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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 474

CHAPTER XI

IN WHICH DICKIE GOES TO THE END OF THE WORLD AND LOOKS OVER THE WALL

THE opera box, which Richard Calmady had rented along with the Villa Vallorbes, was fifth from the stage on the third tier, to the right of the vast horse‐shoe. Thus situated, it commanded a very comprehensive view of the interior of the house. The parterre—its somewhat comfortless seats rising, as on iron stilts, as they recede, row by row, from the proscenium—was packed. While, since the aristocratic world had not yet left town, the boxes—piled, tier above tier, without break of dress‐circle or gallery, right up to the lofty roof—were well filled. And it was the effect of these last that affected Richard oddly, displeasingly, as, helped by Powell and Andrews, the first footman‐who acted as his table‐steward on board the Reprieve,—he made his way slowly down to the chair, placed on the left, at the front of the box. For the accepted aspects and relations of things seen were remote to him. He perceived effects, shapes, associations of colour, divorced from their habitual significance. It was as though he looked at the written characters of a language unknown to him, observing the form of them, but attaching no intelligible meaning to that form. And so it happened that those many superimposed tiers of boxes were to him as the waxen cells of a gigantic honeycomb, against the angular darknesses of which little figures, seen to the waist, took the light—the blond face, neck and arms of some woman, the fair colours of her dress—and showed up with perplexing insistence. page: 475 For they were all peopled, these cells of the honeycomb, and—so it seemed to him—with larvæ, bright‐hued, unworking, indolent, full‐fed. Down there upon the parterre, in the close‐packed ranks of students, of men and women of the middle‐class, soberly attired in walking costume, he recognised the working bees of this giant hive. By their unremitting labour the dainty waxen cells were actually built up, and those larvæ were so amply, so luxuriously, fed. And the working bees—there were so many, so very many of them! What if they became mutinous, rebelled against labour, plundered and destroyed the indolent, succulent larvæ of which he—yes, he, Richard Calmady—was unquestionably and conspicuously one?

He leaned back in his chair, pulled forward the velvet drapery so as to shut out the view of the house, and fixed his eyes upon the heads of the musicians in the orchestra. The overture was nearly over. The curtain would very soon go up. Then he observed that Powell still stood near him. The man was strangely officious to‐day, he thought. Could that be connected in any way with the fact he had had his hair cut? For a moment the notion appeared to Dickie quite extravagantly amusing. But he kept his amusement, as so much else, to himself. And again the working bees, down in the parterre, attracted his attention. They were buzzing, buzzing angrily, displeased with the full‐fed larvæ in the boxes, because these last were altogether too social, talked too loud and too continuously, drowning the softer passages of the overture. Those dull‐coloured insects had expended store of hard‐earned life upon the queer seats they occupied, mounted as upon iron stilts. They meant to have the whole of that which they had paid for, and hear every note. If they swarmed, now, swarmed upward, clung along the edges of those many tiers of boxes, punished inconsiderate insolence with stings?—It would hardly be unjust.—But there was Powell still, clad in sober garments. He belonged to the working bees. And Richard became aware of a singular diffidence and embarrassment in thinking of that. If they should swarm, those workers, he would rather the valet did not see it, somehow. He was a good fellow, a faithful servant, a man of nice feeling, and such an incident would place him in an awkward position. He ought to be spared that. Carefully Dickie reasoned it all out.

“You need not stay here any longer, Powell,” he said.

“When shall I return, sir?”

The curtain went up. A roll of drums, a chorus of men’s voices, somewhat truculent, in the drinking song.

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“At the end of the performance, of course.”

But the valet hesitated.

“You might require to send some message, sir.”

Richard stared at the chorus. The opera being performed but this once, economy prevailed. Costumiers had ransacked their stock for discovery of garments not unpardonably inappropriate. The result showed a fine superiority to details of time and place. One Spanish bandit, a portly basso, figured in a surprising variety of Highland dress designed, and that locally, for a chieftain in the opera of Lucia di Lammermoor. His acquaintance with the eccentricities of a kilt being of the slightest, consequences ensued broadly humorous.—Again Dickie experienced great amusement. But that message?—Had he really one to send? Probably he had. He could not remember, and this annoyed him. Possibly he might remember later. He turned to Powell, forgetting his amusement, forgetting the too intimate personal revelations of the unhappy basso.

“Yes—well—come back at the end of the second act, then,” he said.

If the bees swarmed it would be over by that time, he supposed, so Powell’s return would not matter much one way or the other. A persuasion of something momentous about to be accomplished deepened in him. The madness of going, which had so pushed him earlier in the day, fell dead before it. For this concourse of living creatures must be gathered together to witness some event commensurate in importance with the greatness of their number. He felt sure of that. Yes—before long they would swarm. Incontestably they would swarm!—Again he drew aside the velvet drapery and looked down curiously upon the arena and its occupants. For a new idea had come to him regarding these last. They still presented the effect of a throng of busy, angry insects. But Richard knew better. He had penetrated their disguise, a disguise assumed to ensure their ultimate purpose with the greater certainty. He knew them to be human. He knew their purpose to be a moral one. And, looking upon them, recognising the spirit which animated them, he was taken with a reverence and sympathy for average, toiling humanity unfelt by him before. For he saw that by these, the workers, the final issues are inevitably decided, by these the final verdict is pronounced. Individually they may be contemptible; but in their corporate intelligence, corporate strength, they are little short of majestic. Of art, letters, practical civilisation, even religion, even, in a degree, Nature herself, they are alike architects and judges. It must be page: 477 so. It always has been so, time out of mind, in point of fact. And then he wondered why they were so patient of constraint? Why had they not risen long ago and obliterated the pretensions of those arrogant, indolent larvæ peopling the angular apertures of the honey cells—those larvæ of whom, by birth and wealth, sinfulness and uselessness, he was himself so conspicuous an example?

But then clearer understanding of this whole strange matter came to him.—They, like all else,—mighty though they are in their corporate intention,—are obedient to fate. They can only act when the time is ripe. And then he understood still more clearly. Their purpose in congregating here, whether they were conscious of it or not, was retributive. They were present to witness and to accomplish an act of foreordained justice.—Richard paused a moment, struggling with his own thought. And then he saw quite plainly that he himself was the object of that act of foreordained justice, he himself was the centre of that dimly‐apprehended, approaching event. His punishment, his deliverance by means of that punishment, was that which had brought this great multitude together here to‐night. He was awed. Yet with that awe came thankfulness, gratitude, an immense sense of relief. He need not seek self‐obliteration, losing himself among far‐away, tropic islands, or the ice‐bound regions of the uttermost South. He could stay here. Sit quite still even—and that was well, for he was horribly tired and spent. He need only wait. When the time was ripe, they would do all the rest—do it for him by doing it to him.—How finely simple it all was! Incidentally he wondered if it would hurt very much. Not that that mattered, for beyond lay peace. Only he hoped they would get to work pretty soon, so that it might be over before the end of the second act, when Powell, the valet, would come back.

Richard’s face had grown very youthful and eager. His eyes were unnaturally bright. And still he gazed down at that great company. His heart went out to it. He loved it, loved each and every member of it, as he had never conceived of loving heretofore. He would like to have gone down among them and become part of them, one with them in purpose, a partaker of their corporate strength. But that was forbidden. They were his preordained executioners. Yet in that capacity they were not the less, but the more, loveable. They were welcome to exact full justice. He longed after them, longed after the pain it was their mission to inflict.—And they were getting ready, surely they were getting ready! There was a sensible movement among them. They turned pale faces away page: 478 from the brilliantly lighted stage, and towards the great horseshoe of waxen cells enclosing them. They were busy, dull‐coloured insects again, and they buzzed—resentfully, angrily, they buzzed.

Yet even while Dickie noted all this, greatly moved by it, appreciating its inner meaning, its profound relation to himself and the drama of his own existence, he was not wholly unmindful of the progress of the opera and the charm of the graceful and fluent music which saluted his ears. He was aware of the entrance of the hero, of his greeting by his motley‐clad followers. He felt kindly, just off the surface of his emotion so to speak, towards this impersonator of Ernani. The young actor’s appearance was attractive, his voice fresh and sympathetic, his bearing modest. But the aristocratic occupants of the boxes treated him cavalierly. The famous Milanese tenor, whose name was on the programme, having failed to arrive, this local, and comparatively inexperienced, artist had been called upon to fill his part. Therefore the smart world talked more loudly than before, while the democratic occupants of the parterre, jealous for the reputation of their fellow‐citizen, broke forth into stormy protest. And Richard could have found it in his heart to protest also. For it was a waste of energy, this senseless conflict! It was unworthy of the dignity of that dull‐coloured multitude, on whom his hopes were so strangely set—of the men in whose hands are the final rewards and punishments, by whose voice the final judgment is pronounced. It pained him to see these ministers of the Eternal Justice thus led away by trivial happenings, and their attention distracted from the main issue. For what, in God’s name, did he and his sentimental love‐carollings amount to, this pretty fellow of a player, this fictitious hero of the modern, Neapolitan, operatic stage? Weighed in the balances, he and his whole occupation and calling were lighter, surely, than vanity itself? Rightly considered, he and his singing were but as a spangle, as some glittering trifle of tinsel, upon the veil still hiding the awful, yet benign, countenance of that tremendous and so surely approaching event.—Let him sing away, then, sing in peace. For the sound of his singing might help to lighten the weariness of the hours until the supreme hour should strike, and the glittering veil be torn asunder, and the countenance it covered be at last and wholly revealed.

Reasoning thus, Richard raised his opera glasses and swept those many superimposed ranges of waxen cells. And the aspect of them was to him very sinister, for everywhere he seemed to encounter soft, voluptuous, brainless faces, violences of hot page: 479 colour, and costly clothing cunningly devised to heighten the physical allurements of womanhood. Everywhere, beside and behind these, he seemed to encounter the faces of men, gluttonous of pleasure, hungering for those generously‐discovered, material charms. They were veritable ante‐chambers of vice, those angular‐mouthed, waxen cells. And, therefore, very fittingly, as he reflected, he had his place in one of them, since he was infected by the vices, active partaker in the sensuality, of his class.—Oh! that the bees would swarm—swarm, and make short work of it all, inflict fulness of punishment, and thereby cleanse him and set him free! In its intensity his longing came near taking the form of articulate prayer.

And then his thought shifted once more, attaching itself curiously, speculatively, to individual objects. For his survey of the house had just now brought a box into view situated on the grand tier, and almost immediately opposite his own. It was occupied by a party of six persons. With four of those persons Richard was aware he had nothing to do. But with the remaining two persons—a woman fashioned, as it appeared, of ivory and gold, and a young man standing almost directly behind her—he had much, everything, in fact, to do. It was incomprehensible to him that he had not observed these two persons sooner, since they were as necessary to the accomplishment of that terrible, yet beneficent, approaching event as he himself was. The woman he knew actually and intimately; though as yet he could give her no name, nor recall in what his knowledge of her consisted. The young man he knew inferentially. And Dickie was sensible of regarding him with instinctive repulsion, since his appearance presented a living and grossly ribald caricature of a figure august, worshipful, and holy. Long and closely Richard studied those two persons, studied them, forgetful of all else, straining his memory to place them. And all the while they talked.

But, at last, the woman fashioned of ivory and gold ceased talking. She folded her arms upon the velvet cushion of the front of the box and gazed right out into the theatre. There was a splendid arrogance in the pose of her head, and in the droop of her eyelids. Then she looked up and across, straight at Richard. He saw her drooping eye‐lids raised, her eyes open wide, and remain fixed as in amazement. A something alert, and very fierce, came into her expression. She seemed to think carefully for a brief space. She threw back her head, and he saw uncontrollable laughter convulse her beautiful throat. And, at that same moment, a mighty outburst of applause and of welcome shook the great theatre from floor to ceiling; and, as it died page: 480 away, the voice of the famous soprano, rich and compelling as of old, swelled out, and made vibrant with passionate sweetness the whole atmosphere. And Richard hailed that glorious voice, not that in itself it moved him greatly, but because in it he recognised the beginning of the end. It came as prelude to catastrophe which was also salvation.—Very soon the bees would swarm now! He rallied his patience. He had not much longer to wait.

Meanwhile he looked back at that box on the grand tier, striving to unriddle the mystery of his knowledge of those two persons. He needed glasses no longer. His sight had become preternaturally keen. Again the two were talking—and about him, that was somehow evident. And, as they talked, he beheld a being, exquisitely formed, perfect in every part, step forth from between the lips of the woman fashioned of ivory and gold. It knelt upon one knee. Over the heads of the vast, dull‐coloured multitude of workers, those witnesses of and participators in the execution of Eternal Justice, it gazed at him, Richard Calmady, and at him alone. And its gaze enfolded and held him like an embrace. It wooed him, extending its arms in invitation. It was naked and unashamed. It was black—black as the reeking, liquid lanes between the hulls of the many ships, over which the screaming gulls circled seeking foul provender, down in Naples harbour.—And he knew the fair woman it came forth from for Helen de Vallorbes, herself, in her crocus‐yellow gown sewn with seed pearls. And he knew it for the immortal soul of her. And he perceived, moreover, as it smiled on and beckoned him with lascivious gestures, that its hands and its lips were bloody, since it had broken the hearts of living women and torn and devoured the honour of living men.

Ernani, Ernani, involami”—still the air was vibrant with that glorious voice. But the love of which it was the exponent, the flight which it counselled, had ceased, to Richard’s hearing, to bear relation to that which is earthly, concrete, and of the senses. The passion and promise of it were alike turned to nobler and more permanent uses, presaging the quick coming of expiation and of reconciliation contained in that supreme event. For he knew that, in a little moment, Helen must arise and follow the soul which had gone forth from her—the soul which, in all its admirable perfection of outward form and blackness of intimate lies and lust, was close to him—though he no longer actually beheld it—here, beside him, laying subtle siege to him even yet. Where it went, there, of necessity, she who owned it must shortly follow, since soul and body cannot remain apart, page: 481 save for the briefest space, until death effect their final divorce. Therefore Helen would come speedily. It could not be otherwise—so, at least, he argued. And her coming meant the culmination. Then, time being fully ripe, the bees would swarm, swarm at last,—labour revenging itself upon sloth, hunger upon gluttony, want upon wealth, obscurity upon privilege,—justice being thus meted out, and he, Richard, cleansed and delivered from the disgrace of deformity now so hideously infecting both his spirit and his flesh.

Of this he was so well assured that, disregarding the felt, though unseen, presence of that errant soul, disdaining to do battle with it, he leaned forward once more, looking down into the close‐packed arena of the great theatre. All those brilliant figures, members of his own class, here present, were matter of indifference to him. In this moment of conscious and supreme farewell, it was to the dull‐coloured multitude that he turned. They still moved him to sympathy. Unconsciously they had enlightened him concerning matters of infinite moment. At their hands he would receive penance and absolution. Before they dealt more closely with him,—since that dealing must involve suffering which might temporarily cloud his friendship for them,—he wanted to bid them farewell and assure them of his conviction of the righteousness of their corporate action. So, silently, he blessed them, taking leave of them in peace. Then he found there were other farewells to be said.—Farewell to earthly life as he had known it, the struggle and very frequent anguish of it, its many frustrated purposes, fair illusions, unfulfilled hopes. He must bid farewell, moreover, to art as he had relished it—to learning, as he had all too intermittently pursued it—to travel, as he had found solace in it—to the inexhaustible interest, the inextinguishable humour and pathos, in brief, of things seen. And, reviewing all this, a profound nostalgia of all those minor happinesses which are the natural inheritance of the average man arose in him—happiness of healthy, light‐hearted activities, not only of the athlete and the fighting‐man, but of the playing‐field, and the ball‐room, and the river—happinesses to him inevitably denied. With an almost boyish passion of longing, he cried out for these.—Just for one day to have lived with the ease and freedom with which the vast majority of men habitually live! Just for one day to have been neither dwarf nor cripple; but to have taken his place and his chance along with the rest, before it all was over and the tale told!

But very soon Richard put these thoughts from him, deeming it unworthy to dwell upon them at this juncture. The call was page: 482 to go forward, not to go back. So he settled himself in his chair once more, pulling the velvet drapery forward so as to shut out the sight of the house. Bitterness should have no part in him. When that happened which was appointed to happen, it must find him not only acquiescent but serene and undisturbed. He composed himself, therefore, with a decent and even lofty pride. Then he turned his eyes upon the narrow door, there in the semi‐obscurity of the back of the box, and waited. And all the while royally, triumphantly, Morabita sang.

During that period of waiting—whether in itself brief or prolonged, he knew not—sensation and thought alike were curiously in abeyance. Richard neither slept nor woke. He knew that he existed, but all active relation to being had ceased. And it was with painful effort he in a measure returned to more ordinary correspondence with fact, aroused by the sound of low‐toned, emphatic speech close at hand, and by a scratching as of some animal denied and seeking admittance. Then he perceived that the door yielded, letting in a spread of yellow brightness from the corridor. And in the midst of that brightness, part and parcel of it thanks to the lustre of her crocus‐yellow dress, her honey‐coloured hair, her fair skin and softly‐gleaming ornaments, stood Helen de Vallorbes. Behind her, momentarily, Richard caught sight of the young man whose face had impressed him as a ribald travesty of that of some being altogether worshipful and holy. The face peered at him with, as it seemed, malicious curiosity over the rounded shoulder of the woman of ivory and gold. The effect was very hateful, and, with a sense of thankfulness, Richard saw Helen close the door and come, alone, down the two steps leading from the back of the box. As she passed from the dimness into the clearer light, he watched her, quiescent, yet with absorbing interest. For he perceived that the hands of the clock had been put back somehow. Intervening years and the many events of them had ceased to obtain, so that, of all the many Helens, enchanting or evil, whom he had come to know, he saw now only one, and that the first and earliest—a little dancer, with blush‐roses in her hat, dainty as a toy, finished to her rosy finger‐tips and the toes of her pretty shoes, merry and merciless, as she had pirouetted round him mocking his shuffling, uncertain progress across the Chapel‐Room at Brockhurst fifteen years ago.

“Ah! so you have come back!” he exclaimed, almost involuntarily.

Madame de Vallorbes pushed a chair from the front of the box into the shadow of the velvet draperies beside Richard.

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“It is unnecessary that all Naples should take part in our interview,” she said. She sat down, turning to him, leaning a little towards him.

“You do not deserve that I should come back, you know, Dickie,” she continued. “You both deserted and deceived me. That is hardly chivalrous, hardly just indeed, after taking all a woman has to give. You led me to suppose you had departed for good and all. Why should you deceive me?”

“The yacht was not ready for sea,” Richard said simply.

“Then you might, in common charity, have let me know that. You were bound to give me an opportunity of speaking to you once again, I think.”

In his present state of detachment from all worldly concerns absolute truthfulness compelled Richard. The event was so certain, the swarming of the bees so very near, that small diplomacies, small evasions, seemed absurdly out of place.

“I did not want to hear you speak,” he said.

“But doesn’t it strike you that was rather dastardly in face of what had taken place between us? Do you know that you appear in a new and far from becoming light?”

Denial seemed to Richard futile. He remained silent.

For a moment Helen looked towards the stage. When she spoke again it was as with reluctance.

“I was desperately unhappy. I went all over the villa in the vain hope of finding you. I went back to that room of yours in which we parted. I wanted to see it again.”—She paused. Her speech was low‐toned, soft as milk.—“It was rather dreadful, Dickie, for the place was all in disarray, littered with signs of your hasty departure, damp, cheerless—the rain beating against the windows. And I hate rain. I found there, not you, whom I so sorely wanted—but something very much else.—A letter to you from de Vallorbes.”—Once more she paused. “I excuse you of anything worse than negligence in omitting to destroy it. Misery knows no law, and I was miserable. I read it.”

Richard had listened with the same detachment, yet the same absorbed interest, with which he had watched her entrance. She was a wonderful creature in her adroitness, in her handling of means to serve her own ends! But he could not pay her back in her own coin. The time was too short for anything but simple truth. He felt strangely tired. These reiterated delays became harassing. If the bees would swarm, only swarm! Then it would be over, and he could sleep. He clasped his hands behind his head and looked at Madame de Vallorbes. Her soul kneeled on her lap, page: 484 its delicate arms were clasped about her neck—black against the lustrous white of her skin and all those twisted ropes of seed pearls. It pressed its breasts against hers, amorously. It loved her and she it. And he understood that in the whole scope of nature there was but it alone, it only, that she ever had loved, or did, or could, love. And, understanding this, he was filled with a great compassion for her. And, answering her, his expression was gentle and pitiful. Still he needs must speak the truth.

“Perhaps it was as well that you should read Luigi’s letter,” he said.

She turned upon him fiercely and scornfully, yet even as she did so her soul fell to beckoning to him, soliciting him with evilly alluring gestures.

“My congratulations to you,” she exclaimed, “upon your praiseworthy candour! I am to gather, then, that you believe that which my husband advises himself to tell you? Under the circumstances it is exceedingly convenient to you to do so no doubt.”

“How can I avoid believing it?” Richard asked, quite sweet‐temperedly. “Surely we need not waste the little time which remains in argument as to that? You must admit, Helen, that Luigi’s letter fits in. It supplies just the piece of the puzzle which was missing. It tallies with all the rest.”

“All the rest?”

“Oh yes! It is part of the whole, precisely that part both of you and of Naples which I knew, and tried so hard not to know, from the first. But it is worse than useless to practise such refusals. The Whole, and nothing less than the Whole, is bound to get one in the end. It is contrary to the nature of things that any integral portion of the whole should submit to permanent denial.”—Richard’s voice deepened. He spoke with a subdued enthusiasm, thinking of the dull‐coloured multitude there in the arena and the act of retributive justice on the eve, by them, of accomplishment.—“It seems to me the radical weakness of all human institutions, of all systems of thought, resides in exactly that effort to select and reject, to exalt one part as against another part, and so build not upon the rock of unity and completeness, but upon the sand of partiality and division. And sooner or later the Whole revenges itself, and the fine fanciful fabric crumbles to ruin, just for lack of that which in our short‐sighted over‐niceness we have taken such mighty great pains to miss out! This has happened times out of number in respect of religions, and philosophies, and the constitution of kingdoms, and in that of fair romances which promised to stand page: 485 firm to all eternity. And now, now, in these last few days,—since laws which rule the general, also rule the individual life,—it has happened in respect of you, Helen, to my seeing, and in respect of Naples.”—Richard smiled upon her sadly and very sweetly.—“I am sorry,” he said, “yes, indeed, horribly sorry. It is a bitter thing to see the last of one’s gods go overboard. But there is no remedy. Sorry or not, so it is.”

Madame de Vallorbes looked at him keenly. Her attitude was strained. Her face sombre with thought.

“My God! my God!” she exclaimed, “that I should sit and listen to all this! And yet you were never more attractive. There is an unnatural force, unnatural beauty about you. You are ill, Richard. You look and you speak as a man might who was about to join hands with death.”

But Dickie’s attention had wandered again. He pulled the velvet drapery aside somewhat, and gazed down into the crowded house. They lingered strangely in the performance of their mission, that dull‐coloured multitude of workers!—Just then came another mighty outburst of applause, cries, vivas, the famous soprano’s name called aloud. The sound was stimulating, as the shout of a victorious army. Richard hailed it as sign of speedy deliverance, and sank back into his place.

“Oh yes!” he said civilly and lightly, “I fancy I am pretty bad. I am a bit sick of this continued delay, you see. I suppose they know their own business best, but they do seem most infernally slow in getting under weigh. I was ready hours ago. However, they must be nearly through with preliminaries now. And when once we’re fairly into it, I shall be all right.”

“You mean when the yacht sails?” Madame de Vallorbes asked. Still she looked at him intently. He turned to her smiling, and she observed that his eyes had ceased to be as windows opening back onto empty space. They were luminous with a certain gay content.

“Yes, of course—when the yacht sails, if you like to put it that way,” he answered.

“And when will that be?”

The shout of the arena grew louder in the recall. It surged up to the roof and quivered along the lath and plaster partitions of the boxes.

“Very soon now. Immediately, I think, please God,” he said.—But why should she make him speak thus foolishly in riddles? Of a surety she must read the signs of the approach of that momentous and beneficent event as clearly as he himself! Was she not equally with himself involved in it? Was she not, page: 486 like himself, to be cleansed and set free by it? Therefore it came as a painful bewilderment and shock to him when she drew closer to him, leaned forward, laid her hand lightly upon his thigh.

“Richard,” she said, very softly, “I forgive all. I am not satisfied with loving. I will come with you. I will stay with you. I will be faithful to you—yes, yes, even that. Your loving is unlike any other. It is unique, as you yourself are unique. I—I want more of it.”

“But you must know that it is too late to go back on that now,” he said, reasoning with her, greatly perplexed and distressed by her determined ignoring of—to him—self‐evident fact. “All that side of things for us is over and done with.”

Her lips parted in naughty laughter. And then, not without a shrinking of quick horror, Richard beheld the soul of her—that being of lovely proportions, exquisitely formed in every part, yet black as the foul, liquid lanes between the hulls of the many ships down in Naples harbour—step delicately in between those parted lips, returning whence it came. And, beholding this, instinctively he raised her hand from where it rested upon his thigh, and put it from him, put it upon her glistering, crocus‐yellow lap where her soul had so lately kneeled.

“Let us say no more, Helen,” he entreated, “lest we both forfeit our remaining chance, and become involved in hopeless and final condemnation.”

But Madame de Vallorbes’ anger rose to overwhelming height. She slapped her hands together.

“Ah, you despise me!” she cried. “But let me assure you that in any case this assumption of virtue becomes you singularly ill. It really is a little bit too cheap, a work of supererogation in the matter of hypocrisy, Have the courage of your vices. Be honest. You can be so to the point of insult when it serves your purpose. Own that you are capricious, own that you have lighted upon some woman who provokes your appetite more than I do! I have been too tender of you, too lenient with you. I have loved too much and been weakly desirous to please. Own that you are tired of me, that you no longer care for me!”

And he answered, sadly enough:—

“Yes, that last is true. Having seen the Whole, that has happened which I always dreaded might happen. The last of my self‐made gods has indeed gone overboard. I care for you no longer.”

Helen sprang up from her chair, ran to the door, flung it open. The first act of the opera was concluded. The curtain had come page: 487 down. The house below and around, the corridor without, were full of confused noise and movement.

“Paul, M. Destournelle, come here,” she cried, “and at once!”

But Richard was more than ever tired. The strain of waiting had been too prolonged. Lights, draperies, figures, the crowded arena, the vast honeycomb of boxes, tier above tier, swam before his eyes, blurred, indistinct, vague, shifting, colossal in height, giddy in depth. The bees were swarming, at last, swarming upward through seas of iridescent mist. But he had no longer empire over his own attitude and thoughts. He had hoped to meet the supreme moment in full consciousness, with clear vision and thankfulness of heart. But he was too tired to do so, tired in brain and body alike. And so it happened that a dogged endurance grew on him, simply a setting of the teeth and bracing of himself to suffer silently, even stupidly, all that might be in store. For the bees were close upon him now, countless in number, angry, grudging, violent. But they no longer appeared as insects. They were human, save for their velvet‐like, expressionless eyes. And all those eyes were fixed upon him, and him alone. He was the centre towards which, in thought and action, all turned. Nor were the dull‐coloured occupants of the parterre alone in their attack. For those gay‐coloured larvæ—the men and women of his own class—indolent, licentious, full‐fed, hung out of the angular mouths of the waxen cells, above the crimson and gold of the cushions, pointing at him, claiming and yet denouncing him. And in the attitude of these—the democratic and the aristocratic sections—he detected a difference. The former swarmed to inflict punishment for his selfishness, uselessness, sensuality. But the latter jeered and mocked at his bodily infirmity, deriding his deformity, making merry over his shortened limbs and shuffling walk. And against this background, against this all‐enclosing tapestry of faces which encircled him, two persons, and the atmosphere and aroma of them, so to speak, were clearly defined. They were close to him, here within the narrow limits of the opera box. Then a great humiliation overtook Richard, perceiving that they, and not the people, the workers, august in their corporate power and strength, were to be his executioners. No—no—he wasn’t worth that! And, for all his present dulness of sensation, a sob rose in his throat. Madame de Vallorbes, resplendent in crocus‐yellow brocade, costly lace, and seed pearls, the young man, her companion—the young man of the light, forked beard, domed skull, vain eyes and peevish mouth—the young man of holy and dissolute aspect— page: 488 were good enough instruments for the Eternal Justice to employ in respect of him, Richard Calmady.

“Look, M. Destournelle,” Helen said very quietly, “this is my cousin of whom I have already spoken to you. But I wished to spare him if possible, and give him room for self‐justification, so I did not tell you all. Richard, this is my friend, M. Destournelle, to whom my honour and happiness are not wholly indifferent.”

Dickie looked up. He did not speak. Vaguely he prayed it might all soon be over. Paul Destournelle looked down. He raised his eye‐glass and bowed himself, examining Richard’s mutilated legs and strangely‐shod feet. He broke into a little, bleating, goat‐like laugh.

Mais c’est etonnant!” he observed reflectively.

“I was in his house,” Helen continued. “I was there unprotected, having absolute faith in his loyalty.”—She paused a moment. “He seduced me. Richard, can you deny that?”

Canaille!” M. Destournelle murmured. He drew a pair of gloves through his hands, holding them by the finger‐tips. The metal buttons of them were large, three on each wrist. Those gloves arrested Richard’s attention oddly.

“I do not deny it,” Dickie said. “And having thus outraged, he deserted me. Do you deny that?”

“No,” Dickie said again. For it was true, that which she asserted, true, though penetrated by subtle falsehood impossible, as it seemed to him, to combat.—“No, I do not deny it.”

“You hear!” Helen exclaimed. “Now do what you think fit.”

Still Destournelle drew the gloves through his hands, holding them by the finger‐tips.

“Under other circumstances I might feel myself compelled to do you the honour of sending you a challenge, monsieur,” he said. “But a man of sensibility like myself cannot do such violence to his moral and artistic code as to fight with an outcast of nature, an abortion, such as yourself. The sword and the pistol I necessarily reserve for my equals. The deformed person, the cripple, whose very existence is an offence to the eye and to every delicacy of sense, must be condescended to, and, if chastised at all, must be chastised without ceremony, chastised as one would chastise a dog.”

And with that he struck Richard again and again across the face with those metal‐buttoned gloves.

Mad with rage, blinded and sick with pain, Dickie essayed to fling himself upon his assailant. But Destournelle was too page: 489 adroit for him. He skipped aside, with his little, bleating, goat‐like laugh; and Richard fell heavily, full length, his forehead coming in contact with the lower step of the descent from the back of the box. He lay there, too weak to raise himself.

Paul Destournelle bent down and again examined him curiously.

C’est etonnant!” he repeated.—He gave the prostrate body a contemptuous kick. “Dear madame, are you sufficiently avenged? Is it enough?” he inquired sneeringly.

And vaguely, as from some incalculable distance, Richard heard Helen de Vallorbes’ voice:—“Yes—it is a little affair of honour which dates from my childhood. It has taken many years in adjusting. I thank you, mon cher, a thousand times. Now let us go quickly. It is enough.”

Then came darkness, silence, rest.

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