Title: Stinging Nettles
Author: Marjorie Bowen
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Stinging Nettles

by

Marjorie Bowen

Cover Image

A MODERN NOVEL


Published by Small, Maynard & Co., Boston, 1923

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2020


Illustration

Cover of "Stinging Nettles,"
Small, Maynard & Co., Boston, 1923


Illustration

Title Page of "Stinging Nettles,"
Small, Maynard & Co., Boston, 1923


STINGING NETTLES

A Novel

"She was really quite happy in the palace, but the fact that she could not get out, gave it, she thought, the impression of a prison, and she took to gazing out of the window, and sighing.

"A cluster of green-and-white flowers beneath her window, particularly excited her longing, and when she finally made her escape, the first thing she did was to pluck them eagerly. Alas! they were stinging nettles, and hurt her so cruelly, that she wanted to run home again. But the door was shut, and she could by no means get it open."

—Old French Fairy-Tale



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Envoi



Chapter One

§ I

LUCIE sat in the depths of the big pale-green brocade couch that filled one corner of the dressing-room, and watched the other two women changing their clothes.

She shared their depression and felt alien and even uneasy amid the cold mechanical splendours of the great hotel; they were none of them used to this atmosphere of luxury and extravagance; not one of them had ever worn any but "ready-made" evening gowns, and, though Luck herself was in orthodox attire, she shared the grim humiliation of Sophie and Aurora, who had to change from cotton-backed satin and cheap chiffon into tweeds and "useful" coats.

It was a cold February and there was a long journey before both of them, one by train, the other by tram; in each case a dark stretch of sordid travelling.

She felt very keenly for Sophie, who was very vain and had hoped a great deal from this evening.

And nothing had come of it.

Poor Sophie, she stood for one bitter moment in her Japsilk petticoat, gazing at herself in the superb pier-glass; she was, in a fleeting sort of way, lovely to look at, but she was thinking, and Lucie was thinking, that loveliness didn't seem to matter—much.

Sophie would have liked to stare longer at herself in the mirror, to pose and turn and change the attitude of her plump, rounded limbs; the tiny glass at home would seem more inadequate than ever now; but the attendant, exquisite, aloof, was holding out skirt and jumper, stockings and shoes.

Lucie, in her useless sympathy, felt that their garments looked not alone shabby but dirty compared to the white polished enamel paint, the gleaming mirrors, the sea-coloured hangings, the dressing-table strewn with gold articles.

She glanced, her brow wrinkled and her lips caught in, at Aurora; that good-natured girl was already in her walking-dress and dragging an out-of-date travelling hat over the hair she had taken such pains to arrange a few hours previously.

Mrs. Bearish, her mother, sat, cross and tired, against the wall, wrapping the pink slippers in paper and putting them in a cloth workbag she had brought for the purpose.

Lucie's glance went from her peevish figure, to the rows of sable and brocade coats hanging round the walls, to the immaculate silhouette of the maid giving disdainful attention to Sophie, and then flickered to the mirror, where she could see her own tall, pale, fair, tired reflection.

"I wish we had not come," she thought.

Mrs. Bearish folded up the wisp of a pink satin frock and put it in the bag with the narrow ill-cut slippers.

"You'll stain the stockings, putting the black shoes over them," she warned her daughter; her voice was very pleasing and cultured; though her appearance was, for this place, quite blatantly shabby, she seemed more at her ease than the younger women; she was by birth an aristocrat, her real name was Hesselquist and she was the divorced wife of a Swedish diplomat.

Lucie rose; she wanted very much to get away, back into their usual surroundings, where they could "talk it over". She glanced furtively at Sophie, who was ready now, and looked both unimportant and untidy, with her finery in a parcel under her arm.

Lucie felt unreasonably impatient; it wasn't worth doing it, like this. She put a half-crown she could ill afford on the end of the dressing-table, for the sake of the moral fillip given by the maid's added respect, despising herself for the feeble subterfuge.

"My lip-stick has melted and messed my bag up," complained Aurora, showing a handkerchief and fingers that appeared blood—stained: her Northern breed showed in her heaviness, her placid exterior.

"You don't need to put any more on now," replied Mrs. Bearish sharply. "Do be quick, or we shall miss the train."

Sophie was dangerously silent: Lucie knew she was passionately sullen and dreaded her coming mood.

"Let us go," said Lucie, her nerves on edge to see Mrs. Bearish still fidgeting with her parcels, dropping them, repacking them and searching to see if she had forgotten anything, while Aurora tried to get the smear off her fingers and to rescue the remains of the lip-stick, looking impassive and heavy in her dark worn clothes against the artificial luxury of the hotel room.

Lucie drew Sophie towards the door.

"Come home with me," she said. "We will take a taxi and have a good talk—it is so late—Aunt Lydia said you were to come back with me if you wanted to."

"Oh, mother won't bother," said the younger cousin, shortly.

"Will you come?"

"Suppose I may as well," was the vague and careless answer.

Lucie looked sadly at the pretty face, disfigured by disappointment and temper; her own mood gave a sharp edge to her critical faculties, always too alert for her own comfort.

Sophie, whose chief asset was her looks,—was Sophie "going off"? Didn't her nose look heavy and her lips thin, and weren't her eyes weary behind the dark stuff she was beginning to put on her lashes? The elder woman's mind was touched with a dreary terror—Sophie was twenty-eight, still unmarried—was it always going to be like this?

Mrs. Bearish was ready at last. Lucie gathered her cloak round her with a sensation of relief in any sort of action; her thoughts hovered uneasily round one point; she looked covertly at her own image in the mirror—saw herself at an uncommon angle, almost in profile; these great glasses, so cunningly arranged, were disconcerting; she saw no attractiveness in her frail fairness. She was graceful, but her clothes weren't right; still, she surveyed herself indifferently; she was older than Sophie, married and "done for"; it did not matter what she looked like; with Sophie now it was different.

§ II

As she moved to open the door, two women came in, almost throwing it back in her face. They carried perfume with them, personal, heavy.

They were large, and talked loudly; without taking the slightest notice of anyone, they swung to the dressing-table. The maid, instantly obsequious, waited on them silently. Lucie had seen them dancing voluptuously in the hotel ballroom; she hated them swiftly and intently, hated their opulent clothes, their rich appointments—most of all hated their odious self-assurance; their triumphant flaunting of sex.

One of them, seated at the table, gazed into the glass with an anxious scrutiny that was cruel in its eagerness, and began very skilfully to make up her face, using a hare's-fud; when she opened her mouth, her teeth showed yellow between the carmined lips.

She was hard-featured, middle-aged, yet completely at her ease and dominant. The other, laughing and smoking together continuously, ordered the maid from one service to another, while she powdered her back with a puff that had a long scarlet handle. The original texture of her skin was lost, and creams, massage and powder had destroyed any likeness to a human body, save when the powerful muscles moved as she twisted her shoulders.

Lucie's party, entirely ignored, slipped out of the room, almost shamefacedly, through the gilt doors.

§ III

The after-dinner dance given nightly to "guests" was over, and the corridors, resplendent in mirrors, gilt furniture, palms, and cream silk upholstery, were emptying.

A few men, dull, yet watchful, stood about; their glances travelled idly to the little group of women in walking costume, then, still impassive, flickered away; Lucie was glad when the street entrance was reached.

Her host stood by the fourfold plate glass door, drawing on a pair of unworn white gloves; he was talking to the only other man who had been at the incongruous dinner, a young Indian, spectacled and serious, whose greenish, chinless face was blank of all expression.

"Goodbye, and thank you so much, Mr. Sackett," said Mrs. Bearish wanly; the other dispirited women took leave of him with equal brevity. Sophie spoke to him with a rude shortness.

Mr. Sackett, a middle-aged American, plain and dull, too well dressed, smiled on them with gentle gravity, and they passed through the swing doors into the street.

The air blew keen through the arcades of the hotel; rain slashed the outer side of the pillars blanched by the electric light; London stretched before them, dark, wet and silent.

Mrs. Bearish looked back to see if the host was following to offer any courtesies. No one appeared save the opulent porter, eyeing them with gloomy apathy.

An air of profound disappointment was over all of them, so generally felt that no one needed to voice it.

"I have such a headache," said Mrs. Bearish; "and we really shall lose that train, Aurora."

"There is time enough, mother," said the girl. A group of men were leaving the hotel, and her gaze ran over them as she spoke. "We can even walk—and must—there is no chance of a 'bus on a wet night."

Mrs. Bearish accepted this; never, under any circumstances, did they take cabs.

They said goodbye to the other two, and turned away down the wet, dark length of Piccadilly.

§ IV

There was a magnificent shop at the corner of the arcade where pictures and carvings were sold. The glooming light showed a gilt and blue statue of the Madonna with a lovely baby in her arms.

Lucie thought how warm and sweet and comfortable she looked, what a fair ideal this was—worshipped, adorned, adored maternity.

In the doorway of the shop crouched a filthy woman in dreadful tatters; she was also a mother; a diseased child clutched at her greasy jacket.

Seeing the two women, she staggered up and passed on, muttering. Lucie then saw that she carried a second child, not yet born.

Now behind the expensive plate glass among the charming, luxurious objects made to divert wealthy leisure, the clean pretty Madonna smiled.

§ V

As Lucie raised her hand to a cab that was sauntering past in the bleached light of the hotel electricity, she saw Sophie glancing back furtively, and felt both sorry and impatient—after such a dreadful evening, did she still think that Peter Sackett was interested in her?—could she still be interested in him?

She was relieved when she had the girl beside her in the stuffy darkness of the taxi, and they were hurrying along the glistening length of Piccadilly, the shining, wide, wet road, towards the furnished flat in Chelsea which was all she had of home.

Then, as she expected, Sophie Falconer broke out:

"Why did he ask us? Wasn't it awful? Dinner in the grill-room—and he yawned! Why didn't he ask me to dance? He was bored. And he brought no other men."

"I don't think he knows how to do things," said Lucie. "I shouldn't bother about him," she added feebly.

Sophie sat in fierce silence; the street lights, as they flicked past, showed her face and throat and hands white with a pearly whiteness against her dark clothes. She looked quite lovely in the blotted light and shadow so swiftly moving, save for the blight of envy and bitterness that distorted her features; sheer pity for her plight made Lucie's heart contract.

"You don't like him, so don't bother about him, Sophie," she said again. "I suppose he just asked us all out of a little sense of friendliness—nothing else."

She could not for sheer weariness expatiate on the theme; ever since her cousin Sophie had met Mr. Sackett, a hospital acquaintance of war days, at a charity féte where the girl was selling programmes, and he had at once arranged a little dinner-party in her honour at London's most expensive hotel, she had heard and seen nothing but excited speculations and excited preparations for the epoch-making event.

They did not know much about Mr. Sackett save that he was very rich and lived in Park Lane, but this was quite sufficient groundwork for the most golden dreams—those poor desperate dreams Sophie was so well used to.

Both Mrs. Bearish and Mrs. Falconer, experts in all varieties of love affairs, had been certain the man would propose to Sophie, either during or after the dinner episode; they had all been equally sure that he would bring some wealthy compatriot who would "do" for Aurora. Never had high hopes fallen so flat—Peter Sackett had taken them down to the grill-room, brought as his sole contribution, the nervous Hindu, who never opened his lips, and, without paying the least individual attention to any of the women, talked aridly and endlessly of himself.

Then he had trailed them to "watch the dancing," and had sat beside Sophie and yawned till it was time for the desperate Mrs. Bearish to give the signal for the martyrdom to end.

Lucie loathed the whole episode so intensely because it was so typical of Sophie's life, of the life she had lived herself till her marriage, of the lives of nearly all the girls and women in the half-professional, halt middle-class set of twentieth-century Bohemians in which she moved.

"Those awful women!" burst out Sophie from her dark corner. "Did you see them? and how they were dancing? They make me sick—I don't think we ought to have gone."

Lucie's honesty of nature could not allow her this solace to her discomfiture—those women, awful to her, too, were, she knew, most hateful because successful.

"Well, it is funny in a way," she said, with an effort at cheerfulness. "I mean—all these preparations, and then such a host! Mrs. Beamish looked so cross—"

"Aurora pawned her grandfather's watch to buy her frock," replied Sophie. "She got the dress in Sloane Street at a sale—it's faded, really, and the lace torn. It will take her salary for two months to get the watch back. Do you think that funny?"

Something in the dry bitterness of the girl's voice broke Lucie's control.

"Don't!" she exclaimed sharply. "It's indecent. I can't bear it, all this plotting and scheming—about—men. I don't believe, anyhow, you would have ever married that awful American—"

"That is no reason why he should not give me a good time," replied Sophie sullenly. "Besides, I might marry him—why not? Don't you suppose I'm sick of this sort of life?"

"What sort of life?" asked Lucie, as the cab jerked up against the curb and stopped. "It is life, anyhow, and as good as the next."

"I'm tired of being just respectable enough to miss all the fun," flung out Sophie defiantly. "It isn't life—we're outside everything that matters."

Lucie gave her a key.

"Run up; there will be some cocoa upstairs, in the thermos," she said, as she stepped out.

As she paid the man, she felt the wild wet wind blow from the river on her face and circling her body under the fight cloak; she was glad of it, though it made her shiver.

Even a touch of the wind could put things into proportion for Lucie Uden. "I must not be overwhelmed by this chaos round me," she told herself. "Everything is over for me—but it doesn't matter—I must remember that it doesn't matter."

She ran upstairs into the tiny flat, and straight into the living room, where Sophie Falconer was turning up the gas fire.

A few plates and cups, cake, biscuits and a thermos stood on the table which was imitation antique.

The room was quite pretty in a sort of sham way, but filmed with London dirt. All Lucie's good taste could not make a success of a furnished flat; she had very little money to spend on herself, though she was the wealthy, successful member of her set and earned several hundreds a year steadily, even during the War.

§ VI

But there always had been a heavy drain on Lucie Uden's earnings—first Mrs. Falconer and Sophie, her aunt who had, somehow, brought her up from the death of her wayward mother and the disappearance from conventional society of her impossible father, and the cousin who had been like a sister in intimacy and exactions, if not in sympathy or understanding. Neither Mrs. Falconer nor Sophie made very much headway in their respective professions of journalism and music, and they were, besides, shiftless and extravagant; but Lucie loved her aunt, and thought she loved Sophie, and had never ceased to "help" the girl in her wayward and erratic career the bourne of which was devoutly supposed to be a wealthy marriage.

Then there was her young Italian husband, an incompetent engineer who had dropped out of the only work he had ever held soon after their marriage; and the baby that had lived five months...The husband was delicate, violent and melancholy; he had returned to his parents in the South, to escape an English winter. Lucie was glad of the very real excuse of her work that prevented her from accompanying him, for the three years of her marriage had proved an utter disillusion; she was completely, though without rancour, estranged from the alien nature with which she had mated; she believed that her emotional nature had died with her only child. She was thirty and felt beyond further experience. "What I haven't had, I've missed," she said to herself often enough, and she was glad to live quietly in Chelsea with her work and plans for Sophie and talks with Mrs. Falconer, and little rounds of work and diversion in a world that hardly knew her as Madame Simonetti, but was very friendly towards her as Lucie Uden, the quite well-known designer of clothes, furniture, textiles and, in fact, everything that could be covered with decoration.

§ VII

She arranged the supper deftly and quietly, glancing now and then at Sophie, who sat hunched up over the gas fire.

She had removed her hat, and her hair was untidy; there were too many pins in it and a damaged black bow; she bit her nails and pulled at her rather thin lips.

"Mrs. Bearish was very disappointed," she said gloomily.

Lucie poured the cocoa with a steady hand.

"Don't keep on about to-night," she answered, with a quick animation in her pleasant voice. "Aurora has her office job; she is all right, really."

"All right?" Sophie took up the word acidly. "Earning three pounds a week because she knows four languages—sitting in an office from nine to six—living in a wretched boarding house at Surbiton?"

"Well, who is better of?" asked Lucie softly, handing the cocoa.

"That's it—who is? There are thousands and thousands of us—all so much alike, all wanting what we can't get—all secretly fighting each other—" The girl was overwrought, and her lip quivered; the cup of cocoa that to Lucie was suddenly ridiculous, shook in her hands.

"Don't!" said the elder woman sharply.

"I know." Sophie laughed, a quivering sound very different from the trill with which she had tried, earlier in the evening, to charm the wooden Mr. Sackett. "It makes me sick...women...crowds and crowds of us...hordes ... swarms—flung about all over the place—the men sick of us—dead sick."

"Drink your cocoa," interrupted Lucie quickly. "You're cold."

§ VIII

They were silent for a moment; Sophie was seeing the two expensive women in the hotel, Lucie a dead child in its cradle; "as well, perhaps," thought the bereft woman dully, "since she, too, was a girl."

Two pictures she saw as she gazed at the flame of the gas fire.

She saw herself going into a shop in Regent Street and buying a baby's frock, "for a little girl, please, something rather expensive."

Pride and joy thrilled in her voice—for her little girl—for her baby. She bought a cream-coloured silk dress, smocked; it cost nearly three pounds; it was a ridiculous extravagance. She saw herself standing by a cot in the room of a farmhouse in Sussex; it was dawn and the marsh beneath the window looked like a map with the silver tracery of dykes. She had been up all night and felt ill.

A dead baby was in the cot wearing the cream silk smocked frock and kid shoes too large for the tiny stiff feet.

Apple blossoms lay on her pillow and an ant had crawled from it and was crossing the pinched, distorted little face.

§ IX

Over the chimney-piece hung the large engravings of a man and woman, obviously portraits, in the dress of seventy or so years ago.

"Why do you keep those hideous things there?" asked Sophie, as her restless gaze fell on these pictures.

"I don't know. There is something stable about them," answered Lucie vaguely from the depths of her sad dream.

"Ghastly! Look at the woman! What a dress! What a life! Someone's grandmother, I suppose?"

"Yes," said Lucie quietly; "she was—someone's grandmother."

"I should have hated to live in those days."

"Would you?" asked Lucie, with a queer look.


Chapter Two

§ I

SOPHIE, in a mood to resent anything, was vexed by Lucie's tone.

"Well, I should not have cared to have lived then," she said pettishly; "nor would you, I should have thought. Lord, we couldn't have lived like we do. Think of the freedom. We do do as we like, really."

Lucie, huddled in one of the pretty chintz chairs, stirred her cocoa; she was not listening to her cousin, but thinking that she didn't like cocoa, really...any more than she liked "dressing up" to have dinner in the grill-room of a big hotel.

"Think how dull it must have been," persisted Sophie. "'Revolting woman' hadn't been heard of—there was nothing one could do."

"Dull?" said Lucie. "Yes, I suppose so—but freedom can be dull, too!"

"That's silly," answered Sophie. "If we are ever dull nowadays it is because we haven't got enough freedom—"

Lucie rose; the room was close, with the fumes from Sophie's careless flare of gas, yet her limbs were chilled and she had a headache.

Somehow, these familiar surroundings, with her own work and books about, seemed almost as revolting as the atmosphere of the huge hotel; both seemed to lack stability, order, permanence: the luxurious hotel, the cheap furnished flat, seemed symbols of a bitter relentlessness, of the coming and going of unsatisfied, struggling people. Lucie had a sensation of everything whirling round her, in and out of chaos. "I've got that horrid feeling that nothing is real," she said wistfully.

"Lots of people have," replied Sophie unsympathetically. "I expect it is the War—at least, everyone says everything is the War."

She picked up a cigarette-case, but did not open it; she seldom smoked save when men were present.

"Let us go to bed," murmured Lucie wearily; "it is most frightfully late. Your room is ready."

"I'm not sleepy a bit," replied Sophie. "And it isn't late, really. You've got a dowdy mind, Lucie. Why shouldn't we sit up all night? I often do."

Lucie thought, but did not say, that her cousin well might do as she pleased, considering her lazy life; for herself there was work she had to do, to get bread-and-butter for all of them and to be able to send cheques out to the ailing husband in Italy, who was too "proud" to live on his family.

She sat down again, unable to cope with Sophie, who always had her way with her.

"You won't be able to work if you sit up so late," she said feebly.

"Work!" cried Sophie. "Why should I have to work?"

"You ought to plod at the singing," said Lucie, exasperated.

"There's nothing in it; you simply can't get money that way. I ought not to have to be trying—plodding spoils one's looks."

This was a reference to Sophie's well-known grievance against her father's family, who were "comfortably off" and offered her no assistance whatever, and appeared only dubiously impressed by her charms and gifts.

Lucie steered away from the subject; her depression had deepened into a sense of foreboding, as if something queer and nasty was going to happen to one, or perhaps both, of them.

"Of course you've been successful," went on Sophie. "You don't know what it is to have to struggle without a reward."

Lucie was used to that, too; she moved near the window so that she could hear the rain.

"Why don't you give it up and get married?" she said desperately. "You've had plenty of chances."

"With penniless men," answered Sophie sharply. "Wow is that going to help?"

"Well, if you can't get a Mr. Sackett—" smiled Lucie dismally.

The vanity of the other woman retorted sharply:

"I could if I wanted to. He isn't the only one who admires me."

"Why bother about the men so much, now we are free?" asked Lucie wearily. "You said yourself there are too many girls."

"Freedom! What is the good of talking! Money brings the only freedom," she added sharply.

Sophie looked at her, not without malice; these two women, forced by circumstances into this intimacy, really often irritated each other very much. Sophie's jealous disposition, soured by continual set-backs on the lines of her desires and some very conspicuous failures, always instantly resented any hint of disapproval or "preaching" on Lucie's part.

She genuinely despised the elder woman for her marriage, which she called, in the jargon in which she spoke and thought, "a hopeless mess."

"Heard from Pio lately?" she asked in a thin artificial voice.

At this mention of her husband Lucie did slightly wince. "Oh, yes; he writes frequently," she answered bravely. "Getting better?"

"Much. All right again, I think."

"Coming back?"

"No," said Lucie firmly. "He is quite happy in Sicily—he always hated this country, really. He is helping his cousin with some orange growing."

"You don't think of joining him?" Sophie's sneer was blatant.

"No," answered the other woman quietly. "I've got my living to earn over here. You know all that, Sophie."

The girl shrugged her shoulders in an artificial fashion.

"Well, you always talk as if you liked all that old-fashioned business of cooking and serving and Darby-and-Joan—but you don't live up to it," she said. "You are glad of this freedom, aren't you? Being able to live like this, and no one asking questions—"

Tears were in Lucie's hazel eyes and her whole body shivered with fatigue and sadness.

"I took what came my way," she said quietly. "What is the use of going over it? Everything is over for me, of course." The simplicity of this view seemed to Sophie grotesque; she wondered if Lucie could really be so oblivious to her own youth, charming personality and great attractiveness.

As she sat there now, entirely unconscious, She looked, in her long grace, with her pale-brown hair and delicate features, an entrancing figure of soft, womanly allure.

"Do you really mean to stick to that man?" asked Sophie sharply.

Lucie heard the words like an ugly clamour breaking the dreams about her heart, but she answered at once and quite casually:

"Yes—of course; don't be silly."

"Lord!" cried Sophie. "Silly! Why, it just means you're done for—he over there and you here—"

"I don't know what you mean—we get on quite well together."

"With Europe between you!"

Lucie rose, and drew the curtains to open the window a little and feel the rain on her hands.

"I shall go out there presently. Anyhow, there is no divorce in Italy—if that is what you mean, Sophie."

"You would be divorced if you could, I suppose?"

"No. Not for anything."

Sophie was exasperated.

"You've not been tempted."

Lucie tried to turn it off with a laugh.

"No, and I am not likely to be. I've 'settled down,' you know—and quite off the track of that sort of thing."

Sophie had to wish to suppose her cousin likely to inspire emotional adventures, so she agreed with this.

"I suppose not," she answered, rising. "But if you were—could you still cling to these old-fashioned stunts?"

"I hope so," said Lucie. "Yes, of course."

"I don't believe it—I don't believe any woman could or would. Now, if a nice man was to make love to you—"

"They wouldn't. And I don't meet any," answered Lucie incoherently. "Do come to bed. I'm half asleep. Don't keep talking about it, you've no idea how middle-aged and past everything I feel."

Sophie yawned and lounged to the door; her prettiness was eclipsed; with her rather dull hair ruffled and her pale, tired face and her nondescript clothes, she looked a middle-aged woman, her bust and hips, and lines round her mouth showed her age plainly.

"Toby Entwhistle is coming home next week," she said, with a funny little lift of her upper lip that was like an unpleasant smile.

Lucie shut the window sharply.

"I thought he was in Baghdad—for good," she said carefully.

"He isn't. Coming home to look for the jobs that aren't here. You'll be glad to see him."

"Why?" challenged Lucie, with her back to the window. "Oh, he used to admire you a lot, didn't he?"

Lucie ignored this.

"You've heard from him?"

"I often do. He is always writing to me or mother. Yesterday there was just a line to say he was coming back that's all."

"You saw a good deal of him during the War—when I was in Italy?" asked Lucie, as they went out into the tiny corridor.

"He was about with the others," said Sophie carelessly. "We hadn't much use for him."

The odious slang hurt Lucie; in silence she turned up the gas in the slip of a bedroom which Sophie made such frequent use of; it was an airless place, over-furnished, of course, but clean and in a way pleasant.

"I shan't stay here long," said Lucie, with a sudden hint of passion. "I must get a place of my own, some sort of a home."

"What is the use of a home without something to put in it?" asked Sophie brutally, sitting on the bed and dragging off her shoes without untying the laces. "I hope you don't mean to bury yourself in the country," she added, with a touch of anxiety; fir Lucie in town was very useful to her. "You'll never get on if you leave London."

"Get on, get on!—Where to? What for?"

The words whirled foolishly in Lucie's tired head; she stared at a cheap photogravure of "The Golden Stairs" that hung above the fumed-oak bed; the peace and dignity of the poet's vision struck across her mood even through this poor medium.

"That is all just as true as anything else, Sophie," she said irrelevantly.

The girl glanced up.

"What? That fairy tale?"

"Yes—fairy tales are true."

Sophie laughed shortly.

"Well, good-night."

"Good-night. Do try to sleep," said Lucie.

They kissed without affection, and Lucie returned to the little sitting-room as Sophie, half-undressed, was idly searching the bamboo bookshelf to see if there was one of the second-hand novels she hadn't read.

Lucie closed both doors with a sense of resolution; it was good to be alone.

She "tidied" the sitting-room, carried the supper things into the kitchen in readiness for the daily woman, came back, lowered the gas fire and sat beside it in the low chintz chair, staring at what were to her, the most beautiful objects in the room: a gaudy china parrot in yellow and orange that stood behind a bowl of apples and nuts on the little sideboard.

She was, quite suddenly, not sleepy; a new almost feverish vitality flooded her being; she felt almost overwhelmingly alive, sitting alert in this little room, in the sleeping city.

§ II

Toby Entwhistle was returning to London. He had been in the East four years; during the War she had been in Italy and not seen him when he renewed his acquaintance with the Falconers, who, though they had formerly snubbed him as an utter nobody, were not displeased to have another very personable young officer to go about with during his leave.

Lucie counted up how long it was since she had seen him. Not for long before—why, it must be eight, ten years—why, they must have been boy and girl then.

There had never been any kind of a love affair—only, somehow, they had liked each other. Then Mrs. Falconer had disapproved of the modest youth who was so hopelessly "no good" to any one of them—then the War, and her marriage...Queer how distinctly she remembered him.

He hadn't married.

Lucie sighed, stirred in her chair...And now he was coming home.

Home!—to what?

Socially he was, like herself, a mere waif and stray, orphaned—a "nobody" struggling for existence, never master of so much money as when on active service—nothing definitely but a good soldier. She was curiously pleased to remember how often she had heard that of him—she, tied to an invalid who looked upon the War as a "nuisance" because it took all the good doctors out of the country.

He used to like all the things she liked. How wonderful, to have another chance, with this kind of man...

But she was bound—"done for"; everything was over for her—quite definitely over—and of course he would not care about her now.

He would be fallen upon by all these overwhelming girls and women, flattered and caressed, f or—"a good time" and "fun." Sophie would be glad to go about with him as long as he paid for her; Aurora would "take him up"; though their ultimate prey were rich husbands, these desperate huntresses were eager for any other victims in the meanwhile; and they were but two of these "free" girls who seemed to Lucie to be stampeding the very meaning out of life.

"I am a fool to be even giving it a thought," she told herself. "Of course I am free too; I've got the right to any love that comes my way—but it won't come—I'm not the sort. Marriage isn't much nowadays, at least a marriage like mine. Pio wouldn't care what I did," she thought. "But there is nothing I want to do—I'm done for. I feel quite old—I looked a hag to-night."

A clock outside struck half-past one. Lucie walked up and down the narrow strip of matting.

She recalled Sophie's words.

"I can do exactly as I like," she repeated, half aloud.

She was self-supporting; she had no one to consider; Pio, idling in Sicily, was so completely estranged by differences of temperament and character that he would hardly care what she did; rigid faithfulness to Pio, such as she had preserved hitherto, seemed really rather grotesque.

She glanced half guiltily, half defiantly, at the engraving of the woman in the crinoline.

"After all, Sophie is right," she admitted. "They are hideous, and I will take them away. I do belong to this time J live in. I am quite independent—it would be silly to be bound by rules and conventions that don't any longer exist."

She looked at herself in the mirror with the border of gay fruit, looked almost apprehensively...Could she still make herself lovely if she wanted to do something better than go round with Sophie and girls like Sophie and women like Mrs. Falconer, to clutch at "luck"?

Fatigue was over her like a mantle, but her soul was alert. She thought of the Burne-Jones picture. "I wonder if I could get something like that out of it, after all."

§ III

She put out the gas and went into the corridor, which was in darkness; her fingers went mechanically to the bracket where the matches were kept, and struck one. As the light flared out she saw the white square of a letter on the floor; she must have stepped on it when she entered.

Usually she looked for the post; to-night she had been preoccupied by the failure of the evening. She stooped and picked up the letter; the match went out; but she had seen the Italian postmark.

From her husband.

Funny to think of it lying there while she and Sophie talked; while she thought of Toby Entwhistle.

But what difference would it make? It would be a friendly letter, as usual. And probably he wanted money.

She lit the gas in her bedroom...cold now, and tired.

"It doesn't matter about Pio," she told herself. "He doesn't want me, and I can do exactly as I like. As Sophie said. Free—we women are all free."

She noticed her own fair hand as she opened the thin envelope—really a fair hand, frail and lovely.

The letter was quite brief—the name at the top that of a hotel in Florence.

He, her husband, had left Sicily, after quarrelling with his family; he was ill, seriously ill. He had taken a furnished house on the coast, and wanted her to come out and nurse him...at once; he was both appealing and imperative...at once.

"I can do exactly as I like," murmured Lucie. "Of course, I shan't go."

She lit a night-light; she was afraid of the dark since the baby died, afraid of her own nerves.

She put out the gas, undressed and got into bed.

It didn't seem real that she had a husband; what he asked of her was grotesque.

He was a weakling.

How he had cried when the baby died; sobbed and screamed like a hurt child.

Their baby, that seemed grotesque, too.

She lay down, flicking the letter off the coverlet with a shudder.

§ IV

Seriously ill.

If he died she would be really free.

But it was too late. Nothing could happen now.


Chapter Three

§ I

LUCIE could not sleep; she lay still, overwhelmed with gloom and depression, her body inert, her mind active.

She longed for sleep, she longed for the dawn.

Looking presently at the travelling clock that stood behind the night-light on the chimney-piece, she saw that it was three o'clock.

At the same moment a streak of white light showed under the door.

Lucie heard a footstep; Sophie entered, leaving the electric light up in the corridor as she shut the door.

"I couldn't sleep," she said. "What is the use of trying? I thought you would be awake."

"But I shall go to sleep soon," answered Lucie, "do go back to bed, dear."

Sophie took no notice of this; she sat on the side of the bed and yawned.

She wore a tweed coat over a thin draggled night gown and her hair as it had been all the evening; hair pins sticking in a rough mass of locks and the greasy bow on one side.

Lucie resented her appearance; she detested this habit of the wrong garment at the wrong time; she thought of the clothes she had given Sophie.

"What do you want?" she asked in a voice as free from irritation as she could make it.

"We've got a party at the studio tomorrow. I didn't tell you, we want you to come."

Lucie knew at once that she had not meant to ask her; but on thinking it over had changed her mind.

Lucie was used to not being asked to "parties" arranged by Sophie.

She did not want to go to this one, but was fearful of giving offence.

"All right, we will talk of it to-morrow," she answered. But Sophie did not move.

In the thick wavering light of the night-light she looked a clumsy hunched figure in the heavy incongruous coat. "Simon Kaye is coming," she said.

Lucie heard the name with dread; Sophie's tortuous love affair with this man stretched back years; Lucie had never understood it, lately she had not even tried.

"I thought that was all over," she said, feebly dropping her head on the pillow. "You said so, Sophie."

"I found I couldn't bear it—I wrote to him and he came to see me. I think it is all right now."

"You mean you are going to marry him?" asked the other woman.

"Mother asked him for to-morrow," evaded Sophie. "She got the party up for him, really."

"I don't understand why you bother about other men."

"Oh, just a distraction, I suppose. Besides I don't bother. They come after me."

"Don't let them. Concentrate on Simon Kaye if he is really the one."

"You know he is—"

"Well, then—"

"He doesn't want to marry. Mother says he's too absorbed in money making now—but that it is going to be all right."

Lucie sat up in bed; her nerves were on edge; she had listened so often to the futile, painful confidences about Simon Kaye.

"Sophie—it's nearly ten years that this has been going on. Do put it out of your head," she urged feverishly. "If he wanted to marry you, he would—that seems so plain. Don't let him keep you hanging about like this. It is worrying your mother so."

"You don't understand," answered Sophie with gloomy melancholy. "I don't care for anything else."

Lucie lay silent.

Sophie went on talking.

§ II

Her voice wandered up and down over the tangles of this miserable passion of hers; she went over the interviews, the letters, the telephone calls, the long silences, the waitings, the disappointments—years of it now.

The man cared, but had never spoken; she cared, but could not make him believe it—they had met and parted with "scenes" time after time.

It was all so dreary and dull; the girl seemed weighed with gloomy tragedy, that was without splendour or grandeur.

There was something cold-blooded even in her account of her own suffering.

Her passion, like her youth, seemed abortive; she was like a rootless flower trying to bear fruit.

§ III

Lucie's head was aching furiously. She sat restlessly up in bed.

"I wish you would give him up. He is making a lot of money—too much for our set."

"I ought to have money, too. I ought to be mixing with the people he is—I never have a chance of even meeting him."

"He is standing for Parliament, isn't he?"

"Well, then, that will absorb him even more."

"But I am sure he cares for me. He thinks he isn't good enough. He told me once that there were other women and that he gambled and drank. Of course I don't mind."

"Don't you, really?"

"No. I haven't got your ideas of marriage. I should go crazy—'settled down' with sock mending and cooking—"

"How would you live?"

"Like he does now, in chambers or a hotel—he could go away for weeks if he liked—without me, I mean."

She spoke childishly, yet there was something unpleasant about her manner.

Lucie put her hand to her beating head.

"That's it—you want to get married, like all of them, but you don't want to be married. You want to lead the same old life."

"Why not? Women are free now, aren't they?"

"Oh, this freedom!"

"I could never stand those stuffy Darby and Joan marriages."

"I know. But, Sophie, don't fool about with all these other men if you are so keen on the one."

"Why not?"

"It's silly."

"I don't think so."

Lucie felt angry; her cousin's half insolent indifference, unmoved apathy on these matters hardly ever failed to rouse her; and now she was so tired.

"It isn't decent. It is vulgar."

"I don't mind," said Sophie.

"Those women we saw to-night," said Lucie. "What are they? They just take what they can get out of men ... any men. Well, it's going near it to do what you do—"

Sophie seemed flattered.

"I can't help attracting men," she smiled.

"You could. Don't think so much about it—"

"Everyone does."

"I know," admitted Lucie, "we know too many women of the same kind—it's men, men, men, all the time, either angling for them, or abusing them, and it's all so ineffectual—no one seems to be satisfied even when they do get married. There they still are, scrambling with the others.—for what?"

"Well," sneered Sophie, "you aren't leading an orthodox married life yourself, are you?"

§ IV

Lucie saw the shadow-blotted shape of her husband's letter on the floor.

"I tried to," she said bitterly. "You know I tried to. And at least I leave it alone. N? need because I made a failure for you to do the same."

Sophie peered at her curiously, almost malevolently; she was secretly glad that Lucie's marriage had gone to pieces, for it seemed to dispose of, in its failure, many of Luck's annoying, prim and old-fashioned ideals.

She did not answer now; beyond a point it was not expedient to offend her cousin, who, though this was never admitted, represented the Falconers' main source of income.

"Do go to bed," whispered Lucie from the pillow. Sophie rose.

"Mother thought that you might like to buy some of the cakes and things for to-morrow."

"All right."

"We could go out tomorrow morning and get them," added Sophie, "and I must have some new shoes and stockings."

"All right," said Lucie again; she knew she would have to pay for these items and probably a few other things besides.

But this couldn't be mentioned for fear of hurting their feelings.

"It is much more difficult to take than to give," was one of Mrs. Falconer's favourite sayings; and Sophie's attitude was that the utmost Lucie could do was less than she "owed" her relations, more gifted, but not so commercially successful.

§ V

Sophie had gone, but Lucie could not sleep.

She reached out of bed and picked up her husband's letter.

She was glad that Sophie had not seen it; Sophie, though, seldom did see anything that did not directly concern her personally.

The air was cold, but not fresh; the room looked wretched in the smudged flicker of the night-light; everything in it seemed worn and untidy, confused and purposeless.

Lucie put the letter—thin crackling paper it was, like a bank-note—on the table by her bed and dragged the blankets over her shoulders.

She thought of Sophie with sharp distaste; the chaos that surrounded all of them appalled and confounded her; what did they all want, these striving anxious women like Mrs. Bearish and Mrs. Falconer, these girls like Sophie and Aurora? Wan or noisy, sullen or gay, sluts or neat—all somehow desperate—what did they want?

A living, first of all...and after?

Lucie thought of her own case; she was gifted, skilful, her work was in demand, she could earn a good income, and in this she was very fortunate; she realized how very fortunate she was.

A man in her place with her luck and talent and opportunities would be having a very good sort of life.

Then why shouldn't she, since women were as free as men now?

§ VI

What was the use if you were a woman ... you were tripped up ever time, just by the fact you were a woman.

What was work, or success, or talent, compared to your womanhood?

You wanted to be loved.

More than anything you wanted that.

You wanted children and a "home."

All your instincts and passions drove you toward these things.

In your youth they tormented and allured you.

You lay awake at night trembling for fear you should miss them.

"Supposing no man ever wants me?"

"Supposing I never have any children?"

Marriage was the only way for a woman like you—and you married.

There wasn't much choice and you were diffident, very romantic aid you married the man who made most obvious love to you, who was able, if only a little, to compare with your secret ideals.

And then you were caught—"done for."

Your work, your individuality, your chances went by the board, you were swept into another's life...

You had your baby and lost it.

You had a sick man to nurse.

You could never think of love any more, nor of children.

You were a good woman and you had ideals; it was just over and done with for you, and you didn't care, for you were stunned emotionally.

And with this heavy blight over you, you must work—you'd been fool enough to marry a penniless sickly man—he was looking to you now.

Fool, no doubt—but you thought you loved him, you wanted so desperately to be loved, you dreamed you could make it wonderful.

And what else offered save bleak negation?

That which was within you and too powerful for your poor control betrayed you.

§ VII

And now Lucie's sad mind, half delirious with fatigue, turned and beat on another problem.

Supposing you weren't respectable, supposing you disregarded this fetish of marriage?

Wouldn't that be real freedom?

Why was the idea so terrifying?

How little you knew of those other women, the women you mustn't talk about—or know about, really. And you didn't know.

What men said about them, when you weren't there, how they lived and how they spoke among themselves.

You read about them, you saw them, you heard, sometimes, references to them, newspapers were full of them, you suspected them among women you met casually or knew by name—they were feminine creatures like yourself, but intensely unreal to you.

You supposed men, even quiet-looking men, knew all about them and judged or condemned them according to their natures. You couldn't do that.

It was all shut away from you; you were a "nice" woman and you had to get married or be an old maid.

But you often wondered about those other women.

You had to wonder, for you simply didn't know.

§ VIII

Lucie Uden wept into her pillow,

Not from active unhappiness or definite pain, she was past both.

But from wild yearnings and desperate home sickness of the soul.


"The harvest is over and I have garnered no grain
When evening falls there will be no home lights for me,
Only the long gray road that leads into the darkness."

§ IX

It was all so ordinary.

If people remarked upon her career at all, it was only to say how stupid she had been, a woman of her gifts, to get married at all, unless she could have secured a man of wealth and position.

Even Mrs. Falconer had appeared rather relieved at the failure of Lucie's attempt at domesticity.

"A woman like you doesn't want to shut herself up in a nursery, my dear girl."

And though she had been sorry when the baby died, she had been quite definitely glad when Pio's cough had taken him to Italy.

No, there weren't many women in Lucie's set who could have sympathised with her secret anguish—some of them thought that a "good time" and "fun" could be got out of an independent income and a husband abroad.

Anyhow—it was all so ordinary.

§ X

Lucie put her husband's letter under her pillow.

She tried to recall something about him that was pleasant...she went over his love-making, his emotional scenes with her, his gusts of jealousy, his displays of quick crude passion.

Useless, not a spark of any sentiment save compassion could she arouse.

There was nothing there that had been worth while—nothing whatever.

She told herself that it didn't matter—she had to keep on telling herself that.

She was just part of the general chaos—whirling about like a speck of dust before the wind.

It was all so ordinary.


Chapter Four

§ I

THE "party" at Sophie's studio was crowded by all the people Lucie had seen there before.

No one knew why Sophie had this studio; but she had always kept it up; it was really the one staple thing about Sophie, for the Falconers moved about every six months and the studio remained the one permanent address.

It was "off" Kensington High Street and very expensive for the wretched accommodation offered, always dirty and generally occupied by diseased cats, who were made more than free of the place by Sophie, whose one definite enthusiasm appeared to be centred on animals.

There was not much furniture; what there was was most characteristic of Sophie.

There was a piano for her to "practise on," a long glass for her to "pose" before, a divan for her to lounge on, and a hideous collection of all kinds of litter spilling from boxes, bursting from portfolios, hung upon pegs and thrust into cupboards. [To-day it had been tidied.]

The rubbish was crammed away into corners behind draperies, a row of dirty, chipped mascots were dusted and put on the mantelshelf surrounding a large press photograph of Sophie, which she had touched up herself with black and white paints, and a straggling collection of snapshots of men many of whom Sophie didn't know.

The few Sowers Lucie had bought—few, because they were so expensive in February, were arranged in odd jars, and Mrs. Falconer had brought extra tea equipment and arranged it on a side table.

All three women had spent the morning doing this and going round the shops, and now, after a nondescript meal on the marble topped table of a "tea-shop," they stood cutting sandwiches and taking cakes and biscuits out of cardboard boxes and paper bags.

Lucie felt wretched; tired, first from her sleepless night, then, from the scurry round the shops, the rushing from tube to bus laden with parcels, the "tidying" of the studio.

Sophie had been disagreeable and difficult, at once stubbornly set on the "party" and apathetic about it; she had been tiresome over the purchase of the shoes and Lucie had known her own temper wearing thin.

The sights of the morning had depressed her also, like a living commentary on her thoughts of the night.

§ II

In the artificial brightness of the tubes, two sickly babies, stifling for fresh air, stunned by the blast and rattle, wailing till they were shaken and thumped: in the buses a press of women in unsuitable, fantastic costumes, some painted, all more or less anxious, haggard, loaded with parcels of finery, hung with beads, crippled with fancy shoes, with faces powdered, dirty, wrinkled or smooth, with teeth discoloured, bad or false, clutching frivolous bags of beads or silk or velvet, thrust together in the great square buses, shrill or silent, jaded or giggling,—a great press of women being swept along the packed London street.

On the pavements hoards, swarms of women, gazing in the shop windows, pushing into the tea-shops, some dragging bored and unwilling children, most of them alone. Lucie had felt like an ant in an ant-heap; she wished a great wind could blow them all away.

Women, women everywhere.

There were so many of them the world was beginning to be run to please them; they had money, too, pennies if not pounds.

Cunning men made it their work to beguile their pennies out of them—first clothes, all kinds of clothes—line on line of great shops, marble, gilt bronze, pile carpets, music, yards of mirror, to sell things people could do without.

Stacks and stacks of newspapers and magazines and novels written for women, carefully prepared to catch and please them, cinema after cinema, theatre after theatre, catering for women, for all these myriads of swarming women, uneducated, unwanted, restless, discontented, powerful by force of number—like locusts. On the hoardings, in the buses and tubes, on the covers of books and papers, women, heads and figures of women, pretty, well-dressed, comfortable.

Everything to beguile and flatter woman through her vanity, her idleness, her foolishness, to cheat her into imagining herself beautiful, pursued, potent and mysterious.

Paints, dyes, creams, beauty parlours, "try us and be like Cleopatra or Ninon de l'Enclos"—novels, serials, newspapers, "read us and see the wonderful things that happen to you adorable creatures."

Cinemas, theatres with the same appeal, shops, exhibitions, dubs, hotels, all clamouring for the attention, the time and the pennies of the women—all sham, fraud, bluff.

And hireling labour (itself feminine, discontented, restless, with wandering eye on the "pictures," on the novelette in the pocket) looking after the children of the well-to-do, and the children of the poor "shifting for themselves."

§ III

Sophie had gone into the little dark cupboard of a room adjoining the studio to dress, and Lucie finished setting the tea cups while Mrs. Falconer sat by the gas fire, smoking quickly and nervously, cigarette after cigarette.

She was tired and overwrought and Lucie yearned over her; Mrs. Falconer was both charming and lovable, but so wild and weak she had coiled her life into one knot after another; daring, violent tempered, unreasonable, yet generous and warm-hearted, well born and well educated, gifted and of a fascinating personality, she had made a failure of everything she had touched, including her daughter, whom she idolised almost to a point of insanity.

She had had, as she often said, "an awful life"; her husband had been a worthless scoundrel, and she had been through the bittered embarrassments of sordid poverty; she had quarrelled with her own family, her husband's family and most of her friends; she was always courageous, dramatic and agitated, scheming for Sophie, and full of "plans."

Her work, brilliant in itself, was not marketable; she spent a lot of time raving against the taste and judgment that would have none of her or Sophie.

She began about her daughter now, as soon as the door had closed on her.

"How do you think she is looking, Lucie, she seems to me very pale—"

"She wants her face washing and a smile," thought Lucie, wearily, aloud she said:

"I think she is all right—we were late last night."

"You ought not to have gone," said Mrs. Falconer vigorously.

"Sophie wanted to go."

"Poor child! The man was put off by those Bearish women."

"Sophie asked them."

"She is always so generous. But Mrs. Bearish should look out for herself. She never asks us anywhere."

Mrs. Falconer, whose whole disposition was composed of inconsistencies, was always veering in her opinion of her friends; at one she would be enthusiastically generously fond of them, at another perversely jealous.

"It is good of you to have helped us, Lucie." She gave her niece one of her endearing smiles, and Lucie quickly bent and kissed her.

She really loved Mrs. Falconer, and it was largely for her sake that she put up with Sophie, and the life they all lived.

Mrs. Falconer squeezed her hand in silence, never ceasing to smoke in feverish haste; she was marvellously young in appearance, eager, vital and charming, and she attached an almost crazy importance to this question of age; in reality she was an elderly woman, and the effort to compete with women twenty years younger than herself was not the least of the strains on her nerves and temper.

"Oh, Lucie," she cried suddenly. "I do hope he comes this afternoon—"

"Mr. Kaye?"

"Of course."

Tears pricked Lucie's lids, swollen from lack of sleep.

She thought of Pio's letter, unanswered—waiting for her when she got home...

Mrs. Falconer continued to talk of Sophie—Sophie's beauty, brilliance, wit, fascination, her love affairs, the love affair, her ill-luck, her health, all dramatically, with fine choice of words.

Sophie wanted to go on the stage as a dancer. She must go—it didn't matter that she had had little training—her individuality would be sufficient.

Lucie hardly listened; she knew it all by heart; knew also that Sophie's dancing had been "turned down" by every manager or agent who had seen her performance.

And as her mother talked of her, anxiously, passionately, with abstracted eyes and tired, nervous lips, the girl appeared.

Her hair was fluffed out and her face powdered; she wore an odd sort of green tulle dress, not at all fresh, white stockings and cheap velvet shoes; like her mother she was obsessed by this idea of youthfulness; the one object of her dressing was to look girlish, even childish; she had set her whole personality at eighteen and she was so immature that strangers frequently took her really to be that age.

She had almost succeeded in deceiving herself into believing that she was a young girl, and into thinking that people who had known her "hawking" round for twelve years or so, thought so too.

She at down now on a stool by her mother's chair, clasping her hands round her knees and tucking her feet under her skirt; although she was graceful, her ankles were clumsy and her legs thick; she made no effort to finish "getting the tea"; it was Lucie who did that, piling up the cakes (she disliked sweet things), slicing, toasting, boiling the kettle on the gas ring, measuring out the tea.

§ IV

Lucie had a curious feeling about tea; she rather dreaded it—it was so inevitable—it always turned up at a crisis.

In all the horrible moments of her life there had always been someone hurriedly making tea as if it was a panacea against all ills.

To the sick excitement of long journeys had always been added someone's lament "if only I could get a cup of tea"; the dread discomfort of "moves" was associated with "I'm dying for a cup of tea" and in moments of shock, or loss, or anguish, there was always—"do try to take a cup of tea."

Whether you liked it or not it haunted you; it was always there, insistent, you found yourself sipping or gulping it in your strange and dark hours.

And did you not read of it, linked up with all wretchedness?

A warm tea pot and soiled cup by the suicide's bed, or on the table beneath which the murdered woman sprawled—"They made themselves a cup of tea, and then"—the prelude to many and desperate and awful acts.

§ V

The guests began to arrive; Lucie looked at herself in the long glass; she thought she appeared utterly "washed out" in her neutral coloured dress and black hat; the lines in her face were heavy, her pressed down hair no colour at all.

"It doesn't matter," she told herself resolutely, "and I must not let myself get so depressed; everything is all right really, just because my little corner of the world seems wrong I must not think the whole universe is."

Mrs. Falconer was all animation now, greeting everyone with effusive kindness, confidential with the women, coquettish with the men, flattering to everyone.

The room was soon full of noise and clatter; Lucie, glad of something to do, went to and fro with plates of sandwiches and cakes. Her mind, tired, alert, supersensitive, would note and analyze the people among whom she moved despite her resolve to be cheerful and sensible.

They were nearly all women, of course.

And, it went without saying, free and independent women; so free and independent that it would have been considered fogeyish to mention the fact—it was just taken for granted.

Lydia Copeland was there, the prettiest woman in the room, dressed in jade green, with "real" gold hair, but bloodshot eyes and a sunken mouth, insolent to the women, defiant to the men, a clever young actress of disreputable history, vulgar, amorous, a shrew and as hard as flint. Near her was Julia Jarrett, well groomed, well dressed, prim and silent with "pince-nez" and white kid gloves; Lucie remembered her (it seemed yesterday) as an unattractive child; now she was a welfare worker and studying for the bar. Beyond was Hester Foy, plain, fusty, wearing hideous clothes smelling of naphtha, sweetly superior, middle-aged, outwardly placid, inwardly soured, thwarted, sick, by profession a singer, like Sophie, unmarried, very "refined."

Then on the divan behind them were the girls, Ellen Bowness, the only child of a wealthy home, spoilt, idle, silly, expensively dressed, painted, giggling, hollow-chested, gaunt, but bright and good-humoured.

She did not belong to this set at all but was there for "fun"; her parents rather admired Sophie's voice, and Mrs. Falconer had desperately encouraged them; they were well off and might be "useful."

The other girl, Pamela Raitt, was far more pleasing in appearance, but jaded, tired, soiled; she worked as a secretary to two different men; one in the mornings, one in the evenings, she made just thirty-five shillings a week.

Then there was Mrs. Bearish, faded, shabby, yet finished and elegant (Aurora would come in later after her time at the office), talking to a quite well-known and brilliant woman, Louisa Kingdom, who shouted and gesticulated with ink-stained fingers, and dragged on and off her head a dirty tweed hat and looked pale and sandy and vicious like a ferret.

And near there, two large elderly women, Harriet Dornett and Ellen Barden, ardent feminists, who took up "causes" and were rude and offensive in appearance, jabbering their own particular jargon to Clara Biddulph, a haggard woman of sixty dressed like sixteen, with a hat like an inverted flowerpot hung with streamers, and knobbly toes showing through satin shoes; she appeared to think the two reformers rather wonderful, but then she was a literary agent and had to keep "nosing" for possible clients as well as avoiding those who weren't and never could be anything but impossible from a commercial point of view.

Sophie lounged over a table with her great friend of the moment, Elinor Kennaway, whose chinless face showed the entire upper set of long teeth beneath a parrot's nose and lovely eyes; they were playing with a sheet of paper and "planchette" and had gathered round them the only men present.

The men were very ineffective, sufficient only to give the faintest flavour of masculinity to the party, like one drop of sherry in a huge sponge trifle.

One of these, Mr. Dodd, was a very old friend of the Falconers whom he regarded as superior beings; he was so very unpresentable, so hopelessly not a "gentleman" that he was only tolerated at these gatherings because he enjoyed them and he had to be kept in a good humour somehow for they owed him a great deal of money and intended to owe him a great deal more.

A civil servant of thrifty habits, short to deformity, red-haired, with the bewildered, grave countenance of a chimpanzee, Mrs. Falconer had actually been able to flatter him into thinking he was a valuable member of society and an ornament to the brilliant set in which she moved.

He adored her and thought both she and Sophie the most wonderful of beings; behind his back Mrs. Falconer laughed at him and Sophie sneered.

Lucie disliked him, disliked still more the familiarity he was allowed—ah, how she disliked it all!

Another of the men was a starved-looking Irish charlatan, who had wonderful gifts in the way of making other people believe he had strange psychic powers, and who specialized in ghosts, spirits, elementals, or whatever happened to be the last thing in horrors; another was a provincial actor who had trained his face to look classic in the limelight and his figure to wear stage uniforms till there was nothing human about his appearance save his encroaching puffiness and stoutness—these two defects being at least pitilessly real.

And the third man was a young clerk who was wrong altogether, appearance, manners, voice, clothes; he had come out of the War (he had served a year in England at the end of things) with the title of Captain, and insisted on this, and let the women insist on it, till he felt he was what enthusiastic Mrs. Falconer, in her delight at his admiration of Sophie had called him—"a typical English soldier."

§ VI

Lucie looked from one to another, looked back again, tried, feverishly, to "make conversation" first to one and then at another.

"Am I wrong in thinking them all hideous, cheats, frauds, selfish, abortive? I must be. They all seem satisfied with each other. And who am I to judge?"


Chapter Five

§ I

LUCIE sat down beside a pale young woman who was rather a successful journalist; Lucie spoke to her of her little boy; she was the only woman in the room who had a child.

Mrs. Mayes responded cordially; the boy was "in the country," she didn't see him often; her work kept her in town; he was three, she was really only just beginning to recover from the "awful" time she had had when he was born.

She slid with relish into a brutal account of her confinement, the state of health it had left her with and her precautions to prevent the recurrence of such a catastrophe.

"My husband wants a little girl! I tell him he can have the next himself—"

"Yes," said Lucie mechanically and moved away, under the excuse of taking Miss Dornett's empty cup.

She was at once swept into the conversation between this lady, Miss Barden and Mrs. Biddulph, in which the violent Louisa Kingdom had now powerfully joined.

Mrs. Biddulph listened vaguely while the other three boomed and shrilled.

They were all on the same committees, belonged to the same societies and clubs, wrote on the same subjects.

The object of their venomous energies seemed the pursuit, punishment and castigation of man.

§ II

Had you not known they were honest, good, earnest, pure women, you might have likened them to harpies, flying about in search of filth, and finding it, flapping and screaming with triumph with their claws full of foulness.

They knew all the disgusting things in the world—intimately; there was no sore so deep hidden that they had not found it out and explored it; there was no vice so secret that they had not proclaimed it aloud; there was no disease, nor passion, nor crime, nor emotion, they had not turned over and examined.

They were social reformers.

They loathed man; they lost breath trying to relate his sins and wickedness; he was bestial, he was hideous—a Minotaur; and they must save the young virgins from him.

They were so pure that the thought of marriage offended them, so spiritual they thought of child-bearing as an outrage; but they knew backwards the holes and corners where foul and creeping vices hide.

They were feminists.

They used terms that would have been obscene if they had not been "scientific"; they flung about words that had never been on decent women's lips since they were coined; they drew their instances and statistics from the police courts and the hospitals, the gutters and the slums of Europe.

They scorned as cowards women who would not join them, and they proclaimed with gloomy satisfaction the fast approaching day when man would be a chained monster, bound by the delicate hands of women, scourged by the whips wielded by the angelic and triumphant sex.

§ III

Sophie was singing.

She had a full rich voice on which a good deal of money had been spent (Lucie's money), but it was all to pieces now for lack of practice, and Mrs. Falconer, tired and nervous, stumbled in the accompaniments.

Sophie posed.

Drooping, watchful, rigid with vanity and jealousy of every other woman there, yet apathetic, she dragged through her songs.

Lucie was appalled by a sense of failure; Simon Kaye had not come; he never did; and there was that letter to write to Pio.

Sophie danced.

Twisting gauze veils, she slopped through a series of poses to a melody on the gramophone, looking self-conscious and sullen; the men were enthusiastic in their praise; the women had an air of reserved judgment.

Mrs. Falconer, smoking furiously, gazed at her daughter with fierce eyes of love and admired her in warm phrases.

Aurora Bearish slipped in, bringing a foreign young man who appeared both shy and impertinent; the gas was lit; Mrs. Falconer kept saying "Hush!"

Sophie continued to circle aimlessly round the room, waving the chiffon scarf; soiled tea cups and bitten piece of cake were piled up in corners, crumbs were over the cheap mats, the sandwiches began to dry and curl; the tobacco smoke had drowned the opulent perfumes used by Lydia Copeland and Ellen Bowness; the gas fumes made the air acrid and heavy.

Lucie sat in a corner now next Mrs. Bearish, who whispered to her about her work; the woodcuts, the designs for costumes, the Eastern textiles, her illustrations...Oh, yes, she was doing quite well—it was all quite successful. Even as she spoke she felt how utterly little she cared if her work was praised or not; what did it matter save as a means of earning money?

§ IV

Oh, to get away from it all—to some ordered path of sober riches, or of austere poverty! Oh, for leisure and peace and the long day to live through in pleasant work and happy play—to feel well and content among quiet serene people, to love and be loved, walking the homely happy ways of every day.

To be noticed and valued as a woman, not as a money earning, fame catching asset—to be done with the struggle and the tumult, the press and clash, the uproar and the confusion—to have the grass beneath your feet and the stars above your head, fruit and flowers in your lap and a child in your arms.

Oh, to get away from it all!

§ V

At last Sophie stopped; her mother praised, petted and coaxed her; she said she had a headache, and there was a hunt for aspirin.

People began to leave; eager plans were made for other meetings; Mr. Dodd suggested "a dinner in Soho"; the Irish charlatan, Hamish O'More, invited everyone to a ghost-raising, the women shrilled and tittered; the younger ones tried to combine a party to go to some "palais de danse"; they all talked at once and Lucie's head throbbed steadily.

The young clerk, Mead Preston, lingered and with much familiarity and swagger asked Sophie—"Tommy" as he called her with an air of being witty "out to supper."

He included Mrs. Falconer as an afterthought. She declined, and Sophie, with a smirk under her rude apathy, thrust a flop hat on her disordered hair, dragged on a coat belonging to her mother, and went off leaving the other two women to "dear up."

"I am so glad he asked her," declared Mrs. Falconer, "it will take her mind off things—he is so much in love with her—it is wonderful how she turns their heads—poor child!"

"Sit down," said Lucie. "You're tired. I'll do this and get a little supper—"

"And something for Sophie when she comes back; she will be worn out—I thought she would have broken down—"

"Because Mr. Kaye didn't come?"

"Lucie," said Mrs. Falconer earnestly and impressively, "it is a tragedy—and I can do nothing!"

"Why does she go out with this young man?" asked Lucie rather sharply.

At that moment she hated Sophie, who appeared to her a fell figure, for Mrs. Falconer leant back and cried quietly, looking old and broken.

"I did so hope he would come, I did so hope it would be all right for her—she is breaking her heart and I can't bear it."

Lucie leant heavily against the back of the chair looking hopelessly down on the other woman, round them the litter of the feast, the gas-laden, smoke-tainted air.

Mrs. Falconer began to lament her fate, to bemoan Sophie's destiny with dreadful emotion and force.

Lucie sank to the low stool at her feet and caressed her hands.

She had heard it all so often before and there was nothing to be said.

She could think of nothing that would put things right but plenty of money, and she would never be able to command plenty of money.

Mrs. Falconer's piteous laments continued; the outcry of a brave soul, an impetuous and generous soul.

"Sophie's life is going to bits like mine did," she said. "And I can't bear it! I can't bear it!"

"She'll be all right—she'll get married," answered Lucie faintly.

"Married!" cried Mrs. Falconer. "I wish she would, but if it isn't that one man, it won't help Sophie much—not unless he had money—" she finished vaguely.

"Marriage is one of the best things we've got," said Lucie. "It seems to me a woman must get married unless she is a saint or a monster."

"Oh, that's out of date," answered Mrs. Falconer impatiently. "Surely we have all learnt that women were not made for domesticity."

"Then why aren't you happy about Sophie with her admirers and freedom?"

Mrs. Falconer sat up, lit a cigarette and smoked in silence. "Sophie ought to work," said Lucie, "she has too much time to brood."

"Sophie can't work while her heart and mind are agitated by this love affair—"

"Well, as I said, marriage—"

Mrs. Falconer interrupted.

"Sophie wants success. She sees other women with all they want who don't work—look at Lydia Copeland, she hasn't a tithe of Sophie's looks or charm or brains—"

"But she is a horrid woman," said Lucie quickly. "Common and—she has been divorced, hasn't she? And she isn't living with her present husband. And she has got a daughter hidden away in a cheap boarding school—she talks noisily about 'living her own life' and 'the right to be an individuality.'"

"She leads a very pleasant life," said Mrs. Falconer obstinately, "and of course a woman can do anything nowadays if she is clever."

Lucie could not argue further; she turned away and began to collect the soiled cups and plates and to put the remains of the cakes and biscuits into tins.

Mrs. Falconer, wholly absorbed in the problem of Sophie, sat over the gas fire talking vaguely, disjointedly, yet passionately and intensely about her daughter and herself and their "ill-luck."

It was all utterly illogical; even while Lucie's sympathy and affection groaned over the distress of the woman she loved, her clear brain showed her the unreasonableness of these typically feminine temperaments.

That was the worst of it—unreasonableness!

Something you couldn't deal with or argue with, that tangled and coiled you up till you felt half crazy yourself, that led to injustice, violence, hatreds and furious indiscretions. Minds without logic or philosophy or sense of law or order, feminine minds swayed by emotional impulses, strong jealousies, blind vanity, hungry cravings, natures shaken by thwarted instincts and suppressed desires, unstable, fluid, on the verge of perpetual hysteria, unbalanced to the edge of insanity—did not Lucie know the type?

Had she not been brought up by it, lived with it, did she not meet it every day among the women who composed her acquaintances?

She was herself an exceptional woman in so far as she could see and judge the temperaments of these others and herself, infected in so far as that she could not, dare not stand clear of all these discontented, piteous and dangerous women.

§ VI

Gamblers—that is what women were—they wanted "luck" and "chances"; they staked their sex, their looks, their personality—they coined themselves, as it were, into currency with which to purchase their desires; they hadn't any imagination or power of thought; they weren't really intelligent, most of them, only cunning.

And so few were, in any sense of the word, educated.

And they were so greedy; they were out for the real big prizes; they claimed idleness, luxury, admiration as a birthright; they schemed, contrived—gamblers always—evading work, evading responsibility, snatching at "chance," clutching at "luck."

§ VII

Yet Lucie yearned over Mrs. Falconer; she went up to her now and kissed her thin smooth cheek.

"I do wish I could make it different!" she whispered. "I do wish!"

And Mrs. Falconer caressed her warmly, and the two women cried together a little from sheer weariness of heart.

Yet all the time the elder resented the younger's feeble success, her poor marriage—Sophie had not achieved even this—passionately jealous was the maternal heart for Sophie.

§ VIII

Could some being of some other sphere, of angelic power but human compassion, have brooded over these two then, and seen into their hearts, would he not, for all their weaknesses and follies, have pitied them?

Knowing what their sweet natural uses were, seeing how they had been used by the passing breath of a civilization into which their flickers of lives had been cast, would he not have pitied them?

Truly there was cause for divine tears in the story of Elizabeth Falconer once so gay, so brave, so bright and alluring, full of warm impulses and generous thoughts, suppressed, but not trained, threatened, but not guided by the dull dictates of nineteenth century Christianity, left penniless by an extravagant father, married at eighteen to a handsome ruffian, watching her family "go to pieces," trying to "reform" her husband, trying to earn her living, on the stage, by writing, using her wits desperately, losing caste, following the black sheep she had married into his own sooty pastures until she had to cast him off and struggle on alone with two little children on her hands, intriguing, scheming, using her charm and her sex as her only weapons, borrowing shillings from women, taking pounds from men, dragging from sordid lodging to sordid lodging, familiar with debts, police courts, humiliations, of bittered poverty, seeing only the horrible side of things, consorting with a queer flotsam and jetsam of failures and knaves, quarrelling, fighting, weeping, starving and shabby, shaken by passionate friendships with men that ended in—nothing—lying awake in her dingy bed to hear her drunken husband smashing the bell or breaking the window below, or meeting him at street corners, thrusting a few shillings into his hand "to keep him quiet"—yet remaining always a refined gentlewoman, and never becoming utterly submerged or indeed much soiled by the putrid waters flowing round her. And then, the prosperity brought by Lucie's success, and the unwise, untrained spending of it, and Sophie's jealousy, and Sophie's failure, and still the struggle and the scheming, and the plots, and the quarrels, and the hot resentment against encroaching age and increasing languors of body, and the bitterness of her own empty hands...and the end of all things not so far away now.

The abominable husband was dead these ten years and his family, through this and Lucie's success, reconciled; very few of her present acquaintances knew what her life had been; but she could never forget; it had made her what she was.

And what of the younger woman who had grown up by her side through all her wretchedness and misery?

Starved and silenced, shabby and ashamed, outcast in every sense, untrained, uneducated, used to swirling passions and desperate scenes, familiar with bitter tears and angry outcries, suddenly finding she could earn money, quite a lot of money, with her gifts, writing, painting, designing feverishly, just for the money, delighting to spend it freely, in the most obvious ways on all of them; then, like her own mother, like Elizabeth Falconer, tripped and flung by her emotions.

Married recklessly—earning money to keep a sick husband—earning money to keep a baby, to keep all of them; now, in full youth, left with an invalid and a little grave.

And so they cried together, poor women, such fools, so scourged and lashed by that enigma we call Destiny.

And presently Lucie went back to finish "tidying up" and Mrs. Falconer lit another cigarette and asked Lucie if...she could manage ten pounds by the end of the week.


Chapter Six

§ I

LUCIE kept thinking of her answer to that letter of Pio's while she was giving Mrs. Falconer supper in the great, marble, gilt and glass palace of a tea shop. She was thinking of it afterwards, when they went back to the studio to wait for Sophie.

She did not speak of it; she talked, rather rapidly, about her work.

There was quite a demand for her articles, her designs, her illustrations; Mrs. Falconer brightened into some glow of pride in her achievement, especially as Lucie had provided the ten pounds.

"You ought to have a studio and gather people round you, Lucie."

Lucie, who worked in the "spare" bedroom of the furnished flat, said nothing; she knew that she could never afford a studio.

"You have really got a wonderful career," added Mrs. Falconer.

Lucie smiled.

"I'm afraid I don't really care for a career," she said gently. "And I don't like crowds."

"You're so unsociable."

"I suppose so."

"There is no end to what a woman like you could do. You don't make the most of yourself."

Lucie's smile was unsteady now.

"It seems rather useless—doesn't it?"

"You're thinking of Pio?"

"Oh, well—" Mrs. Falconer shrugged in irritation. "How could he count?—these days—"

Lucie hated the last two words; she thought they meant nothing at all, yet they were always used as final and weighty arguments; how could "these days" be different from any other—were we not, save in shifting transient custom, the same as the citizens of Memphis, the inhabitants of Susa or Tyre?

"Pio is not so well," she said suddenly. "I ought to get home and write to him to-night."

Mrs. Falconer ignored the first part of this sentence.

"I must wait for Sophie," she said. "Perhaps she means to go on to a theatre and sleep here."

"Perhaps," assented Lucie; Sophie's plans were always vague; she never told anyone in advance what she might do or not do; the possession of the "studio" helped her to all sorts of irresponsibility and confusion of daily life.

"You're tired," added Lucie. "Go home and I'll wait for her."

How ironic the word "home" sounded to her own ears; Mrs. Falconer, who was perpetually "moving" at present occupied furnished rooms, that she did not like, at Richmond.

"I suppose? ought to be here when she returns," said Mrs. Falconer wearily speaking from some dim echo of her own girlhood's conventions, "but I suppose it doesn't matter even if she does bring the young man up—girls are so free now—"

"As free as weeds—as plentiful, as unregarded, as often trampled on by indifferent feet," said Lucie bitterly.

"I don't know. Women get a very good time now—so many doors open now." Mrs. Falconer spoke flatly; she was really old and tired.

Yes, plenty of open doors now—but open on what? Arid avenues leading to nothingness.

"Do you want me to stay?" asked Lucie, putting on her hat. "I had that letter to write and some work to finish—"

"Is Pio really ill?"

"He seems to think so."

"He was always nervous and fanciful—I don't suppose it is anything. I wish Sophie would make haste. It is horrid for you going back to that lonely flat. We must take a place together. Toby Entwhistle is coming back soon. I'm hoping he'll give Sophie a good time—"

Thus Mrs. Falconer, vaguely, wearily, yet with such notes of tenderness and affection that Lucie felt the silly tears against her lids. What a "good time" would Elizabeth Falconer have given them all had she the means!

How she would bloom and glow even now if some of this "luck" she had been waiting for all her life came her way at last.

"Toby is very fond of Sophie," she continued. "I've often wondered if it wasn't to be him, after all—"

"She saw a good deal of him during the War?"

"Yes—how long ago the War seems!"

§ II

The War—how long ago indeed, and how little difference it had made to any one of them; it was so vast it had simply passed over their heads like a huge waterfall over the sight-seers beneath.

Lucie had been chained to her work, her husband, the coming and going of the baby. Mrs. Falconer had "hunted for jobs" for which she was too old, Sophie had "picked up" officers who had danced with her, and written to her and taken her out and disappeared and worked in a remount stable just long enough to be photographed in a Stetson hat and breeches and "wangle" this picture into the press with the caption "famous young singer working in the common cause"; everything had been difficult and agitating and nightmarish, high prices pinched and Lucie's work wasn't so well paid and they all talked a great deal about the wonderful things that were just going to happen to them—"when the War broke out, my dear, and there was an end of that!" Mrs. Falconer called herself one of the "new poor" and Sophie threatened a decline if Simon Kaye was killed.

But being a wealthy young business man who knew how to "wangle" as well as Sophie did herself, this adored object never got nearer danger than Hounslow, rather to Lucie's secret regret.

And so they had gone on, talking, talking, sometimes cheering, sometimes crying, shaken by scares, exalted by patriotic outbursts. And then it was over and hadn't really made any difference; life was the same combat among snatching desperate hoards.

§ III

Sophie returned.

She was sullen and out of humour, but smiling a little because Lucie had seen her with an admirer.

Lucie had to make cocoa; they drank this and ate "the remains of the tea" and talked about nothing, just a vague flow of emotional words from Mrs. Falconer and Sophie's short answers and Lucie's sad interjections.

Then they "cleared up" again and put out the gas and went out into the winter evening, putting on old wraps and bits of fur not fit to see the daylight, for it was very cold.

Lucie saw her aunt and cousin into a Richmond bus and then turned to wait for hers which stopped a little higher up the High Street.

She was thankful to be alone though her thoughts were poor company.

It was difficult to be serene when your life fell ruined about you, when everything round you seemed so out of proportion, distorted, grotesque, when the whole fabric of which you formed part of the pattern seemed to you pulled awry in its very warp and woof.

And Lucie was not of a soured or gloomy nature, there was nothing in her of the reformer or crazy idealist; she was easily pleased and thought the world a wonderful place.

It was just that she was an ordinary woman wanting ordinary things and therefore she was out of tune with her time, her environment, her "set."

She knew, quite well, that her soul was sick, and she thought that every woman she knew must have the same secret malady of—"nonfulflment." Yes, whether they blustered or drooped, were gay or melancholy, these swarms of unmated or wrongly mated women, "emancipated," "free," with their "careers," were just like diseased fruit, full of bitter dust round the withered core. Bus after bus passed Lucie as she stood on the curb and she took no notice of them.

How to discern behind all this the universal pattern?

How to feel it all temporary and fleeting and preserve your calm, your dignity—to find your womanhood not quite worthless, not utterly unwanted?

Sacrifice—this was supposed to be the salve for spiritual aches.

But Lucie had nothing to sacrifice.

"Inly this freedom, this dreadful freedom that I don't value at all."

She walked on, not in the direction of Chelsea.

There was that letter to answer; she might send a cable; the Strand Post Office was open till very late; all night, she thought. Quickly, for all her fatigue, she turned along Knightsbridge; her walk was of a noticeable grace and several people turned to look at her; at Sloane Street she took a bus and sat in the far corner, conning over the words of her wire.

What message could she send him that would reassure and help him?

She did not like to think of him as ill; she shuddered to think that he might die; the death of the baby had given her a horror of all death.

But he was not likely to die; he had always been very nervous about himself, making a great "fuss" about his health; she wished he had stayed in Sicily with his relations; who could be looking after him in Tuscany?

Of course his relatives expected her to go out to him; she knew what they understood by the word "wife."

And as the bus spun heavily through the empty stretch of Piccadilly, Lucie admitted to herself that this was about what she would do, and what she had known she would do, from the moment she opened her husband's letter.

She would go out and fetch him back and try again to make some sort of a home for him, or, if he was really ill, to see that he was properly nursed; it would not make any difference to anyone. Mrs. Falconer and Sophie would not like it, but all they really wanted from her was the money and she would see that they got that just the same; she had thought that there was nothing for her to sacrifice but there was—her peace and comfort, the even passage of the days; she knew that she could, if she wanted to, earn her living and look after her husband as well; she was indeed so used to standing alone, with the full financial responsibility of other people on her shoulders, that this did not trouble her at all; there was some money at the bank, some more coming in.

She would go to Italy.

There did not appear to Luck anything heroic in this decision; heroic things had never come her way; she was acting on the dictates of a sense of duty.

It was curious how many senses Lucie had, for she had never been taught or trained in any ethics or morals; yet deep rooted in her soul were these instincts, convictions, ideals of honour and chastity, duty and sacrifice.

Often she wondered at them herself for she had grown up in an atmosphere where such things were simply unknown.

Yet Lucie knew of them and cherished them passionately, if secretly.

Sophie called her narrow-minded and Mrs. Falconer said she must have inherited a "nonconformist conscience" from some forgotten ancestor.

And Lucie, though a free-thinker, really did admire nonconformity and all it stood for.

She left the bus at the plinth of Nelson's column and crossed Trafalgar Square to the old-fashioned, dowdy Post Office that seems so jostled and overshadowed by the buildings and the buses and the scurrying crowds.

A cold wind whistled up from the river, cutting up the heavy length of Northumberland Avenue, and there were not very many people about; along the corner railing fluttered a row of newspaper placards with stabbing headlines—an indecent divorce case, a brutal murder, a political crisis, a free insurance scheme, the likeness of a woman smudged in printers' ink, lifted and dropped by the indifferent gusts of the wind from the sea.

Lucie turned into the electric glare of the post office; it was full of people and all looked tired; the floor was littered and acrid dust filled the nostrils; a shabby woman with a baby stood in front of Lucie at the telegraph form desk; as she scrawled her message the child was sick, dribbled a bit of stale milk over the mother's cheap but "smart" coat, blinked its dull eyes, as if in hopeless appeal at the pitiless radiance of the electric light.

"I wish I didn't notice these things," thought Lucie.

She wrote her cable.


COMING AT ONCE. WRITING. LOVE. LUCIE.


And handed it to the tired clerk who impassively ticked off the words, as he must have ticked off so many thousands of words, frivolous or dangerous or vital.

The act of sending this cable strengthened Lucie and gave her a certain sense of stability, gave an order to her motives and actions. She was a wife going abroad to fetch a sick husband home; she tried to make that real to herself—to cling to this fact as to a sheet anchor.

When she left the post office, the people were coming out of the theatres, and the cold streets were full of clash and hubbub, racing taxis and gorged buses, women in evening dress bending before the wind as they darted for the openings in the Underground.

Lucie remembered then how late she had sent her cable off and how annoyed Pio would be to be knocked up at night for it; she often did this foolish sort of thing and she felt vexed as she hurried homewards.

There was very little chance of a bus now so she walked.

This part of London was very familiar to her; several years of her childhood had been spent in lodgings in a street off St. Martin's Lane, and the Free Library there had been her University; she had educated herself by means of the books there, and she was more cultured than most women she met for she had been a very studious and industrious child.

Opulent motorcars passed her, flooded with pearl-coloured light, occupied by women richly dressed in entrancing arrangements of fur and feather, lace and velvet. It really did seem to Lucie, as she trudged along, that the vulgar idea, that life was a fairy tale to these people, had much foundation.

Yet that she could have used her own gifts and looks to climb into affluence with, had never occurred to her; apart from everything else, there was a shyness, a timidity, a reserve about her nature that would never permit her to make a "bid" for anything of worldly value.

By the arcades of the huge hotel where Peter Sackett had given his mournful dinner yesterday, she managed to scramble into a bus, crowded of course with women, haggard, adorned, excited, talkative after their evening's entertainment.

How tired Lucie's eyes were of faces, how tired her ears were of voices—how sick she was of this drag into and out of buses, the dust and the mud, the press, the perpetual movement, the indifference, the apathy, the fatigue, the false excitement, given off by the swarms of people and poisoning the air.

How she dreaded the blast and chatter of that journey to Italy, the discomfort and turmoil and noise of Florence, the coming back with a sick man; she was so tired—her whole body shrank from fatigue as a burnt limb from the flame.

When she reached her flat, she bathed and crept into bed.

There were always dreams.


Chapter Seven

§ I

THERE were always dreams.

Lucie, whose reading was as great as her experience was little, was an adept in dreams; her mind stored with a thousand images could entertain her with many-coloured fantasies.

Nothing remarkable or romantic had ever happened to Lucie Uden; she had known no early love-affairs, no lover had ever kissed her save her husband, she remembered no men as friends, she knew very little about men; her world had always been overwhelmingly feminine.

But she had her dreams of heroes and giants, austere and stately males, gravely intent on noble works, haughty and cold save to one woman's kiss, unresponsive save to one woman's embrace. Between sleeping and waking, or wholly asleep, did not much magnificence hover round Lucie Uden's dreams as if the triple Hecate, mysterious, awful, had risen from the moonbeam of some silent pool to shake her inverted torches over this lonely woman's solitary pillow?

To-night, drugged by fatigue, she lay very still while the common images of the day were effaced from her memory and reality faded into the magic realms of sleep over which so many strange gods preside.

In this kingdom how many riches may one possess!—how many glorious sights behold!

A procession of white camels wearing scarlet laced with gold, marching across burning silver sand to some vast, wonderful, monstrous city where kings feasted and slaves toiled, Susa, Persepolis, Samarkand, Delhi, Memphis or Babylon.

A vase of white alabaster, warm-coloured, traced with the gold lines of a faint pattern, filled with vivid oranges, and long hard pink grapes, and thick twisted vine tendrils, and cloven peaches soft with silver bloom, and over all trails of jasmine with tiny dark foliage and white roses, perfectly curling perfect petals about the secret heart.

And now a jungle where the great grasses grow high, high above the head, their spear-like points starred with angry flowers, purple scarlet, aware, agape, and overhead in the torrid blue, unknown birds swirling while you press on, twisting between the grave stones until you find IT, the great idol, mountain high, squatting in the depths of silence, staring down with inhuman eyes, lit by the rays of the million jewels IT wears. And then orchards blossoming to the verge of the sea, casting a chift of petals on the quiver of the summer wavelets and a boat moored to one of the dipping boughs where you might sleep—so long!—and never wake to sorrow.

And again, an old, old monk smiling in a cell and all the walls dreamed away and thousands of stars sailing in to hear him play on two reed pipes.

With horse and man the armies gather, shaking the earth from Asia into Greece, denting the plains of Africa by weight of armaments, staining the waters of the Hellespont with reflections of their glory, hordes, hordes swarming round their kings, robed and crowned and eager for their prey!

Oh, windy moors and storm-blown skies, and rocky cities circled by ancient walls, and open seas unflecked by foam, and little islands like lily-buds, close as if one stem bore them all, and wide roads leading to imperial gates, and sunny chambers inhabited by peace and overlooking fields clouded by innumerable flowers, may I not in my dreams visit you all and be content?


Chapter Eight

§ I

LUCIE, with a secretiveness alien to her nature, but which she felt in this case to be very necessary, did not tell anyone of her project.

She arranged her business and her money, got her passport, packed her bags and bought her ticket before she said anything to Mrs. Falconer.

Her husband had replied to her wire and letter accepting, as a matter of course, her consent to come out to him; he said he would meet her at Turin and enclosed a long list of medicines she was to bring out.

Lucie wrote again—a page of arguments for his return to England—and she prepared the flat as well as she could for his arrival; she had it for another six months and they would have to manage with that for the present.

Her little moment of exultation when she had made her resolve to go, had soon faded and she felt utterly dispirited and tired; the fact that her husband would be able to meet her at Turin proved to her that he was not really very ill and she dreaded meeting him again and listening to his lamentations and wild schemes which she would have to discourage while trying to be compassionate and kind.

And perhaps he would resist the idea of returning to England; he had never been anything but difficult.

The Sunday afternoon she went to the studio to tell Mrs. Falconer and Sophie, she found Mrs. Bearish there, chattering in the bitter yet careless way she did when in fairly good spirits.

She was complaining of her daughter Aurora, who despite all her efforts was still unmarried, and who had had so many "little" love affairs with "queer" men that she was really now "licked bread and butter."

Sophie was on the divan with a novel and a headache and Mrs. Falconer smoked and listened and was very charming and sympathetic.

When Mrs. Bearish had gone, Sophie went to the piano and sang odd bits of music; she never seemed to know anything right through; and when this was over, Lucie told her aunt that she was starting for Italy on the Friday—"to fetch Pio home."

Mrs. Falconer disapproved—utterly.

"Why can't he come alone?"

"He is really ill."

"Nonsense! Rubbish! You must not dream of going."

"I'm afraid I've made up my mind already—"

"If anyone must go, send Sophie, she wants a change."

"It is too much to ask of her," said Lucie, who knew that her husband loathed Sophie, with whom he had often violently quarrelled, "it is my job, really."

"I suppose you want to go," sneered Sophie. "You always liked Italy."

"No, I don't want to go," returned Lucie, with some feeling. "I don't want anything, I'm very tired—but I feel I ought to go."

"And expect us to praise you for doing something heroic, I suppose?" said Mrs. Falconer, with that cruelty she was always ready to show to Lucie.

"I feel I ought to go," repeated Pio's wife dully.

Sophie picked up her novel as if the conversation bored her, and Mrs. Falconer talked violently about Lucie's marriage, any marriage, Pio, his people, all foreigners, with powerful choice of words and deep inflections of scorn.

Lucie's heart burned, but she was used to sitting patiently under her aunt's invective, well schooled not to answer back.

"I feel I should go," she repeated at length. "He is my husband," she added.

At this, as if in sullen displeasure, Sophie flung out of the room into the closet, banging the door after her.

And Mrs. Falconer smoked in silence as if Lucie had said something very silly and offensive.

Lucie also sat silent; she was quite sickened by these continual quarrellings and emotional scenes, confused by them, too; both her aunt and cousin made her feel as if she was in the wrong.

It was difficult, too, to defend her marriage, and perhaps her resolve to go to Italy did seem pretentious and priggish—perhaps it was mere convention and worn-out tradition guiding her action.

Faintly she tried to justify herself to her aunt's angry silence.

"You see," she said, "I don't really much care for this London life—I'm afraid I'm one of the women on whom a career has been rather wasted—you know what I would rather have had," she added with difficulty. "No one wants me here—I might as well go to Italy."

"Of course, my dear girl," said Mrs. Falconer acidly. "You will do exactly as you please—as you have always done. I don't pretend to have any authority."

Lucie did not answer; usually, in sheer weakness, she gave in during these arguments with her aunt, but some instinct (she knew not what to call it), was urging her to go to her husband, something far stronger than any lingering pity or affection she might have felt for Pio.

Only once before had she shown this strength in resisting the dominant influence of her life, and that was on the occasion of her marriage.

Mrs. Falconer knew she would not yield now, and the two women parted, as they had so often parted, in sadness and coldness.

But that was not the end of opposition for Lucie.

Sophie, the next day, came and lectured her on the "pain and distress you are causing my mother" and everyone to whom Mrs. Falconer mentioned her journey (Lucie herself would not speak of it) quite frankly laughed at her; there didn't seem to be a woman of their acquaintance who approved of Lucie Uden's resolve.

And Lucie, during the last days of her stay in London, felt lashed by scourges of scorn and hostile criticism.

"I wish I felt more like a free, liberated, emancipated woman," she thought, "and not so dreadfully desirous of someone, something to shelter behind."

Mrs. Falconer veered to a distressed affection more hard to resist than her anger.

"Mind, you are to come straight back, whatever Pio says or does—you can't possibly nurse him—and mind, if he is ill, you are to put him into a nursing home the moment you get back—you control the money."

And then she would wander off about Sophie and her mysterious love affair, and the last intrigue to catch the attention of Simon Kaye, who, inflated by money as a balloon by air, was ever floating further away above their heads.

Lucie paid over about half the money she had in the Bank, gave them the use of her flat while she was away, and presented Sophie with a few evening frocks, thus salving her conscience and placating their discontents.

§ II

And so, on a bitter iron-gray morning in February, a nervous, tired, rather shabby young woman was among the passengers on the boat-train from Charing Cross, having two small valises as her sole luggage, and her passport, money and ticket pinned inside her dress, after the manner of timid female travellers.

She was now no longer to be considered as Lucie Uden, the quite well-known designer and illustrator, but Signora Lucia Simonetti, Italian subject, returning to her country and her husband.

She wore a serge dress, a poney skin coat, a wine-coloured felt hat and veil, suede gloves and shoes; the ugliness of these clothes depressed her, yet she was used to clothes both ugly and cheap.

She felt herself so little, so inadequate, so foolish, so unwanted—so old compared to the pretty women she saw travelling with her, escorted, fussed over; she never expected that kind of thing, she had never had it, nor was she in the least envious or jealous, but she felt very self-conscious, lonely and "unwanted."

Mrs. Falconer had wept when she had said "goodbye," and Lucie wept now, gazing out of the window of the train, to think of her; but by staying she could have "done no good."

§ III

A sense of exhilaration at the sight of the gray tossing sea, the long curved arm of the harbour, the waiting boat, the scurry of porters, officials and sailors—the sight of your own coastline, of a few swooping gulls, of the juicy dusters of seaweed round the iron piers of the steps—the smell of the sea and the rain—the sense of a voyage, of transition, of all common daily things having stopped like a run-down clock; the cold pinching you, the wind dragging at your hair and clothes, the rain slashing your face—yet a sense of the eternal in all these things and you one with the eternal!

§ IV

Long discomfort of railway travelling, a dash across a city looking alien, more travelling in a rocking tearing train, sleeping huddled up with a green shade drawn over the electric light, waking to hear the "clink, clink" of axes testing the wheels, throat and nose dry from steam heating, blasts of damp cutting air when you opened the window, waking cramped, touzled, dirty, "tidying" yourself as best you could, pitched into the restaurant car to drink bitter coffee and eat reheated rolls in common with people as soiled, as absorbed, as queer as you felt yourself; pitched back to your seat to stare out of the window at rain, rain, across the fields of France, heavy with headache and stiff with cramp, sick of the commonplace yet grotesque folk among whom you had spent so many hours, clutching your money, your ticket, your passport—so into Italy, so into the station, cavernous, iron, dirt, vile smells of Turin.

§ V

Lucie climbed out of the train, a fellow passenger handed down the two valises, she stood with them at her feet, staring down the length of the huge covered station; on the roof the rain drummed steadily.

She could not see her husband.

The train roared away.

Lucie felt isolated, ready to cry. Supposing he was not able to come?

§ VI

She saw him coming down towards her, leaning on a stick.


Chapter Nine

§ I

LUCIE recognized him by the heavy blue overcoat he wore and the long thick Jaegar scarf wound about his throat; both garments were familiar to her; his face she would hardly have known.

She felt shaken by nervous embarrassment; the man was like a stranger; she tried to force herself to seem natural.

"I hope we are not late—have you been waiting long?"

"I thought you would have come sooner," he said, and kissed her without a smile. "I have been waiting here two days."

His voice was queer, rasping and yet fluting; he looked so terribly ill that her frightened gaze turned from his face; he leant heavily on his stick as if he really needed support.

"Where are the papers for your luggage?"

"I have only these."

"Why?" his face expressed instant annoyance.

"I thought we would go back at once," said Lucie. "You got my letter?"

"Yes. But I'm not going back. Your climate kills me."? porter had her valises now and they were walking out of the station.

"I think you ought to come back," said Lucie wearily. "Please do, Pio."

"Mrs. Falconer has been persuading you," he returned angrily. "Of course I shall not come, Dio Cristo! I should never have been allowed to come alone—have suffered from it."

"You said you were so much better."

"I am, much better. But still I am not quite well. I want a little care, good food and peace—what? never get in these hotels."

"Where are you staying?" asked Lucie.

"Opposite." His breath whistled in gasps, he was walking at a crawl. "The big hotel. To-morrow we will go to Viareggio."

"Viareggio?"

"I have taken a house there, where we can be quiet—the doctor said—I was to have sea air."

They stood under the entrance of the station, the rain poured down steadily; streets, buildings, sky, looked mud-coloured; a sharp wind from the Alps drove the rain, using it as a weapon to slash and drive at houses and people.

"I hate this place," said Pio.

Slowly they crossed the wet piazza, followed by the porter, and passed the glass doors of the hotel and into the lift.

Porter and liftman looked at him anxiously; he seemed absorbed in some secret trouble and not to notice anything.

Luck, acutely self-conscious, saw the glances and shivered.

There were more glances from the chamber maid as Pio asked her to see that tea was brought up to their room.

"He is very ill," thought Lucie, and she was horribly afraid.

When he had first written to her that he was ill, she had had the swift thought—"if he dies, I shall be really free," now she was as frightened as if she had greatly loved him; shocked as well as frightened, for she had ceased to think seriously of the question of his health; he had been always ailing and sickly; but now surely he was in the grip of something fatal.

Still wearing his heavy overcoat and muffler and holding his light gray felt hat on his knee, he sat silent, staring in front of him.

Lucie had not expected any display of affection or gratitude; she was used to his acceptance of her utmost with no hint of acknowledgment; but he had remained, according to his nature, "in love" with her, and her presence had never before failed to evoke from him a certain emotion of pleasure and excitement.

But now he was utterly listless.

Lucie sat by the window; she felt giddy, as if she was still in the rushing train, stiff and constrained as if she was still crushed in a narrow space with a crowd of strangers, bewildered and aching in all her faculties and limbs.

The room was large and very clean, furnished with the light Austrian wood pieces, immaculate linen covered the bed, the long glass in the wardrobe gleamed spotless; the window opened into a tiny balcony; it was very high up; the piazza with the tram terminus, the station, the converging streets, looked like the lines of a map dotted with minute figures.

The chamber maid brought up the tea,—thick white china, butter in thin pats, honey in little saucers, rolls and a pot of tea.

Pio did not move, but as Lucie closed the window through which the rain was drifting, he motioned to her to leave it open.

Lucie took off her hat, opened one of her valises and put some of her things out; she noticed with a furtive eye of dread an array of medicine bottles on the table by the bed; there was a faint acrid smell in the room.

Her husband's luggage, expensive trunks, portmanteaux and cases stood about, looking familiar yet alien; on the dressing-table was the ivory and silver toilet set she had given him and a gold watch in a travelling case.

She poured out the tea and was glad to drink the thin fragrant beverage.

"How long have you been here?" she asked.

"One night."

"You shouldn't have come—I could have travelled straight through."

"I wanted to come—it has been very dull."

"Yes—but if you are not feeling very well—it is a tiring journey—"

"I am quite well—almost cured—only I had a little fever that pulled me down—"

"But when you wrote to me—asking me to come—you thought you were worse?"

"I had a nasty turn with a bad cold and the doctor said that I ought to have someone to look after me—he said it was most unfair that I should be left alone—"

"But, Pio," faltered Lucie, "you went home for your people to look after you—"

"Do not talk of Sicily," he replied fretfully. "I wish the whole island was at the bottom of the seamy father has become imbecile, my sister is ill, my brother is impossible, they do nothing but borrow money, I get no comfort there, no encouragement, no place even to live in!"

Lucie gazed at the rain which was making a wet patch on the polished floor.

"Besides," added Pio, "we have been separated long enough. I do not like this kind of life—you said you would come out, it is your aunt prevents you and your friends, they hate me and want to separate us."

This was true enough, but omitted one important particular; Lucie was the breadwinner.

"I had work to finish," she said.

"You can work here as well as in England."

"I can't—really—"

"I will not come back to England—the doctor says I must have the sun."

"Who is he, this doctor?"

"Dr. Villari very good, I think he understands my case—besides I have taken this house—and our tickets for tomorrow."

Lucie knew that to argue further would be to provoke violence; she drank her tea while he lay back in his chair as if exhausted by so much talking.

Pio Simonetti was a Sicilian, about thirty years old, of pure inbred race, from an old and decaying family long resident in a hill town more ancient than Rome.

He was tall, always too slender, handsome in a dark hawk-like fashion, with the fine eyes and sweeping brows so usual in the South, thick waving hair, coarsely modelled nose and lips and a sallow dull complexion.

In the four months since Lucie had seen him he had changed considerably; he was now so thin that all the hollows and contours of his skull were visible, the skin hung flaccid in a double circle under each eye, the hair was thinning on the temples and sprinkled with white, the full lips were of a bluish colour and painfully compressed.

"I will now take a rest," he said and rose as if with an effort.

As he moved he began to cough.

He sat down again and continued coughing.

Lucie was used to his cough but she had never seen anything like this; he beat the air convulsively, he writhed, he twisted, in torture, the sweat stood on his forehead; he motioned to Lucie to give him one of the medicines on the bedside table; she did not know which to give as they were all different from those he had used at home, but she gave him a glass of water from the wash stand, and the paroxysm subsided in a gasp of whispered curses.

In silence she helped him out of his coat and muffler and on to the bed; he was handsomely, even extravagantly dressed; he had never spared money on his clothes and his personal appointments. Propped up on one elbow, he poured himself out a dose from one of the bottles ready.

"I am always to have these," he whispered, "when I cough. It is nerves—my lungs are quite sound—the doctor says so."

He sank back, panting, on the large clean pillow.

"And that 'sirop'—the red—I take two tablespoonfuls at five and they will bring up some eggs and Marsala which I take soon after to keep my strength up."

"Very well," said Lucie.

She went and sat down by the window trying to recollect her wits; Pio was very soon in a heavy, and, as it seemed to Lucie, an unnatural sleep.

It was clear he was very ill; even her ignorance could see that; also it was obvious he was set against a return to England.

He had even undertaken liabilities as to a house, doctors, etc., that she would be able to pay off; there seemed to be nothing for it but for her to at least go to Viareggio and see this doctor and find out the truth.

It did not besides seem to her that he had the strength for the journey to England—perhaps he would gain this shortly—or perhaps he was daily becoming worse.

Anyhow he claimed her, expected, exacted her services and time, her presence and assistance as well as her money, and she did not see how she could repudiate these claims—since he had quarrelled with his family, he had no one save herself.

She almost smiled to think of the complete selfishness of his reception of her; not one word had he said of her health, her comfort, her journey, her possible fatigue.

Yet against this she tried to put the effort he had made in coming to Turin, and to the station, the care he had taken with his appearance—she supposed anyone who was ill was selfish.

Rising wearily she went to look at him as he slept.

She knew now, beyond any shadow of doubt, that she cared nothing for him, was not even interested in him; this sudden sight of him, this realization of his ill-health, had effectively killed any sparks of sentiment she might have been endeavouring to cherish; she loathed sickness and this man's malady repelled her absolutely; she did not feel dislike or contempt, only indifference for the man and horror for the disease.

As she looked back into the past she felt a blushing amazement that she had ever been able to cheat herself into taking this man for any semblance of Love.

He was sunk deep into the pillows, his breath came in hoarse snores; now and then his limbs twitched under his fashionable clothes; he had the appearance of utter futility.

Surely he was drugged; Lucie looked at the bottle from which he had taken his dose; it was labelled "goceie Mafenjie" which told her nothing.

§ II

Lucie washed and changed her frock and felt rested, even reanimated despite the senseless figure on the bed.

She went again to the window and stepped out; the rain had almost ceased; the sky was showing a pale washed blue through the rifts in the watery clouds; a man with a close packed basket of roses on his back passed below, a faint tremulous indefinable excitement stirred Lucie.

She could imagine how wonderful it would be to come here, young and happy, with health and love for company...she would have liked to go out and see the strange famous town, which she did not know at all; but he had asked for his medicine at five—and might wake before and miss her. He always displayed his fiercest jealousy of her slightest independent action.

§ III

Again Lucie reminded herself that she was absolutely free; she lived in an age of feminine "emancipation"; there was hardly any length of freedom to which women might not go, she was able to earn her own living, and there was not only no one with any authority over her, but no one who had any right whatsoever to offer her advice.

And those most interested in her affairs, Mrs. Falconer, Sophie, her few friends, would certainly absolutely applaud her in any assertion of independence she chose to make.

She could hardly exaggerate the extent of her own freedom; whatever course seemed best to her own judgment she might securely take.

And she knew perfectly well what was the obviously sensible and prudent thing for her to do—perhaps also the wisest and kindest—that was to refuse to listen to anything Pio might do or say and insist on his return to England and his entry into a good nursing home; if she did this, and saw that he was well treated and paid for him out of her own not too easily earned money, she knew that everyone would consider that she was behaving quite well, even generously.

Or, if he was quite obdurate about this course, she could give him a small sum of money and let him return to Sicily, or drift about Italy, as he wished, while she went home and resumed her own life.

And why, in resuming that life, should she submit again to that other tyranny of Mrs. Falconer and Sophie?

There also, there was no real obligation on her, over and over again she had repaid anything she might have owed for being just barely clothed and scarcely fed and not in the least educated; since she was sixteen she had earned rather more than her own keep and everything she knew she had taught herself, with hardly encouragement. Why, therefore, did she not cut herself free from both Mrs. Falconer and Pio and live her own life free from emotional entanglements—really, her own life, at last.

There were so many things she would have liked to do that she had never been able to dream of doing—yet things that were quite in her power to do, if she could only have stood upright, given herself room to move.

Travel, for instance, and leisure for her work, and some beauty of surrounding and adornment. But what was the use?

§ IV

What was the use of talking of freedom for women, when the sheer fact of your sex trippled you every time?

Lucie always came back to that.

You weren't free, you simply couldn't be free, when all the instincts of your nature (instincts how strong, how terrible!) were driving you to find a mate, and the only way for you to secure this mate was marriage, an institution but ill adapted for the independent woman.

And what was the use of freedom if you weren't trained to use it?—if, from generations of enclosed women, you had inherited the wish to be enclosed and protected—if you hated to stand alone and be free—simply made a mess of it, if you tried.

And this without being a fool or a dinging sentimental coquette—but a creature intelligent enough to know yourself.

Intelligent enough to know that you, as a woman, because you were a woman, never could be really free, because of your nerves, and your emotions, and your physical weaknesses, your lack of mental stability, your desperate need of love.

§ V

Lucie looked again at the bed; the sleeping man had never moved.

How he had trusted her!

He was passing as quite a wealthy man, taking a fashionable villa, going to expensive doctor after doctor, lending money to his family—his clothes costly, all his habits luxurious—and without troubling even to be grateful or pleasant, he was quite certain that she would support him in everything, never mentioning whose money it was, playing the dutiful wife as if every penny was his.

And Lucie knew that he had not relied in vain; she knew she could not go back on him.

§ VI

She tried to be very honest and sincere with herself; to think the problem well out; this man stood for a good dead in her life.

She had set him up, as the primitive Greeks had set up their Xoamen, those first formless images of the Gods they worshipped, rude, with hardly any likeness to a human form, but the best they could achieve.

But these archaic statues, "handless, footless, eyeless," were draped in embroidered veils, adorned with boughs of myrtle, drenched in scented oil and decked with wreaths until they became beautiful to the gaze of the worshippers.

And Lucie had done the same, since this man must stand for at least one God to her; she had lavished herself and her money to disguise and elevate him.

Was it for her, the priestess of this poor altar, to strip the idol bare and show it for the wretched block of wood it was?


Chapter Ten

§ I

A WAITER brought up the eggs and Marsala and Lucie roused her husband, not without difficulty. She had switched on the electric light and the square of sky in the open window looked the colour and texture of a violet.

Lucie prepared the eggs; the yolks had to be given in a tablespoonful of Marsala, the whites cast away.

She broke one yolk (her hands shook from fatigue) and Pio was angry.

His face was very red and his eyes bloodshot; Lucie was used to what he called his "feverish attacks."

"We had better have dinner upstairs," she said quietly. "No—? have ordered it downstairs," he answered. "I do not like to be up here—"

"But you are not? t—you have, I'm sure, a temperature."

"I'm quite well," he said petulantly. "It is this wretched cold pulled me down."

She helped him off the bed; then gave him the "sirop," a French patent medicine that was, he declared, doing him great good.

"Dr. Villari recommended it."

Lucie, glancing at the bottle, saw the stuff was supposed to cure consumption.

"Do let us have dinner up here, I am tired, too," she said in a kind of panic.

"Mrs. Falconer might have travelled with you," he said, "to help you. It will not tire you to come down to the restaurant."

Lucie felt as if it would not only tire but kill her to enter a public place, under the fire of those alien eyes, with a man so ill.

But it was, of course, beyond her strength to argue with Pio, and when he had laboriously and painfully adjusted his dress, they descended in the lift to the restaurant, which was a large and fashionable café attached to the hotel, not, as Lucie had hoped, a quiet dining room.

§ II

Under ordinary circumstances, Lucie would have enjoyed the scene for she was, in her proper disposition, normal and cheerful minded.

She liked Italy and the Italians; she liked their obvious characteristics of gaiety and exaggeration, of enthusiasm and violence, she liked their "parradre," the flair they had for making life a picturesque and brilliant business—on the surface at least.

The large room was crowded; the lights were very bright, the talk very noisy, a considerable orchestra, on a raised platform, turned over their music in an interval between the swaggering melodies.

The company was predominately male; the hordes of women that bewildered and depressed in England, were (as yet) absent in Italy; Lucie had always noted this, and that it gave the country a virile, assured, straightforward air, perhaps wholly false to the real character of the people.

But there it was, very definitely, that sense of masculinity, jolly eating and drinking of hearty meals, loud martial music, brisk swaggerings, bold oglings and unabashed stares, much flaunting and self-assurance on the part of a sex obviously predominant that could still afford to be courteous and tender towards women that still had leisure (plenty) to make love.

Lucie liked men; the one she had married was the only one who had loved her; she had no male friends, but a great many acquaintances and there were a great many more, not even acquaintances, whom she met daily, at home, in the course of her business. And she found them all kind, pleasant and decent folk.

Man as a wolfish pursuer, man as a leering satyr, man as a "beast," she had never seen. She knew of course that he must exist, because she had heard so much of him from other women, but for herself he had never come her way; she had found men invariably nice, frank and helpful.

Whenever she had told Mrs. Falconer or Sophie this, they had hinted that it was because she was a plain woman.

Lucie was quite prepared to believe them, but she could not help thinking from the viewpoint of her own experience.

And she liked to talk to men because they always kept to such wholesome topics—when you got alone with a woman she nearly always talked of things you didn't like—always sex.

Sometimes woman giggled, sometimes she laughed, or preached, or lamented, or gossiped, but the subject was always the same—sex.

Often she said ghastly things—sometimes, if she was young and pretty, she was charming about it; sometimes, she was quite hideous; but it was always sex.

And Lucie wasn't interested in sex as sex at all.

Therefore she always preferred the company of men, or gatherings where there were men present to keep the women in check.

§ III

The café was surrounded by huge plate glass windows giving on the street; on them the rain drops gleamed; people came and went quickly through the four-fold door; the place was steam-heated, stuffy and stale; a great number of the men were in uniform, gay jovial fellows in the gray or blue cloaks, high collars and tight tunics of the infantry and artillery, with handsome faces and fine figures, noisy, swaggering, charming, but too often with the flushed cheeks and pouched eyes of debauchery. The umbrella stand was full of swords, the pegs above laden with peaked caps, waiters hurried to and fro with cries of "vengo!" carrying heaped dishes of savoury food and baskets of fruits and straw-coloured "fiaschi."

Lucie and her husband took their seats at a little table near the entrance to the hotel; she was so heartened by the cheerful humanity of the scene that her thoughts went from the sick man and she forgot her fatigue.

The waiter was pouring "asti-spumante" into her glass and the orchestra began to play Ernani.

Lucie's blood bounded; she felt it all worth while; the music took her spirit up with a rush; it was all worth while—even to be in trouble, in difficulties.

She looked round at the other women there, a few middle-class wives, robust and hearty, a few cantatrice with the officers, good humouredly and straight-forwardly painted hussies, knowing their job well, with no pretence of knowing anything else, each type of woman, in her different way, happy and at ease.

Lucie wished that her life had fallen on some conventional lines of virtue or vice; how easy, how untormented by problems might one live in some definite estate mapped out by one's forbears, taught and trained by responsible parents, financed sufficiently to be able to avoid sharp discomforts, not so much as to have a deceptive freedom. Supposing now it was Pio who had the money and she was incapable of earning any—it would all have been so simple!

It was this standing alone and deciding for oneself that was so terrible.

The orchestra swept into the famous quartette—Paulo Quinto.

Such music always moved Lucie, she had never outgrown the thrill of martial melody, of swinging verve, of any call to noble deeds; in many ways she was very simple, she was almost piteously eager to respond to any heroic emotion. Gazing at the orchestra she saw her own reflection in the glass beyond them, pale, with the bright hair piled on the top of her head, and the mouse-coloured dress; and she saw Pio's profile and the way he was bending over his plate.

Sharply she turned from the reflection to the reality; he had eaten nothing, his fallen face expressed utter woe and suffering.

"Take some wine," said Lucie faintly.

He emptied his full glass, but with an effort; he complained feebly about the food, the cooking; her appetite was gone also; she could eat no more; the music ceased; nothing but noisy talk filled the room.

Pio leant back in his chair; Lucie thought his countenance hardly human; she deliberately drank another glass of wine in the hope that it would dull her senses.

Several people were looking at them; she caught the word, "moribundo."

Supposing he began to cough, supposing he fainted.

The publicity of the position was agony to her nerves always super—sensitive; she had even more than the usual English dread of anything in the nature of a public scene.

"Shall we go upstairs?" she asked.

She tried to think it courage and to admire him for it, but inwardly she raged against his crass selfishness that could never, never consider her point of view.

Her overwrought mind raced round all sorts of horrible possibilities—supposing they were asked to leave the hotel, supposing he collapsed in the train to—morrow?

Food was put before them and taken away untouched. Pio asked for brandy, and drank it neat.

At last he consented to leave; they were playing a waltz now; he had to lean on her to get to the door; more people than before stared at them.

In the lift he began to cough, by the time they reached their room he was choking.

Lucie gave him his drops, gave him water, opened the windows, waited till the hideous paroxysm had passed.

When he could speak he whispered that he wanted to go to bed.

Lucie helped him to undress, helped him to drop, exhausted, gasping, into the large clean bed, and to arrange over his chest the medicated cotton wool, the wad of flannel, the double fronted wool vest that he wore at night.

Then he demanded the light out and the night-light lit. Lucie obeyed and moved about silently, folding up his expensive clothes.

"Is this consumption?" she thought; she had never heard a definite name given to his malady; she knew nothing of any diseases; what she had read of consumption did not tally with this, she thought.

But she knew enough to know that, if it were, she was running an almost crazy risk of infection.

She poured some of the powerful disinfectant she had brought with her into a saucer and stood it in a corner.

Pio was watching her; he cursed as fluently as his cracked voice would allow.

"What are you doing that for? There is nothing the matter with me. What will the hotel people think?"

"I might catch your cough," said Lucie quietly.

"You are always thinking of yourself," he muttered.

Lucie smiled; it seemed to her really funny; her sense of humour helped her a good deal when dealing with Pio.

She threw the disinfectant out on to the balcony; as she did so she caught a glimpse of the gay town below; people were going out for the evening, mounting trams, springing into "carriages," walking about in the cool wet evening.

§ IV

"I'm cold—cover me up," came Pio's harsh whisper behind her; she returned to his bedside and found he was shuddering and shivering as if in an ague; his face was livid and his hand, when she touched it, stung with icy coldness.

She tucked all the bedclothes round him, she piled on his coat and her own, and at last every garment he had taken off and still his teeth chattered; he wanted her to ring for the chambermaid and ask for more blankets, but she shrank from that; and presently the fever began to mount and he tossed off all his coverings frantically; a purple flush gave his face a fleeting likeness of health; he muttered and twisted and finally slept.

Lucie wanted to cry, but she was too tired, and there was no one to comfort her if she did; it was only eight o'clock and she was shut up here for the night—with nowhere to sleep.

There wasn't even a couch or an easy chair, and she was far too timid to ask for one. For as long as she could, she sat up by the open window, in the stiff chair, gazing down at the lighted piazza and the front of the station; then, when her fatigue was no longer to be borne, she undressed, put on her thick dressing-gown, wrapped herself in her travelling-rug and lay down, with a shudder, on the edge of the bed where the sick man sprawled in his delirious sleep.


Chapter Eleven

§ I

THE train rocked and swayed south, rattling through the incessant tunnels on the Ligurian coast, skirting the tossing winter sea.

Lucie sat in a corner of the over-heated dusty carriage; beside her was the remains of a cold chicken and spotted Sausage in a grease-proof paper and a little empty bottle of Chianti.

Opposite sat her husband, flushed after his food and in quite good spirits.

He was already full of plans—began to discuss them, in his hoarse voice, which came raspingly to Lucie between the clangings of the train.

"He is not so ill after all," thought Lucie with relief.

He had passed the entire night in a sleep of stupor, and save for one coughing fit when he awoke, had seemed notably better to-day; he had even expressed some pleasure in Lucie's society and some satisfaction that she was really with him again at last.

"He takes me for granted," thought Lucie dreamily. "He really thinks that I love him and I am delighted to be here on any terms."

There was something dreadful and pathetic in this belief of his; it frightened Lucie.

He told her of the difficulties he had found in securing a house; at Viareggio it had been hopeless; he had had at last to take one at Forte dei Marni; Lucie read between the lines of his narrative that people had been frightened of the state of his health; he had been asked to leave two hotels in Viareggio "because of his cough"; Lucie could only wonder how he had contrived to secure this house he had now taken.

He described it, vaguely, he had no gift of words, and added that he had engaged Marianna, the servant who had been with them when they were in Italy before, when he had been for a short time attached to a Belgian tramway company, and they had lived in Parma, Naples and Rome.

Twice they had been in Viareggio for a holiday, and on one of these occasions engaged Marianna, a native of Pietrasanta, who had moved about with them till the War had driven them back to England.

She had now, Pio said, left a situation to come back to them.

This further depressed Lucie; they could not, must not, stay in Italy, and now there was this further obligation to Marianna!

He had promised her a high wage, too, he seemed to have absolutely no regard for money.

§ II

In and out of the tunnels—light and the tossing gray sea—darkness, foul, full of rushing clang and blast and clatter, smeared with electric light.

Lucie was stiff and cramped and weary; her mind kept turning over and over endless anxieties, troubles, problems.

On her knees were some stale English newspapers and magazines bought at Turin station; they were full of the woman problem and sex warfare, the claims and clamours of women, women, women, demanding the right to work, full equality with men in every direction, the opening of every gate still closed, the removal of every obstacle that still remained to their complete emancipation; and in the same papers specious advertisements of paints and powders and beauty masks and frivolous useless clothes and jewellery, and a story written by a woman for women where the heroine struggles ("primitive woman with primitive man") in the passionate grasp of the brutal villain.

That and the advertisements are the only true things in the paper, thought Lucie, that is what we are really like—the rest is just clap-trap-rot—humbug.

§ III

Lucie put aside the newspapers with disgust; Pio had fallen into a heavy sleep now, huddled in the corner, there was not even his poor talk to distract her thoughts.

Everything seemed so far away from the original scheme of things which was so simple and so direct; the sexes seemed smudged one into the other, the woman acquiring masculine qualities, the man aping feminine to please the women who were the majority and had the most odd shillings and pence to spend—the men really hating the women because they were so unwomanly, the women really despising the men who were giving in to them, all the broad outlines of sex difference lost, obscured, denied, yet everyone, in one way or another, secretly centred round sex.

That was why the War had been popular, really; the men had been men, then, right up in the saddle with the women hanging round waiting for a glance—and they had simply loved it; every unattached woman and a great many who weren't, had enjoyed the War.

But it was over and there were no more uniforms or bands, or riotous leaves or farewells or home-comings, no longer any drama or emotion or excitement in the air.

It was over, blowing down, in its cross-winds, the social fabric of the moment and over the ruins we all scrambled, hordes, swarms, swarms...

Lucie had just read the report of a sermon by a woman preacher—she made jokes about St. Paul, about her hat, about the bishops...the wit and daring of it—in a church too!

They said she was wonderful—she and the other women (plenty of them now) who spoke in churches.

But they proved St. Paul right, by their mere presence; as long as the Church was a Church, the women were silent; when the Christian religion had become something you had to explain away by pretending it was something else, when you were ashamed of hell fire, and apologised for heaven (symbolism, of course, you said, and how beautiful!) then the females whooped in through the broken doors and joked over the desecrated shrines, like magpies chattering over a ruin.

It was quite safe.

Saint Paul was dead.

You could say what you liked about him—you could be "funny" about God.

It helped fill the Church.

§ IV

It was all disintegrating, the whole of Europe; like the dead empires of Assyria, of Africa, of Greece and Rome; why not? Why should we expect to escape?

But it would not be fire from heaven that would bum, or barbarian hordes who would overwhelm us, but the dry rot from within—the rule of the women.

They were beginning to rule.

It was like the Church—the State was just something you gassed about at elections and in newspapers—there wasn't any patriotism or statesmanship—the Big Business Men "ran" Parliament, they "ran" the country, the aristocracy limped behind them, picking up the crumbs they dropped, marrying them. (Oh! this blessed institution of marriage whereby titles and money, may exchange hands so decorously!) The people, while they were comfortable, didn't bother, and when they weren't so comfortable made those uneasy movements that caused some sop to be thrown to Cerberus, some fresh cry yelled from the hustings—and the Big Business Men "managed" it all so nicely.

Like a big shop.

Where, of course, no one made any profits.

And now there were the Big Business Women coming along, and they were going to look after us all, so efficiently.

On the ruins the magpies scolding, and chattering, and flapping their wings.

§ V

Lucie tore the newspapers across and cast them out of the window as the train cleared a tunnel; a strong wind seized them instantly and swept them away.

Lucie tried to sleep; Pio was snoring; his head fallen forward, a purple smear on either cheek-bone; she noticed the thinning of his wavy hair on top, the premature greyness over the temples, the way his slight frame struggled with his breath.

So far they had had the carriage to themselves.

At Genoa some people got in, second-class passengers who could not find room anywhere else.

A family.

The mother sat opposite to Lucie; she had a baby of a few weeks on her knee, another baby about eighteen months settled beside her, while the third, a child of three or so, sat on a little cushion at her feet.

The husband sat in front of her, smiling shyly at them all; the two babies were soon asleep; the father gave the elder boy biscuits, carefully wiping his mouth and fingers after each nibble.

They were middle-class Italians, heavy, handsome, clean and happy; the children were very beautiful.

The mother in her totally unconscious attitude of repose and protection formed a picture from which Lucie could hardly take her eyes; the tiny infant in the white frock lay so comfortable and placid on her wide knee, the little sister in her cherry-coloured hood slept so confidingly in the lovely curve of her arm, pillowed so softly against her soft side, the boy sat so quiet and secure in the fold of her gown; all were so endearingly like each other, like her, and like the dark mail who kept smiling at them all.

Lucie shuddered in her bitter misery; how could there be any doubt that here was the one thing for a woman?

You might miss it, as she had missed it, you might never have a chance of it—but that couldn't alter the fact.

Find any woman doctor, lawyer, chemist, engineer, and see what they look like beside this simple creature and her children.

See how she is made, soft and curved, weak and patient, especially for this one task, see the little things pressed round her, happy; see Love, fluid from one to the other, and Beauty, and more than all, divine Content.

§ VI

With the twilight they reached the last station, descended from the high train, and stood on the long icy platform; the cold took the breath; the Apennine Mountains, crowned with marble, seemed to be very near; the cypresses on the hillside were black against the chill winter sky fading round the intense stars.

A hunch-backed porter took Pio's smart valise and her shabby bag, Lucie remembered him, she felt so friendless she was pleased that he remembered her with the cheerful courtesy of the Tuscan peasant.

A little "carozza" waited for them outside the station; it was nearly dark and so wintry that no one was abroad.

Pio was shivering now, complaining, coughing, bent over his stick, his good spirits of the morning were totally gone; when Lucie spoke to him he was curtly rude.

In great discomfort they rattled and banged in the spring-less carriage over the abominable road of ruts and stones; it was quite dark by the time they reached the sea; they drove about a mile along the belt of pines and a tramline and stopped at a little wooden gate in the low railing that enclosed the pine trees.

Marianna came running out of the darkness with a lantern; she greeted Lucie noisily, as if she had seen her yesterday; Pio cursed her for a fool.

They crossed the belt of pine trees and went into the house.

This was the back entrance and led into the kitchen; it all seemed very vast and very ill-lit.

The coachman left the valises and was paid; Pio, trembling and gasping, was helped upstairs by the two women.

He was in a state of collapse; Lucie assisted him into bed, gave him his drops, waited on him, listened to him, sat still till he was asleep.

Then crept downstairs.

Marianna was making coffee in the big kitchen, the smell heartened Lucie; she was half delirious with fatigue. "Where is the doctor?" she asked.

"He will come to-morrow, Signora."

"What does he say—do you know?"

"Poor padrone," answered Marianna, with philosophical calm. "He cannot live six weeks."

Lucie sat down on the kitchen chair.

"Does he say so—?"

"Yes."


Chapter Twelve

§ I

MARIANNA had the serene, cheerful philosophy of the true peasant; she was a robust, middle-aged woman, with fine shining black hair and twinkling eyes, noisy, humorous, vulgar, incredibly hard-working and faithful.

Lucie had always understood and liked her; to Pio she had been a continual source of irritation; so Lucie guessed that he had been desperate when he had turned to her again.

It was quite obvious why she had come; she passionately admired her "signora" who had before been extravagantly good to her and her family in the matter of wages and tips and presents.

Lucie, who spoke Italian well, now questioned her as to what she knew.

It was very little; Martinelli, a poor hanger-on of Pio's, a general odd job man, had come to her at Marsa where she had had a place and asked her to come at once to Forte dei Marni where Pio had just taken this villa.

"How did he get it?" asked Lucie dully. "In Viareggio everyone drove him away."

"It belongs," said Marianna, "to a Russian Princess, very far away and the custode is blind. The doctor said it was nothing serious," she continued cheerfully. "When it happens he will say heart failure."

She put a little meal in front of Lucie and watched her eat, which the tired woman did slowly and mechanically, drinking too, the red Chianti that did, a little, blur the edges of things.

Marianna told, quite impartially, of the dreadful trouble they had had with the padrone; he had been so violent, raving for his wife, complaining of everything, abusing her and the poor Martinelli who had been helping to look after him.

"And so difficult with the money, signora, he gives me five francs a day for everything. And it is not enough," she grinned.

Yes, Pio had always had queer ideas of economy; Lucie recalled with a pang that he had asked for money that morning to pay the hotel bill and that she had, out of delicacy handed him her pocket book with over fifty pounds in it; he had changed it into Italian money and kept it; she could command about ten shillings.

"We must humour him, Marianna," she said quietly, "if there is so little time we mustn't thwart him—I'll see you get your money."

Strange to think that this woman and everyone here who knew them thought that it was all Pio's money!

"And the doctor says that you had better not sleep in the same room," continued Marianna brightly, "but I did not dare make you a bed up in the other room, the idea made the padrone angry.

"Why didn't the doctor put a nurse in?" asked Lucie.

"There aren't any who would nurse that disease! You must always say it is heart trouble, signora, or no one will come near him."

A bell clanged through the silent house.

"The padrone!" screamed Marianna and clattered upstairs.

Lucie sat in the large clean kitchen facing what was before her; she was sure that she couldn't do it, would never really be expected to do it; some help must come from somewhere.

She was morbidly sensitive to the horrible and unpleasant, not at all sure of her nerve or her courage; Pio was a coward, moral and physical, he didn't want to die, he didn't know what was the matter with him; she couldn't stand by while he found out.

And this great house and the loneliness—and every possible inconvenience; it was unthinkable; all her hope rested on the doctor; he must have some plan, some scheme, surely he would come over early to-morrow and see him; and then there was the money; a lot of money would be needed, there would be so much wanted; she must go on earning money—somehow.

Marianna came hurrying back into the kitchen.

"He wants you, signora," she said cheerfully, "I ought to tell you, the doctor said, that he had two loaded revolvers hidden somewhere."

Pio had always had those revolvers.

"Why didn't the doctor take them away?"

"He tried to, but the padrone would not give them up—" the bell clanged furiously. "Per l'amore de Dio, go upstairs, signora!"

"You sleep downstairs?"

"Yes, next the kitchen."

Lucie took the candle and went out into the wide passage and slowly up the stone stairs; after her came Marianna's cheerful: "buona notte e dolce riposo."

Pio was waiting for her, propped up in bed, flushed and angry.

He complained bitterly about Marianna; the woman got on his nerves; she would have to leave, she was very wasteful.

He gasped out a lesson on economy, he reminded Lucie that she was a careless housekeeper, he told her (for the thousandth time) how his mother had saved the soap and the string, dried the grapes and bleached the linen and how marvellous her cooking had been; now and then he interrupted his diatribe to give her directions for his comfort.

She put everything he asked for on the little table by the bed, she put the horrid harsh little dinner bell within easy reach, and the pile of thick woollen vests and night shirts ready on a chair, she arranged the little wick floating in the glass of oil, cursed for her clumsiness because it burned badly at first.

There were two beds in the room, the empty one was near the open window; when at last he was asleep and she lay down on this, the rain was driven in over her.

Twice she fell asleep and each time the bell roused her; first he wanted the eggs and Marsala; secondly he was so drenched with sweat she had to change his soaked flannels and the sodden bed linen, and then hold him up while he fought for breath in a hideous cough.

When the drops had reduced him to stupor, Lucie, wearing the poney skin coat for warmth, lay face downwards on her bed and faintly cried.

§ II

With the next morning Lucie took a keen and troubled survey of her surroundings.

The Villa Calvini stood in the narrow belt of forest, mostly pines, that runs, almost uninterruptedly from Livorno to Spezia, growing straight on to the sands and edging the "pianura," that stretches at the foot of the Apennines which rose two miles or so back from the sea.

These villas, owned by wealthy people who used to let them only in the summer, were placed at intervals from Viareggio to Marsa, each in its one square of "pineta" and each facing full on to the beach and sea; they were built and equipped solely for the purposes of a few weeks' idle holiday and Lucie found that hers was absolutely the only one that was inhabited, therefore she was isolated in about two miles of empty houses; she was also situated about the same distance from the little town of Forte dei Marni, where all food and medicine must be bought and which was out of the season, largely shut up or abandoned.

Trams ran along the road at the back every hour into Viareggio; to go and return would take three hours; if the weather was bad, they did not run at all; Viareggio also was empty and shut up.

The house itself, in Lucie's eyes and for Lucie's purpose, could hardly have been worse; it stood in a wide strip of pine-wood, the trees crowding right up to the house, the end of which opened on to the road and the tramline and the great gates of another villa, also empty; in front was a few yards of garden, filled with tamarisk, eonymus rushes and rosemary, and a wattled fence and wooden gate, that gave straight on to sand, but a little above high tide mark.

The house was square, with wide wings, in the middle one story, at the sides ground floor only, so that there were two large terraces flanking the middle structure, which consisted of, downstairs, a wide hall space and a small dining-room looking on to the sea, a kitchen at the back, facing the "pineta," and, up the wide flights of stone stairs three bedrooms, two in the front, over the dining-room and hall, and one at the back over the kitchen; all the rooms opened into each other, and on to the strip of landing as well; that which Pio had taken, opened as well on to the right hand terrace, under which were two more bedrooms, one opening from the dining-room, and a narrow corridor which led to lumber rooms and a back entrance.

Under the other terrace (which was reached by a door at the end of the strip of landing) ran one huge room, the "salotto" which had another door into the "pineta" at the back.

The house, in the stairway, was open from floor to roof, which gave it a peculiarly desolate appearance; all the windows were rounded at the top, and the bottom ones were heavily barred by iron that the sea had coated with red rust.

The walls inside were painted a dark blue-gray, and the furniture was of the barest and most bizarre description.

There were neither curtains nor carpets, and the floors were covered with dark purplish tiles—the stairs were rough gray stone; there were iron bedsteads in all the sleeping rooms and plain chairs and tables, in Pio's there was a cheap suite of satinwood.

The dining-room was sepulchral with the dark walls, barred window, black table, long and narrow like a coffin, and six black chairs placed round it; on a shelf was a rusty samovar and a broken fiaschi stand, on a small side-table a phalanx of half-empty wine and medicine bottles and directly under the window a thin, bald, horse-hair sofa.

The "salotto" across the entrance was even more grotesque—the immense size of the room was filled with little wooden tables, dumpty chairs and deck chairs, there was an enormous empire couch with bolsters to match, in red damask, and an old gilt-framed mirror.

The whole house was incredibly dark, damp and chill; great patches of wet and mildew showed on every wall and the tiled floors were perpetually oozing.

In the kitchen was the usual Italian arrangement, three little receptacles to burn charcoal in, for cooking, and no oven, in the "salotto" was a ghastly looking anthracite stove, and in Pio's room was a more amenable and smaller affair that burnt wood.

There was no other heating arrangement whatever; the place was wired for electric light, but there were no fittings; water had to be fetched from the well in the front garden; there was no telephone available nearer than Forte dei Marni, and the doctor seemed to live up the mountains and could only be reached by letter.

§ III

When Lucie had thoroughly realised all these conditions, she felt, even more than at first, that the situation was absolutely grotesque, and that she could not be shut up in this alien place away from any glimmer of help or even sympathy watching the progress of a loathsome disease, preparing for a ghastly death bed, and all that appertained.

She had not the strength of either mind or body needful for such a task, nor was she supported by any inner time of fervour, of love or devotion; she did not even believe in the prolonging by skill or labour the last stages of incurable maladies.

She was actuated by nothing but a sense of duty.

And there was always the money question; she must go on with her sketches and her articles or all four of them, Pio, Mrs. Falconer and Sophie and herself would come to disaster; there were no resources for any of them beyond her own work.

§ IV

The weather was far from the ideal Italian winter, but unutterably stormy, sombre and cold; the barred windows of the Villa Calvin looked on the endless stretch of tossing gray waters, low hanging clouds, and a tumbled beach and sand piled with driftwood and ridges of soaked flotsam and jetsam of the sea.

The incessant noise of the heaving waves as they spent themselves on the shore became almost intolerable; only the tinkle of the tram-bell marked the passing of the hours; no creature could ever be observed on the wide expanse visible from the windows save occasionally some huddled wretch in dingy rags searching for sea coal amid the flying spume.

The interior of the house was always dark, dismal and gloomy, very little light penetrated to the lower floors through the many doors and windows of which the slightest wind would rattle in many miserable wailings.

Even if the anthracite stove had been in order, it seemed impossible to get this fuel, so the only warm room of the house was Pio's bedroom; the rest was cold with a chill penetration of iciness impossible to describe.

§ V

Lucie sat down to write an urgent letter to the doctor.

In the middle of it, Marianna told her that the poor Martinelli was in the kitchen.

Lucie hastened, glad to meet this link with the outer world, hopeful of some relief.

But this man, whom she secretly suspected of being a pleasant rogue, could do nothing; he shrugged and smiled and lamented in the amiable Tuscan fashion, and seemed very faithful and willing—but his expressive "macche!" was all the advice he could give.

He was employed on the little mountain tramway now and couldn't come very often.

Marianna reminded him, uneasily, that the padrone had forbidden him to come at all—he must please whisper, for he was only smuggled into the house.

The trouble was about a rabbit Pio had ordered through Martinelli, and which had proved costly and scraggy and uneatably tough.

Martinelli referred, with polite regret, to the violent outburst it had provoked and accused Marianna, of ruining the creature in the cooking; at which she passionately defended herself, both voices soon rising above all discretion.

The invalid's bell rang.

Martinelli instantly sobered, was pushed out, promising to come again and to find the doctor and send him immediately.

Lucie went reluctantly upstairs; the man was healthy and good-humoured, she wished he could have stayed; Marianna had told her he would sleep there at night for a small sum, and help in the heavy morning tasks; this would have been such an immense relief that she resolved to broach the subject.

"Was that Martinelli?" demanded Pio fiercely.

"Yes—he came to see how you were."

Pio broke into a stream of Sicilian curses only too familiar to Lucie; they had no effect on her whatever.

Then in his awkward English he told her the story of the rabbit, with bitter gravity and livid fury.

"Don't," said Lucie, "don't."

He had to stop for the cough seized him and the next few minutes were filled with the vile details of his unclean malady.

This strengthened Lucie's desire for any help she could obtain.

"Listen, Pio," she said, as he began to breathe more normally, "Martinelli is willing to sleep here and run errands and help before he goes to work—I should like him to do so.

"I will not allow it—he is a liar, a cheat, garfarone—he comes not inside this door—Madonna Santa!"

"Pio," said Lucie rather unsteadily, "we are so shut in here—it is so lonely—he would be a kind of link with things—"

"Accidenti!" shouted Pio, "Are you in love with this figlio di cane!"

Lucie smiled; Pio really was humorous, you had to smile—he was just funny like Punch and Judy—poor Pio!

"You'll hurt your throat again," she advised. "I won't have him if you don't wish."

"I should hope not," gasped her husband from the pillows, "am I not master in my own house?"


Chapter Thirteen

§ I

IT rained without ceasing for three weeks, the clouds never left the hills, the sea never calmed, there was no relief to the biting cold; no one came near to Villa Calvini.

Lucie had written to the doctor, sent telegrams, telephone messages from the piazza—there was no response.

She seemed completely abandoned to her evil fates; she was beginning to be paralysed; the thing had got hold of her, was absorbing her; all her world had narrowed to the Villa Calvini; she had taken up a burden that she was not allowed to forget for an instant, and she was already becoming engrossed by it; England seemed so far away.

So few people wrote to her; Mrs. Falconer's warm-hearted epistles and Sophie's illiterate scrawls were the only links, and they, it was easy to see, were as wrapped up in their troubles as she was in hers.

The monotonous routine had gripped her soul, it was like the treadmill; she dare not stop, even to think.

This was the manner of her existence.

§ II

The days were just bearable, you pretended then, that things weren't so bad, there was always the desperate hope that the doctor, or someone might come, there was a sort of show of order and decency, method and punctuality that helped—there was a secret feeing that at the very worst you could run out and fly down those two miles to the village and see some human, kindly face.

§ III

But the long wintry nights—ah, they were hell opened.

The day began with Marianna's journey to the piazza; she went off, good cheerful soul, never later than eight, with the big red handkerchief she called her "faggotta," a list of medicines and generally a message to be telephoned or wired to the doctor.

Lucie would then have her own breakfast and perform the long laborious toilet of the invalid; few were the days when he would remain in bed; then there was his room to do, as he would never have Marianna near it, and his stove to keep replenished, his medicine and food to prepare and bring up.

Then perhaps she would have just time to write a letter or so before he wished to be put back into bed where he would take the midday meal.

Lucie had hers at a little table at the foot of his bed, since he could not endure her out of his sight, and when this was over and he had been made comfortable and the room tidied again and the stove filled, she could count on about two hours while he slept.

In this interval she wrote her articles and drew her designs, always using the table at the foot of the bed.

When he awoke there was more medicine to prepare, patent food to make, tea to be carried upstairs, everything to be tidied once more, any odd job of mending or washing to be done till it was the moment to bring up his supper, and have her own, facing him in that ghastly téte-â-téte.

After this, elaborate precautions for the night, and then, if he slept once more, another hour or so to herself either to work again by the dubious light of the oil lamp in the cold dining room or to talk in whispers with Marianna in the kitchen.

And all day long the sick man's groans, lamentations, bitter grumblings, and terrible cough.

He complained of everything she did and he varied this hourly nagging with fits of demoniacal violence.

He was as repulsive morally as he was physically. Lucie could not discover one endearing trait in his character; her compassion became withered with contempt.

So passed the days that Lucie began to look upon as her best; there were many others when she could hold on to no order or method at all, days of dreadful pain or sickness for the sick man, of perpetual running up and down the stone stairs for her, of continual preparing of remedies, administering of tasks loathsome beyond description.

There was no office so menial, no duty so repellant, that he could spare it her; because he did not like the servant she must do everything.

§ IV

But at their worst the horror of the days was as nothing compared to the horror of the nights.

Then she lost grip on reality and seemed plunged into a world of delirious evil.

She had resolved never to disturb Marianna, who worked so hard and cheerfully, nor, probably, could she have done so, as the tired woman slept so heavily in the room beyond the kitchen where so little could anyhow be heard.

Lucie slept now in the other front bedroom that opened from her husband's; he insisted that the communicating door be never closed between them.

Here she would contrive to bathe with a small can of precious hot water, with the stone floor and damp walls and the light of a candle, putting on afterwards her woollen dressing-gown and shoes and a scarf over her head.

Then, if lucky, she might have an hour's sleep; at twelve, two and five, he took eggs and Marsala; often he fancied coffee, and she would go downstairs into the vault-like kitchen, and blow up the charcoal and make it; she did not know how to get a spirit lamp or thermos in this place of closed shops.

Sometimes he would demand food and she would cook that; often he wanted brandy or wine; always they were all his garments to change, several times as the fever sweat drenched him.

Numb and cold, often with chattering teeth, for the window in his room stood always open, Lucie would go about these tasks, breaking eggs, pouring out medicine, rearranging his bed, up and down the icy stairs, opening the door on to the terrace to put out the foul garments in a bath of disinfectant, snatching what sleep she could, half an hour here, an hour there, with Pio's querulous voice, Pio's clanging bell, Pio's deadly cough always in her ears.

§ V

Most of all she hated the dawns.

That breaking of cold icy light above the desolation of the tossing gray sea and deserted shore, that first glimmer of colourless white light in the sick room showing the dying flame of the night-light, the ravaged features of the sick man, her own haggard reflection in the long mirror of the wardrobe, the thought that there was another day to be lived through—these things brought her endurance almost to the breaking point.

Sometimes, if he was asleep, she would huddle into her own little bed, that she had dragged into the room away from the damp walls and try to dream.

But no dreams ever came to her now.

Sometimes she would sit by her window staring at the melancholy stretch of tumbling waves and cry a little from sheer wretchedness.

Her salvation was always Marianna with strong black coffee; one of the brightest spots of the day this when the smiling woman came up with the tray and pot and cups and lit the stove.

This was the only moment she was allowed in the sickroom and Pio always grumbled; she had wakened him up, she talked too loud, she had burnt the coffee; Lucie found it amazing how many causes of complaint he discovered.

§ VI

He still had command of all the money; she had to manage on what he doled out day by day.

As she had not been able to leave the house since she arrived, she could not change a cheque in Viareggio, even if this were possible and she did not wish to draw on the small reserves in the London Bank even if she could change English money here, which was not likely.

So she had to run a bill at the chemist's and pinch herself in sheer food to buy the things he needed.

Several times she had asked for more money to be met by a scene followed by prostration on his part so that she felt it was killing him to mention the matte? and had to desist.

One evening, in desperation, she confided her trouble to Marianna.

That good creature was prompt with a solution of the difficulty.

"But, signora, why don't you take some when he is asleep?"

Lucie thought she would; it had simply never occurred to her to do so before, but she supposed it might be a usual expedient of wives dependent on their husbands.

She was doubly anxious to get money, because Agostino, the blind custode of the Villa, was always hovering about, taciturn, and suspicious, and Marianna warned her that he was expecting a tip.

Lucie felt in the power of this man, who was a brutal, ruffianly looking fellow and who evidently was doubtful of the nature of Pio's illness.

He was barely civil, and his dark figure, tapping his way round the garden or feeling his way round the house, and peering in with sightless blurred eyeballs through the barred windows, added to Lucie's nervous terrors.

Through the cheerful lies of the doctor, Marianna and Martinelli, Lucie was found in the hateful position of deceiving this man and telling him, almost every day that the padrone was better.

He came in and out as he liked and she did not dare stop him; Pio, it seemed, had ordered a capuana or bathing hut on the beach from him; another expense, and who would use it?

So this evening Lucie crept upstairs to steal some of her own money.

Pio kept it in a small tin box in his bottom drawer, and the key under his pillow.

He had just had his drops and did not stir as she stealthily withdrew the key by slipping her fine hand under his head.

In a few moments she was in possession of a little wad of paper that gave her the first sense of pleasure she had known since she had landed in Italy.

She left about half the money, relocked the box, returned the key and crept downstairs again to Marianna, who praised her warmly and gave her a glass of wine.

Lucie laughed—for the first time since she had entered that house.

She could not stop laughing and presently she leant her head on the corner of the kitchen table and cried, the money scattered in front of her; Marianna dried Lucie's tears with her own coarse handkerchief.

§ VII

A few days after this the doctor came.

Lucie had always thought of him as something benevolent, fatherly, helpful; she cherished still the idea that he must have some scheme for her deliverance, some plan to suggest.

Marianna and Martinelli were both noisy in his praise and even Pio seemed to like him, and though Lucie thought it "queer" that he should not have made a point of coming sooner, still, she believed the excuse of the influenza epidemic in the hill towns.

So when the clatter of the outer bell woke her from her first snatch of sleep and Marianna rushed upstairs with a shawl over her head, shouting "il dottore! il dottore!", hope leapt up in her anxious heart.

Pio had been awakened also, and she hurried in to him, to quickly arrange him and light the big lamp.

There was not time for her to dress and she hardly gave a thought as her long high camel-cloth dressing gown was as decorous as a monk's robe, and round her plaited hair she had twisted her dun coloured veil, to protect herself from the bitter draughts.

She ran quickly downstairs, hoping for a few words with the doctor before he saw his patient, rehearsing in Italian what she must say to him, how she must represent the desperate urgency of her case.

Marianna had run out to unlock the large cancello, the gate on to the road and Lucie's trembling fingers were trying to light the dining-room lamp when she heard voices in the kitchen.

Marianna was there with her candle and Martinelli, Wet and cold, beating his arms across his chest, and a second man in a riding-cloak.

Martinelli triumphantly introduced him—"il signor dottore."

Lucie looked at him with incredulous dismay; he was short, stout, bald, with a rough black beard, glasses, bad teeth and complexion, one arm bandaged and in a sling; he was dirty, his clothes cheap and tawdry.

"Ah!" he said with a coarse peasant accent, "this is the time of night to call—and catch the ladies in their chemises!"

Lucie then saw that he had been drinking; she tried to collect herself to put forward her tale.

"Doctor, I've been very much wanting to see you—" Pio's bell clanked furiously.

Marianna, cheerfully blaspheming, dragged the doctor to the door.

Martinelli, shivering, began expatiating on the difficulty he had had in finding and bringing the doctor, and complaining of hunger and fatigue.

Lucie dully blew up the fire and put on coffee, broke eggs into the frying pan and got out bread and sugar.

The servant came back and Lucie went upstairs to her own room and lit the candle; her little travelling watch showed her that it was nearly two o'clock.

The door was half open into her husband's bedroom, she could hear his peevish tones and the doctor's deeper voice—petulant lamenting and jovial reassurance.

Lucie sat on the bed and waited.

Presently Pio also became more cheerful under the doctor's reassurances; glasses clinked, there was a smell of spirit.

They were drinking together.

The doctor spoke about his bandaged arm—poisoned during an operation, he said, he made a joke about it.

Lucie's teeth chattered.

Neither of them mentioned her; they began to tell each other vulgar stories about some women they both knew. Lucie with a trembling heart appeared in the doorway. Pio introduced her, with a queer flash of pride.

"Bella bionda," smiled the doctor without rising.

"He finds me much better," said Pio, "he says I shall be cured before I leave here."

"I'm glad," answered Lucie.

She looked at the doctor and something in her bearing made the man rise and take his leave with many pleasantries for the patient whom he called "Don Pio."

At last he left the room and Lucie followed him downstairs; he turned into the kitchen where there was light, even a little warmth and Martinelli, eating fried eggs while Marianna slept with her head on the table.

"Doctor," said Lucie, "what is the state of my husband's health?"

He looked at her curiously.

"Better. Much better—your nursing has done wonders—"

"But—it is incurable?"

"Ah, that—yes!"

"Then—how long?"

He shrugged.

"Four five—six months."

"Can he travel?"

"No—he nearly killed himself going to Turin."

"But I can't stay here—like this, you must see how impossible it is—"

He grimaced.

"I can suggest nothing."

He was scrawling prescriptions in a dirty notebook.

"It is not right I should be left here with him," continued Lucie. "It is very lonely and he is often violent—I have no authority over him, he does things that I know are wrong—he drinks too much—even brandy when he has a fever."

Pio's bell clanged.

"I can't go," said Lucie. "Martinelli, run upstairs and tell him so, Marianna is asleep—get him to sleep—keep him quiet."

Martinelli drained his glass of Chianti and ran upstairs.

"You see how it is," she added. "Something must be done."

The man seemed a little sobered by her urgency, but he could only shrug and grimace.

"Even you are ungettable," she continued. "Never at home—useless for an emergency—and coming so seldom."

"I will come when I can. It is a long way."

"Is there any doctor nearer?"

"None."

"How often can you come?"

"Every fortnight, three weeks, month—I can do nothing—nothing at all!"

"Is there anyone who would come to help me nurse?"

"No one would come to nurse tuberculosis, it is so infectious."

Pio's bell rang again; this time Marianna woke.

Martinelli came down the stairs, flushed and uneasy.

"He is like a devil," he said. "Go up, per l'amore de Dio, signora."

The doctor took a hasty leave, all three of them shouted and clattered out into the wet night; through the barred window Lucie saw the group by the light of the lantern Marianna carried; the doctor had his arm round the servant's waist.

Pio rang for the third time.

Lucie went to the bottom of the stairs and called up.

"I am coming in a moment—please don't ring again."

She could not face him just yet; she had to have a moment in which to recover from her bitter disillusion, her miserable humiliation.

She was, it seemed, quite abandoned, there was no one who had the slightest interest in her—and now it wasn't a question of weeks but months...how could she go on...how could she?

Marianna returned, elated, good soul, by the doctor's compliments.

"He will be able to come more often now, signora," she said volubly. "He goes to visit la bella Violetta, whose husband keeps the café, and he is away—so the doctor can come over and this makes an excuse for his wife—only it must be late at night."


Chapter Fourteen

§ I

MARIANNA put out the kitchen lamp and went to bed. Lucie crept upstairs, so absorbed in her own wretched thoughts that she had forgotten Pio's unanswered bell and Martinelli's description of his mood.

Therefore she turned mechanically into her husband's room, meaning to put out the lamp and settle him for what remained of the night.

But he was waiting for her, he sat on the edge of the further empty bed, wrapped in his blue dressing-gown, with his revolver across his knee.

"So, you have come at last!" he said in Italian, "did you not hear me ring?"

Lucie looked at him uneasily; his display of bizarre emotions always seemed silly and childish to her northern temperament.

"Do get into bed, Pio," she said, "you will take a chill."

He began to rave, he heaped on her all the vileness he had learnt in Sicilian gutters.

"I know why you stayed behind in England, you are a woman of a hundred lovers! You must leave me lying here while you entertain the doctor! I know his reputation! And did I not say Martinelli was not to enter the house—but you send him up to me! And you not even dressed!"

He had no power to move Lucie; the grotesqueness of the situation brought a faint smile to her pale face as she remade his bed and rearranged his table.

"I am nearly well!" he continued, in his own language, the harsh tones and broken accents of the south. "I shall be better in a week or so—you'll soon stop this going away at night—how do I know what you do—you are a bad woman—"

"Come back to bed," said Lucie; she observed that between the brandy he had been drinking with the doctor and the usual nightly fever, he was in a real delirium.

Under her quiet gaze his voice trailed off, he even obeyed her, staggered back to his bed and got in, slipping the revolver, a cheap Belgian affair with a mother-of-pearl handle, under his pillow.

Lucie put out the lamp and went into her own room, leaving as usual, the communicating door open.

Despite everything, she really wanted to laugh. To the English woman, the whole dreadful business had, at times, an aspect of sheer farce. She heard him muttering and tossing, but lay still and soon fell, not into a sleep, but a miserable drowsy stupor.

§ II

Lucie roused, suddenly and completely.

Her room was full of stormy moonlight, and the glow from the night-light in the other room; her husband was peering at her through the crack of the door.

She saw this instantly and lay perfectly still; slowly he rounded the door and came into the room; he was still in his dressing-gown and carried the revolver.

Lucie felt her heart leap and knew that she was afraid.

No longer did he appear grotesque or farcical, but horrible as the horrors of some long outgrown childish nightmare.

His long black hair clung damp to his wet forehead, his lids were drawn up so that the whites showed above the eyeball, and his lips were curled back from the glistening teeth.

Never had Lucie guessed that a human being could look so fearful; she saw she was face to face with madness—with possession; it was no sane human soul that looked out at her from that distorted countenance; his whole gaunt figure seemed to be rigid and lambent with the furious energy of some evil power.

Never before had she feared him. For all her nervous timidity, she was no physical coward. Sheer terror held her for a second as this awful figure advanced on her with the revolver. She knew he meant to murder her and she did not want to die that way.

A light chair stood by her bed; she thought, "I will seize that and knock his arm up."

As she turned to grasp it, he turned away and walked to the window and stood there, looking out, and muttering.

She saw the moonlight on the metal muzzle and on the ghastly face; she lay still.

He began talking about a dog that was outside and that he was going to shoot.

He opened the window and looked out.

Lucie waited for the shot.

But he did not fire.

Muttering to himself, he reeled back to his bed.

When Lucie crept after him she found him in deep insensibility.

But the revolver was hidden.

§ III

With this incident began a new reign of terror for the unfortunate woman in the Villa Calvini; she lived in the hourly dread of murder or suicide.

With the greatest cunning he contrived to conceal both his revolvers and four razors he was in possession of, together with a loaded leather stick he always carried about, in itself a deadly weapon.

By no ruse or subterfuge could Lucie get from him any of these, and the violence provoked by any attempt to do so, was almost impossible to support.

He, also, to deaden his pains and miseries, began to drink furiously, brandy, wines and liqueurs.

Lucie had no control over this and he gave his commissions direct to Marianna, and nothing could shake that faithful creature's conviction that sick people must have what they wanted—and, after all, was he not the padrone?

So the drink went up to Pio, and endless medicines, compounded of hideous drugs, to "cure his cough."

He had an utter reliance on medicines; so many as seven different bottles would stand together on his side-table mingling their sickly and acrid odours; then there were the patent medicines, and the patent foods, and a variety of pills.

Dr. Villari balanced the rarity of his visits by the quantity of his prescriptions; two or three evenings a week Martinelli would slink furtively into the kitchen with a fresh one that Marianna would pounce on to take to the pharmacista in the morning.

Lucie liked the man less and less; he was cringing and whining and always had to be tipped and fed; also she could not but see that he, the chemist, and the doctor were in league to squeeze money out of her; she had already spent pounds of her cherished money in nauseous messes that were worthy of some esculapicio of the Middle Ages.

She was quite sure of Marianna's honesty, but her incredible ignorance and her very devotion made her the accomplice of the others; she really implicitly believed in the doctor and in his medicines.

And so hard did she work and so lonely and dismal was the life she led that Lucie could not grudge her the excitement of Martinelli's visits nor her faith in the miraculous powers of the concoctions she dragged home so devotedly from the Piazza.

But though Lucie was, in so many things, foolish and incapable, and not at all clever in expedients whereby to help herself, she had more excuse for acquiescence in her intolerable position than might have appeared at first to an outsider.

She was an Italian subject and should she provoke him, he had a legal right to force her to stay with him, or in the case of an attempt to escape, to stop her at the frontier; she could not get her passport endorsed without his consent.

True she had the power of the money, but her means were so limited that this did not amount to much, and gave her no position of authority, since everyone believed that every penny was his.

Then again, she was so friendless; she had quieted Mrs. Falconer's agitation by saying all was normal and well with her and would have disdained to have burdened that poor woman with any of her troubles; she had no other friend or relative to whom she would have cared to appeal, and in Italy her slight acquaintance had been scattered by the War.

If she left the Vida Calvini there was nowhere she could go.

For this reason she was more or less in the hands of the doctor and his crew they had it in their power to disclose the real nature of the illness and to have her turned into the street.

She knew that no one would take them in.

It would mean the hospital at Lucca for Pio, since there were no private sanatoria in Italy that she knew of nor any nursing homes for infectious cases, even if she could have afforded such an expense.

It might have been possible to get a nurse, but she did not know how to set about it, and again she was afraid of the expense, besides dreading to attract attention to her case.

Agostino, the blind custode, already had his suspicions, despite Marianna's cheerful lies and was continually hanging round the house, grumbling and lamenting the good offers for the summer season that he had had to refuse.

Lucie was sure that if Pio had not paid six months' in advance they would have been turned out; she heard through Martinelli that the man had been complaining to the doctor, who was plainly in a dilemma.

Here again she could trace the sordid intrigues that had made profit out of her misery; the doctor had plainly thought that a few weeks would have seen the end of Pio, that he and Agostino would have shared six months' rent and the sum to be extorted for doing up the house and that the whole affair would be forgotten by June, when the villa would be let as usual for the season.

That was why the two of them had selected, out of all the villas that were in Agostino's charge (he seemed caretaker of six or seven), that which was most decayed, out of repair and least desirable, and whose owner was far away.

Lucie could hardly believe in the existence of the mythical Polish lady, who appeared to take no interest in her property whatever.

So March ran into April; Lucie had been in the Villa Calvini two months and there was no abatement in the cold cruelty of the late, wet and windy spring.

Lucie played out her tragedy in the midst of the comedy of the jackals and carrions; Agostino, fearful of the reputation of the villa, circling round, more bitter daily; the doctor, fearfully remembering his glib lie, "it's heart disease, he'll be dead in a few weeks, and you'll get a year's rent and the house done up for the season"; Martinelli, ready to beg, to tease, even to blackmail the chemist and the wine merchant whose gross overcharges she dare not question; and close by, unconscious of it all, the sick man, with his deliriums, his furies, his agonies, his concealed deadly weapons, his pitiful needs, his loathsome symptoms, his other weaknesses and his horrible power.

He appeared to Lucie to be slightly better; her treatment was sane and she toiled over him with unremitting labour; despite the drink, he did appear to be getting stronger, to the utter confusion of Dr. Villari, who paid two more rollicking midnight visits.

The third time was his last; he found Pio in one of his blackest moods, depressed and violent.

As the doctor jovially entered the room, Pio pointed his revolver at him from the bed, and cursed him to hell for a useless charlatan.

Dr. Villari fled; he was only a peasant who had somehow or other scraped through his examinations at Lucca, he had neither knowledge, experience nor courage.

He told Luck roundly that her husband was mad and that he should not come again, and left her to deal with the situation, while he rattled off in the high gig to find consolation with "la bella Violetta," whom he was presumably treating for recurrent malaria in the absence of her husband.

Even Marianna's smiling optimism was a little dashed by such complete abandonment, such absolute isolation, and the word "mad" so emphatically used by the departing doctor.

She began to refuse to go upstairs and to lock herself into her room at night.

And Lucie knew she was warning the few people likely to come to the house that her master was dangerous and likely to put a bullet through anyone he saw approaching as he had indeed threatened to do.

As this was perfectly true, Lucie could not attempt to check the woman's tongue, though she winced to think what tales she might be telling on the Piazza, and what fantastic medley of true and false must be being spread by the doctor and Martinelli.

§ IV

So the Villa Calvini became more and more shut away from any outside interest or happening, avoided by the few who might have come on account of this fear of violence.

A very real fear in Italy, as Lucie knew, where bloodshed was common enough and ghastly crimes frequent; the country was distracted by riots that at times approached civil war and the four carbineers who constituted the sole police force of Forte dei Marni were otherwise engaged than in protecting a foreign woman from a crazy husband.

There might have been things that Lucie could have done to save herself from such a situation but she could not think of them; she was inexperienced in everything save the scrambling Bohemian world of London, and she would, with the instinct of her race and type, literally sooner have died than have made any spectacular or public appeal.

In all those two awful months she had never tasted the outer air save from the terraces for a few moments.

From there she would look down into the pine trees and the half-hidden roofs of the empty houses on either side, or in front on to that intolerably prospect of stunted tamarisk, euonymus and laurel in the strip of garden to the desolate storm and barren sea, or at the back to the enclosing pines that hid the road and the tops of the mountains that seemed so utterly far away.

Any attempt at further liberty only provoked further explosions of wrath from the man who was at once her jailer and her chain that she had ceased to resist.

It simply wasn't worth it; and she had to remember he was dying.

Besides she had begun to be indifferent about everything except dragging through the days and nights; her health was suffering and her spirits was crushed; what she still possessed of cheerfulness and vitality she spent to hearten the wretched invalid during his fits of creeping gloom.

She stuck to her task doggedly with just this idea of doing things decently and performing her duty; she truly did not much care what happened to her; she had no hope for the future; she felt herself utterly worn out; her highest dream of what she would do when it was all over, was going somewhere with Marianna for a rest—not a long one, for there was always Mrs. Falconer and Sophie to work for, and there would be other things to pay.

Pio had a lot of debts; almost every day there were disagreeable letters of this kind to answer.

Very often she was sure she would not live to see it "all over"; every night she went upstairs in literal fear of her life; Marianna was sure she would be murdered and told her many gruesome tales of wives killed by their husbands—after all, it was a common thing in Italy.

Lucie would very gladly have died if this could mean peaceful oblivion.

But Pio was a rotten shot and she dreaded mutilation; also the scandal of such open disaster among these aliens.

§ V

She had brought two little books with her from England—"Julius Caesar" and "Phantastes"; she read them continuously to give herself some serenity; there were not any other books in the house; these two were of immense help to her; she almost knew them by heart.

"I'm quite worthless," she told herself, "what does it matter what happens to me? I'm just a superfluous woman."

She knew no one was interested in what she was doing, or even could be—no one would ever know.

Sometimes she thought—"when it is over, I'll be free! Really free!"

But she always answered herself—"never, you'll never recover from what you are doing now, never forget what you are experiencing now, you're one with foulness and evil, disease and madness, you'll never be the same. You can't be. Your life is over. There is no hope at all."

Sometimes she thought how wonderful it would be if someone somewhere loved her, loved her enough to come and search her out and pity, perhaps praise her. But why should anyone love her?

She was changing, becoming ghastly thin and very white, her shabby clothes hung on her, she lived in the poney-skin jacket or the camel-hair dressing-gown; it was so cold.

And still it rained and the wind blew incessantly and the gray tumble of the waves never ceased.


Chapter Fifteen

§ I

THERE came a day, a real red letter day, when Lucie had to go into Viareggio.

The café on the Piazza had no more brandy, and Pio could not be without brandy for a single hour.

Also there was some new patent medicine he had read of in the paper, he wished to try, and which the local chemist did not stock, so he gave a sour and reluctant consent to Lucie going to Viareggio.

When she was safely in the empty electric tram really going out of Forte dei Marni, her spirits rose, despite her shabby clothes (she had brought so few with her and had had no opportunity of replenishing them) and the large chintz bag she had brought to carry her bottles in.

It was raining and there was hardly anyone abroad; the tram passed miles of shut-up villas; still it was a little break in the hideous routine of the days.

§ II

Here and there you could see someone working in the vineyards or gardens, now and then an ox-cart passed with a cheery driver; there were glints of light on the mountains, a few fishing boats on the sea; at the Viareggio dazio a pleasant red faced official searched the tram for contraband and gay peasant women got in—the rain clouds lifted as you were swept through the town; one of the cafés was open and even one of the shops; the world was very interesting really, it was only you who was unfortunate.

You always had to remember that—it was not the world that was queer or horrible, but just your own experience. And that was largely your own fault. You'd been such a fool.

§ III

Lucie bought two bottles of brandy and went to several chemists before she could find the patent medicines.

When she did procure these they proved to be so bulky and heavy that she could hardly drag her bulging bag.

There were a great many things that she wanted to get and she had a little money, for she had sent a cheque to Mrs. Falconer asking her to change it into Italian money and post to her; Mrs. Falconer had kept half owing to "urgent necessity," but Lucie had received enough to replenish Pio's pillaged cash-box and to have just a little in hand.

But there was no time as she had promised to catch the next tram back, which just gave her an hour in Viareggio, so she dutifully took up her stand by the fermata between the big hotels and the row of wooden shops along the sea.

She had brought her watch in her hand-bag and by this she had five minutes to wait, so she ventured to walk along to the shop she had noticed—a merceria with the windows full of cotton goods.

Lucie wanted stockings, she wanted light dresses against the heat, she wanted something for fancy work, she had a passion for sewing, only second to her passion for clothes.

The temptation was too much for her; she went in and bought these things, simply revelling in the enthusiastic courtesy of the black-haired woman in the shop.

And just as she was paying she heard the tram, abandoned her purchases and dashed out in a wild panic.

Too late; it had only stopped a second as there was no one waiting, and was now speeding towards the dazio!

For a second an almost grotesque sense of disaster overwhelmed her; she would have to wait an hour for the next tram and that meant that she would not be home till six—two hours late.

However, when she reacted from this panic fear, she thrilled to think that she had a whole hour of liberty.

She made quite an orgy of it; leaving her bag and parcel with the sympathetic woman in the merceria, she went back into the town.

The main street was quite lively and full of pleasant people—healthy people; Lucie bought some sweets for Marianna, and at the newspaper shop, a needle art journal, then a length of orange ribbon, and some orange chiffon she saw in another merceria, and at the chemist's some heavily scented soap and cipria.

These things gave her extraordinary pleasure; she really for a moment forgot her miseries in the joy of them; she saw several other things that entranced her starved mind and when she noticed the lovely fishing boats with their rust and gold, red and yellow sails, hurrying home down the canal she almost forgot Pio.

§ IV

With wistful eyes she watched the people, all seemed happy, busy, part of some group or family; she averted her gaze from the children.

It seemed to her quite natural that these others should be as they were, and she as she was; she had always felt apart, slightly a pariah, a bit of an outcast.

When you had never been wanted, when your father was a black sheep, kicked out by his family, who had died disgracefully, and you had been brought up by a passionate unhappy woman in the barest poverty, and amidst the most sordid surroundings, uneducated, untrained, barely fed, barely clothed, used to calculating on chance, and luck, mixing wholly with vulgar or queer people, never seeing, even as a child, decent orderly ways of established family life, never knowing or expecting any protection, used to shifting for yourself, and earning, not only your own bread, but that of other people, you were apt to take unhappiness for granted and to bear your burden in silence without complaint or searching for relief.

It had occurred to Lucie dimly that, if she had been differently brought up, she would hardly have borne what she was bearing, and she saw, not dimly at all, that if she had not lived in this era of emancipated womanhood neither her own tragedy nor Mrs. Falconer's would have been possible; both their lives (Sophie's too) had gone to pieces because they had been so free, so unprotected, unquestioned, unadvised, uncontrolled, using the liberty of men with the hearts and brains of women.

She was tired when she reached home; she had not thought of taking any food and lately she was easily exhausted.

It was dusk and seemed very late, she had a guilty remorseful feeling, when she saw Marianna waiting for her at the gate.

It seemed dreadful to think that she had spent nearly two pounds on herself.

Yet she thought of her treasures with a secret thrill even now.

Marianna took her parcels with explosive excitement, and a string of Tuscan curses.

The padrone was furious.

Of course Lucie had known he would be, but she turned a little sick as she listened to the woman's almost admiring recital of his displays of rage when the five o'clock tram had come without her.

"Marianna, he's mad," she said wearily.

Slowly she went upstairs, taking the brandy and medicine with her in the hope of distracting if not pacifying his wrath.

He was sitting, fully dressed, at the foot of his bed, and as she entered, he turned on her a face of bitter hate.

"I'm sorry I'm late," she said dully, "I missed the tram—it was very punctual and my watch was slow, I think." He did not answer.

"I got your medicine and the brandy. I thought you would like to see these papers."

She put some illustrated papers on his table and he pushed them on to the floor.

"You've been away from your home four hours," he said furiously.

"I couldn't help it. I've told you how it was."

"That was a lie. You went in to meet someone." Lucie smiled despite herself.

"Pio, who could I know in Viareggio? The place is empty, too."

"I believe nothing you say."

"Oh, well—I suppose it doesn't matter, don't nag," she answered. "I'm so tired."

"You've been at my cash-box, too," he said fiercely. "There is nothing missing," she blushed as she spoke. "Everything is turned about."

"I had to take some money. For the chemist. I put it back."

She turned to leave the room, useless to argue with him, useless to remain.

He called after her, in his hoarse, dreadful, broken voice.

"I am glad the little girl died as you are not a fit woman to bring up a daughter."

Lucie did not smile now.

Very seldom had he power to hurt her; sometimes, as now, he could strike to her heart.

She went heavily downstairs; Marianna, waiting for her in the wide hall, was frightened at her face.

"Signora, what is the matter?"

"Nothing. I'm tired."

She went into that dark, cold dining-room where one candle on the black table hardly dispelled the shadows, and sat on the hard narrow couch under the barred window with her hands clasped in her lap.

The servant peered at her anxiously.

"I feel as if I can't go on," said Lucie.

"Dio bonino!" murmured Marianna; she was quick enough to see that her mistress was nearer to breaking point than she had ever been. "Is he going then to live for ever, this 'diavolo'?"

"Longer than I am, I think."

"Macche!"

Marianna sought about for comfort; she undid the parcels and admired the contents; she held up the two lengths of light cotton, one pale yellow, one pink, in the ghastly light.

"That is what they use for little girls," she said. "How pretty!"

"Don't," said Lucie sharply, "don't. Please."

Again the woman looked at her shrewdly.

"Send to his family—make them come. Hasn't he a sister? You'll be ill, and then who will look after him?"


Chapter Sixteen

§ I

LUCIE wrote to the Simonetti in Catania, wrote a rather desperate and emphatic letter and enclosed the money for the fares.

At the end of April they came, the brother and sister.

Pio, strangely enough, favoured this visit; he seemed to think it would mean two more people to wait on him, and to domineer over; that it might mean two more to help his wife simply never occurred to him.

He was certainly much stronger now and would spend hours out of bed, prying round the house, grumbling at the way Marianna did the work, supervising the cooking and creeping round the garden to catch any possible intruders on his domain.

On these journeys he would collect the largest stones he could find to fill his pockets; these he would keep and on his really good days sit at his window and aim them at the stray dogs (of which a horrible quantity began to prowl with the warmer weather) that wandered into the garden from the beach.

Lucie had nerved herself to wait for the yell from some victim, but Pio was, as she had told herself, a rotten shot, and never hit any of the gaunt, unhappy beasts.

The two Simonetti arrived, two pale sickly, undersized creatures: he, a school teacher of about forty-five, she, a delicate woman of Lucie's age, widowed, who looked after a very old father.

Lucie had seen the sister during a brief visit to Sicily, but this was the first meeting with the brother.

Both of them arrived in a black melancholy, shuddering and sighing; they loathed the country, the weather, the house.

The girl, Catering, who was a gentle, amiable, feminine creature, caught at once an ague-ish cold and shuddered in bed in the third bedroom upstairs.

The brother, Rosario (a name so ironically chosen), wandered about in an overcoat too large for him, a travelling rug over this fastened at the neck by a safety pin, a huge tweed cap drawn down to his collar, and a scaldino perpetually in his hands.

His linen and person were dirty, he shaved once a week, he was in wretched health and subject to fits.

Lucie was sorry for him; he was trying to bring up a wife and six children on a miserable pittance and was simply stupefied by poverty, ignorance and disease.

Lucie put her case to him with the best heart she could and asked his advice, the assistance of the family; she begged him to find some doctor to undertake the case, or go at least to see Villari.

For a week he would not go because it rained; he neither read nor, save when forced, spoke; his one diversion was to suck lumps of sugar and make himself odd cups of coffee in the kitchen to Marianna's intense vexation.

Every night he took a bag of sugar and a bottle of Marsala to bed with him into the dismal room off the dining-room that he occupied.

In the huge peaked cap and bunched shawl (he wore these even at meal times) he looked like some sick and rather foul bird.

He never spoke to Pio save to quarrel with him, and never went near him if he could avoid it; he was terribly afraid of infection, almost as much as he was afraid of fresh air and water.

He insisted on having his own cup, plate, knife and fork kept separately and washed up separately, he shuddered away from everything that had been in his brother's room.

When at length he was induced to go in search of a doctor, he lost his way and returned from a barren errand; the second time he took the money Lucie gave him to pay Villari with to buy a gaudy umbrella in Viareggio.

He was so pleased with it that she hadn't the heart to be angry.

Of course he was obviously useless; he believed his brother mad, and said so; he could offer no advice nor help whatever.

Once Lucie, after difficulty, smuggled down the two revolvers Pio had left on his bed and begged Rosario to unload them.

He took them out into the garden gingerly; he couldn't find out how they opened and Lucie had to take them back as they were.

The climax came one day when Pio had to stay in bed; he insisted that his brother should go and visit him there and at last the shivering wretch was induced to go up.

He took a tumbler in his pocket, and seized an opportunity when the patient was dozing to fill this with Pio's special wine and drink it off.

Encouraged by his success, he produced an empty medicine bottle and was emptying the precious brandy into it when Pio opened his eyes.

Before the sick man's yells of fury the thief fled; Pio came out on to the stair head and threw the abandoned bottle and glass after him, Catering rushed from her room in screaming hysterics.

"They had better both go," said Marianna grimly, "and the devil keep them."

That night Pio was taken very ill; the two Sicilians locked themselves into their rooms till the morning.

"Yes, they had better go," agreed Lucie.

They were only too willing; both borrowed money from her, and carried off all the Marsala and sugar in the house in the newspaper parcels they called luggage.

With half-amused irony Lucie asked the man what he would suggest she did with the brother he fled from.

"Send him to the hospital at Lucca," he answered. "And that is too good for him. He ought to be in a manicomio."

When she went upstairs again after seeing them off, Pio stoutly cursed them, and said, if they ever wrote to him, their letters were to be destroyed.


Chapter Seventeen

§ I

THAT disposed of the Sicilian relations—quite definitely; Lucie bore them no ill-will, she always answered kindly the pathetic letters of the old father whom she remembered as a fine old man, in every way superior to his children, and she wrote affectionately to Catering, who occasionally sent her melancholy lamentations.

But it was useless to think of them as likely to be of any use whatever in any emergency; the whole crowd of them were literally "all to pieces"; as she and her family were, Lucie reflected grimly.

If she had belonged to a conventional family, or set, if she had come of orderly, decent stock, there would have been someone to say now— "What has become of Lucie Simonetti? We must go and help her."

But there was no one save those in positions even more precarious than her own.

Mrs. Falconer, generous, impulsive creature, would have come out to her if she had the means, and would have disentangled herself from Sophie, but Lucie knew that she could not have endured the life of the Villa Calvini for a week; neither would Pio have endured her; they had never met save to violently quarrel.

So Lucie spared her aunt agitation by writing to her that Pio was getting better and that she was quite happy and comfortable.

He did indeed appear to be getting better; with the passing of the late bitter spring, with the coming of the delicious days of sunshine and warm breezes, with the calming of the winter seas, he did indeed seem to be stronger.

He would go out now, nearly every day, to the wooden capuana Agostino had erected on the sand, and sit there for an hour or so; on several occasions he went into Viareggio by the tram, to Lucie's complete mortification and the scandal of all who beheld him.

Of all the mental tortures she had endured since she came to Italy, none perhaps had been so acute, as this slow pacing through the lively street of the gay little town with the sick man on her arm, everyone's eyes on them in disapproval while he coughed, choked, blasphemed, vomited...and she stood beside him, rigid.

It was strange that she saw no looks of sympathy; her fidelity to the sick man provoked no kindness; she appeared to be regarded as part of the offence.

They were moved on out of the cafés where they stopped to give him a rest, and turned out of the cabs they had hired; everyone was afraid of Pio's cough, his ghastly looks; there was a national campaign against tuberculosis.

Lucie never went on these expeditions without the fear that they would be forbidden the use of the trams; they were still very empty, and they were always left to themselves in the corner they had chosen.

Pio never noticed any of these things; his lack of sensitiveness, of all control and reticence, his complete absorption in himself, and yet his absolute ignorance of what his illness really was, never ceased to amaze Lucie; he had just accepted the crude lies of the doctors that "his lungs were all right" and had no fears for himself at all, nor any suspicion that he was an object of fear and abhorrence to anyone.

In Viareggio he found another doctor, a fashionable physician this, who promised to come out to Forte dei Marni once a week.

Lucie's hopes rose again; here seemed some help, some normal, decent aspect.

But a month passed and Dr. Bonami never came. More telephoning, wiring, letter writing for Lucie; more curses, blasphemies, furies from Pio.

It was well into June now, the weather of a heavenly softness, the blue air full of swallows, the sea a calm and sparkling azure, the mountains clear as jewels in their sharp-cut lines; the vine round the kitchen door showed hard little grapes, the tamarisk in the front garden bloomed, on the beach beyond the gate flowered sea lavender, rosemary and thrift.

Agostino went round the empty villas airing them, sweeping them; the old fishermen were building the capuane and thatching them with boughs.

All the villas were let; by July the place would be full.

Lucie looked forward to this with lively dread; almost better, she thought, the gloom and isolation of the winter, than to be overwhelmed by wealthy holiday makers, to have her sordid tragedy staged amid the frivolity, the luxury, the curiosity of a fashionable resort.

Pio, on the other hand, looked forward to it with pleasure; he ordered several summer suits from his London tailor, he sent two as a present to his father.

Lucie had just paid the bill and it had leapt at once to its former proportions.

She was writing short stories 'now, as well as articles, and they were fairly successful, but it was hard keeping abreast of the expenses and so far from her market.

§ II

At last Dr. Bonami arrived by the afternoon tram; he was an immaculate-looking man with a curling black beard, an exquisite linen suit, a fine hand, a fine signet ring, in every way a contrast to Dr. Villari; he began by saying that he must catch the same tram back which gave him just ten minutes.

He asked Pio to come into the garden, and even there stood far away from him; he wrote out several prescriptions, he made several vague remarks, he kept looking at his watch; Lucie had no chance to speak to him alone.

He made no promise of a second visit.

§ III

It began to be hot; they were able to sit in the garden, or on the terraces, and to have all the doors and windows open; to the shivering agony of stone floors and fireless rooms succeeded the languor of the heat; Pio's sufferings were augmented and Lucie was faint with exhaustion; the warm weather entailed more work; it was difficult to keep food, impossible to procure ice, insects began to swarm, and the garden to look parched and arid.

Lucie made up the two cotton dresses and washed them herself, Marianna had enough to do with the other laundry.

No one would take their linen, nor come in to wash it. "How is it you aren't afraid of infection?" asked Lucie once.

"My father died of it," Marianna answered, "and we all slept together, eight in one room, till my mother woke to find him dead beside her—he had a cough just like the padrone."

"He died in May," she added reflectively, "they always door November. Now the padrone has passed May he will live till November."

§ IV

The early mornings were lovely as any imagined Paradise.

After the horror of the nights, Lucie would step out into the rosy pale gold of the dawn and gaze at the murmuring stretch of dove-coloured sea, the silver sands, the fragrant boughs of the pines where the swallows had hung their woven nests, and feel, even at her worst moments, some balm.

The villa garden at her right was crowded now with roses and oleanders, that to the left was full of camellias, lilies and syringa; as both houses were empty, these flowers faded ungathered, and Lucie, with her arid garden and bare house, longed for some of these blooms with wistful eagerness; she had the northerner's thrilled delight at the free-blooming of exotic flowers.

They were such wonderful roses, mostly white, drooping, trailing, massed with bloom; in the early dawns they looked almost luminous, and the perfume hung in the golden stillness, a cloud of fragrance.

Pio also remarked the flowers, and asked Marianna to procure him some from Agostino. Lucie forbade her to ask any favour of the blind man, knowing too well how evilly he was disposed towards them, but told her to buy some flowers on the Piazza and say they were from next door—Villa Ghisleri, as it was called.

§ V

Pio became very ill again; he could seldom leave the house now; the nightly fever began early in the afternoon; by dusk he would be raving in delirium; violent fits of convulsions now followed his bursts of temper, he suffered from ghastly delusions, maniacal terrors, the fever, the brandy, the heat, wrought on him literally to the point of madness.

His days were passed in such an agony of suffering, that Lucie felt herself half crazed by her inability to help.

After one night spent sitting by him on the floor where he crouched, clutching her arm and gibbering in insane terrors, now weeping like a child, now howling like a dog, she went desperately into Viareggio to find Dr. Bonami.

She had to wait three hours before she could see him; then the interview was very brief.

Dr. Bonami could not undertake the case; it was too far, the season was beginning, he had his hands full. And it was hopeless. Really he could do nothing.

He was not very sympathetic, only coldly civil; he rather grudged the time this shabby, haggard woman was taking up; he sensed her poverty, he thought her rather queer.

Many people did; there was some kind of spiritual stigma on Lucie Uden.

She was not yet broken to the point of asking for pity; she had stated her case without emotion, and without complaint she took her leave; she asked him to send his account.

The sleek doctor hesitated as he opened the door of his consulting room, some faint uneasiness stirred him.

"You look ill yourself, signora. You are just in the state to take the infection. Get into the fresh air as much as you can."

Lucie turned into the blazing street giddy and faint; she had to walk slowly, and her heart seemed to jerk in a funny way.

It was the hottest part of the day, she had no parasol, and her shoes were heavy and unsuited to the cotton frock—queer that there were never enough francs for new shoes or chance to buy them—she recalled the still unused ribbon, soap and chiffon with regret; the rent was nearly due and she would have some difficulty in scraping it together.

She had half-an-hour to wait, so she walked slowly along the sea-front, between the wooden shops, now all open, the cinemas, the cafés, the bathing-places, and the long row of smart, gay hotels and private houses all beginning to get ready for the season.

Lucie felt this the very nadir of her fortunes.

To-day she had no heart to even look into the shops, nor to resent that she wore a rush hat Marianna had bought for a lira on the Piazza.

She had to go back and tell her husband that she had failed to get the help he craved; she had to pass other nights like last night, more and more of them till that awful end she must face alone.

She wished that he had some belief in some religion, then she would have gone to the village priest, who looked a kindly man; but the mere mention of such a thing was sufficient to bring on one of his attacks; he was that most unmanageable creature, a bigoted atheist.

This attitude of his had closed another possible way of relief for Lucie.

She had one acquaintance in Viareggio, an Englishwoman married to an Italian engineer employed on the tramway, who had recently come to the town. Lucie had written to her after seeing the husband's appointment in the papers, and she had paid two furtive visits to the Villa Calvini that had been like beams of light—but, Pio hated her, she had a large family, her husband was afraid of infection and, good and kind and sweet as she was, Lucie could not expect her to come again; she had, however, sent over the resident English chaplain, a nervous elderly man, with a sickly sister.

They meant to be kind, but Pio would never see them, nor allow Lucie to return their visit or go to church. One disastrous time when they called with a little book "Consolations for the Dying" and a tiny picture of the Crucifixion and found him in the garden, he was so rude they had never come again.

Lucie did not blame them; they had meant very well, even when they had told her, by way of comfort, that "every day you live now, will be a beautiful memory in the future when your dear one is at rest."

She was sorry that she had been cut off even from this company, and help, but here again she could not appeal for pity, she had, even to the friendly little Englishwoman, more or less pretended that she was "all right."

Neither had she let Dr. Bonami know the depths of her torture; always she made the best of her husband, invested him with dignity, dressed him up in some virtues, veiling the truth with deep instincts of pride and shame; he was her husband.

No words, hardly any action could have expressed her utter wretchedness as she returned through the burning heat to that dismal house that seemed so truly cursed.

Her health and spirits were both so shaken that she could see no hope or consolation anywhere; she doubted her power to continue to infuse into Pio even the modicum of courage with which he got through the awful hours.

For, though he never said a word of gratitude or appreciation, he did cling to her with a pitiful desperation, he turned to her in his agonies, and called on her in his terrors, and she knew that he had an implicit though unspoken faith that she would never desert his need.

As she turned into the long path between the black pines into that dismal house, where Marianna was awaiting her so anxiously, she felt that the world was, literally, black about her; without sleep, without food, exhausted by incessant labour of mind and body, at that moment Lucie's nerves nearly betrayed her.

"Give me a glass of wine," she said, "the doctor won't come. No one will come. I've got to go on alone."

"Dio Bonino!" ejaculated Marianna, and cursed the men of medicine for paltry cowards.

Lucie drank the wine and ate a piece of bread.

"It is quite reasonable, really," she said, faintly, "we are so far away—and it is so hopeless—why should anyone trouble?"

"But the padrone thinks that you will bring the doctor back with you, signora! He is suffering very much!"

"I know! I know! But a doctor couldn't do anything."

"He thinks so, though," said Marianna shrewdly.

Lucie went upstairs.

Pio lay dressed on the bed; adorning the table beside him was a large bunch of the roses from next door; Lucie recognized them at once.

When she met the eager, beseeching look he turned on her, she could not give him the truth.

"Dr. Bonami is very busy, Pio. He will come as soon as he can."

§ VI

Later, she asked Marianna about the roses.

"Agostino brought them, signora."

"How strange!"

"I suppose he wanted a tip, signora."

"Is the villa let?"

"I don't know."

Lucie hoped it might remain empty; it belonged, she knew, to a famous Florentine surgeon who was very seldom there; he owned a good deal of the property and had been largely responsible for the opening up of the place before the War, when he had introduced it to German friends, who had built many of the houses.

Agostino had mentioned him with awe as a very great man indeed, and Marianna spoke of him as very old, ninety, she thought he must be, and eccentric, "motto" in fact.

"I wish Agostino would not bring the flowers," said Lucie, "I expect he has no right to touch them."

§ VII

Pale, exquisite, fragrant, these roses drooped amid the acrid, sour odours of the sick-room, and seemed to look at her, in the yellow night-light glow, as she sat through the summer night, leaning against the low bed and supporting against her shoulders, the wet, sunken head of the so slowly dying man, as he muttered and tossed in a delirious stupor.


Chapter Eighteen

§ I

SHE was able to sleep about two hours that night (it was strange how little sleep she was able to live with now) and when she woke it was the pure hour of the dawn.

She tip-toed into her husband's room; he was still unconscious and had no need of her; so she went across the landing and opened the door on to the right hand terrace.

At once she smelt the roses next door; they were so lovely under the open sky that she was sorry for those wilting in the sick-room.

It was a day of ethereal calm, sky and sea seemed one luminous vapour, blue as a hyacinth, the heat was gentle, the minute waves so languid they scarcely broke against the shore.

The swallows darting in and out of the pines were the only live creatures visible.

The pellucid, transparent light, the sweet stillness, the soft warmth, affected the sad tired woman with some faint transient pleasure.

Suddenly she heard a man whistling—beautifully like a bird—joyously.

It came from amongst the trees and oleanders.

She stood quite still, listening.

There was someone in the garden; through the pines and the bushes she caught a glimpse of a white jacket, then a door closed and the whistling ceased.

Lucie went indoors.

Late that day she found a chance, as she stood stirring a patent food over the charcoal fire, to ask:

"Marianna, is there someone next door? I saw—and heard someone this morning."

"It was the professor, signora—he came down yesterday and went back to-day."

"But isn't he very old?"

"Old, indeed—with a long beard—cosi." She measured a yard down her body.

"This wasn't an old man."


Chapter Nineteen

§ I

IT was fully July and a great heat shimmered over the land; even here, at the edge of the sea, the breezeless days were almost intolerable.

One by one the villas had opened and they were now all full of idle people, who lounged all day in pale garments in the capuane or on the seas, or bathed from gay boats on the placid water.

They were of all nationalities and had little in common but their wealth; the men in white linen or shantung silk, the women in flimsy fine draperies with vivid parasols or lace hats, the children in their fragrant muslins and embroideries, all gave an impression of frivolous pleasure-loving ease.

Many of the women, South American, French, Italian, were lovely as exotic flowers in their exquisite robes of cord, or lemon coloured, azure, lilac ivory-white or jade green organdies and chiffons, that floated round them like the petals of a flower and gave them the ethereal aspect of fairy creatures as they moved languorously through the heat haze, slowly along the golden sand at the verge of the hyacinth-hued sea.

It seemed hardly possible that this was the shore where the winter-waves had beaten in such long monotony of greyness and where one or two starved creatures had struggled with the winds in searching for some driftwood among the scattered spoils of the storm.

Lucie's isolation was as acute as ever, but of a different kind; before she had been alone amid melancholy loneliness; now she was alone among gay holiday-makers on whose useless leisure she felt her presence a blot.

In many ways life became more difficult; food went to those who could pay the most for it. The faithful Marianna, for all her shrewdness, was often not able to bring back enough eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables for the sick man and for what she did get she had to pay a price that was a strain on Lucie's resources.

The two women themselves lived on what was almost an allowance of scraps; Lucie had little appetite and only ate as a duty.

Pio never left the house now and she never left him, save for a moment in the garden. She felt her health being steadily undermined—and her spirits sinking, sinking almost beyond her power of raising them; she had become so sensitive that she hardly liked to go on the terraces for fear of being observed by the strangers on the sand. She had to often do so, however, for Pio fancied to take his meals there and would sit in a dressing-gown glowering at the passers-by.

The little villa to the left, Villa Tristan, had been taken by a brassy-haired American with an invalid mother and Lucie dreaded the bright eyes of this woman whose voice rose like the squeaking of a parrot from her garden and who dipped every morning in blue satin and corsets.

There did not appear to be many English people there and Lucie was thankful. Nothing, she knew, could be so hateful as the English abroad, unless you were placed, which she was very far from.

But she was not to be wholly spared even this.

One morning Marianna told her she had not been able to get any milk and had been bold enough to ask the servant of the inglese at the villa the other side of the road if they would sell some, as it was for a sick man and they had their own podere.

The other had promised her best endeavours and Marianna was elated; but Lucie's pride got another twinge; she knew the villa in question and feared that whoever could afford to live there must be far more opulent than kind.

However she really wanted the milk and she allowed Marianna to call that evening.

The result was about a pint of skim milk and a message to the effect that Mrs. Heaton was sorry but cook had required a great deal for mashing potatoes, but there might be some more to-morrow.

The next morning Lucie happened to be at the gate; Marianna was away at the Piazza and the vegetable woman had come, Lucie had run out in response to the clanging of the canallo bell, leaving Pio fuming.

And while she was bargaining with the pleasant old woman and giving the donkey a crust of bread, the two English people came out of their gate and as the road was narrow came face to face with Lucie.

They hesitated; they had, though Lucie did not know it, been asked by the English chaplain to be "kind" to a fellow countrywoman.

The man, immaculate, expressionless, in spotless white, did not know whether to raise his hat or not; he half did so, then changed the action into that of settling it on his head; the woman, fragrant in a Paris frock of the delicate blue her eyes might have been, save for nature's malice.

"I'm sorry to hear your husband is ill," she said, with a manner of steely affability—the great lady to the tenantry.

"Thank you. He is very ill," Lucie was conscious of her cotton dress, her worn shoes, her arms full of cabbages, and of the boring glance of the other woman's eyes on these things.

"I shall be glad to give you the milk," said Mrs. Heaton. "These are two excellent cows we have—cook is using a great deal now, as we entertain rather a lot, but if you care to send round every evening—milk," she finished, with an air of finality "is so necessary for invalids."

"Thank you," answered Lucie.

Again the two English hesitated; the man bowed slightly; Lucie would not help them; with a "Good-morning" they moved away.

Lucie went back to the house with a heaving heart; the incident had stung.

It was hard not to be bitter, not to feel rebellious.

She tried not to hate Mrs. Heaton; the woman was just acting up to her code, and taking advantage of the well-bred Englishman's right to be abominably rude.

If she knew anything about you—if her father had been at school with yours, or your husband was in a crack regiment, or your boy was at Osborne or Sandhurst, or you had a relative with a title, or lived in an orthodox way with lots of servants, certainly she would have been sympathetic, kind and helpful—it probably wasn't her fault that she could only act according to her grandmother's code—just as she could only spend her grandfather's money—independent action was as impossible to her as earning her living.

Miss Pardoe, the American lady, had also been spoken to by the English chaplain before he closed the church and went away for the summer; she discharged the burden on her conscience with promptitude.

Her maid gave a message to Marianna. Miss Pardoe felt it wouldn't be right for her to call at a house of sickness as she had a delicate mother, and she couldn't ask Madame Simonetti to call on her as her mother didn't like strangers, but perhaps they'd meet on the sands some day.

Lucie didn't answer the message and she didn't send for the milk.

She was now left comfortably alone.

And soon ceased to think at all about these people.

The monstrous routine of the day and night gripped her very soul; she saw the pleasure-makers from the window as the Lady of Shalott might have seen the shadows in the magic mirror.

And with less interest.

She was now having, in the course of her nursing, to perform tasks of a nature so menial and so revolting that a year before she would have sickened at the mere recital of them; there was no loathsome detail of the foul disease she had not dealt with, no horror of this living decay of a human body that had been spared her.

She often wondered if her task would have been ennobled or rendered impossible altogether if she had loved him—and then wondered if his own mother could have loved him as he was now.

All that was good and pleasant in the unhappy man (and there must have been much of both) was consumed, burnt away by the fires of his malady; he was like a creature without a brain or a soul, or possessed by some evil power.

His senses were preternaturally sharp; he knew when Lucie left the room; he seemed to know when she left the house; he followed every detail of her tasks with minute precision and never failed to exclaim against any omission.

She had to keep his extensive wardrobe in perfect order, ties, collars, socks, gloves, handkerchiefs, all graduated according to size, colour or quality.

Every day his various pairs of boots and shoes had to be dusted and polished, his endless suits of clothes aired, shaken or repressed.

And when he was free from too great pain or discomfort and she had succeeded in the dreadful task of slightly raising the clouds of black melancholy that overwhelmed him, he would tell her stories of his early amorous adventures—dwell with pleasure on the incredibly crude vices that had helped to bring him where he was, describe the vile orgies of unspeakable places in Naples, Milan and London.

§ II

When the shivering fits were on him and nothing but human warmth would heat his deadly cold, Lucie, as she held him in her arms, thought of the knight and the leper whom he brought into his bed to warm.

His task could not have been more loathsome to him than hers was to her; sitting by the sick man's bed, holding him in his gibbering icy shudderings—afterwards gripping his hand when the fever mounted and the summer night was to him peopled with hideous monsters.

He pictured them to her; he seemed to think that she had some power over them and that as long as she was there they could not wholly overwhelm him.

She repeated:

"There is nothing there, Pio, there is nothing there," seemed to have some soothing effect, for if she was long silent or tried to creep away, the wretched man would fall into screaming convulsions of terror.

Again and again he would tell her about what was in the room—a leering cat on the pillow, fat snakes under the bed, soldiers pacing up and down the terraces, voices in her room, a dead child in the empty bed, in the air rows and rows of faces, all calling out to him "Fool! Fool!"

She went so carefully with him every step of the awful way he trod that she shared all his agonies; his sufferings were like her own, she seemed actually to see and do visible battle with the hosts of evil that encompassed him.

One dawn, after a night of foul terrors, when the delirium had left him, he caught her hand and held it over his gaunt ribs.

"You wouldn't deceive me, would you?" he gasped.

She was used to his angry jealousies and she answered mechanically.

"No, Pio, of course not."

But this time he meant something else.

"You would not stay with me like this unless you loved me?"

Lucie winced.

"I shouldn't want you to stay—for pity—I'd rather die in a ditch."

"Not pity—Pi—no—"

"Love, then, you do love me?"

She had to utter the monstrous lie.

"Of course I love you."

"I don't think you could stay if you didn't," he said wistfully.

"What makes you say that?" she asked unsteadily.

"I thought you might be getting tired," he answered.

"I haven't said so—"

"No—and if you love me you must be glad to be here."

Lucie had no answer; she was shocked by this new aspect of Pio.

"If I die," went on Pio (it was the first time he had spoken of such a possibility), "I want you to promise not to marry again."

This seemed to Lucie grotesque; yet somehow she did not want to make any such vow; it seemed to her like a parody of something sacred.

"Well, you promise also," she evaded—"I might die first—"

"Oh, with a man it's different," he returned peevishly. He did not press his point.

"If you love me," he added, "you wouldn't care to marry again."

"What should I do—with the rest of my life, do you think?" asked Lucie.

"I suppose," he said gravely, "you would think of me."

"All the rest of my life? And nothing else, Pio"

"Yes, you said you loved me."

Lucie was startled by this conversation; had he then, after all, a soul?

She felt rather ashamed.

He was fiercely sincere, and she was deceiving him for what she did was not even from motives of pity, but from sheer sense of duty, the coldest of compassion.

And he counted on her love; in a subtle way Lucie now felt that she was wronging him by offering him devotion under a false guise; it added to her trouble.

She became very tender, hoping, as she loved no one (nor was ever likely to) that she might persuade herself she did love him.

But that same night he was hunched up in bed again, nursing his revolver and cursing her as the author of all his miseries.

She thought it was going to be the end that night; her heart failed her with dread at the things she had to see.

The revolver was tossed about on the coverlet between them like a child's toy in its cot. With the dawn she got it from him but he wept for it pitifully and she put it under his pillow.

She was kneeling by his low bed, holding his twitching hands.

The glorious light of the pure day streamed into his disordered room and softly touched those two wretched figures in their dishevelment.

"Pray for me to die," said the sick man. "Pray for me to die."


Chapter Twenty

§ I

PIO had fallen asleep in the downstairs bedroom; it was evening and Lucie sat at the barred window and watched the fishing boats.

The room was full of shadow and the light suit and whitish face of the sick man showed smudged outlined shapes.

Lucie had "Phantastes" on her knees; she was trying to bear things; it seemed impossible to face the end.

He was so afraid.

She couldn't make him brave.

It would be awful and she would be so alone.

And there would be afterwards, everything there to do alone.

Under those alien eyes.

§ II

The holiday-makers were all indoors; presently they would come out again when the moon was up, but for the moment the sands were deserted save for the fishermen.

They rowed out casting their nets; the floats were marked with bunches of fresh greenery that looked like trees growing out of the smooth pearl-coloured surface of the water; boats and rowers appeared of a dovelike hue in the twilight, the translucent sky was pale and tinted as a fading violet.

On the sand a little group waited, dark against the luminous water.

The scene was curiously beautiful to Lucie; her imprisoned spirit seemed to leap away, away and sit with the rowers in the little boat on the wide freedom of the seas.

Ah, to be rowing away, away, towards the sunset—on the eternal quest; it may be we shall reach the Fortunate Isles!

Ah, the longing, the yearning, the homesickness of the soul—and yet a certain exaltation, as if nothing mattered so very much and your voyage was sure to come to you, soon or late—at the latest not so very long.

§ III

Lucie crept into the kitchen to fetch a light, he hated waking in the dark.

While Marianna lit the lamp, Lucie arranged an enormous lemon, a bunch of hard green grapes and a white rose on a blue plate; she took something very like that upstairs every night: she liked to look at it during the dark hours of her vigil; she thought Pio liked to look at it too.

"The professor has come back next door," said Marianna. "Agostino is so pleased. I think he is going to tell him of the padrone."

"What do you mean?" asked Lucie anxiously; she dreaded to hear of the coming of this learned, eccentric, famous man.

"He is afraid the padrone will die in the middle of the season and ruin the villa, and he wants the professor to say it is infectious and that we must go."

"But he can't say that unless he sees the padrone," said Lucie anxiously.

"No—but Agostino means to persuade you to call him in—and to persuade him to come, he doesn't take patients here, you see, he is too rich."

Lucie was used to this kind of intrigue, the Tuscan nature appeared to delight in them; they were very difficult for a northerner to combat.

She had always felt that the blind man was dangerous, a secret enemy working against her in the dark.

"I have always tipped him well," she said desperately, "and the rent was paid the moment it was due—and we give no trouble. So much wants doing to the house, but I have never asked for anything."

But Marianna understood the situation as viewed by Agostino.

"He does make what he would in the usual way, signora—and the other tenants complain, they say they can hear the padrone coughing from the beach and screaming and swearing too—Agostino thinks he is mad."

"But this place is for sick people," said Lucie faintly.

"They don't like people to die here," answered Marianna, "and then they're frightened of the infection—the maid of 'l'Americana' next door said she was terrified lest you should ask her in—"

"I wonder," interrupted Lucie bitterly, "how they account for it that I'm not dead."

"They think," replied the servant cheerfully, "that you are sure to catch it—I'm often asked if you've begun to spit blood yet."

§ IV

Lucie now felt herself driven to her last defences; she wished she had moved from her coveted and conspicuous residence in the winter when it might still have been possible to find some humbler place where they would have been unobserved; if they were turned out now it would be utterly hopeless even to look for rooms or indeed any accommodation.

The season was very successful and Lucie knew that every bed for miles round was let at a high price.

Certainly she had the house till next January by a proper agreement, but if Agostino chose to dispute this she knew of no means whereby she could resist him; he would have doubtless all his countrymen on his side, and he had really let the house on false pretences, since he was assured that the illness was brief and non-infectious, when in reality it was the one malady of all others dreaded by the Italians who appeared to think that it spread with the swift devastation of smallpox or typhus.

Lucie's one hope lay in keeping Professor Ghisleri at bay; she learnt that he was only there for six weeks and she could only pray that he would be too occupied with his friends to think of her and her affairs.

Marianna, however, was not so sanguine. She said Agostino was a favourite with the great man, who had performed seven operations on him to preserve the modicum of eyesight he possessed; Dr. Ghisleri was also unfortunately very interested in the Villa Calvini that had been built by one of his German friends.

"Agostino is sure, signora, that he will say that the padrone is to be moved."

"They can't throw us out by force," said Lucie, but in her heart she feared they could; she no longer had any faith in anything, nor any expectation of help or sympathy.

It seemed to her that it would be far better if he, in one of his agonies, should shoot himself and her and send them both into the oblivion where he would no longer be afraid nor she afraid to see him afraid.

To what possible purpose was it all being prolonged? What was the sense of this double martyrdom? What object was there in this painful sacrifice this anguish of service to an abhorrent disease, in itself the fruits of f ignorance, folly and vice?

Lucie believed in no faith that could help her to an answer; she could not even believe in any Power directing it all, any Intelligence directing human destinies; it seemed to her that things just happened, as the wind freshened from the sea or died away, as the stars shone or were veiled by clouds.

Nothing could express the indifference of it all to this sick man and to herself; her miseries would never be compensated anywhere, what she had suffered never rewarded; the sunlight mocked at her penitential days, the pure air that flowed in through her open window reproached her for the monstrous futility of the vile tasks that filled her wasted hours.

She knew that she could never be the same after this; everything seemed petty and meaningless to her now save this kind of inner life she had led where she tried to find some guidance through the maze of her material experiences.

She began to see the gibbering shapes the sick man saw, to tread with him the dark paths opened through the delirium of fever, heat and alcohol, to feel time and space vanishing into the chaotic realm of unchecked delusion, phantasmagoria and vision.

She often thought that it was very likely she would die of the same disease; she was so thin, so exhausted, so giddy—it seemed hardly possible that she should escape.

§ V

August came in with devastating heat; the fever never left the sick man now; he scorched all day, writhing like one at the stake, burnt by his own poisoned blood, groaning, cursing, blaspheming, whatever had created him for such a fate.

Lucie tried to keep the wine and brandy away from him, but he would have them, and Marianna was skilful in smuggling them up to him; in her mistaken devotion she believed that he should "have all he asked for."

His violence became not a matter of moods but continual; he overturned most of the food brought him, he smashed his medicine bottles and glasses, he flung whatever lay nearest to his hand at Lucie; he gave way to convulsions of sheer fury until he nearly strangled in a cough.

But what was worse to bear was his constant cry for a doctor; his demand for help, his pathetic belief that there was someone, somewhere, and that would not make the effort to find it; no longer could she make excuses about Dr. Bonami; he had to guess himself forsaken there, and the knowledge added to his wretchedness.

Lucie had another fear now; he had taken a violent dislike to Marianna and threatened to shoot her if she came into his room; Lucie warned the woman but the terror remained; the impulsive creature might rush upstairs when his bell rang, and he always had the revolver under his pillow day and night.

Suicide or the murder of herself seemed to Lucie within the bounds of legitimate tragedy—but that he should shoot Marianna and they both live to see it was simply intolerable.

For the first time she had a real fear of the tawdry weapon, and decided that somehow it must be taken from him.

The flimsy news-sheet that Marianna brought from the Piazza every morning was now full of a case in which a man suffering from consumption and neurasthenia had made a holocaust of his family and servants, shooting down one after the other with an old service pistol.

Lucie, standing as it were, very much with her back against the wall, now thought of the man next door.

Hardly a day passed that the blind man did not creep round to the kitchen window and urge Marianna to send for his master, and although Lucie read the manoeuvre, she began to see here some glimmer of hope.

Whatever the attitude of this stranger, he must save her from the worst; he must get those revolvers away, he must prescribe some treatment, stop the brandy and give some narcotic; his very presence in the house would hearten Pio and Marianna.

She would be able to show him, too, the elaborate precautions she was taking against infection, and, if he insisted that they leave the Villa Calvini, he would be almost forced to discover some other asylum.

Even if this was the hospital at Lucca, well, she could take a room near and go in to see him every day; even that would be better than what might happen if they went on like this.

It was not an easy thing to do to thus expose herself to a stranger, one who probably already disliked her and would view her with prejudice and perhaps animosity, one who would come, as it were as an emissary of all those alien people whose pleasure was being spoilt by the tragedy in their midst, and also would only trouble with her at all to please a favourite servant and to save a dead friend's home from desecration.

It was the last sacrifice of poor Lucie's pride, and not made without a struggle.

She told Marianna if Agostino again suggested a visit from his master to accept; she could not bring herself to send a formal message.

Professor Ghisleri had been pointed out to her by Marianna when he was passing from one capuana to another, laughing and joking with his friends.

Lucie had seen a stout old man in a big Panama with a red face and a long white beard; he was not, as Marianna said "molto simpatico," neither did he look very overbearing.

His own villa was now so overgrown with oleanders that Lucie could not see anyone moving in the garden, only the glimpse of a white jacket or muslin skirt between the foliage as his friends came and went.

§ VI

Early one morning Marianna announced that she had delivered the message (to Lucie like a flag of surrender) to the hateful Agostino, who had gone off in triumph.

"Of course he won't come for days," said Lucie, "he knows so many people here."

But she ventured to tell Pio, who was immensely gratified and received the news, poor wretch, as a new hope.

That day he slept after the midday meal, and Lucie, after drawing the blinds and arranging the room, went downstairs to sit with Marianna in the kitchen; she had some work to do, but for the moment the desire for human companionship was too strong to be resisted.

Besides she had some of this endless patent food to make.

She had hardly reached the kitchen before the front door bell—not that of the cancello on the road, but of that giving on to the sea—rang for the first time since Lucie had been in the Villa Calvini.

"Dio bonino!" cried Marianna, rushing out, "it is that figlio d'un cane hawking fish and he will wake the padrone."

Lucie went on mixing the brownish paste of the patent food.

In a second Marianna was back, flushed and breathless and wiping her hands on her apron.

"It is the Professor!" she gasped.

Lucie winced, with the sensation of being taken unawares.

"He must be fond of Agostino," she thought bitterly; aloud she asked:

"Where is he?"

"Waiting in the salotto, signora."

Lucie wanted to ask:

"Does he seem pleasant?"

But she felt that would be too childish.

"Tell him I am coming in a moment," she added and while Marianna returned to the salotto she crept upstairs.

She was wearing her yellow cotton frock with the full skirt and cross-over bodice; it was tumbled and her hair was falling down (she had soft hair that was apt to fall down); she meant to have made a better appearance before the great man, but she did not dare to keep him waiting so she just bundled up her hair and washed her hands. Pio was asleep, and his room, she thankfully noted, perfectly tidied.

Her heart thumped painfully as she went downstairs. She had always been socially timid and she had not the courage or one nerve she had had when she had first entered the Villa Calvini.

As she pushed aside the huge heavy door and entered the large darkened ( for the shutters were closed) hideous salotto, she was shivering with a pitiful nervousness.


Chapter Twenty-One

§ I

A MAN was standing by the heavy worn red empire divan, not the man whom Marianna had pointed out but a much younger man of very remarkable appearance.

Lucie was quite confused; mechanically she asked him to sit down.

He sat down on the red divan and she on one of the wooden chairs opposite him.

She did not look at him; the lights were very dim and greenish as if they were under water.

"Your husband is ill, signora?"

She always quick with details, noticed at once that his accent was not Tuscan, but one that, with her limited knowledge of Italy, she had never heard before.

"He is very ill. There isn't any hope, really. But he doesn't know. I want to give him all the hope? can—he—he couldn't stand—knowing."

"You had Dr. Villa? to him—and Dr. Bonami?"

Lucie flushed to find him so well-informed; she kept her eyes averted, a common trick of hers when speaking to strangers.

"Yes—they neither cared to come any more. It isn't a pleasant case." Her pride was making her desperately frank. "I've no right to suggest you take on any case two other doctors have dropped—but? suppose you are too famous to care about that—"

She halted—she was having difficulty with her carefully rehearsed speech, not saying the things she meant to say and making mistakes in the foreign language, feeling that she was at her worst and making a bad impression.

"Why did you send for me?" he asked.

"Agostino continually suggested it-I believe he is worrying about the house and hopes you will help him-"

"Never mind about that, signora. Tell me about the case."

His voice was kind and gentle and Lucie sitting awkwardly and not looking at him told her story.

She told it briefly and unemotionally.

When she had finished he spoke at once.

"Have you any children?"

"I had-she died suddenly-at five months."

He made a little regretful sound.

"Ah, tubercular meningitis?"

A pity.

"Yes-it was a pity," said Lucie dully.

"You look after your husband entirely yourself, signora?"

"Yes." Lucie recalled her fears. "I am very careful-all the linen is my own. I wash everything infectious myself-the windows are always open."

"I have observed them."

"I wash the room out with disinfectant every day," she continued eagerly. "I try to keep him in the back bedroom when the beach is crowded-I know his cough is bad-"

He rose abruptly and Lucie felt herself snubbed.

"Will you take me up to the patient, signora?" he asked. "Certainly."

Lucie preceded him upstairs; she was acutely conscious of his footfalls behind her; she was confused and felt giddy.

Pio was awake; he had evidently sensed the stranger in the house, for he lay on his side watching the door.

"My husband," said Lucie.

The doctor approached the bed.

"I will see you before I go, signora." He spoke courteously with an air of dismissal; when she had left the room he shut the door.

Lucie went downstairs and sat on the red divan in the dim, salotto, trying to analyze her impressions.

He was of great size; she had never seen or imagined a man of such a build, as powerful as the Farnese Hercules, and as perfectly proportioned, so that, while not very tall, he appeared not in the least clumsy or heavy.

His head and face were of the same noble make, compact, graceful, flowing and bold in line, tanned to a deep red-brown, his thick, wavy, yet close-growing hair was a curious ashy gray colour, with an auburn hue in it; his whole personality was the most vital thing Lucie had ever met. He wore the usual costume of the visitors, a shantung suit, shirt and sandals, and he looked as utterly unlike a doctor or any professional man as could well be imagined.

Lucie wondered why he had come to the Villa Calvini; she knew now that it could not possibly be as part of Agostino's intrigue.

When she heard him coming down the stairs, she went into the corridor to meet him. Glancing up she saw that Pio's door was closed, a thing the sick man never permitted.

Lucie waited.

"The young man is dying," he said, "but you knew that."

"Yes," answered Lucie, "how long will it be?" She managed awkwardly, not looking at him.

"I could not tell. Perhaps some months. There is great resistance—great tenacity. I will come again to-night."

This gave Lucie a sensation of pure joy.

"You will really look after him?" she asked incredulously. "As long as I am here I will come, signora."

"And the house?" she asked in her relief. "Will there be any difficulty about us remaining?"

"Why should there be?" he seemed surprised.

"Agostino seemed vexed—"

"Oh! If he bothers, you tell me. He won't, though—"

With the graceful "a revedula" not to be translated into any other language, he had opened the heavy doors and was gone.

As he crossed' the little garden he whistled.

It was the whistle of the man Lucie had heard in the spring.

§ II

Pio was soothed and gratified by the great man's visit; in some way the interview seemed to have restored to him some grain of self-respect, some modicum of self-control; it was a long while since he had been o amenable.

Marianna also was pleased and excited; the whole household seemed to have taken on a little dignity, a little composure, to be rescued somehow from the verge of that howling limbo that appeared to be engulfing them all.

As Lucie was having her supper at the foot of Pio's bed, Marianna entered with a cluster of huge white roses; Agostino had brought them; he had seemed extraordinarily civil.

Pio and Marianna talked with excited enthusiasm of the new doctor; he was sure that he was going to be cured and she was also as confident; he overlooked her presence in her room as she arranged the colours and he questioned her about Professor Ghisleri.

Lucie sat silent.

She knew the woman knew nothing since she had pointed out the wrong man and that all the garrulous tales she was reeling off now were but so many four-hand gossipings of the Piazza.

"He is very fond of the ladies," finished Marianna, with a vulgar wink.

"Well, there is no one here to attract him," said Pio. "Is he married?"

"Oh, three or four times over, I think," grinned Marianna, and she began to relate some voluble scandals that had no sound of likelihood at all.

"He is coming again this evening," said Lucie. "Don't let him find us discussing him—"

"I don't care what he is as long as he cures me," remarked Pio, as Marianna went downstairs with the supper tray. "And there is no need to bother about you—he won't notice you after all the women here, and I hope you know how to behave—you're so thin," he rambled on peevishly, "and I don't like your clothes—"

"I don't, either."

"I wish you would get something bright."

"How can I, Pio, when you won't let me go into Viareggio?"

"You should have brought more things with you."

Lucie was glad that he was distracted from his own miseries. She went into her own room and took out the length of green chiffon she had bought in Viareggio and put it over her shoulders; she wore a white crepe dress, the one house frock she had brought with her; she looked, she thought, as she peered at herself in the little square of mirror above her chest of drawers, "washed out" as her dress; there was no colour about her save the green jade scarf and the piled up bright hair.

She was not thinking at all of her appearance; she was very anxious that Dr. Ghisleri should not think her a fool; she was anxious that he should approve of the way she had treated her patient; she hoped, too, that Pio would not make too bad an impression on him; she very much wanted Pio to be civil and well behaved.

She had hardly returned to her husband's bedside when she heard Marianna speaking below and a step on the stair; she did not go to meet him but remained seated by the window; the room was full of shadow.

He entered and sat on the edge of the patient's bed, greeting him pleasantly and easily. Lucie he saluted quickly, then took no more notice of her; "he does think me a fool," she thought.

Pio, gratified at being the centre of attention, was cheerful, even amiable; the two talked together as if they were alone in the room.

Lucie had an extraordinary sensation of the futility, the frivolity of the whole thing that, up to now, had been so tremendously important—the sick man marked for death, his rows of neat clothes and piles of linen and ties and socks that he would never wear, hidden away in drawers and cupboards, his shining ranks of medicine bottles that were of no use to him, all his glasses, his brandy, his wine, his pitiful array of this and that, and she, in her last year's frock and twist of cheap green stuff, how futile, even ridiculous it all was!

It was this man talking so pleasantly, so courteously with that little strange accent that made it appear so empty and meaningless; all his movements were serene and noble and grand; in his very quiet was some immense force; beside him the sick man appeared like a poor wizened doll and all the furnishings of the room so much trumpery.

Yet he was not even looking at Lucie and he was talking of commonplace things—things that even Pio could understand.

Pio began to tell him of his illness; poor Pio, how childish it sounded, his ignorant recital of his sordid woes—his request of "something for his cough."

Dr. Ghisleri listened with a sweet gravity.

"I will bring you," he said, "something for your cough."

It was so dusk now that Lucie could only see the white glimmer of his shape, the white length of the bed; she rose to get the lamp.

"Your wife should go out," said Dr. Ghisleri quietly. "It is very beautiful in the moonlight."

Pio stared; even to Lucie this was a daring heresy; it was also, so long since anyone had taken any interest in her, that she was quite confused.

"She does not care to go out," answered Pio sullenly. "But you should insist—no one should remain always in the house. She never goes out."

"I cannot be left alone," protested Pio, and Lucie, fearing he would make a display of odious selfishness, spoke; she had lit the lamp and put on the red shade.

"I get some fresh air on the terrace?—I go out into the gardens—"

"It is not enough, signora." He rose. "Downstairs I will give you a prescription."

"Cannot you give it to me?" asked Pio peevishly, "I do not like to be left alone."

"I will send the woman up to you—"

Before the voice of authority Pio was silent; Lucie followed the doctor downstairs; she was flattered that he wanted to speak to her yet afraid of some reproof.

All was in darkness downstairs, as Lucie always remained in Pio's room in the evening, lamps were never lit anywhere else.

"I will get a light," said Lucie.

"There is no need." He turned to the kitchen door and called Marianna, "sit upstairs a moment or so with your master."

The woman darted away, full of voluble good will.

They went into the salotto where a faint light still lingered.

"You must get out more," he said urgently, "you cannot long resist this life."

"I am all right," answered Lucie—"my husband—"

"Your husband!" he repeated quickly, "a degenerate—a moral imbecile—he is not responsible—you know that?"

"He has—fits," faltered Lucie.

"Epilepsy. He drinks too much, also."

"I know. I have no control."

"I will see he has no more. And all that medicine—throw it away."

"He believes in it."

"Is he wealthy?" asked the doctor, abruptly.

"Oh! no!" said Lucie taken aback.

"All those things—those drugs, wines, spirits, cost a good deal of money."

"Yes—I—" Lucie did not know what to say, the sense he thought her foolish, hurt.

"Don't waste any more money in that fashion."

She tried to defend herself from the charge of monstrous ignorance.

"I knew it was all wrong. I wanted to please him."

"Why?"

Lucie laughed weakly.

"Don't ask me that—it goes too deep—I know that what I'm doing is quite crazy—"

"Oh, you do know that?"

"Yes—but there was no other way. Will you give him some sort of medicine—just to satisfy him?"

"I will bring something to-morrow." He moved towards the door, as if impatiently; he crossed the big hall and at the front door added, "I will think what must be done." Lucie watched him disappear into the summer gloom.

Marianna, creeping downstairs to say that the padrone was asleep, asked her if she had remembered to ask the doctor about the revolvers.

"No," said Lucie. "I forgot."

The revolvers seemed very unimportant.

§ III

When she went upstairs she found that Pio had only been feigning sleep to rid himself of Marianna.

He had a bottle of brandy on the bed and was drinking the alcohol in a medicine glass.

"Pio, how did you get that?" she asked in dismay.

He explained that he had long had it concealed as a reserve (where he did not say) and that he was taking it for a pain on the chest; it had already, he declared, made him feel better.

Lucie had to resign herself; she knew that it was useless to inflame him by opposition, she hoped he would drink himself into a stupor.

With unusual pleasantness he discussed his new physician and his renewed hopes, every few minutes filling up his glass, until the bottle was half empty; he insisted on his medicine and his Marsala with the raw eggs, and after he had taken these, he fell into a deep sleep or swoon, though apparently burning in a high fever.

Lucie went through her usual routine, left the night-light, the room in order, and went to bed.

§ IV

She was now the lightest of sleepers and the faintest sound roused her; she was soon sitting up on the bed, listening; she was dressed, for weeks now it had not been worth while to take her clothes off.

He was moving about his room.

Lucie felt that horrid leap of sheer fear that she never could quite control when she found herself alone with this man in the depth of the night, so entirely alone with this awful power of madness.

She went to his door which stood, as usual, wide open.

He was standing in front of the long mirror in the wardrobe at the foot of the bed, dressed completely in evening clothes, white tie, waistcoat and gloves, and he was patting and easing his coat, that hung loose on his emaciated body, into position, while he chattered and whispered to himself.

The contrast between his dress and his appearance, so incredibly wild, ghastly and haggard, the horrible interest he was taking in himself, that low, incessant, madman's gibber, made Lucie actually recoil.

He heard her, swung round, drew the small revolver from his hip pocket and pointed it at her; his face expressed the most concentrated malevolent hatred.

"Pio, put that down," she whispered thickly. He dropped the weapon to his side.

"Go and get me some breakfast," he said. "Can't you see it is getting late?"

Lucie went up to him; he had not stood for so long for days and she thought he would soon fall.

"There is plenty of time," she said, and took the weapon from his slack fingers.

"As if I hadn't the razors," he said contemptuously. "Pio, get into bed you will be so ill to-morrow."

He leant against the side of the cheap Austrian wardrobe; above the rigid black and white of his dress showed his dreadful hollow face stained with the colours of decay, his twisted, black, damp locks, his eyes full of blood.

"I certainly mean to kill you," he muttered. "You are the cause of all my troubles, you always stand between me and the light."

"I'll get you some coffee," said Lucie. "You would like some coffee?"

"You've never loved me," he went on, "I certainly have a right to kill you."

He sank down, exhausted, on the end of the bed.

"Who is that crying?" he asked, "always someone crying! Am I never to have a moment's peace?"

Lucie went down into the kitchen and made the coffee and carried it up to him; he was still seated on the end of the bed, lamenting to himself; she had taken away the little revolver, but he still had the large one and this he now held across his knee.

He drank the coffee greedily, but, when he had satisfied himself, he threw cup and pot on to the floor.

It was bright day before she could get his clothes off and arrange him back in bed.

Marianna was on the Piazza before he slept and she could change her clothes and stagger downstairs to heat more coffee—now for herself.


Chapter Twenty-Two

§ I

MARIANNA had set wide the folding doors on to the garden, the spacious passage was full of sunlight.

But Lucie shivered.

She felt as if all her power of resistance had gone; she had hardly the strength to make herself the coffee to which she was looking forward so eagerly.

But she did make it and was drinking it when she heard a tap at the door; she went into the corridor to see Dr. Ghisleri standing in the sunshine.

"So early—" she stammered, dazed, taken aback.

"It is half-past eight, signora."

"Ah—yes—I rather lost count of time."

She endeavoured to put on an air of formality, she led the way into the huge, sombre, crowded salotto.

"Is your husband asleep?"

"Yes, at last."

She sat on the red divan trying to collect herself, to control herself; she had never guessed he would come so early, find her so unprepared, disfigured with fatigue; she had a despairing feeling that she was going to break down, to give way.

He stood quite near her and she dare not look at him. "You had a bad night?" he asked gently.

Lucie clasped her hands tightly in her lap.

"He—he went off his head a little—it is so dreadful—yet funny, that's the worst of him, he can't be tragic—he put on his dress clothes and wanted breakfast—he didn't know what he was doing—he has only just gone to sleep—"

She was desperately afraid that she was going to laugh and she knew that if she did all hope of retaining self-control was gone.

"I nearly came back last night," said the doctor, "why didn't you send for me?"

Lucie simply hadn't thought of that; she was so used to doing everything for herself, by herself.

"I never would have thought of disturbing you," she answered.

"I was awake all night."

"And I am really used to it—I'm not really afraid—I don't think he will ever do anything—only—dressed up—it was funny."

Her lip began to tremble, she heard her own feeble laughter, she heard herself saying:

"I do wish I could die—I do wish I could die—it would be so much—easier."

Almost instantly she caught at her self-control again, in quick repentance of having thus betrayed herself.

"I really am tired," she faltered, "it has been such a long strain."

The doctor came and stood in front of her; she looked up; for the first time she gazed full into his face.

Lucie knew exactly what was going to happen, she thought she had known it since she had first seen him.

He bent slowly and kissed her gently on the mouth. As he raised his head, he touched, with a very tender gesture, her shoulder.

"You dear woman," he said.

Lucie could not speak, her thoughts trailed into an incoherency of bliss; she could not grasp anything but the exquisite pleasure this man's presence gave her, the astounding ecstasy of his kiss, his endearment.

Lucie sat still in a childish pose, she felt her hair slip from its coils down her back.

Pio's bell sounded through the empty house.

The doctor turned to her instantly, as one who had complete authority over all her actions.

"I will go up. You stay here—" He used the "thee and thou" of his beautiful language. "Is the woman back?"

"I hear her in the kitchen—if you could, would you get his revolver away—for his own sake—"

"He has a revolver?"

"Yes."

He left her and she heard him go into the kitchen and then ascend the stairs.

She never thought of disobeying him, of rushing upstairs in her usual fashion, or even of going into the kitchen to help prepare Pio's breakfast.

Everything was different—everything always would be different now.

As surely as any slave sold in the market-place she had changed masters; it was no longer round that sick man her whole being would revolve, but round this stranger.

She only knew this very obscurely; she did not reason or analyze at all, but she was aware of it, in her heart and soul, as a salient fact.

Already, the monstrous monotony, the hideous routine of the days had been broken through; Pio had his door shut, she hadn't answered his bell; presently Marianna came in with food on a tray; her breakfast—"the doctor said she was to eat it—"

"All this trouble for me!" said Lucie; but she made no further protest.

She was eating when he came down and Marianna was beside her, gossiping over, quite light-heartedly, the little budget of the Piazza.

Dr. Ghisleri smiled, as if he was pleased to see her a little happier.

"I have given him something to make him sleep," he said, "when he is due to wake, about three, I shall come again. And you must promise me, signora, that you will sleep."

"Will there really be nothing to do?" asked Lucie.

"Nothing."

"We shall miss the bell," grinned Marianna.

Lucie followed him to the door open on the brilliant sunshine. She cared for nothing except that he had said that he was coming again.

They did not look at each other; they parted with a formal greeting.

Lucie turned to Marianna.

"If the padrone is really comfortable, I think I will sleep—' feel giddy."

§ II

She went into her husband's room; the green persiane shutters were closed and there was a faint aromatic perfume in the air. Pio lay straight and still, completely at peace; all the medicine bottles, all the bedside paraphernalia was gone.

Lucie went downstairs again.

"Marianna, where have all the bottles gone?" she asked.

"The doctor told me to throw them all away," said the servant; she also, it seemed, had gone cheerfully over to the new master. "And the padrone is not to have any wine or brandy and very little food."

"I've often told you that," Lucie reminded her.

"But now it is the doctor who says it," replied Marianna with simplicity. "He got the revolver, too, and the razors."

"Did he?"

"Yes—didn't you see them in his docket?"

"I didn't notice."

§ III

It all seemed so simple now, so normal and ordinary; the sick man lay placidly asleep; Marianna went about her work singing; there was no bell clanging from upstairs, no trays t be carried up, no long elaborate toilet to make—(an hour spent perhaps in dressing a man up and then a hasty tearing of everything off as he collapsed); she was to have her dinner downstairs; never again, Marianna told her, was she to eat in the sick-room, the doctor had said so.

There was actually a little leisure; she could go on the terrace without being called in; she could stay in the garden without fear of a scene.

She lay on the red divan and overslept hen usual dinner-hour; Marianna had to wake her, she sat up, drowsy.

"The padrone has never stirred," said Marianna, joyously. "Such a wonderful sleep."

Lucie tiptoed up to look at him; it was quite true that he had not stirred, the very bedclothes were the same.

Lucie ate a better meal than she had done for some time. It had not been easy to even touch food while Pio was retching and coughing a foot or so away.

Afterwards she felt less light-headed; she was able to take a coherent survey of what had happened.

§ IV

Lucie tried, deliberately, to damp her own exultation; in cold blood she dragged out all the conventions, traditions, saws, maxims, she had somehow absorbed during her youth; she had never yet, on any occasion lost her head, and she brought out all her stock of prudence and common sense to prevent her doing so now.

"I've known him about twenty-four hours. I've seen him three times. I know nothing about him, not even his name or if he is married. He has the reputation of being eccentric, bizarre, and too gallant. It is obvious that he is not an ordinary person. I suppose that it is natural to him to flatter women. I suppose I looked pitiful, and he was really sorry for me."

She thought of the kiss with tingling amazement. She had always been so austere in all her ways, so exactly faithful to her husband that the thing seemed incredible. She remembered how she had felt bound to Pio by his first kiss, really pledged to marry him because he had kissed her. She had always been a secret fanatic on the subject of chastity and fidelity.

Not for a second did she blame Dr. Ghisleri for what had happened; she knew that she could have prevented it, if she had wanted to, and that she had not wanted to.

"I must have been very unnerved and overwrought," she thought, her mind falling into the clichés of the moment, "and what must he think of me—that I'm cheap, of course."

Yet there was something in Lucie that took no notice at all of all this cool clever reasoning, that simply laughed at every truism she brought forward.

§ V

When he arrived, Lucie was very cool and still, her hair and gown very neat, a piece of needlework in her hands. She met him herself at the open door and asked him into the dining-room that had not the informal air of the huge dim salotto.

They exchanged commonplaces about the patient, she sitting and sewing, he standing by the window, but he was not long to be fenced off with formalities.

"How do you come to be here?" he asked suddenly and impatiently.

Lucie was always very frank. There was a kind of devastating honesty about her—born, perhaps, of defiant desperation.

"There was no one else to do it. The doctors sent him here for his health. I didn't know it would be so long when I came. Indeed, I meant to take him back to England—but he wouldn't go."

"His family?"

"They came—but they were no use. They were afraid."

"Your family?"

Lucie stitched quickly.

"I haven't any. Not in the ordinary sense like most people. My father was—no good; his people never bothered about me, my aunt did what she could—her husband was like my father. They are both dead now—but we—never recovered from them. My father's family are very respectable—some of them have money—they are dreadfully afraid of losing it—they, well, they don't really bother about me—two of them are doctors, and they did advise me not to come out, there is only my aunt and cousin. And they have their own troubles, their own work—we are professional people and earn our own livings."

"You—work?"

"Designing," said Lucie. "I can't do much here, there isn't the room or the materials, but I draw and write articles and stories. I do quite well," she added, utterly without satisfaction, "but when you're a woman, your life mixes your work up, rather."

"I see—so you earn all the money to keep this going as well as look after that man upstairs?"

The question was fiercely crude, but Lucie was not offended.

"I had to."

"Why?"

"I am married to him."

"Why did you marry him?" asked Dr. Ghisleri even more abruptly.

"Well," said Lucie, "I'm a woman, you see—"

"If you are a woman?" he interrupted. "But you never loved that man—do not tell me that—"

"I've never loved anyone," said Lucie, "but I wanted to be married."

"Why did you choose him?"

"He chose me, that was what I liked. And then I thought I ought—to stick to him—because I'd let him make love to me. And I thought he was picturesque. Different."

"He is picturesque enough!" said the doctor, grimly. "A woman like you? Wasn't there anyone to tell you anything?"

"No. I was always free. Independent. No one cared—no one had any right to interfere. My aunt just raved against him and that just made me obstinate. I thought—quite sincerely—that we should be happy. I knew nothing at all about anything."

"And the baby died?"

"Yes," said Lucie quickly. "Don't. I've been an irritating fool. But I've paid."

"That man has been tubercular, obviously, seriously, at least ten years."

"No one told me. He went to so many doctors and they all said nerves, bronchitis. When—the baby was ill, no one told me. They said she had had a fall. They spoke of germs. I had to guess—afterwards. I didn't know he was epileptic. He's always had fits. I thought them just rage."

"He has been epileptic all his life."

"Well," said Lucie, rising, "I've got to see it through." She lifted her glance to him where he stood, massive, blocking out the light.

"You are very unconventional, aren't you?" she added unsteadily. "I am, too. And I've been tired lately and overwrought." She sought for her words carefully. "This morning you were very kind. It moved me, because I've had no one to bother—don't think I make anything of it," she finished awkwardly, "or, that it was of the least importance."

"It was the most important thing that ever happened to you," he answered, "or to me."

Luck moved to the door.

"You are making—light—of me. I think I've deserved it," she said desperately.

"Are you afraid of me?" he asked.

She turned at that.

"No. Not even of your mockery. Not even of the truth."

"You are."

"No," said Lucie passionately, "I'm not. Nothing more can happen to me. I'm immune. I've had—a good lesson. I want just to be free—I wish you would leave me alone. You came to see my husband."

"That damned Sicilian!" he cried hastily. "Do you think he interests me? I've hundreds a year of such cases. I know these southerners. I came here to see you, entirely because of you."

"It isn't possible," said Lucie sincerely.

He looked quite grave, but she felt he wanted to laugh, and this put her more defiantly on her dignity.

She opened the door.

"Will you come upstairs, now?" she added.

"Will you come out with me this evening?" he asked.

"Yes," she said at once, quite courageously.

He went upstairs; he would not allow her to follow.

"What did you give him?" she asked.

"Morphia," he said grimly. "And it won't be pleasant when he wakes up."

Lucie waited downstairs; she was in a state of deep agitation, her main feeling now was anger, she wanted to hurt this man; he certainly thought she was "cheap"; that feminine bugbear oppressed her terribly.

She had only a moment more alone with him before he left; then he said "goodbye" at the door.

"I have told your husband I am taking you out this evening. What is your name?"

She told him, and they looked at each other and laughed.


Chapter Twenty-Three

§ I

LUCIE, with her ingrained habit of looking at things from other people's point of view, felt that Pio dad been very summarily treated; she knew that never would he have consented to such monstrous innovations on the tyranny of his days, if he had not been both relieved and dazed by the morphia.

When he aroused from the drug, he was dull and drowsy and showed no resentment for the loss of his medicines or his weapons, made no protest as to Lucie's change of habits, nor any protest against her going out.

But Lucie knew that he was passive merely because he was dazed and she was sorry for him; nothing is more pitiful than a fallen tyrant, and this one had been so utterly deposed; he was now completely in the power of the stranger, as completely as Lucie had been in his.

He asked for more morphia and showed impatience for the arrival of the doctor; yet when he came Pio shrank from the hypodermic needle; Lucie had to allow it to be plunged into her arm to show that it didn't hurt and then it took half-an-hour's coaxing and reasoning to induce him to receive the relief for which he longed.

Lucie stood by the window watching the moonlight on the sea, listening to the doctor's infinite patience, gravity and sweetness with the poor creature he was trying to help; it seemed impossible not to believe that he was intensely interested in the case and deeply devoted to the patient.

At last the sick man was asleep, free for a while again from his misery; the doctor carefully put his things away; Lucie poured out water and he washed his hands. "Now we will go out," he said.

§ II

It was a most extraordinary sensation to Lucie to pass into the freedom of the sands and the vastness and the night; it seemed absurd that a few months confinement could have produced this sense of strangeness in everything; she had never walked along the sands, nor, indeed, been anywhere save those hurried rushes to Viareggio.

The moon was full and shining just above the placid waters; the waves breaking on the smooth sand made a delicate sound; there was no other.

They turned towards Fiumetto, walking slowly by the edge of the water; Lucie had a thin peacock blue cloak over her cotton dress; it was very old but she liked the colour; as they walked, she kept looking back at the light in the open windows of the Villa Calvini, the light in her husband's room.

"Why do you do that?" asked Dr. Ghisleri. "He is not so important."

"He is very important," said Lucie, "to me."

"You are merely wasting time, health and money," he replied. "The man ought to have been dead a year ago. You've kept him alive artificially—and why? There is nothing in the fellow. Nothing at all."

Lucie was shamed by this and it made her hard.

"Why did you give him morphia?" she asked, quickly. "T? give you a little peace," he answered.

"Is it better for him?"

"Oblivion is better than suffering."

"But—it can't be for long, can it? Unless it is all over very soon—won't it be worse?"'

"I shall increase the dose," he answered, as if amused, "and what do you know about it?"

"Well," said Lucie, "you are going away next month, aren't you?"

"Yes. Up the mountains," he answered quickly.

"And I shall be left alone again. I was thinking of the morphia."

"I will show you how to administer it—but I hope he will be at peace before then—"

"He won't," answered Lucie, "and you know he won't. Didn't I say he was tremendously important?"

"To us?"

"To me, at least."

"I'm afraid it is the same thing."

"No," said Lucie, looking at the moon, "you are free. Really free. Like a man always is. I think you have always been free. And proud of it."

"Yes."

"And I haven't. I'm waiting to see what it will be like. I've always been independent financially, and free of relations—but tied up—with sentiments."

"Well?"

He was troubled, she thought, and agitated, but she did not look at him, but always at the moonlit sky and water on her right hand.

"Well—just this. You're so free and I am on such a tight chain—we can't be friends."

He was silent; they were walking very slowly.

"I'm not quite the same as all the other women," continued Lucie.

"Which other women?"

"The other women you've—kissed."

"No, you are not," he agreed gravely.

"I'm not really light or easy. You'll smile, but it is true. So it wouldn't be quite fair for you to behave as if I was—just because I interest you and the situation is—queer."

She could not say any more and he did not speak so they walked in silence till they saw the little stream glittering in the moonlight.

"I must get back," said Lucie.

They turned; she saw that she had impressed and even saddened him, disturbed his gay serenity.

She had spoilt, deliberately and cruelly, the wonder of their meeting, spoilt the enchantment, defied the magic; and this in defiance of her own heart, which she held in abeyance—desperately.

§ III

For her feeling for him was one of complete worship and adoration; she had never believed it possible that any such emotion, so sudden, so powerful, could possess her; she had never met anyone for whom she had even faintly, felt what she felt for this man; his extraordinary strength of mind and body, his knowledge, his air of power and composure, his health and gaiety, the position he held, rich in honour, friends, authority, the sweetness and charm of his overwhelming personality completely enthralled her; it was because she was so utterly his that she made this stand for her own individuality, that she tried to hurt him to balance her own secret hurt which was the certainty that he did hold her "cheap," that she was to him but a passing interest.

Too soon they reached her gate; Lucie felt the chill over her spirit strengthen as she looked up at the open window, the shrouded light of her husband's room.

Her freedom had been so short; they had not been away from the house half an hour; her heart failed at the thought of going back again.

At that moment she wished that he had left her undisturbed in the dull resignation of her former misery.

He stood, downcast, holding the gate open for her; he, so magnificent, so free, whose life was so full, downcast because of her—it seemed fantastic.

"Are you suffering?" asked Lucie, incredulous yet triumphant.

"Yes," he said, and left her quickly.

§ IV

Lucie had satisfied her creed, mollified her traditions, conventions, re-established her pride.

He would understand now that she was a virtuous woman and that she would by no means become one of the figures in those episodes Marianna used to gossip over; it would have been quite unbearable if he had thought her capable of a light love affair.

But it was equally unbearable to let him go like that.

She felt that after her rebuke (clumsily administered, it seemed to her now, and priggish), he would not trouble about her any more; he would look after Pio, formally, till he had to go away and then there would be an end.

Pio did not disturb her that night, but Lucie did not sleep well.

Dr. Ghisleri did not come next morning; Lucie performed her sick room duties mechanically; Pio was quiet, drowsy, seemed better; he was openly impatient for his new saviour and wanted Marianna to fetch him.

But this Lucie would not allow; if he was coming on a formal footing she had no right to expect even a daily visit; there was no actual need of him.

She told Pio this.

"It is quite a concession that he comes at all. He has been very good."

"Good?" said Pio peevishly. "I suppose I shall have to pay him!"

Pio's point of view generally came as a shock to Lucie. "I hadn't thought about the paying part," she said. "No. You are always so extravagant. Who is to give me the hypodermic if he doesn't come?"

"I can."

"Indeed not. I wish to have proper attendance. If the man is paid he'll do what he's paid for."

Paid? What could anyone pay such a man that would equal the value of his mere presence in the room, his word, his look, his smile?

"I shall certainly send for him," grumbled Pio. "It is not right that I should be left like this."

Lucie did not remind him that he had been left altogether by his other doctors and that he had shown no surprise, nor gratitude nor any acknowledgment to her for the help she had now procured.

While he lay and complained and coughed and groaned, she sat at the open window, her silly bit of white embroidery in her hands; every time she raised her eyes from this she could see Dr. Ghisleri moving about among the capuane and the groups of bathers, laughing, talking and joking with them all; he seemed to know everyone and to be welcomed eagerly everywhere; what was so alien to Lucie was his world in which he was so important, flattered and popular. Lucie watching him, knew that he would be important, flattered, a remarkable and conspicuous figure anywhere; there was not a man in the company among which he moved to compare with him, his perfect physique, so massive and so graceful, the noble handsomeness of his features was less extraordinary than his personality, the impelling charm that was so personal to himself, his air of splendour and yet simplicity.

His titles of "doctor" and "professor" seemed absolutely ridiculous.

He looked more like a soldier, a traveller or a man of great affairs.

One of the women detached herself from her friends and joined him, as he wandered among the bathers; she wore white lace through which the sunshine moved and carried a parasol like a half-closed rose.

Lucie put down her work and watched the couple in their idle sauntering.

The woman was talking on in an animated fashion and his manner was very gallant; presently they crossed the sands and disappeared in the garden of his villa.

Lucie left the window.

He had everything and she nothing; he must see, a dozen times a day, women more delightful, more beautiful than she was, while she saw nothing but this sick man.

Any transient interest he felt in her must soon pass when he compared her with those other women; she had no chance, no weapons, not even a pretty gown, a little leisure, a pleasant background; she must be associated with sickness, a gloomy shabby house, trouble and distress.

She sat by Pio's bedside till he went to sleep, grumbling still, then she went out on to the terrace that overlooked the Villa Ghisleri; the pink parasol was moving among the oleanders and rose bushes.

She heard the woman's laughter; the moment was very bitter.

"But it is better than if I had let him go on pretending, better than giving everything for nothing."

She had to hold on to her old creed:

"Everything is over for me. And it doesn't matter."

But she could not long remain on the balcony and listen to that light laughter; she returned to her vigil by her husband, who tossed and groaned and muttered in his sleep; then she crept downstairs to arrange some food for his awaking; on the half-way landing Marianna met her.

"The doctor is in the salotto. He wants to see you, signora, before he goes upstairs."

An agony of exultation, of dread, swept over Lucie—he had come—he was going to say he wouldn't come again.

She entered the salotto and he was standing where he had stood the first time they had met.

"I thought I should never get rid of that chattering magpie," he said. "You must have wondered why I did rift come."

His direct simplicity made her complicated emotions appear a paltry confusion.

"I did not really expect you," said Lucie. "Will you come up? He is just asleep."

"The better for all of us," answered Dr. Ghisleri, impatiently. "No, I will not go up. I came to see you."

"I thought you wouldn't bother with me any more," answered Lucie. In her heart she was thinking wildly, "supposing I don't evade or refuse this any more? Supposing I just face it out—to the most, or the least it is going to be?"

As if he read her thought, he appealed to her:

"Be frank with me—you must be frank with me."

"I'm trying," answered Lucie, "I'm trying to be frank with myself. It is difficult."

"To me," said the man impatiently, "it is simple. Are you still afraid that I don't know what kind of woman you are? As well try to teach a gardener the difference between a lily and a rose!"

"Then," said Lucie, quickly and unsteadily, trying to put into words more than novels could convey, "if you do understand, what are you going to do with me?"

"We can be friends," his agitation was as great as hers, through her own distress she marked that with amazement. "I am much older than you—I can help you—"

"We can be friends."

"You don't want that?"

"No, I don't want that."

"You know it isn't possible," said Lucie in despair. "What do you want then?"

She looked at him.

"I want you to stay away."

"That isn't possible, either."

"Just came to see him. 'Please go up now. Please do." He hesitated a second, then went; she heard him whistling softly as he ascended the stairs.

Lucie sat on the hard, shiny, red divan, trembling, shivering; it was as if he had bewitched her; not only had he made clear to her what she wanted, he had nearly made her say so.

And she kept telling herself that it wasn't possible any of it meant anything to him.


Chapter Twenty-Four

§ I

LUCIE had said that Pio was very important and she had no other idea beyond acting as if he still was the centre of her existence; the day revolved round him as usual; but in her own mind he had sunk into complete insignificance; so had the letters from home; that day she had received the usual kind, warm epistle from Mrs. Falconer, and one of Sophie's ill-spelt illiterate scrawls, full of stilted phrases and unreal sentiments; neither meant anything at all.

The old world seemed alien beyond expression; nothing mattered save herself and this man. He was coming again this evening; before then she had to reason out things with herself.

Pio gave no trouble, the hours were suddenly blank of employment; in the salotto she sat working at her design for a book-cover, trying to reason it out.

§ II

It wasn't easy to reason out a tumult of emotion, you became to feel that your logic was out of place, that your arguments were feeble and ineffective.

What standard were you arguing from, to begin with? Did any of the old rules, the ancient conventions, fit your case?

You couldn't talk of temptation of the devil when you didn't believe in the devil, any more than you could think about God watching you when you didn't believe in that kind of a God.

You couldn't pretend that the civil ceremony in a London registry office, had anything in it of a sacred sacrament, you hadn't made any vows at any altar.

Yet you had given years of your life, your money, your time, your submission, to a man who had never done anything for you—not even been tender or kind or civil; because of you he had lived in ease and comfort, even luxury, he had received consideration and respect...but for you he would now be in a hospital with paupers.

Because of his obstinate ignorance about his own health you had lost your child and were precluded from others; you had been married in name only for a long time now; the man was a stranger, he repelled you, you disliked him; yet you had served him in the most menial capacity, you had tended him at the risk of a violent death.

You were his wife.

All tradition, custom, laws, written and unwritten, held you in your place.

But supposing that all these same traditions, customs and laws were really, in these times and circumstances, just so much junk that should be cast aside as rubbish?

Your marriage wasn't like the marriages for which those laws were made; those marriages, at the worst, fed, sheltered, protected the women; you had had nothing; everything your husband possessed you had paid for; his house, his servant, his clothes, his medicines, you paid for them all, and you never let anyone know, his pride was intact he was "the master."

Could he ask more than this?

Was your very soul his, too?

It seemed grotesque to suppose it...and yet...you couldn't tell. You didn't know.

§ III

The doctor came again that evening and sat with the patient for an hour, talking, smiling, interesting, amusing, heartening the sick man; he had brought him books and a bottle of pungent, aromatic perfume, and he told him that he must get well and come sailing with him and playing bowls on the sand.

And Lucie sat dutifully with her sewing, trying to understand him, trying to understand herself.

Presently when they seemed completely absorbed in their talk, she stepped out on to the terrace, leaving the door open behind her; there, standing in the moonlight by the low stone parapet, she could hear the voices and see the warm coloured room, the white bed, the man in white sitting beside it, the white roses; beyond all, flashed an amber yellow from the golden silk shade she had put on the lamp.

From the doctor's conversation she learnt (and noted very eagerly) something of his career.

She gathered that he was north Italian and had been educated in Venice; she should have known, she thought, that he was no Tuscan, the type of the man was Teutonic, not Latin.

He spoke enthusiastically of the Apennines and Monte Altissimo where he was soon going with his friends. He had a passion for the mountains.

She heard Pio ask peevishly:

"And what will become of me when you go away?"

"You will be cured long before then," answered the doctor, lightly.

But Pio continued grumbling; he was becoming restless and asked for the morphia, but he wanted the needle tried on Lucie first.

"I am neurasthenic," he reminded the doctor, "and? cannot stand any shocks."

"It is perfectly true, and I will fetch the signora."

He came instantly on the balcony; Lucie did not move.

"Will you come out again afterwards?" he asked in a low voice. "I think I deserve it."

"I'll come," whispered Lucie.

She followed him back into the room; he filled the syringe with water and she put out her arm.

Pio, propped up with pillows, stared at them with eyes that seemed smudged in charcoal in his livid face.

This time he did not know that she was going out; probably he didn't care, but Lucie felt guilty towards him; this irritated her but she could not suppress the feeling; it was monstrous too that he should lie there absorbed in his own failing body, cringing away from a pin prick while she was so shaken by a tempest of emotion.

"I must have ether," Pio was saying, "you promised me ether to-night—"

"I have brought it," replied Dr. Ghisleri, "so perhaps we can spare the signora?"

"No—Lucie does not mind, she isn't sensitive and you can tell best that way if the needle is too sharp."

The doctor took Lucie's fair fragile arm in his large shapely skilful hand and turned back her sleeve, above the elbow.

It was the first time he had touched her since he had kissed her; they had never shaken hands.

To Lucie the moment was almost unbearable; it seemed impossible that Pio should be unaware of the feeling that seemed to fill the very air.

She felt the doctor's hand fluttering on her arm; he seemed struck with distressing agitation.

"I cannot do it," he said and dropped her arm. "The signora is too thin," he added to Pio.

The sick man swore.

"Not so thin as I am!"

"But for you it is necessary," replied Dr. Ghisleri sternly, "for her it is not."

Pio gave way, whimpering, and Lucie saw the other man shoot him a glance in which passionate contempt, hatred and impatience were for one second revealed.

But he was instantly pleasant and gentle again and Lucie could barely detect the effort with which he bade her wait outside.

"Our presence upsets your husband," he said, very courteously.

Lucie went downstairs and out into the garden. She sat on the wooden seat beneath the euonymus hedge, under the pines. The bats were flying and looked up at the yellow square of light in the open window.

She could not think at all; her whole being was absorbed by some unnameable sensation which she could barely control.

She watched the window.

Presently the shutters were lightly closed.

Lucie shuddered as she gazed through the open door. He came down, he called out "good night" to Marianna and she answered cheerfully from the kitchen.

He came into the garden; Lucie rose and they went in silence out to the sands.

"How long," he asked, with a kind of soft violence, "do you think I can go on like this?"

"A man like you," said Lucie desperately—"you—you must be used to it—I can't believe it means so much to you—"

"A man like me!" he repeated, "what do you think I am."

"I can't argue," answered Lucie, "and I can't walk. I'm tired."

"Come to the sea."

The moon was behind a cloud now and they stool in soft warm darkness; Lucie felt the dry spikes of the sea lavender drag at her thin skirt.

They went to the capuana, the only one that was never used.

"Is it yours?" he asked.

"For him?"

"Yes. A senseless extravagance," she admitted, "but he likes to keep it on. He likes to think he will be well enough to use it."

"You're crazy," he said and repeated again and again "sei matto, sei matto."

They found the wooden step and mounted to the little platform with the open rail in front of the one room bathing hut; it was not locked and he opened the door and brought her out one of the hard wooden chairs.

Lucie sat near the rail and listened to the swish of the sea; it was high tide and the waves broke almost at the foot of the capuana.

He leant against the rail and she could just see the glimmer of his white coat.

One or two people passed, dim shapes that laughed and talked in the darkness; the moon gleamed again for a moment and was gone beneath the deep, troublous, swift-moving clouds.

Out of the sick room, out of the house, Lucie felt more at peace.

No one claimed her here; she had at least the semblance of freedom.

The man beside her was quite silent; a few drops of rain began to fall; the few people abroad turned back to the lighted villas; several passed the hut where these two remained motionless.

"How I like the rain!" he said quietly. "How I like the rain on the mountains, or on the sea!"

His voice seemed different to the voice of the man who had spoken to Pio; the clouds gathered closer over the moon, the rain fell faster, yet still only sparsely so that the drops might almost be counted.

Suddenly and yet gently he put his arm round her and, drawing her close to him, kissed her; from his hair, his clothes, his whole person came the perfume of the sun, the open air, the sea; he was redolent of all the fragrance of nature; beneath the thin silk of his jacket, Lucie felt the powerful structure of his body and the heavy beating of his heart.

"Why do you do this to me?" she whispered, "after what I said?"

"Because I am a man and you are a woman," he answered simply.

Lucie would not yield; she was obstinate in her denial of the truth.

"Tell me what you mean," she said insincerely; for she knew it all, without words.

He released her and sat on the top step of the little ladder that led to the sands; he raised her foot and slipped the shoe off and kissed her high instep; he began to talk to her; the passionate lovely words of his beautiful language flowed round her like music in the darkness; he praised her, he extolled her; his words seemed to robe and crown her; he told her again and again and again that he loved her...loved her...loved her.

Lucie was amazed, incredulous, cowardly; she sat hunched up, rigid, not daring to believe it true; trying to discount it by all her dusty little precepts, her anaemic rules, her lifeless conventions.

§ IV

Were you so ignorant, so befogged, so occupied with your pinch-beck virtues, so absorbed in unreal stupid artificialities, so besotted with your tiny world that you thought passion was extinct, that you could not believe men ever spoke to women like this?

Have the giggles and leers of fools, the idiotic jests of degenerates, the froth and fume of lies, written, spoken, the jingle of clipped slang, the hooting laughter of the diseased, so deceived, chilled and beggared you that you may not see the God unveiled?

So fooled you that you try to turn aside—to evade—to be suspicious, even to cheapen and deride, to say—"it cannot be true—things like this don't happen."

§ V

She had not the courage to believe him; to believe herself; she tried to remember all she had heard of men who "made love" easily, of the fate of women who made themselves "cheap"; she still could not get away from that ridiculous value she put on herself and her irreproachable virtue.

"My darling," he called her and "my treasure, my life, my love," and more sweet to her, "donna mia, donna mia"; he said her hair was gold and silver and coffee mingled; he said she walked as if she was leading a dance of the Gods; he said she was an empress among women, and to all ages, all eternities, "his, his."

And still Lucie crouched on her chair and did not answer. The rain drops had ceased and a little wind had risen, so that the waves fell with a louder sound.

With the most delicate tenderness he passed his hand over her slim foot, and kissed the hollow of her instep; she felt the caress through every fibre of her body.

"Why don't you speak to me, darling?"

"I'm afraid it isn't true—it can't be—I could not bear that long silence."

She was sure he smiled; he put on her shoe very deftly and she rose.

"You said you weren't afraid of anything," he said gently.

"Now I am—afraid."

"Of what? I am here," he answered sweetly, "and you need no longer be afraid of anything."

"I'm afraid it isn't true—it can't be—I could not bear that you should jest with me—I couldn't bear it," she whispered. "Don't you see? That makes me a fool. I am. You said so. Crazy. I—I wish I could play too—like you do. I can't. I'm too crude. Don't come after me. I can't believe it."

She passed him swiftly as he stood on the step; he called her name sharply; she ran back to the house; the Italian "scherzo" "scherzo" was ringing in her head: "think how often he has said that—to other women—and meant it as much...or as little...I wish I was beautiful...more beautiful than them all...to make him suffer...like this."

She knelt by the bed and clutched at the cheap cotton coverlet. She buried her face in the coarse sheet.

"My God! My God!" The conventional exclamation came, unconsciously, "if it could be true one day, I'd gladly die the next—just one day."


Chapter Twenty-Five

§ I

DR. GHISLERI came the next morning punctually to the Villa Calvini; he went straight upstairs without waiting for Lucie and attended to his patient with his usual careful, pleasant serenity, his usual delicate skill and gentle kindness.

Lucie was in the room waiting on him quietly, bringing what he needed, answering his questions; he took no more notice of her than if she had been a hired nurse.

Lucie was sure that he meant to "have done with her" and that her second desperate repulse was the final one.

And when he had finished his utmost for Pio, answered his rambling questions, soothed his fears, listened to his complaints with that sweet comprehending gravity that was so entirely lovable; he said, still ignoring Lucie:

"I am afraid that I shall not be able to come to-night nor to-morrow. I am making one of a party for a fishing expedition to-night. And to-morrow I go up the mountain for several days. A long standing arrangement, my friends count on me."

"But you are coming back?" asked Pio surprised and vexed.

"I am not quite sure. I am due at my hospital in a week or so. But I am lending my villa to a colleague of mine who will look after you."

He rose.

"Please, signora, do not let me disturb you. Do not come down with me."

He had not even looked at her but she understood him perfectly.

This was the end; she might never see him again.

He had extricated himself deftly and cleverly (never could he do anything clumsily), and there was no more to be said, though there would be a great deal more to be suffered.

Not by a glance nor an inflection did she seek to detain him; she let him leave the room, she heard him cross the garden, listened for the gate closing behind him; an unbearable sound. It was over.

"I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been afraid?"

§ II

It was very hot; the line of the sea glittered into the sky in one dazzle, the sand sparkled white, in lounging attitudes the bathers lay about beneath their tents or parasols or in their painted boats.

Marianna kept washing the tiled floors over with water which dried immediately; the green persiane were kept closed, the striped cotton curtains hung in the still air before the open front door.

Lucie went about her duties mechanically; all the time, her attention was devoted to the sick man; none of her thoughts were with him.

She realized, in a detached sort of way, that there were many things she might do—things that, she believed, other women in her place would do.

She might send for Dr. Ghisleri; under the excuse of her husband's illness, she could do so quite easily, and he could scarcely refuse to come; she might even go to his house as she saw so many others going, or wander on to the sands and meet him there; but it was not possible for her to even contemplate any action; emotionally she was purely feminine; without great violence to her own feelings she could not be anything but passive; it never occurred to her to create scenes; she simply did not know how to; neither could she "flirt" or coquet, endeavour to chain or enslave.

He had ended it and she had accepted that as final.

Agostino came that afternoon to fetch some sun umbrellas. He was full of the all-night fishing trip, he repeated several times that his master was going away up the mountains.

He seemed elated, to rejoice that his master was free and going to prove it; he said that his master was always fascinated by the "belle blonde," but that the fascination never lasted long. He recounted with relish the many hearts he had broken.

Lucie, waiting with the keys of the shed while he and Marianna found the umbrellas, listened and understood. The man owed her a grudge, his master also; he had hoped that Professor Ghisleri would move the sick man, instead of which he had been attracted by the fair-haired English woman; and now that was over and he was going away.

"You are fond of your master?" asked Lucie.

The man's harsh face, weather-beaten, vicious with the filmed, almost sightless eyes, turned to her with a repulsive leer.

"He is a great man, signora."

"Is he married?" asked Marianna.

"Married!" Agostino laughed, "No."

"A pity," said Marianna, "a fine man like that—" Lucie locked the shed and they turned into the house.

She went upstairs leaving the man gossiping with Marianna over a glass of wine...boasting of his master and how "free" he was—

Yes, he was free enough; the sea and the mountains were his and all the world; she had just this sick-room.

How long the sunny hours seemed and how purposeless.

When at last she could open the shutters on the cool of the twilight, she saw him on the sands playing bowls with a boy and two women; she wondered if he had ever spoken to either of them as he had spoken to her last night.

§ III

Towards night Pio became restless and wanted more morphia; waves of fever surged over him and his cough came on in strangling convulsions; he became very angry that he was denied wine or brandy.

Lucie would have to give him the drug herself for the first time; she thought of this with nervousness, she hoped that he might sleep without it.

About the time that it was due, he did in fact fall into a half delirious sleep; Lucie had everything ready but she resolved not to give him the drug while he was unconscious.

She put out her lamp and lit the night-light. Leaning in the wide-flung window she could see the boats rowing out to the fishing schooner with the lantern at the mast; hear the men singing and laughing in sheer gaiety of heart.

The now waning moon was mounting a dusky space filled with silver fire, her image broke into a path of gleaming patines on the dark water; the songs and the laughter fell more faintly on her listening ear; the ship with the lantern moved away further and further, till it was a twinkle like a fallen star on the most distant verge of the sea.

§ IV

Pio woke and screamed out for her; Lucie sprang from her bed and hurried to his bed that showed white and stark in the full moon beam.

"Don't leave me. Don't leave me," he whimpered.

"I am here, Pio," she said, "what is the matter?"

"I thought you had gone away. And there are so many hideous things in the room."

She sat on the edge of the bed and put her arm round his ruined body.

"Don't think of the hideous things, Pio," she said passionately. "Look outside, the moon, the sea, look how beautiful it is. There isn't any evil anywhere."

He seemed soothed; his burning head with the lank, sweat-soaked hair, drooped against her cool shoulder in the thin muslin night-dress; his awful breathing (it seemed as if the air bubbled in his chest) echoed through her body.

"They have run on to the terrace now," he muttered, "but they are waiting for me."

"There is nothing there but the moon, Pio—so old and calm."

He moved restlessly.

"What is that smell? Disinfectant—a different one."

"Yes. It is what Marianna washed the floors with. It is quite pleasant."

"It reminds me," whispered Pio. "When I was a boy—in Syracusa—I went to a 'casa dei deventissento' and they wouldn't let me in because I had only two lire...there was that smell...and then at Milan...all the women...underground...naked, crying 'faccia nuova! faccia nuova!' and that smell."

Lucie put him back on the pillow.

"Don't go," he begged faintly. "I always loved you...it was all silly after I met you. Don't go. I'm afraid."

Lucie could not answer, could not speak, she was so powerless to save him from the black Tartarus where his spirit already hovered, so incapable of ever following the dark ways where his tortured mind wandered; how did she know that real fiends did not pursue him, that for him the moon was not in truth Hecate with power to bring foul monsters from the sea?

"Don't you see," he said again, "don't you see all those eyes?"

"No," answered Lucie, faintly, "I don't believe in evil. I won't."

He cowered down into the bed; to watch his torments was in itself a torment.

"Shall I close the shutters, Pio, to shut out the moon?"

"No, no—with the shutters closed I can't breathe—"

"Shall I give you the morphia, Pio? Dr. Ghisleri said you could have it, if you wished."

"Yes, yes, give me the morphia—quick."

§ V

When Lucie went downstairs that morning she found the house open and Marianna away at the Piazza; she went very early now, because it was beginning to be the end of the season, and fewer provisions were brought to the market, and these were greatly in demand by the still large number of visitors.

Lucie arranged the sick-room, making it cool and fragrant, going up and down the stone stairs with trays and pails of water; she had a certain pleasure in this task; order and decency did so much to mitigate the sordid horror of the illness; the freshly washed floors, the well-dusted room, the newly laundered linen, the shining array of toilet articles, the gleaming glass and crockery, the bowls of water, the perfume of orange and lavender-water, lemon and vinegar, the scent of the pine trees flowing in through the permanently opened windows, were all as so many weapons with which to fight at bay the inevitable conqueror.

She put some sprigs of rosemary and vine in a glass by his bed for him to see when he woke, darkened the room and crept downstairs to make herself some coffee; she was rather flushed, with her hair and her cotton gown and cotton apron disordered; while the coffee was heating on the charcoal, she poured some water into a big yellow bowl and washed her face and hands; it was already very hot.

She wondered if the fishing party had returned yet; she wondered if she would get a glimpse of him before he left for the mountains; she resolved to work hard during the coming hours so as not to have time to think.

Her hair had fallen to her shoulders now and she turned to run upstairs and put it up; as she crossed the wide scullery corridor she saw, through the open door, Dr. Ghisleri coming up the path.

Lucie waited at the bottom of the stairs; she tried swiftly to understand her own feeling, but she could have given no possible name to the feeling that possessed her.

He came across the threshold as if he was entering his own house.

"I thought that you were not coming back," said Lucie. "You knew I should."

He turned into the little dark dining-room where the shutters were still closed.

"You knew I should," he repeated violently, as Lucie followed him; he leant against the black table where she took her solitary meals.

"I suppose I did know you would," answered Lucie slowly, "or I couldn't have borne it."

It was her tribute to the nobility in him that she tried to be desperately honest; when in his presence she tried to divest herself of the least trace of subterfuge or sham.

He looked at her as she stood just inside the open door in her cotton gown and apron with her fallen hair and earnest face and closely clasped hands; she was tall but she had to look up to him and her head was tilted back a little, the whole of her figure and the edges of her hair touched by the sunlight from the corridor; the look on his face was of trouble and anguish.

"Why do you treat me like this?" he asked. "You are such a child. Where did you come from? I never met anyone like you. You do love me?"

Lucie's hands clasped tighter; she tried passionately to be truthful and to be clear; to make him understand.

"I don't quite know what people mean by love—really. I don't know if I love you. I want you to love me."

"Don't you want to belong to me?"

"Yes. Any woman would. A man like you. I couldn't flirt or play with you—I've been trying to tell you that."

"But you know you are mine," he insisted. "What then are you afraid of?"

"Of the end of it. Of your going away. Of being just an episode to you," said Lucie quickly. "It couldn't mean much to you. A man like you. It would be everything to me. Don't you see?"

"Yes. Do you see my case?"

"Ah, you! You have everything."

"I have nothing. Everything is over for me but you. I have hardly slept since I met you—Dio! Such nights! I tried to get away on the sea. I had to put back before the others. I can't go to the mountains—they mean nothing to me—without you."

"It isn't possible," said Lucie desperately. "It isn't possible that I should turn the current of your life like this."

"Then you still do not understand what this means to me. It is I who will suffer most. You will go on. But I shall be broken—utterly."

Lucie left the door so her figure was no longer flecked by sunlight.

All her obsession with her own point of view could not prevent her from seeing that he was deeply moved; hitherto she had regarded him wholly as a splendid, but devastating force that must be kept at hay; now she began to feel for him, to see the position from his point of view, to lose her self-consciousness.

"Perhaps I am not being fair," she said, "I'm thinking of things too much from my point of view. Being—cautious—cowardly. That's hateful. I haven't even told you my gratitude."

"Gratitude!" he interrupted, not without bitterness.

"I haven't even told you what I think of you. I could kneel to you. You will always be the first thing in my life. Always. I'm grateful to you for loving me. Grateful. If you do love me."

"Love you, darling?—you are the only creature I have ever met worthy to be called woman."

Lucie gave a trembling smile at the extravagance of this; yet reversed, it would have been no more than the truth; in this man she had met for the first time, her ideal of manhood.

"And you thought I wanted to make you the heroine of an amorette?" he asked, unsteadily.

Lucie sat down by the black table; she was trembling so that she could not stand.

"Well, well," she whispered, "what do you want with me? What are you going to do with me?"

His hand rested on her bowed shoulder in the lightest most tender of gestures.

"What do you want?"

Lucie was silent, staring down at her locked hands. "Do you want children?"

"My children?"

"Yes."

His hand passed in a delicate caress over her fallen hair; there was a moment's silence; a sense of peace stole over Lucie, a sense of exultation and delight inexpressible.

She rose up and sat down again.

"You won't shut yourself away from me again?" he asked.

"No. My coffee is boiling over. I must go."

"I will make it for you. Kiss me first."

"No," said Lucie, "no."

She rose and sat down again...

"We haven't battled it out," she said with a kind of broken violence. "I' won't be your mistress. That is as true as anything else I've said."

"You seem to think," he smiled, "that you are going to do what you like with me."

Lucie smiled, too, but unsteadily; they heard Marianna in the kitchen and he went to fetch her coffee.


Chapter Twenty-Six

§ I

DR. GHISLERI did not go to the mountains; most of his friends left Forte dei Marni. Agostino and his friends grumbled that they had never stayed so late in the year; the season was nearly over, everyone of importance had already gone.

These grumbles came to Lucie's ears; she knew that there must be others worse than these that she did not hear, the comments of the acquaintances she had forsaken, the indignation of his friends, the murmurs of his relations; she knew that she would not be spared; scandal was already probably busy with her; for this she did not care in the least, since it was an alien world, but for him she felt vexation, even remorse; it seemed to her that she was interfering too terribly in his life and giving him nothing in exchange, and, though she knew that he must have braved many scandals before, yet there were new features in this episode that would render it inexplicable to these people.

She had two instances of the insatiable curiosity the affair was awakening; both Mrs. Heaton and "l'Americana" from the Villa Tristan risked the infection and asked her to tea.

Lucie laughed to think of the terrific bombardment of questions awaiting her; she declined both invitations and her secret enemies became open ones; both ignored her when they saw her next and she learnt from Marianna that they and their servants were the prime inventors of the stories that began to circle the little coterie of idle people, all wealthy, happy, enjoying themselves, without a care, and all combined to attack and slander the poor creature imprisoned in their midst.

But they had now no power to bend Lucie; she lived in a kind of enchantment that no practical considerations could disturb; Dr. Ghisleri came two or three times a day to the Villa Calvini, but she seldom saw him alone; a few moments in the morning before Marianna came back from the Piazza, perhaps a few moments in the afternoon if he came when Pio slept, now and then a precious half hour in the evening, walking along the sea shore.

The rest of the time he spent in the Villa Calvini was devoted to Pio; he talked with him, read to him, performed all the services of nurse and doctor, serving him with all care, attention, delicacy and skill.

Not since he had been a student had the great doctor, used to assistants and nurses, performed for anyone the menial offices he performed for Pio.

He insisted that Lucie do as little as possible; he was distressed if he saw her with a tray or a glass; he tried to put all associated with the illness in the background so that she should not be aware of it; and he did so fill the house and her life with his fragrant personality that the sick man was but a veiled horror, a mitigated and bearable anguish.

And Pio himself, under this so constant and so skilful treatment, such as few could have often enjoyed, lost half the hideous symptoms, half his racking miseries and pains; the doctor lent him every object invented for the comfort of the sick; special bed-rests, cushions, perfumes, chairs came to the Villa Calvini; Pio rallied to such an extent that Marianna predicted his recovery; Lucie served him with complete abnegation of self; had any of their pleasure making women who defamed her ever waited on their sick with such devotion they would have considered themselves saints.

Her days were now ordered differently; she had good meals eaten in peace, she slept at least half each night, she bathed, half an hour's real liberty every day, she had another half-hour's walk, afternoon or evening; she went twice into Viareggio and bought clothes and books, all this on the stern insistence of Dr. Ghisleri; she lost her pallor and her giddiness, her mental confusion, her queer fancies, even some of her haggard thinness. Emotionally there was a truce between them; they never spoke of the future; they were content with those few snatched moments together.

§ II

It was in every way a perfect communion, an affinity of mind, a similarity of taste, an equality (in masculine and feminine degree of intelligence and culture), a kinship in originality of outlook and point of view, both enthusiastic, ardent, vital, daring, both passionate and each the object of the other's passion.

It was a companionship of incredible delight.

§ III

He was in every way immeasurably her superior, in strength, in intellect, in knowledge, in character.

To Lucie, used to being the best informed and the most intellectual of her company, t was an unending joy to be with someone whose every word showed him her master.

There seemed nothing he did not know, had not seen or experienced; he had had a wonderful life, joyous, laborious, full of work, love, friends, adventure, honour; he had rendered great services to mankind and received much foul opposition, bitter attacks and snarling calumnies, but he had never lost his fortitude, his serenity, his gay sweetness, his views; his ideas were wide and sane and free as the mountains and sea that he so deeply loved.

And this gallant spirit, so wise, so calm, so brave, so lovable, was bound to a body as magnificent as any humanity could show; radiant with the health of the athlete and the temperance of the philosopher.

Beside him Lucie felt frail and weak, needful of protection, dependent, and in her mind a school child eager for guidance; she even could forget that people called her a clever woman; she found herself exquisitely in her place, the woman leaning on, relying on the man, obeying him in the tenderest subjection.

But it would all have to end soon; in a few days he was due back at his hospital; his clinic was waiting for him; his friends were writing impatiently; his patients complained.

Lucie was acutely aware of the passing of each hour.


Chapter Twenty-Seven

§ I

THE first week in September a Russian lady gave a concert in her villa; this was to mark the final end of the season; within a few days from that the place would be as empty as it had been when Lucie first came to the Villa Calvini.

Dr. Ghisleri told her of the concert and asked her to go with him to it; she knew that he cared nothing about such things and that all the people present would be those who had gossiped about her and also that their presence there together would be the final scandal.

"I know," he said when Lucie put these objections before him, "but I like a woman who can hold her own."

She knew instantly then that he was being assailed far more fiercely on her account than she had realized; she asked formal permission of Pio which was reluctantly granted and that warm still September afternoon she went with Carlo Ghisleri into the very midst of his friends, facing an immense curiosity, a great antagonism, dislike and jealousy.

It was a curious experience for Lucie; she did not want to go but she never thought of refusing his wish.

He approved her appearance; she wore a full dress of a dark orange cloth, a long white cloak and a black velvet hat with long ribbons; he begged her to wear a silver clasp of the lion's head which came from his mountaineering cape.

"Your friends will recognize it," said Lucie, "I know." Lucie went back and sewed the clasp on to her white cloak.

The Villa Laodamia where the concert was held was very opulent; the wealthy aristocratic audience sat under trellises of vines among exotic flowers; the wide flung doors of the salon that opened on to the terrace displayed a room furnished with Eastern luxury. Everyone knew Carlo Ghisleri; as they crowded round him Lucie felt terribly alien and alone.

He presented her to most of the women, then took a stool beside her chair under the vines; it was as if he sat at her feet.

Lucie felt the whispering, the staring, the comment, the barely suppressed amazement.

"I suppose they think I am a shameless hussy," she thought, and she wondered why there should be such excitement over her; it was common knowledge that several of the great ladies there were notorious for their gallantries; it was not by any means a puritanical society that was passing judgment on her; but as Dr. Ghisleri never left his place beside her despite all the invitations from one beautifully gowned woman after another to come inside the house, she was indifferent to whatever their judgment might be.

The music was poor and the concert dragged.

Lucie then promised Pio to be home by five; as a thin piece of Corelli's came to an end, she reminded Carlo Ghisleri of this.

He rose instantly, and with the briefest of nods to his friends followed her out.

"Why did we go?" asked Lucie as they crossed the road to the Villa Calvini.

"I wanted them to see you."

He seemed both amused and elated. Lucie rather shrank from enquiry into his reasons.

As they passed his house he asked her to go in and pick some of the last oleanders in his garden.

"I would rather not," said Lucie, "Agostino dislikes me so and so do your servants."

"Ah, you have heard some of the croaking of the frogs in the marsh?" he said sharply.

"Yes."

"I hoped not. It is that stupid woman of yours."

"Poor Marianna! She means no harm. And I do not care."

He opened his garden gate.

"Please go in. I want to think that you have walked here—and gathered the flowers I have planted."

Lucie entered; his words seemed to her like a farewell. Sadly she plucked the boughs of oleander, the long gray-green leaves, the pearl-pink flowers would ever after seem to her symbols of melancholy.

He showed her that the ground was covered with clover that he had brought from his beloved Tyrol.

"You dislike Italy?" said Lucie.

"The people—not the country," he answered. "Sometimes I am sorry that I was born a few miles the wrong side of the frontier."

She had her arms full of flowers now.

"I must go back. Pio will be looking for me."

"I will come with you."

They found Pio still asleep and Marianna in the garden washing at the pozzo; her sister Stella had come over from Pietrasanta and the two women were chattering happily together.

In the dim salotto Lucie took off her hat and cloak and sat down on the red divan; across her knees was the sheath of oleanders.

"I am due to leave next week," said Carlo Ghisleri standing close to her.

"I know."

"Will you come with me?"

Lucie was completely startled.

"And Pio?" was all she could exclaim.

"Ah, that husband! How much more am I to do for him? I've nearly cured him—that is the curse of it—hell live for months now—a century!"

He spoke with such useful humour that Lucie laughed; the situation was grotesque.

"I can't leave him."

"You can leave him perfectly well. You have made a fetish of him, you are making me do the same—Dio possente—he thinks I am his slave! I will put a nurse in here, two, three nurses, I will install a doctor to look after him. But I must take you away."

"And the scandal?" said Lucie. "I suppose you are used to this sort of thing. But I've always been intensely—well, respectable."

"Not really. You have only been pretending. And as to scandal, believe me, that could not be worse than it is now."

"I am sorry it is so bad. But it does not seem to matter when it isn't true. I've got the consolations of virtue," she smiled unsteadily.

"It isn't virtue," he answered quickly, "it is just an obstinate adherence to obsolete codes—your state is just negative, instinctive, a woman's terror of the unconventional. You put me to the torture for the sake of this man you care nothing about."

"Leave me," said Lucie, "I would never ask you to stay."

"Leave you to face this alone?"

"I could, really. He is so much better now. And you could send a nurse."

"The poor devil would hate that."

"I believe you are really fond of him yourself," smiled Lucie.

"I've made him my job. Fond of him!"

"You are looking after him from a sense of duty, though."

"No," he spoke lightly but with an air of finality, "it is merely because of you—you know it and you have sacrificed me to him cruelly."

"Never that," said Lucie wistfully.

"You have." He turned his fine head, the head of a conqueror, a hero, towards her. She saw the full outline of the clean shaven face in the light that filtered through the shuttered window. "You never think what this means to me—the price I have to pay for these few moments with you—I, who have need of you close in my arms, must wait for one snatched kiss, be spied upon, maligned, jeered at, endure that man upstairs—these lonely nights, the sight of your toiling for him—I who would possess you in utmost peace, away from every eye, must stand like this exposed to the vulgar scandals of the Piazza—"

He spoke with such force that Lucie was frightened.

"This happens at the wrong end of my life. I am too old for you, my flower. Had I been a younger man, I had dragged you away at first—by force."

His voice was touched by wistful sadness now; to Lucie he was ever associated with youth, the epitome of virile manhood, she could not understand his regret.

"To have met you at first! To have lived my life with a woman like you beside me—but there is yet time—will you come away with me?"

"No," whispered Lucie, "don't ask me, it is pain for nothing. I never could."

"Because of that young man? Do you owe him anything? This sacrifice is madness, Lucie, madness. If it was a child, or someone who could recover, or someone who had any claim on you—but this wretch who has battened on you—"

"He loves me, too," said Lucie.

"Is that a virtue? Any man would love you. Listen. I wrote to his relations, I've frightened the truth out of them. When he was eighteen he was sent to a hospital for epilepsy where he stayed two years—he escaped army service because of 'tubercular tendencies.' You were never told? You never thought to ask?"

"No."

"Will you come away with me? Will you end this hideous comedy? I will tell him you must have rest, a change, it's true enough—he shall be looked after like a prince—"

Lucie was silent; she tightly clutched the oleander boughs, chilled to her very heart.

He leant forward and touched her hand.

"Lucie—have pity on me."

She could not answer; it was impossible to find words that were honest to him and to herself and to that abstract truth that was outside both of them.

He straightened himself; never before had she seen his gay serenity darkened, the sadness, the agitation that shook him now was the more terrible.

"How much more do you want of me?" he asked. "You are insatiable. Thwarted passion kills, Lucie."

She rose stiffly, the forgotten flowers fell from her lap between them.

"Do you think I don't suffer?" she asked dully. "Do you think it is easy for me? Do you think I don't agonize for you to take me? And that if you were to touch me—" Her tired voice trailed off. "I'm only a woman. It is you who should have mercy."

Through the quiet house Pio's bell jangled; Lucie turned unsteadily towards the door.

"You're going?" Carlo Ghisleri asked sharply.

"Yes. To Pio."


Chapter Twenty-Eight

§ I

THE place was empty now; the fishermen were taking down the capuane and moving the pleasure boats away; one by one the villas were being shuttered up.

Carlo Ghisleri had strained his absence from Florence to the utmost; he had sent away two of his servants; Agostino and the woman who remained grumbled furiously; Lucie did not care to think of the mischievous scandals that were brewing; she had heard that Dr. Villari had joined in the evil tongues and she told Carlo Ghisleri who sent for him in such a style that he came at once, cringing before the great man.

The little village doctor was shown the patient, reproved for his treatment of the illness, for his abandonment of the case, dismissed, with cold courtesy, a note for double his fee in his pocket.

It was kingly treatment and Dr. Villari was humbled as a beaten cur, but Lucie knew they had not stopped his tongue.

"L'Americana" received her punishment too; Dr. Ghisleri held the Villa Tristan for a friend in Germany and he refused to renew her lease for September, October and the following summer.

"The addled hag wishes to stay and spy on us," he said. "Another enemy," remarked Lucie sadly.

She was rather startled at this increasing volume of malice and dislike, the bitter intensity of the winds of scandal.

Then the obsequious Martinelli had become so offensive that he had been forbidden the house. Lucie would have continued to tolerate him, to pay him, feed him, and give him all the oddments of the establishment, but Carlo Ghisleri had, at first sight of the man challenged him haughtily; Martinelli's excuses for his presence were cringing and profuse, but later when the doctor's back was turned he became impertinent in a horrible jocular way.

When he next came, Carlo 'Ghisleri, whose methods were swift and impetuous in such matters, turned him out in such a manner that he was not likely to come again.

"A man you should not even know the existence of," he said in fierce disgust.

"He seemed fond of Pio," protested Lucie feebly.

"Ah, bambina!" he smiled in despair, "you are really hopelessly crazy."

But Lucie thought "another enemy" and, when he is gone, "they will all be about me."

§ II

But she could not dwell much on anything; she was absorbed in preparing for the moment of farewell.

It would be no ordinary parting.

He was going back to his own world, his life work, his relations, his friends, a hundred strong interests that must dim her image, that must break the enchantment, scatter the magic.

And what of her desolation?

Was another winter in the Villa Calvin, shut up with Pio, possible?

§ III

Carlo Ghisleri wore a very fine gold ring on his little finger.

His liking was for silver and Lucie wondered at this ring which looked so curious on his fine, shapely, skilful surgeon's hand.

She asked him what it was.

"My mother's wedding ring," he said, "she gave it me when she was dying—with all her thanks for a lifetime's happiness. All the others married but I made a home for her in Florence. She lived and died in perfect felicity. Her little ring is the one thing I would not part with."

From that moment it became the one thing that Lucie wanted.

§ IV

She ventured to ask him (her voice faint and cowardly, her lips trembling) when he was going.

They had just left Pio's room and were standing in the front doorway, the lamp light behind them, before them the warm autumn night, the moonlight filtering through the fir boughs.

"I am not going."

The hot joy that leapt through her veins was in her amazed answer.

"Is it possible?"

"I have resigned my hospital appointments."

That hurt her—unbearably.

"No—no—I didn't want that—you can't, you mustn't—what of your friends?"

"It isn't the first time I've sent them all to the devil."

"Your patients?"

"They can die or recover without me. You need me more.".

"I cannot take so much," said Lucie, ashamed.

"I am doing it for myself," he answered. "Do you not think I am master of my own destiny?"

All Lucie's feminine dismays, curiosities, regrets, fears seemed in her own eyes so much pettifogging foolishness in the light of this attitude of his; he had never bothered her with his affairs or his career; he would tell her with endless delight how he had tamed a Cigard to waltz to his flute playing, how he had dragged rickety children into the sunlight and cured them, how he had slept under his cloak on the Dolomites and watched Aldebaran hanging so near he might have plucked him and set him to light the hut; but he had never spoken of his achievements, his operations, his wealthy patients, his official positions (he had had an ospedale de campo in the War, the most advanced on the Carvo front and some high rank and many decorations), or any of the practical side of his life; so she did not know what his sacrifice meant or really entailed and how far it would be resented, or made much, or little of.

"You see," he said, "how lightly I hold all I possess—and how high you rate that young man compared to how low I rate my poor patients—"

"How long will you stay, then?"

"Till you are free—"

"Free! I used to think I should be—when this was over—but—I shall be more entangled than ever before—" "Via, until you are rid of this incubus, then. No, you'll never be free, Lucia—you are too much of a woman—"

"But if—Pio—goes on and on?" asked Lucie dubiously. "Patienza!—you have the house till January?"

"Yes."

"Well, if he survives till then, I will move him into my house, and you shall go into the Villa Tristan. I am keeping it for you. That is why I made that old woman go."

They moved slowly down to the gate; the moon was not yet up and the stars were veiled in a warm haze.

"Pio," said Lucie, "is the only one getting much out of this. He is happy, anyway. Isn't it awful that we have got to take such care of him just because his being there is so terrible for us?"

She looked back at the pointed window of the room where the drugged man slept; it did seem fantastic that he should in this vampire way, batten on her unhappiness, flourish on her very life blood, find ease, relief and salvation at the hands of the man she had to torment.

"It is all wrong, somehow," said Lucie.

His voice, calm and caressing, came out of the soft darkness.

"It is we who are wrong without eternal complications. There is nothing else awry. Feel the beauty of this night, the wind, the stars, listen to the movement of the boughs and the waves—how calm, my Lucie, how peaceful."

They stood by the gate and the reed thatched fencing that protected the garden from the sea winds; they could feel the solitariness of the shore, the loneliness of the closed houses, the empty gardens on either side of them; there was no light anywhere save the muffled glow of the cloud-veiled stars and the dim illumination in the sick man's window.

A soft breeze rushed quickly past them; full of perfume and whispering sweetness, the salt of the sea and the fragrance of the pines and the mountain chestnuts whose long yellow leaves were beginning to be wafted down to the sea in the rapid waters of the streams.

"Are you not a little happy to have someone to stand by you, Lucie?"

He put his hands delicately on her shoulders, and she could just see the dim outline of his white-clad figure.

The wind fluttered her gown and scarf, loosened her hair and curled a long lock against his bare neck as he stooped towards her.

"Put your arm round me," he whispered, "don't I deserve that?"

But Lucie dare not; the rising passion between them, the enchantment of the night, were things not even to be imagined in cold blood; she stood shivering while he kissed her arms, from wrist to shoulder, her throat, her face, never her lips.

All the while she was conscious of the wind rushing past; pulling at her clothes, her hair, of the sound of the pines and the waves and the misty glitter of the stars behind the fast flowing vaporous clouds.

At last, like one in a dream, so purged was she from any ordinary considerations; she put her arm round his shoulder and stretched up to lightly kiss his face as he bent over her; and then he let go of her violently—almost pushed her away and opened the gate.

She could hear him sigh and the misery of it overwhelmed her; she began to cry, childishly, putting her hands before her face.

"My heart will burst," he said, "my heart will burst—" He caught hold of her, roughly, in the dark.

"Look in the bushes—look."

Through her tears she saw three glow worms, tiny blots of radiance in the wind-filled night.

"They have come to you, darling—fairy things—three fairy babies to comfort you, three little children coming, three dear, dear children—I am with you always—Lucie!"

He kissed her again, very gently now, and was gone.

Lucie looked at the glow worms; her fancy leapt with his; children, her children—the spirits of them somewhere in the warm wind, in the shrouded stars, in the soft waves, in the delicate lights in the bushes...

She went slowly into the house; the candle in her room showed her that her arms were bruised and marked from his kisses; she sat with them folded over her heart and thought how strong he was and how easily he could have crushed her light breath out of her frail body and how gladly she would have died that way, caressed by the warm wind in the dark garden.

In the next room the sick man slept heavily. The night breezes flowed in through the open window and touched his pillow and his damp hair and fluttered the long leaves of the melancholy oleanders in the glass by his bed.


Chapter Twenty-Nine

§ I

BY the middle of October, the weather, still golden, became cold and the stove in the sick man's room had to be lit and all his clothes warmed before they could go near him and early, but bitter storms of wind and rain began.

Lucie was oppressed by the complete isolation in which they moved, herself, her husband, her servant and Carlo Ghisleri, and by the sense of the approaching winter.

The life was intensely unnatural; the isolation was not the isolation of the country but of empty houses, deserted gardens and an untrodden street. The Villa Calvini out-of-repair, half-furnished, built solely for a pleasure place during the heat, was in no sense a home and the whole household was run round a dying man.

Everything that was normal or healthy or cheerful had to be indulged in with guilty furtiveness. When Lucie bathed, Pio would drag himself to the window to stare at her with his watch in his hand to see that she was not absent longer than the fifteen minutes allowed her; her snatched walk was always clouded by the dread of being late, her few moments with Carlo Ghisleri were agonising delights.

And beyond this quiet where they moved in their abominable routine, they knew there was the circle of malicious eyes and stabbing tongues watching, slandering, waiting.

Lucie felt the strain, her nerves could scarcely resist the tension put on them. It was not easy to bring the deadly round of everyday into line with her moments of exultation: it was not easy to spend their pale glorious hours of the sweet autumn sitting by Pio's bed, making Pio's foods, tending Pio's fires, comforting Pio's fears, writing, drawing, to earn the money for it all, and to see Carlo Ghisleri bound now to the same fruitless toil, he, the great doctor, tending with such patience this hopeless sordid illness of the man he disliked.

And worst of all to know what they were saying of him, to learn from snatched sentences of Marianna, the gossip of the Piazza, the café, the chemist's shop where the loungers were mouthing his name and hers, asserting that she was not Pio's wife, but a woman "hanging on" to him for his money, that the family had tried to dislodge her and failed, that she was a penniless foreigner, and he a wealthy nobleman, that she and the doctor were giving him morphia that they might be free of his demands, his suspicions—

All these things Lucie heard. She knew that Carlo Ghisleri had heard them, also, for he ceased to get his morphia in the village and sent to Florence for it, and now and then he would let escape some passionate outburst against the foul mouthed idlers who were getting their comedy out of this tragedy.

They were so exposed, so pinned up in the public view, so conspicuous in their isolation and the extraordinary features of their situation.

They were continually under espionage.

Agostino, malevolent, bitter, found continual excuse to circle round the house, eavesdropping, prying with his almost sightless eyes. Catering, the old housekeeper, prowled in and out the Villa Calvini on self-invented errands with white jealous face and viper's tongue.

Lucie begged that the woman might be sent back to Florence; but she was old and ill, and had been his mother's servant; he told Lucie that it was beneath her to notice the base spite of a poor peasant.

And Lucie tried to think it was; nevertheless she found the strain of the position almost unbearable.

She suggested to Dr. 'Ghisleri that a nurse should be put in charge to break the tension a little and spare him his menial task.

"It would only be another spy," he answered simply, "for I do love you and she would see it. I might as well," he added, "have stood naked in the Piazza and asked them to throw mud at me as do what I have done."

"But you are free," said Lucie, "no one has any claim on you."

She never could quite understand why his behaviour should give rise to such an enormous scandal as he admitted it had caused; but she knew nothing of the social life of Italy, nor the conspicuousness of his position nor his hosts of jealous enemies.

She felt that he had sacrificed far too much; she could see no way in which she could make her gratitude manifest; there were moments of black depression when she saw herself as a mean fool to have made a holocaust of the fortunes and happiness of the splendid man she loved for the sake of the deceased weakling she despised.

§ II

Carlo Ghisleri had been so happy before he met her; he had had everything; his life had been joyous, wonderful, laborious, useful, radiant..

She was used to unhappiness, trained to abnegation, schooled to poverty, broken in the humdrum, the deadening struggle, the sordid competition, the stale and sour devices of the overcrowded population of a big city; but he had never known any of these things.

Always dominant, born to ease, honour, position, always holding his own by sheer force of intellect and power of achievement, this was the first time that circumstances had mastered him, the first time his passions had betrayed him; love, hitherto, he had treated with a laugh; no woman had ever altered or interfered with his life; women had served him for romance, for amusement, for pleasure but he had always had them well in hand; they had been very secondary in his life and he had never taken any of them in the least seriously.

And now he had been overthrown utterly; his whole life pulled down about his ears, his friends for the first time outraged, his enemies, for the first time, given cause for ridicule, for slander.

And he was getting nothing out of it; the knowledge of this hung on Lucie's heart like a dead weight.

And every day that Pio lived made the situation more difficult, the future more dark and uncertain.

§ III

They had their wonderful moments; a walk along the shore, a walk inland, a word in the garden or on the terraces, when they would forget everything mean and horrible in the joy of their perfect companionship.

He instructed her in a thousand beautiful things, all her timid struggling aspirations he encouraged and confirmed, he taught her his cult of nature of the rain and wind, sun and sea.

There was nothing in him that had any kinship with the horrible, the morbid, the cruel, or the indecent. He transmuted everything he touched into terms of strength and beauty and sweetness.

His endless patience, his deep compassion, his enthusiasm, his tireless good humour, his wide vision and calm sanity, his wisdom and knowledge, all seemed to Lucie to be godlike qualities, lifting the man above the ordinary level of humanity.

There were other aspects of him also, of direct and overwhelming appeal to Lucie; he was above everything an athlete, a famous fencer, horseman, oarsman, mountaineer; his magnificent physique had been magnificently used just as his exceptional brain had been put to exceptional service.

§ IV

She went with him, one afternoon, of ruddy sunshine, to see a peasant's child, whose leg was broken and which he had set; she sat under the heavy laden vines and waited while he went into the little white house with the citron covered walls.

She watched while he and the child's father carried her out into the sunshine and made a bed for her under the vine. The peasants all loved him.

When they left, the mother gave her a bunch of red dahlias and a bough of the citron tree with the half-ripe hard green fruit among the dark, glossy, pointed leaves.

§ V

They stood on a little arched bridge amid trees and lush fields that were, she told him, like England.

A man was mending the bridge and they talked to him while they watched his work. All three were laughing like children.

And Lucie saw the water spiders hurrying over the surface of the dark water and the long trail of clematis over the sunny stone which told how the archbishop had blessed the bridge, long before any of them were born.

§ VI

He told her how he had watched by a woman's death bed, all through the winter night in Venice, he a young student then, who had left his companions merry-making to tend this old forsaken creature.

And he was weary, for she lay in an unchanging stupor and the room was miserable and foul.

His one companion was the noise of the storm, the wind from the Adriatic thundering at the feeble casement.

At last he rose and opened the shutters and a gust of the fierce wind blew a yellow bird right into his hand.

It was a strange bird such as he had never seen before; bruised and exhausted, with drenched golden feathers, it lay in his hand.

"It was like you, my Lucie. So you came to me."

"Did it stay?"

"Only till the morning. When the storm was over and its feathers were dried and it had eaten my bread and milk, it flew away. Far out to sea. I never saw it again. And Lucie, I would not have kept it, my darling, I would never have kept it."

§ VII

Pio's illness took on a new phase; the morphia ceased to bring him peace, the increased doses only secured to him brief intervals of oblivion, his terrors, his suspicions, his violences returned, he began to dislike Carlo Ghisleri, to resent his constant presence in the house, to abuse, revile and belittle him behind his back.

This pitiful ingratitude was Lucie's sharpest trial; she had hoped that Pio would be enabled by all the patient care and exquisite skill lavished on him, to face his fate with some equanimity, to show some appreciation of the perpetual sacrifice he was exacting.

Lucie felt the first smouldering of rebellion against Pio; hitherto she had always, in her secret heart, regarded him as inevitable and any escape from him as unthinkable.

And she hadn't resented him or blamed him, she had just been indifferent to him; now she did begin to resent him, to chafe under his authority, nearly to hate him.

It had all gone on too long.

He began to be an alien, an intruder in her life; it was the other man to whom she belonged, he was keeping her from her rightful owner; a fury new to her rose now in her spirit when he scolded, nagged, abused and exacted, her patience was no longer real, but a mask.

One wet, cloudy, windy afternoon that was like a foretaste of winter, the mask slipped without Lucie's volition.

He had been intolerable all day; Lucie was exhausted with going up—and downstairs on his errands, with making him messes he demanded and then turned on to the floor.

And worst of all, Carlo Ghisleri's patience had worn thin that morning; he had taken her by the shoulders in the passage and told her she was a fool to spend herself in such service and that he could not stand by to see her do it. Then he had left her abruptly, and for all she knew he might be on his way to Florence by now.

She did not really believe that he could forsake her, but a horrible uncertainty gnawed at her heart; it seemed incredible that he should continue to support such a situation.

And then, suddenly, as she was holding to his lips a cup of camomile tea that he had insisted on, the sick man broke out at her like a lunatic.

With a shaking gesture of his gaunt hand he scattered the hot liquid over her arm and dress.

"You've brought me to this," he gasped. "You—always you. Get out of the light—you are always between me and the light."

She thought him delirious; the glare of the black eyes under the frowning brows was not sane; but this time she did not feel that any excuse lay in his condition: she hated him.

"Take care how you speak to me," she said, for the first time harshly.

The tone had instant effect on, him, his mood leapt to frenzy.

"I know what I know—I am not blind nor deaf," his fury fell naturally into cheap phrases. "I know why he comes here, I know why he gives me stuff to keep me in bed—"

"Pio," she interrupted quickly, "if you mean Carlo Ghisleri, he comes to look after you—"

"Because you ask him to—" he sneered.

"For God's sake don't say any more—it is unbearable—"

She moved away, stood between his bed and the stove, hardly knowing what she was doing, wringing her hands and staring blindly at the stormy sky and tossing sea.

Pio spat out foul words at her, hideous words in his Sicilian "patois"; then with horrid agility jumped out of bed and put his hands round her throat.

Lucie was flung back, her right palm went full on the hot stove; conscious of nothing but disgust and horror, she fought off his feeble yet demoniac clutch; it was grotesque, hideous, repulsive beyond conception, this struggle with the weak ferocity of a dying man; he fell between the two beds, coughing, choking, cursing, his shawl, flannels and wraps huddled on his ghastly body, his hands clawing the air for her throat.

Lucie shrieked for the first time in her life and dashed downstairs without any attempt to help him; Marianna was in the kitchen peeling potatoes; Lucie ran in, dropped on to the stool by the fire and rested her head on the corner of the tiled range, breaking down at last into wild hysterical weeping.


Chapter Thirty

§ I

IT was like the breaking of a spell, the spell of order, decency and control, that till now had always rested on the Villa Calvini; Lucie had never broken down before, never shown any signs of weakening, of rebellion, never anything but a calm, controlled front.

Marianna gazed at her in amazed dismay.

"What has happened now, signora, per l'amore di Dio!

"He wanted to kill me," sobbed Lucie, without raising her head.

"What is there in that?" asked Marianna. "He has often done that before—via."

"He called me dreadful names—"

"Is it the first time? Dio! Here is his bell!"

"I'm not going up," said Lucie.

The bell clanged furiously.

"I won't go," repeated Lucie hysterically, "I won't! I won't!"

Marianna ran upstairs, reappeared immediately to say that the padrone was back in bed, howling and moaning for his wife.

"I won't go," muttered Lucie.

Marianna was distracted; she could not credit that this distraught, desperate woman, with the tear-disfigured face and the clenched hands was her composed mistress, who hitherto had been so resigned, patient and even cheerful.

"Oh, signora, do go up—think how ill he is—he's crazy, too!"

"I also am ill—and I'm crazy," answered Lucie between her wild sobs, "and I'm going away."

Even as she spoke, she saw this as an avenue of escape.

She would go away from all of them, from the intolerable sick man, from the love that must be always thwarted and denied, from the cruel spectators who watched and slandered.

She would wire to the Simonetti to come and look after their son, and she would go somewhere far away where no one could find her.

She had sufficient money, her own money, she was free; no one could blame her; her health, her life was in danger; she had his finger marks on her throat; and her soul was in danger, too; not long could it survive such degradation, such humiliation, such starvation.

"I'm going away," she repeated, "I'll take you if you like, Marianna."

The woman gave her a wild look and ran out of the kitchen.

Lucie no longer cared what she thought or said, what gossip or scandal was raised; she bowed her head on her thin arms and wept forlornly, her fallen hair close to the little farello where the coffee simmered on the charcoal.

She heard Marianna return, she heard Carlo Ghisleri's voice, but for the first time she remained indifferent to his presence, she was shameless in her complete abandon.

"Lucie!" She heard a new note of anxiety in his voice, but it did not move her, she would not raise her head.

Pio's bell clanged again; for the first time she heard Carlo Ghisleri swear fiercely.

Lucie's sobs turned to crazy laughter.

"You too! We shall all be raving maniacs soon! It isn't to be borne—"

"What did he do?"

"Nothing that he hasn't done before—it was the way of it—the horror—the grotesqueness, he touched me too, and I've grown to loathe him so—Oh! go up to him and stop that cursed bell!"

The doctor looked at her with something of the same dismay as Marianna had felt; he also had come to look upon her as the one person who was always controlled, resigned, schooled to endurance.

He offered her some brandy; Lucie would not raise her head.

Insistent, the bell clanged once more.

"Oh, for God's sake," moaned Lucie.

He left her to return in a few moments and find her in the same attitude.

"I have done what I could for him, but he wants you—Lucie, you should go. The poor devil really did not know what he was doing."

Lucie raised her distorted face.

"I will not go."

He turned to the servant.

"Go upstairs and say that your mistress is resting now, but that she will come up presently. Sit with him till he falls asleep."

Marianna went at once, piteously anxious to be of service and, as soon as he was free of the servant's presence, Carlo Ghisleri raised Lucie from her miserable position; but she resisted him.

"I never meant to do this—I wanted to bear it and be brave, but it's happened, I've made a shameful display. I want to go away—from you, too, from both of you—I want to be free—"

"My poor Lucie, my poor child—"

"I don't want," said Lucie passionately, "your sacrifices or your love—what is the use of it? You daren't kiss me. I won't stay to be slandered—to be abused—to be threatened—you see what has happened, I've broken down. I can't go on."

"You would not stop when I wanted you to, Lucie. I knew that this must happen. You undertook too much."

Lucie was sitting by the kitchen table; she drank the brandy in the wild hope that it would steady her aching head, her throbbing nerves.

"Come out in the open air," he said. "We can't talk in here."

"Yes, take me away from the house—anything as long I don't have to go upstairs—"

"I have given him morphia. He is very weak. There isn't much more of it for him, the poor wretch lives in a delirium."

"Come outside," said Lucie desperately.

They hurried, as if driven by their passions like a wind, from the house out into the deserted seashore.

It was warm, but a stiff breeze was blowing and the clouds hung low and dark over a ruffled sea.

There was no one abroad, no boat, no bird, no beast—only the long line of empty houses in the pine wood, the strip of sand, the sea on one hand, the mountains on the other—shutting you in.

"The whole place is like a prison!" cried Lucie.

They walked quickly towards Tonfalo.

"Lucie, you will never be happy if you leave him. Your are not the kind of woman. You must stay now—"

"You never spoke so before," answered Lucie, "you wanted me to go—"

"Lucie, you must have some pity on poor human nature—but I never thought you would come—"

"And you would have despised me if I had," said Lucie bitterly.

"It would always," he answered simply, "be the same to me whatever you did. How could I ever despise you?"

"I must get away," said Lucie quickly. "It is nerves—I see things—I'm all to pieces. I can't face seeing him die, either. I can't face all this scandal. I can't bear to be with you. Like this."

The wind rose and rain began to fall. In silence he took his light jacket off and put it over the shoulders of her white frock. The air was darkening about them and they seemed alone in a great space of wind and water.

"If it is more than you can bear," he said at length, "I must take you away."

"No. I want to go away—alone."

The wind dragged at her dress, unbound her hair and sent it flying across his shoulders; the rain beat in their faces.

"Ah, you are in rebellion—against me, too!" he said sadly.

"This is what I am like—really. The other is only pretending. I haven't been quiet—all my life. Because I was afraid to let myself go. But this is what I am—wild, rebellious—I've always been like that. Passionately rebellious against the—awful life I have had.":

She spoke in deep breaths as she laboured against the wind and the rain, her bare, sandalled feet sinking into the salt sand with every step, the flying spray from the surf tossing about her as she moved.

"I knew," said Carlo Ghisleri.

"I don't think you can know—what my life has been like. So sordid. So little. So stupid."

She said no more; she could not tell him that her woe and anger now was not wholly because of her present atrocious bondage, but because of all the other miseries that rose up to confront her, the tragedy of Mrs. Falconer, the tragedy of Sophie, both clinging to her and not to be shaken off, the tragedy of the dead baby...all the old unhappiness waiting for a moment like this to cry aloud and knock at her heart.

He saw that she was becoming exhausted and drew her aside into one of the few remaining capuane which stood solitary near the now swollen stream, a primitive structure, such as the poorer people used, of rough boughs interlaced, on which the dry russet leaves still hung.

The wind had ripped Lucie's white dress from waist to hem and soaked her thin petticoat, her long hair hung dark on to her shoulders; she looked at her companion whose thin shirt was wet through.

He saw her glance of concern and smiled.

"I enjoy it. There cannot be too much wind or rain for me. But you would like to return?"

"No. It is better here. One feels free," said Lucie. "Why do you smile?"

"T? see what a woman you are—you don't want to be free. You know you are going back to that man."

"Do you wish me to?" asked Lucie.

"Via! You don't respect my wishes in the least. You are pleasing yourself all the time. Even in looking after this man you have been pleasing yourself, my Lucie."

"Oh, no!" cried the woman angrily. "That isn't fair!"

"It's true. You never did what you did'—an extraordinary feat of endurance and courage, cars, because you were thinking of this poor devil's body or soul, but because you wouldn't fall beneath your own standard—you haven't kept me at arm's length for any reason but those abstract principles of yours. You've so grown into your code that you don't know yourself," he smiled again, very tenderly. "You've got to be what you call respectable, darling, or you can't survive. Therefore, let us go back."

Lucie felt humbled; this man could read her too easily; she knew perfectly well that she had not got it in her to cut clear anything that bound and clogged her; she was too passive, too timid, too hopelessly feminine.

"I've just made a fool of myself," she said drearily. "Of course I'll go back. Are you sorry for him?" she added irrelevantly.

"A little, because he loves you, Lucie. You never loved him and I think he always knew it—I have a fellow feeling for the poor wretch—never to have you wholly—now not to have you at all. To be despised by you. Ah, Lucie, if he knew why we serve him, he might prefer to crawl out into the ditch to die. Think of that."

Lucie remembered Pio's own words, which Carlo Ghisleri had never heard and she shivered uneasily.

"You seem to think that to be fond of me is a curse."

"I am sorry for any man who loves you, Lucie—you absorb so much of one—you are too much a woman, there is no end to you—you do not stand for peace of mind."

"You speak as if I had ruined yours."

"You've broken up my whole life for me. Made an end of it," he smiled, "via, let us go home."

§ II

Through the north-west wind and rain they went back to the Villa Calvini.

"There is really nothing but this, Lucie. The day, the night, the seasons, the earth, the sky, the mountains, the forest. And in the forest the little house where the woman cooks the food for the 'man who comes home from work."

"The fairy tale?"

"Yes, the fairy tale. The child sits at the woman's knee and she tells him of giants and mermaids, kings and goblins, and big wars and big cities and ships and castles, and the man listens for he knows them all, potentially they are all in him. The child listens, for he, too, knows them. One day, he will go out and find them. And perhaps the man will go too. But the woman must stay in the little house, keeping the fire, cooking the food. She knows that some day they must come back to her. She is eternal, Lucie. Life, circling, always comes back to her.

"That is all there is—just those three in the little house. The rest is just the wind, and dreams—and tales."


Chapter Thirty-One

§ I

IT was the first day of November and Lucie had been out with Carlo Ghisleri very early in the gray stormy morning and he had dragged home for her a huge bough of cypress heavy with blue berries that they had found beaten down by the east wind that tore along the coast.

Later, when he came again, she met him in the hall and took him into the salotto where the big bough was propped up behind the stove.

"Pio wants to get up," she said; she was very quiet and resigned now; she never lamented or showed any irritation, she never spoke of the future. "He seems changed this morning. Much better," she smiled faintly. "He is sitting up in bed now, looking at patterns for spring suits, matching them with the tie I sent him last Christmas—and is worrying where we are to go when the lease of the house is up."

Carlo Ghisleri looked at her tenderly; he, too, had lost something of his radiant glance, something even of his serenity of late; but still, with proud and sweet composure he was able to turn everything he handled into something strong and beautiful.

"Let him get up, then, cara," he said.

"He has been in bed two months. I thought people would say that we were trying to kill him."

"They will say that anyhow. Let him get up."

"And out—he wants to go out. I think he wants it more than he ever wanted anything," said Lucie. "You see, I've been trying—since you spoke about it, not to let it all be for my own sake—trying to see it from his point of view. So I thought—if he could go out—"

§ II

The storm had abated and pale sunshine illuminated the rain washed coast as the sick man was helped by doctor, wife and servant down the gray stone stairs, all three people supporting and absorbed in this poor human being to whom they had given their most tireless devotion.

It had taken Lucie over an hour to dress him; so slow had been the progress, so frequent the rests, the pauses, the changes of mind as to what he should wear; now he was arrayed in the clothes he liked best, an expensive light suit, patent boots, the very extravagant tie Lucie had sent him at Christmas, a covert overcoat and a pale felt hat, with exact adjustment of rings, watch and chain, cane and handkerchief. He had even contrived to shave himself with the safety razor Dr. Ghisleri had given him.

The ravages of his illness were, of course, far more apparent than they had been when he was in bed, or seated in a dressing-gown in his own room; he looked a bitter caricature of humanity, a devilish fantasia on youth and humanity.

It seemed impossible that anything so bowed and shrunken, so hollow, so feeble, so distorted of feature and twisted of limb could move and speak.

But the intense delight that this adventure gave him, and his resolution not to let his weakness spoil his pleasure was apparent in the set of his slack lips, the steady gaze of his sunken eyes.

Marianna rejoiced as whole-heartedly as if he had been someone dear to her instead of the tyrant who had abused and threatened her with such heartless ingratitude.

He wanted to go all over the house; he peered into the dark dining-room where Lucie had her meals; he went into the kitchen.

There was a pile of persimmons on the table; he looked at the smooth yellow fruit greedily and asked why they hadn't been brought up to him.

"They are not ripe," said Lucie gently. "Perhaps one will be this afternoon."

He went into the salotto and handled her writing paper, her sketches, her books.

Lucie shivered with distaste; she had become resigned to him up in his bedroom—but as part of her daily life—

He saw the big cypress branch and pointed to it with a shaking finger.

"Who brought that in? It is too heavy for you—"

Lucie felt a sick rage she could not repress rise against him always when she was endeavouring to be compassionate, he did something that repelled her; she could not meet the look in his eyes now and still pity him.

"I brought it in," said Dr. Ghisleri.

"For me?" asked Pio, and he looked from one to the other with a hateful furtive glance.

"For the signora."

"Ah!"

He said he wished to go into the garden and they helped him down the salotto through the door at the back; he poked round with his stick under the shrivelled vine and withered apple tree; then he directed that they should take him to the low wattled fence that separated the strip of pineta (it was in no sense a garden) from the villa of Carlo Ghisleri.

This fence, at first but a couple of feet in height, had lately been added to, till it was above the measure of a man, and all the undergrowth had been cut away so that there was neither foothold nor concealment along the whole length of the boundary between the two houses.

"It has been altered," said Pio, peevishly.

"Yes," answered Carlo Ghisleri. "You see, I thought of that."

"Of what?" asked Lucie.

She had seen Agostino working on the fence and never given the matter any attention.

"Signor Simonetti," said the doctor ceremoniously, "is timid. He dreads burglars. He is afraid of people breaking in at night. Therefore I thought that if T made this fence impossible to climb, impossible, do you notice, signor?—he would be in no fear of anyone breaking in by way of my premises."

"Let us go into the front garden," said Pio, sullenly.

They helped him to totter slowly there and led him by his request to the gate which he examined suspiciously.

"That is safe enough," said Lucie, "Marianna locks it every night, never later than ten. And you have the key of it, and the front gate, in your room."

"One might climb it," answered Pin; he looked at the man supporting him and Lucie read in his eyes the crudest calculation as to the possibility of that man climbing that gate; Lucie understood about the fence now; so Pio had just wished to get up that he might spy on her.

"I think you had better come in now," she said dully. "No, no," panted Pio, "I want to see the doctor's house—I want to go next door—"

"Very well, I will take you," assented Carlo Ghisleri. But Lucie could not go.

"I will wait here."

§ III

She went up on to the terrace and watched them; it seemed a profanation to see that man seated under the oleanders, his feet on the Tyrolese clover.

He was drinking and smoking, the doctor standing beside his chair.

The sunlight had faded to be seen no more that day; sky and sea were even in colourlessness; in the east was a darkness as of a coming storm; two slim warships showed on the horizon, steaming from Spezia to Leghorn.

How curious to think there was a world of strange happenings going on now beyond the confines of the Villa Calvini.

§ IV

As he was helped upstairs again he remembered the persimmons.

He would go and count them; Marianna, he said, was a thief and the fruit was expensive.

Thirty-three! That was far too many to buy at once. Thirty-three persimmons!

He would remember that and see that he got them all.

§ V

Towards evening when Pio slept, they went out into the sombre chill twilight and walked quickly along the gloomy shore.

They always tried to get as far as the little capuana Tonfalo which was so rough that it was not worth the trouble of pulling down, for the wind whistled beautifully through the dry bamboo canes and withered branches, the real pan pipes; Lucie's children, he said, calling to her, babies' voices, whispering, laughing.

Then they would talk of these dream children till they became radiant with the brightness of their dreams, bewildered with the glory of the mirage.

But to-night Lucie listened with a distracted ear to the music in the reeds.

"Did you see what he meant this morning?" she asked sadly. "He has horrible suspicions."

"Well, cara, what would you? Anyone would think what he thinks, you know."

"Not in England," said Lucie, stoutly.

"We are in Italy. In any place—you are, well, not a common type of woman, and I have behaved far better," he smiled, "than anyone would give me credit for—"

Lucie was still saddened and bewildered; she had never been able to imagine, to stage one of these intrigues that other people seemed to credit so easily; grossness always eluded her; she didn't quite believe in it.

"I don't think people are like that," she said at last. "No one would—do that kind of thing—with a sick man—and people like Marianna, and Agostino about—it would be vulgar, wouldn't it?"

"I always knew you didn't understand, much."

"Of what?"

"Passion."

"Oh! I don't know. I've nothing to go by. I can't tell if my feelings are the same as the labelled ones—passion—perhaps not—not if it means that sort of thing, coming down at night to—to meet someone—and—and—all that Pio thinks. I couldn't do that. I don't see how one could."

"There certainly are not," he agreed drily, "many facilities here."

Lucie looked at him wistfully and curiously; for the first time she felt alien and far away; for the first time she thought;—"How much there is in his life I don't know of; how many times he has done 'this sort of thing'; how much he knows and understands that I never can!"

He was quick to notice her abstraction.

"Via—hark at your babies scolding you for your sad face—"

Lucie bowed her head against the singing reeds; poor pretence babies, sometimes they did not help you—much.

§ VI

Pio had chloral every night now and Dr. Ghisleri always came to give it to him about nine o'clock.

This evening when he came Lucie told him:

"Pio is much better. Even after that exertion this morning. He has slept all day and is still drowsy."

She went up with him into the tidy lamp-lit sick-room which was fragrant from the bay leaves simmering in the pot boiling on the stove.

Both the door on to the terrace and the window stood open for the sick man had more than ever difficulty with his breathing.

Luck went out to the terrace and stood in the dark amid the blowing tops of the pine trees that swayed together in the quick sea wind.

Very soon Carlo Ghisleri game out to her.

"We must telegraph to his people," he whispered. "He is dying—fast."

"The end?—really the end?"

"Really the end, Lucie."

"Can I do anything?"

"No. Wait here for me. I shall return."

When he had gone, the woman crept to the door of the room and stood looking in at the lamplight and the figure in the bed, lying as she had so often seen it lie—no difference in any of the familiar details which appeared as ever, monotonous, eternal; yet a few hours now and the figure would not be there and the room would be shut up and her duties ended.

Ended—really the end!

She tried to convince herself of the reality of things by words.

"My husband. Dying. I shall be free."

She found she was shuddering, her teeth chattering, she crossed the sick-room and went downstairs.

Dr. Ghisleri was in the dining-room, writing on telegram forms by candle light, Marianna was standing beside him; Lucie crept into the kitchen; she selected two of the ripest persimmons and put them on a green plate, laid a silver spoon and some sugar beside them and carried them upstairs.

Pio had not moved; he lay on his back and his breathing was like a continuous snore.

"Pio," she said, "Pio, I've brought up the persimmons—look—"

He took no notice and she set the plate down; she went on her knees and took his cold, damp, bluish hand in hers.

"Pio," she whispered desperately, "I have tried, you know, don't you?"

The words sounded so paltry, and she could not have explained why she was on her knees to him, what possible wrong she had ever done him, but there she knelt, beseeching as if she had been a penitent.

"Pio—you do know—don't you—that what you thought—this morning—"

She could not say it; the words seemed so stupid, and the dying man had taken no notice save to flutter his hand a little, a gesture she took to mean "do not disturb me."

She stooped and kissed him.

He opened his eyes at that.

"It is a long time since you have kissed me."

Ah! she had cause for remorse, after all!

"Pio, I won't leave you."

He seemed pleased.

"And Dr. Ghisleri? Will he stay?"

"He will stay."

"I am getting better, am I not?"

"Yes, oh, yes, Pio."

"I am tired. I feel as if I was breaking to pieces."

He closed his eyes and dozed again.

Lucie stole downstairs.

Carlo Ghisleri was still seated at the table which was strewn with telegrams to every member of the Simonetti family.

"Why?" asked Lucie. "They won't come. And he doesn't want to see them."

"They must come. I shall insist."

"For his sake?"

"For yours, you stupid woman."

"They can't help me."

"They can. They can stop these evil tongues—ruffians as they are, they can give a face of decency to the thing.

It is incredible that they should stay away—if they do, the scandal here will be intolerable."

"Ah! scandal!"

Lucie thought he troubled too much about scandal.

§ VII

For two days and nights they never left him alone; as he still lingered on the third night, Carlo Ghisleri took the night watch while Lucie slept downstairs.

Marianna had not taken her clothes off either for all those hours; her sister had come to help, and an odd woman, very poor and pale, had offered herself for any menial task in this crisis; she was a meek creature who was not afraid of infection as her own husband had died of consumption.

So the little household was altered and everything about it became different and strange; odd meals were snatched at strange hours, everyone spoke in whispers; the lassitude of sheer fatigue overcame Lucie; the shivering monotony of those long hours by the bedside of the torpid man, always with the window open and the wind and rain beating in till her head ached with neuralgia, dulled her spirit; it became just a question of endurance; the fierce effort of the spent runner at the end of the race.

Pio appeared to be unconscious, often delirious, often asleep; but he knew when she left him and when Dr. Ghisleri was not within call he appeared to have a vital need of both of them.

§ VIII

All the Simonetti replied (the wires were prepaid) but none could come; the word "impossible" figured in all their excuses.

Lucie was rather relieved, but Carlo Ghisleri was deeply angered, and exclaimed passionately against these "cani dei Siciliani."

"Is there no one in England who would come?" he asked. "No one," said Lucie.

"You ought to have someone here—your uncles, now." Lucie smiled; his ideas of family life were so different from hers; she never could make him understand.

"You've no idea what a 'stray' I am. I'm quite alone."

"But this aunt you lived with?"

"I have to look after her. She—she's, oh, emotional—she came—when—the little girl died...she made it worse."

§ IX

The fourth day he still lived, kept alive by champagne and morphia; the doctor slept (such sleep as he could snatch) in the little room that had been Lucie's, and she rested in the gaunt downstairs bedroom, with the other women.

It seemed as if Pio could not die, nor the rain stop. The women kept whispering together about the priest, but Lucie paid no attention till Carlo Ghisleri said to her:

"If he does not receive extreme unction, it will be difficult—afterwards."

"But he would loathe it—and he doesn't think he is dying.

"I know. But I have sent for the priest—he will come up when—the patient is—no longer conscious—"

"Is that possible?"

"I have arranged with the priest—he is a very good friend of mine."

"It is all queer," said poor Lucie, "Pio joined the English Church when we married to please Mrs. Falconer—and then does the priest know I'm a heretic?"

"I told him," said Dr. Ghisleri gravely, "that you belonged to the Church of Ireland."

"Oh! But I can't live up to that. Do keep him away—it's—it's—ghastly—"

"You'll do what I tell you—for once," he replied.

So that morning the priest came, to the intense gratification of the women downstairs; Lucie saw him from the window of the black bedroom; he was struggling with a huge green umbrella that swayed in the deluge and carried under his arm a small box.

But the doctor would not allow him to come upstairs; Pio might be conscious.

Three times that day the priest fought cheerfully through the gale with his umbrella and his box, waited awhile in the kitchen to hear the doctor's verdict, then departed, struggling with wind and rain.

Another wild night closed over them and still Pio lived. "To-morrow," said Lucie, "is Sunday and the anniversary of the day the little girl was born—November the 6th." At length the beating rain had diminished a little and they stood out on the terrace in darkness and eager wind. "It will be to-morrow," said Carlo Ghisleri, "this cannot go on."

Some of her old terrors returned to Lucie; in sheer weakness she turned and clung to him.

But he would not admit that there was anything ugly or horrible about this.

"Via, Lucie, via—feel the good clean spirits in the rushing winds, blowing through the house and purifying it! How much power and splendour abroad to-night! And he—not suffering, Lucie, passing on to blend with the great winds, done with the old stupidities, the pains and follies! Smile for him, Lucie, laugh with him!"

He put his arm around her and she closed her eyes; powerful, sweet, the wind blew out of the darkness, lapping round them, like waves, like flame.

"Grief is only weakness, cars. The strong are always happy. Think how we have found one another. Think how much more important that is than any death."

She said faintly:

"Could you kiss me—now? Then I will go back to him."

He kissed her with that deep tenderness she valued more than passion, and she turned, out of the dear, friendly night, the magnificent wind, the unseen trees, into the lamp-lit room.

§ X

She never left Pio till the next day, at six o'clock, he suddenly sat up and asked for a piece of money.

There was some in his drawer and she rose, fetched this, and gave it to him; Carlo Ghisleri had just left the room and she was alone.

Pio took the money, fumbled with his night shirt as if to find a pocket and whispered; "Come nearer."

Lucie sat on the edge of the bed; he turned, but blindly, it seemed, towards her; she put her arms round him.

A quick transformation passed over him; it was as if someone had got tired of jerking a puppet about, had cut the string and let it fall.

She controlled herself to lay him back on his pillow, then, as the last breath surged out of his broken lungs, she ran from the room and down into the kitchen where Carlo Ghisleri was talking to Marianna.

"It is over!" said Lucie.

As she spoke she saw the figure of the priest trudging away down the avenue.

The doctor ran to the window and called lustily after him; it was the first time he had raised his voice in the Villa Calvini.

Marianna ran, weeping, upstairs, the other women were instantly in tears; Lucie feverishly washed her hands in the bowl in the sink; she could not think at all.

The priest, smiling cheerfully, turned back and came into the kitchen with his umbrella and his little box.


Chapter Thirty-Two

§ I

LUCIE noticed, really without much sense of the meaning or even the reality of it all, that the priest went quickly upstairs with Carlo Ghisleri and that the women followed, throwing shawls over their heads; two men, who had evidently been waiting somewhere about the house tiptoed after them; one was Martinelli, the other a gaunt pockmarked creature whom Lucie dimly recognized as the "fidangato" of Marianna's sister.

The house suddenly seemed in the possession of strangers; Lucie felt herself completely a foreigner; everything had been taken out of her hands; she followed the others upstairs.

The priest was standing between the two beds; he had put on a purple stole and had vested in a surplice; on the bedside table, hastily cleared of medicine, was spread a cloth, on which was a little vessel of holy water, oil and cotton wool, a clean towel and a branch of yew.

Two candles burnt on this table and Carlo Ghisleri standing by the bed held a third; everyone else was kneeling.

Lucie could not see Pio; he was sunk deep among the pillows. She knelt down inside the door; Carlo Ghisleri crossed over to her at once and gave her a cushion; returning instantly to his place.

The priest was saying, very quickly, a Latin prayer, Carlo Ghisleri gave the responses; several times the priest made the sign of the cross over Pio and appeared to be directly addressing him; when he paused, Carlo Ghisleri recited a Latin prayer.

To Lucie the scene was incredible; she could not attach it, anywhere, to human experience; she followed every detail with dreadful curiosity; the care with which such an unashamed pagan as the doctor was taking part in the complicated ceremony, the weeping of the others, for a man they had never liked, their humble piety in such contrast to their daily blasphemy, the assumption that Pin was alive—all the thrice familiar details of the sick-room looking unfamiliar—all combined to make a spectacle of phantasmagoria to poor Lucie, weak from strain, dazed from sleeplessness.

Everyone was murmuring Latin now—some kind of litany she supposed, while the priest anointed, with a morsel of cotton-wool, the forehead of the man in the bed.

Lucie noticed that the sprinkler was a branch from the big bough they had dragged home and that Pio had resented; she noticed the bottles of digitalis, of camphor, of ether, standing, unimportant at last, huddled on the back of the drawers.

"I am noticing all the wrong things," she thought desperately.

It was over; they all trooped out of the room; the windows were shut, the first time for nearly a year, the shutters were closed over the cold wet evening; the poor odd woman came hurrying upstairs again with two huge candles in large stands; Marianna followed her with two more; they placed them round the bed and lit them.

Lucie wondered where they had been so instantly procured; the two women knelt again and began telling their beads.

Lucie went downstairs; her whole being seemed to drift into a void, she could hardly tell what had happened, whose house this was, what position she occupied; but her bewildered wits rallied to the fact of the priest; she liked him and he ought to be thanked; she felt very grateful to him.

She heard him talking with the doctor in the dining-room, and then it occurred to her that the priest might have heard some of those tales about her and think her a "wicked" woman; this idea was curiously painful and she shrank back; but her very strong sense of obligation forced her to enter the room.

The doctor was again writing out telegrams; the priest was drinking a glass of wine; she was sure they were talking of her; she heard the word "Sicilians" spoken with great contempt.

As she entered, they both rose and looked at her with the same expression, one which she could not interpret.

"I want to thank you for all your goodness and patience," she faltered, "I do appreciate it—very much—"

"My dear, dear child," interrupted the old priest; he took her hand and patted it. "There, there, I'm glad it is over—you could not have stood much more of it, there, there, my poor child." This genuine and warm kindness where she was looking for coldness, perhaps reproof, unnerved Lucie; the tears came into her eyes and she leant against the wall.

"How thin she is!" continued the old man. "You will have to take use of her—" he addressed the doctor, "she has been so wonderful."

"I'll look after her," answered Carlo Ghisleri, glancing up from the sheaf of telegrams; it occurred to Lucie that he was comporting himself exactly as the master of the house; he went outside with the priest who said farewell and blessed Lucie as he passed, and she sat alone in the candle-lit room.

She should now be perfectly free; there was no longer anyone to shackle her, but she felt as bound as before; after all she had only changed masters and she hardly knew the quality of this one; she imagined that already he was different to what he had been.

She heard him go upstairs; she heard the women come down. Marianna, with a swollen face looked in and asked her if the padrone had a pair of white socks.

Lucie shook her head, then Marianna said, triumphantly, that she had bought a pair on the Piazza, some days ago for this occasion.

§ II

Lucie drank a glass half-full of brandy, and went into the salotto where a lamp had been lit.

Her husband had been dead a few hours and already her whole universe had been changed.

The salotto was heaped with Pio's clothes which Marianna kept bringing down in boxes, in armfuls, in drawers, in valises, and piling them up, on tables, chairs and the red divan.

"The doctor," she said importantly, "says that if they are not brought down at once they will have to be destroyed and that many a poor man would be glad of them."

To Lucie these stacks of clothes were the last touches of nightmare; only the alcohol enabled her to endure it without an hysterical outburst.

Coats, overcoats, suits, boots, shoes, slippers for every possible occasion, socks, handkerchiefs, fancy waistcoats, waterproofs, heavy underclothing, heaps of scarves, piles of handkerchiefs, motor outfits, travelling rugs, dressing cases, valises, trouser presses, dozens of odds and ends, useless, extravagant; hundreds of pounds of her money, spent so lavishly, so foolishly—heaps of sheer waste lying at her feet.

The doctor came down.

"What do you want to do with these things, cara?"

"I don't know."

He glanced over the assorted piles.

"No one but a fool would have so many clothes," he remarked. "I will send them to a hospital in Florence. I did not mean you to see them."

"Where am I to go?" asked Lucie forlornly.

"I will take you away."

"No—no—? couldn't go."

She dare not look at him; she was more constrained with him than she had ever been before.

"Very well. To-morrow then. You cannot stay in this house," he answered gently. "Do you want to go upstairs?" he added.

She stooped and took from the piles of clothes at her feet the purple golden tie Pio had worn when he last went out, and a small red Easter egg.

"Will you give him these? He bought the egg for the baby. You see he kept it. No, I won't come up.

"It isn't ugly."

"I know—but I won't—"

"You are right. It is ugly always."

§ III

He persuaded her to come out into the fresh air; it was quite dark and still raining, but the wind had dropped; when they had gone a few paces she looked back at the Villa Calvin; the door on to the terrace was open and she could see, not the familiar red glow of the sick-room lamp, but the four flames of the huge candles.

"I want to go back," shivered Lucie.

He took her back and begged her to eat something or go and rest.

She would do neither.

"Can't you make all these people go away?" she said; she had seen Agostino in the kitchen and the doctor's old housekeeper. "There are so many of them and my head aches so—"

"You can't send them away," he answered indulgently.

"They have come to sit up all night with Pio. They mean it as a mark of respect. You must give them wine, brandy, anything you have and they will be quite happy."

Lucie was repelled.

"What do they do?"

"Oh, just drink and tell tales and keep the evil spirits off—"

"It is horrible—I won't have it."

"Via, it doesn't do any harm and they like it. It is the custom here. It would be a scandal to refuse." He spoke as if he was humouring a child and Lucie resented it.

"We have our customs, too," she said, "and this isn't one of them."

"Well, Pio wasn't English, was he?"

Lucie nearly wept with vexed grief.

"I don't like it and I don't want it," she protested.

She would have liked to have said that her wishes should be respected, but she felt the futility of that.

"I think the poor devils deserve it," answered Carlo Ghisleri, "they've been looking forward to it—"

"A low superstition—"

"Well, you've got some superstitions, too."

§ IV

Lucie locked herself into the ground floor bedroom off the dining-room; the whole crowd of Tuscans had tramped joyously upstairs carrying fiaschi, bottles of wine and brandy, glasses and sweet cakes.

Lucie could hear them overhead, laughing, shouting, telling stories, singing.

She was angry with Carlo Ghisleri for allowing this; she felt it an outrage; he was already, she thought, taking too much of an upper hand.

Despite the sleeping draught he had given her, she passed a hideous, wakeful night.

§ V

Lucie remained all the next day shut in the bedroom downstairs; the women, weeping now, kept coming and going with food, dismal tales and pious ejaculations.

She would not come out to see the doctor nor allow him to come in and see her; she sent a message to say that she would see him in the evening, when all was over.

She heard him whistling and singing about the house and that, too, seemed to her an outrage; she could not divest herself of the Gothic idea of death.

When it was dark, Marianna, howling now, and wringing her hands, came to say that the padrone had been taken away to the "cappello" in the "campo santo."

Pio really gone; the house empty of Pio, at last.

"Everything is packed," said Marianna, grinning through her tears.

"Packed?"

"Si, signora—and Stella has gone over to light the fires, and Agostino has taken over a lot of things—"

"I don't understand."

"We are going to the Villa Tristan," grinned Marianna. "And there won't be any more bell ringing or messes to make, grazia a Dio!"

Lucie went into the dining-room, it was empty; then into the salotto, where Carlo Ghisleri waited for her; all the clothes had been cleared away; two large corded boxes stood in the middle of the floor.

Carlo Ghisleri seemed indeed to have subtly changed. He wore rough mountaineering clothes and high boots, and he was smoking a pipe.

Lucie, waiting at the door, stiffened; she felt desperately helpless and lonely; she felt that in dignity and power she had lost by Pio's death, and that this man had gained. Never had she seen him so dominant, so completely at his ease, in such high good humour.

"What is this Marianna is saying? I want to stay here," said Lucie.

He took out his pipe.

"You can't. Everything has been taken to the other house. There is no light here or fire or food."

"You should have asked me if I wished to go."

"There was no question. You must eat, sleep, rest. You can't do those things here—it is impossible. Besides the house must be dismantled, fumigated—I know not what rubbish—make haste and put your coat on."

Lucie hesitated; she was too utterly worn-out to resist, yet she did not wish to give in meekly.

"I thought I was to be free," she murmured.

He smiled.

"Free! You!"

She put on her hat and coat and followed him.

She waited while he locked up the empty house, she let him take her arm and lead her to the Villa Tristan, that was ablaze with cheerful light.

Marianna came running to meet them with cries of welcome.

"Signora," she said, "I gave him the persimmons—thirty-one I put in with him—if he counts them, I hope he'll remember he had the other two."


Thirty-Three

§ I

THE house of the Villa Tristan consisted of one smallish room entered directly from the front garden, out of which a staircase wound to two rooms above.

There were two other doors in this central apartment, one at the back leading to a kitchen, and two little bed-chambers built on at the back, one to the right leading to a little slip of a place with a big window; the corner by this door was cut off by a huge open fireplace; the window was the same side as the staircase.

There were two low chairs piled with dull silk cushions in front of the fire, a long plain trestle table and two stools the same, and a straight cupboard and sideboard in one, at the back.

On the right wall was an almost life-size reproduction of one of the fragments of the "gigantomarchia," the plaster yellowed to the likeness of marble.

The walls were warm cream-washed and that portion above the sideboard had been decorated by some skilful hand in charcoal and white chalk, the subject, "Poseidon surrounded by sea-nymphs."

Either side of the frieze hung big boughs of orange, fruit and leaves.

There was nothing else in the room whatever this first evening that Lucie crossed the threshold.

It was all very strange to her, unlike anything she had ever seen before; she knew that it wasn't so with Carlo Ghisleri; it was the Villa Calvini that had been strange to him; how incredibly cheap and shabby he would have found the places she was used to live in, she thought.

There was a good meal on the table but she could not eat; she sat in the low chair staring dazedly at the huge log fire; she felt worn out and broken, numb to all feeling, beyond words strange.

And he, who had gone through so much more than she had, who had taken all her burdens on his shoulders, who had performed duties to her unthinkable, showed no trace of fatigue or gloom; he coaxed her to drink some white wine in a blue glass; Lucie, drinking, looking at him as she drank, saw unabashed triumph and satisfaction in his face, a pagan splendour in his bearing, a steady passion behind his serenity.

Lucie put the glass down.

She felt so miserably inadequate; that sick man, "my husband," had given her stability, dignity, an anchor; now she was utterly adrift, indeed the "stray" she had called herself; "taken in and fed like a homeless cat," she told herself.

Among strangers, too—what did she really know of these people, their manner of looking at things, their ways and customs?

It was easy for him to be serene and happy—was he not in his own country?

Was he not in his own world?

For he was a man.

§ II

Seeing her reserved depression, he said "goodnight" and left her; Marianna followed him and shortly returned with a bunch of keys.

"I have locked the cancello and the door, signora, and the doctor said I was to give you the keys."

"He is trying to please me by letting me think I am free," thought Lucie, "like blowing bubbles to amuse a child."

§ III

There was a fire in the bedroom, too, a square white room with a deep bed filled with silk cushions and covered with silk blankets. Above the bed was a lantern that gave a soft light and under it a cast of one of the Della Robbia "Innocenti."

The very simple furniture was white, hand-painted with green laurels and inscriptions in German; on the table by the bed was a handsome watch, hanging on a stand and a purple vase of white roses.

After Marianna had gone Lucie sat by the fire in sheer weariness.

What did she want, she asked herself, what was wrong now?

She wasn't grateful, she wasn't happy; one duty accomplished, others rose up, like spectres. Mrs. Falconer, Sophie, urging her to return, as if their whole lives hung on her presence; taking it for granted that she would return, when she was free and devote her life to them; well, she was free now—free of Pio, anyhow. And this other man?

She was in his house now, all her affairs in his hands, he set up as dictator over her life. What did they want or expect of each other? Like a pursued animal released from a trap darts back there again to be rid of the hunters, so Lucie's mind doubled to the prison from which it had escaped.

Marriage.

There is nothing else for a woman, she thought, I must try and make him marry me.

And where did her freedom, her independence go?

As wife to a man like Carlo Ghisleri she would be his mere echo, in a few years his slave; once again her own tastes, thoughts, wishes, would be completely overshadowed, not this time by weak tyranny and sickness, but by a superior intellect, a stronger character.

Already he had set her down in his surroundings; she ought to have been pleased and grateful, but—

Supposing Pio had been an ordinary husband and the baby had lived; yesterday there would have been a birthday cake and presents and a little party—Mrs. Falconer, happy and pleased, Sophie married—she with another baby by now, Sophie with one, too—everything ordinary.

"Yes, I should have liked best to have had it ordinary," sighed Lucie.

§ IV

Next day the whole air was sun-washed, the long storm over at length.

He came early while Marianna was on the Piazza and Lucie was in the bright little garden that had been freshly filled with dahlias and geraniums.

"I was horrid last night," said Lucie. "So tired I really slept last night."

"I meant that you should," he answered.

He followed her into the house.

For a while he spoke of her affairs, the Villa Calvini, the transference of her property to her present residence, the writing to the Simonetti family.

"Yes," said Lucie. "And what are you going to do with me?"

"I'm going to marry you," he answered. "You'll have no less, I know. And it is wrong. I am too old for you. My life is too stormy. I never meant to marry. In a few years you'll be an old man's nurse—and you—you may not like my manner of living—but—" his voice the beautiful quality of which made music of his words, took on a note of anguish, "I couldn't let you go, Lucie."

"I don't want to go. I'll marry you. You know that."

"At once? So that we can go to Florence together?"

"Yes."

"I'll speak to the sindaco to-day," he said joyously.

§ V

That evening he brought her bad news.

"Impetuous fool that I am! In Italy a widow can't marry for a year after her husband's death. I had forgotten."

"I'll wait," said Lucie.

"I—cannot wait. The time has been long enough already."

They looked at each other; it was an impasse.

"You've got to go to Florence and I've got to go to England—that will pass the time. I'm happy like this," pleaded Lucie.

"Lucie—will you come away with me now? You've no longer a husband to consider."

"You won't even consider it! What is marriage—to a woman of your intelligence? What hinders you? You say no one cares what you do—Lucie, what weighs with you now?"

"The—children."

He did not press her further; they held the matter in abeyance.

§ VI

Followed golden winter days of perfect companionship, of walks along a sea shore that no longer appeared desolate; of days spent on the mountains and in the mountain villages.

Yes, Lucie actually climbed those mountains that, seen so often from the Villa Calvini, had appeared as prison walls.

They spent all day and every day together; with the dusk he always came to say "goodnight" and Marianna would lock him out and give Lucie the keys.

They arranged Pio's affairs with decorum; everything he had left of any value was sent to his family; his clothes were given to the hospital in Florence; everyone who had anything whatever to do with his illness was handsomely rewarded; the health authorities took over the Villa Calvini and cleaned and disinfected it; the cost of this was a strain on Lucie's limited resources, but far less than it would have been had not Carlo Ghisleri been behind her, watchful for her interests.

Among the books and papers she had left in Sicily and Pio had brought away with him, she found his letters to her—nearly four hundred love letters.

They burnt them in the garden one clear afternoon, in front of the agaves and geraniums and all other papers and photographs relating to the dead man, sprinkling them with oil, salt and wine.

The charred scraps of paper floated away over the seashore, the sea-lavender and sea pinks, withered and dry; and when they went to the gate to watch them disappear into the still ether, they saw them all drift to one point where on a hillock of sand a woman cloaked in gray knelt and blended with the winter twilight.

§ VII

She found a way to recompense Don Jiacinto, the priest.

She ordered a full requiem service with organ and choir and the new set of funeral hangings that could only be brought out for "persona signorile," and she paid double the modest sum he asked.

Lucie could not go herself for she had no mourning; Marianna took her place with gloomy importance and told everyone that her mistress was too stricken with grief to appear.

But Lucie and Carlo had gone up the hills to escape the tolling of the bells.

That day they walked for hours through the chestnut woods through which they could always look down on that great space of light, the sea and sky like liquid silver, between Spezia and Livorno.

§ VIII

At last there was nothing more to do; no possible excuse for remaining in Forte dei Marni, no glimmer of reason for prolonging the enchantment.

Mrs. Falconer wrote desperately, urgently, pleading, commanding.

And Lucie's work was suffering; she wasn't earning anything; and there were still debts of Pio's to be paid.

And he—he had his own world to face, his own business, his own affairs, his friends, his family.

Lucie did not want to know what kind of letters he was receiving, but she could guess.

Scandal, gossip, blackmail, back-biting—she had' resolutely put these out of her head.

But she was aware that they existed, and were waiting to spring on them, just round the corner.

"I don't see how we can part," she said helplessly. "I've grown to look to you for everything. To learn everything from you. If only we could have been married. I'm frightened to part like this."

And yet there was no alternative; they had discussed the position over and over again.

They could do nothing without a scandal that would be intolerable unless they separated.

As they were both Italian subjects, a marriage in England was not feasible, at least they thought so; and she shrank from his coming with her, or following her to London; she wanted to lead his life, not to draw him into hers.

No, better that they should part; she could come back soon, in May or June, when each had ordered their affairs, and take a villa in Como or Lago della Garda, perhaps with Sophie or Mrs. Falconer or both, and next December (still a whole year off!) they could be married.

This plan which seemed to both of them cold and nebulous was the best they could evolve after many heart breaking conferences, some tears on her part and some curses on his; to give the thing more permanency she wrote news of her secret engagement (hideous word!) to Mrs. Falconer and he told his family.

Still they became restless and unhappy, as the days shortened they passed hours of veritable anguish.

§ IX

"Lucie," he said, when she had begun packing (actually packing for departure), "we could be married before you left. Don Jiacinto would do it—"

She looked up amazed.

"Of course! I never thought—"

"He is a. very good friend of mine. I belong nominally to the church. So do you."

Lucie laughed.

"It sounds crazy."

"Well, we are crazy—both of us."

"Would it be legal?"

"Well, then—"

"It would be a marriage," he persisted. "I thought," he added, "you might make it do."

He spoke with such a mingling of humour and anguish that Lucie laughed again.

"Well, I haven't done much to oblige you," she smiled, half in jest. "If Don Jiacinto doesn't mind—but I don't see what good it would do you," she finished.

"I would take you away for these last few days you are in Italy."

She could not look at him; she had difficulty in controlling her own importunate heart.

"You must," he said almost roughly. "Via, what more do you want, you impossible Puritan—"

"It's grotesque!" said Lucie. "Oh, I'm getting all muddled up again. I don't know what is right—"

"I don't care," he replied, "there is no need to complicate it—we've only got a few days. Will you do it?"

He caught her and held her, which wasn't fair, she thought.

Only a few days—

She said "Yes."


Chapter Thirty-Four

§ I

LUCIE could not have put into any words or by any medium expressed, her attitude towards this man.

He seemed to have come into her life like a veritable magician, turning her hopelessness into joy, transmuting her shabby existence into splendour, giving her a new vision and a new strength, filling her barren days with a thousand interests.

And he had cured her of the blight of loneliness that had fallen over her mind and soul; she had no thought or feeling or fancy so intimate that he did not discern and sympathize with it; he understood all her foolish, complicated emotions, all her leaping untaught enthusiasms, all her fears and reticences: she could hide nothing from him; that was his most splendid flattery, that he did not love her for any one aspect, or any false aspect carefully presented to him, but for what she really was; he knew all her faults, weaknesses and limitations and glorified them with his tenderness.

All she had in her of good he encouraged and praised; Lucie's ardent timid nature expanded gratefully in such an atmosphere; she had had so little commendation in her own life, but he was not afraid to be prodigal with his praises, even of her cooking and her needle-work, the little, little things she loved.

There was nothing that did not appear beautiful when seen through his eyes, he invested a weed, a lichen cup, a shell, a pebble with all the splendour and mystery of the Chimera or the Gorgons, all the shining wonder of the ancient world.

He saw nature in a clear radiance, always serene, always lovely, kind to those who loved her, kind even when she dealt them death.

To him cities were but incidents, the forest, the sea, the mountains were to him the only realities; "levabo oculos"—he could in very truth.

He acknowledged no evil but disease, that devil to whom man is ever building temples with his towns and factories, his damp churches and sunless monasteries, and he acknowledged no God save that all-pervading Presence which is only made manifest t? those at one with Nature.

His life had been all decisive action; regardless of censure, jealousy, fame, success, he had gone from one endeavour, one achievement to another, always serene, modest, dominant. Lucie could have worshipped him for this alone; she was so used to an atmosphere charged with feminine vacillations, gambles with chance, scrambles after luck, emotional instability, hysteric crises, with the mood and whims of a weak sick man, with a variety of fretful, feverish folk who could not make terms with life or come to grips with the central facts of existence that such a char-. after as his, resolute, calm, in every trait magnificent, seemed t? her godlike; she felt that however long she lived, or however far she travelled from him, she would be more lonely or more sad now she had once been loved by such a man.

Her present shining felicity which pervaded her whole being as the clear winter sunshine pervaded every field and lane, wood and stream of the Tuscan landscape did not seem to Lucie to have any permanency; it had too much of the nature of enactment, it partook too much of the magic of a dream.

She did not believe in this future they discussed so rapturously, she could not credit anything save the golden sweet present.

And through all his speech to her ran the note of regret, of yearning.

"I am too old for you, Lucie. This should have happened twenty years ago."

"You are youth itself," she would answer, but he would shake his splendid conqueror's head.

"See my gray hair, Lucie. Ah, what a life we should have had together, we two—what I could have done with such a woman as you beside me!"

And her radiance would be dimmed by anguish for that impossible glory she had missed.

She dare not think of it—dare not.

"Still I have met you," she insisted on the triumphant fact. "Think of a life empty of you! I can't. How can I be grateful enough? I was afraid of you at first when Pio died. I wanted to be free! Now I want to be a slave. Your slave."

They stood where the gleaming ripples of the little stream flowed down from the mountains, stood where the sweet water ran through the smooth sand into the salt of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The hills were hyacinth purple against the crystal blue of the winter sky, and belted beneath their marble crags and peaks by the lavish gold of the chestnut trees; purple, too, the ocean beneath the wide pallor of the evening air and empty as if man did not exist.

The wind blew keen and pure with frost from unknown lands, and sharp and bright the horns of the young crescent moon showed through the sombre boughs of the pines. Lucie leant against her companion.

"What does it matter if there is nothing more?" she said. "Even if I am to be emptied into the air as a glass of water into the sea, at least I have had these moments."


Chapter Thirty-Five

§ I

"I WON'T go," said Lucie desperately. "I won't leave you. Why should I? I am afraid of this parting, afraid to go away."

"It is better that you should go, Lucie," he answered. "We could not continue this life. And I should do you a wrong to keep you from your people and your home any longer."

"If you could understand that I have neither!" exclaimed Lucie.

But there was the double-edged goad always urging her spirit, the goad of Mrs. Falconer, the goad of the money.

"I ought to go," she added sorrowfully.

"How you torture yourself with this sense of duty," he smiled, "our last, our worst superstition. If you do not care for these people, do not go back to them. There are other places besides London where you can spend this miserable year."

"My aunt loves me. And Sophie looks to me. It is the habit of all my life to feel responsible towards them. It has been like chains. Always."

"And you are going back to it?"

"Only for this little while. Only just to see what I can do for them," pleaded Lucie.

"And yet you were dreaming of freedom when Pio died?"

"I know. But? haven't got it in me to be free. All the liberty and independence I've had has been wasted on me. I'm glad to give it up, glad. I've never known what to do with it."

"No woman ever has, Lucie."

"In England we have a great many who seem to—very successful and resolute and wonderful, but I—it never did me any good to be so independent, to have my own living at my finger tips, to have no one to check or direct me—look at my work. It is rather good, really. I can do a lot of things quite well. But I could never give that side of me a chance really—because I wanted things that did not fit in with a career. And now—I don't want to do anything over again. I'm just absorbed in being a woman—that makes you passive—serving, waiting—I'd rather make babies' bonnets than paint, I'd rather cook your dinner than write, I'd rather have you love me than be famous, or useful or powerful. You see what it is to be a woman!"

§ II

Lucie shrank from the Roman Catholic marriage, it seemed to her it was her lover's conversion to her superstition.

"It would be some sort of ceremony to bind us together," he argued. "It would make me feel that you were really mine when you were so far away."

But Lucie knew there was something else he liked about it the adventure, the "craziness," the "panache," the romance, for these were things she herself loved; the dull and the commonplace were abhorrent to both of them, and he had never submitted to either though she had had to live with both so long.

But even while she hesitated they were foiled, as before, by practical difficulties; there were no people whom they could trust as witnesses, and Don Jiacinto was not likely to be prevailed upon to arrange a wholly clandestine ceremony.

They laughed, like two children baulked of a mischief, and spoke of it no more.

§ III

The preparations for departure filled the first days of January, they were seldom alone and never at leisure.

Lucie had gone to Livorno for the French and English visé on her passport, and therefore she decided to take the train from Pisa instead of returning to Viareggio. He would come with her till the last possible moment they would be together.

So one clear cold afternoon it was really over; farewells had been said, the weeping munificently rewarded Marianna embraced, not without heart stirrings, and Lucie and Carlo Ghisleri were in the little "carrozza" rattling towards Pietrasanta station.

Lucie was surprised by the warmth of the greetings from the peasants and little shop-keepers as they passed by; whatever scandal might be abroad these humble folk she scarcely knew by sight regarded her with simple good will; they halted at the little flat church to say goodbye to Don Jiacinto and he gave them his blessing.

"As good as a marriage," said Carlo Ghisleri.

It was curious to be in a train again, among ordinary people; Lucie felt shy and awkward, half afraid of her companion, who, in orthodox attire and surroundings, seemed more than half lost to her; she had again the sensation of being an alien in his world, while he was in high spirits and great good humour.

They had entered an empty carriage, but at Viareggio four men got in; Lucie was surprised at her companion's sharp exclamation of vexation, until she saw him instantly surrounded by the four voluble newcomers.

His friends.

Lucie moved further into her corner and pulled down her gray veil; these would be some of the people who hated her, had reviled her and would find their tales confirmed now.

"It looks just like an elopement," thought Lucie, not without humour.

She appraised the four men covertly; they all had the very distinguished air of aristocratic Italians who get their clothes in London and their servants in Paris; one was a handsome young soldier, in the showy uniform of the "granateri"; all were extremely well-mannered and never as much as glanced at her. Carlo Ghisleri held his own with admirable composure.

"Perhaps he is going to pretend that he isn't with me," thought Lucie, and she was quite prepared to act up to this if it saved him embarrassment.

But at this moment he turned and presented his friends to her one by one—strange to hear herself called "la Signora Simonetti," and to hear him' speak to her in the third person.

They bowed to her with smiling politeness. Lucie liked all of them; the young soldier's glance gave her the facile admiration of the southerner.

Indeed Lucie with a sun-kissed face and bright hair curling under her smoke-coloured cavalier hat, in her heavy gray travelling coat, white doeskin gloves and elegant shoes looked a different creature to the haggard hopeless woman who had journeyed into Italy a year ago.

Lucie in love took some trouble with her appearance, Lucie flushed with happiness was a bright graceful charming creature with a personality both wilful and passionate and yet dignified.

She smiled and talked now quite easily, pleased with the amiability and courtesy of the strangers, and then was suddenly and painfully checked' by a chance glance of Carlo Ghisleri's face; he looked both sombre and displeased and shot her a glance of haughty reprimand.

Lucie rose instantly, complaining of the heat of the carriage, and stepped out into the corridor.

The train was rushing past the long belt of wild forest that before the War had belonged to an Austrian Archduke and Lucie looked unseeingly at the shapes of the great trees in their golden foliage as they tore by. In her agitation and abstraction she slightly leant against the door, which, after the careless Italian fashion was not latched. It gave, flew wide open and Lucie saw the steel and gravel of the line whizzing beneath her feet. Instinct made her stand motionless; the men in the carriage all sprang forward; the young soldier who was the nearest caught hold of her and pulled her back; it took two of them to close the door which had swung against the wind.

Pisa was reached almost immediately and Lucie found herself on the platform of the huge iron and brick station feeling both foolish and humiliated.

"Why are you angry with me?" she asked at once, as soon as her companion had finished with the porter.

"To laugh with those men! And we have to part in a few hours."

"Aren't they your friends?"

"Friends, no!"

"Well, I was only civil."

"I shall never like to see you like that with strangers. There you are too English."

"I suppose I am," said poor Lucie in amazement. He vented his irritation now on the meeting.

"Are we never to be free of this espionage, never at peace? Why must we run on those fools? This will be all over Florence."

"Does it matter?" asked Lucie wearily.

He looked at her more kindly.

"If you were a woman who used for her reputation, you wouldn't say that."

"I'm not. If I'm offending the customs of your country, I'm sorry. But I don't feel as if I was doing anything scandalous."

Her lip quivered and she let down her veil.

"You need not resent it that I dislike to compromise you," he answered. "For one so puritanical you are very careless of appearance."

Lucie sighed with dismay; they had come near to quarrelling—at the last minute; the scene had, too, that horrible element of the ridiculous that Lucie was too quick to discern; the argument on the long, dirty, empty platform with their hand luggage at their feet, while the blowed porter waited at a respectful distance with her trunks.

Carlo Ghisleri had arranged, with complete prudence, that he was to see Lucie to the hotel where she had wired for rooms, then to go to Livorno and meet her there to-morrow when she went for her visé.

Under this scheme they had but half an hour and it seemed impossible to Lucie that they should part like this.

"Take a later train," she suggested, "and let us go and have tea somewhere."

"Do you mean that?"

"Of course."

"I don't deserve it," he said quickly. "Forgive me, darling. But it is better for me to go at once."

They looked at each other but the moment was too strong for them.

"I told my friends that I was going on to Livorno on business. We might meet someone in Pisa," he still hesitated.

"I really don't care. I want you to stay."

"Where did you wire for your room?"

"To the 'Splendide.'"

"An unbearable place—for commercial travellers. I will take you to the 'Tritone.' You will like that—"

§ IV

It was a cold but radiant day, of flashing sunbeams under luminous rain-clouds; the still spaces of the air lay like a wash of light over the beautiful town, the double curve of the time-stained marble palaces sweeping all the high banks of the yellow tumbling waters of the Arno that raced to the sea now so near, spanned by the graceful arches of the noble old bridge.

The cold had disbanded the usual groups of students and idlers and the town seemed empty; in its obvious decay, in its ruined beauty, in its majestic lines telling of an older more leisured age, in something forlorn in the barren river and deserted palaces, it touched the heart with a sense of melancholy, of yearning, of regret.

Lucie however felt the clouds lift from her heart as they rattled through the cobbled streets in the shabby little "vettura" with Carlo Ghisleri by her side; she always reacted to the stimulus of beauty.

They drove towards Pisa Marina, feeling the sea breeze in their faces as the low clouds shifted and raced across the liquid depths of the blue ether, and stopped at a lonely and deserted point at the end of the left side of the Lung' Arno.

Lucie saw a flat-topped house of the usual mediaeval type, yellowish marble with horseshoe arched windows, heavy stone balconies and delicate pilasters.

Above the door was a faded coat-of-arms painted on a shield.

The interior of the place was as peaceful, as ancient seeming as the outside; a placid old man received them without surprise and immediately consigned Lucie the whole of the "piano nobile"; the place was empty, appeared to have always been empty and to have little hopes of ever being anything else; the ground floor was furnished as a restaurant, and either this paid, or the proprietor had some other way of earning his living.

"It is not the season," said the old man calmly. "I don't quite know why we keep open."

Lucie was delighted with the place, so remote, dignified, so full of character and personality, and Carlo Ghisleri was pleased with her pleasure.

"We will dine here," he said, "there are several late trains to Pisa."

They sat at one of the long tables already covered with a limp white cloth; tea of course was out of the question, there was good coffee and damp sweet biscuits and marzipane—but for dinner you could have anything you liked.

Lucie went upstairs while her companion ordered this dinner, a matter of time and ceremony.

There were two bedrooms, two antechambers and a "salotto" in the centre, all with painted canvas walls representing sylvan scenes in sad tones of green, the main room having a huge Venetian candelebra in coloured glass, and a suite of red plush covered furniture arranged exactly on the red tiled floor; this opened into the large balcony; each bedroom on to a smaller one, all looked directly down on to the narrow roadway, the low parapet and the turbid waters of the Arno.

All the rooms were sombre, shadowy with a worn and threadbare look in all the furnishing yet full of melancholy, dignity, and sad distinction.

Lucie, shuddering in the cold enclosed air, asked the slipshod old chambermaid for a fire in one of the bedrooms, and the "salotto". She glanced at herself in the long, dull, greenish mirror, in her gray clothes, nothing bright but her hair; she looked, in the depths of the old looking-glass, as if she was some ghost returned to her ancient home.

How far off already seemed the Villa Calvini—Marianna, Villa Tristan—the memory of Pio, how further off still (relegated indeed to an impossible distance) that world to which she was so soon returning—Mrs. Falconer, Sophie, London.

To Lucie, sharply aware of the atmosphere, keenly alive to surroundings, it seemed as if this place cut her off from all she had experienced and all she was going to experience; the present moments were isolated, unique.

She went downstairs smiling.

"You like the place?" asked Carlo Ghisleri.

"Of course, but it is haunted, I think."

"I like that. Haunted by real lives, not by the mere echoes of gettings up and lyings down and eating and gossiping. Things really happened here."

"It was a private house?" asked Lucie.

"The palace of the Sebaldi—one of the daughters loved your poet Byron when he was their neighbour here." Lucie pulled on her gauntlet gloves.

"Shall we go out? There is nowhere to sit," she said. "The 'salotto' is so cold—what time is dinner?"

"At seven—you must be hungry."

"And your train?"

"Oh, there are plenty of trains."

§ V

They walked the cold twilight streets of Pisa. The keen air, blowing up from the sea, along the deep dark river, made Lucie shiver through her thick coat; yet it was a pleasurable sensation; above the sharp outline of the sombre palaces along the Lung' Arno the sky now clear of vapour, paled to a pellucid azure tinged with saffron; they crossed the first bridge they came to and stood on the middle of the beautiful arch, looking down into the rapid ochre-ish waters.

He told her how he won a race here years before—rowing from Florence "in the Venetian manner" and he showed her the steps where he had landed.

"Afterwards we had dinner at the 'Tritone'—it was gay then. Now it has changed management and decayed, the whole city has decayed."

Lucie looked at him as he leant on the parapet of the ancient bridge. His serene and stately figure so magnificently above the common make and size, his noble good looks, made him appear as if he, like the city, belonged to another and more spacious time.

The dim lights, at long intervals, began to show along the embankment, the primitive illumination of the scattered lamps, scarcely changed from that of the Middle Ages, were in keeping with the ancient city.

The moon, nearly full and glowing white, mounted through the purple flush of the dusk, and showed above the shadowed forms of the silent palaces.

"Lucie," said the man quietly, "I should not have been vexed to-day. But it has been a long strain. This constant espionage! This living under the microscope! My nerves are chafed."

"I should not have thought that possible," she answered gently.

"Nor I. But it happened. I was deeply vexed we met those men. As soon as I am in Florence I shall tell them that you are going to be my wife."

"Just as you wish. As you said, I am careless of those points. Living as I've lived makes you simply grasp at the realities, when you get them, without counting the cost," smiled Lucie.

"Even if some tale, some scandal got to England, would you care?"

"No.—I'm too happy."

§ VI

They prolonged the pleasant dinner in the big, dim, half-empty restaurant.

He would go by the 8.45—he would go by the 9.30. He missed that and there was a two hours' wait for the next.

"It is childish to go at all," said Lucie. "Stay and we can go by the first train in the morning."

"Stay here?"

"Why not?" Lucie drank her white wine slowly. "According to you I've no reputation to lose and I like to have you near. And no one knows. I do feel that a relief, too—to be among strangers and not to have to think of the effect one is making!"

"Yes. It was killing me. More than you know, Lucia. I'll stay—if you really want it."

"I really want it."

It did indeed seem incredible that he should leave her now—horrible that he should go away in the night leaving her alone; something might happen to one of them before the morning; Lucie clung to the flying skirts of Fate.

"No, no, you mustn't go."

They went up to the big "salotto" where a generous fire of orange wood burnt; the room was pleasantly warm. "Did you sign the book for me here?" asked Lucie. "Yes, they think you are a relation under my charge—they are half-dead. Don't trouble about them."

They sat in the faded red chairs with no light but the blaze of the logs.

"Read to me, Lucie. That English poetry that I cannot understand but which is so beautiful. She fetched one of the little books she had bought in Viareggio and sat at his feet. By the firelight she read:


"I sing of Brooks, of Blossoms, Birds and Bowers,
Of April, May, of June and July flowers,
I sing of Maypoles, Hock-carts, Wassails, Wakes,
Of Bridegrooms, Brides and of their Bridall-cakes.
I write of Youth—of Love—"


The flame faded.

"I can't see," said Lucie.

He took her hand; the flame spurted up as another log caught.


"I sing of Time's banshifting; and I write
How Roses first came red and Lilies white
I write of Groves, of Twilights—"


"What have you put on my finger?" asked Lucie. It was his mother's wedding-ring.

"Will you wear it always—always?"

The book dropped, she bent her head on his knee and her eyes were hot with sudden tears.

"Always—always."


Thirty-Six

§ I

INCREDIBLY far away seemed everything to Lucie; these transient moments had more permanency than any long period she had known; it seemed intolerable that this should end, yet it did not matter at all that it was so fleeting; it was, it had actually happened and the whole of her life would be filled and changed, as a clear white glass is filled and changed when a rich coloured perfumed wine is poured in.

She sat at his feet, looking into the big open fire.

"Supposing I had never met you, what should I have done with the rest of my life?" she asked, looking up at him.

His look was one almost of anguish.

"The rest of life?" he replied tenderly. "I cannot be with you always, cars, for you are so young."

"It doesn't matter," cried Lucie passionately. "You know it doesn't matter. You and I—I am sure we are together for always. For eternity, I am sure. I don't know what I believe, but I do know that—we are united for a span far far beyond this life—in some other star—"

"What does it matter if it is true or not as long as you believe it?" he answered under his breath.

"I do believe it. I feel you, when you are not there, about me—I am sure of you, nothing that has happened would make any difference. You remember, when we first met, I, who was so reserved and shy—I came to you at once, was never offended, never frightened. I tried to hold on to worldly conventions—"

"Ah, these conventions, Lucie!"

"They are far away from us to-night," she answered, her radiant face golden in the fireglow. "Think of all the years I shall remember this—a long life perhaps—but never have a moment like this moment."

She touched his fine hand where it grasped the arm of the chair.

"And you? What have I given you in exchange for what you have given me? I've just smashed into your life...taking everything...you've been hurt because of me, and angered. And what have I, so wild and weak to give to you? A man like you?"

She felt his hand tremble under hers. As he answered the mellow quality of his voice roughened with emotion.

"I've always found life magnificent, Lucie. I've enjoyed every hour of my existence, work and play, but never, even in my most ardent youth, did I dream of such splendour as you have revealed to me—I held Love lightly for I had never seen his wings unfurled yes, I do believe now in immortality—it must be so."

"To think that we have found it—you and I," said Lucie, hoarsely, "this union that we believe in it—you and I—always—for all eternity. I understand it all. Why man invented Heaven this life isn't enough—"

He rose abruptly, so that she was still kneeling at his feet. "Promise me this, Lucie—you have got to promise me. You are to do as I bid you. Always."

"Anything you ask of me."

"If anything happens to me you are not to come to me."

"Why should you say that?" shuddered Lucie.

"You are not to see me as less than I am now. You are not to know me—ill—.-disabled—old—"

"I want to be with you always. Why do you speak so?"

"Lucie, 'Lucie, promise. No matter why I ask. This promise means everything to me. Promise."

"I will do what you tell me. You know that."

"And you will be happy—Lucie—always happy? Whether I am with you or not?"

Lucie rose to her feet.

"You—you speak as if I was going away for ever—don't say these things—Oh, don't!"

She put her slim arm round his massive shoulders holding him tightly in her sudden fear, but he put her aside with desperate quickness.

"What do you think I can endure? I've had four months of this, Lucie. My God—the nights I've had—Lucie, you should have gone away before!"

She almost shrank from the intensity of the emotion shown in his swift words; from head to foot shivering she leant against the old red chair.

"I bring you nothing but anguish," she murmured, her radiance clouded.

"Why do you deny yourself to me? You are mine but I must not touch you. You do not wholly trust me—you keep me on the rack because of some fear—of me, of the world—"

"That is not true," said Lucie smiling sadly, "or should I be here to-night?"

She looked at him and suddenly all her strength failed; she did not know what to do or say; she shivered, cold with excitement, her throat was constricted and her hands shook; she glanced round the dark old room, now like a cavern of shadows, then back to the fire from which the flames had faded leaving a still, red, glowing heart.

"Why did you ask me to stay?" he questioned out of the warm gloom that almost obscured him.

"I wanted you to respect me," said Lucie dully.

"Respect you! My poor child, what words you use! And you—speaking of eternity—"

"I can't argue," she said, "I can't. I'll go now. In the morning we'll talk again."

"You'll go—to sleep?"

"Oh! Sleep!"

She crossed to her ante-room door and opened it. The inner light of the other fire fell over her figure. He was beside her very quickly and took her fingers from the handle.

"Lucie—if I were to kiss you now—"

"You won't!" she whispered quickly, looking down, huddled together, shut away upon herself, like a wild creature foiled at a touch. "Goodnight, goodnight—"

He put his hand on her shoulder and lightly turned her round; she could not, with all her gathered forces, have resisted the lightest manifestation of his strength.

"Please leave me," she begged, "please. I want you to go away."

He let go of her and she slipped into the narrow dark ante-room.

"You have conquered," he said; she saw him turn in a downcast way towards the dying fire.

Lucie stood by the cold white bed; her fire was also only a heap of ashes now, giving the faintest radiance; the moon high in the heavens showed in the arch of the window faintly illuminating the dark green wall paintings, the melancholy glades, the drooping trees, the ruined temples and solitary huntsmen.

Lucie had put out her candle because of the great shadows it made; hastily she had opened her valise, taken out a night-dress and a yellow silk shawl and a pair of yellow leathern slippers.

Quickly she bathed in the icy water, undressed, let down and combed her hair, and then, with the shawl over her shoulders, crouched down by the embers, her face in her hands.

"What have I done?" she thought. "It must be something wicked for I feel so unhappy. Turning away from him was like killing something."

She shivered.

Supposing he was estranged? Supposing they never met again? All their future hung on the chances, the vicissitudes of every day.

Nothing was certain, except Death.

That was certain—Death.

She might die before she could come back.

And he? He had spoken of ill health—of age—of disablement.

Supposing this is all I've got just these little, little hours?

She was on her knees now, her chilled hands clasped on her breast.

Who was there to consider but this one man? Who has ever done for me what he has done? How can I be sure enough of any other moments to put these aside?

She went to the window and looked at the moon and the silver heavens that bleached the palaces opposite and the strong waters of the Arno hurrying to the great spaces of the sea.

Shivering she drew her shawl closer and left the sombre bed-chamber; the ante-room was dark, in the empty "salotto" a little glow lingered from the fallen logs, glittered in the hundred facets of the candelebra and showed again sad woodland scenes, old, gloomy painted on the walls.

Through the window now, the moon, as if it had followed her, poured down the misty colourless light.

Lucie passed into the second ante-chamber; a faint lint of light showed under his door; she knocked on it with her cold fingers.

She heard his step and did not move; he opened the door; he was still fully dressed and held a candle.

Lucie looked up at him, her hands were clasped tight; it was rather the attitude of a penitent child.

"I am sorry," she said, "I was wrong. Kiss me now." The yellow silk shawl fell from her shoulders and at his feet; still he neither spoke nor moved.

"Kiss me," repeated Lucie.

"I will not take you from your altar," he answered unsteadily, "Madonina!"

Lucie shook her head.

"I'm not. Only a woman. A woman, do understand. Oh, God, do you think I have not suffered, too! Take me."

He drew her across the threshold, striking out and dropping the candle.

"If you had not come—" the words were like a sob through the swathes of hair he held to his lips.


Chapter Thirty-Seven

§ I

THE next day they went to Livorno; Lucie was so filled with an inner rapture that the fact of her impending departure made no impression on her; neither her, heart nor her mind could receive any image or thought of unhappiness. The day in the straggling sea-port, in parts so sordid, in parts so opulent, to her consisted of hours of unclouded delight; her radiant spirit leapt the immediate parting to the near future when there would be no parting. How fresh, how magnificent, how vivid the world looked that clear winter's day—with what zest the crisp sea sparkled under a sky of crystal brightness, touched with what magic were the soaring palms and the tufted tamarisks in the gardens that stretched along the ocean-side, how entrancing was the little restaurant where they had their meal, how beyond measure fragrant the close packed bunch of small hard roses and odourless violets tied up with silver paper that she carried back to Pisa; and what enchantment was over the short railway journey when she looked at the sparse pine forests veiled in white vapours, the ground a-bloom with bluish lichen full of cups that held the frost dews.

§ II

But that evening when she looked at her ticket, her passport, her valises waiting to be strapped, reaction gripped her in an anguish of fear.

"I can't go," she said, "why should I? It is ridiculous."

She turned to him with an impulse that was almost like an outcry of terror.

"How can I bear to let you go?"

"Lucie," he answered gently, "have you' really nothing else in your life that matters to you?"

What was there? Even Mrs. Falconer, even Sophie, even the necessity of earning money, were as nothing compared to the necessity of her love.

"What prevents me from staying?" she added. "If I cannot come to Florence, I could wait here—somewhere near—"

She was answered by the anguish in his face.

"You want me to go?"

"Yes, Lucie. You must go. If you would not burden me with a remorse that will kill my soul—return to England."

Lucie sighed.

"Perhaps it is better, but it seems wrong."

"It is wrong," he replied, "but it must be—Lucie, I gave you life and liberty, I saved you from engulfing horrors—use what I gave you. You have so many years ahead all weaving fresh patterns for you. You must live your life, healthy, happy, loved—never must you be caged or cramped or saddened—least of all by me."

"I don't understand. You speak as if we were going to part—for ever."

He put his hands quickly on her shoulders.

"And if we were, Lucie? If we were? You would remember your promise? You would not betray me by disobedience?"

"I have promised," whispered Lucie, with dry lips. "But—why do you speak like this? Aren't we going to be happy? Aren't we going to be together? What should get in the way?"

He laughed now and tried to soothe her, but she continued to tremble; their ecstasy was built on such a frail foundation; the rushing minutes were being swept so ruthlessly into the formless dark, so transitory seemed this blaze of joy, a dizzy pinnacle for one instant gained, in one instant lost as the weak foothold crumbles and the inadequate adventurer sinks to dull levels.

But you can never forget the blaze of splendour that you saw, the whole glory of the outspread earth, the complete blaze of the entire heavens.

§ III

Yet it seemed impossible that they should part; the pain and passion of those last hours transcended joy and became agony.

The train left in the early morning, bitterest hour of the day, and through all the sleepless night the white spectre of the dawn beckoned them, grim and cold.

Only a few hours—only two hours, only one hour.

And now the pallid light shows above the house-tops, reveals the running waters of the Arno, slips through the sad green curtains, touches the melancholy sylvan scenes, the wide space of ashes of the spent fire and the exhausted woman, half-unconscious on her lover's shoulder while he draws her bright shawl tenderly over her chilled body.

"Lucie—it is time."

"I know," she whispered. She had seen the pitiless light pick up the cold white space of the bed, the embers of the desolate hearth, the forlorn huntsmen in the melancholy landscapes on the walls.

"Did you sleep a little?" he asked.

"I think—a little—"

"In my arms, Lucie, you slept in my arms."

She raised herself and put her long hands behind his neck.

"This is for all time, you know," she said, with passionate gravity. "To all eternity."

"For all time—mine, my own. Think of it, Lucie—perhaps we are immortal in our spirits and have ages on other stars—if we are not, in the elements to which we shall return we shall mingle—always together—ah, kiss me once more."

§ IV

In the cold salotto they drank their coffee, Lucie in her heavy coat and veil, her valises strapped, her hands gloved, her bag ready with her ticket, her passport, her money.

She was not wholly sad; the after-glow from such raptures as hers cannot so easily fade away; but he was controlling with painful difficulty an overwhelming agitation.

She tried to talk of her return.

"Shall I come in May?"

"Lucie—you must not come till you can be with me always—do you think I could see you now as anything but my wife? We cannot meet as friends, Lucie."

"In October, then?"

"It is too long—I must come to England."

He put his coffee cup down on the table, she heard it rattle sharply and glanced up, his hand and arm were trembling with unnatural violence.

He saw her glance and said quietly,

"That is why you must not come till I send for you."

"Is it—serious?"

He tried to reassure the instant terror in her voice and face.

"No—no—I have been too strong, too healthy, I am spoilt for the least inconvenience. Do you think I cannot cure myself as I have cured so many others?"

Lucie was reassured, not wholly satisfied.

"What is it?" she asked.

He laughed, evasively.

"Did? not say that I was the one who would be smashed up by our meeting, Lucie?"

§ V

The last farewells were a blur; Lucie could never recall what they had said or done; she passed the lonely journey hardly knowing where she was, awake to life at Paris where his cable waited her and wrote to him, pages covered in passionate haste.

At Calais another wire, at Dover another; these were all that Lucie could ever remember of that journey.

And then there was the great, hideous, foul London station, and Sophie on the platform, waiting for her, in untidy mourning.

Lucie, even then still flushed and radiant with her bright green scarf and her handsome travelling clothes, felt an instant downward rush of her spirits at the sight of this figure.


Chapter Thirty-Eight

§ I

LUCIE had returned full of warm thoughts for Sophie; she had written to her in almost extravagant terms of affection which had been quite sincere, she had resolved on several measures for Sophie's happiness tinged with the brightness of her own joy.

But Sophie in the draggled black, looking pale and hard and thin-lipped, appeared suddenly in the light of an insoluble problem.

Her greeting was chilly, and as casual as if they had met yesterday.

"I've been waiting here for twenty minutes, the train is late."

Lucie fell instantly back into the old habit of constraint; they kissed awkwardly.

"Where are you going?" asked Sophie.

"I thought of an hotel for a night or so."

"My mother couldn't have you—the flat is too small and she has to leave on Wednesday. I'm sleeping at the studio."

Lucie tried to brace herself against the rush of disappointment and depression the very word "studio" brought up.

In the taxi she furtively studied Sophie, and with a shrinking feeling of repulsion, for the girl gave out an atmosphere of bored gloom that was like a miasma.

She was still dressed with an affectation of childishness; her dusty hair was fluffed and pulled out under her dingy bag cap, her skin was neglected, her eyes very clumsily darkened so that there appeared to be soot in her lashes and brows, every detail of her dress was wrong from the safety pin at the throat of her coat to the pinched velvet house shoes; Lucie could not find anything to say to her.

"Your letters have been very scrappy," said Sophie, with dry sententiousness. "We really don't know how things stand—I suppose you'll explain."

"There is nothing to explain," answered Lucie, desperately, "I'm going back to Italy in the autumn. I told you."

"It seems very strange. I should have thought you would have waited a little."

"I am waiting. Nothing is announced."

"I suppose not," said Sophie acidly. "My mother doesn't care for you marrying a foreigner again. She has been very, very shocked by Pio's death."

"But she knew for so long," said Lucie, and added in her thought, "and disliked him so much."

"It was a great shock," insisted Sophie. "She was so fond of him."

Lucie could not answer this; it was grotesque.

"I told you I was not wearing mourning, Sophie," she said, gently.

"I prefer to wear it. I also was very fond of Pio," said Sophie, primly.

§ II

At the hotel she announced that she would stay there, too; Mrs. Falconer had asked her to keep Lucie company; with secret dismay her cousin consented; this homecoming was a heavy business, but the thought of Carlo Ghisleri was sufficient to keep her radiant.

At lunch Sophie began to talk; Lucie wanted to go out and send off a cable but she listened patiently while Sophie talked on over the empty coffee cups.

The same talk; about herself entirely, as if there really was nothing in the world but Sophie Falconer.

Lucie and her experiences were pushed aside as if they were of no account whatever; Sophie was exactly where she had been a year ago, except that she was a shade more dusty and dingy, a shade more melancholy and vain.

The history of this twelve months was like the history of every twelve months before from the time that Sophie, at fourteen, put her hair up and went to an Art Students' Dance looking really lovely and behaving with sulky rudeness.

She and her mother had lived in Lucie's flat till the lease was up; then they had gone to stay with one of Mrs. Falconer's old friends; this had ended in a devastating quarrel—Sophie the cause with her slovenly, lazy ways and her sharp tongue.

Then they had "borrowed" the tiny flat of a journalist friend; then they had gone to sea-side lodgings, then back to another even more minute flat where Mrs. Falconer lived alone while Sophie slept at the studio.

Sophie had practically given up singing; she was having dancing lessons again; with immense effort Mrs. Falconer had "papered" the Steinway one afternoon when Sophie had danced and sung; Sophie reported immense praise but a total lack of engagements; then she had had through the influence of a friend of Lucie's, a position as secretary in a concert hall and left at the end of a month after a furious and mysterious quarrel with her employers; that was Sophie's year.

Mrs. Falconer, of course, had done nothing, she had been totally absorbed in Sophie and Sophie's "career."

They had lived on what Lucie had sent them, on borrowed money, on debts; moving continually from place to place, half of what they had was never paid for; they were in severe financial straits now; Sophie "hoped Lucie would come to the rescue—my mother is so worried."

It was a miserable chronicle; Lucie only held her heart up in this tide of wretchedness by the thought of her lover. But the worst had not come.

"I want you to help me," said Sophie. "Apart from the money. With Simon Kaye. You seem to have done so well for yourself I thought you could help me."

"Done so well?" echoed Lucie faintly.

"Well, I suppose you aren't marrying a man old enough to be your father, if he isn't very well off," said Sophie sharply. "We made enquiries about him in Florence and he is very well off."

"Oh, Sophie! I hope he never hears of that!" cried Lucie in dismay. "I never thought about the money. He has sufficient, I know."

Flushed and humiliated, she rested her face in her hand; she simply could not speak of Carlo Ghisleri to Sophie, nor even, she feared, to Mrs. Falconer; they must think what they liked about the affair.

"Is it still Simon Kaye, Sophie?" she added.

"Yes," answered Sophie, with a self-conscious smile. "I've seen a great deal of him lately. He thinks he isn't good enough for me."

"Well, that isn't much of a difficulty," said Lucie.

"Oh, there is some obstacle, I don't know quite what. He is so busy—preoccupied. My mother says men don't have leisure to fall in love nowadays. You can't get hold of them."

Lucie thought of Carlo Ghisleri and what he had put aside for her sake.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked with a sinking heart; she feared that this fantastic business was as stationary as it had been a year ago.

"You might ask him out to lunch or dinner and a theatre. I suppose you'll take a flat in town now and do a little entertaining."

"No," said Lucie, resolute at last, "I simply can't afford it."

She looked up from the cloth as she spoke and saw Sophie smirking and fluttering her eyes at the big plate glass mirror opposite in which was reflected a young man lunching alone.

§ III

Some of the evil taste of all this was effaced by the meeting with Mrs. Falconer; she had prepared a really homely little tea in the tiny flat and she greeted Lucie with warm and unrestrained affection; she wept over Pio, but she was inclined to be enthusiastic over the second marriage.

"We can all go to Italy in the autumn, a season in Florence would do Sophie a world of good," she said.

But underneath all the pleasantness and charm and energy of Mrs. Falconer, Lucie perceived the same chaos, the same confusion, the same hysterical emotions, the same drifting, procrastination and muddle, the same mental instability; it was still all "plans" and "schemes" and "talk"; there was nothing definite, no principle, no industry, no concentration—all was like scattered spume.

And Sophie sat crouching over the gas-fire biting her nails while her mother talked.

§ IV

Plans, schemes, illusions evolved out of chaos and to chaos destined to return, and talk, talk, talk, while the lazy smoke ascended from Mrs. Falconer's endless cigarettes and the air grew acid from the flaring gas fire, and the fragments of cake and bread and butter grew dry on the soiled plates.

Sophie pulled out a piece of work, machine made lace and cheap cambric, some impossible undergarment, neither warm, nor pretty, which she had been so long making that it was crumpled and dirty; she put half-a-dozen stitches in it and dropped it to return to her nail biting.

Lucie could not see her as the wife of the prosperous, pushing, vulgarly successful Simon Kaye—nor indeed as any man's wife.

When they returned to the hotel, it was too late for Lucie to write to Italy and her head ached and her spirit was sickened. It did not seem possible that this was the same world as the one she had left, that this bright, conventional, comfortable hotel, all cretonne and plush, electric lights, bells, and pages, could be existing at the same period as that old, quiet hostel in Pisa.

§ V

Sophie, lounging on the bed while her cousin unpacked, said:

"I wish you would take those trophies off, Lucie...all those rings."

"Why?" Lucie looked shyly at the sacred wedding-ring and a little gold signet ring Carlo Ghisleri had also given her. "It is not very ostentatious, is it?"

Sophie did not answer; she wore a tattered blue crépe de chine dressing-gown that had once belonged to Lucie; she had pulled about her shoulders the dingy manes of her hair, powdered her face and darkened her eyes; as she lolled on the rose-coloured quilt, she kept glancing at her reflection in the wardrobe glass and rearranging her pose self-consciously.

She showed no interest whatever in what Lucie had been through, no sympathy or understanding whatever.

"I should have thought you would have wanted to be free," she remarked.

"Freedom is no good to women—it's just a snare," said Lucie quickly, "You can't be free like a man is—the kind of freedom you can get is no good."

"Oh, isn't it? You're just hopelessly old-fashioned."

"Well," said Lucie, wearily, "you mean to get married yourself—to Simon Kaye—"

"Eventually, I suppose so—But we shan't live the ordinary kind of life."

"How, then?"

"Like this, I suppose—a suite in a hotel, and we shall each go away when we want to without asking each other questions—I don't mean to mend socks, or interview the cook, or get up early to see him off in the morning—"

She rose, slipped to the door and opened it.

"Don't," said Lucie, "there is someone outside."

"I know."

Lucie knew, too; she looked over her shoulder; a young man was passing down the corridor; Sophie, fluttering her lids, hung in the open door, the young man shot into his room.

"Sophie, how can you bother when you are so fond of someone else?" exclaimed Lucie miserably.

"Don't be silly," said Sophie, tartly.

The tears fell on Lucie's hands as she knelt by her trunk; it was all so horrible; Sophie seemed like a caricature of womanhood, her actions a caricature of love.

There was something almost fell about her, too, in her hardness, in her cold conceit, in her lifeless vanity; in the glance she turned on Lucie was a glint of malevolence wholly disconcerting.

"I've been a weak fool again," thought Lucie. "Why did I come back to this? They don't want me. Only the money. I might have hidden myself anywhere but here."

But she was in the toils again; the chains of duty, of obligation, of sentiment, were already heavy about her; she never seriously meditated evasion of them.

Sophie loitered about the door; when the young man opposite put out his boots, Sophie was putting out her shoes with her gown slipped off her shoulder.

Lucie clenched her hands; if it had been coquetry, deli-ate, charming, she could have condoned it, but this passionless, deliberate wantonness, with neither gaiety nor grace was an offence.

"Sophie is undeveloped, she can't understand what—a parody her behaviour is. She can't help being ill-bred, either. She was never taught."

So Lucie strove to make excuses, as all her life she had been making them, for what she knew was inexcusable.

"Is Toby Entwhistle still in town?" she asked, with an effort at pleasantness.

Sophie gave one of her self-conscious smiles.

"Oh, Toby! He hangs about the studio a lot. A sort of tame cat. I'm getting fed-up with him. He's mean."

She looked again at herself in the mirror.

"I'm in rags," she added sourly, "you'll have to take me out to-morrow and buy me some clothes. Good night." She drifted out, slamming the door.

Lucie clutched at Carlo Ghisleri's photograph that lay hidden under a pile of clothes and kissed it desperately while the tears of loneliness and homesickness dripped down her tired face.


Chapter Thirty-nine

§ I

LUCIE found that Mrs. Falconer and Sophie, for all their chaotic vagueness had already planned out what she was to do with the months she had to spend in England.

Mrs. Falconer had nowhere to go to and she wished to leave London, so that Sophie might have a free hand in the conduct of her mysterious love affair; "a girl," Mrs. Falconer had decided, "can't do much with a mother always in the background."

So she suggested that Lucie and she should go away somewhere and leave Sophie in the studio. Torquay was the place chosen; Mrs. Falconer took a fancy to the idea and insisted on it with much enthusiasm.

Lucie could not feel that the arrangement was pleasing; she was so wrapped in her inner emotion that she wanted nothing but peace; even Mrs. Falconer's emotional affection jarred; she did not care for Torquay where she had been with Pio when his lung trouble was first suspected; she associated the place with the cadaverous figure of her husband, weighing himself in the chemist's shop and battling out in wind and rain to buy him exotic and costly fruits.

Still she would be free of Sophie's icy gloom and intolerant egotism and free of the blast and glare, clatter and screech of the overcrowded city.

And after all, what did it matter where she went?

The entire financial burden of this scheme fell on Lucie. She had to pay for herself and Mrs. Falconer, even to her aunt's endless cigarettes and she had to send a weekly sum to Sophie to enable her to "carry on"; her cousin also had to be supplied with half the few clothes she had brought from Italy.

All this meant hard work for Lucie; she had a book of stories and illustrations coming out in May and she had had the luck to sell a set of fabric designs; these, however, would not be paid for yet and meanwhile she had to depend on odd articles and drawings and back royalties.

This meant hard work and plain living; Lucie was used to both but she could not but feel the weight of her shackles the more so when her acquaintances remarked how much money she must be making and how well known she was getting to be; she was earning a good income but the strain on it was too heavy.

A few days after her landing, found her in cheap lodgings in Torquay with Mrs. Falconer; her whole inner life was centred round Carlo Ghisleri; she did, literally, live for his daily letters; she did, literally, count the days, ticking them off on a paper calendar, till she should be able to go back to him again; for the rest, the servitude of the Villa Calvini was hardly less exacting than the servitude of Sackville Road, Torquay. It was equally work, repression, negation, monotony with the company of an unbalanced person in the house and bitter glacial weather without.

A long severe and dark winter that seemed to hold no hope even of the late melancholy English spring—that seemed to make Italy—Pisa—Love—as far off as an ancient fairy tale.

§ II

If Lucie lived for Carlo Ghisleri's letters, Mrs. Falconer lived for Sophie's; they came, not only every day, but sometimes by every post; the two women talked of nothing else but Sophie and Sophie's affairs; Lucie was mistaken in thinking that she could escape her cousin by leaving London, Mrs. Falconer's infatuated obsession was nearly as irritating as the presence of the object of it, and infinitely more heart rending.

Lucie spoke very little about the man who occupied her entire heart and soul; her engagement had been formally announced, most people seemed to think it some purely business arrangement by which she had "done rather well for herself;" some were slightly shocked; some gave her good advice as to the recklessness of marrying a foreigner—again. Lucie never explained, or justified herself, or talked about it at all; it mattered so little what anyone said, or thought, or did.

Mrs. Falconer, who always took a position of authority, one day demanded to see one of the Italian letters and when Lucie gave it to her, she spelt out some of the beautiful phrases.

"Why, the man's in love with you?" she said with surprise and suspicion.

"What did you think?" returned Lucie.

"Oh! You are always so calm and cool, I never thought—of course one must make allowances for the flowery language—and these foreigners are so emotional."

Lucie said nothing.

At night she had the little travelling cape he had given her over her bed, his letters under her pillow, his ring on her finger and in her dreams it did really seem to her that she conversed with him, beheld him, clasped him again.

§ III

His letters, wise, passionate, eloquent, have had one mournful note running through them; his health gave him anxiety; nothing much, of course; he would be well in October when she came out, for her sake he would fight this vague fear.

He mentioned it very seldom—always lightly. But Lucie thought of "the cloud no bigger than a man's hand."

§ IV

So the dull days passed without incident, without definite action, Lucie always subordinate, bound to the service of another, thinking of Carlo Ghisleri, talking of Sophie Falconer; day after day the faded lodgings, day after day the walks in the cold windy streets, day after day waiting for the postman, letters and talk, letters and talk.

The woman, stiffened by duty, strengthened by hope, yet felt her soul cry out within her; her glimpse of what life might be made; this the very epitome of abnegation.

In May the book came out; they had a little money; Mrs. Falconer, who had begun to fret after Sophie, proposed an instant return to London.

On top of this came one of Sophie's maundering, illiterate letters announcing in fulsome yet stilted phrases that at length she was "engaged" to Simon Kaye.

She added that she had taken a furnished house in Hampstead for Mrs. Falconer, herself and Lucie.

Mrs. Falconer went by the next train to London; Lucie was to pack and follow; Sophie would meet each of them in turn with Toby Entwhistle.

Lucie was tired of this name. Sophie wrote so continually of this young man who seemed to be dangling and dragging behind her in a manner after her own heart, hopelessly in love with her, yet a confidant of the Simon Kaye affair; Lucie pictured him as quite invertebrate, her old-time interest in him had utterly vanished.

But now there was no time for anything but boundless gratitude that Sophie had at last settled her marriage and that Mrs. Falconer was finally so happy.

Still she wired to Florence.

"May I come in August? Homesick. Lucie."


Chapter Forty

§ I

LUCIE told herself that she ought to be very happy; indeed the news about Sophie was of the "too good to be true" variety; Sophie married as Mrs. Falconer so desperately wanted her to be married, would mean that she could return to Italy with her conscience clear as regards her duty to her aunt and cousin.

Yes, it was almost too wonderful! She could not help feeling sceptic as to Sophie's powers of accomplishing anything so satisfactory; she recalled with loathing Sophie's other engagement during those early feverish months of the War, a miserable, hectic, dismal affair which the young man had put an end to and which had ended in the humiliation of rude letters between Mrs. Falconer and the should-have-been mother-in-law—just a "row."

Lucie tried to put these depressing thoughts out of her head, but she felt chilled and full of a sharp distaste for the immediate months as she descended from the Torquay train.

Toby Entwhistle was there to meet her; she knew him at once and stiffened slightly; she did not relish the escort of Sophie's "tame cat."

"It is a great many years since we met," she said.

"Seven," he answered and turned to the porter.

He was a stout young man in a belted waterproof, quite distinctly good-looking and healthy, with rather more than the usual Anglo-Saxon reserve; he seemed both shy and modest, but at the same time solid and strong; as he directed the putting of the luggage on to the cab, Lucie noted his thick neck, his broad shoulders, and his capable hands; she wondered that he should be hanging round Sophie or even in her set at all.

As she entered the taxi, she hesitated not knowing if he was going to accompany her or not; but his face that had already a warm golden look, flushed deeply.

"I have to go now. I shall come over to-morrow," he said.

"It was good of you to come at all—and to know me so quickly," smiled Lucie.

"You haven't altered," he answered gravely, "goodbye."

Lucie drove away through the crowded station yard; her heart sank with a further throb of depression. How she detested this travelling, this moving about, this changing from one furnished house to another, these expedients of apartments and hotels, this awful sense of chaos, of confusion, of homelessness.

§ II

The house of that hybrid type called dubiously "Queen Anne" by people ignorant of architecture, did not serve to raise her spirits; she marked at once the dead fern in a tarnished Berares pot at the window of what was she knew the drawing-room, the faded blue studio curtains that retained the original colour only in the folds and through the opening of an upper sash window, the discoloured metal of a geyser.

It was Sophie who opened the door, Sophie dishevelled in the most sordid kind of way and looking white and bitter.

She said nothing and Lucie followed her into the gimcrack passage with the worst forebodings of her journey realized. Of course everything had gone wrong again.

"I suppose you want to see your room," said Sophie, when, the luggage all in and the door shut, she began to slop up the jerry-built stairs. "It has been an awful business getting everything ready," she added sourly.

"I was quite willing to have helped," said Lucie. "Aunt Elizabeth wanted me to stay in Torquay—haven't you got a woman?"

As she spoke, she noted the gaping holes in her cousin's stockings, the burst satin slippers, the threadbare velveteen skirt falling at the waist, the line of dirt where the dingy hair was pinned up from the neck.

"No," said Sophie; she flung open the first door they came to, "this is your room, the best—it's cheap for what you are paying for it—"

Lucie had divided the money she had lately received into equal shares giving Mrs. Falconer half, and agreeing to pay half the expenses of this house and housekeeping; this so-called business arrangement seemed to please her aunt, so she had given in to it; the form of the thing was a matter of indifference since she knew that the substance always was that she must pay for everything. So Sophie's remark stung bitterly; she could not answer. Sophie slouched away.

§ III

The house was of a type only too familiar, dirty, ill-furnished, everything torn, or cracked, or chipped, or broken, destitute of all objects of comfort or use and crowded with "ornaments" that made the name a grinning irony.

When Lucie came down, Mrs. Falconer was getting the tea. She looked haggard and distracted and her friendliness for Lucie appeared to have diminished a great deal; the influence of Sophie was obvious.

With a few commonplaces, grimly received, Lucie helped arrange the cups; her cousin came in and announced that there was nothing in the house but a loaf.

Mrs. Falconer groaned.

"Haven't any of the things come?" she asked, wearily. "No," replied Sophie, "I must go to the shops, I suppose—"

"Oh, my dear," cried the harassed mother, "two miles, walk for you!"

"I seem to be here to play the Cinderella," answered Sophie, grimly.

"This is dreadful," said Lucie quickly, "has everything gone wrong, Sophie?"

"I should think you could see it had," retorted Sophie and went out, slamming the door so that the rickety building shook.

"You must not take any notice—she has had a dreadful time," said Mrs. 'Falconer.

"What has happened?" asked Lucie desperately.

"He has gone off—won't answer. It is the most terrible tragedy, Lucie."

"But this can't go on—she must be told to give him up—you can't stand the strain."

Mrs. Falconer turned on her with dramatic suddenness.

"You are the last one who should say anything," she cried in overwrought accents, "you can't even understand Sophie's feelings—it's all very well for you, you've had your chance and secured it."

Despite the ugly vulgarity of the words, she was a figure of such deep pathos that Lucie did not even feel angry.

Mrs. Falconer went out after Sophie; Lucie heard an upper door open and shut; tired from her journey, sick with disappointment, she had to go into the dreary little kitchen, make herself some tea and cut herself slices of bread; she was too dispirited to go out and get anything else.

This opening scene was entirely typical of what life was to be in the Hampstead house.

§ IV

Carlo Ghisleri wired:

"Wait till October. Not so well. Writing."

Lucie felt as if he had forsaken her, abandoned her to that bleak, chaotic dreariness from which she had originally come, and to which, no doubt, she belonged.


Forty-One

§ I

ALL these happenings, however, were not the most important in Lucie's life; she had far too much Celtic blood for the material to be the most important to her and her tremendous recent experience when her soul had reached the furthest horizon of its ambition in the love of Carlo Ghisleri had drawn her still more definitely out of the world of concrete fact into the region of spiritual adventure.

Her spirit rested, as it were, in the triumph of complete achievement. It had nothing more to strive for, it was replete with victory, quiet with a marvellous content.

That there were difficulties, troubles ahead, that her return to Italy appeared to grow more and more uncertain, were but surface ripples of agitation on the surface of her inner serenity.

She had hardly ever believed that she would become Carlo Ghisleri's wife, nay, had she leant a willing ear to her inner voices, she would have known that the parting at Pisa station was for no short or definite period.

It was with no sense of shock that she read his news, his failure to re-establish his health, the fierce and venomous opposition to the marriage. Somehow she had known that the powers of darkness must combine against anything so heaven-sent as their love; she felt that furious opposition had hitherto kept them apart but had not been able to prevent their meeting, but was now sundering them again; but this did not seem to matter to Lucie; the experiences of those few months were sufficient for her whole existence.

It was not that she trusted to his constancy, or was so sure that he would keep faith with her, or so resolved to return to him. It was the perfect and unmistakeable conviction that nothing material could possibly interfere with their spiritual communion, which was something far stronger than she could understand and extended to spheres that she had no knowledge of; therefore the first fierce longing to return to him had been soon assuaged, her rebellion, against the separation had been brief, she withdrew herself into an inner exaltation, a profound resignation that she had no means of expressing.

It was the least part of her that moved through the distasteful life of the Hampstead house, she lived most in her dreams, her reveries and in those moments when she would watch the peaceful moon rise above the Heath, or hear the wind, like battling eagles, dash against the frail walls. Then the sense of the relativity of time and space would be borne joyously upon her, she would actually be on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the rose garden, in the green-painted room at Pisa.

And all vague longings, yearnings, aspirations, all old restlessness, fevers of the spirit and discontents, with which she had been familiar since a child, had been effaced by the meeting with this man; it was as if he had solved every mystery for her, satisfied every need, fulfilled every ideal; his presence had made on her a unique impression of virility, of power, of splendour and immortality; it seemed as if he had clasped, not only her body, but her soul, to his breast, and comforted it to all eternity.

Her distress at his illness was mitigated by his assurances as to his similar state of feeling, he declared that he could ignore even this misfortune in the certainty of the eternities before them.

Lucie could not think of him as ill, to her he was always invulnerable, a God, and she never questioned his decision that she must not see him while he was afflicted by any malady.

As for the campaign of invective against which he had had to contend and which doubtless had aggravated his ill-health, directly the result of overtaxed nerves, she was neither troubled nor amazed.

She could see the affair from the point of view of an outsider; she must have appeared an obvious foreign adventuress, smashing into his life, ruining his future, absorbing his interest; he was reputed to be well off, and she did not doubt that his relatives had been insistent on the money point of view; they would be, naturally, incapable of appreciating her complete indifference to money and her capability of earning all she required; their attitude was another good reason for postponing her return to Italy; though several had written to her in friendly fashion, yet she knew the majority of them to be hostile, and it was unthinkable to make him the centre of unkindness, antagonism and controversy.

Her romance was entirely secret save in one instance, and that was in the case of Toby Entwhistle.

She saw a good deal of this young man and had at once slipped into habits of quiet familiarity with him; he was reserved, distant, yet entirely friendly, and, as she found him in such a confidential position with regard to the two other women, she had been led to speak, rather desperately, of Sophie.

This was easy, as Mrs. Falconer had suggested, even insisted, that Toby should go about with her, and Lucie, though she mistrusted her aunt's caprice, did go with the young man on one or two very small expeditions; he was in some sort of indefinite temporary government position and had plenty of leisure.

Lucie discovered immediately that he was not remotely enamoured of Sophie; he was simply very sorry for her, touched by the miserable love affair she had confided to him, impressed by Mrs. Falconer's brilliancy, flattered by that lady's appeal to him to be "good" to poor Sophie, and perhaps lonely and glad to be of use or importance to any one; for, though attractive to women, he was not easily stirred by them, and was too fastidious in his choice of male acquaintances to have many friends.

Like so many Englishmen with the fighter's physique and the sceptic's manner, he had a strong strain of the ascetic and the mystic emphasized by a childhood as unhappy as Lucie's and an isolation more complete than hers.

Gravely he went over the problem of Sophie, with the concern and impartiality of an elder brother; Lucie smiled to herself; he knew so little of Sophie after all and she could not further enlighten him without definite disloyalty; to tell the truth about Sophie would always sound like malice.

He had been quite touchingly kind; hearing of his wholehearted service, and knowing how they had used him and how slightingly and sneeringly they spoke of him, Lucie felt a strong impulse to make amends to him by some sincerity of behaviour.

She told him about Carlo Ghisleri and the story of the Villa Calvini.

He understood at once, he appeared to put Carlo Ghisleri where she put him herself, to become in a curious dumb way his disciple; Lucie thought that, with the same gifts, the same chances, he might have been the same sort of man.

Although Mrs. Falconer referred to him succinctly as "old-maidish," Sophie called him "soft," to Lucie, he had something of Carlo Ghisleri's quality of virility, that quality she found so woefully lacking in the men she usually met in London; indeed she had very strongly the woman's instinctive dislike to the "artistic" man, she always associated talents with weakness; she could hardly bring herself to admit painters, poets, musicians, or actors as belonging to real manhood; these people, nearly always vain, jealous, diseased, effeminate, sickly, feeble, were the objects of her secret contempt; she had all the primitive woman's passionate admiration of physique and brain as against talents and gifts; all her nature drew her towards action, strength, simplicity.

She would have said with Philip:

"My son, are you not ashamed to play the flute so well?"

She admired talents when a man used them as mere adornments as did Carlo Ghisleri; but, save in a few rare instances, the professional artist was an abomination to Lucie; therefore she regarded Toby Entwhistle favourably in comparison with the other men of Mrs. Falconer's set.

But she was not long to preserve this friendship which she had faithfully detailed to Carlo Ghisleri and which was the one thing in her present surroundings touched with beauty.

Sophie became instantly jealous; she invented and carried tales; she put on her cousin's interest in this young man the construction a charwoman would have put; she filled the air with the miasma of suspicion, spite and malice.

Lucie felt this long before anything was said.

"I can't go on living like this," she thought, "I must find some way out."

It was not easy; their financial affairs were so entangled that it would take a good deal of common sense and tolerance to put them straight and neither of these assets could be expected from Mrs. Falconer or Sophie. Lucie could run the one establishment but would have found two a difficulty. She had besides great reluctance to force an issue; a huge pity and love for Mrs. Falconer, a great hope that all might yet come right.

Meanwhile she had to work hard and always rather desperately. They were living in the most extravagant way as regards house and service; the shabby furnished place and the inefficient daily woman, Sophie's careless housekeeping (she insisted in keeping these reins of power in her hands), cost more than would have run an ordinary.

§ II

August came and life was still running in this groove; it was a year since she had first met Carlo Ghisleri.

§ III

However much her inward content, the outer details of her days became intolerable; "the dweller in the innermost" became affronted in the secret shrine.

Lucie took what distractions offered, she went about partly to pass the time, partly to please Mrs. Falconer, who urged on her a wide social life, for Sophie's sake; so Lucie took her cousin to parties and at homes and to several of the charity fétes that had become so fashionable.

Lucie, in this manner, met all her old acquaintances again; nothing had happened to any of them; they were still only just successful enough to keep their heads above water. Aurora Bearish had "taken" to spectacles and had received a raise in her salary. Mrs. Bearish had quarrelled with Mrs. Falconer. Lydia Copeland had gone on tour, her second divorce was pending, Julia Jarret was still studying for the bar, and Hester Joy was under expensive treatment for hysteria.

Ellen Bowness was still brightly following the round of the London season and Pamela Raith had taken to very cheap journalism, she had now quite definitely lost her looks. Louisa Kingdom was still writing "brilliant" articles against men and matrimony and Harriett Dornett and Ellen Barden were still hot feminists, viciously on the trail of masculine iniquities.

Sophie's one-time great friend, Elinor Kennaway, was running a coquettish sort of tea-shop in one of the suburbs.

Clara Biddulph was "running round" just the same.

Poor Mr. Dodd came up on Sundays to the house at Hampstead and brought boxes of cigarettes and boxes of chocolates and gave rather furtive sort of dinners in Soho, which he appeared to think was quite a daring sort of place.

Yes, it was all the same, stale, unprofitable somehow, to Lucie at least, utterly wrong.

The women more than ever depressed and repelled her; she felt absolutely alien in their midst; the feverish chase for luck and chances, the intrigues to catch the attention of the men, the scramble to get into marriage, the struggle to get out of it, the desperate dressing-up of dubious and fading charms, affected her with mental nausea.

The steady withering of these women who had never bloomed made her shudder; they turned from children into hags, slowly but definitely, they had no prime, no summer, they knew no content, no fulfilment, they passed from the arid expectation of greedy youth into the bleak disappointment of old age, masking both stages with dye and paint, impudence and the battle-cries of feminism, that modern monster that is both Harpy and Chimera. The restless faces of these women pursued Lucie everywhere, not only among her own acquaintances, but in all the places to which she went in the overcrowded buses and tubes, in the foolishly magnificent shops, amid the sickly splendours of the restaurants and tea shops, where sweets, gilding, fox-trots and sneering waitresses with coiffures, surrounded swarms of idlers chewing artificial pastries.

Statistics said there were two million superfluous women; it seemed to Lucie as if this entire number daily crowded the London streets. Nor did Lucie find any pleasure or relief in the set to which she belonged; the receptions, public dinners, and private gatherings of these intellectuals, thronged by the successful people, the trying-to-be-successful people, and their more or less feeble-minded followers who thought publicity was synonymous with greatness, simply deafened and stunned Lucie's spirit; the clap-trap platitudes of the professional artist, the idiotic enthusiasm of the jackals, the delighted smirks of the lions, the threadbare airs and graces of the professional beauty, the studied languors and niceness of the great ladies whose husbands had bought their titles, their mansions, their pedigrees, five minutes ago, the blast and clatter of the whole society which was indeed a Vanity Fair where everyone screamed their wares, banged their drums, or gesticulated in front of their painted booths, all filled Lucie with one idea—that of escape.

§ IV

"You should take Sophie out more," said Mrs. Falconer in hostile tones. "She mopes so much in the house."

Lucie felt a crisis approaching; this time one she would hardly be able to avoid.

"Sophie has refused the last few times I have asked her."

"Because she thinks you don't want her."

"That is being morbid—really—she ought to get some work," said Lucie, desperately, "and put Simon Kaye out of her head."

Mrs. Falconer ignored this.

"You go about a good deal with Toby Entwhistle," she said with tightened lips.

"I like him."

"Why does Sophie not go with you?"

"She says she dislikes him, is tired of him, and that he is always giving her impertinent advice."

"You," replied Mrs. Falconer, deliberately, "have turned him against her. He was devoted to her till you came along."

Lucie controlled her rising indignation.

"Why should she care as she is so wrapped up in another man?" she asked.

"When are you going back to Italy?" demanded Mrs.

Falconer.

"I don't know."

"Why?"

"I've told you."

"I suppose your marriage is off. For God's sake don't make a fool of yourself with this young man. He hasn't a penny or any likelihood of ever making any. I should have thought you would have had your lesson in that direction."

Lucie could not explain; she could hardly bear to mention Carlo Ghisleri to anyone, least of all to Mrs. Falconer.

Her aunt continued, with emphatic bitterness, with dramatic directness.

"A woman like you ought to have the world at her feet—you've got talents, looks, success, you're popular. You let it all slip through your fingers. Can't you see the life other women of your sort are leading? You go on making a fool of yourself again and again."

"What do you want me to do? asked Lucie.

"Take a house in town, entertain, advertise yourself, dress—you can easily get credit if you haven't the money—" The same tirade; Lucie listened dully.

"You see I don't like that," she said when Mrs. Falconer had finished.

Her aunt returned angrily to the other grievance.

"As for the way you are behaving with this commonplace young man—you might have been content with being engaged six weeks after Pio's death—"

Lucie rose.

"What do you mean—the way I am behaving?"

"I know what Sophie tells me."

"But you are always for freedom, for having men friends, look how you have allowed Sophie to go about—"

But Mrs. Falconer was never to be reduced to any consistency of behaviour or opinion.

"I will not have this going on in my house," she said. "Toby Entwhistle doesn't come here again. You must find another place to carry on your intrigues, my dear girl."

She left the room.

Lucie, hearing such a word applied to her sober, decorous acquaintanceship (it was hardly friendship) with the quiet Toby, could scarcely help smiling; she knew this outburst was purely jealous hysteria on Mrs. Falconer's part. Jealousy, not on her own account, but on that of Sophie, who daily seemed to be more plainly stamped failure.

Still Lucie was very tired of hysteria; it was becoming as common as cigarettes or sweets or face powder.

How to get away from it all?

§ V

Her next letter to Carlo Ghisleri had something of a desperate note, his answer was, for the first time, touched with despair.

He had no hopes of his health.

He forbade her to come out to him.


Forty-Two

§ I

LUCIE was waiting, body and soul, for deliverance from hope and fear, for the final immaterial fulfilment of her inner forebodings.

In September it came.

She received a letter from Italy by the afternoon post, just as she was about to go out with Sophie to a thé dansant, a charity affair at one of the big hotels.

Standing in the mean little room, wearing the white cloak and black velvet hat he had so approved of, she read the mandate of her inexorable fate.

A slight stroke had warned him of the uncertainty of his days, the impossibility of his marriage; he bade her remember her promise not to come to him.

"You would be my nurse, not my wife. There could be no children. Lucie, my one love, spare me."

Lucie did not read all the letter; she thrust it into the bosom of her yellow silk dress and went downstairs to join Sophie.

As people have been supposed to walk a pace or so after being fatally wounded or shot, so Lucie went through that afternoon.

She spoke and even laughed with her acquaintances, she sat on a gilt settee with crowds of other women filling the walls and watched a few couples circle round the shining floor; the men looked sallow and bored, the girls self-conscious and faded; the orchestra played mechanically, spacing their pieces out with intervals as long as possible; Sophie, "out of it" as usual, smoked to show how up-to-date she was and kept glancing at her reflection in a plate glass mirror behind the grand piano.

Lucie saw everything with the clear-sightedness of a disembodied spirit; so utterly detached was she from the scene that she viewed it with the cold indifference a sick man in his agony might turn on a book of pictures fluttered in front of him.

She saw the stout Jewess who had organized the entertainment dancing with the lifeless youths whose tickets she had paid for, perspiration making her paint and powder into a paste, white draperies swathed dexterously over the costly corsets that dragged her together; her feet bulging above gilt shoes, her legs bulging between cross-over ribbons, her huge hat scratching against the palm fronds, the aquamarine pendant on her broad bosom lying as flat and as soft as if it was on a cushion in a jeweller's window.

Her husband, eager, servile, on whom Plutus in a moment of even intenser blindness than usual had bestowed great wealth, moved about rapidly from one to another of the manless women trying to soften the acidity of their neglected state by the sunshine of his Eastern smiles.

There were not half-a-dozen men in the room. They, after the manner of Englishmen, appeared not to trouble about the women at all, but stood in a listless melancholy as if awaiting an opportunity to escape. When they were constrained to a perfunctory politeness, they performed their courtesies with an air of painful reserve and furtive terror as if they were aware they belonged to a precious minority that was being fiercely pursued.

The very efficient lady secretary of the organization that was (presumably) benefiting from this inept display of vanity and boredom, moved briskly about with ready smiles and the flick of fashionable draperies.

Lucie had often wondered if anyone really could be as refined and gracious as she appeared to be, as perpetually good-humoured and grateful.

As the orchestra continued to play, as the dull couples continued to gyrate, as the silly little cups tinkled and the plates of cakes were passed languidly from one to another, Lucie began to feel an immediate desire to get away.

"This is all absurd," she thought, "I must go to Italy. I ought to be there now—I must go to Italy by the next boat."

She rose.

"I am going home," 'she said to Sophie. For a second she thought of making a confidant of her cousin, of making some appeal to her affection, to her sympathy; but the impulse was at once gone.

Sophie glanced up.

"I shall stay," she answered, "I may be late. I think of going to the studio."

"Isn't Toby coming to supper?" asked Lucie.

"Oh, I don't care if he is."

§ II

Lucie reached "home," ironical name for the cheerless, dirty place furnished by alien fingers for the sheer purpose of easy gain; Mrs. Falconer was out; the daily woman had left; Lucie was glad of the loneliness.

She went upstairs to her disliked bedroom and began feverishly throwing clothes into her trunk; if she had had sufficient money in the house she would have left by the night-boat. As it was she felt a relief in packing; without pause she flung in her garments and all the personal objects of hers about the room, his photograph, his little gifts, books, mantle, bag—all the dear intimate trifles he had given her; what pleasure there was in this definite action at last after these long stagnant days!

"I cannot stay away," she kept saying to herself: "He doesn't mean me to keep that promise—he must need me—"

She was on her knees by the trunk absorbed to the exclusion of every other thought in this idea and folding up her clothes rapidly with cold hands when an intense stillness seemed to fall on the empty house.

It had been still before but this was like an intensification of that silence, as if the outer world had suddenly become remote.

Lucie looked up, checked in her absorption and glanced at the half-open door.

She was apprehensive of a footfall on the stairs, but there was no sound whatever.

Then, as she still stared, she believed that she saw Carlo Ghisleri, as she had last beheld him, in his dark travelling suit, looking at her with such intense and passionate appeal that she closed her eyes as if they had gazed too cose on naked flame.

But, with her eyes closed, she beheld this figure of her lover the same, no blotting of her material vision could obscure him from her perception.

And she heard him say, very law and distinctly, in Italian.

"Lucie, have pity on me."

She opened her eyes on to the horror of emptiness; for one second her feeling quivered between panic and exaltation.

She knew now that she could never go back to him. Catching mechanically at her cloak and her bag she ran downstairs and out of the house.

More mechanically than by her own volition, she made her way to the Post Office, and sent him this message.

"I obey. But what shall I do with the rest of life?"

The autumnal twilight was closing in; Lucie walked rapidly away from the houses and out on to Hampstead Heath.

§ III

She passed the pond and "The Spaniards," walked round that wooded height where the whole of London can be seen flat about the river.

A tawny-coloured mist rose from the city almost obscuring it; the upper heavens were a frosty white against which the smoked trees showed black; the long path was dry and dusty, the foliage that covered the slope was rusty-brown above the worn turf; a chill steady' breeze was blowing and in one or two of the distant houses on the Heath a little light twinkled, with that heart-rending look of home which makes all but 'the very happiest hearts ache.

The forlorn woman sat on one of the low benches and shivering looked down at the huge city being gradually blotted into the mist.

She was bereft, homeless; she had shelter, not a home, she had relatives, but she belonged to no family.

And Love, who was to have created all these things for her, had failed; she was banished from his presence.

He was still there, still faithful, more than ever she relied upon his deathless constancy, but he was bankrupt—she stood stripped, lonely, as she had always stood and he could not help her.

Lucie folded her hands in her lap and the tears came to her eyes and ran over.

How monstrous, how incredible, that he should be ill—a man so magnificent, so vital; how ghastly that such a love as theirs should have such an end.

It was a bitter hour for this poor woman who had bloomed for such a brief while in the sunshine for which she so desperately craved; for the first time in her life she felt definitely bitter towards the world, towards the whole miserable system that made such an existence as hers possible, towards the worthless father she had never known who had assumed no responsibility towards her, whose self-indulgence had left her with jangled nerves and bequeathed her the legacy of a starved, pinched childhood, and a womanhood unprotected, unadvised; against her smug relations with their tenth-rate morality, their moral cowardice, their hypocritical pleasantness (now she was established as a money-making unit), which could never quite disguise their nervous fear she might be some burden on them yet. Apprehensively they always spoke of their limited incomes; limited also were their hearts and minds, their generous impulses; for all they had ever concerned themselves about her she might have been in the gutter by now, probably would have been had she not possessed a few gifts of commercial value.

And now she was forlorn after her gorgeous hopes, there was no one to care, to bother, to even remotely sympathize.

She might go on as she had begun, snatching a forlorn livelihood among the jostling ranks of superfluous women, decking up barren charms, getting what excitement she could out of the seething crowds of professional people like herself who derived a living out of the artistic requirements of the British public.

And what was ahead?

She looked shudderingly down at the city now closely enfolded in the autumn mist. Just to be another of those myriad women down there, just to be one more in the packed dubs, the crowded tea shops, the sweltering buses, the dingy offices, the press of the hungry streets, a thing no one really wanted.

Her work?

Plenty of men could do that better, plenty of women as well.

Her career?

She knew that she might be what Mrs. Falconer had called a social success, quite popular, even liked, with a few odd men to take her about and drink and smoke in her flat and call her my dear girl—even to make her a pal, or a chum; but she also knew that such a prospect was abomination.

She wanted the big things, the real, deep, sincere emotions, the passions that touch high-water mark.

And how, once she had loved Carlo Ghisleri, could she tolerate the shame she had disliked before?

She was aware of her graces of person, of some delicate feminine charm, of a certain lovable personality; in the mirror of Carlo Ghisleri's adoration she had, with all modesty, read something of her worth.

But was she to do what the other women of her acquaintance did, take her womanly attractions as assets into the market place to bring off business deals, to flatter and wheedle, to beguile men into favouring her, into giving her 'a good time'?

She knew she could not; never had she been able to act on Mrs. Falconer's advice on "managing men," never could she do what Lydia Copeland did with such success and Sophie with such failure.

In her misery, as she sat shivering there in the autumn mist and chill, she saw nothing ahead of her but withdrawal into some retreat where she could continue to earn the money for her aunt, her cousin and herself, from some kind of nunnery where she could exist on her love for a man who she was never to see.

Yet this was but a poor solution, a mere negation, a passive submission, a death in life.

She moved at length, drearily, with stiff limbs, walked lonely and slow through the bleak English dusk.

"Oh, Carlo, Carlo, Carlo!"

It seemed impossible that he had forsaken her, impossible that even now he would not find some means to rescue her; she uttered his name like some desperate prayer; through her sad wretchedness glimmered the conviction that he was near her and would help, even now.

§ IV

Through the raw mist, scented with decaying leaves, and the smoky twilight one star hung, remote and chill, above the dark height of the Heath.

Lucie looked at it and, remembering how he and she had viewed it that last September, trembling above the peaks of the Apennine Mountains, she was utterly overcome and stood still, in the melancholy dusk, cold to her inmost soul with bleak despair.

A man's figure came up out of the gloom and paused beside her.

"I thought I knew your white cloak," he said.

It was Toby Entwhistle.

Lucie recalled, through her dull misery, that he had been asked to supper; although Mrs. Falconer declared she disliked him, she still frequently invited him to the house.

"Oh, you found no one in," said Lucie stupidly.

"No," he answered good-humouredly. "Of course it doesn't matter. I thought I might meet one of you if I came up here."

Lucie was making a convulsive effort at composure.

"Sophie has gone to the studio, she may be late—I'm dreadfully sorry. I don't quite know where Mrs. Falconer is and I—"

Her voice faded in her throat, she was conscious now of fatigue and cold, of the lassitude of nervous exhaustion.

"I have had bad news from Italy," she added.

"Bad news?" His voice was kind and anxious.

"Yes. Dr. Ghisleri is—ill."

"Are you going out to him?" asked Toby quickly.

They were walking away slowly side by. side through the cold dusk.

"No. He will not allow it."

"I can understand that."

"You can?"

"Of course."

"I am bound," shivered Lucie. "I promised. I think he was always afraid of this. Knew it in his heart, really. I think we both did."

Then, shuddering lest she should betray her secret agony, she added quickly.

"I had better go back now—will you come? Perhaps Sophie has returned and got some supper."

"You can't go back to that dark cold house. Supposing no one has returned? Let us go somewhere and get a little food."

Lucie did not demur; to-night she did not care for Sophie's jealousy or Mrs. Falconer's nerves, and she was grateful that the one person of her acquaintance whom she could have borne to see, was the person who had found her this evening of bitterness.

Certainly Toby Entwhistle understood. Remembering the intensity of her voiceless prayer that some relief would come into her stricken desolation, she thrilled with mysterious comfort at the strange thought that her lover had somehow sent this other man to stand by her; she was very sure that Carlo Ghisleri would have been glad for her to have this companion now.

§ V

Yet presently, when she looked at him across the tiny white table of the quiet restaurant, she disliked him, she resented him, for his look of youth. She became fearfully jealous of this one possession he had, which her lover did not possess—the one possession that out-valued all the others. She marked with envy his ruddy golden face, firm and unlined, his clear hazel eyes, his young hands...if only she could have met the other man at his age; the irony of the comparison between the two men sickened her; the little meal seemed forlorn compared to those she had shared with Carlo Ghisleri, as the damp dark of the London streets seemed melancholy compared to those sparkling Italian autumn evenings.

Lucie glanced at the other couples scattered round the long room, glowing with warm apricot light; certainly to some of them the surroundings held magic, the moment enchantment; how horrible to know that she never could or would find either, ever again.

Very early she rose to go home, though she dreaded the return to the house in Hampstead and to the two antagonistic women, to whom she must "explain."

As they neared the tube station, she half mechanically asked Toby Entwhistle to come up and see them soon.

"I am going away soon," he answered. "I've given up my job. I hate town really. I'm going into the country to do a little farming."

Lucie looked at him in surprise; he flushed.

"I'm not the kind to get on in business," he added, smiling and awkward. "And London doesn't seem to me quite worth while—to men like me," he added modestly.

"Come and see us before you go," said Lucie sadly; she felt his going would emphasize her loneliness. "I think you are right," she finished. "Goodnight."


Forty-Three

§ I

THIS episode was the end of the incongruous household at Hampstead, which had always been like a house of cards built at the edge of a volcano.

Mrs. Falconer made one of the scenes that caused Lucie an almost physical illness. She refused to believe the Italian news, she vowed that Lucie had sneaked away from Sophie at the thé dansant to meet Toby Entwhistle on the sly, and that he had cut the supper as a deliberate insult.

The fact that neither she nor Sophie had returned home till an hour after the time named to the young man, did not soften her keen invective.

Lucie, sickened, yet bore it without anger; her aunt still seemed to her a pathetic, even a heroic figure; her furies were so plainly traceable to the one source, wounded jealousy, because Sophie was such an utter failure and because one more young man had proved indifferent to her; in painful self-deception she had always counted every male acquaintance as a possible husband for her daughter and every man who disappointed her, received the emptied vials of her wrath and scorn.

Sophie, pallid and acid, went to join Elinor Kennaway in the tea shop venture; she did not say goodbye to Lucie, who found her going a great relief; it had been hard to endure her cousin's rude manners, her bitter spyings, her rush down to the post to secure and steam the letters in the morning, her telegrams, telephones, letters to Simon Kaye, her gloomy sulks, sham headaches, and sham heroics, laziness, and the obsession of what she called "a great passion." Fostered by her unhappy mother's infatuation for her, this woman was now really not only a useless, but an evil, creature; it was as if her soul rotted while her undesired beauty decayed and she gave out a miasma of putrefaction. When she had gone, leaving her poisoned sting behind her, Mrs. Falconer made one last effort for the domination of Lucie.

"You have driven your cousin out of this house. I also shall be forced to leave. I will not endure that young man here again."

"I can't forbid him the house," said Lucie, wearily, "nor meet him outside. I sickened of that with Pio. You quarrelled with him just the same, you know."

"And for the same reasons—because of your underhand ways. I suppose you have broken your engagement with this Italian?"

"As you can't believe what I say about that, I have asked him to write to you himself."

This did not appease Mrs. Falconer in the least.

"I do not pretend to understand your affairs," she declared, "but I do know how you have behaved towards Sophie—"

Lucie could hardly bear the repetition of that name.

"Why doesn't Sophie get married?" she asked vehemently. "She wants these men always behind her but she doesn't want to marry them, or says so—she affects to despise Toby, and yet she must raise all this because I am civil to him and I won't be rude to him because of Sophie."

This was a long and daring speech for Lucie to make to her aunt, and she made it with a kind of desperation as of one lashing at a tangled web that bound them; all the confusion of these complex yet foolish feminine emotions were raising up grinning spectres of tragedy. Lucie felt herself being engulfed, drawn down, sucked into a vortex of these desperate women's passions, so small, so puerile, so childish in themselves, yet capable of such devastating results.

Mrs. Falconer left the house; she flew to the refuge of another homeless creature like herself, Clara Biddulph, who had got the loan of a little cottage in Kent.

She demanded money from Lucie before she went and Lucie gave her rather more than half of all she possessed in the world, or was likely to possess for some time.

Like Sophie, she departed in anger, without farewells; the banging of the door after her made the cheap little house shake. Lucie, who still loved her, sat in her desolate bedroom and wept.

It was all so ordinary, so commonplace; it was what always happened when grown women lived together—that is, free, emancipated, modern women, who despised the ancient laws, tore up the ancient landmarks, and blotted out the ancient records. What was this freedom but loneliness? What was this license but despair?

§ II

Again Lucie found herself alone in a wretched furnished house, full of the atmosphere of restlessness and discontent, burdened again with the debts, obligations and bitterness of this extravagant yet sordid London life; faced with the prospect of steady work to earn not only her own living, but that of the two women towards whom she was in this queer position that, the more they quarrelled with her, the more she felt in honour bound to supply their needs.

Mrs. Falconer at least must be given money, the ultimate end of which would be, of course, Sophie.

§ III

She was, of course, really free at last.

Free to go where she liked, do what she liked, behave as she liked in a period and a city that allowed everything to women.

There was no husband, brother, father, or guardian, no family, or organization, or code, responsible for her; no one had the right to even advise her; she was quite, quite free.

Free to hang herself, if she wished, without anyone to stay her hand or to lament her afterwards.

§ IV

Carlo Ghisleri sent an eager reply to her agonised query: "What shall I do with the rest of my life?"

His passionate affection, his everlasting love, was bitter-sweet to the lonely woman.

"You will marry," he wrote, "you will have children, they will be my children too, the children of your thoughts of me, of our infinite love, during what remains to me of life. I live only in your happiness, and only this way can such a woman as you find happiness."

Lucie thought of the glow-worms in the garden of the Villa Calvini, of the music of the reeds on the lonely shore. Happiness?

She knew she could never achieve that again, never, never. But his words raised a faint glow in her heart, opened up the one prospect that made the future appear endurable.

§ V

She lively lonely as an anchorite in the miserable little house that she could not afford to leave till the lease was up.

She worked and she kept herself from suicide by Carlo Ghisleri's letters.

Lucie had letters from Toby Entwhistle, too he told her of his farm; he was making, or would make, about the weekly wage of a day labourer, but he wrote as if he were happy.

§ VI

With October, the month that should have seen her triumphantly returning to her lover, Lucie became f Tightened of her loneliness; she went out desperately everywhere she was invited, she lived between her clubs, other women's clubs and other people's houses and public buildings, she seldom returned to the Hampstead house save to sleep.

She began to look for some other place in which to live, in London, again a furnished flat or house.

"I shall shape in time," she thought, "into a perfect specimen of the modern woman."

§ VII

One evening she was going out to a public dinner; for lack of company she had been talking to the old woman she had induced to come in place of the bizarre servant of Sophie's choosing. Lucie liked to talk to this humble creature whose speech was full of the homely things of life that are the great things, too, births and weddings and deaths, work and illness, the struggle, the toil, the brave heart that makes it all worth while.

Lucie moved from the narrow kitchen into the bleak drawing-room and turned up the electric light.

The night was cold and windy and she did not really wish to go out, yet it was better to go than to stay in this empty house, by the desolate hearth.

The bell rang; Lucie turned her head sharply; very few people indeed came to see her here, and none at this hour; all her entertaining was done at the club. Mrs. Jennings shuffled to the door and opened it on the bitter wind and Toby Entwhistle. He saw Lucie through the two open doors, "may I come in?"

"Of course—but I am just going out."

She spoke with confusion. "I did not know you were coming—"

He entered: she thought she detected a shiver of disgust as he looked round the room; she remembered how Carlo Ghisleri would have hated the place.

"Isn't it dreary?" she said. "I am moving soon."

"It is pretty bad," he agreed. "I always hated this place. But Sophie would have it."

"Poor Sophie!" said Lucie; she seated herself on the faded cretonne couch, her white cloak over her black velvet dress, her fair hair shining in the unshaded electric light; she looked at Toby shyly; he seemed changed, even more ruddy, golden, fresh with the fragrance of the country, young and healthy, vital and pleasant.

She asked him what he was doing; it was nothing much, or odd, only what so many other men, ex-officers, were doing; he had put all his savings into a tiny place in Sussex and was trying to work it; with the help of his pension he could command a bare living—but he liked the life.

Lucie looked at him curiously as he spoke; it seemed to her that he was like Carlo Ghisleri, not outwardly, but in the spirit of his manhood, and that she was in the presence of the same essence in another vessel as it were.

She thought of the lines of Dr. Donne:


"Once or twice I loved thee
Ere I knew thy name or face."


It was a curious sensation; she trembled and glanced behind her as if she expected to see Carlo standing there urging her to see himself in this other man, to accept from this other what he could no longer offer himself.

"I must go." She rose. "Will you come with me?"

"I will take you to the door."

§ VIII

In the cab she said:

"You must be near where? used to live."

"Yes, quite close."

"You knew?"

"My little girl is buried there," said Lucie, "I want to go, but I do not dare."

"I've been," he answered quietly. "It's—all—in order."

When they reached the garish stream of light in front of the hotel and saw the people hurrying out of the wind into the warm vestibule, Lucie did not move.

"I won't go in," she whispered, "I don't think I could to-night. I'm tired really."

"Where would you like to go? I hoped you might come out with me—"

"No—I'll go—back" She could not say "home."

They did not speak on the return journey. Lucie looked out of the window at the empty, cold, wind-swept streets; some mystic power was urging her to some action, she could not tell what; all was confusion to her save that she felt sure that Carlo's spirit was with her, controlling her as the mesmerist controls his subject.

As the taxi stopped, she turned; Toby was looking at her, his earnest comely face had an expression of frowning concentration, an anguish of intense feeling.

Lucie bent and kissed him as Carlo Ghisleri had bent and kissed her; she thought that this was what she was being impelled to do, that in this way she had established a chain of passion between them or rather, linked from one to another the same passion that rose in each.

The young man did not speak; she felt his deep breath. She went into the house without speaking to him or looking back.


Chapter Forty-Four

§ I

THE mechanical notes of the gramophone ground out a gasping syncopated fox-trot, "You're only just a cross-eyed nigger doll"; by the big polished box that held the whirring black disc and the gleaming silver arm, was a gilt paper sack of chocolates and an open case of cigarettes.

The big pleasant room was overheated and too full of people; five couples were dancing; pressed close together, they moved slowly, taking pains not to keep time to the gramophone.

By the huge fireplace a sickly girl in a very low frock was seated in an attitude that showed her champagne silk stockings to the knee; she had a box of chocolates on her lap and kept biting the ends of one after another, then hurling the rest into the flames as each centre met with her disapproval.

Near the large curtained window two youths lounged, talking about themselves.

The hostess, a middle-aged woman with a young figure, was making Turkish coffee; her daughter, seated on a jazz cushion on the floor, was feeding a debauched Pekingese with cocoanut kisses she claimed to have manufactured herself; the obese dog spat out the sickly sweet.

All the women wanted to dance and there were not enough partners; the air was charged with feminine jealousy and competition; the men, all third-rate in physique, added to the usual rudeness of Englishmen the insolence of conscious value; all the women flattered them, wooed them, covertly, in the clipped staccato slang of the moment. They called each other "grinning apes" and "priceless fools" and "ugly rotters"; they threw their half-chewed sweets and cakes at each other; the men complained of the size of the girls' ankles and suggested that they looked as if they had been "pulled through a hedge backwards"; the girls screamed incivilities to the mien to which the wits replied "thank you."

The gramophone whizzed to the end of, "You're only a cross-eyed nigger doll," and another record was put on, "Cheese parings"; to the bumping grunts of this the girls performed a shivering kind of Eastern bazaar dance that a low music hall would have banned a few years ago; some of the men said, "filthy," upon which the girls went up and made faces at them.

It was a very pleasant party, very up-to-late, given by very popular delightful people; anyone in the room was quite a well-known and brilliant member of the upper ranks of the artistic set.

Lucie had often been here before; she had rather liked coming for the sake of the gaiety and distraction, but she had never been to a large gathering like this; she sat in a corner by the gramophone wondering why she felt quite so utterly "out of it"; how it was that she could not throw some glamour over the scene, take some part in the game all the others played so naturally.

This sort of thing had been her life, more or less, always, and yet she was so alien to it, as if she had been transported there from another planet.

The dancing ceased; the men wiped sweat from their sallow, pimpled faces, the girls powdered complexions already dried by cosmetics; cigarettes were flung from one to another, painted lips showed the yellow of real, or, the dead white of artificial teeth; all showed as much of their limbs as possible; everyone knew that only true modesty dared such license; one knew now that only prudes covered up their persons.

They talked of nothing but sex, which they seemed to find a witless joke; the very word marriage evoked cackles of laughter, the funniest thing in the world was someone in love; the women ridiculed absent women's efforts to get married, or their marital difficulties, if they were; the whole company seemed to think anything either sacred, or indecent was really "funny"; they told tales of women who "couldn't keep their hands off men," and everyone seemed really amused. Plays were mentioned if they were obscene or likely to make money; pictures, if they were suggestive, an actress or singer, if any spicy anecdote attached to her name; everyone was minutely acquainted with recent divorce court cases.

The women laughed at stories that belittled women; the men laughed at stories that jeered at manhood; all of them expressed themselves as greedy for money they didn't have to work for. The air became heavy with smoke, the gramophone droned out: "I just love you when you're squirming." Not a single word of sense was spoken; if the conversation rose above the lowest level (by any rare chance), a dense illiteracy was displayed; yet all these people were somehow earning their own livings and showed considerable shrewdness in the conduct of their own affairs.

The older women warned the younger not to get married: "Husbands are such a bore," and "we've got other occupations now." The younger women answered "No fear!"

Yet the eyes of all of them shone with longing for love, insatiate vanity and fierce desires, while the men's gaze was dull and apathetic, jaded with the frank grossness, the un-alluring freedom of the women whose sole hunting ground this was; but they, the men, were indifferent, for they were free of other pastures which fact the women sensed angrily but dare not admit save in jeering innuendo.

"And so they'll go on," thought Lucie, "there is no end to it—it isn't as if they were all young—some of these creatures in sacks and girdles must be forty—fifty. They dress like that wretched child of twelve—and she knows as much as they do."

She thought of the sea, of the Apennine hills, of the golden chestnut wood and belt of pines, of the peasant coming home tired and the children meeting him on the road, of the woman stirring the pot over the fire.

What had Carlo Ghisleri said?

The little house, the man, the woman and the child by the fire; all the rest, fairy tales they tell each other before they go to sleep. "And I sit here like this."

She rose.

"I must be going," she said in excuse to the fat man who had to move to let her pass, "I'm leaving town tomorrow," she added on a swift impulse.

"What for?" he asked amused, "to grow cabbages?"

"Something of the kind," answered Lucie.

"I never can think," he protested, "what people do in the country."

"Well, plant cabbages," smiled Lucie, "I'd rather a man planted good cabbage than wrote a bad book," she added gravely to the prosperous author. "In fact I think I'd rather a man planted a bad cabbage than wrote a good book—"

"Well, London is good enough for me," he answered, "it's a grand life."

"It's some busy," said an American behind him. "You women get a good show. I ask you."

"Do you think so?" questioned Lucie. "Yes," she added, "a good show. Like the cattle in the pens on a market day."

He grinned.

"I guess a lot trot home without being bid for."

"Well, you've got your freedom," said the best-seller, who rather liked talking to Lucie, who was a lion in her way and always a conspicuous personality. "And it must be rather good fun—to successful ladies like you."

Lucie smiled.

"Do you remember the old fairy tale? The imprisoned princess who longed for the green leaves and white flowers she couldn't reach outside her window? And how at last after infinite pains she escaped? And how bleak it was outside? And she wasn't a princess any more but just a drab nobody—and when she tried to get back, the door was shut."

"But she got the flowers?"

"Oh, they were stinging nettles!" said Lucie, "and they hurt her very much."

He looked at her shrewdly, with a more human expression than she had ever seen on his exultant face before.

"What has that to do with your visit to the country?" he asked.

"I'm going to see if I can push the door open, after all," she answered.

§ II

Lucie had found courage to push open the churchyard gate; the last leaves dropped from the hawthorn by the wall; beyond the meek mounds, the tilting headstones, the whole marshland to the sea lay a wash with winter sunshine.

The air was humid, yet fresh; though the clear spaces of the heavens were veiled by tremulous clouds, the atmosphere was full of quickening light that here and there, and now and then, deepened into a hesitant mote or beam of sunshine.

Here, even standing in the churchyard, Lucie had no sense of death or extinction or any pause in nature's endless life; it was late autumn verging into winter; yet there was not the common association of these seasons with decay, desolation and loss, not at least to this woman who stood so near her little child's grave.

It was but the intake and the outlet of a breath; the fields were not barren because they were bare.

Opposite the low Saxon church a long field ran down the slope to the marsh; the crop had been harvested and grass had grown over the stubble, mingled with camomile daisies, fleabane and sowthistle, for the season had been moist and sunless; sheep grazed over these rich leavings; and, in one corner, the figure of the brown ploughman guided the dun horse along the fresh soft furrows of the newly turned earth.

Beyond, an orchard hung heavy with the unheeded fruit. Nature, heedless of profit or gain, flung her gifts in opulent profusion; pears, apples and damsons showed in abundant warm colour among the dry curling leaves.

Lucie moved slowly to the little grave; near it stood a Roman altar that had for two thousand years crowned this height above the marsh.

She was melted by an infinite sadness; the sting, the horror, the nightmare dreads and terror were gone.

The earth was kind and the heavens were pitiful, the rain was sweet and the wind friendly, lovely was the caress of the sun, beautiful the darkness of the night, and every waving blade of grass, and every high tree were symbols of peace and nobility.

Lucie, standing between that ancient pagan stone and the grave of yesterday, felt time and space merge into eternity; how desperately we cling to our invention of days and years, centuries and epochs, and what do they mean?

We are sure of nothing but the light and the dark and the flowing in and out of nature's breath which we call the seasons.

Lucie was then one with the old Roman who had set up that altar; he was no further away than her own child, she felt the veil that divided her from both of them blow thin in the wind that blew now, as two thousand years ago, up from the near-by coast where the legions of Claudius crossed the sparkling sands.

Are not the winds the same now as then? Do the clouds pile the same over the North Downs and cast their flying shadows the same over the marsh?

And why should we think we have changed because we have made ourselves a few new toys?

§ III

Lucie left the churchyard and turned away from the village up the narrow road that wound to the top of the hill.

She drew in the air with delight and everything she saw was pleasant to her roused senses.

The white thatched Sussex cottages divided the loaded orchards from the little gardens that edged the road; gardens now packed with spotted lilies, ragged China asters, dahlias and Michaelmas daisies that bent and drooped across the red tiled path; beyond were the cabbages, purple-green, firm and fresh, hung with big crystal drops and now and then one last rose, flaunting red or fading pink.

Across the crimson tiled front of one cottage a twisted vine trailed amber leaves and hard bunches of northern grapes; close to another, the pure white plumage of ducks showed vivid in the dark shade of a willow-hung pond.

A wide blue wain loaded with straw went by, the glossy horses moved easily between the red shafts; then came a team of three dragging a great tree lashed with chains; the men who iralked beside the great, shining, patient animals were lean and earth-coloured and silent. Two children with tow-coloured hair and blue pinafores were pulling the berries from the damp, strong, gaudy brambles in the hedge. Lucie kept her upward path.

An old man passed with a huge pannier of mushrooms on his back, the pink and white and brown of them showed where the lid gaped; he walked steadily, easing the strap across his chest with an earth-stained hand.

Acorns falling from the cups, chestnut glossy between the split shells, lay beneath the wayside trees; among the last odd flowers of the shorn hedge-row, the stray colour of purple loose-strife, clover or wild parsley, the last wisp of honeysuckle, the last star of the bramble blossom among the swelling fruit.

Now at the very apex of the height Lucie could see straight across the marsh shadowed by drifting clouds, to the mist that bounded her vision and was the sea.

A woman went by, plain and drab; under her flat hat her face was seamed like a map of life.

She carried a basket of eggs and a white hen.

Lucie looked after her wistfully; these people seemed to her infinitely more important than those of her own class, nearer to all that is vital and everlasting.

She valued more the shapeless shoes, the spread figure and the spoilt hands of this woman than the neat daintiness of those others with their chocolates, gramophones, naked mascots and restless eyes.

Gnarled and bent was this peasant, ugly, perhaps grim; but she was satisfied; she had washed the new-born baby and folded the shroud over the empty cradle, she had held her children to her bosom, and sewn her man's shirts and cooked his dinners, and sat in a hollowed place with her descendants about her and thanked God for her daily bread, and the sharp sweet toil of the light and the deep, deep, quiet sleep of the darkness. She was rich in all fundamental riches.

§ IV

Lucie had a letter from her aunt in her pocket. Mrs. Falconer had quarrelled with Mrs. Biddulph and made it up with Mrs. Bearish whose flat she was now sharing; Sophie had quarrelled with Elinor Kennaway over a young airman who wasn't interested in either of them, and left the tea shop; she was going to take up dancing again "quite seriously," wrote Mrs. Falconer, "this time."

She enclosed a newspaper cutting with a blatant photograph of Simon Kaye; his vulgarity was very apparent now; his expensive clothes were beginning to drag round his figure; in a few years he would be obese.

Lucie had heard the rumour of his engagement to a flamboyant widow, whose first husband had left her an odd million made from some concoction pleasing to fools.

Poor Sophie! Poor Mrs. Falconer! Poor women all of them, so astray, so unguided, so perverted from their natural destinies! There was no helping them; as they were, so they would be, till they shrivelled in their sterility and their thwarted natures gave them sour peace.

§ V

Lucie came to a tiny farm standing square in a flower-garden and shaded by a walnut-tree; a gate at the side stood open on to a yard where there was a stack of hay, another of straw, a dog, and a boy clipping sheep.

A young man with a khaki shirt, sleeves rolled up, a very old pair of breeches and muddy leggings, was standing on a ladder drawing a jade green tarpaulin over the haystack; his hair showed the colour of the rick above his thick burnt neck; he was covered with chaff and dried chips of clover and grass.

On the midden heap a gold cock stood gravely; piles of fresh sawn wood were stacked beneath a huge hollow oak; beyond were the dipping teeming fields and the blue veiled sky closing all in like a tender embrace.

The young man was Toby Entwhistle.

Lucie went in.


L'Envoi

Two bare-foot boys came down the lane; the youngest had only just learned to walk; they were fair and thick and serious and shabby.

The elder clutched a stick with a flutter of rag attached, the younger dragged a tin jug with a hole in it into which he continually cast lumps of earth; they pattered into the garden and ran round the house; their unconscious radiant faces were as beautiful as Love could make them.

"Mummie," they called, one like an echo of the other, and Lucie stood still behind the walnut-tree for the pleasure of hearing those voices in that eager call.

This was what she had received in exchange for all she had put aside; this was what she paid for by hard work, self-denial, some poverty—a strenuous, monotonous life—her whole heart cried out in gratitude—"What a small price! Ah! God! what a paltry price!" In her hand was a letter from Carlo Ghisleri, one of many such letters that filled with constant illumination the existence of Toby Entwhistle's wife.

The man who had left the world and lived alone between the hills and sea where they had met, lived only in the thought of her and her happiness—"in our dear boys the dear, dear boys."

Carlino she called the elder, Carlino of the glow-worm and the whistling reeds, Carlino, fairy-fire and fairy music incarnate.

She had sent him her photograph with the little boy beside her and the grave heavy baby on her knee.


"Tu sei una vera 'Mater Adorabilis.' Ed io ti guardo e adoro. Io ti guardo, ti redo e piango! E cosi vera l'espressione del volto desiato...io vivo nella gioia della contemplazione del tuo angelico e affectuoso volto...sorriso degli amati bimbi...Carlino che batte col mio cuore...spazio e tempo non hanno ormai per me una existenza...Io vivo nella veduta del trio astro...ogni tristezza e scompiasa del mio cuore..."


The boys ran into the house, Toby was lighting a bonfire; the wind swept the smoke across the marsh.

Lucie folded away her letter, went into the kitchen and began to peel apples into a yellow bowl.

She looked through the open door at the figure of her husband, dear and kind, so loved and valued, blending with and exalting that other love she held immaculate, that other who lived in the thought of her and blessed the husband who made her happy and the children who had fulfilled those dreams of his that had eluded his own fulfilment. The little boys ran out to their father with sudden war-like shouts.

Luck put the apples on the fire.

Toil and the home fire, food, drink, sleep and waking, the glance of a man to a woman, and the shout of children. What more can there be?

There isn't anything else—never has been—never will be.

"Save only my dreams, my fairy stories, the smoke blowing seawards from my bonfire, from my hearth chimney, the words that come from my heart when I tell my children tales, dreams and fairy stories, and tales and smoke from my dead flowers and from my dear hearth, all wafted seawards to thee."

THIS IS ONLY ONE WOMAN'S STORY.


THE END

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