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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
page: 442



“I HEAR Morabita sings, in Ernani, at the San Carlo on Friday night. Do you care to go, Helen?”

The question, though asked casually, had, to the listener, the effect of falling with a splash, as of a stone into a well, awakening unexpected echoes, disturbing, rather harshly, the constrained silence which had reigned during the earlier part of dinner.

All the long, hot afternoon, Madame de Vallorbes had been alone—Richard invisible, shut persistently away in those rooms of the entresol into which, as yet, she had never succeeded in penetrating. Richard had not proposed to her to do so. And it was part of that praiseworthy discretion which she had agreed with herself to practise—in her character of scrupulously unexacting guest—only to accept invitations, never to issue them. How her cousin might occupy himself, whom even he might receive, during the time spent in those rooms, she did not know. And it was idle to inquire. Neither of her servants, though skilful enough, as a rule, in the acquisition of information, could, in this case, acquire any. And so it came about that during those many still bright hours, following on her rather agitated parting with Richard at midday, while she paced the noble rooms of the first floor—once more taking note of their costly furnishings and fine pictures, meeting her own restless image again and again in their many mirrors—and later, near sundown, when she walked the dry, brown pathways of the ilex and cypress grove, the wildest suspicions of his possible doings assailed her. For she was constrained to admit that, though she had spent a full week now under his roof, it was but the veriest fringe, after all, of the young man’s habits and thought with which she was actually acquainted. And this not only desperately intrigued her curiosity, but the apartness, behind which he entrenched himself and his doings, was as a slight put upon her and consequent source of sharp mortification. So to‐day she ranged all permitted spaces of the villa and its grounds softly, yet lithe, watchful, fierce as a she‐panther—her ears strained to hear, her eyes to see, driven the while by jealousy of that nameless rival, to remembrance of whom all the whole place was dedicated, and by baffled passion, as with whips.

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Nor did superstition fail to add its word of ill‐omen at this juncture. A carrion crow, long‐legged, heavy of beak, alighting on the clustered curls of the marble bust of Homer, startled her with vociferous croakings. A long, narrow, many‐jointed, blue‐black, evil‐looking beetle crawled from among the rusty, fibrous, cypress roots across her path. A funeral procession, priest and acolytes, with lighted tapers, sitting within the glass‐sided hearse at head and foot of the flower‐strewn coffin, wound slowly along the dusty, white road—bordered by queer growth of prickly‐pear and ragged, stunted palm‐trees—far below. She crossed herself, turning hurriedly away. Yet, for an instant, Death, triumphant, hideous, inevitable, and all the spiritual terror and physical disgust of it, grinned at her, its fleshless face, as it seemed, close against her own. And alongside Death—by some malign association of ideas and ugly antic of profanity—she saw the bel tête de Jésu of M. Paul Destournelle as she had seen it this morning, he looking back, hat in hand, while he plunged down the break‐neck, Neapolitan side‐street, with that impish, bleating, goatlike laugh.

By the time the dinner‐hour drew near she found her outlook in radical need of reconstruction, and to that end bade Zélie dress her in the crocus‐yellow brocade, reserved for some emergency such as the present. It was a gown, surely, to restore self‐confidence and induce self‐respect! Fashioned fancifully, according to a picturesque, seventeenth‐century, Venetian model, the full sleeves and the long‐waisted bodice of it—this cut low, generously displaying her shoulders and swell of her bosom—were draped with superb guipure de Flandres à brides frisées and strings of seed pearls. All trace of ascetic simplicity had very certainly departed. Helen was resplendent—strings of seed pearls twisted in her honey‐coloured hair, a clear red in her cheeks and hard brilliance in her eyes, bred of eager, jealous excitement. She had, indeed, reached a stage of feeling in which the sight of Richard Calmady, the fact of his presence, worked upon her to the extent of dangerous emotion. And now this statement of his, and the question following it, caused the flame of the inward fires tormenting her to leap high.

“Ah! Morabita!” she exclaimed. “What an age it is since I have heard her sing, or thought about her! How is her voice lasting, Richard?”

“I really don’t know,” he answered,“ and that is why I am rather curious to hear her. There was literally nothing but a voice in her case—no dramatic sense, nothing in the way of page: 444 intelligence to fall back on. On that account it interested me to watch her. She and her voice had no essential relation to one another. Her talent was stuck into her, as you might stick a pin into a cushion. She produced glorious effects without a notion how she produced them, and gave expression—and perfectly just expression—to emotions she had never dreamed of. At the best of times singers are a feeble folk intellectually, but, of all singers I have known, she was mentally the very feeblest.”

“No, perhaps she was not very wise,” Helen put in, but quite mildly, quite kindly.

“And so if the voice went, everything went. And that made one reflect agreeably upon the remarkably haphazard methods employed by that which we politely call Almighty God in His construction of our unhappy selves. Design?—There’s not a trace of design in the whole show. Bodies, souls, gifts, superfluities, deficiencies, just pitched together anyhow. The most bungling of human artists would blush to turn out such work.”

Richard spoke rapidly. He had refused course after course. And now the food on his plate remained untasted. Seen in the soft light of the shaded candles his face had a strange look of distraction upon it, as though he too was restless with an intimate, deep‐seated restlessness. His skin was less colourless than usual, his manner less colourless also. And this conferred a certain youthfulness on him, making him seem nearer—so Helen thought—to the boy she had known at Brockhurst, than to the man, whom lately she had been so signally conscious that she failed to know.

“No, I hope Morabita’s voice remains to her,” he continued. “Her absolute nullity minus it is disagreeable to think of. And much as I relish collecting telling examples of the fatuity of the Creator—she, voiceless, would offer a supreme one—I would spare her that, poor dear. For she was really rather charming to me at one time.”

“So it was commonly reported,” Helen remarked.

“Was it?” Richard said absently.

Though as a rule conspicuously abstemious, he had drunk rather freely to‐night, and that with an odd haste of thirst. Now he touched his champagne tumbler, intimating to Bates, the house‐steward—sometime the Brockhurst under butler—that it should be refilled.

“I can’t have seen Morabita for nearly three years,” he went on. “And my last recollections of her are unfortunate. page: 445 She had sent me a box, in Vienna it was I think, for the Traviata. She was fat then, or rather, fatter. Stage furniture leaves something to desire in the way of solidity. In the death scene the middle of the bed collapsed. Her swan‐song ceased abruptly. Her head and heels were in the air, and the very large rest of her upon the floor, bed and bedclothes standing out in a frill all round. It was a sight discouraging to sentiment. I judged it kinder not to go to supper with her after the performance that night.”

Richard paused, again drained his glass.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, “what atrocious nonsense I am talking!”

“I think I rather enjoy it,” Madame de Vallorbes answered. She looked sideways at the young man, from under her delicate eyelids. He was perfectly sober—of that there was no question. Yet he was less inaccessible, somehow, than usual. She inclined to experiment.—“Only I am sorry for Morabita in more ways than one, poor wretch. But then perhaps I am just a little sorry for all those women whom you reject, Richard.”

“The women whom I reject?” he said harshly.

“Yes, whom you reject,” Helen repeated.—Then she busied herself with a small black fig, splitting it deftly open, disclosing the purple, and rose, and clear living greens of the flesh and innumerable seeds of it, colours rich as those of a tropic sky at sunset.—“And there are so many of those women it seems to me! I am coming to have a quite pathetic fellowship for them.” She buried her white teeth in the softness of the fig.—“Not without reason, perhaps. It is idle to deny that you are a past‐master in the ungentle art of rejection. What have you to say in self‐defence, Dickie?”

“That talking nonsense appears to be highly infectious—and that it is a disagreeably oppressive evening.”

Helen de Vallorbes smiled upon him, glanced quickly over her shoulder to assure herself the servants were no longer present—then spoke, leaning across the corner of the table towards him, while her eyes searched his with a certain daring provocation.

“Yes, I admit I have finished my fig. Dinner is over. And it is my place to disappear according to custom.”—She laid her rosy finger‐tips together, her elbows resting on the table. “But I am disinclined to disappear. I have a number of things to say. Take that question of going to the opera, for instance. Half Naples will be there, and I know more than half Naples, and more than half Naples knows me. I do not crave to run incontinently into the arms of any of de Vallorbes’ many relations. page: 446 They were not conspicuously kind to me when I was here as a girl and stood very much in need of kindness. So the question of going to the San Carlo, you see, requires reflection. And then,”—her tone softened to a most persuasive gentleness,—“then, the evenings are a trifle long when one is alone and has nothing very satisfactory to think about. And I have been worried to‐day, detestably worried.”—She looked down at her finger‐tips. Her expression became almost sombre. “In any case I shall not plague you very much longer, Richard,” she said rather grandly. “I have determined to remove myself bag and baggage. It is best, more dignified to do so. Reluctantly I own that. Here have I no abiding city. I wish I had, perhaps, but I haven’t. Therefore it is useless, and worse than useless, to play at having one. One must just face the truth.”

She looked full at the young man, smiling at him, as though somehow forgiving him a slight, an unkindness, a neglect.

“And so, just because to you it all matters so uncommonly little, let us talk rather later this evening.”

She rose.

“I’ll go on into the long drawing‐room,” she said. “The windows were still open there when I came in to dinner. The room will be pleasantly cool. You will come?”

And she moved away quietly, thoughtfully, opened the high’ double‐doors, left them open, and that without once looking back. Yet her hearing was strained to catch the smallest sound above that which accompanied her, namely the rustling of her dress. Then a queer shiver ran all down her spine and she set her teeth, for she perceived that halting, shuffling footsteps had begun to follow those light and graceful footsteps of her own.

Ce n’est que le premier pas qui coute,” she said to herself. “I have no fear for the rest.”

Yet, crossing the near half of the great room, she sank down on a sofa, thankful there was no farther to go. In the last few minutes she had put forth more will‐power, felt more deeply, than she had supposed. Her knees gave under her. It was a relief to sit down.

The many candles, in the cut‐glass chandeliers hanging from along the centre of the painted ceiling, were lighted, filling the length and breadth of the room with a bland, diffused radiance. It touched picture and statue, tall mirror, rich curtain, polished woodwork of chair and table, gleaming ebony and ivory cabinet. It touched Helen de Vallorbes’ bright head and the strings of pearls twisted in her hair, her white neck, the swell of her bosom, and all that delicate wonder of needlework—the Flanders lace— page: 447 trimming her bodice. It lay on her lap, too, as she leaned back in the corner of the sofa, her hands pressed down on either side her thighs—lay there bringing the pattern of her brocaded dress into high relief. This was a design of pomegranates—leaves, flowers, and fruit—and of trailing, peacock feathers, a couple of shades lighter than the crocus‐yellow ground. The light took the over‐threads and stayed in them.

The window stood wide open on to the balcony, the elaborately wrought‐ironwork of which—scroll and vase, plunging dolphin and rampant sea‐horse—detached itself from the opaque background of the night. And in at the window came luscious scents from the garden below, a chime of falling water, the music, faint and distant, in rising and falling cadence of a marching military band. In at it also, and rising superior to all these in imperativeness and purpose, came the voice of Naples itself—no longer that of a city of toil and commerce, but that of a city of pleasure, a city of licence, until such time as the dawn should once again break, and the sun arise, driving back man and beast alike to labour, the one from merry sinning, the other from hard‐earned sleep. And once again, but in clearer, more urgent, accents, the voice of the city repeated its message to Helen de Vallorbes, calling aloud to her to do even as it was doing, namely to wed—to wed. And, hearing it, understanding that message, for a little space shame took her, in face both of its and her own shamelessness; so that she closed her eyes, unable for the moment to look at Richard Calmady as he crossed the great room in that bland and yet generous light. But, almost immediately, his voice, cold and measured in tone, there close beside her, claimed her attention.

“That which you said at dinner rather distresses me, Helen.”

Then shame, or no shame, Madame de Vallorbes, of necessity, opened her eyes. And, so doing, it needed all her self‐control to repress a cry. She forced her open hands down very hard on the mattress of the sofa. For Richard leaned his back against the jamb of the open window, and she saw his face and all his poor figure in profile. His left hand hung straight at his side, the tips of his fingers only just not touching the floor. And again, as at midday, the spectacle of his deformity worked upon her strangely.

“What of all that which I said at dinner distresses you?” she asked gently, with sudden solicitude.

“You showed me that I have been a wretchedly negligent host.”—In speaking, the young man turned his head and looked at her, paused a moment, almost startled by her resplendent page: 448 aspect. Then he looked down at his own stunted and defective limbs. His expression became very grim. He raised his shoulders just perceptibly. “I reproach myself with having allowed you to be so much alone. It must have been awfully dull for you.”

“It was a little dull,” Helen said, still gently.

“I ought to have begged you to ask some of the people you know in Naples to come here. It was stupid of me not to think of it. I need not have seen them, neither need they have seen me.”

He looked at her steadily again, as though trying to fix her image in his memory.

“Yes, it was stupid of me,” he repeated absently. “But I have got into churlish, bachelor habits—that can hardly be helped, living alone, or on board ship, as I do—and I have pretty well forgotten how to provide adequately for the entertainment of a guest.”

“Oh! I have had that which I wanted, that which I came for,” Helen answered, very charmingly,—“had it in part, at all events. Though I could have put up with just a little more of it, Dickie, perhaps.”

“I warned you, if you remember, that opportunities of amusement—as that word is generally understood—would be limited.”

“Amusement?” she exclaimed, with an almost tragic inflection of contempt.

“Oh yes!” he said, “amusement is not to be despised. I’d give all I am worth, half my time, to be amused—but that again, like hospitality, is rather a lost art with me. You remember, I warned you life at the villa in these days was not precisely hilarious.”

Helen clapped her hands together.

“Ah! you are wilfully obtuse, you are wilfully, cruelly pig‐headed!” she cried. “Pardon me, dear Richard, but your attitude is enough to exasperate a saint. And I am no saint as yet. I am still human—radically, for my own peace of mind lamentably, human. I am only too capable of being grieved, humiliated, hurt. But there, it is folly to say such things to you! You are hopelessly insensible to all that. So I take refuge in quoting your own words of this morning against you—that no explanation is lucid if the hearer refuses to accept it.”

“I am dull, no doubt, but honestly I fail to see how that remark of mine can be held to apply in the present case.”

“It applies quite desolatingly well!” Helen declared, with spirit. Then her manner softened into a seductiveness of for‐ page: 449 giveness once again.—“And so, dear Richard, I am glad that I had already determined to leave here to‐morrow. It would have been a little too wretched to arrive at that determination after this conversation. You must go alone to hear your old flame, Morabita, sing. Only, if her voice is still as sympathetic as of old, if it moves you from your present insensibility, you may read remembrance of some aspects of my visit into the witchery of it if you like. It may occur to you what those aspects really meant.”

Helen smiled upon him, leaning a little forward. Her eyes shone, as though looking out through unshed tears.

“It’s not exactly flattering to one’s vanity to be compelled to depute to another woman the making of such things clear. But it is too evident I waste my time in attempting to make them clear myself. No explanation is lucid, et cætera”—

Helen shook back her head with an extraordinary charm of half‐defiant, half‐tearful laughter. She was playing a game, her whole intelligence bent on the playing of it skilfully. Yet she was genuinely touched. She was swayed by her very real emotion. She spoke from her heart, though every word, every passing action, subserved her ultimate purpose in regard to Richard Calmady.

“And, after all, one must retain some remnant of self‐respect with which to cover the nakedness of one’s—Oh yes! decidedly, Morabita’s voice had best do the rest!”

Richard had moved from his station in the window. He stood at the far end of the sofa, resting his hands on the gilded and carven arm of it. Now the ungainliness of his deformity was hidden, and his height was greater than that of his companion, obliging her to look up at him.

“I give you my word, Helen,” he said, “I have no notion what you are driving at.”

“Driving at, driving at?” she cried. “Why, the self‐evident truth that you are forcing me rather brutally to pay the full price of my weakness in coming here, in permitting myself the indulgence of seeing you again. You told me directly I arrived, with rather cynical frankness, that I had not changed. That is quite true. What I was at Brockhurst, four years ago, what I then felt, that I am and that I feel still. Oh! you have nothing to reproach yourself with in defect of plain speaking, or excess of amiable subterfuge! You hit out very straight from the shoulder! Directly I arrived you also told me how you had devoted this place—with which, after all, I am not wholly unconnected—to the cult, to the ideal worship, of a woman whom you loved.”

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“So I have devoted it,” Richard said.

“And yet I was weak enough to remain!”

The young man’s face relaxed, but its expression remained enigmatic.

“And why not?” he asked.

“Because, in remaining, I have laid myself open to misconstruction, to all manner of pains and penalties, not easy to be endured, to the odious certainty of appearing contemptible in your estimation as well as in my own.”

Helen parted her pretty foot upon the floor in a small frenzy of irritation.

“How can I hope to escape, since even the precious being whom you affect to worship you keep sternly at arm’s length—that is among the other pleasing things you confided to me immediately on my arrival—lest, seen at close quarters, she should fall below your requirements and so you should suffer disillusion? Ah! you are frightfully cold‐blooded, repulsively inhuman! Whether you judge others by yourself, reckoning them equally devoid of natural feeling, or whether you find a vindictive relish in rejecting the friendship and affection so lavishly offered you”—

“Is it offered lavishly? That comes as news to me,” he put in.

“Ah! but it is. And I leave you to picture the pleasing entertainment afforded the offerer in seeing you ignore the offering, or, worse still, take it, examine it, and throw it aside like a dirty rag! In one case you underline your rejection almost to the point of insult.”

“This is very instructive. I am learning a whole lot about myself,” Richard said coolly.

“But look,” Madame de Vallorbes cried, “do you not prefer exposing yourself to the probability of serious illness rather than remain under the same roof with me? The inference hits one in the face. To you the pestilential exhalations, the unspeakable abominations, of Naples harbour appear less dangerous than my near neighbourhood.”

“You put it more strongly than I should,” he answered, smiling. “Yet, from a certain standpoint, that may very well be true.”

For an instant Helen hesitated. Her intelligence, for all its alertness, was strained exactly to appraise the value of his words, neither over, nor under, rating it. And her eyes searched his with a certain boldness and imperiousness of gaze. Richard, meanwhile, folding his arms upon the carven and gilt frame of the sofa, page: 451 looked back at her, smiling still, at once ironically and very sadly. Then swift assurance came to her of the brazen card she had best play. But, playing it, she was constrained to avert her eyes and set her glance pensively upon the light‐visited surface of her crocus‐yellow, silken lap.

“I will do my possible to accept your nightly journeys as a compliment in disguise, then,” she said, quite softly. “For truly, when I come to think of it, were she, herself, here—she, the woman you so religiously admire that you take an infinitude of pains to avoid having anything on earth to do with her—were she herself here, you could hardly take more extensive measures to secure yourself against risk of disappointment, hardly exercise a greater range of caution!”

“Perhaps that’s just it. Perhaps you have arrived at it all at last. Perhaps she is here,” he said.

And he turned away, steadying himself with one hand against the jamb of the window, and shuffled out slowly, laboriously, on to the balcony into the night.

For a quite perceptible length of time Helen de Vallorbes continued to contemplate the light‐visited surface of her crocus‐yellow, silken lap. She followed the lines of the rich pattern—pomegranate, fruit and blossom, trailing peacock’s feather. For by such mechanical employment alone could she keep the immensity of her excitement and of her triumph in check. To shout aloud, to dance, to run wildly to and fro, would have been only too possible to her just then, All that for which she had schemed, had ruled herself discreetly, had ridden a waiting race, had been hers, in fact, from the first—the prize adjudged before ever she left the starting‐post. She held this man in the hollow of her hand; and that by no result of cunning artifice, but by right divine of beauty and wit and the manifold seductions of her richly‐endowed personality. And, thinking of that, she clenched her dainty fists, opened them again, and again clenched them, upon the yielding mattress of the sofa, given over to an ecstasy of physical enjoyment, weaving, even as, with clawed and padded paws, her prototype the she‐panther might. Slowly she raised her downcast eyes and looked after Richard Calmady, his figure a blackness, as of vacancy, against the elaborate wrought‐ironwork of the balcony. And so doing, an adorable sensation moved her, at once of hungry tenderness and of fear—fear of something unknown, in a way fundamental, incalculable, the like of which she had never experienced before. Ah! indeed, of all her many loves, here was the crown and climax! Yet, in the midst of her very vital rapture, she could still find time for page: 452 remembrance of the little, crescent‐shaped scar upon her temple, and for remembrance of Katherine Calmady, who had, unwittingly, fixed that blemish upon her and had also more than once frustrated her designs. This time frustration was not possible. She was about to revenge the infliction of that little scar! And, all the while, the intellectual part of her was agreeably intrigued, trying to disentangle the why and wherefore of Richard’s late action and utterances. And self‐love was gratified to the highest height of its ambition by the knowledge that not only in his heart had she long reigned, but that he had dedicated time and wealth and refined ingenuity to the idea of her, to her worship, to the making of this, her former dwelling‐place, into a temple for her honour, a splendid witness to her victorious charm, a shrine not unfitting to contain the idol of his imagination.

For a little space she rested in all this, savouring the sweetness of it as some odour of costly sacrifice. For, whatever her sins and lapses, Helen de Vallorbes had the fine æsthetic appreciations, as well as the inevitable animality, of the great courtesan. The artist was at least as present in her as the whore. And it was not, therefore, until realisation of her present felicity was complete, until it had soaked into her, so to speak, to the extent of a delicious familiarity, that she was disposed to seek change of posture or of place. Then, at last, softly, languidly, for indeed she was somewhat spent by the manifold emotions of the day, she rose and followed Richard into the starless, low‐lying night. Her first words were very simple, yet to herself charged with far‐reaching meaning—as a little key may give access to a treasure‐chest containing riches of fabulous worth.

“Richard, is it really true, that which you have told me?”

“What conceivable object could I have in lying?”

“Then why have you delayed?—why wasted the precious days—the precious months and years, if it comes to that?”

“How in honour and decency could I do otherwise—circumstances being such as they are, I being that which I am?”

The two voices were in notable contrast. Both were low, both were penetrated by feeling. But the man’s was hoarse and rasping, the woman’s smooth and soft as milk.

“Ah! it is the old story!” she said. “Will you never comprehend, Dickie, that what is to you hateful in yourself, may to someone else be the last word of attraction, of seduction, even?”

“God forbid I should ever comprehend that!” he answered. “When I take to glorying in my shame, pluming myself upon page: 453 my abnormality, then, indeed, I become beyond all example loathsome. The most deplorable moment of my very inglorious career will be precisely that in which I cease to look at myself with dispassionate contempt.”

Helen knelt down, resting her beautiful arms upon the dark handrail of the balcony, letting her wrists droop over it into the outer dimness. The bland light from the open window dwelt on her kneeling figure and bowed head. But it was as well, perhaps, that the night dropped a veil upon her face.

“And yet so it is,” she said. “You may repudiate the idea, but the fact remains. I do not say it would affect all women alike—affect those, for instance, whose conception of love, and of the relation between man and woman, is dependent upon the slightly improper and very tedious marriage service as authorised by the English Church. Let the conventional be conventional still! So much the better if you don’t appeal to them—meagre, timid, inadequate, respectable—a generation of fashion‐plates with a sixpenny book of etiquette, moral and social, stuck inside them to serve for a soul.”

Helen’s voice broke in a little spasm of laughter; and her hands began, unconsciously, to open and close, open and close, weaving in soft, outer darkness.

“We may leave them out of the argument.—But there remain the elect, Richard, among whom I dare count myself. And over them, never doubt it, just that which you hate and which appears at first sight to separate you so cruelly from other men, gives you a strange empire. You stimulate, you arrest, you satisfy one’s imagination, as does the spectacle of some great drama. You are at once enslaved and emancipated by this thing—to you hateful, to me adorable—beyond all measure of bondage or freedom inflicted upon, or enjoyed by, other men. And in this, just this, lies magnificent compensation if you would but see it. I have always known that—known that if you would put aside your arrogance and pride, and yield yourself a little, it was possible to love you, and give you such joy in loving, as one could give to no one else on earth.”

Her voice sweetened yet more. She leaned forward, pressing her bosom against the rough ironwork of the balcony.

“I knew that from the first hour we met in the variegated, autumn sunshine, upon the green‐sward, before the white summerhouse overlooking that noble, English, woodland view. I saw you, and so doing I saw mysteries of joy in myself unimagined by me before. It went very hard with me then, Richard. It has gone very hard with me ever since.”

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Madame de Vallorbes’ words died away in a grave and delicate whisper. But she did not turn her head, nor did Richard speak. Only, close there beside her, she heard him breathe, panting short and quick even as a dog pants, while a certain vibration seemed to run along the rough ironwork against which she leaned. And by these signs Helen judged her speech, though unanswered, had not been wholly in vain. From below, the luscious fragrance of the garden, the chime of falling water, and the urgent voice of the painted pleasure‐city came up about her. Night had veiled the face of Naples, even as Helen’s own. Yet lines of innumerable lights described the suave curve of the bay, climbed the heights of Posilipo, were doubled in the oily waters of the harbour, spread abroad alluring gaiety in the wide piazzas, and shone like watchful and soliciting eyes from out the darkness of narrow street, steep lane, and cut‐throat alley. While, above all that, high uplifted against the opacity of the starless sky, a blood‐red beacon burned on the summit of Vesuvius, the sombre glow of it reflected upon the under side of the masses of downward‐rolling smoke as upon the belly of some slow‐crawling, monstrous serpent.

Suddenly Helen spoke once again, and with apparent inconsequence.

“Richard, you must have known she could never satisfy you—why did you try to marry Constance Quayle?”

“To escape.”

“From whom—from me?”

“From myself, which is much the same thing as saying from you, I suppose.”

“And you could not escape?”

“So it seems.”

“But—but, dear Richard,” she said plaintively, yet with very winning sweetness, “why, after all, should you want so desperately to escape?”

Richard moved a little farther from her.

“I have already explained that to you, to the point of insult so you tell me,” he said. “Surely it is unnecessary to go over the ground again?”

“You carry your idealism to the verge of slight absurdity,” she answered. “Oh! you of altogether too little faith, how should you gauge the full flavour of the fruit till you have set your teeth in it? Better, far better, be a sacramentalist like me and embrace the idea through the act, than refuse the act in dread of imperilling the dominion of the idea. You put the cart before the horse with a vengeance, Dickie! There’s such a thing page: 455 as being so reverently‐minded towards your god that he ceases to be the very least profit or use to you.”

And again she heard that panting breath beside her. Again laughter bubbled up in her fair throat, and her hands fell to weaving the soft, outer darkness.

“You must perceive that it cannot end here and thus,” she said presently.

“Of course not,” he answered.—Then, after a moment’s pause, he added, coldly enough:—“I foresaw that, so I gave orders yesterday that the yacht was not to be laid up, but only to coal and provision, and undergo some imperatively necessary repairs. She should be ready for sea by the end of the week.”

Helen turned sideways, and the bland light, from the room within, touched her face now as well as her kneeling figure.

“And then, and then?” she demanded, almost violently.

“Then I shall go,” Richard replied. “Where, I do not yet know, but as far, anyhow, as the coal in the yacht’s bunkers will drive her. Distance is more important than locality just now. And I leave you here at the villa, Helen. Do not regret that you came. I don’t.”

He too had turned to the light, which revealed his face ravaged and aged by stress of emotion, revealed too the homelessness, as of empty space, resident in his eyes.

“I shall be glad to remember the place pleases and speaks to you. It has been rather a haven of rest to me during these last two years. You would have had it at my death, in any case. You have it a little sooner—that’s all.”

But Helen held out her arms.

“The villa, the villa,” she cried, “what do I want with that! God in heaven, are you utterly devoid of all sensibility, all heart? Or are you afraid—afraid even yet, oh, very chicken‐livered lover—that behind the beauty of Naples you may find the filth? It is not so, Dickie. It is not so, I tell you.—Look at me. What would you have more? Surely, for any man, my love is good enough!”

And then hurriedly, with a rustling of silken skirts, hot with anger from head to heel, she sprang to her feet.

Across the room one of the men‐servants advanced.

“The carriage is at the door, sir,” he said.

And Madame de Vallorbes’ voice broke in with a singular lightness and nonchalance:—

“Surely it is rather imprudent to go out again to‐night? You told me, at dinner, you were not well, that you had had a touch of fever.”

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She held out her hand, smiling serenely.

“Be advised,” she said, “avoid malaria.—I shall see you before I go to‐morrow? Yes—an afternoon train, I think. Good‐night, we meet at breakfast as usual.”

She stepped in at the window, gathered up certain small properties—a gold scent‐bottle, one or two books, a blotting‐case,as with a view to final packing and departure. Just as she reached the door she heard Richard say curtly:—

“Send the carriage round. I shall not want it to‐night.”

But even so Helen did not turn back. On the contrary, she ran, light of foot as the little dancer, of long ago, with blush‐roses in her hat, through all the suite of lofty rooms to her own sea‐blue, sea‐green bed‐chamber, and there, sitting down before the toilet‐table, greeted her own radiant image in the glass. Her lips were very red. Her eyes shone like pale stars on a windy night.

“Quick, quick, undress me, Zélie! Put me to bed. I am simply expiring of fatigue,” she said.