildness of thoughts like her own, till the poor dear child drove
her off because she outraged his modesty?  I saw him often with his
parents at Sunday mass.  The grace of God preserved him and made
him quite a gentleman in Paris.  Perhaps it will touch Rita's
heart, too, some day.  But she was awful then.  When I wouldn't
listen to her complaints she would say:  'All right, sister, I
would just as soon go clothed in rain and wind.'  And such a bag of
bones, too, like the picture of a devil's imp.  Ah, my dear young
Monsieur, you don't know how wicked her heart is.  You aren't bad
enough for that yourself.  I don't believe you are evil at all in
your innocent little heart.  I never heard you jeer at holy things.
You are only thoughtless.  For instance, I have never seen you make
the sign of the cross in the morning.  Why don't you make a
practice of crossing yourself directly you open your eyes.  It's a
very good thing.  It keeps Satan off for the day."

She proffered that advice in a most matter-of-fact tone as if it
were a precaution against a cold, compressed her lips, then
returning to her fixed idea, "But the house is mine," she insisted
very quietly with an accent which made me feel that Satan himself
would never manage to tear it out of her hands.

"And so I told the great lady in grey.  I told her that my sister
had given it to me and that surely God would not let her take it
away again."

"You told that grey-headed lady, an utter stranger!  You are
getting more crazy every day.  You have neither good sense nor good
feeling, Mademoiselle Therese, let me tell you.  Do you talk about
your sister to the butcher and the greengrocer, too?  A downright
savage would have more restraint.  What's your object?  What do you
expect from it?  What pleasure do you get from it?  Do you think
you please God by abusing your sister?  What do you think you are?"

"A poor lone girl amongst a lot of wicked people.  Do you think I
wanted to go forth amongst those abominations? it's that poor
sinful Rita that wouldn't let me be where I was, serving a holy
man, next door to a church, and sure of my share of Paradise.  I
simply obeyed my uncle.  It's he who told me to go forth and
attempt to save her soul, bring her back to us, to a virtuous life.
But what would be the good of that?  She is given over to worldly,
carnal thoughts.  Of course we are a good family and my uncle is a
great man in the country, but where is the reputable farmer or God-
fearing man of that kind that would dare to bring such a girl into
his house to his mother and sisters.  No, let her give her ill-
gotten wealth up to the deserving and devote the rest of her life
to repentance."

She uttered these righteous reflections and presented this
programme for the salvation of her sister's soul in a reasonable
convinced tone which was enough to give goose flesh to one all
over.

"Mademoiselle Therese," I said, "you are nothing less than a
monster."

She received that true expression of my opinion as though I had
given her a sweet of a particularly delicious kind.  She liked to
be abused.  It pleased her to be called names.  I did let her have
that satisfaction to her heart's content.  At last I stopped
because I could do no more, unless I got out of bed to beat her.  I
have a vague notion that she would have liked that, too, but I
didn't try.  After I had stopped she waited a little before she
raised her downcast eyes.

"You are a dear, ignorant, flighty young gentleman," she said.
"Nobody can tell what a cross my sister is to me except the good
priest in the church where I go every day."

"And the mysterious lady in grey," I suggested sarcastically.

"Such a person might have guessed it," answered Therese, seriously,
"but I told her nothing except that this house had been given me in
full property by our Rita.  And I wouldn't have done that if she
hadn't spoken to me of my sister first.  I can't tell too many
people about that.  One can't trust Rita.  I know she doesn't fear
God but perhaps human respect may keep her from taking this house
back from me.  If she doesn't want me to talk about her to people
why doesn't she give me a properly stamped piece of paper for it?"

She said all this rapidly in one breath and at the end had a sort
of anxious gasp which gave me the opportunity to voice my surprise.
It was immense.

"That lady, the strange lady, spoke to you of your sister first!" I
cried.

"The lady asked me, after she had been in a little time, whether
really this house belonged to Madame de Lastaola.  She had been so
sweet and kind and condescending that I did not mind humiliating my
spirit before such a good Christian.  I told her that I didn't know
how the poor sinner in her mad blindness called herself, but that
this house had been given to me truly enough by my sister.  She
raised her eyebrows at that but she looked at me at the same time
so kindly, as much as to say, 'Don't trust much to that, my dear
girl,' that I couldn't help taking up her hand, soft as down, and
kissing it.  She took it away pretty quick but she was not
offended.  But she only said, 'That's very generous on your
sister's part,' in a way that made me run cold all over.  I suppose
all the world knows our Rita for a shameless girl.  It was then
that the lady took up those glasses on a long gold handle and
looked at me through them till I felt very much abashed.  She said
to me, 'There is nothing to be unhappy about.  Madame de Lastaola
is a very remarkable person who has done many surprising things.
She is not to be judged like other people and as far as I know she
has never wronged a single human being. . . .'  That put heart into
me, I can tell you; and the lady told me then not to disturb her
son.  She would wait till he woke up.  She knew he was a bad
sleeper.  I said to her:  'Why, I can hear the dear sweet gentleman
this moment having his bath in the fencing-room,' and I took her
into the studio.  They are there now and they are going to have
their lunch together at twelve o'clock."

"Why on earth didn't you tell me at first that the lady was Mrs.
Blunt?"

"Didn't I?  I thought I did," she said innocently.  I felt a sudden
desire to get out of that house, to fly from the reinforced Blunt
element which was to me so oppressive.

"I want to get up and dress, Mademoiselle Therese," I said.

She gave a slight start and without looking at me again glided out
of the room, the many folds of her brown skirt remaining
undisturbed as she moved.

I looked at my watch; it was ten o'clock.  Therese had been late
with my coffee.  The delay was clearly caused by the unexpected
arrival of Mr. Blunt's mother, which might or might not have been
expected by her son.  The existence of those Blunts made me feel
uncomfortable in a peculiar way as though they had been the
denizens of another planet with a subtly different point of view
and something in the intelligence which was bound to remain unknown
to me.  It caused in me a feeling of inferiority which I intensely
disliked.  This did not arise from the actual fact that those
people originated in another continent.  I had met Americans
before.  And the Blunts were Americans.  But so little!  That was
the trouble.  Captain Blunt might have been a Frenchman as far as
languages, tones, and manners went.  But you could not have
mistaken him for one. . . . Why?  You couldn't tell.  It was
something indefinite.  It occurred to me while I was towelling hard
my hair, face, and the back of my neck, that I could not meet J. K.
Blunt on equal terms in any relation of life except perhaps arms in
hand, and in preference with pistols, which are less intimate,
acting at a distance--but arms of some sort.  For physically his
life, which could be taken away from him, was exactly like mine,
held on the same terms and of the same vanishing quality.

I would have smiled at my absurdity if all, even the most intimate,
vestige of gaiety had not been crushed out of my heart by the
intolerable weight of my love for Rita.  It crushed, it
overshadowed, too, it was immense.  If there were any smiles in the
world (which I didn't believe) I could not have seen them.  Love
for Rita . . . if it was love, I asked myself despairingly, while I
brushed my hair before a glass.  It did not seem to have any sort
of beginning as far as I could remember.  A thing the origin of
which you cannot trace cannot be seriously considered.  It is an
illusion.  Or perhaps mine was a physical state, some sort of
disease akin to melancholia which is a form of insanity?  The only
moments of relief I could remember were when she and I would start
squabbling like two passionate infants in a nursery, over anything
under heaven, over a phrase, a word sometimes, in the great light
of the glass rotunda, disregarding the quiet entrances and exits of
the ever-active Rose, in great bursts of voices and peals of
laughter. . . .

I felt tears come into my eyes at the memory of her laughter, the
true memory of the senses almost more penetrating than the reality
itself.  It haunted me.  All that appertained to her haunted me
with the same awful intimacy, her whole form in the familiar pose,
her very substance in its colour and texture, her eyes, her lips,
the gleam of her teeth, the tawny mist of her hair, the smoothness
of her forehead, the faint scent that she used, the very shape,
feel, and warmth of her high-heeled slipper that would sometimes in
the heat of the discussion drop on the floor with a crash, and
which I would (always in the heat of the discussion) pick up and
toss back on the couch without ceasing to argue.  And besides being
haunted by what was Rita on earth I was haunted also by her
waywardness, her gentleness and her flame, by that which the high
gods called Rita when speaking of her amongst themselves.  Oh, yes,
certainly I was haunted by her but so was her sister Therese--who
was crazy.  It proved nothing.  As to her tears, since I had not
caused them, they only aroused my indignation.  To put her head on
my shoulder, to weep these strange tears, was nothing short of an
outrageous liberty.  It was a mere emotional trick.  She would have
just as soon leaned her head against the over-mantel of one of
those tall, red granite chimney-pieces in order to weep
comfortably.  And then when she had no longer any need of support
she dispensed with it by simply telling me to go away.  How
convenient!  The request had sounded pathetic, almost sacredly so,
but then it might have been the exhibition of the coolest possible
impudence.  With her one could not tell.  Sorrow, indifference,
tears, smiles, all with her seemed to have a hidden meaning.
Nothing could be trusted. . . Heavens!  Am I as crazy as Therese I
asked myself with a passing chill of fear, while occupied in
equalizing the ends of my neck-tie.

I felt suddenly that "this sort of thing" would kill me.  The
definition of the cause was vague, but the thought itself was no
mere morbid artificiality of sentiment but a genuine conviction.
"That sort of thing" was what I would have to die from.  It
wouldn't be from the innumerable doubts.  Any sort of certitude
would be also deadly.  It wouldn't be from a stab--a kiss would
kill me as surely.  It would not be from a frown or from any
particular word or any particular act--but from having to bear them
all, together and in succession--from having to live with "that
sort of thing."  About the time I finished with my neck-tie I had
done with life too.  I absolutely did not care because I couldn't
tell whether, mentally and physically, from the roots of my hair to
the soles of my feet--whether I was more weary or unhappy.

And now my toilet was finished, my occupation was gone.  An immense
distress descended upon me.  It has been observed that the routine
of daily life, that arbitrary system of trifles, is a great moral
support.  But my toilet was finished, I had nothing more to do of
those things consecrated by usage and which leave you no option.
The exercise of any kind of volition by a man whose consciousness
is reduced to the sensation that he is being killed by "that sort
of thing" cannot be anything but mere trifling with death, an
insincere pose before himself.  I wasn't capable of it.  It was
then that I discovered that being killed by "that sort of thing," I
mean the absolute conviction of it, was, so to speak, nothing in
itself.  The horrible part was the waiting.  That was the cruelty,
the tragedy, the bitterness of it.  "Why the devil don't I drop
dead now?" I asked myself peevishly, taking a clean handkerchief
out of the drawer and stuffing it in my pocket.

This was absolutely the last thing, the last ceremony of an
imperative rite.  I was abandoned to myself now and it was
terrible.  Generally I used to go out, walk down to the port, take
a look at the craft I loved with a sentiment that was extremely
complex, being mixed up with the image of a woman; perhaps go on
board, not because there was anything for me to do there but just
for nothing, for happiness, simply as a man will sit contented in
the companionship of the beloved object.  For lunch I had the
choice of two places, one Bohemian, the other select, even
aristocratic, where I had still my reserved table in the petit
salon, up the white staircase.  In both places I had friends who
treated my erratic appearances with discretion, in one case tinged
with respect, in the other with a certain amused tolerance.  I owed
this tolerance to the most careless, the most confirmed of those
Bohemians (his beard had streaks of grey amongst its many other
tints) who, once bringing his heavy hand down on my shoulder, took
my defence against the charge of being disloyal and even foreign to
that milieu of earnest visions taking beautiful and revolutionary
shapes in the smoke of pipes, in the jingle of glasses.

"That fellow (ce garcon) is a primitive nature, but he may be an
artist in a sense.  He has broken away from his conventions.  He is
trying to put a special vibration and his own notion of colour into
his life; and perhaps even to give it a modelling according to his
own ideas.  And for all you know he may be on the track of a
masterpiece; but observe:  if it happens to be one nobody will see
it.  It can be only for himself.  And even he won't be able to see
it in its completeness except on his death-bed.  There is something
fine in that."

I had blushed with pleasure; such fine ideas had never entered my
head.  But there was something fine. . . . How far all this seemed!
How mute and how still!  What a phantom he was, that man with a
beard of at least seven tones of brown.  And those shades of the
other kind such as Baptiste with the shaven diplomatic face, the
maitre d'hotel in charge of the petit salon, taking my hat and
stick from me with a deferential remark:  "Monsieur is not very
often seen nowadays."  And those other well-groomed heads raised
and nodding at my passage--"Bonjour."  "Bonjour"--following me with
interested eyes; these young X.s and Z.s, low-toned, markedly
discreet, lounging up to my table on their way out with murmurs:
"Are you well?"--"Will one see you anywhere this evening?"--not
from curiosity, God forbid, but just from friendliness; and passing
on almost without waiting for an answer.  What had I to do with
them, this elegant dust, these moulds of provincial fashion?

I also often lunched with Dona Rita without invitation.  But that
was now unthinkable.  What had I to do with a woman who allowed
somebody else to make her cry and then with an amazing lack of good
feeling did her offensive weeping on my shoulder?  Obviously I
could have nothing to do with her.  My five minutes' meditation in
the middle of the bedroom came to an end without even a sigh.  The
dead don't sigh, and for all practical purposes I was that, except
for the final consummation, the growing cold, the rigor mortis--
that blessed state!  With measured steps I crossed the landing to
my sitting-room.



CHAPTER II



The windows of that room gave out on the street of the Consuls
which as usual was silent.  And the house itself below me and above
me was soundless, perfectly still.  In general the house was quiet,
dumbly quiet, without resonances of any sort, something like what
one would imagine the interior of a convent would be.  I suppose it
was very solidly built.  Yet that morning I missed in the stillness
that feeling of security and peace which ought to have been
associated with it.  It is, I believe, generally admitted that the
dead are glad to be at rest.  But I wasn't at rest.  What was wrong
with that silence?  There was something incongruous in that peace.
What was it that had got into that stillness?  Suddenly I
remembered:  the mother of Captain Blunt.

Why had she come all the way from Paris?  And why should I bother
my head about it?  H'm--the Blunt atmosphere, the reinforced Blunt
vibration stealing through the walls, through the thick walls and
the almost more solid stillness.  Nothing to me, of course--the
movements of Mme. Blunt, mere.  It was maternal affection which had
brought her south by either the evening or morning Rapide, to take
anxious stock of the ravages of that insomnia.  Very good thing,
insomnia, for a cavalry officer perpetually on outpost duty, a real
godsend, so to speak; but on leave a truly devilish condition to be
in.

The above sequence of thoughts was entirely unsympathetic and it
was followed by a feeling of satisfaction that I, at any rate, was
not suffering from insomnia.  I could always sleep in the end.  In
the end.  Escape into a nightmare.  Wouldn't he revel in that if he
could!  But that wasn't for him.  He had to toss about open-eyed
all night and get up weary, weary.  But oh, wasn't I weary, too,
waiting for a sleep without dreams.

I heard the door behind me open.  I had been standing with my face
to the window and, I declare, not knowing what I was looking at
across the road--the Desert of Sahara or a wall of bricks, a
landscape of rivers and forests or only the Consulate of Paraguay.
But I had been thinking, apparently, of Mr. Blunt with such
intensity that when I saw him enter the room it didn't really make
much difference.  When I turned about the door behind him was
already shut.  He advanced towards me, correct, supple, hollow-
eyed, and smiling; and as to his costume ready to go out except for
the old shooting jacket which he must have affectioned
particularly, for he never lost any time in getting into it at
every opportunity.  Its material was some tweed mixture; it had
gone inconceivably shabby, it was shrunk from old age, it was
ragged at the elbows; but any one could see at a glance that it had
been made in London by a celebrated tailor, by a distinguished
specialist.  Blunt came towards me in all the elegance of his
slimness and affirming in every line of his face and body, in the
correct set of his shoulders and the careless freedom of his
movements, the superiority, the inexpressible superiority, the
unconscious, the unmarked, the not-to-be-described, and even not-
to-be-caught, superiority of the naturally born and the perfectly
finished man of the world, over the simple young man.  He was
smiling, easy, correct, perfectly delightful, fit to kill

He had come to ask me, if I had no other engagement, to lunch with
him and his mother in about an hour's time.  He did it in a most
degage tone.  His mother had given him a surprise.  The completest
. . . The foundation of his mother's psychology was her delightful
unexpectedness.  She could never let things be (this in a peculiar
tone which he checked at once) and he really would take it very
kindly of me if I came to break the tete-a-tete for a while (that
is if I had no other engagement.  Flash of teeth).  His mother was
exquisitely and tenderly absurd.  She had taken it into her head
that his health was endangered in some way.  And when she took
anything into her head . . . Perhaps I might find something to say
which would reassure her.  His mother had two long conversations
with Mills on his passage through Paris and had heard of me (I knew
how that thick man could speak of people, he interjected
ambiguously) and his mother, with an insatiable curiosity for
anything that was rare (filially humorous accent here and a softer
flash of teeth), was very anxious to have me presented to her
(courteous intonation, but no teeth).  He hoped I wouldn't mind if
she treated me a little as an "interesting young man."  His mother
had never got over her seventeenth year, and the manner of the
spoilt beauty of at least three counties at the back of the
Carolinas.  That again got overlaid by the sans-facon of a grande
dame of the Second Empire.

I accepted the invitation with a worldly grin and a perfectly just
intonation, because I really didn't care what I did.  I only
wondered vaguely why that fellow required all the air in the room
for himself.  There did not seem enough left to go down my throat.
I didn't say that I would come with pleasure or that I would be
delighted, but I said that I would come.  He seemed to forget his
tongue in his head, put his hands in his pockets and moved about
vaguely.  "I am a little nervous this morning," he said in French,
stopping short and looking me straight in the eyes.  His own were
deep sunk, dark, fatal.  I asked with some malice, that no one
could have detected in my intonation, "How's that sleeplessness?"

He muttered through his teeth, "Mal.  Je ne dors plus."  He moved
off to stand at the window with his back to the room.  I sat down
on a sofa that was there and put my feet up, and silence took
possession of the room.

"Isn't this street ridiculous?" said Blunt suddenly, and crossing
the room rapidly waved his hand to me, "A bientot donc," and was
gone.  He had seared himself into my mind.  I did not understand
him nor his mother then; which made them more impressive; but I
have discovered since that those two figures required no mystery to
make them memorable.  Of course it isn't every day that one meets a
mother that lives by her wits and a son that lives by his sword,
but there was a perfect finish about their ambiguous personalities
which is not to be met twice in a life-time.  I shall never forget
that grey dress with ample skirts and long corsage yet with
infinite style, the ancient as if ghostly beauty of outlines, the
black lace, the silver hair, the harmonious, restrained movements
of those white, soft hands like the hands of a queen--or an abbess;
and in the general fresh effect of her person the brilliant eyes
like two stars with the calm reposeful way they had of moving on
and off one, as if nothing in the world had the right to veil
itself before their once sovereign beauty.  Captain Blunt with
smiling formality introduced me by name, adding with a certain
relaxation of the formal tone the comment:  "The Monsieur George!
whose fame you tell me has reached even Paris."  Mrs. Blunt's
reception of me, glance, tones, even to the attitude of the
admirably corseted figure, was most friendly, approaching the limit
of half-familiarity.  I had the feeling that I was beholding in her
a captured ideal.  No common experience!  But I didn't care.  It
was very lucky perhaps for me that in a way I was like a very sick
man who has yet preserved all his lucidity.  I was not even
wondering to myself at what on earth I was doing there.  She
breathed out:  "Comme c'est romantique," at large to the dusty
studio as it were; then pointing to a chair at her right hand, and
bending slightly towards me she said:

"I have heard this name murmured by pretty lips in more than one
royalist salon."

I didn't say anything to that ingratiating speech.  I had only an
odd thought that she could not have had such a figure, nothing like
it, when she was seventeen and wore snowy muslin dresses on the
family plantation in South Carolina, in pre-abolition days.

"You won't mind, I am sure, if an old woman whose heart is still
young elects to call you by it," she declared.

"Certainly, Madame.  It will be more romantic," I assented with a
respectful bow.

She dropped a calm:  "Yes--there is nothing like romance while one
is young.  So I will call you Monsieur George," she paused and then
added, "I could never get old," in a matter-of-fact final tone as
one would remark, "I could never learn to swim," and I had the
presence of mind to say in a tone to match, "C'est evident,
Madame."  It was evident.  She couldn't get old; and across the
table her thirty-year-old son who couldn't get sleep sat listening
with courteous detachment and the narrowest possible line of white
underlining his silky black moustache.

"Your services are immensely appreciated," she said with an amusing
touch of importance as of a great official lady.  "Immensely
appreciated by people in a position to understand the great
significance of the Carlist movement in the South.  There it has to
combat anarchism, too.  I who have lived through the Commune . . ."

Therese came in with a dish, and for the rest of the lunch the
conversation so well begun drifted amongst the most appalling
inanities of the religious-royalist-legitimist order.  The ears of
all the Bourbons in the world must have been burning.  Mrs. Blunt
seemed to have come into personal contact with a good many of them
and the marvellous insipidity of her recollections was astonishing
to my inexperience.  I looked at her from time to time thinking:
She has seen slavery, she has seen the Commune, she knows two
continents, she has seen a civil war, the glory of the Second
Empire, the horrors of two sieges; she has been in contact with
marked personalities, with great events, she has lived on her
wealth, on her personality, and there she is with her plumage
unruffled, as glossy as ever, unable to get old:--a sort of Phoenix
free from the slightest signs of ashes and dust, all complacent
amongst those inanities as if there had been nothing else in the
world.  In my youthful haste I asked myself what sort of airy soul
she had.

At last Therese put a dish of fruit on the table, a small
collection of oranges, raisins, and nuts.  No doubt she had bought
that lot very cheap and it did not look at all inviting.  Captain
Blunt jumped up.  "My mother can't stand tobacco smoke.  Will you
keep her company, mon cher, while I take a turn with a cigar in
that ridiculous garden.  The brougham from the hotel will be here
very soon."

He left us in the white flash of an apologetic grin.  Almost
directly he reappeared, visible from head to foot through the glass
side of the studio, pacing up and down the central path of that
"ridiculous" garden:  for its elegance and its air of good breeding
the most remarkable figure that I have ever seen before or since.
He had changed his coat.  Madame Blunt mere lowered the long-
handled glasses through which she had been contemplating him with
an appraising, absorbed expression which had nothing maternal in
it.  But what she said to me was:

"You understand my anxieties while he is campaigning with the
King."

She had spoken in French and she had used the expression "mes
transes" but for all the rest, intonation, bearing, solemnity, she
might have been referring to one of the Bourbons.  I am sure that
not a single one of them looked half as aristocratic as her son.

"I understand perfectly, Madame.  But then that life is so
romantic."

"Hundreds of young men belonging to a certain sphere are doing
that," she said very distinctly, "only their case is different.
They have their positions, their families to go back to; but we are
different.  We are exiles, except of course for the ideals, the
kindred spirit, the friendships of old standing we have in France.
Should my son come out unscathed he has no one but me and I have no
one but him.  I have to think of his life.  Mr. Mills (what a
distinguished mind that is!) has reassured me as to my son's
health.  But he sleeps very badly, doesn't he?"

I murmured something affirmative in a doubtful tone and she
remarked quaintly, with a certain curtness, "It's so unnecessary,
this worry!  The unfortunate position of an exile has its
advantages.  At a certain height of social position (wealth has got
nothing to do with it, we have been ruined in a most righteous
cause), at a certain established height one can disregard narrow
prejudices.  You see examples in the aristocracies of all the
countries.  A chivalrous young American may offer his life for a
remote ideal which yet may belong to his familial tradition.  We,
in our great country, have every sort of tradition.  But a young
man of good connections and distinguished relations must settle
down some day, dispose of his life."

"No doubt, Madame," I said, raising my eyes to the figure outside--
"Americain, Catholique et gentilhomme"--walking up and down the
path with a cigar which he was not smoking.  "For myself, I don't
know anything about those necessities.  I have broken away for ever
from those things."

"Yes, Mr. Mills talked to me about you.  What a golden heart that
is.  His sympathies are infinite."

I thought suddenly of Mills pronouncing on Mme. Blunt, whatever his
text on me might have been:  "She lives by her wits."  Was she
exercising her wits on me for some purpose of her own?  And I
observed coldly:

"I really know your son so very little."

"Oh, voyons," she protested.  "I am aware that you are very much
younger, but the similitudes of opinions, origins and perhaps at
bottom, faintly, of character, of chivalrous devotion--no, you must
be able to understand him in a measure.  He is infinitely
scrupulous and recklessly brave."

I listened deferentially to the end yet with every nerve in my body
tingling in hostile response to the Blunt vibration, which seemed
to have got into my very hair.

"I am convinced of it, Madame.  I have even heard of your son's
bravery.  It's extremely natural in a man who, in his own words,
'lives by his sword.'"

She suddenly departed from her almost inhuman perfection, betrayed
"nerves" like a common mortal, of course very slightly, but in her
it meant more than a blaze of fury from a vessel of inferior clay.
Her admirable little foot, marvellously shod in a black shoe,
tapped the floor irritably.  But even in that display there was
something exquisitely delicate.  The very anger in her voice was
silvery, as it were, and more like the petulance of a seventeen-
year-old beauty.

"What nonsense!  A Blunt doesn't hire himself."

"Some princely families," I said, "were founded by men who have
done that very thing.  The great Condottieri, you know."

It was in an almost tempestuous tone that she made me observe that
we were not living in the fifteenth century.  She gave me also to
understand with some spirit that there was no question here of
founding a family.  Her son was very far from being the first of
the name.  His importance lay rather in being the last of a race
which had totally perished, she added in a completely drawing-room
tone, "in our Civil War."

She had mastered her irritation and through the glass side of the
room sent a wistful smile to his address, but I noticed the yet
unextinguished anger in her eyes full of fire under her beautiful
white eyebrows.  For she was growing old!  Oh, yes, she was growing
old, and secretly weary, and perhaps desperate.



CHAPTER III



Without caring much about it I was conscious of sudden
illumination.  I said to myself confidently that these two people
had been quarrelling all the morning.  I had discovered the secret
of my invitation to that lunch.  They did not care to face the
strain of some obstinate, inconclusive discussion for fear, maybe,
of it ending in a serious quarrel.  And so they had agreed that I
should be fetched downstairs to create a diversion.  I cannot say I
felt annoyed.  I didn't care.  My perspicacity did not please me
either.  I wished they had left me alone--but nothing mattered.
They must have been in their superiority accustomed to make use of
people, without compunction.  From necessity, too.  She especially.
She lived by her wits.  The silence had grown so marked that I had
at last to raise my eyes; and the first thing I observed was that
Captain Blunt was no longer to be seen in the garden.  Must have
gone indoors.  Would rejoin us in a moment.  Then I would leave
mother and son to themselves.

The next thing I noticed was that a great mellowness had descended
upon the mother of the last of his race.  But these terms,
irritation, mellowness, appeared gross when applied to her.  It is
impossible to give an idea of the refinement and subtlety of all
her transformations.  She smiled faintly at me.

"But all this is beside the point.  The real point is that my son,
like all fine natures, is a being of strange contradictions which
the trials of life have not yet reconciled in him.  With me it is a
little different.  The trials fell mainly to my share--and of
course I have lived longer.  And then men are much more complex
than women, much more difficult, too.  And you, Monsieur George?
Are you complex, with unexpected resistances and difficulties in
your etre intime--your inner self?  I wonder now . . ."

The Blunt atmosphere seemed to vibrate all over my skin.  I
disregarded the symptom.  "Madame," I said, "I have never tried to
find out what sort of being I am."

"Ah, that's very wrong.  We ought to reflect on what manner of
beings we are.  Of course we are all sinners.  My John is a sinner
like the others," she declared further, with a sort of proud
tenderness as though our common lot must have felt honoured and to
a certain extent purified by this condescending recognition.

"You are too young perhaps as yet . . . But as to my John," she
broke off, leaning her elbow on the table and supporting her head
on her old, impeccably shaped, white fore-arm emerging from a lot
of precious, still older, lace trimming the short sleeve.  "The
trouble is that he suffers from a profound discord between the
necessary reactions to life and even the impulses of nature and the
lofty idealism of his feelings; I may say, of his principles.  I
assure you that he won't even let his heart speak uncontradicted."

I am sure I don't know what particular devil looks after the
associations of memory, and I can't even imagine the shock which it
would have been for Mrs. Blunt to learn that the words issuing from
her lips had awakened in me the visual perception of a dark-
skinned, hard-driven lady's maid with tarnished eyes; even of the
tireless Rose handing me my hat while breathing out the enigmatic
words:  "Madame should listen to her heart."  A wave from the
atmosphere of another house rolled in, overwhelming and fiery,
seductive and cruel, through the Blunt vibration, bursting through
it as through tissue paper and filling my heart with sweet murmurs
and distracting images, till it seemed to break, leaving an empty
stillness in my breast.

After that for a long time I heard Mme. Blunt mere talking with
extreme fluency and I even caught the individual words, but I could
not in the revulsion of my feelings get hold of the sense.  She
talked apparently of life in general, of its difficulties, moral
and physical, of its surprising turns, of its unexpected contacts,
of the choice and rare personalities that drift on it as if on the
sea; of the distinction that letters and art gave to it, the
nobility and consolations there are in aesthetics, of the
privileges they confer on individuals and (this was the first
connected statement I caught) that Mills agreed with her in the
general point of view as to the inner worth of individualities and
in the particular instance of it on which she had opened to him her
innermost heart.  Mills had a universal mind.  His sympathy was
universal, too.  He had that large comprehension--oh, not cynical,
not at all cynical, in fact rather tender--which was found in its
perfection only in some rare, very rare Englishmen.  The dear
creature was romantic, too.  Of course he was reserved in his
speech but she understood Mills perfectly.  Mills apparently liked
me very much.

It was time for me to say something.  There was a challenge in the
reposeful black eyes resting upon my face.  I murmured that I was
very glad to hear it.  She waited a little, then uttered meaningly,
"Mr. Mills is a little bit uneasy about you."

"It's very good of him," I said.  And indeed I thought that it was
very good of him, though I did ask myself vaguely in my dulled
brain why he should be uneasy.

Somehow it didn't occur to me to ask Mrs. Blunt.  Whether she had
expected me to do so or not I don't know but after a while she
changed the pose she had kept so long and folded her wonderfully
preserved white arms.  She looked a perfect picture in silver and
grey, with touches of black here and there.  Still I said nothing
more in my dull misery.  She waited a little longer, then she woke
me up with a crash.  It was as if the house had fallen, and yet she
had only asked me:

"I believe you are received on very friendly terms by Madame de
Lastaola on account of your common exertions for the cause.  Very
good friends, are you not?"

"You mean Rita," I said stupidly, but I felt stupid, like a man who
wakes up only to be hit on the head.

"Oh, Rita," she repeated with unexpected acidity, which somehow
made me feel guilty of an incredible breach of good manners.  "H'm,
Rita. . . . Oh, well, let it be Rita--for the present.  Though why
she should be deprived of her name in conversation about her,
really I don't understand.  Unless a very special intimacy . . ."

She was distinctly annoyed.  I said sulkily, "It isn't her name."

"It is her choice, I understand, which seems almost a better title
to recognition on the part of the world.  It didn't strike you so
before?  Well, it seems to me that choice has got more right to be
respected than heredity or law.  Moreover, Mme. de Lastaola," she
continued in an insinuating voice, "that most rare and fascinating
young woman is, as a friend like you cannot deny, outside legality
altogether.  Even in that she is an exceptional creature.  For she
is exceptional--you agree?"

I had gone dumb, I could only stare at her.

"Oh, I see, you agree.  No friend of hers could deny."

"Madame," I burst out, "I don't know where a question of friendship
comes in here with a person whom you yourself call so exceptional.
I really don't know how she looks upon me.  Our intercourse is of
course very close and confidential.  Is that also talked about in
Paris?"

"Not at all, not in the least," said Mrs. Blunt, easy, equable, but
with her calm, sparkling eyes holding me in angry subjection.
"Nothing of the sort is being talked about.  The references to Mme.
de Lastaola are in a very different tone, I can assure you, thanks
to her discretion in remaining here.  And, I must say, thanks to
the discreet efforts of her friends.  I am also a friend of Mme. de
Lastaola, you must know.  Oh, no, I have never spoken to her in my
life and have seen her only twice, I believe.  I wrote to her
though, that I admit.  She or rather the image of her has come into
my life, into that part of it where art and letters reign
undisputed like a sort of religion of beauty to which I have been
faithful through all the vicissitudes of my existence.  Yes, I did
write to her and I have been preoccupied with her for a long time.
It arose from a picture, from two pictures and also from a phrase
pronounced by a man, who in the science of life and in the
perception of aesthetic truth had no equal in the world of culture.
He said that there was something in her of the women of all time.
I suppose he meant the inheritance of all the gifts that make up an
irresistible fascination--a great personality.  Such women are not
born often.  Most of them lack opportunities.  They never develop.
They end obscurely.  Here and there one survives to make her mark
even in history. . . . And even that is not a very enviable fate.
They are at another pole from the so-called dangerous women who are
merely coquettes.  A coquette has got to work for her success.  The
others have nothing to do but simply exist.  You perceive the view
I take of the difference?"

I perceived the view.  I said to myself that nothing in the world
could be more aristocratic.  This was the slave-owning woman who
had never worked, even if she had been reduced to live by her wits.
She was a wonderful old woman.  She made me dumb.  She held me
fascinated by the well-bred attitude, something sublimely aloof in
her air of wisdom.

I just simply let myself go admiring her as though I had been a
mere slave of aesthetics:  the perfect grace, the amazing poise of
that venerable head, the assured as if royal--yes, royal even flow
of the voice. . . . But what was it she was talking about now?
These were no longer considerations about fatal women.  She was
talking about her son again.  My interest turned into mere
bitterness of contemptuous attention.  For I couldn't withhold it
though I tried to let the stuff go by.  Educated in the most
aristocratic college in Paris . . . at eighteen . . . call of duty
. . . with General Lee to the very last cruel minute . . . after
that catastrophe end of the world--return to France--to old
friendships, infinite kindness--but a life hollow, without
occupation. . . Then 1870--and chivalrous response to adopted
country's call and again emptiness, the chafing of a proud spirit
without aim and handicapped not exactly by poverty but by lack of
fortune.  And she, the mother, having to look on at this wasting of
a most accomplished man, of a most chivalrous nature that
practically had no future before it.

"You understand me well, Monsieur George.  A nature like this!  It
is the most refined cruelty of fate to look at.  I don't know
whether I suffered more in times of war or in times of peace.  You
understand?"

I bowed my head in silence.  What I couldn't understand was why he
delayed so long in joining us again.  Unless he had had enough of
his mother?  I thought without any great resentment that I was
being victimized; but then it occurred to me that the cause of his
absence was quite simple.  I was familiar enough with his habits by
this time to know that he often managed to snatch an hour's sleep
or so during the day.  He had gone and thrown himself on his bed.

"I admire him exceedingly," Mrs. Blunt was saying in a tone which
was not at all maternal.  "His distinction, his fastidiousness, the
earnest warmth of his heart.  I know him well.  I assure you that I
would never have dared to suggest," she continued with an
extraordinary haughtiness of attitude and tone that aroused my
attention, "I would never have dared to put before him my views of
the extraordinary merits and the uncertain fate of the exquisite
woman of whom we speak, if I had not been certain that, partly by
my fault, I admit, his attention has been attracted to her and his-
-his--his heart engaged."

It was as if some one had poured a bucket of cold water over my
head.  I woke up with a great shudder to the acute perception of my
own feelings and of that aristocrat's incredible purpose.  How it
could have germinated, grown and matured in that exclusive soil was
inconceivable.  She had been inciting her son all the time to
undertake wonderful salvage work by annexing the heiress of Henry
Allegre--the woman and the fortune.

There must have been an amazed incredulity in my eyes, to which her
own responded by an unflinching black brilliance which suddenly
seemed to develop a scorching quality even to the point of making
me feel extremely thirsty all of a sudden.  For a time my tongue
literally clove to the roof of my mouth.  I don't know whether it
was an illusion but it seemed to me that Mrs. Blunt had nodded at
me twice as if to say:  "You are right, that's so."  I made an
effort to speak but it was very poor.  If she did hear me it was
because she must have been on the watch for the faintest sound.

"His heart engaged.  Like two hundred others, or two thousand, all
around," I mumbled.

"Altogether different.  And it's no disparagement to a woman
surely.  Of course her great fortune protects her in a certain
measure."

"Does it?" I faltered out and that time I really doubt whether she
heard me.  Her aspect in my eyes had changed.  Her purpose being
disclosed, her well-bred ease appeared sinister, her aristocratic
repose a treacherous device, her venerable graciousness a mask of
unbounded contempt for all human beings whatever.  She was a
terrible old woman with those straight, white wolfish eye-brows.
How blind I had been!  Those eyebrows alone ought to have been
enough to give her away.  Yet they were as beautifully smooth as
her voice when she admitted:  "That protection naturally is only
partial.  There is the danger of her own self, poor girl.  She
requires guidance."

I marvelled at the villainy of my tone as I spoke, but it was only
assumed.

"I don't think she has done badly for herself, so far," I forced
myself to say.  "I suppose you know that she began life by herding
the village goats."

In the course of that phrase I noticed her wince just the least
bit.  Oh, yes, she winced; but at the end of it she smiled easily.

"No, I didn't know.  So she told you her story!  Oh, well, I
suppose you are very good friends.  A goatherd--really?  In the
fairy tale I believe the girl that marries the prince is--what is
it?--a gardeuse d'oies.  And what a thing to drag out against a
woman.  One might just as soon reproach any of them for coming
unclothed into the world.  They all do, you know.  And then they
become--what you will discover when you have lived longer, Monsieur
George--for the most part futile creatures, without any sense of
truth and beauty, drudges of all sorts, or else dolls to dress.  In
a word--ordinary."

The implication of scorn in her tranquil manner was immense.  It
seemed to condemn all those that were not born in the Blunt
connection.  It was the perfect pride of Republican aristocracy,
which has no gradations and knows no limit, and, as if created by
the grace of God, thinks it ennobles everything it touches:
people, ideas, even passing tastes!

"How many of them," pursued Mrs. Blunt, "have had the good fortune,
the leisure to develop their intelligence and their beauty in
aesthetic conditions as this charming woman had?  Not one in a
million.  Perhaps not one in an age."

"The heiress of Henry Allegre," I murmured.

"Precisely.  But John wouldn't be marrying the heiress of Henry
Allegre."

It was the first time that the frank word, the clear idea, came
into the conversation and it made me feel ill with a sort of
enraged faintness.

"No," I said.  "It would be Mme. de Lastaola then."

"Mme. la Comtesse de Lastaola as soon as she likes after the
success of this war."

"And you believe in its success?"

"Do you?"

"Not for a moment," I declared, and was surprised to see her look
pleased.

She was an aristocrat to the tips of her fingers; she really didn't
care for anybody.  She had passed through the Empire, she had lived
through a siege, had rubbed shoulders with the Commune, had seen
everything, no doubt, of what men are capable in the pursuit of
their desires or in the extremity of their distress, for love, for
money, and even for honour; and in her precarious connection with
the very highest spheres she had kept her own honourability
unscathed while she had lost all her prejudices.  She was above all
that.  Perhaps "the world" was the only thing that could have the
slightest checking influence; but when I ventured to say something
about the view it might take of such an alliance she looked at me
for a moment with visible surprise.

"My dear Monsieur George, I have lived in the great world all my
life.  It's the best that there is, but that's only because there
is nothing merely decent anywhere.  It will accept anything,
forgive anything, forget anything in a few days.  And after all who
will he be marrying?  A charming, clever, rich and altogether
uncommon woman.  What did the world hear of her?  Nothing.  The
little it saw of her was in the Bois for a few hours every year,
riding by the side of a man of unique distinction and of exclusive
tastes, devoted to the cult of aesthetic impressions; a man of
whom, as far as aspect, manner, and behaviour goes, she might have
been the daughter.  I have seen her myself.  I went on purpose.  I
was immensely struck.  I was even moved.  Yes.  She might have
been--except for that something radiant in her that marked her
apart from all the other daughters of men.  The few remarkable
personalities that count in society and who were admitted into
Henry Allegre's Pavilion treated her with punctilious reserve.  I
know that, I have made enquiries.  I know she sat there amongst
them like a marvellous child, and for the rest what can they say
about her?  That when abandoned to herself by the death of Allegre
she has made a mistake?  I think that any woman ought to be allowed
one mistake in her life.  The worst they can say of her is that she
discovered it, that she had sent away a man in love directly she
found out that his love was not worth having; that she had told him
to go and look for his crown, and that, after dismissing him she
had remained generously faithful to his cause, in her person and
fortune.  And this, you will allow, is rather uncommon upon the
whole."

"You make her out very magnificent,"  I murmured, looking down upon
the floor.

"Isn't she?" exclaimed the aristocratic Mrs. Blunt, with an almost
youthful ingenuousness, and in those black eyes which looked at me
so calmly there was a flash of the Southern beauty, still naive and
romantic, as if altogether untouched by experience.  "I don't think
there is a single grain of vulgarity in all her enchanting person.
Neither is there in my son.  I suppose you won't deny that he is
uncommon."  She paused.

"Absolutely," I said in a perfectly conventional tone, I was now on
my mettle that she should not discover what there was humanly
common in my nature.  She took my answer at her own valuation and
was satisfied.

"They can't fail to understand each other on the very highest level
of idealistic perceptions.  Can you imagine my John thrown away on
some enamoured white goose out of a stuffy old salon?  Why, she
couldn't even begin to understand what he feels or what he needs."

"Yes," I said impenetrably, "he is not easy to understand."

"I have reason to think," she said with a suppressed smile, "that
he has a certain power over women.  Of course I don't know anything
about his intimate life but a whisper or two have reached me, like
that, floating in the air, and I could hardly suppose that he would
find an exceptional resistance in that quarter of all others.  But
I should like to know the exact degree."

I disregarded an annoying tendency to feel dizzy that came over me
and was very careful in managing my voice.

"May I ask, Madame, why you are telling me all this?"

"For two reasons," she condescended graciously.  "First of all
because Mr. Mills told me that you were much more mature than one
would expect.  In fact you look much younger than I was prepared
for."

"Madame," I interrupted her, "I may have a certain capacity for
action and for responsibility, but as to the regions into which
this very unexpected conversation has taken me I am a great novice.
They are outside my interest.  I have had no experience."

"Don't make yourself out so hopeless," she said in a spoilt-beauty
tone.  "You have your intuitions.  At any rate you have a pair of
eyes.  You are everlastingly over there, so I understand.  Surely
you have seen how far they are . . ."

I interrupted again and this time bitterly, but always in a tone of
polite enquiry:

"You think her facile, Madame?"

She looked offended.  "I think her most fastidious.  It is my son
who is in question here."

And I understood then that she looked on her son as irresistible.
For my part I was just beginning to think that it would be
impossible for me to wait for his return.  I figured him to myself
lying dressed on his bed sleeping like a stone.  But there was no
denying that the mother was holding me with an awful, tortured
interest.  Twice Therese had opened the door, had put her small
head in and drawn it back like a tortoise.  But for some time I had
lost the sense of us two being quite alone in the studio.  I had
perceived the familiar dummy in its corner but it lay now on the
floor as if Therese had knocked it down angrily with a broom for a
heathen idol.  It lay there prostrate, handless, without its head,
pathetic, like the mangled victim of a crime.

"John is fastidious, too," began Mrs. Blunt again.  "Of course you
wouldn't suppose anything vulgar in his resistances to a very real
sentiment.  One has got to understand his psychology.  He can't
leave himself in peace.  He is exquisitely absurd."

I recognized the phrase.  Mother and son talked of each other in
identical terms.  But perhaps "exquisitely absurd" was the Blunt
family saying?  There are such sayings in families and generally
there is some truth in them.  Perhaps this old woman was simply
absurd.  She continued:

"We had a most painful discussion all this morning.  He is angry
with me for suggesting the very thing his whole being desires.  I
don't feel guilty.  It's he who is tormenting himself with his
infinite scrupulosity."

"Ah," I said, looking at the mangled dummy like the model of some
atrocious murder.  "Ah, the fortune.  But that can be left alone."

"What nonsense!  How is it possible?  It isn't contained in a bag,
you can't throw it into the sea.  And moreover, it isn't her fault.
I am astonished that you should have thought of that vulgar
hypocrisy.  No, it isn't her fortune that cheeks my son; it's
something much more subtle.  Not so much her history as her
position.  He is absurd.  It isn't what has happened in her life.
It's her very freedom that makes him torment himself and her, too--
as far as I can understand."

I suppressed a groan and said to myself that I must really get away
from there.

Mrs. Blunt was fairly launched now.

"For all his superiority he is a man of the world and shares to a
certain extent its current opinions.  He has no power over her.
She intimidates him.  He wishes he had never set eyes on her.  Once
or twice this morning he looked at me as if he could find it in his
heart to hate his old mother.  There is no doubt about it--he loves
her, Monsieur George.  He loves her, this poor, luckless, perfect
homme du monde."

The silence lasted for some time and then I heard a murmur:  "It's
a matter of the utmost delicacy between two beings so sensitive, so
proud.  It has to be managed."

I found myself suddenly on my feet and saying with the utmost
politeness that I had to beg her permission to leave her alone as I
had an engagement; but she motioned me simply to sit down--and I
sat down again.

"I told you I had a request to make," she said.  "I have understood
from Mr. Mills that you have been to the West Indies, that you have
some interests there."

I was astounded.  "Interests!  I certainly have been there," I
said, "but . . ."

She caught me up.  "Then why not go there again?  I am speaking to
you frankly because . . ."

"But, Madame, I am engaged in this affair with Dona Rita, even if I
had any interests elsewhere.  I won't tell you about the importance
of my work.  I didn't suspect it but you brought the news of it to
me, and so I needn't point it out to you."

And now we were frankly arguing with each other.

"But where will it lead you in the end?  You have all your life
before you, all your plans, prospects, perhaps dreams, at any rate
your own tastes and all your life-time before you.  And would you
sacrifice all this to--the Pretender?  A mere figure for the front
page of illustrated papers."'

"I never think of him,"  I said curtly, "but I suppose Dona Rita's
feelings, instincts, call it what you like--or only her chivalrous
fidelity to her mistakes--"

"Dona Rita's presence here in this town, her withdrawal from the
possible complications of her life in Paris has produced an
excellent effect on my son.  It simplifies infinite difficulties, I
mean moral as well as material.  It's extremely to the advantage of
her dignity, of her future, and of her peace of mind.  But I am
thinking, of course, mainly of my son.  He is most exacting."

I felt extremely sick at heart.  "And so I am to drop everything
and vanish," I said, rising from my chair again.  And this time
Mrs. Blunt got up, too, with a lofty and inflexible manner but she
didn't dismiss me yet.

"Yes," she said distinctly.  "All this, my dear Monsieur George, is
such an accident.  What have you got to do here?  You look to me
like somebody who would find adventures wherever he went as
interesting and perhaps less dangerous than this one."

She slurred over the word dangerous but I picked it up.

"What do you know of its dangers, Madame, may I ask?"  But she did
not condescend to hear.

"And then you, too, have your chivalrous feelings," she went on,
unswerving, distinct, and tranquil.  "You are not absurd.  But my
son is.  He would shut her up in a convent for a time if he could."

"He isn't the only one," I muttered.

"Indeed!" she was startled, then lower, "Yes.  That woman must be
the centre of all sorts of passions," she mused audibly.  "But what
have you got to do with all this?  It's nothing to you."

She waited for me to speak.

"Exactly, Madame," I said, "and therefore I don't see why I should
concern myself in all this one way or another."

"No," she assented with a weary air, "except that you might ask
yourself what is the good of tormenting a man of noble feelings,
however absurd.  His Southern blood makes him very violent
sometimes.  I fear--"  And then for the first time during this
conversation, for the first time since I left Dona Rita the day
before, for the first time I laughed.

"Do you mean to hint, Madame, that Southern gentlemen are dead
shots?  I am aware of that--from novels."

I spoke looking her straight in the face and I made that exquisite,
aristocratic old woman positively blink by my directness.  There
was a faint flush on her delicate old cheeks but she didn't move a
muscle of her face.  I made her a most respectful bow and went out
of the studio.



CHAPTER IV



Through the great arched window of the hall I saw the hotel
brougham waiting at the door.  On passing the door of the front
room (it was originally meant for a drawing-room but a bed for
Blunt was put in there) I banged with my fist on the panel and
shouted:  "I am obliged to go out.  Your mother's carriage is at
the door."  I didn't think he was asleep.  My view now was that he
was aware beforehand of the subject of the conversation, and if so
I did not wish to appear as if I had slunk away from him after the
interview.  But I didn't stop--I didn't want to see him--and before
he could answer I was already half way up the stairs running
noiselessly up the thick carpet which also covered the floor of the
landing.  Therefore opening the door of my sitting-room quickly I
caught by surprise the person who was in there watching the street
half concealed by the window curtain.  It was a woman.  A totally
unexpected woman.  A perfect stranger.  She came away quickly to
meet me.  Her face was veiled and she was dressed in a dark walking
costume and a very simple form of hat.  She murmured:  "I had an
idea that Monsieur was in the house," raising a gloved hand to lift
her veil.  It was Rose and she gave me a shock.  I had never seen
her before but with her little black silk apron and a white cap
with ribbons on her head.  This outdoor dress was like a disguise.
I asked anxiously:

"What has happened to Madame?"

"Nothing.  I have a letter," she murmured, and I saw it appear
between the fingers of her extended hand, in a very white envelope
which I tore open impatiently.  It consisted of a few lines only.
It began abruptly:

"If you are gone to sea then I can't forgive you for not sending
the usual word at the last moment.  If you are not gone why don't
you come?  Why did you leave me yesterday?  You leave me crying--I
who haven't cried for years and years, and you haven't the sense to
come back within the hour, within twenty hours!  This conduct is
idiotic"--and a sprawling signature of the four magic letters at
the bottom.

While I was putting the letter in my pocket the girl said in an
earnest undertone:  "I don't like to leave Madame by herself for
any length of time."

"How long have you been in my room?" I asked.

"The time seemed long.  I hope Monsieur won't mind the liberty.  I
sat for a little in the hall but then it struck me I might be seen.
In fact, Madame told me not to be seen if I could help it."

"Why did she tell you that?"

"I permitted myself to suggest that to Madame.  It might have given
a false impression.  Madame is frank and open like the day but it
won't do with everybody.  There are people who would put a wrong
construction on anything.  Madame's sister told me Monsieur was
out."

"And you didn't believe her?"

"Non, Monsieur.  I have lived with Madame's sister for nearly a
week when she first came into this house.  She wanted me to leave
the message, but I said I would wait a little.  Then I sat down in
the big porter's chair in the hall and after a while, everything
being very quiet, I stole up here.  I know the disposition of the
apartments.  I reckoned Madame's sister would think that I got
tired of waiting and let myself out."

"And you have been amusing yourself watching the street ever
since?"

"The time seemed long," she answered evasively.  "An empty coupe
came to the door about an hour ago and it's still waiting," she
added, looking at me inquisitively.

"It seems strange."

"There are some dancing girls staying in the house," I said
negligently.  "Did you leave Madame alone?"

"There's the gardener and his wife in the house."

"Those people keep at the back.  Is Madame alone?  That's what I
want to know."

"Monsieur forgets that I have been three hours away; but I assure
Monsieur that here in this town it's perfectly safe for Madame to
be alone."

"And wouldn't it be anywhere else?  It's the first I hear of it."

"In Paris, in our apartments in the hotel, it's all right, too; but
in the Pavilion, for instance, I wouldn't leave Madame by herself,
not for half an hour."

"What is there in the Pavilion?" I asked.

"It's a sort of feeling I have," she murmured reluctantly . . .
"Oh!  There's that coupe going away."

She made a movement towards the window but checked herself.  I
hadn't moved.  The rattle of wheels on the cobble-stones died out
almost at once.

"Will Monsieur write an answer?" Rose suggested after a short
silence.

"Hardly worth while," I said.  "I will be there very soon after
you.  Meantime, please tell Madame from me that I am not anxious to
see any more tears.  Tell her this just like that, you understand.
I will take the risk of not being received."

She dropped her eyes, said:  "Oui, Monsieur," and at my suggestion
waited, holding the door of the room half open, till I went
downstairs to see the road clear.

It was a kind of deaf-and-dumb house.  The black-and-white hall was
empty and everything was perfectly still.  Blunt himself had no
doubt gone away with his mother in the brougham, but as to the
others, the dancing girls, Therese, or anybody else that its walls
may have contained, they might have been all murdering each other
in perfect assurance that the house would not betray them by
indulging in any unseemly murmurs.  I emitted a low whistle which
didn't seem to travel in that peculiar atmosphere more than two
feet away from my lips, but all the same Rose came tripping down
the stairs at once.  With just a nod to my whisper:  "Take a
fiacre," she glided out and I shut the door noiselessly behind her.

The next time I saw her she was opening the door of the house on
the Prado to me, with her cap and the little black silk apron on,
and with that marked personality of her own, which had been
concealed so perfectly in the dowdy walking dress, very much to the
fore.

"I have given Madame the message," she said in her contained voice,
swinging the door wide open.  Then after relieving me of my hat and
coat she announced me with the simple words:  "Voila Monsieur," and
hurried away.  Directly I appeared Dona Rita, away there on the
couch, passed the tips of her fingers over her eyes and holding her
hands up palms outwards on each side of her head, shouted to me
down the whole length of the room:  "The dry season has set in."  I
glanced at the pink tips of her fingers perfunctorily and then drew
back.  She let her hands fall negligently as if she had no use for
them any more and put on a serious expression.

"So it seems," I said, sitting down opposite her.  "For how long, I
wonder."

"For years and years.  One gets so little encouragement.  First you
bolt away from my tears, then you send an impertinent message, and
then when you come at last you pretend to behave respectfully,
though you don't know how to do it.  You should sit much nearer the
edge of the chair and hold yourself very stiff, and make it quite
clear that you don't know what to do with your hands."

All this in a fascinating voice with a ripple of badinage that
seemed to play upon the sober surface of her thoughts.  Then seeing
that I did not answer she altered the note a bit.

"Amigo George," she said, "I take the trouble to send for you and
here I am before you, talking to you and you say nothing."

"What am I to say?"

"How can I tell?  You might say a thousand things.  You might, for
instance, tell me that you were sorry for my tears."

"I might also tell you a thousand lies.  What do I know about your
tears?  I am not a susceptible idiot.  It all depends upon the
cause.  There are tears of quiet happiness.  Peeling onions also
will bring tears."

"Oh, you are not susceptible," she flew out at me.  "But you are an
idiot all the same."

"Is it to tell me this that you have written to me to come?" I
asked with a certain animation.

"Yes.  And if you had as much sense as the talking parrot I owned
once you would have read between the lines that all I wanted you
here for was to tell you what I think of you."

"Well, tell me what you think of me."

"I would in a moment if I could be half as impertinent as you are."

"What unexpected modesty," I said.

"These, I suppose, are your sea manners."

"I wouldn't put up with half that nonsense from anybody at sea.
Don't you remember you told me yourself to go away?  What was I to
do?"

"How stupid you are.  I don't mean that you pretend.  You really
are.  Do you understand what I say?  I will spell it for you.  S-t-
u-p-i-d.  Ah, now I feel better.  Oh, amigo George, my dear fellow-
conspirator for the king--the king.  Such a king!  Vive le Roi!
Come, why don't you shout Vive le Roi, too?"

"I am not your parrot," I said.

"No, he never sulked.  He was a charming, good-mannered bird,
accustomed to the best society, whereas you, I suppose, are nothing
but a heartless vagabond like myself."

"I daresay you are, but I suppose nobody had the insolence to tell
you that to your face."

"Well, very nearly.  It was what it amounted to.  I am not stupid.
There is no need to spell out simple words for me.  It just came
out.  Don Juan struggled desperately to keep the truth in.  It was
most pathetic.  And yet he couldn't help himself.  He talked very
much like a parrot."

"Of the best society," I suggested.

"Yes, the most honourable of parrots.  I don't like parrot-talk.
It sounds so uncanny.  Had I lived in the Middle Ages I am certain
I would have believed that a talking bird must be possessed by the
devil.  I am sure Therese would believe that now.  My own sister!
She would cross herself many times and simply quake with terror."

"But you were not terrified," I said.  "May I ask when that
interesting communication took place?"

"Yesterday, just before you blundered in here of all days in the
year.  I was sorry for him."

"Why tell me this?  I couldn't help noticing it.  I regretted I
hadn't my umbrella with me."

"Those unforgiven tears!  Oh, you simple soul!  Don't you know that
people never cry for anybody but themselves? . . . Amigo George,
tell me--what are we doing in this world?"

"Do you mean all the people, everybody?"

"No, only people like you and me.  Simple people, in this world
which is eaten up with charlatanism of all sorts so that even we,
the simple, don't know any longer how to trust each other."

"Don't we?  Then why don't you trust him?  You are dying to do so,
don't you know?"

She dropped her chin on her breast and from under her straight
eyebrows the deep blue eyes remained fixed on me, impersonally, as
if without thought.

"What have you been doing since you left me yesterday?" she asked.

"The first thing I remember I abused your sister horribly this
morning."

"And how did she take it?"

"Like a warm shower in spring.  She drank it all in and unfolded
her petals."

"What poetical expressions he uses!  That girl is more perverted
than one would think possible, considering what she is and whence
she came.  It's true that I, too, come from the same spot."

"She is slightly crazy.  I am a great favourite with her.  I don't
say this to boast."

"It must be very comforting."

"Yes, it has cheered me immensely.  Then after a morning of
delightful musings on one thing and another I went to lunch with a
charming lady and spent most of the afternoon talking with her."

Dona Rita raised her head.

"A lady!  Women seem such mysterious creatures to me.  I don't know
them.  Did you abuse her?  Did she--how did you say that?--unfold
her petals, too?  Was she really and truly . . .?"

"She is simply perfection in her way and the conversation was by no
means banal.  I fancy that if your late parrot had heard it, he
would have fallen off his perch.  For after all, in that Allegre
Pavilion, my dear Rita, you were but a crowd of glorified
bourgeois."

She was beautifully animated now.  In her motionless blue eyes like
melted sapphires, around those red lips that almost without moving
could breathe enchanting sounds into the world, there was a play of
light, that mysterious ripple of gaiety that seemed always to run
and faintly quiver under her skin even in her gravest moods; just
as in her rare moments of gaiety its warmth and radiance seemed to
come to one through infinite sadness, like the sunlight of our life
hiding the invincible darkness in which the universe must work out
its impenetrable destiny.

"Now I think of it! . . . Perhaps that's the reason I never could
feel perfectly serious while they were demolishing the world about
my ears.  I fancy now that I could tell beforehand what each of
them was going to say.  They were repeating the same words over and
over again, those great clever men, very much like parrots who also
seem to know what they say.  That doesn't apply to the master of
the house, who never talked much.  He sat there mostly silent and
looming up three sizes bigger than any of them."

"The ruler of the aviary," I muttered viciously.

"It annoys you that I should talk of that time?" she asked in a
tender voice.  "Well, I won't, except for once to say that you must
not make a mistake:  in that aviary he was the man.  I know because
he used to talk to me afterwards sometimes.  Strange!  For six
years he seemed to carry all the world and me with it in his hand.
. . . "

"He dominates you yet," I shouted.

She shook her head innocently as a child would do.

"No, no.  You brought him into the conversation yourself.  You
think of him much more than I do."  Her voice drooped sadly to a
hopeless note.  "I hardly ever do.  He is not the sort of person to
merely flit through one's mind and so I have no time.  Look.  I had
eleven letters this morning and there were also five telegrams
before midday, which have tangled up everything.  I am quite
frightened."

And she explained to me that one of them--the long one on the top
of the pile, on the table over there--seemed to contain ugly
inferences directed at herself in a menacing way.  She begged me to
read it and see what I could make of it.

I knew enough of the general situation to see at a glance that she
had misunderstood it thoroughly and even amazingly.  I proved it to
her very quickly.  But her mistake was so ingenious in its
wrongheadedness and arose so obviously from the distraction of an
acute mind, that I couldn't help looking at her admiringly.

"Rita," I said, "you are a marvellous idiot."

"Am I?  Imbecile," she retorted with an enchanting smile of relief.
"But perhaps it only seems so to you in contrast with the lady so
perfect in her way.  What is her way?"

"Her way, I should say, lies somewhere between her sixtieth and
seventieth year, and I have walked tete-a-tete with her for some
little distance this afternoon."

"Heavens," she whispered, thunderstruck.  "And meantime I had the
son here.  He arrived about five minutes after Rose left with that
note for you," she went on in a tone of awe.  "As a matter of fact,
Rose saw him across the street but she thought she had better go on
to you."

"I am furious with myself for not having guessed that much," I said
bitterly.  "I suppose you got him out of the house about five
minutes after you heard I was coming here.  Rose ought to have
turned back when she saw him on his way to cheer your solitude.
That girl is stupid after all, though she has got a certain amount
of low cunning which no doubt is very useful at times."

"I forbid you to talk like this about Rose.  I won't have it.  Rose
is not to be abused before me."

"I only mean to say that she failed in this instance to read your
mind, that's all."

"This is, without exception, the most unintelligent thing you have
said ever since I have known you.  You may understand a lot about
running contraband and about the minds of a certain class of
people, but as to Rose's mind let me tell you that in comparison
with hers yours is absolutely infantile, my adventurous friend.  It
would be contemptible if it weren't so--what shall I call it?--
babyish.  You ought to be slapped and put to bed."  There was an
extraordinary earnestness in her tone and when she ceased I
listened yet to the seductive inflexions of her voice, that no
matter in what mood she spoke seemed only fit for tenderness and
love.  And I thought suddenly of Azzolati being ordered to take
himself off from her presence for ever, in that voice the very
anger of which seemed to twine itself gently round one's heart.  No
wonder the poor wretch could not forget the scene and couldn't
restrain his tears on the plain of Rambouillet.  My moods of
resentment against Rita, hot as they were, had no more duration
than a blaze of straw.  So I only said:

"Much YOU know about the management of children."  The corners of
her lips stirred quaintly; her animosity, especially when provoked
by a personal attack upon herself, was always tinged by a sort of
wistful humour of the most disarming kind.

"Come, amigo George, let us leave poor Rose alone.  You had better
tell me what you heard from the lips of the charming old lady.
Perfection, isn't she?  I have never seen her in my life, though
she says she has seen me several times.  But she has written to me
on three separate occasions and every time I answered her as if I
were writing to a queen.  Amigo George, how does one write to a
queen?  How should a goatherd that could have been mistress of a
king, how should she write to an old queen from very far away; from
over the sea?"

"I will ask you as I have asked the old queen:  why do you tell me
all this, Dona Rita?"

"To discover what's in your mind," she said, a little impatiently.

"If you don't know that yet!" I exclaimed under my breath.

"No, not in your mind.  Can any one ever tell what is in a man's
mind?  But I see you won't tell."

"What's the good?  You have written to her before, I understand.
Do you think of continuing the correspondence?"

"Who knows?" she said in a profound tone.  "She is the only woman
that ever wrote to me.  I returned her three letters to her with my
last answer, explaining humbly that I preferred her to burn them
herself.  And I thought that would be the end of it.  But an
occasion may still arise."

"Oh, if an occasion arises," I said, trying to control my rage,
"you may be able to begin your letter by the words 'Chere Maman.'"

The cigarette box, which she had taken up without removing her eyes
from me, flew out of her hand and opening in mid-air scattered
cigarettes for quite a surprising distance all over the room.  I
got up at once and wandered off picking them up industriously.
Dona Rita's voice behind me said indifferently:

"Don't trouble, I will ring for Rose."

"No need," I growled, without turning my head, "I can find my hat
in the hall by myself, after I've finished picking up . . . "

"Bear!"

I returned with the box and placed it on the divan near her.  She
sat cross-legged, leaning back on her arms, in the blue shimmer of
her embroidered robe and with the tawny halo of her unruly hair
about her face which she raised to mine with an air of resignation.

"George, my friend," she said, "we have no manners."

"You would never have made a career at court, Dona Rita," I
observed.  "You are too impulsive."

"This is not bad manners, that's sheer insolence.  This has
happened to you before.  If it happens again, as I can't be
expected to wrestle with a savage and desperate smuggler single-
handed, I will go upstairs and lock myself in my room till you
leave the house.  Why did you say this to me?"

"Oh, just for nothing, out of a full heart."

"If your heart is full of things like that, then my dear friend,
you had better take it out and give it to the crows.  No! you said
that for the pleasure of appearing terrible.  And you see you are
not terrible at all, you are rather amusing.  Go on, continue to be
amusing.  Tell me something of what you heard from the lips of that
aristocratic old lady who thinks that all men are equal and
entitled to the pursuit of happiness."

"I hardly remember now.  I heard something about the unworthiness
of certain white geese out of stuffy drawing-rooms.  It sounds mad,
but the lady knows exactly what she wants.  I also heard your
praises sung.  I sat there like a fool not knowing what to say."

"Why?  You might have joined in the singing."

"I didn't feel in the humour, because, don't you see, I had been
incidentally given to understand that I was an insignificant and
superfluous person who had better get out of the way of serious
people."

"Ah, par example!"

"In a sense, you know, it was flattering; but for the moment it
made me feel as if I had been offered a pot of mustard to sniff."

She nodded with an amused air of understanding and I could see that
she was interested.  "Anything more?" she asked, with a flash of
radiant eagerness in all her person and bending slightly forward
towards me.

"Oh, it's hardly worth mentioning.  It was a sort of threat wrapped
up, I believe, in genuine anxiety as to what might happen to my
youthful insignificance.  If I hadn't been rather on the alert just
then I wouldn't even have perceived the meaning.  But really an
allusion to 'hot Southern blood' I could have only one meaning.  Of
course I laughed at it, but only 'pour l'honneur' and to show I
understood perfectly.  In reality it left me completely
indifferent."

Dona Rita looked very serious for a minute.

"Indifferent to the whole conversation?"

I looked at her angrily.

"To the whole . . . You see I got up rather out of sorts this
morning.  Unrefreshed, you know.  As if tired of life."

The liquid blue in her eyes remained directed at me without any
expression except that of its usual mysterious immobility, but all
her face took on a sad and thoughtful cast.  Then as if she had
made up her mind under the pressure of necessity:

"Listen, amigo," she said, "I have suffered domination and it
didn't crush me because I have been strong enough to live with it;
I have known caprice, you may call it folly if you like, and it
left me unharmed because I was great enough not to be captured by
anything that wasn't really worthy of me.  My dear, it went down
like a house of cards before my breath.  There is something in me
that will not be dazzled by any sort of prestige in this world,
worthy or unworthy.  I am telling you this because you are younger
than myself."

"If you want me to say that there is nothing petty or mean about
you, Dona Rita, then I do say it."

She nodded at me with an air of accepting the rendered justice and
went on with the utmost simplicity.

"And what is it that is coming to me now with all the airs of
virtue?  All the lawful conventions are coming to me, all the
glamours of respectability!  And nobody can say that I have made as
much as the slightest little sign to them.  Not so much as lifting
my little finger.  I suppose you know that?"

"I don't know.  I do not doubt your sincerity in anything you say.
I am ready to believe.  You are not one of those who have to work."

"Have to work--what do you mean?"

"It's a phrase I have heard.  What I meant was that it isn't
necessary for you to make any signs."

She seemed to meditate over this for a while.

"Don't be so sure of that," she said, with a flash of mischief,
which made her voice sound more melancholy than before.  "I am not
so sure myself," she continued with a curious, vanishing,
intonation of despair.  "I don't know the truth about myself
because I never had an opportunity to compare myself to anything in
the world.  I have been offered mock adulation, treated with mock
reserve or with mock devotion, I have been fawned upon with an
appalling earnestness of purpose, I can tell you; but these later
honours, my dear, came to me in the shape of a very loyal and very
scrupulous gentleman.  For he is all that.  And as a matter of fact
I was touched."

"I know.  Even to tears," I said provokingly.  But she wasn't
provoked, she only shook her head in negation (which was absurd)
and pursued the trend of her spoken thoughts.

"That was yesterday," she said.  "And yesterday he was extremely
correct and very full of extreme self-esteem which expressed itself
in the exaggerated delicacy with which he talked.  But I know him
in all his moods.  I have known him even playful.  I didn't listen
to him.  I was thinking of something else.  Of things that were
neither correct nor playful and that had to be looked at steadily
with all the best that was in me.  And that was why, in the end--I
cried--yesterday."

"I saw it yesterday and I had the weakness of being moved by those
tears for a time."

"If you want to make me cry again I warn you you won't succeed."

"No, I know.  He has been here to-day and the dry season has set
in."

"Yes, he has been here.  I assure you it was perfectly unexpected.
Yesterday he was railing at the world at large, at me who certainly
have not made it, at himself and even at his mother.  All this
rather in parrot language, in the words of tradition and morality
as understood by the members of that exclusive club to which he
belongs.  And yet when I thought that all this, those poor
hackneyed words, expressed a sincere passion I could have found in
my heart to be sorry for him.  But he ended by telling me that one
couldn't believe a single word I said, or something like that.  You
were here then, you heard it yourself."

"And it cut you to the quick," I said.  "It made you depart from
your dignity to the point of weeping on any shoulder that happened
to be there.  And considering that it was some more parrot talk
after all (men have been saying that sort of thing to women from
the beginning of the world) this sensibility seems to me childish."

"What perspicacity," she observed, with an indulgent, mocking
smile, then changed her tone.  "Therefore he wasn't expected to-day
when he turned up, whereas you, who were expected, remained subject
to the charms of conversation in that studio.  It never occurred to
you . . . did it?  No!  What had become of your perspicacity?"

"I tell you I was weary of life," I said in a passion.

She had another faint smile of a fugitive and unrelated kind as if
she had been thinking of far-off things, then roused herself to
grave animation.

"He came in full of smiling playfulness.  How well I know that
mood!  Such self-command has its beauty; but it's no great help for
a man with such fateful eyes.  I could see he was moved in his
correct, restrained way, and in his own way, too, he tried to move
me with something that would be very simple.  He told me that ever
since we became friends, we two, he had not an hour of continuous
sleep, unless perhaps when coming back dead-tired from outpost
duty, and that he longed to get back to it and yet hadn't the
courage to tear himself away from here.  He was as simple as that.
He's a tres galant homme of absolute probity, even with himself.  I
said to him:  The trouble is, Don Juan, that it isn't love but
mistrust that keeps you in torment.  I might have said jealousy,
but I didn't like to use that word.  A parrot would have added that
I had given him no right to be jealous.  But I am no parrot.  I
recognized the rights of his passion which I could very well see.
He is jealous.  He is not jealous of my past or of the future; but
he is jealously mistrustful of me, of what I am, of my very soul.
He believes in a soul in the same way Therese does, as something
that can be touched with grace or go to perdition; and he doesn't
want to be damned with me before his own judgment seat.  He is a
most noble and loyal gentleman, but I have my own Basque peasant
soul and don't want to think that every time he goes away from my
feet--yes, mon cher, on this carpet, look for the marks of
scorching--that he goes away feeling tempted to brush the dust off
his moral sleeve.  That!  Never!"

With brusque movements she took a cigarette out of the box, held it
in her fingers for a moment, then dropped it unconsciously.

"And then, I don't love him," she uttered slowly as if speaking to
herself and at the same time watching the very quality of that
thought.  "I never did.  At first he fascinated me with his fatal
aspect and his cold society smiles.  But I have looked into those
eyes too often.  There are too many disdains in this aristocratic
republican without a home.  His fate may be cruel, but it will
always be commonplace.  While he sat there trying in a worldly tone
to explain to me the problems, the scruples, of his suffering
honour, I could see right into his heart and I was sorry for him.
I was sorry enough for him to feel that if he had suddenly taken me
by the throat and strangled me slowly, avec delices, I could
forgive him while I choked.  How correct he was!  But bitterness
against me peeped out of every second phrase.  At last I raised my
hand and said to him, 'Enough.'  I believe he was shocked by my
plebeian abruptness but he was too polite to show it.  His
conventions will always stand in the way of his nature.  I told him
that everything that had been said and done during the last seven
or eight months was inexplicable unless on the assumption that he
was in love with me,--and yet in everything there was an
implication that he couldn't forgive me my very existence.  I did
ask him whether he didn't think that it was absurd on his part . .
. "

"Didn't you say that it was exquisitely absurd?" I asked.

"Exquisitely! . . . " Dona Rita was surprised at my question.  "No.
Why should I say that?"

"It would have reconciled him to your abruptness.  It's their
family expression.  It would have come with a familiar sound and
would have been less offensive."

"Offensive," Dona Rita repeated earnestly.  "I don't think he was
offended; he suffered in another way, but I didn't care for that.
It was I that had become offended in the end, without spite, you
understand, but past bearing.  I didn't spare him.  I told him
plainly that to want a woman formed in mind and body, mistress of
herself, free in her choice, independent in her thoughts; to love
her apparently for what she is and at the same time to demand from
her the candour and the innocence that could be only a shocking
pretence; to know her such as life had made her and at the same
time to despise her secretly for every touch with which her life
had fashioned her--that was neither generous nor high minded; it
was positively frantic.  He got up and went away to lean against
the mantelpiece, there, on his elbow and with his head in his hand.
You have no idea of the charm and the distinction of his pose.  I
couldn't help admiring him:  the expression, the grace, the fatal
suggestion of his immobility.  Oh, yes, I am sensible to aesthetic
impressions, I have been educated to believe that there is a soul
in them."

With that enigmatic, under the eyebrows glance fixed on me she
laughed her deep contralto laugh without mirth but also without
irony, and profoundly moving by the mere purity of the sound.

"I suspect he was never so disgusted and appalled in his life.  His
self-command is the most admirable worldly thing I have ever seen.
What made it beautiful was that one could feel in it a tragic
suggestion as in a great work of art."

She paused with an inscrutable smile that a great painter might
have put on the face of some symbolic figure for the speculation
and wonder of many generations.  I said:

"I always thought that love for you could work great wonders.  And
now I am certain."

"Are you trying to be ironic?" she said sadly and very much as a
child might have spoken.

"I don't know," I answered in a tone of the same simplicity.  "I
find it very difficult to be generous."

"I, too," she said with a sort of funny eagerness.  "I didn't treat
him very generously.  Only I didn't say much more.  I found I
didn't care what I said--and it would have been like throwing
insults at a beautiful composition.  He was well inspired not to
move.  It has spared him some disagreeable truths and perhaps I
would even have said more than the truth.  I am not fair.  I am no
more fair than other people.  I would have been harsh.  My very
admiration was making me more angry.  It's ridiculous to say of a
man got up in correct tailor clothes, but there was a funereal
grace in his attitude so that he might have been reproduced in
marble on a monument to some woman in one of those atrocious Campo
Santos:  the bourgeois conception of an aristocratic mourning
lover.  When I came to that conclusion I became glad that I was
angry or else I would have laughed right out before him."

"I have heard a woman say once, a woman of the people--do you hear
me, Dona Rita?--therefore deserving your attention, that one should
never laugh at love."

"My dear," she said gently, "I have been taught to laugh at most
things by a man who never laughed himself; but it's true that he
never spoke of love to me, love as a subject that is.  So perhaps .
. . But why?"

"Because (but maybe that old woman was crazy), because, she said,
there was death in the mockery of love."

Dona Rita moved slightly her beautiful shoulders and went on:

"I am glad, then, I didn't laugh.  And I am also glad I said
nothing more.  I was feeling so little generous that if I had known
something then of his mother's allusion to 'white geese' I would
have advised him to get one of them and lead it away on a beautiful
blue ribbon.  Mrs. Blunt was wrong, you know, to be so scornful.  A
white goose is exactly what her son wants.  But look how badly the
world is arranged.  Such white birds cannot be got for nothing and
he has not enough money even to buy a ribbon.  Who knows!  Maybe it
was this which gave that tragic quality to his pose by the
mantelpiece over there.  Yes, that was it.  Though no doubt I
didn't see it then.  As he didn't offer to move after I had done
speaking I became quite unaffectedly sorry and advised him very
gently to dismiss me from his mind definitely.  He moved forward
then and said to me in his usual voice and with his usual smile
that it would have been excellent advice but unfortunately I was
one of those women who can't be dismissed at will.  And as I shook
my head he insisted rather darkly:  'Oh, yes, Dona Rita, it is so.
Cherish no illusions about that fact.'  It sounded so threatening
that in my surprise I didn't even acknowledge his parting bow.  He
went out of that false situation like a wounded man retreating
after a fight.  No, I have nothing to reproach myself with.  I did
nothing.  I led him into nothing.  Whatever illusions have passed
through my head I kept my distance, and he was so loyal to what he
seemed to think the redeeming proprieties of the situation that he
has gone from me for good without so much as kissing the tips of my
fingers.  He must have felt like a man who had betrayed himself for
nothing.  It's horrible.  It's the fault of that enormous fortune
of mine, and I wish with all my heart that I could give it to him;
for he couldn't help his hatred of the thing that is:  and as to
his love, which is just as real, well--could I have rushed away
from him to shut myself up in a convent?  Could I?  After all I
have a right to my share of daylight."



CHAPTER V



I took my eyes from her face and became aware that dusk was
beginning to steal into the room.  How strange it seemed.  Except
for the glazed rotunda part its long walls, divided into narrow
panels separated by an order of flat pilasters, presented, depicted
on a black background and in vivid colours, slender women with
butterfly wings and lean youths with narrow birds' wings.  The
effect was supposed to be Pompeiian and Rita and I had often
laughed at the delirious fancy of some enriched shopkeeper.  But
still it was a display of fancy, a sign of grace; but at that
moment these figures appeared to me weird and intrusive and
strangely alive in their attenuated grace of unearthly beings
concealing a power to see and hear.

Without words, without gestures, Dona Rita was heard again.  "It
may have been as near coming to pass as this."  She showed me the
breadth of her little finger nail.  "Yes, as near as that.  Why?
How?  Just like that, for nothing.  Because it had come up.
Because a wild notion had entered a practical old woman's head.
Yes.  And the best of it is that I have nothing to complain of.
Had I surrendered I would have been perfectly safe with these two.
It is they or rather he who couldn't trust me, or rather that
something which I express, which I stand for.  Mills would never
tell me what it was.  Perhaps he didn't know exactly himself.  He
said it was something like genius.  My genius!  Oh, I am not
conscious of it, believe me, I am not conscious of it.  But if I
were I wouldn't pluck it out and cast it away.  I am ashamed of
nothing, of nothing!  Don't be stupid enough to think that I have
the slightest regret.  There is no regret.  First of all because I
am I--and then because . . . My dear, believe me, I have had a
horrible time of it myself lately."

This seemed to be the last word.  Outwardly quiet, all the time, it
was only then that she became composed enough to light an enormous
cigarette of the same pattern as those made specially for the king-
-por el Rey! After a time, tipping the ash into the bowl on her
left hand, she asked me in a friendly, almost tender, tone:

"What are you thinking of, amigo?"

"I was thinking of your immense generosity.  You want to give a
crown to one man, a fortune to another.  That is very fine.  But I
suppose there is a limit to your generosity somewhere."

"I don't see why there should be any limit--to fine intentions!
Yes, one would like to pay ransom and be done with it all."

"That's the feeling of a captive; and yet somehow I can't think of
you as ever having been anybody's captive."

"You do display some wonderful insight sometimes.  My dear, I begin
to suspect that men are rather conceited about their powers.  They
think they dominate us.  Even exceptional men will think that; men
too great for mere vanity, men like Henry Allegre for instance, who
by his consistent and serene detachment was certainly fit to
dominate all sorts of people.  Yet for the most part they can only
do it because women choose more or less consciously to let them do
so.  Henry Allegre, if any man, might have been certain of his own
power; and yet, look:  I was a chit of a girl, I was sitting with a
book where I had no business to be, in his own garden, when he
suddenly came upon me, an ignorant girl of seventeen, a most
uninviting creature with a tousled head, in an old black frock and
shabby boots.  I could have run away.  I was perfectly capable of
it.  But I stayed looking up at him and--in the end it was HE who
went away and it was I who stayed."

"Consciously?" I murmured.

"Consciously?  You may just as well ask my shadow that lay so still
by me on the young grass in that morning sunshine.  I never knew
before how still I could keep.  It wasn't the stillness of terror.
I remained, knowing perfectly well that if I ran he was not the man
to run after me.  I remember perfectly his deep-toned, politely
indifferent 'Restez donc.'  He was mistaken.  Already then I hadn't
the slightest intention to move.  And if you ask me again how far
conscious all this was the nearest answer I can make you is this:
that I remained on purpose, but I didn't know for what purpose I
remained.  Really, that couldn't be expected. . . . Why do you sigh
like this?  Would you have preferred me to be idiotically innocent
or abominably wise?"

"These are not the questions that trouble me," I said.  "If I
sighed it is because I am weary."

"And getting stiff, too, I should say, in this Pompeiian armchair.
You had better get out of it and sit on this couch as you always
used to do.  That, at any rate, is not Pompeiian.  You have been
growing of late extremely formal, I don't know why.  If it is a
pose then for goodness' sake drop it.  Are you going to model
yourself on Captain Blunt?  You couldn't, you know.  You are too
young."

"I don't want to model myself on anybody," I said.  "And anyway
Blunt is too romantic; and, moreover, he has been and is yet in
love with you--a thing that requires some style, an attitude,
something of which I am altogether incapable."

"You know it isn't so stupid, this what you have just said.  Yes,
there is something in this."

"I am not stupid," I protested, without much heat.

"Oh, yes, you are.  You don't know the world enough to judge.  You
don't know how wise men can be.  Owls are nothing to them.  Why do
you try to look like an owl?  There are thousands and thousands of
them waiting for me outside the door:  the staring, hissing beasts.
You don't know what a relief of mental ease and intimacy you have
been to me in the frankness of gestures and speeches and thoughts,
sane or insane, that we have been throwing at each other.  I have
known nothing of this in my life but with you.  There had always
been some fear, some constraint, lurking in the background behind
everybody, everybody--except you, my friend."

"An unmannerly, Arcadian state of affairs.  I am glad you like it.
Perhaps it's because you were intelligent enough to perceive that I
was not in love with you in any sort of style."

"No, you were always your own self, unwise and reckless and with
something in it kindred to mine, if I may say so without offence."

"You may say anything without offence.  But has it never occurred
to your sagacity that I just, simply, loved you?"

"Just--simply," she repeated in a wistful tone.

"You didn't want to trouble your head about it, is that it?"

"My poor head.  From your tone one might think you yearned to cut
it off.  No, my dear, I have made up my mind not to lose my head."

"You would be astonished to know how little I care for your mind."

"Would I?  Come and sit on the couch all the same," she said after
a moment of hesitation.  Then, as I did not move at once, she added
with indifference:  "You may sit as far away as you like, it's big
enough, goodness knows."

The light was ebbing slowly out of the rotunda and to my bodily
eyes she was beginning to grow shadowy.  I sat down on the couch
and for a long time no word passed between us.  We made no
movement.  We did not even turn towards each other.  All I was
conscious of was the softness of the seat which seemed somehow to
cause a relaxation of my stern mood, I won't say against my will
but without any will on my part.  Another thing I was conscious of,
strangely enough, was the enormous brass bowl for cigarette ends.
Quietly, with the least possible action, Dona Rita moved it to the
other side of her motionless person.  Slowly, the fantastic women
with butterflies' wings and the slender-limbed youths with the
gorgeous pinions on their shoulders were vanishing into their black
backgrounds with an effect of silent discretion, leaving us to
ourselves.

I felt suddenly extremely exhausted, absolutely overcome with
fatigue since I had moved; as if to sit on that Pompeiian chair had
been a task almost beyond human strength, a sort of labour that
must end in collapse.  I fought against it for a moment and then my
resistance gave way.  Not all at once but as if yielding to an
irresistible pressure (for I was not conscious of any irresistible
attraction) I found myself with my head resting, with a weight I
felt must be crushing, on Dona Rita's shoulder which yet did not
give way, did not flinch at all.  A faint scent of violets filled
the tragic emptiness of my head and it seemed impossible to me that
I should not cry from sheer weakness.  But I remained dry-eyed.  I
only felt myself slipping lower and lower and I caught her round
the waist clinging to her not from any intention but purely by
instinct.  All that time she hadn't stirred.  There was only the
slight movement of her breathing that showed her to be alive; and
with closed eyes I imagined her to be lost in thought, removed by
an incredible meditation while I clung to her, to an immense
distance from the earth.  The distance must have been immense
because the silence was so perfect, the feeling as if of eternal
stillness.  I had a distinct impression of being in contact with an
infinity that had the slightest possible rise and fall, was
pervaded by a warm, delicate scent of violets and through which
came a hand from somewhere to rest lightly on my head.  Presently
my ear caught the faint and regular pulsation of her heart, firm
and quick, infinitely touching in its persistent mystery,
disclosing itself into my very ear--and my felicity became
complete.

It was a dreamlike state combined with a dreamlike sense of
insecurity.  Then in that warm and scented infinity, or eternity,
in which I rested lost in bliss but ready for any catastrophe, I
heard the distant, hardly audible, and fit to strike terror into
the heart, ringing of a bell.  At this sound the greatness of
spaces departed.  I felt the world close about me; the world of
darkened walls, of very deep grey dusk against the panes, and I
asked in a pained voice:

"Why did you ring, Rita?"

There was a bell rope within reach of her hand.  I had not felt her
move, but she said very low:

"I rang for the lights."

"You didn't want the lights."

"It was time," she whispered secretly.

Somewhere within the house a door slammed.  I got away from her
feeling small and weak as if the best part of me had been torn away
and irretrievably lost.  Rose must have been somewhere near the
door.

"It's abominable," I murmured to the still, idol-like shadow on the
couch.

The answer was a hurried, nervous whisper:  "I tell you it was
time.  I rang because I had no strength to push you away."

I suffered a moment of giddiness before the door opened, light
streamed in, and Rose entered, preceding a man in a green baize
apron whom I had never seen, carrying on an enormous tray three
Argand lamps fitted into vases of Pompeiian form.  Rose distributed
them over the room.  In the flood of soft light the winged youths
and the butterfly women reappeared on the panels, affected,
gorgeous, callously unconscious of anything having happened during
their absence.  Rose attended to the lamp on the nearest
mantelpiece, then turned about and asked in a confident undertone.

"Monsieur dine?"

I had lost myself with my elbows on my knees and my head in my
hands, but I heard the words distinctly.  I heard also the silence
which ensued.  I sat up and took the responsibility of the answer
on myself.

"Impossible.  I am going to sea this evening."

This was perfectly true only I had totally forgotten it till then.
For the last two days my being was no longer composed of memories
but exclusively of sensations of the most absorbing, disturbing,
exhausting nature.  I was like a man who has been buffeted by the
sea or by a mob till he loses all hold on the world in the misery
of his helplessness.  But now I was recovering.  And naturally the
first thing I remembered was the fact that I was going to sea.

"You have heard, Rose," Dona Rita said at last with some
impatience.

The girl waited a moment longer before she said:

"Oh, yes!  There is a man waiting for Monsieur in the hall.  A
seaman."

It could be no one but Dominic.  It dawned upon me that since the
evening of our return I had not been near him or the ship, which
was completely unusual, unheard of, and well calculated to startle
Dominic.

"I have seen him before," continued Rose, "and as he told me he has
been pursuing Monsieur all the afternoon and didn't like to go away
without seeing Monsieur for a moment, I proposed to him to wait in
the hall till Monsieur was at liberty."

I said:  "Very well," and with a sudden resumption of her extremely
busy, not-a-moment-to-lose manner Rose departed from the room.  I
lingered in an imaginary world full of tender light, of unheard-of
colours, with a mad riot of flowers and an inconceivable happiness
under the sky arched above its yawning precipices, while a feeling
of awe enveloped me like its own proper atmosphere.  But everything
vanished at the sound of Dona Rita's loud whisper full of boundless
dismay, such as to make one's hair stir on one's head.

"Mon Dieu!  And what is going to happen now?"

She got down from the couch and walked to a window.  When the
lights had been brought into the room all the panes had turned inky
black; for the night had come and the garden was full of tall
bushes and trees screening off the gas lamps of the main alley of
the Prado.  Whatever the question meant she was not likely to see
an answer to it outside.  But her whisper had offended me, had hurt
something infinitely deep, infinitely subtle and infinitely clear-
eyed in my nature.  I said after her from the couch on which I had
remained, "Don't lose your composure.  You will always have some
sort of bell at hand."

I saw her shrug her uncovered shoulders impatiently.  Her forehead
was against the very blackness of the panes; pulled upward from the
beautiful, strong nape of her neck, the twisted mass of her tawny
hair was held high upon her head by the arrow of gold.

"You set up for being unforgiving," she said without anger.

I sprang to my feet while she turned about and came towards me
bravely, with a wistful smile on her bold, adolescent face.

"It seems to me," she went on in a voice like a wave of love
itself, "that one should try to understand before one sets up for
being unforgiving.  Forgiveness is a very fine word.  It is a fine
invocation."

"There are other fine words in the language such as fascination,
fidelity, also frivolity; and as for invocations there are plenty
of them, too; for instance:  alas, heaven help me."

We stood very close together, her narrow eyes were as enigmatic as
ever, but that face, which, like some ideal conception of art, was
incapable of anything like untruth and grimace, expressed by some
mysterious means such a depth of infinite patience that I felt
profoundly ashamed of myself.

"This thing is beyond words altogether," I said.  "Beyond
forgiveness, beyond forgetting, beyond anger or jealousy. . . .
There is nothing between us two that could make us act together."

"Then we must fall back perhaps on something within us, that--you
admit it?--we have in common."

"Don't be childish," I said.  "You give one with a perpetual and
intense freshness feelings and sensations that are as old as the
world itself, and you imagine that your enchantment can be broken
off anywhere, at any time!  But it can't be broken.  And
forgetfulness, like everything else, can only come from you.  It's
an impossible situation to stand up against."

She listened with slightly parted lips as if to catch some further
resonances.

"There is a sort of generous ardour about you," she said, "which I
don't really understand.  No, I don't know it.  Believe me, it is
not of myself I am thinking.  And you--you are going out to-night
to make another landing."

"Yes, it is a fact that before many hours I will be sailing away
from you to try my luck once more."

"Your wonderful luck," she breathed out.

"Oh, yes, I am wonderfully lucky.  Unless the luck really is yours-
-in having found somebody like me, who cares at the same time so
much and so little for what you have at heart."

"What time will you be leaving the harbour?" she asked.

"Some time between midnight and daybreak.  Our men may be a little
late in joining, but certainly we will be gone before the first
streak of light."

"What freedom!" she murmured enviously.  "It's something I shall
never know. . . ."

"Freedom!" I protested.  "I am a slave to my word.  There will be a
siring of carts and mules on a certain part of the coast, and a
most ruffianly lot of men, men you understand, men with wives and
children and sweethearts, who from the very moment they start on a
trip risk a bullet in the head at any moment, but who have a
perfect conviction that I will never fail them.  That's my freedom.
I wonder what they would think if they knew of your existence."

"I don't exist," she said.

"That's easy to say.  But I will go as if you didn't exist--yet
only because you do exist.  You exist in me.  I don't know where I
end and you begin.  You have got into my heart and into my veins
and into my brain."

"Take this fancy out and trample it down in the dust," she said in
a tone of timid entreaty.

"Heroically," I suggested with the sarcasm of despair.

"Well, yes, heroically," she said; and there passed between us dim
smiles, I have no doubt of the most touching imbecility on earth.
We were standing by then in the middle of the room with its vivid
colours on a black background, with its multitude of winged figures
with pale limbs, with hair like halos or flames, all strangely
tense in their strained, decorative attitudes.  Dona Rita made a
step towards me, and as I attempted to seize her hand she flung her
arms round my neck.  I felt their strength drawing me towards her
and by a sort of blind and desperate effort I resisted.  And all
the time she was repeating with nervous insistence:

"But it is true that you will go.  You will surely.  Not because of
those people but because of me.  You will go away because you feel
you must."

With every word urging me to get away, her clasp tightened, she
hugged my head closer to her breast.  I submitted, knowing well
that I could free myself by one more effort which it was in my
power to make.  But before I made it, in a sort of desperation, I
pressed a long kiss into the hollow of her throat.  And lo--there
was no need for any effort.  With a stifled cry of surprise her
arms fell off me as if she had been shot.  I must have been giddy,
and perhaps we both were giddy, but the next thing I knew there was
a good foot of space between us in the peaceful glow of the ground-
glass globes, in the everlasting stillness of the winged figures.
Something in the quality of her exclamation, something utterly
unexpected, something I had never heard before, and also the way
she was looking at me with a sort of incredulous, concentrated
attention, disconcerted me exceedingly.  I knew perfectly well what
I had done and yet I felt that I didn't understand what had
happened.  I became suddenly abashed and I muttered that I had
better go and dismiss that poor Dominic.  She made no answer, gave
no sign.  She stood there lost in a vision--or was it a sensation?-
-of the most absorbing kind.  I hurried out into the hall,
shamefaced, as if I were making my escape while she wasn't looking.
And yet I felt her looking fixedly at me, with a sort of
stupefaction on her features--in her whole attitude--as though she
had never even heard of such a thing as a kiss in her life.

A dim lamp (of Pompeiian form) hanging on a long chain left the
hall practically dark.  Dominic, advancing towards me from a
distant corner, was but a little more opaque shadow than the
others.  He had expected me on board every moment till about three
o'clock, but as I didn't turn up and gave no sign of life in any
other way he started on his hunt.  He sought news of me from the
garcons at the various cafes, from the cochers de fiacre in front
of the Exchange, from the tobacconist lady at the counter of the
fashionable Debit de Tabac, from the old man who sold papers
outside the cercle, and from the flower-girl at the door of the
fashionable restaurant where I had my table.  That young woman,
whose business name was Irma, had come on duty about mid-day.  She
said to Dominic:  "I think I've seen all his friends this morning
but I haven't seen him for a week.  What has become of him?"

"That's exactly what I want to know," Dominic replied in a fury and
then went back to the harbour on the chance that I might have
called either on board or at Madame Leonore's cafe.

I expressed to him my surprise that he should fuss about me like an
old hen over a chick.  It wasn't like him at all.  And he said that
"en effet" it was Madame Leonore who wouldn't give him any peace.
He hoped I wouldn't mind, it was best to humour women in little
things; and so he started off again, made straight for the street
of the Consuls, was told there that I wasn't at home but the woman
of the house looked so funny that he didn't know what to make of
it.  Therefore, after some hesitation, he took the liberty to
inquire at this house, too, and being told that I couldn't be
disturbed, had made up his mind not to go on board without actually
setting his eyes on me and hearing from my own lips that nothing
was changed as to sailing orders.

"There is nothing changed, Dominic," I said.

"No change of any sort?" he insisted, looking very sombre and
speaking gloomily from under his black moustaches in the dim glow
of the alabaster lamp hanging above his head.  He peered at me in
an extraordinary manner as if he wanted to make sure that I had all
my limbs about me.  I asked him to call for my bag at the other
house, on his way to the harbour, and he departed reassured, not,
however, without remarking ironically that ever since she saw that
American cavalier Madame Leonore was not easy in her mind about me.

As I stood alone in the hall, without a sound of any sort, Rose
appeared before me.

"Monsieur will dine after all," she whispered calmly,

"My good girl, I am going to sea to-night."

"What am I going to do with Madame?" she murmured to herself.  "She
will insist on returning to Paris."

"Oh, have you heard of it?"

"I never get more than two hours' notice," she said.  "But I know
how it will be," her voice lost its calmness.  "I can look after
Madame up to a certain point but I cannot be altogether
responsible.  There is a dangerous person who is everlastingly
trying to see Madame alone.  I have managed to keep him off several
times but there is a beastly old journalist who is encouraging him
in his attempts, and I daren't even speak to Madame about it."

"What sort of person do you mean?"

"Why, a man," she said scornfully.

I snatched up my coat and hat.

"Aren't there dozens of them?"

"Oh!  But this one is dangerous.  Madame must have given him a hold
on her in some way.  I ought not to talk like this about Madame and
I wouldn't to anybody but Monsieur.  I am always on the watch, but
what is a poor girl to do? . . . Isn't Monsieur going back to
Madame?"

"No, I am not going back.  Not this time."  A mist seemed to fall
before my eyes.  I could hardly see the girl standing by the closed
door of the Pempeiian room with extended hand, as if turned to
stone.  But my voice was firm enough.  "Not this time," I repeated,
and became aware of the great noise of the wind amongst the trees,
with the lashing of a rain squall against the door.

"Perhaps some other time," I added.

I heard her say twice to herself:  "Mon Dieu!  Mon, Dieu!" and then
a dismayed:  "What can Monsieur expect me to do?"  But I had to
appear insensible to her distress and that not altogether because,
in fact, I had no option but to go away.  I remember also a
distinct wilfulness in my attitude and something half-contemptuous
in my words as I laid my hand on the knob of the front door.

"You will tell Madame that I am gone.  It will please her.  Tell
her that I am gone--heroically."

Rose had come up close to me.  She met my words by a despairing
outward movement of her hands as though she were giving everything
up.

"I see it clearly now that Madame has no friends," she declared
with such a force of restrained bitterness that it nearly made me
pause.  But the very obscurity of actuating motives drove me on and
I stepped out through the doorway muttering:  "Everything is as
Madame wishes it."

She shot at me a swift:  "You should resist," of an extraordinary
intensity, but I strode on down the path.  Then Rose's schooled
temper gave way at last and I heard her angry voice screaming after
me furiously through the wind and rain:  "No!  Madame has no
friends.  Not one!"




PART FIVE




CHAPTER I



That night I didn't get on board till just before midnight and
Dominic could not conceal his relief at having me safely there.
Why he should have been so uneasy it was impossible to say but at
the time I had a sort of impression that my inner destruction (it
was nothing less) had affected my appearance, that my doom was as
it were written on my face.  I was a mere receptacle for dust and
ashes, a living testimony to the vanity of all things.  My very
thoughts were like a ghostly rustle of dead leaves.  But we had an
extremely successful trip, and for most of the time Dominic
displayed an unwonted jocularity of a dry and biting kind with
which, he maintained, he had been infected by no other person than
myself.  As, with all his force of character, he was very
responsive to the moods of those he liked I have no doubt he spoke
the truth.  But I know nothing about it.  The observer, more or
less alert, whom each of us carries in his own consciousness,
failed me altogether, had turned away his face in sheer horror, or
else had fainted from the strain.  And thus I had to live alone,
unobserved even by myself.

But the trip had been successful.  We re-entered the harbour very
quietly as usual and when our craft had been moored
unostentatiously amongst the plebeian stone-carriers, Dominic,
whose grim joviality had subsided in the last twenty-four hours of
our homeward run, abandoned me to myself as though indeed I had
been a doomed man.  He only stuck his head for a moment into our
little cuddy where I was changing my clothes and being told in
answer to his question that I had no special orders to give went
ashore without waiting for me.

Generally we used to step on the quay together and I never failed
to enter for a moment Madame Leonore's cafe.  But this time when I
got on the quay Dominic was nowhere to be seen.  What was it?
Abandonment--discretion--or had he quarrelled with his Leonore
before leaving on the trip?

My way led me past the cafe and through the glass panes I saw that
he was already there.  On the other side of the little marble table
Madame Leonore, leaning with mature grace on her elbow, was
listening to him absorbed.  Then I passed on and--what would you
have!--I ended by making my way into the street of the Consuls.  I
had nowhere else to go.  There were my things in the apartment on
the first floor.  I couldn't bear the thought of meeting anybody I
knew.

The feeble gas flame in the hall was still there, on duty, as
though it had never been turned off since I last crossed the hall
at half-past eleven in the evening to go to the harbour.  The small
flame had watched me letting myself out; and now, exactly of the
same size, the poor little tongue of light (there was something
wrong with that burner) watched me letting myself in, as indeed it
had done many times before.  Generally the impression was that of
entering an untenanted house, but this time before I could reach
the foot of the stairs Therese glided out of the passage leading
into the studio.  After the usual exclamations she assured me that
everything was ready for me upstairs, had been for days, and
offered to get me something to eat at once.  I accepted and said I
would be down in the studio in half an hour.  I found her there by
the side of the laid table ready for conversation.  She began by
telling me--the dear, poor young Monsieur--in a sort of plaintive
chant, that there were no letters for me, no letters of any kind,
no letters from anybody.  Glances of absolutely terrifying
tenderness mingled with flashes of cunning swept over me from head
to foot while I tried to eat.

"Are you giving me Captain Blunt's wine to drink?" I asked, noting
the straw-coloured liquid in my glass.

She screwed up her mouth as if she had a twinge of toothache and
assured me that the wine belonged to the house.  I would have to
pay her for it.  As far as personal feelings go, Blunt, who
addressed her always with polite seriousness, was not a favourite
with her.  The "charming, brave Monsieur" was now fighting for the
King and religion against the impious Liberals.  He went away the
very morning after I had left and, oh! she remembered, he had asked
her before going away whether I was still in the house.  Wanted
probably to say good-bye to me, shake my hand, the dear, polite
Monsieur.

I let her run on in dread expectation of what she would say next
but she stuck to the subject of Blunt for some time longer.  He had
written to her once about some of his things which he wanted her to
send to Paris to his mother's address; but she was going to do
nothing of the kind.  She announced this with a pious smile; and in
answer to my questions I discovered that it was a stratagem to make
Captain Blunt return to the house.

"You will get yourself into trouble with the police, Mademoiselle
Therese, if you go on like that," I said.  But she was as obstinate
as a mule and assured me with the utmost confidence that many
people would be ready to defend a poor honest girl.  There was
something behind this attitude which I could not fathom.  Suddenly
she fetched a deep sigh.

"Our Rita, too, will end by coming to her sister."

The name for which I had been waiting deprived me of speech for the
moment.  The poor mad sinner had rushed off to some of her
wickednesses in Paris.  Did I know?  No?  How could she tell
whether I did know or not?  Well!  I had hardly left the house, so
to speak, when Rita was down with her maid behaving as if the house
did really still belong to her. . .

"What time was it?" I managed to ask.  And with the words my life
itself was being forced out through my lips.  But Therese, not
noticing anything strange about me, said it was something like
half-past seven in the morning.  The "poor sinner" was all in black
as if she were going to church (except for her expression, which
was enough to shock any honest person), and after ordering her with
frightful menaces not to let anybody know she was in the house she
rushed upstairs and locked herself up in my bedroom, while "that
French creature" (whom she seemed to love more than her own sister)
went into my salon and hid herself behind the window curtain.

I had recovered sufficiently to ask in a quiet natural voice
whether Dona Rita and Captain Blunt had seen each other.
Apparently they had not seen each other.  The polite captain had
looked so stern while packing up his kit that Therese dared not
speak to him at all.  And he was in a hurry, too.  He had to see
his dear mother off to Paris before his own departure.  Very stern.
But he shook her hand with a very nice bow.

Therese elevated her right hand for me to see.  It was broad and
short with blunt fingers, as usual.  The pressure of Captain
Blunt's handshake had not altered its unlovely shape.

"What was the good of telling him that our Rita was here?" went on
Therese.  "I would have been ashamed of her coming here and
behaving as if the house belonged to her!  I had already said some
prayers at his intention at the half-past six mass, the brave
gentleman.  That maid of my sister Rita was upstairs watching him
drive away with her evil eyes, but I made a sign of the cross after
the fiacre, and then I went upstairs and banged at your door, my
dear kind young Monsieur, and shouted to Rita that she had no right
to lock herself in any of my locataires' rooms.  At last she opened
it--and what do you think?  All her hair was loose over her
shoulders.  I suppose it all came down when she flung her hat on
your bed.  I noticed when she arrived that her hair wasn't done
properly.  She used your brushes to do it up again in front of your
glass."

"Wait a moment," I said, and jumped up, upsetting my wine to run
upstairs as fast as I could.  I lighted the gas, all the three jets
in the middle of the room, the jet by the bedside and two others
flanking the dressing-table.  I had been struck by the wild hope of
finding a trace of Rita's passage, a sign or something.  I pulled
out all the drawers violently, thinking that perhaps she had hidden
there a scrap of paper, a note.  It was perfectly mad.  Of course
there was no chance of that.  Therese would have seen to it.  I
picked up one after another all the various objects on the
dressing-table.  On laying my hands on the brushes I had a profound
emotion, and with misty eyes I examined them meticulously with the
new hope of finding one of Rita's tawny hairs entangled amongst the
bristles by a miraculous chance.  But Therese would have done away
with that chance, too.  There was nothing to be seen, though I held
them up to the light with a beating heart.  It was written that not
even that trace of her passage on the earth should remain with me;
not to help but, as it were, to soothe the memory.  Then I lighted
a cigarette and came downstairs slowly.  My unhappiness became
dulled, as the grief of those who mourn for the dead gets dulled in
the overwhelming sensation that everything is over, that a part of
themselves is lost beyond recall taking with it all the savour of
life.

I discovered Therese still on the very same spot of the floor, her
hands folded over each other and facing my empty chair before which
the spilled wine had soaked a large portion of the table-cloth.
She hadn't moved at all.  She hadn't even picked up the overturned
glass.  But directly I appeared she began to speak in an
ingratiating voice.

"If you have missed anything of yours upstairs, my dear young
Monsieur, you mustn't say it's me.  You don't know what our Rita
is."

"I wish to goodness," I said, "that she had taken something."

And again I became inordinately agitated as though it were my
absolute fate to be everlastingly dying and reviving to the
tormenting fact of her existence.  Perhaps she had taken something?
Anything.  Some small object.  I thought suddenly of a Rhenish-
stone match-box.  Perhaps it was that.  I didn't remember having
seen it when upstairs.  I wanted to make sure at once.  At once.
But I commanded myself to sit still.

"And she so wealthy," Therese went on.  "Even you with your dear
generous little heart can do nothing for our Rita.  No man can do
anything for her--except perhaps one, but she is so evilly disposed
towards him that she wouldn't even see him, if in the goodness of
his forgiving heart he were to offer his hand to her.  It's her bad
conscience that frightens her.  He loves her more than his life,
the dear, charitable man."

"You mean some rascal in Paris that I believe persecutes Dona Rita.
Listen, Mademoiselle Therese, if you know where he hangs out you
had better let him have word to be careful I believe he, too, is
mixed up in the Carlist intrigue.  Don't you know that your sister
can get him shut up any day or get him expelled by the police?"

Therese sighed deeply and put on a look of pained virtue.

"Oh, the hardness of her heart.  She tried to be tender with me.
She is awful.  I said to her, 'Rita, have you sold your soul to the
Devil?' and she shouted like a fiend:  'For happiness!  Ha, ha,
ha!'  She threw herself backwards on that couch in your room and
laughed and laughed and laughed as if I had been tickling her, and
she drummed on the floor with the heels of her shoes.  She is
possessed.  Oh, my dear innocent young Monsieur, you have never
seen anything like that.  That wicked girl who serves her rushed in
with a tiny glass bottle and put it to her nose; but I had a mind
to run out and fetch the priest from the church where I go to early
mass.  Such a nice, stout, severe man.  But that false, cheating
creature (I am sure she is robbing our Rita from morning to night),
she talked to our Rita very low and quieted her down.  I am sure I
don't know what she said.  She must be leagued with the devil.  And
then she asked me if I would go down and make a cup of chocolate
for her Madame.  Madame--that's our Rita.  Madame!  It seems they
were going off directly to Paris and her Madame had had nothing to
eat since the morning of the day before.  Fancy me being ordered to
make chocolate for our Rita!  However, the poor thing looked so
exhausted and white-faced that I went.  Ah! the devil can give you
an awful shake up if he likes."

Therese fetched another deep sigh and raising her eyes looked at me
with great attention.  I preserved an inscrutable expression, for I
wanted to hear all she had to tell me of Rita.  I watched her with
the greatest anxiety composing her face into a cheerful expression.

"So Dona Rita is gone to Paris?" I asked negligently.

"Yes, my dear Monsieur.  I believe she went straight to the railway
station from here.  When she first got up from the couch she could
hardly stand.  But before, while she was drinking the chocolate
which I made for her, I tried to get her to sign a paper giving
over the house to me, but she only closed her eyes and begged me to
try and be a good sister and leave her alone for half an hour.  And
she lying there looking as if she wouldn't live a day.  But she
always hated me."

I said bitterly, "You needn't have worried her like this.  If she
had not lived for another day you would have had this house and
everything else besides; a bigger bit than even your wolfish throat
can swallow, Mademoiselle Therese."

I then said a few more things indicative of my disgust with her
rapacity, but they were quite inadequate, as I wasn't able to find
words strong enough to express my real mind.  But it didn't matter
really because I don't think Therese heard me at all.  She seemed
lost in rapt amazement.

"What do you say, my dear Monsieur?  What!  All for me without any
sort of paper?"

She appeared distracted by my curt:  "Yes."  Therese believed in my
truthfulness.  She believed me implicitly, except when I was
telling her the truth about herself, mincing no words, when she
used to stand smilingly bashful as if I were overwhelming her with
compliments.  I expected her to continue the horrible tale but
apparently she had found something to think about which checked the
flow.  She fetched another sigh and muttered:

"Then the law can be just, if it does not require any paper.  After
all, I am her sister."

"It's very difficult to believe that--at sight," I said roughly.

"Ah, but that I could prove.  There are papers for that."

After this declaration she began to clear the table, preserving a
thoughtful silence.

I was not very surprised at the news of Dona Rita's departure for
Paris.  It was not necessary to ask myself why she had gone.  I
didn't even ask myself whether she had left the leased Villa on the
Prado for ever.  Later talking again with Therese, I learned that
her sister had given it up for the use of the Carlist cause and
that some sort of unofficial Consul, a Carlist agent of some sort,
either was going to live there or had already taken possession.
This, Rita herself had told her before her departure on that
agitated morning spent in the house--in my rooms.  A close
investigation demonstrated to me that there was nothing missing
from them.  Even the wretched match-box which I really hoped was
gone turned up in a drawer after I had, delightedly, given it up.
It was a great blow.  She might have taken that at least!  She knew
I used to carry it about with me constantly while ashore.  She
might have taken it!  Apparently she meant that there should be no
bond left even of that kind; and yet it was a long time before I
gave up visiting and revisiting all the corners of all possible
receptacles for something that she might have left behind on
purpose.  It was like the mania of those disordered minds who spend
their days hunting for a treasure.  I hoped for a forgotten
hairpin, for some tiny piece of ribbon.  Sometimes at night I
reflected that such hopes were altogether insensate; but I remember
once getting up at two in the morning to search for a little
cardboard box in the bathroom, into which, I remembered, I had not
looked before.  Of course it was empty; and, anyway, Rita could not
possibly have known of its existence.  I got back to bed shivering
violently, though the night was warm, and with a distinct
impression that this thing would end by making me mad.  It was no
longer a question of "this sort of thing" killing me.  The moral
atmosphere of this torture was different.  It would make me mad.
And at that thought great shudders ran down my prone body, because,
once, I had visited a famous lunatic asylum where they had shown me
a poor wretch who was mad, apparently, because he thought he had
been abominably fooled by a woman.  They told me that his grievance
was quite imaginary.  He was a young man with a thin fair beard,
huddled up on the edge of his bed, hugging himself forlornly; and
his incessant and lamentable wailing filled the long bare corridor,
striking a chill into one's heart long before one came to the door
of his cell.

And there was no one from whom I could hear, to whom I could speak,
with whom I could evoke the image of Rita.  Of course I could utter
that word of four letters to Therese; but Therese for some reason
took it into her head to avoid all topics connected with her
sister.  I felt as if I could pull out great handfuls of her hair
hidden modestly under the black handkerchief of which the ends were
sometimes tied under her chin.  But, really, I could not have given
her any intelligible excuse for that outrage.  Moreover, she was
very busy from the very top to the very bottom of the house, which
she persisted in running alone because she couldn't make up her
mind to part with a few francs every month to a servant.  It seemed
to me that I was no longer such a favourite with her as I used to
be.  That, strange to say, was exasperating, too.  It was as if
some idea, some fruitful notion had killed in her all the softer
and more humane emotions.  She went about with brooms and dusters
wearing an air of sanctimonious thoughtfulness.

The man who to a certain extent took my place in Therese's favour
was the old father of the dancing girls inhabiting the ground
floor.  In a tall hat and a well-to-do dark blue overcoat he
allowed himself to be button-holed in the hall by Therese who would
talk to him interminably with downcast eyes.  He smiled gravely
down at her, and meanwhile tried to edge towards the front door.  I
imagine he didn't put a great value on Therese's favour.  Our stay
in harbour was prolonged this time and I kept indoors like an
invalid.  One evening I asked that old man to come in and drink and
smoke with me in the studio.  He made no difficulties to accept,
brought his wooden pipe with him, and was very entertaining in a
pleasant voice.  One couldn't tell whether he was an uncommon
person or simply a ruffian, but in any case with his white beard he
looked quite venerable.  Naturally he couldn't give me much of his
company as he had to look closely after his girls and their
admirers; not that the girls were unduly frivolous, but of course
being very young they had no experience.  They were friendly
creatures with pleasant, merry voices and he was very much devoted
to them.  He was a muscular man with a high colour and silvery
locks curling round his bald pate and over his ears, like a barocco
apostle.  I had an idea that he had had a lurid past and had seen
some fighting in his youth.  The admirers of the two girls stood in
great awe of him, from instinct no doubt, because his behaviour to
them was friendly and even somewhat obsequious, yet always with a
certain truculent glint in his eye that made them pause in
everything but their generosity--which was encouraged.  I sometimes
wondered whether those two careless, merry hard-working creatures
understood the secret moral beauty of the situation.

My real company was the dummy in the studio and I can't say it was
exactly satisfying.  After taking possession of the studio I had
raised it tenderly, dusted its mangled limbs and insensible, hard-
wood bosom, and then had propped it up in a corner where it seemed
to take on, of itself, a shy attitude.  I knew its history.  It was
not an ordinary dummy.  One day, talking with Dona Rita about her
sister, I had told her that I thought Therese used to knock it down
on purpose with a broom, and Dona Rita had laughed very much.
This, she had said, was an instance of dislike from mere instinct.
That dummy had been made to measure years before.  It had to wear
for days and days the Imperial Byzantine robes in which Dona Rita
sat only once or twice herself; but of course the folds and bends
of the stuff had to be preserved as in the first sketch.  Dona Rita
described amusingly how she had to stand in the middle of her room
while Rose walked around her with a tape measure noting the figures
down on a small piece of paper which was then sent to the maker,
who presently returned it with an angry letter stating that those
proportions were altogether impossible in any woman.  Apparently
Rose had muddled them all up; and it was a long time before the
figure was finished and sent to the Pavilion in a long basket to
take on itself the robes and the hieratic pose of the Empress.
Later, it wore with the same patience the marvellous hat of the
"Girl in the Hat."  But Dona Rita couldn't understand how the poor
thing ever found its way to Marseilles minus its turnip head.
Probably it came down with the robes and a quantity of precious
brocades which she herself had sent down from Paris.  The knowledge
of its origin, the contempt of Captain Blunt's references to it,
with Therese's shocked dislike of the dummy, invested that summary
reproduction with a sort of charm, gave me a faint and miserable
illusion of the original, less artificial than a photograph, less
precise, too. . . . But it can't be explained.  I felt positively
friendly to it as if it had been Rita's trusted personal attendant.
I even went so far as to discover that it had a sort of grace of
its own.  But I never went so far as to address set speeches to it
where it lurked shyly in its corner, or drag it out from there for
contemplation.  I left it in peace.  I wasn't mad.  I was only
convinced that I soon would be.



CHAPTER II



Notwithstanding my misanthropy I had to see a few people on account
of all these Royalist affairs which I couldn't very well drop, and
in truth did not wish to drop.  They were my excuse for remaining
in Europe, which somehow I had not the strength of mind to leave
for the West Indies, or elsewhere.  On the other hand, my
adventurous pursuit kept me in contact with the sea where I found
occupation, protection, consolation, the mental relief of grappling
with concrete problems, the sanity one acquires from close contact
with simple mankind, a little self-confidence born from the
dealings with the elemental powers of nature.  I couldn't give all
that up.  And besides all this was related to Dona Rita.  I had, as
it were, received it all from her own hand, from that hand the
clasp of which was as frank as a man's and yet conveyed a unique
sensation.  The very memory of it would go through me like a wave
of heat.  It was over that hand that we first got into the habit of
quarrelling, with the irritability of sufferers from some obscure
pain and yet half unconscious of their disease.  Rita's own spirit
hovered over the troubled waters of Legitimity.  But as to the
sound of the four magic letters of her name I was not very likely
to hear it fall sweetly on my ear.  For instance, the distinguished
personality in the world of finance with whom I had to confer
several times, alluded to the irresistible seduction of the power
which reigned over my heart and my mind; which had a mysterious and
unforgettable face, the brilliance of sunshine together with the
unfathomable splendour of the night as--Madame de Lastaola.  That's
how that steel-grey man called the greatest mystery of the
universe.  When uttering that assumed name he would make for
himself a guardedly solemn and reserved face as though he were
afraid lest I should presume to smile, lest he himself should
venture to smile, and the sacred formality of our relations should
be outraged beyond mending.

He would refer in a studiously grave tone to Madame de Lastaola's
wishes, plans, activities, instructions, movements; or picking up a
letter from the usual litter of paper found on such men's desks,
glance at it to refresh his memory; and, while the very sight of
the handwriting would make my lips go dry, would ask me in a
bloodless voice whether perchance I had "a direct communication
from--er--Paris lately."  And there would be other maddening
circumstances connected with those visits.  He would treat me as a
serious person having a clear view of certain eventualities, while
at the very moment my vision could see nothing but streaming across
the wall at his back, abundant and misty, unearthly and adorable, a
mass of tawny hair that seemed to have hot sparks tangled in it.
Another nuisance was the atmosphere of Royalism, of Legitimacy,
that pervaded the room, thin as air, intangible, as though no
Legitimist of flesh and blood had ever existed to the man's mind
except perhaps myself.  He, of course, was just simply a banker, a
very distinguished, a very influential, and a very impeccable
banker.  He persisted also in deferring to my judgment and sense
with an over-emphasis called out by his perpetual surprise at my
youth.  Though he had seen me many times (I even knew his wife) he
could never get over my immature age.  He himself was born about
fifty years old, all complete, with his iron-grey whiskers and his
bilious eyes, which he had the habit of frequently closing during a
conversation.  On one occasion he said to me.  "By the by, the
Marquis of Villarel is here for a time.  He inquired after you the
last time he called on me.  May I let him know that you are in
town?"

I didn't say anything to that.  The Marquis of Villarel was the Don
Rafael of Rita's own story.  What had I to do with Spanish
grandees?  And for that matter what had she, the woman of all time,
to do with all the villainous or splendid disguises human dust
takes upon itself?  All this was in the past, and I was acutely
aware that for me there was no present, no future, nothing but a
hollow pain, a vain passion of such magnitude that being locked up
within my breast it gave me an illusion of lonely greatness with my
miserable head uplifted amongst the stars.  But when I made up my
mind (which I did quickly, to be done with it) to call on the
banker's wife, almost the first thing she said to me was that the
Marquis de Villarel was "amongst us."  She said it joyously.  If in
her husband's room at the bank legitimism was a mere unpopulated
principle, in her salon Legitimacy was nothing but persons.  "Il
m'a cause beaucoup de vous," she said as if there had been a joke
in it of which I ought to be proud.  I slunk away from her.  I
couldn't believe that the grandee had talked to her about me.  I
had never felt myself part of the great Royalist enterprise.  I
confess that I was so indifferent to everything, so profoundly
demoralized, that having once got into that drawing-room I hadn't
the strength to get away; though I could see perfectly well my
volatile hostess going from one to another of her acquaintances in
order to tell them with a little gesture, "Look!  Over there--in
that corner.  That's the notorious Monsieur George."  At last she
herself drove me out by coming to sit by me vivaciously and going
into ecstasies over "ce cher Monsieur Mills" and that magnificent
Lord X; and ultimately, with a perfectly odious snap in the eyes
and drop in the voice, dragging in the name of Madame de Lastaola
and asking me whether I was really so much in the confidence of
that astonishing person.  "Vous devez bien regretter son depart
pour Paris," she cooed, looking with affected bashfulness at her
fan. . . . How I got out of the room I really don't know.  There
was also a staircase.  I did not fall down it head first--that much
I am certain of; and I also remember that I wandered for a long
time about the seashore and went home very late, by the way of the
Prado, giving in passing a fearful glance at the Villa.  It showed
not a gleam of light through the thin foliage of its trees.

I spent the next day with Dominic on board the little craft
watching the shipwrights at work on her deck.  From the way they
went about their business those men must have been perfectly sane;
and I felt greatly refreshed by my company during the day.
Dominic, too, devoted himself to his business, but his taciturnity
was sardonic.  Then I dropped in at the cafe and Madame Leonore's
loud "Eh, Signorino, here you are at last!" pleased me by its
resonant friendliness.  But I found the sparkle of her black eyes
as she sat down for a moment opposite me while I was having my
drink rather difficult to bear.  That man and that woman seemed to
know something.  What did they know?  At parting she pressed my
hand significantly.  What did she mean?  But I didn't feel offended
by these manifestations.  The souls within these people's breasts
were not volatile in the manner of slightly scented and inflated
bladders.  Neither had they the impervious skins which seem the
rule in the fine world that wants only to get on.  Somehow they had
sensed that there was something wrong; and whatever impression they
might have formed for themselves I had the certitude that it would
not be for them a matter of grins at my expense.

That day on returning home I found Therese looking out for me, a
very unusual occurrence of late.  She handed me a card bearing the
name of the Marquis de Villarel.

"How did you come by this?" I asked.  She turned on at once the tap
of her volubility and I was not surprised to learn that the grandee
had not done such an extraordinary thing as to call upon me in
person.  A young gentleman had brought it.  Such a nice young
gentleman, she interjected with her piously ghoulish expression.
He was not very tall.  He had a very smooth complexion (that woman
was incorrigible) and a nice, tiny black moustache.  Therese was
sure that he must have been an officer en las filas legitimas.
With that notion in her head she had asked him about the welfare of
that other model of charm and elegance, Captain Blunt.  To her
extreme surprise the charming young gentleman with beautiful eyes
had apparently never heard of Blunt.  But he seemed very much
interested in his surroundings, looked all round the hall, noted
the costly wood of the door panels, paid some attention to the
silver statuette holding up the defective gas burner at the foot of
the stairs, and, finally, asked whether this was in very truth the
house of the most excellent Senora Dona Rita de Lastaola.  The
question staggered Therese, but with great presence of mind she
answered the young gentleman that she didn't know what excellence
there was about it, but that the house was her property, having
been given to her by her own sister.  At this the young gentleman
looked both puzzled and angry, turned on his heel, and got back
into his fiacre.  Why should people be angry with a poor girl who
had never done a single reprehensible thing in her whole life?

"I suppose our Rita does tell people awful lies about her poor
sister."  She sighed deeply (she had several kinds of sighs and
this was the hopeless kind) and added reflectively, "Sin on sin,
wickedness on wickedness!  And the longer she lives the worse it
will be.  It would be better for our Rita to be dead."

I told "Mademoiselle Therese" that it was really impossible to tell
whether she was more stupid or atrocious; but I wasn't really very
much shocked.  These outbursts did not signify anything in Therese.
One got used to them.  They were merely the expression of her
rapacity and her righteousness; so that our conversation ended by
my asking her whether she had any dinner ready for me that evening.

"What's the good of getting you anything to eat, my dear young
Monsieur," she quizzed me tenderly.  "You just only peck like a
little bird.  Much better let me save the money for you."  It will
show the super-terrestrial nature of my misery when I say that I
was quite surprised at Therese's view of my appetite.  Perhaps she
was right.  I certainly did not know.  I stared hard at her and in
the end she admitted that the dinner was in fact ready that very
moment.

The new young gentleman within Therese's horizon didn't surprise me
very much.  Villarel would travel with some sort of suite, a couple
of secretaries at least.  I had heard enough of Carlist
headquarters to know that the man had been (very likely was still)
Captain General of the Royal Bodyguard and was a person of great
political (and domestic) influence at Court.  The card was, under
its social form, a mere command to present myself before the
grandee.  No Royalist devoted by conviction, as I must have
appeared to him, could have mistaken the meaning.  I put the card
in my pocket and after dining or not dining--I really don't
remember--spent the evening smoking in the studio, pursuing
thoughts of tenderness and grief, visions exalting and cruel.  From
time to time I looked at the dummy.  I even got up once from the
couch on which I had been writhing like a worm and walked towards
it as if to touch it, but refrained, not from sudden shame but from
sheer despair.  By and by Therese drifted in.  It was then late
and, I imagine, she was on her way to bed.  She looked the picture
of cheerful, rustic innocence and started propounding to me a
conundrum which began with the words:

"If our Rita were to die before long . . ."

She didn't get any further because I had jumped up and frightened
her by shouting:  "Is she ill?  What has happened?  Have you had a
letter?"

She had had a letter.  I didn't ask her to show it to me, though I
daresay she would have done so.  I had an idea that there was no
meaning in anything, at least no meaning that mattered.  But the
interruption had made Therese apparently forget her sinister
conundrum.  She observed me with her shrewd, unintelligent eyes for
a bit, and then with the fatuous remark about the Law being just
she left me to the horrors of the studio.  I believe I went to
sleep there from sheer exhaustion.  Some time during the night I
woke up chilled to the bone and in the dark.  These were horrors
and no mistake.  I dragged myself upstairs to bed past the
indefatigable statuette holding up the ever-miserable light.  The
black-and-white hall was like an ice-house.

The main consideration which induced me to call on the Marquis of
Villarel was the fact that after all I was a discovery of Dona
Rita's, her own recruit.  My fidelity and steadfastness had been
guaranteed by her and no one else.  I couldn't bear the idea of her
being criticized by every empty-headed chatterer belonging to the
Cause.  And as, apart from that, nothing mattered much, why, then--
I would get this over.

But it appeared that I had not reflected sufficiently on all the
consequences of that step.  First of all the sight of the Villa
looking shabbily cheerful in the sunshine (but not containing her
any longer) was so perturbing that I very nearly went away from the
gate.  Then when I got in after much hesitation--being admitted by
the man in the green baize apron who recognized me--the thought of
entering that room, out of which she was gone as completely as if
she had been dead, gave me such an emotion that I had to steady
myself against the table till the faintness was past.  Yet I was
irritated as at a treason when the man in the baize apron instead
of letting me into the Pompeiian dining-room crossed the hall to
another door not at all in the Pompeiian style (more Louis XV
rather--that Villa was like a Salade Russe of styles) and
introduced me into a big, light room full of very modern furniture.
The portrait en pied of an officer in a sky-blue uniform hung on
the end wall.  The officer had a small head, a black beard cut
square, a robust body, and leaned with gauntleted hands on the
simple hilt of a straight sword.  That striking picture dominated a
massive mahogany desk, and, in front of this desk, a very roomy,
tall-backed armchair of dark green velvet.  I thought I had been
announced into an empty room till glancing along the extremely loud
carpet I detected a pair of feet under the armchair.

I advanced towards it and discovered a little man, who had made no
sound or movement till I came into his view, sunk deep in the green
velvet.  He altered his position slowly and rested his hollow,
black, quietly burning eyes on my face in prolonged scrutiny.  I
detected something comminatory in his yellow, emaciated
countenance, but I believe now he was simply startled by my youth.
I bowed profoundly.  He extended a meagre little hand.

"Take a chair, Don Jorge."

He was very small, frail, and thin, but his voice was not languid,
though he spoke hardly above his breath.  Such was the envelope and
the voice of the fanatical soul belonging to the Grand-master of
Ceremonies and Captain General of the Bodyguard at the Headquarters
of the Legitimist Court, now detached on a special mission.  He was
all fidelity, inflexibility, and sombre conviction, but like some
great saints he had very little body to keep all these merits in.

"You are very young," he remarked, to begin with.  "The matters on
which I desired to converse with you are very grave."

"I was under the impression that your Excellency wished to see me
at once.  But if your Excellency prefers it I will return in, say,
seven years' time when I may perhaps be old enough to talk about
grave matters."

He didn't stir hand or foot and not even the quiver of an eyelid
proved that he had heard my shockingly unbecoming retort.

"You have been recommended to us by a noble and loyal lady, in whom
His Majesty--whom God preserve--reposes an entire confidence.  God
will reward her as she deserves and you, too, Senor, according to
the disposition you bring to this great work which has the blessing
(here he crossed himself) of our Holy Mother the Church."

"I suppose your Excellency understands that in all this I am not
looking for reward of any kind."

At this he made a faint, almost ethereal grimace.

"I was speaking of the spiritual blessing which rewards the service
of religion and will be of benefit to your soul," he explained with
a slight touch of acidity.  "The other is perfectly understood and
your fidelity is taken for granted.  His Majesty--whom God
preserve--has been already pleased to signify his satisfaction with
your services to the most noble and loyal Dona Rita by a letter in
his own hand."

Perhaps he expected me to acknowledge this announcement in some
way, speech, or bow, or something, because before my immobility he
made a slight movement in his chair which smacked of impatience.
"I am afraid, Senor, that you are affected by the spirit of
scoffing and irreverence which pervades this unhappy country of
France in which both you and I are strangers, I believe.  Are you a
young man of that sort?"

"I am a very good gun-runner, your Excellency," I answered quietly.

He bowed his head gravely.  "We are aware.  But I was looking for
the motives which ought to have their pure source in religion."

"I must confess frankly that I have not reflected on my motives," I
said.  "It is enough for me to know that they are not dishonourable
and that anybody can see they are not the motives of an adventurer
seeking some sordid advantage."

He had listened patiently and when he saw that there was nothing
more to come he ended the discussion.

"Senor, we should reflect upon our motives.  It is salutary for our
conscience and is recommended (he crossed himself) by our Holy
Mother the Church.  I have here certain letters from Paris on which
I would consult your young sagacity which is accredited to us by
the most loyal Dona Rita."

The sound of that name on his lips was simply odious.  I was
convinced that this man of forms and ceremonies and fanatical
royalism was perfectly heartless.  Perhaps he reflected on his
motives; but it seemed to me that his conscience could be nothing
else but a monstrous thing which very few actions could disturb
appreciably.  Yet for the credit of Dona Rita I did not withhold
from him my young sagacity.  What he thought of it I don't know,
The matters we discussed were not of course of high policy, though
from the point of view of the war in the south they were important
enough.  We agreed on certain things to be done, and finally,
always out of regard for Dona Rita's credit, I put myself generally
at his disposition or of any Carlist agent he would appoint in his
place; for I did not suppose that he would remain very long in
Marseilles.  He got out of the chair laboriously, like a sick child
might have done.  The audience was over but he noticed my eyes
wandering to the portrait and he said in his measured, breathed-out
tones:

"I owe the pleasure of having this admirable work here to the
gracious attention of Madame de Lastaola, who, knowing my
attachment to the royal person of my Master, has sent it down from
Paris to greet me in this house which has been given up for my
occupation also through her generosity to the Royal Cause.
Unfortunately she, too, is touched by the infection of this
irreverent and unfaithful age.  But she is young yet.  She is
young."

These last words were pronounced in a strange tone of menace as
though he were supernaturally aware of some suspended disasters.
With his burning eyes he was the image of an Inquisitor with an
unconquerable soul in that frail body.  But suddenly he dropped his
eyelids and the conversation finished as characteristically as it
had begun:  with a slow, dismissing inclination of the head and an
"Adios, Senor--may God guard you from sin."



CHAPTER III



I must say that for the next three months I threw myself into my
unlawful trade with a sort of desperation, dogged and hopeless,
like a fairly decent fellow who takes deliberately to drink.  The
business was getting dangerous.  The bands in the South were not
very well organized, worked with no very definite plan, and now
were beginning to be pretty closely hunted.  The arrangements for
the transport of supplies were going to pieces; our friends ashore
were getting scared; and it was no joke to find after a day of
skilful dodging that there was no one at the landing place and have
to go out again with our compromising cargo, to slink and lurk
about the coast for another week or so, unable to trust anybody and
looking at every vessel we met with suspicion.  Once we were
ambushed by a lot of "rascally Carabineers," as Dominic called
them, who hid themselves among the rocks after disposing a train of
mules well in view on the seashore.  Luckily, on evidence which I
could never understand, Dominic detected something suspicious.
Perhaps it was by virtue of some sixth sense that men born for
unlawful occupations may be gifted with.  "There is a smell of
treachery about this," he remarked suddenly, turning at his oar.
(He and I were pulling alone in a little boat to reconnoitre.)  I
couldn't detect any smell and I regard to this day our escape on
that occasion as, properly speaking, miraculous.  Surely some
supernatural power must have struck upwards the barrels of the
Carabineers' rifles, for they missed us by yards.  And as the
Carabineers have the reputation of shooting straight, Dominic,
after swearing most horribly, ascribed our escape to the particular
guardian angel that looks after crazy young gentlemen.  Dominic
believed in angels in a conventional way, but laid no claim to
having one of his own.  Soon afterwards, while sailing quietly at
night, we found ourselves suddenly near a small coasting vessel,
also without lights, which all at once treated us to a volley of
rifle fire.  Dominic's mighty and inspired yell:  "A plat ventre!"
and also an unexpected roll to windward saved all our lives.
Nobody got a scratch.  We were past in a moment and in a breeze
then blowing we had the heels of anything likely to give us chase.
But an hour afterwards, as we stood side by side peering into the
darkness, Dominic was heard to mutter through his teeth:  "Le
metier se gate."  I, too, had the feeling that the trade, if not
altogether spoiled, had seen its best days.  But I did not care.
In fact, for my purpose it was rather better, a more potent
influence; like the stronger intoxication of raw spirit.  A volley
in the dark after all was not such a bad thing.  Only a moment
before we had received it, there, in that calm night of the sea
full of freshness and soft whispers, I had been looking at an
enchanting turn of a head in a faint light of its own, the tawny
hair with snared red sparks brushed up from the nape of a white
neck and held up on high by an arrow of gold feathered with
brilliants and with ruby gleams all along its shaft.  That jewelled
ornament, which I remember often telling Rita was of a very
Philistinish conception (it was in some way connected with a
tortoiseshell comb) occupied an undue place in my memory, tried to
come into some sort of significance even in my sleep.  Often I
dreamed of her with white limbs shimmering in the gloom like a
nymph haunting a riot of foliage, and raising a perfect round arm
to take an arrow of gold out of her hair to throw it at me by hand,
like a dart.  It came on, a whizzing trail of light, but I always
woke up before it struck.  Always.  Invariably.  It never had a
chance.  A volley of small arms was much more likely to do the
business some day--or night.


At last came the day when everything slipped out of my grasp.  The
little vessel, broken and gone like the only toy of a lonely child,
the sea itself, which had swallowed it, throwing me on shore after
a shipwreck that instead of a fair fight left in me the memory of a
suicide.  It took away all that there was in me of independent
life, but just failed to take me out of the world, which looked
then indeed like Another World fit for no one else but unrepentant
sinners.  Even Dominic failed me, his moral entity destroyed by
what to him was a most tragic ending of our common enterprise.  The
lurid swiftness of it all was like a stunning thunder-clap--and,
one evening, I found myself weary, heartsore, my brain still dazed
and with awe in my heart entering Marseilles by way of the railway
station, after many adventures, one more disagreeable than another,
involving privations, great exertions, a lot of difficulties with
all sorts of people who looked upon me evidently more as a
discreditable vagabond deserving the attentions of gendarmes than a
respectable (if crazy) young gentleman attended by a guardian angel
of his own.  I must confess that I slunk out of the railway station
shunning its many lights as if, invariably, failure made an outcast
of a man.  I hadn't any money in my pocket.  I hadn't even the
bundle and the stick of a destitute wayfarer.  I was unshaven and
unwashed, and my heart was faint within me.  My attire was such
that I daren't approach the rank of fiacres, where indeed I could
perceive only two pairs of lamps, of which one suddenly drove away
while I looked.  The other I gave up to the fortunate of this
earth.  I didn't believe in my power of persuasion.  I had no
powers.  I slunk on and on, shivering with cold, through the
uproarious streets.  Bedlam was loose in them.  It was the time of
Carnival.

Small objects of no value have the secret of sticking to a man in
an astonishing way.  I had nearly lost my liberty and even my life,
I had lost my ship, a money-belt full of gold, I had lost my
companions, had parted from my friend; my occupation, my only link
with life, my touch with the sea, my cap and jacket were gone--but
a small penknife and a latchkey had never parted company with me.
With the latchkey I opened the door of refuge.  The hall wore its
deaf-and-dumb air, its black-and-white stillness.

The sickly gas-jet still struggled bravely with adversity at the
end of the raised silver arm of the statuette which had kept to a
hair's breadth its graceful pose on the toes of its left foot; and
the staircase lost itself in the shadows above.  Therese was
parsimonious with the lights.  To see all this was surprising.  It
seemed to me that all the things I had known ought to have come
down with a crash at the moment of the final catastrophe on the
Spanish coast.  And there was Therese herself descending the
stairs, frightened but plucky.  Perhaps she thought that she would
be murdered this time for certain.  She had a strange, unemotional
conviction that the house was particularly convenient for a crime.
One could never get to the bottom of her wild notions which she
held with the stolidity of a peasant allied to the outward serenity
of a nun.  She quaked all over as she came down to her doom, but
when she recognized me she got such a shock that she sat down
suddenly on the lowest step.  She did not expect me for another
week at least, and, besides, she explained, the state I was in made
her blood take "one turn."

Indeed my plight seemed either to have called out or else repressed
her true nature.  But who had ever fathomed her nature!  There was
none of her treacly volubility.  There were none of her "dear young
gentlemans" and "poor little hearts" and references to sin.  In
breathless silence she ran about the house getting my room ready,
lighting fires and gas-jets and even hauling at me to help me up
the stairs.  Yes, she did lay hands on me for that charitable
purpose.  They trembled.  Her pale eyes hardly left my face.  "What
brought you here like this?" she whispered once.

"If I were to tell you, Mademoiselle Therese, you would see there
the hand of God."

She dropped the extra pillow she was carrying and then nearly fell
over it.  "Oh, dear heart," she murmured, and ran off to the
kitchen.

I sank into bed as into a cloud and Therese reappeared very misty
and offering me something in a cup.  I believe it was hot milk, and
after I drank it she took the cup and stood looking at me fixedly.
I managed to say with difficulty:  "Go away," whereupon she
vanished as if by magic before the words were fairly out of my
mouth.  Immediately afterwards the sunlight forced through the
slats of the jalousies its diffused glow, and Therese was there
again as if by magic, saying in a distant voice:  "It's midday". .
. Youth will have its rights.  I had slept like a stone for
seventeen hours.

I suppose an honourable bankrupt would know such an awakening:  the
sense of catastrophe, the shrinking from the necessity of beginning
life again, the faint feeling that there are misfortunes which must
be paid for by a hanging.  In the course of the morning Therese
informed me that the apartment usually occupied by Mr. Blunt was
vacant and added mysteriously that she intended to keep it vacant
for a time, because she had been instructed to do so.  I couldn't
imagine why Blunt should wish to return to Marseilles.  She told me
also that the house was empty except for myself and the two dancing
girls with their father.  Those people had been away for some time
as the girls had engagements in some Italian summer theatres, but
apparently they had secured a re-engagement for the winter and were
now back.  I let Therese talk because it kept my imagination from
going to work on subjects which, I had made up my mind, were no
concern of mine.  But I went out early to perform an unpleasant
task.  It was only proper that I should let the Carlist agent
ensconced in the Prado Villa know of the sudden ending of my
activities.  It would be grave enough news for him, and I did not
like to be its bearer for reasons which were mainly personal.  I
resembled Dominic in so far that I, too, disliked failure.

The Marquis of Villarel had of course gone long before.  The man
who was there was another type of Carlist altogether, and his
temperament was that of a trader.  He was the chief purveyor of the
Legitimist armies, an honest broker of stores, and enjoyed a great
reputation for cleverness.  His important task kept him, of course,
in France, but his young wife, whose beauty and devotion to her
King were well known, represented him worthily at Headquarters,
where his own appearances were extremely rare.  The dissimilar but
united loyalties of those two people had been rewarded by the title
of baron and the ribbon of some order or other.  The gossip of the
Legitimist circles appreciated those favours with smiling
indulgence.  He was the man who had been so distressed and
frightened by Dona Rita's first visit to Tolosa.  He had an extreme
regard for his wife.  And in that sphere of clashing arms and
unceasing intrigue nobody would have smiled then at his agitation
if the man himself hadn't been somewhat grotesque.

He must have been startled when I sent in my name, for he didn't of
course expect to see me yet--nobody expected me.  He advanced soft-
footed down the room.  With his jutting nose, flat-topped skull and
sable garments he recalled an obese raven, and when he heard of the
disaster he manifested his astonishment and concern in a most
plebeian manner by a low and expressive whistle.  I, of course,
could not share his consternation.  My feelings in that connection
were of a different order; but I was annoyed at his unintelligent
stare.

"I suppose," I said, "you will take it on yourself to advise Dona
Rita, who is greatly interested in this affair."

"Yes, but I was given to understand that Madame de Lastaola was to
leave Paris either yesterday or this morning."

It was my turn to stare dumbly before I could manage to ask:  "For
Tolosa?" in a very knowing tone.

Whether it was the droop of his head, play of light, or some other
subtle cause, his nose seemed to have grown perceptibly longer.

"That, Senor, is the place where the news has got to be conveyed
without undue delay," he said in an agitated wheeze.  "I could, of
course, telegraph to our agent in Bayonne who would find a
messenger.  But I don't like, I don't like!  The Alphonsists have
agents, too, who hang about the telegraph offices.  It's no use
letting the enemy get that news."

He was obviously very confused, unhappy, and trying to think of two
different things at once.

"Sit down, Don George, sit down."  He absolutely forced a cigar on
me.  "I am extremely distressed.  That--I mean Dona Rita is
undoubtedly on her way to Tolosa.  This is very frightful."

I must say, however, that there was in the man some sense of duty.
He mastered his private fears.  After some cogitation he murmured:
"There is another way of getting the news to Headquarters.  Suppose
you write me a formal letter just stating the facts, the
unfortunate facts, which I will be able to forward.  There is an
agent of ours, a fellow I have been employing for purchasing
supplies, a perfectly honest man.  He is coming here from the north
by the ten o'clock train with some papers for me of a confidential
nature.  I was rather embarrassed about it.  It wouldn't do for him
to get into any sort of trouble.  He is not very intelligent.  I
wonder, Don George, whether you would consent to meet him at the
station and take care of him generally till to-morrow.  I don't
like the idea of him going about alone.  Then, to-morrow night, we
would send him on to Tolosa by the west coast route, with the news;
and then he can also call on Dona Rita who will no doubt be already
there. . . ."  He became again distracted all in a moment and
actually went so far as to wring his fat hands.  "Oh, yes, she will
be there!" he exclaimed in most pathetic accents.

I was not in the humour to smile at anything, and he must have been
satisfied with the gravity with which I beheld his extraordinary
antics.  My mind was very far away.  I thought:  Why not?  Why
shouldn't I also write a letter to Dona Rita, telling her that now
nothing stood in the way of my leaving Europe, because, really, the
enterprise couldn't be begun again; that things that come to an end
can never be begun again.  The idea--never again--had complete
possession of my mind.  I could think of nothing else.  Yes, I
would write.  The worthy Commissary General of the Carlist forces
was under the impression that I was looking at him; but what I had
in my eye was a jumble of butterfly women and winged youths and the
soft sheen of Argand lamps gleaming on an arrow of gold in the hair
of a head that seemed to evade my outstretched hand.

"Oh, yes," I said, "I have nothing to do and even nothing to think
of just now, I will meet your man as he gets off the train at ten
o'clock to-night.  What's he like?"

"Oh, he has a black moustache and whiskers, and his chin is
shaved," said the newly-fledged baron cordially.  "A very honest
fellow.  I always found him very useful.  His name is Jose Ortega."

He was perfectly self-possessed now, and walking soft-footed
accompanied me to the door of the room.  He shook hands with a
melancholy smile.  "This is a very frightful situation.  My poor
wife will be quite distracted.  She is such a patriot.  Many
thanks, Don George.  You relieve me greatly.  The fellow is rather
stupid and rather bad-tempered.  Queer creature, but very honest!
Oh, very honest!"



CHAPTER IV



It was the last evening of Carnival.  The same masks, the same
yells, the same mad rushes, the same bedlam of disguised humanity
blowing about the streets in the great gusts of mistral that seemed
to make them dance like dead leaves on an earth where all joy is
watched by death.

It was exactly twelve months since that other carnival evening when
I had felt a little weary and a little lonely but at peace with all
mankind.  It must have been--to a day or two.  But on this evening
it wasn't merely loneliness that I felt.  I felt bereaved with a
sense of a complete and universal loss in which there was perhaps
more resentment than mourning; as if the world had not been taken
away from me by an august decree but filched from my innocence by
an underhand fate at the very moment when it had disclosed to my
passion its warm and generous beauty.  This consciousness of
universal loss had this advantage that it induced something
resembling a state of philosophic indifference.  I walked up to the
railway station caring as little for the cold blasts of wind as
though I had been going to the scaffold.  The delay of the train
did not irritate me in the least.  I had finally made up my mind to
write a letter to Dona Rita; and this "honest fellow" for whom I
was waiting would take it to her.  He would have no difficulty in
Tolosa in finding Madame de Lastaola.  The General Headquarters,
which was also a Court, would be buzzing with comments on her
presence.  Most likely that "honest fellow" was already known to
Dona Rita.  For all I knew he might have been her discovery just as
I was.  Probably I, too, was regarded as an "honest fellow" enough;
but stupid--since it was clear that my luck was not inexhaustible.
I hoped that while carrying my letter the man would not let himself
be caught by some Alphonsist guerilla who would, of course, shoot
him.  But why should he?  I, for instance, had escaped with my life
from a much more dangerous enterprise than merely passing through
the frontier line in charge of some trustworthy guide.  I pictured
the fellow to myself trudging over the stony slopes and scrambling
down wild ravines with my letter to Dona Rita in his pocket.  It
would be such a letter of farewell as no lover had ever written, no
woman in the world had ever read, since the beginning of love on
earth.  It would be worthy of the woman.  No experience, no
memories, no dead traditions of passion or language would inspire
it.  She herself would be its sole inspiration.  She would see her
own image in it as in a mirror; and perhaps then she would
understand what it was I was saying farewell to on the very
threshold of my life.  A breath of vanity passed through my brain.
A letter as moving as her mere existence was moving would be
something unique.  I regretted I was not a poet.

I woke up to a great noise of feet, a sudden influx of people
through the doors of the platform.  I made out my man's whiskers at
once--not that they were enormous, but because I had been warned
beforehand of their existence by the excellent Commissary General.
At first I saw nothing of him but his whiskers:  they were black
and cut somewhat in the shape of a shark's fin and so very fine
that the least breath of air animated them into a sort of playful
restlessness.  The man's shoulders were hunched up and when he had
made his way clear of the throng of passengers I perceived him as
an unhappy and shivery being.  Obviously he didn't expect to be
met, because when I murmured an enquiring, "Senor Ortega?" into his
ear he swerved away from me and nearly dropped a little handbag he
was carrying.  His complexion was uniformly pale, his mouth was
red, but not engaging.  His social status was not very definite.
He was wearing a dark blue overcoat of no particular cut, his
aspect had no relief; yet those restless side-whiskers flanking his
red mouth and the suspicious expression of his black eyes made him
noticeable.  This I regretted the more because I caught sight of
two skulking fellows, looking very much like policemen in plain
clothes, watching us from a corner of the great hall.  I hurried my
man into a fiacre.  He had been travelling from early morning on
cross-country lines and after we got on terms a little confessed to
being very hungry and cold.  His red lips trembled and I noted an
underhand, cynical curiosity when he had occasion to raise his eyes
to my face.  I was in some doubt how to dispose of him but as we
rolled on at a jog trot I came to the conclusion that the best
thing to do would be to organize for him a shake-down in the
studio.  Obscure lodging houses are precisely the places most
looked after by the police, and even the best hotels are bound to
keep a register of arrivals.  I was very anxious that nothing
should stop his projected mission of courier to headquarters.  As
we passed various street corners where the mistral blast struck at
us fiercely I could feel him shivering by my side.  However,
Therese would have lighted the iron stove in the studio before
retiring for the night, and, anyway, I would have to turn her out
to make up a bed on the couch.  Service of the King!  I must say
that she was amiable and didn't seem to mind anything one asked her
to do.  Thus while the fellow slumbered on the divan I would sit
upstairs in my room setting down on paper those great words of
passion and sorrow that seethed in my brain and even must have
forced themselves in murmurs on to my lips, because the man by my
side suddenly asked me:  "What did you say?"--"Nothing," I
answered, very much surprised.  In the shifting light of the street
lamps he looked the picture of bodily misery with his chattering
teeth and his whiskers blown back flat over his ears.  But somehow
he didn't arouse my compassion.  He was swearing to himself, in
French and Spanish, and I tried to soothe him by the assurance that
we had not much farther to go.  "I am starving," he remarked
acidly, and I felt a little compunction.  Clearly, the first thing
to do was to feed him.  We were then entering the Cannebiere and as
I didn't care to show myself with him in the fashionable restaurant
where a new face (and such a face, too) would be remarked, I pulled
up the fiacre at the door of the Maison Doree.  That was more of a
place of general resort where, in the multitude of casual patrons,
he would pass unnoticed.

For this last night of carnival the big house had decorated all its
balconies with rows of coloured paper lanterns right up to the
roof.  I led the way to the grand salon, for as to private rooms
they had been all retained days before.  There was a great crowd of
people in costume, but by a piece of good luck we managed to secure
a little table in a corner.  The revellers, intent on their
pleasure, paid no attention to us.  Senor Ortega trod on my heels
and after sitting down opposite me threw an ill-natured glance at
the festive scene.  It might have been about half-past ten, then.

Two glasses of wine he drank one after another did not improve his
temper.  He only ceased to shiver.  After he had eaten something it
must have occurred to him that he had no reason to bear me a grudge
and he tried to assume a civil and even friendly manner.  His
mouth, however, betrayed an abiding bitterness.  I mean when he
smiled.  In repose it was a very expressionless mouth, only it was
too red to be altogether ordinary.  The whole of him was like that:
the whiskers too black, the hair too shiny, the forehead too white,
the eyes too mobile; and he lent you his attention with an air of
eagerness which made you uncomfortable.  He seemed to expect you to
give yourself away by some unconsidered word that he would snap up
with delight.  It was that peculiarity that somehow put me on my
guard.  I had no idea who I was facing across the table and as a
matter of fact I did not care.  All my impressions were blurred;
and even the promptings of my instinct were the haziest thing
imaginable.  Now and then I had acute hallucinations of a woman
with an arrow of gold in her hair.  This caused alternate moments
of exaltation and depression from which I tried to take refuge in
conversation; but Senor Ortega was not stimulating.  He was
preoccupied with personal matters.  When suddenly he asked me
whether I knew why he had been called away from his work (he had
been buying supplies from peasants somewhere in Central France), I
answered that I didn't know what the reason was originally, but I
had an idea that the present intention was to make of him a
courier, bearing certain messages from Baron H. to the Quartel Real
in Tolosa.

He glared at me like a basilisk.  "And why have I been met like
this?" he enquired with an air of being prepared to hear a lie.

I explained that it was the Baron's wish, as a matter of prudence
and to avoid any possible trouble which might arise from enquiries
by the police.

He took it badly.  "What nonsense."  He was--he said--an employe
(for several years) of Hernandez Brothers in Paris, an importing
firm, and he was travelling on their business--as he could prove.
He dived into his side pocket and produced a handful of folded
papers of all sorts which he plunged back again instantly.

And even then I didn't know whom I had there, opposite me, busy now
devouring a slice of pate de foie gras.  Not in the least.  It
never entered my head.  How could it?  The Rita that haunted me had
no history; she was but the principle of life charged with
fatality.  Her form was only a mirage of desire decoying one step
by step into despair.

Senor Ortega gulped down some more wine and suggested I should tell
him who I was.  "It's only right I should know," he added.

This could not be gainsaid; and to a man connected with the Carlist
organization the shortest way was to introduce myself as that
"Monsieur George" of whom he had probably heard.

He leaned far over the table, till his very breast-bone was over
the edge, as though his eyes had been stilettos and he wanted to
drive them home into my brain.  It was only much later that I
understood how near death I had been at that moment.  But the
knives on the tablecloth were the usual restaurant knives with
rounded ends and about as deadly as pieces of hoop-iron.  Perhaps
in the very gust of his fury he remembered what a French restaurant
knife is like and something sane within him made him give up the
sudden project of cutting my heart out where I sat.  For it could
have been nothing but a sudden impulse.  His settled purpose was
quite other.  It was not my heart that he was after.  His fingers
indeed were groping amongst the knife handles by the side of his
plate but what captivated my attention for a moment were his red
lips which were formed into an odd, sly, insinuating smile.  Heard!
To be sure he had heard!  The chief of the great arms smuggling
organization!

"Oh!" I said, "that's giving me too much importance."  The person
responsible and whom I looked upon as chief of all the business
was, as he might have heard, too, a certain noble and loyal lady.

"I am as noble as she is," he snapped peevishly, and I put him down
at once as a very offensive beast.  "And as to being loyal, what is
that?  It is being truthful!  It is being faithful!  I know all
about her."

I managed to preserve an air of perfect unconcern.  He wasn't a
fellow to whom one could talk of Dona Rita.

"You are a Basque," I said.

He admitted rather contemptuously that he was a Basque and even
then the truth did not dawn upon me.  I suppose that with the
hidden egoism of a lover I was thinking of myself, of myself alone
in relation to Dona Rita, not of Dona Rita herself.  He, too,
obviously.  He said:  "I am an educated man, but I know her people,
all peasants.  There is a sister, an uncle, a priest, a peasant,
too, and perfectly unenlightened.  One can't expect much from a
priest (I am a free-thinker of course), but he is really too bad,
more like a brute beast.  As to all her people, mostly dead now,
they never were of any account.  There was a little land, but they
were always working on other people's farms, a barefooted gang, a
starved lot.  I ought to know because we are distant relations.
Twentieth cousins or something of the sort.  Yes, I am related to
that most loyal lady.  And what is she, after all, but a Parisian
woman with innumerable lovers, as I have been told."

"I don't think your information is very correct," I said, affecting
to yawn slightly.  "This is mere gossip of the gutter and I am
surprised at you, who really know nothing about it--"

But the disgusting animal had fallen into a brown study.  The hair
of his very whiskers was perfectly still.  I had now given up all
idea of the letter to Rita.  Suddenly he spoke again:

"Women are the origin of all evil.  One should never trust them.
They have no honour.  No honour!" he repeated, striking his breast
with his closed fist on which the knuckles stood out very white.
"I left my village many years ago and of course I am perfectly
satisfied with my position and I don't know why I should trouble my
head about this loyal lady.  I suppose that's the way women get on
in the world."

I felt convinced that he was no proper person to be a messenger to
headquarters.  He struck me as altogether untrustworthy and perhaps
not quite sane.  This was confirmed by him saying suddenly with no
visible connection and as if it had been forced from him by some
agonizing process:  "I was a boy once," and then stopping dead
short with a smile.  He had a smile that frightened one by its
association of malice and anguish.

"Will you have anything more to eat?" I asked.

He declined dully.  He had had enough.  But he drained the last of
a bottle into his glass and accepted a cigar which I offered him.
While he was lighting it I had a sort of confused impression that
he wasn't such a stranger to me as I had assumed he was; and yet,
on the other hand, I was perfectly certain I had never seen him
before.  Next moment I felt that I could have knocked him down if
he hadn't looked so amazingly unhappy, while he came out with the
astounding question:  "Senor, have you ever been a lover in your
young days?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.  "How old do you think I am?"

"That's true," he said, gazing at me in a way in which the damned
gaze out of their cauldrons of boiling pitch at some soul walking
scot free in the place of torment.  "It's true, you don't seem to
have anything on your mind."  He assumed an air of ease, throwing
an arm over the back of his chair and blowing the smoke through the
gash of his twisted red mouth.  "Tell me," he said, "between men,
you know, has this--wonderful celebrity--what does she call
herself?  How long has she been your mistress?"

I reflected rapidly that if I knocked him over, chair and all, by a
sudden blow from the shoulder it would bring about infinite
complications beginning with a visit to the Commissaire de Police
on night-duty, and ending in God knows what scandal and disclosures
of political kind; because there was no telling what, or how much,
this outrageous brute might choose to say and how many people he
might not involve in a most undesirable publicity.  He was smoking
his cigar with a poignantly mocking air and not even looking at me.
One can't hit like that a man who isn't even looking at one; and
then, just as I was looking at him swinging his leg with a caustic
smile and stony eyes, I felt sorry for the creature.  It was only
his body that was there in that chair.  It was manifest to me that
his soul was absent in some hell of its own.  At that moment I
attained the knowledge of who it was I had before me.  This was the
man of whom both Dona Rita and Rose were so much afraid.  It
remained then for me to look after him for the night and then
arrange with Baron H. that he should be sent away the very next
day--and anywhere but to Tolosa.  Yes, evidently, I mustn't lose
sight of him.  I proposed in the calmest tone that we should go on
where he could get his much-needed rest.  He rose with alacrity,
picked up his little hand-bag, and, walking out before me, no doubt
looked a very ordinary person to all eyes but mine.  It was then
past eleven, not much, because we had not been in that restaurant
quite an hour, but the routine of the town's night-life being upset
during the Carnival the usual row of fiacres outside the Maison
Doree was not there; in fact, there were very few carriages about.
Perhaps the coachmen had assumed Pierrot costumes and were rushing
about the streets on foot yelling with the rest of the population.
"We will have to walk," I said after a while.--"Oh, yes, let us
walk," assented Senor Ortega, "or I will be frozen here."  It was
like a plaint of unutterable wretchedness.  I had a fancy that all
his natural heat had abandoned his limbs and gone to his brain.  It
was otherwise with me; my head was cool but I didn't find the night
really so very cold.  We stepped out briskly side by side.  My
lucid thinking was, as it were, enveloped by the wide shouting of
the consecrated Carnival gaiety.  I have heard many noises since,
but nothing that gave me such an intimate impression of the savage
instincts hidden in the breast of mankind; these yells of festivity
suggested agonizing fear, rage of murder, ferocity of lust, and the
irremediable joylessness of human condition:  yet they were emitted
by people who were convinced that they were amusing themselves
supremely, traditionally, with the sanction of ages, with the
approval of their conscience--and no mistake about it whatever!
Our appearance, the soberness of our gait made us conspicuous.
Once or twice, by common inspiration, masks rushed forward and
forming a circle danced round us uttering discordant shouts of
derision; for we were an outrage to the peculiar proprieties of the
hour, and besides we were obviously lonely and defenceless.  On
those occasions there was nothing for it but to stand still till
the flurry was over.  My companion, however, would stamp his feet
with rage, and I must admit that I myself regretted not having
provided for our wearing a couple of false noses, which would have
been enough to placate the just resentment of those people.  We
might have also joined in the dance, but for some reason or other
it didn't occur to us; and I heard once a high, clear woman's voice
stigmatizing us for a "species of swelled heads" (espece d'enfles).
We proceeded sedately, my companion muttered with rage, and I was
able to resume my thinking.  It was based on the deep persuasion
that the man at my side was insane with quite another than
Carnivalesque lunacy which comes on at one stated time of the year.
He was fundamentally mad, though not perhaps completely; which of
course made him all the greater, I won't say danger but, nuisance.

I remember once a young doctor expounding the theory that most
catastrophes in family circles, surprising episodes in public
affairs and disasters in private life, had their origin in the fact
that the world was full of half-mad people.  He asserted that they
were the real majority.  When asked whether he considered himself
as belonging to the majority, he said frankly that he didn't think
so; unless the folly of voicing this view in a company, so utterly
unable to appreciate all its horror, could be regarded as the first
symptom of his own fate.  We shouted down him and his theory, but
there is no doubt that it had thrown a chill on the gaiety of our
gathering.

We had now entered a quieter quarter of the town and Senor Ortega
had ceased his muttering.  For myself I had not the slightest doubt
of my own sanity.  It was proved to me by the way I could apply my
intelligence to the problem of what was to be done with Senor
Ortega.  Generally, he was unfit to be trusted with any mission
whatever.  The unstability of his temper was sure to get him into a
scrape.  Of course carrying a letter to Headquarters was not a very
complicated matter; and as to that I would have trusted willingly a
properly trained dog.  My private letter to Dona Rita, the
wonderful, the unique letter of farewell, I had given up for the
present.  Naturally I thought of the Ortega problem mainly in the
terms of Dona Rita's safety.  Her image presided at every council,
at every conflict of my mind, and dominated every faculty of my
senses.  It floated before my eyes, it touched my elbow, it guarded
my right side and my left side; my ears seemed to catch the sound
of her footsteps behind me, she enveloped me with passing whiffs of
warmth and perfume, with filmy touches of the hair on my face.  She
penetrated me, my head was full of her . . . And his head, too, I
thought suddenly with a side glance at my companion.  He walked
quietly with hunched-up shoulders carrying his little hand-bag and
he looked the most commonplace figure imaginable.

Yes.  There was between us a most horrible fellowship; the
association of his crazy torture with the sublime suffering of my
passion.  We hadn't been a quarter of an hour together when that
woman had surged up fatally between us; between this miserable
wretch and myself.  We were haunted by the same image.  But I was
sane!  I was sane!  Not because I was certain that the fellow must
not be allowed to go to Tolosa, but because I was perfectly alive
to the difficulty of stopping him from going there, since the
decision was absolutely in the hands of Baron H.

If I were to go early in the morning and tell that fat, bilious
man:  "Look here, your Ortega's mad," he would certainly think at
once that I was, get very frightened, and . . . one couldn't tell
what course he would take.  He would eliminate me somehow out of
the affair.  And yet I could not let the fellow proceed to where
Dona Rita was, because, obviously, he had been molesting her, had
filled her with uneasiness and even alarm, was an unhappy element
and a disturbing influence in her life--incredible as the thing
appeared!  I couldn't let him go on to make himself a worry and a
nuisance, drive her out from a town in which she wished to be (for
whatever reason) and perhaps start some explosive scandal.  And
that girl Rose seemed to fear something graver even than a scandal.
But if I were to explain the matter fully to H. he would simply
rejoice in his heart.  Nothing would please him more than to have
Dona Rita driven out of Tolosa.  What a relief from his anxieties
(and his wife's, too); and if I were to go further, if I even went
so far as to hint at the fears which Rose had not been able to
conceal from me, why then--I went on thinking coldly with a stoical
rejection of the most elementary faith in mankind's rectitude--why
then, that accommodating husband would simply let the ominous
messenger have his chance.  He would see there only his natural
anxieties being laid to rest for ever.  Horrible?  Yes.  But I
could not take the risk.  In a twelvemonth I had travelled a long
way in my mistrust of mankind.

We paced on steadily.  I thought:  "How on earth am I going to stop
you?"  Had this arisen only a month before, when I had the means at
hand and Dominic to confide in, I would have simply kidnapped the
fellow.  A little trip to sea would not have done Senor Ortega any
harm; though no doubt it would have been abhorrent to his feelings.
But now I had not the means.  I couldn't even tell where my poor
Dominic was hiding his diminished head.

Again I glanced at him sideways.  I was the taller of the two and
as it happened I met in the light of the street lamp his own
stealthy glance directed up at me with an agonized expression, an
expression that made me fancy I could see the man's very soul
writhing in his body like an impaled worm.  In spite of my utter
inexperience I had some notion of the images that rushed into his
mind at the sight of any man who had approached Dona Rita.  It was
enough to awaken in any human being a movement of horrified
compassion; but my pity went out not to him but to Dona Rita.  It
was for her that I felt sorry; I pitied her for having that damned
soul on her track.  I pitied her with tenderness and indignation,
as if this had been both a danger and a dishonour.

I don't mean to say that those thoughts passed through my head
consciously.  I had only the resultant, settled feeling.  I had,
however, a thought, too.  It came on me suddenly, and I asked
myself with rage and astonishment:  "Must I then kill that brute?"
There didn't seem to be any alternative.  Between him and Dona Rita
I couldn't hesitate.  I believe I gave a slight laugh of
desperation.  The suddenness of this sinister conclusion had in it
something comic and unbelievable.  It loosened my grip on my mental
processes.  A Latin tag came into my head about the facile descent
into the abyss.  I marvelled at its aptness, and also that it
should have come to me so pat.  But I believe now that it was
suggested simply by the actual declivity of the street of the
Consuls which lies on a gentle slope.  We had just turned the
corner.  All the houses were dark and in a perspective of complete
solitude our two shadows dodged and wheeled about our feet.

"Here we are," I said.

He was an extraordinarily chilly devil.  When we stopped I could
hear his teeth chattering again.  I don't know what came over me, I
had a sort of nervous fit, was incapable of finding my pockets, let
alone the latchkey.  I had the illusion of a narrow streak of light
on the wall of the house as if it had been cracked.  "I hope we
will be able to get in," I murmured.

Senor Ortega stood waiting patiently with his handbag, like a
rescued wayfarer.  "But you live in this house, don't you?" he
observed.

"No," I said, without hesitation.  I didn't know how that man would
behave if he were aware that I was staying under the same roof.  He
was half mad.  He might want to talk all night, try crazily to
invade my privacy.  How could I tell?  Moreover, I wasn't so sure
that I would remain in the house.  I had some notion of going out
again and walking up and down the street of the Consuls till
daylight.  "No, an absent friend lets me use . . . I had that
latchkey this morning . . . Ah! here it is."

I let him go in first.  The sickly gas flame was there on duty,
undaunted, waiting for the end of the world to come and put it out.
I think that the black-and-white hall surprised Ortega.  I had
closed the front door without noise and stood for a moment
listening, while he glanced about furtively.  There were only two
other doors in the hall, right and left.  Their panels of ebony
were decorated with bronze applications in the centre.  The one on
the left was of course Blunt's door.  As the passage leading beyond
it was dark at the further end I took Senor Ortega by the hand and
led him along, unresisting, like a child.  For some reason or other
I moved on tip-toe and he followed my example.  The light and the
warmth of the studio impressed him favourably; he laid down his
little bag, rubbed his hands together, and produced a smile of
satisfaction; but it was such a smile as a totally ruined man would
perhaps force on his lips, or a man condemned to a short shrift by
his doctor.  I begged him to make himself at home and said that I
would go at once and hunt up the woman of the house who would make
him up a bed on the big couch there.  He hardly listened to what I
said.  What were all those things to him!  He knew that his destiny
was to sleep on a bed of thorns, to feed on adders.  But he tried
to show a sort of polite interest.  He asked:  "What is this
place?"

"It used to belong to a painter,"  I mumbled.

"Ah, your absent friend," he said, making a wry mouth.  "I detest
all those artists, and all those writers, and all politicos who are
thieves; and I would go even farther and higher, laying a curse on
all idle lovers of women.  You think perhaps I am a Royalist?  No.
If there was anybody in heaven or hell to pray to I would pray for
a revolution--a red revolution everywhere."

"You astonish me," I said, just to say something.

"No!  But there are half a dozen people in the world with whom I
would like to settle accounts.  One could shoot them like
partridges and no questions asked.  That's what revolution would
mean to me."

"It's a beautifully simple view," I said.  "I imagine you are not
the only one who holds it; but I really must look after your
comforts.  You mustn't forget that we have to see Baron H. early
to-morrow morning."  And I went out quietly into the passage
wondering in what part of the house Therese had elected to sleep
that night.  But, lo and behold, when I got to the foot of the
stairs there was Therese coming down from the upper regions in her
nightgown, like a sleep-walker.  However, it wasn't that, because,
before I could exclaim, she vanished off the first floor landing
like a streak of white mist and without the slightest sound.  Her
attire made it perfectly clear that she could not have heard us
coming in.  In fact, she must have been certain that the house was
empty, because she was as well aware as myself that the Italian
girls after their work at the opera were going to a masked ball to
dance for their own amusement, attended of course by their
conscientious father.  But what thought, need, or sudden impulse
had driven Therese out of bed like this was something I couldn't
conceive.

I didn't call out after her.  I felt sure that she would return.  I
went up slowly to the first floor and met her coming down again,
this time carrying a lighted candle.  She had managed to make
herself presentable in an extraordinarily short time.

"Oh, my dear young Monsieur, you have given me a fright."

"Yes.  And I nearly fainted, too," I said.  "You looked perfectly
awful.  What's the matter with you?  Are you ill?"

She had lighted by then the gas on the landing and I must say that
I had never seen exactly that manner of face on her before.  She
wriggled, confused and shifty-eyed, before me; but I ascribed this
behaviour to her shocked modesty and without troubling myself any
more about her feelings I informed her that there was a Carlist
downstairs who must be put up for the night.  Most unexpectedly she
betrayed a ridiculous consternation, but only for a moment.  Then
she assumed at once that I would give him hospitality upstairs
where there was a camp-bedstead in my dressing-room.  I said:

"No.  Give him a shake-down in the studio, where he is now.  It's
warm in there.  And remember! I charge you strictly not to let him
know that I sleep in this house.  In fact, I don't know myself that
I will; I have certain matters to attend to this very night.  You
will also have to serve him his coffee in the morning.  I will take
him away before ten o'clock."

All this seemed to impress her more than I had expected.  As usual
when she felt curious, or in some other way excited, she assumed a
saintly, detached expression, and asked:

"The dear gentleman is your friend, I suppose?"

"I only know he is a Spaniard and a Carlist," I said:  "and that
ought to be enough for you."

Instead of the usual effusive exclamations she murmured:  "Dear me,
dear me," and departed upstairs with the candle to get together a
few blankets and pillows, I suppose.  As for me I walked quietly
downstairs on my way to the studio.  I had a curious sensation that
I was acting in a preordained manner, that life was not at all what
I had thought it to be, or else that I had been altogether changed
sometime during the day, and that I was a different person from the
man whom I remembered getting out of my bed in the morning.

Also feelings had altered all their values.  The words, too, had
become strange.  It was only the inanimate surroundings that
remained what they had always been.  For instance the studio. . . .

During my absence Senor Ortega had taken off his coat and I found
him as it were in the air, sitting in his shirt sleeves on a chair
which he had taken pains to place in the very middle of the floor.
I repressed an absurd impulse to walk round him as though he had
been some sort of exhibit.  His hands were spread over his knees
and he looked perfectly insensible.  I don't mean strange, or
ghastly, or wooden, but just insensible--like an exhibit.  And that
effect persisted even after he raised his black suspicious eyes to
my face.  He lowered them almost at once.  It was very mechanical.
I gave him up and became rather concerned about myself.  My thought
was that I had better get out of that before any more queer notions
came into my head.  So I only remained long enough to tell him that
the woman of the house was bringing down some bedding and that I
hoped that he would have a good night's rest.  And directly I spoke
it struck me that this was the most extraordinary speech that ever
was addressed to a figure of that sort.  He, however, did not seem
startled by it or moved in any way.  He simply said:

"Thank you."

In the darkest part of the long passage outside I met Therese with
her arms full of pillows and blankets.



CHAPTER V



Coming out of the bright light of the studio I didn't make out
Therese very distinctly.  She, however, having groped in dark
cupboards, must have had her pupils sufficiently dilated to have
seen that I had my hat on my head.  This has its importance because
after what I had said to her upstairs it must have convinced her
that I was going out on some midnight business.  I passed her
without a word and heard behind me the door of the studio close
with an unexpected crash.  It strikes me now that under the
circumstances I might have without shame gone back to listen at the
keyhole.  But truth to say the association of events was not so
clear in my mind as it may be to the reader of this story.  Neither
were the exact connections of persons present to my mind.  And,
besides, one doesn't listen at a keyhole but in pursuance of some
plan; unless one is afflicted by a vulgar and fatuous curiosity.
But that vice is not in my character.  As to plan, I had none.  I
moved along the passage between the dead wall and the black-and-
white marble elevation of the staircase with hushed footsteps, as
though there had been a mortally sick person somewhere in the
house.  And the only person that could have answered to that
description was Senor Ortega.  I moved on, stealthy, absorbed,
undecided; asking myself earnestly:  "What on earth am I going to
do with him?"  That exclusive preoccupation of my mind was as
dangerous to Senor Ortega as typhoid fever would have been.  It
strikes me that this comparison is very exact.  People recover from
typhoid fever, but generally the chance is considered poor.  This
was precisely his case.  His chance was poor; though I had no more
animosity towards him than a virulent disease has against the
victim it lays low.  He really would have nothing to reproach me
with; he had run up against me, unwittingly, as a man enters an
infected place, and now he was very ill, very ill indeed.  No, I
had no plans against him.  I had only the feeling that he was in
mortal danger.

I believe that men of the most daring character (and I make no
claim to it) often do shrink from the logical processes of thought.
It is only the devil, they say, that loves logic.  But I was not a
devil.  I was not even a victim of the devil.  It was only that I
had given up the direction of my intelligence before the problem;
or rather that the problem had dispossessed my intelligence and
reigned in its stead side by side with a superstitious awe.  A
dreadful order seemed to lurk in the darkest shadows of life.  The
madness of that Carlist with the soul of a Jacobin, the vile fears
of Baron H., that excellent organizer of supplies, the contact of
their two ferocious stupidities, and last, by a remote disaster at
sea, my love brought into direct contact with the situation:  all
that was enough to make one shudder--not at the chance, but at the
design.

For it was my love that was called upon to act here, and nothing
else.  And love which elevates us above all safeguards, above
restraining principles, above all littlenesses of self-possession,
yet keeps its feet always firmly on earth, remains marvellously
practical in its suggestions.

I discovered that however much I had imagined I had given up Rita,
that whatever agonies I had gone through, my hope of her had never
been lost.  Plucked out, stamped down, torn to shreds, it had
remained with me secret, intact, invincible.  Before the danger of
the situation it sprang, full of life, up in arms--the undying
child of immortal love.  What incited me was independent of honour
and compassion; it was the prompting of a love supreme, practical,
remorseless in its aim; it was the practical thought that no woman
need be counted as lost for ever, unless she be dead!

This excluded for the moment all considerations of ways and means
and risks and difficulties.  Its tremendous intensity robbed it of
all direction and left me adrift in the big black-and-white hall as
on a silent sea.  It was not, properly speaking, irresolution.  It
was merely hesitation as to the next immediate step, and that step
even of no great importance:  hesitation merely as to the best way
I could spend the rest of the night.  I didn't think further
forward for many reasons, more or less optimistic, but mainly
because I have no homicidal vein in my composition.  The
disposition to gloat over homicide was in that miserable creature
in the studio, the potential Jacobin; in that confounded buyer of
agricultural produce, the punctual employe of Hernandez Brothers,
the jealous wretch with an obscene tongue and an imagination of the
same kind to drive him mad.  I thought of him without pity but also
without contempt.  I reflected that there were no means of sending
a warning to Dona Rita in Tolosa; for of course no postal
communication existed with the Headquarters.  And moreover what
would a warning be worth in this particular case, supposing it
would reach her, that she would believe it, and that she would know
what to do?  How could I communicate to another that certitude
which was in my mind, the more absolute because without proofs that
one could produce?

The last expression of Rose's distress rang again in my ears:
"Madame has no friends.  Not one!" and I saw Dona Rita's complete
loneliness beset by all sorts of insincerities, surrounded by
pitfalls; her greatest dangers within herself, in her generosity,
in her fears, in her courage, too.  What I had to do first of all
was to stop that wretch at all costs.  I became aware of a great
mistrust of Therese.  I didn't want her to find me in the hall, but
I was reluctant to go upstairs to my rooms from an unreasonable
feeling that there I would be too much out of the way; not
sufficiently on the spot.  There was the alternative of a live-long
night of watching outside, before the dark front of the house.  It
was a most distasteful prospect.  And then it occurred to me that
Blunt's former room would be an extremely good place to keep a
watch from.  I knew that room.  When Henry Allegre gave the house
to Rita in the early days (long before he made his will) he had
planned a complete renovation and this room had been meant for the
drawing-room.  Furniture had been made for it specially,
upholstered in beautiful ribbed stuff, made to order, of dull gold
colour with a pale blue tracery of arabesques and oval medallions
enclosing Rita's monogram, repeated on the backs of chairs and
sofas, and on the heavy curtains reaching from ceiling to floor.
To the same time belonged the ebony and bronze doors, the silver
statuette at the foot of the stairs, the forged iron balustrade
reproducing right up the marble staircase Rita's decorative
monogram in its complicated design.  Afterwards the work was
stopped and the house had fallen into disrepair.  When Rita devoted
it to the Carlist cause a bed was put into that drawing-room, just
simply the bed.  The room next to that yellow salon had been in
Allegre's young days fitted as a fencing-room containing also a
bath, and a complicated system of all sorts of shower and jet
arrangements, then quite up to date.  That room was very large,
lighted from the top, and one wall of it was covered by trophies of
arms of all sorts, a choice collection of cold steel disposed on a
background of Indian mats and rugs Blunt used it as a dressing-
room.  It communicated by a small door with the studio.

I had only to extend my hand and make one step to reach the
magnificent bronze handle of the ebony door, and if I didn't want
to be caught by Therese there was no time to lose.  I made the step
and extended the hand, thinking that it would be just like my luck
to find the door locked.  But the door came open to my push.  In
contrast to the dark hall the room was most unexpectedly dazzling
to my eyes, as if illuminated a giorno for a reception.  No voice
came from it, but nothing could have stopped me now.  As I turned
round to shut the door behind me noiselessly I caught sight of a
woman's dress on a chair, of other articles of apparel scattered
about.  The mahogany bed with a piece of light silk which Therese
found somewhere and used for a counterpane was a magnificent
combination of white and crimson between the gleaming surfaces of
dark wood; and the whole room had an air of splendour with marble
consoles, gilt carvings, long mirrors and a sumptuous Venetian
lustre depending from the ceiling:  a darkling mass of icy pendants
catching a spark here and there from the candles of an eight-
branched candelabra standing on a little table near the head of a
sofa which had been dragged round to face the fireplace.  The
faintest possible whiff of a familiar perfume made my head swim
with its suggestion.

I grabbed the back of the nearest piece of furniture and the
splendour of marbles and mirrors, of cut crystals and carvings,
swung before my eyes in the golden mist of walls and draperies
round an extremely conspicuous pair of black stockings thrown over
a music stool which remained motionless.  The silence was profound.
It was like being in an enchanted place.  Suddenly a voice began to
speak, clear, detached, infinitely touching in its calm weariness.

"Haven't you tormented me enough to-day?" it said. . . . My head
was steady now but my heart began to beat violently.  I listened to
the end without moving, "Can't you make up your mind to leave me
alone for to-night?"  It pleaded with an accent of charitable
scorn.

The penetrating quality of these tones which I had not heard for so
many, many days made my eyes run full of tears.  I guessed easily
that the appeal was addressed to the atrocious Therese.  The
speaker was concealed from me by the high back of the sofa, but her
apprehension was perfectly justified.  For was it not I who had
turned back Therese the pious, the insatiable, coming downstairs in
her nightgown to torment her sister some more?  Mere surprise at
Dona Rita's presence in the house was enough to paralyze me; but I
was also overcome by an enormous sense of relief, by the assurance
of security for her and for myself.  I didn't even ask myself how
she came there.  It was enough for me that she was not in Tolosa.
I could have smiled at the thought that all I had to do now was to
hasten the departure of that abominable lunatic--for Tolosa:  an
easy task, almost no task at all.  Yes, I would have smiled, had
not I felt outraged by the presence of Senor Ortega under the same
roof with Dona Rita.  The mere fact was repugnant to me, morally
revolting; so that I should have liked to rush at him and throw him
out into the street.  But that was not to be done for various
reasons.  One of them was pity.  I was suddenly at peace with all
mankind, with all nature.  I felt as if I couldn't hurt a fly.  The
intensity of my emotion sealed my lips.  With a fearful joy tugging
at my heart I moved round the head of the couch without a word.

In the wide fireplace on a pile of white ashes the logs had a deep
crimson glow; and turned towards them Dona Rita reclined on her
side enveloped in the skins of wild beasts like a charming and
savage young chieftain before a camp fire.  She never even raised
her eyes, giving me the opportunity to contemplate mutely that
adolescent, delicately masculine head, so mysteriously feminine in
the power of instant seduction, so infinitely suave in its firm
design, almost childlike in the freshness of detail:  altogether
ravishing in the inspired strength of the modelling.  That precious
head reposed in the palm of her hand; the face was slightly flushed
(with anger perhaps).  She kept her eyes obstinately fixed on the
pages of a book which she was holding with her other hand.  I had
the time to lay my infinite adoration at her feet whose white
insteps gleamed below the dark edge of the fur out of quilted blue
silk bedroom slippers, embroidered with small pearls.  I had never
seen them before; I mean the slippers.  The gleam of the insteps,
too, for that matter.  I lost myself in a feeling of deep content,
something like a foretaste of a time of felicity which must be
quiet or it couldn't be eternal.  I had never tasted such perfect
quietness before.  It was not of this earth.  I had gone far
beyond.  It was as if I had reached the ultimate wisdom beyond all
dreams and all passions.  She was That which is to be contemplated
to all Infinity.

The perfect stillness and silence made her raise her eyes at last,
reluctantly, with a hard, defensive expression which I had never
seen in them before.  And no wonder!  The glance was meant for
Therese and assumed in self-defence.  For some time its character
did not change and when it did it turned into a perfectly stony
stare of a kind which I also had never seen before.  She had never
wished so much to be left in peace.  She had never been so
astonished in her life.  She had arrived by the evening express
only two hours before Senor Ortega, had driven to the house, and
after having something to eat had become for the rest of the
evening the helpless prey of her sister who had fawned and scolded
and wheedled and threatened in a way that outraged all Rita's
feelings.  Seizing this unexpected occasion Therese had displayed a
distracting versatility of sentiment:  rapacity, virtue, piety,
spite, and false tenderness--while, characteristically enough, she
unpacked the dressing-bag, helped the sinner to get ready for bed,
brushed her hair, and finally, as a climax, kissed her hands,
partly by surprise and partly by violence.  After that she had
retired from the field of battle slowly, undefeated, still defiant,
firing as a last shot the impudent question:  "Tell me only, have
you made your will, Rita?"  To this poor Dona Rita with the spirit
of opposition strung to the highest pitch answered:  "No, and I
don't mean to"--being under the impression that this was what her
sister wanted her to do.  There can be no doubt, however, that all
Therese wanted was the information.

Rita, much too agitated to expect anything but a sleepless night,
had not the courage to get into bed.  She thought she would remain
on the sofa before the fire and try to compose herself with a book.
As she had no dressing-gown with her she put on her long fur coat
over her night-gown, threw some logs on the fire, and lay down.
She didn't hear the slightest noise of any sort till she heard me
shut the door gently.  Quietness of movement was one of Therese's
accomplishments, and the harassed heiress of the Allegre millions
naturally thought it was her sister coming again to renew the
scene.  Her heart sank within her.  In the end she became a little
frightened at the long silence, and raised her eyes.  She didn't
believe them for a long time.  She concluded that I was a vision.
In fact, the first word which I heard her utter was a low, awed
"No," which, though I understood its meaning, chilled my blood like
an evil omen.

It was then that I spoke.  "Yes," I said, "it's me that you see,"
and made a step forward.  She didn't start; only her other hand
flew to the edges of the fur coat, gripping them together over her
breast.  Observing this gesture I sat down in the nearest chair.
The book she had been reading slipped with a thump on the floor.

"How is it possible that you should be here?" she said, still in a
doubting voice.

"I am really here," I said.  "Would you like to touch my hand?"

She didn't move at all; her fingers still clutched the fur coat.

"What has happened?"

"It's a long story, but you may take it from me that all is over.
The tie between us is broken.  I don't know that it was ever very
close.  It was an external thing.  The true misfortune is that I
have ever seen you."

This last phrase was provoked by an exclamation of sympathy on her
part.  She raised herself on her elbow and looked at me intently.
"All over," she murmured.

"Yes, we had to wreck the little vessel.  It was awful.  I feel
like a murderer.  But she had to be killed."

"Why?"

"Because I loved her too much.  Don't you know that love and death
go very close together?"

"I could feel almost happy that it is all over, if you hadn't had
to lose your love.  Oh, amigo George, it was a safe love for you."

"Yes," I said.  "It was a faithful little vessel.  She would have
saved us all from any plain danger.  But this was a betrayal.  It
was--never mind.  All that's past.  The question is what will the
next one be."

"Why should it be that?"

"I don't know.  Life seems but a series of betrayals.  There are so
many kinds of them.  This was a betrayed plan, but one can betray
confidence, and hope and--desire, and the most sacred . . ."

"But what are you doing here?" she interrupted.

"Oh, yes!  The eternal why.  Till a few hours ago I didn't know
what I was here for.  And what are you here for?" I asked point
blank and with a bitterness she disregarded.  She even answered my
question quite readily with many words out of which I could make
very little.  I only learned that for at least five mixed reasons,
none of which impressed me profoundly, Dona Rita had started at a
moment's notice from Paris with nothing but a dressing-bag, and
permitting Rose to go and visit her aged parents for two days, and
then follow her mistress.  That girl of late had looked so
perturbed and worried that the sensitive Rita, fearing that she was
tired of her place, proposed to settle a sum of money on her which
would have enabled her to devote herself entirely to her aged
parents.  And did I know what that extraordinary girl said?  She
had said:  "Don't let Madame think that I would be too proud to
accept anything whatever from her; but I can't even dream of
leaving Madame.  I believe Madame has no friends.  Not one."  So
instead of a large sum of money Dona Rita gave the girl a kiss and
as she had been worried by several people who wanted her to go to
Tolosa she bolted down this way just to get clear of all those
busybodies.  "Hide from them," she went on with ardour.  "Yes, I
came here to hide," she repeated twice as if delighted at last to
have hit on that reason among so many others.  "How could I tell
that you would be here?"  Then with sudden fire which only added to
the delight with which I had been watching the play of her
physiognomy she added:  "Why did you come into this room?"

She enchanted me.  The ardent modulations of the sound, the slight
play of the beautiful lips, the still, deep sapphire gleam in those
long eyes inherited from the dawn of ages and that seemed always to
watch unimaginable things, that underlying faint ripple of gaiety
that played under all her moods as though it had been a gift from
the high gods moved to pity for this lonely mortal, all this within
the four walls and displayed for me alone gave me the sense of
almost intolerable joy.  The words didn't matter.  They had to be
answered, of course.

"I came in for several reasons.  One of them is that I didn't know
you were here."

"Therese didn't tell you?"

"No."

"Never talked to you about me?"

I hesitated only for a moment.  "Never," I said.  Then I asked in
my turn, "Did she tell you I was here?"

"No," she said.

"It's very clear she did not mean us to come together again."

"Neither did I, my dear."

"What do you mean by speaking like this, in this tone, in these
words?  You seem to use them as if they were a sort of formula.  Am
I a dear to you?  Or is anybody? . . . or everybody? . . ."

She had been for some time raised on her elbow, but then as if
something had happened to her vitality she sank down till her head
rested again on the sofa cushion.

"Why do you try to hurt my feelings?" she asked.

"For the same reason for which you call me dear at the end of a
sentence like that:  for want of something more amusing to do.  You
don't pretend to make me believe that you do it for any sort of
reason that a decent person would confess to."

The colour had gone from her face; but a fit of wickedness was on
me and I pursued, "What are the motives of your speeches?  What
prompts your actions?  On your own showing your life seems to be a
continuous running away.  You have just run away from Paris.  Where
will you run to-morrow?  What are you everlastingly running from--
or is it that you are running after something?  What is it?  A man,
a phantom--or some sensation that you don't like to own to?"

Truth to say, I was abashed by the silence which was her only
answer to this sally.  I said to myself that I would not let my
natural anger, my just fury be disarmed by any assumption of pathos
or dignity.  I suppose I was really out of my mind and what in the
middle ages would have been called "possessed" by an evil spirit.
I went on enjoying my own villainy.

"Why aren't you in Tolosa?  You ought to be in Tolosa.  Isn't
Tolosa the proper field for your abilities, for your sympathies,
for your profusions, for your generosities--the king without a
crown, the man without a fortune!  But here there is nothing worthy
of your talents.  No, there is no longer anything worth any sort of
trouble here.  There isn't even that ridiculous Monsieur George.  I
understand that the talk of the coast from here to Cette is that
Monsieur George is drowned.  Upon my word I believe he is.  And
serve him right, too.  There's Therese, but I don't suppose that
your love for your sister . . ."

"For goodness' sake don't let her come in and find you here."

Those words recalled me to myself, exorcised the evil spirit by the
mere enchanting power of the voice.  They were also impressive by
their suggestion of something practical, utilitarian, and remote
from sentiment.  The evil spirit left me and I remained taken aback
slightly.

"Well," I said, "if you mean that you want me to leave the room I
will confess to you that I can't very well do it yet.  But I could
lock both doors if you don't mind that."

"Do what you like as long as you keep her out.  You two together
would be too much for me to-night.  Why don't you go and lock those
doors?  I have a feeling she is on the prowl."

I got up at once saying, "I imagine she has gone to bed by this
time."  I felt absolutely calm and responsible.  I turned the keys
one after another so gently that I couldn't hear the click of the
locks myself.  This done I recrossed the room with measured steps,
with downcast eyes, and approaching the couch without raising them
from the carpet I sank down on my knees and leaned my forehead on
its edge.  That penitential attitude had but little remorse in it.
I detected no movement and heard no sound from her.  In one place a
bit of the fur coat touched my cheek softly, but no forgiving hand
came to rest on my bowed head.  I only breathed deeply the faint
scent of violets, her own particular fragrance enveloping my body,
penetrating my very heart with an inconceivable intimacy, bringing
me closer to her than the closest embrace, and yet so subtle that I
sensed her existence in me only as a great, glowing, indeterminate
tenderness, something like the evening light disclosing after the
white passion of the day infinite depths in the colours of the sky
and an unsuspected soul of peace in the protean forms of life.  I
had not known such quietness for months; and I detected in myself
an immense fatigue, a longing to remain where I was without
changing my position to the end of time.  Indeed to remain seemed
to me a complete solution for all the problems that life presents--
even as to the very death itself.

Only the unwelcome reflection that this was impossible made me get
up at last with a sigh of deep grief at the end of the dream.  But
I got up without despair.  She didn't murmur, she didn't stir.
There was something august in the stillness of the room.  It was a
strange peace which she shared with me in this unexpected shelter
full of disorder in its neglected splendour.  What troubled me was
the sudden, as it were material, consciousness of time passing as
water flows.  It seemed to me that it was only the tenacity of my
sentiment that held that woman's body, extended and tranquil above
the flood.  But when I ventured at last to look at her face I saw
her flushed, her teeth clenched--it was visible--her nostrils
dilated, and in her narrow, level-glancing eyes a look of inward
and frightened ecstasy.  The edges of the fur coat had fallen open
and I was moved to turn away.  I had the same impression as on the
evening we parted that something had happened which I did not
understand; only this time I had not touched her at all.  I really
didn't understand.  At the slightest whisper I would now have gone
out without a murmur, as though that emotion had given her the
right to be obeyed.  But there was no whisper; and for a long time
I stood leaning on my arm, looking into the fire and feeling
distinctly between the four walls of that locked room the unchecked
time flow past our two stranded personalities.

And suddenly she spoke.  She spoke in that voice that was so
profoundly moving without ever being sad, a little wistful perhaps
and always the supreme expression of her grace.  She asked as if
nothing had happened:

"What are you thinking of, amigo?"

I turned about.  She was lying on her side, tranquil above the
smooth flow of time, again closely wrapped up in her fur, her head
resting on the old-gold sofa cushion bearing like everything else
in that room the decoratively enlaced letters of her monogram; her
face a little pale now, with the crimson lobe of her ear under the
tawny mist of her loose hair, the lips a little parted, and her
glance of melted sapphire level and motionless, darkened by
fatigue.

"Can I think of anything but you?" I murmured, taking a seat near
the foot of the couch.  "Or rather it isn't thinking, it is more
like the consciousness of you always being present in me, complete
to the last hair, to the faintest shade of expression, and that not
only when we are apart but when we are together, alone, as close as
this.  I see you now lying on this couch but that is only the
insensible phantom of the real you that is in me.  And it is the
easier for me to feel this because that image which others see and
call by your name--how am I to know that it is anything else but an
enchanting mist?  You have always eluded me except in one or two
moments which seem still more dream-like than the rest.  Since I
came into this room you have done nothing to destroy my conviction
of your unreality apart from myself.  You haven't offered me your
hand to touch.  Is it because you suspect that apart from me you
are but a mere phantom, and that you fear to put it to the test?"

One of her hands was under the fur and the other under her cheek.
She made no sound.  She didn't offer to stir.  She didn't move her
eyes, not even after I had added after waiting for a while,

"Just what I expected.  You are a cold illusion."

She smiled mysteriously, right away from me, straight at the fire,
and that was all.



CHAPTER VI



I had a momentary suspicion that I had said something stupid.  Her
smile amongst many other things seemed to have meant that, too.
And I answered it with a certain resignation:

"Well, I don't know that you are so much mist.  I remember once
hanging on to you like a drowning man . . . But perhaps I had
better not speak of this.  It wasn't so very long ago, and you may
. . . "

"I don't mind.  Well . . ."

"Well, I have kept an impression of great solidity.  I'll admit
that.  A woman of granite."

"A doctor once told me that I was made to last for ever," she said.

"But essentially it's the same thing," I went on.  "Granite, too,
is insensible."

I watched her profile against the pillow and there came on her face
an expression I knew well when with an indignation full of
suppressed laughter she used to throw at me the word "Imbecile."  I
expected it to come, but it didn't come.  I must say, though, that
I was swimmy in my head and now and then had a noise as of the sea
in my ears, so I might not have heard it.  The woman of granite,
built to last for ever, continued to look at the glowing logs which
made a sort of fiery ruin on the white pile of ashes.  "I will tell
you how it is," I said.  "When I have you before my eyes there is
such a projection of my whole being towards you that I fail to see
you distinctly.  It was like that from the beginning.  I may say
that I never saw you distinctly till after we had parted and I
thought you had gone from my sight for ever.  It was then that you
took body in my imagination and that my mind seized on a definite
form of you for all its adorations--for its profanations, too.
Don't imagine me grovelling in spiritual abasement before a mere
image.  I got a grip on you that nothing can shake now."

"Don't speak like this," she said.  "It's too much for me.  And
there is a whole long night before us."

"You don't think that I dealt with you sentimentally enough
perhaps?  But the sentiment was there; as clear a flame as ever
burned on earth from the most remote ages before that eternal thing
which is in you, which is your heirloom.  And is it my fault that
what I had to give was real flame, and not a mystic's incense?  It
is neither your fault nor mine.  And now whatever we say to each
other at night or in daylight, that sentiment must be taken for
granted.  It will be there on the day I die--when you won't be
there."

She continued to look fixedly at the red embers; and from her lips
that hardly moved came the quietest possible whisper:  "Nothing
would be easier than to die for you."

"Really," I cried.  "And you expect me perhaps after this to kiss
your feet in a transport of gratitude while I hug the pride of your
words to my breast.  But as it happens there is nothing in me but
contempt for this sublime declaration.  How dare you offer me this
charlatanism of passion?  What has it got to do between you and me
who are the only two beings in the world that may safely say that
we have no need of shams between ourselves?  Is it possible that
you are a charlatan at heart?  Not from egoism, I admit, but from
some sort of fear.  Yet, should you be sincere, then--listen well
to me--I would never forgive you.  I would visit your grave every
day to curse you for an evil thing."

"Evil thing," she echoed softly.

"Would you prefer to be a sham--that one could forget?"

"You will never forget me," she said in the same tone at the
glowing embers.  "Evil or good.  But, my dear, I feel neither an
evil nor a sham.  I have got to be what I am, and that, amigo, is
not so easy; because I may be simple, but like all those on whom
there is no peace I am not One.  No, I am not One!"

"You are all the women in the world," I whispered bending over her.
She didn't seem to be aware of anything and only spoke--always to
the glow.

"If I were that I would say:  God help them then.  But that would
be more appropriate for Therese.  For me, I can only give them my
infinite compassion.  I have too much reverence in me to invoke the
name of a God of whom clever men have robbed me a long time ago.
How could I help it?  For the talk was clever and--and I had a
mind.  And I am also, as Therese says, naturally sinful.  Yes, my
dear, I may be naturally wicked but I am not evil and I could die
for you."

"You!" I said.  "You are afraid to die."

"Yes.  But not for you."

The whole structure of glowing logs fell down, raising a small
turmoil of white ashes and sparks.  The tiny crash seemed to wake
her up thoroughly.  She turned her head upon the cushion to look at
me.

"It's a very extraordinary thing, we two coming together like
this," she said with conviction.  "You coming in without knowing I
was here and then telling me that you can't very well go out of the
room.  That sounds funny.  I wouldn't have been angry if you had
said that you wouldn't.  It would have hurt me.  But nobody ever
paid much attention to my feelings.  Why do you smile like this?"

"At a thought.  Without any charlatanism of passion I am able to
tell you of something to match your devotion.  I was not afraid for
your sake to come within a hair's breadth of what to all the world
would have been a squalid crime.  Note that you and I are persons
of honour.  And there might have been a criminal trial at the end
of it for me.  Perhaps the scaffold."

"Do you say these horrors to make me tremble?"

"Oh, you needn't tremble.  There shall be no crime.  I need not
risk the scaffold, since now you are safe.  But I entered this room
meditating resolutely on the ways of murder, calculating
possibilities and chances without the slightest compunction.  It's
all over now.  It was all over directly I saw you here, but it had
been so near that I shudder yet."

She must have been very startled because for a time she couldn't
speak.  Then in a faint voice:

"For me!  For me!" she faltered out twice.

"For you--or for myself?  Yet it couldn't have been selfish.  What
would it have been to me that you remained in the world?  I never
expected to see you again.  I even composed a most beautiful letter
of farewell.  Such a letter as no woman had ever received."

Instantly she shot out a hand towards me.  The edges of the fur
cloak fell apart.  A wave of the faintest possible scent floated
into my nostrils.

"Let me have it," she said imperiously.

"You can't have it.  It's all in my head.  No woman will read it.
I suspect it was something that could never have been written.  But
what a farewell!  And now I suppose we shall say good-bye without
even a handshake.  But you are safe!  Only I must ask you not to
come out of this room till I tell you you may."

I was extremely anxious that Senor Ortega should never even catch a
glimpse of Dona Rita, never guess how near he had been to her.  I
was extremely anxious the fellow should depart for Tolosa and get
shot in a ravine; or go to the Devil in his own way, as long as he
lost the track of Dona Rita completely.  He then, probably, would
get mad and get shut up, or else get cured, forget all about it,
and devote himself to his vocation, whatever it was--keep a shop
and grow fat.  All this flashed through my mind in an instant and
while I was still dazzled by those comforting images, the voice of
Dona Rita pulled me up with a jerk.

"You mean not out of the house?"

"No, I mean not out of this room," I said with some embarrassment.

"What do you mean?  Is there something in the house then?  This is
most extraordinary!  Stay in this room?  And you, too, it seems?
Are you also afraid for yourself?"

"I can't even give you an idea how afraid I was.  I am not so much
now.  But you know very well, Dona Rita, that I never carry any
sort of weapon in my pocket."

"Why don't you, then?" she asked in a flash of scorn which
bewitched me so completely for an instant that I couldn't even
smile at it.

"Because if I am unconventionalized I am an old European," I
murmured gently.  "No, Excellentissima, I shall go through life
without as much as a switch in my hand.  It's no use you being
angry.  Adapting to this great moment some words you've heard
before:  I am like that.  Such is my character!"

Dona Rita frankly stared at me--a most unusual expression for her
to have.  Suddenly she sat up.

"Don George," she said with lovely animation, "I insist upon
knowing who is in my house."

"You insist! . . . But Therese says it is HER house."

Had there been anything handy, such as a cigarette box, for
instance, it would have gone sailing through the air spouting
cigarettes as it went.  Rosy all over, cheeks, neck, shoulders, she
seemed lighted up softly from inside like a beautiful transparency.
But she didn't raise her voice.

"You and Therese have sworn my ruin.  If you don't tell me what you
mean I will go outside and shout up the stairs to make her come
down.  I know there is no one but the three of us in the house."

"Yes, three; but not counting my Jacobin.  There is a Jacobin in
the house."

"A Jac . . .!  Oh, George, is this the time to jest?" she began in
persuasive tones when a faint but peculiar noise stilled her lips
as though they had been suddenly frozen.  She became quiet all over
instantly.  I, on the contrary, made an involuntary movement before
I, too, became as still as death.  We strained our ears; but that
peculiar metallic rattle had been so slight and the silence now was
so perfect that it was very difficult to believe one's senses.
Dona Rita looked inquisitively at me.  I gave her a slight nod.  We
remained looking into each other's eyes while we listened and
listened till the silence became unbearable.  Dona Rita whispered
composedly:  "Did you hear?"

"I am asking myself . . . I almost think I didn't."

"Don't shuffle with me.  It was a scraping noise."

"Something fell."

"Something!  What thing?  What are the things that fall by
themselves?  Who is that man of whom you spoke?  Is there a man?"

"No doubt about it whatever.  I brought him here myself."

"What for?"

"Why shouldn't I have a Jacobin of my own?  Haven't you one, too?
But mine is a different problem from that white-haired humbug of
yours.  He is a genuine article.  There must be plenty like him
about.  He has scores to settle with half a dozen people, he says,
and he clamours for revolutions to give him a chance."

"But why did you bring him here?"

"I don't know--from sudden affection . . . "

All this passed in such low tones that we seemed to make out the
words more by watching each other's lips than through our sense of
hearing.  Man is a strange animal.  I didn't care what I said.  All
I wanted was to keep her in her pose, excited and still, sitting up
with her hair loose, softly glowing, the dark brown fur making a
wonderful contrast with the white lace on her breast.  All I was
thinking of was that she was adorable and too lovely for words!  I
cared for nothing but that sublimely aesthetic impression.  It
summed up all life, all joy, all poetry!  It had a divine strain.
I am certain that I was not in my right mind.  I suppose I was not
quite sane.  I am convinced that at that moment of the four people
in the house it was Dona Rita who upon the whole was the most sane.
She observed my face and I am sure she read there something of my
inward exaltation.  She knew what to do.  In the softest possible
tone and hardly above her breath she commanded:  "George, come to
yourself."

Her gentleness had the effect of evening light.  I was soothed.
Her confidence in her own power touched me profoundly.  I suppose
my love was too great for madness to get hold of me.  I can't say
that I passed to a complete calm, but I became slightly ashamed of
myself.  I whispered:

"No, it was not from affection, it was for the love of you that I
brought him here.  That imbecile H. was going to send him to
Tolosa."

"That Jacobin!" Dona Rita was immensely surprised, as she might
well have been.  Then resigned to the incomprehensible:  "Yes," she
breathed out, "what did you do with him?"

"I put him to bed in the studio."

How lovely she was with the effort of close attention depicted in
the turn of her head and in her whole face honestly trying to
approve.  "And then?" she inquired.

"Then I came in here to face calmly the necessity of doing away
with a human life.  I didn't shirk it for a moment.  That's what a
short twelvemonth has brought me to.  Don't think I am reproaching
you, O blind force!  You are justified because you ARE.  Whatever
had to happen you would not even have heard of it."

Horror darkened her marvellous radiance.  Then her face became
utterly blank with the tremendous effort to understand.  Absolute
silence reigned in the house.  It seemed to me that everything had
been said now that mattered in the world; and that the world itself
had reached its ultimate stage, had reached its appointed end of an
eternal, phantom-like silence.  Suddenly Dona Rita raised a warning
finger.  I had heard nothing and shook my head; but she nodded hers
and murmured excitedly,

"Yes, yes, in the fencing-room, as before."

In the same way I answered her:  "Impossible!  The door is locked
and Therese has the key."  She asked then in the most cautious
manner,

"Have you seen Therese to-night?"

"Yes," I confessed without misgiving.  "I left her making up the
fellow's bed when I came in here."

"The bed of the Jacobin?" she said in a peculiar tone as if she
were humouring a lunatic.

"I think I had better tell you he is a Spaniard--that he seems to
know you from early days. . . ."  I glanced at her face, it was
extremely tense, apprehensive.  For myself I had no longer any
doubt as to the man and I hoped she would reach the correct
conclusion herself.  But I believe she was too distracted and
worried to think consecutively.  She only seemed to feel some
terror in the air.  In very pity I bent down and whispered
carefully near her ear, "His name is Ortega."

I expected some effect from that name but I never expected what
happened.  With the sudden, free, spontaneous agility of a young
animal she leaped off the sofa, leaving her slippers behind, and in
one bound reached almost the middle of the room.  The vigour, the
instinctive precision of that spring, were something amazing.  I
just escaped being knocked over.  She landed lightly on her bare
feet with a perfect balance, without the slightest suspicion of
swaying in her instant immobility.  It lasted less than a second,
then she spun round distractedly and darted at the first door she
could see.  My own agility was just enough to enable me to grip the
back of the fur coat and then catch her round the body before she
could wriggle herself out of the sleeves.  She was muttering all
the time, "No, no, no."  She abandoned herself to me just for an
instant during which I got her back to the middle of the room.
There she attempted to free herself and I let her go at once.  With
her face very close to mine, but apparently not knowing what she
was looking at she repeated again twice, "No--No," with an
intonation which might well have brought dampness to my eyes but
which only made me regret that I didn't kill the honest Ortega at
sight.  Suddenly Dona Rita swung round and seizing her loose hair
with both hands started twisting it up before one of the sumptuous
mirrors.  The wide fur sleeves slipped down her white arms.  In a
brusque movement like a downward stab she transfixed the whole mass
of tawny glints and sparks with the arrow of gold which she
perceived lying there, before her, on the marble console.  Then she
sprang away from the glass muttering feverishly, "Out--out--out of
this house," and trying with an awful, senseless stare to dodge
past me who had put myself in her way with open arms.  At last I
managed to seize her by the shoulders and in the extremity of my
distress I shook her roughly.  If she hadn't quieted down then I
believe my heart would have broken.  I spluttered right into her
face:  "I won't let you.  Here you stay."  She seemed to recognize
me at last, and suddenly still, perfectly firm on her white feet,
she let her arms fall and, from an abyss of desolation, whispered,
"O! George!  No!  No!  Not Ortega."

There was a passion of mature grief in this tone of appeal.  And
yet she remained as touching and helpless as a distressed child.
It had all the simplicity and depth of a child's emotion.  It
tugged at one's heart-strings in the same direct way.  But what
could one do?  How could one soothe her?  It was impossible to pat
her on the head, take her on the knee, give her a chocolate or show
her a picture-book.  I found myself absolutely without resource.
Completely at a loss.

"Yes, Ortega.  Well, what of it?" I whispered with immense
assurance.



CHAPTER VII



My brain was in a whirl.  I am safe to say that at this precise
moment there was nobody completely sane in the house.  Setting
apart Therese and Ortega, both in the grip of unspeakable passions,
all the moral economy of Dona Rita had gone to pieces.  Everything
was gone except her strong sense of life with all its implied
menaces.  The woman was a mere chaos of sensations and vitality.
I, too, suffered most from inability to get hold of some
fundamental thought.  The one on which I could best build some
hopes was the thought that, of course, Ortega did not know
anything.  I whispered this into the ear of Dona Rita, into her
precious, her beautifully shaped ear.

But she shook her head, very much like an inconsolable child and
very much with a child's complete pessimism she murmured, "Therese
has told him."

The words, "Oh, nonsense," never passed my lips, because I could
not cheat myself into denying that there had been a noise; and that
the noise was in the fencing-room.  I knew that room.  There was
nothing there that by the wildest stretch of imagination could be
conceived as falling with that particular sound.  There was a table
with a tall strip of looking-glass above it at one end; but since
Blunt took away his campaigning kit there was no small object of
any sort on the console or anywhere else that could have been
jarred off in some mysterious manner.  Along one of the walls there
was the whole complicated apparatus of solid brass pipes, and quite
close to it an enormous bath sunk into the floor.  The greatest
part of the room along its whole length was covered with matting
and had nothing else but a long, narrow leather-upholstered bench
fixed to the wall.  And that was all.  And the door leading to the
studio was locked.  And Therese had the key.  And it flashed on my
mind, independently of Dona Rita's pessimism, by the force of
personal conviction, that, of course, Therese would tell him.  I
beheld the whole succession of events perfectly connected and
tending to that particular conclusion.  Therese would tell him!  I
could see the contrasted heads of those two formidable lunatics
close together in a dark mist of whispers compounded of greed,
piety, and jealousy, plotting in a sense of perfect security as if
under the very wing of Providence.  So at least Therese would
think.  She could not be but under the impression that
(providentially) I had been called out for the rest of the night.

And now there was one sane person in the house, for I had regained
complete command of my thoughts.  Working in a logical succession
of images they showed me at last as clearly as a picture on a wall,
Therese pressing with fervour the key into the fevered palm of the
rich, prestigious, virtuous cousin, so that he should go and urge
his self-sacrificing offer to Rita, and gain merit before Him whose
Eye sees all the actions of men.  And this image of those two with
the key in the studio seemed to me a most monstrous conception of
fanaticism, of a perfectly horrible aberration.  For who could
mistake the state that made Jose Ortega the figure he was,
inspiring both pity and fear?  I could not deny that I understood,
not the full extent but the exact nature of his suffering.  Young
as I was I had solved for myself that grotesque and sombre
personality.  His contact with me, the personal contact with (as he
thought) one of the actual lovers of that woman who brought to him
as a boy the curse of the gods, had tipped over the trembling
scales.  No doubt I was very near death in the "grand salon" of the
Maison Doree, only that his torture had gone too far.  It seemed to
me that I ought to have heard his very soul scream while we were
seated at supper.  But in a moment he had ceased to care for me.  I
was nothing.  To the crazy exaggeration of his jealousy I was but
one amongst a hundred thousand.  What was my death?  Nothing.  All
mankind had possessed that woman.  I knew what his wooing of her
would be:  Mine--or Dead.

All this ought to have had the clearness of noon-day, even to the
veriest idiot that ever lived; and Therese was, properly speaking,
exactly that.  An idiot.  A one-ideaed creature.  Only the idea was
complex; therefore it was impossible really to say what she wasn't
capable of.  This was what made her obscure processes so awful.
She had at times the most amazing perceptions.  Who could tell
where her simplicity ended and her cunning began?  She had also the
faculty of never forgetting any fact bearing upon her one idea; and
I remembered now that the conversation with me about the will had
produced on her an indelible impression of the Law's surprising
justice.  Recalling her naive admiration of the "just" law that
required no "paper" from a sister, I saw her casting loose the
raging fate with a sanctimonious air.  And Therese would naturally
give the key of the fencing-room to her dear, virtuous, grateful,
disinterested cousin, to that damned soul with delicate whiskers,
because she would think it just possible that Rita might have
locked the door leading front her room into the hall; whereas there
was no earthly reason, not the slightest likelihood, that she would
bother about the other.  Righteousness demanded that the erring
sister should be taken unawares.

All the above is the analysis of one short moment.  Images are to
words like light to sound--incomparably swifter.  And all this was
really one flash of light through my mind.  A comforting thought
succeeded it:  that both doors were locked and that really there
was no danger.

However, there had been that noise--the why and the how of it?  Of
course in the dark he might have fallen into the bath, but that
wouldn't have been a faint noise.  It wouldn't have been a rattle.
There was absolutely nothing he could knock over.  He might have
dropped a candle-stick if Therese had left him her own.  That was
possible, but then those thick mats--and then, anyway, why should
he drop it? and, hang it all, why shouldn't he have gone straight
on and tried the door?  I had suddenly a sickening vision of the
fellow crouching at the key-hole, listening, listening, listening,
for some movement or sigh of the sleeper he was ready to tear away
from the world, alive or dead.  I had a conviction that he was
still listening.  Why?  Goodness knows!  He may have been only
gloating over the assurance that the night was long and that he had
all these hours to himself.

I was pretty certain that he could have heard nothing of our
whispers, the room was too big for that and the door too solid.  I
hadn't the same confidence in the efficiency of the lock.  Still I
. . . Guarding my lips with my hand I urged Dona Rita to go back to
the sofa.  She wouldn't answer me and when I got hold of her arm I
discovered that she wouldn't move.  She had taken root in that
thick-pile Aubusson carpet; and she was so rigidly still all over
that the brilliant stones in the shaft of the arrow of gold, with
the six candles at the head of the sofa blazing full on them,
emitted no sparkle.

I was extremely anxious that she shouldn't betray herself.  I
reasoned, save the mark, as a psychologist.  I had no doubt that
the man knew of her being there; but he only knew it by hearsay.
And that was bad enough.  I could not help feeling that if he
obtained some evidence for his senses by any sort of noise, voice,
or movement, his madness would gain strength enough to burst the
lock.  I was rather ridiculously worried about the locks.  A horrid
mistrust of the whole house possessed me.  I saw it in the light of
a deadly trap.  I had no weapon, I couldn't say whether he had one
or not.  I wasn't afraid of a struggle as far as I, myself, was
concerned, but I was afraid of it for Dona Rita.  To be rolling at
her feet, locked in a literally tooth-and-nail struggle with Ortega
would have been odious.  I wanted to spare her feelings, just as I
would have been anxious to save from any contact with mud the feet
of that goatherd of the mountains with a symbolic face.  I looked
at her face.  For immobility it might have been a carving.  I
wished I knew how to deal with that embodied mystery, to influence
it, to manage it.  Oh, how I longed for the gift of authority!  In
addition, since I had become completely sane, all my scruples
against laying hold of her had returned.  I felt shy and
embarrassed.  My eyes were fixed on the bronze handle of the
fencing-room door as if it were something alive.  I braced myself
up against the moment when it would move.  This was what was going
to happen next.  It would move very gently.  My heart began to
thump.  But I was prepared to keep myself as still as death and I
hoped Dona Rita would have sense enough to do the same.  I stole
another glance at her face and at that moment I heard the word:
"Beloved!" form itself in the still air of the room, weak,
distinct, piteous, like the last request of the dying.

With great presence of mind I whispered into Dona Rita's ear:
"Perfect silence!" and was overjoyed to discover that she had heard
me, understood me; that she even had command over her rigid lips.
She answered me in a breath (our cheeks were nearly touching):
"Take me out of this house."

I glanced at all her clothing scattered about the room and hissed
forcibly the warning "Perfect immobility"; noticing with relief
that she didn't offer to move, though animation was returning to
her and her lips had remained parted in an awful, unintended effect
of a smile.  And I don't know whether I was pleased when she, who
was not to be touched, gripped my wrist suddenly.  It had the air
of being done on purpose because almost instantly another:
"Beloved!" louder, more agonized if possible, got into the room
and, yes, went home to my heart.  It was followed without any
transition, preparation, or warning, by a positively bellowed:
"Speak, perjured beast!" which I felt pass in a thrill right
through Dona Rita like an electric shock, leaving her as motionless
as before.

Till he shook the door handle, which he did immediately afterwards,
I wasn't certain through which door he had spoken.  The two doors
(in different walls) were rather near each other.  It was as I
expected.  He was in the fencing-room, thoroughly aroused, his
senses on the alert to catch the slightest sound.  A situation not
to be trifled with.  Leaving the room was for us out of the
question.  It was quite possible for him to dash round into the
hall before we could get clear of the front door.  As to making a
bolt of it upstairs there was the same objection; and to allow
ourselves to be chased all over the empty house by this maniac
would have been mere folly.  There was no advantage in locking
ourselves up anywhere upstairs where the original doors and locks
were much lighter.  No, true safety was in absolute stillness and
silence, so that even his rage should be brought to doubt at last
and die expended, or choke him before it died; I didn't care which.

For me to go out and meet him would have been stupid.  Now I was
certain that he was armed.  I had remembered the wall in the
fencing-room decorated with trophies of cold steel in all the
civilized and savage forms; sheaves of assegais, in the guise of
columns and grouped between them stars and suns of choppers,
swords, knives; from Italy, from Damascus, from Abyssinia, from the
ends of the world.  Ortega had only to make his barbarous choice.
I suppose he had got up on the bench, and fumbling about amongst
them must have brought one down, which, falling, had produced that
rattling noise.  But in any case to go to meet him would have been
folly, because, after all, I might have been overpowered (even with
bare hands) and then Dona Rita would have been left utterly
defenceless.

"He will speak," came to me the ghostly, terrified murmur of her
voice.  "Take me out of the house before he begins to speak."

"Keep still," I whispered.  "He will soon get tired of this."

"You don't know him."

"Oh, yes, I do.  Been with him two hours."

At this she let go my wrist and covered her face with her hands
passionately.  When she dropped them she had the look of one
morally crushed.

"What did he say to you?"

"He raved."

"Listen to me.  It was all true!"

"I daresay, but what of that?"

These ghostly words passed between us hardly louder than thoughts;
but after my last answer she ceased and gave me a searching stare,
then drew in a long breath.  The voice on the other side of the
door burst out with an impassioned request for a little pity, just
a little, and went on begging for a few words, for two words, for
one word--one poor little word.  Then it gave up, then repeated
once more, "Say you are there, Rita, Say one word, just one word.
Say 'yes.'  Come!  Just one little yes."

"You see," I said.  She only lowered her eyelids over the anxious
glance she had turned on me.

For a minute we could have had the illusion that he had stolen
away, unheard, on the thick mats.  But I don't think that either of
us was deceived.  The voice returned, stammering words without
connection, pausing and faltering, till suddenly steadied it soared
into impassioned entreaty, sank to low, harsh tones, voluble, lofty
sometimes and sometimes abject.  When it paused it left us looking
profoundly at each other.

"It's almost comic," I whispered.

"Yes.  One could laugh," she assented, with a sort of sinister
conviction.  Never had I seen her look exactly like that, for an
instant another, an incredible Rita!  "Haven't I laughed at him
innumerable times?" she added in a sombre whisper.

He was muttering to himself out there, and unexpectedly shouted:
"What?" as though he had fancied he had heard something.  He waited
a while before he started up again with a loud:  "Speak up, Queen
of the goats, with your goat tricks. . ."  All was still for a
time, then came a most awful bang on the door.  He must have
stepped back a pace to hurl himself bodily against the panels.  The
whole house seemed to shake.  He repeated that performance once
more, and then varied it by a prolonged drumming with his fists.
It WAS comic.  But I felt myself struggling mentally with an
invading gloom as though I were no longer sure of myself.

"Take me out," whispered Dona Rita feverishly, "take me out of this
house before it is too late."

"You will have to stand it," I answered.

"So be it; but then you must go away yourself.  Go now, before it
is too late."

I didn't condescend to answer this.  The drumming on the panels
stopped and the absurd thunder of it died out in the house.  I
don't know why precisely then I had the acute vision of the red
mouth of Jose Ortega wriggling with rage between his funny
whiskers.  He began afresh but in a tired tone:

"Do you expect a fellow to forget your tricks, you wicked little
devil?  Haven't you ever seen me dodging about to get a sight of
you amongst those pretty gentlemen, on horseback, like a princess,
with pure cheeks like a carved saint?  I wonder I didn't throw
stones at you, I wonder I didn't run after you shouting the tale--
curse my timidity!  But I daresay they knew as much as I did.
More.  All the new tricks--if that were possible."

While he was making this uproar, Dona Rita put her fingers in her
ears and then suddenly changed her mind and clapped her hands over
my ears.  Instinctively I disengaged my head but she persisted.  We
had a short tussle without moving from the spot, and suddenly I had
my head free, and there was complete silence.  He had screamed
himself out of breath, but Dona Rita muttering; "Too late, too
late," got her hands away from my grip and slipping altogether out
of her fur coat seized some garment lying on a chair near by (I
think it was her skirt), with the intention of dressing herself, I
imagine, and rushing out of the house.  Determined to prevent this,
but indeed without thinking very much what I was doing, I got hold
of her arm.  That struggle was silent, too; but I used the least
force possible and she managed to give me an unexpected push.
Stepping back to save myself from falling I overturned the little
table, bearing the six-branched candlestick.  It hit the floor,
rebounded with a dull ring on the carpet, and by the time it came
to a rest every single candle was out.  He on the other side of the
door naturally heard the noise and greeted it with a triumphant
screech:  "Aha!  I've managed to wake you up," the very savagery of
which had a laughable effect.  I felt the weight of Dona Rita grow
on my arm and thought it best to let her sink on the floor, wishing
to be free in my movements and really afraid that now he had
actually heard a noise he would infallibly burst the door.  But he
didn't even thump it.  He seemed to have exhausted himself in that
scream.  There was no other light in the room but the darkened glow
of the embers and I could hardly make out amongst the shadows of
furniture Dona Rita sunk on her knees in a penitential and
despairing attitude.  Before this collapse I, who had been
wrestling desperately with her a moment before, felt that I dare
not touch her.  This emotion, too, I could not understand; this
abandonment of herself, this conscience-stricken humility.  A
humbly imploring request to open the door came from the other side.
Ortega kept on repeating:  "Open the door, open the door," in such
an amazing variety of intonations, imperative, whining, persuasive,
insinuating, and even unexpectedly jocose, that I really stood
there smiling to myself, yet with a gloomy and uneasy heart.  Then
he remarked, parenthetically as it were, "Oh, you know how to
torment a man, you brown-skinned, lean, grinning, dishevelled imp,
you.  And mark," he expounded further, in a curiously doctoral
tone--"you are in all your limbs hateful:  your eyes are hateful
and your mouth is hateful, and your hair is hateful, and your body
is cold and vicious like a snake--and altogether you are
perdition."

This statement was astonishingly deliberate.  He drew a moaning
breath after it and uttered in a heart-rending tone, "You know,
Rita, that I cannot live without you.  I haven't lived.  I am not
living now.  This isn't life.  Come, Rita, you can't take a boy's
soul away and then let him grow up and go about the world, poor
devil, while you go amongst the rich from one pair of arms to
another, showing all your best tricks.  But I will forgive you if
you only open the door," he ended in an inflated tone:  "You
remember how you swore time after time to be my wife.  You are more
fit to be Satan's wife but I don't mind.  You shall be my wife!"

A sound near the floor made me bend down hastily with a stern:
"Don't laugh," for in his grotesque, almost burlesque discourses
there seemed to me to be truth, passion, and horror enough to move
a mountain.

Suddenly suspicion seized him out there.  With perfectly farcical
unexpectedness he yelled shrilly:  "Oh, you deceitful wretch!  You
won't escape me!  I will have you. . . ."

And in a manner of speaking he vanished.  Of course I couldn't see
him but somehow that was the impression.  I had hardly time to
receive it when crash! . . . he was already at the other door.  I
suppose he thought that his prey was escaping him.  His swiftness
was amazing, almost inconceivable, more like the effect of a trick
or of a mechanism.  The thump on the door was awful as if he had
not been able to stop himself in time.  The shock seemed enough to
stun an elephant.  It was really funny.  And after the crash there
was a moment of silence as if he were recovering himself.  The next
thing was a low grunt, and at once he picked up the thread of his
fixed idea.

"You will have to be my wife.  I have no shame.  You swore you
would be and so you will have to be."  Stifled low sounds made me
bend down again to the kneeling form, white in the flush of the
dark red glow.  "For goodness' sake don't," I whispered down.  She
was struggling with an appalling fit of merriment, repeating to
herself, "Yes, every day, for two months.  Sixty times at least,
sixty times at least."  Her voice was rising high.  She was
struggling against laughter, but when I tried to put my hand over
her lips I felt her face wet with tears.  She turned it this way
and that, eluding my hand with repressed low, little moans.  I lost
my caution and said, "Be quiet," so sharply as to startle myself
(and her, too) into expectant stillness.

Ortega's voice in the hall asked distinctly:  "Eh?  What's this?"
and then he kept still on his side listening, but he must have
thought that his ears had deceived him.  He was getting tired, too.
He was keeping quiet out there--resting.  Presently he sighed
deeply; then in a harsh melancholy tone he started again.

"My love, my soul, my life, do speak to me.  What am I that you
should take so much trouble to pretend that you aren't there?  Do
speak to me," he repeated tremulously, following this mechanical
appeal with a string of extravagantly endearing names, some of them
quite childish, which all of a sudden stopped dead; and then after
a pause there came a distinct, unutterably weary:  "What shall I do
now?" as though he were speaking to himself.

I shuddered to hear rising from the floor, by my side, a vibrating,
scornful:  "Do!  Why, slink off home looking over your shoulder as
you used to years ago when I had done with you--all but the
laughter."

"Rita," I murmured, appalled.  He must have been struck dumb for a
moment.  Then, goodness only knows why, in his dismay or rage he
was moved to speak in French with a most ridiculous accent.

"So you have found your tongue at last--Catin!  You were that from
the cradle.  Don't you remember how . . ."

Dona Rita sprang to her feet at my side with a loud cry, "No,
George, no," which bewildered me completely.  The suddenness, the
loudness of it made the ensuing silence on both sides of the door
perfectly awful.  It seemed to me that if I didn't resist with all
my might something in me would die on the instant.  In the
straight, falling folds of the night-dress she looked cold like a
block of marble; while I, too, was turned into stone by the
terrific clamour in the hall.

"Therese, Therese," yelled Ortega.  "She has got a man in there."
He ran to the foot of the stairs and screamed again, "Therese,
Therese!  There is a man with her.  A man!  Come down, you
miserable, starved peasant, come down and see."

I don't know where Therese was but I am sure that this voice
reached her, terrible, as if clamouring to heaven, and with a
shrill over-note which made me certain that if she was in bed the
only thing she would think of doing would be to put her head under
the bed-clothes.  With a final yell:  "Come down and see," he flew
back at the door of the room and started shaking it violently.

It was a double door, very tall, and there must have been a lot of
things loose about its fittings, bolts, latches, and all those
brass applications with broken screws, because it rattled, it
clattered, it jingled; and produced also the sound as of thunder
rolling in the big, empty hall.  It was deafening, distressing, and
vaguely alarming as if it could bring the house down.  At the same
time the futility of it had, it cannot be denied, a comic effect.
The very magnitude of the racket he raised was funny.  But he
couldn't keep up that violent exertion continuously, and when he
stopped to rest we could hear him shouting to himself in vengeful
tones.  He saw it all!  He had been decoyed there!  (Rattle,
rattle, rattle.)  He had been decoyed into that town, he screamed,
getting more and more excited by the noise he made himself, in
order to be exposed to this!  (Rattle, rattle.)  By this shameless
"Catin! Catin! Catin!"

He started at the door again with superhuman vigour.  Behind me I
heard Dona Rita laughing softly, statuesque, turned all dark in the
fading glow.  I called out to her quite openly, "Do keep your self-
control."  And she called back to me in a clear voice:  "Oh, my
dear, will you ever consent to speak to me after all this?  But
don't ask for the impossible.  He was born to be laughed at."

"Yes," I cried.  "But don't let yourself go."

I don't know whether Ortega heard us.  He was exerting then his
utmost strength of lung against the infamous plot to expose him to
the derision of the fiendish associates of that obscene woman! . .
. Then he began another interlude upon the door, so sustained and
strong that I had the thought that this was growing absurdly
impossible, that either the plaster would begin to fall off the
ceiling or he would drop dead next moment, out there.

He stopped, uttered a few curses at the door, and seemed calmer
from sheer exhaustion.

"This story will be all over the world," we heard him begin.
"Deceived, decoyed, inveighed, in order to be made a laughing-stock
before the most debased of all mankind, that woman and her
associates."  This was really a meditation.  And then he screamed:
"I will kill you all."  Once more he started worrying the door but
it was a startlingly feeble effort which he abandoned almost at
once.  He must have been at the end of his strength.  Dona Rita
from the middle of the room asked me recklessly loud:  "Tell me!
Wasn't he born to be laughed at?"  I didn't answer her.  I was so
near the door that I thought I ought to hear him panting there.  He
was terrifying, but he was not serious.  He was at the end of his
strength, of his breath, of every kind of endurance, but I did not
know it.  He was done up, finished; but perhaps he did not know it
himself.  How still he was!  Just as I began to wonder at it, I
heard him distinctly give a slap to his forehead.  "I see it all!"
he cried.  "That miserable, canting peasant-woman upstairs has
arranged it all.  No doubt she consulted her priests.  I must
regain my self-respect.  Let her die first."  I heard him make a
dash for the foot of the stairs.  I was appalled; yet to think of
Therese being hoisted with her own petard was like a turn of
affairs in a farce.  A very ferocious farce.  Instinctively I
unlocked the door.  Dona Rita's contralto laugh rang out loud,
bitter, and contemptuous; and I heard Ortega's distracted screaming
as if under torture.  "It hurts!  It hurts!  It hurts!"  I
hesitated just an instant, half a second, no more, but before I
could open the door wide there was in the hall a short groan and
the sound of a heavy fall.

The sight of Ortega lying on his back at the foot of the stairs
arrested me in the doorway.  One of his legs was drawn up, the
other extended fully, his foot very near the pedestal of the silver
statuette holding the feeble and tenacious gleam which made the
shadows so heavy in that hall.  One of his arms lay across his
breast.  The other arm was extended full length on the white-and-
black pavement with the hand palm upwards and the fingers rigidly
spread out.  The shadow of the lowest step slanted across his face
but one whisker and part of his chin could be made out.  He
appeared strangely flattened.  He didn't move at all.  He was in
his shirt-sleeves.  I felt an extreme distaste for that sight.  The
characteristic sound of a key worrying in the lock stole into my
ears.  I couldn't locate it but I didn't attend much to that at
first.  I was engaged in watching Senor Ortega.  But for his raised
leg he clung so flat to the floor and had taken on himself such a
distorted shape that he might have been the mere shadow of Senor
Ortega.  It was rather fascinating to see him so quiet at the end
of all that fury, clamour, passion, and uproar.  Surely there was
never anything so still in the world as this Ortega.  I had a
bizarre notion that he was not to be disturbed.

A noise like the rattling of chain links, a small grind and click
exploded in the stillness of the hall and a eciov began to swear in
Italian.  These surprising sounds were quite welcome, they recalled
me to myself, and I perceived they came from the front door which
seemed pushed a little ajar.  Was somebody trying to get in?  I had
no objection, I went to the door and said:  "Wait a moment, it's on
the chain."  The deep voice on the other side said:  "What an
extraordinary thing," and I assented mentally.  It was
extraordinary.  The chain was never put up, but Therese was a
thorough sort of person, and on this night she had put it up to
keep no one out except myself.  It was the old Italian and his
daughters returning from the ball who were trying to get in.

Suddenly I became intensely alive to the whole situation.  I
bounded back, closed the door of Blunt's room, and the next moment
was speaking to the Italian.  "A little patience."  My hands
trembled but I managed to take down the chain and as I allowed the
door to swing open a little more I put myself in his way.  He was
burly, venerable, a little indignant, and full of thanks.  Behind
him his two girls, in short-skirted costumes, white stockings, and
low shoes, their heads powdered and earrings sparkling in their
ears, huddled together behind their father, wrapped up in their
light mantles.  One had kept her little black mask on her face, the
other held hers in her hand.

The Italian was surprised at my blocking the way and remarked
pleasantly, "It's cold outside, Signor."  I said, "Yes," and added
in a hurried whisper:  "There is a dead man in the hall."  He
didn't say a single word but put me aside a little, projected his
body in for one searching glance.  "Your daughters," I murmured.
He said kindly, "Va bene, va bene."  And then to them, "Come in,
girls."

There is nothing like dealing with a man who has had a long past of
out-of-the-way experiences.  The skill with which he rounded up and
drove the girls across the hall, paternal and irresistible,
venerable and reassuring, was a sight to see.  They had no time for
more than one scared look over the shoulder.  He hustled them in
and locked them up safely in their part of the house, then crossed
the hall with a quick, practical stride.  When near Senor Ortega he
trod short just in time and said:  "In truth, blood"; then
selecting the place, knelt down by the body in his tall hat and
respectable overcoat, his white beard giving him immense authority
somehow.  "But--this man is not dead," he exclaimed, looking up at
me.  With profound sagacity, inherent as it were in his great
beard, he never took the trouble to put any questions to me and
seemed certain that I had nothing to do with the ghastly sight.
"He managed to give himself an enormous gash in his side," was his
calm remark.  "And what a weapon!" he exclaimed, getting it out
from under the body.  It was an Abyssinian or Nubian production of
a bizarre shape; the clumsiest thing imaginable, partaking of a
sickle and a chopper with a sharp edge and a pointed end.  A mere
cruel-looking curio of inconceivable clumsiness to European eyes.

The old man let it drop with amused disdain.  "You had better take
hold of his legs," he decided without appeal.  I certainly had no
inclination to argue.  When we lifted him up the head of Senor
Ortega fell back desolately, making an awful, defenceless display
of his large, white throat.

We found the lamp burning in the studio and the bed made up on the
couch on which we deposited our burden.  My venerable friend jerked
the upper sheet away at once and started tearing it into strips.

"You may leave him to me," said that efficient sage, "but the
doctor is your affair.  If you don't want this business to make a
noise you will have to find a discreet man."

He was most benevolently interested in all the proceedings.  He
remarked with a patriarchal smile as he tore the sheet noisily:
"You had better not lose any time."  I didn't lose any time.  I
crammed into the next hour an astonishing amount of bodily
activity.  Without more words I flew out bare-headed into the last
night of Carnival.  Luckily I was certain of the right sort of
doctor.  He was an iron-grey man of forty and of a stout habit of
body but who was able to put on a spurt.  In the cold, dark, and
deserted by-streets, he ran with earnest, and ponderous footsteps,
which echoed loudly in the cold night air, while I skimmed along
the ground a pace or two in front of him.  It was only on arriving
at the house that I perceived that I had left the front door wide
open.  All the town, every evil in the world could have entered the
black-and-white hall.  But I had no time to meditate upon my
imprudence.  The doctor and I worked in silence for nearly an hour
and it was only then while he was washing his hands in the fencing-
room that he asked:

"What was he up to, that imbecile?"

"Oh, he was examining this curiosity," I said.

"Oh, yes, and it accidentally went off," said the doctor, looking
contemptuously at the Nubian knife I had thrown on the table.  Then
while wiping his hands:  "I would bet there is a woman somewhere
under this; but that of course does not affect the nature of the
wound.  I hope this blood-letting will do him good."

"Nothing will do him any good," I said.

"Curious house this," went on the doctor, "It belongs to a curious
sort of woman, too.  I happened to see her once or twice.  I
shouldn't wonder if she were to raise considerable trouble in the
track of her pretty feet as she goes along.  I believe you know her
well."

"Yes."

"Curious people in the house, too.  There was a Carlist officer
here, a lean, tall, dark man, who couldn't sleep.  He consulted me
once.  Do you know what became of him?"

"No."

The doctor had finished wiping his hands and flung the towel far
away.

"Considerable nervous over-strain.  Seemed to have a restless
brain.  Not a good thing, that.  For the rest a perfect gentleman.
And this Spaniard here, do you know him?"

"Enough not to care what happens to him," I said, "except for the
trouble he might cause to the Carlist sympathizers here, should the
police get hold of this affair."

"Well, then, he must take his chance in the seclusion of that
conservatory sort of place where you have put him.  I'll try to
find somebody we can trust to look after him.  Meantime, I will
leave the case to you."



CHAPTER VIII



Directly I had shut the door after the doctor I started shouting
for Therese.  "Come down at once, you wretched hypocrite," I yelled
at the foot of the stairs in a sort of frenzy as though I had been
a second Ortega.  Not even an echo answered me; but all of a sudden
a small flame flickered descending from the upper darkness and
Therese appeared on the first floor landing carrying a lighted
candle in front of a livid, hard face, closed against remorse,
compassion, or mercy by the meanness of her righteousness and of
her rapacious instincts.  She was fully dressed in that abominable
brown stuff with motionless folds, and as I watched her coming down
step by step she might have been made of wood.  I stepped back and
pointed my finger at the darkness of the passage leading to the
studio.  She passed within a foot of me, her pale eyes staring
straight ahead, her face still with disappointment and fury.  Yet
it is only my surmise.  She might have been made thus inhuman by
the force of an invisible purpose.  I waited a moment, then,
stealthily, with extreme caution, I opened the door of the so-
called Captain Blunt's room.

The glow of embers was all but out.  It was cold and dark in there;
but before I closed the door behind me the dim light from the hall
showed me Dona Rita standing on the very same spot where I had left
her, statuesque in her night-dress.  Even after I shut the door she
loomed up enormous, indistinctly rigid and inanimate.  I picked up
the candelabra, groped for a candle all over the carpet, found one,
and lighted it.  All that time Dona Rita didn't stir.  When I
turned towards her she seemed to be slowly awakening from a trance.
She was deathly pale and by contrast the melted, sapphire-blue of
her eyes looked black as coal.  They moved a little in my
direction, incurious, recognizing me slowly.  But when they had
recognized me completely she raised her hands and hid her face in
them.  A whole minute or more passed.  Then I said in a low tone:
"Look at me," and she let them fall slowly as if accepting the
inevitable.

"Shall I make up the fire?" . . . I waited.  "Do you hear me?"  She
made no sound and with the tip of my finger I touched her bare
shoulder.  But for its elasticity it might have been frozen.  At
once I looked round for the fur coat; it seemed to me that there
was not a moment to lose if she was to be saved, as though we had
been lost on an Arctic plain.  I had to put her arms into the
sleeves, myself, one after another.  They were cold, lifeless, but
flexible.  Then I moved in front of her and buttoned the thing
close round her throat.  To do that I had actually to raise her
chin with my finger, and it sank slowly down again.  I buttoned all
the other buttons right down to the ground.  It was a very long and
splendid fur.  Before rising from my kneeling position I felt her
feet.  Mere ice.  The intimacy of this sort of attendance helped
the growth of my authority.  "Lie down," I murmured, "I shall pile
on you every blanket I can find here," but she only shook her head.

Not even in the days when she ran "shrill as a cicada and thin as a
match" through the chill mists of her native mountains could she
ever have felt so cold, so wretched, and so desolate.  Her very
soul, her grave, indignant, and fantastic soul, seemed to drowse
like an exhausted traveller surrendering himself to the sleep of
death.  But when I asked her again to lie down she managed to
answer me, "Not in this room."  The dumb spell was broken.  She
turned her head from side to side, but oh! how cold she was!  It
seemed to come out of her, numbing me, too; and the very diamonds
on the arrow of gold sparkled like hoar frost in the light of the
one candle.

"Not in this room; not here," she protested, with that peculiar
suavity of tone which made her voice unforgettable, irresistible,
no matter what she said.  "Not after all this!  I couldn't close my
eyes in this place.  It's full of corruption and ugliness all
round, in me, too, everywhere except in your heart, which has
nothing to do where I breathe.  And here you may leave me.  But
wherever you go remember that I am not evil, I am not evil."

I said:  "I don't intend to leave you here.  There is my room
upstairs.  You have been in it before."

"Oh, you have heard of that," she whispered.  The beginning of a
wan smile vanished from her lips.

"I also think you can't stay in this room; and, surely, you needn't
hesitate . . ."

"No.  It doesn't matter now.  He has killed me.  Rita is dead."

While we exchanged these words I had retrieved the quilted, blue
slippers and had put them on her feet.  She was very tractable.
Then taking her by the arm I led her towards the door.

"He has killed me," she repeated in a sigh.  "The little joy that
was in me."

"He has tried to kill himself out there in the hall," I said.  She
put back like a frightened child but she couldn't be dragged on as
a child can be.

I assured her that the man was no longer there but she only
repeated, "I can't get through the hall.  I can't walk.  I can't .
. ."

"Well," I said, flinging the door open and seizing her suddenly in
my arms, "if you can't walk then you shall be carried," and I
lifted her from the ground so abruptly that she could not help
catching me round the neck as any child almost will do
instinctively when you pick it up.

I ought really to have put those blue slippers in my pocket.  One
dropped off at the bottom of the stairs as I was stepping over an
unpleasant-looking mess on the marble pavement, and the other was
lost a little way up the flight when, for some reason (perhaps from
a sense of insecurity), she began to struggle.  Though I had an odd
sense of being engaged in a sort of nursery adventure she was no
child to carry.  I could just do it.  But not if she chose to
struggle.  I set her down hastily and only supported her round the
waist for the rest of the way.  My room, of course, was perfectly
dark but I led her straight to the sofa at once and let her fall on
it.  Then as if I had in sober truth rescued her from an Alpine
height or an Arctic floe, I busied myself with nothing but lighting
the gas and starting the fire.  I didn't even pause to lock my
door.  All the time I was aware of her presence behind me, nay, of
something deeper and more my own--of her existence itself--of a
small blue flame, blue like her eyes, flickering and clear within
her frozen body.  When I turned to her she was sitting very stiff
and upright, with her feet posed, hieratically on the carpet and
her head emerging out of the ample fur collar, such as a gem-like
flower above the rim of a dark vase.  I tore the blankets and the
pillows off my bed and piled them up in readiness in a great heap
on the floor near the couch.  My reason for this was that the room
was large, too large for the fireplace, and the couch was nearest
to the fire.  She gave no sign but one of her wistful attempts at a
smile.  In a most business-like way I took the arrow out of her
hair and laid it on the centre table.  The tawny mass fell loose at
once about her shoulders and made her look even more desolate than
before.  But there was an invincible need of gaiety in her heart.
She said funnily, looking at the arrow sparkling in the gas light:

"Ah!  That poor philistinish ornament!"

An echo of our early days, not more innocent but so much more
youthful, was in her tone; and we both, as if touched with poignant
regret, looked at each other with enlightened eyes.

"Yes," I said, "how far away all this is.  And you wouldn't leave
even that object behind when you came last in here.  Perhaps it is
for that reason it haunted me--mostly at night.  I dreamed of you
sometimes as a huntress nymph gleaming white through the foliage
and throwing this arrow like a dart straight at my heart.  But it
never reached it.  It always fell at my feet as I woke up.  The
huntress never meant to strike down that particular quarry."

"The huntress was wild but she was not evil.  And she was no nymph,
but only a goatherd girl.  Dream of her no more, my dear."

I had the strength of mind to make a sign of assent and busied
myself arranging a couple of pillows at one end of the sofa.  "Upon
my soul, goatherd, you are not responsible," I said.  "You are not!
Lay down that uneasy head," I continued, forcing a half-playful
note into my immense sadness, "that has even dreamed of a crown--
but not for itself."

She lay down quietly.  I covered her up, looked once into her eyes
and felt the restlessness of fatigue over-power me so that I wanted
to stagger out, walk straight before me, stagger on and on till I
dropped.  In the end I lost myself in thought.  I woke with a start
to her voice saying positively:

"No.  Not even in this room.  I can't close my eyes.  Impossible.
I have a horror of myself.  That voice in my ears.  All true.  All
true."

She was sitting up, two masses of tawny hair fell on each side of
her tense face.  I threw away the pillows from which she had risen
and sat down behind her on the couch.  "Perhaps like this," I
suggested, drawing her head gently on my breast.  She didn't
resist, she didn't even sigh, she didn't look at me or attempt to
settle herself in any way.  It was I who settled her after taking
up a position which I thought I should be able to keep for hours--
for ages.  After a time I grew composed enough to become aware of
the ticking of the clock, even to take pleasure in it.  The beat
recorded the moments of her rest, while I sat, keeping as still as
if my life depended upon it with my eyes fixed idly on the arrow of
gold gleaming and glittering dimly on the table under the lowered
gas-jet.  And presently my breathing fell into the quiet rhythm of
the sleep which descended on her at last.  My thought was that now
nothing mattered in the world because I had the world safe resting
in my arms--or was it in my heart?

Suddenly my heart seemed torn in two within my breast and half of
my breath knocked out of me.  It was a tumultuous awakening.  The
day had come.  Dona Rita had opened her eyes, found herself in my
arms, and instantly had flung herself out of them with one sudden
effort.  I saw her already standing in the filtered sunshine of the
closed shutters, with all the childlike horror and shame of that
night vibrating afresh in the awakened body of the woman.

"Daylight," she whispered in an appalled voice.  "Don't look at me,
George.  I can't face daylight.  No--not with you.  Before we set
eyes on each other all that past was like nothing.  I had crushed
it all in my new pride.  Nothing could touch the Rita whose hand
was kissed by you.  But now!  Never in daylight."

I sat there stupid with surprise and grief.  This was no longer the
adventure of venturesome children in a nursery-book.  A grown man's
bitterness, informed, suspicious, resembling hatred, welled out of
my heart.

"All this means that you are going to desert me again?" I said with
contempt.  "All right.  I won't throw stones after you . . . Are
you going, then?"

She lowered her head slowly with a backward gesture of her arm as
if to keep me off, for I had sprung to my feet all at once as if
mad.

"Then go quickly," I said.  "You are afraid of living flesh and
blood.  What are you running after?  Honesty, as you say, or some
distinguished carcass to feed your vanity on?  I know how cold you
can be--and yet live.  What have I done to you?  You go to sleep in
my arms, wake up and go away.  Is it to impress me?  Charlatanism
of character, my dear."

She stepped forward on her bare feet as firm on that floor which
seemed to heave up and down before my eyes as she had ever been--
goatherd child leaping on the rocks of her native hills which she
was never to see again.  I snatched the arrow of gold from the
table and threw it after her.

"Don't forget this thing," I cried, "you would never forgive
yourself for leaving it behind."

It struck the back of the fur coat and fell on the floor behind
her.  She never looked round.  She walked to the door, opened it
without haste, and on the landing in the diffused light from the
ground-glass skylight there appeared, rigid, like an implacable and
obscure fate, the awful Therese--waiting for her sister.  The heavy
ends of a big black shawl thrown over her head hung massively in
biblical folds.  With a faint cry of dismay Dona Rita stopped just
within my room.

The two women faced each other for a few moments silently.  Therese
spoke first.  There was no austerity in her tone.  Her voice was as
usual, pertinacious, unfeeling, with a slight plaint in it;
terrible in its unchanged purpose.

"I have been standing here before this door all night," she said.
"I don't know how I lived through it.  I thought I would die a
hundred times for shame.  So that's how you are spending your time?
You are worse than shameless.  But God may still forgive you.  You
have a soul.  You are my sister.  I will never abandon you--till
you die."

"What is it?" Dona Rita was heard wistfully, "my soul or this house
that you won't abandon."

"Come out and bow your head in humiliation.  I am your sister and I
shall help you to pray to God and all the Saints.  Come away from
that poor young gentleman who like all the others can have nothing
but contempt and disgust for you in his heart.  Come and hide your
head where no one will reproach you--but I, your sister.  Come out
and beat your breast:  come, poor Sinner, and let me kiss you, for
you are my sister!"

While Therese was speaking Dona Rita stepped back a pace and as the
other moved forward still extending the hand of sisterly love, she
slammed the door in Therese's face.  "You abominable girl!" she
cried fiercely.  Then she turned about and walked towards me who
had not moved.  I felt hardly alive but for the cruel pain that
possessed my whole being.  On the way she stooped to pick up the
arrow of gold and then moved on quicker, holding it out to me in
her open palm.

"You thought I wouldn't give it to you.  Amigo, I wanted nothing so
much as to give it to you.  And now, perhaps--you will take it."

"Not without the woman," I said sombrely.

"Take it," she said.  "I haven't the courage to deliver myself up
to Therese.  No.  Not even for your sake.  Don't you think I have
been miserable enough yet?"

I snatched the arrow out of her hand then and ridiculously pressed
it to my breast; but as I opened my lips she who knew what was
struggling for utterance in my heart cried in a ringing tone:

"Speak no words of love, George!  Not yet.  Not in this house of
ill-luck and falsehood.  Not within a hundred miles of this house,
where they came clinging to me all profaned from the mouth of that
man.  Haven't you heard them--the horrible things?  And what can
words have to do between you and me?"

Her hands were stretched out imploringly, I said, childishly
disconcerted:

"But, Rita, how can I help using words of love to you?  They come
of themselves on my lips!"

"They come!  Ah!  But I shall seal your lips with the thing
itself," she said.  "Like this. . . "




SECOND NOTE




The narrative of our man goes on for some six months more, from
this, the last night of the Carnival season up to and beyond the
season of roses.  The tone of it is much less of exultation than
might have been expected.  Love as is well known having nothing to
do with reason, being insensible to forebodings and even blind to
evidence, the surrender of those two beings to a precarious bliss
has nothing very astonishing in itself; and its portrayal, as he
attempts it, lacks dramatic interest.  The sentimental interest
could only have a fascination for readers themselves actually in
love.  The response of a reader depends on the mood of the moment,
so much so that a book may seem extremely interesting when read
late at night, but might appear merely a lot of vapid verbiage in
the morning.  My conviction is that the mood in which the
continuation of his story would appear sympathetic is very rare.
This consideration has induced me to suppress it--all but the
actual facts which round up the previous events and satisfy such
curiosity as might have been aroused by the foregoing narrative.

It is to be remarked that this period is characterized more by a
deep and joyous tenderness than by sheer passion.  All fierceness
of spirit seems to have burnt itself out in their preliminary
hesitations and struggles against each other and themselves.
Whether love in its entirety has, speaking generally, the same
elementary meaning for women as for men, is very doubtful.
Civilization has been at work there.  But the fact is that those
two display, in every phase of discovery and response, an exact
accord.  Both show themselves amazingly ingenuous in the practice
of sentiment.  I believe that those who know women won't be
surprised to hear me say that she was as new to love as he was.
During their retreat in the region of the Maritime Alps, in a small
house built of dry stones and embowered with roses, they appear all
through to be less like released lovers than as companions who had
found out each other's fitness in a specially intense way.  Upon
the whole, I think that there must be some truth in his insistence
of there having always been something childlike in their relation.
In the unreserved and instant sharing of all thoughts, all
impressions, all sensations, we see the naiveness of a children's
foolhardy adventure.  This unreserved expressed for him the whole
truth of the situation.  With her it may have been different.  It
might have been assumed; yet nobody is altogether a comedian; and
even comedians themselves have got to believe in the part they
play.  Of the two she appears much the more assured and confident.
But if in this she was a comedienne then it was but a great
achievement of her ineradicable honesty.  Having once renounced her
honourable scruples she took good care that he should taste no
flavour of misgivings in the cup.  Being older it was she who
imparted its character to the situation.  As to the man if he had
any superiority of his own it was simply the superiority of him who
loves with the greater self-surrender.

This is what appears from the pages I have discreetly suppressed--
partly out of regard for the pages themselves.  In every, even
terrestrial, mystery there is as it were a sacred core.  A
sustained commentary on love is not fit for every eye.  A universal
experience is exactly the sort of thing which is most difficult to
appraise justly in a particular instance.

How this particular instance affected Rose, who was the only
companion of the two hermits in their rose-embowered hut of stones,
I regret not to be able to report; but I will venture to say that
for reasons on which I need not enlarge, the girl could not have
been very reassured by what she saw.  It seems to me that her
devotion could never be appeased; for the conviction must have been
growing on her that, no matter what happened, Madame could never
have any friends.  It may be that Dona Rita had given her a glimpse
of the unavoidable end, and that the girl's tarnished eyes masked a
certain amount of apprehensive, helpless desolation.

What meantime was becoming of the fortune of Henry Allegre is
another curious question.  We have been told that it was too big to
be tied up in a sack and thrown into the sea.  That part of it
represented by the fabulous collections was still being protected
by the police.  But for the rest, it may be assumed that its power
and significance were lost to an interested world for something
like six months.  What is certain is that the late Henry Allegre's
man of affairs found himself comparatively idle.  The holiday must
have done much good to his harassed brain.  He had received a note
from Dona Rita saying that she had gone into retreat and that she
did not mean to send him her address, not being in the humour to be
worried with letters on any subject whatever.  "It's enough for
you"--she wrote--"to know that I am alive."  Later, at irregular
intervals, he received scraps of paper bearing the stamps of
various post offices and containing the simple statement:  "I am
still alive," signed with an enormous, flourished exuberant R.  I
imagine Rose had to travel some distances by rail to post those
messages.  A thick veil of secrecy had been lowered between the
world and the lovers; yet even this veil turned out not altogether
impenetrable.

He--it would be convenient to call him Monsieur George to the end--
shared with Dona Rita her perfect detachment from all mundane
affairs; but he had to make two short visits to Marseilles.  The
first was prompted by his loyal affection for Dominic.  He wanted
to discover what had happened or was happening to Dominic and to
find out whether he could do something for that man.  But Dominic
was not the sort of person for whom one can do much.  Monsieur
George did not even see him.  It looked uncommonly as if Dominic's
heart were broken.  Monsieur George remained concealed for twenty-
four hours in the very house in which Madame Leonore had her cafe.
He spent most of that time in conversing with Madame Leonore about
Dominic.  She was distressed, but her mind was made up.  That
bright-eyed, nonchalant, and passionate woman was making
arrangements to dispose of her cafe before departing to join
Dominic.  She would not say where.  Having ascertained that his
assistance was not required Monsieur George, in his own words,
"managed to sneak out of the town without being seen by a single
soul that mattered."

The second occasion was very prosaic and shockingly incongruous
with the super-mundane colouring of these days.  He had neither the
fortune of Henry Allegre nor a man of affairs of his own.  But some
rent had to be paid to somebody for the stone hut and Rose could
not go marketing in the tiny hamlet at the foot of the hill without
a little money.  There came a time when Monsieur George had to
descend from the heights of his love in order, in his own words,
"to get a supply of cash."  As he had disappeared very suddenly and
completely for a time from the eyes of mankind it was necessary
that he should show himself and sign some papers.  That business
was transacted in the office of the banker mentioned in the story.
Monsieur George wished to avoid seeing the man himself but in this
he did not succeed.  The interview was short.  The banker naturally
asked no questions, made no allusions to persons and events, and
didn't even mention the great Legitimist Principle which presented
to him now no interest whatever.  But for the moment all the world
was talking of the Carlist enterprise.  It had collapsed utterly,
leaving behind, as usual, a large crop of recriminations, charges
of incompetency and treachery, and a certain amount of scandalous
gossip.  The banker (his wife's salon had been very Carlist indeed)
declared that he had never believed in the success of the cause.
"You are well out of it," he remarked with a chilly smile to
Monsieur George.  The latter merely observed that he had been very
little "in it" as a matter of fact, and that he was quite
indifferent to the whole affair.

"You left a few of your feathers in it, nevertheless," the banker
concluded with a wooden face and with the curtness of a man who
knows.

Monsieur George ought to have taken the very next train out of the
town but he yielded to the temptation to discover what had happened
to the house in the street of the Consuls after he and Dona Rita
had stolen out of it like two scared yet jubilant children.  All he
discovered was a strange, fat woman, a sort of virago, who had,
apparently, been put in as a caretaker by the man of affairs.  She
made some difficulties to admit that she had been in charge for the
last four months; ever since the person who was there before had
eloped with some Spaniard who had been lying in the house ill with
fever for more than six weeks.  No, she never saw the person.
Neither had she seen the Spaniard.  She had only heard the talk of
the street.  Of course she didn't know where these people had gone.
She manifested some impatience to get rid of Monsieur George and
even attempted to push him towards the door.  It was, he says, a
very funny experience.  He noticed the feeble flame of the gas-jet
in the hall still waiting for extinction in the general collapse of
the world.

Then he decided to have a bit of dinner at the Restaurant de la
Gare where he felt pretty certain he would not meet any of his
friends.  He could not have asked Madame Leonore for hospitality
because Madame Leonore had gone away already.  His acquaintances
were not the sort of people likely to happen casually into a
restaurant of that kind and moreover he took the precaution to seat
himself at a small table so as to face the wall.  Yet before long
he felt a hand laid gently on his shoulder, and, looking up, saw
one of his acquaintances, a member of the Royalist club, a young
man of a very cheerful disposition but whose face looked down at
him with a grave and anxious expression.

Monsieur George was far from delighted.  His surprise was extreme
when in the course of the first phrases exchanged with him he
learned that this acquaintance had come to the station with the
hope of finding him there.

"You haven't been seen for some time," he said.  "You were perhaps
somewhere where the news from the world couldn't reach you?  There
have been many changes amongst our friends and amongst people one
used to hear of so much.  There is Madame de Lastaola for instance,
who seems to have vanished from the world which was so much
interested in her.  You have no idea where she may be now?"

Monsieur George remarked grumpily that he couldn't say.

The other tried to appear at ease.  Tongues were wagging about it
in Paris.  There was a sort of international financier, a fellow
with an Italian name, a shady personality, who had been looking for
her all over Europe and talked in clubs--astonishing how such
fellows get into the best clubs--oh! Azzolati was his name.  But
perhaps what a fellow like that said did not matter.  The funniest
thing was that there was no man of any position in the world who
had disappeared at the same time.  A friend in Paris wrote to him
that a certain well-known journalist had rushed South to
investigate the mystery but had returned no wiser than he went.

Monsieur George remarked more unamiably than before that he really
could not help all that.

"No," said the other with extreme gentleness, "only of all the
people more or less connected with the Carlist affair you are the
only one that had also disappeared before the final collapse."

"What!" cried Monsieur George.

"Just so," said the other meaningly.  "You know that all my people
like you very much, though they hold various opinions as to your
discretion.  Only the other day Jane, you know my married sister,
and I were talking about you.  She was extremely distressed.  I
assured her that you must be very far away or very deeply buried
somewhere not to have given a sign of life under this provocation.

Naturally Monsieur George wanted to know what it was all about; and
the other appeared greatly relieved.

"I was sure you couldn't have heard.  I don't want to be
indiscreet, I don't want to ask you where you were.  It came to my
ears that you had been seen at the bank to-day and I made a special
effort to lay hold of you before you vanished again; for, after
all, we have been always good friends and all our lot here liked
you very much.  Listen.  You know a certain Captain Blunt, don't
you?"

Monsieur George owned to knowing Captain Blunt but only very
slightly.  His friend then informed him that this Captain Blunt was
apparently well acquainted with Madame de Lastaola, or, at any
rate, pretended to be.  He was an honourable man, a member of a
good club, he was very Parisian in a way, and all this, he
continued, made all the worse that of which he was under the
painful necessity of warning Monsieur George.  This Blunt on three
distinct occasions when the name of Madame de Lastaola came up in
conversation in a mixed company of men had expressed his regret
that she should have become the prey of a young adventurer who was
exploiting her shamelessly.  He talked like a man certain of his
facts and as he mentioned names . . .

"In fact," the young man burst out excitedly, "it is your name that
he mentions.  And in order to fix the exact personality he always
takes care to add that you are that young fellow who was known as
Monsieur George all over the South amongst the initiated Carlists."

How Blunt had got enough information to base that atrocious calumny
upon, Monsieur George couldn't imagine.  But there it was.  He kept
silent in his indignation till his friend murmured, "I expect you
will want him to know that you are here."

"Yes," said Monsieur George, "and I hope you will consent to act
for me altogether.  First of all, pray, let him know by wire that I
am waiting for him.  This will be enough to fetch him down here, I
can assure you.  You may ask him also to bring two friends with
him.  I don't intend this to be an affair for Parisian journalists
to write paragraphs about."

"Yes.  That sort of thing must be stopped at once," the other
admitted.  He assented to Monsieur George's request that the
meeting should be arranged for at his elder brother's country place
where the family stayed very seldom.  There was a most convenient
walled garden there.  And then Monsieur George caught his train
promising to be back on the fourth day and leaving all further
arrangements to his friend.  He prided himself on his
impenetrability before Dona Rita; on the happiness without a shadow
of those four days.  However, Dona Rita must have had the intuition
of there being something in the wind, because on the evening of the
very same day on which he left her again on some pretence or other,
she was already ensconced in the house in the street of the
Consuls, with the trustworthy Rose scouting all over the town to
gain information.

Of the proceedings in the walled garden there is no need to speak
in detail.  They were conventionally correct, but an earnestness of
purpose which could be felt in the very air lifted the business
above the common run of affairs of honour.  One bit of byplay
unnoticed by the seconds, very busy for the moment with their
arrangements, must be mentioned.  Disregarding the severe rules of
conduct in such cases Monsieur George approached his adversary and
addressed him directly.

"Captain Blunt," he said, "the result of this meeting may go
against me.  In that case you will recognize publicly that you were
wrong.  For you are wrong and you know it.  May I trust your
honour?"

In answer to that appeal Captain Blunt, always correct, didn't open
his lips but only made a little bow.  For the rest he was perfectly
ruthless.  If he was utterly incapable of being carried away by
love there was nothing equivocal about his jealousy.  Such
psychology is not very rare and really from the point of view of
the combat itself one cannot very well blame him.  What happened
was this.  Monsieur George fired on the word and, whether luck or
skill, managed to hit Captain Blunt in the upper part of the arm
which was holding the pistol.  That gentleman's arm dropped
powerless by his side.  But he did not drop his weapon.  There was
nothing equivocal about his determination.  With the greatest
deliberation he reached with his left hand for his pistol and
taking careful aim shot Monsieur George through the left side of
his breast.  One may imagine the consternation of the four seconds
and the activity of the two surgeons in the confined, drowsy heat
of that walled garden.  It was within an easy drive of the town and
as Monsieur George was being conveyed there at a walking pace a
little brougham coming from the opposite direction pulled up at the
side of the road.  A thickly veiled woman's head looked out of the
window, took in the state of affairs at a glance, and called out in
a firm voice:  "Follow my carriage."  The brougham turning round
took the lead.  Long before this convoy reached the town another
carriage containing four gentlemen (of whom one was leaning back
languidly with his arm in a sling) whisked past and vanished ahead
in a cloud of white, Provencal dust.  And this is the last
appearance of Captain Blunt in Monsieur George's narrative.  Of
course he was only told of it later.  At the time he was not in a
condition to notice things.  Its interest in his surroundings
remained of a hazy and nightmarish kind for many days together.
From time to time he had the impression that he was in a room
strangely familiar to him, that he had unsatisfactory visions of
Dona Rita, to whom he tried to speak as if nothing had happened,
but that she always put her hand on his mouth to prevent him and
then spoke to him herself in a very strange voice which sometimes
resembled the voice of Rose.  The face, too, sometimes resembled
the face of Rose.  There were also one or two men's faces which he
seemed to know well enough though he didn't recall their names.  He
could have done so with a slight effort, but it would have been too
much trouble.  Then came a time when the hallucinations of Dona
Rita and the faithful Rose left him altogether.  Next came a
period, perhaps a year, or perhaps an hour, during which he seemed
to dream all through his past life.  He felt no apprehension, he
didn't try to speculate as to the future.  He felt that all
possible conclusions were out of his power, and therefore he was
indifferent to everything.  He was like that dream's disinterested
spectator who doesn't know what is going to happen next.  Suddenly
for the first time in his life he had the soul-satisfying
consciousness of floating off into deep slumber.

When he woke up after an hour, or a day, or a month, there was dusk
in the room; but he recognized it perfectly.  It was his apartment
in Dona Rita's house; those were the familiar surroundings in which
he had so often told himself that he must either die or go mad.
But now he felt perfectly clear-headed and the full sensation of
being alive came all over him, languidly delicious.  The greatest
beauty of it was that there was no need to move.  This gave him a
sort of moral satisfaction.  Then the first thought independent of
personal sensations came into his head.  He wondered when Therese
would come in and begin talking.  He saw vaguely a human figure in
the room but that was a man.  He was speaking in a deadened voice
which had yet a preternatural distinctness.

"This is the second case I have had in this house, and I am sure
that directly or indirectly it was connected with that woman.  She
will go on like this leaving a track behind her and then some day
there will be really a corpse.  This young fellow might have been
it."

"In this case, Doctor," said another voice, "one can't blame the
woman very much.  I assure you she made a very determined fight."

"What do you mean?  That she didn't want to. . . "

"Yes.  A very good fight.  I heard all about it.  It is easy to
blame her, but, as she asked me despairingly, could she go through
life veiled from head to foot or go out of it altogether into a
convent?  No, she isn't guilty.  She is simply--what she is."

"And what's that?"

"Very much of a woman.  Perhaps a little more at the mercy of
contradictory impulses than other women.  But that's not her fault.
I really think she has been very honest."

The voices sank suddenly to a still lower murmur and presently the
shape of the man went out of the room.  Monsieur George heard
distinctly the door open and shut.  Then he spoke for the first
time, discovering, with a particular pleasure, that it was quite
easy to speak.  He was even under the impression that he had
shouted:

"Who is here?"

From the shadow of the room (he recognized at once the
characteristic outlines of the bulky shape) Mills advanced to the
side of the bed.  Dona Rita had telegraphed to him on the day of
the duel and the man of books, leaving his retreat, had come as
fast as boats and trains could carry him South.  For, as he said
later to Monsieur George, he had become fully awake to his part of
responsibility.  And he added:  "It was not of you alone that I was
thinking."  But the very first question that Monsieur George put to
him was:

"How long is it since I saw you last?"

"Something like ten months," answered Mills' kindly voice.

"Ah!  Is Therese outside the door?  She stood there all night, you
know."

"Yes, I heard of it.  She is hundreds of miles away now."

"Well, then, ask Rita to come in."

"I can't do that, my dear boy," said Mills with affectionate
gentleness.  He hesitated a moment.  "Dona Rita went away
yesterday," he said softly.

"Went away?  Why?" asked Monsieur George.

"Because, I am thankful to say, your life is no longer in danger.
And I have told you that she is gone because, strange as it may
seem, I believe you can stand this news better now than later when
you get stronger."

It must be believed that Mills was right.  Monsieur George fell
asleep before he could feel any pang at that intelligence.  A sort
of confused surprise was in his mind but nothing else, and then his
eyes closed.  The awakening was another matter.  But that, too,
Mills had foreseen.  For days he attended the bedside patiently
letting the man in the bed talk to him of Dona Rita but saying
little himself; till one day he was asked pointedly whether she had
ever talked to him openly.  And then he said that she had, on more
than one occasion.  "She told me amongst other things," Mills said,
"if this is any satisfaction to you to know, that till she met you
she knew nothing of love.  That you were to her in more senses than
one a complete revelation."

"And then she went away.  Ran away from the revelation," said the
man in the bed bitterly.

"What's the good of being angry?" remonstrated Mills, gently.  "You
know that this world is not a world for lovers, not even for such
lovers as you two who have nothing to do with the world as it is.
No, a world of lovers would be impossible.  It would be a mere ruin
of lives which seem to be meant for something else.  What this
something is, I don't know; and I am certain," he said with playful
compassion, "that she and you will never find out."

A few days later they were again talking of Dona Rita Mills said:

"Before she left the house she gave me that arrow she used to wear
in her hair to hand over to you as a keepsake and also to prevent
you, she said, from dreaming of her.  This message sounds rather
cryptic."

"Oh, I understand perfectly," said Monsieur George.  "Don't give me
the thing now.  Leave it somewhere where I can find it some day
when I am alone.  But when you write to her you may tell her that
now at last--surer than Mr. Blunt's bullet--the arrow has found its
mark.  There will be no more dreaming.  Tell her.  She will
understand."

"I don't even know where she is," murmured Mills.

"No, but her man of affairs knows. . . . Tell me, Mills, what will
become of her?"

"She will be wasted," said Mills sadly.  "She is a most unfortunate
creature.  Not even poverty could save her now.  She cannot go back
to her goats.  Yet who can tell?  She may find something in life.
She may!  It won't be love.  She has sacrificed that chance to the
integrity of your life--heroically.  Do you remember telling her
once that you meant to live your life integrally--oh, you lawless
young pedant!  Well, she is gone; but you may be sure that whatever
she finds now in life it will not be peace.  You understand me?
Not even in a convent."

"She was supremely lovable," said the wounded man, speaking of her
as if she were lying dead already on his oppressed heart.

"And elusive," struck in Mills in a low voice.  "Some of them are
like that.  She will never change.  Amid all the shames and shadows
of that life there will always lie the ray of her perfect honesty.
I don't know about your honesty, but yours will be the easier lot.
You will always have your . . . other love--you pig-headed
enthusiast of the sea."

"Then let me go to it," cried the enthusiast.  "Let me go to it."

He went to it as soon as he had strength enough to feel the
crushing weight of his loss (or his gain) fully, and discovered
that he could bear it without flinching.  After this discovery he
was fit to face anything.  He tells his correspondent that if he
had been more romantic he would never have looked at any other
woman.  But on the contrary.  No face worthy of attention escaped
him.  He looked at them all; and each reminded him of Dona Rita,
either by some profound resemblance or by the startling force of
contrast.

The faithful austerity of the sea protected him from the rumours
that fly on the tongues of men.  He never heard of her.  Even the
echoes of the sale of the great Allegre collection failed to reach
him.  And that event must have made noise enough in the world.  But
he never heard.  He does not know.  Then, years later, he was
deprived even of the arrow.  It was lost to him in a stormy
catastrophe; and he confesses that next day he stood on a rocky,
wind-assaulted shore, looking at the seas raging over the very spot
of his loss and thought that it was well.  It was not a thing that
one could leave behind one for strange hands--for the cold eyes of
ignorance.  Like the old King of Thule with the gold goblet of his
mistress he would have had to cast it into the sea, before he died.
He says he smiled at the romantic notion.  But what else could he
have done with it?




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