The Arrow of Gold
Part 5 out of 6
That dummy had been made to measure years before. It had to wear
for days and days the Imperial Byzantine robes in which Dona Rita
sat only once or twice herself; but of course the folds and bends
of the stuff had to be preserved as in the first sketch. Dona Rita
described amusingly how she had to stand in the middle of her room
while Rose walked around her with a tape measure noting the figures
down on a small piece of paper which was then sent to the maker,
who presently returned it with an angry letter stating that those
proportions were altogether impossible in any woman. Apparently
Rose had muddled them all up; and it was a long time before the
figure was finished and sent to the Pavilion in a long basket to
take on itself the robes and the hieratic pose of the Empress.
Later, it wore with the same patience the marvellous hat of the
"Girl in the Hat." But Dona Rita couldn't understand how the poor
thing ever found its way to Marseilles minus its turnip head.
Probably it came down with the robes and a quantity of precious
brocades which she herself had sent down from Paris. The knowledge
of its origin, the contempt of Captain Blunt's references to it,
with Therese's shocked dislike of the dummy, invested that summary
reproduction with a sort of charm, gave me a faint and miserable
illusion of the original, less artificial than a photograph, less
precise, too. . . . But it can't be explained. I felt positively
friendly to it as if it had been Rita's trusted personal attendant.
I even went so far as to discover that it had a sort of grace of
its own. But I never went so far as to address set speeches to it
where it lurked shyly in its corner, or drag it out from there for
contemplation. I left it in peace. I wasn't mad. I was only
convinced that I soon would be.
Notwithstanding my misanthropy I had to see a few people on account
of all these Royalist affairs which I couldn't very well drop, and
in truth did not wish to drop. They were my excuse for remaining
in Europe, which somehow I had not the strength of mind to leave
for the West Indies, or elsewhere. On the other hand, my
adventurous pursuit kept me in contact with the sea where I found
occupation, protection, consolation, the mental relief of grappling
with concrete problems, the sanity one acquires from close contact
with simple mankind, a little self-confidence born from the
dealings with the elemental powers of nature. I couldn't give all
that up. And besides all this was related to Dona Rita. I had, as
it were, received it all from her own hand, from that hand the
clasp of which was as frank as a man's and yet conveyed a unique
sensation. The very memory of it would go through me like a wave
of heat. It was over that hand that we first got into the habit of
quarrelling, with the irritability of sufferers from some obscure
pain and yet half unconscious of their disease. Rita's own spirit
hovered over the troubled waters of Legitimity. But as to the
sound of the four magic letters of her name I was not very likely
to hear it fall sweetly on my ear. For instance, the distinguished
personality in the world of finance with whom I had to confer
several times, alluded to the irresistible seduction of the power
which reigned over my heart and my mind; which had a mysterious and
unforgettable face, the brilliance of sunshine together with the
unfathomable splendour of the night as--Madame de Lastaola. That's
how that steel-grey man called the greatest mystery of the
universe. When uttering that assumed name he would make for
himself a guardedly solemn and reserved face as though he were
afraid lest I should presume to smile, lest he himself should
venture to smile, and the sacred formality of our relations should
be outraged beyond mending.
He would refer in a studiously grave tone to Madame de Lastaola's
wishes, plans, activities, instructions, movements; or picking up a
letter from the usual litter of paper found on such men's desks,
glance at it to refresh his memory; and, while the very sight of
the handwriting would make my lips go dry, would ask me in a
bloodless voice whether perchance I had "a direct communication
from--er--Paris lately." And there would be other maddening
circumstances connected with those visits. He would treat me as a
serious person having a clear view of certain eventualities, while
at the very moment my vision could see nothing but streaming across
the wall at his back, abundant and misty, unearthly and adorable, a
mass of tawny hair that seemed to have hot sparks tangled in it.
Another nuisance was the atmosphere of Royalism, of Legitimacy,
that pervaded the room, thin as air, intangible, as though no
Legitimist of flesh and blood had ever existed to the man's mind
except perhaps myself. He, of course, was just simply a banker, a
very distinguished, a very influential, and a very impeccable
banker. He persisted also in deferring to my judgment and sense
with an over-emphasis called out by his perpetual surprise at my
youth. Though he had seen me many times (I even knew his wife) he
could never get over my immature age. He himself was born about
fifty years old, all complete, with his iron-grey whiskers and his
bilious eyes, which he had the habit of frequently closing during a
conversation. On one occasion he said to me. "By the by, the
Marquis of Villarel is here for a time. He inquired after you the
last time he called on me. May I let him know that you are in
I didn't say anything to that. The Marquis of Villarel was the Don
Rafael of Rita's own story. What had I to do with Spanish
grandees? And for that matter what had she, the woman of all time,
to do with all the villainous or splendid disguises human dust
takes upon itself? All this was in the past, and I was acutely
aware that for me there was no present, no future, nothing but a
hollow pain, a vain passion of such magnitude that being locked up
within my breast it gave me an illusion of lonely greatness with my
miserable head uplifted amongst the stars. But when I made up my
mind (which I did quickly, to be done with it) to call on the
banker's wife, almost the first thing she said to me was that the
Marquis de Villarel was "amongst us." She said it joyously. If in
her husband's room at the bank legitimism was a mere unpopulated
principle, in her salon Legitimacy was nothing but persons. "Il
m'a cause beaucoup de vous," she said as if there had been a joke
in it of which I ought to be proud. I slunk away from her. I
couldn't believe that the grandee had talked to her about me. I
had never felt myself part of the great Royalist enterprise. I
confess that I was so indifferent to everything, so profoundly
demoralized, that having once got into that drawing-room I hadn't
the strength to get away; though I could see perfectly well my
volatile hostess going from one to another of her acquaintances in
order to tell them with a little gesture, "Look! Over there--in
that corner. That's the notorious Monsieur George." At last she
herself drove me out by coming to sit by me vivaciously and going
into ecstasies over "ce cher Monsieur Mills" and that magnificent
Lord X; and ultimately, with a perfectly odious snap in the eyes
and drop in the voice, dragging in the name of Madame de Lastaola
and asking me whether I was really so much in the confidence of
that astonishing person. "Vous devez bien regretter son depart
pour Paris," she cooed, looking with affected bashfulness at her
fan. . . . How I got out of the room I really don't know. There
was also a staircase. I did not fall down it head first--that much
I am certain of; and I also remember that I wandered for a long
time about the seashore and went home very late, by the way of the
Prado, giving in passing a fearful glance at the Villa. It showed
not a gleam of light through the thin foliage of its trees.
I spent the next day with Dominic on board the little craft
watching the shipwrights at work on her deck. From the way they
went about their business those men must have been perfectly sane;
and I felt greatly refreshed by my company during the day.
Dominic, too, devoted himself to his business, but his taciturnity
was sardonic. Then I dropped in at the cafe and Madame Leonore's
loud "Eh, Signorino, here you are at last!" pleased me by its
resonant friendliness. But I found the sparkle of her black eyes
as she sat down for a moment opposite me while I was having my
drink rather difficult to bear. That man and that woman seemed to
know something. What did they know? At parting she pressed my
hand significantly. What did she mean? But I didn't feel offended
by these manifestations. The souls within these people's breasts
were not volatile in the manner of slightly scented and inflated
bladders. Neither had they the impervious skins which seem the
rule in the fine world that wants only to get on. Somehow they had
sensed that there was something wrong; and whatever impression they
might have formed for themselves I had the certitude that it would
not be for them a matter of grins at my expense.
That day on returning home I found Therese looking out for me, a
very unusual occurrence of late. She handed me a card bearing the
name of the Marquis de Villarel.
"How did you come by this?" I asked. She turned on at once the tap
of her volubility and I was not surprised to learn that the grandee
had not done such an extraordinary thing as to call upon me in
person. A young gentleman had brought it. Such a nice young
gentleman, she interjected with her piously ghoulish expression.
He was not very tall. He had a very smooth complexion (that woman
was incorrigible) and a nice, tiny black moustache. Therese was
sure that he must have been an officer en las filas legitimas.
With that notion in her head she had asked him about the welfare of
that other model of charm and elegance, Captain Blunt. To her
extreme surprise the charming young gentleman with beautiful eyes
had apparently never heard of Blunt. But he seemed very much
interested in his surroundings, looked all round the hall, noted
the costly wood of the door panels, paid some attention to the
silver statuette holding up the defective gas burner at the foot of
the stairs, and, finally, asked whether this was in very truth the
house of the most excellent Senora Dona Rita de Lastaola. The
question staggered Therese, but with great presence of mind she
answered the young gentleman that she didn't know what excellence
there was about it, but that the house was her property, having
been given to her by her own sister. At this the young gentleman
looked both puzzled and angry, turned on his heel, and got back
into his fiacre. Why should people be angry with a poor girl who
had never done a single reprehensible thing in her whole life?
"I suppose our Rita does tell people awful lies about her poor
sister." She sighed deeply (she had several kinds of sighs and
this was the hopeless kind) and added reflectively, "Sin on sin,
wickedness on wickedness! And the longer she lives the worse it
will be. It would be better for our Rita to be dead."
I told "Mademoiselle Therese" that it was really impossible to tell
whether she was more stupid or atrocious; but I wasn't really very
much shocked. These outbursts did not signify anything in Therese.
One got used to them. They were merely the expression of her
rapacity and her righteousness; so that our conversation ended by
my asking her whether she had any dinner ready for me that evening.
"What's the good of getting you anything to eat, my dear young
Monsieur," she quizzed me tenderly. "You just only peck like a
little bird. Much better let me save the money for you." It will
show the super-terrestrial nature of my misery when I say that I
was quite surprised at Therese's view of my appetite. Perhaps she
was right. I certainly did not know. I stared hard at her and in
the end she admitted that the dinner was in fact ready that very
The new young gentleman within Therese's horizon didn't surprise me
very much. Villarel would travel with some sort of suite, a couple
of secretaries at least. I had heard enough of Carlist
headquarters to know that the man had been (very likely was still)
Captain General of the Royal Bodyguard and was a person of great
political (and domestic) influence at Court. The card was, under
its social form, a mere command to present myself before the
grandee. No Royalist devoted by conviction, as I must have
appeared to him, could have mistaken the meaning. I put the card
in my pocket and after dining or not dining--I really don't
remember--spent the evening smoking in the studio, pursuing
thoughts of tenderness and grief, visions exalting and cruel. From
time to time I looked at the dummy. I even got up once from the
couch on which I had been writhing like a worm and walked towards
it as if to touch it, but refrained, not from sudden shame but from
sheer despair. By and by Therese drifted in. It was then late
and, I imagine, she was on her way to bed. She looked the picture
of cheerful, rustic innocence and started propounding to me a
conundrum which began with the words:
"If our Rita were to die before long . . ."
She didn't get any further because I had jumped up and frightened
her by shouting: "Is she ill? What has happened? Have you had a
She had had a letter. I didn't ask her to show it to me, though I
daresay she would have done so. I had an idea that there was no
meaning in anything, at least no meaning that mattered. But the
interruption had made Therese apparently forget her sinister
conundrum. She observed me with her shrewd, unintelligent eyes for
a bit, and then with the fatuous remark about the Law being just
she left me to the horrors of the studio. I believe I went to
sleep there from sheer exhaustion. Some time during the night I
woke up chilled to the bone and in the dark. These were horrors
and no mistake. I dragged myself upstairs to bed past the
indefatigable statuette holding up the ever-miserable light. The
black-and-white hall was like an ice-house.
The main consideration which induced me to call on the Marquis of
Villarel was the fact that after all I was a discovery of Dona
Rita's, her own recruit. My fidelity and steadfastness had been
guaranteed by her and no one else. I couldn't bear the idea of her
being criticized by every empty-headed chatterer belonging to the
Cause. And as, apart from that, nothing mattered much, why, then--
I would get this over.
But it appeared that I had not reflected sufficiently on all the
consequences of that step. First of all the sight of the Villa
looking shabbily cheerful in the sunshine (but not containing her
any longer) was so perturbing that I very nearly went away from the
gate. Then when I got in after much hesitation--being admitted by
the man in the green baize apron who recognized me--the thought of
entering that room, out of which she was gone as completely as if
she had been dead, gave me such an emotion that I had to steady
myself against the table till the faintness was past. Yet I was
irritated as at a treason when the man in the baize apron instead
of letting me into the Pompeiian dining-room crossed the hall to
another door not at all in the Pompeiian style (more Louis XV
rather--that Villa was like a Salade Russe of styles) and
introduced me into a big, light room full of very modern furniture.
The portrait en pied of an officer in a sky-blue uniform hung on
the end wall. The officer had a small head, a black beard cut
square, a robust body, and leaned with gauntleted hands on the
simple hilt of a straight sword. That striking picture dominated a
massive mahogany desk, and, in front of this desk, a very roomy,
tall-backed armchair of dark green velvet. I thought I had been
announced into an empty room till glancing along the extremely loud
carpet I detected a pair of feet under the armchair.
I advanced towards it and discovered a little man, who had made no
sound or movement till I came into his view, sunk deep in the green
velvet. He altered his position slowly and rested his hollow,
black, quietly burning eyes on my face in prolonged scrutiny. I
detected something comminatory in his yellow, emaciated
countenance, but I believe now he was simply startled by my youth.
I bowed profoundly. He extended a meagre little hand.
"Take a chair, Don Jorge."
He was very small, frail, and thin, but his voice was not languid,
though he spoke hardly above his breath. Such was the envelope and
the voice of the fanatical soul belonging to the Grand-master of
Ceremonies and Captain General of the Bodyguard at the Headquarters
of the Legitimist Court, now detached on a special mission. He was
all fidelity, inflexibility, and sombre conviction, but like some
great saints he had very little body to keep all these merits in.
"You are very young," he remarked, to begin with. "The matters on
which I desired to converse with you are very grave."
"I was under the impression that your Excellency wished to see me
at once. But if your Excellency prefers it I will return in, say,
seven years' time when I may perhaps be old enough to talk about
He didn't stir hand or foot and not even the quiver of an eyelid
proved that he had heard my shockingly unbecoming retort.
"You have been recommended to us by a noble and loyal lady, in whom
His Majesty--whom God preserve--reposes an entire confidence. God
will reward her as she deserves and you, too, Senor, according to
the disposition you bring to this great work which has the blessing
(here he crossed himself) of our Holy Mother the Church."
"I suppose your Excellency understands that in all this I am not
looking for reward of any kind."
At this he made a faint, almost ethereal grimace.
"I was speaking of the spiritual blessing which rewards the service
of religion and will be of benefit to your soul," he explained with
a slight touch of acidity. "The other is perfectly understood and
your fidelity is taken for granted. His Majesty--whom God
preserve--has been already pleased to signify his satisfaction with
your services to the most noble and loyal Dona Rita by a letter in
his own hand."
Perhaps he expected me to acknowledge this announcement in some
way, speech, or bow, or something, because before my immobility he
made a slight movement in his chair which smacked of impatience.
"I am afraid, Senor, that you are affected by the spirit of
scoffing and irreverence which pervades this unhappy country of
France in which both you and I are strangers, I believe. Are you a
young man of that sort?"
"I am a very good gun-runner, your Excellency," I answered quietly.
He bowed his head gravely. "We are aware. But I was looking for
the motives which ought to have their pure source in religion."
"I must confess frankly that I have not reflected on my motives," I
said. "It is enough for me to know that they are not dishonourable
and that anybody can see they are not the motives of an adventurer
seeking some sordid advantage."
He had listened patiently and when he saw that there was nothing
more to come he ended the discussion.
"Senor, we should reflect upon our motives. It is salutary for our
conscience and is recommended (he crossed himself) by our Holy
Mother the Church. I have here certain letters from Paris on which
I would consult your young sagacity which is accredited to us by
the most loyal Dona Rita."
The sound of that name on his lips was simply odious. I was
convinced that this man of forms and ceremonies and fanatical
royalism was perfectly heartless. Perhaps he reflected on his
motives; but it seemed to me that his conscience could be nothing
else but a monstrous thing which very few actions could disturb
appreciably. Yet for the credit of Dona Rita I did not withhold
from him my young sagacity. What he thought of it I don't know,
The matters we discussed were not of course of high policy, though
from the point of view of the war in the south they were important
enough. We agreed on certain things to be done, and finally,
always out of regard for Dona Rita's credit, I put myself generally
at his disposition or of any Carlist agent he would appoint in his
place; for I did not suppose that he would remain very long in
Marseilles. He got out of the chair laboriously, like a sick child
might have done. The audience was over but he noticed my eyes
wandering to the portrait and he said in his measured, breathed-out
"I owe the pleasure of having this admirable work here to the
gracious attention of Madame de Lastaola, who, knowing my
attachment to the royal person of my Master, has sent it down from
Paris to greet me in this house which has been given up for my
occupation also through her generosity to the Royal Cause.
Unfortunately she, too, is touched by the infection of this
irreverent and unfaithful age. But she is young yet. She is
These last words were pronounced in a strange tone of menace as
though he were supernaturally aware of some suspended disasters.
With his burning eyes he was the image of an Inquisitor with an
unconquerable soul in that frail body. But suddenly he dropped his
eyelids and the conversation finished as characteristically as it
had begun: with a slow, dismissing inclination of the head and an
"Adios, Senor--may God guard you from sin."
I must say that for the next three months I threw myself into my
unlawful trade with a sort of desperation, dogged and hopeless,
like a fairly decent fellow who takes deliberately to drink. The
business was getting dangerous. The bands in the South were not
very well organized, worked with no very definite plan, and now
were beginning to be pretty closely hunted. The arrangements for
the transport of supplies were going to pieces; our friends ashore
were getting scared; and it was no joke to find after a day of
skilful dodging that there was no one at the landing place and have
to go out again with our compromising cargo, to slink and lurk
about the coast for another week or so, unable to trust anybody and
looking at every vessel we met with suspicion. Once we were
ambushed by a lot of "rascally Carabineers," as Dominic called
them, who hid themselves among the rocks after disposing a train of
mules well in view on the seashore. Luckily, on evidence which I
could never understand, Dominic detected something suspicious.
Perhaps it was by virtue of some sixth sense that men born for
unlawful occupations may be gifted with. "There is a smell of
treachery about this," he remarked suddenly, turning at his oar.
(He and I were pulling alone in a little boat to reconnoitre.) I
couldn't detect any smell and I regard to this day our escape on
that occasion as, properly speaking, miraculous. Surely some
supernatural power must have struck upwards the barrels of the
Carabineers' rifles, for they missed us by yards. And as the
Carabineers have the reputation of shooting straight, Dominic,
after swearing most horribly, ascribed our escape to the particular
guardian angel that looks after crazy young gentlemen. Dominic
believed in angels in a conventional way, but laid no claim to
having one of his own. Soon afterwards, while sailing quietly at
night, we found ourselves suddenly near a small coasting vessel,
also without lights, which all at once treated us to a volley of
rifle fire. Dominic's mighty and inspired yell: "A plat ventre!"
and also an unexpected roll to windward saved all our lives.
Nobody got a scratch. We were past in a moment and in a breeze
then blowing we had the heels of anything likely to give us chase.
But an hour afterwards, as we stood side by side peering into the
darkness, Dominic was heard to mutter through his teeth: "Le
metier se gate." I, too, had the feeling that the trade, if not
altogether spoiled, had seen its best days. But I did not care.
In fact, for my purpose it was rather better, a more potent
influence; like the stronger intoxication of raw spirit. A volley
in the dark after all was not such a bad thing. Only a moment
before we had received it, there, in that calm night of the sea
full of freshness and soft whispers, I had been looking at an
enchanting turn of a head in a faint light of its own, the tawny
hair with snared red sparks brushed up from the nape of a white
neck and held up on high by an arrow of gold feathered with
brilliants and with ruby gleams all along its shaft. That jewelled
ornament, which I remember often telling Rita was of a very
Philistinish conception (it was in some way connected with a
tortoiseshell comb) occupied an undue place in my memory, tried to
come into some sort of significance even in my sleep. Often I
dreamed of her with white limbs shimmering in the gloom like a
nymph haunting a riot of foliage, and raising a perfect round arm
to take an arrow of gold out of her hair to throw it at me by hand,
like a dart. It came on, a whizzing trail of light, but I always
woke up before it struck. Always. Invariably. It never had a
chance. A volley of small arms was much more likely to do the
business some day--or night.
At last came the day when everything slipped out of my grasp. The
little vessel, broken and gone like the only toy of a lonely child,
the sea itself, which had swallowed it, throwing me on shore after
a shipwreck that instead of a fair fight left in me the memory of a
suicide. It took away all that there was in me of independent
life, but just failed to take me out of the world, which looked
then indeed like Another World fit for no one else but unrepentant
sinners. Even Dominic failed me, his moral entity destroyed by
what to him was a most tragic ending of our common enterprise. The
lurid swiftness of it all was like a stunning thunder-clap--and,
one evening, I found myself weary, heartsore, my brain still dazed
and with awe in my heart entering Marseilles by way of the railway
station, after many adventures, one more disagreeable than another,
involving privations, great exertions, a lot of difficulties with
all sorts of people who looked upon me evidently more as a
discreditable vagabond deserving the attentions of gendarmes than a
respectable (if crazy) young gentleman attended by a guardian angel
of his own. I must confess that I slunk out of the railway station
shunning its many lights as if, invariably, failure made an outcast
of a man. I hadn't any money in my pocket. I hadn't even the
bundle and the stick of a destitute wayfarer. I was unshaven and
unwashed, and my heart was faint within me. My attire was such
that I daren't approach the rank of fiacres, where indeed I could
perceive only two pairs of lamps, of which one suddenly drove away
while I looked. The other I gave up to the fortunate of this
earth. I didn't believe in my power of persuasion. I had no
powers. I slunk on and on, shivering with cold, through the
uproarious streets. Bedlam was loose in them. It was the time of
Small objects of no value have the secret of sticking to a man in
an astonishing way. I had nearly lost my liberty and even my life,
I had lost my ship, a money-belt full of gold, I had lost my
companions, had parted from my friend; my occupation, my only link
with life, my touch with the sea, my cap and jacket were gone--but
a small penknife and a latchkey had never parted company with me.
With the latchkey I opened the door of refuge. The hall wore its
deaf-and-dumb air, its black-and-white stillness.
The sickly gas-jet still struggled bravely with adversity at the
end of the raised silver arm of the statuette which had kept to a
hair's breadth its graceful pose on the toes of its left foot; and
the staircase lost itself in the shadows above. Therese was
parsimonious with the lights. To see all this was surprising. It
seemed to me that all the things I had known ought to have come
down with a crash at the moment of the final catastrophe on the
Spanish coast. And there was Therese herself descending the
stairs, frightened but plucky. Perhaps she thought that she would
be murdered this time for certain. She had a strange, unemotional
conviction that the house was particularly convenient for a crime.
One could never get to the bottom of her wild notions which she
held with the stolidity of a peasant allied to the outward serenity
of a nun. She quaked all over as she came down to her doom, but
when she recognized me she got such a shock that she sat down
suddenly on the lowest step. She did not expect me for another
week at least, and, besides, she explained, the state I was in made
her blood take "one turn."
Indeed my plight seemed either to have called out or else repressed
her true nature. But who had ever fathomed her nature! There was
none of her treacly volubility. There were none of her "dear young
gentlemans" and "poor little hearts" and references to sin. In
breathless silence she ran about the house getting my room ready,
lighting fires and gas-jets and even hauling at me to help me up
the stairs. Yes, she did lay hands on me for that charitable
purpose. They trembled. Her pale eyes hardly left my face. "What
brought you here like this?" she whispered once.
"If I were to tell you, Mademoiselle Therese, you would see there
the hand of God."
She dropped the extra pillow she was carrying and then nearly fell
over it. "Oh, dear heart," she murmured, and ran off to the
I sank into bed as into a cloud and Therese reappeared very misty
and offering me something in a cup. I believe it was hot milk, and
after I drank it she took the cup and stood looking at me fixedly.
I managed to say with difficulty: "Go away," whereupon she
vanished as if by magic before the words were fairly out of my
mouth. Immediately afterwards the sunlight forced through the
slats of the jalousies its diffused glow, and Therese was there
again as if by magic, saying in a distant voice: "It's midday". .
. Youth will have its rights. I had slept like a stone for
I suppose an honourable bankrupt would know such an awakening: the
sense of catastrophe, the shrinking from the necessity of beginning
life again, the faint feeling that there are misfortunes which must
be paid for by a hanging. In the course of the morning Therese
informed me that the apartment usually occupied by Mr. Blunt was
vacant and added mysteriously that she intended to keep it vacant
for a time, because she had been instructed to do so. I couldn't
imagine why Blunt should wish to return to Marseilles. She told me
also that the house was empty except for myself and the two dancing
girls with their father. Those people had been away for some time
as the girls had engagements in some Italian summer theatres, but
apparently they had secured a re-engagement for the winter and were
now back. I let Therese talk because it kept my imagination from
going to work on subjects which, I had made up my mind, were no
concern of mine. But I went out early to perform an unpleasant
task. It was only proper that I should let the Carlist agent
ensconced in the Prado Villa know of the sudden ending of my
activities. It would be grave enough news for him, and I did not
like to be its bearer for reasons which were mainly personal. I
resembled Dominic in so far that I, too, disliked failure.
The Marquis of Villarel had of course gone long before. The man
who was there was another type of Carlist altogether, and his
temperament was that of a trader. He was the chief purveyor of the
Legitimist armies, an honest broker of stores, and enjoyed a great
reputation for cleverness. His important task kept him, of course,
in France, but his young wife, whose beauty and devotion to her
King were well known, represented him worthily at Headquarters,
where his own appearances were extremely rare. The dissimilar but
united loyalties of those two people had been rewarded by the title
of baron and the ribbon of some order or other. The gossip of the
Legitimist circles appreciated those favours with smiling
indulgence. He was the man who had been so distressed and
frightened by Dona Rita's first visit to Tolosa. He had an extreme
regard for his wife. And in that sphere of clashing arms and
unceasing intrigue nobody would have smiled then at his agitation
if the man himself hadn't been somewhat grotesque.
He must have been startled when I sent in my name, for he didn't of
course expect to see me yet--nobody expected me. He advanced soft-
footed down the room. With his jutting nose, flat-topped skull and
sable garments he recalled an obese raven, and when he heard of the
disaster he manifested his astonishment and concern in a most
plebeian manner by a low and expressive whistle. I, of course,
could not share his consternation. My feelings in that connection
were of a different order; but I was annoyed at his unintelligent
"I suppose," I said, "you will take it on yourself to advise Dona
Rita, who is greatly interested in this affair."
"Yes, but I was given to understand that Madame de Lastaola was to
leave Paris either yesterday or this morning."
It was my turn to stare dumbly before I could manage to ask: "For
Tolosa?" in a very knowing tone.
Whether it was the droop of his head, play of light, or some other
subtle cause, his nose seemed to have grown perceptibly longer.
"That, Senor, is the place where the news has got to be conveyed
without undue delay," he said in an agitated wheeze. "I could, of
course, telegraph to our agent in Bayonne who would find a
messenger. But I don't like, I don't like! The Alphonsists have
agents, too, who hang about the telegraph offices. It's no use
letting the enemy get that news."
He was obviously very confused, unhappy, and trying to think of two
different things at once.
"Sit down, Don George, sit down." He absolutely forced a cigar on
me. "I am extremely distressed. That--I mean Dona Rita is
undoubtedly on her way to Tolosa. This is very frightful."
I must say, however, that there was in the man some sense of duty.
He mastered his private fears. After some cogitation he murmured:
"There is another way of getting the news to Headquarters. Suppose
you write me a formal letter just stating the facts, the
unfortunate facts, which I will be able to forward. There is an
agent of ours, a fellow I have been employing for purchasing
supplies, a perfectly honest man. He is coming here from the north
by the ten o'clock train with some papers for me of a confidential
nature. I was rather embarrassed about it. It wouldn't do for him
to get into any sort of trouble. He is not very intelligent. I
wonder, Don George, whether you would consent to meet him at the
station and take care of him generally till to-morrow. I don't
like the idea of him going about alone. Then, to-morrow night, we
would send him on to Tolosa by the west coast route, with the news;
and then he can also call on Dona Rita who will no doubt be already
there. . . ." He became again distracted all in a moment and
actually went so far as to wring his fat hands. "Oh, yes, she will
be there!" he exclaimed in most pathetic accents.
I was not in the humour to smile at anything, and he must have been
satisfied with the gravity with which I beheld his extraordinary
antics. My mind was very far away. I thought: Why not? Why
shouldn't I also write a letter to Dona Rita, telling her that now
nothing stood in the way of my leaving Europe, because, really, the
enterprise couldn't be begun again; that things that come to an end
can never be begun again. The idea--never again--had complete
possession of my mind. I could think of nothing else. Yes, I
would write. The worthy Commissary General of the Carlist forces
was under the impression that I was looking at him; but what I had
in my eye was a jumble of butterfly women and winged youths and the
soft sheen of Argand lamps gleaming on an arrow of gold in the hair
of a head that seemed to evade my outstretched hand.
"Oh, yes," I said, "I have nothing to do and even nothing to think
of just now, I will meet your man as he gets off the train at ten
o'clock to-night. What's he like?"
"Oh, he has a black moustache and whiskers, and his chin is
shaved," said the newly-fledged baron cordially. "A very honest
fellow. I always found him very useful. His name is Jose Ortega."
He was perfectly self-possessed now, and walking soft-footed
accompanied me to the door of the room. He shook hands with a
melancholy smile. "This is a very frightful situation. My poor
wife will be quite distracted. She is such a patriot. Many
thanks, Don George. You relieve me greatly. The fellow is rather
stupid and rather bad-tempered. Queer creature, but very honest!
Oh, very honest!"
It was the last evening of Carnival. The same masks, the same
yells, the same mad rushes, the same bedlam of disguised humanity
blowing about the streets in the great gusts of mistral that seemed
to make them dance like dead leaves on an earth where all joy is
watched by death.
It was exactly twelve months since that other carnival evening when
I had felt a little weary and a little lonely but at peace with all
mankind. It must have been--to a day or two. But on this evening
it wasn't merely loneliness that I felt. I felt bereaved with a
sense of a complete and universal loss in which there was perhaps
more resentment than mourning; as if the world had not been taken
away from me by an august decree but filched from my innocence by
an underhand fate at the very moment when it had disclosed to my
passion its warm and generous beauty. This consciousness of
universal loss had this advantage that it induced something
resembling a state of philosophic indifference. I walked up to the
railway station caring as little for the cold blasts of wind as
though I had been going to the scaffold. The delay of the train
did not irritate me in the least. I had finally made up my mind to
write a letter to Dona Rita; and this "honest fellow" for whom I
was waiting would take it to her. He would have no difficulty in
Tolosa in finding Madame de Lastaola. The General Headquarters,
which was also a Court, would be buzzing with comments on her
presence. Most likely that "honest fellow" was already known to
Dona Rita. For all I knew he might have been her discovery just as
I was. Probably I, too, was regarded as an "honest fellow" enough;
but stupid--since it was clear that my luck was not inexhaustible.
I hoped that while carrying my letter the man would not let himself
be caught by some Alphonsist guerilla who would, of course, shoot
him. But why should he? I, for instance, had escaped with my life
from a much more dangerous enterprise than merely passing through
the frontier line in charge of some trustworthy guide. I pictured
the fellow to myself trudging over the stony slopes and scrambling
down wild ravines with my letter to Dona Rita in his pocket. It
would be such a letter of farewell as no lover had ever written, no
woman in the world had ever read, since the beginning of love on
earth. It would be worthy of the woman. No experience, no
memories, no dead traditions of passion or language would inspire
it. She herself would be its sole inspiration. She would see her
own image in it as in a mirror; and perhaps then she would
understand what it was I was saying farewell to on the very
threshold of my life. A breath of vanity passed through my brain.
A letter as moving as her mere existence was moving would be
something unique. I regretted I was not a poet.
I woke up to a great noise of feet, a sudden influx of people
through the doors of the platform. I made out my man's whiskers at
once--not that they were enormous, but because I had been warned
beforehand of their existence by the excellent Commissary General.
At first I saw nothing of him but his whiskers: they were black
and cut somewhat in the shape of a shark's fin and so very fine
that the least breath of air animated them into a sort of playful
restlessness. The man's shoulders were hunched up and when he had
made his way clear of the throng of passengers I perceived him as
an unhappy and shivery being. Obviously he didn't expect to be
met, because when I murmured an enquiring, "Senor Ortega?" into his
ear he swerved away from me and nearly dropped a little handbag he
was carrying. His complexion was uniformly pale, his mouth was
red, but not engaging. His social status was not very definite.
He was wearing a dark blue overcoat of no particular cut, his
aspect had no relief; yet those restless side-whiskers flanking his
red mouth and the suspicious expression of his black eyes made him
noticeable. This I regretted the more because I caught sight of
two skulking fellows, looking very much like policemen in plain
clothes, watching us from a corner of the great hall. I hurried my
man into a fiacre. He had been travelling from early morning on
cross-country lines and after we got on terms a little confessed to
being very hungry and cold. His red lips trembled and I noted an
underhand, cynical curiosity when he had occasion to raise his eyes
to my face. I was in some doubt how to dispose of him but as we
rolled on at a jog trot I came to the conclusion that the best
thing to do would be to organize for him a shake-down in the
studio. Obscure lodging houses are precisely the places most
looked after by the police, and even the best hotels are bound to
keep a register of arrivals. I was very anxious that nothing
should stop his projected mission of courier to headquarters. As
we passed various street corners where the mistral blast struck at
us fiercely I could feel him shivering by my side. However,
Therese would have lighted the iron stove in the studio before
retiring for the night, and, anyway, I would have to turn her out
to make up a bed on the couch. Service of the King! I must say
that she was amiable and didn't seem to mind anything one asked her
to do. Thus while the fellow slumbered on the divan I would sit
upstairs in my room setting down on paper those great words of
passion and sorrow that seethed in my brain and even must have
forced themselves in murmurs on to my lips, because the man by my
side suddenly asked me: "What did you say?"--"Nothing," I
answered, very much surprised. In the shifting light of the street
lamps he looked the picture of bodily misery with his chattering
teeth and his whiskers blown back flat over his ears. But somehow
he didn't arouse my compassion. He was swearing to himself, in
French and Spanish, and I tried to soothe him by the assurance that
we had not much farther to go. "I am starving," he remarked
acidly, and I felt a little compunction. Clearly, the first thing
to do was to feed him. We were then entering the Cannebiere and as
I didn't care to show myself with him in the fashionable restaurant
where a new face (and such a face, too) would be remarked, I pulled
up the fiacre at the door of the Maison Doree. That was more of a
place of general resort where, in the multitude of casual patrons,
he would pass unnoticed.
For this last night of carnival the big house had decorated all its
balconies with rows of coloured paper lanterns right up to the
roof. I led the way to the grand salon, for as to private rooms
they had been all retained days before. There was a great crowd of
people in costume, but by a piece of good luck we managed to secure
a little table in a corner. The revellers, intent on their
pleasure, paid no attention to us. Senor Ortega trod on my heels
and after sitting down opposite me threw an ill-natured glance at
the festive scene. It might have been about half-past ten, then.
Two glasses of wine he drank one after another did not improve his
temper. He only ceased to shiver. After he had eaten something it
must have occurred to him that he had no reason to bear me a grudge
and he tried to assume a civil and even friendly manner. His
mouth, however, betrayed an abiding bitterness. I mean when he
smiled. In repose it was a very expressionless mouth, only it was
too red to be altogether ordinary. The whole of him was like that:
the whiskers too black, the hair too shiny, the forehead too white,
the eyes too mobile; and he lent you his attention with an air of
eagerness which made you uncomfortable. He seemed to expect you to
give yourself away by some unconsidered word that he would snap up
with delight. It was that peculiarity that somehow put me on my
guard. I had no idea who I was facing across the table and as a
matter of fact I did not care. All my impressions were blurred;
and even the promptings of my instinct were the haziest thing
imaginable. Now and then I had acute hallucinations of a woman
with an arrow of gold in her hair. This caused alternate moments
of exaltation and depression from which I tried to take refuge in
conversation; but Senor Ortega was not stimulating. He was
preoccupied with personal matters. When suddenly he asked me
whether I knew why he had been called away from his work (he had
been buying supplies from peasants somewhere in Central France), I
answered that I didn't know what the reason was originally, but I
had an idea that the present intention was to make of him a
courier, bearing certain messages from Baron H. to the Quartel Real
He glared at me like a basilisk. "And why have I been met like
this?" he enquired with an air of being prepared to hear a lie.
I explained that it was the Baron's wish, as a matter of prudence
and to avoid any possible trouble which might arise from enquiries
by the police.
He took it badly. "What nonsense." He was--he said--an employe
(for several years) of Hernandez Brothers in Paris, an importing
firm, and he was travelling on their business--as he could prove.
He dived into his side pocket and produced a handful of folded
papers of all sorts which he plunged back again instantly.
And even then I didn't know whom I had there, opposite me, busy now
devouring a slice of pate de foie gras. Not in the least. It
never entered my head. How could it? The Rita that haunted me had
no history; she was but the principle of life charged with
fatality. Her form was only a mirage of desire decoying one step
by step into despair.
Senor Ortega gulped down some more wine and suggested I should tell
him who I was. "It's only right I should know," he added.
This could not be gainsaid; and to a man connected with the Carlist
organization the shortest way was to introduce myself as that
"Monsieur George" of whom he had probably heard.
He leaned far over the table, till his very breast-bone was over
the edge, as though his eyes had been stilettos and he wanted to
drive them home into my brain. It was only much later that I
understood how near death I had been at that moment. But the
knives on the tablecloth were the usual restaurant knives with
rounded ends and about as deadly as pieces of hoop-iron. Perhaps
in the very gust of his fury he remembered what a French restaurant
knife is like and something sane within him made him give up the
sudden project of cutting my heart out where I sat. For it could
have been nothing but a sudden impulse. His settled purpose was
quite other. It was not my heart that he was after. His fingers
indeed were groping amongst the knife handles by the side of his
plate but what captivated my attention for a moment were his red
lips which were formed into an odd, sly, insinuating smile. Heard!
To be sure he had heard! The chief of the great arms smuggling
"Oh!" I said, "that's giving me too much importance." The person
responsible and whom I looked upon as chief of all the business
was, as he might have heard, too, a certain noble and loyal lady.
"I am as noble as she is," he snapped peevishly, and I put him down
at once as a very offensive beast. "And as to being loyal, what is
that? It is being truthful! It is being faithful! I know all
I managed to preserve an air of perfect unconcern. He wasn't a
fellow to whom one could talk of Dona Rita.
"You are a Basque," I said.
He admitted rather contemptuously that he was a Basque and even
then the truth did not dawn upon me. I suppose that with the
hidden egoism of a lover I was thinking of myself, of myself alone
in relation to Dona Rita, not of Dona Rita herself. He, too,
obviously. He said: "I am an educated man, but I know her people,
all peasants. There is a sister, an uncle, a priest, a peasant,
too, and perfectly unenlightened. One can't expect much from a
priest (I am a free-thinker of course), but he is really too bad,
more like a brute beast. As to all her people, mostly dead now,
they never were of any account. There was a little land, but they
were always working on other people's farms, a barefooted gang, a
starved lot. I ought to know because we are distant relations.
Twentieth cousins or something of the sort. Yes, I am related to
that most loyal lady. And what is she, after all, but a Parisian
woman with innumerable lovers, as I have been told."
"I don't think your information is very correct," I said, affecting
to yawn slightly. "This is mere gossip of the gutter and I am
surprised at you, who really know nothing about it--"
But the disgusting animal had fallen into a brown study. The hair
of his very whiskers was perfectly still. I had now given up all
idea of the letter to Rita. Suddenly he spoke again:
"Women are the origin of all evil. One should never trust them.
They have no honour. No honour!" he repeated, striking his breast
with his closed fist on which the knuckles stood out very white.
"I left my village many years ago and of course I am perfectly
satisfied with my position and I don't know why I should trouble my
head about this loyal lady. I suppose that's the way women get on
in the world."
I felt convinced that he was no proper person to be a messenger to
headquarters. He struck me as altogether untrustworthy and perhaps
not quite sane. This was confirmed by him saying suddenly with no
visible connection and as if it had been forced from him by some
agonizing process: "I was a boy once," and then stopping dead
short with a smile. He had a smile that frightened one by its
association of malice and anguish.
"Will you have anything more to eat?" I asked.
He declined dully. He had had enough. But he drained the last of
a bottle into his glass and accepted a cigar which I offered him.
While he was lighting it I had a sort of confused impression that
he wasn't such a stranger to me as I had assumed he was; and yet,
on the other hand, I was perfectly certain I had never seen him
before. Next moment I felt that I could have knocked him down if
he hadn't looked so amazingly unhappy, while he came out with the
astounding question: "Senor, have you ever been a lover in your
"What do you mean?" I asked. "How old do you think I am?"
"That's true," he said, gazing at me in a way in which the damned
gaze out of their cauldrons of boiling pitch at some soul walking
scot free in the place of torment. "It's true, you don't seem to
have anything on your mind." He assumed an air of ease, throwing
an arm over the back of his chair and blowing the smoke through the
gash of his twisted red mouth. "Tell me," he said, "between men,
you know, has this--wonderful celebrity--what does she call
herself? How long has she been your mistress?"
I reflected rapidly that if I knocked him over, chair and all, by a
sudden blow from the shoulder it would bring about infinite
complications beginning with a visit to the Commissaire de Police
on night-duty, and ending in God knows what scandal and disclosures
of political kind; because there was no telling what, or how much,
this outrageous brute might choose to say and how many people he
might not involve in a most undesirable publicity. He was smoking
his cigar with a poignantly mocking air and not even looking at me.
One can't hit like that a man who isn't even looking at one; and
then, just as I was looking at him swinging his leg with a caustic
smile and stony eyes, I felt sorry for the creature. It was only
his body that was there in that chair. It was manifest to me that
his soul was absent in some hell of its own. At that moment I
attained the knowledge of who it was I had before me. This was the
man of whom both Dona Rita and Rose were so much afraid. It
remained then for me to look after him for the night and then
arrange with Baron H. that he should be sent away the very next
day--and anywhere but to Tolosa. Yes, evidently, I mustn't lose
sight of him. I proposed in the calmest tone that we should go on
where he could get his much-needed rest. He rose with alacrity,
picked up his little hand-bag, and, walking out before me, no doubt
looked a very ordinary person to all eyes but mine. It was then
past eleven, not much, because we had not been in that restaurant
quite an hour, but the routine of the town's night-life being upset
during the Carnival the usual row of fiacres outside the Maison
Doree was not there; in fact, there were very few carriages about.
Perhaps the coachmen had assumed Pierrot costumes and were rushing
about the streets on foot yelling with the rest of the population.
"We will have to walk," I said after a while.--"Oh, yes, let us
walk," assented Senor Ortega, "or I will be frozen here." It was
like a plaint of unutterable wretchedness. I had a fancy that all
his natural heat had abandoned his limbs and gone to his brain. It
was otherwise with me; my head was cool but I didn't find the night
really so very cold. We stepped out briskly side by side. My
lucid thinking was, as it were, enveloped by the wide shouting of
the consecrated Carnival gaiety. I have heard many noises since,
but nothing that gave me such an intimate impression of the savage
instincts hidden in the breast of mankind; these yells of festivity
suggested agonizing fear, rage of murder, ferocity of lust, and the
irremediable joylessness of human condition: yet they were emitted
by people who were convinced that they were amusing themselves
supremely, traditionally, with the sanction of ages, with the
approval of their conscience--and no mistake about it whatever!
Our appearance, the soberness of our gait made us conspicuous.
Once or twice, by common inspiration, masks rushed forward and
forming a circle danced round us uttering discordant shouts of
derision; for we were an outrage to the peculiar proprieties of the
hour, and besides we were obviously lonely and defenceless. On
those occasions there was nothing for it but to stand still till
the flurry was over. My companion, however, would stamp his feet
with rage, and I must admit that I myself regretted not having
provided for our wearing a couple of false noses, which would have
been enough to placate the just resentment of those people. We
might have also joined in the dance, but for some reason or other
it didn't occur to us; and I heard once a high, clear woman's voice
stigmatizing us for a "species of swelled heads" (espece d'enfles).
We proceeded sedately, my companion muttered with rage, and I was
able to resume my thinking. It was based on the deep persuasion
that the man at my side was insane with quite another than
Carnivalesque lunacy which comes on at one stated time of the year.
He was fundamentally mad, though not perhaps completely; which of
course made him all the greater, I won't say danger but, nuisance.
I remember once a young doctor expounding the theory that most
catastrophes in family circles, surprising episodes in public
affairs and disasters in private life, had their origin in the fact
that the world was full of half-mad people. He asserted that they
were the real majority. When asked whether he considered himself
as belonging to the majority, he said frankly that he didn't think
so; unless the folly of voicing this view in a company, so utterly
unable to appreciate all its horror, could be regarded as the first
symptom of his own fate. We shouted down him and his theory, but
there is no doubt that it had thrown a chill on the gaiety of our
We had now entered a quieter quarter of the town and Senor Ortega
had ceased his muttering. For myself I had not the slightest doubt
of my own sanity. It was proved to me by the way I could apply my
intelligence to the problem of what was to be done with Senor
Ortega. Generally, he was unfit to be trusted with any mission
whatever. The unstability of his temper was sure to get him into a
scrape. Of course carrying a letter to Headquarters was not a very
complicated matter; and as to that I would have trusted willingly a
properly trained dog. My private letter to Dona Rita, the
wonderful, the unique letter of farewell, I had given up for the
present. Naturally I thought of the Ortega problem mainly in the
terms of Dona Rita's safety. Her image presided at every council,
at every conflict of my mind, and dominated every faculty of my
senses. It floated before my eyes, it touched my elbow, it guarded
my right side and my left side; my ears seemed to catch the sound
of her footsteps behind me, she enveloped me with passing whiffs of
warmth and perfume, with filmy touches of the hair on my face. She
penetrated me, my head was full of her . . . And his head, too, I
thought suddenly with a side glance at my companion. He walked
quietly with hunched-up shoulders carrying his little hand-bag and
he looked the most commonplace figure imaginable.
Yes. There was between us a most horrible fellowship; the
association of his crazy torture with the sublime suffering of my
passion. We hadn't been a quarter of an hour together when that
woman had surged up fatally between us; between this miserable
wretch and myself. We were haunted by the same image. But I was
sane! I was sane! Not because I was certain that the fellow must
not be allowed to go to Tolosa, but because I was perfectly alive
to the difficulty of stopping him from going there, since the
decision was absolutely in the hands of Baron H.
If I were to go early in the morning and tell that fat, bilious
man: "Look here, your Ortega's mad," he would certainly think at
once that I was, get very frightened, and . . . one couldn't tell
what course he would take. He would eliminate me somehow out of
the affair. And yet I could not let the fellow proceed to where
Dona Rita was, because, obviously, he had been molesting her, had
filled her with uneasiness and even alarm, was an unhappy element
and a disturbing influence in her life--incredible as the thing
appeared! I couldn't let him go on to make himself a worry and a
nuisance, drive her out from a town in which she wished to be (for
whatever reason) and perhaps start some explosive scandal. And
that girl Rose seemed to fear something graver even than a scandal.
But if I were to explain the matter fully to H. he would simply
rejoice in his heart. Nothing would please him more than to have
Dona Rita driven out of Tolosa. What a relief from his anxieties
(and his wife's, too); and if I were to go further, if I even went
so far as to hint at the fears which Rose had not been able to
conceal from me, why then--I went on thinking coldly with a stoical
rejection of the most elementary faith in mankind's rectitude--why
then, that accommodating husband would simply let the ominous
messenger have his chance. He would see there only his natural
anxieties being laid to rest for ever. Horrible? Yes. But I
could not take the risk. In a twelvemonth I had travelled a long
way in my mistrust of mankind.
We paced on steadily. I thought: "How on earth am I going to stop
you?" Had this arisen only a month before, when I had the means at
hand and Dominic to confide in, I would have simply kidnapped the
fellow. A little trip to sea would not have done Senor Ortega any
harm; though no doubt it would have been abhorrent to his feelings.
But now I had not the means. I couldn't even tell where my poor
Dominic was hiding his diminished head.
Again I glanced at him sideways. I was the taller of the two and
as it happened I met in the light of the street lamp his own
stealthy glance directed up at me with an agonized expression, an
expression that made me fancy I could see the man's very soul
writhing in his body like an impaled worm. In spite of my utter
inexperience I had some notion of the images that rushed into his
mind at the sight of any man who had approached Dona Rita. It was
enough to awaken in any human being a movement of horrified
compassion; but my pity went out not to him but to Dona Rita. It
was for her that I felt sorry; I pitied her for having that damned
soul on her track. I pitied her with tenderness and indignation,
as if this had been both a danger and a dishonour.
I don't mean to say that those thoughts passed through my head
consciously. I had only the resultant, settled feeling. I had,
however, a thought, too. It came on me suddenly, and I asked
myself with rage and astonishment: "Must I then kill that brute?"
There didn't seem to be any alternative. Between him and Dona Rita
I couldn't hesitate. I believe I gave a slight laugh of
desperation. The suddenness of this sinister conclusion had in it
something comic and unbelievable. It loosened my grip on my mental
processes. A Latin tag came into my head about the facile descent
into the abyss. I marvelled at its aptness, and also that it
should have come to me so pat. But I believe now that it was
suggested simply by the actual declivity of the street of the
Consuls which lies on a gentle slope. We had just turned the
corner. All the houses were dark and in a perspective of complete
solitude our two shadows dodged and wheeled about our feet.
"Here we are," I said.
He was an extraordinarily chilly devil. When we stopped I could
hear his teeth chattering again. I don't know what came over me, I
had a sort of nervous fit, was incapable of finding my pockets, let
alone the latchkey. I had the illusion of a narrow streak of light
on the wall of the house as if it had been cracked. "I hope we
will be able to get in," I murmured.
Senor Ortega stood waiting patiently with his handbag, like a
rescued wayfarer. "But you live in this house, don't you?" he
"No," I said, without hesitation. I didn't know how that man would
behave if he were aware that I was staying under the same roof. He
was half mad. He might want to talk all night, try crazily to
invade my privacy. How could I tell? Moreover, I wasn't so sure
that I would remain in the house. I had some notion of going out
again and walking up and down the street of the Consuls till
daylight. "No, an absent friend lets me use . . . I had that
latchkey this morning . . . Ah! here it is."
I let him go in first. The sickly gas flame was there on duty,
undaunted, waiting for the end of the world to come and put it out.
I think that the black-and-white hall surprised Ortega. I had
closed the front door without noise and stood for a moment
listening, while he glanced about furtively. There were only two
other doors in the hall, right and left. Their panels of ebony
were decorated with bronze applications in the centre. The one on
the left was of course Blunt's door. As the passage leading beyond
it was dark at the further end I took Senor Ortega by the hand and
led him along, unresisting, like a child. For some reason or other
I moved on tip-toe and he followed my example. The light and the
warmth of the studio impressed him favourably; he laid down his
little bag, rubbed his hands together, and produced a smile of
satisfaction; but it was such a smile as a totally ruined man would
perhaps force on his lips, or a man condemned to a short shrift by
his doctor. I begged him to make himself at home and said that I
would go at once and hunt up the woman of the house who would make
him up a bed on the big couch there. He hardly listened to what I
said. What were all those things to him! He knew that his destiny
was to sleep on a bed of thorns, to feed on adders. But he tried
to show a sort of polite interest. He asked: "What is this
"It used to belong to a painter," I mumbled.
"Ah, your absent friend," he said, making a wry mouth. "I detest
all those artists, and all those writers, and all politicos who are
thieves; and I would go even farther and higher, laying a curse on
all idle lovers of women. You think perhaps I am a Royalist? No.
If there was anybody in heaven or hell to pray to I would pray for
a revolution--a red revolution everywhere."
"You astonish me," I said, just to say something.
"No! But there are half a dozen people in the world with whom I
would like to settle accounts. One could shoot them like
partridges and no questions asked. That's what revolution would
mean to me."
"It's a beautifully simple view," I said. "I imagine you are not
the only one who holds it; but I really must look after your
comforts. You mustn't forget that we have to see Baron H. early
to-morrow morning." And I went out quietly into the passage
wondering in what part of the house Therese had elected to sleep
that night. But, lo and behold, when I got to the foot of the
stairs there was Therese coming down from the upper regions in her
nightgown, like a sleep-walker. However, it wasn't that, because,
before I could exclaim, she vanished off the first floor landing
like a streak of white mist and without the slightest sound. Her
attire made it perfectly clear that she could not have heard us
coming in. In fact, she must have been certain that the house was
empty, because she was as well aware as myself that the Italian
girls after their work at the opera were going to a masked ball to
dance for their own amusement, attended of course by their
conscientious father. But what thought, need, or sudden impulse
had driven Therese out of bed like this was something I couldn't
I didn't call out after her. I felt sure that she would return. I
went up slowly to the first floor and met her coming down again,
this time carrying a lighted candle. She had managed to make
herself presentable in an extraordinarily short time.
"Oh, my dear young Monsieur, you have given me a fright."
"Yes. And I nearly fainted, too," I said. "You looked perfectly
awful. What's the matter with you? Are you ill?"
She had lighted by then the gas on the landing and I must say that
I had never seen exactly that manner of face on her before. She
wriggled, confused and shifty-eyed, before me; but I ascribed this
behaviour to her shocked modesty and without troubling myself any
more about her feelings I informed her that there was a Carlist
downstairs who must be put up for the night. Most unexpectedly she
betrayed a ridiculous consternation, but only for a moment. Then
she assumed at once that I would give him hospitality upstairs
where there was a camp-bedstead in my dressing-room. I said:
"No. Give him a shake-down in the studio, where he is now. It's
warm in there. And remember! I charge you strictly not to let him
know that I sleep in this house. In fact, I don't know myself that
I will; I have certain matters to attend to this very night. You
will also have to serve him his coffee in the morning. I will take
him away before ten o'clock."
All this seemed to impress her more than I had expected. As usual
when she felt curious, or in some other way excited, she assumed a
saintly, detached expression, and asked:
"The dear gentleman is your friend, I suppose?"
"I only know he is a Spaniard and a Carlist," I said: "and that
ought to be enough for you."
Instead of the usual effusive exclamations she murmured: "Dear me,
dear me," and departed upstairs with the candle to get together a
few blankets and pillows, I suppose. As for me I walked quietly
downstairs on my way to the studio. I had a curious sensation that
I was acting in a preordained manner, that life was not at all what
I had thought it to be, or else that I had been altogether changed
sometime during the day, and that I was a different person from the
man whom I remembered getting out of my bed in the morning.
Also feelings had altered all their values. The words, too, had
become strange. It was only the inanimate surroundings that
remained what they had always been. For instance the studio. . . .
During my absence Senor Ortega had taken off his coat and I found
him as it were in the air, sitting in his shirt sleeves on a chair
which he had taken pains to place in the very middle of the floor.
I repressed an absurd impulse to walk round him as though he had
been some sort of exhibit. His hands were spread over his knees
and he looked perfectly insensible. I don't mean strange, or
ghastly, or wooden, but just insensible--like an exhibit. And that
effect persisted even after he raised his black suspicious eyes to
my face. He lowered them almost at once. It was very mechanical.
I gave him up and became rather concerned about myself. My thought
was that I had better get out of that before any more queer notions
came into my head. So I only remained long enough to tell him that
the woman of the house was bringing down some bedding and that I
hoped that he would have a good night's rest. And directly I spoke
it struck me that this was the most extraordinary speech that ever
was addressed to a figure of that sort. He, however, did not seem
startled by it or moved in any way. He simply said:
In the darkest part of the long passage outside I met Therese with
her arms full of pillows and blankets.
Coming out of the bright light of the studio I didn't make out
Therese very distinctly. She, however, having groped in dark
cupboards, must have had her pupils sufficiently dilated to have
seen that I had my hat on my head. This has its importance because
after what I had said to her upstairs it must have convinced her
that I was going out on some midnight business. I passed her
without a word and heard behind me the door of the studio close
with an unexpected crash. It strikes me now that under the
circumstances I might have without shame gone back to listen at the
keyhole. But truth to say the association of events was not so
clear in my mind as it may be to the reader of this story. Neither
were the exact connections of persons present to my mind. And,
besides, one doesn't listen at a keyhole but in pursuance of some
plan; unless one is afflicted by a vulgar and fatuous curiosity.
But that vice is not in my character. As to plan, I had none. I
moved along the passage between the dead wall and the black-and-
white marble elevation of the staircase with hushed footsteps, as
though there had been a mortally sick person somewhere in the
house. And the only person that could have answered to that
description was Senor Ortega. I moved on, stealthy, absorbed,
undecided; asking myself earnestly: "What on earth am I going to
do with him?" That exclusive preoccupation of my mind was as
dangerous to Senor Ortega as typhoid fever would have been. It
strikes me that this comparison is very exact. People recover from
typhoid fever, but generally the chance is considered poor. This
was precisely his case. His chance was poor; though I had no more
animosity towards him than a virulent disease has against the
victim it lays low. He really would have nothing to reproach me
with; he had run up against me, unwittingly, as a man enters an
infected place, and now he was very ill, very ill indeed. No, I
had no plans against him. I had only the feeling that he was in
I believe that men of the most daring character (and I make no
claim to it) often do shrink from the logical processes of thought.
It is only the devil, they say, that loves logic. But I was not a
devil. I was not even a victim of the devil. It was only that I
had given up the direction of my intelligence before the problem;
or rather that the problem had dispossessed my intelligence and
reigned in its stead side by side with a superstitious awe. A
dreadful order seemed to lurk in the darkest shadows of life. The
madness of that Carlist with the soul of a Jacobin, the vile fears
of Baron H., that excellent organizer of supplies, the contact of
their two ferocious stupidities, and last, by a remote disaster at
sea, my love brought into direct contact with the situation: all
that was enough to make one shudder--not at the chance, but at the
For it was my love that was called upon to act here, and nothing
else. And love which elevates us above all safeguards, above
restraining principles, above all littlenesses of self-possession,
yet keeps its feet always firmly on earth, remains marvellously
practical in its suggestions.
I discovered that however much I had imagined I had given up Rita,
that whatever agonies I had gone through, my hope of her had never
been lost. Plucked out, stamped down, torn to shreds, it had
remained with me secret, intact, invincible. Before the danger of
the situation it sprang, full of life, up in arms--the undying
child of immortal love. What incited me was independent of honour
and compassion; it was the prompting of a love supreme, practical,
remorseless in its aim; it was the practical thought that no woman
need be counted as lost for ever, unless she be dead!
This excluded for the moment all considerations of ways and means
and risks and difficulties. Its tremendous intensity robbed it of
all direction and left me adrift in the big black-and-white hall as
on a silent sea. It was not, properly speaking, irresolution. It
was merely hesitation as to the next immediate step, and that step
even of no great importance: hesitation merely as to the best way
I could spend the rest of the night. I didn't think further
forward for many reasons, more or less optimistic, but mainly
because I have no homicidal vein in my composition. The
disposition to gloat over homicide was in that miserable creature
in the studio, the potential Jacobin; in that confounded buyer of
agricultural produce, the punctual employe of Hernandez Brothers,
the jealous wretch with an obscene tongue and an imagination of the
same kind to drive him mad. I thought of him without pity but also
without contempt. I reflected that there were no means of sending
a warning to Dona Rita in Tolosa; for of course no postal
communication existed with the Headquarters. And moreover what
would a warning be worth in this particular case, supposing it
would reach her, that she would believe it, and that she would know
what to do? How could I communicate to another that certitude
which was in my mind, the more absolute because without proofs that
one could produce?
The last expression of Rose's distress rang again in my ears:
"Madame has no friends. Not one!" and I saw Dona Rita's complete
loneliness beset by all sorts of insincerities, surrounded by
pitfalls; her greatest dangers within herself, in her generosity,
in her fears, in her courage, too. What I had to do first of all
was to stop that wretch at all costs. I became aware of a great
mistrust of Therese. I didn't want her to find me in the hall, but
I was reluctant to go upstairs to my rooms from an unreasonable
feeling that there I would be too much out of the way; not
sufficiently on the spot. There was the alternative of a live-long
night of watching outside, before the dark front of the house. It
was a most distasteful prospect. And then it occurred to me that
Blunt's former room would be an extremely good place to keep a
watch from. I knew that room. When Henry Allegre gave the house
to Rita in the early days (long before he made his will) he had
planned a complete renovation and this room had been meant for the
drawing-room. Furniture had been made for it specially,
upholstered in beautiful ribbed stuff, made to order, of dull gold
colour with a pale blue tracery of arabesques and oval medallions
enclosing Rita's monogram, repeated on the backs of chairs and
sofas, and on the heavy curtains reaching from ceiling to floor.
To the same time belonged the ebony and bronze doors, the silver
statuette at the foot of the stairs, the forged iron balustrade
reproducing right up the marble staircase Rita's decorative
monogram in its complicated design. Afterwards the work was
stopped and the house had fallen into disrepair. When Rita devoted
it to the Carlist cause a bed was put into that drawing-room, just
simply the bed. The room next to that yellow salon had been in
Allegre's young days fitted as a fencing-room containing also a
bath, and a complicated system of all sorts of shower and jet
arrangements, then quite up to date. That room was very large,
lighted from the top, and one wall of it was covered by trophies of
arms of all sorts, a choice collection of cold steel disposed on a
background of Indian mats and rugs Blunt used it as a dressing-
room. It communicated by a small door with the studio.
I had only to extend my hand and make one step to reach the
magnificent bronze handle of the ebony door, and if I didn't want
to be caught by Therese there was no time to lose. I made the step
and extended the hand, thinking that it would be just like my luck
to find the door locked. But the door came open to my push. In
contrast to the dark hall the room was most unexpectedly dazzling
to my eyes, as if illuminated a giorno for a reception. No voice
came from it, but nothing could have stopped me now. As I turned
round to shut the door behind me noiselessly I caught sight of a
woman's dress on a chair, of other articles of apparel scattered
about. The mahogany bed with a piece of light silk which Therese
found somewhere and used for a counterpane was a magnificent
combination of white and crimson between the gleaming surfaces of
dark wood; and the whole room had an air of splendour with marble
consoles, gilt carvings, long mirrors and a sumptuous Venetian
lustre depending from the ceiling: a darkling mass of icy pendants
catching a spark here and there from the candles of an eight-
branched candelabra standing on a little table near the head of a
sofa which had been dragged round to face the fireplace. The
faintest possible whiff of a familiar perfume made my head swim
with its suggestion.
I grabbed the back of the nearest piece of furniture and the
splendour of marbles and mirrors, of cut crystals and carvings,
swung before my eyes in the golden mist of walls and draperies
round an extremely conspicuous pair of black stockings thrown over
a music stool which remained motionless. The silence was profound.
It was like being in an enchanted place. Suddenly a voice began to
speak, clear, detached, infinitely touching in its calm weariness.
"Haven't you tormented me enough to-day?" it said. . . . My head
was steady now but my heart began to beat violently. I listened to
the end without moving, "Can't you make up your mind to leave me
alone for to-night?" It pleaded with an accent of charitable
The penetrating quality of these tones which I had not heard for so
many, many days made my eyes run full of tears. I guessed easily
that the appeal was addressed to the atrocious Therese. The
speaker was concealed from me by the high back of the sofa, but her
apprehension was perfectly justified. For was it not I who had
turned back Therese the pious, the insatiable, coming downstairs in
her nightgown to torment her sister some more? Mere surprise at
Dona Rita's presence in the house was enough to paralyze me; but I
was also overcome by an enormous sense of relief, by the assurance
of security for her and for myself. I didn't even ask myself how
she came there. It was enough for me that she was not in Tolosa.
I could have smiled at the thought that all I had to do now was to
hasten the departure of that abominable lunatic--for Tolosa: an
easy task, almost no task at all. Yes, I would have smiled, had
not I felt outraged by the presence of Senor Ortega under the same
roof with Dona Rita. The mere fact was repugnant to me, morally
revolting; so that I should have liked to rush at him and throw him
out into the street. But that was not to be done for various
reasons. One of them was pity. I was suddenly at peace with all
mankind, with all nature. I felt as if I couldn't hurt a fly. The
intensity of my emotion sealed my lips. With a fearful joy tugging
at my heart I moved round the head of the couch without a word.
In the wide fireplace on a pile of white ashes the logs had a deep
crimson glow; and turned towards them Dona Rita reclined on her
side enveloped in the skins of wild beasts like a charming and
savage young chieftain before a camp fire. She never even raised
her eyes, giving me the opportunity to contemplate mutely that
adolescent, delicately masculine head, so mysteriously feminine in
the power of instant seduction, so infinitely suave in its firm
design, almost childlike in the freshness of detail: altogether
ravishing in the inspired strength of the modelling. That precious
head reposed in the palm of her hand; the face was slightly flushed
(with anger perhaps). She kept her eyes obstinately fixed on the
pages of a book which she was holding with her other hand. I had
the time to lay my infinite adoration at her feet whose white
insteps gleamed below the dark edge of the fur out of quilted blue
silk bedroom slippers, embroidered with small pearls. I had never
seen them before; I mean the slippers. The gleam of the insteps,
too, for that matter. I lost myself in a feeling of deep content,
something like a foretaste of a time of felicity which must be
quiet or it couldn't be eternal. I had never tasted such perfect
quietness before. It was not of this earth. I had gone far
beyond. It was as if I had reached the ultimate wisdom beyond all
dreams and all passions. She was That which is to be contemplated
to all Infinity.
The perfect stillness and silence made her raise her eyes at last,
reluctantly, with a hard, defensive expression which I had never
seen in them before. And no wonder! The glance was meant for
Therese and assumed in self-defence. For some time its character
did not change and when it did it turned into a perfectly stony
stare of a kind which I also had never seen before. She had never
wished so much to be left in peace. She had never been so
astonished in her life. She had arrived by the evening express
only two hours before Senor Ortega, had driven to the house, and
after having something to eat had become for the rest of the
evening the helpless prey of her sister who had fawned and scolded
and wheedled and threatened in a way that outraged all Rita's
feelings. Seizing this unexpected occasion Therese had displayed a
distracting versatility of sentiment: rapacity, virtue, piety,
spite, and false tenderness--while, characteristically enough, she
unpacked the dressing-bag, helped the sinner to get ready for bed,
brushed her hair, and finally, as a climax, kissed her hands,
partly by surprise and partly by violence. After that she had
retired from the field of battle slowly, undefeated, still defiant,
firing as a last shot the impudent question: "Tell me only, have
you made your will, Rita?" To this poor Dona Rita with the spirit
of opposition strung to the highest pitch answered: "No, and I
don't mean to"--being under the impression that this was what her
sister wanted her to do. There can be no doubt, however, that all
Therese wanted was the information.
Rita, much too agitated to expect anything but a sleepless night,
had not the courage to get into bed. She thought she would remain
on the sofa before the fire and try to compose herself with a book.
As she had no dressing-gown with her she put on her long fur coat
over her night-gown, threw some logs on the fire, and lay down.
She didn't hear the slightest noise of any sort till she heard me
shut the door gently. Quietness of movement was one of Therese's
accomplishments, and the harassed heiress of the Allegre millions
naturally thought it was her sister coming again to renew the
scene. Her heart sank within her. In the end she became a little
frightened at the long silence, and raised her eyes. She didn't
believe them for a long time. She concluded that I was a vision.
In fact, the first word which I heard her utter was a low, awed
"No," which, though I understood its meaning, chilled my blood like
an evil omen.
It was then that I spoke. "Yes," I said, "it's me that you see,"
and made a step forward. She didn't start; only her other hand
flew to the edges of the fur coat, gripping them together over her
breast. Observing this gesture I sat down in the nearest chair.
The book she had been reading slipped with a thump on the floor.
"How is it possible that you should be here?" she said, still in a
"I am really here," I said. "Would you like to touch my hand?"
She didn't move at all; her fingers still clutched the fur coat.
"What has happened?"
"It's a long story, but you may take it from me that all is over.
The tie between us is broken. I don't know that it was ever very
close. It was an external thing. The true misfortune is that I
have ever seen you."
This last phrase was provoked by an exclamation of sympathy on her
part. She raised herself on her elbow and looked at me intently.
"All over," she murmured.
"Yes, we had to wreck the little vessel. It was awful. I feel
like a murderer. But she had to be killed."
"Because I loved her too much. Don't you know that love and death
go very close together?"
"I could feel almost happy that it is all over, if you hadn't had
to lose your love. Oh, amigo George, it was a safe love for you."
"Yes," I said. "It was a faithful little vessel. She would have
saved us all from any plain danger. But this was a betrayal. It
was--never mind. All that's past. The question is what will the
next one be."
"Why should it be that?"
"I don't know. Life seems but a series of betrayals. There are so
many kinds of them. This was a betrayed plan, but one can betray
confidence, and hope and--desire, and the most sacred . . ."
"But what are you doing here?" she interrupted.
"Oh, yes! The eternal why. Till a few hours ago I didn't know
what I was here for. And what are you here for?" I asked point
blank and with a bitterness she disregarded. She even answered my
question quite readily with many words out of which I could make
very little. I only learned that for at least five mixed reasons,
none of which impressed me profoundly, Dona Rita had started at a
moment's notice from Paris with nothing but a dressing-bag, and
permitting Rose to go and visit her aged parents for two days, and
then follow her mistress. That girl of late had looked so
perturbed and worried that the sensitive Rita, fearing that she was
tired of her place, proposed to settle a sum of money on her which
would have enabled her to devote herself entirely to her aged
parents. And did I know what that extraordinary girl said? She
had said: "Don't let Madame think that I would be too proud to
accept anything whatever from her; but I can't even dream of
leaving Madame. I believe Madame has no friends. Not one." So
instead of a large sum of money Dona Rita gave the girl a kiss and
as she had been worried by several people who wanted her to go to
Tolosa she bolted down this way just to get clear of all those
busybodies. "Hide from them," she went on with ardour. "Yes, I
came here to hide," she repeated twice as if delighted at last to
have hit on that reason among so many others. "How could I tell
that you would be here?" Then with sudden fire which only added to
the delight with which I had been watching the play of her
physiognomy she added: "Why did you come into this room?"
She enchanted me. The ardent modulations of the sound, the slight
play of the beautiful lips, the still, deep sapphire gleam in those
long eyes inherited from the dawn of ages and that seemed always to
watch unimaginable things, that underlying faint ripple of gaiety
that played under all her moods as though it had been a gift from
the high gods moved to pity for this lonely mortal, all this within
the four walls and displayed for me alone gave me the sense of
almost intolerable joy. The words didn't matter. They had to be
answered, of course.
"I came in for several reasons. One of them is that I didn't know
you were here."
"Therese didn't tell you?"
"Never talked to you about me?"
I hesitated only for a moment. "Never," I said. Then I asked in
my turn, "Did she tell you I was here?"
"No," she said.
"It's very clear she did not mean us to come together again."
"Neither did I, my dear."
"What do you mean by speaking like this, in this tone, in these
words? You seem to use them as if they were a sort of formula. Am
I a dear to you? Or is anybody? . . . or everybody? . . ."
She had been for some time raised on her elbow, but then as if
something had happened to her vitality she sank down till her head
rested again on the sofa cushion.
"Why do you try to hurt my feelings?" she asked.
"For the same reason for which you call me dear at the end of a
sentence like that: for want of something more amusing to do. You
don't pretend to make me believe that you do it for any sort of
reason that a decent person would confess to."
The colour had gone from her face; but a fit of wickedness was on
me and I pursued, "What are the motives of your speeches? What
prompts your actions? On your own showing your life seems to be a
continuous running away. You have just run away from Paris. Where
will you run to-morrow? What are you everlastingly running from--
or is it that you are running after something? What is it? A man,
a phantom--or some sensation that you don't like to own to?"
Truth to say, I was abashed by the silence which was her only
answer to this sally. I said to myself that I would not let my
natural anger, my just fury be disarmed by any assumption of pathos
or dignity. I suppose I was really out of my mind and what in the
middle ages would have been called "possessed" by an evil spirit.
I went on enjoying my own villainy.
"Why aren't you in Tolosa? You ought to be in Tolosa. Isn't
Tolosa the proper field for your abilities, for your sympathies,
for your profusions, for your generosities--the king without a
crown, the man without a fortune! But here there is nothing worthy
of your talents. No, there is no longer anything worth any sort of
trouble here. There isn't even that ridiculous Monsieur George. I
understand that the talk of the coast from here to Cette is that
Monsieur George is drowned. Upon my word I believe he is. And
serve him right, too. There's Therese, but I don't suppose that
your love for your sister . . ."
"For goodness' sake don't let her come in and find you here."
Those words recalled me to myself, exorcised the evil spirit by the
mere enchanting power of the voice. They were also impressive by
their suggestion of something practical, utilitarian, and remote
from sentiment. The evil spirit left me and I remained taken aback
"Well," I said, "if you mean that you want me to leave the room I
will confess to you that I can't very well do it yet. But I could
lock both doors if you don't mind that."
"Do what you like as long as you keep her out. You two together
would be too much for me to-night. Why don't you go and lock those
doors? I have a feeling she is on the prowl."
I got up at once saying, "I imagine she has gone to bed by this
time." I felt absolutely calm and responsible. I turned the keys
one after another so gently that I couldn't hear the click of the
locks myself. This done I recrossed the room with measured steps,
with downcast eyes, and approaching the couch without raising them
from the carpet I sank down on my knees and leaned my forehead on
its edge. That penitential attitude had but little remorse in it.
I detected no movement and heard no sound from her. In one place a
bit of the fur coat touched my cheek softly, but no forgiving hand
came to rest on my bowed head. I only breathed deeply the faint
scent of violets, her own particular fragrance enveloping my body,
penetrating my very heart with an inconceivable intimacy, bringing
me closer to her than the closest embrace, and yet so subtle that I
sensed her existence in me only as a great, glowing, indeterminate
tenderness, something like the evening light disclosing after the
white passion of the day infinite depths in the colours of the sky
and an unsuspected soul of peace in the protean forms of life. I
had not known such quietness for months; and I detected in myself
an immense fatigue, a longing to remain where I was without
changing my position to the end of time. Indeed to remain seemed
to me a complete solution for all the problems that life presents--
even as to the very death itself.
Only the unwelcome reflection that this was impossible made me get
up at last with a sigh of deep grief at the end of the dream. But
I got up without despair. She didn't murmur, she didn't stir.
There was something august in the stillness of the room. It was a
strange peace which she shared with me in this unexpected shelter
full of disorder in its neglected splendour. What troubled me was
the sudden, as it were material, consciousness of time passing as
water flows. It seemed to me that it was only the tenacity of my
sentiment that held that woman's body, extended and tranquil above
the flood. But when I ventured at last to look at her face I saw
her flushed, her teeth clenched--it was visible--her nostrils
dilated, and in her narrow, level-glancing eyes a look of inward
and frightened ecstasy. The edges of the fur coat had fallen open
and I was moved to turn away. I had the same impression as on the
evening we parted that something had happened which I did not
understand; only this time I had not touched her at all. I really
didn't understand. At the slightest whisper I would now have gone
out without a murmur, as though that emotion had given her the
right to be obeyed. But there was no whisper; and for a long time
I stood leaning on my arm, looking into the fire and feeling
distinctly between the four walls of that locked room the unchecked
time flow past our two stranded personalities.
And suddenly she spoke. She spoke in that voice that was so
profoundly moving without ever being sad, a little wistful perhaps
and always the supreme expression of her grace. She asked as if
nothing had happened:
"What are you thinking of, amigo?"
I turned about. She was lying on her side, tranquil above the
smooth flow of time, again closely wrapped up in her fur, her head
resting on the old-gold sofa cushion bearing like everything else
in that room the decoratively enlaced letters of her monogram; her
face a little pale now, with the crimson lobe of her ear under the
tawny mist of her loose hair, the lips a little parted, and her
glance of melted sapphire level and motionless, darkened by
"Can I think of anything but you?" I murmured, taking a seat near
the foot of the couch. "Or rather it isn't thinking, it is more
like the consciousness of you always being present in me, complete
to the last hair, to the faintest shade of expression, and that not
only when we are apart but when we are together, alone, as close as
this. I see you now lying on this couch but that is only the
insensible phantom of the real you that is in me. And it is the
easier for me to feel this because that image which others see and
call by your name--how am I to know that it is anything else but an
enchanting mist? You have always eluded me except in one or two
moments which seem still more dream-like than the rest. Since I
came into this room you have done nothing to destroy my conviction
of your unreality apart from myself. You haven't offered me your
hand to touch. Is it because you suspect that apart from me you
are but a mere phantom, and that you fear to put it to the test?"
One of her hands was under the fur and the other under her cheek.
She made no sound. She didn't offer to stir. She didn't move her
eyes, not even after I had added after waiting for a while,
"Just what I expected. You are a cold illusion."
She smiled mysteriously, right away from me, straight at the fire,
and that was all.
I had a momentary suspicion that I had said something stupid. Her
smile amongst many other things seemed to have meant that, too.
And I answered it with a certain resignation:
"Well, I don't know that you are so much mist. I remember once
hanging on to you like a drowning man . . . But perhaps I had
better not speak of this. It wasn't so very long ago, and you may
. . . "
"I don't mind. Well . . ."
"Well, I have kept an impression of great solidity. I'll admit
that. A woman of granite."
"A doctor once told me that I was made to last for ever," she said.
"But essentially it's the same thing," I went on. "Granite, too,
I watched her profile against the pillow and there came on her face
an expression I knew well when with an indignation full of
suppressed laughter she used to throw at me the word "Imbecile." I
expected it to come, but it didn't come. I must say, though, that
I was swimmy in my head and now and then had a noise as of the sea
in my ears, so I might not have heard it. The woman of granite,
built to last for ever, continued to look at the glowing logs which
made a sort of fiery ruin on the white pile of ashes. "I will tell
you how it is," I said. "When I have you before my eyes there is
such a projection of my whole being towards you that I fail to see
you distinctly. It was like that from the beginning. I may say
that I never saw you distinctly till after we had parted and I
thought you had gone from my sight for ever. It was then that you
took body in my imagination and that my mind seized on a definite
form of you for all its adorations--for its profanations, too.
Don't imagine me grovelling in spiritual abasement before a mere
image. I got a grip on you that nothing can shake now."
"Don't speak like this," she said. "It's too much for me. And
there is a whole long night before us."
"You don't think that I dealt with you sentimentally enough
perhaps? But the sentiment was there; as clear a flame as ever
burned on earth from the most remote ages before that eternal thing
which is in you, which is your heirloom. And is it my fault that
what I had to give was real flame, and not a mystic's incense? It
is neither your fault nor mine. And now whatever we say to each
other at night or in daylight, that sentiment must be taken for
granted. It will be there on the day I die--when you won't be
She continued to look fixedly at the red embers; and from her lips
that hardly moved came the quietest possible whisper: "Nothing
would be easier than to die for you."
"Really," I cried. "And you expect me perhaps after this to kiss
your feet in a transport of gratitude while I hug the pride of your
words to my breast. But as it happens there is nothing in me but
contempt for this sublime declaration. How dare you offer me this
charlatanism of passion? What has it got to do between you and me
who are the only two beings in the world that may safely say that
we have no need of shams between ourselves? Is it possible that
you are a charlatan at heart? Not from egoism, I admit, but from
some sort of fear. Yet, should you be sincere, then--listen well
to me--I would never forgive you. I would visit your grave every
day to curse you for an evil thing."
"Evil thing," she echoed softly.
"Would you prefer to be a sham--that one could forget?"
"You will never forget me," she said in the same tone at the
glowing embers. "Evil or good. But, my dear, I feel neither an
evil nor a sham. I have got to be what I am, and that, amigo, is
not so easy; because I may be simple, but like all those on whom
there is no peace I am not One. No, I am not One!"
"You are all the women in the world," I whispered bending over her.
She didn't seem to be aware of anything and only spoke--always to
"If I were that I would say: God help them then. But that would
be more appropriate for Therese. For me, I can only give them my
infinite compassion. I have too much reverence in me to invoke the
name of a God of whom clever men have robbed me a long time ago.
How could I help it? For the talk was clever and--and I had a
mind. And I am also, as Therese says, naturally sinful. Yes, my
dear, I may be naturally wicked but I am not evil and I could die
"You!" I said. "You are afraid to die."
"Yes. But not for you."
The whole structure of glowing logs fell down, raising a small
turmoil of white ashes and sparks. The tiny crash seemed to wake
her up thoroughly. She turned her head upon the cushion to look at
"It's a very extraordinary thing, we two coming together like
this," she said with conviction. "You coming in without knowing I
was here and then telling me that you can't very well go out of the
room. That sounds funny. I wouldn't have been angry if you had
said that you wouldn't. It would have hurt me. But nobody ever
paid much attention to my feelings. Why do you smile like this?"
"At a thought. Without any charlatanism of passion I am able to
tell you of something to match your devotion. I was not afraid for
your sake to come within a hair's breadth of what to all the world
would have been a squalid crime. Note that you and I are persons
of honour. And there might have been a criminal trial at the end
of it for me. Perhaps the scaffold."
"Do you say these horrors to make me tremble?"
"Oh, you needn't tremble. There shall be no crime. I need not
risk the scaffold, since now you are safe. But I entered this room
meditating resolutely on the ways of murder, calculating
possibilities and chances without the slightest compunction. It's
all over now. It was all over directly I saw you here, but it had
been so near that I shudder yet."
She must have been very startled because for a time she couldn't
speak. Then in a faint voice:
"For me! For me!" she faltered out twice.
"For you--or for myself? Yet it couldn't have been selfish. What
would it have been to me that you remained in the world? I never
expected to see you again. I even composed a most beautiful letter
of farewell. Such a letter as no woman had ever received."
Instantly she shot out a hand towards me. The edges of the fur
cloak fell apart. A wave of the faintest possible scent floated
into my nostrils.
"Let me have it," she said imperiously.
"You can't have it. It's all in my head. No woman will read it.
I suspect it was something that could never have been written. But
what a farewell! And now I suppose we shall say good-bye without
even a handshake. But you are safe! Only I must ask you not to
come out of this room till I tell you you may."
I was extremely anxious that Senor Ortega should never even catch a
glimpse of Dona Rita, never guess how near he had been to her. I
was extremely anxious the fellow should depart for Tolosa and get
shot in a ravine; or go to the Devil in his own way, as long as he
lost the track of Dona Rita completely. He then, probably, would
get mad and get shut up, or else get cured, forget all about it,
and devote himself to his vocation, whatever it was--keep a shop
and grow fat. All this flashed through my mind in an instant and
while I was still dazzled by those comforting images, the voice of
Dona Rita pulled me up with a jerk.
"You mean not out of the house?"
"No, I mean not out of this room," I said with some embarrassment.
"What do you mean? Is there something in the house then? This is
most extraordinary! Stay in this room? And you, too, it seems?
Are you also afraid for yourself?"
"I can't even give you an idea how afraid I was. I am not so much
now. But you know very well, Dona Rita, that I never carry any
sort of weapon in my pocket."
"Why don't you, then?" she asked in a flash of scorn which
bewitched me so completely for an instant that I couldn't even
smile at it.
"Because if I am unconventionalized I am an old European," I
murmured gently. "No, Excellentissima, I shall go through life
without as much as a switch in my hand. It's no use you being
angry. Adapting to this great moment some words you've heard
before: I am like that. Such is my character!"
Dona Rita frankly stared at me--a most unusual expression for her
to have. Suddenly she sat up.
"Don George," she said with lovely animation, "I insist upon
knowing who is in my house."
"You insist! . . . But Therese says it is HER house."
Had there been anything handy, such as a cigarette box, for
instance, it would have gone sailing through the air spouting
cigarettes as it went. Rosy all over, cheeks, neck, shoulders, she
seemed lighted up softly from inside like a beautiful transparency.
But she didn't raise her voice.
"You and Therese have sworn my ruin. If you don't tell me what you
mean I will go outside and shout up the stairs to make her come
down. I know there is no one but the three of us in the house."
"Yes, three; but not counting my Jacobin. There is a Jacobin in
"A Jac . . .! Oh, George, is this the time to jest?" she began in
persuasive tones when a faint but peculiar noise stilled her lips
as though they had been suddenly frozen. She became quiet all over
instantly. I, on the contrary, made an involuntary movement before
I, too, became as still as death. We strained our ears; but that
peculiar metallic rattle had been so slight and the silence now was
so perfect that it was very difficult to believe one's senses.
Dona Rita looked inquisitively at me. I gave her a slight nod. We
remained looking into each other's eyes while we listened and
listened till the silence became unbearable. Dona Rita whispered
composedly: "Did you hear?"
"I am asking myself . . . I almost think I didn't."
"Don't shuffle with me. It was a scraping noise."
"Something! What thing? What are the things that fall by
themselves? Who is that man of whom you spoke? Is there a man?"
"No doubt about it whatever. I brought him here myself."
"Why shouldn't I have a Jacobin of my own? Haven't you one, too?
But mine is a different problem from that white-haired humbug of
yours. He is a genuine article. There must be plenty like him
about. He has scores to settle with half a dozen people, he says,
and he clamours for revolutions to give him a chance."
"But why did you bring him here?"
"I don't know--from sudden affection . . . "
All this passed in such low tones that we seemed to make out the
words more by watching each other's lips than through our sense of
hearing. Man is a strange animal. I didn't care what I said. All
I wanted was to keep her in her pose, excited and still, sitting up
with her hair loose, softly glowing, the dark brown fur making a
wonderful contrast with the white lace on her breast. All I was
thinking of was that she was adorable and too lovely for words! I
cared for nothing but that sublimely aesthetic impression. It
summed up all life, all joy, all poetry! It had a divine strain.
I am certain that I was not in my right mind. I suppose I was not
quite sane. I am convinced that at that moment of the four people
in the house it was Dona Rita who upon the whole was the most sane.
She observed my face and I am sure she read there something of my
inward exaltation. She knew what to do. In the softest possible
tone and hardly above her breath she commanded: "George, come to
Back to Full Books