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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 376

BOOK V

RAKE’S PROGRESS

CHAPTER I

IN WHICH THE READER IS COURTEOUSLY ENTREATED TO GROW OLDER BY THE SPACE OF SOME FOUR YEARS, AND TO SAIL SOUTHWARD HO! AWAY

THE south‐easterly wind came fresh across the bay from the crested range of the Monte Sant’ Angelo. The blossoms of the Judas‐trees, breaking from the smooth grey stems and branches—on which they perch so quaintly—fell in a red‐mauve shower upon the slabs of the marble pavement, upon the mimic waves of the fountain basin, and upon the clustering curls, and truncated shoulders, of the bust of Homer standing in the shade of the grove of cypress and ilex which sheltered the square, high‐lying hill‐garden, at this hour of the morning, from the fierceness of the sun. They floated as far even as the semicircular steps of the pavilion on the extreme right—the leaded dome of which showed dark and livid on the one side, white and glistering on the other, against the immense and radiant panorama of mountain, sea, and sky.

The garden, its fountains, neatly clipped shrubs, and formal paved alleys, was backed by a large villa of the square, flat‐roofed order common to southern Italy. The record of its age had recently suffered modification by application of a coat of stucco, of a colour intermediate between faint lemon‐yellow and pearl‐grey, and by the renovation of the fine arabesques—Pompeian in character—decorating the narrow interspaces between its treble range of Venetian shutters. Otherwise the aspect of the Villa Vallorbes showed but small alteration since the year when, for a few socially historic weeks, the “glorious Lady Blessington,” and her strangely assorted train, condescended to occupy it prior page: 377 to taking up their residence at the Palazzo Belvedere near by. The walls were sufficiently massive to withstand a siege. The windows of the ground floor, set in deeply‐hewn ashlar work, were cross‐barred as those of a prison. Above, the central windows and door of the entresol opened on to a terrace of black and white marble, from which, at either end, a wide, shallow‐stepped, curved stairway led down into the garden. The first floor consisted of a suite of noble rooms, each of whose lofty windows gave on to a balcony of wrought ironwork, very ornate in design. The topmost storey, immediately below the painted frieze of the parapet, coincided in height and in detail with the entresol.

The villa was superbly situated upon an advancing spur of hill; so that, looking down from its balconies, looking out from between the pale and slender columns of the pavilion, the whole city of Naples lay revealed below.—Naples, that bewildering union of modern commerce and classic association—its domes, its palms, its palaces, its crowded, hoarse‐shouting quays, its theatres and giant churches, its steep and filthy lanes black with shadow, its reeking markets, its broad, sun‐scorched piazzas, its glittering, blue waters, its fringing forest of tall masts, and innumerable, close‐packed hulls of ocean‐going ships! Naples, city of glaring contrasts—heaven of rascality, hell of horses, unrivalled all the western world over for natural beauty, for spiritual and moral grossness! Naples, breeding, teeming, laughing, fighting, festering, city of music, city of fever and death! Naples, at once abominable and enchanting—city to which, spite of noise, stenches, cruelty and squalor, those will return, of necessity, and return again, whose imagination has once been taken captive in the meshes of her many‐coloured net.

And among the captives of Naples, on the brilliant morning in question in the early spring of the year 1871, open‐eared and open‐eyed to its manifest and manifold incongruities, relishing alike the superficial beauty and underlying bestiality of it, was very certainly Helen de Vallorbes. Several years had elapsed since she had visited this fascinating locality; and she could congratulate herself upon conditions adapted to a more intimate and comprehensive acquaintance with its very various humours than she had ever enjoyed before. She had spent more than one winter here, it is true, immediately subsequent to her marriage. But she had then been required to associate exclusively with the members of her husband’s family, and to fill a definite position in the aristocratic society of the place. The tone of that society was not a little lax. Yet, being notably page: 378 defective in the saving grace of humour—as to the feminine portion of it, at all events—its laxity proved sadly deficient in vital interest. The fair Neapolitans displayed as small intelligence in their intrigues as in their piety. In respect of both they remained ignorant, prejudiced, hopelessly conventional. Their noble ancestresses of the Renaissance understood and did these things better—so Helen reflected. She found herself both bored and irritated. She feared she had taken up her residence in southern Italy quite three centuries too late.

But all that was in the past—heaven be praised for it! Just now she was her own mistress, at liberty—thanks to the fortunes of war—to comport herself as she pleased and obey any caprice that took her. The position was ideal in its freedom, while the intrinsic value of it was enhanced by contrast with recent disagreeable experiences. For the alarms and deprivations of the siege of Paris were but lately over. She had come through them unscathed in health and fortune. Yet they had left their mark. During those months of all‐encompassing disappointment and disaster the eternal laughter—in which she trusted—had rung harshly sardonic, to the breaking down of self‐confidence, and light‐hearted, cynic philosophy. It scared her somewhat. It made her feel old. It chilled her with suspicion of the actuality of The Four Last Things—death and judgment, heaven and hell. The power of a merry scepticism waxed faint amid the scream of shells and long‐drawn, murderous crackle of the mitrailleuse. Helen, indeed, became actively superstitious, thereby falling low in her own self‐esteem. She took to frequenting churches, and spending long, still days with the nuns, her former teachers, within the convent of the Sacré Cœur. Circumstances so worked upon her that she made her submission, and was solemnly and duly received back into the fold of the Church. She confessed ardently, yet with certain politic reservations. The priest, after all, is but human. It is only charitable to be considerate of his feelings—so she argued—and avoid overburdening his conscience, poor dear man, by blackening your own reputation too violently! The practice of religion was a help—truly it was, since it served to pass the time. And then, who could tell but that it might not prove really useful hereafter, as, when all is said and done, those dread Four Last Things will present themselves to the mind in hours of depression with haunting pertinacity. It is clearly wise, then, to be on the safe side of Holy Church in these matters, accepting her own assertion that she is very certainly on the safe side of the Deity.

Yet, notwithstanding her pious exercises, Helen de Vallorbes page: 379 found existing circumstances excessively disturbing and disquieting. She was filled with an immense self‐pity. She feared her health was failing. She became nervously sensible of her eight‐and‐twenty years, telling herself that her youth and the glory of it had departed. She wore black dresses, rolled bandages, pulled lint. Selecting Mary Magdalene as her special intercessor, she made a careful study of the life and legends of that saint. This proved stimulating to her imagination. She proceeded to write a little one‐act drama concerning the holy woman’s dealings, subsequent to her conversion, quite late in life in fact, with such as survived of her former lovers. The dialogue was very moving in parts. Helen read it aloud one bleak January evening, by the light of a single candle, to her friend M. Paul Destournelle, poet and novelist—with whom just then, by her own desire, her relations were severely platonic—and they both wept. The application, though delicate, was obvious. And those tears appeared to lay the dust of so many pleasant sins, and promise fertilisation of so heavy a crop of virtue, that—by inevitable action of the law of contraries—the two friends found it more than ever difficult to say farewell and part that night.

Now looking back on all that, viewing it calmly in perspective, her action and attitude struck Helen as somewhat imbecile. Prayer and penitence have too often a tendency to kick the beam when fear ceases to weight the balance. And so it followed that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, presented themselves to her as powers by no means contemptible, or unworthy of invocation, this morning, while she sat at the luxuriously furnished breakfast‐table beneath the glistering dome of the airy pavilion and gazed out between its slender columns, over the curving lines of the painted city and glittering waters of the bay, to the cone of Vesuvius rising, in imperial purple, against the azure sky. To‐day, sign, as she noted, of fine weather, omen, as she trusted, of good fortune, the smoke of its everlasting burnings towered up and up into the translucent atmosphere, and then drifted away—a gigantic, wedge‐shaped pennon—toward Capri and the open sea. And, beholding these things, out of simple, physical well‐being, fulness of bread, conviction of her own undiminished beauty, and the merry devilry begotten of these, she fell to projecting a second, a companion, one‐act drama founded upon the life of the Magdalene, but, this time, before the saint’s conversion, at an altogether earlier stage of her very instructive history. And this drama she would not read to M. Destournelle—not a bit of it. In it he should have neither part nor lot. Registering which determination, she shook her page: 380 charming, honey‐coloured head, holding up both hands with a gesture of humorous and well‐defined repudiation.

For, in truth, the day of M. Destournelle appeared, just now, to be very effectually over. It had been reasonable enough to urge her natural fears in journeying through a war‐distracted land—although guarded by Charles, most discreet and resourceful of English men‐servants, and Zélie Forestier, most capable of French lady’s‐maids—as excuse for Paul Destournelle joining her at a wayside station a short distance out of Paris and accompanying her south. À la guerre comme à la guerre. A beautiful woman can hardly be too careful of her person amid the many and primitive dangers which battle and invasion let loose. De Vallorbes himself—detestably jealous though he was—could hardly have objected to her thus securing effective protection, had he been acquainted with the fact. That he was not so acquainted was, of course, the veriest oversight. But, the frontier once reached—the better part of three weeks had elapsed in the reaching of it—and all danger of war and tumult past, both the necessity and, to be frank, the entertainment of M. Destournelle’s presence became less convincing. Helen grew a trifle weary of his transports, his suspicions, his bel tête de Jesu souffrant, his insatiable literary and personal vanity. The charm, the excitement, of the situation, began to wear rather threadbare, while the practical inconveniences and restrictions it imposed increasingly disclosed themselves. A lover, as Helen reflected, provided you see enough of him, offers but small improvement upon a husband. He is liable to become possessive and didactic, after the manner of the natural man. He is liable to forget that the relation is permitted, not legalised; that it exists on sufferance merely, and is therefore terminable at the will of either party. The last days of that same southern journey had been marked by misunderstandings and subsequent reconciliations, in an ascending scale of acrimony and fervour on the part of her companion. In Helen’s case familiarity tended very rapidly to breed contempt. She ceased to be in the least amused by these recurring agitations. At Pisa, after a scene of a particularly excited nature, she lost all patience, frankly told her admirer that she found him not a little ridiculous, and requested him to remove himself, his grievances, and his bel tête de Jesu elsewhere. M. Destournelle took refuge in nerves, threats of morphia, and his bed‐chamber,—in the chaste seclusion of which apartment Helen left him, unvisited and unconsoled, while, attended by her servants, she gaily resumed her journey.

page: 381

An adorable sense of independence possessed her, of the charm of her own society, of the absence of all external compelling or directing of her movements—no circumscription of her liberty possible—the world before her where to choose! Not only were privations, dismal hauntings of siege and slaughter, left behind, and M. Destournelle, just now most wearisome of lovers, left behind also, but de Vallorbes himself had, for the time being, become a permissibly negligible quantity. The news of more fighting, more bloodshed, had just reached her, though the German armies were marching back to the now wholly German Rhine. For upon unhappy Paris had come an hour of deeper humiliation than any which could be procured by the action of foreign foes. She was a kingdom divided against herself, a mother scandalously torn by her own children. News had reached Helen too, news special and highly commendatory, of her husband, Angelo Luigi Francesco. Early in that eventful struggle he had enlisted in the Garde Mobile, all the manhood and honest sentiment resident in him stirred into fruitful activity by the shame and peril of his adopted country. Now Helen learned he had distinguished himself in the holding of Chatillon against the insurgents, had been complimented by MacMahon upon his endurance and resource, had been offered, and had accepted, a commission in the regular army. Promotion was rapid during the later months of the war, and probability pointed to the young man having started on a serious military career.

“Well, let him both start and continue,” Helen commented. “I am the last person to be otherwise than delighted thereat. Just in proportion as he is occupied he ceases to be inconvenient. If he succeeds—good. If he is shot—good likewise. For him laurels and a hero’s tomb. For me crape and permanent emancipation. An agreeably romantic conclusion to a profoundly unromantic marriage—fresh proof, were such needed, of the truth of the immortal Dr. Pangloss saying, that ‘all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds!’”

In such happy frame of mind did Madame de Vallorbes continue during her visit to Florence and upon her onward way to Perugia. But there self‐admiration ceased to be all‐sufficient for her. She needed to read confirmation of that admiration in other eyes. And the grey Etruscan city, uplifted on its star‐shaped hill, offered her a somewhat grim reception. Piercing winds swept across the Tiber valley from the still snow‐clad Apennines above Assisi. The austere, dark‐walled, lombard‐gothic churches and palaces showed forbidding, merciless almost, through the page: 382 driving wet. Even in fair summer weather suspicion of ancient and implacable terror lurks in the shadow of those cyclopean gateways, and stalks over the unyielding, rock‐hewn pavements of those solemn, mediæval streets. There was an incalculable element in Perugia which raised a certain anger in Helen. The place seemed to defy her and make light of her pretensions. As during the siege of Paris, so now, echoes of the eternal laughter saluted her ears, ironic in tone.

Nor was the society offered by the residents in the hotel, weather‐bound like herself, of a specially enlivening description. It was composed almost exclusively of middle‐aged English and American ladies—widows and spinsters—of blameless morals and anxiously active intelligence. They wrapped their lean forms in woollen shawls and ill‐cut jackets. They pervaded salon and corridors guide‐book in hand. They discoursed of Umbrian antiquities, Etruscan tombs, frescoes and architecture. Having but little life in themselves, they tried, rather vainly, to warm both hands at the fire of the life of the past. Among them, Helen, in her vigorous and self‐secure, though fine‐drawn, beauty, was about as much at home as a young panther in a hen‐roost. They admired, they vaguely feared, they greatly wondered at her. Had one of those glorious young gallants, Baglioni or Oddi, clothed in scarlet, winged, helmeted, sword on thigh, as Perugino has painted them on the walls of the Sala del Cambio—very strangest union of sensuous worldliness and radiant, arch‐angelic grace—had one of these magnificent gentlemen ruffled into the hotel parlour, he could hardly have startled the eyes, and perplexed the understanding, of the virtuous and learned Anglo‐Saxon and Transatlantic feminine beings there assembled more than did Madame de Vallorbes.

For all such sexless creatures, for the great company of women in whose outlook man plays no immediate or active part, Helen had, in truth, small respect. They appeared to her so absurdly inadequate, so contemptibly divorced from the primary interests of existence. More than once, in a spirit of mischievous malice, she was tempted to bid the good ladies lay aside their Baedekers and Murrays, and increase their knowledge of the Italian character and language by study of the Novelle of Bandello, or of certain merry tales to be found in the pages of the Decameron. She had copies of both works in her travelling‐bag. She was prepared, moreover, to illustrate such ancient saws by modern instances, for the truth of which last she could quite honestly vouch. But on second thoughts she spared her victims. The quarry was not worth the chase. What self‐ page: 383 respecting panther can, after all, go a‐hunting in a hen‐roost? So from the neighbourhood of their unlovely clothes, questioning glances, and under‐vitalised pursuit of art and literature, she removed herself to her sitting‐room upstairs. Charles should serve her meals there in future; for to sit at table with these neuters, clothed in amorphous garments, came near upsetting her digestion.

Meanwhile, as she watched the rain streaming down the panes of the big windows, watched thin‐legged, heavily‐cloaked figures tacking, wind‐buffeted, across the grey‐black street into the shelter of some cavernous port cochère, it must be owned her spirits went very sensibly down into her boots. Even the presence of the despised and repudiated Destournelle would have been grateful to her. Remembrance of all the less successful episodes of her career assaulted her. And in that connection, of necessity, the thought of Brockhurst returned upon her. For neither the affair of her childhood—that of the little dancer with blush‐roses in her hat—or the other affair—of now nearly four years back—the intimate drama frustrated, within sight of its climax, by intervention of Lady Calmady—could be counted otherwise than as failures. It was strange how deep‐seated was her discontent under this head. As on Queen Mary’s heart the word Calais, so on hers Brockhurst, she sometimes thought, might be found written when she was dead. In the last four years Richard had given her princely gifts. He had treated her with a fine, old‐world chivalry, as something sacred and apart. But he rarely sought her society. He seemed, rather carefully, to elude her pursuit. His name was not exactly a patent of discretion and rectitude in these days unfortunately. Still Helen found his care of her reputation—as far as association of her name with his own went—somewhat exaggerated. She could hardly believe him to be indifferent to her, and yet— Oh! the whole matter was unsatisfactory, abominably unsatisfactory—of a piece with the disquieting influences of this grim and fateful city, with the detestable weather evident there without!

And then, suddenly, an idea came to Helen de Vallorbes, causing the delicate colour to spring into her cheeks, and the light into her eyes, veiled by those fringed, semitransparent lids. For, some two years earlier, Richard Calmady had taken her husband’s villa at Naples on lease, it offering, as he said, a convenient pied à terre to him while yachting along the adjacent coasts, up the Black Sea to Odessa, and eastward as far as Aden, and the Persian Gulf. The house, save for the actual fabric of it, had become rather dilapidated and ruinate. To page: 384 de Vallorbes it appeared clearly advantageous to get the property off his hands, and touch a considerable yearly sum, rather than have his pocket drained by outgoings on a place in which he no longer cared to live. So the Villa Vallorbes passed for the time being into Richard Calmady’s possession. It pleased his fancy. Helen heard he had restored and refurnished it at great expenditure of money and of taste.

These facts she recalled. And, recalling them, found both the actuality of rain‐blurred, wind‐scourged town without, and anger‐begetting memories of Brockhurst within, fade before a seductive vision of sun‐bathed Naples and of that nobly placed and painted villa, in which—as it seemed to her—was just now resident promise of high entertainment, the objective delight of abnormal circumstance, the subjective delight of long‐cherished revenge. All the rapture of her existing freedom came back on her; while her brain, fertile in forecast of adventure, projected scenes and situations not unworthy of the pen of Boccaccio himself. Fired by such thoughts, she moved from the window, stood before a tall glass at right angles to it and contemplated her own fair reflection long and intimately. An absorbing interest in the general effect, and in the details, of her person possessed her. She moved to and fro observing the grace of her carriage, the set of her hips, the slenderness of her waist. She unfastened her soft, trailing tea‐gown, throwing the loose bodice of it back, critically examining her bare neck, the swell of her beautiful bosom, the firm contours of her arms from shoulder to elbow. Her skin was of a clear, golden whiteness, smooth, fine in texture, as that of a child. Placing her hands on the gilded frame of the mirror, high up on either side, she observed her face, exquisitely healthful in colour, even as seen in this mournful, afternoon light. She leaned forward, gazing intently into her own eyes—meeting in them, as Narcissus in the surface of the fatal pool, the radiant image of herself. And this filled her with a certain intoxication, a voluptuous self‐love, a profound persuasion of the power and completeness of her own beauty. She caressed her own neck, her own lips, with lingering finger‐tips. She bent her bright head and kissed the swell of her cuplike breasts. Never had she received so entire assurance of the magic of her own personality.

“It is all—all, as perfect as ever!” she exclaimed exultantly. “And while it remains perfect, it should be made use of.”

Helen waved her hand, smiling, to the smiling image in the mirror.

“You and I together—your beauty and my brains—I pit page: 385 the pair of us against all mankind! Together we have worked pretty little miracles before now, causing the proud to lay aside their pride and the godly their virtue. A man of strange passions shall hardly escape us—nor shall the mother that bare him escape either.”

Her face hardened, her laughing eyes paled to the colour of fine steel. She lifted the soft‐curling hair from off her right temple, disclosing a small, crescent‐shaped scar.

“That is the one blemish, and we will exact the price of it‐you and I—to the ultimate sous.”

Then she moved away, smitten by sudden amusement at her own attitude, which she perceived risked being slightly ridiculous. Heroics were, to her thinking, unsuitable articles for home consumption. Yet her purpose held none the less strongly and steadily because excitement lessened. She refastened her tea‐gown, tied the streaming azure ribbons of it, patted bows and laces into place, walked the length of the room a time or two to recover her composure, then rang the bell. And, on the arrival of Charles,—irreproachably correct in dress and demeanour, his clean‐shaven, sharp‐featured, rakish countenance controlled to praiseworthy nullity of expression,—she said:—

“The weather is abominable.”

The man‐servant set down the tray on a little table before her, turned out the corners of the napkin, deftly arranged the tea‐things.

“It is a little dull, my lady.”

“How is the glass?”

“Falling steadily, my lady.”

“I cannot remain here.”

“No, my lady?”

“Find out about the trains south—to Naples.”

“Yes, my lady. We can join the Roman express at Chiusi. When does your ladyship wish to start?”

“I must telegraph first.”

“Certainly, my lady.”

Charles produced telegraph forms. It was Helen’s boast that, upon request, the man could produce any known object from a packet of pins to a white elephant, or fully manned battleship. She had a lively regard for her servant’s ability. So had he, it may be added, for that of his mistress. The telegram was written and despatched. But the reply took four days in reaching Madame de Vallorbes, and during those days it rained incessantly. The said reply came in the form of a letter. Sir Richard Calmady was at Constantinople, so the writer page: 386 —Bates, his steward—had reason to believe. But it was probable he would return to Naples shortly. Meanwhile he—the steward—had permanent orders to the effect that the villa was at Madame de Vallorbes’ disposition should she at any time express the wish to visit it. She would find everything prepared for her reception. This information caused Helen singular satisfaction. It was very charming, very courteous, of Richard thus to remember her. She set forth from Perugia full of ingenious purpose, deliciously light of heart.

Thus did it come about that, on the afore‐mentioned gay, spring morning, Madame de Vallorbes breakfasted beneath the glistering dome of the airy pavilion, all Naples outstretched before her, while the blossoms of the Judas‐trees fell in a red‐mauve shower upon the slabs of the marble pavement, and the mimic waves of the fountain basin, and upon the clustered curls and truncated shoulders of the bust of Homer stationed within the soft gloom of the ilex and cypress grove. She had arrived the previous evening, and had met with a dignified welcome from the numerous household. Her manner was gracious, kindly, captivating—she intended it to be all that. She slept well, rose in buoyant health and spirits, partook of a meal offering example of the most finished Italian cooking. Finish, in any department, appealed to Helen’s artistic sense. Life was sweet—moreover it was supremely interesting! Her breakfast ended, rising from her place at table, she looked away to the purple cone of the great volcano and the uprising of the smoke of its everlasting burnings. The sight of this, magnificent, menacing, evidence of the anarchic might of the powers of nature, quickened the pagan instinct within her. She wanted to worship. And even in so doing, she became aware of a kindred something in herself—of an answering and anarchic energy, a certain menace to the conventional works and ways, and fancied security, of groping, purblind man. The insolence of a great lady, the dangerously primitive instincts of a great courtesan, filled her with an enormous pride, a reckless self‐confidence.

Turning, she glanced back across the formal garden, bright with waxen camellias set in glossy foliage, with early roses, with hyacinths, lemon and orange blossom, towards the villa. Upon the black‐and‐white marble balustrade a man leaned his elbows. She could see his broad shoulders, his bare head. From his height she took him, at first, to be kneeling, as, motionless, he looked towards her and towards the splendid view. Then she perceived that he was not kneeling, but standing upright. She page: 387 understood, and a very vital sensation ran right through her, causing the queerest turn in her blood.

“Mercy of heaven!” she said to herself, “is it conceivable that now, at this time of day, I am capable of the egregious folly of losing my head?”

CHAPTER II

WHEREIN TIME IS DISCOVERED TO HAVE WORKED CHANGES

HELEN, however, did not stay to debate as to the state of her emotions. She had had more than enough of reflection of late. Now action invited her. She responded. The sweep of her turquoise‐blue, cloth skirts sent the fallen Judas‐blossoms dancing, to left and right, in crazy whirling companies. She did not wait even to put on her broad‐brimmed, garden hat,—the crown of it encircled, as luck would have it, by a garland of pale, pink tulle and pale, pink roses,—but braved the sunshine with no stouter head‐covering than the coils of her honey‐coloured hair. Rapidly she passed up the central alley between the double row of glossy leaved camellia bushes, laughter in her downcast eyes and a delicious thrill of excitement at her heart. She felt strong and light, her being vibrant, penetrated and sustained throughout by the bracing air, the sparkling, crystal‐clear atmosphere. Yet for all her eagerness Helen remained an artist. She would not forestall effects. Thriftily she husbanded sensations. Thus, reaching the base of the black‐and‐white marble wall supporting the terrace, where, midway in its long length, it was broken by an arched grotto of rough‐hewn stonework, in which maiden‐hair fern rooted,—the delicate fronds of it caressing the shoulders of an undraped nymph, with ever‐dripping water‐pitcher upon her rounded hip,—Helen turned sharp to the left, and arrived at the bottom of the descending flight of steps without once looking up. That Richard Calmady still leaned on the bulustrade, some twelve to fourteen feet above that same cool, green grotto, she knew well enough. But she did not choose to anticipate either sight or greeting of him. Both should come to her as a whole. She would receive a single and unqualified impression.

So, silently, without apparent haste, she passed up the flight of shallow steps on to the edge of the wide, black‐and‐white, chequerboard platform. It was sun‐bathed, suspended, as it seemed, between that glorious prospect of city, mountain, sea, and the page: 388 unsullied purity of the southern heavens. It was vacant, save for the solitary figure and the sharp‐edged, yet amorphous, shadow cast by that same figure. For the young man had moved as she came up from the garden below. He stood clear of the balustrade, only the fingers of his left hand resting upon the handrail of it. Seeing him thus, the strangeness, the grotesque incompleteness, of his person struck her as never before. But this, though it did not move her to mirth, as in her childhood, moved her to pity no more now than it then had. That which it did was to deepen, to stimulate, her excitement, to provoke and to satisfy the instinct of cruelty latent in every pagan nature such as hers. Could Helen have chosen the moment of her birth she would have been a great lady of Imperial Rome, holding power of life and death over her slaves, and the mutes and eunuchs with which the East should have furnished her palace in the eternal city, and her dainty villa away there on the purple flanks of Vesuvius at Herculaneum or Pompeii. The delight of her own loveliness, of her own triumphant health and activity, would have been increased tenfold by the sight of, by power over, such stultified and hopelessly disfranchised human creatures. And the first sight of Richard Calmady now, though she did not stop very certainly to analyse the exact how and why of her increasing satisfaction, took its root in this same craving for ascendency by means of the suffering and loss of others. While, unconsciously, the fine flavour of her satisfaction was heightened by the fact that the victim, now before her, was her equal in birth, her superior in wealth, in intelligence and worldly station.

But, as she drew nearer, Richard the while making no effort to go forward and receive her, buoyant self‐complacency and self‐congratulation suffered diminution. For, rehearsing this same meeting during those rain‐blotted days of waiting at Perugia, imagination had presented Dickie as the inexperienced, tender‐hearted, sweet‐natured lad she had known and beguiled at Brockhurst four years earlier. As has already been stated her meetings with him, since then, had been brief and infrequent. Now she perceived that imagination had played a silly trick upon her. The boy she had left, the man who stood awaiting her so calmly were, save in one distressing peculiarity, two widely different persons. For, in the interval, Richard Calmady had eaten very freely of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and that diet had left its mark not only on his character, but on his appearance. He had matured notably, all trace of ingenuous, boyish charm having vanished. His skin, page: 389 though darkened by recent sea‐faring, was colourless. His features were at once finer and more pronounced than of old—the bone of the face giving it a noticeable rigidity of outline, index at once of indomitable will and irreproachable breeding. The powerful jaw and strong muscular neck might have argued a measure of brutality. But happily the young man’s mouth had not coarsened. His lips were compressed, relaxing rarely into the curves which, as a lad, had rendered his smile so peculiarly engaging. Still there was no trace of grossness in their form or expression. Hard living had, indeed, in Richard’s case, been matter of research rather than of appetite. The intellectual part of him had never fallen wholly into bondage to the animal. He explored the borders of the Forbidden hoping to find some anodyne with which to assuage the ache of a vital discontent, rather than by any compulsion of natural lewdness.

Much of this quick‐witted Helen quickly apprehended. He was cleverer, more serious, and mentally more distinguished, than she had supposed him. And this, while opening up new sources of interest and pricking her ambition of conquest, disclosed unforeseen difficulties in the way of such conquest. Moreover, she was slightly staggered by the strength and inscrutability of his countenance, the repose of his bearing and manner. His eyes affected her oddly. They were cold and clear as some frosty, winter’s night, the pupils of them very small. They seemed to see all things, yet tell nothing. They were as windows opening onto endless perspectives of empty space. They at once challenged curiosity and baffled inquiry. Helen’s excitement deepened, and she was sensible it needed all the subjective support, all the indirect flattery, with which the fact of his deformity supplied her self‐love to prevent her standing in awe of him. As consequence her address was impulsive rather than studied.

“Richard, I have had a detestable winter,” she said. “It wore upon me. It demoralised me. I was growing dull, superstitious even. I wanted to get away, to put a long distance between myself and certain experiences, certain memories. I wanted to hear another language. You have always been sympathetic to me. It was natural, if a little unconventional, to take refuge with you.”

Madame de Vallorbes spoke with an unaccustomed and very seductive air of apology, her face slightly flushed, her arms hanging straight at her sides, the long, pink, tulle strings of the hat she carried in her left hand trailing upon the black‐and‐white squares of the pavement.

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“To do so seemed obvious in contemplation. I did not stop to consider possible objections. But, in execution, the objections become hourly more glaringly apparent. I want you to reassure me. Tell me I have not dared too greatly in coming thus uninvited?”

“Of course not,” he answered. “I hope you found the house comfortable and everything prepared for you? The servants had their orders.”

“I know, I know. That you should have provided against the possibility of my coming some day moved me a little more than I care to tell you.”—Helen paused, looking upon him, and that look had in it a delicate affinity to a caress. But the young man’s manner, though faultlessly courteous, was lacking in any hint of enthusiasm. Helen could have imagined, and that angered her, something of irony in his tone.

“Oh, there’s no matter for thanks,” he said. “The house was yours, will be yours again. The least I can do, since you and de Vallorbes are good enough to let me live in it meanwhile, is to beg you to make any use you please of it. Indeed it is I, rather than you, who come uninvited just now. I had not intended being back here for another month. But there was a case of something suspiciously like cholera on board my yacht at Constantinople, and it seemed wisest to get away to sea as soon as possible. One of the firemen—oh, he’s all right now.—Still I shall send him home to England. He’s a married man—the only one I have on board. A useful fellow, but he must go. I don’t choose to take the responsibility of creating the widow and the fatherless whenever one of my crew chances to fall sick and depart into the unknown.”

Richard talked on, very evidently for the mere sake of passing the ’time. And all the while those eyes, which told nothing, dwelt quietly upon Helen de Vallorbes until she became nervously impatient of their scrutiny. For it was not at all thus that she had pictured and rehearsed this meeting during those days of waiting at Perugia!

“We got in last night” he continued. “But I slept on board. I heard you had just arrived, and I did not care to run the risk of disturbing you after your journey.”

“You are very considerate,” Helen remarked.

She was surprised out of all readiness of speech. This new Richard impressed her, but she resented his manner. He took her so very much for granted. Admiration and homage were to her as her daily bread, and that any man should fail to offer them caused her frank amazement. It did more. It raised in page: 391 her a longing to inflict pain. He might not admire, but at least he should not remain indifferent. Therefore she backed a couple of steps, so as to get a good view of Richard Calmady. And, without any disguise of her purpose, took a comprehensive and leisurely survey of his dwarfed and mutilated figure. While so doing she pinned on her rose‐trimmed hat, and twisted the long, tulle strings of it about her throat.

“You have altered a good deal, Richard,” she said reflectively.

“Probably,” he answered. “I had a good deal to learn, being a very thin‐skinned, young simpleton. In part, anyhow, I have learned it. And I do my best practically to apply my knowledge. But if I have altered, so, happily, have not you.”

“I remain a simpleton?” she inquired, her irritation finding voice.

“You cannot very well remain that which you never have been. What you do remain is—if I may say so—victoriously yourself, unspoiled, unmodified by contact with that singularly stupid invention, society, true to my earliest recollections of you even”—Richard shuffled closer to the balustrade, threw his left arm across it, grasping the outer edge of the broad coping,—“even in small details of dress.”

He looked away over the immense and radiant prospect, and then up at the radiant woman in her vesture of turquoise, pink, and gold.

And, so doing, for the first time his face relaxed, being lighted up by a flickering, mocking smile. And something in his shuffling movements, in the fine irony of his expression, pierced Helen with a sensation hitherto unknown, broke up the absoluteness of her egotism, stirred her blood. She forgot resentment in an absorbed and absorbing interest. The ordinary man of the world she knew as thoroughly as her old shoe. Such an one presented small field of discovery to her. But this man was unique in person, and promised to be so in character also. Her curiosity regarding him was profound. For the moment it sunk all personal considerations, all humorous or angry criticism, either of her own attitude towards him or of his attitude towards her. Silently she came forward, sat down on the marble bench, close to where he stood, and, turning sideways, leaned her elbows upon the top of the balustrade beside him. She looked up now, rather than down at him; and it went home to her, had nature spared him infliction of that hideous deformity, what a superb creature physically he would have been! There was a silence, page: 392 Helen remaining intent, quiet, apprehension and imagination sensibly upon the stretch.

At last Richard spoke abruptly.

“By the way, did you happen to observe the decorations of your room? Do you like them?”

“Yes and no,” she answered. “They struck me as rather wonderful, but liable to induce dreams of Scylla and Charybdis, of the Fata Morgana, and other inconvenient accidents of the deep. Fortunately I was too tired last night to be excursive in fancy, or I might have slept badly. You have gathered all the colours of the ocean and fixed them, somehow, on those carpets and hangings and strangely frescoed walls.”

“You saw that?”

“How could I fail to see it, since you kindly excuse me of being, or ever having been, a simpleton?”—Helen spoke lightly, tenderly almost. An overmastering desire to please had taken her. “You have employed a certain wizardry in the furnishing of that room,” she continued. “It lays subtle influences upon one. What made you think of it?”

“A dream, an idea, which has stuck by me queerly, though all other fond things of the sort were pitched overboard long ago. I suppose one is bound to be illogical on one point, if only to prove to oneself the absolutism of one’s logic on all others. Thus do I, otherwise sane and consistent realist, materialist, pessimist, cling to my one dream and ideal—take it out, dandle it, nourish and cherish it, with weakly sentimental faithfulness. To do so is ludicrous. But then my being here at all, calmly considered, is ludicrous. And it, too, is among the results of the one idea.”

He paused, and Helen, leaning beside him, waited. The sunshine covered them both. The sea wind was fresh in their faces. While the many voices of Naples came up to them confused, strident, continuous, with sometimes a bugle‐call, sometimes a clang of hammers, or quick pulse of stringed instruments, or jangle of church‐bells, or long‐drawn bellow of a steamship clearing for sea, detaching itself from the universal chorus. Capri, Ischia, Procida, floated, islands of amethyst, upon the sapphire of the bay, and the smoke of Vesuvius rolled ceaselessly upward.

“You see and hear and feel all this?” Richard continued presently. “Well, when I saw it for the first time I was pretty thoroughly out of conceit with myself and all creation. I had been experimenting freely in things not usually talked of in polite society. And I was abominably sold, for I found the enjoyment page: 393 such things procure is decidedly overrated. Unmentionable matters, once fully explored, are just as tedious and inadequate as those which supply the most unexceptionable subjects of conversation. Moreover, in the process of exploration I had touched a good deal of pitch, and, the simpleton being still superfluously to the fore in me, I was squeamishly sensible of defilement.”

The young man shifted his position slightly, resting his chin in the hollow of his hands, speaking quietly and indifferently, as of some matter foreign to himself and his personal interests.

“I have reason to believe I was as fairly and squarely wretched as it is possible for an intelligent being to be. I had convinced myself, experimentally, that human existence, human nature, was a bottomless pit and an uncommonly filthy one at that. Reaction was inevitable. Then I understood why men have invented gods, subscribed to irrational systems of theology, hailed and accredited transparently ridiculous miracles. Such lies are necessary to certain stages of development simply for the preservation of sanity, just as, at another stage, sanity, for its own preservation, is necessarily driven to declare their falsehood. And so I, after the manner of my kind, was driven to take refuge in a dream. The subjective, in some form or other, alone makes life continuously possible. And all this we now look at determined the special nature of my attempt at subjective support and consolation.”

Richard paused again, contemplating the view.

“All this—its splendour, its diversity, its caprices and seductions, its suggestion of underlying danger—presented itself to me as the embodiment of a personality that has had remarkable influence in the shaping of my life.”

So far Helen had listened intently and silently. Now she moved a little, straightening up her charming figure, pulling down the wide brim of her hat to shelter her eyes from the heat and brightness of the sun.

“A woman?” she asked briefly.

Richard turned to her, that same flickering of mockery in his still face.

“Oh! you mustn’t require too much of me!” he said. “Remember the simpleton was not wholly eradicated then.—Yes, very much a woman. Of course. How should it be otherwise? It gave me great pleasure to look at that which looked like her. It gives me pleasure even yet. So I wrote and asked de Vallorbes to be kind enough to let me rent the villa. You remember it was not particularly well cared for. There was an air of fallen page: 394 greatness about the poor place. Inside it was something of a barrack.”

“I remember,” Helen said.

“Well, I restored and refurnished it—specially the rooms you now occupy—in accordance with what I imagined to be her taste. The whole proceeding was not a little feeble‐minded, since the probability of her ever inhabiting those rooms was more than remote. But it amused, it pacified me, as prayer to their self‐invented deities pacifies the devout. I never stay here for long together. If I did the spell might be broken. I go away, I travel. I even experiment in things not usually spoken of; but with a cooler judgment and less morbidly sensitive conscience than of old. I amuse myself after more active and practical fashions in other places. Here I amuse myself only with my idea.”

The even flow of his speech ceased.—“What do you think of it, Helen?” he demanded, almost harshly.

“I think it can’t last. It is too intangible, too fantastic.”

“I admit that to keep it intact needs an infinity of precautions. For instance, I can make no near acquaintance with Naples. I cannot permit myself to see the town at close quarters. I only look at it from here. If I want to go to or from the yacht, I do so at night and in a closed carriage. I took on de Vallorbes’ box at the San Carlo. If any good opera is given I go and hear it. Otherwise I remain exclusively in the house and garden. I am not acquainted with a single soul in the place.”

“And the woman?” Helen exclaimed, a singular emotion at once of envy and protest upon her. “Do you treat her with the same cold‐blooded calculation?”

“Of the woman I know just as much and just as little as I know of Naples. It is conceivable there may be unlovely elements in her character, as well as unlovely quarters of this beautiful city. I have avoided knowledge of both. You see the whole arrangement is designed not for her benefit, but for my own. It’s an elaborate piece of self‐seeking on my part; but, so far, it has really worked rather successfully.”

“It is preposterous. It cannot in the nature of things continue successful,” Helen declared.

“I am not so sure of that,” he replied calmly. “Even the most preposterous of religious systems proves to have a remarkable power of survival. Why not this one? In any case, neither the success nor the failure depends on me. I shall be true, on my part. The rest depends on her.”

As Richard spoke he turned, leaning his back against the page: 395 balustrade, his face away from the sunlight and the wide view. Again the extent of his deformity became arrestingly apparent to Madame de Vallorbes.

“Has this woman ever been here?” she asked.

“Yes—she has been here.”

“And then? And then?” Helen cried.

The young man looked up at her, his face keen yet impassive, his eyes—as windows opening onto endless perspectives of empty space—telling nothing. She recognised, once again, that he was very strong. She also recognised that, notwithstanding his strength, he was horribly sad.

“Ah! then,” he said, “the last of the poor, little, subjective supports and consolations seemed in danger of going overboard and joining their fellows in the uneasy deeps of the sea.—But the history of that will keep till a more convenient season, Cousin Helen. You have stood in the mid‐day sun, and I have talked about myself, quite long enough. However, it was only fair to acquaint you with the limited resources in the way of society and amusement offered by your present dwelling. There are horses and carriages of course. Give what orders you please. Only remember both the town and the surrounding country are pretty rough. It is not fit for a lady to drive by herself. Always take your own man, or one of mine, with you if you go out. I hope you won’t be quite intolerably bored. Ask for whatever you want.—You let me dine with you? Thanks.”

CHAPTER III

HELEN DE VALLORBES APPREHENDS VEXATIOUS COMPLICATIONS

FOUR gowns lay outspread upon the indigo‐purple, embroidered coverlet of the bed. The after‐glow of an orange and crimson sunset touched the folds of them, ranged upward to the vaultings of the frescoed ceiling, and stained the lofty walls as with the glare of a furnace. Sea‐greens, sea‐blues, died in the heat of it, abashed and vanquished. But so did not Madame de Vallorbes’ white lawn and lace peignoir, or her abundant hair, which Zélie Forestier—trim of figure, and sour of countenance—was in the act of dressing. These caught the fiery light and held it, so that from head to foot Helen appeared as an image of living gold. Sitting before the toilet‐table, her reflection in the great, oval mirror pleased her.

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“Which shall I wear?”

“That depends upon the length of time madame proposes to stay here. The black dress might be worn on several occasions with impunity. The peacock brocade, the eau de Nil, the crocus yellow, but once—twice at the uttermost. They are ravishing costumes, but wanting in repose. They are unsuited for frequent repetition.”

Zélie’s lean fingers twisted, puffed, pinned, the shining hair very skilfully.

“I will put on the black dress.”

“Relieved by madame’s parure of pink topaz?”

“Yes, I will wear the pink topazes.”

“Then it will be necessary to modify the style of madame’s coiffure.”

“There is plenty of time.”

Helen took a hand‐glass from the table and leaned forward in the low, round‐backed chair—faithful copy of a fine classic model. She wanted to see the full glory of the after‐glow upon her profile, upon her neck and bosom. Thus might Cassiopeia, glass in hand, in her golden chair sit in high heaven!—Helen smiled at the pretty conceit. But the glory was already departing. Sea‐blues, sea‐greens, sad by contrast, began to reassert their presence on walls and carpet and hangings.

“The black dress? Madame decides to remain then?”

As she spoke the lady’s‐maid laid out the jewels,—chains, bracelets, brooches,—each stone set in a rim of tiny rose‐knots of delicate workmanship. As she fingered them little, yellow‐pink flames seemed to dance in their many facets. Then the after‐glow died suddenly. The flames ceased to dance. Helen’s white garments turned livid, her neck and bosom grey—and that, somehow, was extremely unpleasing to Madame de Vallorbes.

“Light the candles,” she said, almost sharply. “Yes, I remain. Do hurry, Zélie. It is impossible to see. I detest darkness. Hurry. Do you suppose I want to stay here all night? And look—you must bring that chain farther forward. It is not graceful. Make it droop. Let it follow the line of my hair so that the pendant may fall there, in the centre. You have it too much to the right. The centre—the centre—I tell you. There, let the drop just clear my forehead.”

Thus admonished the Frenchwoman wound the jewels in her mistress’ hair. But Madame de Vallorbes remained dissatisfied. The day had been one of uncertainty, of conflicting emotions; and Helen’s love of unqualified purposes was page: 397 great. Confusion in others was highly diverting. But in herself—no thank you! She hated it. It touched her self‐confidence. It endangered the absoluteness of her self‐belief and self‐worship. And these once shaken, small superstitions assaulted her. In trivial happenings she detected indication of ill‐luck. Now Zélie’s long, narrow face, divided into two unequal portions by a straight bar of black eyebrow, and her lean hands as reflected in the mirror, awoke unreasoning distrust. They appeared to be detached from the woman’s dark‐clothed person, the outlines of which were absorbed in the increasing dimness of the room. The sallow face moved, peered, the hands clutched and hovered, independent and unrelated, about Helen’s graceful head.

“For pity’s sake, more candles, Zélie!” she repeated. “You. look absolutely diabolic in this uncertain light.”

“In an instant, madame. I am compelled first to fix this curl in place.”

She accomplished the operation with most admired deliberation, and moved away more than once, to observe the effect, before finally adjusting the hair‐pin.

“I cannot but regret that madame is unable to wear her hair turned back from the face. Such an arrangement confers height and an air of spirituality, which, in madame’s case, would be not only becoming but advantageous.”

Helen skidded the hand‐glass down upon the dressing‐table, causing confusion amid silver‐topped pots and bottles, endangering a jar of hyacinths, upsetting a tray of hair‐pins.

“Have I not repeatedly given you orders never to allude to that subject?” she cried.

The maid was on her knees calmly collecting the scattered contents of the tray.

“A thousand pardons, madame,” she said, with a certain sour impudence. “Still, it must ever be a matter of regret to anyone truly appreciating madame’s style of beauty, that she should be always constrained to wear her hair shading her forehead.”

Modern civilisation imposes restrictions even upon the most high‐spirited. At that moment Madame de Vallorbes was ripe for the commission of atrocities. Had she been—as she coveted, to be—a lady of the Roman decadence it would have gone hard with her waiting‐woman, who might have found herself ordered for instant execution or summarily deprived of the organs of speech. But, latter‐day sentiment happily forbidding such active expressions of ill‐feeling on the part of the employer towards the employed, Helen was forced to swallow her wrath, page: 398 reminding herself, meanwhile, that a confidential servant is either most invaluable of friends or most dangerous of enemies. There is no viâ media in the relation. And Zélie as an enemy was not to be thought of. She could not—displeasing reflection—afford to quarrel with Zélie. The woman knew too much. Therefore Madame de Vallorbes took refuge in lofty abstraction; while the tiresome uncertainties, the conflicting inclinations of the past day, quick to seize their opportunity,—as is the habit of such discourteous gentry,—returned upon her with redoubled importunity and force.

She had not seen Richard since parting with him at noon, the enigmatic suggestions of his conversation still unresolved, the alternate resentment at his apparent indifference and attraction of his strong and somewhat mysterious personality still vitally present to her. Later, she had driven out to Pozzuoli. But neither stone‐throwing urchins, foul and disease‐stricken beggars, the pale sulphur plains and subterranean rumblings of the Solfaterra, nor stirring of nether fires therein resident by a lanky, wild‐eyed lad—clothed in leathern jerkin and hairy, goatskin leggings—with the help of a birch broom and a few local newspapers, served effectually to rouse her from inward debate and questioning. The comfortable, cee‐spring carriage might swing and sway over the rough, deep‐rutted roads behind the handsome, black, long‐tailed horses, the melodramatic‐looking coachman might lash stone‐throwing urchins and anathematise them, their ancestors and descendants, alike, to the third and fourth generation in the vilest, Neapolitan argot, Charles might resort to physical force in the removal of wailing, alms‐demanding, vermin‐eaten wrecks of humanity, but still Helen asked herself only—should she go? Should she stay? Was the game worth the candle? Was the risk, not only of social scandal, but of possible ennui worth the projected act of revenge? And worth something more than that. For revenge, it must be owned, already took a second place in her calculations. Worth, namely, the enjoyment of possible conquest, the humiliation of possible defeat and rejection, by that strangely coercive, strangely inscrutable being, her cousin, Dickie Calmady?

No man had ever impressed her thus. And she returned on her thought, when first seeing him upon the terrace that morning, that she might lose her head. Helen laughed a little bitterly. She, of all women, to lose her head, to long and languish, to entreat affection, and to be faithful—heaven help us! faithful, could it ever come to that?—like any sentimental schoolgirl, like—and the thought turned her not a little wicked—like Katherine page: 399 Calmady herself! And then, that other woman of whom Richard had told her with a cynical disregard of her own claims to admiration, who on earth could she be? She reviewed those ladies with whom gossip had coupled Richard’s name. Morabita, the famous prima donna, for instance. But surely, it was inconceivable that mountain of fat and good‐nature, with the voice of a seraph, granted, but also with the intellect of a frog, could ever inspire so fantastic and sublimated a passion! And passing from these less legitimate affairs of the heart—in which rumour accredited Richard with being very much of a pluralist—her mind travelled back to the young man’s projected marriage with Lady Constance Decies, sometime Lady Constance Quayle. Remembering the slow, sweet baby‐face and gentle, heifer’s eyes, as she had seen them that day at luncheon at Brockhurst, nearly five years ago, she again laughed.—No, very certainly there was no affinity between the glorious and naughty city of Naples and that mild‐natured, well‐drilled, little, English girl! Who was it then—who? But, whoever the fair unknown rival might be, Helen hated her increasingly as the hours passed, regarding her as an enemy, a creature to be exterminated, and swept off the board. Jealousy pricked her desire of conquest. An intrigue with Richard Calmady offered singular, unique, attractions. But the force of such attractions was immensely enhanced by the excitement of wresting his affections away from another woman.

Suddenly, in the full swing of these meditations, as she reviewed them for the hundredth time, Zélie’s voice claimed her attention.

“I made the inquiries madame commanded.”

“Well?” Helen said. She was standing fastening clusters of topaz in the bosom of her dress.

“The servants in this house are very reserved. They are unwilling to give information regarding their master’s habits. I could only learn that Sir Richard occupies the entresol. Communicating as it does with the garden, no doubt it is convenient to a gentleman so afflicted as himself.”

Helen bowed herself together, while the black lace and China‐crape skirt slipped over her head. Emerging from which temporary eclipse, she said:—

“But do people stay here much? Does my cousin entertain? That is what I told you to find out.”

“As I tell madame, the servants are difficult of approach. They are very discreet. They fear their master, but they also adore him. Charles can obtain little more information than page: 400 myself. But he infers that Sir Richard, when at the villa, lives in retirement—that he is subject to fits of melancholy. There will be little diversion for madame it is to be feared! But what would you have? Even though one should be young and rich ce ne serait que peu amusant d’être estropié d’être monstre enfin!”

Helen drew in her breath with a little sigh of content when taking a final look at herself in the oval glass. The soft, floating draperies, the many jewels, each with its heart of quick, yellow‐pink light, produced a combination at once sombre and vivid. It satisfied her sense of artistic fitness. Decidedly she did well to begin with the black dress, since it had in it a quality rather of romance than of worldliness! Meanwhile Zélie, kneeling, straightened out the folds of the long train.

“Ah!” she exclaimed. “I had forgotten also to inform madame that M. Destournelle has arrived in Naples. Charles, thinking of nothing less than such an encounter, met him this morning on the quay of the Santa Lucia.”

Helen wheeled round violently, much to the discomfiture of those carefully adjusted folds.

“Intolerable man!” she cried. “What on earth is he doing here?”

“That, Charles naturally could not inquire.—Will madame kindly remain tranquil for a moment? She has torn a small piece of lace which must be controlled by a pin. Probably monsieur is still en voyage, is visiting friends as is madame herself.”

A sudden distrust that the black dress was too mature, that it constituted an admission of departing youth, invaded Helen. The reflection in the oval mirror once more caused her discomfort.

“Tell Charles that I am no longer acquainted with M. Destournelle. If he presumes to call he is to be refused.”

Helen set her teeth. But whether in anger towards her discarded lover, or the black dress, she would have found it difficult to declare. Again uncertainty held her, suspicion of circumstance, and, in a degree, of herself. The lady’s‐maid, imperturbable, just conceivably impertinent in manner, had risen to her feet.

“There,” she said, “it will be secure for to‐night, if madame will exercise a moderate degree of caution and avoid abrupt movements. Charles says that monsieur inquired very urgently after madame. He appeared dejected and in weak health. He was agitated on meeting Charles. He trembled. A little more and he would have wept. It would be well, perhaps, that madame should give Charles her orders regarding monsieur herself.”

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“You should not have made me wear this gown,” Helen broke out inconsequently. “It is depressing, it is hideous. I want to change it.”

“Impossible. Madame is already a little late, and there is nothing wrong with the costume. Madame looks magnificent. Also her wardrobe is, at present, limited. The evening dresses will barely suffice for a stay of a week, and it is not possible for me to construct a new one under ten days.”

Thereupon an opening of doors and voice from the anteroom, announcing:—

“Dinner is served, my lady. Sir Richard is in the dining‐room.”

And Helen swept forward, somewhat stormy and Cassandra‐like in her dusky garments. Passing out through the high narrow doorway, she turned her head.

“Charles, under no circumstance—none, understand—am I at home to Monsieur Destournelle.”

“Very good, my lady,” and, as he closed the double‐doors, the man‐servant looked at the lady’s‐maid his tongue in his cheek.

But, on the journey through the noble suite of rooms, Helen’s spirits revived somewhat. Her fair head, her warm glancing jewels, her graceful and measured movements, as given back by many tall mirrors, renewed her self‐confidence. She too must be fond of her own image, by the way, that unknown rival to the dream of whose approval Richard Calmady had consecrated these splendid furnishings—witness the multiplicity of looking‐glasses!—And then the prospect of this tête‐á‐tête dinner, the interest of her host’s powerful and enigmatic personality, provoked her interest to the point not only of obliterating remembrance of the ill‐timed advent of her ex‐lover, but of inducing something as closely akin to self‐forgetfulness as was possible to her self‐centred nature. She grew hotly anxious to obtain, to charm—if it might be to usurp the whole field of Richard’s attention and imagination.

A small round table showed as an island of tender light in the dimness of the vast room. And Richard, sitting at it awaiting her coming, appeared more nearly related to the Richard of Brockhurst and of five years ago than he had done during the interview of the morning. In any case, she took him more for granted. While he, if still inscrutable and unsmiling, proved an eminently agreeable companion, ready of conversation, very much at his ease, very much a cultivated man of the world, studious—a little excessively so, she thought—in his avoidance of the personal note. And this at once piqued page: 402 Helen, and incited her to intellectual effort. If this was what he wanted, well, he should have it! If he elected to talk of travel, of ancient and alien religions, of modern literature and art, she could meet him more than half way. Her intelligence ran nimbly from subject to subject, from point to point. She struck out daring hypotheses, indulged in ingenious paradox, her mind charmed by her own eloquence, her body comforted by costly wines and delicate meats. Nor did she fail to listen also, knowing how very dear to every man is the sound of his own voice, or omit to offer refined flattery of quick agreement and seasonable laughter. It was late when she rose from the table at last.

“I have had a delightful dinner,” she said. “Absolutely delightful. And now I will encroach no longer on your time or good‐nature, Richard. You have your own occupations, no doubt. So, with thanks for shelter and generous entertainment, we part for to‐night.”

She held out her hand smiling, but with an admirable effect of discretion, all ardour, all intimacy, kept in check by self‐respect and well‐bred dignity. Madame de Vallorbes was enchanted with the reserve of her own demeanour. Let it be understood that she was the least importunate, the least exacting, the most adaptable, of guests!

Richard took her outstretched hand for the briefest period compatible with courtesy. And a momentary spasm—so she fancied—contracted his face.

“You are very welcome, Helen,” he said. “If it is warm let us breakfast in the pavilion to‐morrow. Twelve—does that suit you? Good‐night.”

Upon the inlaid writing‐table in the anteroom, Helen found a long and impassioned epistle from Paul Destournelle. Perusal of it did not minister to peaceful sleep. In the small hours she left her bed, threw a silk dressing‐gown about her, drew aside the heavy, blue‐purple window curtain and looked out. The sky was clear and starlit. Naples, and its curving lines of innumerable lights, lay outstretched below. In the south‐east, midway between the two, a blood‐red fire marked the summit of Vesuvius. While in the dimly seen garden immediately beneath—the paved alleys of which showed curiously pale, asserting themselves against the darkness of the flower borders, and otherwise impenetrable shadows of the ilex and cypress grove—a living creature moved, black, slow of pace, strange of shape. At first Helen took it for some strayed animal. It alarmed her, exciting her to wildest conjectures as to its nature and purpose, wandering in the grounds of the villa page: 403 thus. Then, as it passed beyond the dusky shade of the trees, she recognised it. Richard Calmady shuffled forward, haltingly, to the terminal wall of the garden, leaned his arms on it, looking down at the beautiful and vicious city and out into the night.

Helen de Vallorbes shivered—the marble floor striking up chill, for all the thickness of the carpet, to her bare feet. Her eyes were hard with excitement and her breath came very quick. Suddenly, yielding to an impulse of superstitious terror, she dragged the curtains together, shutting out that very pitiful sight, and, turning, fled across the room and buried herself, breathless and trembling, between the sheets of the soft, warm, faintly fragrant bed.

“He is horrible,” she said aloud, “horrible! And it has come to me at last. It has come—I love—I love!”

CHAPTER IV

“MATER ADMIRABILIS”

“THERE, there, my good soul, don’t blubber! Hysterics won’t restore Lady Calmady to health, or bring Sir Richard back to England, home, and duty, or be a ha’porth of profit to yourself or any other created being. Keep your tears for the first funeral. For I tell you plainly I shan’t be surprised out of seven days’ sleep if this business involves a visit to the churchyard before we get to the other side of it.”

John Knott stood with his back to the Chapel‐Room fire, his shoulders up to his ears, his hands forced down into the pockets of his riding‐breeches. Without, black‐thorn winter held the land in its cheerless grasp. The spring was late. Night frosts obtained, followed by pallid, half‐hearted sunshine in the early mornings, too soon obliterated by dreary, easterly blight. This afternoon offered exception to the rule only in the additional discomfort of small, sleeting rain and a harsh skirling of wind in the eastward‐facing casements.—“Livery weather,” the doctor called it, putting down his existing lapse from philosophic tolerance to insufficient secretions of the biliary duct.

Before him stood Clara—sometime. Dickie Calmady’s devoted nurse and playfellow—her eyes very bright and moist, the reds and whites of her fresh complexion in lamentable disarray.

“I’d never have believed it of Sir Richard,” she asserted chokingly. “It isn’t like him, so pretty as he was in all his page: 404 little ways, and loving to her ladyship, and civilly behaved to everybody, and careful of hurting anybody’s feelings—more so than you’d expect in a young gentleman like him. No! it isn’t like him. In my opinion he’s been got hold of by some designing person, who’s worked on him to keep him away to serve their own ends. There, I’d never have believed it of him, that I wouldn’t!”

The doctor’s massive head sank lower, his massive shoulders rose higher, his loose lips twisted into a snarling smile.

“Lord bless you, that’s nothing new! We none of us ever do believe it of them when the little beggars are in long clothes, or first breeched for that matter. It’s a trick of Mother Nature’s—one‐idead old lady, who cares not a pin for morality, but only for increase. She knows well enough if we did believe it of them we should clear them off wholesale, along with the blind kittens and puppies. A bucket full of water, and broom to keep them under, would make for a mighty lessening of subsequent violations of the Decalogue! Don’t tell me King Herod was not something of a philanthropist when he got to work on the infant population of Bethlehem. One woman wept for each of the little brats then; but his Satanic Majesty only knows how many women wouldn’t have had cause to weep for each one of them later, if they’d been spared to grow up.”

While speaking, Dr. Knott kept his gaze fixed upon his companion. His humour was none of the gentlest truly, yet he did not let that obscure the main issue. He had business with Clara, and merely waited till the reds and whites of her comely face should have resumed their more normal relations before pursuing it. He talked, as much to afford her opportunity to overcome her emotion, as to give relief to his own. Though now well on the wrong side of sixty, John Knott was hale and vigorous as ever. His rough‐hewn countenance bore even closer resemblance, perhaps, to that of some stone gargoyle carved on cathedral buttress or spout. But his hand was no less skilful, his tongue no less ready in denunciation of all he reckoned humbug, his heart no less deeply touched, for all his superficial irascibility, by the pains, and sins, and grinding miseries, of poor humanity, than of old.

“That’s right now,” he said approvingly, as the heaving of Clara’s bosom became less pronounced. “Wipe your eyes, and keep your nerves steady. You’ve got a head on your shoulders—always had. Well, keep it screwed on the right way; for you’ll need all the common sense that is in it if we are to pull Lady Calmady through. Do?—To begin with this, give her page: 405 food every two hours or so. Coax her, scold her, reason with her, cry even.—After all, I give you leave to, just a little, if that will serve your purpose and not make your hand shake—only make her take nourishment. If you don’t wind up the clock regularly, some fine morning you’ll find the wheels have run down.”

“But her ladyship won’t have anyone sit up with her.”

“Very well, then sleep next door. Only go in at twelve and two, and again between five and six.”

“But she won’t have anybody occupy the dressing‐room. It used to be the night nursery you remember, sir, and not a thing in it has been touched since Sir Richard moved down to the Gun‐Room wing.”

“Oh, fiddle‐de‐dee! It’s just got to be touched now, then. I can’t be bothered with sentiment when it’s ten to one whether I save my patient.”

Again sobs rose in Clara’s throat. The poor woman was hard pressed. But that fixed gaze from beneath the shaggy eyebrows was upon her, and, with quaint gurglings, she fought down the sobs.

“My lady’s as gentle as a lamb,” she said, “and I’d give the last drop of my blood for her. But talk of managing her, of making her do anything, as well. try to manage the wind, she’s that set in her ways and obstinate!”

“If you can’t manage her, who can?—Mr. March?”

Clara shook her head. Then reluctantly, for though honestly ready to lay down her life for her mistress, she found it far from easy to invite supersession in respect of her, she said:—“Miss St. Quentin’s more likely to get round my lady than anyone else.”

“Well, then, I’ll talk to her. Where is Miss St. Quentin?”

“Here, Dr. Knott. Do you want me?”

Honoria had strolled into the room from the stairhead, her attention arrested by the all‐too‐familiar sound—since sorrowful happenings often of late had brought him to Brockhurst—of the doctor’s voice. The skirt of the young lady’s habit, gathered up in her left hand, displayed a slightly unconventional length of muddy riding‐boot. The said skirt, her tan, covert coat, and slouched, felt hat, were furred with wet. Her garments, indeed, showed evident traces of hard service, and, though notably well cut, were far from new or smart. They were sad‐coloured, moreover, as is the fashion of garments designed for work. And this weather‐stained, mud‐bespattered costume, taken in connection with her pale, sensitive face, her gallant bearing, and the luminous smile with which she greeted not only Dr. Knott but page: 406 the slightly flustered Clara, offered a picture pensive in tone, but very harmonious, and of a singularly sincere and restful quality. To all, indeed, save those troubled by an accusing conscience and fear of detection, Honoria St. Quentin’s presence brought a sense of security and reassurance at this period of her development. Her enthusiasms remained to her; but they were tempered by a wider experience and a larger charity—at least in the majority of cases.

“I’m in a beastly mess,” she observed casually.

“So are we,” Knott answered.—He had a great liking for this young lady, finding in her a certain stoicism along with a quickness of practical help. “But our mess is worse than yours, in that it is internal rather than external. Yours’ll brush off. Not so ours—eh, Clara? There, you can go. I’ll talk things over with Miss St. Quentin, and she’ll talk ’em over with you later.”

Honoria’s expression had grown anxious. She spoke in a lower tone of voice.

“Is Lady Calmady worse?”

“In a sense, yes—simply because she is no better. And she’s ill, I tell you, just as dangerously ill as any woman can be who has nothing whatever actually the matter with her.”

“Except an only son,” put in Honoria. “I am beginning to suspect that is about the most deadly disease going. The only thing to be said in its favour is that it is not infectious.”

John Knott could not quite keep admiration from his eyes, or provocation from his tongue. He richly enjoyed getting a rise out of Miss St. Quentin.

“I am not so sure of that,” he said. “In the case of beautiful women, judging by history, it has shown a tendency to be recurrently sporadic in any case.”

“Recommend all such to spend a few months at Brockhurst then, under existing circumstances!” Honoria answered. “There will be very little fear for them after that; they will have received such a warning, swallowed such an antidote!—It is like assisting at the infliction of slow torture. It almost gets on one’s brain at times.”

“Why do you stay on then?”

Honoria looked down at her muddy boots and then across at the doctor. She was slightly the taller of the two, for in these days his figure had fallen together and he had taken to stooping. Her expression had a delightful touch of self‐depreciation.

“Why does anyone stay by a sinking ship, or volunteer for page: 407 a forlorn hope? Why do you sit up all night with a case of confluent smallpox, or suck away the poisonous membrane from a diphtheritic throat, as I hear you did only last week? I don’t know. Just because, if we are made on certain lines, we have to, I suppose. One would be a trifle too much ashamed to be seen in one’s own company, afterwards, if one deserted. It really requires less pluck to stick than to run—that’s the reason probably.—But about dear Lady Calmady. The excellent Clara was in tears. Is there any fresh mischief over and above the only son?”

“Not at present. But it’s an open question how soon there may be.—Good‐day, Mr. March. Been riding? Ought to be a bit careful of that cranky chest of yours in this confounded weather.—Lady Calmady?—Yes, as I was telling Miss St. Quentin, her strength is so reduced that complications may arise any day. A chill, and her lungs may go, a shock, and her heart. It comes to a mere question of the point of least resistance. I won’t guarantee the continued soundness of any one organ unless we get changed conditions, a let up of some sort.”

The doctor looked up from under his eyebrows, first at Honoria and then at Julius. He spoke bitterly, defiant of his inclination towards tenderness.

“She’s just worn herself out,” he said, “that’s the fact, in the service of others, loving, giving, attempting the impossible in the way of goodness all round. ‘Be not righteous over much’—there’s a text to that effect in the Scriptures, Mr. March, isn’t there? Preach a good, rattling sermon on it next Sunday to Lady Calmady, if you want to keep her here a bit longer. Nature abhors a vacuum. Granted. But nature abhors excess, even of virtue. And punishes it just as harshly as excess of vice.—Yes, I tell you, she’s worn herself out.”

Miss St. Quentin dropped into a chair and sat bowed together, her hands on her knees, her feet rather far apart. The brim of her hat, pulled down in front to let the rain run off, partially concealed her face. She was not sorry, for a movement of defective courage was upon her, evidence of which she preferred to keep to herself. Julius March remained silent. And this she resented slightly, for she badly wanted somebody to say something, either vindictive or consolatory. Then, indignation getting the better alike of reticence and charity, she exclaimed:—

“It is unpardonable. It ought to be impossible one person should have power to kill another by inches, like this, with impunity.”

Ludovic Quayle had sauntered into the room behind Julius page: 408 March. He too was wet and dirty, but such trifles in no wise affected the completeness of his urbanity. His long neck directed forward, as in polite inquiry, he advanced to the little group by the fire, and took up his station beside Honoria’s chair.

“Pardon me, my dear Miss St. Quentin,” he asked sweetly, “but why the allusions to murder? What is unpardonable?”

“Sir Richard Calmady’s conduct,” she answered shortly. She threw back her head and addressed Dr. Knott. “It is so detestably unjust. What possible quarrel has he with her, after all?”

“Ah! that—that—lies very deep. A thing, perhaps, only a man, or a mother, can quite comprehend,” the doctor answered slowly.

Honoria’s straight eyebrows drew together. She objected to extenuating circumstances in this connection, yet, as she admitted, reason usually underlay all Dr. Knott’s statements. She divined, moreover, that reason just now touched upon matters inconveniently intimate. She abstained, therefore, from protest or comment. But, since feminine emotion, even in the least weakly of the sex, is bound to find an outlet, she turned upon poor Mr. Quayle.

“He is your friend,” she said. “The rest of us are helpless. You ought to take measures. You ought to suggest a remedy.”

“With all the pleasure in life,” the young man answered. “But you may remember that you delivered yourself of precisely the same sentiments a year and a half ago. And that, fired with the ardour of a chivalrous obedience, I fled over the face of the European continent in hot pursuit of poor, dear Dickie Calmady.”

“Poor, dear!” ejaculated Honoria.

“Yes, very much poor, dear, through it all,” the young man affirmed. “Breathless, but still obedient, I came up with him at Odessa.”

“What was he doing there?” put in the doctor.

Mr. Quayle regarded him not without humour.

“Really, I am not my friend’s keeper, though Miss St. Quentin is pleased to make me a handsome present of that enviable office. And so—well—I didn’t inquire what he was doing. To tell the truth, I had not much opportunity, for though I found him charming,—yes, charming, Miss St. Quentin,—I also found him wholly unapproachable regarding family affairs. When, with a diplomatic ingenuity upon which I cannot but page: 409 congratulate myself, I suggested the advisability of a return to Brockhurst, in the civilest way in the world he showed me the door. Impertinence is not my forte. I am by nature humble‐minded. But, I give you my word, that was a little episode of which I do not crave the repetition.”

Growling to himself, clasping his hands behind his back, John Knott shifted his position. Then, taken with that desire of clergy‐baiting, which would seem to be inherent in members of the Faculty, he addressed Julius March.

“Come now,” he said, “your pupil doesn’t do you an overwhelming amount of credit it must be admitted, still you ought to be able to give an expert’s opinion upon the tendencies of his character. How much longer do you allow him before he grows tired of filling his belly with the husks the swine eat?”

“God knows, not I,” Julius answered sadly, but without rancour. “I confess to the faithlessness of despair at times. And yet, being his mother’s son, he cannot but tire of it eventually, and when he does so the revulsion will be final, the restoration complete.”

“He’ll die the death of the righteous? Oh yes! I agree there, for there’s fine stuff in him, never doubt that. He’ll end well enough. Only the beginning of that righteous ending, if delayed much longer, may come a bit too late for the saving of my patient’s life and—reason.”

“Do you mean it is as serious as all that?” Ludovic asked with sudden anxiety.

“Every bit as serious!—Oh! you should have let your sister marry him, Mr. Quayle. Then he would have settled down, come into line with the average, and been delivered from the morbid sense of outlawry which had been growing on him—it couldn’t be helped, on the whole he’s kept very creditably sane in my opinion—from the time he began to mix freely in general society. I’m not very soft or sickly sentimental at my time of day, but I tell you it turns my stomach to think of all he must have gone through, poor chap. It’s a merciless world, Miss St. Quentin, and no one knows that better than we case‐hardened old sinners of doctors.—Yes, your sister should have married him, and we might have been saved all this. I doubted the wisdom of the step at the time. But I was a fool. I see now his mother’s instinct was right.”

Mr. Quayle pursed up his small mouth and gently shrugged his shoulders.

“It is a delicate subject on which to offer an opinion,” he said. “I debated it freely in the privacy of my inner conscious‐ page: 410 ness at the time, I assure you. If Lady Calmady had lighted upon the right, the uniquely right, woman—perhaps—yes. But to shore up a twenty‐foot, stone wall with a wisp of straw,—my dear doctor, does that proceeding approve itself to your common sense? And, as is a wisp of straw to such a wall, so was my poor, little sister,—it’s hardly flattering to my family pride to admit it,—but thus indeed was she, and no otherwise, to Dickie Calmady.”

Whereupon Honoria glanced up gratefully at the speaker, for even yet her conscience pricked her concerning the part she had played in respect of that broken engagement. While John Knott, observant of that upward glance, was once again struck by her manifest sincerity, and the gallant grace of her, heightened by those workmanlike and mud‐bespattered garments. And, being so struck, he was once again tempted by, and once again yielded himself to, the pleasures of provocation.

“Marry him yourself, Miss St. Quentin,” he growled, a touch of earnest behind his raillery, “marry him yourself and so set the rest of us free of the whole pother. I’d back you to handle him, or any fellow living, with mighty great success if you’d the mind to!”

For a moment it seemed open to question whether that very fair fish might not make short work of angler as well as of bait. But Honoria relented, refusing provocation. And this not wholly in mercy to the speaker, but because it offered her an opportunity of reading Mr. Quayle a, perhaps useful, lesson. Her serious eyes narrowed, and her upper lip shortened into a delightful smile.

“Hopeless, Dr. Knott!” she answered. “To begin with he’ll never ask me, since we like each other very royally ill. And to end with”—she carefully avoided sight of Mr. Quayle—“I—you see—I’m not what you call a marrying man.”

CHAPTER V

EXIT CAMP

ABOUT twenty minutes later the young lady, still booted and spurred, opened the door which leads from the Chapel‐Room into Lady Calmady’s bed‐chamber. As she did so a gentle warmth met her, along with a sweetness of flowers. Within, the melancholy of the bleak twilight was mitigated by page: 411 the soft brightness of a pink‐shaded lamp, and a fitful flickering of firelight. This last, playing upon the blue‐and‐white, Dutch tiling of the hearth and chimney‐space, conferred a quaint effect of activity upon the actors in the biblical scenes thereon depicted. The patriarch Abraham visibly flourished his two‐inch sword above the prostrate form of hapless Isaac. The elders pranced, unblushingly, in pursuit of the chaste Susanna. While poor little Tobit, fish in hand, clung anxiously to the flying draperies of his long‐legged, and all‐too‐peripatetic, guardian angel. Such profane vivacity, on the part of persons usually accounted sacred, offered marked and almost cynical contrast to the extreme quiet otherwise obtaining, accentuated the absoluteness, deepened the depth, of it. For nothing stirred within the length and breadth of the room, nor did any smallest sound disturb the prevailing silence. At these southward‐facing casements no harsh wind shrilled. The embroidered curtains of the state‐bed hung in stiff, straight folds. The many‐coloured leaves and branches of the trees of the Forest of This Life were motionless. Care, the leopard, crouched, unobservant, forgetful to spring; while the Hart was fixed spell‐bound in the midst of its headlong flight. A spell seemed, indeed, to rest on all things, which had in it more than the watchful hush of the ordinary sick‐room. It suggested a certain moral attitude—a quiet, not acquiesced in merely, but promoted.

Upon Honoria—her circulation quickened by recent exercise, her cheeks still tingling from the stinging sleet, her retina still retaining impressions of the stern grandeur of the wide‐ranging fir woods and grey‐brown desolation of the moors—this extreme quiet produced an extremely disquieting effect. Passing from the Chapel‐Room and the society of her late companions—all three persons of distinct individuality, all three possessing, though from very differing standpoints, a definitely masculine outlook on life—into this silent bed‐chamber, she seemed to pass with startling abruptness from the active to the passive, from the objective to the subjective side of things, from the world that creates to that which obeys, merely, and waits. The present and masculine, with its clear practical reason, its vigorous purposes, was exchanged for a place peopled by memories only, dedicated wholly to submissive and patient endurance. And this fell in extremely ill with Honoria’s present humour; while the somewhat unseemly antics of the small, scriptural personages, pictured upon the chimney‐space and hearth, troubled her imagination, in that they added a point of irony to this apparent triumph of the remote over the immediate, of tradition over fact.

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Nor as, stung by unspoken remonstrance, she approached Lady Calmady was this sense of intrusion into an alien region lessened; or her appreciation of the difficulties of the mission she had been deputed by doctor, priest, and amiable, young fine‐gentleman—her late companions—to fulfil, by any means lightened.

For Katherine lay back in the great rose‐silk and muslin‐covered arm‐chair, at right angles to the fireplace, motionless, not a participant merely, so it seemed to the intruder, in that all‐embracing quiet, but the very source and centre of it, its nucleus and heart. The lines of her figure were shrouded in a loose, wadded gown of dove‐coloured silk, bordered with swans‐down. A coif of rare, white lace covered her upturned hair. Her eyes were closed, the rim of the eye‐socket being very evident. While her face, though smooth and still graciously young, was so emaciated as to appear almost transparent. Now, as often before, it struck Honoria that a very exquisite spiritual quality was present in her aspect—her whole bearing and expression betraying, less the languor and defeat of physical illness, than the exhaustion of long sustained moral effort, followed by the calm of entire self‐dedication and renunciation of will.

On the table at her elbow were a bowl of fresh‐picked violets and greenhouse‐grown tea‐roses, some books of the hour, both English and French, a miniature of Dickie at the age of thirteen—the proud, little head and its cap of close‐cropped curls showing up against a background of thick‐set foliage. On the table, too, lay a well‐worn, vellum‐bound copy of that holiest of books ever, probably, conceived by the heart and written by the hand of man—Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. It was open at the chapter which is thus entitled—“Of the Zealous Amendment of our Whole Life.” While close against it was a packet of Richard’s letters—those curt, businesslike communications, faultlessly punctual in their weekly arrival, which, while they relieved her anxiety as to his material well‐being, stabbed his mother’s heart only less by the little they said, than by all they left unsaid.

And looking upon that mother now, taking cognisance of her surroundings, Honoria St. Quentin’s young indignation, once again, waxed hot. While, since it was the tendency of her mind to run eagerly towards theory, to pass from the particular to the general, and instinctively to apprehend the relation of the individual to the mass, looking thus upon Katherine, she rebelled, not only against the doom of this one woman, but against that doom of universal womanhood of which she offered, page: 413 just now, only too eloquent an example. And a burning compassion animated Honoria for all feminine as against all masculine creatures; for the bitter patience demanded of the passive, as against the large latitude permitted the active principle; for the perpetual humiliation of the subjective and spiritual under the heavy yoke of the objective and practical; for the brief joy and long barrenness of all those who are condemned to obey and to wait, merely, as against those who are born to command and to create.

From a child she had been aware of the element of tragedy inherent in the fact of womanhood. It had quickened exaggerations of sentiment in her at times, and pushed her into not a little knight‐errantry,—witness the affair of Lady Constance Quayle’s engagement. But, though more sober in judgment than of old and less ready to set her lance in rest, the existence of that tragic element had never disclosed itself more convincingly to her than at the present moment, nor had the necessity to attempt the assuaging of the smart of it called upon her with more urgent voice. Yet she recognised that such attempt taxed all her circumspection, all her imaginative sympathy and tact. Very free criticism of the master of the house, of his sins of omission and commission alike, were permissible in the Chapel‐Room and in the presence of her late companions. The subject, unhappily, had called for too frequent mention, by now, for any circumlocution to be incumbent in the discussion of it. But here, in the brooding quiet of this bed‐chamber, and in Lady Calmady’s presence, all that was changed. Trenchant statements of opinion, words of blame, were proscribed. The sinner, if spoken of at all, must be spoken of with due reticence and respect, his wilfulness ignored, the unloveliness of his conduct gently, even eagerly, explained away.

And, therefore, it came about that this fair champion of much‐wronged womanhood, though fired with the zeal of righteous anger, had to go very softly and set a watch before her lips. But as she paused, fearful to break in too abruptly upon Lady Calmady’s repose, she began to question fearfully whether speech was, in truth, still available as a means of communication between herself and the object of her solicitude. For Lady Calmady lay so very still, her sweet face showed so transparent against the rose‐silk, muslin‐covered pillows, that the younger woman was shaken by a swift dread that Dr. Knott’s melancholy predictions had already found fulfilment, and that the lovely, labour‐wasted body had already let the valiant, love‐wasted soul depart.

“Cousin Katherine, dear Cousin Katherine,” she called very page: 414 gently, under her breath; and then waited almost awestricken, sensible, to the point of distress, alike of the profound quiet, which it seemed as an act of profanity to have even assayed to break, and of the malign activity of those little, scriptural figures anticking so wildly in the chimney‐space and on the hearth.

Seconds, to Honoria of measureless duration, elapsed before Lady Calmady gave sign of life. At length she moved her hands, as though gathering, with infinite tenderness, some small and helpless creature close and warm against her bosom. Honoria’s vision grew somewhat blurred and misty. Then, with a long‐drawn, fluttering sigh, Katherine looked up at the tall, straight figure.

“Dick—ah, you’ve come in! My beloved—have you had good sport?” she said.

Honoria sat down on the end of the sofa, bowing her head.

“Alas, alas, it is only me, Cousin Katherine. Nothing better than me, Honoria St. Quentin. Would that it were someone better,” and her voice broke.

But Lady Calmady had come into full possession of herself.

“My dear, I must have been dozing, and my thoughts had wandered far on the backward road, as is the foolish habit of thoughts when one grows old and is not altogether well and strong.”—Katherine spoke faintly, yet with an air of sweetly playful apology. “One is liable to be confused, under such circumstances, when one first wakes—and—you have the smell of the sleet and the freshness of the moors upon you.” She paused, and then added:—“But, indeed, the confusion of sleep once past, I could hardly have anything dearer for my eyes first to light on than your very dear self.”

Hearing which gracious words, indignation in the cause of this woman, burning compassion for the wrongs and sorrows of universal womanhood, both of which must be denied utterance, worked very forcibly in Honoria. She bent down and taking Lady Calmady’s hand kissed it. And, as she did this, her eyes were those of an ardent, yet very reverent lover, and so, when next she spoke, were the tones of her voice.

But Katherine, still anxious to repair any defect in her recognition and greeting, and still with that same effect of playful self‐depreciation, spoke first.

“I had been reviewing many things, with the help of blessèd Thomas à Kempis here, before I became so drowsy. The dear man lays his finger smartly upon all the weak places in one’s fancied armour of righteousness. It is sometimes not quite easy to be page: 415 altogether grateful to him. For instance, he has pointed out to me conclusively that I grow reprehensibly selfish.”’

“Oh, come, come!” Honoria answered, in loving raillery. “Thomas is acute to the point of lying if he has convinced you of that!”

“Unhappily, no,” Katherine returned. “I know it, I fear, without any pointing of Thomas’s finger. But I rather shirked admission of my knowledge—well, for the very bad reason that I wanted very badly to put off the day of amendment. Now the holy man has touched my witness and”—she turned her head against the pillows and looked full at the younger woman, while her under‐lip quivered a little. “My dear, I have come to be very greedy of the comfort of your companionship. I have been tempted to consider not your advantage, but solely my own. The pointing finger of Thomas has brought it home to me that Brockhurst and I are feeding upon your generosity of time, and helpfulness, to an unconscionable extent. We are devouring the best days of your life, and hindering you alike from work and from pleasure. It must not be. And so, my dear, I beg you go forth, once more, to all your many friends and to society. You are too young, and too gifted, to remain here in this sluggish back‐water, alongside a derelict like me. It is not right. You must make for the open stream again and let the free wind and the strong current bear you gladly on your appointed course. And my gratitude and my blessing will go with you always. But you must delay no longer. For me you have done enough.”

For a little space Honoria held her friend’s hand in silence.

“Are—are—you tired of me then?” she said.

“Ah, my dear!” Katherine exclaimed. And the exclamation was more reassuring, somehow, than any denial could have been.

“After all,” Honoria went on, “I really don’t see why you’re to have a monopoly of faithfulness. There’s selfishness now, if you like—to appropriate a virtue en bloc, not leaving a rag, not the veriest scrappit of it for anybody else! And then, has it never occurred to you, that I may be just every bit as greedy of your companionship as you of mine—more so, I fancy, because—because”—

Honoria bowed her head and kissed the hand she held, once again.

“You see—I know it sounds as if I was rather a beast—perhaps I am—but I never cared for anyone—really to care, I mean—till I cared for you.”

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“My dear!”—Katherine said again, wondering, shrinking somewhat, at once touched and almost repulsed. The younger woman’s attitude was so far removed from her own experience.

“Does it displease you? Does it seem to you unnatural?” Honoria asked quickly.

“A little,” Lady Calmady answered, smiling, yet very tenderly.

“All the same it’s quite true. You opened a door, somehow, that had always been shut. I hardly believed in its existence. Of course I had read plenty about the—affections, shall we call them? And had heard women and girls, and men, too, for that matter, talk about them pretty freely. But it bored me a good deal. I thought it all rather silly, and rather nasty perhaps.”—Honoria shook her head. “It didn’t appeal to me in the least. But when you opened the door”—she paused, her face very grave, yet with a smile on it, as she looked away at the little figures anticking upon the hearth. “Oh, dear me, I own I was half scared,” she said, “it let in such a lot of light!”

But, for this speech, Lady Calmady had no immediate answer. And so the quiet came back, settling down sensibly on the room again—even as, when at dawn the camp is struck, the secular quiet of the desert comes back and possesses its own again. And, in obedience to that quiet, Katherine’s hand rested passively in the hand of her companion, while she gazed wonderingly at the delicate, half‐averted face, serious, lit up by the eagerness of a vital enthusiasm. And, having a somewhat sorrowful fund of learning to draw upon in respect of the dangers which all eccentricity, either of character or development, inevitably brings along with it, she trembled, divining that noble and strong and pure though it was, that face, and the temperament disclosed by it, might work sorrow, both to its possessor and to others, unless the enthusiasm animating it should find some issue at once large and simple enough to engage its whole aspiration and power of work.

But abruptly Honoria broke up the brooding quiet, laughing gently, yet with a catch in her throat.

“And when you had let in the light, Cousin Katherine, good heavens, how thankful I was I had never married. Picture finding out all that after one had bound oneself, after one had given oneself! What an awful prostitution.”—Her tone changed and she stroked the elder woman’s hand softly. “So you see you can’t very well order me off, the pointing finger of Thomas notwithstanding. You have taught me”—

“Only half the lesson as yet,” Katherine said. “The other page: 417 half, and the doxology which closes it, neither I, nor any other woman, can teach you.”

“You really believe that?”

“Ah! my dear,” Katherine said, “I do more than believe. I know it.”

The younger woman regarded her searchingly. Then she shook her charming head.

“It’s no good to arrive at a place before you’ve got to it,” she declared. “And I very certainly haven’t got to the second half of the lesson, let alone the doxology, yet. And then I’m so blissfully content with the first half, that I’ve no disposition to hurry. No, dear Cousin Katherine, I am afraid you must resign yourself to put up with me for a little while longer. Your foes, unfortunately, are of your own household in this affair. Dr. Knott has just been holding forth to us—Julius March, and Mr. Quayle, and me—and swearing me over not only to stay, but to make you eat and drink and come out of doors, and even to go away with me. Because—yes, in a sense your Thomas is right with his pointing finger, though he got a bit muddled, good man, not being quite up‐to‐date, and pointed to the wrong place”—

Honoria left her sentence unfinished. She knelt down—her tall, slender figure, angular, more like that of a youth than like that of a maid, in her spare, mud‐stained habit and coat. Impulsively she put her hands on Lady Calmady’s hips, laid her head in her lap.

“Have you but one blessing, oh! my more than mother?” she cried. “Do we count for nothing, all the rest of us—your household, and tenants rich and poor, and Julius the faithful, and Ludovic the bland, and that queer lump of sagacity and ugliness, John Knott? Why will you kill yourself? Why will you die and leave us all, just because one person is perverse? That’s hardly the way to make us—who love you—bear with and pity him and welcome him home.—Oh! I know I am treading on dangerous ground and venturing to approach very close. But I don’t care—not a hang! We’re at the end of our patience. We want you, and we mean to have you back.”

Honoria raised herself, knelt bolt upright, her hands on the arms of Lady Calmady’s chair, her expression full of appeal.

“Be kind to us, be kind,” she said. “We only ask you, after all, to eat and drink—to let Clara take care of you at night, and let me do so by day.—And then, when you are stronger, you must come away with me, up north, to Ormiston. You have not page: 418 been there for years, and its grey towers are rather splendid overlooking that strong, uneasy, northern sea. It stirs the Viking blood in one, and makes that which was hard seem of less moment. Roger and Mary are there, too—will be all this summer. And you know it refreshed you to see them last year. And if we go pretty soon the boys will be at school, so they won’t tire you with their racketing. They’re jolly monkeys, though, in my opinion, Godfrey wants smacking. He comes the elder‐brother a lot too much over poor, little Dick.—But that’s neither here nor there. Oh! it’s for you to get out of the backwater into the stream, ten times more than for me. Dearest physician, heal thyself!”

But Katherine, though deeply touched by the loving ardour of the younger woman’s appeal, and the revelation of tenderness and watchful care, constantly surrounding her, which that appeal brought along with it, could not rouse herself to any immediate response. Sternly, unremittingly, since the fair July night when Richard had left her nearly five years earlier, she had schooled herself into unmurmuring resignation and calm. In the prosecution of such a process there must be loss as well as gain. And Katherine had, in great measure, atrophied impulse; and, in eradicating personal desire, had come near destroying all spontaneity of emotion. She could still give, but the power of receiving was deadened in her. And she had come to be jealous of the quiet which surrounded her. It was her support and solace. She asked little more than not to have it broken up. She dreaded even affection, should that strive to draw her from the cloistered way of life. The world, and its many interests, had ceased to be of any moment to her. She asked to be left to contemplation of things eternal and to the tragedy of her own heart. And so, though it was beautiful to know herself to be thus cherished and held in high esteem, that beauty came to her as something unrelated, as sweet words good to hear, yet spoken of some person other than herself, or of a self she had ceased to be. All privilege implies a corresponding obligation, and to the meeting of fresh obligations Katherine felt herself not only unequal, but indisposed. And so, she smiled now upon Honoria St. Quentin, leaning back against the rose‐silk and muslin‐covered pillows, with a lovely indulgence, yet rather hopelessly unmoved and remote.

“Ah! my dear, I am beyond all wish to be healed after the fashion you, in your urgent loving‐kindness, would have me,” she said. “I look forward to the final healing, when my many mistakes and shortcomings shall be forgiven and the smart of page: 419 them removed. And I am very tired. I do not think it can be required of me to go back.”

“I know, I know,” Honoria replied.—She rose to her feet and moved across to the fireplace, her straight eyebrows drawn together, her expression one of perplexity. “I must seem a brute for trying to drag you back. When Dr. Knott, and the other two men, asked me to come and reason with you, I was on the edge of refusing. I hardly had the heart to worry you. And yet,” she added wistfully, “after all, in a way, it is just simply your own dear fault. For if you will be a sort of little kingdom of heaven to us, you see, it’s inevitable that, when you threaten to slip away from us, we should play the part of the violent and do our best to take our kingdom by force and keep it in spite of itself.”

“You overrate the heavenliness of the poor little kingdom,” Katherine said. “Its soil has become barren, its proud cities are laid waste. It’s an unprofitable place, believe me, dearest child. Let it be. Seek your fortune in some kingdom from which the glory has not departed and whose motto is not Ichabod.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t do that,” the younger woman answered. “I’ve explained why already. Where my heart is, there, you see, my kingdom is also.”

“Ah! my dear, my dear,” Katherine said, touched, yet somewhat weary.

“And after all it is not wholly for our own sakes we make this fight to keep you.”—Miss St. Quentin’s voice sank. She spoke slowly and as though with reluctance. “We do it for the sake of the person you love best in the world. I don’t say we love him very much, but that is beside the mark, We owe him a certain duty—I, because I am living in his house, the others because they are his friends. When he comes home—as come he surely will—they all say that, even while they blame him—would it not be an almost too cruel punishment if he found Brockhurst empty of your presence? You would not wish that. It’s not a question of me, of course. I don’t count. But you gone, no one—not even the old servants, I believe—would stay. Blame would be turned into something awkwardly near to hatred.”

Lady Calmady’s serenity did not desert her, but a touch of her old loftiness of manner was apparent. And Miss St. Quentin was very glad. Anything, even anger, would be welcome if it dissipated that unnatural, paralysing calm.

“You forget Julius, I think,” she said. “He will be faithful page: 420 to the very end, faithful unto death. And so will another friend of happier days, poor, blind, old Camp.”

A sudden inspiration came to Honoria St. Quentin.

“You must only count on Julius, I am afraid, Cousin Katherine—not on Camp.”

And to her immense relief she perceived Lady Calmady’s serenity give a little. It was as though she came nearer. Her sweet face was troubled, her eyes full of questioning.

“Camp grew a little too tired of waiting about three weeks ago. You did not ask for him”—

“Didn’t I?” Katherine said, smitten by self‐reproach.

“Never once—and so we did not tell you, fearing to distress you.”

Miss St. Quentin came over and sat down on the end of the sofa again. She rested her hands on her knees. Her feet were rather far apart. She fixed her eyes upon the small prophets and patriarchs anticking upon the hearth.

“But it wasn’t really so very bad,” she said reflectively. “And we did all we could to smooth his passage, poor, dear beast, to the place where all good dogs go. We had the vet out from Westchurch two or three times, but there was nothing much he could do. And I thought him a bit rough. Nervousness, I fancy. You see the dog did not like being handled by a stranger, and made it rather hot for him once or twice. I could not let him be worried, poor old man, and so Julius March, and Winter, and I, took turn and turn about with him.”

“Where did he die?”

“In the Gun‐Room, on the tiger‐skin.”—Honoria did not look round. Her voice grew perceptibly husky. “Chifney and I sat up with him that last night.”

“You and Chifney?” Lady Calmady exclaimed, almost in protest.

“Yes. Of course the men would have been as kind as kind could be. Only I had a feeling you would be glad to know I was there, later, when we told you. You see Chifney’s as good as any vet, and I had to have somebody. The dog was rather queer. I did not quite know how to manage him alone.”

Lady Calmady put out her hand. Honoria took it silently, and fell to stroking it once more. It was a declaration of peace, she felt, on the part of the obstinate well‐beloved—possibly a declaration of something over and above peace.

“Winter saw to our creature comforts,” the young lady continued. “Oh, we weren’t starved, I promise you! And Chifney was excellent company.”

page: 421

She hesitated a moment.

“He told me endless yarns about horses—about Doncaster, and Newmarket, and Goodwood. I was greatly flattered at being regarded as sufficiently of the equestrian order to hear all that.—And he told me stories about Richard, when he was quite a little boy—and about his father also.”

Honoria had a conviction the tears were running down Lady Calmady’s cheeks, but she would not look round. She only stroked the hand she held softly, and talked on.

“They were fine,” she said, “some of those stories. I am glad to have heard them. They went home to me. When all is said and done, there is nothing like breeding and pluck, and the courtesy which goes along with them. But after midnight Camp grew very restless. He had his blanket in the big arm‐chair—you know the one I mean—as usual. But he wouldn’t stay there. We had to lift him down. You see his hindquarters were paralysed, and he couldn’t help himself much. It was pathetic. I can’t forget the asking look in his half‐blind eyes. But we couldn’t make out what he wanted. At last he dragged himself as far as the door, and we set it open and watched him, poor, dear beast. He got across the lobby to the bottom of the little staircase”—

The speaker’s breath caught.

“Then we made out what it was. He wanted to get up here, to come to you.—Well, I could understand that! I should want just that myself, shall want it, when it comes to the last. He whimpered when Chifney carried him back into the Gun‐Room.”

Honoria turned her head and looked Lady Calmady in the face. Her own was more than commonly white and very gentle in expression.

“He died in the grey of the morning, with his great head on my lap. I fancy it eased him to have something human, and—rather pitiful—close against him. Julius had just come in to see how we were getting on. I won’t declare he did not say a prayer—I think he did. But I wasn’t quite as steady as I might have been just then.”

She turned her head, looking back at the figures upon the hearth. She was satisfied. Lady Calmady’s long‐sustained calm had given way, and she wept.

“We buried him, in his blanket, under the big Portugal‐laurel, where the nightingale sings, at the corner of the troco‐ground, close to Camp the First and Old Camp. The upper servants came, and Chaplin and Hariburt from the house‐stables, and Chifney and the head‐lad—and some of the gardeners. page: 422 Poor, old Wenham drove up in his donkey‐chair from the west lodge. Julius was there, of course. We did all things decently and in order.”

Honoria’s voice ceased. She sat stroking the dear hand she held and smiling to herself, notwithstanding a chokiness in her throat, for she had a comfortable belief the situation was saved.

Then Clara entered, prepared to encounter remonstrance, bearing a tray.

“It’s all right, Clara,” Miss St. Quentin said. “Lady Calmady is quite ready for something to eat. I’ve been telling her about Camp.”

And Katherine, sitting upright, with great docility and a certain gentle shame, accepted food and drink.

“Since you wish it, dearest,” she said, “and since Julius must not be left alone in a quite empty house.”

“Our kingdom of heaven stays with us then?” Honoria exclaimed joyously.

“Such as it is—poor thing—it will do its best to stay. I thought I had cried my eyes dry forever, long ago. But it seems not. You and Camp have broken up the drought.”

“I have not hurt you?” Honoria said, in sudden penitence.

“No, no—you have given me relief. I was ceasing to be human. The blessed Thomas was right—I grew very selfish.”

“But you’re not displeased with me?” Honoria insisted. Lady Calmady’s playfulness had returned, but with a new complexion.

“Ah! it is a little soon to ask that!” she said. “Still I will go north with you a fortnight hence—go to Ormiston. And by then, perhaps, you may be forgiven. Open the casement, dearest, and let in the wind. The air of this room is curiously dead. Give my love to Julius and Ludovic. Tell them I will come into the Chapel‐Room after dinner to‐night.—What—my child, are you so very glad?—Kiss me.—God keep you.—Now I will rest.”

CHAPTER VI

IN WHICH M. PAUL DESTOURNELLE HAS THE BAD TASTE TO THREATEN TO UPSET THE APPLE‐CART

HELEN DE VALLORBES rose from her knees and slipped out from under the greasy and frayed half‐curtain of the confessional box. The atmosphere of that penitential spot had been such as to make her feel faint and dizzy. She needed to re‐ page: 423 cover herself. And so she stood, for a minute or more, in the clear, cool brightness of the nave of the great basilica, her highly‐civilised figure covered by a chequer‐work of morning sunshine streaming down through the round‐headed windows of the lofty clere‐storey. As the sense of physical discomfort left her she instinctively arranged her veil, and adjusted her bracelets over the wrists of her long gloves. Yet, notwithstanding this trivial and mundane occupation, her countenance retained an expression of devout circumspection, of the relief of one who has accomplished a serious and somewhat distasteful duty. Her sensations were increasingly agreeable. She had rid herself of an oppressive burden. She was at peace with herself and with—almost—all man and womankind.

Yet, it must be admitted, the measure had been mainly precautionary. Helen had gone to confession, on the present occasion, in much the same spirit as an experienced traveller visits his dentist before starting on a protracted journey. She regarded it as a disagreeable, but politic, insurance against possible accident. Her distaste had been increased by the fact that there really were some rather risky matters to be confessed. She had even feared a course of penance might have been enforced before the granting of absolution—this certainly would have been the case had she been dealing with that firm disciplinarian, and very astute man of the world, the Jesuit father who acted as her spiritual adviser in Paris. But here in Naples, happily, it was different. The fat, sleepy, easy‐going, old canon—whose person exuded so strong an odour of snuff that, at the solemnest moment of the confiteor, she had been unable to suppress a convulsive sneeze—asked her but few inconvenient questions. Pretty fine‐ladies will get into little difficulties of this nature. He had listened to very much the same story not infrequently before, and took the position amiably, almost humorously, for granted. It was very wicked, a deadly sin, but the flesh—specially such delicately bred, delicately fed, feminine flesh—is admittedly weak, and the wiles of Satan are many. Is it not an historic fact that our first mother did not escape?—Was Helen’s repentance sincere, that was the point? And of that Helen could honestly assure him there was no smallest doubt. Indeed, at this moment, she abhorred, not only her sin, but her co‐sinner, in the liveliest and most comprehensive manner. Return to him? Sooner the dog return to its vomit! She recognised the iniquity, the shame, the detestable folly, of her late proceedings far too clearly. Temptation in that direction had ceased to be possible.

Then followed the mysterious and merciful words of absolu‐ page: 424 tion. And Helen rose from her knees and slipped out from beneath the frayed and greasy curtain a free woman, the guilt of her adultery wiped off by those awful words, as, with a wet cloth, one would wipe writing off a slate leaving the surface of it clean in every part. Precisely how far she literally believed in the efficacy of that most solemn rite she would not have found it easy to declare. Scepticism warred with expediency. But that appeared to her beside the mark. It was really none of her business. Let her teachers look to all that. To her it was sufficient that she could regard it from the practical standpoint of an insurance against possible accident—the accident of sin proving actually sinful and actually punishable by a narrow‐minded deity; the accident of the veritable existence of heaven and hell, and of Holy Church veritably having the keys of both these in her keeping; the accident—more immediately probable and consequently worth guarding against—that, during wakeful hours, some night, the half‐forgotten lessons of the convent school would come back on her, and, as did sometimes happen, would prove too much for her usually victorious audacity.

But, it should be added that another and more creditable instinct did much to dictate Madame de Vallorbes’ action at this juncture. As the days went by the attraction exercised over her by Richard Calmady suffered increase rather than diminution. And this attraction affected her morally, producing in her modesties, reticencies of speech, even of thought, and prickings of unflattering self‐criticism unknown to her heretofore. Her ultimate purpose might not be virtuous. But undeniably, such is the complexity—not to say hypocrisy—of the human heart, the prosecution of that purpose developed in her a surprising sensibility of conscience. Many episodes in her career, hitherto regarded as entertaining, she ceased to view with toleration, let alone complacency. The remembrance of them made her nervous. What if Richard came to hear of them? The effect might be disastrous. Not that he was any saint; but she perceived that, with the fine inconsistency common to most well‐bred Englishmen, he demanded from the women of his family quite other standards of conduct to those which he himself obeyed. Other women might do as they pleased. Their lapses from the stricter social code were no concern of his. He might, indeed, be not wholly averse to profiting by such lapses. But in respect of the women of his own rank and blood the case was quite otherwise. He was alarmingly capable of disgust. And, not a little to her own surprise, fear of provoking, however slightly, that disgust had become a reigning power with her. Never had page: 425 she felt as she now felt. Her own sensations at once captivated and astonished her. This had ceased to be an adventure dictated by merry devilry, undertaken out of lightness of heart, inspired by a mischievous desire to see dust whirl and straws fly; or undertaken even out of necessity to support self‐satisfaction by ranging herself with cynical audacity on the side of the eternal laughter. This was serious. It was desperate—the crisis, as she told herself, of her life and fate. The result was singular. Never had she been more vividly, more electrically, alive. Never had she been more diffident and self‐distrustful.

And this complexity of sensation served to press home on her the high desirability of insurance against accident, of washing clean, as far as might be possible, the surface of the slate. So it followed that now, standing in the chequer‐work of sunshine within the great basilica, self‐congratulation awoke in her. The lately concluded ceremony, some of the details of which had really been most distasteful, might or might not be of vital efficacy, but, in any case, she had courageously done her part. Therefore, if Holy Church spoke truly, her first innocence was restored. Helen hugged the idea with almost childish satisfaction. Now she could go back to the Villa Vallorbes in peace, and take what measures—

She left the sentence unfinished. Even in thought it is often an error to define. Let the future and her intentions regarding it remain in the vague! She signed to Zélie Forestier—seated on the steps of a side‐chapel, yellow‐paper‐covered novel in hand—to follow her. And, after making a genuflexion before the altar of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, gathered up her turquoise‐coloured skirts—the yellow‐tufa quarries were not superabundantly clean—and pursued her way towards the great main door. The benevolent priest, charmed by her grace of movement, watched her from his place in the confessional, although another penitent now kneeled within the greasy curtain.—Verily the delinquencies of so delectable a piece of womanhood were easily comprehensible! Neither God nor man, in such a case, would be extreme to mark what was done amiss. Moreover, had she not promised generous gifts alike to church and poor? The sin which in an ugly woman is clearly mortal, in a pretty one becomes little more than venial. Making which reflection a kindly, fat chuckle shook his big paunch, and, crossing himself, he turned his attention to the voice murmuring from behind the wooden lattice at his side.

Yet it would appear that abstract justice judged less leniently of the position. For, passing out on to the portico—about the page: 426 base of whose enormous columns half‐naked beggars clustered, exposing sores and mutilations, shrilly clamouring for alms—the dazzling glare of the empty, sun‐scorched piazza behind him, Helen came face to face with no less a personage than M. Paul Destournelle.

It was as though someone had struck her. The scene reeled before her eyes. Then her temper rose as in resentment of insult. To avoid all chance of such a meeting she had selected this church in an unfashionable quarter of the town. Here, at least, she had reckoned herself safe from molestation. And, that precisely in the hour of peace, the hour of politic insurance against accident, this accident of all others should befall her, was maddening! But anger did not lessen her perspicacity. How to inflict the maximum of discomfort upon M. Destournelle with the minimum of risk to herself was the question. An interview was inevitable. She wanted, very certainly, to get her claws into him; but, for safety’s sake, that should be done not in attack, but in defence. Therefore he should speak first, and in his words, whatever those words might be, she promised herself to discover legitimate cause of offence. So, leisurely, and with studied ignorance of his presence, she flung largesse of centissimi to right and left, and, while the chorus of blessing and entreaty was yet loud, walked calmly past M. Destournelle down the wide, shallow steps, from the solid shadow of the portico to the burning sun‐glare of the piazza.

The young maws countenance went livid.

“Do you dare to pretend not to recognise me?” he literally gasped.

“On the contrary I recognise you perfectly.”

“I have written to you repeatedly.”

“You have—written to me with a ridiculous and odious persistence.”

Madame de Vallorbes picked her steps. The pavement was uneven, the heat great. Destournelle’s hands twitched with agitation, yet he contrived not only to replace his Panama hat, but opened his white umbrella as a precaution against sunstroke. And this diverted, even while exasperating, Helen. Measures to ensure personal safety were so characteristic of Destournelle!

“And with what fault, I ask you, can you reproach me, save that of a too absorbing, a too generous, adoration?”

“That fault in itself is very sufficient.”

“Do you not reckon, then, in any degree, with the crime you are in process of committing? Have you no sense of page: 427 gratitude, of obligation? Have you no regret for your own loss in leaving me?”

Helen drew aside to let a herd of goats pass. They jostled one another impudently, carrying their inquisitive heads and short tails erect, at right angles to the horizontal line of their narrow backs. They bleated, as in impish mischief. Their little beards wagged. Their little hoofs pattered on the stone, and the musky odour of them hung in the burning air. Madame de Vallorbes put her handkerchief up to her face, and over the edge of it she contemplated Paul Destournelle. Every detail of his appearance was not only familiar, but associated in her mind with some incident of his and her common past. Now the said details asserted themselves, so it seemed to her, with an impertinence of premeditated provocation.—The high, domed skull, the smooth, prematurely‐thin hair parted in the middle, and waved over the ears. The slightly raised eyebrows, and fatigued, red‐lidded, and vain, though handsome eyes. The straight, thin nose, and winged, open nostrils, so perpetually a‐quiver. The soft, sparse, forked beard which closely followed the line of the lower jaw and pointed chin. The moustache, lightly shading the upper lip, while wholly exposing the fretful and rather sensuous mouth. The long, effeminate, and restless hands. The tall, slight figure. The clothes, of a material and pattern fondly supposed by the wearer to present the last word of English fashion in relation to foreign travel, the colour of them accurately matched to the pale, brown hair and beard.—So much for the detail of the young man’s appearance. As a whole, that appearance was elegant as only French youth ventures to be elegant. Refinement enveloped Paul Destournelle—refinement, over‐sensitised and under‐vitalised, as that of a rare exotic forced into precocious blossoming by application of some artificial horticultural process. And all this—elaborately effective and seductive as long as one should happen to think so, elaborately nauseous when one had ceased so to think—had long been familiar to Helen to the point of satiety. She turned wicked, satiety transmuting itself into active vindictiveness. How gladly would she have torn this emasculated creature limb from limb, and flung the lot of it among the refuse of the Neapolitan gutter!

But, from beneath the shade of his umbrella, the young man recommenced his plaint.

“It is inconceivable that, knowing my cruel capacity for suffering, you should be indifferent to my present situation,” he asserted, half violently, half fretfully. “The whole range of page: 428 history would fail to offer a case of parallel callousness. You, whose personality has penetrated the recesses of my being! You, who are acquainted with the infinite intricacy of my mental and emotional organisation! A touch will endanger the harmony of that exquisite mechanism. The interpenetration of the component parts of my being is too entire. I exist, I receive sensations, I suffer, I rejoice, as a whole. And this lays me open to universal, to incalculable, pain. Now my nerves are shattered—intellectual, moral, physical anguish permeates in every part. I rally my self‐reverence, my nobility of soul. I make efforts. By day I visit spots of natural beauty and objects of art. But these refuse to gratify me. My thought is too turgid to receive the impress of them. Concentration is impossible to me. Feverish agitation perverts my imagination. My ideas are fugitive. I endure a chronic delirium. This by day,” he extended one hand with a despairing gesture, “but by night”—

“Oh, I implore you,” Helen interrupted, “spare me the description of your nights! The subject is a hardly modest one. And then, at various times, I have already heard so very much about them, those nights!”

Calmly she resumed her walk. The amazing vanity of the young man’s speech appeased her in a measure, since it fed her contempt. Let him sink himself beyond all hope of recovery, that was best. Let him go down, down, in exposition of fatuous self‐conceit. When he was low enough, then she would kick him! Meanwhile her eyes, ever greedy of incident and colour, registered the scene immediately submitted to them. In the centre of the piazza, women—saffron and poppy‐coloured handkerchiefs tied round their dark heads—washed, with a fine impartiality, soiled linen and vegetables in an iron trough, grated for a third of its length, before a fountain of debased and flamboyant design. Their voices were alternately shrill and guttural. It was perhaps as well not to understand too clearly all which they said. On the left came a break in the high, painted house‐fronts, off which in places the plaster scaled, and from the windows of which protruded miscellaneous samples of wearing apparel and bedding soliciting much‐needed purification by means of air and light. In the said break was a low wall where coarse plants rooted, and atop of which lay some half‐dozen ragged youths, outstretched upon their stomachs, playing cards. The least decrepit of the beggars, armed with Helen’s largesse of copper coin, had joined them from beneath the portico. Gambling, seasoned by shouts, imprecations, blows, page: 429 grew fast and furious. In the steep roadway on the right a dray, loaded with barrels, creaked and jolted upward. The wheels of it were solid discs of wood. The great, mild‐eyed, cream‐coloured oxen strained, with slowly swinging heads, under the heavy yoke. Scarlet, woollen bands and tassels adorned their broad foreheads and wide‐sweeping, black‐tipped horns, and here and there a scarlet drop their flanks, where the goad had pricked them too shrewdly. And upon it all the unrelenting southern sun looked down, and Helen de Vallorbes’ unrelenting eyes looked forth. One of those quick realisations of the inexhaustible excitement of living came to her. She looked at the elegant young man walking beside her, appraised, measured him. She thought of Richard Calmady, self‐imprisoned in the luxurious villa, and of the possibilities of her, so far platonic, relation to him. She glanced down at her own rustling skirts and daintily‐shod feet travelling over the hot stones; then at the noisy gamblers, then at the women washing, with that consummate disregard of sanitation, food and raiment together in the rusty iron trough by the fountain. The violent contrasts, the violent lights and shadows, the violent diversities of purpose and emotion, of rank, of health, of fortune and misfortune, went to her head. Whatever the risks or dangers, that excitement remained inexhaustible. Nay, those very dangers and risks ministered to its perpetual upflowing. It struck her she had been over‐scrupulous, weakly conscientious, in making confession and seeking absolution. Such timid moralities do not really shape destiny, control or determine human fate. The shouting, fighting youths there, with their filthy pack of cards and few centissimi, sprawling in the unstinted sunshine, were nearer the essential truth. They were the profound, because the practical philosophers. Therefore let us gamble, gamble, gamble, be the stake small or great, as long as the merest flicker of life, or fraction of uttermost farthing, is left! And so, when Destournelle took up his lament again, she listened to him, for the moment, with remarkable lightness of heart.

“I appeal to you in the name of my as yet unwritten poems, my masterpieces, for which France, for which the whole brotherhood of letters, so anxiously waits, to put a term to this appalling chastisement!”

“Delicious!” said Helen, under her breath.

“Your classicism is the natural complement of my mediævalism. The elasticity, the concreteness, of your temperament fertilised the too‐brooding introspectiveness of my page: 430 own. It lightened the reverence which I experience in the contemplation of my own nature. It induced in me the hint of frivolity which is necessary to procure action. Our union was as that of high‐noon and impenetrable night. I anticipated extraordinary consequences.”

“Marriage of a butterfly and a bat? Yes, the progeny should be surprising little animals certainly,” commented Madame de Vallorbes.

“In deserting me you have rendered me impotent. That is a crime. It is an atrocity. You assassinate my genius.”

“Then, indeed, I have reason to congratulate myself on my ingenuity,” she returned, “since I succeed in the assassination of the non‐existent!”

“You, who have praised it a thousand times—you deny the existence of my genius?” almost shrieked M. Destournelle. He was very much in earnest, and in a very sorry case. His limbs twitched. He appeared on the verge of an hysteric seizure. To plague him thus was a charmingly pretty sport, but one safest carried on with closed doors—not in so public a spot.

“I do not deny the existence of anything, save your right to make a scene and render me ridiculous as you repeatedly did at Pisa.”

“Then you must return to me.”

“Oh! la, la!” cried Helen.

“That you should leave me and live in your cousin’s house constitutes an intolerable insult.”

“And where, pray, would you have me live?” she retorted, her temper rising, to the detriment of diplomacy. “In the street?”

“It appears to me the two localities are synonymous—morally.”

Madame de Vallorbes drew up. Rage almost choked her. M. Destournelle’s words stung the more fiercely because the insinuation they contained was not justified by fact. They brought home to her her non‐success in a certain direction. They called up visions of that unknown rival, to whom—ah, how she hated the woman!—Richard Calmady’s affections were, as she feared, still wholly given. That her own relation to him was innocent, filled her with humiliation. First she turned to Zélie Forestier, who had followed at a discreet distance across the piazza.

“Go on,” she said, “down the street. Find a cab, a clean one. Wait in it for me at the bottom of the hill.”

Then she turned upon M. Destournelle.

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“Your mind is so corrupt that you cannot conceive of an honest friendship, even between near relations. You fill me with repulsion—I measured the depth of your degeneracy at Pisa. That is why I left you. I wanted to breathe an uninfected atmosphere. My cousin is a person of remarkable intellectual powers, of chivalrous ideals, and of superior character. He has had great troubles. He is far from well. I am watching over and nursing him.”

The last statement trenched boldly on fiction. As she made it Madame de Vallorbes moved forward, intending to follow the retreating Zélie down the steep, narrow street. For a minute M. Destournelle paused to recollect his ideas. Then he went quickly after her.

“Stay, I implore you,” he said. “Yes, I own at Pisa I lost myself. The agitation of composition was too much for me. My mind seethed with ideas. I became irritable. I comprehend I was in fault. But it is so easy to recommence, and to range oneself. I accept your assurances regarding your cousin. It is all so simple. You shall not return to me. You shall continue your admirable work. But I will return to you. I will join you at the villa. My society cannot fail to be of pleasure to your cousin, if he is such a person as you describe. In a milieu removed from care and trivialities I will continue my poem. I may even dedicate it to your cousin. I may make his name immortal. If he is a person of taste and ideals, he cannot fail to appreciate so magnificent a compliment. You will place this before him. You will explain to him how necessary to me is your presence. He will be glad to co‐operate in procuring it for me. He will understand that in making these propositions I offer him a unique opportunity, I behave towards him with signal generosity. And if, at first, the intrusion of a stranger into his household should appear inconvenient, let him but pause a little. He will find his reward in the development of my genius and in the spectacle of our mutual felicity.”

Destournelle spoke with great rapidity. The street which they had now entered, from the far end of the piazza, was narrow. It was encumbered by a string of laden mules, by a stream of foot passengers. Interruption of his monologue, short of raising her voice to screaming pitch, was impossible to Madame de Vallorbes. But when he ceased she addressed him, and her lips were drawn away from her pretty teeth viciously.

“Oh! you unspeakable idiot!” She said. “Have you no remnant of shame?”

“Do you mean to imply that Sir Richard Calmady would page: 432 have the insolence, is so much the victim of insular prejudice as, to object to our intimacy?”

Madame de Vallorbes clapped her hands together in a sort of frenzy.

“Idiot, idiot,” she repeated. “I wish I could kill you.”

Suddenly M. Paul Destournelle had all his wits about him.

“Ah!” he said, with a short laugh, curiously resembling in its malice the bleating of the little goats, “I perceive that which constitutes the obstacle to our reunion. It shall be removed.”

He lifted his Panama hat with studied elegance, and turning down a break‐neck, side alley, called, over his shoulder:—

À bientôt très chère madame.”

CHAPTER VII

SPLENDIDE MENDAX

UNPUNCTUALITY could not be cited as among Madame de Vallorbes’ offences. Yet, on the morning in question, she was certainly very late for the twelve o’clock breakfast. Richard Calmady—awaiting her coming beneath the glistering dome of the airy pavilion, set in the angle of the terminal wall of the high‐lying garden—had time to become conscious of slight irritation. It was not merely that he was constitutionally impatient of delay, but that his nerves were tiresomely on edge just now. Trifles had power to endanger his somewhat stoic equanimity. But, when at length Helen emerged from the house, irritation was forgotten. Moving through the vivid lights and shadows of the ilex and cypress grove, her appearance had a charm of unwonted simplicity. At first sight her graceful person had the effect of being clothed in a religious habit. Richard’s youthful delight in seeing a woman walk beautifully remained to him. It received satisfaction now. Helen advanced without haste, a certain grandeur in her demeanour, a certain gloom, even as one who takes serious counsel of himself, indifferent to external things, at once actor in, and spectator of, some drama playing itself out in the theatre of his own soul. And this effect of dignity, of self‐recollection, was curiously heightened by her dress—of a very soft and fine woollen material, of spotless white, the lines of it at once flowing and statuesque. While as head‐gear, in place of some startling construction of contemporary, Parisian millinery, she wore, after page: 433 the modest Italian fashion, a black lace mantilla over her bright hair.

Arrived, she greeted Richard curtly; and, without apology for delay, accepted the contents of the first dish offered to her by the waiting men‐servants, ate as though determinedly and putting a force upon herself, and—that which was unusual with her before sundown—drank wine. And, watching her, involuntarily Richard’s thought travelled back to a certain luncheon party at Brockhurst, graced by the presence of genial, puzzle‐headed Lord Fallowfeild and members of his numerous family, when Helen had swept in, even as now, had been self‐absorbed, even as now. Of the drive to Newlands, all in the sad November afternoon, following on that luncheon, he also thought, of communications made by Helen during that drive, and of the long course of event and action directly or indirectly consequent on those communications. He thought of the fog, too, enveloping and almost choking him, when in the early morning driven by furies, still virgin in body as in heart, he had ridden out into a blank and sightless world hoping the chill of it would allay the fever in his blood; and of the fog again, in the afternoon, from out which the branches of the great trees, like famine‐stricken arms in tattered draperies, seemed to pluck evilly at the carriage, as he walked the smoking horses up and down the Newlands drive, waiting for Helen to rejoin him. And now, somehow, that fog seemed to come up between him and the well‐covered breakfast‐table, between him and the radiant expanse of the vivacious, capricious, half‐classic, half‐modern, mercantile city outstretched there, teeming, breeding, fermenting, in the fecundating heat of the noonday sun. The chill of the fog struck cold into his vitals, giving him the strangest physical sensation. Richard straightened himself in his chair, passed his hands across his eyes impatiently. Brockhurst, and all the old life of it, was a subject of which he forbade himself remembrance. He had divorced himself from all that, cut himself adrift from it long ago. By an act of will, he tried to put it out of his mind now. But the fog remained—an actual clouding of his physical vision, blurring all he looked upon, It was horribly uncomfortable. He wished he was alone. Then he might have slipped down from his chair and, according to his poor capacity of locomotion, sought relief in movement.

Meanwhile, silently, mechanically, Helen de Vallorbes continued her breakfast. And as she so continued, in addition to his singular physical sensations of blurred vision and clinging chill, he became aware of a growing embarrassment and constraint page: 434 between himself and his companion. So far, his and her intercourse had been easy and spontaneous, because superficial. Since that first interview on the terrace a tacit agreement had existed to avoid the personal note. Now, for cause unknown, that intercourse threatened entering upon a new phase. It was as though the concentration, the tension, which he observed in her, and of which he was sensible in himself, must of necessity, eventuate in some unbosoming, some act—almost involuntary—of self‐revelation. This unaccustomed silence and restraint seemed to Richard charged with consequences, which, in his present condition of defective volition, he was powerless to prevent. And this displeased him, mastery of surrounding influences being very dear to him.

At last, coffee having been served, the men‐servants withdrew to the house; but the constraint was not thereby lessened. Helen sat upright, her chin resting upon the back of her left hand, her eyes, under their drooping lids, looking out with a veiled fierceness upon the fair and glittering prospect. Richard saw her face in profile. The black mantilla draped her shoulders and bust with a certain austerity of effect. It was evident that—by something—she had been stirred to the extinction of her habitual vivacity and desire to shine. And Richard, for all his coolness of head and rather cynical maturity of outlook, had a restless suspicion of going forth—even as on that foggy morning at Brockhurst—into a blank and sightless world, full of hazardous possibility, where the safe way was difficult of discovery and where masked dangers might lurk. Solicitous to dissipate his discomfort he spoke a little at random.

“You must forgive me for being such an abominably bad host,” he said courteously. “I am not quite the thing this morning, somehow. I had a little go of fever last night. My brain is like so much pulp.”

Helen dropped her hand upon the table as though putting a term to an importunate train of thought.

“I have always understood the villa to be remarkably free from malaria,” she remarked abstractedly.

“So it is. I quite believe that. The servants certainly keep well enough. But so, unfortunately, is not the port.”

Helen turned her head. A vertical line was observable between her arched eyebrows.

“The port?” she repeated.

Richard swallowed his black coffee. Perhaps it might steady him and clear his head. The numbness of his faculties and senses alike exasperated him, filling him with a persuasion he page: 435 would say precisely those things wisdom would counsel to leave unsaid.

“Yes—you know I generally go down and sleep on board the yacht.”

There was a momentary pause. Madame de Vallorbes’ lips parted in a soundless exclamation. Then she pushed back the modest folds of the mantilla, leaving her neck free. The action of her hands was very graceful as she did this, and she looked fixedly at Richard Calmady.

“I did not know that,” she said slowly. Then added, as though reasoning out her own thought:—“And Naples harbour is admittedly one of the most pestilential holes on the face of the earth. Are you not tempting providence in the matter of disease, Richard? Are you not rather wantonly indiscreet?”

“On the contrary,” he answered, and something of mockery touched his expression, “I see it quite otherwise. I have been congratulating myself on the praiseworthy abundance of my discretion.”

And the words were no sooner out of his mouth than Richard cursed himself for a bungler, and a slightly vulgar one at that. But upon his hearer those same words worked a remarkable change. Her gloom, her abstraction, departed, leaving only a pretty pensiveness. She smiled with chastened sweetness upon Richard Calmady—a smile nicely attuned to the semi‐religious simplicity of her dress.

“Ah! perhaps we are both a trifle out of sorts this morning!” she said. “I, too, have had my little turn of sickness—sickness of heart. And that seems unfair, since I rose in the best disposition of spirit. Quite early I went to confession.”

“Confession?” Richard repeated. “I did not know your reconciliation with the Church carried you to such practical lengths.”

“Evidently we are each fated to make small discoveries regarding the habits of the other, to‐day,” she rejoined. “Possibly confession is to me just what those nights spent on board the yacht, lying in that malodorous harbour, are to you!”

Helen’s smile broadened to a dainty naughtiness, infinitely provoking. But pensiveness speedily supervened, She folded her hands upon the edge of the table and looked down at them meditatively.

“I relieved my conscience. Not that there was much to relieve it of, thank Heaven! We have lived austerely enough most of us, this winter in France. Only it becomes a matter of moral, personal cleanliness, after a time, all that—exaggerated, page: 436 but very comfortable. Just as one takes one’s bath twice daily, not that it is necessary but that it is a luxury of physical purity and self‐respect, so one comes to go to confession. That is a luxury of moral purification. It is as a bath to the soul, ministering to the perfection of its cleanliness and health.”

She looked up at Richard smiling, that same dainty naughtiness very present.

“You observe I am eminently candid. I tell you exactly how my religion affects me. I can only reach high‐thinking through acts which are external and concrete. In short, I am a born sacramentalist.”

And Richard listened, interested and entertained. Yet, since that strange blurring of fog still confused his vision and his judgment, vaguely suspicious that he missed the main intent of her speech. Suspicious as one who, listening to the clever patter of a conjurer, detects in it the effort to distract attention from some difficult feat of legerdemain, until that feat has past from attempt merely into accomplished fact.

“And, indirectly, that is where my heart‐sickness comes in,” she continued, with a return to something of her former abstraction and gloom. “I was coming away, coming back here—and I was very happy. It is not often one can say that. And then—pouf—like that,” she brought her hands smartly together, “the charming bubble burst! For, upon the very church steps, I met a man whom I have every cause to hate.”

As she spoke, the fog seemed to draw away, burnt up by the great, flaming sun‐god there. Richard’s brain grew clear—clearer, indeed, than in perfect health—and his still face grew more still than was, even to it, quite natural.

“Well?” he asked, almost harshly.

And Helen, whose faith in her own diplomacy had momentarily suffered eclipse, rejoiced. For the tone of his voice betrayed, not disgust, but anxiety. It stirred her as a foretaste of victory. And victory had become a maddening necessity to her. Destournelle had forced her hand. His natural infirmity of purpose relieved her of the fear he could work her any great mischief. Yet his ingenuity, inspired by wounded vanity, might prove beyond her calculations. It is not always safe to forecast the future by experience of the past in relation to such a being as Destournelle! Therefore it became of supreme importance, before that gentleman had time further to obtrude himself, to bind Richard Calmady by some speech, some act, from which there was no going back. And more than just that. The sight of her ex‐lover, though she now loathed him— page: 437 possibly just because she so loathed him—provoked passion in her. It was as though only in a new intrigue could she rid herself of the remembrance of the old intrigue which was now so detestable to her. She craved to do him that deepest, most ultimate, despite. And passion cried out in her. The sight of him, though she loathed him, had made her utterly weary of chastity. All of which emotions—but held as hounds in a leash, ready to be slipped when the psychological moment arrived, and by no means to be slipped until the arrival of it—dictated the tenor of her next speech.

“Well,” she answered, with an air of half‐angry sincerity altogether convincing, “I really don’t know that I am particularly proud of the episode. I know I was careless, that I laid myself open to the invidious comment, which is usually the reward of all disinterested action. One learns to accept it as a matter of course. And you see Paul Destournelle”—

“Oh, Destournelle!” Richard exclaimed.

“You have read him?”

“Everyone has read him.”

“And what do you think of him?”

“That his technique is as amazingly clever as his thought is amazingly rotten.”

“I know—I know,” she said eagerly. “And that is just what induced me to do all I could for him. If one could cut the canker away, give him backbone and decency, while retaining that wonderful technique, one would have a second and a greater Théophile Gautier.”

Richard was looking full at her. His face had more colour, more animation, than usual.

“If—yes—if,” he returned. “But that same if bulks mighty big to my mind.”

“I know,” she repeated. “Yet it seemed to me worth the attempt. And then, you understand,—who better?—that if one’s own affairs are not conspicuously happy, one has all the more longing the affairs of others should be crowned with success. And this winter specially, among the sordid miseries, disgraces, deprivations, of the siege, one was liable to take refuge in an over‐exalted altruism. It was difficult in so mad a world not to indulge in personal eccentricity—to the neglect of due worship of the great goddess Conventionality. With death in visible form at every street corner, one’s sense of humour, let alone one’s higher faculties, rebelled against the futility of such worship. So many detestable sights and sounds were perpetually presented to one—not to mention broth of abominable things daily for dinner page: 438 —that one turned, with thanksgiving, to beautiful form in art, to perfectly felicitous words and phrases. The meaning of them mattered but little just then. They freed one from the tyranny of more or less disgusting fact. They satisfied eye and ear. One asked nothing more just then—luckily, you will say, since the animal Destournelle has very surely nothing more to give.”

In speaking, Helen pushed her chair back, turning it sideways to the table. Her speech was alive with varied and telling inflections. Her smallest gesture had in it something descriptive and eloquent.

“And so I fell to encouraging the animal,” she continued, almost plaintively, yet with a note of veiled laughter in her voice. “Reversing the order of Circe—Naples inclines one to classic illustration, sometimes a little hackneyed—by the way, speaking of Naples, look at the glory of it all just now, Richard!—I tried to turn, not men to swine, but swine to men. And I failed, of course. The gods know best. They never attempt metamorphosis on the ascending scale! I let Destournelle come to see me frequently. The world advised itself to talk. But, being rather bitterly secure of myself, I disregarded that. If one is aware that one’s heart was finally and long ago disposed of, one ceases to think seriously of that side of things. You must know all that well enough—witness the sea‐born furnishings of my bedroom upstairs.”

For half a minute she paused. Richard made no comment.

“Hard words break no bones,” she added lightly. “And so, to show how much I despised all such censorious cackle, I allowed Destournelle to travel south with me when I left Paris.”

“You pushed neglect of the worship of conventionality rather far,” Richard said.

Helen rose to her feet. Excitement gained on her, as always during one of her delightful improvisations, her talented vivâ voce improvements on dry‐as‐dust fact. She laughed softly, biting her lip. More than one hound had been slipped by now. They made good running. She stood by Richard Calmady, looking down at him, covering him, so to speak, with her eyes. The black mantilla no longer veiled her bright head. It had fallen to the ground, and lay a dark blot upon the mellow fairness of the tesselated pavement. White‐robed, statuesque—yet not with the severe grace of marble, but with that softer, more humanly seductive grace of some figure of cunningly tinted ivory—she appeared, just then, to gather up in herself all the poetry, the intense and vivid light, the victorious vitality, of the clear, burning, southern noon.

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“Ah, well, conventionality proved perfectly competent to avenge herself!” she exclaimed. “The animal Destournelle took the average, the banal view, as might have been anticipated. He had the insane presumption to suppose it was himself, not his art, in which I was interested. I explained his error, and departed. I recovered my equanimity. That took time. I felt soiled, degraded. And then to‐day I meet him again, unashamed, actually claiming recognition. I repeated my explanation with uncompromising lucidity”—

Richard moved restlessly in his chair, looking up almost sharply at her.

“Waste of breath,” he said. “No explanation is lucid if the hearer is unwilling to accept it.”

And then the two cousins, as though they had reached unexpectedly some parting of the ways, calling for instant decision in respect of the future direction of their journey, gazed upon one another strangely—each half defiant of the other, each diligent to hide his own and read the other’s thought, each sensible of a crisis, each at once hurried and arrested by suspicion of impending catastrophe, unless this way be chosen that declined—though it seemed, in good truth, not in their keeping, but in that of blind chance only that both selection and rejection actually resided. And, in this strait, neither habit of society, fine sword‐play of diplomacy and tact, availed to help them. For suddenly they had outpaced all that, and brought up amongst ancient and secular springs of action and emotion before which civilisation is powerless and the ready tongue of fashion dumb.

But even while he so gazed, in fateful suspense and indecision, the fog came up again, chilling Richard Calmady’s blood, oppressing his brain as with an uprising of foul miasma, blurring his vision, so that Helen’s fair, downward‐gazing face was distorted, rendered illusive and vague. And, along with this, distressing restlessness took him, compelling him to seek relief in change of posture and of place. He could not stop to reckon with how that which he proposed to do might strike an onlooker. His immediate sensations filled his whole horizon. Silently he slipped down from his chair, stood a moment, supporting himself with one hand on the edge of the table, and then moved forward to that side of the pavilion which gave upon the garden. Here the sunshine was hot upon the pavement, and upon the outer half of each pale, slender column. Richard leant his shoulder against one of these, grateful for the genial heat.

Since her first and somewhat inauspicious meeting with him in childhood, Helen had never, close at hand, seen Richard page: 440 Calmady walk thus far. She stared, fascinated by that cruel spectacle. For the instant transformation of the apparently tall, and conspicuously well‐favoured, courtly gentleman, just now sitting at table with her, into this shuffling, long‐armed, crippled dwarf was, at first utterly incredible, then portentous, then, by virtue of its very monstrosity, absorbing and, to her, adorable, whetting appetite as veritable famine might. Chastity became to her more than ever absurd, a culpable waste of her own loveliness, of sensation, of emotion, a sin against those vernal influences working in this generous nature surrounding her and working in her own blood. All the primitive instinct of her womanhood called aloud in her that she must wed—must wed. And the strident voice of the great, painted city coming up to her, urgent, incessant, carried the same message; as did the radiant sea, whose white lips kissed the indented coast‐line as though pale and hungry with love. While the man before her, by his very abnormality and a certain secretness inevitable in that, heightened her passion. He was to her of all living men most desirable, so that she must win him and hold him, must see and know.

In a few steps, light as those of the little, rose‐crowned dancer of long ago, she followed him across the shining floor. There was a point of north in the wind, adding exhilaration to the firm sunshine as ice to rare wine. The scent of narcissus, magnolia, and lemon blossom was everywhere. The cypresses yielded an aromatic, myrrh‐like sweetness. The uprising waters of the fountain, set in the central alley, swerved southward, falling in a jewelled rain. Helen, in her spotless raiment, came close and Richard Calmady turned to her. But his eyes no longer questioned hers. They were as windows opening on to empty space, seeing all, yet telling nothing. His face had become still again and inscrutable, lightened only by that flickering, mocking smile. It seemed as though the psychological moment were passed; and social sense, ordinary fashions of civilised intercourse, had not only come back but come to stay.

“I think we will omit Destournelle from our talk in future,” he said. “As a subject of conversation I find he disagrees with me, notwithstanding his felicity of style and his admirable technique. I will give orders which, I hope, may help to protect you from annoyance in future. In this delightful land, by wise exercise of just a little bribery and corruption, it is still possible to make the unwelcome alien prefer to seek health and entertainment elsewhere. Now, will you like to go back to the house?”

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The approach to the pavilion from the lower level of the garden was by a carefully graded slope of Roman brick, set edgewise. At regular intervals of about eighteen inches this was crossed—on the principle of a gang‐plank—by raised, marble treads. Without waiting for his cousin’s reply, Richard started slowly down the slope. At the best of times this descent for him demanded caution. Now his vision was again so queerly blurred that he miscalculated the distance between the two lowest treads, slipped and stumbled, lunging forward. Quick as a cat, Madame de Vallorbes was behind him, her right hand grasping his right elbow, her left hand under his left armpit.

“Ah! Dickie, Dickie, don’t fall!” she cried, a sudden terror in her voice.

Her muscles hardened like steel. It needed all her strength to support him, for he was heavy, his body inert as that of one fainting. For a moment his head rested against her bosom; and her breath came short, sighing against his neck and cheek.

By sheer force of will Richard recovered his footing, disengaging himself from her support, shuffling aside from her.

“A thousand thanks, Helen,” he said.

Then he looked full at her, and she—untender though she was—perceived that the perspective of space on which, as windows might, his eyes seemed to open, was not empty. It was peopled, crowded—even as those steep teeming byways of Naples—by undying, unforgetable misery, by humiliation, by revolt.

“Yes, it is rather unpardonable to be—as I am—isn’t it?” he said. Adding hastily, yet with a certain courteous dignity:—“I am ashamed to trouble you, to ask you—of all people—to run messages for me—but would you go on to the house”—

“Dickie, why may not I help you?” she interrupted.

“Ah!” he said, “the answer to that lies away back in the beginning of things. Even unlucky devils, such as myself, are not without a certain respect for that which is fitting, for seemliness and etiquette. Send one of my men please. I shall be very grateful to you—thanks.”

And Helen de Vallorbes, her passion baulked and therefore more than ever at white heat, swept up the paved alley, amid the sweet scents of the garden, beneath the jewelled rain of the fountain, that point of north in the wind dallying with her as in laughing challenge, making her the more mad to have her way with Richard Calmady, yet knowing that of the two—he and she—he was the stronger as yet.

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CHAPTER VIII

IN WHICH HELEN DE VALLORBES LEARNS HER RIVAL’S NAME

“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.

CHAPTER IX

CONCERNING THAT DAUGHTER OF CUPID AND PSYCHE WHOM MEN CALL VOLUPTAS

THE furniture, though otherwise of the customary proportions, had all been dwarfed. This had been achieved in some cases by ingenious design in its construction, in others by the simple process of cutting down, thus reducing table and chair, couch and bureau, in itself of whatever grace of style, dignity of age, or fineness of workmanship, to an equality of uncomely degradation in respect of height. The resultant effect was of false perspective. Nor was this unpleasing effect lessened by the proportions of the room itself. In common with all those of the entresol, it was noticeably low in relation to its length and width, while the stunted vaultings of its darkly‐frescoed ceiling produced an impression of heaviness rather than of space. Bookcases, dwarfed as were all the other furnishings, lined the walls to within about two feet of the spring of the said vaulting. Made of red cedar and unpolished, the cornices and uprights of them were carved with arabesques in high relief. An antique, Persian carpet, sombre in colouring and of great value, covered the greater portion of the pale, pink and grey, mosaic pavement of the floor. Thick, rusty‐red, Genoa‐velvet curtains were drawn page: 457 over each low, square window. A fire of logs burned on the open hearth. And this, notwithstanding the unaccustomed warmth of the outside air, did but temper the chill atmosphere of the room and serve to draw a faint aroma from the carven cedar wood.

It was here, to his library,—carried downstairs by his menservants as a helpless baby‐child might be,—that Richard Calmady had come when Helen de Vallorbes departed so blithely to her bed‐chamber. And it was here he remained, though nearly two hours had elapsed since then, finding sleep impossible.

For the wakefulness and unrest of rapidly breeding illness were upon him. His senses and his will had been in very active conflict. Desire had licked him, as with fiery tongues, driving him onward. Honour, self‐contempt in face of temptation to sensual indulgence, an aspiration after somewhat stoic asceticism which had come to influence his action of late, held him back. But now, here and alone, the immediately provoking cause of passion removed, reaction against the strain of all that had very sensibly set in. He felt strangely astray, as though drifting at hazard upon the waters of an unquiet, mist‐blinded sea. He was conscious of a deep‐seated preoccupation regarding some matter, which he was alike unable to forget or to define. Formless images perplexed his vision. Formless thoughts pursued one another, as with the hurry of rumoured calamity, through his mind. A desolating apprehension of things insufficiently developed, of the inconclusive, the immature, the unattained, of things mutilated, things unfinished, born out of due time and incomplete, oppressed his fancy. Even the events of the last few hours, in which he had played so considerable a part, took on a shadowy semblance, ceased to appeal to him as realities, began to merge themselves in that all‐pervading apprehension of defectiveness, of that which is wanting, lopped off, so to speak, and docked. It was to him as though all natural, common sense relations were in abeyance, as though his own, usually precise, mental processes were divorced from reason and experience, had got out of perspective, in short—even as this low, wide, cedar‐scented library, of which the vaulted ceiling seemed to approach unduly close to the marble floor, and all its dwarfed furnishings, its squat tables and almost legless chairs, had got out of perspective.

The alternate purposeless energy and weariful weakness of fever, just as the alternate dry flush and trembling chill of it, distressed him. He had slipped on a smoking‐coat, but even page: 458 the weight of this thin, silk garment seemed oppressive, although, now and again, he felt as though around his middle he wore a belt of ice. Not without considerable exertion he rolled forward a couch—wide, high‐backed, legless, mounted upon little wheels—to the vicinity of the fire. He drew himself up on to it and rested among the piled‐up cushions. Perhaps, if he waited, exercising patience, sleep might mercifully visit him and deliver him from this intolerable confusion of mind. Deliver him, too, from that hideous apprehension of universal mutilation, of maimed purposes, maimed happenings, of a world peopled by beings maimed as he was himself, but after a more subtle and intimate fashion—a fashion intellectual or moral rather than merely physical—so that they had to him, just now, an added hatefulness of specious lying, since to ordinary seeing they appeared whole, while whole they truly and actually were not.

Sternly he tried to shake himself free of these morbid fancies, to bring his imagination under control and force himself once again to join hands with reality and common sense. And, to this end, he turned his attention to the consideration of practical matters. He dwelt on the details of the coaling and revictualling of his yacht, upon the objective of the voyage upon which he proposed to start a few days hence. He reviewed the letters which must be written and the arrangements which must be made with a view to putting his cousin legally in possession of the villa, the rent of which he proposed still to pay to her husband. This suite of rooms he would retain for his own use. That was necessary, obligatory. Yet, why must he retain it? He did not propose to return and live here at any future time. This episode was over—or rather, had it not simply failed of completion? Was it not, like all the rest, maimed, lopped off, ungainly docked? Then, where came in the obligation to reserve these rooms? He could not remember. Yet he knew that he was compelled to do so, because—because—

And, once again, Richard’s power of concentration broke down. Once again his thought eluded him, becoming tangled, fugitive, not to be grasped. While, like swarms of shrill squeaking bats disturbed in the recesses of some age‐old cavern by sudden intrusion of voices and of lights, half‐formed visions, half‐formed ideas, once again flapped duskily about him, torturing in their multiplicity alike to his senses and his brain. He fought with them, striving to beat them off in a madness of disgust, half suffocated by the fanning of their foul and stifling wings. Then, exhausted by the conflict, he stumbled and fell, page: 459 while they closed down on him. And he, losing consciousness, slept.

That unconsciousness lasted in point of fact but for a few minutes. Yet to Richard those minutes were as years, as centuries. At length, still heavy with dreamless slumber, he was aware of the stealthy turning of a key in a lock. Little padding foot‐falls, soft as those of some strong, yet dainty, cat‐creature crossed the carpet. A whisper of silk came along with them, like the murmur of the breeze in an oak grove on a clear, hot, summer noon, or the sibilant ripple of the sea upon spaces of fine‐ribbed, yellow sand. And the impression produced upon Richard was delicious, as of one passing from a close room into the open air. Confusion and exhaustion left him. Energy returned. The energy of breeding fever merely; yet to him it appeared that of refreshment, of renewed and abounding health. He was conscious, too, of a will outside himself, acting upon his will—a will self‐secure, impregnable, working with triumphant daring toward a single end. It certainly was unmaimed—in its present manifestation in any case. It told, and with assurance, of completion, of attainment. Yielding himself to it, with something of the recklessness a man yields himself to the poison which yet promises relief, Richard opened his eyes.

Before him stood Helen de Vallorbes. In one hand she carried a little lamp. In the other her high‐heeled, cloth‐of‐gold slippers. Her feet were bare. In the haste of the journey, from her bed‐chamber upstairs through the great rooms and down the marble stairs, the fronts of the sea‐blue, sea‐green dressing‐gown she wore had flown apart, thus disclosing not only her delicate night‐dress, but—since this last was fine to the point of transparency—all the secret loveliness of her body and her limbs. Her shining hair curled low upon her forehead, half concealed her pretty ears, and lay upon her shoulders like a little, golden cape. And, from out this brightness of her hair, the exultant laughter bubbling in her throat, the small lamp carried high in one hand, she looked down at Richard Calmady.

“I waited till the hours grew old and you did not come to me, so I have come to you, Dickie,” she said. “Let what will happen to‐morrow, this very certainly shall happen to‐night—that with you and me Love shall have his own way, speak his own language, be worshipped with the rites, be found in the sacraments, ordained by himself, and to which all nature is, and has been, obedient since life on earth first began!”

Helen set down her lamp, let drop her slippers upon the floor, sprang across the intervening space, fierce, yet graceful, as page: 460 some lithe and amorous beast, flung herself down beside Richard Calmady upon the couch, and caressed him with quick, lascivious fingers, while her lips fastened on his lips.

Not till the grey of a rain‐washed, windy morning had come, and Naples had put off its merry sinning, changing from a city of pleasure to a city of labour and, too often, of callously inflicted pain, did Helen de Vallorbes leave the cedar‐scented library. The fire of logs had burnt itself out upon the hearth, and other fires, perhaps, had pretty thoroughly burnt themselves out likewise. Then, with the extinguished lamp in one hand and her high‐heeled, cloth‐of‐gold slippers in the other, she had run swiftly, barefoot, up the cold, marble stairs, through the suite of lofty rooms, her image, in the bleak dimness of the wet morning, given back by their tall mirrors as that of no mortal woman but some fear‐driven, hurrying ghost. Carefully closing the door of the bed‐chamber behind her, she threw her dressing‐gown aside and buried herself in the luxurious softness of the unslept‐in bed. And she was only just in time. Servants began to move to and fro. The house was awake.

CHAPTER X

THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION

SULLENLY, persistently, the rain came down. In the harbour the wash was just sufficient to make the ravelled fruit‐baskets, the shredded vegetables, the crusts and offal thrown out from the galleys, heave and sway upon the oily surface of the water, while screaming gulls dropped greedily upon the floating refuse, and rising, circled over the black, liquid lanes and open spaces between the hulls of the many ships. But it was insufficient to lift the yacht, tied up to the southern quay of the Porto Grande. She lay there inert and in somewhat sorry plight under the steady downpour. For the moment all the winsome devilry of a smart, sea‐going craft was dead in her; and she sulked, ashamed through all her eight hundred tons of wood and iron, copper, brass, and steel. For she was coaling overdeck, and was grimy from stem to stern. While, arrayed in the cast clothes of all Europe, tattered, undersized, gesticulating, the human scum of Naples swarmed up the steep, narrow planks from the inky lighters and in over her side.

“Beastly dirty job this. Shan’t get her paint clean under a page: 461 week!” the first mate grumbled to his companion, the second mate—a dark‐haired, dreamy‐eyed, West‐country lad, but just out of his teens.

The two officers, in dripping oilskins, stood at the gangway checking the tally of coal‐baskets as they came on board. Just now there was a pause in the black procession, as an empty lighter sheered off, making room for a full one to come alongside, thus rendering conversation momentarily possible.

“Pity the Boss couldn’t have stayed on shore till we were through with it and cleaned up a bit,” the speaker continued. “Makes the old man no end waxy to have anyone on board when the yacht’s like she is. I don’t blame him. She’s as neat and pretty as a white daisy in a green pasture when she’s away to sea. And now, poor little soul, she’s a regular slut.”

“I know I’d ’ave stayed ashore fast enough if I was the Boss,” the boy said, half wistfully. “That villa of his is like a piece of poetry. I keep on saying over to myself how it looks.”

“Oh! it’s not so bad for foreign parts,” the senior officer replied. “And you’re young yet and soft, Penberthy. You’ll come off that presently. England’s best for houses, town and country; and most other things—women, and fights, and even sunshine, for when you do get sunshine at home there’s no spite in it.—Hi! there, you, ganger,” he shouted suddenly, and resentfully, leaning out over the bulwarks, “hurry ’em up a bit, can’t you? You don’t suppose I mean to stand here till the second anniversary of the Day of Judgment, watching your blithering, chicken‐shanked macaronies suck rotten oranges, do you? Start ’em up again. Whatever are you waiting for, man? Start ’em up, I say.”

The boy’s dreamy eyes, full of unwritten verse, dwelt with a curious indifference upon the broken procession of ascending, black figures. He had but lately joined, and to him both the fine vessel and her owner were invested with a certain romance.

“What was the fancy for calling the yacht the Reprieve?” he asked presently.

“Wait till you’ve had the chance to take a good look at Sir Richard, and you’ll answer your question yourself,” the other man answered oracularly. Then he broke out again into sustained invective:—“Hold up there, you little fool of a tightrope‐dancing, bella Napoli gorilla, and don’t go dropping good, honest, Welsh steam‐coal overboard into your confounded, stinking, local sewer! I don’t care to see any of your blamed posturings, don’t flatter yourself. Hold up your grimacing, great‐grandson of a lousy she‐ape, can’t you, and walk straight.—Take page: 462 him all round Sir Richard Calmady’s the best Boss I ever sailed with—one of the sternest, but the civilest too.—Shove ’em along, ganger, will you? Shove ’em along, I say.—He’s one of the few men I’ve loved, I’m not ashamed to say it, Mr. Penberthy, and about the only one I ever remember to have feared, in all my life.”

Meanwhile, if the scene to seaward was cheerless, that to landward offered but small improvement. For the murk of low‐brooding cloud and falling rain blotted out the Castel S. Elmo, and the Capo di Monte and Pizzafalcone heights. Even the Castello del’Ovo down on the shore line, comparatively near at hand, loomed up but a denser mass of indigo‐grey amid the all obtaining greyness. The tall multi‐coloured, many‐shuttered houses fronting the quays—restaurants, cafés, money‐changers’ bureaux, ships’ chandlers, and slop‐shops—looked tawdry and degraded as a clown’s painted face seen by daylight. Thick, malodorous vapours arose from the squalid streets, lying back on the level, and from the crowded shipping of the port. These hung in the stagnant air, about the forest of masts and the funnels of steamers. And the noise of the place was as that of Bedlam let loose.—The long‐drawn, chattering rush of the coal pitched from the baskets down the echoing, iron shoots. The grate and scream of saws cutting through blocks of stone and marble. The grind of heavy wheels upon the broken, irregular flags. The struggling clatter of hoofs, lashing of whips, squeal of mules, savage voices raised in cries and imprecations. The clank and roar of machinery. The repeated bellowing of a great liner, blowing off steam as she took up her berth in the outer harbour. The shattering rattle of the chains of a steam crane, when the monster iron‐arm swung round seeking or depositing its burden and the crank ran out in harsh anger, as it seemed, and defiance. And through all this, as undercurrent, the confused clamour of the ever‐shifting, ever‐present crowd, and the small, steady drip of the rain. Squalid, sordid, brutal even, the coarse actualities of her trade and her poverty alike disclosed, her fictions and her foulness uncondoned by reconciling sunshine, Naples had declined from radiant goddess to common drab.

It was in this character that Richard Calmady, driving yesterday and for the first time through the streets at noon, had been fated to see his so‐fondly‐idealised city. It was in this character that he apprehended it again to‐day, waiting in his deck‐cabin until cessation of the rain and on‐coming of the friendly dusk should render it not wholly odious to sit out on deck. The hours lagged, and into even this bright and usually spotless apartment page: 463 —with its shining, white walls, its dark, blue leather and polished, mahogany fittings—the coal dust penetrated. It rimmed the edge of the books neatly ranged on the racks. It smirched the charts laid out on the square locker‐table below. It drifted in at the cabin windows, along with the babel of sound and the all‐pervading stench of the port. This was, in itself, sufficiently distasteful, sufficiently depressing. And to Richard, just now, the disgust of it came with the heightened sensibility of physical illness, and as accompaniment to an immense private shame and immense self‐condemnation, a conviction of outlawry and a desolation passing speech. He looked for comfort, for promise of restoration, and found none, in things material or things intellectual, in others or in himself. For his mind, always prone to apprehend by images rather than by words, and to advance by analogy rather than by argument, discovered in surrounding aspects and surrounding circumstance a rather hideously apt parable and illustration of its present state. Just as this seemingly fair city was proven, on intimate acquaintance, repulsive beyond the worst he had ever feared and earnestly refused to know of it, so a certain fair woman, upon whom, since boyhood, his best, most chivalrous, most unselfish, affections had centred, was proven—herself, moreover, flagrantly contributing to that proving—vile beyond all that rumour, heard and passionately denied by him, had ever ventured to whisper concerning her. Nor was the misery of this revelation lessened by the knowledge that his own part in it all had been very base. He had sinned before. He would sin again probably. Richard had long ceased to regard these matters from a strictly puritanic standpoint. But this particular sinning was different to any that had gone before, or which could come after it. For it partook—so at least, it now appeared to him—of the nature of sacrilege, since he had sinned against his ideal, degrading that to gross uses which he had agreed with himself to hold sacred, defiling it and, thereby, very horribly defiling himself.

And this disgrace of their relation, his own and hers, the inherent abomination of it all and its inherent falsity, had been forced home on him with a certain violence of directness just in the common course of daily happenings. For among the letters, brought to him along with his first breakfast yesterday after that night of secret licence, had been three of serious import. One was from Lady Calmady; and that he put aside with a certain anger, calling himself unwilling, knowing himself unfit, to read it. Another he tore open. The handwriting was unknown to him. He began reading it in bewilderment. Then he understood.

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“MONSIEUR,”—it ran,—“You are in process of exterminating me. But, since I have reason to believe that no sufficient opportunity has been afforded you of realising the enormity of your conduct, I rally the profoundness of nobility which I discover within me‐ I calm myself. I go further, I explain. Living in retirement, you may not have learned that I am in Naples. I followed your cousin here—Madame de Vallorbes. My connection with her represents the supreme passion of my passionate youth. At once a frenzy and an anodyne, I have found in it the inspiration of my genius in its later development. This work must not be put a stop to. It is too majestic, it is weighted with too serious consequences to the whole of thinking France, of thinking Europe. A less experienced woman cannot satisfy the extravagance of my desires, the demands of my all‐consuming imagination. The reverence with which a person, such as yourself, must regard commanding talent, the concessions he must be willing to make to its necessities, are without limit. This I cannot doubt that you will admit. The corollary is obvious. Either, monsieur, you will immediately invite me to reside with you at your villa—thereby securing for yourself daily intercourse with a nature of distinguished merit—or you will restore Madame de Vallorbes to me without hesitation or delay. Her devotion to me is absolute. How could it fail to be so, since I have lavished upon her the treasures of my extraordinary personality? But a fear of insular prejudice on your part withholds her at this moment from full expression of that devotion. She suffers as well as myself. It will be your privilege to put a term to this suffering by requesting me to join her, or by restoring her to me. To do otherwise will be to prolong the eclipse of my genius, and thereby outrage the conscience of civilised humanity which breathlessly awaits the next utterance of its chosen poet. If you require the consolation of feminine society, marry—it would be very simple—some white‐souled, English miss. But restore to me, to whom her presence is indispensable, this woman of regal passions. I shall present myself at your house to‐day to receive your answer in person. The result of a refusal, on your part, to receive me will be attended by calamitous consequences to yourself.—Accept, monsieur, the expression of my highest consideration,

PAUL AUGUSTE DESTOURNELLE.”

For the moment Richard saw red, mad with rage at the insolence of the writer. And then came the question, was it true, that which this letter implied? Had Helen, indeed, lied to him? page: 465 And, notwithstanding its insane vanity, did this precious epistle give a more veracious account of her relation to the young poet than that which she had herself volunteered? He tried to put the thought from him. Who was he—to‐day of all days—to be nice about the conduct of another? Who was he to sit in judgment? So he turned to his correspondence again, taking another letter, at random, from the pile. And then, looking at the superscription, he turned somewhat sick.

“MON CHER,”— wrote M. de Vallorbes,—“My steward informs me that he has just received your draft for a quarter’s rent of the villa. I thank you a thousand times for your admirable punctuality. Decidedly you are of those with whom it is a consolation to do business. Need I assure you that the advent of this money is far from inopportune, since a grateful country, while showering distinctions upon me with one hand, with the other picks my pocket? I find it not a little expensive this famous military service! But then, ever since I can remember, I have found all that afforded me the slightest active pleasure equally that! And this sport of war, I promise you, is the most excellent sport in which I have as yet participated. It satisfies the primitive instincts more thoroughly than even your English fox‐hunting. A battue of Communards is obviously superior to a battue of pheasants. To the dignity of killing one’s fellow‐men is added the satisfaction of ridding oneself of vermin. It becomes a matter of sanitation and self‐respect. And this, indirectly, recalls to me, that report declares my wife to be with you at Naples. Mon cher je vous en fais câdeau. With you, at least, I know that my honour is safe. You may even instil into her mind some faint conception of the rudiments of morality. To be frank with you, she needs that. A couple of months ago she did me the honour to elope—temporarily, of course—with M. Paul Destournelle. You may have glanced, one day, at his crapulous verses. I suppose honour demanded that I should pursue the guilty pair and account for one, if not both, of them. But I was too busily engaged with my little Communards. We set these gentry up against a wall and dispose of them in batches.. I have had a good deal of this, but, as I say, it has not yet become monotonous. Traits of individual character lend it vivacity. And then, putting aside the exigencies of my profession, I do not know that anything is to be gained by inviting public scandal. You have an English proverb to the effect that one should wash one’s dirty linen at home. This I have tried to do, as you cannot but be aware, all along. If one has had the page: 466 misfortune to marry Messalina, one learns to be philosophic. A few lovers more or less, in that connection, what, after all, does it matter? Indeed, I begin to derive ironical consolation from the fact of their multiplicity. The existence of one would have constituted a reflection upon my charms. But a matter of ten, fifteen, twenty, ceases to be in any degree personal to myself. Only I object to Destournelle. He is too young, too rococco. He represents a descent in the scale. I prefer des hommes mures, generals, ministers, princes. The devil knows we have had our share of such! Your generosity to her has saved us from Jews so far, and from nouveaux riches, by relieving the business of commercial aspects. Give her some salutary advice, therefore, mon cher, and if she becomes inconvenient forward her to Paris. I forgive to seventy‐times‐seven, being still proud enough to struggle after an appearance of social and conjugal decency. Enfin it is a relief to have unburdened myself for once, and you have been the good genius of my unfortunate ménage, for which Heaven reward you.—Yours, in true cousinly regard and supreme reliance on your discretion,

ANGELO LUIGI FRANCESCO DE VALLORBES.”

That this, in any case, had a stamp of sincerity upon it, Richard could not doubt. It must be admitted that he had long ceased to accept Madame de Vallorbes’ estimate of her husband with unqualified belief. But, be that as it might, whether he were a consummate, or merely an average profligate, one thing was certain that this man trusted him—Richard Calmady,—and that he—Richard Calmady—had very vilely betrayed that trust. He stared at the letter, and certain sentences in it seemed to sear him, even as the branding‐iron used on a felon might. This was a new shame, different to, and greater than, any his deformity had ever induced in him, even as evil done is different to, and greater than, evil suffered. Morality may be relative only and conventional. Honour, for all persons of a certain standing and breeding, remains absolute. And it was precisely of his own honour that he had deprived himself. Not only in body, but in character, he was henceforth monstrous. For a while Richard had remained very still, looking at this thing into which he had made himself as though it were external and physically visible to him.

Then, suddenly, he had reached out his hand for his mother’s letter. A decision of great moment was impending. He would know what she had to say before finally making that decision. He wondered bitterly, grimly, whether her words page: 467 would plunge him yet deeper in this abyss of self‐hatred and self‐contempt.

“MY DARLING,”—she wrote,—“I am foolishly glad to learn that you are back at Naples. It gives me comfort to know you are even thus much nearer home and in a country where I too have travelled and of which I retain many dear and delightful recollections. You may be surprised, perhaps, to see the unaccustomed address upon my notepaper and may wonder what has made me guilty of deserting my post. Now, since the worst of it is certainly over, I may tell you that my health has failed a good deal of late. Nothing of a really serious nature—you need not be alarmed about me. But I had got into a rather weak and unworthy state, from which it became very desirable I should rouse myself. Selfishness is insidious, and none the less reprehensible because it takes the apparently innocent form of sitting in a chair with one’s eyes shut! However that best of men, John Knott, brought very bracing influences to bear on me, convincing me of sin—in the gentlest way in the world—by means of Honoria St. Quentin. And so I picked myself up, dear Dickie,—picked the whole of myself up, as I hope, always saving and excepting my self‐indulgent inertia,—and came away here to Ormiston. At first, I confess, I felt very much like a dog at a fair, or the proverbial mummy at a feast. But they all bore with me in the plenty of their kindness; and, in the last week, I have banished the mummy and trained the scared dog to altogether polite and pretty behaviour. Till I came back to it, I hardly realised how truly I loved this place. How should it be otherwise? I met your father first here after his third term at Eton. I remember he snubbed me roundly. I met him again the year before our marriage. Without vanity I declare that then he snubbed me not one little bit. These things are very far away. But to me, though far away, they are very vivid and very lovely. I see them as you, when you were small, so often pleaded to see a fairy landscape by looking through the large end of the gold and tortoiseshell spy‐glass upon my writing‐table. All of which may seem to you somewhat childish and trivial, but I grow an old woman and have a fancy for toys and tender make‐believes—such as fairy landscapes seen through the big end of a spy‐glass. The actual landscape, at times, is a trifle discouragingly rain‐blotted and cloudy!—Roger and Mary are here. Their two boys are just gone back to school again. They are fine, courteous, fearless, little fellows. Roger makes a rather superb middle‐aged man. He has much of my father— page: 468 your grandfather’s reticence and dignity. Indeed, he might prove slightly alarming, was one not so perfectly sure of him, dear creature. Mary remains, as of old, the most wholesome and helpful of women. Yes, it is good to dwell, for a time, among one’s own people. And I cannot but rejoice that my eldest brother has come to an arrangement by which, at his death, your uncle William will receive a considerable sum of money in lieu of the property. This last will go direct to Roger, and eventually to his boys. If your uncle William had a son, the whole matter would be different. But I own it would hurt me that in the event of his death there should be no Ormiston at Ormiston after these many generations. In all probability the place would be sold immediately, for it is an open secret that, through no fault of his own, poor man, William is sadly embarrassed in money matters. And he has other sorrows—of a rather terrible nature, since they are touched with disgrace. But here you will probably detect a point of prejudice, so I had best stop!—I look out upon a grey, northern sea, where ‘the white horses fume and fret’ under a cold, grey, northern sky. The oaks in the park are just thickening with yellow‐green buds. And there, close to my window, perched on a topmost twig, a missel‐thrush is singing, facing the wind like a gentleman. You look out upon a purple sea, I suppose, beneath clear skies and over orange trees and palms. I wonder if any brave bird pipes to you as my storm‐cock to me? It brings up one’s courage to hear his song, so strong and wild and sweet, in the very teeth of the gale too! But now you will have had enough of my news and more than enough. I write to you more freely, you see, than for a long time past, being myself more free of spirit. And therefore I dare add this, in all and every case, my darling, God keep you. And remember, should you weary of wandering, that not only the doors of Brockhurst, but the doors of my heart, stand forever wide open to welcome you home.—Yours always,

K.C.”

Reading which gentle, yet in a sense daring, words, Richard’s shame took on another complexion, but one by no means calculated to mitigate the burning of it. His treachery towards de Vallorbes became almost vulgar and of small moment beside his cruelty to this superbly magnanimous woman, his mother. For, all these years, determinately and of set purpose, defiant of every better impulse, he had hardened his heart against her. To differ from her, to cherish that which was unsympathetic to her, to put aside every tradition in which she had nurtured him, page: 469 to love that which she condemned, to condemn that which she loved—and this, if silently, still unswervingly—had been the ruling purpose of his action. That which had its origin in passionate revolt against his own unhappy disfigurement, had come to be an interest and object in itself. In this quarrel with her—a quarrel intimate, pre‐natal, anterior to consciousness and to volition—he found the justification of his every lapse, his every crookedness of conduct and of thought. Since he could not reach Almighty God, and strike at the eternal First Cause which he held responsible for the inalienable wrong done to him, he would strike, with cold‐blooded persistence, at the woman whom Almighty God had permitted to be His instrument in the infliction of that wrong. And to where had that sustained purpose of striking led him? Even—so he judged just now—to the dishonour and desolation of to‐day, following upon the sacrilegious licence of last night.

All this Richard saw with the alternately groping, benumbed, mental vision and the glaring, mental nakedness of breeding fever. Small wonder that looking for comfort, for promise of restoration, he found none in things material, in things intellectual, in others, or in himself! He felt outcasted beyond hope of redemption; but not repentant, hardly remorseful even, only aware of all that which had happened, and of his own state. For Lady Calmady’s letter was to him little more, as yet, than a placing of facts. To trade upon her magnificent generosity of affection, and seek refuge in those outstretched arms now, with the mark of the branding‐iron so sensibly upon him, appeared to him of all contemptible doings the most radically contemptible. Obviously it was impossible to go back. He must go on rather—out of sight, out of mind. Fantastic schemes of disappearing, of losing himself, far away in remote and nameless places, among the coral islands of the Pacific or the chill majesty of the Antarctic seas, offered themselves to his imagination. The practical difficulties presented by such schemes, their infeasibility, did not trouble him. He would sever all connection with that which had been, with that which had made for good equally with that which had made for evil. By his own voluntary act and choice he would become as a man dead, the disgrace of his malformed body, the closer and more hideous disgrace of his defiled and prostituted soul, surviving in legend merely, as might some ugly, old‐time fable useful for the frightening of unruly babes.

And to that end of self‐obliteration he instantly applied himself, with outward calm, but with the mental hurry and restless‐ page: 470 ness of increasing illness. His first duty was to end the whole matter of his relation to Helen,—Helen shorn of her divinity, convicted liar and wanton, yet mistress still for him, as he feared, of mighty enchantments. So he wrote to her very briefly. The note should be given her later in the day. In it he stated that he should have left the villa before this announcement reached her, left it finally and without remotest prospect of return, since he could not doubt that she recognised, as he did, how impossible it had become that he and she should meet again. He added that he would communicate with her shortly as to business arrangements. That done, he summoned Powell, his valet, bidding him pack. He would go down to the yacht at once. He had received information which made it imperative he should quit Naples immediately.

To be out of all this, rid of it, fairly started on the road of negation of social being, negation of recognised existence, infected him like a madness. But even the most forceful human will must bend to stupidities of detail and of material fact. Unexpected delays had occurred. The yacht was not ready for sea, neither coaled, nor provisioned, nor sound of certain small damages to her machinery. Vanstone, the captain, might mislay his temper, and the first mate expend himself in polysyllabic invective, young Penberthy cease to dream, stewards, engineers, carpenters, cooks, quartermasters, seamen, firemen, do their most willing and urgent best, nevertheless the morning of next day, and even the afternoon of it, still found Richard Calmady seated at the locker‐table of the white‐walled deck‐cabin, his voyage towards self‐obliteration not yet begun.

Charts were out‐spread before him, upon which, at weary intervals, he essayed to trace the course of his coming wanderings. But his brain was dull, he had no power of consecutive thought. That same madness of going was upon him with undiminished power, yet he knew not where he wanted to go, hardly why he wanted to go, only that a blind obsession of going drove him. He was miserably troubled about other matters too—about that same brief letter he had written to Helen before leaving the villa. He was convinced that he had written such a letter; but struggle as he might to remember the contents of it they remained to him a blank. He was haunted by the fear that in that letter he had committed some irremediable folly, had bound himself to some absurdly unworthy course of action. But what it might be escaped and, in escaping, tortured him. And then, this surely was Friday, and Morabita sang at the San Carlo to‐night? And surely he had promised to page: 471 be there, and to meet the famous prima donna and sup with her after the performance, as in former days at Vienna? He had not always been quite kind to her, poor, dear, fat, good‐natured, silly soul! He could not fail her now.—And then he went back to a chart of the South Pacific again. Only he could not see it plainly, but saw, instead of it, the great folio of copper‐plate engravings lying on the broad window‐seat of the eastern bay of the Long Gallery at home. He was sitting there to watch for the racehorses coming back from exercise, Tom Chifney pricking along beside them on his handsome cob. And the long‐ago, boyish desperation of longing for wholeness, for freedom, brought a moistness to his eyes, and a lump into his throat. And all the while the coal dust drifted in at each smallest crevice and aperture; and the air was vibrant with rasping, jarring uproar and nauseous with the stale, heavy odours of the city and the port. And steadily, ceaselessly, the descending rain drummed upon the roofing overhead.

At length a stupor took him. His head sank upon his arms, folded upon those outspread charts, while the noise of all the rude activities surrounding him subtly transformed itself into that of a great orchestra. And above this, superior to, yet nobly supported by it, Morabita’s voice rose in the suave and passionate phrases of the glorious cavatina—“Ernani, Ernani, involami, all’abborito ampleso.”—Yes, her voice was as good as ever! Richard drew a long breath of relief. Here at least, was something true to itself; and amid so much of change, so much of spoiling, still unspoilt!—He raised his head and listened. For something must have happened, something of serious moment. The orchestra, for some unaccountable reason, had suddenly broken down. Yes, it must be the orchestra which disaster had overtaken, for a voice very certainly continued. No, not a voice, but voices—those of Vanstone the captain, and Price the first mate, and old Billy Jinn the boatswain—loud, imperative, violently remonstrant; but swept under and swamped at moments by cries and volleys of foulest, Neapolitan argot from hoarse, Neapolitan throats. And that abruptly silenced orchestra?—Richard came back to himself, came back to actualities of environment and prosaic fact. An infinitely weariful despair seized him. For the sound that had reached so sudden a termination was not that of cunningly‐attuned musical instruments, but the long‐drawn, chattering rush of the coal, pitched from the baskets down the echoing, iron shoots.

The cabin door opened discreetly and Powell, incarnation of page: 472 decorous punctualities even amid existing tumultuously discomposing circumstances, entered.

“From the villa, sir,” he said, depositing letters and newspapers upon the table.

Richard put out his hand, turned them over mechanically. For again, somehow, and notwithstanding the babel without, that exquisite invitation—“Ernani, Ernani, involami,”—assailed his ears.

The valet waited a little, quiet and deferential in bearing, yet observing his master with a certain keenness and anxiety.

“I saw Mr. Bates, as you desired, sir,” he said at last.

Richard looked up at him vaguely. And it struck him that while Powell was on shore to‐day he had undoubtedly had his hair cut. This interested him—though why, he would have found it difficult to say.

“Mr. Bates thought you should be informed that a gentleman called early yesterday afternoon, as he said by appointment.”

Yes—certainly Powell had had his hair cut.—“Did the gentleman give his name?”

“Yes, sir, M. Paul Destournelle.”

Powell spoke slowly, getting his tongue carefully round the foreign syllables, and, for all the confusion of his hearer’s mind, the name went home. Vagueness passed from Richard’s glance.

“He was refused, of course.”

“Her ladyship had given orders that should any person of that name call he was to be admitted.”—Powell spoke with evident reluctance. “Consequently Mr. Bates was uncertain how to act, having received contrary orders from you, sir, the day before yesterday. He explained this to her ladyship, but she insisted.”

Richard’s mind had become perfectly lucid.

“Very well,” he said coldly.

“Mr. Bates also thought you should know, sir, that after M. Destournelle’s visit her ladyship announced she should not remain at the villa. She left about five o’clock, taking her maid. Charles followed with all the baggage.”

The valet paused. Richard’s manner was decidedly discouraging, yet, something further must at least be intimated.

“Her ladyship gave no address to Mr. Bates for the forwarding of her letters.”

But here the cabin door, left slightly ajar by Powell, was opened wide, and that with none of the calm and discretion displayed by the functionary in question. A long perspective of page: 473 grimy deck behind him, his oilskins shiny from the wet, with trim black beard, square‐made, bold‐eyed, hot‐tempered, warm‐hearted, alert, humorous—typical West Countryman as his gentle dreamy cousin, Penberthy, the second mate, though of a very different type—stood Captain Vanstone. His easily‐ruffled temper suffered from the after effects of what is commonly known as a “jolly row,” and his speech was curt in consequence thereof.

“Sorry to disturb you, Sir Richard,” he said, “and still more sorry to disappoint you, but it can’t be helped.”

Dickie turned upon him so strangely drawn and haggard a countenance, that Vanstone with difficulty repressed an exclamation. He looked in quick inquiry at the valet, who so far departed from his usual decorum as to nod his head in assent to the silent questioning.

“What’s wrong now?” Richard said.

“Why, these beggarly rascals have knocked off. Price offered them a higher scale of pay. I had empowered him to do so. But they won’t budge. The rain’s washed the heart out of them. We’ve tried persuasion and we’ve tried threats—it’s no earthly use. Not a basket more coal will they put on board before five to‐morrow morning.”

“Can’t we sail with what we have got?”

“Not enough to carry us to Port Said.”

“What will be the extent of the delay this time?” Richard asked. His tone had an edge to it.

Again Captain Vanstone glanced at the valet.

“With luck we may get off to‐morrow about midnight.”

He stepped back, shook himself like a big dog, scattering the water off his oilskins in a shower upon the slippery deck. Then he came inside the cabin and stood near Richard. His expression was very kindly, tender almost.

“You must excuse me, sir,” he said. “I know it doesn’t come within my province to give you advice. But you do look pretty ill, Sir Richard. Everyone’s remarking that. And you are ill, sir—you know it, and I know it, and Mr. Powell here knows it. You ought to see a doctor, sir—and if you’ll pardon plain language, this beastly cess‐pit of a harbour is no fit place for you to sleep in.”

And poor Dickie, after an instant of sharp annoyance, touched by the man’s honest humanity smiled upon him—a smile of utter weariness, utter hopelessness.

“Perfectly true. Get me out to sea then, Vanstone. I shall be better there than anywhere else,” he said.

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Whereupon the kindly sailor‐man turned away swearing gently into his trim, black beard.

But the valet remained, impassive in manner, actively anxious at heart.

“Have you any orders for the carriage, sir?” he asked. “Garçia drove me down. I told him to wait until I had inquired.”

Richard was long in replying. His brain was all confused and clouded again, while again he heard the voice of the famous soprano—“Ernani, Ernani, involami.”

“Yes,” he said at last. “Tell Garçia to be here in good time to drive me to the San Carlo. I have an appointment at the opera to‐night.”

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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