Some minor changes have been made to correct typographical errors and inconsistencies.
THE CALL OF THE BLOOD
Author of "The Garden of Allah" Etc.
Illustrated by Orson Lowell
New York and London Harper & Brothers Publishers MCMVI Copyright, 1905, 1906, by Harper & Brothers. All rights reserved. Published October, 1906.
"HE STOOD STILL, GAZING AT THEM AS THEY PRAYED" Frontispiece
"'SPACE SEEMS TO LIBERATE THE SOUL,' SHE SAID" Facing p. 38
"HE ... LOOKED DOWN AT THE LIGHT SHINING IN THE HOUSE OF THE SIRENS" " 78
"HER HEAD WAS THROWN BACK, AS IF SHE WERE DRINKING IN THE BREEZE" " 120
"'I AM CONTENT WITHOUT ANYTHING, SIGNORINO,' SHE SAID" " 280
"HE KEPT HIS HAND ON HERS AND HELD IT ON THE WARM GROUND" " 302
"'BUT I SOON LEARNED TO DELIGHT IN—IN MY SICILIAN,' SHE SAID, TENDERLY" " 366
"SHE COULD SEE VAGUELY THE SHORE BY THE CAVES WHERE THE FISHERMEN HAD SLEPT IN THE DAWN" " 420
THE CALL OF THE BLOOD
On a dreary afternoon of November, when London was closely wrapped in a yellow fog, Hermione Lester was sitting by the fire in her house in Eaton Place reading a bundle of letters, which she had just taken out of her writing-table drawer. She was expecting a visit from the writer of the letters, Emile Artois, who had wired to her on the previous day that he was coming over from Paris by the night train and boat.
Miss Lester was a woman of thirty-four, five feet ten in height, flat, thin, but strongly built, with a large waist and limbs which, though vigorous, were rather unwieldy. Her face was plain: rather square and harsh in outline, with blunt, almost coarse features, but a good complexion, clear and healthy, and large, interesting, and slightly prominent brown eyes, full of kindness, sympathy, and brightness, full, too, of eager intelligence and of energy, eyes of a woman who was intensely alive both in body and in mind. The look of swiftness, a look most attractive in either human being or in animal, was absent from her body but was present in her eyes, which showed forth the spirit in her with a glorious frankness and a keen intensity. Nevertheless, despite these eyes and her thickly growing, warm-colored, and wavy brown hair, she was a plain, almost an ugly woman, whose attractive force issued from within, inviting inquiry and advance, as the flame of a fire does, playing on the blurred glass of a window with many flaws in it.
Hermione was, in fact, found very attractive by a great many people of varying temperaments and abilities, who were captured by her spirit and by her intellect, the soul of the woman and the brains, and who, while seeing clearly and acknowledging frankly the plainness of her face and the almost masculine ruggedness of her form, said, with a good deal of truth, that "somehow they didn't seem to matter in Hermione." Whether Hermione herself was of this opinion not many knew. Her general popularity, perhaps, made the world incurious about the subject.
The room in which Hermione was reading the letters of Artois was small and crammed with books. There were books in cases uncovered by glass from floor to ceiling, some in beautiful bindings, but many in tattered paper covers, books that looked as if they had been very much read. On several tables, among photographs and vases of flowers, were more books and many magazines, both English and foreign. A large writing-table was littered with notes and letters. An upright grand-piano stood open, with a quantity of music upon it. On the thick Persian carpet before the fire was stretched a very large St. Bernard dog, with his muzzle resting on his paws and his eyes blinking drowsily in serene contentment.
As Hermione read the letters one by one her face showed a panorama of expressions, almost laughably indicative of her swiftly passing thoughts. Sometimes she smiled. Once or twice she laughed aloud, startling the dog, who lifted his massive head and gazed at her with profound inquiry. Then she shook her head, looked grave, even sad, or earnest and full of sympathy, which seemed longing to express itself in a torrent of comforting words. Presently she put the letters together, tied them up carelessly with a piece of twine, and put them back into the drawer from which she had taken them. Just as she had finished doing this the door of the room, which was ajar, was pushed softly open, and a dark-eyed, Eastern-looking boy dressed in livery appeared.
"What is it, Selim?" asked Hermione, in French.
"Monsieur Artois, madame."
"Emile!" cried Hermione, getting up out of her chair with a sort of eager slowness. "Where is he?"
"He is here!" said a loud voice, also speaking French.
Selim stood gracefully aside, and a big man stepped into the room and took the two hands which Hermione stretched out in his.
"Don't let any one else in, Selim," said Hermione to the boy.
"Especially the little Townly," said Artois, menacingly.
"Hush, Emile! Not even Miss Townly if she calls, Selim."
Selim smiled with grave intelligence at the big man, said, "I understand, madame," and glided out.
"Why, in Heaven's name, have you—you, pilgrim of the Orient—insulted the East by putting Selim into a coat with buttons and cloth trousers?" exclaimed Artois, still holding Hermione's hands.
"It's an outrage, I know. But I had to. He was stared at and followed, and he actually minded it. As soon as I found out that, I trampled on all my artistic prejudices, and behold him—horrible but happy! Thank you for coming—thank you."
She let his hands go, and they stood for a moment looking at each other in the firelight.
Artois was a tall man of about forty-three, with large, almost Herculean limbs, a handsome face, with regular but rather heavy features, and very big gray eyes, that always looked penetrating and often melancholy. His forehead was noble and markedly intellectual, and his well-shaped, massive head was covered with thick, short, mouse-colored hair. He wore a mustache and a magnificent beard. His barber, who was partly responsible for the latter, always said of it that it was the "most beautiful fan-shaped beard in Paris," and regarded it with a pride which was probably shared by its owner. His hands and feet were good, capable-looking, but not clumsy, and his whole appearance gave an impression of power, both physical and intellectual, and of indomitable will combined with subtlety. He was well dressed, fashionably not artistically, yet he suggested an artist, not necessarily a painter. As he looked at Hermione the smile which had played about his lips when he entered the little room died away.
"I've come to hear about it all," he said, in his resonant voice—a voice which matched his appearance. "Do you know"—and here his accent was grave, almost reproachful—"that in all your letters to me—I looked them over before I left Paris—there is no allusion, not one, to this Monsieur Delarey."
"Why should there be?" she answered.
She sat down, but Artois continued to stand.
"We seldom wrote of persons, I think. We wrote of events, ideas, of work, of conditions of life; of man, woman, child—yes—but not often of special men, women, children. I am almost sure—in fact, quite sure, for I've just been reading them—that in your letters to me there is very little discussion of our mutual friends, less of friends who weren't common to us both."
As she spoke she stretched out a long, thin arm, and pulled open the drawer into which she had put the bundle tied with twine.
"They're all in here."
"You don't lock that drawer?"
He looked at her with a sort of severity.
"I lock the door of the room, or, rather, it locks itself. You haven't noticed it?"
"It's the same as the outer door of a flat. I have a latch-key to it."
He said nothing, but smiled. All the sudden grimness had gone out of his face.
Hermione withdrew her hand from the drawer holding the letters.
"Here they are!"
"My complaints, my egoism, my ambitions, my views—Mon Dieu! Hermione, what a good friend you've been!"
"And some people say you're not modest!"
"I—modest! What is modesty? I know my own value as compared with that of others, and that knowledge to others must often seem conceit."
She began to untie the packet, but he stretched out his hand and stopped her.
"No, I didn't come from Paris to read my letters, or even to hear you read them! I came to hear about this Monsieur Delarey."
Selim stole in with tea and stole out silently, shutting the door this time. As soon as he had gone, Artois drew a case from his pocket, took out of it a pipe, filled it, and lit it. Meanwhile, Hermione poured out tea, and, putting three lumps of sugar into one of the cups, handed it to Artois.
"I haven't come to protest. You know we both worship individual freedom. How often in those letters haven't we written it—our respect of the right of the individual to act for him or herself, without the interference of outsiders? No, I've come to hear about it all, to hear how you managed to get into the pleasant state of mania."
On the last words his deep voice sounded sarcastic, almost patronizing. Hermione fired up at once.
"None of that from you, Emile!" she exclaimed.
Artois stirred his tea rather more than was necessary, but did not begin to drink it.
"You mustn't look down on me from a height," she continued. "I won't have it. We're all on a level when we're doing certain things, when we're truly living, simply, frankly, following our fates, and when we're dying. You feel that. Drop the analyst, dear Emile, drop the professional point of view. I see right through it into your warm old heart. I never was afraid of you, although I place you high, higher than your critics, higher than your public, higher than you place yourself. Every woman ought to be able to love, and every man. There's nothing at all absurd in the fact, though there may be infinite absurdities in the manifestation of it. But those you haven't yet had an opportunity of seeing in me, so you've nothing yet to laugh at or label. Now drink your tea."
He laughed a loud, roaring laugh, drank some of his tea, puffed out a cloud of smoke, and said:
"Whom will you ever respect?"
"Every one who is sincere—myself included."
"Be sincere with me now, and I'll go back to Paris to-morrow like a shorn lamb. Be sincere about Monsieur Delarey."
Hermione sat quite still for a moment with the bundle of letters in her lap. At last she said:
"It's difficult sometimes to tell the truth about a feeling, isn't it?"
"Ah, you don't know yourself what the truth is."
"I'm not sure that I do. The history of the growth of a feeling may be almost more complicated than the history of France."
Artois, who was a novelist, nodded his head with the air of a man who knew all about that.
"Maurice—Maurice Delarey has cared for me, in that way, for a long time. I was very much surprised when I first found it out."
"Why, in the name of Heaven?"
"Well, he's wonderfully good-looking."
"No explanation of your astonishment."
"Isn't it? I think, though, it was that fact which astonished me, the fact of a very handsome man loving me."
"Now, what's your theory?"
He bent down his head a little towards her, and fixed his great, gray eyes on her face.
"Theory! Look here, Emile, I dare say it's difficult for a man like you, genius, insight, and all, thoroughly to understand how an ugly woman regards beauty, an ugly woman like me, who's got intellect and passion and intense feeling for form, color, every manifestation of beauty. When I look at beauty I feel rather like a dirty little beggar staring at an angel. My intellect doesn't seem to help me at all. In me, perhaps, the sensation arises from an inward conviction that humanity was meant originally to be beautiful, and that the ugly ones among us are—well, like sins among virtues. You remember that book of yours which was and deserved to be your one artistic failure, because you hadn't put yourself really into it?"
Artois made a wry face.
"Eventually you paid a lot of money to prevent it from being published any more. You withdrew it from circulation. I sometimes feel that we ugly ones ought to be withdrawn from circulation. It's silly, perhaps, and I hope I never show it, but there the feeling is. So when the handsomest man I had ever seen loved me, I was simply amazed. It seemed to me ridiculous and impossible. And then, when I was convinced it was possible, very wonderful, and, I confess it to you, very splendid. It seemed to help to reconcile me with myself in a way in which I had never been reconciled before."
"And that was the beginning?"
"I dare say. There were other things, too. Maurice Delarey isn't at all stupid, but he's not nearly so intelligent as I am."
"That doesn't surprise me."
"The fact of this physical perfection being humble with me, looking up to me, seemed to mean a great deal. I think Maurice feels about intellect rather as I do about beauty. He made me understand that he must. And that seemed to open my heart to him in an extraordinary way. Can you understand?"
"Yes. Give me some more tea, please."
He held out his cup. She filled it, talking while she did so. She had become absorbed in what she was saying, and spoke without any self-consciousness.
"I knew my gift, such as it is, the gift of brains, could do something for him, though his gift of beauty could do nothing for me—in the way of development. And that, too, seemed to lead me a step towards him. Finally—well, one day I knew I wanted to marry him. And so, Emile, I'm going to marry him. Here!"
She held out to him his cup full of tea.
"There's no sugar," he said.
"Oh—the first time I've forgotten."
The tone of his voice made her look up at him quickly and exclaim:
"No, it won't make any difference!"
"But it has. You've forgotten for the first time. Cursed be the egotism of man."
He sat down in an arm-chair on the other side of the tea-table.
"It ought to make a difference. Maurice Delarey, if he is a man—and if you are going to marry him he must be—will not allow you to be the Egeria of a fellow who has shocked even Paris by telling it the naked truth."
"Yes, he will. I shall drop no friendship for him, and he knows it. There is not one that is not honest and innocent. Thank God I can say that. If you care for it, Emile, we can both add to the size of the letter bundles."
He looked at her meditatively, even rather sadly.
"You are capable of everything in the way of friendship, I believe," he said. "Even of making the bundle bigger with a husband's consent. A husband's—I suppose the little Townly's upset? But she always is."
"When you're there. You don't know Evelyn. You never will. She's at her worst with you because you terrify her. Your talent frightens her, but your appearance frightens her even more."
"I am as God made me."
"With the help of the barber. It's your beard as much as anything else."
"What does she say of this affair? What do all your innumerable adorers say?"
"What should they say? Why should anybody be surprised? It's surely the most natural thing in the world for a woman, even a very plain woman, to marry. I have always heard that marriage is woman's destiny, and though I don't altogether believe that, still I see no special reason why I should never marry if I wish to. And I do wish to."
"That's what will surprise the little Townly and the gaping crowd."
"I shall begin to think I've seemed unwomanly all these years."
"No. You're an extraordinary woman who astonishes because she is going to do a very important thing that is very ordinary."
"It doesn't seem at all ordinary to me."
Emile Artois began to stroke his beard. He was determined not to feel jealous. He had never wished to marry Hermione, and did not wish to marry her now, but he had come over from Paris secretly a man of wrath.
"You needn't tell me that," he said. "Of course it is the great event to you. Otherwise you would never have thought of doing it."
"Exactly. Are you astonished?"
"I suppose I am. Yes, I am."
"I should have thought you were far too clever to be so."
"Exactly what I should have thought. But what living man is too clever to be an idiot? I never met the gentleman and never hope to."
"You looked upon me as the eternal spinster?"
"I looked upon you as Hermione Lester, a great creature, an extraordinary creature, free from the prejudices of your sex and from its pettinesses, unconventional, big brained, generous hearted, free as the wind in a world of monkey slaves, careless of all opinion save your own, but humbly obedient to the truth that is in you, human as very few human beings are, one who ought to have been an artist but who apparently preferred to be simply a woman."
Hermione laughed, winking away two tears.
"Well, Emile dear, I'm being very simply a woman now, I assure you."
"And why should I be surprised? You're right. What is it makes me surprised?"
He sat considering.
"Perhaps it is that you are so unusual, so individual, that my imagination refuses to project the man on whom your choice could fall. I project the snuffy professor—Impossible! I project the Greek god—again my mind cries, 'Impossible!' Yet, behold, it is in very truth the Greek god, the ideal of the ordinary woman."
"You know nothing about it. You're shooting arrows into the air."
"Tell me more then. Hold up a torch in the darkness."
"I can't. You pretend to know a woman, and you ask her coldly to explain to you the attraction of the man she loves, to dissect it. I won't try to."
"But," he said, with now a sort of joking persistence, which was only a mask for an almost irritable curiosity, "I want to know."
"And you shall. Maurice and I are dining to-night at Caminiti's in Peathill Street, just off Regent Street. Come and meet us there, and we'll all three spend the evening together. Half-past eight, of course no evening dress, and the most delicious Turkish coffee in London."
"Does Monsieur Delarey like Turkish coffee?"
"How do you mean?"
"Does he love it inherently, or because you do?"
"You can find that out to-night."
"I shall come."
He got up, put his pipe into a case, and the case into his pocket, and said:
"Hermione, if the analyst may have a word—"
"Don't let Monsieur Delarey, whatever his character, see now, or in the future, the dirty little beggar staring at the angel. I use your own preposterously inflated phrase. Men can't stand certain things and remain true to the good in their characters. Humble adoration from a woman like you would be destructive of blessed virtues in Antinous. Think well of yourself, my friend, think well of your sphinxlike eyes. Haven't they beauty? Doesn't intellect shoot its fires from them? Mon Dieu! Don't let me see any prostration to-night, or I shall put three grains of something I know—I always call it Turkish delight—into the Turkish coffee of Monsieur Delarey, and send him to sleep with his fathers."
Hermione got up and held out her hands to him impulsively.
"Bless you, Emile!" she said. "You're a—"
There was a gentle tap on the door. Hermione went to it and opened it. Selim stood outside with a pencil note on a salver.
"Ha! The little Townly has been!" said Artois.
"Yes, it's from her. You told her, Selim, that I was with Monsieur Artois?"
"Did she say anything?"
"She said, 'Very well,' madame, and then she wrote this. Then she said again, 'Very well,' and then she went away."
"All right, Selim."
"Delicious!" said Artois. "I can hear her speaking and see her drifting away consumed by jealousy, in the fog."
"Hush, Emile, don't be so malicious."
"P'f! I must be to-day, for I too am—"
"Nonsense. Be good this evening, be very good."
"I will try."
He kissed her hand, bending his great form down with a slightly burlesque air, and strode out without another word. Hermione sat down to read Miss Townly's note:
"Dearest, never mind. I know that I must now accustom myself to be nothing in your life. It is difficult at first, but what is existence but a struggle? I feel that I am going to have another of my neuralgic seizures. I wonder what it all means?—Your, EVELYN."
Hermione laid the note down, with a sigh and a little laugh.
"I wonder what it all means? Poor, dear Evelyn! Thank God, it sometimes means—" She did not finish the sentence, but knelt down on the carpet and took the St. Bernard's great head in her hands.
"You don't bother, do you, old boy, as long as you have your bone. Ah, I'm a selfish wretch. But I am going to have my bone, and I can't help feeling happy—gloriously, supremely happy!"
And she kissed the dog's cold nose and repeated:
Miss Townly, gracefully turned away from Hermione's door by Selim, did, as Artois had surmised, drift away in the fog to the house of her friend Mrs. Creswick, who lived in Sloane Street. She felt she must unburden herself to somebody, and Mrs. Creswick's tea, a blend of China tea with another whose origin was a closely guarded secret, was the most delicious in London. There are merciful dispensations of Providence even for Miss Townlys, and Mrs. Creswick was at home with a blazing fire. When she saw Miss Townly coming sideways into the room with a slightly drooping head, she said, briskly:
"Comfort me with crumpets, for I am sick with love! Cheer up, my dear Evelyn. Fogs will pass and even neuralgia has its limits. I don't ask you what is the matter, because I know perfectly well."
Miss Townly went into a very large arm-chair and waveringly selected a crumpet.
"What does it all mean?" she murmured, looking obliquely at her friend's parquet.
"Ask the baker, No. 5 Allitch Street. I always get them from there. And he's a remarkably well-informed man."
"No, I mean life with its extraordinary changes, things you never expected, never dreamed of—and all coming so abruptly. I don't think I'm a stupid person, but I certainly never looked for this."
"This most extraordinary engagement of Hermione's."
Mrs. Creswick, who was a short woman who looked tall, with a briskly conceited but not unkind manner, and a decisive and very English nose, rejoined:
"I don't know why we should call it extraordinary. Everybody gets engaged at some time or other, and Hermione's a woman like the rest of us and subject to aberration. But I confess I never thought she would marry Maurice Delarey. He never seemed to mean more to her than any one else, so far as I could see."
"Everybody seems to mean so much to Hermione that it makes things difficult to outsiders," replied Miss Townly, plaintively. "She is so wide-minded and has so many interests that she dwarfs everybody else. I always feel quite squeezed when I compare my poor little life with hers. But then she has such physical endurance. She breaks the ice, you know, in her bath in the winter—of course I mean when there is ice."
"It isn't only in her bath that she breaks the ice," said Mrs. Creswick.
"I perfectly understand," Miss Townly said, vaguely. "You mean—yes, you're right. Well, I prefer my bath warmed for me, but my circulation was never of the best."
"Hermione is extraordinary," said Mrs. Creswick, trying to look at her profile in the glass and making her face as Roman as she could, "I know all London, but I never met another Hermione. She can do things that other women can't dream of even, and nobody minds."
"Well, now she is going to do a thing we all dream of and a great many of us do. Will it answer? He's ten years younger than she is. Can it answer?"
"One can never tell whether a union of two human mysteries will answer," said Mrs. Creswick, judicially. "Maurice Delarey is wonderfully good-looking."
"Yes, and Hermione isn't."
"That has never mattered in the least."
"I know. I didn't say it had. But will it now?"
"Why should it?"
"Men care so much for looks. Do you think Hermione loves Mr. Delarey for his?"
"She dives deep."
"Yes, as a rule."
"Why not now? She ought to have dived deeper than ever this time."
"She ought, of course. I perfectly understand that. But it's very odd, I think we often marry the man we understand less than any one else in the world. Mystery is so very attractive."
Miss Townly sighed. She was emaciated, dark, and always dressed to look mysterious.
"Maurice Delarey is scarcely my idea of a mystery," said Mrs. Creswick, taking joyously a marron glace. "In my opinion he's an ordinarily intelligent but an extraordinarily handsome man. Hermione is exactly the reverse, extraordinarily intelligent and almost ugly."
"Oh no, not ugly!" said Miss Townly, with unexpected warmth.
Though of a tepid personality, she was a worshipper at Hermione's shrine.
"Her eyes are beautiful," she added.
"Good eyes don't make a beauty," said Mrs. Creswick again, looking at her three-quarters face in the glass. "Hermione is too large, and her face is too square, and—but as I said before, it doesn't matter the least. Hermione's got a temperament that carries all before it."
"I do wish I had a temperament," said Miss Townly. "I try to cultivate one."
"You might as well try to cultivate a mustache," Mrs. Creswick rather brutally rejoined. "If it's there, it's there, but if it isn't one prays in vain."
"I used to think Hermione would do something," continued Miss Townly, finishing her second cup of tea with thirsty languor.
"Something important, great, something that would make her famous, but of course now"—she paused—"now it's too late," she concluded. "Marriage destroys, not creates talent. Some celebrated man—I forget which—has said something like that."
"Perhaps he'd destroyed his wife's. I think Hermione might be a great mother."
Miss Townly blushed faintly. She did nearly everything faintly. That was partly why she admired Hermione.
"And a great mother is rare," continued Mrs. Creswick. "Good mothers are, thank God, quite common even in London, whatever those foolish people who rail at the society they can't get into may say. But great mothers are seldom met with. I don't know one."
"What do you mean by a great mother?" inquired Miss Townly.
"A mother who makes seeds grow. Hermione has a genius for friendship and a special gift for inspiring others. If she ever has a child, I can imagine that she will make of that child something wonderful."
"Do you mean an infant prodigy?" asked Miss Townly, innocently.
"No, dear, I don't!" said Mrs. Creswick; "I mean nothing of the sort. Never mind!"
When Mrs. Creswick said "Never mind!" Miss Townly usually got up to go. She got up to go now, and went forth into Sloane Street meditating, as she would have expressed it, "profoundly."
Meanwhile Artois went back to the Hans Crescent Hotel on foot. He walked slowly along the greasy pavement through the yellow November fog, trying to combat a sensation of dreariness which had floated round his spirit, as the fog floated round his body, directly he stepped into the street. He often felt depressed without a special cause, but this afternoon there was a special cause for his melancholy. Hermione was going to be married.
She often came to Paris, where she had many friends, and some years ago they had met at a dinner given by a brilliant Jewess, who delighted in clever people, not because she was stupid, but for the opposite reason. Artois was already famous, though not loved, as a novelist. He had published two books; works of art, cruel, piercing, brutal, true. Hermione had read them. Her intellect had revelled in them, but they had set ice about her heart, and when Madame Enthoven told her who was going to take her in to dinner, she very nearly begged to be given another partner. She felt that her nature must be in opposition to this man's.
Artois was not eager for the honor of her company. He was a careful dissecter of women, and, therefore, understood how mysterious women are; but in his intimate life they counted for little. He regarded them there rather as the European traveller regards the Mousmes of Japan, as playthings, and insisted on one thing only—that they must be pretty. A Frenchman, despite his unusual intellectual power, he was not wholly emancipated from the la petite femme tradition, which will never be outmoded in Paris while Paris hums with life, and, therefore, when he was informed that he was to take in to dinner the tall, solidly built, big-waisted, rugged-faced woman, whom he had been observing from a distance ever since he came into the drawing-room, he felt that he was being badly treated by his hostess.
Yet he had been observing this woman closely.
Something unusual, something vital in her had drawn his attention, fixed it, held it. He knew that, but said to himself that it was the attention of the novelist that had been grasped by an uncommon human specimen, and that the man of the world, the diner-out, did not want to eat in company with a specimen, but to throw off professional cares with a gay little chatterbox of the Mousme type. Therefore he came over to be presented to Hermione with rather a bad grace.
And that introduction was the beginning of the great friendship which was now troubling him in the fog.
By the end of that evening Hermione and he had entirely rid themselves of their preconceived notions of each other. She had ceased from imagining him a walking intellect devoid of sympathies, he from considering her a possibly interesting specimen, but not the type of woman who could be agreeable in a man's life. Her naturalness amounted almost to genius. She was generally unable to be anything but natural, unable not to speak as she was feeling, unable to feel unsympathetic. She always showed keen interest when she felt it, and, with transparent sincerity, she at once began to show to Artois how much interested she was in him. By doing so she captivated him at once. He would not, perhaps, have been captivated by the heart without the brains, but the two in combination took possession of him with an ease which, when the evening was over, but only then, caused him some astonishment.
Hermione had a divining-rod to discover the heart in another, and she found out at once that Artois had a big heart as well as a fine intellect. He was deceptive because he was always ready to show the latter, and almost always determined to conceal the former. Even to himself he was not quite frank about his heart, but often strove to minimize its influence upon him, if not to ignore totally its promptings and its utterances. Why this was so he could not perhaps have explained even to himself. It was one of the mysteries of his temperament. From the first moment of their intercourse Hermione showed to him her conviction that he had a warm heart, and that it could be relied upon without hesitation. This piqued but presently delighted, and also soothed Artois, who was accustomed to be misunderstood, and had often thought he liked to be misunderstood, but who now found out how pleasant a brilliant woman's intuition may be, even at a Parisian dinner. Before the evening was over they knew that they were friends; and friends they had remained ever since.
Artois was a reserved man, but, like many reserved people, if once he showed himself as he really was, he could continue to be singularly frank. He was singularly frank with Hermione. She became his confidante, often at a distance. He scarcely ever came to London, which he disliked exceedingly, but from Paris or from the many lands in which he wandered—he was no pavement lounger, although he loved Paris rather as a man may love a very chic cocotte—he wrote to Hermione long letters, into which he put his mind and heart, his aspirations, struggles, failures, triumphs. They were human documents, and contained much of his secret history.
It was of this history that he was now thinking, and of Hermione's comments upon it, tied up with a ribbon in Paris. The news of her approaching marriage with a man whom he had never seen had given him a rude shock, had awakened in him a strange feeling of jealousy. He had grown accustomed to the thought that Hermione was in a certain sense his property. He realized thoroughly the egotism, the dog-in-the-manger spirit which was alive in him, and hated but could not banish it. As a friend he certainly loved Hermione. She knew that. But he did not love her as a man loves the woman he wishes to make his wife. She must know that, too. He loved her but was not in love with her, and she loved but was not in love with him. Why, then, should this marriage make a difference in their friendship? She said that it would not, but he felt that it must. He thought of her as a wife, then as a mother. The latter thought made his egotism shudder. She would be involved in the happy turmoil of a family existence, while he would remain without in that loneliness which is the artist's breath of life and martyrdom. Yes, his egotism shuddered, and he was angry at the weakness. He chastised the frailties of others, but must be the victim of his own. A feeling of helplessness came to him, of being governed, lashed, driven. How unworthy was his sensation of hostility against Delarey, his sensation that Hermione was wronging him by entering into this alliance, and how powerless he was to rid himself of either sensation! There was good cause for his melancholy—his own folly. He must try to conquer it, and, if that were impossible, to rein it in before the evening.
When he reached the hotel he went into his sitting-room and worked for an hour and a half, producing a short paragraph, which did not please him. Then he took a hansom and drove to Peathill Street.
Hermione was already there, sitting at a small table in a corner with her back to him, opposite to one of the handsomest men he had ever seen. As Artois came in, he fixed his eyes on this man with a scrutiny that was passionate, trying to determine at a glance whether he had any right to the success he had achieved, any fitness for the companionship that was to be his, companionship of an unusual intellect and a still more unusual spirit.
He saw a man obviously much younger than Hermione, not tall, athletic in build but also graceful, with the grace that is shed through a frame by perfectly developed, not over-developed muscles and accurately trained limbs, a man of the Mercury rather than of the Hercules type, with thick, low-growing black hair, vivid, enthusiastic black eyes, set rather wide apart under curved brows, and very perfectly proportioned, small, straight features, which were not undecided, yet which suggested the features of a boy. In the complexion there was a tinge of brown that denoted health and an out-door life—an out-door life in the south, Artois thought.
As Artois, standing quite still, unconsciously, in the doorway of the restaurant, looked at this man, he felt for a moment as if he himself were a splendid specimen of a cart-horse faced by a splendid specimen of a race-horse. The comparison he was making was only one of physical endowments, but it pained him. Thinking with an extraordinary rapidity, he asked himself why it was that this man struck him at once as very much handsomer than other men with equally good features and figures whom he had seen, and he found at once the answer to his question. It was the look of Mercury in him that made him beautiful, a look of radiant readiness for swift movement that suggested the happy messenger poised for flight to the gods, his mission accomplished, the expression of an intensely vivid activity that could be exquisitely obedient. There was an extraordinary fascination in it. Artois realized that, for he was fascinated even in this bitter moment that he told himself ought not to be bitter. While he gazed at Delarey he was conscious of a feeling that had sometimes come upon him when he had watched Sicilian peasant boys dancing the tarantella under the stars by the Ionian sea, a feeling that one thing in creation ought to be immortal on earth, the passionate, leaping flame of joyous youth, physically careless, physically rapturous, unconscious of death and of decay. Delarey seemed to him like a tarantella in repose, if such a thing could be.
Suddenly Hermione turned round, as if conscious that he was there. When she did so he understood in the very depths of him why such a man as Delarey attracted, must attract, such a woman as Hermione. That which she had in the soul Delarey seemed to express in the body—sympathy, enthusiasm, swiftness, courage. He was like a statue of her feelings, but a statue endowed with life. And the fact that her physique was a sort of contradiction of her inner self must make more powerful the charm of a Delarey for her. As Hermione looked round at him, turning her tall figure rather slowly in the chair, Artois made up his mind that she had been captured by the physique of this man. He could not be surprised, but he still felt angry.
Hermione introduced Delarey to him eagerly, not attempting to hide her anxiety for the two men to make friends at once. Her desire was so transparent and so warm that for a moment Artois felt touched, and inclined to trample upon his evil mood and leave no trace of it. He was also secretly too human to remain wholly unmoved by Delarey's reception of him. Delarey had a rare charm of manner whose source was a happy, but not foolishly shy, modesty, which made him eager to please, and convinced that in order to do so he must bestir himself and make an effort. But in this effort there was no labor. It was like the spurt of a willing horse, a fine racing pace of the nature that woke pleasure and admiration in those who watched it.
Artois felt at once that Delarey had no hostility towards him, but was ready to admire and rejoice in him as Hermione's greatest friend. He was met more than half-way. Yet when he was beside Delarey, almost touching him, the stubborn sensation of furtive dislike within Artois increased, and he consciously determined not to yield to the charm of this younger man who was going to interfere in his life. Artois did not speak much English, but fortunately Delarey talked French fairly well, not with great fluency like Hermione, but enough to take a modest share in conversation, which was apparently all the share that he desired. Artois believed that he was no great talker. His eyes were more eager than was his tongue, and seemed to betoken a vivacity of spirit which he could not, perhaps, show forth in words. The conversation at first was mainly between Hermione and Artois, with an occasional word from Delarey—generally interrogative—and was confined to generalities. But this could not continue long. Hermione was an enthusiastic talker and seldom discussed banalities. From every circle where she found herself the inane was speedily banished; pale topics—the spectres that haunt the dull and are cherished by them—were whipped away to limbo, and some subject full-blooded, alive with either serious or comical possibilities, was very soon upon the carpet. By chance Artois happened to speak of two people in Paris, common friends of his and of Hermione's, who had been very intimate, but who had now quarrelled, and every one said, irrevocably. The question arose whose fault was it. Artois, who knew the facts of the case, and whose judgment was usually cool and well-balanced, said it was the woman's.
"Madame Lagrande," he said, "has a fine nature, but in this instance it has failed her, it has been warped by jealousy; not the jealousy that often accompanies passion, for she and Robert Meunier were only great friends, linked together by similar sympathies, but by a much more subtle form of that mental disease. You know, Hermione, that both of them are brilliant critics of literature?"
"They carried on a sort of happy, but keen rivalry in this walk of letters, each striving to be more unerring than the other in dividing the sheep from the goats. I am the guilty person who made discord where there had been harmony."
"You, Emile! How was that?"
"One day I said, in a bitter mood, 'It is so easy to be a critic, so difficult to be a creator. You two, now would you even dare to try to create?' They were nettled by my tone, and showed it. I said, 'I have a magnificent subject for a conte, no work de longue haleine, a conte. If you like I will give it you, and leave you to create—separately, not together—what you have so often written about, the perfect conte.' They accepted my challenge. I gave them my subject and a month to work it out. At the end of that time the two contes were to be submitted to a jury of competent literary men, friends of ours. It was all a sort of joke, but created great interest in our circle—you know it, Hermione, that dines at Reneau's on Thursday nights?"
"Yes. Well, what happened?"
"Madame Lagrande made a failure of hers, but Robert Meunier astonished us all. He produced certainly one of the best contes that was ever written in the French language."
"And Madame Lagrande?"
"It is not too much to say that from that moment she has almost hated Robert."
"And you dare to say she has a noble nature?"
"Yes, a noble nature from which, under some apparently irresistible impulse, she has lapsed."
"Maurice," said Hermione, leaning her long arms on the table and leaning forward to her fiance, "you're not in literature any more than I am, you're an outsider—bless you! What d'you say to that?"
Delarey hesitated and looked modestly at Artois.
"No, no," cried Hermione, "none of that, Maurice! You may be a better judge in this than Emile is with all his knowledge of the human heart. You're the man in the street, and sometimes I'd give a hundred pounds for his opinion and not twopence for the big man's who's in the profession. Would—could a noble nature yield to such an impulse?"
"I should hardly have thought so," said Delarey.
"Nor I," said Hermione. "I simply don't believe it's possible. For a moment, yes, perhaps. But you say, Emile, that there's an actual breach between them."
"There is certainly. Have you ever made any study of jealousy in its various forms?"
"Never. I don't know what jealousy is. I can't understand it."
"Yet you must be capable of it."
"You think every one is?"
"Very few who are really alive in the spirit are not. And you, I am certain, are."
Hermione laughed, an honest, gay laugh, that rang out wholesomely in the narrow room.
"I doubt it, Emile. Perhaps I'm too conceited. For instance, if I cared for some one and was cared for—"
"And the caring of the other ceased, because he had only a certain, limited faculty of affection and transferred his affection elsewhere—what then?"
"I've so much pride, proper or improper, that I believe my affection would die. My love subsists on sympathy—take that food from it and it would starve and cease to live. I give, but when giving I always ask. If I were to be refused I couldn't give any more. And without the love there could be no jealousy. But that isn't the point, Emile."
"The point is—can a noble nature lapse like that from its nobility?"
"Yes, it can."
"Then it changes, it ceases to be noble. You would not say that a brave man can show cowardice and remain a brave man."
"I would say that a man whose real nature was brave, might, under certain circumstances, show fear, without being what is called a coward. Human nature is full of extraordinary possibilities, good and evil, of extraordinary contradictions. But this point I will concede you, that it is like the boomerang, which flies forward, circles, and returns to the point from which it started. The inherently noble nature will, because it must, return eventually to its nobility. Then comes the really tragic moment with the passion of remorse."
He spoke quietly, almost coldly. Hermione looked at him with shining eyes. She had quite forgotten Madame Lagrande and Robert Meunier, had lost the sense of the special in her love of the general.
"That's a grand theory," she said. "That we must come back to the good that is in us in the end, that we must be true to that somehow, almost whether we will or no. I shall try to think of that when I am sinning."
"You—sinning!" exclaimed Delarey.
"Maurice, dear, you think too well of me."
Delarey flushed like a boy, and glanced quickly at Artois, who did not return his gaze.
"But if that's true, Emile," Hermione continued, "Madame Lagrande and Robert Meunier will be friends again."
"Some day I know she will hold out the olive-branch, but what if he refuses it?"
"You literary people are dreadfully difficile."
"True. Our jealousies are ferocious, but so are the jealousies of thousands who can neither read nor write."
"Jealousy," she said, forgetting to eat in her keen interest in the subject. "I told you I didn't believe myself capable of it, but I don't know. The jealousy that is born of passion I might understand and suffer, perhaps, but jealousy of a talent greater than my own, or of one that I didn't possess—that seems to me inexplicable. I could never be jealous of a talent."
"You mean that you could never hate a person for a talent in them?"
"Suppose that some one, by means of a talent which you had not, won from you a love which you had? Talent is a weapon, you know."
"You think it is a weapon to conquer the affections! Ah, Emile, after all you don't know us!"
"You go too fast. I did not say a weapon to conquer the affection of a woman."
"You're speaking of men?"
"I know," Delarey said, suddenly, forgetting to be modest for once, "you mean that a man might be won away from one woman by a talent in another. Isn't that it?"
"Ah," said Hermione, "a man—I see."
She sat for a moment considering deeply, with her luminous eyes fixed on the food in her plate, food which she did not see.
"What horrible ideas you sometimes have, Emile," she said, at last.
"You mean what horrible truths exist," he answered, quietly.
"Could a man be won so? Yes, I suppose he might be if there were a combination."
"Exactly," said Artois.
"I see now. Suppose a man had two strains in him, say: the adoration of beauty, of the physical; and the adoration of talent, of the mental. He might fall in love with a merely beautiful woman and transfer his affections if he came across an equally beautiful woman who had some great talent."
"Or he might fall in love with a plain, talented woman, and be taken from her by one in whom talent was allied with beauty. But in either case are you sure that the woman deserted could never be jealous, bitterly jealous, of the talent possessed by the other woman? I think talent often creates jealousy in your sex."
"But beauty much oftener, oh, much! Every woman, I feel sure, could more easily be jealous of physical beauty in another woman than of mental gifts. There's something so personal in beauty."
"And is genius not equally personal?"
"I suppose it is, but I doubt if it seems so."
"I think you leave out of account the advance of civilization, which is greatly changing men and women in our day. The tragedies of the mind are increasing."
"And the tragedies of the heart—are they diminishing in consequence? Oh, Emile!" And she laughed.
"Hermione—your food! You are not eating anything!" said Delarey, gently, pointing to her plate. "And it's all getting cold."
"Thank you, Maurice."
She began to eat at once with an air of happy submission, which made Artois understand a good deal about her feeling for Delarey.
"The heart will always rule the head, I dare say, in this world where the majority will always be thoughtless," said Artois. "But the greatest jealousy, the jealousy which is most difficult to resist and to govern, is that in which both heart and brain are concerned. That is, indeed, a full-fledged monster."
Artois generally spoke with a good deal of authority, often without meaning to do so. He thought so clearly, knew so exactly what he was thinking and what he meant, that he felt very safe in conversation, and from this sense of safety sprang his air of masterfulness. It was an air that was always impressive, but to-night it specially struck Hermione. Now she laid down her knife and fork once more, to Delarey's half-amused despair, and exclaimed:
"I shall never forget the way you said that. Even if it were nonsense one would have to believe it for the moment, and of course it's dreadfully true. Intellect and heart suffering in combination must be far more terrible than the one suffering without the other. No, Maurice, I've really finished. I don't want any more. Let's have our coffee."
"The Turkish coffee," said Artois, with a smile. "Do you like Turkish coffee, Monsieur Delarey?"
"Yes, monsieur. Hermione has taught me to."
"At first it seemed to me too full of grounds," he explained.
"Perhaps a taste for it must be an acquired one among Europeans. Do we have it here?"
"No, no," said Hermione, "Caminiti has taken my advice, and now there's a charming smoke-room behind this. Come along."
She got up and led the way out. The two men followed her, Artois coming last. He noticed now more definitely the very great contrast between Hermione and her future husband. Delarey, when in movement, looked more than ever like a Mercury. His footstep was light and elastic, and his whole body seemed to breathe out a gay activity, a fulness of the joy of life. Again Artois thought of Sicilian boys dancing the tarantella, and when they were in the small smoke-room, which Caminiti had fitted up in what he believed to be Oriental style, and which, though scarcely accurate, was quite cosey, he was moved to inquire:
"Pardon me, monsieur, but are you entirely English?"
"No, monsieur. My mother has Sicilian blood in her veins. But I have never been in Sicily or Italy."
"Ah, Emile," said Hermione, "how clever of you to find that out. I notice it, too, sometimes, that touch of the blessed South. I shall take him there some day, and see if the Southern blood doesn't wake up in his veins when he's in the rays of the real sun we never see in England."
"She'll take you to Italy, you fortunate, damned dog!" thought Artois. "What luck for you to go there with such a companion!"
They sat down and the two men began to smoke. Hermione never smoked because she had tried smoking and knew she hated it. They were alone in the room, which was warm, but not too warm, and faintly lit by shaded lamps. Artois began to feel more genial, he scarcely knew why. Perhaps the good dinner had comforted him, or perhaps he was beginning to yield to the charm of Delarey's gay and boyish modesty, which was untainted and unspoiled by any awkward shyness.
Artois did not know or seek to know, but he was aware that he was more ready to be happy with the flying moment than he had been, or had expected to be that evening. Something almost paternal shone in his gray eyes as he stretched his large limbs on Caminiti's notion of a Turkish divan, and watched the first smoke-wreaths rise from his cigar, a light which made his face most pleasantly expressive to Hermione.
"He likes Maurice," she thought, with a glow of pleasure, and with the thought came into her heart an even deeper love for Maurice. For it was a triumph, indeed, if Artois were captured speedily by any one. It seemed to her just then as if she had never known what perfect happiness was till now, when she sat between her best friend and her lover, and sensitively felt that in the room there were not three separate persons but a Trinity. For a moment there was a comfortable silence. Then an Italian boy brought in the coffee. Artois spoke to him in Italian. His eyes lit up as he answered with the accent of Naples, lit up still more when Artois spoke to him again in his own dialect. When he had served the coffee he went out, glowing.
"Is your honeymoon to be Italian?" asked Artois.
"Whatever Hermione likes," answered Delarey. "I—it doesn't matter to me. Wherever it is will be the same to me."
"Happiness makes every land an Italy, eh?" said Artois. "I expect that's profoundly true."
"Don't you—don't you know?" ventured Delarey.
"I! My friend, one cannot be proficient in every branch of knowledge."
He spoke the words without bitterness, with a calm that had in it something more sad than bitterness. It struck both Hermione and Delarey as almost monstrous that anybody with whom they were connected should be feeling coldly unhappy at this moment. Life presented itself to them in a glorious radiance of sunshine, in a passionate light, in a torrent of color. Their knowledge of life's uncertainties was rocked asleep by their dual sensation of personal joy, and they felt as if every one ought to be as happy as they were, almost as if every one could be as happy as they were.
"Emile," said Hermione, led by this feeling, "you can't mean to say that you have never known the happiness that makes of every place—Clapham, Lippe-Detmold, a West African swamp, a Siberian convict settlement—an Italy? You have had a wonderful life. You have worked, you have wandered, had your ambition and your freedom—"
"But my eyes have been always wide open," he interrupted, "wide open on life watching the manifestations of life."
"Haven't you ever been able to shut them for a minute to everything but your own happiness? Oh, it's selfish, I know, but it does one good, Emile, any amount of good, to be selfish like that now and then. It reconciles one so splendidly to existence. It's like a spring cleaning of the soul. And then, I think, when one opens one's eyes again one sees—one must see—everything more rightly, not dressed up in frippery, not horribly naked either, but truly, accurately, neither overlooking graces nor dwelling on distortions. D'you understand what I mean? Perhaps I don't put it well, but—"
"I do understand," he said. "There's truth in what you say."
"Yes, isn't there?" said Delarey.
His eyes were fixed on Hermione with an intense eagerness of admiration and love.
Suddenly Artois felt immensely old, as he sometimes felt when he saw children playing with frantic happiness at mud-pies or snowballing. A desire, which his true self condemned, came to him to use his intellectual powers cruelly, and he yielded to it, forgetting the benign spirit which had paid him a moment's visit and vanished almost ere it had arrived.
"There's truth in what you say. But there's another truth, too, which you bring to my mind at this moment."
"What's that, Emile?"
"The payment that is exacted from great happiness. These intense joys of which you speak—what are they followed by? Haven't you observed that any violence in one direction is usually, almost, indeed, inevitably, followed by a violence in the opposite direction? Humanity is treading a beaten track, the crowd of humanity, and keeps, as a crowd, to this highway. But individuals leave the crowd, searchers, those who need the great changes, the great fortunes that are dangerous. On one side of the track is a garden of paradise; on the other a deadly swamp. The man or woman who, leaving the highway, enters the garden of paradise is almost certain in the fulness of time to be struggling in the deadly swamp."
"Do you really mean that misery is born of happiness?"
"Of what other parent can it be the child? In my opinion those who are said to be 'born in misery' never know what real misery is. It is only those who have drunk deep of the cup of joy who can drink deep of the cup of sorrow."
Hermione was about to speak, but Delarey suddenly burst in with the vehement exclamation:
"Where's the courage in keeping to the beaten track? Where's the courage in avoiding the garden for fear of the swamp?"
"That's exactly what I was going to say," said Hermione, her whole face lighting up. "I never expected to hear a counsel of cowardice from you, Emile."
"Or is it a counsel of prudence?"
He looked at them both steadily, feeling still as if he were face to face with children. For a man he was unusually intuitive, and to-night suddenly, and after he had begun to yield to his desire to be cruel, to say something that would cloud this dual happiness in which he had no share, he felt a strange, an almost prophetic conviction that out of the joy he now contemplated would be born the gaunt offspring, misery, of which he had just spoken. With the coming of this conviction, which he did not even try to explain to himself or to combat, came an abrupt change in his feelings. Bitterness gave place to an anxiety that was far more human, to a desire to afford some protection to these two people with whom he was sitting. But how? And against what? He did not know. His intuition stopped short when he strove to urge it on.
"Prudence," said Hermione. "You think it prudent to avoid the joy life throws at your feet?"
Abruptly provoked by his own limitations, angry, too, with his erratic mental departure from the realm of reason into the realm of fantasy—for so he called the debatable land over which intuition held sway—Artois hounded out his mood and turned upon himself.
"Don't listen to me," he said. "I am the professional analyst of life. As I sit over a sentence, examining, selecting, rejecting, replacing its words, so do I sit over the emotions of myself and others till I cease really to live, and could almost find it in my head to try to prevent them from living, too. Live, live—enter into the garden of paradise and never mind what comes after."
"I could not do anything else," said Hermione. "It is unnatural to me to look forward. The 'now' nearly always has complete possession of me."
"And I," said Artois, lightly, "am always trying to peer round the corner to see what is coming. And you, Monsieur Delarey?"
"I!" said Delarey.
He had not expected to be addressed just then, and for a moment looked confused.
"I don't know if I can say," he answered, at last. "But I think if the present was happy I should try to live in that, and if it was sad I should have a shot at looking forward to something better."
"That's one of the best philosophies I ever heard," said Hermione, "and after my own heart. Long live the philosophy of Maurice Delarey!"
Delarey blushed with pleasure like a boy. Just then three men came in smoking cigars. Hermione looked at her watch.
"Past eleven," she said. "I think I'd better go. Emile, will you drive with me home?"
"I!" he said, with an unusual diffidence. "May I?"
He glanced at Delarey.
"I want to have a talk with you. Maurice quite understands. He knows you go back to Paris to-morrow."
They all got up, and Delarey at once held out his hand to Artois.
"I am glad to have been allowed to meet Hermione's best friend," he said, simply. "I know how much you are to her, and I hope you'll let me be a friend, too, perhaps, some day."
He wrung Artois's hand warmly.
"Thank you, monsieur," replied Artois.
He strove hard to speak as cordially as Delarey.
Two or three minutes later Hermione and he were in a hansom driving down Regent Street. The fog had lifted, and it was possible to see to right and left of the greasy thoroughfare.
"Need we go straight back?" said Hermione. "Why not tell him to drive down to the Embankment? It's quiet there at night, and open and fine—one of the few fine things in dreary old London. And I want to have a last talk with you, Emile."
Artois pushed up the little door in the roof with his stick.
"The Embankment—Thames," he said to the cabman, with a strong foreign accent.
"Right, sir," replied the man, in the purest cockney.
As soon as the trap was shut down above her head Hermione exclaimed:
"Emile, I'm so happy, so—so happy! I think you must understand why now. You don't wonder any more, do you?"
"No, I don't wonder. But did I ever express any wonder?"
"I think you felt some. But I knew when you saw him it would go. He's got one beautiful quality that's very rare in these days, I think—reverence. I love that in him. He really reverences everything that is fine, every one who has fine and noble aspirations and powers. He reverences you."
"If that is the case he shows very little insight."
"Don't abuse yourself to me to-night. There's nothing the matter now, is there?"
Her intonation demanded a negative, but Artois did not hasten to give it. Instead he turned the conversation once more to Delarey.
"Tell me something more about him," he said. "What sort of family does he come from?"
"Oh, a very ordinary family, well off, but not what is called specially well-born. His father has a large shipping business. He's a cultivated man, and went to Eton and Oxford, as Maurice did. Maurice's mother is very handsome, not at all intellectual, but fascinating. The Southern blood comes from her side."
"Her mother was a Sicilian."
"Of the aristocracy, or of the people?"
"She was a lovely contadina. But what does it matter? I am not marrying Maurice's grandmother."
"How do you know that?"
"You mean that our ancestors live in us. Well, I can't bother. If Maurice were a crossing-sweeper, and his grandmother had been an evilly disposed charwoman, who could never get any one to trust her to char, I'd marry him to-morrow if he'd have me."
"I'm quite sure you would."
"Besides, probably the grandmother was a delicious old dear. But didn't you like Maurice, Emile? I felt so sure you did."
"I—yes, I liked him. I see his fascination. It is almost absurdly obvious, and yet it is quite natural. He is handsome and he is charming."
"And he's good, too."
"Why not? He does not look evil. I thought of him as a Mercury."
"The messenger of the gods—yes, he is like that."
She laid her hand on his arm, as if her happiness and longing for sympathy in it impelled her to draw very near to a human being.
"A bearer of good tidings—that is what he has been to me. I want you to like and understand him so much, Emile; you more, far more, than any one else."
The cab was now in a steep and narrow street leading down from the Strand to the Thames Embankment—a street that was obscure and that looked sad and evil by night. Artois glanced out at it, and Hermione, seeing that he did so, followed his eyes. They saw a man and a woman quarrelling under a gas-lamp. The woman was cursing and crying. The man put out his hand and pushed her roughly. She fell up against some railings, caught hold of them, turned her head and shrieked at the man, opening her mouth wide.
"Poor things!" Hermione said. "Poor things! If we could only all be good to each other! It seems as if it ought to be so simple."
"It's too difficult for us, nevertheless."
"Not for some of us, thank God. Many people have been good to me—you for one, you most of all my friends. Ah, how blessed it is to be out here!"
She leaned over the wooden apron of the cab, stretching out her hands instinctively as if to grasp the space, the airy darkness of the spreading night.
"Space seems to liberate the soul," she said. "It's wrong to live in cities, but we shall have to a good deal, I suppose. Maurice needn't work, but I'm glad to say he does."
"What does he do?"
"I don't know exactly, but he's in his father's shipping business. I'm an awful idiot at understanding anything of that sort, but I understand Maurice, and that's the important matter."
They were now on the Thames Embankment, driving slowly along the broad and almost deserted road. Far off lights, green, red, and yellow, shone faintly upon the drifting and uneasy waters of the river on the one side; on the other gleamed the lights from the houses and hotels, in which people were supping after the theatres. Artois, who, like most fine artists, was extremely susceptible to the influence of place and of the hour, with its gift of light or darkness, began to lose in this larger atmosphere of mystery and vaguely visible movement the hitherto dominating sense of himself, to regain the more valuable and more mystical sense of life and its strange and pathetic relation with nature and the spirit behind nature, which often floated upon him like a tide when he was creating, but which he was accustomed to hold sternly in leash. Now he was not in the mood to rein it in. Maurice Delarey and his business, Hermione, her understanding of him and happiness in him, Artois himself in his sharply realized solitude of the third person, melted into the crowd of beings who made up life, whose background was the vast and infinitely various panorama of nature, and Hermione's last words, "the important matter," seemed for the moment false to him. What was, what could be, important in the immensity and the baffling complexity of existence?
"Look at those lights," he said, pointing to those that gleamed across the water through the London haze that sometimes makes for a melancholy beauty, "and that movement of the river in the night, tremulous and cryptic like our thoughts. Is anything important?"
"Almost everything, I think, certainly everything in us. If I didn't feel so, I could scarcely go on living. And you must really feel so, too. You do. I have your letters to prove it. Why, how often have I written begging you not to lash yourself into fury over the follies of men!"
"Yes, my temperament betrays the citadel of my brain. That happens in many."
"You trust too much to your brain and too little to your heart."
"And you do the contrary, my friend. You are too easily carried away by your impulses."
She was silent for a moment. The cabman was driving slowly. She watched a distant barge drifting, like a great shadow, at the mercy of the tide. Then she turned a little, looked at Artois's shadowy profile, and said:
"Don't ever be afraid to speak to me quite frankly—don't be afraid now. What is it?"
He did not answer.
"Imagine you are in Paris sitting down to write to me in your little red-and-yellow room, the morocco slipper of a room."
"And if it were the Sicilian grandmother?"
He spoke half-lightly, as if he were inclined to laugh with her at himself if she began to laugh.
But she said, gravely:
"I have a feeling to-night that out of this happiness of yours misery will be born."
"Yes? What sort of misery?"
"I don't know."
"Misery to myself or to the sharer of my happiness?"
"That was why you spoke of the garden of paradise and the deadly swamp?"
"I think it must have been."
"I love the South. You know that. But I distrust what I love, and I see the South in him."
"The grace, the charm, the enticement of the South."
"All that, certainly. You said he had reverence. Probably he has, but has he faithfulness?"
"You told me to be frank."
"And I wish you to be. Go on, say everything."
"I've only seen Delarey once, and I'll confess that I came prepared to see faults as clearly as, perhaps more clearly than, virtues. I don't pretend to read character at a glance. Only fools can do that—I am relying on their frequent assertion that they can. He strikes me as a man of great charm, with an unusual faculty of admiration for the gifts of others and a modest estimate of himself. I believe he's sincere."
"He is, through and through."
"I think so—now. But does he know his own blood? Our blood governs us when the time comes. He is modest about his intellect. I think it quick, but I doubt its being strong enough to prove a good restraining influence."
"The possible call of the blood that he doesn't understand."
"You speak almost as if he were a child," Hermione said. "He's much younger than I am, but he's twenty-four."
"He is very young looking, and you are at least twenty years ahead of him in all essentials. Don't you feel it?"
"I suppose—yes, I do."
"Mercury—he should be mercurial."
"He is. That's partly why I love him, perhaps. He is full of swiftness."
"So is the butterfly when it comes out into the sun."
"Emile, forgive me, but sometimes you seem to me deliberately to lie down and roll in pessimism rather as a horse—"
"Why not say an ass?"
"An ass, then, my dear, lies down sometimes and rolls in dust. I think you are doing it to-night. I think you were preparing to do it this afternoon. Perhaps it is the effect of London upon you?"
"London—by-the-way, where are you going for your honeymoon? I am sure you know, though Monsieur Delarey may not."
"Why are you sure?"
"Your face to-night when I asked if it was to be Italian."
She laid her hand again upon his arm and spoke eagerly, forgetting in a moment his pessimism and the little cloud it had brought across her happiness.
"You're right; I've decided."
"No, a thousand times no!"
"Sicily, and my peasant's cottage."
"The cottage on Monte Amato where you spent a summer four or five years ago contemplating Etna?"
"Yes. I've not said a word to Maurice, but I've taken it again. All the little furniture I had—beds, straw chairs, folding-tables—is stored in a big room in the village at the foot of the mountain. Gaspare, the Sicilian boy who was my servant, will superintend the carrying up of it on women's heads—his dear old grandmother takes the heaviest things, arm-chairs and so on—and it will all be got ready in no time. I'm having the house whitewashed again, and the shutters painted, and the stone vases on the terrace will be filled with scarlet geraniums, and—oh, Emile, I shall hear the piping of the shepherds in the ravine at twilight again with him, and see the boys dance the tarantella under the moon again with him, and—and—"
She stopped with a break in her voice.
"Put away your pessimism, dear Emile," she continued, after a moment. "Tell me you think we shall be happy in our garden of paradise—tell me that!"
But he only said, even more gravely:
"So you're taking him to the real South?"
"Yes, to the blue and the genuine gold, and the quivering heat, and the balmy nights when Etna sends up its plume of ivory smoke to the moon. He's got the south in his blood. Well, he shall see the south first with me, and he shall love it as I love it."
He said nothing. No spark of her enthusiasm called forth a spark from him. And now she saw that, and said again:
"London is making you horrible to-night. You are doing London and yourself an injustice, and Maurice, too."
"It's very possible," he replied. "But—I can say it to you—I have a certain gift of—shall I call it divination?—where men and women are concerned. It is not merely that I am observant of what is, but that I can often instinctively feel that which must be inevitably produced by what is. Very few people can read the future in the present. I often can, almost as clearly as I can read the present. Even pessimism, accentuated by the influence of the Infernal City, may contain some grains of truth."
"What do you see for us, Emile? Don't you think we shall be happy together, then? Don't you think that we are suited to be happy together?"
When she asked Artois this direct question he was suddenly aware of a vagueness brooding in his mind, and knew that he had no definite answer to make.
"I see nothing," he said, abruptly. "I know nothing. It may be London. It may be my own egoism."
And then he suddenly explained himself to Hermione with the extraordinary frankness of which he was only capable when he was with her, or was writing to her.
"I am the dog in the manger," he concluded. "Don't let my growling distress you. Your happiness has made me envious."
"I'll never believe it," she exclaimed. "You are too good a friend and too great a man for that. Why can't you be happy, too? Why can't you find some one?"
"Married life wouldn't suit me. I dislike loneliness yet I couldn't do without it. In it I find my liberty as an artist."
"Sometimes I think it must be a curse to be an artist, and yet I have often longed to be one."
"Why have you never tried to be one?"
"I hardly know. Perhaps in my inmost being I feel I never could be. I am too impulsive, too unrestrained, too shapeless in mind. If I wrote a book it might be interesting, human, heart-felt, true to life, I hope, not stupid, I believe; but it would be a chaos. You—how it would shock your critical mind! I could never select and prune and blend and graft. I should have to throw my mind and heart down on the paper and just leave them there."
"If you did that you might produce a human document that would live almost as long as literature, that even just criticism would be powerless to destroy."
"I shall never write that book, but I dare say I shall live it."
"Yes," he said. "You will live it, perhaps with Monsieur Delarey."
And he smiled.
"When is the wedding to be?"
"In January, I think."
"Ah! When you are in your garden of paradise I shall not be very far off—just across your blue sea on the African shore."
"Why, where are you going, Emile?"
"I shall spend the spring at the sacred city of Kairouan, among the pilgrims and the mosques, making some studies, taking some notes."
"For a book? Come over to Sicily and see us."
"I don't think you will want me there."
The trap in the roof was opened, and a beery eye, with a luscious smile in it, peered down upon them.
"'Ad enough of the river, sir?"
"Comment?" said Artois.
"We'd better go home, I suppose," Hermione said.
She gave her address to the cabman, and they drove in silence to Eaton Place.
Lucrezia Gabbi came out onto the terrace of the Casa del Prete on Monte Amato, shaded her eyes with her brown hands, and gazed down across the ravine over the olive-trees and the vines to the mountain-side opposite, along which, among rocks and Barbary figs, wound a tiny track trodden by the few contadini whose stone cottages, some of them scarcely more than huts, were scattered here and there upon the surrounding heights that looked towards Etna and the sea. Lucrezia was dressed in her best. She wore a dark-stuff gown covered in the front by a long blue-and-white apron. Although really happiest in her mind when her feet were bare, she had donned a pair of white stockings and low slippers, and over her thick, dark hair was tied a handkerchief gay with a pattern of brilliant yellow flowers on a white ground. This was a present from Gaspare bought at the town of Cattaro at the foot of the mountains, and worn now for the first time in honor of a great occasion.
To-day Lucrezia was in the service of distinguished forestieri, and she was gazing now across the ravine straining her eyes to see a procession winding up from the sea: donkeys laden with luggage, and her new padrone and padrona pioneered by the radiant Gaspare towards their mountain home. It was a good day for their arrival. Nobody could deny that. Even Lucrezia, who was accustomed to fine weather, having lived all her life in Sicily, was struck to a certain blinking admiration as she stepped out on to the terrace, and murmured to herself and a cat which was basking on the stone seat that faced the cottage between broken columns, round which roses twined:
"Che tempo fa oggi! Santa Madonna, che bel tempo!"
On this morning of February the clearness of the atmosphere was in truth almost African. Under the cloudless sky every detail of the great view from the terrace stood out with a magical distinctness. The lines of the mountains were sharply defined against the profound blue. The forms of the gray rocks scattered upon their slopes, of the peasants' houses, of the olive and oak trees which grew thickly on the left flank of Monte Amato below the priest's house, showed themselves in the sunshine with the bold frankness which is part of the glory of all things in the south. The figures of stationary or moving goatherds and laborers, watching their flocks or toiling among the vineyards and the orchards, were relieved against the face of nature in the shimmer of the glad gold in this Eden, with a mingling of delicacy and significance which had in it something ethereal and mysterious, a hint of fairy-land. Far off, rising calmly in an immense slope, a slope that was classical in its dignity, profound in its sobriety, remote, yet neither cold nor sad, Etna soared towards the heaven, sending from its summit, on which the snows still lingered, a steady plume of ivory smoke. In the nearer foreground, upon a jagged crest of beetling rock, the ruins of a Saracenic castle dominated a huddled village, whose houses seemed to cling frantically to the cliff, as if each one were in fear of being separated from its brethren and tossed into the sea. And far below that sea spread forth its waveless, silent wonder to a horizon-line so distant that the eyes which looked upon it could scarcely distinguish sea from sky—a line which surely united not divided two shades of flawless blue, linking them in a brotherhood which should be everlasting. Few sounds, and these but slight ones, stirred in the breast of the ardent silence; some little notes of birds, fragmentary and wandering, wayward as pilgrims who had forgotten to what shrine they bent their steps, some little notes of bells swinging beneath the tufted chins of goats, the wail of a woman's song, old in its quiet melancholy, Oriental in its strange irregularity of rhythm, and the careless twitter of a tarantella, played upon a reed-flute by a secluded shepherd-boy beneath the bending silver green of tressy olives beside a tiny stream.
Lucrezia was accustomed to it all. She had been born beside that sea. Etna had looked down upon her as she sucked and cried, toddled and played, grew to a lusty girlhood, and on into young womanhood with its gayety and unreason, its work and hopes and dreams. That Oriental song—she had sung it often on the mountain-sides, as she set her bare, brown feet on the warm stones, and lifted her head with a native pride beneath its burdening pannier or its jar of water from the well. And she had many a time danced to the tarantella that the shepherd-boy was fluting, clapping her strong hands and swinging her broad hips, while the great rings in her ears shook to and fro, and her whole healthy body quivered to the spirit of the tune. She knew it all. It was and had always been part of her life.
Hermione's garden of paradise generally seemed homely enough to Lucrezia. Yet to-day, perhaps because she was dressed in her best on a day that was not a festa, and wore a silver chain with a coral charm on it, and had shoes on her feet, there seemed to her a newness, almost a strangeness in the wideness and the silence, in the sunshine and the music, something that made her breathe out a sigh, and stare with almost wondering eyes on Etna and the sea. She soon lost her vague sensation that her life lay, perhaps, in a home of magic, however, when she looked again at the mule track which wound upward from the distant town, in which the train from Messina must by this time have deposited her forestieri, and began to think more naturally of the days that lay before her, of her novel and important duties, and of the unusual sums of money that her activities were to earn her.
Gaspare, who, as major-domo, had chosen her imperiously for his assistant and underling in the house of the priest, had informed her that she was to receive twenty-five lire a month for her services, besides food and lodging, and plenty of the good, red wine of Amato. To Lucrezia such wages seemed prodigal. She had never yet earned more than the half of them. But it was not only this prospect of riches which now moved and excited her.
She was to live in a splendidly furnished house with wealthy and distinguished people; she was to sleep in a room all to herself, in a bed that no one had a right to except herself. This was an experience that in her most sanguine moments she had never anticipated. All her life had been passed en famille in the village of Marechiaro, which lay on a table-land at the foot of Monte Amato, half-way down to the sea. The Gabbis were numerous, and they all lived in one room, to which cats, hens, and turkeys resorted with much freedom and in considerable numbers. Lucrezia had never known, perhaps had never desired, a moment of privacy, but now she began to awake to the fact that privacy and daintiness and pretty furniture were very interesting, and even touching, as well as very phenomenal additions to a young woman's existence. What could the people who had the power to provide them be like? She scanned the mule-track with growing eagerness, but the procession did not appear. She saw only an old contadino in a long woollen cap riding slowly into the recesses of the hills on a donkey, and a small boy leading his goats to pasture. The train must have been late. She turned round from the view and examined her new home once more. Already she knew it by heart, yet the wonder of it still encompassed her spirit.
Hermione's cottage, the eyrie to which she was bringing Maurice Delarey, was only a cottage, although to Lucrezia it seemed almost a palace. It was whitewashed, with a sloping roof of tiles, and windows with green Venetian shutters. Although it now belonged to a contadino, it had originally been built by a priest, who had possessed vineyards on the mountain-side, and who wished to have a home to which he could escape from the town where he lived when the burning heats of the summer set in. Above his vineyards, some hundreds of yards from the summit of the mountain, and close to a grove of oaks and olive-trees, which grew among a turmoil of mighty boulders, he had terraced out the slope and set his country home. At the edge of the rough path which led to the cottage from the ravine below was a ruined Norman arch. This served as a portal of entrance. Between it and the cottage was a well surrounded by crumbling walls, with stone seats built into them. Passing that, one came at once to the terrace of earth, fronted by a low wall with narrow seats covered with white tiles, and divided by broken columns that edged the ravine and commanded the great view on which Lucrezia had been gazing. On the wall of this terrace were stone vases, in which scarlet geraniums were growing. Red roses twined around the columns, and, beneath, the steep side of the ravine was clothed with a tangle of vegetation, olive and peach, pear and apple trees. Behind the cottage rose the bare mountain-side, covered with loose stones and rocks, among which in every available interstice the diligent peasants had sown corn and barley. Here and there upon the mountains distant cottages were visible, but on Monte Amato Hermione's was the last, the most intrepid. None other ventured to cling to the warm earth so high above the sea and in a place so solitary. That was why Hermione loved it, because it was near the sky and very far away.