The Arrow of Gold
Part 1 out of 6
Transcribed by David Price, email email@example.com
THE ARROW OF GOLD--A STORY BETWEEN TWO NOTES
The pages which follow have been extracted from a pile of
manuscript which was apparently meant for the eye of one woman
only. She seems to have been the writer's childhood's friend.
They had parted as children, or very little more than children.
Years passed. Then something recalled to the woman the companion
of her young days and she wrote to him: "I have been hearing of
you lately. I know where life has brought you. You certainly
selected your own road. But to us, left behind, it always looked
as if you had struck out into a pathless desert. We always
regarded you as a person that must be given up for lost. But you
have turned up again; and though we may never see each other, my
memory welcomes you and I confess to you I should like to know the
incidents on the road which has led you to where you are now."
And he answers her: "I believe you are the only one now alive who
remembers me as a child. I have heard of you from time to time,
but I wonder what sort of person you are now. Perhaps if I did
know I wouldn't dare put pen to paper. But I don't know. I only
remember that we were great chums. In fact, I chummed with you
even more than with your brothers. But I am like the pigeon that
went away in the fable of the Two Pigeons. If I once start to tell
you I would want you to feel that you have been there yourself. I
may overtax your patience with the story of my life so different
from yours, not only in all the facts but altogether in spirit.
You may not understand. You may even be shocked. I say all this
to myself; but I know I shall succumb! I have a distinct
recollection that in the old days, when you were about fifteen, you
always could make me do whatever you liked."
He succumbed. He begins his story for her with the minute
narration of this adventure which took about twelve months to
develop. In the form in which it is presented here it has been
pruned of all allusions to their common past, of all asides,
disquisitions, and explanations addressed directly to the friend of
his childhood. And even as it is the whole thing is of
considerable length. It seems that he had not only a memory but
that he also knew how to remember. But as to that opinions may
This, his first great adventure, as he calls it, begins in
Marseilles. It ends there, too. Yet it might have happened
anywhere. This does not mean that the people concerned could have
come together in pure space. The locality had a definite
importance. As to the time, it is easily fixed by the events at
about the middle years of the seventies, when Don Carlos de
Bourbon, encouraged by the general reaction of all Europe against
the excesses of communistic Republicanism, made his attempt for the
throne of Spain, arms in hand, amongst the hills and gorges of
Guipuzcoa. It is perhaps the last instance of a Pretender's
adventure for a Crown that History will have to record with the
usual grave moral disapproval tinged by a shamefaced regret for the
departing romance. Historians are very much like other people.
However, History has nothing to do with this tale. Neither is the
moral justification or condemnation of conduct aimed at here. If
anything it is perhaps a little sympathy that the writer expects
for his buried youth, as he lives it over again at the end of his
insignificant course on this earth. Strange person--yet perhaps
not so very different from ourselves.
A few words as to certain facts may be added.
It may seem that he was plunged very abruptly into this long
adventure. But from certain passages (suppressed here because
mixed up with irrelevant matter) it appears clearly that at the
time of the meeting in the cafe, Mills had already gathered, in
various quarters, a definite view of the eager youth who had been
introduced to him in that ultra-legitimist salon. What Mills had
learned represented him as a young gentleman who had arrived
furnished with proper credentials and who apparently was doing his
best to waste his life in an eccentric fashion, with a bohemian set
(one poet, at least, emerged out of it later) on one side, and on
the other making friends with the people of the Old Town, pilots,
coasters, sailors, workers of all sorts. He pretended rather
absurdly to be a seaman himself and was already credited with an
ill-defined and vaguely illegal enterprise in the Gulf of Mexico.
At once it occurred to Mills that this eccentric youngster was the
very person for what the legitimist sympathizers had very much at
heart just then: to organize a supply by sea of arms and
ammunition to the Carlist detachments in the South. It was
precisely to confer on that matter with Dona Rita that Captain
Blunt had been despatched from Headquarters.
Mills got in touch with Blunt at once and put the suggestion before
him. The Captain thought this the very thing. As a matter of
fact, on that evening of Carnival, those two, Mills and Blunt, had
been actually looking everywhere for our man. They had decided
that he should be drawn into the affair if it could be done. Blunt
naturally wanted to see him first. He must have estimated him a
promising person, but, from another point of view, not dangerous.
Thus lightly was the notorious (and at the same time mysterious)
Monsieur George brought into the world; out of the contact of two
minds which did not give a single thought to his flesh and blood.
Their purpose explains the intimate tone given to their first
conversation and the sudden introduction of Dona Rita's history.
Mills, of course, wanted to hear all about it. As to Captain
Blunt--I suspect that, at the time, he was thinking of nothing
else. In addition it was Dona Rita who would have to do the
persuading; for, after all, such an enterprise with its ugly and
desperate risks was not a trifle to put before a man--however
It cannot be denied that Mills seems to have acted somewhat
unscrupulously. He himself appears to have had some doubt about
it, at a given moment, as they were driving to the Prado. But
perhaps Mills, with his penetration, understood very well the
nature he was dealing with. He might even have envied it. But
it's not my business to excuse Mills. As to him whom we may regard
as Mills' victim it is obvious that he has never harboured a single
reproachful thought. For him Mills is not to be criticized. A
remarkable instance of the great power of mere individuality over
Certain streets have an atmosphere of their own, a sort of
universal fame and the particular affection of their citizens. One
of such streets is the Cannebiere, and the jest: "If Paris had a
Cannebiere it would be a little Marseilles" is the jocular
expression of municipal pride. I, too, I have been under the
spell. For me it has been a street leading into the unknown.
There was a part of it where one could see as many as five big
cafes in a resplendent row. That evening I strolled into one of
them. It was by no means full. It looked deserted, in fact,
festal and overlighted, but cheerful. The wonderful street was
distinctly cold (it was an evening of carnival), I was very idle,
and I was feeling a little lonely. So I went in and sat down.
The carnival time was drawing to an end. Everybody, high and low,
was anxious to have the last fling. Companies of masks with linked
arms and whooping like red Indians swept the streets in crazy
rushes while gusts of cold mistral swayed the gas lights as far as
the eye could reach. There was a touch of bedlam in all this.
Perhaps it was that which made me feel lonely, since I was neither
masked, nor disguised, nor yelling, nor in any other way in harmony
with the bedlam element of life. But I was not sad. I was merely
in a state of sobriety. I had just returned from my second West
Indies voyage. My eyes were still full of tropical splendour, my
memory of my experiences, lawful and lawless, which had their charm
and their thrill; for they had startled me a little and had amused
me considerably. But they had left me untouched. Indeed they were
other men's adventures, not mine. Except for a little habit of
responsibility which I had acquired they had not matured me. I was
as young as before. Inconceivably young--still beautifully
You may believe that I was not thinking of Don Carlos and his fight
for a kingdom. Why should I? You don't want to think of things
which you meet every day in the newspapers and in conversation. I
had paid some calls since my return and most of my acquaintance
were legitimists and intensely interested in the events of the
frontier of Spain, for political, religious, or romantic reasons.
But I was not interested. Apparently I was not romantic enough.
Or was it that I was even more romantic than all those good people?
The affair seemed to me commonplace. That man was attending to his
business of a Pretender.
On the front page of the illustrated paper I saw lying on a table
near me, he looked picturesque enough, seated on a boulder, a big
strong man with a square-cut beard, his hands resting on the hilt
of a cavalry sabre--and all around him a landscape of savage
mountains. He caught my eye on that spiritedly composed woodcut.
(There were no inane snapshot-reproductions in those days.) It was
the obvious romance for the use of royalists but it arrested my
Just then some masks from outside invaded the cafe, dancing hand in
hand in a single file led by a burly man with a cardboard nose. He
gambolled in wildly and behind him twenty others perhaps, mostly
Pierrots and Pierrettes holding each other by the hand and winding
in and out between the chairs and tables: eyes shining in the
holes of cardboard faces, breasts panting; but all preserving a
They were people of the poorer sort (white calico with red spots,
costumes), but amongst them there was a girl in a black dress sewn
over with gold half moons, very high in the neck and very short in
the skirt. Most of the ordinary clients of the cafe didn't even
look up from their games or papers. I, being alone and idle,
stared abstractedly. The girl costumed as Night wore a small black
velvet mask, what is called in French a "loup." What made her
daintiness join that obviously rough lot I can't imagine. Her
uncovered mouth and chin suggested refined prettiness.
They filed past my table; the Night noticed perhaps my fixed gaze
and throwing her body forward out of the wriggling chain shot out
at me a slender tongue like a pink dart. I was not prepared for
this, not even to the extent of an appreciative "Tres foli," before
she wriggled and hopped away. But having been thus distinguished I
could do no less than follow her with my eyes to the door where the
chain of hands being broken all the masks were trying to get out at
once. Two gentlemen coming in out of the street stood arrested in
the crush. The Night (it must have been her idiosyncrasy) put her
tongue out at them, too. The taller of the two (he was in evening
clothes under a light wide-open overcoat) with great presence of
mind chucked her under the chin, giving me the view at the same
time of a flash of white teeth in his dark, lean face. The other
man was very different; fair, with smooth, ruddy cheeks and burly
shoulders. He was wearing a grey suit, obviously bought ready-
made, for it seemed too tight for his powerful frame.
That man was not altogether a stranger to me. For the last week or
so I had been rather on the look-out for him in all the public
places where in a provincial town men may expect to meet each
other. I saw him for the first time (wearing that same grey ready-
made suit) in a legitimist drawing-room where, clearly, he was an
object of interest, especially to the women. I had caught his name
as Monsieur Mills. The lady who had introduced me took the
earliest opportunity to murmur into my ear: "A relation of Lord
X." (Un proche parent de Lord X.) And then she added, casting up
her eyes: "A good friend of the King." Meaning Don Carlos of
I looked at the proche parent; not on account of the parentage but
marvelling at his air of ease in that cumbrous body and in such
tight clothes, too. But presently the same lady informed me
further: "He has come here amongst us un naufrage."
I became then really interested. I had never seen a shipwrecked
person before. All the boyishness in me was aroused. I considered
a shipwreck as an unavoidable event sooner or later in my future.
Meantime the man thus distinguished in my eyes glanced quietly
about and never spoke unless addressed directly by one of the
ladies present. There were more than a dozen people in that
drawing-room, mostly women eating fine pastry and talking
passionately. It might have been a Carlist committee meeting of a
particularly fatuous character. Even my youth and inexperience
were aware of that. And I was by a long way the youngest person in
the room. That quiet Monsieur Mills intimidated me a little by his
age (I suppose he was thirty-five), his massive tranquillity, his
clear, watchful eyes. But the temptation was too great--and I
addressed him impulsively on the subject of that shipwreck.
He turned his big fair face towards me with surprise in his keen
glance, which (as though he had seen through me in an instant and
found nothing objectionable) changed subtly into friendliness. On
the matter of the shipwreck he did not say much. He only told me
that it had not occurred in the Mediterranean, but on the other
side of Southern France--in the Bay of Biscay. "But this is hardly
the place to enter on a story of that kind," he observed, looking
round at the room with a faint smile as attractive as the rest of
his rustic but well-bred personality.
I expressed my regret. I should have liked to hear all about it.
To this he said that it was not a secret and that perhaps next time
we met. . .
"But where can we meet?" I cried. "I don't come often to this
house, you know."
"Where? Why on the Cannebiere to be sure. Everybody meets
everybody else at least once a day on the pavement opposite the
This was absolutely true. But though I looked for him on each
succeeding day he was nowhere to be seen at the usual times. The
companions of my idle hours (and all my hours were idle just then)
noticed my preoccupation and chaffed me about it in a rather
obvious way. They wanted to know whether she, whom I expected to
see, was dark or fair; whether that fascination which kept me on
tenterhooks of expectation was one of my aristocrats or one of my
marine beauties: for they knew I had a footing in both these--
shall we say circles? As to themselves they were the bohemian
circle, not very wide--half a dozen of us led by a sculptor whom we
called Prax for short. My own nick-name was "Young Ulysses."
I liked it.
But chaff or no chaff they would have been surprised to see me
leave them for the burly and sympathetic Mills. I was ready to
drop any easy company of equals to approach that interesting man
with every mental deference. It was not precisely because of that
shipwreck. He attracted and interested me the more because he was
not to be seen. The fear that he might have departed suddenly for
England--(or for Spain)--caused me a sort of ridiculous depression
as though I had missed a unique opportunity. And it was a joyful
reaction which emboldened me to signal to him with a raised arm
across that cafe.
I was abashed immediately afterwards, when I saw him advance
towards my table with his friend. The latter was eminently
elegant. He was exactly like one of those figures one can see of a
fine May evening in the neighbourhood of the Opera-house in Paris.
Very Parisian indeed. And yet he struck me as not so perfectly
French as he ought to have been, as if one's nationality were an
accomplishment with varying degrees of excellence. As to Mills, he
was perfectly insular. There could be no doubt about him. They
were both smiling faintly at me. The burly Mills attended to the
introduction: "Captain Blunt."
We shook hands. The name didn't tell me much. What surprised me
was that Mills should have remembered mine so well. I don't want
to boast of my modesty but it seemed to me that two or three days
was more than enough for a man like Mills to forget my very
existence. As to the Captain, I was struck on closer view by the
perfect correctness of his personality. Clothes, slight figure,
clear-cut, thin, sun-tanned face, pose, all this was so good that
it was saved from the danger of banality only by the mobile black
eyes of a keenness that one doesn't meet every day in the south of
France and still less in Italy. Another thing was that, viewed as
an officer in mufti, he did not look sufficiently professional.
That imperfection was interesting, too.
You may think that I am subtilizing my impressions on purpose, but
you may take it from a man who has lived a rough, a very rough
life, that it is the subtleties of personalities, and contacts, and
events, that count for interest and memory--and pretty well nothing
else. This--you see--is the last evening of that part of my life
in which I did not know that woman. These are like the last hours
of a previous existence. It isn't my fault that they are
associated with nothing better at the decisive moment than the
banal splendours of a gilded cafe and the bedlamite yells of
carnival in the street.
We three, however (almost complete strangers to each other), had
assumed attitudes of serious amiability round our table. A waiter
approached for orders and it was then, in relation to my order for
coffee, that the absolutely first thing I learned of Captain Blunt
was the fact that he was a sufferer from insomnia. In his
immovable way Mills began charging his pipe. I felt extremely
embarrassed all at once, but became positively annoyed when I saw
our Prax enter the cafe in a sort of mediaeval costume very much
like what Faust wears in the third act. I have no doubt it was
meant for a purely operatic Faust. A light mantle floated from his
shoulders. He strode theatrically up to our table and addressing
me as "Young Ulysses" proposed I should go outside on the fields of
asphalt and help him gather a few marguerites to decorate a truly
infernal supper which was being organized across the road at the
Maison Doree--upstairs. With expostulatory shakes of the head and
indignant glances I called his attention to the fact that I was not
alone. He stepped back a pace as if astonished by the discovery,
took off his plumed velvet toque with a low obeisance so that the
feathers swept the floor, and swaggered off the stage with his left
hand resting on the hilt of the property dagger at his belt.
Meantime the well-connected but rustic Mills had been busy lighting
his briar and the distinguished Captain sat smiling to himself. I
was horribly vexed and apologized for that intrusion, saying that
the fellow was a future great sculptor and perfectly harmless; but
he had been swallowing lots of night air which had got into his
Mills peered at me with his friendly but awfully searching blue
eyes through the cloud of smoke he had wreathed about his big head.
The slim, dark Captain's smile took on an amiable expression.
Might he know why I was addressed as "Young Ulysses" by my friend?
and immediately he added the remark with urbane playfulness that
Ulysses was an astute person. Mills did not give me time for a
reply. He struck in: "That old Greek was famed as a wanderer--the
first historical seaman." He waved his pipe vaguely at me.
"Ah! Vraiment!" The polite Captain seemed incredulous and as if
weary. "Are you a seaman? In what sense, pray?" We were talking
French and he used the term homme de mer.
Again Mills interfered quietly. "In the same sense in which you
are a military man." (Homme de guerre.)
It was then that I heard Captain Blunt produce one of his striking
declarations. He had two of them, and this was the first.
"I live by my sword."
It was said in an extraordinary dandified manner which in
conjunction with the matter made me forget my tongue in my head. I
could only stare at him. He added more naturally: "2nd Reg.
Castille, Cavalry." Then with marked stress in Spanish, "En las
Mills was heard, unmoved, like Jove in his cloud: "He's on leave
"Of course I don't shout that fact on the housetops," the Captain
addressed me pointedly, "any more than our friend his shipwreck
adventure. We must not strain the toleration of the French
authorities too much! It wouldn't be correct--and not very safe
I became suddenly extremely delighted with my company. A man who
"lived by his sword," before my eyes, close at my elbow! So such
people did exist in the world yet! I had not been born too late!
And across the table with his air of watchful, unmoved benevolence,
enough in itself to arouse one's interest, there was the man with
the story of a shipwreck that mustn't be shouted on housetops.
I understood very well why, when he told me that he had joined in
the Clyde a small steamer chartered by a relative of his, "a very
wealthy man," he observed (probably Lord X, I thought), to carry
arms and other supplies to the Carlist army. And it was not a
shipwreck in the ordinary sense. Everything went perfectly well to
the last moment when suddenly the Numancia (a Republican ironclad)
had appeared and chased them ashore on the French coast below
Bayonne. In a few words, but with evident appreciation of the
adventure, Mills described to us how he swam to the beach clad
simply in a money belt and a pair of trousers. Shells were falling
all round till a tiny French gunboat came out of Bayonne and shooed
the Numancia away out of territorial waters.
He was very amusing and I was fascinated by the mental picture of
that tranquil man rolling in the surf and emerging breathless, in
the costume you know, on the fair land of France, in the character
of a smuggler of war material. However, they had never arrested or
expelled him, since he was there before my eyes. But how and why
did he get so far from the scene of his sea adventure was an
interesting question. And I put it to him with most naive
indiscretion which did not shock him visibly. He told me that the
ship being only stranded, not sunk, the contraband cargo aboard was
doubtless in good condition. The French custom-house men were
guarding the wreck. If their vigilance could be--h'm--removed by
some means, or even merely reduced, a lot of these rifles and
cartridges could be taken off quietly at night by certain Spanish
fishing boats. In fact, salved for the Carlists, after all. He
thought it could be done. . . .
I said with professional gravity that given a few perfectly quiet
nights (rare on that coast) it could certainly be done.
Mr. Mills was not afraid of the elements. It was the highly
inconvenient zeal of the French custom-house people that had to be
dealt with in some way.
"Heavens!" I cried, astonished. "You can't bribe the French
Customs. This isn't a South-American republic."
"Is it a republic?" he murmured, very absorbed in smoking his
"Well, isn't it?"
He murmured again, "Oh, so little." At this I laughed, and a
faintly humorous expression passed over Mills' face. No. Bribes
were out of the question, he admitted. But there were many
legitimist sympathies in Paris. A proper person could set them in
motion and a mere hint from high quarters to the officials on the
spot not to worry over-much about that wreck. . . .
What was most amusing was the cool, reasonable tone of this amazing
project. Mr. Blunt sat by very detached, his eyes roamed here and
there all over the cafe; and it was while looking upward at the
pink foot of a fleshy and very much foreshortened goddess of some
sort depicted on the ceiling in an enormous composition in the
Italian style that he let fall casually the words, "She will manage
it for you quite easily."
"Every Carlist agent in Bayonne assured me of that," said Mr.
Mills. "I would have gone straight to Paris only I was told she
had fled here for a rest; tired, discontented. Not a very
"These flights are well known," muttered Mr. Blunt. "You shall see
her all right."
"Yes. They told me that you . . . "
I broke in: "You mean to say that you expect a woman to arrange
that sort of thing for you?"
"A trifle, for her," Mr. Blunt remarked indifferently. "At that
sort of thing women are best. They have less scruples."
"More audacity," interjected Mr. Mills almost in a whisper.
Mr. Blunt kept quiet for a moment, then: "You see," he addressed
me in a most refined tone, "a mere man may suddenly find himself
being kicked down the stairs."
I don't know why I should have felt shocked by that statement. It
could not be because it was untrue. The other did not give me time
to offer any remark. He inquired with extreme politeness what did
I know of South American republics? I confessed that I knew very
little of them. Wandering about the Gulf of Mexico I had a look-in
here and there; and amongst others I had a few days in Haiti which
was of course unique, being a negro republic. On this Captain
Blunt began to talk of negroes at large. He talked of them with
knowledge, intelligence, and a sort of contemptuous affection. He
generalized, he particularized about the blacks; he told anecdotes.
I was interested, a little incredulous, and considerably surprised.
What could this man with such a boulevardier exterior that he
looked positively like, an exile in a provincial town, and with his
drawing-room manner--what could he know of negroes?
Mills, sitting silent with his air of watchful intelligence, seemed
to read my thoughts, waved his pipe slightly and explained: "The
Captain is from South Carolina."
"Oh," I murmured, and then after the slightest of pauses I heard
the second of Mr. J. K. Blunt's declarations.
"Yes," he said. "Je suis Americain, catholique et gentil-homme,"
in a tone contrasting so strongly with the smile, which, as it
were, underlined the uttered words, that I was at a loss whether to
return the smile in kind or acknowledge the words with a grave
little bow. Of course I did neither and there fell on us an odd,
equivocal silence. It marked our final abandonment of the French
language. I was the one to speak first, proposing that my
companions should sup with me, not across the way, which would be
riotous with more than one "infernal" supper, but in another much
more select establishment in a side street away from the
Cannebiere. It flattered my vanity a little to be able to say that
I had a corner table always reserved in the Salon des Palmiers,
otherwise Salon Blanc, where the atmosphere was legitimist and
extremely decorous besides--even in Carnival time. "Nine tenths of
the people there," I said, "would be of your political opinions, if
that's an inducement. Come along. Let's be festive," I encouraged
I didn't feel particularly festive. What I wanted was to remain in
my company and break an inexplicable feeling of constraint of which
I was aware. Mills looked at me steadily with a faint, kind smile.
"No," said Blunt. "Why should we go there? They will be only
turning us out in the small hours, to go home and face insomnia.
Can you imagine anything more disgusting?"
He was smiling all the time, but his deep-set eyes did not lend
themselves to the expression of whimsical politeness which he tried
to achieve. He had another suggestion to offer. Why shouldn't we
adjourn to his rooms? He had there materials for a dish of his own
invention for which he was famous all along the line of the Royal
Cavalry outposts, and he would cook it for us. There were also a
few bottles of some white wine, quite possible, which we could
drink out of Venetian cut-glass goblets. A bivouac feast, in fact.
And he wouldn't turn us out in the small hours. Not he. He
Need I say I was fascinated by the idea? Well, yes. But somehow I
hesitated and looked towards Mills, so much my senior. He got up
without a word. This was decisive; for no obscure premonition, and
of something indefinite at that, could stand against the example of
his tranquil personality.
The street in which Mr. Blunt lived presented itself to our eyes,
narrow, silent, empty, and dark, but with enough gas-lamps in it to
disclose its most striking feature: a quantity of flag-poles
sticking out above many of its closed portals. It was the street
of Consuls and I remarked to Mr. Blunt that coming out in the
morning he could survey the flags of all nations almost--except his
own. (The U. S. consulate was on the other side of the town.) He
mumbled through his teeth that he took good care to keep clear of
his own consulate.
"Are you afraid of the consul's dog?" I asked jocularly. The
consul's dog weighed about a pound and a half and was known to the
whole town as exhibited on the consular fore-arm in all places, at
all hours, but mainly at the hour of the fashionable promenade on
But I felt my jest misplaced when Mills growled low in my ear:
"They are all Yankees there."
I murmured a confused "Of course."
Books are nothing. I discovered that I had never been aware before
that the Civil War in America was not printed matter but a fact
only about ten years old. Of course. He was a South Carolinian
gentleman. I was a little ashamed of my want of tact. Meantime,
looking like the conventional conception of a fashionable reveller,
with his opera-hat pushed off his forehead, Captain Blunt was
having some slight difficulty with his latch-key; for the house
before which we had stopped was not one of those many-storied
houses that made up the greater part of the street. It had only
one row of windows above the ground floor. Dead walls abutting on
to it indicated that it had a garden. Its dark front presented no
marked architectural character, and in the flickering light of a
street lamp it looked a little as though it had gone down in the
world. The greater then was my surprise to enter a hall paved in
black and white marble and in its dimness appearing of palatial
proportions. Mr. Blunt did not turn up the small solitary gas-jet,
but led the way across the black and white pavement past the end of
the staircase, past a door of gleaming dark wood with a heavy
bronze handle. It gave access to his rooms he said; but he took us
straight on to the studio at the end of the passage.
It was rather a small place tacked on in the manner of a lean-to to
the garden side of the house. A large lamp was burning brightly
there. The floor was of mere flag-stones but the few rugs
scattered about though extremely worn were very costly. There was
also there a beautiful sofa upholstered in pink figured silk, an
enormous divan with many cushions, some splendid arm-chairs of
various shapes (but all very shabby), a round table, and in the
midst of these fine things a small common iron stove. Somebody
must have been attending it lately, for the fire roared and the
warmth of the place was very grateful after the bone-searching cold
blasts of mistral outside.
Mills without a word flung himself on the divan and, propped on his
arm, gazed thoughtfully at a distant corner where in the shadow of
a monumental carved wardrobe an articulated dummy without head or
hands but with beautifully shaped limbs composed in a shrinking
attitude, seemed to be embarrassed by his stare.
As we sat enjoying the bivouac hospitality (the dish was really
excellent and our host in a shabby grey jacket still looked the
accomplished man-about-town) my eyes kept on straying towards that
corner. Blunt noticed this and remarked that I seemed to be
attracted by the Empress.
"It's disagreeable," I said. "It seems to lurk there like a shy
skeleton at the feast. But why do you give the name of Empress to
"Because it sat for days and days in the robes of a Byzantine
Empress to a painter. . . I wonder where he discovered these
priceless stuffs. . . You knew him, I believe?"
Mills lowered his head slowly, then tossed down his throat some
wine out of a Venetian goblet.
"This house is full of costly objects. So are all his other
houses, so is his place in Paris--that mysterious Pavilion hidden
away in Passy somewhere."
Mills knew the Pavilion. The wine had, I suppose, loosened his
tongue. Blunt, too, lost something of his reserve. From their
talk I gathered the notion of an eccentric personality, a man of
great wealth, not so much solitary as difficult of access, a
collector of fine things, a painter known only to very few people
and not at all to the public market. But as meantime I had been
emptying my Venetian goblet with a certain regularity (the amount
of heat given out by that iron stove was amazing; it parched one's
throat, and the straw-coloured wine didn't seem much stronger than
so much pleasantly flavoured water) the voices and the impressions
they conveyed acquired something fantastic to my mind. Suddenly I
perceived that Mills was sitting in his shirt-sleeves. I had not
noticed him taking off his coat. Blunt had unbuttoned his shabby
jacket, exposing a lot of starched shirt-front with the white tie
under his dark shaved chin. He had a strange air of insolence--or
so it seemed to me. I addressed him much louder than I intended
"Did you know that extraordinary man?"
"To know him personally one had to be either very distinguished or
very lucky. Mr. Mills here . . ."
"Yes, I have been lucky," Mills struck in. "It was my cousin who
was distinguished. That's how I managed to enter his house in
Paris--it was called the Pavilion--twice."
"And saw Dona Rita twice, too?" asked Blunt with an indefinite
smile and a marked emphasis. Mills was also emphatic in his reply
but with a serious face.
"I am not an easy enthusiast where women are concerned, but she was
without doubt the most admirable find of his amongst all the
priceless items he had accumulated in that house--the most
admirable. . . "
"Ah! But, you see, of all the objects there she was the only one
that was alive," pointed out Blunt with the slightest possible
flavour of sarcasm.
"Immensely so," affirmed Mills. "Not because she was restless,
indeed she hardly ever moved from that couch between the windows--
"No. I don't know. I've never been in there," announced Blunt
with that flash of white teeth so strangely without any character
of its own that it was merely disturbing.
"But she radiated life," continued Mills. "She had plenty of it,
and it had a quality. My cousin and Henry Allegre had a lot to say
to each other and so I was free to talk to her. At the second
visit we were like old friends, which was absurd considering that
all the chances were that we would never meet again in this world
or in the next. I am not meddling with theology but it seems to me
that in the Elysian fields she'll have her place in a very special
All this in a sympathetic voice and in his unmoved manner. Blunt
produced another disturbing white flash and muttered:
"I should say mixed." Then louder: "As for instance . . . "
"As for instance Cleopatra," answered Mills quietly. He added
after a pause: "Who was not exactly pretty."
"I should have thought rather a La Valliere," Blunt dropped with an
indifference of which one did not know what to make. He may have
begun to be bored with the subject. But it may have been put on,
for the whole personality was not clearly definable. I, however,
was not indifferent. A woman is always an interesting subject and
I was thoroughly awake to that interest. Mills pondered for a
while with a sort of dispassionate benevolence, at last:
"Yes, Dona Rita as far as I know her is so varied in her simplicity
that even that is possible," he said. "Yes. A romantic resigned
La Valliere . . . who had a big mouth."
I felt moved to make myself heard.
"Did you know La Valliere, too?" I asked impertinently.
Mills only smiled at me. "No. I am not quite so old as that," he
said. "But it's not very difficult to know facts of that kind
about a historical personage. There were some ribald verses made
at the time, and Louis XIV was congratulated on the possession--I
really don't remember how it goes--on the possession of:
". . . de ce bec amoureux
Qui d'une oreille a l'autre va,
Tra la la.
or something of the sort. It needn't be from ear to ear, but it's
a fact that a big mouth is often a sign of a certain generosity of
mind and feeling. Young man, beware of women with small mouths.
Beware of the others, too, of course; but a small mouth is a fatal
sign. Well, the royalist sympathizers can't charge Dona Rita with
any lack of generosity from what I hear. Why should I judge her?
I have known her for, say, six hours altogether. It was enough to
feel the seduction of her native intelligence and of her splendid
physique. And all that was brought home to me so quickly," he
concluded, "because she had what some Frenchman has called the
'terrible gift of familiarity'."
Blunt had been listening moodily. He nodded assent.
"Yes!" Mills' thoughts were still dwelling in the past. "And when
saying good-bye she could put in an instant an immense distance
between herself and you. A slight stiffening of that perfect
figure, a change of the physiognomy: it was like being dismissed
by a person born in the purple. Even if she did offer you her
hand--as she did to me--it was as if across a broad river. Trick
of manner or a bit of truth peeping out? Perhaps she's really one
of those inaccessible beings. What do you think, Blunt?"
It was a direct question which for some reason (as if my range of
sensitiveness had been increased already) displeased or rather
disturbed me strangely. Blunt seemed not to have heard it. But
after a while he turned to me.
"That thick man," he said in a tone of perfect urbanity, "is as
fine as a needle. All these statements about the seduction and
then this final doubt expressed after only two visits which could
not have included more than six hours altogether and this some
three years ago! But it is Henry Allegre that you should ask this
question, Mr. Mills."
"I haven't the secret of raising the dead," answered Mills good
humouredly. "And if I had I would hesitate. It would seem such a
liberty to take with a person one had known so slightly in life."
"And yet Henry Allegre is the only person to ask about her, after
all this uninterrupted companionship of years, ever since he
discovered her; all the time, every breathing moment of it, till,
literally, his very last breath. I don't mean to say she nursed
him. He had his confidential man for that. He couldn't bear women
about his person. But then apparently he couldn't bear this one
out of his sight. She's the only woman who ever sat to him, for he
would never suffer a model inside his house. That's why the 'Girl
in the Hat' and the 'Byzantine Empress' have that family air,
though neither of them is really a likeness of Dona Rita. . . You
know my mother?"
Mills inclined his body slightly and a fugitive smile vanished from
his lips. Blunt's eyes were fastened on the very centre of his
"Then perhaps you know my mother's artistic and literary
associations," Blunt went on in a subtly changed tone. "My mother
has been writing verse since she was a girl of fifteen. She's
still writing verse. She's still fifteen--a spoiled girl of
genius. So she requested one of her poet friends--no less than
Versoy himself--to arrange for a visit to Henry Allegre's house.
At first he thought he hadn't heard aright. You must know that for
my mother a man that doesn't jump out of his skin for any woman's
caprice is not chivalrous. But perhaps you do know? . . ."
Mills shook his head with an amused air. Blunt, who had raised his
eyes from his plate to look at him, started afresh with great
"She gives no peace to herself or her friends. My mother's
exquisitely absurd. You understand that all these painters, poets,
art collectors (and dealers in bric-a-brac, he interjected through
his teeth) of my mother are not in my way; but Versoy lives more
like a man of the world. One day I met him at the fencing school.
He was furious. He asked me to tell my mother that this was the
last effort of his chivalry. The jobs she gave him to do were too
difficult. But I daresay he had been pleased enough to show the
influence he had in that quarter. He knew my mother would tell the
world's wife all about it. He's a spiteful, gingery little wretch.
The top of his head shines like a billiard ball. I believe he
polishes it every morning with a cloth. Of course they didn't get
further than the big drawing-room on the first floor, an enormous
drawing-room with three pairs of columns in the middle. The double
doors on the top of the staircase had been thrown wide open, as if
for a visit from royalty. You can picture to yourself my mother,
with her white hair done in some 18th century fashion and her
sparkling black eyes, penetrating into those splendours attended by
a sort of bald-headed, vexed squirrel--and Henry Allegre coming
forward to meet them like a severe prince with the face of a
tombstone Crusader, big white hands, muffled silken voice, half-
shut eyes, as if looking down at them from a balcony. You remember
that trick of his, Mills?"
Mills emitted an enormous cloud of smoke out of his distended
"I daresay he was furious, too," Blunt continued dispassionately.
"But he was extremely civil. He showed her all the 'treasures' in
the room, ivories, enamels, miniatures, all sorts of monstrosities
from Japan, from India, from Timbuctoo . . . for all I know. . . He
pushed his condescension so far as to have the 'Girl in the Hat'
brought down into the drawing-room--half length, unframed. They
put her on a chair for my mother to look at. The 'Byzantine
Empress' was already there, hung on the end wall--full length, gold
frame weighing half a ton. My mother first overwhelms the 'Master'
with thanks, and then absorbs herself in the adoration of the 'Girl
in the Hat.' Then she sighs out: 'It should be called
Diaphaneite, if there is such a word. Ah! This is the last
expression of modernity!' She puts up suddenly her face-a-main and
looks towards the end wall. 'And that--Byzantium itself! Who was
she, this sullen and beautiful Empress?'
"'The one I had in my mind was Theodosia!' Allegre consented to
answer. 'Originally a slave girl--from somewhere.'
"My mother can be marvellously indiscreet when the whim takes her.
She finds nothing better to do than to ask the 'Master' why he took
his inspiration for those two faces from the same model. No doubt
she was proud of her discerning eye. It was really clever of her.
Allegre, however, looked on it as a colossal impertinence; but he
answered in his silkiest tones:
"'Perhaps it is because I saw in that woman something of the women
of all time.'
"My mother might have guessed that she was on thin ice there. She
is extremely intelligent. Moreover, she ought to have known. But
women can be miraculously dense sometimes. So she exclaims, 'Then
she is a wonder!' And with some notion of being complimentary goes
on to say that only the eyes of the discoverer of so many wonders
of art could have discovered something so marvellous in life. I
suppose Allegre lost his temper altogether then; or perhaps he only
wanted to pay my mother out, for all these 'Masters' she had been
throwing at his head for the last two hours. He insinuates with
the utmost politeness:
"'As you are honouring my poor collection with a visit you may like
to judge for yourself as to the inspiration of these two pictures.
She is upstairs changing her dress after our morning ride. But she
wouldn't be very long. She might be a little surprised at first to
be called down like this, but with a few words of preparation and
purely as a matter of art . . .'
"There were never two people more taken aback. Versoy himself
confesses that he dropped his tall hat with a crash. I am a
dutiful son, I hope, but I must say I should have liked to have
seen the retreat down the great staircase. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
He laughed most undutifully and then his face twitched grimly.
"That implacable brute Allegre followed them down ceremoniously and
put my mother into the fiacre at the door with the greatest
deference. He didn't open his lips though, and made a great bow as
the fiacre drove away. My mother didn't recover from her
consternation for three days. I lunch with her almost daily and I
couldn't imagine what was the matter. Then one day . . ."
He glanced round the table, jumped up and with a word of excuse
left the studio by a small door in a corner. This startled me into
the consciousness that I had been as if I had not existed for these
two men. With his elbows propped on the table Mills had his hands
in front of his face clasping the pipe from which he extracted now
and then a puff of smoke, staring stolidly across the room.
I was moved to ask in a whisper:
"Do you know him well?"
"I don't know what he is driving at," he answered drily. "But as
to his mother she is not as volatile as all that. I suspect it was
business. It may have been a deep plot to get a picture out of
Allegre for somebody. My cousin as likely as not. Or simply to
discover what he had. The Blunts lost all their property and in
Paris there are various ways of making a little money, without
actually breaking anything. Not even the law. And Mrs. Blunt
really had a position once--in the days of the Second Empire--and
so. . ."
I listened open-mouthed to these things into which my West-Indian
experiences could not have given me an insight. But Mills checked
himself and ended in a changed tone.
"It's not easy to know what she would be at, either, in any given
instance. For the rest, spotlessly honourable. A delightful,
aristocratic old lady. Only poor."
A bump at the door silenced him and immediately Mr. John Blunt,
Captain of Cavalry in the Army of Legitimity, first-rate cook (as
to one dish at least), and generous host, entered clutching the
necks of four more bottles between the fingers of his hand.
"I stumbled and nearly smashed the lot," he remarked casually. But
even I, with all my innocence, never for a moment believed he had
stumbled accidentally. During the uncorking and the filling up of
glasses a profound silence reigned; but neither of us took it
seriously--any more than his stumble.
"One day," he went on again in that curiously flavoured voice of
his, "my mother took a heroic decision and made up her mind to get
up in the middle of the night. You must understand my mother's
phraseology. It meant that she would be up and dressed by nine
o'clock. This time it was not Versoy that was commanded for
attendance, but I. You may imagine how delighted I was. . . ."
It was very plain to me that Blunt was addressing himself
exclusively to Mills: Mills the mind, even more than Mills the
man. It was as if Mills represented something initiated and to be
reckoned with. I, of course, could have no such pretensions. If I
represented anything it was a perfect freshness of sensations and a
refreshing ignorance, not so much of what life may give one (as to
that I had some ideas at least) but of what it really contains. I
knew very well that I was utterly insignificant in these men's
eyes. Yet my attention was not checked by that knowledge. It's
true they were talking of a woman, but I was yet at the age when
this subject by itself is not of overwhelming interest. My
imagination would have been more stimulated probably by the
adventures and fortunes of a man. What kept my interest from
flagging was Mr. Blunt himself. The play of the white gleams of
his smile round the suspicion of grimness of his tone fascinated me
like a moral incongruity.
So at the age when one sleeps well indeed but does feel sometimes
as if the need of sleep were a mere weakness of a distant old age,
I kept easily awake; and in my freshness I was kept amused by the
contrast of personalities, of the disclosed facts and moral outlook
with the rough initiations of my West-Indian experience. And all
these things were dominated by a feminine figure which to my
imagination had only a floating outline, now invested with the
grace of girlhood, now with the prestige of a woman; and indistinct
in both these characters. For these two men had SEEN her, while to
me she was only being "presented," elusively, in vanishing words,
in the shifting tones of an unfamiliar voice.
She was being presented to me now in the Bois de Boulogne at the
early hour of the ultra-fashionable world (so I understood), on a
light bay "bit of blood" attended on the off side by that Henry
Allegre mounted on a dark brown powerful weight carrier; and on the
other by one of Allegre's acquaintances (the man had no real
friends), distinguished frequenters of that mysterious Pavilion.
And so that side of the frame in which that woman appeared to one
down the perspective of the great Allee was not permanent. That
morning when Mr. Blunt had to escort his mother there for the
gratification of her irresistible curiosity (of which he highly
disapproved) there appeared in succession, at that woman's or
girl's bridle-hand, a cavalry general in red breeches, on whom she
was smiling; a rising politician in a grey suit, who talked to her
with great animation but left her side abruptly to join a personage
in a red fez and mounted on a white horse; and then, some time
afterwards, the vexed Mr. Blunt and his indiscreet mother (though I
really couldn't see where the harm was) had one more chance of a
good stare. The third party that time was the Royal Pretender
(Allegre had been painting his portrait lately), whose hearty,
sonorous laugh was heard long before the mounted trio came riding
very slowly abreast of the Blunts. There was colour in the girl's
face. She was not laughing. Her expression was serious and her
eyes thoughtfully downcast. Blunt admitted that on that occasion
the charm, brilliance, and force of her personality was adequately
framed between those magnificently mounted, paladin-like
attendants, one older than the other but the two composing together
admirably in the different stages of their manhood. Mr. Blunt had
never before seen Henry Allegre so close. Allegre was riding
nearest to the path on which Blunt was dutifully giving his arm to
his mother (they had got out of their fiacre) and wondering if that
confounded fellow would have the impudence to take off his hat.
But he did not. Perhaps he didn't notice. Allegre was not a man
of wandering glances. There were silver hairs in his beard but he
looked as solid as a statue. Less than three months afterwards he
"What was it?" asked Mills, who had not changed his pose for a very
"Oh, an accident. But he lingered. They were on their way to
Corsica. A yearly pilgrimage. Sentimental perhaps. It was to
Corsica that he carried her off--I mean first of all."
There was the slightest contraction of Mr. Blunt's facial muscles.
Very slight; but I, staring at the narrator after the manner of all
simple souls, noticed it; the twitch of a pain which surely must
have been mental. There was also a suggestion of effort before he
went on: "I suppose you know how he got hold of her?" in a tone of
ease which was astonishingly ill-assumed for such a worldly, self-
controlled, drawing-room person.
Mills changed his attitude to look at him fixedly for a moment.
Then he leaned back in his chair and with interest--I don't mean
curiosity, I mean interest: "Does anybody know besides the two
parties concerned?" he asked, with something as it were renewed (or
was it refreshed?) in his unmoved quietness. "I ask because one
has never heard any tales. I remember one evening in a restaurant
seeing a man come in with a lady--a beautiful lady--very
particularly beautiful, as though she had been stolen out of
Mahomet's paradise. With Dona Rita it can't be anything as
definite as that. But speaking of her in the same strain, I've
always felt that she looked as though Allegre had caught her in the
precincts of some temple . . . in the mountains."
I was delighted. I had never heard before a woman spoken about in
that way, a real live woman that is, not a woman in a book. For
this was no poetry and yet it seemed to put her in the category of
visions. And I would have lost myself in it if Mr. Blunt had not,
most unexpectedly, addressed himself to me.
"I told you that man was as fine as a needle."
And then to Mills: "Out of a temple? We know what that means."
His dark eyes flashed: "And must it be really in the mountains?"
"Or in a desert," conceded Mills, "if you prefer that. There have
been temples in deserts, you know."
Blunt had calmed down suddenly and assumed a nonchalant pose.
"As a matter of fact, Henry Allegre caught her very early one
morning in his own old garden full of thrushes and other small
birds. She was sitting on a stone, a fragment of some old
balustrade, with her feet in the damp grass, and reading a tattered
book of some kind. She had on a short, black, two-penny frock (une
petite robe de deux sous) and there was a hole in one of her
stockings. She raised her eyes and saw him looking down at her
thoughtfully over that ambrosian beard of his, like Jove at a
mortal. They exchanged a good long stare, for at first she was too
startled to move; and then he murmured, "Restez donc." She lowered
her eyes again on her book and after a while heard him walk away on
the path. Her heart thumped while she listened to the little birds
filling the air with their noise. She was not frightened. I am
telling you this positively because she has told me the tale
herself. What better authority can you have . . .?" Blunt paused.
"That's true. She's not the sort of person to lie about her own
sensations," murmured Mills above his clasped hands.
"Nothing can escape his penetration," Blunt remarked to me with
that equivocal urbanity which made me always feel uncomfortable on
Mills' account. "Positively nothing." He turned to Mills again.
"After some minutes of immobility--she told me--she arose from her
stone and walked slowly on the track of that apparition. Allegre
was nowhere to be seen by that time. Under the gateway of the
extremely ugly tenement house, which hides the Pavilion and the
garden from the street, the wife of the porter was waiting with her
arms akimbo. At once she cried out to Rita: 'You were caught by
"As a matter of fact, that old woman, being a friend of Rita's
aunt, allowed the girl to come into the garden whenever Allegre was
away. But Allegre's goings and comings were sudden and
unannounced; and that morning, Rita, crossing the narrow, thronged
street, had slipped in through the gateway in ignorance of
Allegre's return and unseen by the porter's wife.
"The child, she was but little more than that then, expressed her
regret of having perhaps got the kind porter's wife into trouble.
"The old woman said with a peculiar smile: 'Your face is not of
the sort that gets other people into trouble. My gentleman wasn't
angry. He says you may come in any morning you like.'
"Rita, without saying anything to this, crossed the street back
again to the warehouse full of oranges where she spent most of her
waking hours. Her dreaming, empty, idle, thoughtless, unperturbed
hours, she calls them. She crossed the street with a hole in her
stocking. She had a hole in her stocking not because her uncle and
aunt were poor (they had around them never less than eight thousand
oranges, mostly in cases) but because she was then careless and
untidy and totally unconscious of her personal appearance. She
told me herself that she was not even conscious then of her
personal existence. She was a mere adjunct in the twilight life of
her aunt, a Frenchwoman, and her uncle, the orange merchant, a
Basque peasant, to whom her other uncle, the great man of the
family, the priest of some parish in the hills near Tolosa, had
sent her up at the age of thirteen or thereabouts for safe keeping.
She is of peasant stock, you know. This is the true origin of the
'Girl in the Hat' and of the 'Byzantine Empress' which excited my
dear mother so much; of the mysterious girl that the privileged
personalities great in art, in letters, in politics, or simply in
the world, could see on the big sofa during the gatherings in
Allegre's exclusive Pavilion: the Dona Rita of their respectful
addresses, manifest and mysterious, like an object of art from some
unknown period; the Dona Rita of the initiated Paris. Dona Rita
and nothing more--unique and indefinable." He stopped with a
"And of peasant stock?" I exclaimed in the strangely conscious
silence that fell between Mills and Blunt.
"Oh! All these Basques have been ennobled by Don Sanche II," said
Captain Blunt moodily. "You see coats of arms carved over the
doorways of the most miserable caserios. As far as that goes she's
Dona Rita right enough whatever else she is or is not in herself or
in the eyes of others. In your eyes, for instance, Mills. Eh?"
For a time Mills preserved that conscious silence.
"Why think about it at all?" he murmured coldly at last. "A
strange bird is hatched sometimes in a nest in an unaccountable way
and then the fate of such a bird is bound to be ill-defined,
uncertain, questionable. And so that is how Henry Allegre saw her
first? And what happened next?"
"What happened next?" repeated Mr. Blunt, with an affected surprise
in his tone. "Is it necessary to ask that question? If you had
asked HOW the next happened. . . But as you may imagine she hasn't
told me anything about that. She didn't," he continued with polite
sarcasm, "enlarge upon the facts. That confounded Allegre, with
his impudent assumption of princely airs, must have (I shouldn't
wonder) made the fact of his notice appear as a sort of favour
dropped from Olympus. I really can't tell how the minds and the
imaginations of such aunts and uncles are affected by such rare
visitations. Mythology may give us a hint. There is the story of
Danae, for instance."
"There is," remarked Mills calmly, "but I don't remember any aunt
or uncle in that connection."
"And there are also certain stories of the discovery and
acquisition of some unique objects of art. The sly approaches, the
astute negotiations, the lying and the circumventing . . . for the
love of beauty, you know."
With his dark face and with the perpetual smiles playing about his
grimness, Mr. Blunt appeared to me positively satanic. Mills' hand
was toying absently with an empty glass. Again they had forgotten
my existence altogether.
"I don't know how an object of art would feel," went on Blunt, in
an unexpectedly grating voice, which, however, recovered its tone
immediately. "I don't know. But I do know that Rita herself was
not a Danae, never, not at any time of her life. She didn't mind
the holes in her stockings. She wouldn't mind holes in her
stockings now. . . That is if she manages to keep any stockings at
all," he added, with a sort of suppressed fury so funnily
unexpected that I would have burst into a laugh if I hadn't been
lost in astonishment of the simplest kind.
"No--really!" There was a flash of interest from the quiet Mills.
"Yes, really," Blunt nodded and knitted his brows very devilishly
indeed. "She may yet be left without a single pair of stockings."
"The world's a thief," declared Mills, with the utmost composure.
"It wouldn't mind robbing a lonely traveller."
"He is so subtle." Blunt remembered my existence for the purpose
of that remark and as usual it made me very uncomfortable.
"Perfectly true. A lonely traveller. They are all in the scramble
from the lowest to the highest. Heavens! What a gang! There was
even an Archbishop in it."
"Vous plaisantez," said Mills, but without any marked show of
"I joke very seldom," Blunt protested earnestly. "That's why I
haven't mentioned His Majesty--whom God preserve. That would have
been an exaggeration. . . However, the end is not yet. We were
talking about the beginning. I have heard that some dealers in
fine objects, quite mercenary people of course (my mother has an
experience in that world), show sometimes an astonishing reluctance
to part with some specimens, even at a good price. It must be very
funny. It's just possible that the uncle and the aunt have been
rolling in tears on the floor, amongst their oranges, or beating
their heads against the walls from rage and despair. But I doubt
it. And in any case Allegre is not the sort of person that gets
into any vulgar trouble. And it's just possible that those people
stood open-mouthed at all that magnificence. They weren't poor,
you know; therefore it wasn't incumbent on them to be honest. They
are still there in the old respectable warehouse, I understand.
They have kept their position in their quartier, I believe. But
they didn't keep their niece. It might have been an act of
sacrifice! For I seem to remember hearing that after attending for
a while some school round the corner the child had been set to keep
the books of that orange business. However it might have been, the
first fact in Rita's and Allegre's common history is a journey to
Italy, and then to Corsica. You know Allegre had a house in
Corsica somewhere. She has it now as she has everything he ever
had; and that Corsican palace is the portion that will stick the
longest to Dona Rita, I imagine. Who would want to buy a place
like that? I suppose nobody would take it for a gift. The fellow
was having houses built all over the place. This very house where
we are sitting belonged to him. Dona Rita has given it to her
sister, I understand. Or at any rate the sister runs it. She is
my landlady . . ."
"Her sister here!" I exclaimed. "Her sister!"
Blunt turned to me politely, but only for a long mute gaze. His
eyes were in deep shadow and it struck me for the first time then
that there was something fatal in that man's aspect as soon as he
fell silent. I think the effect was purely physical, but in
consequence whatever he said seemed inadequate and as if produced
by a commonplace, if uneasy, soul.
"Dona Rita brought her down from her mountains on purpose. She is
asleep somewhere in this house, in one of the vacant rooms. She
lets them, you know, at extortionate prices, that is, if people
will pay them, for she is easily intimidated. You see, she has
never seen such an enormous town before in her life, nor yet so
many strange people. She has been keeping house for the uncle-
priest in some mountain gorge for years and years. It's
extraordinary he should have let her go. There is something
mysterious there, some reason or other. It's either theology or
Family. The saintly uncle in his wild parish would know nothing of
any other reasons. She wears a rosary at her waist. Directly she
had seen some real money she developed a love of it. If you stay
with me long enough, and I hope you will (I really can't sleep),
you will see her going out to mass at half-past six; but there is
nothing remarkable in her; just a peasant woman of thirty-four or
so. A rustic nun. . . ."
I may as well say at once that we didn't stay as long as that. It
was not that morning that I saw for the first time Therese of the
whispering lips and downcast eyes slipping out to an early mass
from the house of iniquity into the early winter murk of the city
of perdition, in a world steeped in sin. No. It was not on that
morning that I saw Dona Rita's incredible sister with her brown,
dry face, her gliding motion, and her really nun-like dress, with a
black handkerchief enfolding her head tightly, with the two pointed
ends hanging down her back. Yes, nun-like enough. And yet not
altogether. People would have turned round after her if those
dartings out to the half-past six mass hadn't been the only
occasion on which she ventured into the impious streets. She was
frightened of the streets, but in a particular way, not as if of a
danger but as if of a contamination. Yet she didn't fly back to
her mountains because at bottom she had an indomitable character, a
peasant tenacity of purpose, predatory instincts. . . .
No, we didn't remain long enough with Mr. Blunt to see even as much
as her back glide out of the house on her prayerful errand. She
was prayerful. She was terrible. Her one-idead peasant mind was
as inaccessible as a closed iron safe. She was fatal. . . It's
perfectly ridiculous to confess that they all seem fatal to me now;
but writing to you like this in all sincerity I don't mind
appearing ridiculous. I suppose fatality must be expressed,
embodied, like other forces of this earth; and if so why not in
such people as well as in other more glorious or more frightful
We remained, however, long enough to let Mr. Blunt's half-hidden
acrimony develop itself or prey on itself in further talk about the
man Allegre and the girl Rita. Mr. Blunt, still addressing Mills
with that story, passed on to what he called the second act, the
disclosure, with, what he called, the characteristic Allegre
impudence--which surpassed the impudence of kings, millionaires, or
tramps, by many degrees--the revelation of Rita's existence to the
world at large. It wasn't a very large world, but then it was most
choicely composed. How is one to describe it shortly? In a
sentence it was the world that rides in the morning in the Bois.
In something less than a year and a half from the time he found her
sitting on a broken fragment of stone work buried in the grass of
his wild garden, full of thrushes, starlings, and other innocent
creatures of the air, he had given her amongst other
accomplishments the art of sitting admirably on a horse, and
directly they returned to Paris he took her out with him for their
first morning ride.
"I leave you to judge of the sensation," continued Mr. Blunt, with
a faint grimace, as though the words had an acrid taste in his
mouth. "And the consternation," he added venomously. "Many of
those men on that great morning had some one of their womankind
with them. But their hats had to go off all the same, especially
the hats of the fellows who were under some sort of obligation to
Allegre. You would be astonished to hear the names of people, of
real personalities in the world, who, not to mince matters, owed
money to Allegre. And I don't mean in the world of art only. In
the first rout of the surprise some story of an adopted daughter
was set abroad hastily, I believe. You know 'adopted' with a
peculiar accent on the word--and it was plausible enough. I have
been told that at that time she looked extremely youthful by his
side, I mean extremely youthful in expression, in the eyes, in the
smile. She must have been . . ."
Blunt pulled himself up short, but not so short as not to let the
confused murmur of the word "adorable" reach our attentive ears.
The heavy Mills made a slight movement in his chair. The effect on
me was more inward, a strange emotion which left me perfectly
still; and for the moment of silence Blunt looked more fatal than
"I understand it didn't last very long," he addressed us politely
again. "And no wonder! The sort of talk she would have heard
during that first springtime in Paris would have put an impress on
a much less receptive personality; for of course Allegre didn't
close his doors to his friends and this new apparition was not of
the sort to make them keep away. After that first morning she
always had somebody to ride at her bridle hand. Old Doyen, the
sculptor, was the first to approach them. At that age a man may
venture on anything. He rides a strange animal like a circus
horse. Rita had spotted him out of the corner of her eye as he
passed them, putting up his enormous paw in a still more enormous
glove, airily, you know, like this" (Blunt waved his hand above his
head), "to Allegre. He passes on. All at once he wheels his
fantastic animal round and comes trotting after them. With the
merest casual 'Bonjour, Allegre' he ranges close to her on the
other side and addresses her, hat in hand, in that booming voice of
his like a deferential roar of the sea very far away. His
articulation is not good, and the first words she really made out
were 'I am an old sculptor. . . Of course there is that habit. . .
But I can see you through all that. . . '
He put his hat on very much on one side. 'I am a great sculptor of
women,' he declared. 'I gave up my life to them, poor unfortunate
creatures, the most beautiful, the wealthiest, the most loved. . .
Two generations of them. . . Just look at me full in the eyes, mon
"They stared at each other. Dona Rita confessed to me that the old
fellow made her heart beat with such force that she couldn't manage
to smile at him. And she saw his eyes run full of tears. He wiped
them simply with the back of his hand and went on booming faintly.
'Thought so. You are enough to make one cry. I thought my
artist's life was finished, and here you come along from devil
knows where with this young friend of mine, who isn't a bad smearer
of canvases--but it's marble and bronze that you want. . . I shall
finish my artist's life with your face; but I shall want a bit of
those shoulders, too. . . You hear, Allegre, I must have a bit of
her shoulders, too. I can see through the cloth that they are
divine. If they aren't divine I will eat my hat. Yes, I will do
your head and then--nunc dimittis.'
"These were the first words with which the world greeted her, or
should I say civilization did; already both her native mountains
and the cavern of oranges belonged to a prehistoric age. 'Why
don't you ask him to come this afternoon?' Allegre's voice
suggested gently. 'He knows the way to the house.'
"The old man said with extraordinary fervour, 'Oh, yes I will,'
pulled up his horse and they went on. She told me that she could
feel her heart-beats for a long time. The remote power of that
voice, those old eyes full of tears, that noble and ruined face,
had affected her extraordinarily she said. But perhaps what
affected her was the shadow, the still living shadow of a great
passion in the man's heart.
"Allegre remarked to her calmly: 'He has been a little mad all his
Mills lowered the hands holding the extinct and even cold pipe
before his big face.
"H'm, shoot an arrow into that old man's heart like this? But was
there anything done?"
"A terra-cotta bust, I believe. Good? I don't know. I rather
think it's in this house. A lot of things have been sent down from
Paris here, when she gave up the Pavilion. When she goes up now
she stays in hotels, you know. I imagine it is locked up in one of
these things," went on Blunt, pointing towards the end of the
studio where amongst the monumental presses of dark oak lurked the
shy dummy which had worn the stiff robes of the Byzantine Empress
and the amazing hat of the "Girl," rakishly. I wondered whether
that dummy had travelled from Paris, too, and whether with or
without its head. Perhaps that head had been left behind, having
rolled into a corner of some empty room in the dismantled Pavilion.
I represented it to myself very lonely, without features, like a
turnip, with a mere peg sticking out where the neck should have
been. And Mr. Blunt was talking on.
"There are treasures behind these locked doors, brocades, old
jewels, unframed pictures, bronzes, chinoiseries, Japoneries."
He growled as much as a man of his accomplished manner and voice
could growl. "I don't suppose she gave away all that to her
sister, but I shouldn't be surprised if that timid rustic didn't
lay a claim to the lot for the love of God and the good of the
Church. . .
"And held on with her teeth, too," he added graphically.
Mills' face remained grave. Very grave. I was amused at those
little venomous outbreaks of the fatal Mr. Blunt. Again I knew
myself utterly forgotten. But I didn't feel dull and I didn't even
feel sleepy. That last strikes me as strange at this distance of
time, in regard of my tender years and of the depressing hour which
precedes the dawn. We had been drinking that straw-coloured wine,
too, I won't say like water (nobody would have drunk water like
that) but, well . . . and the haze of tobacco smoke was like the
blue mist of great distances seen in dreams.
Yes, that old sculptor was the first who joined them in the sight
of all Paris. It was that old glory that opened the series of
companions of those morning rides; a series which extended through
three successive Parisian spring-times and comprised a famous
physiologist, a fellow who seemed to hint that mankind could be
made immortal or at least everlastingly old; a fashionable
philosopher and psychologist who used to lecture to enormous
audiences of women with his tongue in his cheek (but never
permitted himself anything of the kind when talking to Rita); that
surly dandy Cabanel (but he only once, from mere vanity), and
everybody else at all distinguished including also a celebrated
person who turned out later to be a swindler. But he was really a
genius. . . All this according to Mr. Blunt, who gave us all those
details with a sort of languid zest covering a secret irritation.
"Apart from that, you know," went on Mr. Blunt, "all she knew of
the world of men and women (I mean till Allegre's death) was what
she had seen of it from the saddle two hours every morning during
four months of the year or so. Absolutely all, with Allegre self-
denyingly on her right hand, with that impenetrable air of
guardianship. Don't touch! He didn't like his treasures to be
touched unless he actually put some unique object into your hands
with a sort of triumphant murmur, 'Look close at that.' Of course
I only have heard all this. I am much too small a person, you
understand, to even . . ."
He flashed his white teeth at us most agreeably, but the upper part
of his face, the shadowed setting of his eyes, and the slight
drawing in of his eyebrows gave a fatal suggestion. I thought
suddenly of the definition he applied to himself: "Americain,
catholique et gentil-homme" completed by that startling "I live by
my sword" uttered in a light drawing-room tone tinged by a flavour
of mockery lighter even than air.
He insisted to us that the first and only time he had seen Allegre
a little close was that morning in the Bois with his mother. His
Majesty (whom God preserve), then not even an active Pretender,
flanked the girl, still a girl, on the other side, the usual
companion for a month past or so. Allegre had suddenly taken it
into his head to paint his portrait. A sort of intimacy had sprung
up. Mrs. Blunt's remark was that of the two striking horsemen
Allegre looked the more kingly.
"The son of a confounded millionaire soap-boiler," commented Mr.
Blunt through his clenched teeth. "A man absolutely without
parentage. Without a single relation in the world. Just a freak."
"That explains why he could leave all his fortune to her," said
"The will, I believe," said Mr. Blunt moodily, "was written on a
half sheet of paper, with his device of an Assyrian bull at the
head. What the devil did he mean by it? Anyway it was the last
time that she surveyed the world of men and women from the saddle.
Less than three months later. . ."
"Allegre died and. . . " murmured Mills in an interested manner.
"And she had to dismount," broke in Mr. Blunt grimly. "Dismount
right into the middle of it. Down to the very ground, you
understand. I suppose you can guess what that would mean. She
didn't know what to do with herself. She had never been on the
ground. She . . . "
"Aha!" said Mills.
"Even eh! eh! if you like," retorted Mr. Blunt, in an unrefined
tone, that made me open my eyes, which were well opened before,
He turned to me with that horrible trick of his of commenting upon
Mills as though that quiet man whom I admired, whom I trusted, and
for whom I had already something resembling affection had been as
much of a dummy as that other one lurking in the shadows, pitiful
and headless in its attitude of alarmed chastity.
"Nothing escapes his penetration. He can perceive a haystack at an
enormous distance when he is interested."
I thought this was going rather too far, even to the borders of
vulgarity; but Mills remained untroubled and only reached for his
"But that's nothing to my mother's interest. She can never see a
haystack, therefore she is always so surprised and excited. Of
course Dona Rita was not a woman about whom the newspapers insert
little paragraphs. But Allegre was the sort of man. A lot came
out in print about him and a lot was talked in the world about her;
and at once my dear mother perceived a haystack and naturally
became unreasonably absorbed in it. I thought her interest would
wear out. But it didn't. She had received a shock and had
received an impression by means of that girl. My mother has never
been treated with impertinence before, and the aesthetic impression
must have been of extraordinary strength. I must suppose that it
amounted to a sort of moral revolution, I can't account for her
proceedings in any other way. When Rita turned up in Paris a year
and a half after Allegre's death some shabby journalist (smart
creature) hit upon the notion of alluding to her as the heiress of
Mr. Allegre. 'The heiress of Mr. Allegre has taken up her
residence again amongst the treasures of art in that Pavilion so
well known to the elite of the artistic, scientific, and political
world, not to speak of the members of aristocratic and even royal
families. . . ' You know the sort of thing. It appeared first in
the Figaro, I believe. And then at the end a little phrase: 'She
is alone.' She was in a fair way of becoming a celebrity of a
sort. Daily little allusions and that sort of thing. Heaven only
knows who stopped it. There was a rush of 'old friends' into that
garden, enough to scare all the little birds away. I suppose one
or several of them, having influence with the press, did it. But
the gossip didn't stop, and the name stuck, too, since it conveyed
a very certain and very significant sort of fact, and of course the
Venetian episode was talked about in the houses frequented by my
mother. It was talked about from a royalist point of view with a
kind of respect. It was even said that the inspiration and the
resolution of the war going on now over the Pyrenees had come out
from that head. . . Some of them talked as if she were the guardian
angel of Legitimacy. You know what royalist gush is like."
Mr. Blunt's face expressed sarcastic disgust. Mills moved his head
the least little bit. Apparently he knew.
"Well, speaking with all possible respect, it seems to have
affected my mother's brain. I was already with the royal army and
of course there could be no question of regular postal
communications with France. My mother hears or overhears somewhere
that the heiress of Mr. Allegre is contemplating a secret journey.
All the noble Salons were full of chatter about that secret
naturally. So she sits down and pens an autograph: 'Madame,
Informed that you are proceeding to the place on which the hopes of
all the right thinking people are fixed, I trust to your womanly
sympathy with a mother's anxious feelings, etc., etc.,' and ending
with a request to take messages to me and bring news of me. . . The
coolness of my mother!"
Most unexpectedly Mills was heard murmuring a question which seemed
to me very odd.
"I wonder how your mother addressed that note?"
A moment of silence ensued.
"Hardly in the newspaper style, I should think," retorted Mr.
Blunt, with one of his grins that made me doubt the stability of
his feelings and the consistency of his outlook in regard to his
whole tale. "My mother's maid took it in a fiacre very late one
evening to the Pavilion and brought an answer scrawled on a scrap
of paper: 'Write your messages at once' and signed with a big
capital R. So my mother sat down again to her charming writing
desk and the maid made another journey in a fiacre just before
midnight; and ten days later or so I got a letter thrust into my
hand at the avanzadas just as I was about to start on a night
patrol, together with a note asking me to call on the writer so
that she might allay my mother's anxieties by telling her how I
"It was signed R only, but I guessed at once and nearly fell off my
horse with surprise."
"You mean to say that Dona Rita was actually at the Royal
Headquarters lately?" exclaimed Mills, with evident surprise.
"Why, we--everybody--thought that all this affair was over and done
"Absolutely. Nothing in the world could be more done with than
that episode. Of course the rooms in the hotel at Tolosa were
retained for her by an order from Royal Headquarters. Two garret-
rooms, the place was so full of all sorts of court people; but I
can assure you that for the three days she was there she never put
her head outside the door. General Mongroviejo called on her
officially from the King. A general, not anybody of the household,
you see. That's a distinct shade of the present relation. He
stayed just five minutes. Some personage from the Foreign
department at Headquarters was closeted for about a couple of
hours. That was of course business. Then two officers from the
staff came together with some explanations or instructions to her.
Then Baron H., a fellow with a pretty wife, who had made so many
sacrifices for the cause, raised a great to-do about seeing her and
she consented to receive him for a moment. They say he was very
much frightened by her arrival, but after the interview went away
all smiles. Who else? Yes, the Archbishop came. Half an hour.
This is more than is necessary to give a blessing, and I can't
conceive what else he had to give her. But I am sure he got
something out of her. Two peasants from the upper valley were sent
for by military authorities and she saw them, too. That friar who
hangs about the court has been in and out several times. Well, and
lastly, I myself. I got leave from the outposts. That was the
first time I talked to her. I would have gone that evening back to
the regiment, but the friar met me in the corridor and informed me
that I would be ordered to escort that most loyal and noble lady
back to the French frontier as a personal mission of the highest
honour. I was inclined to laugh at him. He himself is a cheery
and jovial person and he laughed with me quite readily--but I got
the order before dark all right. It was rather a job, as the
Alphonsists were attacking the right flank of our whole front and
there was some considerable disorder there. I mounted her on a
mule and her maid on another. We spent one night in a ruined old
tower occupied by some of our infantry and got away at daybreak
under the Alphonsist shells. The maid nearly died of fright and
one of the troopers with us was wounded. To smuggle her back
across the frontier was another job but it wasn't my job. It
wouldn't have done for her to appear in sight of French frontier
posts in the company of Carlist uniforms. She seems to have a
fearless streak in her nature. At one time as we were climbing a
slope absolutely exposed to artillery fire I asked her on purpose,
being provoked by the way she looked about at the scenery, 'A
little emotion, eh?' And she answered me in a low voice: 'Oh,
yes! I am moved. I used to run about these hills when I was
little.' And note, just then the trooper close behind us had been
wounded by a shell fragment. He was swearing awfully and fighting
with his horse. The shells were falling around us about two to the
"Luckily the Alphonsist shells are not much better than our own.
But women are funny. I was afraid the maid would jump down and
clear out amongst the rocks, in which case we should have had to
dismount and catch her. But she didn't do that; she sat perfectly
still on her mule and shrieked. Just simply shrieked. Ultimately
we came to a curiously shaped rock at the end of a short wooded
valley. It was very still there and the sunshine was brilliant. I
said to Dona Rita: 'We will have to part in a few minutes. I
understand that my mission ends at this rock.' And she said: 'I
know this rock well. This is my country.'
"Then she thanked me for bringing her there and presently three
peasants appeared, waiting for us, two youths and one shaven old
man, with a thin nose like a sword blade and perfectly round eyes,
a character well known to the whole Carlist army. The two youths
stopped under the trees at a distance, but the old fellow came
quite close up and gazed at her, screwing up his eyes as if looking
at the sun. Then he raised his arm very slowly and took his red
boina off his bald head. I watched her smiling at him all the
time. I daresay she knew him as well as she knew the old rock.
Very old rock. The rock of ages--and the aged man--landmarks of
her youth. Then the mules started walking smartly forward, with
the three peasants striding alongside of them, and vanished between
the trees. These fellows were most likely sent out by her uncle
"It was a peaceful scene, the morning light, the bit of open
country framed in steep stony slopes, a high peak or two in the
distance, the thin smoke of some invisible caserios, rising
straight up here and there. Far away behind us the guns had ceased
and the echoes in the gorges had died out. I never knew what peace
meant before. . .
"Nor since," muttered Mr. Blunt after a pause and then went on.
"The little stone church of her uncle, the holy man of the family,
might have been round the corner of the next spur of the nearest
hill. I dismounted to bandage the shoulder of my trooper. It was
only a nasty long scratch. While I was busy about it a bell began
to ring in the distance. The sound fell deliciously on the ear,
clear like the morning light. But it stopped all at once. You
know how a distant bell stops suddenly. I never knew before what
stillness meant. While I was wondering at it the fellow holding
our horses was moved to uplift his voice. He was a Spaniard, not a
Basque, and he trolled out in Castilian that song you know,
"'Oh bells of my native village,
I am going away . . . good-bye!'
He had a good voice. When the last note had floated away I
remounted, but there was a charm in the spot, something particular
and individual because while we were looking at it before turning
our horses' heads away the singer said: 'I wonder what is the name
of this place,' and the other man remarked: 'Why, there is no
village here,' and the first one insisted: 'No, I mean this spot,
this very place.' The wounded trooper decided that it had no name
probably. But he was wrong. It had a name. The hill, or the
rock, or the wood, or the whole had a name. I heard of it by
chance later. It was--Lastaola."
A cloud of tobacco smoke from Mills' pipe drove between my head and
the head of Mr. Blunt, who, strange to say, yawned slightly. It
seemed to me an obvious affectation on the part of that man of
perfect manners, and, moreover, suffering from distressing
"This is how we first met and how we first parted," he said in a
weary, indifferent tone. "It's quite possible that she did see her
uncle on the way. It's perhaps on this occasion that she got her
sister to come out of the wilderness. I have no doubt she had a
pass from the French Government giving her the completest freedom
of action. She must have got it in Paris before leaving."
Mr. Blunt broke out into worldly, slightly cynical smiles.
"She can get anything she likes in Paris. She could get a whole
army over the frontier if she liked. She could get herself
admitted into the Foreign Office at one o'clock in the morning if
it so pleased her. Doors fly open before the heiress of Mr.
Allegre. She has inherited the old friends, the old connections .
. . Of course, if she were a toothless old woman . . . But, you
see, she isn't. The ushers in all the ministries bow down to the
ground therefore, and voices from the innermost sanctums take on an
eager tone when they say, 'Faites entrer.' My mother knows
something about it. She has followed her career with the greatest
attention. And Rita herself is not even surprised. She
accomplishes most extraordinary things, as naturally as buying a
pair of gloves. People in the shops are very polite and people in
the world are like people in the shops. What did she know of the
world? She had seen it only from the saddle. Oh, she will get
your cargo released for you all right. How will she do it? . .
Well, when it's done--you follow me, Mills?--when it's done she
will hardly know herself."
"It's hardly possible that she shouldn't be aware," Mills
"No, she isn't an idiot," admitted Mr. Blunt, in the same matter-
of-fact voice. "But she confessed to myself only the other day
that she suffered from a sense of unreality. I told her that at
any rate she had her own feelings surely. And she said to me:
Yes, there was one of them at least about which she had no doubt;
and you will never guess what it was. Don't try. I happen to
know, because we are pretty good friends."
At that moment we all changed our attitude slightly. Mills'
staring eyes moved for a glance towards Blunt, I, who was occupying
the divan, raised myself on the cushions a little and Mr. Blunt,
with half a turn, put his elbow on the table.
"I asked her what it was. I don't see," went on Mr. Blunt, with a
perfectly horrible gentleness, "why I should have shown particular
consideration to the heiress of Mr. Allegre. I don't mean to that
particular mood of hers. It was the mood of weariness. And so she
told me. It's fear. I will say it once again: Fear. . . ."
He added after a pause, "There can be not the slightest doubt of
her courage. But she distinctly uttered the word fear."
There was under the table the noise of Mills stretching his legs.
"A person of imagination," he began, "a young, virgin intelligence,
steeped for nearly five years in the talk of Allegre's studio,
where every hard truth had been cracked and every belief had been
worried into shreds. They were like a lot of intellectual dogs,
you know . . ."
"Yes, yes, of course," Blunt interrupted hastily, "the intellectual
personality altogether adrift, a soul without a home . . . but I,
who am neither very fine nor very deep, I am convinced that the
fear is material."
"Because she confessed to it being that?" insinuated Mills.
"No, because she didn't," contradicted Blunt, with an angry frown
and in an extremely suave voice. "In fact, she bit her tongue.
And considering what good friends we are (under fire together and
all that) I conclude that there is nothing there to boast of.
Neither is my friendship, as a matter of fact."
Mills' face was the very perfection of indifference. But I who was
looking at him, in my innocence, to discover what it all might
mean, I had a notion that it was perhaps a shade too perfect.
"My leave is a farce," Captain Blunt burst out, with a most
unexpected exasperation. "As an officer of Don Carlos, I have no
more standing than a bandit. I ought to have been interned in
those filthy old barracks in Avignon a long time ago. . . Why am I
not? Because Dona Rita exists and for no other reason on earth.
Of course it's known that I am about. She has only to whisper over
the wires to the Minister of the Interior, 'Put that bird in a cage
for me,' and the thing would be done without any more formalities
than that. . . Sad world this," he commented in a changed tone.
"Nowadays a gentleman who lives by his sword is exposed to that
sort of thing."
It was then for the first time I heard Mr. Mills laugh. It was a
deep, pleasant, kindly note, not very loud and altogether free from
that quality of derision that spoils so many laughs and gives away
the secret hardness of hearts. But neither was it a very joyous
"But the truth of the matter is that I am 'en mission,'" continued
Captain Blunt. "I have been instructed to settle some things, to
set other things going, and, by my instructions, Dona Rita is to be
the intermediary for all those objects. And why? Because every
bald head in this Republican Government gets pink at the top
whenever her dress rustles outside the door. They bow with immense
deference when the door opens, but the bow conceals a smirk because
of those Venetian days. That confounded Versoy shoved his nose
into that business; he says accidentally. He saw them together on
the Lido and (those writing fellows are horrible) he wrote what he
calls a vignette (I suppose accidentally, too) under that very
title. There was in it a Prince and a lady and a big dog. He
described how the Prince on landing from the gondola emptied his
purse into the hands of a picturesque old beggar, while the lady, a
little way off, stood gazing back at Venice with the dog
romantically stretched at her feet. One of Versoy's beautiful
prose vignettes in a great daily that has a literary column. But
some other papers that didn't care a cent for literature rehashed
the mere fact. And that's the sort of fact that impresses your
political man, especially if the lady is, well, such as she is . .
He paused. His dark eyes flashed fatally, away from us, in the
direction of the shy dummy; and then he went on with cultivated
"So she rushes down here. Overdone, weary, rest for her nerves.
Nonsense. I assure you she has no more nerves than I have."
I don't know how he meant it, but at that moment, slim and elegant,
he seemed a mere bundle of nerves himself, with the flitting
expressions on his thin, well-bred face, with the restlessness of
his meagre brown hands amongst the objects on the table. With some
pipe ash amongst a little spilt wine his forefinger traced a
capital R. Then he looked into an empty glass profoundly. I have
a notion that I sat there staring and listening like a yokel at a
play. Mills' pipe was lying quite a foot away in front of him,
empty, cold. Perhaps he had no more tobacco. Mr. Blunt assumed
his dandified air--nervously.
"Of course her movements are commented on in the most exclusive
drawing-rooms and also in other places, also exclusive, but where
the gossip takes on another tone. There they are probably saying
that she has got a 'coup de coeur' for some one. Whereas I think
she is utterly incapable of that sort of thing. That Venetian
affair, the beginning of it and the end of it, was nothing but a
coup de tete, and all those activities in which I am involved, as
you see (by order of Headquarters, ha, ha, ha!), are nothing but
that, all this connection, all this intimacy into which I have
dropped . . . Not to speak of my mother, who is delightful, but as
irresponsible as one of those crazy princesses that shock their
Royal families. . . "
He seemed to bite his tongue and I observed that Mills' eyes seemed
to have grown wider than I had ever seen them before. In that
tranquil face it was a great play of feature. "An intimacy," began
Mr. Blunt, with an extremely refined grimness of tone, "an intimacy
with the heiress of Mr. Allegre on the part of . . . on my part,
well, it isn't exactly . . . it's open . . . well, I leave it to
you, what does it look like?"
"Is there anybody looking on?" Mills let fall, gently, through his
"Not actually, perhaps, at this moment. But I don't need to tell a
man of the world, like you, that such things cannot remain unseen.
And that they are, well, compromising, because of the mere fact of
Mills got on his feet, looked for his jacket and after getting into
it made himself heard while he looked for his hat.
"Whereas the woman herself is, so to speak, priceless."
Mr. Blunt muttered the word "Obviously."
By then we were all on our feet. The iron stove glowed no longer
and the lamp, surrounded by empty bottles and empty glasses, had
I know that I had a great shiver on getting away from the cushions
of the divan.
"We will meet again in a few hours," said Mr. Blunt.
"Don't forget to come," he said, addressing me. "Oh, yes, do.
Have no scruples. I am authorized to make invitations."
He must have noticed my shyness, my surprise, my embarrassment.
And indeed I didn't know what to say.
"I assure you there isn't anything incorrect in your coming," he
insisted, with the greatest civility. "You will be introduced by
two good friends, Mills and myself. Surely you are not afraid of a
very charming woman. . . ."
I was not afraid, but my head swam a little and I only looked at
"Lunch precisely at midday. Mills will bring you along. I am
sorry you two are going. I shall throw myself on the bed for an
hour or two, but I am sure I won't sleep."
He accompanied us along the passage into the black-and-white hall,
where the low gas flame glimmered forlornly. When he opened the
front door the cold blast of the mistral rushing down the street of
the Consuls made me shiver to the very marrow of my bones.
Mills and I exchanged but a few words as we walked down towards the
centre of the town. In the chill tempestuous dawn he strolled
along musingly, disregarding the discomfort of the cold, the
depressing influence of the hour, the desolation of the empty
streets in which the dry dust rose in whirls in front of us, behind
us, flew upon us from the side streets. The masks had gone home
and our footsteps echoed on the flagstones with unequal sound as of
men without purpose, without hope.
"I suppose you will come," said Mills suddenly.
"I really don't know," I said.
"Don't you? Well, remember I am not trying to persuade you; but I
am staying at the Hotel de Louvre and I shall leave there at a
quarter to twelve for that lunch. At a quarter to twelve, not a
minute later. I suppose you can sleep?"
"Charming age, yours," said Mills, as we came out on the quays.
Already dim figures of the workers moved in the biting dawn and the
masted forms of ships were coming out dimly, as far as the eye
could reach down the old harbour.
"Well," Mills began again, "you may oversleep yourself."
This suggestion was made in a cheerful tone, just as we shook hands
at the lower end of the Cannebiere. He looked very burly as he
walked away from me. I went on towards my lodgings. My head was
very full of confused images, but I was really too tired to think.
Sometimes I wonder yet whether Mills wished me to oversleep myself
or not: that is, whether he really took sufficient interest to
care. His uniform kindliness of manner made it impossible for me
to tell. And I can hardly remember my own feelings. Did I care?
The whole recollection of that time of my life has such a peculiar
quality that the beginning and the end of it are merged in one
sensation of profound emotion, continuous and overpowering,
containing the extremes of exultation, full of careless joy and of
an invincible sadness--like a day-dream. The sense of all this
having been gone through as if in one great rush of imagination is
all the stronger in the distance of time, because it had something
of that quality even then: of fate unprovoked, of events that
didn't cast any shadow before.
Not that those events were in the least extraordinary. They were,
in truth, commonplace. What to my backward glance seems startling
and a little awful is their punctualness and inevitability. Mills
was punctual. Exactly at a quarter to twelve he appeared under the
lofty portal of the Hotel de Louvre, with his fresh face, his ill-
fitting grey suit, and enveloped in his own sympathetic atmosphere.
How could I have avoided him? To this day I have a shadowy
conviction of his inherent distinction of mind and heart, far
beyond any man I have ever met since. He was unavoidable: and of
course I never tried to avoid him. The first sight on which his
eyes fell was a victoria pulled up before the hotel door, in which
I sat with no sentiment I can remember now but that of some slight
shyness. He got in without a moment's hesitation, his friendly
glance took me in from head to foot and (such was his peculiar
gift) gave me a pleasurable sensation.
After we had gone a little way I couldn't help saying to him with a
bashful laugh: "You know, it seems very extraordinary that I
should be driving out with you like this."
He turned to look at me and in his kind voice:
"You will find everything extremely simple," he said. "So simple
that you will be quite able to hold your own. I suppose you know
that the world is selfish, I mean the majority of the people in it,
often unconsciously I must admit, and especially people with a
mission, with a fixed idea, with some fantastic object in view, or
even with only some fantastic illusion. That doesn't mean that
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