Moon and Sixpence, by Somerset Maugham
Part 3 out of 5
"I have no patience with you. Do you think if you were ill he
would stir a finger to help you?"
"But what does that matter? I should have you to nurse me.
It wouldn't be necessary. And besides, I'm different;
I'm not of any importance."
"You have no more spirit than a mongrel cur. You lie down on
the ground and ask people to trample on you."
Stroeve gave a little laugh. He thought he understood the
reason of his wife's attitude.
"Oh, my poor dear, you're thinking of that day he came here to
look at my pictures. What does it matter if he didn't think
them any good? It was stupid of me to show them to him.
I dare say they're not very good."
He looked round the studio ruefully. On the easel was a
half-finished picture of a smiling Italian peasant, holding a
bunch of grapes over the head of a dark-eyed girl.
"Even if he didn't like them he should have been civil.
He needn't have insulted you. He showed that he despised you,
and you lick his hand. Oh, I hate him."
"Dear child, he has genius. You don't think I believe that I
have it. I wish I had; but I know it when I see it, and I
honour it with all my heart. It's the most wonderful thing in
the world. It's a great burden to its possessors. We should
be very tolerant with them, and very patient."
I stood apart, somewhat embarrassed by the domestic scene,
and wondered why Stroeve had insisted on my coming with him.
I saw that his wife was on the verge of tears.
"But it's not only because he's a genius that I ask you to let
me bring him here; it's because he's a human being, and he is
ill and poor."
"I will never have him in my house -- never."
Stroeve turned to me.
"Tell her that it's a matter of life and death.
It's impossible to leave him in that wretched hole."
"It's quite obvious that it would be much easier to nurse him
here," I said, "but of course it would be very inconvenient.
I have an idea that someone will have to be with him day and night."
"My love, it's not you who would shirk a little trouble."
"If he comes here, I shall go," said Mrs. Stroeve violently.
"I don't recognize you. You're so good and kind."
"Oh, for goodness sake, let me be. You drive me to distraction."
Then at last the tears came. She sank into a chair,
and buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook
convulsively. In a moment Dirk was on his knees beside her,
with his arms round her, kissing her, calling her all sorts of
pet names, and the facile tears ran down his own cheeks.
Presently she released herself and dried her eyes.
"Leave me alone," she said, not unkindly; and then to me,
trying to smile: "What must you think of me?"
Stroeve, looking at her with perplexity, hesitated.
His forehead was all puckered, and his red mouth set in a pout.
He reminded me oddly of an agitated guinea-pig.
"Then it's No, darling?" he said at last.
She gave a gesture of lassitude. She was exhausted.
"The studio is yours. Everything belongs to you. If you want
to bring him here, how can I prevent you?"
A sudden smile flashed across his round face.
"Then you consent? I knew you would. Oh, my precious."
Suddenly she pulled herself together. She looked at him with
haggard eyes. She clasped her hands over her heart as though
its beating were intolerable.
"Oh, Dirk, I've never since we met asked you to do anything for me."
"You know there's nothing in the world that I wouldn't do for
"I beg you not to let Strickland come here. Anyone else you like.
Bring a thief, a drunkard, any outcast off the streets,
and I promise you I'll do everything I can for them gladly.
But I beseech you not to bring Strickland here."
"I'm frightened of him. I don't know why, but there's something
in him that terrifies me. He'll do us some great harm.
I know it. I feel it. If you bring him here it can only end badly."
"But how unreasonable!"
"No, no. I know I'm right. Something terrible will happen to us."
"Because we do a good action?"
She was panting now, and in her face was a terror which was
inexplicable. I do not know what she thought. I felt that
she was possessed by some shapeless dread which robbed her of
all self-control. As a rule she was so calm; her agitation
now was amazing. Stroeve looked at her for a while with
"You are my wife; you are dearer to me than anyone in the world.
No one shall come here without your entire consent."
She closed her eyes for a moment, and I thought she was going
to faint. I was a little impatient with her; I had not
suspected that she was so neurotic a woman. Then I heard
Stroeve's voice again. It seemed to break oddly on the
"Haven't you been in bitter distress once when a helping hand
was held out to you? You know how much it means. Couldn't you
like to do someone a good turn when you have the chance?"
The words were ordinary enough, and to my mind there was in
them something so hortatory that I almost smiled. I was
astonished at the effect they had on Blanche Stroeve.
She started a little, and gave her husband a long look.
His eyes were fixed on the ground. I did not know why he
seemed embarrassed. A faint colour came into her cheeks,
and then her face became white -- more than white, ghastly;
you felt that the blood had shrunk away from the whole surface
of her body; and even her hands were pale. A shiver passed
through her. The silence of the studio seemed to gather body,
so that it became an almost palpable presence. I was bewildered.
"Bring Strickland here, Dirk. I'll do my best for him."
"My precious," he smiled.
He wanted to take her in his arms, but she avoided him.
"Don't be affectionate before strangers, Dirk," she said.
"It makes me feel such a fool."
Her manner was quite normal again, and no one could have told
that so shortly before she had been shaken by such a great
Next day we moved Strickland. It needed a good deal of
firmness and still more patience to induce him to come, but he
was really too ill to offer any effective resistance to
Stroeve's entreaties and to my determination. We dressed him,
while he feebly cursed us, got him downstairs, into a cab, and
eventually to Stroeve's studio. He was so exhausted by the
time we arrived that he allowed us to put him to bed without a word.
He was ill for six weeks. At one time it looked as
though he could not live more than a few hours, and I am
convinced that it was only through the Dutchman's doggedness
that he pulled through. I have never known a more difficult
patient. It was not that he was exacting and querulous;
on the contrary, he never complained, he asked for nothing,
he was perfectly silent; but he seemed to resent the care that
was taken of him; he received all inquiries about his feelings
or his needs with a jibe, a sneer, or an oath. I found him
detestable, and as soon as he was out of danger I had no
hesitation in telling him so.
"Go to hell," he answered briefly.
Dirk Stroeve, giving up his work entirely, nursed Strickland
with tenderness and sympathy. He was dexterous to make him
comfortable, and he exercised a cunning of which I should
never have thought him capable to induce him to take the
medicines prescribed by the doctor. Nothing was too much
trouble for him. Though his means were adequate to the needs
of himself and his wife, he certainly had no money to waste;
but now he was wantonly extravagant in the purchase of
delicacies, out of season and dear, which might tempt
Strickland's capricious appetite. I shall never forget the
tactful patience with which he persuaded him to take nourishment.
He was never put out by Strickland's rudeness;
if it was merely sullen, he appeared not to notice it; if it
was aggressive, he only chuckled. When Strickland, recovering
somewhat, was in a good humour and amused himself by laughing
at him, he deliberately did absurd things to excite his ridicule.
Then he would give me little happy glances, so that
I might notice in how much better form the patient was.
Stroeve was sublime.
But it was Blanche who most surprised me. She proved herself
not only a capable, but a devoted nurse. There was nothing in
her to remind you that she had so vehemently struggled against
her husband's wish to bring Strickland to the studio.
She insisted on doing her share of the offices needful to the sick.
She arranged his bed so that it was possible to change the
sheet without disturbing him. She washed him. When I
remarked on her competence, she told me with that pleasant
little smile of hers that for a while she had worked in a hospital.
She gave no sign that she hated Strickland so desperately.
She did not speak to him much, but she was quick to
forestall his wants. For a fortnight it was necessary that
someone should stay with him all night, and she took turns at
watching with her husband. I wondered what she thought during
the long darkness as she sat by the bedside. Strickland was a
weird figure as he lay there, thinner than ever, with his
ragged red beard and his eyes staring feverishly into vacancy;
his illness seemed to have made them larger, and they had an
"Does he ever talk to you in the night?" I asked her once.
"Do you dislike him as much as you did?"
"More, if anything."
She looked at me with her calm gray eyes. Her expression was
so placid, it was hard to believe that she was capable of the
violent emotion I had witnessed.
"Has he ever thanked you for what you do for him?"
"No," she smiled.
Stroeve was, of course, delighted with her. He could not do
enough to show his gratitude for the whole-hearted devotion
with which she had accepted the burden he laid on her.
But he was a little puzzled by the behaviour of Blanche and
Strickland towards one another.
"Do you know, I've seen them sit there for hours together
without saying a word?"
On one occasion, when Strickland was so much better that in a
day or two he was to get up, I sat with them in the studio.
Dirk and I were talking. Mrs. Stroeve sewed, and I thought I
recognised the shirt she was mending as Strickland's. He lay
on his back; he did not speak. Once I saw that his eyes were
fixed on Blanche Stroeve, and there was in them a curious irony.
Feeling their gaze, she raised her own, and for a moment
they stared at one another. I could not quite understand
her expression. Her eyes had in them a strange perplexity,
and perhaps -- but why? -- alarm. In a moment Strickland
looked away and idly surveyed the ceiling, but she continued
to stare at him, and now her look was quite inexplicable.
In a few days Strickland began to get up. He was nothing but
skin and bone. His clothes hung upon him like rags on a
scarecrow. With his untidy beard and long hair, his features,
always a little larger than life, now emphasised by illness,
he had an extraordinary aspect; but it was so odd that it was
not quite ugly. There was something monumental in his
ungainliness. I do not know how to express precisely the
impression he made upon me. It was not exactly spirituality
that was obvious, though the screen of the flesh seemed almost
transparent, because there was in his face an outrageous
sensuality; but, though it sounds nonsense, it seemed as
though his sensuality were curiously spiritual. There was in
him something primitive. He seemed to partake of those
obscure forces of nature which the Greeks personified in
shapes part human and part beast, the satyr and the faun.
I thought of Marsyas, whom the god flayed because he had dared
to rival him in song. Strickland seemed to bear in his heart
strange harmonies and unadventured patterns, and I foresaw for
him an end of torture and despair. I had again the feeling
that he was possessed of a devil; but you could not say that
it was a devil of evil, for it was a primitive force that
existed before good and ill.
He was still too weak to paint, and he sat in the studio,
silent, occupied with God knows what dreams, or reading.
The books he liked were queer; sometimes I would find him poring
over the poems of Mallarme, and he read them as a child reads,
forming the words with his lips, and I wondered what strange
emotion he got from those subtle cadences and obscure phrases;
and again I found him absorbed in the detective novels of Gaboriau.
I amused myself by thinking that in his choice of books
he showed pleasantly the irreconcilable sides of his
fantastic nature. It was singular to notice that even in the
weak state of his body he had no thought for its comfort.
Stroeve liked his ease, and in his studio were a couple of
heavily upholstered arm-chairs and a large divan.
Strickland would not go near them, not from any affectation
of stoicism, for I found him seated on a three-legged stool
when I went into the studio one day and he was alone,
but because he did not like them. For choice he sat on a
kitchen chair without arms. It often exasperated me to see him.
I never knew a man so entirely indifferent to his surroundings.
Two or three weeks passed. One morning, having come to a
pause in my work, I thought I would give myself a holiday,
and I went to the Louvre. I wandered about looking at the
pictures I knew so well, and let my fancy play idly with the
emotions they suggested. I sauntered into the long gallery,
and there suddenly saw Stroeve. I smiled, for his appearance,
so rotund and yet so startled, could never fail to excite a
smile, and then as I came nearer I noticed that he seemed
singularly disconsolate. He looked woebegone and yet
ridiculous, like a man who has fallen into the water with all
his clothes on, and, being rescued from death, frightened still,
feels that he only looks a fool. Turning round, he
stared at me, but I perceived that he did not see me. His
round blue eyes looked harassed behind his glasses.
"Stroeve," I said.
He gave a little start, and then smiled, but his smile was rueful.
"Why are you idling in this disgraceful fashion?" I asked gaily.
"It's a long time since I was at the Louvre. I thought I'd
come and see if they had anything new."
"But you told me you had to get a picture finished this week."
"Strickland's painting in my studio."
"I suggested it myself. He's not strong enough to go back to
his own place yet. I thought we could both paint there.
Lots of fellows in the Quarter share a studio. I thought it
would be fun. I've always thought it would be jolly to have
someone to talk to when one was tired of work."
He said all this slowly, detaching statement from statement
with a little awkward silence, and he kept his kind, foolish
eyes fixed on mine. They were full of tears.
"I don't think I understand," I said.
"Strickland can't work with anyone else in the studio."
"Damn it all, it's your studio. That's his lookout."
He looked at me pitifully. His lips were trembling.
"What happened?" I asked, rather sharply.
He hesitated and flushed. He glanced unhappily at one of the
pictures on the wall.
"He wouldn't let me go on painting. He told me to get out."
"But why didn't you tell him to go to hell?"
"He turned me out. I couldn't very well struggle with him.
He threw my hat after me, and locked the door."
I was furious with Strickland, and was indignant with myself,
because Dirk Stroeve cut such an absurd figure that I felt
inclined to laugh.
"But what did your wife say?"
"She'd gone out to do the marketing."
"Is he going to let her in?"
"I don't know."
I gazed at Stroeve with perplexity. He stood like a schoolboy
with whom a master is finding fault.
"Shall I get rid of Strickland for you?" I asked.
He gave a little start, and his shining face grew very red.
"No. You'd better not do anything."
He nodded to me and walked away. It was clear that for some
reason he did not want to discuss the matter. I did not understand.
The explanation came a week later. It was about ten o' clock
at night; I had been dining by myself at a restaurant, and
having returned to my small apartment, was sitting in my
parlour, reading I heard the cracked tinkling of the bell,
and, going into the corridor, opened the door. Stroeve stood
"Can I come in?" he asked.
In the dimness of the landing I could not see him very well,
but there was something in his voice that surprised me. I
knew he was of abstemious habit or I should have thought he
had been drinking. I led the way into my sitting room and
asked him to sit down.
"Thank God I've found you," he said.
"What's the matter?" I asked in astonishment at his vehemence.
I was able now to see him well. As a rule he was neat in his
person, but now his clothes were in disorder. He looked
suddenly bedraggled. I was convinced he had been drinking,
and I smiled. I was on the point of chaffing him on his state.
"I didn't know where to go," he burst out. "I came here
earlier, but you weren't in."
"I dined late," I said.
I changed my mind: it was not liquor that had driven him to
this obvious desperation. His face, usually so rosy, was now
strangely mottled. His hands trembled.
"Has anything happened?" I asked.
"My wife has left me."
He could hardly get the words out. He gave a little gasp, and
the tears began to trickle down his round cheeks. I did not
know what to say. My first thought was that she had come to
the end of her forbearance with his infatuation for
Strickland, and, goaded by the latter's cynical behaviour, had
insisted that he should be turned out. I knew her capable of
temper, for all the calmness of her manner; and if Stroeve
still refused, she might easily have flung out of the studio
with vows never to return. But the little man was so
distressed that I could not smile.
"My dear fellow, don't be unhappy. She'll come back.
You mustn't take very seriously what women say when they're
in a passion."
"You don't understand. She's in love with Strickland."
"What!" I was startled at this, but the idea had no sooner
taken possession of me than I saw it was absurd. "How can you
be so silly? You don't mean to say you're jealous of Strickland?"
I almost laughed. "You know very well that she
can't bear the sight of him."
"You don't understand," he moaned.
"You're an hysterical ass," I said a little impatiently.
"Let me give you a whisky-and-soda, and you'll feel better."
I supposed that for some reason or other -- and Heaven knows
what ingenuity men exercise to torment themselves -- Dirk had
got it into his head that his wife cared for Strickland, and
with his genius for blundering he might quite well have
offended her so that, to anger him, perhaps, she had taken
pains to foster his suspicion.
"Look here," I said, "let's go back to your studio. If you've
made a fool of yourself you must eat humble pie. Your wife
doesn't strike me as the sort of woman to bear malice."
"How can I go back to the studio?" he said wearily.
"They're there. I've left it to them."
"Then it's not your wife who's left you; it's you who've left
"For God's sake don't talk to me like that."
Still I could not take him seriously. I did not for a moment
believe what he had told me. But he was in very real distress.
"Well, you've come here to talk to me about it. You'd better
tell me the whole story."
"This afternoon I couldn't stand it any more. I went to
Strickland and told him I thought he was quite well enough to
go back to his own place. I wanted the studio myself."
"No one but Strickland would have needed telling," I said.
"What did he say?"
"He laughed a little; you know how he laughs, not as though he
were amused, but as though you were a damned fool, and said
he'd go at once. He began to put his things together.
You remember I fetched from his room what I thought he needed,
and he asked Blanche for a piece of paper and some string to
make a parcel."
Stroeve stopped, gasping, and I thought he was going to faint.
This was not at all the story I had expected him to tell me.
"She was very pale, but she brought the paper and the string.
He didn't say anything. He made the parcel and he whistled a tune.
He took no notice of either of us. His eyes had an
ironic smile in them. My heart was like lead. I was afraid
something was going to happen, and I wished I hadn't spoken.
He looked round for his hat. Then she spoke:
"`I'm going with Strickland, Dirk,' she said. `I can't live
with you any more.'
"I tried to speak, but the words wouldn't come. Strickland
didn't say anything. He went on whistling as though it had
nothing to do with him."
Stroeve stopped again and mopped his face. I kept quite
still. I believed him now, and I was astounded. But all the
same I could not understand.
Then he told me, in a trembling voice, with the tears pouring
down his cheeks, how he had gone up to her, trying to take her
in his arms, but she had drawn away and begged him not to
touch her. He implored her not to leave him. He told her how
passionately he loved her, and reminded her of all the
devotion he had lavished upon her. He spoke to her of the
happiness of their life. He was not angry with her. He did
not reproach her.
"Please let me go quietly, Dirk," she said at last. "Don't
you understand that I love Strickland? Where he goes I shall go."
"But you must know that he'll never make you happy. For your
own sake don't go. You don't know what you've got to look
"It's your fault. You insisted on his coming here."
He turned to Strickland.
"Have mercy on her," he implored him. "You can't let her do
anything so mad."
"She can do as she chooses," said Strickland. "She's not
forced to come."
"My choice is made," she said, in a dull voice.
Strickland's injurious calm robbed Stroeve of the rest of his
self-control. Blind rage seized him, and without knowing what
he was doing he flung himself on Strickland. Strickland was
taken by surprise and he staggered, but he was very strong,
even after his illness, and in a moment, he did not exactly
know how, Stroeve found himself on the floor.
"You funny little man," said Strickland.
Stroeve picked himself up. He noticed that his wife had
remained perfectly still, and to be made ridiculous before her
increased his humiliation. His spectacles had tumbled off in
the struggle, and he could not immediately see them.
She picked them up and silently handed them to him. He seemed
suddenly to realise his unhappiness, and though he knew he was
making himself still more absurd, he began to cry. He hid his
face in his hands. The others watched him without a word.
They did not move from where they stood.
"Oh, my dear," he groaned at last, "how can you be so cruel?"
"I can't help myself, Dirk," she answered.
"I've worshipped you as no woman was ever worshipped before.
If in anything I did I displeased you, why didn't you tell me,
and I'd have changed. I've done everything I could for you."
She did not answer. Her face was set, and he saw that he was
only boring her. She put on a coat and her hat. She moved
towards the door, and he saw that in a moment she would be
gone. He went up to her quickly and fell on his knees before
her, seizing her hands: he abandoned all self-respect.
"Oh, don't go, my darling. I can't live without you; I shall
kill myself. If I've done anything to offend you I beg you to
forgive me. Give me another chance. I'll try harder still to
make you happy."
"Get up, Dirk. You're making yourself a perfect fool."
He staggered to his feet, but still he would not let her go.
"Where are you going?" he said hastily. "You don't know what
Strickland's place is like. You can't live there. It would
"If I don't care, I don't see why you should."
"Stay a minute longer. I must speak. After all, you can't
grudge me that."
"What is the good? I've made up my mind. Nothing that you can
say will make me alter it."
He gulped, and put his hand to his heart to ease its painful beating.
"I'm not going to ask you to change your mind, but I want you
to listen to me for a minute. It's the last thing I shall
ever ask you. Don't refuse me that."
She paused, looking at him with those reflective eyes of hers,
which now were so different to him. She came back into the
studio and leaned against the table.
Stroeve made a great effort to collect himself.
"You must be a little reasonable. You can't live on air,
you know. Strickland hasn't got a penny."
"You'll suffer the most awful privations. You know why he
took so long to get well. He was half starved."
"I can earn money for him."
"I don't know. I shall find a way."
A horrible thought passed through the Dutchman's mind,
and he shuddered.
"I think you must be mad. I don't know what has come over you."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Now may I go?"
"Wait one second longer."
He looked round his studio wearily; he had loved it because
her presence had made it gay and homelike; he shut his eyes
for an instant; then he gave her a long look as though to
impress on his mind the picture of her. He got up and took
"No; I'll go."
She was startled. She did not know what he meant.
"I can't bear to think of you living in that horrible, filthy
attic. After all, this is your home just as much as mine.
You'll be comfortable here. You'll be spared at least the
He went to the drawer in which he kept his money and took out
"I would like to give you half what I've got here."
He put them on the table. Neither Strickland nor his wife spoke.
Then he recollected something else.
"Will you pack up my clothes and leave them with the concierge?
I'll come and fetch them to-morrow." He tried to smile."
Good-bye, my dear. I'm grateful for all the happiness you gave
me in the past."
He walked out and closed the door behind him. With my mind's
eye I saw Strickland throw his hat on a table, and, sitting down,
begin to smoke a cigarette.
I kept silence for a little while, thinking of what Stroeve
had told me. I could not stomach his weakness, and he saw
my disapproval. "You know as well as I do how Strickland lived,"
he said tremulously. "I couldn't let her live in those
circumstances -- I simply couldn't."
"That's your business," I answered.
"What would have done?" he asked.
"She went with her eyes open. If she had to put up with
certain inconveniences it was her own lookout."
"Yes; but, you see, you don't love her."
"Do you love her still?"
"Oh, more than ever. Strickland isn't the man to make a woman happy.
It can't last. I want her to know that I shall never fail her."
"Does that mean that you're prepared to take her back?"
"I shouldn't hesitate. Why, she'll want me more than ever then.
When she's alone and humiliated and broken it would be
dreadful if she had nowhere to go."
He seemed to bear no resentment. I suppose it was commonplace
in me that I felt slightly outraged at his lack of spirit.
Perhaps he guessed what was in my mind, for he said:
"I couldn't expect her to love me as I loved her.
I'm a buffoon. I'm not the sort of man that women love.
I've always known that. I can't blame her if she's fallen
in love with Strickland."
"You certainly have less vanity than any man I've ever known,"
"I love her so much better than myself. It seems to me that
when vanity comes into love it can only be because really you
love yourself best. After all, it constantly happens that a
man when he's married falls in love with somebody else;
when he gets over it he returns to his wife, and she takes him
back, and everyone thinks it very natural. Why should it be
different with women?"
"I dare say that's logical," I smiled, "but most men are made
differently, and they can't."
But while I talked to Stroeve I was puzzling over the
suddenness of the whole affair. I could not imagine that he
had had no warning. I remembered the curious look I had seen
in Blanche Stroeve's eyes; perhaps its explanation was that
she was growing dimly conscious of a feeling in her heart that
surprised and alarmed her.
"Did you have no suspicion before to-day that there was
anything between them?" I asked.
He did not answer for a while. There was a pencil on the table,
and unconsciously he drew a head on the blotting-paper.
"Please say so, if you hate my asking you questions," I said.
"It eases me to talk. Oh, if you knew the frightful anguish
in my heart." He threw the pencil down. "Yes, I've known it
for a fortnight. I knew it before she did."
"Why on earth didn't you send Strickland packing?"
"I couldn't believe it. It seemed so improbable.
She couldn't bear the sight of him. It was more than improbable;
it was incredible. I thought it was merely jealousy.
You see, I've always been jealous, but I trained myself never
to show it; I was jealous of every man she knew; I was
jealous of you. I knew she didn't love me as I loved her.
That was only natural, wasn't it? But she allowed me to
love her, and that was enough to make me happy. I forced
myself to go out for hours together in order to leave them
by themselves; I wanted to punish myself for suspicions
which were unworthy of me; and when I came back I found they
didn't want me -- not Strickland, he didn't care if I was
there or not, but Blanche. She shuddered when I went to kiss her.
When at last I was certain I didn't know what to do;
I knew they'd only laugh at me if I made a scene.
I thought if I held my tongue and pretended not to see,
everything would come right. I made up my mind to get
him away quietly, without quarrelling. Oh, if you only
knew what I've suffered!"
Then he told me again of his asking Strickland to go.
He chose his moment carefully, and tried to make his request
sound casual; but he could not master the trembling of his voice;
and he felt himself that into words that he wished to
seem jovial and friendly there crept the bitterness of his
jealousy. He had not expected Strickland to take him up on
the spot and make his preparations to go there and then;
above all, he had not expected his wife's decision to go with him.
I saw that now he wished with all his heart that he had held
his tongue. He preferred the anguish of jealousy to the
anguish of separation.
"I wanted to kill him, and I only made a fool of myself."
He was silent for a long time, and then he said what I knew
was in his mind.
"If I'd only waited, perhaps it would have gone all right.
I shouldn't have been so impatient. Oh, poor child,
what have I driven her to?"
I shrugged my shoulders, but did not speak. I had no sympathy
for Blanche Stroeve, but knew that it would only pain poor
Dirk if I told him exactly what I thought of her.
He had reached that stage of exhaustion when he could not stop
talking. He went over again every word of the scene.
Now something occurred to him that he had not told me before;
now he discussed what he ought to have said instead of what he
did say; then he lamented his blindness. He regretted that he had
done this, and blamed himself that he had omitted the other.
It grew later and later, and at last I was as tired as he.
"What are you going to do now?" I said finally.
"What can I do? I shall wait till she sends for me."
"Why don't you go away for a bit?"
"No, no; I must be at hand when she wants me."
For the present he seemed quite lost. He had made no plans.
When I suggested that he should go to bed he said he could not
sleep; he wanted to go out and walk about the streets till day.
He was evidently in no state to be left alone.
I persuaded him to stay the night with me, and I put him into my
own bed. I had a divan in my sitting-room, and could very
well sleep on that. He was by now so worn out that he could
not resist my firmness. I gave him a sufficient dose of
veronal to insure his unconsciousness for several hours.
I thought that was the best service I could render him.
But the bed I made up for myself was sufficiently
uncomfortable to give me a wakeful night, and I thought a good
deal of what the unlucky Dutchman had told me. I was not so
much puzzled by Blanche Stroeve's action, for I saw in that
merely the result of a physical appeal. I do not suppose she
had ever really cared for her husband, and what I had taken
for love was no more than the feminine response to caresses
and comfort which in the minds of most women passes for it.
It is a passive feeling capable of being roused for any object,
as the vine can grow on any tree; and the wisdom of
the world recognises its strength when it urges a girl to
marry the man who wants her with the assurance that love will follow.
It is an emotion made up of the satisfaction in security,
pride of property, the pleasure of being desired,
the gratification of a household, and it is only by an amiable
vanity that women ascribe to it spiritual value. It is an
emotion which is defenceless against passion. I suspected
that Blanche Stroeve's violent dislike of Strickland had in it
from the beginning a vague element of sexual attraction.
Who am I that I should seek to unravel the mysterious intricacies
of sex? Perhaps Stroeve's passion excited without satisfying
that part of her nature, and she hated Strickland because she
felt in him the power to give her what she needed. I think
she was quite sincere when she struggled against her husband's
desire to bring him into the studio; I think she was
frightened of him, though she knew not why; and I remembered
how she had foreseen disaster. I think in some curious way
the horror which she felt for him was a transference of the
horror which she felt for herself because he so strangely
troubled her. His appearance was wild and uncouth; there was
aloofness in his eyes and sensuality in his mouth; he was big
and strong; he gave the impression of untamed passion; and
perhaps she felt in him, too, that sinister element which had
made me think of those wild beings of the world's early
history when matter, retaining its early connection with the
earth, seemed to possess yet a spirit of its own. If he
affected her at all, it was inevitable that she should love or
hate him. She hated him.
And then I fancy that the daily intimacy with the sick man
moved her strangely. She raised his head to give him food,
and it was heavy against her hand; when she had fed him she
wiped his sensual mouth and his red beard. She washed his limbs;
they were covered with thick hair; and when she dried
his hands, even in his weakness they were strong and sinewy.
His fingers were long; they were the capable, fashioning
fingers of the artist; and I know not what troubling thoughts
they excited in her. He slept very quietly, without a
movement, so that he might have been dead, and he was like
some wild creature of the woods, resting after a long chase;
and she wondered what fancies passed through his dreams.
Did he dream of the nymph flying through the woods of Greece with
the satyr in hot pursuit? She fled, swift of foot and
desperate, but he gained on her step by step, till she felt
his hot breath on her neck; and still she fled silently, and
silently he pursued, and when at last he seized her was it
terror that thrilled her heart or was it ecstasy?
Blanche Stroeve was in the cruel grip of appetite.
Perhaps she hated Strickland still, but she hungered for him,
and everything that had made up her life till then became of
no account. She ceased to be a woman, complex, kind and
petulant, considerate and thoughtless; she was a Maenad.
She was desire.
But perhaps this is very fanciful; and it may be that she was
merely bored with her husband and went to Strickland out of a
callous curiosity. She may have had no particular feeling for
him, but succumbed to his wish from propinquity or idleness,
to find then that she was powerless in a snare of her own
contriving. How did I know what were the thoughts and
emotions behind that placid brow and those cool gray eyes?
But if one could be certain of nothing in dealing with
creatures so incalculable as human beings, there were
explanations of Blanche Stroeve's behaviour which were at all
events plausible. On the other hand, I did not understand
Strickland at all. I racked my brain, but could in no way
account for an action so contrary to my conception of him.
It was not strange that he should so heartlessly have betrayed
his friends' confidence, nor that he hesitated not at all to
gratify a whim at the cost of another's misery. That was in
his character. He was a man without any conception of
gratitude. He had no compassion. The emotions common to most
of us simply did not exist in him, and it was as absurd to
blame him for not feeling them as for blaming the tiger
because he is fierce and cruel. But it was the whim I could
I could not believe that Strickland had fallen in love with
Blanche Stroeve. I did not believe him capable of love.
That is an emotion in which tenderness is an essential part,
but Strickland had no tenderness either for himself or for others;
there is in love a sense of weakness, a desire to protect,
an eagerness to do good and to give pleasure -- if not
unselfishness, at all events a selfishness which marvellously
conceals itself; it has in it a certain diffidence.
These were not traits which I could imagine in Strickland.
Love is absorbing; it takes the lover out of himself; the most
clear-sighted, though he may know, cannot realise that his love
will cease; it gives body to what he knows is illusion, and,
knowing it is nothing else, he loves it better than reality.
It makes a man a little more than himself, and at the same
time a little less. He ceases to be himself. He is no longer
an individual, but a thing, an instrument to some purpose
foreign to his ego. Love is never quite devoid of
sentimentality, and Strickland was the least inclined to that
infirmity of any man I have known. I could not believe that
he would ever suffer that possession of himself which love is;
he could never endure a foreign yoke. I believed him capable
of uprooting from his heart, though it might be with agony, so
that he was left battered and ensanguined, anything that came
between himself and that uncomprehended craving that urged him
constantly to he knew not what. If I have succeeded at all in
giving the complicated impression that Strickland made on me,
it will not seem outrageous to say that I felt he was at once
too great and too small for love.
But I suppose that everyone's conception of the passion is
formed on his own idiosyncrasies, and it is different with
every different person. A man like Strickland would love in a
manner peculiar to himself. It was vain to seek the analysis
of his emotion.
Next day, though I pressed him to remain, Stroeve left me.
I offered to fetch his things from the studio, but he insisted
on going himself; I think he hoped they had not thought of
getting them together, so that he would have an opportunity of
seeing his wife again and perhaps inducing her to come back to him.
But he found his traps waiting for him in the porter's
lodge, and the concierge told him that Blanche had gone out.
I do not think he resisted the temptation of giving her an
account of his troubles. I found that he was telling them to
everyone he knew; he expected sympathy, but only excited
He bore himself most unbecomingly. Knowing at what time his
wife did her shopping, one day, unable any longer to bear not
seeing her, he waylaid her in the street. She would not speak
to him, but he insisted on speaking to her. He spluttered out
words of apology for any wrong he had committed towards her;
he told her he loved her devotedly and begged her to return to him.
She would not answer; she walked hurriedly, with averted
face. I imagined him with his fat little legs trying to keep
up with her. Panting a little in his haste, he told her how
miserable he was; he besought her to have mercy on him;
he promised, if she would forgive him, to do everything she
wanted. He offered to take her for a journey. He told her
that Strickland would soon tire of her. When he repeated to
me the whole sordid little scene I was outraged. He had shown
neither sense nor dignity. He had omitted nothing that could
make his wife despise him. There is no cruelty greater than a
woman's to a man who loves her and whom she does not love;
she has no kindness then, no tolerance even, she has only an
insane irritation. Blanche Stroeve stopped suddenly, and as
hard as she could slapped her husband's face. She took
advantage of his confusion to escape, and ran up the stairs to
the studio. No word had passed her lips.
When he told me this he put his hand to his cheek as though he
still felt the smart of the blow, and in his eyes was a pain
that was heartrending and an amazement that was ludicrous.
He looked like an overblown schoolboy, and though I felt so sorry
for him, I could hardly help laughing.
Then he took to walking along the street which she must pass
through to get to the shops, and he would stand at the corner,
on the other side, as she went along. He dared not speak to
her again, but sought to put into his round eyes the appeal
that was in his heart. I suppose he had some idea that the
sight of his misery would touch her. She never made the
smallest sign that she saw him. She never even changed the
hour of her errands or sought an alternative route. I have an
idea that there was some cruelty in her indifference. Perhaps
she got enjoyment out of the torture she inflicted.
I wondered why she hated him so much.
I begged Stroeve to behave more wisely. His want of spirit
"You're doing no good at all by going on like this," I said.
"I think you'd have been wiser if you'd hit her over the head
with a stick. She wouldn't have despised you as she does now."
I suggested that he should go home for a while. He had often
spoken to me of the silent town, somewhere up in the north of
Holland, where his parents still lived. They were poor
people. His father was a carpenter, and they dwelt in a
little old red-brick house, neat and clean, by the side of a
sluggish canal. The streets were wide and empty; for two
hundred years the place had been dying, but the houses had the
homely stateliness of their time. Rich merchants, sending
their wares to the distant Indies, had lived in them calm and
prosperous lives, and in their decent decay they kept still an
aroma of their splendid past. You could wander along the
canal till you came to broad green fields, with windmills here
and there, in which cattle, black and white, grazed lazily.
I thought that among those surroundings, with their
recollections of his boyhood, Dirk Stroeve would forget his
unhappiness. But he would not go.
"I must be here when she needs me," he repeated. "It would be
dreadful if something terrible happened and I were not at hand."
"What do you think is going to happen?" I asked.
"I don't know. But I'm afraid."
I shrugged my shoulders.
For all his pain, Dirk Stroeve remained a ridiculous object.
He might have excited sympathy if he had grown worn and thin.
He did nothing of the kind. He remained fat, and his round,
red cheeks shone like ripe apples. He had great neatness of
person, and he continued to wear his spruce black coat and his
bowler hat, always a little too small for him, in a dapper,
jaunty manner. He was getting something of a paunch, and
sorrow had no effect on it. He looked more than ever like a
prosperous bagman. It is hard that a man's exterior should
tally so little sometimes with his soul. Dirk Stroeve had the
passion of Romeo in the body of Sir Toby Belch. He had a
sweet and generous nature, and yet was always blundering;
a real feeling for what was beautiful and the capacity to create
only what was commonplace; a peculiar delicacy of sentiment
and gross manners. He could exercise tact when dealing with
the affairs of others, but none when dealing with his own.
What a cruel practical joke old Nature played when she flung
so many contradictory elements together, and left the man face
to face with the perplexing callousness of the universe.
I did not see Strickland for several weeks. I was disgusted
with him, and if I had had an opportunity should have been
glad to tell him so, but I saw no object in seeking him out
for the purpose. I am a little shy of any assumption of moral
indignation; there is always in it an element of self-satisfaction
which makes it awkward to anyone who has a sense of humour.
It requires a very lively passion to steel me to
my own ridicule. There was a sardonic sincerity in Strickland
which made me sensitive to anything that might suggest a pose.
But one evening when I was passing along the Avenue de Clichy
in front of the cafe which Strickland frequented and which I
now avoided, I ran straight into him. He was accompanied by
Blanche Stroeve, and they were just going to Strickland's
"Where the devil have you been all this time?" said he.
"I thought you must be away."
His cordiality was proof that he knew I had no wish to speak
to him. He was not a man with whom it was worth while wasting
"No," I said; "I haven't been away."
"Why haven't you been here?"
"There are more cafes in Paris than one, at which to trifle
away an idle hour."
Blanche then held out her hand and bade me good-evening.
I do not know why I had expected her to be somehow changed;
she wore the same gray dress that she wore so often, neat and
becoming, and her brow was as candid, her eyes as untroubled,
as when I had been used to see her occupied with her household
duties in the studio.
"Come and have a game of chess," said Strickland.
I do not know why at the moment I could think of no excuse.
I followed them rather sulkily to the table at which Strickland
always sat, and he called for the board and the chessmen.
They both took the situation so much as a matter of course
that I felt it absurd to do otherwise. Mrs. Stroeve watched
the game with inscrutable face. She was silent, but she had
always been silent. I looked at her mouth for an expression
that could give me a clue to what she felt; I watched her eyes
for some tell-tale flash, some hint of dismay or bitterness;
I scanned her brow for any passing line that might indicate a
settling emotion. Her face was a mask that told nothing.
Her hands lay on her lap motionless, one in the other loosely clasped.
I knew from what I had heard that she was a woman of
violent passions; and that injurious blow that she had given
Dirk, the man who had loved her so devotedly, betrayed a
sudden temper and a horrid cruelty. She had abandoned the
safe shelter of her husband's protection and the comfortable
ease of a well-provided establishment for what she could not
but see was an extreme hazard. It showed an eagerness for
adventure, a readiness for the hand-to-mouth, which the care
she took of her home and her love of good housewifery made not
a little remarkable. She must be a woman of complicated
character, and there was something dramatic in the contrast of
that with her demure appearance.
I was excited by the encounter, and my fancy worked busily
while I sought to concentrate myself on the game I was playing.
I always tried my best to beat Strickland, because
he was a player who despised the opponent he vanquished;
his exultation in victory made defeat more difficult to bear.
On the other hand, if he was beaten he took it with complete
good-humour. He was a bad winner and a good loser. Those who
think that a man betrays his character nowhere more clearly
than when he is playing a game might on this draw subtle
When he had finished I called the waiter to pay for the
drinks, and left them. The meeting had been devoid of
incident. No word had been said to give me anything to think
about, and any surmises I might make were unwarranted.
I was intrigued. I could not tell how they were getting on.
I would have given much to be a disembodied spirit so that I
could see them in the privacy of the studio and hear what they
talked about. I had not the smallest indication on which to
let my imagination work.
Two or three days later Dirk Stroeve called on me.
"I hear you've seen Blanche," he said.
"How on earth did you find out?"
"I was told by someone who saw you sitting with them.
Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought it would only pain you."
"What do I care if it does? You must know that I want to hear
the smallest thing about her."
I waited for him to ask me questions.
"What does she look like?" he said.
"Does she seem happy?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"How can I tell? We were in a cafe; we were playing chess;
I had no opportunity to speak to her."
"Oh, but couldn't you tell by her face?"
I shook my head. I could only repeat that by no word, by no
hinted gesture, had she given an indication of her feelings.
He must know better than I how great were her powers of
self-control. He clasped his hands emotionally.
"Oh, I'm so frightened. I know something is going to happen,
something terrible, and I can do nothing to stop it."
"What sort of thing?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't know," he moaned, seizing his head with his
hands. "I foresee some terrible catastrophe."
Stroeve had always been excitable, but now he was beside
himself; there was no reasoning with him. I thought it
probable enough that Blanche Stroeve would not continue to
find life with Strickland tolerable, but one of the falsest of
proverbs is that you must lie on the bed that you have made.
The experience of life shows that people are constantly doing
things which must lead to disaster, and yet by some chance
manage to evade the result of their folly. When Blanche
quarrelled with Strickland she had only to leave him, and her
husband was waiting humbly to forgive and forget. I was not
prepared to feel any great sympathy for her.
"You see, you don't love her," said Stroeve.
"After all, there's nothing to prove that she is unhappy.
For all we know they may have settled down into a most
Stroeve gave me a look with his woeful eyes.
"Of course it doesn't much matter to you, but to me it's so
serious, so intensely serious."
I was sorry if I had seemed impatient or flippant.
"Will you do something for me?" asked Stroeve.
"Will you write to Blanche for me?"
"Why can't you write yourself?"
"I've written over and over again. I didn't expect her to answer.
I don't think she reads the letters."
"You make no account of feminine curiosity. Do you think she
"She could -- mine."
I looked at him quickly. He lowered his eyes. That answer of
his seemed to me strangely humiliating. He was conscious that
she regarded him with an indifference so profound that the
sight of his handwriting would have not the slightest effect
"Do you really believe that she'll ever come back to you?" I asked.
"I want her to know that if the worst comes to the worst she
can count on me. That's what I want you to tell her."
I took a sheet of paper.
"What is it exactly you wish me to say?"
This is what I wrote:
DEAR MRS. STROEVE, any time you want him he will be grateful for the opportunity
of being of service to you. He has no ill-feeling towards you
on account of anything that has happened. His love for you is
unaltered. You will always find him at the following
But though I was no less convinced than Stroeve that the
connection between Strickland and Blanche would end
disastrously, I did not expect the issue to take the tragic
form it did. The summer came, breathless and sultry, and even
at night there was no coolness to rest one's jaded nerves.
The sun-baked streets seemed to give back the heat that had
beat down on them during the day, and the passers-by dragged
their feet along them wearily. I had not seen Strickland for weeks.
Occupied with other things, I had ceased to think of
him and his affairs. Dirk, with his vain lamentations, had
begun to bore me, and I avoided his society. It was a sordid
business, and I was not inclined to trouble myself with it further.
One morning I was working. I sat in my Pyjamas. My thoughts
wandered, and I thought of the sunny beaches of Brittany and
the freshness of the sea. By my side was the empty bowl in
which the concierge had brought me my and the
fragment of croissant which I had not had appetite enough to eat.
I heard the concierge in the next room emptying my bath.
There was a tinkle at my bell, and I left her to open the door.
In a moment I heard Stroeve's voice asking if I was in.
Without moving, I shouted to him to come. He entered the room
quickly, and came up to the table at which I sat.
"She's killed herself," he said hoarsely.
"What do you mean?" I cried, startled.
He made movements with his lips as though he were speaking,
but no sound issued from them. He gibbered like an idiot.
My heart thumped against my ribs, and, I do not know why,
I flew into a temper.
"For God's sake, collect yourself, man," I said. "What on
earth are you talking about?"
He made despairing gestures with his hands, but still no words
came from his mouth. He might have been struck dumb. I do
not know what came over me; I took him by the shoulders and
shook him. Looking back, I am vexed that I made such a fool
of myself; I suppose the last restless nights had shaken my
nerves more than I knew.
"Let me sit down," he gasped at length.
I filled a glass with St. Galmier, and gave it to him
to drink. I held it to his mouth as though he were a child.
He gulped down a mouthful, and some of it was spilt on
"Who's killed herself?"
I do not know why I asked, for I knew whom he meant. He made
an effort to collect himself.
"They had a row last night. He went away."
"Is she dead?"
"No; they've taken her to the hospital."
"Then what are you talking about?" I cried impatiently. "Why
did you say she'd killed herself?"
"Don't be cross with me. I can't tell you anything if you
talk to me like that."
I clenched my hands, seeking to control my irritation.
I attempted a smile.
"I'm sorry. Take your time. Don't hurry, there's a good
His round blue eyes behind the spectacles were ghastly with
terror. The magnifying-glasses he wore distorted them.
"When the concierge went up this morning to take a letter she
could get no answer to her ring. She heard someone groaning.
The door wasn't locked, and she went in. Blanche was lying on
the bed. She'd been frightfully sick. There was a bottle of
oxalic acid on the table."
Stroeve hid his face in his hands and swayed backwards and
"Was she conscious?"
"Yes. Oh, if you knew how she's suffering! I can't bear it.
I can't bear it."
His voice rose to a shriek.
"Damn it all, you haven't got to bear it," I cried impatiently.
"She's got to bear it."
"How can you be so cruel?"
"What have you done?"
"They sent for a doctor and for me, and they told the police.
I'd given the concierge twenty francs, and told her to send
for me if anything happened."
He paused a minute, and I saw that what he had to tell me was
very hard to say.
"When I went she wouldn't speak to me. She told them to send
me away. I swore that I forgave her everything, but she
wouldn't listen. She tried to beat her head against the wall.
The doctor told me that I mustn't remain with her. She kept
on saying, `Send him away!' I went, and waited in the studio.
And when the ambulance came and they put her on a stretcher,
they made me go in the kitchen so that she shouldn't know I
While I dressed -- for Stroeve wished me to go at once with
him to the hospital -- he told me that he had arranged for his
wife to have a private room, so that she might at least be
spared the sordid promiscuity of a ward. On our way he
explained to me why he desired my presence; if she still
refused to see him, perhaps she would see me. He begged me to
repeat to her that he loved her still; he would reproach her
for nothing, but desired only to help her; he made no claim on
her, and on her recovery would not seek to induce her to
return to him; she would be perfectly free.
But when we arrived at the hospital, a gaunt, cheerless
building, the mere sight of which was enough to make one's
heart sick, and after being directed from this official to
that, up endless stairs and through long, bare corridors,
found the doctor in charge of the case, we were told that the
patient was too ill to see anyone that day. The doctor was a
little bearded man in white, with an offhand manner.
He evidently looked upon a case as a case, and anxious relatives
as a nuisance which must be treated with firmness. Moreover,
to him the affair was commonplace; it was just an hysterical
woman who had quarrelled with her lover and taken poison;
it was constantly happening. At first he thought that Dirk was
the cause of the disaster, and he was needlessly brusque with him.
When I explained that he was the husband, anxious to
forgive, the doctor looked at him suddenly, with curious,
searching eyes. I seemed to see in them a hint of mockery;
it was true that Stroeve had the head of the husband who is deceived.
The doctor faintly shrugged his shoulders.
"There is no immediate danger," he said, in answer to our
questioning. "One doesn't know how much she took. It may be
that she will get off with a fright. Women are constantly
trying to commit suicide for love, but generally they take
care not to succeed. It's generally a gesture to arouse pity
or terror in their lover."
There was in his tone a frigid contempt. It was obvious that
to him Blanche Stroeve was only a unit to be added to the
statistical list of attempted suicides in the city of Paris
during the current year. He was busy, and could waste no more
time on us. He told us that if we came at a certain hour next
day, should Blanche be better, it might be possible for her
husband to see her.
I scarcely know how we got through that day. Stroeve could
not bear to be alone, and I exhausted myself in efforts to
distract him. I took him to the Louvre, and he pretended to
look at pictures, but I saw that his thoughts were constantly
with his wife. I forced him to eat, and after luncheon I
induced him to lie down, but he could not sleep. He accepted
willingly my invitation to remain for a few days in my apartment.
I gave him books to read, but after a page or two
he would put the book down and stare miserably into space.
During the evening we played innumerable games of piquet,
and bravely, not to disappoint my efforts, he tried to appear
interested. Finally I gave him a draught, and he sank into
When we went again to the hospital we saw a nursing sister.
She told us that Blanche seemed a little better, and she went
in to ask if she would see her husband. We heard voices in
the room in which she lay, and presently the nurse returned to
say that the patient refused to see anyone. We had told her
that if she refused to see Dirk the nurse was to ask if she
would see me, but this she refused also. Dirk's lips
"I dare not insist," said the nurse. "She is too ill.
Perhaps in a day or two she may change her mind."
"Is there anyone else she wants to see?" asked Dirk,
in a voice so low it was almost a whisper.
"She says she only wants to be left in peace."
Dirk's hands moved strangely, as though they had nothing to do
with his body, with a movement of their own.
"Will you tell her that if there is anyone else she wishes to
see I will bring him? I only want her to be happy."
The nurse looked at him with her calm, kind eyes, which had
seen all the horror and pain of the world, and yet, filled
with the vision of a world without sin, remained serene.
"I will tell her when she is a little calmer."
Dirk, filled with compassion, begged her to take the message
"It may cure her. I beseech you to ask her now."
With a faint smile of pity, the nurse went back into the room.
We heard her low voice, and then, in a voice I did not
recognise the answer:
"No. No. No."
The nurse came out again and shook her head.
"Was that she who spoke then?" I asked. "Her voice sounded
"It appears that her vocal cords have been burnt by the acid."
Dirk gave a low cry of distress. I asked him to go on and
wait for me at the entrance, for I wanted to say something to
the nurse. He did not ask what it was, but went silently. He
seemed to have lost all power of will; he was like an obedient child.
"Has she told you why she did it?" I asked.
"No. She won't speak. She lies on her back quite quietly.
She doesn't move for hours at a time. But she cries always.
Her pillow is all wet. She's too weak to use a handkerchief,
and the tears just run down her face."
It gave me a sudden wrench of the heart-strings. I could have
killed Strickland then, and I knew that my voice was trembling
when I bade the nurse goodbye.
I found Dirk waiting for me on the steps. He seemed to see
nothing, and did not notice that I had joined him till I
touched him on the arm. We walked along in silence. I tried
to imagine what had happened to drive the poor creature to
that dreadful step. I presumed that Strickland knew what had
happened, for someone must have been to see him from the police,
and he must have made his statement. I did not know
where he was. I supposed he had gone back to the shabby attic
which served him as a studio. It was curious that she should
not wish to see him. Perhaps she refused to have him sent for
because she knew he would refuse to come. I wondered what an
abyss of cruelty she must have looked into that in horror she
refused to live.
The next week was dreadful. Stroeve went twice a day to the
hospital to enquire after his wife, who still declined to see
him; and came away at first relieved and hopeful because he
was told that she seemed to be growing better, and then in
despair because, the complication which the doctor had feared
having ensued, recovery was impossible. The nurse was pitiful
to his distress, but she had little to say that could console
him. The poor woman lay quite still, refusing to speak, with
her eyes intent, as though she watched for the coming of death.
It could now be only the question of a day or two;
and when, late one evening, Stroeve came to see me I knew it was
to tell me she was dead. He was absolutely exhausted.
His volubility had left him at last, and he sank down wearily
on my sofa. I felt that no words of condolence availed, and I
let him lie there quietly. I feared he would think it
heartless if I read, so I sat by the window, smoking a pipe,
till he felt inclined to speak.
"You've been very kind to me," he said at last. "Everyone's
been very kind."
"Nonsense," I said, a little embarrassed.
"At the hospital they told me I might wait. They gave me a
chair, and I sat outside the door. When she became
unconscious they said I might go in. Her mouth and chin were
all burnt by the acid. It was awful to see her lovely skin
all wounded. She died very peacefully, so that I didn't know
she was dead till the sister told me."
He was too tired to weep. He lay on his back limply, as
though all the strength had gone out of his limbs, and
presently I saw that he had fallen asleep. It was the first
natural sleep he had had for a week. Nature, sometimes so
cruel, is sometimes merciful. I covered him and turned down
the light. In the morning when I awoke he was still asleep.
He had not moved. His gold-rimmed spectacles were still on
The circumstances of Blanche Stroeve's death necessitated all
manner of dreadful formalities, but at last we were allowed to
bury her. Dirk and I alone followed the hearse to the cemetery.
We went at a foot-pace, but on the way back we trotted,
and there was something to my mind singularly horrible in
the way the driver of the hearse whipped up his horses.
It seemed to dismiss the dead with a shrug of the shoulders.
Now and then I caught sight of the swaying hearse in
front of us, and our own driver urged his pair so that we
might not remain behind. I felt in myself, too, the desire to
get the whole thing out of my mind. I was beginning to be
bored with a tragedy that did not really concern me, and
pretending to myself that I spoke in order to distract
Stroeve, I turned with relief to other subjects.
"Don't you think you'd better go away for a bit?" I said.
"There can be no object in your staying in Paris now."
He did not answer, but I went on ruthlessly:
"Have you made any plans for the immediate future?"
"You must try and gather together the threads again.
Why don't you go down to Italy and start working?"
Again he made no reply, but the driver of our carriage came to
my rescue. Slackening his pace for a moment, he leaned over
and spoke. I could not hear what he said, so I put my head
out of the window. he wanted to know where we wished to be
set down. I told him to wait a minute.
"You'd better come and have lunch with me," I said to Dirk.
"I'll tell him to drop us in the Place Pigalle."
"I'd rather not. I want to go to the studio."
I hesitated a moment.
"Would you like me to come with you?" I asked then.
"No; I should prefer to be alone."
I gave the driver the necessary direction, and in renewed
silence we drove on. Dirk had not been to the studio since
the wretched morning on which they had taken Blanche to the hospital.
I was glad he did not want me to accompany him, and when
I left him at the door I walked away with relief. I took
a new pleasure in the streets of Paris, and I looked with
smiling eyes at the people who hurried to and fro. The day
was fine and sunny, and I felt in myself a more acute delight
in life. I could not help it; I put Stroeve and his sorrows
out of my mind. I wanted to enjoy.
I did not see him again for nearly a week. Then he fetched me
soon after seven one evening and took me out to dinner.
He was dressed in the deepest mourning, and on his bowler was a
broad black band. He had even a black border to his handkerchief.
His garb of woe suggested that he had lost in one
catastrophe every relation he had in the world, even to
cousins by marriage twice removed. His plumpness and his red,
fat cheeks made his mourning not a little incongruous. It was
cruel that his extreme unhappiness should have in it something
He told me he had made up his mind to go away, though not to
Italy, as I had suggested, but to Holland.
"I'm starting to-morrow. This is perhaps the last time we
shall ever meet."
I made an appropriate rejoinder, and he smiled wanly.
"I haven't been home for five years. I think I'd forgotten it all;
I seemed to have come so far away from my father's house
that I was shy at the idea of revisiting it; but now I feel
it's my only refuge."
He was sore and bruised, and his thoughts went back to the
tenderness of his mother's love. The ridicule he had endured
for years seemed now to weigh him down, and the final blow of
Blanche's treachery had robbed him of the resiliency which had
made him take it so gaily. He could no longer laugh with
those who laughed at him. He was an outcast. He told me of
his childhood in the tidy brick house, and of his mother's
passionate orderliness. Her kitchen was a miracle of clean
brightness. Everything was always in its place, and no where
could you see a speck of dust. Cleanliness, indeed, was a
mania with her. I saw a neat little old woman, with cheeks
like apples, toiling away from morning to night, through the
long years, to keep her house trim and spruce. His father was
a spare old man, his hands gnarled after the work of a
lifetime, silent and upright; in the evening he read the paper
aloud, while his wife and daughter (now married to the captain
of a fishing smack), unwilling to lose a moment, bent over
their sewing. Nothing ever happened in that little town, left
behind by the advance of civilisation, and one year followed
the next till death came, like a friend, to give rest to those
who had laboured so diligently.
"My father wished me to become a carpenter like himself.
For five generations we've carried on the same trade, from father
to son. Perhaps that is the wisdom of life, to tread in your
father's steps, and look neither to the right nor to the left.
When I was a little boy I said I would marry the daughter of
the harness-maker who lived next door. She was a little girl
with blue eyes and a flaxen pigtail. She would have kept my
house like a new pin, and I should have had a son to carry on
the business after me."
Stroeve sighed a little and was silent. His thoughts dwelt
among pictures of what might have been, and the safety of the
life he had refused filled him with longing.
"The world is hard and cruel. We are here none knows why,
and we go none knows whither. We must be very humble. We must
see the beauty of quietness. We must go through life so
inconspicuously that Fate does not notice us. And let us seek
the love of simple, ignorant people. Their ignorance is
better than all our knowledge. Let us be silent, content in
our little corner, meek and gentle like them. That is the
wisdom of life."
To me it was his broken spirit that expressed itself, and I
rebelled against his renunciation. But I kept my own counsel.
"What made you think of being a painter?" I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"It happened that I had a knack for drawing. I got prizes for
it at school. My poor mother was very proud of my gift,
and she gave me a box of water-colours as a present. She showed
my sketches to the pastor and the doctor and the judge.
And they sent me to Amsterdam to try for a scholarship, and I won
it. Poor soul, she was so proud; and though it nearly broke
her heart to part from me, she smiled, and would not show me
her grief. She was pleased that her son should be an artist.
They pinched and saved so that I should have enough to live on,
and when my first picture was exhibited they came to
Amsterdam to see it, my father and mother and my sister,
and my mother cried when she looked at it." His kind eyes glistened.
"And now on every wall of the old house there is one of my
pictures in a beautiful gold frame."
He glowed with happy pride. I thought of those cold scenes of
his, with their picturesque peasants and cypresses and olive-trees.
They must look queer in their garish frames on the walls of
the peasant house.
"The dear soul thought she was doing a wonderful thing for me
when she made me an artist, but perhaps, after all, it would
have been better for me if my father's will had prevailed and
I were now but an honest carpenter."
"Now that you know what art can offer, would you change your
life? Would you have missed all the delight it has given you?"
"Art is the greatest thing in the world," he answered, after a pause.
He looked at me for a minute reflectively; he seemed to hesitate;
then he said:
"Did you know that I had been to see Strickland?"
I was astonished. I should have thought he could not bear to
set eyes on him. Stroeve smiled faintly.
"You know already that I have no proper pride."
"What do you mean by that?"
He told me a singular story.
When I left him, after we had buried poor Blanche, Stroeve
walked into the house with a heavy heart. Something impelled
him to go to the studio, some obscure desire for self-torture,
and yet he dreaded the anguish that he foresaw. He dragged
himself up the stairs; his feet seemed unwilling to carry him;
and outside the door he lingered for a long time, trying to
summon up courage to go in. He felt horribly sick. He had an
impulse to run down the stairs after me and beg me to go in
with him; he had a feeling that there was somebody in the
studio. He remembered how often he had waited for a minute or
two on the landing to get his breath after the ascent, and how
absurdly his impatience to see Blanche had taken it away again.
To see her was a delight that never staled, and even
though he had not been out an hour he was as excited at the
prospect as if they had been parted for a month. Suddenly he
could not believe that she was dead. What had happened could
only be a dream, a frightful dream; and when he turned the key
and opened the door, he would see her bending slightly over
the table in the gracious attitude of the woman in Chardin's
, which always seemed to him so exquisite.
Hurriedly he took the key out of his pocket, opened, and
The apartment had no look of desertion. His wife's tidiness
was one of the traits which had so much pleased him; his own
upbringing had given him a tender sympathy for the delight in
orderliness; and when he had seen her instinctive desire to
put each thing in its appointed place it had given him a
little warm feeling in his heart. The bedroom looked as
though she had just left it: the brushes were neatly placed
on the toilet-table, one on each side of the comb; someone had
smoothed down the bed on which she had spent her last night in
the studio; and her nightdress in a little case lay on the pillow.
It was impossible to believe that she would never come into
that room again.
But he felt thirsty, and went into the kitchen to get himself
some water. Here, too, was order. On a rack were the plates
that she had used for dinner on the night of her quarrel with
Strickland, and they had been carefully washed. The knives
and forks were put away in a drawer. Under a cover were the
remains of a piece of cheese, and in a tin box was a crust of
bread. She had done her marketing from day to day, buying
only what was strictly needful, so that nothing was left over
from one day to the next. Stroeve knew from the enquiries
made by the police that Strickland had walked out of the house
immediately after dinner, and the fact that Blanche had washed
up the things as usual gave him a little thrill of horror.
Her methodicalness made her suicide more deliberate.
Her self-possession was frightening. A sudden pang seized him,
and his knees felt so weak that he almost fell. He went back
into the bedroom and threw himself on the bed. He cried out
The thought of her suffering was intolerable. He had a sudden
vision of her standing in the kitchen -- it was hardly larger
than a cupboard -- washing the plates and glasses, the forks
and spoons, giving the knives a rapid polish on the knife-board;
and then putting everything away, giving the sink a scrub,
and hanging the dish-cloth up to dry -- it was there still,
a gray torn rag; then looking round to see that
everything was clean and nice. He saw her roll down her
sleeves and remove her apron -- the apron hung on a peg behind
the door -- and take the bottle of oxalic acid and go with it
into the bedroom.
The agony of it drove him up from the bed and out of the room.
He went into the studio. It was dark, for the curtains had
been drawn over the great window, and he pulled them quickly
back; but a sob broke from him as with a rapid glance he took
in the place where he had been so happy. Nothing was changed
here, either. Strickland was indifferent to his surroundings,
and he had lived in the other's studio without thinking of
altering a thing. It was deliberately artistic. It represented
Stroeve's idea of the proper environment for an artist.
There were bits of old brocade on the walls, and the piano
was covered with a piece of silk, beautiful and tarnished;
in one corner was a copy of the Venus of Milo, and
in another of the Venus of the Medici. Here and there was an
Italian cabinet surmounted with Delft, and here and there a
bas-relief. In a handsome gold frame was a copy of Velasquez'
Innocent X., that Stroeve had made in Rome, and placed so as
to make the most of their decorative effect were a number of
Stroeve's pictures, all in splendid frames. Stroeve had
always been very proud of his taste. He had never lost his
appreciation for the romantic atmosphere of a studio, and
though now the sight of it was like a stab in his heart,
without thinking what he was at, he changed slightly the
position of a Louis XV. table which was one of his treasures.
Suddenly he caught sight of a canvas with its face to the wall.
It was a much larger one than he himself was in the
habit of using, and he wondered what it did there. He went
over to it and leaned it towards him so that he could see the
painting. It was a nude. His heart began to beat quickly,
for he guessed at once that it was one of Strickland's
pictures. He flung it back against the wall angrily -- what
did he mean by leaving it there? -- but his movement caused it
to fall, face downwards, on the ground. No mater whose the
picture, he could not leave it there in the dust, and he
raised it; but then curiosity got the better of him.
He thought he would like to have a proper look at it, so he
brought it along and set it on the easel. Then he stood back
in order to see it at his ease.
He gave a gasp. It was the picture of a woman lying on a sofa,
with one arm beneath her head and the other along her body;
one knee was raised, and the other leg was stretched out.
The pose was classic. Stroeve's head swam. It was Blanche.
Grief and jealousy and rage seized him, and he cried
out hoarsely; he was inarticulate; he clenched his fists and
raised them threateningly at an invisible enemy. He screamed
at the top of his voice. He was beside himself. He could not
bear it. That was too much. He looked round wildly for some
instrument; he wanted to hack the picture to pieces; it should
not exist another minute. He could see nothing that would
serve his purpose; he rummaged about his painting things;
somehow he could not find a thing; he was frantic. At last he
came upon what he sought, a large scraper, and he pounced on
it with a cry of triumph. He seized it as though it were a
dagger, and ran to the picture.
As Stroeve told me this he became as excited as when the
incident occurred, and he took hold of a dinner-knife on the
table between us, and brandished it. He lifted his arm as
though to strike, and then, opening his hand, let it fall with
a clatter to the ground. He looked at me with a tremulous smile.
He did not speak.
"Fire away," I said.
"I don't know what happened to me. I was just going to make a
great hole in the picture, I had my arm all ready for the
blow, when suddenly I seemed to see it."
"The picture. It was a work of art. I couldn't touch it.
I was afraid."
Stroeve was silent again, and he stared at me with his mouth
open and his round blue eyes starting out of his head.
"It was a great, a wonderful picture. I was seized with awe.
I had nearly committed a dreadful crime. I moved a little to
see it better, and my foot knocked against the scraper.
I really felt something of the emotion that had caught him.
I was strangely impressed. It was as though I were suddenly
transported into a world in which the values were changed.
I stood by, at a loss, like a stranger in a land where the
reactions of man to familiar things are all different from
those he has known. Stroeve tried to talk to me about the
picture, but he was incoherent, and I had to guess at what he meant.
Strickland had burst the bonds that hitherto had held him.
He had found, not himself, as the phrase goes, but a new
soul with unsuspected powers. It was not only the bold
simplification of the drawing which showed so rich and so
singular a personality; it was not only the painting, though
the flesh was painted with a passionate sensuality which had
in it something miraculous; it was not only the solidity, so
that you felt extraordinarily the weight of the body; there
was also a spirituality, troubling and new, which led the
imagination along unsuspected ways, and suggested dim empty
spaces, lit only by the eternal stars, where the soul, all
naked, adventured fearful to the discovery of new mysteries.
If I am rhetorical it is because Stroeve was rhetorical.
(Do we not know that man in moments of emotion expresses himself
naturally in the terms of a novelette?) Stroeve was trying to
express a feeling which he had never known before, and he did
not know how to put it into common terms. He was like the
mystic seeking to describe the ineffable. But one fact he
made clear to me; people talk of beauty lightly, and having no
feeling for words, they use that one carelessly, so that it
loses its force; and the thing it stands for, sharing its name
with a hundred trivial objects, is deprived of dignity.
They call beautiful a dress, a dog, a sermon; and when they are
face to face with Beauty cannot recognise it. The false
emphasis with which they try to deck their worthless thoughts
blunts their susceptibilities. Like the charlatan who
counterfeits a spiritual force he has sometimes felt, they
lose the power they have abused. But Stroeve, the
unconquerable buffoon, had a love and an understanding of
beauty which were as honest and sincere as was his own sincere
and honest soul. It meant to him what God means to the
believer, and when he saw it he was afraid.
"What did you say to Strickland when you saw him?"
"I asked him to come with me to Holland."
I was dumbfounded. I could only look at Stroeve in stupid amazement.
"We both loved Blanche. There would have been room for him in
my mother's house. I think the company of poor, simple people
would have done his soul a great good. I think he might have
learnt from them something that would be very useful to him."
"What did he say?"
"He smiled a little. I suppose he thought me very silly.
He said he had other fish to fry."
I could have wished that Strickland had used some other phrase
to indicate his refusal.
"He gave me the picture of Blanche."
I wondered why Strickland had done that. But I made no
remark, and for some time we kept silence.
"What have you done with all your things?" I said at last.
"I got a Jew in, and he gave me a round sum for the lot.
I'm taking my pictures home with me. Beside them I own nothing
in the world now but a box of clothes and a few books."
"I'm glad you're going home," I said.
I felt that his chance was to put all the past behind him.
I hoped that the grief which now seemed intolerable would be
softened by the lapse of time, and a merciful forgetfulness
would help him to take up once more the burden of life.
He was young still, and in a few years he would look back on all
his misery with a sadness in which there would be something
not unpleasurable. Sooner or later he would marry some honest
soul in Holland, and I felt sure he would be happy. I smiled
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