E-text prepared by Al Haines
George H. Doran Company New York Copyright, 1913, By George H. Doran Company
EDYTH AND ARTHUR APPLIN
WITH LOVE AND HOMAGE.
"Car vois-tu chaque jour je t'aime davantage, Aujourd'hui plus qu'hier, et bien moins que demain." (Rosemonde Rostand)
"Aujourd'hui le primtetemps, Ninon, demain l'hiver. Quoi! tu nas pas l'etoile, est tu vas sur la mer!" DE MUSSET.
Count Emile Poleski was obliged to be at the Barcelona Station at five o'clock in the afternoon one hot Friday in May. His business, having to do with that which was known to himself and his associates as "the Cause," necessitated careful attention, and required the performance of certain manoeuvres in such a way that they should be unobserved by the various detectives to whom he was an object of interest.
He looked round, scowling, till he found the man he wanted, and who was to all outward appearances the driver of one of the row of fiacres that waited outside the station. Cigarettes were exchanged, and a tiny slip of paper passed imperceptibly from hand to hand, then he turned ostensibly to watch the incoming train from Port-Bou. As he was on the platform it would be better to look as if he had come to meet someone, and as he had nothing particular to do just then it would make a distraction to watch the various types of humanity arriving at this continental Buenos Ayres, the city of romance, anarchy, commerce and varied vices.
Emile Poleski called it l'entresol de l'enfer, and certainly he was not there by his own choice. It was the centre of intrigue, and to intrigue his life, intellect, and the little money he had left from his Polish estates, were devoted. To him life meant "The Cause," and that exigeant mistress left little room for other and more natural affections.
In his career women did not count, at least they did not count as women. If they had money to spend, or brains and energies that could be utilised, that was a different matter. He had a trick of studying people as one studies natural history through a microscope.
It was all very interesting, but when one had done with the specimens one threw them away and looked about for fresh material.
The train came in, slackened speed and stopped, and its contents resolved themselves into little groups of people all hunting with more or less excitement for their luggage, and porters to convey the same to cabs.
The figure of a girl who had just alighted and was standing alone, caught and held his roving eyes. The pose of her abnormally slim body had all the grace of a figure on a Grecian vase in its clean curves and easy balance.
Her head was beautifully set upon a long throat, and her feet were conspicuously slender and delicate in their high French boots of champagne-coloured kid. Her face, which as far as he could see was of a startling pallor, was obscured by a white lace veil tied loosely round her Panama hat, and left to fall down her back in floating ends; and she wore a rather crumpled, cream-coloured dress.
She stood, looking round, as if uncertain how to act, evidently in expectation of someone to meet her. No one appeared and she moved off in search of a porter. Emile followed at a reasonable distance. Books he found desperately dull, but humanity in any shape or form was attractive to him, and the girl's appearance appealed to a deeply embedded love of the exotic and mysterious.
He watched with cynical amusement as she tried to explain her wishes in French to a porter, who spoke only the dialect of Catalonia. Her voice finally decided Emile on his line of conduct. Low-pitched it was, with subtle inflections, and with a hoarseness in the lower notes such as one hears in the voices of Jewish women.
A woman, whose vocal notes were of that enchanting timbre, was likely to prove interesting.
He advanced a few steps nearer, saying in French, "I speak the language. Can I be of any use?"
The girl turned, giving him a comprehensive glance, and bowed slightly in acknowledgment.
"Many thanks, Monsieur! I know scarcely any Spanish. Perhaps you would tell me where one could get lodgings. It seems rather hopeless for this man and myself to continue arguing in different languages, so if you would not mind—"
When they were both in the fiacre she did not speak, but leaned back, her hands in her lap, her feet crossed, looking straight in front of her with hazel-green eyes, expressionless as those of the Sphinx. Count Poleski congratulated himself in silence over his discovery. Here was a woman so unique that she asked no questions, did not volunteer after the manner of most women a flood of voluble information, apparently took everything for granted, and was in no way embarrassed by himself or his company.
In some respects she appeared a young girl, but her composure was certainly not youthful.
"So you're out from England," he said at last.
"From Paris," she answered him serenely. "I'm Arithelli of the Hippodrome." There was a girlish pride in her accents, and she looked at him sideways to observe the effect of her announcement.
"Ma foi! So it's that, is it? Then I've heard something about you. I know the Manager pretty well. He said you were un peu bizarre."
"Peut etre plus qu'un peu," Arithelli retorted quickly. "I see you think he's right."
Arrived at the lodgings she sat still, waiting in the cab with the same apparent indifference while Emile wrangled with the landlady. At length he came back to her: "You had better try these for a week," he said. "They're forty pesetas. She will want the rent in advance as you have no recommendation." For the first time Arithelli seemed disturbed.
"I'm afraid I can't pay it. I'm to have five pounds a week at the Hippodrome, but of course I can't ask for that in advance. I had a second-class ticket out here, and now I've only got four-and-sixpence left."
She held out a small blue satin bag, displaying a few coins. "Perhaps I'd better go and explain to the Manager." Emile shrugged his shoulders. Obviously the girl was very young.
"On the whole I think you'd better not," he said. "You know nothing about either myself or the Manager, and it seems you've got to trust one of us so it may as well be me."
When he had arranged matters he departed, saying casually, "I'll come in again to-night about nine o'clock to see how you are getting on. Don't do anything insane, such as wandering about the streets, because you feel dull. It won't hurt you to put up with the dulness for a bit. You'll have plenty of excitement if you're going to live in Barcelona."
"Tiens!" said Arithelli to herself. "What manners and what dirty nails! C'est un homme epouvantable, but very useful. But for him I should have been prancing round this place all night, looking for rooms."
She dragged her trunk towards her, and proceeded to unpack the collection of gaudy dresses that she had bought with so much pride at the Bon Marche in Paris, and which were all in the worst possible taste.
Perhaps she had been impelled to a choice of lively colours as being symbolical in their brightness of the new life on which she was about to embark. There was a green cloth rendered still more hideous by being inlet with medallions of pink silk, a cornflower blue with much silver braid already becoming tarnished in the few times it had been worn, and a mauve and orange adorned with flamboyant Eastern embroidery.
When she had tumbled them all out they showed a vivid patch of ill-assorted tints. Arithelli shivered as she sat back on her heels on the floor, and looked round the sordid room. The excitement of her arrival had worn off, and the element of depression reigned supreme in her mind. Certainly the apartment, which was supposed to be a bed-sitting-room, but which was merely a bedroom, was not enlivening to contemplate. No carpet, dirty boards, a large four-poster bed canopied with faded draperies against the wall facing the window. There was a feeble attempt at a washstand in a small alcove on the left, furnished with the usual doll's house crockery affected on the Continent,—no wardrobe and no dressing table.
It all looked hopeless, she told herself disgustedly. Surely there were better rooms to be found in Barcelona for forty pesetas a week! Either lodgings must be very dear or else Emile Poleski had meant to take a large commission for his trouble in finding them!
She was stiff and tired after the long journey and want of proper food, and every trifle took upon itself huge dimensions. She was daintily fastidious as to cleanliness, and everything seemed to her filthy beyond belief. The universal squalor customary in Spanish life had come as an unpleasant shock.
When she started from Paris she had conjured visions of a triumphal entry into her new career. Now she felt rather frightened and desperately lonely, and the horrible room appeared like a bad omen for the future. But, she reflected, after all, things might have been worse. She had found one friend already. Certainly he had disagreeable manners, especially after the artificial and invariable politeness of the Frenchmen she had met while travelling, but at least he promised to be useful. She picked herself up off the floor and began to consider the disposal of her garments. Three or four wooden pegs, the only accommodation to be seen, were obviously not sufficient to hold all her clothes.
Presently there was an interlude, provided by the advent of the landlady. Her dishevelment accorded well with the general look of the house; her slippers clicked on the carpetless boards at every shuffling step, and she carried a half-cold, slopped-over cup of coffee. To Arithelli's relief the woman was mistress of a limited amount of French patois, and in answer to a demand for a wardrobe of some kind, said she would send up her son. He was a carpenter and would doubtless arrange something. She gave a curious glance at the girl's witch-like beauty, a mixture of suspicion and barely-admitted pity in her thoughts.
As to Emile's share in the drama she had naturally formed conclusions. After a respectable interval her son arrived, and having delivered himself of a remark in Spanish and being answered in French, proceeded to hammer a row of enormous nails into the wall at regular intervals. Arithelli sat upon her trunk, which she considered cleaner than the chairs, and watched the process, her green eyes assuming a curious veiled expression, a hank of copper-tinted hair falling upon her shoulders.
There was something uncanny in her capacity for keeping still, and she had none of the usual and natural fidgetiness of a young girl. In whatever position of sitting or standing she found herself she was capable of remaining for an indefinite period.
When the carpenter's manipulations had ceased she hung up her dresses carefully, put the rest of her things back into the trunk, as being the safest place, and sitting down again began to cry in a low, painful way, utterly unlike the light April shower emotion of the ordinary woman.
Here she was in Barcelona, and the fulfilled desire seemed likely to become already Dead Sea fruit. Supposing she got ill, or failed to satisfy the audience. She would see her name to-morrow when she went out in large letters on the posters of the Hippodrome:
"Arithelli, the beautiful English equestrienne," and underneath some appalling picture of herself in columbine skirts, or jockey's silk jacket and cap and top boots.
She had been crazy with delight over her success in getting the engagement from the manager in Paris, and it had not occurred to her that her appearance had had a great deal to do with her having been accepted. She had signed a contract for a year; and looking forward a year seemed a very long time. There had been opposition at home.
Her father had said, "I don't approve, but at the same time I don't know in the least what else you can do. It's Hobson's choice. You can ride, and you've got looks of the sort to take in a public career."
Her mother had been frankly brutal. Now that there was no money, she said, she could not have three great girls at home doing nothing. She had given them all a good education and they must try and make some use of it. Neither of the younger sisters, Isobel and Valerie, were old enough to do anything for themselves, so Arithelli at the age of twenty-four had taken her courage, which was the indomitable courage of her race, in both hands, and launched herself on the world. The bare-backed riding of her early days in Galway had proved a valuable asset, and there was not a horse she could not manage.
Her slim figure seemed born to the saddle, and her nerve was as yet unshaken.
The man who had engaged her had been more than a little astonished at the composure with which she showed off the horses' paces, and went through various tricks. As she was young and inexperienced, he would get her cheaply; she could be taught all the stereotyped acts with very little trouble, and her morbid style of beauty would be a draw in Spain.
There was nothing of the English miss about her appearance and few people would have believed her to be only twenty-four. She had no freshness, no beaute de diable. Her beauty was that of line and modelling. Her quietness was partly the result of a convent education. An old Irish nun had told her once that good looks were a snare and a delusion of the Devil, and that hers would never bring her happiness.
At least they had got her an engagement, and a circus had always represented to her the very height of romance.
She wondered how she could manage for money till she got her five pounds next Friday. It was lucky that all her habits, and so on, were provided by the management. She wished to-morrow would arrive, for she felt eager to begin work, and see the horses. She had quite forgotten all about Emile's promised visit, and was just pulling down the rest of her hair preparatory to getting ready for bed, when he walked in without any preliminary knock.
"How are you getting on? All right?" Then after a momentary inspection of the many garments that festooned the dirty walls, he added: "I don't think you've got very good taste in clothes!"
"All women are good; good for something, or good for nothing." CERVANTES.
The next morning Emile made his entrance with the same complete disregard of ceremony. Arithelli was still in bed and only half awake. She raised herself slightly and looked at him with sleepy eyes.
"Oh!" she said. "I didn't hear you knock."
There was the same entire lack of embarrassment in her manner that she had shown on the previous night. Almost before she had finished her sentence she shut her eyes again, and leant back yawning. It seemed a matter of the greatest indifference to her whether he was there or not. Emile's interest rose by several degrees as he sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I didn't knock," he said, speaking English fluently enough, but with the hard, clipped accents of the Slav. "I can't bother about all that humbug. If you're straight with me I'll be straight with you, and we may as well be friends. I dare say you think you're very good-looking and all that, but it doesn't make any difference to me. You're here, and I'm here, so we may as well be here together."
"I'm so sorry," Arithelli replied, "but I'm always so stupid and sleepy in the mornings. Do you mind saying it all over again?"
And very much to his own surprise Emile Poleski repeated his remarks. It struck him that there was something of the boy, the gamin, about her in spite of her exotic appearance. That was so much the better and would suit admirably with his schemes for her. It was better that she should not be too much of a woman; for in the realms of anarchy there is no sex, though comradeship is elevated to the dignity of a fine art.
For chivalry and love making there is neither the time nor the desire, and those who are wedded to La Liberte find her an all-sufficient idol for purposes of worship. Human life is held of small account, to join the Cause being equivalent to the signing of one's own death warrant. One would probably have to die to-morrow if not to-day, and whether it were sooner or later mattered little. Emile's fierce devotion to the cause of his oppressed country had been the means of leaving him stranded in Barcelona at the age of forty, without hopes, illusions or ideals. His estates in Russia had been confiscated, his parents were dead, the woman he had loved was married.
Now he lived in a dirty back street, in a single room, on two pounds a week, morbid, suspicious, cynical, keeping his own counsel, owning no friends, and occupying body and brain with plots, secret meetings, ciphers and the usual accompaniments of intrigue. The Brotherhood consisted of fifteen men, though occasionally the number varied. Two or three would disappear, another one come. There was no feminine element. An Anarchist seldom marries. To him a woman is either a machine or the lightest of light episodes.
Emile had not the least desire to make love to the girl whom he had for his own purposes befriended. He was a quick and subtle judge of character, and had seen at a glance that in her he would find a study of pronounced interest. Also she might prove of some utility. It was one of the tenets of the fraternity to which he belonged never to waste any material that might come to hand. In the finely-cut face before him, with its Oriental modelling and impassivity, he read brains, refinement and endurance. Her hair was plaited in two long braids, and drawn down over her ears, showing the contour of a sleek, smooth little head.
She had relapsed into silence after disposing of the slovenly meal he had induced the landlady to provide. The only thing that seemed to worry her was the superfluous dirt that adorned the cups.
At length she spoke:
"And what sort of a place is this Barcelona?"
"L'entresol de l'enfer," answered Emile curtly. "What are your people doing to allow you to come here alone?"
"They don't know I am here. I ran away, you see. If I get on well, I'll write and let them know, and if not—"
"Oh, I don't know. But I will get on. Don't you think I ought to make a success at the Hippodrome?"
Emile ignored the naive conceit of the last remark. "But what are you doing at the Hippodrome at all?" he demanded.
"I am riding," she answered with an elfish smile in which her eyes took no part.
"Obviously! What are you going to do about dejeuner? The landlady won't bring you up all your meals."
"I don't know," was the unconcerned answer.
"You'll have to go to one of the cafes, and you had better let me show you which are the most desirable ones. Enfin! have you any intention of getting up this morning?"
Arithelli yawned again. "I suppose I must go round and present myself to the Manager. I'm to rehearse a fortnight before I make my appearance in public."
"Then I had better come with you," Emile replied with decision. "As I told you yesterday, I know the Manager fairly well."
An hour later they walked together through the streets on their way to the Hippodrome. Emile was a bad advertisement for the secrecy of his profession, for he looked a typical desperado. His velvet coat had the air of having been slept in for weeks, and had certainly never been on terms of acquaintanceship with a brush; and, besides the usual Anarchist badge, a red tie, a blood red carnation flamed defiance in his buttonhole.
Under a battered sombrero he scowled upon the world; a dark skin, fierce moustache, and arching black eyebrows over hard, grey eyes.
There are few people who look their parts in life, but Emile might without addition or alteration, have been transferred to the stage as the typical villain of a melodrama.
Arithelli had arrayed herself in the cornflower blue frock, which she carried with a negligent ease, and she still wore the Panama hat with the flowing veil. As a matter of fact it was the only piece of headgear she possessed; for she had been reckless over dresses and boots in Paris and had found herself drawn up with a jerk in the midst of her purchases by her small stock of money coming to an abrupt end.
Of her carriage and general deportment, which were noticeably good even among Spanish women, Emile approved. The crude blue of her dress, the tags and ends of tinselled braid set his teeth on edge. In his "Count Poleski" days he had known the quiet and exquisite taste of the mondaines of Vienna and St. Petersburg, and like most men he preferred dark clothes in the street. Later on he proposed to himself the pleasure of supervising her wardrobe, except her boots, which met with his fullest approbation.
He noticed that she did not talk much but observed in silence. He felt that nothing escaped those heavy-lidded, curious eyes. "Is everything dirty in Spain?" she said at last.
"How fussy you are about dirt!" retorted Emile disagreeably.
"Yes. My mother is a Jewess, you know. I expect we notice these things more than the dirty Gentiles."
Her calm assertion of the superior cleanliness of the tribe of Israel, amused Emile, who had been accustomed to hear the usual contempt of the English-speaking races for anyone possessing a strain of Jewish blood. So it was the Jewess in her that accounted for her haunting voice.
The Manager was a hatchet-faced and haggard man who looked as if he went to bed about once a week, on an average, and existed principally on cigarettes and absinthe. The simultaneous arrival of Emile and Arithelli roused him from his normal condition of bored cynicism to comparative animation.
Like the landlady he naturally made his own conclusions.
"When did you arrive?" he demanded of Arithelli. Emile, not being afflicted with a sense of the necessity for elaborate explanation, removed himself a few paces and began to roll a cigarette.
Arithelli stood her ground, listened to the comments on her appearance which the Manager felt himself entitled to use, returned his cynical survey with a level glance, and answered his questions with an unruffled composure.
It was arranged that she should rehearse every day for two hours in the morning, and another two hours between the afternoon and evening performances. For the first act she could wear a habit of any colour she cared to choose, and a smart hat; for the second act, which included jumping over gates, and the presence of the inevitable clown, she would have to wear short skirts.
"They won't suit me," she said. "You see how long and thin I am, and look at my long feet. I shall look a burlesque."
The Manager glared at her.
"I quite believe you will," he snapped. "I suppose you think you're going to do the leaping act in a court train and feathers! Is there anything more you would like to suggest?"
The intended sarcasm was not a success. Arithelli considered gravely.
"I don't think so, thank you," she said at last. "But if I do think of anything else I'll tell you. And I should like to see the horses."
She was filled with a genuine delight by the four cream-coloured pure-bred Andalusians, El Rey, Don Quixote, Cavaliero and Don Juan. They turned intelligent eyes upon her as she entered their stalls, neighing gently as if they recognised a friend. Both the men experienced the same feeling of surprise at her evident knowledge and understanding of animals. In five minutes she had shown that she knew as much about their harness and food as a competent groom.
The astute Manager, upon whom no sign of intelligence was wasted, saw a good opportunity for getting a little extra work out of his youthful leading lady. He informed her that she must be down at the stables every morning at eight o'clock to inspect the horses and see them fed and watered. As a matter of fact the inspection should have been one of his own duties, but the girl was not likely to cavil at any little additional work that had not been exactly specified in her contract. Besides, if she did, he could soon make it uncomfortable for her. Arithelli made no objection. Though she hated getting up early she would never have grudged a sacrifice of comfort made on behalf of any animal. When all the business was completed, Emile took her to the Cafe Colomb for lunch.
Before they left he knew the details of her history.
The big house in Ireland, with its stud of horses and unlimited hospitality, and the rapidly vanishing fortune. Her mother, a Viennese by birth, a cosmopolitan by travel and education, a fine horsewoman, and extravagance incarnate. Her father, good-natured, careless, manly, as sportsmanlike and unbusinesslike as most Irishmen. When his horses died he bought more, keeping always open house for a colony of men as shiftless and as easy-going as himself.
As the children grew up the money became less and less. They were sent to Convent schools in France and Belgium, then to cheap schools in England.
At length the final crash came, and the big, picturesque, rambling house in Galway was sold, and they came to London with an infinitesimal income partly derived from the grudging charity of relatives.
Arithelli cleaned the doorsteps and the kitchen stove, blackleaded the grates and prepared the meals, which more often than not consisted only of potatoes and tea.
Their mother, who hated all domestic work, and could never be induced to see that their loss of money was due to her own extravagance, retired to bed, where she spent her days in reading Plato in the original, and writing charming French lyrics.
When Arithelli ran away she had gone straight to an old friend of her mother's, the widow of an ambassador in Paris. She had made up her mind to earn her own living. She would carve out for herself a career. Having decided that riding was her most saleable accomplishment, she had gone round to the riding school where the managers of the Hippodromes of Vienna, Buda-Pesth and Barcelona waited to select equestriennes.
Luck, youthful confidence, and her tragic, unyouthful beauty, had all ranged themselves together to procure her the much desired engagement.
"I made up my mind to get taken on," she concluded. "Et me voila! I did all sorts of desperate jumps that day. I felt desperate. If I hadn't got it, there was only the Morgue. I couldn't have gone home."
Emile listened in silence, and drank absinthe and considered.
That night at a meeting of the Brotherhood he took the leader, Sobrenski, aside and said:
"It was decided the other day that we wanted someone to take messages and run errands. Someone who could go unnoticed into places where it would be suspicious for us to be seen. You suggested a boy. Fate has been so kind as to show me a woman who seems to be in every way suitable—or at least with a little training she will become so."
"A woman!" echoed the other. "Are you mad?"
"I conclude her to be a woman because of her clothes. Otherwise she seems to be a mixture of a boy and wood-elf. The combination appears to me to be a fascinating one. She is of good family, half Irish, speaks three languages, asks no questions, and seems to have an extraordinary capacity for holding her tongue. It is on that account that I questioned her sex. Her appearance is excessively feminine. Of course I do not propose to enrol her among us at once. As I have said before, there are many ways in which a woman would be useful."
Sobrenski pulled doubtfully at his reddish, pointed beard. "Does she know anything about the Cause?"
"I fancy not, but she appears to have the right ideas, and after I have judiciously fanned the flame!—girls of that age are always wildly enthusiastic over something—so she may as well devote her enthusiasm to us."
"Out of the uttermost end of things On the side of life that is seamier, There lies a land, so its poet sings, Whose people call it Bohemia.
"It is not old, it is not new, It is not false, it is not true, And they will not answer for what they do, Far away in Bohemia." "Love in Bohemia," DOLF WYLLARDE.
"I think," Arithelli said with deliberation, "that all your friends are very fatiguing. They have such bad tempers, and do nothing but argue."
"They live for the serious things of life," retorted Emile. "Not to play the fool."
"Thanks! Is this one of the serious things of life, do you suppose?" She stuck the large needle with which she had been awkwardly cobbling a tear in her skirt, into the seat of a chair.
"What are you doing that for?" demanded Emile.
"Oh, pardon, I forgot." She extracted the needle. "I don't think I'm unwomanly but I'm not a good sewer. Emile! don't you think we might have some music? I really am beginning to sing 'Le Reve' quite well."
Her education in Anarchy had commenced with the teaching of revolutionary songs. Emile, who was himself music-mad, had discovered her to be possessed of a rough contralto voice of a curious mature quality. It would have been an absurd voice for ballads in a drawing-room, but it suited fiery declamations in praise of La Liberte!
They were sitting in Emile's room now, for they made use of each other's lodgings alternately, and there was a battered and rather out-of-tune piano. Sometimes, after the evening performance, there would be a gathering of the conspirators, all more or less morose, unshaven and untidy; and while Emile played for her, Arithelli would stand in the middle of the room, her green eyes blazing out of her pale face, her arms folded, singing with a fervour which surprised even her teacher, the lovely impassioned "Reve du prisonnier" of Rubinstein. She was always pleased with her own performances, and not in the least troubled with shyness. Also she was invariably eager to practise. She shook down her skirt, went across to the piano and began to pick out the notes.
"S'il faut, ah, prends ma vie. Mais rends-moi la liberte!"
Emile was sewing on buttons. Though he did not look in the least domesticated, he was far more dexterous at such work than the long-fingered Arithelli. In fact it was only at his suggestion that she ever mended anything at all.
"Do you ever by chance realise what you are singing about?" he demanded.
"Of course I do. I'm a red hot Socialist. I've read Tolstoi's books and lots of others. I got in an awful scrape over political things just the little time I was in Paris. It was when the Dreyfus case was on. Madame Bertrand was terrified at the way I aired my opinions. You see politics are so different abroad to what they are in England."
Emile agreed. The girl was developing even more than he had hoped.
"Ah! This is the first time I've ever heard about your political opinions."
"You've never asked me before. One doesn't know everything about a person at once."
Again Emile agreed. Then he said abruptly, "Well, if you have all these ideas you'd better join the Cause."
"I'd love to! Shall I have to go to meetings with Sobrenski and all the rest of them?"
"Probably. But you'll not be expected to talk. You may be told to do some writing or carry messages."
"Is that all?" She seemed rather disappointed. Emile felt for a moment almost inclined to develop scruples. She evidently regarded Anarchy at large as a species of particularly exciting diversion.
"Who are the other women mixed up with it?" she asked.
"There are no other women. You should feel honoured that we are having you."
Emile stood up, having completed his renovating operations. "You want to sing, eh?" Arithelli assented eagerly. "You will work?" Emile demanded.
"Yes!" Her eyes had become suddenly like green jewels, and she looked almost animated. She was more interested in Emile's music than in any other part of him. His wild Russian ballads sung with his strange clipped accent and fiery emphasis, fascinated her. She was content to listen for an indefinite period of time, her long body in a restful attitude, her feet crossed, her hands in her lap, as absolutely immovable as one who is hypnotised.
Emile, for his part, was equally interested in her exploits in vocalism, which he found as extraordinary and unexpected as everything else about her. Her singing voice was so curiously unlike her speaking voice that it might have belonged to another person. It had tremendous possibilities and a large range, but it was hoarse and harsh, and yet full of an uncanny attraction. In such a voice a sorceress of old might have crooned her incantations. Where did this girl get her soul, her passion, he wondered; she who was only just beginning life.
He flung over an untidy pile of music, and dragged out the magnificently devilish "Enchantement" of Massenet. "Try this," he said abruptly. "It's your kind of song."
For half-an-hour he exhorted, bullied and instructed, losing both his composure and his temper. Arithelli lost neither. "I don't understand music," she observed calmly. "But show me what to do and I'll do it. Mine's a queer voice, isn't it? A regular croak."
"You've got a voice; yes, that's true, but you don't know how to produce it, and you've no technique. You want plenty of scales."
"Wouldn't that take all the rough off, and make it just like anyone's voice?"
Emile stared angrily at the exponent of such heresy, and was about to annihilate her with sarcasm, when he suddenly changed his mind. After all, she was right. It was what she called "the rough" that helped to make her voice unlike the voices of most women.
"Is that your idea? A good excuse for being lazy! If you don't sing scales then you must work hard at songs."
"Yes, I know." She put her hands behind her back and leant against the piano. "There was a man in Paris, a friend of the manager. He heard me sing once. He knew I wanted to take up a profession, and he offered to train me for nothing, and bring me out on the stage. I was to sing those queer, dramatic, half-monotone songs in which one almost speaks the words. He meant to write them specially for me, and I was to wear an oriental costume. He said that every other voice would sound fade after mine."
Emile glanced at her sharply, but her tone and manner was both absolutely void of conceit. "Well, why didn't you accept his offer?"
"I don't know. I suppose because it was fated I should come here. He wanted me to make my debut at the cafes chantants, but I didn't like the idea somehow. He said my voice was only fit for the stage, and would sound horrible in a room."
Emile twisted his moustache upwards, and his eyebrows climbed in the same direction. "So! Do you think then that your life at the Hippodrome is going to be more what you English call respectable, than the cafes chantants?"
"There are the horses here. If I don't like anything else I can always like them."
Emile decided that the man in Paris had been apt in his judgment of this fantastic voice. Clever of him also to have noticed that she was Oriental. The setting of her green eyes was of the East. And horses were the only things she cared about—so far. Like most people whose lives are a complicated tangle of plots, Emile was not particularly interested in animals. His life, thoughts and environment were morbid, and the dumb creation too normal and healthy to appeal greatly to him. He discovered that his pupil was able to play in much the same inconsistent fashion that she sang. With a beautiful touch, full of temperament and expression, she possessed a profound ignorance of the rudiments of music. She could not read the notes, she said, but she could copy anything he played if she heard it two or three times. Emile found her astonishingly intelligent as well as amiable, and though the music lessons were not conducted on scientific principles, they produced good results.
He would give her plenty of music with which to occupy herself till the time came when she would be fully occupied in serving the Cause. As he had said, there were no other female conspirators in their circle. Sobrenski, the red-haired leader, detested women, and thought them all fools, who generally added the sin of treachery to their foolishness. Emile himself had taken no interest in any woman since he had lived in Barcelona. He too had found them treacherous. Since he had lost his little childish goddess, Marie Roumanoff, he had had no desire to play the role of lover. If he wanted companionship he preferred men, for as companions women bored him.
But Arithelli was not a woman—yet. She appeared able to keep own counsel, to do as she was told, and to judge by the way she rode, her courage would be capable of standing a severe test. Also it had occurred to him that she possessed the art of being a good comrade. It would amuse him to watch her develop. At present she was full of illusions about the charm of life in general. Everything for her showed rose-tinged. Well, it was not his business to dispel illusions. At present it was all "Le Reve," but after the dream would come awakening. He took care to leave her very little alone during the first few days, and arranged her time according to his own ideas, and escorted her backwards and forwards from her rehearsals at the Hippodrome.
When she was free he took her for long walks up the hills where they could look down upon the gorgeous city, which, as far as natural loveliness went, might have been compared to Paradise rather than to the Hell to which he invariably likened it.
The beautiful harbour, the dry air, the sunlight and splashes of vivid colour—everything was intoxicating to her. She said very little, but Emile felt that she missed nothing, and lacked nothing in appreciation. For himself the place must be always hateful, for he was in exile. What was the golden sunlight to him when he longed for the snows and frozen wastes of Russia, that sombre country so like the hearts of those by whom it is peopled.
One day he took her for an excursion to Montserrat, three hours' journey from Barcelona. They left the train at Monistrol, and started to walk through the vineyards and pine woods towards the famous mountain that towers up to heaven in grey rugged terraces of rock. All round, for miles, were undulating waves of green, here and there the brown towers of some ancient castle, or the buildings of a farmstead; and below on the plain the glitter of the winding river. They climbed to the wooded slopes of Olese, where they sat down to rest. Arithelli threw herself on the short, dry grass, with her arms under her head, and drew a long breath of pleasure and relief.
"I love all this; it makes me feel so free."
Emile sat with his back against a huge plane tree, and rolled cigarettes, watching her under his heavy eyebrows. She looked in her proper place here, he thought. There was something wild and animal-like about the grace of her attitude.
"So you're out of a convent?" he said, hurling out the remark with his usual abruptness. "Tiens! It's absurd!"
"But it's true. Convent schools are cheap, you see, that's why we were sent there. No, I'm not a Catholic. Most of the girls made their abjurations, but I never did. They told lies there, and they spied. I hated that. The nuns spied on the children of Mary, and the children of Mary spied on the ones who were not the children of Mary, and—" she stopped.
Emile told her to continue. "I should like to hear more about your—your religious experiences," he said. "Besides, it will do you more good to talk than to go to sleep."
Arithelli complied at once, with unruffled good nature. "Oh, of course I'll tell you if you like," she said amiably. "I stopped because I thought you would probably be bored, ennuye, you know."
She described the nuns mumbling their prayers, and punctuating them with irate commands to the children; the many and various rules, the Mere Superieure, the food, the clothes, the eccentricities of Monsieur le Directeur. She had the rare and unwomanlike art of witty description, though it assorted badly with her tragic face and unsmiling eyes. As she talked her voice rippled and broke into suppressed laughter.
"It was all rather dull, n'est-ce-pas?" said Emile, who felt more amusement than he had any intention of showing. "You'll find the Cause more exciting."
Before any practical steps were taken to make her a member of the band it was necessary to stimulate her enthusiasm, her imagination. He knew that for all her outward calmness she had no lack of fire. The coldest countries sometimes produced the most raging volcanoes.
"It's the only thing you care about—isn't it—the Cause?" she said. "Tell me more about it. As I'm going in for it I ought to understand. Of course I like anything that's 'agin the Government.' All the Irish have always been rebels and patriots. We've helped your country too."
Emile did not require a second invitation to induce him to expound his views. "I suppose you think we throw bombs about by way of a little distraction?" he asked sarcastically. "What have we suffered before we took to throwing bombs? Before I came here I saw men and women, old and young together, shot down in the streets of St. Petersburg. Because they rioted? No! Because they wished to offer a protest against the brutalities of the Government officials. Are our petitions ever read, our entreaties ever answered? There were other things too, but they didn't generally get into the newspapers. Women stripped in barrack rooms,—and that in winter,—the Russian winter,—and beaten by common soldiers. Not women of the streets and slums, but women of the higher classes. Mock trials held with closed doors, the crime,—to have incurred the displeasure of someone in favour at the Court,—the end,—Siberia! A student is known to be quiet, a great reader and interested in the condition of the serfs. He is watched, arrested, and on the false evidence of the police ends his days in the mines. Entreaties, reason, appeal! Have we not tried them? Now we have only one weapon left—retaliation. Sometimes we are able to avenge our martyrs. The two fiends who guarded Marie Spiridonova were shot by the members of her Society. She was only a girl too—about the same age as you. We Anarchists do not serenade women and make them compliments, but we think it an honour to kiss the hand of such as Marie Spiridonova. She was tortured, starved, outraged, and came through worse than death to be transported to a convict settlement. Now she is in the Malzoff Prison. She will never see the world again, but it may be years before the life is ground out of her by labour and privations. Her case will soon be forgotten, except by a few, and thousands of other women have gone the same road. The details of the tragedy may be a little different, the thing itself is the same. One day I shall go back to my own country. In the meantime I carry on the campaign here.
"It's a losing cause. But if we lose we pay. We don't ask for mercy!"
* * * * * *
They sat together that evening at a cafe on the Rambla, the strolling place of the Spanish beauties, who promenaded there in an endless stream, with waving fans and rustling draperies, carnations and roses burning in dark, elaborately dressed hair. Tziganes made wild, witch music. At the cafes people laughed and drank.
Suddenly Arithelli leant across the little table, raising her glass. "To the Cause!" she whispered under her breath.
For an instant the two pairs of eyes flamed into each other; then those of the man, hard and steel-grey, softened into something like admiration. Their glasses clinked softly together. "To the Cause!" he repeated. "Mon Camarade!"
"These were things she came to know, and to take their measure, When the play was played out so for one man's pleasure." SWINBURNE.
A few days later, Arithelli was duly initiated, and given the badge of the Cause, a massive buckle with a woman's figure, and on either side the words Honneur et Patrie. At the suggestion of the leader Emile had been made responsible for her behaviour. If she betrayed them in any way his life was to pay forfeit. There was a fellow conspirator working with her at the Hippodrome, a young Austrian of high rank named Vardri. His father had turned him out of doors, penniless, because of his political views; and he was now, half-starved, consumptive and reckless, employed in harnessing the horses and attending to the stables. There were two men under thirty, but the majority were middle-aged. They all seemed to Arithelli to have the same wild, restless eyes. They called her "Camarade," and "Amigo," and treated her not unkindly, but with an utter indifference to her sex. All their sayings showed the most absolute disregard for human life.
"If a vase is cracked, break it. If your glove is worn out, throw it away."
If they heard that some member of the band had found his way to the fortress of Montjuich there was callous laughter and a speculation as to whose turn it would be next.
Their meetings were held in divers places. Sometimes they would engage a room at the Hotel Catalonia and hold what were supposed to be classes for astronomy. Sobrenski was the lecturer, the rest posing as students. If anyone came in unexpectedly it all looked beautifully innocent—the big telescope by the open window, the books and papers and charts, and Arithelli at the desk at the end of the room taking shorthand notes of the lecture.
There were seldom more than three or four rendezvous held in the same place, and more than once there were alarms and rumours of a visit from the police.
As the days wore on Emile found new reason to congratulate himself upon his discovery of "Fatalite," as he had nicknamed the girl. She had shown herself possessed of a charming temper, a fine intelligence, and a most complete understanding of the law of obedience.
She made no comments on anything she was asked to do, but delivered messages and ran errands after the manner of a machine in good working order. Even Sobrenski, who hated all women, was obliged to admit her usefulness.
She was on pleasant terms with everybody down to the strappers,—the men who harnessed the Hippodrome horses,—who adored her. Even the cynical Manager was impressed by her pluck and skill, though he considered it his privilege to regale her with comments on her personal peculiarities.
The time arrived for her first performance at the Hippodrome. She made her appearance in the ring in a turquoise blue habit, trimmed hussar-fashion with much braid, and a plumed Cavalier hat, the dusky shadows under her eyes accentuated, and her face powdered. The Manager would not allow her to use rouge, so under the glaring electric lights she appeared more than ever spiritual and unearthly.
Her type, he said, did not require colour; and the people preferred anything morbid in the shape of looks.
Emile, who was among the audience on the first night, thought she looked like a thorough-bred racer as she made a dignified entrance to a clanging stately gavotte crashed out by the band. He had given her dresser a couple of pesetas to have her well turned out, and the result was exceedingly satisfactory even to his critical eyes.
Her little head with its piled red hair was carried marvellously high, and she swayed daintily on the back of the high-stepping Don Juan. She bowed gravely to the various parts of the house, but she had no stereotyped smile either for the boxes or for the lower seats. Her slender figure gave the impression of great strength for a young girl.
"Steel in a velvet sheath, ma foi! Body and soul!" was Emile's inward comment. "So much the better for the Cause."
A Spanish crowd usually gives but a languid reception unless roused by something either horrible or sensational, but her bizarre appearance had the effect which the Manager had foreseen.
In the second act she apparently changed her personality with her clothes, and whirled in astride over two horses with neither saddle nor bridle, guiding them and keeping them together by the pressure of her feet. She had full skirts, to her knees, of white satin, and pearl-coloured silk stockings. Her satin bodice was cut heart-shaped and there was a high jewelled band round her long throat. Her hair hung down in a thick plait, tied with a bow of blue velvet.
The horses tore round the ring at full gallop; she jumped over gates and through hoops, and ended her performance by leaping off one of the horses which was caught by a groom, and flinging herself on to the other, face to the tail, for a final reckless canter round the arena.
The brilliance and nerve with which she carried through the trick, roused the enthusiasm it deserved, and Arithelli passed out panting and triumphant to the accompaniment of music and cheers, and showered roses and carnations.
The part of her work that she most abhorred was the eight o'clock compulsory visit to the stables. A circus life is not prone to encourage the virtue of early rising, and she was by nature indolent in a panther-like fashion, and was never in bed till half-past one or two in the morning. If she had known a little more she could have protested on the grounds that her position of leading lady did not involve the feeding of her animals. She did it as she had done other things without complaint, and presently Emile came to the rescue. He knew as much about the habits and requirements of horses as he knew about shop-keeping, being entirely ignorant of both.
"How much are the brutes to have?" he asked of the Manager. "And what on earth do you give them?"
"Oh, I generally give 'em fish," was the sarcastic answer. "What are you doing here, Poleski? This is the girl's business. I thought she was keen on her horses."
"She is also keen on her bed," Emile answered. "She does her share of work."
The Manager grumbled, but the new arrangement was allowed to stand.
Arithelli did not consort with the other female members of the Hippodrome.
The one exception was Estelle the dancer, with whom Emile allowed her a slight acquaintance. He neither approved of women in general nor of their friendships. Estelle was the bonne amie of the sardonic Manager, who occasionally beat her, after which ceremony it was her custom to drink absinthe. Sometimes, for this reason, she was unable to appear on the stage. She would come into Arithelli's dressing room and weep, and smoke innumerable cigarettes, and when things had been going well, they made a partie carree at the Cafe Colomb.
By way of advertising herself and her performance Arithelli was given a high, smartly painted carriage in which she drove in the fashionable promenade of Barcelona, the Paseo de Gracia, with three of the cream-coloured horses lightly harnessed and jingling with bells.
On these occasions Emile played the part of lady's maid and escort. He selected her dress, fastened it, scolded her for putting her hat on crooked, and laced up her preposterously high boots.
Then he adjusted the battered sombrero, lit a cigarette and drove beside her, scowling as usual.
The appearance of both was sufficiently arresting. Arithelli drove as she rode, recklessly, and yet with science. Her thin wrists and long girlish arms were capable of controlling the most fiery animal.
She had made Emile her banker, and always handed over to him her weekly salary, some of which went to the expenses of the Cause as well as a certain portion in fines, for she had no idea of time and was never ready for anything.
Nearly every night before she was half-way into her habit the call-boy came screaming down the passage, calling with the free-and-easy manners prevalent behind the scenes:
"Hurry up, Arithelli, or there'll be a row!"
The question of a disguise for her was discussed at one of the meetings of the Brotherhood, and it was decided that she should appear as a boy. Her height would be an advantage, and her long hands and feet would also help the illusion in a country where every woman possesses small, plump and highly arched extremities. Besides, when they had to ride out to places at night, she would be less noticeable. One girl among a crowd of men might attract suspicion, though in the daytime she was more useful as a woman.
It naturally fell upon Emile to provide the details of her transformation, and he presented himself at her lodgings one afternoon, bearing an ungainly parcel which he deposited on the table.
"You'd better try these on," he said. "There is a complete suit of boy's clothes, a wig and everything you'll want. You will have to put your own hair out of the way somehow."
It was the drowsy hour of the siesta, when no one moved out if he could help it, and all work and play were at a standstill. Arithelli was sitting, as was her custom, absorbed in her own thoughts and dreams. For a moment she stared with uncomprehending eyes. She felt tired, she wanted to be alone, and she had not heard a single word. Emile shrugged irritably and repeated his remarks.
"Oh, yes," said Arithelli. She rose slowly, took up the parcel and retired into seclusion behind the curtains, with which she had screened off the alcove and so made herself an improvised dressing room. The rest of the apartment she had altered to look as much like a sitting room as possible, with the exception of the obtrusive four-poster, which could not be hidden and which upon entering appeared the most salient feature visible. There was some tawdry jewellery lying about, and several pairs of the pale-hued Parisian boots she invariably affected. Emile made and lighted the inevitable cigarette, while he fidgeted about, turning over the few French and English novels he could find with an air of disapproval; for her taste in literature did not commend itself to him any more than did her taste in finery.
At one period of his life he had steeped himself in books, knowing the poetry and romance of nearly every nation. Now he disliked them. If she wanted books he would choose them for her. She would read the love-songs of the revolutionists to their goddess Liberty, the haunting words of those who had suffered for a time, and escaped the Siberian Ice-Hell. The fanaticism of his race and temperament flamed into his cold eyes as he sat and brooded, and he hardly noticed that Arithelli had slid into the room in her noiseless fashion, and was standing before him.
Emile, though little given to being astonished, marvelled at the unconcern with which she submitted to his critical inspection. She stood and walked easily, and looked neither uncomfortable nor unnatural in her boyish array, in which the perfect poise of her body showed triumphantly.
The black wig, under which she had skilfully hidden her red hair, made her look more pale than ever. The wide sombrero, tilted backwards, made a picturesque framing to her oval face, and the manta or heavy cloak, worn by all Spaniards at night, hung, loosely draped over her left shoulder. Emile promptly twisted it off.
"This won't do," he said. "The manta is never worn like that. Besides it's not enough of a disguise. Watch how I put it on." With a few rough yet dexterous movements he arranged the dark folds so as to hide her shoulders and the upper part of her body.
Then he stood back a few paces. "But your green eyes! A disguise for them will be impossible. One sees them always."
"Les yeux verts. Vont a l'enfer!"
"Do you know that, mon enfant?"
"I've heard it before. They've already come as far as l'entresol, according to you."
Emile grinned. He enjoyed skirmishing, and felt that he had met his match in words. Before he could think of another retort she added:
"I can see in the dark with my green eyes, so they're useful at all events."
"Then you'll find plenty of use for them when you're working for us—and the Cause. When you have to ride upon the hills at night you will find them of great service. You'll have to ride astride too, so it is better for you in every way to be dressed like this."
Presently he left her with a few words of praise for her successful appearance. His first feeling of surprise at her coolness still lingered. He had expected a scene in a quiet way, a refusal, at least expostulation. All his first impressions of her were being verified. Well, he hoped she would continue in her present ways. Undoubtedly she was an original, certainly she gave no trouble.
When she heard the street door shut Arithelli sat down, hiding her face in her hands. Once she shivered involuntarily. Directly she found herself alone the mask of her assumed nonchalance had fallen suddenly. As long as there was an audience she had worn a disguise on her soul as well as her body. She had been feeling moody and depressed all day, and this last episode was the climax. Everything she had was to be her own no longer. It was all to be for the Cause—even her green eyes! What power it possessed over these men. They admitted it to be a losing Cause, yet it was all they thought about, the sole thing for which they lived—and died. She had not thought it would be like this at first.
She remembered how gaily she had discoursed of Tolstoi and Prince Kropotkin, and of their writings which had revealed to her a new world. Her first interview with Sobrenski had shown the relentlessness of the man she was to serve. She felt that he would sacrifice all alike, men and women, to his idol, and would never stop to care whether the victim were willing or unwilling. The fact of her sex would gain her no consideration at his hands. Lately she had been impressed with the sensation of being surrounded by an impassable barrier drawn round her, a circle that was gradually becoming narrowed. She had begun to know that she was being incessantly watched. If Emile were occupied with the business of the Society, and could not fetch her from the Hippodrome himself, he never failed to send an understudy in the shape of one of his allies, generally one of the older men. When she emerged from the performers' entrance a silent figure would come forward to meet her. Often they exchanged no words throughout the walk home, but she was never left till her own door was reached.
If she went anywhere to please herself, to a shop, or to see Estelle, she was expected to give a full account of her doings. It was an understood thing that she should not go to the cafes or public gardens alone, nor speak to anyone not already known and approved by Emile. With all these conditions she had complied. Already one illusion had vanished. She had thought to find freedom in Barcelona.
She had indeed found "La Liberte."
But the Fates had chosen to be in an ironical mood, and while making the discovery she had herself become a slave. In all her day there was no hour that she could call her own.
"I have gained her! Her Soul's mine!" BROWNING.
"You slouched last night in the ring, Fatalite," Emile said.
Arithelli flung up her head. "I didn't!"
"You looked like a monkey on a stick," proceeded Emile stolidly. "You were all hunched up. I wonder Don Juan didn't put you off his back on to the tan."
"Don Juan knows better! You see animals are usually more kind than people."
She was too proud to admit that the long hours, hard work, and want of proper food and sleep had lately given her furious backaches, which were a thing unknown to her before, and a cause of bitter resentment. She had a healthy distaste for illness either in theory or practice. That night she sat Don Juan erect as a lance, passing Emile in his accustomed place in the lower tier of seats with a shrug and scornful eyebrows.
She had felt more than usually inclined to play the coward during the last few weeks. The heat, worry and over-fatigue had begun, as they must have done eventually, to affect her nerves. When she had felt more than usually depressed and listless Emile had taken her to one of the cafes and given her absinthe which had made her feel recklessly well for the moment, and ten times more miserable the next day. He had also advised her to smoke, saying that it was good for people who had whims and fancies, but smoking did not appeal to her, and she never envied the Spanish woman her eternal cigarette.
She felt as if she would like to sleep, sleep for an indefinite period. She was wearied to death of The Cause, and the Brotherhood, with their intrigues and plots and interminable cipher messages.
She had been three months in Barcelona, and now fully justified Emile's name for her. Tragic as a veritable mask of Fate, she looked ten years older than the girl he had met on the station platform.
The longer she worked for the Cause the more she realised that Anarchy was no plaything for spare moments, but a juggling with Life and Death.
At first they had given her but little to do—a few documents to copy, some cipher messages to carry. Then the demands upon her leisure had become more frequent. She found she was expected to make no demur at being sent for miles, and once or twice there had been dreadful midnight excursions to a hut up in the mountains.
The realisation of the folly of trying to escape from the burden that had been laid upon her affected her nerve and seat during her performances in the ring.
For the first time she felt her courage failing her when she entered Sobrenski's house in answer to his summons. When he had given her the despatch she made an objection on the grounds that the time taken in conveying it would absorb her few hours of rest.
"It's too far," she protested. "I can't go there to-day."
"Then you can go to-morrow," answered Sobrenski in the accents of finality. He had never cared about the girl's inclusion in their plots, and took his revenge in exacting from her considerably more than his pound of flesh.
Moreover he suspected her of treachery, and disliked her for the quickness of her wit in argument.
Even his unseeing eyes told him she looked both ill and haggard, but if she were there, well, she must work like the rest of them.
Arithelli hesitated for a moment, and when she spoke for all her pluck her voice was a little rough and uneven. "I'm tired of being an errand boy!"
Sobrenski looked at her, drawing his eyebrows together. Everyone of the band had a nickname for her, and his own very unpleasant one was "Deadly Nightshade." Some of the others were "Sapho" and "Becky Sharp," which latter Emile had also adopted as being particularly appropriate.
"Oh, very well," he answered. "Shall it be the messages or a bullet? You can take your choice. Perhaps you would prefer the latter. It makes no difference to me. This comes of employing women. When Poleski brought you here first I was opposed to having you. Women always give trouble."
"Would you have got a man to do half the work I do?" she flashed out with desperate courage.
"Then do your work and don't talk about it," retorted Sobrenski sharply. "If you are absolutely ill and in bed, of course we can't expect you to go to various places, but as long as you can ride every night at the Hippodrome, you can certainly carry messages."
He turned his back on her and took up some papers from the table, and Arithelli went out, beaten and raging.
Emile found her lying on the bed, her hands clenched by her side, her proud mouth set in bitter lines. As he came in she turned away from him, to face the wall.
"Tiens!" he observed, "you are a lazy little trollop." Emile was proud of his English slang.
Finding there was no answer he changed his tone. "Hysterics, eh? They won't do here. Turn over, I want to talk to you."
The girl moved mechanically, and Emile surveyed her. There were slow tears forcing themselves under her heavy eyelids.
"I wish I were dead!"
"Probably you will be soon. So will the rest of us."
"What brutes you all are!"
"Because we don't care whether we die to-day or to-morrow? Souvent femme varie! Just now you seemed so anxious,—besides, if one belongs to the Cause one knows what to expect." Emile strolled towards the uncomfortable piece of furniture by the window, that purported to be an armchair, and sat down.
"I loathe the Cause! I didn't belong to it from choice. Why did you make me join?"
"Because I thought you would be useful. You are useful and probably will be more so."
"Suppose I refuse to do anything more?"
"They will not give you the choice of refusing twice."
"Emile, I believe you are trying to frighten me. Tell me what they would do."
"As I introduced you to the Brotherhood, I should naturally be the one chosen to execute judgment on you. Enfin, my dear Arithelli, I should be called upon to shoot you. We don't forgive traitors. If we let everyone draw back from their work simply because they happened to be afraid, what would become of the Cause? Also let me remind you how you came to me boasting of your love of freedom. 'I'm a red-hot Socialist.' That's what you said, didn't you? Perhaps you have forgotten it. Well, I haven't. Socialism doesn't consist of standing up in a room to sing."
Arithelli made no answer. She lay like a dead thing, and after a pause the slow cynical voice went on.
"There was another woman in our affair about two years ago. Her name was Felise Rivaz. She got engaged to one of the men, and then it suddenly occurred to her that comfortable matrimony and Anarchy didn't seem likely to be enjoyed at one and the same time. So she persuaded the man to turn traitor and run away to England with her, where they proposed to get married.
"Their plans came out,—naturally,—those things generally do. We all spy upon each other. They both felt so secure that they came together to a last meeting—I can show you the house if you like. It's down in the Parelelo, the revolutionary quarter.
"They strangled the woman, and cut off her arm above the elbow—I remember she had a thick gold bracelet round it with a date (a gage d'amour from her lover I suppose)—and they made him drink the blood. He went mad afterwards. The best thing he could do under the circumstances." Emile shrugged.
"There are plenty more similar histoires. But perhaps I have told you enough to convince you of the futility of attempting to draw back from what you have undertaken."
Still there was neither movement nor answer. Emile got up, and came to the bed.
"Allons! It's time you were dressing. You'll be late again, and one of these days you'll find yourself dismissed. You must just go on and put up with it all. Life mostly consists of putting up with things."
But even this consoling philosophy failed to have a rousing effect.
For the first time in her life Arithelli had fainted.
* * * * * *
When she came to her senses that evening Emile sent the landlady with a message to the Hippodrome, telling the Manager to substitute another turn, and then made Arithelli get into bed. Her dress and boots came off and reposed upon the floor. The rest of her clothes were left on.
These details did not worry Emile. Then he found a book and sat reading till she had drifted into a heavy sleep, the sleep of exhaustion.
In his own way he was sorry for her, and his feelings were by no means as brutal as his words. At the same time he did not believe in a display of sympathy. According to his ideas it was demoralising, and cured no one of complaints, imaginary or otherwise.
Also it was likely to make people hysterical. Therefore when Arithelli woke at six o'clock in the morning, and sat up panting, with a hand at her left side, he elevated both shoulders and eyebrows.
"Qu'est ce-qu vous avez donc? You're all right now."
He knew perfectly well that there was no pretence of illness. The strained eyes, the blue shadows round the mouth told their own tale.
"Oh, Emile, my heart feels so queer! I'm sure it must be all wrong."
"Ma foi! Ces femmes la! Il y a tou jours quelque chose! First a faint, then a heart! How often am I to tell you, Arithelli, that that part of your—your—how do you say it?—anatomy—is quite without use here? Have you any brandy in the room?"
"There's Eau de Cologne on the washstand."
He mixed water with the spirit and gave her a liberal dose that soon helped her to look less ghastly.
She lay back feeling almost comfortable, wishing Emile would see fit to depart, but Count Poleski returned again to the subject of her misbehaviour.
Like most men he was not at his best in the early morning, and the night's vigil had not improved his temper.
He sat scowling after his manner, black eyebrows meeting over grey eyes, hard as flint. "If you are going in for this kind of performance, what will be the use of you?" he enquired sarcastically.
Perhaps after all Sobrenski had been right in employing no women.
"Even the best machine will get out of order sometimes," the girl replied wearily.
"And when that happens one sets to work to find another machine to take its place."
"I didn't know about the horrors; you ought to have told me. It isn't fair."
There was neither passion nor resentment in the low voice. "What shall I do?" she went on, after waiting for Emile to speak.
"Put up with it, or better still go in for the Cause seriously."
"Don't you call this serious? Blood and brutalities and slave-driving? You talked about l'entresol de l'enfer, but I'm beginning to think I've stepped over the threshold."
"Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute!"
Arithelli bit her lips. "I don't feel in the mood for arguing now. I wish you would leave me alone."
"On condition that you won't go in for any more hysterics, I'll go and settle with the Manager that you don't have to appear to-night. It's lucky there happens to be a new turn with those trapeze people. The audience won't miss you. Has Sobrenski given you anything to do to-day?"
"I don't know. I can't remember. Oh, yes, I was to go to the Baroni's at two o'clock."
"I'll see to that. A cipher message?"
"Yes. It's fastened under my hair." She dragged herself into a sitting position and extracted the little wad of paper with shaking hands. Emile took it.
"Good! I shall be back at five o'clock. You can get up later and come round to my rooms. Do you understand?"
When he had gone she cowered down into the big bed shivering. Every bone in her body ached as if she had been beaten. She had the sensation of one who has been awakened from a bad dream. Was it all real or not?
Last night and its doings seemed centuries ago. She still heard Emile's voice as if from a distance, telling the story of the lovely siren woman who had been strangled, and then the room rocked, and the walls closed in upon her.
His words worked in her brain: "Go in for the Cause seriously. Remember it's liberty we are fighting for. A life more or less—what's that? Yours or mine? What does it matter? Do you wonder we don't make love to women? It's a goddess and not a woman before whom we burn incense. Blood and tears, money and life! Is there any sacrifice too great for her altar?"
And she had been both frightened and fascinated.
This was what Anarchism made of men like the cynical Emile. It had never occurred to her before that even Sobrenski, whom she regarded solely as a brutal task-master, was himself a living sacrifice.
She drowsed and brooded through the day, and having arrived at Emile's room and finding it empty, she "prowled," as she herself would have expressed it, among his few belongings, for she possessed a very feminine curiosity. Under a pile of loose music she found the portrait of a little blond woman, beautiful of curve and outline, in a lace robe that could only have been made in Paris or Vienna.
The picture was signed Marie Roumanoff, and on the back was written "Tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse!" There were songs too scrawled with love-messages in Emile's handwriting.
She pored over them with a vivid interest quite unmingled with any thought of jealousy. Emile always said that no revolutionist ever wasted time or thought on women.
After all, if she were shot to-morrow who would care? She had written to her people and sent them photographs and newspapers with the accounts of her triumph.
Success was a sure road to approbation. If she had failed she would not have written.
The Hippodrome engagement could not last forever. A little carelessness, a loss of nerve, and her career would be at an end.
Sometimes when she had been singing "Le Reve," she had really meant it all.
"S'il faut, ah, prends ma vie!"
Only a few days ago Emile had stormed at her in his rasping French, because she had, with the vehemence of youth, denounced the Anarchist leader as a relentless brute.
"You think yourself over-worked and ill-used—you!" he said as he strode up and down the room twisting his fiercely pointed moustache. "Look at Sobrenski. He works us all, but does he ever spare himself? Look at Vardri? Rich, well-born, starving at the Hippodrome on a few pesetas a week. I thought you had better stuff in you. Are you going to turn out English milk-and-water? You're not English, you say? No, I suppose you're not, or you wouldn't talk about 'dirty Gentiles.' If you think Anarchy is all 'Le Reve' you'll soon find yourself mistaken. If some of us dream dreams we have also to face actions and realities."
Perhaps the episode of Marie Roumanoff belonged to the days before he joined the Brotherhood and became an exile from his country.
She knew that once upon a time he had owned land and estates in Russia, and Emile the Anarchist of Barcelona had been known as Count Poleski.
She kept her discoveries to herself, and when Emile returned he found her crooning over the piano. She appeared to have quite recovered her boyish good spirits, and demanded a singing lesson, for under his tuition her passion for music had developed and increased.
"It's so nice to have a change from the heat and dust and those horrible electric lights," she said. "Let's enjoy ourselves and try over all your music. What a lot you have, and it all seems to have been bought in different places. Rome, Paris, Vienna, Dieppe, London! Fancy your having been in London!"
Emile's collection of songs covered a wide field and ranged from the gypsy ballad of "The Lost Horse," to "The Bridge," in the performance of which he revelled.
Arithelli sat in a corner and rocked with inward laughter over his atrocious English, and evident enjoyment of the morbid sentiments. For in spite of her face Arithelli had a fine sense of the ridiculous.
"You don't say the words properly," she said. "You make such mouthfuls out of them!"
"And what of you?" Emile retorted in great wrath. "You with your French all soft, soft like oil!"
"Yes, that's the Irish half of me."
"And your Italian so rauque so hard—!"
"That's the Jewish half of me. Oh, don't let's quarrel! I do want to learn to sing properly."
"Then don't fold your arms," her instructor said sharply. "I suppose you think it looks dramatic, but how can you learn to sing what you call 'properly,' with your chest all crushed up like that?"
"When I look back on the days long fled, The memory grows still dreamier. Oh! what fantastic lives they led, Far away in Bohemia.
"There were laws that were only made to break, In a world that never seems half awake Till the lamps were lit—there were souls at stake. Far away in Bohemia." DOLF WYLLARDE.
Barcelona in August was like the Hell to which Emile likened it.
The rich escaped from the heat to their villas up in the mountains, those whom business, or lack of money, kept in the city, existed in a parched and sweltering condition. Arithelli still kept her place among the performers at the Hippodrome, though after the fashion of circus artists her name had been changed.
She was now "Madame Mignonne" from Paris, and wore a golden wig, and came on the stage riding a lion in the character of a heathen goddess in the spectacular display which always ended the performance.
She pined for the haute ecole and trick riding in which she so excelled, and felt unholy pangs when she saw her beloved white horses being driven in a chariot by a fat, vulgar English woman, arrayed in scanty pink tunic and tights.
She was not afraid of the lion, who was old and toothless enough to be absolutely safe, but her new role was not a great success.
The golden hair did not suit her any better than did the classical draperies, and she grew daily thinner. As a matter of fact she was practically going through the process of slow starvation.
She had never, even in her healthily hungry days, been able to eat the abominable Spanish dishes—meat floating in oil, and other things which she classed together under the heading of cochonneries.
She generally lived on fruit, a little black bread, coffee, and absinthe.
Emile would try and bully her into eating more, and occasionally essayed his talents as a chef, and cooked weird looking things in his rooms over a vilely smelling English oil stove, but the Jewess in Arithelli found him wanting in the "divers washings" she required of the saucepans, and they generally ended these Bohemian repasts with a quarrel.
She went about her work in a half-stupefied state, as one who is perpetually in a trance. She was past fear now. Nothing mattered. Midnight rides on a mule up in the mountains, meetings in the low quarter of the town, the danger of being arrested while carrying a despatch.
"C'est ainsi que la vie!" Emile's motto had become also her own.
She was once more a perfect machine. Even the only thing that Sobrenski could find to say against her was that her appearance was too conspicuous for a conspirator and that her hands and feet would betray her through any disguise.
Emile, though still outwardly as unsympathetic as ever, was not blind to the change in her looks and manner.
Putting the Cause out of the question, he did not wish "Fatalite" to get ill. Her company amused and distracted him.
He liked to hear her views on life, and to colour them with his own cynicism, and he enjoyed teaching her to sing and hearing her argue.
For all her quiet she was curiously magnetic and had a way of making her absence felt. She was never noisy or exacting and had none of the pride or vices of her sex, and though she was often depressed she was never bored, and in consequence bored no one.
They had many traits in common, including fatalism and morbidity, for the Slav temperament is in a hundred ways akin to that of the Celt.
In spite of his jeering remarks Emile thoroughly appreciated the girl's pluck, and knew that if she failed it would be purely from physical reasons.
"Iron in a velvet sheath," he had described her, and iron did not bend—it broke.
After some consideration he approached the very unapproachable Manager. "It's time you gave your leading equestrienne a holiday," he observed. "She's getting ill. If you don't let her have a rest soon she'll be falling off in public, or having some fiasco. She was half dead the other night after the performance."
The Manager made profane remarks in the dialect of Silesia, of which place he was a native. He was fresh from quarrelling for the hundredth time with Estelle, and was in the last frame of mind to desire rest or peace for any inhabitant of the globe.
By himself and everyone else at the Hippodrome, Arithelli was considered the property of the Anarchist, and Emile had taken very good care to disabuse no one of the idea, but had rather been at some pains to create such an impression.
For her it was the best protection, and kept her free from the insults and attentions of other men.
Bouquets and jewellery he was willing that she should receive; they did no harm and the latter could always be sold.
In cold and dispassionate argument he explained to the irate Manager the folly of ruining good material by injudicious use.
"You pay her as little as you can considering she is a draw. She does the work of three people, including keeping the books when you are not in a condition to wrestle with arithmetic. If you had your way she would be cleaning out the stables."
"Bah!" sneered the other. "It would do her good—take the devil out of her—hard work doesn't hurt that type. She's all wire and whipcord, your She-Wolf, Poleski. Has she been snarling at you?"
"You'd better give her a week off," proceeded Emile, unmoved. "The audience will be getting tired of her if you're not careful; she has been on too long without a break. Get a fresh artiste and take it out of her salary. I shall give her a week's cruise round the harbour and see what that will do."
"Well, try and put a little flesh on her bones," said the Manager rudely. "I never saw such lean flanks! She's got the expression of a death's head. It's a good thing the Spanish don't care for cheerful grins or she wouldn't be here two days."
And so it came to pass that on the following Sunday Arithelli found herself sitting on the deck of a yacht anchored far out in the harbour, with the shores of Barcelona only a faint outline in the distance.
They had come aboard the previous day.
Emile had made her no explanations beyond saying that he was going to take her for a sea trip, and after her custom she had asked no questions.
The yacht, which was an uncanny looking craft, painted black and called "The Witch," she knew by reputation, and had often seen it slipping into the harbour after dusk. It was the property of two Russian aristocrats, friends of Emile's, who helped the Cause by conveying bombs and infernal machines, and taking off such members of the band as had suddenly found Spain an undesirable residence.
Arithelli was not in the least interested in either of the men, the dark, handsome, saturnine Vladimir, or the fair-haired, pretty, effeminate youth to whom he was comrade and hero.
But she liked their smartness and well-groomed air, and their spotless clothes, after Emile and his dirty nails and slovenly habits, and she appreciated to the full the surrounding refinement and comfort, and enjoyed the daintily served meals, the shining glass and silver and the deft, silent waiting of the sailors.
She had been given a luxurious cabin which seemed a paradise after her dirty, carpetless bedroom, and in it she could laze and lounge in peace without the eternal practising and rehearsals and running errands that her soul loathed.
The hot sun glared down upon her, as she sat watching the racing waves.
She was a fantastic, slim, bizarre figure with her coppery hair, over which a lace scarf was tied, and high-heeled slippers on her beautiful slender feet.
In her ears dangled huge turquoises, showing vividly against the white skin that was coated thickly with scented powder.
The manager had told her that she must not get tanned or red or it would spoil her type, and she now "made-up" habitually in the daytime.
Her whole array was tawdry and theatrical, and utterly out of keeping with her surroundings.
The two owners of the yacht, who wore immaculate white linen clothes and canvas shoes, expressed to each other their disapproval of her whole get-up, and particularly of her clicking heels. In common with most men, they abominated an outre style of dressing and too much jewellery, and above all such finery at sea.
The girl must be mad! Didn't she know that a schooner was not a circus ring? If she were such a fool Poleski should have taught her better before bringing her on board.
They agreed that he had sense enough in other things, and had certainly trained her not to be a nuisance.
After dejeuner Emile had hunted up the least doubtful of the French novels they possessed and sent her up on deck to get the benefit of the sea air of which she was supposed to stand in need.
"Va t'en, Arithelli," he said. "You don't want to be suffocating yourself down in a stuffy cabin. You're here to get lots of ozone and make yourself look a little less like a corpse. Besides, we want to talk."
She felt very much depressed and neglected as she sat dangling "Les confessions d'une femme mariee," which were virtuous to dulness and interested her not at all, in a listless hand, long and delicate like her feet, and decorated with too many turquoise rings. Below, in the cabin, she could hear the noise of the men as they argued and shouted at each other in a polyglot of three different languages.
Arithelli felt more than a little resentful. Why had they shut her out and prevented her from hearing their discussions?
The men at the other meetings had always wanted her in the room.
She had been entrusted with all their secrets and there was no question of betrayal. She knew too much about the consequences now to try that.
When Emile came up from below she asked him why he had insulted her by turning her out.
Did he not trust her, or did he think she had not enough intelligence.
For answer he laughed cynically, "I'll make use of you and your intelligence fast enough—when I want them. You were cavilling at being overworked the other day."
Of Vladimir and Paul she saw nothing in the daytime, for they both ignored her, but in the evenings they all sat together up on deck, and Paul sang and played the guitar while Arithelli would listen entranced and faint with pleasure.
A love of melody was the birthright of her race, and the boy had a genius for music. He seemed to have but two ideas in life—that, and a devotion which almost amounted to idolatry for the older man.
They would walk up and down for hours, Vladimir with his hand on Paul's shoulder talking, gesticulating and commanding, while the other, his eyes on the ground, listened and assented.
Sometimes Vladimir would speak to him in Russian with an accent that was in itself a caress, and Arithelli, who watched them curiously, noticed and wondered to see the boy flush and colour like a woman.
She always looked forward with the keenest pleasure to those evenings.
The days bored her, inasmuch as she was capable of being bored, and she hated the glare and glitter of the sun and sky.
It was too much like the blue-white lights of the Hippodrome. With night came the glamour of Fairyland, that magic country in which Ireland still believes, and which is ever there for those who seek it, "East o' the Sun, and West o' the Moon."
The yacht drifting idly at anchor in smooth water, the stars in their bed of velvet black, the magic of air and space.
The incense-like scent of Turkish cigarettes and black coffee, the little group of men lounging in their deck chairs, the resonant, full notes of the guitar, and Paul's voice rising out of the shadows.
If he had sung standing on the platform of a brightly lit concert hall half the charm would have vanished in that distraction which the personality of a singer creates.
In the illusion of his surroundings the man himself did not exist.
There was only the voice—the singer. Hungarian folk-songs that fired her blood and made her restless with strange longings; "La vie est vaine," eternally sweet and haunting; then some wickedly witty song of the cafes, and melodies of Gounod full of infinite charm. Last of all came always "Le Reve," in which Emile and Vladimir joined as if it were some National Anthem, and which left her quivering with excitement.
"There would no man do for your sake, I think, What I would have done for the least word said; I had wrung life dry for your lips to drink— Broken it up for your daily bread." SWINBURNE.
When the week of dreams and rest was over she went back to the Hippodrome with somewhat of relief in her feelings.
At least the work prevented her from thinking. Though she was physically less languid, the sea air had neither succeeded in putting any more flesh on what the Manager called her "lean flanks," nor had it made her look much more cheerful. He had the sense to let her take her place as equestrienne once more, and had announced her reappearance in flaming posters.
The stablemen and helpers were all delighted to see her again, and in token of their satisfaction presented her with a hideous and unwieldy bouquet, in which all colours were arranged together so as to give the effect of a kaleidoscope. They liked her for her sweet temper and invariable courtesy, and respected her for her knowledge of horses.
Estelle came and embraced her and was voluble over the failings of her "bon ami," the sardonic manager.
Arithelli received a hearty round of applause as she rode into the ring on her favourite "Don Juan," whose wavy tail and mane were decorated with turquoise ribbons that matched her habit.
At least she was happy on horseback, and she loved the animals and they her.
Even the performing sheep and monkey, and the toothless lion came in for a share in her affections. She had a new and difficult trick to go through that night, but this particular sort of danger only made her feel exhilarated.
Emile's stories of blood and horrors had sickened her, but the chance of breaking her neck over a high jump held no terrors.
She made her exit, gaily waving her silver-handled whip, and Vardri, who was standing at the entrance of the ring, came forward quickly to lift her off her horse before the groom could reach her.
"You're wanted to-night in the Calle de Pescadores," he whispered, as she rested her hand on his shoulder to jump down. "As soon as possible, and go in carefully—there's a scare about spies."
He felt her body stiffen and the little smile that came so rarely died in an instant, leaving her once more "Fatalite."
She nodded by way of assent and bent down to gather up her habit.
The ring-master was only a few feet away, and they could never be certain as to who was to be trusted.
Vardri stood looking after her as she walked away with her head well up and her shoulders thrown back as usual.
The two had become good friends with the comradeship induced by the similarity in their misfortunes.
Both were young, reckless and without money beyond what they earned, though, whereas Arithelli had been more or less tricked into her present position, Vardri had been infatuated with the Cause from the time he was old enough to take an interest in anything. The worship of the goddess Liberty had left with him room also for the adoration of a human being, and in a boyish chivalrous way he had tried to make things easier for Arithelli.
He managed to bring her occasional flowers and music out of his starvation wages, and was always jealously careful of the way in which her horses were groomed and turned out. They had a curious resemblance to each other, and when Arithelli was dressed in boy's clothes for her journeys up in the mountains, they might have been two brothers. One was dark and the other fair, but both had the same haggard, well-modelled faces, the same pale skins, and thin, supple figures.
They were exactly of a height, too, and when Arithelli disguised herself, she pushed her red hair under a sombrero and black wig.
Even Sobrenski's lynx eyes had been at fault in the semi-darkness of the hut, and he had sworn at her in mistake for Vardri. As the dresser took off her habit, she asked the woman whether Monsieur Poleski had been behind the scenes during her turn, and was there a note or message?
It appeared that there had been no sign of Emile, and she hesitated for a moment, hardly knowing what to do.
The order for her presence in the Calle de Pescadores, which of course had been sent by Sobrenski, had told her to come at once.
On the other hand, Emile had always told her to wait for him in her room till he came to fetch her. If she went through the streets alone there would be a row, and if she were late at the rendezvous there would also be a row.
"C'est ainsi que la vie!"
She lifted her thin shoulders after the manner of Emile and decided to start at once. She wiped all the make-up from her face with a damp towel, swaying a little as she stood before the glass.
The excitement of her reception and the ensuing episode had made her heart beat at distressing speed.
"You're not ill," she adjured her pale reflection. "It's all imagination. Emile says all these complaints are. Any way, you're not going to give in to it."