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your face, I am sure that your nature, whatever else it may harbor, does not contain cruelty."
The night breeze brought from the cypresses a long moan. There stole out through the gloom an odor of box-shrub. In the lull of the wind one could hear the wavelets at their ceaseless imitation.
She made a gesture as who should say, "For this, at least, I'm not responsible." She rose, held out her hand to Lawrence, and set foot upon the landing.
Slowly they ascended the steps in single file, like three persons bearing a coffin up to a tomb.
"You are staying on the lake, madame?"
"At the Hotel di Tasso."
"Why have n't you come to see me before?" Destouches demanded, pausing, and turning to Lawrence.
"I arrived only this afternoon, and ought to leave by the last boat tonight."
Again the sculptor preceded them along the path between shrubs that reached forth their twigs, amid the shadows, as if in mute remonstrance against this sad return. A startled bird flew away into the night.
reappear almost instantly in a tailcoat with metal buttons.
Maxime Destouches stood aside. "Enter, madame. Enter, my friend. For this occasion the place should be lighted al giorno; there should be flowers everywhere. See to it, Santo, and tell Santina to make haste. We will take our vermuth in the salon."
Everything was changed.
The furniture, the bric-a-brac and hangings, the very color of the walls, produced the effect of a place that Lawrence and Flora had never visited before. Yet the house, instead of gaining in modernity from these alterations, had become appropriate to a still older period of time-to the days of the Second Empire of France. Through the doorway of the salon, where looped curtains of velvet revealed a Venetian chandelier of manycolored glass, one half expected the apparition of a hostess in tune with this atmosphere some fair woman in a chignon and a basque of lemoncolored satin, her corsage curved like a chalice, a bunch of camellias rivaling her bosom.
What had impelled the old artist to reproduce here a period of outworn taste, of esthetic unenlightenment, a
"What was that?" exclaimed Flora, style that nowadays must seem atronervously. "A nightingale?"
"There are no nightingales at this season, madame," responded the hoarse voice of Maxime Destouches.
"There are still nightingales," Lawrence amended, "but they have gone to sing elsewhere."
The house grew distinct, its windows lighted, its door open on the white terrace between the two large Greek urns. A man-servant showed himself in a striped waistcoat, then vanished, to
cious to a nature as fastidious as was his?
Through these changes the eyes of Flora and Lawrence searched avidly for some souvenir of the lost paradise, for some relic, however trivial, that might bring a precious pang. Of a sudden, forgetting his host, Lawrence passed into the salon. In the center of the terrazzo floor lay a disk of mosaic. The signs of the zodiac surrounded an hour-glass. The hour-glass was bound
with a scroll. The scroll was in- others to choke with laughter, but scribed, "Carpe diem." that you must almost hate me for having made."
"Seize the day!"
Often in those three months of enchantment they had read that motto together, then had smiled at each other in their confidence of the happy future also. Lawrence saw Flora watching him from the doorway with her expression of sickness, of pity.
"But you have been here before," Maxime Destouches remarked in his hoarse, quavering voice.
"We once lived here." "Really? In Many Kisses?" "We had just been married." The old sculptor, regarding first one and then the other from under his shaggy, white brows, resembled a man who, on taking his seat in a theater, sees the curtain rising on the counterfeit of an old play.
"Mon Dieu! what I must have done to your memories by these changes! These changes that cause
"No? That would have been naïve, eh?" And with a slight facial spasm, with a bodily tremor immediately controlled, Maxime Destouches mumbled, "Some time I may tell you a tale to make you change your mind."
The man-servant bore in three slender glasses of vermuth. "E servito, Eccellenza." "Good. If you are willing, madame, let us dine."
The dinner-table was covered with a ragged cloth of the finest texture, furnished with heavy silver and glassware from Murano, adorned with white roses in a silver-gilt epergne.
Now in the candle-light Lawrence realized how feeble, mentally perhaps
as well as physically, Maxime Destouches had become. All the old man's movements, looks, and words seemed natural only from a constant strain of will. In all he gave the impression of an actor whose private existence is extraordinarily disorganized, and who triumphs in the public rôle of normality only through a great imitative talent.
This was not the old age that closes a serene career; but, as Lawrence knew, the life of Maxime Destouches had never been serene. He had long been noted for his eccentricity, or, as his enemies declared, for something more than that. Recently, some one had said to Lawrence: "Destouches? He has senile dementia." Was it really true?
His large, haggard face was continually quivering, though almost imperceptibly, as though on the point of duplicating that nervous spasm. His hands-the big, withered hands, with rugous muscles, that had kneaded so much clay and hewn so much marble moved with an almost furtive continence, as if he had resolved, "They shall not betray me." And his husky voice gave that effect of an intense emotionalism in restraint even when he murmured:
"I know you will pardon this repast of an old recluse who is often hardly aware of what he 's eating."
To-night they, too, hardly knew what they were eating; so it was their strange host who talked.
Inevitably, he talked of Paris; but he was so old that when he looked toward Paris he saw the city as it had been in his youth.
He had gone there in the fullness of youthful zeal, sure of triumph, dreaming, like Balzac's Lucien, of fame and
love. He did not tell them of his great career, of the days when he worked like a Titan and lived like a prince of Bohemia, prodigal of his genius and his strength, "seizing the day." He might have mentioned the laurel-wreaths bestowed on him in pantheons, the tender gages left in his studio at dusk, the amazement of the ignorant as though at some flaming new sun, the adoration of beautiful creatures who saw in his undimmed eyes something at once unique and essential to their completion. But his listeners perceived all this behind the web of anecdote that he spun out for them.
"Bah! it's all different nowadays. Paris is not the same place. So I shall stay here, for here is everything."
With a glance at Flora, he explained: "You see, this is not the first time that I 've lived in Many Kisses. I spent a summer here over forty years ago. You had no idea that this villa was so old?" He drank his cordial in little sips. Setting down the glass with great care, he added: "In that day it had just been built for an Austrian, who died before he could use it. We were its first tenants, my wife and I. We spent our honeymoon here."
Through the open windows they could hear the wavelets ceaselessly kissing the rocks. The invisible foliage rustled, and a white rose-leaf fluttered into the dining-room like a butterfly, to sink to the rug. The man-servant, approaching the table with cigars and cigarettes, stepped on that flake of white.
"We will smoke in the other room, Santo."
They reëntered the salon.
yourself here, madame.
Light the fire, Santo, and close the windows."
Yes, that gentle rustling was rain. Old evenings of rain at Many Kisses, shaded lamplight, the glow from the fireplace, the delicious sensations of security and peace! The furniture of the Second Empire began to melt away. At last Lawrence was able to see this salon as formerly. Her seat had always been there, just where she was sitting now; his, precisely here. How had they chanced to return to these same places, even these same attitudes? Did Flora, shading her eyes with a hand made translucent by the firelight, appreciate the irony of this coincidence?
She turned blankly toward the old sculptor, who, from a cloud of cigarsmoke, was quavering:
"Unless it would bore you too much, I might tell you something about my wife and myself."
"On our first meeting," Maxime Destouches began, "all my senses thirstily drank her in—her peculiar beauty, her agitating voice, the extraordinary feel of the hand that she offered me, the unknown perfume that she used. Then, before my eyes, she receded into a fog.
fog. My perceptive faculties, hitherto acute, were disordered. I saw only that she was unprecedented, and that now my life promised to be complete.
"The week after our first meeting we were married, and came here to Many Kisses."
Maxime Destouches looked round him with that calm smile of an actor who, apart from his audience, is quite another creature.
"Many Kisses-she gave it that name. The water's eternal kissing of the rocks seemed to her a symbol of
our love, which she expected to last forever. That word, forever, was always on her lips. 'It must never die. It must never diminish.'
"Now and then, when she said that, a prophetic dread descended into my heart. I was nearly twenty years older than she, and time had not yet tested her with the trials of familiarity, the seductiveness of novelty."
As he paused, Flora again raised her hand to shield her eyes from the fire. The old man continued, with that unnatural calmness:
"It's a strange battle that we fight, we men who have managed to possess ourselves of beautiful women. If they come to us in love, we may rest easy for a while. But presently she perceives around her the men who are bent on showing her the most tempting forms of homage. They approach her in the power of their strangeness. They spread fresh plumage before her. They warble in a new key. All their talent is directed toward exciting her curiosity, thrilling her with romance, rousing in her a dream of new experiences surpassing the old ones-or, at any rate, the present ones.
"A conflict in the dark! For how are we to know if they are prospering, those birds of new plumage and new songs? Shall we learn from her? But it is above all when they are prospering that she is inscrutable. Or, maybe, because of pity and remorse, most tender. Occasionally, throughout a lifetime, one never knows for sure. But she at last told me."
Maxime Destouches made this announcement as if he were not speaking of a tragic moment. Holding his cigar carefully in his quivering fingers, so that the long ash might not break off, he went on:
"I had gone to Rome for a species of convention at the Villa Medici; she had elected to remain in Paris. From Paris she wrote that she had something of importance to discuss with
Most women would have said it all in a letter. Shall I tell you why I think she preferred to see me? I believe that even then she was not quite sure. She wanted to see me in order to weigh my influence against that of the other. Yes, I believe the balance was as close as that.
"But the scale swung the other way. She said that she had tried hard to be content with me, but that something was gone, some magic."
Flora, leaning her head against the chair-back, closed her eyes.
"That was undoubtedly true," Maxime Destouches admitted. "But,
unfortunately, she went on to sophistries. She said that she could not bear to descend from the love that we had known to mere esteem. Better to separate in order that those recollections might not be spoiled.
"This romantic rigmarole was, of course, merely a weak attempt to obscure the facts. The facts were these: she considered life to be a diminishing opportunity into which must be crowded as much intense experience as possible. Her experience with me had ceased to be intense. At the same time and this is the point of the matter-some one else had promised her a renewal of that intensity.
"I made no argument. Only a fool would have done so. Was I right, my friend?"