Sacred And Profane Love
E. Arnold Bennett
Part 3 out of 4
see the muddied skirts of that brilliant and sinister woman. We panted to
a standstill in the vast echoing cavern of the Gare du Nord, stared
haughtily and drowsily at its bustling confusion, and then drew back, to
carry our luxury and our correctness through the lowest industrial
quarters. Belleville, Menilmontant, and other names of like associations
we read on the miserable, forlorn stations of the Ceinture, past which we
trailed slowly our disgust.
We made a semicircle through the secret shames that beautiful Paris
would fain hide, and, emerging, found ourselves in the deserted and stony
magnificence of the Gare de Lyon, the gate of the South. Here, where we
were not out of keeping, where our splendour was of a piece with the
splendour of the proudest terminus in France, we rested long, fretted by
the inexplicable leisureliness on the part of a _train de grand luxe_,
while gilded officials paced to and fro beneath us on the platforms,
guarding in their bureaucratic breasts the secret of the exact instant at
which the great express would leave. I slept, and dreamed that the Misses
Vicary had brought several pairs of white gloves in order to have me
dismissed from the society of the train. A hand touched me. It was
Yvonne's. I awoke to a renewal of the maddening vibration. We had quitted
Paris long since. It was after seven o'clock. '_On dit que le diner est
servi, madame_ said Yvonne. I told her to go, and I collected my wits to
follow her. As I was emerging into the corridor, Miss Kate went by. I
smiled faintly, perhaps timidly. She cut me completely. Then I went out
into the corridor. A man was standing at the other end twirling his
moustaches. He turned round.
It was Frank.
He came towards me, uncertainly swaying with the movement of the
'Good God!' he muttered, and stopped within a yard of me.
I clung convulsively to the framework of the doorway. Our lives paused.
'Why have you followed me, Frank?' I asked gloomily, in a whisper.
I had meant to be severe, offended. I had not meant to put his name at
the end of my question, much less to utter it tenderly, like an
endearment. But I had little control over myself. I was almost breathless
with a fatal surprise, shaken with terrible emotion.
'I've not followed you,' he said. 'I joined the train at Paris. I'd no
idea you were on the train till I saw you in the corner asleep, through
the window of the compartment. I've been waiting here till you came out.'
'Have you seen the Vicarys?'
'Yes,' he answered.
'Ah! You've been away from London all this time?'
'I couldn't stay. I couldn't. I've been in Belgium and Holland. Then I
went to Paris. And now--you see me.'
'I'm going to Mentone,' I said. 'I had thought of Monte Carlo first, but
I changed my mind. Where are you going to?'
'Mentone,' he said.
We talked in hard, strained tones, avoiding each other's eyes. A string
of people passed along the car on their way to dinner. I withdrew into my
compartment, and Frank flattened himself against a window.
'Come in here a minute,' I said, when they were gone.
He entered the compartment and sat down opposite to me and lifted his
hand, perhaps unconsciously, to pull the door to.
'No,' I said; 'don't shut it. Leave it like that.'
He was dressed in a gray tourist suit. Never before had I seen him in any
but the formal attire of London. I thought he looked singularly graceful
and distinguished, even romantic, in that loose, soft clothing. But no
matter what he wore, Frank satisfied the eye. We were both extremely
nervous and excited and timid, fearing speech.
'Carlotta,' he said at last--I had perceived that he was struggling to a
resolution--'this is the best thing that could have happened. Whatever we
do, everybody will believe that we are running off together.'
'I think they have been believing that ever since we left London,' I
said; and I told him about Miss Kate's treatment of me at lunch. 'But how
can that affect us?' I demanded.
'Mary will believe it--does believe, I'm sure. Long before this, people
will have enlightened her. And now the Vicarys have seen us, it's all
over. Our hand is forced, isn't it?'
'Frank,' I said, 'didn't you think my letter was right?'
'I obeyed it,' he replied heavily. 'I haven't even written to you. I
meant to when I got to Mentone.'
'But didn't you think I was right?'
'I don't know. Yes--I suppose it was.' His lower lip fell. 'Of course I
don't want you to do anything that you--'
'Dinner, please,' said my negro, putting his head between us.
We both informed the man that we should not dine, and I asked him to tell
Yvonne not to wait for me.
'There's your maid, too,' said Frank. 'How are we going to get out of it?
The thing's settled for us.'
'My dear, dear boy!' I exclaimed. 'Are we to outrage our consciences
simply because people think we have outraged them?'
'It isn't my conscience--it's yours,' he said.
I drew down my veil; I could scarcely keep dry eyes.
'Why are you so hard, Carlotta?' he cried. 'I can't understand you. I
never could. But you'll kill me--that's what you'll do.'
Impulsively I leaned forward; and he seized my hand. Our antagonism
melted in tears. Oh the cruel joy of that moment! Who will dare to say
that the spirit cannot burn with pleasure while drowning in grief? Or
that tragedy may not be the highest bliss? That instant of renunciation
was our true marriage. I realize it now--a union that nothing can soil
'I love you; you are fast and fast in my heart,' I murmured. 'But you
must go back to Mary. There is nothing else.'
And I withdrew my hand.
He shook his head.
'You've no right, my dearest, to tell me to go back to Mary. I cannot.'
'Forgive me,' I said. 'I have only the right to ask you to leave me.'
'Then there is no hope?'
His lips trembled. Ah! those lips!
I made a sign that there was no hope. And we sat in silence, overcome.
A servant came to arrange the compartment for sleeping, and we were
obliged to assume nonchalance and go into the corridor. All the
windows of the corridor were covered with frost traceries. The train
with its enclosed heat and its gleaming lamps was plunging through an
ice-gripped night. I thought of the engine-driver, perched on his
shaking, snorting, monstrous machine, facing the weather, with our
lives and our loves in his hand.
'We'll leave each other now, Frank,' I said, 'before the people begin to
come back from dinner. Go and eat something.'
'I shall be all right. Yvonne will get me some fruit. I shall stay in our
compartment till we arrive.'
'Yes. And when we do arrive--what then? What are your wishes? You see,
I can't leave the train before we get to Mentone because of my
He spoke appealingly.
The dear thing, with his transparent pretexts!
'You can ignore us at the station, and then leave Mentone again
during the day.'
'As you wish,' he said.
'Good-night!' I whispered. 'Good-bye!' And I turned to my compartment.
'Carlotta!' he cried despairingly.
But I shut the door and drew the blinds.
Yvonne was discretion itself when she returned. She had surely seen
Frank. No doubt she anticipated piquant developments at Mentone.
All night I lay on my narrow bed, with Yvonne faintly snoring above me,
and the harsh, metallic rattle of the swinging train beneath. I could
catch the faint ticking of my watch under the thin pillow. The lamp burnt
delicately within its green shade. I lay almost moveless, almost dead,
shifting only at long intervals from side to side. Sometimes my brain
would arouse itself, and I would live again through each scene of my
relationship with Frank and Mary. I often thought of the engine-driver,
outside, watching over us and unflinchingly dragging us on. I hoped that
his existence had compensations.
Early on the second morning after that interview in the train I sat on
my balcony in the Hotel d'Ecosse, full in the tremendous sun that had
ascended over the Mediterranean. The shore road wound along beneath me
by the blue water that never receded nor advanced, lopping always the
same stones. A vivid yellow electric tram, like a toy, crept forward on
my left from the direction of Vintimille and Italy, as it were swimming
noiselessly on the smooth surface of the road among the palms of an
intense green, against the bright blue background of the sea; and
another tram advanced, a spot of orange, to meet it out of the
variegated tangle of tinted houses composing the Old Town. High upon the
summit of the Old Town rose the slim, rose-coloured cupola of the church
in a sapphire sky. The regular smiting sound of a cracked bell,
viciously rung, came from it. The eastern prospect was shut in by the
last olive-clad spurs of the Alps, that tread violently and gigantically
into the sea. The pathways of the hotel garden were being gently swept
by a child of the sun, who could not have sacrificed his graceful
dignity to haste; and many peaceful morning activities proceeded on the
road, on the shore, and on the jetty. A procession of tawny
fishing-boats passed from the harbour one after another straight into
the eye of the sun, and were lost there. Smoke climbed up softly into
the soft air from the houses and hotels on the level of the road. The
trams met and parted, silently widening the distance between them which
previously they had narrowed. And the sun rose and rose, bathing the
blue sea and the rich verdure and the glaring white architecture in the
very fluid of essential life. The whole azure coast basked in it like an
immense cat, commencing the day with a voluptuous savouring of the fact
that it was alive. The sun is the treacherous and tyrannical god of the
South, and when he withdraws himself, arbitrary and cruel, the land and
the people shiver and prepare to die.
It was such a morning as renders sharp and unmistakable the division
between body and soul--if the soul suffers. The body exults; the body
cries out that nothing on earth matters except climate. Nothing can damp
the glorious ecstasy of the body baptized in that air, caressed by that
incomparable sun. It laughs, and it laughs at the sorrow of the soul. It
imperiously bids the soul to choose the path of pleasure; it shouts aloud
that sacrifice is vain and honour an empty word, full of inconveniences,
and that to exist amply and vehemently, to listen to the blood as it
beats strongly through the veins, is the end of the eternal purpose. Ah!
how easy it is to martyrize one's self by some fatal decision made
grandly in the exultation of a supreme moment! And how difficult to
endure the martyrdom without regret! I regretted my renunciation. My body
rebelled against it, and even my soul rebelled. I scorned myself for a
fool, for a sentimental weakling--yes, and for a moral coward. Every
argument that presented itself damaged the justice of my decision. After
all, we loved, and in my secret dreams had I not always put love first,
as the most sacred? The reality was that I had been afraid of what Mary
would think. True, my attitude had lied to her, but I could not have
avoided that. Decency would have forbidden me to use any other attitude;
and more than decency--kindness. Ought the course of lives to be changed
at the bidding of mere hazard? It was a mere chance that Mary had called
on me. I bled for her grief, but nothing that I could do would assuage
it. I felt sure that, in the impossible case of me being able to state my
position to her and argue in its defence, I could force her to see that
in giving myself to Frank I was not being false to my own ideals. What
else could count? What other consideration should guide the soul on its
mysterious instinctive way? Frank and I had a right to possess each
other. We had a right to be happy if we could. And the one thing that had
robbed us of that right was my lack of courage, caused partly by my
feminine mentality (do we not realize sometimes how ignobly feminine we
are?), and partly by the painful spectacle of Mary's grief.... And her
grief, her most intimate grief, sprang not from thwarted love, but from
a base and narrow conventionality.
Thus I declaimed to myself in my heart, under the influence of the
seductive temptations of that intoxicating atmosphere.
'Come down,' said a voice firmly and quietly underneath me in the
orange-trees of the garden.
I started violently. It was Frank's voice. He was standing in the garden,
his legs apart, and a broad, flat straw hat, which I did not admire, on
his head. His pale face was puckered round about the eyes as he looked up
at me, like the face of a person trying to look directly at the sun.
'Why,' I exclaimed foolishly, glancing down over the edge of the balcony,
and shutting my white parasol with a nervous, hurried movement,
'have--have you come here?'
He had disobeyed my wish. He had not left Mentone at once.
'Come down,' he repeated persuasively, and yet commandingly.
I could feel my heart beating against the marble parapet of the balcony.
I seemed to be caught, to be trapped. I could not argue with him in that
position. I could not leave him shouting in the garden. So I nodded to
pacify him, and disappeared quickly from the balcony, almost scurrying
away. And in the comparative twilight of my room I stopped and gave a
glance in the mirror, and patted my hair, and fearfully examined the
woman that I saw in the glass, as if to discern what sort of woman she
truly was, and what was the root of her character. I hesitated and
snatched up my gloves. I wanted to collect my thoughts, and I could not.
It was impossible to think clearly. I moved in the room, dazed. I stood
by the tumbled bed, fingering the mosquito curtains. They might have been
a veil behind which was obscured the magic word of enlightenment I
needed. I opened the door, shut it suddenly, and held the knob tight,
defying an imagined enemy outside. 'Oh!' I muttered at last, angry with
myself, 'what is the use of all this? You know you must go down to him.
He's waiting for you. Show a little common-sense and go without so much
fuss.' And so I descended the stairs swiftly and guiltily, relieved that
no one happened to see me. In any case, I decided, nothing could induce
me to yield to him after my letter and after what had passed in the
train. The affair was beyond argument. I felt that I could not yield, and
that though it meant the ruin of happiness by obstinacy, I could not
yield. I shrank from yielding in that moment as men shrink from public
He had not moved from his post in the garden. We shook hands. A band
of Italian musicians wandered into the garden and began to sing Verdi
to a vigorous thrumming of guitars. They sang as only Italians can
sing--as naturally as they breathed, and with a rich and overflowing
innocent joy in the art which Nature had taught them. They sang loudly,
swingingly, glancing full of naive hope up at the windows of the vast,
'So you are still in Mentone,' I ventured.
'Yes,' he said. 'Come for a walk.'
'Come for a walk.'
'Very well,' I consented. 'As I am?'
'As you are. I saw you all in white on the balcony, and I was determined
to fetch you out.'
'But could you see who it was from the road?'
'Of course I could. I knew in an instant.'
We descended, he a couple of paces in front of me, the narrow zigzag path
leading down between two other hotels to the shore road.
'What will happen now?' I asked myself wildly. My head swam.
It seemed that nothing would happen. We turned eastwards, walking slowly,
and I began to resume my self-control. Only the simple and the humble
were abroad at that early hour: purveyors of food, in cheerfully rattling
carts, or hauling barrows with the help of grave and formidable dogs;
washers and cleaners at the doors of highly-decorated villas, amiably
performing their tasks while the mighty slept; fishermen and fat
fisher-girls, industriously repairing endless brown nets on the other
side of the parapet of the road; a postman and a little policeman; a
porcelain mender, who practised his trade under the shadow of the wall; a
few loafers; some stable-boys exercising horses; and children with
adorable dirty faces, shouting in their high treble as they played at
hopscotch. I felt very closely akin to these meek ones as we walked
along. They were so human, so wistful. They had the wonderful simplicity
of animals, uncomplicated by the disease of self-consciousness; they were
the vital stuff without the embroidery. They preserved the customs of
their ancestors, rising with the sun, frankly and splendidly enjoying the
sun, looking up to it as the most important thing in the world. They
never attempted to understand what was beyond them; they troubled not
with progress, ideals, righteousness, the claims of society. They
accepted humbly and uninquiringly what they found. They lived the life of
their instincts, sometimes violent, often kindly, and always natural.
Why should I have felt so near to them?
A calm and gentle pleasure filled me, far from intense, but yet
satisfying. I determined to enjoy the moment, or, perhaps, without
determination, I gave myself up, gradually, to the moment. I forgot care
and sorrow. I was well; I was with Frank; I was in the midst of
enchanting natural beauty; the day was fair and fresh and virgin. I knew
not where I was going. Shorewards a snowy mountain ridge rose above the
long, wide slopes of olives, dotted with white dwellings. A single sail
stood up seawards on the immense sheet of blue. The white sail appeared
and disappeared in the green palm-trees as we passed eastwards. Presently
we left the sea, and we lost the hills, and came into a street of poor
little shops for simple folk, that naively exposed their cheap and tawdry
goods to no matter what mightiness should saunter that way. And then we
came to the end of the tram-line, and it was like the end of the world.
And we saw in the distance abodes of famous persons, fabulously rich,
defying the sea and the hills, and condescending from afar off to the
humble. We crossed the railway, and a woman ran out from a cabin with a
spoon in one hand and a soiled flag in the other, and waved the flag at
a towering black engine that breathed stertorously in a cutting. Already
we were climbing, and the road grew steeper, and then we came to
custom-houses--unsightly, squalid, irregular, and mean--in front of which
officials laughed and lounged and smoked.
We talked scarcely at all.
'You were up early this morning,' he said.
'Yes; I could not sleep.'
'It was the same with me.'
We recovered the sea; but now it was far below us, and the footprints of
the wind were marked on it, and it was not one blue, but a thousand
blues, and it faded imperceptibly into the sky. The sail, making Mentone,
was much nearer, and had developed into a two-masted ship. It seemed to
be pushed, rather than blown, along by the wind. It seemed to have
rigidity in all its parts, and to be sliding unwillingly over a vast
slate. The road lay through craggy rocks, shelving away unseen on one
hand, and rising steeply against the burning sky on the other. We mounted
steadily and slowly. I did not look much at Frank, but my eye was
conscious of his figure, striding leisurely along. Now and then, when I
turned to glance behind, I saw our shadows there diagonally on the road,
and again I did not care for his hat. I had not seen him in a straw hat
till that morning. We arrived at a second set of French custom-houses,
deserted, and then we saw that the gigantic side of the mountain was
cleft by a fissure from base to summit. And across the gorge had been
thrown a tiny stone bridge to carry the road. At this point, by the
bridge, the face of the rock had been carved smooth, and a great black
triangle painted on it. And on the road was a common milestone, with
'France' on one side and 'Italia' on the other. And a very old man was
harmlessly spreading a stock of picture postcards on the parapet of the
bridge. My heart went out to that poor old man, whose white curls glinted
in the sunlight. It seemed to me so pathetic that he should be just
there, at that natural spot which the passions and the blood of men long
dead had made artificial, tediously selling postcards in order to keep
his worn and creaking body out of the grave.
'Do give him something,' I entreated Frank.
And while Frank went to him I leaned over the other parapet and
listened for the delicate murmur of the stream far below. The split
flank of the hill was covered with a large red blossom, and at the
base, on the edge of the sea, were dolls' houses, each raising a
slanted pencil of pale smoke.
Then we were in Italy, and still climbing. We saw a row of narrow,
slattern cottages, their backs over the sea, and in front of them marched
to and fro a magnificent soldier laced in gold, with chinking spurs and a
rifle. Suddenly there ran out of a cottage two little girls, aged about
four years and eight years, dirty, unkempt, delicious, shrill, their
movements full of the ravishing grace of infancy. They attacked the laced
soldier, chattering furiously, grumbling at him, intimidating him with
the charming gestures of spoilt and pouting children. And he bent down
stiffly in his superb uniform, and managed his long, heavy gun, and
talked to them in a deep, vibrating voice. He reasoned with them till we
could hear him no more. It was so touching, so exquisitely human!
We reached the top of the hill, having passed the Italian customs,
equally vile with the French. The terraced grounds of an immense deserted
castle came down to the roadside; and over the wall, escaped from the
garden, there bloomed extravagantly a tangle of luscious yellow roses,
just out of our reach. The road was still and deserted. We could see
nothing but the road and the sea and the hills, all steeped, bewitched,
and glorious under the sun. The ship had nearly slid to Mentone. The
curving coastline of Italy wavered away into the shimmering horizon. And
there were those huge roses, insolently blooming in the middle of winter,
the symbol of the terrific forces of nature which slept quiescent under
the universal calm. Perched as it were in a niche of the hills, we were
part of that tremendous and ennobling scene. Long since the awkward
self-consciousness caused by our plight had left us. We did not use
speech, but we knew that we thought alike, and were suffering the same
transcendent emotion. Was it joy or sadness? Rather than either, it was
an admixture of both, originating in a poignant sense of the grandeur of
life and of the earth.
'Oh, Frank,' I murmured, my spirit bursting, 'how beautiful it is!'
Our eyes met. He took me and kissed me impetuously, as though my
utterance had broken a spell which enchained him. And as I kissed him I
wept, blissfully. Nature had triumphed.
We departed from Mentone that same day after lunch. I could not remove to
his hotel; he could not remove to mine, for this was Mentone. We went to
Monte Carlo by road, our luggage following. We chose Monte Carlo partly
because it was the nearest place, and partly because it has some of the
qualities--incurious, tolerant, unprovincial--of a capital city. If we
encountered friends there, so much the better, in the end. The great
adventure, the solemn and perilous enterprise had begun. I sent Yvonne
for a holiday to her home in Laroche. Why? Ah, why? Perhaps for the
simple reason that I had not the full courage of my convictions. We
seldom have--_nous autres_. I felt that, if she had remained, Yvonne
would have been too near me in the enterprise. I could not at first have
been my natural self with her. I told the astonished and dissatisfied
Yvonne that I would write to her as soon as I wanted her. Yet in other
ways I had courage, and I found a delicious pleasure in my courage. When
I was finally leaving the hotel I had Frank by my side. I behaved to him
as to a husband. I publicly called him 'dear.' I asked his advice in
trifles. He paid my bill. He even provided the money necessary for
Yvonne. My joy in the possession of this male creature, whose part it now
was to do for me a thousand things that hitherto I had been forced to do
for myself, was almost naive. I could not hide it. I was at last a man's
woman. I had a protector. Yes; I must not shrink from the equivocal
significance of that word--I had a protector.
Frank was able to get three rooms at the Hotel de Paris at Monte Carlo. I
had only to approve them. We met in our sitting-room at half-past three,
ready to go out for a walk. It would be inexact to say that we were not
nervous. But we were happy. He had not abandoned his straw hat.
'Don't wear that any more,' I said to him, smiling.
'But why? It's quite new.'
'It doesn't suit you,' I said.
'Oh, that doesn't matter,' he laughed, and he put it on.
'But I don't like to see you in it,' I persisted.
'Well, you'll stand it this afternoon, my angel, and I'll get another
'Haven't you got another one here?' I asked, with discontent.
'No,' and he laughed again.
'But, dear--' I pouted.
He seemed suddenly to realize that as a fact I did not like the hat.
'Come here,' he said, charmingly grave; and he led me by the hand into
his bedroom, which was littered with clothes, small parcels, boots, and
brushes. One chair was overturned.
'Heavens!' I muttered, pretending to be shocked at the disorder.
He drew, me to a leather box of medium size.
'You can open it,' he said.
I opened it. The thing was rather a good contrivance, for a man. It
held a silk hat, an opera hat, a bowler hat, some caps, and a soft
'And you said you had no others!' I grumbled at him.
'Well, which is it to be?' he demanded.
'This, of course,' I said, taking the bowler. I reached up, removed the
straw hat from his head, and put the bowler in its place. 'There!' I
exclaimed, satisfied, giving the bowler a pat--there!'
He laughed, immensely content, enraptured, foolishly blissful. We were
indeed happy. Before opening the door leading to the corridor we stopped
On the seaward terrace of the vast, pale, floriated Casino, so
impressive in its glittering vulgarity, like the bride-cake of a
stockbroker's wedding, we strolled about among a multifarious crowd,
immersed in ourselves. We shared a contempt for the architecture, the
glaring flower-beds, and the false distinction of the crowd, and an
enthusiasm for the sunshine and the hills and the sea, and whatever else
had escaped the hands of the Casino administration. We talked lightly
and freely. Care seemed to be leaving us; we had no preoccupations save
those which were connected with our passion. Then I saw, standing in an
attitude of attention, the famous body-servant of Lord Francis Alcar,
and I knew that Lord Francis could not be far away. We spoke to the
valet; he pointed out his master, seated at the front of the terrace,
and told us, in a discreet, pained, respectful voice, that our venerable
friend had been mysteriously unwell at Monte Carlo, and was now taking
the air for the first time in ten days. I determined that we should go
boldly and speak to him.
'Lord Francis,' I said gently, after we had stood some seconds by his
He was staring fixedly at the distance of the sea. He looked amazingly
older than when I had last talked with him. His figure was shrunken, and
his face rose thin and white out of a heavy fur overcoat and a large blue
muffler. In his eyes there was such a sadness, such an infinite regret,
such a profound weariness as can only be seen in the eyes of the senile.
He was utterly changed.
'Lord Francis,' I repeated, 'don't you know me?'
He started slightly and looked at me, and a faint gleam appeared in his
eyes. Then he nodded, and took a thin, fragile alabaster hand out of
the pocket of his overcoat. I shook it. It was like shaking hands with
a dead, starved child. He carefully moved the skin and bone back into
'Are you pretty well?' I said.
He nodded. Then the faint gleam faded out of his eyes; his head fell a
little, and he resumed his tragic contemplation of the sea. The fact of
my presence had dropped like a pebble into the strange depths of that
aged mind, and the waters of the ferocious egotism of senility had closed
over it, and it was forgotten. His rapt and yet meaningless gaze
frightened me. It was as if there was more desolation and disillusion in
that gaze than I had previously imagined the whole earth to contain.
Useless for Frank to rouse him for the second time. Useless to explain
ourselves. What was love to him, or the trivial conventions of a world
which he was already quitting?
We walked away. From the edge of the terrace I could see a number of
boats pulling to and fro in the water.
'It's the pigeon-shooting,' Frank explained. 'Come to the railings and
you'll be able to see.'
I had already heard the sharp popping of rifles. I went to the railings,
and saw a number of boxes arranged in a semicircle on a green, which was,
as it were, suspended between the height of the terrace and the sea.
Suddenly one of the boxes collapsed with a rattle, and a bird flew out of
the ruin of it. There were two reports of a gun; the bird, its curving
flight cut short, fell fluttering to the grass; a dog trotted out from
the direction of the gun unseen beneath us, and disappeared again with
the mass of ruffled feathers in its mouth. Then two men showed
themselves, ran to the collapsed box, restored it, and put in it a fresh
victim, and disappeared after the dog. I was horrified, but I could not
remove my eyes from the green. Another box fell flat, and another bird
flew out; a gun sounded; the bird soared far away, wavered, and sank on
to the surface of the sea, and the boats converged towards it in furious
haste. So the game proceeded. I saw a dozen deaths on the green; a few
birds fell into the sea, and one escaped, settling ultimately on the roof
of the Casino.
'So that is pigeon-shooting,' I said coldly, turning to Frank. 'I suppose
it goes on all day?'
'It's just as cruel as plenty of other sports, and no more,' he said, as
if apologizing for the entire male sex.
'I presume so,' I answered. 'But do you know, dear, if the idea once gets
into my head that that is going on all day, I shan't be able to stop
here. Let us have tea somewhere.'
Not until dinner did I recover from the obsession of that continual
slaughter and destruction of beautiful life. It seemed to me that the
Casino and its gorgeous gardens were veritably established on the
mysterious arched hollow, within the high cliff, from which death shot
out all day and every day. But I did recover perfectly. Only now do I
completely perceive how violent, how capricious and contradictory were
my emotions in those unique and unforgettable hours.
We dined late, because I had deprived myself of Yvonne. Already I was
almost in a mind to send for her. The restaurant of the hotel was full,
but we recognised no one as we walked through the room to our table.
'There is one advantage in travelling about with you,' said Frank.
'What is it?' I asked.
'No matter where one is, one can always be sure of being with the most
beautiful woman in the place.'
I was content. I repaid him by being more than ever a man's woman. I
knew that I was made for that. I understood why great sopranos have of
their own accord given up even the stage on marriage. The career of
literature seemed to me tedious and sordid in comparison with that of
being a man's woman. In my rich black dress and my rings and bracelets I
felt like an Eastern Empress; I felt that I could adequately reward
homage with smiles, and love with fervid love. And I felt like a
cat--idle, indolently graceful, voluptuously seeking warmth and
caresses. I enveloped Frank with soft glances, I dazed him with glances.
He ordered a wine which he said was fit for gods, and the waiter brought
it reverently and filled our glasses, with a ritual of precautions.
Later during the dinner Frank asked me if I would prefer champagne. I
said, 'No, of course not.' But he said, 'I think you would,' and ordered
some. 'Admit,' he said, 'that you prefer champagne.' 'Well, of course,'
I replied. But I drank very little champagne, lest I should be too
happy. Frank's wonderful face grew delicately flushed. The room
resounded with discreet chatter, and the tinkle of glass and silver and
porcelain. The upper part of it remained in shadow, but every table was
a centre of rosy light, illuminating faces and jewels and napery. And in
my sweet illusion I thought that every face had found the secret of joy,
and that even the old had preserved it. Pleasure reigned. Pleasure was
the sole goddess. And how satisfying then was the worship of her! Life
had no inconveniences, no dark spots, no pitfalls. The gratification of
the senses, the appeasing of appetites that instantly renewed
themselves--this was the business of the soul. And as the wine sank
lower in the bottles, and we cooled our tongues with ices, and the room
began to empty, expectation gleamed and glittered in our eyes. At last,
except a group of men smoking and talking in a corner, we were the only
'Shall we go?' Frank said, putting a veil of cigarette smoke between us.
I trembled. I was once more the young and timid girl. I could not
speak. I nodded.
In the hall was Vicary, talking to the head-porter. He saw us and
'What! Vicary!' I murmured, suddenly cooled.
'I want to speak to you,' said Vicary. 'Where can we go?'
'This way,' Frank replied.
We went to our sitting-room, silent and apprehensive.
'Sit down,' said Vicary, shutting the door and standing against it.
He was wearing a tourist suit, with a gray overcoat, and his grizzled
hair was tumbling over his hard, white face.
'What's the matter?' Frank asked. 'Anything wrong?'
'Look here, you two,' said Vicary, 'I don't want to discuss your
position, and I'm the last person in this world to cast the first stone;
but it falls to me to do it. I was coming down to Nice to stay with my
sisters, and I've come a little further. My sisters wired me they had
seen you. I've been to Mentone, and driven here from there. I hoped I
should get here earlier than the newspapers, and I have done, it seems.'
'Earlier than the newspapers?' Frank repeated, standing up.
'Try to keep calm,' Vicary continued. 'Your wife's body was found in the
Thames at seven o'clock last night. The doctors say it had been in the
water for forty-eight hours. Your servants thought she had gone to you.
But doubtless some thoughtful person had told her that you two were
wandering about Europe together.'
'_My wife_' cried Frank.
And the strange and terrible emphasis he put on the word 'wife' proved to
me in the fraction of a second that in his heart I was not his wife. A
fearful tragedy had swept away the structure of argument in favour of the
rights of love which he had built over the original conventionality of
his mind. Poor fellow!
He fell back into his chair and covered his eyes.
'I thank God my mother didn't live to see this!' he cried.
And then he rushed to his bedroom and banged the door.
'My poor girl!' said Vicary, approaching me. 'What can I--I'm awfully--'
I waved him away.
'What's that?' he exclaimed, in a different voice, listening.
I ran to the bedroom, and saw Frank lifting a revolver.
'You've brought me to this, Carlotta!' he shouted.
I sprang towards him, but it was too late.
When I came out of the house, hurried and angrily flushing, I perceived
clearly that my reluctance to break a habit and my desire for physical
comfort, if not my attachment to the girl, had led me too far. I was
conscious of humiliation. I despised myself. The fact was that I had
quarrelled with Yvonne--Yvonne, who had been with me for eight years,
Yvonne who had remained sturdily faithful during my long exile. Now the
woman who quarrels with a maid is clumsy, and the woman who quarrels with
a good maid is either a fool or in a nervous, hysterical condition, or
both. Possibly I was both. I had permitted Yvonne too much liberty. I had
spoilt her. She was fidelity itself, goodness itself; but her character
had not borne the strain of realizing that she had acquired power over
me, and that she had become necessary to me. So that morning we had
differed violently; we had quarrelled as equals. The worst side of her
had appeared suddenly, shockingly. And she had left me, demonstrating
even as she banged the door that she was at least my mistress in
altercation. All day I fought against the temptation to eat my pride, and
ask her to return. It was a horrible, a deplorable, temptation. And
towards evening, after seven hours of solitude in the hotel in the Avenue
de Kleber, I yielded to it. I knew the address to which she had gone, and
I took a cab and drove there, hating myself. I was received with
excessive rudeness by a dirty and hag-like concierge, who, after refusing
all information for some minutes, informed me at length that the young
lady in question had quitted Paris in company with a gentleman.
The insolence of the concierge, my weakness and my failure, the bitter
sense of lost dignity, the fact that Yvonne had not hesitated even a few
hours before finally abandoning me--all these things wounded me. But the
sharpest stab of all was that during our stay in Paris Yvonne must have
had secret relations with a man. I had hidden nothing from her; she,
however, had not reciprocated my candour. I had imagined that she lived
only for me....
Well, the truth cannot be concealed that the years of wandering which had
succeeded the fatal night at Monte Carlo had done little to improve me.
What would you have? For months and months my ears rang with Frank's
despairing shout: '_You've_ brought me to this, Carlotta!' And the
profound injustice of that cry tainted even the sad sweetness of my
immense sorrow. To this day, whenever I hear it, as I do still, my inmost
soul protests, and all the excuses which my love found for him seem
inadequate and unconvincing. I was a broken creature. (How few know what
it means to be broken--to sink under a tremendous and overwhelming
calamity! And yet who but they can understandingly sympathize with the
afflicted?) As for my friends, I did not give them the occasion to desert
me; I deserted them. For the second time in my career I tore myself up by
the roots. I lived the nomad's life, in the usual European haunts of the
nomad. And in five years I did not make a single new friend, scarcely an
acquaintance. I lived in myself and on myself, nursing grief, nursing a
rancour against fate, nursing an involuntary shame.... You know, the
scandal of which I had been the centre was appalling; it touched the
extreme. It must have nearly killed the excellent Mrs. Sardis. I did not
dare to produce another novel. But after a year or so I turned to poetry,
and I must admit that my poetry was accepted. But it was not enough to
prevent me from withering--from shrivelling. I lost ground, and I was
still losing it. I was becoming sinister, warped, peculiar, capricious,
unaccountable. I guessed it then; I see it clearly now.
The house of the odious concierge was in a small, shabby street off the
Boulevard du Montparnasse. I looked in vain for a cab. Even on the wide,
straight, gas-lit boulevard there was not a cab, and I wondered why I had
been so foolish as to dismiss the one in which I had arrived. The great,
glittering electric cars floated horizontally along in swift succession,
but they meant nothing to me; I knew not whence they came nor whither
they went. I doubt if I had ever been in a tram-car. Without a cab I was
as helpless and as timid as a young girl, I who was thirty-one, and had
travelled and lived and suffered! Never had I been alone in the streets
of a large city at night. And the September night was sultry and
forbidding. I was afraid--I was afraid of the men who passed me, staring
at me. One man spoke to me, and I literally shook with fear as I hastened
on. What would I have given to have had the once faithful Yvonne by my
side! Presently I came to the crossing of the Boulevard Raspail, and this
boulevard, equally long, uncharitable, and mournful with the other,
endless, stretching to infinity, filled me with horror. Yes, with the
horror of solitude in a vast city. Oh, you solitary, you who have felt
that horror descending upon you, desolating, clutching, and chilling the
heart, you will comprehend me!
At the corner, of the two boulevards was a glowing cafe, the Cafe du
Dome, with a row of chairs and little tables in front of its windows. And
at one of these little tables sat a man, gazing absently at a green glass
in a white saucer. I had almost gone past him when some instinct prompted
me to the bravery of looking at him again. He was a stoutish man,
apparently aged about forty-five, very fair, with a puffed face and
melancholy eyes. And then it was as though someone had shot me in the
breast. It was as if I must fall down and die--as if the sensations which
I experienced were too acute--too elemental for me to support. I have
never borne a child, but I imagine that the woman who becomes a mother
may feel as I felt then, staggered at hitherto unsuspected possibilities
of sensation. I stopped. I clung to the nearest table. There was ice on
my shuddering spine, and a dew on my forehead.
'Magda!' breathed the man.
He had raised his eyes to mine.
It was Diaz, after ten years.
At first I had not recognised him. Instead of ten, he seemed twenty years
older. I searched in his features for the man I had known, as the
returned traveller searches the scene of his childhood for remembered
landmarks. Yes, it was Diaz, though time had laid a heavy hand on him.
The magic of his eyes was not effaced, and when he smiled youth
'It is I,' I murmured.
He got up, and in doing so shook the table, and his glass was overturned,
and scattered itself in fragments on the asphalte. At the noise a waiter
ran out of the cafe, and Diaz, blushing and obviously making a great
effort at self-control, gave him an order.
'I should have known you anywhere,' said Diaz to me, taking my hand, as
the waiter went.
The ineptitude of the speech was such that I felt keenly sorry for him. I
was not in the least hurt. My sympathy enveloped him. The position was so
difficult, and he had seemed so pathetic, sitting there alone on the
pavement of the vast nocturnal boulevard, so weighed down by sadness,
that I wanted to comfort him and soothe him, and to restore him to all
the brilliancy of his first period. It appeared to me unjust and cruel
that the wheels of life should have crushed him too. And so I said,
smiling as well as I could:
'And I you.'
'Won't you sit down here?' he suggested, avoiding my eyes.
And thus I found myself seated outside a cafe, at night, conspicuous for
all Montparnasse to see. We never know what may lie in store for us at
the next turning of existence.
'Then I am not much changed, you think?' he ventured, in an anxious tone.
'No,' I lied. 'You are perhaps a little stouter. That's all.'
How hard it was to talk! How lamentably self-conscious we were! How
unequal to the situation! We did not know what to say.
'You are far more beautiful than ever you were,' he said, looking at me
for an instant. 'You are a woman; you were a girl--then.'
The waiter brought another glass and saucer, and a second waiter
followed him with a bottle, from which he poured a greenish-yellow
liquid into the glass.
'What will you have?' Diaz asked me.
'Nothing, thank you,' I said quickly.
To sit outside the cafe was already much. It would have been impossible
for me to drink there.
'Ah! as you please, as you please,' Diaz snapped. 'I beg your pardon.'
'Poor fellow!' I reflected. 'He must be suffering from nervous
irritability.' And aloud, 'I'm not thirsty, thank you,' as nicely
He smiled beautifully; the irritability had passed.
'It's awfully kind of you to sit down here with me,' he said, in a lower
voice. 'I suppose you've heard about me?'
He drank half the contents of the glass.
'I read in the papers some years ago that you were suffering from
neurasthenia and nervous breakdown,' I replied. 'I was very sorry.'
'Yes,' he said; 'nervous breakdown--nervous breakdown.'
'You haven't been playing lately, have you?'
'It is more than two years since I played. And if you had heard me that
time! My God!'
'But surely you have tried some cure?'
'Cure!' he repeated after me. 'There's no cure. Here I am! Me!'
His glass was empty. He tapped on the window behind us, and the
procession of waiters occurred again, and Diaz received a third glass,
which now stood on three saucers.
'You'll excuse me,' he said, sipping slowly. 'I'm not very well to-night.
And you've--Why did you run away from me? I wanted to find you, but I
'Please do not let us talk about that,' I stopped him. 'I--I must go.'
'Oh, of course, if I've offended you--'
'No,' I said; 'I'm not at all offended. But I think--'
'Then, if you aren't offended, stop a little, and let me see you home.
You're sure you won't have anything?'
I shook my head, wishing that he would not drink so much. I thought it
could not be good for his nerves.
'Been in Paris long?' he asked me, with a slightly confused utterance.
'Staying in this quarter? Many English and Americans here.'
Then, in setting down the glass, he upset it, and it smashed on the
pavement like the first one.
'Damn!' he exclaimed, staring forlornly at the broken glass, as if in the
presence of some irreparable misfortune. And before I could put in a
word, he turned to me with a silly smile, and approaching his face to
mine till his hat touched the brim of my hat, he said thickly: 'After
all, you know, I'm the greatish pianist in the world.'
The truth struck me like a blow. In my amazing ignorance of certain
aspects of life I had not suspected it. Diaz was drunk. The ignominy of
it! The tragedy of it! He was drunk. He had fallen to the beast. I drew
back from that hot, reeking face.
'You don't think I am?' he muttered. 'You think young What's-his-name can
play Ch--Chopin better than me? Is that it?'
I wanted to run away, to cease to exist, to hide with my shame in some
deep abyss. And there I was on the boulevard, next to this animal,
sharing his table and the degradation! And I could not move. There are
people so gifted that in a dilemma they always know exactly the wisest
course to adopt. But I did not know. This part of my story gives me
infinite pain to write, and yet I must write it, though I cannot persuade
myself to write it in full; the details would be too repulsive.
Nevertheless, forget not that I lived it.
He put his face to mine again, and began to stammer something, and I
'You are ashamed of me, madam,' he said sharply.
'I think you are not quite yourself--not quite well,' I replied.
'You mean I am drunk.'
'I mean what I say. You are not quite well. Please do not twist my
'You mean I am drunk,' he insisted, raising his voice. 'I am not drunk;
I have never been drunk. That I can swear with my hand on my heart. But
you are ashamed of being seen with me.'
'I think you ought to go home,' I suggested.
'That is only to get rid of me!' he cried.
'No, no,' I appealed to him persuasively. 'Do not wound me. I will go
with you as far as your house, if you like. You are too ill to be alone.'
At that moment an empty open cab strolled by, and, without pausing for
his answer, I signalled the driver. My heart beat wildly. My spirit was
in an uproar. But I was determined not to desert him, not to abandon him
to a public disgrace. I rose from my seat.
'You're very good,' he said, in a new voice.
The cab had stopped.
'Come!' I entreated him.
He rapped uncertainly on the window, and then, as the waiter did not
immediately appear, he threw some silver on the table, and aimed himself
in the direction of the cab. I got in. Diaz slipped on the step.
'I've forgotten somethin',' he complained. 'What is it? My umbrella--yes,
my umbrella--_pepin_ as they say here. 'Scuse me moment.'
His umbrella was, in fact, lying under a chair. He stooped with
difficulty and regained it, and then the waiter, who had at length
arrived, helped him into the cab, and he sank like a mass of inert clay
on my skirts.
'Tell the driver the address,' I whispered.
The driver, with head turned and a grin on his face, was waiting.
'Rue de Douai,' said Diaz sullenly.
'What number?' the driver asked.
'Does that regard you?' Diaz retorted crossly in French. 'I will tell
'Tell him now,' I pleaded.
'Well, to oblige you, I will. Twenty-seven. But what I can't stand is the
impudence of these fellows.'
The driver winked at me.
'Just so,' I soothed Diaz, and we drove off.
I have never been happier than in unhappiness. Happiness is not joy, and
it is not tranquillity. It is something deeper and something more
disturbing. Perhaps it is an acute sense of life, a realization of one's
secret being, a continual renewal of the mysterious savour of existence.
As I crossed Paris with the drunken Diaz leaning clumsily against my
shoulder, I was profoundly unhappy. I was desolated by the sight of this
ruin, and yet I was happier than I had been since Frank died. I had
glimpses and intimations of the baffling essence of our human lives here,
strange, fleeting comprehensions of the eternal wonder and the eternal
beauty.... In vain, professional writer as I am, do I try to express
myself. What I want to say cannot be said; but those who have truly lived
We passed over the Seine, lighted and asleep in the exquisite Parisian
night, and the rattling of the cab on the cobble-stones roused Diaz from
'Where are we?' he asked.
'Just going through the Louvre,' I replied.
'I don't know how I got to the other s-side of the river,' he said.
'Don't remember. So you're coming home with me, eh? You aren't
'shamed of me?'
'You are hurting me,' I said coldly, 'with your elbow.'
'Oh, a thousand pardons! a thous' parnds, Magda! That isn't your real
name, is it?'
He sat upright and turned his face to glance at mine with a fatuous
smile; but I would not look at him. I kept my eyes straight in
front. Then a swerve of the carriage swung his body away from me,
and he subsided into the corner. The intoxication was gaining on him
'What shall I do with him?' I thought.
I blushed as we drove up the Avenue de l'Opera and across the Grand
Boulevard, for it seemed to me that all the gay loungers must observe
Diaz' condition. We followed darker thoroughfares, and at last the cab,
after climbing a hill, stopped before a house in a street that appeared
rather untidy and irregular. I got out first, and Diaz stumbled after me,
while two women on the opposite side of the road stayed curiously to
watch us. Hastily I opened my purse and gave the driver a
five-franc-piece, and he departed before Diaz could decide what to say. I
had told him to go.
I did not wish to tell the driver to go. I told him in spite of myself.
Diaz, grumbling inarticulately, pulled the bell of the great door of the
house. But he had to ring several times before finally the door opened;
and each second was a year for me, waiting there with him in the street.
And when the door opened he was leaning against it, and so pitched
forward into the gloom of the archway. A laugh--the loud, unrestrained
laugh of the courtesan--came from across the street.
The archway was as black as night.
'Shut the door, will you?' I heard Diaz' voice. 'I can't see it.
Where are you?'
But I was not going to shut the door.
'Have you got a servant here?' I asked him.
'She comes in the mornings,' he replied.
'Then there is no one in your flat?'
'Not a shoul,' said Diaz. 'Needn't be 'fraid.'
I'm not afraid,' I said. 'But I wanted to know. Which floor is it?'
'Third. I'll light a match.'
Then I pushed to the door, whose automatic latch clicked. We were fast in
Diaz dropped his matches in attempting to strike one. The metal box
bounced on the tiles. I bent down and groped with both hands till I found
it. And presently we began painfully to ascend the staircase, Diaz
holding his umbrella and the rail, and I striking matches from time to
time. We were on the second landing when I heard the bell ring again, and
the banging of the front-door, and then voices at the foot of the
staircase. I trembled lest we should be over-taken, and I would have
hurried Diaz on, but he would not be hurried. Happily, as we were halfway
between the second and third story, the man and the girl whose voices I
heard stopped at the second. I caught sight of them momentarily through
the banisters. The man was striking matches as I had been. '_C'est ici_,'
the girl whispered. She was dressed in blue with a very large hat. She
put a key in the door when they had stopped, and then our matches went
out simultaneously. The door shut, and Diaz and I were alone on the
staircase again. I struck another match; we struggled on.
When I had taken his key from Diaz' helpless hand, and opened his door
and guided him within, and closed the door definitely upon the outer
world, I breathed a great sigh. Every turn of the stair had been a
station of the cross for me. We were now in utter darkness. The classical
effluvium of inebriety mingled with the classical odour of the furnished
lodging. But I cared not. I had at last successfully hidden his shame. No
one could witness it now but me. So I was glad.
Neither of us said anything as, still with the aid of matches, I
penetrated into the flat. Silently I peered about until I perceived a
pair of candles, which I lighted. Diaz, with his hat on his head and his
umbrella clasped tightly in his hand, fell into a chair. We glanced at
'You had better go to bed,' I suggested. 'Take your hat off. You will
feel better without it.'
He did not move, and I approached him and gently took his hat. I then
touched the umbrella.
'No, no, no!' he cried suddenly; 'I'm always losing this umbrella, and I
won't let it out of my sight.'
'As you wish,' I replied coldly.
I was standing by him when he got up with a surprising lurch and put a
hand on my shoulder. He evidently meant to kiss me. I kept him at arm's
length, feeling a sort of icy anger.
'Go to bed,' I repeated fiercely. 'It is the only place for you.'
He made inarticulate noises in his throat, and ultimately achieved
'You're very hard, Magda.'
Then he bent himself towards the next room.
'You will want a candle,' I said, with bitterness. 'No; I will carry it.
Let me go first.'
I preceded him through a tiny salon into the bedroom, and, leaving him
there with one candle, came back into the first room. The whole place was
deplorable, though not more deplorable than I had expected from the look
of the street and the house and the stairs and the girl with the large
hat. It was small, badly arranged, disordered, ugly, bare, comfortless,
and, if not very dirty, certainly not clean; not a home, but a kennel--a
kennel furnished with chairs and spotted mirrors and spotted engravings
and a small upright piano; a kennel whose sides were covered with
enormous red poppies, and on whose floor was something which had once
been a carpet; a kennel fitted with windows and curtains; a kennel with
actually a bed! It was the ready-made human kennel of commerce, which
every large city supplies wholesale in tens of thousands to its victims.
In that street there were hundreds such; in the house alone there were
probably a score at least. Their sole virtue was their privacy. Ah the
blessedness of the sacred outer door, which not even the tyrant concierge
might violate! I thought of all the other interiors of the house, floor
above floor, and serried one against another--vile, mean, squalid,
cramped, unlovely, frowsy, fetid; but each lighted and intensely alive
with the interplay of hearts; each cloistered, a secure ground where the
instincts that move the world might show themselves naturally and in
secret. There was something tragically beautiful in that.
I had heard uncomfortable sounds from the bedroom. Then Diaz called out:
'It's no use. Can't do it. Can't get into bed.' I went directly to him.
He sat on the bed, still clasping the umbrella, one arm out of his coat.
His gloomy and discouraged face was the face of a man who retires baffled
from some tremendously complicated problem.
'Put down your umbrella,' I said. 'Don't be foolish.'
'I'm not foolish,' he retorted irritably. 'Don't want to loosh thish
'Well then,' I said, 'hold it in the other hand, and I will help you.'
This struck him as a marvellous idea, one of those discoveries that
revolutionize science, and he instantly obeyed. He was now very drunk. He
was nauseating. The conventions which society has built up in fifty
centuries ceased suddenly to exist. It was impossible that they should
exist--there in that cabin, where we were alone together, screened, shut
in. I lost even the sense of convention. I was no longer disgusted.
Everything that was seemed natural, ordinary, normal. I became his
mother. I became his hospital nurse. And at length he lay in bed,
clutching the umbrella to his breast. Nothing had induced him to loose it
from both hands at once. The priceless value of the umbrella was the one
clearly-defined notion that illuminated his poor devastated brain. I left
him to his inanimate companion.
I should have left then, though I had a wish not to leave. But I was
prevented from going by the fear of descending those sinister stairs
alone, and the necessity of calling aloud to the concierge in order to
get out through the main door, and the possible difficulties in finding a
cab in that region at that hour. I knew that I could not have borne to
walk even to the end of the street unprotected. So I stayed where I was,
seated in a chair near the window of the larger room, saturating myself
in the vague and heavy flood of sadness that enwraps the fretful,
passionate city in the night--the night when the commonest noises seem to
carry some mystic message to the listening soul, the night when truth
walks abroad naked and whispers her secrets.
A gas-lamp threw its radiance on the ceiling in bars through the slits of
the window-shutters, and then, far in the middle wilderness of the night,
the lamp was extinguished by a careful municipality, and I was left in
utter darkness. Long since the candles had burnt away. I grew silly and
sentimental, and pictured the city in feverish sleep, gaining with
difficulty inadequate strength for the morrow--as if the city had not
been living this life for centuries and did not know exactly what it was
about! And then, sure as I had been that I could not sleep, I woke up,
and I could see the outline of the piano. Dawn had begun. And not a sound
disturbed the street, and not a sound came from Diaz' bedroom. As of old,
he slept with the tranquillity of a child.
And after a time I could see the dust on the piano and on the polished
floor under the table. The night had passed, and it appeared to be almost
a miracle that the night had passed, and that I had lived through it and
was much the same Carlotta still. I gently opened the window and pushed
back the shutters. A young woman, tall, with a superb bust, clothed in
blue, was sweeping the footpath in long, dignified strokes of a broom.
She went slowly from my ken. Nothing could have been more prosaic, more
sane, more astringent. And yet only a few hours--and it had been night,
strange, voluptuous night! And even now a thousand thousand pillows were
warm and crushed under their burden of unconscious dreaming souls. But
that tall woman must go to bed in day, and rise to meet the first wind of
the morning, and perhaps never have known the sweet poison of the night.
I sank back into my chair....
There was a sharp, decisive sound of a key in the lock of the
entrance-door. I jumped up, fully awake, with beating heart and blushing
face. Someone was invading the flat. Someone would catch me there.
Of course it was his servant. I had entirely forgotten her.
We met in the little passage. She was a stout creature and appeared to
fill the flat. She did not seem very surprised at the sight of me, and
she eyed me with the frigid disdain of one who conforms to a certain code
for one who does not conform to it. She sat in judgment on my well-hung
skirt and the rings on my fingers and the wickedness in my breast, and
condemned me to everlasting obloquy.
'Madame is going?' she asked coldly, holding open the door.
'No, madame,' I said. 'Are you the _femme de menage_ of monsieur?'
'Monsieur is ill,' I said, deciding swiftly what to do. 'He does not wish
to be disturbed. He would like you to return at two o'clock.'
Long before two I should have departed.
'Monsieur knows well that I have another _menage_ from twelve to two,'
protested the woman.
'Three o'clock, then,' I said.
_Bien_, madame,' said she, and, producing the contents of a reticule:
'Here are the bread, the butter, the milk, and the newspaper, madame.'
'Thank you, madame.'
I took the things, and she left, and I shut the door and bolted it.
In anticipation, the circumstances of such an encounter would have caused
me infinite trouble of spirit. 'But after all it was not so very
dreadful,' I thought, as I fastened the door. 'Do I care for his _femme
The great door of the house would be open now, and the stairs no longer
affrighting, and I might slip unobserved away. But I could not bring
myself to leave until I had spoken with Diaz, and I would not wake him.
It was nearly noon when he stirred. I heard his movements, and a slight
moaning sigh, and he called me.
'Are you there, Magda?'
How feeble and appealing his voice!
For answer I stepped into his bedroom.
The eye that has learned to look life full in the face without a quiver
of the lid should find nothing repulsive. Everything that is is the
ordered and calculable result of environment. Nothing can be abhorrent,
nothing blameworthy, nothing contrary to nature. Can we exceed nature? In
the presence of the primeval and ever-continuing forces of nature, can we
maintain our fantastic conceptions of sin and of justice? We are, and
that is all we should dare to say. And yet, when I saw Diaz stretched on
that wretched bed my first movement was one of physical disgust. He had
not shaved for several days. His hair was like a doormat. His face was
unclean and puffed; his lips full and cracked; his eyes all discoloured.
If aught can be vile, he was vile. If aught can be obscene, he was
obscene. His limbs twitched; his features were full of woe and desolation
He looked at me heavily, mournfully.
'Diaz, Diaz!' said my soul. 'Have you come to this?'
A great and overmastering pity seized me, and I went to him, and laid my
hand gently on his. He was so nervous and tremulous that he drew away his
hand as if I had burnt it.
'Oh, Magda,' he murmured, 'my head! There was a piece of hot brick in my
mouth, and I tried to take it out. But it was my tongue. Can I have some
tea? Will you give me some cold water first?'
Strange that the frank and simple way in which he accepted my presence
there, and assumed my willingness to serve him, filled me with a new joy!
He said nothing of the night. I think that Diaz was one of the few men
who are strong enough never to regret the past. If he was melancholy, it
was merely because he suffered bodily in the present.
I gave him water, and he thanked me.
'Now I will make some tea,' I said.
And I went into the tiny kitchen and looked around, lifting my skirts.
'Can you find the things?' he called out.
'Yes,' I said.
'What's all that splashing?' he inquired.
'I'm washing a saucepan,' I said.
'I never have my meals here,' he called. 'Only tea. There are two taps to
the gas-stove--one a little way up the chimney.'
Yes, I was joyous, actively so. I brought the tea to the bedroom with a
glad smile. I had put two cups on the tray, which I placed on the
night-table; and there were some biscuits. I sat at the foot of the bed
while we drank. And the umbrella, unperceived by Diaz, lay with its
handle on a pillow, ludicrous and yet accusing.
'You are an angel,' said Diaz.
'Don't call me that,' I protested.
'Because I wish it,' I said. 'Angel' was Ispenlove's word.
'Then, what shall I call you?'
'My name is Carlotta Peel,' I said. 'Not Magdalen at all.'
It was astounding, incredible, that he should be learning my name then
for the first time.
'I shall always call you Magda,' he responded.
'And now I must go,' I stated, when I had explained to him about
'But you'll come back?' he cried.
No question of his coming to me! I must come to him!
'To a place like this?' I demanded.
Unthinkingly I put into my voice some of the distaste I felt for his
deplorable apartments, and he was genuinely hurt. I believe that in all
honesty he deemed his apartments to be quite adequate and befitting. His
sensibilities had been so dulled.
He threw up his head.
'Of course,' he said, 'if you--'
'No, no!' I stopped him quickly. 'I will come here. I was only teasing
you. Let me see. I'll come back at four, just to see how you are. Won't
you get up in the meantime?'
He smiled, placated.
'I may do,' he said. 'I'll try to. But in case I don't, will you take my
key? Where did you put it last night?'
'I have it,' I said.
He summoned me to him just as I was opening the door.
'What is it?'
'You are magnificent,' he replied, with charming, impulsive eagerness,
his eyes resting upon me long. He was the old Diaz again. 'I can't thank
you. But when you come back I shall play to you.'
'Till four o'clock,' I said.
'Magda,' he called again, just as I was leaving, 'bring one of your books
with you, will you?'
I hesitated, with my hand on the door. When I gave him my name he had
made no sign that it conveyed to him anything out of the ordinary. That
was exactly like Diaz.
'Have you read any of them?' I asked loudly, without moving from the
'No,' he answered. 'But I have heard of them.'
'Really!' I said, keeping my tone free from irony. 'Well, I will not
bring you one of my books.'
I looked hard at the door in front of me.
'For you I will be nothing but a woman,' I said.
And I fled down the stairs and past the concierge swiftly into the
street, as anxious as a thief to escape notice. I got a fiacre at once,
and drove away. I would not analyze my heart. I could not. I could but
savour the joy, sweet and fresh, that welled up in it as from some secret
source. I was so excited that I observed nothing outside myself, and when
the cab stopped in front of my hotel, it seemed to me that the journey
had occupied scarcely a few seconds. Do you imagine I was saddened by the
painful spectacle of Diaz' collapse in life? No! I only knew that he
needed sympathy, and that I could give it to him with both hands. I could
give, give! And the last thing that the egotist in me told me before it
expired was that I was worthy to give. My longing to assuage the lot of
Diaz became almost an anguish.
I returned at about half-past five, bright and eager, with vague
anticipations. I seemed to have become used to the house. It no longer
offended me, and I had no shame in entering it. I put the key into the
door of Diaz' flat with a clear, high sense of pleasure. He had entrusted
me with his key; I could go in as I pleased; I need have no fear of
inconveniencing him, of coming at the wrong moment. It seemed wonderful!
And as I turned the key and pushed open the door my sole wish was to be
of service to him, to comfort him, to render his life less forlorn.
'Here I am!' I cried, shutting the door.
There was no answer.
In the smaller of the two tiny sitting-rooms the piano, which had
been closed, was open, and I saw that it was a Pleyel. But both rooms
'Are you still in bed, then?' I said.
There was still no answer.
I went cautiously into the bedroom. It, too, was empty. The bed was made,
and the flat generally had a superficial air of tidiness. Evidently the
charwoman had been and departed; and doubtless Diaz had gone out, to
return immediately. I sat down in the chair in which I had spent most of
the night. I took off my hat and put it by the side of a tiny satchel
which I had brought, and began to wait for him. How delicious it would be
to open the door to him! He would notice that I had taken off my hat, and
he would be glad. What did the future, the immediate future, hold for me?
A long time I waited, and then I yawned heavily, and remembered that for
several days I had had scarcely any sleep. I shut my eyes to relieve the
tedium of waiting. When I reopened them, dazed, and startled into sudden
activity by mysterious angry noises, it was quite dark. I tried to recall
where I was, and to decide what the noises could be. I regained my
faculties with an effort. The noises were a beating on the door.
'It is Diaz,' I said to myself; 'and he can't get in!'
And I felt very guilty because I had slept. I must have slept for hours.
Groping for a candle, I lighted it.
'Coming! coming!' I called in a loud voice.
And I went into the passage with the candle and opened the door.
It was Diaz. The gas was lighted on the stairs. Between that and my
candle he stood conspicuous in all his details. Swaying somewhat, he
supported himself by the balustrade, and was thus distant about two feet
from the door. He was drunk--viciously drunk; and in an instant I knew
the cruel truth concerning him, and wondered that I had not perceived it
before. He was a drunkard--simply that. He had not taken to drinking as a
consequence of nervous breakdown. Nervous breakdown was a euphemism for
the result of alcoholic excess. I saw his slow descent as in a vision,
and everything was explained. My heart leapt.
'I can save him,' I said to myself. 'I can restore him.'
I was aware of the extreme difficulty of curing a drunkard, of the
immense proportion of failures. But, I thought, if a woman such as I
cannot by the lavishing of her whole soul and body deliver from no matter
what fiend a man such as Diaz, then the world has changed, and the
eternal Aphrodite is dead.
'I can save him!' I repeated.
Oh, heavenly moment!
'Aren't you coming in?' I addressed him quietly. 'I've been
waiting for you.'
'Have you?' he angrily replied. 'I waited long enough for you.'
'Well,' I said, 'come in.'
'Who is it?' he demanded. 'I inzizt--who is it?'
'It's I,' I answered; 'Magda.'
'That's no' wha' I mean,' he went on. 'And wha's more--you know it. Who
is it addrezzes you, madame?'
'Why,' I humoured him, 'it's you, of course--Diaz.'
There was the sound of a door opening on one of the lower storeys, and I
hoped I had pacified him, and that he would enter; but I was mistaken. He
stamped his foot furiously on the landing.
'Diaz!' he protested, shouting. 'Who dares call me Diaz? Wha's my
'Emilio Diaz,' I murmured meekly.
'That's better,' he grumbled. 'What am I?'
'Wha' am I?' he roared; and his voice went up and down the echoing
staircase. 'I won't put foot ev'n on doormat till I'm told wha' I am
'You are the--the master,' I said. 'But do come in.'
'The mas'r! Mas'r of wha'?'
'Master of the pianoforte,' I answered at once.
He smiled, suddenly appeased, and put his foot unsteadily on the
'Good!' he said. 'But, un'stan', I wouldn't ev'n have pu' foot on
doormat--no, not ev'n on doormat--'
And he came in, and I shut the door, and I was alone with my wild beast.
'Kiss me,' he commanded.
I kissed him on the mouth.
'You don't put your arms roun' me,' he growled.
So I deposited the candle on the floor, and put my arms round his neck,
standing on tip-toe, and kissed him again.
He went past me, staggering and growling, into the sitting-room at the
end of the passage, and furiously banged down the lid of the piano, so
that every cord in it jangled deafeningly.
'Light the lamp,' he called out.
'In one second,' I said.
I locked the outer door on the inside, slipped the key into my pocket,
and picked up the candle.
'What were you doing out there?' he demanded.
'Nothing,' I said. 'I had to pick the candle up.'
He seized my hat from the table and threw it to the floor. Then
he sat down.
'Nex' time,' he remarked, 'you'll know better'n to keep me waiting.'
I lighted a lamp.
'I'm very sorry,' I said. 'Won't you go to bed?'
'I shall go to bed when I want,' he answered. 'I'm thirsty. In the
cupboard you'll see a bottle. I'll trouble you to give it me, with a
glass and some water.'
'This cupboard?' I said questioningly, opening a cupboard papered to
match the rest of the wall.
'But surely you can't be thirsty, Diaz?' I protested.
'Must I repea' wha' I said?' he glared at me. 'I'm thirsty. Give me
I took out the bottle nearest to hand. It was of a dark green colour, and
labelled 'Extrait d'Absinthe. Pernod fils.'
'Not this one, Diaz?'
'Yes,' he insisted. 'Give it me. And get a glass and some water.'
'No,' I said firmly.
'Wha'? You won't give it me?'
He jumped up recklessly and faced me. His hat fell off the back
of his head.
'Give me that bottle!'
His breath poisoned the room.
I retreated in the direction of the window, and put my hand on the knob.
'No,' I said.
He sprang at me, but not before I had opened the window and thrown out
the bottle. I heard it fall in the roadway with a crash and scattering of
glass. Happily it had harmed no one. Diaz was momentarily checked. He
hesitated. I eyed him as steadily as I could, closing the while the
window behind me with my right hand.
'He may try to kill me,' I thought.
My heart was thudding against my dress, not from fear, but from
excitement. My situation seemed impossible to me, utterly passing belief.
Yesterday I had been a staid spinster, attended by a maid, in a hotel of
impeccable propriety. Today I had locked myself up alone with a riotous
drunkard in a vile flat in a notorious Parisian street. Was I mad? What
force, secret and powerful, had urged me on?... And there was the foul
drunkard, with clenched hands and fiery eyes, undecided whether or not to
murder me. And I waited.
He moved away, inarticulately grumbling, and resumed with
difficulty his hat.
'Ver' well,' he hiccupped morosely, 'ver' well; I'm going. Tha's all.'
He lurched into the passage, and then I heard him fumbling a long time
with the outer door. He left the door and went into his bedroom, and
finally returned to me. He held one hand behind his back. I had sunk into
a chair by the small table on which the lamp stood, with my satchel
'Now!' he said, halting in front of me. 'You've locked tha' door. I
can't go out.'
'Yes,' I admitted.
'Give me the key.'
I shook my head.
'Give me the key,' he cried. 'I mus' have the key.'
I shook my head.
Then he showed his right hand, and it held a revolver. He bent slightly
over the table, staring down at me as I stared up at him. But as his chin
felt the heat rising from the chimney of the lamp, he shifted a little to
one side. I might have rushed for shelter into some other room; I might
have grappled with him; I might have attempted to soothe him. But I could
neither stir nor speak. Least of all, could I give him the key--for him
to go and publish his own disgrace in the thoroughfares. So I just gazed
at him, inactive.
'I s'll kill you!' he muttered, and raised the revolver.
My throat became suddenly dry. I tried to make the motion of swallowing,
and could not. And looking at the revolver, I perceived in a swift
revelation the vast folly of my inexperience. Since he was already drunk,
why had I not allowed him to drink more, to drink himself into a stupor?
Drunkards can only be cured when they are sober. To commence a course of
moral treatment at such a moment as I had chosen was indeed the act of a
woman. However, it was too late to reclaim the bottle from the street.
I saw that he meant to kill me. And I knew that previously, during our
encounter at the window, I had only pretended to myself that I thought
there was a risk of his killing me. I had pretended, in order to increase
the glory of my martyrdom in my own sight. Moreover, my brain, which was
working with singular clearness, told me that for his sake I ought to
give up the key. His exposure as a helpless drunkard would be infinitely
preferable to his exposure as a murderer.
Yet I could not persuade myself to relinquish the key. If I did so, he
would imagine that he had frightened me. But I had no fear, and I could
not bear that he should think I had.
My ears sang. The room was full of a new odour, and a cloud floated
reluctantly upwards from the mouth of the revolver. I sneezed, and then I
grew aware that, firing at a distant of two feet, he had missed me. What
had happened to the bullet I could not guess. He put the revolver down on
the table with a groan, and the handle rested on my satchel.
'My God, Magda!' he sighed, pushing back his hair with his
He was somewhat sobered. I said nothing, but I observed that the lamp was
smoking, and I turned down the wick. I was so self-conscious, so
irresolute, so nonplussed, that in sheer awkwardness, like a girl at a
party who does not know what to do with her hands, I pushed the revolver
off the satchel, and idly unfastened the catch of the satchel. Within it,
among other things, was my sedative. I, too, had fallen the victim of a
habit. For five years a bad sleeper, I had latterly developed into a very
bad sleeper, and my sedative was accordingly strong.
A notion struck me.
'Drink a little of this, my poor Diaz!' I murmured.
'What is it?' he asked.
'It will make you sleep,' I said.
With a convulsive movement he clutched the bottle and uncorked it, and
before I could interfere he had drunk nearly the whole of its contents.
'Stop!' I cried. 'You will kill yourself!'
'What matter!' he exclaimed; and staggered off to the darkness of
I followed him with the lamp, but he had already fallen on the bed, and
seemed to be heavily asleep. I shook him; he made no response.
'At any cost he must he roused,' I said aloud. 'He must be forced to
There was a knocking at the outer door, low, discreet, and continuous. It
sounded to me like a deliverance. Whoever might be there must aid me to
waken Diaz. I ran to the door, taking the key out of my pocket, and
opened it. A tall woman stood on the doormat. It was the girl that I had
glimpsed on the previous night in the large hat ascending the stairs with
a man. But now her bright golden head was uncovered, and she wore a blue
_peignoir_, such as is sold ready made, with its lace and its ribbons, at
all the big Paris shops.
We both hesitated.
'Oh, pardon, madame,' she said, in a thin, sweet voice in French. 'I was
at my door, and it seemed to me that I heard--a revolver. Nothing serious
has passed, then? Pardon, madame.'
'Nothing, thank you. You are very amiable, madame,' I replied stiffly.
'All my excuses, madame,' said she, turning away.
'No, no!' I exclaimed. 'I am wrong. Do not go. Someone is ill--very ill.
If you would--'
'Where? What is it?' she inquired.
'He is in the bedroom--here.'
We both spoke breathlessly, hurrying to the bedroom, after I had
fetched the lamp.
'Wounded? He has done himself harm? Ah!'
'No,' I said, 'not that.'
And I explained to her that Diaz had taken at least six doses of my
strong solution of trional.
I seized the lamp and held it aloft over the form of the sleeper, which
lay on its side cross-wise, the feet projecting a little over the edge
of the bed, the head bent forward and missing the pillow, the arms
stretched out in front--the very figure of abandoned and perfect
unconsciousness. And the girl and I stared at Diaz, our shoulders
touching, in the kennel.
'He must be made to walk about,' I said. 'You would be extremely kind
to help me.'
'No, madame,' she replied. 'He will be very well like that. When one is
alcoholic, one cannot poison one's self; it is impossible. All the
doctors will tell you as much. Your friend will sleep for twenty
hours--twenty-four hours--and he will waken himself quite
'You are sure? You know?'
'I know, madame. Be tranquil. Leave him. He could not have done better.
It is perfect.'
'Perhaps I should fetch a doctor?' I suggested.
'It is not worth the pain,' she said, with conviction. 'You would have
vexations uselessly. Leave him.'
I gazed at her, studying her, and I was satisfied. With her fluffly
locks, and her simple eyes, and her fragile face, and her long hands,
she had, nevertheless, the air of knowing profoundly her subject. She
was a great expert on males and all that appertained to them, especially
their vices. I was the callow amateur. I was compelled to listen with
respect to this professor in the professor's garb. I was impressed, in
spite of myself.
'One might arrange him more comfortably,' she said.
And we lifted the senseless victim, and put him on his back, and
straightened his limbs, as though he had been a corpse.
'How handsome he is!' murmured my visitor, half closing her eyes.
'You think so?' I said politely, as if she had been praising one of my
'Oh yes. We are neighbours, madame. I have frequently remarked him, you
understand, on the stairs, in the street.'
'Has he been here long?' I asked.
'About a year, madame. You have, perhaps, not seen him since a long time.
An old friend?'
'It is ten years ago,' I replied.
'Ah! Ten years! In England, without doubt?'
'In England, yes.'
'Ten years!' she repeated, musing.
'I am certain she has a kind heart,' I said to myself, and I decided to
question her: 'Will you not sit down, madame?' I invited her.
'Ah, madame! it is you who should sit down,' she said quickly. 'You must
We both sat down. There were only two chairs in the room.
'I would like to ask you,' I said, leaning forward towards her, 'have
you ever seen him--drunk--before?'
'No,' she replied instantly; 'never before yesterday evening.'
'Be frank,' I urged her, smiling sadly.
'Why should I not be frank, madame?' she said, with a grave,
It was as if she had said: 'We are talking woman to woman. I know one of
your secrets. You can guess mine. The male is present, but he is deaf.
What reason, therefore, for deceit?'
'I am much obliged to you,' I breathed.
'Not at all,' she said. 'Decidedly he is alcoholic--that sees itself,'
she proceeded. 'But drunk--no!... He was always alone.'
Her eyes filled. I thought I had never seen a creature more gentle,
delicate, yielding, acquiescent, and fair. She was not beautiful, but she
had grace and distinction of movement. She was a Parisienne. She had won
my sympathy. We met in a moment when my heart needed the companionship of
a woman's heart, and I was drawn to her by one of those sudden impulses
that sometimes draw women to each other. I cared not what she was.
Moreover, she had excited my curiosity. She was a novelty in my life.
She was something that I had heard of, and seen--yes, and perhaps envied
in secret, but never spoken with. And she shattered all my preconceptions
'You are an old tenant of this house?' I ventured.
'Yes,' she said; 'it suits me. But the great heats are terrible here.'
'You do not leave Paris, then?'
'Never. Except to see my little boy.'
I started, envious of her, and also surprised. It seemed strange that
this ribboned and elegant and plastic creature, whose long, thin arms
were used only to dalliance, should be a mother.
'So you have a little boy?'
'Yes; he lives with my parents at Meudon. He is four years old.
'Excuse me,' I said. 'Be frank with me once again. Do you love your
child, honestly? So many women don't, it appears.'
'Do I love him?' she cried, and her face glowed with her love. 'I adore
him!' Her sincerity was touching and overwhelming. 'And he loves me, too.
If he is naughty, one has only to tell him that he will make his _petite
mere_ ill, and he will be good at once. When he is told to obey his
grandfather, because his grandfather provides his food, he says bravely:
"No, not grandpapa; it is _petite mere_!" Is it not strange he should
know that I pay for him? He has a little engraving of the Queen of Italy,
and he says it is his _petite mere_. Among the scores of pictures he has
he keeps only that one. He takes it to bed with him. It is impossible to
deprive him of it.'
She smiled divinely.
'How beautiful!' I said. 'And you go to see him often?'
'As often as I have time. I take him out for walks. I run with him till
we reach the woods, where I can have him to myself alone. I never stop; I
avoid people. No one except my parents knows that he is my child. One
supposes he is a nurse-child, received by my parents. But all the world
will know now,' she added, after a pause. 'Last Monday I went to Meudon
with my friend Alice, and Alice wanted to buy him some sweets at the
grocer's. In the shop I asked him if he would like _dragees_, and he said
"Yes." The grocer said to him, "Yes who, young man?" "Yes, _petite
mere_," he said, very loudly and bravely. The grocer understood. We all
lowered our heads.'
There was something so affecting in the way she half whispered the last
phrase, that I could have wept; and yet it was comical, too, and she
'You have no child, madame?' she asked me.
'No,' I said. 'How I envy you!'
'You need not,' she observed, with a touch of hardness. 'I have been so
unhappy, that I can never be as unhappy again. Nothing matters now. All I
wish is to save enough money to be able to live quietly in a little
cottage in the country.'
'With your child,' I put in.
'My child will grow up and leave me. He will become a man, and he will
forget his _petite mere.'_
'Do not talk like that,' I protested.
She glanced at me almost savagely. I was astonished at the sudden change
in her face.
'Why not?' she inquired coldly. 'Is it not true, then? Do you still
believe that there is any difference between one man and another?
They are all alike--all, all, all! I know. And it is we who suffer,
'But surely you have some tender souvenir of your child's father?' I
'Do I know who my child's father is?' she demanded. 'My child has
'You seem very bitter,' I said, 'for your age. You are much younger
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