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sity. The man had no right to have eyes like that, set in so tragic and inhuman a stare. Certainly I had made no proper estimate of the creature. It struck me that there was some element of majesty in that discreet, martial body, with its ribbons, fine boots, and the short arms posed eternally on its chest.
"A man's life is always in the hands of a woman," he breathed out in the precise, unerring French of the Parisian. I was reassured. I had been fearful that this stranger was minded to carry me into depths I had no inclination to plumb. People do not burst out into cosmic revelations in dingy railway compartments, but the prefacing generality was according to form. I was treating with a true Latin.
"The woman who took my life from me was, I am happy to say, superbly unaware of the fact. Yes, she was superb. But she did n't love me, you see. So how should she have known what was in my heart?" That was what he said, and as he uttered it a luminous smile flamed on his face. "She did n't love me, you see," he repeated, and the actual beauty of that smile held me spellbound. It was not the physical quality of it, for that was grotesque. Those sunken cheeks and fixed eyes were not made for smiling. The lips moved, yes, quivering a little above the white teeth; but the glassy luster of the black eyes caught not so much as a flicker of that fine and almost spiritual radiance. "I am going back to her now," he said. "She has sent for me. It is true that she sent for me once before, summoning me with but one phrase, precisely as it is now." He made these statements in a clear, toneless voice without cadence or inflection. "But it is equally true that for exactly eight years I have waited. I have locked the door of the house I built for her, it is a house on a white hill above a Moroccan village, I have locked the doors of those rooms no woman's eyes have ever seen. Her books and her piano are there, and even the silver of her dressing-table is there, with candlesticks in an identical pattern. Her bed is hung with blue curtains. Those curtains were shipped to me from Paris; the Moroccan stuffs
would have been too dark and too heavy for her fancy. The window by her bed shows, far below her, the natives coming and going in the village street. Even the very stables, I tell you, are ready for her coming, with a brown mare and an Arab chestnut in two box-stalls, side by side. She will like the chestnut; there is a star in his forehead as if she had touched him there with her own hand and blessed him. The house rises from the crown of that hill as if it had sprung from the very rock. It will please her, the white imprint of it painted, as it were, upon the very sky." He waited. "I built it for her eight years ago," he remarked stiffly.
"But you must not think of her in that white, silent house that she has You must consider her in Paris, for it was there, of course, that I found her. It was to Paris that my father sent me to acquire, as he declared, the diplomatic background. He admitted, in grave honesty, that he despatched me 'with too much money and a failing tradition of a diplomatic career in the blood.'
"When I saw her for the first moment she was sitting on the opposite side of a table from me; it was at the house of my chief. She was leaning forward, bowed over that ridiculous table, but with her head lifted. I saw first the upward, almost ecstatic movement of her head, the whiteness of her throat. I might have seen, too, the play of her hands. But it was the texture and the grain of her that I felt. The colors and the tones of life were in harmony in her body. Her flesh had that humid and delicate quality which is both vital and immaculate, unstained; but her hands, despite their tenderness, were alive with power and cruelty. She seemed too small a person to combine in herself such elemental contradictions. There were at the same moment abandon and reserve. But, looking at her, I knew that she drew her strength and her existence from some source I could not comprehend. She was set apart by some law of which I had no knowledge. I felt myself humble, even afraid; but by her very presence near me I knew that the currents of my own life were miraculously intensified and augmented.
It must be this sense of growth and fulfilment that men call love.
"I say that I felt these things. As a matter of fact, people were talking in that room, moving about charmingly and graciously, quite gay and spirited. These things of which I speak were in undercurrents, having nothing whatsoever to do with us there in that fashionable salon. For my own part, I hung about her table, with its tea-cups and liqueurs, in a manner which was, I trust, as casual as it should have been. For my moment of exultation had passed. I talked with her for a long time. I was enchanted with her voice.
"As a matter of fact, my love for her and my falling in love with her were two distinct things. Anglo-Saxons do not know the charm of falling in love; it is compounded of subtleties and artificialities which the directness of their hearts can never encompass. In the two years before I told her that I loved her I learned her every gesture and attitude, had the joy of suffering for her in every manner which she could devise. Her coquetry was neither more nor less than an inspiration, you know; and not one of her thrusts failed its mark. She had the advantage of a spectator, since there was no illusion of love in her soul for me.
"I think she liked me well enough during those years; but there was, of course, the fact of her marriage. I had told you, no, that she was married? Yes, one of those unhappy, righteous affairs, arranged for her when she was eighteen. Her dowry and her charm bought her a title. She bore her honors with a brilliant, quaint modesty. It is true she remained under the same roof with her husband; it is not easy in France to set such matters straight with one magnanimous gesture. Her husband was a fine creature, distinguished, and the most objective human being I have ever seen. His dinners, his luncheons, were the sensation of one Paris season. His wife was the most delicate of hostesses.
"I was telling you how I fell in love with her. You must not forget that the profound moments of my love flamed up in my heart, and in these I touched great depths and lived in a perilous understanding of beauty and truth. But
what had these to do with the turn of her wrist, with the flash of her white throat as she threw back her furs in that one quick, thrusting movement of her hand? What had these to do with the cadences of her voice, her grace? I have watched her draw on her gloves. The indifferent and yet intent absorption with which she fastened the ridiculous buttons stirred in me a tenderness, a real tenderness, on my word of honor. She had a trick of sitting in a chair with only the toes of her shoes touching the floor, her feet pointing straight downward like the feet of a small girl. What have such things to do with the love of a man for a woman? When, my friend, you can separate these things from love, you can take from a man his own shadow.
"But I digress from my story," he enunciated with that precision, that casual intonation, I had heard once before in his voice. I realized, with some sensation of awkwardness, that I was treating with a human being in the flesh and the blood. The inspiration living in that shadowy compartment had transported me. I believe I pushed myself back into my corner. There must have been a physical attitude to express my withdrawal, for from that moment my presence ceased to exist for him. He recreated the years of his life; they rose before me as if he were placing them there, like squares of stone rising one upon the other. He set them in order with an almost architectural accuracy and deliberation. He might have been laying the foundation for a great building the immortal design of which lived only in his own spirit. I think I must have trembled before the audacity of his dream.
"The day she told me that she loved me was the unhappiest day of my life," he said. "Of course I had driven her to it. A man should not drive at a woman's soul with such mercilessness. I had always believed, you must understand, that it was her right to evade me, to escape me, to take refuge behind any strategy. I had found my own pleasure in her whims and her caprices, but I knew them to be graceful enough to screen any truth. I had not loved her less for them, but more. If I touched
her and she drew herself away from me, I suffered the joy of knowing that she held herself dear. The pain of the rebuff was not so great as the knowledge that she was inaccessible. In my jealousy I wanted to know that no human being had entered those perfect citadels of her heart.
I discovered, almost with fear, that she was beautiful. It was blasphemous for me, a mortal, wretched being, to thrust my pitiful love upon her.
"But I took the letter from my pocket and tried to give it to her. I saw, with the utmost precision, the dark movement of her lowered lashes, the inclination of her head as she bent forward to me. Her hand touched my fingers, and the letter dropped on the floor between us. I continued, nevertheless, to repeat what was in that official note, not because I wanted to tell her, but the words were already formed on my lips before she had touched me.
"We were at the house of my chief. He had left us, as he had done many times before, in that blue-and-gold salon where I had first seen her. I must tell you that the glow of her person that day was incomparable. A veritable radiance seemed to encircle her, and the lightness and the sweetness of what I may call her worldly attitude were no more than a bright mist veiling her profound beauty. It was one of her moments when the secret and inspired truth living in her was in accord with the conventional poses life exacted from her. She had, without effort and almost with diffidence, lent herself brilliantly to a small luncheon for the three of us. She had, I must repeat, the mysterious art, the serious worldliness, the manner, for such things. For my own part, I was intoxicated with the grave importance of one further circumstance. On this day I was to make her my first gift. My chief had given to me in the morning the letter commanding me to my first diplomatic post.
"There are moments of an almost enchanted clarity in the life of a man. The very intensity of the blue and gold in that room blinded me. I tell you that rays of light trembled about her. I saw every detail and circumstance of that hour with a magic clairvoyance. When she moved away from me I suffered the terror of believing that she escaped me, as if she were crossing the border of an invisible circle holding us together. Yet in the same instant I perceived the character and the grace of her slightest gesture as if I had been an onlooker. As she walked, the folds of her blue gown caught across her foot at every step. This I saw; but as she advanced into the sunlight from the windows, I endured the illusion that the very life of her body flowed into the shining cloth of her gown, as if, before my dazzled eyes, she had converted that blue robe into a sheath of living metal.
"She listened, always inclined toward me, her eyes not lifted. But the circle binding us together was once more closing around us. I knew that she would never escape me; that just as she gave me life, just so did my love give her strength, which would fortify her, but at the same time defeat her and bind her to me.
"I could feel the resistance in her heart breaking. I lifted her hands and pressed them over my face. I was sorry for her. She slipped into my arms with so confident and sweet a gesture she might have been a little girl. I believe I even endeavored to release her. My defenses were shattered. I could feel her trembling in my arms. Her face was as lovely and as unquestioning as a child's. But when I kissed her I knew that I would make her pay the full penalty to be exacted from us.
"But do you love me?' I said. It was not a question. I wanted the sound of her voice. I saw the flash of the color returning to her cheeks, the halfclosed lips forming the words. I watched the contours of her face as her smile the smile of a woman-darkened her eyes.
"But yes,' she said. I made her repeat the two words time and time again. It may have been that in that moment I believed her, but I do not think so. Even in the greatness of my pain and my happiness I knew that I had not touched her heart. She rested in my arms, obedient to my will, defeated, yet victorious, fearless, enslaved, triumphant. But she did not love me. I tell you she did not love me. She was giv
ing her life over into mine, and the fire and glory and the tenderness of the gift were there; but it would have been better if she had not permitted me to touch her.
"I was powerless, then, to save us. It may have been that I could have protected her if she had not given me the right to lay my hands on her. I do not know. As it was, I could exonerate her as I condemned her. I could tell myself that she did not understand the truth, and I could convince myself that I could create love in her heart. I had conquered her, and I would give her from the very abundance of my own love the magnificence of life which would empower her to love me in return. I would interweave her existence with my own so that the very breath of her body and of her spirit would depend upon me. would give her that sense of power, of peace, of immortality that would bind her to me irrevocably. I would make life precious to her. I demanded again if she loved me. 'But yes,' she answered, and she might as well have driven a knife through my chest. I think I must have burst out laughing at her.
Surely I was mad in that moment. She was so worldly, sweet, infinitely wise, and innocent; and there
were the two of us set apart together in that conventional blue-and-gold salon while I dreamed of transporting her to an uncharted sea where the very darkening waves broke upon the white shores of eternity.
"There is a sane and well-ordered world which would declare me an impostor should I relate to it the poignant detail with which I envisage this one hour of my life. But I have had eight years in which to reconstruct this hour. In many of those years I have had no friend but the darkness and the silence which permitted me to fashion her image; they have been years spent away from my own kind and in which there have been but two realities. I was building a house for her that would one day be honored by her pleasure, and I was working so that my work would on this day meet with the smile of her favor. There have been hours of torture when I have fought for the perfect memory of one of our days together, when one of her gestures could not be recaptured by my mind. But now I could tell you the slightest turn of her wrist. I could evoke for you the veritable pallor and pearly whiteness of her flesh; there is not an intonation of her voice which does not live in my heart.
But why should I lay bare to you the poverty of these years of my life? I am recounting to you its splendor and its richness.
"I was telling you that I laughed at her when she told me that she loved me. It is exactly this that I did, which does. not, however, alter the fact that we sat down together side by side on a brocaded divan by the window and discussed, exactly as any two worldly people should do, the immediate future of our lives. She had recovered her gay manner, and she urged upon me very prettily the need of secrecy. She even confessed to me that the romantic quality of our small drama was divinely absurd. She said the world was a monster, an ogre, a goblin, and would open its mouth in such wide astonishment upon discovering our passion that it would gobble us down without so much as discerning it had devoured us. She declared, with marvelous conceit, that she would draw its teeth, notwithstanding. 'I have no fear,' she said, and laid the tips of her fingers together in a gesture of prayer which might equally well have been an attitude of propitiatory defiance. Then, without so much as lifting her veil, and with not a glance toward me, she inclined her head against the locked panels and began to cry.
"Is it not true, my friend, I have told you that Anglo-Saxons know nothing of love? Those tears might just as well have fallen upon my naked heart, and thus flowed through my veins, so much did she become a part of me from that instant. But I must tell you that I did not speak a word to her as we stood there together-I, bare-headed, her servitor, her host, powerless there before her as she leaned, small, straight, and dark against the white wood, her hands helplessly posed above her head, and her veiled face crushed against the panels. I was suffocating under the sense that I had placed her there just as certainly as if with a physical gesture I had flung her against that hideous painted wood. I wanted to unlock the door, to release her from the prison of my love; but with one movement she forbade it. She stood before me, her eyes lifted resolutely to mine. There had been no word spoken between us.
She was waiting for my kiss. As I bent over her I saw the tears, caught in the meshes of her veil, shining like fine, iridescent drops of rain.
"There is little, my friend, you perceive that I forget. There is much, too, I have no inclination now to remember. There were the days of our unhappiness in our apartment. The days of our joy were no more than pearls strung upon a dark chain. You must know that just as you cannot make the torrents of a river flow upward toward the sea, just so you cannot defy the world as we essayed to do. Not that the world is inimical; it is, in effect, indifferent. The crash does not come from without, but from within. The demands of her life were very great; I could not myself make my hours of freedom conform to hers. And there was always the semblance of the perfect intimacy between us, but there was no reality to sustain it.
"I must beg your indulgence, my friend, that I amazingly escaped the truth I would set before you. I have thought, it may be, too much of these things, and I have not yet discovered the secret of our failure in the life we endeavored to build together. Be that as it may. It happened that she was the first to break under the invisible pressure. It was inevitable. I have told you, no, that I was to create love in her heart? You will know that this I could not do. And only once was I enabled to make her hate me. She was too gentle, too fine, to answer my violences; but one night, when we quarreled, she struck me. She struck me, I assure you, with her own hand, in a passion of madness and bitterness and despair which equaled and commanded my own rage. To this day I have joy in that moment.
"The memory of that night lies in some white-hot region of my being that it is not well for me to touch. I had implored her to give this one evening to me. She had refused, as there was good reason to do. But she returned from her own house at a late hour, only to discover me in a black fury. It was an admission of repentance on her own part, magnanimous and pure; but she should have left me to my own relentless suffering, knowing, as she must have known, that my agony sprang