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And as he was a young man of singular personal charm and no little boldness and wit, experience ran after him and kept him well supplied with subjects.
He informed his admirers at the hotel that he had come there to work. He was obliged to elaborate, and he said rather absurd things about needing contact with life to stimulate him, and so on. As a matter of fact, he was not working at all, but cheerfully waiting for things to happen to him, something sufficiently interesting to start his facile wits into recording.
And at times he had a vague idea that the little pale-gold image was going to do this. She awakened bizarre fancies in him, half-forgotten tales, snatches of music. He thought that perhaps he would try to invent a story of his own, a story that had never happened. He dallied with the idea; it would be an intricate, formal little tragedy of rich words and queer, archaic phrases. He might even embroider on an old Burmese legend he had been told; he might use part of an Aztec myth.
"It 's odd," he thought, "the way that little marionette would fit into any period, any sort of story. She's the embodiment of the eternal dollheroine, the princess in fairy-stories, the poor, helpless little reward of valor."
But he did n't begin his story. He could n't. He was in an idle summer humor, very well, very happy, only too ready for the distractions of the great hotel. He kept the fancy in his mind, though, and now and then he would approach the idol and try to comprehend. When he did so, her mother jerked the strings with anxious energy, so that the small creature bent
its lovely head, fluttered its full gray eyes, answered him almost gaily. She had a magic voice, clear and yet faint, like temple bells; her attitudes were ravishing; he could n't help pitying her mother, who had done so much, and yet could not do quite enough.
The mother was, per se, rather an awful creature, stout, short, blackvisaged, incredibly lined and haggard. She was vulgar, too, and knew it; her own life had been a hard and rough She evidently looked upon herself only as the custodian of her puppet child; no one had left her any money; she did n't want it; she wanted only to serve, to protect, to animate the golden girl.
She once told Gallard that her husband had been "different."
"Very particular, he was," she said. "Kind of delicate, and all. When Simone got left all that money from his people, I tried to bring her up like he would have done.”
"I'm sure he 'd be grateful to you," said Gallard, with sincerity. "She 's very wonderful."
He caught a sidelong glance from her anxious eyes; he knew well enough what she was thinking. The time had come for the idol to pass out of her hands, and she was seeking desperately for some worthy recipient.
"But, good Lord!" thought he, "it's impossible! No one 's ever going to love the poor girl. She 'll have to be married for her money. That seems a pity, too, she 's so lovely."
In a way, he was fascinated by Simone. He wished that her mother would let her alone, so that she would sit still, looking down at her small, ringed hands with that invariable half-smile on her inhumanly innocent, wondering face, and so that he might
stare at her for a long time, and perhaps understand.
"But it must be a delightful thing to know," he protested. "Even to see yourself in a mirror."
"I never do," she said. "I don't see myself in a mirror-because my
With some such idea in mind, he asked her one day to take a walk with him. "Yes, go, my pet," said her mother. self is n't there." "It'll do you good."
So Gallard set out with her. He had to move slowly to keep pace with her short steps; walking did n't seem natural to her; she should, he thought, have been carried in a gold palanquin. She was dressed in clear blue, a plain enough frock, but round her throat was a pearl necklace, two rings glittered on her fingers, there was a jeweled watch on her wrist, and the wine-red lining of her parasol threw a most curious light upon her hair and her face.
They went by an easy road to the woods, and along a path there, bordered with laurel-bushes. It was a thinly planted wood, with a full sun upon the path, and a cheerful quiet all about. A little breeze blew, but not a hair of her head moved in it.
"Let's sit down here," he suggested, and he laid his coat on a warm rock for her. Politeness obliged him to sit beside her, instead of kneeling before her, where he could study her face; and he was sorry, because her profile was less interesting. Still, it was perfect, astoundingly perfect.
"Do you know," he said, without quite meaning to, "I 've never seen any one so beautiful as you."
Nothing she could have said could have been so disconcerting as her silence. It annoyed him a little.
"Does n't it interest you?" he asked. "No," she said in her clear, even voice. "What good does it do me?"
This startled him; there seemed actually some meaning in her words, something lamentable.
He was strangely excited by her reply, as if he were really hearing an idol talk.
"Then where is your self?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said. He was silent, because it was impossible to continue such a conversation. But he could no longer stare at her with impersonal interest as if at a doll. Something human fluttered inside her, imprisoned there, very lonely, unable to light her eyes, to warm her voice, to express itself in a single gesture. He sat beside her, willing to be silent now, in order to think not so much of her, but of the fantasies she aroused in his brain. He saw her as the central figure in some astounding pageant, herself not quite living, but inspiring life. A Byzantine empress was she? empress was she? Or a Burmese idol in a forest temple? Or a medieval lady, watching with childish eyes the knights who fought for her hand? His eye chanced to fall upon her hand then, lying open on her knee, and it fascinated him. He knew then why poets wrote of hands like flowers; her hand was like some exotic flower, a lotus with the light of the sunset upon it. The barbaric glitter of her rings only made it softer, paler, more exquisite. He could not help touching it; as his firm fingers closed on hers, she trembled a little, but she made no sort of protest.
"Simone," he said rather unsteadily, "I'm going to write something very wonderful about you. I'm going to
try to put you into words. If I can, in some almost imperceptible way, by it will be a marvel." a faint glow in her face when he spoke
Still she did not speak or stir, and an unreasonable alarm came over him. Had he committed sacrilege by touching the image? He rose hastily, and, with a certain disquiet, glanced down at her. He fancied that she had changed, that she was brightening, awaking, ready to burst into life.
"Come!" he said abruptly. "The sky 's growing dark; I think there'll be rain."
She got up at once, and somehow the thought of her pattering along at his side exasperated him.
"You could n't run, could you?" he asked. "And what would happen to you if you got wet?"
In her own extraordinary fashion, she did n't answer. She had heard, she had attended, she had understood, and yet she made no effort to reply, almost as if it were not worth the trouble.
He brought her back to her mother, and at once she was jerked into animation in that way that half amused, half exasperated him.
"We had such a nice walk!" she said; her voice, her gestures would have been coquettish if it had not been for the fact that she glanced always at her mother, never at Gallard. And he was a little disconcerted to find himself disappointed, longing absurdly for one of those fluttering looks from her strange eyes. He laughed at himself; nevertheless, from that moment his interest in her was changed and was heightened.
It came to him some days later that she too had a special interest in him. He could not tell how he knew this;
to her, a faint color in her voice. He was flattered out of all proportion, and yet disquieted.
"It won't do," he thought. "Being Pygmalion is too heavy a responsibility."
Yet beside the inhuman fascination of the little pale-gold image the earthly charms of other women had become insipid. There was nothing he liked better, nothing else he really liked at all now, but to walk in the woods with her, scarcely speaking, rarely exchanging a glance, surrounded by the mystic and elusive enchantment of her lifeless beauty. Sometimes he did talk. He told her about the story he was going to make of her, and he imagined that of all things this most nearly stirred her. Against reason, against his will, he was led on to shameless lengths; he told her at last that he was writing that story, and that it was his masterpiece.
Suddenly her eyes were upraised, fully opened, the long, dark lashes like rays about two lucent gems. He was so entranced by this as to be half unaware of her words, until her fingertips rested upon his sleeve.
"Let me see it!" she entreated. "Please!"
Somehow he was not ashamed of his deceit; he had never written one page of that story, yet it lived in his mind, it existed, and the existence delighted her.
"Some day," he said absently, still entranced by her strange eyes.
"But what day?" she asked. "What day?" he repeated. He was obliged to struggle with an amazing impulse to say: "The day I take you in my arms. The day you tell me that
you love me. That's the day." He was so distracted by this that he answered quite at random:
"To-morrow." And the next day he showed her a leather-covered notebook in which there was nothing written at all. "You must n't look inside!" he said.
She sat on the rock beside the woodland path, holding the book in her hands.
"Is it-mine?" she asked.
tranced. He was a gloomy, lumpish fellow of perhaps forty, with an atrabilious eye and a general effect of having slipped down inside his clothes, being held upright only by an invisible hand hooked in his collar. He was quiet enough, his dress correct, his manners formal, but he was, and could never help but be, a social enormity. He was n't to be taken seriously.
Yet he barred Gallard's way. He was with her all the time; when her
"Yes," he said. "It 's for you- mother was present, she talked, and he
when it's finished, Simone."
It did not seem to him a tragic thing that she should sit there, lost in delight over that shell of a book. It belonged to her, and what belonged to her was nothing. What do idols need but promises?
So secure had he grown in the conviction of her unique interest in him, in something more than interest, that he had forgotten her mother, adroit manipulator of the image. And when he saw the marionette smiling in another direction, he was incensed. Some one else had come, some one with a different eye for images.
The new-comer was sitting at their table in the dining-room, and the marionette was being made to smile and gesture for him while her mother looked on, anxiously calculating her effects. An amusing group, Gallard thought at first. The light shone on Simone's head, over which the fine, pale hair was drawn smooth; her long, gracile throat, her slender arms, were warm bisque against her stiff, glistening dress; she moved exquisitely, in a shimmer of jewels, but her face caught none of that light; she looked, Gallard thought, a little weary, a little fearful. But she was being admired; no doubt of that! The man opposite was en
answered; conversations impossible to imagine. When they were alone, they were silent, he lost in bilious melancholy, Simone with her eyes downcast, and that set, meaningless smile on her lips. She never looked at Gallard.
He looked at her, though, with increasing exasperation. He might, if he had wished, very easily have analyzed his bitter annoyance; but he did not wish, he avoided such a process with care. He had a vigorous determination not to complicate his agreeable and easy-going life with any serious interest in little images, but he was equally determined not to be elbowed out of the way. So one day he approached them, and without being in any way invited, included himself in their conversation.
"What's the use of treating these barbarians like real people?" he reflected contemptuously. He gave Simone a long, cool glance and a smile, and, with no recognition of the man, began to talk to her mother. She was very ill at ease, poor soul! Her look was imploring. "I gave you your chance," she seemed to say, "and you did n't want it. Please don't spoil this; don't interfere. I know you are
a powerful and mysterious creature, and we are quite helpless. Please let us alone."
But Gallard kept on talking, until she said, how reluctantly!
"Mr. Gallard, this is Mr. Decker, an old friend of the family."
Mr. Decker extended a hand, and Gallard, with lifted eyebrows and an expression plainly amazed, hesitated until the other had grown brick-red, and then took the proffered hand. He knew well enough that he was behaving very badly; he intended to do so. This old friend of the family was by no means the man to stand in Gallard's way. His way to what?
That mental question startled him. His way to what? For what end this arrogance, this insolence toward such harmless people? He was ashamed of it, but he would not desist, perhaps could not. He walked away, went alone to the open little glade, that mock forest dedicated to Simone. He sat down there to laugh at himself, but there came only a distorted grin, because he missed her. He missed her so! The wood seemed as empty as the sky, as still and mournful as a ravished shrine.
And rather than face his own inexorable question, he fled from there, too. He did not return to the hotel for dinner, not until late in the evening, and then came sullenly. Dancing was going on; as he crossed the lawn the high wail of the violins, the barbaric thud of drums, came to his ears, and on this night stirred him. He went up on the veranda and looked into the ball-room; there was his little image, dancing with delicate precision in the arms of Mr. Decker, smiling and smiling.
way; he wished with all his soul that he had the power to check that smile on her lips, to paralyze those puppet graces, to stop all that inhuman activity, and for one moment see what was real in her.
She went past him; her long eyes fluttered; the faintest sort of change crossed her face; then she was gone.
"Go!" he said to himself. "You poor little doll! It's not your fault; it's human nature that makes a man break his heart for smiling idols. The more the creature is incapable of response, the more terribly we long for what it can't give."
He was ready to believe then that his heart was half-broken; certainly his anger was gone, leaving him infinitely unhappy. He thought to himself that all his life would be haunted by this pale-gold image, all his dreams colored by her, his thoughts shadowed. She was the hope that could never be realized, the unattainable thing, gold at the foot of the rainbow. He knew that he could have asked her mother for Simone, and have got her; she herself would have been willing enough to marry him. But that would have been monstrous, a sort of sacrilege. What his heart sickened for was a sign of life in her, something real.
"Mr. Gallard," she said.
He was surprised to see her beside him, quite alone and independent. "The book," she said, "that story— is it nearly finished?"
"The story about you? Yes, it's very nearly finished," he said briefly.
"I've thought-so much," she said faintly. "If I could see it-just a little bit of it!"
"Let's go outside," he suggested. "I can't talk about my work here, you
He entered, and stood in the door- know."